More people should just shut up and bake a cake. That’s Monique Bowley’s advice for when life gets too crazy and chaotic.
The Great Australian Bake-Off contestant and recently appointed president of the Adelaide Country Women’s Association gives her view on the baking resurgence, reveals her favourite cakes, and shares a recipe for spiced fruit cider bread.
What do you like to bake and why?
I like to bake sweet things. I’m not interested in savoury things – pies or whatnot – in fact, I’m an appalling cook. I love baking simple things that remind me of my childhood: sponges, cockles, Anzac biscuits, patty cakes and boiled chocolate cake with sprinkles. As I write this, I’m making smiley-face biscuits … and I don’t even intend on giving them to any children. I think adults deserve a slice of childhood. Sometimes if it’s a birthday or occasion, I will make a layer cake – they’re easy but they look impressive and always draw admirers.
Do you use seasonal ingredients? If so, where do you source them from?
Most of what I bake uses non-perishable items. But I use seasonal ingredients where I can, and source them from the Central Market or my local fruit shop.
It’s really easy to get carried away with ingredients – the quality and ranges of flour, butter, chocolate, cocoa, the different grades of sugar, and different types of eggs can burn a hole in your pocket, so it pays to be seasonal where you can. I’m not a massive ingredient snob, though; my blue-ribbon Anzacs at the royal show used all generic brand ingredients.
In winter, I use a lot of Granny Smith apples in tarts and pies – they’re plentiful and cheap. But there are occasions where I am dying for a lemon cheesecake with fresh blueberries and I just have to swallow the cost of a punnet because it’s worth every bite.
Are there different cakes (slices, biscuits, etc) for different seasons?
There are no hard and fast rules but I think warmer weather calls for a lighter bake – pavlova and sponges. Also, warm spring weather is a great time to dig into weekend bread-making because the dashboard of your car is the perfect place to prove bread; the environment can get quite warm and humid. I think winter is the time for apple pies, chocolate cake, tarts and muffins. Biscuits and slices are an anytime food. Well, a sometimes food, anytime of the year.
If I never eat another cupcake again I’ll be happy – I think I’ve had my fill for a lifetime. And when did they become cupcakes, anyway? This is Australia – they’re patty cakes, mate.
Baking seems to have made a comeback – what do you think of the recent resurgence?
I think the resurgence of baking is directly reflective of the chaos and uncertainty of modern life. A lot of us feel that things are out of control; we get pulled in a million different directions, we’re confronted every day by thousands of choices, we feel very little control over society, politics, war, gender relations. Life is complex and busy and crazy and overwhelming. Baking strips away all that bullshit and allows you to just focus on the simple pleasure of making something. It’s simple, meditative even. There is no room for compromise or interpretation; it requires you to follow the instructions for a result. Generally, that result is pretty great – it makes people happy and makes the house smell like a home. That’s why I love it.
The world is a noisy place. More people should just shut up and bake a cake.
You’ve just been made president of the Adelaide Country Women’s Association. What does the role involve?
I have major rural fantasies – there is something in my heart that sings for the country. I always liked the idea of the Country Women’s Association because they seemed like my kind of women: strong, salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense women that bake a lot and do good things. They would also be bosomy, and that’s something I aspire to as well.
At first I saw them as a wonderful resource of old skills that I was keen to learn about. What I discovered, though, is that it’s so much more. They do a lot of good in the community, they have a good laugh, they’re very social, they’re curious and wonderful.
For me, the role is about extending that into the next generation. I think we need to preserve these skills and focus on community as these women have. It’s already opening doors, with other branches wanting to form, and other younger people wanting to get involved. People say Adelaide is a lot like a country town – so I guess I’m making it my big country town!
I saw on Instagram a few cakes that didn’t quite make the cut for the Royal Adelaide Show – what’s your biggest challenge in the kitchen and how have you overcome it?
My biggest challenge in the kitchen is cooking dinner. I would rather walk barefoot across Lego than cook a stir-fry or a steak. But my biggest baking challenge is not to eat everything I bake – or I’d be the size of AAMI stadium.
Also, anything French immediately makes my stomach clench – particularly pastry. Croissants, pain au chocolate, these are technical types of bakes that take years to craft. It’s fun to have a go, but I wouldn’t be entering French royal shows anytime in the next century
And finally, what do you like better – the batter or the cake?
I’ve made some beautiful cakes in my time but the batter is my weakness. I blame my mother. Too many years of batter deprivation. She used to scrape the bowl of every last little bit. Well, look who can make their own batter now, Mum.
Monique’s Spiced Fruit Cider Bread
½ cup currants
½ cup sultanas
½ cup mixed peel
335ml bottle of dry apple cider, warmed (Monique uses Adelaide Hills Apple Cider)
3½ cups white bread flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
Soak the fruit and peel in the cider while you measure out the other ingredients. Add the flour, spices and yeast to a warm bowl and make a well in the centre. Strain the cider from the fruit, reserving the fruit. Add the liquid to the dry mixture. Knead well (15-20 minutes) until the dough is stretchy. Cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size — about 45-60 minutes.
Knock back the dough and add the fruit. Knead until the fruit is evenly distributed. Shape into an oval loaf and place on the baking tray. Cover with baking paper and a clean tea towel and prove a second time for 30 minutes.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 220C. Dust the loaf with flour and score it with a sharp knife. Bake for 35 minutes or until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Tip: For a nice crust, spray water inside the oven for 10 seconds with a spray gun just as the loaf goes in.
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