Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing

Over the years, I must have made cakes from hundreds of recipes. Yet it’s interesting that only a handful of them stay with me to get baked more than once. It’s mostly a balance between time required, the difficulty of the recipe, nutritional composition, and how well it goes down in a crowd.

Somtimes you make something, just catch a glimpse of it out of the oven, and you’re sold. Other times, it goes down well but you just can’t seem to like it. Most recently for me, this was this Ottolenghi cake.

Funny eh?


Perhaps I expected too much of it, or was too careless in the method of preparation. After all, I did fling everything together without taking that much care, and it didn’t hit the spot the way I wanted it to. The sponge could have been moister, there were holes where apple pieces had shrunk within the cake. The taste didn’t hit the spot. Well….maybe it was lots of little elements combined.

True to Ottolenghi, it was a recipe that required all the mixing bowls a kitchen could yield, and a tremendous amount of washing up to follow.


The maple icing was incredibly rich, and rather interesting to make. It was also lovely to work with, although I do prefer the taste of a classic cream cheese icing. The wave pattern I traced on as an afterthought. Simple, but decorative in that slightly quaint old-fashioned-tea-shop way.

I recall that Ottolenghi’s pear and amaretto cake was also not a favourite, and I did struggle with the hazelnut cupcakes (although they really did taste lovely). Perhaps I’m just not having a great time with the Ottolenghi cake recipes! Sometimes it’s the hype surrounding the recipe – I was hoping for something more showstopping. On the other hand, I was rather tired and grumpy when baking, and I feel like my mood affects the result too, so who knows? Might have to give the recipe another go in the future!


Comté and Caraway Straws

I’m a goal-orientated person with a short attention span. So once I’ve worked out how to bake something, I move on, and set myself a new challenge. Most recently, it was macarons driving me nuts, but I got there in the end.

Lately, it’s been bread, but I’d run out of yeast in the kitchen, and my fingers were craving something really really hard. 

That’s in the mental sense, not physically.

So what do I think of?

Puff pastry.

Gives home cooks palpitations. Even the professionals say they buy it in from the supermarket. Food bloggers? They say –  I make all my puff pastry from scratch all the time – what are you waiting for?

So today I took the leap, and made it.

Well….sort of made it. Rough puff pastry is a bit of a cheat, but I was assured that it was a doddle to make in comparison to the traditional, and I wasn’t quite that willing to devote tears and tantrums to a slab of dough.

I followed the recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, intending to halve the ingredients, until I realised I’d  dumped in too much butter and water. After a little bit of backtracking with a knife and some water, a bit of folding, and rolling, and resting, and the pastry was good to go.

After all the sweet baking of late, I had an insatiable craving for something savoury. So to the rescue came Ottolenghi again with his recipe for cheese straws, adapted mildly to incorporate the thing I’m currently having for Comté.


I’d never had caraway seeds before, and they smelt very pungent in the spice jar, so I only put the merest sprinkling onto half the cheese straws before they went into the oven. I think they add a nice subtle kick as a foil to the cheese-fest. 


I made two batches, and you can see that in my first batch, I rolled the dough out too thinly because it was difficult to roll up properly, and I made very long, spindly cheese straws as a result. The second batch turned out better.


Needless to say, both were incredibly moreish, and the texture was meltingly good. Another favourite.

But back to the original challenge. Did I feel that it had been worth it? Would I make rough puff again?

Well, honestly, not really.

The straws were delicious, and well worth the smiles on faces, the stuffed tummies, and the glowing feeling of being a domestic goddess. However, I don’t really use puff pastry in my usual cooking at all. And thus, it makes more sense to me to buy it rather than dedicating a whole day to making it from scratch. The whole process is simple, but you have to be organised, alert, and the kitchen becomes very messy too!

Shop puff pastry? Satisfaction, and minimal distraction. Possibly a dangerous combination where buttery goodness is concerned! 🙂

Chocolate Ganache Macarons

With macarons, it seems that practice really does work its magic. I’ve stopped using the dodgy baking tray, and to my delight, it has done the trick. This batch includes all salient features of feet, non-explosiveness, and shell solidity that give macaron-makers cause for joy. Again I used a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, and replaced part of the ground almonds with cocoa powder.


As usual, I kept the macarons simple. No fancy decorations, just great chocolate. Each macaron is sandwiched with a rich dark chocolate ganache filling. Short on cream in the kitchen, I improvised by heating up  50ml milk with a dab of butter, and melting 120g coarsely chopped dark chocolate into this. Silky and shiny, it formed a great filling.


Unfortunately the light was grey and weak today, but I did my best to photograph the macarons to their best advantage.


Be careful when choosing macaron fillings. They are such sugary beasts that a sweet filling can overwhelm the palate. Stick to sharper flavours, and you can’t go wrong. Here, the use of a bitter dark chocolate pairs perfectly. Fresh tart berry flavours would also fantastic, and that is definitely one to try.

Chocolate, Cocoa Nib and Hazelnut Macarons

Yup, it’s macarons on the brain again! C’est parfait!

Once again, I am working from my trusty Ottolenghi recipe – replacing ground almonds with hazelnuts, sprinkling caramelised cocoa nibs on the tops of the macarons, and filling them with rich chocolatey ganache. It might have been spiked slightly with a splash of vodka, but that part was entirely unintentional.


The hazelnut flavour was present, but subtle. If I were to make these again (and if I didn’t have a bottomless pit of cocoa nibs to get through) I would sprinkle the macarons with chopped hazelnuts, and put a few chopped hazelnuts in with the ganache as well. Also experimented by sprinkling a couple of the macarons with cocoa powder instead of cocoa nibs, and I really liked the simple but pretty effect that produced.

I’ve realised that only one of my baking trays (the cheap Pyrex one with raised sides from Tesco) actually produces successful macarons, the other one (the posh even-heat-conducting from Lakeland) never does. Why is this?

The science behind good macarons still perplexes me, so I guess that this will have to remain a mystery for now. I’ve only ever made macarons using the French meringue method so far, but having come into possession of a sugar thermometer means I may pluck up the courage to try the Italian meringue soon.

Tartes aux Fruits, je t’aime

Spending my weekend lolling around reading Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Kiss, I started feeling a desperate desire for Parisian patisserie.

Given my geographical location, I have been to Paris many times over the past few years. Yet astonishingly, I have never, not once bought any patisserie in France, ever??

Knowing me, this is a TRAVESTY.

So until I read Laura Florand’s novel – I had been walking past Ladurée and the whole area of St Germain de Pres, sitting in café de thés, glancing at colourful meringues, and not once had it occurred to me that there was a whole world of edible beauty out there to be explored.

If you are heading to Paris any time soon, read The Chocolate Kiss and all will make sense. Unfortunately, I am not going to Paris, so I had to make do with what’s available here.

This is what I did:

  1. Wander around London gormlessly and fruitlessly 
  2. End up in Pierre Hermé and blow a small fortune on macarons
  3. Bake


Et voila!

We have here a pâté sucrée case filled with mascarpone cream, a profusion of fruit and a dusting of icing sugar on top to finish. I do feel a small pang of guilt at buying so much out-of-season fresh fruit, but fortunately for my carbon footprint, none of them came from too far away – I’m assuming the environs of the Mediterranean are fair game.


I’m so pleased with how these turned out! They certainly sated my patisserie craving….for a while. I’m guessing the lure of Paris will still continue to pull. Let’s see if I can purchase a proper patisserie cookbook and see where my baking projects go from there!

Ottolenghi Chocolate Tarts

I visited Ottolenghi recently, and was hugely tempted by their amazing selection of cakes and pastries singing to me in the window front. Finally I settled with a small piece of rugelach, and a mixed salad box. My heart had a little pang as I handed over what seemed like a lot of money for such a small quantity of food! It was delicious, but at the same time I wondered if I could reproduce it all in my home kitchen without spending such extortionate sums.

Last year, I managed to do this quite successfully with many Hummingbird Bakery products (except that elusive Black Bottom) and with the aid of the Ottolenghi cookbook, it just seemed to make more sense. I’ve been getting very good results from the Ottolenghi cookbook as it is, so I jumped at another excuse to make these decadent chocolate tarts.


I’ve paired them with Pierre Herme pate sucree, and yes yes yes, they are simply scrumptious.

A half batch of the chocolate filling is enough to fill 9-10 tarts. The recipe suggests beating the egg and sugar together until fluffy, but I think this makes the tart fillings rise dramatically in the oven only to collapse in the middle once they cool down. The second time I tried these tarts I used agave nectar instead of sugar, and beat the egg very gently to incorporate less air. This worked a lot better as the chocolate filling solidified nicely without becoming overly excitable in its baking journey.

The recipe also suggests to dust the tops of the tarts with cocoa powder, but be sparing with this as too much cocoa powder is dry and nasty. I’ve tried piping a swirl of chocolate cream, mascarpone cream, or chantilly cream on the top, and that’s actually worked really well, and looks good.

You need to make sure the tarts aren’t too shallow for the filling. My biggest cookie cutter turns out to still not be big enough, but there is a thermos lid  in the kitchen that works much better at producing bigger circles (thus deeper tarts), and will be in use next time.


Cranberry Amaretti

It’s no secret that I LOVE Ottolenghi’s cookbook. None of his recipes that I’ve tried have gone totally tits up for me.

So here’s another recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. It can also be found on The Guardian. Simply some ground almonds mixed together with egg white, and some lemon zest. The original recipe called for dried cherries, but I didn’t have any of those, so substituted cranberries instead. I think the biscuit would be a wonderful vehicle for candied peel/pistachios/whole almonds/the whole dried fruits and nuts supermarket aisle. But not the cocoa nibs, because let’s face it – I hate them, and nothing will taste nice with cocoa nibs in – ever.


Sultana and Walnut Loaf

This is based on the Ottolenghi recipe for Sour Cherry and Walnut Loaf.


I have made it a couple of times, as I didn’t seem to get it quite right the first few tries, possibly partly down to not having the correct ingredients, but also my relative inexperience when it comes to baking with bread. I’m still working on it, but it’s pretty tasty fresh, especially spread with a slathering of salted butter.

Hazelnut Cupcakes

Thanks to my successes so far with the recipes from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, I couldn’t help but give another one of them a go this weekend. This time, it was the turn of the hazelnut cupcakes, which looked and sounded divine. I love the flavour of hazelnuts, and if it came in a cake, well how could that go wrong?


The method is slightly different from my usual cakes, and it did require a lot of elbow grease to bring it together, but they went into the oven, and away they rose.

At first, I thought they had gone completely wrong. The cakes started to peel away from their cases the moment they exited the oven. The flavours were delicately nutty, but it didn’t pair well with the heavy and dense texture of the sponge. I wasn’t sure if they had been underbaked, although they all passed the skewer test upon exiting the oven. Disappointed, I boxed them up, and baked another batch with yoghurt instead of sour cream.

Happily, they worked beautifully. The texture of the yoghurt cupcakes is much lighter and fluffier than the original version. It is still quite a close crumb, but works very well in the setting – reminding me of a hazelnut-flavoured financier. Batch 2’s cupcake cases didn’t peel at all. I used a different set and from browsing online, it appears that using poor quality cupcake cases is the culprit here.

To give an extra happy ending to this process, and extra tick boxes for Ottolenghi, Batch 1 micraculously transformed overnight into an incredible gustatory delight. The sponge remains dense, but in a highly delicious manifestation. They were very rich, far richer than the yoghurt version, so I would prefer them in petit-four, as opposed to cupcake sized portions.

Hazelnut Cupcakes

Makes 6

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

  • 75g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 75ml plain yoghurt
  • 90g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 22g toasted hazelnuts, coarsely ground

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Cream the butter, sugar and hazelnut oil thoroughly together until pale and fluffy, then gradually add the egg little by little until well-incorporated. Whisk in the plain yoghurt.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, and mix in the ground hazelnuts. Add this to the creamed mixture in one go, and fold in gently with a spatula. Divide between 6 cupcake cases. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top. Leave in the tins to cool for 10 minutes, and then transfer onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Best eaten cold.


Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Macarons

Most successful attempt at macaron making yet, and I am over the moon!

I did say no more after the last billion attempts, but I just couldn’t stay away. The recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook,  has lots of rave reviews online, so I thought it was worth a try.

The method was the French meringue I have been struggling along with, and first attempt looked pretty good when piped onto the trays. I left both trays to set for around half an hour. I’m not sure this had anything to do with the resulting lopsidedness but none of the macarons rose evenly, with a foot on one side and pretty much nothing on the other.  Some of them had burst as well, and strangely enough, it was the macarons on the very last tray that turned out the worst.

Somewhat crestfallen, I had a second go. I mixed the almonds/icing sugar with the meringue more vigorously this time, and this mixture turned out less viscous and harder to pipe. I managed to pipe it onto two trays again, and sprinkled chopped peanuts over the macarons on the 2nd tray, before leaving both to set for around 15 minutes. The first tray turned out a bit lopsided again, though there were more good ones this time, than the last lot. The second tray turned out almost completely perfect, with only 2-3 dodgy looking macarons.


The original recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook is for salted peanut and caramel macarons. I didn’t have any caramel or dulce de leche, so I substituted jam instead, to create the PBJ macaron. Still yummy, not quite so French.