Food Blogging: The Pesach and Greek Easter Edition

Usually around this time of year, the Roumbas / Goldstein household becomes pretty grumpy. Our self-imposed desire to take part in the two key events of our respective religious traditions is not done with all that much grace or tolerance, which is a shame, because we could be learning valuable lessons in restraint and gratitude. Although actually, Greek Lenten food – mainly vegan, with some seafood-related exceptions – and Jewish Passover treats are absolutely delicious and it all feels a little bit like cheating.

2013 is an unusual exception, as – since the Last Supper was a Seder – Eastern Orthodox Easter generally falls at the same time as Pesach; weirdly, it’ll fall in May this year, but at least my mother-in-law isn’t left wondering what the hell to feed someone at a Seder who isn’t eating any meat, fish or eggs, since I only do the Lenten fast for Holy Week, not the whole 40 days (though I say every year that one year I will do it).

Still, in the spirit of both our traditions, here are a couple of recipes (one’s more of an assembly), one for Pesach, one Greecester-suitable. Enjoy.


PlavaGluten, wheat and dairy free.

(contains nuts and egg)

Make a great, fluffy sponge without any raising agents? I wouldn’t have thought it possible. But plava’s light, springy texture is derived from separating and whisking eggs – it’s almost a cakey, lemony omelette.

Traditionally you’d use potato flour and matzah meal (which is not wheat free) but I didn’t have any of either and I think ground almonds make for a slightly denser, more delicious cake.

I adapted this from this recipe by Frances Spiegel.

6 eggs, separated
200g caster sugar (some plava recipes call for icing sugar, but I used normal caster sugar)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
135g ground almonds

Key things to note:

  • Don’t grease the tin – it might stick a little, but if you’re patient with cooling (or line with paper) all will be fine.
  • Use a metal spoon when folding in beaten egg white so as not to knock the air out.
  • As ground almonds tend to burn easily, you could cover this in foil before it goes in, removing the foil when there are fewer than 10 minutes to go (don’t open the oven door any earlier!). I did it the other way around – adding foil after half an hour – because I forgot about their tendency to brown alarmingly, and managed not to collapse the cake, but I wouldn’t risk it usually.

1. Preheat to 180 degrees / 160 with fan.
2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until pale and light.
3. Stir in lemon juice and rind.
4. Stir in almonds.
5. In a clean, dry bowl with scrupulously clean and dry beaters  / hand whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
6. Fold in with a metal spoon, carefully and quickly as possible so as not to knock out too much air.
7. Pour into a tin (don’t knock it on the surface to make it even, just spread gently), and bake for around 45 minutes – this is a check regularly after 30 minutes job.

Dairy Free Greecester Breakfast Smoothie

Dairy free smoothieI’ve been experimenting with almond milk recently because much though I love cows’ milk it doesn’t always love me. Also, I’m a sucker for trying stuff I see on supermarket shelves. I really fancied a smoothie recently but I know they’re packed full of juices, and I thought if I was going to go on a glucose binge it might as well be the whole fruit. So I made the following, which would be absolutely fine for a Greek fast (perhaps not quite in the spirit of simplicity, but certainly in line with having a light meal).

Since there’s no cows’ milk or yogurt, it is lower in fat and calories than a traditional smoothie, though there’s no escaping the fruit sugar. At least you get the fibre of the oats and whole fruit to balance it out!

180ml almond milk
1 medium banana
25-30g porridge oats
A generous handful of frozen berries
A dash of vanilla extract (I use a 1/4 tsp of paste – gorgeous)

1. Throw in a blender and pulse until smooth. Drink.

Ideally, you’d leave the oats to soak in the milk from the night before, as then they swell and soften, thickening the smoothie and also blending smoother with fewer little oat bits to stick in your teeth.  They don’t really bother me that much, but it can be a little grainy otherwise.

Using frozen berries means they’re always to hand in the freezer, regardless of season, but it also makes the smoothie ice cold, which is particularly nice if you’ve bought long life almond milk and it hasn’t been in the fridge.

It is apparently very easy to make one’s own almond milk – almonds soaked in water overnight, blitzed in a blender with fresh water then strained – but working out the costs it’s probably cheaper to buy it and I can’t help feeling life’s too short for cheesecloth. But if you want to go the full Pinterest Earth mother hog, don’t let me stop you. And then you could make almond butter as well, which is something I do want to try next.

Diabetic-friendly orange and almond cupcakes and Rachel Allen’s red velvet cake

Cupcakes heading for the oven

Cupcakes heading for the oven

It’s been a weekend of baking experimentation. I’ve been delving into my quick recipe standby, Susannah Blake’s Cupcake Heaven and my indulgence favourite, Rachel Allen’s Bake.

For once I’m going to give out a recipe because this is my adapted version of Blake’s. My father and mother-in-law are both diabetic; I’m a strong believer that diabetics are better off having less real sugar than pumping themselves with metallic-tasting sweeteners, so as a diabetic-friendly sugar substitute I prefer to use fructose. Each of the twelve cakes ends up with about 7g of sugar in (less than a teaspoon), so even only partially replacing the sugar ought to substantially alter the Glycaemic Index of each cake. They’re not diet food, but they’re less likely to deliver a blood sugar rush than they could be. Plus there’s no added fat – the only fat is in the eggs.

Wet Ingredients

2 eggs
Zest of an unwaxed orange

Dry Ingredients

35g fructose (I used Fruisana)
55g caster sugar (see Blake’s book for original amount of sugar)
80g ground almonds
3 tbsp plain flour (this is a change from Blake’s original – see book for how to alter this step to make it gluten-free)
Flaked almonds

Beat the eggs and sugars together to make a thick, pale batter. Stir in the orange zest, then sieve in the remaining dry ingredients (except the flaked almonds) and incorporate. Divide into 12 cupcake papers, filled almost to the top, and sprinkle flaked almonds (or mixed nuts) on top. Bake for approximately 22 minutes, though I’d check after 18.

Temperature? Well, that’s the experimental bit. The original recipe calls for 180 degrees, but fructose has a lower burning point than normal sugar, so you need to reduce the temperature by up to 25 degrees – especially if, like me, you have a fan-assisted oven. The cakes came out a little darker than I would like, and I’d like to see a higher ratio of fructose – I was worried to reduce it too much as I didn’t think the egg mixture would retain the right texture and without other fats it will need to stay the right consistency. Because fructose is sweeter than sugar, these have a real toothy bite to them. Experimentation continues…

I then decided to make something truly indulgent and ridiculous, and blundered across Rachel Allen’s red velvet cake recipe. It’s stunningly moist and the icing tooth-achingly sweet with its soft meringue texture. It’s the most wonderful thick, satisfying, trashy cake. Because of its richness and sweetness, it’s possible to have just one slice and not gorge, which is just as well given the amount of butter, sugar, golden syrup and the like which go into it. I made just one layer as I was short on some of the ingredients, and substituted 125ml of milk with 1/2 tbsp of white wine vinegar (left to sit for 5-10 mins) for buttermilk as I didn’t have any. I found that substitute came up for the first four Google search results, so I trusted it, and my faith was rewarded.

It’s so brilliant to look at too… mmmmm.