Flirting with Flavour


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The Perfect Summer Cake for Everyone

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My niece graduated from high school last weekend. Wow, that sentence makes me feel old. Perhaps I should qualify that I am only 6 years older than my niece. Phew, now that feels better; less like I should have a coherent life plan.

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My sister is a phenomenal cook. A love of cooking and baking definitely runs in the family. As she and I were discussing the all-friendly menu for last Sunday’s graduation celebration, I offered to help out in any way I could. When we realised we had overlooked the sweet part of the meal, my duty became clear. The only thing is, my niece, while she loves to have dessert, is obsessed with being healthy. This makes sense for a girl recruited to play Div 1 lacrosse at Mercer. So I wanted to make something that she would actually enjoy and not end up feeling like she’d cheated on her dietary routine. Plus, it had to be me-friendly. I wasn’t about to make a dessert I couldn’t partake in!

A quick read through my inbox revealed this Honey Almond cake with Raspberries, Orange, and Pistachio from Cookie + Kate. It looked perfect. Naturally gluten free, refined sugar free, and it utilised delicious summer fruits. As much as I love chocolate, there are occasions when it’s just too heavy… At the bottom of the recipe Kate suggests that the cake might also be good with lemon and blueberries. I took this suggestion and ran with it.

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As a disciple of Amanda Hesser’s, I of course must use Meyer lemons if they are available, so rushed off to the farmers market hoping to find some. Meyer lemons and blueberries in hand, I remembered a truly outrageous lemon polenta cake I had made a few years back from one of the River Cottage cookbooks and thought – why not sub in some cornmeal? The recipe below is what was born out of this inspiration. A little bit later in the summer, when blueberry season is in full swing, it will probably be even tastier. That said, it is delicious as is and everyone has seconds! Some even thirds … 🙂

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Honey Almond Polenta Cake with Meyer Lemon & Blueberries

Ingredients

1 cup firmly packed almond meal
1 cup cornmeal, fine grain polenta, or corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch, which is called corn flour in the UK)
1 tsp baking powder, heaping
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt

3 eggs, beaten
2 Meyer lemons, juiced & zested
2/3 cup honey + 1 tsp (separated)
1/4 cup olive oil
8oz blueberries, preferably organic (plus a few for garnish)

Powdered sugar to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease 10″ springform pan & sprinkle with almond meal, line bottom with parchment paper
2. Whisk together dry ingredients (almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, & salt) in large bowl
3. In another bowl combine eggs, olive oil, lemon zest, and 2/3 cup of honey. Mix well.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just a few clumps remaining. Gently fold in blueberries.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to your touch. If you insert a toothpick, it should come out clean.
6. While you allow the cake to cool slightly on a rack, combine the lemon juice with the 1 tsp of honey in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until honey & juice are just blended.
7. Use a pastry brush to brush the honey-lemon juice over the cake while warm (though not to worry, it will still soak in if you let it cool all the way first). It will soak right in!

Enjoy! It also makes a phenomenal breakfast cake 🙂


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London’s Best (mostly gluten free) Cupcakes

In honour of a certain person’s upcoming visit, I have decided to share my list of the top cupcakes in London with you all.  For those of you who, like me, have to stay away from either wheat or gluten, I hope this helps you take full advantage of all London’s many bakeries have to offer.  Only a couple years ago it was next to impossible to find gluten free cupcakes in this city.   I am happy to report that not only have they become more prevalent, they are also steadily increasing in quality, so you can actually find absolutely delicious (and regret-free) cupcakes, as well as many other baked goods!  Trust me, I know that feeling of jubilation that comes when you notice that single option among 20 in a coffee shop that you can eat.  Even if you’re not hungry, or it’s not the flavour you were craving, you’ll probably buy it (proof – I bought Caffe Nero‘s new rye carrot cake last weekend. It was actually pretty good… but that could be the joy of being able to buy a cafe treat speaking).  The cupcakes below warrant more than the surprise-buy, they deserve cupcake-specific trips, I promise!  And if a state of euphoria ensues, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you… 🙂

By the way – these are in no particular order.  Because most bakeries only do 1 gluten free option, where you go and which you choose will depend on your mood!

Primrose Bakery

Their Primrose Hill location is the original (and source of their name), but they now also have a small storefront in Covent Garden that is the perfect location for that sweet treat after (or before!) a long day of studying.  A deliciously dense flourless chocolate cake is available everyday and most days they also have a chocolate almond cake (sold by the slice) or cupcakes.  On some special occasions they switch it up and make some of their signature flavours with a gluten free base, such as rose!  I know I said these aren’t in any particular order, but Primrose is probably my favourite bakery in London.  For my birthday, B “surprised” me with a custom decorated chocolate almond cake.  It really is everything you could want in a chocolate cake.  Dark, dense, moist, and CHOCOLATY.  The almond gives the crumb a really nice texture and complements the dark chocolate beautifully.  I have snuck bites of their non-gluten free selections and would readily recommend them as well.  The violet cupcake was particularly special, with violet permeating the cake and the frosting.  I have really never had anything quite like it.

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

Hummingbird Bakery

Red velvet has been my favourite cupcake, since discovering Red Velvet Cupcakery with my aunt back in early 2009 (they remain, btw, my favourite cupcake shop).  I had yet to find one, though, that was gluten free, until last fall, that is, when P surprised me with a box of four of Hummingbird‘s gluten free red velvet cupcakes.  When I first saw the box I must admit I started running through all the various excuses I could make to not try one in front of him, fearing  they were probably regular cupcakes and while they looked gorgeous, I did not want to risk eating the wheat.  When P informed me that they were gluten free, a lot of jumping, screaming, and hugging ensued.  Yes, all for the cupcakes.  The frosting is a tad too sweet for me – they could do with making it more “cream-cheesy”, but they are delicious and certainly satisfy my craving for a good gluten free red velvet cupcake, when I don’t feel like baking them!  Hummingbird also sells vanilla cupcakes with either vanilla or chocolate frosting as part of their “made without” range.  And if you give them enough advance notice they’ll bake you pretty much anything special order.  Primrose (above) and Bea’s (below) do the same.

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

outside hummingbird bakery's south kensington shop

outside hummingbird bakery’s south kensington shop

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

One cloudy afternoon last September, after a long day of stressful and exhausting flat hunting, I convinced B & P to peak into the Bea’s on Theobald’s Rd.  I’d read about it, I said, but hadn’t had the opportunity to try anything from them yet.  We obviously ended up sitting down (a much needed break!) and I ordered their gluten free chocolate cupcake.  I have since had it numerous times as part of their full afternoon tea, which by the way, is definitely one of the best (and most fun) afternoon tea options in London.  One word – ganache.  The frosting on their chocolate cupcake is not just any old frosting, it is a deep, dark chocolate ganache.

afternoon tea at bea's of bloomsbury (st paul's)

afternoon tea at bea’s of bloomsbury (st paul’s)

The Freefrom Bakehouse

Considering my frequent visits to Borough Market and self-professed love for red velvet cupcakes, it is surprising that I did not try the Freefrom Bakehouse‘s red velvet cupcake sooner.  Boy am I glad I tried it now, though, instead of waiting until I was about to leave London.  Hummingbird’s is great (and available from their various locations every day), but theirs is the best I have had aside from Red Velvet Cupcakery’s in DC.  The frosting actually tastes like cream cheese (thank you!) and the cake, well it’s moist and the perfect median between dense and light crumb.  Best of all?  It does not taste like it’s gluten free!  All too often gluten free baked goods end up tasting grainy and like something is missing.  Well, it is.  Flour.  But none of the cakes, cookies, and other treats from Freefrom taste like that.  They all stand up on their own, indistinguishable from their flour-full counterparts.  It is well worth tracking down these guys at either Borough or any of the other markets and festivals they set up at.  And don’t wait as long as I did!  Go now!

Violet

I read about Violet (Claire Ptak, founder of Violet, worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley before moving to London) and stumbled upon it at the Broadway Market two years ago.  In that instance I took home a variety of their cupcakes/babycakes – salted caramel cupcake, chocolate cupcake, flourless chocolate babycake, almond and polenta rhubarb babycake – and was blown away.  I was subsequently inspired to make my own version of the almond polenta cake (it’s naturally gluten free!), though I still need to perfect that recipe.  It has taken me two years to get back to visit their stall at Broadway and this time I came away with their spelt and vegan chocolate cupcake with violet frosting.  Warning, this one is not gluten free (in fact, spelt has a higher gluten content than wheat flour does).  The spelt flour gives it a gentle nuttiness that compliments the dark chocolate cake, which is delightfully moist.  And the violet frosting, well, it’s perfectly sweet and somehow manages to stay way from the risk of seeming like you’re eating potpourri.  Then again, I would expect nothing less from a Chez Panisse alumna.  They are at Broadway Market every Saturday and their storefront on Wilton Way is open Tues-Sun.

selection of violet cakes

selection of violet cakes

violet cakes

violet cakes

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake


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Apple and Pear Crumble (or an initiation into intuitive baking)

I have always wanted to be one of those people who could look at ingredients and intuitively combine them to create something wonderfully delicious, no recipe needed.  I have combined recipes before, taking and leaving different pieces of up to 7 or 8 different recipes, thus creating my own.  I’ve always been slightly intimidated to simply go forth without any reference point, though.

Last month, while in Israel, I received a special request to make apple pie.  I was there doing research and visiting my cousin J who moved to Tel Aviv to marry Y, an Israeli girl who has since become more like a big sister to me.  It seems that one of the things J missed most from the US was apple pie!  (Is there anything more quintessentially American?)

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apple and pear crumble

Now, I’m not a huge apple pie maker – there are usually blueberries or peaches, or both! (why not go wild?!) involved – and to find spelt flour in Tel Aviv at such late notice, while certainly possible, was a task made that much more challenging by the fact that it was Shabbat.  So, I improvised.  Despite Tel Aviv’s ardent refusal to jump on the religious bandwagon and shut down for Shabbat, the only grocery stores open are AMPM, so, of course, a trip there was necessitated.

J and I had a fabulous hummus dinner (more on that later), after which I scoured the meagre, though sufficient, selections of the nearby AMPM to see what I could do about this apple pie.  No Meghan-friendly flour, so…. How about a crumble?  No whole almonds – that’s okay, they had bags of chopped and crumbled almonds and walnuts.  No brown sugar?  Demerara will do – just adds a bit of an extra crunch.  The apples looked “meh”, but the pears looked pretty “all right”, so why not combine the two?  Plus, they’re getting cooked, so who really cares about a few surface-level blemishes.  What we care about is flavour!

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getting up close and personal with the crumble

Ingredients bought we headed home.  It was already quite late, but that’s never stopped me before.  I think J & Y were a bit surprised that I was baking at such a late hour (we actually fell asleep and didn’t even try it until the next morning!), but after being robbed by the AMPM’s monopoly on Shabbat grocery shopping, there was no way I was going to wait until the next day to be faced with the knowledge that I could have made this crumble for half, or even a third, of the price… [Note to self – don’t let Shabbat get the better of you, next time think ahead!]

The recipe below is the result of this late night endeavour as well as two subsequent trials and tweakings.  It’s still lacking a certain something, which if you figure out what it is, I’d love to hear it!  But, I am particularly proud of this recipe, because it has inaugurated me into the club of intuitive, recipe-less bakers. So, yay!

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the crumble topped with plain sheep yoghurt – delicious!

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3 hungry people can make a good dent pretty quickly!

Apple & Pear Crumble
Preheat oven to 180C

Filling:

4 medium-sized tart apples, chopped in large chunks
3 pears, chopped in large chunks
~ 1 inch of ginger, grated
juice from 1 orange
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)
¼ tsp ground ginger (if you don’t have fresh ginger)
juice from 3-4 passion fruits (optional)
3-4 TBSP date syrup (depending on how sweet the fruit is)
juice from about half a lemon (depending on how sour the fruit is)

Method:

Combine above ingredients in a bowl, making sure the fruit is well coated with the spices and juices. Pour into pie pan or whatever vessel you’re using.

Topping:

~ 1 ½ cups rolled oats
¾ cup chopped nuts (any combination you like – I generally do almonds and walnuts)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ – ¾ cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
5-6 TBSP (or glugs) melted butter or vegetable oil

Method:

Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl and then add the butter or oil and mix with your fingers until you have a sand-like consistency.  Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180C. It should be bubbling, the fruit should be tender (if stick a knife or fork into it), and the top should be brown. If the top browns before it is finished cooking, cover with foil. Alternatively, if the top is not crisp or brown enough for your liking, you can turn the oven heat up to 200C for 5 minutes to brown it.


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Moving/Halloween

Moving.  The process of packing your entire life into boxes, shipping them off into the ether, with fingers crossed that they will make it back to you in the new flat, in the new life.  This past June I fit the past four years into thirteen boxes.  At the time I was equally horrified at how many material goods I had somehow managed to pick up at uni and shocked that four of the most formative years in my life could so easily disappear inside the uniformity of a brown cardboard box.  Then, of course, there’s the wake up call of those thirteen boxes showing up on your doorstep and having to unpack them.  What on earth do I have that could take up thirteen boxes?!  Why couldn’t I have been more effective in culling my belongings??  Do I really need all this stuff?  Maybe I should just ditch it all and live out of a minimalist suitcase for the rest of my life.  This last thought was especially appealing as I saw how easily my flatmate, B, fit her two suitcases of clothes into her closet.  Suffice it to say, I still don’t have enough hangers and in preparation for our house-warming – which successfully encouraged us to complete the unpacking process – I may have shoved all excess belongings underneath my bed.  Oh well!  That’s putting things away, right?

The thing is, some of those thirteen boxes housed my precious kitchen supplies, which I obviously couldn’t get rid of.  And thank goodness I had all my spatulas, whisks, cutlery, knives, baking pans, etc, because our “furnished” flat had a distinctly “unfurnished” kitchen!  After serious struggles even getting a dining table where we could eat/work (I mean, really, how can you call a flat furnished if there’s nowhere to eat?), we had no energy to expend on forcing more concessions in the kitchen.  Natural conclusion?  Thank goodness for those thirteen boxes!

Now that we’re finally settled in and I’ve made my first batch of chai, B and I have started hosting mini-dinner parties.  Wednesday seems to be the night, so last night, since it was Halloween, obviously pumpkin was the star ingredient.

We started with a simple salad of baby greens (rocket, watercress, and spinach) with grape tomatoes and toasted pumpkin seeds.  The main was inspired by a meal I had last November at Enoteca Turi in Putney – pumpkin and scamorza risotto.  I’m not usually a fan of smoked cheese, but the creamy, smoky quality of scamorza paired with the sweet pumpkin, it is an unbeatable combination.  It may even top mushroom as my favourite type of risotto.  Unfortunately I always struggle to find scamorza when I want it, only stumbling upon it accidentally when I don’t need it.  Perhaps I should just start seeing that as a sign from the universe that tonight’s the night to make pumpkin risotto!  Anyway, last night, coming home late from campus, we had to make do with the cheese counter in our local Sainbury’s, which meant choosing a paprika smoked cheddar that actually ended up working very nicely!  Last, but certainly not least, we had pear and apple ginger crisp for dessert.  No pumpkin, but I didn’t want to overdose so early in the season.  The ginger really made all the difference in this dessert.  It played off the sweetness of the baked apples and pears adding a hit of spice to end a night of girly chat perfectly!

Pear and Apple, Ginger Crisp

This was inspired by posts from Pastry Affair and Sweetie’s Home

For the filling:

4 or 5 small apples (probably only need 3 larger ones)
2 or 3 large pears
½ inch grated ginger
zest from half a lemon
¼ c brown sugar, packed
3 Tablespoons butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons sugar

For the crumble topping:

¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
1/3 cup oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375F or 190C.  Grease a 9x9in baking pan and set aside.  I used a 9x13in pan and it worked fine, it was just a bit thinner and there were a few small gaps in the topping.

Wash, core, and chop the apples and pears into large-bite-sized cubes and place them in a large bowl.  Add the grated ginger, lemon zest, both sugars, butter, and vanilla to the fruit.  Mix and set aside.

Place all dry ingredients for the topping (sugar, flour, oats, almonds, spices, and salt) into a second large bowl.  Drizzle the vegetable oil over top the dry ingredients.  Mix with a fork, or your hands, until you reach a crumb-like consistency.

Spread the filling evenly into the baking pan.  Sprinkle the crumble over top of the fruit, ensuring you have no gaps!  (Unless, like me, you use a slightly larger pan, in which case your options are to accept the holes or double the recipe for the topping.)

Bake the crisp at 375F (190C) for 20-30 minutes.  Because mine was thinner it was ready after 20 minutes.  Remember timing can be very oven specific, so may vary.  I recommend checking after about 20 minutes and then readjust according to your oven.

Allow to cool for a few minutes and dig in!  It’s really delicious either hot or cold, but on a cold, rainy night eating it fresh from the oven was a real treat. 🙂