spinach, ricotta and mint pie

25 Mar 2019

A good friend of mine gave me a copy of Skye McAlpine's book, A Table in Venice for Christmas. It's no secret that I love Italian food and I follow Skye on instagram, so I browsed the pages with interest.

This is the first recipe I've made from the book and it was a bit of a given that I should choose this spinach, ricotta and mint pie. Spinach and ricotta is one of my favourite flavour combinations so I buy ricotta from my local fruit shop every few weeks; there is always frozen spinach in my freezer and I have a pot of mint growing on the window ledge. 

I made the pastry early on Sunday morning and did a few book-folds with the top crust to make sure it was extra flaky.

In Skye's recipe she pre-bakes the whole pastry case whilst I just pre-baked the base. I've done this many times before and it does seem to be enough to prevent the dreaded 'soggy bottom' from occurring.

As well as changing the technique a little I've adjusted the filling recipe a little to fit my 17cm tin and my indecent love for ricotta. If you double everything it will make a 23 cm pie. Skye's recipe suggested a 30 minute baking time but my pie was looking fairly pale and uninteresting at 30 minutes, so I baked it for an hour.

I had a slice of pie for my Sunday lunch. The pastry was satisfyingly short and the filling was delicious. Next time I'll add a little cooked chorizo to the mix to mirror a favourite Marcella Hazan pasta sauce.

Here's the recipe for you. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup, a 20 ml tablespoon, unsalted butter and 60g eggs. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if your oven is fan forced you may need to reduce the oven temperature by 20°C.

Spinach ricotta and mint pie – from A Table in Venice by Skye McAlpine

Makes a 17cm pie, which serves 4

250g plain flour
125g cold butter, diced
A generous pinch salt
⅓ cup cold water

250 frozen spinach, defrosted
2 tsp olive oil
175g ricotta cheese, well draned
20g parmesan, grated
2 eggs
½ bunch mint, leaves finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the salt then add enough cold water to make dough, bringing it together with your hands until smooth or you could do this step in the food processor. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes or overnight.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200ºC. Grease a 17cm springform tin. Cut off ⅓ of the dough and roll out thinly on a lightly floured surface to fit the base of the springform tin. Using a rolling pin drape the pastry over the base cutting it to fit. Cover the pastry with a piece of baking paper, before attaching the ring. This should hold the baking paper in place avoiding the need for baking beads. Chill for 15-20 minutes then bake the base for 20 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden. Remove the tin from the oven, unclip the ring and remove the baking paper and set aside to cool while you make the filling.  

Defrost the frozen spinach in the microwave, squeezing out the excess water from the spinach before transferring to a bowl and drizzling with the olive oil. Add the ricotta, the parmesan, 1 whole egg and half a beaten egg, season and mix well. Don’t discard the egg as the remainder will be used to glaze the top of the pie. Stir in the mint then return the mixture to the fridge while you finish lining the tin.

Divide the remaining pastry in half and roll out one half thinly on a lightly floured surface. Use this half to line the sides of the tin leaving a little overhang. Once you’ve lined the sides of the tin return the case to the fridge to firm a little before spooning in the filling. Roll out the remaining pastry so it’s large enough to cover the tin. My springform tin is quite high so I folded the edges of the pastry over the filling and glazed the edge of the pastry before laying the remaining pasty over the top of the pie to form a lid. Trim off any excess pastry and use your fingers to seal the edges together. Use a sharp knife to slash 4 slits at the centre of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Brush the leftover beaten egg all over the top of the pie.

Bake the pie  for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the pastry is golden and the filling heated through (slide a knife into one of the slashes down to the base of the pie; it should come out feeling warm to the touch). Remove from the oven and cool for 5-10 minutes. Turn out of the tin and serve warm or at room temperature.

See you all again next week with some more baking from my kitchen.

Bye for now,


chocolate hazelnut torte

18 Mar 2019

As soon as I leafed through the Flour and Stone cookbook by Nadine Ingram and saw the chocolate hazelnut torte recipe, I knew it was a cake I'd be making. As it's a flourless cake it's perfect for my gluten free work colleague and would be perfect for Passover as well.

The cake can be made with either almond or hazelnut meal but as I find the flavour of hazelnuts a bit overpowering, I used almond meal. The cake is topped with a dark chocolate ganache and whole roasted hazelnuts and to fancy the cake up a bit, I candied the hazelnuts.

I made the cake on a 42°C day and by the time I decorated the cake most of the toffee coating had melted in the heat. They still tasted great even if they didn't look quite as impressive without their long toffee tails.

Here's the recipe for you with detailed instructions which are almost word for word from the Flour and Stone cookbook. If you follow Nadine's instructions, you won't go wrong.

For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup, a 20 ml tablespoon, unsalted butter and 60g eggs. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if your oven is fan forced you may need to reduce the oven temperature by 20°C. 

Chocolate hazelnut torte (adapted from Flour and Stone) - makes a 20 cm cake
125g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids) 
100 g roasted hazelnuts (skins removed)
25g hazelnut or almond meal (I used almond meal)
112 unsalted butter, softened
100 g caster sugar
½ tsp finely grated lemon rind
3 eggs, separated
Pinch of salt

Chocolate ganache and topping

75g dark chocolate, (minimum 60% cocoa solids) chopped
50 cream 
30 g toasted hazelnut (skins removed)

For the cake

To roast the hazelnuts, preheat oven to 180°C. Place the hazelnuts on a small oven tray and roast for 10 minutes then place in a clean tea towel and rub until all skins have fallen off. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 20 cm tin with baking paper then set to one side. Prepare the chocolate and hazelnuts by chopping them separately in a food processor. They should be as fine as possible (like powder). Combine them in a small bowl with the hazelnut or almond meal and set aside.

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, ⅔ of the sugar and the lemon rind on medium speed for about 3 minutes or until pale and fluffy.  While continuing to beat, add the egg yolks one at the time, mixing well between each addition. Now add the finely chopped hazelnut and chocolate and mix on low speed for about a minute until combined. Transfer the mix to a large bowl.

Wash the mixer bowl so it is scrupulously clean for the egg whites and fit the whisk attachment. Add the egg whites to the bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk on medium speed until soft ribbons form. Start adding the remaining sugar gradually and continue adding a little at a time over a 2 minute period whisking until the meringue is thick and glossy. Fold the meringue through the hazelnut mixture one-third at a time until the egg whites are fully incorporated.

Pour the batter in the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spoon. Bake for one hour (start checking at 45 minutes) or until the centre of the cake bounces back when pressed with your finger. The cake can’t be tested with a skewer because the centre is so molten with chocolate it will give you a false indicator to readiness.

Leave the torte to cool in the tin for a few hours or overnight, then invert the tin to ‘tap’ the cake out and place it right side up on your serving platter. It will most likely sink a little in the middle as it cools. Don’t panic. Just press down the outside edges before spreading the ganache. 

For the ganache

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.  Bring the cream to close to boiling point. Just before it reaches boiling point, pour the cream over the chocolate and cover. Allow to stand for a few minutes until the chocolate melts then stir until smooth. The ganache should be thick paste-like consistency. You can refrigerate it at this point to thicken the ganache. Using an offset spatula, spread over the cake. 

To decorate

Scatter the whole full hazelnuts over the top to decorate. I went a bit overboard and candied some of the hazelnuts, a delicious but not necessary step.

The cake was a hit with my workmates. According to Nadine the cake 
is a keeper and will keep for 4-5 days at room temperature as long as its covered, but it didn't last long enough to find out. 

See you all again next week with some more baking from my kitchen.

Bye for now,



ginger fluff

11 Mar 2019

This is the story of my nemesis, the ginger fluff cake from Flour and Stone. I made the cake batter, carefully greased and floured the bundt tin I use all the time and when the cake was baked it refused to come out of the tin. I gently teased it out with a knife and in the end the cake came out in a number of pieces. The cake tasted lovely but I couldn't serve it as it was. I was about to spend the weekend with my brother and had planned to take the cake with me instead arriving empty handed. Sorry Andrew.

I don't like to be defeated so I decided to make the cake again this time using my vintage star pan. I carefully greased and floured the tin and as the base was lined with a piece of parchment I was sure I wouldn't have any problems unmoulding the cake from the tin. Not so.

In the end the cake needed a knife, a bit of gentle manoeuvering and 10 minutes resting upside down before it would release. I blame the golden syrup in the recipe for welding the cake batter to the tin. If you'd like to make your life easier I would just bake the cake in a parchment lined round tin and forget the whole bundt tin. However the end result is very pretty.

Here's the recipe for you with detailed instructions which are almost word for word from the Flour and Stone cookbook. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup, a 20 ml tablespoon, unsalted butter and 60g eggs. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if your oven is fan forced you may need to reduce the oven temperature by 20°C. As this was my second attempt, I adapted the recipe a little by reducing the sugar a little and also the quantity of cocoa nibs.

Ginger Fluff – Flour and Stone
30g cornflour
17g self-raising flour
1 tsp cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp ginger
7 g unsalted butter
2 tsp golden syrup
2 eggs, separated 
60 g caster sugar
8 g cocoa nibs

75g milk chocolate, roughly chopped
50 mls cream

To decorate
¼ cup freeze dried raspberries, some crushed and some left whole
10 g cocoa nibs

Preheat oven to 190°C and grease and flour a small bundt tin. I tend to use softened butter and brush it on the inside of the tin with a pastry brush, then dust the inside of the tin with flour, tapping out any excess so you are left with only a thin coating. Sift the flours and spices three times to aerate the flour and evenly distribute the spices.

Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Place the egg whites with a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar a little at a time continuing to whip until the egg whites have formed stiff peaks. Remove the bowl from the machine. Using a spatula fold through the egg yolks followed by the flour and spices, sifting them into the bowl in 2 batches. When I fold dry ingredients into eggs I sift them directly into the eggs rather than sifting them into a bowl and tipping them in. This stops any lumps from forming and you can shower a thin film of flour over the top of the meringue; it’s lighter and won’t sink to the bottom until you fold it through, giving you more control too. Once you see that almost all the flour has been incorporated, trickle in the butter and syrup and cocoa nibs and then fold them through until well incorporated. It is better to start folding the butter through when there are still streaks of uneven colour in the sponge as those final few turns will fold in any residual flour and the butter at the same time. Fewer turns means a fluffier sponge.

Stop folding the second you see that the colour of the sponge is even, with no streaks. Pour the sponge into the prepared tin and pop it in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top of the cake bounces back when pressed with your finger. Listen to the sponge. A perfect sponge will hiss with a little moisture when you press it, telling you it’s time to take it out of the oven.

Remove the sponge from the oven and immediately tip it out onto a wire rack. Ginger fluff is delicate like chiffon and if you leave it in the tin to cool it will become a little concave.

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and bring the cream to the boil in a small saucepan. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and gently stir them together using a spatula. If you stir only from the middle in a tiny turning circle your ganache won’t get any bubbles in it. It will seem like the cream will never be drawn into the middle, but be patient and eventually it will make its way to the centre and a shiny bubble-free ganache will be yours.

To decorate
Once the sponge has cooled, use a large spoon or ladle to pour the ganache over the top so that it drizzles all over the cake and down the sides. While the ganache is still runny, press the freeze-dried raspberries and cocoa nibs into the surface of the icing.

Serve on the day it is baked or keep it at room temperature overnight to serve the next day. This cake has sat under a cloche on our kitchen counter for a week and it’s still good many days later provided it is covered.

I took the cake into work and it received rave review - light and airy, not too sweet and every-one loved the milk chocolate ganache. Maybe I'll have to tackle that dreaded bundt tin once again.

See you all again next week with some more baking from my kitchen.

Bye for now,



fresh fig and almond crumble cake

4 Mar 2019

This was going to be a plum crumble cake until I passed the fruit shop and discovered that fresh figs had come to town. I couldn't go past them and decided to incorporate them into the cake. 

This butter cake is so versatile and has featured on this blog in many guises. I've made versions using raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, plums, apricots and nectarines sometimes with a crumble topping, sometimes with a layer of ricotta in the middle. All versions are equally delicious. Normally I use walnuts when I make the crumble topping but figured that almonds would go well with figs so used those instead. If you use plums, apricots or nectarines to top the cake, the cake will take longer to cook. You'll need an extra 15 minutes or so cooking time.

Here's the recipe for you if you'd like to give it a try. For all my recipes I use a 250 ml cup, a 20 ml tablespoon, unsalted butter and 60g eggs. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if your oven is fan forced you may need to reduce the oven temperature by 20°C.

Fresh fig and almond crumble cake - makes a 20 cm cake. I used a 20cm Bakemaster spring form cake pan from Everten
6 – 8 figs quartered
1 tbs caster sugar 
150g unsalted butter, softened
150g (⅔ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange rind
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup self-raising flour 
½ tsp baking powder
pinch salt
½ cup almond meal
100 mls milk

Crumble Topping
30 grams (1 oz) cold unsalted butter cut into small chunks
¼ cup (55 gm) brown sugar
¼ cup (35 gm) plain flour
pinch salt
½ cup flaked almonds

Crumble Topping
Combine the butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt in a small food processor and pulse until just combined. Tip into a bowl and mix in the flaked almonds. You can mix this by hand in a small bowl using your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour and sugar. Place the crumble topping in a small bowl and refrigerate while making the cake.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and flour a 20 cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Quarter the figs and generously sprinkle with sugar. Set to one side while you make the cake batter. Cream the butter, sugar and orange rind together until pale and fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift the flour with the baking powder and a pinch of salt into a small bowl then stir in the almond meal. Add the flour mixture in batches to the batter alternating with the milk until you have a nice smooth batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth with a knife before topping with the figs, pressing them into the mixture a little.

Scatter the crumble over the top of the cake batter and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving.

I took the cake into work and it was demolished in an instant. Thankfully I'd had the foresight to cut a small piece of cake for myself before the hungry hordes descended.

See you all again next week with some more baking from my kitchen.

Bye for now,


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