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11th Dec 2009

Beautiful Things

Tamsin: We were discussing having an exhibition at my museum entitled ‘Beautiful Things’ – there would be nothing that connects the artefacts together except their beauty, which for most, was lovingly bestowed on them by the skilful hand of their creator. I was reminded of the joy that beauty can give when we walked past a shop window in Paris. There was what can only be described as a treasure trove of beautifully-formed jewel-like sweets, shining out from their alluring black boxes. 

These were definitely ‘bon-bons’ for the connoisseur - confirmed for me when  next day I was presented with a box by my lovely friend and so could sample the contents.

My favourite was the glittering green pearls named ‘Graines de cumin’ which turned out to have the hidden gem of a cumin seed in its centre – a surprisingly pleasant taste when wrapped in sugar, and its enjoyment made that much more by the beauty of its ‘petit’ nature.  Forget the ‘retro’ sweet craze, these are the real sweet adult indulgence.

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3rd Dec 2009

Pistachio Heaven

Jane: Is this the most delicious cake ever? The grown-ups all think so and, surprisingly given the general nuttiness and lack of gooey icing, the children are pretty keen too. This is a good rich winter treat, which can even be substituted for pud with a dollop of cream on top. When I’m feeling lazy I forget about the vanilla pod and the cake is just as tasty…

For the cake:
270 g unsalted butter
1 lemon
1 vanilla pod (optional)
100 g blanched almonds
120 g pistachios
250 g caster sugar
4 large eggs
40 g plain 00 flour

For the topping:
1 lemon
50 g caster sugar
60 g pistachios

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C/Gas Mark 2. Line a loaf tin 22 x 12 x 6 cm deep with greaseproof paper, and grease well with 20g of the butter.
Soften the remaining (250 g) butter. Zest the lemon. Split the vanilla pod (if using) and scrape out the seeds. Grind the almonds and pistachios together (I use the hand blender with which I mush up baby food).
Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the lemon zest, vanilla seeds (if using), then fold in the nuts and flour. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour (start checking after 45 minutes). Push a skewer into the cake and if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out.

For the topping:
Zest and juice the lemon, put both into a pan with the sugar, and boil until thick (a few minutes). Halve the pistachios and stir into the sugar sauce, then pour the topping over the cake.

This is taken from River Café Cook Book Easy by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray (though I got it from a Guardian supplement of the same name, in 2003!).

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