Traditional pancakes, hotcakes, pikelets and crêpes will always have a special and dear place in both our hearts, but there is no denying that making multiple batches is a faff. All too often, the host is a slave to the stove, swearingly juggling pans and preoccupied with turning out individual pancakes for guests, who eat them as fast as they’re cooked and – fair enough – never stop wanting another one. Wendy loves pancakes so much that this was a sacrifice she was prepared to make… until, that is, she discovered the baked pancake, which leaves the host sipping tea and chatting instead of pouring batter and flipping. The puffy pancake employs a similar modus operandi to the Yorkshire pudding, puffs up more than you would think possible, and can be sliced into wedges for everyone to enjoy at the same time. No excuse for not giving it a go, whether for breakfast, or – since it feels quite a celebratory dish – a weeknight treat to mark a good spelling test, a viola exam passed, or just getting to Friday unscathed.
3 large eggs
180 ml (¾ cup) milk
100 g (2/3 cup) plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
30 g unsalted butter
berries (or a more old-school mix of banana, apple and orange) and Greek-style yoghurt, to serve
icing sugar, for dusting – optional
HONEY & ORANGE SYRUP
3 tablespoons runny honey
25 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons pulp-free orange juice
Whizz up the eggs, milk, flour, salt and sugar using a blender, or just whisk well by hand. However you do it, keep going until you have a nice smooth batter: it should be pourable and quite thin. Set the batter aside for at least an hour at room temperature, or overnight
in the fridge.
To make the syrup, put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and set over low–medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture starts to froth, then pour into a heatproof jug. (The syrup will keep for a few days in the fridge.)
It is best to have your batter at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you start to cook. Preheat your oven to 220°C (200°C fan), and put a 22–26 cm ovenproof skillet or frying pan with reasonably deep sides over high heat. When it is hot, add the unfeasible amount of butter prescribed and swirl it around until it starts to bubble; the butter might even get a slight nuttiness and start to brown. Don’t sweat – the most important thing is to have a blisteringly hot pan. Quickly and carefully, pour the batter right into the middle of the pan: the batter should sweep the melted butter out to the sides of the pan to prevent any sticking and also give delicious crisp edges – a small pool of browned butter will gather in the middle of the batter and that is fine. Give the pancake about 30 seconds over high heat for the base to set and then transfer to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden. (If you don’t have an ovenproof frying pan, you could make this in a Pyrex dish with reasonably high sides: heat it in the oven, add the butter, return the dish to the oven so the butter gets really hot, then add the batter and bake in the same way.)
Meanwhile, have the syrup poised for action. Place a bowl of berries or other fruit on the table – and another bowl of yoghurt, if you like. (Or, if a guest asked on accepting the invitation ‘what can I bring?’ and you answered ‘a giant fruit salad thanks’, then you’re all set.)
Get everyone seated and have a big chopping board or plate ready to go. Use your thickest oven gloves to remove the skillet from the oven and, with a bit of a tilt and jiggle, the pancake should slip right out onto your serving board or plate. A dusting of icing sugar is an option here, but that would be mostly about looks rather than necessity – you are about to douse it in syrup, for goodness sake. You have about 30 seconds before the thing starts to deflate, so hurry it to the table and use a bread knife to cut it into wedges (like a pizza).
Let people help themselves to fruit and yoghurt, and pass the syrup around. This is the kind of thing where you should not wait for others to start. Get stuck in!
The honey and orange syrup came about when Wendy realised she was splashing more than ten dollars’ worth of maple syrup on every family-sized puffy pancake at home, so looked for a less spendy option. But if you want to buy yourself a few extra minutes in bed, by all means go
with maple syrup.
I know it’s shockingly predictable for a non-meat-eater to return so often to halloumi, but it really is such a useful cheese. It’s sort of like the vegetarian peacetime equivalent of pemmican: it keeps for ages and is both tasty and easy to use. This recipe was first made for me in Canberra by my friend Zoe, who used to host viewing sessions of The West Wing for a small group of political staffers (and Jeremy and me). The staffers all loved The West Wing, but did tend to roll their eyes a bit about how unrealistic it was. A decade later, when Aaron Sorkin made The Newsroom, I finally understood their frustration.
In any event, this has – ever since – been my go-to weeknight pasta when I’m pushed for time, and a popular last-minute dish for drop-ins. It’s got heat, salt, acid and pepper and a good helping of greens to make you feel a bit less gluggy. Lord, it’s delicious. I feel like a bowl of it right now.
250 g halloumi, cut into 1.5 cm dice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons small salted capers, rinsed then drained well
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 medium or 2 small red chillies, thinly sliced
1 juicy lime
100 g wild rocket leaves
500 g dried spaghetti
First step: tip the halloumi, olive oil, capers, garlic and the chilli into a bowl and stir about. Using one of those zesters that takes off the zest in long thin strips, add the zest of the lime. (If you don’t have such a contraption, use a potato peeler to take the zest off and then cut it into thin strips, or alternatively you could do whatever you please and ignore my excessively controlling views on the subject.)
Squeeze the lime and reserve the juice. Arrange your rocket in a large serving bowl.
Cook the pasta according to its packet instructions. Now you’re ready for the final assault.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a heavy frying pan over medium heat and tip in the contents of your bowl: the halloumi will become golden, so turn the bits over regularly and keep a sharp eye on it. It’s done when all your halloumi is nicely browned. This should take about 5 minutes, so when it’s done you’ll be ready to drain your pasta. Dump the spaghetti into the pan and swirl it about to mop up every little bit of sauce. Working quickly, dress the rocket with the lime juice, then add the pasta to the bowl and give the whole lot a toss.
A quick, piquant seafood dish using the prawns you have strategically lodged in your freezer for exactly such an occasion. I know that seafood al forno doesn’t exactly scream ‘scratch lunch’, but truly, this thing really can be assembled in ten minutes. The sauce gets its heat from garlic and chilli and its sharpness from lemon. The recipe will serve two generously for lunch – scale up if you have more guests, and don’t overlook the fact that this dish provides a very sympathetic opportunity for crusty bread.
12 frozen raw prawns, peeled but with tails left on
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 anchovy fillet, roughly chopped
large pinch of chilli flakes
1 x 400 g tin of tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrated purée)
juice of ½ lemon
75 g feta
basil leaves, to garnish
crusty bread, to serve
Preheat your grill to medium.
To speed-defrost your prawns, separate them out, zip them into a snap-lock bag and immerse the bag in a sink full of lukewarm water.
While that’s happening, place a small, ovenproof frying pan over low–medium heat and add the oil. Sauté the garlic, anchovy and chilli flakes until the anchovy disintegrates. Add the tomatoes, squishing them with your wooden spoon. Add the tomato paste and lemon juice and cook down until the sauce has lost its wateriness. Season with pepper.
Okay – now it’s time for the big finish. Poke your defrosted prawns into the sauce so they’re mostly submerged. Crumble the feta over the top and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Place under the grill and cook until everything’s bubbling, the feta has browned and the prawns have gone pink in their tomato bath. This should take about 10 minutes.
Garnish with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread.
MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE
Serve with gluten-free bread – or with none.
Like its chocolate-y fraternal twin on page 146, this cake (pictured over the page) is suitable for any event that involves the popping of someone’s cork. Dress it up with an asymmetrical arrangement of garden flowers. Spell out the appropriate birthday number in Smarties, if it’s a younger demographic you’re baking for. Sprinkle some citrus zest over the top cream layer! Forget about the top cream layer! Really, you can dress this cake up or down to suit your purposes: the basic elements are buttery sponge and zingy mascarpone cream; no one is ever going to complain once those two are on board.
225 g unsalted butter, softened
150 g caster sugar
50 g soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
finely grated zest of 2 citrus fruit (lemon and/or orange)
225 g (1½ cups) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
50 ml citrus syrup (I use the syrup from tinned mandarins) or reduced sweetened orange juice – optional
LEMON MASCARPONE FILLING
150–200 ml thickened (whipping) cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
150 g mascarpone
2 tablespoons lemon curd, plus
2–3 tablespoons extra for spreading
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Grease and line two 20 cm cake tins.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well each time, then mix in the citrus zest. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, then fold into the batter until thoroughly incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the two tins (not usually one for precision, I do use an electronic scale here to help me get the same amount in each tin). Smooth the surface and bake for 20–25 minutes, until the cakes have a golden hue and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
When the cakes are cool enough to handle, carefully turn them out onto a wire rack to cool. As this is a slightly sticky sponge, be careful that the cakes don’t stick to the rack: the trick is to move them once or twice on the rack before they are completely cool. (If you are splitting the work of making the sponges and constructing the cake, you can wrap and refrigerate or freeze them at this point: they’ll keep for a few days in the fridge and up to a month in the freezer.)
A sponge cake that has been refrigerated will be much easier to cut than one that is straight out of the oven, so this is a good time to decide whether you want to cut each sponge in half horizontally for a four-layer cake, or stick with two layers.
To make the lemon mascarpone filling, whip 150 ml of the cream with the icing sugar until it has thickened slightly, stopping well short of soft peaks. Then fold in the mascarpone and the 2 tablespoons of lemon curd until smooth – thin out with a little extra cream if it seems too stiff – you’re after an an easily spreadable consistency so you won’t plough up the surface of the cakes.
To assemble the cake, use a pastry brush to dab some of the citrus syrup on the first layer of cake, concentrating on the edges (which may have dried out if you made the sponge in advance). Next use a spatula or offset palette knife to spread a very thin layer of the extra lemon curd over the sponge, followed by a generous layer of the lemon mascarpone cream, making sure to get it all the way to the cake edges. Gently sit the next layer of cake on top and spread it with syrup, curd and lemon mascarpone cream. Keep going until all your layers of cake are used up.
Spread a final layer of lemon mascarpone cream over the top of the cake and decorate. Or don’t decorate. It’s your party.
If you can’t find lemon curd, you can make your own: follow the recipe for passionfruit curd on page 140, replacing the passionfruit pulp and juice with 4 tablespoons lemon juice.