Cherry almond amarettis (Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

Vegan cherry almond amaretti cookies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For several weeks, every now and again, I have been trying to make eggless meringues. The meringues I prefer are the large, pillow-like ones made with brown sugar and lots of chopped nuts and a drizzle of dark chocolate, and not the plain white, dainty variety. Sadly, I haven’t been successful so far. However, my experimentation has led me to find other uses for vegan “egg white”, hence, I come to this week’s post.

Next time you open a can of cooked white beans or chickpeas in water, keep the canning liquid, for this is vegan “egg white”. Amazing as it sounds, the liquid whips up into a thick foam and can be used (with care) as a substitute for fresh egg whites. You may find it referred to as aqua fava for after all, that is what it is: bean water!

Bowls of butter bean and chickpea canning water. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The drained liquid content of a 400g can is approx. 140ml which equates to 3 medium egg whites. It freezes well so you don’t need to use all of it in one recipe – an ice cube tray is perfect for individual egg-sized amounts, but don’t forget to label it otherwise your G&T may taste a little strange! As with fresh egg white, place in a clean, grease-free bowl and whisk in the same way. I add a pinch of cream of tartar to assist the volume when whisking up.

Whipped butter bean and chickpea canning water. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Once I have cracked a decent meringue recipe and got my sugar and nut quantities correct, I look forward to sharing it with you. Until then, here is my recipe for Italian amaretti cookies. These are the soft variety, and are truly delicious (and very moreish). They make a lovely gift too.

Makes: 18

  • A few sheets of gluten-free edible paper (optional)
  • 45ml chickpea or white bean canning water
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 225g ground almonds
  • 100g glacé cherries, chopped
  • 125g + 2 tsp icing sugar
  • 2 tsp natural almond extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Using a 4cm diameter round cookie cutter, trace and cut out 18 rounds of edible paper if using, and place on the trays, spaced a little apart.
  2. Put the canning water in a clean, grease-free bowl and whisk until softly foaming. Add the cream of tartar and continue whisking until the beaters leave an impression in the foam – this takes about 3-4 minutes of whisking.
  3. Put the almonds and cherries in a bowl. Sift 125g icing sugar on top. Mix well and then add the almond extract and whisked foam. Carefully mix together to make a softish dough.
  4. Divide into 18 portions and form each into a ball. Place one on top of each paper circle and press down gently to flatten slightly – if you’re not using the paper, just space them out directly on the lined trays.

    Amaretti making. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The biscuits will store for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Serve lightly dusted with icing sugar.
Sugar-dusted cherry amarettis. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For gifting, wrap each amaretti cookie in a small, clean square of tissue paper, and twist the ends on each side to seal the wrapping. Arrange in a shallow box and tie with ribbon to present. Perfect for serving with coffee.

Gift-wrapped amarettis. Image: Kathryn Hawkins






Marsh samphire

Fresh marsh samphire Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Also known as glasswort, marsh samphire is a vegetable that I associate with this time of year. I’m not entirely sure why, but the texture is succulent and crisp, and goes well with the lighter, brighter dishes I yearn for at this time of year. The vibrant green colour makes it look fresh and very appealing.  Samphire is definitely one of the ingredients and flavours that marries perfectly with this vibrant season.

Griddled samphire. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The thin, green succulent stems of marsh samphire remind me of fine, young asparagus stalks and can be eaten and cooked in the same way. However, the flavour is completely different; you won’t need to turn to the salt-cellar  or any other salted ingredients when you come to cooking and serving samphire, it is naturally salty and is, therefore, best served in small portions. I like to griddle a handful of stems in a very hot pan, brushed with a little oil. They wilt in a couple of minutes and take on a slightly charred flavour. You can also toss stems in oil, spread them out on a baking tray and blast them in a hot oven for a few minutes to get a similar effect.

Fine, young samphire stems. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Young, fine, very fresh stems can be eaten raw. Just give them a thorough rinse in cold running water, chop them into small bits and toss them into your salad greens for a salty crunch. Larger stems are best briefly cooked in boiling water or lightly steamed, and can be a stir-fried.

Smoked Salmon and samphire noodles Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Because of the “sea-salt” flavour, samphire is perfect served with fish, but it is also good with roast lamb. I like to add some sweetness in a dressing, or add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to temper the taste of the salt. Samphire is a vegetable that is traditionally pickled (although I haven’t tried this); I can imagine a sweet, spicy pickling liquid would work well and make a great accompaniment to go with smoked mackerel or ham. My current favourite combination of ingredients with griddled samphire is freshly cooked plain rice noodles, flakes of hot smoked salmon and a dressing of Thai sweet chilli sauce – so simple and yet utterly delicious!

Chai masala biscuits for Easter (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

Marzipan-topped chai masala biscuits for Easter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rich, short, lightly fruited biscuits with a hint of spice, this is a spring bake that takes me back to my childhood. Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without them. Traditionally the biscuits are dusted with white sugar before baking to give them a crusty top, but I love marzipan and it makes a delicious topping for these biscuits. Using a chai masala mix instead of the usual ground spice blends adds a delicate citrus note to the flavour. I think this Indian spice mix tastes lighter and more fragrant than the more familiar blends used in baking.

Ready blended chai masala mix. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

You can buy ready mixed chai masala for putting in your bakes (or tea!) (Steenbergs organic chai masala), but if you have selection of traditional spices, it is easy enough to put together your own blend. Making your own means that you can experiment by adding more of your favourite spice to personalise your mix.

Whole spices: root ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and cardamom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To make your own chai masala, mix together 4 level teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 level teaspoons ground cardamom, 1 level teaspoon ground ginger and ½ level teaspoon each ground nutmeg, ground cloves and finely ground black pepper. As with all spices, store in a sealed jar out of direct sunlight, in a cool, dry place. I keep small vitamin supplement jars for keeping spice mixes in as the glass is often brown or dark green, and so perfect for keeping out the light. Make up the blend in small batches  to insure fresh flavour every time you use it. Chai masala can be used in any recipe where a ground mixed spice is called for.

Blending together ground spices for chai masala. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s the recipe for my Easter biscuits.

Makes: 14

  • 100g vegan margarine, softened (use butter if you prefer)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp non dairy milk
  • 200g gluten-free plain flour blend + extra for dusting (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 1 ½ to 2 tsp chai masala
  • 65g mixed currants and chopped cranberries
  1. Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Put the margarine  and sugar in a bowl and whisk together until smooth and creamy. Whisk in the milk.
  2. Sift the flour and spice on top and add the fruit. Mix all the ingredients together until well combined, then bring the mixture together with your hands to make a softish dough.
  3. Dust the work surface with flour and knead the dough gently until smooth. Roll out thinly to a thickness of approx. ½ cm. Using a 7cm crinkle-edge round cutter, stamp out 14 rounds, re-rolling the dough as necessary. Arrange the rounds on the baking trays, spaced a little apart. Prick with a fork, and chill for 30 minutes.

    Preparation of the biscuit dough. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 6). Bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes until lightly golden round the edges. Cool on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

    Freshly baked chai spiced Easter biscuits. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. The biscuits are delicious left plain but if you are a marzipan fan, dust the work surface with icing sugar and roll out 200g marzipan thinly. Using a 6cm diameter crinkle-edged cutter, stamp out 14 rounds, re-rolling the marzipan as necessary. Brush each biscuit with a little smooth apricot jam and secure a marzipan disc on top of each. Score the marzipan with a knife and lightly toast the tops with a cook’s blow-torch if liked. Happy Easter eatings!

Marzipan-topped Easter biscuits. Image: Kathryn Hawkins



April flowers

White Pieris in April sunshine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There is a multitude of colours in the garden this month. A combination of warmer, sunnier days, a few showers here and there, and cool nights, has brought glorious technicolor to the beds and borders. The Pieris shrubs have been in flower for a couple of weeks already, and are now fully laden with bunches of droplet-like blossoms. Their aroma is spicy and fresh, and the bees are buzzing all over them.

The zesty colours of the Euphorbia are showing now. In my garden, the plant grows most prolifically in the dappled, shadier parts, and has become quite a forest, as the stems self-seed each year.

Fresh_new_growth_on_ Euphorbia
Bright, fresh and green, Euphorbia. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Growing in little groups in the flower-beds and alongside the paths, are the tiny, clustered flowers of the grape hyacinth. Sweet-scented,  dainty in stature, with bold, blue bell-shaped petals, they stand out prominently amidst all the fresh greenery.

Muscari (grape hyacinth). Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I planted anemones for the first time last autumn, and they seem to be thriving. The colour of the pink and red varieties is particularly dazzling in the sunshine.

Fuschia-pink anemone. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
Scarlet-coloured anemone. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The warmth of the sun has opened up the blossom buds on several of the fruit trees this past week. The Morello cherry is always one of the first to flower. I have high hopes for a bumper crop this year as there are blossoms up and down every stem. The small tree is an espalier and grows against a south-facing wall. It is about 6 years old and for the past couple of years, has produced a fair crop of fruit.

Morello cherry blossom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the more unusual-looking flowers at this time of year is the Snakeshead Fritillay. Immediately you can see how it gets its name. The striking flower heads grow on tall, spindly stems with grass-like leaves; they are almost camouflaged in amongst the new shoots in the flowerbeds and the back-drop of the beech hedge.

Snakeshead fritillary. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another flowering plant that is unremarkable from a distance, is this tiny yellow violet. It grows in a single clump in the back garden. The petals are so pale and delicate, the blooms are easily over-looked because it grows so close to the ground. If you can get close enough, the flowers have the faint aroma of vanilla.

Tiny pale-yellow violet. Image Kathryn Hawkins

My final plant this month, is another aromatic: Ribes sanguineum. At this time of the year, the flowers and foliage smell of blackcurrants and, to me, its flowering means that spring is well under way with the promise of summer not too far off. Until next month, enjoy the sights and smells of the season.

Ribes sanguineum. Image: Kathryn Hawkins


Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

New season garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have more books on the subject of herbs and spices than on any other. I love growing my own herbs and experimenting with new flavours. It’s lovely to see that my herb garden is coming back to life again, now that the days are getting lighter and the sun is slowly warming up.

One of the best culinary friends from the herb garden is garden sorrel. A hardy perennial – I’ve noticed that even in the depths of a Scottish winter, there are always a few leaves poking their way through the earth – it is easy to grow and is very versatile. Related to spinach and the wild, leafy plant, Dock, garden sorrel is a real favourite with cooks and chefs alike.

Freshly picked sorrel leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Spring is the time to start picking a few leaves here and there – the more you pick, the more the plant will regenerate, and you’ll have a succession of young leaves right through until autumn. At this time of year, the new leaves are juicy and fresh tasting. Larger leaves have more of the classic, astringent lemony flavour associated with the herb. As the season progresses, tougher, red flowering stems will form with clusters of tiny red flowers at the end, and a few of the leaves will become very large. Whilst the flowering stem should be cut down,  the large leaves, which are too coarse to eat, make perfect wrappings for tenderising meat and flavouring fish during cooking.

Very_young_tender_leaves_ and_more_mature_sorrel_leaves
Baby sorrel and larger sorrel leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you fancy growing your own, buy some seed now and get sowing. You may also find potted clumps at the garden centre. Garden sorrel likes rich, moist soil, and the sun or semi-shade. And that’s about it; it will look after itself. If you want a supply for winter, either cover the clump with a cloche, or split the roots in autumn and pot some up – I usually keep a pot in my unheated greenhouse over the winter months to tide me over until the next spring.

New season sorrel in my herb garden. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Garden sorrel serving suggestions and tips

  • Sorrel is best picked as required. Treat like spinach if you do need to store it: place in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge for a couple of days maximum. It can be frozen successfully, but loses its flavour if dried.
  • Because of the acid content, sorrel is affected by cast iron cookware and will discolour. Use a stainless steel knife blade for cutting, and only shred just before using to avoid discolouration and flavour loss.

    Garden sorrel preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • Young garden sorrel leaves are delicious mixed with other green salad leaves and soft-leaved herbs; they add a tangy lemony flavour to the plate, and reduce the need for vinegar or lemon juice in a salad dressing.
  • Used by the Greeks and Romans as an aid to digestion, garden sorrel is the perfect accompaniment to rich foods such as soft cheese (especially goat’s and sheep’s cheeses), oily fish, lamb and pork.

    Patties of minced pork and pancetta mixed with salt, pepper, garlic, freshly chopped chives and shredded garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • Garden sorrel is commonly used in egg dishes. Try adding to pancake batter, or a quiche filling; stir into scrambled eggs, or add as an ingredient to an omelette fines herbes. Pep up an egg mayonnaise sandwich filling by adding a few fresh leaves – much zingier than mustard and cress!
  • Add some chopped leaves to soft butter or margarine along with some black pepper and a little salt. Melt over hot grilled fish, barbecued chicken or steaks. See my recipe for chive butter if you fancy making some  Homegrown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free)
  • As well as all the culinary uses, sorrel leaves are rich in potassium and the vitamins A, B1 and C.

    Broad, arrow-shaped leaf of garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins