Annabel Crabb's bring-a-plate recipes: Chocolate mousse, gingerbread houses, and rhubarb and rose cordial

Party food: Annabel Crabb with her passionfruit cocktail and spicy nuts.
Party food: Annabel Crabb with her passionfruit cocktail and spicy nuts. Photo: Graham Tidy

Annabel Crabb has built a second career on the great Australian "bring a plate" tradition.

Better known as a political columnist, Crabb learned early in her career that sharing a meal with a politician was an easy way to gain background knowledge about Canberra power structures and decisions.

So when she joined the ABC, she pitched the idea of a television show where she'd turn up at a politician's house with dessert and grill them while they cooked the main course – "a naked attempt to incorporate my recreational interest into my professional life, because I really like cooking".

The fifth series of Kitchen Cabinet has just finished, with Crabb interviewing conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and the camera crew racing through the dessert scene before the fruit sank into her slightly-too-soft apple curd tarts.

Along with occasional cooking disasters, there have been many memorable moments on the show, such as Bronwyn Bishop pausing while sauteeing mushrooms to boast of flying upside down in an attack helicopter when she was Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel.

2D Gingerbread houses.
2D Gingerbread houses. Photo: Robert Palmer

It's also resulted in a happy spin-off, Special Delivery, the cookbook she has co-written with long-time friend Wendy Sharpe, the show's recipe consultant.

The book is based on the idea of making and taking food to people, an Australian tradition Crabb believes is ripe for a comeback.

"Taking food to people is a lovely thing – not just because you're trying to get into their house and get an interview but if they're feeling sick, or if they're a bit sad, or if they've just had a massive triumph at work.

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"To show someone that you're thinking about them sufficiently to sink a bit of time into making something you think they might like is more thoughtful than buying them a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolate."

2D gingerbread houses

Once, for my daughter Audrey's class party, I promised to bake anything she liked. Her request? Gingerbread replicas of all her classmates. In the end, I got away with piping initials and faces on gingerbread figures. Here, with these 2D gingerbread houses, you get the fun of decorating, without the headache of gingerbread architecture, and there is no better housewarming gift than a gingerbread portrait of the new dwelling. Here comes the get-out clause: if you really aren't artistic, or you're in a hurry, just use a round biscuit cutter or drinking glass to cut some circles and pipe a border and the new house number on to the cooked and cooled biscuits.

410g (2 cups) plain flour

1 tsp ground ginger

 tsp ground cinnamon

 tsp fine salt

125g unsalted butter

55g ( cup) brown sugar

260g ( cup) golden syrup

 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp white vinegar

Icing

1 egg white

185g (1 cups) icing sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

1. Sift the flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt into a mixing bowl. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a medium saucepan, then add the bicarbonate of soda and allow it to fizz. When the fizzing

subsides, add to the dry ingredients and stir well, then add the egg and vinegar and keep mixing to make a firm dough. Shape the dough into a fat rectangle, then roll it out to a five millimetre thickness – don't go too thin, or your biscuits will be delicate and hard to handle.

2. Now comes the arty part. Mock up an outline of the house on a piece of paper, and roughly sketch what you intend to pipe with icing. Keep it simple, but remember that some distinguishing characteristics, like cast-iron lacework or rows of roof tiles, will identify the house, and are repetitive and easy. Tend towards the larger size. Two or three bold 10 x 7.5 cm biscuits will result in more impact (and fewer meltdowns for the artist) than lots of fiddly little biscuits.

3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place your template on the dough and cut around it with a knife. Carefully lift your gingerbread on to the prepared tray and bake for seven to 10 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool on the tray while you get going on the icing.

4. Lightly whisk the egg white until frothy, then mix in the icing sugar and lemon juice to make a smooth icing.

Use a tiny nozzle to pipe your designs onto the gingerbread – get your eye in by practising on a sheet of baking paper first. Let the icing set before serving or transporting.

Makes about 12

To transport: Carefully pack into a tin or container, cushioning any more delicate architectural features with tissue paper.

Chocolate mousse with raspberry cream and honeycomb.

Chocolate mousse with raspberry cream and honeycomb

This delightful confection went to Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull's farm at Scone, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, when we were filming the third series of Kitchen Cabinet. We took the train partly because it is such a terrific train ride, and partly because my baby daughter Kate, a determined small assistant on that series, firmly refused to travel anywhere by car, which meant we were obliged to explore all manner of transport alternatives. Still, there is no feeling quite like taking a dessert on a train to eat with someone interesting. I would definitely recommend it. There is no use trying to fix something that isn't broken, so the mousse element here sticks to the traditional and elegant formula: chocolate, eggs and sugar. The fastest way to improve chocolate is by adding raspberries and cream, so I did that. The honeycomb? Well, that is just theatre.

120g chocolate, including at least 80g dark chocolate

4 eggs, separated

1 tbsp castor sugar

Honeycomb shards

165g ( cup) granulated sugar

1 tbsp runny honey

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Raspberry cream

100ml double cream

 tsp vanilla paste, optional

50g fresh or frozen raspberries

1. First melt the chocolate. Conventional wisdom has it that you should always melt chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. But I would suggest that it isn't absolutely necessary to clatter about with bains-maries just to melt a bit of chocolate when you can treat it gently in the microwave (on medium for bursts of 30 seconds) or grate it into a hot pan that has been taken off the heat. Leave the melted chocolate to cool slightly.

2. Next, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks with a tiny pinch of salt, then slowly add the sugar and keep whisking until you have stiff peaks.

3. Lightly beat the egg yolks, then add to the slightly cooled chocolate and use a whisk to combine. Gently fold in about a third of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest to the mixture, retaining as much air as possible. Pour into a serving dish (or small glasses) and leave to set for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

4. With all that waiting for the mousse to be ready, you have acres of time to put together those showy honeycomb shards. Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Combine the sugar, honey and 1 tablespoons of water in a tall, heavy-based pan – use a stockpot, if you have one – and heat until it registers 154C on a sugar thermometer. This is called the "cracking stage". If you don't have a thermometer, test by dropping a little of the syrup into a bowl of cold water and then fishing out the result: if it is still stretchy, keep cooking; if it "snaps", it is ready.

5. Once you are at temperature, take the pan off the heat and sift in the bicarbonate of soda. Be careful – the mixture is awfully hot and it will foam and rise up the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon (or something else non-conductive) until combined, then quickly pour it onto the prepared baking sheet, getting it as thin as you can and smoothing it out with a spatula. Leave the honeycomb for at least 15 minutes to set. Store in a cool, dry place – but not the fridge, or it will go sticky.

Just before serving (or transporting), make the raspberry cream. Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the raspberries, crushing them a little as you go to give pretty red streaks, then spoon over the mousse. Break your honeycomb into shards and use to decorate.

Serves 4

A note about raw egg: You will notice that because we are not doing any cooking of the chocolate mousse, the raw egg will stay, well, raw. So think again if you are catering for people who might be nervous about eating raw egg – that is, pregnant women, the very young, the very old, or anyone who is unwell.

To transport: If you live in a perfect world, you will have collected lots of little glass yoghurt containers or straight-sided jars to decant your mousse into. Otherwise, it is absolutely fine to set everything together in a large bowl and scoop out onto individual plates at your destination. It also feels more pleasingly old school served this way. Don't forget the honeycomb shards.

Rhubarb and rose cordial.

Rhubarb and rose cordial

Rhubarb cordial is hard to beat for its glorious pink colour and can be made instantly grown-up with a squirt of soda water and a splash of vodka.

400g trimmed rhubarb, finely sliced

about 200g castor sugar

1 tsp citric acid

4 drops rosewater

1.Put the rhubarb into a non-reactive saucepan with 250ml (1 cup) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the rhubarb is completely soft and squashy, about 10 minutes.

2.Set a sieve lined with muslin (cheesecloth) over a bowl, then tip in the rhubarb and leave for 10 minutes. Now squeeze the rhubarb pulp firmly to get out as much juice as possible. Weigh the juice and add half that amount of sugar, then pour back into the pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

3.Stir in the citric acid, then leave to cool completely. Add a few drops of rosewater; its potency varies, so taste as you go.

Makes about 375ml (1 cups)

Sterilising jars or bottles: My preferred method is a hot wash (ideally in a dishwasher) followed by 10 minutes in a 140C oven.

Recipes from Special Delivery by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe, published by Murdoch Books, $40

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