Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

This is my little black dress of cakes. It is reliable, crowd-pleasing and versatile. It can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion, and it goes with almost anything. 

It has paired beautifully in the past with chocolate mousse, mocha buttercream, cookies and cream ice cream, chocolate ganache, vanilla bean cream and berries, and spiced cherry compote.

Most recently, I dressed it up in salted caramel buttercream for Master O's 2nd birthday. I know, two!

Everyone should have a go-to chocolate cake in their life skill set. This one's a keeper. It is based on the cake recipe here, with a few tweaks.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3/4 quality cocoa
1 3/4 cups caster sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup espresso, cooled slightly

First, make your coffee and leave to cool.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line the bases of two 8" cake tins with non-stick baking paper.
Mix together the dry ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed until combined.
Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and oil in a bowl and add to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Add the coffee and mix again until just combined. The batter will be quite wet.
Pour into prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 mins or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool cakes completely in tins and then turn out onto wire racks.
Trim tops with a bread knife to level.
Spread buttercream icing on top of one of the cakes and top with the other cake. Spread icing on top and sides of the cake with a pallet knife. (I use a gyprocking trowel to obtain a really smooth look. Get them from Bunnings for about $8).

Salted Caramel Buttercream

170g caster sugar
125g cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup double cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

250g unsalted butter at room temperature or softened
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the caramel, have your ingredients measured and ready. 
Place the caster sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat and melt it without stirring. Swirl it around the saucepan until it is molten and all the sugar has dissolved, taking care not to burn it. Adjust the heat as necessary.
When small bubbles appear on the surface, wait a couple of seconds (to take it just a little further into a complex rather than purely sweet taste) and then add your butter, cream and salt. Take care here as the mixture will spit. 
Turn off the heat and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until everything is combined and you have a smooth, glossy caramel. 
Pour it into a heat proof bowl or container and set aside to cool.
You will only need half for the buttercream. Keep the rest for ice cream sundaes.

For the buttercream, beat the butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat for a further 5-8 minutes until very pale and fluffy. Add half the caramel and beat until just combined.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Pistachios

"And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course." Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

One of my besties is getting married this weekend. 

She moved, with her coffee machine and barely enough shoes, to take a teaching post in the middle of Australia a bit over two years ago. I didn't tell her, because she's not the huggy type, but I was pretty proud of her at the time. I knew it would be an incredible experience, and that she would learn loads and come back possibly changed. She certainly came back wiser and emotionally stronger for having lived and taught in such a remote community. But she also came back with a man. A man with a liking for craft beer who cooks her pasta from scratch with the attachment on his Kitchenaid. He also comes with the added benefit, being a fellow teacher, of matching holidays and looking a lot (like, really a lot) like Tim Rogers. They are now home owners and newly minted Novocastrians and, holy moly, about to get hitched!

I am looking immensely forward to this wedding. There is a group of us who hark back to school days, and I know they are too. We will charge our glasses to our friend and her husband, our new friend God help him, remembering days of swilling a far lesser vintage on the rooftop of a certain Sydney boarding school. 

I kind of nagged her into letting me make her wedding cake, so in honour of passion pop, I am layering the top sponge tier with passionfruit curd (she thinks it's because they're abundant at the moment). The bottom tier will be a traditional fruit cake, thankfully made by the groom's mum, as I haven't made a single one in my life. Shhhh! And the middle tier will be carrot cake with orange cream cheese frosting. 

I made a test carrot cake for Mr LP's birthday recently, using my favourite recipe with pecans and raisins, which my Mum has been asking me to post here for a while. This is the cake in the pictures. I thought it was fairly good but as usual I have tweaked here and there, added some crushed pineapple on good advice and a bit of shredded coconut, and the recipe below is the result.

I hope it's a cake to remember and that it adds an extra layer of happy to a brilliant day.

Carrot Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Pistachios
(Serves 12-16)

3 cups self raising flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1.5 teaspoons each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sunflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
500g grated carrots (about 5)
200ml crushed pineapple
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup raisins, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Cream Cheese Frosting:
100g unsalted butter, softened
500g cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest

Candied Pistachios:
1/2 cup pistachio nuts
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 170C.
Grease and line the base and sides of a 10 inch cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
Place the flour, baking powder, spices and sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.
Whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla in a bowl and stir into the flour mixture.
Add carrots, pecans and raisins and stir until just combined.
Pour into prepared tin and bake for 50-60 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Cool in tin at least 30 mins before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
To frost the cake, carefully cut it in half using a bread knife. 
For frosting, place all ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Spread a layer of frosting on bottom half of cake. Top with the other half and then cover the cake in remaining frosting, smoothing with a pallet knife or spatula as you go. 
Scatter the candied pistachios on top and serve. 
* Because it was a special occasion, I fancied Mr LP's cake up a little more with vanilla meringues, crushed crystallised violets, fresh figs and bright Gerberas. 

Candied Pistachios:
Place all ingredients in a frypan, toss together, and cook over medium heat for about 5-6 mins, jostling occasionally until caramelised. Pour onto a baking tray lined with non stick baking paper and leave to set. When cooled and hard, break or chop into pieces.


A couple of snaps from the day. Congrats Katie and Michael!

(Photos by Siobhan Rogers)

Friday, 13 February 2015

Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake

There was once a girl who followed a boy to the other side of the world to win back his heart.
On a cold, clear night she kissed him on a bridge and cried all the way back to her hotel because it was rather perfect and it always had been.
Then she broke her ankle at the top of an icy mountain, flew all the way home with her foot up - thank you travel insurance - and when she arrived she sent the boy a note.
Real love stories never have endings, she wrote. And she got lucky, because she is the luckiest. Except on French black runs in the late afternoon.

Ever have a sliding doors moment? That fall was probably mine. 

Eleven years later and love these days feels like a second skin, simple, raw, the most comfortable, easy presence. It is a million tiny moments, some charged, some furious, some silent, many not acknowledged or even designed to be.

It is a cup of hot coffee placed in my hand in the morning. Fresh sheets on the bed without telling me. A new dress, bought for me online after a passing comment. A Ben Folds song. Learning my recipes and churning out orders beside me. The sight of him wrapped up in a book, or up to his elbows in flour kneading pizza dough, or sitting in a sea of Duplo with our boys building helicopters.

It is licking a wooden spoon clean of caramel every time I make it. A shared memory of Venice. Calling me Snuffy in the supermarket. Enjoying Great British Bakeoff as much as I do. And Grand Designs. Being my test guinea pig for things like this Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake - because they don't always turn out this good.

A lot of people tell me that our story makes them believe in fairy tales. I tell them yes. And to always buy travel insurance.

Here is the recipe, in case you want to spoil your love this weekend. The original is from Nigella Lawson's book Nigellisima. I have replaced the crushed hazelnuts on top with hazelnut praline, because, toffee!

Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake
Serves 8-12

250g digestive biscuits
75g soft butter
1 x 400g jar of Nutella or another smooth chocolate hazelnut spread, at room temperature
100g roasted hazelnuts, chopped
500g cream cheese, at room temperature
60g icing sugar, sifted
170g caster sugar

Break the biscuits into the bowl of a food processor, then add the butter and one tablespoon of Nutella
And blitz until the mixture starts to clump. Add 25g of the roasted hazelnuts and continue to blitz until you have a damp, sandy texture.
Tip the mixture into the base of a 22cm round springform cake tin. Press evenly into the base of the tin using the back of a spoon. Place in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
Beat together the cream cheese and icing sugar until smooth and soft, then add remaining Nutella and beat until combined.
Pour the filling over the chilled base and smooth it evenly. Place back in the fridge overnight to set, or for at least four hours.
To make the praline, scatter the remaining chopped hazelnuts on a flat baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. 
Place the caster sugar in a saucepan with 1/4 cup of water. Stir over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Brush down any sugar crystals around the inside of the pot with a damp pastry brush. Bring to a boil and stop stirring. Boil mixture for five to eight minutes, without stirring, until it is amber coloured. 
Pour the toffee over the hazelnuts and place the tray in a cool, dry place until the toffee sets hard.
When it is cold and hard, break the toffee into pieces and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the toffee is broken up into small nutty shards. 
To serve, remove cold cheesecake from tin and scatter praline generously over the top (keep any leftover praline in an airtight jar or container for sprinkling over chocolate ice cream).
Serve immediately. For best results, cut the cake with a hot knife.


If you are in Sydney, you can pick up my retro sugar heart cookies at Wild Basket Neutral Bay this weekend.

Happy Valentine's Day. Especially you, Mr LP. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Lazy Lamington Sponge with Muddled Raspberries

It feels odd to have been working these past few weeks. Usually I manage to convince Mr LP and my cafes to let me flit off to the beach with the kids and Mum for a while each January. 

But in what may be a sign of the year ahead, we were straight back to business after New Year's, and I feel a bit smug and serious, like I have a jump start on the sandy crowd.

We have a busy year ahead. We are scouting for commercial sites, taking on more corporate work and I am very excited to be designing more wedding cakes in the coming months - including for one of my besties. 

Bring it 2015!

Now, to matters of the upcoming long weekend. Straya Day (Australia Day to our northern friends) is nearly here. This means lamingtons are in my immediate future.

You could make these but they're fiddly. So for anyone pressed for time or motivation, I have a lazy version, in the form of a sponge cake with a thick layer of chocolate ganache on top and muddled raspberries with whipped vanilla bean cream in the middle.

I'll concede that the sponge concept is not so lazy that it involves going to the shops and buying a packet of lamingtons. You'll still have to turn the oven on, but you won't have to deal with a coconut bomb exploding in your kitchen, which is the deal whenever I make lamingtons.

In the spirit of this lazy cake, this is a lazy post in that said sponge was knocked up in 90 minutes from start to finish and the photos were quickly snapped at my sister's table before the family fell on it like the animals they are. This, however, does demonstrate the point of just how easy it is. And doesn't she have a lovely parquet floor?

Happy Straya Day, whatever you are up to. May there be blue skies and water involved. And lamingtons in any delicious form.

Larissa x


Lamington Sponge Cake with Muddled Raspberries and Vanilla Cream
(Serves 10-12)

Sponge Cake:
6 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
75g butter, melted

100g dark couverture chocolate
120ml single pouring cream

Vanilla Cream:
180ml single pouring cream extra
1 teaspoon icing sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)

The rest:
1 punnet fresh raspberries 
Shredded coconut for top

Preheat oven to 170C.
Grease and line two 20cm round cake pans with non-stick baking paper.
Triple sift the flour and baking powder.
Place the eggs in bowl of electric mixer and begin whisking on low speed. Gradually add the caster sugar then turn to high speed for 10-12 minutes until the mixture has tripled in volume.
Sift over half the flour and baking powder and fold in gently with a metal spoon, followed by remaining flour. Add the melted butter and carefully fold in until all incorporated.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the two prepared cake pans.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
Remove sponges from cake pans immediately and leave to cool completely on wire racks.
For the ganache, break the chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl.
Heat the cream in a saucepan until just boiling then pour over the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes then gently stir until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Set aside at room temperature to thicken a little before it is needed.
For the whipped cream, place the extra cream in bowl of electric mixer with the icing sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk on high until soft peaks form. Place in the fridge until needed.
When the sponge is completely cool and you are ready to assemble, place the raspberries in a bowl and use a cocktail muddler or a fork to muddle or mash the raspberries to a lumpy paste.
Place one half of the cake on a cake stand or plate. Top with the raspberries, spreading to the edges. 
Spoon the whipped vanilla cream over the raspberries and top with the remaining sponge layer.
Pour the thickened ganache over the top of the cake, guiding it with a pallet knife so that it drips ever so slightly over the edges, like a cake in a Disney picnic. Sprinkle the top with shredded coconut and serve. If you are making it ahead of time, store it in the fridge and get it out an hour before you are ready to serve, to allow the ganache and cake to soften.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Chocolate Swirl Pavlova with Baked Cherries

What is Bat Man's guilty pleasure? Hard to choose from a selection of hilariously depraved answers like 50,000 volts to the nipples, mason jars, Daniel Radcliffe or Lady Gaga's special bits. Perhaps it might be this pav, if the caped one has a sweet tooth?

These and other non-pressing questions were pondered late into the afternoon on Christmas Day when the decks of Cards Against Humanity hit the table. The red wine flowed, everyone had thirds and fourths of dessert, and it was all down hill from there.

Ahhhh family. They know the best and worst of us, which probably makes them the most fun to laugh with. All of that shared history and the collections of stories, repeated so many times and just as funny with each telling.

Gosh it felt good to be silly. To wrap myself up in my children's excitement and splash around with them in the pool for three hot days in a row. To make plans and dream a little. To allow myself to be distracted from the sadness of this past week in Sydney, which, for a mother's reasons, I have been unable to shake.

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. 

I hope your Christmas was just as joyous and full of laughter, surrounded by family, friends and loved ones. 

We served this pavlova for dessert on Christmas Eve, but the cherry/chocolate/vanilla combination will work all summer long. It is light and marshmallowy inside with chocolatey hits of cocoa and the cherries baked with cinnamon are so delicious. Make all the elements a day ahead so all you need to do is assemble and serve. It takes the stress out of entertaining - my gift to you.

Larissa x

Chocolate Swirl Pavlova with Vanilla Bean Cream and Baked Cherries
(Serves 10-12)

300g caster sugar
5 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons quality cocoa
1 small carton single pouring cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 teaspoon caster sugar

Baked cherries:
600g cherries, pitted
50g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup of Pedro Ximinez Sherry or port

Preheat oven to 170C. 
Mix the cherries, sugar and cinnamon together. Place in a baking dish and bake for 20-30 mins until the cherries are soft. Cool slightly and mix in the sherry or port. Place in a container and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the pavlova, preheat oven to 200C. Trace a 22cm circle on a piece of baking paper and place on a large flat baking sheet. Set aside.
Spread sugar in an even layer over a baking tray lined with baking paper. 
Bake for 8 minutes until sugar is hot and beginning to melt at the edges.
Place egg whites in bowl of an electric mixer and, when the sugar has been in the oven for 7 minutes, begin whisking on high speed for one minute.
Take sugar out of the oven and turn mixer to slow speed. Add sugar gradually and when all added, turn mixer to high and whisk for 15-20 minutes until the meringue has cooled.
Add the vanilla extract and cocoa, stirring by hand only a few gentle turns, so that a swirl effect is created and you preserve as much air in the mixture as possible.
Place large spoonfuls of meringue in the centre of the circle on your baking paper and ease out to the edges, creating a large free-form meringue. Using a spoon or spatula, make a shallow basin or well in the centre and tease up the outer rim to make pretty peaks.
Turn the oven down to 110C.
Bake pavlova shell for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Turn the oven off, place a wooden spoon in the door to hold it ajar and leave the pavlova in the oven to cool completely (overnight is ideal).
When cool, take it out of the oven and carefully move it from the baking paper to an airtight container or serving plate covered with a glass cloche.
To assemble, whip the cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. 
Spoon whipped cream into the shell of the pavlova and gently top with the cherries and sauce, letting them drizzle over the sides.
Serve immediately. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Butterscotch Brownie Truffles

Someone has played a bad joke on me and it is already December. Deep into Christmas time. Suddenly it is hot and stormy every night, there is a tree in our lounge room and I am baking like a mad woman with barely enough time to scoff a mince pie for lunch.

The past few months have been a bit of a blur so here are some numbers, Bridget style, to fill in the blanks:

Number of months my toddler has been going to daycare: 3
Chest infections he has bought home: 86
Bouts of gastro: 2
Bouts of pneumonia: 1
Hospital stays: 1 
Nights in: 5 !!
Solo parenting stints while husband globe trots for, ahem, work: 10 long days' worth
Emergency escapes North to the beach: 1
Barossa Valley weddings: 1
Read, flights with two kids under five: 4
New cafes stocking LP cakes: 2 (welcome Wild Basket Neutral Bay and Two Penny on Park)
All of which amounts to blog posts: 0 
Grey hairs: 367 and 
Red wine needed: pass me the bottle and a straw...

Given my slightly panicked, reindeer in the headlights (how is there only two weeks until Christmas??) variety of festive cheer, this recipe is perfect. It takes no time, it has a kick of schnapps and the result is quite fancy. I'm going to box them up pretty for my client gifts this year but they'd be an impressive take-along thingy for any party or Christmas do you have coming up. 

L xxx

Butterscotch Brownie Truffles
(Makes about 30)

4 cups of crumbled brownie
100g quality dark chocolate 
100g quality milk chocolate
1/2 to 3/4 cup Butterscotch Schnapps
200g quality dark chocolate extra
200g quality milk chocolate extra
Gold leaf *

Place crumbled brownie in a large bowl.
Melt dark and milk chocolate together gently over a saucepan of simmering water.
When melted, add to the brownie with the schnapps and mix it all together.
Roll generous teaspoonfuls into balls and place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper.
Place in the fridge for several hours or overnight to firm up.
Melt the remaining chocolates over a saucepan of simmering water. Dip truffles into the melted chocolate and place on baking tray lined with a fresh sheet of baking paper. 
Place back into fridge for at least an hour or until set.
Using food tweezers and a small food paintbrush, place a small fleck of gold leaf onto each truffle and paint into place to secure.
Store truffles in the fridge until ready to serve.

*Gold leaf available from specialty food stores. In Sydney, I source mine from The Essential Ingredient, Rozelle

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Pasta Class - Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu

It's poor form on my part, but last night I allowed Mr LP to cook his own Father's Day eve dinner - bread pappardelle with lamb ragu.

You know why? He handles our pasta machine like a boss. And it's still a freezing, very non-Spring temperature outside. There's no way I was passing up home-made pasta and slow cooked lamb on a Saturday night!

Let me tell you about this recipe Mr LP has nailed. We learned it from chef Danny Russo at a pasta making class we went to at Mosman's Accoutrement a few weeks back. And I'm allowed to share it with you, you lucky ducks!

We have trotted it out a few times now at family things because it is so damn impressive and relatively easy if you make the pasta ahead, or even if you don't. Mr LP whipped it all up yesterday afternoon. He's good, that man.

If you're intimidated by making pasta, I say have a crack anyway. It's much easier than you think. You just need a bit of clear bench space and to be prepared to get your hands in there. It's quite therapeutic, the kneading process. Nothing dainty, like pastry. Get in and work it!

The Accoutrement class was the first time (gasp) I had ever made pasta, so everything was new and exciting. I was a bit enthusiastic! I took a lot of photos that all looked awful but at least the pasta was delicious.

Danny does a class each year and I highly recommend it. He was patient and easy to follow, and we left with three types of our own pasta, containers of pesto and Parmesan, and full from a three course lunch.

We made our own cavatelle, linguine, and pappardelle made with breadcrumbs. Danny served the cavatelle (like a small, half tube of penne) in a light and super tasty chickpea soup, perfect for this cold snap. The linguine, he tossed gently in a large bowl with raw swordfish marinated in lemon juice, fennel and sea salt. So fresh and delicious! But my favourite was the pappardelle with lamb ragu. The breadcrumbs in this recipe give some texture to the pasta and the sauce is rich and warming. It is all the things you want in a food hug.

Thank you Danny for sharing your tips and your recipe, and thank you Mr LP for mastering it (promise I'll make breakfast xx).

Bread Papardelle with Lamb Ragu
(Recipe by Danny Russo)

300g pasta flour
150g dried breadcrumbs
4 eggs, large
2 egg yolks
Pinch salt

Combine flour, breadcrumbs and salt in a bowl or on a clean bench. Create a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs and yolks together and add to the well. Stir with two fingers, gradually bringing the dry ingredients into the eggs, then increase fingers to whole hand stirring. When the dough starts to come together, knead until smooth. Divide dough into four pieces, wrap in cling wrap and leave it to react for at least 30 mins. Flatten your dough into a rough rectangle and flatten as much as possible before rolling it through a pasta machine until smooth, elastic and approx. 2mm thick. Cut into 15mm ribbons and your pappardelle is ready.

Lamb Ragu
1kg lamb shoulder, diced into 3cm chunks (ask your butcher)
200g finely diced onion
4 stalks of celery, finely chopped
3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
500g tinned tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
100ml white wine
1L chicken stock
50ml olive oil
Salt, pepper
2 bay leaves
100g pitted black olives
Extra olive oil 
Parmesan to serve
Parsley to serve
Grated lemon zest to serve

Preheat oven to 160C. Heat a large oven proof casserole pan and sear the lamb until browned all over. Remove from pan and fry off the onion, celery, rosemary and garlic. Add the white wine and reduce by a third before adding the lamb back into the pan with the tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add salt and pepper, then bake for 3 1/2 to 4 hours until the lamb is falling apart. Stir in olives.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add salt and cook pasta until all-dente. When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the ragu. Serve drizzled with extra olive oil, shaved Parmesan, scattered parsley and grated lemon zest.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads, especially Mr LP, who is a great one. xxx