The free range cook: one on one with Annabel Langbein
She’s one of the country’s most beloved cooks, with a cooking style that is as down to earth as her personality. Metropol talks to Annabel Langbein as she tours the country lending her talented hand to a range of worthy causes such as Life Education Trust Canterbury.
How did your love of cooking and baking begin?
When I was very little I used to love hanging out with my mother in the kitchen. She was an amazing baker and there were always delicious beaters and bowls to lick! But before long, I was in there helping to stir and roll, mixing cakes and biscuits. I just loved it. I discovered a magical sense of making people happy when I appeared with a batch of fresh-made biscuits or a cake. As a young kid it was wonderful to get that feeling of success and usefulness. I was hooked for life.
Why do you think your recipes and therefore your cook books have struck such a strong chord in New Zealand?
I’m a very busy person but I like to eat well and I love making food that brings people together around the table. When I started cooking, often things didn’t work out, or I would get lost trying to follow a complicated recipe – and whenever this happened I would lose confidence.
I think a large part of my own success as a writer of recipes comes down to practicality – the recipes use everyday ingredients, they don’t take forever for make, they work and most importantly they taste yummy (you’d think that would be a given, but trust me, it isn’t). When I’m cooking for myself I spend a lot of time working out how to streamline the process and make it failsafe, and I figure if it works for me in my busy life then hopefully it will be useful for other people.
Your new book ESSENTIAL Volume Two: Sweet Treats for Every Occasion is all about the sweet side of life. Are you a bit of a sweet tooth yourself and what are some of your favourite recipes?
I actually don’t have a very sweet tooth, but I love to bake and when I make something sweet I want it to be fabulous. Baking and dessert making is an area of cooking where a good recipe is absolutely crucial, as it’s all about chemistry and ratios.
I love making biscuits to have in the tins when people come over or to take to someone as a little gift. My legendary chocolate chippie biscuits have evolved out of my mother’s recipe, and I love that wonderful idea of carrying on the torch. And I love to make cakes, as they deliver such a sense of celebration that makes any occasion a special occasion.
When I’ve got friends coming over for dinner I’ll always make a dessert as it’s such an easy way to make people feel treated. I love desserts that you can make in advance, from my tart tatin with its gorgeous, rich caramelised apples and crisp pillowy crust, to the silkiest chilled spiced orange crème caramels, my vegan frozen caramel cheesecake, my incredible ice-cream cassata with mandarin and pistachios and my rolled pavlova with apricot cream
How does it feel as a beloved New Zealand personality, to be in a position to support and raise awareness of incredibly worthy causes such as the Life Education Trust Canterbury?
That’s a very nice thing of you to say. I do feel very beloved and it’s something very special for me that I never take for granted. I just love it when people come up to me excitedly to tell me what they’ve been cooking, or that I have helped them to feel confidence and success in the kitchen. I love being part of people’s lives like this, it’s an honour. And being in this trusted position does mean that I can help to make change and put my weight behind important initiatives like Life Education Trust Canterbury. The work they do to help kids build a sense of self-esteem and make healthy choices is so important. If the next generation can grow to be strong and healthy and happy then our New Zealand society will be strong and healthy and happy.
What is the most enjoyable or fulfilling aspect of what you do?
I think it’s about helping people to feel empowered. In my own life I have found cooking to be a rich, strong thread that weaves all the bits of my life together and I feel there is so much merit in the idea of building a good life and a strong family around the table. Food and cooking connects us to nature and the environment, to our friends and family, to our own culture and community, and when we cook with a new and unfamiliar ingredient from some foreign shore it connects us to other cultures. Best of all it connects us to our own creativity.
Check out our competition to win a copy of Annabel’s latest book here Win with Metropol: Annabel Langbein cookbook Essential Volume Two: Sweet Treats for Every Occasion