I can still remember the first time I watched my mother make meringues – never imagining that when the gloopy egg whites went into the trusty Kenwood with some sugar, a cloud-like sweetness would emerge. It was pure magic.
If you have ever watched a kid lick the raw meringue from the beater for the first time, I'm sure you will also remember that dawning moment of joy in discovering this melt-in-the-mouth pleasure – and a sense of awe that something so good could be created out of two simple, everyday ingredients. In such moments, happy memories are made.
It might sound far-fetched if I were to say that the therapeutic powers of baking can be life-changing. But in this high-pressured world, baking is such a great way to feel useful and successful. In the rush of endless deadlines and demands that consume daily life, just taking a little time out to bake offers an easy sense of empowerment. The process of mixing and kneading, whisking and folding, engages all your senses and forces you to be in the moment. It's almost like a meditation.
I was lucky to discover this easy pleasure early, learning quickly that the oohs and ahhs of delight from my family and my mother's friends could be achieved simply by following a recipe. People love it when you bake.
Having a son who is a (recently diagnosed) coeliac, a vegetarian daughter and a husband who is in "my body is a temple" mode, as well as a number of vegan friends, means that I am now baking with lots of different ingredients. Aren't we all? But whether it is coconut oil, spelt or rice flour that goes into the mix, the results still show that you care. Life might be too busy to invite friends over for dinner, but whisk up a cake or a slice and invite friends for coffee or afternoon tea and you can get that same sense of connection for a lot less effort.
There's such a feel-good factor to baking that makes it so rewarding. It's such a simple ritual that brings people together and says "I care". Whether it's taking a cake to the office for a colleague's birthday, dropping in on a new neighbour with a tin of homemade biscuits or making toffee apples or fluffy marshmallows for the school fair, baking is the essence of kindness, and it makes life feel safe and comforting. With the tins filled, your house feels like a home.
That's why I'm so excited to bring you my new book of sweet recipes, ESSENTIAL Volume Two: Sweet Treats for Every Occasion (Annabel Langbein Media, $65). Out in the shops on Monday, it's the second volume in the ESSENTIAL duo that started last year with my bestselling book of savoury recipes. Now I bring you a beautiful compendium of than 450 sweet recipes, including some of my favourite and most popular recipes from 30 years of kitchen experimentation, retested and revised for today's appetites and dietary needs, plus lots of exciting new ideas. Just about every cake, biscuit, muffin, slice, tart, dessert, ice, preserve or sauce that you could ever want to make is in here – I like to think it's the only sweet book you'll ever need!
This week's Canvas recipes are a quick peek inside the covers of my new book. Enjoy!
To be in to win one of five copies of Annabel's new book Essential Volume Two: Sweet Treats for Every Occasion, go to winwiththeherald.co.nz and enter the keyword ANNABELSWEET
Entries close 11.59pm Wednesday March 21.
Ready in 10 mins + soaking
Makes 6-8 serves
3 cups rolled oats
1½ cups apple juice
½ cup dried cranberries or raisins
¼ cup chopped dried apricots
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3 medium or 2 large cored apples, skin on, coarsely grated
1 cup natural yoghurt
½ cup chopped roasted almonds or hazelnuts
¼ cup honey
¼ tsp ground cloves
Fresh blueberries or sliced fresh or poached fruit, to serve
Combine rolled oats in a mixing bowl with apple juice, cranberries or raisins, apricots and lemon juice and leave to stand on the bench or in the fridge overnight. It will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge.
When ready to eat, mix in grated apple, yoghurt, nuts, honey and cloves. Spoon into bowls and top with fresh blueberries or other fruit to serve.
Annabel says: Overnight soaking transforms oats into a delicious creamy breakfast. If you're making this for only one or two people make it directly into breakfast bowls, reducing the ingredients by about the same ratio – they don't have to be exact. You can play around with different dried fruits and nuts – cashews and dried figs are good together.
Overnight Apricot Jam
Ready in 40 mins + standing
Makes 10 small jars
2kg pitted and sliced apricots
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Mix apricots and sugar in a large, non-corrosive bowl and allow to stand for 8-12 hours. Transfer to a pot, add lemon juice, bring to a boil and boil hard until starting to set (6-8 minutes).
To test, pour a small amount into a clean, dry saucer. After a minute, tilt the saucer or push your finger through the jam – if a skin has formed the jam is ready. Pour into sterilised jars and seal with lids.
Annabel says: This fragrant, deep orange jam is like a conserve with big chunks of fruit. I use equal weights of sugar and destoned fruit – no water needed.
Banana Bran Muffins
Ready in 30 mins
Makes 12 medium muffins or 6 texas muffins
1 cup milk
1 cup soft brown sugar
¼ cup golden syrup
3 Tbsp butter
1 tsp baking soda
2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 cup)
1½ cups bran flakes
1 cup flour
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake and grease 12 muffin pans or 6 texas muffin pans.
In a large pot, heat milk, sugar, golden syrup and butter until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir baking soda into bananas, then add to milk mixture with all remaining ingredients, stirring until just combined (do not over-mix). Allow to rest to 10-15 minutes. Divide between muffin pans and bake until the tops are lightly golden and bounce back to the touch (15-20 minutes for medium and about 30 minutes for texas). Allow to cool a little before removing from pans. Best eaten on the day but will freeze well.
Annabel says: Keep a stash of these in the freezer for a healthy anytime snack or breakfast.
Honey Lemon Cream Puddings
Ready in 20 mins + chilling
2½ cups cream
½ cup honey
¼ cup sugar
½ cup lemon juice
fresh blueberries and/or pomegranate seeds, to garnish
Combine cream, honey and sugar in a small pot over a medium heat. Boil, stirring, until sugar dissolves, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Strain through a sieve into 6-8 glasses, ramekins or cups and chill until set (about 4 hours). Serve topped with blueberries and/or pomegranate seeds.
Annabel says: It's difficult to find another dessert that delivers so much for so little. Heating cream with honey and sugar then adding lemon juice creates a delicious mixture that sets to a dense, spoonable consistency. This dessert can be made up to 24 hours ahead and if you don't have berries and pomegranate you can top it with other types of fruit of your choice. I sometimes like to present it in dainty antique teacups.
Ready in 30 mins
Makes 20-30 pieces +
270g plain sweet biscuits, crushed to fine crumbs
200g melted butter
2 Tbsp cocoa
1 cup thread coconut
1 cup chocolate chunks or chips
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins
395g can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 160C fanbake and line a 30cm x 24cm slice tin with baking paper.
To make the base, mix biscuit crumbs with butter and cocoa. Using a wet spatula, spread over base of the prepared tin and press down firmly. Sprinkle coconut, chocolate, almonds and cranberries or raisins evenly over the base. Drizzle with sweetened condensed milk.
Bake until lightly golden (20-25 minutes). Cool and chill before slicing into squares or fingers. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks.
Annabel says: This is my decadent update of a super-simple recipe that used to feature on the back of condensed milk cans. You can use different nuts or substitute white chocolate to suit your taste.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake
Ready in 1¼ hours
250g dark chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp strong, hot black coffee
2 Tbsp brandy or an extra 2 tbsp coffee
200g butter, diced
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1¾ cups ground almonds
6 eggs, separated
To serve (optional)
cocoa, to dust
Preheat oven to 170C fanbake. Line the base and sides of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking paper.
Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy, if using, in a large bowl and melt over a pot of simmering water, or in short bursts in the microwave, stirring until chocolate is melted. Add butter, sugar and vanilla and stir until butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in ground almonds. Lightly beat egg yolks and stir into the chocolate mixture.
Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl or electric mixer and whisk until firm peaks form. Stir a big spoonful of beaten egg white into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest of the egg whites. Spoon into prepared tin and bake until risen and set (40-50 minutes). The cake will still be a little gooey in the centre. It may look a little cracked as it develops a crust, and can be quite fragile, but this is normal.
Cool completely in the tin, then dust with cocoa if desired. To serve as a dessert, serve with chocolate sauce and vanilla icecream. It will keep in an airtight container for more than a week and also freezes well.
Annabel says: Since my son was diagnosed with coeliac disease it's been an epiphany to discover that dietary restrictions don't necessitate a life of deprivation. But even if you're not on a gluten-free diet you'll love this cake. It's just good-quality chocolate (ideally at least 70 per cent cocoa solids) held together with eggs, sugar and almonds. It ends up with a crust on top, which may crack a little – this isn't a mistake, it's part of the charm.