dark chocolate pistachio torte

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If you follow me on Instagram you’d probably already be party to my big news of the month. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I adopted a tiny chocolate brown poodle x mini pinscher puppy (a ‘pinny poo‘) with golden eyes and a wispy grandpa beard.

Subsequently, our night life has transitioned from drinks with friends to pee puddles, gushing swoons (when he frets in his sleep, so cute) and copious amounts of mashed sweet potato (not entirely new, but this time with minced chicken and puppy biscuits). It’s been a beautiful learning experience, for both teeny pup and his proud new parents.

lokisleep lokiears

If you’re wondering what his name is, that admittedly took a day or two (I’m predicting a week of baby-without-a-name when Aaron and I make a human). We finally settled on Loki, more for its cuteness than mythology or semantics. It seems to suit him.

Names aside – I’ve come to a few realizations about pet ownership over the past three weeks. First and foremost, it’s much harder to cook with a puppy sitting on your feet. Secondly, it’s impossible to type when a puppy is gnawing on your keyboard; stern words and distraction techniques are required.

Thirdly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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icing

Anyway, chocolate brown puppies aside, let’s get back to the real purpose of this post. CAKE. Or rather, a recipe for dark chocolate and pistachio torte.

This dark, rich slab of heaven was baked as a birthday gift for a very special work friend of mine, Belinda. Despite many challenges of her own, this amazing woman has been a steadfast source of encouragement, support and grace throughout the past two years. I’m grateful that life brought us together.

Thanks Bels, for all you are and all you do.

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Strangely enough, I wrote notes whilst baking this cake (a scattered occurrence, to say the least). And just as well, as I’ve been asked for the recipe at least five times since the cake was baked.

So, a few nights ago I gathered my crumpled notes and typed out a semblance of a recipe. It’s dead easy, inspired by Nigella Lawson’s chocolate and pistachio fudge and a similar recipe of hers which I believe was published in her cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess (which I do not own, so admittedly the reference is vague).

This cake is deeply chocolatey, complex and densely moist. Ground pistachios add both texture and flavour to the cake batter, whilst orange blossom and dusky rose provide sweet fragrance to the rich, shiny ganache.

I hope you love it as much as we did.

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Dark Chocolate Pistachio Torte

Makes one 23cm round cake

  • 150g dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate
  • 150g raw caster sugar
  • 150g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm round springform cake tin, then set aside.

Place the pistachio nuts and caster sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture reaches a fine meal.

nuts meal

Melt together the butter and chocolate over a double boiler. When thick and glossy, remove from the heat and add to the processed nut mixture with a pinch of sea salt. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, ensuring they’re fully combined. Set aside.

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In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach firm peaks. Add a large spoonful of egg white to the chocolate mixture and vigorously fold in (you need to chocolate mixture to loosen).

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Add the loosened cake batter to the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently but firmly until no large patches of egg white remain. Pour the cake batter into your prepared tin.

Transfer into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until risen and firm when touched in the centre.

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Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then refrigerate for at least one hour before icing with ganache (recipe below).

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Orange Blossom Ganache

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 150ml thick cream
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • optional: 1-2 tbsp roasted, crushed pistachio nuts + 5-6 dried organic (unsprayed) rosebuds, crushed.

Melt the chocolate and cream together over a double boiler until smooth. Remove from the heat and add in the splash of orange blossom water. Keep mixing until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Cool slightly then pour or spread over your cooled cake. Use a palette or butter knife to smooth out any extra-thick patches.

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Sprinkle the edge of your cake with the pistachio and rose mixture, if using.

sidecu*Another big thanks to our dear friends Shawn and Erin for providing us with fresh, home-laid eggs from your chicken coop over the past few weeks. Seriously blessed <3

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spiced date and almond cigars with saffron honey

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Those of you who regularly read this blog would be aware of my long-standing obsession with Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s something to do with the fragrant mix of spices, delicate florals, bleeding saffron and the earthy crunch of nuts, occasionally punctuated by sweet bursts of pomegranate or quince. It’s breathtaking art, both on the plate and the palate. I doubt that my adoration will ever wane.

Recently, my love of Israeli food has translated to an obsession with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. Two months ago, I purchased both Plenty and Jerusalem; both have subsequently been pored over at least once per week. I’ve made a few of his vegetable recipes, from this green herb salad to an adapted version of braised artichokes with freekeh. However, prior to last weekend I was yet to attempt one of his fragrant desserts.

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pistachiosmpCue last Saturday. Aaron and I had invited some friends over for dinner in a ‘Moroccan feasting tent’ (a.k.a an abstract tent of sheets, blankets and rough twine that had initially been assembled for the entertainment of our nephew and nieces who had stayed over the previous weekend). Here’s a small snapshot of the ‘roof’:

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I lovingly planned the menu: slow cooked lamb in spices and preserved lemon, flatbread with za’atar, split pea dip, beetroot with labneh, marinated sweet peppers and roasted carrots with pistachios, pomegranate and mint.

After some consideration, I decided to attempt an adaptation of Ottolenghi’s sweet pastry cigars with almond and cinnamon filling for dessert.

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For personal reasons, I drastically reduced the sugar in Ottolenghi’s recipe, omitting the saffron icing and exchanging most of the sugar in the filling for chopped Medjool dates. When cooked, the dates formed a beautiful soft caramel that intermingled beautifully with the chopped nuts and spices.

Before serving with vanilla bean ice cream, I drizzled over some saffron and orange blossom infused raw honey, scattering over sweet crushed pistachios and dried rose petals.

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The finished dish was a beautiful marriage of textures, colours and flavours. Each bite provided the crunch of fried pastry, the soft complexity of the date and nut filling, sweet fragrant honey and floral rose petals.

We enjoyed the cigars alongside creamy vanilla bean ice cream, however for those of you who avoid dairy, these cigars are perfectly beautiful when eaten on their own. Their natural sweetness would be a perfect pick-me-up on a dreary afternoon.

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Spiced Date and Almond Cigars with Saffron Honey

Adapted from this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 8 large or 16 small cigar pastries

  • 40 g finely chopped walnuts
  • 60 g finely chopped almonds
  • 60g Medjool dates (about 4), stoned and chopped
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 20 g raw caster sugar
  • 75 ml water
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • 3 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 medium egg, separated
  • 16 filo pastry sheets (12 cm x 18 cm)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) sunflower oil (approximately), for frying

To serve:

  • 2 tbsp raw honey (I used Dean’s Bees unprocessed honey from Urban Locavore)
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp roasted, coarsely crushed pistachios
  • unsprayed dried rose petals (optional), crushed

Place the walnuts, almonds, dates, cinnamon, sugar, water and salt into a medium pan.

fillingpotGently heat over a low flame, stirring regularly for about four minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the dates have softened and broken down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Whisk in the lemon rind and the egg yolk (place the white into a small bowl, you will require it to roll the pastries) to create a thick, sticky mixture like this:

mixture

Set the filling aside. Place 1 filo pastry sheet onto a clean, dry surface with the longest edge facing you. Spread about three tsp of the nut mixture (15-20g) (about 3 tsp) in a long, thin strip along the edge closest to you (leave a 1cm gap on the right and left sides).

fillingspread

Fold the two sides in, sticking the pastry down over the paste to hold in the filling. Roll the pastry forwards (away from you) to create a compact cigar.

rollingBrush the last 1cm of the pastry with egg white, then fold to seal the end. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.

Pour enough oil into a medium, heavy based frying pan to reach 2cm up the side of the pan (note: I actually added much less oil that this and they cooked beautifully, so use your discretion). Heat to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f) or until a cube of bread sizzles and cooks, turning gently brown in about 20 seconds.

Gently add the cigars to the pan, in batches if necessary, cooking for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp all over (reduce the heat if they start to blacken or burn).

frying

Remove each cigar with a slotted spoon. Drain on some paper towels.

fried

To make the infused honey: gently heat the honey in a small saucepan over low heat until warm and fragrant. Turn off the heat and add in the pinch of saffron, leave for 5-10 minutes to infuse. Splash in a little orange blossom water to taste. Mix well.

Slice each cigar on an angle into two or three pieces to serve. Drizzle with infused honey and scatter with pistachios and rose petals, if desired.

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orange and almond cake with lavender and rose syrup

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I’ve never liked orange and almond cake. Despite being lauded as a ‘healthy’ alternative to calorie-laden treats such as brownies or cheesecake, it’s always tasted a bit like wet, orange-infused sawdust to me.

However, approximately two months ago I began contemplating the design of a ‘healthy cake recipe’ for my mother’s upcoming birthday celebration. Unlike me, she’s managed to completely escape the hereditary sweet tooth (mine is firmly embedded in my jaw) so her desserts of choice are usually fruit, nut or cheese based. If it came to the proverbial crunch, she’d choose carrot over chocolate cake, granola bars over brownies and zucchini bread over an ice-cream sundae. Every. Single. Time.

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So, knowing my mum’s preference for healthy, fruit-and-nut-based cake alternatives, I set to work on writing a recipe for orange and almond cake that both fit her criteria (healthy, not-too-sweet, fruity and nutty) and my criteria (sweet-enough, non-grainy and still-indulgent). Why orange and almond cake? Well, I’ve cooked various carrot cakes, healthy banana bread and honey chia muesli bars as a treat for mum many times before. I’ve also seen her enjoy this cake many times over during mother and daughter coffee-and-cake dates, so I knew it was part of her accepted dessert repertoire.

It seemed to tick all the boxes; except that most versions I’ve tried have been grainy and cloying, with a bitter aftertaste. Cue: paper, pen, laptop, snack (banana with peanut butter and sultanas; yum), drink (milk) and iTunes (see here for one of my favourite bands of the moment). By the next morning, I had a spiced up, Persian-inspired recipe for orange and almond cake in my hot little hands, plus a two-page birthday speech awaiting revision in Microsoft Word. Yikes.

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Fast forward two days. A crowd of 20+ friends and family stand in a grassy, tiered backyard under a borrowed beach umbrella. I’m standing next to my beautiful mother, speech in hand and lump in throat. The cake sits on a nearby table; orange, glossy with syrup and speckled with dots of vanilla bean. Beads of condensation run down a tub of cold, creamy mascarpone. Bubbling champagne dances in glasses around deep, dark Wild Hibiscus flowers.

The speech ends. I embrace my mother in a well-practiced hug, my heart swelling with pride, love and gratefulness for the woman she is: brave, strong, wise, intelligent, generous and loving. The crowd claps, mum speaks and then… well, it’s the moment of truth. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Or uh… cake, in this case.

cake

Lucky for me, my untested recipe proved to be quite the success; both by my mother’s taste buds (the most important taste buds, in this case) and by the testimony of her friends and colleagues. I’ve had many requests for the recipe (hence this recipe post) and after a second trial of my scribbled techniques (Mark II was inhaled by my colleagues in a matter of minutes) I can truly say that this cake is easy, delicious and not at all sawdust-like.

rosecrush

The batter for this cake was based on a recipe for flourless orange cake by Yin Tang (via Taste.com.au). I spiced it up with smooth vanilla and the warmth of cinnamon before adding some cornflour for texture and a dense, aromatic floral syrup for moisture and wow-factor. If you’ve always loved orange and almond cakes, you’ll love this amped-up, less grainy version of an old favourite.

If you’ve never liked orange and almond cakes (like me), well… give this recipe a go. It might change your mind.

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Orange and Almond Cake with Lavender and Rose Syrup

Makes one 22cm cake

Cake ingredients:

  • 2 organic, unwaxed oranges
  • 3 whole free-range eggs
  • 215g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 300g (3 cups) almond meal (make sure you have a little extra on hand… I’ll explain below)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp cornflour or plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Syrup ingredients:

  • 1 organic, unwaxed orange
  • 150g (3/4 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp organic, unsprayed lavender buds
  • 1/4 tsp crumbled organic, unsprayed dried rose petals (plus extra, to decorate)
  • a splash of orange blossom water (optional)

To bake the cake: Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm springform pan (you can use a fixed base pan but it’ll be much harder to remove your cake) then set aside.

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Place the oranges into a medium saucepan, then cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the oranges soften. Drain your pot, retaining the oranges. Re-fill the pot with fresh cold water then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until a knife slides through each orange easily (using a new batch of fresh water for the second boil will reduce the bitterness of the peel).

Drain the oranges, then refresh them under cold water. When they’re cool enough to handle, drain then chop them coarsely. Place your orange pieces and residual juice into the bowl of a medium food processor or blender, making sure to remove any seeds or large chunks of pith.

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Process until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool.

Place the eggs and caster sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk with an electronic beater until thick, glossy and pale. Add in your blended orange puree and mix well. Sift in your other ingredients: almond meal, baking powder, cornflour and spices. If there is any residual coarse almond meal left in your sieve, weigh it, and then discard it (you can use the coarse almond meal in homemade granola, muesli bars or other such things; sieving out coarse particles helps give the finished cake achieve a smooth, luscious texture). Replace the discarded meal with an equal quantity of fine, sieved almond meal (repeat above process if necessary).

mealsiftmontGently fold together all of the ingredients until just combined, then pour into your prepared pan. Smooth the surface of your cake, then tap the tin gently on a bench surface to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached (not sticky liquid). Set aside for 15 minutes to cool whilst you prepare your syrup, as below.

cakebatter

For the syrup: Use a zester or knife to remove the rind from your orange (I used a knife to remove long, even strips before running the knife blade along each strip to remove the remaining white pith. You can also follow this method with a vegetable peeler; slice your prepared rind into thin strips).

Place the rind into a saucepan with fresh, cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Drain well, then return to the saucepan (off the heat).

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Juice the orange. Add the juice to the saucepan with the prepared rind, adding in the caster sugar, vanilla bean (split the bean with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds out) and dried flowers. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes or until the sugar fully dissolves and the syrup thickens. Remove from the heat and add in a small splash of orange blossom water, if using (taste, then add more if required).

Allow  the syrup to stand for at least five minutes before pouring it over your cake.

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To soak your cake: Whilst you were making the syrup, your cake will have cooled and slightly sunk. Leaving it in its tin, gently prick holes all over the surface with a thin skewer.

If you’ve used a springform tin, place the tin over a wire rack with a plate or large bowl underneath to catch any syrup that escapes. Spoon over the warm floral syrup, then allow the cake to soak for at least 30 minutes (if using the springform tin and drip-catcher method, pour any syrup that’s dripped out of the tin back on to the surface of the cake).

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To serve: Carefully remove the cake from its tin and transfer it onto a serving plate. Decorate the edges with more crumbled rose petals, some lavender and either fresh, unsprayed lavender leaves or rosemary.

Cut into wedges and serve with a thick dollop of mascarpone, Greek yoghurt or sour cream.

rosemarycake

Notes:

  • Make sure you use good-quality, sweet oranges for this cake as despite the boiling process, some bitterness will end up in your finished cake batter. Poor quality oranges = less flavour in your finished cake. There’s no way around it.
  • Do not compromise with waxed oranges or fruit/flowers that have potentially been sprayed. You’re eating whole fruit and flowers in this cake. Any waxy rind will affect the finished texture and any potential chemicals will end up in your gut (never a good thing).
  • To make this cake completely gluten-free, omit the cornflour and ensure that you’ve purchased gluten-free baking powder. There’s no need to add a flour-replacement unless you really want to, as the cake holds together well. As I’m a gluten-eater, I just enjoy having a little flour in the mix to increase the density and ‘soften’ the texture of the almond meal.
  • Feel free to replace the orange blossom water in the syrup with some fragrant rose water if desired. Both are beautifully fragrant, but make sure that you’re sparing with the amount that you initially add (just a splash). You can always taste the syrup and add more if desired.
  • I’ve also made a version of this cake with simple orange syrup (omit the floral elements, retain the vanilla bean) before topping it with glossy pomegranate seeds, crushed, toasted pistachios and mint. Most classic Middle Eastern dessert flavours work quite well, so feel free to play around… you can even add a 1/4 tsp of ground cardamom to the batter for more of a spicy twist.

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Cake gone. Me sad (never thought I’d say that about sawdust cake, but… yep, I’m a convert. This will be a regular in our home from now on… I hope you enjoy it as much as we did).

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