This week, this life

(Italian chocolate-almond torte)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a baker in possession of a surfeit of eggwhites must make macarons.

While at times I have adhered to this rule, it is my preference to reject such truths. I enjoy taste-testing everything I bake, and macarons just don’t rock my sugar addicted taste-buds the way cakes and pastries do.

This dairy-free and gluten-free cake from one of my favourite baking books, is so delicious that I wish I had excess egg whites lying around more often. Surprising to think that it took me awhile to finally try this recipe, even though it had been recommended by others many times before. The idea of egg whites, sugar, chocolate and nuts had me initially envisioning some sort of meringue cake which I’d once made and disliked. This one however, tastes exactly like how you would want any good chocolate cake to be. Softly yielding, rich but light. So. Very. Chocolate.

(Banana, yogurt and mesquite cake)

In case popping up after more than a month of not blogging comes as a complete surprise, I plead exhaustion and lack of time. At my current job, I’ve been working fairly long hours. That’s more of a statement than a complaint. In fact, I’m enjoying working in a kitchen more than ever. Long peppers, liquid nitrogen, toasted barley, preserved lemon meringues, caramelised milk crumbs and blistered buttery wafers now count amongst some of my favourite things.

Aside from perhaps too many conversations about cars and sports (football being the exception), I don’t mind the blokey atmosphere either, even if sometimes I’m tempted to request a token conversation about makeup and ‘feelings’.

As often as I can, I’ve been supplying this kitchen with snacks such as banana cake, to show my appreciation. Most people I’ve worked with, both past and present, often express complete surprise that I would spend my days-off baking. If you work 80+ hours on a regular basis, I probably wouldn’t either. Not only because it’s the cooking equivalent of taking your work home with you, but there’s probably nothing in the fridge at home anyway. Not even a carton of milk past it’s due by date. While I’m willing and able however, there will always be cake.

The idea of pairing banana with mesquite flour came about from a conversation with Kerry. Mesquite flour, from the bean of the mesquite plant, has a very distinctive sweet and spiced caramel flavour. It is especially good in chocolate chip cookies or even cookies such as these. Generally speaking, when using, I like to substitute up to 20% of the flour content with it.

Below are the recipes for both cakes, which I’ll hope you’ll go on and make to share with others. If you’re willing and able.

Italian chocolate-almond torte :
(Torta Cioccolata; recipe from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich)

1 cup (140g) unblanched or blanched whole almonds
200g unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 large egg whites (1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 175’C. Grease the sides of a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with baking paper.

Combine the almonds, chocolate, 1/2 cup of sugar and the slat in a food processor and pulse until the almonds and chocolate are very finely chopped but not completely pulverized. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Add one third of the nut mixture to the egg whites and fold in with a large rubber spatula until nearly incorporated. Fold in half of the remaining nuts, then fold in the rest of the nuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the torte has risen and is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, or with a little melted chocolate, 25 to 30 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the bottom of the pan and then the baking liner. Turn the cake right side up and cool completely. Cover or wrap tightly, and store for up to 3 days at room temperature.

[Note: if you can’t get a hold of unsweetened chocolate, use the darkest chocolate you can buy eg. 70% or 85% and reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe]

Banana, yogurt and mesquite cake :
(based on Pichet Ong’s banana cake recipe, as appears in The Sweet Spot)

78g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g plain flour
30g mesquite flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
85g honey
72g light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
228g roughly mashed bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
130g full-fat plain European style/Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 175’C. Lightly butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flours, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.

Put the butter, honey, sugar, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the bananas and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until the mixture looks lumpy, about 1 minute. The bananas should be smashed, with a few small chunks remaining.

Turn the speed to medium-low and beat in the egg until incorporated. Gradually add the sifted flour mixture, mixing just until no traces of flour remain, about 10 seconds. Fold in the yogurt gently. At this point, you can also fold through a handful of cocoa nibs if you wish.

Transfer the batter to the greased pan. Bake in the center of the oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool completely on the rack.

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Daring Bakers Challenge : Puddings


(Manuka honey pudding with coffee, chestnut and dates)

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

Pudding purists may want to avert their eyes now. As I was very pressed for time this month, a few shortcuts were taken in order to make the deadline for the challenge. I opted for one of the recipes provided that called for butter rather than suet, and instead of steaming the pudding (which would have taken hours), the mixture was (gasp)microwaved(gasp). It literally took one minute to cook the pudding, and rather pleasingly, it turned out gloriously fluffy and very very tasty.

The pudding was flavoured with Manuka honey – a decision brought about mainly by my wish to utilise that rather lonely jar of New Zealand’s finest honey sitting in the cupboard. The combination of the honey with a hint of vanilla and spice in the pudding, brought to mind classic sticky date pudding, hence the date and coffee puree, as well as a scattering of chestnut crumble (to complete that Autumnal touch), some poached dates and crispy date skins.

While this hasty pudding ended up being pretty tasty, I still kind of wish there had been time to attempt a traditional Sussex pond pudding or a steak and kidney pie – two things that just so happen to be on the list of things I want to try baking. Perhaps it will finally happen, when this hectic daze that I’m in calms down a little….


(Yogurt cake)

Meanwhile here’s another pudding I made recently when we fancied a quick and fairly healthy dessert. This wonderful Lebanese recipe is from the Moro cookbook and is incredibly easy to make. It contains only a very small amount of flour, and so can be adapted to be gluten-free as well. The pudding was so light, clean and citrussy that it practically needed no accompaniment, but if need be, I can imagine it pairing well with stewed rhubarb or berries and stonefruit.

Yogurt cake with pistachios :
(from Moro The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark)

3 large organic or free-range eggs, separated
70g caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways
350g yogurt (home made yogurt, or Greek yogurt thinned with a little milk)
finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1/2 orange
juice of 1 lemon
20g plain flour
30g shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped [I omitted these as I didn’t have any at the time]

Preheat the oven to 180’C and put a bain-marie of water in to warm on the middle shelf. Have ready a 25cm round or square baking dish or cake tin with a solid bottom, preferably stainless-steel, or lined with greaseproof paper.

In a bowl beat the egg yolks with three-quarters of the sugar until thick and pale. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and mix into the egg-sugar mixture. Add the yogurt, lemon and orange zest, lemon juice and the flour and mix well. In a separate bowl whisk up the egg whites with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form. Gently and evenly, fold the whites into the yogurt mixture. Pour the mixture into the baking tin. Place the tin in the bain-marie, making sure that the boiling water comes halfway up the tin, and cook for about 20 minutes. Then add the chopped pistachios, sprinkling them gently on top, and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until the top is light brown in colour. The correct consistency of the cake should be a light sponge on top with a wet custard below. Serve with yogurt.

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Persimmon, cinnamon and yogurt brioche tart


(Persimmon, cinnamon and yogurt brioche tart)

As we turn our clocks back, marking the passing of one season to the next, I can’t help but get a little excited thinking about the fruits that are slowly making their way into our shopping baskets and onto our tables. Fruits such as pears, quinces, and my favourite childhood snack, persimmons.

We loved them so much as kids that whenever persimmons were in season, my father would buy them (always the crunchy, non-astringent kind) by the tray or bagful, have them washed and cut into quarters and left in a dish for anyone to pick and nibble on. I used to marvel at the way some of the fruit had speckled flesh, which made them look as though they had been fed cinnamon while growing.

We occasionally had the dried version of the fruit as well. It was usually thinly sliced and added to sweet soups, but I never really liked its flavour or texture and tended to keep a wide berth of it.

Strangely, I’ve been enjoying eating raw persimmons for so long now that it hadn’t occurred to me until recently, to try cooking with them. A conversation with a friend led me to envision pot-roasting the fruit with brown sugar and perhaps a twist of lemon and vanilla, or peeling and poaching them in St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur) or a spiced tea syrup. Once cooked, I plan to pair the fruit with little chestnut teacakes or perhaps my favourite gluten-free buckwheat cake.

In the meantime, the baking bug had me craving a generous slice of brioche, so I made a simple brioche ‘tart’, topped with slices of persimmon and yogurt custard.


For this tart, I used Michel Roux’s brioche recipe from his book, Pastry. I have not provided the recipe for it here. You may already have your favourite, or if not, there are many recipes out there to choose from, even this gluten-free one. If persimmons aren’t in season, try figs and pears instead, or a mixture of berries.

Persimmon, cinnamon and yogurt brioche tart :

500g brioche dough, proved overnight in fridge (for a thinner tart or a more balanced fruit to brioche ratio, use 250g brioche dough and adjust baking time accordingly)
Yogurt custard (recipe below)
6 -7 small ripe persimmons (or 4 large ones)

Grease a 28 cm fluted tart tin. Roll the brioche dough out to a rough circle that is large enough to fit the tin and line the tin with the dough. Lightly press the edges up against the sides of the tin. Cover with clingfilm and allow to prove until double.

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Slice the persimmons as thinly as possible (you can peel them first, if that’s your preference) and arrange them, slightly overlapping on the dough. Pour the custard over the persimmon slices. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 150’C and continue baking for an additional 25 – 30 minutes or until the brioche is golden brown.

Allow the tart to cool until just warm before serving. This tart is best eaten on the day it is made.

Yogurt custard :

120g European-style/Greek yogurt
60g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk all the ingredients together just to combine.

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