Gluten-free banana & zucchini bread

When you feel like baking but also don’t want to go out shopping for any specific ingredients, then you search the fridge and pantry and get a bit experimental. Today it was an excess of zucchinis, a soft banana, and half a packet of coconut flour that provided inspiration!

I do love making banana bread, for so many reasons: it’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s toddler-friendly, and it is great to slice and freeze to have on hand for snacks or a quick breakfast. What I don’t really love is the feeling I get when I’ve been eating a lot a wheat, like I have lately. Bit yuck. So being able to make this wheat-free was definitely a bonus. Note that this recipe uses coconut flour, which behaves in a very different way to regular flour or even standard GF flour, so if you want to substitute anything else it will require different quantities and a rebalance of the other ingredients.

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1 banana, mashed
1 medium zucchini, finely grated
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with some lemon juice)
50g butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a loaf tin. Mix together the banana, zucchini and eggs. Add the milk, butter, sugar, golden syrup and chia seeds and mix well. Sift in the coconut flour, spices, baking powder and bi-carb soda, and add the flaxseed. Mix well then pour into the loaf tin. Bake for about 50 minutes, cool in tin about 10 minutes, and turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Can be eaten as it is, fresh and warm from the oven, or spread with butter, peanut butter or even cream cheese! Will keep a couple of days in an airtight container, or it can be sliced and frozen.

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The second birthday cake

So it’s already been a year since this cake. Woah. Last year we didn’t really do a big party, but this year we thought a party would be nice – park, playground, yummy food, a good bunch of people and kids – and of course in that case there had to be a cake. And when you’re on to a good thing, why change? So I made the same cake. Well, sort of…

It was the same recipe, but I made two batches. And split each batch across two cake tins. And dyed them different shades of pink. Yep, I made one of those ombre layer cakes! Never made one before, what could go wrong? Just to add to the fun, I thought I’d also try a totally different style of decorating the cake too, because why not live life on the edge?

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Surprisingly, it turned out really well! And there were no tears (from me anyway, there were a few babies at the party who cried, but I don’t think they were crying about the cake). Like I said, I used the same recipe but made it twice. I split each batch, dyed them, and baked in 18cm round cake tins. I didn’t dye the top layer, but for the second layer I used 3/4 teaspoon pink food dye, for the third layer I used 1 1/2 teaspoons pink food dye, and for the bottom layer I used 3 teaspoons pink food dye. Then I put them in the fridge overnight before doing all the trimming and decorating in the morning.

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Once I’d trimmed the tops and the sides a bit to make them even and smooth, I layered them together with plain vanilla buttercream. (I don’t have a recipe for this, it’s just butter, icing sugar, vanilla and milk beaten in the mixer until it seems about right). I’m not the world’s greatest cake decorator, just gonna admit that right now, but I think that for my first time at this I didn’t do too bad a job. I can see how with a bit of practice it would look totally pro. And with a bit more patience I probably wouldn’t end up with crumbs all through the top layer of icing…

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The real test though was going to be cutting into it at the party. It was a pretty tall cake, so thin slices were plenty. I was so nervous about it, and then so happy when I realised how well it had worked, that I made everyone wait for their serves while I took photos. The presentation wasn’t the best, no fancy plates or props, but I was very proud of myself.

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Here’s the thing though: my daughter doesn’t really love cake. She ate about 3 bites of my piece before she’d had enough. Which is more than she would have eaten if it had been chocolate – she really doesn’t love chocolate. Strange woman. Anyway, I’m having leftovers for dinner, because she’s asleep and I think I deserve it!

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Zucchini muffins

When you haven’t got a lot of time, and you want to bake something that you know is going to work, then I can’t recommend muffins highly enough. And these ones have so much going for them: perfect snack size, hidden vegies, not too much sugar, easy to adapt to dairy-free, they can be frozen… They are also toddler-friendly, according to my 2-year-old daughter, who has figured out how to get them down from the kitchen bench!

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I make them in a small muffin/standard cupcake size tray, but you could make them as giant Texas-style muffins if you wanted – just increase the cooking time a bit. I also like to use individual silicon liners because they’re so easy to turn out, which is particularly good if you want to freeze the muffins.

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125g butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 cup finely grated zucchini
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice

Whisk the butter, eggs, milk, sugar and chia seeds together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl combine the flour, flaxseed, baking powder and allspice. Add the zucchini and toss lightly to coat. Make a well in the centre and pour in the butter mixture. Mix briefly until just combined – remember that muffins work best when worked quickly and the mixture isn’t beaten too much. Spoon into muffin tins and bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

If you want to make these dairy free you could switch the butter for coconut oil and the milk for coconut milk. Another tasty thing to do would be to add 1/2 cup sultanas or chopped walnuts to the mix!

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lemon, rosemary & pine nut shortbread

I bet you’re thinking that’s a slightly weird flavour combination right there, especially for a sweet bakery item. I know that was my first reaction when I came across this recipe years ago. And then I thought about it for just a little bit longer. And then I made the shortbread, and I was hooked. Actually I can’t believe I’ve never written about this recipe before! It’s delicious, smells amazing, and also isn’t overpoweringly sugary – something about those flavours make this biscuit sweetly savoury, and when you use salted butter instead of unsalted it’s even better.

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It was so long ago that I first made these that I can’t even remember where the recipe first came from. I have written about my go-to shortbread recipe before, and this is where it started although the flavour combination can change, but I’ve made a few tweaks over the years. It’s an easy one (I like easy) and you can make the dough ahead of time to bake it when you need it (also useful if you’ve got a lot of things going on at once).

When you roll and cut the biscuit dough you can make it whatever size or thickness that you like, but you may need to adjust the cooking time slightly to suit. A minute or two either way is all it will need.

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250g soft butter
2/3 cup icing sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
2 cups plain flour (you may need a little extra depending on the dough consistency)

Cream the butter and sugar, add the lemon zest and rosemary and beat well. Add the sifted flour and the nuts, and mix until the dough clumps together. Turn out onto a clean benchtop and knead briefly until the dough comes together and is smooth – you will need to work fairly quickly otherwise the dough gets too soft. 

Roll the dough into logs, wrap in glad wrap and refrigerate until firm (an hour or two should do it, but you could make this dough a day or two ahead if you wanted). 

Slice the logs into biscuits, about 7-8mm thick, and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 10 minutes. They should be just starting to go golden around the edges, and they will burn quickly so keep an eye on them. They do spread slightly on the tray, but not a lot.

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Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container.

Brown butter bourbon blondies

I’ve never been big on Valentine’s Day, it always seems like a commercialised mess of over-priced wilted roses and unrealistic expectations. What I do like though is demonstrations of love and affection any day of year, and handmade or personalised gifts. And cakery. So why not combine those things, and time them right for Valentine’s Day, just because?

Here’s another thing I’ve never been big on: blondies. I think because I always just thought of them associated with white chocolate, which I really don’t like. Chocolate is great, white chocolate is not the real thing – so therefore brownies are awesome, blondies are weird and too sugary. So why I had a sudden hankering to make them is beyond me, but I’m kinda glad I did. Realised they don’t actually have to have white chocolate in them! Who knew? (probably most people…) What they do have in them is still a lot of sugar, sure, but also a lot of butter. Here’s what I absolutely love: butter.

So anyway, in line with the Valentine’s Day theme, I thought that I’d make them flavoured with my husband’s favourite drink (bourbon), cut them out in heart shapes, and then pack them up for his lunch. And then I could take the leftover bits to work and make my colleagues love me too…

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In the end the recipe I used was a kind of amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes, and also what I had in the pantry. Here’s what I’d do differently next time: use all brown sugar (I only used 1/4 brown sugar and 3/4 raw sugar, because that’s what I had. It worked fine but the brown sugar would make it more caramel-y I think) so that’s how I’ve written the recipe.

250g butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
120ml bourbon
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour

First thing is to brown the butter. Melt it in a saucepan over low heat, until it is just bubbling. Keep it going, swirling the saucepan around regularly so that it doesn’t stick, until it starts to go dark golden. At this point take it well off the heat because it will continue to darken, and swirl it around a bit more to cool it down because it can tip over into burning point pretty quickly. Then just let it cool down for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line an 8×12 inch tray with baking paper.

Put the brown butter and the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for a few minutes, then add the vanilla and bourbon, beat for another minute or so, add the eggs and then beat again for another minute or two. Add the flour and beat lightly until just smooth, then pour into the tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just golden brown on top. Leave to cool in tin for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before slicing – they will be chewy in the middle and crunchy on the edges.

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You can either just cut into squares like usual, or use cookie cutters to cut out fancy shapes. Delicious on their own but also excellent as a dessert with vanilla ice cream!

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Lamingtons

Confession: I’ve never been a massive fan of lamingtons. I feel a bit un-Australian saying that, but I’ve always felt they were nothing special. Despite that, I decided that I still needed to try making them! And what better time to make lamingtons than Australia Day?

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I knew that the cake should be a light and basic type of cake, and also one that cuts up well rather than crumbling everywhere, so I decided to go with the vanilla butter cake that I used for my daughter’s first birthday cake. It’s super easy, it works, it tastes good. You make it the night before and keep it in the fridge and it cuts up even better. I cut the square cake into 20 pieces (5×4) and they wouldn’t want to be any bigger – could probably even cut the square cake into 5×5 and they’d be perfect.

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Because one of my issues with lamingtons is that they can be dry and a bit boring, I added a layer of jam in the middle of each one. I had actually made my own strawberry jam the previous weekend, so I used that, but you could use anything really. Raspberry would be good, but a layer of extra chocolate would also be pretty decadent.

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Which brings me to the part that I had no idea about, not being a lamington connoisseur, and that was whether the chocolate that the cake is covered in was icing or ganache. I looked up a few recipes but some were ganache and some were icing, and I remained confused, so I made both! They were both very simple: ganache was melted dark chocolate and cream, and the icing was icing sugar, cocoa and milk. I didn’t measure the ingredients for either of them, I just mixed until the consistencies seemed right.

I hadn’t thought about how messy it would be to actually assemble the lamingtons, and I tried to keep it to a minimum but it’s really hard to not get desiccated coconut and chocolate everywhere! First I cut up all the cake, then spread all the jam and sandwiched the pieces back together so they were ready to go. Then I made the ganache and the icing, set up a big dish of desiccated coconut, and set to work!

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I learned that even though the ganache/icing part might look pretty messy, once you roll the whole thing in coconut it looks totally fine. The assembly did take longer and was more fiddly than I expected, but the end result looked and tasted really good. Most people who tried them seemed to like the ganache the most, and I tend to agree – while the icing ones were loved by those with a super sweet tooth, the ganache helped make an already very sweet treat just a little bit less sugary. And they weren’t dry at all!

The first birthday cake

My daughter turned one last week. We took her out to brunch (mostly because we wanted to eat tasty foods) and she had avocado and banana, which she was very excited about, and we had a get-together with the grandparents that involved cute dresses, tasty lunch foods, presents, and of course there was cake. It took about 30 seconds of thought before I decided that she had to have the traditional number one cake. You know what I’m talking about – the cake shaped like a number one, covered in buttercream and smarties. It’s an Australian classic.

And for good reason. It’s simple, it’s effective, you can make the cake the day before, and everyone loves it.

I made a plain vanilla butter cake as the base, but I guess if you wanted to you could do something fancy. I don’t recommend that though, because if you have a one year old then they’re probably taking up most of your attention and sitting at your feet while you make this, begging to be picked up only to want to be put down again 30 seconds later, ad infinitum, so simple is best. My biggest tip would be: don’t overestimate your time or patience. Unless you’re making this for someone else’s kid, in which case do whatever you like. There were no tears, but there were swears, I’m not going to lie.

My second biggest tip would be: make the cake the night before. Refrigerate it and the next day it will be way easier to cut into shapes without crumbling everywhere. You can make the whole thing from a single large square cake. No need to double quantities or split it between tins or anything like that. Here’s the cutting technique I used:

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Stick the bits together with a dab of icing (there was some cake left over, if I’d had a larger cake board I’d have used all the cake but I didn’t have room):

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250g soft butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
3/4 cup milk

Cream the butter with electric beaters or a stand mixer until pale, add the vanilla and sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating briefly after each addition. Stir in half the flour and then half the milk, then the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk.

Pour into a greased square tin (I think mine is 22cm x 22cm) lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 1 hour. Cool the cake in the tin for 5-10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. Wait until it’s completely cooled before icing. Or, even better, follow my tip and refrigerate overnight first.

To make the icing, beat 125g-150g butter with electric beaters or a stand mixer until pale, and then this is where I stopped measuring. I added a fair bit of icing sugar, maybe 500g, maybe a bit more. I also added a couple of tablespoons of milk – it helps make the icing a bit paler and fluffier and more spreadable. Basically with icing I just keep adding bits of things until it seems right and I have enough. Keep an eye on the texture and taste and you’ll be fine. You can add some colour to the icing if you want, but I didn’t.

Cut the cake up, and stick the bits together with a small amount of the icing. Then just go for it – buttercream all over the outside of that cake until it’s all nice and even and covered up. Make it as smooth as you can, but remember that the smarties hide a lot of mistakes.

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My daughter seemed to enjoy it, although I took the smarties off her piece so that there was no choking. She’d never had cake before, but honestly I think she would rather have had a banana. So I ate the rest of the cake myself over the next 2 days. It’s a lot of sugar. Now I jut have to decide what kind of cake to make next year!