Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

‘The cake’ — Magnus Nilsson’s almond sponge cake

29 June 2022

Deceptive. It looks so plain but tastes insane.

As if I needed another almond cake. And … is it OK to post three cake recipes in a row? (And — who made up these rules…?!)

Yes. And yes. Resistance is futile.

Magnus Nilsson, of hallowed restaurant Fäviken, which closed in 2019, and author of The Nordic Cook Book, describes it as a ‘… very delicious, very dense, and very fantastic almond sponge cake. I usually just refer to it as “the cake”.’

It is also very soft and completely moist and tastes exactly like marzipan, but only if you love marzipan. If you don’t love marzipan, it tastes like the best almond cake.

I made it a week ago and there is a sliver left, because I hid it so well. (Incidentally, after a week, it is as good, if not better.)

I mentioned this cake in a recent Letter from Nettle & Quince, I had intended to make it with a packet of marzipan left over from Christmas baking. Things got in the way, and when I reached in the pantry, only last week, for the (now probably just expired) almond paste, it had disappeared. There are a couple of large, increasingly hairy rats in the house, from whom no food is safe.

Nevermind, my head was set. I bought some blanched almond and quickly blended a batch of marzipan from the familiar recipe in Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking. In a bit of a hurry, I used it before it became completely solid — from thorough blending and/or setting in the fridge — which, incidentally, was a convenient way to avoid the additional step of grating the marzipan. A thick, malleable blob, it mixed quite easily into the butter/sugar mixture.

Almond sponge cake recipe from The Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson

200g butter, softened, plus a little extra for the tin
170g sugar
200g almond paste, grated on the coarse side of a box grater
2 tbsps lemon juice (or 12% Ättika vinegar)
5 eggs
130g weak/soft flour (I used white spelt)
1 tsp baking powder
A good pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 150C (300F). Line with parchment paper and butter a 23 x 13 x 8cm (9 x 5 x 3 in) loaf tin.

Mix the softened butter, sugar, grated almond paste, and lemon juice (or vinegar) in a bowl or stand mixer. Beat well until smooth and slightly lighter in colour. It will be very stiff. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each one. Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt until completely combined and smooth. Do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

When the cake is done (check with a knife or skewer, which should come out clean), place the cake upside down onto a wire rack to cool. ‘This is a very important step. By inverting the cake the fat from the butter and almonds will be given the possibility to spread evenly in it. If you leave it as it was baked to cool it will be very greasy at the bottom and too dry at the top.’

Remove the tin after a few minutes and let cool completely (still upside down) before cutting.

Well hidden, the cake keeps at room temperature in a closed container for up to a week!

Elderflower and polenta cake from Lombardy

27 May 2022

In this very instant it’s the best cake in the world. It is a fairy godmother cake from another time. It belongs in an ancient garden, dappled, overgrown, heaving with ivy and tangled roses. It needs friends with whom to share it. Right now it’s just me in my urban fox-ravaged patch, with this cake. But when I close my eyes I am displaced.

There are many things I should rather be doing this morning than baking, or eating, a cake… but the elderflowers are in full bloom, the time will pass in an instant. So I walked over to the elderflower tree at the bottom of our road, nipped a few overhanging flowers, and began to bake.

I saw this cake just a few days ago on Stefano Arturi’s Instagram. Stefano is the author of the excellent blog Italian Home Cooking, and, as with all of his recipes, he explains the origin and stories behind this nearly forgotten, old-fashioned pàn de mèj (millet, originally). He describes it as ‘a dry cake, exquisitely perfumed, whose restrained elegance and goodness should be revived.’

I totally agree, and now is the time.

Elderflower and polenta cake recipe barely adapted from Stefano Arturi’s Italian Home Cooking

3 to 6 heads of elderflowers, depending on the size
150g white flour (I used spelt)
150g coarse polenta
1 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
Grated zest from one lemon
120g sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
80g butter, melted and cooled
40g light olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170C (330F). Line with parchment paper and butter a small (23cm / 9in) cake or pie tin.

Shake the elderflower heads to get rid of any small bugs.

Mix together the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and sugar.

Add the melted butter, olive oil, beaten eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.

Pick the flowers from the stems and chop them up a little. Combine 5 tablespoons of the flowers into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake tin.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of elderflowers with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle over the cake.

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Eat warm or at room temperature, traditionally with a pour of cold single cream, though it is delicious as is.

Almond & buckwheat pound cake with a flume of rhubarb

21 May 2022

Sometimes a bowl of rhubarb compote in the fridge inspires cake, and so the other day.

A quatre-quart — ‘four-quarters’ as the French call a pound cake — is often my basis for a quick cake improvisation; a ‘snacking cake’ — such a perfect denomination. The term was recently popularised by Yossy Arefi thanks to her book ‘Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings,’ which she describes as ‘a single layer cake, probably square, covered with a simple icing—or nothing at all—and it must be truly easy to make.’ Though I don’t own the book, the term immediately imprinted itself. I now often think of a cake I’m about to make as a ‘snacking cake.’ This is the perfect example.

The basis is a simple pound cake — equal weights of eggs, butter, sugar, and flour. But I’ve lowered the sugar slightly, as usual, and divided the flour ratio into three (unequal) parts: white spelt, almond, and buckwheat. I’ve noticed buckwheat flour appear in recipes more and more often recently and its popularity is well deserved. It adds depth and is a great addition to many cakes. I started using it some years ago when I began spending most of my summers in Brittany, where buckwheat is the local flour. As it doesn’t keep for very long I often have an open packet that needs using. I find using little is often best.

Almond & buckwheat pound cake with a flume of rhubarb

250g unsalted butter, left out to become very soft
210g sugar
4 eggs
150g white spelt flour
30g buckwheat flour
70g almond flour
1 mounded tsp baking powder
Zest from one lemon
1 tsp salt
Rhubarb compote

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line a 30 x 10cm (12 x 4 in) — or equivalent capacity — cake tin with parchment paper and butter the paper generously.

Beat the butter and sugar vigorously until very soft and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating well. Stir in the flours, the baking powder, the lemon zest, and salt. The batter should ideally feel mousse-like.

Scoop half of the batter into the tin, then a generous layer of rhubarb compote, and finally the rest of the batter.

Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Wait for the cake to cool completely before cutting, if you can.

Leek and wild garlic quiche with trout or pancetta

30 March 2021

Spring has sprung and it is time for quiche. ‘Why?’ you ask. I’m not sure, but that is how it works in my mind.

Perhaps it is the still tentative but now perceptible promise of picnics. Maybe the hankering for boisterous post-egg-hunt Easter brunches from another era, which somehow disappeared with the move to London. Or is it just the availability of leeks, to the near exclusion of all else … ?

Well, it is unmistakably spring, and had we no calendar there would be no mistaking it. Magnolias have burst, the daffodils are already waning, wild garlic is abundant.

And so, I’m making quiche.

In addition to the leeks and wild garlic, I’ve used another leaf, erbette spinach (aka erbette chard or perpetual spinach), which adds herbaceousness and really melds everything together. I found it available from my local farm delivery, but it isn’t all that common. Regular spinach or chard leaves would also work well.

I’ve tried versions of this quiche both with pancetta and with trout, and I’m hard pressed to decide which is the better one. I think it depends on the mood, and the availability of one or the other. So this recipe offers both options, I leave it up to your inclination.

Leek and wild garlic quiche recipe

Pastry crust (or store-bought)

4 to 5 leeks (about 750g)
Pat of butter and olive oil

Salt
50g wild garlic
150g erbette (perpetual) spinach (alternatively, spinach or chard leaves)
120g hot smoked trout fillet (alternatively, pancetta)
4 eggs
300g crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated cheese such as Gruyère if using pancetta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F)

Roll out the pastry and transfer it to a buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork, and place it into the refrigerator while preparing the filling for the quiche.

Trim the leeks, wash, slice thinly, and rince again. Drain as much as possible.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy skillet, add the leeks, a generous pinch of salt, and cook over slow to medium heat until softened but if possible not browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and thinly slice the wild garlic into a ‘chiffonade.’ Wash and coarsely chop the erbette (spinach or chard).

When the leeks are softened, add the spinach and wild garlic just for a minute or two, until wilted.

If using pancetta, transfer the leeks etc. to a bowl and set aside, and brown the pancetta to the desired hue in the (wiped) skillet.

In a medium or large bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them well with a fork. Add the cream and mix well. Then stir in the leeks, spinach, and wild garlic, with a generous squeeze of lemon.

Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle the trout or pancetta evenly on the dough. Pour over the egg/cream/vegetable mix. Smooth the top.

Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and grated cheese, if using.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling just set.

Enjoy with a green (or red or yellow) salad.

Basic unsweetened shortcrust

30 March 2021

I use this recipe all the time for quiches and savory tartes (like this Classic French tomato tarte with mustard ). Sometimes also for sweet ones. It is based on a classic shortcrust pastry, with the sugar omitted.

Basic unsweetened shortcrust recipe
Makes enough for 2 quiches

210g white wheat (or spelt) flour
40g wholemeal rye (or buckwheat) flour
Large pinch of sea salt
125g cold unsalted butter
One egg

Small glass of cold water (I usually drop an ice cube into the water and leave it for a few minutes)

Mix the flours and salt together in a bowl. Add the butter, cut into cubes. With your hands, squish the butter into the flour until the mixture feels like coarse bread crumbs, with some larger pieces of butter remaining.

In a glass or small bowl, beat the egg and a tablespoon of water with a fork.

Add the egg to the flours, and mix well to obtain and homogenous dough (with some visible streaks of butter remaining). Let the dough rest in the fridge, wrapped in parchment paper or cling film, for at least an hour and up to a day.

When ready use, generously butter a pie dish, and dust it with a sprinkling of flour. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, lifting it occasionally as you do it so it doesn’t stick to the surface. Roll it out into a circle as thinly as you like it and so that it won’t break.

To transfer the dough to the dish, loosely fold the dough in half once, and again, so it is now a multi-layered ‘quarter.’ Pick this up, place the point of the quarter at the center of the pie dish and unfold the crust, and press the sides carefully so that they hug the dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.

At this stage, if the filling and/or the oven aren’t yet ready, place it into the refrigerator until ready to use.

(Any unused pastry keeps for 2 days in the fridge, or can be frozen)


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