Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a soft spot for blood oranges. I love everything about them: their bitter-sweet taste, the element of surprise- how ruby red will they reveal themselves once stickily peeled? But mostly, I love their short-lived season. In my privileged little corner of East London, I can have whatever I want, whenever I want it. A bag of plum heirloom tomatoes? A bottle of artisan gin? A plate of snails and bone marrow? All a five minute walk away from where I’m sitting right now. So a fruit that is in season for only a few short weeks, that you actively have to hunt down? That’s a real rarity. I can have the plumpest blueberries, crunchiest green beans and juiciest apples all year round, but you try finding blood oranges in August. Go on.
They are also in season when we need them the most, because despite a few days there where Spring seemed like it might not be a complete impossibility, winter seems to still be clinging on for dear old life. So these bursts of sunshine are a real saviour in these desperate times. There aren’t many weeks left to make this marmalade, but I did just see the last of the Seville oranges at my greengrocer’s. Get out there quick!
This is based on Nigel Slater’s marmalade recipe in the Guardian a few years ago. I’ve added blood oranges for a bit of sweetness, Sevilles can be a bit too bitter for some. You can find the original recipe here.
Bloody Seville Orange Marmalade
Makes 6 jars
You will need:
10 Seville Oranges
8 blood oranges
1.5kg golden caster sugar
1. Remove the skin and pith from all of your oranges and lemons. There are lots of different schools of thought as to how to do this, Nigel suggests scoring with a small knife into quarters then peeling. Others halve the oranges, squeeze out the juice and then hollow them out before cutting each half into larger chunks. Your call.
2. This is the slightly tedious bit. You need to cut all your peel chunks or quarters into shreds- either thick or thin depending on your preference, or a bit of a mixture of you can’t quite be bothered. Do this in batches, sit down, put the radio on. It’s a sticky, messy, time consuming business, there’s no way around it.
3. Reserve all the pulp, seeds and any juice spillage. Squeeze all juice into a measuring jug and make up to 4.5 litres with cold water. Pour into a large bowl and add all of the sliced peel. Place the squeezed out pulp and seeds into a muslin bag or tie in a cloth and leave to soak in the juice overnight.
4. The next day, transfer the juice and bag into a large pan. Bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer until the peel is soft and almost translucent- about 1.5 hours. Lift out the bag and bring the pan back to a boil with the sugar. Once the bag is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any residual juice into the pan with rest. Put a saucer in the freezer.
5. Keep at a rolling boil until the marmalade reaches setting point. You can test for this by dolloping a teaspoon of the mixture onto your cold saucer. Once cool, it should crinkle when pushed with a finger. If it doesn’t, you aren’t there quite yet. My marmalade took just over an hour to get to this point, but do keep testing as yours might take less time.
6. Pour or spoon the marmalade into sterilised jars and leave for about 10 minutes before sealing. Leave to cool completely before storing, or cracking open and spreading on hot buttered toast.
So it’s Shrove Tuesday, which here in the UK is celebrated with pancakes, generally something which I have absolutely no objection to whatsoever. It was pancake day on one of our first dates, so my husband and I always mark it- usually with some crepes stuffed with spinach, ham and cheese, slathered with more cheese before baking. Sweet ones to follow, of course.
But in Sweden, the tradition is to eat semlor on ‘fettisdagen’ or Fat Tuesday. Originally, these buns were really quite simple and based very much on the classic ‘vetebröd’ (literally ‘wheat-bread’) recipe. Sweetened, leavened bread flavoured with cardamom- pretty much the same thing we’d use for cinnamon buns. Semlor were served floating in a bowl of milk, for dipping and dunking. But traditions, of course, evolve. The Sweden.se homepage describes the semla’s trajectory best:
‘At some point Swedes grew tired of the strict observance of Lent, added cream and almond paste to the mix and started eating semla every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter.
Today, no such reservations exist and semlor (the plural of semla) usually appear in bakery windows as near after Christmas as is deemed decent – and sometimes even before. This is followed by a collective, nationwide moan about how it gets earlier every year. Shortly thereafter people begin to eat the things like the world will end tomorrow.’
I know that my last post exalted the virtues of restraint and substitution in order to make a sweet treat a bit healthier. This post, by contrast, is really all about excess, which is as it should be on the last day before Lent. My take on the semla uses plain flour, which gives them a cakier texture and just a dash of cardamom- it’s more for the scent than anything else. Unfilled they freeze really well, so you can make them in advance and have a stash to hand.
Semlor (Swedish Lent Buns)
Makes 24 mini buns or 12 big ‘uns
You will need:
For the buns:
75g unsalted butter
150ml whole milk
5g fresh yeast
60g golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom (or 2 tbsp pods, shelled and ground)
400g plain flour
For the almond paste
100g blanched almonds
75g golden caster sugar
Double cream, whipped
1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Add the milk and bring to blood temperature. Crumble the yeast into a large bowl with the sugar. Pour over a little of the milk mixture and stir until the yeast and sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining liquid, 1 beaten egg, salt and cardamom.
2. Gradually add the flour, stirring until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly, until it comes together to form an elastic dough. Return to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the almond paste by blitzing the blanched almonds to a fine powder. Add the sugar and continue blitzing to a smooth paste- it may take a little while for the oils in the nuts to release, be patient. Cover and pop in the fridge until needed.
4. Tip the dough out of the bowl and onto your work surface. Knock back a little before dividing and rolling into buns. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, about 2 cm apart. Again, cover with the tea towel and leave for about 45 minutes, until almost doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
5. Beat the remaining egg and use to lightly glaze the buns. Bake for 7-8 minutes for small buns and up to 10 for larger, until golden. Cool on a wire rack completely.
6. To serve, cut off the tops of the buns and scoop out a little of the bread-y middles. Fill with a spoonful of almond paste and spritz or spoon in the cream. Crown with the reserved bun tops and dust with icing sugar.
Be my slightly less sweet Valentine this year. This decadent chocolate cake is exactly what you would want to make for a loved one or to finish a romantic meal. Except it isn’t quite as naughty as it seems. This cake is free from refined sugar, sweetened instead with dates and a little maple syrup. There’s no dairy just coconut oil instead of butter and coconut cream for the frosting. And there’s no flour or grains at all, so it’s completely gluten free. There is, however, a surprise ingredient- black beans. I recognise that this sounds a little incongruous, but trust me, it makes for a really moreish, fudgy texture. Anyway, everyone is doing it- it’s the new beetroot as far as chocolate cake baking goes and just as delicious. My apologies for the Roxette pun in the title, I couldn’t resist.
Chocolate Black Bean Cake with Hazelnut Mocha Mousse and Coconut Frosting
Makes 1 cake
You will need:
For the cake:
1 can black beans (400g), drained
2 tbsp very strong coffee
5 fat medjool dates, pitted
3 tbsp maple syrup.
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g raw cocoa powder
75g coconut oil, plus a little extra
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
5 eggs, separated
For the mousse:
150g hazelnuts, covered in cold water and soaked overnight
2 tbsp very strong coffee
1 tbsp raw cocoa
1 tbsp maple syrup
For the frosting:
150 ml coconut cream
1-2 tbsp maple syrup, to taste.
Red fruits like strawberries, raspberries, red currants, pomegranate seeds and figs, to serve
2 tbsp dessicated coconut, to serve.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease two 20cm sandwich tins with a little coconut oil. Line with parchment. In a magimix, combine the beans, dates, maple syrup, coffee, vanilla and cocoa. Blitz until completely smooth- it should take a few minutes before the dates have completely dispersed into the mixture.
2. Add the coconut oil and continue blitzing untill the coconut oil has completely dispersed- there should be no white flecks. Add the bicarb, salt and egg yolks and blitz until just combined and transfer to a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Beat a large spoonful of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten slightly. In three separate additions, fold in the egg whites until just combined. Divide equally between the two sandwich tins and bake for 20-22 minutes, until firm to the touch with a little spring and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins.
4. To make the mousse, drain the hazelnuts and place in the magimix with the cocoa powder, coffee and maple syrup. Blitz until broken up and grainy, stopping to clean down the sides from time to time. With the motor running, slowly add 150ml of cold water and continue to blitz until you have a light, fluffy mixture. Set aside.
5. For the coconut frosting, whisk the coconut cream in a small bowl sweetened with a little maple syrup. Refrigerate until needed. Spread the mousse on one of the chocolate cakes, then top with the second. Frost with the coconut cream and decorate with fruit. Finally, dust with a little dessicated coconut.
It seems so very fitting that this is the time of year when citrus fruit is at its best. These last few weeks the temperature has been sticking firmly around the freezing mark. Is it only me or was it warmer last winter? I cycled everywhere last January and February! This year my bike hasn’t seen daylight for weeks. So these zesty bursts of brightness feel pretty essential. I always look forward to enjoying clementines and tangerines at their sweetest in January and lately I’ve been stock piling blood oranges- greedily peeling each newly bough batch to see if their ruby shade has intensified with the passing weeks.
This year, I found a real, unexpected treat on a routine trip to Tesco, of all places, where I stumbled upon a pack of MEYER LEMONS. I can’t tell you how excited this made me. I’ve never seen them in this country but remember them fondly from my New York days. For those of you unfamiliar with the fruit, imagine if a lemon and a mandarine had a lovechild. Basically, it has all the zesty freshness of a lemon minus that bitter edge. Less sour, more sweet. Plus you can eat the skin and rind, like a giant yellow kumquat. They are hugely popular in the States, where Wikipedia tells me they were introduced over a hundred years ago. Which begs the question- what took the rest of us so long??!
Anyway, I hope they are on their way to becoming a regular supermarket feature over here as well. Although they did actually sit for days in my fruit bowl before I finally decided what to do with them- too much choice! Like garden-variety lemons, these Meyer cousins actually work well in both savoury and sweet dishes, so I mixed and matched. Here are the results.
First up, the ultimate lazy weekend brunch pancakes. These could also be made in miniature as little blini style nibbles, topped with a little creme fraich and dill. They are very light and fluffy, almost soufflé-like, which makes them a bit less robust for cooking and flipping, but definitely worth the extra care once they’ve hit your plate.
Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Mayer Lemon and Dill
served with smoked salmon and creme fraiche
You will need:
100g buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 egg whites, 1 whole egg
140ml (half pot) buttermilk
1 tbsp maple syrup
about 1.5 tbsp chopped chives
zest and juice of 1 meyer lemon
olive or coconut oil
1. Place flour and bicarb in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk in the buttermilk, whole egg and maple syrup then add the chives, lemon juice and zest, beat well.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until thick, frothy and just holding their shape in soft peaks. Carefully fold into the pancake batter.
3. Heat a good glug of oil in your best non stick pan and add a ladelful of pancake batter. These might be a bit tricker to flip than your average pancake- a palette knife will help.
4. Serve straight away or keep warm in a low temperature oven while you crack on with the remaining batter. Try the pancakes with smoked salmon and a dollop of creme fraiche. For a sweeter version, omit the chives and add another tbsp of maple syrup and serve with berries.
In doing my Meyer Lemon recipe research, trying to sift through the overwhelming possibilities, I stumbled upon quite a few pizza recipes topped with whole slices of the fruit. While this intrigued me, I’m not sure I would want them to feature quite so prominently on my dinner plate. However, it did get me thinking about how they might work as a topping for other bread-based products, something sharable like focaccia. My take on this is based on my go-to recipe for bread of this kind- the Schiacciata from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ which is totally failsafe and has all of the light airiness that you’d want from an Italian flatbread.
Meyer Lemon and thyme Focaccia
Makes 1 large focaccia loaf
You will need:
350g strong white flour
150g Italian 00 flour
2 tbsp sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
20g fresh yeast
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
small bunch thyme, some leaves picked
2 meyer lemons, thinly sliced
1. Place flours and salt in a large bowl. Mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of blood temperature water in a small bowl or jug. Measure out 300ml of blood temperature water, adding the yeast mixture along with 2 tbsp of the olive oil.
2. Make a well in the flour and add the liquid ingredients, mixing until it begins to form a dough. Tip onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes until you have an elastic dough. You can of course use a stand mixer if you prefer. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour.
3. Meanwhile, place thyme stems in a small bowl, cover with cold water and set aside. Oil a large rectangular baking sheet generously. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6.
4. Tip out the dough and knead briefly before stretching and punching out to cover the baking sheet. Cover and leave to rise for a further 30-40 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, drain the thyme and shake off any excess water. Once the dough has puffed up, arrange the lemon slices and thyme sprigs over it and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with a little sea salt. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding when the base of the bread is tapped. The lemon may caramelise a little, cover with some foil if it starts to turn very brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack before sprinkling with a few extra thyme leaves and tearing into.
I suppose all these meyer lemons have reminded me of other foodstuffs that I miss about my time in the big apple. In particular the Eastern European and Jewish heritage which lends so much to the baking culture that is taken for granted there- the most amazing bagels, of course, but also wonderful cakes like the babka. This twisty loaf cake is usually made with chocolate and cinnamon, but can of course be filled with anything you like. It is made from a yeasted dough and in that respect reminds me a lot of some of the braided loaf versions of cinnamon and cardamom buns we have in Sweden.
This recipe is not for the faint-hearted. Adding the butter by hand is a nightmare as the dough and the fat will not seem like they want to mix together at all, rather just slip and slide around each other. Trust me, they will come together with a little patience. It is also essential that the butter is at room temperature. Of course, if you have a stand mixer this will save you the agony, but as I do not as yet own one (my little Bow kitchen has no space for such luxuries), this is the way that I roll.
Meyer Lemon, Cardamom and Pistachio Babka
Makes 1 babka
You will need:
For the dough:
250g plain flour
50g golden caster sugar
15g fresh yeast
1 egg, beaten
zest and juice of half a meyer lemon
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the filling:
50g green pistachios
25g golden caster sugar
2 tsp cardamom
zest and juice of 2 meyer lemons
1. To make the dough, combine the flour and sugar with a pinch of salt in a large bowl. In a small jug, measure out 75ml of water and dissolve the yeast into it. Add the egg, lemon juice and zest and beat well. Make a well in the flour and add the liquid ingredients, mixing until just combined.
2. Tip out the dough onto a well floured work surface and knead to come together. Continue kneading by hand for about 10 minutes, until elastic. You can test this by pressing a finger lightly into the surface of the dough, pulled slightly taunt. It should slowly spring back. At this stage, you can start adding your butter, a tsp or so at a time, kneading and folding until it starts to dissolve into the dough before adding the next teaspoonfull. This will take time and be very messy and greasy. There’s no way around it, but it will work with patience. Put the radio on.
3. Place the now quite greasy dough into a medium sized bowl. Lightly grease a bit of cling film and cover the bowl, placing in the fridge to rise slowly overnight.
4. To make the filling, simply blitz the pistachios and caster sugar until the nuts have broken up to a fine powder. Add the butter, cardamom, lemon zest and juice and blitz for form a smooth paste. Refrigerate until the next day.
5. Generously oil a 900g/1lb loaf tin and line the base with rectangle of parchment and remove the filling from the fridge to soften slightly. Tip the dough out onto a well floured work surface. Roll into a thin rectangle, about the size of an A4 piece of paper. Spread with the filling then roll into a sausage-like shape. Trim the ends to remove any messy edges then, using a large sharp knife, divide the roll in half lengthways. Lay each half next to each other vertically. Pinch the top ends together before gently twisting the two halves of dough around eachother by lifting each side over the next. When you get to the bottom, pinch these ends together as well.
6. Carefully lift into your prepared loaf tin- it might be a bit to short for your babka, in which case simply curve it in to form a snake-like shape. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about 1.5-2 hours in a cool spot.
7. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a skewer inserted to the cake comes out clean. If it starts to brown a bit too much, just cover with foil and continue to bake. Leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before turning out to a wire rack. For extra sweetness and as I often do with cinnamon buns, I brushed my loaf with a light sugar syrup while it was still warm. Slice to serve with a cup of tea or coffee.