Labneh with Summer Berries

I made this delicious Ottolenghi dessert when we were in Vancouver for my brother’s wedding in August, when the Canadian berry season was in full swing. Friends who saw the photo on Facebook thought it was a pavlova. In fact the base is strained yoghurt, known as labneh in the Middle East. Much healthier.

For subscribers in the southern hemisphere this could become your go-to dessert for the holiday season. For those living in the north, you’ll have to wait until summer or perhaps try using frozen berries. Ottolenghi doesn’t use the orange juice in this recipe, but I’ve made the recipe twice, once with and once without the juice. Much more orangey with.

1 kg thick Greek-style yoghurt
A good pinch of salt
1-2 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
100ml Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 orange
A few sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
800g to 1 kg fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, stoned cherries)
1-2 Tbs caster sugar

The day before serving make the labneh and the orange oil. Place a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin or similar fabric. I use a man’s handkerchief which I keep especially for this purpose. Scrape yoghurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate overnight. Next day discard the liquid – my dog loves it. Mix icing sugar and vanilla into the yoghurt.

Remove the peel from the orange with a vegetable peeler, then remove the juice and heat it in a saucepan for a few minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the olive oil, the thyme and leave to infuse overnight.

At serving time spread labneh onto a large serving platter. Place about half the berries in a food processor with the caster sugar and pulse a few times to chop roughly. Spoon on top of the labneh. Top with the remaining whole berries, slicing the strawberries if large. Drizzle with some of the orange oil and garnish with the orange zest and some fresh thyme sprigs – the original ones will have gone a bit brown.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use other fruit combinations, such as bananas and passionfruit; kiwi fruit and strawberries

Den Bosch Lemon Pudding

Den Bosch is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. We spent a couple of days there recently and one night had tapas for dinner at a wine bar.

The food was very good and the waitress was kind enough to give me the recipe for the dessert. I have a cheesecake recipe which is very similar to this, but the addition of a little vinegar really makes a difference. The method is also slightly different.

1½ cups (375 ml) whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Grated rind and juice 2 large lemons
2-3 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, to taste
4-5 plain or ginger biscuits
slivers of lemon rind to garnish

Whip cream with electric beaters until thick then continue whipping while you add the condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and vinegar. I used a Kenwood standing mixer, but you can use hand held beaters.

Spoon into 8-10 small glasses. Chill several hours or overnight. Garnish with crushed biscuits and lemon rind.

Serves 8-10

Variation: Fold through the pulp of 3-4 passionfruit before spooning into glasses.

Fiona’s Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

My friend Fiona follows a gluten-free diet. I love the nutty texture of her Gluten Free Chocolate Cake which keeps her sane when she’s studying for law exams.

Today’s recipe is adapted from Fiona’s. I’ve adjusted the quantities slightly, adding less sugar and a bit more chocolate and nuts. I’ve also added a topping of unsweetened cocoa powder, an idea from one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s chocolate cake recipes.

I served the cake as a dessert, with whipped cream and some cumquats I preserved a year ago, but it’s perfectly delicious just as it is, with a cuppa. As a dessert you could also serve it with berries or a ball of coffee ice cream.


250g dark chocolate
250g butter
250g almond meal*
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
To serve:
About 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
Candied oranges or cumquats or fresh berries
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat butter in a saucepan and when melted add the chocolate, broken into squares and turn off the heat. As chocolate melts, stir to combine. Mix in egg yolks, then sugar, almond meal, salt and baking powder. In a large bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape in the chocolate mixture, in two lots, gently using a spatula to thoroughly combine.

Scrape mixture into a greased and bottom-lined 22cm round cake tin and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check after 35 minutes. When ready cake will feel firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. If you have a fan-forced oven you may find the cake is ready in just over half an hour, as mine was. Chocolate cakes are best under-cooked rather than over-cooked.

When cool, remove cake from tin and cover the top with cocoa powder, using a sieve. Serve cake with berries and whipped cream or just as it is.

Serves 12-16

* buy almond meal or make your own by blitzing nuts in food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. I used half bought and half I made using unskinned almonds. If you don’t have any almonds substitute walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or even a mixture.

Lemon Fluff

This is an old family recipe from my mother-in-law. She often made it when we were staying and all her grandkids loved it. Now that I’m a grandparent I find it can be a challenge to find a dessert that the kids and adults enjoy, unless you stick to ice cream.

At a recent family gathering at the farm I served Lemon Fluff and the grandkids all came back for second helpings. They said it tasted like Lemon Sherbet. There’s no cream in the recipe and the kids preferred it that way. Most of the adults added a good dollop of thick cream.

The first few times I made the recipe it separated, so now I use the freezer to avoid this, as you can see in the method.

4 eggs, separated
1 cup caster sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 3 large lemons
1 Tbs powdered gelatine
½ cup water
To serve:
Thick pouring cream

With electric beaters, whisk egg yolks, sugar and ¼ cup warm water until thick and almost tripled in volume. Gradually beat in the lemon juice. Mix gelatine with remaining water, then zap it for 30 secs in the microwave to dissolve. Cool then add to the mixture with the grated lemon rind.

Place bowl in the freezer until mixture is starting to set around the edges. Time will vary so keep an eye on it and give it a stir from time to time, to check. In my freezer it takes 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile thoroughly wash and dry the beaters, then whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Take bowl out of the freezer and use the electric beaters to give the mixture a quick mix – no need to wash them after whipping the egg whites. Using a rubber spatula fold the egg whites gently but thoroughly into the lemon mixture. Tip into one large serving dish or about 8 individual dishes. Refrigerate, covered, for several hours or overnight. Decorate with a slice of lemon and some mint leaves and serve with thick cream.

The green around the edges was achieved by blitzing a few fresh mint leaves with some sugar until green crumbs form.

Serves 8

Ricotta Cheesecake

I’ve made a lot of cheesecakes over the years and this one ticks all the boxes. The recipe was given to me by my daughter Catherine who said it was easy peasy and delicious.

Instead of topping with marmalade, you could serve the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, macerated with a little sugar and perhaps a splash of orange liqueur or brandy. Instead of marmalade I used about a cup of pureed fresh apricots, which I had frozen during summer, mixed with some home-made cumquat jam and heated to combine, then cooled. Use your imagination – this cheesecake would go well with any jam, marmalade, fruity sauce or fruit compote. Or just some fresh berries.

Use half the amount of biscuits, butter and cinnamon if you prefer a thinner crust.

Crust:
200g plain sweet biscuits
100g butter at room temperature
1 tsp cinnamon
Filling:
250g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
¾ cup cream or sour cream
2 Tbs grated lemon rind
Topping:
½ cup marmalade
¼ cup water
Icing sugar

Grease and bottom line a 22cm springform pan. Preheat oven to 170°C. Blitz biscuits in a food processor with butter and cinnamon to make fine crumbs. Tip into cake pan, spread evenly and press down. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Place ricotta, cream cheese and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Add egg yolks, cream and lemon rind and mix thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape mixture from food processor into the egg whites and mix gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Scrape into the cake pan, then bake for 45-50 mins or until set, but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Remove from the oven, cool then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake, then remove sides from pan and dust top with sifted icing sugar. Heat marmalade and water in a small saucepan until combined, then cool and spoon over the top of the cheesecake, or serve separately in a jug.

Serves 10

Variations: use orange rind instead of lemon. Serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote of choice.

Chocolate Fig and Hazelnut Cake

This recipe caught my eye when it was published recently in Gourmet Traveller, so I saved the link. Friends coming to stay for the weekend is a good excuse to bake a cake so I thought I would give this a try. As a fan of chocolate, figs and hazelnuts it seemed to tick all the boxes. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve cut down on the sugar in the cake from 300g to 200g and cut it out altogether in the chocolate ganache. The muscat and figs are sweet, so you could try cutting down even more on the sugar in the cake, say to 150g. Maybe add a few more figs to compensate.

The original recipe said to use muscat or brandy. I used a muscat-style fortified wine made in Australia by Angoves and called Bookmark Crema All’Uovo. I bought the bottle several months ago at Dan Murphy’s to make that wonderful Italian dessert called Zabaione. If I hadn’t had any of that I would have used port rather than brandy. The packet of dried figs I bought weighed 375g, so I used them all.

The original recipe tells you how to make Candied Oranges to serve with the cake. I had some candied cumquats I made several months ago, so that’s what you can see as a garnish in the photo. To make the original Candied Oranges, search for the GT recipe.

To make the cake gluten-free, use gluten-free bread for the breadcrumbs.

Cake:
1 cup (250ml) muscat or port
300-400g dried figs, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
420g hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
250g unsalted butter, at room temp
200g caster sugar
6 eggs
250g dark chocolate, melted
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
Ganache:
½ cup cream
150g dark chocolate
To serve:
Whipped cream
Candied oranges or orange peel (optional – bought or home-made)

Place muscat or port in a saucepan with the figs. Bring to the boil then simmer, stirring from time to time, for 10 minutes or until figs have absorbed the wine.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Place hazelnuts in food processor and process coarsely. Tip out. Make bread into breadcrumbs in food processor, then tip out. Place butter and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time, then the melted chocolate, stopping to scrape down the sides from time to time. Scrape mixture into a large bowl and mix in the figs, the ground nuts and the breadcrumbs.

Scrape mixture into a large cake pan, greased and bottom-lined with baking paper. I used a 22cm square pan, but you could use a round one. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until cake feels firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Err on the slightly undercooked side, as the cake will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven. Leave to cool, then remove from pan and pour over the chocolate ganache, using a knife to spread it evenly over the top and sides.

Ganache: heat cream in a small saucepan. When boiling, turn off heat and add the chocolate, broken into squares. Leave to melt for a few minutes then stir until smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes, so it’s a bit thicker for spreading.

Serve cake as it is, or with whipped cream and candied oranges or orange peel.

Serves 16

Variations: use walnuts or almonds instead of hazelnuts, or a mixture.

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb grows like a weed at our farm so I’m always looking for new ways to cook it and I give away what we can’t eat.

This recipe can be adapted to use other fruit and is perfect to serve with a cuppa or as a dessert. I used wholemeal flour in the pastry, because I had some which needed using. Anything that hangs around in our pantry for too long is an attractive target for pantry moths. They especially love flour, nuts and, as I discovered recently, dried chillies!

1 shortcrust pastry case
800g rhubarb, washed and cut into 3cm lengths
¾ cup raw sugar, or to taste
125g butter, at room temperature
125g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp almond essence
Finely grated rind 1 orange
1 cup almond meal
3 eggs
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt

Go to the link for the pastry. Bake the pastry case as instructed, with foil and something heavy like dried beans or corn, to stop it rising. Remove foil and beans and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave the oven on 180°C.

Meanwhile, cook rhubarb in a saucepan with the raw sugar for 10 minutes, or until tender but mostly still whole. Stir often so it doesn’t stick or burn. Cool then spread into the pastry case.

If you used a food processor to make the pastry there’s no need to wash it out before you make the filling. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, orange rind, eggs and almond meal in food processor and process until smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Spread evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 40 mins or until well-risen, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt.

Serves 8

Variations: use ground walnuts or pine nuts instead of the almond meal. Use cooked apples or pears, tinned pears or peaches, or a punnet of berries mixed with a cup of jam instead of the cooked rhubarb. You could also use frozen berries.

Chocolate Ganache with Hazelnut Spice Mix, Crème Fraîche and Orange Oil

I recently made this dessert from one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. The flavour combination of chocolate, nutty spice mix, slightly sweetened crème fraîche and orange oil is amazing. But Ottolenghi says to bake the chocolate ganache and although I only baked mine for 8 minutes it was rather dry. And I don’t think you need the eggs or the sugar in the ganache.

So the second time I made my usual chocolate ganache (which unlike YO’s doesn’t contain eggs, uses cream instead of butter and doesn’t contain any sugar) and I didn’t bake it. You could still plate it as above but I served it in little tea light glasses with the crème fraîche, nutty spice mix and a drizzle of orange oil on top, as you can see in the second photo. I doubled the orange oil as there wasn’t enough the first time.

 

Chocolate Ganache:
250g dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa solids)
300ml thick or whipping cream
Creme Fraiche:
300g crème fraîche or sour cream
2½ tsp sifted icing sugar
Hazelnut Spice Mix:
2 tsp coriander seeds
¾ tsp black peppercorns
1 small cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
8 cardamom pods
¾ tsp caster sugar
2 Tbs hazelnuts
Orange Oil:
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2-3 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Maldon salt flakes

Ganache: heat cream to boiling point in a saucepan. Add chocolate broken into squares, remove from the heat and allow chocolate to melt. Stir till smooth then scrape into a shallow bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Hazelnut Spice Mix: place all ingredients except sugar in a frying pan and stir for 2-3 mins until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until fairly fine. Mix in the sugar.

Orange Oil: place both ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake.

Just before serving mix icing sugar and crème fraîche or sour cream. Don’t do this ahead of time as the sugar can make the cream go runny.

Check the chocolate ganache and if it’s rock hard remove it from the fridge a couple of hours before serving.

Arrange some hazelnut spice mix on 8 plates. Scoop a heaped tablespoon size portion of the chocolate ganache onto each plate, using a spoon dipped in hot water and re-dipping each time. Garnish with the crème fraîche and orange oil. Finish with a tiny pinch of salt flakes.

Alternative way to serve: pour chocolate ganache into 8-10 small shot glasses or tea light glasses and refrigerate. Serve topped with a dollop of cream, a sprinkle of the hazelnut spice mix and a drizzle of the orange oil. Finish with the salt flakes.

Serves 8

What to Eat in the Heat

The only place to be during a heatwave is inside, with the air conditioning going full blast.

While most people don’t feel as hungry when the weather’s stinking hot, you still have to eat. But who wants to turn on the oven or the hotplates with the temperature soaring over 40°, as it is in Canberra this week?

Here are a few ideas for delicious sustenance which involve minimum effort and no cooking.

Gazpacho is one of the ways they cope with hot weather in Spain. This is a cheat’s version which is made in a jiffy.

Or try this unusual Chilled Almond Soup which also comes from Spain and involves no cooking.

Buy a couple of salmon fillets (boned and skinned) and make Gravlax which “cooks” in the fridge and is absolutely delicious served with sweet mustard sauce, dark brown bread or blinis. I buy my salmon at Costco because you can be 100% sure no bones have been left. Once made you can cut each salmon fillet into 2 or 3 pieces and freeze what you’re not using immediately.

Splurge on some lobster tails and make this divine Lobster, Mango and Avocado salad to enjoy with a glass of Riesling as the sun goes down.

I grew up in England where it never gets as hot as it does in Australia. Summer Pudding is the dessert they make in the height of the UK summer, when the berries are all in season. One of my all time favourites.

And while they’re in season and cheap why not make Mangoes in Ginger Wine. The perfect way to finish dinner on a hot summer’s evening.

If you’re still looking for inspiration for dessert have a look at this article Seven Quick Desserts where you’ll find several ideas, including Blueberry Parfaits which can be put together quickly from ingredients bought at the supermarket. Instead of blueberries, try using raspberries or strawberries.

Time to go back to my book and crank the aircon up another notch.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce

When the kids were growing up I used to make a quick and easy chocolate sauce with a recipe from my mother in law. It goes well with ice cream, waffles and pancakes and disappeared faster than I could make it.

On a recent trip to Denmark  we spent a delightful weekend with our dear friends Vickie and Frants on the island of Fyn. Vickie served a delicious chocolate sauce with ice cream and when she explained the recipe I realised it was almost identical to mine, which I hadn’t made in ages.

Last weekend I went on a bit of a cooking spree and made a few things for the fridge and freezer, including peanut butter ice cream and chocolate sauce to serve with it. For Matthew, not the kids who are long gone. The recipe makes about a cup of sauce, so if you have a house full of kids you might like to double it. If you can’t find golden syrup, honey or maple syrup should work. The ice cream is very quick to make and you don’t need an ice cream machine.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream:
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
A generous ½ cup of sugar
600 ml cream
125 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
A pinch of Maldon salt flakes
Chocolate Sauce:
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
4 Tbs cocoa powder
2 Tbs Golden Syrup
A piece of butter the size of a walnut
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the ice cream, use electric beaters to mix the peanut butter with the sugar until smooth. Gradually beat in the cream and milk and continue beating until thick. Add the vanilla and salt, then scrape into a plastic container and freeze.

For the sauce, place all ingredients except the butter and vanilla in a large saucepan, as it tends to bubble up. Heat, while whisking until smooth, then boil at a steady boil without stirring for 4-5 mins. Remove from the heat, add the butter and vanilla. Serve immediately or store in the fridge, covered and reheat in the microwave for about 30 secs. If it gets a bit thick add a tablespoon or so of water before heating. And if it’s too “dark” add some cream.

Serve ice cream topped with the sauce.

Makes about 1 litre of ice cream and 1 cup of sauce