I have a soft spot for Australian cookbooks. It began when a magazine contribution by Donna Hay led me to an assortment of her cookbooks at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library, which in turn led me to a sizeable selection of British and Australian food magazines. Both the magazines and the blogosphere introduced me to two other notable Australian chefs: Bill Granger and Christine Manfield. These author’s titles had similarities: a unique photographic style, recipes with clean flavors, and convenient metric measurements.
I knew a little about these chef/authors when I started buying their books, but I knew nothing about Belinda Jeffery when I bought Mix & Bake (Penguin Global, 2008). Frankly, I pre-ordered it for the cover art. I was delighted to find it contained some great recipes that ranged from comforting to dramatic. Jeffery is an excellent writer with a lively, encouraging voice, and I find it disappointing that she is not better known stateside.
Her latest book, The Country Cookbook, arrived at my door on the heels of several urbanite-turned-farmer books (see reviews for Miller, Kimball, and Timmermeister: 1, 2, 3). Keeping with this theme of urban egress, The Country Cookbook chronicles a year following Jeffery’s move from Sydney to a country home in Mullumbimby, NSW. It is a diary with accompanying recipes and photographs, which can be read from start to finish, or browsed by season. While the diary format may be off-putting to some, I found it intimate and highly evocative. Jeffery clearly takes joy in her surroundings, which are sumptuously photographed by Rodney Weidland. (See a book preview and an interview with Jeffery on Penguin Australia’s site).
As I mentioned earlier, I love Australian cookbooks. I will warn you, however, that they can contain vocabulary which some Americans may find hard to interpret. Luckily, I’ve had few (if any) problems cooking from this book, as Jeffery’s instructions are clear and easy to follow. It contains a good balance of courses, suitable for many occasions. On another note, there are not one, but -two- ribbons in the book for marking your favorite recipes!
I will leave you with this recipe for a fabulous Apple & Cinnamon Crostata, which we enjoyed with homemade cinnamon ice cream. I baked it on a pizza stone, which made the crust well-browned and thoroughly crisped. If you want a perfectly round crostata, use a circular pan, or trace a 12-inch circle on parchment to assist you with rolling and shaping.
Apple & Cinnamon Crostata
adapted from Belinda Jeffery’s “The Country Cookbook”
for the crust:
225g all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup iced water
for the filling:
120g digestive biscuits (preferably McVities)
1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 kg small or medium sweet apples (I used gala and fuji)
150g granulated sugar
2-3 tsp vanilla extract
40g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tsp sugar, for sprinkling on the crust
1. Make the pastry: put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. With the processor running, pour in the ice water and process until the dough forms a ball around the blade.
2. Form the dough into a ball. Flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill for 40-50 minutes, or until it is firm but supple enough to roll out. (I did this the night before).
3. Preheat your oven to 200C/395F. Line a large round pizza tin (30cm in diameter) or a baking sheet with parchment paper, then set aside.
4. For the filling crush the biscuits and mix them with the 1.5 tbsp sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Set aside.
5. Peel, halve, and core all the apples but one, and cut them into thin slices. Peel the remaining apple and cut crossways into rounds, removing the seeds. Put the apple slices in a large bowl and sprinkle with the 150g sugar. Add the vanilla and melted butter and toss to combine. Set aside.
6. Roll the pastry into a thin round that is a bit larger than the prepared pan. Drape it over the tin, leaving an overhang to form the border of the crostata. Press the dough gently into the sides of the pan. Spread the biscuit mixture evenly over the base. (If you’re making this on a baking sheet, center the pastry on the parchment paper. Sprinkle the biscuit mixture over the pastry, leaving a 5-6cm border all around). Spread the apple slices over the biscuit mixture. Place the reserved rounds over the top. Gently fold the overhanging dough over the fruit, pressing and pleating it gently to seal it and form a pastry rim. Sprinkle the rim with the extra 2 tsp sugar.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool for at least 40 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream, if desired.