I am so excited to finally write this blog post! As I said last week, baklava has been on my ‘To Bake’ list for a long time and after watching the Great British Bake Off contestants attempt them in the semi final it finally felt like the right time to do it. It also seemed appropriate to do a Middle Eastern themed bake since I am moving to Qatar next month!
There are lots of variations of baklava depending on the country. Unlike the Bake Off contestants I decided to stick to a more traditional Turkish flavour baklava – pistachio and almond with a syrup infused with cardamom and orange. In Greece, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries ingredients such as walnuts, rose water and cloves are often used.
I have a confession – I didn’t make the filo pastry because lets face it…ain’t nobody got time for that! Even the queen of baking Mary Berry admits she would never make her own filo now that you can buy good prepared filo in the supermarket. Also if you look in any modern cookery book at recipes requiring filo they will simply say ‘packet of ready-made filo’ in the ingredients list. I would like to try to make my own filo pastry one day but since this was my first experience using it I thought I would take the easy option. If it’s good enough for Mary, it’s good enough for me!
150g shelled pistachios
100g blanched almonds
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp mixed spice
125g unsalted butter
12 sheets filo pastry
For the syrup:
250g caster sugar
125ml runny honey
2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
Zest and juice of a lemon
1 tsp orange blossom essence
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- In a food processor, pulse the pistachios and almonds until finely ground. Then add the cinnamon and mixed spice.
- Melt the butter on a low heat. Meanwhile, lay the sheets of filo on a worktop and cover with a moist towel to prevent the pastry drying out.
- Lightly brush a rectangular baking tray with butter. Lay the first sheet of filo directly onto the tray and brush liberally with butter.
- Repeat this process with 3 more sheets of filo. Then spread half of the nut mixture over the pastry.
- Continue to layer 4 more sheets of filo, buttering between each layer as you go.
- Add the remaining nut mixture and cover with the remaining 4 layers of filo as before. Brush the top with the remaining butter.
- Trim the excess pastry from the edges. Cut into vertical strips about 5cm wide and then diagonally about 5cm apart to create the diamond shaped pieces. (These can be made smaller or larger depending on personal preference – mine were big baklava!) Ensure you slice all the way down to the bottom of the tray or they will be hard to separate when baked.
- Place the tray on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 170ºC and bake for a further 30 minutes until golden brown.
- Meanwhile make the syrup. In a large saucepan dissolve the sugar and honey in 250ml water on a low heat. Once dissolved, add the cardamom pods, lemon zest and juice and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for 15mins until it has turned slightly thicker.
- Strain the syrup and add the orange blossom essence.
- Remove the baklava from the oven and gradually pour over the syrup. It will take a while for all the syrup to soak in. Once cooled remove the baklava from the tray and enjoy!
Although there are quite a few steps to this recipe I was pleasantly surprised by how simple it was (I’m sure I wouldn’t be saying that if I had made the filo!)
They smelt and tasted so delicious. Not at all modest I know! The tops were slightly crispier than baklava that I have had in the past so if I made these again I might not bake them for as long but the syrup made the the layers perfectly sweet and sticky so this wasn’t a problem.
To make sure that I’m not extremely biased I shared these with my Greek friends who really enjoyed the revani I made a few months ago. They gave me so much positive feedback which was lovely. They keep telling me I’m in the wrong profession. So either they think I’m a really bad engineer or my baking is pretty good…
At the beginning of September I went on holiday to Carvoeiro in Portugal. One of my favourite things about Portugal, apart from the beautiful scenery, is the amazing fish dishes. Portugal is not particularly known for it’s traditional deserts or cakes so I wasn’t really expecting to get any baking inspiration while I was there. I suppose the only sweet treat would be the Portuguese custard tart or Pastel de Nata. However, there was one rainy day during the week so we decided to take a drive to a nearby town of Ferragudo where we found an amazing little bakery down a narrow side street. They made all their bread and cakes on site and had quite an amazing range of cakes. I chose to try a carob and fig cake and words cannot describe how amazing it was. It was very moist and sticky from the fig and dense – but in a good way. I am drooling just thinking about it now…If I had known how good it would taste I would have taken a picture before devouring it.
So as soon as I was able to get wifi I started to research fig and carob recipes so that I could try to recreate these amazing cakes. I had heard about carob but knew very little about it. Many people claim that it can be used in baking as a healthy alternative to chocolate because it’s free from caffeine and other stimulants and contains half the fat of cocoa. Personally I don’t think carob is really a substitute for chocolate because it doesn’t taste all that similar but nevertheless it is still delicious in cakes! It is good timing as well since figs season is in full swing and there is a bit of a fig frenzy in food magazines and supermarkets at the moment.
Other than fig and carob I have no idea what the Portuguese lady used to make her dreamy cakes but this was the recipe I decided to try first –
200g ground rolled oats
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
25g carob powder
75g coconut sugar
zest of 1 orange
½ cup milk
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. chia seeds + 6 Tbsp. water
1 cup chopped figs (about 5 figs, reserve 1 for garnish)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Soak the chia seeds in the water and leave to one side until they have formed a gel-like consistency.
- Combine the oats, coconut sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, carob powder and salt in a large bowl.
In a measuring jug combine the wet ingredients – milk, orange zest, applesauce and vanilla extract. Then stir in the chia seed gel.
- Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Then fold in the chopped figs.
- Spoon then mixture into paper muffin cases, filling each about 2/3 full. Add a slice of fig on top of each muffin to decorate before placing the muffins in the oven.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on size) until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack completely before enjoying.
Now for the taste test. They were very pleasant but unfortunately they did not compare to the Portuguese version. I wish I could go back in time and ask the lady for her recipe. Darn it!
I wasn’t entirely sure how to combine the figs into the mixture; how small to chop the figs, if I should leave the skin on or if I should only use the flesh. I opted for small chunks but I think I used too many as it made the batter quite wet resulting in a longer bake and dried out the tops of the muffins. Nobody likes a dry muffin top!
I’m sure this recipe is a more healthy version than the original as I can’t imagine chia seeds and applesauce were used in the traditional Portuguese bakery . They were also more grainy, which I should have expected given I was using ground oats, and I suspect a regular flour was used.
Alas, my quest continues! If I master the fig & carob cake I will be sure to post the recipe on here. But I look forward to experimenting with carob in other recipes.
Carrot cake is a common coffee shop favourite up and down the U.K. Everyone seems to have accepted that carrots can be enjoyed in cake form. And yet when I mention courgette cake I often get some funny looks. But why should it be any different? It’s just another root vegetable after all.
I have been thinking about what other root vegetables could be incorporated into baking. Obviously ginger cake is another common flavour and beetroot goes really well in chocolate brownies. I wonder what sweet potato or parsnip would taste like in a cake? Maybe that’s one for a future experimental bake!
On another note, The Great British Bake off has started again – my TV highlight of the year! Crazy to think I almost applied to be on this season. After the first episode I’ve decided that Richard is my favourite, I think he is going to do very well! I’m hoping I’ll get some inspiration from the Bake Off for some future bakes so stay tuned!
The inspiration for this recipe comes from the classic desert, sticky toffee pudding. The sponge is very similar to the sticky toffee pudding sponge with dates and the buttercream is flavoured with an indulgent dulce de leche sauce.
My family have been making these cupcakes for a few years and I would say they are our show-stopping, signature bake! These are perfect to make for special occasions because while being relatively simple, they have a big impact. Since my friend (and colleague) is returning to the office this week after 6 months away, I obviously had to bake these as a welcome back present!
This recipe may appear to require a lot of ingredients but the majority of these are cupboard staples which any keen baker is likely to stock, such as flour, bicarbonate of soda and icing sugar. In fact the only ingredients I had to buy specifically for this bake were the dates and light muscovado sugar (as we had run out) so it was a very cheap bake.
180g pitted medjool dates, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
180g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
80g unsalted butter, softened
150g light muscovado sugar
For the buttercream:
160g salted butter, softened
200g icing sugar
4 tbsp dulce de leche
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Soak the dates in 180ml boiling water for 20 minutes. While soaking, gently break up the dates with a fork and stir in the vanilla extract.
3. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and set aside.
4. Cream together the butter and muscovado sugar for around 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs gradually, beating between each addition, combined with a tablespoon of flour, to prevent curdling. Then add the remaining flour and the date mixture.
6. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes.
|View from above|
The photos do not do this cake justice at all! It was beautifully moist and sticky from the sweet syrup with a subtle orange flavour from the cake. I loved the texture of the semolina, it’s so different to a fluffy flour cake. It’s amazing how smells or tastes can remind you of happy memories. I’m positive they served this desert in the hotel restaurant all those years ago because the taste was very familiar and immediately transported me back to my Greek holidays.