During the recent school holidays number one son James headed off to Disney World with his wife Karen and two very excited boys aged seven and five. He’s the computer wizz behind Café Cat, making sure that subscribers get their weekly recipe.

When James & Co go away we look after Hershey, their bouncy chocolate labrador and when we go away they look after Danske, our ivory-coloured golden retriever. A reciprocal arrangement which works well. Hershey doesn’t have to be here long for the contents of our vacuum cleaner to change from cream coloured hairs to a perfect cappuccino mix of the two!

Hermits are spicy, slightly salty little cakes which originate in Canada. James is very fussy particular when it comes to cakes, but as I mixed them I thought they would be right up his alley, though he would prefer them without the nuts.  Unfortunately they were all gone by the time he got back.


1½ cups plain flour
1½ cups self-raising wholemeal flour
1 egg
½ cup olive oil or melted butter
½ cup plain yoghurt
1/3 cup molasses or treacle
½ cup milk
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ cup brown sugar
½ tsp each cinnamon, salt, ground cloves & nutmeg
2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup raisins or sultanas
½ cup walnuts or pecan nuts (optional)
To finish:
icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease a 20-22cm square cake pan or a small slice/slab tin and line with non-stick paper. A Lamington tin is perfect. Place all ingredients except fruit and nuts in food processor and mix well, stopping after a minute to scrape down the sides. Add fruit and nuts and process briefly, just to mix.

Scrape mixture into tin and smooth the top. Bake for about 20 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Don’t overcook – the cakes should be soft and chewy in the middle like chocolate brownies. How long they take will depend on the size of your tin. Cool then cut into squares or rectangles and dust with icing sugar.

Makes 16-20


Our Polish friend Peter was coming for dinner so I decided to make something for dessert which would remind him of his homeland. After searching online I came across Mazurek, a nutty cake, not quite as dense as shortbread, covered with chocolate icing and nuts.

There are as many recipes for Mazurek as I’ve had hot dinners, so having found a version for which I had the ingredients – essential when you don’t want to go shopping – I adjusted it slightly and came up with this.

Peter explained that Mazurek is traditionally served at Easter so my timing was perfect. He hadn’t tasted one for many years and was delighted to take home the leftovers.

Serve for afternoon tea or as dessert, with a dollop of cream. Scrumptious.

250g butter at room temperature
½ cup sugarDSCF0579
1 egg
1½ cups almond meal (see note below)
1 cup plain flour
pinch salt
¼ tsp almond essence
¼ cup cream or sour cream
Chocolate Icing:
½ cup dark chocolate chips or chocolate squares
1 Tbs corn (glucose) syrup
2 Tbs cream
2 Tbs butter
To decorate:
¼ cup flaked or slivered blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Grease a 9″ (22cm) square cake pan and line with non-stick baking paper. In a food processor or with electric beaters mix butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, salt and almond essence and mix well. Add flour and almond meal and mix well. Scrape into cake pan and spread out evenly. Bake for 20 mins or until light golden – don’t overcook or cake will be dry. Cool completely in tin.

Remove cake and place on a flat serving plate. Place chocolate, corn/glucose syrup, cream and butter in a small bowl over simmering water and when melted stir till smooth. Cool a little then spread icing over cake and decorate with almonds.

Serves about 16

Note: make your own almond meal by blitzing blanched or unblanched almonds in food processor until fine.

Variations: use hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans instead of almonds.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Salted Peanut Brittle

This recipe will appeal to fans of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, those American sweets which combine chocolate with peanut butter. However, I do know a few other people who will say “yuck” when they see this post!

Half cream cheese and half ricotta results in a somewhat lighter texture, but you can use all cream cheese if you prefer. The addition of salted peanuts and salty biscuit crumbs in the crust make a nice contrast to the sweetness of the filling.

This dessert is very rich, so serve in small slices.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Salted Peanut BrittleBase:
1½ cups salty biscuit crumbs, such as Jatz, Ritz or pretzels
1/3 cup melted butter
1 kg cream cheese (or use half cream cheese and half ricotta)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
3 large eggs
1 cup cream
100g dark chocolate
Salted Peanut Brittle:
100g sugar
100g salted peanuts
To serve:
Thick pouring cream or whipped cream

Have cream cheese at room temperature. Preheat oven to 170ºC. Crush biscuits or pretzels in food processor till they are like breadcrumbs, tip into a bowl with the melted butter and mix well. Line base of a 22-24 cm (8-9″) spring-form pan with baking paper and grease the sides. Tip biscuit crumbs in and press evenly over the base with your hand or the base of a glass. Place in the fridge while you make the filling.

Place cream cheese (or cream cheese and ricotta) in food processor with sugar and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and mix, stopping to scrape down the sides. Scrape filling into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for between 45 mins and an hour or until just set. As soon as it feels set in the middle when you touch with your fingers it’s ready.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

For topping, heat cream in microwave or a saucepan till almost boiling. Add chocolate broken into squares and stir till melted. Leave until starting to thicken, then spread evenly over the cheesecake. When cheesecake is cold refrigerate overnight.

To make brittle, heat sugar in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until dark caramel colour. Don’t stir, but you can lift and swirl the pan from time to time, to ensure sugar melts evenly. Add peanuts, swirl to combine, then tip onto a baking pan lined with baking paper or foil.

Remove cheesecake from fridge 15 mins before serving. Run a knife dipped in boiling water around the sides of the cheesecake to loosen, then remove the sides of the pan. Dip knife into boiling water to cut cheesecake into slices. Wipe and dip each time. Break or cut peanut brittle into shards and use to decorate cheesecake. Some whipped or pouring cream goes well.

Serves 16-20 (small slices)

Note: in South America queso fresco can be substituted for the ricotta. You can use sour cream instead of cream and milk chocolate instead of dark in the topping.

Carrot Cake

This is Matthew’s favourite cake. He complains that I don’t make it very often, but it’s a big cake so I usually only make it when we have guests, then he finishes it off over the following week. It’s nice and moist and will keep in a tin with a lid for up to a week, refrigerated in hot weather.

Carrot Cake4 eggs
1¾ cups sugar
1½ cups vegetable oil
2 cups self-raising flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cloves (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (or ½ cup walnuts and ½ cup raisins)
400g coarsely grated carrots (about 4-5 big carrots)
250g cream cheese at room temperature (not the spreadable kind)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence
25 walnut or pecan nut halves

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Peel carrots then grate in food processor if you have a grating attachment or by hand. With electric beaters, beat eggs and sugar until thick and creamy and tripled in volume. Gradually beat in oil, fold in sifted dry ingredients, then walnuts (raisins) and carrots. Pour into a 25 cm (9”) square tin, greased and bottom-lined with greaseproof paper, and smooth the top. You can use a round tin if preferred, but I like the way a square cake can be cut into lots of small servings.

Bake for an hour in the middle of the oven, or till a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool 10-15 minutes in the tin then turn out, cool thoroughly and remove paper. Ice the top only and decorate with 25 walnut halves, 5 down one side and 5 down the other, then fill in the gaps like a chess board. Cut cake into 25 squares. Keeps for several days in a tin.

Icing: Place cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla in food processor and mix until light and fluffy, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Don’t over-mix or it will go thin and runny. If preferred mix the icing by hand. Don’t buy the spreadable cream cheese as the icing will be too soft.

Cuts into 25 squares

Cumquat and Almond Cake

When a dessert comes into fashion you see it everywhere – in food magazines, on restaurant menus and served up by friends who entertain. A couple of years ago chocolate fondants – those tricky little puddings which are all about timing – were very much in vogue. A pool of delectable melted chocolate pours out when you stick your spoon into the middle – well that’s the theory. If you’ve managed to over-cook them, as I’ve done on more than one occasion, they’re still delicious. One of my all-time favourite desserts.

Turn the clock back even further to the 1970s and 80s and everyone was making Orange and Almond cake, where you boil two whole oranges until soft, whizz them to a purée, then add them to the cake mixture. I believe this cake made its debut in Australia in Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food, but recipes were soon popping up everywhere. Some versions don’t use any flour, making them good for celiacs.

Once again we have a huge crop of cumquats, so I decided to make this cake using cumquats instead of oranges and it was a great success. If preferred use two oranges or even mandarins.

Cumquat and Almond Cake

About 300g cumquats (or 2 oranges)
2 cups ground almonds (or grind your own from whole or slivered blanched almonds)
125g butter at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
5 eggs
½ cup self-raising flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbs cumquat juice (or orange juice)
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup water
2 Tbs whisky (optional)
To serve:
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC and line the base of a 22cm cake pan with baking paper and grease the sides. Place cumquats in a pan and cover with water. Simmer for 10 mins or until soft then cool. If using oranges they will take 20-30 mins. Cut in half and remove seeds.

If you need to grind the almonds, do them first in the food processor, then add remaining ingredients for cake, including the cooked cumquats, skin and all. Mix until smooth, stopping once to scrape down mixture from the sides. Tip mixture into cake pan and bake for an hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Ovens vary so start checking after 45 mins.

Meanwhile make the syrup – place all ingredients in a small pan and simmer for 5 mins. Make holes over the top of the cake with a metal skewer and spoon the warm syrup over as soon as it comes out of the oven. The syrup will be absorbed.

Serve dusted with icing sugar, either warm or at room temperature, with a dollop of thick cream.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use macadamia nuts or pine nuts instead of almonds

Note: to make a flourless version suitable for celiacs, replace the flour with an extra half cup of ground almonds

Salted Caramel & Macadamia Cheesecake

Salted caramel desserts are very “in” at the moment. I first tasted this combination of flavours in Brittany, where you can buy a salted caramel spread in jars to eat on toast like Nutella. The Bretons also use it as one of the many fillings you can choose for crepes sold by street vendors in the region. I know it’s not good to eat too much, but Matthew and our two boys are very keen on anything salty and this includes salted caramel desserts.

Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi created this delicious caramel and macadamia cheesecake. All I have done is to add salt to the caramel sauce, cut down a bit on the biscuits in the crust and the sugar in the cheesecake filling.

Salted Caramel and Macadamia Cheesecake

About 130g plain sweet biscuits (I used 9 Digestives)
40g unsalted butter
500g ricotta cheese, at room temperature
250g cream cheese, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
4 eggs
½ cup sour cream
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod or 2 tsp essence
150g macadamia nuts
90g caster sugar
65g unsalted butter
160g caster sugar
100ml cream
½ to 1 tsp salt, to taste

Base: Preheat oven to 140ºC. Lightly grease a 20cm spring-form cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper. Whiz biscuits to crumbs in food processor. Melt butter in microwave, add biscuit crumbs and mix. Tip into the cake tin and flatten with the bottom of a glass to create a level base.

Filling: In a bowl with electric beaters or in a food processor, mix all ingredients for filling until smooth. Scrape into cake tin and bake for 50 mins or until set in the middle. Cool then refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight, covered.

Topping: Preheat oven to 140ºC. Spread macadamias over a baking sheet and roast for about 15 mins or until light golden brown. Watch them carefully – mine got a bit too brown as you can see in the photo. Remove and set aside. Place sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently until it turns golden-brown. Do not stir, but you can lift and swirl from time to time. Add nuts and mix gently with a wooden spoon. Pour onto a tray lined with foil or non-stick baking paper and leave to set. Chop roughly with a large knife, leaving some of the nuts halved or whole.

Sauce: Melt butter in a heavy-based saucepan, add sugar and stir constantly over medium heat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, dark caramel. It may split, but that doesn’t matter. Add cream carefully – it will splutter – and stir to combine. Sieve to remove any gritty bits then cool.

To serve: Remove sides and base of cake tin and place cheesecake on a serving plate or board. If you want to present it whole, spoon the sauce in the middle, allowing it to spill over the sides a bit and scatter the nuts over the top. Alternatively arrange slices on individual plates, then decorate with the nuts and spoon over some of the sauce. Keeps for 3 days in the fridge.

Serves 10

Quick Banana and Oat Bread

Matthew’s not mad about bananas or coconut, so I usually avoid using them in cakes. Sometimes I sneak them in and hope he won’t notice.

This recipe only uses one banana, so the flavour isn’t overpowering. It’s delicious served fresh on the day it’s made. Or you can keep it in the fridge, well-wrapped, for up to a week and serve it toasted.

As it doesn’t contain any fat this banana bread is quite healthy, eaten on its own. But of course it’s even nicer with things on top! Serve it toasted for breakfast, topped with butter and jam; with a sliced banana, ricotta cheese and a drizzle of honey or with home made strawberry jam and ricotta as shown in the photo. I like to freeze the individual slices wrapped in plastic wrap so they can then be toasted from frozen and are ready in a jiffy.

Quick Banana and Oat Bread1 ripe banana
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (see note below)
2½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
½ cup oats
½ cup desiccated coconut
¼ to ½ cup honey, to taste
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ cup sunflower kernels (shelled sunflower seeds)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a large loaf tin and line the bottom with baking paper. Place banana in food processor and process till smooth. Add remaining ingredients except sunflower kernels and process just enough to mix. Add sunflower kernels, tip into prepared loaf tin and smooth the top. Sprinkle with a few more oats, press them in, then bake for an hour, or until well-risen, golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Can take up to an hour and a quarter, depending on your oven. Cool and serve fresh or toasted. Can be frozen.

Makes one loaf

Note: if you don’t have buttermilk substitute half milk and half plain yoghurt. If you don’t have any sunflower kernels, double the oats or the coconut.

Dream Bars

This recipe first appeared in the Australian Women’s Weekly Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits when it was published in 1982. I’ve been making it ever since and it’s always popular.

The original recipe uses 2 cups fruit mince (mincemeat) but I use a cup of dried fruit and a cup of jam instead. It’s great for using up all those bits of jam and marmalade at the bottom of jars – something my family say I’m famous for. It’s always a great achievement when you can find things in the fridge which need using up and turn them into something finger lickin’ good.

When I returned to take the photo someone, who shall remain nameless and blamed the dog, had already eaten a piece.


180g butter at room temp
2/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 cups plain flour
4 eggs
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 Tbs Plain flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
3 cups dessicated coconut
1 cup jam (any flavour)
1 cup dried fruit

Preheat oven to 180°C. Process butter and sugar in food processor until creamy. Add sifted flour and mix until you have crumbs which are starting to stick together. Press mixture into a greased Swiss Roll tin or slice tin (mine is 35x25cm) lined with baking paper. It doesn’t have to look very smooth but it does need to be evenly spread to cover the base. Bake for 10 mins or until golden.

Process eggs, sugar and vanilla in food processor. Add coconut, jam and fruit and process just enough to mix. Spread topping over the cooked base, bake for 25-30 mins or until firm and golden brown. Cool, dust with sifted icing sugar and cut into squares.

Variation: Frangipane Bars: make the base as above. When cooked, spread with about a cup or so of raspberry jam or lemon curd. For the filling mix 125g butter, softened, with 1 cup caster sugar in food processor until light and fluffy. Add 4 eggs, ¼ cup plain flour, 3 cups almond meal (or another ground nut) and a tsp of vanilla or almond essence. Spread evenly over the base, sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake for 25-30 mins or until firm and golden brown.

Rum and Raisin Cake

When we were growing up my brother, sister and I spent many happy summer holidays on a dairy farm on the moors of County Durham in the far north of England, not far from Barnard Castle. Hill House was run by my Dad’s Uncle Hector and Auntie Vina, their youngest son Ian and his wife Mary. Sometimes we went with my parents, other times we travelled the 300 miles on our own by train and Mary would meet us in Darlington. Ian’s brothers and sisters all had farms and we spent time with all of the rellies. Dent Gate farm had a stream with trout in it. If we were patient we could catch them by tickling them. Don’t believe me? Well neither does Matthew, but it’s true!

Cakes were a staple part of a farmer’s diet back then. They were served with morning tea at eleven and afternoon tea was a proper sit down affair back then. On Sundays they really went to town. The first time I saw the table groaning under the weight of a huge selection of cakes, sweet pastries, cold meats, chutneys, jellies, trifles and fruit salad, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Down south where I came from we were lucky if we had one home-made cake to choose from!

One day a week was set aside for baking in the temperamental wood-fired Aga stove. You couldn’t adjust the temperature and had to cook according to how hot the oven was that day. On windy days the oven would be hot and we would make blackberry and apple pies, using wild blackberries we had collected ourselves. If there was no wind the oven would be cooler and we made fruit cakes.

When I won first prize for a two egg sponge in the Butterknowle annual show I was tickled pink – but it was all thanks to Auntie Vina’s foolproof recipe. She had a huge influence on my love of cooking, teaching me all the basic skills and recipes for cakes and pastries. This Rum and Raisin cake is adapted from one of her recipes. I’ve added the cottage cheese and a bit more rum.

I never let the lack of an ingredient stop me making something, so you will see I’ve listed some substitutions below.

Ian and Mary have retired and in the family tradition Hill House is now being run by their son Jonathon and his wife Fay. It’s no longer a dairy farm as they lost all their cattle in the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 and had to start over again.

Rum and Raisin Cake1½ cups raisins
½ cup dark rum
125g butter, at room temp
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
1/3 cup milk
300g cottage cheese or ricotta
¾ cup ground almonds
1¼ cups self-raising flour, sifted
Icing sugar

Soak raisins in rum several hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a cake tin with baking paper. I used a 22cm (9″) square tin, but a round one will do. In food processor or in a bowl with electric beaters mix butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, milk and cottage cheese and mix well, stopping to scrape down the sides halfway. Add ground almonds and self-raising flour. Stop and scrape down, add raisins and rum and mix just enough to incorporate as you don’t want to chop the raisins. Scrape into tin and smooth the top. Bake for 40-60 mins or until evenly browned, firm to touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool then tip out, remove paper, dust with icing sugar and cut into squares or rectangles to serve.

Makes about 20 pieces

Note: you can make your own ground nuts in the food processor.

Substitutions: brandy instead of rum, sultanas or other dried fruit instead of raisins, white sugar instead of brown, ground hazelnuts or walnuts instead of almonds.

White Chocolate & Macadamia Blondies

It was a perfect summer afternoon in Canberra, with clear blue skies and a light breeze. About 30 ladies sat in the garden of the New Zealand High Commission chatting and enjoying a delicious afternoon tea. We had gathered to say goodbye to a couple of very good Kiwi friends.

A beautiful young kookaburra sat on a low branch of a nearby tree, calmly watching proceedings. I’m not an expert on native birds, but apparently our feathered friend was female, so she probably thought she was invited. We later discovered that she was waiting for our hostess to feed her some minced beef, which she did just before the last guests departed.

Afternoon tea used to be a standard affair. Now it’s a real treat. The party began at 2pm so I decided to skip lunch and was glad I had done so. When everything looks so delicious it’s tempting to try everything. I didn’t, quite, but I did try quite a few things. My favourite cakes were the White Chocolate and Macadamia Blondies which had come from the Kiwi Kitchen in Fyshwick.

I decided to try and replicate them and spent half an hour reading through various Brownie and Blondie recipes on Google. A Blondie by the way is a Brownie, without the ingredients which make it dark. I was pretty sure one of the ingredients was condensed milk, but couldn’t find any recipes for Blondies using that ingredient. I did, however, find one for Brownies which used it. So here is the result of combining three recipes. Not quite the same as the original version, but close. A delicious cake which will appeal to the sweet tooth brigade. Serve as a cake or warm as a dessert, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

White Chocolate & Macadamia Blondies

150g unsalted butter
1 can condensed milk
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1 cup white chocolate chips/melts
1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Line a 9″ (22cm) square cake tin with baking paper. Place butter in a large mixing bowl and melt in the microwave. Add remaining ingredients one by one, in the order they are listed. A good way to crush the nuts without making them too fine is to press each one with the back of a large knife, the way you crush garlic. When thoroughly mixed, scrape mixture into the tin and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 mins. The top should be golden brown, but the middle of the cake should still be quite soft when you take it out. It will firm up when cold.

Cool then cut into squares and dust with icing sugar.

Makes 20-25 squares

Note: anyone with an allergy to nuts could use oats instead of macadamias.