7 Sept 2013

little melbourne cakes


Two small, near identical, near abstract landscapes hung side by side at the start of the Monet exhibition I saw when in Melbourne. They were summer-heat-hazy renditions of a river bend, in those only-Monet shades of fresh bluey greens (or greeny blues).

They were mesmerising, because they were the same, but not. I’m not usually one for following the notes on the gallery walls (I like to see the art myself, unguided) but in this case, the information was incredibly inspiring.

As I remember it, Monet enjoyed the exercise of painting the same scene over and over again. It was a practice — not just in applying the paint to the canvas, but in seeing. Setting up his easel in the same grassy, breezy spot and seeing what was in front of him, afresh each time. Because it may have been the same spot on the same river bank, with the same stand of graceful trees, but each time — each day, each hour — the light or breeze or air would be different.

I don’t believe in random coincidences. A few days later, I was reading a book about writing. Would you be surprised that I remembered those two modest, beautiful landscapes when I read that a writer should see their everyday surroundings as if they are in a new place; in a fresh way?

So what does an artist’s practice or a writer’s perspective have to do with my life — or yours?
I am inspired by these ideas - and the longer lighter days that we are now enjoying in Hobart. Every time I go for a lunchtime walk or venture into my own garden, I see, hear, and feel how different it is to how it was yesterday. More colour, more bird-song, more life. Even just the short walk from my car to my office, past tall beautiful gum trees filled with chattering parrots and noisy miner birds, is an opportunity to see.

Walking into the kitchen and cooking is a daily act of practicing, and some recent baking revealed this to me clearly. I finally made the lovely little cakes that I'd eaten in a Melbourne tea cafe. These are so unbelievably moist, even without the orange and passionfruit syrup that was served in the café; I am now a bit obsessed with butterless cakes. But as lovely as these were ('lovely' is just the word for them), I’d like to make them again, to see if I can get them even closer to the perfection I tasted in Melbourne. As pleased as I was with how they turned out, I am convinced I can get even more light and air into them.

So I shall get out my mixer again, set it up at the same spot at the kitchen bench, using the same kind of ingredients, but maybe trying it this way, or that way, and seeing how they change.

Little Melbourne cakes
From the basics from the chef at Storm in a Teacup in Melbourne. This is very much a recipe in Monet-like progress, so if you make these and experiment a bit, please let me know what you discover. The chef said she sometimes adds citrus zest, coconut, or cocoa to the batter.
  • Preheat your oven to 160 and prep some patty pan tins. I used paper baking cups but will use greased tins next time for a cleaner look. The original Melbourne cakes were the size of muffins; my friend M has told me she made them in a dainty madeleine mould. Whatever size you use will affect the cooking time of course, but I would strongly recommend baking these paper-free.
  • Separate three large eggs.
  • In a freestanding mixer, cream the egg yolks plus 120 gms sugar (I used about 50 gms vanilla sugar and the rest plain sugar) until much expanded in volume – for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk the whites to just past soft peaks (though I shall be experimenting with stiff peaks next time).
  • Into the yolk mix fold 120 gms almond meal and some lemon zest if you wish.
  • Next take one spoonful of egg white and bash it into the cake mixture willy-nilly. The first spoonful never matters. But the next ones do, so gradually and much more gently, fold thru the remaining egg white.
  • Pour into your prepped baking tins and put in the oven. As before, your size will determine your cooking time. M’s madeleines took 12-15 minutes; my baking cups took about 20. Watch for the sides coming away from the pan, and test with a skewer to see if it comes out clean. They shouldn’t colour up too much.
The recipe as scrawled on the back of the cafe card


  1. Lovely :)
    I too walk through the garden every day and notice all the changes. Where the wind is blowing from, how the sun is sitting in a different place in the sky, the leaves a bit more unfolded than they were yesterday.

    1. hi jacqui! i too am noticing where the sun sets now - a different spot on the horizon. it's how i measure the seasons thru out the year.

  2. Oh, you got to see the Monet exhibition. I would have loved to have done that, but too many distractions.
    I am just coming around to the idea of cooking the same thing over and over, taking notes until I get it right. Or making the perfect cup of tea...

    1. as much as i love mona, it's too bad we don't get 'classic' exhibitions like that come to hobart. monet was so inspiring.
      you are on to that perfect cuppa, jo!

  3. Practice is essential to most skills, and it can produce amazing results in the kitchen, or leave you incredibly frustrated...! Lovely is just the word for these cakes e!

    1. thank you paula!
      i think we forget sometimes that cookign takes practice. strangely, now that the days are getting longer and warmer here, i'm enjoying 'practising' in the kitchen (instead of scurrying out to somewhere warmer!).

  4. Lovely looking little cakes e! My mum went to the Monet exhibition too, it sounded incredible. Happy Sunday to you :)

  5. What a lovely post (and nice plate)! I was thinking about these cakes on the weekend also. I ended up making J a batch of chocolate chip cookies but might try these again next weekend. :-)

    1. hey M! feel free to add any insights here, as you are just as important to their existence - if it wasn't for you takign me there we would never have discovered these!
      i want to make them even zestier next time. next weekend!

  6. Oh, they do look lovely! I like how it's rich in eggs, too - reminds me of another type of cake popular amongst my family. :D

    1. morning leaf :-) for having no butter in them, these are rich and moist - it's quite incredible. i was lucky enough to have eggs from mum's chooks, which i think always give a better result than store-bought eggs.


Word-verification is on, as the robot-spammers are loving my tuna past bake too much at the moment! I hope you understand - and I hope you'll still leave a comment at Dig In. I love hearing your thoughts, knowing someone is reading, and will always reply. Unless you're a robot-spammer.