Is there a certain food for you which provokes a memory? Nostalgia? Something which brings back happy experiences, family time, and childhood? All of those combined?
For me, there are a few. Shortbread, still hot and burny on your tongue, straight out of the oven, snuck from the corner of the tray. Pasta made with mum's tomato bacon sauce. Pikelets made with a little one standing on a chair pulled up next to the bench, in the exact spot where I used to stand. Muesli made with my dad early in the morning before anyone else was up.
And this Louise cake. Although shortbread was always a staple in my Grandma's biscuit tin, louise cake was Grandad's favourite, something made for a special treat every now and then. I got my love of food from growing up in a house where things were made from scratch, from fresh ingredients, but I got my love of baking from my Grandmother. As the youngest of 18 grandchildren, with a solid age gap between myself and the next grandchild up, each year my sister and I were treated to a summer of undivided attention from our grandparents. They lived right on the beach, and our family used to travel up and stay with them each year during our summer holidays. We had the BEST time. I will always hold that time as some of the happiest times of my life - spoilt rotten by our cousins, and endless amounts of Grandma and Grandad time. Grandad was soft and gentle, his ankles turned out by polio, with the cuddliest lap and treat-filled pockets. Grandma was the ultimate matriarch, a strong minded woman with a sneaky soft side (as all the women in my family tend to be, clearly we get it from her), who loved nothing more than having all her family around. She was definitely a woman before her time, and I feel so grateful to have grown up in a giant, love-filled family.
During the summers, Grandma and I would bake. I would drag a chair over to the edge of the bench, and together we would make things from her recipe book, which was a collection of all her favourite recipes she had gathered throughout her years. Her sweet tooth was just about as sweet as mine is, so by the time came to putting whatever we were making in the oven, often half would be missing from both of us 'taste testing' the mixture as we went. After she passed away I was lucky enough to have the recipe book passed onto me. I love to look through the pages, some of the recipes written in by one of my cousins, some stuck in out of magazines (gherkin salad anyone), but most written in Grandma's familiar curly school teacher writing. The pages are old and falling out, and whenever I use it it stays on the other side of the room for fear of making it dirty, but it is one of my favourite things ever. I am slowly working my way through it, in the hopes that this can be a place for my family to come to find Grandma's recipes too.
I've been getting totally slammed with homesickness lately, and it sucks balls. It seems that just as I get into a good routine, something will set me off and knock me on my ass. It always catches me off guard at the worst of times. I think this current bout is something to do with Mother's day coming up - it always seems to be around the holidays and special occasions that I get gutted that i'm not around family, and the sadness comes up and bites me in the butt. I'm slowly, slowly learning how to make sure it takes less of a toll on me. Spending time out of the house helps (I spent Monday lying on Jill's couch and it was amazing), along with a serious amount of stress baking. This time I decided to go for an old school fave, Louise cake.
Louise cake is something that I am yet to come across outside New Zealand - including Australia, which is pretty rare as we tend to have very similar baked goods. The origins aren't entirely clear, although it's a pretty safe bet it originally came from England. It is a shortbread-like base (I say shortbread-like because it has eggs in it, which shortbread usually does not), followed by a layer of raspberry jam, then topped with a coconut meringue. It is all put together before going in the oven, eliminating the annoying process of fluffing around waiting for things to cool before adding more layers etc. The result is a multi-texture, multi flavour situation. And it's just the best. It is super sweet, but that's half the fun. The egg yolks from the separated eggs are used in the base, which gives it a lovely colour, but also means that you aren't left with any surplus whites or yolks. It all comes together quickly, keeps well, and is perfect served in little squares as an after lunch treat, or alongside a hot drink.
- Makes 16 square slices -
220g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
110g (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
110g (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp) sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup raspberry jam
185g (1 cup minus 1 Tbsp) sugar
95g (1 cup) desiccated coconut
- PROCESS -
Preheat the oven to 350˚f / 180˚c. Line an 8 or 9 inch (20-22cm) square pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 110g sugar until pale and fluffy, approx 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat until just combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.
Turn out the dough into the prepared tin, and press out evenly, using the back of a spoon or glass to help make smooth. Spread evenly with the raspberry jam.
Wash and dry your mixing bowl and beaters. If you are using a stand mixer, fit it with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the 185g sugar and beat until stiff peaks are just beginning to form (the meringue should still be a little droopy). Fold in the coconut, ensuring it is evenly incorporated. Spread the meringue mixture over the base and jam, using an offset spatula to ensure that it is smooth.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the meringue is dry and slightly golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing with a serrated knife.