All desserts, elevenses and general sweet treats should come in slab form. It's easier on the cook, reduces the washing up, and they are wonderful for those of us who love to avoid portion control (raises her hand). This is not a failure of ambition, it's an acknowledgement and celebration of indulgence, something that these days seems at risk of being forgotten. So here all desserts are slabs of oversized glory that require minimum effort for maximum outcome; basically, my preferred option when it comes to cooking, well, anything really.
Scone slab with chunky strawberry jam
I am drivel at making scones. The light, fluffy goodness alludes me. I create bricks. Round nuggets you could throw through a window in an emergency. So, when I found the lemonade version, I didn't look back. We should all try to celebrate the small wins right? And here is another one – none of that cutting and moulding – it's a scone slab. So you can cut it into sandwich proportions and eat with glee. I love a really chunky strawberry jam so to overcome time limits and laziness I've mixed fresh berries in a saucepan with a bit of good quality jam – it works a treat. The cream quantities are fairly loose, obviously everyone has their own jam and cream quota. This will comfortably slather the slab but you may like more or less depending on personal preference.
- 3½ cups self raising flour
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 1 cup thickened cream, plus extra to serve
- 1 cup lemonade
- 2 tbsp milk
Chunky strawberry jam
- ½ - ¾ cup strawberry jam
- 250g punnet strawberries, hulled and halved
- 1 cup thickened cream
- additional fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
- Preheat oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional). Line a baking tray (you want something slightly larger than an A4 piece of paper as a rough guide) with baking paper.
- Add the flour, vanilla bean paste, cream and lemonade in a bowl and mix together with a butter knife. The key is not to overwork it here, you want it just coming together. Turn out onto a floured surface, give it one or two kneads then plop onto your lined baking tray. You can either use your hands to push it out to the edges or use a rolling pin. (The scone base can be anywhere between 5-8cm thick; the larger the tray, the thinner the base will be.)
- Brush across the top with milk. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, make the jam. Add the strawberry jam and the strawberries to a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring so the strawberries cook and soften in the jam which will become quite liquid. Cool to room temperature before serving.
- Add the cream to a bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk to medium peaks. Dollop the whipped cream over the base of the scone slab. Spread it out, leaving a little bit of a border around the edges. Add the cooled strawberry jam and spread rather haphazardly across the cream, scatter with additional fresh strawberries and serve.
White chocolate and caramel self-saucing pudding. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Caramilk self-saucing slab
One dessert, two blocks of Caramilk (or regular white chocolate). It's important we all live our best dessert life.
For the pudding
- 120g unsalted butter
- 1 block Caramilk chocolate (180g) plus one extra block for the base of the cake
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean extract
- ¾ cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
- 3 eggs
- 250g self-raising flour
- 250ml (1 cup) milk
- generous pinch salt
For the sauce
- 1½ cups loosely packed dark brown sugar
- 110g unsalted butter
- 2 cups boiling water
- Preheat oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional). Grease and line an 8-cup capacity baking dish.
- Add the butter and one 180g block of Caramilk, broken into pieces, to a saucepan and place over low heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the butter and chocolate have melted and are thoroughly incorporated. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the brown sugar, vanilla and eggs. Whisk again. Dump in the rest of the pudding ingredients and whisk until smooth.
- Break the additional block of Caramilk into chunks and throw them haphazardly across the base of your cooking dish (this chocolate will melt and become part of the sauce while it cooks in the oven). Spoon the batter on top of the chocolate chunks.
- Add the sauce ingredients to a large heatproof pouring jug. Whisk until the butter has been melted by the boiling water. Pour the sauce over the batter, keeping a tight grip on the edges of the dish, so none of the sauce sloshes over. Don't be nervous – it's going to look hideous and weird, and the pudding mixture will float and rivers will run through the batter and you'll think it's ruined, but I promise it's not. Pop in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top looks lightly golden and set.
- Allow to cool slightly so the sauce thickens in the base of the cake. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm, with or without vanilla ice-cream.
This brioche slab is like a fluffy, buttery pillow. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Lemon, ricotta and blueberry brioche slab
You will need to start this recipe one day ahead (with minimal effort). If I can make this work, anyone can. My greatest failing as a cook is my limited capacity for yeasted goods; which is ironic given my love for le carb. Cakes, fine. Pastry, also fine. But bread-like goods are my greatest kitchen weakness, so believe me when I tell you, you can't stuff up this brioche. I mixed the dough briefly, did the rest by hand, again very briefly, then let it have a sleepover in my fridge for a slow prove and viola – brioche! The slab effect is also key here – none of that shaping and moulding and potential for overworking, just a quick roll and into a pan like a fluffy buttery pillow. Blueberries are cheap right now and make a great tart contrast to the lemon curd. Feel free to swap with what you have on hand, just be careful if using frozen fruit as the extra liquid may leach into the lemon and ricotta swirl – will still taste great, just may not look as pretty.
- 270g plain flour
- 30g castor sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 7g sachet dried yeast
- 60ml milk
- 2 eggs
- 105g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
- ½ tbsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 1 cup ricotta
- 2 tbsp yoghurt
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks
- ¾ cup castor sugar
- ⅓ cup (80g) butter, cubed
- juice and zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 1 tbsp milk plus 1 egg yolk, whisked to combine
- 250g punnet blueberries
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- For the brioche, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer and beat to combine. Add the milk and eggs and beat until incorporated. It will be really sticky. Add the butter and vanilla and give it a quick blitz for about 45 seconds. Then just use your hands to make sure it is combined; knead it in the bowl just long enough to ensure the butter has incorporated. (The softer your cubes of butter, the easier this step is.) Cover tightly with cling wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, sit the bowl somewhere warm and bring the dough completely to room temperature (this may take a couple of hours). Sprinkle a bit of flour on a work surface and turn out the dough, it will be very soft and elastic. Roll to roughly a 25 x 35cm rectangle or basically slightly larger than the roasting tin you are using.
- Line the roasting tin base with baking paper and gently drape over the dough, tucking the ends in at the corners and letting the edges collapse in on themselves (think deep-dish pizza crust). Let it rest in a warm place for 30 minutes while you make the lemon curd and ricotta mix.
- Preheat the oven to 170C.
- Add the ricotta mix ingredients to a bowl and stir to combine.
- For the lemon curd, whisk the whole eggs, yolks and sugar in a saucepan until smooth, then place pan over a low heat. Add the butter, juice and zest and whisk continuously until thickened. Strain through a sieve into a bowl. Stir through the vanilla.
- Spread the ricotta mixture over the base of the brioche, keeping within the thick edges as a border. Dollop over the lemon curd. Brush the edges of the brioche with the egg wash then pop in the oven for 22-28 minutes, until the edges of the brioche are gloriously golden and the ricotta and lemon curd mixture feels slightly set.
- Remove from the oven. Combine the blueberries, maple syrup and vanilla bean paste in a bowl. Scoop onto the brioche just before serving. This is best served warm and on the day of baking.
Pear financier sprinkled with fennel sugar. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Slab financier with pear and slightly fancy fennel sugar
I can feel the collective horror of pastry chefs when they read that I didn't beat the eggwhites and I didn't peel my fruit for this lazy cook's take on a glorious French treat. This kind of elevenses cake is like one big financier without all the mould-greasing, egg-beating, aeration and angst. Why would you peel the pears when the skin cooks gloriously, helps the fruit keep its shape and adds to the low-effort vibe of this goodness? I made a quick fennel sugar – just some raw sugar and fennel seeds ground for a whole five seconds with a mortar and pestle to throw at it, but this is just as good without it. I did it mainly for visual effect, a bit of textural crunch, and because I believe pear and fennel are the Sonny and Cher of food pairings, so I couldn't let the opportunity pass. I used flour dregs and I tested this a few times using different dregs so interchange with whatever flours you have on hand; the outcome is mostly the same – use something with a little nutty undertone (think almond, hazelnut, buckwheat, spelt) and cook that butter until it is superbly tanned – it adds wondrous flavour.
- 185g unsalted butter
- ½ tbsp vanilla bean paste
- 25g almond meal
- 50g buckwheat flour
- 75g plain flour
- pinch salt
- 155g icing sugar
- 5 eggwhites
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 large packam pears, cored and quartered
- 2 tbsp raw sugar
- ½ tbsp fennel seeds
- Preheat oven to 175C fan-forced (195C conventional) and line an 8-cup capacity baking dish with baking paper.
- Add the butter to a saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, giving it the odd swirl until it is brown and tanned in colour and gives off just the slightest nutty whiff. Remove from heat and stir through the vanilla bean paste. Set aside.
- Add the flours, salt and icing sugar in a bowl and use a fork to break up any clumps. Add the eggwhites and maple syrup and whisk until it is lump-free.
- Scrape in the butter – there will be a few gnarly bits that will have collected on the base of your saucepan, get these in there as well. Give it a gentle loving stir.
- Pour the batter into the dish. Gently add the pear pieces in a single layer and give them a squish downward until you hit the bottom, it works better having these submerged a little in the batter (the tops will remain exposed).
- Pop in the oven and cook for 30-35 minutes, until deeply golden on top and the pear still has some resistance when pushed. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes before cutting.
- While the slab is cooling, quickly add the sugar and fennel seeds to a mortar and pestle. Give it a quick grind then scatter the sugar over the financier and serve straight from the dish or at room temperature, with cream or ice-cream (optional).