Swedish Ginger Snap Biscuits

Over the weekend I was invited by Catherine to attend her Eurovision Final party, which was very kind of her and terribly exciting for a variety of reasons, least of all the chance to finally sample the glory that is a Cross-Dressing Ken Cake in person (spoiler: it was DELICIOUS).

To throw myself into the spirit of the occasion, I felt that to make something in homage to the host nation of this year’s Eurovision would be appropriate. Having had the good sense to bring back an English language Swedish cookbook from Stockholm when I visited back in 2010, upon perusal I quickly came on the side of desserts, and from there to the idea of ginger snap biscuits. These thin, crispy biscuits are made by the armful load around Christmas in Sweden and are often given as gifts. They’re perfect to have with a cup of tea!

From Simply Swedish by Margareta Schildt-Landgren.

Ingredients:

  • 150g butter
  • 200ml white sugar
  • 150g light syrup (light syrup is apparently a Swedish thing – upon consultation with the internet it seemed that golden syrup was the best antipodean substitute, so substitute I did)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 1 egg
  • 800g plain flour (I know, this sounds like a lot of flour, but you will probably not end up using anywhere near this much)

1. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan until silky.

2. Pour the golden sugary buttery goodness into a bowl and add all the spices, the bicarb and the egg, and combine (you can whiz all these in a food processor if you’re time poor). Work in the flour until you have a sticky dough. If you don’t use all the flour, don’t fret – I had probably close to a third of the original 800g left once I hit the sticky dough stage, and the biscuits still turned out great.

3. Here is where the original recipe said “leave to stand cold overnight.” Do not assume what I assumed, which was “ahh, pop it in the fridge.” DON’T PUT IT IN THE FRIDGE. Lest you want to spend the first few hours of the following day with your dough bowl clasped between your thighs in a desperate attempt to bring the dough back to room temperature so it’s actually workable and not a potential murder weapon. Instead pop it in a cool spot with a teatowel over the top of the bowl.

4. Preheat oven to 200C. Roll out the dough on a floured surface as thin as you can get it, and cut out figures. Apparently the traditional Swedish shapes for these biscuits are hearts, stars and goats (…seems legit). I didn’t have a goat cookie cutter, but I did have a moose one, which I actually bought in Sweden.

5. Place the biscuits on trays lined with baking paper. Now, the recommended baking time was 5-7 minutes with a warning that they burn easily, but I found with mine any longer than 4 minutes turned them into very brown mooses indeed. You’ll have to experiment depending on the thickness of your snaps.

6. Allow to cool on a rack.

moosebiscuitsplain

My first batch came out looking quite nice indeed. But… they just weren’t quite EUROVISION enough.

So for the rest I threw edible glitter all over them before baking.

moosebiscuitssparkly

Much more Eurovision.

If you manage to get the biscuit dough very thin, this will yield a TON of biscuits. While I don’t think I reached the original recipe’s promise of two hundred, a very sizable herd of moose was achieved indeed. Plenty to soothe the sorrows of Europe once again passing over the clearly most Eurovision of entries, in this case Romania’s dark lord of operatic madness.

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Oscar Cooper

Sometimes, despite the overabundance of brunch date options in this town, the question of “where should we meet up to brunch?” can more often than not be met with blank, slightly panicked stares and much hmmm-ing and ahhh-ing. It’s almost as if an overabundance of good places and near-constant openings of new places, makes choice harder rather than easier (mon dieu!). Given that I am often viewed as a walking food directory, it is always relieving when before all indecisive eyes turn to me, someone pipes up with “I know a place!”

I had only vague knowledge of Oscar Cooper when it was suggested by Aimee as being a favourite of hers, so I was keenly anticipatory. Taking up a corner spot on Greville Street and St Edmonds Road, Oscar Cooper is light-filled, slightly industrial while also managing to err more on the side of cosy rather than cool, and manages to perk you up from your early morning fug from pure looks before you even spot the menu.

Determined not to start my Sunday morning with a caffeine jolt, I instead turned to the cold drinks section and ordered a strawberry, watermelon, apple and orange juice. One of several interesting fresh juice options on offer, this was a perfect burst of fruit sweetness to start the day with.

After being temporarily beguiled by both the thought of the Red Hill bircher with autumn poached fruits, and the thyme-buttered mushroom and ricotta jaffle, I ended up ordering the roasted beetroot, asparagus and Meredith goat’s cheese omelette with cherry tomatoes and balsamic glaze. It turned out to be more of an upturned baked eggs rather than an omelette, but no matter, it was still very tasty… were it not for the balsamic glaze, which was more of a sauce, and there was an OCEAN of it. It was sickly sweet, and having been recently schooled in the gloriousness of proper 25 year old aged balsamic vinegar, and how a lot of chefs will apparently try to make their vinegar last longer by cooking it down with a heap of sugar, I couldn’t help but be suspicious of the quality. It’s a shame, because without the vinegar the omelette was actually very nice, all cut through with chunks of sweet vegetables, and really the last thing it needed was yet more sweet.

I feel like I may have just accidentally ordered one of Oscar Cooper’s rare bum dishes, as the rest of the table were raving about how good their choices were. Aimee had the thick cut French brioche toast with grilled banana, maple syrup, chocolate buds, strawberries and cream, which was quite blatantly dessert for breakfast and a move that I wholeheartedly applaud. Kim and Bennett both had the Oscar’s benedict on potato rosti, featuring poached eggs, Berkshire bacon, smashed avocado and hollandaise, which looked gorgeous and they both raved about the dish’s fresh and crispy goodness. Aimee also pointed out a lot of other dishes that she’s enjoyed on previous visits – I really should have gone with one of her suggestions, clearly!

So here I find myself in the funny position of sort-of recommending Oscar Cooper, with the caveat that I suggest you don’t order the dish I did. There’s certainly plenty to choose from, it’s a very wide-ranging menu. The menu also made a particular mention of the fact that Oscar Cooper strives to be coeliac friendly, and that the chefs are happy to accommodate for any gluten issues you may have, which is always nice to see. The staff are friendly and the space exudes a surprising amount of warmth, which is often an element sorely lacking in Prahran eateries. This may be one I’ll have to revisit in the future in order to reassess whether this visit was a true representation of the cafe’s capabilities, but for now Oscar Cooper is a cautious ‘give it a go.’

Oscar Cooper

160 Greville Street, Prahran

Ph: 9529 5670

www.oscarcooper.com.au

Jus Burger

I am the first to admit that I am a fussy snob when it comes to burgers. There’s a lot of things that irk me when it comes to burger-making that makes it hard for burger joints to gain a wholehearted tick of approval from me. Everything from having overstuffed burgers that are impossible to eat, too many sauces that create a sloppy mess, and having buns that are too soft, too sweet, or, worst of all, too hard to actually bite through all contribute to turning me into a sad panda.

The positive reports that filtered through to me from friends and various blogs about Jus Burger piqued my interest. Here seemed to be a place that might be able to offer an acceptable cheap and cheerful burger option to my particular liking. Honestly, any alternative to the dreaded Grill’d is always welcome in my book, so Jen and I went investigating.

Imported from Perth, the Chapel Street Jus Burger is the first Melbourne outpost for the franchise. It’s a pretty standard hipstery burger joint in terms of outfit – bright colours, high tables with bar seats, little plastic toy animals standing in for order numbers.

We started off with a serving of the onion rings, served with aioli, as I am terribly addicted to the ones from Lord of the Fries and as a consequence basically walk around with a cartoon bubble with a picture of onion rings floating above my head at all times. While they didn’t live up to LotF’s heavenly version they were still pretty decent: fine breadcrumb that went super crispy, and soft onion within. Jen felt that the aioli was far too mild, but I didn’t mind that so much.

To what we were really here for. While being quite tempted by The Chickpea, a felafel burger with tahini and slaw, I ended up going with the tempeh burger: spiced tempeh pattie, with mayo, tomato, lettuce, on the standard Jus Turkish roll. Now, possibly I should have known better than to go with this option as my first Jus foray, as tempeh can be a very hit and miss prospect. While the texture of this one was very pleasing, avoiding being a dense brick like so many other tempeh patties, there was something about the flavour that was slightly lacking. Not bad, just needing a bit more omph.

Structurally, however, the burger was definitely in the realm of my preferences – not too big, not too saucy but also not dry, the bread was soft enough to easily bite through but didn’t end up dissolving against the wet ingredients, and best of all, they served it with a proper serrated knife so you could cut it in half for ease of scoffing!

Jen was the burger winner with her choice – the panko-encrusted pumpkin with goats cheese and basil pesto. She was kind enough to let me gnaw a portion, and it very nearly was her doom because it was so delicious that I was tempted to push her off her stool and devour it before she had a chance to reclaim it. EXTREME BURGER ENVY.

As we’d chosen the meal option, the burgers were served with either chips or salad, coleslaw and a type of green pickle. I went with chips (because I don’t know when to stop when it comes to fried things), which were good and crispy, a very nice side, particularly with a squirt of ketchup. The slaw and pickle I was less enamoured of, but then again I am very rarely enamoured of either slaw or pickles. Jen’s salad was in the Greek mold, with a lot of cucumber, tomato and olives among the standard lettuce. Good if you can resist the fried sides (BUT WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?).

So, despite not being that jazzed by the flavour of my eventual burger choice, I can see very clearly what Jus is doing right, and I like it. I’m very keen to go back and have a panko pumpkin burger to myself, and to also sample the other vegie burgers (as well as the Chickpea there is a build-your-own vegie burger). I’d love to hear if any of you are also very particular about your burgers, and where the ones that ring all of your foodie bells can be found.

Jus Burgers

364 Chapel Street, South Yarra

Ph: 9827 1318

www.jusburgers.com.au

Cafe Lua

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years reading and writing vegetarian food blogs about Melbourne, it’s this: if Cindy and Michael from Where’s the Beef really, really, REALLY like a place, you had best sit up and pay attention. Because they know their shit. Consequentially, Cafe Lua has held a high spot on my ‘must go’ list for an embarrassingly long time.

After a morning enormously well spent watching Jurassic Park in 3D at Imax with Michaela (turns out my whole life had been waiting for the moment where I got to see a three story tall shirtless Jeff Goldblum), the opportunity to finally visit Cafe Lua was now at hand.

The space runs wild with op shop hipster kitsch – mismatched tables and chairs, miscellaneous crockery, potted cacti and other tchotchkes crowd any flat surface, but it’s endearing rather than obstructing. The staff are friendly but not obtrusive, and the menu is a highly intriguing one, containing not only multiple dishes that are either vegan or coeliac-friendly (or both!), but also dishes that seemed to me to be quite unique in terms of Melbourne’s overall brunch dish trends.

This difference is present from the drinks menu onwards. Michaela and I were pleased to see a variety of interesting cold drinks. She went with the red orange juice, a cool glass of ruby red, while I couldn’t go past the chrysanthemum iced tea with peach nectar and mint, which was just as refreshingly, sweetly decadent as you would expect.

Food wise, I had been eying off one dish in particular through all my blog review reading envy: the pumpkin and chia seed pancakes with yoghurt, lentil and spinach salad, sprinkled with sumac and red onion. The description alone just sounded so different to what I am accustomed to expect from a brunch menu. Savoury pancakes! Savoury pancakes with LENTILS! And they were every bit as good as I was hoping, with the pancakes fat, fluffy, and noticeably pumpkin-y. The chia seeds definitely added interest texturally, while the saucy lentils were alternately tart with the yoghurt, and spicy with the sumac, and all over DELICIOUS. This is a candidate for dish of the year for me.

Michaela went with the sweet version of the Canadian French toast with rhubarb, strawberries and cream. This looked like the kind of meal you’d get in a dream American diner from a movie, all fluffy piles of cream and shiny strawberries, complete with a jug of syrup. Michaela was very well pleased with it indeed, and I also couldn’t help but think it would be the perfect sweet recovery from a hard night before.

After such a pleasing initial foray, it didn’t take me long to make a second visit to Cafe Lua in the company of Alison and Phoebe. While it was very tempting to just order the pancakes again, I diversified by going with a blackboard special of strawberry and rhubarb bread with orange ricotta and hazelnuts. While serving size-wise it was a bit smaller than expected, it was still a delightful (and rich) breakfast, with the warmed wodge of fruity-threaded bread generously drizzled with the thinned out ricotta and sprinkled with hazelnut chunks.

While I sipped on a nicely decent chai latte, Alison got stuck into the pumpkin pancakes at my suggestion, while Phoebe tackled the corn stack with bacon and a poached egg. They greatly enjoyed them, although Phoebe’s monster-sized dish ended up getting the better of her; going savoury is clearly the way to go if you have a big appetite. I also spotted a dish that sparked instant food envy, the haloumi and cherry tomatoes combo which has me itching to go back just to try it.

Seriously, get to Cafe Lua now. It’s clever, comforting food in a very unpretentious package.

Cafe Lua

Cnr Elgin & Drummond Streets, Carlton

Ph: 9348 1118

www.cafelua.com