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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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{7} Calissons d’Aix

Do you like the idea of a grand total of thirteen desserts for your Christmas dinner? Then let’s take a jaunt to Provence in France where they do just that.

But first I will have to disappoint you. If you have visions of a seasonal table just groaning with thirteen separate cakes, it is not that. Not is it a selection of other puddings. Rather it is a selection of festive treats ranging from nuts and dried fruit to festive breads and small traditional sweets, including nougat. But hey, you still get thirteen things in total, and after lots of rich food, some vaguely heathy nuts and dried fruit might be just the little health kick you need as you promise not to over-indulge ever again. And, of course, you know it will happen again next year!

One of the traditional sweets is the calisson. They originate from the town of Aix-en-Provence and are made with several typical products of the area – candied melon, orange peel, orange blossom water and almonds. Everything is ground down to a smooth paste – with a texture similar to marzipan but somewhat fruitier – which is then shaped into almond-like lozenges and glazed with brilliant white royal icing. If you wanted to veganise these, you could even make your icing using aquafaba.


And as with all good Christmas sweets, they have both a bit of history and a disputed origin story.

One school of thought is that they trace their history back to medieval Italy, being mentioned in Martino di Canale’s Chronicle of the Venetians in 1275, and there are other references during the Middle Ages to “calisone” cakes being made from almonds.

The other version involved a bit more drama, and is therefore immediately more interesting. The tale goes that calissons were created after the marriage of René, Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence, to Jeanne de Laval in 1454. He was 45, she was 21. Before and after the marriage, the bride was reported to be in a dour mood, what with being basically told to enter into a marriage by her father. After three years of marriage the couple moved to Aix-en-Provence and the duke’s chef was charged with creating something to bring a smile to her lips so that the couple would impress their subjects. He created these sweets from melon and almonds, and upon tasting this new delicacy, she declared “di calin soun” which is “they are hugs” in the Provencal language. Alternatively, the assembled crowd said that the sight of the smiling Jeanne won their hearts and felt as if she was giving them all little hugs. Could one of these be true? It’s certainly a charming tale, and we can only hope the rest of their union was happy.

I’ve had an eye on making calissons for a while, but was always a bit dubious how much work it would take to make. The do look like it will be a lot of effort. Well it turns out that it actually…really easy. You let your food processor do all the hard work, which will blitz everything to a paste. Throw in the candied fruit, blitz to a smooth paste, then add the almonds and it all comes together like magic.


While making the fruit-nut base was easy, I’ll admit the shaping was a bit tricky. You roll out the dough, then place rice paper on top and cut out shapes. I thought this would leave you with a lot of waste, but you can pick off the rice paper and re-roll the scraps. No, the problem is they are supposed to have an almond shape, and I didn’t have that exact cutter. Time for a workaround…

My very practical solution was to use a circular cutter (mine was about 5cm diameter), then offset it to create that almond shape. Place the rice paper on the dough, then press down hard and fast. That means you get a clean cut through the rice paper, and the dough doesn’t get a chance to move position. It’s also marvellously therapeutic after the year we’ve had. Then remove the cut circle, flip it over so the rice paper is on the bottom (if you have the rice paper on the top for the second cut, it doesn’t work as well). Offset the cutter so you can cut an almond shape (this way you will get two from each circle). I found it best to press down, then flip over the cutter and gently run a knife over the rice paper to cut if cleanly. It is a little tricky to start with, but you get the hang of it. It is also important to have a clean cutter – keep a damp piece of kitchen roll nearby, and wipe it often.

The classic fruit in calissons is candied melon. This is something I’ve rarely seen, and it strikes me as something that must be tricky to make given how much water is in a melon. But I managed to order some candied cantaloup melon online, and even then it’s not exactly easy to find. It’s definitely an interesting flavour, aromatic, and it has an attractive orange-pink colour. Many recipes also use a little bit of candied citrus peel, and if you wanted to go for orange overload, you could just use that. Alternatively, any candied fruit will work well, In fact, I’ve made a little selection of different flavours for over Christmas, and the same recipe works as long as you hold to the same weight of candied fruit, candied citrus peel, ground almonds and icing sugar.

I got the idea to experiment because I came across a few websites that have given calissons the full macaron treatment, presenting them in a dazzling rainbow of colours and flavours. I don’t know how traditional this is (and can imagine some French purists throwing their hands in the air with a gasp of quelle horreur!) but I have to admit they do look quite fun. I think you need to be judicious with the flavours, and veer towards the natural. I made some using candied pear, and some with candied peach, both of which were delicious. You could also use different nuts – hazelnuts and pistachios seem like fairly safe bets. I could even see a festive version using dates and gingerbread spices. However, I would steer clear of some flavours like peppermint extract or lavender or rose essence, especially if they are artificial. You could rapidly end up with a tray of sweets that is more reminiscent of soap than the sunshine of Provence. That said, if you’re now fixated on the concept of a calisson that tastes like a candy cane with a red-and-white striped top, knock yourself out!

To make Calissons d’Aix (makes around 40-45)

For the dough

• 150g candied melon (or other candied fruit)
• 30g candied orange peel
• 20g candied lemon peel
• 1 tablespoon orange blossom water (or other flavour) – see note below
• few drops of almond extract
• 170g ground almonds
• 100g icing sugar

To shape

• edible rice paper

To ice

• 1 egg white (30g)
• 150g icing sugar
• colouring (optional)
• flavouring (optional)

1. Put the melon, orange and lemon into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Scrape down the sides, add the orange blossom water and almond extract, and blitz again. Scrape down the sides again, and blitz again until the paste is smooth.

2. Add the ground almonds and icing sugar to the food processor. Blitz until it looks like crumbs. Scrape down the sides and base, then blitz again. It should come together to form a marzipan-like dough. If it stays crumbly, pour into a bowl, knead briefly, and it will come together. If the dough is very sticky, add more ground almonds. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

3. Time to shape the calissons. On a piece of greaseproof paper, roll out the dough to 1cm thickness. Place a sheet of rice paper on top, smooth side up. Start to cut out the calisson shapes. For the scraps, peel off the rice paper and re-roll until it is all used up. Check all the calissons – you might need to tidy up the edges or trim some stray bits of rice paper. When you’re happy, turn them all so the rice paper is at the bottom.

4. Time to ice. Make the icing by lightly beating the egg white, then sifting in the icing sugar. Stir until the mixture is smooth – it needs to flow, but a drop on a worktop should hold its shape and not run. Add in any colours or flavours. Use a spoon or a piping bag to top each calisson with a thin layer of icing. Leave uncovered overnight to set.

Note: check exactly what sort of orange blossom water you are using. You can get anything from very dilute to highly concentrated, and when it’s pure it is extremely powerful. I used a fairly light and dilute version from a local Middle Eastern grocery. If you have a concentrated version, you will need just a drop or two unless you want something that tastes like soap!

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{3} Paciencias

Each year that I’ve done my Twelve Bakes of Christmas, I’ve tried to go far and wide in search of inspiration. But each year I come back to the realisation that my selection has ended up being pretty Europe-centric. I’ve included a couple of recipes from America (snickerdoodles and bizcohitos) plus South African soetkoekies, but I’m still on the hunt for other ideas. Well, today – and in the spirit of the famous line from Ghostbusters – we’ve got one!


These are little meringue cookies from the Philippines. They are called paciencias, which derives from the word for patience.

I didn’t find an authoritative single reason as to why they have this name, but I can only surmise that since they are made from whisked egg whites, they would entail quite a lot of patience (as well as a demanding elbow workout) to get them whisked up to make the meringue base in the days before electric mixers. Or perhaps it comes from hungry little hands trying to reach for these cookies, only for parents to have to shoo them away as they try to instil some patience into their little darlings?


The recipe is pretty simple and quick to make – you make a meringue, add a little flour and baking powder for structure and lift, plus some flavouring. Most recipes suggest vanilla, but some also use almond extract. I happen to love all things almond, and I think the combination of vanilla and almond is really delicious, so I decided that I’d do the double.

Then I had a look on the ever-reliable Wikipedia which has a very brief article on paciencias which suggests they are flavoured with “calamansi”. I’ve never heard of this, but it is a citrus fruit grown in the Philippines that is thought to be a kumquat-mandarin cross. So if you wanted to add a little more oomph to the flavour profile, you could add some grated mandarin zest, which also has the added benefit of being a nice little festive touch. I lived on the edge and added a dash of orange zest, and I reckon they were all the better for it.


These took about 10 minutes to make, so they are a good activity with kids who don’t have a long attention span. The piping is pretty easy too – you could try to make them look identical and smooth, but I went for a quick approach and did the squeeze-and-lift, and got what I would politely call the shape of Hershey’s kisses, which I thought looked cute. Someone else in the kitchen said they looked like a tray of nipples, which I ignored! Hey, lockdown has been long and tedious, and we’ve all lost our social filters and have started saying what comes into our heads. Really, first day back in the office? It’s going to be interesting for sure.

Just after baking, the cookies are really nice – light, crisp on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle, and they’re pretty aromatic from the flavourings. Citrus zest was definitely the way to go. These are the kind of cookies which you can put in bowls and people can help themselves to without feeling like they’re eating too much. If you store them for a day or two, they stop being chewy and are completely crisp, which I found made a great companion to ice cream (I’m in lockdown, we need nice things!).

I feel that these are also cookies that will lend themselves to some experimentation. If you were so minded, then I am sure you could fill these cookies in the style of a French macaron. I feel they would suit something sweet and tangy, like lemon or passion fruit curd. They could also be coloured various festive shades, and I can imagine they would look quite jolly with all different shades mixed up in little bags as gifts.

To make Paciencias (makes around 50 cookies):

• 2 large egg whites
• 100g caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
• 30g plain flour
• 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
• zest of ¼ mandarin orange

1. Preheat the oven to 135°C (275°F). Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper and lightly rub with neutral oil.

2. In a large bowl, start to beat the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. Now add the sugar, a little at a time, and beat well after reach addition. Keep going until you have a smooth, glossy meringue – it should seem quite stiff. Add in the vanilla and/or almond extract and mix well.

3. Combine the flour and baking powder. Pour into the main bowl and add the orange zest, then fold everything together.

4. Put the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle. Pipe 4cm (1.5 inch) circles on the baking sheets.

5. Bake the cookies for around 20 minutes until they are still pale but starting to turn lightly golden.

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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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Cake of the Week: Battenberg

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

To make a Battenberg Cake:

For the batter

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

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

To decorate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cake of the Week: Plum Cake

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

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


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

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

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

To make Plum Cake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cake of the Week: Lemon Drizzle

You’ve had cookie of the week, so here is our first cake of the week! I’ve actually been quite blown away from the feedback on the first part of my lockdown baking, and one reader has even made the Fryske Dúmkes and confirms they are easy and delicious. The next cookie is coming tomorrow…

In the last few days it has started getting much warmer in London, and we’ve just had some glorious sunny days. It seems so strange to imagine a parallel world in which we’re off out in parks, walking by the river, thinking about a trip to Kew Gardens to see blossom and daffodils and planning Easter trips to beauty spots. But as temping as any of that might seem, it is all off limits as part of our efforts to support the greater good. Just peek out the windows and you will see rainbows painted by children reminding you to #StayHomeSaveLives. There has been some debate in the UK about exactly what the rules mean and how far people can interpret them. Personally I think it’s pretty obvious that we need to say at home, only shop for food once per week, and while we’re allowed out for exercise once per day. And in doing this, we need to avoid other people. Yes, it’s a pain, but if we all play our part, we can only hope that our corona lockdown will pass sooner.

What this period has enabled me to do is to fish out some craft ideas from deep in my memory for entertaining my son. The big hits this week were colour chromatography (separating the colours in ink using filter paper) and drawing out a map of the London Underground. He managed to do pretty much the whole thing from memory! Next week is the two-week Easter Holiday, so home school is shut and we’ll have holiday club based around “theme of the day”. Today was “France”, Tuesday is “London Transport”, Wednesday is “Plants” and the rest of the week is still under development. Ideas welcome!

Anyway, back to cake, as that’s what you’re here for. As spring creeps upon us, I decided to make a cake which has a little sunshine in in, and opted for lemon. This is one of the iconic British classics – it is a sponge loaf cake and while it is still warm you pour over a syrup of granulated sugar and lemon juice. Then you leave it to cool, and the glaze forms a crunchy, tangy glaze on top and makes sure that they cake is very moist. We’ve enjoyed it over the last week each afternoon. This is definitely one to have with a cup of tea (Earl Grey, pinkie raised) rather than coffee, and the bright, zesty flavour is a much needed pick-me-up as the afternoon air feels warm and pleasant.

If you want to play around with the flavour (or you need to make do with what you have at home) then you can use whatever citrus fruit you like. You could make it with just orange zest, go for a St Clements cake (orange and lemon, like the famous song) or make it even more tropical with lime. Grapefruit might even be interesting – but a caveat that I have not tried it, but if you do, let me know if it worked!

To make a Lemon Drizzle Cake (makes one 1lb loaf)

For the batter:

• 175g white caster sugar
• 175g softened butter
• zest of 1 lemon
• 3 medium eggs
• 175g self-raising flour
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 tablespoon milk

For the glaze:

• 100g granulated sugar
• juice of 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC (340ºF). Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

2.Put the eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Beat until pale, light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and baking powder, and mix well. Finally add the milk and beat to a smooth batter.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake the cake for around 40 minutes. An inserted skewer should come out clean and the surface should be springy when lightly pushed. If it looks like it is getting too dark, cover it loosely with tin foil. When done, remove from the own and place on a wire rack. Do not remove from the tin.

4. Immediately make the glaze. In a bowl, mix the lemon juice and granulated sugar. Pour evenly over the warm cake, then leave to cool completely.

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