Gypsy and the Botanist

Lemon, vanilla bean and white chocolate semolina bundt cake.

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It’s been hot here. And when it comes to cake, hot demands something light and fresh. In my Polish upbringing, a lot of cakes used semolina, which would give cakes a lighter texture. To keep things cool, I’ve centred this recipe on fresh, zingy lemons. Along with some vanilla beans and white chocolate for some creaminess.

While I’ve used a bundt mould, I’d actually recommend using a standard 18cm/20cm round tin. Semolina is tricky and very fragile, and the lock and release round tins are semolina’s (and ultimately yours!) friend. By it’s very nature, semolina is very crumbly. While it’s this texture that works so beautifully in cakes, it requires a lot of handling with care!

 

Ingredients

4 lemons, juice and zest

2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped

200g white chocolate, roughly chopped

200g unsalted butter, softened

200g white caster sugar

4 eggs

3 tbsp natural yoghurt

A pinch of salt

100g plain flour

50g potato flour

100g semolina, fine

2tsp bicarbonate of soda

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Lemon glaze

1 lemon, juice

3 tbsp icing sugar

2 tbsp warm water

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Preheat the oven to 180C.

Melt the white chocolate gently in a double boiler, and remove from heat and side aside to cool. In a pan, simmer the lemon juice, zest, and vanilla beans for about 10 minutes, and set aside to cool.

Sift together the plain flour, potato flour, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Meanwhile, beat the butter and sugar for approximately 5-6 minutes, or until light and creamy. On a low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture until incorporated, followed by the yoghurt. Then, add the melted white chocolate and the lemon and vanilla mixture. Add the semolina, and beat until all incorporated.

Pour the mix into a greased and lined bundt tin (or round tins), and level out. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and leave in the tin to cool completely (this is particularly important with semolina – if you handle it too early while it’s still warm, it will crumble). Then move to a wire wrack to cool completely.

For the lemon glaze, combine the lemon juice and icing sugar, and mix with a fork. Add the warm water, and continue to mix until the icing sugar has dissolved. Add more of either the lemon juice, icing sugar, or water, depending on your preferences. Pour over the cooled cake. I decorated the cake with some pepitas and marigold petals.

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Spicy ginger, apple and dark chocolate bundt cake.

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This was inspired by a cake Violet Cakes’ Claire Ptak recently made (cocoa and apple). That flavour combination was a big part of my childhood, often interlaced in the Eastern European staple of gingerbread. And to this day, the aroma of apples, ginger and cinnamon takes me back to my childhood: afternoon teas, filled with coffee and variations of gingerbread cakes, and Polish chatter.

 

Ingredients

200g good quality dark chocolate

200g mixed dried fruit (I used currants, sultanas, apricots and prunes)

1 cup of whisky

1 lemon, juice and zest

2 whole star anise

3 green apples

1 large knob of fresh ginger

200g unsalted butter, softened

200g brown sugar

4 eggs

200g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt

3 tbs of good quality cocoa

1 tsp cinnamon, ground

1 tsp nutmeg, ground

A sprinkle of cloves, ground

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Dark chocolate ganache glaze

200g good quality dark chocolate

25g unsalted butter, cubed

200ml fresh cream

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Preheat the oven to 180C.

Melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler, and set aside to cool.

In a small pan, simmer the dried fruit, whisky and lemon juice and zest, for about 10 minutes. Continuously stir to make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside to cool.

Grate the apples and ginger, and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar, for approximately 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. On a low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time until each is incorporated. Beat in the bicarbonate of soda, salt, and half of the flour, until incorporated. Then beat in the melted chocolate, followed by the apples and ginger, the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and then the dried fruit mixture. Beat in the cocoa and the remaining flour.

Pour the mixture into a bundt cake baking tray, and bake for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and leave to cool in the tin for approximately 20-30 minutes, then transfer onto a wire wrack to cool completely.

To make the dark chocolate ganache glaze, in a double boiler, gently heat the fresh cream, until it starts to lightly simmer, but don’t allow it to boil. Remove from heat, and stir in the dark chocolate and butter, continuously stirring until all melted and incorporated. Place it back on the heat for a minute or two if more heat is needed, but watch it carefully so it doesn’t split. Set aside to cool.

Once the bundt cake has completely cooled, gently drizzle the dark chocolate glaze over, and allow to pour down the sides. To decorate, sprinkle some raw cacao nibs, some dried apple crisps, and edible flower petals (I used some salvia).

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Cheese crackers: Garlic and rosemary / Truffle, parmesan and black pepper

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It may perhaps be surprising for some, but I actually don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Given the choice of chocolate, or chips… Chips always win. My favourite foods? Cheese and olives. My rosemary has been thriving and this reminded me of a recipe I accidentally made a couple of years ago with leftover pizza dough… I decided to roll it out super fine, sprinkle it with some seasonings… and left to cool completely, this leftover dough made a tasty cheese cracker. Here, I’ve made two kinds of crackers: the first was rosemary and garlic, and the second was truffle, parmesan and cracked black pepper.

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Ingredients (Makes approximately 28 long crackers)

200g white bread flour (Tipo “00” flour)

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp caster sugar

1 7g sachet of dried yeast

1 cup of warm water

1 tbs good quality olive oil

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Rosemary and garlic

Good quality olive oil

2 cloves of crushed fresh garlic

Fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

Sea salt

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Truffle, parmesan and black pepper

Truffle oil

Finely grated parmesan cheese

Freshly ground cracked black pepper

Sea salt

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Preheat the oven to 180C.

Mix the yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil with the warm water in a jug, and leave in a warm place for approximately 10-20 minutes, until the yeast is activated. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and create a well in the middle. Pour the yeast mixture into the middle, and using a wooden spoon, slowly stir the flour in, until it all comes together. The mixture should be sticky. If it’s too hard, add some more warm water.

Once it is combined, take the dough to a clean surface dusted with flour, and knead until the dough feels soft, and “springy”, like an elastic. Once you have kneaded the dough, place it in a large bowl, and cover with a damp cloth, and leave in a warm place for about an hour. The dough will then expand in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, and lightly knead it again. In batches, break off a handful of the dough, and with a rolling pin, on a flour dusted surface, roll out the dough until very thin (the thinner you roll the dough, the crispier the cracker). Place this on a flour dusted baking tray (I prefer to use pizza stones to ensure it’s extra crispy), and season accordingly.  For the rosemary and garlic variation, rub some olive oil into the rolled dough, followed by some crushed garlic.  Sprinkle with the fresh rosemary and some sea salt. For the truffle, parmesan and black pepper variation, rub some truffle oil into the rolled dough, and then lightly sprinkle some parmesan, followed by the black pepper and a touch of sea salt.

Bake the rolled and seasoned dough in batches, for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and leave on the tray for about 10 minutes, and then move to a cooling wrack to cool completely.

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Lemon, thyme and white chocolate cookies.

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Keeping with the festive theme… The traditional dried fruits and heady heart-warming spices, while decadent and delicious, are also traditional of cold winter days.  With the Australian summer christmas, I wanted something fresh and light.  Winter spices are made to dance with zingy citrus peel.  Which brings me to these cookies… zingy lemon is the star here.  And I’ve also added white chocolate for some creamy sweetness.  And finally, I wanted to balance these flavours with some earthy thyme.

 

Ingredients (Makes 30)

250g unsalted butter, softened

230g brown sugar

200g caster sugar

2 eggs

A pinch of salt

450g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 lemons, juice and zest

A handful of thyme leaves

220g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Sea salt

Macadamia nuts, crushed

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Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a small saucepan, simmer the lemon juice and zest with the thyme, for about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and pinch of salt.

Cream the butter and sugar for approximately 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating on a low speed, until incorporated. Still on a low speed, mix through half of the flour mixture until incorporated. Then add the lemon and thyme mixture, and then the remaining flour mixture. Once this is incorporated, stir through the chopped up chocolate.

On a greased and lined baking tray, break off pieces of the dough, and form them into balls about the size of golf balls. Place these balls on the baking tray, about 5cm apart. Sprinkle each ball with sea salt and the crushed macadamias. Bake in batches for approximately 10 minutes. Then press each cookie flat with a fork, and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Allow the cookies to cool on the trays for 10-15 minutes, and then transfer to a wire wrack to cool completely.

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Double dark chocolate and mint cookies.

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So the holiday season is here, and I wanted to make something festive to evoke christmas.  I saw some candy canes, and their minty sweetness inspired this recipe.  So mint… and chocolate.  One of my favourite childhood flavour combinations, which I’ve taken to this cookie today.  I’ve based this recipe on 70% dark chocolate, sweet and slightly bitter, and super rich, which is balanced by the light freshness of mint.

 

Ingredients (Makes 30)

250g unsalted butter, softened

230g brown sugar

200g caster sugar

2 eggs

A pinch of salt

450g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tbsp good quality dutch cocoa

220g 70% good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped

A large handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped

1/2 cup of full-cream milk

6 drops of mint oil

Sea salt

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Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a small saucepan, steep the fresh mint in the milk, by simmering over a low heat for about 10 minutes. Make sure to continuously stir so it doesn’t burn.  Set aside to cool.

Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, pinch of salt, and cocoa.

Cream the butter and sugar for approximately 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating on a low speed, until incorporated. Add of the half the drops of mint oil. Still on a low speed, mix through half of the flour mixture until incorporated. Then add the mint leaf mixture, and the rest of the mint oil drops. Once this is incorporated, add the remaining flour mixture, and then stir through the chopped up chocolate.

On a greased and lined baking tray, break off pieces of the dough, and form them into balls about the size of golf balls. Place these balls on the baking tray, about 5cm apart. Sprinkle each ball with sea salt. Bake in batches for approximately 10 minutes. Then press each cookie flat with a fork, and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Allow the cookies to cool on the trays for 10-15 minutes, and then transfer to a wire wrack to cool completely.

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Birthday cake for Talunia: Vanilla, white chocolate and raspberry torte.

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Yesterday, one of my favourite little people – my niece Talunia – turned two. She is a glorious little thing. She has the cheekiest of smiles, the most infectious laugh, and the best serious ponderous faces. To mark another year of her adventures, I made this birthday torte, inspired by some of her favourite things: raspberries and PINK! I also need to mention that one of the biggest triumphs was getting this torte to the Royal Botanic Gardens in one piece on a hot day!

 

Ingredients

200g white chocolate

200g raspberries

200g unsalted butter, softened

200g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

4 eggs

100ml natural yoghurt

200g plain flour

2tsp bicarbonate soda

1 vanilla bean, beans scraped

Good quality raspberry jam

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Pink vanilla buttercream

100g unsalted butter, softened

300g icing sugar, sifted

1 vanilla bean, beans scraped

75ml fresh cream

Juice from crushed up raspberries, for colour

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Preheat the oven to 180C.

Melt the chocolate, and once melted, stir through raspberries. Set aside to cool.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla beans until light and creamy, for approximately 5 minutes. Beat in one egg at a time, and then the salt, until incorporated. Beat in half the flour and bicarbonate soda. Then beat in the yoghurt and chocolate and raspberry mix, and then the remaining flour, until incorporated.

Pour the mixture into a greased and lined cake tin. Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until a cake skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then move onto a wire wrack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter and vanilla bean on a high speed for approximately 5 minutes.  Then on a low speed, add the icing sugar and cream. Once they have been combined, add some raspberry juice (until the desired colour), and beat on a high speed for another 3-4 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Once the cake has cooled completely, cut the cake in half, and spread a thick layer of good quality raspberry jam. Then sandwich the cake together, and ice the cake.  Refrigerate to set.

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Basil and lemon cake with vanilla bean cream cheese frosting.

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So with a couple of 38+ degree days here in Sydney, I think it’s fair to say that summer is finally here in all its glory. Today was one of those days, and admittedly, I almost didn’t bake. But in my morning watering of my balcony garden, I saw that my little basil was flowering. With the basil in its prime, and some beautiful local lemons I picked up the other day, today was the day.

Basil is a favourite herb of mine, it’s sweet and earthy. But it’s mostly used in savoury dishes. After a cocktail I had last summer, I had been thinking about this cake idea for a while.  The sweetness of basil sings of summer. And I thought the zesty lemon would give this sweet herb a refreshing backdrop.

 

Ingredients

200g caster sugar

200g unsalted butter, softened

200g plain flour, sifted

2tsp baking soda

4 eggs

200ml full cream milk

handful of torn basil leaves

2 lemons, zest and juice

1 vanilla bean

A couple of tablespoons of plain yoghurt

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Cream cheese frosting

150g unsalted butter, softened

200g full fat cream cheese

250g icing sugar

1 vanilla bean

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Preheat the oven to 180C. Roughly tear up the basil leaves, and place it with the milk over heat, and bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stand aside to cool.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy for approximately 4-5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, and then the vanilla bean. Beat in half of the flour and baking soda, then half the yoghurt, and half the milk and basil mixture. Beat in the lemon zest and juice. Beat in the remaining flour, yoghurt, and milk and basil mixture.

Pour the cake batter into greased and lined round cake tin, and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a cocktail stick comes out clean.

For the icing, beat the butter until creamy, for about 4-5 minutes. Add the cream cheese and vanilla bean, and beat for approximately another 2-3 minutes. Add the icing sugar gradually, and continue to beat for another 2 minutes, or until smooth.

When the cake has cooled completely, spread the frosting evenly over the top. Decorate with lemon zest.

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Chocolate, rose and blackberry torte.

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I’m currently experimenting with tortes for an upcoming project.  This flavour was what I was working on last weekend when my old mixer died on me, mid-icing.  I resumed, with my new partner in crime, this weekend.  Chocolate is always a hit, but coming into the warmer weather, I wanted to lighten it.  The cake is a dark chocolate yoghurt and rosewater sponge.  Inside, there is a layer of blackberry jam for some juicy tartness to break up the richness and creaminess of the chocolate, a layer of rose petal jam to highlight the rose, and an extra layer of the icing.  The icing is a white chocolate and rose swiss meringue buttercream.  To decorate, I used some roses from the markets, coconut chips, dried rose petals, as well as some fruit blossoms from the park across from me.

After this baking session, I think the KitchenAid can stay.

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Back in business.

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I’d like to introduce to the world, my new baby, a KitchenAid.  Squeeeeeeee!  So I’m officially back in business.  She’s my pride and joy, and purrrs like a dream.   Admittedly, she’s pretty much all I’ve been talking about today (and no doubt in the days that follow).

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R.I.P. Mixer

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So today was a sad day. I was beginning the adventures of #testingforalice. I was trying to justify to my mum how I needed a Kitchen Aid, that it would change my baking life. I was chatting to her about the cake I was planning to finish today. I’d baked it yesterday, and was going to do the icing today.  And we walked past a florist who was selling these beautiful blue cornflowers. My mum introduced me to these beauties back in the house she grew up in, in the Polish countryside. We’d pick cornflowers in the farm fields, and make chains for our hair, sitting under a green apple tree. So my mum treated me to a bouquet, knowing that I’d decorate my planned cake with some of these beautiful buds. On the way home, I also found some hibiscus flowers on the roadside, and these beautiful big green leaves from a tree out the front of my place. All for this cake I was making.

Putting the flowers aside, I get to making the icing for my cake. About 15 minutes into it, my mixer started making a horrible noise. I look, and the paddles had stopped beating, and it was burning hot to touch. It died. Midway through. The cake sit there naked, and lonely. Was this in retaliation to my dreams for a Kitchen Aid? Quite possibly. Is this ample justification? Again, quite possibly.

I’ll be forging ahead with a borrowed old mixer stat. And keep on dreaming on. In the mean time, these beautiful flowers, given and found, decorate my shelves and tables instead.

To be continued….

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