Tag Archives: cinnamon

A Bircher sort of experiment

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee.
~ Emily Dickinson

    Bircher muesli with mango, mint and macadamias*
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    zest of 1/2 orange
    1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (1 orange should do)
    1/4 cup unsweetened yoghurt
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    handful of mint leaves, chopped
    handful of macadamias, chopped
    2 tbsp shredded coconut**
    1/3 mango, cubed***
    1 tsp light brown sugar
    dribble of milk
    1/2 tsp honey (I used J. Friend and Co’s Beechwood Honeydew Honey)
    Combine the rolled oats, orange juice, orange zest, yoghurt and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir well, then cover the bowl with cling wrap and place it in the fridge to chill for at least 1.5 hours.
    When ready to serve, stir in the other ingredients. Simple, gently sweet and so good when the sun is attacking your face and you want a cold, wholesome breakfast.
    Yields one serving.

* The alliteration here is entirely serendipitous – I picked the ingredients based on what I had left at home yesterday.

** I unfortunately forgot to add in the shredded coconut… but I know it would have been even better with it!

*** I find it easiest to dissect a mango this way: cut into three parts leaving the seed in the middle. Make deep diagonal cuts in the top and bottom third, so you get diamond-shaped mango pieces sitting in the skin. Invert and let the cubes fall into the bowl (you may need to coax them out with a knife if your mango isn’t ripe/soft enough – I had to do this yesterday). Eat the middle section while standing at the sink, letting the juices run merrily down your arms.


Dancing in cookiedom

Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.
~ Angela Monet

If my alarm clocks had any measure of autonomy, they’d probably go on strike. I am like the Mad Hatter’s dormouse – not much gets me up when I am sleeping (actually, tea parties probably would if I were him, but anyway…). I have slept blissfully through No. 8 typhoons as a kid while our neighbours furiously applied tape to their windows and light objects escaping their owners danced, unbridled, in the mad wind outside. When I was little, only one thing never failed to wake me immediately – Grandma’s tickles, when she stayed over. They were horrendous. I have never been tickled so badly since.

Now, I wake up when I have to go to work, of course – but only one thing gets me out of bed, smiling, at any hour. That is not the unavoidable urge to go to the bathroom (though I’ve been told that it is horribly unhealthy to hold your pee, so I am working on it)…

What gets me wide awake and smiling even at 2am is this mysterious rush of excitement that whooshes through me every so often, overtaking all dreams and nightmares. Then I awake as if under a spell, and my feet take me to the kitchen while my brain tries in vain to remind me that I need sleep to function the next day.

This rush of excitement bows to no one, least of all my brain.

Last night, a wave of exhaustion hit me and I went to bed at 6pm. Thanks to daylight savings, my windows were still sunlit at this stage. I slept like a baby till 2am, when trays of crinkle cookies began to parade through my consciousness. I had never before attempted to bake crinkle cookies, nor have they been on my radar recently – so I clutched at my dreams and duvet cover, and tried hard to make the cookies go away…

In the end, I couldn’t get rid of them, so I sat up, placed my laptop on a spare pillow and started looking at recipes. Just as I found a nice-sounding one, my flatmate and her friend returned from a function, so I leaped up to say hello – and decided that since I wouldn’t wake them (they were quite awake), I’d go ahead and bake.

Especially because there were two parts to this recipe.

See, I have once met someone who told me she loves her room and sheets and clothes smelling of baking. I, for one, do not enjoy having hair, clothes and sheets that smell of baking! So I was well pleased that this cookie dough would require refrigeration prior to being baked. This meant I could potter around in the kitchen for a short time to get the crinkle cookies out of my head, then head back to bed still smelling nice.

I really enjoyed it. There’s something about cooking in the still of the night, way past bedtime – lights on, air laden with the dreams everyone on my street is dreaming. Cooking with the moon for company makes my blood rush, my feet dance, especially when I am alone. I don’t know why, but it feels magical and serene; like everything is possible. I like that very much.

This recipe was beautifully simple – melt butter and chocolate; beat eggs and sugar; measure the flour and dry ingredients – whip it all together, pop the bowl into the fridge and let it get ready for the oven while you sleep. Good things happen if you’ll wait without interfering.

I finally fell asleep again at around 5am, then woke up at 8 – and the cookie making began. I’m not one to enjoy routine, so I don’t tend to make cookies too much because I usually find the repetitive rolling and baking in batches pretty tedious. These came together fairly easily though, and I ended up with way more cookies than I bargained for. The recipe said three dozen – I ended up with around 50 little cookies (thank goodness for nice neighbours who relieved me of a few! :-))

These were like brownie-cake pebbles. They were a little chewy, quite moist, but light enough and not unbearably sweet – you may want to skip the cinnamon if you’re not a cinnamon fan (I am). Next time, I’ll try adding coffee to the mix too.

    Chocolate and cinnamon crinkle cookies
    Adapted from Joy of Baking
    ~ 56g butter
    225g dark chocolate, roughly broken (I used Whittaker’s 72% cocoa dark Ghana)
    1/2 cup caster sugar
    2 large eggs
    dribble of Kahlua or vanilla extract (I used Kahlua)
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    caster sugar, for coating
    icing or powdered sugar, sifted, for coating (I forgot to sift the sugar today – please sift yours)
    Set a saucepan of simmering water over a low flame and place a heat-proof metal bowl over it, ensuring that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Melt the chocolate and butter in the bowl, then remove from the heat and set aside.
    In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until thick, pale and fluffy. Yellow ribbons should fall gently from your beaters when you raise them. Beat in the Kahlua, then pour in the melted chocolate mixture and stir.
    In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add these to the chocolate mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until firm (overnight if possible).
    Preheat oven to 170°C. Line two baking trays with aluminium foil or baking paper. Do not grease the foil or baking paper, or your cookies will have yellow patches (I found out the hard way).
    Place some caster sugar in a shallow dish, and some icing or powdered sugar in a separate dish. Run cold water over your hands and dry them, so your hands are cold and the dough doesn’t melt in your hands. Working quickly, shape the chilled dough into roughly 2cm balls – I just used a heaped teaspoon of dough per cookie. Roughly coat each ball of dough with caster sugar, then roll it in the icing or powdered sugar until it is completely coated and no chocolate shows through. Tap the sugar-coated ball lightly so that the excess sugar falls off. Place the balls of dough on the baking tray, leaving about 5cm apart between them.
    Bake cookies for around 10 minutes or just until the edges are slightly firm but the centres are still soft. Do not overbake, or they will lose their lovely moist chewiness. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
    Eat fresh or place in an airtight container – they should keep well for a few days. Yields at least 40 cookies.

P.S. On the dancing note… how cool is this.

Honey, cinnamon and plums

He felt like he was in a kind of moon soup, with the stars turning slowly above him and his thoughts floating past like ingredients. He felt he was drowning in it.
~ Nigel Cox, Waiting for Einstein

They won’t come.

The pictures and words I’ve been saving up over the last few days to share with you… some in my camera, some in my mind. Snapshots of a (wonderful and mostly sunny) weekend in Wellington; thoughts on life; stories of eating, giving and receiving.

I’m almost irritated that they are piled high behind the door, refusing to come out. But it’s no use – I’ve been hovering here for over an hour, perched on the edge of my seat with a hot water bottle on my lap, typing and erasing, sighing and humming. They’re refusing to let me post them here.

I’m not sure why.

So I’ll let them simmer on in hiding… meanwhile, would you like to talk about Cake?

With my friend G’s birthday coming soon, I’ve been looking for a ‘yes cake’. You know, a recipe for cake that makes you say YES, I’m going to make you…?

I flicked impatiently through what felt like TONS of recipes in blogs, magazines, cooking websites – lots of lovely pictures and tasty sounding things, but no ‘yes cake’… and then, late this afternoon, I found it. Nigel Slater’s Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums. An absolute ‘yes cake’!

Making this, I could imagine myself leaping into a mountain of Autumn leaves, feeling them envelope me in playful laughter, and gazing up at clouds and winking sunshine…

There’s the scent of warmed golden syrup, lyrical like someone you love saying “Honey, I’m home!”; the look and feel of butter – a generous hug, a glove around your senses; the kiss of cinnamon – a sweet and spicy fairy dust, making all it falls on special. All three together make for pretty delirious inhaling.

Oh, and the BROWN in this recipe – the different shades are glorious and luxurious, and chocolate doesn’t even make a guest appearance! There’s the shimmering, luminous brown of the honey + butter + golden syrup melting on the stove – which reminds me first of George’s Marvellous Medicine (Roald Dahl) and then of liquid gold. There’s the butterscotchey, dulce de lechey, yummy-caramelly look and flavour of the flour + golden syrup stirred together into a thick creamy mix – miracle I managed to avoid licking the spoon! Finally, towards the end when the elements combine to form the batter, there comes a demure woolly brown that reminds me of slim ladies, cashmere sweaters and milk chocolate melting in the sun.

This cake presents nearly no challenges – it’s mostly a breeze to make. There is just one point when it’s hard to imagine the cake turning out, those few minutes when the egg mixture splashes and swirls around the flour + golden syrup mix and you’re trying not to associate it with Things of the Bathroom… If not for the saving line in the recipe “it will resist incorporation and look weird at first”, I might have despaired. In the end, however, it comes together very nicely and reminds me that perseverance can sometimes lead to good surprises.

The cake rises effortlessly and proudly in the oven – and oh, I do so enjoy the look of the plums, round and sweet and delicate, on the risen cake, in the square tin. Smile inducing.

I did change a few things in the recipe, mostly due to pantry limitations. Sure hope the taste isn’t compromised – I’ll let you know tomorrow after the birthday girl has had a chance to try it! :-)

[edit] We managed to surprise G with a birthday morning tea. J brought a scrumptious lemon cake, dense and moist and luscious, with crunchy miniature sugar crystals on the top. M brought brownie squares laden with invisible coconut threads. I brought Nigel’s cake. We had a rich morning tea – and all, it seemed, were smiling! I took home an empty cake tin. Happy, happy birthday, G. [/edit]

    Nigel Slater’s Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon, and Plums
    Adapted from Orangette
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 slightly heaping tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 very generous tsp ground cinnamon
    2 pinches salt
    2/3 cup golden syrup
    2 tbsp maple syrup
    125g unsalted butter
    1/2 cup dark muscovado sugar
    1/4 cup caster sugar
    2 large eggs
    1 cup (250ml) milk
    5 ripe plums, pitted and quartered
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish, and set aside.
    In a large bowl, sift and combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk well.
    In a saucepan, warm the golden syrup, maple syrup and butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When the butter is melted, stir in the muscovado and caster sugar. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside to cool for a minute or two.
    Break the eggs into a medium bowl, add the milk, and whisk the mixture.
    Pour the golden syrup mixture into the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. The batter will be very thick at this point. Pour in the egg mixture, and continue to stir – don’t worry if it doesn’t resemble a good cake mix – it will come together and form a loose batter with no traces of flour
    Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then arrange the plums on top. (They will sink.) Bake for 30 minutes; then place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the cake, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. The cake should look mostly set at this point. Remove the piece of foil, turn off the oven, and leave the cake in there for another 15 minutes. Let it cool for at least 20 minutes, then loosen from the pan and cool completely before slicing.
    See Molly’s recipe here for her version, and additional notes.

This is my first post for Sweet New Zealand (if I’m not too late!) – hosted by the lovely Allison of Pease Pudding this month.

Dancing Babka

Dance is a song of the body. Either of joy or pain.
~ Martha Graham

The word ‘yeast’ is still a mental hurdle for me. Something about it sounds complicated, out of my depth, like it’s something for professionals (not me, anyway). My one direct encounter with it came earlier this year when I made some pitta bread at home for a flat dinner. I remember marvelling at it then; but subsequently, the old apprehension came back each time I glimpsed it in a recipe.

I’ve been reading a very inspirational book over the last few nights though, and somehow – I think that led to me walking out of New World with a bottle of active dry yeast last night.

I woke up early this morning, and decided to kick off my day off work with some babka baking from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries”:
#57 Bobba’s Babka – Page 246

I was apprehensive about the yeast. I mixed it with the oil and tepid milk and for two long minutes, nothing seemed to ‘activate’… and then, suddenly, it looked like something bad out of my old biology textbook? Alive, gurgling like a deep sea monster, ugh! – it was at once fascinating and very unappetizing…

I waited some more before I poured it doubtfully into the flour mixture, and then it looked like a mini volcanic snowstorm.

Actual bread making. I fell into a sort of happy/painful trance kneading the dough. It was reassuring, of course, to knead like mad while reading “the dough should be thick and a little difficult to mix, even with the mixer”. (although even if I had a mixer, I doubt I would use it in my first few instances of making bread – how else to get in touch with your food, to know it, touch it, sense it – own it??)…

When I added the egg and worked the sticky dough, it squelched like a pair of rain-drenched shoes the whole way and I really thought I would never get to the next stage, which was “so that it is still very sticky but not actually sticking to your hands.”

As it is, I got there, and as my fingers repelled the sticky, springy dough, I exclaimed and promptly forgot about my aching wrists. Wow! If Tessa Kiros had been here in person I would have knocked her over with a huge embrace. :-O As it is, she was spared on this occasion :-)

After 1.5 hours of being placed by the heatpump, it had enlarged to a giant puffy dough:

Muscovado sugar. Deep and luxurious, I measured it out carefully, trying not to spill any. Then I leaned over the cup and gazed at the rich colour, inhaled the delicious flavour… mmmm.

Even better smelling with the addition of cinnamon…

Butter on the other hand, I was much more lavish with today – I didn’t measured this, just dug my knife into the box and took out a random soft pile of it.

I rolled out the bread into two (near) rectangles, and spread the butter and muscovado on to them.

Finally, it was time to plait the bread.

The whole process of baking this was really… seductive. I’m not sure how else I could possibly describe it. My hands were gooey, and bread dough is hardly a sunset, a silk dress, or whatever your normal icons of romance might be – but the emerging flavours and feel of the process pretty much had me walking on air.

So much so that after I brushed egg yolk and milk on the babka and shoved the tray into the oven, I put on some music and danced on my toes. THE AIR SMELLED WONDERFUL.

Babka, done – I gave more than half of it away to a gleeful Malinda and retained the rest of it for my poor flatmates. :-)

PS. Haidee and I were at one of my favourite cafes today – and out popped a mouse! While I was a little concerned about the presence of a mouse in an eating place, I was temporarily distracted by this amusing thing: saying “oh! mouse!” and watching the women around me gasp, kind of shriek and scramble to get up and run. I mean, it’s just a mouse……?

I never dreamed I would cook Octopus

The family, that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our innermost hearts ever quite wish to.
~ Dodie Smith

Oh, man.

Dad held it up with a big pair of tongs, and together we slid it into a strong plastic bag. Slimy, sticky and big, the slippery mass smelled of the sea, and reminded me of… well, aliens and sea monsters. Fictional aliens with oval heads and slit eyes. Loch Ness. A giant squid chewing on innocent sailors. Half dazed, I marched up to the counter with the octopus (3kg, $38). The cashier looked a little surprised too but she smiled and told me it would be delicious.

Hours later, as the sunlight waned, I worked in the now dim kitchen; imagining my Grandma as a young girl, sitting by the porridge pot. I thought about all the women around the world who spend hours cooking on a daily basis. I thought of full and empty tummies. And yes, I thought a little bit about aliens, though I scarcely ever do. ;-)

The 800g of onions I peeled for this dish demanded my tears.

My fingers jerked with shock and slight repulsion as I worked with the octopus on the chopping board (reasons I could never be a surgeon).

Once I started cooking though, did it smell good, oh yes, yes it did! It was wonderful inhaling all the rich goodness of cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, chilli, red wine, red wine vinegar, garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, mixed spice… the flavour seemed to wrap around the air like a tight red dress; leaving you no room to breathe, but in a gorgeous breathtaking way. While the octopus cooked, I sipped green tea and read more of Amy Tan’s “Saving Fish from Drowning”, drowning a little myself in the good smell…

The final meal I shared with my parents made it all (crying over onions, worrying over octopus dissection, etc) so terribly worthwhile. (They really enjoyed it too).

If you’re after a wonderful and distinctive meal, you will find it in this recipe from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries”:
#44 Octopus Stifado (Octopus with Onions & Red Wine) – Page 97

Modifications: I modified the recipe slightly for quantity (I only cooked half the octopus as well) and substituted pimento berries (which I couldn’t find) with mixed spice powder. I also added 4 extra cloves of garlic to what the recipe suggested.

I served it with a light salad and toasted hot cross buns. (We didn’t eat much of the salad… the octopus and bread were way filling!)

Salad ingredients: mesclun leaves, 5 cherry tomatoes – halved, 1 pear – sliced, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, some cucumber – sliced, 2 twists of black pepper.

Ice Cream – virgin attempt

Ice cream is happiness condensed.
~ Jessi Lane Adams

#13 Milk, Honey & Cinnamon Ice Cream – Page 380

No time to write now, as I am catching a domestic flight tomorrow morning & I’m tired & haven’t packed… but… I made my first ice cream ever, and it was fun.

Tried a teaspoon of it just then. It’s a little sherberty (I only whisked it twice in the night and have no ice cream maker) and I think I sprinkled in way too much cinnamon in my excitement, but it’s still pretty delicious (how wrong can you go with milk, cream, honey, cinnamon??). :-)

OK, on to packing… good night!