Rose and dark chocolate shortbread and kewar water, milk chocolate and pistachio shortbread

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The first thing to say about these biscuits is that I had special help in the making and decorating of them. C and I wanted to make his mum something for Mother’s Day. She is quite partial to shortbread, but to make it extra special, we decided to flavour half with rose and decorate it with dark chocolate and the other half with kewar water and decorate it with milk chocolate. Kewar water is typically used to flavour Indian sweets and this is the smell that hits you when you walk into an Indian sweet shop. It’s very fragrant and sweet, not unlike rose water. I adapted the recipe from the John Waites recipe in the March edition of the Waitrose magazine. They turned out brilliantly.
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Ingredients

200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

100g caster sugar

1 lemon, zested

½-1 tsp rose water (rose water can vary in intensity, so add just a little at a time)

1 tsp kewar water

1 tsp vanilla extract

300g plain flour

2 tbsp Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients dried rose petals, plus extra to decorate

100g dark chocolate

100g milk chocolate

Chopped pistachio nuts for decoration

 

 

Method

  1. Put the half butter, sugar, lemon zest, the rose water and vanilla in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat together for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down and add half the flour, a pinch of salt and the rose petals, mixing together briefly until it comes together as a dough. Tip the dough onto the work surface and bring together into a ball. Flatten with your hands, then roll out to a 25cm square; place on a baking tray and chill until firm – about 30 minutes.
  2. Do the same with the other half of the ingredients but this time use the kewar water.
  3. Preheat the oven to 170˚C, gas mark 3; line 2 baking trays with parchment. Halve the dough, then cut into 2.5cm-thick fingers or shape into hearts using a cookie cutter and pierce all over with a fork.
  4. Put the biscuits on the prepared baking trays and bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  5. Put the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl and microwave in 30 second bursts until about ¾ of the chocolate has melted. Mix vigorously with a spatula until fully melted (this is a quick method of tempering the chocolate). Dip the rose shortbread halfway into the chocolate, allow the excess to drip off, then lay on a clean sheet of parchment to set, decorating with a few extra rose petals. Melt the milk chocolate in the same way and dip half the kewar water shortbread into it. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts. Once the chocolate has set, you can store the shortbread in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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Pineapple and Star Anise Chiffon Cake

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‘Pineapple’ was the flavour of choice for this birthday cake. So with this in mind I searched through my recipe collection. As pineapple is a very juicy fruit, the cakes it tends to be used in are quite heavy like a hummingbird cake or a carrot cake. My friend for whom I made this cake is very glamorous and a hummingbird cake would simply not do. Once again Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh came to the rescue with this pineapple and star anise chiffon cake from Sweet. This elegant cake with its unusual profile flavour is a light, fluffy cake made by whisking the egg whites separately and then gently folding them in to create a pillow like texture. I’ve never made a chiffon cake before so I had to buy a chiffon cake tin, yet another tin to store under the bed! I followed the recipe more or less, but I didn’t use sugar syrup for the pineapple flowers that the recipe calls for, I just sliced the pineapple, removed the core and put the rings in the oven to dry. I also added peach Bellini truffles for the centre of the flowers, I know this is a bit like gilding the lily, but my friend is a more is more kind of girl. I was really happy with how the cake turned out and think I could add this to my repertoire.

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Ingredients

1 large ripe pineapple (about 1.2kg), peeled, core removed

4 star anise

225g self-raising flour

240g caster sugar, plus an extra 50g for the egg whites

125ml sunflower oil

9 eggs, separated

Finely grated zest of 2 oranges

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

300g pure icing sugar, sift

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200°C.
  • To make the cake, coarsely chop 400g pineapple, reserving remaining pineapple for dried pineapple flowers. Whiz chopped pineapple in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until cooked through, then remove from heat. Reserve 200g pineapple puree for the cake and set aside to cool.
  • Strain remaining 200g puree through a fine sieve placed over a bowl to yield the 60ml juice you will need to make the icing. If you don’t get enough juice, add water or orange juice to make up 60ml liquid.
  • Using a mortar and pestle, pound the star anise until finely ground. Transfer a pinch of ground star anise to a bowl, cover and set aside until needed.
  • Place flour, 240g caster sugar and 1/2 tsp fine salt in a large bowl with remaining star anise and whisk to combine. Make a well in the centre and add oil, egg yolks, zest, vanilla seeds and reserved pineapple puree. Using a fork, whisk wet ingredients together before gently drawing in the dry ingredients to make a smooth batter.
  • Place egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk for 30 seconds or until frothy, then add cream of tartar. Continue to whisk until soft peaks form, then gradually add 50g caster sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes or until mixture is stiff and glossy. Gently fold egg white mixture into pineapple batter until just combined.
  • Pour batter into the ungreased chiffon pan and bake for 50 minutes, covering with foil halfway if the top is browning too quickly, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediately invert the tin (don’t worry if the removable base slips down a little when the cake is turned over – the cake will remain suspended because the tin is not greased). Set aside for 1 hour or until completely cool. Turning the tin upside down allows the cake to cool with air flow underneath it. If the tin is not turned upside down, the cake will collapse.

 

  • Reduce oven to 120°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  • To make the pineapple flowers; using a serrated knife, cut reserved remaining pineapple crossways into 2mm-thick slices and place on the baking tray.
  • Transfer to the oven and bake for 1-11/2 hours (cooking time depends on how ripe the pineapple is) or until the slices are golden and completely dry, but still have some flexibility.
  • Immediately shape hot pineapple slices either over the moulds of an egg carton or inside the holes of a muffin pan to form little cups. Set aside to cool and firm up.

 

  • When the cake is cool, turn the pan cake-side up. Using a long palette knife, loosen cake from the sides and central tube, and turn out onto a serving plate.

 

  • To make the icing, place icing sugar in a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir through reserved pineapple juice until well combined. Drizzle top of cake with icing, allowing some to drip down the sides. Top with pineapple flowers and sprinkle with reserved ground star anise to serve.

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Orange and Polenta Cake

 

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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.

Ingredients

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

Syrup

Juice of 2 oranges

3 teaspoons of honey

3 teaspoons rose water

Decoration

50g chopped pistachios

Orange zest

2 tablespoons of icing sugar

A few drops of rose water

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  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

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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.

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Ingredients

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

Syrup

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

Method

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

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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

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·         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.

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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.

 

Ingredients

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

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·     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.

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Coconut, Almond and Blueberry Cake

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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.

 

Ingredients

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

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Directions

  • 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.

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