Tag Archives: hazelnuts

{9} Elisenlebkuchen

One of my favourite Christmas treats is the German Elisenlebkuchen, packed with nuts, citrus peel and spice, and the base coated in dark chocolate and finished with a sugar glaze that takes on a frosty appearance. They are pretty much Christmas in a biscuit.

Now, if I’m going to dare to call these things Elisenlebkuchen, then I need to be careful what goes into them. I earn some credit for the hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, various spices and lemon and orange peel I’ve used, but I would have scored a great big fat zero if I had let just one dash of flour get anywhere near them. As a mark of quality, these things are made wheat-free. As a result, they have a fairly flat shape, but the flavour is rich and the texture soft and dense.

elisenlebkuchen

My fondness for these is in part due to what goes into them – nuts, spices and candied peel. However, it is also due to the fact that they are one of the first biscuits I got to know. Unlike today, when we’ve got easy access to foreign Christmas goodies, it used to take a bit of work. Panettone, marrons glacés and Lebkuchen had to be searched out, found only in places familiar to those in the know. So it was with these biscuits. The specific brand I loved were Bahlsen Contessa, and they were sold in a branch of Spar where my grandmother lived. The German woman who ran the shop had a few of them in at the end of the year, so no visit was complete without a trip to pick up a box of Lebkuchen. I liked to pick off the chocolate and then eat the soft cake bit.

elisenlebkuchen2

While there are rules about what you can use, you still have some scope to play around. Various recipes seemed to suggest using just almonds, but I wanted to add a bit more depth to my attempt, so I used equal parts of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds. For the candied peel, I changed the common 50/50 mixture of orange and lemon, using mostly orange, and relying on fresh lemon zest to provide the zing.

And finally, the spices. The traditional approach is to use Lebkuchengewürz (Lebkuchen spices). However, I had run out of this so I let my creativity run wild. Cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, cardamom, star anise and a dash of white pepper went in there. You can go with whatever you like, but I would aim for mostly cinnamon with just a dash of the more powerful spices. Also keep in mind that the flavour will mature as they are stored, getting stronger with time, so if you go with lots of really forceful spices such as cloves or black pepper, you might send your guests running to the kitchen for water. Going heavy on nutmeg, coriander or cardamom, in contrast, probably invokes less of a risk!

When it comes to finishing these Lebkuchen, you’ve also got a few options. They often feature whole almonds arranged either individually or in a circle on top. They can be left as they are, or coated with a simple glaze of icing sugar and hot water. This has a magical effect when you leave it overnight, taking on a white, frosted appearance. Alternatively, you can coat them entirely in dark chocolate, which works wonderfully well with the citrus and spices. I went from something that combined the two – the glaze on top, with a layer of chocolate on the bottom.

If you buy these, they tend to be on the large side, around palm-sized. I made them more bite-sized. Which…arguably means…you can enjoy twice as many. I think all in all, they take a fair bit of time to make (you need to allow for overnight drying of the icing, and then fiddling about with tempering chocolate and so on) but nothing is particularly difficult and the result is really delicious.

To make Elisenlebkuchen (makes 32):

For the biscuits:

• 3 eggs
• 150g soft light brown sugar
• 75g white caster sugar
• 200g ground nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts)
• 25g flaked almonds, crushed
• 100g candied peel, very finely chopped
• 1 lemon, zest only
• 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia

For the glaze:

• 100g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons boiling water

 To finish:

 • 250g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line four baking trays with greaseproof paper, and rub each very lightly with oil.

2. Separate the eggs. In a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, beat the yolks with the brown sugar until pale and fluffy (around 3 minutes).

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have soft peaks. Add the caster sugar, and whisk on a high speed until you have a stiff meringue.

4. Fold the meringue into the egg yolk mixture in three batches. Stir in the ground nuts, crushed flaked almonds, candied peel, lemon zest, spice, salt and baker’s ammonia.

5. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, and pipe out rounds onto the trays (I did eight per sheet – each one around 4cm diameter).

6. Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, turning the tray mid-way through, until they are puffed up and browned. When done, remove from the oven, allow to cool and remove from the paper and cool on a wire tray.

7. Once all the biscuits are baked, make the glaze by mixing the icing sugar with the boiling water. Brush the glaze onto the domed side of the biscuits, and leave overnight to dry (the glaze should dry fairly quickly, and take on a “frosted” appearance by the next morning).

8. Finally, melt the chocolate and use to coat the flat side of the Lebkuchen.

Worth making? Definitely. These taste pretty much like the pure essence of Christmas, and well worth the time they take.

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{8} Linzer Biscuits

Linzer biscuits are just about the most festive thing that you can make at this time of the year. Spiced, nutty pastry filled with bright red raspberry jam, and with snow-like icing sugar. And they are shaped like stars. Sort of like screaming good cheer at the top of your voice, isn’t it?

linzeraugen

Actually, Linzers have a rather ancient pedigree. They are closely based on the famous Linzertorte from the Austrian city of Linz, which is said to be one of the oldest (or indeed, the oldest) cakes in the world, with recipes found from as far back as the 1600s. It is made from a rich, nut pastry and then filled with a dark fruity jam, often blackcurrant, and then finished with a lattice top. These biscuits are essentially a variation on that theme, but with the lattice top replaced with some nifty cookie-cutter action. I’ve gone with concentric stars, but you could quite happily cut out circles and then cut out angels, Christmas trees or simple geometric shapes. If you go for a round version with a circle inside for the jam, they become known as Linzer Augen (“Linzer Eyes”).

I made these with quite a few tasty ingredients to get a really festive flavour, but not all of them quite traditional. While you can use almonds, I preferred to go with hazelnuts, as they add a great flavour to biscuit dough when baked. If you keep the skin on them before grinding, then you’ll get the typical brown flecks in the finished biscuits.  I also used brown sugar to get a slight caramel flavour, and then flavoured everything with cinnamon, ground cloves, vanilla and orange zest. While it is usual to add just cinnamon and vanilla, I think the cloves and orange really do make the flavour very special. The clove flavour lingers on the tongue, while the zest perks everything up.

If there is something annoying about making Linzers, it is that the dough is on the soft side. This can be easily addressed by making sure it is properly chilled before getting into the rolling and cutting, so ideally you want to make the dough the night before, rather than doing it in the morning and clock-watching in anticipation of turning the oven on. You will, however, find that you are constantly taking pieces of dough from the fridge, and then returning scraps to the fridge to re-chill. However, don’t be tempted to skip this – the heat from you hands alone will soften the dough, and can turn it oily and unworkable. It is also worth doing a test bake before committing a whole tray of biscuits to the oven – if the test does not keep its shape, then pop the tray into the freezer to chill – and when you bake them, they should stay pretty much razor-sharp at the edges.

linzeraugen2

If you make these biscuits, it is worth knowing that they start of as very crisp. After a day or so, they will get softer and more cake-like in texture, so keep this in mind depending on how you like you bakes to turn out when you serve them. If you want to make them ahead of time, I recommend keeping them – without the jam – in an airtight container, and then baking them again briefly when you need them to get them back to their crispy best.

If you’re after a bit of variety, you can use different types of jam (like I did last year when making Swiss Spitzbuben). With the spices I used, I think plum jam (Victoria or damson) would be delicious, as would marmalade, or the traditional blackcurrant. The only think that you need to worry about is using jam that is sufficiently sharp and has a bit of a tang, to balance the sweetness of the biscuits.

So here we are at the two-thirds mark in this year’s Twelve Days of Baking (or Baking Madness, if you prefer). I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far.

To make Linzer Biscuits (makes around 40):

140g hazelnuts (skin on)
• 280g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 225g unsalted butter
• 140g soft brown sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• zest of one small orange
• 150g raspberry jam
• icing sugar, to dust

1. Grind the hazelnuts until fine. Mix with the flour, salt, cinnamon and cloves and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest and mix well. Fold in the dry ingredients and mix well (the dough will be very soft). Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to chill for a couple of hours, or overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Take chunks of the chilled dough. Work briefly to soften it, then roll out the dough to 1/4 inch and cut shapes with a star or fluted cutter. Bake half the cookies until just lightly browned at the edges (10-12 minutes depending on size). In the meantime, remove the centres from the other half of the cookies with a smaller cutter, then bake those (they will need a little less time in the oven). Repeat until all the dough has been used, remembering that for every base, you need a top cookie.

4. Once the cookies are cooled, it’s time to assemble them. Put the jam in a saucepan. Heat until runny, then pass through a sieve (or use seedless jam). Allow to cool until thickened, then spoon a little jam onto the basis. Smooth with a spoon, then add the top layer. When all the cookies are done, dust lightly with icing sugar – any sugar that lands on the jam will dissolve, leaving perfect festive shapes.

Worth making? Yes! These are rich, delicious, and while they take a little time, they are fairly easy to make. You also get a large batch for little effort, and they store well in case of unexpected guests.

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{1} Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles

Ho ho ho! It’s that time of year again when we tackle the various baking challenges that the festive period has to offer. Over the last few years, I’ve done the “Twelve Days of Christmas Baking” challenge, which basically sees me take on an insane amount of biscuits, cakes, cookies and breads in the month of December. I did it first in 2011, vowing at that stage that I probably wouldn’t do it again. Of course, I had another bash in 2012, and so it’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition. So, here goes again!

For my first festive bake, I’ve had a go at a traditional American favourite, the chocolate crinkle cookie. Think of these as basically mini-brownies. This does make the dough a little tricky to work with (you need to keep it as chilled as you can while working with it) but the result is fantastic – soft, slightly chewy and incredibly rich and quite indulgent at this time of year. The perfect little treat with a mug of coffee when you come inside from a brisk walk in the crisp winter air.

However, the real magic here comes from rolling the dark balls of dough in icing sugar. During baking, the cookies expand, and create the cracks that are the hallmark of these cookies. The contrast of snowy white icing sugar and the rich chocolate looks really striking.

crinkles

The traditional way to make these cookies seems to be just with chocolate. However, I happened to glance at a jar of Nutella as I was rummaging in the baking cupboard, and thought it might be nice to add some hazelnuts to the mixture for some extra flavour. If you don’t want to do this, just replace the ground hazelnuts with flour, but I think it is worth doing. It certainly adds a little extra something to the final result.

I’ve also got a top tip for getting these cookies to look great – it really does make a difference if you keep the dough as cold as you can when working with it. My initial batches looked perfect. However, I left the last batch to sit out a little too long, and so the dough was not as cold as it could have been. As a result, the combination of all that butter and chocolate can mix with the icing sugar and leave the cookies looking less snowy and more brown. However, they will still taste amazing!

To make Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles (makes around 40):

• 225g dark chocolate
• 100g plain flour
• 50g ground hazelnuts
• 55g cocoa powder
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoons salt
• 115g butter
• 240g light brown sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 80ml milk
• 100g icing sugar, sieved

1. Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Leave to melt, the put to one side and allow to cool to lukewarm.

2. Next, prepare the dry ingredients. Mix and sieve the flour, ground hazelnuts, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and light brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, and beat well.

4. Beat the melted chocolate into the butter/sugar mixture. Make sure the chocolate is not too warm, otherwise it will cause everything to melt.

5. Add the flour to the chocolate mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk until everything is just mixed.

6. Cover the bowl in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge, ideally overnight.

7. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

8. Cut a quarter of the chilled dough and remove from the fridge. Take generous spoonfuls of the mixture, rolling each into a ball. If you’re obsessed about getting everything perfect, you can weigh each piece using digital scales (I did, with each being 20g…). Put the balls onto a plate and return to the fridge for 10 minutes.

9. Remove the balls from the fridge and roll each in icing sugar. If any chocolate is showing through, re-roll until covered.

10. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving space for them to expand. Bake for around 12-14 minutes until they have flattened a little and the sugar has cracked. Remove from the oven when done, let them sit for a moment, then allow to cool on a wire tray. Repeat with the rest of the mixture until it has all been used up.

Worth making? This recipe does take a little time, but it is fairly easy and the result is both visually stunning and absolutely delicious. Well worth making!

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Bonfire Night Flapjacks

If you’re planning to go to a Bonfire Night celebration, then chances are you’ll be looking for something to munch on as you’re looking skywards to take in the fireworks.

With this in mind, I’ve played around with my go-to flapjack recipe to make it a bit more seasonal. In addition to the usual butter, sugar and oats, I’ve also added some spices as well as a rather random selection of things from the store cupboard – pumpkin and sunflower seeds, apricots, dates, sultanas, hazelnuts and spelt flakes. The result is sticky, delicious and has a very autumnal flavour. It also takes about ten minutes to make, so it is incredibly easy to whip up in a hurry. Just to make the point, I’ve got the recipe below – and you’ll see that all the “extras” are measured either by the teaspoon or by the handful.

bonfire_flapjack

If you’re keen to have a go yourself, you really don’t need much more than sugar, butter and rolled oats. Otherwise, just add whatever you want (or more realistically – whatever you have in the cupboard). Dried fruits work very well, as do nuts and seeds. The one unusual thin on the list is spelt flakes – I love using these in flapjacks as they stay very crisp and add some interesting texture. It’s actually taken me a while to track them down – I used to be able to buy then in a shop in Stoke Newington, but have not found them in Clapham. Lucky for me I stumbled upon a new Wholefoods store near Piccadilly Circus, so I’ve now got easy access to all manner of weird and wonderful ingredients. Result!

So there you have it – a quick and fairly healthy idea for Bonfire Night, or just to enjoy during a quiet moment with a cup of tea.

To make Bonfire Night Flapjacks (makes 16):

• 175g butter
• 175g soft brown sugar
• 40g (2 tbsp) golden syrup
• pinch of salt
• 200g rolled oats
• 45g (3 handfuls) sultanas
• 35g (3 teaspoons) candied ginger
• 20g (2 handfuls) pumpkin seeds
• 15g (1 handful) sunflower seeds
• 20g (2 handfuls) spelt flakes
• 40g (1 handful) apricots, chopped
• 25g (1 handful) hazelnuts, chopped
• 25g (1 handful) dates, chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a 20cm (8 inch) square baking tray or cake tin with non-stick paper.

2. Put the butter, sugar, syrup and salt (if using) in a pan. Heat gently until the butter is melted, and then boil for one minute. Add the candied ginger and mix well.

3. In a large bowl, mix all the other ingredients. Add the butter/sugar mixture and stir well. Put into a tray, spread the mixture evenly, press down and bake for 20 minutes. It should have a rich brown colour when done.

4. Once the mega-flapjack is cooked, let it cool completely, then turn onto a chopping board and cut into pieces.

Worth making? Absolutely! This reicpe is incredbily easy to make, tastes delicious, and can be

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Dukkah

Six months ago, I had never heard of dukkah. Since then, it seems to be all over the place. I’ve seen it on quite a few blogs, in newspaper recipe sections and in a couple of restaurants. No doubt the oh-so-trendy shops of Stoke Newington Church Street will be stocking the stuff soon. So I’m finally taking the hint…there is clearly some sort of dukkah trend happening, so let’s try it out.

Dukkah 101: what is it? Basically, ground-up stuff. Nuts, seeds and spices. It originates in Egypt, and it does indeed have a heady flavour and aroma that suggests that part of the world.

Now, a little digging seems to suggest to me that the list of ingredients above is about as comprehensive as it gets.

There seem to be literally dozens of ways to make dukkah (or dukka…or duqqa…seems there are lots of ways to spell it too), and I can imagine that many proud Egyptian cooks have their own favourite (and most likely secret) ways of making it.

You might use hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or more exotic nuts like cashews or macadamia nuts. There might be sunflower seeds in there. Perhaps chickpeas. Do you have pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard seeds, coconut? Well, all depends on what you like. Nigella seeds? Why not. Fennel? Perhaps. Whatever you’re using, just make sure it’s toasted if necessary, then ground up. And that, as they say, is that.

For my version, I decided not to do any forward planning. I would wing it. Let’s see what’s in the house, and then hope for the best. It was a very dreary Saturday morning, so actually the best time to make something that brings flavours and aromas of far-off places.

For the nuts, I used hazelnuts and pistachios, which I toasted lightly in the oven. I also had a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds, so they also went into the oven for a few minutes. I thought I also had almonds, but no – I must have used them all up, so they were not going to be used today. Winging it, remember!

I also dry-roasted a few things in a saucepan. Sesame seeds, nigella (black onion seeds), fennel and cumin seeds. I also added a bit of black pepper, Piment d’Espelette and sea salt.

With things at various stages of toastedness, I got to grinding them. The spices were pretty finely ground. For the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and the nuts, I worked to the rule of thirds – one-third fine powder, one-third moderately ground, and one-third in small chunks. It’s a rule in so far as this is what I did. Not sure that it is a real culinary rule, or even a tenet of making good dukkah. But it worked.

Having made what is essentially a large bowl of spiced nut powder, I now needed a way to eat it.

Well, use it whenever you need to add a little flavour.The simple option is to serve it with bread and olive oil (dip bread in oil, then in the dukkah, then marvel at the taste). Just avoid getting too much oil into the dukkah bowl. This stops the dukkah sticking to the bread, and I suspect that this would be regarded as terribly bad form in a Cairo café. The lesson? Keep your powder dry!

Or make hummus or some other dip, and sprinkle the dukkah all over it. Or take cubes of soft cheese or feta and coat with dukkah. Or add spoonfuls to a green leafy salad, add a simple vinaigrette and enjoy the rich flavours that the dukkah adds.

You might just sense from this that I really like this stuff. I’ve found that it makes a great condiment, and while it’s got salt and pepper in there, it also adds interesting new dimensions to foods. You also find that you get different flavours with each mouthful. An aromatic moment from the nigella seed, a flash of hotness from the paprika, then the warmth of cumin seeds.

The recipe looks long, but just because I’ve tried to make it clear what’s happening and a few tips to make sure everything turns out great. But I reckon you could go from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, and that’s only because you need to let the nuts cool down. Happy grinding!

To make dukkah:

Note: this is just a guide, adapt spices to your own tastes!

• 100g (approx. 1  cup) nuts (I used pistachios and hazelnuts)
• 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
• 50g (1/3 cup) sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika or Piment d’Espelette

Set the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Put the nuts on a baking tray, and put the sunflower seeds on another tray. Toast in the oven until the nuts are fragrant and lightly coloured, and the sunflower seeds are golden brown (be careful – seeds are done before the nuts so come out sooner!). When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Next, toast the sesame seeds – put them into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Keep stirring the seeds until they are golden and smell toasted. Remove from the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool (if you leave them in the pan, they will keep cooking and might burn).

Finally, toast the spice seeds. Put the nigella, fennel and cumin into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the seeds start to “pop”. Take off the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool.

Now, the fun part. Using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or a food processor, grind everything! Grind the spices finely, but for the seeds and nuts, aim to have some ground to a very fine powder, but leave some just barely crushed – this adds a bit of visual interest and texture to the finished dukkah.

Store in a large jam jar in a dark place.

Worth making? This really is a very simple but very delicious condiment for the table. It’s great to spice up and enrich dips, salads, sandwiches etc, and it great if you like interactive appetisers.

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Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte

I’m not going to write very much today…

…instead, I’ll just tell you a little about this Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte and let your imagination and the pictures do the rest: it is made from layers of chewy meringue made with toasted hazelnuts, filled and topped with a rich chocolate ganache, and finished with a rich salted caramel sauce, studded with hazelnuts dipped in caramelised sugar.

Hopefully by now you’re drooling with notions of rich, decadent luxury.

Just a couple of tips: be sure to use good-quality hazelnuts, and do toast them lightly. This will release their full, rich flavour. Use a dark rather than milk chocolate for the ganache – the meringue is quite sweet, so you want something to counter that. And make sure to use salt in the caramel topping. Yes, salt. It takes the caramel from being sickly-sweet to something that is rich and  sophisticated. All this, and it’s gluten-free – not even a dash of wheat flour comes near this torte.

The recipe below looks quite elaborate, but each stage is quite easy. You can even skip the caramel on top, and it is still richly delicious.

Tempted yet? You should be!

To make a Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte:

I know this looks quite long and labourious, but it’s actually three relatively easy stages – I’ve just tried to set out what happens and what to watch out for as you’re going, so you don’t get any surprises.

For the layers:

• 4 egg whites (120g)
• 225g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vinegar
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two 20cm (8 inch) cake tins with greaseproof paper (I recommend double-lining them – this prevents burning.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Add the sugar in 4-5 batches, whisking very well after each batch. Keep mixing until you have a stiff, glossy mixture.

Stir in the vinegar and vanilla, then fold in the ground hazelnuts. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins. Spread level, and bake for 45-50 minutes until crisp (it won’t puff up much, if at all). The surface will develop to a light beige, but should not get brown.

Once the meringue layers are ready, remove from the oven, and leave to cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache filling and topping:

• 300g double cream
• 150g dark chocolate
• 1 scant tablespoon caster sugar
• 1-2 drops vanilla extract

Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Stir and put to one side.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Leave to cool until lukewarm. Pour the chocolate into the cream mixture and whisk immediately. The mixture will quickly thicken into chocolate whipped cream (takes only a few seconds, so act quickly and do not over-whisk!).

Spread half the filling over the base meringue. Put the second layer of meringue on top, and add the rest of the chocolate cream  Finish as desired – smooth, swirly or peaks. If you are going to add the caramel on top, then make peaks around the edge to keep the caramel from dripping off the top.

Store the filled torte in the fridge, removing about 30 minutes before serving.

For the caramel:

• 150g white sugar
• 2 tablespoons water
• 150g double cream
• 25g butter
• fleur de sel/kosher salt, very finely ground

Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water. Cook on a medium heat until the water has evaporated, and the sugar turns to a light caramel (watch like a hawk – it goes from golden caramel to bitter and burnt in a matter of seconds).

Pour about two-thirds of the cream into the caramel, and stir vigorously. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble up. Add the butter, and stir well. Leave to cool for around 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the cream, and add salt to taste – this really is matter of personal judgement, but it is easy to add to too much, so little by little is the way to do it.

Leave the caramel until completely cool. It should flow, but be very thick (if too thick, add a teaspoon of cream and stir well). Pour or drizzle over the chilled torte.

To make caramelised hazelnuts:

• 100g white sugar
• 2 tablespoon water
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted

Put sugar into a saucepan with a little water. Cook until you have a light caramel. Add the nuts, mix quickly, and transfer to a non-stick baking sheet. Using a fork (because they’re very hot!) separate the nuts. If the caramel is too hard, put the lot into a hot oven and it will soften.

Worth making? Indeed! I made this for a party – it lasted about 5 minutes on the table.

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Dark Chocolate Tiffin

For the last couple of weeks I have wanted to start on the Christmas baking. The temperature has dropped, the leaves on the trees have turned various shades of red and gold, and, well, it just feels like time to get started. That, plus I just know that starting with the festive cookies has got to be more fun than fixing insulating film to the rickety old sash windows in my house.

But rather than give in to this urge by late October, I thought I would have a try at chocolate tiffin instead. If you grew up in the UK, this was a rainy-day staple to make by kids, as it doesn’t involve baking and can be eaten pretty quickly (and it usually was). As a happy compromise, I made a version with a lot of the things that would usually go into Christmas bakes (nuts! dried fruit! chocolate! candied peel!).

As with so much of baking, I think getting good results has to start by using good ingredients, so I made it my mission on a chilly evening to source decent quality items to use in this batch tiffin, something like a quick-and-easy version of panforte.


But while tiffin might be easy, but I still thought quite a lot about what I would put in it. Aside from the tasty fruit and nuts, I ummed-and-aahed about using salted or unsalted butter. I normally use unsalted butter in baking, but here I thought that slightly salted butter might be a good idea. The hint of salt would (should?) combine with the chocolate and the syrup, and – at least in theory – provide a touch of kitchen magic to enhance the various flavours.

Tiffin is also quite a useful thing to have in your baking repertoire because you don’t bake it. This means it is incredibly helpful when you need to make something, for later, but you don’t have time to make a cake and wait for it to bake. So just chop, melt, mix and whack in the freezer. Job done, head off into town to shop/take in some gallery art/walk, then come back and it’s good to go.

How it is? So unhealthy and so delicious. I love it. Full of festive flavours, different texture from dried fruits, nuts, crunchy biscuits and velvety chocolate. My tip would be to make it for special occasions, and to cut into small pieces to serve with coffee or afternoon tea, while resisting the temptation to keep picking away at it.

To make dark chocolate tiffin:

• 50g blanched almonds, toasted
• 50g blanched hazelnuts
• 50g candied peel
• 80g glacé cherries
• 80g sultanas
• Zest of an orange
• 225g biscuits (digestives, ginger nuts or Hobnobs)
• 150g dark chocolate
120g (4 tablespoons) golden syrup
• 170g butter
• Sunflower oil, for greasing the tray

Prepare a loose-bottomed square baking tin (mine was 20 x 20cm) by rubbing lightly with a little sunflower oil.

Roughly chop the hazelnuts and cut the almonds into slivers. Roughly chop the cherries and candied peel. Combine the nuts, candied peel, cherries, sultanas and orange zest in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, crush the biscuits with a rolling pin. Aim for 1/4 reduced to crumbs, and the rest in pieces of 1-2cm. Combine the biscuits with the fruit and nut mixture and mix well (I hands the best way to do this).

In a saucepan, heat the chocolate, golden syrup and butter until melted. Stir well, then add the dry ingredients and combine.

Pour the mixture into the tray and spread out. Smooth out the tiffin as best you can (however hard you try, it will look rather “rustic”). Transfer to the fridge and chill for at least two hours until the tiffin is firm. Easier to cut into slices while cold, but best served at room temperature.

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Hazelnut Baklava and a reassessment

Last week, I tried out a new baklava recipe which uses pureed orange rather than nuts for the filling (see here). Claims were made that is was the best ever.

Well…I’ve since done a little thinking about it, and I am not sure that it really was the best baklava I have ever had. You see, over the weekend, I made a batch of “traditional” baklava which used ground hazelnuts for the filling, with the addition of a few walnuts and pistachios. Not some moment of inspiration. It is just that I have been a bad, bad cook and not properly re-stocked the cupboards lately – I ran out of hazelnuts and had to make do. But this is my favourite baklava recipe, and in my view, the way baklava should be. Nutty, fragrant and very sticky. Oranges are good, but nuts are better.

In making it, the nuts are ground, but not too finely. The are mixed with soft brown sugar, and then I add some cinnamon, orange blossom water and rose water. This results in a rich, fragrant filling. This goes into a tray with filo pastry, bake until golden, and then cover in a sugar syrup. I vary the syrup sometimes, using brown sugar for a honey-like syrup with orange blossom water and rose water, or even adding a spoonful of good honey for flavour. As the filling is dry, it soaks up the syrup, so once you bit into it, the filling is moist and the syrup oozes out in your mouth so that you can taste the flavours. Heavenly.

So, as a result of my thinking, I put the orange baklava into the “dessert” category, and it was nice, but my “normal” nut baklava into the dessert/coffee/treat category, and see this as something that you can serve any time. The bonus is that as it is not “moist” like the orange recipe, it stay crisp and lasts longer. In fact, the only problem I ever have with this is that it is hard to stop at just one piece!

For the sugar syrup:

• 75ml water
• 175g sugar (white or brown, but brown will alter the taste)
• 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water

In a saucepan, heat the sugar, water and lemon juice until it comes to the boil. Allow it to boil for three minutes. Now add the orange blossom and rose waters, boil for a few seconds, and remove from the heat.

Allow to cool before using on the baklava.

For the baklava:

• 200g hazelnuts (or a combination of nuts – almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios)
• 100g soft light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon rose water
• 12 sheets of filo pastry
• 75g unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grind the nuts. We want them to be medium-fine – if they are ground too finely, the resulting filling will be very dense. Combine with the sugar and cinnamon, then add the orange blossom and rose waters and mix well. Set aside.

In a dish (I used one 21 x 28cm), cover the base with a little melted butter, then add a sheet of filo. Butter the filo, then add another sheet. Continue until you have six sheets of filo in the dish. Add the filling, and spread out. Be gentle so you don’t break the pastry. Now add the rest of the pastry, in each case adding a layer, covering with melted butter, then adding the next. Finish by covering the last sheet with butter.

Cut the baklava into shapes – long rectangles, diamonds, squares. Do this carefully with a sharp knife. You might want to leave a border of “scrap” baklava where the pastry is a bit scrappy at the edges. This means the final result is neater, and as the cook, you get to enjoy this “angel’s share”.

Bake the baklava for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden. When done, remove from the oven, allow it to sit for a minute, then pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Be sure to get the syrup in between each cut. If you see syrup forming pools in some areas, don’t worry – it will all be absorbed.

Allow the baklava to cool fully before serving.

Worth making? Of the two recipes I have done, this is by far my favourite. Using filo might seem a bit daunting, but it is actually a breeze, provided that you’ve prepared everything else. The result is also spectacular – it’s really simple, and nothing so simple should taste so good. If you’re thinking of this recipe, I urge you to give it a try.

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