Cooking notes: mud cake

I made a birthday cake for my son yesterday.


The basic recipe was this mud cake recipe from Taste. Modifications:

  • we’re a three person household, so I cut the recipe in half, give or take (about 2/5ths, mostly, because I used 100g of Lindt 70% Dark chocolate)
  • I used cream, not sour cream. I am intrigued by sour cream in a chocolate cake I have to say, but Andrew doesn’t like sour cream and generally I didn’t want to mess with the sweet flavour of a kid’s birthday cake more than I was already doing by using this recipe

Since we have an espresso machine in the house I also pulled my second or third ever espresso (actually, a very long black at that volume!) which undoubtedly was terrible. I drink coffee very rarely; but of course I didn’t have to taste it directly, I just had to not get coffee grounds in the cake. The coffee taste went well in the cake and means not having to use a liqueur for a bit of zing.

The we established an ancient ritual of our culture:

Cake tasting

I cooked it in a $3 train mould from Kmart. All my love to you silicone cake trays: you’re a pain to get into the oven but a cinch to extract cooked cakes from. The “icing” is molten milk chocolate and the “decorations”, such as they are, are of a train turntable. I’m hoping to decorate cakes with a little more forethought as he gets older.

I cooked it for 20 minutes in a hot oven and another 5 minutes as the oven cooled and that was about right. If you like mudcakes slightly wet as I do 15 would probably work (for pieces of cake this size). The train pieces are a bit short: I wasn’t sure how full to fill the molds when it had self-raising flour in it and tried about 2/3, when I really should have gone nearly to the top.

While he got very excited about the sprinkles, my son actually ate half the undecorated engine with far more enthusiasm. It’s not really a cake for a toddler’s palate (and he totally has one, if everything in the world was made of butter icing he couldn’t be happier) but he didn’t seem put off.

Weekend womanscraft: winter warmers

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Anyone who has spent Thursday night/Friday in NSW is probably in need of some winter warmers, at least! What’s warming your innards this season? Here are a few recipes of ours, household style (that is, very imprecise measurements).

Cream of mushroom soup

Closeup photo of about ten button mushrooms

A few handfuls of button mushrooms.
Half an onion.
About 800mL of stock, possibly somewhat more if using a stove top.
About 100mL of cream or sour cream, or some mixture thereof.

NB: I prefer and recommend sour cream but my co-cook despises it, so we tend to make it with cream.

Preparation: Chop up the mushrooms and onions. Fry the mushrooms and onions together. Add the stock and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the cream and simmer briefly. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth.

Photo of mushrooms and onions in a frying pan

Alternative preparation: Chop up the mushrooms and onions. Place in slow cooker with cream and stock on low for 4 hours. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth.

Optional additions: we don’t cook anything much in our house in winter without thyme and bay leaves. Be sure to remove the bay leaf before blending.

Serving suggestion: grind pepper over the result.

Closeup photo of a bowl of cream of mushroom soup

Slow cooked chicken drumsticks

An appropriate number of chicken drumsticks.
A 400g tin of diced tomatoes for about every 8 drumsticks.
About 100mL of stock for every drumstick.
A splash of white wine.
As many olives as you think sounds good.
Optional: onion garlic, thyme, bay leaf, etc.

Preparation: roll/dip/immerse the drumsticks in plain flour and briefly brown them in a fry pan (perhaps with onions and garlic). Place them in a slow cooker with all other ingredients and slow cook on high for 4 hours.

Serving suggestion: we serve with couscous.

Red lentil daal

For this we follow a recipe pretty closely, namely Stephanie Alexander’s recipe in The Cook’s Companion. It’s very similar to her published recipe in Fairfax’s Cuisine, except we haven’t been using chilli or mustand seeds.

I’ve also tried this in a slow cooker (don’t pre-soak the lentils, have all the pot ingredients in for 8 hours on low) but it ended up being too smooth for my tastes (I have a very strong aversion to some types of very smooth food, namely well-mashed potatoes, ripe avocados, and a few other things, and this daal went into that range).

Closeup photo of a bowl full of daal, with fried onions on top and brown rice behind.

Apple crumble

Closeup photograph of cutup apple being placed in cooking vessels.

Another dish where we follow a (simple!) recipe closely, specifically Donna Hay’s recipe for individual portions. We had great luck also, when we had some passionfruit to spare, juicing several of them and mixing the juice with the apple slices for passionfruit crumble.

Closeup photo of an individual portion of apple crumble, just after cooking.

A few other warmers you might fancy:

  • Skud’s apple and oat crumble for breakfasts.
  • Tom yum goong can go either way, seasonally, but at this time of year if you make it spicy enough it will warm most of the lower half of your face.
  • Lemon delicious pudding, another great dessert to make in one container or individual portions.

What’s warming you, this winter?

Reverb 10: Wonder, Let Go, Make

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Largely by attempting to understand the perspective of my baby son. Again with the baby!

But really, this was brought home by a visiting midwife in my postnatal checks who said that a newborn is experiencing hunger, thirst, temperature, touch, many sounds and many positions all at once in the same few days. So I began by talking to him, and agreeing that it was a strange strange world he’d found himself in. And later, it became a game of trying to understand what it’s like to never be bored because everything is new. And later again, to have to infer rules from first principles. Why can you chew on food, and on many brightly coloured plastic things (toys), but not most other things? How can you explain the “what you can’t chew on” rules succinctly.

Plus, for example, babies doesn’t know about nudity and clothing, they don’t know that your nose is shaped just like food but is not meant to be bitten, they don’t know not to touch faeces, they don’t recognise a difference between food and dirt.

So, it’s been rather easy to keep in mind that the world is a strange place, this year.

Let go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

I was anticipating these things, but I can’t do any of the following now:

  • propose a spontaneous late night wander with my husband, and execute it a minute later
  • have a conversation with my husband in a normal tone of voice while we’re both occupying the same room
  • sleep all night (I’ve slept through about ten nights since V was born)
  • leave the house within two minutes of the idea occurring

It’s got to the point where it’s going to be strange to have some of that return.

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

Sticking to physical things, what I tend to make is food. The last food I made for pleasure rather than necessity was, I think, burnt butter biscuits for the picnic in memory of my grandmother. And I’m failing to execute a plan to make rum balls right now.

That said, “clear time for it”? This set of prompts seems to be rather in the “empower yourself” mold. I’m not making rum balls right now because I need downtime after deaths and illnesses in the last week, not because I’m failing to organise my life sufficiently well. This year, my life has organised itself around disasters and stressors. Making time for things was a recipe for disappointment in 2010.