Tag Archives: almonds

Cake of the Week: Tiger Cake

I realised that so much of my lockdown baking has featured almonds and nuts, so today I’ve opted for something different. Good old marble cake, or as I’ve also seen it called, the more exciting-sounding tiger cake. Since this cake is being made with the assistance of a five year-old, we’re going with tiger. Raaaaaar!


I have always think that a tiger cake is a very German sort of cake, something that you have with afternoon coffee when you’re not able to get hold of something richer and laiden with cream from a Konditorei. Or perhaps for when you’ve had too much whipped cream and want something simpler. I don’t know that it is particularly German, but that’s just the way I think of it. However a quick check on Wikipedia suggests that this is indeed where it hails from, originating in the 19th century.

What I love about this cake is that there is an element of magic to it – you mix up the batter, then there is a little bit of creativity in how you put it into the pan. Once it has baked, you have to hope that you have a nice marbled pattern inside and that you didn’t mix the two colours too much before it went into the oven.


The trick to master is getting the right sort of patter inside. I do this using two spoons of the plain mixture, and then a spoonful of the chocolate batter, and keep going until you’ve put everything in the pan. Then I take a clean knife, insert it gently into the batter, and drag it carefully to get a bit more definition without mixing it up too much. But you can equally dump it all in and mix it up a bit with a spoon, or get super-fussy and put the batter into piping bags, and then squeeze out thin ribbons to get really detailed patterns. My son definitely enjoyed the spooning of the batter most, apart from the eventual eating of the cake…

When I make this, I always add vanilla, but sometimes I add a tiny amount of almond extract. Not so much that it is a dominant flavour, but it can add a little extra something to a cake that will be otherwise unadorned.

This is also a great cake to make ahead of time, and I think it tastes better the day after making. If you wanted to make it fancier, by all means add some sort of glaze, but I think it is fine as is, or with a simple dusting of icing sugar.


There you have it – tiger cake! This recipe is adapted from recipe of the fabulous Nordic Bakery in central London, albeit I’ve reduced the quantities so you don’t end up with a massive cake. There are just three of us in the house during lockdown, so there is a limit on just how much cake is safe to eat!

To make a Tiger Cake:

For the batter

• 180g butter
• 150g white caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 3 large eggs

• 180g plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 2 tablespoons milk

For the chocolate mixture

• 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
• 1 1/2 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Prepare a ring pan or bundt tin (mine was 20cm diameter, 10cm deep) – grease liberally with butter, then dust with plain flour, shake to get everything coated, and tip out any excess flour. Pop the pan into the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

2. Weigh your empty mixing bowl. Write down how much it weighs.

3. Make the batter. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, and mix well. Next one egg, beat well, plus a tablespoon of the flour. Repeat with the rest of the eggs. Finally, combine the remaining flour and the baking powder, then fold it into the batter. Finally add the milk and mix well. It should be smooth and soft, not firm.

4. Now you need to put one-third of the batter into a separate bowl. Weigh the main bowl again, and then subtract the weight of the empty bowl. Divide that number by three, and then take that amount of batter and put it into a separate bowl. Congratulations – you’re done this far more accurately than if you were doing it by eye with spoons!

5. Add the cocoa powder and milk to the separate bowl, and mix well.

6. Get the ring pan from the fridge. Add spoonfuls of the two mixtures – two of the plain, then one of the chocolate – and keep going until it is all in the pan. Try to get as much variation as you can so that the cake has lots of marbling / tiger pattern when you cut it later. Finish by dragging a clean knife gently through the batter for even more swirling.

7. Bake the cakes for around 40-50 minutes or until and inserted skewer comes out cleanly. Remove from the oven and leave to cool until lukewarm. Finally place a cooling rack or plate on top, then flip the cake over and it should come out cleanly. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest overnight.

8. Serve the cake as is, dust with icing sugar, or drizzle with chocolate or icing.

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Cookie of the Week: Pain d’Amandes

Today’s cookie recipe is one that combines sophistication with simplicity. Just what you want with your lockdown mid-morning coffee.

They hail from Belgium, and go by the name of pain d’amande in French and amandelbood in Flemish, and just plain almond bread to you and me. Think of butterfly-thin crisp spiced cookies studded with almonds and you’re there. They’re a lovely addition to a cup of coffee, or used as a wafer with some ice cream. You can also stack them up like a house of cards, as we’re in lockdown and need to things to amuse us. I managed 3 levels!


I say that these are easy because they really are. You make a butter and sugar syrup, add the flour and spices, then add the almonds, then let it all set and chill in a block. Then you slice, bake and enjoy eating lots and lots of them.

The only bit that is vaguely tricky is getting those very thin slices. I found the best way is to make sure you have a very, very sharp knife, line it up, and go for it – press down in one clean move, and you should get an even slice. Avoid sawing or serrated knives so that you get nice, clean slices of almond peeking out.


You can play around with the flavours here. I used cinnamon, but you could add a dash of ginger, or cloves, or mixed spices. Orange zest would also work well, and you could swap out the almonds with whole hazelnuts or pistachios for a bit of contrast. I’ve seen some recipes that suggest you need to remove the skin from nuts before using them, but I happily used whole almonds, skin and all, and they were fine.

One little word of warning – whatever you do, don’t swap the sugar. I’ve made these a few times during lockdown, and they work well with dark brown sugar. But I decided to get creative and swapped it for light brown sugar. Big mistake. The dough seems like it is working, but once it has cooled, it becomes hard and brittle, so it is impossible to cut. It probably has something to do with the moisture content of different types of sugar, and I though it is worth sharing my culinary mishaps to prevent them happening to others!

I would also highly recommend doing a test bake with these – when you’ve sliced the first one, bake it solo to test how long you need in the oven. They are so thin that the difference between baked to crisp, buttery perfection and being incinerated is not that long. Better to go wrong on one than a tray of 30!

To make pain d’amandes (makes around 100 cookies)

• 100g butter
• 165g dark brown sugar
• 30ml water
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 250g plain flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 75g whole almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios

1. Put the butter, sugar, water and salt into a saucepan. Warm gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved, but do not let it boil.

2. Add half the flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour, the cinnamon and the baking soda, and mix until combined. Mix in the nuts.

3. Put the mixture into a container to set. You want something with straight sides, and aim for a rectangle of 10 x 20cm. I used a square baking tray, then built a little “wall” of tin foil to get the right side, and lined it with greaseproof paper. Pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up.

4. Time to bake. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

5. Remove the dough from the fridge. Cut it in half lengthways. Now use a very sharp straight-edged knife to cut thin slices off the dough. Aim for around 2mm, and push the knife down in one clean movement. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, leaving space fo them to expand(*).

6. Bake the cookies for around 8 minutes (or longer if your slices are thicker), turning half-way to get an even bake. They will be soft when they come up, but will turn hard once they cool. Store in an airtight container, and enjoy with coffee.

(*) I found it easiest to slice off as many piece of dough as I needed to fill the tray, then bake them in batches. Pop the dough back in the fridge while a batch is baking so it stays firm and easy to slice.

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Cake of the Week: Battenberg

Oh, but I have been so lax when it comes to keeping up with my lockdown posts! Not that I have skimped on the baking – we’ve kept the cakes and cookies coming throughout – but work and home school leave very little time for other pursuits. I have been diligently taking pictures too, so you can expect a fair few things to pop on here in the coming days…this also means we’ve acquired what the Germans are calling Coronaspeck, or “corona bacon” referring excess weight carried during the lockdown. Can’t wait for the gym to open up again!

I don’t know about your lockdown experience, but all I can surmise from Zoom quizzes, FaceTime chats and work conversations is that everyone, everyone, everyone is finding it tough. And every set of circumstances presents its own unique challenges. My son is five, so he needs a lot of attention, but equally he can be great fun and say some really profound things. Younger children still nap (gosh how I miss that!) but their capacity to understand what is happening is more limited, so how do you handle that? Older children can really understand what is going on, but perhaps they are worrying more, and trying to bottle things up so as not to upset their families? If you’re on your own or a couple, you might have time to do all those things you always wants to turn your hand to, but equally does all that time leave you anxious or lonely?

I think the only conclusion I can really draw at this time is that it is hard for us all, we we just want this to be over as soon as possible, to see our friends and loved ones while balancing the public health risk.

With that, let’s turn to cake. I love a Battenberg cake – I’ve made one before, and you can read all about its regal history here.


Whenever I see a slice of Battenberg it is a piece of complete whimsy – pink and yellow sponge squares, wrapped in marzipan. It looks sweet and crazy, and it is absolutely part of a British childhood. This is one of the key elements of a visit to granny’s house, when a tray of tea, juice and cakes would appear. When I was young it always seemed so fancy. And it is also good in a lockdown to get small children to count to four…

I will level with you – this is not as easy to make as a loaf cake or a sponge cake. However, it’s also not as tricky as it might look. I used Claire Ptak’s recipe (she of the Harry and Megan wedding cake fame), and I liked the result. You just make one batter, split it, colour some of it pink and some yellow. The only tricky bit is baking it – either you can acquire a special tray that has four equal compartments for baking the cake into perfect bars to form the distinctive pattern, or you can use a square tin and improvise with a home-made tin foil barrier to act as a separator. I had to make do the latter, which involved being very precise with scissors and a ruler, but we got there.

I’ve also tweaked the method slightly – Claire’s approach is to split the batter before adding the eggs. I just made the batter, then divided it at the end before adding the colourings. I happen to know my mixing bowl is 580g, so I weigh it again, and subtract that amount, then divide by two to split the batter equally. By all means go by eye, but I prefer to take the danger factor our of it. I mean, just imagine if you ended up with three pink squares and one of yellow?

Once the cake is baked, make sure you are using a straight and very sharp knife. You want impeccably neat lines. I will admit, I got that ruler back out, and was a little obsessed about getting it as scrupulously tidy as I could. Once all the cutting is done, you glue it all together with warm apricot jam, then enrobe it in marzipan. The genius trick that Claire suggests is rather than trying to coat the cake in jam and making an absolute mess (which is what I’ve done in the past), you brush the jam on the marzipan, and then put the cake on top. Then brush then next bit of marzipan, then roll the cake onto that, and keep going until the whole cake is cocooned in marzipan.


There you have it – a classic British cake that is fit for a queen!

To make a Battenberg Cake:

For the batter

• 215g butter
• 215g caster sugar
• 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon almond extract
• 3 large eggs

• 215g plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• pink and yellow food colouring (ideally gel)

To decorate

• 150g apricot jam
• 500g marzipan (golden or white)
• icing sugar, for rolling

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (335°F). Prepare a tin – either use a Battenberg tin (20 x 15cm) or use whatever square tin you can find, and mark out two rectangles of 20 x 7½ cm using little walls of tin foil. Line with greaseproof paper.

2. Weigh your empty bowl. Write down how much it weighs.

3. Make the batter. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extract, and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, and combine well after each addition. Finally, combine the flour and baking powder, then fold it into the batter.

4. Weigh the bowl again, and then subtract the weight of the bowl alone. Divide that number by two, and then split the batter equally. Congratulations – you’re done this far more accurately than if you were doing it by eye with spoons!

5. Add some pink colour to one of the bowls, a little at a time, until you get the desired intensity. You can always add more, so start carefully. Or go crazy and add a lot to get a nice hot pink colour. Repeat with the yellow, going for delicate or neon as you prefer.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. If you’re using a Battenberg tin, you make two rows of yellow batter, and two rows of pink. If you’re using the make-do-tin-foil method, you’re making one yellow and one pink rectangle.

7. Bake the cakes for 40-50 minutes or until and inserted skewer comes out cleanly. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely

8. Take the cooled cakes out of their tins. If you used a Battenberg tin, congratulations, just remove them and trim them if needed. If you used the other method, use the sharpest knife you have to cut each cake in half lengthways, then trim to make four neat bars of cake. It looks best it you cut off any browned parts of the cake. Just eat those.

9. Time to assemble the cake. Heat the apricot jam in a saucepan. Brush the jam along the sides of the bars of cake to for a 2×2 pattern of alternating colours.

10. Time for the marzipan. Dust the kitchen worktop with icing sugar, and roll out your marzipan to a large rectangle, around 20 x 30 cm.

11. Brush an area on the left side of the marzipan with the melted jam. Place the cake on top, and press gently. Now trim the marzipan on the left edge of the cake with a knife for a clean edge. Now brush the area to the right side of the cake with more jam, then gently tip the cake over so it lands on top. Keep going until all four sides of the cake are covered. Trim the excess marzipan.

12. Let the cake sit for 30 minutes so the jam can set and keep everything together. Tidy up the cake – trim both ends so it looks neat, and if you want to be fancy, you can crimp the edges of the marzipan along the cake.

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Cake of the Week: Plum Cake

Hope you’re all doing alright. I’ve ended up being really, really busy as we juggle two jobs and home school. In many ways that makes us some of the lucky ones, and we’re fortunate to still be working and to have so many things that keep our minds focused and occupied. All this means I’m a little behind on posting my lockdown bakes, even if we’ve been making and eating lots recently! But no worry, we’ll catch up this week, so here’s No 2 of Cake of the Week, and they’ve be coming thick and fast for the next few days.

Today I’m sharing (again) one of my favourite cakes, which I make fairly often. It looks impressive, tastes delicious, and it is actually very easy to make. I think it rather resembles an apricot tart, with the bright colours, flaked almond and the glaze of jam.


The thing is, this really is just a simple sponge recipe, flavoured with almonds and vanilla, and then you plonk in some sliced plums on top. During baking they become soft, add some sweet-sharp contrast to the cake, and depending on the variety, they take on a glorious deep pink colour. Normally I am all for experimentation, but I would really urge you to stick with the plums. I’ve tried it with apples and pears, and while they were alright, it really is best made with plums. I think it’s something to do with the moisture content of the plums as compared to apples, but in place of anything more scientific, let’s put it down to culinary magic.

The only real tip when making this is that it is important is to glaze the cake with warm, sieved apricot jam when it comes out of the oven, and before it cools down. This ensures that the cake does not get dry, and the top stays very soft, moist and glistens beautifully.

In terms of accompanying beverage, I think this goes equally well with tea or coffee, but with a slight preference for the latter. What do you think?

To make Plum Cake:

• 140g butter
• 70g white caster sugar
• 70g soft brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 large eggs
• 165g self-raising flour
• 25g ground almonds
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 5-6 large plums
• 2 tablespoons flaked almonds
• 2 tablespoons apricot jam

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a 22cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Cut the plums into quarters, and discard the stones.

3. Make the cake batter. Beat the butter and sugars until creamy. Mix in the almond and vanilla extract. Beat in the eggs, then fold in the flour and ground almonds and mix well. Finally, stir in the milk and beat until the mixture is smooth and soft.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Level the top and then arrange the plums on top. When you’re happy with the design, press them slightly into the batter. Make sure to leave some gaps between the plums for the cake mixture to puff up during baking, but don’t worry about leaving big gaps – the fruit will shrink and sink a bit during baking, so be generous! Sprinkle any visible cake batter with flaked almonds.

5. Bake the cake for around 45 minutes until golden. If the top is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

6. Finish the cake with the glaze – heat the apricot jam with 2 tablespoons of water until runny, then pass through a sieve. Brush the sieved jam all over the top of the cake. You’re done!

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Cookie of the Week: Amaretti

We’re going a bit nutty, so I’ve taken that as my theme for this week’s cookie. Here’s a tasty batch of amaretti cookies.

This is an old recipe of mine, and one that I make quite a lot. It’s also a perfect way to use up any left-over egg whites. I’ve got a couple of other good biscuit recipes in mind which use just egg yolks, and even in normal times I hate to waste egg whites. But now that we need to limit our visits of food stores (just once a week people!), it is just not an option.

And the real boon with this recipe is that the cookies taste really great, and actually much better than they really should given the limited amount of work you have to put into making them. This really is one of those throw-it-all-in-a-bowl recipes, then just roll them and bake them. They are the opposite to that other great user of egg whites, the complex, time-consuming macarons.


The method here is super-easy. Just lightly whisk the egg whites, then add sugar, ground almonds and a little flour. Then mix well. Job done! If this mixture is firmer, then you will ball-like cookies with a crisp outside and soft, chewy interior. If the mixture is softer, then they will flatten down during baking and look more like traditional cookies. As a rule of thumb – a medium egg white yields the former, and a large egg white yields the latter.

So there you have it – lovely golden cookies with jaunty, random cracks on the surface. An easy way to bring a bit of la dolce vita to your afternoon coffee while travel to actual Italy remains off limits.

To make almond biscuits (makes 12):

• 1 medium egg white
• 100g ground almonds
• 100g caster sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• 1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour(*)
• extra caster sugar to sprinkle

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and rub lightly with oil.

2. In a bowl, whip the egg white lightly. Add everything else and mix well. The mixture should be firm and not be wet – you should be able to take pieces and roll them into balls. If the dough seems too wet, add equal amounts of almonds and sugar to bring the dough together. If too dry, add a couple of drops of water.

3. Take teaspoons of the mixture and form into rough balls. Using slightly damp hands, roll into smooth spheres. Place them on the baking tray with space to allow them to spread. Flatten each one slightly. Sprinkle with caster sugar.

4. Bake the cookies for around 15 minutes until lightly golden on the edges (they will be paler in the centre). Turn the tray around half-way during baking to get an even colour.

(*) I’ve made these with wheat flour and gluten-free flour. Both work equally well.

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Scottish Food: Perkins for Burns Night

I was having a look back at some past posts and I realised that it has been 4 years since I last did a Scottish recipe in honour of Burns Night. I did manage 2 years ago to make some lamingtons for Australia Day, so it’s not been a complete failure, but I did think that it was time to have another go.

So what should I make? I was doing a bit of research and I chanced upon a recipe for perkins, traditional spiced Scottish biscuits made with oats. Super! I could make those! Except I had no clue what they were. I must say, it was an odd feeling to be researching something from my home country, but yes, it turns out there are Scottish biscuits that I have no idea existed. And it seems that I’m not the only one – Amy at Baking with Granny seems to have had a similar reaction to perkins as they were suggested to her via Facebook.


I started looking for some ideas of what they were, and after wading through dozens of websites referring to perkins recipes “like granny used to make” and telling me they were “excellent with a cup of tea” it became apparent fairly quickly that I probably do know what they are, I just don’t know them as perkins. They’re flat, slightly chewy cookies made with oats, syrup and spices – not dissimilar to Anzac biscuits. I guess I would call them “oat biscuits” or “oat crumbles”. Anyway, there are some suggestions that they are linked to the famous Yorkshire parkin which shares many of same ingredients, but I’m sure there are the spirits of many proud Yorkshire housewives ready to haunt my nightmares for suggesting that parkin could have come from anywhere other than God’s Own County. So I’ll just say “those ingredients lists and similar names are such a coincidence”. In fact, beyond the oats, spice and golden syrup, I don’t think they are that similar. I think parkin should contain treacle, which these definitely do not.

As for a recipe, I found on on the website of the National Trust for Scotland. Bingo! Surely if anyone knows about traditional biscuits, it will be these people? I mean, a day out to a castle or a stately home always involves a visit to the tea shop and some cake or biscuits. So, dead cert?

Well…I started to read the recipe and there were a few gaps. It needs “flour” which I assumed would be plain, since there is baking soda in there to leaven them. Then “oatmeal” but what was that? Fine oat flour? Coarse? Oat flakes? Big ones? Small ones? I just improvised – I took jumbo rolled oats, ground them in a food processor so they were about half flour and half chopped oats and reasoned that a bit of texture in a biscuit isn’t a bad thing. I was pleased that they did measure out the golden syrup by weight rather than volume, which in my opinion is the right way to do it. By the time you’re measured 100ml of syrup, you’ve usually coated about 5 utensils with sugar and it is a mess. The size of the egg is also not clear – I went with medium and hoped for the best, thinking that if it was too dry I could always add some milk, but if the mixture gets too sticky, it’s always a pain to add more flour as it can throw off the quantities. Thus, the recipe you see below uses the Trust’s quantities, but is based on my tweaks to ensure it would actually works. I also had to double the number of almonds – the recipe asks for split blanched almonds, which I’ve never seen on sale. By the time I had skinned some almonds, I lacked the will to split them apart with a sharp knife, so I just used them whole.


But the recipe wasn’t the strange part. I was not entirely convinced the picture they used was of the actual recipe they were presenting. Their biscuits looked too big, too smooth, too pale. Mine – and those made by quite a few others, including Baking with Granny – are flatter, rougher and with a deeper golden colour. If I’m making something I don’t mind that it doesn’t look exactly the same, but I’d like some sort of family resemblance as a minimum! Let’s just say there is a Russian website with gingerbread cookies that look awfully, awfully similar.

Making them was actually very easy – throw it in a bowl, and get mixing. Because they are leavened with baking soda, you also get a bit of chemical magic during baking, which gives that amazing golden colour. They go in as fairly pale balls of dough, and during baking they sort of puff up and then collapse. If you look at them about half-way, they look very pale and are only just starting to colour. However the baking soda will work its spell on them and a few minutes later they get a crinkled texture and take on a deep golden colour. So watch them like a hawk, of if you’re feeling very Scottish, like a golden eagle. I actually did a test run with the first cookie to see how it worked and how long it had to be in the oven. I’d rather get one wrong and save a batch than try baking 20 and ruin the lot. How you approach it depends on whether you’re a gambler.

For all that, how do they taste? They’re actually delicious – the oats mean they are substantial, and they have a lovely deep flavour from the syrup and spices. It’s the sort of biscuit that might also be improved massively by the addition of a layer of chocolate if you’re in the mood to start messing around with a thermometer to get that glossy, shiny finish, but all that Scottish restraint perhaps points to keeping them pure. I’ll definitely make them again, and the chocolate option is rather appealing. Views?

To make Perkins (make around 45):

• 250g rolled oats
• 250g plain flour
• 180g caster sugar
• 1½ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 125g butter
• 1 medium egg, beaten
• 180g golden syrup (*)
• 60g whole almonds, blanched (**)

1. Preheat the oven to 160C (320°F). Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the oats in a food processor. Grind until medium-fine – about 2 minutes. Half should be flour, the rest should be chopped oats.

3. In a bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking soda and spices. Mix well, then sieve to ensure there are no lumps. You’ll have some oats left in the sieve – tip those into the bowl.

4. Add the butter, and work with your hands until it is incorporated. The mixture will seem quite dry – you don’t get a “breadcrumb” texture.

5. Add the egg and the syrup, then use your hands to mix to a firm dough. You should be able to take pieces and roll them into balls – if too dry, add a little milk. If too wet, add more flour.

6. Take pieces of dough “the size of a large marble” according to the National Trust for Scotland (or weigh them – 20g – they’re about the size of a Fererro Rocher, Mr Ambassador). Roll them into a ball, and place on the baking sheet. Press down very slightly, then gently press an almond on top. It should still be more or less a ball, not flat.

7. Bake for around 13-15 minutes, turning half-way to get an even bake. They are ready when they are an even, rich brown colour. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a moment to firm up, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

(*) That’s golden syrup, not corn syrup. You need this for flavour. As a substitute you could use honey or the Swedish-style “light syrup” which has a similar consistency and flavour. Maple syrup is not great here as it is much runnier so you will need to adjust the amounts…

(**) Either buy almonds that have been blanched, or do this at home – bring a pan of water to the boil, add the nuts and simmer for a minute. Drain, allow to cool for a moment, then the skins should slip off when you squeeze them gently.

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{7} Bruttiboni

Sometimes I am all for making something that looks neat and precise, and I get a certain pride when each cookie in a batch ends up looking identical. The most recent case in point was my checkerboard cookies.

However, today we’re going to the opposite end of the scale with these little guys. They’re from Italy and they’re called bruttiboni. The name roughly means “ugly-good” because they look as they look, but the are utterly delicious.

As with many Italian celebratory cookies, their precise origin is not clear. Today they are typical of the city of Prato in Tuscany, and they are also known as brutti ma buoni (“ugly but good”) or the more poetic-sounding mandorlati di san clemente. They are delicious little cookies made from meringue and hazelnuts.


To make them, you start with a simple meringue mixture, which I flavoured with some vanilla and a little hint of cinnamon. I don’t know if the spice addition is tradition, but I think it works well with the flavour of the nuts. Then you fold in ground, toasted almonds and hazelnuts – you can grind them to a fine powder, or leave a few more chunky bits if you prefer a bit more texture. And then…you do something plain weird. You put the whole bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, and then stir it gently. This makes the mixture somewhat looser, and all I can think that this does is to cook the meringue mixture in a similar way to making Swiss meringue. I’ve never come across this technique before, and in fact, not every recipe that I saw for bruttiboni thought this was necessary. One recipe even suggested making a Swiss meringue and just adding nuts. But I’m all for experimentation so I decided to give this strange approach a go.

From what I could tell, this extra step makes the mixture both a little softer and more stable, as once I had done it, the batter certainly seemed to keep its volume. I think it might also have impacted on the texture – these really are nothing like the miniature meringues I had been expecting – there was no brittle exterior and or marshmallow centre. They are more like the sort of thing I would expect from a “traditional” cookie made with flour and butter, so there is clearly some kind of magic at play here. But they do have a crisper outside and a softer middle. And they are, indeed, absolutely delicious!

To make Bruttiboni (makes around 24)

• 125g ground almonds
• 125g skinned hazelnuts
• 3 large egg whites
• pinch of salt
• 140g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Start by toasting the nuts. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). If you are using whole nuts, ground them in a food processor. They can be fine or you can leave chunks for texture. Spread the ground nuts on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, and until the nuts are golden and fragrant (tip: I put them in for 5 minutes with the timer on; check them, then keep doing them in 2 minute intervals, in each case using the timer to make sure they don’t burn). When done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool.

2.When you’re ready to make the cookies, start by preheating the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Also put a saucepan of water on the stove over a medium heat.

3. Now make the meringue. Get a heatproof bowl. Add the egg whites and salt. Whisk to the soft peaks stage. Now add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, mixing well after each addition, until you have a stiff meringue. Fold in the vanilla and ground cinnamon. Finally fold in the cooled nuts.

4. Now put the bowl over the pan of water – it should be barely simmering. Gently stir the mixture with a spatula for 10 minutes. It will become slightly darker and slightly more runny by the end, but don’t expect to see massive changes.

5. Next, remove the bowl from the heat. Take tablespoons of the mixture and put them on the prepared baking sheet. The neatest way to do this is with an ice-cream scoop, but spoons work just as well. Just don’t expect them to be too neat or too regular!

6. Bake the cookies for around 25 minutes until golden, turning half-way to get an even colour. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. The cookies will become firmer as they cool.

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{3} Pasteles de Gloria

These might have the most amazing name of anything I’ve made – it translates as “glory cakes” which is really promising quite a lot! Sounds like a brag someone might make after working out, no? Anway, these little guys come from Spain, which can be relied on to deliver a delicious array of Christmas goodies. I think this may be to do with the tradition of nuns in monasteries making sweet treats to sell to the local populace, or more likely well-heeled pilgrims.


Last year I made Cordiales de Murcia which are marzipan filled with angel hair pumpkin jam. Glorias are similar and are filled with a thick sweet potato jam with a dash of cinnamon. Making this filling is actually a complete breeze – you’re not really making a jam which must set, but more of a thick paste. You just pop a large sweet potato in the oven, bake it until soft, then scrape out the flesh and cook it with sugar and cinnamon until it is bright orange, thick, very sweet and all in all quite jolly-looking.

It also seems that glorias go by a few names, and a couple of really interesting ones were tetilla de monja and teta de vaca. The latter means cow’s teat and I’ll leave you to guess that the former refers to in the context of nuns(!). You can begin to see why they are generally referred to by their glory cakes moniker.


Making the filling and marzipan is easy, but I must admit that I did find shaping them a little bit tricky, and it took me a couple of attempts to find the best way to do it. In the end, what really worked for me was to find a really small bowl, line it with a piece of plastic film, then put a ball of marzipan in it. I added another piece of cling film, then pressed down so that you get a “cup” shape with the marzipan. Then the cling film slips right off, you can add some filling, and then tease the edges together to seal the gloria. Then you lift the cling film out, gloria still inside, then gather the top and twist. Hey presto – they look neat! I do recommend playing a little bit with the marzipan and perfecting your technique. Once I’d made two or three, I got the knack of it, so don’t worry if the first few are not perfect. They will be dusted with icing sugar, which will reliably cover a multitude of sins!

When it comes to baking, you’re really looking to set the marzipan rather than turn it golden-brown, so do watch them carefully while baking. They will also be quite firm and rather dry, possibly even a little crisp when they come out the oven, but store them in an airtight tin for a couple of days and they will soften up nicely.

To make Pasteles de Gloria (makes 20)

For the filling

• 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes (to give 250g cooked flesh)
• 150g caster sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the marzipan

• 250g ground almonds
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 200g caster sugar
• 2 large egg whites, beaten
• zest of 1/4 lemon

1. Make the filling. Set the oven to 200°C (400°F). Prick the sweet potato, then put in the oven and bake until it is soft. You should be easily insert a knife. This will take 45-60 minutes. When done, remove from the oven, cut the potato in half and scoop out the flesh – you want 250g of cooked sweet potato.

2. Put the cooked sweet potato flesh in a saucepan, and use an immersion blender to make a completely smooth puree. Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix well – it will look a bit more transparent and seem slightly wetter. Cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until you have a thick paste. Drop a small amount on a plate – it should be fairly firm. Remove from the heat, leave to cool completely, then cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

3. Make the marzipan. 1. Make the marzipan mixture. Combine the ground almonds, almond extract, sugar and lemon zest. Mix well, then add one beaten egg. Mix, and then add enough of the second beaten egg to make a marzipan. It should be soft enough to work with, but not wet or sticky. I used just over half of the second egg. If you add to much egg, just add equal amounts of almonds and sugar to get a texture you can work with.

4. The next day, time to make the pasteles. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

5. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of the marzipan (or weigh them – mine were 25g each). Flatten the marzipan between two pieces of plastic film, then add about half a teaspoon of the sweet potato filling. Fold the marzipan around the jam, seal, and roll into a ball between your palms.

6. Place the ball on the baking sheet, and repeat until all the marzipan has been used up. You might find you have some filling left.

7. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes – the cookies should look dry on the surface but not browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cool

8. To serve, dust with icing sugar. Don’t go crazy – pasteles de gloria are pretty sweet, so you’re dusting for effect more than anything.

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{2} Mandelhörnchen

Today we’re going to celebrate two of the most traditional flavours – chocolate and almonds! I think they are both delicious, so when I saw these nutty marzipan crescents, I knew I had to give them a go. Not only that, but they were also going to be my entry for our Festive Bake-Off at work (well, assuming that they worked!).

As with my Icelandic jólakaka I don’t really have much history to write about these little treats, other than they are very German and part of the wide range of Christmas baking from that part of the world.


This is a remarkably easy recipe, and I think you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck in terms of amount of effort as compared to the end result. The dough is just a simple marzipan, and you don’t even need to worry about letting it rest for hours in the fridge, which makes this a good recipe if you don’t have masses of time to wait.

But let’s be honest, you’re probably still something of an obsessive perfectionist given you’re in the realm of home-made cookies which involve playing around with a thermometer to temper the chocolate for that perfect shine? On that note, if you’re at a loss as to what to get from Father Christmas in your stocking, ask for a digital food thermometer – it’s brilliant for recipes that need a precise temperature. I used to just guess and hope for the best, which led to variable results, and it makes it easier when working with chocolate or making sweets.


So how did I get on in the competitive baking challenge? I submitted them into the “12 Identical Christmas Bakes” category, and I got good feedback, but did lose out to a colleague’s cranberry and orange spiced cupcakes, which frankly were really good. I guess that’s the thing with marzipan – it is often something people really love or really don’t care for. Hey ho…there is always next year!

If you are minded to give these a try, there is one tip I can share with you. It’s about the flaked almond decoration. Lots of pictures online show perfect cookies with whole flaked almonds on them, and I thought I would try to go for that too, but it ended up being a a complete pain to get them to stick to the marzipan after shaping without falling off. It was a case of each movement or slight puff of wind making yet more of them give up. It turns out that it really is a lot easier to roughly chop the flaked almonds. Then when you roll the marzipan in the nuts the adhere perfectly. I think if you went for smaller, fatter crescents then you would find it easier to get larger pieces of almond to stay put, but I had decided on the shape I wanted, and no bag of nuts was going to determine what I did!


One final thing to watch out for is that these cookies can dry out easily if you don’t keep them stored in a sealed container, which is not brilliant when you really want that tender marzipan texture. However, you can easily fix this by storing them in an airtight container with a slice of bread, which is basically magic and makes them soften up after a day or so, which is helpful if you want to make them in advance. Perhaps for a work baking challenge that you don’t win….!

To make Mandelhörnchen (makes around 20)

For the marzipan:

• 250g icing sugar
• 250g ground almonds
• 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon almond extract

To decorate:

• 150g flaked almonds, roughly chopped
• 1 egg white, beaten

To finish:

• 150g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the even to 160C. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Make the marzipan. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a large bowl. Add the almond extract and mix well. Add about two-thirds of the egg white, and mix well. The marzipan will seem dry and crumble, but keep adding more of the egg white until you get a soft marzipan which holds is shape but is not too sticky. If it gets sticky, just add equal amounts of icing sugar and almonds to get the right consistency.

3. Shape the cookies. Take pieces of dough, around 20-25g (yes, I used my electric scales to get exact pieces) and roll into a ball. Roll on a worktop to form a sausage – mine were 15cm. Brush some egg white on a plate, and roll the marzipan on it to get a thin, even coating, then roll it into the chopped flaked almonds. Transfer the baking sheet and form into a crescent shape.

4. Bake the Mandelhörnchen for around 12 minutes until just turning golden. Turn the baking sheet half-way to get an even colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely – they get firmer as they cool.

5. Melt and temper the chocolate. Dip each end of the cookies in the chocolate, transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave to set.

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{12} Speculaasbrokken

I had grand plans to make something from the Netherlands this year – the duivekater, a Christmas loaf which a long history that even appears in famous artwork from the Dutch Golden Age. Well, you can see from the name of this post that it is not what happened. I did manage to make a duivekater for Christmas day, and it was certainly delicious, but I did it all in something of a rush. So much so that it ended up looking like something that would not have been out of place on cakewrecks rather than being the jolly photogenic festive centrepiece I had in mind. Of course I will give it another go, so I’ve already added it to my list for next year’s baking.

But this leaves me with one bake missing. So what to do? Well, something else, obviously! I’ve reflected on all the complex, intricate things I made this year, and have decided to go in the opposite direction this time. I’ve made speculaasbrokken, which are simple, quick and delicious. You might think that I made something a bit fancy and then dropped it by mistake, but this is what they should look like – the name means “pieces” or “chunks” of speculaas, or Dutch spiced biscuits.


Speculaas cookies is a key part of Christmas in the Netherlands, and you can find the famous “windmill cookies” with their intricate designs formed using wooden moulds, and more simple “spiced nuts” which are rolled into little balls and baked. You can make the special speculaas spice mixture yourself if you have the time and inclination, otherwise you can used mixed spice or pumpkin spice for a similar effect. Whatever you do, make sure you’re pretty generous with the spices!

The method here is really easy. You throw everything in a bowl, make a dough, then chill it, roll it and bake it. Either make one mega-cookie or four smaller ones. After baking, you can either break it into pieces and serve it à la manière rustique but I think there is something quite satisfying and a little bit dramatic about brining it whole to the table and then smashing it in front of your guests. 

To make speculaasbrokken:

• 300g plain white flour
150g unsalted butter
160g dark brown sugar
• 6 teaspoons mixed spices
1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if using salted butter)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cold water
whole or flaked almonds, for decoration

1. Put all the ingredients apart from the water and almonds into a bowl, and work with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to make a soft dough. Wrap in cling film, flatten, and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll the dough out to 3/4 cm thickness – you can do it in one large pieces, or make 4 separate pieces. Brush with milk and put almonds on top. If you are using whole almonds, you can make some sort of pattern, or you can use flaked almonds, in which case just sprinkle and press them down.

4. Bake the speculaas for around 45 minutes until it is dark looks evenly cooked. Turn half-way for an even colour.

5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then either break it into pieces to store, or keep it whole and smash it when you have guests for maximum impact.

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