Lemon Tipple Cake and Urban Composting

 Lemons…yes I am going to post again about lemons!  I’m going to let you into the secret of the best lemon cake ever according to all those that have tasted it – the Lemon Tipple Cake.

Lemon Tipple Cake dressed up for a birthday celebration
decorated with strawberries and icing sugar, borage and nasturtium flowers

It’s a mix of two recipes from two of my favourite cooks; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Lemon Trickle Cake and Lois Daish’s Lemon Pound Cake with Gin Syrup.  From Hugh I use the cake recipe as it’s a light Victorian sponge and I use Lois’s Gin Syrup as the topping because this little tipple makes the cake so delightful.  I have taken the liberty of naming the cake the Lemon Tipple Cake.

Lemon Tipple Cake

This recipe is made in a loaf tin and the lightness of the cake will depend on the quality and quantity of beating.   You can do it by hand but for this cake I prefer to let Ken Wood do the hard work.   Use Ken at full speed to whip the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time.   To avoid curdling add 1 Tbsp of the measured flour after the addition of each egg..and it helps if the eggs are at room temperature.
The butter, sugar and eggs should be beaten until light in colour  as above.  
This  is what makes the cake light.

175 g unsalted butter softened (I don’t always have unsalted butter)
175 g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
3 medium eggs
175g self-rising flour
pinch slat
A splash of milk (optional)
Grease and line a 1 litre capacity loaf tin with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy (at least 5 or up to10 minutes if you can manage it). 
Add the grated lemon zest and then beat in the eggs one at time, adding a spoonful of the measured flour to avoid curdling.  
Sift the remaining flour and salt into the mixture and fold in lightly using a large metal spoon.   Add a little milk if necessary, to achieve a good dropping consistency – i.e. the mix should drop fairly easily off a spoon when you tap it on the side of the bowl.
Spoon mix into tin, smooth the top gently and put in preheated 170 degrees C oven. 
Bake 45-50 mins or until skewer comes out clean.
With the skewer make holes all over the cake going quite deep but not hitting the bottom.
Gin Syrup – it also works using Tequila or Cointreau – try your own combination

Lois’s Gin Syrup: 

juice of 2 juicy lemons
150g caster sugar
2 T gin
(make this syrup while the cake is cooking – just stir to dissolve the sugar no cooking necessary)
Spoon or slowly pour over the hot lemon cake so that the holes can fill up.

The surface of the cake once the syrup has soaked in.

It’s a moist yet a light cake.  Does it keep?  Well in my experience it’s the sort of cake that doesn’t get the chance to hang around. I have had the fortune of having a piece the next day and it was still as good as the day before.

Hugh’s original Trickle cake has a runny lemon icing/sauce
of 200g icing sugar and 75ml lemon juice 

Bokashi to the Rescue!

…On the other hand, compost usually does need to hang around for months before it can be used in the garden, but not with the system I have rediscovered.

Living in urban Auckland, space is limited for processing compost, but I still want to make compost for the benefit of my plants in my newly established raised bed.

Our raised bed garden 1 week old – everyone helping out;
daughter Tansy planting out Rocket seedlings and grandson Beau
at the ready with gardening gloves.

Auckland’s daily summer temperatures of around 25 degrees give me an incentive to find ways of dealing with food scraps quickly, so as to avoid them mouldering away in smelly bins.

Luckily I had packed my Bokashi bucket when I left Dunedin. Bokashi comes into its own up here.   It’s a system of composting that originated in Japan and means “fermentation”. One of the best things is after fermenting for 10 days you can give it a shallow burial in the garden and in summer after another 10 days you can begin planting in that soil. 

Not one of my more attractive pictures!
But I wanted to show you what it looks like after being filled over 3 weeks.  
It will be covered  for 2 weeks and then buried in the garden
The environment in the bucket has to be anaerobic (the food is squashed down to squeeze out any air) which usually means in composting terms that it should smell really bad.  But it has an almost sweet fermentation smell about it, rather like it’s being pickled.

The juice adds nutrients and good micro-organisms to your garden.  It must be diluted 100:1 (i.e. 2 Tbsp to 5 litres of water) to apply to bare soil.  For foliage dilute to between 1:500 to 1:1000 (1-2 tsp) to 5 litres of water and spray over foliage to form a film over the leaves.  

Juice that gathers in the bottom bucket should be used every 2 days.   The juice  indicates how successful your fermentation is.   It should be a light brown, not smell too pungent and could have a light white mould on top as above.

The fermentation happens because the sweet smelling bran called Zing has been impregnated with good bacteria.  Add a good handful (more in summer or if you have larger quantities of protein to break down) each time you add food scraps.  It’s best to collect the scraps into a container and add when full – a 2 litre ice cream container is ideal.  Cut up the material to fit more in the bucket and to hasten the composting process.  Once filled up you leave the bucket closed for two weeks.

I thought I would let The Guardian’s columnist Alys Fowler tell you about the next stage….

“What happens in those two weeks is fascinating. Your waste is zombified. It looks pretty much the same, apart from perhaps a little white mould and the whiff of fermentation, but something has happened internally: the good bacteria in the bran have got to work. Much like the undead, it may look similar on the outside, but inside decomposition is well under way.”

Here are two other sites with some more information on the Bokashi system: 

The only no no is to put liquids into the buckets and its important to press down the food after each addition to squeeze out the air.
This is something I am keen to try as I intend on growing things in containers.

Zing Bokashi – Using fermented compost in Container Gardening

To set yourself up with a Bokashi bucket and zing it costs around $50-$55.    I now need a second bucket while my other one is fermenting.   I want to see if there is a cheaper way of doing it.

My first homemade attempt at making my own Bokashi Bucket.
Ideally the buckets should be the same size.  Mine aren’t but I do like the colours!

I have managed with one bucket with a good fitting lid and drilled holes in the bottom and put it together with a cheaper bucket for holding the juice.   They seem to be working.

When first using the bucket put a good handful of Zing in the bottom.
The original  ZingBokashi bucket is in the background.

But I could do better and am on the look out for some buckets that are larger and stronger and I have a lead… kitchens have lots of buckets with lids and the best thing about this lead is that the plastic will be safe for food.   As Ponsonby Road has lots of kitchens, I will be doing the rounds!

In my previous posting I talked about preserving lemons.   I found my lemons and squeezed as many as I could into this lovely French glass jar I got for free from a second hand store.  I am now prepared for when lemons become scarce.

Preserved lemons with bay leaves and cinnamon sticks

Next weekend I am lucky enough to be invited by friends to go sailing on the Hauraki Gulf.   I will be taking a Lemon Tipple Cake because I imagine any cooking on board will be difficult because of limited space…or will it?

Aromatic Vegetables & Potato Fritters

Sometimes you have an odd collection of vegetables and leftovers in the fridge.   This week I had a small swede, some pumpkin, a large parsnip, a leek, some leftover corned beef and mustard sauce.   I knew Lois Daish would have ideas for this odd collection in her “Good Food” cookbook, and she did.

This vegetable stew is an ideal way to use up a number of vegetables, and you can use what you have on hand rather than sticking exactly to the recipe.   If using kumara you should dice it and cover with water otherwise it will turn brown.

Pumpkin or Kumara Stewed with Aromatic Vegetables

First stage of aromatic stew cooking up leek, parsnip/carrot, celery and herbs

(Serves  4)

The point when you add the pumpkin and water to the sauted vegetables

500g pumpkin, butternut or kumara ( I used a mix of swede and pumpkin)
1 leek or onion
1 carrot (I used the parsnip)
1 rib celery
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil or clarified butter or a mixture
grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
thyme, parsley and bay leaf
1-2 cups water

Cut the rind off the pumpkin or butternut and remove the seeds or peel the kumara – cut into 2 cm dice.
Finely dice the leek or onion, carrot (parsnip) and celery.   Peel and crush garlic.
Put the oil in heavy pot and add the finely diced vegetables with the garlic, lemon zest and herbs.
Season with salt and pepper.
Fry gently for about 15 minutes.
Add the pumpkin (and the swede) to the cooked vegetables and stir.
Barely cover with water and simmer until tender – about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or your chosen herb – coriander would be good.

I accompanied the stew with corned beef potato fritters, but this is delicious as a main on a bed of couscous, finished off with a dollop of pesto and some pickled red onion.

You could also serve it with cooked greens.

Here’s another recipe from Lois Daish that I adapted to use my leftover diced corned beef.  I usually keep faithful to this recipe because its delicious as is, but it also works with additions.

Roy Duncan’s Potato Fritters – serves 4 

Potato Fritters cooking
 recipe from “Good Food” by Lois Daish

4 medium potatoes

salt and pepper
nutmeg, freshly grated
2 egg whites
Clarified butter or oil for frying

Put the grated potato into a clean tea towel,
 squeeze hard into a jug the water from the potato
Peel potatoes and grate with the course side of the grater.  Place in a cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible*

Place in a bowl and season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg.   

Whisk the egg whites until snowy.  Fold gently into the potatoes.

Heat oil in a frying pan until moderately hot.  Place spoonfuls of the potato mixture in the pan.
fry until golden brown on one side.  Turn over and brown the second side.   Continue cooking until the potato is tender.  
Drain on paper towels and serve immediately while still crisp.
Variation:  dice up corned beef, a dollop of mustard sauce or 1 tsp mustard to replace the nutmeg, and a handful of rocket sliced.

* I used the freshly squeezed potato liquid as part of the water measure in the Aromatic vegetable stew.   It’s too good to throw away.   No use keeping it as stock unless you cook it because it quickly turns black but you could drink it as it has health benefits.   You should rinse out your tea towel immediately to avoid staining.


Instant pickled onion: a decorate and tasty addition to a salad or a  topping to a dish like the aromatic vegetable stew. It’s great in a simple cheese and pickled onion sandwich. Slice onion (red, brown or Spanish white) very finely using a mandolin (if you have one). Sprinkle on some sugar, salt and then a sprinkling of cider or wine vinegar to taste. It takes a minute for the onion to soften and be pickled – sweet and milder than raw. Keeps for a day or two in the fridge.