The recipe I have for you this week is more a set of guidelines that can be adapted to whatever takes your fancy or whatever you have to hand in the cupboards.
These individual cakes were inspired by a picture I saw of a Swiss cake, the Zuger Kirchetorte, which looked delightfully neat and elegant, as one might expect of the Swiss. I tried several recipes, but became increasingly frustrated by my own ham-fistedness in reproducing the elegance: the sponge was too thick, or the meringue too thin, or too soft or too fragile. In addition, it had a LOT of alcohol in it, which is nice for a special occasion but a bit much during daylight hours.
So I abandoned that idea for something smaller, which owes its composition to the Zuger Kirchetorte, but is also much more adaptable: you can dress it up or down, depending on whatever is to hand, even improvise with ready-made components if time or patience is short.
Essentially, these individually-sized cakes are sandwiches, with a dacquoise (hazelnut meringue) as the ‘bread’ and sponge cake as the ‘filling’, all stuck together and decorated with the sandwich ‘glue’ of your choice. The look substantial, but are very light to eat.
The possibilities for variation are endless:
- Meringue: I’ve used a hazelnut dacquoise but you could swap those out for pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts. You could even use plain meringue, or meringue shells from the supermarket. Alongside this, you can choose to flavour the meringues by adding in freeze-dried fruit powder to complement your other ingredients.
- Sponge: literally any sponge will do, plain vanilla, rich madeira, moist almond, fatless, genoise, joconde, flavoured however you like.
- Syrup: to make your sponge luscious and tender, you can soak it in a syrup of some kind. If you don’t want to have too many flavours, then a simple sugar syrup of half sugar, half water is fine. Or you can add flavouring to the syrup such as coffee, tea infusions, fruit juices, spirits such as Kirch, Maraschino, Disaronno, mead, madeira, rum, brandy, etc.
- Filling: I’ve used a dark chocolate ganache, to be honest, because I had some in the fridge left over from something else, but milk, white and caramelised are all good choices too, as are all flavours of buttercream. For simplicity, you can also use chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter (smooth or crunchy), spekuloos spread, even thick, smooth jams or fruit spreads.
- Garnish: for the outsides of the cake, something that will stick on easily and match your other flavour choices. I chose nibbed and toasted hazelnuts, because I used them in the dacquoise, but you could use flaked or slivered nuts, feuilletine, crumbled biscuits, freeze-dried fruit, chocolate sprinkles, meringue crumbs, chocolate shards.
I used baking rings made from small tinned food tins (5cm diameter tins from mushy peas, in case you’re wondering) opened at both ends, but these quantities will also make one large, 24cm cake if you prefer.
Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes
Makes 8 individual sandwiches or 1 large 24cm cake.
For the Sponge
You can choose your own favourite sponge recipe if preferred. This fatless sponge recipe also happens to be gluten-free.
2 large eggs
60 g of caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp hot water
50 g Green & Black’s cocoa
30 g of cornflour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Grease and line your tin(s) with baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
- Sift the cocoa and cornflour together.
- Whisk the eggs, sugar, water and salt together over a saucepan of hot water for 3-4 minutes, until light and frothy.
- Remove from the heat and whisk until billowy and increased in volume (about 5 minutes).
- Gradually fold in half the cocoa and cornflour, then add the remainder and fold in.
- Transfer to your tin(s), filling each about half-way.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes (20-25 minutes for a large cake) until firm and springy and slightly shrunk from the sides.
- Cool on a wire rack.
For the Dacquoise
You can grind the hazelnuts finer, but I like the texture the slightly larger pieces give.
2 large eggwhites (80ml)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbs cornflour
60 g chopped, toasted hazelnuts
- Turn the oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
- Draw 16 circles using your baking rings as a guide onto a sheet of parchment, 2 for each sandwich.
- Turn the paper over and lay onto a baking sheet.
- Whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks, then sprinkle in the caster sugar and whisk until the meringue is firm and glossy.
- Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together and fold into the meringue.
- Sprinkle in the nuts and briefly mix.
- Spoon the dacquoise onto the prepared baking parchment and spread into the marked circles. Make sure it at least reaches the edges of the circles. It doesn’t have to be too accurate, as they can be trimmed after baking. Smooth over.
- Bake for 1 hour.
- Switch off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for 15 minutes, then prop the oven door open and allow to cool completely.
- When cold, remove from the parchment and store in a ziplock bag until required.
For the Ganache
300g plain dark chocolate
150ml double cream
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
- Pour the cream into a small pan and bring to a boil.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Stir gently with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and the ganache smooth and glossy.
For the syrup
50g caster sugar
flavouring to suit
- Put the sugar and water into a small pan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
- Add any flavouring to taste.
- Select the eight meringues with the smoothest bases and set aside. These will be used for the top of the sandwiches, for a neat finish.
- Put the remaining meringues on a tray and spoon over a layer of ganache.
- Trim the cakes level and set onto the ganache.
- Soak with the sugar syrup. It’s almost impossible to use too little. You can see from the photograph the syrup I used only soaked a little way into the sponge, so more is better.
- Add a second layer of ganache.
- Add the remaining meringues, turning them upside down, so that the smooth bases are uppermost.
- Sprinkle your decor into a tray.
- Spread the remaining ganache in a smooth layer around the sides of the sandwiches then roll in your chosen decoration. Set aside. If you’ve made one large cake, then hold your cake on one hand and lift up handfuls of your decoration and press into the sides.
- When all the sandwiches are coated, transfer to a dish and cover with clingfilm. This will keep the meringues from absorbing too much moisture.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours to firm up.
- When ready to serve, dust the tops liberally with icing sugar and use a hot skewer to caramelise the sugar in an abstract design.
Confession: This is not my recipe.
It is the original fudge recipe that used to be posted on the Carnation website and for some reason was taken down a few years ago.
Luckily for me – and you – I have it ingrained on my brain as it is the best, no-fail recipe I have ever used, and I am posting it here so I can be lazy and just point everyone who asks for the recipe here, instead of writing it out again and again.
It makes the kind of fudge that has texture: when cooled, it is hard to bite into – yet it melts in the mouth.Very similar to the confection known in Scotland as Tablet.
The secret is two-fold: boiling the mixture to the correct temperature, and beating it as it cools to ‘grain’ the sugar.
You CAN make this the Old Skool way, testing for the Firm Ball stage by doing the drop test in water, and by beating the cooling mixture hard with a wooden spoon. However, I’m all for using gadgets wherever possible, so a thermapen or similar thermometer and an electric whisk or stand mixer are my recommendations.
Each batch makes a 1.2kg slab large enough to last over the festive season. Alternatively, you can make a batch and divide it up into small batches in clear plastic bags and use it for presents, or make two batches of contrasting flavours and make it go even further.
You can use the basic recipe to make a number of equally delicious variations, and I’ve thrown in an extra one by Nell Heaton – a favourite author of mine from the 1940s/1950s, who deserves greater recognition for her delicious, trustworthy recipes – which is a real explosion of flavour when made with home-made candied peel, fruit and nuts.
1 x 397ml tin of sweetened, condensed milk
450g Demerera sugar
- Line a baking pan with parchment. The size of the pan doesn’t really matter, but I recommend a rectangular pan, for ease of cutting the fudge into cubes once cooled. The original recipe suggested a pan 18cm square, which will make for a small, very thick slab. Personally, I use a pan 30cm by 24cm
- Put all of the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring to the boil and stir continuously until it registers between 116°C and 120°C on a thermometer dipped into the centre of the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as this will be much hotter and the thermometer will thus give a false reading.
- When your fudge reaches temperature, remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to settle. Pour into your stand mixer and use the beating paddle (not the whisk) to beat slowly until the mixture thickens. Alternatively, use your electric hand mixer directly into the pan, also whisking until the mixture has thickened.
- When it is thick and still just pourable, tip it into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
- Leave to cool completely.
- When cold, cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.
- Rum and Raisin Fudge: Warm 115g raisins in 3-4tbs dark rum and leave to plump. Add just before beating.
- Chocolate Fudge: Melt 170g dark, 60% chocolate and add just before beating.
- Fruit and nut fudge: Stir in 85g mixed dried fruit and chopped nuts.
- Nell Heaton’s Tutti Frutti Fudge (my favourite) Add 350g – yes, a whopping 12 ounces in old money – of mixed chopped nuts, dried fruit and candied peel sliced or diced small. I suggest about 90g candied peel, 130g flaked or slivered almonds and chopped walnuts, and 130g mixed raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped apricots.
I’m on a bit of a using-up-egg-whites roll at the moment, having made a lot of egg-yolk-heavy recipes recently, and so here is a variation on meringue that is ideal for lunchboxes, mid-morning snack or afternoon energy boost.
They’re gluten-free and, although they contain sugar, the amount-per-biscuit is really quite low (about 5g), so they can also sneak in as a Paleo treat.
They’re packed with nuts and seeds for all those beneficial vitamins and minerals. You can also choose to make them even more substantial by replacing the flaked almonds with some toasted oats (steel-rolled for preference – less dust, more crunch!) if you like. Don’t feel obliged to stick rigidly to the ingredients below, just make up the overall weight with your own mix of nutty goodness: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, etc.
Short and sweet (and crunchy!) this week. 😀
70g egg-white (2 large)
pinch of salt
70g caster sugar (or the same weight as the egg-whites)
60g flaked almonds
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
30g pecans – chopped
20g flax seeds
- Preheat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan – although no-fan is preferable if you want to keep the biscuits pearly-white.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Add the salt to the egg-whites.
- Whisk the egg-whites on medium speed until frothy, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar, a spoonful at a time (to allow it time to dissolve before the next spoonful). You can test whether the sugar has dissolved by rubbing a little of the egg-white between finger and thumb – you shouldn’t feel any graininess.
- Increase the speed of whisking as you add the sugar until full speed by the time the last of the sugar is added.
- Continue whisking until the sugar is fully dissolved and the meringue is thick and glossy.
- Fold in the nuts and seeds.
- Drop the mixture onto the baking sheets in whatever size you desire, but bear in mind, the larger the diameter, the longer it will take to dry out. I used a heaped tablespoon and a small round cutter to give the biscuits an even and consistent shape.
- Dry the biscuits slowly in the oven for 1-1.5 hours.
- Allow to cool completely before removing from the paper. Use a thin spatula in case the middle is still a little sticky.
- Store in an airtight container.
Got a fab recipe for Christmas this week – for gifts, to scoff yourself, whatever takes your fancy – delish!
Bit like mincemeat, but without the suet – and can be enjoyed in a whole range of different ways – on scones, over ice-cream, Christmas tart (spoon into blind-baked cases) or spooned straight from the jar *guilty look* What? What???
Anyhoo – It’s also going to provide the opportunity to illustrate creativity, because the preserve I ended up with was not the one I intended to make, but is still absolutely delicious.
This recipe began life in the kitchen of Mme Christine Ferber, the undisputed QUEEN of preserves. She lives in Niedermorschwihr, the little Alsacian village of the borderlands with Germany and is the go-to woman for the likes of Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Herme and anyone else who demands nothing but the best. Her preserves are made from local, seasonal produce and she presides over every batch. Never working with more than 4kg of fruit at a time, she marries flavours and textures beautifully, and has created over 800 flavour combinations.
So I found this recipe on a French magazine website almost a year ago and have been dying to make it all year. When I managed to snag the last 4 quince at the local farm shop, I thought I was all set, but the further I got into the recipe, the more I found out that I lacked some of the ingredients, so I just had to improvise like a BOSS. Now don’t start flapping about not having quince, because I didn’t have enough either – so I improvised with apples. Then I couldn’t find any dried pears, so I used dried pineapple instead. And so it went on.
So what I have for you here, and in the picture above, is the recipe I made, rather than the recipe I followed. It makes about 8-9 jars – plenty for gifts and a couple to keep. For anyone who is interested, the original Christine Ferber recipe is here.
2 kg of fresh quince or Bramley apples or a mixture of both
2 litres of water
1 kg granulated sugar
200 g dried pineapple
200g dried figs
100 g dried prunes
200g dried apricots
100g raisins 
50 g candied lemon peel, cut into thin strips
50 g candied orange peel cut into thin strips
50 g dried cranberries
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
150g walnuts pieces
150g whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 ground star anise
- Wipe the quince/apples with a cloth and rinse in cold water.
- Cut into quarters and place in a preserving pan and cover with 2 liters of water.
- Bring the pan to a boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer gently for one hour, stirring occasionally.
- Strain the juice through a colander and then strain it again through a piece of muslin to clear it of most of the pulp.
- Discard the fruit pulp.
- Measure out 1300ml of the hot liquid and pour over the dried pineapple. Leave it to soak for 3-4 hours. You can leave it longer – overnight if you like, but I was in the mood to make this jam NOW! Today! 😉
- Wash your jars and lids and put into the oven on a baking tray at 100°C, 80°C Fan. Always err on the side of caution and have more jars than you think you’ll need.
- Cut the figs, prunes and apricots into strips 3mm wide. NB DO NOT get the ‘ready to eat’ dried fruit – it’ll just break down into a mush. Make sure you get the old-fashioned ‘tough’ dried fruit.
- Slit the dates and remove pits. Slice into 3mm strips
- Pour the apple liquid and the pineapple into a preserving pan with the sugar, figs, dates, prunes, apricots, raisins, lemon and orange peel, cranberries, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, and the spices.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
- Skim any scum from the surface.
- Keep cooking on high heat for five to ten minutes, stirring constantly.
- Skim again if necessary.
- When the temperature reaches 100°C, add the walnuts and almonds.
- Bring the mixture to 104°C and test that the setting point has been reached by spooning a little of the syrup onto a cold plate and placing in the freezer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat while you check. If the surface if the jelly wrinkles when you push your finger through it, then setting point has been reached. NB This is really just to double-check – if it reaches 104°C, you’re fine. This is not a solid-set jam, it’s more ‘fruit suspended in spiced apple jelly’.
- Ladle into the warm jars and seal whilst hot.
- Wipe jars and label when cooled.
 I used Sainsbury’s snack raisins, which is a mixture of golden, flame, crimson and green raisins. Beautiful!
As you may know, I have one or two cookbooks lying around *ahem* and I haven’t actually got around to making absolutely all of the recipes contained therein.
But I’m working my way through slowly – and it’s just fabulous when I discover little gems like the recipe this week, tucked away as it was in a nondescript little booklet from the 1940s.
For a start, I have all the ingredients in the cupboard – I just LOVE it when that happens. A huge pet peeve is finding something delicious in a recipe book or online – only to discover a trip to the shops is required. So these are a great ‘spur of the moment’ bake.
Second, the recipe doesn’t make a whole mountain of biscuits – I got just twelve out of this batch. And they’re so fast to put together – little bit of melting/warming of liquids, chuck in the dry ingredients and you’re done. Even taking the time to pretty their appearance up doesn’t take long, and with 12 minute cooking time, you can be dunking them in a cuppa in not much more than 20 minutes.
Also – oats. YUM! Just LOVE oats in a biscuit – they make them it so crunchy and satisfying. Great energy snacks too. I can just imagine these biscuits being stuffed into pockets to snack on during invigorating afternoons tramping about the countryside.
And then we come to the main reason this recipe caught my eye. The lard. Yes – I did a double take too. But it works beautifully – and deliciously. And for me it also absolutely makes it a biscuit of country origin. Back in the day, not everyone could keep a cow – but most cottagers would have a pig, and once butchered for the winter, a ready and plentiful supply of lard. If you really can’t face it, you could try butter, but I haven’t tried it myself, so do let me know how it goes if you do.
What are you waiting for – get spur of the moment baking! 😀
56g golden syrup
28g demerera sugar
56g plain flour
56g wholemeal flour
56g medium oatmeal
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
grated zest of a small lemon – or of half a large lemon
1/2 tsp salt
6 almonds – halved
- Preheat the oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
- Put the lard and the golden syrup into a small pan over a low heat to melt/warm
- Mix all the other ingredients together.
- When the lard has melted, tip in the dry ingredients and stir to combine. You’ll end up with a moist paste.
- Divide mixture into 12. I have a small-ish ice cream scoop which was perfect at portioning out the mix. Roll into a ball then flatten slightly. Place half a split almond on each biscuit.
- Put the biscuits onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for 12 minutes, turning the baking sheet round 180 degrees halfway though the cooking time. The biscuits should be just browning around the edges when done. They might seem a little soft, but will crisp up beautifully as they cool.
- Lift the biscuits from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.