Apple cake

Oh apple cake. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Let’s not go there.

Courtesy of the Moorabbin Technical School, circa… ah, well, there’s the rub. The date of publication has been lost in the ether of time. Turning all Nancy Drew (or Hamlet, should the Shakespearean references keep on rolling) there are clues to be found in them there advertisements. Portable typewriters for sale. Sorry, make that ‘The Olympia SF De Luxe Portable’ typewriter, the “snazziest” machine which evidently paves the way to a lucrative career as a typist (30/- more than a clerk, don’t you know?). But if typing does not appease your soul, there is a Melbourne book retailer spruiking the “excellent” The Key To Your Career, new edition 1962. It would seem, dear Watson, this book is a whisker less than a sprightly 51 years of age.

Confused literary references aside, here she is: lady apple cake. Oh yes, those contributors could cook.

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Apple cake

a la Home Tested Recipes, a slender recipe book issued by the Moorabbin Technical School Fete Committee.

2 cups SR flour

2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

½ cup butter, melted

2 eggs


3 medium apples (granny smiths worked nicely), grated

1 tbsp sugar

Nutmeg (I grated a whole nutmeg, but ½ tsp of ground would be nearly as good)

Preheat oven to 150oC. Butter and line a spring form cake tin. No seriously, line that thing. This cake gets juicy.

Mix together all of the cake ingredients in the listed order. It will be dry, so use your hands to form a ball-ish fragrant lump of delicious cake. Divide in two in the bowl.

Press half of the dough into the tin. Tumble over the slippery, jaggedy apple shards, sprinkle over the sugar and grate over the nutmeg. Nutmeg is potent. Beware. Apparently too much can kill you (urban myth?).

Press over the remaining dough.

Bake for 45 minutes, ish. It will be golden on top and your kitchen should smell amazing.

Drink with a cup of tea, milky if you wish, but certainly in a mug that you can fit all fingers in. None of that one-finger business you find at cafés.


Chocolate cake: pretty and understated

Do you have a favourite chocolate cake? One that you are secretly proud of? Your go-to recipe, much-requested at events, loved by all? I don’t. I have not yet baked a chocolate cake that is undeniably good. Well, at least not the kind of good that you remember and store away in the domestic part of your mind for times of birthdays, bake sales, morning teas and breakups. I am yet to find a signature chocolate cake.

I have heard stories of my Nana Jean’s chocolate cake. An impossibly high, intensely chocolatey kind of chocolate cake that was the envy of all her friends. So you can imagine my excitement to find a recipe in her beautiful, lilting copperplate handwriting in her cook book.

Oh, and just below, a chocolate icing recipe!

With a certain degree of stubbornness I set to resurrecting the chocolate cake. I will make this chocolate cake, I said to myself, and it will be amazing. It will be grand and fragrant and look generous and indulgent.

No, Meg. No.

Perhaps it was the wrong mindset that sabotaged my lofty ambitions. Certainly, no recipe from Nana’s cook book has been straightforward. Missing cooking times, imprecise oven temperatures, ambiguous instructions are commonplace. Indeed, you will notice that the baking time is missing from the handwritten recipe. From past experience I should have expected a hiccup.

It isn’t a bad hiccup. The cake looks nice, and tastes nice. It simply is not the noble cake I had imagined. My father concurs. This is not his mother’s famed chocolate cake.

But it is a pretty cake. Demure and understated, this cake is lightly chocolatey and not too sticky on the palate. Part of me wants to say delicate, but that isn’t quite right. It isn’t sponge-cake-delicate at all. It is just a low-rising, restrained chocolate cake. The kind that is perfect with a cup of tea or a glass of milk. Or eaten for breakfast in a bowl with milk poured over. Or is that just my childhood memories masking what is an appropriate use of cake?

This kind of cake is perfect for some people. My boyfriend tells me that his own grandmother makes a nearly-identical cake. This perhaps proves how strong a role food memories play in the development of our palates, because he absolutely loved this cake! On the other side of the state he was singing the recipe’s praises to his own family.

It is so lovely that in setting out to recreate Nana Jean’s menu I have been able to connect other people with their own culinary heritage. In many ways, this cake has reaffirmed my quest to rediscover such neglected recipes.

Oh, and this cake is a great starting point for me. I’m on a mission, friends. A mission to find my signature chocolate cake. (The best kind of mission, no?).

I look forward to sharing my findings, and resurrected recipes, with you.

Happy baking,


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Pretty and understated chocolate cake

3 eggs

¼ lb sugar

¼ lb plain flour

1 dessertspoon cocoa

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp cream of tartar

1 tbsp melted butter

½ tsp vanilla

1 dessertspoon hot water

Grease and line a cake tin. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C.

Beat eggs and sugar well. Stir in flour sifted with cocoa, baking powder and cream of tartar. Lastly stir in butter, hot water and vanilla.

Transfer immediately to cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes, until your whole kitchen smells chocolately and the cake springs back to touch.

Let cool in tin for 5 minutes, then turn out on to cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.


Chocolate icing

½ cup icing sugar

½ tsp cocoa

1 big teaspoon butter

1 dessertspoon boiling water

Sift icing sugar and cocoa evenly. Mix in butter and boiling water until smooth. You may need to add more water to gain a smooth spreading consistency.

Slather over cooled chocolate cake in smooth circles with the back of a spoon.

Soft gingerbread

Happy recovery day, readers! Here’s hoping your Boxing Day be well spent eating leftovers, holding your stretched stomachs, watching the cricket and Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Or shopping, if you were better organised than me and had actually set an alarm to tackle the sales!

What special recipes did you use this Christmas? Did you keep the food traditional, or experiment with something new to grace your dining table? I have to say, the month of Christmas-themed recipes littering Pinterest, the newspapers, the morning talk shows, the supermarket brochures, the advertisements and the conveniently-timed new-release cookbooks look incredible. And overwhelming. Or is it just me?

In line with my quest to resurrect Nana Jean’s menu, I embarked on one of her copperplate recipes for a family Christmas party. Soft gingerbread. How could I resist such a promise of a sweetly spiced soft cakey baked serve of Christmas? I couldn’t! I even trialled the recipe, how excited I was!


Oh, Nana Jean did her crafty protective trick with this recipe, too. Ambiguous ingredient quantities and a blatantly incorrect baking time. But I must be getting better, because I trusted my instincts and the sheet cake came out a dream. The sugar and butter gives the cake a glossy sheen on the surface, but it is gloriously soft on the inside. I can’t even come up with a more fitting adjective than ‘soft’. It isn’t delicate, like a sponge. It isn’t fragile, like shortbread. It is simply soft, and not at all dry or airy.

soft gingerbread

The soft gingerbread was a hit. My grandfather (from the other side of the family, not at all familiar with the recipe) went back for thirds, not just seconds. And my three-year-old second cousin went back for fourths, not just thirds. Clearly, moreish doesn’t even cover it.

I would say, unequivocally, that this has been my most successful recreation of Nana Jean’s recipes.

So here’s to family, tradition and the sharing of food!

Happy holidays, comrades.


Cream-filled orange cake from the past

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. So here I am again, after an even longer hiatus. Please let me side-step the awkwardness to discuss far more pleasant things. Such as…

The first day of December! And what a glorious day of weather it now is here in my part of Australia. But such beautiful weather has come at a cost. After a few days of oppressive, all-consuming, inescapable heat in the depths of the night a thunderstorm broke loose tearing the calm, heavy air to shreds. The kind of thunder that shakes the bones of your house, rattles your crockery and hums and vibrates and murmurs for hours. Some districts have reported golf ball sized hail stones and semi-demolished houses. My heart goes out to those who have suffered. I hope you are all now safe and on the path to recovery.

This week I have immersed myself in homely things. I hung some of my paintings, finally framed after five years in hiding. I have tried my hand at embroidery. Yes, embroidery! How quaint! I have cleaned and watered plants and purchased an old cobalt blue Twinings tea tin. Oh, I have plans for the tin. I can’t wait. And, of course, I have been baking. Specifically, I have been baking orange cakes.

Orange cake recipe

Orange cake recipe

Sweet, light-as-a-feather, zesty little orange cakes resurrected from my Nana Jean’s cookbook.

I had been invited to a ‘thank you and bye’ morning tea, which is my favourite kind of invite! Anything that asks me to bring food is something I greatly look forward to. Are you the same? Apparently this is a rare feeling, much to my surprise. So many people have admitted to hating baking. Hating. Goodness, I would bake on their behalf!

So scrolling through my archive of photos of Nana Jean’s recipes (her book is so fragile, I am hesitant to handle it more than strictly necessary, you see) I short-listed some appropriate recipes. I knew that other people had mentioned bringing chocolate slices, which made choosing a zingy orange cake so much easier. I tend to dither when selecting a recipe for an event. Do you, too? Though I do love citrus baked goods, as I’ve waxed lyrical about in the past.

I trialled the recipe on a whim last weekend. I made cupcakes; 9 medium-sized gossamer-light cupcakes, in fact. Oh the smell when these babies are baking will drive you crazy, I promise! The specific mixing method of this recipe creates a thin, crisp and sugary top whilst the cake itself is soft and fluffy. We ate the cupcakes plain, and over the next few days, when they aren’t so soft any more, we doused them with milk and ate them like pudding. Delicious!

The cake itself consisted of two thin separately baked rounds, filled with cream and coated with an orange juice icing. It was an impressive sight: a glass-like, gleaming cake with cream curving voluptuously from the middle. And it was all eaten, every last bite!

I have not taken photos of the cake, though I could have. To be perfectly honest, it was a rushed affair. Though with the incredible success, and compliments, and sexiness of the cake itself, it will undoubtedly make a reappearance from my oven soon. I look forward to sharing it with you. For now, the recipe is attached. I hope this will suffice.

I’m spending some time in Melbourne this week, the acclaimed culture capital of Australia! I would love to hear any of your recommendations, particularly of the culinary kind.

Bon appetit!


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Orange cake

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup hot water

2 oranges, zested

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Melt the butter in the water (use the microwave if the butter is very hard), let the mixture cool. Beat the eggs and sugar well, until light and fluffy. Add the flour and butter mixture and mix lightly. Lasted add the grated rind of the two oranges.

Bake in two sandwich tins until cooked through (approx. 20 minutes, depending on your oven). Cool on wire cooling trays.

Fill with cream and ice with orange juice icing, if desired.

Orange juice icing

1 cup icing sugar

juice 1/2 orange

Mix together until thick and creamy in consistency. Too thin an icing will simply drip off the cake. You may need to add more icing sugar, depending on the size and juiciness of your oranges!

Banana bread from other grandmothers

It has been a long time between recipes. You know when your bones ache and your head feels too busy, too clamoured, too noisy? That has been this week for me. But banana bread saves the day. As always.

Yesterday I was graciously given four spotted bananas. Nana Jean doesn’t have any banana bread recipes in this cookbook. In her mother’s book, there are plenty. But her mother’s book is packed away in storage, and it is completely beyond my ability to find it at the moment. And by that, I mean, I cannot fathom entering the shed and looking through the two dozen or so boxes amongst all the spiders and dust and spiders.

I have recently read a book that tells the tale of a Russian woman and her self-creation as a cook. It is called Tatiana’s Table, and it is beautiful. In this book I found a recipe for banana bread. And much like I fall in love with characters in books, I fell in love with the idea of Tatiana’s banana bread. And so this morning, with unseasonable light streaming through the window, I set to recreating this cake.

And let’s be honest. Banana bread is a cake. Lacking any yeast I find it difficult to reconcile true bread with banana bread. But whatever makes you happy, and whatever comes to your tongue naturally!

Tatiana recommends throwing in a half cup of chocolate chips, or walnuts. I am a purist, though, and had no desire to do this, even though I have both in my pantry. If you choose to deviate, please let me know the results!

Oh, and I should mention that I was probably somewhat subliminally influenced by Linguistics & Cakes’ banana bread that I stumbled upon a week or so ago. I have so much love for baking blog inspiration, do you?

Merry baking comrades…


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Banana bread

a la Tatiana, from Paulina Simons’ Tatiana’s Table

110 g butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar (I used half a cup, as I don’t like very sweet things)

2 eggs, at room temperature

4 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp grated orange zest

1/3 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract (I use organic vanilla bean paste)

4 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 ¾ cup plain flour

1 tsp baking powder (soda)

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180 deg. C (350 deg. F). Grease the bottom of a loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar, then add the eggs. Mix in juice, zest, water, vanilla and lastly the bananas. Fold in the flour (which has had the salt and baking powder thoroughly mixed through) until just combined. Pour into tin and bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden and fragrant.


Cinnamon cakes

Cinnamon cakes

Following on from the great success of orange cream finger-biscuits, and following three days of wet dreary weather, I ventured deeper into Nana Jean’s cookbook for something warm and comforting. Written in her trademark copperplate was the recipe for cinnamon cakes.

Do you like cinnamon? I do. Well, truth be known, that is an understatement. I truly wholeheartedly unequivocally love cinnamon. I have no idea why; I haven’t grown up eating many foods with cinnamon. But now, in my 20s, I have it almost every day with breakfast. At the moment, I have a bit of a breakfast ritual with oats, milk, plain yoghurt, chia seeds, some ground ginger and almost a teaspoon of cinnamon. Do you have a regular breakfast recipe? I find the way people greet the morning fascinating.

But back to cinnamon cakes. For those who read my disastrous brownie experience may be wondering if Jean included all cooking directions with this recipe. Nope. No oven temperature, no specified baking trays. Ah, to be as proficient a baker as my grandmother, who seemingly had no need for directions!

cinnamon cake recipe

cinnamon cakes

Nonetheless, the cinnamon cakes were a great success. Fragrant and sweet, dense and moreish. The photographs belie the crunchy exterior and oh so soft cake interior. My mother, no fan of sweet things, went back for seconds. And as for the process: it is so simple. And the dough is a dream to work with – soft and sticky, helping to bind the dusting of ground cinnamon.

I have baked these in a large cupcake tray, which helped to cook each cake evenly and prevented the mixture from spreading. However, in hindsight, if you have oven-proof tea cups or small ramekins I am sure they would look cute as a button. Don’t you think?

Happy cooking comrades.


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cinnamon cakes

cinnamon cakes

Cinnamon Cakes

2 cups plain flour

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1 tsp cream of tartar

½ tsp baking powder

60g (2 oz) butter, softened

Little milk

Ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Sift the flour with baking powder and cream of tartar. Rub the butter into the flour mixture. Add the sugar, then the egg. Add enough milk to make a soft, mouldable dough. Roll out the dough on a board that is well dusted with more plain flour. Roll out as a rectangle about ½ inch (1.5 cm) thick. Sprinkle liberally with ground cinnamon. Roll into a long sausage; be gentle. Slice wedges off the sausage and place into the individual muffin/cupcake tins. Bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and your whole kitchen smells of cinnamon.