Last weekend our little family hopped in our jam packed car and headed for the seaside for a long weekend and a family wedding. We weren’t heading for just any seaside, but an idyllic spot with a beautiful white sandy beach that goes as far as the eye can see and goes by the name of Sandbanks.
Most people think of fast cars, mansions, Sunseeker speedboats (and possibly Harry Redknapp!) when they picture Sandbanks, but my Grandpa fell in love with the area more than 60 years ago and bought a little cottage with stripey blue parasols that backed onto the ocean.
My childhood is wrapped up in that little place. All we needed was a beach to play on, a café to refuel at and of course a newsagent to buy your much needed bucket and spade. And that’s really all there is at Sandbanks, and all there is still today. Which is kind of why it really is just the perfect place.
I’ve got so many memories of playing in the garden with my siblings and cousins, or carefully creeping across to the jetty a few houses along where you could try and catch crabs in your net and bucket, or going out in our little dingy boat and hoping we had the strength to row back.
Christmases were spent there with cousins, all of us squeezed into bedrooms, mattresses on floors, stockings littering the ground and a Christmas Tree taking center stage in the living room with twinkling lights brightening up the dark ocean backdrop.
I’ve got memories of bikes falling off the back of an over-loaded car, ghost stories being told by older siblings (we were and still are convinced there was a ghost upstairs) and in my uni years, some very drunken dinner parties.
It was like going full circle driving down there, now with my own family and I couldn’t wait to share one of my favourite places with my little boy.
As we drove over the last hill heading towards our destination, I of course played the ‘who can spot the sea first’ family competition, Seb clearly having no idea what was going on, but I knew one day, we’d be coming back and he’d be the first to shout ‘ I CAN SEE THE SEA’ with a big grin on his face. I’m looking forward to that day.
We got to enjoy a fabulous family wedding on Saturday, total carnage as you’d expect from a Smith wedding. It has been proved on many occasions now that the Smith’s definitely know how to throw a great party.
And on Sunday morning, (everyone a little foggy headed it must be said), made their way to the beach to blow away those cobwebs and bring back some of those childhood memories. It was the most glorious day and only topped by a lovely Sunday lunch with both sets of parents (mine and Will’s that is) and these little individual spiced fig and almond tortes for dessert.
The tortes don’t take too long to whip up and can be made in advance so that all you have to do is pop them in the oven when you start your main course.
I’m a sucker for anything using ground almonds, they keep desserts beautifully light and moist, giving them that melt in the mouth quality that is just delectable. With the use of honey and maple syrup, there is a richness that smacks a punch but without the heaviness you might not desire after a Sunday lunch.
Browned butter is also a personal favourite of mine, bringing undertones of nuttiness that only enhances the almond flavor. The spices sing of autumn, cinnamon and ginger shining through and a little orange zest to compliment the juicy figs which are so in season right now.
I have two suggestions for you on the back of reading and (hopefully) enjoying this post, book a long weekend in Sandbanks and make these tortes. The two are the perfect combination.
Individual spiced fig and almond tortes (gluten free)
Very slightly adapted from London Bakes Fig and Almond Torte.
Makes 6 individual tortes, or you could make one large one in a cake tin with a removable bottom.
150g unsalted butter (plus a little extra to butter your tins)
300g ground almonds
2 egg yolks
80ml maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
zest of two oranges
pinch of salt
5 figs, thinly sliced.
Toasted flaked almonds (couple of handfuls for sprinkling)
Crème fraiche to serve with tortes.
Butter your individual tins, really really well. You don’t want any chance of your tortes sticking to them as they are quite fragile.
Begin with browning your butter in a pan over a medium to high heat. You want to get to the point where you can smell the nuttiness and the butter goes brown (but not burnt). This should take about 5 minutes. Leave to cool slightly.
In a bowl mix together your almonds, egg yolks, honey, maple syrup, vanilla bean paste, ginger, cinnamon, orange zest and salt. Once your butter has cooled slightly, mix through until you have a thick batter.
Spoon your batter into your prepared tins and flatten to the edges using the back of a spoon. Only fill to just a few millimeters from the top of your tin.
Place your sliced figs onto of your batter and place your tins in the freezer to firm up for about half an hour to an hour. You can then place in the fridge till you want to put them in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees and bake your torte for 30-40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes to see they aren’t burning, and lower the heat if they are but not ready to come out. The torte should be a golden brown and firm to the touch.
Allow to cool slightly in the tin before removing onto plates. Scatter with your almonds and a good dollop of crème fraiche.