Sweet Treats

Shortbread

ShortbreadTo my mind, of all the sweet treats my mother made when I was young, shortbread always seemed the most luxurious and perhaps surprisingly, the most “exotic”. Set against the kaleidoscope of Malaysian desserts that I grew up with, shortbread seemed the epitome of Western refinement – something the lords and ladies of Windsor would perhaps nibble on, whilst sipping on their Earl Grey at teatime. In a childhood saturated with deep-fried bananas and glutinous purple layer-cakes, there was something about the buttery simplicity of shortbread that echoed a colonial restraint that appealed to my early sense of identity. That my mother made very good shortbread, made me feel different; it, in part, made me feel just a wee bit more British.

The secret to my mother’s shortbread is, however, an altogether un-British Asian ingredient: rice flour. This elevates the shortbread to another level; giving it an amazing texture and makes for an even crisper biscuit bite.

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Note: Try to use rice flour sourced from an Asian supplier rather than from a health shop as the former seems to be finer and gives a better finish.

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Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies

These brownies have served me well over the years; gooey and ridiculously rich, they’re irresistibly moreish! Frankly, I don’t understand why people don’t make brownies more often; they are so easy to throw together and always go down a treat, especially with kids.

Utterly delicious but devastating on the hips, this recipes makes quite a few brownies and invariably I end up giving most of them away to friends and random neighbours. I do this not out of generosity, but out of fear of my expanding waistline! Normally I can exercise admirable control when resisting sweet temptations, but with these, I turn into a brownie munchin’ fiend!

There is nothing pretentious about this recipe; this is easy-baking, that makes for great eating.

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Passionfruit Curd

Prior to moving to Cape Town I had only ever eaten passionfruit once before, at great expense, while living in the London. I chanced upon these purple piquant wonders in an up-market Food Hall and I just had to know what passionfruit really tasted like. At £1.50 a fruit my knees buckled at the price, but I just had to know. Gripped by curiosity, I dug deep and bought two. At the time it was money I could ill-afford to spend, especially on luxury fruit, but to my mind it was money well spent! Eating my first passionfruit was a moment my taste buds will never forget, it was as if they had awoken for the first time. In a word: electric.

Passionfruit CurdSo it was with much excitement that I discovered that my new garden came with its very own granadilla (passionfruit) plant. I tried to grow one in my old garden in Cape Town but without much success. So, our expectations were high as we eagerly waited the start of the fruiting season. I had hoped to get a couple of fruit a day, enough for the two of us to enjoy as a daily tangy treat. Little did I know what a prolific season awaited us, within weeks it began to rain granadillas! At the peak of the season, we were collecting between 10 and 15 granadillas a day and I soon found myself with a glut of these purple delights. It didn’t take long before I had run out of ideas of what to do with them.

With my granadillas mounting, I trawled through my cookbooks for ideas and found a recipe in Nigella’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess”. It was prefect, it combined two of my favourite things; curd and passionfruit! I had never tried passionfruit curd before, but being an avid childhood fan of the lemon variety, I figured “Why not?”. The curd took a while to make, but the results were sensational. Not since my first taste of passionfruit had my taste buds experienced such a wake up call. These days they may not cost me a dime, but made into a curd, passionfruit still makes me curl my toes and roll my eyes in delight. After all these years, it still tastes electric.

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Carrot Cake

This carrot cake recipe means a lot to me, allow me to explain why.

I had never even heard of carrot cake before arriving in Cape Town, much less eaten it. Arguably South Africa’s favourite cake, it is such a massive part of South African baking-lore you’d be forgiven for thinking that it had actually been invented here, but in spite of being on virtually every cake menu I was unconvinced. A cake made out of carrots? It just seemed wrong on so many levels. My taste-buds screamed, “Culinary heresy!” and for a long while I steadfast refused to even consider ordering this baked abomination. But like all sweet temptations, carrot cake was everywhere and it wasn’t long till I gave in and tried it for myself. Oh what a revelation, one slice and I was hooked! Moist and delicious with undertones of pecans and festive cinnamon, all offset by the sweet cream cheese frosting, I had been wrong; this was no aberration, this was baked genius.

20140625-195546-71746728.jpgAnd so my love affair with carrot cake began. I have since tried countless carrot cakes, some more delicious than others. However my absolute favourite was from the Tibetan Tea House just outside Simon’s Town. It was a long way to go for a slice of cake but it always felt worth the drive. I loved sitting on their peaceful verandah; sipping some green tea, admiring the exquisite Nepalese thangkas and tucking into the carrot cake. Uncomplicated, classic and without the unnecessary additions that seem to find their way into carrot cakes these days, this cake was a thing of simplistic beauty. We would make the journey so often for our slice of baked-Nirvana, and bought so many of those beautiful thangkas, the owner of the Tea House, Anna, kindly gave us the recipe. Sadly, shortly after she had entrusted us with her recipe, the Tibetan Tea House went vegan and the carrot cake disappeared from the menu altogether. This amazing cake was simply no more, except in my house where I still use her recipe to this very day.

We don’t drive out to the Tibetan Tea House as often anymore, however we still get to enjoy our carrot cake bliss; but now we do so from the comfort of our own verandah, sipping our own green tea, surrounded by some of the same exquisite Nepalese thangkas. I like to tell myself that Anna knew her recipe wasn’t going to survive the impending Vegan Cull and that she wanted us to continue enjoying the cake we loved so much, I like to think she was really just that nice. Buddha would be pleased.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

If cookies were currency my family would be millionaires.

Okay, so this amazing cookie recipe didn’t make us our fortune but it certainly “bought” us some childhood friends! I wish my family could take credit for these cookies but the recipe was in fact given to us by a friend’s mother. However, we churned out so many of these delectable morsels we became synonymous with being “those kids with the cookies”. My mother would send us off on school outings with a massive round white Tupperware filled with these delicious nibbles and invariably we would come home with just a few crumbs and a couple of new friends.

These cookies are not your typical chewy, gooey kind that are so popular today – they have a much shorter texture with a sugary finish that almost dissolves on your tongue. In fact, they are very reminiscent of “Famous Amos Cookies” from the 80s/90s – in both taste and aroma! Of course, these cookies are absolutely prefect for dunking in just about anything! Personally though, I can only manage to scoff a couple at a time as they pack quite a sugar-punch.

The following recipe makes quite a few cookies but I wouldn’t recommend halving the quantities as you don’t want to mess with the Cookie Chemistry. At any rate, if you can’t trust yourself to have so many cookies in the house then give them away to your neighbours – you never know, the cookies may just “buy” you some new friends!

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