Cardamom carrot cake with honey glazed dutch carrots & roasted walnuts

A few years ago my in-laws flew across the world to visit Australia and spend some time with us. The days were filled with deferent activities, including many visits to different parks and other kid friendly places, in order to keep their little grandchild happy. Evenings were more reserved for food and many untold stories, until at one point my mother-in-law showed an interest in watching the TV show called Masterchef. I guess I don’t need to explain Masterchef as it’s amongst one of the most popular in Australia, if not the most popular one. To help my mother-in-law to understand completely what was going on in the show, I watched it too. Until the end of that series.

A few years after, at an event a friend organised, I got to meet with the winner of the actual show we watched with my in-laws! That was really unexpected and lovely but one more time I thought it’s the end of that story. Until the other night my 6 year old showed a great interest in watching a show that was last time watched in our house when he was just over two years old! Genes, or just an expected delaying tactic before bed time. I would say, quite possibly, both.

So, while I was trying to explain that watching television on a Thursday night, just because one of the adults wanted to check something while the little one was still around and awake, doesn’t mean it’s movie night…I glimpsed some beautiful carrots cooking in an orange juice! The goldenness of the colour and the sweetness that you could almost smell were mesmerising to me. An idea haunted me for days until it was impossible to ignore. Then again, why would anyone ignore creativity that as a final result produces a cake like this one. I love every bit of it, as I am sure you will too.

That was it really. A very simple story of a very beautiful cake. The story is almost disappointing in its simplicity but very much fulfilling in its flavour. Rumour has it that this is the best carrot cake in the World! Well, at least for our little one!

Cardamom carrot cake with a honey glazed dutch carrots & roasted walnuts 

Cake:

4 eggs

150 gr brown sugar

75 ml honey

185 ml olive oil

200 gr white Spelt flour

75 gr Oat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

300 grated carrots

50 gr roasted walnuts

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 scraped vanilla pod

Honey glazed Dutch carrots:

1 bunch Dutch carrots

25 gr roasted walnuts

2 tablespoons honey

200 ml freshly squeezed mandarin juice

For the serving:

150 ml heavy cream

mandarin syrup with roasted walnuts

Battenberg cake

Autumn is starting to be one of my favourites seasons. The changes in colours, weather and even our moods are very generous in their spectrum. A little bit of everything. Unpredictable both ways, good or bad can surprise us at any time.  It’s the weather – many would say. I would add – it’s Autumn! I see everything in layers and colours.  A bit of green, a little bit of glorious gold and reddish lines and spots everywhere and brown of course – the inevitable colour of soil. If I was born on this side of planet, I would be an Autumn person with all the layers in between.

Just like this gorgeous cake! Two different colours, and in my opinion they are Autumn colours, a bit of jam in between and there are the layers of different tastes. I’ve chosen just a plain icing for this one but have to add that the original version is covered with marzipan and it tastes wonderful… but, just recently I was introduced to Alchermes, and I was instantly intrigued by the name, look and the complete appearance of this scarlet liquid. I had to include it into my baking and to start I made this nourishing one, to celebrate the Autumn season. I’ve added a few drops of Alchermes into the icing as well as to the cake itself. What a wonderful and intriguing aroma but no one would expect less from a liquid with a Hermes the son of Zeus as a part of its name.

I thought the cake will be quite buttery for my taste but it is just as it should be. Moist and rich! Just a few almonds make all the difference and shouldn’t be avoided. And Alchermes, oh what an indulgence! Just wait until the smell from the oven conquers the whole house.

Battenberg cake

350 gr butter

350 gr sugar

6 eggs

1  teaspoon vanilla paste

280 gr plain flour

100 gr ground almonds

2 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

2 tablespoons of Alchermes

Filling:

100 gr jam (I used this plum jam)

Icing:

250 gr powdered sugar

a few drops of Alchermes

1 teaspoon of water

Heat oven to 180C.

Mix the butter with the sugar until pale, in a large size bowl. Add the eggs and whisk for another 4-5 minutes. Add the vanilla paste and mix slowly one more time. In a different bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and almonds. Add to the butter mixture and combine all using spatula or hand mixer on a very slow speed. Once all combined, divide butter in two (ideally using scales to be precise) and in one of them add Alchermes. Mix until all ingredients well combined and pour into a lined baking tin.

In case you don’t have two 10x20cm baking tins you can use one 20×20 cm baking tin, which is more common in many kitchens. Divide the baking tin in two by putting a thick piece (a few times folded) of aluminium foil lengthways, imitating the wall of a baking dish   – which is what I do and it works perfectly. Bake for 45 minutes or until baked.

Once baked, leave on a cooling rack to cool before transferring to the refrigerator to cool completely. This way it’ll be much easier to cut the cake, which is our next step. Use a ruler if you have to and try to make a straight cut so you get 4 ( 2 each colour cake) nice pieces.

Assembling the cake : place all four pieces, making sure you have one plain and one pink cake next to each other. Spread all tops with jam, turn the jam sides facing each other and glue the cakes. Repeat with the other two cakes.

One more time, spread the jam, this time on the top of two already “glued” cakes and place the other two on the top. Make sure you follow the pattern, one plain and one pink, when finishing assembling the cake.

Mix the powdered sugar with the water and Alchermes and spread over the cake. The cake is not so “firm” because it’s not wrapped in marzipan as the original recipe says but we love the rustic look of the cake and the fact that you can choose and divide the piece you want to eat first – or at least that was the way one of our friends saw it when she tasted the cake for the first time.

Plum jam

A broken oven is never good news. For someone who is so into baking, it is a disaster. But things are looking brighter because the oven repair man is coming today! Lucky for me, just a few days ago I got these gorgeous plums (from a friend’s backyard) and since I can cook jam, I didn’t waste a minute. So, I cooked the jam, sterilised the jars and packed all in the same day! Even decorated and wrapped the jars nicely so I could give them away as presents. An act of a nervous woman I’d say. I kept myself busy…

Mornings are always better with a good breakfast and my family are lately enjoying butter and jam on a nice baguette as a favourite breakfast. Even the little one likes it (his favourite is strawberry jam though). I made breakfast for us and then, because it seemed a good opportunity to record the moment, I decided to take some photos.

That is me reflecting in a shiny spoon, standing on the ladder and leaning dangerously towards the table. We have all  done it many times, I know. The question is, how many of you have fallen over the table, spilling all the jam over the floor minutes before a person who is going to fix the oven is about to knock on the door.

Now, I don’t really want to distract you completely from a nice and sweet jam like this one so let’s get back to making a simple jam recipe with an organic fruit. I especially like the part of having healthy and fresh fruit, which gives the process an extra nice feeling.

Plum jam has to be one of my favourites. It’s a jam my mum cooked every year for us and I loved it. The plums she used to use were a different shape and colour though. I believe their name is “Marjorie’s Seedling” and they are perfect for jams. Very sweet and not so juicy so the jam was very sweet and thick, almost too hard to spread on bread.

The oven is working again! and I am about to bake a rye flour tart but that is another story…

Plum jam  

1 kg plums

1 small green apple

500 raw sugar

1 start anise

1 vanilla bean scraped

Wash your fruit even if its organic to remove all the dirt. Pit the plums and although I know it’s not an easy job, there is no way around it.  Just cut them into halves and take the pip out. Place a heavy pot on the medium heat, add plums and sugar and stir a few times using wooden spoon. Add green apple, cored and sliced first. Stir again and add vanilla bean and star anise. I don’t mind if any of these spices end up in my jar but you can take them out at the end of cooking.

Cook jam for about an hour, stirring occasionally and the most important thing, take out the hull which is going to separate from the juicy part minutes after cooking starts. It’s the old fashion way but it works and I don’t mind doing it.

Basically you need to cook the jam until you end up with the colour and thickness you like. When cooked, leave to cool slightly before pouring into sterilised jars (you can check this post for an extra explanation) or you can just use dish washer for sterilizing the jars. Pour into jars and use when needed. I always leave some in a container to use straight away, because I know we will. One of my favourite desserts lately is jam poured over Greek yoghurt! You should try that. Yum!

Sutlijas aka rice pudding

Sutlijas is one of the first desserts I remember as a child. It is a simple dessert, easy to make and I assume our working mums, who were also  good housewives had to come up with a handy solution. Sutlijas was certainly one of those. A rice cooked in milk, sweetened with sugar, but not too much, and dusted with cinnamon on the top – that is Sutlijas. It’s made like this or similarly, around the world and quite often it’s just the name that is different.

It wasn’t always my favourite dessert but I never said no to it. I guess I learned to appreciate it later in my life more than when I was little. Some things take time but not this dessert. That is another beauty that comes with age as well; you learn to appreciate time as well. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of those people who can wait for hours for the dough to rise but when you are in a hurry and you still want to finish your dinner with a nice dessert – Sutlijas is the way to go.

And then I remember exactly when and where I tasted my first rice pudding. There was a place in New York that will always be called “Hasan” by my sister’s family and me. We used to go there together every time I visited and we all loved the food. I remember you had to move a thick velvet curtain to get in. It was almost hidden from the rest of the world, somewhere between 53rd and 57th  street on the west side of Manhattan. We enjoyed spicy lentil soup, pastries stuffed with minced meat and dipped in yoghurt aromatised with fresh mint and at the end, almost always, rice pudding in a thick flute glass with curly/floral ends (one of those created just for the movies back in the 60’s), would be served. It was always decorated with pistachios. Years after we realised that Hasan was just one of the waiters’ name, not the name of the restaurant, but it stuck with us anyway. I loved that rice pudding. It was made slightly differently from the Sutlijas I knew; It was more creamy, with a slight scent of lemon and of course decorated with crushed pistachios instead of cinnamon. Still we are talking Sutlijas here.

I cook or bake rice pudding quite often and with different milk or toppings. Today I felt like having it this way – almond milk and freshly made plum jam as the right topping. Let me know if you like it too.

Almond milk rice pudding with plum jam

200 gr  short- grain rice (I used arborio rice)

750 ml almond milk

2 teaspoons honey

1 lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste

4 tablespoons of plum or apricot jam

*candied orange peel

fresh mint for decoration

Boil rice in the milk on a very low heat for about 20 minutes or until almost all the milk is absorbed. Stir occasionally just to check if the bottom is not stuck and burned. When the rice is very soft and milk almost absorbed add honey and stir to help dissolve.

Cook for another 5 minutes but don’t let it become too dry. Turn off the heat, add vanilla paste and lemon zest and stir again. The pudding should still have liquid (milk) once off the heat (the rice will absorb it while cooling down).

Serve in your favourite ramekins or glasses, top with jam and decorate with candied fruit. Can be served hot or cold.

* I tend to make my own candied fruit. It comes from cooking many syrups I made for different pies (and I will post the recipes eventually). For this particular one I used one orange peel cooked in a syrup made of water and sugar. You can use the syrup to top the rice pudding as well.

1 orange peel (sliced julienne)

100 ml water

200 gr sugar (I use raw)

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)

Wash orange thoroughly before use. Peel as thin as you can using a sharp knife – I don’t mind keeping a bit of the white soft part – and slice julienne. Cook in 200 ml of water for 2-3 minutes, take off the heat, discharge water and keep orange strips. In a different pot boil water and sugar, add orange strips and cook for another 15 minutes on a medium heat. Be careful not to burn or change the colour of the orange strips too much. At the end add Grand Marnier (optional) and remove from the heat.

Spelt and raspberry scones

There have been endless days of illness around here. It seems to be almost inevitable when the seasons are changing, so I have to admit that as much as I love the idea of warm weather coming up, I don’t like the difficulties my body has to go through in order to adjust to a change. To make things even more difficult we were all ill at the same time, one more than another, but still – difficult. I was the last one to fail without noticing myself – I had to be “sent home” from the job I was working on, because no one wants to be around ill people and I was definitely one of those!

So, what is it that you do when you are not feeling well? Wrap yourself in a favourite blanket (still a bit cold around here), make your favourite tea (mix of peppermint and chamomile tea with a large spoon of honey, same quantity of bee pollen and a generous squeeze of lemon juice) … but something is still missing? Of course it is! How about some comfort food? So, I had to unwrap myself from my blanket, instead to wrap around an apron, and without thinking for a second, I baked these scones. They have been on the menu for some time now and we have them mostly for breakfast or a snack during the day. But that is just not enough, not after an obvious need for them in such an emotional and susceptible situation, so officially from today I will call them – super comfort food for this family. If I can’t make my body feel better – instantly, I can work on my spirit and anyone would feel better in such good company! It took me two days to recover, so what can I thank for this? A good tea mix or healthy spelt flour scones?

Also, I’ve been encouraged (from different sources) to include more colours in my photos and to try and create some drama as well. I actually liked the idea as much as the challenge and that is why these beautiful scones accompany a rich burgundy coloured roses (that my son picked from the market a few days earlier) and fresh bay leaves, kindly picked and packed for us, from our dear friend’s garden.

Spelt scones

200 gr wholemeal Spelt flour

200 gr white Spelt flour

150 gr unsalted butter

2 free range eggs

2 tablespoons sour cream

50 gr raw sugar plus more for sprinkling

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon aluminium free baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon powder

20 ml milk (I used almond milk)

200 gr raspberries or berries of your choice

Heat oven to 160C. Line baking tray with baking paper.

In a medium size bowl mix flours, sea salt, sugar, baking powder and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder. Add butter, chopped into small cubes and mix with your fingers until crumbly. In a different bowl beat eggs lightly with a fork and add sour cream. Combine two mixtures until you get a nice and smooth dough. Roll into a rectangular shape, to 7-8 mm thickness. Place the fruit on the top, sprinkle with sugar (1 tablespoon approximately), add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and roll into a log. Cut into triangles, brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake for 20 minutes or until done. Cool on a cooling rack if you can wait, otherwise – Bon appetite!

Marble cake

Marble cake: “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Bake. How do you do? I am a Marble cake. There are other cakes around me but this is my moment and this space is dedicated to me. I am one of the most respectable cakes in the world – so don’t be surprised. Quite often I find my self in the first few pages of any recipe book. Remember recipe books, those marvellous collection of pages in which beauties like me have their history recorded. As a matter of fact the lady who is taking notes, has a few different versions of me in her own recipe book. That is how one starts a baking journey. You bake a cake like me and if it’s a good one you are on a successful road to becoming a wonderful baker. I might be a simple cake, but I am very beautiful in my simplicity. I am tough but my texture is crumbly. I am sweet but not too sweet. I like being served with a cup of tea but I am mixed with yoghurt. You can spread a thin layer of butter on a slice of me but I am baked with oil. I am white and I am black. Ladies and gentlemen I am Marble Cake”.

marble cake

 Me:”well I don’t really have anything to add. Marble cake has said it all”. Continue reading “Marble cake”

Chocolate buckwheat cookies

Buckwheat flour and I have a rather long history. The first thing that would cross my mind and is related to this flour, would have to be pastry sheets made of buckwheat flour and all the beautiful pies made out of them. Cheese and spinach to start with then apple pie, pumpkin pie and any berry pie and I can go on like this forever, obviously. I am quite sure you get the picture but just in case, I’ll tell you one more story: Last year my son and I made a trip across the world to visit the grandparents. We hadn’t seen each other for some time and we were all looking forward to it. Alas, when we arrived to my mum’s house late in the evening, we were all tired and Maksim had a temperature as well but I can still remember how my heart melted when I saw the choice of food my mum had made for us. A buckwheat filo pastry goat cheese and spinach pie. I could not think of anything that would make me happier or anything else that could bring back so many memories. Maksim didn’t eat much that evening or any other actually whereas with me it was quite the opposite. Continue reading “Chocolate buckwheat cookies”

grey clouds and fresh grape

Buckwheat cake

It was a gloomy day. The sun was hiding behind clouds like it was never going to appear again. Occasionally a few drops of rain would make their way through the greyness. We were all having a lazy day, not willing to leave the house. In my case that almost always means, extra baking. To have nutritious food, to lift the spirit, to make the day more productive, to have fun with my son who is always hungry when it comes to food, fun and knowledge. Many, many good reasons. When you add to that a newly bought baking dish and mix it with buckwheat flour, add a few walnuts and the sweetest grapes ever, you get this delight in the shape of a cake.

Continue reading “grey clouds and fresh grape”