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Honey, black cherry and almond cake {gluten free}

13 June 2017

Every year I write about my love for stone fruits. Peaches, cherries, apricots and plums are my absolute favourite to eat and to bake with. Juices dripping down wrists as we messily ate these as children remain the epitome of summer to me. The summery, light and floral notes of a perfectly ripe peach have excited writers and lyricists for hundreds of years - and who am I to disagree with such an amorous heritage? 

Cherries can often be hit and miss, especially as so many of them are commercially grown every summer. A truly delicious cherry - heady, sharp and deep in colour - is something to be cherished. This cake, rich with honey and toasty almonds, was my answer to that challenge. A modern version (I hope!) of the traditional Bakewell. 
6 eggs
75g runny honey
75g light brown sugar
200g ground almonds
60g buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g butter, melted
150g cherries, stoned and halved
75g flaked almonds

Heat the oven to 160°C and line a 9" cake tin with baking parchment. 

Separate the eggs, and place the whites in a large, clean bowl. Whisk the whites into soft peaks.

While the whites are whisking, weigh the honey, light brown sugar, ground almonds, buckwheat flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla extract into a separate bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the egg yolks and melted butter, and mix until well combined.

Add one large spoon of the whites to the second mixture. Beat in to loosen the mixture. Next, add the remaining egg whites and carefully fold until combined, working to retain as much air as possible. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin.

Stone and half the cherries, and arrange on top of the cake. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Test the cake and, if not completely baked, cook for a further 10-15 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Serve with lightly whipped cream and an extra drizzle of honey.

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Yoghurt, honey and almond panna cotta

28 May 2017

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to spend three months training at Leiths School of Food and Wine here in London.

Professional cookery school is something that I had deliberated over for years. I was always desperate to do it but - like most people - couldn't quite join the dots financially between a year of unemployment, living in London and, of course, coughing up for the fees themselves. And oh my, those alone looked pretty eye-watering to me.

So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered that Leiths were introducing a brand new professional course, designed specifically for people like me. Set across evenings and weekends, the course could be fit around a full-time 9-5 job and, while still a big outlay financially, was significantly cheaper than foundation or diploma courses.

And so, from January through to March, life was point blank crazy. Twice a week, I would get to work in East London for 7.30am to ensure I could leave on time. Come 5pm, there was the mad dash across London at rush hour, laden as always with various bags of clothes and a rucksack jangling with tuppaware boxes. Next, the inevitable sprint from the tube station to school, before throwing on chef whites and studying until 10pm. I'd usually falling asleep on the tube back to Brixton, before arriving home wide awake and deciding there could be no better time than 11.30pm on a Monday to practise filleting a flat fish or filling choux buns with pastry cream.

There is no denying that this is an intense way of working towards a professional cookery qualification. On those nights that I wasn't at school, I was practising the skills I'd learnt, writing time plans for the next class and - occasionally - attempting to maintain some loose form of a social life. The later took a bit of a beating, but it could not have been more worth it. The joy I felt at learning again, improving as a professional cook and meeting a whole new group of incredible, like-minded people was off the scale.

Leiths, I love you. Reader, if you are also toying with professional training but - like me - can't see how to make it work, I implore you to look into the Evening Essentials Course. You can find all the details here.

This recipe was inspired by one of my favourite recipes that we cooked on the course. My recipe uses yoghurt in place of cream, which makes these a little less indulgent, but no less delicious. Whenever yoghurt features in one of my recipes, I always recommend using Rachel's Organic. It is totally delicious and the texture is perfect for set desserts such as this.
100g flaked almonds
150g whole milk
50g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
350g Rachel's Organic honey yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 gelatine leaves
Honey, for drizzling
Bee pollen, to decorate (optional)

Makes six individual panna cotta

Brush six moulds or glasses very lightly with sunflower oil. Invert so that any excess oil can drip away. 

Heat your oven to 180°C and line a large baking sheet with parchment. Spread the flaked almonds evenly over the sheet, then toast in the oven for around 10 minutes. They should be a deep golden colour and smell fragrant and nutty. Watch them closely as they burn quickly if over toasted. Reserve 10g of toasted almonds to decorate the panna cotta with before serving.

Place the milk, caster sugar and salt in a small saucepan, and warm over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the milk has reached scalding point. Remove from the heat and tip in the toasted almonds. Stir, then leave to infuse for 25-30 minutes. Do not leave for any longer, as the nuts will soak up too much of the milk. 

Once infused, pass the milk through a fine sieve into a sauce pan. Discard the soaked almonds. Separately, place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water, and leave for 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, return the infused milk to the heat and gently warm over a low heat. Add the softened gelatine, and remove the milk from the heat immediately. Stir until the gelatine is completely melted, returning to a low heat very briefly if needed. 

Stir through the yoghurt and the vanilla extract. Divide the mixture between the oiled moulds, then place in the fridge to set. They will take 1-2 hours to set completely. 

When you are ready to serve the panna cotta, dip each mould quickly in a bowl of boiled water, then turn out onto a small plate. Drizzle with runny honey, and decorate with bee pollen and the reserved toasted almonds. 

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Almond butter and dark chocolate ganache cookies

14 May 2017

I would go so far as to assert that my quest for the perfect cookie is not incomparable to those taken by Odysseus or King Arthur (although admittedly far more gluttonous). This may seem a big claim to make, but I have spent years trying to find and make the perfect cookie, and still do not feel entirely satisfied with the results.

Why? Because the perfect cookie should be soft but also crispy. It should melt in the mouth but have enough chew and texture too. It should be buttery and delicious yet not spongy. It should look wrinkled and sunken and decadent without being unbaked and stodgy. And then there's the flavouring and fillings - a list for another time perhaps.

This batch totally won out on the sunken wrinkle factor. I used my very favourite almond butter by Pip & Nut to replace part of the flour, which gives these cookies a delicious nutty flavour and sticky texture too. I love using ganache chips in place of regular chocolate; they melt into the dough and is totally worth the extra effort.
75g dark chocolate (70% minimum)
50g double cream
100g unsalted butter, softened
125g dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
125g almond butter
Flakey sea salt

For the ganache chips, finely chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Warm the cream to scalding point, then pour over the chocolate. Leave it to sit for 5 minutes, then stir just until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth and shiny. Line a tray with clingfilm, then spread the ganache over the top. Place in the fridge and allow to set. 

Once the ganache is set, heat the oven to 180°C and line two baking trays with paper. Place the softened butter and the sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until pale and fluffy, then add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat until completely incorporated. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the almond butter and mix through. Roughly chop the set ganache into pieces, then add to the cookie dough and gently combine by hand using a metal spoon. 

Use two teaspoons to spoon the cookies onto the trays. Each cookie should have about 2 large tsps of dough. Use a pallet knife to flatten the cookies a little, then sprinkle with flakey sea salt. They will spread in the oven so just place 3 to 4 cookies on each tray.

Bake in the oven for 9-11 minutes, until the cookies have spread, risen and sunk again, and are just golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for 10 minutes, before removing to a wire rack to firm up fully. Repeat this process until all the dough has been used up - yo can reuse the baking parchment, and should get around 30 cookies from the dough.
This post was written in affiliation with Pip & Nut, but all views are - as always - entirely my own.

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