In our little bit of the Adelaide Plains, shearing was one of those times of year – like harvest – where, all of a sudden, everyone was incredibly busy round the clock. Country kitchens sprang into action, producing hot meals, sandwiches, tins and tins of biscuits and wicker trays of cake. The recipients, uniform in their blue singlets, would dispatch the treats in between gulps of crazy-strong, overly sugared tea. I don't think those sheds ever saw lady grey tea, or ricotta for that matter, but this cake pays tribute to the spirit of those countless tea breaks and the women who catered them. It even got the nod from Bill Heffernan (a celebrated bushie and tough nut) and minister/aviatrix Sussan Ley.
Makes 1 x 20 cm (8 in) cake
250 g (9 oz) ricotta
150 g (5½ oz) unsalted butter, softened
125 g (4¼ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
finely grated zest of 3 oranges
3 eggs, separated
25 g (1 oz) almond meal
100 g (3½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
dash of milk, if needed
100 g (3½ oz) blueberries, fresh or frozen
LADY GREY SYRUP
3 lady grey tea bags
170 ml (5½ fl oz/⅔ cup) boiling water
165 g (5¾ oz/¾ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
juice of ½ orange
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 20 cm (8 in) springform or loose-based cake tin and line with a circle of baking paper. Tip the ricotta into a fine sieve set over a bowl to drain while you make a start on the cake.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, then beat in the zest, followed by the egg yolks, one at a time. Add the ricotta and whisk again – the mixture should be quite fluffy. Fold in the almond meal, then sift in the flour and baking powder, mixing to combine.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to medium peaks. Take a critical look at the consistency of your cake mixture: if it seems too stiff to gently accommodate the whisked egg whites, stir in a dash of milk to loosen it. Now carefully fold in the egg whites.
Put your blueberries in a bowl and sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of flour (this will help to stop them from sinking to the bottom of the cake).
Pour half the batter into the prepared tin. Sprinkle over all except a few of the blueberries, avoiding the very edges so the finished cake will have solid walls. Add the rest of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining blueberries, using your finger to push them a little way into the batter.
Bake for 35–40 minutes. It can be tricky to tell when this cake is cooked in the middle. Because it's so moist, a knife will come out clean 3–4 minutes before it is actually cooked, so give it a little extra time in the oven after this, until it has a golden, slightly crisp crust.
Meanwhile, forge your strong three-bag brew in the boiling water. After 5 minutes, transfer the tea to a small saucepan with the sugar and orange juice. Bring to the boil, then let it bubble away for 5 minutes to make a thin syrup. Leave to cool until just warm, then transfer to a serving jug.
Cut the cake into slices, then pour over the syrup when serving.
Carry your cake in an airtight container, with the jar of syrup riding shotgun.
This delightful confection went to Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull's farm at Scone, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, when we were filming the third series of Kitchen Cabinet. We took the train partly because it is such a terrific train ride, and partly because my baby daughter Kate, a determined small assistant on that series, firmly refused to travel anywhere by car, which meant we were obliged to explore all manner of transport alternatives. Still, there is no feeling quite like taking a dessert on a train to eat with someone interesting. I would definitely recommend it. There is no use trying to fix something that isn’t broken, so the mousse element here sticks to the traditional and elegant formula: chocolate, eggs and sugar. The fastest way to improve chocolate is by adding raspberries and cream, so I did that. The honeycomb? Well, that is just theatre.
120 g (4¼ oz) chocolate, including at least 80 g(2¾ oz) dark chocolate
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
165 g (5¾ oz/¾ cup) granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons runny honey
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
100 ml (3½ fl oz) double (thick) cream
½ teaspoon vanilla paste – optional
50 g (1¾ oz) fresh or frozen raspberries
First melt the chocolate. Conventional wisdom has it that you should always melt chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. But I would suggest that it isn't absolutely necessary to clatter about with bain maries and the like just to melt a bit of chocolate when you can treat it gently in the microwave (on medium for bursts of 30 seconds) or grate it into a hot pan that has been taken off the heat.
Leave the melted chocolate to cool slightly.
Next, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks with a tiny pinch of salt, then slowly add the sugar and keep whisking until you have stiff peaks.
Lightly beat the egg yolks, then add to the slightly cooled chocolate and use a whisk to combine. Gently fold in about a third of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest to the mixture, retaining as much air as possible. Pour into a serving dish (or small glasses) and leave to set for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
With all that waiting for the mousse to be ready, you have acres of time to put together those showy honeycomb shards. Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Combine the sugar, honey and 1½ tablespoons of water in a tall, heavy-based pan – use a stockpot, if you have one – and heat until it registers 154°C (310°F) on a sugar thermometer. This is called the 'cracking stage'. If you don't have a thermometer, test by dropping a little of the syrup into a bowl of cold water and then fishing out the result: if it is still stretchy, keep cooking; if it 'snaps', it is ready.
Once you are at temperature, take the pan off the heat and sift in the bicarbonate of soda. Be careful – the mixture is awfully hot and it will foam and rise up the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon (or something else non-conductive) until combined, then quickly pour it onto the prepared baking sheet, getting it as thin as you can and smoothing it out with a spatula. Leave the honeycomb for at least 15 minutes to set. Store in a cool, dry place – but not the fridge, or it will go sticky.
Just before serving (or transporting), make the raspberry cream. Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the raspberries, crushing them a little as you go to give pretty red streaks, then spoon over the mousse. Break your honeycomb into shards and use to decorate.
A NOTE ABOUT RAW EGG
You will notice that because we are not doing any cooking of the chocolate mousse, the raw egg will stay, well, raw. So think again if you are catering for people who might be nervous about eating raw egg – that is, pregnant women, the very young, the very old, or anyone who is unwell.
If you live in a perfect world, you will have collected lots of little glass yoghurt containers or straight-sided jars to decant your mousse into. Otherwise, it is absolutely fine to set everything together in a large bowl and scoop out onto individual plates at your destination. It also feels more pleasingly old school served this way. Don't forget the honeycomb shards.
In the weeks before my partner Jeremy and I moved back to Australia from London, we enforced the 'pantry challenge', whereby every meal had to be cooked using something in the cupboard, so we could run our pantry reserves down to nix. For no good reason I can think of, I had at some stage bought a five-kilo bag of quinoa, so that went into tuna patties and some sort of quinoa sushi, to which I'm afraid Wendy was repeatedly subjected. Anyway, there's no quinoa at all in this recipe, but it does mostly use things you might have lurking in your cupboard. Great for when friends drop in, as they say – or, more saliently, very good for whipping up and sticking in a basket for baking on-site in the home of another. This gratin is very rich, so we've sized it as a side dish. It goes well with many things; some Puy-style lentils or a crisp green salad is a good idea too.
1 leek, well washed and outer green leaves discarded, finely chopped
olive oil, for frying
a little white wine or water, if needed
175 g (6 oz) cooked cannellini beans
75 g (2½ oz) creme fraiche or sour cream
2½ tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 x 335 g (11¾ oz) jar white asparagus, drained
30 g (1 oz/½ cup) coarse fresh breadcrumbs
50 g (1¾ oz/½ cup) finely grated parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F).
In a frying pan over low–medium heat, fry the leek in the smallest amount of oil, adding a little white wine or water if it starts to stick. When the leek has wilted a bit, take the pan off the heat and mix in the beans. Mix the two creams with the mustard until smooth. Take a shallow baking dish about 20 x 15 cm (8 x 6 in) and spread about a tablespoon of the cream mixture over the base. Lay the asparagus spears on top, spoon over the
leek and bean mixture, then pour over the rest of the cream mixture.
Combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan and parsley, then sprinkle over the gratin. (Just by the by, I recommend having a secret stash of this gratin topping in the freezer, ready to sprinkle at a minute's notice – it is also good on lasagne and other baked pasta dishes.) Bake your gratin for about 25 minutes, or until it is crispy, with bubbling cream underneath.
Par-bake the gratin for about 15 minutes and leave to cool prior to transporting, then finish cooking at your destination, just before serving.