The best Easter buns

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Home-made Easter buns studded with fruits are an extra special way to start the day on Easter Friday, either for breakfast or brunch feasting, or with an afternoon cup of tea.

Makes 12

1 tbsp active dry yeast

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp caster sugar

1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk

4 cups plain flour, sifted

2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

2 tbsp mixed spice

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried cranberries

50g butter, melted

1 egg, lightly beaten

CROSS MIXTURE:

1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup cold water

GLAZE:

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 tsp gelatine

1 Place yeast, 1 tablespoon of measured sugar and 1/2 cup measured milk in a bowl and leave for 5 minutes until foamy.

2 Combine flour, cocoa, spices, raisins and dried cranberries and remaining sugar in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add yeast mixture, remaining milk, melted butter and egg to well. Mix together until a sticky dough forms.

3 On a lightly floured surfaced, knead dough for 5 minutes or until dough feels smooth and elastic. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm place until doubled in size (this will take up to 1 hour).

4 Grease a 20 x 30cm lamington tin and line with nonstick baking paper. Divide dough into 12 equal portions; roll into balls and place in tin in neat rows. Cover and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.

5 Preheat oven to 200°C. Make crosses by blending flour and water together until smooth. Place in a piping bag and pipe crosses onto buns. Bake 25-30 minutes or until browned and springy to touch.

6 Remove to cool. Brush with warm glaze made by boiling all glaze ingredients together until sugar and gelatine dissolve.

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Chef’s tricks: Foaming yeast mixture indicates that the yeast is activated. It is important to leave the dough to rise in a warm place to stimulate the yeast. Cover the bowl of dough with either plastic wrap or a damp, clean tea towel.

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Serve hot (or toast to reheat) with lashings of butter and jam.

Feijoa season is short but sweet…

Cook up a heavenly treat using some of the best fruits of autumn: feijoas. Although these fruits require no work to eat fresh and at their best, when cooked they are transformed into warm, sticky, translucent, sweet creations. Feijoas have a natural affinity with pastry, butter, sugar, cream, coconut, dried fruits, nuts and spices, so lend themselves beautifully to sweet muffins, cakes and comforting puddings. Originally cultivated in South America, the feijoa is now a classic New Zealand fruit that seems to be grown in nearly every second back garden. Here’s my most favourite Feijoa cake recipe for you to try.

LITTLE FEIJOA AND COCONUT CAKES

While the cakes cook the slices of feijoas caramelise giving the fruit a more intense flavour that is further heightened by the tangy lemon syrup. If you like feijoas then you will find these cakes truly scrumptious.

Makes 6

100g butter, softened

1/2 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup fine desiccated coconut

3/4 cup plain flour

1 teaspoons baking powder

4 feijoas, peeled and sliced

1 Preheat oven to 160°C fan bake. Grease and lightly dust with flour 6 x 1 cup capacity cake tins.

2 In a bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in coconut, sifted flour and baking powder. Spoon mixture into prepared cake tins. Arrange a few feijoa slices over the surface of each cake.

3 Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool cakes in tins. Once cold, remove cakes from tins and saturate with hot lemon syrup (recipe follows).

LEMON SYRUP:

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Juice of 6 lemons

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 To make the lemon syrup, place all ingredients in a saucepan.

2 Bring to the boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer hard for 3 to 5 minutes or until thick and syrupy.

 

Happy National Nut Day New Zealand!

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I’m nuts about nuts! So, to celebrate National Nut Day, which is today folks, here are a couple of recipes that I know you’ll find useful over the coming summer months.

ROMESCO SAUCE

Romesco (a Spanish almond and red pepper sauce) is delicious dolloped over the following salad and many other salad combinations. It also makes a great sauce for barbecue seafood or roast chicken.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup natural almonds

3 cloves garlic

2 large preserved red peppers, well-drained

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp smoked paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Place almonds and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process to chop. Add peppers; process to from a thick puree.
  2. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until amalgamated. Add paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Keeps well for up to 1 week if stored in the fridge.

HAZELNUT, BUCKWHEAT & RAW ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH ROMESCO SAUCE

Serves 6

1 recipe Romesco sauce (see above)

1 1/2 cups whole buckwheat (groats)

2 bunches fine asparagus, trimmed

1 cup hazelnuts (or walnuts, if preferred), toasted and chopped

1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

1/3 cup flaxseeds

1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive or avocado oil

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Method:

  1. Cook the buckwheat in plenty of boiling water for 8-10 minutes, or until tender to the bite. Drain well and set aside to cool.
  2. Finely slice the asparagus on an angle. Combine cooled buckwheat with the remaining ingredients and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Serve topped with dollops of Romesco sauce.

Slowly does it…

When life seems to get busier by the day, it’s worthwhile taking the time to linger over a cooking pot and to relish its gentle, unhurried bubbling. To watch a delicious meal simmer, slowly, can be a very restorative diversion. And when you don’t have the time then it’s good to know some slow-cook dishes can even be left alone to do their thing while you get on with something else. Slowly simmering food is one of the most ancient forms of cooking and the results deeply satisfying. Whether the recipe you choose to follow is an age-old soup or stew or a modern combination, the finished all-in-one meal will surely revive any flagging spirits or jaded palates.

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Bean and Lentil Soup

Bean soups are wonderfully satisfying and tasty – this one can also be cooked in a crock-pot, if preferred.

Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced

2 sticks celery, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

400g can crushed tomatoes

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup green lentils

1 cup macaroni or other small pasta shapes

400g can white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

400g can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion, carrot and celery; cook over a low heat for 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

2 Add tomatoes, stock and lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes.

3 Add pasta and beans and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until pasta is tender. Add oregano and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Chef’s trick: This soup can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for reheating throughout the week. You will find the flavours develop and improve with time.

Red between the vines

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Tomatoes that have been allowed to ripen on the vine while the suns turns their skin a deep crimson are pure pleasure to eat. Big, small, round or oval, tomatoes are ripe with the promise of flavour. And these days, tomatoes come in many colours and types, as well – red and yellow, multi-coloured heirloom varieties, cherry, beefsteak, Italian plum or roma tomatoes, green, purple, vine-ripened and pear-shaped – they’re all delicious. Whichever variety you choose, the tomato forms the heart and soul of many recipes for sauces, tarts and pies, bakes, soups and preserves. And nowhere does it shine better than in a salad, tossed with a tasty dressing. So I say, don’t hesitate – dive right into the wide variety of summer-sun-ripened tomatoes while at their peak and most flavourful.

 

COUSCOUS AND FETA STUFFED TOMATOES

Baked tomatoes are an easy summer meal solution. In Mediterranean countries, tomatoes are traditionally stuffed with either meat or rice. I’ve stuffed these tomatoes with fluffy couscous, salty feta and the fragrance of fresh herbs for a change.

Serves 6

1/2 cup couscous

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

3 tbsp chopped fresh mint

3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander or parsley

1/4 cup pine nuts

100g feta, crumbled

3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 large ripe tomatoes

1. Place couscous in a bowl. Place stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil then pour over couscous. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave to steam for 10 minutes until softened.

2. Fluff up couscous with a fork and mix in herbs, pine nuts, feta and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Slice the stem end off each tomato. Using a teaspoon, hollow out the centers, removing and discarding the seeds. Fill each tomato with couscous and replace the ends as a lid.

4. Heat oven to 190°C. Place stuffed tomatoes on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until heated through and golden brown. Serve hot with perhaps roast chicken, grilled steak or pan-fried fillets of fish.

Chef’s secret: Never store tomatoes in the fridge as this impairs their falvour. Place tomatoes in a bowl as you would any fruit, and leave them at room temperature. Tomatoes are a sub-tropical fruit and so respond to warmth and sunlight. Once tomatoes are at their optimum state of ripeness, they should be eaten as soon as possible.

 

Talking Turkey

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I’m a sucker for tradition and turkey is what I crave as the centerpiece of my Christmas table feast. I always choose to serve free-range turkey and I have to say that Crozier’s produce the best gobblers I’ve ever tasted. Raised on the clean, green, sunny mid-Canterbury plains and allowed to range freely, this natural lifestyle really contributes to a Crozier’s turkey’s fuller flavour and tenderness.

Over the years I’ve tried a variety of twists on the turkey tradition – everything from boning, stuffing and rolling a whole turkey; and various or multiple stuffing recipes; to cooking just the turkey breast-meat and adding this to a salad. About ten years ago, wet-brining became all the rage and so I tried this concept too.

Brining is the process of soaking the turkey overnight in a salty water solution before roasting and it works to inject the meat with both flavour and moisture producing juicy, tasty results and extra crispy skin. However, this process is a bit of a palaver and you have to find a vessel big enough to hold the turkey and the brine solution and space in your fridge to store the whole thing.

Now I’ve discovered an easier method and so I’ve moved on to dry-brining (also called pre-salting) – this gives all the flavour and texture of wet-brining but is less awkward to accomplish. I’m going to share with you exactly how to do this so you too can cook the most succulent and delicious turkey you’ve ever tasted.

This year, I’m loving using pomegranate molasses to glaze my festive turkey because it gives a wonderful sweet-sour flavour to the meat and to the gravy plus a fantastic bronzed colouring to the skin. You can buy pomegranate molasses from specialty food stores and some supermarkets.

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Pomegranate molasses glazed turkey with onion gravy

Serves 10-12

4.5 kg Crozier’s free-range turkey, thawed

3-4 tablespoons sea salt

3 large onions, thickly sliced

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 bay leaves

2 pomegranates, to garnish

Start with a thawed, natural (not pre-seasoned) turkey such as Crozier’s Free-range Turkey. Remove the giblets (and reserve in the fridge for gravy making). Rinse the turkey inside and out and dry with paper towels.

Sprinkle the salt all over the turkey, starting on the underside, then the cavity, and finally the breast.

Place the turkey, breast-side up, on a rack set over an oven pan (to catch any drips) and refrigerate uncovered for at least 1 day but ideally up to 3 days. You do not need to pat it dry before cooking.

Remove the turkey from the fridge one hour before roasting and let it stand at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 170°C and position the oven rack in the lowest part of the oven.

Place one sliced onion into the turkey cavity, tie the legs together with heatproof kitchen twine and tuck the wing tips under the bird. Scatter two sliced onions and bay leaves over an oven pan and place the turkey on top. Pour 1.5 cups of water into the roasting pan and add the giblets. Drizzle the pomegranate molasses all over the turkey and smear this into the skin. Drizzle over the oil.

Roast for 2 hours 15 minutes (as a guide, allow 15 minutes per 500gms plus 15 minutes extra), basting regularly and adding more water to the pan, as necessary. Cover with foil half way through cooking if the skin gets too dark. Remove the turkey to a platter to rest, covered with a tent of foil, for 15 minutes before carving. Garnish the platter with halved pomegranates, if desired.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the fat from the roasting pan and place in a saucepan. Remove the onions and all the pan juices (discard bay leaves) and puree together in a food processor. Stir 2 tablespoons of flour into the fat and whisk over heat to brown the flour. Whisk in the puree and pan juices and simmer until the flour has thickened and the gravy is smooth. Add a little extra water or stock if necessary. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper or perhaps a little extra pomegranate molasses, to taste.

Enjoy! And happy Christmas to everyone. Julie xx

Crozier’s Free Range Turkeys are not available from supermarkets, but can be ordered from butchers nationwide or specialty food stores, see this website for stockists: http://www.croziersturkeys.co.nz/products/where-to-buy/

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Gifting made easy

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I’ve always been keen on making Christmas gifts centered around giving foodie treats to friends and family. This year, I’m packaging up some wonderful Alison’s Pantry delicious foodstuffs in a variety of craft creations. I thought I’d share my ideas with you because they’re a great way to make fun, low-cost, homemade gifts and I hope you find them inspiring.

You really only need a few simple craft items to make my creations. Check out Alison’s Pantry at New World stores nationwide (NZ) and stock up on their delicious dried fruits, nuts, treats and blends so you can get started. These are just a few crafty ideas to help you share the love of homemade giving this Christmastime.

And be sure to visit http://www.alisonspantry.co.nz for more great festive food recipes.

Reindeer Noses:

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First up, I’ve popped Alison’s Pantry Choc’o Berry Bites into little brown paper bags and decorated the bags to look like reindeer faces. You need some brown pipe cleaners to twist into antlers, stick on some googly eyes and pompom noses. I call these gift packs “Reindeer noses” and they’re perfect to give to children.

Santa Snacks:

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Fill recycled jam or pickle jars with Alison’s Pantry Superboost blend – a great mix of dried fruits and nuts studded with chunks of dark chocolate. Decorate the jars with a wide red ribbon around the center (to look like Santa’s belt) and stick on a belt buckle cut out of gold or silver card. Stick on a few buttons if you like and top the jar with a fluffy Santa hat cut out of red felt. Superboost is a delicious snack for active people (a bit like a trail mix). I also like to add this blend to rolled oats to make an awesome natural muesli.

Snowman Body Fuel:

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I’ve got a couple of different snowman concepts going on here. Both contain Alison’s Pantry Body Fuel – a tasty blend of nut and seed bites, chocolate chunks, and various toasted nuts – it’s great to serve as a healthy nibble with festive drinks. Either, fill recycled jam jars with Body Fuel and then decorate the jar lids with snowmen made of white pompoms. Stick on eyes and carrot-coloured felt noses and tie a ribbon around each snowman’s neck to look like a scarf. Or, fill cellophane bags with Body Fuel and pop inside white paper cups. Decorate the cups with googly eyes, a felt nose, and a big smile.

Festive Fruit & Nut Loaf Kit:

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This one is for the bakers out there. I’ve printed out my favourite Fruit and Nut Loaf recipe, rolled it up like a scroll and tied it with a red ribbon. I purchased some loaf tins and packed the quantities of Alison’s Pantry Orchard Fruits and Deluxe Natural Nuts required to make the Fruit and Nut Loaf recipe into each tin. You might like to search on-line to find some fun labels to print out, like the one pictured here, or simply cut a label out of coloured card and write your own words onto it. Adding a spatula or wooden spoon is a nice option too. Tie the whole thing together with a ribbon or two and you’ve got a wonderful gift for your favourite foodie friend.

Gift Boxes:

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This idea is super easy, inexpensive and very stylish. Noodle boxes are the perfect gift vessel for filling with any combination of Alison’s Pantry dried fruits, nuts or snack blends. All you need to do is tie a festive ribbon around the middle and voila, you have a beautiful gift box of healthy deliciousness.

Enjoy the festive season and I wish you happy creating and happy gift giving! Julie xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The magic of Pavlova

 

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There’s a magic about the alchemy of combining eggs whites and sugar to create fluffy, whipped peaks of white meringue. This magic, combined with nostalgia and a big dollop of deliciousness are the reasons why the great Kiwi Pavlova holds such a special place in our hearts as our most loved egg-based dessert. My twist on this wonderful tradition is the individual Pavlova. Made with brown sugar, these Pavs have a caramel taste and gooey texture that guarantees they will be a memorable treat and a highlight of any celebration.

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Individual brown sugar Pavlovas with mango, passionfruit and toasted coconut

Makes 12

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4 egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

3/4 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 vanilla bean, split in half

400ml thickened cream, to serve

1 mango, thinly sliced

Preserved passion fruit, in syrup (available from supermarkets)

Toasted fresh coconut, or threads (see chef’s trick)

  1. Preheat oven to 130°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Whisk egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add caster sugar, whisking continuously until the mixture is very thick and glossy.
  2. Add brown sugar, whisking well until dissolved. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and whisk seeds into the meringue mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture onto prepared baking trays to make 12 mounds. Bake for 1.5 hours (do not open the oven door during this time). Turn oven off and leave Pavlovas in the oven to cool completely.
  4. Spoon cream on top of Pavlovas, top with sliced mango, passion fruit pulp and toasted coconut.

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Chef’s trick: Buy a whole fresh coconut and break it open to remove the flesh. Using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips of coconut. Place on a baking tray and bake at 180°C for 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Alternatively, toast desiccated thread coconut in the same manner.

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Nature’s sweetest gift

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It’s always a delight to receive an unexpected gift and that’s exactly how I felt when a parcel arrived from Mother Earth. I was delighted to know they’ve launched their first ever UMF Manuka Honey, naturally made by New Zealand bees. UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) is a quality mark that assures purity and quality, which is wonderful news for us honey-lovers who really value true Manuka honey and its benefits. (For more information see www.motherearth.co.nz)

This lovely gift came all done up like a Christmas cracker. The wrapping made from NZ Honeywrap, a natural reusable food wrap, which is a brilliant thing in itself. Bees are certainly clever and magical beings. I read recently that worker bees are willing to travel thousands of kilometres and forage nectar from millions of flowers to make less than half a kilo of honey. Wow! I feel indebted to them for giving many of my favourite recipes sweetness and life.

As it’s now the festive season, I’ve got a gift for you too. I’m happy to share this divine recipe for my Honey Cheesecake studded with almonds and cranberries. This truly sensational cheesecake is naturally sweetened with Mother Earth Manuka Honey and does not contain any refined sugar at all. It is full of perfumed honey flavours and has a wonderful creamy texture punctuated by lovely toasted almonds and dried cranberries. It’s a healthy festive treat full of the extra goodness only found in UMF Manuka honey. Please make and enjoy with my best wishes to you and yours! Julie xx

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A delightful gift of Mother Earth UMF Manuka Honey, wrapped in NZ Honeywrap (a clever reusable food wrap).

FROZEN HONEY, CRANBERRY AND ALMOND CHEESECAKE

Serves 12

200g refined-sugar-free biscuits, crushed

75g butter, melted

500g cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup Manuka honey (I like to use NZ Mother Earth brand)

1 tsp vanilla essence

300ml thickened cream

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup roasted unsalted Almonds, roughly chopped

  1. Grease a 22cm round spring-form cake tin, and line sides with baking paper. Combine biscuit crumbs and butter and press mixture over the base of prepared tin. Freeze for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and 1/4 cup measured honey until smooth. Add cream and vanilla and beat to combine. Stir in cranberries and almonds. Spread mixture into prepared pan.
  3. Drizzle remaining honey over the top of the cheesecake. Use the blunt end of a bamboo skewer to swirl the honey through the creamy mixture to create a marbled effect.
  4. Cover cheesecake and freeze overnight until firm. Remove cheesecake from freezer. Stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Tip: This cheesecake can be kept frozen for up to 2 months. Alternatively, if you prefer not to freeze it, this cheesecake will still set in the fridge and will last well for up to a week.

I’m nuts about nuts

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I confess, I am a bit if a nut nut. I am happy to explain why. First of all, nuts are a great long-term energy source and are rich in mono or polyunsaturated fats – the good guys – that reduce cholesterol and improve blood circulation. Secondly, they contain a nutrient called alpha-linolenic acid that is credited with protecting the heart (60g of nuts two to four times a week can rapidly reduce the risk of heart attacks); and they regulate heartbeat and circulate oxygen in the muscles. Thirdly, they taste fantastic and are said to increase vitality (cashews), assist with depression and sleeplessness (almonds) and improve metabolism (walnuts).

Nuts are not only chock-full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy unsaturated fats but they’re a super-satisfying snack; add flavor and crunch to any meal; and are brilliant in baking. That’s why I’m nuts about nuts.

Around the world nuts are enjoyed in many forms. In Europe, almonds and walnuts may appear in muesli or breakfast pastries and roasted chestnuts are sold on the street to nibble on cold days. Peanuts and cashews are ubiquitous in Asian stir-fries and curries either ground or left whole, or rich, buttery nut sauces such as this classic satay sauce are the perfect complement to chargrilled meats or vegetable dishes like gado-gado. In Spanish dishes nuts are sometimes  used to thicken and add texture to sauces.

Let’s not forget that nuts can star in any of the following dishes – stuffings for capsicums and tomatoes, salads, pies (think sweet and pecan) and, of course, pasta sauces such as pesto (made traditionally with pine nuts, but these can be substituted with cashews or walnuts for variety). Or just nibble them on their own as a snack with dried fruits and seeds.

Many people have a favourite nut (almonds are definitely mine) and I have discovered, by experimenting, that nuts are interchangeable in lots of recipes. For instance, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan, Brazil nuts and even macadamias can be exchanged for the almonds in this cake. Whichever one you choose, people will go nutty over this naturally honey-sweetened cake.

As it is sweetened with honey only, (it does not contain any refined sugar), it tastes wonderfully fragrant. It’s also naturally dairy and gluten free, which is a bonus for those who need this option. But rest assured, it remains flavourful and light with a satisfying damp and nutty texture. It’s lovely for afternoon tea and can also work well for dessert with a dollop of yoghurt, softly whipped cream or ice cream on the side.

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Cook’s tip: Be careful not to overbeat the egg whites—they should be white and very foamy, but not at all stiff or able to hold peaks. If you beat them too much, the cake may sink in the middle as it cools.

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Drizzle finished cake generously with extra honey and sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds