Tag Archives: cardamom

Cinnamon Buns for Busy People

I’m a mega fan of a good cinnamon bun (as well as their cardamom cousins). But much as I love to make buns using yeasted dough, but there is one problem – these are recipes that taste great when they’re fresh, but if you need to allow several hours of proving time to get a nice, puffy dough, then it’s not really compatible with the idea of a lie-in at the weekend when you want to munch on cinnamon buns for breakfast. So what can you do?

I’m aware that some folk have mastered the technique of slow-rising the dough overnight in the fridge. I’ve tried it in the past, but with less than stellar results, so it’s something I still have to perfect. In the meantime, I’ve come up with a solution (of sorts). The technique is pretty much identical to the “traditional” method, but uses baking powder in place of yeast. This means that you don’t need to leave the dough to rise, and can get them done is less than an hour. It also means the recipe is foolproof, and you still get a decent amount of lift, and in the case of one bun, a rather spectacular amount!

So, how do they compare to the buns made with yeast? In fairness, this baking powder version is not quite as as light and fluffy, but I think that this is a reasonable trade-off when you need to whip up a batch in a bit of a hurry. However, they do look good and you’ve got my word that they still taste utterly delicious. That, and you get those extra hours in bed at the weekend rather than having to get up at 6am to prepare a fresh batch…

Cinnamon_no_yeast2

Cinnamon_no_yeast

To make cinnamon buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 180ml milk
• 60g butter
• 1 medium egg
• 50g caster sugar
• 280g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 4 teaspoons baking powder

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with white bun cases.

2. In a saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. Take off the heat, add the butter, then leave until the butter has melted and the mixture is lukewarm.

3. Make the filling – beat the sugar until soft, then add the sugar and cinnamon. Mix until very soft and smooth. It should be easily spreadable.

4. Whisk the egg and divide in two (you need half for the dough, and half for the glaze).

5. Put the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom and baking powder into a bowl. Mix, then sieve well. Add the milk mixture and half of the egg, and mix to a soft dough. If needed, add more flour, and knead lightly until you have an elastic dough.

6. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Cut into 12 slices with a sharp knife, and lay each piece, cut face up, on a bun case.

7. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 12 minutes until puffed up and golden.

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{4} Kardamomkipferl

There does come a time in the middle of the festive season when you’ve had too much. Too much sugar, too much chocolate, too much candied peel/ginger/dates…you prefer something simple. And that’s where these little biscuits come in, which are shaped into crescents and covered in icing sugar for a festive snow-like effect.

Kipferl are traditional Austrian and Hungarian Christmas biscuits, which are usually made with vanilla, and are a little bit like shortbread that has been enriched with nuts. However, I wanted something that was a little bit different, and decided to go for cardamom. This is one of my favourite spices, and it provides a fresh, zesty flavour and aroma. I added a whole teaspoon of the stuff, but go with what you like (probably less!). I think the result is great – rather unusual, but they go very well with coffee, ideally strong and black (Turkish style or espresso).

kardamomkipferl

If you’re minded to try making these, I can share a little tale. You need to chill the dough, and then be careful when shaping it. The dough is not particularly delicate, but if it gets too warm, the dough will get oily and be difficult to shape into crescents. So don’t skip chilling the dough in the fridge!

There are also a couple of options with these Kipferl. I’ve used cardamom, but they would be equally nice with cinnamon or nutmeg, or mixed spices. You can also vary the nuts. I used pistachios to lend them a pale green colour, but you could opt for almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts. Whatever you do, I’m sure they will be echt lecker (as the might say in old Vienna).

To make Kardamomkipferl (makes 20-25):

• 70g icing sugar
• 110g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 70g pistachios or almonds, finely ground
• 150g plain flour
• lots of extra icing sugar to dust

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

2. In a bowl, beat the icing sugar, butter and cardamom until smooth. Add the nuts and the flour and mix well. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Roll the dough into a long sausage and cut into 20-25 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then form into a small sausage shape (thinner at the ends, fatter in the middle). Place on the baking sheet and shape into a crescent.

4. Bake for around 12 minutes (turn half way) until the cookies are lightly golden. Remove from the oven, and use a sieve to dust immediately with icing sugar. Leave to cool. Re-dust just before serving, if needed.

Worth making? I love these! Very easy to make, and the flavour of the cardamom is sweet and delicious.

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Cardamom Buns

I’ve recently been into making a big old batch of buns at the weekend, which then serve for breakfast and mid-afternoon snacks for several days afterwards. I’ve mostly made them with cinnamon, with a brief flirtation with vine fruits and citrus over Easter, but much as I love cinnamon, it can get a little bit same-y. So what could I use instead? Simple – cardamom!

I recently saw a recipe for buns that replaced the cinnamon with ground cardamom, which is mixed into the butter/sugar filling. The moment I saw this idea I was convinced – I love the flavour of this spice. It has a lovely citrus-like aromatic flavour that complements the yeasty dough and butter filling very nicely. So I had a bash, and just adapted my kanelbullar recipe.

However…much as I like cardamom…it’s a real pain to use. You’ve got lots of little pods, usually rock-hard, that need to be picked apart by hand, and then you need to scape out the seeds and crush them. I’ve got a nifty little marble mortar and pestle that is perfectly suited to this, and it get the spices so fine that you can sieve then through a tea strainer, and get a very fine power that is ideal for this recipe (means no bigger “gritty” pieces). However, if you’re busy or don’t fancy the home grinding process, just use pre-ground. Our little secret…shhhh!

As you can see, I’ve played around with the appearance of these buns too. Rather than baking them on muffin cases on a flat try, I used arty squares of greaseproof paper pushed into a muffin tray. It looked a little like a tray of paper tulips! Certainly adds a little something when you present a tray of them, still warm, to breakfast or bunch guests. However, I made these on my own, thus lacking an audience to experience the brilliance of my creativity.

I noticed, too, that recently I have tended to veer towards pictures of finished items only. Of course, sometimes it is either interesting or helpful (or both) to see the intermediate steps in the baking process. Also, you do end up with such interesting patterns when things are formed into spirals and cut, and I love how the patterns of the buns of the tray looks.

As is usually the case for yeast doughs, you’ll think that the buns are way too small when you cut the dough and put into the tray. However, fret not, as they will expand considerably if you leave them somewhere warm.

As you can see below, they nearly tripled in size over an hour! It did help that it was a freezing day outside, and so the heating was on inside and that meant the yeast was happily bubbling away.

To finish the buns, I followed the usual steps – brushing with a little beaten egg and sprinkling with pearl sugar. Then into the oven to bake until golden-brown.

These buns were sensational. The dough is very light, and the flavour of the cardamom does indeed make them seem fresh and slightly zesty – it’s sweet, buttery, fragrant and had a note of citrus to it. They also bake in such a way that they can be easily unpicked as you’re eating them with a coffee, so good for breakfast while reading the papers. And in their little paper jackets, I’m going to be so bold as to suggest that they’ve got a little bit of the “wow” factor too.

To make cardamom buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, nutmeg/mace and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp tea cloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 10-12 minutes until golden.

When done, remove from the oven and cover with a clean tea-towel (this will catch the steam and keep the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? These buns are amazing. It’s a very unusual flavour in terms of baked goods, at least in London, so it’s nice to have something different. They’re buttery, zesty and fragrant. They also last for a few days if stored in a sealed container, so can see you through several breakfasts, mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats.

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Pistachio Kadayıfı Baklava

You’ll know what I’m about to talk about. We all have one of those purchases lurking in the larder. Something that looked such a smart buy when you were on holiday or in that posh deli, and for which you had such grand, grand plans. It was going to be amazing. A taste sensation. Guests would be in awe, impressed with your skills. Then you got it home…and it went into a cupboard to be forgotten about, save for the occasional pangs of guilt you feel when you see it, then quickly close the cupboard door so you can forget about it again.

In my case, the “object of guilt” it was a packet of Turkish kadayıfı pastry (the “angel hair” stuff). I picked it up when  was in Brussels, and it was going to form the basis of an amazing tray of fragrant, sweet baklava. Last weekend, finally, finally, I got round to using it, and as intended, it was to make baklava – using pistachios, flavoured with orange blossom water and cardamom.

To use kadayıfı , you rip off as much as you need, fluff it up, let it sit outside for a few minutes (to get rid of whatever preservative gas is used to keep the pastry from spoiling…I prefer not to think about it!) and then pour on some melted butter. Next, there is not much you can do other than roll up your sleeves and mix the butter into the pastry until it is well-coated. This is the messier and more fun version of brushing sheets of filo pastry with butter, and means the strands on top become crisp during baking.

I had planned to use pistachio nuts to fill this baklava, and I got hold of a bag of good-quality unsalted nuts. What did not go through my brain until it was too late was the realisation that I would have to stand for the best part of half an hour shelling them, by hand, then picking off the papery inner skin. It you fancy testing your patience, then shelling pistachios is one of the best ways to do it. However, you can save yourself a heck of  lot of work by getting hold of some pre-shelled nuts. Just a suggestion!

Rather than the brown sugar I’ve used in baklava before (which works well with hazelnut baklava), I stuck to white with the hope that the colour of the nuts would still be apparent after baking. The filling was finished off with a little cinnamon and a dash of orange blossom water, again not too much as I wanted the pistachio flavour to stand a sporting chance of being apparent after baking. However, the real magic of the East came from the syrup – made with acacia honey, orange blossom water, rose water and crushed cardamom pods. The cardamom on particular was a great addition, adding the lightly peppery, citrus-and-aniseeed flavour to the syrup. Just enough to be add a little something, but not too much that it was overpowering.

When the baklava comes out of the oven, you’ll think it is very fragile and wonder how you’ll cut it without everything collapsing. And you’re right, the kadayıfı wants to break apart. But once you’ve drizzled the hot baklava with the cold syrup and left the whole lot to cool, it slices like a dream.

This is a very different type of baklava compared to when making it with filo pastry. The strands on top stay crisp (and you get lots of little “snaps” as you bite into it), while the syrup soaks into the bottom layer and the nut filling. This makes for a nice contrast in textures. And it shows that sometimes, it can be worth revisiting that abandoned ingredient – it might just surprise you!

I ended up presenting this at a dinner as dessert. I’d merrily raided various Ottolenghi recipes for inspiration, so there had been a number of rich, aromatic and filling dishes, and I was sure that heavy chocolate cake wasn’t the way to go. So it was baklava with a few pomegranate seeds (colour contrast and a sharp tang to balance the sweet syrup) and the offer of whipped cream for those that wanted it. In the end, the cream went untouched, but all the baklava went. I just wish it wasn’t one of those things that is so addictively easy to pick at. Every time you pass it in the kitchen…just one piece…just one more piece…well, just one more…

To make pistachio baklava:

This looks complex – it isn’t. I’ve just tried to make the recipe as easy to follow as I can.

For the sugar syrup:

• 150ml water
• 200g white sugar
• 50g soft brown sugar
• 100g light honey (such as acacia)
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
• 1 tablespoons of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water(*)

In a saucepan, heat the water, sugar, honey, lemon juice and cardamom pods until it comes to the boil and cook for a minute. Now add the orange blossom and rose waters, boil for a few seconds, and remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the cardamom pods and any seeds before using on the baklava.

For the filling:

• 200g pistachios (or pistachios and almonds)
• 100g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 tablespoons orange blossom water

For the pastry:

• 300g kadayıfı (angel hair) pastry
• 150g butter

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grind the nuts. You want them medium-fine, but with a few larger pieces. Don’t turn them to powder otherwise the filling will be too dense. Combine with the sugar and cinnamon, then add the orange blossom water and mix well – it should be damp and sand-like, not wet and sticky. Set aside.

Prepare the pastry according to directions on the packet. This will most likely involve “fluffing up” the pastry and mixing it with melted butter and mixing well.

In a dish (I used one 21 x 28cm), add half the buttered pastry, and pat down until even but not too compact. Add the filling, and spread out. Be gentle so you don’t mess up the base. Now add the rest of the pastry, spread out, then pat down with the back of a spoon – you can be quite firm here.

Bake the baklava for 20-25 minutes the top is crisp and lightly golden. When done, remove from the oven, allow it to sit for a minute, then drizzle with the cooled syrup . Do it slowly – a spoonful at a time – so that all the baklava gets a soaking. If you see syrup forming pools in some areas, don’t worry – it will all be absorbed.

Allow the baklava to cool fully before cutting into pieces.

(*) By this, I mean the lightly aromatic rose water. If you have the much more intense rose extract, then use just a few drops and not a whole tablespoon!

 

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Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

If you asked me to pick one food that symbolised Sweden, it would have to be the kanelbulle (pl. kanelbullar) – not herring, or meatballs, or akvavit, but the humble cinnamon bun.

When I ended up in Stockholm, these very quickly became an intrinsic part of every day life. Everyone else seemed to eat them with morning coffee, so I started as well. I also quickly learned that this was less a case of enjoying coffee, and more a case of it being something of national institution with its own name – fika. I’ve never consumed as much coffee as during that year…

The Swedish daily rhythm became a little confusing to me – for I noticed that many Swedes seem to start work very early (and so 8am classes were, sadly, not uncommon), so they would cram a fika in around 10am, and then go for a “late” lunch around 12. I swear that there were people having lunch from about 10:30…aright, in fairness, I never did any empirical research about whether the people that were enjoying coffee were the same ones that pitched up less than half an hour later in the cafeteria, but I was an innocent abroad, and you cannot help but notice the different pace of life.

So…what about the kanelbullar? These are the typical sweet accompaniment to fika, and are made from enriched dough, flavoured with cardamom, that is filled with sugar and cinnamon, the topped with pärlsocker (pearl sugar). My own preference is for the ones that have been left to prove for as long as possible, to make them very light and fluffy. And if you get them while still warm, they are amazing with a cup of coffee on a chilly day. As you can imagine, our days were less about sightseeing, and more about eating given the limited daylight!

As I mentioned in my post of making semlor, I don’t know if I ever managed to track down the place that made the best kanelbullar in the whole of Stockholm.

However, I can share one travel tip if you do happen to be visiting the city (and if someone else has tips – do share!). I did a Nordic odyssey a few years ago – three of us navigated our way through three of the Nordic capitals, taking in Helsinki, then taking the boat to Stockholm, then travelling by train through Sweden and across the Öresund Bridge to Copenhagen.

And in Stockholm, after looking at lots of mid-century modern furniture and someone buying a lot of impractical glassware in the Orrrefors store, we did a little sightseeing in the scenic Old Town. And…it was freezing. We had whipped out a book to look at what was nearby, and the Wallpaper guide had a tragically hilarious write-up of Chokladkoppen. It made much use of the word “divine”, which ended up become the adjective of choice for the rest of the holiday. How were the bathrooms? Diviiiiine. How is the soup? Diviiiiine. Is the train on time? Diviiiiine.

Wallpaper’s views aside, Chokladkoppen is a lovely little café on the picture-perfect square in the middle of Stockholm’s old town, and we had some truly delicious – and humongous – cinnamon buns. Great with mulled wine when it was dark at 3.00pm.

You’ll notice that these buns are made on individual little bun cases. This is (apparently) a traditional way to make them, and you can just use small cupcake or muffin cases to the same effect. During baking, the butter in the filling melts and makes sure that they don’t stick.

To finish them off, it is traditional to use pärlsocker on top of the buns for some extra sweetness and a bit of crunch. This is something that I don’t think I’ve seen in London (yet), and have sourced mine via friends when they visited from Sweden. They had asked what I wanted them to bring, and I think they were slightly surprised that the ask was nothing more elaborate than a box of mini-sugar lumps. Indeed, I lucked out – they brought two!

I’m definitely going to be making these a lot more often – they are great for breakfast, and are very welcome during the day with a cup of coffee. If you’ve got a bread machine to do all the grunt work, then it really makes them a breeze. Which makes me wonder why you would open a Swedish café without cinnamon buns? But if you’re after some buns and don’t have the patience to make them, I also recommend the Finnish version from the Nordic Bakery, which are topped with a sticky cinnamon-caramel. Now…it is time for a fika?

To make kanelbullar (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 325g strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 210°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 6 minutes until golden.

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? Do you have to ask? These buns are delicious, and have so far been an absolute hit with everyone I’ve served them too. They are also delicious while still warm, so good for Sunday brunch.

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Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Buns)

This week most of Europe has been shivering. We’ve been doing all we can to keep as far as possible from icy winds, and here in London, it’s been a bit of a waiting game. We wait for snow, then it arrives, then we shiver, then it melts a bit, then it gets colder, then it snows again.

Given how cold things are, it may seem a little bit strange to be thinking about Easter, but it occurred to me a few days ago that we were coming up for the start of Lent quite soon, and that means a raft of calorific goodies. Now do you see how thinking about things made with lots of butter, cream, eggs and sugar is not quite as strange as it first seems? And that made me think about a traditional Swedish item – the semla (pl. semlor).

Selmor are a Swedish specialty (so rather apt in the cold weather) eaten in the run up to “Fat Tuesday”. They are enriched sweet buns made with cardamom, which are then hollowed out, filled with marzipan and whipped cream. So as you can imagine, this is not at the lighter end of the culinary scale. And thus, they’re delicious.

I remember tucking into these when I lived in Sweden, and while I liked them, I probably didn’t track down the place in Stockholm that served the ultimate semla bun. So if you have any tips, these would be very welcome for my next visit.

With no trips to Scandinavia in the offing, there was just one thing for it – this year, I would actually turn try my hand at making semlor.

In fact, thinking back to the winter I spent in Sweden (many feet of snow…frozen sea…) brought a wry smile to my face. No matter how much snow there was, or how cold it got, life seemed to go on and things ticked along as usual. Contrast with here. There is a light air of panic on the streets of London at the moment, as people fear we will, at any moment, find ourselves under inches, nay, feet, of the white stuff. About three years ago, we had a dusting of snow that brought the city to a standstill – roads deserted, no buses, no underground. Admittedly that was an extreme, but today, when the flakes start to flutter from a heavy sky, there is always that little voice in your head saying – Psssst! Might be time to go home, you don’t want to be marooned at work! Lucky for me that I can walk to work (a brisk one hour, but doable!).

I mentioned that these buns are flavoured with cardamom, and I think that when it comes to spices, this is the only way to go. Lucky for me, as I happen to really like cardamom – and I think it’s a spice that is easily overlooked. I like the peppery lemon-like aroma and freshness that it brings to baked goods. So if you want your semlor to be authentic, stick with cardamom. I’m sure they are still delicious made with cinnamon or nutmeg, but I think the combination of cardamom works best with the marzipan.

There is also an interesting technique that you can do to fill the buns. Rather than just stuffing with marzipan, you use a fork to scoop out the insides. Then turn the insides into crumbs, add marzipan and some milk, then use your hands to mash it all together into a paste. Much easier for filling the buns, and it makes for a nice soft squishy marzipan filling. Yes, these are the sort of buns where the filling squirts out when you bite into them.

I’ve included a recipe below, but I have to give fair credit to Anna Brones, who write about her own attempt at making the family version of semlor as a guest on Kokblog (a great site, where foodie posts are paired with lovely illustrations of the cooking process). The original recipe is here, and when you read it, you will understand why I agree with Anna’s mother – “if you’re going to make something decadent, make something decadent. It has to be a real semla!” These were wise words to urge the use of real cream to fill these buns!

So…I made them, and I love them. The creamy-almond-cardamom combination is light and fresh, and they make a fantastic – and slightly naughty – treat with a cup of coffee on these chilly days. Now that I have, squirrel-like, stocked up on calorific food, all that remains is to see what the weather has in store for us. A couple of days of snow is fun, and London looks great on cold, clear days. But a little springtime warmth and a few daffodils peeking through the soil will be most welcome too.

To make semlor (makes 18 small or 10 large buns)

• 250ml milk
• 100 grams butter
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 40g sugar
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 egg
• 450g strong white flour

Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the butter, and leave until the butter has melted. Mix well and allow to site until lukewarm.

Put all the ingredients, including the milk/butter mixture, into the bread machine tin and run the dough cycle.

When the dough is done, divide into portions (18 for smaller buns, 10 for larger buns). Roll into balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.

Brush the buns with beaten egg and bake in a preheated oven (200°C / 400°F) for 15 minutes (if necessary, turn the tray half-way through to ensure an even colour).

Once the buns are ready, place on a cooling tray and cover with a clean tea-towel (this catches the steam and makes the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 200g marzipan, grated
• 200ml milk
• insides of the buns
• 200ml double cream

Cut “lids” from the tops of the buns. Use a small fork to scoop out the inside of the buns. Put the insides into a bowl, and crumble with your fingers. Add the milk and marzipan, and work to a smooth paste. You can use a spoon, but it’s easier and more fun just to get in there with your hands. When smooth, fill the buns with the almond paste.

Whip the cream until stiff, then use to top the buns – either with a spoon, or use a piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzle. Use as little or as much as you like, but I would err on the generous side.

Place the “lids” back on top of the buns, then dust lightly with icing sugar.

Worth making?  While this recipe looks like a lot of work, if you’ve got a bread machine, it actually takes almost no time at all. You can also easily make the buns on day, and then fill them on the next. So on balance, easy to make and very, very delicious!

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Recipe Challenge: White Christmas

We all love a good challenge! So here is a chance to try one! I am one of the judges in the December Challenge at Very Good Recipes where the theme is “White Christmas”.

To kick things off, all the judges have led the way, and we’ve turned our hands to creating something new – you can check out the creations in the links below, but here is my attempt – a festive take on the Mexican/Spanish drink horchata – based on almonds and with lots of traditional Christmas spices.

What led me to create this recipe? Well, I wanted to try something that was a little less obvious – I love all the cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates and puddings at this time of the year – but this was a chance to do something a little different. When leafing through a cookbook, I saw a recipe for horchata based on rice, and thought this could be easily adapted to suit the White Christmas theme.

The most obvious thing was the white colour. However, I thought it would be nice to make this snowy-white beverage, but round out the flavour with all manner of warming festive spices. This would – in theory – result in something quite fitting for  those drinks parties at this time of year. Personally I love a good glass of mulled wine, but sometimes it is nice to try something else, especially for guests who are not quite so keen on the strong stuff.

I moved away from using rice to using almonds, so that this version of horchata can be drunk chilled over ice, or warm with a dash of rum if you’re a fan of something a little stronger. I can assure you – warmed, with a spoonful of rum, a dash of orange zest and a dusting of cinnamon – it’s divine!

If you’re wondering what that is in the drink, it’s a gilded almond!

This recipe also plays with festive flavours in a number of levels. First of all, the base is made with almonds and pine nuts, the former being a festive classic, and the latter adding an extra creaminess to the mixture and a slight pine aroma.

The drink is also sweetened not with plain sugar, but a syrup that has been infused with a range of spices – cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and even a couple of jaunty red peppercorns! There is also some sweet vanilla and, in place of the classic lime zest, some orange zest for warmth and sweetness. But no need to stick to my list – adjust the spices according that what you like, or add other things that take your fancy (maybe a little syrup from preserved ginger, a dusting of nutmeg or a dash of mace?).

So all in all, rather a sophisticated little treat! And also useful to know that this drink, while being rich and creamy, is vegan, so also idea for those that are avoiding dairy at this time of year.

I hope that the idea and the pictures above are proving rather tempting, and that you are interested in entering the recipe challenge!

All the details can be found here, but basically the idea is to come up with something that covers the theme “White Christmas” – it can be sweet or savoury, a new dish to a new take on a traditional recipe. The colour can be snowy-white, or it can be something that just typifies the feeling of being wrapped up next to a wood fire while the snow is falling outside. Let your imagination go wild!

There are also some great prizes to be won, courtesy of the kind folks over at Savoury Spice Shop.

If you are just a little bit curious and would like to get some inspiration, have a look at the blogs of the other judges and see what each of us has done with the theme:

• Alex from Food 4 Thought
• Anne from Les Recettes du Panier
• Han Ker from Hankerie
• Kristina from Knuckle Salad
• Quay Po from Quay Po Cooks
• Rachel from Blissfully Scrumptious
• Suzy from Suzy Eats
• Vanessa from Vane Valentine

Best of luck!

To make White Christmas Horchata:

• 1 cup (150g) skinned almonds (*)
• 2 handfuls pine nuts
• 1 stick of cinnamon
or some cassia bark
• 2 cloves
• 3 cardamom pods, crushed
• 2-3 strips orange peel
• 1/3 vanilla pod
• 1/2 cup (100g) white sugar

Grind the almonds and pine nuts as finely as you can. Put them in a large bowl and add three cups (720ml) boiling water. Stir well, cover, and leave to sit for several hours – overnight is ideal.

At the same time, make the sweet spiced syrup. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar (100g) with 1 cup (240ml) water, the spices, vanilla and orange peel. Bring the boil and simmer for five minutes. Remove the vanilla, and leave to sit for several hours – again, overnight is ideal.

To finish the horchata, put the almond mixture in a blender and process until very smooth (it will change from slightly yellow to very white).

Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth – all those ground almonds can clog the cloth, so get in there and use your (clean) hands to squeeze out as much liquid as you can. If you like, you can take the nuts from the cheesecloth, whizz them up again in the blender with another cup of water, and strain again. You should end up with around 4 cups (1 litre) of liquid.

Next, strain the spice mixture.

Now the fun bit – mix the almond milk with the spice mixture! Adjust the amount of sugar to taste – I didn’t add any extra, but go with what you like. This horchata will keep in a sealed bottle in the fridge for two days – make sure to shake well before serving.

To serve, there are a couple of ways to let your imagination run wild:

  • Chilled – serve over ice, topped with flaked almonds, or go for glamour as I did and float a single almond that has been coated in gold leaf (decadent – but fun!).
  • Warm – heat the horchata, add orange zest and white rum to taste, and serve with a light dusting of cinnamon.

(*) If you need to remove the skin from almonds, it’s very easy – just bring a pan of water to the boil, throw in the nuts, and boil for around a minute until they start to float. Drain, allow to cook, and you should be able to squeeze the nuts out of their skins. Voila!

Worth making? Delicious, easy and very, very festive. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? Now, go forth and come up with your own take on “White Christmas”!

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{2} Speculaaskruiden

If you’re going to make festive biscuits, you need to get spicy!

Hence the second part of the “Twelve Goodies of Christmas” is a traditional spice mixture from the Netherlands.

Last year, I made a batch of German Lebkuchengewürz. Rather than trying more of the same, this year I’ve taken some inspiration from further west, and made a batch of Dutch speculaaskruiden (speck-oo-lass-krau-den).

My last mixture served me well over the past year, in everything from biscuits to fruit pies and compotes. So if you’re a little apprehensive about making a batch of mixed spice on the basis you won’t use it all, don’t worry. A little pinch of these sort of mixtures will add a lovely gingerbread flavour in place of plain old cinnamon.

I know that you would not normally arrange spices on neat little paper squares, but I found it quite interesting to see how the colours of each spice vary, and as you work with each, the different aromas will fill your kitchen with the most wonderful warm, woody smells. The warmth of cinnamon and ginger, pungent cloves, fresh cardamom and coriander and aromatic nutmeg, star anise and mace.

In making this, I used ground spices for a number of the ingredients – I’ve tried to grind cloves before, but they are tough little fellows, so you end up using a coffee grinder, and frankly – you’ll never get rid of the smell! Fine if you happen to like spiced coffee, but I don’t. So for the really tough ones, I buy pre-ground. However, I did grind some of them myself – the cardamom seeds were tackled with a mortar and pestle, while the nutmeg and star anise got the grater treatment. Just be sure to pass them through a very fine sieve, so you get rid of any woody bits of spice.

What you will notice when you compare the Dutch and German recipes is that they use many of the same basic spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg – but in different proportions. And just as with so many spice mixtures, there are dozens of recipes and many people have their own ways of making them. So treat the list below as a guide, and adjust the amounts as per your preferences. For the authentic flavour, you need to add the cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, but add or omit anything else that takes your fancy.

Now, the big question – what to make with this mixture?

Well, speculaaskruiden is the typical flavour in a number of biscuits – speculaas in the Netherlands, speculoos in Belgium and Spekulatius in Germany. As the names suggest, these are similar types of biscuit – they’re crisp, buttery, sometimes with almonds, and with lots of spice. While they are eaten all year round, they do tasty particularly festive.

That, or add it to cakes, muffins, carrot cakes, crumbles, compotes…whatever your imagination can come up with!

To make speculaaskruiden:

• 7 teaspoons ground cinnamon(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground mace(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger(*)
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds or star anise

(*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional

Put everything in a bowl. Mix well – that’s it! Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

Worth making? This mixture is fantastic – different notes come out from the different spices, and adds a pleasant spicy note to many recipes. If you’ve got this to hand, it makes for an easy way to add a rounded spiced flavour to just about anything. Really recommended.

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Cardamom, Lemon and Olive Oil Madeleines

It’s the latter part of February, but we still sit under those leaden skies and cold light. All quite conducive to staying in and potting around a nice warm house!

This is a recipe that I came up with on a quiet afternoon. It’s based on a few signature ingredients that I thought would complement each other. Simple as that. The cakes themselves are a combination of traditional madeleines and olive oil magdelenas.

I also added the cardamom as I thought its citrus resin flavour  would work well with the fresh lemon and the spiciness of the olive oil. The result? Well, very happy to report  – they taste just great! Now, I fully accept that these are a bit far away from “proper”madeleines, but a little creativity in the kitchen from time to time surely  cannot be a bad thing?

To make 18 madeleines:

• 2 eggs
• 80g grams white caster sugar
• zest of one lemon
• 2 large pinches of cardamom, finely ground
• pinch salt
• 110g grams plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 85 grams olive oil

Put the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Whip for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and thick (an electric beater is easiest!).

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and sift. Add the flour mixture to the eggs and stir lightly with a spatula until combined.

Add the olive oil and incorporate using a spatula. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Place spoonfuls of the batter into madeleine moulds and bake for 15 minutes, until the “bumps” have appeared and the cakes are golden.

Once cooked, remove from the oven. When the silicone tray is cool enough to work with, press each madeleine out of the tray and move to a cooking rack. Just before serving, dust the shell side with icing sugar.

Worth making? I was very pleased with how these turned out. The freshness of the lemon and the cardamom work well together, and the olive oil keeps them very moist. What I did notice is that these cakes were actually at their best the day after baking – so once they are cool, leave overnight in a sealed container (with a slice of bread if you find them a little dry on the outside). The next day, they will be soft and fragrant when you come to eat them.

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Phở Chay (Vietnamese Vegetable Soup)

I’m not a great shopper. In all the New Year sales, there was little that I was focussed on buying, other than a set of very large bowls. Dull!

Or is it? Like millions of others, New Year for me (aside for sparklers, streamers and champagne at midnight) means that it’s time to try being a little healthier, and so I figured that I could use these larger bowls to start making healthy noodle soups, something that would be filling without meaning lots of oil or lots of pasta. With that in mind, here is one of my first attempts. I am calling this phở chay (Vietnamese vegetable soup). Or maybe faux-chay? OK, bad joke…

Now, I use the term calling quite on purpose.  I cannot make any promises about how authentic this recipe, but I can at least say that it is made from things that you stand a sporting chance of finding in a well-stocked kitchen and it is pretty darn tasty. Perhaps the only thing I don’t usually have in the house is lemongrass, which I just added as I found it skulking in the back of the fridge, the victim of a well-intentioned but never-attempted citrus and  lemongrass posset.

To bulk up the broth, I have also used the ingredients that I like in this sort of soup – marinated tofu chunks and green beans, and soba noodles as I much prefer them to rice noodles. Soba has the rich, earthyness of buckwheat, and I very much appreciate that it is more substantial and chewy than rice noodles.

Now, when you look at making a phở, it can look like one of those “bit of a faff” recipes, but in fact I have managed to do the whole thing in just over an hour. Just think of it as a simple two-step process:

Part the First: make the broth. I have omitted any attempts at frying anything to start with, and just throw it all in a large pot with lots of water. Onions and other vegetables, plus stock, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, to serve as the basis, and then a range of aromatics and spices. Star anise and cinnamon seem pretty much essential, and ginger is very much a “nice to have” (I’ve made it without ginger; it’s good, but with ginger it’s better). A teaspoon of sambal olek provides a little more heat, and a heroic amount of garlic tops the whole thing off. But I digress: put everything in a pot, boil then leave to simmer for an hour. One of the very useful things about this soup is that the broth will be strained to remove the vegetables and spices, so there is no need to waste time trimming things so that they look pretty on the table, unless that is your bag. But when you do come to strain the broth, keep the garlic cloves: they are transformed into soft lumps of sheer deliciousness, which are absolutely sublime added to mash or spread onto slices of very crisp bread.

Part the Second: adding “stuff” to the broth. I just go with whatever is to hand. Some sort of noodle is clearly essential, and while rice noodles are traditional, soba noodles really do work a treat here and I much prefer them. Visually not as much of an impact as white rice noodles, but the taste and texture really is great. I also like to add tofu, which I bake, then add to the broth to boil for 10 minutes before serving. This means that it has the chance to soften in the broth and the flavours mix. Then…top it all off with vegetables of your choice. Quick-cooking items such as mushrooms can be sliced and left raw, beansprouts can be thrown in as they are, while string beans or asparagus can be quickly boiled before serving.

Then, assemble it all! Put noodles and vegetables into your serving dishes, then ladle over the broth. Top with spring onions and a sprig of basil, and you’re done! Nothing more to do than get chopsticks and say: Chúc ngon miệng! (*)

For the stock:

• 10 cups water
• 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
• 2 stock cubes
• 2 sticks cinnamon
• 2 star anise
• 1 clove
• 1 cardamom pod
• 3 tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
• 1/2 stick lemongrass
• 1 teaspoon brown sugar
• 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
• 1/2 teaspoon sambal olek / chilli paste

To put in the soup:

• marinated tofu chunks
• 75g rice noodles / soba noodles per person, cooked, drained and rinsed
• 2 handfuls bean sprouts
• 2 handfuls mushrooms, sliced
• other vegetables (string beans, shredded lettuce, shredded spinach, shredded carrot), briefly boiled if necessary
• Thai or regular basil, mint leaves and/or lime wedges to garnish

To make the broth: Place all the stock ingredients in a large pan. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for at least an hour (can easily be made the night before and allowed to sit so the flavours are able to infuse the broth with their aromas and flavours). Once ready, strain to remove the solids and the broth is ready. You may have to add more water at the end, according to taste.

To prepare the soup: measure the “soup stuff” into bowl, and add enough piping hot broth to cover. Top with sprigs of Thai basil, mint and/or a wedge of lime.

Worth making? I was a little daunted by this at first, given that there are a lot of ingredients, but it was actually very simply to make. The only thing you need is time to allow the broth to simmer, so you get the maximum amount of flavour out of the spices – and I am afraid there is no shortcut for that. I would recommend trying to be light handed with the stock and soy sauce – you can always add more later, and we want the flavours of the anise, ginger, garlic et al to shine in this soup.

(*) Google tells me that this means bon appetit in Vietnamese! – I hope it does!

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