Archive for the ‘Dessert’ 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!

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.

Tahini date banana smoothie

29 December 2020

It is the end of year parenthesis. The time, finally, when it is ok to not cook.

The feeling usually nags on Christmas morning. Usually, so much has happened since the 31st of October — Halloween, Thanksgiving, three birthdays in the mix with one on the 23rd of December (!), each, usually, a celebration here with friends, children, family, dinner, parties, … By the 25th, Christmas lunch is the one meal I never really want to cook. (Of course, we always do.) The moment I look forward to is the parenthesis, the in-between time, when the imperatives have receded and all that is left is a nondescript sluggish present of films, puzzles, games, a walk, or forgetting to go out altogether. Having a smoothie for lunch.

This year the listlessness is different. Every period since March has been a parenthesis. The first ‘lockdown,’ hunkered down patiently until everything, it was said, would get back to normal; Summer, a breath, a change of place, but restricted still, different — another parenthesis. Back to London, back to school, this time we are expecting it, we know things will soon change again. This endless succession of unusual times, slipping from one parenthesis to the next, is what we have become accustomed to. We know not to settle, however uncomfortably, into any status quo. Nonetheless the recent sudden shutdown a few days before Christmas, at the outset of winter, feels particularly disheartening. — I know this, too, will be just another parenthesis.

Or at what point does this become the main text? There is a potent urge to resist it. For now, in the gap, I’ve made myself a smoothie for lunch.

Banana date tahini smoothie
Inspired by a smoothie from The Good Egg in Soho during the minute-and-a-half in December when it was possible to go to an exhibition and have lunch in a restaurant.

Makes two large or three medium smoothies

3 small or 2 large ripe bananas
4 dates
4 Tbsps (100ml or 1/4 cup) light tahini
Juice from 1/2 lemon (more according to taste)
3 Tbsps yogurt
4 ice cubes (optional)
150ml (1/2 cup) milk (oat, almond, or cow)
Drizzle of date syrup (optional)

Cut the bananas and dates roughly into chunks and place in a blender or food processor. Add the tahini, lemon juice, yogurt, and ice cubes (omit the ice if you prefer a very thick smoothie). Start blending and add the milk in gradually. Blend until completely smooth. Taste and add lemon juice as needed.

Serve in a large glass with a drizzle of date syrup if you happen to have some.

Cranberry lemon squares for a singular Thanksgiving

26 November 2020

This year I wasn’t sure about Thanksgiving. Many things felt uncertain just a few weeks ago, and wouldn’t a celebration without friends bring more acutely to the fore the limitations of these times? Better perhaps to stick our heads into the soggy English soil and push on to Christmas. All around us decorations are already going up.

Impossible. Not with children in the house who have never known a year without turkey, they were appalled. And, things started to look up. First in the news, then on a more personal note. The arc had begun to shift. And who am I to deprive my children of Thanksgiving, especially if they start baking pumpkin pie?

In this singular predicament where less time was needed preparing today, I suddenly had time to bake things, to give to friends. So I made pecan bars, which are probably my favourite and will endure some more tweaking before I’m entirely satisfied. And also these ridiculously delicious Cranberry Lemon Bars. The season will undoubtedly be different, but it stubbornly refuses to be swept under the carpet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry lemon squares adapted from the NY Times Genevieve Ko’s Cranberry Lemon Bars
I have slightly modified each component. The shortbread comes from Alice Medrich’s book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, it has a little bit less butter which, shocking as it may seems, works better here I find. I have increased the quantity of lemon curd, which in the original seemed just barely enough to cover the whole surface. You can find the original recipe here.

Note about the pan size: The quantity fits a 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan, but any rectangular cake pans or loaf tins can be used — once the shortbread is pressed (as thinly as possible, about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick), if it doesn’t cover the whole surface of the pan just create a ‘rim’ by folding the aluminium foil where the dough ends.

First, make the cranberry sauce

340g cranberries
150g sugar
150ml (2/3 cup) water
Zest from 2 lemons

Wash and pick through the cranberries to remove any soft or discoloured ones. In a medium saucepan, mix the cranberries, sugar, water, and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Cook over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries burst and take on the consistency of jam. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Now prepare the shortbread
(Note: this shortbread is different to the one in the original recipe)

250g butter (+ plus a small knob for buttering the pan)
100g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
310g flour

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and position the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt all the butter and let it cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a high rim 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan with aluminum foil and brush it generously with some of the melted butter, making sure to go up the sides.

In a medium bowl, mix the warm butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt until the melted butter has been completely incorporated. Add the flour and mix just enough to combine into a smooth dough (it will be quite soft and oily).

Press the dough into the prepared pan to achieve a smooth, even layer as thin as possible, about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the sides barely start to turn golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon layer

260g caster sugar
30g flour
Pinch of sea salt
4 eggs
200ml lemon juice (using the zested lemons plus 1 or 2 besides)
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the eggs and stir gently to combine without over-whisking. Finally, gently whisk in the lemon juice until smooth.

Let the shortbread cool for about 5 minutes and spread the cranberry sauce over it in an even layer. Carefully pour the lemon mixture over the cranberries. Return to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the top layer is set (it shouldn’t jiggle).

Let cool completely then place the tray in the refrigerator for at least two hours until cold and set. Slice into bite-size squares and, if desired, dust with icing sugar before serving.

Pear and almond cake with honey and cardamom

4 October 2020

October 4th. It’s been raining for days. Not a downpour, a steady mizzle. The occasional interruption a pause — a tease, to lure us outside — but never long enough to be safe from the next drizzle. Everything is steeped, the grass is shimmering.

Looking out, droplets dribbling down the window like sea spray, it feels like the earth may drown. We need a buoy. A book, a game, a film? A cake.

This recipe is a variation on one I found on the blog My Darling Lemon Thyme a few weeks ago while looking for a dairy-free pear cake (it happens to also be gluten-free). It’s an excellent recipe and I’ve used it a couple of times since for riffs and improvisations. This latest incarnation is worth writing down.

Almond and pear cake with honey and cardamom based on the Spiced Pear and Almond Cake from My Darling Lemon Thyme
Dairy- and (optionally) gluten-free!

4 eggs
120g (2/3 cup) soft brown sugar
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean or a teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one lemon
80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
200g ground almonds
120g white spelt flour (or use 300g almonds and 45g rice flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ground cardamom seeds
2 tsps ground ginger
Two generous pinches of salt
300g peeled and finely chopped pears (I had little pears and used 6 or 7 in total)
2 Tbsps runny honey
A handful of flaked (sliced) almonds
Icing sugar (optional) for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C. Oil a cake tin and line it with parchment paper. [The quantity works for a 30 x 10cm loaf or 23cm round tin.]

Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla vigorously for 5 minutes.

Add the lemon zest and the olive oil gradually, beating to incorporate completely.

Add the ground almonds, sifted flour, baking powder, cardamom, one teaspoon of ginger, and the salt. Mix until just uniformly combined.

Peel, core, and cut the pears. Toss in a bowl with the honey and the other teaspoon of ginger.

Gently mix the pears into the batter, scrape the mix into the cake tin, and cover with the flaked almonds. Slide the cake into the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Let cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before de-moulding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake keeps for a few days (at room temperature for about 24 hours and then preferably in the fridge).


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