A fistful of Donnas
Another course of treats from the Australian ‘goddess’
We have Nigella, America has Martha Stewart, but in Australia Donna Hay reigns supreme. Every bookshop and cookshop has shelf upon shelf of her pastel-coloured tomes, as well as her magazine, Donna Hay. Her range of white china and homeware takes up a whole section in David Jones, Australia’s equivalent to Selfridges. Her newspaper columns are read by millions and “Cooking a Donna” has entered the language.
And here I am, sitting at the kitchen counter of Hay’s house in Sydney while she makes me sandwiches. She fills them with chicken and mayonnaise, then presses one edge into a saucerful of snipped chives, to give them a smart green stripe. It’s a simple idea, but effective. As Hay says, these are “not just chicken sandwiches, but the best chicken sandwiches”.
Simplicity is key to Hay’s philosophy. She’s refreshingly unpretentious and un-diva-like as she describes an impromptu supper party. “I got into a panic and then thought: ‘Oh, for goodness sake, it’s Friday.’ So I used my barbecue — the kind with a domed lid — like a pizza oven. We had kids’ pizza first and put on a DVD for them to watch. Then we had adults’ pizzas: potato, rosemary, feta, garlic and a bit of prosciutto and pumpkin, tomato, cheddar, sage and Parmesan.”
Hay shows me how to fill some crisp home-made macaroons, swirling the creamy chocolate ganache almost to the edge of one biscuit before topping it with another and deftly twisting the two together, so that the filling bulges enticingly.
Drawn by the chocolate smell, her son Angus, an angelic fouryear-old with blond curls, wanders into the kitchen. Tom, 18 months, follows and soon has a macaroon in each hand. “One at a time is plenty,” says Hay, gently but firmly.
Getting children cooking was important to her even before she had any of her own. There’s an annual “Kid’s Issue” of her magazine, as well as a Donna Hay children’s cookery book.
“The boys are never far from the kitchen,” she says. “We try to cook something for Angus’s lunchbox before he goes to kindergarten — fruit salad with a tiny yogurt for dipping, or pikelets [little pancakes, an Australian favourite], or homemade muesli bars with crunched-up Weetabix and apricots, sultanas and rolled oats. The Weetabix makes it a bit more like a shop one, so he doesn’t feel like a strange child whose mother won’t give him store-bought food.”
The school dinners debate rages just as hotly in Oz as it does in Britain. Australia’s answer to Delia Smith, Stephanie Alexander, has started a high-profile campaign to start school kitchen gardens, tended by children. Cola and chips have been banned from many schools. Hay takes a broader view: “If I can convert their mothers and fathers to cooking, the kids will be fine.”
Referring to the TV series Jamie’s School Dinners, she says: “I wanted to watch Jamie Oliver follow the kids home and see what they had for dinner. If they didn’t know what vegetables were, was it the fault of the parents or the poor dinner ladies?”
Australian children have no excuse not to love vegetables, I think with a pang of envy. In Britain, we are in the middle of the “hungry months”, before the main summer crops have started but when the stored vegetables are past their best. The range and quality of Australian vegetables, fruit and seafood is overwhelming.
The climate varies from tropical in the north to temperate in the south and east. Rigid import controls mean that almost everything is home-grown. Immigrants have planted crops to suit their style of cooking, so fresh ginger and kaffir limes come from near Darwin, mangosteen from Queensland, pomegranates from Victoria and lemon grass from South Australia.
This produce is the inspiration not just for Hay’s food, but modern Australian cooking generally. “Our food is based on fresh ingredients and a really great combination of flavours,” says Hay. “I think that’s why chefs get snapped up when they go overseas. The way that Australian chefs combine flavours is unique, but it’s not crazy.” Well, there’s certainly nothing crazy about the buttery, vanilla-scented cupcakes that we are topping with sweet cream and raspberries.
Hay’s ears prick up when she hears the butcher’s van outside. “Get ready to meet a real Australian cowboy,” she jokes. In fact, it’s her husband Bill a tall, gentle-looking man who used to be — and still is — her butcher.
Now everyone is here and it’s time for tea. Not just any tea, of course, but the best tea.
Xanthe Clay travelled to Sydney with Australia specialists Travelbag (0800 082 5000; www.travelbag.co.uk).
The recipes here are extracts from Donna Hay’s latest book, ‘Instant Entertaining’, which is available for £18 plus £1.25 p& p from Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112.
Enjoy afternoon tea for two from £10 at more than 300 hotels and tea shops with The Daily Telegraph. Don’t miss our free guide inside the paper next Saturday.
12 slices white bread Butter for spreading 2 cooked chicken breasts, skinned and chopped 6floz/170ml mayonnaise, plus extra for spreading 2 tbsp lemon juice 2 tbsp chopped basil leaves 2 tbsp shredded mint leaves Salt and pepper 6 tbsp finely chopped chives Spread butter on one side of the bread. Combine the chicken, mayonnaise, lemon juice, basil and mint, and season with salt and pepper.
Divide between half the bread slices and top with the remaining bread. Cut into small triangles and spread one edge with the remaining mayonnaise.
Press one side into the chives and serve.
ALMOND MACAROONS WITH CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE FILLING
3oz/90g blanched almonds 5oz/140g icing sugar 2 egg whites 1 tbsp caster sugar 7oz/200g dark chocolate 5tbsp single cream
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Place the almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and process until very finely chopped.
Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the caster sugar and beat well. Fold in the almond mixture.
Place two teaspoonful mounds of the mixture on baking sheets lined with non-stick paper and bake for eight-10 minutes until crisp on the outside. Allow to cool on the trays. To make the chocolate truffle filling, put the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until smooth. Refrigerate until thick. Sandwich together the biscuits with a generous spoonful of the filling.
RASPBERRY CREAM CUPCAKES
Makes 12 4oz/110g butter 3½oz/100g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 2 eggs 5oz/140g plain flour 2 tsp baking powder 4 tbsp milk 3floz/90ml double cream Small punnet raspberries 2 tbsp icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and creamy.
Gradually add the eggs and beat well with each addition. Add the flour, baking powder and milk and beat well.
Spoon the mixture into a 12-hole muffin tin lined with paper cases and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Set aside to cool.
Whip the cream until soft peaks form and mix in the sugar. Fold in the raspberries. Cut a circle out of the top of each cupcake and fill with the raspberry mixture. Top with the cupcake circle and dust with icing sugar.
Simply, the best: Donna Hay with her family and some of her offerings (above, clockwise from main picture), raspberry cream cupcakes, chicken sandwiches and almond macaroons with chocolate truffle filling