Well, it’s a chilly welcome home for Little D and me. We’re back from a lovely week up in the trrrrropics (Queensland, to be a little more precise) thankyou very much. It was lovely to get away from the cold and to see my mum and my grandparents-it’s the first time that Little D has met her GREAT grandparents, in fact! She is doing pretty well as far as great-grandies go, because Mr Hen’s grandma is also still around. So she has 3 ‘Greats’-Lucky Little D, eh?
The only fly in the ointment was that we both got sick shortly after we arrived for our hols. Little D has had it worse than me and has been having a miserable time interspersed with a good time-y’know? But it was much nicer to be sick in the warm weather and sunshine. We just have to hope that our infection control measures worked, and that noone has inherited our germs.
I’ve also managed to bring home lots of fruity souvenirs from our trip. No really-I brought back fruit. Several of my favourite tiny, sweet, rough-leaf pineapples, a pawpaw from my grandad’s tree, and a large bag of macadamia nuts. Yesssssss! Totally worth the back injury to carry the extra weight home, as our kitchen now smells like Grandma’s house-you see, they were pineapple farmers, and though that was years ago, their house still smells like pineapples all the time. It is lovely and comforting to me.
Bananas on a tree at the family farm
AND I am feeling the most relaxed and well-rested that I have felt in about 81/2 months-Little D still wakes a lot, but we could hear the sea from our window and boy, does that make for a soothing night of the sleep you get between baby wakes. So I finally feel ready and inspired to get cracking on some sewing projects in time for summer, as well as finishing off a few that have been languishing in the dark recesses of the sewing room.
And in honour of our return south, here is one of my favourite recipes of recent times featuring our wintery pal, rhubarb. It is Stephanie Alexander’s recipe which I tore out of the newspaper about 2 years ago (apparently it is a changed version of the one in The Cooks Companion) but only made this winter for the first time. I doctored it a little too, to make a morello cherry version, which I thought was freakin’ nice if I say so myself! Most excellent with a giant cup of tea, eaten on the couch in the thin, wintery, afternoon sun.
Rhubarb Yeast Cake
And it's really not as bad for you as you might think!
2 tsp instant dried yeast
200g plain flour
1/2 cup milk
60g butter, chopped into small bits
extra butter to grease the bowl
250g rhubarb cut into 1cm slices
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup dried fruit (currants or raisins) **I’ve made it without this and it’s still perfectly yummy
1tbsp cognac **I’ve also made it without this too-I never have cognac lying around…
1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam
1/2 cup pure icing sugar, sifted, and mixed with
1 tbsp milk
Mix yeast, flour and salt in a bowl. Warm the milk with the sugar and butter to just melt the butter. Lightly whisk the egg and then mix into the milk/butter/sugar.
Make a well in the flour and add the liquid, working to a smooth dough whether my hand or with a mixer and dough hook if you have one. Put the dough into a lightly buttered (I always use olive oil spray), cover with a teatowel and leave somewhere warm to double in size-approx 1 hour.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and drop the rhubarb in for a minute, then drain. Combine rhubarb, sugar, dried fruit and cognac in a bowl and leave for an hour.
** I’ve also been known to just cook the rhubarb with a little water ’til it is soft, add the sugar and dried fruit and simmer for a few minutes and upon realising that once again I have no cognac in the house, forget the cognac.**
Drain juices from the filling into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Mix the cornflour with water, add a small amount of the rhubarb juice, mix and then pour the cornflour mix back into the pan with the rest of the rhubarb juice, stirring until it has thickened. Mix thickened juice with the rhubarb filling, add the walnuts and refrigerate.
Knock back the dough with your knuckles, dust your bench with flour and roll or pat the dough to a 16cm x 20cm rectangle, and lift the dough onto a baking-paper lined tray .
**Can you guess? I’m never this precise with the size. I also find it easier to roll the dough straight onto the baking paper-lined tray in the first place, rather than trying to move it after I’ve rolled it.**
Smear jam down the centre and cover with the filling. Use clean scissors to snip the sides of the dough at regular intervals right up to the filling.
ok, so I don't use scissors for this bit-my dough blade is ace, and I love it...
**I actually leave about 1.5cm between the end of the cut and the filling, for fewer disastrously oozing effects**
Fold the ends of the dough over the filling, then fold the side strips alternately into the middle in a criss-cross pattern, leaving glimpses of the filling within. Cover with a teatowel and leave for 30 minutes to rise. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C at the start of this second proofing stage.
** I can’t strongly recommend enough that you use a sheet of baking paper sprayed with a little oil to cover the dough before you put the teatowel over the top. Seriously. Dough stuck to teatowel=bad. And sad.**
Bake for 30 minutes and then drizzle with the icing when cool.
Lil’ Red’s cheeky cherry filling variation:
I used a really large jar (375ml maybe?) of (pitted) morello cherries to fill a second cake-just drain the cherries, reserving the liquid. Reduce the cherry juice over the heat until it is about half of what it was, then use the cornflour method to thicken the cherry juice as you did with the rhubarb. I also added a little pure vanilla extract-but no sugar, as it was definitely sweet enough. Then stir the cherries back in and fill the cake. So very, very nice.
This cake is best eaten on the day, I find, but I’ve also frozen and reheated slices with great success too. Stephanie says it is best eaten warm, and that you can reheat slices wrapped in foil in a low oven. I second this. It combines two of my favourite things-breadmaking and sweet treats, and I LOVE it.
Welcome back winter-I’m counting the days until you are gone. Or until I get to head back up north again!