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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Blackberry and Star Anise Friands

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I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to bake these blackberry and star anise friands since before the book ‘Sweet’ was published. It was one of the most interesting flavour combinations promised in the pre-sale marketing.  I was already a friand aficionado and have posted about plum and almond friands as well as rhubarb friands in the past, but I have to say the blackberry and star anise combo is a whole different story. At first you taste the blackberry, then the orange with the almond background and then at the end the star anise comes to the fore. It is truly delightful. I followed the recipe exactly but I didn’t use quite as much icing sugar as I only did zig zags on the top, rather than cover them completely. I would definitely make these again and sooner rather than later.

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Ingredients

180g     unsalted butter, plus an extra 10g, melted, for brushing

60g      plain flour, plus extra for dusting

200g    icing sugar

120g   ground almonds

1 1/4 tsp     ground star anise, (about 3 stars blitzed in a spice grinder then sieved).

1/8 tsp salt

150g egg whites (from 4 large eggs) 

finely grated zest of one small orange (1 tsp)

18 whole blackberries (120g) cut in half lengthways

Icing (optional) 

60g blackberries (about 8), plus an extra 24 small blackberries, to garnish 

3/4 tbsp water

1 tsp lemon juice

165g icing sugar

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7. Brush the 12 holes of a regular muffin tin with the melted butter and sprinkle all over with flour. Tap the tray gently to ensure an even coating of the flour, then turn upside down to remove the excess. Place in the fridge to chill while you make the batter.

2. To brown the butter, place in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat until melted. Continue to cook until the butter is foaming, gently swirling the pan from time to time, to allow the solids to brown more evenly. You will see dark brown sediments begin to form on the sides and bottom of the pan. Continue to allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a rich golden brown and smells of toasted nuts and caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes, to allow the burnt solids to collect at the bottom of the pan. Strain through a fine-mesh (or muslin-lined) sieve, discarding the solids. Allow the browned butter to cool slightly before using. It should still be warm when folding into the mix later: if it is too hot, it will ‘cook’ the egg whites; if it is too cool, it will be difficult to incorporate into the mix.

3. While the butter is cooling, sift the flour, icing sugar, ground almonds, star anise and salt into a bowl. Place the egg whites in a small bowl and use a whisk or fork to froth them up for a few seconds – you do not need to whisk them completely. Pour the egg whites into the sifted dry ingredients and stir until they are incorporated. Add the orange zest and browned butter and mix until the batter is smooth.

4. Remove the muffin tin from the fridge and fill the moulds just over two-thirds of the way up the sides. Place three halved blackberries on top, cut side down, and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 210°C/190°C Fan/Gas Mark 6 – starting with a high oven temperature and then bringing it down is the way to achieve the lovely brown crust you want – turn the tray around in the oven for even cooking, and continue to cook for another 8 minutes, until the edges of the friands are golden brown and the centres have a slight peak and spring back when gently prodded. Set aside to cool before removing them from their moulds: you might need to use a small knife to help you release the sides.

5. If you are icing the cakes, place 60g of blackberries in a small bowl with the water and lemon juice. Use a fork to mash them together, then pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to extract as much fruit juice as possible: you should get about 60ml. Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl, pour in the blackberry juice and combine to make a light purple runny icing: it should just be thick enough to form a thin glaze on the tops of the cakes. Spoon the icing over the cakes, spreading it to the edges so that it runs down the sides. Do this on a rack, if you can, as icing them on a plate or sheet of paper means that the icing will pool at the bottom. Alternatively, put the icing into a piping bag and zig zag it over the top. Place 1 or 2 small blackberries on each friand, set aside for 20 or 30 minutes to set, then serve.

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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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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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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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