Most of us will have heard the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but may not think of it in terms of food. Well, this Italian Almond Tart makes me think of exactly that. It is nothing much to look at – it is all very beige and there is no lovely sauce or chocolate dripping down the sides to make us drool. A real plain Jane! Until, that is you cut into it and serve yourself a deliciously moist and fragrant slice to go with your afternoon tea. It is so good that I made one the very next day for my hubby to take into work and everybody loved it. I made my own almond paste and I would highly recommend that you try this at least once. It is so easy to make, it’s fresh and full of flavour and will make all the difference to your tart. Your choice of jam will also play a big part in how your finished tart tastes. For my first attempt I used a cherry jam which had whole cherries in it. It was quite sweet and I wasn’t overly enthused by the chunks of cherry. For my second attempt I used a smooth Christmas spice fruit jam and I thought this was much better.
For those of you who are interested in how I decorated the tart – yes I did stand and pick out all the whole slices of almonds from a pack and yes it did take me a long time to place them all so neatly round the entire tart and yes I am completely mad! I also made a rose from some of the left over almond paste. I only placed it on the tart 10 minutes before the tart was due to come out the oven to crisp it up a bit and give it some colour.
It’s been a couple of months now since I last participated in the Bake Along challenge so I was keen to try this month’s challenge which is an Italian Almond Tart. One of the main ingredients called for is Almond Paste which I have never come across here in the UK. A quick search on Google revealed quite a heated debate amongst the baking fraternity. It would appear that Almond Paste means something different depending on which country you come from. What I did learn is that Marzipan (as we know it in the UK) is not the same as Almond Paste. Almond Paste generally has equal quantities of ground almonds to sugar whereas Marzipan has a much higher ratio of sugar to almonds. I did have a look at a couple of brands of Marzipan and the quantity of almonds was only 25%. I also didn’t recognise a lot of the other ingredients which is never a good thing. Having established the ratio of sugar to almonds, the next deciding factor is what binding agent to use. This is where you see the difference between the different countries. I found recipes which used egg white, egg yolk, whole egg, water, sugar syrup, honey and some even had alcohol in them. I opted for the whole egg but only because I didn’t want to have to deal with the problem of a stray yolk or 1 egg white to use up. I also added Cointreau but to be honest I couldn’t taste it in the finished product. The end result was delicious and made for a perfect Almond Tart. It is really quick and so easy to make and freezes beautifully. No excuses… you have to try and make your own homemade almond paste. You won’t regret it.
This week has not been without its fair share of kitchen disasters. I have been trying to perfect a chocolate mousse terrine and gave up after my third attempt – never wanting to see another chocolate mousse again. I also tried my hand at deep fried cauliflower. Why? When I don’t like deep fried food and I don’t like cauliflower. I was not converted! By the end of the week I was looking for familiarity. Something that I knew would work. Something comforting. A good old fashioned oat cookie, crispy and perfect for dunking was my answer. These oat cookies were part of my Mum’s baking repertoire when we were growing up. We used to know them as Gypsy Creams and I was always intrigued as to where the name originated from but have never managed to find out. My Mum used to sandwich them together with a buttercream icing but I generally leave them plain as they last longer in the tin. For this batch I sandwiched them together with some leftover Mars Bar sauce (which, by the way is perfect over vanilla ice cream).
The internet is such an amazing tool. Last Friday I read a post on one of my favourite (Australian) food blogs Bake for Happy Kids where Zoe had made these gingerdead cookies. I thought they would be perfect for the kids to make in the run up to Halloween and so I bought the cutter from Amazon and by the next day the cutter had arrived at my house here in the UK.
Of course the kids were over the moon when I suggested making these scary Halloween Cookies. The gingerbread dough is very easy to handle and they only really needed my help to get an even thickness when rolling the dough out. I was a bit more dubious about their icing skills but they were determined to do it themselves. I showed them the first one and I found it quite difficult because I don’t have a particularly steady hand. My son who is 7 went first and was really confident and did a better job than me. The same can’t quite be said for my 4 year old but she had good fun licking the bowl.
I thought the cookie cutter was quite expensive but it worked really well and made a good impression on the raw dough which makes it easy when you come to ice them.
Now I’m off to clean up my kitchen ….. no sign of the kids.
Gingerbread men with a difference - perfect for Halloween.
40g caster sugar
40g soft dark brown sugar
75g golden syrup
250g plain flour
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
150g icing sugar
35ml water (or enough to make a sloppy paste)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
Add the butter, sugars and golden syrup together in a saucepan and heat until the butter has melted.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl.
Add the melted butter mixture to the flour and knead until it all comes together.
Leave the dough to one side to cool slightly. It can become too hard if you cool in the refrigerator.
Dust your work surface with flour and roll the dough out to about a 5mm thickness.
Cut the shapes out using a cookie cutter.
Transfer to your baking tray and cook in the oven for about 11 - 12 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely before icing.
To ice: Mix the icing sugar and water to a paste. Use a piping bag with a small nozzle and decorate as desired.
This recipe does not work well if you try and substitute the sugars stated in the recipe. I have tried it with granulated sugar and light brown sugar and the mixture becomes very crumbly and unworkable.
I woke up yesterday to the news that there was a family wedding taking place that very afternoon. Now this wasn’t your normal kind of wedding that takes 12 months to organise. No this one had to be done in a day! The bride, aka Puzzy and the groom, aka Fuzzy are bears that live with us and no they are not real bears – that’s right – we were hosting a wedding for two stuffed bears. My six year old son loves detail so I knew this would be a well thought out wedding. I was right. He made a red carpet out of cardboard which was the length of the living room floor. All the other soft toys were laid out as guests. A small lavender sachet became the ring cushion upon which lay a jewel any girl would be proud of. The bride had a gorgeous fuchsia pink veil attached to her ears with clothes pegs. The fact that she wore nothing else did not seem to concern neither my son nor my daughter. The groom had a paper kilt made for him with a sgian-dubh attached to the front. This was worn in typical Simon Cowell fashion – up round the armpits and again with no other clothes. Super Monkey was brought in as the priest wearing only red briefs and a red cape. Music was by Coldplay.
My job in all this was Head of Catering. The Groom requested chocolate cake and the bride wanted raspberries. I thought I would go the extra mile and made some chocolate cupcases which once the cake was baked I placed into the chocolate cases and then decorated with cream and raspberries.
I also thought long and hard about a gift for the couple and so while all the preparations were taking place I made up this cute little cupcake holder in the shape of an oven.
I can’t imagine many brides who wouldn’t want a brand new pink oven to start off her new life of married bliss.
This also leads me nicely into the fab competition which is being run by Rangecookers.co.uk. All you have to do is make and blog about a cupcake to win a Select 90 dual fuel range cooker in stainless steel. Now I may pretend to care what two stuffed bears would like for their wedding but in reality I’m thinking of a gorgeous new oven for myself. Selfish, I know.
Anyway, back to the wedding. The day was a great success – the bears are off on honeymoon to the Isle of Toyland, the kids had great fun, and I enjoyed watching the creativity that every 6 and 4 year old should be allowed to express.
If you would like to make these gorgeous, deliciously moist, fresh chocolate cupcakes served in their own edible chocolate cupcases and drizzled with tangy raspberry sauce (yes I really do want to win that oven) then here is the recipe …
Beat together the butter, caster sugar and vanilla essence until light and creamy.
Add the egg and beat well.
Add the jam and beat until smooth.
Fold in sifted flours, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa alternately with the buttermilk until nice and smooth.
Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the centre.
Leave cakes to cool completely before decorating.
Whip cream and icing sugar together until thick.
Pipe cream onto cakes and decorate with fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce.
I served these cupcakes in edible chocolate cases which I made by melting chocolate and coating silicone moulds before placing in the freezer to set. Once set, peel off the moulds and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
I made the raspberry sauce by blitzing fresh raspberries with a touch of lemon juice and icing sugar to taste and then passing through a sieve to remove any seeds.