Baking: Almond & Citrus Recipes

Quintessentially Mediterranean, able to yield infinite combinations, almonds and citrus are at the core of most of my baking endeavours. Here are some favourite ways in which I decline these two much-loved ingredients.

Almond Semolina Cookies

Crumbly yet tender, these sugar-dredged thumb cookies ask for rubbing freshly grated lemon zest in sugar before being added to the almond-and-semolina dough. The sprightly scent of citrus and orange blossoms (just a hint) is what makes them special, though the pleasantly sandy texture, partially given by the use of olive oil, also sets them on a league of their own.

300 g semolina flour
200 g ground almonds
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
150 g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoon orange blossom water
Icing sugar, for dredging

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the semolina, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.

Put the sugar in a separate, large bowl. Finely grate the lemon zest over the sugar, then rub it in until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Crack in the eggs and beat them until the sugar has dissolved. Pour over the oil in a thin stream and keep beating until fully incorporated. Beat in the orange blossom water. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three increments, mixing at every addition until combined into a crumbly dough.

Sift some icing sugar into a small bowl. Take a tablespoon of dough, roll it between your palms to form a ball and then dredge it in icing sugar. Place it on the lined baking sheet, then use your thumb to gently press it down until you see the edges crack. Repeat with the rest of the dough, ensuring some room between the cookies.

Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes (switch the top and bottom pans halfway through), or until cookies are golden and just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to a rack and leave to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container or cookie jar for up to a week

bergamot cake.jpg

Bergamot Polenta Cake

The idea of using a whole citrus fruit in a cake is nothing new – Claudia Roden’s wonderful Orange and Almond Cake comes to mind. Here, I opted for the floral and vaguely bitter note of bergamot. The aroma is potent, inebriating, intense. It’s not to everybody’s taste, I suspect, but if you are a worshipper of Earl Grey Tea, then you’ll love it. If you can’t find fresh bergamot, lemons will work just as well, if only with slightly different – more tamed – results.

1 fresh unwaxed bergamot
3 large eggs
180 g caster sugar
125 g fine polenta (such as fioretto)
250 g ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
140 g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
Icing sugar, for dusting

Wash the bergamot thoroughly. Place it in a saucepan, cover with cold water and set it over a medium heat. Simmer until the bergamot is tender all the way through, topping up the water if the level drops too much – the fruit should be bobbing in plenty of liquid at all times. Drain the bergamot. Cut it open and discard the seeds. Purée flesh and skin in a blender until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and flour a 20-cm springform cake tin.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until airy and pale yellow. Add the bergamot purée and fold through. In a separate bowl, combine polenta, ground almonds, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and work it into the dry mix until completely broken through. Finally, pour over the eggs and sugar and stir until you have an even batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and level the surface. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out with just moist crumbs attached to it. Remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes, then free it from the tin and transfer it to a rack to cool completely.

Dust the surface with icing sugar before serving.

Orange-Scented Marzipan Biscuits

These chewy, almond-rich biscuits are scented with fresh orange zest, which gives them a bright, tangy note. They are perfect served at the end of a meal, with coffee or sweet wine, or with afternoon tea.  

makes about 30

225 g blanched almonds
225 g caster sugar
65 g icing sugar, plus more for dredging
2 egg whites, divided
½ tablespoon almond extract
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange

Preheat the oven to 170°C. In a food processor, grind the almonds with the caster sugar until very fine. Set the speed to low and add cold water, one tablespoon at the time, until the mixture comes together into a ball of firm dough (you’ll need about three tablespoons).

Transfer the dough to a large bowl and combine it with one egg white plus the icing sugar, almond extract and orange zest. Keep stirring until you have an even, soft, slightly sticky mixture.

Tumble your almond mixture onto a surface dusted with icing sugar. Divide it into three equal portions and roll each into long ropes (about 2cm all around). Using a paring knife, cut out bits of dough (about 2cm long), then roll them into round biscuits.

Lightly whisk the egg white and swiftly roll the biscuits in it before dredging them in as much icing sugar as they can absorb. Ease them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and pinch the top of each biscuit so as to give it a slightly triangular shape.

Bake the biscuits for 14-15 minutes, or until crinkled and golden where the cracks have formed. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Store in a biscuit jar or tin for up to two weeks.

Flourless White Chocolate Clementine Cake

In this recipe, white chocolate acts as a binder as well as a partial replacement for butter and sugar. Its presence is almost imperceptible in the final product – save for a vague note of cocoa butter in the background. What really comes through is the fine balance between the gentle bittersweetness of the almonds and the freshness of the clementines.

250 g ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
40 g unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
180 g white chocolate, roughly chopped
100 g caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
Grated zest of 3 unwaxed clementines (or 1 orange or 2 lemons, or a mix)
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and flour a 20 cm springform cake tin.

In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds with the baking powder and salt.

Melt the butter in a saucepan set over a low heat. Add the white chocolate and sugar and allow them to melt while stirring non stop. Remove the saucepan from the heat; transfer the chocolate mixture to bowl to cool down.

Meanwhile, place the egg whites in a separate glass or metal bowl. Whip them up to firm peaks.

Return to the chocolate mixture and check the temperature: it should feel barely warm to the touch. Stir in the egg yolks and the citrus zest, followed by the dry ingredients, and mix until they are all evenly combined. Finally, fold in the egg whites with gentle movements from the bottom to the top.

Pour the batter to the prepared tin and level it. Set the tin on the middle rack. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until cooked through. If you see it getting too dark too quickly (a common happening in nut-based preparations), cover it with tin foil.

Once done, allow the cake to cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Run a knife all along the edge to free it from the springform. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool completely. Serve with a light dusting of icing sugar.