In celebration of our beautiful new cooktop which arrived and was installed last Friday, I had a weekend of cooking. On Saturday I made a rabbit stew which has been on my ‘Things To Cook’ list for ages, and on Sunday a banana and caramel cake.
With the high winds on Saturday and only a bike for transport, shopping for my Thomasina Miers rabbit recipe takes until lunch time. I’m slightly stunned at the price of rabbits – two cost me just over $50! I had presumed, like many other slow-cooking cuts, they were going to be cheap, but alas, no. Never mind; I am determined, once in my life, to cook rabbit! I brown my two rabbits (which the butcher at the wonderful Dulwich Hill Gourmet Meats has jointed into four pieces each), first coating them in plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and put them into the slow-cooker. Next I sauté two diced celery sticks and 10 peeled whole French shallots in some clean oil (after wiping the blackened flour out of my pan), and put those aside. The next step is to caramelise, in a knob of butter, the cut surfaces of an orange cut in half around its equator, and a whole head of garlic cut likewise. Aside go those too. Into the pan now I put 100g of blanched almonds, fairly finely chopped, a tablespoon of chopped rosemary, a teaspoon of chopped thyme, two bay leaves, a pinch of saffron threads, an inch of grated ginger and the zest of a lemon, and stir them around until the nuts turn golden brown. Meanwhile I heat up 200ml of sherry. I pour the sherry into the nut mixture along with the sautéed vegetables, orange and garlic, and I’m supposed to light the sherry with a match and let it flambé. Perhaps the sherry isn’t hot enough because it refuses to ignite, so instead I let it bubble for a bit so that the alcohol burns off. Next I add 500ml of chicken stock and bring it to the boil before pouring the lot over the rabbit pieces and turning the slow-cooker on high.
By now it’s about 6.30pm because I’ve had to pop out mid-prep to the bottlo for sherry, and I’ve had a lovely Skype with my brother and twin niece and nephew, and dinner is clearly not going to be ready until bedtime! This happens to me a lot – I should always allow about twice the time that I think it’s going to take to make anything. Mr T has given up and gone to the pub for dinner with friends, and I resort to that most reliable of staples, pasta and pesto. Not to worry, the rabbit will taste even better tomorrow night…
Next day I set about making the banana and caramel cake, one of the fabulous recipes in my Bourke Street Bakery book. First I cream 250g of unsalted butter with 355g of caster sugar and the seeds from a vanilla bean (split lengthways and scraped out) in the Kenwood mixer (thank you, Jono!) with the whisk attachment. Only trouble is the butter is so cold (since I forgot to take it out of the fridge in advance) that it takes about half an hour of whisking, scraping the sides, whisking, scraping, to coax it into the right consistency. Then I whisk in four eggs, one at a time, with more side scraping to ensure they’re properly incorporated. Next in goes 200g of sour cream in two batches and 300g sifted self-raising flour, again in two batches. I mash three ripe bananas and sprinkle them with brown sugar before folding them through the mixture, and then pour it into a greased, lined 28cm tin. By now Mr T has arrived home from work so I give him the bowl and spatula to lick. (I have already had my fun with the whisk attachment!) The cake goes into the oven at 200 degrees celsius for 55 minutes initially, soon after which I place another piece of baking paper over the top to stop it going too brown.
Meanwhile, I heat up some rabbit stew. (There are another six helpings in the freezer. Before boxing it up, I scraped into the sauce the flesh from the now-soft orange halves and squirted all the garlic out of its soggy, papery skins.) Much of the meat has fallen off the bones but that’s only a good sign as far as I’m concerned, even if it doesn’t look terribly attractive. To go with it we have steamed broccoli and mashed potato with lots of butter, hot milk, salt and pepper and about four teaspoons of Dijon mustard; I once had rabbit with a mustardy sauce and it was a good combo. The result is delicious – the rabbit is tender and moist and tastes like a gamier version of chicken (but with a lot more bones!), and the sauce is crunchy with nuts and subtly orangey. The mash is robust in flavour and a perfect accompaniment.
Dinner is interrupted a couple of times to check the cake. At 55 minutes a skewer comes out still sticky so we give it another ten and that seems to do it. Now for the caramel. Into a big saucepan I put 100ml of water and 300g caster sugar. Once dissolved I stop stirring and leave the mixture to bubble away on a fairly high heat for 7-10 minutes until it starts to go caramel coloured around the sides, taking it off the heat at that point to stop it burning. Meanwhile I’ve heated 200ml of whipping cream to near boiling point and now I add that to the sugar solution and it expands to about four times its original volume, bubbling ferociously up the sides of the pan, hence the need to use a big pan. This now goes back onto the heat and I whisk it until it’s smooth, after which I take it off the heat and let it cool slightly before whisking in 80g of unsalted butter for flavour and glossiness. I then pour it slowly over the still-warm cake, now out of its tin, into which Mr T has poked about 40 holes with a skewer so that the caramel oozes inside. Fortunately he has also had the foresight to put the cake in a pie dish with fairly high sides because much of the caramel runs off the cake forming a moat around it. I then spend the next 20 minutes basting the cake, trying to encourage more caramel into the holes!
When we slice it shortly after that it’s still so warm and soft that it disintegrates a bit, but it tastes amazing, so sweet and gooey, taking me back 30 years to the treacle sponge pudding we had at primary school. It’s crying out for vanilla ice cream but sadly we don’t have any. Next morning, after a night in the fridge, it’s completely solid and cuts easily like a dense cake, beautifully marbled and tasting much more of bananas than it did before. I take half the cake into work to share with colleagues for morning tea, by which time it’s reached room temperature which is another experience again. Now I notice the browned, toffee-coated crust which lends a lovely chewiness to contrast the sponge. Like the perfect little black dress, this versatile dish transitions effortlessly from desk to dinner table! Personally I think it shines best as a pudding, still warm from the oven and drowned in hot, runny caramel. Just don’t forget the vanilla ice cream.