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Yotam Ottolenghi and me…

I recently came across this lovely story and recipes by talented London chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, who writes for The Guardian newspaper in the UK. What a delightful surprise I got to read that Yotam had found inspiration in my Little Cafe Cakes cookbook.  I was totally chuffed to see he likes my work as much as I like his. Thanks Yotam!

As featured in The Guardian, UK, Saturday 28 August 2010.

By Yotam Ottolenghi

A long time ago, when I was taking my first steps on the road to chefdom and devouring cookbooks like there was no tomorrow, I came across a charming little book on a charming little subject: Little Cafe Cakes, by Julie Le Clerc, featured miniature versions of cakes and other small sweet delights. The idea appealed to me for some reason. Why do the Japanese love bonsai? Why do some people collect model cars? Maybe they give us a sense of greatness, reducing an object that is usually too large to hold in one hand or, in the cake’s case, swallow in a mouthful or two. Is it some kind of ego boost, or is it that small things are more aesthetically pleasing? The most convincing explanation to me is that mini versions mean you can have many more of them than you’d otherwise dream of.

Whatever the reason, as a now mature proprietor of a business that prides itself on its cakes, I can tell you that bonsai cakes and other one-to-three-bite items are taking over. Gone are the days when you went to a cake shop for a slice of this or a chunk of that.

Today, everyone wants small, compact, cute: cupcakes, muffins, tartlets and cookies; truffles, bars, brittles and bites. These cutesie little sweets have obvious advantages and appeal. They’re convenient both to sell and to carry (they’re ideal for picnics), they look good, they don’t dry out as a cake does when you cut off a slice, and they prove that you actually can have your cake and eat it – or at the very least another one just like it.

Recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi, as printed in The Guardian, UK, 2010

Blackberry & star anise friands

Un-iced, these baby cakes are made for the cookie tin – they keep well and are ideal for grabbing on a whim. Iced, they would not look out of place in the poshest of afternoon tea selections. Makes 10.

340g egg whites (10 egg whites)

100g plain flour

300g icing sugar

180g ground almonds

2 tsp star anise, finely ground

⅓ tsp salt

Grated zest of ½ lemon

220g unsalted butter, melted and left to cool, plus extra for greasing

150g blackberries

For the icing (optional)

70g blackberries, plus 10 extra, to garnish

2 tbsp water

300g icing sugar, plus extra to dust

Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Use melted butter to brush the bottoms and sides of 10 mini loaf tins (4.5cm high x 9.5cm long x 6.5cm wide), or similar small baking tins, and chill. Put the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk to froth them up a bit; don’t whip them completely. Sift the flour, icing sugar, ground almonds, star anise and salt, add to the egg whites and stir until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and melted butter, and mix just until the batter is smooth and uniform.

Pour into the baking tins, filling them two-thirds of the way up. Halve the blackberries and drop into the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, leave to cool a little, take out of the tins and leave until completely cool.

To ice the cakes, put the berries and water in a small bowl and use a fork to smash the fruit in the water. Pass through a fine sieve, pressing the pulp against the sides. Pour three-quarters of the purple juice over the icing sugar and whisk vigorously to a uniformly light-purple, runny paste. It should be just thick enough to allow you to brush it over the tops of the cakes, and will set as a thin, almost see-through coating on top with some icing dripping down the sides. (If not, add more juice.) Place a blackberry on each friand and dust with icing sugar.

Dried blueberry & white chocolate chip cookies

These tend to lose their crunch the next day, even in a sealed container, but pop them in the oven for a few minutes, leave to cool and they’ll regain it. Use currants or cranberries instead, if you prefer (the latter are good if you don’t like things too sweet). Makes 35.

150g unsalted butter, softened

70g dark muscavado sugar

70g caster sugar

1 free-range egg, beaten

160g plain flour

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¼ tsp salt

80g roasted hazelnuts, with their skins, roughly chopped

60g white choc chips

100g dried blueberries

Put the butter and sugars in a bowl and use a wooden spoon or a hand-held mixer to cream until pale and aerated. Mix in the egg a bit at a time. Sift the flour and bicarb, stir into the mix with the salt, then fold in the other ingredients. The mix is very wet and sticky, so chill for at least an hour.

Roll the dough into roughly 20g balls. Lay these on a lined tray and spaced well apart (they will spread a lot) and bake at 170C/335F/gas mark 3 for eight to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Leave to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Spicy corn muffins

The ideal home for these is the picnic hamper. Makes 12.

150g corn kernels (fresh or frozen)

140g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate soda

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1½ tsp salt

½ tsp crushed black pepper

60g muscavado sugar

180g quick polenta

360g soured cream

2 free-range eggs

120ml olive oil

4 spring onions, roughly chopped

10g coriander leaves, chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

For the topping

200g feta, cut into 2cm dice

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 red chilli, thinly sliced

Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 2½. Cut out 12 12cm-square pieces of baking parchment, and use to line 12 small muffin tins (or shallow tart tins 5-7cm in diameter and 3cm deep). Put the corn in a hot cast-iron pan and toast on high heat for five to six minutes, stirring occasionally, until blackened a little on the outside. Leave to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking powder, cumin and cayenne into a large bowl and stir in the salt, black pepper and sugar. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the polenta, soured cream, eggs and oil. Pour the wet mix into the dry ingredients, add the onions, coriander, chilli and corn and fold just to combine. Divide the mix between the cases, filling them to the top. Mix together the topping ingredients and divide between the muffins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Lemon cheesecake & poppy seed tartlets

Simply delicious. Makes eight.

200g cream cheese

60g caster sugar

2 small eggs

90g soured cream

Grated zest and juice of 2 small lemons (50ml juice, 1 tbsp zest)

Melted butter, for brushing the tins

Icing sugar, to finish (optional)

For the pastry

170g plain flour

50g icing sugar

90g cold butter, diced

Grated zest of ¼ lemon

1 tbsp poppy seeds

⅛ tsp salt

1 egg yolk

Roughly 1 tbsp cold water

Start with the pastry. Put the flour, sugar, butter, zest, poppy seeds and salt in the bowl of a food processor and work to uniform crumbs. Add the egg yolk and just enough water to bring everything together, collect the pastry into a flat block, wrap in cling-film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 160C/335F/gas mark 2½. Brush eight small muffin tins (or shallow tart tins, as before) with butter. Roll out the pastry 2-3mm thick and cut out eight circles to fit the tins. Line the tins with the pastry, rest in the fridge for 20 minutes, then line each pastry case with baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Remove, take out the beans and leave to cool down.

Lower the heat to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Whisk the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and uniform, whisk in the eggs, then the soured cream, lemon zest and juice. Fill the cases to the top and bake for 15 minutes, until just set. Leave to cool, then chill for at least an hour before taking out of the moulds. Dust with icing sugar, if you like.

  • Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of Ottolenghi in London, and author of several gorgeous cookbooks.

Happy National Nut Day New Zealand!

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.

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.

 

I’m nuts about nuts

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

J’adore les Cannelés

 

 

I want to tell you about a French delicacy that I have adored for a long time now. They may look rather plain but don’t judge a Canelé by its simple exterior. With their darkly caramelised, crunchy outside and soft rum and vanilla-scented custard interior these sweet morsels are addictive. For me, it was love at first bite the very first time I tasted a Canelé.

Not to be confused with cannelle (the French word for cinnamon), Canelés de Bordeaux are a truly delicious French pastry/cake creation. As their name implies, Canelés originated in Bordeaux but can now be found in patisseries in Paris and beyond, where they are known as Cannelés Bordelaise (more on this to come, so read on).

Cannelés have a past steeped in folklore and it is not quite known when the first cannelé was made. All that is known about their origin is they were created by nuns in the Bordeaux region of France sometime before The French Revolution – some accounts date their origin back as far as the 14th century. Traditionally, nuns made various baked goodies such as cannelé using egg yolks that were donated by local winemakers who used only the egg whites to clarify their wines.

In the 1980s, the French became concerned that the Cannelé would be corrupted by global food trends, so they formed a fraternity of bakers to protect the integrity of the Cannelé. Much like Champagne, which can only be referred to as such if it is from the Champagne region of France, Canelé can only be called Canelé de Bordeaux if they are made in Bordeaux. Whereas, Cannelé Bordelaise (spelt with an intentional second ‘n’), is the name given to this sweet treat found in bakeries elsewhere in France and now also around the globe.

Just as specialty Macarons shops are springing up all over the world, when I was in Paris earlier this year, I noticed a new phenomenon… specialised Cannelés Bordelaise stores are the new vogue.

You will need specific fluted copper Cannelés moulds and lots of time and patience to make your own Cannelés, but it’s worth perfecting the art, as the results are sublime. Here’s a recipe that I’ve developed that works a treat:

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Cook’s note: ‘White oil’ is made by mixing melted bees wax and then blending in enough neutral oil, such as sunflower or canola oil, to form a smooth white coloured oil. This is traditionally used to brush the cannelé moulds. However, it’s a bit of a palaver to deal with and I find that butter works just as well.

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