Tag Archives: marzipan

Marchpane for Lovers

I’m probably not the world’s greatest romantic, but even I’ve gotten into the Valentine’s mood this year, and made something inspired by the theme of romance. However, if you’re familiar with any of my previous offerings, you’ll know that I’ve tended to shy away from pretty pink cupcakes. I’ve variously made a deep red beetroot risotto, a bittersweet red salad, and most dramatically, a dessert which looks like something has chewed out a heart and abandoned it in the snow.

This year, I’ve eased back on the drama, and instead drawn inspiration from an era in English history with which it seems that everyone (or at least everyone in television working on historical dramas) is obsessed. Yes, we’re off to Merrie Olde Tudor England to sample a sweet delight called marchpane.

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So what is marchpane? It is a very simple confection, which is something of an ancestor to our modern marzipan. It consists of almonds which were finely ground, and then mixed with sugar which had been worked to a powder. Everything would then be mixed with rosewater, and the resulting firm paste could be moulded into intricate shapes, and then coloured or gilded. And those Tudors didn’t do things by halves…there are tales of whole golden swans made from marchpane, covered with gold leaf, and on one occasion, Queen Elizabeth I was presented with a model of Old St Paul’s Cathedral made from marchpane. Apparently, she was impressed.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s an original recipe from Robert May’s “The Accomplisht Cook” which dates from 1660:

To Make a Marchpane: Take two pound of almonds blanched and beaten in a stone mortar, till they begin to come to a fine paste, then take a pound of sifted sugar put it in the mortar with the almonds, and make it into a perfect paste, putting to it now and then in the beating of it a spoonfull of rose-water to keep it from oyling; when you have beaten it to a puff-paste, drive it out as big as a charger, and set an edge about it as you do a quodling tart, and the bottom of wafers under it, thus bake it in an oven or baking-pan; when you see it white, and hard, and dry, take it out, and ice it with rosewater and suger, being made as thick as butter for fritters, so spread it on with a wing feather, and put it into the oven again; when you see it rise high, then take it out and garnish it with come pretty conceits made of the same stuff.

It’s fair to say that this is not a “recipe” as we would know it today! This is a bit more of a vague description, and the fact that we’ve got some quantities in there (two pounds of almonds, a pound of sugar) is apparently quite unusual for that time. But otherwise, this seems like a fairly straightforward recipe to modern eyes. Just take two parts ground almonds to one part icing sugar, add rosewater, shape it and bake. Job done!

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Except…it was not that easy for your average Tudor baker, who didn’t have easy access to ground almonds. They would need to make them. And I suspect almonds did not come pre-blanched, so they would have to remove the skins. And all of this would take time. All very easy in our modern kitchens to boil the kettle, then pop a pan of water on the stovetop to skin the almonds, but less straightforward in a mediaeval setting. So once you have your almonds, skinned and dried, you need to grind them down. And no blender of coffee grinder then…more likely than not, it involved either a mortar and pestle or a hammer and a muslin bag!

Having sorted the almonds, we then come to the sugar. Today, we’ve got bags of lovely, fluffy, white icing sugar which you can use right away. So pity the poor Tudor confectioner, who had to take a solid cone of sugar, chip away at it to get manageable pieces, then use even more elbow grease to grind those pieces down to a fine powder to use in marchpane. All in all, a lot of time spent turning things into powders and pastes. And don’t assume it would be some kitchen serf doing all the work – I remember seeing a programme on the Tudor kitchen which claimed that it would often be left to noble ladies in the royal household to work with sugar, as it was still something of an expensive luxury at that time.

You might think that I’m labouring all this a bit, but I just want to point out that while marchpane might look easy to us, it included a couple of fairly expensive ingredients (foreign nuts, imported luxury sugar) and a lot of time, so this was not a sweetmeat to be enjoyed by the masses. Hence the fact it was made into elaborate showstoppers and covered in gold, as one does when trying to impress!

But that is enough history. In terms of actually making the marchpane, I was able to skip all the hard work, so I found making marchpane a doddle. Just mix the ground almonds and the icing sugar, then add rosewater to bind it. This is really the only tricky bit that you will face these days – if you over-work the marchpane mixture, or do it when things are too warm, the almonds will release their oil and the mixture will seem to “split”. I tested this on a small piece, and it does happen quite easily, so once you’re happy with the texture, try to handle it as little as possible and keep it cool, as there is no way to fix the marchpane (but you can still use it for something else). Once you’ve got the right texture, just roll it out and start shaping it as you fancy.

As you can see, I went for a round tablet, inspired by the way that petticoat tails are made, to be decorated with red beading and golden hearts, which I thought ended up looking a little bit like a Tudor rose. I made the hearts separately from thinly-rolled marchpane, so I’m happy to report that if you wanted to make these are individual sweets or wedding favours, then this is entirely possible. Alternatively, you can decorate the top with candied fruit and citrus peel, and sugared almonds and “comfits” (sugar coated seeds like aniseed and caraway). As you can see below, I also made a few marchpane hearts as separate sweets – and I couldn’t resist making one golden broken heart…

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It is worth saying a couple of things to note about flavours here. First, make sure you’ve got the right sort of rosewater. It should be the dilute stuff which has a mild flavour, not the very concentrated rose extract. You want a hint of rose, not something that tastes of soap! If you’ve got the strong stuff, just dilute it with water and use that to bind the marchpane. Second, there is actually something that I did not include in this recipe – almond extract. This is often used to boost the flavour of sweet almonds in baked goods, but I decided to leave it out here. This was quite deliberate – none of the traditional recipes suggested this, and I wanted the marchpane to have a more subtle flavour.

And finally…how did it all taste? Well, actually really nice. Slightly sweet, nutty with a slightly toasted flavour, and a hint of rosewater. Maybe those Tudors knew a thing or two about sweets after all.

To make Marchpane:

For the marchpane:

• 200g ground almonds
• 100g icing sugar
• rosewater

For decoration:

• 100g icing sugar
• rosewater
• natural food colours
• gold or silver leaf
• gold or silver dusting powder

To make the marchpane:

1. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a large bowl. Mix with a whisk to combine (trust me – this works!).

2. Add rosewater, a teaspoon at a time, until you have a smooth paste. You’ll need around 6 teaspoons for this quantity but go with what you feel is right.  You can start with a spoon to mix everything, but you need to finish with (clean) hands to make a fairly stiff dough. It should not be sticky, and don’t over-work or it will turn oily.

3. Dust a worktop with icing sugar. Put the marchpane mixture on top, and roll out to about 1cm thickness. Use a plate as a template and cut into a circle. Transfer to baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Decorate the marchpane as you wish.

4. Roll up any scraps and use to make decorations – for example, roll thinly thin, then cut out heart shapes etc.

5. Bake the marchpane disc at 150°C (300°F) for around 25-30 minutes until it is just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

6. Bake any other pieces of marchpane until just starting to brown – they will take anything from 10-20 minutes, depending on size.

To decorate the marchpane:

7. Make the icing – mix the icing sugar with enough rosewater to make a fairly thick but flowing icing. Use this to ice the top of the marchpane disc. Try to give it three coats, allowing it to dry in between.

8. Ice the decorations – I made the hearts white, and then dusted them with gold powder when dry, and tinted some of the icing red to decorate the studs. Leave to dry.

9. Finally, assemble the marchpane – use any remaining icing to glue the various pieces onto the disc.

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{7} Saffron and Almond Buns

Right, enough with the biscuits! I think it’s time to broaden the festive fare, and move over the buns, and what buns they are! I’ve decided to make a “twist” on traditional Swedish lussebullar, the famous saffron buns served around St Lucia on 13 December, but I’ve made them in a spiral rather than the usual scroll shape. If you want to know more about this, I recommend this article on Foodie Underground by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall (who also did the fabulous illustrations) for some history on the buns and the Scandinavian traditions around the celebration of St Lucia.

This is actually an adaptation of my cinnamon bun recipe, but without the usual spices. Instead, the dough contains saffron, so it turns the most glorious shade of golden yellow when you’re making it. Really, it is almost worth doing just to see that bright, glowing colour. It will make you happy, honestly! Not only is it a treat for the eyes, but the aroma of the saffron is also quite intoxicating (if you happen to like saffron, of course).

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You could just make these without any filling (usually there is none in authentic lussebullar), but I got a tip from a reader, suggesting using grated almond paste and sultanas per a family recipe. In all honesty, I was  sold on this idea the moment I read about it, but could not resist a peek into my copy of The Flavour Thesaurus to check whether saffron and almonds are a “thing”.

Well, it turns out they are, the book confirming that almonds and saffron are a good combination. Apparently, it’s the bitter notes in saffron that marry well with the sweet-bitter flavours in almonds. I also happened to have half a bar of almond paste from making Bethmännchen a few days ago, so a perfect way to make sure it didn’t go to waste. In a nod to the original recipe, I skipped the sultanas in favour of currants, and I think they worked well – their smaller size suited these buns, and the contrast of the yellow and black looks really quite jolly.

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Of course, the important thing here is the taste test, and I am happy to report that my fake Scandinavia festive saffron buns are utterly, ridiculously delicious!

The saffron and almonds are fragrant, and they were amazing while fresh and still warm (or cheat – 10 seconds in the microwave if you’re a little late to the party). They also don’t need much by way of decoration – nothing more than a quick glaze when they come out of the oven to give them a lovely shine, but otherwise, they look stunning as they are. Bright and sunny, such a contrast to the grey chill outside. These would be a perfect addition to a festive brunch!

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In all honesty, I have to say that this is a bit of  cheat’s version of proper lussebullar. They are normally shaped into intricate scrolls or other shapes, and my roll-and-slice approach just skips all that. However, if you’re busy around Christmas and want something a little different, I really cannot recommend these highly enough.

To make Saffron Buns (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g white caster sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 0.5g saffron threads (a teaspoon)
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 325g strong white flour

For the filling:

• 100g currants
• 120g almond paste

For the glaze:

• 50g white sugar
• 50ml water

1. Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring the boil, remove from the heat, crush the saffron strands, add to the milk and leave the lot until lukewarm.

2a. If using a bread machine: put one of the eggs, the saffron milk and the rest of the dough ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

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

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Sprinkle over the currants, and grate the almond paste directly onto the dough. Roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

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

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Beat the remaining egg, and use to brush on the buns.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, turning half way if necessary. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

5. In the meantime, make the sugar glaze. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring to the boil and cook for 1 minutes.

6. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot sugar glaze.

Worth making? Just one word – sensational!

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{5} Bethmännchen

Some people love marzipan and almond-based sweets, and I should confess I’m one of them. I always think of marzipan as something with an air of the old world about it, no doubt as a mixture of ground almonds and powdered sugar mixed with rose water was a popular mediaeval confection is you had the substantial means necessary to buy the ingredients. Anyway, I was really happy to find out about Bethmännchen. These are little marzipan-based treats that originate from Frankfurt, and like all the best sweets, there is a bit of history about their creation.

Bethmännchen (meaning “little Bethmann”) are said to have been created in the 1830s for Simon Moritz von Bethmann, a prominent Frankfurt banker and city councillor, and were originally decorated with four almond halves to represent his four sons. When one of the sons died a few years later, the sweets were made with only three almonds as a mark of respect. Of course, like all the best myths, there are those that disagree – some suggest that Herr von Bethmann died well before the 1830s, others suggest Bethmännchen were around before him. Well, we’ll have to leave that one to the historians to sort out.

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Today, Bethmännchen are hugely popular in Frankfurt, particularly at the Christmas market. And I think they also look rather jolly – while they look like the might contain saffron, they are actually glazed with an egg yolk wash before baking, so they emerge from the oven with a glorious golden colour that really stands out among all the other biscuits and bakes at this time of year. Some versions even have a dash of rosewater, which I’ve added to my recipe below.

Making these sweets is actually very easy. You just need to prepare the ingredients, mix it all to a smooth paste, then roll into balls, add the almonds and bake. Indeed, the only tricky bit is splitting the almonds into halves – I found the best way was to blanch whole almonds in hot water, then peel them and use a sharp knife to split them while still soft. Whether you obsess about getting equally-sized pieces of the dough is up to you, but I weighed mine out (each piece was 14g).

One thing that is worth knowing is that you must get the right sort of marzipan, and sadly, the stuff you buy in most British stores has a high sugar to almonds ratio. For this recipe, you want something that is really 50/50 (also called almond paste) otherwise the resulting Bethmännchen will be too sweet, and you’ll have something that it a bit dry and brittle. I ended up using Odense Marzipan from Denmark (60% almonds), which I was able to pick up in Scandinavian Kitchen in central London. If you’re struggling, you can easily make your own marzipan at home with equal weights of icing sugar and almonds, and use a dash of rosewater, honey or glucose syrup plus a few drops of almond extract to bring it all together.

And the taste? I loved them. They are really not that sweet, but have an intense almond flavour and subtle hint of rose, more exotic than simply floral. The outside is firmer (indeed slightly crisp when freshly baked) and the interior is soft and marzipan-like. Very much an adult sweet!

To make Bethmännchen (makes around 30)

• 1 large egg, separated
• 60g plain flour
• 50g icing sugar

• 50g ground almonds
• 250g almond paste / raw marzipan(*)
• few drops of almond extract (optional) (**)
• few drop of rose water (optional) (**)
• 75g whole blanched almonds, split

(*) You need to get the right stuff – at least 50% almonds. If you use one with 20-25% almonds, the resulting Bethmännchen will be way, way too sweet. I used raw marzipan that was 60% almonds.

(**) The almond extract and rosewater are entirely optional. I find a few drops of almond helps bring out the flavour, and the rosewater adds a subtle extra fragrance, and makes for a very different bake to most festive fare. Just be sure to use both with caution – they are strong!

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and rub lightly with a dot of unsalted butter to prevent sticking.

2. Separate the egg. Reserve the yolk, and in a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg white.

3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, ground almonds and icing sugar. Break the marzipan into chunks and add to the bowl. Add the egg white. Work everything to a smooth dough (it should be firm but will still be sticky). Add a little more flour or ground almonds as needed.

4. Divide the dough into 30 pieces (if you have more or less, not the end of the world). Press 3 almond halves into the sides of each ball. Transfer the Bethmännchen to the baking sheet. You may want to bake them in two batches so they cook evenly.

5. Make the glaze – mix the egg yolk with one tablespoon of water, and glaze the Bethmännchen.

6. Bake for around 15 minutes until the cookies look golden and slightly puffed.

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{7} Frankfurter Brenten

I realised that this year, I’ve done quite a lot of posts that require some strange/odd/niche ingredient, which is of course not great if you want to try something at home and don’t have all manner of strange powders in the house with which to perform culinary magic.

Today’s recipe is one that looks very fancy, but is actually made with rather more humble ingredients (or as humble as I get in the kitchen). But just to make sure that these biscuits still look very jolly, I’ve made them using biscuit presses, and finished them with a dusting of edible gold lustre, of which more later. Rather fetching, aren’t they?

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These cookies are called Frankfurter Brenten. They are made from a soft dough made that contains marzipan, sugar and egg whites, plus a dash of orange blossom water. This gives you a dough that is finer and easier to mould than plain marzipan, allowing you to get some very fine details. I made these using an oak leaf motif, and I think it looks fantastic. There is something about the shape that seems very fitting for Christmas.

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If you want to make these cookies without using a press, then I’ve got a few suggestions. First, have a look for something in the house with a pattern – think dominoes or printing blocks. If you are at a vintage market, a Victorian block with a festive pattern would look superb (just make sure they are not made from lead, and that they don’t still have ink in them!). Alternatively, look for things with a texture that you can press onto the rolled dough, then cut out shapes using normal cutters. The only limit I found is that very tiny biscuits will puff up too much in the oven, one side will expand faster than another, and they won’t look too pretty. I think you could remedy this by baking at a very, very low temperature or just stick to making larger Brenten.

Once baked, you could leave the Brenten plain, but I wanted to decorate them in gold. I though the design I had used had the look of medieval carvings, like the bosses you might see in the vaulted roofs of old cathedrals. They also reminded me of the Elizabethan marzipan tradition, and I wanted a nod back to that too. In Tudor times, a confection known as marchpane would be prepared from almonds and sugar. This mixture was bound with a little rose water, and the resulting paste could be fashioned into elaborate and intricate shapes. Think figures, pictures, fruit, swans, portraits. An essential part of the confectioner’s repertoire in those times, and essential to get right, as essentially whatever Good Queen Bess wanted in marzipan form, she more likely than not had to get, lest you wanted to risk being sent to the Tower of London. Given the ingredients, marchpane was a luxury (containing exotic almonds and sugar, out of the reach of all but the very wealthiest), and it was finished accordingly, often with real gold leaf. This was confectionery as art, and art that was intended to impress the great and the good.

Now, to be clear, I have not been so needlessly extravagant as to cover these biscuits with actual gold (we’ll leave that for another day when we’re feeling a little more flush with cash, which after holidays we are most certainly not) but to get a similar effect, I finished them off with a light glaze made with edible gold lustre dust, and then brushed some more of the dust of the details to produce almond confections that glow warmly under the Christmas lights. On a black plate next to the Christmas tree, they looked stunning, and almost too good to eat. So…feeling a little festive now?

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Now, for all of this splendour, how to they taste? The flavour is clearly strongly of almonds. I used quality (high almond) marzipan, but the result of the mixing and the baking is that the almond flavour seemed even more intense, which I loved. They are also incredibly rich, even ignoring that they are covered in what looks like gold, and they have a read wow factor. I look at them, and think wow! They’re a good biscuit to keep nibbling over a long period of time, not one to be wolfed down in seconds.

The texture was a little surprising. I thought they would be soft and slightly chewy, but I could not have been more wrong. They are dry-ish and firm, but have a slight crumble while eating. I think this texture is due to their size, shape and the fact I left them overnight to cure so that the surface would be dry and the details sharp. If you were to make smaller Brenten that were more cube or sphere-like, then I expect the texture would be different. But then, they would not look as truly awesome as these golden delights!

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To make Frankfurter Brenten (recipe from House on the Hill)

Makes 15-20, depending on size

• 55g plain flour
• 175g icing sugar
• 225g marzipan
• 1 teaspoon orange flower or rose water(*)
• 1 egg white, gently beaten

1. Mix the flour and icing sugar in a bowl. Grate the marzipan coarsely into the icing sugar. Mix briefly then rub the mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

2. Add the orange blossom/rose water and the egg white. Mix with your hands until you have a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for one hour.

3. Now shape the cookies. Dust a work surface with icing sugar, and roll out the dough to 1cm (1/2 inch) thickness. If using a cookie press, dust the top of the dough with icing sugar, then press away(**). If using a cutter, just cut out shapes. Trim the edges of the cookies, and transfer to a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.

4. Leave the cookies to dry, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, or as long as 24 hours.

5. To bake the Brenten, preheat the oven to 135°C (275°F). Bake the Brenten for 15-20 minutes until the “peaks” of the details are slightly browned. If you want to keep them white, place an empty baking tray on the shelf above during baking.

6. If you want to gild the Brenten, mix 50g of icing sugar with 2 teaspoons of water. Add some gold luster dust, and paint the surface of the cold Brenten. Leave to dry, then dust with the gold dust again. Job done!

(*) This means the water with a mild flavour. If you’ve got very intensely flavoured extracts, then dilute them one part flavour to three parts water. Otherwise the flavour is too strong, and it will be like eating perfume!

(**) Remember that as you press, the dough will be pushed out. It might be easier to cut the dough into pieces to match the press, then do the pressing, so that you don’t distort the images as you go.

Worth making? This is the sort of Christmas bake that you will adore if you are a fan of Marzipan. It’s also super-easy to make and the ingredients easy to get hold of. You can also make life easier by just shaping the dough by hand and making patters with forks that would look equally good. Pop the baked cookies under a very hot grill for 10 seconds or blast with a blowtorch for some extra browning on top!

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Diamond Jubilee: Battenberg Cake

I’ve just come back from central London, and the old city is looking rather glad, with bunting string across streets and Union Flags hung from just about everything you could imagine. All very, very British.

And this bring me to the Battenberg cake. This is just about the most British-looking cake you could probably imagine. I mean, what other nation would come up with something that has squares of different-coloured cake all wrapped up in marzipan?

That said, in all my years, I have never, ever, seen anyone actually make a Battenberg Cake. It seems that Mr Kipling has the market cornered on this one, and if you want one, you usually buy one. So today, I’m taking on the challenge.

As you might suspect, this is also a cake with links back to royalty. The name itself is a bit of a giveaway. Battenberg…sound familiar? Well, it’s clearly German, but let’s flip it round (so we’ve got Berg-Batten) and then translate it into English (Mountbatten). Sound familiar now? Yes, this it the family of Price Philip, the Queen’s husband. So basically, it’s a royal wedding cake.

The Battenberg Cake was originally created by chefs in the palace for the wedding of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (how’s that for a title?), a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg. So that is where the name comes from. And to make the link clearer, these were the grandparents of Prince Philip, so that’s were the surname comes from (even if it is now Mountbatten-Windsor). The marzipan link is apparently due to a British admiration for the German ability to turn this simple sugar-and-almond paste into works of art, and when called upon to impress royalty, they wanted to use it as a key part of the wedding cake. With that, a British afternoon tea classic was born.

So at the weekend, I got out my sieve, almond extract and marzipan, and tackled this cake. Before I started, I was a little apprehensive – I’ll freely admit that I’ve got a manifest preference for making things that should have a sort of rough rustic charm to them. If it consists of equal layers, right angles and smooth surfaces, that all seems…well…might it might not turn out too well.

So how do you make sure that things do turn out well? The secret seems to be not so much how you make the sponge, but how patient you are. Wait until it is completely cool, and you’ll be able to cut the cake into neat pieces to stick together with jam. If you can’t wait, and start slicing too soon, you’ll end up with lots of crumbs and a rather rougher (might I say rustic?) appearance. I found this helpful video by the Hairy Bikers, and I would urge you to follow their tips. I glued the cake together with apricot jam, but then brushed it all over the rolled-out marzipan. It worked, but it was  little but sticky to work with. Trust the men with beards!

I’m glad that I tried making this cake – it does take quite some time, but the result is a lovely, moist sponge with a delicate almond flavour and nice, rich coat of marzipan. Perfect for a fancy afternoon tea.

To make a Battenburg Cake (makes 10-12 slices)

For the cake:

• 175g butter
• 175g caster sugar
• 3 eggs
• 50g ground almonds
• 130g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• red natural food colouring

For the decoration:

• 250g apricot jam
• 400g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a 20cm square tin with greaseproof paper. Make a divider in the middle of the tin with more greaseproof paper (we’re going to make half plain and half pink sponge, so you need a divider for this).

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl. Mix well (best to use an electric beater) until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the salt, vanilla and almond extract. Fold in the flour and almonds and beat gently until smooth.

Put half the batter into another bowl. Add a little red food colour to tint the batter pink. You won’t need very much – I used one teaspoon, and the colour was very intense.

Fill one half of the cake tin with the plain batter, and the other half with the pink batter, separating with the greaseproof paper divider.

Bake the cakes for around 30-40 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

To assemble the cake:

First, I recommend watching the Hairy Bikers video (if you’re able to get access). It should explain all!

To put the cake together, take out of the tin and remove the greaseproof paper.

Put one cake on top of the other, and trim the long edges to that they are the same size and form a square shape. Next, cut each piece lengthways, so you have four long rectangles of cake – two pink, two yellow.

Next, put the jam and a tablespoon of water into a saucepan. Heat gently until just boiling, then pour through a sieve – you’ll need to use a spoon to push everything through, and you’ll end up with a smooth jam “glue” to use on the cake.

Now is time to assemble to cake. Brush one long side of a piece of cake with jam, and attach to another piece. Repeat with the two other slices of cake. Next, brush the large side of one of the “glued” cakes, and put the other on top. You should now have a cake “loaf” with the alternating squares of sponge cake.

Take the marzipan and roll out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar. Aim for a rectangle as wide as the cake is long, and long enough to go once round the cake. It should be around 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thickness.

Brush the whole cake with jam, then place on one end of the marzipan. Roll the cake along the marzipan, pressing lightly to make sure that it sticks properly. Keep rolling until the marzipan overlaps along one side.

Use a sharp knife to trim the marzipan until even, and then put onto a serving plate, with the seam on the bottom.

Before serving, cut a thin slice of either end to show the pattern of the sponge cakes.

Worth making? I was utterly stunned with just how amazing the home-made version of this cake turned out. The coloured part was perhaps a little too red, but it had a lovely moist texture, fragrant almond flavour and looked the part.

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Koninginnedag: Oranjekoek

You might have noticed that I’ve changed the blog header again. Do you recognise the famous figure?

If you’re still guessing, it’s Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Yes, we’ve reached that time of year again when we go all orange to celebrate the de facto Dutch National Day, Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day. We’ve seen orange-themed mini-cupcakes and boterkoek in previous years, and this time we’re taking it to the maximum – Queen Beatrix is  part of the House of Orange, so what could be more fitting than a cake named after them, the Oranjekoek?

So…Oranjekoek…that’s an orange cake, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s orange in the sense that it is named after the Principality of Orange (Oranje in Dutch) now located in France, rather than the fruit. However, to further confuse matters, it does contain lots of candied orange peel and orange zest, so it’s fair to say that it’s an orange Orange cake. Still with me?

The Oranjekoek itself originates in Frisia, the coastal region in the north of the Netherlands, and was traditionally served at weddings. And if you’re wondering, yes, Frisia is the place that gave the world the famous black-and-white Friesian cow.

In terms of texture, this is not a cake as we might think (soft, fluffy, clad in icing) but more like a firm traybake. You make a rather stiff dough, then knead in the orange peel and flavouring, and during baking, it puffs up a little. Traditionally it’s just the cake and a simple glaze, served with some cream. However, more modern versions also use marzipan in the middle, and I’ve got for this more bling-bling version.

So what do we put into Oranjekoek? I’ve mentioned the candied orange already, but another flavour is aniseed. Obviously you could use aniseed extract or powder, but you could get traditional and use gestampted muisjes (“crushed mice”). Now, rest assured this is less alarming that it first sounds. Muisjes are like sugared almonds, but much smaller and made with aniseeds. The stalk of the seed sticks out, so they look like mice. So these “crushed mice” will give the cake a light aniseed flavour. You may prefer to omit it, but I think the aniseed is essential to give the cake its flavour. Just the orange and marzipan would seem a little bit too much like a Christmas treat.

The glaze on top of this cake might look a rather shocking hot pink, but it’s actually all-natural thanks to a dash of beetroot juice. However, do be careful how much you use – I added a teaspoon of fresh juice, then discovered that it was concentrated. So keep that in mind, and aim for the traditional light pink, unless you’re a fan of the 80s neon look. And don’t worry – you don’t taste the beets.

When it comes to serving this cake, you need to go with tradition – cut into squares, then finish off with a squirt of whipped cream and a little candied orange peel. The Oranjekoek is fine on its own, but it’s even better with all that cream on top. Chances are you won’t make this often. So go with the cream.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, this is one of those recipes that is quite easy, but does take a little time, so I’ve posted it in the run up to Koninginnedag rather than on the day itself. So if you are tempted to make this one, you’ve got a bit of time to get organised. And while you’re at it, don your orange clothes and get celebrating!

To make Oranjekoek:

For the dough:

• 350 grams self-raising flour
• 225 gram caster sugar
• 25g butter
• 1 egg
• 50-100ml water (as needed)
• pinch of salt
• 2 teaspoons “gestampte muisjes” or 1 teaspoon ground aniseed
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 orange, grated zest only
• 75g candied orange peel

For the filling:

• 250g marzipan
• 3-4 teaspoons orange juice

For the glaze:

• 100g icing sugar
• few drops of beetroot or red grape juice
• water

To serve:

• 250ml double cream
• candied orange peel

Step 1: Make the dough.

Put the flour, sugar, butter, egg, water, nutmeg, salt and aniseed/crushed muisjes in a bowl. Knead with your hands until you have a smooth dough. Add the orange zest and candied peel. Mix well, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Prepare the Oranjekoek and bake it!

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and grease lightly with butter.

Roll out half the dough into a square and place on the sheet. Roll out the filling to the same size, and lay on top of the first dough square. Now roll out the rest of the dough, and place on top of the filling.

Bake the Oranjekoek for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to cool. This will catch the steam and help keen the top soft.

Step 3: Glaze the Oranjekoek

Mix the icing sugar, juice and enough water until you have a thick but spreadable icing (add a little water at a time – a few drops make all the difference). Spread over the cake and leave to dry for an hour.

To serve:

Cut into squares, and finish with whipped double cream and a few pieces of candied orange peel.

Worth making? This is quite an unusual cake, but it’s actually rather easy to make. The combination of white cream, orange peel and pink icing also means the whole thing looks great when you serve it. I might even go so far as to say that it’s fit for a Queen. Or at least Queen’s Day.

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Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Buns)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the filling:

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

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

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

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

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

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{8} Stollen

Today we’ve hit upon that rarest of Christmas goodies…something that contains no spice! That’s right – no cinnamon! Nutmeg is absent. Mace is but a stranger. Cloves are no-where to be seen. Cardamom-who?

Yes, it’s Stollen time, and frankly, this tasty treat has just so many other good things in there that you don’t miss the spices.

This is another of those traditional German festive bakes. It just affirms my belief that Germans are just very, very good at this stuff. Visit a German city at this time of year and there are biscuits galore, stalls selling piping hot Glühwein with a shot of rum, decorations, oom-pah music and a good measure of festive cheer. When I lived in Brussels, the trek over to Cologne or Aachen became an annual tradition.

As for the Stollen, this is a rich, yeasted loaf enriched with fruit, cherries, nuts and citrus peel. When it comes out of the oven, the whole thing is brushed with melted butter, then covered in icing sugar. Some recipes even call for the whole thing to be dipped in butter! However, there is also a little surprise. There is a big old seam of marzipan running through the loaf. I have a little theory that the way you eat Stollen says a little about you. I am a picker, nibbling bits of the bread, then ending up with the marzipan at the end. I also tend to dissect bourbon biscuits and custard creams in the same way…

This recipe also has a lot of symbolism and history. There are records and recipes in Germany as far back as the 1300s, and the marzipan wrapped in the dough symbolises the infant swaddled in cloth. I really like this idea of symbolism, and it is nice that these traditions are still with us, all these years later!

To make Stollen:

To make the dough:

• 150ml milk
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 tablespoon rum or water
• 50g sugar
• 115g butter
• 400g strong white flour

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast

Mix the milk, beaten egg and rum/water, and pour into the bread machine tin. Add the sugar and butter. Spoon in the flour and add the yeast. Run the dough cycle.

To shape and make the Stollen:

• Stollen dough
• 150g mixed dried fruit (sultanas, currant, raisins…)
• 75g glacé cherries, chopped
• 75g candied peel, chopped
• 50g slivered almonds
• 200g marzipan(*)

Knock back the dough, and turn onto a lightly floured worktop. Roll out to a large square. Spread the sultanas, cherries, candied peel and slivered almonds over the dough. Fold it in half, and then fold in half again. You should have all the “nice bits” safely in the dough, and a nice smooth outside.

Roll the dough again out to approx 25 x 15 cm (9 x 6 in). Form the marzipan into a long sausage and place in the middle of the dough(**). Fold the dough over the marzipan, tuck the ends, then flip over and put onto a greased baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. The seam should be on the bottom.

Leave in a warm place, covered with a damp teatowel, until doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). When ready, bake for around 30 minutes until golden (turn half way through if needed).

To finish the Stollen:

• 25g butter
• 50g icing sugar

Once the Stollen is ready, remove form the oven. Melt the butter, and use it to brush the warm Stollen. Cover with the icing sugar, and add another dusing of icing sugar just before serving.

(*) If you like soft, squidgy marzipan, mix it to a thick paste with a spoon or two of rum or water.

(**) You can form the marzipan into a round sausage (as I did) to get a disc of marzipan when you slice the loaf, or you can flatten it so you have a strip in each slice of Stollen.

Worth making? I have a long-held soft spot for Stollen, and I was impressed with just how easy it is to make. It tastes great, and makes a lovely lighter alternative to heavy Christmas cake. The lack of spice makes it good for those that prefer things a little milder, but you can of course still add a teaspoon or two if you’re really hooked on cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg.

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Dammsugare

Dammsugare. It’s Swedish for “vacuum cleaner”.

Really, over in Sweden, in old Stockholm town, they really do have a cake named after a household appliance.

Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of theories about how these things came to have such a curious name. The first (and probably more likely to be right) is that these cakes resemble the cylinders of old vacuum cleaners. The alternative is to do with what actually goes into them – no, not dust, but you do use cake crumbs. So…the story goes that these little fellows were created as a way of using up cake crumbs at the end of the day – they “vacuumed” them up, in a manner of speaking.


Origins aside, these are a real Swedish classic.

The “crumb” filling is a mixture of plain cake mixed with softened butter, cocoa and punsch. That’s punsch, not punch. It’s a Swedish liqueur made from Batavia arrack, which is sweet and flavoured with spices. If you can find it, use it, but otherwise, a glug of rum or spiced rum would do the trick. I am sure that the filling is probably sweeter if you use punsch rather than just rum, but the next stage will make that consideration one for purists only. For the filling is then wrapped in marzipan, and each end dipped in chocolate. Even the most ardent marzipan lover would have to admit that the stuff is darned sweet, so you’re not really going to be missing a little sweetness that you would have had from punsch rather than Caribbean dark rum.

What is great about these treats is that there is no baking required – if you’ve got to make them in a hurry, you can be done within the hour. It’s also good fun to make with kids, who will adore the mixing, the mess and the lurid green of the marzipan, although you might want to skip the booze.

And as for the green colour – I quite like them to be a lurid shade of green. I skipped the usual natural food colourings that I tend to favour and went for bright green. I don’t think they would have the same retro charm is they were a muted shade of delicate pistachio. These were shocking minty-green and all the better for it.

So there you go – you can make them in less than an hour, no real baking needed, and they look pretty. Great to enjoy with coffee as part of a morning fika…and for those sniggering, fika is the Swedish term for morning coffee. Perfectly innocent after all, eh?

To make dammsugare (makes around 10):

For the filling:

• 250g cake crumbs (e.g. vanilla sponge)
• 75g unsalted butter, softened
• 20g unsweetened cocoa powder
• 40ml punsch or rum

To decorate:

• 300g marzipan
• few drops green food colouring
• 200g dark chocolate

To make the filling:

Put everything into a bowl and mix well until you have a soft dough. It will be a little sticky and slightly crumbly. Form into 10-12 rolls.

To decorate:

Add some food colouring to the marzipan and knead well until evenly coloured. Sprinkle a worktop with icing sugar, and roll the marzipan into a long strip 2-3mm thick (you might find this easier in two or three batches).

Use the marzipan to cover the portions of dough – get a good seal on the underside, and pinch the end closed. Roll the marzipan-coated dough on the worktop to get a smooth finish. Keep going until all the dough pieces are covered.

Next, melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, and dip the ends of each dammsugare into the chocolate. If you want them to look professional with glossy chocolate, you can either temper the chocolate, or take the easy option – skip the tempering, and put the dipped dammsugare on a plate in the fridge to harden.

Worth making? Yes, they are quick, easy, fun and charmingly retro. Give ’em a try!

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Little Simnel Cakes

In keeping with the Easter theme, I’ve tried to make a traditional Simnel cake, but in miniature form. To to be clear, these are miniature cakes. Let’s just not use the work “cupcake”.

A Simnel cake is an Easter tradition – a spicy fruit cake which also includes a decent amount of marzipan. You probably have to love marzipan to want to eat Simnel cake, but if you do, you’ll love it. Circular reasoning, but true.

It has a long pedigree, first appearing in mediaeval times, and was originally associated with Mother’s Day, but with time, this has come to be linked with Easter. The Easter connection is also seen in how the cake is decorate with marzipan – there should normally be eleven marzipan balls on top, representing the true apostles, minus Judas. For rather obvious reasons.

The mixture itself is really simple to make, and can also be changed depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard and your personal preferences, provided you keep the quantities the same and don’t do silly things like replacing raisins with fresh pineapple. Dried fruit can be swapped out for another type of dried fruit, but sweet, juicy fruit could do all manner of things to the mixture. By all means experiment, but you’ve been warned. I used candied peel, sultanas and raisins, but a few chopped nuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries or even dried pineapple or mango would all work too.

The marzipan is the fun bit. Traditionally, the bright yellow marzipan is used, and by all means, go with that, but I prefer the look of white marzipan, which I think is rather more elegant.

Now, you do get a real marzipan hit with a Simnel cake. It’s not just on the cake, it’s in it too. You can either chop some into chunks and fold into the batter, or roll out a disc and place in between two layers of the uncooked cake batter, so that marzipan bakes into the cake. Then you finish the cake with another layer of marzipan and the marzipan balls, and finally – brush with egg white and pop under the grill to give the cake a lovely burnished golden look. Otherwise, use a handheld blowtorch to bring a little more finesse to the burnishing. There may be reason for this touch, but I don’t know what it is, beyond the fact that it’s traditional and looks rather pretty.

For the record, and for the curious, the recipe below can easily be scaled up to make a full cake (20cm diameter), but just be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Happy Easter!

To make mini Simnel cakes (10 mini cakes or one normal size):

For the cake:

• 300g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice or Lebkuchengewürz
• 120g butter
• 120g soft brown sugar
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/2 orange
• pinch of salt
• 3 tablespoons golden syrup(*)
• 300g mixed dried fruit (**)
• 50g chopped candied peel
• 2 eggs
• 100ml milk
• 200g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Grease and line a large muffin tray with paper cases.

Mix the flour and baking powder. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingers. Add the rest of the dry ingredients (spice, sugar and dried fruit) and mix well. Add the egg, golden syrup and milk. Stir well, then add until the mixture is soft but not runny, and drops easily from a spoon.

Put half the mixture into the muffin cases.

Next, divide the marzipan into pieces and roll into discs. Place one into each muffin.

Add the rest of the mixture on top of the marzipan, smoothe down, and place in the oven to cook for around 30 minutes (until an inserted skewer comes out clean). Leave the cakes to cool then decorate with the marzipan.

(*) If you don’t have maple syrup, use dark corn syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar or maple syrup.
(**) Currants, raisins, sultanas, cranberries, blueberries…whataever you want, as long as it’s dried.

For the decoration:

• 300g marzipan
• 3 tablespoons strained apricot jam or quince jelly

• 1 egg white

Use one-third of the marzipan to cover the cakes. It is easiest to use icing sugar to dust a worktop,  roll out the marzipan with a rolling pin, then use a circulate cutter to cut a circle for the top of each cake.

Brush the top of each cake with jam/jelly, then put the disc of marzipan on top. Smooth the marzipan, and if you want, use your fingers or a knife/spoon/fork to make a pattern round the edge.

Next, roll out balls of marzipan and arrange 11 on top of each cake. Brush the marzipan with a little egg white, then place under a hot grill or use a blowtorch to heat the marzipan until it is lightly browned.

Worth making? Yes – provided you’ve got the patience to do the fiddly marzipan on top, this cake is simple and delicious.

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