For a long time I wasn’t particularly interested in Donna Hay’s books and magazines. I can’t think of any reason why: there was nothing I could pin this to, except perhaps for a vague distaste towards the concept of Australia as a whole for a few years, when all the clichés centred on barbecues and Bondi Beach and Vegemite. (I no longer feel like this; it was just a phase – I now actively want to go to Melbourne and eat Labneh and Shakshuka whenever I please).
Anyway, late in the game, I picked up a copy of her magazine in Eason’s, and I was so utterly transfixed by the pictures and the recipes and even the ads, which are all so fresh and light and utterly different from anything you see here that I had to buy it, and I’ve had to buy every issue since, even though it’s €8, sometimes more, and you never really know what month you’ll be getting.
There’s something arresting about the quality of the print and colours that I can never put my finger on – the photos seem brighter and more lively than any other food photography out there, like you could almost touch the food. Except you can’t – your hands would never be clean enough, and it’s months ahead in the future anyway – which makes it all the more compelling. Even the Harvey Norman advertorials are beautiful – exquisitely beautiful – and the recipes are just the right balance of practical and aspirational; earthy and elegant.
I saw this cake recipe in a feature about a goat farm somewhere in Australia, and I loved both the idea and the description: ‘…light and fluffy, with a fine crumb and dripping in lemony icing, it’s the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. A scattering of fragrant thyme leaves simply lifts it to another level’. And it does – this cake is almost as light as an Angel Food cake in texture, but the thyme makes it just as suitable for winter as for summer, and it’s equally good for a boozy dinner party dessert as it is for morning coffee.
DONNA HAY’S LEMON & YOGHURT CAKE
I decided to use ordinary yoghurt in mine, but if you have a taste for goat’s cheese try the goat milk yoghurt – I think Glenisk sell it. Either way this is a very special cake.
3/4 cup (180ml) vegetable oil
2 medium eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
1 cup (280g) goat’s or cow’s milk yoghurt
1&3/4 cups (385g) caster sugar
2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
A couple of drops of lemon extract (optional)
1 cup (160g) icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
A few drops of lemon extract (optional)
1/2 tablespoon boiling water
2 tablespoons thyme leaves and any other herbs you want
Long strips of lemon zest
Preheat oven to 160ºc. Place the oil, eggs, lemon rind, lemon juice, yoghurt and sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Sift the flour over the mixture and stir until smooth. Pour into a very well greased 24cm non-stick Bundt tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to stand for five minutes in its tin to cool a little and then carefully turn it out onto a wire rack.
Start making the icing and syrup. For the icing, mix the ingredients together and spoon over the cake while it’s still warm. Dot with any herbs at this point, while the icing is still wet. Mix the lemon juice, zest and caster sugar in a saucepan (I haven’t given quantities as everyone likes different sweet-sour ratios), and, once the cake has cooled, pour the syrup into tiny skewer holes all over the cake.