Tag Archives: pistachios

Chocolate & Nut Biscotti

By now you will have noticed that I get my ideas for my posts from a wide variety of places, events and travels. It’s great to come up with my own ideas, or my take on some of the classics, but it’s also nice to get a recipe challenge to test. And so I got a request from the good people at Titan Supper Club to have a bash at Italian biscotti. The challenge was a rich chocolate and nut version, which sounded excellent and here we are!

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First off, full disclosure. I’ve never made biscotti before. Saffron-flavoured biscotti are on my radar for (whisper it) Christmas baking, but the technique is new to me. I was vaguely aware of the need to form the dough into large sausage, part bake it, then cut into thin slices and bake further until they are dry. So were these cookies as easy as the theory would suggest?

The good news is that this is an absolute dream to make. You just mix up all the dry ingredients, add eggs, then fold in melted chocolate and nuts. Bake, cool, slice and bake again. Their slightly rustic appearance also makes them ideal for smaller kitchen hands who have lots of enthusiasm but who might lack a steady hand to make neat edges.

The original recipe suggested making these biscotti with hazelnuts, and I think this would be delicious (it’s the combination that makes Nutella great). However, I fancied trying something a little different, and went with a mixture of pistachios and pine nuts, to add different colours and flavours. The result looks great, with flashes of green and creamy white against the rich chocolate biscuit.

This is also a great recipe for chocolate lovers. The dough already contains cocoa, and is enriched with melted dark chocolate. This is rounded out with a dash of vanilla and some fresh orange zest. The aroma from these little treats during baking was sensational, and the flavour is fantastic.

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So what do you think? I’m thrilled with how they turned out. Perfect with a cup of tea or strong coffee on a warm day in the shade, with dreams of la bella Italia!

To make Chocolate & Nut Biscotti (makes around 25-30 cookies):

• 140g nuts
• 100g dark chocolate
• 300g plain flour
• 75g cocoa powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 200g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
• zest of 1 orange
• 3 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and grease lightly.

2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Put to one side.

3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the vanilla and orange zest. Add to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together. Add a drop of water if needed. Add the chocolate and mix well. Fold in the nuts.

5. On a lightly-floured worktop, shape half the dough into a long rectangular sausage (aim for about 22cm long, 8cm wide). Transfer to a baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

6. Bake the dough for 25 minutes (it should be puffed up). Remove and cool for 20 minutes. In the meantime, reduce the oven temperature to 160°C (320°F).

7. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into 1cm slices. Lay flat on the baking trays and bake for 20 minutes (10 minutes each side, turning over half-way). Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire tray.

Worth making? Definitely. If you’re a fan of chocolate and nuts, you’ll love these.

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Savoury Cake

Yes, yes, I know, it sounds so strange – a savoury cake?

This is exactly the reaction I had when watching a new series by the lovely Rachel Khoo, who runs a little restaurant in Paris from her studio apartment. How little? Well, she folds away her bed and can seat just two people in there. So while I think my kitchen is on the “bijou” side, I suspect she might be defying various laws of physics by producing lovely-looking food out of such a tiny space. Plus, she does it all while looking very chic and Parisienne, but happily for us, she’s a London lass at heart providing her take on classic French dishes.

So what is this savoury cake business? This is one of the recipes featured on the show. I’ll fess up to the fact I’ve never heard of this before, and my initial reaction was rather skeptical. I’ve often thought of savoury food, such as sauces, stews, soups, as being the sort of place where you can play fast and loose with the ingredients – a dash of this, a spot of that, and keep tasting to make sure you’re on the right track. In contrast, I tend to think of baking as being much more scientific – mix the same ingredients in one way and you get biscuits, another way and you end up with cake. Use the wrong quantifies, and things can go terribly wrong. Get the technique wrong, and you face collapsing macarons, sticky meringues of sunken cakes.

Coming at it from this perspective, the thought in my mind was…alors, le sucre? Yes, what would the absence of sugar mean here? I mean…how could this turn into a cake? How? How?

Well, let’s just think about what Rachel had to say on the subject. These things are (apparently) very popular in France, and so that alone should have given me some confidence. And her recipe looked fantastic – goat cheese, juicy prunes and pistachios struck me as a lovely combination, and the method did look very simple. Just whisk up the eggs, add milk, olive oil and yoghurt, then fold into the dry ingredients and bake. I imagined that the result would be something like a giant savoury muffin, studded with lots of flavoursome and complementary flavours. So…I crossed my fingers, baked one, and here it is:

I’m happy to report that this really is a delicious recipe. The crumb is soft and indeed very savoury, and it provides a medium for all the other flavours. In particular, the sweet-ish prunes and lightly acidic, tangy goat cheese were a great combination. I probably kept the chunks of cheese and prunes a little on the large side compared to the version that Rachel makes, but that’s only because I like them to be quite obvious when you cut the slices.

While delicious, this was actually ridiculously easy to make. I can definitely see myself making this a lot this summer. It’s a great way to make something for a picnic, it transports so easily, and you get lots of flavours in there. It also leaves lots of scope to adjust the recipe according to what you’ve got the cupboard or fridge – olives, nuts, cheese, dried tomatoes. You name it, it can probably go in here. I’m also going to try making half a batch to make into breakfast muffins, so I’ll let you know in due course how that goes.

And to response to my worries about what happens when you skip the sugar in a cake – it’s a cake, not perhaps as we know it in Britain, but very tasty nevertheless. Rachel has converted me.

To make a savoury cake (recipe slightly tweaked from Rachel Khoo)

• 250g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 150g soft goat cheese, cut into chunks
• 80g pistachios, chopped
• 100g soft prunes, cut into pieces
• 4 eggs
• 150ml olive oil
• 100ml milk
• 50g natural yoghurt
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper (no need to grease – the oil in the cake takes care of that).

Put the flour, baking powder, goat cheese, prunes and pistachio nuts in a bowl, and stir gently so that everything has a good coating of flour.

In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs until very light and fluffy. Stir in the milk, olive oil and yoghurt. Add the salt and pepper, and fold in the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to mix until just combined. Over-mixing is not good, and you don’t want to smash the cheese into smithereens.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 minutes – the cake should be golden and an inserted skewer should come out clean. If it starts to get too dark too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil for the rest of the baking time.

When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray.

Worth making? This is an unbelievably easy recipe. In case you doubt me, this is likely to be my summer staple for days out and picnics – customise the additional ingredients and you’ve almost got a whole meal in there to keep you going on busy sightseeing days. Highly, highly recommended!

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Pistachio and Honey Baklava

At the weekend, there was a very special celebration lunch. It was in honour of one of my friends, who was awarded an OBE, and we were round at her house to enjoy good food and great company. We also got to see the official video of the big day at Buckingham Palace. It was so funny to watch – incredibly grand and exciting, and nice to be able to share in the event.

This is my contribution to the lunch – a tray of pistachio baklava with an aromatic honey syrup.

This is based on my normal nut baklava recipe, but I wanted to make it a little more special. So I made the filling with mostly pistachios, and made the sticky syrup with a good measure of honey. Rather than just using pure honey (which could be somewhat overpowering) I replaced some of the sugar in the syrup with wildflower honey, and it came out just right in terms of the honeyness-to-nutiness ration.

Now, for a fancy event it needed to look fancy too. So I jazzed it up by presenting on my lovely metal Arabian-style plate (a bargain at the St Gilles flea market in Brussels this summer) and scattered the baklava with sliced pistachios and some dried pomegranate. Yes, dried pomegranate. This was news to me! Not something I had ever come across before, but the hostess was using them in another part of the meal, and I thought a few of the sweet-tart seeds would make a nice complement to the sweetness of the honey syrup.

We went hunting for the famed dried pomegranate up and down Stoke Newington High Street, but to no avail. Exhausted from all that pavement pounding, we sound some refreshment at the lovely new coffee house Fred & Fran and got chatting to one of the baristas. We mentioned the dried pomegranate, and he shouted down to the chef – had she heard of it? Nope, news to her too. So we shuffled off, bought a fresh pomegranate, removed the fleshy seeds and ended up drying them in the oven at a very low temperature. Needs must and all that!

So I hope you enjoy this recipe – I can’t really say how authentic it is, but it is very simple to make and it seemed to be pretty popular served with a scoop of milk gelato.

To make pistachio and honey baklava (makes around 24 pieces):

For the sugar syrup:

• 75ml water
• 125g white sugar
• 50g honey
• 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water(*)

In a saucepan, heat the water, sugar, honey and lemon juice until it comes to the boil and cook for a minute. 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:

• 150g pistachios
• 50g almonds
• 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), brush the base with a little melted butter, then add a sheet of filo. Brush with butter, then add another sheet. Brush with butter, and 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, brushing with melted butter, then adding the next. Finish by brushing the sixth sheet with butter.

Cut the baklava into pieces – long rectangles, diamonds, squares, or whatever whimsical shapes take your fancy. Do this carefully with a sharp knife and make sure to go all the way through to the base. You might want to leave a border of “scrap” baklava where the pastry is a bit untidy 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. Decorate with chopped pistachios and dried pomegranate seeds(**).

(*) By this, I mean the lightly aromatic rose water. If you have the much more intense rose extract, then use just a few drops and not a whole tablespoon!

(**) To dry pomegranate seeds – remove the red seeds from the white pith, and spread on a non-stick baking tray. Leave in the oven at 60°C (140°F) for several hours until the seeds are dry. They will remain slightly sticky but should keep their colour and not turn brown.

Worth making? This version of baklava is very fragrant, and there is just enough honey to make this seem like a very decadent treat. It is also very simple to make, and can be prepared ahead of time.

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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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Ashtalieh (Lebanese Cream Pudding)

There is a piece of dinner party wisdom which says you should not cook something you have never tried before, in case it all goes wrong and your guests hate you.

Alright, perhaps a little dramatic, but you get the idea and the theory behind it (*). Well, last New Year, I threw this concept to the wind, and made Ashtalieh as a dessert. It’s a smooth, creamy pudding, covered in softened nuts and a fragrant sugar syrup. I figured that my guests were sufficiently worldly to want to try anything, I was good at reading recipes and had an idea how they would work, and finally, this just sounded very, very delicious. That, and I had a couple of other desserts to serve, just in case it did go wrong.

Well, predictably enough, the curse of the “don’t get too bold and try something without testing first” fairy did actually strike in the end. Not so much a mistake or a disaster, but something unexpected did happen. I had used mastic gum in the recipe. It’s a marvellous fragrant, fresh-smelling resin from the Greek island of Chios, and I love it, but the amount I used (which, incidentally, was less than the amount the original recipe specified) was just too much. There was a too-strong pine taste in the cream pudding. Now, by the time I added nuts and the sweet syrup, it was actually quite nice, with the mastic gum providing an aroma rather than being the dominant flavour, and it was really quite delicious. Delicious, but it was drenched in syrup, which usually makes anything taste good. As I liked the pudding in general, I made a mental note about how to improve it next time I made it (i.e. bye-bye mastic).

And today, I unveil my version. The only tweak is an extra smidgen of sugar in the pudding and a complete lack of mastic gum. Result? Creamy, just a little aromatic, rich and luxurious. Mastic gum, it’s nothing personal, but you deserve to be the star of the show, so I will leave you to sparkle in loukoumi instead (**). I promise to do a post using mastic gum at some point, just not today.

Finally possessing the best possible recipe, there are two ways you can present this to eager diners. Either you can pour into a large dish, and serve it in squares covered in nuts and drizzled with syrup. Nice and easy. Or, you can be a masochist like me, and try pouring into individual moulds. This undoubtedly looks very pretty, and it allowed me to try our the new silicone canelé mould that I bought last time I was in Brussels, but I have learned that it really is a bit impractical to try turning out individual puddings from a tray that holds 12 in one go. So what have we learned? That we need to invest in some individual moulds.

Anyway, after a bit of delicate manoeuvring and one pudding flying in the wrong direction and impaling itself on the stove, the puddings did turn out. And they are so cool! They have that very sexy wobble you get from proper jelly, but as they are not thickened with gelatine, they are veggie friendly. They also melt seductively on the tongue, and you get fabulous flavours, textures and aromas from the cream, nuts, sugar, orange blossom and rose water.

To serve 6 people:

For the cream pudding:

• 500ml milk
• 2 tablespoons white sugar
• 2 1/2 tablespoons cornflour
• 1 tablespoon plain flour
• 170g cream cheese
• 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

• 1/2 teaspoons rose water (***)
• 25g blanched almonds, soaked overnight in cold water
• 25 g pine nuts,
soaked overnight in cold water
• 25g unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
• sugar syrup (see below)

Put the milk, sugar, cornflour, flour and half of the cream cheese in a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time with a whisk, until the sugar dissolves.

Bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens.

Add the orange blossom water and rose water, then keep simmering for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time.

Pour the mixture into a shallow serving dish, and allow to cool. Once cold, spread with the remainder of the cream cheese. Alternatively: divide the mixture between individual silicone moulds. In this case, you don’t need the remaining cream cheese.

To serve: cover each portion with two tablespoons of sugar syrup. Sprinkle over some almonds, pine nuts and chopped pistachios.

For the sugar syrup:

In a saucepan, heat 250g white sugar with 125ml of water and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Once the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes. Finally, add a teaspoon of orange blossom water and a teaspoon of rose water. Stir well and leave to cool.

Worth making? Absolutely. This is one of my favourite new dessert recipes from those that I have tried recently. It’s easy to make, and the ingredient are the sort of thing you have in the store cupboard, but they combine to make something that, in my view, is really quite special.

(*) Not sure that this idea really is so good after all. Taking it to its logical extreme, we would never try anything new, ever, and how much more boring would that make life? Exactly.

(**) Which in Britain we call Turkish delight. Except the Greek version is called loukoumi, and as mastic gum can only come from Greece, I’ll use loukoumi here.

(***) By “rose water” I mean the lighty scented water. DO NOT replace this with a teaspoon of the strong rose extract. You will be overpowered and feel like you are eating perfume. If you do have the strong stuff, use 1-2 drops instead.

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