Orange and Star Anise Autumn Leaves

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I don’t often make biscuits but having watched The Great British Bake Off I felt quite inspired, though I wasn’t going to be making a biscuit chandelier! There is very much a sense of autumn in the air, and so the leaf cookie cutters I bought a year or so ago were brought out of their hiding place.

Ottolenghi’s Sweet book has this lovely recipe for orange and star anise biscuits. I really enjoyed the star anise when making the blackberry and star anise friands and since then I have been using this usually neglected spice as often as I can. I now use star anise in my porridge instead of cinnamon. I did simplify the original recipe as I only had plain flour not the two types of flour the recipe called for: rice and ‘00’.

I have to say that I ‘tested’ a significant number of biscuits and they were really delicious. The only thing I might change next time would be to increase the amount of orange zest. Otherwise these biscuits are a true celebration of autumn!

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Ingredients

430g plain flour

165g caster sugar

⅛ tsp baking powder

1½ tsp ground star anise (about 3 whole star anise)

1 tsp flaky sea salt

finely grated zest of 1 large orange (1 tbsp.)

scraped seeds of ½ vanilla pod

250g unsalted butter, fridge-cold, cut into 2cm cubes

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions 

1. Sift the flours, sugar, baking powder and ground star anise into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt, orange zest and vanilla seeds and mix to combine. Add the butter and use the tips of your fingers to rub it into the dry mix until there are no large bits of butter and the consistency is that of breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix gradually, using your hands or a wooden spoon, until the dough comes together. Shape into a rectangle and wrap tightly in cling film. Set aside in the fridge for at least 1 hour to firm up.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment and set aside.

3. Cut the dough in half and roll out one half on a lightly floured work surface until it is just under 0.5cm thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out the biscuits and place them on the lined baking trays, spaced 1cm apart. Re-roll the scraps to cut out more biscuits.

4. Bake for 16–17 minutes, in batches if necessary, rotating the trays halfway through to get an even colour. They should be golden brown on the edges, lightly golden in the centre and have a golden brown underside. Transfer to a cooling rack until completely cool.

5. The dough can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge overnight; make sure you remove it from the fridge and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling, so it becomes malleable. The dough can also be frozen before or after it is rolled and shaped; if the latter, bake from frozen and increase the cooking time by 1 minute.

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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