Easy Fruit Pastry Dessert

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“As much as I would love to be a person that goes to parties and has a couple of drinks and has a nice time, that doesn’t work for me. I’d just rather sit at home and read, or go out to dinner with someone, or talk to someone I love, or talk to somebody that makes me laugh.” ~ Daniel Radcliffe

I actually wondered if I should have called this post ‘Shamelessly Quick But Delicious Dinner’. I am in Brisbane on my own right now, getting ready for a few days of psychic work, and I was lucky enough to have two lovely friends join me for dinner last night. We all belong to a writing group, so of course most of the evening we talked books, writing, and writers.

Did I say that it was heavenly?

I’d had my head down all day, working on the rewrite of a current project. Dinner was something I put thought to at the last minute. Something easy. I raced to the market down the road and bought a few simple ingredients. The main course was sticky marinated chicken drumsticks; asparagus, broccolini and bacon stir-fry; and a jacket potato with sour cream. Minutes to prepare but so yummy. See evidence below.

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Dessert? Shamefully simple. Squares of puff pastry covered in slices of sweet fresh nectarine and baked into tarts in fifteen minutes flat.

This is a dessert my grandmother taught me when I was about five years old.

Let me walk you through it.

Ingredients:

Puff Pastry sheets (the frozen kind you buy pre-prepared at the supermarket), fresh fruit of your choice (I’ve used nectarines today but have also had success with apples, pears, plums, strawberries, peaches, apricots, strawberries and pineapple), a little sugar.

Method:

Preheat your oven to hot – 220 degrees celcius or 440 degrees fahrenheit. A hot oven is what will work magic on your puff pastry.

Wash and dry your fruit, and then cut that fruit into slices. Not too chunky. You can get all fancy and cut a million really thin slices, but I like things a little rustic. See pictures below.

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Take your pastry from the freezer just before you’ll need it. It won’t take long to thaw in a warm kitchen and if it gets too warm it will be all droopy and badly behaved.

Now cut a sheet of pastry into your desired shapes and sizes. I was in a hurry to be talking books, so I simply cut a large sheet into four squares.

Arrange the cut fruit in the middle of each piece of pastry. I used a half nectarine for each square. I guess I could have been more artful, but we were talking and the conversation was good. I didn’t want to miss anything! Luckily this recipe is fast and simple. Oh yeah – sprinkle a little sugar over the top of the fruit.

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Place on baking paper (less washing up!) on a tray or oven slide and pop into that hot oven for fifteen minutes or when pastry has puffed up and is golden brown.

Remove from oven.

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Serve your rustic pastries on their own, or with a little good ice-cream and a dash of cream.

East with gusto! We certainly did. :D

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Tropical Pie Recipe

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“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”
~ Ruth Reichl

 

And so, the moment of truth…

Does the Tropical Pie of my childhood still measure up?

*Nicole laughs gleefully and claps her hands*

Darn tootin’ right it does!

The pie has a crunchy toasted coconut crust, and a creamy light filling, flavoured with lemon, orange and pineapple. Heaven in a bowl, really. It speaks of summer, and relaxed tropical nights.

I think this particular dessert is fancy enough to serve at a dinner party or a fancy gathering, but it will also be a welcome addition to a family barbeque or a casual weekend meal. It’s actually a much more sophisticated recipe than I’d realised, and the flavour nuances are just as I’d remembered them. Maybe better.

There are a few steps, so you’ll need to allocate a little time for each part of the preparation – this one’s not a simple throw-together dessert. But hey, sometimes that little extra effort really does pay off. I’d make this the day before or early in the morning of the evening you’ll need it.

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Ingredients:

Crust: 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut, 60g (2 ounces) melted butter plus extra butter for greasing pie tin

Filling: 1 x 440g (15 ounce) can of pineapple pieces (I used the pineapple in natural juice with no added sugar, but in the seventies it was sugar all the way!), 5 teaspoons gelatine, 1/2 cup castor sugar OR the equivalent of Natvia or your favourite sweetener, pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 3 eggs, separated, 1 tablespoon rum, 1 tablespoon Cointreau or orange juice, 1 and 1/4 cups (1/2 pint) of cream

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Method for Base:

1. Grease a 9 inch/23 centimetre pie plate, or use baking paper to line a spring-form tin of the same dimensions.

2. Preheat oven to slow – 120C or 250F. If it’s a fan-forced oven knock the temperature back to 110C or 230F

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3. Add the coconut to the melted butter, mixing well. Press firmly into the base and up the sides of the pie dish. If you don’t press firmly, the base will not hold together. I like to use a cup or glass with a firm base and straight sides to really press that crust well.

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Yes, Soul Sanctuary girls, I am still wearing my Friendship Bracelet :D.2015-01-20 14.12.21

4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Look how lovely that crust is! I am already dreaming up other fillings for it…

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Method for Filling:

1. Empty and save the juice from the can of pineapple, then add enough water to make 1 and 1/2 cups. Place juice in a small saucepan. Add the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest, and then sprinkle the gelatine over the top. Place over moderate heat, and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

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2. Beat egg yolks until thick and foamy.

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3. Gently pour a small amount of the hot liquid into the yolks, whisking all the while. Continue whisking and add the hot liquid very slowly until it is all added. Then add in the rum and Cointreau.

4. Chill this mixture until it has the consistency of unbeaten egg white.

5. Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff.

6. Beat the cream until thick.

7. Fold the drained pineapple and cream into the egg yolk mixture.

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8. Then gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Spoon into the pie crust and chill until well set.

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Serve on its own or with some cream or a good ice-cream.

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According to my husband, Tropical Pie also proves to be excellent breakfast food. ;)

I hope you enjoy this recipe from my childhood.

It really is as good as I remember!

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Quick Christmas Macadamia Shortbread Recipe

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“For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home.”  ~ W.J. Ronald Tucker

 

This is a super recipe. It’s rich and buttery, and the lovely crispness of the shortbread goes perfectly with a cup of tea. I like their rustic style too. It speaks of kitchens and aprons and being made with love. (If you prefer your biscuits to look perfectly perfect rather than rustic, see note at bottom of page.)

These shortbread make a an easy and thoughtful home-made Christmas gift, and are good to have on hand when friends pop by for a visit.

The recipe can also be made gluten-free or vegan very easily – simple substitutes are listed below.

Shortbread Ingredients:

250 grams butter (1 cup), 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup icing sugar (powdered or confectioners sugar), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/3 cup cornflour (cornstarch for my USA friends!), 2 and 1/3 cups plain flour, 1 cup of chopped raw macadamia nuts, 1/3 cup of raw sugar (optional).

This works fabulously well with gluten-free flour. If you’re vegan or dairy-free use your favourite butter alternative.

Hint: use level cups of flours and sugars rather than generous ones.

Method

Preheat your oven to moderate (160 degree celcius fan-forced or 180 degree oven – 350 degrees fahrenheit).

Shortbread:

Melt the butter over low heat. Cool slightly.

Sift icing sugar, sugar and cornflour into a large bowl. PS. How cute are these stackable little duck measuring cups that my Nana gave me many years ago? I totally adore them!

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Pour over the melted butter. Beat until thick and creamy. You could use a spoon or hand beaters but I use my trusty electric beaters.  The thickened mix will be the consistency of thick custard. Be patient. It takes a minute or two for the magic to work.

shortbread

Then add in the sifted flour. Mix until combined. The mixture will be crumbly and moist. Add the macadamia nuts and mix well to distribute them evenly.

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Cover a couple of oven-proof trays with baking paper.

Place the raw sugar into a small bowl.

Take a teaspoon of mixture and roll it into a ball. Press the ball into the bowl of sugar, and then place the ball sugar side up on the prepared tray.

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Leave some space between each of the biscuits as they will spread slightly. Press the biscuits down gently with the tines of a fork. You could also use your hand to do this, but the fork tines make pretty marks.

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Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Leave on trays for five minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Package to give as gifts, or store in an airtight container to serve with your next cuppa.

Santa is quite partial to these shortbread as well.

Enjoy!

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Variations:

1/2 cup of macadamias and 1/2 cup of chocolate chips

1 cup of macadamias and 2 tablespoons chopped glace ginger

1 cup of chocolate chips

Or just omit the nuts and leave them plain

NOTE: If you are a perfectionist who cannot abide rustic-looking biscuits, make sure that your macadamia nuts are cut quite small. Divide the dough in half, roll into two cylinders, cover in cling wrap and pop in the fridge for an hour until firm. Now you will be able to slice perfect circles that give biscuits with no obvious lumpy bits. You may or may not wish to mar the perfection with fork tines or sugar.

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Easy Date, Ginger and Walnut Cake Recipe

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“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.”
~ William Cowper

 

What am I doing this morning? Well, as soon as this blog is done I’ll be making a nice cup of tea, cutting myself a slice of this cake and sitting down with my journal for an hour or so. Today is a powerful time for dreaming, planning, birthing and manifesting our heart’s desires into the world, riding on the back of this incredible new moon and solar eclipse energy. If you can find some time today, I highly encourage you to take a little time too to envision your dream life, and what you most want to be, do and create in the world over the coming years.

But I digress. Back to cake!

This cake is a firm favourite in our household. It’s easy to whip up, using just one saucepan and a wooden spoon. The cake can be made with traditional or gluten-free flour, both with great results. You can enjoy this cake eaten warm as a dessert, or cold as a proper cake. It has great keeping qualities, and most importantly, it is divine with a cup of tea or coffee.

The cake begins as a light, fluffy creation when first made, but over the ensuing days becomes heavier, and it will keep for about a week. I often serve it sliced and buttered for smoko at the farm.

I sometimes ice this cake with a lemon icing too. That was my intention when I made this one, as our niece was coming to visit for a few days and I wanted to surprise her with something a bit special.

But yesterday, with the cake just out of the oven and the whole house smelling of spice and sugar, the local excavator operator and his off-sider called in to say hello and have a cuppa. And then the energex workers who were working down on the river flats clearing trees from under our power lines turned up too. Result? Cake demolished, with no time to turn it into something pretty.

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Ingredients:

1 cup of pitted dried dates, 1/2 cup crystalised ginger, 1/2 cup walnuts, 125 grams (1/2 cup) of butter, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1 cup of cold tea (your favourite black or herbal ginger is fine. I usually use French Earl Grey but it’s fun to experiment), 1 teaspoon bicarb soda, 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger, 1 large egg – beaten, 1 and 1/2 cups self-raising/all purpose flour or your preferred self-raising/all purpose gluten-free flour mix.

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Method:

Preheat oven to moderate (160 degree celcius fan-forced or 180 degree oven – 350 degrees fahrenheit) and prepare a deep 9 inch/22 centimetre round or an 8 inch/20 centimetre square tin by lining it with baking paper.

Chop the dates and walnuts into small pieces, and chop the ginger quite finely. It tastes better and gives the cake a better texture having the ginger in smaller pieces.

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Place the dates, chopped ginger, butter, salt, sugar and tea in a large saucepan. Trust me – use a largish one as this will eventually become the cake mixing bowl. Isn’t it lovely when you save on washing up!

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Place over medium heat and bring to a strong boil, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks. Turn off heat and allow to cool for five minutes. Add in the bi-carb soda. This will make the mixture foam – don’t panic – it’s perfectly normal. Stir well, and then place aside to cool down some more.

When the mixture is cool enough that you can comfortably stick your finger in, toss in the walnuts then sift in the flour and ginger. Stir well with a wooden spoon and then add the beaten egg and stir through gently to combine.

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Spoon into the prepared tin. Eat the rest of the batter stuck to sides of saucepan. Yum! :)

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Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Cake is baked when it springs back when lightly pressed in the centre or when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

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Cool in tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

2014-10-23 13.49.50And with messy slatherings of butter for the second offering, after the hungry workers ate the first plate of cake in 2.5 minutes flat! Cake now cool enough that butter didn’t slide off. LOL! (Butter looks very pale here – it was freshly churned a few hours before by a neighbour and was DELICIOUS!!!)

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And if you do want to get fancy and use a lemon icing on it, there’s a good recipe here, with the outstandingly good Lemon Slice recipe.

 

Mandarin, Zucchini and White Chocolate Cupcakes

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“Baking is like washing–the results are equally temporary.”
~ Patricia Briggs, Raven’s Shadow

 

I experimented with a new cake recipe earlier in the week. But it was so good that it was devoured before I thought to take any photos.

So I made it again!

In fact, I tested two versions. A straight-up version using dairy, flour and sugar and a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free version.

Happily, both of them tasted delicious. The cakes are sweet and moist and rich-tasting, but not too heavy.

I did contemplate using a cream cheese icing with a hint of mandarin to finish these little cakes off, but honestly, unless the Queen was coming for afternoon tea it would have been complete overkill. That, and the fact that again, at least half the batch was eaten before I could get to the making icing part, after which any kind of frosting seemed redundant.

This recipe is inspired by the monster zucchini glut currently underway at our farm. Enjoy!

Ingredients – Standard:

2 medium mandarins (about 350 grams), 1 cup grated zucchini, 1 cup white chocolate chunks, 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups self-raising flour  (self-rising for my USA friends or 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 and 1/2 x teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt, sifted together), 1/2 cup almond meal, 125g (1/2 cup) of melted butter, 3 large eggs – lightly beaten

Ingredients – Gluten-free, Dairy-free, sugar-free

2 medium mandarins (about 350 grams), 1 cup grated zucchini, 1 cup gluten-free white chocolate chunks (list of gluten-free chocolate here) OR omit chocolate OR substitute for your favourite nut OR dried apricots cut into fine dice, 1/2 cup of natvia or a sugar alternative, 1 and 1/2 cups of your favourite gluten-free self-raising flour (self-rising for my USA friends or 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 and 1/2 x teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt, sifted together), 1/2 cup almond meal, 125g (1/2 cup) of melted dairy substitute, 3 large eggs – lightly beaten

Note: Keep a half cup of flour handy in case your mixture is too wet. Gluten-free flours all differ slightly so it’s a good idea to be prepared. :)

Method:

To prepare the mandarins, place in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and then simmer one hour. Cool in pan.

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Slice open lengthways and remove seeds. You could use a spoon for this but I prefer clean fingers. That way you can feel any seeds that are hiding. Seeds make things bitter, so do your best to get them all. It’s an easy job. Pulse mandarins in a blender until smooth.

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Preheat your oven to moderate (160 degree celcius fan-forced or 180 degree oven – 350 degrees fahrenheit).

Grate your zucchini to give a generous cup full. Squeeze it lightly to press a little moisture out of it.

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Then add the zucchini and mandarin pulp to a large bowl and stir well.

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Fold through the other ingredients. The chocolate on top was added by my husband who thought that the recipe could use another handful. This is not including the additional handful that went straight in his mouth…

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Spoon into cupcake liners in prepared tins.

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Bake for twenty minutes or until a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean. Cakes will rise nicely, but will settle again once cooled.

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Leave in tins to cool completely. Cake will store well for one week. It also freezes well.

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Serve to friends, with cups of tea. Or eat while snuggled up on the couch watching old movies. I trialled both methods, and both were satisfactory!

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2014-10-16 15.33.32Note Bert’s hopeful face, as he lies beneath the table waiting for a cupcake to fall on his head…

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Easy Lemon Yoghurt Syrup Cake

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“Mma Ramotswe sighed. ‘We are all tempted, Mma. We are all tempted when it comes to cake.’

That is true,’ said Mma Potokwane sadly. ‘There are many temptations in this life, but cake is probably one of the biggest of them.”
~ Alexander McCall Smith, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

 

This is a cake that eats well on the first day it’s baked, and keeps eating well up to a week later. It’s a dense cake, like a lemony mud cake, but it isn’t heavy or overly rich. The lemon syrup gives the cake a zesty tang, and it’s the perfect cake for travelling. I baked this early on the morning I was going to my writers retreat, whipped it out of the oven, poured the syrup over it, wrapped the whole tin in foil and carried the fragrant and still hot cake up into the mountains.

It is delicious served warm, but for our four-day retreat I stored the cake in the fridge, and served it cold. There were no complaints!

This cake can easily be made gluten-free, by substituting your favourite gluten-free flour mix. Do use fresh lemons – they make all the difference.

Cake Ingredients:

250g soft butter, 3/4 cup caster sugar, 3 eggs, finely grated rind of two large lemons (about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons), 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 1 and 1/4 cups plain greek-style yoghurt, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1 and 1/2 cups self raising flour (self-rising for my USA friends or 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 and 1/2 x teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt, sifted together)

Syrup Ingredients:

1 and 1/3 cups caster sugar, 1/2 cup lemon juice, finely shredded zest of one large lemon

 

Method:

Preheat your oven to moderate (160 degree celcius fan-forced or 180 degree oven – 350 degrees fahrenheit).

Line a loaf tin (23cm x 12cm – 9 inch x 5 inch) with baking paper. (You can use a round or fluted tin if you prefer – just shorten the cooking time a little.)

 

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon rind together until creamy and light.

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Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Then add the remaining wet and dry ingredients and fold through gently with a spoon.

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Transfer the batter to a baking-paper lined loaf tin, and smooth the top.

Bake for around 60 minutes. Test for doneness by insert a skewer into the centre of the cake. If mixture still clings to the skewer bake a little longer.

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Check your cake after 40 minutes. If it is browning too fast place some foil on top of the cake to prevent it taking on any more colour. Don’t be too fussy with the foil, just place it gently over the top.

I was away from our farm and cooked this cake in a gas oven that is temperamental and doesn’t hold a consistent temperature, often getting too hot, or not quite getting up to temperature. Sigh. So I used foil (I usually don’t need it) and my cake also split slightly on top. Was that a drama? NO! It’s cake, people. It still looked lovely and tasted absolutely delicious. :)

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You can leave the cake in the pan if you are not serving it immediately. If you wish to serve while warm, wait ten minutes for cake to cool slightly and then remove from pan and place on serving plate.

Once the cake is out of the oven, make your syrup. Place the lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts. (Note: Don’t boil the syrup or it will end up tasting like marmalade and will loose its lovely zestiness!)

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Use a fine skewer and pierce holes all over the cake.

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Then pour at least half of the hot syrup over your still hot cake. I generally use all of it because I love syrupy cakes, but some of my friends prefer to keep some syrup aside in a little jug so that it can be poured onto the individual slices at serving time.

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Serve the cake in small slices, with a little cream, ice-cream or yoghurt on the side.

At the writers retreat we ate our cake with vanilla yoghurt, good coffee and lots of words.

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Here’s a piece of cake that I carried out under the wisteria in order to get a photo with natural light. I couldn’t help myself and ate some before I could even get a good shot!

The wind blew a couple of little flowers down onto my plate. I’d love to take credit for being so artful, but actually, it was nature, just doing its thing.

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Persian Love Cake Recipe #glutenfree

persian love cake

“You’ve got this life and while you’ve got it, you’d better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone’s hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people’s eyes like they’re the last you’ll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there’s no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it’s the only one left in the world!”
~ C. JoyBell C.

 

I wanted to make a special cake to mark my 30 Year Anniversary of having Lyme disease. I’m celebrating all that I have learned, all that I have survived, and all that is now unfolding in front of me. Plus… cake! Do you ever really need a reason?

This is a simple cake to make, but it looks and tastes fancy. Perfect for a celebration! It has those beautiful Persian spices – including cardamom and orange blossom – which give a distinctive exotic flavour, and it is gluten-free. The base is sugary crisp, and the filling is light and not too rich. With a few easy substitutions this cake can also be made dairy-free if needed.

If you don’t have orange blossom water, you can omit or substitute for rose-water. It will still taste delicious. You can buy orange blossom water at many supermarkets, delicatessens, Asian or Indian grocers and even health food stores.

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Ingredients:

3 cups of almond meal, 1 cup of raw (demerara) sugar, 1 cup of soft brown sugar – lightly packed, 1/2 cup (125g) soft unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 1 cup of natural yoghurt, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon orange blossom water, 1/2 cup pistachio nuts

1 x baking-paper lined 26cm springform (10 inch) pan.

Method:

Preheat oven to moderate (160 degree celcius fan-forced or 180 degree oven – 350 degrees fahrenheit). Prepare your cake tin.

Place the almond meal, sugars and butter in a large bowl.

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Rub the butter through the dry ingredients until it resembles soft crumbs.

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Press half of the crumb mixture firmly into the bottom of the springform pan. You could use the back of a spoon but I think that clean hands work just as well!

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Lightly beat the two eggs. Add the beaten eggs, spices, orange blossom water and yoghurt to the remaining crumb mix. Stir together well.

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Pour onto the crumb base. Sprinkle roughly chopped pistachios around the outside of the cake.

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Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cake will not be quite firm. That’s okay – it will firm up as it cools. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from tin.

To serve, accompany the Persian Love Cake with some more yoghurt or a good ice-cream.

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Variations: If you are following a dairy-free diet, this can also be made with a vegetable spread substitute for the butter. You could use a soy or coconut yoghurt too. I’ve made these variations before and they were still delicious, although the coconut yoghurt adds an additional flavour which changes the taste of the cake (but not in a bad way!)

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