Category Archives: Cakes

Nigella’s chocolate olive oil cake

This is simple and beautiful. It can be flourless but somehow seems so much better than so many of the flourless chocolate cakes that turn up at gatherings. It’s so easy to throw together. The original recipe is here, but I’ve cut down the sugar and may cut it down further but be careful as sugar plays a role in cake making beyond mere sweetening.

Use a mild olive oil, I have at times used a too fruity one and whilst adding a depth of flavour, it’s distracting.

Once you’ve made this once you’ll realise it’s so easy you can make it in a commercial break, no chocolate to melt or chop. Largely store cupboard ingredients. My children love it.

You need

150ml mild olive oil

50g cocoa powder

125ml boiling water

Two teaspoons of vanilla extract

150g ground almonds (you could also substitute half almond half hazelnut, you can also use flour but unless you are allergic to nuts I implore you not to do this)

Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

A pinch of salt

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

What you do

Oven to 170C

A 23cm spring form tin, base lined with baking parchment.

Pour the boiling water slowly into the cocoa and stir until no lumps remain, add the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, mix together the almonds, bicarb and salt. And then you’re going to beat/whisk together the eggs, olive oil and caster sugar, either by hand (go you) with a whisk/wooden spoon or with an electric contraption (hand held or free standing).

Nigella says to use the paddle attachment, I always use the whisk because I can never find the paddle attachment. Beat electronically for three minutes until it’s syrupy and fluffy and pale yellowy. By hand: until your hand falls off.

To the eggs/oil/sugar mixture slowly add the cocoa mixture (turn down the speed if you are doing this with a gadget). When all incorporated add the ground almonds/bicarb/salt. Scrap down, make sure all mixed then pour into the tin.

Bake for 25-45 mins. Nigella says 40-45, mine is done in 25. You want it to be a bit quivering on top in the middle (Nigella describes it as looking a bit damp) but defo set at the edges. A skewer should come out pretty clean.

Pear and spelt tart, with ground almonds and cinnamon

As I write, we are – in England where I live – entering our fifth week of lock down due to coronavirus. Ingredients which we once took for granted are now limited, or unavailable.

I have always run a well-stocked larder, and I have a regular vegetable and fruit box delivery from Riverford a frankly fantastic company. And I get my flour (and you still can) in industrial quantities from Ingredients for Cooks.

I started off wanting something involving banana, peanut butter and oats (tasty but still healthy and not just white flour and sugar) but somehow, ended up making this.

The original recipe is from my Donna Hay (all hail). It’s from her Fresh and Light book, published in 2014 and given to me by my eldest for Christmas that year. I know this because she inscribed the book. I love a book inscription.

I’ve adapted it slightly because I didn’t have the exact flour (flour is a luxury!) and if you don’t have pears you can use other fruits: I think apples would work, or plums. This is a thin tart – as you can see from the pic. And it’s not fluffy and light. But that’s not what I wanted, I wanted something fairly healthy. That’s what I got.

115g flour – I used a mixture of plain wholemeal and spelt

40g ground almonds

One and a half teaspoons of baking powder

80ml of  maple syrup (I actually used 60ml and it was fine)

1 egg

180ml yoghurt or buttermilk

Finely grated rind of a lemon

Half a teaspoon of cinnamon

40g unsalted, melted, butter, slightly cooled

Two pears, peeled, cored, sliced

Two tablespoons of demerara sugar

 

Oven to 190C.

You need a loose bottomed tin of about 24cm, line the bottom with baking parchment.

Mix together the flours, almonds and baking powder in a largish bowl (this is where you’ll end up putting all the mixture). In another bowl mix together the maple syrup, egg, buttermilk/yoghurt, lemon zest and cinnamon. Add the maple/egg mixture to the flour/almond mixture and at this point, add the melted butter. Mix til combined.

Plop the thick mixture into the tin and spread out, you won’t have much, that’s okay. If you haven’t already, peel/slice/core the pears now and arrange in a pleasing fanned out pattern. Sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake for about 35-40 mins. It should be golden brown and a skewer stabbed into the cakey part should come out clean.

You can serve this warm with cream or ice cream, or cold just as it is. It’s a humble little tart but no less pleasing for that.

 

Nigella’s rather good banana and chocolate bread (which can be gluten free).

I always associate banana bread with Nigella. I think it’s because, it was in one of the first recipes of hers that I read, I’m sure, that she said baking a banana bread filled the house with a fug of domesticity.

Or some such. Since then I’ve made dozens of banana breads and it usually
disappoints, probably because I keep changing recipes. Faced, however, with a huge batch of frozen, overripe bananas in the freezer (I always freeze overripe bananas) and more chocolate than any sane person needs (this is what happens when you get made Chocolate Correspondent of a national newspaper) I decided to have another go at making banana bread.

Also, for complicated reasons that I don’t fully understand myself, I hadn’t cooked or baked anything in weeks when I first made this last year. Which is really not like me, but this glorious little cake gave me my baking mojo back.

For a writer, I am remarkably picture led where recipes are concerned and thus it was that I found this recipe for Nigella’s Gluten-Free Banana Bread and it was, I confess the picture of the large slabs of chocolate which lured me in.  I planned to make it gluten free (why not) but in the end found no rice flour in my flour cupboard so made it with normal plain flour. I also lowered the sugar and used pecans instead. I think this would also be great made in muffin size. I’ve put the recipe below as I made it – do refer to the original if you wish and if you want to make it gluten-free which this ain’t.

 

175g plain flour

100g ground almonds

two teaspoons of baking power

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

a quarter teaspoon of sea salt

500g of very ripe bananas (weighed with skin on)

two teaspoons of vanilla extract

100g Greek yoghurt – full fat

Two eggs

125g light olive oil

100g light brown sugar

100g roughly chopped pecans (or any other nut you like)

150g chopped chocolate – I used a mixture of milk and plain in chocolate chip size and quite large chunks

 

You need a 2lb loaf tin for this (Nigella gives the sizes as 24cm x 12cm and mine was roughly that, why don’t cake tin manufacturers put the volume/measurements on the bottom of their tins?). Line this tin. Preheat the oven to 170C.

Mix together the dry ingredients, thus the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In a larger bowl (for this will be the one everything else ends up in) place the bananas and mash them up, then mix in the vanilla extract, Greek yoghurt and the eggs one at a time. Then the oil and sugar. When all is better unified than a post-Brexit UK, add the dry ingredients bit by bit until combined. Then finally gently fold in the nuts and chocolate.

Dollop all this in the cake tin and bake for about forty minutes. Nigella says 45-55, my oven seems quite fierce so I started checking it after 35 mins. Also it does depend on how much moisture your bananas hold.

You know it’s done when the top is dry, it springs back, it’s shrunk away a little from the sides and a skewer comes out relatively clean (obviously not if you hit a shard of chocolate).

This is a beautiful cake. Unfortunately I can’t find a picture I took of it so this post will be picture-less until I make it again.

 

Little sous vide cheesecakes

I am no stranger to gadgets. My dad used to say “un’altro gadget” (another gadget) but, although I made mistakes early on, everything I buy I pretty much use and enjoy: it earns its place and keep in our kitchen.

For instance, some years ago, I looked at sous vide cooking but, back then, the domestic sous vide machines were pretty big and I just knew that the space they took up, I’d rather  put an ice cream maker in, given my heritage.

But a few weeks ago, we had friends Natalie and Micah round for lunch and Micah mentioned they had a sous vide and how things had changed; that they were now little bigger than stick blenders and you stuck them in a pan that you already had. And how they cooked the most amazing meat [and fish and other things].

HipstamaticPhoto-587397863.867480.jpg

The Joule sous vide, with plug for size comparison

So I looked and I bought.

Although the Anova is pretty popular (Martha Stewart’s chef uses one), it didn’t work that well for me – I couldn’t get it to work with the app and I am such a technophile that this mattered to me. (It doesn’t have to work with an app, you can just use the machine.) So I returned it bought a Joule instead which ONLY works via an app, which may annoy you but I love it. The app has all sorts of pre-set timings and temperatures and it’s soo easy. The Joule is also more powerful than the Anova (all but the Anova Pro which is much more expensive).

If you are thinking, WTF is she on about, then you can read  all about sous vide here. But it is, essentially, cooking food at a very precise temperature in a water bath.

I cooked a chicken breast in it and it was amazing, so moist and let’s not even get started on the steaks it cooks. It doesn’t brown but you can finish meat off in a frying pan for a final sear. The beauty of sous vide, other than it cooks to perfection, is that you can prep food and leave it, which really suits the way I cook.

But, cheesecakes.

You can also use sous vide to cook little cheese cakes and chocolate puddings. You can adapt this one below by adding fruit compote at the end or a biscuit base. We made them with Oreo cookies (use the double filled ones, one per portion – so if using the recipe below you would use six – blitzed in a blender and distributed amongst the jars and pressed down, then you put the cheesecake batter on top – you can use any extra crumbs to put on top of the cheesecakes just before you eat them) but you could use digestive biscuits with a bit of melted butter to bring them all together if you fancy a more traditional cheesecake base.

You need six 135ml mason-style jars. I use these ones.  They are perfect for these mini desserts and many others you can make sous vide. You can also use Weck jars (use the seal and the clips and I guess, regular jam jars but I haven’t yet.

Sorry about the Amazon link for the jars but Lakeland will start selling them come the autumn.

Ingredients for six people

(Six double fill Oreos if using)

225g cream cheese

110g of caster sugar

110g creme fraiche

Three eggs

Grated zest of a lemon (I always use organic when I use the zest of citrus fruits)

Method

You can do this in a food processor but it’s not difficult to mix it up by hand. Mix together the cream cheese and the caster sugar, then add the creme fraiche, the lemon zest and the three eggs one at a time. Make sure everything is really well combined.

If you are using a biscuit base you will already have pressed it in the jars.

Distribute evenly amongst the six jars up to the ‘thread’, seal until they are finger tip tight (ie you can unscrew using just your finger tips), set your sous vide to 80C and 90 mins, and when up to temperature, submerge the jars (I use a jar tong, be careful of your fingers).

When done take out, cool then refrigerate for a couple of hours.

I know this recipe isn’t relevant to those of you without a sous vide but you know…if you like kit I’ve given you lots of reasons to buy some.

Chocolate cookies and ice-cream milk shake

We go through stages in our house, so we have summers of iced coffee, milk shake mix ins and now our current favourite is this shake. It’s not healthy but if you calculate it into your daily ‘treats’ it really isn’t so bad. Plus we have super healthy green smoothies almost every morning (and I frequently have one instead of lunch with the addition of protein powder). I also use it as a vehicle to get kefir into my children – don’t add too much but it can carry a couple of tablespoons a head.

I’m not really an Oreo fan as I’m not a shop-bought biscuits kinda gal, but here, whizzed to helpless crumbs with good vanilla ice cream and thick, creamy milk, something magical happens and you get a malty, chocolate milk shake that’s simple but full of depth. Don’t think about it too much.

You do need a blender for this. And just up the proportions according to how many you need to make for:

Per person:

2-3 Oreo cookies, flavour of your choice. Or any other chocolate cookie

125ml milk (we use raw for added goodness)

65g good vanilla ice cream (we use Green and Black’s)

You just put everything into a blender and blend for 30 seconds.

Oat, raisin and nut cookies

In the US sitcom, Friends, there’s an episode where Phoebe talks about how she makes the best oat raisin cookies.

I saw this particular episode a few weeks ago (we are watching the whole series again, introducing it to my youngest) and ever since, I craved a good oat and raisin cookie. So much so that when I went to a school open day and they were offering those ubiquitous giant cookies, even though I know they are nearly always crap, I searched out the one that looked like an oat raisin one. Sure enough, it wasn’t very good.

I am so suggestible that I still really craved a really good oaty, raisin cookie, then I remembered that, almost as a footnote, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a suggestion for such a biscuit, at the bottom of his chocolate chip cookies as in ‘if you want an oat raisin cookie, do this to the recipe instead of adding chocolate chips’. I had a half memory that I’d made them once and they were much better than you think they’re going to be.

Oat and raisin cookies don’t exactly make you reach inside the biscuit tin. It’s the sort of biscuit that would always be last to be picked for the team. And yet, these are now my new favourites and I think I could give Phoebe a run for her money.

I’ve adapted them from the original by decreasing the sugar and I use half and half plain/wholemeal flour.

You need: 125g soft butter, 50g caster sugar, 50g soft brown sugar, a tablespoon of honey, one egg, 75g plain flour, 75g wholemeal plain flour, half a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, 50g rolled oat flakes (big is best), 75g of chopped nuts – hazelnuts, almonds, pecans or walnuts or a mix of them, 100g of raisins.

Oven to 190C.

Cream the 125g of soft butter with the 50g of caster sugar and the 50g of brown sugar and the one tablespoon of honey. Now mix in the one egg. Now add the 75g of plain flour and 75g of wholemeal plain flour, the half a teaspoon of cinnamon and the half a teaspoon of baking powder. Then add the 50g of oats, then add 75g of nuts and the 100g of raisins. Mix til everything is incorporated.

The dough will be sticky, I roll up tablespoons of dough and flatten slightly on a tray. They don’t spread so much but still, leave a bit of a gap on a baking parchment lined tray.

Bake for 8 ins. They will be quite soft when they first come out but they harden up to a wonderful buttery crispness. I like to pretend they are healthier than other biscuits.

Sticky date and ginger toffee pudding cake

My friend Lucy throws amazing bonfire night parties and at one, a couple of years ago, she made this. Now, I don’t like sticky toffee pudding or any sort of steamed pudding or treacle tart or anything like that. They all make me feel ‘claustrophobic in my mouth’ is the only way I can describe it. So when my partner said “have you tried this sticky toffee pudding” I said “er no, I hate that sort of thing.”

But he persisted and it was so good I ate his portion and then immediately asked Lucy for the recipe. It comes from a book called Friends at My Table by Alice Hart, which seems to be out of print now. And I wanted the original recipe so badly that I actually tracked it down and bought it second hand.

I’ve made this a few times, although nothing comes close to what I remember Lucy’s being like. It makes quite a lot but I’m pleased to report it freezes beautifully – (see note at the bottom).

It’s best made either the day before you want to serve it, or a few hours before and then reheat it before serving (as said, I do it piece by piece in the microwave but you could do the whole cake – or as much as you know you want to serve – in a 120C oven for about ten mins, you just want to revive it). This is in order to let the sauce soak in. But honestly if you serve it all immediately it’s just not the end of the world. But if you want to make the whole thing way in advance and freeze it, it works amazingly that way too – see note at the bottom.

The cakey pudding

250g medjool dates, stoned, chopped

100g dark brown sugar

150 unsalted butter, soft

4 little balls of that stem ginger you get in syrup, in jars – finely chop it (don’t throw away the syrup)

2 room temperature eggs

250g plain flour

1.5 teaspoons of baking powder

1 rounded teaspoon of ground ginger

a pinch of salt

60g finely chopped pecans (or walnuts will do but pecans better)

The toffee sauce

300ml of double cream

200g dark brown sugar

pinch salt

3 tablespoons of syrup from the ginger jar

a pinch of ground ginger

This is what you do

Oven to 180C. Line a 20cm x 30cm tin with baking parchment.

Cover the dates with 150ml boiling water and set aside for 20 mins or until you remember them (don’t throw away the liquid they’re in).

Beat together the sugar and butter either by hand or in a food mixer with the whisk attachment. Add three tablespoons of the syrup from the jar (this is separate to the 3 tablespoons you need for the sauce).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Now add the flour, baking powder, ground ginger and salt. You can either fold these in gently or just add them to the processor bowl on a slow whisking speed. I am lazy and often do the latter. Add half the nuts, the chopped ginger and all the dates and their soaking water.

Pour into the tin and cook for about 45 mins. I have to check mine after 30 mins as my oven is capricious and does what the hell it wants.

Whilst that’s cooking, and when it’s about 20 mins from being ready, make the sauce as you’ll need to pour it on whilst the cake is warm, but the sauce is warm-but cooled slightly. Nothing is easy in good pudding making.

So to make the sauce you put all the sauce ingredients into the pan and simmer whilst stirring until they are all one beautiful sauce.

When the cake is baked and out of the oven, and the sauce is still warm you prick the cake all over with a skewer and pour over half the sauce (retain the other half for serving with the cake, later). This takes time and if the sauce has gone too cold then warm it up again. It needs to soak in. I don’t always get this right and I often end up with a cake that’s just got sauce on top. Lucy’s was wonderfully unctuous. It’s still nice but not really gooey.

It’s best if you cover and leave it over night, but see above.

To serve, sprinkle over the rest of the nuts and serve with the rest of the sauce (warmed through) and ice cream or cream.

Freezing note: This freezes amazingly well. Just cover with any remaining sauce/nuts and put in an air-tight box. If you wanted to make this way in advance, for a really easy pudding on the day, you could freeze the whole lot: just put all the sauce on the cake and all the nuts and freeze it. If you really wanted to you could then make extra sauce for pouring over on the day but really you don’t need to.

Defrost it for 24hours in the fridge and then either heat up the whole lot in the oven – I would probably do it at 160C for 20 mins for the whole cake but in truth have never done it so see how you go. What I do with left overs is microwave it piece by beautiful piece and then serve with cream.

 

 

 

Spiced carrot and lentil soup

This is one of those soups that is so much more than a sum of its parts.  (A bit like this chorizo and red lentil soup one is, too.) It’s also perfect for this time of year when you’ve been in elasticated waistbands for the last two weeks and dread structured clothing. And yet you can’t stop eating, as if hiding evidence.

It’s so easy to make. I chuck it all into the slow cooker at about 2pm, not that it needs slow cooking, but it just makes it even easier. Put it on low and then we eat it at about six  o’clock after a quick whizz up with the stick blender. No need to grate the carrot, I just chop mine into pieces.

The recipe is here on the BBC Good Food site.

Prune and dark chocolate brownies

I saw this recipe in my Donna Hay Fresh and Light magazine, which costs me a staggering £9.50 from Selfridges but is, to my mind, worth every penny as each edition yields more recipes than many recipe books which cost double that.

But I saw it and shunned it as I’m not overly a fan of brownies – too sweet for me usually. But due to a rather terrifying health scare a few weeks ago (I had tests and everything is not only fine but I am actually in really good health yay!) I’ve overhauled the way I eat which was long overdue because although I have always eaten with health in mind, I’ve I’m also greedy and at times lazy. So I’ve gone back to planning what I eat (this has always worked really well for me) and maximise nutrients. And it not only shows in the way I feel, but I’ve lost weight and body fat, whilst augmenting my muscle mass (I do big weights twice a week).

Anyway I shunned them but then was fancying a weekend chocolatey treat and decided to try them and I was not disappointed. Now I know that this isn’t a recipe which magically transforms broccoli into brownies, and I know that prunes are very high in sugar. I know all this but prunes have more nutrients than mere sugar and here’s the thing. These are delicious in their own right. My eldest doesn’t like them but my youngest adores them and my partner – who hates brownies – had one and declared it “the best chocolate thing I’ve tasted in a long time”.

So these are still an occasional treat (I only eat stuff like this at the weekend now) but they’re delicious and gluten free.

The brownies

255g prunes, take the stones out

50g of dark chocolate, melted (Hay asks for 70% but I use these chocolate chips for nearly all my cooking now and they are delicious)

60 ml of light olive oil

80ml maple syrup

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

80g ground almonds

25g cocoa powder (I use raw organic, no idea if it’s better but it makes me feel better looking at the packet)

2 eggs

The chocolate ganache

80g dark chocolate

60ml of cream (Hay says to use coconut milk but I used cream as that’s what I had, you could use milk)

 

Pre heat the oven to 180C. You need a 20cm square baking tin, preferably with a removal bottom, if not make sure the baking paper you line it with comes up the sides so you can carefully lift it out later. If you scrunch up the baking paper first it sits in the tin more easily.

Take 170g of the prunes and put them in a jug, cover with boiling water for about ten minutes. I scissor cut the remaining prunes into small pieces and put in a small bowl for later (don’t forget them!) or you could of course chop them with a knife on a board.

Drain the prunes (discard the water) and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the brownies and whizz up with a hand held blender (or you could put in a food processor, I did as I was told). When done, scatter in and mix in the prune pieces. Put the mixture in the tin and cook for 25-30 minutes. The middle should be firm when pressed but you do want them a bit squidgy.

They will be very soft, so keep in the tin and when cold gently take out. Make the ganache by very gently heating the chocolate and cream in a small pan (I would never usually melt chocolate like this, I’d use a bain marie set up, but I was hungry and it was fine). Spread over the top. If you can, wait a while before slicing up and eating. Store in the fridge where they do harden up.

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I have no idea how long these last as they were practically all gone in 24 hours.

Note: the main image is the brownies a day later, after being taken out of the fridge, the image in the text is of them first iced and sliced – with some missing for, ahem, testing purposes.

Note to self: Put walnuts in next time.

 

 

 

Chestnut marmalade muffins (gluten, wheat, dairy free but don’t let any of that put you off)

These are adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (from his book Light & Easy). The original calls for 75g coconut oil, which I just find too much, and 75g runny honey, which I’ve eased back on just ever so slightly. His recipe also says cook for 25 mins, but mine are done at 17.

It calls for chestnut flour – which isn’t cheap, nor madly readily available. But is delicious and so filling. Don’t be tempted to buy it in bulk, it doesn’t keep for very long.

And you really need an electric whisker unless your arms are super strong. If they are, all respect to you.

These are just so delicious though, and gluten-free if that’s important to you. I love anything to do with chestnuts as it reminds me of my Pa.

Note these make ten. I’ve been making these for a few years now and every time, with my 12-bun tray, it catches me out.

125g chestnut flour

A pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of baking powder

125g marmalade

2 large eggs

70g runny honey

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

50g coconut oil, melted and cooled.

Pumpkin seeds to sprinkle.

 

Preheat the oven to 170. Line a muffin tin with…muffin cases

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a food mixer with whisk attachment, put the eggs, honey and vanilla and whisk for, frankly, ages. But about eight minutes. Until the mixture is like a thick mousse and the beaters leave trails when you lift them out.

Now gently and slowly, with the mixer running, spoon in the flour mixture and when all is incorporated whisk again for a few minutes. The mixture will go down to a batter-type one. When done, trickle in the melted coconut oil with a tablespoon of water and whisk for half a minute more. Take off from the mixer and just with a spoon fold in the marmalade.

Spoon the batter into the TEN muffin cases. They won’t come up all the way, that’s how it should be, about 2/3 full. Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds and bake for  about 20 mins – check after 15. They should be golden and bounce back when you touch them. Depends on your oven of course.