Tag Archives: hazelnuts

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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