ground almonds | The Proof of the Pudding


Happy Birthday to me! Well, not me really, but my wee blog is turning two. How time flies. While I celebrate with a large wedge of cake (more on that in a second), let me extend a heart-felt thank you to everybody who visits my little piece of the internet. Thank you to my friends and family who still show enthusiasm for new posts, to old friends who have messaged to tell me how much they enjoyed a particular recipe, to strangers on the other side of the world who share their thoughts, and to my other half who puts up with me insisting on taking 20 pictures of our plates before he can start his dinner (although, he does get to eat all these recipes, so it’s not exactly a terrible deal…).

This week’s recipe was inspired by two different people. The first was a lovely friend who came for dinner last Wednesday and who can’t eat gluten (like, seriously, not just one of these “oh eating a loaf of bread makes me bloated”…tell me something I don’t know); so I needed a completely gluten-free pudding. To me this shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a pudding that isn’t sweet and squidgy and indulgent. Or, more importantly, it shouldn’t mean no cake.

In my quest to find a great gluten-free cake recipe I came across an old folder with an assortment of allergy-friendly baking recipes. Years ago, just after I left high school, I worked with a guy, Paul, who had severe allergies not only to gluten, but also eggs, nuts and legumes. Yup. I’m pretty sure he lived off potatoes, meat and cheese. Although, on second thoughts, that doesn’t sound too bad… Anyway, an allergy to gluten, eggs and nuts makes for an incredibly tricky baking challenge. This folder I found was a collection of various recipes, which (if memory serves correctly) I amalgamated into a few Paul-friendly bakes so that he could get in on the afternoon treats that everyone else in the office got to indulge in. Of course, poor Paul couldn’t have actually eaten this particular recipe because of the eggs and nuts, but in that folder I found a gluten-free lemon cake recipe (I have no idea where I copied it down from I’m afraid!) which used polenta and ground almonds instead of flour. I’ve changed up the lemons for oranges, since it is the season for juicy, sweet oranges and I seem to be developing a theme of orange-flavoured recipes on birthday blogs. I tweaked a few other parts of the recipe and added an orange drizzle topping. This cake is gorgeous: it’s super moist, strong with orange and has a satisfying sugary crunch on top. In fact, there is no reason to save this recipe just for coeliacs, so don’t be put off by the gluten-free billing: everyone deserves a slice of this action!

One year ago:
– Orange and milk-chocolate celebration cakes

Two years ago:
– No-knead cardamom and cinnamon buns

Ingredients 250g butter, softened plus a little extra to grease the cake tin 250g vanilla sugar* or caster sugar 3 large eggs 100g polenta 250g ground almonds 1 tsp baking powder 2 oranges

60g icing sugar

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm cake tin with a little butter and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. 2. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.


As the Starks are so keen to tell us, Winter Is Coming. And they’re not wrong, but first we have my favourite season of the year to enjoy: Autumn. For the next few months plums in the UK are at their prime and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and flavours and colours. There are tiny, intensely sweet greengages or plump, juicy Black Amber and Denniston’s Superb varieties or dark indigo-blue damsons with their sharp, distinctive flavour. One of the most commonly available plums in our shops and supermarkets is the Victoria plum. Oval in shape and red or yellow in colour, Victoria plums are sweet and have a firm texture so are perfect both eaten straight out the fruit bowl or used for baking.

Almonds are a perfect pairing with the sweet and sharp flavour of plum, so a frangipane tart seemed like an ideal way to incorporate this seasonal fruit into some baking. Frangipane is a sweet filling used in cakes and pastries, which combines ground almonds with butter, sugar and eggs, and sometimes a little flour or flavourings like vanilla or alcoholic liquors. When cooked in a tart frangipane puffs up in a most satisfying way to create a light, moist filling.

I first made this tart a couple of weeks ago, and by happy coincidence the following weeks Great British Bake Off episode (only the best television show ever amirite?) was pastry themed, and what did they have to make in the first challenge but frangipane tarts. This inspired me to add a layer of jam between the pastry and frangipane filling when I made the tart again last weekend. The addition got a resounding thumbs up from the lucky taste-testers. Finally, since frangipane requires a fairly long bake, there’s no need to blind bake the pastry first. Of course, we don’t want any soggy bottoms here, but we also don’t want burnt pastry. Paul Hollywood would not be happy, and that thought is scary enough, let alone imagining Mary Berry’s disapproving face.

One year ago:
– Dark chocolate mousse

Ingredients (makes a 28cm tart) 500g shortcrust pastry 12 small Victoria plums (about 400-450g) 100g unsalted butter, softened 100g caster sugar 2 eggs, beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp plain flour 100g ground almonds Optional: 2-3 tbsp plum jam

Crème fraiche to serve

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Roll the pastry on a floured surface until it is just bigger than the tart case and about half a centimeter thick.


The first time I made this recipe (shown in the picture) I went very thin with the pastry, so it was almost see-through, but I think it’s better to keep it a little thicker so the tart has a good, solid base and you can appreciate the short, crumbly texture of the pastry.

2. Carefully place the sheet of pastry into the tart case – drape it over your rolling pin and use this to lift it up and over. Gently, but firmly press the pastry into the case. I tear a little pastry from a corner, roll it into a ball and use this to press the pastry into all the edges, so that my nails don’t puncture the delicate pastry.
3. Trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife, prick the base with a fork and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

4. Halve and stone the plums.

5. Place the soft butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

6. Pour in the eggs a bit at a time, beating well in between each addition until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and flour and mix well again.

7. Fold the almonds through the mixture, ensuring they are evenly combined.

8. If using the jam, then spread a thin layer on top of the chilled pastry. Next carefully spread out the frangipane mixture into an even layer.

9. Arrange the plums on the top of the tart, cut side down, and push gently into the frangipane.

10. Place the tart on a large baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes until the frangipane filling has risen, the surface is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when pushed into the frangipane. Leave the tart to cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or cool with some thick, creamy crème fraiche. The tart will keep for a few days in an airtight container, though it is best eaten on the day it’s made so tuck in!


Crumble has to be one of the ultimate comfort-food puddings. It’s simple, sweet and stodgy, plus anything that can be served with custard is already winning. The choice of the crumble base can be whatever fruit you fancy – apple crumble is a classic, gooseberry is my personal favourite and in the autumn it’s amazing with a seasonal combination of apples, pears, plums and brambles. Rhubarb is in season, roughly, between late December and June. Forced rhubarb, which has been grown in the dark, has beautiful bright pink stalks and pale yellowish leaves and is available in the earlier months of the year. This was what I saw on the shelves on Sunday and it had to be mine. The smell of fresh rhubarb reminds me of being little and dipping raw stalks into mounds of sugar – sometimes the simple things in life are the best.

This was my first attempt at home made custard, and I have to say it was easy-peasy. This is not a boast – I guarantee you that, provided you can whisk and stir, you can make homemade custard too.

I think that one of the nice things about crumble is that you can tailor the topping to your own tastes and whatever you have in the cupboards. If you like a plain topping then just go by my mum’s basic recipe of 250g flour, to 125g butter and 60g sugar. Otherwise get creative – oats, ground almonds, flaked almonds, pine nuts, desiccated coconut, sesame seeds, even granola, are all delicious.

Ingredients (serves 6 to 8) 4 sticks of rhubarb, about 400g 40g golden caster sugar Zest of 1 orange 1 star anise

A few grinds of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

150g plain flour 50g ground almonds 125g chilled butter, cut into small cubes 40g oats 30g pine nuts

60g light brown muscovado sugar

500ml milk 4 egg yolks 70g caster sugar

1½ tbsp cornflour

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Chop the rhubarb into pieces approximately 2-3 inches long. Lay snuggly in a baking dish and sprinkle with the golden caster sugar, orange zest, star anise and vanilla.

Roast for 20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and the sugar has melted into a pink syrup.

2. Add the chopped butter to the flour and ground almonds. Use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour and almonds. The aim is to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients so that you are left with a “breadcrumb” texture.

3. Mix in the oats, pine nuts and brown sugar.

4. Whisk together the egg yolks, caster sugar and flour. Heat the milk in a saucepan until just at the boiling point, then remove from the heat.

5. Add the hot milk to the egg yolks a little at a time, whisking continuously – no scrambled eggs here please! Put the mixture back on a low heat for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you stir constantly and remove from the heat as soon as the mixture is thick, so as to avoid the horror of lumpy custard.

6. Spoon the crumble topping over the roasted rhubarb and bake for 30 minutes (still at 200C/180C fan/Gas 6) until the topping is golden brown and the rhubarb juice is starting to bubble up the sides.

If you want to make the custard ahead of time then a good tip is to transfer the custard to a jug or bowl and cover with cling film directly touching the custard. This stops the custard forming a skin on top. When you are ready to eat, put the custard back into a pan and reheat slowly. Or serve the custard cold – this might gross some people out, but personally I think cold custard is the food of gods.

We enjoyed this on Sunday night after dinner, sat in front of the last episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones (mum and dad are catching up). So excited for the new season to start!

 
Would you put crumble near the top of your comfort-food list? What are your favourite crumble flavours?