food for thought

by michelle

Posts Tagged ‘almonds

tocinillo de cielo + almond and orange florentines

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My good friend Daniel Aguera introduced me to this traditional Spanish dessert. Although similar to a crème caramel, this rich custard is non-dairy and is made with only eggs, sugar and water. In the early 20th century, the wineries of Jerez de Frontera clarified their wines with egg whites. The left-over egg yolks were donated to the local nuns who created this magnificent dessert. The name translates to something like heaven’s little pig (or bacon).

As Spain is known for its almonds and oranges, these incredibly crunchy and delicious almond and orange florentines from Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi made the perfect accompaniment. 

For the custard I slightly adapted Daniel’s recipe. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350°F). Combine 100g (3½ oz) sugar and 100ml (3½ fl oz) of water in a small saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat until it becomes a deep amber colour. Keep an eagle eye on this caramel as it can burn. Remove it from the heat and quickly pour into the bottom of your baking dish. I used a rectangular dish and layered the caramel for serving. You can also make this in individual ramekins. In another small saucepan combine 300g (10½ oz) of sugar with 250ml (8½ fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar reaches 105º – 108ºC (220° – 225°F). If you don’t have a thermometer the cooled syrup should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile separate 8 eggs. In a large bowl, whisk the yolks plus 3 more whole eggs. Whisk in the cooled sugar syrup until well combined. Pour the mixture into the baking dish or ramekins. Place the baking dish into a larger dish and pour hot water into the outside dish making sure the water comes up the sides of the dish or ramekins and no water gets into the custard. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the custard is set. You will still see a slight jiggle in the custard when it is cooked. Carefully remove the custard from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. To serve, slide a sharp knife around the edge and invert onto a serving dish.

To make the almond and orange florentines lower your oven temperature to 150°C (300°F). Line an oven tray with baking paper and brush with a little oil. In a bowl combine 2 egg whites, 100g (3½ oz) of confectioners’ sugar, 260g (9¼ oz) of sliced almonds and the grated zest of 1 orange. When the ingredients are well mixed wet your hand and place portions of the mix in little mounds on the lined tray, flattening them a little and making sure they have some space between them. Bake for about 12 minutes or until they are golden brown and cooked through. Allow them to cool completely before removing from the baking tray with a spatula. They will keep for 4-5 days in an air-tight container.


Written by michelle picker

August 14, 2019 at 12:14 am

almond and apricot pastry

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Eve made this ensaïmada, a pastry which hails from Mallorca. Traditionally made with a lot of pork lard (saiïm in Catalan) this version, from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, uses only 100g (3½ oz) of butter. I’ve never tasted the original version but this one was moist and delicious and a fitting finale for a Spanish meal.

Before you start, soak 50g (1¾ oz) of chopped muscatel or other raisins in 3 tablespoons of orange liquor for half an hour. Preheat your oven to 200ºC (390ºF). In a mixer beat 100g (3½ oz) of diced room-temperature unsalted butter with 150g (5⅓ oz) of caster sugar until light, airy and pale in colour. Lightly whisk 2 eggs and add them a little at a time. If the mixture starts to look split, add a bit of flour to bring it back together. Add 40g (1.4 oz) of almond meal, 70g (2½ oz) of plain flour and ¼ of a teaspoon of salt. Beat just until everything comes together. Now remove the stones from 4 apricots and dice them. Fold them into the mixture by hand along with the raisins and alcohol, the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon and 40g (1.4 oz) of flaked almonds. Set aside. Dust your work surface with a little flour and roll some store-bought puff pastry into a rectangle 50cm long, 30cm wide and 2-3 millimetres (0.1″) thick. Cut it into two rectangles, both measuring 15cm x 50cm. Spread the almond paste thinly over both of the pastry rectangles, leaving a border along one long edge on each. Gently roll the longest edge over itself and roll the whole sheet into a long sausage, the seam facing down. Using a baking tray lined with baking paper, place one end in the centre of the tray and wrap around into a coil shape, leaving a slight gap in the centre. Fold the end underneath the coil to seal it shut, brushing with a little egg to help it stick. Repeat the same process with the 2nd pastry rectangle. At this stage you can make 2 separate pastries but Eve opted to add the second to the first to make one larger pastry. Use another 3 apricots, stones removed and cut as desired, to decorate. The traditional decoration is a flower at the centre but ours had apricot wedges dotted around the entire coil and was decorated with extra flaked almonds. Brush the pastry with a beaten egg and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Bake for 8 minutes before reducing the oven heat to 170ºC  (340ºF). Continue to bake for another 45 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown. Cool on a wire rack, dust with icing sugar and brush the apricots with some runny honey before serving warm or at room temperature.

Written by michelle picker

February 6, 2019 at 12:06 am

almond and strawberry trifle

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On the first Tuesday of November, everything in Australia (and particularly Melbourne) stops for the Melbourne Cup, a prestigious annual thoroughbred horse race. Everyone dresses up for the occasion and hats or fascinators are almost compulsory. For those who don’t go to the races it’s a great excuse for a party, usually involving sweeps on the races of the day. This dessert was perfect for our Spring Carnival celebrations. Easy to make ahead and transport and a perfect combination of decadence and freshness.

Take an 8″ (20cm) square pound or madeira cake and cut it into thin slices, leaving them out to dry for an hour or two. Meanwhile make your custard. Whisk 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1½ tablespoons of cornflour (cornstarch) and 3 egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Carefully whisk in 2½ cups of milk in a thin stream. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat, whisk in 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and allow it to cool. Meanwhile mix strawberry jam with lemon juice to taste. This cuts the sweetness and makes it a little thinner and easier to spread. When you’re ready to assemble, spread the jam onto ⅔ of the cake slices and make triple sandwiches. Cut the sandwiches into cubes and arrange or scatter them into your serving bowl. Coarsely crumble 1 cup of amaretti biscuits and scatter them amongst the pieces of cake. Drizzle with 1 cup of Marsala and then pour the cooled custard over everything. Now whip 2 cups of cold whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar and continue to whip until stiff. Pipe or spoon the cream onto the trifle. Cover and chill at least overnight or up to 3 days. When you’re ready to serve decorate the trifle with a lot of fresh strawberries and some toasted sliced almonds.

*adapted from a recipe in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Written by michelle picker

December 13, 2017 at 12:08 am

chicken with cardamom rice + spinach salad with dates

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Two fragrant dishes from JERUSALEM by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

This one-pot chicken and rice dish is wonderfully spiced, rich with caramelised onions, tangy with barberries and fresh with herbs.


First put 2-3 tablespoons of sugar into a small saucepan with an equal amount of water and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, add 25g (less than 1 oz)  of dried barberries and set aside to soak. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large sauté pan which has a lid. Fry 2 finely sliced onions over medium heat until quite brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. For this recipe you can either cut a whole chicken into pieces or use portions. Place them in a bowl and season well with 1½ teaspoons of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 10 bruised cardmom pods, 2 broken cinnamon quills, ½ a teaspoon of whole cloves and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mix well with your hands. Heat the pan again and sear the chicken pieces on each side for a few minutes then remove from the pan. Now add 300g (10½ oz) of basmati rice to the pan along with the caramelised onions, the strained barberries, 1 teaspoon of salt and more freshly ground black pepper. Stir well then push the chicken pieces into the rice. Pour in 550ml (18½ fl oz) of boiling water then cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and quickly replace with a tea towel or paper towels under it. Allow to stand for a further 10 minutes. Garnish with 15g (½ oz) of chopped herbs consisting of equal parts parsley, dill and coriander (cilantro).

This baby spinach salad with dates and almonds has a wonderful balance of fresh, tart, sweet and crunchy elements.


In a small bowl combine ½ a finely sliced red onion, 100g (3½ oz) of pitted and quartered Medjool dates, a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Mix well and allow to marinate for 20 minutes. Meanwhile heat 1½ tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a fry pan. Add approximately 100g (3½ oz) of torn pita bread and 75g (2½ oz) of roughly chopped whole almonds. Cook, stirring, until the pita pieces are crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons of sumac, ½ a teaspoon of chilli flakes and ¼ of a teaspoon of salt. Set aside to cool. When ready to serve, place baby spinach leaves, the pita and almonds and the drained dates and onions in a salad bowl. Add a little olive oil, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and some salt to taste. Toss and serve immediately.

Written by michelle picker

September 13, 2016 at 6:12 am

almond honey spread

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Moroccan amlou is a spread (much like peanut butter) made of almonds, honey and argan oil which is generally eaten on bread for breakfast.


Argan oil, which is apparently quite nutty in flavour, is endemic to Morocco and, I discovered, hard to find and very expensive in Australia! I opted for a version without it. If you love friands, almond criossants, frangipane or marzipan then this is for you. Combine 1 cup of finely ground almonds (with or without skins), 1 tablespoon of good fragrant honey, a few drops of bitter almond oil or essence and 2 tablespoons of oil. I used grape seed oil (which has very little flavour) and added a little more bitter almond to taste. Other nut oils such as macadamia or walnut would work too. Mix well and add enough extra oil to make a good spreadable consistency.

Written by michelle picker

February 15, 2016 at 6:03 am

Posted in breakfast

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prawns in almond sauce + mexican rice

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Nuts have been used to enrich sauces in Mexican cooking since Pre-Columbian times. Peanuts, or cacahuate, are thought to be indigenous to South America and were widely cultivated in Mexico. Almonds were introduced into the cuisine later, after the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century. This way of cooking prawns (shrimp) is quite simple and absolutely delicious.


Soak 1 dried ancho chilli in boiling water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile finely chop 1 onion and 3 cloves of garlic. Heat some oil in a saucepan and cook the onions and garlic over low heat until soft. Peel 8 fresh tomatoes by cutting a cross in the bottom of each tomato and pouring boiling water over them. After 3 minutes the skin should peel off easily. Dice and add them to the onions. Scrape and discard the seeds in the soaked chilli, chop it roughly and add to the saucepan along with 1 teaspoon of ground cumin. Cook for 10 minutes then place in a food processor, add ½ a cup of chicken stock and process until smooth. In a large saucepan combine the sauce with 1 cup of almond meal and ½ a cup of sour cream and stir over low heat for a few minutes. Squeeze in the juice of ½ a lemon and season to taste with salt. Bring to a simmer and add 1 kg (2 lbs) of shrimp, allowing them to cook in the sauce.

Serve the prawns with this Mexican style rice.


Finely dice an onion and cook in a little corn oil until wilted. Add 1½ cups of long-grain rice and heat through, stirring occasionally. Add 3 cups of hot chicken stock, 1 can of drained black beans, 1 cup of corn kernels and salt to taste. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh herbs.

And finally a Mexican vinaigrette for a fresh salad.


Combine 2 parts corn oil with 1 part white wine vinegar. Add some grated garlic, a pinch each of ground allspice (pimento) and ground bay leaf, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, some fresh thyme and salt to taste.

Written by michelle picker

January 22, 2016 at 5:51 am

rhubarb purée, rhubarb ice cream and honey toasted almonds

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Inspired by some magnificent rhubarb from my local market.


To make the rhubarb purée wash and trim the rhubarb and chop it into 3cm (1″) lengths. The 2 bunches I bought weighed 1.35kg (3 lbs). Place in a saucepan with ½ a cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. This will result in a not very sweet purée which balances well with the sweet ice cream and nuts. If you prefer it sweeter just add more sugar. Cook over low heat until the rhubarb is falling apart. Remove from the heat and add 4-5 teaspoons of rosewater then set it aside to cool. Meanwhile make the ice cream (once again using the base recipe from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer). Measure 2 cups of milk. Take out 2 tablespoons of the milk and make a slurry with 4 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch). Heat the remainder in a saucepan with 1¼ cups of heavy cream, ½ of a cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of honey and 2 tablespoons of glucose (in Australia I use this in place of light corn syrup). Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour in the cornflour slurry. Stir, return to the heat and allow to thicken. In another bowl whisk 3 tablespoons of softened cream cheese with ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt. Pour in the hot milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Place the bowl in an ice bath and whisk occasionally until cool. Now take 1 cup of the rhubarb and process in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add it to the ice cream mixture (if you prefer a pinker ice cream add a drop or 2 of red food colour) and churn in an ice cream machine, sorbetière or over ice and salt. To make the honeyed almonds melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of honey. Mix in 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar and ¼ of a teaspoon of salt. Toss 1 cup of flaked almonds in this mixture and spread onto a baking tray. Bake in a moderate oven, turning occasionally until they are golden brown and sizzling. They will become crisp when cooled.

Written by michelle picker

May 31, 2015 at 5:54 am

Posted in cakes & desserts

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