Chocolate Coconut Slice

We’ve been away in Newcastle for a couple of days going to a mid-week wedding and as we were driving home today, it suddenly hit me that 2015 is only a few weeks away. Generally it feels terrible to wish time away, but I’ll be glad to see the end of 2014. There have been some definite ups – my sister getting engaged, our art deco apartment and lots of yoga classes – but mostly, it’s been pretty rough. My hours have been so long that it’s been almost impossible to maintain even a little balance (this poor neglected blog is proof enough of that) and I miss sleep and friends and watching Call the Midwife. The work I’ve been doing has also made me stop and think more deeply about what I want to do in the long term (I feel like this often!) and while it’s good to figure that stuff out sooner rather than later, change is scary.

Anyway, all of this has absolutely nothing to do with baking, but I wanted to come say hi (hi!) and I’ve had this recipe sitting in my drafts folder for way too long, so chocolate coconut slice it is. My sister and I have made this recipe dozens of time – it’s the taste of my childhood. I think it’s the first thing I every learnt to make on my own.  (Though the first time we attempted this without parental supervision we realised mid-way that we didn’t have vanilla extract and couldn’t possibly bake the slice without it. The only logical thing to do was eat as much batter as we could and feed the rest to the garden. I hope our baking skills have improved considerably since then!). It’s buttery, sweet and far more satisfying than it should be given the short list of ingredients, none of which are fancy.

[Ed: as I’ve been writing this, it’s hit me how funny it is to write about change and fear of what the future holds along side the oldest, most steadfast and comforting recipe I know. I feel like I should thank the universe for giving me a surprise but much needed dose of the familiar. Or is that just too much yoga going to my head?]

Chocolate Coconut Slice (recipe from the Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits published by the Australian Women’s Weekly)

1 c plain flour

1/2 c white sugar

1 c desiccated coconut

1 tbsp cocoa powder

185 g butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

Icing

1 c icing sugar mixture

2 tbsp cocoa powder

30 g butter

1 1/2 tbsp hot water

desiccated coconut, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F. Line a 19 x 29 cm cake pan with baking paper.

2. Melt the butter over low heat. When it is completely melted, remove from heat and leave to cool.

3. While the butter is melting sift the flour and cocoa powder into a medium mixing bowl. Add the sugar and coconut and using a wooden spoon, stir to combine.

4. Add the butter, egg and vanilla essence to the flour mixture. Stir until the flour has been fully incorporated into the butter. Press the mixture into the cake tin.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture is firm but soft to touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan.

6. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a small mixing bowl. Stir the melted butter and then add the water or milk and the vanilla essence. Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth (it should be the consistency of thick honey or nutella). Pour the icing over the slice and spread with a knife. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of desiccated coconut over the slice. Eat up!

Notes

  • I have been making this slice for years as outlined above but it is very buttery. I’ve had a look online and others report having great success with 125 – 150 g butter. I’m going to test it out soon and report back.
  • This recipe doubles really well (if you can bring yourself to use so much butter).

The Ordinary

I keep waiting to write a post until I have a recipe to share with you but the truth is I’m having some major issues moving all my software over to my new laptop so I don’t have Lightroom to play with. Work is crazy busy too so the chances are it’s going to take me a little while to figure out this annoying IT bug. I hope you’ll stay, despite the absence of pretty pictures.

Even though I don’t have a recipe to share, I can point you in the direction of these stellar muffins. Along with these beauties, I think they might be the best muffins I’ve ever made. They were pretty much the highlight of my week! That sounds incredibly boring but there are lots of exciting things in the pipeline at the moment too – Christmas and getting away to Canberra and Victoria, graduate rotations at my firm in the new year and visits from family overseas. I can’t wait.

Perfect summer sandals.

Very sensible advice.

I love these old fashioned cakes. I haven’t had a marble cake since I was at school.

This looks like such a cool bar. We’re going to Melbourne, the Grampians and driving the Great Ocean Road over the Christmas break and Pony Fish is definitely on the list. Is there anywhere else we should check out?

This topic is endlessly fascinating to me.

I had a perfect lunch here today and I’m so keen to get back soon.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is the best book I’ve read in ages. When I bought it, the sales woman said that she adored it but she refused to tell me anything about the plot. I’m so glad she didn’t spoil it. Don’t google it, just start reading!

Link love

I’ve heard it said before that the days are long but the years are short and that’s how life feels at the moment. Days are creeping by full of an apparently endless number of contracts that need to be reviewed and an overflowing inbox. But when I stop for a minute and look up, I realise that it’s almost October (!) and everyone is making plans for summer holidays and talking Christmas. While it feels horribly wasteful to be wishing days to pass, I’m so ready for fruitcake and longer days, not to mention a holiday. I think we’re going to stay close to home this Christmas, maybe visit Mudgee (just to stay here!) and / or Hyams Beach.

Favourite Sydney station. #vscocam

Apart from plenty of wanderlust, there isn’t much else happening around here at the moment. I do have a brownie recipe ready to share soon, but in the meantime, here are some things I’ve been reading lately.

Marmalade appears to be the flavour of the month – this zucchini marmalade loaf is my new favourite thing.

Prince Alfred Park is one of my favourite spaces in Sydney. Can’t wait to swim there again soon.

A new cocktail spot

The only way I’ll get a tan this summer.

Next up on my reading list.

I am a Lena Dunham fan girl.

Spring (with cake, of course)

Spring makes me a little bit crazy. When the weather starts to change and there’s a palpable sense of summer just around the corner, I suddenly feel this need TO DO ALL THE THINGS – organise holidays, buy new clothes, book concert tickets. This past week, work finally let up after a few weeks of utter horror and I’ve found myself home by 7pm, with a few hours of free time ahead of me! The combination of spring and free time has left me feeling a lot restless.

By last Thursday, I couldn’t take it anymore and so I headed off to Rupert and Ruby for a burger with Rosie, Friday night I went to Fix St James for a glass of wine with friends and Sunday involved brunch at Fourth Village (the best!) and dinner at the Lord Dudley. It’s no European holiday but it’ll do. Apart from getting out of the house, I’ve also been doing lots of baking. It probably makes me sound ancient, but I find it way more calming than watching TV or mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. It’s something about following instructions and using your hands without having to think very much. On Saturday we had friends over for dinner and never one to pass up the chance to bake, I made a marmalade, coconut and semolina cake from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Pretty Little Loaf

Everyone raves about Jerusalem but I’ve been slow to get on board. Middle Eastern food is probably my very favourite but Ottolenghi’s recipes always looked so complicated and I couldn’t believe all the hype was really deserved. Turns out, I should eat my words. My sister gave J a copy of Jerusalem for his birthday a couple of months ago and we’ve been cooking from it non-stop since. Some of the recipes involve ingredients that would take a mission to find but the majority of them are totally doable and delicious, this cake included. It’s one of the best things to come out of my kitchen and it really couldn’t be easier – it’s as simple as squeezing oranges and stirring. There’s no creaming butter and no sifting. The results are delicious. The cake is moist without being squidgy and heavy, it has a faint coconut fragrance and fine, soft crumb. With a bowl of softly whipped cream (soured with a couple of teaspoons of greek yogurt), it’s the kind of cake you could graze on all night long.

Semolina, coconut and marmalade cake (from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Makes 2 small loaves

180 ml sunflower oil

240 ml fresh orange juice

160 g orange marmalade (I used Bon Maman)

grated zest of one orange

70 g caster sugar

70 g desiccated coconut

90 g plain flour

180 g semolina

2 tbsp almond meal

2 tsp baking powder

For the syrup

200 g caster sugar

140 g water

zest of one orange or 1 tbsp orange blossom water

1. Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Butter and line two 500g loaf tins with baking paper.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sunflower oil, orange juice, marmalade and orange zest until evenly combined.

3. In another bowl, mix together the sugar, desiccated coconut, flour, semolina, almond meal and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients, stirring until the mixture is smooth and evenly combined (it will be really runny but don’t worry).

4. Divide the filling evenly between the two loaf tins (I did this by putting it into a large pyrex jug and pouring it into the tins).

5. Bake for 40-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Start checking at about 35 mins – mine were ready at that point but my oven runs hot).

6. Towards the end of the baking time, place the syrup ingredients in a small bowl and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. When it’s bubbling gently, remove from the heat. As soon as you take the cakes out of the oven, start spooning the syrup over them. Spoon a couple of tablespoons over a time and then leave for five minutes before spooning over some more. Ottolenghi and Tamimi advise you to use all the syrup but I used less – see the notes below.

7. When the cakes are almost cool, remove from the leans and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack. I served them with whipped cream, which I combined with a little greek yogurt.

Notes

  • Ottolenghi and Tamimi flavour the syrup with orange flower water but I didn’t want to splash out on something I’ll probably never use again so I added the zest of an orange instead.
  • I only used about 2/3 of the syrup – I was worried the cakes would turn into puddings if I kept going. I think they turned out just right with that amount of syrup but you could definitely use more if you’d like.
  • The recipe calls for 2 x 500g loaf tins. I had no idea what that meant but google pointed me in the right direction.

Oh, hi!

What to say after such a long absence? The last couple of months have flown by in a blur of moving house, weekends away and lots and lots of work. On top of that, I often feel sapped of any hint of creativity when I’m working long hours and not getting enough sleep and while I’d love to write for days about all manner of work related things, this isn’t quite the right place for those kind of chats. And so, when work is taking up the vast majority of my time, there isn’t that much else to write about. Is anyone out there still watching Grey’s Anatomy? Because that’s all I can handle at the moment and I’m definitely keen for a debrief. While the last couple of months have been frantic, two huge work deadlines passed on Friday and I’m hoping (EVERYONE KEEP THEIR FINGERS CROSSED) the coming weeks will be more manageable. I’m determined to go to bed before 11, run semi-regularly and drink less coffee. Also, cook more! Last night we had friends over for dinner for the first time in our new place and it was so nice to cook for a crowd again. Cake, Half Eaten Dessert was this stellar caramel and vanilla cheesecake. I’m not a member of the Donna Hay fan club (the opposite, in fact!) but this cake is glorious. There are a few steps so it will rob you of an afternoon but none of them are complicated and you’re guaranteed a huge hit. It’s pretty hardy too. Yesterday I decided to go out for lunch with my mum while it was in the oven. I’m still figuring out our new (very hot!) oven and so we returned to a cheesecake with a completely black top. I waited for it to cool, scraped off the top and set it in the fridge for a few hours before covering with a layer of sour cream and whipped cream. It did a perfect job of covering all sins and no one was any the wiser. So, that’s a complete summary of my winter so far – work, new house, cheesecake. Until next time, here are a few links.

I can’t wait to see this film.

Loving this blog.

If only Madewell shipped to Australia.

We’ve been eating a lot of this amazing roasted pumpkin.

I highly recommend this collection of short stories.

Bring on summer!

Reading, lately

It’s been ages since I wrote about what I’ve been reading lately so I figured it was time for a run down. I joined a book club last year and it’s been a really fun way of expanding my reading horizons. Everyone has different interests and tastes and it’s fun seeing how we react to different things.

One of our recent books was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. It’s a love story which begins on the Italian coast in the early sixties and hops across decades and continents until it reaches its end in the US. It’s a perfect plane read (also can we talk about how good the cover is?!) and I particularly like that the ending involved some growth and peace for many of the characters without straying into complete fantasy land; there’s a little bit of mess and darkness.  Having said that, I found parts of the plot ridiculous. Can you imagine being 22 and mistaking pregnancy for stomach cancer? Enough said.

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – I think Rowling is a very fine storyteller and it’s a bit of a shame that she’s constantly in the shadow of Harry Potter (though, what a shadow). This couldn’t be more different from Harry Potter and I think that’s affected the reviews. Harry Potter is huge in its scope, featuring not only an entirely imagined world but the ultimate battle of good and evil. In contrast, the Casual Vacancy is firmly unextraordinary in its setting and plot. A member of the local council of a small English town dies suddenly, leaving a casual vacancy that villagers fight to fill. Though it’s not full of dragons etc, I loved it for making something so rich out of high schoolers dealing with adolescence, infertility and difficult in-laws.

The Expats by Chris Pavone – I have to say, this isn’t something I would have read without book club spurring me on but I actually quite enjoyed it. It’s light, yes, and somewhat implausible (think the book equivalent of Scandal) but my goodness, I couldn’t wait for the secrets to start tumbling out. The main character is Kate, who gives up her job as a CIA agent to follow her husband and their young sons to Luxembourg for her husband’s work (something to do with computers and banks and security). She befriends a young American couple who aren’t all they seem and things gradually shift from the mundane to thrilling. It’s not a challenging or particularly memorable read but it’s a decent way to pass the commute, which is more than I expected!

Longborn by Jo Baker – Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors, which feels horribly cliche to admit but I suppose they’re classics for a reason. I’ve never read fan fiction before and was pretty sceptical about this one, which loosely follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice but is told from the perspective of the Bennets’ servants.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book – I think Baker highlights how grim life would have been in 1808 (the pressure to produce an heir, a total lack of contraception, horrendous wages and working conditions and the list goes on) but overall, this wasn’t a book I enjoyed. It was both boring and totally overdone. The characters weren’t developed at all and although it’s interesting to think about how the Bennets would have looked to the servants, I hated the way Baker recast some of the characters. Mr Collins, who must be one of the most ridiculous characters in history, is presented as a rather sweet, nervous young man trying to find his way. Ugh, please. And there ends my brief flirtation with fan fiction.

On to something better! Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is delightful. It captures perfectly the horror and joy of being a teenager and falling in love for the first time. It’s well written, tender and so touching. I don’t have anything more to say about it except, go read it!

Next up on my to read list is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and perhaps Tess D’Ubervilles, which I’ve someone never read. What are you reading at the moment? And do you have any recommendations? There’s nothing I love more than book suggestions!

Pear, Oat and Macadamia Muffins

Check it out friends, Sweet Peas has had a little upgrade! I can’t take a single bit of credit for it – it’s all my very talented friend Rosie. While it would have been nice to celebrate this new design with an over the top chocolate cake, I couldn’t quite face such baking up such extravagance for one. Besides, I already have a go to recipe (I wrote about back here). Instead, I have a muffin recipe: pear, oat and macadamia muffins from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon.

Muffins for Breakfast

I love making (and eating!) muesli so much that I’ve been eating the same breakfast for about six years. Recently, the thought of having yet another bowl of oats has felt so boring, the cornflakes and the cardboard box they come in have looked more appealing. I needed a change and some inspiration (and uh, to stop over analysing my breakfast) and Whole Grain Mornings is just the thing. This is a great book, by one of my favourite bloggers. It’s full of healthy recipes that feel exciting without requiring you to track down dozens of hard to find ingredients. The pages looks so enticing, I’m even considering the occasional savoury breakfast (think zucchini farro cakes, pumpkin breakfast risotto etc), emphasis being on considering. True to form, the first recipe I actually made from the book was for these muffins. They make a great breakfast but I also tend to get hungry angry in the afternoon and these are perfect for getting you through to home time. They’re barely sweet but not so austere you feel like you’ve been cheated out of a satisfying snack. They freeze well too, though they need to be jolted back to life in the oven once they’re defrosted. My one complaint about this recipe is that between grating pears and melting butter, you’ll tear through bowls. I’ve attempted to stream line here but be prepared to do a little washing up (it’ll be worth it, promise).

Pear, Oat and Macadamia Muffins (recipe barely adapted from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon)

Makes 12

I used macadamias here because I had them in the cupboard but Megan’s recipe originally uses hazelnuts. I think that pecans or walnuts would be good too. I’ve listed the spices below as they appear in the book but next time I’m going to bump them up to 1 tsp.

75 g rolled oats

120 g plain flour

60 g wholemeal plain flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch salt

2 firm medium pears

125 g raw sugar

85 g butter

240 ml buttermilk

2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

120 g macadamia nuts, toasted (I toast at about 180’C for 5-7 minutes or until a gentle gold and starting to smell toasty)

1. Preheat the oven to 220’C/425’F. Butter a standard 12 cup muffin tin.

2. Peel and core the pears. Grate them using the large holes of a box grater. You need about 1 cup / 215 g shredded pear. I found that 2 medium pears gave me slightly more but depending on size, you might need a third.

3. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.

4. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and stir through the sugar. Stir in the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and shredded pear and mix until you have an evenly combined batter.

5. Gently fold the flour mixture through the butter mixture. Don’t overmix.

6. Set half the macadamia nuts aside (for sprinkling on top of the muffins). Stir the other half into the batter.

7. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin tin. They’ll look quite full but they’ll be ok – they don’t rise too much. Sprinkle with the remaining nuts.

8. Put the muffins straight into the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 375’F / 190’C. Bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to touch in the centre, 23 – 27 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing.

Spinach and Sesame Salad

Finally! I’m back with a recipe (though it’s so short I’m not sure that it really counts). My love of salad has been fairly well documented on Sweet Peas and while it’s always fun to try new things, my standard is butter lettuce tossed with a simple vinaigrette. There are usually no tomatoes, no cucumber, just leaves slicked with a simple mixture of olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Every once in a while though, it’s nice to mix things up a bit. Variety is the spice of life etc etc. Also, a french vinaigrette doesn’t sit well next to miso glazed salmon on the dinner table. Enter, spinach and sesame salad.

Dressing, Soon To Be

It’s been said that if you get one keeper dish from a recipe book, it’s worth it’s purchase price. If that’s true, Asian After Work by Adam Liaw has more than earned its place in my cookbook collection. I’ve tried the roasted chicken with coriander and fish sauce, wanton noodles and miso glazed eggplant, all of which were delicious. But my favourite recipe so far, is this salad. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make and it packs an unami punch that’s so satisfying. We eat it with bento pork, fried rice or soba noodles. Adam also recommends pouring it over steamed chicken or grilled pork, something I definitely intend to try.

Salad, Dressed

Spinach and Sesame Salad (from Asian After Work by Adam Liaw)

2 large handfuls (about 100g) of babe spinach leaves, washed and dried

1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds

Dressing

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp caster sugar

2 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 small spring onions, white and light green parts (optional)

1. For the dressing, place the soy sauce, caster sugar, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, sesame oil and spring onions (if using) in a jar. Shake well to combine, making sure the sugar has dissolved.

2. Toss the baby spinach and cucumber in a salad bowl. Pour over the dressing and serve immediately.

Notes

  • I just cannot get on board with raw onion so I skip the spring onion here, with no ill effects. Besides, I can’t bear to buy a whole bunch knowing that I’ll use only a couple before they start to liquify in my crisper.
  • Any left over dressing keeps well in the fridge.

Lately

Every working week should be three days long. We might be a little bit poorer, but I think we’d be happier too. I spent the Easter long weekend in Brisbane with J. Brisbane isn’t the prettiest city around but it has everything you need for a relaxing break. We ate brownies at Dello Mano, went to an awesome whisky bar, saw the Grand Budapest Hotel (amazing! It strikes a perfect balance of hilarious and dark, the sets and costuming are gorgeous and somehow it manages to capture that sense of grumbling grandeur that was everywhere when I travelled in Eastern Europe). We wandered aimlessly through GOMA/Queensland Art Gallery and had a surprisingly satisfying Thai meal at a little cafe called Bo Lan. Lest you think that all we did was eat, there was a long run in there too, I made a pretty pathetic attempt at lifting weights and we cycled everywhere. Also, I got the best fortune cookie in the history of fortune cookies. All in all, it was pretty great. Even better, today is a public holiday and I plan on spending the entire long weekend cooking and blogging. Have a good one xo

Fortune cookie

This is such a cool idea.

I wouldn’t go back to high school but sometimes I wish I was young enough to be part of the Tavi Generation.

Celebrities who instagram just like us.

I want to go to San Francisco so bad.

Pyjamas. Enough said.

A new (to me) blog I’m loving.

Anzac biscuits!

March

Hooo boy, March has been a real doozy (how on earth do you spell doozy? doozie?). A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I were driving home to Canberra late on a Friday night and about 75 km from home, we hit a wombat. It was like hitting a block of concrete; they’re such solid creatures! It did so much damage that my car has been written off and my nerves definitely took a beating (just call me Mrs Bennett!) – standing on the side of a highway  in the middle of nowhere with cars going past at 110 km/hour in the pitch dark  is no picnic. To top it off, last week a hot water bottle burst on me, giving me a pretty spectacular burn. It’s finally started to heal and I should be heading back to work next week. Hurrah!!

I haven’t been doing a huge amount of cooking lately (or photography!) but I’m going to try and use my last few days off work to bake something deliciously complicated. In the meantime, here are some lovely links and things I’ve been reading/seeing/exploring lately.

This is our current book club read. I devoured it in less than a week and seriously, it has such a gorgeous cover. I’m on the lookout for something new to read now I’ve finished this. Any recommendations?

This chocolate coconut pound cake is just about the only thing I’ve baked in the past month – it’s so good not even a car accident and a few hospital visits could make me forget it.

Hart of Dixie is my guilty pleasure.

This recipe looks beautiful (and so healthy!).

I had a quick lunch at Lemonia with my dad last week and it totally hit the spot. The coffee was perfection!

Loved Winter’s Bone.

Dying to purchase this entire make up range.

Back soon. Fingers crossed. Xo