Cook this: almond & polenta cake

Apologies for the hiatus in baking of late; between the cookbook being prepared for launch and the rest of life, I haven’t had much time or inclination for it. But, I got back in the kitchen this weekend and finally made a cake that’s been on my “to bake” list for a while – an almond polenta cake by Therese at My Nordic Kitchen. I love almonds. I love polenta. It was an obvious one for me.

I played with the recipe a little, as I am want to do by upping the polenta ratio and making it a bit of a smaller cake. It’s delicious, so next time I’ll double it. It’s a super light and soft cake, and goes down perfectly with a good pot of Earl Grey tea.

Ingredients:
– 50g butter, softened
– 5 tbsp. caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– finely grated zest of one lemon
– 150g Greek yoghurt
¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup almond meal
cup polenta
½ tsp baking soda
– pinch of salt
– handful slivered almonds

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and grease a bread tin.

2. Combine the butter and sugar with electric beaters until smooth and creamy, then add the eggs, one by one, and beat until combined.

3. Add the lemon zest, vanilla and yoghurt, and stir through.

4. Finally, add the flour, almond meal, polenta, baking soda and salt, and stir to completely combine.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake passes the skewer test. Cool in the tin, and keep up to 3 days in an airtight container.

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Cook this: iced animal cookies

Last weekend, we celebrated my delicious little niece’s first birthday! Which was totally depressing, because it made me feel so old… but also super exciting, because I love being able to celebrate with everyone 🙂

Because I’m pretty useless with kiddy stuff like games and what not, I got put on cookie duty (yay) and the order was brightly coloured animal cookies.

I’m gonna be honest – I probably had more fun making these than the kids had eating them. They’re actually incredibly easy to make; you just need a fairly steady hand, a bit of patience, and plenty of space to spread everything out in the kitchen… it gets a little messy…

Anyway, having seen how much some bakeries charge for these types of cookies, I thought I’d share how easy they actually are to make with you guys 🙂 For the cookies themselves, something plain and basic like these tea cookies (you obviously don’t need to add the tea leaves in there – leave them out for a plain vanilla cookie) will work perfectly.

For the frosting, there are a few things you’ll need. The first is some writing icing tubes. I just use these from Queen, which are nothing fancy, and available for a few dollars at any supermarket. You may also want some decorations, like sprinkles, sparkles, flowers, etc. Again, all pretty easy to get your hands on in the baking aisle of your local supermarket.

Then, to make the coloured frosting, the easiest thing to do is just DIY royal icing! All you need to do is combine 1 egg white with around 200 – 250g powdered icing sugar. That’s it! With those two little ingredients, I made enough frosting to cover my 2 batches of cookies 2 or 3 times over, so a little goes a long way. Once you’ve made that base mixture, divide it between smaller bowls, which you can colour individually depending on what you need for your cookies. Stir in your coloured food dye, and mix them all in evenly.

Once that’s all done and set up, take a cookie and a tube of writing icing. Outline the cookie with the writing icing, which will act as a guard for the royal icing when you add it later. Let the writing icing dry a little before you move on – you may want to outline a few at a time to give them a chance to dry.

To fill the cookies with the coloured royal icing, add a few drops of water the the icing you’re using, and stir it in. You want the consistency to be runny enough to drip off the spoon, but not so watery it looses colour. Add a little of the icing to the centre of the cookie, and use a small spoon or knife to spread it out to the edges of the writing icing border. Decorate your cookies as you wish, and lay them out to dry for at least a few hours before packing them away to take to party central – the frosting will dry hard, so you’ll be able to carefully stack them up in a container if you need to.

That’s it! So easy! And if you need an excuse to practice, Halloween is just around the corner, so get those pumpkin and cat cookie cutters out 🙂

Cook this: Gluten & sugar free banana bread (from Balance by Monica)

If you were reading last week, you might have seen this post where I introduced my sister’s brainchild, Balance By Monica; starting small with Instagram to share her food creations until she has her nutrition qualification to go along with her teaching, psychology and health instructor ones, at which point the empire will no doubt expand.

I also promised to share a recipe from her; I mentioned in my post that a lack of education is a big problem when it comes to making healthy, balanced choices, and when you have food intolerances, that only makes it all the harder. But, even though there are a lot more instances of food intolerances these days, we’re also lucky to have a lot more access to information on how to deal with and adapt to them. If you have issues with gluten, lactose and/or sugar, this ones’s for you!

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Ingredients:
– 2 ripe bananas, mashed, plus 1 more banana, peeled and cut in half length ways
– ½ cup rolled oats
– ¾ cup almond meal
– ¾ cup LSA mix (available from health food stores)
– 2 eggs, lightly whisked
– ¼ cup milk (regular, almond, soy, whatever!)
– 2 tbsp plain vanilla or Greek yoghurt
– 2 tbsp Stevia or honey
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1 tbsp chia seeds

Method:
1.Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and grease a loaf tin or line it with non-stick baking paper.

2. Add all ingredients (except the banana halved length ways and the chia seeds) into a large mixing bowl and stir together to combine completely.

3. Pour the batter into the tin and smooth it out with a spatula.

4. Top the cake with the extra banana and sprinkle with chia seeds.

5. Bake for 60min or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Rest in the tin until cool enough to handle, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cook this: Italian Margherita Cake

As you may have noticed from quite a few of my recipes, I rarely, if ever, actually follow a recipe word for word. I’m a rebel. No; actually, I’m Italian. I grew up in a world where women didn’t use recipes; they kept it all up in their noggins and baked by feel. They also didn’t have blogs back in the old days in Italy, so recipes were pretty much just handed down through the generations.

Unlike my Nonnas, I literally have a world of recipes available to me, which is brilliant! One of my favourite sites on my blog roll, which consistently gives me new recipes to try from all around the globe is Honest Cooking, and when Veronica Lavenia’s recipe for an Italian Margherita cake popped up on my blog roll last week and I saw that she’d already stuffed around a bit with the traditional version to create her own, I figured I wouldn’t screw around with it anymore too much more; I had to a little bit, because I found the original recipe a little fragmented and hard to read/follow.


While the original version uses lots of eggs, milk and butter, Veronica’s version uses less eggs and olive oil to give it a nice little twist. The only changes I made were to add a little milk when I found the batter to be too dry, and I used caster sugar instead of raw sugar, and regular plain flour instead of Farro flour – because I already had them in the pantry, and I didn’t want to wait for cake. Because I’m Italian. Here’s my version…

 

Ingredients:
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
– pinch of salt
– ⅓ cup caster sugar
– finely grated zest of 1-2 lemons (depending on how lemony you like your cakes)
– ⅓ cup olive oil
– 275g plain flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– ¼ cup milk
– ½ cup toasted almond, chopped

 

Method:
1. Pre-heat oven to 170°C and line a round cake tin with non-stick baking paper.

2. Pour the egg whites into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer with the pinch of salt until white and stiff; set aside.

3. In another, larger mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Add in the lemon zest and oil and beat again until combined.

4. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and mix together with a spoon or spatula.

5. Finally, fold the egg whites, followed by the milk, into the egg yolk mix.

6. Pour the batter into the cake tin, sprinkle with the almonds and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Cook this: Matcha & white chocolate muffins

I saw this recipe a few weeks ago on Matchaeologist’s Instagram page, and like so many others, saved it for later. I decided to make them (with a few small changes) for my turn of Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club last week, and they were delicious! I love the combination of matcha and white chocolate, and these make a nice change from the standard choc chip muffin, especially for a special breakfast with some fresh strawberries 🙂

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Ingredients (makes 12 small muffins):
– 1¼ cups plain flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp matcha powder
– ½ cup white chocolate chips
– pinch of salt
– ⅓ cup caster sugar
– ⅓ cup vegetable oil, coconut oil, or melted butter
– ¾ cup warm milk (I used almond milk, which work really well)
– 1 tbsp white vinegar

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line a 12-hole muffin tray with cupcake cases.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, matcha powder, choc chips and salt in a bowl, and set aside.

3. In a larger bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, milk and vinegar, until completely combined.

4. Add the dry ingredients into the wet, bit by bit, gently mixing with a wooden spoon as you go until it all comes together to a smooth batter.

5. Spoon the batter into the cases and bake 20 – 25 minutes, until just browned on top/they pass the skewer test.

6. Cool in tins, and enjoy!

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As you can see, mine came out quite dark, because the matcha powder I used was a darker colour. The type of matcha you use will affect the muffin colour – it won’t taste any different, just something to be aware of!

 

Cook this: 6 ingredient chestnut jam thumbprint cookies

Having grown up in a very Italian family, I love roasted chestnuts in winter. Nonno used to make them for us when we were kids, and I loved sitting at their dinner table, digging my little fingers in the split in the shell, peeling the charred layed off those golden little nuggets, and eating them until dad said I couldn’t have any more because I’d be sick. So, when I found St Dalfour at the Good Food and Wine Show a few weeks ago selling chestnut jam, I got more than a little bit excited. I only bought one jar, and have been kicking myself ever since!


I’ve been using a spoonful of it to mix through my porridge, along with a handful of blueberries and a sprinkle of cacao nibs, but I wanted to make something sweet to eat with a cup of tea as it gets colder. I also wanted something quick and easy, that I could make whenever I wanted them without having to get changed out of my PJs to go buy ingredients for. Same base recipe as the lemon cookies I posted a few weeks ago, but the secret ingredient is absolutely the jam – find a way to get your hands on some!!

Ingredients:
– 100g butter, softened
– 100g caster sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 200g plain flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– St Dalfour chestnut jam!

 

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 170° and line an oven tray with baking paper.

2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and creamy, followed by the egg yolk until completely smooth and combined.

3. Stir in the flour and baking powder until combined.

4. Roll the dough into balls (about tablespoon size works well) and space them out on the oven tray.

5. As the recipe might imply, press your thumb into the centre of each cookie to make space for the jam, and drop a little jam in each thumbprint.

6. Bake for 15min, or until golden brown.

Cook this: Vanilla raspberry protein loaf (lactose, sugar & gluten free)

I actually really enjoy baking with protein powder, and think it can be a bit of an underrated ingredient in the kitchen. If you can find one with a good flavor (I love a strong vanilla), it’s a great addition; it’s also a convenient way to pass off treats as “healthy”  ; )

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Anyway, when I saw this recipe on my blog roll a few weeks ago, I saved it to make later, and I finally got around to it this week. It’s a great one for those with special diets (you can substitute flour for more nut meal or GF flour if you’re coeliac), there’s no refined sugar unless you want to add some (but I find the sweetness from the berries good enough for me), you can use oil instead of butter if you prefer, and you can use any milk you want if you need a lactose free version. While the original recipe uses raspberries (and used them too because they’re my favourites), you can really use any frozen berries.

Also, it’s Friday – and if you want to treat yourself without totally eating crap, you may as well 🙂 Here’s my version of the protein berry loaf, inspired by Healthy with Anja’s recipe.

 

Ingredients:
– ½ rolled oats
– ½ cup plain flour, sifted
– ½ cup almond meal
– 2 scoops protein powder (I like vanilla Vital protein, which also happens to be vegan and dairy/soy free)
– 1 tsp baking powder
– ¼ heaped cup shredded coconut
– 2 large eggs, whisked
– 25g butter, melted and cooled
– ½ cup milk
– 1 heaped tbsp plain Greek yoghurt
– 1 cup frozen raspberries

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a loaf tin with non-stick baking paper.

2. Combine the oats, flour, almond meal, protein powder, baking powder and coconut in a large mixing bowl.

3. Use a wooden spoon to mix in the eggs until completely combined, then add in the butter, again mixing until completely combined.

4. Stir in the milk next, a bit at a time (you may not need it all) until it comes together in a good cake-batter consistency.

5. Pour half the batter into the prepared tin and spread about two thirds of the raspberries over it. Cover the raspberries with the rest of the batter, and sprinkle the remaining berries over the top.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and cover with foil; bake for another 15 – 20 minutes, until cooked through.

 

 

** Note – this is definitely more of a loaf than a cake in terms of sweetness, so if you want it a bit sweeter, add a tablespoon or two of caster sugar in with the dry ingredients **