Cherry Almond Pound Cake

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My mind moves in extremely lateral zig-zags at times. I was contemplating the beautiful spectacle of the flowering cherry tree in my garden, with its white blossoms drifting onto the surface of the pond, and rather than a haiku springing forth, I immediately decided that I needed to make a cherry pound cake.


This pound cake recipe, with its buttery crumb, and delicious nuggets of kirsch-soaked cherries, comes from one of my most-used baking books, “The Cake Book” by Tish Boyle. I have hundreds of cookbooks; some for reference, some for gastroporn, with their titillating pictures of gourmet fantasies, some for that moment when I have to have Indian, or Thai or Russian food. And then there are the ones that are my kitchen workhorses. The books I turn to when I want to make something and be assured that the recipes will always work, and the results will always be worth the effort. The Cake Book is right there in the Top Ten amongst my baking books.

With pound cake, the devil is in the details. Of the times I’ve encountered pound cake here in New Zealand, it’s often been greasy, coarse-textured or overly sweet. After puzzling this over, I’ve realized that most pound cake recipes are American in origin. And American homes are warmer than the average Kiwi home. And pound cakes rely on well-creamed butter (or in this case, butter and cream cheese) for their velvety texture, which is hard to achieve with butter that is cold. So, for Kiwi cooks, cut the butter into cubes, warm the kitchen up, and let the butter lose its chill before starting this cake. (And no, don’t pop it into the microwave. That just leaves tiny pockets of melted butter inside the cubes that will never hold the air bubbles that we need to beat in.) Continue reading

Christmas Cross-stitch

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Is it too early to show Christmas projects? Anyone who knows me, knows that I adore Christmas. I’ve had the urge to start stitching again after a long hiatus from needlework. This is a stocking that I’m making for my oldest daughter, Natalie. It’s actually the second time I’ve stitched this pattern. I made the first one when she was quite small, and when we moved from Auckland to Wellington, the box that this was packed in, was the one box the movers lost. For many years ( she’s 19 now), Nat has asked me to make her another one.
The pattern was originally published in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, with a different version published annually. Eventually they collected all the stockings in this book, although there was one further pattern released in magazine format. I’ve stiched another stocking from this book for my younger daughter, Emily. For that one I amalgamated elements from several of the patterns.
Wish me luck in getting the stitching finished by Christmas! Cheers Karen.

blackcurrant macarons

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Macarons are the cookie du jour. They’re oh-so pretty, a testament to the baker’s skill, and can be baked in an infinite range of colours and flavours. Macarons basically consist of an almond meal and meringue shell, tinted with colouring to indicate the flavour of the filling. The shells are then sandwiched together with a flavoured filling, which can be a ganache, jam, buttercream or curd. That simple description belies the tiny differences between a so-so macaron, and a stellar one. The shell should have a smooth shiny surface with no cracks or peaks. The perfect macaron should also have a pied , that results from letting the piped batter dry somewhat to form a skin, so that the shell will rise in the oven with a smooth surface and a little frilled foot. The filling should pack a punch of flavour.  Apart from chocolate, where a little cocoa is added to the batter, or nut flavours, such as pistachio or hazelnut, where some of the ground almonds are replaced, the shells  usually only taste faintly of almonds. And that’s always niggled at me. I want a pink shell to taste of strawberries, or raspberries,  an orange one to shout of citrus or passionfruit,  a yellow one to…..well, you get the picture. I have previously experimented with essences and oils, some good, some not so much. But this week I hit the jackpot. Let me introduce you to my latest PRODUCT CRUSH.
I first encountered FRESH AS products when I was reading Savour magazine’s annual top 100 list, and was surprised to see that they were made in New Zealand. Then a few weeks later, I spotted them tucked away in a corner at Moore Wilsons, ( a food market in Wellington). I grabbed a handful of each kind, and have been fooling around with them since then. I’ve tried them in frostings (excellent), and pastry creams (also very good), but the best experiment was putting the powder into macaron batter. YOWZAH! These freeze dried fruit powders are intense, and that carries through to the baked shells. Sadly, only as small number of their fruit powders are available retail, and my attempt to grind their freeze dried strawberries in my mini-processor was a disaster. I did find that a whole packet of powder gave the most amazing flavour to the macarons, but it also made the batter much stiffer than usual, so that the macronnage, the stage where you blend the almond/ icing sugar mixture with the meringue, needed more folding strokes than a regular batter.

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

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Snow may not be a novelty in many parts of the world, but here in Wellington it’s a bit of a rarity. And as for it snowing down to sea level in Days Bay, as it has done on the last few days, well, that’s something I’ve never seen in my lifetime. The beauty of a snow-frosted beach was truly something to behold. More than made up for the evening of power-cuts and a tooth-aching cold house.
The icy blast has come direct from the Antarctic.
The only member of the household who was distinctly unimpressed was our terrier, Jackie O. She appeared to be quite bewildered as to where she was meant to pee, and was not going to put her paws on that nasty white stuff. Instead she trotted back  and forth on the stone wall in the garden, looking for a patch of green. I finally took pity on her and swept some lawn clear, after which she retreated to  couch and has hidden under a snuggly blanket. She seems determined that she’s not leaving the house until all this barometric unpleasantness is over.
So, how was your snow days?….

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