Fittingly enough, the history of financiers is a story of greed. Financiers were part of a clever marketing trick targeting stockbrokers at the Bourse in Paris in the late nineteenth century. They’re based on an older simple almond cake called a Visitandine, made by nuns of the Visitandine Order. The Order was founded for nuns who were unable to deal with the austerity required by other stricter orders, who presumably were not allowed to spend their days eating delicious almond cakes. Stockbrokers in the rational atmosphere of 1890s Paris were not very likely to warm to such an ecclesiastical theme, so a baker named Lasne, who had a shop close to the Bourse, rededicated them with a nod to their egos. The simple cakes were easy to eat neatly as they didn’t have icing on them, which suited people working all day in three piece suits. They’re a simple recipe to master, with key basic elements of almond, egg and brown butter, after which you can add your own variations. Like their lighter cousins, Madeleines, they’re best eaten on the day they’re made, but the batter can rest in the fridge for a day or two before baking, so you can still have them prepped to go for guests. This recipe makes about 25 financiers, depending on the size of your moulds.
- 50g butter plus extra for greasing
- 50g plain flour plus extra for dusting
- 140g ground almonds
- 160g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 6 egg whites, at room temperature
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- a few drops of vanilla essence
- 20-30 raspberries (one for each financier)
- Gently melt the butter over medium heat, watching carefully, until it starts to brown.
- Take off the heat and leave in the hot pan to brown for a minute or two more.
- Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl then stir in the egg whites.
- Gradually stir in the browned butter, basil, lemon zest and vanilla essence until it forms a batter, being careful not to overmix.
- Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or more.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Spoon the batter into greased muffin or financier tins.
- Add a raspberry to each one.
- Bake for 10-14 minutes, watching carefully from 10 minutes on.
- Remove when the edges start to brown.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes.
- Transfer to a wire rack and serve as soon as possible.
In hindsight, baking blondies for my office in the second week of Lent was probably not the best idea I’ve had. Lent is a Christian tradition of penance for the 40 days preceding Easter, usually involving giving up whatever little vice you like the most.Like most things involving guilt and denial, it caught on like wildfire here in Ireland. As a child, I used to give up sweets, but would stockpile the sweets I would normally eat, and then end up eating them all in the space of about a week after Easter.
Other places like Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans kick it off with amazing carnival celebrations that last days in a flurry of parties, music, and vibrant costumes. We decided to go the other way and instead have a day where we eat a few pancakes, followed by six weeks of complaining about not eating chocolate. The key to survival is to adopt strict definitions of what you are giving up. So, for example, giving up chocolate, but not white chocolate, as that does not have cocoa powder. That’s how you can manage to wrangle yourself something as gloriously unhealthy as these. They are soft, chewy and just the right balance of sweet, salt and fat.
Makes 20-25 blondies
- 450g brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 85g honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- 225g flour
- 225g butter
- 225g peanut butter
- A handful of roasted sated peanuts, chopped
- 100g white chocolate, chopped
- Beat the eggs and sugar together until well combined.
- Melt the butter and leave to cool slightly (make sure it’s still liquid though).
- Add the butter, peanut butter, honey and vanilla essence to the eggs and sugar and combine well.
- Add the flour and stir to combine thoroughly.
- Stir through the peanuts and white chocolate.
- Pour the batter into a well greased brownie tin.
- Bake at 180C for 30 minutes, then cover with tin foil to stop it browning more and bake for another 15 until it’s set.
- It will still seem a bit liquid, but a skewer in the middle should come out clean.
- Leave to cool for an hour before slicing up.
- This keeps well for a few days in a tin although it’s unlikely to last that long.
I’m firmly ensconced in study land at the moment, which means any recipe that is a bit time consuming and smacks of procrastination is doubly enticing. Stirring a pot of sugary milk for two and a half hours seems infinitely preferable to learning how to calculate Capital Acquisitions Tax. I’ve also rearranged the cutlery drawer, my kitchen cupboard, planted up a window box and tabbed the bejaysus out of all of my textbooks in lieu of actually reading them.
Dulce de leche (milk jam/confiture de lait) is a thick, creamy caramel substance made from cooked milk and sugar. It can be thick and spreadable, or more liquid and pourable. It features heavily in South America but is still a bit niche in Ireland.
The cooking process needs a bit of a trial and error approach. I looked to both Smitten Kitchen and Farmette’s recipes, which cautioned against both too little and too much heat. At first I erred on the side of caution and kept mine very low. I’m still getting the hang of temperature control on my new gas stove. After a while I realised nothing was happening and turned up the heat. Soon the colour started to change and things started to happen. Something just above a gentle simmer seems to be the best approach. This recipe doesn’t make a huge amount considering the amount of milk involved, you end up with about 300ml or so of dulche de leche. The length of cooking time depends on the consistency you want, whether it is pouring and a bit liquid, or thick and slightly jelly-like.
- 1 litre full fat milk
- 300g caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- Put all the ingredients in a high sided pot or saucepan.
- Bring to the boil, being careful not to let it bubble over, as the milk can very suddenly rise dramatically.
- Lower the heat, and cook on a medium-low heat for 1.5-2.5 hours, stirring every 5-10 minutes.
- Leave to cool, and store in the fridge in a clean jar for up to one week.
I should probably start this post by emphasising that I have not been asked by any chocolate company to do this, despite the amount of time I’m going to mention the word ‘Cadbury’. I think the type of chocolate you like is something you develop a taste for early in life. It’s like the tap water where you grow up. Nothing else will ever taste the same or quite as nice. So for me, chocolate is Cadbury, regardless of the arguments of some EU countries that it isn’t chocolate at all. It has to be Irish or English Cadbury chocolate though, the Cadbury chocolate from Canada and Australia, much like the tap water, just isn’t the same. When my family stayed in Brooklyn recently, we were warned by our Dutch landlord that the water there was awful. We all thought it was fine, but were in agreement that Dutch tapwater is not to our taste. He probably wouldn’t have liked Cadbury either.
When Hershey’s Chocolate started appearing in shops in Ireland during the later part of my childhood, I was not impressed. I’m sorry American readers, but it just didn’t taste right. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this, since it didn’t stay on the Irish market very long. The one exception to this was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which are still my favourite confectionary. It’s one of those chemistry things you try to fight but can’t. I don’t even *like* peanut butter, but there it is. When I visited New York a while back, at least 1 kilo of my check-in luggage coming back was peanut butter cups. Since the heatwave has put baking on hold, at least for me, I revisited a Nigella Lawson recipe for a homemade version of peanut butter cups. I fiddled around with it a bit. If you want to go with the original, use more icing sugar and less brown sugar, and smooth peanut butter instead of crunchy. For some reason, I like the ever so slightly sandy texture you get from combining these.
- 100g brown sugar
- 150g icing sugar
- 50g butter
- 200g crunchy peanut butter
- 200g milk chocolate
- 100g dark chocolate
- Take the butter out of fridge an hour or two before to soften.
- Beat the sugars, butter and peanut butter together until they form a thick paste.
- Spread the mixture in an even layer in a greased and lined square brownie tin.
- Melt the chocolate over a bain marie.
- Pour over the peanut butter mixture and smooth with a palate knife.
- Put in the fridge for 30-45 minutes until the chocolate has cooled and hardened.
- Leave out of the fridge to soften for a few minutes before cutting into squares with a sharp hot knife (run it under the hot tap for 30 seconds).
This is my first cake in quite some time, as Christmas finally provided me with both an electric mixer and a cake tin, formerly lacking in my Danish kitchen collection. I also received Jerusalem, Ottolenghi’s new cookbook as part of my Christmas bounty and with it came the inspiration to decamp to Aarhus’s friendly neighbourhood Middle Eastern Bazaar in search of the many, many things Danish shops can’t provide. We came home laden with sumac, dates, the best part of a lamb, baklava and a kilo of quince. A few days later, the buzz wore off and I realised I had no idea what one does with a quince. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall provided some answers, I ignored half of them, and voilà, quince and ginger cake. The boy declared this ‘maybe the best cake I’ve had this year’. Possibly the worst compliment I have ever received on January 8th. But it really is lovely, it’s fragrant and has an excellent crumb. The recipe looks more complicated than it really is. Prepping the poached quince takes about 10 minutes but then you can just leave it on the stove to bubble away and check in occasionally between reading about the mechanism of share transfers, or hopefully something more fun. The jelly leftover from the quince’s pectin exuberance is nice on bread as an alternative to jam, or served with strong cheese. Makes 0ne 24cm cake.
For the poached quince
- 2 quince, peeled, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
- 160g caster sugar
- 160g very liquid honey
- 1 small thumb fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
- Juice of ½ lemon
For the cake
- 150g butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing
- 250g plain flour
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 heaped tsp baking powder
- Good pinch of salt
- 180g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 100g creme fraiche (I used low-fat and it worked out fine)
For the syrup
- 3 tbsp quince poaching liquid
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- Put all the ingredients for the poached quince into a saucepan, bring to the boil, and leave to simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours until it is a rich pink amber colour.
- Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- In another bowl sift the flour,salt, baking powder, ginger and cardamom together.
- Add the eggs one at a time to the butter and sugar and mix well.
- Stir in the creme fraiche and flour gradually into the egg/butter/sugar mix.
- When the quince is done, remove from the syrup and continue to heat the syrup until reduced a bit.
- Add the quince to the cake mixture and stir well.
- Pour into a greased lined 24cm cake tin.
- Bake at 170C for approximately one hour (mine took slightly less, the recipe said 1.5 hours, go figure) checking from about 45 minutes onward to make sure it isn’t burning.
- Poke some holes in the cake with a fork, and brush with the top with quince syrup (you will have loads leftover, store it in a jar and it makes a great accompaniment to blue cheese or by itself on bread).
- Top with the granulated sugar and leave to cool in the cake tin for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
For my first Christmas season in Denmark, I have decided to embrace Danish Christmas biscuit culture. In Ireland, a tin of Danish butter cookies is standard at Christmas, but here the supermarkets fills with a myriad of miscellaneous brown and cream coloured biscuits with names I can’t pronounce by mid-November. I first tried Honninghjerter during an interlude in the Great Copenhagen Snegle Binge of 2011. They are a traditional aged Danish honey cookie covered with chocolate and icing. Ageing seems to be the key to Danish baked goods, and there don’t seem to be any biscuits that you just mix, roll and throw in an oven. I guess it gives people something to do during the long, dark winters. Some of the recipes involve ageing the dough, some involve ageing the cookies, and some involve potash which I only recently discovered is not just an industrial fertiliser. This recipe is from Trina Hahnemann’s feature in the Guardian last year. This recipe makes about 25 or so big hearts (about 1 kilo bags worth).
- 500g honey
- 3 egg yolks
- 500g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 300g dark chocolate
- Melt the honey in a saucepan and leave to cool.
- Add the egg yolks and stir well to combine.
- Add all the dry ingredients, except the chocolate and stir well to combine.
- Remove and knead on a floured surface (add a little extra flour to the mixture if it is too sticky).
- Wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill for at least 24 hours.
- Roll out between two pieces of greaseproof paper, cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter.
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and bake at 170C for 12 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container for a week.
- Melt the chocolate over a bain marie and cover the hearts with it, smoothing out if possible.
- The biscuits can keep for around 3 weeks before serving.
This is an unusual recipe, and one which caught my eye from an unlikely source. I have never been a huge fan of celebrity cookbooks, nor have I ever read a chicklit book, so when I was given Marian Keyes baking book as a gift I was more than a little bit surprised. However, on leafing through it I found a selection of unusual recipes with great, very clear instructions and I’ve had to revisit my celebrity cookbook bias. This recipe I just had to try, because if someone is willing to put a wasabi cupcake recipe in a book, they are either mad or a genius and I wanted to find out which. The answer seems to be genius. The crumb was rich, dense and a little bit moist, and the flavour pretty unusual. It is a really nice twist on the now fairly pedestrian chilli/chocolate combination. I am a fan of anything salted caramel flavoured so I gave the icing a whirl, but to be honest these are also perfectly presentable and tasty without if it sounds like too much effort.
- 100g white chocolate
- 100g unsalted butter
- 110g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 75g self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoons wasabi paste
For the icing
- 100g butter
- 75 brown sugar
- 75g golden syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Melt the white chocolate over a bain marie.
- Stir in the butter until melted and well combined.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar.
- Marian says its ok if it looks congealed, mine more just didn’t mix in together properly, but both these things are fine.
- Leave for 10 minutes to cool.
- Add the vanilla extract and use an electric mixer to mix for 3 minutes (or until everything comes together nice and blended).
- Add the eggs one by one, mixing each in well.
- Add the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt and stir well.
- Stir in the wasabi.
- Pour into 12 cupcake papers in a cupcake tray and bake at 180C for 20ish minutes (keep an eye after about 13, when they are risen properly and slightly coloured on top, and a skewer comes out clean, they are done).
- Leave to cool and make the icing.
- Melt all the icing ingredients together except the salt.
- Raise the heat until it bubbles, but doesn’t boil, and whisk vigorously until it is thickened (mine took about 6 minutes).
- Leave to cool slightly, for about 2 minutes, then use to ice the cupcakes.
I’m never entirely sure on why making confectionary you can buy is so appealing, but there is something to it. It is not quite on the level of being able to make your own chorizo, or dismember a cow in terms of skills, but it is reassuring to know you are at least as useful as a machine. Homemade crunchies are unusual in that they are probably cheaper to make than to buy (this is the hurdle at which my great intentions to only make my own hummus fall down) and are very quick and easy. They would make a nice accompaniment for after dinner coffee as petit fours.
There are dozens of recipes out there for cinder toffee, some involving vinegar and other such things. I went with the basic recipe I found on the Guardian. It took a couple of attempts to get it right, but that was mainly due to a different of opinion between myself and the Guardian writer regarding the consistency. I prefer mine with a small bit of chew, the kind of thing you bend into pieces rather than snap. I do not have a thermometer, and so I went on the glass of water test i.e. dropping a small piece of the molten liquid into a glass of cold water and seeing how quickly it solidifies. For the crunchie texture, you don’t want it to solidify on immediate contact into a very hard ball (the hard snap test) but rather that it will form something the consistency of chewy toffee). This makes a dinner plate sized amount of toffee, which will be about 1cm thick.
- 100g caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons of golden syrup
- 1 heaped teaspoon of baking soda
- 75 mixed dark and milk chocolate
- Melt the sugar and syrup together in a large saucepan over a low-medium heat.
- This will take about 2-3 minutes, and first the sugar will clump together and absorb the syrup, then gradually the whole thing will melt.
- When it does, turn up the heat to high for approximately one minute.
- Take a small amount and drop into a glass of cold water, looking for the hard toffee consistency (this is usually about 1 to 1.5 minutes after turning up the heat).
- Take off the heat, and stir in the baking powder (it will bubble up quite a bit, hence the large saucepan).
- Pour onto a baking tray lined with parchment, and leave to cool for about 20 minutes.
- Once it is properly cooled, melt the chocolate over a bain marie and pour over the toffee, spreading evenly with a knife.
- Leave to set in the fridge for 1-2 hours
This is just a simple, incredibly rich and moist chocolate cake from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook . It is very easy to make, and it is big on impact ( a little goes a long way). It is also coeliac friendly, as it is completely gluten free. The trick is in the two layers of the same cake batter, so the base is like a standard cake, with layer of incredibly rich brownie esque gooey chocolate on top.
This was made for a family Easter dinner. As I am no longer an adorable child who is given chocolate eggs by all and sundry (I think the record was about 16), compensation has to be made with a chocolatey Easter dessert. I had been getting a bit disillusioned with baking because of my rubbish oven in London, and was starting to have a poor workman blames his tools chip on my shoulder. Then I baked this in my parents perfectly functioning oven, and now know I can vent my anger at my tools without blame. This particular dessert elicited grumbles from my dad, who claimed the hours spent slaving over a leg of lamb stuffed with garlic and anchovies went unnoticed once the cake was produced (he was kind of right..).
This is one you can do earlier in the day, as it does need a bit of time to cool so the top layer sets completely. The original recipe called for a mix of two different dark chocolate percentage. I’m afraid I don’t know what mine was, I’m guessing around the 65% mark, and it was lovely, so I guess just go with whatever you feel. Serves 6-8.
- 240g butter
- 360g chocolate
- 5 eggs, separated
- 290g sugar
- 4 tbsp water
- Break the chocolate into very small pieces (I used confectioners chocolate chips from my local cake shop which helped immensely.
- Separate 5 eggs.
- Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt into meringue (this is pretty labour intensive if you don’t have a stand up mixer).
- Put the chocolate pieces and the butter (cubed into small pieces as well) into a very large heatproof bowl (this is the bowl the whole cake mix will be put together in).
- Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is melted and incorporated, and then bring to the boil to form a syrup.
- Pour the boiling syrup over the chocolate and butter, and stir until the whole thing melts into a chocolate sauce (even with my small chocolate chips, I had a few pieces of chocolate floating around, but these melted into the cake when it baked).
- Leave for a minute to cool, then stir in the egg yolks one by one.
- Leave to cool for 10 minutes, until it is room temperature, then fold in the meringue, one quarter or so at a time until the whole thing is well incorporated (you may see flecks of meringue, this is apparently ok, although I didn’t personally).
- Pour two thirds into a lined, greased 20 inch spring form tin (or a tin which can hold equivalent volume) and bake for 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- Pour the remaining batter on top and bake for another 20 or so minutes.
- This layer should still be gooey, but not liquid if the tin is moved, and a skewer put in the middle will meet a bit of resistance, but still come out with crumbs and a bit of batter.
- Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.
- Decorate as you see fit (I used a crumbled flake, crystallised violets, and mini eggs channelling the many Easter Bonnet competitions of my youth).
This is a combination of the recipe for Zetter Townhouse rum and raisin syrup for a hot toddy and Rick Stein’s Pedro Ximenez and raisin ice cream. I made the syrup during the London snow a few weeks ago, after trying it at the Zetter, smug in the knowledge that I was prepared for alcoholic hibernation when the next snow arrived. Much like my purchase of snow boots before it, making the syrup was a harbinger of spring, and last week it was 17 degrees in London. In February! So onto plan B, home made ice-cream. I have to say, I’m not the biggest ice-cream fan. When I was a child, my brother and I would stay with our grandparents one week a year, and they would massively indulge us with a massive amount of ice-cream (5 bowls a day was standard) with every single flavour and topping combination imaginable tried and tested. Fantastic though this was, by my teens, ice cream no longer held the same allure. My boyfriend on the otherhand is a big ice-cream fan, even in unseasonable weather (no such thing as ‘not ice cream weather’ in Denmark apparently) so this formed part of a Valentine’s lunch for him. I was a little bit nervous of this, not having an ice-cream maker, but it was pretty easy and turned out beautifully smooth. The syrup can also be used as a sauce for ice-cream, if you’re not bothered with home made ice cream. The Zetter recipe called for Mayer’s rum but I just went with generic for the syrup (though I wouldn’t use that for making an actual toddy).
Syrup (makes about 750ml including the raisins, about 300ml straight syrup)
- 500g raisins
- 65ml dark rum
- 140ml sugar syrup (half water and half sugar in a jar shaken vigorously until combined).
- 200ml whole milk
- 100g caster sugar
- 250ml double cream
- a few drops of vanilla essence (original used vanilla pods, I balked at paying £6 for 2)
- 3 large free range egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons rum and raisin syrup (including the raisins) plus 1 tablespoon to serve
- To make the syrup, combine the ingredients in a large sealable container (I used glass jars)and leave to steep for a week.
- For the ice cream, start the day before you want to serve.
- Boil the milk and vanilla essence, and leave for 30 minutes to infuse
- Use an electric mixer to combine the eggs and sugar until pale and thick.
- Boil the milk and pour over the egg mixture, mixing well.
- Slowly cook on a low heat in a pan for 3-4 minutes until thickened to a thin custard texture.
- Remove from the heat and cool.
- Stir in the cream and chill overnight in the fridge.
- Store in the freezer for 1.5 hours until nearly solid.
- Beat with a hand held mixer and re-freeze.
- Rick Stein says to do this 3-4 times, i only did it twice and it was fine.
- Take out and beat again, add the syrup and raisins and freeze for about 2 hours until solid.
- Serve with some more syrup and raisins poured on top.