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.

Beetroot, yoghurt, mint & walnut salad

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I’ve recently been talking to chefs, cooks, and food writers who have been influenced in one way or another by Lois Daish. I’ve been particularly interested in how they characterise Lois’ approach to food and what sets her apart from other cooks and food writers. Ginny Grant sums it up very well:

Lois’s food [has] an honest simplicity where flavour is paramount.  There are no unnecessary embellishments in her cooking, everything that is in a recipe is there because it is needed.

I had this in mind as I made Lois’ beetroot, yoghurt, mint, and walnut salad at the weekend. Less of a recipe and more of a combination of four ingredients that go well together, there was a temptation to add more; black pepper at least, but I also thought about adding feta. Instead I followed Lois’ instructions and ended up with a salad that was perfectly balanced and lovely, just the way Lois intended.

Beetroot, yoghurt, mint & walnut salad (Lois Daish, Listener, January 2 1999)

4 medium beetroot

1/2 cup plain yoghurt

sea salt 

chopped mint leaves

handful freshly cracked walnuts

Scrub the beetroot and boil whole until very tender. Cool, peel, and cut into wedges. Mix with the yoghurt, salt, mint, and walnuts. Serve.

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.