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Posts from the ‘Cakes and puddings’ Category

Simnel swirls

 

imageIf there are two times of the year when you can be guaranteed to find a block of marzipan in my cupboard, it’s Easter and Christmas. I invariably buy a block with grand ideas of all the seasonal baking I’m going to do. Then the packet gets opened and little by little, chunks get torn off, to be nibbled on as a surreptitious snack until suddenly there is nowhere near enough left to consider baking and I shamelessly devour the rest.

So I feel very smug about the fact that I managed to get these buns into existence at all. I can’t say there was zero marzipan snaffling going on, but enough made it into these buns. These are a sort of cross between a cinnamon bun and a chelsea bun with a marzipan core. I considered using a laminated danish pastry recipe for these, but, even though we have a long bank holiday weekend ahead, I didn’t feel the need to spend the time doing book folds in pastry.  A simple enriched yeasted dough, fairly quick to rise, will mean that you can have these ready in a couple of hours, perfect with a mid-morning coffee.

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Cranberry clementine shortbread sandwiches

Christmas seems to creep up faster every year – I feel like I’ve barely done any Christmas baking this year and suddenly it’s here! This lack of baking hasn’t exactly translated into a lack of eating though. There is a near constant supply of mince pies in the office, fuelling me through those mid morning and mid afternoon slumps, which meant that when a baking opportunity finally arose I was actually feeling a bit mince pied out. So I made these little jam sandwich biscuits instead, an easy little mince pie alternative. They’re that perfect combination of light and fruity, yet satisfyingly buttery and crisp, with the added bonus of looking like little Christmas jewels.

You’ll need two Christmas shaped cookie cutters for this, one smaller than the other to cut a window out of the top biscuit. I used snowflakes, but any shapes will work.

Soften 250g butter then add 150g caster sugar. Mix for a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon or in a food mixer until pale and creamy. Add 1 egg yolk and the zest of 2 clementines. Finally mix in 300g plain flour until just combined. Roll into a ball, wrap it in cling film and pop it into the fridge for half an hour.

Heat your oven to 160C (fan). Lightly dust your work surface with flour the divide the dough into two. Roll out the first ball until just a few millimetres thick and cut out shapes using the larger cutter, re-rolling the offcuts as needed. These will form the base of your sandwiches. Lay these onto a couple of non-stick baking trays and bake for around 10 minutes until light golden and crisp. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile roll out the other ball of dough and again cut shapes out using the larger cutter. Then take your smaller cutter and cut out a shape in the middle. Carefully transfer these to more baking trays, they will be quite delicate with the middles cut out. Either re-roll the centres to make more biscuits or just bake them to eat as your little cooks treat whilst doing the icing.

Once all batches of biscuits are baked and cooled then they can be assembled. Put a small spoonful of cranberry jam into the centre of the bases and then add the tops.

Mix a cup of icing sugar with just enough water to form a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag and ice the tops as you like. My icing is far from neat but it still looks pretty. Add silver balls or other decorations as you like.

The jam with soften the biscuits a little so they’re best eaten fresh. I don’t think they’ll last very long anyway. Merry Christmas!

Makes about 20, depending how big your cookie cutters are. Takes about an hour, plus half an hour for the dough to rest in the fridge.

Shopping list:

250g butter

1 egg (just the yolk needed)

150g caster sugar

300g plain flour

2 clementines

1 jar cranberry jam

1 cup icing sugar

silver balls or other decorations

 

Equipment needed:

Festive cookie cutters

Baking trays

Piping bag

 

 

Malted chocolate ice cream cake aka Malteser Viennetta

I do love a good bit of kitchen dabbling. This is the result of one happy experiment, borne of some double cream without a home and half a jar of malt extract left over from the ale and cheddar bread I made a little while ago. Double cream never goes to waste in my house – I’ll happily whip up a couple of spoonfuls of cream, stir through dash of whatever I have in the cupboard (baileys is a particularly reliable option) before stashing it in the freezer, barely more than a couple of mouthfuls waiting for a moment in need of a little sweetness.

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I was so very pleased with the little pot of cream I spiked with malt extract and milk chocolate that I knew a malteser-based ice cream pudding was in the making. I couldn’t quite settle the format in my head, until a conversation at work brought up the endless retro appeal of a viennetta, which inspired me to make this. If you’ve never had a viennetta, it’s a soft, fluffy ice cream bar with thin shards of chocolate traversing its length, bringing a welcome crisp to an otherwise soft and sweet dessert.

This isn’t a proper ice cream, no churning custard mixes here. Just some easily whipping and stirring, followed by enough patience to allow it to freeze. You’ll need a loaf tin approximately 20cm long x 10cm wide.

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Strawberry pistachio macaron mess

 

strawberry pistachio macaron mess

Inspiration is a funny thing. I sometimes think that I have all of my best ideas on a sunny day. The sunshine just makes me want to paint, write, create in a way that makes me wonder whether I’ve ever had a good idea when there are clouds in the sky. Perhaps it’s just the positive frame of mind that the blue sky brings. The other key thing for me is a bit of mental space, allowing your brain to go meandering into places that it never can when it is stuffed with to-do lists or mindless tv. No wonder we have our best ideas in the shower or on a jog around the park. So this dessert is the product of a sunny stroll, where the rhythm of my legs could drive the cogs of my brain to create an indulgent variation on this summer classic. Inspiration in a bowl, I guess.

I’m a total sucker for pistachio flavoured things. It’s virtually guaranteed that if there is a pistachio variant of something, I’ll be having it. So when I had the idea of swapping the meringues in a traditional mess for macarons, it had to be pistachio. Their nutty flavour is perfect with the sweet, fruity strawberries. You could make your own macarons if you have the time or inclination, but I just bought mine from a local patisserie. I think that part of the point of a mess is the speed and ease of it. Read more

Coconut, lime and strawberry tart

coconut, lime and strawberry tart

A tropical twist on a summery strawberry tart. This looks and tastes like far more effort than it actually involves; no-one would ever believe that it was borne of series of compromises on a day where I wanted to make something, but everything seemed like too much trouble.

Sometimes I just find myself in the supermarket ambling around aimlessly, without a shopping list and without a clue what I want to cook. There were punnets of new season strawberries which made their way into my basket, but otherwise I was feeling hopelessly uninspired. Maybe I could put them in some sort of tart…no, not in the mood for making pastry…maybe with some victoria sponge and cream…no, a bit boring…. So as I drifted up and down the baking aisle, suddenly a bag of desiccated coconut caught my eye and it all fell into place.

I thought I’d experiment with using a coconut macaroon mixture instead of pastry to make a tart shell. It requires a fraction of the time and effort of making pastry, yet gives the impression of being a much more ambitious and  exotic endeavour. Combining the coconut with a zesty lime filling gives the whole thing a pleasingly tropical feel. Even the lime filling was a bit of a shortcut in the end. I had initially intended to make a lime curd with the leftover egg yolks, but again that felt like too much of an undertaking, so the egg yolks were abandoned in the fridge in favour of a simple creamy filling made from condensed milk and whipped cream instead.

Coconut shellStart by making the tart case. Preheat your oven to 150C (fan). Lightly but thoroughly grease a 20cm loose bottomed round tin. This mixture can be pretty sticky, so a good non-stick tin will help immensely. Mix together 1 1/2 cups of desiccated coconut, 2 egg whites and 1/4 cup of caster sugar. If you pick up a clump of the mixture and give it a squeeze it should clump together nicely. If it seems a bit wet add a little extra coconut. Press the coconut mixture firmly into the base and sides tin as evenly as you can. Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden and set. Leave to cool then release the edges from the side of the tin.

Meanwhile decant a 400g can of condensed milk into a mixing bowl. Add the juice and zest of 4-5 limes until the mixture has a good balance of tangy yet sweet to suit your taste. It’s very hard to know how much juice will come out of each individual lime, they can so often be disappointingly dry. I ran out of limes before I’d obtained the requisite sweet-sour balance, so ended up adding the juice of a lemon too to get the balance right.

Lightly whip 200ml double cream until it is just thick and voluptuous, forming gentle sloppy peaks. It will thicken up further once added to the citrus juice, so don’t worry about it being too runny. Stir it into the lime mixture and its done. Pour it into the cooled coconut case and put it in the fridge to chill and set for an hour or so.

imageA little while before you are ready to eat it, macerate a punnet of strawberries in the juice of half a lime and a good spoonful of caster sugar. Leave to meld for half an hour or so before tumbling them on top of the tart. As any dedicated mojito drinker knows, mint is excellent paired with lime, so a few sprigs on top bring extra flavour as well as making the whole thing look pretty.

So there you have it, a chewy, sweet coconut macaroon tart, with no more than half an hour in the kitchen.

A word on storing this – as time passes the coconut will slowly absorb some moisture from the cream and soften a little, which can make for slightly messier slices after a day or so.

Shopping list:

1.5 cups desiccated coconut (about 150g)

2 egg whites

¼ cup caster sugar + 1 tbsp

400g can condensed milk

200ml double cream

5 or 6 limes (probably best to get a couple of spares, just in case)

1 large punnet of strawberries

mint to decorate

Rhubarb and raspberry cobbler with vanilla cream

 

Rhubarb & raspberry cobbler

Spring is just teasing me at the moment; tantalising me with an occasional brief appearance, before disappearing just as quickly as it came. One day has bright, glorious sunshine, a gentle breath of warmth in the air, then the next I need my coat and hat again, fighting my way through yet more frosty gloom. So whilst the blossom is breaking out on the first brave trees, I think there is still time for a few more hot puddings before winter is completely over.

I am continuing to make the most of the rhubarb season, this time upping the pink quotient even further with the addition of some raspberries. Rhubarb is often paired with strawberries, but to me a cooked strawberry is an abomination, not to mention that it’s impossible to get good quality strawberries at this time of year. But I had some raspberries in the fridge and thought I’d give them a try and was really pleased with the results. The raspberries really bring out the fruitiness of the rhubarb, the flavours are a really good compliment with neither fruit particularly dominating. They are both quite tart so plenty of sugar is needed to allay that mouth puckering sourness.

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Cheesecake pancakes, roasted rhubarb and orange syrup

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new season crop of forced pink Yorkshire rhubarb since Christmas. I find it totally irresistible – both the colour and flavour are just exquisite, providing me with a month or so of beautiful blushing pink puddings.

Rhubarb’s intense sourness needs countering with plenty of sugar to draw out its fruitiness. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved dropping chunks of raw rhubarb into granular white sugar to make a sherbety treat; sour and citric and crunchy and sweet all at once. The sharpness of rhubarb means it is delicious paired with something sweet and creamy, so these cheesecake pancakes are the perfect accompaniment. I wanted to make a pancake that had all the rich flavour of a cheesecake, with some definite nuggets of cheese, but which is still light enough to be able to eat a few! So I used a combination of both ricotta and cottage cheeses for the base, with some lightly whisked egg whites folded in to give a nice fluffy texture. Read more

Chocolate, hazelnut and date truffles

Chocolate, hazelnut and date truffles


Barely a day goes by when I don’t eat chocolate in one form or another. It will always be my favourite mid-afternoon pick me up, my perfect pudding, even breakfast on a bad day. I’m always looking for inspiring new ways to add a little fix to my day and with these truffles I can nearly convince myself that it’s healthy too!

chocolate, hazelnut and date truffles

I’m lucky to have a great local independent health food shop, so the inspiration for these little truffles came from a little weekend meander around the store. I often come out of there with jars of the weird and wonderful, plus bagfuls of good intentions, but I think these are one of my favourite creations yet.

The main ingredient of these truffles is dates. Their rich, toffee flavour and sticky, fudgy texture makes a great alternative base for a truffle. Add some luscious hazelnut butter and a dash of cocoa and you have a quick, easy and sort of healthy treat! I think the dates and nuts make these a lot more satisfying than regular truffles too – I’d struggle to eat more than two at a time. Read more

Autumn apple cake with maple pecan crumble

autumn apple cake with maple pecan crumble

Maple syrup is one of my quintessential autumn ingredients. It’s probably just the pictures of golden leaves on every bottle that’s created this connection, but when the leaves start to fall, I suddenly start drizzling maple syrup over fruit for breakfast, sloshing it into squash soups and adorning cakes with maple cream cheese icings.

Whilst I was in Vancouver earlier this year I duly stocked up on all things maple syrup. My suitcase arrived home with a stash of maple syrup crystals, maple butter and maples candies, all of which have been patiently sitting in my cupboard awaiting their moment in the limelight. I almost feel like I must apologise in advance for this recipe, I know how annoying it is to come across specialist ingredients in a recipe. But I think with a little substitution here and a little google there, you can probably get away without a trip to Canada.

This is a lovely moist apple cake topped with a crunchy pecan crumble. It’s a multi-tasking cake, one to serve up warm for pudding, with custard or ice cream, or as a stolen slice with a cup of tea in the afternoon. Read more

Plum and hazelnut praline crumble

Summer is slowly slipping through my grasp. The leaves are starting to turn golden on the trees across the road and the nights are suddenly creeping in. As I came out of the tube at 8pm the other evening, I was surprised to find that it was already dark. It was a particularly cool evening, beset with thick drizzle and my flip flops suddenly felt rather foolish. So I trudged home with cold, damp toes and did the only sensible thing – made a crumble to cheer myself up.

I had a lovely, large punnet of English Victoria plums in the fridge and a packet of hazelnuts in the cupboard, perfect for an impromptu warm pudding. As I set about crushing the hazelnuts for the topping, I had the sudden inspiration that I could caramelise them first, thinking that a handful of hazelnut praline would add some extra crunch and a richer flavour to the finished dish. Read more