Nutty treats for autumn afternoons

If the shorter days and cooler nights are urging you to turn on the oven, try these Nigel Slater recipes making use of crunchy nuts for added texture and flavour.

The oven is on and all is well. Darker evenings — and this is just the start — make me hungry for cake and for buns.

Treats to brighten an autumn afternoon too, when we come in from a walk or from sweeping fallen leaves from the paths. Something to eat with a cup of tea.

I made buns this week, their soft, almost yellow crumb speckled with chopped green olives and spiked with toasted pine nuts. The latter cost a king’s ransom, but once they are toasted their nuttiness goes a long way. You only need a handful.

Of all the cakes I bake, those with nuts seem especially relevant right now. The hazelnut and walnut cakes seem to belong to autumn, when the new nut harvest is in. I made a pistachio cake this week, the chopped nuts joining ground almonds and the merest hint of rosewater to make a moist and crumbly cake. There was icing too, a lemon-scented one among which I scattered chopped pistachios and sugared roses.

Pistachio and lemon cake

A nutty, cut-and-come-again cake with notes of lemon and rose that will keep in fine condition for a few days. I sometimes serve it as a dessert, each green-freckled slice laced with a trickle of kefir or yoghurt.

Serves 8-10

250g butter

250g caster sugar

100g shelled pistachios

1 lemon

3 eggs

100g ground almonds

1 tsp rosewater

75g plain flour

To decorate

150g icing sugar

2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp, chopped pistachios

2 Tbsp crushed crystalised rose petals

A few dried roses (optional)


Preheat the oven to 150°C fan. Line a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar in a food mixer until very light and fluffy. (I use the flat paddle beater attachment.) Process the pistachios to coarse crumbs using a food processor (you can chop them by hand if you like). Finely grate the zest of the lemon.

Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat them with a fork, then add to the butter and sugar a little at a time with the mixer still beating. If there is any sign of curdling, add a little of the flour. Add the pistachios, ground almonds, lemon zest and rosewater. Lastly, mix in the flour.

Transfer the batter into the cake tin, then bake in the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes until springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, leave to settle for 5 minutes then, using a palette knife, ease the cake from its tin and place on a wire cooling rack.

To make the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, stir in the lemon juice until you have an icing thick enough to cover the cake and drip down the sides. Spoon the icing over the cakes then scatter with the pistachios and crystalised rose petals and, if you wish, a few dried rosebuds.

Green olive, thyme and pine-nut buns

A fluffy bun, rich with olive oil and chopped green olives. This is good to have with cheese, a chalky white sheep or goat’s cheese perhaps, or something like a caerphilly. 

Makes 9


500g plain flour

1½ tsp fast-acting yeast

½ tsp sea salt

200g natural yoghurt

3 Tbsp olive oil

100ml warm water

250g green olives, stoned

5 bushy sprigs thyme

3 Tbsp pinenuts

To finish

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp, chopped thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs

2 Tbsp pine nuts


You will need a deep-sided baking tin measuring 20cm x 20cm with a piece of baking parchment.

In a large, warm mixing bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Put the yoghurt in a jug, whisk briefly to break it up, pour in the olive oil and the warm water, and stir well.

Combine the yoghurt mixture with the flour and yeast using your hands or a wooden spoon. You should end up with a somewhat sticky dough.

Roughly chop the olives. Chop the thyme leaves and add to the olives. In a dry pan, toast the pine nuts until golden. (Keep a close watch on them as they start slowly then burn rather quickly.)

If you are making the dough by hand, tip on to a floured board and knead the olives, thyme and pine nuts into it. If you prefer, use a food mixer fitted with a dough hook.

Continue kneading for a couple of minutes, adding a little more flour to stop the dough sticking if necessary, then put it back in its bowl, cover with a clean, warm cloth and put it in a warm place. Leave the dough in peace until it has risen to almost twice its original size.

Cut it into 6-8 equal pieces (depending on how large you like your buns), then shape each one into a round. Place them in the baking tin, one in the middle and the rest round the edge, then return to the warm place, cover with the cloth and leave for about 30 minutes, until nicely risen and nudging one another.

To finish, mix together the olive oil, chopped thyme leaves and pine nuts.

Set the oven at 210°C fan. Bake the buns for about 20 minutes, until well risen and lightly golden brown. Spoon the pine-nut mixture over the buns and return to the oven for 5 minutes.