Nuts Anyone?

I’ve been on holiday to Iran and have developed a taste for everything nutty.  Iran has a plethora of beautifully tasty treats, many of which incorporate nuts. So what did I spend my time doing? Eating them all, naturally.

I came back and the first question everyone asked me is “What did you learn to bake?” Erm … I didn’t learn to bake anything, I was too busy eating it all!

So, to make up for my lack of Iranian baking knowledge, I made the Mixed Nut Slices, as it’s a dessert that could definitely be Iranian if it wanted to.

I started off by preparing the dough for the base – my first ever dough! The experience wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined.  Although I did realise that my baking tray is quite a bit bigger than the recipe’s and had to add another half portion of everything to make it work.

The dough was pressed into the pre-greased baking tray and put in the oven for 20minutes. Now I know all about baking beads and still haven’t purchased any. The recipe didn’t indicate the need for any baking beads so I put my trust in the recipe.

The dough came out quite puffy (damn it, should have used baking beads!) but went back down again to its original shape after I squished it down a bit.  I also was a bit stingy on the making a ‘lip’ on the sides but figured it would be fine.

While the base was cooling I set about chopping up and preparing all the nuts.  The pistachios and almonds were roasted (and very slightly burnt) in a non-stick saucepan by tossing them over a medium heat.  The nuts were then placed on top of the pastry, ready for the topping.

The topping was made by melting the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan and adding the eggs once it had cooled slightly.  This was poured over the nuts and put in the oven for 20 minutes.

Because I didn’t make a proper lip around the sides of the tin, some of the topping spilled over and made the pastry look a bit burnt, when in fact, it was just cooked well – I promise! Otherwise it turned out really well.  I left the pastry to cool before cutting into slices and shipping it off with my parents to take to a dinner party with the promise that they’d take photos and save me a slice.

They didn’t. Grrrr. But they did bring back lots of thanks and requests for more so I can imagine that it tasted good?!  I was later told that it was really crunchy and rich and something that goes amazingly with tea after dinner.

So, although I can’t give you a better description of taste, I can say that it was an easy recipe to make, will very likely last a while if stored correctly and is a great side to have with tea.

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Who Says Blondes Have More Fun?

I have been eyeing up this recipe for a long time and finally got the chance to make them when I went to visit a friend’s new place.  The Blondie – what is essentially a white chocolate brownie.  Yes people, it exists and I made it!

I started by melting the chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water – this time I managed not to burn any plastic or anything, for which I am very proud (and relieved).  The eggs and vanilla extract are added just after it’s taken off the heat, and finally the flour, salt and pecan nuts.

Now I chopped up a LOT of nuts; it was the right amount but I was starting to get worried about how nutty it would be.  I kept to the recipe however and spooned the mixture into the baking tray, which had been greased and lined with greaseproof paper.

Forty minutes later, I took out the gorgeous smelling brownie, let it cool and sliced it into squares before heading over to my friends for dinner.

We were very excited to have a piece but were good and waited till after dinner.  The brownie came after a beautiful homemade salmon en croute and I was… disappointed.

Now don’t get me wrong, on the whole it was tasty, it was disappointing because I was expecting a beautifully, luscious white chocolate brownie.  What I bit into tasted more like a yummy cake.  It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

The recipe does say it’s an alternative for those that don’t like the richness of chocolate brownies so I should have figured.  To me the blondies tasted like a not-too-sweet, nutty cake that goes great with a cup of coffee. Great as a cake but not as great as a brownie.

In this case, the fight between blondies or brownies… the brownies definitely win!

Sending A Kiss (On The Cheek) To the Person Who Invented Maple Syrup!

Wow!

What an deceivingly surprising product! It smells a bit funny in the bottle (lets be honest here) but in a cake…. Wow.

Before I digress any further; this week we had another dinner party and I was told to bake a cake for a late birthday treat for one of the guests.  After going through the Cake Days book; I decided on the Maple and Pecan Layer Cake, as I’ve never bought or tasted maple syrup before.

Now I thought it would look/taste a bit like honey and I was half right, it looked a bit like honey. Didn’t smell of it though; in fact the smell put me off tasting it.  All the excitement of making this new cake faded a bit and I got on with the baking.

Now that I’ve baked quite a few cakes with nuts in I’ve found a great way to deal with all the chopping: ask my dad to do it and make him tea after. Works every time. Yes, readers, I am a terrible daughter BUT I did make him tea!

All the dry ingredients were mixed with the wet ones and whisked together to make the batter.  I then mixed in the beautifully chopped pecans by hand (please note the appreciation of my dad’s chopping!). The batter was then poured into three tins and squeezed into the oven for around 30 minutes.

They came out beautifully brown and very raised.  Normally this isn’t a bad thing, but as I was making a layered cake I decided to cut the tops of two cakes to make them straight.  The cut off bits of cake were completely demolished by hungry parents and the rest left to cool for decorating.

I was told I had to make the cake pretty (as if I don’t do that anyway) so I whipped up the frosting with extreme care, which also had maple syrup in it.  I then started to layer the cake and applied the first coat: the crumb coat.

Once this dried a tiny bit (first guests were arriving by then and I was still in a fetching apron) I started on the rest of the decoration.  I ended up swirling the top in a circular fashion with my trusty palette knife and used a very funny looking (but amazing) tool that creates a pattern on the side of the cake, pictures of which will be on the facebook page soon.

The cake got lots of oohs and aahs when it came out and tasted delicious.  I took a small piece because I was still worried about the maple syrup smell but you couldn’t smell it at all and it actually made the cake sweet in a different sort of way.  Can’t exactly put my finger on it but it was definitely a positive thing, a nice change from the standard sugary taste.  The cake had a nice mix of sweetness and nuttiness and would be a good go between when you have guests with different tastes.

An Indulgent Apple Cake

We had special guests coming over to our house this week and I was commissioned to bake something for dessert.  I decided to try out the Spiced Apple Cake with Brown Sugar frosting, solely based on the fact that it would be big enough to feed a lot of people.

Reading through the ingredients, I did start to get a little scared so I think its my responsibility to provide this warning: this cake has a hell of a lot of butter and sugar in it; I mean LOTS! Naturally my mum managed to find out and had a mini heart attack but I tried to calm her down with the knowledge that a little slice wouldn’t have THAT much in it (denial is so sweet!).

Anyways, onto baking this monster of a cake.  The first part consists of grating the apples and cooking it with some butter, sugar and yummy spices.  The smell of this alone got my tummy rumbling! I then chopped up all the pecan nuts while the syrup type liquid cooled.

Once everything was chopped and ready it was again a matter of whisking together the wet ingredients and slowly adding the dry ingredients.  Sound simple? For this monster cake, nothing seemed to be simple. It took a long time to mix the dry ingredients in.  I have to admit that hand mixing the pecans and the apples was definitely a good arm work out though.

Unfortunately I didn’t have 4 cake tins to hand so I poured the batter into three and improvised with a loaf tin (decided on a mini side cake to go with the monster).  Cooking time took a lot longer as there was more in each tin and with 4 different tins to check; the oven door got left open for a while.  This is why my cakes have sunk a bit.

While the cakes were cooling I prepared the icing; again I was shocked at how much butter went into it but I decided that this not-so-normal cake needed not-so-normal icing.  Once the icing was ready, I left it to cool for an hour.

Icing the cake was easier than normal.  My best tip for icing a layered cake with any sort of icing would be to start with a crumb coat.  This is simply a thin layer of icing that you spread over the cake, that once dry, keeps in all the crumbs.  When you start icing a second layer the icing comes out a lot smoother and straighter.

I decorated the cake by drawing stripes in the icing using the palette knife and going round the edges with a randomly chosen Wilton nozzle.  My cake did turn out looking more like a basket but it was the taste I was counting on.

The cake actually got a round of applause at the dinner party, everyone loved the taste and the nutty texture; even the icing went down well.  They loved the fact that it wasn’t too sweet but had a nice mix of both cake and icing.

If I’m completely honest however, I was let down a bit by the apple flavour, or lack of. I couldn’t wait for the spiced apple taste but found it seriously lacking.  Although the cake went down amazingly well, I don’t think I’ll be making it again.  I would recommend this cake to people who don’t have much of a sweet tooth but still enjoy a nice dessert; just be warned that its tastes more like a pecan cake than a spiced apple cake and is a tiny bit calorific!