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Cashew Nut Blondies

cashew blondiesAs I might have mentioned, I’ve been quite busy recently which has lead to the slightly bizarre scenario of being a food writer without the time to cook anything. What I needed was something low maintenance, very easy and with tonnes of impact for very little effort.

Oddly enough I found the answer to this quest in a disappointing jar of cashew butter. Since I’ve been lusting after some Keen nut butters for ages but unable to get them easily in South London, I impulse purchased a jar of the new Sun-Pat cashew butter instead.

I should have held out for the good stuff because this cashew and peanut blend was awful. Flavourless, limp and claggy, I couldn’t even eat the slice of toast I’d put it on as midnight snack. Staring blankly at a whole jar of the stuff, I took to Twitter to vent and some bright spark suggesting baking with it to rescue it.

I originally thought I’d make cookies like these but then I happened to be perusing one of my favourite sites Post Punk Kitchen and saw a recipe for peanut butter blondies and knew I had my answer. I love Isa’s recipes even if I tend to de-veganise them as I have here and adapted them in other ways.

Spiced Cashew Nut Blondies (makes about 12 medium size blondies)

  •  150g cashew nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 175g cashew nut butter or peanut butter
  • 50ml vegetable oil
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 50ml milk (non dairy milk works well too)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour (use a gluten free one if needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Begin by taking some roasted salted cashew nuts and chopping them roughly so that each nut is in about thirds. You want a bit of bite. Melt the sugar and the water together in a small pan and add the spices. Stir it all well and allow to become a thick dark syrup. Toss the cashew nuts in the syrup and lay in a single layer on a baking tray. Roast for about 15 minutes at 200℃.

In a large bowl, mix the cashew nut butter and the oil together into a thick paste. Beat the sugar into it all. Add the milk and the vanilla. It will be quite runny. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into the nut and sugar mix.

Stir it all well. It will combine easily into a ball that comes away from the edges of the bowl cleanly. Line a 9 inch square tin with baking liner or greaseproof paper. Tip the roasted spiced cashews into the dough and carefully mix them through lightly. Spoon the dough into the tin and flatten it out with the back of a fork.

Turn the oven down to 175℃. Bake the blondies for about 20-22 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. The centre should still be soft. Allow the blondies to cool completely in the tin and then cut into 12 squares.

These kept for almost a week in an airtight container and were a fantastic quick snack when I didn’t have time to do more than just grab something with a cuppa. The cashew nut butter wasn’t completely rescued by this as the taste was still a bit thin, but the texture was fantastic and I’d make them again with a decent peanut or cashew butter anytime. I might even re-veganise them too…

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is a delightfully English tradition and one that has become increasingly fashionable in the past few years, usually with a hefty price tag and a tendency to be overrated. I was slightly nervous therefore when a friend suggested meeting at the rather on trend Bea’s of Bloomsbury for afternoon tea this week.

My mind was put at rest the instant I walked in the door of this independent cafe. I was greeted by friendly staff who seemed genuinely pleased to see me when I said that we had booked a table. Taking a seat I noticed how low key and subtle the surroundings were and just how roaring the trade in teas, coffees and truly mesmerisingly good looking baked goods at the counter was.

Bookings are only taken for afternoon tea and the neatly laid table was ready and waiting. I looked at the lengthy tea menu while waiting for my friends and decided on Earl Grey. My companion chose English Breakfast and we chatted while waiting for our third guest. She got slightly lost trying to find the cafe and was a bit late. The staff were happy for us to sit over our tea and wait for her, swooping in almost immediately she arrived to tend to her rain soaked, stressed self with a pot of hot tea and a stunning stand of ready prepared baked goods. It doesn’t get better than this!

We weren’t quite sure where to start on the abundant selection of goodies, but trying to be well mannered we began with the huge plain scones offered. Glorious golden on the outside and soft, fluffy and light inside, we smothered them with lashings of clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. I’m fairly ambivalent about scones usually, but these were sensational. I may have gobbled mine down like I had never seen food before…

I was surprisingly well filled by the scone, so it was perfect that the stand was filled with little morsels of the desserts sold at the counter. Who could resist a teeny tiny chewy raspberry meringue or a bite sized chunk of Vahlrona chocolate brownie studded with chopped walnuts or a little titbit of soft creamy melting Belgian Blondie no matter how stuffed you feel? The fact that they were all fantastic didn’t hurt either.

We nibbled these mini sweetmeats and drained a second pot of tea each while chatting away. We were just wondering if we could do justice to the signature cupcakes that were waiting patiently on the stand for their moment of destiny, when our waitress appeared to say they were closing in ten minutes and would we like our cakes boxed up to take home? We of course did and while we were finishing up our tea, the cakes arrived back in little boxes marked raspberry, vanilla and praline. We each made our choice and went to settle the bill.

The Sweet Tea we had came to a very reasonable £9.90 per person. This is excellent value for such pleasant and helpful service, beautiful baked goods and enough tea to sink a battleship. The cafe was busy and bustling the whole two hours we were there, but it was surprisingly quiet and easy to talk with the way the tables were laid out. I had forgotten that tea and cake could be a relaxing experience in London due to the modern vogue for loud music, screaming children and in-your-face staff in most cafes. Bea’s managed to feel very grown up and welcoming.

It is open until 7pm each evening and it was a real treat to wend my way home through the rush hour stragglers with a little box of raspberry cupcake for dessert when I got home. If you are in the Theobald’s Road area en route home some evening, I heartily recommend nipping in for a post work treat! (The cupcakes are light and airy little numbers with a buttercream topping unlike the cloying lumps of sugar some other bakeries sell. Do not miss!)

I will definitely be returning here as soon as possible thanks to the fabulous atmosphere and top quality baked goods. Individual items were well priced with many under a pound. I’ll be trying the coffee next time too as they roast top quality Square Mile beans and I think it will be a match made in heaven with the blondies…

Do make a booking for Bea’s. It’ll restore your faith in afternoon tea in London!