Classic Christmas Fruitcake

It's officially Christmas season and hence totally acceptable to make, eat and post about Christmas treats. Or maybe too late already? Either way, I'm doing it. And this one is just about as classic as you can get - a festive fruitcake wrapped in homemade marzipan!

I'm currently sitting on my couch, wrapped up comfy pants and watching snow ever so gently falling from in the sky. Believe or not, this is the first proper snow I've ever experience in London (and my fifth winter here!). I've seen several such snowy days in Cambridge and seen glimpses of snow here in London, but nothing like today. I guess this Christmas-y post was meant to be.

My day began with stacks of homemade greek yogurt pancakes (recipe for these will come soon!) with allll the toppings: homemade mixed berry compote, pure maple syrup, crunchy peanut butter, sliced banana and fresh blueberries. In other words, a snowy Sunday breakfast of dreams. This was then followed by a few hours of life admin (I know ya'll get me) and a trip to a gorgeous restaurant for lunch. Basically, it's been a cozy day filled with lotsa good food (and more to come because it's the little sis' birthday so tonight will end with cake!) and well, the perfect Sunday.

And yes, I know you're thinking it - where have I been for the last two months? Trust me, I've been here, making and eating lots of nice things, but just never really getting around to photographing or posting about them *insert monkey covering its eyes emoji here*.

Okay anyways, I think it's time we get back to the talk of the day: Christmas cake.

Now, this recipe does require some pre-planning, so take that into account. In fact, if you're looking to make this for Christmas day, you're reading this at just about at the right time. I've dubbed this the -one-week Christmas cake recipe. Some call for soaking your fruit for just a couple of hours while other recommend baking the cake several weeks or even months in advance and "feeding" with extra liquid regular. This one is just in between - you soak the fruit for a week, but once baked, it's kind of just ready to go the next day.

It's rich, but not too heavy. Boozy, but not too strong. Fruity, but not too sweet. It's simple and perfect.

I will now and forever always be a chocolate girl at heart, so a couple of servings of Christmas cake during the festive period is enough and I've just about lost my attention. But those couple of servings -  enjoy them from beginning to the last crumb. I'm very into eating with the seasons and for different occasions!

Long story short - if Christmas cake is your jam, then get cracking on this recipe.

For the cake:
350g mixed dried fruit (currants, sultanas, cranberries and mixed peel)
100g glace cherries, halved
75g dried apricots, chopped into smaller bits
30g additional mixed peel (I really like it hence added more)
150ml brandy, sherry or rum
juice and zest of 1 orange
3 eggs, at room temperature
175g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark muscovado sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the marzipan:
250g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
juice of one lemon
splash of vanilla extract
almond extract, optional (I didn't use this as I didn't feel the need for any extra almond-y flavour and just wanted the natural flavour to shine)

A week before you plan on making the cake, place all the dried fruit (including cherries, apricots and additional mixed peel in a large mixing bowl or airtight container), pour over the liquor of choice and orange juice and stir in the orange zest. Cover and leave to soak in the fridge, stirring daily. If the fruit at any point seems to have soaked up all the liquid, add a tad more juice or liquor and check again the next day.

On baking day, line a 9 inch round tin with greaseproof baking paper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 140°C.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs and beat again. Sift in the flour, salt and ground spices and mix well. Fold in the soaked fruit, first having drained off any excess liquid.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for an hour then turn the cake around and bake for a further 30 to 45 minutes or until the cake is a rich golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top is browning too quickly and the inside is not yet done, cover the cake/pan with foil and keep baking until done.

Meanwhile, start on the marzipan. Pour all the ingredients into a food processor and mix just until they just well combined and form a ball. Knead further with your hands if necessary, but be extra careful not to over-process or over-mix, because you don't want the almonds to turn into a sticky paste (i.e. almond butter).

Wrap the ball in cling film and place in the fridge to set until the cake is ready to cover.

Once the cake is done, let it cool in the pan until completely cool. This is absolutely essential, otherwise, the marzipan will just melt into the cake.

Once you are sure the cake is cool, it is time for the final assembly. Pull the marzipan out of the fridge and roll it out until it is about half a centimeter thick. Wrap the sheet of marzipan on the cake and press down just a bit so the marzipan just sticks. Cut any extra bits off and save for snacking or decorating.

If you can hold off, I promise it tastes better the next day, but if you're like me and find it hard to hold back, then you know what, go for it!



Toasted Cashew Walnut Butter

There are only a few things in life that got me as excited as this did. It was truly a joyous moment.

Trust me, I had tried several times before.

If you've been following me since the beginning, you'll even know I once posted a recipe for cinnamon almond butter. Trust me - it was NOT cinnamon almond butter. If I had to call it something, I'd say it was a "gritty almond spread that was seized up with the addition of milk and honey with a dash of cinnamon"... Pleasant, right? Not. I have no idea what it was or why I thought it was recipe-worthy. Don't worry, the recipe post is long gone.
This stuff, on the other hand, is liquid crack. I could (and do!) eat it by the spoonful. It tastes amazing, is packed full of healthy fats and is devoid of any nasty additives. The natural sweetness of the cashews pairs so well with the slight bitterness of the walnuts and the sea salt just takes everything to the next level.

I've been loving eating it with a sliced banana or apple, dolloping it on top of oatmeal, slathering it onto chocolate and well, straight up spooning it out of the jar (as I said above...).

If you're a nut butter fiend like me, I really don't know what you're waiting for.

1⁄3 cups raw unsalted cashews - broken ones or pieces work perfectly!
½ cup raw walnut halves - same goes for the walnuts
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp or tbsp of melted coconut oil (optional and probably unnecessary, but do use if your butter isn't coming together)
+ a bit of patience and faith

While it is not necessary to toast the nuts, I felt it really enhanced their flavour and allowed for a quicker transition to a smooth butter. Turn on your oven to 160°C and place the nuts on a tray in the oven. Toast the nuts for around 10 minutes, or until golden brown, watching carefully as nuts can burn quickly. Remove from the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes, or until just slightly warm.

Once cooled, pour the toasted nuts into a blender or food processor. Process/blend on high in two- to three-minute intervals. The nuts will go from whole to smaller bits to a flour to a sticky blob and finally into a butter. Be. Patient. It will happen. Just trust the process. For the first several minutes, you'll be very sceptical, but just wait it out. 

Two important points:

  1. Be sure to give your blender/processor a break every few minutes to avoid it from overheating. 
  2. If it's really not coming together after 10-12 minutes of processing time, then go ahead and add the tsp or tbsp of coconut oil - just a touch of liquid will help. Don't get tempted to add any water-based liquid like milk or the like, as this and the fats in the nuts will further separate the nut butter!

Once the nut butter reaches an almost smooth butter, like in the picture above, it's time to add the salt. Add it, then process for a minute or two further if you want it pretty much perfectly smooth. And ta-da - there you have it. The most incredible nut butter ever.

Because it is homemade and free of additives, I would be sure to store this in an airtight jar or container in the fridge to prevent it from going rancid. It should last for up to a month, but who are you kidding... It'll be gone well before that. Enjoy!


Chocolate Cardamom Bundt Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Pistachios

Mouthful, isn't it? If you have no idea what I'm referring to, go (re-)read the title of this post. A delicious mouthful, that's for sure. 

I was having a couple of friends over a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to bake them dessert. But it's not as simple as that. Well, not for me, at least. You see, I think quite long and hard about these things (okay not so long and hard, but just go with it for dramatic effect). 

I had to make something that a) I wanted because I'd be the one single-handedly eating any leftover as the fam was out of town (no complaints here, by the way!), b) was chocolatey because duh, c) but was not too simple because I like adding a bit of flair and d) was not super involved or difficult to make like layer cakes can often be.

Then it hit me - a bundt cake. They look stunning, require minimal effort and are just the perfect dessert shape. So progress had been made: a chocolate bundt. But I wasn't happy just yet. A chocolate ganache/glaze seemed like the perfect simple topping. I wanted something to contrast with it. Something crunchy and that was visually popping. Sprinkles? Nuts? Chocolate curls? I rummaged around my pantry and found a winner: pistachios! There was one last decision to be made - should I spice up the chocolate base with anything? I was thinking a spice to complement the pistachios and fell in love with the idea of cardamom. And thus, the idea of this cake was born.

If you made it through the paragraphs on what inspired this cake, I applaud you. If not, then don't worry. Just keep scrolling and make it!

I think it's simply wrong to call cakes "healthy" (in quotations because I've realised that there's no one definition of healthy to begin with), so rather I'll just say I made some tweaks to a very traditional, indulgent chocolate cake recipe and swapped out some ingredients for lighter or less refined ones. Healthy or nah, I leave it up to you.

What I don't leave up to you is the fact that this cake is scrumptious, gorgeous and effortless.

Oh, and if you were wondering, it was a hit with my friends!

For the cake
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2⁄3 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
½ cup unrefined sugar
1⁄3 cup coconut oil, soft but not melted
2 eggs
¼ cup honey
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1⁄3 cup dark chocolate chips

For the ganache & topping

100 g chocolate - I used about 75 g dark chocolate (75-80%) and 25 g milk chocolate
¼ cup whole milk or cream
1⁄3 cup pistachios, chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Generously brush a bundt cake tin with coconut oil. If you don't have a bundt pan, fear not - this can easily be made in a brownie pan, standard circular cake tin or even a loaf tin if you wish.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix in the cardamom.

In a separate medium bowl, beat together the coconut oil and sugar until well incorporated. Then, beat in the eggs until the mixture is light and fluffy, yet thick. It should form ribbons as it falls.

Add in the honey, yogurt and vanilla and beat again.

Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Mix until just incorporated, as overmixing will lead to a dry, dense cake.

Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and tap down to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  

Cool the cake in its tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once the cake has cooled completely (VERY important otherwise the ganache won't set!), prepare the ganache. I actually didn't have any cream on hand, so ended up using whole milk instead and it turned out wonderfully, so I guess either will work!

Melt the chocolate and milk together over a double boiler. Once most of the chocolate has melted, take the mixture off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes. In this time, the remaining chocolate will melt. 

Let the mixture cool and thicken slightly. Once the ganache has come to room temperature, or pretty much thereabouts, pour it on the cake and let it drizzle down the sides and middle naturally. Sprinkle on the chopped pistachios.

The cake is ready to serve now or in a couple of hours. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and warm up ever-so-slightly before eating again. I really enjoyed eating this warmed up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of natural chocolate hazelnut butter. Go big or go home, eh?

You don't even need me to say it, but enjoy!!


One Banana, One Bowl: Small Batch Banana Walnut Muffins

Ever suddenly crave a specific baked good? Always.  Ever feel like you don't really want to end up eating a whole batch of said baked good? Sometimes.  Ever realise you don't have enough ingredients to make a whole batch to begin with? Often. 

Solution? These small batch banana walnut muffins!

Late one Sunday evening, I was really craving banana walnut muffins and I knew I had to have them for breakfast the next morning. There were two things throwing me off, though. First, I was going to be the only one in the house for the next ten days. Sure, I could give the "extra" muffins to friends or the like, but I am just so used to sharing my freshly baked goods with the family that it just wasn't feeling right. Second, I looked in my fruit bowl to see just one spotty lonesome banana sitting there. Yup, just one. Definitely not enough for a whole tray of muffins.

I guess this only meant one thing - these small batch banana walnut muffins!

Are you seeing a pattern yet?

If not, let me spell it out for you. These small batch banana walnut muffins are the answer to your problems. Trust me.

I threw together the batter in a matter of ten minutes, put them in the oven, ran to take a quick shower and came back out to the warming and comforting smell of banana bread permeating through the house.

Also, I had seen muffins and breads being eaten this way on Instagram and on other food blogs, but never once did I feel the urge to spread a muffin with thick creamy yogurt and some nut butter. Or at least until the morning I ate these muffins I didn't. But the Monday morning I ate these (yes, I ate two), I caved. I took spoonfuls of Greek yogurt and natural almond butter and put them onto the muffin before taking each bite. Life. Changing. Just imagine it - chunky banana nutty muffins, cool yogurt and rich nut butter? A combo from the heavens, I tell ya.

Whether or not you're into the nut butter + yogurt + muffin combo (not sure why you wouldn't be!), I can assure you you'll be into these muffins. They're literally made from everyday breakfast ingredients, so they 100% qualify as breakfast (or snack or dessert, of course!).
Makes 2 large or 3 medium muffins
½ cup oat flour
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 medium ripe banana
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white almond butter (or any nut butter of your choice)
1 heaped tsp coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp pure maple syrup
a handful of raw walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a muffin tin with two or three muffin liners and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, mash the banana. Next, whisk in the egg. Then add the vanilla, almond butter, coconut oil, yogurt and maple syrup and whisk again.

Put the dry ingredients - oat flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt - in the same bowl and mix everything until just combined. Fold in most of the chopped walnuts, saving a few for sprinkling on top.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin liners. Sprinkle any remaining walnuts on top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Eat warm with a pat of butter or wait for them to cool and slather with yogurt & nut butter and devour the goodness.

Either (or whatever) way, enjoy!