coffee and walnut cake

When was the last time you savoured a lovely slice of coffee cake? 1972? Yes, that’s very likely the same decade that I last had mine too. With its pseudo-European overtones and bordering-on-illicit focal ingredient, one could not help feeling just a little bit grown up being offered a slice.

With movement in time, so came improvement in coffee cake. Today’s are far superior to those gran-used-to-make, and I say this not because I’m gerontophobic, but because we now have access to authentic rich coffee – the essential ingredient that alluded our grandmothers. When I think of the talcum-style coffee products these early cooks had to rely on, it is a wonder that the coffee cake recipe was not forced to extinction. Instead of large screw top jars of dust-like powder, we now have the benefit of slick espresso machines to deliver a damn good shot on demand. (Just one more thing to be grateful for)

And with one shot in the batter and the other in the icing, this coffee and walnut cake is a wonderful way to cherish culinary evolution.

185g softened butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp good coffee
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and some extras to dot on the icing

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a large round cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs individually, beating well after each addition.
  4. Sift all of the dry ingredients together and fold them through the creamed mixture alternately with the sour cream.
  5. Add the coffee and gently mix through until well combined.
  6. Fold through the chopped walnuts.
  7. Spoon mixture into cake tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  8. After cake has cooled, ice with 1 1/2 cups of sifted icing sugar, with 1 to 2 tablespoons of good coffee mixed in until it is a firm spreading consistency.
  9. Scatter walnut halves across the top.

coffee and walnut cake sliced

Postscript: Now I’m sure our European friends are smirking quietly here, as never were they without the magic stuff.

family · recipes


Anzac Biscuits

As we pause to pay respect to our brave soldiers who fought on distant shores, an equally courageous group must also be remembered – the women who remained.

Without a single text, email or status update for reassurance, the womenfolk endured what must have seemed like an endless silence, with only the hackneyed adage ”no news is good news” for psychological comfort.

So what did they do to fill this emotional void – amongst an inventive array of homecrafts, they baked. Unable to be at the side of their loved ones, they did what most of us do to protect our broods as they go forth into the world – nourished their souls in the best ways they could think of: fruit cakes and biscuits.

And if we can recall our own intense care and attention lavished on first-day lunch boxes, then I guess we have some minor benchmark to compare the love and concern that went into the parcels of baked goods, sent lovingly to their cherished.

Anzac biscuits have become an iconic representation within this time of tribute, and lest we forget those who baked them.

1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
125g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp boiling water
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

  1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius. Grease or line baking trays will silicone paper.
  2. Combine first four dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Melt butter and golden syrup over a low heat.
  4. Mix the boiling water with the bicarbonate of soda and add this to the butter and golden syrup mix (it should foam well).
  5. Add this wet mix to the dry mix and mix well.
  6. Place tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared trays and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown.
    (Biscuits will harden as they cool. Makes approximately 24)

anzacs and ename lware

Postscript: Even though much of the baking finding its way to the front had perished or disintegrated upon arrival, the intention and love packed within the parcel remains forever intact. 

family · recipes


chocolate cake

I’m not afraid of spiders,
and lions don’t make me quake,
but there’s one thing I cannot pass,
and that is, and that is,
a chocolate cake!

But why are you afraid of a chocolate cake Grandma? was something I often wondered, when in early childhood, as I followed my grandmother around her garden she would recite this and other childhood rhymes to me. Now, many decades later, I have come to understand the essence of this verse clearly. One of the most divine (and irresistible) experiences of life, is certainly a slice of fresh, lavishly iced, rich chocolate cake.

My preference is for chocolate rather than cocoa in a chocolate cake and moist fudginess (the sour cream takes care of that). Turn out one of these, and let’s see if you have the courage to pass it.

1 cup boiling water
125g dark chocolate, broken up
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g softened butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3 eggs separated
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 1/2 cups plain flour
a pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. Grease a large bundt tin or two loaf tins.
  3. Combine water, chocolate and bicarb in a bowl and stir until chocolate is melted (it foams up and becomes light and airy). Leave to one side.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then beat in the egg yolks one at a time.
  5. Stir in the vanilla and gradually mix through the chocolate mixture.
  6. Sift the remaining three dry ingredients and fold into the mix alternately with the sour cream.
  7. Beat the egg whites until peaks form and fold into the mixture.
  8. Spoon mix gently into prepared tin(s) and bake for40-45 minutes (loaf tins) or 1-1 1/4 hours for large tin. Test with a skewer to ensure cake(s) are cooked through.

Our cake was topped with a chocolate icing – melted butter and chocolate, icing sugar, vanilla essence and 2 tbsp of boiling water, but it is equally good dusted with icing sugar and served with fresh thick cream.

slice of chocolate cake

Postscript: if you reside with locusts, as I do, this recipe is brilliant as the end result will be a large generous cake, or two regulars (one for now and the other for the freezer – if it makes it there)



Lime and Pistachhio syrup cake

In the wake of the recent tsunami of chocolate, a citrusy slice of syrup cake is a welcome relief. Dipping a forkful into creamy yoghurt with some added pistachios for crunch, is a very satisfying way to doff your hat to the passing of another egg-laden seasonal celebration.

As a spacer to all of the chocolate that faced one at every turn in this house, I seized upon this cake recipe from Amber Rose to serve as an easter dessert. It is quite middle-eastern in its make-up – with its composition of pistachios, almonds, honey and orange blossom water. Being syrupy by nature, this cake makes a wonderful dessert – the moisture and sweetness yielding almost a pudding consistency.

Orange blossom water is available at continental delicatessens or if you live in a swish neighbourhood – your local supermarket! Once you have a bottle in your possession, this Lime Cake with orange blossom and pistachios, can be your easter antidote. (Don’t forget to snap off a small branch of your backyard citrus for a very authentic garnish)

225g plain flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
80g almond meal
100g pistachio nuts, toasted in a pan and chopped
2 eggs
250g honey
250g greek style yoghurt
150ml olive oil
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
grated zest 1 lime

100g honey
juice of the lime
1 tbsp orange blossom water

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius, and grease a fluted cake tin.
  2. Mix the first five dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining six ingredients.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until combined and then pour into the greased cake tin.
  4. Bake for 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
  5. To make the syrup, boil 150ml water and the honey together for 5 minutes. Add lime juice and boil for another minute. Add the orange blossom water.
  6. Use the testing skewer to pierce holes all over the cake and gently pour the syrup over the cake.
  7. When the cake is completely cold, remove from the tin and serve with extra yoghurt and chopped pistachio nuts.

lime, orange blossom and pistachio cake

Postscript: should you still be wading through the aftermath of chocolate eggs, a friend of mine dispensed with hers ingeniously by making large batches of chocolate custard with them in her thermomix – just a thought.



chicken and leek pie

Apart from the usual positives of sharing a roast dinner with the neighbours, another perk came in the form of a new idea. What usually becomes of the remains of a roasted chicken in this house, is sandwiches and dog scraps (in that order). Never has a scrumptious chicken, leek and mushroom pie ever crossed my mind as the finale for these birds.

Fortunately, I have a kitchen savvy pal living right opposite, who was not only quick to point this out, but even speedier to extract the leavings and seal them in an airtight, assuring me they were perfect for such a purpose. As we cleared and reset for dessert, she had rattled off her method, which as I scraped and stacked, I quickly committed to memory. The following night, the family received such pie – a far cry from dog scraps.

If you can keep this plan in mind after your next chicken roast, I am able to attest that the end result is going to be: happy families and disappointed dogs.

1 leek
200g button mushrooms
75g butter
2 tbspn flour
500ml chicken stock
2 big handfuls of shredded cooked chicken
2 sheets puff pastry
milk to brush

  1. Slice leek and mushrooms thinly.
  2. Melt butter in a large frying pan and cook leek and mushrooms until soft.
  3. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. You will have a thick mass.
  4. Gradually add stock, stir and cooking until you have a consistency that you like for your pie filling.
  5. Add the chicken and stir until heated through. At this point season, but be very careful with the salt as sometimes the stock contains enough. Set to one side.
  6. Line the base of your pie dish with one sheet of the pastry and prong it all over with a fork to prevent it rising. Bake in a 180 degree oven until par-cooked (about 10 minutes).
  7. Push down any risen puffed bits on the base and add the pie filling.
  8. Cover with remaining sheet of puff pastry and seal by pinching the edges together all the way around. Lightly score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife and brush with milk. Put the pie back into the oven for a further 20 minutes or until well browned. Serve.

chicken and leek pie filling

Postscript: Don’t forget, if you have a spare moment, post chicken pie, join me over here at the new Plain and Simple Facebook page.



chocolate coated honeycomb

Ever wondered what to do with all that leftover honeycomb and chocolate you have? Nor have I, but if there’s ever a reason to stockpile it, this brownie recipe is the one. Shards of brittle caramelised sugar amongst fudgy chocolate brownie – pair this with a nice cup of tea and you have what I would consider to be the ultimate treat.

As autumn slides in, and with it the cooler evenings, what better way to see you through the complexities of Downton Abbey life than a cup of tea and a good chunk of this.

chocolate honeycomb brownie

In fact, I’m sure if Mrs Patmore had culinary associations with those ‘across the pond’, the resulting recipe exchanges would have made possible the serving of this racy brownie to the drawing-room, and all manner of crises may have been averted.

If only Tom could have chowed down on a piece of this scrumptious bake, I’m sure he would be less inclined to espouse his unpopular political opinions (unfortunately alienating him from his English in-laws). Edith’s recovery from her jilting would have been far more expedient had she been offered a slice,  and the stress caused by the recent financial crisis that almost had the Abbey thrust on the open market, would have swiftly been alleviated. Perhaps if Bates could have been slipped a piece through the bars, there would have been more joy in his life than simply Anna’s letters, and even the sourpuss O’Brien might have seen the positive after a good munch.

And, despite its American origins,  I’m sure Granny would have secretly loved it.

Not a Downton fan and haven’t a clue about anything I’ve just written? Don’t be concerned. If your blood is red (not blue) and you’re up for a bit of luxury in the evening, then here are the steps to take:

1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
180g butter
200g dark chocolate
3 eggs, beaten
100g chocolate coated honeycomb, roughly crushed

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius and line a rectangular pan with baking paper.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder. Mix well.
  3. Melt butter and chocolate and pour into dry mix with the eggs. Mix until smooth.
  4. Stir through 3/4 of the honeycomb. Pour into baking pan.
  5. Sprinkle remaining honeycomb evenly over the top and bake for 35 minutes or until firm. Slice when cool.

instagram cadbury

Postscript: Just wanted to include a snap of an old friend who has accompanied me on many baking adventures and who gave a standout performance in this batch of brownies – Cadbury.



sausage rolls

Party food for dinner – a concept that is greeted very warmly in this household.

Every time I enjoy someone’s homemade sausage rolls – and I have tried some incredibly inventive ones: Thai chicken, turkey, pork and chive – I make a mental note to serve them as a dinner dish, then promptly forget the idea! This week however, sausage rolls mentally materialised whilst planning the weekly meal schedule, so there was some rolling and cutting to be had.

Encapsulating vegetables, meat (and plumped up with grains if you wish), there is no reason to dismiss  these little delights as inappropriate on a nutritional basis. Visiting the local butcher for sausage mince rather than the supermarket, is a must, and we are fortunate enough to have one that produces a delish mix. Don’t take the following how-to too seriously, just put in what you like, bake and enjoy.

1kg sausage mince
2 carrots, grated
1 large onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
any fresh herbs you happen to have on hand, finely chopped eg parsley, oregano, thyme
4 sheets puff pastry
milk for brushing pastry
sesame seeds

  1. Mix together (with hands) mince, carrots, onion, egg, salt and pepper and herbs.
  2. Lay out the first pastry sheet and slice in half.
  3. Make two long rolls of the mince mix and lay them down the centre of each half. Brush one long edge with milk and roll the pastry over the mince and seal.
  4. Brush the smooth top with more milk and scatter the sesame seeds over the top.
  5. Slice each log into four pieces.
  6. Repeat this process with the remaining two sheets. (If you have extra mince and pastry, keep going and make as many as you can, because after they have cooked, the sausage rolls freeze well.)
  7. Bake in a 180 degree celsius oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with condiments of your choice.

Postscript: Some serious scoffing took place here, as this batch yielded 32 and none remain standing….



Banana Cake

You may recollect (about a year or so ago), due to the devastating impact of the weather in the northern zones of our land, the banana crops were obliterated. It was not uncommon in ensuing months to see their price per kilogram reach $15. In our home (and I am certain in many others), bananas were given equal respect as would be paid a King Island lobster or a jar of Russian caviar. During this time of the banana’s elevated status,  ‘who ate the banana!’ was frequently shrieked, a child who returned one in their lunch box had a lot of explaining to do and never was a hand of the curved yellows left to blacken in the bowl. Ever.

Fast forward to modern times and we see our ‘nanas back to $2.99 kg – and the last couple in the fruit bowl at the week’s end resembling the ace of spades.

‘The great banana shortage of 2011’ has been indelibly burned on my psyche, so in true 1930’s depression style, I have been bagging the black boys up and tossing them in the freezer – two by two. Mrs Beeton would be thrilled to know, that this week, I have begun my resurrection of these frozen orphans and they have had a very happy ending in a delicious banana cake. Here is where their journey ended.

125g softened butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 cup milk

icing sugar, lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a loaf pan.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in vanilla essence.
  3. Beat in egg.
  4. Add the bananas and mix through.
  5. Fold in the sifted flour.
  6. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and then gently stir this through the mix.
  7. Spoon mix into prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Mix icing sugar with some lemon juice and spread over the cooled cake.

lemon iced banana cake

Postscript: the turquoise and white bowl in the background is vintage Pyrex. The amish farming scene pattern it wears is called ‘Butterprint’  – and I just love it.



Chocolate almond cookies

Done with shopping? Me too. The last of my gifts are coming from the peace and solitude of the kitchen, sans parking lots, harried faces and never-ending landfill.

These cookies epitomise pure cooking escapism – easy to prepare, high yielding and incredibly toothsome (love that word, it sounds like a descriptor that would horrify a dentist). Depending on how reasonably stocked your pantry is, you may not even need to leave the house to get your batches underway.

And just to give you that little extra bang for your baking buck, the mix can be rolled into half-size balls, for twice the output. Put a couple of choc chips on top as soon as they are lifted from the oven and you will end up with at least 30 of these:

chip-topped cookies

Start with the almond topped ones, or build on this mix and design your own.

125g softened butter
½ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups self-raising flour
½ cup cocoa
¾ cup dark chocolate chips
almonds to decorate

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in egg and vanilla.
  4. Stir in flour and cocoa, then fold through chocolate chips. (The mix will be quite stiff)
  5. Roll tablespoonfuls into balls and place on greased baking trays. Flatten slightly with fingers.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked. Cool on a wire rack. (makes about 20)

Postscript: If you have some bags and left over tags, you’ve got something to hand to your colleagues or neighbours over the next few days.

cookie bags



If you can find a recipe that allows you to switch the ingredients according to what you have, you prefer or is seasonal, then I’d say you have a keeper.

These little upside-down cakes fit that profile perfectly. Blueberries too pricey? Replace with strawberry halves. Don’t like chocolate (what!!!) then use this butter patty cake recipe instead. The bottom line is, you decide which fruit is going to feature and what flavour cake batter will be supporting it.

Apricot halves and peaches make a delicious base and as we have just launched into the stone fruit season, they are right at our fingertips. The tender baked fruit that becomes the topping of your cakes provides the moisture and sweetness that icing would normally account for.

For those who are explorers by nature, I’m sure you will come up with some startling combinations.

Over to you.

30g butter, melted
1 tbsp brown sugar
125g blueberries
125g butter, softened
¾ cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
11/4 cups SR flour
1/3 cup cocoa
2/3 cup milk

makes 12

  1. Distribute melted butter evenly between muffin tins. Sprinkle brown sugar over the base of each. Drop approximately seven blueberries into each hole.
  2. Cream the remaining butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Fold in the sifted flour and cocoa alternately with the milk until combined.
  3. Spoon over the top of the blueberries.
  4. Bake in a moderate oven 160°C for 20 minutes or until cooked when tested. Cool before turning out of tins.

Postscript: Packet cake mix has come a long way in recent times. If you need these babies in a hurry, complete the fruit step and spoon the packet mix over the top.