More Christmas Balls. Almond Flowers from Agrigento

A few days ago, I made a batch of Sicilian Cherry and Chocolate Amaretti, (Amaretti di Cioccolato e Cilegie ). They disappeared too quickly: some were wrapped up and given away, others popped into our own merry mouths. Sicilian sweets taste so evocative, medieval and ancient. All the flavours of the island seem to be rolled up in these little festive biscuits- dried fruits and figs, orange and lemon peel, Marsala wine, Arabic spices, honey, almonds, pine nuts and pistachio, to name a just a few ingredients favoured by the Siciliani.

Gid
Ready to go out the door. Fior di Mandorle.

This year’s festive cooking is beginning to look like a cook’s tour around Sicily. Last week Siracusa, now today’s festive balls, Fior di Mandorle,¬†a specialty of Agrigento. Come to Sicily with me this month as I delve into my collected recipes from each major town. Map provided, in¬†aid¬†of travel fantasy.

I love a good map.
I love a good map.

Fior di Mandorle.  Almond pastries with honey and spice

  • 200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
  • 50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • grated zest of ¬†1 small organic orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 ¬†large, or two very small beaten egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • icing/confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 150c.

Mix all the ingredients together, then knead until the oils from the almonds are released into the pastry.

Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter. Place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. Makes around 20.

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno 2016.

xx
Fior di Mandorle. A taste of honey and spice. Very Arabic.

My next Sicilian instalment will be¬†Nucatoli, from Modica, which are similar to last year’s Cuddureddi, but come in an amazing shape.

Easy Mix Lemon and Almond Syrup Cake

When the young ones ask me which football team I follow, I always reply ‘The Seagulls’. They look bewildered as there is no major AFL (Australian Football League ) team with this bird as their logo. I quickly follow this with an explanation, that I barrack for real seagulls, the birds that land on the grounds during a match and annoy players, lest they think it’s time to send me off to the funny farm.¬†I am not a football fan at all. In fact, it bores me to tears – please feel free to substitute that other very Australian colloquial phrase which refers to ‘a state of being during which one is without feces’.

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After the cake has rested a little, pour on the lemon syrup.

On rare occasions, I allow myself to watch ‘the footy’. It is usually forced upon my consciousness during the grand final season, when all sorts of non footy followers suddenly convert. Not me. I allow myself snippets of the game to waft over me, but would rather be the tea lady – or the beer/wine/cake/biscuit gatherer- during the broadcast.

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Cake ready to slice.

My mother, born and raised¬†in Footscray, the original home of the Bulldogs team, was excited and anxious during the grand final this year. We had joined her to watch the big event, especially given that the last time her team won was in 1954. That’s pre- TV,¬†a very long time to wait for a victory. She mentioned a few names of the players, the much-loved captain of the Bulldogs who retired earlier this year due to injury, my eyes were glazing over, and another one she referred to as ‘The Package’, a player who was bought for a large sum but who wasn’t living up to expectation. I kept calling him ‘The Packet’, at which point, the assembled football¬†devotees suggested I should take a nap. I was happy to grab my smart phone and head to the backroom for a surf and a snooze.

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Lemon almond cake, cut into Middle Eastern shapes.

I woke up for the last 12 minutes, and enjoyed the match thoroughly. I can recommend this approach to my fellow football- loathing friends: just watch the last 12 minutes- that’s when the real action happens. You won’t have missed a thing.

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The lemon zest candies a little when cooking down the syrup, adding to the glazed surface.

I made this lemon cake for the day. As it turned out, it was a celebratory cake Рthe Bulldogs won. I can recommend this cake for its excellent keeping qualities ( up to one week in the fridge) and for its simplicity. It is now my favourite lemon syrup cake and can easily be adapted to gluten- free. The recipe comes from Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffries. I have made minor adjustments to the method.

Lemon Almond Syrup Cake

  • 50g plain flour ( or GF flour if required)
  • 200g almond meal
  • 1¬Ĺ tsp baking powder
  • ¬ľ¬†tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 190g castor sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into large chunks
  • 1¬Ĺ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¬ĺ tsp almond essence
  • 1¬Ĺ large lemons, finely zested

Lemon Syrup

  • 150g of castor sugar
  • 2 lemons zested ( or one large)
  • 125ml of lemon juice
  • 250ml of water

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 160c or lower for Fan Forced. (150c FF worked well for me). Butter a 20cm – 24 cm square cake tin and line the base with paper. Butter the paper and dust the tin lightly with flour.
  • Put the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Whiz them together for 20 seconds, then tip into a bowl.
  • Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and whiz them together until they are light and creamy. Scrape down as you go, then add in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Stop the processor, add the vanilla, almond essence and lemon zest and blitz for another 10 seconds or so.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. Do not over pulse. Scrape the sides to make sure all is well mixed.
  • Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten surface. Bake for around 50-55 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the lemon syrup. Place all ingredients into a pot over a high heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and allow it to come to boil. Let it bubble for 10 ‚Äď 12 minutes or until it looks thicker and like syrup. Then off heat and set aside. Keep warm.
  • When the cake is ready, place the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins. Invert onto the rack and remove the paper. Now brush with the lemon syrup. I used all the syrup as the cake happily absorbed it but the original recipe advises using half and serving the rest of the syrup alongside the cake. If using all the syrup, the cake will be very moist and very lemony.
  • The cake stores well for about 1 week in the fridge. Warm it slightly before serving if from the fridge. Other lemon and lime cakes from my blog can be found in the links below.
  • Limoni di Mama.
    Limoni di Mama.

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/lemon-lime-and-poppy-seed-cake-with-books/

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/lemon-ricotta-and-almond-cake/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Get My Swan Costume Ready. School Holiday Pavlova

It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack
Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack. Photo from Pinterest.

We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.

kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen sculpting a Pavlova

Pavlova is an easy dessert¬†for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out¬†misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.

Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • few drops of pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 180¬įc. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150¬į c and cook for 1¬ľ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.

From Stephanie Alexander’s¬†The Cook’s Companion

While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse¬†pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.

Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.
Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.

Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.

  • 200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
  • a dash of rum or brandy
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¬ľ¬†cup sugar
  • some whipping cream to loosen.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.

A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.
A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.

PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte ūüôā

Anna Pavlova and jack the swan
Anna Pavlova and Jack the swan

Easy Chocolate, Walnut and Date Meringue Cake

It’s in the news again. A new study has just revealed that substituting artificial sweetener for sugar and fruit leads to increased weight gain, cravings for carbohydrate and insomnia as well as¬†a possible link to diabetes.

Torta di noce, cioccolata e dati.
Torta di noce, cioccolato e datteri.

In this latest study, fruit flies were fed artificial sweetener and afterwards, the flies consumed one-third more calories and one-third more food. They also found that artificial sweeteners promoted hyperactivity and insomnia. They concluded that if people eat sweeteners but do not actually get the equivalent amount of calories, they eat more food to make up for it. The increase in consumption of artificial sweeteners also coincided with the dramatic increase in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Meringue cake with chocolate, dates and walnut
Meringue cake with chocolate, dates and walnut

I have never used artificial sweeteners and I don’t intend to soon. Fake foods worry me but then so does the the idea of eliminating sugar altogether from my diet. I’m wondering whether those who go ‘sugar free’ also behave like the fruit flies of the Sydney University study.

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The cake in profile. Dense but light, not lite.

Once a week I make a cake. I get a couple of slices over a few days and the rest gets distributed to the hungry fruit fly visitors and family members. This cake covers any sugar cravings I might have for the week and contains a few healthy elements as well. The other bonus is that it only contains five ingredients and, once the ingredients are chopped, it can be thrown together in minutes. The dark chocolate adds rich notes, the nuts and dates add a healthy density and the lack of flour keeps it light.

The meringue cake just out of the oven.
The meringue cake just out of the oven.

Ingredients

  • 200g dates, chopped
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 200g walnuts, chopped
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 6 egg whites

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a 23 cm springform cake tin then line with baking paper on the bottom and sides. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff then gradually add the sugar until they become glossy and meringue-like. Gently fold in the nuts, dates and chocolate. Bake for about an hour. Cool and serve.

No fruit flies on me. The cake with cream.

Tip: The nuts and chocolate can be roughly chopped ( separately) in the food processor. Pulse and stop the machine as you go. The dates need to be chopped by hand.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-13/research-shows-artificial-sweeteners-encourage-a-sweet-tooth/7622720

Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

There are so many versions of Lemon and Ricotta cake out there that I was reticent about adding another. This one, I can assure you, will go straight into the hand written sepia toned exercise book that I reserve for very good cakes. The recipe includes 4 lemons, and the batter is lightened by 6 eggs, the whites whipped and folded through at the end. It is an expensive cake but then it serves around 10 people, or two greedy people who eat it every day for dessert and afternoon tea. When served hot, it resembles a lemon delicious pudding. When served cold, it becomes more like a lemon cheesecake. It also keeps well. In summer, store the cake in a container in the fridge. Buonissimo e Molto Siciliano.                                         l

Torta di Limone, Ricotta e Mandorle,  Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250 g¬†caster sugar
  • 6 free range¬†eggs, separated
  • 250 g¬†almonds, ground
  • 75 g¬†self-raising flour
  • 1¬†pinch of salt
  • zest of 5 organic lemons and juice of 4 organic lemons
  • 400 g¬†fresh ricotta

    Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake
    Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 180¬įC (Gas Mark 4).

Butter and paper a 25 cm round springform cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, until all are incorporated.

Combine the ground almonds with the flour, salt and lemon zest. Fold into the batter.

Whisk the lemon juice with the ricotta until light and airy.

Fold into the cake batter.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them carefully into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake. It should come out clean when cooked through.

Remove the cake from the oven and turn it out onto a cake rack to cool. It will remain moist for a few days. Store in the fridge in warm weather.

From Four Seasons, Manuela Darling-Gansser, Hardie Grant Books.

And Manuela’s great food and travel blog can be found here.

Quince and Almond Cake

We never ate quince at home when I was a child, nor did my mother make jam from quince, but I do remember tasting it when I was very young. That unusual sweet tang was firmly embedded in my food memory, like a little chip of sensual data, by my Aunt Edna. She was an excellent cook and often made quince jelly, one of the many jams that appeared at her banquet sized afternoon tea of scones and cakes. I didn’t understand the taste then, but I loved it. Now, I might describe it as ambrosial, ancient, and enticing.

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Poached quince in sugar syrup, with lemon peel and vanilla bean.

Years later, at the age of thirty to be precise, we moved to the country and I rediscovered that refined sweet flavour of Persia, Aphrodite and roses. The annual gathering of quinces from Norma’s orchard involved roaring down a rutted and overgrown dirt track in her old Subaru, with Poppy the dog on board, to the old fairyland quince grove beside the banks of the Diamond Creek. It was well hidden from human and bird predators. The trunks were grey and lime with lichen, the neglected trees gnarled and contorted, but they still cropped yearly. They were planted by the creek banks in the 1890s when the area around St Andrews was largely a fruit-growing district. That secret quince grove disappeared in the devastating bushfires of 2009.

Quince and Almond cake in Autumn light.

In the old days, the orchards bordering the Diamond Creek relied on its regular flow through this valley from its source in the Kinglake hills to the north. Records were maintained by orchardists up until the 1960s. As land holders turned away from agriculture, records of the Diamond Creek’s flow became impressionistic, but most locals will tell you that the volume has decreased significantly over the last 25 years, and in summer, the creek invariably dries up. Coincidentally, Coca Cola/ Amatil began buying up most of the underground water in the aquifer at Kinglake from the 1990s onwards, effectively dehydrating the communities further downstream. Kinglake water is bought for a song and is used to bottle Mount Franklin water. Thoughtless consumers drink pure water from plastic bottles, when they have a very good source of it in their own tap,¬†while a beautiful local creek, a tributary of the Yarra, is left with an irregular flow, not to mention the ramifications for wild life, further desiccation of the bush, increase in bushfire hazard and the problem of plastic.

Just for the colour

Returning to the glories of quince, I am happy to see that quinces are now widely available in markets, appearing from April onwards.  My 5-year-old Smyrna quince tree produces well, but wild birds and summer water shortage makes for a small harvest. I make a few batches of poached quinces each season, which last quite well under poaching liquid in the fridge. I take out slices to make various cakes and desserts, then boil up the poaching syrup, reducing it to a jelly glaze to use as a sauce or jam.

The Original Recipe

  • 250 g butter, at room temperature
  • ¬†1 ¬ľ cups caster sugar
  • ¬†1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
  • ¬†3 eggs
  • ¬Ĺ¬†cup almond meal
  • ¬ľ cup flaked almonds
  • ¬ĺcup milk
  • ¬†2 ¬ľ cups self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 large pre- poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
Quince cake to share. Enough for 10.
  1. Preheat oven to 180¬įC¬†or 160¬įC¬†fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.

  2. Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in almond meal and flaked almonds. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating.  Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 5 mins, then remove sides of pan.  You may need to cover the cake with tinfoil after an hour if the top is already brown.

    Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar.

    The Adapted Recipe. I didn’t like the sound of flaked almonds inside the batter but I still wanted a strong almond taste. I changed the ratio of almond meal to flour and removed the flaked almonds altogether. My version used 1 cup of almond meal to 1 and 3/4 cups of SR flour and a scant teaspoon of baking powder. Try either version. Maybe add a little slurp of Amaretto or a drop of almond essence. I also glazed the cake with some of the reduced hot syrup.

 

Lemon, Lime and Poppy Seed Cake with Books

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Cooking has taken a serious nosedive around this casa of late. It’s always the same after returning from a trip. The reality of cleaning, cooking, planting garlic, raking Autumn leaves, making compost, pruning, just to name a few tasks on the never ending list, makes me want to run away. Combine this cooking reluctance with Melbourne’s cold weather, a house full of bronchitis, a dodgy shoulder, and a very inviting wood fire and a stack of novels, and there you have it: ‘let them eat cake’, she said.

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This little cake was fast to make, didn’t involve too much mess for someone else to clean up, and goes very well with cups of tea, books and lethargy.

Ingredients

  • 125 g butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tsp lime zest
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200 g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of poppy seeds
  • 100 ml plain yoghurt

the syrup

  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar

the method

Preheat the oven to 180¬įC. Butter and line a 30 cm loaf tin with baking paper, then butter again.

Place the butter and zest in  a mixing bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the sugar gradually and beat well after each addition. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Fold in the flour, poppy seeds and yoghurt, alternating between wet and dry. Spoon into the prepared tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave for 5 minutes then turn onto a wire rack.

To make the syrup, place the juices and sugar in a pan, simmer gently and stir continually until the sugar dissolves. Make holes in the cake with a skewer and pour the hot syrup over the hot cake, aiming at the holes and centre.

The cake will last for three days, but ours didn’t.

Adapted from The New Cranks Recipe Book, Nadine Abensur 1996.

A larger lime syrup cake recipe can be found here:  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Novels read with cake:

  • A Thousand Spendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, 2007.¬†Kindle edition.¬†Thanks Rachael P for the recommendation.
  • Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, 2013. Allen and Unwin. ¬†A must read before the TV series is released.

 

Rustic Italian Plum Cake

Torta Rustica con Prugne
Torta Rustica con Prugne

Cleaning out the fridge would have to be THE most objectionable of kitchen tasks- a duty better palmed off onto someone else, with generous bribes of unbridledness, or 25,000 frequent flyer points or both. But more often than not, the painful job lands on me. Amongst the buried treasure, wilting vegetables, jars of Chinese sauces past their use by date, half used tubs of mouldy mascarpone and… you know the score….¬†I found a bag of blood plums, just a little too ripe, but still consumable. Plums are my favourite fruit and I am a little sad when the season comes to an end. This bonanza was my reward. And so was the this lovely Italian inspired cake which soon followed the find.

served with runny cream
Served with runny cream.

Torta Rustica con Prugne. Rustic Italian Plum Cake

  • 400 g plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 300 g caster sugar, plus extra for the top.
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 150 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
  • 8-10 plums ( blood plums are the best here) halved and stoned

Line the bottom and sides of a 26 cm round springform cake tin with baking paper and butter the paper well.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Combine 300 g caster sugar and the eggs in a bowl and whisk until the mixture is pale and thick ( use a stand mixer for ease or preparation). Fold in the flour mixture and lemon zest in three batches, alternating with the melted butter, beginning and ending with flour.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared tin, and top with the half the plums, cut side up. Smooth the remaining batter on to top and make a topping with the remaining plums, cut side up. Sprinkle with the extra sugar and bake at 180 C/160 C fan oven for 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove and slide the cake from the bottom, and let cool on the rack completely. Serve in wedges with cream or ice cream. Serves 8 to 10.

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My slightly different version.

It pays to read a recipe well before commencing. Here I have inadvertently shoved all the plums into the centre, rather than layering them. This made for a wonderful red gooey middle. And now that the plum season is over in Australia, I cannot attempt the layered version until this time next year.

From Splendido, The Best of Italian Cooking. Loukie Werle, 2001

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake for Julie

It is with a great deal of trepidation that we meet new friends in person for the first time. When I say ‘friends’, I mean those relationships forged through blogging or other social media. I refuse to call these friendships ‘virtual’ as they feel quite real along the way, and yet there is a certain level of anxiety about finally meeting in the flesh.

Where's the cream, Mr Tranquillo?
Where’s the cream Mr Tranquillo?

Yesterday my friend Julie from New Zealand visited for lunch. I have got to know Julie quite well through her blog, Frogpondfarm, and pursuant comments. She started out posting about her organic garden but as time ticked by and her passion for photography developed, her posts began to reveal so much more, with forays into the starkly beautiful central Otago countryside of the south island, and her fascination with weathered wooden posts and barbed wire, or dried grasses and flowers, and raising chooks. Her photos of early morning walks with her dog along the thundering West Coast beach in the North Island of New Zealand take my breath away. Her vineyards in the south island produce the ambrosial grapes that go into Toi Toi Pinot Noir wine, a year or two before they loll and sway about in my mouth. Toi Toi Pinot Noir is a most pleasing drop, not only for the taste of that dry, cool terroir of the South Island, but reminiscent of the wines of the Beaune area of France too. It is also well pleasing to my wallet. I knew we would get on well- we have too much in common. The four hours went in a flash.

My favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.
A favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.

As we strolled through my desiccated summer garden on the way back to the car, she silently gathered a handful of dried seed from a Marguerite daisy bush. Some to spread about and some for her pocket? It was a precious moment, now frozen in my mind, one that no photo could capture, nor words seize. Seeds are the great mementos in life. It is something that I like to do too.

This well-known and timeless cake goes well with Julie, such a beautiful and warm-hearted woman. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander but as Stephanie says in her introduction, it was made famous in the 1960s by Elizabeth David. It is rich and moist, yet so simple to make.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake, with Berries in Season

Reine de saba - Chocolate and almond cake.
Reine de saba – Chocolate and almond cake with strawberries from the Orto
  • Butter for greasing
  • 125g dark couverture chocolate, (or 70% chocolate ) chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g softened unsalted butter
  • 100g¬†cup caster sugar
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat oven to 160C. Butter an 18cm- 20 cm tin and line it with paper. Use a springform tin if you are sure it doesn’t leak, as this cake is fragile and often cracks when turned out.

Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over water or in a double-boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar and mix well. Add almonds and stir in well. Remove bowl from the heat.

Lightly beat the yolks and stir into the bowl. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of whites, then fold in the remaining whites carefully and lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a bit gooey in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slipping onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake.

And a big thanks to lovely Paula for accompanying Julie and driving her out into the wilds here. It was a delight to meet you. You made it all happen

Julie in background, Paula in foreground.
Julie in background, Paula in foreground.

Easy Cherry Frangipane Tart. Like a Version.

Those of you, dear friends, who have followed this blog for a while may remember the other versions of my easy frangipane tart. The summer apricot version is extremely popular with readers but the pear version is my favourite in late Autumn. Follow the seasons and try any fresh fruit you fancy.

The cherry rendition follows the same recipe but this time I have used a rectangular fluted baking tin, and added a cherry coulis. The pitting of cherries was a speedy exercise, thanks to a little research and Mr Tranquillo’s nimble hands. The best kitchen gadget for cherry pitting is a plain icing or piping tip- you just push the tip through one end of the cherry and out pops the pip. The alternative, but a little slower, is the pointed end of a chopstick. Magic tricks in the kitchen.

Torta di Mandorle, Ciliegie e Amaretto –¬†Italian Almond and Cherry Tart with Amaretto.

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  • ¬†150 g of castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 375 g almond meal
  • 2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 500 g or less of dark, ripe cherries, pitted.
  • 25 g flaked almonds

Method

Preheat oven to 180c /160c FF. Grease a 34 cm x 12 cm loose bottom rectangular tin. Grease and line base. Grease and flour sides. ( or use a 25 cm round loose bottomed tin as per original recipe links above)

Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale. ( if the mixture curdles at this point, throw in a little of your pre-measured flour, or just don’t worry). Scrape down the sides as you go.

Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto.  Pour into the prepared tin.

Press whole cherries into the almond batter.
Press whole cherries into the almond batter.

Arrange the cherries and press them into the batter so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. You might not use all the cherries so reserve them for a coulis.

Scatter top with almond flakes then bake.
Scatter top with almond flakes then bake.

Bake for about 40 mins but check after 30 mins and move the tray around for even browning. Cool in tin, then remove to a flat serving platter.

In profile
In profile after baking

Cherry Coulis.

Using the remaining pitted cherries, halve them, put in a small saucepan with a little caster sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook gently for five minutes then puree in a blender. Strain if you like a fine coulis. If too runny, put the mixture back into the pan to reduce a little.

Cherry Frangipane with a little sifted icing sugar
Al fresco con una torta di mandorle e ciliegie.
Al fresco con una torta di mandorle e ciliegie.