Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


A very long and rainy baking day.

It has rained every day this summer. OK, summer's only twelve days old. But that's a lot of rain. Unusually, the rain has been accompanied by high temperatures - into the thirties celsius, giving Melbourne a tropical climate. I don't remember this happening before. There are dozens of tomatoes self-seeding in the vegetable patch, along with what looks like zucchinis, pumpkins or cucumbers. Maybe all three.

T. loves baking and took advantage of the wet weather. Here's what she baked yesterday, as the rain came down in buckets:

Clootie Dumpling. A kind of cross between plum pudding and fruit cake. The name simply means pudding in cloth. I love the way they still have these middle English words in daily use.

250 grams each of sugar, bread crumbs, suet, raisins, sultanas and currants. 375 grams of self-raising flour. Three eggs. A dessertspoon of mixed spice, a tablespoon of treacle, a quarter teaspoon of bicarb soda. Brandy.

The flour is sifted with the soda and spices. The suet is then rubbed into the spicy flour mixture, followed by the addition of the fruit, sugar and bread crumbs. Beat the eggs, add the treacle and a good dash of brandy and add this to the dry mixture. Mix well.

Now for the cloth. Boil it, remove it from water, lay it flat, sprinkle it evenly with flour to the edges. This creates a seal. Place the dumpling mixture in the middle, gather the edges and tie it firmly with string. Place it on an upturned dinner plate in a large pot of boiling water which should come three-quarters the way up the pudding. Sit the lid partially on. Boil for six hours, topping up frequently with boiling water. (Well, OK, this is not baking!) You'll have the kettle on all afternoon. Once it's done, remove from water, carefully remove the cloth and place the dumpling on a heatproof dish in a low oven until it appears dry. Remove and, when cool, wrap in plastic wrap and then a tea towel and place in refrigerator.

That was easy. Not much work in that, just a lot of waiting around. While T. was waiting around, she knocked out several of these:

Traditional shortbread. Beat 250 grams of softened butter and half a cup of icing sugar until fluffy. Sift in one and two-thirds cup of plain flour and one quarter cup of rice flour. Combine with a wooden spoon, press dough into a ball; knead lightly until smooth, shape into a half-inch thick, 9" round on a greased baking tray, pinching a decorative edge and scoring six wedges. Pierce all over with a fork, bake at 140 degrees C for 35 to 40 minutes or until set and browned. Cool on tray for 2-3 minutes, transfer to wire rack; when almost cool, cut through score marks into neat wedges using a bread knife and a sawing motion. Cool and store airtight.

T. made several of these, left most in the round, mounted them on stiff cardboard platters, wrapped them in cellophane and tied with tartan ribbon for Christmas gifts.

We ate the rest.

Meanwhile the dumpling was half done. What next?

Silverbeet and cheese burek. I went out in the rain and cut down the mountains of silverbeet rampaging through the now-tropical vegetable jungle, while T. mixed fetta, ricotta and eggs. We chopped the silverbeet and cooked it, just in its retained water with a dash of olive oil, plenty of white pepper and quite a few cloves of scored garlic, until wilted, then combined it with the cheese. Place mixture into the middle of the buttered and oiled burek pastry (filo in large rounds) in a shallow baking dish, fold over the edges and tuck them in, bake 25 minutes. You can make these ahead and freeze them. We made several, froze some for Christmas and had the other one for dinner.

The clootie dumpling was finally done. T. told me it was typically enjoyed cold for supper late on Christmas Day - and New Year's Eve - with Scotch whisky. T's father also loved it fried for breakfast with bacon and eggs.

I'll go with the supper and Scotch option, thanks.

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