Tag Archives: almonds

Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits

Growing up, my mum made friends with a woman called Sonia, who worked in the dry cleaner’s kinda opposite our flats. The dry cleaning would be wrapped in this lovely navy blue paper, the like of which we seemed to have at home for years afterwards (I guess she gave us some).

We didn’t have a car, growing up, but we used to go out with Sonia and her husband, who drove a red VW Beetle. We would go to the airport and watch the planes take off, in the days when this was still possible. We also went to Windsor castle. I loved our trips out as they were the only car-trips out we had as children. (This isn’t meant to sound sad, we went to Italy a lot and I had a great childhood.)

I have a picture, of us at Windsor castle, me with a right sulk on (I peed on my mum’s lap on the way home, I think I might have done it on purpose, the shame), wearing a very flash red coat and a rabbit fur hat, Sonia and my mum looking really glamorous, but in a totally nonchalant way.

One of the things Sonia used to bring with her were these amazing little hazelnut crescent biscuits. She would have them, layer upon greaseproof-paper layer, in a tin, and as you opened the tin, the smell of them – they were coated with vanilla sugar – would hit you. They were not like any biscuits we could buy, or that my mum made.

Because they were so occasional, they were especially delicious. Sonia also used to bring  a flask of coffee, which I would drink (I was an early caffeine drinker).

When I was seven, my mum and dad opened up a coffee shop on London’s Bayswater Road. I started making cakes and biscuits for my dad’s shop. I started baking. I tried to recreate Sonia’s biscuits but I never could. For some reason I didn’t dare ask her for the recipe, or perhaps I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to make them less special.

Occasionally, these days, I will go to my mum and dad’s house, and Sonia will have been, bringing with her a box of her special biscuits. And just opening the lid of the biscuit tin (she always brings them in a biscuit tin) will transport me back to being a very little girl, sitting in a red VW Beetle, watching planes taking off, treading that fine line between showing my appreciation for her biscuits and eating a fair few, but not toppling over into greed. It’s still a line I struggle with balancing on.

The other day, I saw Sonia and I plucked up the courage to ask her for the recipe. I don’t know why it’s taken me four decades to do so. Amazingly she had it written down (none of that “oh I do it from memory”) and she gave it to me, and, here it is:

250g plain flour

200 butter, unsalted, fridge cold

100g ground hazelnuts (I buy the chopped, toasted version and then grind them, it really makes a difference, but you can use pre-gound hazelnuts or almonds, but it won’t be *quite* as good as if you toast and grind them yourself)

80g icing sugar

5g vanilla sugar (Sonia says you can buy these in little packets but I leave this out and just add a tablespoon of vanilla essence)

Pinch of salt

Caster sugar for after (vanilla sugar if you have it)

In a food processor, pulse the butter and flour until like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, salt and nuts and then pulse until it comes together in clumps. Don’t over mix. It will work out I promise. Of course you can do this all by hand, but I’m lazy.

If you’ve made it in a processor take it out now and, by hand, bring the mixture together. Chill for 20/30 mins.

Preheat oven to 190C

Take small bits and roll into crescent shapes. I weigh each one to make sure I don’t end up with tiny/huge biscuits, roll into sausage shapes and taper the ends, curve into crescents. If you’re interested, I do them so mine weigh about 21g in raw dough.

Put on a parchment lined trays and cook for 10 mins. Cool and then coat in vanilla caster sugar if you have it, (I put a vanilla pod in a jar of normal caster sugar and just keep it there for, like, ever) normal caster sugar if you don’t.

Then don’t eat four whilst you’re writing a blog post, because that will make you feel really, really sick.

Store in a biscuit tin, each layer interleaved with greaseproof paper.

(Sonia calls these traditional Vienna biscuits but as she’s from Switzerland, I call them Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits.)

Making your own almond milk

Although we all eat everything in this house, we do also try to mix things up a bit. In smoothies, especially green ones, I stay away from dairy, but often want something a bit more luxurious than water.

Enter almond milk. You can buy almond milk, of course, and we do, but it tends to be full of stuff I don’t recognise and it contains just 2% almonds. So we make our own when possible and it’s really easy, nutritious and super tasty but not, I should add, cheaper than buying ready made. I like to use this in iced coffee (even though the base is dairy) to add a lovely nutty dimension to the finished drink.

Anyway, this is what you do:

Get 250g almonds, skin on and put them in a container that will fit in the fridge, cover with water and leave overnight. When you are ready to make the almond milk, drain the almonds, give them a rinse then put them in a powerful blender with 700-800ml of clean fresh water and blend up until all mushed up – it takes about 30 seconds.

Take out this sludge and place it on a muslin, in a sieve, over a bowl. Let it drain and then gather up the muslin and give the nuts a squeeze to get the most out. What comes out is almond milk (and you can use this method to make hazelnut, cashew etc milk too) – store it in a big jar/bottle in the fridge and it will keep for a few days (probably up to a week but I’ve never kept it that long). Stir it up before you use it and if you like, you can add a bit of vanilla extract to it for an extra bit of flavour.

The nut residue you have left in the muslin can be used in bread, biscuits, soup, smoothies, porridge or ice cream. If you don’t use it straight away put it in the fridge for a day or two or even freeze it to use later. Whatever you do don’t throw it away!

My breakfast smoothie

Seriously, like we need another picture of a green smoothie. But, nevertheless, here is mine.

But I wanted to share this because I think it’s so nice, it’s healthy but it’s not so scary that it alienates perfectly ordinary people, like me and you. I absolutely love it and will either have it first thing (after my mad Italian woman habit of lemon and psyllium husks in hot water), or after I’ve had a ‘proper’ breakfast and at about 11am. Depending on what time I have it I will vary the ingredients. I don’t add spinach if it’s too early because WTF am I turning into? But. My big discovery is frozen spinach. The one you get chopped up in ‘pods’. This way you don’t have bags of fresh spinach going off in the salad drawer (yuk) mocking you; it’s always fresh, and adds a nice cold element to the smoothie.

There are three key ingredients, to my mind, to make this smoothie really nice and friendly. And those are the almond butter, the cinnamon (who would have thought I’d become obsessed with cinnamon?) and the dates which must be those lovely expensive medjool dates. I buy mine from the market and £3 worth last me, easily, all week. I would probably also add banana as a must have. Remember that if you don’t fancy a whole banana, you can freeze it, chopped up in pieces, in a box in the freezer to add to subsequent smoothies.

So this is my basic smoothie:

One and a half medjool dates, two if you like

One banana, nice and ripe if possible

One teaspoon of cinnamon – don’t skimp on this

A big old tablespoon of almond butter

Handful of blueberries

200ml or so of almond milk or milk of your choice. I fill it up to the ‘max’ on my Nutribullet container. If you like a thicker smoothie add less, if you like it runnier add more etc.

You can blend it up now for a minute or so until smooth. But, if you want to ramp up the nutrient content you can add any, or all, of the following.

quarter of a teaspoon of spirulina

half a tablespoon of linseeds

big pinch of hemp seeds

1-2  tablespoons of oat flakes

some kefir if you culture it – I add two tablespoons

a pod of frozen spinach

The spirulina makes everything go really green. Don’t be scared. And you don’t have to add it if you don’t want to.

Just remember to blend until really smooth. I do it for about 30-45 seconds in my Nutribullet.

This fills you up for, ooh, maybe 30 minutes. Seriously it doesn’t fill me up for long in that ‘full up’ way. But I do feel REALLY good after drinking it. Until I pollute my body with a cappuccino. Sssh.

 

Date and ginger biscuits (gluten, refined sugar and dairy free)

I haven’t gone gluten, or dairy free. I am incredibly fortunate that I can, thus far at least, eat what I want. And I do. Last night I stuffed my face with cheesy Wotsits (I love a flourescent food stuff sometimes). Today, for the first time in eight years, I went into a supermarket and bought a loaf of white sliced and we had toasted sandwiches for Sunday lunch.

But generally, I do eat really well and also, I do like to try new things and double-also I like to have a little biscuit or something every day, and it kinda helps, now that I’m no longer 19 years old and seven stones, to think of my health ‘n’ stuff.

(Whilst I’m vaguely on the subject of healthy eating, has anyone else noticed that saying you’re on a ‘whole food plant based’ diet seems to have replaced saying “I’m vegan”? I’m not saying this recipe is vegan btw, because it’s not – it contains eggs – but I’ve noticed this phrase a lot lately..)

So I found these in Hugh F-W’s new book Light and Easy (which thus far I really like although have only tried a few things). They are choc-full of good-for-you ingredients, have no refined sugar, no dairy, no wheat, no gluten and although they absolutely won’t be to everyone’s taste, they are to mine and also my youngest loves them (incredibly). They are not overly spicy or gingery, and make a great little snack when you need a treat. But are also – thanks to the fibre and protein – rather satisfying and sustaining.

You need:

200g pitted dates

15g peeled ginger, roughly chopped

2 eggs

250g ground almonds (this is not a cheap biscuit recipe..)

a quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

One and a half teaspoons of ground Chinese five-spice

Pinch of salt

Flaked almonds for topping if you so wish

What you do:

Oven to 170C. Baking parchment or magic carpet type sheet onto a baking sheet.

Put the dates and ginger into a food processor. Not a blender, but a processor (it’s sticky and if you put this in a blender I wouldn’t want to be you cleaning up afterwards). Whizz up for a couple of minutes until the mixture is really sticky and everything is evenly chopped up. This is also the time you realise you have bought unpitted dates as the processor will start making an awful sound and then start smoking.

When the mixture is all mixy, then you add the eggs and process again until you get a nice sloppy mixture – takes seconds really. Now add all the other ingredients and pulse for a few times until everything is, how can I put this? Mixed. You will have a very sticky dough. Either drop spoonfuls onto the tray or wet your hands slightly, roll into a ball and then flatten – which is what I do. I make mine about 5cm wide. They don’t really spread out so you can pack them fairly tight – but not touching – onto a baking tray. Top with flaked almonds if you so wish (this is my addition).

I bake mine for 15 minutes and this is plenty. Hugh says 20. They should be golden but not too dark and have a ‘slight give’ in the middle. I can lift my straight off the tray, with my hands, onto a wire rack to cool.

That’s it. Eat and feel virtuous.

A chocolatey coffee warming smoothie for the morning

Something you may not know about me, I eat really healthily a lot of the time. I drink green smoothies with my children when they come home from school. I regularly fast. This is to mitigate when I do eat sugar, butter and flour made into cake and cookie form. But since I got into nutrition in a major way in 2002 even the crap I eat is pretty good. I think what you put into your body is really important.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and I’m not here to sound super worthy cos I don’t want anyone to visit my blog and feel bad about themselves. I know all about that, too.

Anyway. However much I may like green smoothies, there is no way on God’s earth I am eating one first thing in the morning, in winter. It just all feels too cold and unfriendly. I never feel hungry first thing in the morning, and yet sometimes I must leave the house for a full day of knitting words together into meaningful sentences. And I can’t do that on an empty head. Sometimes I need something nutritious, quick, easy to go down and that, even if it doesn’t fill me up til lunch (few things do), I will know that I’ve had some nutrition that morning.

I got this recipe from Dale Pinnnock’s Healthy Everyday book. I haven’t really made much else from it, but my interest in the book piqued when I read this recipe and it involved both chocolate and coffee. I thought, here is a my kinda book, a man who understands that to be healthy you don’t need to be eating cardboard.

I have adapted it slightly to suit my selfish needs and despite the milk making it ‘cold’, it somehow manages to be warming at the same time.

(no picture yet but there will be soon)

225ml almond milk (this is what I use but oat milk should work well too)

1 banana

1 heaped tablespoon of raw cacao – this is my favourite bit and I really do put a heaped tablespoon in. It’s worth buying raw cacao in bulk as it works out cheaper than really high quality cocoa from the supermarket and it’s much better for you.

2 heaped tablespoons of oats

4 almonds

1 teaspoon of raw honey or maple syrup

1 shot of espresso

a quarter of teaspoon of cayenne pepper (essential!)

You just put the whole lot into a blender (I use a Nutribullet) and whizz up until really smooth and drink it. YUM.

 

White chocolate and berry cheesecake

I’m mindful, at this time of year, of having lots of people to cater for at once, and also the value of being able to Do Things In Advance.

I made this at the weekend, for a lunch party at a friend’s house where I was asked to bring pudding. The value of this is that it feeds lots – easily 12*. It not only can, but has to be made in advance. It looks good, but can also be brought out after a meal, to sit on the table for many hours without spoiling and be picked at (‘I’ll just tidy it up’) as guests get drunker and drunker.

I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I made this in one large rectangular Mermaid tin and a smaller tart tin. But this cheesecake is so good that I think it’s worth buying the right size tin for it as I will be making it again.

A few notes:

I put in 300g of frozen mixed berries as that’s the packet I had, and didn’t see the point of keeping back a handful of berries.

Yes you do put the berries in frozen.

Do build the crust up to a good height at the sides, although this mixture didn’t (for me) rise up, there is a lot of it and if your sides aren’t high enough, you’ll be at a dam-bust situation.

It may be an idea to put the tin on a baking sheet to catch any drips – I didn’t have any but see my point just above.

It definitely took an hour in my oven, maybe a few minutes more.

That’s it. This is a good one to keep up your sleeve for party season and the other great thing about it is that * you can cut the slices as thin or thick as you want, so it could feasibly feed may, many more than the predicted dozen.

Here is the recipe.

Biscuits made with nut butters

My friend Emily, who originally gave me some starter that started (ha ha) my sourdough journey, told me about some spelt and peanut butter cookies that she had made and couldn’t stop eating. Her email made it sound as if she’d eaten four that day or something.

I have Emily down as a) super healthy and b) incredibly controlled where biscuit eating is concerned so the fact that she had eaten so many, and was trying to resist eating more, meant I had to bookmark the recipe. The original one is here, but Emily said she’d adapted them with some rye so this is what I’ve done too in the recipe below.

But when I looked at the recipe, I saw it was all in cups, which are the Devil’s measurements as far as I’m concerned. I have a set of US cups which I bought from Crate and Barrell when I went to San Francisco with my Ma but I’ve never used them because recipes using cups ‘n’ sticks ‘n’ stuff like that drive me to the very edge of insanity.

Then in this month’s Martha Stewart Living there was a recipe for whole-wheat almond butter sandwich cookies which looked amazing. The recipe, like all Martha’s goddam recipes, was in cups ‘n’ sticks. I emailed her team saying “look, why can’t you also provide metric measurements as you sell your magazine in the UK”. And to their credit they did reply.

Telling me that conversion charts were available on Google. Which I guess told me how much they think of their UK readers.

Donna Hay magazine (note: Australian cups are different to US cups, DH magazine is Australian) always provides metric in its recipes. So it can be done. And you’d think that Martha, with all her Harvard interns that she gets over to organise her photo library at home, would be able to provide this.

But no.

Anyway, there were now two recipes – for essential biscuits – asking for cup measurements, so I had to man up. And with the help of about 45 people on Facebook, lots of crying and shouting and, yes, looking things up on Google, I was able to translate these recipes into metric and here I have them laid before you. I’ve also tweaked where necessary because Martha, for example, was asking for a shed-load of cream cheese and, following her recipe meant the cream cheese was far too runny. When I looked at all my other cream cheese frosting recipes (which is what this is, but sandwiched between two bics) they all had butter in, so I put butter in mine and hey-presto, it worked.

The almond sandwich biscuits are tremendously good. And full of nuts which are great for you. You could use other nuts too. I bet hazelnuts would be fabulous. These biscuits can also be eaten on their own, but where’s the fun in that when you can eat two, joined together with a spoonful of cream cheese. You need to make these as you eat them, otherwise they go soft. They’re still delicious mind. But to keep that crunch you need to keep the biscuits in an air tight container, the cream cheese mixture in the fridge, and assemble them before eating.

The spelt/rye/peanut cookies are wonderful too. But different. Easy to make and filling. You don’t get sugar crashes after eating them. And you feel kinda virtuous. I’m actually really craving one as I write and I crave these little salty, savoury sweet biscuits quite often.

Neither are cheap to make though. But they’re not the sort of biscuits you’d ever find in a shop so if you want them, you have to make them

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Wholemeal almond-butter sandwich cookies

I found these made about 30

160g wholemeal plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

a big pinch of sea salt

113g of unsalted butter

130g almond (or other nut) butter

220g light brown sugar

1 large egg

85g flaked almonds, toasted and chopped

for the filling:

300g tub of cream cheese (at room temperature)

50g runny honey

40g very soft butter

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

Method

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and put aside. Beat butter with an electric mixer for about a minute on medium. Obviously you can do this by hand too, or get a Harvard graduate to do it for you. Add the nut butter and beat until smooth as Martha’s face. Now beat in the sugar and egg until as well mixed as one of Martha’s parties. Now reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Now, by hand, and gentle, mix in the almonds.

The dough is fairly soft at this stage, but you can form it into a long salami shape using baking parchment and a bit of swearing. Aim for about 12″ long. Freeze for about an hour or you can at this stage freeze until needed.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat oven to 180C take out the biscuit dough (if long-frozen let it be at room temperature for about half an hour, if you’ve only frozen it for an hour it’s ready to use straight away). Slice into thin rounds, just under a centimetre.

Bake on parchment lined trays for 8-10 minutes. You want them to be just gently golden. Imagine the sort of tan Martha lets herself get: nothing too extreme. If you were sure you’d want these to be eaten on their own, I’d probably cook them on the lesser side of done to give them a bit of chewiness.

Let them cool completely, then whisk together the filling ingredients, fill and go.

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Spelt/rye nut butter cookies

280g of spelt/rye flour. I used about 200g of spelt to 80g of rye, but use all spelt if you want

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

240g of nut butter of your choice

85g of tahini

165g maple syrup

50g of coconut oil/olive oil

1.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Oven to 180C. Mix together the salt, flours and baking powder. In another bowl mix together the rest of the ingredients. Introduce the two and mix gently until you get a dough. Drop spoonfuls onto a lined baking tray, or take bits of the dough off and roll, roughly into a ball and do the same (depends how easy the dough is to work with). Flatten with a fork. Bake for 8-10 mins.

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