A fist­ful of Don­nas

An­other course of treats from the Aus­tralian ‘god­dess’

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Food & Drink -

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.

Makes 24

Makes 16

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.

CHICKEN SAND­WICHES

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.

xan­the.clay@tele­graph.co.uk

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

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