Lemon, Almond and Pistachio Loaf Cakes

Sometimes baking is all the better for a close connection with nature. I remember several years ago, cycling to a nearby farm from my parents’ house to buy duck eggs, then collecting primroses out in the woods to be painted and sugared at home. It was a delicious cake, the duck eggs adding a rich golden lustre to the sponge, so simple yet wonderful.

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Although it’s been a while since I last popped out for a walk just because, this Spring the weather has been so glorious that I couldn’t quite help myself. It’s just wonderful to be outside right now. Mossy little dells carpeted with tiny golden and white flowers, violets peeping between hedgerows, and clusters of primroses everywhere.

So really, I just felt like baking something sweetly simple. A citrussy cake, laced with ground pistachios, almonds, drenched in zesty lemon syrup, and finished off with some flaked almonds.

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Next time I would put the flaked almonds straight onto the cake before baking, instead of toasting and sprinkling on afterwards.

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Lemon, Pistachio and Almond Loaf Cakes

Adapted from River Cafe Cookbook Easy

For the cake:

  • 125g lightly salted butter
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20g plain flour
  • 50g pistachios, finely ground
  • 60g ground almonds
  • flaked almonds

For the syrup:

  • 30g golden caster sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 150˚C.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Then gradually whisk in the eggs until completely incorporated. Whisk in the lemon zest and vanilla extract, then fold in the flour and ground nuts until completely mixed in. Spoon the mixture into mini loaf cases and sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and springy on top.

Set the cakes aside to cool.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine the lemon juice, zest and sugar into a small pan. Over a medium heat, cook the liquid until it has reduced and become syrupy. Using a teaspoon, spoon the syrup over the cakes.

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Almond Slices

An almond slice looks an old-fashioned sort of treat. Perfect with an old-fashioned sort of cake stand.

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I’ve been catching up with Poldark, and racing through the first five books on my Kindle. I may have gotten repetitive thumb injury from pressing the page turn button, but that’s neither here nor there. With the weather being as nice as it is, can I go to Cornwall please, and just spend the next three months reading the remaining Poldark books? Anything instead of going back to work tomorrow.

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Well, I can dream. Have another picture of one solitary almond slice. I’ve only got pictures of the one, because all the others got eaten so fast. This is the last little survivor, om nom nom.

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I actually made up these slices as a way to use up leftover marzipan, and was so pleased at how well they worked out, I might even buy some marzipan just to make them again.

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What I did was I tore up the marzipan, mixed it up with some softened butter into a paste, then added a little extra sugar, an egg, and some flour to bring it all together. I spread the mixture into a square baking tin, then topped off with a good sprinkling of ground almonds.

It’s utterly delicious warm from the oven. It’s a cross between a cake and biscuit. In terms of taste and texture, very much like a galette breton, minus the layer of jam inside. In fact, I think this would be even tastier with a jammy layer sandwiched in the middle!

Almond Slices

Makes 16

  • 250g marzipan
  • 120g salted butter
  • 70g light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • flaked almonds, to finish

Preheat the oven to 180˚C, and line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.

Beat the softened marzipan and butter together until it forms a thick paste, then beat in the sugar. Stir in the egg, and finally the flour and baking power to form a very soft sticky dough. Press this into the lined tin, and smooth the surface with the wetted back of a spoon. Sprinkle over a liberal quantity of flaked almonds and lightly press into the surface of the dough.

Bake for 25 minutes until golden-brown. Mark into slices, then leave to cool in the tin.

A Break in Budapest

I was desperate to get out of the country for a bit, so jumped at the opportunity when cheap tickets to Budapest popped up on the Internet.

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I have oddly low expectations of Eastern European cities. For some reason, I expect all former Soviet countries to exude Spartan greyness in the form of monolithic concrete tower blocks, stars and sickles plastered over every surface and statues of Lenin looking into the distance. Perhaps it’s indoctrination at school, who knows?

So anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when the plane glided into an astonishingly modern terminal building. Central Budapest is a gorgeous confection of former Austro-Hungarian splendour, and there’s plenty in the way of architectural delights to admire.

The main highlights of the trip were the House of Terror, Hospital in the Rock, and the Holocaust Memorial Centre. Hungary had a turbulent 20th century, and you can’t help but feel that nobody really escaped suffering through it.

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Then after all those sobering reminders of human atrocity, it’s nice to think about the more glamorous aspects of Hungary’s past by having a coffee and slice of cake in one of it’s fancier establishments. Not it to mention that everything in Budapest is so cheap by UK standards you can afford to go fancy not just once, but basically every day!

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Everyone talks about the New York Cafe being the place to go hang out, but despite its glitzy interior, I didn’t think it really lived up to the hype.

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I likes Hotel Gellert better but my favourite place was Ruzwurm, a quaint establishment that sits in one of the most picturesque parts of Budapest in the Castle Hill district. You can see it’s incredibly popular and they serve the most wonderful hot chocolate and delicious homemade cakes.

Then naturally, being as food-centric as I am, of course I had to pay a trip to the big food market, where I picked up a souvenir sausage to take back for A. The other food there was fairly underwhelming, cakes had rubbery over-gelatinised fillings and the strudels were soggy.

Other highlights of the trip included the Ethnographic museum which had a fascinating exhibition on Hungarian Jews and is situated in one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest.

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I was pretty orney about spending all my forints so on the last day, determined I had to use them all up, via a trip up the funicular railway, a really enormous Hungarian chimney cake, and some bacon-flavoured crackers. I’m proud to say that I managed it too! Lovely as Budapest was, I’m not likely to make another trip there soon, so it seemed unnecessary to have lots of spare forints rolling around the place, especially as everything there was so gloriously inexpensive.

Viennese Whirls

I love the weather right now. It’s sunny, and glorious. I may be pretty sleep-deprived, but the sun seems to make up for all of work’s ills. Who cares about all that, when I have the sun on my back, and a tin full of the most gloriously calorifically delicious biscuits known to mankind?

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I would say they were a total doddle to make, but the piping took a while for me to get my hands round.  On my first try, the dough was too far too stiff to be piped out. I squeezed the bag so hard that the nozzle popped out!

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Luckily the dough is pretty forgiving. Even after being squeezed, and battered, and knocked about multiple times, it still holds its shape in the oven, and more importantly, produces a beautifully short crumbly texture.

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I figured out on the second batch that really, you need your butter to be meltingly soft. Like that stage where it’s almost going to collapse into a puddle soft. What I did was measure my butter out into a mixing bowl, then sit that bowl in a tub of hot water until the butter had started to melt around the edges. Then I whipped the bowl out, dried it with a teatowel, and beat in the remaining ingredients. It really worked a treat.

All the other recipes suggest you get around 20 whirls out of the mixture. I must have piped my biscuits really big though, because I only got 10 whoppers! Aren’t they pretty though? Despite having a total of 10 giant viennese whirls packed in the tin, they got polished off pretty smartly too – two days, three mouths, and they were all gone.

Viennese Whirls

Adapted from London Eats and BBC Food

Makes 5 big whirls

For the biscuits:

  • 125g very soft salted butter
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 125g plain flour

For the filling:

  • 50g butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 40g jam

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Prepare a non-stick baking tray. If the butter is not already very soft, a good trick is to put the bowl into a tub of hot water, and sit it there until the butter has melted around the edges.

In a separate bowl, sieve the icing sugar, cornflour and plain flour together. Gradually beat the other ingredients into the softened butter until combined to form a very, very soft dough. If it still seems too stiff to pipe, beat in a teaspoon of milk.

Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle. Pipe whirls of dough onto the baking tray. Aim for around 10 whirls. Bake the biscuits in the oven for around 15-17 minutes until lightly golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool.

Next heat the jam in a saucepan until boiling, then sieve to remove the seeds. Pop the jam in the fridge to cool completely until thick. Make the buttercream by beating the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy, then beating in the vanilla extract. Transfer the buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped nozzle.

Assemble the whirls. Take one biscuit, and pipe a circle of buttercream. Put a small dollop of jam in the centre of the buttercream circle, then sandwich with a second biscuit. Repeat with the remaining biscuits.

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Easter Biscuits

I went to a wedding recently, as one of the first of my schoolfriends got hitched. I’m at that age where this coming summer, and the next (and the next after that) will be a mass of multiple weddings I’m sure.

So along with wedding season starting, work being busy as usual, and some exciting exciting news I will share shortly, Easter has basically arrived before I barely realised it was Pancake Day. I bought a packet of marizpan with the full intent of creating a Simnel Cake, and then those plans kind of fell by the wayside.

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So my big news?

I’m finally leaving London….yay!

In a few months, I will be decamping for life by the seaside, and I can’t wait. Although there’s plenty I love about the city, I’m not a Londoner born and bred, and I’m hoping for shorter commutes by foot rather than car, and change away from the frayed tempers, stress, and constant impatient bustle.

So while I continue to bustle (because I haven’t left yet) I’ve baked something very simple instead – these curranty, spiced, golden-brown Easter biscuits, with a light dusting of sugar.

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It’s an oh so English biscuit, originating from the West country, delicious, yet only rolled out once a year to counteract all that chocolate.

There’s such fun in kneading out the black-studded dough, deftly cutting out circles before it sticks to the table, sprinkling the kitchen with brown sugar, and whipping them out, burning your fingertips as you scatter them onto a cooling rack.

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Traditionally, the biscuits are made with oil of Cassia, but I made do with dried spices. They are also supposed to be stamped into rather big biscuits measuring approximately 10cm across, but I kept mine bite-size, perfect for nibbling on with a hot drink.

I wouldn’t rush to make these again, as they taste super similar to the supermarket fruit shortcake biscuits. If you do fancy giving them a spin, then I used a Mary Berry recipe which can be found here. The only changes I made from the written recipe were replacing ordinary flour with spelt flour, and caster sugar with light brown sugar.

Over the next few months, I’m going to be extraordinarily busy with work and getting ready for my move, so perhaps there will be a bit less time for baking and blogging. I will do my best to throw in all my experiments in the kitchen whenever I get the chance, and A has suggested perhaps more savoury food might be in order. As I may have mentioned before, I am pretty crap at non-baking related kitchen activity, so keep watching this space for some future kitchen disasters *ahem* genius creations!