Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flourless Blood Orange & Pomegranate Cakes

Sunday has always been baking day for me, and having the kids come over for afternoon tea today gave me just the excuse for a High Tea. Chocolate Whoopie Pies, chicken and salmon & cream cheese sandwiches, vegetable frittata, my never-fail scones & some mini Flourless Blood Orange & Pomegranate Cakes.
This was an adaptation of several recipes and was inspired by an episode of Masterchef UK.


125 g ground almonds
60g semolina
225gms sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Zest of 1 and juice of 2 large blood oranges
1 blood orange sliced thinly into rings
5 large eggs
200ml light olive oil
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 pomegranate (optional)
Generous pinch saffron
100g clear honey.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Oil the base of one 23cm ring tin or 8 mini bundt tins, or 12-hole muffin tin.

Prepare the syrup and candied orange slices by combining the juice of the 2 oranges with honey, 1 tsp pomegranate molasses and saffron in a small saucepan. When boiling, drop blood orange slices into the syrup, turn heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Set aside while preparing the cake. (optional, add the seeds of one pomegranate to the syrup)

Put the ground almonds into a frying pan and toast over a medium heat, stirring frequently until evenly pale brown. Leave to cool, then mix with semolina, caster sugar and baking powder.

Combine the zest of one blood orange with the eggs, 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses and oil. Beat well and then fold into the dry ingredients. The mixture is very liquid. Pour into prepared tin(s) and bake for 35-40 mins ( 1 large tin); 15-20 mins (small tins) or until risen and golden to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Leaving the cake in the tin, prick all over with a skewer. Remove the orange slices from the syrup and pour the syrup over the warm cake while it is still warm.

When cool, turn the cake onto a serving plate, decorate with the candied orange slices and serve with creme Fraiche or plain Greek yoghurt. Can also be served warm.

Serendipitous Discoveries & History Geeks

In my previous life as a historian my absolute favourite task was research. I loved nothing more than disappearing down the rabbit-holes of libraries or the internet to track down people or events, and these days I continue to get much satisfaction from researching recipes, books & their authors. I recently sold a 1937 set of menus from a guest-house in Marysville (sadly now lost like many others to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires) and in the process of creating a history of them for their buyer spent hours on Trove reading newspaper articles and advertisements and sourcing contemporary photos.

Research like this is always throwing up surprises and serendipitous discoveries worthy of a work of fiction. With the guest house it was the discovery that an earlier proprietress went missing while bushwalking (although some newspaper reports suggested at an 'unsettled mind') and her remains not retrieved until bushfires in 1932 uncovered them. Soon after her estate was settled, her sister, who had taken over the running of the guest house, also died from self-inflicted burns. For me the serendipity here is that it was this particular guest-house whose menus came into my hands, rather than another with a less 'colourful' past. It is, rather fancifully I know, as if this story was waiting for someone like me to unearth it.

Today I had another of those moments while cataloguing a collection of early twentieth century cookbooks I had bought. In the collection is a very early edition of Household Cookery issued by the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy and compiled by Dorothy Giles who was a well-known teacher of cookery in Melbourne. So early is this edition that it was hand-typed and bound with one section bound upside down. While paging through it I noted a typo - the recipe "To Prepare Cake Dripping" called for 8ozs cod fat (rather than cold fat). Finishing that task I moved on to the small mountain of ephemera that has been sitting waiting for cataloguing for months. Amongst them was a gorgeous 1930s booklet for Bakewell flour and dried goods. On page 2 my eye was caught by the wording of the first recipe "To Prepare Cake Dripping" and, you guessed it, one of the ingredients was "8ozs cod fat" . Further checking revealed that yes this recipe was word-for-word the same as that in Household Cookery. So now the question for me is whether this is an uncredited work by Miss Dorothy Giles, who also authored several other advertising booklets, or did the compiler simply nick the cake dripping recipe from Household Cookery? Mmmm the fact that this is so interesting makes me officially a history geek!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Anyone for tea?

Yesterday I had a birthday treat from my eldest - a surprise High Tea (why do I always feel the need to capitalise that?) at "Where a Girl Goes"  in Collingwood. My lovely spouse minded the shop for me, and while it was a dreadful rainy, grey day in the hills, down in East Melbourne where Hayley lives the sky was blue and the sun was warm. The crowds of Essendon and Carlton supporters streaming towards the MCG lent a festive air to the day, even if they deprived me of my usual parking spot.

"Where a Girl Goes" is also an outlet for Cristina Re stationery and true to its name is a real girly indulgent affair with French Provincial decor and everything served in delicate crockery. I had to laugh at the footy supporter who came in and asked if they did takeaway coffee, which they did, but when he left it was with a pink flowery take away cup and I'm sure he was thinking "Got to finish this coffee and dispose of the cup before my mates see me" (Although he was a Carlton supporter, so possibly a metrosexual completely comfortable with it!)

We had a wonderful couple of hours of chat with bottomless cups of tea and a tower of the requisite finger sandwiches and tiny cupcakes and macaron. There is such a revival of High Tea in Melbourne at the moment which brings together lots of recent trends - cupcakes, macaron, tea, anything vintage and retro. I think it's a lovely idea and a great way to spend an afternoon. There is just something 'civilised' about the format, that seems to encourage slowing down, taking some time and enjoying the company of friends. Doing it at home would be even better - it can be quite an expensive excursion. The advantage over a dinner party or lunch is that everything can be done ahead of time and the hostess can be free to enjoy the day. Coincidentally as I write this post I have a customer browsing the shelves who has started a business catering high teas in people's homes, which would be even better for the hostess!

When we stopped off in Singapore on our way back from Europe in April this year, we were treated to the ultimate in High Teas at that bastion of British colonialism, Raffles Hotel in the glorious setting of the Tiffin Room, with requisite palms and slowly revolving fans. A harpist played as white-coated waiters looked after our needs. The tower of sandwiches and cakes was only the beginning as Raffles also has a generous buffet of goodies including yum cha style dumplings and lots of fresh tropical fruit. A truly decadent experience, only improved by a Simgapore Sling!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Welcome to our new website

Well after a rather more drawn-out process than I had anticipated, I'm happy to present Vintage Cookbooks new website. There is a limited range of stock available in the shop at the moment, this will increase in the next few weeks. As with any new technology, there will be some kinks to iron out and I'd love to hear your feedback on how the site looks and how it works for you. Thanks to Paul Gilliot from and Trudy Simmons from Website Organiser for their work on the site so far.

My 15 minutes & What cookbooks are collectible?

A couple of months ago I was contacted by a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald to be interviewed for an article on collectible cookbooks. Over time the article became instead about cooking from old cookbooks, a subject on which I could also offer some views. It was published  last Tuesday in the Sydney Morning Herald as part of History Week, which had the theme Eat History. (some great events on in NSW if you're up there BTW). I thought the topic of which cookbooks are collectible was actually worth writing about, so here are some of my recommendations:

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management: First published in 1861, its author (or compiler, she cherry-picked the material for her tome from everywhere)Isabella Beeton died just four years later, but she remains an English icon, and her name is still attached to books on cookery today. Her books were available in Australia and later editions even contained sections on Australian Cookery. Nineteenth century editions(which gave readers hints on everything from cooking sole and setting a table to dealing with servants and the care of sick children) are now expensive and quite hard to come by, but early 20th century editions (particularly pre World War II) are still a nice addition to a cookbook collection and can be had for a couple of hundred dollars. They will only appreciate in value.

Elizabeth David. Although Elizabeth David’s books are still in print, the early hardcover editions of The Book of Mediterranean Food; Italian Food; French Country Cooking & French Provincial Cooking are always sought after and are priced anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars depending on edition, condition etc.

Julia Child: The movie Julie and Julia has made any of the early editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking much sought after (even the 1970s Penguin paperback editions). She wasn’t the household name in Australia as she was in America, so these weren’t a huge seller in Australia when first published, thus are not widely available here. Driven purely by the movie, first editions in America sell online for thousands, later hardcover editions for under $100. They have been reprinted since the movie – these are unlikely to ever fall in the collectable or valuable category.

Early Australian Cookery books: Anything from the nineteenth and very early twentieth century in good condition is going to be both collectable and valuable, with prices ranging from under $100 for early editions of community cookery books like the Presbyterian Cookery Book of Good and Tried Receipts or the Golden Wattle Cookery Book to several thousands for Edward Abbott’s English and Australian Cookery Book, For The Many As Well As For The “Upper Ten Thousand” This is accepted as the first Australian cookery book and I've written about it in another blog. An important work and extremely scarce. A couple of other early Australians are also worth keeping an eye out for, particularly in first edition: Mary Gilmore's The Worker's Cookbook; Miranda's Cookbook; Mrs Maclurcan's Cookery Book; The Kingswood Cookery Book; Margaret Pearson's Australian Cookery Recipes for the People; The Kookaburra Cookery Book

As far as more modern Australian cookbooks are concerned, Will Studd’s Chalk and Cheese and Banc both sell for around the $150 - $200 mark. Books like the first edition of Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion in good condition are now selling for more than their original list price and are worth hanging on to. Similarly Maggie Beer’s early cookbooks Maggie’s Farm and Maggie’s Orchard have become quite hard to find, making them quite collectible. First cookbooks by chefs and food writers who go on to become big names are always worth collecting – an example is the Marie Claire cookbooks which were edited by Donna Hay before she became ‘Donna Hay’. Probably less predictably, some of the most sought after cookbooks ( the main factor pushing up their collectability and value) are school Home Economics text books. In Victoria Cookery the Australian Way can push the $100 mark for the first edition in good condition. This is largely nostalgia-driven, people want the edition they had in school and seem prepared to pay it – copies on ebay can go for silly prices. The Queensland Home Economics text book Day to Day Cookery by IM Downes is another one which is sought after in its early editions.