homemade: pomegranate lemon tea

I saw an article the other day about a retired couple who had embraced sustainable living and the very in-vogue concept of ‘zero waste’ to such an extreme that they took an entire year to fill up one rubbish bag.

Now, I am nowhere near this level of dedication and while I can admire it, I am not completely sure that I could aspire to it. That being said, like much of my cooking, my recent pomegranate obsession (here and here – if you’re interested) left me with one by-product that I could bear to see go to waste – the pomegranate skin.

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Even though it isn’t something I would want to eat, the pomegranate’s skin is brightly coloured and fruity scented, it would be sad to see it go to waste and it also has a whole truckload of health benefits.

Trawling through the internet looking for interesting uses, many people suggest adding dried pomegranate skin to your shampoo and other beauty products for silky hair and smooth skin.

I’m not one to put the hard yards into anything if there isn’t going to be a benefit to my taste buds so instead I made a pomegranate and lemon powder to make tea infusions and flavour dishes in a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean way. Any added beautification is just a bonus!

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Using as much concentration as possible, I sliced the outer layer of blood-red skin away from the soft, white pith, and did the same with two small lemons. You can dry the skin in the oven like I did for my dried citrus peel or in a slow cooker like these limes – I used the slow cooker so I didn’t have to pay so much attention to them. Leave the lid slightly ajar once the pot has heated up and mop up any condensation with a paper towel.

Once the pieces are brittle enough to snap, you know they’re done. Remove them from the slow cooker and once they are cooled, crush them into a relatively fine powder in a mortar and pestle.

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Steep a teaspoon of the powder in hot water for a fruity, homemade tea, add a sprinkling into a sauce for a fruit punch. Or make your own grenadine syrup without any sugar by mixing equal parts of powder and hot water before diluting with ice cold sparkling water.

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spiced, sweet stuffed eggplants

I originally had planned to write a post on eggplant steaks but then I found this recipe and it seemed like a way better idea.

I recently bought myself a copy of Ghillie Başan’s book, Flavours of the Middle East – two-for-one deals always get the better of me – and it is filled with beautiful dishes, vibrant colours and interesting stories. Stuffed eggplants was my first dish, in a long list that I wanted to experiment with. They are a great combination of savoury aubergines, sweet dried fruit and a good kick of subtle spice.

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To begin, I mixed a diced onion with 150grams of minced beef – Ghillie’s recipe uses lamb but I wanted something a little leaner. I also added a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of cumin and nutmeg and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. I also added two tablespoons of dried cranberries for sweetness, two chopped dates for a caramel undertone and two tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. I mixed it all together with half a can of diced tomatoes, a big grind of pepper and a pinch of dried thyme, and set it aside so the flavours could meld together.

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After bathing three partially peel aubergines in salt water for 15 minutes, I gently pan fried them in equal parts oil and butter until the skin was glossy and the flesh changed to a pale shade of yellow.

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I slit each aubergine down the middle lengthways, through as much of the flesh as possible, without puncturing the skin on the other side. With a tremendous balance of delicacy and might, I prised the eggplants open and compactly filled them with the meat mixture.

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I transported my eggplant boats into a bright red oven tray and doused them in the juice of a lemon, a healthy gulp of olive oil, a crack of sugar and a bit of water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar.

I baked at 200°C for 50 minutes – the first 25 minutes with a layer of foil overtop, the rest of the time uncovered. I basted each of them with the juices once I removed the foil just to insure they were nice and moist.

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Perfect hot or cold, this dish doesn’t require any sides or special garnishes – they are delicious (both visually and to the tastebuds) just as they are!

 

lentil, fennel and mushroom salad

SAM_3508Salads are a great way of experimenting with food; much of the planning can be done in your head during the day and they are often quick and easy to throw together, plus the trial and error process is always an interesting way of finding a great flavour combination.

As summer approaches, I have seen fennel salads popping up on menus all over the place, and even though the ones I have sampled have been delicious, they haven’t exactly been substantial enough to work as a standalone meal.

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The obvious solution to this problem was to make my own and see what I could string together.

A fennel bulb looks like a beautifully ridiculous onion, with fine green feathers sprouting from the top. Its flavour is sweeter and more subtle than onion or leek and coats anything it touches in a faint liquorish scent – I find the seeds a little overpowering but the bulb makes a great base to a salad; it even works as a substitute for lettuce!

Slice one fennel bulb as thinly as you can and combine with the zest and juice of one lemon. I diced a couple of black olives and mixed them through too, with a bit of the olive brine for saltiness and a dash of cider vinegar for tartness.

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Peel and half about six mushrooms, coat them in egg wash and roll them in breadcrumbs, I used panko because the pieces are larger; meaning they crisp up better and aren’t so prone to burning.

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Fry the mushrooms in butter at a low heat – you want them to cook through without burning! Transfer the mushrooms, and any dislodged crumbs to a plate and add a few of your favourite spices to the leftover butter. I used cinnamon and chilli powder. Add a can of drained lentils and stir so the spices are evenly distributed. You only want to heat the lentils for a few minutes; just enough to warm them slightly and get rid of any excess water. It goes without saying, but dried lentils that you have cooked yourself will always be better as they hold their shape better and tend not to go mushy.

Distribute the fennel between two plates and top with a mound of lentils. Balance the mushrooms on top and sprinkle with some diced red bell pepper and chopped parsley for a bit of colour.

lemon and ginger preserve

Hi, my name is Dylan and I have a problem. I am addicted to preserving. I just can’t get enough of it; I dream about making jam all day long, I dry the skin of every citrus fruit I ever use and have an ever-growing list of chutneys and pastes that I’m dying to make.

Preserves are a great way of extending flavours to times well outside of their seasonality. Sometimes a rainy day can be brightened up a dollop of sugary strawberry jam; a stew can be taken to the next level with the addition of a few crisp fragments of citrus; the deep flavour bleeding into the sauce as it cooks throughout the day. On the flipside, pickled radishes; a delicious use of a winter vegetable are a great way to add a colourful crunch.

I have all of these great ideas, but I am running out of jars… and space in my pantry! I have promised myself that this one will be the last one for a while, so it’s a good thing that it’s such a stunner. Lemon, ginger and honey is just a comforting winter drink – good for the soul and good for the immune system, so I decided to see how it fared as a chutney combination.

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I wanted something warming – if it’s going to be of any use in the winter then its warmth has to emanate throughout the body with each bite. Lemon, ginger and turmeric seemed like the ideal combination; it’s tangy, fragrant and warm, but not too spicy or overpowering, and not too sweet.

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Here’s what you’ll need:
6 lemons
a decent size piece of fresh ginger
a handful of turmeric bulbs
a dash of vinegar
6 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon each of fennel and coriander seeds
the juice of 6 additional lemons

As you can probably tell, this recipe can easily be scaled up or down, depending on the size of your jars.

Begin by dicing the ginger and turmeric. I used three turmeric bulbs and grated them as finely as possible – biting into a big hunk of bright, bitter turmeric is a dreadful thought, something I really wanted to avoid. I julienned the ginger root with similar audacity, even though I am not crazy at the idea of a mouthful of ginger, it seems less unpleasant than the turmeric so I tried to keep the slices as thin as I could.

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Gently heat them in a tablespoon of olive oil, with the fennel and coriander, use a relatively low heat. I added a tablespoon of water to lightly steam them – I wanted to avoid crisping them up in any way possible. It might even work better to steam them over hot water first. Take the pan off the heat and toss through another dash of olive oil and a few caps of vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar for tartness and because it’s the only kind I had.

While that pan is filling your kitchen of smells reminiscent of an Arabian marketplace, it’s time to move on to the lemons. As most people on the internet will tell you; organic is best and freshly washed is also good. If you can help it, only pick your lemons once they are ripe, that way they will be juiciest as they stop ripening as soon as they are picked. The recipe that I based mine on (from Ottolenghi, duh) says to quarter them lengthways (but not quite to the bottom). For practicality, I diced mine into bite sized pieces; I thought this would make them easier to squeeze into the jar and easier to spoon out afterwards. Stir through the ginger and turmeric, the salt, and any herbs you think would suit; I used rosemary and a sprinkle of dried thyme.

Jam as much of the mixture into each jar as possible, it can be quite a messy job but try and keep the juice off the table and floor as much as possible! Seal the jars and leave in a cool, dark cupboard for a week.

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Side note: make sure your jars are sterile you could end up with a fungus forest instead.

If patience is not a virtue you are the beholder of, then this is probably not something you should be experimenting with as this is merely the beginning. After a week, squish the lemons down and pour the juice of the six remaining lemons overtop, that should almost take your jar to capacity, add water to make up the difference and add another little glug of oil. Reseal and leave in the cupboard for at least four weeks to ferment.

Wait.

The fibres within the lemon rind will slowly break down, absorbing its own juice and the flavours of the ginger; sweet, tangy and soft.

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Serve atop warm couscous, stir-fry with vegetables or any other kind of cooking. I added a few tablespoons to some sautéed mushrooms for a lemon and mushroom risotto and loved the tang it gave in contrast of the sweet chicken broth.

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limoncello granita

We all know Italy as the land of pizza and pasta, beaches almost as beautiful as the people and so much sunshine it seems unfair to the rest of the world. It is one of the most widespread and well-known food localities, and we all have a favourite Italian dish which has no doubt, been bastardised by inauthentic interpretation. But there is so much more to discover than pizza and pasta; it is a nation of food just waiting to be discovered.

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Woody smoke fills the air, competing with the noise of the restaurant crammed to the brim with patrons giddy off wine and delicious food. An evening in the Ligurian countryside is always an evening of discovery; a hearty meal of panigacci (see above; a dish that I am too timid to ever attempt to recreate!) followed by this boozy little treat: Limonita.

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Pale and tangy, slushy with a little crunch, limonita is essentially a limoncello granita. Icy and easy to drink, it is a great after dinner digestive on balmy summer nights – and so easy to make at home!

I have had to do a little experimentation with this recipe because nothing I have found on the internet sounds anything like the way it was explained to me – although that could just be due to a lack of a common language. You might want to adjust the quantities of each element, but this is how it got my tastebuds tingling.

Step one: fill a champagne flute with crushed ice.

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Step two: add a shot of cream.

Step three: add a shot of limoncello.

Step four: add a tiny dash of vodka.

Finally, give it a bit of a stir and you’re ready to go!

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The trick is to get the balance of cream and ice just right; it is essentially a dessert drink, so fresh and creamy that you should be able to close your eyes and feel like you’re drinking ice-cream with the zesty lemon flavour lightly prinking your tongue.

If you are in the mood for a for something with a little more punch, you can make a dairy-free version; replace the cream with a shot of vodka and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and away you go.

oh oh limoncello

“So you just shot it?” “Yeah, that’s how we do it in Italy.” My introduction to limoncello, followed by an acidic burning sensation lancing down my throat, a sensation I can only imagine is not too dissimilar to gasoline. Save to say, you aren’t actually meant to shot limoncello, and a gaggle of Italians chuckling at the sight of two spluttering tourists confirmed that it was not how they do it in Italy.

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Limoncello is sweet and syrupy, glowing yellow like the warm Italian lemons which lend it both its name, and its tang. Served ice cold, the subtle aromas are perfectly refreshing on a balmy summer’s night. Aromas that I found out the hard way, are followed up by a brick wall of hard liquor – commercially brewed with an alcohol content our about 24%, many Italian nonni consider themselves limoncello-producing connoisseurs, who opt for a staggeringly higher number.

Even though limonello is seen as an exotic after-dinner liqueur, it is by no means difficult to produce – I tried it, and here’s proof.

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Step one is relatively easy, buy a big jar, some lemons and some alcohol. Any kind of alcohol. Okay, not quite, but almost – any non-flavoured, clear grain alcohol. I chose vodka because the alternative was gin, and gin is reminiscent of rather awful university days. If you are feeling like a bit of a big spender, opt for 100 proof; 80 proof will give you a slightly different end product but will do (that’s what I did, so I will talk about those difference later).

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With a paring knife or vegetable peeler, remove the rind from one lemon for each 100ml of alcohol you are using. Things to take into consideration include, but are not limited to, the size of your jar – mine was a 500ml jar so I used 400ml of 80 proof vodka and therefore, 4 lemons.

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Make sure you have included as little of the lemons’ pith as possible, dump your lemon rind into your jar and plonk the vodka on top. Screw the lid on top of the jar, place it into a dark cupboard and there, the hardest part is done.

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Give the jar a swirl at least once a day to get the flavours mingling- they will be well mingled in around for days, but they longer you leave it, the deeper and more infused it will become. I waited a month, I dare you to do the same.

Once you are sick of waiting, buy a funnel and make sure you have drunk the leftover vodka so you are left with a nice, big, empty bottle. Strain the warm, golden liquid and transfer into the bottle – take a moment to truly take in its beauty. Then take a moment to make some sugar syrup. The amount of sugar syrup you will need depends solely on your tastebuds and partly on the strength of the alcohol you used. If you used 80 proof (like me), you will need to use less than if you used 100 proof, otherwise you risk making it too sweet and altering the chemical balance which can lead to you limoncello freezing solid (also, like me). Using the previous lemon algorithm, begin with 1/8 cup of sugar, and 1/8 cup of water per lemon – you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.

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Heat the syrup until the sugar has dissolved and leave to cool slightly before adding to the lemony liquor. Once it has cooled, pop it in the freezer until it is ready to serve. Chances are, if you used 80 proof it might still freeze, if that happens, just keep it in the fridge and serve with an ice cube.

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So, how do I think this little experiment went?

failure: technically
success: practically
delicious: obviously

mazagran granita

As the temperature creeps into the high 30’s, it is almost as important to keep cool as it is to keep hydrated. Even though I know it is so necessary, I always have a hard time forcing myself to drink water on days like these – be it lying on the beach or having a picnic in the park; no matter how cold your bottle of water is when you leave the house, it quickly becomes lukewarm and not I find that never quenches my thirst.

I recently had a leftover pot of coffee – I had brewed it before remembering that drinking coffee in 30°C heat makes no sense, so I devised this little goodie with the leftovers; perfect for a cool afternoon snack on the balcony or a light dessert in the balmy evening air. I present you with my mazagran granita.

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Mazagran is also referred to as Portuguese Ice Coffee, although it actually originates from Algeria. I first came across it while I was visiting Portugal last year, however I had been drinking a version of it for years prior, mazagran is essentially an Iced Americano served with a lemon wedge and a little more sugar than is socially acceptable to add to your coffee.

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Such a refreshing drink, but I wanted to make it into an even more refreshing dessert – and what’s more refreshing than shaved ice?! It is by no means difficult to make, although it does take a bit of time and attention. Mix half a litre of black coffee with 4 teaspoons of sugar and the juice of half a lemon. I used plunger coffee but you could also use 6 shots of espresso and add cool water to make up the difference. Leave it to cool before popping into the freezer.

After 40 minutes, ice crystals should have begun to form around the edges of the bowl, break them up by mixing through the liquid. Repeat this step every 20 minutes as the mixture becomes mushy and thick, until the entirety of the dish forms thin, coffee-coloured shards of ice.

Serve as is, or divide into parfait glasses or dessert bowls, top with candied lemon or a dollop of whipped cream. For an adult version, add a dash of dark rum before freezing and substitute the lemon juice for orange juice.

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fifty shades of yellow

I have posted a recipe like this before, but this version is a little bit more decadent. I am going through a bit of a phase inspired by macarons (stay tuned!), not only the crunchy chewiness of them but also the sweet and savoury dichotomy that the ground almonds adds. And as we come into summer I begin craving all things Italian; pasta, tomatoes covered in olive oil, and polenta.

Vernazza - Liguria, Italy
Vernazza – Liguria, Italy

Polenta is one of those ingredients which a lot of people aren’t too fussed over. Rightly so, often it is not prepared in the most interesting of ways; needing to be cooked in milk or served with a lot of cheese to gain any memorability. This method of cooking is very heavy – the opposite of what you want in summer. In this recipe that I have borrowed from Nigella Lawson, polenta (along with ground almonds) is used as a substitute for flour, which makes for a lighter, less stodgy batter. The polenta balances the sweetness of the almonds and the lemoncello adds a bit of tartness, which never goes amiss.

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Nigella’s recipe calls just for lemon drizzle over top, while I served mine with cinnamon whipped cream for presentation. I know what you’re thinking; whipped cream, lemoncello and sweet almond meal batter – how decadent is this going to be?! That’s a fair enough thought, the lemoncello can be substituted for lemon juice, the whipped cream can be omitted and this cake is meant to be 16 servings, so small slices is key. Everything in moderation!

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Beat 200grams of butter with 200grams of sugar. If you don’t have a pair of kitchen scales (I seem to have misplaced mine), 200grams is just less than 1cup. Mix 200grams of ground almonds and 100grams of polenta, 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder is optional here. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter. Mix, add an egg, mix and repeat. All up that equals three eggs, but one egg can be swapped for half a banana although eggs will make a fluffier batter. I used one egg and one banana. Mix through the zest of one lemon, transfer to a cake tin and bake at 180°C for 40 minutes.

a lot of beige
a lot of beige

While your cake is baking, gently heat 125grams of sugar with 4tablespoons of lemoncello (or lemon juice) and a dash of vanilla (which can also be omitted if I am being too decadent for your tastebuds). Bring to the boil and simmer until your cake is done. Softly poke the top of your cake with a fork or toothpick and pour over the syrup. The syrup will infuse through the cake, making it moist with a lovely lemon zing.

I topped mine with whipped cream and some dried orange and lemon zest. Other options include candied fruit of freshly picked spring flowers.

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raw food club: courgette and mushroom salad

Summer is upon us, my friends! I know that it feels like winter ended about yesterday, and European Spring really isn’t much better than winter, but believe me; it will just jump out from around the corner and it will be here!

Plaza de España - Sevilla, Spain
Plaza de España – Sevilla, Spain

Summer is the time for salads. There are several reasons why this is the case; when the temperature is up in the early forties, we want to spend as little time in the kitchen near a hot stove, and the idea of a hot meal is far less appealing. So here is my solution.

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This is my raw courgette and mushroom salad with feta and pickled radishes. The acid in the dressing slightly pickles the mushrooms, taking the raw edge off their earthy flavour, making them juicy with an awesome zing. In contrast, the courgette is fresh and crunchy, I slice it as thinly as possible with a mandolin to create an almost leafy texture.

For the dressing, you will need:
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients with a bit of salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and thinly slice 6 button mushrooms and pour the dressing over top to marinate the mushrooms. Thinly slice 2 courgettes, if you don’t have a mandolin you can use a regular knife to slice them as thinly as possible, you can also use a vegetable peeler to get a more desirable effect.

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Combine the courgette slices with 2 handfuls of torn spinach leaves, mix through the mushrooms and ¼ cup of feta (mine was homemade, just saying). Top with a small handful of pickled radishes, adding a tablespoon of the pickling liquid overtop. You could also a handful of roasted almonds or ½ of a diced avocado. The almonds could also act as a substitute for the feta.

If you are having trouble finding pickled radishes, they are so easy to make! Here is how I do it; thinly slice a bunch of radishes – enough to fill whatever size jar you have, for a small jar add ½ a teaspoon of salt and sugar each and fill the jar with vinegar or vodka. Screw the lid on and give it a good shake, the radishes will be nice and pickled after a few days and will keep for a while in the fridge. Easy!

Courgette and mushroom salad, homemade feta, spicy buttered potatoes
Courgette and mushroom salad, homemade feta, spicy buttered potatoes

This salad is takes about 10 minutes from start to finish which is perfect on a sunny day when cooking is the last thing on your mind! Serve by itself for lunch, or with some buttery boiled potatoes as a meal, or it is ideal accompanied with an antipasto platter of cheese, olives, capers and breads.

when life gives you lemons

   So, this week I moved. I packed my bags and hopped on a train, how exciting! However, before this excitement could happen I had to leave my house, which involved finding a way of using all the ingredients I had that I couldn’t or didn’t want to take with me. The trouble with this was that I didn’t really have enough of anything to make anything, so I had to do some tweaking.

So this is my adaptation of Vadani Kaval Gheta’s vegan lemon almond cake. I love lemons. And a few years ago I made Nigella’s lemon polenta cake (very good, do try it!) and this cake is quite similar. Although unlike Vadani’s version of the cake, mine was not actually vegan… I had no soy milk, but I had normal milk and the only reason I had looked for a vegan recipe was because I had no eggs and I didn’t want to go and buy any. So I did what I could with what I had, when life gives you lemons, bake a cake!

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Between two and four lemons, depending on how lemony you like it
1 cup of milk, from a cow, a soy bean or anything really
1/3 cup of almond meal or ground almonds
1 1/4 cup of flour
a dash of salt
a dash of baking powder
1/2 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of oil, from an olive, a sunflower etc.
a dash of vanilla

First things first, zest all the lemons that you choose to use, squeeze the juice out of them all and add half of it to the milk, set the other half aside. Leave the milk to curdle a little, which I know sounds gross but it helps to thicken the mixture later on.SAM_1411

Mix the almonds, the flour, the baking powder and the salt in a bowl and set aside.

Mix the oil, the sugar, vanilla and all of the lemon zest in another bowl, you can blend it if you want but I didn’t, I doubt it is an essential step. I also added a little bit of cinnamon.SAM_1416

Add a third of the milk slowly and mix it in thoroughly, add another third and another third like so.

Add the dry ingredients and mix together, again thoroughly. Then pour into a cake tin and pop in the oven (which you should have heated to 190°C before the first things first) for 20 minutes.

While that’s baking, mix the remaining lemon juice with  a little bit of sugar to make a nice glaze, you can heat it to thicken it up if you would like but what I did was wait until the cake was done, I took it out of the oven and poured the sugary juice straight over the cake and put it back into the oven for a couple more minutes at a low temperature. This way it seeps through the whole cake to keep it nice and moist.

This cake was a success in my opinion, although it didn’t make a lot and I ate it within the hour. It is best enjoyed hot I think! The sugary almond base to the cake is nicely contrasted to the tart flavour of the lemons which I adore!

A very easy cake, almost as easy to bake as it is to eat!

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