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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Quinoa, nut, fruit and seed loaf

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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!

 

Ingredients

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

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Directions

  • 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.

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Roquefort and Honey Cheesecake with Walnut and Pear

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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

 

 

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Method

 

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.

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Lemon, Thyme and Ricotta Bundt Cake

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For my final bake for my colleagues I wanted to bake something really special. Although I may not have a signature bake, I do have a signature tin; the heritage Bundt tin which I thought I would use this for my farewell bake. Lemon drizzle seems to be a crowd pleaser but I wanted to do something a little bit different and came across a recipe for Lemon, Thyme and Ricotta Cake at  https://www.supergoldenbakes.com/2016/03/lemon-thyme-ricotta-and-semolina-cake.html. I adapted the recipe slightly by increasing the amount of lemon and thyme and did not use the crushed candies on the top. I was so happy with how it turned out. First of all, there were no tin dramas; that’s when the top third of my cake gets stuck in the tin when I try to turn it out. I left the cake to cool completely before attempting to turn it out of the tin. The cake was light and fluffy. The lemon and thyme syrup made the sponge incredibly moist and zingy and the thyme gave a background note which added a layer of complexity to the flavour. After six years of baking for these guys, I think we ended on a high. It makes me extremely happy to bake for such appreciative people! 

Ingredients

·         250g unsalted butter at room temperature, plus a little more to grease the cake tin

·         250g caster sugar

·         250g ricotta

·         150g fine semolina

·         150g plain flour, plus a little more to dust the cake tin

·         80ml lemon juice

·         3 eggs

·         2 tbsp lemon thyme leaves, very finely chopped

·         1 tsp baking powder

·         ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

·         zest of 2 lemons

·         fresh flowers to decorate (optional)

 

For the herb syrup

·         100g granulated sugar

·         100ml water

·         2 tbsp lemon juice

·         2 sprigs lemon thyme

·         4 sage leaves

 

For the glaze

·         200g icing sugar

·         1-2 tbsp lemon juice or milk

 

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Method

·         Preheat the oven to 180C/350 F/ Gas 4. Grease a 20cm (8in) bundt cake tin with butter. Dust with a little flour and shake out any excess.

·         Beat the butter, sugar, thyme and lemon zest in a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer) until pale and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides as needed.

·         Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat to combine.

·         Stir in the ricotta and lemon juice.

·         Sift in the flour, semolina, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir everything together until the batter is smooth.

·         Transfer the batter into the prepared bundt tin and level. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack before carefully turning out.

·         Put the sugar, water, lemon juice and herbs in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the herbs and brush the syrup liberally over the cake.

·         Mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice or milk to create a thick but pourable glaze. Drizzle it over the cake. I tend to put the glaze in the grooves of the bundt and use it as a glue to stick the decorations in place. Decorate with flowers. The cake keeps really well for a few days.

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Raspberry Jewel Box Cake

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As soon as I saw the picture of this cake, I knew it would be perfect for C’s mum’s birthday. Simple but impressive. The original recipe comes from the Great British Bake Off Show Stoppers book. The only thing that worried me was the chocolate bow, but I was happy with my plan B to use a real ribbon, so I decided to five the chocolate one a go. I did quite a lot if research about how to work with modelling chocolate (chocolate to which you add syrup and then can mould like Play Doh) and found that every single source said to leave overnight of for at least 2 hours in the fridge. The recipe I used just said leave the chocolate until set and that it may have to refrigerated, but didn’t specify a time. I used Green and Black’s white chocolate and liquid glucose. I left the mixed chocolate in the fridge for about 2 hours, but I wish I hadn’t. When I was working with the chocolate, it was only flexible up to a certain point, then it would fragment and it didn’t have much of a shine. I managed to get enough for the bow, but next time I don’t think it needs to go in the fridge and I could have used it after 30 minutes. Another thing I did which was not in the recipe was to trim the edges of the cake to get straight sides. Finally, I would slice the cake horizontally to put in a jam or crème fraiche filling as basically the cake inside is a white chocolate sponge. Having said all that, the cake was delicious and C’s mum was delighted with her raspberry jewel box.

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Ingredients

For the sponge

150g white chocolate, broken up
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large free range eggs, at room temperature, beaten
250g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt

For the chocolate bow

150g white chocolate, broken up
3 tablespoons liquid glucose

To finish

4 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, for brushing
800g raspberries

Instructions

For the sponge

  1. Line a 20.5cm square cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Melt the chocolate. Leave to cool until needed.
  3. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar, then add the vanilla and beat until the mixture is very light in colour and fluffy in texture, scraping down the bowl from time to time.
  4. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition and adding a tablespoon of the weighed flour with the last portion of egg (to prevent curdling).
  5. Sift the rest of the flour and the salt into the bowl and fold in using a large metal spoon.
  6. Add the cooled white chocolate and fold in until all the ingredients are completely amalgamated.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread evenly. Make a small hollow in the centre so that the cake will rise evenly.
  8. Bake for about 1 hour until golden brown and just firm to the touch and a wooden cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack. Once cold the cake can be wrapped well and stored in an airtight container for a day before finishing.

 

To finish

Set the cake on a serving board or platter. Make the chocolate ribbons and bow (see method below).

  1. Gently warm the raspberry jam until melted. Brush over the top and sides of the cake, then gently press the ribbons onto the cake – across the top and down the sides – to resemble a parcel. Starting with the top of the cake, press the raspberries (pointed end up) onto the sponge in the squares between the ribbons, so that the whole cake is covered, top and sides.
  2. Fix the chocolate bow in place with a dab of jam or chocolate. Serve the cake the same day.

To make chocolate ribbons and bow

  1. Melt the white chocolate and gently stir in liquid glucose. Leave to thicken at room temperature. Once the mixture is firm and almost set, mould it into a ball with your hands. (Some types and brands of chocolate need to be chilled to firm up.)
  2. Work and knead the mixture in your hands so it softens and becomes pliable and glossy (just like modelling clay or Play-Doh. As soon as it feels smooth, shape it into a sausage.
  3. Set the sausage between 2 long pieces of baking paper and roll out into a long, flat sheet. Peel off the top piece of paper. To make the crossed ribbons for the Jewel Box Cake, cut out 2 strips about 30 x 2.5cm, using a ruler and a long, sharp knife to get a straight, sharp edge. If the ribbons feel very soft, firm up in the fridge for a few minutes. Attach the strips to your cake.
  4. To make a bow, cut out 1 strip about 10 x 2.5cm, 2 strips 11 x 2.5cm and 2 strips about 14 x 2.5cm, cutting through the paper to leave the strips attached. Snip triangles out of one end of the 11cm strips using scissors, then rest the strips over a small paintbrush or similar implement to create a slight curve; these will be the bow ends.
  5. With the paper side out, bend each 14cm strip into a bow loop and press the ends together. Then peel off the paper and position the ends of the loops so they are slightly overlapping; press gently together. Peel the paper from the 10cm strip, then wrap it around the centre of the loops in a ring to hide the join; press the ends of the bow ring to seal. Put all the shaped pieces in the fridge so they can firm up a bit.
  6. Position the bow on top of the crossed ribbons on the cake, fixing in place with a dab of melted chocolate or jam if necessary. Reshape the loops and bow carefully until you are happy with the shape. Slot the bow ends under the loops and arrange over the cake.

 

Lemon and Turmeric Energy Balls

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I’m still going to the gym and so I make a new batch of energy balls every week. These ones are particularly good. I know turmeric is a ‘thing’ right now, but if it even has half the benefits it’s supposed to have, I’m in! I’ve adapted the original recipe (see link below) to make them much more ‘lemony’ by doubling the amount of zest and adding an extra tablespoon of lemon juice.  http://www.natalieshealth.com/2017/02/lemon-turmeric-energy-balls/

So now that I’ve perfected the recipe, I’ll just have to try not eat them all at once and still remember to go to the gym.

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Ingredients

12 Medjool dates

 90g Oats

 70g almonds

 1 tablespoon chia seeds

 5 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

50g shredded coconut for dusting

Instructions

  • Remove the pits from dates and soak them in hot water for several minutes. When the dates are softened, drain them and place in food processor. Save the water.
  • Add the other ingredients to a food processor and blend until mixture turns into a dough-like consistency. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved soaking water if the mixture seems too dry.
  • With a small spoon, scoop the mixture and roll into balls. Roll the balls in shredded coconut.
  • Store energy balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator, they will keep for at least a week.

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