Archive for the ‘Dessert’ Category

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

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).

Anzac biscuits

22 May 2020

Anzac day commemorates the arrival of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand (the ‘Australia and New Zealand Army Corps’ = ANZAC) at Gallipoli in 1915 to help the Allies fight against the Ottoman Empire during WWI. It has become the defining Australian national holiday, and is celebrated with Anzac biscuits.

Recipes vary, mostly just in quantities, as the ingredients are pretty set: oats, coconut flakes, butter, sugar, flour, golden syrup, and no eggs. This last point contributed to the biscuit’s history (or mythology) as overseas war care packages, since the absence of egg made them more durable.

We’re always happy to adopt traditions, especially when they involve food, and these biscuits deserve to be made much more frequently than just on Anzac day, as has become the case in this house.

I’ve tried quite a few recipes over time and tweaked them to achieve less sweetness without losing chewiness. I like how these turn out.

 

***

ANZAC biscuits recipe

100 g (1 cup) rolled oats (or porridge oats, see note in the first step)
125 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
80 g (2/3 cup) brown sugar
Squeeze of golden syrup (or honey)
1 Tbsp water
100 g (1 cup) flour
75 g (1 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt

Blend the oats in a food processor briefly, just until they become coarsely ground but not too fine. ***I know this is an annoying extra step but it helps with chewiness. Otherwise use finer porridge oats.***

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, golden syrup, and water, and warm over a low heat until the butter has melted and the ingredients are well combined.

Turn off the heat and add the oats, flour, coconut, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and moist throughout.

Divide the dough into two, onto narrow sheets of parchment paper. The dough will be soft but not runny — use the parchment paper to roll the dough into logs of approximately the same diameter. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160 C (325 F). Take the cookie dough logs out of the fridge and let them warm up a little at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Once slightly softened, cut the logs into 1cm (1/3 inch) slices. Place the cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and reshape the dough a bit into soft edged cookies.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes until golden. Let cool on the baking sheet as the biscuits are still soft and crumbly when they come out of the oven.

Once cool, store in a cookie tin or glass jar. I hear they can keep for up to two weeks …

 

Illustrious plum torte

6 October 2018

I buy plums because how can I not, in the momentary season that will soon give way to an endless monotonous expanse of apples and pears?

Five days later they are still on the kitchen counter and, miraculously, apparently intact, without the dispiriting tinge of fermentation that has all too often come to taunt me with an accusatory waft of neglect.

It is high time to use them up, and I am hesitating between jams and quick compotes, just as a friend writes to say she is coming to London and can she stay with us. Of course, as always. And so it will be cake.

I could have made either of the ones already on these pages (here and here), but my attention is turned elsewhere. I want to bake Marian Burros’ illustrious plum torte, which I’ve heard about and read about for years and decades, but, just as those impulsively purchased plums, neglected too often, too long.

The recipe* was first published in the New York Times in 1983, and every fall thereafter, during peak plum season, for the next twelve years. When they decided to stop publishing it, with the last printing in extra large type ‘with a broken line border to encourage clipping,’ the paper was nonetheless assailed by angry letters. It is said to be the most requested and most often published recipe in the newspaper’s archives, and is usually described as famous, iconic, one of the newspaper’s most popular recipes.

It could seem difficult to come on the trail of so much lore, but astoundingly, after all those years, the cake lives up to its reputation. I won’t regret that I hadn’t made it before, I’m just glad it has become part of my dream plum life.

*The recipe was allegedly given to Burros by Lois Levine, her co-author on the 1960 Elegant But Easy Cookbook.

Marian Burros’ plum torte (<— click link to the original recipe)
I have doubled the recipe and substituted ground almonds for some of the flour. I preferred to omit the cinnamon.

250g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter
210g (1 1/2 cups) flour
75g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
15 to 20 plums
Brown sugar and juice from 1/2 a lemon for topping (and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamon, why not?)

Heat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter a springform pan about 25cm (10″) in diameter.

Leave the butter to soften at room temperatire until easy to mix.

Wash and cut the plums in half lengthwise, removing the stones.

Beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, paking powder, salt, and eggs and stir well.

Spoon the batter into the dish. Place the plum halves skin side up all over the batter so they fit snugly. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice (and a spice if using).

Bake for about an hour until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out fairly clean (the cake will remain moist from the plum juices). Cool before eating. As with most cakes, it will taste even better the next day, covered and left at room temperature.


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