I received a very special book in the mail last week: a cookbook from New Zealand! Last summer I met the author, Penny Webster, at Chateau de Gudanes during the Cooking in the Cuisine workshop, and we instantly connected talking about food and this beautiful cookbook that was still in the creation phase. It is so fun to see it now after seeing the quick snapshots of the illustrations the artist sent along while Penny was in France. Her story is one that sounds so familiar, that all centers around a love for cooking and a special understanding of textures, flavors, and ingredients.
Her passion for cooking started as a young girl when she watched her mother cook from a kitchen bench, and mine, much the same, as I peered over the counter watching my mom whip up cookies. Through university and after when she left New Zealand she continued cooking as she worked as a chalet girl in France and Switzerland. Then later, as a cook in England in big country homes. She says, “think Downtown Abbey but without the staff – just me in the kitchen.”
When she returned to New Zealand her 9 to 5 job quickly changed into a successful catering company when the food revolution arrived. When you talk to Penny you quickly hear the passion she has for food and I just love her rapid-fire ideas for beautiful concoctions. Including one of our own, which I’ll have to share soon, that was made up of little bits of this and that leftover in the pastry kitchen, that came together beautifully.
Her cookbook is called “Dining with the Vikings” and is so incredibly special and something I will treasure for years to come. (The bookbinding glue is meant to last 200 years, and I really hope so!) The name comes from a family friend who after having dinner one night at their home said that eating at the Websters’ was like Dining with the Vikings. It truly is a family legacy cookbook beautifully illustrated by Claire Delaney. All of the drawings are based on real items from Penny’s home! And the Vikings? They are actually drawn from real three dimensional dolls that the artist created so she could draw them from every angle.
At the front of the cookbook on the cover is a beautiful envelope filled with recipe cards for each of the recipes in the book! This was such a fun surprise! To take out for reference, or as I will probably use them, to throw in my bag to make at a friend’s place. When you start flipping through the recipes in the book, you find that each is accompanied by a short article Penny wrote while she was writing a cooking column for a local magazine and they are nothing short of mouthwatering!
Last week, I also asked you all what you’d like to see me bake. Someone said blueberries, which worked just perfectly with my current blueberry obsession (so much so that I’m partially surprised I haven’t turned into one like Violet in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Thumbing through the cookbook, this recipe caught my eye: a coconut blueberry cake perfect for tea time or breakfast. It was pretty much instantly bookmarked until I was able to plan a time to bake early this Sunday morning, while the kitchen was still cool.
I made a small 6″ one for Francois and me, and used the leftover batter to make another 8″ cake that will be perfect for friends that are visiting this month. I’ll throw it into a large freezer bag, tin and all so it doesn’t lose its shape and then take it out the night before and let it thaw in the fridge. Presto- they won’t know what hit them.
The cake is absolutely incredible, moist beyond measure and loaded with blueberries (a full 3 cups!). The coconut comes in on top with a crumble and is just divine. The whole apartment was smelling like coconut-blueberry goodness, and the Frenchman couldn’t help but tell me twice that, “ça sent trop bon!!!” (That smells SO good!!!).
They’ve printed just 300 copies of this book and it’s already won two awards! If you’d like a copy for yourself, shoot Penny an email at PennyWebsterCatering@gmail.com.
(And ps- I totally wasn’t asked to write this article, I just love Penny and her book! 🙂 )
Coconut Blueberry Cake
A beautiful tea cake from Penny Webster's legacy cookbook, Dining with Vikings. Note that you can absolutely make this in smaller tins to give to friends, or to freeze for later. Just set the timer ten minutes less and give it a check, and bake longer as needed.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 100 g unsalted butter
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 100 g unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup milk
- 3 cups fresh blueberries
Make the topping first, by combining all the ingredients in a bowl, working in the butter until it's a crumbly texture.
Preheat oven to 190C/375F and grease a 10" pan (or a combination of smaller pans) and line the bottom with parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, then dry ingredients, then the milk. Fold in the blueberries and pour into prepared pans. Sprinkle with topping and bake for 40 minutes, until cooked through and golden.
Cool slightly in the tin and serve warm or at room temperature with softly whipped cream and yogurt.
I replaced the milk with a mixture of creme fraiche and plain yogurt because I didn't have any milk on hand. Sour cream would be a wonderful substitution too.
To help keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom (I personally didn't mind this), after you measure the flour, take out a large spoonful and toss with the blueberries before folding into the batter.