Chocolate, date & walnut kisses

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Lois & Me is about drawing attention to Lois Daish and her contribution to the history of food and cooking in New Zealand. But as well as adding to this history, Lois is fascinated by it and her Listener columns would often include historical research into particular aspects of New Zealand’s culinary history, particularly our baking tradition. Kelda Hains describes Lois’ approach to recipe development as ‘scholarly’ as it was often based on a good deal of reading and research. In this way, Lois’ Listener columns are ‘curated’; they may not always be recipes of her own devising, but they always involve her careful selection and testing.

I get so much enjoyment from reading through Lois’ Listener articles and wish that more people had ready access to these well-crafted and fascinating pieces of writing. Here is an excerpt from Lois’ October 2003 column entitled ‘Give us a kiss’:

‘Perhaps this is what happened. A cook made a tray of small drop biscuits, and thought they looked a bit meager and decided to join them in pairs with butter icing. The idea wasn’t entirely new. Flat biscuits, cut into rounds with a cookie cutter, had long been made into jam sandwiches that went by various names such as Shrewsbury, Belgian or German. What was new was the idea of joining biscuits that had been dropped from a spoon, or rolled into balls and then pressed with a fork. And these pairs of biscuits were given the name “kisses”, a term that had previously been used for small sweetmeats and which still persists in Hershey’s chocolate kisses. More interestingly for us is that, according to the Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English, the first recorded use of the term “kiss” for a pair of biscuits was in New Zealand in the 1936 edition of the Women’s Institute Cookbook. Before long, community fundraising cookbooks included recipes for ginger kisses, coconut kisses, sponge kisses and, perhaps the best-known of all, Maori kisses, which was used for several types of kisses that had cocoa in the recipe, the most popular also including finely chopped dates and walnuts.’

Chocolate, date & walnut kisses (Lois Daish, Listener, October 25 2003, p.42-43)

85g soft butter

85g brown sugar

115g flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup chopped fresh walnuts

1 cup finely chopped dates

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut a length of baking paper to cover a flat baking tray. Beat butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa and add to the butter mixture along with the milk. Add the walnuts and dates and mix thoroughly. Roll balls of mixture (Lois suggests half the size of a walnut; I made mine into balls weighing 15g each). Place balls of dough onto the baking tray and push down lightly with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes until the biscuits are firm at the edges but still slightly soft in the middle. Place on a rack to cool. Once cool, join the biscuits in pairs with vanilla buttercream icing. Makes around 15 kisses.

Vanilla buttercream icing

125g unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons milk, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or 2 teaspoons cocoa

Cream the butter with an electric beater or food processor until very pale. Add half the icing sugar and while beating add the milk. Add the remaining icing sugar and vanilla or cocoa.

Chocolate coconut rough

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Traditional home baking in New Zealand is an ongoing fascination for Lois. These are recipes that were shared between friends, published in fundraising cookbooks, and handed down through families in cursive handwriting on pieces of notepaper. These are recipes that are a part of our food history but have fallen out of fashion and are now often only found in bakeries and lunch bars made with inferior ingredients. Made with love, butter (always butter), good-quality coconut and cocoa, old favourite chocolate coconut rough is a thing is beauty.

Chocolate coconut rough (Lois Daish, Listener, April 7 2001)

Base:

1 cup of flour

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup coconut, long thread or desiccated

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa

100g butter, melted (add a pinch of salt if you are using unsalted butter)

Icing:

30gm butter, melted

1/2 cup coconut, long thread or desiccated

1 cup icing sugar

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa

boiling water

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour over the melted butter. Stir to combine thoroughly and then tip into a lined or buttered baking tin and push down evenly. Bake for 15-20 minutes until you can smell the coconut toasting. While the base bakes, make the icing by melting the butter in a small saucepan and adding the coconut, icing sugar and cocoa. Add enough boiling water to make a sloppy icing and pour over the base while it is still hot from the oven. Cut into bars while still warm.

Lois & Kelda (and Kelda’s lemon yoghurt cake)

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Kelda Hains’ first job as a cook was at Lois’ bustling suburban restaurant the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill. Kelda recalls being a hospitality and tourism student and approaching Lois to interview her for an essay on small owner-operator run restaurants. Lois was the only restaurateur to ask for a copy of the finished essay; not for editorial control but out of a genuine interest. When Kelda returned to the restaurant to drop off a copy, Lois asked if she would like a job. Kelda said yes.

During the time that they worked together at the Brooklyn Cafe & Grill, Lois had a formative impact on Kelda’s approach to food. Kelda admired Lois’ style of food based on simplicity and thoughtfulness which she describes as ‘home cooking with finesse’ and her approach to running a restaurant based on generosity.

Kelda and Lois’ relationship wasn’t a typical mentor and student relationship however, as the information exchange went both ways. The shared inspiration Lois and Kelda found in each other is self evident as you look through Lois’ Listener columns, where Kelda’s name sometimes pops up as the source of recipes.

As co-owner of the wonderful Nikau Cafe, Kelda has developed a strong reputation for her own simple and thoughtful approach to cooking seasonal and local food. Not to mention for her baking, some of which is made using Lois’ recipes. Anyone who has had the delight of eating a baked something from Nikau Cafe will know to expect great things from Kelda’s recipe for lemon yoghurt cake and it most certainly does not disappoint.

Kelda’s lemon yoghurt cake (Listener, May 3 1997, p. 53).

4 free-range eggs

225g sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

grated zest of two lemons

1/2 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt

200g flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

75g butter, melted and cooled

Glaze:

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a loose-bottomed 23cm cake tin and grease the sides with some butter. Use an electric beater to whisk the eggs and sugar until really pale and expanded in volume (will take a couple of minutes). Fold in the lemon juice, zest and yoghurt. Add the flour and baking powder and fold through. Stir 1/2 cup of the cake batter into the melted butter and then fold this mix back into the batter. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake for around 30 minutes until firm.

To make the glaze, heat the juice and icing together until it forms a syrup. Pour over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Folded currant scones

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Scones have the shortest lifespan of any baking. They really are best straight from the oven and with each passing hour they lose their crisp edges and lightness and soften to become heavy. The consolation for this small window of optimum deliciousness is that scones are very quick to make; I was surprised at how quickly I had a tray of scones ready for the oven. The only slightly labourious part is cleaning up the floury bench afterwards, but that can surely be delegated to an eager scone awaiter.

Lois’ folded currant scones are one of the nicest scones I’ve tried. The folding technique creates layers which gives the scones a light and flaky quality. Now that I have been reminded just how quick scones are to make, a repeat bake is on the horizon for this weekend.

Folded currant scones (Lois Daish, Dinner at Home, p.85)

2 cups standard flour

3 tablespoons caster sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

80g cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt

Preheat oven to 200°C (fan bake setting). Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder; if using unsalted butter add a pinch of salt. Add the butter and use your fingers to rub the butter into flakes about the size of cornflakes. Add the currants.

Combine the milk and yoghurt in a small bowl and add to the mixture. Using a cutting action than stirring action, use a blunt knife to mix to a soft dough. You may need to add a little more milk if there is lots of unincorporated dry mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Don’t overmix the dough; some of the butter flakes should still be visible.

Place the dough on a floured bench and use a rolling pin to roll out into a 1-2cm thick rectange. Fold over into thirds and roll out again. Fold into thirds a second time, then roll out into a rectangle. Fold this rectangle in half so that you have a thin long rectangle about 10cm by 30cm. Cut the length into around 8-9 rectangular-shaped scones.

Put on a baking tray and bake for about ten minutes until puffed and golden brown. Transfer the scones to a rack covered with a tea towel and fold the tea towel over the top of the scones until it is time to serve them.

Little River walnut cake

Barbara Henderson, walnut illustration, Good Food, p. 127.

Barbara Henderson, walnut illustration, Good Food, p. 127.

On the day before the shortest day of the year I baked a Little River walnut cake and took it around to Lois’ for afternoon tea. We sat together in her bright warm living room and happily munched on wedges of cake and blue cheese with cups of hot tea.

Walnut cake and blue cheese (Whitestone Windsor Blue) are a very good combination which I highly recommend you try; a little glass of Pedro Ximénez would be entirely appropriate here too. Packed with walnuts and not too sweet, the added treacle and rum impart this cake with a fragrant caramel warmth. A perfect cake to celebrate the middle of winter.

Lois devised this recipe for a relative who had an oversupply of walnuts from her tree. I’m not lucky enough to have a walnut tree (one day, I hope) and I buy my nuts from Moore Wilson’s or The Nut Store to ensure that they are fresh. Rancid walnuts are awful; check that your walnuts are fresh enough to use by trying one before you start baking. I store my walnuts in the freezer, where they can be kept for a month or so.

Little River walnut cake (Lois Daish, Listener, June 15 1996, p.56-57)

200g softened butter

150g brown sugar

4 tablespoons treacle

2 free-range eggs

150g flour

pinch baking soda

pinch ground cloves

4 tablespoons milk

4 tablespoons dark rum or whisky

340g fresh shelled walnuts, roughly chopped 

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line a 21-23cm cake tin with baking paper. Cream the butter, sugar and treacle together until soft and light. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the dry ingredients and beat in to the mixture along with the milk and rum or whisky. Add the walnuts and mix thoroughly. Scoop into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes until the cake is firm in the middle. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack. This cake has a lovely crunchy exterior when eaten on the day it is baked but is still delightful to eat a couple of days later.

Peanut brownies

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If your previous experience of peanut brownies is from a purchased bag of allegedly baked-on-a-farm biscuits, then you might understandably have a take it or leave attitude towards this old-fashioned baking staple. Prepare for that to be changed. These peanut brownies are incredibly delicious and cheap to make. Another old baking favourite due for a fashionable comeback in my opinion (see also Fruit Loaf).

Peanut brownies (from Lois Daish, A Good Year, p.61)

250g raw peanuts

140g softened butter

200g caster sugar

1 free-range egg

200g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons cocoa (I used heaped tablespoons of Blooker Cacao)

Preheat oven to 175°C and begin by roasting the peanuts. Spread the peanuts into a single layer in a baking pan with sides and roast for 10-15 minutes, shaking the pan every couple of minutes. They are ready once the skins split and the nuts turn golden; keep a close eye on this process. Leave to cool and then rub the peanuts between your hands to remove the skins; take the tray outside and blow away the skins into the garden (or make use of the Wellington wind to blow away the skins for you).

Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and use an electric beater to beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and beat again until light. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into the butter mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the peanuts and mix again.

Line two baking trays with baking paper and place rolled balls of dough (about 30gm makes a good sized biscuit) onto the trays allowing room for them to spread out. Lightly press down the biscuits using a fork (run it under the tap and flick off excess water to stop it sticking to the biscuits). Bake for around 15 minutes; you don’t want to under bake them but they do catch quickly. Leave the biscuits to cool on a cooling rack and store in an airtight container.

Number 9 fruit loaf

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At Number 9, Lois’ first cafe on the corner of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street, this fruit loaf was so popular that they would bake three loaves at a time. Fruit loaves are currently so deeply unfashionable that I feel that it’s only a matter of time before they become the next baking trend at hipster coffee shops. Toasted and smeared with some Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt or cream cheese, fruit loaf has the makings of an excellent (and most importantly for some, Instagrammable) breakfast.

Number 9 Fruit Loaf (Lois Daish, A Good Year, p. 86)

450g dried fruit (currants, raisins, and sultanas; I used a mixture of golden sultanas and currants)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

250ml hot tea (Earl Grey or English Breakfast)

1 egg

2 cups plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Put the dried fruit in a bowl with brown and white sugar, pour over the hot tea and stir. Leave to soak for at least 30 minutes, but preferably several hours.

Preheat oven to 160°C and line a loaf tin with baking paper. The best way to do this is to tear off a sheet of baking paper and run it under the tap while you gently scrunch it up. Shake off the excess water, smooth it out and dry it with a tea towel; the paper will now be easy to mold to the shape of the tin.

Whisk the egg and add it to the soaked fruit. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and beat into the fruit mixture. Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin and bake for at least one hour (mine took one hour and fifteen minutes). Use the skewer test to check if it’s done (insert a skewer at an angle into centre of the loaf and slowly remove; it should be clean with no sticky batter adhered to it).

Tips from Lois: the loaf will be easier to slice if you leave it overnight before cutting it; you can also freeze slices of loaf and defrost as needed.

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