Hen-in-the-nest

I’ve always been a fan of eggs. They are such versatile things and a fresh egg can taste so good. If you ask me, you can’t have a much better breakfast than a couple of garlicky anchovy soldiers dipped in a perfectly gooey centred soft-boiled egg. This recipe for hen-in-the-nest aka egg in a hole or moon egg just proves food heaven can be so simple, as long as it’s cooked just the way you like it.

Last year, I edited a fabulous book titled Egg, by Blanche Vaughan. In this book, there are a myriad of recipes for this humble and versatile ingredient. This was where I came across a recipe for ‘egg in a hole’, taking me back to childhood sleepovers at other kid’s houses. We would wake up to the smell of fried bread and eat these weird toasts with a hole in the middle and where a cooked egg nestled. I think I only tried it twice and on each occasion it was made with bog standard and stale white bread and served with tomato sauce. When I came across the recipe 25 years later, I wondered if it could be good. It can!

This really is such an easy breakfast, and so child-friendly. The key thing is to toast the bread just enough so that it is perfectly golden and crispy but the egg yolk still runny (this will mean all the better for dipping that bread disc). Revisiting retro recipes is something pretty fun; if made with the best ingredients you can afford and with a few extra touches here and there, the dish can become something altogether new.

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Hen-in-the-nest

1 slice brioche bread (or chilli cornbread is also delicious)
large knob butter
1 egg
smoked paprika, to sprinkle
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Use a glass to stamp out a hole in the middle of the bread and remove. Melt half the butter in a frying pan over a low heat. Once the butter foams, add the slice of bread and bread disc and cook for 2–3 minutes until golden. Flip the bread over and add the remaining butter to the pan. Crack the egg into the hole of the bread and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the egg is set to your liking, covering the pan with a lid for the last minute. Transfer to a plate, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over a little smoked paprika. Serve with the bread disc for dipping.

Upside-down Plum Cake

I haven’t blogged in over a year. Time really has flown by. Also, I should probably mention that I have been busy moving countries! This time last year I was sitting in my small but quaint London flat dreaming about being back home in New Zealand. Now, after eight years we finally took the leap and moved back home. It’s been amazing getting to grips with the culinary trends of this often unknown (well, at least for the culinary delights) part of the world. I love the food here. There is just something so unpretentious, ahead of the curb, yet rustic about it. Not to mention my favourite supermarket of all time Moore Wilson’s is here in Wellington. Everything at the vegetable and fruit market smells fresh. It looks vibrant. It’s affordable. And there is space to roam.

One of my first bakes was this upside-down plum cake for our new neighbours who kindly gave us a bag of fresh eggs from their hens on our big move in day. The eggs were the best I’ve ever had! The yolks were just orange perfection and I knew I had to use them in a cake. I’m a huge fan of Alice Waters. Her writing is as good enough to eat as her food; she epitomises recipe writing at its best and reading her recipes are a lesson in the craft of food writing. I am all for Alice’s advocation of eating within the seasons and as I acclimatise to the produce available south of the equator, it’s exciting to be blogging about the discoveries. Black Doris plums are available in the height of summer here and they are juicy, dark plums that are perfect for jams, puddings and of course, cake.

This cake can easily be made with any stone fruit. I’ve also been wanting to try it made with feijoas but I keep eating them up before having a chance to bake with them …

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Upside-down Black Doris plum cake 

170g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of flaky sea salt
2 eggs, separated
100ml milk
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla seeds

For the topping:
50g unsalted butter
100g brown sugar
50 ml orange juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
about 6-7 plums, stoned and sliced

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
Lightly grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
First, make the topping by combining the 50g butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Add the orange juice and lemon zest and stir well. Pour into the prepared tin. Lay the plums on top in a circular pattern, beginning at the edges.

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In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar and cream until very light and fluffy, about 10 minutes using a hand-held beater. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla until well combined. Using a large metal spoon, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with one third of the flour. Stir until just combined and no more.

Beat the egg whites until you have soft peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the mixture until combined, then carefully fold in the remaining whites. Pour the mixture over the plums in the tin and smooth over. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out just about clean leaving only a couple of crumbs. Take the tin out of the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the tin and invert the cake onto a plate to serve.

(Recipe adapted from Alice Water’s Cranberry Upside-down Cake in The Art of Simple Food, Michael Joseph, 2007)