Almond and Basil Pesto

The autumn garden. Already the summer is over, autumn has rushed by and in 2 weeks it will be winter. It’s time to clear out the remains of the pumpkin vines, which have spread their sprawling limbs all across the lawn, and reveal the leggy, uncut grass and weeds beneath, to cull the bolted lettuce and pick the ripening chillies. Oh so many chillies! My aubergines have been chugging away steadily, providing us with grilled, pickled, baked and fried dishes, mousaka, baba ganoush and sandwich fillers. I plagued everyone with my aubergine photos and recipes last year, so this year I have only one image, just because I can’t help myself. Continue reading

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Not Quite Simnel

IMG_8178The history behind the Simnel cake is a long and interesting one; mostly Easter based, partly Mother’s Day, but as far as I’m concerned, it reminds me of my Beastie back home. She knows who she is.

I set out with intentions of doing it properly this Easter, but as usual ended up faking it. It was the fruit cake you see; I thought I had all the ingredients, but when I got home and looked in my baking box, I just didn’t have enough fruit. Coles had been a cast iron ball breaker that morning, full of bad tempered locals bulk buying for the apocalypse by 9am, and I simply couldn’t face a return engagement.

On the other hand, I had tons of almond meal, and eggs from next door’s chickens, plus we are a marzipan loving family so obviously had plenty in stock.

So: my compromise = almond cake, with a Simnel exterior. Compromise. Might call it Almond Overload.

Ingredients

  • 340g almond meal
  • 45g butter, melted
  • 130g icing sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 egg whites, retain a tablespoon for glazing at the end*
  • 1tsp almond essence
  • 45g flour
  • 1.5 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 500g marzipan
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jam or marmalade
  • Blowtorch

Preheat oven to 200 C. Line a 23cm cake pan with greaseproof paper, and oil.

Combine the almond meal with the icing sugar in a mixing bowl and add the whole eggs. Beat these together well, and add the almond essence and melted butter (slowly! I was enthusiastic and chucked it in while the processor was on full pelt. Got a face full of molten butter for my troubles. Oww!). Add the flour and mix gently.

Beat the egg whites until at the soft peak stage, then add the caster sugar and beat until stiff.

Meanwhile roll out half the marzipan and trim to a 23cm round. TIP: when rolling out, lay the marzipan on a sheet of cling film, and place another sheet over the top.IMG_8168 This stops the marzipan sticking to absolutely everything.

Fold the egg whites into the almond mix, gradually. When combined, spoon half into the prepared tin, lay over the marzipan disc, then spoon the rest of the mix over the top.

Pop into the oven for around 30 – 35 minutes or until risen and golden. While it cooks, pull a chunk off the remaining marzipan, and make 11 small balls with it. Roll out all the rest to another 23cm disc. Leave it covered with the clingfilm until you need it.

Allow the cake to cool. I got the oven temp wrong initially (too low) and hence my version has cooked unevenly – I turned it up half way and I guess that’s why it looks so bumpy. IMG_8169Not such a great ad for this recipe is it, eh?? But I leveled it the cheats way, and no one will even know in a minute:

IMG_8170Looks pretty bad at this stage, right?

Hopefully you will stick with the 200 degrees as suggested and won’t have a wonky cake to cut and level out…So. Spread the jam over one side of the remaining circle or marzipanIMG_8172and gently lift it onto your cooled, non wonky cake, jam side down. Roll the marzipan balls in the egg white. Glaze the top of the cake with the egg white, then place the 11 balls around the edges, with one in the middle if you wish (think that one is Jesus).IMG_8173

Run the blowtorch over the top of the cake, cooking off the egg white, fixing the balls in place and slightly scorching it as you go.IMG_8181

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Those compromises

I think this cake worked out well – I’ve never been good with presentation, so it’s never going to win any beauty awards. But (other than the way it looks!) there are a couple of things I would do differently next time.

1) Get the oven temp right! Basic one, this.

2)  Use a more refined almond meal. What I had in stock was the brown variety, ground with the almond skins still on. I rather like a rough texture, but I think it could be better without the slight bitterness that the skins convey. It’d also look nicer!

3) I’d also make sure I used egg white for the glaze and not whole egg as I did in the pictures above; this made it look too yellowy.

4) I’d probably blow torch it all all bit longer too, for a more toasty look.

IMG_8183

*Yolky omelette for lunch!

Basil Pesto – no yucky pinenuts!

I know we can’t all be the same but I just don’t get the pinenuts thing. Horrid, greasy, rancid-y things. But; I do love pesto, and that classically contains them.

So my crop of rapidly running to seed basil was…rapidly running to seed, and it was time to crop and chop at the weekend. A stare at the interweb revealed a few recipes without any nuts, but not a whole lot with different nuts. I decided to have a go.

I used a big handful of mixed basil (regular, thai, lemon varieties), including some of the flowers:IMG_2356

…..and about half as much parmesan, roughly grated, plus 3 or 4 anchovies, and about a half cup of roasty toasty almonds.

I stuck the blanched almonds on the BBQ griddle plate to toast (too hot to put on the oven indoors):IMG_2355

 Apart from the odd overdone one, this worked pretty well. Next I blitzed the almonds and basil together:

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Added the anchovies, salt & pepper, parmesan and whizzed briefly, before drizzling in extra virgin olive oil until it all came together in a slick gloop. In a nice way.

Spoon into sterilised jar and top with a nice clean lid.IMG_2359

There was enough for immediate use in the dish I needed it for, plus a whole jar for the fridge. The results were robust and smoky from the nuts, rich from the quality parmesan and stronger than a shop bought version. Nice!