Bella – My Life In Food, by Annabel Langbein

I’ve long been a massive fan of Annabel Langbein’s – ever since I read a copy of Savour The Pacific in my bestie’s Wellington kitchen almost 20 years ago. I rushed out and bought a copy before I came home and have bought everything she’s put out since – plus found other books on ebay.

I was, therefore, thrilled to receive this in the mail from that same friend. Bella is Langbein’s memoir and it’s a fabulous read. There are, of course, also recipes, but because this is mostly memoir it doesn’t count as a cookbook – and that’s what I’m telling my husband.

If I was ever told that I could only, for the rest of time, read cookbooks written by a handful of people (and please, don’t ever put me to that test) next to Nigella would be Annabel. For the record, Nigel Slater, Diana Henry and either Rick Stein or James Martin…maybe Delia?… would complete the list.

Anyways, Annabel would be right up there beside Nigella – and I can’t understand why I haven’t written more about her here. Expect that to change.

I’ve come away from the read more in awe than I had been before I began it. She’s one very inspirational woman and her life reads more like a movie. As the back cover reads:

From her childhood fascination with cooking to a teenage flirtation as a Maoist hippie, to possum trapping and living off the land as a hunter and forager, to travelling and starting her own croissant business in Brazil, Annabel’s life has always been centred on food and nature.

Aside from her life story, there’s plenty in here I want to cook. The recipes in this book are the ones that have resonated most strongly with her over the years. Many of these I’ve cooked before as they’ve appeared in other books – such as the milk-cooked pork belly with smoky red pepper sauce (based on an Elizabeth David recipe, this is an absolute revelation), the Fudgy Chocolate Brownie (made with dates and Sarah’s second favourite brownie ever), the sesame lavish crackers (sooooo good), the bacon and egg pie (the one that prompted her husband to propose), the flash-roasted salmon with chilli-lime glaze (a weeknight repeater in our house) and her essential chocolate cake.

The cake I made for Sarah’s 18th birthday

There’s plenty more I want to try: the slow-roasted tamarind lamb shoulder, the green goddess lemon and parmesan risotto, the bouillabaisse with rouille and croutons, the toffee apple tart and the no churn vanilla ice cream with all its variations. And that’s just for starters.

The recipe I’m featuring today is her butter biscuits which I’ve turned into jam drops – just one of the variations to her basic butter biscuit recipe.

I’ve halved the recipe in the book so the quantities below will make about 30 cookies.

What you need

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 ¼ cup plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • jam for filling

What you do with it

  • Line a couple of oven trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 170C (fan).
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until it’s pale and creamy
  • Add the flour, baking powder, condensed milk and vanilla and stir through until it comes together in a ball.
  • Roll dough into walnut-sized balls, place on the trays and lightly press your thumb into the top of each to make a little indent. Drop ½ teaspoon of jam into each hole (I used raspberry).
  • Bake for 15-20 mins or until lightly golden and set.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

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