Michelle Darmody: Baking with almonds

Recipes by Michelle Darmody this week are orange blossom and almond cake, almond macaroons and sunken prune tarts.

Almonds have a unique and strong flavour that add richness and depth to baking. 

They also contain quite a lot of oil which works in various ways, it allows almonds to add moisture to a cake but it also means that the cake may burn quicker if you do not keep an eye on it.

Almond trees are native to the Middle East and have been used in that cuisine for as long as history is recorded. The trees spread through the Mediterranean region and through India. 

Now the largest almond groves are in the United States but most of our almonds are still shipped from the shores of the Mediterranean. 

Ground almonds are easy to get in shops but if you really like the flavour of whole almonds it is best to ground you own, just before you need them. 

There is a remarkable difference when you use freshly ground almonds. 

You simple blitz, blanched almonds in a food processor until they turn to a fine powder. 

Blanching means removing the outer brown husk from the nut, you can buy them this way or soak them in water to soften the other layer to allow easier removal. 

Marzipan was my first introduction to a strong almond flavour and I fell in love with it. 

I make it with icing sugar and egg yolks just before christmas and use it to protect the fruit cake or shape it into mini fruit to add to sweet boxes. 

Now almond milk is very popular and is used as a substitute for dairy in coffee and with cereals.

Orange blossom and almond cake

Ingredients 

  • 250g of soft butter
  • the zest of 3 oranges
  • 220g of sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • the juice of half a small orange
  • 150g of ground almonds
  • 225g of fine polenta
  • 1 tsp of almond essence
  • For the orange syrup
  • 120g of sugar
  • the zest of a lemon
  • the juice of half an orange
  • 80 mls of water
  • 2 tsp of orange blossom water

Method

Preheat oven to 160 degrees and lightly grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.

Beat the butter, zest and sugar, until light and fluffy.

Slowly add the egg yolks, beating well. Stir in the juice, ground almonds, polenta and almond essence.

Whisk the egg whites, until soft peaks form. Carefully fold into the almond mixture and scoop into your prepared tin.

Bake for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, boil the zest, juice and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the orange blossom water. Spoon evenly over the hot cake.

Almond macaroons

Ingredients 

  • 3 egg whites
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 2 drops of almond essence
  • 1 drop of vanilla essence
  • 150g of ground almonds
  • 25g of rice flour

Method

Heat your oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Turn the mixer down and slowly add the sugar.

Fold in the almond and vanilla essence and the rice flour.

Spoon the mixture into balls on your baking tray about a large tablespoon of the mixture of each ball. Leave a bit of space between each one as they will flatten a little while cooking.

Bake for fifteen minutes and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Sunken prune tarts

Ingredients 

To make the pastry shells:

  • 140g of cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 225g flour
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

To make the prune filling:

  • 250g of prunes, de stoned and roughly chopped
  • a cup of strong tea
  • 135g of ground almonds
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 90g of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbs of brandy
  • 1 tsp of almond essence
  • a handful of slivered almonds

Method

Rub in the cold butter into the flour until it looks like rough breadcrumbs, do not over mix as you do not want the butter to turn to oil.

Stir the sugar into the egg, mix it lightly until it begins to dissolve.

Add the egg mixture to the flour with a fork. Bring everything together with your hands then rest the pastry for an hour in the fridge or over night.

Roll the pastry to fit four 4 inch tart cases and bake blind at 180 degrees for fifteen minutes.

Turn your oven up to 190 degrees and pour the tea over the prunes and set aside.

Mix the almonds, sugar, butter, eggs in a mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the almond essence and brandy.

Scoop the mixture into your cooled tart cases and drain the prunes well. Dot the prunes into the tarts and sprinkle with the slivered almonds. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

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