For me, spring is all about perfumes. I recognise the turning of the season by the delicate scents it brings. The first snowdrops are a winter flower - a simple green and white and lacking in scent. When the narcissi and hyacinths start arriving - then spring is 'in the air'. I always try to get a potted hyacinth for my room at this time of year but this time I made do with some cut stems. The scent perfumed our entire flat.
Spring is also about the first colours - the first green grass breaking through from beneath the snow, the regeneration of tiny new leaves. The yellow of the daffodils, the purple of the crocuses, the blue of the hyacinths. There's something so bright about spring colours - they're so fresh and new. A yellow daffodil is definitely bright, not the mellow gold of the sunflower in summer.
I came back to Switzerland to stay with my mum for the holidays a few days ago and she's filled our flat with spring flowers and bulbs from IKEA. Without buying them you miss the spring entirely until the snow melts and the tiny flowers break out on the mountain side. At the end of April the valley fills with bright yellow dandelions - we used to drive away after winter among carpeted fields.
In this way, pistachios remind me of spring: delicately but intensely scented with that lovely pale waxy green. Orange blossom water has a similarly springlike smell - like my hyacinth, it fills the room. They seemed like the perfect combination to put together to make little cakes in my new moulds.
I bought my bag of shelled pistachios in Oxford before I left. They were pretty expensive and so grinding them up felt quite scary - whatever I made had to work with my crushed gold.
I put together a planned recipe - I couldn't find anything online or in my books. The batter tasted good and smelled pretty great too. But then I baked them and realised I had totally miscalculated how much flour I would need to balance out the oiliness of the nuts. They came out chewy on top and greasy on the bottom and didn't de-mould properly. With a quarter of my precious pistachios gone I felt quite upset and annoyed at myself.
Then I decided I wasn't going to be defeated. So I started over again with a half-batch of my adapted recipe so as to not use too many extra nuts and thankfully the second time they came out beautifully. They have that wonderful scent of both the nuts and orange blossom water and the texture is lovely. They're somehow both plain and intensely exotic.
I reckon they would be nice with a bit of icing too - but I like them with just a sprinkling of icing sugar.
Little Pistachio and Orange Blossom Water Cakes
40g soft brown sugar
70g caster sugar
50g whole blanched almonds
50g whole shelled pistachios
110g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange blossom water
Preheat the oven to 170C. Put the nuts into a food processor and blend till fine but with a few slightly bigger lumps. In a mixer cream the butter and sugar. Add an egg with a few tablespoons of the flour and blend, followed by the other egg and some more flour. Sieve in the rest of the flour and the baking powder then add in the ground nuts and the orange blossom water. Fold in till combined. Divide between the moulds and and bake for about 15 minutes or until browned on top and cooked through. Leave to cool in the moulds for five minutes then pop out. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Makes about 10.