So this is it: we’ve reached bake no. 40, in other words half way round the world. To celebrate, here’s a bake that’s truly from half way round the world: Pitcairn Island, roughly equidistant from New Zealand and Chile. It’s a tiny island which is truly in the middle of nowhere, so much so that you can’t a can’t even fly there: cargo boat is your only option. The island’s main trade is conducted by a dangerous looking process of taking goods out in improbably small canoes and either shinning up the steep sides of the cargo vessels or sending the goods up by pulley. Pitcairn is most famous as the place where the Bounty mutineers fetched up, so lots of the people are called Christian (Fletcher Christian was the leader of the Mutiny).
Not many people own a copy of the Pitcairn Island Cookbook, by Irma Christian, but my wife and I do, because our writer friend Dea Birkett went there in the 1990s and wrote a book, Serpent in Paradise, about her travels, including the dark side of what she found. The book reveals tge Pitcairn diet to be generally incredibly high in sugar, so I’ve chosen a recipe that’s atypical in not having much sugar at all. Essentially, it’s a fairly standard cornbread, but with the South Seas twist of using coconut milk instead of water to bind your dough together: this happens to make it really delicious, so it’s going to be my cornbread of choice from now on. Having said which, I’d probably go half-half cornmeal and plain flour rather than the 1:3 in Irma’s recipe – which is a tad erratic, by the way, so I’ve made a few critical changes.
170g cornmeal (I used coarse, but fine will work also)
420g plain flour
10g baking powder
2 tbs sunflower or corn oil
400g tin coconut milk
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
Grease a small, rectangular baking tin
Mix all the dry ingredients
Pour in the oil and coconut milk, mix until you have a smooth dough
Add your dough to the tin and smooth it out. If you want to avoid a cracked ridge in the middle, score the dough with a sharp knife or razor (I didn’t bother)
Bake for around 40 minutes (use the usual test that a skewer should come out dry)
Cool on a rack
That’s it! A delicious, easy, low sugar bake to celebrate the half way point of this series!
It being that time of year, I was casting around for a Christmas cake that was suitably exotic for this blog, but still had that fruit-laden richness for cold winter evenings. To my surprise, the one that leapt out at me was a recipe from Sri Lanka, which makes something that’s recognisably in the English Christmas Cake tradition, but softer and moister. The ever-reliable sbs.com.au provided the recipe.
What distinguishes the Sri Lankan version is a hefty dose of chow-chow preserve (other Sri Lankan touches are the addition of rosewater and cardamom). Chow-chow is a fruit with many names: choko, chouchou, mirliton, chayote; it’s roughly the shape and consistency of a quince, with a bright green skin reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple. I couldn’t find the preserve locally, but the fruit was readily available in Indian or Caribbean stores, of which we have plenty in London, so I made my own preserve, which wasn’t difficult. (Admission: I did leave mine on the stove for way too long, so it crystallised on setting: this didn’t seem to damage the cake overly.)
Traditionally, you would cover the cake with marzipan and hard icing. That’s too much sweetness for me, so I just made the fruit cake. I also left mine relatively soft and gooey, which is really delicious, at the expense of being tricky to cut. You may want to leave yours in a bit longer than I did.
The chow-chow preserve
Starting with this recipe, this made enough for two cakes. You may want to halve the amounts.
1.1 kg chayote (3 fruits)
1.5 kg sugar
380 ml water
¾ tsp salt
Peel and chop the chayote.
Put everything into a preserving pan and cook until the fruit is soft and the syrup is thick. You probably want a sugar temperature of around 105℃ – I went well over that.
Cool, and put into sterilised jars until needed.
150g unsalted cashews
150g unsalted almonds
200g glacé cherries
500g chow-chow preserve
150g glacé pineapple
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp rosewater (see Note)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
60 ml brandy
250g unsalted butter
385g caster sugar
180 g semolina flour
Preheat oven to 140℃ fan
Line a cake tin with baking paper (these quantities work perfectly for a fairly tall 20cm x 20cm tin)
Chop the almonds, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
Chop the cashews, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
Halve the cherries (if they weren’t already bought that way
Chop the pineapple and chow-chow preserve so that the pieces are smaller than half a glacé cherry. How small you want to go is up to you.
Put all fruits, zest, spices, rosewater and brandy into a large bowl and mix them up.
When the nuts are cool, add them also and mix
Chop the butter into small pieces and cream it with the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer
One a time, separate the eggs, adding the yolk to the butter-sugar mix and incorporating it, and reserving the white in another bowl.
Combine the egg yolk/sugar/butter mix with the fruit-nut mix, add the semolina flour and stir until evenly spread.
Beat the egg whites until soft but not hard, fold into the mix.
Spoon the mixture into your lined tin, pressing it to the edges to smooth out any ruffles in the baking paper.
Cut another square of paper and place it on the top: this will stop the cake drying out
Bake for around 3 hours, or more if you prefer a less gooey cake