Maple Spiced Roast Nuts | Vegan|Gluten Free

Prepare for your house to smell like Christmas. These warmly spiced, roasted nuts are liberally seasoned with maple syrup and all your favourite holiday spices. Use your favourite combination of nuts and share with friends, give as gifts, or devour them while watching your favourite Christmas films.

Maple Spiced Roast Nuts | Vegan | Gluten Free | Thoroughly Nourished Life

Every Christmas Mum fills a big timber bowl with nuts in the shell, and throughout December we crack open our favourites (hazelnuts and almonds for me, walnuts for Mum, and Brazil nuts for Jess) as a quick snack or couch and TV dessert. Last year she also introduced a seductively spiced and sweetened roasted vanilla cashew mix into the house. Very dangerous. So dangerous that I had see if I could make them myself. I am happy to report that you can make delicious spiced nuts at home.

Maple Spiced Roast Nuts | Vegan | Gluten Free | Thoroughly Nourished Life

I made these nuts for a recent get-together with friends, and there were no leftovers to take home! I was happy to hear reviews from friends on the spot, and I just knew I had to share them with you all as we head into the holiday season. Not only are these nuts coated in holiday favourite flavours of maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg, they are also coated in raw sugar crystals for extra crunch, and just a kiss of salt to bring all the flavours together. Each bite is full of crackly salt and sugar glaze, spices, and the earthiness of roasted almonds and cashews.

Maple Spiced Roast Nuts | Vegan | Gluten Free | Thoroughly Nourished Life

A note about nuts: I used a combination of cashews and almonds, but you should use three cups of your favourite combination of nuts. Hazelnuts and almonds would be perfect with this mix of spices too. Just ensure that you choose nuts of a similar size so that they roast evenly. If you choose nuts of very different sizes (say pistachios and Brazil nuts) one nut will likely burn and the other will be undercooked.

This recipe couldn’t be any easier, which makes it a perfect time-saving gift or holiday snack. You warm the nuts in the oven and roll them in spices and maple syrup. The heat helps everything to absorb into the nut. After cooling your nut mix you sprinkle it with a final coating of salt and sugar and roast it for the final time. Your house will smell like Santa’s kitchen as the cinnamon and nutmeg start to dance with the heat. Mouth-watering territory.

Maple Spiced Roast Nuts | Vegan | Gluten Free | Thoroughly Nourished Life

I am planning on cooking up big batches of Maple Spiced Roast Nuts for Christmas gifts and party favours. Now that I know how easy (and addictive) these home made sweet, salty, spicy nuts are to make I can’t wait to try out some different flavours to share with my friends and family.

Maple Spiced Roast Nuts

Makes 3 cups | Vegan | Gluten Free

Note: you can use 3 cups of your favourite combination of nuts in place of the cashews and almonds if you wish.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted raw almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F) and line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminium foil.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together cinnamon, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons raw sugar.
  3. Spread nuts in one layer across the lined baking sheet and cook for 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the nuts from the oven and place in mixing bowl along with the spices. Mix well to coat nuts.
  5. Pour maple syrup over the nuts and mix again to coat nuts well in spices.
  6. Spread nuts out in a single layer on the lined baking sheet again, pour over any maple syrup and spice mixture that may have pooled at the bottom, and allow to cool to room temperature.
  7. Once nuts are cool, reheat oven to 200C (400F).
  8. Sprinkle remaining salt and sugar over nuts and roast in oven for 10-12 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before breaking up and packaging for gifts, or storing for up to two weeks in an airtight container in a cool place.

Maple Spiced Roast Nuts | Vegan | Gluten Free | Thoroughly Nourished Life

Gluten Free Christmas Baking and Gifting

Tis the season to be baking! And giving away baskets and bags and tins and tinsel wrapped parcels of our baked goods. There is nothing I love more than giving gifts from my kitchen. Brownies for a work morning tea, jars of biscuits to our head office, spice biscuits for neighbours, and some special treats for my nearest and dearest (no sneak peeks here guys, sorry). But what about the intolerant or allergic among your friends and family? Never fear, I have compiled a list of gluten free friendly recipes that are perfect for gifting. So spread a little Christmas cheer without worrying about causing sore tummies or rashes. Bake something up today that the whole family can enjoy.

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Firstly, a few tips for gluten free safety. I live in a household where I am the only one who cannot eat gluten (this doesn’t stop the cookies from disappearing into gluten-able mouths though…) and my grandmother is a diagnosed coeliac so whatever I bake, I like to make sure she can eat when she visits, so I take extra care in making sure I keep gluten free goods completely gluten free. (Disclaimer: these are my personal tricks for keeping the kitchen safe, but should not replace advice from a registered professional or professional organisation.)

  1. Wash all utensils carefully before you start using them to make gluten free food. There is no need to buy a completely new set, but make sure that you scrub them thoroughly. Check crevices carefully.
  2. Wipe down you bench and other cooking surfaces with disinfectant spray and paper towel.
  3. Only use products that are labelled gluten free. Wheat free does not mean gluten free so check carefully.
  4. Be wary of hidden sources of gluten: cornflour, icing sugar, pre-packaged sauces, and chocolate are some that I have been caught out by recently.

Now, onto the baking! Cookies are a perennial favourite at this time of year and some of my favourites that could easily be made into holiday gifts are:

Almond Butter Shortbread cut into seasonally appropriate shapes. Little gingerbread people, reindeers, Christmas trees – your choice!

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Coffee-Vanilla Sandwich Cookies would be a sweet and fancy surprise inside a festive biscuit tin.

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If you bring a warm plate of these Chunky Dunkers as a gift for your gluten free hostess/host they will invite you back again and again.

Quick breads make a great gift to bring with you when visiting someone’s house for a Christmas party. This way they have something they can eat for breakfast the next morning, or serve to their next guests. Or perhaps as dessert, lightly toasted with some ice cream…

Coconut Banana Bread is a staple in our home all through the year, and if the recipient can’t eat it now, it freezes and defrosts brilliantly.

This Zucchini, Hazelnut and Cranberry Bread blends the best of the season here in our summery Christmas and the spices evoke calm as their scent wafts from the oven.

Blood orange cake

A wreath-shaped Blood Orange Poppyseed Cake is festive in so many ways try other citrus fruits if blood oranges aren’t available.

For something extra decadent try these treats:

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Laced with white chocolate chips and spiked with Frangelico and spices these Spirit of the Season Blondies ‘taste just like Christmas’ as my friend Melissa said in her review.

This Sugary Chocolate Fudge is just as it says: sugary. Be careful to brush your teeth carefully after a piece of this.

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These Honey Caramels entice even the most reluctant dessert eaters like my boyfriend’s father who had more than one piece as soon as he realised their sweet appeal. I hope this list will help with your baking and gifting.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, so why not spread a little joy with homemade treats. The most important ingredient of course is your love.

For more information on gluten free safety have a read of this quick guide from Cooking Light about how to make a safe gluten free kitchen and this resource from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Spirit of the Season Blondies

When I was little and the first of December rolled its way around to the front of the calendar I would feel a light fizzing begin in my chest. With each passing day of Advent the fizzing would grow larger and louder, until on Christmas Eve I would be as effervescent as a bottle of champagne. I didn’t really know what that fizzing meant as a little kid.

As I grew up I realised that the fizzing was the spirit of the season: the joy of Christmas time, the thought of spending time with my family, playing out in the sunshine every day, helping to decorate the Christmas tree and the rest of our home, watching friend’s and family’s faces as they gather round to open presents, and baking Christmas treats. The Christmas Spirit meant that a bubble existed around my own little world just for a few weeks, where nothing bad could happen, and everyone’s hearts were a little more open to the plight of others.

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Now I am grown and the spirit of the season is sometimes harder to capture. The last few weeks of the year can pass in a flurry of end-of-year deadlines, parties, and the constant barrage by the media counting down the shopping days left until Christmas.

This is why it is important to be present in the moment this season. It takes extra and effort and patience to be exactly where you are without worrying about the million other shiny distracting baubles on offer. For me, this is particularly important when I get to spend time with my friends and family. This is where I feel the spirit of the season the most.

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Recently my friends and I gathered at Casey’s house to celebrate the season with games on the grass, tacky Christmas t-shirts, cheap Secret Santa presents, and plenty of good food and wine.

I brought a summery salad and these Spirit of the Season Blondies. My friend Melissa took one bite and declared ‘they taste just like Christmas’. What a beautiful compliment, thanks Melissa.

The flavour of Christmas is captured in blondie form with the combination of Frangelico, spices, white chocolate and toasted hazelnuts. They make excellent gifts and will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator – if they last that long!

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Spirit of the Season Blondies (gluten free)

Makes one 9 x 12 inch pan of blondies. If you do not require these to be gluten free you can replace the buckwheat flour, hazelnut meal and brown rice flour with a total amount of 385 grams (2 ¾ cups) plain flour. If you or your family do not consume alcohol you can simply leave out the Frangelico.

Ingredients

  • 200 grams buckwheat flour
  • 100 grams hazelnut meal
  • 85 grams brown rice flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 200 grams butter, softened
  • 1 cup (lightly packed) brown sugar
  • ½ cup caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
  • 1/3 cup golden syrup
  • 200 grams white chocolate chips
  • 100 grams shelled hazelnuts

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 160C (320F) and line a 9 x 12 inch baking pan with baking paper.
  2. Spread hazelnuts over a baking sheet and toast in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from oven.  Allow to cool completely and then roughly chop. Set aside until needed.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk together the buckwheat flour, hazelnut meal, brown rice flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger until completely mixed and no lumps remain.
  4. In a large bowl beat together butter and both sugars with a handheld mixer until light and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs one at a time and scrape down bowl between additions.
  6. Measure in vanilla, Frangelico, and golden syrup and beat until well combined.
  7. On a low speed beat in flour and spice mixture.
  8. Stir in white chocolate and chopped hazelnuts with a wooden spoon.
  9. Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan and place in the oven.
  10. Bake for 30- 40 minutes, rotating every 10 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
  11. Once cooked remove from oven and allow to cool completely before chopping into squares.
  12. Serve to friends and enjoy.

Tell me, dear reader, how does the spirit of Christmas feel to you? How do you stay present at this time of year?

Spirit of the season - just chillin'

Spirit of the season – just chillin’

Snickerdoodles

I feel that we are all friends here at Thoroughly Nourished Life, and so I feel as if I owe you an explanation, and some cookies. Let’s start with the explanation. I am the type of friend who thinks most explanations are best coupled with sweet treats. Glucose fuels the brain after all.

This past week was super awesome busy followed by an enforced period of rest. Most of the busyness was good, and some was business busyness. The enforced period of rest included me, an 8-hour long iron infusion drip (accompanied by lovely nurses and terrible pay TV), being taken care of by my darling boyfriend (best cure for post-treatment woosies) and two days on the couch watching Harry Potter movies with the occasional break for gluten-free Oreos and decorating our Christmas tree. So friends, that is where I have been. On adventures of a different kind.

Now, onto the cookies. On occasions where I am forced to spend long periods of time sitting still, which is something that as a twenty-six year old woman I am still not very good at, I divert the extra brain activity that usually gets burned up by fidgeting/walking/running/cooking into thinking about what I am going to bake next. Lately, given that it is the beginning of the festive season and all, I get to thinking about cookies. I have cookies on the brain from my sunrise run to my sunset snuggles. And I need to share these thoughts of cookies with my Thoroughly Nourished Friends so that you can make them for your loved ones and get the season off to a sweet start.

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These Snickerdoodles have long been a family favourite. My sister makes amazing Snickerdoodle cookies, we’ve both been known to rock out the spiciest sweet Snickerdoodle Cupcakes with accompanying cream cheese frosting, and so when searching for the place to start my Christmas baking there was no hesitation in my mind. These Snickerdoodles are my riff on the classic. I replaced some of the plain flour with almond meal for a chewier, denser cookie, and added some mixed spice (or pumpkin spice for my US readers) to the usual cinnamon sugar coating.

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Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies. Makes about 28 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 200 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar, extra
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

Method

  1. In a medium size bowl whisk together plain flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  2. Place butter, 1 1/2 cups caster sugar, and vanilla essence into a large bowl. Using handheld mixer on medium-high beat until light and fluffy. This will take about 2-3 minutes if your butter is nice and soft.
  3. Add eggs to butter and beat well.
  4. Slow mixer to low and gradually incorporate flour mix. Once completely incorporated cover bowl with plastic wrap and cool dough in refrigerator for 45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 170C (338F) and line three large cookie sheets with baking paper.
  6. Whisk together 2 tablespoons caster sugar, ground cinnamon, and mixed spice in a small bowl.
  7. Take generous tablespoons of Snickerdoodle dough and roll into balls. Work quickly as the butter in the dough will begin to melt with the heat of your hands. Place balls of dough into the sugar and spice mixture and roll around to coat completely. Place on prepared cookie sheets.
  8. Repeat with remaining dough. Leave plenty of room between balls of dough because Snickerdoodles spread substantially during baking.
  9. Place trays in oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. Switch trays around halfway through baking time.
  10. Once cooked remove from oven and cool on racks.

Hungry for more cookie recipes? Try Coffee-Vanilla Sandwich Cookies for holiday morning tea, or perhaps some Mocha Pecan Biscotti for early Christmas gifts.

Honey Caramels

Let’s talk about hidden talents and honey caramels today. These are the things that make life interesting, they keep us from a truly linear progression and they are the spice in the curiousity cabinet of life. Firstly, hidden talents. I love when you think you know someone and then they turn around and completely surprise you. My little sister does an excellent Beyonce/Sasha Fierce impersonation – she unleashes her inner Amazon with amazing power for such a small person. Her Z-snap is almost as impressive as Chris’s (sorry for outing you honey…). My darling Casey can sing the American national anthem in cat (basically her ‘meowing’ to the tune of Star Spangled Banner) – it’s a sight to behold for sure. Then comes my friend Ricky – who knew that this man was a budding apiarist? (That’s a person who tends for bees by the way.) Ricky’s honey has become a huge hit in our house, and we are putting it on/into everything! Now that’s a hidden talent to admire.

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My hidden talents? Well there was a party trick that involved my tongue and musk sticks, but we don’t talk about my early twenties any more…let’s really just not go there. Now that I am a sophisticated (ahem) professional (ahem) lady (AHEM!) my hidden talent has become misreading recipes and rescuing them at the last minute to achieve something different and usually as pleasing as the original. These Honey Caramels were born of that hidden talent. Because messing up, when worded correctly, can be a hidden talent. It’s all in the marketing you see.

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The caramels start off with a smooth nutty flavour and then right at the end the honey shines through. They are welcomed eagerly with a cup of coffee after dinner and just as equally at place wrapped up in some pretty tissue paper and put into a tin as a Christmas present. Just remember to save a few for yourself…(my other hidden talent is hiding things, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Honey Caramels

This recipe was accidentally adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Australia, December 2013. Gluten free. Definitely NOT diabetic friendly.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 395 gram can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons glucose syrup (ensure this is made from corn)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 200 grams white chocolate, chopped
  • Icing sugar, to dust, about 1/2 cup

Method

  1. Line an 8-inch square baking tin with baking paper and make a space in your fridge of the same size.
  2. Put sugar, sweetened condensed milk, honey, and glucose syrup into a heavy based saucepan. Place over a medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to boil. Keep stirring or your caramel will burn on the bottom. That is not good.
  3. When the mixture comes to the boil, lower the heat and continue stirring for about 15 minutes or until the caramel deepens in colour and thickens.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla bean paste and the white chocolate. Beat until melted and smooth. The mixture will start to thicken so work quickly!
  5. Spread caramel into the prepared baking tin and smooth the top. Allow to come to room temperature on the bench before placing in your pre-prepared space in the fridge. Cool until set. About 2-3 hours.
  6. Remove caramel slab from the fridge and cut into small squares. Dust with icing sugar so that the pieces don’t stick together too much.
  7. Serve, or store in the fridge until you gift them (or gobble them).

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Don’t mind if I do…

Violet Crumble Brownies

You might hate me after I show you these brownies. In fact, maybe you shouldn’t scroll down too far, just in case.

Reasons you might hate me? Let’s make a list:

  1. Brownies, on a Friday (and I’ve been so good all week Amy – why did you show me these now??);
  2. You have the insatiable urge to push yourself away from your computer and run to the nearest providore of Violet Crumble and then rush back to your kitchen and make them – but you can’t because you are most likely at work (or in school, or taking care of little ones, or maybe in outer space, I don’t know, maybe); or
  3. You didn’t get one when I brought them into work today…

Oh, what the heck, scroll down and we’ll take our chances shall we?

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Any haters? Whew, that’s a good feeling.

These brownies came to mind when I was thinking about my favourite chocolate bars while simultaneously doing some extremely boring paperwork (you know, as you do). My favourite childhood chocolate bar has always been the Violet Crumble (followed closely by Picnic Bars – please, please make a gluten free version someday soon!). Some of you may contradict me – why Amy, what about Peanut m&ms? Surely they are your favourite chocolate bar? My reasoning: they are my favourite chocolate and candy coated vegetable. Hear me out – peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes, legumes are a type of vegetable – see, sound scientific reasoning!

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Violet Crumbles will always hold a special place in my heart (even though they aren’t currently Amy friendly) because they are not only delicious, musical to eat, and can devoured slowly while reading a good book, but also because they helped me survive my final year of high school. High school Amy study food: Violet Crumbles and strawberries…

It’s all about balance, right?

So, instead of hating on me, love on these brownies. Remember, it’s the way it shatters that matters.

Violet Crumble Brownies

Makes 30 decadent brownies. Of course, you can cut this into larger or smaller squares at your own discretion. They will keep for 4 days in an airtight container in the fridge , or about 30 minutes on an office kitchen table.

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams dark chocolate, chopped
  • 175 grams butter, cubed
  • 125 grams plain flour
  • 50 grams cocoa powder
  • 230 grams brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 250 grams Violet Crumble (5 x 50 gram bars), or other chocolate-covered honeycomb

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (356F) and line a 8 x 11 x 1-inch baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Place butter and chocolate in a small heavy-based saucepan and melt together over a low, low heat. Stir frequently with a metal spoon until just melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Sift together plain flour and cocoa powder and set aside.
  4. In a medium-size mixing bowl beat together brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla essence with a hand-held mixer until light and creamy. This will take about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Fold melted chocolate into egg mixture. Then fold in flour and cocoa.
  6. Roughly chop Violet Crumble and fold 200 grams into brownie batter.
  7. Spoon batter into prepared baking tin and smooth top with a spatula. Sprinkle reserved Violet Crumble over the top.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
  9. Allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing up and serving.
  10. Enjoy.

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Okay readers, tell me, what is your favourite chocolate bar? Any interesting discoveries?

 

Peanut Butter Lindt-Ball-Filled Chocolate Cakes

Today was National Bookshop Day in Australia, and as I am a complete and utter bibliophile I had to celebrate the occasion with a visit to my favourite independent book store: aptly named ‘The Really Good Bookshop’ – you can’t get more obvious (and truthful) than that. I have written before of my love for this place: towering shelves of books crammed inside a small store front, stacks upon stacks of books crowd the floor and beckon you to kneel upon the floor and discover the treasures at your feet, still more books filed two-deep on the bookshelves themselves, and if – after all that – you still can’t find a book that tempts you to open the covers and discover the world within, then the owners will gladly order you anything your reader’s heart desires. Wendy and Peter (I know, I know – I was so happy when I discovered they had novel-worthy names) are fonts of information in themselves, and know the whereabouts of every one of their precious printed cargo. They are also one of my favourite reasons to visit ‘The Really Good Bookshop’, and so I decided that on National Bookshop Day, the best bookshop owners that I know deserved something special to nibble on when they finally get to relax with their own favourite reads.

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Now, I am a little particular when it comes to ‘things I will eat while reading’, there must be some thought put into the food because one doesn’t want: a) to get crumbs or oil stains on the book, or b) to eat something merely mediocre and (as my darling friend Casey says) waste calories on something not completely delicious. These little cakes can be eaten with a fork while your plate sits on a little table beside your favourite reading chair.

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When celebrating I can think of nothing better than cake (well, really at any time of day I struggle to think of anything better than cake…), but for my favourite guardians of books something really special was in order. Something with a little surprise….

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Peanut Butter Lindt-Ball-Filled Chocolate Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 180 grams butter, softened
  • 180 grams brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 300 grams plain flour
  • 30 grams cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 150 grams dark chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 12 peanut butter Lindt balls

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Butter a 12-cup friand tin (or two 6-cup tins, or a 12-cup large muffin tin) very well – you don’t want these little cakes to stick when you go to turn them out at the end.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar until creamy. This should take about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition, and scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  4. In a separate bowl sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder. I use a whisk for this because a sifter usually ends in a lot of mess!
  5. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.
  6. Remove the bowl from the stand and mix in the cooled melted chocolate with a wooden spoon.
  7. Fill friand cups half-way with the batter. Place a Lindt ball in each and divide remaining mixture between the cups to cover the Lindt balls.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The tops should bounce back when touched lightly.
  9. Allow the cakes to cool for five minutes in the tins, then gently remove.

These cakes are best enjoyed warm, but they were certainly gobbled down just as quickly at room temperature. Mum and Dad have highly recommended microwaving them for 15 seconds and enjoying them with some whipping cream! You can see that moderation doesn’t really run in my genetics!

Tell me, dear reader, what are you reading at the moment?

I am currently enjoying reading some books for my Master’s thesis. On my list currently: White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber (author of fabulous blog Eat Live Run); Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman (author of the blog of the same name); and Not Quite Nigella by Lorraine Elliott (author of the blog of the same name).

Midwinter Skies and Lemon Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Midwinter

winter again

so newly cold

spring summer autumn lie in drifts under the trees

the dreamtime has come

in suspension

a fire in a clearing

in the forest

with, overhead, the stars.

Clouds of breath, heads are planets,

the newness of finding answers,

making a shelter from the rain

firewood, dry sticks. Last year’s

poems are kindling, they make good fuel

good flame, good ashes. Birds who have stayed

sing about cold, the clarity

of the moon, the stony creekbed its sounds

of the scent of brewing tea, winter again,

a fire in a clearing.

~ Michael Dransfield, Collected Poems (1987).

gabby's lemon tree

In the middle of a Queensland winter the skies magically clear. The veil of cloud is drawn from the sky and pure, crystalline blue paints the dome of the sky and pervades the view from every window. Against this azure canvas the bright waxy yellow skin of the lemons on my neighbour’s lemon tree stand bright and bold and beautiful. I long for the sharp clean taste of lemon juice and rind in everything I eat. Sharp, acidic, pure it cuts through the sticky sweet or slow-cooked savoury pots of winter food. I also love using lemon in baked goods, and this Lemon Cream Cheese Pound Cake is the perfect mid-morning midwinter treat. Cut a thick slab, brew some tea, and watch the winter sky for a little while.

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Lemon Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I used a 10-inch bundt cake tin for my cake. You could use a 10-inch springform pan instead if you do not have a bundt tin. Please ensure that you butter and line the tin well to avoid leaving half your cake in the pan. This is especially important with intricately designed bundt tins.

This is the kind of cake that keeps well for a few days. Perfect to make on a Sunday and wrap up slices for lunch box treats throughout the week.

Ingredients:

  • 125 grams butter, softened
  • 100 grams cream cheese
  • 200 grams caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 250 grams plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Thoroughly butter (or oil) a 10-inch bundt tin and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachments beat together butter and cream cheese until completely combined and smooth.
  3. Add caster sugar to bowl and beat until pale and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs to bowl one at a time and beat each addition until well combined. Scrape down the bowl between each egg.
  5. Pour lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla essence into the batter and mix well.
  6. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mix to bowl and on low speed mix together until just combined. You may wish to finish the mixing by hand so that you do not over mix the batter.
  7. Pour batter into prepared bundt tin and slide into the oven.
  8. Bake for 35-45 minutes (this will vary on your oven, and the size of the baking tin used). Check every 10 minutes. Towards the end of baking you may need to cover the top with aluminium foil to avoid a burnt crust.
  9. Insert a wooden skewer into the middle of the cake. It should come out clean when the cake is completely cooked. Remove cake from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Then upturn cake onto a cooling rack and cool to room temperature before drizzling with lemon glaze and serving.

To make the lemon glaze: mix together 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice until smooth. You want a firm but flowing consistency – stiff enough that it doesn’t fall off the cake, but liquid enough to flow down the sides. You may need to adjust the amount of juice or icing sugar to achieve this consistency.

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Tell me dear reader, do you love midwinter mornings?

Any favourite poems about your part of the world?

New York Style Chocolate Streusel Crumb Cake

New York holds special memories for me. My darling Casey and I had an amazing adventure there five years ago (can you believe it’s been five years Case?) and since we left, I have held the memory of tall buildings blocking out the horizon, eternally busy side walks and subway stations, and millions of lives lived side-by-side in a special place in my heart. We ate peaches, the juice dribbling down our chins as we walked along the upper reaches of Broadway, and bought souvenirs, and ate rice soup for lunch and then splurged on dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s ‘The London NYC‘ and drank cocktails in the lounge of the Algonquin Hotel catching sight of the hotel cat before we returned to our upper west-side hovel of a hostel.

Night skyline

Night skyline

New York seems a lifetime ago: hot sticky days where the warm air blowing out of the subway vents seemed almost cooling; hours wandering around every museum we could find (still missed out on the Guggenheim though…); trying on clothes in the department stories we had dreamed of for a long time (I’ll be back one day Saks); picnicking in Central Park (crème brulee and raspberries from Dean & Deluca is really the only way to do it); dinners at the Barking Dog Restaurant (if I lived in New York this would be my local diner) – and the myriad desserts and baked goodies that we discovered in our two week adventure. Oh the cupcakes, the blueberry shortcake with ice cream, the toasted pecan and toffee ice cream, the molten chocolate cakes, the chocolate-cardamom truffles….

Casey and I in the city that never sleeps

Casey and I in the city that never sleeps

The crumb cake or streuselkuchen was originally made by European immigrants and over time has become synonymous with New York coffee shop foods. I honestly cannot remember if we ate crumb cake while we were in New York, however it seemed as though we delighted in every other baked good, so it is entirely probable that we did. My love is for the streusel, the crumb, itself. This cake features a buttery, cinnamon fragranced crumb followed by a layer of chocolate and then a slightly dry vanilla cake beneath – perfect for pairing with a morning cup of coffee, or for a slightly more indulgent treat, try a mocha cappuccino – trust me.

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New York Style Chocolate Streusel Crumb Cake

I can’t really think of anything to say about this cake other than: make it and share it and you will have friends forever. Perfect to take to work for those potluck morning teas.

Ingredients for crumbs:

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Ingredients for cake:

  • 1 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2/3 cup chopped chocolate, or chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 1/2-inch round springform pan. Line the bottom with baking paper.
  2. Melt butter in the microwave. In a separate bowl whisk together all other ingredients for crumb. Stir in melted butter with a fork until mixture is crumbly.
  3. In a medium-size bowl whisk together plain flour, caster sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Measure out sour cream into a measuring jug and then whisk in eggs and vanilla bean paste.
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add sour cream mixture. Beat until smooth.
  6. Pour batter into the pre-lined baking tin. Sprinkle chopped chocolate or chocolate chips over the batter, then spread crumb mixture evenly over the top of the chocolate.
  7. Slide cake into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (there may be some melted chocolate sticking to the skewer, but no cake mixture).
  8. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing the cake from the tin and then allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

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Tell me dear reader, do you have any favourite holiday spots that you can’t wait to return to? Any favourite food memories from vacation?

Almond Butter Shortbread (gluten free)

Lately I have been addicted to The Newsroom – the TV show about a TV show. Jeff Daniels stars as a news anchorman, Emily Mortimer is his senior producer, and these two have a tenuous relationship and heavy history that adds delicious background tension to the political and media-related commentary of the show. I bow down to Aaron Sorkin’s genius, from the opening score (beautifully composed by Thomas Newman) to the real news footage laced throughout each episode, every piece of the show comes together perfectly.

Last night as I was balancing a bowl of baked beans and broccoli (post-gym and pre-internship online work dinner) on my knees curled up under the covers of Chris’s bed I commented to Chris that every time we finishing watching an episode I feel heavier. I feel weighted down by the emotional interpretation and exposition of each news story that this fictional team of journalists and newsroom staffers present. The scope of the stories and the impact of the facts that the team choose to expose and those they choose to hide seem more comprehensible viewed through the lens of a period of hindsight and the filter of fiction.

(c) HBO

(c) HBO

In reality I am an aspiring news-junky. Chris and I watch a lot of American political satire (our favourite is The Colbert Report), and I listen to ABC radio and pick up The Australian newspaper whenever I can, but given the chance I will just read the arts section of the newspaper and listen to the developments of the day before I return to reading blog posts from my favourite writers on the web. Still, one day I will learn enough to make erudite arguments at cocktail parties (because I go to so many of those…) or contribute knowledge-based arguments across the dinner table at large gatherings (my people generally aren’t discussing politics when we could be discussing Proust’s madeleines or the latest from delicious. magazine). For now, I am happy being an eternal student of the news, and dedicated watcher of The Newsroom.

I am curious though, where do y’all get your news from? Are you dedicated to one news program over the other? The hours of 6-7:30pm in my parent’s house is dedicated to various news and current affairs programs, while I am more of a radio news person.

As the closing credits rolled across the screen last night I had long finished my dinner and finally I tip-toed out to the kitchen, put the kettle on, and snuck one of these Almond Butter Shortbreads to nibble alongside while I pondered the latest developments from my favourite (fictional) news team…and scrolled through some blogs of course…

All piled up and ready for afternoon tea.

All piled up and ready for afternoon tea.

Almond Butter Shortbread (gluten free)

These are crisp little biscuits that are perfect saucer-side to accompany a cup of tea or coffee. They keep well for about a week in an airtight container and are perfect with or without the chocolate drizzle, but come on, who can live without some chocolate drizzle on their shortbread…

Note: almond butter is available from most supermarkets now or your local health food shop. If you want, you can make your own, which I plan to do when my current pot of nut butter runs out – try this recipe from Martha Stewart.

Ingredients

  • 100 grams butter, softened
  • 75 grams almond butter
  • 100 grams raw sugar (turbinado sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 150 grams buckwheat flour
  • 100 grams brown rice flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 100 grams dark chocolate, chopped

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line two large cookie sheets with baking paper.
  2. In a large bowl cream together butter, almond butter, and raw sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl sift together buckwheat and brown rice flours and cardamom.
  5. Add sifted flour mix to batter and combine. This is a very dry mixture so you may need to knead it with your hands to finish it off. Gather mix into a ball and place on a bench that is lightly sprinkled with some extra buckwheat flour.
  6. Roll out mix to 0.5-0.7 mm thickness and using desired cookie cutter (do you like my pretty birds?) cut out shapes and place on lined cookie sheets. Leave a few centimetres between each cookie so that they bake properly.
  7. Slide cookie sheets into preheated oven and cook for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden on top.
  8. Remove and cool completely.
  9. Once cookies are completely cooled, melt chocolate in the microwave and drizzle over the cookies.
  10. Allow chocolate to set (if you can wait that long) and then serve.
My afternoon treat.

My afternoon treat.

 

Dear reader, are you a Newsroom fan? Are you  a political news junkie? Or celebrity news junkie?