Thursday 29 May 2014

Plum and fig shortcake

Picture this: a small girl holding a pot of yoghurt in the backseat of her parent's car, "accidentally" putting her fingers through the foil top, and spilling it everywhere.  This was my first taste of yoghurt.  Unhappy memories 'cos mum yelled at me, and happy ones due to the weird, tangy, outrageous (to an 8 year old) flavour burst in my mouth.  See the small girl sucking it off her fingers, and not being sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing but determined to give it another go.  And yes I do now love yoghurt;  it is great for breakfast or with curries; plain or sweet and fruity.  Oh well, clearly not sweet and fruity with a curry!  I found an intriguing little tub of black plum and roasted fig yoghurt in my local grocer's recently, and thought to use it in a baked dessert.  You can make a shortcake with any number of different fruits, but I decided to go with plum and fig as I had been given some lovely dried figs by a friend.  (She is also a wonderful poet- see one of her poems here.)   I think it turned out rather well even if I do say so myself.  It was sweet and comforting, with some crunch from the nuts and the toffee.  And you can tell yourself it is good for you with all that yoghurt and fruit!
(Recipe for the original shortcake base came from here.)


Before you do anything else, remember to soak your figs in liqueur for 4-6 hours before starting the recipe!

Shortcake base:

200g of butter at room temp.
1 cup caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee granules
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice


825g tin of plums well-drained and pitted-- (I just pitted them with my fingers; so much easier than a knife)
20g of chopped walnuts
6 dried and finely chopped figs that have been soaked in liqueur or juice or even the syrup from the plums for 4-6 hours - I used Frangelico which gave it a lovely nutty taste
150g of black plum and roasted fig yoghurt


to the final third of the dough you add:

60g chopped walnuts
2 tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules

Yoghurt cream:

150mls whipped cream
150g black plum and roasted fig yoghurt

Toffee crackling:  (optional)

1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbs water
1/3 cup chopped walnuts


Place the butter and sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and beat them together till smooth and creamy
Throw in the egg, vanilla extract and coffee granules and give it another whiz with your electric beaters (or beat vigorously by hand) till well-mixed
Tip the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and mixed spice into the bowl and beat again for a short time, just to get the flour and spices incorporated--you will end up with a thick dough-like mixture; this is what you want!
Press 2/3 of this mixture into a lined pan- I used a throw-away foil pan, approx 26cm x 18cm.

Take your very well-drained, pitted plums and place them over the shortcake base
Add on the chopped walnuts, finely chopped figs (which have also been well-drained; cook's privilege to drink the remains) and spoon over the yoghurt

Now mix the other amount of chopped walnuts, the brown sugar and the coffee granules into the final third of the base mixture
Then take small handfuls of it and drop it in small clumps over the filling; it will spread out as it cooks
Bake for around 35-40 minutes at 180C till puffy and golden on top
Leave it in the pan to cool and serve either warm or room temp.

Serve with the yoghurt cream- equal amounts of whipped cream and yoghurt folded in together

Toffee crackling is optional but delicious!

Place the sugar and water into a small saucepan on a low heat and stir till sugar is dissolved
It will start to bubble so keep a good eye on it
Cease stirring and just watch it carefully, giving it an occasional swirl around the pan if you like
It will go golden very quickly and keep heating, so once it starts to go a lovely golden colour, take it off the heat and cool for a minute
Throw in the walnuts and pour it all onto a lined baking tray to cool completely
Take your rolling-pin or muddler and give it a few good whacks to shatter it
Sprinkle a few pieces-or lots-over your serve of shortcake.

creaming the butter and sugar; adding egg and vanilla

flour and spices go into the mix; base and filling squished into the pan

all topped off ready for the oven; yoghurt cream done; eat!

making the toffee crackling

(figs on the tree-photo by Vinshi)

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Auvergne cherry cake - with a twist

Growing up in the (mostly) cold and wet hills of my childhood, we did not see a lot of cherries.  The only cherry trees that grew near us were of the ornamental variety, and in public places like our local primary school.  Cherries are rather expensive during their short season, which lasts around 100 days apparently.  So yes, you guessed right; cherries were not on the Sherrys Pickings childhood table.
My parents were old school, so we grew up with the occasional apple, orange and banana; nothing fancy or costly. Now that I buy my own fruit, I do treat myself to cherries over the summer season.  They are such gorgeous, purply, sweet globes of lusciousness.  Though of course there are many varieties including the ones called Rainier (I think) which are a lovely red and yellow-skinned type.  You do not often see these in sunny Queensland and in fact, I first encountered them when visiting long-time friends in Hobart who grow lots of fruit and veg. and herbs in their garden.  They had these growing on a grafted cherry tree which had 2 or more kinds of cherry on it.  I know it is not cherry season now so it may seem odd that I am making a cherry cake but I happened to have a pack of them in the freezer and some yeast, so why not?

Rainier cherries (photo by Christopher Thomas)

I first found this recipe on the website for Mount Gisborne cherries, and have since added a few tweaks of my own.


3 eggs -beaten
4 tbs caster sugar
125g plain flour
1 rounded tsp instant dried yeast
2 tsp Dutch cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbs milk
350g frozen cherries (or 500g fresh cherries which you then pit)
50g chopped chocolate


Throw the eggs and sugar into a food processor or blender; give them a quick whizz till mixed-20 seconds should do it
Tip in the flour, yeast, cocoa and vanilla extract
Whizz again till they are mixed together- but not for too long- you don't want it beaten to a pulp:)
Add 2 tbs of milk and give it a quick blast-- it may need more depending on your flour; you will end up with a smooth and not too thin mixture, like a pancake batter 
Pour it into a buttered flan dish  (mine has an 18cm base)
Toss the cherries and chopped chocolate over the batter   
Bake at 220C for 35-45 minutes  -  check it at 30 mins.

It is ready when a skewer comes out clean from the middle  (no need to worry about those burnt edges; it tasted fine.  I think I had my oven up a bit too high)
Serve it warm or cold with lashings of thick cream or ice-cream or even creme fraiche as I did

the blender worked well for this recipe

piling on the fruit

poor bunny!  those ears went to a good purpose tho

the hills where I grew up-on a sunny day

Friday 16 May 2014

Poetry for a wet Friday

Just for a bit of a laugh, I looked up some of my old poems that I wrote years ago for a previous blog- sadly demised due to the webhost going out of business without warning!  It is a grey old day in usually sunny Brisbane so I am catching up on tidying up old files, emails etc.  And with my iphone having been murdered savagely last weekend when someone tried to change the battery, I am having to re-install heaps of stuff and try to remember passwords, and mourn the loss of photos never to be repeated and so on :(.
So here is a wee poem just for a laugh.

Fish and chips:

Fish and chips, baked beans and Spam
Spaghetti on toast, scones and jam
Soups and stews and shepherd’s pies
Hamburgers, Cokes and a large french fries

Sponges and custards and chocolate cake
These are the foods of which I partake
Pate and bread rolls and chilled white wine
A fitting repast for a stomach of mine

Now my belt will not tighten
So my plate I must lighten
It’s farewell to the porridge, fried eggs and ham
And it’s dry toast, skim milk and Weet Bix- oh damn!

library image

library image

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Tembleque-Puerto Rican coconut pudding

OK you will be seeing a theme here- coconuts!  I seem to be a bit obsessed at the moment.  Not sure why!  I have actually had a clipping with this recipe sitting around in one of  my old recipe folders (I have half a dozen) for quite some years.  I think it came from a magazine like Bon Appetit or another American mag.  In a former life, I was a librarian and had access to lots of mags and just-published books etc.  Wow, I miss that!  Anyway, I have always meant to give it a go, and recently Maureen from Orgasmic Chef mentioned that she had had a coconut pudding in the US, so I immediately thought of this recipe and went yes! now is the time.  I did a bit of research on the Net and found many variations for it, including adding orange blossom water and lavender (which I must say sounds really interesting-I must give that a try one day).
But I have ended up mostly using a recipe from a Puerto Rican chef, and adding flavours from the old recipe in the clipping.  I think it turned out really well; I was a bit surprised to tell you the truth.  It has the wobbliness and texture that a good panna cotta should have and rarely does.
Reminiscent of Mrs. Beeton's famous (mis)quote about "first catch your chicken/hare" -(I have a copy of her book and the nearest quote to this says to choose a couple of plump, young chickens), the old recipe I have tells you to "take a clean screwdriver and drive it into the eyes of the coconut."  Ooh, makes your eyes water, doesn't it?  Well, rather than going coconut-hunting, I bought some coconut milk and cream in tins. This will save you a couple of days at least:)  The recipe also tells you to take a hammer and crack open the nut, then separate the shell from the meat and carry on.  Mmm, methinks buying coconut chips from the shop will be easier.  (I now see that this recipe is actually from an advertisement page sponsored by Puerto Rican Tourism and Puerto Rican Rum!)


1/3 cup cornflour (use gluten-free and you can feed your coeliac friends with this dessert)
1/3 cup water
435mls coconut milk
290mls coconut cream
1/3 cup caster sugar- I used vanilla sugar but you can use plain
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 strips of lemon or lime peel- I had organic limes from my sister-in-law's garden so I used those
2 tbs rum
ground cinnamon
roasted coconut chips- buy these from your local health/organic store


Put the cornflour and water into a small bowl and whisk till smooth and lump-free
Place this mixture with the coconut milk, cream, sugar, salt and peel into a medium saucepan on medium heat
Whisk together and keep whisking till smooth and bubbling
Let it boil for a couple of minutes while still whisking
Take pan off the heat and stir in the rum
Take out the peel
Let it cool down for a while-maybe 15 minutes or so

You can either pour it into one big lightly greased mould, or 4 smalll moulds or do what I did; take the easy way out and pour it into glasses or ramekins so no unmoulding needed.  After all, you only need to do that if you're a Masterchef contestant!  It looks great in a martini glass anyway.

Place into the fridge for a few hours, and serve with the cinnamon sprinkled over it, and the coconut chips tossed nonchalantly on top.  I think this pudding really needs the rum for flavour and the chips for texture, but you could leave them out or try different flavours.  I wonder if you could try dusting very lightly with cocoa and tossing on a few chocolate chips?  Not sure; that may be gilding the lily somewhat but it sounds like a Bounty bar to me and that can't be wrong.

ingredients ready for the pudding

on the boil, and then all done!

lookin' pretty in their glasses/ramekins, and finally-decorated with cinnamon and coconut chips

File:Bhm title.jpg
(library image)
don't you just love a good jelly mould! (library image)
This is a page from Mrs Beeton's great book- check it out- you will be surprised by her recipes and commonsense.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Silent Sunday 11 May


Tuesday 6 May 2014

Coconut curd tarts

I have this musty old copy of Alice in Wonderland published in 1946, with the original Tenniel illustrations.  It is yellowed and mouldy-smelling, but it is perfectly readable and still enthrals me every time I pick it up. (Never mind that the old Rev. may have been a bit dodgy (get it?!) around little girls.)  I also own another fascinating copy illustrated by Yayoi Kusama.  She loves dots and so do I!
And what does all this have to do with the price of coconuts you may feel inclined to enquire?  Tarts, my dears, tarts!, that's what it's all about.  As the White Rabbit plaintively tells us, "The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, All on a summer day: the Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts, And took them quite away!"

the white rabbit (library image)

Well, I think these coconut curd tarts are worth risking the wrath of the Queen of Hearts, and the potential chopping off of heads.
First of all, I made Maggie Beer's famous sour cream pastry.  It is so simple- take 250g of flour, 200g of chilled and diced butter, and 125mls of sour cream and throw into the processor.  Give it a quick whiz till it forms a ball, then shove in the fridge for 20 minutes to relax.  (And don't we all need that?)  Then roll it out, line a 12 hole muffin tin, and blind-bake for about 20 minutes at 180C till golden, then leave to cool right down.  You can then fill the little cases with whatever you like;  I had coconut curd in the fridge so that is what I used.  (I have to admit that I didn't have quite enough of this curd so I used commercial lemon curd in a couple of them which worked just as well.)  Obviously buy the best lemon curd you can find.  I used a NZ brand which you can find on supermarket shelves.  It is very yummy!  I had some pastry left over so that went into a plastic bag and into the freezer for another day.
Once the cases were completely cool, I spooned in a generous dollop of the curd- (see one of my earlier posts for this recipe), and topped them off with a coconut cream mixture.  This is made by whipping 300mls of cream with 2 tbs of icing sugar, 2 tbs of coconut cream and 1/4 tsp of coconut essence.  I happened to have the coconut cream in the fridge but if you don't have any to hand, either leave it out or add a tiny bit more essence.  And to make it just a little more decadent, I sprinkled some grated chocolate over them.
Yes, definitely worth a be-heading!

love the chess game, and the dots!

ingredients blitzed up into a ball

blind baked with baking paper and pie weights

whipping up the coconut cream; and topping the tarts 

tarts, glorious tarts! (library image/public domain)

Friday 2 May 2014

An Andy Warhol week

Remember Andy Warhol and his 15 minutes of fame quote?  It has been an exciting week here in Sherrys Pickings world.  (And one that was book-ended by Masterchef encounters.)  First up, I was an extra for our mate Mel's Vanilla Zulu Culinary School tv shoot, which will be coming up on The Great South East in a few weeks. (I think you may just see the back of my head).  It was a big day (oh my sore feet), and alot of fun seeing how a tv show is filmed.  And yes, the camera-man does actually yell out "Action!"  We got to meet Sofie Formica the charming host who is just as gorgeous in real-life as on the telly.  We made merry in Mel's kitchen, adding culinary bling to some great food, and of course getting to eat this delish repast!
Neil the fishmonger extraordinaire came in to prepare the freshest and most delicious seafood.  Mel was her usual fabulous self; an absolute tv natural.  Lovely to look at and a warm, engaging host, and it goes without saying, a talented chef.  (Did I get that bit right Mel?)  We met the delightful Emily who was assisting Mel with the prep. for the shoot.  Emily is one of this year's Masterchef contestants, so you will be able to see her in action next week. We had a really good time, and I advise you all not to miss out on one of Mel's classes if you get a chance to attend.
Mel and Neil having a fishy frolic and Emily fanning out her fish

camerman setting up, Emily and Mel having fun

Sofie and Mel getting their bling on, the boys peeling a prawn, my olive oil and balsamic glaze cat ready for dipping bread and some gorgeous food on the table

wow look at that shellfish!  there's me in the pink shirt lurking and Sofie and Mel doing their on-camera stuff

This fun event was followed by a wonderfully intoxicating (pun intended) night with May King of May King Tea  fame.  She is currently hosting tea ceremonies each Sunday at GOMA as part of the Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition (which happily has been bought for the gallery by a generous benefactor).  We enjoyed tea and cocktails with her, showcasing 5 different teas, and were served amazing food by Danielle Dixon, a former Masterchef contestant who now works for Bucci restaurant in the Valley.  This totally enjoyable and informative night was held at Scrumptious Reads which is a great little (cook)bookstore also in the Valley.  Cocktails were served in beautiful teacups (oh dear, all that washing up by hand).  My fave drink was the Journeyman's Dilemma- full of lovely rose and vanilla scents.  There was an amazing platter filled with edible soil made of dried olives, breadcrumbs and other mysteries.  We indulged in cute chicken sandwiches, and blow- torched salmon and desserts in tiny glass jars.  As Danielle said when asked how she got it into the jars, "Couldn't you hear me swearing?"  May King was her usual wonderfully warm and informative self, giving us insights into tea-making and the history of tea, and educating us into the world of real tea.

After these 2 events, I feel educated, entertained and exhausted!  It is always a pleasure to hear May King speak on her special topic so don't miss out if you get the chance!

beautiful tea cocktails in beautiful tea cups!

May King in fine form; lovely ladies enjoying their drinks and May King also indulging

edible soil, chicken sandwiches and lovely fruity cocktail.  Danielle the chef explaining her food concepts

May King, and delish dessert in a tiny jar