French almond cake

5 eggs at room temperature showstopper_cut_almond_cake
200g  caster sugar
half a teaspoon of salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
200g ground almonds
30g plain flour
Knob of butter for greasing your tin

Switch on your oven and pre-heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.  Base-line a 23cm (9in) springform tin with greaseproof paper, and smear the insides with a bit of butter. Grate the zest of your lemon, then cut the lemon in half,. Get two large bowls ready. The one for the egg whites should be ceramic, steel or glass – trying to whisk egg whites in a plastic bowl is a recipe for disaster, as plastic is never completely grease-free and any trace of grease will mean you can’t get as much air into the whites as you need. Rub the inside of the bowls with the cut lemon halves (you can use them for putting in your gin and tonic later). Separate the eggs and put the whites in one bowl and the yolks in the other.  Add half the sugar to the yolks and beat together until light, pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and beat for a bit longer. An electric hand mixer is great for this – if you use a hand whisk you will get really tired trying to make this cake!

In the other bowl, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. If you are using the same mixer for both yolks and whites, make sure that you clean the blades well before whipping up the whites – see comment above about grease and egg whites. Add the remaining sugar to the whites gradually, and keep beating until stiff and shiny.

Using a metal spoon add two big spoonfuls of the whites to the batter to loosen it then fold in the rest, using a cutting motion to avoid knocking out all the air you’ve carefully beaten into the whites. Weigh out the salt, almonds and flour and mix together thoroughly, then fold gently into the egg mixture. There’s really no need to sift the flour/salt/almond mixture, just make sure there are no big lumps of ground almonds and that the salt is evenly distributed.

Scrape the mixture into the springform tin and bake  for 40 minutes. The sponge should be coming away from the sides and the middle should spring back when gently pressed.

Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and place the right way up on a cooling rack. Once it is completely cool, remove the paper. This cake does sink slightly in the middle as the only raising agent is the egg whites.

The image is of my entry for the street party bakeoff challenge – three layers of French almond cake, sandwiched with blueberry and raspberry jam, finished with white chocolate ganache, white chocolate fingers and white chocolate buttons, and topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries. It came second…showstopper_almond_cake


Sam’s mackerel paté

pateSam wanted to learn how to make paté, but we couldn’t find any chicken livers in the supermarket.  So we made this instead.

  • 200g smoked mackerel fillets
  • 100g unsalted labneh (yogurt cheese: see previous labneh recipe) – or you could use low fat cream cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Pepper to taste

Skin the mackerel fillets, and remove any really big bones that are still left in the mackerel flesh.  Break the fillets up a bit and put them in food processor. Add the yogurt cheese, and most of the lemon juice, and blitz for about 2o seconds. You don’t need to do it for too long or it will go completely smooth; it’s nicer with a bit of texture.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, and spoon it into a nice serving dish or pot.  Cover with clingfilm and store in the fridge.


For Burns night (25th January), a traditional Scottish pudding made a bit lighter by the addition of half-fat crème fraîche. We ate it all before I could take pictures. This quantity makes 6 portions.

  • 75g porridge oats
  • 35g flaked almonds
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g half-fat crème fraîche
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons whisky
  • 3 tablespoons clear honey
  • 350g frozen raspberries, defrosted
  • handful fresh raspberries (optional)

Take the raspberries out of the freezer at least 2 hours before you’re going to use them – they need to defrost at room temperature.  Put the oats and almonds in a large non-stick frying pan and dry-fry over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Watch it like a hawk, and keep stirring the oats and almonds so they toast to a golden brown colour. If you take your eyes off the pan for a minute you’re guaranteed to come back to a pan full of blackened almonds! Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Pour the double cream and crème fraîche into a large bowl and add the vanilla extract, whisky and honey. Whip to the soft peak stage – don’t over-do it, as the cream will stiffen further when mixed with the oats. Set six glass tumblers on a tray (you could use ramekins, but if you use glasses you’ll be able to see the lovely layers). Put a spoonful of the whipped cream mixture in the base of each glass. Sprinkle on some of the oats and almonds and about half the defrosted raspberries on top. Repeat the layers once more. If you’ve got fresh raspberries, put a thin layer of the oat/almond mixture over the top layer of defrosted raspberries and put the fresh raspberries on the top of that.  The oat/almond mixture can be made well in advance, and you can whip the cream mixture ahead of time as well, but the cranachan needs to be served as soon as it’s assembled.

tawny marmalade

Chris called this “mahogany marmalade” as it’s a fair bit darker than tawny!  An accident, but a tasty one, because I didn’t have quite enough demerara sugar to make up 2kg, so I improvised with what was in the cupboard. This made 6 1lb jars. If you put all the shreds of orange peel in you’ll probably need more.

  • 1kg seville oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1.8kg demerara sugar
  • 200g dark soft brown sugar

Wash and dry the fruit. Pour 2 litres of cold water into a large pan (it really does have to be the biggest one you’ve got, it WILL boil over…).  If you’re making a lot of jams and pickles then invest in a maslin pan, like this one: Lakeland maslin pans

Squeeze the juice from the oranges and lemons and add to the water.  Scrape out the pips and pith from the oranges with a teaspoon (don’t bother with the lemon) and put it all in a muslin square, tie it up and put in the pan with the juice and the water.  Now attack the orange peel. I cut it as fine as I possibly could, and put in only about two-thirds of the bits. If you like chunkier marmalade then put the whole lot in.  Add the peel to the pan, and leave to soak overnight.  

The next day, put a small plate into your freezer (you will be using this to test for a set later).  Bring the panto the boil and let it all simmer very gently for 1.5 to 2 hours until the peel is very soft.

Squeeze as much juice from the muslin bag into the pan as you can, and put it to one side.  Add the sugar to the pan, bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the while so that the sugar dissolves properly, then whack up the heat and boil it rapidly for about 20 minutes.

Test it for a set by spooning a small amount onto the cold plate you put in the freezer. Leave it for a minute and if the surface is wrinkly when you push it with your finger, then it’s set.  If it’s not wrinkly but just runny, boil the marmalade for another few minutes and try again.

Switch off the heat when setting point is reached, and leave it to settle for about 15 minutes. This is just enough time to sterilise your jars and lids. Either run the jars through the dishwasher, or wash them in hot soapy water, rinse well and put them in a low oven for 5 minutes to dry out.  Put your lids in a saucepan with boiling water to cover, and boil them for 3 minutes. Take them out and dry them thoroughly before you use them to seal the jars – kitchen paper is best. The jars should be warm when you put the marmalade in them or they may crack owing to the temperature difference.

Skim off any scummy stuff on the surface of the marmalade and throw it away.  Spoon the rest of the marmalade into the jars and seal with a lid. I don’t bother with wax discs if the lids are new or show no signs of discoloration- if the marmalade or jam is still pretty hot, just screw on the lid tightly and turn the jar upside down briefly.

Cheese and onion bread

I got a heart-shaped terracotta bread form as a Christmas present, so here is its first outing!

  • 300g strong white bread flourIMG_20151230_214705
  • 200g strong wholemeal flour
  • 1 sachet fast action yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 100g hard cheese, finely grated
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • a knob of butter for greasing the bowl

Tip the flours into a large bowl. Put the salt on one side and the yeast on the other, and sprinkle the sugar over the top.  Add about 370ml warm water and the olive oil, then the chopped spring onions, and mix to a dough. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead it for ten minutes. Put it into a greased bowl and cover with greased clingfilm. Leave it in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This should take about an hour.  Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.  “Knock back” the dough and split it into eight or nine balls.  Put the balls into the breadform with a bit of space between them, then set it to prove in a warm place for another 20 minutes or so.  Then sprinkle the cheese (and any chopped spring onion you have left) over the top of the bread, and bake in the oven for 20  minutes until it’s slightly golden, and sounds hollow if you tap the base of the bread.

apricot and walnut shortcake

With grateful thanks to our Good Housekeeping cookery book – subtitled the cook’s classic companion – and well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to traditional recipes.

For the shortcake:

  • 175g self raising flour
  •  half teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 75g unsalted butter – softened
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the filling:

  • 100g broken walnuts
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 410g can of apricot halves in juice (or you can use fresh apricots, stoned and halved, poached briefly in water with a bit of sugar and lemon juice added)

Grease a shallow 8 inch (20cm) round springform tin. Put the flour and cinnamon in a food processor and add the butter. Blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the egg and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough into the greased tin and smooth it out evenly. You could use the back of a spoon to do this, or your fingers.

Now start the filling.  Put the walnuts in the food processor with the sugar and blitz until it’s all finely ground.  Then add the egg white and blend it to a soft paste.  Spread this mixture over the shortcake base and leave a 1cm-ish gap to the edge.

Drain the apricots well.  Arrange them with the cut side down over the filling.  Bake at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes, until the filling has risen between the apricot halves and is looking set and slightly browned.

You can glaze the shortcake with some sieved apricot jam mixed with the juice drained from the fruit, heated in a pan until it goes syrupy (about 3 minutes).

For a bit of variation you could use ground almonds instead of walnuts, and you can also use plums instead of apricots.

Cheat’s pea and ham soup

A quick recipe for using up leftover ham.

  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 2 large carrots, chopped finely
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 200g baked ham, chopped
  • 300g tin “chip shop” mushy peas
  • 1 ham stock cube dissolved in 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 bayleaf
  • white pepper


Put all the finely chopped veg in a large pan with the bayleaf and the oil, and heat gently, with a lid on the pan. This is called sweating your vegetables.  After about 15 minutes the onions will be softened and transparent.  At this point you can add the ham and the stock. Bring to the boil and turn down to simmering point.  Then empty the tin of mushy peas into the pan and give it a stir.  It’s ready when it’s all heated through.  If it’s not thick enough for your liking, you can add some leftover cooked potatoes (if you want to add raw potato, peel one large potato and chop it finely and sweat it with the other veg right at the beginning).  Season to taste with white pepper.  Remove the bayleaf before serving.

This is the kind of soup which is very accommodating and will accept all manner of leftover cooked veg – although green cabbage, broccoli, and sprouts should be avoided as they stink when overcooked!  If you have leftover veg you want to add, put them in at the same time as the peas.


IMG_20151228_182522The week between Christmas and New Year – a time for pootling about and trying new stuff that I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. So I’ve had a crack at making biscotti, to be dipped in vin santo (or Pedro Ximenez sherry, or a dessert wine). You can dip them in coffee or hot chocolate too.

  • 150g almonds with the skin on
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of a lemon
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 small ones)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark 6. Put the almonds on a baking tray and bake for five minutes, then take them out and chop them very roughly when they have cooled down a bit.

While the almonds are in the oven, you have the time to weigh out the rest of the ingredients.  Start with the sugar, then grate the lemon zest into it and mix well.  Then add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix that well.  Beat the 2 eggs in a separate bowl, then stir them into the mix too, along with the almonds.  Stir it all together until it forms a dough.  It will be quite sticky.

Sift some icing sugar onto a worktop. Split the dough into two and roll each part into a sausage just long enough to put onto a baking tray – this will be about 5cm in diameter.  Make sure the two sausages are well separated as they will spread a lot on the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the heat to about 150 degrees C.  After about 10 minutes of cooling down, slide the now flattened sausages onto a chopping board and use a sharp bread knife to cut them into diagonal slices about 1cm in width.  This is a bit of a guessing game – if you leave them to cool for too long they’ll be difficult to cut, and if they are too hot you’ll squash them.

Put the slices back on the baking tray and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes – take them out, turn them over and put back in for another 15 minutes.  When you take them out for the final time, put them on a wire rack to cool down completely. You can them put them in an airtight biscuit tin. They should keep for at least a month.

Hangover cure

IMG_20151212_092045[1]Well not really, and not really a recipe, but it certainly helps you feel more human.  It’s another Dutch speciality, uitsmijter, which literally means “thrower-out”, or bouncer.  It’s traditionally served at the very end of a party as an untypically Dutch way of being polite and telling people to go home.

You will need:

  • Some nice sliced bread – typically white sliced but I like Vogel‘s sunflower & barley bread
  • Eggs – usually 2 per person, but depends on the size of your bread
  • A slice of ham
  • A slice of Gouda cheese (any hard cheese will do, including Cheddar or Edam, but young Gouda is the more authentic choice)
  • A bit of butter
  • A dessertspoonful of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan

Heat up the frying pan with the oil in it.  Lay the bread on a plate – you can butter it but it’s not usual to do this in Holland, that would be a bit too profligate…  Put the ham on the bread first, then the slice of cheese. It has to be this way round so that the hot egg can melt the cheese a bit.  Crack the eggs into the frying pan and let them cook until they go brown and frilly round the edge.  You can baste the yolks with the oil to get them to set slightly.  When they are done to your satisfaction, lift them out of the pan with a fish slice and drain them on some kitchen paper before placing on the cheese/ham/bread you’ve already prepared.  This is best accompanied by a large mug of koffie verkeerd and two paracetamol.

Christmas puddings 2015

IMG_20151122_180954[1]Rather than make one big pud, this year we decided to make loads of little ones.  This is because we found some small plastic pudding basins in our favourite cook shop,  Cooksmill on Regent Road in Salford.  I could quite happily spend an hour just mooching about in there, fantasising about what I could do with an industrial-size food processor and mixing bowls the size of hot tubs.

This mixture made about 10 small quarter-pint puddings, or you could use one enormous 3 pint bowl (that’s just over 1.5 litres in new money).  The quantities below were made up of the dried fruits we had in the cupboard, but as long as you get 450g in total you could put in whatever you like.  The prunes are important though – they add a nice squidgy texture.  As with Christmas cakes, bear in mind that you need to assemble your ingredients well in advance of making this, as the longer you leave the dried fruits soaking the better it will be. Pedro Ximenez sherry tastes like liquid Christmas pudding anyway, so it’s a perfect thing for soaking Christmas pudding fruit.  The other thing to remember is that the first time you steam your puddings they will need about 3 hours if they’re all in small bowls, or up to 5 hours if it’s one big one, so do it on a day when you don’t need to stray much from the house.

  • 150g currants
  • 125g dried morello cherries
  • 75g prunes
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g dried figs (figgy pudding,innit…)
  • 175ml Pedro Ximenez sherry, or brandy, or a mixture of the two
  • 100g plain flour
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • 150g vegetarian suet
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 30ml honey (2 tablespoons)
  • butter for greasing the bowls

Cut up the dried figs and prunes into small pieces (scissors are best for this), and put them in a bowl with the other dried fruits.  Pour over the sherry/brandy, mix it about a bit and then cover the bowl in clingfilm.  You can leave the fruit to soak up the alcohol for anything up to a week.

When you’re ready to start making the pudding, set up your steamer or double boiler, or just a big pan of water with a trivet in the bottom would do.  Get the water simmering.  Then grease your bowl or bowls with a bit of butter, not forgetting the lids if your bowls come with them. If they don’t have a lid, you can improvise with a piece of greased baking paper, a double thickness of foil, and string to tie it onto the top of the bowl.

Use a big mixing bowl and mix together all the ingredients except the dried fruits – it’s easiest to start with the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, mix well, then add the lemon zest, apple, and honey last.  Then add the dried fruit mixture and all the sherry/brandy juices, and mix well.  At this point it’s traditional to ask every member of the family to stir the pudding and make a wish, especially if you’re making the pudding on Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. Divide the mixture between the individual pudding bowls or just plonk it in t.he one big bowl if that’s what you’re using.  Press down the mixture so that there are no air gaps, and put on the lid.  Place the pudding bowls in the steamer/double boiler/big pan and allow them to steam for a couple of hours for the small puds, or up to 5 hours for one big one.  Check the water level every hour or so to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.  Leave the puddings to cool after the appropriate cooking time, then take them out of the pan, dry off the outside of the bowls and put them somewhere cool and dark until you need them.

On Christmas day you can either set them to steam again for a couple of hours, or stick them in the microwave for 5 minutes until they’re piping hot (although I wouldn’t recommend using the microwave method for a single big pudding).   Turn them out of their bowls onto a plate, pour over a bit of heated brandy and set it alight
(although vodka seems to light better than brandy, it doesn’t add anything to the taste). Traditionally served with a sprig of holly for decoration, and brandy sauce.