Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Comfort food for England fans - Banana Butterscotch Pudding

Oh, England.  Oh, boys!  What happened?

The dedicated readers of this blog will know that I'm not too fussed about football.  Still, it's a pity when England has 'flattered to decieve' (as my husband likes to say) yet again.  I really am sorry though, as I tend to romanticise about old Blighty, being so far away from home.  It's true that sometimes, even in this beautiful city of Cape Town, indeed one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in the world, I still think about the vast green land of England, even long for the grey skies in my worst bouts of homesickness.  But one of the things I think England really has to be commended for,undisputed, is the wealth of literature and the host of literary giants that have been born and nurtured within it's shores.  The English may not play great football anymore, but people, make no mistake, they have one of the best literary traditions in the world!!

What on earth am I talking about?  Well, as a prelude to the recipe I'm including in this post, I would like to cite C.S.Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia.  When I made this Banana Butterscotch Pudding last week, not only was I thrilled that this is a quick and easy self-saucing pudding (I mean, a pudding that  makes its own sauce - what more could you ask for??) but it made me think of Lewis' Chronicles and I smiled to myself, thinking how the author would incorporate a pudding like this into the book.  For those of you who don't know, C.S. Lewis writes about such English characters such as Peter, the strapping young man that England would have been proud of in the days of both World Wars, going off to battle, fighting bravely, and somehow always managing to come home victorious, in time for tea, and usually a few crisply burned sausages and home baked bread too.  I imagined, while sampling some of the pudding I had made, that the quotation would go something like this:

"They marched homewards from the battle, exhausted but jubilant.  Their worries about provisions for the way back were nullified, as Mrs. Squirrel had managed to prepare a Banana Butterscotch Pudding from the Bananas that Sgt. Monkey had hunted for them, and from the cane of a kind Sugar-Fairy they chanced to meet on their travels through the Forgotten Forest.  As they made camp that evening under the stars, Peter sat, deep in thought about about everything that had passed recently, how his life had taken such a drastic change so quickly, and he felt excited and nervous at the same time about his next meeting with Aslan.  Lucy handed him a bowl of Mrs. Squirrel's Banana Butterscoth pudding, and as he took his first bite, he suddenly felt as though he was back home in London.  The sweet warmth of the pudding melted into his tired mind and body, and he soon fell into a much needed deep sleep."

I had a lot of time to think about this, as you can see.   Whip up this pudding, England fans (or anybody, indeed) and reminisce about 'better days'.

Taken from the July issue of Your Family magazine.


For the pudding
210 ml cake flour
pinch salt
140ml castor sugar
1 tbsp (15ml) baking powder
1 mashed banana
1 cup (250ml) milk
90ml melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the topping
140ml soft brown sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) golden syrup
1 cup (250ml) boiling water

- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.  Lightly grease a 2.5l baking dish.
- Sift the flour, salt, castor sugar and baking powder together.  Add the banana, milk, butter, egg and vanilla essence and whisk until well combined.  Pour into the prepared baking dish.
- For the topping, place the brown sugar, syrup and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Carefully pour the boiling mixture over the pudding, then bake for 40 mins (time varies according to your oven) until it's cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Good with custard.  Great with créme fraiche.  Amazing with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lamingtons (or Lemingtons?)

I've seen these pretty fancies spelled both ways.

South Africa's Best Bakes, no.3!  You won't believe me if I told you that I made these within half an hour.  To be honest though, I took a generous short cut or two!  Cake Mamas like me obviously love our baking, but when there's washing to be done, ironing to be packed away, floors to be mopped and toddlers to be scolded at for continually drawing on the walls (!) we welcome short cuts when needed!  It's like having a little kitchen elf help you along the way!

In my case,  I paid my kitchen elf R45 to bake me half a sheet of plain cake.  His name is Marco and he's incredibly cheap, but his bakes are always excellent quality.  Yes, I can bring myself to order from others...I'll occasionally even indulge in baking from a box.

My needs over the weekend were completely justified though.  On Saturday we went to visit a poor lady whose husband had recently passed away.  Now in Cape Town, there's a beautiful tradition that's kept after a death, known as the '7 nights'.  Every night for 7 nights after someone has passed on, visitors and sympathisers come to the house of the bereaved to pray for the deceased soul.  It's customary to bring something along, and people usually bring large quantities so that the family (in this case, the widow) is not burdened with having to make or buy in food for her guests.  I needed something that would go a long way, that would keep if kept in the fridge for a few days, and that would be really quick to make.  My husband's sister in law Rezia (and my saviour that day) immediately phoned Marco (my knight in shining armour and kitchen elf) and in an hour I went to pick up my half sheet of plain sponge.

By the way, half a sheet is still huge.  It made about 50 lamingtons.

But what is a lamington?  It's simply a sponge, cut into a square, dipped in lamington dip mix ( shortcut no. 2, using instant mix as shown above) and rolled in coconut.  I'm told that if you can't get your hands on lamington instant mix, you can even dip the sponge in a crazily coloured fizzy drink (in South Africa, Creme Soda is Green and we also have crazy red Raspberry flavoured soft drinks).  If that doesn't float your boat, use warmed up smooth jam mixed with some boiling water, add a little colouring if you wish.  You just need some sweet liquid to for the sponge to be dipped into.  And the great thing is that since you've dipped the sponge, it won't dry up, even if you keep it in the fridge.

Oh, and did I mention that you can dress these coconut gems up with a little cream and fresh fruit?


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Impossible Tart

Greetings, readers!

Please accept my apologies for not posting anything for a few days.  I so try and keep the blog updated regularly, but the chilly weather here in Cape Town has made way for cold and flu in the Cake Mama household.  Yes, it really does get cold in Africa, as you might have noted if any of you watched Monday’s match at Greenpoint Stadium.  I drove home from my in-laws that night amidst a hailstorm, and was reminded of the mother of all storms we once experienced when we lived in Northen British Columbia, Canada.  The only difference was that in Canada, it was so unbelievably cold outside that all viruses and bacteria carrying illness died (well, that’s my professional scientific opinion) so you couldn’t get sick.  Here, the wind is bone-shiveringly chilly but when you combine that with the strong African sun…well, it’s sick weather. 

I haven’t, however, forgotten my promise to supply you all with yummy South African bakes!  Here’s my next one, named ‘Impossible Tart’.  It should really be called ‘Very Possible and Extremely Easy Pudding’ because it’s laughably easy, and it’s not exactly what I’d call a Tart.  The term ‘tart’ is used very freely in South African cuisine – it basically refers to any kind of pudding that is set when either baked or refrigerated (you’ll meet the refrigerated version when I post up the recipe for ‘Peppermint Tart’, which is so mmmmmm).    Of course, only the English use the term ‘tart’ to describe a particular kind of woman.  I assure you, that I do not make reference to that kind of tart in any of my blog posts.

Finally, please excuse the lack of photos at the moment.  It seems that my little Cake Child has played with my camera’s battery charger and has somewhat misplaced it, bless her cotton socks.  Since I refuse to post up any pictures of recipes that are not my own, I’ll just have to hunt for the battery charger so I can get some more delicious pictures up!

Impossible Tart

4 eggs
50 ml melted butter
1 cup sugar
¾ cup plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Pinch salt
1 generous tbsp apricot jam
1 cup desiccated coconut

-          Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
-          Mix all ingredients together and beat until well combined (by hand or with an electric mixer)
-          Pour into a dish which has already been greased with butter.
-          Bake for about 40 minutes (time varies according to your oven) until the top of the pudding is golden brown.  It should not be completely firm like cake, but it should not wobble when moved!
-          There’s only one way to serve this pudding, and that’s with some warm custard.  Enjoy while watching your favourite programme, or getting stuck into a great book.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Welcome to South Africa, world! Milk Tart recipe

Wooooo hooo!!!  The Fifa World Cup has come to South Africa!  The atmosphere's electric!  People are going crazy!  The traffic going into town is completey choc-a-bloc!  There's so much noise!  Yippee!

Alright, alright.  I'll settle down.  In fact, for those of you reading this that know me personally, you're probably confused already (that's if you didn't pick up the note of sarcasm).  I'm not remotely interested in football.  I was the weird girl in school because I didn't support a team like everyone else, and I once got chastised badly for pretending to support Turkey in a previous world cup match against England, in a very English high school.  Sorry, I'm just not very patriotic when it comes to sport (if ever).  I have dual nationality (British and South African) and I have nothing against either country, nothing at all.  I think that every country has it's beauty and charm.  I just fail to get excited about a bunch of highly overpaid men kicking a ball around trying to get it into a net.  I have no problem if you want to play the game to keep fit etc, but I can't really understand why people obsess over watching it.  All the time.

Take South Africa, for example. A country that straddles the 1st and 3rd world border,quite significantly.  On the weekends, my husband and I (along with his brothers and sister in law who totally run the project) go to a township in Cape Town called Delft. Here, only a mere 15 minutes drive from the safe and comfortable leafy suburb in which I live, is a vast area where people live in poor excuses for houses.  We're talking corrugated iron roofs, thin board-like walls, and in the area called Blikkiesdorp (small tin town) people live in so-called residences that resemble what you and I call a porto-cabin.  A mobile toilet, except, it's supposed to be a house.  They share a toilet with 5 other 'houses'.  The area's infested with crime.  Children can't go to school because it's become risky to walk. Most people have no other means of transport, meaning that unemployment is also rife.  How is this World Cup benefiting those people, and countless others?

Anyway, I'm digressing.  The football tournament is here now, and even if I'm not interested in the sport, I can still be a good host and welcome our foreign visitors into this beautiful land.  Welcome, visitors!  Enjoy your stay in South Africa.  Enjoy soaking up our gloriously diverse culture and eating our unrivalled sumptuous cuisine.  And here's my little offering - for the next few weeks, during the World Cup, I propose to 'pepper' my blog with what I'll call South Africa's Best Bakes (although some may not be bakes at all, as we're rather good at fridge desserts and deep fried things as well).  I'm kicking off now (haha-the irony) with Milk Tart (Melktert).  I think the first time I can remember having this was when my sister-in-law Ziemie made it for us when she was just a newlywed.  I thought it was fabulous then, and I have a soft spot for it because my Dad loves custard tarts, and this is pretty much the same thing.

This recipe has been slightly adapted from the original recipe in the Capetonian housewife's bible, Boeka Treats.


125g butter
125ml (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1 small egg (or 1/2 large egg)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
250ml (1 cup) self raising flour
250ml (1 cup) plain flour

400g (1 tin) condensed milk
1tsp vanilla essence
Pinch salt
9 eggs (yes, 9)
3 1/2 cups boiling water
3-4 pieces stick cinnamon
3-4 pieces crushed cardamom
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter


Biscuit base:
- Cream the butter and sugar.
- Add the egg and vanilla and mix.
- Sift in the flour to form a firm dough.

- Line a pyrex dish (25x35cm) with the biscuit base dough, breaking off peices of dough and pressing it onto the the base and sides of the dish.  Refrigerate.
- Pour condensed milk into a bowl, add the boiling water, butter, cinnamon and cardamom. Add vanilla and salt.
- Allow to cool.
- Beat the eggs and add to the cooled off mixture. Mix well.
- Take out the lined dish from the fridge.  Strain the egg-milk mixture into the lined dish.  Sprinkle the top with a little ground cinnamon.
- Bake at 180 degrees until it's set (about 45 mins).


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Italian meringue

Most people know how to make a simple icing.  Cupcakes are blank canvases - they can be iced any way, and they'll always be a great hit.  The most popular icing for cupcakes is our old friend buttercream, which is simply made by taking some softened butter (not too soft), beat it up with twice as much icing sugar (sifted) and gradually add some milk, tablespoon by tablespoon until you have the consistency you desire.  Add colouring as you will.  

Then there's royal icing - not nearly as expensive as it sounds.  It's simply made by taking egg white (not trace of egg yolk at all) and adding icing sugar to it again until you've reached the desired consistency.  It can be runny to spread over the cupcake, soft peak to hold it's shape, and firm peak, for piping decorations and writing.

My favourite icing at the moment, however, is Italian meringue.  It sounds fancy, and it does take a little more time than other varieties, but it's light and fluffy and feels as though you're biting through a cloud, as I tried to illustrate above by adding a little soft focus to the picture displayed here - I made some of these cupcakes earlier today.  I even coloured the icing blue instead of my trademark pink, to add to the dreamy feel!  You need not be an expert baker or sugarcrafter to make this.  If you can read and follow a recipe, you can make Italian meringue.

This recipe is an adaptation from the original taken from The Way to Cook by Julia Child.  My version includes a smattering of rose water and a teaspoon of rose essence (optional).  You could even substitute the rosewater for lavender water, or orange blossom water.

Enough to ice 24 cupcakes.

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

In a saucepan, boil the sugar and water together.  Boil on a low heat for 10-15 minutes. Keep a wet pastry brush handy to brush around the sides of the saucepan while the sugar and water boils, to prevent crystallising.  

Keep boiling it until it reduces and goes 'syrupy' (I usually judge by dipping a teaspoon into the mixture, then tapping the  teaspoon on a plate lightly.  If it doesn't feel sticky at all, boil it a bit longer.  
For those who want to do it 'by the book', the syrup should be about 112-116 degrees C on a sugar thermometer (soft ball stage).  Just don't judge it by sticking your fingers in.  You'll burn like mad and scream for mercy.

While your syrup is happily bubbling away, whisk your egg whites and cream of tartar together either with a hand mixer or a stand alone mixer.  Keep it whisking away until you get soft peaks.  

Once your syrup is definitely syrupy, you have to pour it in (while it's still hot) to the egg white mixture.  This is the only really fiddly bit.  Carry on whisking the egg whites at a moderately slow speed, and pour the hot syrup in, trying to pour it from a little height, so that it pours into a long, thin stream.  (Try and picture the traditional way of pouring mint tea, like Arabs do.  That's what you want.)  Try to avoid pouring the syrup onto the wires of the whip.

Once all the syrup has been poured, keep beating the mixture and increase the speed until it's completely cooled down.  

Once the meringue can hold its shape, it's ready to use.  You can also add food colouring as you wish.  I prefer to use powdered or paste colouring as this doesn't affect the consistency of the icing as liquids do.  There's a great range at Squire's Kitchen, Sugarshack and Almond Art, and for South Africans, The Baking Tin and any baking retailer have a great range of Barco food colours.

Enjoy biting into a marshmallow-like dream.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The cupcake

What would a baker's blog be without mentioning classic cupcake?

In recent years, the humble cupcake has taken over the culinary world, evolving from being a kids birthday party staple, to getting a glamorous makeover in the form of stylish wedding cakes, cute baby shower favours, romantic treats and show-stopping centrepieces.  The reason for this revolution, in my opinion, is because a) they're super-cheap to make 2) they're far easier to decorate then big cakes 3) they look super-effective when piled up together 4) less waste - you want a piece of cake, have a cupcake to yourself instead to butchering a beautiful big cake and worrying about it drying out afterwards 5) they appeal to kids and adults alike

But to create such works of art, we need to start with the basics.  Here's a super easy, tried and tested cupcake recipe.  After trying many recipes (since I make a lot of cupcakes) this works the best, especially when baking in bulk.  I love it because it's a one-bowl recipe.  If you're lucky enough to own a stand-alone mixer such as a Kenwood or a Kitchen Aid, take it out, plop the ingredients in and get on with something else.

Some tips (and then I promise to stop babbling and get to the recipe)  use the best ingredients that your budget allows.  It makes a huge difference.  For example, use real butter instead of margarine.  Use vanilla extract if you can, the one that's thicker than the essence where you can see the beautiful tiny vanilla beans.  Make sure your eggs are fresh, as well as your milk!  These little checks will even make a simple cupcake more 'wow'.

Baking for my baby shower with my neice Aliyah, in chef's garb.


250g unsalted butter, softened*
250g caster sugar**
250g self raising flour
pinch salt
4 eggs
4 tablespoons milk
2 tsp vanilla essence, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 x 12 hole muffin tins, lined with paper cases

* If you can't find unsalted butter, or if you just want to use up your normal butter in the fridge, that fine, just omit the pinch of salt.
** I only say caster sugar because it's dissolves that much faster than ordinary granulated sugar.  It really does make a difference.  If you can't be bothered to make a special trip to the shops to buy the stuff, use ordinary granulated sugar but take care to beat it with the butter well so that it all dissolves.  Or you can blitz it in a food processor to make it more fine.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees.
Soften your butter slightly by beating it in a bowl, either manually or with your mixer on a slow speed.
Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides so all sugar granules are incorporated and dissolved (this ensures a smooth and soft top to the finished product, instead of the dreaded hard crust)
Add the eggs, then gradually add the flour, and pour the milk in gradually to to make a smooth, but not runny, dropping consistency.
Spoon the mixture into the cases, leaving each paper case about 3/4 full.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.  Note that each oven is different, so get to know your own oven.  If you're unsure how fast or slow your oven bakes, keep an eye on your cupcakes.  Crucially, don't open your oven door until they are about 70 per cent baked (as a guideline the tops should be looking more firm and not looking like batter).  If you're baking them on different shelves, this is the time to quickly whip them out and swap shelves so both batches are baked evenly.  Please don't burn your hands, as I have done many, many times.

They should be golden brown when they're ready to be taken out.  Poke it lightly with the flat of your finger.  If it springs up without leaving an indentation, it's done.  If not, bake it a little longer, and maybe turn your heat down.

Take them out and smile with pride before deciding how to decorate your blank canvas!

 Aliyah displays our handiwork.

Note:  for chocolate cupcakes, omit 2 tablespoons of flour and replace with 2 tablespoons of cocoa.  Don't omit the vanilla essence, but you can also add a tsp of chocolate essence with it to make the flavour richer.  I also favour a teaspoon of good quality instant coffee dissolved in a few drops of hot water added to my chocolate cupcake batter, but that's up to you.

Recipe sharing

It may be one thing to take a deep dark family secret to the grave, but I don't believe that prized recipes should follow the same suit.  It's so sad when I hear people talk about so-and-so's amazing scone recipe, or a great aunt's fantastic caramelised nut cake recipe...but they died before they shared the recipe with anyone, or they were just unwilling to ever disclose that secret ingredient that made all the difference.  Or worse, in the community I find myself in now, it's not uncommon for people to share their recipes, but leave out a vital ingredient, or give the wrong quantities.  Why would people do such a thing?  Is it just to maintain bragging rights?  Can you really be that selfish?  Do your treasured recipes define you to such an extent that you begrudge the rest of the world a little know-how?  And what exactly do you plan on gaining by entering the Hereafter with your treasured recipe...imagine the delights of paradise (hoping we get there) being offered to you...divine offerings that we cannot even fathom in this world.

What will the stingy recipe hoard say on seeing these heavenly treats?  "No thanks, I bought my own recipe."

Here, I intend to share what I believe to be tried-and-tested, fantastic recipes.  Some are from my own collection of books and endless internet searches, tweaked here in there to my taste (and to the agreement of my chief taster and most critical critic, my husband) and some come from other generous recipe donors that have also confirmed their contributions to be honest and yummy!  All recipes are accredited to their original sources where necessary, so there's no plagiarism!

Finally, if you wish to contribute, you're more that welcome to e-mail me at with your recipe, and I'll try it out and put it up!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Baking cupcakes with a bun in the oven

Since I have dedicated this blog to my favourite pastimes, baking and motherhood, it seems fitting that my first post should pay equal attention to both.

This morning as I was looking for some suitable photographs to add to my blog, I came across these pictures of some cupcakes I made almost 2 and a half years ago, when I was just over 8 months blooming with my daughter. I was already living in Cape Town at the time, but I flew to England, 34 weeks and counting, to have my baby back in the motherland, where I was in the safe and reassuring hands of my own family. There, my wonderful sister and sisters in law planned a baby shower, and naturally, I took it as an opportunity to spend a disproportionate amount of time making tiny marzipan roses for cupcakes. Squint and you can see them in the pictures, on the bottom tiers.

To others, my time and effort spent making these little blooms is just, well, a waste of time, especially when you consider that they can be ready-bought for a reasonable price (Squire's Kitchen have a fantastic range). But for me, back then in particular, it was therapeutic. Sitting there, crafting miniature flowers in blue and pink for the baby that hadn't arrived yet took away the anxiety that most first time mothers-to-feel, amidst all the smiles and excitement. Of course I was quietly fretting about the impending pain of labour ("it's not called labour for nothing" my midwife soothingly told me) but the moments I took to enjoying my little hobby, breathing in the calm before the storm, helped me to think and look forward to all the beautiful moments to come, and whilst I couldn't exactly stop and smell the flowers, I got to eat them...with cake.