Pistachio Loaf Cake with White Chocolate Cream Frosting

I’m not sure how overtly autumnal pistachios are but I sure do love them. The ritual of shelling salted pistachios and seeing the pile of husks grow rapidly is very satisfying; for some reason my family seem to buy all of the pistachios at Christmas. While in Greece in September, I tried a wonderful bright green pistachio ice cream at Lolita’s Gelato and found out that pistachios are a local delicacy in Santorini, they’re everywhere. I love their green hue and that a handful of them counts as good fat! I recently came across a recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery’s “Cake Days” for this pistachio loaf cake and the idea really appealed to me. I must admit haven’t had the best of luck with Hummingbird Bakery recipes in the past. It was sadly hidden away right at the back of the book before the guidance notes, as if nobody is meant to find it! Well, I found it and had to give it a go.

The cake is soft, with sweetness coming from the frosting rather than the cake itself, well-distributed nuts and it is a lovely pale green against the white frosting. The chopped pistachios on top of the cake add a pop of colour and contrast against the white and easily give the flavour away to whoever’s looking! Just look at this green!

This was another long bake and a lesson I’m taking away is to reduce my oven temperature as the outside was ever so slightly too dark for my liking. When I tucked into a slice I felt that the outer crumb was slightly too hard. A similar timed bake with a touch less heat is one thing I’d do differently next time. Another random but potentially helpful point is that I used a very angular loaf tin. I have three different loaf tins with varying degrees of rounded corners and depths and I chose this one as it was the deepest, but on reflection I feel like the loaf cake looked a little like a brick with frosting on top 😳 (mostly because of the colour of it… but the sharp corners certainly didn’t help).

I can’t get enough of this frosting. It is so versatile. The original recipe called for a simple icing glaze (which I’m sure would work fine) but I wanted to use this frosting to give the cake extra height and volume, as well as a bit of piped decoration. I also judged that the cake was unlikely to be overly sweet based on the ingredients used, and wanted to add a little bit of luxury. I’ve slathered this frosting on blueberry cakes, lemon cakes, cupcakes of all flavours, carrot cakes… it works with many different cakes because the primary flavour is buttercream with a discreet white chocolate, almost vanilla-like sweetness.

This cake earned me a lot of kudos at work! People hear that you’ve baked with pistachio and are instantly interested; I suppose it’s quite an unusual baking ingredient. I would definitely recommend making it as a casual gift, to serve if you’re hosting a cup of tea for friends of an afternoon or to keep in a cake tin for slices during the week. It’s easy to make too (if you have patience for all that pistachio chopping!).

Ingredients

For the cake

190g unsalted butter
190g plain flour
190g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp/5g baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
25ml sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped (for the cake mixture)
15g shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped (to top the cake)

For the white chocolate cream frosting 

100g white chocolate
140g unsalted butter, very soft
140g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (fan) or 180 degrees (conventional), and grease and line a 2lb cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer or with a hand-held mixer until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and mix very well until completely incorporated into the mixture. It shouldn’t curdle.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and add to the mixture in two halves. Beat the flour in on a slow speed to avoid overmixing.
  5. Add the sour cream and vanilla essence and mix.
  6. Mix in the 100g of chopped pistachio by hand so that they are well distributed. By this point the mixture should look a little something like this:
  7. Add the mixture into your lined loaf tin and smooth out. The recipe calls for 50-60 minutes before checking it with a skewer but mine needed about 67 minutes!
  8. Remove for the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so before turning out to cool completely.
  9. Melt the white chocolate in small chunks in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. I have read that white chocolate has the lowest melting point of all chocolates and so if it’s overheated it doesn’t incorporate into other ingredients very well or set well. Keep stirring it and take it off the heat as soon as the majority of the chocolate is melted – the remaining chunks will melt in from the existing heat. Allow this to cool in the fridge for about 5 minutes.
  10. Beat together the butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract until fluffy and stiff (about 5 minutes).
  11. Add the white chocolate into the buttercream mixture slowly and continue to beat until it reaches a light and soft consistency. If you want to spread the frosting then feel free to use this straight away. I piped mine so I popped it in the fridge for 10 minutes to pipe smoothly.
  12. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cake. Sprinkle the remaining chopped pistachios onto the frosting and put the cake on the nicest cake stand you have.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for more pistachio recipe as it’s not a common ingredient. I imagine it would go well with a sharp citrus flavour too. Perhaps I will incorporate some into my next lemon drizzle to see what happens!

PS – isn’t my copy of Homer’s “Odyssey” beautiful?! I’m slightly obsessed with it! I can’t take it out of the house as I don’t want to get the edges bent or accidentally spill something on it. It’s a joy to look at. And read of course; I’m making my way through it slowly but surely. I’d be interested if anybody out there has read it and would care to discuss it with me!

Autumn Bake: Almond and Plum Crumble Cake

The flavours of autumn are everywhere. The colours are too. Look at these beautiful colours I found in Greenwich Park last weekend. The vibrancy and variety of hues is unbelievable and one of the great charms of autumn is that it seems so fleeting.

Suddenly all I want to cook with are pears, mushrooms, aubergines, beetroots… It’s so nice to start wrapping up (while it’s still light until seven-ish) and indulge in cosier tastes. I decided to get well into autumn baking with this almond and plum crumble cake. I baked it as a dessert for a family meal I hosted at my house in Greenwich. However, large slices found their way into my bag for work during the week and went down a treat with a green tea of an afternoon. I really enjoy baking with ground almonds and substituting part of the flour content in fruity cakes in particular. I think it works so well when baking with fruit because the ground almonds soak up some of the moisture that most baked fruits produce or the syrups that are sometimes used to pour over fruity cakes to penetrate the bake with its flavour (a la lemon drizzle). This cake has a subtle almond flavour which is lovely and sweet when paired with the tangy plums.

The cake batter is quite thick and needs spreading when you add it to your cake tin. I suppose this is to support the plums as this is a relatively long bake and sunken plums is not an option! Decorative eh?

The cake batter with plums arranged on top, before adding the crumble mixture. My advice is to stuff as many plums onto the top of the cake as you can as the whole effect of them is wonderful when baked - the purple colour is vibrant and the plums become soft and slightly sweeter during cooking - you definitely want a bit of plum in every mouthful.
The cake batter with plums arranged on top, before adding the crumble mixture. My advice is to stuff as many plums onto the top of the cake as you can as the whole effect of them is wonderful when baked – the purple colour is vibrant and the plums become soft and slightly sweeter during cooking – you definitely want a bit of plum in every mouthful.

I added extra brown demerara sugar to the crumble topping for extra crunch and caramelisation. Sometimes I’m a bit of a maverick with crumble and add all sorts to try and achieve crumble perfection: oats, honey, dried berries cut up finely, chopped brazil nuts… it’s all getting a bit granola isn’t it? The extra demerara was as far as I went with this one! Luckily I didn’t find there was any need to cover the cake with foil while it’s baking, even though it’s a long bake, to stop the crumble from colouring too quickly or getting burnt.

This bake doesn’t rise too much while cooking; it stands at about 6cm tall when baked and the crumble is about a half centimetre of this height. A fair amount of my previous baking experience has been layer cakes with inches of cream and frosting so setting it on my cake stand felt very strange! Where’s the rest of it, I thought. Nope, the beauty of this cake is in its autumnal rusticness and simplicity. I served it slightly warm with pouring cream or a dollop of custard (custard wins for me every day! Everyone else around me favours cream).

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 175 golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 22g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 85g sour cream
  • 6 plums, halved and stoned

For the crumble topping 

  • 50g ground almonds
  • 50g plain flour
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 22cm springform round cake tin, as deep as you’ve got, with baking paper.
  2. Make the crumble topping first. Add all the crumble ingredients to a bowl and rub until it reaches your desired texture. It should look something like this:


  3. Now move onto the cake, which is really ridiculously easy. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, ground almonds and soured cream into an electric mixer or big bowl. Sift in the baking powder and flour and beat with your mixer or hand-held electric whisk until smooth.
  4. Tip all of the mixture into your tin and level out with a palette knife.
  5. Arrange the halved plums (cut side up) over the cake mixture and push in so that only the top centimetre or so of the plum is visible above the cake. It should look something like my earlier picture.
  6. Then scatter the crumble on top as evenly as you can. It should look something like this:

    The crumble mixture on top of the cake batter and plums. The quantity of crumble produces a good half a centimetre of crunchiness. I found there was no need to cover the cake with foil at any point during the bake to stop the crumble getting too dark.

  7. Bake for 1 hour until all the usual signs of a baked cake are evident (skewer comes out clean, no wobble, no instant deflate, etc). It should look something like this:


  8. Cool in the tin and then tip out to cool fully. Cut into chunky slices and serve with cream or custard. I stored the cake in an airtight tin and it was still yummy for about 2 days. After that the plums were a little too soft for my liking so my partner and I ate all remaining cake for fear of wastage.
On baking the cake has this super mouth-watering hint of the lovely juices that the plums have released into the cake and crumble while baking.
On baking the cake has this super mouth-watering hint of the lovely juices that the plums have released into the cake and crumble while in the oven.

I can’t wait to get going with some more seasonal cooking. I picked up a handful of wild mushrooms from the nearby green grocer which I’m planning on having for brunch tomorrow: fried with some garlic, butter and parsley and served on toast with a poached egg. Actual heaven on a plate. Seasonal cooking can be every day too right?! Enjoy the cake!

Proscuitto, Manchego and Balsamic Onion Quick Bread

Have you been watching the Great British Bake Off? It’s one of my favourite programmes of the whole year. It’s light-hearted and there aren’t really any expectations for the winner at the end, although some of them have gone on to do very well in the public eye, and some non-winners have too. Ruby Tandoh’s weekly column in The Guardian is one of my favourite sources of new and interesting recipes. I am a big fan of Nadiya and Tamal. I’d be very happy if either of them won!

After each episode I always feel very inspired to produce something from the week’s theme. I’ve got a lot of experience making cakes but I feel like cake week is the only one I’d be anywhere near my comfort zone within. I’ve noted down lots of recipes from the series so far that I want to try my hand at, and BBC Food are handily publishing 5 recipes from each week on their website. Today was the perfect opportunity to return to week 3 (bread week) and bake Alvin’s proscuitto, manchego and balsamic onion quick bread which basically sounds like heaven in an oven. I’ve never made a quick bread or soda bread before, and just the thought of the combination of ingredients and flavours here make me ridiculously hungry. They’re the the kind of toppings I’d go for on a pizza, or pull together on a cheese board.

I am very lucky where I live in Greenwich to have a couple of gorgeous independent shops about 30 seconds walk from my house. It’s all very English, there’s a fishmonger, butcher, florist, green grocer and cheese shop. The Cheeseboard is a teeny shop on the corner packed with wines, olives, chutneys, dairy products, bread and baked goods and CHEESE. They’ve never let me down so far no matter how esoteric the cheese is that I’m after.

There was a fair amount of preparation to do for this recipe. All that tearing of proscuitto and basil, dicing manchego and slicing onions. The actual breadmaking part feels very short! I suppose that is the beauty of a quick bread. Take your time over preparing the onions so that they become super sweet and juicy while cooling. It’s the presence of these onions that mean you could almost eat it without butter because there is already a chutney-esque flavour running through it.

After rubbing the butter and flour together, it’s important that all the dry additions are well distributed through the breadcrumby mixture because apparently quick breads shouldn’t be handled too much. You don’t want to be kneading it excessively with the aim of distributing the fillings. The picture above is what my dry ingredients looked like all ready to receive the buttermilk.

I used about 250ml of buttermilk to make the dough just come together rather than the full 300ml. It looked so appetising even before going in the oven! All the different flashes of colour are lovely.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (olive, vegetable, rapeseed etc)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 3 tbsp (45ml) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22.5ml) soft brown sugar
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp (5ml) salt
  • 30g cold, diced unsalted butter
  • 80g proscuitto, torn roughly
  • 200g manchego cheese, diced into roughly 1cm chunks
  • Handful of torn basil leaves
  • 300ml buttermilk (or 300ml milk mixed with 20ml of white wine vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp (15g) butter, melted, for brushing over the finished quick bread
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas Mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Warm the oil over medium-high heat and when hot, add the red onions and stir. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar, increase the heat slightly, and cook, uncovered, for a further 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely (this should take half an hour or so).
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large deep bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles very fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Put a small amount of cooked onions, manchego and proscuitto aside to top the bread with when it goes in the oven.
  5. Add the remaining onions, prosciutto, basil and cheese to the flour mixture.
  6. Mix the buttermilk with 25ml water. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture, I used about 250ml rather than the full 300ml and you’re trying to make a dough which just comes together. Add more buttermilk if the dough is too dry, or a little plain flour if it’s too wet.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, roughly shape and transfer to the prepared baking trays. Flatten the loaf to about 4cm thick. Score the top using a sharp knife and top with the reserved balsamic onions, proscuitto and manchego.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base. I covered the bread with foil 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to make sure it didn’t get burnt. If the bread sounds hollow when you tap its base, it’s done.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack and brush with melted butter. Allow to cool fully.

The fact that this quick bread already has a handful of meat and cheese in makes it delicious on its own rather than a bread for sandwich-making. I had it with a spread of goats cheese. I was actually impressed by how soft the crumb was, as I was expecting a rather more dense loaf given the lack of kneading and yeast. Quick breads keep well in airtight containers, in the fridge for a few days or frozen when fully cooled down. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the GBBO final next week!

Spiced Orange and Carrot Cake with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot cakes have never been part of my habitual baking repertoire. I was recently asked by a colleague if I could make a couple of cakes to celebrate his promotion. He asked if one of them could be a carrot cake, and naturally I obliged. I think I’ve made one carrot cake in the past, and it was enjoyable. It’s never the cake that I would naturally gravitate towards if I had a choice. So I wanted to develop a recipe that appealed more than the retro carrot classic. To start I consulted this Lorraine Pascale recipe for a three-layer cake and adapted it in a few ways to suit.

I had such rave reviews for this cake. I had a slice and I have to say I bumped it straight into my favourites. It’s easy to make, although it takes a bit of dedicated time, keeps very well for a week or so, is very moist and light and looks decorative on a stand.

Apart from general small tweaks, the key digressions from the original recipe are:

– using two-thirds of the recipe stipulations to make a two layer cake. I have to admit I’m surprised that a three layer cake using these quantities is feasible! The two layer version was super tall and fluffy. Three would have been absurdly enormous!

– using wholemeal self-raising flour instead of white self-raising flours. You can buy wholemeal flours in major supermarkets nowadays and this is the perfect recipe for it. It enhances the rich colour of the cake and adds a more natural flavour. It also makes the cake slightly healthy, doesn’t it?

– Using “Canola” oil to make the cake instead of vegetable oil (as I’ve read it’s slightly better for you).

– Adding a dash of orange extract to the mixture to enhance the orange flavour of the cake.

image

Cake Frosting
350ml Canola or rapeseed oil 200g icing sugar
6 medium eggs, I used my favourite Burford Browns 40g unsalted butter
350g soft dark brown sugar, or a mix of 175g soft light brown sugar and 175g soft dark brown sugar zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
350g wholemeal self-raising flour half tsp vanilla extract
5 large carrots, grated coarsely 115g full fat cream cheese
zest of 3 large oranges walnuts, halved, to decorate
2 tsp/10g bicarbonate of soda candied peels or orange and lemon jelly slices, to decorate
1 tbsp/15g mixed spice
half tsp/2.5g orange extract
half tsp/2.5g vanilla extract, I used Nielsen Massey

 

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees or 160 degrees fan. Butter and line two 20cm cake tins with baking parchment.

2) Add the oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, orange extract, carrots and orange zest and whisk in a free-standing mixer until everything is well mixed and a dark caramel colour with the carrot visible.

3) Sift the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice into the wet mixture. Whisk again until everything is well mixed and no lumps are visible.

4) Pour into the tins evenly. The mixture should be quite runny and pour easily from your mixing bowl.

5) Bake for 40 minutes. The cakes will have a rich brown top when fully cooked. Leave to cool in the tins and turn out onto a wire rack after 10 minutes or so.

6) For the frosting, sift the icing sugar and whisk together with the butter, lemon zest and vanilla in a free-standing mixer. Add the cream cheese and whisk on high speed for 2 minutes or so until the mixture is fluffy.

7) If necessary leave the frosting in the fridge for half an hour to firm up.

8) Slice the top off one cake (your least favourite one!) so that the top is flat. Add a generous amount of frosting (just under half) and place your second layer on top.

9) Add the rest of the frosting to the top of the cake and pile up as necessary. Make a few swirly patterns with your palette knife. Decorate with your halved walnuts, candied peel or jelly slices.

Give it a go at the weekend and keep it in an airtight tin over the week to have a sneaky slice with a cup of tea, use it as a celebration cake or even adapt it for cupcakes. I’m a carrot cake convert after using this recipe!