Apricot and Pistachio Bars

Another bake from ‘Baked in America’ book and another success. To be honest it even exceeded my expectations.

One of the downside of this book is a lack of photographs. I’m not into step-by-step ones, however, I appreciate at least one photo to go with any recipe. Especially if it’s a completely unknown to you recipe, at least to know what this dish should look like. In this case, there was a photo with the recipe, but it was so dark that I presumed the bake included some chocolate or cacao powder. I read the recipe again and again and still couldn’t understand what was added to make the bake so dark. Then I realised, that if you put the required amount of sugar ( a whopping 450g for the filling and another 100g for the base!!!) that anything will turn black, as well as all your taste buds will be numb forever.

Actually, this time I baked with my friend and we decided to follow the recipe precisely, apart from adding only 1/3 of the asking sugar amount. Other than the sugar issue, it is a good bake with a rather short but firm buttery base and wonderful topping, slightly gooey, but full of texture with lovely cardamon aroma.

APRICOT AND PISTACHIO BARS

Ingredients:

For the pastry base:

90g icing sugar

300g plain flour

225g butter, softened

For the filling:

225g dried apricots

115g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 salt

1/2 ground cardamon

4 eggs

190g light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the tin (30x23x5cm), and line with parchment.
  2. Place the dried apricots in a pan, cover with water and simmer for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them. Drain, cool, chop the apricots, then leave them aside.
  3. For the crust base, using mixer or processor, on a low speed combine the sugar, flour and butter until the mixture is crumbly. Dump the whole lot into the prepared tin, press it on to the bottom and slightly aside (I found the back of the metal spoon is good for that). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just barely browned. Remove from the oven, put aside, let it cool.
  4. For the filling, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamon and set aside. Using the same bowl from the crust mixture, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla until evenly mixed. Then add the flour mixture, until it well incorporated. At the end, fold in the cooled apricots and the pistachios. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and smooth it.
  5. Bake it for another 25-30 minutes, until it evenly browned. Let the bake cool in the tin completely , then cut into squares or triangles, sprinkle icing sugar on top, if you wish.

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Crunchy Thai-style Mango Salad

This is a take on the traditional Thai salad, which is crunchy, sweet and spicy, and full of flavour. Fragrant firm mangoes are the best for this salad.

Crunchy Thai-style salad

CRUNCHY THAI-STYLE MANGO SALAD

Ingredients:

1 slightly under ripe mango

5-7 romaine lettuce leaves, torn into peaces

100g beansprouts

handful of fresh coriander leaves

25g roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

dressing:

juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

1 shallot, very thinly chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tablespoon mint leaves, finely chopped

Method:

  1. To make the dressing, mix together the lime juice, soy sauce, and sugar in a bowl. Then stir in the shallots, garlic, chilli and mint.
  2. Peel the mango using a sharp knife or potato peeler. Slice the flesh from each side of mango around the stone. Thinly slice or shred the flesh.
  3. Place the torn lettuce, beansprouts, coriander leaves and mango in a serving bowl. Gently toss together. spoon the dressing over the top, scatter with the peanuts and serve immediately.

 

Chocolate Shortcakes with a Peanut Butter Filling

A fiend of mine suggested baking together from time to time, so we did, our first session. It was more chatting than baking, but it seems more fun that way, especially when there’s G&T involved.

We decided to bake two things: something savoury (we choose Zucchini Cheese Cake) and something sweet, like these Chocolate Shortcakes from Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home book. Both bakes were absolutely delicious and I highly recommend.

Chocolate shortcakes with Peanut Butter filling

CHOCOLATE SHORTCAKES WITH A PEANUT BUTTER FILLING

Ingredients:

Shortcakes:

340g plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
80g caster sugar
65g unsalted butter
85g milk chocolate chips
60ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
20g demerara sugar

Filling:

280g full fat cream cheese
60g crunchy peanut butter
60g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and then add the caster sugar. Rub the butter into the ingredients and then add the chocolate chips.
  3. Mix the double cream, vanilla extract and two eggs in a jug and pour this into the flour mixture. This will form a rough dough when you stir it.
  4. Lightly flour a surface and pat the dough down onto it to a thickness of about 3-4cm. Cut out small discs using the cookie cutter (about 6-8 discs).
  5. Place the cakes onto your tray and put them into the freezer for 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Remove the cakes from the freezer. In a small bowl beat the last egg and brush the tops of the cakes. Sprinkle the demerara sugar onto each cake and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  7. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese and the peanut butter until it’s smooth and then add the icing sugar.
  8. Once the cakes are baked and cooled, cut them in half and spoon a few teaspoons onto the bottom halves of the cakes and sandwich the cakes together.

 

Carrot and Coconut Cake

If you like carrot cake and you adore coconut flavour, combining these two in one cake seems like a rather nice idea. This is a tall and gorgeous carrot cake with a rich coconut cream cheese frosting. And true to its double idenity, it’s both healthy and naughty at the same time. 
As always, I was rather in haste when baking this cake, hence the lack of finishing/decoration. However, for the real show stopper, you can decorate as elaborate as you like, and I would definitely add a lot of fresh or toasted coconut shavings on the top.
Carrot and Coconut Cake

CARROT AND COCONUT CAKE

Ingredients:

2 1/3 cups sifted all purpose flour

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1 cup walnuts, chopped

3  teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups finely grated peeled carrots

2 cups chopped pineapple (or crushed pineapple in its own juice from the can, well drained)

For frosting:

300g package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coconut flavouring

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted (optional)

Method:

1.Preheat oven to 170C. Butter the cake pans (two of four). Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Combine all dry ingredients but walnuts in a medium bowl.

2. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Beat in dry flour-spice mixture. Stir in  walnuts, carrots and pineapple.

3. Divide batter among pans. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 1 hour. Run knife around edge of pans to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely. If you used only two pans (instead of four), you might need to slice each cake in half, before frosting.

4. Meanwhile the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting. Beat the cream cheese and butter in a mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, alternating with heavy cream. Beat in the salt, coconut flavouring and vanilla extract. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and spreadable. Add additional confectioners’ sugar if necessary to thicken the frosting, or more cream to thin. Stir in the coconut. If desired, spoon toasted coconut evenly over frosted cake.

Celery and Cashew Nut Soup

Many years ago, I had the privilege to share a house with the most wonderful lady – Vicky, whom I’m honoured to call my friend. She is an incredible baker/cook, that can make a proper feast form a few leftovers. Her quiches, pies and lamb roasts are the stuff of legends, but for me there is another thing which I am very fond of. It is a celery and cashew nut soup! The first time I tried this soup of hers I was completely smitten. I never thought of cooking with celery and to be honest, 15 years ago, I maybe wasn’t very familiar of it either! For me, it wasn’t on my shopping list back then and the same goes for cashew nuts. They were more of a rare treat. However the combination of the two is a surprise match made in heaven, and is both creamy and wonderful.

Vicky would normally cook it based on a vegetarian stock if I remember it right, but I had a really nice chicken stock I made earlier, so I used it.

Mark also hadn’t heard of this soup before either, but now he’s a big fan! 🙂

Thank you, Vicky!

Celery and Cashew nuts Soup

CELERY AND CASHEW NUTS SOUP

Ingredients:

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped

300g celery, washed and chopped

2 tablespoons butter

50g cashew nuts

1 1/4 pints chicken (or vegetable) stock

3/4 pint milk

salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
  2. Saute the prepared vegetables gently until the onion is transparent.
  3. Add the cashews and continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add the stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Add the milk and allow to cool slightly.
  6. Tip the soup mix into a blender and purée until smooth.
  7. Season with the salt and pepper and serve.

Walnut Cake

Walnut Cake
It’s the ‘British Bake Off’ time again! I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see what new things they are going to introduce this year, what sort of technical challenges to expect, what trends will arise? But, as always, as soon as you watch the episode, you’re just itching to get in the kitchen and bake something. So I did. Inspired by their bakes of Classical Walnut Cake, I’ve made a less traditional, simpler, but never the less, delicious version of Walnut Cake. This recipe came from one of my absolute favourite blogger Mimi Thorisson. Her blog Manger is amazing and inspiring. So is she. I’ve been her faithful fan for years and am so pleased that she has her book out now, and her pop-up restaurant is just about to open its door. I doubt I’ll be able to visit her restaurant just yet, but I look forward to continue to cook her delicious, unfussy and proper French recipes. This cake is one of those recipe – simple, modest, flavoursome, perfect!

WALNUT CAKE /Gâteau aux noix

(Originally came from here)

Ingredients:

150 g/ 1 cup walnuts, chopped finely + at least 5 walnuts halves for decorating the cake
3 tablespoons dark rum
80 g unsalted butter
130 g sugar
1 tablespoon honey
40 g plain flour
30 g cornstarch
3 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of fine salt

Dash of icing sugar & honey

Whipped cream for serving (optional)

IMG_4897

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180°C.

2. Chop walnuts finely (alternatively place walnuts in a food processor and pulse until you get coarse crumbs).

3. In a large bowl, combine sugar, walnuts, and mix well. Add the butter, honey, eggs and rum. Add a pinch of salt and vanilla extract.

4. In another bowl, combine sifted flour, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Mix well.
Fold in dry ingredients into walnut mixture.

5. Butter the baking tin and line it with baking parchment, pour in the batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes (you can test-knife and check – if it comes out clean it’s ready).

6. When cake is cool, sprinkle it with the icing sugar and decorate with the walnuts halves, securing each of them with a dash of honey.

7. Serve with whipped cream (optional).

This one I baked earlier for a Friend

This one I baked earlier for a Friend

Blueberry, Hazelnut & Ricotta Cake

This recipe is taken from my new favourite book ‘Honey & Co: The Baking Book’ which is written by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, two Israelis who have set up shop in London serving the food of their native country. This book is full of authentic recipes which are easy to reproduce. I was sold immediately by the amount of unusual (for me) flavour combinations, not spoiled by complicated techniques or expensive ingredients.

This cake falls into this category too. Blueberry & Hazenuts – who would’ve thought that it goes well together. And, of course, I’m a big believer in Ricotta, which keeps the cake extremely moist while hazelnuts bring flavour and texture, and it works very well with blueberries.

Blueberry, Hazelnuts & Ricotta Cake

BLUEBERRY, HAZELNUT & RICOTTA CAKE

Ingredients:

115g unsalted butter

125g sugar

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

zest of 1 lemon

175g ground hazelnuts

250g ricotta cheese

1 x 150g punnet blueberries

75g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the bottom of the 23cm cake tin, line with baking parchment and butter the sides.

2. Cream the butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one. Add the salt, lemon zest and ground hazelnuts, mix until fully incorporated. Fold the ricotta and half the blueberries into the batter and scoop into the prepared tin. Top with the remaining blueberries and the roughly chopped hazelnuts, sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

3. Bake for about 55-65 minutes or until the cake has set. Allow to cool in the tin. Once cooled, place in the fridge to help it set so that you can transfer it to a serving plate.

4. The cake keeps well in the fridge up to 3-4 days, but it is best to bring it up to the room temperature before serving so you can enjoy all the flavours in full.

Blueberry, Hazelnuts & Ricotta Cake