spiced pumpkin pecan babka

31 Oct 2016

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia but as Instagram has been flooded with all things pumpkin the past few weeks how could I resist? 

It's always pumpkin season in Australia and when I visited my parents in Brisbane I asked Dad if I could use a bit of the pumpkin he had in the fridge. I wasn't sure what I was going to make but I roasted the pumpkin anyway and put my thinking cap on. 

trawled the internet looking for inspiration and decided to make a spiced pumpkin and pecan babka. 

I combined 3 recipes, made the dough, assembled the babka and when I took the finished babka out of the oven I could barely wait until it was cool enough to taste. I thought back to the chocolate krantz cake I made last year where I was transported to babka heaven. 

Well when I tasted my slice of this babka, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. There was nothing particularly wrong with the babka but it just wasn't 'enough' - not enough pumpkin/not enough spice/not enough syrup and not enough sugar.

I went back to the drawing board and decided to rectify all the wrongs. I upped everything just a little and added some crumbled spekulatius (speculaas) cookies to the filling, as I'd just bought a huge bag at the store. I figured the crumbs would help firm the pumpkin filling a little as it cooked.

I pulled the second babka from the oven and it smelled delicious. I doused it with the cinnamon spiked sugar syrup and waited an hour until it was firm enough to slice. Now this babka was everything it's predecessor wasn't - moist, spicy, pumpkiny with just the right amount of sweetness. 

This is a recipe you can't throw together. I made the dough the night before and even then by the time you fill, prove, bake the babka and allow it to cool, the babka wasn't ready until mid afternoon.

Here's the recipe for you. As always I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C.

Spiced Pumpkin and Pecan Babka - Recipe for the babka dough is slightly adapted from Honey & Co’s recipe. 

Babka dough
125 ml milk
80g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp dried yeast
2 cups plain flour
50g caster sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1 egg

The pumpkin filling
¾ cup pumpkin puree, unsweetened
½ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp each ground ginger and nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves

Pecan topping
65g toasted pecans coarsely chopped
½ cup (65g) crumbled spekulatius/speculaas or ginger cookies
1 tbs sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

The syrup
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick

In a small saucepan or in the microwave, warm the milk and butter until the butter just melts. Place to one side to cool a little before stirring in the vanilla extract. Place the yeast, the flour, sugar and salt in a mixer bowl with a hook attachment and mix together. (I like to activate my yeast first in some warm water just to make sure it’s alive) Add the egg, then gradually add enough of the milk and butter mixture to form a soft dough that comes together in a ball. You can then use the dough hook to work the dough for 5-6 minutes on medium speed or knead by hand. Remove the dough from the bowl, lightly grease the bowl before returning the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

I use Dan Lepard’s no knead technique if you want to try it. It uses more liquid than the regular method and you'll probably need use all the milk and butter mixture. You mix all the ingredients to make a soft dough. If the mix looks a little dry then add an additional tablespoon or so more milk. Let the dough rest covered in the bowl for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.

Lightly oil a 30 cm/12 in area of the work surface and your hands. Ease the dough out onto the oiled surface without too much pulling and teasing (a scraper may help). Lightly oil the inside of the bowl as well, to prevent any sticking later. Take the edge of the dough furthest from you in one hand and with minimal pulling, simply fold it over, to meet the edge nearest to you. Press the heel of your other hand down onto and into the dough, stretching it away from you by 5-10 cm/2-4 in.

Give the dough a clockwise quarter-turn and repeat the "fold towards you, then push and gently stretch away from you" action. You don't want to handle the dough roughly: the whole action should be quite gentle and measured. Do this turning, folding and pushing action, no more than 8-10 times, then cover the dough with the upturned bowl. Don't be tempted to add more flour, even if the dough seems wet; that's exactly as it should be. Repeat this light kneading twice at 10-minute intervals, re-oiling your hands and the work surface each time and by that stage you should have a lovely soft dough. Place the dough back into the lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

The Filling/topping
In a small bowl combine the well drained pumpkin puree with the brown sugar and spices. Stir until well combined, test for sweetness and adjust if needed then store the puree in the fridge until needed. In another small bowl mix the toasted pecans with cookie crumbs, the sugar and cinnamon.

To assemble the babka
Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle of about 50 cm x 30 cm (20 x 12 in). Spread the pumpkin filling over the dough, reaching right to the corners, then sprinkle with the pecan mixture. Roll up tightly from one of the longer sides, so that you end up with a 50 cm (20 in)-long log. If the dough has softened too much for you to handle it, place on a tray and chill in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes to firm up. While you are waiting, butter the loaf tin and line the base and long sides with baking paper, making sure that there is an overhang so you'll be able to lift the baked loaf out easily.

Use a serrated knife to cut the log in half along its length to expose the layers. Place the halves with the cut sides facing upwards. Lift one halved log over the other so that they form a cross at their midpoints, with the filling layers still pointing upwards. Continue to twist the strands over each other until the dough looks like a lovely twisted plait.

Place in the lined baking tin and leave to prove in a warm place until the dough is fluffy, soft and doubled in size. This will take about 1½-2 hours. Preheat the oven to 220°C, then reduce the heat to 190°C once you place the babka in the oven. Bake for 30- 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when tested.

While the babka is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the water, sugar and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Wait for the sugar to be dissolved completely and then continue boiling until the syrup just starts to thicken slightly ~ 4 minutes. Set to one side leaving the cinnamon to infuse until you're ready to use the syrup. Remove the babka from the oven and immediately pour the sugar syrup all over the hot cake. You must let the babka cool completely in the tin or it will fall apart. When cool, slice and enjoy!

The babka should keep 3-4 days at room temperature if well wrapped. It also freezes well. I think it's best served warm so I often toast it the second day.

Happy Baking. 

See you all again next week,

Bye for now,


sculpture by the sea 2016 - a sydney wander

28 Oct 2016

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sculpture by the Sea where sculptures are dotted along the coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama. It's a really popular event so I went down to Bondi on Monday to do the walk, hoping to avoid the weekend crowds. Do you want to come on the walk with me?

The weather on Monday was sunny but a little windy, perfect conditions for the walk along the cliff-tops. 

There were many sculptures on display, but my favourite sculptures were the ones where the ocean became part of the sculpture. 

I'm not sure what this sculpture was called but it looked like a piece of sea life washed onto the shore. 

I loved the contrast between this sculpture, the sandstone cliffs, the sea and the sky. 

This sculpture was at the start of the walk so I had to be a bit patient waiting for the crowds to move out of my shot.

These vessels reminded me a little of beached Dugongs.

I loved the colours of this mysterious girl.

Just as you arrive at Tamarama, you're greeted by this sculpture. Wouldn't that make a great light fitting? 

I visited pre-storm so all the sculptures placed on the beach at Tamarama were still standing.

I was so taken by this sculpture, I shot 3 different views.

A close up of the oars.

And the final shot of shadows on the sand. 

I hope you enjoyed my little wander through Sculpture by the Sea, which runs until Sunday November 6 2016. 

See you all again next week, with some more baking.

Bye for now,



home-made blackberry jam

24 Oct 2016

I think I've finally worked out the best way to bake bread in my new oven so to put my theory to the test I made these sourdough fruit buns. Once they were underway, I decided that I needed to serve them with blackberry jam.

Now I didn't have any blackberry jam in my pantry just plum jam. As far as I know there is nothing wrong with the plum jam, I just wanted blackberry jam.

It's not even blackberry season in Sydney but I knew I had a packet of frozen berries in my deep freeze. I had sugar, lemons, vanilla bean and a few spare jars so off to the kitchen I went to make some jam. 

I take pleasure from the knowledge that if I need to bake bread or make jam, as long as I have the ingredients in the house, I can.

I used one of my Le Creuset pans in which I both preheated the sugar and made the jam. Preheating the sugar really speeds up the process and the jam was made in just over 20 minutes. You don't really need any special equipment to make jam but I've found a thermometer an invaluable item. I can't tell you how many pots of inedible fruit toffee I made in the past before I bought one. It doesn't tell you if the jam is ready but it tells you when it's time to test the setting point. 

If you too would like to make jam, you can and here's the recipe for you. As always I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C.

Blackberry Jam (adapted this recipe) Makes two 500ml jars 

2½ cups granulated white sugar  
1 lemon juiced, seeds reserved  
825g fresh or frozen blackberries 
1 vanilla pod  

To sterilize jars, wash in hot soapy water and rinse. Place the jars and lids in a deep saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring water to the boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium and boil for 10 minutes. Line a baking tray with paper towel. Remove the jars using metal tongs and allow to air dry or dry with a clean paper towel.  

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the sugar on an oven tray and warm the sugar for 15 minutes. Meanwhile place a saucer in the freezer to test the jam’s setting point.  

Place the lemon seeds in a small piece of muslin and tie with kitchen string to secure. Combine the blackberries, lemon juice, lemon seeds, the vanilla pod and sugar in a shallow saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolvesBring to the boil stirring occasionally for minutes to allow the berries to soften before coarsely mashing the fruit with a potato masher. Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes or until jam has reached it's  setting point ~ 105ºC. To test when the jam is set, remove the jam from the heat and place a spoonful of hot jam onto the chilled saucer. Return to the freezer for 1 minute. Run your finger through the jam to test if it wrinkles and jells. If it doesn't, return to the heat for a further 5 minutes then repeat the test. 

Remove the lemon seeds and vanilla pod from the jam. Discard the lemon seeds but the vanilla pod can be washed, dried and reused. Take the jam from the heat and allow to cool for a minute or 2 before spooning the hot jam evenly among the sterilized jars. Seal immediately then turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes before turning upright. Set the jam aside to cool completely before labelling and dating.  

I now have 2 pots of home-made blackberry jam in my pantry. The jam is lovely and dark, a bit runny and very delicious.

Happy jam making,

Bye for now,



a brisbane wander

20 Oct 2016

I spent most of last week visiting my old home town of Brisbane.

I decided to go into the city on Friday to do some shopping and before the shops opened, I walked to the City Botanic Gardens to see if 
the jacarandas were in bloom. 

I did a big circuit of the city, finding this intriguing alleyway on my way to the gardens. Inner city bars and coffee shops in Brisbane - that I don't remember.

Eventually I found my way to QUT and Parliament House, where I knew I'd find some majestic old jacaranda trees.

It must be 20 years since my last visit to the gardens to attend a friend's wedding. Some parts of the gardens I remembered whilst other parts were all new to me.

It wasn't the brightest of days but I wanted a photo of Brisbane's iconic Story Bridge.

I found this beautiful fountain next to the bamboo grove. I can vaguely recall the bamboo grove but I really don't remember the fountain.

A close-up of the Walter Hill fountain.

I found myself near the ornamental pond where I found a family of lizards sunning themselves. All ran away when they heard my rustling except for this handsome specimen.

I found this beautiful doorway on Edward Street on my way back to the shops.

I really enjoyed reacquainting myself with some of my old haunts. I hope you enjoyed my little wander through the streets of Brisbane.

Bye for now, 


apricot, cinnamon and almond biscotti

17 Oct 2016

I received a copy of Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill just before I went on my holidays way back in June. It's a lovely looking book and I've been dying to try out some of the recipes but just haven't had the time. Last weekend the biscuit tin was empty so I decided to make some biscotti.

I make biscotti quite often because most recipes don't contain any additional fats and they last for ages. I'm also a 'dunker' and love having something I can dip into my cup of tea.

I particularly wanted to combine apricots with almonds so I used one of the recipes from the book as my inspiration, adapted a recipe I use all the time and went from there.

I halved the recipe as most biscotti recipes make a huge amount and I knew I was heading out of town for the week and I couldn't bear the thought of all those lonely biscotti sitting in the tin. 

For all my recipes, I use a 250 ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon. All eggs are 60 grams and my oven is a conventional gas oven not fan forced, so you may need to reduce your oven temperature by 20°C.

Dunking, you see I told you I just can't help myself.

Here's the recipe for you, which makes 2 dozen biscotti.

Apricot Cinnamon and Almond Biscotti 
1¼ cups plain flour 
½ cup caster sugar 
tbl light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp baking powder 
pinch bicarbonate soda
1 tsp finely grated orange rind 
 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
⅔ cup toasted whole almonds 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
2 eggs
a little milk

Preheat oven to 170°C/325°F. Line a baking tray with baking paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, mix together the flour, the sugars, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Add the orange rind, the dried apricots and almonds.  

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually pour most of the egg mixture into the dry ingredients (you'll need a little of the egg mixture to glaze the biscotti). Mix with the dough hook for 1-2 minutes until a sticky dough forms. 

Lightly moisten your hands with cold water to prevent the dough from sticking to them then shape the dough into a flattened log 12 inches long by 2½ inches wide by 1 inch high. Add a dash of milk to the remaining egg mixture and lightly brush over the biscotti dough.

Bake the biscotti in the preheated oven until it’s dry to the touch and firm in the centre, about 30 minutes. The log will spread and may crack slightly on top. Transfer the log to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. The log will still be slightly warm to the touch. 

Carefully transfer the log to a cutting board and using a serrated knife, cut the log crosswise on the diagonal into slices 1 cm inch wide. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the lined baking tray, placing them close together but not touching. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the biscotti. Continue to bake until dry and crisp for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the biscotti to wire racks to cool completely.

Store the biscotti in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks, if they last that long. 

See you all again next week.

Bye for now,

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