Monthly Archives: May 2013

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

A while ago, David Lebovitz blogged about these brownies. Then I bought a book called The Secret Lives of Baked Goods, which is an excellent little tome, all about the history of American baked goods – like why Boston cream pie is called a pie when it is clearly a cake – and it included this recipe. Then I made brownies from Tea with Bea and I was so disappointed with them (far too much going on there for me – the Princess thinks they’re amazing) that I found myself longing for a simple brownie. One without bells and whistles on. This is that brownie.

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I had to take dessert to a braai this evening and between myself and another tutor the options were cheesecake or brownies. She chose the cheesecake so I made these. (I was going to take the Tea with Bea ones but decided against it. They’re best when frozen and therefore too complicated to serve when you have no control. Also, the Princess is slowly making her way through them so I figured no loss making others.) I was surprised by the lack of chocolate and other general ingredients in the recipe. But it makes 16 portions when cooked in a square cake tin and the brownies are dense and chewy, filled to bursting with walnuts. It’s a one pot mixing affair which I love! I converted the measurements from their American designation. I also used golden caster sugar (because it is my default and I don’t particularly understand the notion of ‘sugar’ as it seems every recipe I read these days is very specific). I also used 70% dark chocolate and not the unsweetened variety called for here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen unsweetened chocolate for sale anywhere. I shall look when I’m in Chicago in three (!!!!) weeks.

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Adapted from The Secret Lives of Baked Goods

Makes 16

1/4 cup plain flour

pinch of salt

60g dark chocolate

115g unsalted butter

1 cup golden caster sugar

2 eggs

teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 160C and line a square 21cm tin with baking paper. Melt the butter and sugar together in a saucepan on a low heat, stirring to prevent the chocolate from burning.

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Once the mixture is smooth, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar. The mixture will look like it’s split but do not despair.

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Whisk in the eggs and vanilla, then fold in the flour and salt. Lastly fold in the walnuts. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and bake for 35 minutes, until the brownies are risen and shiny and a skewer inserted comes out mostly clean.

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Cool in the tin on a wire rack completely before slicing.

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Hello dear readers! What a absolutely stunning day we’ve had here today. Truly awesome. If it would just stay this way I could believe that summer was imminently around the corner. Today I’m not telling you about anything I’ve baked or made recently but instead about the food growing activities I’ve become involved in. The university has an allotment on campus, it’s a space student’s can use to grow things, designed and gifted to us by the university estates. They’re totally fabulous people, and are super keen to help us get started and give us handy tips. The volunteer centre is overseeing things but there are three of us who are going to run sessions and organise growing and things. So far it’s been super fun.

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The times I’ve worked on the site, estates have popped over to have a look, and told us how to do various things. We all got very excited at the prospect of wild bees in one of our growing beds and have agreed to make it a wild flower bed so the bees can continue to live there unharmed or unsettled. Today I went down to water the new seedlings we’ve got going in the greenhouse, accompanied by the Princess (who is visiting) and another friend who’s enthusiastic about outdoor space and gardening. We started clearing the nettles and turning more soil, ready for planting!

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Chocolate Caramel Shortbreads

There are some days, as a PhD, where actual work towards said PhD is impossible. This is because the day is spent writing funding applications, editing applications, organising travel arrangements (and doing everything possible to not have to leave the house at 1.30am) and just taking care of various admin-related things that have a tendency to build up in large piles of paper. Today was one of those days. I spent the morning in the office, clearing funding applications and printing various tickets that will take me to East Lansing (home of Michigan State University, in case you were wondering) in June. I’m super excited to go, it’s a large meeting of food studies people and there is always awesome, cool new research to be discussed, but I won’t lie, I’ve nearly lost my head organising this trip. East Lansing is an obscure place. And this afternoon I came home to do more transcribing and the fire alarm went off. Twice. Honestly.

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So when everything had finally calmed down to a reasonable pace and I was finally clear of admin, I decided the afternoon called for a cookie. A 4pm cookie. (Yes, I am aware that the logical way to spend the afternoon would’ve been on actual PhD work. But whatever.) So I had a look through some books and finally settled on these – chocolate caramel shortbreads, from Bake by Tina Bester. Tina runs an awesome cafe in Obs in Cape Town, where I’ve had lunch before but where you should really go for cake. Anyway, the shortbreads have all of four, five ingredients and only take about 10 minutes to put together. And they have to rest in the fridge so I figured I’d do some transcribing whilst they were resting (see? I am a responsible, hard working PhD, and not merely a work avoider/baker). I’m nearly halfway through a second transcription. I’m almost done with my second transcription (7 more minutes) and I actually finished transcribing a focus group yesterday! (Can you tell I’m feeling very proud of myself? It’s pure torture but fascinating all at the same time – particularly when the children start to sing songs like Bananas in Pyjamas because they’re drawing pictures of bananas.)

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Anyway, the shortbreads rested, I made caramel, I transcribed and baked off shortbreads and then dipped them in melted chocolate and sandwiched them together. (I also had several sneaky teaspoons of the caramel whilst I was waiting for the shortbreads to bake. It’s amazing.) I then took them to dinner, to feed to the other tutors. They were well received. My only real note is that I would slice the shortbreads thinner next time. The book says 4mm but mine ended up wider than that and so they’re a little intense. More like dessert than a 4pm cookie. But that’s okay. I’ll just have to give them away or run more or something.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbreads

Loosely adapted from Baked by Tina Bester

275g butter, unsalted, soft

160g golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

300g plain flour

150g cornflour

1 tin condensed milk

40g butter

3 tablespoons golden syrup

150g-200g melted chocolate

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

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Add in the flours. I found it easiest to fold in using my hands because at one stage you feel like you’ve just got flour and it’s never going to amount to anything.

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Hands help speed up the process.

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I divided the dough in half and rolled it into two separate logs. Wrap these tightly in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.

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Preheat the oven to 160C. Slice the logs into thin rounds and bake on lined baking sheets for about 15 minutes, until the cookies pass the thumb test and are slightly golden around the edges. Cool.

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In the meantime, place the condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a pan and cook until the caramel thickens and turns a light golden colour. Stir constantly! This takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how hot you’ve got the pan. I cooked it quite low because I was panicky about burning the caramel. (An experience I have had many a time.) And don’t panic about the ‘cook until it thickens’ instructions. I was constantly like ‘is this thick enough?’ (even when it clearly hadn’t done anything yet) but finally it got thicker and quite gloopy and I could draw a line through it (only briefly but the line was there for a second) and the caramel will thicken further as it cools. Pour the caramel into a heat proof bowl and cool completely.

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Once the cookies are cool, melt the chocolate (I used about 180g in total – dipping is easier with more chocolate and if you have any left just spread it onto some baking paper and then break it up and put it away for a rainy day). I always melt chocolate in the microwave but you could do it over a bain marie.

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Dip the cookies into the chocolate and place on a sheet of baking paper to cool. Once set, sandwich together with the caramel. Store in an airtight container for 3 days. I sandwiched half the cookies and am keeping the other half un-sandwiched, to make up when I have a craving. I think there’s less chance of a soggy cookie this way. The caramel (by itself) should keep in the cupboard for a week. (You know, so you can eat it with a teaspoon or with ice cream or something.)

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Oat and Blueberry Pancakes

I’m a big fan of very lazy Sunday mornings. So lazy, in fact, that it is well after midday by the time I finally get around to eating. The Princess is here this weekend so we were up reasonably late Saturday night, after an entertainingly dramatic time out, and consequently slept in yesterday morning. Because it was Mother’s Day in South Africa we decided to have a celebratory breakfast of blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, in spite of not being with our mom. (We figured she’d appreciate the pictures here.)

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These pancakes are made with gluten-free and spelt flours and are jazzed up with some rolled oats. This is a pancake with presence. They’re large, chewy, dense, soft, slightly tart pancakes that work perfectly with bacon and maple syrup. I adapted the recipe from The Breakfast Bible. I love this book – full of essays and recipes in ode to breakfast. It’s an excellent book for dipping in and out of – I keep it in easy reach. The pancakes are best served warm, just out of the pan. I’ve frozen some we had extra so I’ll let you know they defrost. I suspect they’ll be fine.

Oat and Blueberry Pancakes

Adapted from The Breakfast Bible

80g white spelt flour

40g gluten-free flour

40g rolled oats

20g caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

1 egg

225ml buttermilk

40g unsalted butter, melted

2 handfuls of blueberries

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

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Whisk the buttermilk, butter, and egg together.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, add in the wet and whisk until all the flour is incorporated. Then stop. You don’t want to over-mix this. Let the mixture sit for 10 or so minutes (I got distracted so it sat for about 20 minutes). I added the blueberries into the mixture just before I wanted to fry the pancakes.

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Heat a frying pan on a medium – low heat. Melt a teaspoon of butter and wipe the pan with a folded piece of kitchen towel. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the frying pan (I do three at a time) and fry until golden on both sides – when the surface bubbles and the underside is brown you can flip them. If the pancakes brown to quickly, turn down the heat. You want them to cook quite slowly as the mixture is a little thick. If they start to stick, melt more butter into the pan.

Serve with bacon, maple syrup and more fresh blueberries.

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Spring Flowers

Well technically these are not really spring flowers. They’re ones I received last week on my last day at my one field site. These are the last of them. And they’re just so pretty I thought I’d share them with y’ll.


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Lime Cake

Yesterday it was cool and cloudy and I spent the day transcribing the interview that would never end. About halfway through the afternoon though, I had a sudden craving for pound cake. I had been reading about cream cheese pound cake on Orangette and lamenting my lack of cream cheese in the fridge, when she mentioned a ‘busy day cake’. It caught my eye because I was looking for a cake that wouldn’t take long (and take me away from the transcription) but which was going to taste good. I will let you read what Molly writes about it.

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Her post makes me want to buy the cookbook the recipe comes from (for the record The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis) because what little excerpts Molly adds to the post are truly beautiful. So I made this cake, in-between typing. You can see what my desk looks like…

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I bought this desk with the express purpose of using it to shoot food for this blog. Of course it’s such a lovely desk, and in such a nice position by the window, that I’ve just migrated all my work there and now I’m shooting in the tiny space behind the lap top. I figured you wouldn’t mind too much. But back to the cake. I decided to add lime to mine, I had a citrus craving of sorts and two limes looking forlorn in the fruit bowl. I also made it with gluten free flour and xanthan gum. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure the xanthan gum is really necessary and I think I’ll try the recipe again without it to know for sure. The cake was very think (more like scone mix) when I placed it in the baking tin but the crumb and texture are good, slightly heavy and chewy, but not in a bad way, more in a satisfying, heavy cake way. Following Molly’s recommendations about baking powder, I used less. I also left out the nutmeg from the original recipe and used buttermilk (because it’s lovely) instead of whole milk. The resulting cake was fragrant, making my kitchen smell warm; and dense, and crumbly, and just perfect for a cloudy spring day. I ate mine with some Greek yoghurt and am taking the rest to the park later to share.

Lime Cake

Adapted from Orangette

125g butter

1 cup soft brown sugar

1/3 cup golden caster sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

zest of 2 limes, juice of one

2 cups gluten free flour (or plain flour)

1 teaspoon xanthan gum (if you’re using regular flour, eliminate this)

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a springform (23cm) tin with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.

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Add in the eggs, beating to combine, before adding in the vanilla, zest and lime juice.

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Mix together the flour, xanthan gum, and baking powder.

Add the flour mixture in three goes, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. I did this by hand but I think you could mix it in a standing mixer.

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Spoon the mixture into your baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is risen and golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

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