Recently we made a birthday cake for our dear friend Alex, who loves anything with apples and sultanas. A little flick through one of our favourite cookbooks, Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, provided us with this wonderful recipe. It nailed the brief (Alex loved it) but to be honest the real star of this cake is that maple icing. It’s dangerously good. Don’t make extra or you will end up smothering it on everything from crumpets to cupcakes. Best of all, it’s a quite simple cake to make. If you’re not a regular baker, this is a good recipe to try something new!
Apple and Olive Oil Cake
350g plain flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
800g Granny Smith apples
200g caster sugar
150ml olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg whites
scraped seeds of ½ vanilla pod
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
100g soft light brown sugar
85g maple syrup
220g cream cheese
Preheat the oven to 180°C
Grease a 23cm round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper, ensuring the paper rises a few centimeters above the sides of the tin.
Add the sultanas and 200ml of water to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Set aside once all the water has been absorbed.
Sift the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl.
Peel and core the apples, then dice the fruit into 2-3cm chunks and set aside in a separate bowl.
Place the sugar, olive oil, whole eggs, vanilla seeds and lemon zest in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on a medium speed for 6-7 minutes, or until the mixture is pale and thick and has doubled in size.
Use a spatula to fold in the diced apple, sultanas and the remaining 75ml of water. Add the sifted dry ingredients and fold in as well.
Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Gently but thoroughly fold the egg whites through the cake mix, then scrape the batter into the tin. Level the top of the mixture with a spatula and bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the tin.
For the icing, place the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and airy. Add the cream cheese a little at a time and continue to beat until smooth and thick.
When the cake has completely cooled, use a large serrated knife to slice in half horizontally. Spread half the icing over the bottom layer of the cake and place the other layer on top. Spread the remaining icing over the top of the cake and using a spoon or palette knife, lightly flick the icing to create little icing spikes (or you could just leave it flat and smooth if you prefer). Leave the sides of the cake bare so the icing in the center can be seen.
Regular readers of our blog will have noticed we are fans of the prolific chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi. He has a genius for highlighting and complementing the flavours of his ingredients. His books have introduced us to many new ingredients over the years, most of which are now regular items in our pantry.
Like many people this year, we have spent a lot of time self-isolating at home, and one of the projects which kept us busy was cooking through Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, Simple. As in all of his books, the recipes in Simple really bring so much flavour from a small amount of ingredients.
Ian’s favourite vegetable is eggplant but we know not everyone is a fan of its texture or flavour. Trust us though, if anyone knows how to make the eggplant shine, it’s Ottolenghi, and this is the dish to convince you eggplant-doubters to include this vegetable in your repertoire more often. Don’t be put off by the anchovies, it really just adds a depth of flavour and umami to the recipe rather than a fishy or overpowering taste.
We changed the recipe slightly by reverting to an older version of the recipe which uses crispy oregano. If you really can’t be bothered with this step, just use fresh oregano instead, although the crisp oregano does add an interesting texture to the dish.
This serves 4 people as a side dish, or 2 as a main. It goes well with just about any protein, but eggplant is always wonderful when paired with lamb. We hope you enjoy, let us know in the comments of you give it a try!
4 medium eggplants
100ml olive oil
45ml vegetable or canola oil
20g anchovy fillets in oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove
1 ½ Tbsp oregano leaves
5g parsley leaves
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 240°C
Line two large baking trays with baking paper.
Slice the eggplant into 2cm thick discs and sprinkle with ½ tsp salt. Place the eggplant slices on the baking trays and brush both sides with 70ml of the oil. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the eggplant is a caramel brown colour and cooked through, but still holds its shape. Remove from the oven and leave on the baking tray to cool.
For the crispy oregano, heat the vegetable or canola oil in a small saucepan over a high heat. Test if the oil is hot enough by dropping in an oregano leaf. The oregano should sizzle, become crisp and turn a brighter shade of green immediately. If the oil is too hot, the leaf will become dark in colour. Once your oil is at the right temperature, add one tablespoon of oregano leaves to the oil and cook for just a few seconds, until crisp. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate lined with paper towel.
To make the anchovy dressing, drain and finely chop the anchovy fillets and crush the garlic clove. In a bowl, whisk together the anchovy, garlic, white wine vinegar, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper and a good big pinch of salt. Slowly add the remaining 30ml of olive oil, continuing to whish until the dressing is well combined.
Finely chop the parsley and the remaining oregano, and place in a bowl with the eggplant. Pour over the anchovy dressing and gently toss to coat the eggplant. Place on a serving dish and scatter with the crispy oregano just before serving.
If you’re one of the few people who is yet to discover Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, you probably think vegetarian food is bland or boring. This book was a revelation for us when we bought a copy many years ago, and we’ve been fans of Ottolenghi ever since. These recipes are deceptive in their simplicity, in that Ottolenghi allows each featured ingredient to shine, but with a subtle complexity of flavor that enlivens the senses and encourages you to reach for a second helping. Try any of these recipes and you won’t be missing the meat.
Ian’s favourite vegetable is eggplant (aubergine), so the eggplant section in our copy of Plenty is well-thumbed and a little sticky, as all good cookbooks should be. Of all the eggplant recipes we know, this is the prettiest! Served with some chunky sourdough or pita bread, this makes a great entrée, or you could serve it as a side dish.
A note about Za’atar: This Middle Eastern term can refer to the herb thyme, or a blend of thyme, sesame, sumac and salt. We enjoy making our own blend and have listed the ingredients below, or you could simply substitute thyme leaves or buy a pre-made za’atar spice mix. If you make the spice mix, you will have much more than you need for this recipe, but it can be used to season anything from bread or potatoes to roasted or grilled chicken.
2 large eggplants
80ml olive oil
1 ½ tsp lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs
1 tss za’atar spice mix
sea salt and black pepper
100g Greek yoghurt
1 ½ Tbsp olive oil, plus a little drizzle to finish
1 garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of sea salt
Za’atar Spice Mix:
1 Tbsp dried thyme leaves, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
2 tsp sumac
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
½ tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting through the green stalk. Using a sharp knife, make a few incisions in the cut side of each eggplant without cutting through the skin on the other side. Repeat the incisions at a 45-degree angle to create a diamond shaped pattern.
Place the prepared eggplant halves cut-side up on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Brush them with the olive, continuing to brush until all of the oil has been absorbed. Sprinkle over the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper, and garnish with a few of the lemon thyme sprigs.
Roast for 35-40 minutes, or until the flesh is very soft and brown. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, prepare the pomegranate and sauce. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl with the cut side against your palm, and bash the skin of the pomegranate with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. The seeds should start falling out through your fingers, continue bashing more forcefully until all the seeds are in the bowl. Sift through the seeds to remove any pieces of white skin or membrane.
For the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
To serve, spoon a generous amount of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks (the stalks look pretty, but do not eat them!) Sprinkle za’atar and pomegranate seeds across the top and drizzle with some olive oil.
Once again we’re adapting a recipe from Ottolenghi and Goh’s Sweet. They in turn have been inspired by the traditional Louise cake from New Zealand, which is a slice with a cake layer topped with raspberry jam and a coconut meringue. Ottolenghi and Goh’s version uses fresh fruit; you could use any stone fruit which is in season, just be sure it’s ripe but not too soft. We love the addition of flaked almonds to the meringue, as it adds a delicious crunch to the fluffy meringue and syrupy fruit. The cake is fairly rich so you could bake it in a square tin and cut into small squares to serve, or bake in a round tin as we did for a more decadent serving.
125g unslated butter, at room temperature, cut into 2cm cubes
100g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large egg yolks
125g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
20g desiccated coconut
80ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 medium plums (450g), ripe but firm (or any stonefruit in season)
For the meringue:
60g flaked almonds
140g egg whites
1/8 tsp salt
185g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour
Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas mark 3.
Spread the flaked almonds on a baking tray and toast for 10 minutes, or until they are a light brown colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Increase the oven temperature to 185°C/Gas mark 5. Using a 20cm square or 23cm round tin with removable base, line the base and sides with baking paper.
Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and beat together until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until combined. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a separate bowl. Add the coconut and stir to combine. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating on a low speed, and alternating with the milk and vanilla. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Place in the oven and cook for around 25 minutes. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Slice each plum vertically in half and discard the stones. Slice each half into four segments so you have 8 segments per plum.
Once the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and turn the temperature up to 200°C/Gas mark 6. Place the plum segments on top of the cake, forming a layer of fruit across the surface. Be sure not to overlap the plums though, or the fruit layer will become too watery.
To make the meringue, whisk together the egg whites and salt on a medium-high speed, until soft peaks form. Add the sugar a little at a time, and continue to whisk until the egg whites are stiff and shiny. Add the vanilla, vinegar and cornflour and whisk again until combined. Fold in the toasted almond flakes.
Spoon the meringue into the cake tin, on top of the fruit layer and spread out evenly. Create waves and peaks in the meringue by dabbing a spatula into and out of the mixture. Place in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Bake for 35 minutes or until the meringue has formed a hard crust and is just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cool the cake in the tin for at least 30 minutes before removing the base of the tin and removing the baking paper to serve.
This week we continued to draw inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi & Ramael Scully’s Nopi cookbook. As always, we were inspired by the flavours these chefs use, and this recipe contained a new technique for us, smoking the corn. This was surprisingly easy, there was no fancy equipment required. Simply place the corn cobs in a colander or steaming basket (we used a bamboo steaming basket) inside a large pot sealed with a lid. The smoke comes from burning the husks of the corn in the base of the pot. If you struggle to find corn with the husks still attached, you could use rice instead. Just line the base of the pan with aluminium foil and spread 200g of uncooked rice across the base. If you do this, the cooking time will need to be reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. The cooking times for smoking need to be precise: cook for too long and the smoky flavour can become overpowering.
The real star of this dish is the ribs though, be prepared to get messy and enjoy the delicious glaze and tender pork ribs!
Serves six people.
1kg pork spare ribs, cut into 12 equal small racks of 2 or 3 ribs per rack.
80g coarse sea salt
35g ginger, peeled and julienned
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
8 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp black peppercorns
1.5 litres chicken stock
100ml Shaoxing rice wine
100ml rice vinegar
Smoked Corn Salad:
4 large corn cobs, with husks
15g lemon thyme sprigs
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp maple syrup
60ml olive oil
1 green chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 tsp coarse sea salt
20g coriander leaves
20g mint leaves
20g parsley leaves
2 spring onions, white part only, thinly sliced
130g shallots, thinly sliced
60ml maple syrup
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 ½ Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp tomato sauce/ketchup
1 ½ Tbsp rice vinegar
2 dried red chillies
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
Place the ribs in a large bowl with the salt. Rub the ribs all over with the salt and set aside for an hour.
Rinse the salt from the ribs under cold water, then pat dry. Put the ribs into a large saucepan for which you have a lid, and add the ginger, onion, garlic, star anise, cinnamon and peppercorns. Pour over the stock, Shaoxing wine and rice vinegar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for an hour.
Remove the pork and set aside. Strain the liquid, discarding the solids and return to the pan. Place on a high heat and reduce the liquid to 200ml. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Remove the husks from the corn and use them to line the base of a large saucepan or wok which is deep enough to fit a colander or steaming basket inside, and for which you have a lid. Add the sprigs of thyme and place the pan on a high heat. Once the husks begin to smoke, place the the corn cobs inside the colander or steaming basket, and place this inside the pan. Seal the pan with a lid and smoke for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, still covered, for another 5 minutes. Remove the lid and set aside to cool.
Stand each corn cob on a cutting board and use a large knife to shave the corn kernels from the cob. Make sure you cut deeply enough that some of the kernels remain in clusters. Set the corn kernels aside and discard the cobs.
About 45 minutes before you are ready to serve, place all of the ingredients for the glaze, along with 100ml of the stock reduction in a large pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a medium-high heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced to 200ml and has the consistency of a syrup, about 20 minutes. Return the pork ribs to the sauce and stir gently so they are coated in the syrup. Cook for about 7 minutes more, until the ribs are warmed through and sticky.
Just before serving, prepare the salad in a large bowl by whisking together the lime juice, maple syrup, olive oil, chilli and salt. Add the corn kernels, herbs and spring onion and mix well.
To serve, on each plate lean two small racks of ribs against each other and serve with the salad alongside. Garnish with a few sprigs of lemon thyme, if you like.
Two of our main reasons for starting this blog were to find ways to challenge ourselves, and to cook with ingredients we haven’t used before. This week’s recipe certainly achieved those two goals! We were both a little scared of cooking octopus, but it turned out to be not very difficult and the results were delicious. This would be a great dinner party dish as you can do almost all of the work in advance and leave the octopus to marinate in the fridge overnight. This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi and Scully’s Nopi cookbook, and like all of Ottolenghi’s recipes, the flavours of each component is perfect. We’ve never found kale particularly tasty, but this stir-fried kale is delicious and would work well as a side dish to any of your favourite mains. If the octopus challenge is too much for you, the salsa and kale would also work well with some fried fish fillets.
We took Ottolenghi’s advice and bought a frozen octopus, which we de-frosted before cooking. This helps to tenderise the meat and prevent it becoming chewy. If you buy a fresh octopus you could tenderise it by bashing it with a rolling pin, or by blanching the tentacles a few times in boiling water. We watched some helpful youtube videos on preparing the octopus (we recommend the videos from Sydney Fish Market for any kind of seafood preparation), as we were unsure if ours had been prepared or not. In the end all we had to do was cut out the eyes and we were ready to start cooking.
1 large frozen octopus, with head and tentacles (about 1.5kg)
1 small celery stick, roughly chopped
1 small fennel, trimmed and stalk removed, roughly chopped. Reserve the fronds for garnishing.
1 small leek, trimmed and sliced
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
500ml white wine
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp harissa
½ tsp rose water
1 ½ Tbsp lemon juice
50g golden raisins
1 small red onion, finely diced (110g)
100g pitted kalamata olives, finely sliced into circles
1 ½ Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
10g mint leaves
2 Tbsp olive oil
10g unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
300g kale, stalks removed and discarded, roughly chopped
80ml vegetable stock
80ml white wine
If you need to clean the octopus, cut the head from the body just below the eyes and discard the head. Remove the beak from the top of the tentacles by turning the tentacles inside out and pushing the beak through. Peel and discard any excess skin, leaving the tentacles intact and still held together at the top.
Put the celery, fennel, leeks, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, white wine and 1 teaspoon of salt into a large deep pot. Add 1.2 litres of water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a medium low heat. Using a pair of tongs, plunge the whole octopus into the hot water for about 5 seconds. Lift out, then repeat this process twice more. You will see the tentacles beginning to curl up with each plunge. This will also prevent the skin from peeling during cooking. Return the octopus to the water and submerge completely. Cover with a cartouche (a round of baking paper the same size as the pot) and cover with a large plate to ensure the octopus remains submerged. Simmer over a medium heat for 40 to 50 minutes, until the octopus is cooked through. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the octopus, you will know it is cooked when the flesh is tender but retains a little bite.
Remove the octopus from the pot. Set it aside to cool and then transfer to the fridge for an hour or so, until chilled. You should now have about 650g of cooked octopus. Discard the stock and vegetables.
Slice the octopus, leaving the tentacles untouched and cutting into the body to make 2cm thick slices. Place the octopus in a bowl with the olive oil, harissa and rose water. Stir to coat everything well, then refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
To make the salsa: place the raisins in a saucepan with 80ml of water. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and set aside for 1 hour. Drain any remaining liquid and place the raisins in a bowl with the rest of the salsa ingredients, except the mint. Add a grind of black pepper, mix well and set aside until ready to serve.
To cook the kale: add the olive oil and butter to a frypan and place on a medium high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and cook until just brown, stirring constantly. Add the kale and keep stirring while you add the stock and wine. Add ½ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper to taste. Cooke for 3-4 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Drain the kale, shaking it in a colander to dry. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Just before serving, place a griddle or frying pan over a high heat. Toss the octopus in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the griddle is smoking hot, add the octopus and grill for 1-2 minutes, turning it over halfway through. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan by working in batches if necessary. Once the octopus is charred and warmed through, transfer to a bowl and toss immediately in the lemon juice.
Shred the mint and stir it through the salsa.
To plate: place some of the kale in a small circle on each plate. Add two small circles of the salsa to each plate. Gently place a piece of octopus over each of the little piles of kale and salsa you have created. Garnish with the reserved fennel fronds and some halved Kalamata olives (optional).
Continuing with our French theme, we decided to make madeleines for the first time. We were given a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s Sweet for Christmas, and decided to try their untraditional version. Madeleines are a very light and fluffy little French cake, baked in a scallop mould. In the traditional version, they are best eaten while still warm as they will become stale quickly. Ottolenghi and Goh’s version uses a food processor rather than hand beating so will last for a few hours after baking (if you can resist from eating them all at once!)
Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh.
90g unsalted butter, plus 20g extra butter, melted, for brushing
2 tsp honey, plus an extra 3 Tbsp, for glazing
¼ tsp saffron threads
2 large eggs
75g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla bean extract with seeds
finely grated zest of 1 small orange
90g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
20g pistachio kernels, finely blitzed
Place the butter, honey and saffron threads in a saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has melted, remove from the heat and set aside until the mixture has reached room temperature.
Place the eggs, sugar, vanilla and orange zest in a food processor and mix until combined. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, then add to the egg mixture. Pulse a few times to mix, then add the cooled butter mixture. Process once more to combine, then pour the mixture into a bowl. Cover with cling film and rest in the fridge for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200° Grease the moulds with melted butter and sprinkle with flour (you can skip this step if using a silicone or non-stick tray). Tap to coat all the moulds and then shake off any excess flour.
Spoon a heaped tablespoon of batter into each mould, so the mixture rises halfway up each mould. If you only have one tray, place the remaining batter in the fridge while you bake the first batch. You will need to wash, dry and re-grease the tray before baking your second batch.
Bake for approximately 10 minutes, until the madeleines are browning around the edges and spring back when lightly pressed on the top. Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool for a minute before releasing the cakes from their moulds. You may need to use a knife or spatula around the edges of the cakes if not using a silicone or non-stick tray. Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack to cool.
Melt the 3 tablespoons of honey in a saucepan or microwave. One madeleine at a time, brush the honey onto the shell-shaped side of the cake, then roll the base of the madeleine in the blitzed pistachios so that you have a 1cm strip of pistachio at the base of each cake. Serve on a platter with some scattered pistachios and saffron (optional).