Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lemon Cotswold

Leafing through an old cookbook, a recipe catches my eye.  Or, more accurately, the name attracts me -  Lemon Cotswold.

I love lemons.  I think I love the Cotswolds ( but I can’t be sure, I’ve only been there once. 

This is essentially a lemon cheesecake. Not as evocative a name as Lemon Cotswold, I know.  

Sometimes I find cheesecakes a bit heavy.  This one has a whipped, creamy lemon topping – all light and soufflĂ©-like. 

First point to note
: this recipe made a lot of filling.  The recipe said to fill the biscuit lining.  It did not say to pile it high.  There was no photo to guide me.  Unless I was heading for the leaning tower of lemon, (you may want to go there), there was no way I could use the full amount, so I froze the leftovers.  I was happy with the amount I used (see photo) but you could use the entire filling and stack it up high.

Since making this recipe, I spotted a similar one whilst browsing through a cookbook at work (the ones that come in every few weeks for sale at some ridiculously low price when you’ve paid a fortune for it back in its prime).  It had a picture of a lemon cheesecake with the topping piled high on the base.

Second point to note: I swapped the digestive biscuits for ginger nuts.  I’m not being original.  People do this all the time.  Choose your preference.  I just liked the idea of lemon and ginger – kind of reminded me of my soothing herbal tea.  However, ginger nuts being the kind of tooth-breaking biscuits they are, try not to layer them too thick on the base and sides.

Lastly, the recipe stated half a large tin of evaporated milk.  Well, chef, just how big were tins of evaporated milk back then? I figured I’d use half of a normal sized tin of today – that being half of 375ml – work it out, I’m useless at maths.  It seemed to work.

As for the frozen leftover topping – I have no idea how well this will freeze but I feel a Lemon Cotswold Frozen Dessert coming on….

Lemon Cotswold

115g butter, melted                             2 lemons (1 large or two small should suffice)
250g (1 packet) ginger nut biscuits      170g Philadelphia (cream) cheese
(or use digestives)                              230g caster sugar                   
1 lemon jelly                                       ½ of a 375ml tin of evaporated milk (chilled)
6 fl oz water, boiled

Line the bottom of a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.  I normally cut a circle slightly larger than the detachable base.  Place the circle of baking paper over the base before clipping the top on.  That way it sits neatly across the bottom.  Melt the butter and while it is cooling, crush the biscuits (either put them in a plastic bag and bash a rolling pin on top of them or, take the easy route and blitz them in your food processor).  Pour in the melted butter and mix to combine.   Place the biscuit mixture in the cake tin as evenly as possible, bringing the mixture up the side of the tin.

Dissolve the jelly in the hot water and squeeze the lemons.  Cream together the cheese and sugar in a cake mixer with a beater paddle (or by hand with a wooden spoon) until light.   Beat in the jelly and lemon juice.

Whisk the chilled, evaporated milk as stiff as possible and fold it into the cheese mixture.  Fill the biscuit base with as much as you want and chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

The recipe is one of a collection of recipes from The Good Cook’s Guide (1974) – and originally came from the chef at the Tudor Rose in East Horsley.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender
I’ve tried not to give too much away of the plot.  If in doubt, don’t read.

If you read my last Etcetera you’ll know how much I had anticipated the arrival of this book. But having heard whisperings of it - something a little strange and weird - I hesitantly turned each page.  Something disquieting was happening and I was soon to realize that the quirky title and light-hearted cover design belied the wistful story inside. 

Rose, 9 years old, is given a slice of lemon cake her mother has baked.   That is when she discovers she has a gift – she is able to taste and feel the emotions of the person who made the food.  In her mother’s case, the tastes she feels are ones of upset, distance and hollowness.  My mother’s hands had made the cake … but she was not there, in it.  From then on, eating food becomes a huge burden for Rose and as she ages we follow her journey through her feelings and thoughts about her gift; her relationships with her family; her school girl crush on her brother’s friend; to her awareness and an eventual kind of acceptance. 
Rose is a believable and likeable character.  She shows maturity way beyond her years and in spite of her gift appears to be the only “normal” one in her family.  Her parents and brother are less well drawn.  Perhaps this is intended to highlight their self-absorption and withdrawal from each other. Rose tries to anchor the family together, reassuring her mother and keeping secrets; trying to find a common bond with her father and to connect with her brother.  But in the end Rose must make her own way in life and find a way to live with her gift.
So far so good, but when the novel moves its focus to Rose’s brother, Joseph, it takes off in a different direction, one that I just found weird and not in any way as convincing as the first part of the book. The reason for Joe’s disappearances was confusing (I had to go back and reread it to see if I’d missed something).  It wasn’t satisfactorily explained. From this point, I felt less interested in the outcome and the remainder of the read was perfunctory.
If you ask me whether I liked it, I’ll tell you that I don’t know.  It was not what I expected, for sure. I can only say that it was a beautiful, melancholy read for the most part but overall it left me unfulfilled. The writing was beautiful and Rose’s childhood and teenage experiences were utterly convincing but in the end it was just a little too weird. I would still say read it – many people have loved this book.  I wanted to love it too.  I just didn’t.

A Family in Paris – Stories of food, life and adventure
Jane Paech

And so from kicking leaves to skipping through them, I picked up this book.  A memoir from Australian, Jane Paech, of observations, stories and anecdotes of the joys and maddening frustrations of living in Paris, this book was so enjoyable and amusing.  One of the delights of Paris is discovering what’s in each shop window or around each corner and so it is with this book.  Beautiful design and layout, great photos, easy, intelligent writing and thoughtful inclusions of her favourite places, this book will either make you want to go there or return.  I’m already making my list.

Monday, May 9, 2011

chocolate date crumble slice

My intention was to make brownies.  I figured if I left some lovely morsels for the photography group, I’d be bound to get one decent photo of the slices for my blog.  Came back from book club and the shutters on their cameras had not even blinked.   The chocolate date crumble slices however had gone down a treat.

I changed my mind about the brownies when I remembered these slices.  My first taste was at a friend’s house - Try these, you’ll love them, she said.  And I did.  She knew I would.  I think I had two.  It is good to know that I can restrain myself when I am out.

In many ways they are reminiscent of chocolate fudge brownies, but they are more complex with a damp, dark richness.  The dates add soft-fibre lusciousness.  The chocolate chips add texture, as does the coconut which doesn’t overpower, as it can do.

I love the creamy pale-golden colour of the middle layer as you pour it on to the baked base.  It’s so glossy and glorious.  

And that’s part of the delight of baking and cooking.  It’s not just the end result that gives satisfaction.  Yes, sometimes cooking can be a hassle.  I read somewhere that on any given day at 4pm most women (and let’s face it, it is mainly women who cook dinner) don’t know what they are going to cook for dinner that night.  I am normally one of those women. 

I try to plan meals for the week.  What happens is that I get up in the morning and don’t feel like having the planned dish of the day.  That’s when I know that weekly menu planners will never work for me as I feel, taste and desire food, I don’t just eat it.  It’s spontaneous - what am I in the mood for today?  Living a little bit away from shops, I do have to have some idea of what I’m doing though or the 4pm problem becomes the 6pm nightmare.

So instead of agonizing over what’s for dinner? I prefer my kitchen moments to be something I want to do, choose to do.  When I have the luxury of time to potter, I tend to have the inclination to head for the kitchen.   I am happy and content there.

These slices are dense enough for me to halve the portion size…. yes, I do.  Okay – I have the other half later in the day.  I think I’m supposed to feel virtuous about that?

chocolate date crumble slice
Julie Le Clerc  (A Treasury of New Zealand Baking)

Makes about 18 squares

150g pitted dates, chopped
125ml water
100g caster sugar
150g standard flour
50g desiccated coconut
20g cocoa powder
120g dark brown sugar
200g cold butter, cubed
1 egg
10g standard flour
½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan-bake).  Line a 17 x 27cm slice tin with baking paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.

Combine the dates, water and half the caster sugar in a saucepan.  Simmer for 5 minutes, until the dates have softened and the sugar has dissolved.  Set aside to cool.

Place the first measure of flour, coconut, cocoa and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to sift.  Add the cubed butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Reserve 1 cupful of this mixture.  Press the remaining mixture into the base of the prepared tin.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, leaving the temperature at 180°C.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg and remaining caster sugar until thick and pale.  Fold in the flour, the date mixture and the chocolate chips.  Pour this mixture over the baked crust and scatter the reserved crumb mixture on top.

Bake for a further 50 minutes, or until firm and golden brown.  Cool in the tin, then remove to a board and cut into squares.

The slice will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container.