Lemon and Pistachio Mini Cakes

I’ve been thinking about baking with pistachios for some time, and I really wanted to replicate a gorgeously damp nutty cake I sampled when I went to Franco Manca’s several months ago. Browsing in the blogosphere, I came upon this divinely tempting looking recipe on The Little Loaf  for Pistachio and Lemon Loaf Cakes…. and it looked like it was exactly what I was hoping to make!

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I made some very slight modifications, halving the recipe as I didn’t have quite enough nuts, and using cardboard square cake cases instead of a loaf tin. It was, without doubt, an absolute joy to eat, beautifully moist, and full of flavour. Definitely a recipe certainly to make again and again in the future!

Lemon and Pistachio Mini Cakes

Original recipe from River Cafe Cookbook Easy and adapted from The Little Loaf

  • 125g soft butter
  • 165g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, whisked
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 20g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 60g ground pistachios
  • 30g pistachios, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Whisk together the soft butter and 125g sugar together until pale and fluffy. Then gradually whisk in the eggs until completely incorporated. Whisk in half the lemon zest, then add the flour and ground nuts and whisk in until incorporated. Put the cake mix into small cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and springy on top. Or you can bake the mixture in a lined 1lb loaf tin for approximately 40 minutes.

Set the cakes aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice, remaining zest and sugar into a small pan. Over a medium heat, cook the liquid until it has reduced and become syrupy. Mix in the chopped pistachios. Using a teaspoon, spoon the syrup over the pistachio-topped cakes.

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Ham, Leek and Gruyère Quiche

I got a lunch request for tomorrow, but also saw this as a nifty opportunity to use up ingredients in the fridge again. I had some Gruyere left in the fridge from December’s tart making flurry, as well as a pot of double cream that had been intended for use in a white chocolate ganache for the chocolate cake of the previous post.

Anyways, a quick trip to Tesco for some ready made shortcrust pastry (I really wasn’t in the mood for making my own this time) and I was ready to go. The shop shortcrust pastry was quite sticky and a bit less malleable when it came to lining my tart tins, but there was plenty to go round, and I managed to line two mini tartlet tins as well – splendid for nibbles today!

As it happened, in a stroke of luck, my filling also filled the large tart case and the two little ones exactly, as well, and I popped all 3 into the oven and enjoyed the two little ones for lunch today. Diiivine.

I haven’t got a photo of this finished quiche, but popped up a picture of another one for posterity.

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Ham, Leek and Gruyere quiche

Makes 1 big tart

  • 300g shortcrust pastry
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1/2 leek, finely sliced
  • 5 thick-cut slices of ham, diced
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 225ml double cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated

Line the tart tin with pastry, stab the base thoroughly with a fork, chill, then bake in the oven at 200˚C for 10-12 minutes. If it puffs up, stab the base with a fork again to get rid of the trapped air that’s making it rise. Sprinkle the base with 1/3 grated cheese. Set aside. Turn the oven down to 180˚C.

Gently sautee the onion in a saucepan until soft and golden, then mix in the leeks, ham and cornflour, and stir well. The add the cream, and take the pan off the heat. Beat in the eggs, and pour the mixture into the pastry case. Sprinkle the top with cheese. Bake for around 30 minutes until the top is golden and the middle set. Eat warm or cold.

Pretty Chocolate Cake

Why do I cook?

Well, there are a lot of reasons.

To feed, to nourish, to make people happy, a sense of achievement, copying what the masters do….

And there lies the problem. Sometimes I put myself under huge amounts of pressure, feeling like I have to achieve a certain degree of proficiency before serving a dish in front of everyone. Even when it’s a familiar recipe like a sponge cake – I can obsess at lengths over the decorations, symmetery, neatness, smoothness… and how much the filling oozes out of the middle.

In pursuit of perfection, this can sometimes involve repeating one dish over again so many times that I become thoroughly sick of it. And then it loses some of the spark that made cooking fun in the first place.

So I say – no more. It’s important to realise that you can’t achieve proficiency in all areas of life, and to be amazing at cooking is to be a chef, which I most certainly am not. And remember that even they have their weak spots. After all, you don’t employ them to cook every cuisine under the sun, do you?

Sometimes it is perfectly normal to need 2 or 3 tries before you get the hang of a technique. Some flops are inevitable, while you work out the consistency the fudge is supposed to achieve, or the rise of the bread, or slapping the cake with icing. Often, after a long hiatus, I forget to perform little tricks of the trade such as freezing or chilling a cake before icing it, or using a cake scraper to get a really smooth finish. Yet there have been times when I’ve made and decorated perfectly good cakes without using any special techniques, armed with just a butter knife and a paper plate.

Last week was a bit of a funny one.

I just let myself relax, and take a break from everything. No pressure to do anything at all.

What freedom.

So what did I actually end up doing?

Well aside from going to work (unfortunately non-optional), I snoozed a fair amount, read some excellent novels that Amazon has been kindly flicking my way via “My Recommendations” and caught up with old films. No baking, no cooking, nothing strenuous at all. I had essentially monotomous meals consisted of heating up a tin of soup, toasting a bagel, or quickly frying an egg, and guess what? It was BLISS.

Anyway, that interlude of peace wasn’t going to last very long, but then I got back into the kitchen, whacked on the oven to bake this fabulous cake, and you know what?

It turned out perfect first time!

Hurrah!

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The sponge is a Peggy Porschen recipe,  invitingly dark, chocolatey and divinely scrumptious. Originally I was going to make a white chocolate ganache, but somehow my hands worked separately from my head and I found myself whipping up my trusty Hummingbird Bakery chocolate frosting. It worked a treat, and I liberally sprinkled the top of the cake with my collection of pink sugar decorations.

I have to admit that making buttercream icing is not one of my favourite tasks. It’s sticky and messy and goes absolutely everywhere. However, it’s so tasty that it’s always got to be worth it.DSC05327