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Pine-nuts and Parsnips!

August 26, 2016


This recipe purely came about using whatever I had in the cupboard last weekend. It was market day and I had a bunch of gorgeously fresh vegetables I needed to cram into the fridge for the next week, so I had to use up what was leftover from the previous market day: two lone parsnips!

These two parsnips had been sitting there stoically in my fridge demanding attention. I had been ignoring them guiltily, pushing them aside for the zucchini and broccoli, even the swedes got cooked up before them. When I bought them I had planned to make parsnip fritters or pudding but for some reason the inclination never returned.

So what to do with two not-so-fresh parsnips?

The word CAKE does not spring to mind but I set myself a challenge and this is the end result. Initially I had some flaked almonds to use for the topping which suited me happily but after the first cooking attempt I had run out of flaked almonds so I used pine-nuts instead.

Pine-nuts are always considered a luxury in our house as they are so very expensive. Last market day saw my husband bringing home an enormous bag of pine-nuts. (When I asked for some, I didn’t stipulate any particular quantity and I was struck dumb when he came home with 500g of the precious seeds!) “Boy, they are expensive!!” he exclaimed!

And rightly so, pine-nuts are pretty complicated to harvest. The seeds take up to 3 years to harvest, given the right conditions, and shelling them is a tricky, time consuming matter.

While all pine trees will produce a pine-nut, there are only about 18 species that produce seeds large enough to be of value as human food, and are found in Asia, Europe and North America. Pine-nuts are ready to harvest just before the green cone begins to open. The cones are dried in the sun and then they are then smashed to release the seeds, which are separated by hand from the cone fragments. The fact that it takes a lot of time and patience is an understatement – and justifies the high price of pine-nuts. Pine-nuts have a second shell, which also has to be removed before eating. (Are you beginning to understand the high price?)

parsnip cake

The pine-nuts we get are either Asian (short stubby seeds) which have a higher oil content, or European (long slender seeds) which are more expensive and less likely to spoil. Both have a mild buttery flavour which is enhanced by toasting, but be careful, their high fat content enables them to burn easily.

They are rich in the same healthy fats that other nuts contain and surprisingly have quite a good protein content.

I have posted this recipe with pine-nuts to keep it nut free, but flaked almonds also work really well so substituting either is fine. I guess it depends on how full your wallet is at the moment!!!

Interesting fact: Pine-nuts can cause “pine nut mouth” or “pine nut syndrome”. It causes everything you eat to have a bitter, metallic taste – lasting a few hours to a couple of days. It is believed to stem from one species of pine-nut, Armand or St David’s pine (P. armandii) from South West China which triggers  an unpleasant taste sensation by the absorption of a naturally occurring chemical in the Armand pine. Sufferers report enjoying their pine-nuts – and only hours or days later suffering the taste problems. This is so unusual that it has researchers studying it further to try to understand neural pathways that connect the digestive system to the brain and our system of taste in the mouth. They hope to learn more about how our whole food metabolism works in the process.

It may be small consolation but while temporarily unpleasant, pine nut mouth apparently has no other effect on health with no toxic or other debilitating effects. I have had this happen to me once in my life many years ago and never knew what it was –  it wasn’t obviously related to pine-nuts and was very mild. Authorities are much more vigilant about keeping Armand pine-nuts out of circulation these days: another reason to pay a bit more for your pine-nuts!

The cake can be made without the caramel topping if you like but I would increase the nutmeg to give it more flavour. It is wonderfully moist and freezes well. But the cake with the caramel topping is to die for: chewy and nutty, it is amazing served warm with cream for a very easy and impressive afternoon-tea or dessert. As with most gluten-free flour cakes, it doesn’t last well so is best eaten fresh.

…. And can you taste the parsnip?? You can taste a subtle earthiness but without knowing, it would be hard to pick. Try it out on your friends and see!

150g parsnips (about 1 medium, peeled)

90g sugar

150g olive oil

3 eggs

1 teas vanilla extract

½ teas nutmeg

½ teas ground ginger

150g gluten-free flour

2 rounded teaspoons baking powder


80g butter (or 70g coconut oil for dairy-free)

50g sugar

1 tab golden syrup

2 tabs gluten-free flour

80g raw pine-nuts or flaked almonds

Chop the parsnip on SP 5 for 10 seconds until grated finely and set aside.

Blend the sugar, oil, eggs and spices on SP 6 for 1 minute. It will be nicely homogenised and thick. Add the parsnip, flour and baking powder and mix on SP 4, REVERSE, until well combined.

Pour into a lined 24cm springform tin and bake at 175°C for 20 minutes. Make a slight indentation in the batter so that when it rises it will rise with a flatter surface. (My pinenuts rolled off in the photo!)

In a clean TM bowl, melt the butter with the sugar, flour and golden syrup on SP 3 for 3 minutes at 90°C. (Or you can do this on the stove in a small saucepan.)

Stir through the nuts gently.

When the cake has been baking for 20 minutes, take it out of the oven and pour over the topping and return to the oven to continue baking for another 25 minutes. Depending on your springform pan, oil may leach out of the bottom so place it on a baking tray to prevent a mess in your oven.

Cool for 40 minutes before removing the pan.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kirsten permalink
    September 2, 2016 5:47 pm

    I really liked this, but I cut down the sugar a lot and still found it very sweet. Mine looked like it may have been a bit oilier than yours and a bit denser but it was very moist and was eating well for 3 days before I decided to cut the rest in to pieces and freeze it. Hopefully it will thaw just as well. I used flaked almonds instead of pine nuts.

    • September 11, 2016 8:21 am

      Yes it is quite sweet, especially with the caramel on top. I often substitute the sugar for natvia in my recipes.

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