Apricot, walnut and lavender cake

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It was love at first sight. And, timing couldn’t have been better. I was just looking for my annual super baking project when I bumped into this recipe.  It was so delicious, I will have to bake it again. And again… and again. Never mind the Modern Art Cakes – this the one I want I want for my birthday. Truth to be said, it is not particularly difficult dish.  But the flavours, oh!, the flavours….  It were layers upon layers of fresh, summery and nutty flavours, each mouthful different.

Apricot, walnut and lavender cake  (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s column in The Guardian)

Ingredients

  • 185g unsalted butter, diced and at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp walnut oil
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
  • 120g ground walnuts
  • 90g plain flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1½ tsp picked lavender flowers, fresh or dry
  • Salt
  • 600g (gross) apricots, halved and stones removed

For the icing

  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

 Method

Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Put the butter, oil, sugar and almonds in the bowl of a mixer and beat on a medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs bit by bit, making sure each addition is well incorporated before beginning the next, then fold in the walnuts, flour, vanilla, lemon zest, a teaspoon of lavender flowers and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.

Line the base and sides of a 23cm cake tin with greaseproof paper. Pour in the cake mix and use a palette knife to level it out. Arrange the apricot halves skin side down and slightly overlapping all over the top of the cake, taking them right to the edge.

Bake for 70-80 minutes – cover with foil if the top starts to brown too much; also, note that when you insert a skewer to test for doneness, it will come out a little sticky because of all the moisture in the apricots.

While the cake is baking, whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice until you have a light, pourable icing (adjust the amount of sugar or juice slightly, to suit your tastes). As soon as the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and brush the icing all over the top. Sprinkle over the remaining lavender flowers and set aside to cool.


Roasted vegetables

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A special roast required for ultra special roasted vegetables. That was why I used a modification to the Yotam Ottolenghi’s ultimate winter couscous recipe I cooked a few weeks back (orignal post here). Follow the methods, and then forget to add the chickpeas and the couscous (water is still needed to keep it moist, though).

The ultimate Winter couscous

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Another recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s column The new vegetarian on the Guardian. It took me a while to realize that it was worthwhile to face an inordinate amount of ingredients: his recipes are absolutely delicious and full of flavors. This one has over 20 ingredients, but it is very straight forward. Plus, the veggies can be done in bulk to eat latter (reheating won’t change its organoleptic properties). Seriously, how hard can it be to roast some vegetables and put them on top of couscous?

The ultimate Winter couscous

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks (it is easier to be blessed with a sunny day in November than finding parsnips in Switzerland. I replaced it with a different type of pumpkin).
  • 8 shallots, peeled
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • half teaspoon of  salt
  • half teaspoon ground ginger
  • half teaspoon ground turmeric
  • half teaspoon paprika
  • half teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 300g squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks (weight after cleanning)
  • 100g  dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 200g chickpeas (cooked or tinned)
  • 350ml water (or chickpea liquor)
  • 170g couscous
  • 1 big pinch saffron fronds
  • 260ml vegetable stock
  • 20g butter, cut into small pieces
  • 25g harissa (I ignored it)
  • 25g preserved lemon, finely chopped (I ignored it)
  • 1 handful picked coriander leaves (I forgot to add, but at the speed this was eaten it didn’t seem to be instrumental for the recipe)

Methods

Preheat the oven to 190oC/gas mark 5. Put the carrots, parsnips and shallots into a large, oven-proof dish, add the cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, four tablespoons of oil, half a teaspoon of salt and all the spices, and mix. Roast for 15 minutes, then add the squash, stir and roast for 35 minutes more, by which time the vegetables should have softened but retained their bite. Add the apricots, chickpeas and liquid, then return to the oven for 10 minutes, until hot.

Around 15 minutes before the vegetables will be ready, put the couscous in a heatproof bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, the saffron and half a teaspoon of salt. Boil the stock, pour over the couscous and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 10 minutes, then add the butter and fluff up with a fork until it melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm (I followed the couscous instructions for time and volume).

To serve, fill the base of a deep plate with couscous. Stir the harissa and lemon into the vegetables, taste, adjust the seasoning and spoon on to the centre of the couscous. Garnish with lots of coriander.