Treat Me: Powder Puffs

I have been reading the most heartbreaking book this week about the childhood of writer Noel Streatfeild. In My Vicarage Family she describes growing up in straitened circumstances as the daughter of a vicar who was too busy thinking about godly matters to pay attention to the things that bothered his family, like having nice clothes to wear and decent food to eat.

Doing the right thing by the church and faith was paramount and there is a major fuss in the book when Noel and her sisters get invited to a birthday party during Lent. They are eventually allowed to go, but are not allowed to wear party dresses (not that they have any) or eat any birthday cake. The littlest sister, Louise, ends up eating some cake out of politeness but then dissolves into floods of tears fearing that she has committed a mortal sin.


Noel was considered the difficult one among her four siblings and she acted out accordingly. The one bright spot in her life was her cousin, John, who at the part I am up to is talking about joining the Territorials before he goes to Balliol because his father thinks it will make him more of a man (John secretly wants to become an actor). It is 1914 and I have a feeling things are not going to end well.

I have been thinking about these vicarage children all week, which seems to have crossed over to my Random Recipe choice. This month Belleau Kitchen is joining forces with the Tea Time Treats juggernaut that is Lavender and Lovage and What Kate Baked for a ‘Tea Time’ edition.
I ended up with Margaret Fulton’s My Very Special Cookbook and after casually flipping to page 321, the word ‘vicar’ leapt out at me.


Powder Puffs
Margaret Fulton (the matriarch of Australian cooking, on Twitter and still churning out books in her 80s) says these were traditionally made when the vicar came to call. I don’t know any vicars and I doubt Noel Streatfeild’s father would have eaten anything so sinful, but I took a plateful of these to work and the godless hordes declared them delicious.

2 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder

Heat the oven to 220C and line two trays with baking paper.
Beat the eggs, then gradually add the sugar (this is easiest with an electric mixer of some kind). Beat until the mixture is light and mousse-like. Sift the dry ingredients over the top and fold in gently.
Using a teaspoon, drop small rounds of the mixture onto the prepared trays. To ensure they are round, not oval, hold the spoon vertical so the mixture runs off the end of it, not the side (as if you were making pikelets).
Bake for six minutes, then gently lift off the trays and leave on a wire rack to cool. When they are cold, put in an airtight tin.
About an hour before the vicar is due to call, sandwich the drops together with a blob of whipped cream. This waiting time is important, because it gives the sponge time to absorb moisture from the cream and puff up. The ones in the photos above are only mid-puff, which is why they look a little floppy. Dust icing sugar over the top and assume a saintly expression.

Speaking of whipped cream, here’s a nifty trick I picked up from Dean Brettschneider. Whipped cream tends to separate when it’s left to stand overnight, but you can stabilise it with gelatine. I tried this the other day with the powder puffs and it worked a treat. Just dissolve 1 tsp gelatine in 2 Tbsp warm water. Let cool (but not set). Whip a cup (250ml) of cream until soft peaks start to form, then pour in the gelatine and a tablespoon or so of icing sugar. Beat until stiff – but not too stiff, you don’t want butter – then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Have a great weekend, everyone. If you’re at a loss for things to do, you could always pick up this knitting pattern


Kitchen DIY: Creme fraiche

The day my mother died the nurses took it in turns to tell me how much I looked like her. It wasn’t really what I wanted to hear, given the circumstances, but I knew they meant well. A couple of days ago, looking through photos, I found one I’d never seen before. My mother is about my age (with eight more children than I have), sitting on a beach in Hong Kong in her togs, laughing. She has short, dark hair and she looks exactly like me. At least, I think she does.
While I have inherited our family photos, I have also inherited Mum’s folders of recipes, including a pretty notebook that features about five recipes for chocolate caramel slice written in several different places and a method for unshrinking a woollen jersey that involves Epsom salts and methylated spirits. I’ve added these to my own folders of recipes, which feature many of the same things cut from the paper. I can’t bear to throw these double-ups away.

DIY Creme fraiche
While I was thinking about Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipes for this month I found a handwritten version of this recipe in one of Mum’s folders. It was written on a piece of notepaper from the sort of notebook Mum kept in her handbag. When I was young I remember she would often serve up something she’d gotten halfway through noting down before being interrupted, worrying that she’d left something out. I fear the same thing had happened with this one – perhaps she heard it on the radio or mis-wrote the amounts? – because the first time I made it it didn’t work out. I’ve since fiddled with it and you can be assured that this version works.

300ml cream
100ml natural live yoghurt

Stir the cream and yoghurt together and cover, then leave to sit in a warm place for 12-24 hours until thick. Cover tightly and store in the fridge, where it will last for about two weeks. It’s heat-stable, so you can use it in sauces without fear of it splitting and it’s a tangy alternative to ordinary whipped cream on things like porridge or pancakes or other puddings.

What’s your favourite thing to do with creme fraiche?

Random recipes #18: On the shelf

Not content with making us rifle through our cookbooks each month, Dom at Belleau Kitchen now wants to see where they live.

I’ve been horrified to see other participants in this challenge cheerfully revealing they keep stacks of cookbooks in their bathrooms – while books turn up in ours from time to time they are usually left there by the Small Girl en route to somewhere more important. Call me old-fashioned, but a bathroom is no place to plan your next meal.

But since I plan to have my next meal – porridge, since you ask – in the dining room, it seems a logical place to start our virtual tour. Come on, keep up.

This is where I store my most-used books – and since they are also some of the heaviest, it makes sense for them to be low to the ground where they are unlikely to cause major damage to any small child who might pull them off the shelf. After having 1080 Recipes fall on my toe once, I have no wish for that to happen to anyone else.

So, all the Nigellas are stacked together, along with all the Elizabeth Davids. I have put her (Elizabeth) with Hugh and Nigel Slater. Do you think they’d get on? The middle section is French and Italian, with large-format Jill Dupleix (French name, has a few Italian-ish recipes) there because they won’t fit anywhere else.

Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion, which is probably the most useful book I own, heads up the shelf at the far end and the huge pile underneath is magazines, mostly Cuisine and Frankie (because it has good recipes occasionally).

Next, the living room, where the books are rearranged often by my small assistant. They are usually grouped according to nationality – New Zealand, then Australia (hello again, Jill D), Asia, the US, Britain – and there’s a section at the end about wine. Mmmmm, wine…

On to the bedroom now, where I currently have a friend’s copy of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, vol II (and must return it), A History of Food In 100 Recipes, with which I am enjoying irritating the hell out of my husband by reading him choice facts from every night, and the Wellington On A Plate catalogue. Oh, and The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes, which I started reading last night and it counts because there has been a description of roast lamb with rosemary in it.

Then, of course, there’s the kitchen. No time to show you the whole thing, but here’s the real recipe nerve centre. Lots of bits of paper, recipes written in shorthand, things cut from newspapers and noted down on the back of bills. Whatever recipe I’m looking for, I know it’s in here somewhere…

Where do you keep your recipe books?

Random recipe #17: Albondigas

You know how when you’re a kid you go through a stage of wondering if you’re really a princess and hoping that your real parents will turn up? I know that wasn’t just me, because a few years ago I interviewed a couple who were convinced they were Russian royalty and they had told their nine-year-old daughter that her real name was really Princess Anastasia or something. Nevermind that the poor kid was getting bullied mercilessly at school because of it, her parents were too busy waiting for the gold ingots to turn up in the post to notice.
But I digress. Lately I’ve been wondering if my life would have turned out different if I had a Mexican grandmother. Daniella Germain does and she’s written My Abuela’s Table – a really beautiful book of said grandmother’s recipes.
My copy of this book happens to be in the middle of the middle shelf of cookbooks, so I chose the middle recipe from it for June’s Random Recipes.

Forgive me, but I didn’t exactly follow the recipe in My Abuela’s Kitchen, not least because it has ‘2 chicken cubes’ listed in the ingredients. I don’t put chicken stock cubes in anything, so I’m not about to start crumbling them into meatballs. Perhaps it’s not so cool to have a Mexican grandmother after all. Here’s my version of Daniella’ Germain’s grandmother’s meatballs in chipotle sauce. She cooks the meatballs in the sauce, but I baked mine in the oven and served the sauce separately. This serves four.

Chipotle-tomato sauce
Make the sauce first and let it simmer away on the stove while you prepare the meatballs.

2Tbsp olive oil
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tins tomatoes
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, then gently saute the onion and garlic until golden. Tip in the tomatoes and chipotle peppers. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and let simmer gently for at least 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pan, until the sauce is dark and thick.

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
a splash of milk
350g beef mince
250g pork mince
2 eggs
finely grated zest of a lemon
a handful of finely grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a large baking tray with nonstick paper.
Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl and pour over a splash of milk to moisten them. Add all the other ingredients and mix lightly with your hands. Roll the mixture into small balls and place on the prepared tray. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until they are crispy on the outside and cooked through. Give the tray a shake halfway through cooking to turn them over. Serve with a pool of chipotle-tomato sauce.

Angel Food Cake Supreme

Since the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book is often required bedtime reading in this house, I was quite worried that the Small Girl would choose something like a helicopter or castle for her birthday cake. Mercifully, she wanted a “pink cake with ballerinas on it”, which was much, much easier to produce.

Angel Food Cake Supreme
My mother once had a recipe booklet, dating back to the 1960s, called ‘New American Recipes’. I remember reading it as a child and her explaining to me how angel food cake was such an American delicacy and how tricky it was to make. I don’t know where her copy got to but I nearly wept last year when I found one in a charity shop. I thought of Mum often while I made the cake in the weekend, wishing she was here to see it in all its fluffy, pink-iced glory.

I made this cake in a special angel food cake tin my sister found in a charity shop (and kindly donated to the cause). If you don’t have one, use a deep, 25-30cm ring tin. Mum had a square ring tin – that is to say, a square tin with a hole bit in the middle – which I remember she used when making this cake, but I’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere. The most important thing, whatever tin you use, is not to grease it. The batter needs to climb up the sides of the tin and greasing it will be akin to oiling a hill and then expecting your car to drive up it.

This is the first recipe in ‘New American Recipes’, which makes it my entry for this month’s Random Recipes challenge, in which you must select a book at random and make the first (or last) recipe from it.

110g sifted flour
25g cornflour
1/2 tsp baking powder
185g caster sugar
170g caster sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups egg whites (about 10-12)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond essence

Preheat the oven to 175C.
Sift the flour, cornflour, baking powder and first measure (185g) of caster sugar together THREE times. Set aside.
Put the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar into a large bowl and beat with an electric beater (or in a freestanding mixer) until foamy. Gradually add the second measure (170g) of sugar, two tablespoons at a time, until the mixture is meringue-like and holds stiff peaks. Fold in the vanilla and almond essence.
Sift the dry ingredients over the meringue and fold in as gently as you can until just mixed. Scrape the batter into the prepared tin. Cut through the mixture with a knife to release any air bubbles.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake springs back when touched. Invert over a rack and let hang until cold, then remove from the tin.
I iced my cake with raspberry meringue buttercream – the making of which was FAR more stressful than the making of this lovely cake – but you are limited only by your imagination (and the demands of the cake’s recipient).

Do you have a copy of New American Recipes? Have you ever made any of its dazzling recipes?