Greengage and Almond Cake

This cake was inspired by some lovely greengages we found in a greengrocer in Totnes, near where we are staying on holiday. There weren’t quite enough to simply poach them, and I didn’t have a tart tin or any plain flour, so a greengage frangipane tart was out.  What I made instead was a Victoria sponge with half the flour replaced with ground almonds, flavoured with the grated zest of an orange and the greengages arranged on top as if it were a tart.

The result was a moist light sponge crowned with juicy greengages – it was delicious served for dessert with whipped cream, and I am looking forward to another slice with our coffee tomorrow morning.

I used a tip I saw in a recipe for the French quartre quarts cake, which is to put a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven. The resulting steamy atmosphere is said to make the cake particularly light – and on the evidence of this cake I will be doing it again. Sometimes the constraints of a holiday home kitchen, without all one’s usual ingredients and equipment, can lead to happy discoveries!

100g butter
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
70g ground almonds
70g self-raising flour
Grated zest of an orange
8 greengages

Take the butter and eggs out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you start cooking so they can come to room temperature. My eggs weighed 70g each – if yours are a different size simply adjust the other quantities accordingly.

Grease and line the base of a 18 cm sponge tin. Preheat the oven to 170ºC Fan/190ºC, with a baking tin half full of hot water in it (this is not advisable, or necessary, in a gas oven). Wash the greengages, take out the stones and cut them into quarters.

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Greengage and almond cake ready to go in the oven

Cream the butter with a wooden spoon, add the sugar and beat until light and pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time, with a good scoop of flour, until well blended. Fold in the remaining flour, the ground almonds and orange zest. You can of course do all of this in the mixer if you are at home – or in a particularly well-equipped holiday cottage. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the greengages in a circular pattern on top.

Greengage and almond cake
Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown, and the sponge springs back when lightly pressed. Leave to cool in the tin. Serve just warm with whipped cream. A glass of orange muscat dessert wine would go very well, too.

 

Venetian carrot cake

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Having succumbed to a big bag of less-than-perfect carrots on the grounds that they were such good value (and who needs straight carrots anyway) I thought I would make carrot cake. However, I’m not a fan of the traditional American variety with cream cheese frosting, so I was very taken with this Nigella carrot cake recipe which is apparently from the Venetian ghetto. It uses ground almonds rather than flour (so is gluten-free), is studded with sultanas soaked in rum and topped with toasted pine nuts.

Nigella suggests serving it with rum-flavoured mascarpone, which sounded a bit much for tea-time, so I opted for a mixture of ricotta and greek yoghurt beaten together with a grating of nutmeg – and that was a good idea. I reduced the quantities a little to make a 20cm cake. I might try using a bit less sugar next time, as the sultanas are quite sweet, but this is a fine cake as it is – perfect with morning coffee or afternoon tea and, I hope, for providing sustenance for the last leg of our walk to the source of the Thames!

2 rounded tbsp pine nuts
2 carrots (approx 200g)
60g sultanas
50ml rum
120g caster sugar
100ml olive oil
scant tsp vanilla extract
3 small eggs (weight 180g)
200g ground almonds
freshly grated nutmeg
juice & zest of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 165 C fan/180 C/Gas 4. Prepare the cake tin by lining the base with greaseproof paper and lightly oiling the sides. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium-high heat – watching them like a hawk – and put them on one side as soon as they are golden.

Grate the carrots on the coarse side of a box grater (Nigella says that it is easier to use the food processor, but in my view this is only the case if someone else is doing the washing up and putting away for you).  Tip onto a double layer of kitchen roll and wrap them up to extract any excess liquid. Put the sultanas in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

Measure the oil and sugar into a mixing bowl and whisk together until creamy. Then whisk in the vanilla extract and eggs, which I did one at a time to make sure they were well mixed in. Fold in the ground almonds, grated carrots, sultanas with their rum, and the lemon zest and juice. Finally grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the bowl and give it a last stir.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin, and smooth the top – it will look quite thin. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and bake for 30-40 mins until it has risen, the top is golden and a wooden skewer comes out fairly clean.

Leave it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before unmoulding, and transfer it to a rack to cool. If you wrap it in cling film it will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container (should you accidentally make the cake the day before you go on a strict diet – otherwise I don’t think it will last that long).

If you fancy the ricotta alongside, just mix equal quantities of ricotta and greek yoghurt until smooth and stir in a little grated nutmeg. Nigella’s more decadent accompaniment calls for 250g mascarpone mixed with 2 tsp icing sugar and 2 tbsp rum.

Hazelnut cake

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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.

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.

 

Delicious nut roast

Nut roast with parsnips and cabbageThis is an Allegra McEvedy recipe, that convinced her that nut roast could be delicious! It was cooked by my friend Marion for a large lunch party recently and was such a hit with vegetarians and carnivores alike that several of us asked for the recipe afterwards.

It is straightforward to make, and you can prepare a lot of the ingredients ahead, so you only have to mix everything together and put it in the oven 40 minutes before you want to eat. Dare I say, this would make an excellent centrepiece for a vegetarian Christmas dinner – and fairly stress-free even for a cook who is also roasting turkey. I can also testify that any leftovers are delicious fried up with bubble and squeak!

100g almonds, skins on
100g hazelnuts, skins off
50g pecans
1 large leek, trimmed
150g vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
splash of olive oil
1 shallot
1 heaped tbsp thyme leaves
100g Comté cheese, grated
1 eating apple, halved, cored and grated
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
20g parmesan, grated
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/fan 170ºC/Gas 5. As it’s heating lightly toast the almonds, hazelnuts and pecans on the tray for 12-15 minutes until they smell nice and nutty when you open the oven. (If you’re preparing ahead, you can roast the nuts while you’re cooking something else in the oven. Do watch them, though – I nearly burnt mine.) Tip them onto a plate to cool. Line a 450g loaf tin with buttered greaseproof paper.

Slice the leek in half lengthways, then slice finely, wash in a colander and leave to drain thoroughly. Chop the shallot.

Blitz the nuts in a food processor until you have a mixture of fine and chunky pieces. Chop the chestnuts to a similar consistency by hand, then mix it all together in a largish bowl.

Nut Roast mixturePut a splash of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Sweat the leek, shallot and thyme for 10-12 minutes until soft but not coloured,adding a splash of water if they start sticking. (I prepared ahead to this point, popping the nuts and cooked leek mixture in separate containers in the fridge. When you’re ready to roast, remember to pre-heat the oven.) Stir the leeks into the nuts, together with the grated Comté, apple, parsley and eggs. Season well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, packing it down as you go. Top with the grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top looks invitingly golden. Leave to sit for 10 minutes before lifting out using the greaseproof paper and slicing thickly.

Marion served this with an amazing mushroom gravy, but I opted for tomato sauce (made as in this recipe with the addition of a fat clove of garlic minced and added a few minutes after the onions).

The roast parsnips I served as a side also went down well, converting one guest who said she didn’t like parsnips! If you haven’t already discovered their deliciousness they are really simple: cut parsnips into even sized chunks – say cut across into three, then halve the thinner bottom bits and cut the fatter end into four lengthwise. Preheat the oven to 230°C and put a roasting dish with a good slug of oil to heat in it. Steam the parsnips for 6 minutes. Carefully tip them into the hot fat and roast them for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning them after 10 minutes so they brown evenly.

As the nut roast is cooked at a lower temperature, I roasted the parsnips for 15 minutes while I was mixing up the nut roast, took them out and turned the oven down to 190ºC for the nut roast and then popped the parsnips back into the oven for a final 10 minutes while the nut roast was resting. All of which you can, of course, avoid if you have a second oven!

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!

 

Orange blossom macarons

Orange blossom macaronsBe warned, these macarons are addictive and far too easy to make! I have looked at recipes for neat, piped, filled macarons before and decided that they were too much trouble, even though they look delicious. So, I was curious about this more straightforward recipe by Thomasina Miers, which I clipped from The Guardian magazine last year and finally got round to making last weekend. Why did I wait so long? The macarons were so good that I immediately made another batch. They are a great way of using up egg whites, which you will have in abundance if you make ice cream to eat with them (see below).

The macarons are crunchy on the outside and soft inside, perfumed with orange rind and orange blossom water. I served them first with orange salad and sherry ice cream (based on this excellent brandy ice cream, using a medium sweet sherry instead of the marsala). They are equally delicious with a cup of coffee, with poached rhubarb, as a sweet canapé at a drinks party…you get the picture.

a little oil to grease the trays
100g egg whites (from 2 large or 3 small eggs)
250g unrefined icing sugar
200g ground almonds
1½ tbsp orange blossom water
zest of ½ orange
salt

Mixture for Orange blossom macaronsHeat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6. I cooked one batch in the fan oven at 180ºC, but I think you get a bit more crunch and colour if you bake them at 200ºC without the fan (if your oven gives you the option). Line two or three large baking trays with greaseproof paper and oil them lightly, or use silicone liners if you have them. Measure half of the egg whites into a large bowl and mix in the icing sugar, almonds, orange blossom water, orange zest and a pinch of salt, until you have a thick paste. I found a silicone spatula the best implement for this. At first, it looks as if there isn’t enough egg white, but persevere and it will come right.

Put the remainder of the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk to stiff peaks, then fold them a little at a time into the paste using a spatula or metal spoon, trying not to knock out all the air you’ve just beaten into them.

Orange Blossom Macarons ready for the ovenUsing two teaspoons – one to scoop up the mixture and the other to push it onto the tray – put heaped teaspoons of the mixture onto the prepared trays, spacing them well apart, as they spread. I find I could only get 8 macarons onto one of my baking trays – any more and they joined together (not fatal, but you don’t get such a regular shape).

Bake for 15-17 minutes, swapping the trays around after 10 minutes so that they brown evenly. They should be golden and feel solid to the touch. Take out of the oven, gently pull them off the paper and leave them to cool, either on the tray or on a rack (if, like me, you need to re-use one of the trays). Miers says that the recipe makes 20, but I must have smaller teaspoons as I found I got 24 macarons.