Sunday, 8 May 2016

Flourless Orange and Almond Cakes with Candied Pistachios

"I started it. I lost it and I slapped him. He just retaliated."

"We have a volatile relationship. We're both passionate people."

"He only yells when he drinks."

"Am I going crazy? I must be losing my mind."

"Stop talking. Just stop making it worse!"

"It's my fault."

"Oh he has a little temper, just like his grandfather."

"I shouldn't have said that. I pushed him too far. I know better."

I have heard these words in the course of my journalism work, from ordinary women and celebrities, from my friends and family, even thought them myself in the course of growing up.

There are few women I know who can honestly say they have never experienced abuse of some sort in their home life, be it violence in their childhood, emotional and mental cruelty, or verbal tirades in a relationship.

It seems to be a generational scar we carry around. Except it doesn't fade. It is perpetuated in so many cases. Man-pleasers breeding man-pleasers, treading on eggshells to keep the peace. Male victims of abuse becoming abusers. It's madness. And yet it is still taboo to speak about. You mustn't air the dirty laundry! And shameful. How could anyone love someone who hurts them? How idiotic, how self destructive. Well, when they're charming and warm and loveable the other 80 percent of the time, it's easier to make excuses for the outbursts rather than confront the ugliness.

The problem is dependence. Domestic abuse crosses cultural and demographic boundaries and so often victims can feel trapped by a lack of immediate money, shelter and protection. 

But what if there was somewhere to go. And that somewhere was a discreet house offering a network of help and support for both the now and the crucial after? Would that prompt someone to leave a toxic relationship? Or at least get out of the house before being seriously hurt or worse? I hope so. 

I first heard about my local parish's project to build Mary's House, a non-denominational refuge for victims of domestic violence and their dependent children, when I was enrolling my son for primary school. It touched a nerve.

I have two little boys of my own. They are kind and funny, cheeky and a little bit shy. They have an unashamed enthusiasm, an innocence that I want to bottle and drip-feed to them while they are growing into men. To arm them against the barrage and the burden of all the conflicting messages they will encounter about being a man in the world.

I want them to grow up into men who respect and value their partners. I want them to be able to talk through and process issues rather than bottle them until they combust. To have the skills to control emotions like anger and jealousy, should they flare. And to appreciate the good in their lives.

I offered to help with Mary's House in any way I could and so I was delighted to cater nearly 200 desserts for a recent fundraising dinner.

On the platters were salted caramel peanut tarts, blueberry ginger cheesecake bites, lemon curd tarts and my recipe offering today, flourless orange and almond cakes with candied pistachios.

You have to allow time for the oranges but these little cakes are simple to make, really pretty on the plate and they last for a week in the fridge.

It may seem odd to pair a post about domestic violence with a recipe, but I have two professional skill sets - writing and baking - and this is the best way I know of to help out in my small way.

You can find out more about Mary's House at or do your own small bit to help the refuge raise its dollar target to open in September by donating to their crowd funding campaign at and like and share on social media with the tag #MarysHouseRefuge.

Flourless Orange and Almond Cakes with Candied Pistachios
(Makes 12-15)

2 oranges
6 eggs
250g caster sugar
250g almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Optional: edible dried rose petals

*Place oranges in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for two hours, topping up the water where needed to keep the oranges covered. Drain and leave to cool.
*This step can be done ahead.

Preheat oven to 160C. Spray a 12-hole muffin tin with non-stick baking spray.
Place the oranges in a food processor and blitz until a smooth pulp.
Add the eggs and caster sugar and blitz until thick and pale.
Transfer to a large bowl and stir through almond meal and baking powder.
Pour into a jug for better control when filling your tin.
Fill each muffin hole to just below the rim and carefully place tin into the oven.
Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and coming away from the edges.
Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare glaze by placing the apricot jam into a small saucepan and bringing to a boil, then sieve the jam. Use a pastry brush to spread the sieved glaze on the top of each cake. Pile candied pistachios on top, and rose petals if using.

Candied Pistachios:
125g pistachios
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon water

Place a sheet of baking paper onto a large baking tray.
Place nuts, sugar and water in a bowl and toss to combine.
Pour into a frypan and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. The mixture will crystallise but continue to cook for about 5 minutes until the crystals melt into a lovely toffee. Coat the nuts in the toffee, taking care not to burn them, and pour onto prepared baking tray.
Use any left-over candied nuts on top of ice cream or as a decadent topping for muesli, fruit and yoghurt.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Satellite Island, Tasmania

These are the years, the memory makers. Spend them with the people you laugh with so much your face hurts. Make time to cook. Travel somewhere breathtaking, even for a few days. Be in the photo. 

Sideline yourself once in a while, it is good for your soul. And if you make the time, Satellite Island, a tiny private island off the east coast of Tasmania, is the perfect place to slow down. 

Spend your mornings wrapped in something soft, sipping tea and watching the early sun stream across the channel and into the Summer House. Or maybe you have chosen to sleep waterside in the Boat House, where you might lift the shutters and simply lay there. How long has it been since you had a genuinely lazy morning?

Photo: Siobhan Rogers

Contemplate breakfast. Take advantage of the fresh eggs laid by the hens and forage in the herb and vegie garden. If you're lucky, the island's owners will leave you a gift of fresh ocean trout, as they did for my friend Siobhan, the birthday girl and the reason for our recent getaway to this remote and startlingly beautiful place.

After breakfast, take a stroll to the back gate to feed Henry and/or Burt apples from the bucket of Granny Smiths supplied for their breakfast. They're very friendly and very photogenic.

Read about the history of the island in the notes provided and then take an hour or so to explore it on foot, either on the rock shelves or above on the cliffs, where you might catch a glimpse of the grazing deer herd or spy a pod of dolphins out in the channel.

When you get back, take the plunge into that cold, clear water to be slapped awake. Feel every cell in your body sing as you swim out a little way to where the depths turn inky blue. You could even see a school of salmon tumbling and churning up the water just meters away. Time to go in. Maybe take a kayak out there later. Or tomorrow.

Eat a late lunch of freshly shucked oysters (Richard, the island's manager will teach you how to cut them from the rocks around the jetty and prize them open). It will be the freshest, cleanest taste of the sea you will ever hope to experience.

Add a glass of local House of Arras sparkling, and let the world go.

Later, when the chill sets in, light the brazier and gather around. If you have caught your dinner from the jetty, all the better. 

Siobhan brought her own quilts to the island

This is a wonderful place to take a family with teenage kids or proficient swimmers. It allows time to reconnect, to explore, to lose yourself in books and wage boardgame wars. We plan to take the boys when they're older.

It is also a brilliant place to escape to with a small group for a relaxed break or low key event. We went to celebrate a milestone with our friend, who made us Aperol cocktails and cake, and she also made us do craft. So there were cocktails and wonky flower crowns and lots of laughing. There were photos on the rocks in our dresses, which no one was specifically asked to wear but we know her well... 

Later, marshmallows were roasted over the firepit and we played the music we grew up with, sitting around in the dark, singing badly and proving that nothing really changes when you are with your tribe. Milestones be damned.

Take a day to explore Bruny Island, where you can stock up on artisan bread and cheeses from The Bruny Island Cheese Company and try the local vintage at Bruny Island Premium Wines. We also took a "flight" of whiskey tastings, including the celebrated Sullivan's Cove, at Bruny Island House of Whiskey, and we climbed the stairs to this view at The Neck, the narrow stretch of sand joining North and South Bruny.

Bruny Island has quite a few unsealed roads, so hire a car that can handle the terrain and seek out some of the more remote beaches. Or not. This photo was taken among what was considered a crowd of tourists. I had some sharing issues after having an island to ourselves for a few nights...
I urge you to try it.

* We travelled to Satellite Island at our own cost.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Bliss Balls

My little sister is getting married and I have a maid of honour dress in a very hard-to-pin-down shade of raspberry to firstly find and then fit into. This is presenting a problem right now as I'm approaching 40 and I find I can't eat carbs without them fucking hanging around on my waist. Things are thickening and I am doing nothing differently. It's catastrophic.

That is where these two-bite bliss balls come into the picture. It's hard to escape morning and afternoon tea when you have little kids, but if I have one of these with my morning coffee instead of banana bread/bickie/hot cross bun, I feel better about things. My kids love them too, which is handy.

I have developed two flavours - a date and cacao one to satisfy any chocolate cravings and a date and peanut crunch, which my husband says tastes like the inside of a Picnic bar. Do they still exist? For the younger players, Snickers with rice bubbles.

I have started selling them to my cafes, sharing around the skinny love. Cmon skinny love....

My my my. My my my my my my my my....

Sorry, blame the lack of sugar.

Date and Cacao Bliss Balls - refined sugar, dairy and gluten free
(Makes 10)

300g pitted dates
1 cup natural cashews
1 tablespoon goji berries
2 tablespoons raisins (dried sour cherries are nice here too)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 tablespoons cacao powder
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
Extra desiccated coconut for coating

Blitz all ingredients except extra coconut in food processor for one to two minutes until finely chopped and a thick paste forms.
Shape handfuls into balls (slightly smaller than golf ball sized) and roll in extra coconut to coat.
Place in the fridge for at least 30 mins to set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Date and Peanut Crunch Bliss Balls - refined sugar and dairy free
(Makes 10)

400g pitted dates
1/3 cup natural unsalted peanut butter 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 cup puffed brown rice
Dessicated coconut for coating

Blitz dates, peanut butter and vanilla in a food processor. 
Transfer to a large bowl and mix in rice and peanuts.
Shape handfuls of mixture into balls (like small golf balls) and roll in coconut.
Place in the fridge for at least 30 mins to set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Come on skinny loooooooove...

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Watercolour Heart Cookies

It seems like I'm really into Valentines' Day. I post a recipe every year, but mostly it's because I have a quiet house in February and a chance to think straight. And while a part of me hates the con of it, I would have a bad case of FOMO if I didn't get to join in all the V Day baking fun. I love the idea of cooking something delicious for someone delicious. And disrupting New Year diets.

How could you resist a watercolour gingerbread heart if someone, say, anonymously left one on your desk with your morning coffee? Or wrapped one up with a bow and a bottle of your favourite bubbles? Or what if your love bought you a new leather tote and put a handmade cookie inside that said "Price tag, one blowjob You carry my heart." We Xers are a jaded bunch but young people with lots of disposable income acting on their sweet/crazy Valentines urges are the best!

I will be rolling out batches of gingerbread hearts for my north side cafes in time for V Day, but in case you want to create your own uniquely messaged cookies, here is a guide to DIY.

You will need:
An alphabet stamp set, new or completely cleaned of ink. Kikki-K sells them for $19.95
A packet of white ready-to-roll fondant icing, available from cake decorating stores or the baking aisle of most supermarkets
A set of new kids paintbrushes or cake decorating brushes
At least two colours of gel based food colouring. I used Wilton colours, available from cake decorating stores
Cake decorating alcohol, available from cake decorating stores
12 gingerbread heart cookies. This is the gingerbread recipe I use. Follow the instructions but use a heart shaped cookie cutter to make hearts instead of gingerbread men. Ensure cookies are completely cold before applying icing. Cookies can be made up to a week ahead.
A large flat baking tray
Icing sugar
A rolling pin
A small dish to mix each colour, plus one extra

How to:

Place 1-2 teaspoons of decorating alcohol into small dishes. Add a drop of each colour to each dish and mix with a paintbrush (use a separate brush for each dish to avoid mixing colours).
In the extra dish, mix together 2 tablespoons of icing sugar and a few drops of water to get a thin clear icing.
Lay out heart cookies on flat baking tray and set aside.
Dust clean work surface (or pastry mat) and rolling pin with icing sugar and roll out fondant icing to 3mm thickness.
Cut 12 heart shapes from the icing.
Take a heart cookie and brush it with the clear icing and then carefully place a heart fondant shape on top, smoothing the edges with your fingertips. Repeat with remaining cookies.
Stamp a message on each cookie. Be as sweet or sexy as you like.
Paint each cookie with your chosen colours, beginning with light colours and adding darker shades to create a watercolour effect.
Let the cookies dry completely before storing them in an airtight container. They will keep for up to three days.


Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas Cake

Back in our twenties, my friend Siobhan used to give out beautiful dark Christmas cakes as presents each year, well before it ever occurred to me to give anyone a homemade edible gift. I have learnt so much from Siobhan and her family over the years, but the giving of delicious things tied up with string is one of the best.

It occurred to me recently, as it does sometimes in a jolt, that I am actually a grown up these days and, you know, a baker, and I should probably make my own Christmas cake.

So I had a go and the result has made me (and some LP customers) pretty happy. I have borrowed what I love of my Mum's recipe, the soaking of the fruit in rum for weeks ahead, walnuts and rich prunes, and put them together with the dark stout and chopped chocolate from Siobhan's Irish cakes, to create a cake that epitomises the best of Christmas traditions for me.

I was going to save this post until next year, it being Boxing Day already, but my family said I was being silly. And it was good, so it needed recording with next year in mind. So here I am on arguably the best day of the year (all the fun of Christmas without the rushing around), after yet another swim and seafood lunch, writing about traditions. I have half an ear on Return of the Jedi playing in the background and Nicholas is building his third set of Lego across from me. It's up there, this type of lazy day.

I am a stickler for Christmas traditions and I come from a line of them. There are arguments if a recipe is to be changed. I had to make a convincing case before I was allowed to try a whiskey glazed ham this year instead of the much loved star anise/sherry/apricot jam glaze I usually do. And Mum has been told, and I mean told, she can never tamper with the macadamia, sage, cranberry stuffing for the turkey. It's there for life.

So it was a big deal, the making of this Christmas cake. It is saying something that it earned a tick from the family. We don't usually cut it until Christmas Eve, when we have a last cup of tea and leave a slice for Santa. And then in the days after, there is nothing better than sneaking a slice with a coffee and a dollop of homemade brandy custard.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, creating and/or revelling in your own family traditions.

Larissa x

Christmas Cake

3/4 cup rum
3 cups dried mixed fruit
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup prunes, chopped
1/3 cup glacé cherries, chopped
3/4 cup port
250g butter, chopped
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
zest of one orange
4 eggs, lightly whisked
3 cups self raising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup stout
150g dark chocolate, chopped
blanched almonds, to decorate
1/4 cup brandy plus extra

Up to a month ahead: 
Place rum and all dried fruit into a snap-lock container and shake around to soak the fruit. Shake once a day until ready to use.

The night before you bake the cake:
Place the soaked fruit, butter, port and sugar into a large heavy based saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Allow to simmer for about 5 mins. Remove from heat and stir in bicarbonate of soda. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm (9") springform round cake tin with baking paper.
Stir the whisked eggs, walnuts and orange zest through the cooled fruit mixture.
Add the sifted flour and spices, and stir until just combined. Stir in stout and chopped chocolate, then spoon into prepared tin. Smooth the with the back of a spoon top and tap the tin on the bench to ensure no air bubbles. Arrange almonds in a circle on the top of the cake.
Bake for 3 hours until a cake skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Liberally brush the top of the cake with brandy while it is still hot. Place a clean tea towel over the top and leave to cool completely in the tin.
When the cake is cold, remove from tin and brush top and sides with extra brandy. 
Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container until ready to cut.

* This recipe also works well for six individual cakes, using 10cm springform tins. Bake cakes for 1hr 50 mins. Great for hand baked gifts.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Mandarin, Almond and Ricotta Cake

It's Friday, so let's eat cake! I need no other excuse.

How has your Friday been? Mine are always brimming and they fly by. Today was spent in cake prep, deliveries, a spot of birthday shopping for my Mr Nearly-Five, lunch with Mum at a cafe we're eyeing and then more baking for tomorrow's orders. I'm looking forward to a glass or two of wine tonight! And possibly some of this delightful mandarin cake for dessert.

The texture is moist and light and almost cheesecakey. It's quite different to anything I've made before. It could be a pudding. I'm tempted to make an orange caramel, spoon it over the top and serve the whole thing warm with icecream. And maybe a glass of Botrytis. Cheers to Friyays!

Mandarin, Almond and Ricotta Cake
(Serves about 12)

125g butter
125g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature, separated
Zest and juice of 2 large mandarins
Zest of 1 lemon
125g almond meal
60g self-raising flour
200g fresh ricotta cheese
Icing sugar to serve

Preheat oven to 180C.
Brush the insides of a Bundt, ring or Kugelhopf tin with melted butter, then dust with flour to ensure the cake doesn't stick.
Beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy (about five minutes). 
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating until combined each time before adding the next.
Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
Add the zests, self-raising flour and almond meal and fold through.
Whisk together the ricotta and mandarin juice until frothy like a milkshake. Fold this through the cake mix.
With an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Stir half the egg whites into the cake batter, then gently fold through the remaining egg whites.
Spoon the mixture gently into the prepared tin (you want to preserve the air in the batter), then lightly jiggle it and give it a small tap on the bench to make it even.
Bake for 45 mins or until a cake skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for at least ten minutes before turning onto a wire rack. 
Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar. I had some edible flowers in my fridge (of course I did!) so I kind of tore them up and scattered them around because flower confetti is a thing and everyone should have more of it in their lives.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Winter Is Here White Vegetable Soup

It was such fun to say Winter Is Coming in the lead up to June, especially when Game of Thrones was actually screening. Unfortunately Monday nights are plain again and winter has arrived with a vengeance.

It is time for huddling in the kitchen around steaming cups of tea, reaching for one more just-baked biscuit and craving nothing but soup for lunch.

I have been doing just that, baking daily, warming the house with the oven, tunes on, or listening to the odd podcast. My favourites at the moment are Salesy and Crabb prattling about books, food, politics and movies in Chat10Looks3, and Andrew Daddo and Holly Wainwright on the hilarious ups and downs of parenting in This Glorious Mess. I also love Lee Tran Lam's The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, and the best edu-tainment going around, Conversations with Richard Fidler. Do you love podcasts too? Any recommendations?

This soup has been on high rotation in my house lately. It has all of the good things, plus a pear for sweetness and crunchy hazelnuts on top. Try not to skip the hazelnuts - they make it extra delicious. 

Winter Is Here White Vegetable Soup
Serves 4-6

30g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle to release flavour
1 leek, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
50g speck, finely chopped
2 parnsnips, peeled and chopped
1 Beurre Bosc pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
250g (about a quarter) cauliflower broken into florets
1L chicken stock
50g roasted hazelnuts
Dash of cream, to serve
Fennel fronds or dill sprigs, to serve

In a large heavy, based soup pot or casserole dish (like a Le Creuset or similar), melt the butter and olive oil together over medium to low heat and gently fry off the fennel seeds with the sliced leek until the leek is very soft. 
Add the garlic and speck and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes to lightly fry the speck.
Add the parsnips, pear, potato and cauliflower, and stir.
Pour over the chicken stock and turn up the heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-25 mins or until the veggies are buttery soft. Leave to cool slightly then purée the soup with a stick blender until smooth.
Preheat your oven to 200C. Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast for 5 mins until lightly golden. Cool slightly then roughly chop.
Reheat the soup and ladle into bowls topped with a dash of cream, a scattering of hazelnuts and a few fennel fronds (or dill sprigs work nicely too). Serve with a big chunky sourdough.