In my youth, when it was rare to know anyone who had travelled abroad, I was a lot more adventurous than I am now. At just eighteen I set off to work in a Swiss hotel in order to learn French, something I hadn’t managed to pick up at school. At various times I hitchhiked from home to France, to Spain and to Switzerland and when I had only just turned seventeen I went to stay with relatives of relatives in Egypt for a month.
Who doesn’t love a good Easter egg hunt? Well, I’m not actually sure I’ve ever been on one, but I love the idea and I’ve certainly witnessed a few with the excited squeals of children ringing in my ears. So when I was asked to create an Easter recipe for Sainsbury’s, I thought I’d hide a few Easter eggs inside some cupcakes. I give you surprise Easter Egg cupcakes.
Never let it be said that I fail to keep my powder dry. Here’s a post I’ve just found from August 2012 that has yet to see the light of day on my blog – until now.
Not a grand cake for CTs birthday, but a nice simple one that would travel well and his mother would enjoy. The day after his birthday CT was leaving to visit her for a few days and given that we were going to spend his actual birthday out and about I didn’t think there would be much room left for cake anyway. With an organic lemon in need of using up and some home made lemon curd, it had to be some sort of lemon cake. When I did a search on Eat Your Books for lemon and chocolate, a recipe for lemon drizzle with chocolate chunks came up from G&Bs Unwrapped. Brilliant, I would make the lemon cake, swirl through some lemon curd rather than adding chocolate and make a chocolate topping instead.
This is how I made:
Lemon Cake with Chocolate Icing
- Creamed 125g unsalted butter and 125g cardamom sugar (caster) until light and fluffy.
- Grated in the zest of one large organic lemon and creamed some more.
- Beat in 2 large eggs, one by one.
- Sifted in 150g flour (half wholemeal, half white) and 1 heaped tsp of baking powder.
- Added 1 tbsp of milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice and stirred gently until just incorporated.
- Spooned into a 2lb loaf mould and baked at 180C for 40 minutes until well risen and a toothpick inserted into the middle came out more or less clean.
- Turned out onto a rack to cool.
- Simmered 25g caster sugar with 25ml water for a couple of minutes.
- Allowed to cool a little, then stirred in 40g of chopped milk chocolate (G&B 35%).
- Stirred until smooth, then added 5g unsalted butter.
- When cool but still just about runny, poured this over the cake.
- Decorated with yellow sugar strands.
I was right, we were so full from lunch, we only managed a small slice each when we got home. The cake was delicious though and my concern that lemon wouldn’t go desperately well with chocolate was unfounded. It tasted just like Madeira cake and because I’d forgotten to add the lemon curd, it wasn’t too lemony.
Despite a really busy week at work I managed to take the day off. In true botanist style, CT chose to spend the day visiting gardens and nurseries in and around the English Riveria – in other words, across the border and into Devon. Amazingly it didn’t rain and we had a lovely day. We had lunch at The Combe Sellers, a pub restaurant right on the banks of the River Teign. The food was really good and the setting was lovely. As well as a celebratory glass of Pimms, we finished up with a sharing dessert platter which was responsible for us only managing a sliver of cake when we got home!
It just so happens that this month’s Love Cake theme over at JibberJabberUK is Feeling Fruity. So this lemon cake is winging its way in that direction.
There is no doubt about it, nettles are jam packed full of goodness and there seems no end to their health benefits. Be wary of their sting when raw by all means, but once cooked, they make an excellent spinach substitute. At a time of year when there is not a lot ready to be harvested in our gardens, plots and fields, they fill a handy gap. Some of the nicest home brew I have tasted was nettle beer. We use them to enrich our compost heap and make a tea for both ourselves and the garden. Recently I noted in a guest post by Urvashi Roe over at Fuss Free Flavours that toasted nettle seeds are good scattered over salads or even porridge. That’s a new one on me and I can’t wait for the nettles to start seeding so I can try it. Despite my love of this stinging weed, nettles were not something I had ever thought of adding to cakes. I was quite startled when I saw a recipe for nettle and lemon cake over on Veggie Desserts. I really shouldn’t have been too surprised, however. Kate includes all sorts of interesting vegetables into her bakes and desserts and if you haven’t yet come across her blog, I urge you to take a look.
My love of nettles and my experimental inclinations very soon got the better of me and it wasn’t long before I was having a go myself. Over Easter, I met up with some old school friends for a fabulous walk along the south Devon coast near East Prawle (just love that name). I suspected they would be intrigued rather than aghast at the thought of eating nettle cakes, so I took them along to picnic on after our walk. I sort of followed Kate’s recipe, but reduced the quantities somewhat and adapted it in order to add white chocolate. I also topped it with a mascarpone icing.
This is how I made:
Nettle, Lemon and White Chocolate Cupcakes
- Picked 100g of young nettle tops (top 4 leaves). Washed them, then simmered with a little water until they were cooked – about 5 minutes.
- Drained off any excess water and pureed with a hand blender.
- Melted 50g white chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of hot water.
- Added 150g cubed unsalted butter and 115g vanilla sugar (golden caster).
- Grated in the zest of ½ an organic lemon (reserving the other half for the icing) and creamed until light and fluffy.
- Beat in 2 duck eggs (large hens eggs) and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
- Sifted in 200g flour (half wholemeal, half white) and 1 tsp baking powder.
- Squeezed in the juice of half a lemon.
- Added the nettle puree and stirred until just combined.
- Spooned into 15 cupcake cases and baked at 180℃ for about 20 minutes when the cakes were well risen and an inserted skewer came out clean.
- Turned out onto a wire rack to cool.
- Stirred the remaining lemon zest into 125g mascarpone cheese.
- Squeezed in the remaining lemon juice.
- Sifted in 100g icing sugar and beat well.
- Spread the icing on top of the cakes.
The icing was a little on the runny side, so you might want to fiddle with the quantities. But it tasted most satisfactory as did the nettle cupcakes. There was some debate as to whether the nettles could be tasted or not, but all enjoyed them and loved the vibrant green colour. CT was aghast that anyone could fail to detect the flavour; thankfully he kept his thoughts to himself. The best bit of course, was feeling as though you were having a nutritious snack whilst tucking into a sweet indulgent treat. Maybe it was both?
As nettles were very much in season when I made these cakes and in fact still are, I am entering them into Simple and in Season with Ren Behan.
One of these cakes at least is being sent off to Emily of A Mummy Too for her #recipeoftheweek.
Spring is the time for nettles and I can’t think of a better veg to celebrate it with – well maybe I can, but it is one of my favourites. Celebrating Spring is the theme for this month’s Four Seasons Food which is being hosted by Lou of Eat Your Veg. Anneli of Delicieux hosted last month.
This was a bank holiday cake bake for taking on a picnic so qualifies for this month’s Calendar Cakes over at Dolly Bakes.
Before Christmas, I was sent vouchers to buy some Greek Gods yogurt to try. However, it was a few weeks before I was able to get to a store that sells them, which was no bad thing given the amount of Christmas baking I ended up doing. Greek Gods yogurt is all about the honey. There is something about thick creamy yogurt and honey which speaks to me of the Middle East. It is a thick Greek style yogurt and is quite delicious as a dessert in its own right. There is no mistaking the honey flavour which comes through quite strongly; I find it very pleasant. The yogurt is a little too sweet for me to eat on my morning muesli; I prefer plain yogurt best for this purpose. On reading the ingredients I noticed there is added sugar as well as honey. Does it really need both? Served with fruit or with puddings instead of cream, however, it would work splendidly. The texture is quite firm, almost solid but smooth and creamy too. It reminded me of the yogurts I used to eat in Switzerland, which were quite different to those then found in the UK.
The Greek Gods range is available at Sainsbury’s stores nationwide and retails at £1.99 for a 450g pot and 99p for a 175g one.
I chose a 450g pot of their honey yogurt, a 175g pot of honey and vanilla and a 175g pot of honey and walnut. Any of these yogurts, including the honey and clementine which I didn’t buy, would work well I thought in a yogurt semolina cake recipe. However, it was the honey and walnut version that particularly grabbed my attention and it whispered seductively: basbousa.
When I lived in Egypt many years ago, one of my favourite sweet treats was basbousa – a syrupy cake made with semolina and honey. In the sweet shop I particularly favoured, it was served with something that was suspiciously like clotted cream. My Arabic was never good enough to find out exactly what it was, but that’s my bet and I do know something about clotted cream. I’ve tried on a number of occasions to recreate the wonder that was basbousa, but I’ve never managed it. This could of course be false memory syndrome and nostalgia getting in the way. Whatever the reason, I now have a particular fondness for yogurt semolina cakes. I made one recently as part of a 60th birthday celebration and it proved to be popular.
Traditionally, basbousa is made without eggs and is quite a dense cake. I thought I’d try making a lighter textured version, so included eggs and a little flour. I decided to use white chocolate, which I’ve found works really well in cakes. I reduced the amount of butter and sugar needed accordingly. Nuts are generally used for decoration and are not included in the actual bake, but inspired by the Greek Gods honey and walnut yogurt, I thought walnuts would marry well with the flavours of honey, lemon and rose.
And I was right. the walnut yogurt worked brilliantly in this cake. The result was a substantial yet light cake which was moist with a slightly chewy texture. Not surprisingly it tasted of honey and walnuts. Any self respecting Greek god would be delighted to tuck into this on Mount Olympus. We had to make do with Bodmin Moor, but there are compensations; we ate ours with clotted cream. Proper Job.
I was sent some vouchers to buy Greek Gods yogurt. There was no requirement to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are my own.
This is my tribute to basbousa.
- 100g unsalted butter
- 75g white chocolate
- 200g semolina
- 50g wholemeal flour
- 100g walnuts
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 large eggs
- 175g Greek yogurt (walnut & honey flavour)
- 120g 120g caster sugar (I used cardamom sugar)
- 150 ml water
- 1 tbsp honey
- juice and grated rind lemon
- 1 tbsp rose water
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 slices
I was so pleased with the chilli white chocolate shortbread snowflakes that I made last month, that I seem to have done nothing else recently but make more shortbread biscuits based on that recipe. I was baking for a friend’s birthday party recently and thought it would be fun to make “after dinner” tea and coffee biscuits. With 100 guests expected, I made two batches of the biscuits resulting in about 110 in total. To one I added Japanese matcha tea powder to give an intriguing tea flavour and green colour and to the other I added some ground coffee which gave an interesting speckled look and a mild but definite coffee flavour. These proved to be rather popular, especially, it seemed, for scooping up a very large trifle that had been made for the occasion. Even more recently, I made over 60 lemon and cardamom biscuits for my last day at work. I haven’t quite decided what biscuits I shall be making for Christmas this year, but as I’ve ordered some organic oranges, I’m currently in favour of making some orange and cardamom white chocolate shortbread biscuits. By the new year, I suspect I shall be thoroughly fed up with shortbread.
Like their chilli shortbread predecessors, any of these would look good pierced and hung with ribbon from the Christmas tree. They’d also make lovely Christmas gifts.
|Coffee White Chocolate Shortbread|
|Matcha White Chocolate Shortbread|
|Lemon and Cardamom White Chocolate Shortbread|
This is how I made:
White Chocolate Shortbread Biscuits
- Softened 50g of good quality white chocolate by putting it in the mixing bowl and placing it on the storage heater for ten minutes.
- Added 170g of unsalted butter cubed and left to soften.
- Creamed the butter and chocolate with 85g golden caster sugar until pale in colour and fluffy in texture (used cardamom sugar for the lemon cardamom biscuits).
- Added 175g plain flour (half wholemeal, half white), 80g brown rice flour and a pinch of pink Himalayan rock salt.
- Depending on the flavour, added 1) 2 heaped tsp of matcha powder 2) 2 heaped tsp ground coffee 3) grated zest of an organic lemon together with the ground up seeds of 3 cardamom pods.
- Stirred until incorporated, then formed into a ball and left in my cold kitchen to firm up for half an hour.
- Rolled out to about 3mm thickness and stamped out small shapes getting 50 to 60 biscuits in total (hearts for the matcha shortbread, flowers for the coffee and snowflakes for lemon cardamom).
- Left to firm up in my cold kitchen for 15 minutes.
- Baked for 7-8 mins at 180°C until just golden.
- Dusted with fine caster sugar whilst still hot, then transferred to a wire rack to cool and harden.
Jo at Comfort Bites has started a new challenge with the same name as her blog Comfort Bites. This month her theme is Christmas and as these would make great Christmas gifts, I am entering them.
Well as far as biscuits go, these are fairly Quick and Easy which is the theme for this month’s The Biscuit Barrel with Laura of I’d Much Rather Bake Than … The stamping can be fiddly if you use a small snowflake cutter as I did for the lemon cardamom cookies, but a larger and simpler stamp would not take very long at all.
And as everything is made from scratch some of these are being sent of to Javelin Warrior for his Made with Love Mondays.
Homemade mincemeat is a revelation, once made it’s hard to go back to a commercial product. Even inveterate mincemeat sceptics like CT are happy to partake of this. In fact it was hard to keep his hands off the Chilli and Chocolate Mincemeat Slice I made last year.
September is a month of abundance, or at least it is in my mother’s garden this year. We went foraging there a few days ago to see what we could find. As well as gathering lots of windfall apples, a big bowl of blackberries, some plums and a few blueberries, we came home with four ripe figs.