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.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

This is my little black dress of cakes. It is reliable, crowd-pleasing and versatile. It can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion, and it goes with almost anything. 

It has paired beautifully in the past with chocolate mousse, mocha buttercream, cookies and cream ice cream, chocolate ganache, vanilla bean cream and berries, and spiced cherry compote.

Most recently, I dressed it up in salted caramel buttercream for Master O's 2nd birthday. I know, two!

Everyone should have a go-to chocolate cake in their life skill set. This one's a keeper. It is based on the cake recipe here, with a few tweaks.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3/4 quality cocoa
1 3/4 cups caster sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup espresso, cooled slightly

First, make your coffee and leave to cool.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line the bases of two 8" cake tins with non-stick baking paper.
Mix together the dry ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed until combined.
Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and oil in a bowl and add to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Add the coffee and mix again until just combined. The batter will be quite wet.
Pour into prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 mins or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool cakes completely in tins and then turn out onto wire racks.
Trim tops with a bread knife to level.
Spread buttercream icing on top of one of the cakes and top with the other cake. Spread icing on top and sides of the cake with a pallet knife. (I use a gyprocking trowel to obtain a really smooth look. Get them from Bunnings for about $8).

Salted Caramel Buttercream

170g caster sugar
125g cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup double cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

250g unsalted butter at room temperature or softened
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the caramel, have your ingredients measured and ready. 
Place the caster sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat and melt it without stirring. Swirl it around the saucepan until it is molten and all the sugar has dissolved, taking care not to burn it. Adjust the heat as necessary.
When small bubbles appear on the surface, wait a couple of seconds (to take it just a little further into a complex rather than purely sweet taste) and then add your butter, cream and salt. Take care here as the mixture will spit. 
Turn off the heat and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until everything is combined and you have a smooth, glossy caramel. 
Pour it into a heat proof bowl or container and set aside to cool.
You will only need half for the buttercream. Keep the rest for ice cream sundaes.

For the buttercream, beat the butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat for a further 5-8 minutes until very pale and fluffy. Add half the caramel and beat until just combined.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Pistachios

"And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course." Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

One of my besties is getting married this weekend. 

She moved, with her coffee machine and barely enough shoes, to take a teaching post in the middle of Australia a bit over two years ago. I didn't tell her, because she's not the huggy type, but I was pretty proud of her at the time. I knew it would be an incredible experience, and that she would learn loads and come back possibly changed. She certainly came back wiser and emotionally stronger for having lived and taught in such a remote community. But she also came back with a man. A man with a liking for craft beer who cooks her pasta from scratch with the attachment on his Kitchenaid. He also comes with the added benefit, being a fellow teacher, of matching holidays and looking a lot (like, really a lot) like Tim Rogers. They are now home owners and newly minted Novocastrians and, holy moly, about to get hitched!

I am looking immensely forward to this wedding. There is a group of us who hark back to school days, and I know they are too. We will charge our glasses to our friend and her husband, our new friend God help him, remembering days of swilling a far lesser vintage on the rooftop of a certain Sydney boarding school. 

I kind of nagged her into letting me make her wedding cake, so in honour of passion pop, I am layering the top sponge tier with passionfruit curd (she thinks it's because they're abundant at the moment). The bottom tier will be a traditional fruit cake, thankfully made by the groom's mum, as I haven't made a single one in my life. Shhhh! And the middle tier will be carrot cake with orange cream cheese frosting. 

I made a test carrot cake for Mr LP's birthday recently, using my favourite recipe with pecans and raisins, which my Mum has been asking me to post here for a while. This is the cake in the pictures. I thought it was fairly good but as usual I have tweaked here and there, added some crushed pineapple on good advice and a bit of shredded coconut, and the recipe below is the result.

I hope it's a cake to remember and that it adds an extra layer of happy to a brilliant day.

Carrot Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Pistachios
(Serves 12-16)

3 cups self raising flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1.5 teaspoons each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sunflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
500g grated carrots (about 5)
200ml crushed pineapple
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup raisins, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Cream Cheese Frosting:
100g unsalted butter, softened
500g cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest

Candied Pistachios:
1/2 cup pistachio nuts
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 170C.
Grease and line the base and sides of a 10 inch cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
Place the flour, baking powder, spices and sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.
Whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla in a bowl and stir into the flour mixture.
Add carrots, pecans and raisins and stir until just combined.
Pour into prepared tin and bake for 50-60 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Cool in tin at least 30 mins before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
To frost the cake, carefully cut it in half using a bread knife. 
For frosting, place all ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Spread a layer of frosting on bottom half of cake. Top with the other half and then cover the cake in remaining frosting, smoothing with a pallet knife or spatula as you go. 
Scatter the candied pistachios on top and serve. 
* Because it was a special occasion, I fancied Mr LP's cake up a little more with vanilla meringues, crushed crystallised violets, fresh figs and bright Gerberas. 

Candied Pistachios:
Place all ingredients in a frypan, toss together, and cook over medium heat for about 5-6 mins, jostling occasionally until caramelised. Pour onto a baking tray lined with non stick baking paper and leave to set. When cooled and hard, break or chop into pieces.


A couple of snaps from the day. Congrats Katie and Michael!

(Photos by Siobhan Rogers)

Friday, 13 February 2015

Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake

There was once a girl who followed a boy to the other side of the world to win back his heart.
On a cold, clear night she kissed him on a bridge and cried all the way back to her hotel because it was rather perfect and it always had been.
Then she broke her ankle at the top of an icy mountain, flew all the way home with her foot up - thank you travel insurance - and when she arrived she sent the boy a note.
Real love stories never have endings, she wrote. And she got lucky, because she is the luckiest. Except on French black runs in the late afternoon.

Ever have a sliding doors moment? That fall was probably mine. 

Eleven years later and love these days feels like a second skin, simple, raw, the most comfortable, easy presence. It is a million tiny moments, some charged, some furious, some silent, many not acknowledged or even designed to be.

It is a cup of hot coffee placed in my hand in the morning. Fresh sheets on the bed without telling me. A new dress, bought for me online after a passing comment. A Ben Folds song. Learning my recipes and churning out orders beside me. The sight of him wrapped up in a book, or up to his elbows in flour kneading pizza dough, or sitting in a sea of Duplo with our boys building helicopters.

It is licking a wooden spoon clean of caramel every time I make it. A shared memory of Venice. Calling me Snuffy in the supermarket. Enjoying Great British Bakeoff as much as I do. And Grand Designs. Being my test guinea pig for things like this Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake - because they don't always turn out this good.

A lot of people tell me that our story makes them believe in fairy tales. I tell them yes. And to always buy travel insurance.

Here is the recipe, in case you want to spoil your love this weekend. The original is from Nigella Lawson's book Nigellisima. I have replaced the crushed hazelnuts on top with hazelnut praline, because, toffee!

Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake
Serves 8-12

250g digestive biscuits
75g soft butter
1 x 400g jar of Nutella or another smooth chocolate hazelnut spread, at room temperature
100g roasted hazelnuts, chopped
500g cream cheese, at room temperature
60g icing sugar, sifted
170g caster sugar

Break the biscuits into the bowl of a food processor, then add the butter and one tablespoon of Nutella
And blitz until the mixture starts to clump. Add 25g of the roasted hazelnuts and continue to blitz until you have a damp, sandy texture.
Tip the mixture into the base of a 22cm round springform cake tin. Press evenly into the base of the tin using the back of a spoon. Place in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
Beat together the cream cheese and icing sugar until smooth and soft, then add remaining Nutella and beat until combined.
Pour the filling over the chilled base and smooth it evenly. Place back in the fridge overnight to set, or for at least four hours.
To make the praline, scatter the remaining chopped hazelnuts on a flat baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. 
Place the caster sugar in a saucepan with 1/4 cup of water. Stir over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Brush down any sugar crystals around the inside of the pot with a damp pastry brush. Bring to a boil and stop stirring. Boil mixture for five to eight minutes, without stirring, until it is amber coloured. 
Pour the toffee over the hazelnuts and place the tray in a cool, dry place until the toffee sets hard.
When it is cold and hard, break the toffee into pieces and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the toffee is broken up into small nutty shards. 
To serve, remove cold cheesecake from tin and scatter praline generously over the top (keep any leftover praline in an airtight jar or container for sprinkling over chocolate ice cream).
Serve immediately. For best results, cut the cake with a hot knife.


If you are in Sydney, you can pick up my retro sugar heart cookies at Wild Basket Neutral Bay this weekend.

Happy Valentine's Day. Especially you, Mr LP. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Lazy Lamington Sponge with Muddled Raspberries

It feels odd to have been working these past few weeks. Usually I manage to convince Mr LP and my cafes to let me flit off to the beach with the kids and Mum for a while each January. 

But in what may be a sign of the year ahead, we were straight back to business after New Year's, and I feel a bit smug and serious, like I have a jump start on the sandy crowd.

We have a busy year ahead. We are scouting for commercial sites, taking on more corporate work and I am very excited to be designing more wedding cakes in the coming months - including for one of my besties. 

Bring it 2015!

Now, to matters of the upcoming long weekend. Straya Day (Australia Day to our northern friends) is nearly here. This means lamingtons are in my immediate future.

You could make these but they're fiddly. So for anyone pressed for time or motivation, I have a lazy version, in the form of a sponge cake with a thick layer of chocolate ganache on top and muddled raspberries with whipped vanilla bean cream in the middle.

I'll concede that the sponge concept is not so lazy that it involves going to the shops and buying a packet of lamingtons. You'll still have to turn the oven on, but you won't have to deal with a coconut bomb exploding in your kitchen, which is the deal whenever I make lamingtons.

In the spirit of this lazy cake, this is a lazy post in that said sponge was knocked up in 90 minutes from start to finish and the photos were quickly snapped at my sister's table before the family fell on it like the animals they are. This, however, does demonstrate the point of just how easy it is. And doesn't she have a lovely parquet floor?

Happy Straya Day, whatever you are up to. May there be blue skies and water involved. And lamingtons in any delicious form.

Larissa x


Lamington Sponge Cake with Muddled Raspberries and Vanilla Cream
(Serves 10-12)

Sponge Cake:
6 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
75g butter, melted

100g dark couverture chocolate
120ml single pouring cream

Vanilla Cream:
180ml single pouring cream extra
1 teaspoon icing sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)

The rest:
1 punnet fresh raspberries 
Shredded coconut for top

Preheat oven to 170C.
Grease and line two 20cm round cake pans with non-stick baking paper.
Triple sift the flour and baking powder.
Place the eggs in bowl of electric mixer and begin whisking on low speed. Gradually add the caster sugar then turn to high speed for 10-12 minutes until the mixture has tripled in volume.
Sift over half the flour and baking powder and fold in gently with a metal spoon, followed by remaining flour. Add the melted butter and carefully fold in until all incorporated.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the two prepared cake pans.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
Remove sponges from cake pans immediately and leave to cool completely on wire racks.
For the ganache, break the chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl.
Heat the cream in a saucepan until just boiling then pour over the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes then gently stir until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Set aside at room temperature to thicken a little before it is needed.
For the whipped cream, place the extra cream in bowl of electric mixer with the icing sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk on high until soft peaks form. Place in the fridge until needed.
When the sponge is completely cool and you are ready to assemble, place the raspberries in a bowl and use a cocktail muddler or a fork to muddle or mash the raspberries to a lumpy paste.
Place one half of the cake on a cake stand or plate. Top with the raspberries, spreading to the edges. 
Spoon the whipped vanilla cream over the raspberries and top with the remaining sponge layer.
Pour the thickened ganache over the top of the cake, guiding it with a pallet knife so that it drips ever so slightly over the edges, like a cake in a Disney picnic. Sprinkle the top with shredded coconut and serve. If you are making it ahead of time, store it in the fridge and get it out an hour before you are ready to serve, to allow the ganache and cake to soften.