Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing
My fiancé has been asking me to make this cake ever since I obtained Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet years ago. The recipe in the book is called dark aniseed cake, but I substituted the aniseed for fennel seeds as suggested in the recipe, hence the different name of dark fennel seed cake. I stuck to the recipe for pretty much everything else, and ended up with one of the most surprising, delicious cakes I’ve had in some time.

There were a few new ideas for me to grapple with in this cake – especially using spelt flour and baking with fennel seeds – and I also had to use a round tin instead of a square one as stated in the recipe, because my square tin wasn’t deep enough. So, there was plenty that could have gone wrong (especially as it calls for ale, which meant I had to drink what I didn’t use…)!

Happily, the only thing that went wrong was the consistency of the icing (made with orange zest and juice), which was a bit too runny and slopped over the sides rather messily, hence the lack of a photo of the entire cake. But runny icing really doesn’t matter when you have a delicious cake that manages to combine the liquorice flavours of fennel seeds and treacle with the fruitiness of prunes and orange, topped off with the comforting heft of the spelt flour.

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing

Let’s admire my Wonder Woman mug for a minute…

We honestly couldn’t stop eating this cake. It’s such a good autumn cake thanks to the spicy flavours, but it’s a world away from your normal ginger or fruit cake. I would really recommend this recipe if you love autumnal flavours in your baking, but want to try something a little bit different!

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Chilli paneer

Chilli paneer
Ok, so this is clearly not a baking effort, but I made this chilli paneer for the first time last week and was rather chuffed with how it turned out, and a friend asked me to post the recipe, so here it is!

If you’re not familiar with paneer, it’s one of the few cheeses that originate in India and is similar to halloumi in firmness and texture, but with a milder taste. I believe chilli paneer is actually based on Chinese cooking, which is quite an intriguing fusion! It’s a hugely popular dish where the paneer is cubed and cooked with tomatoes, peppers, copious amounts of chilli and the not-so-secret ingredient of tomato ketchup.

I’m a big fan of my mum’s chilli paneer, but as she doesn’t do recipes, I had to make it up as I went along. I found a recipe online that I used a couple of ideas from, but the rest is based on my own instincts as a now-experienced maker of Gujarati curries. It turned out pretty much the same as my mum’s chilli paneer, which I’m very pleased about! Be warned, though – my recipe is very spicy!

There’s not a lot of sauce with this curry, so it’s best eaten with naan bread or chapatis (see my recipe for chapatis and chickpea curry, which you could also serve as part of an Indian feast) rather than rice. Paneer is now widely available in supermarkets (I get mine from Tesco) and also from Indian grocers/cash and carries, so you should hopefully be able to find it pretty easily – or you can make your own.

Enjoy!

Chilli paneer recipe

Vegetarian
Serves 2; easily doubled

  • 2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g paneer, cubed
  • 4 tbsp cornflour
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 thin green chillies, finely chopped (use less if you don’t want it very spicy – 1 chilli will still be quite hot)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp turmeric
  • 1 pepper, chopped (I like to use a mixture of colours)
  • 2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • splash of soy sauce
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 0.5 tsp ground cumin
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • naan or chapatis (recipe), to serve

Method:

  1. Toss the paneer in the cornflour and half a teaspoon of the red chilli powder.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan. Cook the coated paneer over a medium heat until brown, stirring occasionally. This should take 5-10 minutes. Set the cooked paneer aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil. Add the cumin seeds and black mustard seeds and cook over a low to medium heat until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion and peppers and cook until softened.
  4. Add the chillies, garlic, ginger, remaining half a teaspoon of red chilli powder and turmeric. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the cooked paneer and stir. Cook for 10 minutes.
  7. Stir in the tomato ketchup, soy sauce, garam masala and ground cumin, then mix in the coriander and take off the heat. Season with salt to taste and serve.

Coconut and cardamom barfi

Coconut and cardamom barfi
As you or may not know, we had Diwali and the start of the new Hindu year earlier this week. For the first time in a few years, I couldn’t take the day off to go to the temple with my mum, so I settled upon trying my hand at making Indian sweets for the first time courtesy of an easy-looking recipe for coconut and cardamom barfi.

Indian sweets (also known as mithai) are notorious for their richness and sweetness thanks to the copious amounts of sugar and dairy that go into them. They definitely are the Marmite of Indian cooking – most people either adore them or can’t stand them. Needless to say, having grown up with Indian sweets being wheeled out for every celebration and occasion you can think of, I absolutely love them!

Sweet-making is a bit of a fine art, so I thought I’d make just one type of Indian sweet and concentrate on perfecting it. I found this recipe for coconut and cardamom barfi (or burfi, if you prefer not to think about a certain bodily process when stuffing yourself full of sweets) on the Guardian website, and thought it looked like a good entry-level recipe.

Of course, things didn’t go quite to plan! As you can see from the photo above (the only one I took, sorry!), the sweets turned out a bit crumbly, when the texture is supposed to be slightly soft and hold together as a result. Unfortunately, I overcooked the cream and sugar syrup – I wanted to be cautious and keep the syrup on as low a heat as possible to avoid burning, but when it still hadn’t got to the thread stage after 10 minutes, I turned the heat up to speed things up a bit… for a bit too long.

I did use a thermometer halfway through to make sure I had the right temperature (one website informed me that I was looking for somewhere near the 110C mark), but either it didn’t work or the website was wrong!

I persevered anyway, as I knew the sweets would at least taste good even if they didn’t look quite right. And they did! I used fresh cardamom from the pod that I ground in a spice grinder rather than use ready-made cardamom powder, which I think intensified the flavour nicely against the sweet coconut.

I would definitely try this again now that I have a good idea of where I went wrong. I’d like to experiment with different flavours, especially almond, pistachio and rose, so stay tuned for next Diwali…!

Spiced oat thins

Spiced oat thinsI really am on an autumnal baking kick at the moment! I couldn’t quite let go of my spices after the rye apple and cinnamon cake I posted about last time, so I decided to knock up these spiced oat thins from Ruby Tandoh’s book, Crumb, one lazy Sunday afternoon.

This recipe (which I can’t find online, unfortunately, hence the lack of a link) contains an impressive list of spices, but they should be things that are in the cupboard anyway if you bake fairly regularly. The biscuits contain cloves, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper – nothing too exotic, but combined, they make for a rather spectacular flavour.

Spiced oat thins
The biscuits were really easy to make – you just melt unsalted butter, golden syrup and dark brown sugar in a pan, before stirring in the spices and then the plain flour and rolled oats. And that’s it!

The recipe says it makes 18 spiced oat thins, but I got a bit more out of the mixture, which is always nice. They should spread a fair bit in the oven, but I found this wasn’t consistent across all of the thins, which is probably due to my oven having areas that are hotter than others.

Spiced oat thins
These really were delicious – they reminded me a bit of parkin, but in biscuit form! The chewy yet crispy texture is lovely, and goes perfectly with a cup of tea. The spices come through very well – and they also make the house smell rather nice when they’re in the oven. This would be a great bake for (dare I say it) Christmas, or just any time of the year, really. It’s worth getting hold of Ruby’s book for this recipe alone!