Scones and a Surfeit of Cream

I keep accumulating bits and bobs I don’t want to waste. One of these was a total fail at freezing cream. The instructions always tell you to whip the cream up before freezing it, but I thought I’d be lazy and didn’t. On defrosting, the split mixture didn’t seem all that promising.

So, onto the internets for the solution, and I found a recipe for scones. Only 3 ingredients were required: flour, cream, and lemonade!

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Lemonade scones look like they originate from Australia. I’ve only ever made the traditional English recipe with butter, flour, an egg and a dash of milk, so I was intruiged.

First, out to go and buy some lemonade. We’re not big lemonade drinkers in this household. Then I had to figure out the British conversions for Australian cups. Hmm, confusing. As I was making them, I threw in some sultanas too. I love fruit-packed scones.

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When I made up the scone mixture, it already felt very light whilst I was handling the dough, so I had high hopes. It was a bit wetter than my usual dough, but nothing floury hands couldn’t handle. I popped them into the oven, realised I’d forgotten to eggwash the tops, but nevermind. They were rising like mad in the heat!

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Out of the oven, and onto a cooling rack, I was delighted by how puffy and tall my scones were. Texturally, they are the lightest scones I have ever baked. Feather-light absolutely describes these. Eaten plain, they didn’t taste of much, with a slight tang of fizzy lemonade…disappointing. Once the jam and cream was laden on top, you didn’t notice anymore. If your philosophy in life is that scones are mere vehicles for as much cream and jam as possible, this doesn’t matter! However, if I wasn’t eating them with extras I would say these scones definitely require additional flavouring.

I don’t think lemonade scones will quite replace my usual recipe. The use of fizzy lemonade makes me a little uneasy as it’s full of artificial additives like aspartame. I’m not sure if more natural alternatives end up doing the same job. All the same, it’s a quick and easy recipe to keep by, and worth trying out!

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On another note. I was browsing on Pinterest, and came across these horrific red velvet variants. With frosting! Sacrilege on scones, urgh, enough to make my insides curdle.

Farewell, and Next Time

I’ve been wowed and wooed by this Southern continent, and in some cases, truly wonderstruck. I’m going to miss my time here, but now it’s time to click my red glittery shoes (à la Dorothy), and return back home to rain and reality.

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On my last couple of days, the weather took a turn for the worse, and I decided to chillax, do a spot of baking, send off my postcards, and round up some souvenirs to take back home.

I have limited kitchen resources at my disposal here, so I decided to stick with two simple but delicious recipes – flapjacks, and a yoghurt cake. The flapjacks were modified by replacing golden syrup with strawberry jam, and they turned out perfectly! The yoghurt cake was a little more tricky as I had to use a very large baking pan, but in the end – minus a few burnt bits, it was pretty delectable too. Given the difficulties of navigating around a strange oven, I’m simply pleased that they turned out edible at all!

With souvenirs, I decided to stick with the sweet and simple. I confess I didn’t want to lump my nearest and dearest with jars of Vegemite, and Ugg boots in the fashion world are now a bit passé.

So I’ve stuck with the sweet and simple. A jar of local blue gum honey, some cute kangaroo keyrings. Australian-made sheepskins. And from New Zealand, some beautifully eye-catching opalescent paua shells.

I’ve also been left with a couple of unexpected souvenirs. My legs are decorated with a mosaic of scars following aggressive insect bites, which should hopefully fade away before too long!

My travels have left me with a burning desire and wanderlust to explore so many other places, and I intend to do so (once time and money become available). I also intend to bring with me some salient learning points to maximise those fun times whilst travelling abroad.

  1. Shop around for good hostels. For example, don’t always stick to YHA hostels – although they do tend to have good baseline levels of cleanliness and separate gender dorms – they can also end up being the most expensive option. Check reviews online. Smaller hostels tend to have the best atmosphere and are a great way to meet like-minded people.
  2. Likewise, organise some trips through the hostel. Choose small groups as that is also a good way of getting to know your fellow travellers and have some stress-free fun!
  3. Go for dorms that sleep 4-6. Get friendly with your dorm mates as you might end up hanging out with them!
  4. Use the hostel kitchens as this is a really good way of striking up a conversation.
  5. Don’t be shy. Start up conversations with your fellow travellers, say yes to invitations, leap into the water without being coaxed, and wear your bikini without fear!

Scrumptious Sydney

Vibrant, busy, bustling…Sydney is truly a spectacular city bursting with life.

I arrived in Sydney during the exciting Vivid light event taking place. The entirety of the harbour was lit up every evening with a blazing feast for the eyes, and there was plenty to play around with too, from the movement activated light displays, to the Avatar-esque glowing plant forms.

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It was an easy couple of hours entertainment to wander around and soak up the lively weekend atmosphere.

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Sydney is also a great city for food. I’ve already mentioned my excursion to the famous Bourke Street Bakery, and the even-better La Renaissance Cafe Patisserie, but there are so many other gems out there I wish I had longer to explore them all.

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In The Rocks, a picturesque, historical area of Sydney, there were food stalls crammed into the streets, serving all forms of global cuisine. Next door, a kitsch German-themed bar catered to what looked like hundreds of happy beer-drinkers as they were served by dirndl and lederhosen garbed staff.

The flavours of the food were simple, punchy, and delicious. I had a beef steak sandwich on one occasion, and came back for the turkish gözleme the next. The gözleme strangely reminded me of the savoury flatbreads I sometimes make at home, only this was filled with cheese, spinach, and a spicy mixture of ground chicken. So one I might try to reproduce when I return home, although I am increasingly curious to know what kind of cheese they used for the filling….

To sate my sweet tooth, I also found heavy appreciation in polishing off a plate of miniature pancakes, topped with melted butter, icing sugar, sliced strawberries, and a squirt of whipped cream.

There were many other great foodie places, that sadly I just can’t list them all. Kudos goes to the bakery in Katoomba for their potato-and-rosemary pizza. Unusual toppings, but it worked so very well. Perfect after an invigorating hike in the Blue Mountains.

La Renaissance Cafe on The Rocks, Sydney

I’ve found pastry nirvana in Sydney. and it just so happened to be right on my doorstep.

This French bakery shines with its gorgeous, fresh and flavoursome produce. First I was hooked with their excellent almond croissants. Meltingly divine -a crisp sugary crust, buttery layers of pastry underneath, then finally the soft almond cream heart.

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I couldn’t resist going back to try their other creations. The pear danish was a sumptuous blend of sweet, tender fruit under a bed of crisp pastry.

Then came la piece de resistance – the tartlets. I picked traditional flavours – going for a glazed mixed fruit tart on a bed of creme patisserie, then a Valrhona chocolate tart with a peanut caramel filling. Both were sheer heaven.

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La renaissance cafe has given me some inspiration to continue improving my own baking. I could definitely anticipate adding a nutty caramel twist to a chocolate tart, or challenging myself by learning how to make creme patisserie for a tart filling, instead of plumping for easier alternatives.

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Bourke Street Bakery, Sydney

Bourke Street Bakery has an international reputation that surpasses any bakery in Australia. I knew as soon as I landed at the airport I would be paying Bourke Street a visit. Nestled in an inauspicious corner of Sydney, the premises are surprisingly tiny – the window crammed full of rustic breads and tarts. As it was lunchtime, I opted for savoury bake in the form of a cute quiche. The sweet offerings looked so tantalising I couldn’t resist and ordered two tarts – chocolate and a ginger creme brûlée.

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The quiche was very ordinary in taste, with a tough unamenable pastry crust. A little dissatisfied with that, I eyed up the two sweet tarts with trepidation.

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Well I needn’t have worried there, because they were brilliant. The chocolate tart had just the right balance of creamy, sweet and rich. The creme brûlée tart had a powerful ginger kick, with a delightful caramelised sugar crust and unctuous oozy creamy filling. I left knowing that just for that ginger creme brûlée tart, it had been worth it. I am now intrigued to know if the bakery publish a version of their recipe as I’d been keen to try it out!

Melbourne? Meh

In Australia, you can expect a flurry of cheery greetings ranging anywhere from the stereotypical “G’day mate,” to the more commonplace “Hi, how ya doin’?”

I’ve been here for weeks but the latter still puzzles me. I can’t figure out whether you are supposed to respond with the full “Good thanks, how’re you?” or pretend there’s no question involved, and respond with an equally buoyant “What’s up?” Generally I get a funny look, whichever way I decide to go.

For Britons, Australia lingers in the mind as a former British colony, full of the descendants of Victorian felons, who got shipped halfway across the world for petty robbery. Modern Australia has shaken off its Old World roots, emerging with a whole new mindset, culture and personality of its own. Don’t expect to find a carbon-copy of Milton-on-Keynes here.

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Melbourne is a bustling modern city, with the usual accrouments that all major world urban destinations acquire. Galleries and museums abound. The European sections aren’t really worth your time – but there is an excellent array of Aboriginal and Australian art. The Melbourne Museum also holds a stunning collection of specimens, particularly the whale and dinosaur skeletons, and a preserved giant squid floating eeriely in a vat of formaldehyde.

The gardens are also lush, and well-kept, full of tropical foliage, eucalyptus trees, and at night – possums, possums, and more possums. I can’t help but think of them as a larger Australian equivalent of squirrels nosing around in the dark and crawling up and down the trees.

Melbourne has temperamental weather, so I’ve noted that jackets feature prominently in the local fashions, but the temperature never drops to chilling figures.

It was a shocker when I first arrived to note how expensive Australian goods are in comparison to London. Food prices in particular are very high, although it hasn’t stopped me sampling a variety of Australian food. I’ve enjoyed Tim-Tams, the Aussie cousin of Penguin bars in the UK – my favourites being the double-coating, caramel, and dark chocolate varieties.

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Oddly, traditional English tea-time treats don’t really feature much here, which is a real shame. I do miss the comforts of scones, Victoria sponges, lemon drizzle cake and buttery flapjacks. Browsing through local cookery books, they do pop up quite often so I can only assume they tend to be home-baked rather than sold in the shops. Organic food shops are stocked chock-a-block with imported European goods but they are worth a browse for all the wonderful types of local Australian honey.

The macaron is also extremely popular, and can be seen in most cafes. I admit I have been spoilt by having Laduree and Pierre Herme so close to hand, but the salted caramel macaron I tried in Melbourne was unfortunately very underwhelming, with an artifical sugary flavour. I also tried a Lamington in the museum cafe, which wasn’t anything to write home about.

Asian cuisine dominantes the Melbourne food scene. If you love Chinese/Korean/Japanese/Indonesian/Vietnamese/Thai cuisine, this is a dreamland for you as you will be spolit for choice when it comes to picking restaurants, cafes, bakeries, dessert parlours and bubble tea bars. Western cuisine has an American-slant so you are likely to see muffins and doughnuts in coffee shops, along with iced banana and carrot loaf cakes. There are also streets lined with Italian and Greek eateries. However, don’t expect to see too much in the way of quality French dishes unless you are prepared to pay through the nose for it.

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a home-grown Australian menu, but we did buy and cook a slab of kangaroo meat. It is dark red, and looks tough and man-meatilicious. I did have to sadly conclude that it is not a delicacy I would eat again, although I think fans of dark gamey meat might enjoy it.

Melbourne has many visitor attractions, but most tend to be packed full of schoolchildren on trips. Perhaps this is the jaded Londoner within me talking, but most of it is nothing new. The real gems of Victoria state are not in the city, but out in the National Parks and the bush.

A final note – birds are very aggressive in hawking (haha) for food. They can be found eagerly accosting you everywhere. Beware of them even when you are indoors, as you could inadvertently end up with more than you bargained for on your plate.