Hazelnut cake


On Friday we cooked an early birthday lunch for Irene’s niece, so a cake seemed the right choice for dessert. Finding big packets of ‘kosher for passover’ ground hazelnuts in the supermarket made me think about trying a hazelnut version of my favourite almond and orange cake (which, I now discover, is unaccountably not yet on the blog). I couldn’t resist looking at other recipes and adapting it, ending up with this cake: nutty, light but moist – just what I had hoped for. You could probably make it using only hazelnuts, but I think ground almonds help the texture and stop the cake being dry.

As ever with hazelnut desserts, this cake is particularly good served with raspberries and softly whipped cream (or crème fraÎche if you prefer), and I had some caramelised hazelnuts which I chopped and sprinkled over for contrasting crunch. I could, of course, have resorted to the traditional family birthday cake, but it was nice to try something new. As it was so well received, I expect to be making it again soon.

The quantities here are for a 15cm cake tin, serving four – double them to fill a 20cm cake tin, and give it another 10 minutes in the oven.

100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
2 large eggs, separated
60g ground hazelnuts
40g ground almonds
25g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp orange juice

Heat the oven to 160ºC fan/180ºC/Gas 4. Grease the cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. If you can’t find ground hazelnuts, toast hazelnuts for 5 minutes or so (watch them closely so they don’t burn) in the warming oven, rub them in a tea towel to get rid of (most of) the skins and grind them to crumbs.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and light – I made this cake in my mixer, but a hand-held beater, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, would do the job equally well. Beat in the egg yolks with a spoonful of flour. Add the rest of the flour, baking powder and ground nuts. Mix in, adding the orange juice a bit at a time depending on how stiff the mixture is.

In a spotless bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff.  You could do this using the whisk attachment of the mixer, though I can never be bothered to transfer the cake mixture and wash and dry the mixer bowl in the middle of baking a cake to do this – and besides it is satisfying whisking egg whites with a balloon whisk in my beautiful copper bowl. Gently mix a large dollop of the egg whites into the cake mixture with a large spoon, then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently but thoroughly, keeping as much air in the mix as you can.

Turn into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until it is firm, starting to brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin on a rack for 10 minutes, then un-mould and leave to cool.

I prefer my cakes plain, but this would probably be delicious filled with a chocolate and hazelnut butter cream, or perhaps served with Travel Gourmet’s luscious-sounding Vanilla Ice Cream with Gianduioso, if you wanted a more indulgent dessert.


Rhubarb, almond and polenta cake

IMG_2529In future, do you think historians will be able to use the number of cakes baked as a measure of how happy and secure people were feeling? Cake is a reassuring treat in times of anxiety, not just for celebrations. If so, Bake Off, cupcake mania and the explosion of cake recipes in the blogosphere carry a clear message about a nation in need of comfort. On the upside, we are getting to eat a lot of cake!

Today’s contribution to cheering us up is a variant on Nigella’s Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I had a small amount of rhubarb that needed eating, and thought that this cake might be even nicer if I replaced the flour in the original with ground almonds (which also makes the cake gluten-free – use GF bicarb if necessary) – so this baby Rhubarb, almond and polenta cake was born. And it gave us an excuse to use Irene’s dinky cake forks, which come from Cecil, the restaurant her grandparents used to run in The Hague.

I had around a third of the quantity of rhubarb specified in the original recipe, so divided the original quantities roughly by three: Nigella uses 500g rhubarb and 2 large eggs for a 23cm cake tin. These quantities were just right for a 15cm tin.

160g rhubarb
100g caster sugar (I used 50.50 sugar and xylitol)
50g ground almonds
scant ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
55g fine polenta
scant ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 medium egg
scant ½ tsp vanilla essence
40g soft unsalted butter
80g natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/165ºC Fan/Gas 4. Butter and line the base of the cake tin.

Wash and trim the rhubarb, pulling off any strings as you cut off the ends. Slice into 0.5cm pieces, put into a dish and sprinkle over a couple of spoons of the sugar, and let it macerate while you continue with the recipe.

Mix the ground almonds, bicarb, salt, polenta and cinnamon together. Beat the egg and vanilla essence in a small bowl. Cream the butter with the remaining sugar. I did this by hand but, in retrospect, wished I had gone to the trouble of hauling the mixer onto the bench – it makes such quick work of the job.

Add the beaten egg and vanilla bit by bit, beating each addition in with a small spoonful of the almond/polenta mixture. Then lightly mix in the rest of the almonds and polenta alternately with the yoghurt. Finally, fold in the rhubarb with its juices, and pour into the prepared tin.

IMG_2531Bake for around 50 minutes (a larger cake will need a little longer) until the cake springs back when pressed and is starting to come away from the edge of the tin. Check after 40 minutes and cover the tin with foil if the cake is getting very brown. Leave to cool a bit in the tin before taking it out.

Serve still warm with cream, with custard as a dessert, or just with a cup of tea.

Pistachio and Almond Cake

When Irene came home with a dinky little cake tin she had found in Hema (a shop that is a bit of a Dutch institution, now opening in the UK), I obviously had to bake a new cake to christen it. The tin is 15cm in diameter and 3.5cm deep, producing a little sponge that cuts into 4 or 6 elegant servings.

This pistachio and almond cake follows the classic French quatre quarts recipe (known as pound cake in the US), being made with the weight of eggs in butter, sugar and flour – or in this case ground nuts. Weighing the eggs makes it really easy to get the proportions right, especially if you buy eggs of mixed size as I do. You can, of course, multiply the quantities if you have a larger tin – double quantities would be about right for a 22cm tin. For a quatre quarts cake you normally separate the eggs and fold in the stiffly beaten whites at the end, giving a light cake, but I wanted it to be dense and moist so just added the beaten eggs as you would for a Victoria sponge.  I put some rosewater in, but it didn’t add much here (maybe overpowered by the amaretto – or maybe I need to get some new rosewater…) so I have omitted it from the recipe.

We had it first neat with morning coffee, and then with poached rhubarb and crème fraîche, which was particularly good. The cake improves with a day’s keeping (wrapped in foil or greaseproof paper) – useful if you want to bake ahead when entertaining.

2 medium eggs, total weight 70g
70g butter
70g caster sugar
35g blanched (or ground) almonds
35g shelled pistachios
2 tbsps plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp amaretto

Heat the oven to Fan 150° C/170° C. Grind the almonds and pistachios together until they are fairly fine crumbs. I used the small chopper attachment on my mixer for this. You can of course use ground almonds if you prefer – ground pistachios are harder to come by, and grinding them yourself gives a more interesting texture. Grease your cake tin and line the base.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the mixer until pale and creamy. Beat the eggs and add to the mixture in two or three batches, with a little flour each time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the remaining flour, baking powder and ground nuts. Finally, add the amaretto. You could substitute orange juice if you don’t have amaretto. If you wanted to try it with rosewater than you would only need ½ to 1 tsp for this quantity of mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake is golden, springy to touch and coming away from the sides of the tin. Allow to cool on the rack and when cool, if you can resist eating it, wrap in foil until the following day.


Eve’s pudding

img_2448I have always loved this traditional apple sponge pudding. The tangy, soft apples combine with the light sponge to form a delicious creamy layer where the two meet. It is a classic English pudding, comforting to eat but easier and quicker than many steamed puddings – and lighter too.

The first recipe I used was from the Revo Recipes cookbook  that came with the electric cooker my parents bought when they moved in to their first house (below, and see my post on rice pudding). Revo CookbookHowever, I have long used the recipe in Arabella Boxer’s recipe Sunday Times Cookbook (published in 1983), which has a lighter sponge and specifies butter rather than ‘fat’! Boxer suggested it as a pudding to follow Saddle of Lamb for an English lunch to serve to foreign visitors, since hot puddings like this are such a distinctive feature of British cooking (it is hard to type this without wincing in the current political climate).

I used to cook Eve’s pudding regularly when we had apple trees producing abundant crops of Bramley and (even better) Lane’s Prince Albert apples. Yesterday I cooked it for a dinner with friends and was surprised that some of them hadn’t come across it before, so thought it would be worth posting. It is a also a timely addition to one’s arsenal of comfort food to combat political angst – and remains an excellent choice when entertaining visitors of any nationality.

450g cooking apples
40g (1½ oz)sugar
85g (3oz) caster sugar
85g (3oz) butter at room temperature
115g (4oz) self-raising flour
2 eggs

Heat the oven to 175º C/Gas Mark 4 (I notice this is a bit lower than the 375º F specified in the Revo recipe and may experiment next time). Lightly butter an oven-dish that holds about a litre. Peel, core and slice the apples and put them in a pan with a little water and the 40g sugar (or to taste). Cook gently for about 15 minutes or until the apples are soft – this is important: having not made this in a while, I forgot and didn’t cook them quite long enough last night.

To prepare the sponge, cream the butter and sugar until soft and pale. Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture bit by bit alternately with the sifted flour – you can do this in a food processor or mixer, but it is perfectly easy to do by hand. Add a little milk if the mixture seems too firm.

If you’re entertaining, you can cook the apples, prepare the dish and cream the butter and sugar together in advance, then finish the sponge and pop it into the oven before you sit down to the main course (or the cheese if you are serving a cheese course before the pudding).

When the apples are ready turn them into the prepared dish, and spoon the sponge over to completely cover them. Bake for 30 minutes until well risen and golden brown. Serve hot with cream. And any left-overs are delicious eaten cold from the fridge in true Nigella style.


Panna Cotta with Sloe Gin Jelly

img_2350This recipe caught my eye because my friend Sue had given me a bottle of her delicious – and beautifully bottled – home-made sloe gin. I rarely buy food magazines – on the grounds that the pile of recipes to try on my desk is already quite big enough – but succumbed to the Christmas edition of Delicious, and this was in their ‘Showstopper Puddings’ supplement. The combination of ruby jelly and snowy panna cotta seems special without being heavy, while the elegant presentation, though not essential, is striking and does make it look like you’ve made an effort.

Inevitably, I have tweaked the recipe (after following it faithfully the first time around) – I found their quantities made too much for my glasses, and instead of flavouring the jelly with a couple of rosemary sprigs I flavoured the panna cotta with geranium, inspired by Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking recipe for geranium cream. I have a sturdy lemon geranium plant which smells glorious, and so far has survived unscathed in a corner of my windy balcony. I also replaced some of the cream with yoghurt (as in this recipe for Yoghurt Panna Cotta), in a token nod to New Year resolutions, though I’m not sure this was an improvement. My caster sugar is effectively vanilla sugar as I store part-used vanilla pods in my sugar jar. This isn’t essential but if you don’t fancy or don’t have lemon geranium then flavour the cream with the seeds from a vanilla pod, as the original recipe did. My next experiment will be to try a different flavour of jelly – I think orange would taste great, and if you made it with blood oranges it would look spectacular too, so you can still make this dessert even if you aren’t lucky enough to have some sloe gin.

These quantities fit four 200ml glasses – I can’t serve it to more people as I only have four glasses that are the right size and shape! The quantities are easily multiplied if you are feeding more, and would of course taste just as good set in layers if you can’t be bothered with the (minor) faff of tilting the glasses – the main obstacle being making enough room in the fridge for four glasses plus their containers. You need to start this at least 6 hours before you want to eat it, so ideally in the morning or the night before – don’t skip the step of getting it out of the fridge for an hour before serving, particularly if it has been in the fridge all day, as this does improve the flavour and texture.

Panna cotta
2 gelatine leaves (I use Costa Fine Leaf)
400ml double cream (or 300ml double cream + 100ml Greek yoghurt
35g caster sugar (or about 2 rounded tbsps)
2 scented geranium leaves (or seed from 1/2 vanilla pod)

Sloe Gin Jelly
3 gelatine leaves
50g caster sugar
125ml sloe gin
2 rosemary sprigs (optional)

Start with the panna cotta: put the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water. While they are soaking, gently heat the double cream, sugar and vanilla or geranium leaves in a large saucepan. Heat the cream until it is just steaming, not simmering, and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. (If you are using geranium and want a strong flavour leave the cream to stand for a while – though I found that it perfumed the cream without doing so. You will need to reheat the cream before before proceeding.) Remove the geranium leaves, then squeeze out the water from the gelatine leaves and stir them into the cream until dissolved. Add the yoghurt, if using, and leave to cool until it is just warm to the touch.

img_2349-1Now for the Blue Peter bit: find bowls in which you can support your glasses at an angle, using a nub of blue-tac to stop them shifting about. Once the panna cotta has cooled, pour or spoon it into the glasses to form a pristine ski slope of cream up to the rim of the glass. Carefully move to the fridge and leave to set – I left mine for a couple of hours.

When the panna cottas have almost set make the jelly. Put the gelatine leaves to soak in cold water, as before. Put 150ml of water and the caster sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the sloe gin (and the sprigs of rosemary if you are using them), and cook over low heat for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, squeeze out the gelatine and stir into the mixture, stirring until it is dissolved. Allow to cool until it is just warm to the touch and then spoon or pour into the glasses. You can either stand the glasses straight at this point (as I did) or set them at the opposite angle to create a slope of jelly. Leave to set for at least 3 hours. Take out of the fridge for about an hour before serving to bring them back to near room temperature.

Rhubarb, almond and ginger pudding

Rhubarb, almond and ginger puddingI love rhubarb at any time, but especially at this time of year when the glorious colour and fresh taste of early forced rhubarb tell you that spring is really on the way. The season for forced rhubarb is short and I plan to take full advantage of it while I can. Usually I just poach it, either on the hob or in the oven, in a little orange juice and some honey or sugar, but this weekend I decided to branch out, and made this rhubarb, almond and ginger pudding – think rhubarb Eve’s Pudding, with a sponge made of ground almonds rather than flour.

The recipe was partly inspired by a dessert I had last week, when I went out for lunch to celebrate a friend’s birthday: a lemon and almond pudding, which was like a soft, flourless almond cake, baked in a shallow dish. I thought an almond sponge would be a great complement to the rhubarb, and the stem ginger stops the sponge being too bland. This pudding tastes indulgent, but is not too rich or heavy – perfect for a bright spring day. It is also gluten-free and can be virtually sugar-free if you use xylitol (or another sugar substitute; replace the stem ginger with ground ginger if you need to avoid sugar entirely). The weight of butter and sugar should be about the same as the weight of the eggs, with 25% more ground almonds, so if your eggs are bigger or smaller just adjust the quantities accordingly.

I made this using half quantities as I was just cooking for two, but this recipe should serve 6 generously.

400g rhubarb
180g sugar or xylitol
zest and juice of 1 orange
120g butter
2 medium eggs
1 tsp baking powder
150g ground almonds
4 pieces of stem ginger finely chopped

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Wipe and trim the rhubarb, then cut into 2cm pieces – about the size of a wine cork. Put into an oven-proof dish that is big enough to take the almond sponge on top, and add the orange juice, half the zest and 60g of sugar. Cover with foil and bake in the oven until the rhubarb is just starting to soften. This will probably take about 30 mins, but the time will vary according to how sturdy or delicate your rhubarb is, so do check after 20 mins and judge how much longer it needs – you don’t want it to turn to mush, which happens all too easily. If the rhubarb has produced a lot of juice scoop some of it off to leave just a few tablespoons. Leave to cool a little.

Rhubarb baked for Rhubarb, almond and ginger pudding The rhubarb can be baked at a slightly higher temperature if necessary – I had quite thick stems of Harbinger rhubarb and cooked it for 30 mins alongside the main course, which needed to be at 200ºC/Gas 6. You can also cook the rhubarb in advance if you’re entertaining and don’t want to have too many things to do on the night, though if you do this and store the rhubarb in the fridge, do remember to take it out a couple of hours in advance so that it is at room temperature when you add the sponge.

Rhubarb, almond and ginger puddingWhen you are ready to eat turn the oven down to 170ºC/Gas 3 and make the sponge. Cream the butter and remaining 120g of sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of ground almonds, and beat them in. When they are incorporated add the remaining orange zest, the stem ginger, baking powder and the rest of the ground almonds, mixing well. You can loosen the mixture with a tablespoon of the syrup from the ginger jar if it seems too stiff. Spoon the sponge evenly over the top of the rhubarb and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until it golden brown and slightly risen. Allow to sit for 5 minutes and then serve with pouring cream.

If you’re planning to cook roast lamb for Easter Sunday, this would work perfectly for dessert – but why wait that long!


Chocolate pudding with pears poached in wine

Chocolate pudding with pears in red wineThe first time I read this recipe, from La Bretagne Gourmande by Nathalie Beauvais, I was not at all sure about it. A chocolate pudding that included squash? Pears in red wine with chocolate pudding? However, I was sufficiently intrigued to make it, and very good it was too – lighter than many chocolate puddings and the pears worked really well with it. And, of course, you can have fun getting people to guess what it’s made of!

You can also replace the squash with chestnuts to make a chocolate chestnut pudding, which is apparently denser, but I suspect it would be just as delicious, if not more so. Serves at least 6 (depending on whether you want to serve half or a whole pear each – there is a generous quantity of pudding).

500g patidoux squash (I used butternut)
200g dark chocolate
100g butter
2 sheets gelatine

6 pears
750ml red wine
150g sugar
a piece of orange zest
1 vanilla pod
½ tsp cinnamon
6 peppercorns
2 cloves
50ml crème de cassis

The pudding needs to be made at least 4 hours ahead. Peel the squash and cut it into large pieces – if you’re using a whole small squash you can just quarter it – and remove the seeds. Cook it in a steamer for 20-30 minutes until it is completely tender.

Chocolate puddingSoak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water in a shallow dish. Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water or in the microwave. Beat the cooked squash with the sugar until smooth. Mix this purée into the melted chocolate  and beat well. Drain the gelatine and add it, mixing well again. Turn the pudding into a bowl and put in the fridge to set.

Put the wine, sugar, orange rind and spices into a large shallow pan with a lid. The original recipe suggests a Beaujolais type, but in my household it would be whatever wine is to hand, and I used less than the litre specified. Cover, bring to the boil and leave to simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Peel the pears, cut them in half and remove the core – I find it easiest to do this by scooping the core out with a teaspoon. Slide them into the wine, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes until they are tender to the point of a knife. Add the crème de cassis. Transfer the pears to a dish, strain the liquid to remove the spices and pour the wine over the pears, adding the vanilla pod back into the bowl. Allow to cool and then put in the fridge.

To serve, use a soup spoon to put a large scoop of chocolate fondant on a dessert plate, and add a pear, elegantly sliced, alongside with a little of the wine. Initially, I assumed that it would need some crème fraîche, but it is actually fine just as it is. An unusual dessert that is a bit special, but not at all difficult, and not too wicked, either.