Saturday, March 26, 2016

Little cakes from Toledo for Easter

I first made these little lemony almond cakes, called marquesas or marquesitas, when we had our Spanish long lunch on 2 August last year. I promised to put up the recipe - but I didn't.
      Needing a dessert contribution for a long lunch in the Wairarapa tomorrow, I decided these would do nicely. In The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden includes them in her section on "Dulces de Convento - pastries and confectionery from the hidden world of cloistered nuns", and says they are "most typical of Sonseca in the province of Toledo, where they are made at Christmas time".
       But I thought they would also be perfect for Easter. I've made them in small cupcake cases and packed them neatly into egg cartons to carry with me tomorrow on the bus (to Upper Hutt, because of line repairs) and then the train.

Almond Cupcakes (Marquesas)
Adapted slightly from The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden

5 large eggs
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
200g caster sugar
50g cornflour
300g ground almonds
small paper cases to use in a baking tray with small cakecups
(or use medium cases in a medium-cup tray)
icing sugar for dusting

- Set the oven to 180C. (I used fan bake.)
- Separate the eggs. Put 2 egg whites into a medium-sized bowl; 1 white into a small bowl; and all 5 yolks into a large bowl. Set aside the remaining 2 whites for another use.
- With an electric beater, beat the 2 whites with 1/4 tsp lemon juice and 4 Tbspns of the sugar until stiff.
- Put the 1 egg white into the large bowl with the 5 yolks. Add the remaining sugar. Beat with the electric beater to make a pale cream.
- Beat in the grated lemon zest and the cornflour.
- Mix in the ground almonds thoroughly to make a thick paste.
(Roden says you can use a little water if it's too thick, but she didn't need to. I wanted a more lemony taste, so I mixed in 1 Tbsp of the remaining lemon juice at this point.)
- Gently fold in the egg whites.

- Using a teaspoon for the small cases, fill each case three-quarters full - or for higher cakes, to just below the case rim. (I think the height of each cake depends on the mixture and the oven as well as the size of the cases, so you may need to experiment.)
- Bake for approximately 9-10 minutes for the small cases.
They should colour only very slightly on top, but a thin knife or sewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. When they come out of the oven the cakes will be very soft when you press the top with your finger.
They will harden a little as they cool but will still be very soft and moist inside.
- Let them firm and cool a little in the tray after they come out of the oven. Dust them lightly with icing sugar and transfer them gently to a rack to cool.

Roden says this recipe makes 24-30 cakes, depending on the case size. I made 24 small cakes and 12 medium ones, following her instruction to fill the cases 3/4 full.  But to get the kind of well-risen, rounded top on each cake shown in her photo, I probably should have filled them up a bit more.
       I fancy a bit more lemon flavour, so I mixed together the leftover lemon juice, about a tablespoon of the leftover icing sugar and a splash of triple sec to make a light syrup that I can drizzle very sparingly on each cake tomorrow just before we eat them. I'll tell you how it goes.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

An old favourite: Nigella's pea and roast garlic soup

I had a delightful lunch at my friend Ali's place a couple of weeks ago. She's a brilliant cook, so I always look forward to her food.  This time she made one of my all-time lunch favourites: Nigella Lawson's pea and roast garlic soup. I think Ali herself passed the recipe on to me years ago, but it's a little while since I made it, so I greeted its appearance with a big grin - especially as it came with Ali's legendary home-made foccaccia.  AND she grows her own garlic.
    The soup itself isn't at all ahrd to make, but it does need a bit of forethought, because you roast a whole head of garlic first, and that takes 45-60 minutes. It's also a good idea to plan ahead because you don't usually want to heat up the whole oven just for one head of garlic - so it pays to put it in while you're cooking something else.

Pea and roast garlic soup
Nigella Lawson

one whole head of garlic
2 tsps olive oil
200g frozen peas
25g butter
2 tbsps freshly grated parmesan (and more to serve)
200ml warm stock
150ml double cream (max - you may well want to use less)

To roast the garlic:
Preheat the oven to 200C. 
Slice off the top of the garlic so that you can see the tops of the cloves revealed in a cross section.
Cut out a square of foil large enough to make a parcel with room to spare around the garlic. Put the garlic in the middle and cover it with olive oil.
Make a loose parcel around the garlic, twisting the edges of the foil together at the top.
Bake at 200C for 45-60 mins until soft.

To make the soup:
Cook the peas in boiling salted water until tender but not mushy.
Drain and blend until smooth.
Squeeze in the soft cooked cloves of garlic.
Add the butter, parmesan and half of the stock. Process to a creamy puree.
Pour into a saucepan and add the remaining stock. Add cream (or extra stock - if it's not too salty - or some of both) to get a soupy consistency.
Heat gently and check seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed.
Serve with good bread and extra parmesan on the side.

This is a lovely fresh-tasting and yet rich soup. We followed it with cheese (including my contribution, a home-made herb boursin) and Nigel Slater's fresh plum cake - with more cream, of course.