Like many good recipes, the origins of Tres Leches Cake are shrouded in mystery. The name literally translates to “three milks cake” and that is basically what it is – either a light sponge or a butter cake soaked in a blend of condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk. It is very popular in South America with some claims that it originated in Nicaragua, others that it was a Mexican invention and yet others that say it was developed by a canned milk company who printed the recipe on their labels. While the latter claim is true, doubt surrounds the timing of the labels and their appearance in relation to the appearance of the cake.
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Wickedly indulgent, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, decadent – these are not words that I usually associate with vegan food. The words wholesome, nutritious and healthy are more likely to spring to my mind in association with this particular dietary regime – and don’t the latter descriptors actually preclude the former? Read on, dear friend, because I might just have been wrong! To be perfectly honest, I have always found the concept of veganism (or any restrictive form of diet) a little confronting – cutting myself off from entire food groups is not something that this greedy girl could ever contemplate. So when a copy of Wakefield Press “Divine Vegan Desserts” found it’s way into my inbox for reviewing I was a little unsure how to approach it.
Well, it turned out that was simple. It seems that finishing off a meal with a sweet treat is not out of the reach of those who are endeavouring to make a switch to a healthier lifestyle (and even those who aren’t) and after a quick flick through these lavishly illustrated recipes I was making a list of what I would make first! Many will be relieved to know that vegans don’t proscribe chocolate and the recipes, all dairy and egg-free, with many gluten free, low sugar and nut-free choices, are enough to lift the spirits of any dessert-lover and go a long way towards redeeming the reputation of the dessert course.
Apparently, most vegan recipe books are from overseas and contain ingredients which can be difficult to source here in Australia. Author Lisa Fabry avoids the use of these and explains clearly and simply how to make brilliant dairy free desserts with ingredients many of us will already have on hand – or at least be able to source easily. Fabry originates from London, but now lives in Adelaide indulging her two great passions – food and yoga. She shares her own dishes, plus a selection of vegan desserts being created by chefs in cafes, restaurants and cooking classes from around the world.
The book begins with a guide to the key ingredients in vegan baking, some baking tips and how to substitute natural colours for artificial in your cooking. It is divided up into chapters covering baking, tarts, pies, puddings, fruit dishes, ice creams and sorbets, custards and creamy desserts and small treats, with each dish beautifully photographed. The range of desserts is extensive and covers everything from wickedly indulgent Double Fudge Pecan Brownies, to decadent melt-in-your-mouth Banoffi Tarts and a traditional creamy, custardy trifle. I challenge anyone to resist these dishes – they look, er, divine!
I road tested a couple of the recipes – the Las Vegan Sour Cherry Muffins and (in a diversion from my usually predictable preference for chocolate) the refreshing Lime Tart. The muffins rose perfectly and were deliciously moist and sticky, without being too sweet, but the Lime Tart was the absolute winner. It was so quick to make, with at-hand ingredients and has a delicious zesty zing to it. I’d happily serve it to anyone as a dinner party dessert – even those who are cynical of raw foods. This would certainly change their minds.
I can’t say this book would convert me – I still find veganism far too restrictive and just a little confusing – but it certainly is proof that a vegan diet can have plenty of indulgence in it. Divine Vegan Desserts is perfect for those who are interested in pursuing a healthier diet, but reluctant to give up on their sweet tooth.
- 1 cup (140 gms) brazil nuts
- ½ cup (50 gms) dessicated coconut
- ⅓ cup (70 gms) medjool dates, chopped
- ⅔ cup (90 gms) raw cashews, soaked for 1-2 hours
- 1 medium avocado (about 120gm flesh)
- pinch of salt
- seeds of 1 vanilla bean
- ⅓ cup (80 mls) agave nectar
- 1 tsp lime zest, plus extra for garnish
- ⅔ cup (160 mls) lime juice or lime/lemon combined
- ⅓ cup (80 mls) coconut oil
- Grease 4 individual tartlet pans or one 23 cm fluted pan.
- For the base, place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until you can pinch the mixture together and it sticks. Press firmly into the pan and refridgerate for at least one hour.
- For the filling blend all the ingredients, except the lime juice and coconut oil, in a food processor until very smooth and creamy.
- Melt the coconut oil.
- Gradually pour the lime juice and then the coconut oil into the processor while the motor is still running.
- Pour over the crust and refridgerate for at least 3 hours, or place in the freezer for 1 hour.
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It’s the first day of autumn here in the Adelaide Hills today and there are signs of harvest everywhere. Driving along the winding roads becomes a little more hazardous as we dodge the large grape-picking machines which travel from vineyard to vineyard, the enormous double-trailered (there’s probably a name for these) trucks carrying the precious grapes to the wineries and various private cars, vans, trucks and utes (pick-ups) loaded with ladders and itinerate pickers heading to and from the apple orchards as the apple harvest begins.
Not so at our house, though. I managed to steal some of the plums away from the birds, but our other stone fruit and ALL of the apples are long gone – ravaged before ripening by the voracious galahs, corellas and rosellas. We still have our citrus fruit (thank heavens for bitter rinds), the quinces ripen quite late up here and I can always seem to find some ripe figs that the birds have missed.
We have a scrawny orange tree that I have been nurturing along for some years. That, and an up-until-recently unidentified citrus, have been overshadowed and stunted by a scruffy, unattractive Paper Bark tree whose existence has been the subject of intermittent marital disagreement. A recent visit by some horticulturally savvy friends shed light on the identity of the anonymous citrus – a Tahitian Lime, no less – and the tree next to it which I had never even really noticed. Seems that this is a White Mulberry and what I had always assumed to be it’s nondescript flowers are, in fact, the most ambrosial tasting fruit I have ever eaten. This tree, too, has been stunted by the increasingly ugly Paper Bark. In a calculated move a little like Eve (but plumper and older) with the apple, I lured the disputing spouse under the tree and fed him some of the White Mulberry fruit. One taste was all it took for The Husband to pronounce the death sentence upon the blot on the landscape and it is astonishing how quickly the citrus trees have responded to the extra light, water and space.
Our oranges don’t look like much, but they have an amazing flavour and I have been working on ways to combine them with the only other ripe fruit to hand at the moment – the figs. I made a vow at the beginning of summer to try to make more home-made ice cream and am proud of this gorgeously fragrant recipe which I eventually came up with. While there are a couple of steps, it really is not a fussy recipe and is well worth the effort. I found that the flavour of the orange blossom water tends to dissipate after freezing so you may need to beef this up a little. After I’d made it I also thought some toasted, slivered almonds would be a great addition – so feel free to play around with it. A Thermomix makes this easier, but is not necessary – I have given instructions for either stove-top or TM.
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 500 gms fresh figs, stems removed and quartered
- 2-3 tsp orange blossom water
- 250 mls pouring cream
- 250 mls full cream milk
- 150 gms white chocolate, finely grated
- ½ tsp vanilla bean paste
- 2 egg yolks
- 70 gms caster sugar
- Place orange juice, honey and cinnamon stick into small saucepan and bring to the boil over moderate flame. Remove from heat and allow to steep for an hour or two then remove and discard cinnamon stick.
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place quartered figs in a shallow, greased oven tray. Pour over the orange juice and honey mix and roast figs until all the juice has evaporated and the fruit has caramelised - about 20 minutes. Watch carefully towards the end to avoid burning.
- Cool the fruit before placing in food processor and pulsing until finely chopped.
- Stir in orange blossom water.
- Combine the cream and milk in a saucepan. Add chocolate and vanilla paste and heat, stirring, until chocolate melted. Cool a little.
- Beat sugar and egg yolks together until thick and creamy.
- Add a small amount of the warm cream/milk mixture and blend well before gradually adding the egg yolks to the rest of the cream/milk over a low flame. Cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture just thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Refrigerate until cold.
- Place in ice cream machine and churn until frozen, place in freezer container, add figs and stir through. Freeze until solid.
- THERMOMIX INSTRUCTIONS for Ice Cream
- Grate the chocolate at speed 8 for 5 seconds.
- Add milk/cream and melt together 2 mins, 50C at speed 3.
- Add butterfly and vanilla paste and sugar. Process 2 minutes at speed 4, adding the yolks one at a time through the lid.
- Refrigerate until cold and then proceed as above.
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One of my favourite things about summer is the seasonal fruit available – especially stone-fruit. We grow some here on our hill and always get more plums than I can generally use, but rarely score any of the apricots or peaches from the greedy, marauding birds. When I recall the stone fruit of my youth it conjures up the smells of summer and I have fond memories of hot afternoons sitting under the apricot tree in the back yard of my great-aunts, feasting on the sun-warmed ambrosial fruit. Sadly, that is not the case with much stone-fruit today which is picked green to facilitate transport and storage. If you want the real, sweet, fragrance of summer you need to grow your own apricots or buy them from a farmers market.
The apricot is actually a species of Prunus and has been cultivated since ancient times, probably originating in Armenia. These fruit trees are now cultivated all around the globe and grow particularly well here in South Australia, in the Riverland. If you don’t grow your own and can’t manage to get to the farmers market, but lust after this taste of summer there is another way to coax the very best of the the flavours out of these golden globes and it is as simple as roasting them!
Roasting apricots caramelises the sugars and releases the perfumed juice. The addition of vanilla adds depth to the concentrated flavours produced from this and I’ve included a couple of ingredients that will complement and lift the apricots up a notch.
- 8 fresh apricots, halved & stoned
- ¼ cup vanilla sugar (see note)
- 2 - 3 Tbsp butter
- 6 gingernut biscuits, crushed
- orange blossom water
- Thick cream or yoghurt to serve
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place apricots, cut side up, in a greased baking dish.
- Sprinkle generously with the vanilla sugar then place a teaspoon of crushed gingernut biscuits in each half, following with a knob of butter on each one.
- Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until fruit is collapsing and soft.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle the fruit with the orange blossom water before serving with either cream or yoghurt.
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It’s been another scorcher all over the wide brown land this week. My garden is wilting, the dogs (an Irish Wolfhound and a Border Collie – neither really suited to this weather) are languidly panting piles of slightly funky fur and the fruit in the bowl is looking very dodgy. One of my lovely readers dropped me an email last week with some of her thoughts on what to do with produce that is heat affected. She’s inspired a very quick post on using up the bounty of the season. It is easy to let food go to waste in the heat, but it is also pretty simple to come up with a few quick ideas to use it up – so a big thank you to Kathy Inverarity. Those of you in the northern hemisphere will just have to file it away for future reference, but for the rest of us this is very pertinent as the mercury continues to climb – and we haven’t even hit the peak period for summer heat yet!
Kathy had bought herself a bag of nectarines which she expected to be too soft and had plans to cook them up to have with yoghurt – an nice idea for any over-ripe stone fruit. Just into the pot with a little water, a split vanilla pod and/or some star anise or a cinnamon stick and a little sugar to taste and you have beautiful fruit compote. Too-soft fruit can also make a delicious dessert. Thaw out a sheet of puff pastry, cut into a circle (or not- depends how lazy you feel) and cook until just golden. Push the centre of the cooked pastry down and pile with sliced nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums – whatever – sprinkle with some cinnamon and sugar and pop under a hot grill for a few moments. Voila – beautifully burnished rustic fruit tart!
As it turned out, Kathy’s nectarines were rock hard and still firmly wedded to their stones so she decided to poach them whole. In her own words –
“I prepared them by washing and slitting them quarter-ways but leaving them whole and not attempting to remove stones.
Poached them very gently for 45 mins in a generous amount of sugar syrup – 1/2 cup sugar to 2 cups water- and added crushed cardamom pods and – oops! – a healthy pinch of sichuan peppercorns. (That was a mistake when I reached for the wrong spice – must put a label on all of my spice jars!) A delicious result for very little effort.”
Don’t we all love those happy accidents!
Kathy and her husband grow a lot of their own vegetables, including potatoes. I’d never given this any thought, but of course potatoes in the ground are going to end up almost cooked in their skins during extended periods of intense heat. Even those in the quiet darkness of the potato bin suffer and end up a little softer than we’d like after a heat wave. Kathy suggested combining them with sweet potato and some fish to make fish cakes. The addition of a tablespoon of threaded or flaked coconut gives a delicious Indian touch that is complemented by some mango chutney, or alternatively add some Vietnamese basil and serve with a Vietnamese dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, castor sugar & water – 1 tbspn of each, and a chopped red chilli. I’m a potato girl from way back and never met one I didn’t like – I’d be pretty happy with them however they come.
We waste about 3 million tonnes of food each year here in Australia, yet all it requires is a little thought to reduce that in each of our homes. I’m off to use up some windfall plums and bake a cake – how do you use up fresh food that has seen better days?
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Cookbook Review – Delicious Home Cooking by Valli Little & A Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib cream
It seems that every year Christmas sneaks up on me and catches me unaware. You’d think at my advanced age (if I told you just what that is, I’d have to kill you) I’d have worked it all out by now, but apparently not – as the posts I wanted to get up before the break, the rustic, home-made Christmas wreath for the front door and the selection of flavoured salts I planned on making for gifts are among some of the things that just didn’t happen. It’s way to late for the rosemary wreath (note to self – make for next Christmas) and the salts will have to go back on my “must make this” list, but I firmly believe it’s never the wrong time of the year for a cookbook review!
ABC delicious. magazine has been a part of my life since it first came out in 2001. It seemed to herald a new era in Australian food publications with it’s fresh photography and modern, exciting, but accessible recipes that didn’t require a trip to the gourmet store for every dish. Each new month I was thrilled to find at least several dishes that I couldn’t wait to make and many of my back issues are still littered with bookmarks for dishes that I particularly enjoyed or never quite got around to before the next issue was released.
Highly esteemed home economist, food writer and chef, Valli Little, has been there every step of the way too. English-born Valli came to Australia on a working holiday after studying at London’s Le Cordon Bleu and, like many English roses before her, fell in love with the sun, the lifestyle and a bloke. Her experiences as a food consultant, banqueting manager, gourmet store owner and private chef for the great and glorious back in England give her an enviable depth and breadth of insight into all aspects of food – as her name on the covers of all seven of ABC delicious. magazine bestselling cookbooks will attest.
“Home Cooking” is the most recent of these and continues the tradition of fresh, flavoursome, but not too fiddly recipes for the home cook. In this edition, Valli gives us a hint of what goes on in her own kitchen as she shares her favourite recipes to cook at home along with her tips to turn a family classic into a cover-worthy meal without too much fuss. Usefully, the content is divided into seasons as well as the different courses within each season and each recipe is as reliable, approachable and achievable as we’ve come to expect from this passionate and much-loved adoptee. The book contains everything from tropical treats with a twist like the Coconut & Mango Tarts with Chilli Syrup, to inspired, but simple tweaks like the Wasabi Pancakes with Smoked Trout or the velvety and indulgent Honey Pots de Creme – and, of course, each dish is accompanied by lavish, full-colour photgraphy.
When casting my (often vacant) mind around for an acceptable dessert to serve to one who is known for her stunning, sweet cookery (my friend Jennifer of Delicieux – see my last post) I recalled earmarking something in “Home Cooking” for a special occasion. I don’t suppose you’ll be at all surprised to know that it was a Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream. This seriously indulgent treat really ticked all the boxes for everyone and was so simple to make – another winner in a long line of them for Valli Little and ABC delicious. magazine.
- 2 x 150 gm pkts Oreo biscuits (or similar)
- 125 gm unsalted butter, melted then cooled
- 250 gm cream cheese at room temperature
- 2 cups (500 gm) mascarpone
- ⅓ cup (75 gm) caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup (50 gm) cocoa
- 100 gm dark chocolate, melted then cooled
- 1 Tbs chocolate liqueur (optional)
- 1 cup (120 gm) cocoa nibs, plus extra to serve
- 300 ml thickened cream, lightly whipped
- Grease and line 24cm springform cake pan.
- Whizz biscuits in processor to fine crumbs. Add butter, pulse to combine, then press into the base of the cake pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Wipe out processor (no need to wash). Place cream cheese, mascarpone and caster sugar in machine, whizz to combine. Add eggs, combine, then add cocoa, chocolate and liqueur. Process until smooth. Add half the cocoa nibs, pulse to combine, then spread filling over chilled biscuit base.
- Bake 45-50 minutes until cake is firm to the touch, but slightly wobbly. Turn off oven and cool cheesecake in oven with door ajar. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.
- Fold remaining cocoa nibs into whipped cream. Pile on top of cheesecake and serve sprinkled with extra nibs.
Review copy of “Home Cooking” kindly supplied by Harper Collins Publishers Australia.