Tag Archives: food

{1} Spongata Di Natale

Season’s Greetings to everyone! Yes, we’re back for the Twelve Days of Festive Baking 2020 edition!

You don’t need me to tell you that this has, quite frankly, been a year that we’d all like to forget. And given what we’ve all been through it makes those chances where we can come together all the more important. Our original plans were for a low-key Christmas at home and the chance to see a few friends, mostly outside and from a distance. And then about six hours ago we got the news that London would be going into a new top tier of lockdown restrictions. Stay home, no household mixing at all, and you can meet one person in a park. It does put a whole new spin on the Judy Garland song “have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

I’m a little late to this year’s baking series as I was not actually sure I would do it. In part I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for it when the news seems unrelentingly grim. And working at home, staring at a screen all day, leaves me less inclined to look at a screen in my free time. But then, it’s just not Christmas without lots of home baking and those lovely aromas drifting up from the kitchen. The trying times that we find ourselves in also lend a different slant to this year’s tour of festive treats from around the world. We might be at home, but we can still take a little gastronomic tour in anticipation of being able to actually travel more next year. So here goes!

I’ve been doing my Twelve Festive Bakes for a few years now, and there has been a strong leaning towards cookies. We’re starting this year off with a recipe that swings the pendulum in the other direction, as we’re going to have a go at a sweet festive tart called spongata di natale from the Italian region of Emilia Romagna. To me this seems like something from the renaissance, and the compete opposite of picture-perfect sugar cookies coated in thick, neat icing.


This tart has a rich filling of fruit, nuts and spices wrapped in pastry, which reminded me of British mincemeat pies. I always like to look around at different recipes before having a go at something to get an idea of whether a recipe is very standard or allows some variety. I found quite a few differences among the recipes – some have more nuts, while others favour using figs, jam and other dried fruits. Personally I liked the idea of something that was a bit further from our mincemeat pies – we’ve been dodging them in the UK since mid-October – so I plumped for a version that was big on nuts and citrus, with the filling bound together with acacia honey and flavoured with spices.


The original recipe that I found actually makes 15 of these tarts! While I’m absolutely in favour of sharing the fruits of my baking efforts at this time of year, that was too much even for me. I mean, I could find 14 other people to give them to, but there is that pesky Tier 4 and the need to limit social contact, so it would have been irresponsible of me to visit lots of different homes with baked goods. So I had reduced the recipe by a factor of five, so that I could make three of them. One for me, one for a friend, and a spare in case it was delicious and I regretted giving one away.

The recipe below seems quite long-winded, as I’ve tried to lay out the various steps, but it is actually quite straightforward. You do it over several days, starting with the filling, then you just need to make a fairly simple dough which you roll out, fill, cover and bake. You are supposed to make the filling and leave this to rest, so it’s a good job to do in a chilly evening, so it is ready a day or two later when you’re full of the joys of Christmas and want to spend time fiddling with pastry. I left my filling to rest for three days as suggested in the recipe I looked at, but in all honesty I don’t know that it really makes that much difference. I did not have the patience to make two versions and compare them, but I like the idea of a bit of ritual in making my Christmas goodies, and it also spreads out the mess in the kitchen and the tidying up. But if you make the filling one day and bake the next, I’m sure it will still taste great.

For the filling, I had to work out the spice quantities as the original amounts were ten grams of cloves, one-third of a nutmeg and a stick of cinnamon. I’ve no idea how those convert into tablespoons and teaspoons, so I’ve ended up with amounts that suit my taste. I would recommend going easy with the cloves, as they are a dominant flavour and it can be easy to go too far. I happen to really like it, but remember the old culinary adage – you can always add more. My experience is that the flavour will also intensify over time after baking, so by judicious with the heavy spices like cloves. They work well here with the nuts and honey, but it is very easy to go to far.


One the filling had lingered in the kitchen for a few days, I got round to making the tarts themselves. The dough is simple – it’s a shortcrust pastry that uses white wine rather than water as the binding agent. It might seem a bit silly, but I always think it seems really decadent to use wine like this. And note that the recipe doesn’t make a lot of dough. At first I thought at first that it was never going to work. The key is that you work the dough a lot – it’s a dough, not pastry, and you want some gluten to develop in there. I persevered and duly managed to roll the dough out very thinly. And lo and behold, it worked like a charm. If you have a go at these, it is just a matter of taking time – roll out the base thinly; add the filling gently and pat it down; then cover it neatly, press out any trapped air, and make sure the edges are nicely finished. During baking the dough does not really move, but it will puff up very slightly and taken on a lightly golden colour. If you’ve ever been disappointed by the pastry-to-filling ratio of a British mince pie, then you’ll like the generous filling ratio of a spongata di natale.

I also made one final tweak to finish off the tart. I brushed the cooled tart with a simple water icing to make it a little more festive. This was not in the recipe, but seemed to be in the picture, and helped to make the whole thing seem a little less like a giant mince pie. If you’re going to keep them for a few days, the icing will dry out completely and take on a lightly frosted appearance, further enhancing their festive appeal.


And the verdict? I really like these. They are really delicious, very festive, and they do seem to be quite medieval in their character. The filling is rich, sweet and sticky, and very aromatic, packed with all the things that would have been outrageously expensive to a medieval Italian merchant looking for a good time at Christmas. They cut well into dainty slivers to enjoy with tea, coffee or an espresso for a dash of la dolce vita that we’re all craving this year!

To make spognata di natale (makes 3 tarts):

For the filling

• 40g breadcrumbs
• 40g sultanas
• 4 tablespoons dry white wine
• 100g walnuts, chopped
• 50g hazelnuts, chopped
• 50g almonds, chopped
• 200g acacia honey
• 30g pine nuts, roughly chopped
• 20g candied citron, finely chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• pinch of salt

For the pastry

• 200g plain flour
• 80g unsalted butter
• 80g caster sugar
• 40ml dry white wine
• pinch of salt

To finish

• 30g icing sugar
• cold water

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Put the breadcrumbs on a baking tray and toast in the oven until just golden. Watch them like a hawk – there is very little time between done and burned! Remove them when done and leave to cool.

2. Put the sultanas and the white wine in a bowl. Microwave for 1 minute, then cover and leave the sultanas for 30 minutes to absorb the wine.

3. In a large bowl, add the chopped nuts, toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts, candied citron, spices and salt. Mix well. Drain the sultanas and squeeze out any excess moisture (keep the liquid). Chop them and add to the bowl.

4. Gently warm the honey to lukewarm in a saucepan over a low heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved sultana wine. Pour it into the bowl, and mix well. Taste the mixture and add any more spices if you think they are needed. The resulting mixture should be sticky and very thick. Cover the bowl, and leave it in a quiet corner either overnight or up to 3 days, at room temperature, for the flavours to mingle.

5. Make the dough. In a bowl mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and work until it resembles breadcrumbs. Now add enough wine to make a dough which is smooth, shiny and pliable. Knead it for around 10 minutes.

6. Time to assemble the spognata. First, preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Mix a tablespoon of wine with the filling, then divide the filling into three (200g) portions, and place to one side.

7. Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Take one piece and place it on a large piece of greaseproof paper. Roll to a thickness of 1-2mm (i.e. very thin). Cut a circle of 25cm – the easiest way to do this is to find a saucepan lid or a dinner plate of the correct size, and use that as a template.

8. Now take one portion of filling and spoon it onto the disc. Gently press it into a disc that covers most of the dough, leaving a 3cm border (i.e. 19cm diameter). Place this on top of the pastry disc.

9. Take another piece of dough and roll out to make another disc. Brush the exposed edge of the first disc with a little water, and place the second disc on top. Press down lightly, then gently use a rolling pin to go back and forwards over the cake a couple of times, then press the pastry down all around the cake to press out any air bubbles. Seal the pastry with your fingers, then cut around the edge with a fluted pastry cutter or a knife. Pierce the top of the spognata several times with a fork – either randomly, or try to make some sort of pattern.

10. Slide a baking tray under the spognata, and put in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden (turning half-way to get an even colour). Do not leave it in any longer or it will dry out the filling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

11. Repeat with the remaining filling and pastry.

12. Finish the spognata either with a dusting of icing sugar, or by brushing the top with a simple water icing glaze.

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Cookie of the Week: Lebkuchen

Over the last few weeks I’ve had an uneasy feeling of familiarity with lockdown, and have not quite been able to put my finger on it. Then it struck me – it’s a little bit like that time between Christmas and New Year. The normal routine is out the window, many people are at home and it can be a bit of a struggle to bring much structure to the day. Well, except for the fact that I am still working, or at least trying my best to do so. It reminds me of a radio comedy I heard years ago where an evil genius how somehow managed to trap the whole of Britain in the Christmas limbo period and it lasted well into summer, but people were so lost and listless they didn’t realise.

Anyway, that gave me the idea to make something festive for my cookie of the week. So here are some German Lebkuchen.


And boy, could my timing have been much better? The glorious sunny weather we had been enjoying in London for the past few weeks decided to take a break and we’ve had the best part of a week of dark skies and some really lashing rain. My cats hated it, truth be told I didn’t really mind it, and the plants loved it. But it did feel very autumnal, even wintery at times, and I was quite pleased that morning coffee was accompanied by a sweet spiced lebkuchen coated in chocolate


This is what I’m ambitiously calling an “easy” recipe for Lebkuchen. Many traditional German recipes will call for a high nut content, leaving the dough to rest overnight, and you might find yourself hunting down unusual leavening ingredients like potash or baker’s ammonia. However this recipe uses thing you’ve probably got the baking cupboard, and the only tricky bit is when you coat one side in dark chocolate. If you’re preparing them to take pictures (as I was!) then you want to temper the chocolate so it is smooth and glossy, but if you’re making them to inhale with your morning coffee or afternoon cup of tea, you can just melt, coat and leave them like that. They’ll taste just as good.

The one thing I did struggle with was getting candied peel. I have not been near a big supermarket in nearly three months, and the places I have been clearly don’t see this as a “must stock” item. But I did have a few oranges, some sugar and way too much time, so I made the candied peel myself. It isn’t that hard, and I’ll probably do a post on it in the near future as it is also delicious if you then dunk the bits of sweet orange peel into dark chocolate. I know in some other areas flour has been in short supply, but I have not found that to be a problem. The moment you step away from supermarkets and check out smaller stores and delis, it’s right there. Even our local coffee place is in the act with a range of pasta and Italian “00” flour for sale.

The one fiddly bit that it’s worth knowing beforehand is that you want to make the glaze just before the cookies come out of the oven. You make it with icing sugar and hot water, so that it sets quickly on the hot cookies, and it taken on a sort of frosted appearance as it dries. I’ve found that if you leave the cookies to cool while you make the glaze, or you make it with cold water, you don’t get the same effect. It doesn’t add to the flavour, but it does look nice!

So there we have it – the essence of Christmas, in the middle of June. I might be one of the few people out there who is grateful for that temporary chilly spell in our weather so I could enjoy them!

To make Lebkuchen (makes 12):

For the dough

• 40g butter
• 75g soft brown sugar
• 50ml runny honey
• 1 medium egg
• 40ml milk
• 2 teaspoons mixed spice
• large pinch salt
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
• 100g plain flour
• 35g ground almonds
• 80g chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts)
• 40g chopped candied orange peel

For the glaze

• 150g icing sugar
• hot water

To finish

• 200g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) and prepare two baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the butter, sugar, honey, eggs, milk, spices and salt in a bowl. Beat until the mixture is well combined. Add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder and mix well. Finally fold in the chopped nuts and chopped candied peel. The mixture will be soft and sticky, but should not be runny.

3. Divide the dough into 12 portions – take tablespoons of the dough and place on the greaseproof paper – 6 cookies per sheet. Use damp fingers to press the dough to a circle of around 1/2 cm thickness.

4. Bake the cookies for around 15 minutes – they should puff up slightly and look dry, but should not start to darken at the edges.

5. Just before the cookies come out of the oven, make the glaze. Put the icing sugar in a bowl, and add enough hot water to make a glaze – you should be able to brush it onto the cookies, but don’t make it too runny or watery. Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately brush each with the warm glaze. As they cool, they should take on a “frosted” appearance, which will keep forming overnight as the sugar crystallises.

6. Once all the cookies are baked and the glaze is dry, temper the chocolate, then coat the flat side of each cookie and make any sort of whimsical pattern than you like. Leave to set, and enjoy!

To temper chocolate: follow this guide from the BBC using a thermometer!

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Cake of the Week: Tiger Cake

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

To make a Tiger Cake:

For the batter

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

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

For the chocolate mixture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cookie of the Week: Pain d’Amandes

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cake of the Week: Battenberg

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

To make a Battenberg Cake:

For the batter

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

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

To decorate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cookie of the Week: Goudse Moppen

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

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

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


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

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


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

To make Goudse Moppen (makes around 50)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cake of the Week: Plum Cake

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

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


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

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

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

To make Plum Cake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cookie of the Week: Amaretti

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

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

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


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

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

To make almond biscuits (makes 12):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Scottish Food: Perkins for Burns Night

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

To make Perkins (make around 45):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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