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{12} Vasilopita Cake

Happy New Year! We’ve made it out of 2020, and we’ve also reached the last instalment of our 12 Festive Bakes for the year. Or more accurately last year.

I normally try to finish everything before Christmas Day so that all the goodies are on offer over the festive holiday, ready to hand to all those guests who will be popping in. Except that imperative was not there this year, and we’re working our way through the various baked goods. Another thing that is different this year is that I’ve run a little later, and as the final bake was due to coincide with New Year, I decided to make something that celebrates this time of year. Well, I found out that in Greece it is traditional to eat a vasilopita. So I made one.

The name vasilopita means “St Basil’s pie”. It can be no coincidence that the Feast of St Basil is on 1 January, and he happens to be the patron saint of wishes and blessings. Very fitting for the time of renewal, new hopes and good intentions. The vasilopita can come in one of two forms. It can either be an enriched yeasted bread, or a cake. As I was making this late on New Year’s Eve, I decided to go the cake version as I thought it would be quicker to make. Truth be told, on that day I had already spent many, many hours outside in the park, and all that fresh air and very cold temperatures left me ready for bed quite early. Those New Year’s Eve celebrations where we partied until the wee hours seem but a distant memory these days…


There is also a lovely ritual that goes with these cakes. A coin is hidden in the bread or included in the cake when it is baked. When the vasilopita is served, it is cut into pieces and offered to guests in turn, from the oldest to the youngest. The one that gets the coin will enjoy good luck in the year to come. This is presumably on the basis that they’ve already enjoyed some good luck by neither ingesting the coin nor breaking a tooth on it? Anyway, I think this is a fun thing to do, but make sure you have a clean coin, wash it thoroughly in hot, soapy water, and wrap it tightly in tin foil. Safety first.

Vasilopita cakes are usually smooth, and decorated with a dusting of icing sugar. Often the year will be written in numebrs on top, either using a stencil, in icing, or perhaps using nuts. However, I decided that I would just dust with icing, as this was a good chance to use my intricate Dutch cake mould, which is shaped like a Zeeuwse Knoop. This is traditional symbol from the Zeeland region. It has twelve points on it rather like a clock, and that felt like enough of a link to New Year’s Eve to justify using it.


The traditional flavour in a vasilopita cake is orange zest, which I’ve used here. Note that I was quite heavy-handed and used the zest of two whole oranges, plus a bit of lemon zest. I loved the result, but I love citrus and this cake did pack a punch. If you want a more delicate flavour, use just one orange.

I also saw a couple of recipes that suggested using mahleb (the ground pits of the St Lucie cherry, which has a bitter-almond flavour) and ground mastic resin which is popular in Greek sweets and baking. The flavour and aroma of mastic are hard to describe, but I think it’s reminiscent of something light, fresh and resinous, with a touch of pine about it. So I added both of those since I happened to have them in the spice drawer. Neither dominates, but they add to the overall result – an aromatic, zesty cake.

After all those rich spices and chocolate over the last couple of weeks, this made a very pleasant change. We enjoyed it with breakfast on New Year’s Day, then set about taking down the decorations. We always do this on New Year’s Day, and it feels right. The festive period is drawing to a close, the house returns to a calmer state, and we get to marvel at how spacious and airy our home suddenly feels. Yes, in lockdown times it feels a little sad to be putting away all the sparkle and wrap all the tree ornaments in their protective paper, but I’m hopeful that we will be unwrapping them again in December 2021 surrounded by our nearest and dearest.

I mentioned that the vasilopita can be both a bread and cake. I think I’ll also have a go at the bread version. I’ve seen a couple of recipes, and it seems similar to an Italian panettone, but without the dried fruit and the inclusion of orange zest and mastic. If it’s good, perhaps it will make the 2021 edition of the Twelve Bakes of Christmas?

To make a Vasilopita Cake:

For the cake

• 150g butter
• 250g white caster sugar
• zest of 1 or 2 oranges
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• 1 teaspoon mahleb (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon ground mastic resin (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 large eggs
• 225g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

• 50ml whole milk
• 75ml yoghurt
• 2 tablespoons orange juice
• 25g ground almonds
• 25g flaked almonds, roughly crushed

For the glaze

• 100g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons orange juice

To finish

• icing sugar, to dust

1. Prepare a 20cm (8 inch) diameter cake pan. Either line one with greaseproof paper, or if using a fancy mould, grease it generously with butter, then dust it with plain flour.

2. Put the butter in a large bowl, and beat until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until smooth, then add the flavourings (orange zest, lemon zest, mahleb, mastica and vanilla extract). Mix well.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth. Add a spoonful of flour with each egg to prevent the mixture from splitting.

4. Mix the remaining flour and the baking powder in a separate bowl. Combine the milk and the yoghurt in another bowl. Add one-third of the remaining flour, and mix; then half the milk mixture; then next third of the flour; the rest of the milk mixture; then the last of the flour. Finally fold in the orange juice, ground almonds and flaked almonds

5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin. If you’re using a fancy mould, spoon it gently so that you do not disturb the flour layer lining the mould.

6. Bake the cake for 1-1 1/2 hours until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cover with tin foil after 45 minutes to prevent the cake from getting too dark. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

7. Make the glaze. Mix the icing sugar and orange juice until smooth, then cover the top and sides of the cake. Leave to dry.

8. Just before serving, dust the cake with icing sugar.

 

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Filed under Cake of the Week, Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{11} Italian Rainbow Cookies

My previous festive baking post offered simplicity, so it was only inevitable that today we’d go back to complexity. And as it is New Year’s Eve, albeit the low-cal and less exciting version, it is only fitting that we do something that is colourful and has a bit of panache to it.

Earlier in this year’s baking extravaganza I posted some cookies from the Philippines and mused that I had not made many recipes from outside of the gingerbread-spice world of Western Europe. Then I got a suggestion from a helpful reader, Jamie, who suggested I have a go at Italian Rainbow Cookies. In spite of the name, they are a staple of American Christmas baking, particularly amoung the Italian-American community, so would tick the box of stepping beyond Europe for holiday inspiration. So…I did just that. I did actually have another recipe in mind for the No 11 slot this year, but for better or worse it has been bumped. Maybe it will make the cut for the 2021 edition?

Truth be told, I’ve seen these before, but I’ve been put off from making them as they look complicated. However what with lockdowns and the like, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands (i.e. my excuse has gone), so we were all set for some lurid rainbow cookies. All fabulous seven layers of them. And here is what I made!


I’m beyond thrilled with how they worked out. Seeing them all laid out neatly like this I have the vague feeling that I’ve made some sort of edible interactive Tetris set. I originally arranged them in neat lines all in the same way but it looked too orderly. Hence the more random arrangement. It’s chaos within order.

These little guys are also called Seven-Layer Cookies, and it’s easy to see why. There are three layers of almond-flavoured sponge, sandwiched together with jam, and then the top and bottom have a layer of dark chocolate. They are made as one giant sheet, then cut into individual bite-sized cubes.

I find them both cute and oddly extravagant. But are they Italian? Are they a rainbow? And are they really cookies? The last two are easy. You could go with any colour you wanted, but the red/white/green tricolore seems to be pretty ubiquitous. The tricky thing is to get more of a rainbow, you need more layers, which makes them more complex, and the size would become impractical. I also think it is wise to go with colours that could be natural as opposed to blues and purples. So they’re not a real rainbow, but I think the three colours do work well together.

Are they cookies? Well, not in the sense of something that is made from dough that has been rolled out and shaped or cut. But neither are they cookies made from balls of dough, or drops of batter. While the term “cookie” is pretty flexible, these guys are really are more like little cakes. The closest I can think of are petit fours, those fancy little bite-sized French cakes you might get with afternoon tea or after a special dinner.

So, they’re at least Italian, right? This is where things get more mixed. Some think they’re not Italian at all, while others think they must have at least a tenuous link to the old country. Other sources suggest the recipe was developed within the Jewish community that lived alongside Italians in American cities. Whatever the true origin, they have acquired the “Italian” moniker and they seem to be a key part of an Italian nonna’s festive baking repertoire, and given that it’s probably best not to argue.

But where to start with baking them? Jaime pointed me in the direction of the Smitten Kitchen recipe from Deb Perelman. I’ve followed some of Deb’s recipes in the past, and been pleased with the results. In a pretty crowded online recipe world, and with what seem like dozens of YouTube videos of those nonnas making these things, I decided to go with a recipe that I was pretty confident would work. She also writes with candour about how she found the process and offers tips for getting it right, which is something I always like to see. A tricky recipe being described as “easy” or “a breeze” does no service to the reader and it underplays the work of the baker too.

I planned to do this over two days, as they baked cake part needs to chill for at least 8 hours with a weight on it. I think the idea is that this helps to ensure the cookies are perfectly flat, the layers bond to each other, and I think it helps with the texture too. I figured I could do all the baking and assembly one day, then do the chocolate and the chopping the next. I recommend doing it in this way as it helps keep you sane. The kitchen does end up covered in a fair few bowls coated in many different colours.

But was the whole process a breeze? I did have one major wobble. Once I’d done the baking, assembling and chilling, I removed the tray from the fridge to start doing the chocolate layers. I trimmed the sides, partly to neaten it all up, and partly to have some offcuts to eat. With a nice sharp knife it was a dream to cut. Then I was frankly horrified upon doing a sneaky taste – the cakes seems dry and hard. I panicked. Had they been over-baked? Had I wasted my time? In fact, they were just cold. As they came up to temperature, they softened and that delicious jammy almond flavour emerged. So yeah, just note that this happens!

The chocolate layer was the bit that worried me. You need to do the top and the bottom. Now, I can temper chocolate, but it takes time and patience. Plus it is about 1 degree (centigrade) outside, so our old London brick house is freezing which makes it all the more tricky to get chocolate to a precise temperature – not too hot, not too cold. This was a problem that the Smitten Kitchen recipe had too. Well, it turns out the answer was actually mercifully simple – you just add a little unsalted butter to the melted chocolate. No tempering, and this also means the chocolate has a bit of “give” so that it becomes easier to cut.


And what’s the verdict? Well this comes in two parts. How much work were they, and how do they taste.

In terms of effort, they are a lot less work than I thought. I probably spent one hour doing all the baking, and that was alongside keeping an eye on my son, who also tried to help (and promptly made a mess). Then maybe 20 minutes assembling it all before leaving to chill overnight. The chocolate was the job for the second day. Splitting it up in this way makes it quite easy. Manageable mess, and you don’t end up going doolally from it all. Italian Rainbow Cookies are also quite fun to make them if you’re slightly obsessive about precision in your baking. For indeed, my much-treasured Japanese steel metal ruler helped get those sharp lines and equal cuts.

In terms of how they taste, I love them. They have an intense almond flavour and lovely fruitiness from the jam (which I boosted with a little amaretto and some cherry liqueur). This is all balanced by the dark chocolate. I’d even go so far as to say that they taste much better than they look. While I’m all up for a bit of whimsy in the baking, the red/white/green colour scheme is a touch lurid for my tastes. But then, it is iconic, and I wonder if anything else really would do? Plus, where else are you going to find cookies that can symbolise the flags of Italy, Hungary, Ghana and Mali depending on how you place them? They are certainly some of the most striking things I’ve ever made in terms of the looks department.

So there we have it – my efforts in accepting one reader’s challenge. I’ll wrap up by sharing a tip of my own for recipes like this one where you have to divide the batter and the jam into equal portions. Get some electric scales, and weigh your bowls before using them. This makes it really easy to work out by weight how much batter or jam should be in each portion. I happen to know my main mixing bowl is 580g. Believe me, it saves a lot of guessing, eyeballing and general culinary angst. And it does help get even layers when making something like Italian Rainbow Cookies where you want to be precise to show off just how fancy you can get with your baking.

To make Italian Rainbow Cookies (recipe from Smitten Kitchen, with some tweaks)

For the batter

• 4 large eggs, separated
• 200g white caster sugar
• 200g almond paste (see note)
• 285g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 260g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• red food colouring
• green food colouring

To fill

• 1 x 340g jar apricot jam
• 4 tablespoons water or amaretto and cherry liqueur (I used Luxardo Maraschino)

To finish

• 200g dark chocolate
• 20g unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Prepare 3 sheets of greaseproof paper to fit a 33 x 23cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan.

2. Put the egg whites into a large bowl. Beat until you have soft peaks, then add 50g of caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until it forms stiff peaks – it should look like a meringue.

3. In a separate bowl, grate the almond paste. Work with your hands so that it gets soft, then add the remaining 150g caster sugar and the butter. Beat until pale, fluffy and everything is combined. Add the yolks, almond extract and vanilla extract, and keep beating on high speed. If you can still see a lot of flecks of almond paste, keep beating to get it super-smooth. When done, fold in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.

4. Add half the meringue mixture to the other bowl, and fold in to lighten the batter. Then add the rest of the meringue mixture and fold that in.

5. Split the batter between 3 bowls. Add red food colouring to one, and green food colouring to another. Put the green batter into the fridge, and put the white batter to one side. Pour the red batter into the prepared baking tray, and spread as evenly as you can. Don’t worry if the batter does not seem very deep – it is supposed to be just under 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) deep.

6. Bake the red layer for around 10 minutes. It will still look a bit wet on top, but a cocktail stick should come out clean. You don’t want more than the lightest of browning at the edges. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

7. Remove the green batter from the fridge to bring it up to temperature. Set aside. Now prepare the baking tray again, and bake the white layer. When that’s done, repeat for the green later.

8. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the jam. Put it into a saucepan, add 4 tablespoons or water or a mixture of amaretto and cherry liqueur, and bring to the boil. Pass through a sieve, and set aside to cool.

9. Once all the layers are completely cool, prepare a shopping board or tray by lining with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Flip the green layer onto the paper. Spread with half the cooled jam mixture, getting it as even as you can. Then flip the white layer onto the green layer, and spread with the rest of the jam. Finally, flip the red layer and place on top. Wrap the whole lot in cling film, place in the fridge, then put a heaving baking tray on top and add a few jars to weigh it all down. Leave to chill overnight.

10. Time to finish it off. Remove the tray from the fridge. Use a clean straight knife to trim the edges. You’ll notice that they seem quite firm and dry – this is normal.

11. Prepare the chocolate. Put 100g chocolate in a bowl, and microwave in 30 second bursts until it is melted. Add 10g of unsalted butter, and mix well. Spread evenly on the red layer, getting it as smooth as you can. Place in the fridge for a few minutes to set.

12. Remove the tray from the fridge, and flip it onto another tray (so now the chocolate is at the bottom, and you have a green sheet of cookie facing you. Melt the rest of the chocolate, then add the rest of the butter. Spread on top, and put it back to the fridge for 5 minutes to set.

13. Use a serrated knife to score lines on top of the chocolate, marking first vertical, then horizontal Go back over the vertical lines to cut through the layer of chocolate. Then switch to a clean straight-edged knife to cut through the cake layers, and swap back to the serrated knife to cut through the bottom lawyer of the chocolate. You should have long strips of rainbow cookies.

14. Take each strip and place on its side do you can see the pattern facing you. Use a small sharp knife to cut into individual pieces in a swift downwards motion. Keep going until all the cookies have been done. Store in an airtight container in the fridge, but allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: this recipe calls for almond paste (which is 50/50 almonds and sugar). The brand I used was Odense Mandelmassa that I panic-bought earlier in the year. The stuff you find in British supermarkets called marzipan is usually 75% sugar, 25% almonds. It’s great for decorating, but it’s not right for this as the sugar content is too high.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{10} Brune Pinner

For this year’s tenth festive bake, we’ve gone back to Norway. Land of mountains, forest, fjords and a seemly endless supply of cookie recipes. These ones are called brune pinner or “brown sticks”. There was lots of imagination at play when someone came up with that name. Perhaps it’s a nod to those forests?

This year I’ve done a few recipes which are complex, take a lot of time, or need specialist equipment. Today’s recipe is the complete opposite of that.

These cookies are very easy to make, and they might just be about to become your new favourite accompaniment to morning coffee. They are thin, crisp, and by turns buttery, caramelised and lightly spiced. Christmas might be drawing to an end for this year, but we’re still in the middle of winter, and we need those little moments of comfort to keep us going, especially this winter. Everyone is facing the next wave of coronavirus in their own way; in London everything except essential retail is closed, hospitality is take-out only, and we’re limited to meeting one friend outside in the park. It is looking like the New Year will see us heading to Lockdown III and the closure of schools. So I’d wager this is not quite the ideal time to start resolving to give up cookies in 2021…


So. Brune pinner. These are part of the Norwegian tradition of syv slags kaker. Busy Norwegians try to do out-do each other by making seven different type of cookies to offer their guests over the festive period. I’ve made a few different ones over the years – serinakaker, krumkaker, berlinerkranser, sirupsnipper – but there are still plenty more to try. Among the “plenty more” are mainly the ones that need to be fried rather than baked, and I’ve still not managed to overcome my aversion to deep-frying things at home. Who knows – perhaps I’ll get round to them in 2021?

In my research for this recipe, I did find something that made me chuckle (which, to keep banging the same drum, we do need right now!). The Norwegian Christmas diet apparently involves quite a lot of butter, but back in 2011 and 2012 those hardy Nordic folk lived through the smør-panik (“butter panic”). Butter shortages were triggered due to heavy rains affecting grazing pastures earlier in the year, leading to a nightmare world of illicit butter smuggling, Swedish stores along the border jacking up butter prices, and a Danish TV show running a butter emergency telethon to get 4,000 packs of butter to desperate Norwegians. Clearly getting that syv slags kaker spread ready for guests is a serious business to the good burghers of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim!

The method for making these is really very simple. Cream butter and sugar and add in the rest of the ingredients. You divide the dough into six sausages, then shape each just be pressing them down with your fingers. Easy! No oddly-named Norwegian cake devices needed, no cutters, no piping, no chilling overnight, and no layering of icing or jam. You then brush what looks like mega-cookies with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar and chopped nuts, and bake. The raising agent is good ol’ baking soda, so they puff up, expand, and then collapse, which is a process that makes for very crisp cookies. Once you’ve baked the dough portions, you whip them out of the oven, and while the dough is still soft you immediately cut them into thin strips – either with a pizza cutter or a good sharp knife. Within a minute or two, they are cool, crisp and a bit more like sticks. There’s a helpful video from Norwegian butter producer Tine here (and yes, they were caught up in that butter crisis a few years ago).


For the topping, I have used pearl sugar, also called nibbed sugar, and some chopped almonds. If you can’t get hold of pearl sugar or don’t want another item cluttering up the baking cupboard, you could use coffee sugar crystals (give them a good crushing first) or large-crystalled demerara sugar. For the nuts, these would work equally well with chopped hazelnuts, pistachios or pecans. A good tip is to mix all the sugar and nuts together before you start, then divide it into six portions to use on the dough. This avoids ending up with the first batch being lavishly decked in sugar and nuts, and the final batch looking a bit spartan. I think you could skip the topping completely if you wanted to, but I liked the extra crunch and flavour, especially from the almonds, so I’d recommend sticking with it.

One note of advice: I found that these cookies are crisp when they are fresh, but if left out overnight they will soften quite quickly. You can easily fix this by popping them back in a low oven (120°C/250°F) for a few minutes to dry them out. Otherwise get them into an airtight container as soon as you can after baking, and they will stay crisp and delicious for your morning coffee as you start to contemplate the fact that you’re about to start another cycle of working at home. But at least you’re cookie game will be on point!

To make Brune Pinner (makes around 70), adapted from Tine

For the dough

200g butter
• 100g white caster sugar
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 tablespoon syrup (see note)
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 300g plain flour

To finish

• 40g pearl sugar
• 50g almonds, skin on
• 1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Prepare three sheets of greaseproof paper.

2. Prepare the topping – chop the almonds, and mix with the pearl sugar. In a separate bowl beat the egg. Set it all to one side.

3. Make the dough. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, syrup, cinnamon, vanilla and salt, and mix well. Combine the flour with the baking soda, then add to the bowl and work to a soft dough. Pop into the fridge for 5 minutes to firm slightly.

4. Divide the dough into six pieces. Take a piece of dough, form into a thin sausage about 24cm long. Next press it down with your fingers until it is 1/2 cm thick – it will get a lot wider too. It should look like a long, flat pitta bread. Repeat so that you have 2 pieces of dough on each sheet of greaseproof paper.

5. Bake the sheets one at a time. Take the first sheet, and brush the two pieces of dough with the beaten egg. Sprinkle each with the mixture of pearl sugar and chopped almonds.

6. Bake for 10 minutes – the dough will have expanded and have a rich brown colour. Remove from the oven, and immediately cut into diagonal strips, around 2cm thick, using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet, then when they are firm, transfer to a wire tray to cool completely. Repeat for the rest of the dough. Stoare in an airtight container.

Note: many of the recipes I found called for “light syrup” which is a particularly Nordic thing. You can buy it online. I happened to have a bottle of Swedish “dark syrup” which I used – this is very sweet and like dark caramel, not molasses. The closest substitute I can think of otherwise would be golden syrup or maple syrup.

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{9} Oriešky

When it comes to Christmas cookies, I have something of a penchant for acquiring yet more niche kitchen equipment.

So you can imagine that I was pretty happy to find jolly little oriešky from Slovakia which are baked to look like walnuts using special little moulds, and traditionally filled with a walnut cream. So yes, I’m now the proud owner of ten tiny walnut moulds.


Similar cookies pop up in a few countries across Europe, ranging from what you might think of as traditional cookie doughs to those made with a batter and thus somewhat closer in texture to wafers. If you are truly committed you can even go all out and invest in a little Russian walnut-making iron, similar to something you would use for making waffles. While I could justify buying a small set of walnut moulds, even I had to draw the line at an electric walnut maker. Sadly.

Finding a recipe that I liked the look of was tricky. I hunted high and low for one that would, firstly, not make about 400 cookies, and second, that I would actually like. There were a fair few recipes that I read and was not convinced by. The lack of pictures always makes me suspicious as to whether something has actually been tested. I did use one recipe which looked good, but the cookies ended up being so fragile that I baked two batches, saw most of them collapse in my hands, and I gave up. The failed cookies and the unbaked dough went in the bin.

Was I to be doomed to failure? No! I had a think about what I needed this recipe to do, and decided to adapt a recipe for Dutch speculaas cookies. I removed the spices and added a dash of cocoa powder and some ground walnuts. My little flash of inspiration worked like a dream. The dough is easy to make, easy to work with, very forgiving in terms of being handled, pressed into shape, trimmed and re-rolled, and the baked cookies are great.

The cookies keep their shape, go perfectly crisp during baking, and pop out of the moulds easily with just a sharp tap on the tray (full disclosure – my moulds are non-stick, and I’ve not tested this recipe with plain metal moulds). They also have the benefit of being a rich, deep nutty shade, so they do kind of look like walnuts. All this means they are easy to assemble, and after filling and some resting time, the cookie becomes a little softer and the whole thing is a little nugget of deliciousness.


In terms of actually shaping the cookies, it’s surprisingly easy. You pinch off a little ball of dough, then press it hard into the mould. And you really want to press – I don’t think there was more than a couple of millimeters of dough in there. At first I thought that there was not going to be enough, but have faith (and do a test bake) but they will puff up during baking. Thin dough means they will be crisp, and it also means that you’ll have a dimple afterwards that makes filling them quite easy. If the dough is too thick, the cookie will just expand and you’re going to suffer from a low filling-to-cookie ratio. No-one wants that.

If you are not in the market for investing in walnut moulds, then a small madeleine mould would work well. Otherwise you  could just roll out this dough and cut out circles to make sandwich cookies. But then they don’t look like nuts. And, well, if you’re going to all this effort, surely you want the whimsical sight of a bowl of edible walnut shells?

For the filling, you have options. I actually made two different ones – a whipped buttercream custard filling made with ground walnuts, and a whipped dulce de leche buttercream for some caramel goodness.

The walnut filling is based on a basic custard thickened with flour. While it might look complex, it’s a pretty easy method, and you get a lovely light smooth buttercream with a good walnut flavour to it. Just be warned that the amount would get will easily fill all 50 cookies, but I just could not make a quantity smaller than the one below without getting into silly micro-measurements. That said, the filling is delicious, so you can easily use it in other things. In fact, I made little sandwich cookies with some of my remaining paciencias and the walnut filling, and they were spec-ta-cu-lar. The dulce de leche filling is just caramel whipped with butter, so easier to make and if you’ve got extra caramel left over, that really is a nice problem to have.


Finally, for fun, I filled a few with some Nutella. They were just glorious. So if you are feeling lazy but still demand results, that’s defiantly the way go.

If you do decide to have a go at making oriešky, I recommend some trial-and-error testing. It seems obvious, but different moulds are different sizes, and will need different baking times. You’ll also want to check that you’re making them thin enough. It is really worth doing a rest run with just one and seeing how long it needs to bake. I often do this on a recipe that is very new to me or where I think the timings indicated might be off. Better to ruin one cookie than a whole batch.

One other thing to know – this will require a serious time commitment. Making the cookies is easy, but unless you’ve got lots of moulds, you’re doing this in a series of batches. The recipe makes 50 sandwich cookies, which needs 100 shells. I had just 10 moulds, so I had to bake 10 batches in total. I ended up spending a very, very long time filling, removing, and re-filling them…thank goodness they slipped right out and didn’t also need washing between each use too! But they look great, taste wonderful and they were fun to do. Because if your baking isn’t taking hours, does it even count as lockdown baking?

To make Oriešky (makes around 50)

For the shells:

• 95g butter
• 55g white caster sugar
• 55g soft brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 25ml buttermilk
• 200g plain flour
• 50g ground walnuts
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Arrange the moulds on a baking sheet.

2. Put the butter in a bowl, and beat until soft. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla and buttermilk, then beat until creamy. Combine the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and ground walnuts. Add to the main bowl and mix everything until you have a soft dough that comes away from the bowl.

3. Pinch off some dough and press into the mould. You want it to be pretty thin – 2-3mm at most. Trim off any excess with a sharp knife. Bake the cookies for around 8 minutes until the dough looks puffed and set, and they are a rich brown colour. Remove from the oven, allow cool for a moment, then remove from the moulds (I flipped them over and gave a sharp tap – the cookie popped out). Repeat until all the dough is used up.

4. Time to fill the cookies. Take a shell, fill it generously with the filling of your choice, then add another shell on top. Transfer the cookies to an airtight container, and leave to rest in the fridge overnight. Remove from the bridge 15 minutes before serving.

To make walnut cream filling

• 15g plain flour
• 100g white sugar
• 25g walnuts
• 120ml milk
• pinch of salt
• 110g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon rum
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put the walnuts and milk into a small saucepan. Use an immersion blender to blitz until smooth.

2. Add the flour, sugar and salt. Mix well. Place over a medium heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Keep cooking for around 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken and looks slightly translucent.

3. Transfer the thickened mixture to a plate, cover with cling film and press it down on the surface. Leave to cool completely.

4. Put the butter in a bowl. Beat until light and fluffy. Start to add spoonfuls of the pudding mixture and beat well after each addition. Finally add the rum and vanilla. You’re done.

To make dulce de leche filling

• 100g butter
• 120g dulce de leche
• large pinch of salt

1. Put the butter in a bowl. Beat until light and fluffy.

2. Add the dulce de leche and salt and beat well. If the mixture seems too wet, add a little more butter and beat well to incorporate. You’re done.

To fill with Nutella

1. Open a jar of Nutella!

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{4} Kakemenn

Today we’ve got something that is, quite simply, just delightful.  These are Norwegian cookies called kakemenn or “cake men”, but they also go by other more tongue-twisting names: julemanna, gøttekælla or kakekæller. Of course in these more inclusive times, it’s all about cake people rather than just men. And here are mine!


They are made from a very simple dough of flour, sugar, milk and a little butter. It can be left plain, or if you’re feeling daring you can pop in a little dash of vanilla or sprinkle in some cardamom. The white dough is then rolled out thinly, cut, and then baked in a low oven so that the cookies stay pale.

The leavening agent here is – surprise surprise – that Nordic favourite, baker’s ammonia. This gives cookies great lift and crispness, and a stinking waft of ammonia when you open the oven door. It’s easy to get online, but if you don’t have any, use a 50:50 mixture of baking soda and baking powder. And when I say lift, I mean lift. I rolled out my dough to 4mm, but they puffed up to about three times that during baking. This also means that you have a nice smooth surface for subsequent decoration.


Now, the catch. The dough is very simple, and as a result I found the flavour and texture of these cookies to be…underwhelming. I found lots of Norwegian bakers raving about them being the classic flavour of Christmas, but to me they were only slightly sweet, rather bland and nothing to really write home about. The texture was also not that amazing – kind of soft, kind of crisp around the edges, but again nothing being knocked out of the park compared to other festive cookies.

At first, I thought I had a duff recipe. I hunted for other recipes, and had several attempts at making them. I adjusting the relative quantities of sugar, butter, milk and raising agent to see if I was missing something. When I upped the sugar and butter and reduced the milk, I got a nicer cookie texture (albeit still pretty bland), but the surface was like a crater which did not lend itself to being decorated. So I decided that the connection Norwegians feel to them is emotional and linked to childhood memories rather than being based on flavour, and these really are just made for decorative effect. Or so I thought…

This year is the first Christmas that my son, who is five, has been really excited about. He found my tray of unadorned kakemenn and asked if he could have one. I expected he would take one bite and leave it, but instead he declared they were the best cookies and his “favourite” (which just means something he likes, since he’d never had them before). This was unexpected. I had imagined tempting him with marzipan or things dipped in chocolate. But no. When you’re small, it seems you like something that is simple and sweet. In fact, it’s become one of the preferred snacks since school wrapped up for the holidays. I felt this was success snatched from the jaws of defeat, and also a lesson for me not to judge a popular recipe so harshly! So I decided to post this recipe after all.


Beyond being popular with kids, the other reason I’ve included kakemenn is what you do once they are baked. You decorate them! You get to feel like a child and enjoy the whimsy of drawing on cookies.

This decoration is done with edible food colouring, so you can either paint them, or get hold of some edible pens and start colouring in. I’ll let you image the scene of the two of us sat there on Saturday morning, filling the time that would normally be football practice with a cookie colouring contest. It was fun, and they look really jolly when piled up on a plate. I am also reliably informed that the “cookie people” can also be easily included as part of playtime when you’re building complex railways with your wooden train set. Truly a cookie for all occasions. Their robust nature also makes me think they would be good if you want edible cookies on your tree – these things will defiantly withstand a lot.

For the decoration, I tried a few different approaches. By far and away the easiest is to use pens with edible ink. By which I mean the specialist ones you buy in the baking section. Don’t use normal pens that are marked non-toxic and hope for the best! What also worked well was painting on the colour. Either use liquid food colours, or use gel colours diluted with neutral spirit like vodka. The alcohol evaporates quickly, so the texture of the cookies is not affected, and you get strong, vibrant colours.


If you want a more natural option, you can actually have quite a bit of fun by experimenting – beetroot juice makes for a good pinkish-red colour; crush a saffron strand and add some hot water for a dazzling golden colour; matcha powder with hot water will give you a green. Of course they will still be more muted than food colourings, and I cannot promise that beetroot juice stains are any easier to remove from worktops and clothing!


I was particularly pleased with my little kakemenn families. We’ve got the snazzy family where dad is ready to party in a tuxedo and the lady of the house is wearing her jolly Christmas jumper. The children are dressed immaculately but who knows for how long? And the second family has a bit of a Nordic twist. Mr Kakemenn has something that looks a bit like traditional Norwegian national costume, while Mrs Kakemenn is in a floral print dress from Finnish design house Marimekko. And if you’re reading this thinking that I have put too much thought into all this, then you’d be right. I am getting desprate stuck at home!

One very practical thing to keep in mind – if you’re cutting out different sizes of cookies, try to bake the same sized cookies together, so that they bake evenly. I found the bigger figures needed a couple of minutes more in the oven than the smaller ones. Also, I tried rolling out the dough between sheets of parchment, but it doesn’t work. This is a dough you need to roll out on flour

And now the final-final thing. Here are the cookies that my son decorated, which I think are cute. He said they were the best, and ate those ones first!

To make Kakemenn (makes around 25-30 depending on size)

For the dough

• 50g unsalted butter
• 240g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
• 100g white caster sugar

• 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia
• 80ml milk
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

• pinch of salt

To decorate

• edible food colouring

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Remove, and leave to cool.

2. Put the flour, sugar, baker’s ammonia and salt in a bowl. Mix well.

3. Pour the milk and vanilla into the butter. Stir, then pour into the flour mixture. Combine until you have a soft dough – it should pull away from the sides, but might be slightly sticky. If necessary add a bit more flour. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill – at least one hour, or overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

5. Lightly sprinkle the worktop with flour. Roll out the dough to 3-4mm thickness. The easiest way to do this is to find something of the right thickness (e.g. some magazines) and lay them either side of the dough to act as rolling guides. Cut out shapes, and transfer to the baking sheet. Gather the scraps and keep re-rolling and cutting until it is all used up.

6. Bake the cookies for 6-10 minutes. They should be puffed up and pale, and only just starting to colour at the very edges. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

7. Decorate the cookies, and store in an airtight container.

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{2} Alfajores

I’ve had alfajores on my list of things to make for a while, and I’ve finally had a go at the famous little Argentinean shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche caramel. And as is the way of the world, I waited a very long time to try them, then ended up making them a couple of times this year. Turns out they’re pretty popular and go fast.


The first time was back in May in the middle of Lockdown 1 (remember that? And now we’re on Lockdown 3 here in London…possibly until February 2021…). There was a palpable frisson of excitement among European royalty watchers when Queen Maxima of the Netherlands whipped up a batch for her 49th birthday made to her Argentinean mother’s recipe. She explained they are her favourite cookies, and posted pictures of herself in the kitchen standing around in a gold ball gown.

I had a go at Queen Maxima’s recipe, sadly not dressed in formal wear, was going to post them as part of my lockdown baking series. I just never quite got round to it, but they were delicious, and they disappeared pretty quickly. But it did convince me that it was high time for alfajores to appear on my festive baking list.


In preparing for the festive version, I did a little reflecting on what I would like from an alfajor.

I am sure that South Americans have very clear views about what they should be like, but there does seem to be a bit of variety among the various recipes I looked at. Lots of recipes use a lot of cornflour to make them crumbly. This makes sense, and I agree to a point, but if the dough has too much cornflour, I find that it becomes too crumbly when you eat them. Instead I prefer to have a cookie that is slightly crisp and only breaks when I bite into it, as opposed to one that collapses. So my recipe has just a bit of cornflour, which I think gives a nicer texture and makes the dough easier to work with too. I’ve also omitted any eggs or egg yolks. I wanted the cookies to both crumbly but also a bit crisp to contrast with the smooth caramel filling.

I’ve also skipped the addition of lemon zest – I’ve tried alfajores both with and without the lemon, and while I can see that it lifts the flavour a little and cuts through the sweetness as well as being traditional, I just prefer it without. It must be my Scottish sweet tooth. If I’m going to have caramel, I want it to be pure, unadulterated sweetness. To provide the balance to the caramel, I’ve added a generous pinch of salt to the dough instead. I’ve also baked them so they have a slight colour to them. Lots of recipes keep them almost pure white, but I just prefer them to be slightly more baked.

The filling is the famous dulce de leche. You can be efficient and just buy a tin of the stuff. But if you are feeling adventurous, you can make it yourself. When I was a kid, we did this by piercing the top of the tin to release pressure, and we would then let the tin sit in a pan of simmering water for an hour until it had turned into caramel, ready to be added to a banoffee pie. What actually happened was that some water got into the tin, and that wasn’t great if you wanted it to have a nice thick texture. Maybe tin cans have gotten stronger since the 80s, but I recently came across another way – you put a whole tin in water, unopened, and simmer the thing for a few hours. Then leave it to cool, and when you open it the next day, the whole lot has magically turned into thick, luscious dulce de leche. It’s simple, effective, and you get the thrill of living dangerously in case the can does actually explode and coat your kitchen in caramel. But hey, we’re still in various states of lockdown, and cleaning anything sugary from your whole kitchen would give you something to do for at least several hours!

I tried a couple of different techniques in making the cookies, and my clear preference is for the biscuits to be on the thinner side. You’re going to be sandwiching two of them together with a lot of filling, so they need to be thin for two reasons. First, if they’re too thick, the cookies will be too tall. And second, you want to get a good cookie-to-caramel ratio. No-one wants your cookie with too little filling. Mine were 4mm thick, which I achieved by finding two magazines of the requisite thickness, then laying them either side of the dough, and voila – they act as rolling guides when you’re too cheap to buy the real thing. The other thing to embrace is rolling this dough out between two sheets of greaseproof paper. The dough is sufficiently buttery that it will not stick, and since you are not using flour, it means the first cookie will be the same as the last, as you’re not adding more flour as you shape the dough and re-roll the scraps.


If you’re locked down and don’t think you can eat them all over the course of two days, then I would fill them in batches. The cookies will keep well in an airtight tin, and then you can just fill and serve them when you need them. If you leave them to sit, then cookies start to go soft after a couple of days, and while they still taste amazing, you start to lose the textural contrast.


Putting the risky business of the caramel to one side, this is a nice recipe to try with children. The dough is quite forgiving, and you don’t need to worry about cutting out any elaborate shapes. They also love the sandwiching together of the cookies, and trying this out at the weekend I found that there was a material “angel’s share” which was being sneakily scooped from the bowl and not being added to the cookies when a certain little someone thought I was not looking.

To make Alfajores (makes around 30)

For the dulce de leche filling

• 1 tin condensed milk

For the dough

• 175g butter, softened
• 80g icing sugar
• pinch of salt
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 teaspoons rum
• 200g plain flour
• 50g cornflour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

To finish

• unsweetened desiccated coconut

1. Make the caramel – fill a saucepan with cold water. Put in the tin of condensed milk on its side – there should be a good 3-4cm of water above the tin. Bring the pan to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan, and leave on a simmer for 3 hours. Check it regularly to make sure that the can stays completely immersed – add more water as needed. Turn off the heat, and leave to cool. Do not open the tin while warm – it can explode and cover you in burning caramel!

2. Make the dough. Beat the butter until soft. Add the icing sugar, salt, vanilla and run, and beat until pale, fluffy and completely combined. Add the flour, cornflour and baking powder, and mix everything until you have a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°C). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Roll out the dough to 4-5mm thick. Cut out circles of 4-5cm, and place on the baking sheet. Before baking, place the whole sheet of cut cookies in the freezer for 2 minutes. Then bake the cookies until they are starting to turn golden at the edges (around 8-10 minutes). Turn the tray half-way to get an even colour. Repeat until all the dough has been used. Leave the cookies to cool completely.

4. Time to assemble. Open the cooled tin of condensed milk, and it will magically have transformed into deep golden dulce de leche. Give it a good mix, then take a cookie and add a generous amount of filling. Place another cookie on top, press gently until the filling is just sticking out of the sides. Roll the edge in desiccated coconut.

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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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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Cake of the Week, Recipe, Sweet Things

Cookie of the Week: Goudse Moppen

As the lockdown has progressed, our household has been starting to feel a bit unhealthy. We’ve been consuming lot of pasta and cheese, so we decided the moment had arrived to switch things up. We signed up with OddBox to get a delivery of various fruit and veggies every week, and now that the weather is getting warmer, we’re having substantial salads made with lentils and lots of raw, chopped veg. I feel like the old adage “you are what you eat” was never more appropriate, as we’re really feeling the correlation between our meals and how we’re feeling. It also means that if we don’t keep things healthy, there will be piles of vegetables on the kitchen worktop making us feel guilty. Few things make you eat more veg than knowing there is even more veg arriving in the next day or so!

But what this musing on health have to do with cookies? I guess it is my roundabout way of saying we’re not giving up on them, but I’ve started making batches of smaller cookies rather than large ones. Since we’re not doing spin classes or four-hour walks any more, those mega-treats are rather off limits for the time being. That said, I do now have a bike and I’m getting into using it, but not quite enough to justify too many large, chewy choc chip cookies. Well, not yet anyway…

So. We’ve done some delayed cake, so here are some delayed cookies! I’ve made a batch of Goudse Moppen. These are Dutch cookies that hail from the city of Gouda. It’s a place that is more famous for its cheese and the name roughly translates as “jokes from Gouda”. Or maybe we could call them “Gouda wheezes from the city of cheeses”? Anyway, like the cheese, these cookies are very good. Buttery, flavoured with a little lemon zest, and very much the sort of small cookie you might have in the afternoon with a cup of coffee.


These are a very easy cookie to make. The dough is a simple shortbread-type dough which is formed into a log and rolled in granulated sugar (or kristalsuiker in Dutch, which translates as the more poetic “crystal sugar”).

The logs are then chilled, sliced and baked, leaving each cookie with delicate texture and a crisp sugared edge.


One little aside that may be more of a testament to me now being in Week 8 of working from home. The traditional sort of sugar to use is the rude-sounding basterdsuiker. I wondered what this meant exactly beyond the obvious, but I was mainly left confused. There is pale and dark basterdsuiker which seem to me to be light brown and dark brown sugar. The mystery was what on earth white basterdsuiker could be. It is not normal caster sugar or granulated sugar, and it seems to be something with the higher moisture content of soft brown sugar, but it is white. Frankly, I’ve no idea what that would be as I’ve never seen it before. One for me to look out for on my next trip to the Netherlands. If you know, please enlighten me!

To make Goudse Moppen (makes around 50)

• 200g butter
• 125g caster sugar
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, finely ground
• 1 egg yolk
• 250g plain flour
• granulated sugar, to coat

1. Put the butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and salt into a bowl. Beat well until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and mix again until everything is combined. Finally add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon, and finally your hands, until it forms a soft dough.

2. Divide the dough in 2 pieces. Sprinkle the worktop with granulated sugar, and roll each piece out to a sausage of 4cm diameter, making sure that the entire outside of the roll is well-coated with sugar. Wrap each piece in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

3. After 30 minutes, take then out of the fridge but leave them in cling film. Roll each one gently to make sure they keep their cylinder shape, as they can “sag” slightly if the dough is warm. Put back in the fridge and leave to chill overnight.

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

5. Unpack a roll of chilled cookie dough. Use a very sharp knife to cut 1cm pieces. Transfer to the baking sheet, leaving space for them to expand. Bake for around 15 minutes until golden, turning half way to get an even colour (watch them like a hawk – it’s a fine line between golden and burnt!). Remove from the oven, allow to cool and harden, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Cookie of the Week, Recipe, Sweet Things