Posts Tagged ‘Almonds’

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Short & Sweet

November 4, 2011

I have been baking almost exclusively from Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’ since it arrived a few weeks ago. A comprehensive compilation of recipes from choux to pita; muffins to meringues and tarts to tapenade dinner rolls. The ‘tips & techniques’ at the start of each  chapter – whilst present in any decent baking book – I’ve found more enlightening than usual. For example pointing out that ripe bananas are alkaline and may need the addition of more baking powder to stop the finished cakes turning out on the heavy side (noted Mr Lepard).

Dan writes a weekly column ‘How to Bake’ for the Saturday Guardian magazine. A regular cut-out-and-keep for me, my collection of his recipes are tucked between the pages of other baking books, and now they will have a place of their own. What I’m particularly pleased about is that the book isn’t just a collection of the recipes already available online and, as was recently pointed out in another review – the book stays open at the page required making life just a little easier.

 

 

 

I have now twice made the savoury choux pastry recipe and Black Olive Gourgeres (mini choux bites with thyme, garlic, parmesan and kalamata olives – divine). A chance to revisit the choux first attempted at River Cottage and to hone those skills. The gourgeres are a fantastic pre dinner party nibble as they can be made ahead and reheated easily before serving. They’re messy buggers to spoon onto a baking tray (line that tray with parchment) but they don’t need to be too uniform in shape as the their rough edges crisp up and add wonderful crunch.

 

 

 

The savoury choux paste with added parmesan and a hint of mace along with the cayenne (top spice tip from River Cottage – try it) was easier to work with although my quenelle-ing skills need a fair amount of work. I was able to try out my theory that a filling of horseradish creme fraiche would go well with the spicy buns. I can confirm it does make a lovely pairing; the light and crispy pastry, warm with gentle heat from the spices and parmesan compliments the smooth zingy and firey mixture of creme fraiche (I used low fat)  and horseradish (the English Provender Co makes a great substitute for the fresh stuff) lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Make your mixture and chill in the fridge before piping into the cooled buns. A great mixture that goes wonderfully well with beef or smoked fish too. Top tip of my own – remember to warn guests that the buns are filled. Chances are they will be eaten with glass in one hand and the eater’s focus on conversation – the spilling potential would seem to be moderately high.

 

 

 

From the sweeter end of the recipe selection I made the Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake for a neighbours birthday. A fine crumbed cake containing condensed milk it’s better for a day left well wrapped but pretty damn tasty straight away if it calls to you from the kitchen.

 

 

 

Another day found me looking at the collection of dried fruits in my baking cupboard. First off was a Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake which I baked in a tray, all the better for portioning to share out (a suggestion made by Dan that I can confirm works well). This too benefits from sitting for a day or two and I really would leave it if you can, a far moister cake awaits you if you can resist. I used a mixture of prunes, figs and apricots as well as adding 100g of whole blanched almonds, which in the tray form didn’t have the opportunity to sink – mind you the batter is thick enough with chopped fruit that they should stay suspended even in a deep tin. The discovery of a nut adds delightful texture and interest to the bites of cake.

 

 

 

For me though the star of the show so far has been the Marrakesh Express Loaf Cake. Containing coffee, lots of walnuts and sesame seeds, rich sticky dates and pomegranate I felt sure I would enjoy it, but the layers of taste are amazing. Like a complex perfume it has a deep earthiness from the coffee and walnuts surrounded by the sweet dates and then the syrupy top notes of the pomegranate syrup float around your mouth. Dan says that treacle could substitute for the pomegranate syrup but I can’t believe the flavours would then dance around your palate in quite the same way. The syrup is worth getting if you can, a little goes a long way and if you enjoy middle easter food or follow the Ottolenghi column adjacent to Dan’s in the Guardian then you will find plenty of uses for it.

 

 

 

The recipe states half wholemeal or spelt flour and half hemp flour – I just used all wholemeal and it turned out fine, although I might just have to get me some spelt and hemp and see if the flavours can be any better.

 

 

 

There is still so much to try in the book and I know from last year that the Caramel Christmas Cake is a winner and sure to make another outing, or four, this year.

 

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Getting Fruity with Hugh

January 5, 2011

The pain of last night’s lack of sleep is still too raw (a long, dull story involving new smoke alarms that are ‘charging’. Loudly). However I did at least have Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and his Date and Orange Cake recipe from last Saturday’s Guardian to keep me company at 4am this morning, that and my lovely new Microplane zester.

Look at it, isn’t it lovely?

The perfect Christmas gift from my brother and family it made short work of zesting the three oranges that go into this moist cake. The recipe was part of a section in the Guardian last weekend about Christmas left overs. Now, I always have dates and oranges in the house for baking purposes but I did actually have a pack of medjool dates still  in their little paper cases, bought for a Christmas treat that didn’t get eaten.

As one of the commenters on the link above noted, and as I’ve found before with Hugh’s recipes, the butter pooled out of the bottom of the tin. Luckily I had placed the tin on a baking tray so it was caught and I didn’t have to spend time scrubbing away at burnt fat on the base of the oven (that would not have improved my day). I would try reducing the butter, to 250g perhaps, but I also wonder if it’s the nuts in the cake that makes it less absorbent especially as these were pulsed from whole blanched almonds so were coarser than pre-ground almonds – of course that’s still reason to reduce the butter should you wish.

I kept the pieces of dates fairly large as they were deliciously moist but have to confess I had only the smallest of tastes of the finished cake from one small section that had stuck to the base where the parchment had come loose. I took the finished cake into work, let it be known it was in the kitchen, and in no time it was gone.

I was fairly sure, in that post-Christmas time of abstinence a rich cake such as this would’ve been nibbled in thin slivers or shunned entirely leaving me time to taste, but it went before I could cut a slice. It went  down well though. Perhaps if you make it you could let me know what you think?

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Fruit Cakes

February 2, 2010




I love the request for a cake – a guide to help me whittle down the recipes I obsessively bookmark from other blogs and flag in my recipe books. Choice paralyses me, I want to use the tin of pumpkin I have in the cupboard; I have buttermilk nearing its use by date. The half full pack of wholemeal self-raising flour at the back of the cupboard nags at me. How fresh are the lemons in the fruit bowl?

So, when someone simply says in passing ‘I just love ginger cakes’ or ‘have you ever made a coffee cake?’ then I have a starting point, a purpose from which a plan can be formed, and I do love a plan.

My father specifically requesting ‘a cake’ provided the impetus for this particular Sundays early morning – into mid afternoon – bakathon. He is a frequent recipient of the fruits of my kitchen labours, but he asked and I baked. My dad loves fruitcakes and with the post Christmas overstock of dried fruit languishing in my cupboard, I set about choosing one. It felt good to reacquaint myself with the British books in my collection and the bags of blanched almonds left over from decorating the Christmas Cakes meant a Dundee Cake was an obvious choice. I waivered between a recipe from Leith’s Baking Bible and a Delia but in the end settle on Delia’s and you can see the recipe here (although the instructions for lining a tin from Leith’s were most useful).

Of course I can’t make just one cake, can’t be that decisive, but I didn’t anticipate the five that came out of the oven on this day. I added ‘Jane’s Fruit Cake’ and ‘Cherry Cake’ both from Marry Berry’s Baking Bible. I also baked two Marmalade Loaves but because of my lax blogging and the delay between baking and writing this I now can’t find the recipe. I know I made it and I know it was tasty (sorry to taunt) I know the recipe is there somewhere and will update soon (ish).

I’m not sure what my father made of the stack of foil wrapped cakes that I presented him with that evening but I have to say I enjoyed the Marmalade Loaf and Dundee Cake enormously. I’m not a fan of candied peel so would probably reduce this in the Dundee and up the citrus zest to compensate. The fruitcake initially tasted a little bland to me, perhaps the memory of the extraordinarily rich Christmas Cake is still fresh and spicy in my mind, but I found that after a day or two the flavours had matured and it was quite lovely. The Cherry Cake was hit with lots of people, which surprised me, I had many comments saying it was a favourite out of them all.


Jane’s Fruit Cake

May Berry’s Baking Bible

200g softened Butter

350g light muscovado Sugar

3 large eggs

450g wholemeal self raising flour

150ml Buttermilk

350g sultanas

350g currants

50g flaked almonds for sprinking

Preheat oven 140C, grease a 23cm/9” deep round tin and line the base and sides with parchment.

The directions in Mary’s books sometimes seem a little brief; often just mix all the ingredients till combined. As I use my Kitchenaid (but the principle is the same with a handheld electric whisk) I follow the sequence dictated in many US recipes, although admittedly these tend to be for pound cakes rather than fruitcakes. Anyway, my method of mixing below:

Beat the sugar and butter until creamed – approx 3 mins on high speed

Add flour and buttermilk in alternate batches, ending on the flour and mix until incorporated

Fold in the fruit and mix well

Spoon into the prepared pans and sprinkle with the flaked almonds

Bake for 3 – 3 ½ hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Wrap in more parchment and foil to keep moist.



English Cherry Cake

Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

200g glace cherries

275g self raising flour (I used wholemeal)

75g ground almonds

2 tsp baking powder

225g softened butter

225g caster sugar

4 large eggs

Oven 160C/Fan 140/GM3

Grease and line 8” deep round cake tin

Quarter the berries and wash and dry thoroughly

Beat sugar and butter until light and creamy, add the eggs one at a time scraping the bowl after each addition.

Add in the flour and mix well

Fold cherries into the mixture and spoon batter into the tin, leveling the top with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 1 ½ -1 ¾ hours

Leave to cool for 10 mins in the tin then turn out, peel off the parchment and allow to cool completely on a rack.


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Wholemeal Honey Cake

August 3, 2009




Not that I believe you need an excuse to eat or bake a cake, but I’m always on the lookout for special occasions for which to get the cake tins out. My good friend C has grandchildren coming to visit this week, had recently given me a recipe for Hugh Fearnely-Wittingsall’s Wholemeal Honey Cake and challenged me to produce one that didn’t sink in the middle as her previous attempts had done. My plan was to spend Sunday morning baking, so when the morning started with 4.30 on my bedside clock at least I knew the kitchen would smell divine by the time the shipping forecast came on.


As the majority of the products from my kitchen get distributed amongst work colleagues I try to keep them nut free (I nearly killed a colleague once – a long story for another time) I dismiss so many recipes on the basis that they full of wonderful crunchy nuts or are based on fluffy ground almonds. A shame as I love nuts and sometimes you can’t just leave them out or find an adequate substitute. But this cake was not for work, it was filled with ground almonds and covered with a liberal sprinkling of slivered ones – wonderful for catching the honey that’s drizzled over when fresh from the oven.


Unfortunately, sink it did. The recipe called for self-raising wholemeal flour which I couldn’t find, so I added an extra teaspoon of baking powder (a possible cause for the slump?) it also seemed to contain an enormous amount of butter – so much so that whilst baking it ran out of the bottom of the tin. It also took an additional 20 minutes of baking until the centre was set, my oven is trusty and I don’t usually have to make such big adjustments – the butter? Were I to make it again I would reduce the amount and I’m tempted to have another go soon as I don’t like to be beaten and would like to see what difference less butter would make (perhaps a whole 100g less?) but I will wait for C to enjoy this one and indicate she’s ready to receive another.




Wholemeal Honey Cake


350g unsalted butter, softened
265g unrefined caster sugar
4 organic eggs
150g ground almonds
150g wholemeal self-raising flour (I used plain wholemeal with an extra 1tsp of baking powder)

1 tsp baking powder
50g flaked almonds
3-4 tbsp runny honey


Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/ gas mark 3. Grease a 24cm diameter, springform cake tin with a little of the butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, and cream them together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, then sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold these in, too.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, scatter the flaked almonds over the top, and bake for 45 minutes (or 65 in my case), or until a knife pushed into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and, while it’s still hot, evenly drizzle all over with honey. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.


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