Orange and Polenta Cake



Another birthday and another cake is called for in order to celebrate in style. In the winter months, it is the orange that is the most delicious fruit of all.  I have so many recipes for orange cakes, each of them slightly different. This recipe combines my three favourite features of my many recipes, namely: polenta and ground almonds rather than flour, a whole orange, pureed, rather than just the zest and the peel, and finally the use of a heritage bundt tin. I truly love my heritage bundt tin, but it’s a risky business using it. I can never be entirely sure whether the cake will actually come out in one piece. The best advice I was given on how to avoid the dangers of the bundt tin was by Helen Goh, co- author of the Ottolenghi book Sweet, and that was to use room temperature butter, not melted, to liberally grease the tin and then dust it with flour. I followed this advice and most of it came out! The cake was a huge hit, it was full of flavour, looked great and brought a smile to the face of the birthday boy.


Butter (room temperature) for greasing

8 green cardamom pods

225g ground almonds

100g polenta (extra for dusting the tin)

1 heaped tsp baking powder

225g butter, softened

225g caster sugar

3 large eggs

1 whole orange (Boiled for 1 hour, then blended)

1 tsp vanilla extract


Juice of 2 oranges

3 teaspoons of honey

3 teaspoons rose water


50g chopped pistachios

Orange zest

2 tablespoons of icing sugar

A few drops of rose water


  1. Put the whole orange in a saucepan half filled with water. Boil for an hour or until a sharp knife will go through the orange easily. Be careful not to let the water boil away!
  2. When the orange is soft, allow it to cool then roughly chop in to pieces. Remove the pips and blend into a puree. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas mark 4. Grease the bundt tin with butter at room temperature. Dust with the polenta.
  4. Take the seeds out of the cardamom pods and crush with a pestle and mortar. In a bowl, add the cardamom together with the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder.
  5. Beat the sugar and butter together in a bowl until the mixture is light and pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Tip the bowl of dry ingredients into this mixture and fold with a spatula until combined. Add the orange puree and the vanilla extract and fold through.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Prepare the syrup by placing all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a steady simmer.
  8. Pierce holes all over the cake with a skewer while the cake is cooling and pour over the syrup a little at a time, until the cake soaks it up.
  9. Mix the icing sugar and the rose water to make the icing sugar. Put it in a piping bag and pipe it along the grooves. This helps the pistachios and orange zest to stick and it also helps to hide any imperfections in the cake!
  10. Sprinkle the chopped pistachio in alternate grooves of the cake and in the others sprinkle the orange zest (I like to use longer strands of orange zest).IMG_1138 - Copy

Rose and Pistachio Cake

Rose and Pistachio cake 5

I’ve been very selective about my baking of late, so only the most exceptional recipes are under consideration, so it’s lucky that I bought Ottolenghi’s book, Sweet. This Rose and Pistachio cake was made for a very special 50th birthday. I’m a huge fan of polenta cakes. This one uses both polenta and ground almonds making it the perfect vehicle for the rose and lemon syrup which soaks the warm cake. The result is a beautifully moist and flavoursome cake. I was expecting a stronger rose flavour, so next time I would swap the quantities of lemon juice and rose water in the syrup. The crystallised rose petals on top are easy to make and can be baked in the oven while you are preparing the cake mixture. I think they are worth the effort as they give the cake that little bit of pizazz.

Rose and Pistachio cake 3


3 cardamom pods

150g shelled pistachio kernels, plus an extra 20g, finely chopped, to serve

100g ground almonds

170g fine semolina

1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

300g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed, plus extra for greasing

330g caster sugar

4 large eggs, lightly whisked

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (1 tsp), plus 1 tbsp lemon juice


100ml lemon juice

80ml rose water

100g caster sugar

Crystallised Rose Petals (if using)

1 large egg white

10g pesticide-free red or pink rose petals (about 40 medium rose petals)

25g caster sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 100°C/80°C Fan/Gas Mark ¼. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease a 23cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

2. To crystallise the rose petals, if using, whisk the egg white by hand until frothy, then, using a small pastry brush or paintbrush, very lightly paint over both sides of each petal with the egg white: do this in two or three small batches, brushing and then sprinkling lightly over both sides with the sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and lay the petals on the lined baking tray. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, until dry and crunchy, then set aside to cool.

3. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4.

4. Use the flat side of a large knife to crush the cardamom pods and place the seeds in the small bowl of a food processor: you’ll have just under ¼ teaspoon of seeds. The pods can be discarded. Add the pistachios and blitz until the nuts are finely ground – the black cardamom seeds won’t really grind down – then transfer to a bowl. Add the ground almonds, semolina, baking powder and salt. Mix together and set aside.

5. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on a medium-high speed until fully combined but take care not to over-work: you don’t want to incorporate a lot of air into the mix. With the machine still running, slowly add the eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times and making sure that each batch is fully incorporated before adding the next. The mix will curdle once the eggs are added, but don’t worry: this will not affect the end result.

6. Remove the bowl from the machine and add the dry ingredients, folding them in by hand and again, taking care not to over-mix. Next fold in the lemon zest, juice, rose water and vanilla and scrape the batter into the tin. Level with a palette knife and bake for about 55–60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean but oily.

7. Start to make the syrup about 10 minutes before the cake comes out of the oven: you want it to be warm when the cake is ready. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat: don’t worry that the consistency is thinner than you might expect, this is how it should be.

8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, drizzle all of the syrup over the top. It is a lot of syrup, but don’t lose your nerve: the cake can take it! Sprinkle over the finely chopped pistachios and set the cake aside in its tin to come to room temperature. Remove from the tin and scatter the rose petals over the cake. Serve with a generous spoonful of cream alongside.

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Amaretti with honey and orange blossom


The Christmas baking has begun. Actually, it’s been going on for quite some time now. Every year I bake something to give as gifts. In years past there have been a trio of macarons, Christmas biscotti and biscuits for cheese. This year I wanted to keep it simple and elegant. I decided I would choose one fabulous recipe and stick with it. After much deliberation I picked Yotam Ottolenghi’s Amaretti with honey and orange blossom from his new book Sweet. The orange blossom provides that touch of elegance I was looking for and the almond flavour and the dusting of icing sugar are for me, evocative of Christmas.

I’m now on to my 4th batch and have found that I don’t use quite as much icing sugar as in the recipe and I don’t use the full amount of flaked almonds (not enough room for all of them). The other thing to bear in mind is that there is a lot of resting time in the recipe (that’s for the mixture, rather than the baker!), so do allow plenty of time. I usually do the mixture first thing in the morning, roll them mid-morning then bake them in the afternoon. The hands-on time is actually pretty short. The results are truly delightful, they look great and taste even better!

200g ground almonds

110g caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

finely grated zest of 1 orange

1/8 tsp salt

60g egg whites (from 1 and 1/2 large eggs)

25g runny honey

1/8 tsp almond extract

1/4 tsp orange blossom water

100g flaked almonds for rolling

25g icing sugar for dusting


·         Combine the almonds, sugar, lemon zest, orange zest and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

·         Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and whisk on a medium speed. Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a medium heat, and just before it comes to the boil, increase the speed of the whisk to medium-high while the honey continues to boil for 30 seconds and the egg whites form soft peaks. Remove the honey from the heat and carefully pour into the egg whites, in a continuous stream, whisking all the time. When all the honey has been added, keep whisking for a minute until the meringue is fully whipped and cooled. Stop the mixer, remove the whisk attachment and change to the paddle attachment.

·         Add the almond and sugar mixture, along with the almond extract and orange blossom water. Mix until it all comes together to form a soft, pliable paste. Alternatively, use a wooden spoon or your hands to bring everything together. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge for 1 hour to firm up. The mixture will still be very soft but the chilling will help when rolling out.

·         Once chilled, divide the mixture into four portions of about 90g each. Sprinkle a quarter of the flaked almonds on a clean work surface and roll out one piece to form a log 30cm long and 1.5cm wide, covered with almonds.

·         Line a baking tray (that will fit inside your fridge) with baking parchment, and either lift the log on to the tray by hand or roll it on to a clean ruler and use that to transfer it to the tray. Continue until you have rolled all four pieces into logs, sprinkling more flaked almonds on the work surface with each batch. Place them all on the tray, cover with cling film, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

·         When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/Gas Mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

·         Remove the tray from the fridge and cut each log into five smaller logs, 6cm long. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and roll each piece in the icing sugar so that they are covered all over. Spread out on the parchment-lined baking tray, spaced 2cm apart, and bake for 13–15 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through, until the Amaretti are golden brown but still soft. Remove from the oven and set aside on the tray for 10 minutes. These can be served warm or transferred on to a wire rack to cool and firm up before serving.


Red Lentil and Tomato Soup with Harissa

IMG_1954The winter soup season is officially here. There is nothing better than a bowl of hot soup to chase away the chill of winter. This red lentil, tomato and harissa soup is everything you could ask for in a soup. It’s comforting, warming and packs a punch on the flavour front and it is incredibly easy to make. Yet another excellent recipe from Felicity Cloake.



2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

200g red lentils

½ tin plum tomatoes, chopped

1 litre of vegetable stock

5 teaspoons harissa, or to taste

4 teaspoons plain yoghurt (optional)

sunflower seeds to garnish


·     Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion. Cook for 7 minutes until softened, then stir in the garlic and cumin seeds and cook for a further couple of minutes. Stir through the cinnamon and cook for another minute.

·     Stir in the lentils followed by the tomatoes and the stock. Bring to a simmer then turn down the heat and cook for about 20 minutes until the lentils have broken down and the soup is thick. Stir from time to time to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  

·    Stir in the harissa a teaspoon at a time until you are happy with the taste.

·    Serve with yoghurt swirled on the top and garnish.



Coconut, Almond and Blueberry Cake


So, I finally get the chance to bake out of the new Ottolenghi book, Sweet. I have had the book for quite a while, but these days I really need an excuse to make something high in calories, even it if it is delicious. When I found out it was the birthday of a colleague, that could only mean one thing: I would have to bake a cake, diet or not!

This cake is exceptional. The ground almonds make the texture very moreish and decadent; the blueberries burst with juiciness and the coconut and lemon zest add a complexity to the flavour.



180g ground almonds

60g desiccated coconut

250g caster sugar

70g self-raising flour

¼ tsp salt

4 large eggs

200g unsalted butter, melted, then set aside to come to room temperature

1½ tsp vanilla extract

 finely grated zest of 2 lemons

200g fresh blueberries

20g flaked almonds



  • Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4.
  • Place the almonds, coconut, sugar, flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to aerate and remove the lumps.
  • Place the eggs in a separate medium bowl and whisk lightly. Add the melted butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest and whisk again until well combined. Pour this into the dry mix and whisk to combine.
  • Fold in 150g blueberries, then pour the mixture into the tin. Sprinkle the last of the blueberries on top, along with the flaked almonds and bake for 50–55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Keep a close eye on it towards the end of cooking: the relatively large number of eggs in the mix means that it can go from still being a little bit liquid in the centre to being well cooked in just a few minutes.
  • Set aside for 30 minutes before inverting out of the tin, removing the baking parchment and placing the cake the right way up on a serving plate. It can either be served warm with cream or set aside until cool.


Quinoa, nut, fruit and seed loaf


I don’t go to Selfridges often, but when I do, I always buy a copy of Donna Hay’s Fresh and Light magazine. It’s a beautiful magazine and feels more like a book that a magazine. This quinoa, nut, fruit and seed loaf belongs to the ‘wholesome loaf’ series which consists of four loaves, including Peanut butter and banana loaf and Rhubarb, raspberry and coconut loaf which I will definitely be making.

This loaf makes a really healthy and filling breakfast and also a really tasty afternoon snack, which is why there was only half the loaf left for the picture!



40g sunflower seeds

40g pumpkin seeds

115g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

80g brazil nuts, roughly chopped

40g currants (I used dried cherries as I’m not a fan of currants)

75g raisins

180g cooked quinoa* (I used mixed quinoa and bulgur wheat)

60g coconut sugar (brown sugar would do)

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 eggs

280g Greek yoghurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

140g spelt flour, sifted

*90g uncooked quinoa makes 180g of cooked quinoa



  • Preheat oven to 180C/ fan 160C/Gas Mark 4
  • Place the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts and brazil nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until you can hear the seeds popping. Remove 80g and set aside for the topping. Put the rest in a large bowl.
  • Add all the other ingredients to the large bowl and mix until well combined
  • Put the mixture in a lined loaf tin. Scatter the seeds and nuts set aside earlier on to the top of the loaf and bake in the oven for 70 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool slightly in the tin before removing.



Roquefort and Honey Cheesecake with Walnut and Pear


My current favourite cookbook is Felicity Cloake’s A to z of Eating. I made the Aloo Tikki Scotch Eggs for the Borough Market Cookbook club which went down really well. One of the best things about the cookbook club is that you get to try recipes that the other members have made. The dish I was most impressed with was the Roquefort and honey cheesecake with walnut and pear; deliciously savoury and sweet at the same time. So, when my parents were here on a visit, I took the opportunity to try out the recipe. It was divine, everyone loved it and there was enough for lunch the next day too. I served it with a green salad and really that’s all it needs.  Make it ahead of time and serve cold to avoid hassle.

For the base:

  • 200g plain, finely milled oatcakes
  • 70g walnuts
  • 125g melted butter, plus extra to grease
  • 3 tbsp honey


For the topping:

  • 400g cream cheese
  • 200g Roquefort, crumbled
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 pear



IMG_1799 (Edited)



To make the base, whizz the oatcakes and 50g of the walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped, then drizzle in the melted butter and the honey and whizz to combine. Set to one side.

Grease a 23cm springform tin with butter, making sure the bottom half of the sides is particularly generously greased. Press the mixture down firmly into the base of the tin. Whizz the remaining walnuts until finely chopped, then add to the tin and rotate it on its side so it is coated with walnut crumbs to about halfway up. Chill for at least an hour

Heat the oven to 130°C/fan 110°C/gas a half. Beat together the cheeses until well combined, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by 1 tablespoon of the honey and some black pepper.

Pour into the tin and bake for 90 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin while you finish the topping

Turn the oven up to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6. Thinly slice the pear, removing the stalk, and put it on a greased baking tray. Brush with half the remaining honey and bake for 15 minutes

Heat the grill, brush the pear slices with the rest of the honey and grill for about five minutes, until beginning to brown. Arrange on top of the cheesecake and serve warm or cold, but not hot.