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Sunday sweets :: Norwegian Almond Cake

norwegian almond cake

Although Sunday has become official baking day here, it does seem there is a trade-off. Like Sunday is the day when one cannot make custard. Or at least I can’t make custard or anything resembling custard. I tried. A carton of egg yolks later, I had the worst custard I had ever made. With no eggs left, I decided to cheat and use semi-instant custard powder. Clearly been in the cupboard too long and set a new record for my worst custard. Then thought I had found a packet of truly-instant custard in the cupboard, only to find we had clearly put a pretty-much-empty packet back in the cupboard for some reason.

So this cake was supposed to have a layer of thick almond custard. But the gods of custard say no, so no it is.

Which leaves two layers of almond cake and two layers of meringue (one soft, one crunchy) and a bunch of almond pieces on top.

Sickeningly sweet and nowhere near as nice as the proper cake from Rhodes, a newish bakery in Greenwich for which we have fallen head over heels.

Oh well: if the worst thing I can find to whine about is a lack of almond custard, I think things must actually be pretty darn good.


Sunday sweets :: cherry clafoutis

This Sunday’s baking was decidedly not photogenic. But it disappeared in just a few minutes, so I’ll take yummy-if-ugly for this week, I guess. It was also a total cheat: when I travel, I look for mixes in the baking section to see what an instant national classic is like. It’s normally nowhere near as fabulous as making it from scratch, but it’s a strange compulsion just to find something I can’t find here and see how it turns out. So this was a cherry clafoutis mix bought for the princely price of €1.49 in a corner grocer in Paris. Just add milk and cherries and bake for the better part of an hour. (Or be a rebel and add amaretto because if something has cherries, something should have amaretto. That’s what I believe, anyway.)

I am sure this clafoutis recipe would be far more fabulous (and it is obviously very pretty!) but reading the directions in every language but English made this simple mix enough of an adventure for this Sunday.

The bigger event on Sunday was the London marathon—we certainly aren’t running but it starts so close to home that we’ve made it a bit of an annual event with guests for a big breakfast, watching at the starting line then shortcutting over to the six mile mark to cheer some more. We managed to catch a few pictures of Ed – the only person we actually knew who was running – and yes, Peter Andre and Jordan, for a laugh.

Surely her shoulder was in agony by the end of the marathon if he ran like that for the entire race?


Sunday sweets :: banana bread

banana bread

Three Sundays in a row with time to bake has made me very happy indeed! Today’s mission was something for two bananas that had decidedly turned to the cooking phase of colour. Bananas and I have a funny relationship. They seem to have some sort of magical healing abilities, along with Welch’s purple grape juice and a select other few grocery items, to bring me back to feeling myself when I seem to have a bit of a bug (and by magical, I mean more than the average happy fruit feeling, because I could quite happily live on fresh fruit and fruit juice, but please don’t tell my baking cupboard). But there is a very short window in which I actually like bananas. Too green and they have a horrible texture that seems to stay on your teeth for days; too yellow and the taste is just too strong for my liking. I actually prefer them when they are yellow with just a bit of green at the top, and once they have the slightest bit of brown, then they need to sit for a few days in limbo until they become prime baking material. The Boy will tell you I eat them before they are ripe and for this, I am slightly strange. I think he cringes as he watches me eat them green. But we all have our foibles, right?

Deb of Smitten Kitchen clearly has foibles of the other direction and would probably cringe more than The Boy at how I spot my perfect bunch of bananas at the store, since she is one of those people who I can’t fathom: she likes them with brown spots! My shoulders shrivel up at the thought. But anyway, the real reason I’ve brought her into this discussion is because I started with her recipe for this Banana Bread. And she called it Jacked-Up Banana Bread since she chopped and changed it from someone else who had borrowed it and chopped and changed it and so on down the line.

What did I do? I chopped and changed it.
Actually, I made the bread exactly to her recipe with the exception that I only used two bananas (partially because that’s what we had and partially because I actually like my banana bread to be a bit subtle, like I like my bananas). And my chopping and changing came in adding a crumble topping. A crumble topping which I didn’t measure, which makes it completely useless for keeping any real record of what I made, but essentially butter, flour, vanilla sugar, brown sugar and finely chopped salted nuts mixed until it was dry and crumbly. Spread over the batter in the pans and bake just like the Smitten Kitchen recipe. This was my happy medium because I really don’t like nuts in banana bread…but a tiny bit chopped very finely in the topping gives a bit of salt to balance out the sweetness of everything else. Or so I like to believe.

Best served as dessert with nice people who won’t debate that what I grew up calling banana bread is actually clearly a cake. That, and vanilla custard.


Sunday sweets :: macarons


Loving a very chilled four day weekend. Quiet and creative here—we both have a couple projects that we’re working on, so we are quiet for quite some time, followed by a buzz of swapping ideas back and forth, followed by the quiet of trying out those ideas. Nice to have a little extra time to feed that creativity!

It turns out a weekend like this is perfect for making macarons, since they take so many steps, with waiting built in between pretty much every one. We made a vanilla bean batch following this recipe and they came out better than I could have imagined, since macarons have such a reputation for being tricky little things. Then we got a bit brave and tweaked the recipe to include cocoa powder, chocolate ganache and morello cherry jam. That batch wasn’t as perfect but I don’t think we’ll have any trouble polishing them off.

I could see these easily becoming something of a weekend tradition, but I’m not sure how our waistlines might react! So maybe just a special treat for lovely long weekends like this.

Hope your Easter is a happy one!


Today's blog post has nothing to do with scrapbooking

Pancake Day

and everything to do with the glory that is pancake day.

That is all.


Béa's in our kitchen

free online scrapbook project

Since The Boy went on a cookery course at Leiths, I must admit I have been learning a great deal from our collection of three Leiths bibles. Everything in there is so sensible and accurate and we haven’t made anything from any of them yet that didn’t turn out, and that’s high praise. But they lack in one thing that I find rather important…visual stimulation. I am sure the bible moniker comes from the sheer amount and detail of prose contained within, while mostly letting you use your own imagination for the pictures. And for whatever reason, it’s the pictures that make me fall in love with food.

Specifically Béa’s pictures. And Béa’s food.

La Tartine Gourmande is, in my opinion, the classiest food website in existence. My goodness, the woman can cook amazingly, take photographs of which the web is not worthy and manage to tell an amazingly wonderful food story practically everyday. What’s not to love? (Also, her web design is just perfect.) As an American ex-pat in England, her stories of being a French ex-pat in America make me giggle. Giggle in that way when you know exactly what the American is going to say and in a way it makes you cringe and yet you know it will be said anyway. It’s okay; I have been away long enough now that I find the funny questions quite endearing. But she retells the events just perfectly.

Since I can’t exactly ask her to come cook in our kitchen for a week (one, she doesn’t know me; two, she lives in Boston; three, our kitchen is so small!) I decided to just throw caution to the wind and plan an entire week’s meals from La Tartine Gourmande recipes. And so far, we have success! On Monday, we made papillotes with trout and vegetables, which was easier than I thought and tasted divine. Everything just wrapped up to bubble away…open it up and everything is perfectly cooked. (Well, as perfect as I could expect for a first attempt. My mange tout were never going to be snappy from the start…they are not in snappy season just yet. A bit limp, but tasting nice.)

On Tuesday, we had a lovely spring minestrone and something I have nicknamed aubergine castles. I do find it funny that since the Americans say eggplant but the Brits keep the French aubergine, Bea’s English/French recipe titles look all intermingled to me when she cooks aubergine. And I don’t ever find aubergine an easy one to get right. This is probably as right as I have ever managed. I’m not sure I would serve it to company without more rehearsal, but it was quite nice on our warm sunny evening this week.

And last night, we made gingered salmon with carrot sauce and tasting the sauce as I was going, I thought I’d come up with a loser for us—The Boy is not keen on savoury dishes that come up too sweet (evidence already provided!) and the carrot, orange and ginger combination on its own was quite sweet. But I should have known better. When everything was put together…rice, salmon, sauce, peanut and spring onion topping, it was just right and not too sweet after all. Quite a different taste to anything we have ever cooked before, actually. The Boy said this was not a loser at all, though the first meal of the three is still his favourite. (Alas, he was kind and did not mention that I had totally ruined the presentation of this one and therefore no camera was going near it.)

We still have a few more to go in our week of La Tartine. So more notes to come.

I heart Sunday mornings

especially when he cooks.

Back on the wagon

You know, it’s all very well to start something but you’d think I’d learn to keep up. Clearly I’ve still got room for improvement there. Since the last diary entry, we’ve still been cooking and taking photos and writing things down but I have been rubbish at putting it in some sort of permanent record here on la internet. Oh well. We can all get over it. And maybe one weekend I’ll find it’s too gloomy to do anything outside and everything indoors is as perfect as can be and on that weekend I will sit down with a hot beverage and transpose notes from the margins of cookbooks and the backs of oil-spotted index cards into electronic diary entires.

And maybe I won’t.

But I can start with these pictures and try to carry on, because the arrival of spring has meant the arrival of daylight and that has made photographing food a far more enjoyable experience.

Spring also means there are things that are starting to appear in stores that haven’t just been kept in a cooler for months on end so we can eat them out of season. Berries are starting to appear! And skinny spring carrots! Only just a little, and mostly from Spain, but okay for a tiny little splurge to kick away winter doldrums. And so we had very many things to stretch our single, beautifully sweet punnet of raspberries: raspberry angelfood cupcakes, raspberries on rice krispies (for I am currently obsessed with berries on rice krispies, no matter how childish that may sound) and this: raspberry almond crumble.

Raspberry Almond Crumble

Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Chopped almonds
Plain flour
Unsalted butter
Almond extract
(no amounts listed because really, you won’t need them)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Start with bowls that are the size you want, the number you want and safe to go in the oven. Fill each half-full with rinsed raspberries. Sprinkle a spoon of sugar over the raspberries in each bowl. Set aside to make the crumble.

In a mixing bowl, start with about half a block of butter if you’re in the UK or one stick of butter if you’re in the US. Roughly 100g, but seriously no need to measure. If the butter is super cold, zap in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it.

Add about two tablespoons of flour, four to six tablespoons of sugar (depending on your sweet tooth!) and one teaspoon of almond extract to the butter and mix or stir. Stir in the chopped almonds, oats and any extra flour needed until it has the consistency you want. I always think it needs to feel more dry than I imagine—if it has too much butter/not enough dry it will be more like pie crust and less like crumble. Not that I don’t like pie crust, but with this I want to taste the raspberries and the custard and let the oats and almond just break up the sweetness. And this is ever so simple to make, so no need to over think.

Cover the raspberries with the crumble and stick in the oven until the raspberries are bubbly and the crumble is just browned. Make custard while the crumble is cooking away. From scratch, I love Bea’s vanilla bean custard recipe. And when I don’t have a full box of eggs in the kitchen to make that, I use the non-instant Bird’s mix with plenty of whole milk and stir in vanilla seeds. Not quite as fabulous but better than serving crumble without custard and hearing no end of it for many, many days.