A major occupational hazard of baking is the mess.
If you’ve ever left sticky fingerprints on a work surface, mistakenly smeared chocolate behind your ear, walked flour footprints across the kitchen or somehow managed to turn every pan and utensil you own into a pile of washing up, you’ll know what I mean.
My tiny little space for baking might be more hazardous than most. Because it’s so small, every cupboard in the kitchen is crammed to its limit, herbs and spices jostling for space with packets of pulses and only one dedicated place to keep all my baking ingredients. It’s not that I haven’t tried to encroach on other cupboards, but after storing chocolate in the same place as curry powder resulted in it taking on a strangely spicy flavour, I’ve returned to a single space to store my flour, sugar, chocolate, nuts and syrups for fear of cross contamination.
Situated above the sink with an upwards opening door that doesn’t stay open by itself, my baking cupboard is an accident just waiting to happen. Every month or so I’ll rearrange it, moving everyday items like flour and sugar to within easy reach while lesser used items like food colouring, fondant or tins of treacle are tucked further from the front. But, like my carefully arranged clothes cupboards, every couple of weeks the rearrangement falls apart, packets rammed in at all sorts of angles, propped up precariously and waiting for their moment to explode out of the cupboard and onto my head in a snowfall of flour or sugar.
Last week I opened the cupboard to a cascade of flaked almonds falling out of a half opened packet that I’d failed to sellotape shut, followed closely by a packet of ground almonds which luckily I hadn’t. As I scooped the – now soggy – almonds from the sink I made two resolutions. The first, and one I’m bound to break, being to keep my cupboards in better order. The second, and something I’m hoping will be easier to stick to: to start using up some of the random assortment of leftover ingredients I seem to accumulate on a weekly basis.
That means the half opened jars of nut butter, numerous packets of nuts, oils and essences, syrups, sugars and seeds which seem to have made their way into my cupboards over the years. Food waste is most obvious when it’s something thrown from the fridge or scraped from your plate, but I also hate the thought of all those expensive ingredients languishing out of sight in hidden corners of the kitchen, not getting used until it’s a year too late and they’ve gone out of date.
I like the idea that this dessert was created from leftovers. After making this custard based honey and pistachio ice cream, I had five egg whites to use up so knew I wanted to make something meringue based when my brother came round for supper this Saturday. Having experimented with a peanut based dacquoise, I decided to use up a half opened packet of ground almonds in an almond version, scattering over flaked almonds for added crunch and colour. The filling is made from cream (which I always have on hand), lemon curd – a half-eaten jar of which was sitting at the back of the fridge – and the remaining mascarpone from some tartlets we’d eaten earlier in the week. Add a dusting of icing sugar and the blackberries I hadn’t got around to finishing for breakfast and the whole thing started to come together.
It might seem a bit laborious to make two different types of meringue, but the filling is so simple I’d argue that it’s worth it. I spent all weekend out the house on a course and still managed to throw this together in time for dinner on Saturday, the only thing that took a little time being decorating the edges with flaked almonds. It’s a case of minimal effort creating maximum impact for a dessert that’s pretty to look at and delicious to eat, crispy, chewy layers yielding into smooth, sweet cream with a toasty crunch of almond and a burst of juice as each blackberry bursts in your mouth.
Make this dessert on the day you plan to eat it – the longer the toasted almonds sit against all that whipped cream the less likely they are to retain their nutty crunch. I’ve guessed that it should serve approximately 8 – 10 people below, based on the fact that Carniverous Boyfriend, my brother and I ate two generous slices each with a little left over. If your family is less greedy than mine, it might stretch slightly further.
Lemon, Almond & Blackberry Slice
(makes one 30cm long cake, 8-1o servings)
For the meringue & dacquoise layers
5 egg whites
150g caster sugar
90g ground almonds
Handful flaked almonds
For the cream & lemon curd
400ml double cream
2 heaped tbsp lemon curd
1 tsp vanilla extract
25g icing sugar, sifted (optional) plus extra to finish
125g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
Blackberries, to decorate
For the meringue & dacquoise layers
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Line two trays with baking parchment.
Whisk the egg whites, sugar and salt in an electric stand mixer until still peaks form.
Spoon one third of the whipped egg whites into a separate clean bowl. Fold the ground almonds into the other two thirds of whipped egg white, working lightly until combined.
Transfer the ground almond mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and pipe two 30 x 16cm rectangles side-by-side on one sheet of baking parchment, making sure you use up all the mixture. Sprinkle flaked almonds over one of the rectangles.
Refill the piping bag with your plain meringue mixture and pipe one more 30 x 16cm rectangle on the second sheet of baking parchment.
Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until firm to the touch and golden brown. Your plain meringue might need a little longer than the dacquoise. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
For the cream & lemon curd
Whip the double cream until medium peaks form – you want it to hold its shape without being overwhipped. Divide between two bowls and stir the mascarpone and lemon curd through one bowl and the vanilla and icing sugar through the other.
Place the plain rectangle of almond dacquoise on a serving plate or cake board.
Fill a piping bag with the plain cream mixture and pipe over the rectangle. Top with the plain meringue rectangle.
Refill the piping bag with the lemon cream mixture and pipe over the second layer. Top with the flaked almond dacquoise rectangle.
Pipe a very thin layer of cream around the edges of the layered meringue and smooth flat with a palette knife. Press flaked almonds into this layer of cream, working round the entire cake until all the sides are coated.
Pipe dots of cream along either side of the top meringue and top each one with a single blackberry. Dust with icing sugar and serve.