Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas Pudding with a Mandarin Centre

Confession time - I haven't made a Christmas pudding in years....  because my mother always brings her home made and very well seasoned one (does she start it in January?), or makes sure one is bowled my way before Christmas.  This year, nothing happened, and I realised that I had better get on and make one before it was too late.

I found this fabulous recipe in the BBC Good Food Magazine - a pudding with a delicious candied mandarin in the centre which gives the whole pudding an orange flavour and apparently oozes orange juice when it is cut.  Wow!    So, for the first time, I am blogging something that I haven't tasted yet!  Actually, the photo below shows it just before it went into the pan, so it is raw.   In an ideal world, this should be matured for a few weeks, but life is simply too short.   Fingers crossed...

The recipe suggests that you save the cooking liquid from the mandarin and use it as a sweet base for mulled wine or festive cocktails.  I opted to turn mine into an orange sherbet - I chucked it into the ice cream maker, adding the juice and some pulp of a large orange, 1/4 pint of commercial juice (ie, all that was left after the gannets had been through) and 1 egg white.  It was delicious!

Note that the recipe says the fruit needs to be steeped overnight or for a few hours...

Christmas Pudding with a Mandarin Centre 
Mandarin in the Middle Christmas Pudding

5oz/140g each raisins, sultanas and currants
5oz/140g glace cherries, halved
2oz/50g blanched almonds
1 medium Bramley apple, peeled, cored and grated to give 175g/6oz flesh
2fl oz/50g orange liqueur – eg Cointreau
Zest and juice of 1 orange

1 firm mandarin or large seedless clementine (about 140g/5oz)
14oz/400g white granulated sugar (to keep the colour)
2 tbsp orange liqueur

5oz/140g cold butter,
6oz/175g dark muscovado sugar, plus a little extra for coating the bowl
6oz/175g fresh white breadcrumbs
5oz/140g self raising flour with a pinch of salt
1 heaped tsp ground mixed spice
2 large eggs, beaten

The recipe starts by preparing the fruit – put it all into a large bowl, mix well, cover and leave for a few hours (24 preferably!).

Then you prepare the mandarin centre – put the mandarin into a small pan, cover with cold water (you can’t quite – it floats), then put a piece of scrunched up baking parchment over the top (and I added the top of the pan to keep it together).  Bring to the boil and cook for 30 minutes, or until tenddr when stabbed with a cocktail stick.  Remove the mandarin and measure 300g of the water into a jug, discarding the rest.  Pour the 300g back into the pan and add the white sugar, heating gently to dissolve the sugar crystals.  Stab the mandarin several more times and then put it into the syrup, plus the liqueur.    Cover it with the parchmnent again and simmer for 45 minutes, turning it upside down half way through.  At the end of the cooking it should be translucent and have a dark orange colour (mine didn’t).  Allow to cool in the syrup (it might as well be overnight).

To make the pudding, grease a 1.5 litre pudding basin, then scatter a handful of muscovado sugar around onto the grease (not sure why they did this, as it didn’t stick).   In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, then grate in the butter, adding the steeped fruit and the beaten eggs.  Mix well.

Put about 1/3 (less, not more) of the mixture into the bowl, and squish the mandarin into it (gently, as it might burst).   Put dollops of the mixture all around and over the mandarin until the bowl is completely full.    

Make a hat for the bowl with one layer of buttered parchment and an outer layer of foil, with a pleat in the middle of both to allow the pudding to expand.  Tie with string around the bowl, and make a string handle (very important when you are handling a hot slippery bowl!).   Tuck the foil around the parchment. 

Find your largest pan and sit the pudding on a heat proof saucer (or jam jar top), pouring in boiling water to come half way up the side of the pudding.  Cover and steam for 6 hours, topping the water up occasionally (this is important!).   Leave the pudding to mature in a cool, dark place.

To serve, steam it in a pan for an hour, or remove the foil and parchment, cover the top with cling film and microwave on medium for 10 minutes.    Turn the pudding out onto a warmed dish.  Cut the pudding using a serrated knife so you don’t drag the mandarin out of place.   Serve with cream or brandy butter.  

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Scotch Pancakes or Drop Scones

Otherwise known as drop scones, Scotch Pancakes are my favourite teatime treats for hungry boys in a hurry, unexpected visitors, or just when I feel like stuffing my face with pancakes!    Made and demolished in minutes, the recipe is so simple, it's almost embarrassing...

The recipe below makes about 12, and I usually make and serve as I go, with anticipation being closely followed by a feeding frenzy….   They can apparently be served cold, but in 20 years or so, I’ve never managed it! 

Scotch Pancakes
Scotch Pancakes (Drop Scones)

4oz/110g self raising flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
¼ pint/130ml milk

Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, make a well in the centre and stir in the egg and enough milk to give a thickish dropping batter.  Don’t beat it, it’s meant to be very quick and light.

Heat a large frying pan, grease the base with a non-tasting oil or butter, and then drop dessertspoonfuls of the mixture, well spaced.  Cook until you can see bubbles coming, then turn over the pancakes and do the other side.  Maximum time taken is about 5-6 minutes. 

Toss onto a plate, dredge with caster sugar and serve with lemon juice or syrup. 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Rich Chocolate Sauce

Chocolate sauce can be a pudding in itself!   Chocolate sauce should be rich and smooth, like the best kind of lover....  and here is my absolute favourite recipe.  It's so easy to make, and keeps for almost a month in a jar with a lid.   I've made mine for Christmas already, as it is magical with meringues, ideal for ice cream and perfect with profiteroles!  Not quite sure how you photograph something like this, so I wasted some on a plate, below...

If you use dairy free dark chocolate, then this recipe has the amazing merit of being both dairy and gluten free.

Rich Chocolate Sauce
Very Easy Rich Chocolate Sauce

6oz/175g dark chocolate
2oz/50g dark soft brown sugar
½ pint/300ml water

Put the chocolate and sugar in a pan with the water over a low heat, stirring until the chocolate has dissolved.  Bring to the boil, then turn it down to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes or so until it has thickened up nicely.  Serve hot!

You could add:   orange – a dash of Cointreau and some orange zest; mint – a teaspoon of peppermint essence; alcohol – name your poison; or just drink it as it is. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Ecclefechan Tart

Go on, say it - it's Ecclefechan good!  I've just had a great time doing a radio broadcast on Share Radio UK (a digital radio station) talking about Christmas preparation.  On the basis that talking about cooking meant I couldn't turn up empty handed, I brought several different brandy butters to try, plus meringues, toffee, chocolate and lemon sauces, mini mince pies and this tart, by special request of the wonderful Jules Serkin, the Share Food Show's presenter.  There was quite a feast in the green room....   and pictures to prove it!

This Ecclefechan Tart is from a fabulous recipe by one of my all-time heroines, Claire Macdonald.  It is named after a village in Dumfries and Galloway, and is lip-smackingly delicious.   The tart I made would have been amazing, had it not had a train journey....  Also, a top tip for you would be to make sure that the butter/sugar/cream mixture is the same consistency all the way through - mine had a few lumps where the beaters had missed bits, and they formed bubbles, as you can CLEARLY see below. Oops!   It did, however, taste Ecclefechan amazing...

Ecclefechan Tart

4 ½ oz/125g butter
8 ½ oz/250g plain flour
pinch salt
2 fl oz/50ml whisky

5oz/150g butter (preferably unsalted) at room temperature
5oz/150g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
5 floz/150ml double cream
Good tablespoon of black treacle
10 ½ oz/300g mixed dried fruit – raisins, cranberries etc
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
Zest 1 lemon and 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180deg C.     Make the pastry (in a food processor, add the butter to the flour and salt, process  until it looks like crumbs, add the whisky, but don’t over-process it).   For best results, put the pastry in a ball into the fridge for 20 minutes, then roll out into a 10” (25cm) loose bottomed flan tin and prick the base lightly.   You can refrigerate it again for another 20 minutes.   

Bake blind – put a sheet of greaseproof paper into the case, and fill it with dried pasta/beans/lentils.   Try to make sure they come up the sides of the case as well.   Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the paper and bake the case for a further 5 minutes to dry it out.    

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs slowly until smooth.  Lastly, beat in the cream.   Tip the black treacle into the base and spread it all over (I heated the tin in a bowl of boiling water so it was slightly more malleable).  Put the dried fruit and stem ginger in next, adding the orange and lemon zest before finally pouring on the tart mixture.    Tap the tart a couple of times so that everything levels out and you don’t have any protruding raisins (as I did!).

Bake at 180 deg C for 30-35 minutes until the filling is just set, or golden brown.  Protect with baking paper if it is getting too brown too quickly.

Cool the tart for about 30 minutes.  Serve with whipped cream spiked with ginger syrup and a bit of treacle.  

Friday, 20 November 2015

Easy Christmas Cake

There are two types of Christmas cake - unhealthy and very unhealthy...  This is an easy version for the time-pressed, marzipan-hating cook, and it is very simple to make.  If you are inspired, and have time, just omit the top fruit and glaze, and go for the full unhealthy option with marzipan and Royal Icing - I'll blog that next year when I have time!

Christmas cake is best cooked low and slow.  I also like to soak my fruit in tea for a day beforehand, so the little dried offerings regain their plumpness (especially useful if the fruit looks less appealing than it should do!).   It is Stir Up Sunday this weekend, the traditional (Victorian, anyway) time for cooks to make their Christmas cake and puddings.   It's a reference to the Collect for the last Sunday before Advent, which starts "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people".

The timings for this kind of cake vary.  My original recipe (very old Good Housekeeping) said 150 deg for 3 3/4 hrs, but I've found 2- 2 1/2 hrs is enough, even at a lower temperature.  You know your oven.  Just watch it carefully, and make sure you put foil or paper over the top to stop it from going too brown.

Easy Christmas Cake
Easy Christmas Cake

1 ½ lb/675g equal quantities raisins, sultanas and currants
4oz/110g mixed peel OR 1 ¾ lb/800g mixed dried fruit
4oz/110g glacé cherries, halved
2oz/50g blanched almonds
8oz/225g butter at room temperature
8oz/225g soft brown sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange
8oz/225g plain flour
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp ground mace, 1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsps brandy

Topping - approximate:
2-3oz/50-75g glacé cherries, halved
2oz/50g pecans
2oz/50g blanched almonds
Or you can use dried apricots, dried pineapples, walnuts, brazil nuts etc
¼ jar of warmed sieved apricot jam or commercial baking glaze
(marmalade, in extremis)
More brandy

First, line an 8” cake tin (or 9”, but the cake will be flatter).  You will have to use doubled parchment, both at the base and around the sides.  Then tie a ring of doubled newspaper around the outside of the tin.  Preheat the oven to 130-150 deg C. 

If you have soaked your fruit, dry it off as much as possible before mixing in the cherries and almonds.  Next, in a large bowl, cream together the butter with the sugar and the citrus rind, until pale and fluffy.  Slowly add the eggs, about ¼ a time and continue beating, adding a couple of tablespoons of the flour so that the mixture doesn’t separate.    Using a metal spoon, fold in about half of the flour, then the rest, plus the brandy.   Then fold in the fruit. 

Tip the mixture into the tin, smooth the top and decorate it with fruit.   Put another piece of folded newspaper into the oven, standing the cake on top, and add a little hat of paper as well.  Bake for about 2-2 ½ hours (it can take up to 3) and then check it.  The cake should be singing when it is ready!   Also, a hot knife or skewer will come out clean.

When the cake is taken out of the oven, immediately stab it with a knife and pour more brandy into it.  Inhale deeply….  Then heat up the apricot jam or glaze until it is melting, sieve out any bits and paste the cake top evenly.   Allow it to cool in the tin before turning it onto a wire rack. 

This cake likes to be fed every week with a little more brandy.   Store, wrapped in paper or foil in a tin.    

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Quick Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Salt Toffee Sauce

Why quick?  Because you use a tin of caramel, that's why!  I keep a couple of those Carnation Caramel tins in the cupboard, just in case.  So far, they've gone into Salted Caramel Brownies (elsewhere on this blog), Banoffee Pie (of course) or just been melted and poured over ice cream..... no calories, darling...

My ice-cream loving husband was so happy with this creation, he was later found tenderly cleaning the ice cream bowl, the paddles and the spatula.  Don't you just love it when something works?

Quick Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Salt Toffee Sauce
Quick Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Salt Toffee Sauce

3 egg yolks
1 pint/600ml double or single cream and milk mixed (more cream = richer ice cream)
1oz/25g caster sugar
1 tin Carnation caramel (standard 397g size)
Up to 1tsp salt

Warm the milk/cream in a pan until blood temperature.  Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl, add the milk and cream and then pour it all back into the pan.  Stir it gently until it thickens slightly, then allow it to cool.  Pour into an ice cream maker, adding the salt to taste, and caramel and churn until thick.   Taste it again and see if it needs more salt.   There’s so much sugar in the caramel that the ice cream will probably not be particularly solid, so it should be put into a freezer and left for 24 hours to harden.

This makes approx. 1.5litres.  Serve with a hot salt toffee sauce and toasted, chopped hazelnuts scattered over it.  

Salt Toffee Sauce   

3oz/85g soft brown sugar
2oz/50g butter
3floz (85ml) double cream
Up to ½ tsp salt - test before adding it all! 
1oz/25g chopped toasted (skins off) hazelnuts

Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients apart from the hazelnuts in a pan.  Heat, while stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture smooth.  

Monday, 9 November 2015

Date and Walnut Cake - Queen Mother's Recipe

This cake featured in my first cookbook "Kate's Puddings, the Cookbook of the Blog" (still available - £ 14.50 plus postage  and is an enduring favourite.  It  was passed on with the proviso that, when you got the recipe, you made a donation to charity, so please be generous!   It is unusual in that it contains no eggs, so is perfect not only if you’ve run out of eggs, but also for an egg-allergic friend of my son’s.   It got Mat’s seal of approval, especially the fudge top!   I’ve also made this as individual cupcakes.   The fudge top is the perfect foil for the date and walnut below.   To be honest, I've not tried it with gluten-free flour, or dairy-free as the fudge top wouldn't be the same....

Date and Walnut Cake with Fudge Icing
Queen Mother’s Date and Walnut Cake with Fudge Icing

4oz/110g chopped dates
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
6floz/170ml boiling water
6oz/160g plain flour
2oz/50g butter at room temperature
6oz/160g dark brown sugar
2oz/50g chopped walnuts (you can omit these)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C and line an 8” cake tin with parchment.  Pour the boiling water over the dates and bicarbonate of soda and leave them to bubble while you mix the rest of the cake.  Beat the butter into the flour, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Finally add the dates, mix everything together and pour it into the tin.  Cook for about 25 minutes until a (warmed) knife stuck into the cake comes out clean.  Cool completely before making the icing. 

5 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream

In a pan, melt the butter, sugar and cream together, stirring, then boil for 3 minutes.  Allow it to cool slightly, then beat it until it has thickened and pour over the cake.  This is the interesting part – too soon and it doesn’t set, too late and you get fudge!   Decorate with walnuts. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Cheese and Onion Sour Milk Scones

Don't you just love it when you can use up lots of different ingredients in one fabulous recipe?   Inspired by my mother's "triage" shelf in her fridge, I had assembled some ingredients in need of an idea, including sour milk and small chunks of cheese.  Enter the Choir Tea!  Choir tea is really important, as it boosts voice, morale and sugar levels in between rehearsal and concert.  It is a vital part of the event, and must not be missed (basses are especially partial to Choir Tea).

Breaking with my usual tradition, I opted for savoury cheese and onion scones, with sour milk, thus using up two kinds of cheese at the same time.  They went down a treat, and I might have to make them again.....   Actually, I didn't use a spring onion, but snipped the top off a larger onion still growing in the veg patch!  No food miles involved....  This recipe is slightly different from the usual scone one, as I was told that you should ideally leave the scones to sit for 20 minutes before baking, to improve the rise.  That is indeed true (but if you can't wait, don't worry).

Cheese and Chive Sour Milk Scones

Cheese and Onion Sour Milk Scones

8oz/225g plain flour  
2 ½ level tsps baking powder
½ level tsp salt (the Parmesan is quite strong, so you can use a little less)
2oz/50g butter or margarine at room temperature
4oz/110g mixed strong Cheddar cheese and Parmesan, grated
Small handful of chopped green bits from a spring onion  (or chives)
¼ pint/5floz sour milk, with extra milk for the tops

Heat the oven to 200 deg C. 

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.  The best way to do this is to use only your fingertips, as lightly as possible, lifting the mixture as you rub it in to keep it airy.   Add 3oz/85g of the cheese and mix it in lightly, plus the chopped spring onion/chives.   Add the milk and mix the dough together quickly until it makes a single lump.  

Turn it out onto a floured board and knead it very lightly before patting it (or rolling it) to about ½”/1.5cm thick.   Cut small scones using a plain cutter.   If you dip the cutter in flour, the scones won’t get stuck when you release them.   Try not to pull the cutter, or the scones will be oval.   

Put the scones on a baking tray, brush with milk and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.   Leave them for 15-20 minutes before cooking.  Makes approx 12-15 small ones.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes until well risen and golden.  Eat several hot with butter immediately (quality control), then leave the rest until cold and serve with more butter….  

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Brown Velvet Muffins

Anybody can make a red velvet cake... at least, that's what I thought, until my red colouring let me down, so I decided they were spooky brown ones instead, just perfect for Halloween!   The problem is that the easily available red colouring has changed its formula, so the mixture doesn't retain its glorious redness when baked.  Instead, you get a brown colour.  It tastes just as good, but only a colour blind ghoul would be fooled!   (the best colour is from paste which you can get on t'internet)

So, especially for colour blind ghouls everywhere.... here are some Brown Velvet Muffins!   These ones were tested on my non-ghoulish choir, and went down very nicely thank you, in the hungry gap between rehearsal and concert.   The standard cake recipe uses a lot of ingredients, so I halved it for these muffins.  Even then, there was a lot of icing on each muffin, but only one person complained...
(it's always the tenors!)
Brown Velvet Muffins
(Brown) or Red Velvet Muffins

11oz/300g caster sugar
4oz/120g softened butter
3 eggs
1 tbsp serious red food colouring (or brown/black!)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cocoa powder
6.5oz/190g plain flour
1 pinch salt
4floz/125ml buttermilk
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 dessertspoon vinegar

1x 7oz/200g packs cream cheese
6oz/1750g white chocolate, melted
4oz/120g softened butter
small quantity dark chocolate for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170 deg C and line a large 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. 

Cream the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one by one, beating well.  Add a small quantity of flour to prevent the eggs from curdling.   Add the colouring and vanilla.  Sieve the flour, salt and cocoa together and add to the mixture, alternating with the buttermilk.    Mix the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar together, stirring the fizzy mixture into the cake.  Don't over-beat at this stage.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake for approx 20 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate and allow to cool.  Beat the cream cheese until fluffy, then add the chocolate and butter gradually, beating all the time.   Pour the mixture into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch pipe and ice each muffin lavishly.  Grate some dark chocolate over the top.  Chill to set the icing.   

Friday, 16 October 2015

Brandy and Ginger Sponge Cake

The advent of cold weather brings out the warming instinct, the hibernating instinct and the drive for spicy comfort food.   Fear not, help is at hand with this delicious brandy and ginger sponge.   A little warmth of alcohol, the smoothness of the whipped cream and the kick of ginger pieces in syrup - it's guaranteed to beat any form of autumn sadness!    I made this for my choir's "Tea and Cake" rehearsal, so it was savaged before I got a chance to photograph the whole thing - this is what was left after the gannets had gone...

This would work with a good gluten-free flour blend.

Brandy and Ginger Sponge

Brandy and Ginger Sponge Cake

3 large fresh eggs
6oz/170g  sieved self raising flour or sponge flour
6oz/170g  caster sugar
6oz/170g buttery spread
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger

½ pint double cream, whipped, combined with:
1 tbsp brandy
4 pieces (or more) of stem ginger plus 1 dsp syrup

icing or caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line two 8” loose bottom sandwich tins with parchment (or spray with a “cake release” agent), and grease the sides.

In a food processor or Kenwood, blend the cake ingredients together and then beat until pale and fluffy.   Divide between the tins and cook for 15-25 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven) until risen and golden brown.  To test, they should have come away from the edges slightly, and if you put a (heated) knife or skewer into the middle, it will come out clean.

Tip the cakes out of the tins onto a wire rack and leave to cool.  When cool, whip the cream with the brandy until it forms soft peaks. Chop the stem ginger into chunks (or elegant pieces if you feel so inclined), and mix the ginger and syrup into the whipped cream.   Spread this thickly over one of the cakes, then sandwich the cakes together and dredge the top with icing or caster sugar. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Carrot, Walnut and Cardamom Loaf Cake

So what's in a name?  I put together this loaf cake from a range of ingredients, partly with an eye to using up a lone banana but also because I was inspired by a recent trip to Turkey.  We stayed in the most adorable boutique hotel in Ephesus, where there was fruit in glowing heaps available all day, and, at tea time, little cakes would appear (and disappear!).  The most delicious banana, walnut and carrot cake made an appearance, so I've attempted to recreate the cake as my thanks and homage to the staff of the Cella Hotel, Ephesus, who made us feel so welcome.

Banana and Walnut Loaf Cake
Carrot, Walnut and Cardamom Loaf Cake

2oz finely chopped walnuts
2oz carrot, grated or blitzed with the walnuts
1 tsp cardamom pods (or ½ tsp seeds)
3oz/75g butter at room temperature
6oz/150g soft brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 ripe banana, mashed
6oz/150g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
Zest of a lemon

Preheat the oven to 170 deg C and line a large loaf tin with baking parchment. 

If you have a small magimix/mini chopper, cut the carrots into rings and blitz with the walnuts so you have small pieces but don’t go so far that they become dust!  Break the cardamom seeds out of their pods (discard the pods) and grind the little seeds with a pestle and mortar. 

Beat together the sugar and butter, then add the eggs, a little at a time, plus a tablespoon of flour every time to stop it from curdling.  Add the banana.   Fold in the walnut and carrot mix, the cardamom and lemon zest, then the flour and baking powder. 

Tip it all into the baking tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about ¾ hour or longer – until a heated knife or skewer comes out clean.  You will probably need to put a little hat of foil on the top to stop it from burning. 

Cool slightly in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack.  

Monday, 5 October 2015

Rhubarb and Rose Baked Cheesecake

This is a take on a recipe I found in a Waitrose booklet, slightly tweaked as the original wanted you to buy shortbread for the base (why?).  Also, the original recipe sieved the rhubarb to purée it, but I decided that life was too short....

 It was the first time I have tried to make a baked cheesecake, and I was pleased with the result, although it would look better if I had made it with beautiful pink spring rhubarb instead of the greener garden rhubarb!   Tested on the Army, it was eaten to the last crumb...   The recipe calls for the cheesecake to be left in the oven for some time with the oven turned off, so the actual cooking time is quite long as a result.   My oven runs hot, so I cooked it at 180 deg C instead of the 200 deg suggested, as I was concerned that it would burn on the top.  

If you used gluten free digestive biscuits, the recipe then becomes suitable for coeliacs.

Rhubarb and Rose Baked Cheesecake
Rhubarb and Rosewater Baked Cheesecake

8oz/225g crushed digestive biscuits (or Hobnobs)
4oz/120g butter, melted

1lb/450g rhubarb cut into 1-1½”/3cm lengths
5oz/125g jam sugar
½ tsp rose water (Nielsen-Massey is the best of the supermarket ones)

1 ½ lbs/700g soft cheese (I used a mixture of mascarpone and cream/soft cheese – all high fat content)
1oz/25g cornflour
4oz/120g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
4floz/100ml double cream
½ tsp vanilla essence (and I added another ½ tsp rose water)
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

Line the base of a 9” spring clip tin with baking parchment.   Mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter, press into the tin and chill until set. 

Heat the oven to 200º C.   Put the rhubarb, jam sugar and 2tbsp cold water into a shallow pan/frying pan and cook it gently until it is soft.  If you try not to stir it, you should keep the individual pieces of rhubarb.   The poaching liquid should become quite syrupy – if it gets too dry, add a little more water, but you are aiming for a thick texture.    Sprinkle ½ tsp rose water over it and allow it to cool.  When cool, remove half of it (the less attractive pieces!) and beat them up to form a rough purée. 

Beat together the cheese, cornflour and sugar until the cheese has broken down in texture.  Then add the eggs and cream and stir in the lemon and orange zest.  Beat until the mixture is smooth, with no residual lumps of cheese.  Pour half of the mix onto the biscuit base, then add big spoonfuls of the rhubarb purée.  Finally, spread the remaining cheesecake mixture over the top, before giving it a brief stir to marble the cheesecake with the rhubarb.  

Bake at 200 deg C for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 120 deg C and cook for 55 minutes.  Turn the oven off, leave the cheesecake for 1 hour, then open the door slightly and leave it for another hour. 

Remove from the oven and cool before chilling, preferably overnight.    To serve, place the remaining rhubarb on the top and pour over the last of the cooking liquid.  

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Frosted Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake by Gordon Ramsay

Another coffee and walnut layer cake?  Yes, and for a very good reason!  I've never made this meringue cuite frosting before, and, seeing it on the Bake Off prodded me into action.  The recipe I used was one by Gordon Ramsay, and the cake was described by one of my testers as the nicest coffee and walnut she'd ever had.   The only problem is that it looks rather sad.  Why?  Because Gordon's recipe didn't make enough meringue for the top and sides, so I ended up quickly whipping up some butter icing for the middle.  By that stage, the meringue had gone down, and there was even less of it - so much so I had to pipe cream around the base.  

So, here is one of my failures, just in case you had the impression that everything was a success!

I've modified the recipe to include more meringue, plus a butter icing filling.  So you won't have the same problem.  Aren't I nice?

Frosted Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake 
Frosted Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake

8oz/225g muscovado sugar
8oz/225g  butter or spread at room temperature
4 large fresh eggs, beaten
5 tbsps/75ml espresso, cooled (or strong dark coffee)
8oz/225g sieved self raising flour
4oz/110g walnuts, finely chopped
2 tsp baking powder
8-12 walnut halves to decorate
2oz caster sugar, 1 tbsp water

Butter Icing filling:
6oz/150g sieved icing sugar (absolutely necessary or you get lumps)
3oz/75g butter or spread at room temperature  
1 tablespoon coffee essence

Meringue Cuite Frosting:
3 large egg whites
5oz/150g sieved icing sugar
Few drops of vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 170 deg C, and line three 8” loose bottom sandwich tins with parchment (or spray with a “cake release” agent), and grease the sides.

In a food processor or Kenwood, cream the buter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, a little at a time (if the mixture starts to look grainy, add 1 tbsp flour each time).  Fold in the walnuts, and the espresso, then add the baking powder and flour, folding it together until there are no little bursts of flour. 

Divide the mixture between the tins and cook for 20-25 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven) until risen and golden brown.  To test, the cake should have come away from the edges slightly, and if you put a (heated) knife or skewer into the middle, it will come out clean.

Tip out of the tins onto a wire rack and leave to cool.  When cool, make the filling.  Blend the butter, icing sugar and coffee essence in a food processor, adding a little more essence if needed to give a softer consistency – too hard and the cake top will peel off as you spread it.   Sandwich the cakes together. 
Place the walnut halves on a piece of parchment.  Put the caster sugar and water into a small pan and heat until it becomes a dark caramel.  Pour this over the walnuts, and allow to cool (I found this easier than trying to dip them!).  

Now make the meringue cuite frosting.  Put the egg whites in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk the whites until they reach soft peaks, then carry on whisking, adding the icing sugar.  Once this has been added, keep whisking until the mixture is thick and glossy.  This takes ages!   Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, then cover the cake, top and sides, swirling it around.  Top with the walnut halves. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Chocolate and Prune Tart by Paul Hollywood

We are in mid-Bake Off at the moment, and Paul Hollywood is, as always, striding up and down during the baking, eyeing up the preparation and making the contestants tremble with his steely glare.. thank goodness I'm not taking part!

Tasked with providing puddings for my Reserve Unit's Selection Day, I dived into his Pies and Puds book, and found this delicious Chocolate and Prune Tart.   As I had a spare tart case in the freezer, I didn't make his chocolate pastry, but put it into the recipe below so you get the full Hollywood effect.

It was a hit with the recruits, despite the fact that there wasn't time to soak the prunes overnight - I simply put them into the microwave and warmed them up a bit.  You are probably more organised than I am....

Chocolate and Prune Tart
Chocolate and Prune Tart

7oz/175g plain flour
2 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
4oz/110g unsalted butter, cut into dice
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp lemon juice
2tbsp cold water

Chocolate Filling:
6oz/150g ready-to-eat soft prunes, cut into quarters
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 floz/50ml boiling water

3oz/75g dark chocolate, broken
4floz/125ml double cream
8oz/200g mascarpone
2 medium eggs, beaten

The day before (if you spot this in time!), put the prunes, brandy and vanilla in a bowl, pour on the boiling water and leave to soak for several hours.  If time is short, simply bung the bowl into the microwave and give it a minute’s heat. 

Make the pastry – blend dry ingredients, rub in the butter with your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs.  Mix the egg with the juice and water, make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour it in.  Using one hand, mix it all together, adding a bit more water if it is too dry.  Knead gently.    Chill for 20 minutes.  Line a 9” loose bottom flan case.  Chill again.   Heat the oven to 200 deg C and bake blind for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and beans and return to the oven for 8 minutes.  Paul recommends keeping a small bit of pastry back to fill in any cracks after the tart case has cooked. 

Turn the oven down to 180 deg C.  Melt the chocolate and cream together (I put mine into the microwave), stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and leave for 3 minutes, then beat in the mascarpone and eggs.  Paul says to use a balloon whisk to remove any lumps.  He’s right!   Stir in the prune mixture, plus any juices.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until nearly set – it should have a wobble.  Leave to cool in the tin.  Serve at room temperature with a spoonful of cream (only a spoonful, Paul?)

Friday, 4 September 2015

Rose Ice Cream

Exploring the delicate taste of rosewater, I've been trying it in ice cream.   It seems to go best with little pieces of rose Turkish delight, and, if you do a cooked custard, instead of my quicker method of simply freezing the mix uncooked, it turns into the most unctuous, perfumed.... oh, I've run out of superlatives!   Suffice to say, it has not only passed the husband test, he likes it so much he's now jealously guarding the remaining scrapings from all comers!

I appreciate it is not usually possible to buy just Rose Turkish delight, so I might have to find a way to use up the lemon variety (unless you can eat it without it being in a pudding, of course).

Rose Ice Cream
Rose Ice Cream  

3 egg yolks
1 pint/600ml double or single cream and milk mixed (more cream = richer ice cream)
4oz/120g caster sugar
1tsp good rose essence
½ tube of pink food colouring (Dr Oetker's hot pink!)
4-6 pieces of rose Turkish delight, quartered

Warm the milk/cream in a pan until blood temperature.  Beat the eggs, sugar and rose essence together in a bowl, add the milk and cream and then pour it all back into the pan.  Stir it gently until it thickens slightly, then allow it to cool.  Pour into an ice cream maker and churn until thick.  Add the colouring slowly so you get what you want – not too Barbie, preferably….

Just before the end, add most of the Turkish delight, so that it gets mixed in, but doesn’t either disintegrate or stick to the paddles.   Serve with extra Turkish delight on the top.   This makes approx. 1.5litres, and should be served with delicate little biscuits.  You could scatter it with rose petals, for added beauty, but they don’t honestly taste that great!  

Friday, 28 August 2015

Stem Ginger Cookies

These little cookies were an experiment to see if ginger worked as well as chocolate in cookies...  the fact that they all disappeared during a long opera rehearsal is proof of that!   I used stem ginger instead of crystallised, as I find the crystallised ginger can be a bit hard.  (You can also keep the syrup, as it is delicious in a fruit salad)  The photo below was a quick shot taken in the two minutes between drizzling the chocolate and feeding the cast, so apologies for the poor presentation!

Next time, I think I would add a teaspoon of ginger, plus perhaps a little milk or some of the ginger syrup to make them a bit flatter, but the end result was scoffed very enthusiastically, even the Merry Widow herself partaking of a little light refreshment between scenes...    

Stem Ginger Cookies
Chunky Stem Ginger Cookies

2oz/50g soft brown sugar
4oz/125g  butter
1 egg, beaten
5oz/150g self-raising flour
6oz/175g stem ginger, drained, chopped into chunks (most of a jar)
1oz/25g dark chocolate for drizzling

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line two baking trays with non-stick baking parchment. 

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and sift the flour over the mixture, before folding it in using a metal spoon.   Mix in the ginger.

Put the mixture in teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, flattening them slightly, and allowing space for them to spread.     Bake for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. 

Cool on a wire rack.     Melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the cookies.  You should allow this to set before eating them, but it’s not compulsory! 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Rose and Honey Sponge Cake

This cake was inspired by an article on using honey in place of some of the sugar in cakes.  The honey gives a beautifully moist texture to the cake, without compromising its lightness - nothing's worse than a solid sponge cake!  It smelt divine when it came out of the oven - just like a rose garden in summer.  You could make it with a flour substitute.

I'm currently rehearsing the opera "The Merry Widow", with fabulous tunes and ridiculous dialogue in a range of improbable accents - think "Allo Allo" crossed with "Downton Abbey" and you are there...  So I wanted a frothy light cake to take to rehearsal, as singers are always starving, and the dancing girls will eat anything!   The remaining piece went home with the Ambassador's wife.

Rose and Honey Sponge Cake 
Rose and Honey Sponge Cake

4 large fresh eggs
8oz/225g sieved self raising flour (or a blend)
7oz/200g caster sugar
1floz/30g runny honey
8oz/225g buttery spread
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1tsp rose essence

Filling and topping:
10floz/230ml double cream
4oz/110g sieved icing sugar (approx.)
½ to 1tsp rose essence
Small quantity of water
Small fresh rose – for decoration

Preheat oven to 120 deg C.  Twist the petals off the rose and put them onto a plain baking tray into the oven for about 20 minutes or until dry and crisp. 

Line two 8” loose base sandwich tins with parchment (or spray with a “cake release” agent), and grease the sides.

In a food processor or Kenwood, blend the cake ingredients together and then beat until pale.   Turn up the oven to 180 deg C.  Divide the mixture between the tins and cook for 15-25 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven) until risen and golden brown.  To test, they should have come away from the edges slightly, and if you put a (heated) knife or skewer into the middle, it will come out clean.

Tip the cakes out of the tins onto a wire rack and leave to cool.  When cool, whip the cream and sandwich the cakes together.  Mix up the icing sugar with the rose essence and water until it is stiff enough not to run off the cake, but liquid enough to be smoothed over without pulling off crumbs as you spread it.   While the icing is still wet, scatter the rose petals artistically over the top. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Peach and Redcurrant Compote

Sometimes the best puddings come about by accident!  This is definitely one of them, and has the added merit of being a great way to use the deliciously ripe redcurrants that I'm desperately trying to keep away from the chickens.   The original  recipe was by the marvellous Claire MacDonald, but was given its current (ha ha) update by Jane and me, when we needed a pretty pudding at short notice!  The addition of a good slug of Schnapps was inspirational...

The picture below is of double quantity to the recipe I've given, and it was, if I say so myself, pretty damn good.   We served it with lashings of cream and a chocolate and rum cream on the side... You could probably do the redcurrants a day ahead, giving them longer to steep in the Schnapps.

Peach and Redcurrant Compote

Peach and Redcurrant Compote

4 fresh peaches or nectarines  
5oz/125g or a punnet of redcurrants
2oz/50g caster sugar
2 tbsp peach Schnapps (or equivalent)

Pick the currants off their stalks and place in a bowl.  Tip the caster sugar over them and then pour in the Schnapps (or other colourless alcohol).  Stir it around a bit, being careful not to burst the currants.  Leave to steep, stirring occasionally – you could do this the day before.

Boil a small pan of water and dip the peaches, one by one.  Leave in the liquid no more than 30 seconds, and then peel them – the skin will be easy to remove.  Once you have peeled them, slice them into segments and remove the stones.   Place the slices onto a flattish serving dish, cover with cling film and leave to cool.

Assemble up to half an hour before serving by tipping the currants over the peaches and then stirring it about a bit so you have a good mixture of colours.   Decorate with mint leaves.  Cover it again with cling film if you have to leave it for any length of time.   This serves up to 6 people.  

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Summer Fruits Terrine

Another testing - this time the delicious Delia summer fruits terrine.... This proved to be absolutely perfect for a sunny Sunday lunch, when the fruits glisten in their lovely pink fizz!    I deviated from the Delia original only in that all the fruits were from my garden, so had to substitute white currants for strawberries.  It did taste amazing, though, and Delia's note that it was easy to make and slices like a dream was absolutely true.  The photo below shows that I managed to melt the top part of the jelly by putting the mould into the hot water a bit too long... be warned!

Delia's recipes sometimes seem a bit fussy, but they do work, and she gives lots of explanations for the nervous or exploring cook.  I've reproduced them all below.  This recipe has the great merit of being both gluten and dairy free, however, the presence of gelatine means it is not suitable for vegetarians.

Summer Fruits Terrine 

Summer Fruits Terrine

15floz/425ml sparkling rosé wine (approx. 3 little bottles)
2oz/50g caster sugar
2 x sachets (8 leaves) gelatine (if using leaves, soak them in water first)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice

12oz/350g small strawberries – I used white currants
8oz/225g raspberries
12oz/350g mixture of blackcurrants, redcurrants, blueberries

2 x 2lb/900g loaf tins, preferably non stick

Prepare the fruit by removing any stalks and halving the strawberries if they are, to quote Delia “larger than a quail’s egg!”

Gently mix the fruits together in a large bowl so they are mixed but unbruised.  Heat half the wine in a saucepan until it begins to simmer and then whisk in the sugar and gelatine.   Finally add the rest of the wine and the lime juice.  Pour this liquid into a jug and allow it to cool. 

While the jelly is cooling, arrange the fruit in the terrine.  Delia suggests using the prettiest berries at the base as they will be on the top when it is turned out.  I didn’t bother…  Then add all but 5 floz/150ml of the jelly over the fruit.  Put a piece of cling film over the top, then put the second tin on top of that, adding two heavy tins of, say, tomatoes, to weight it down.  Refrigerate for an hour until the jelly sets.  Then warm up the remaining wine jelly and pour it over the terrine.   Delia explains that this helps to stop spillage and makes the terrine easy to slice. 

Re-cover with the cling film and chill until firm.  When you want to use it, dip the tin BRIEFLY into hot water and turn it out onto a plate.  Use a sharp knife to cut into slices.  Delia says that the knife should also be dipped in hot water.  

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Lime Soufflé

What do you do when you see a whole bag of slightly sad limes in a farm shop?  Why, make a lime soufflé, of course!  A tweak on my absolute favourite recipe, this lime soufflé went down a storm at a recent family lunch party.  Next time, I’ll add basil to the mix, but it tasted pretty damn good with limes:  there was a fabulous burst of sour smokiness in a silky soufflé….    This is a traditional recipe, and used to be served in a dish that was too small, with a collar of chopped nuts around the top part which was effected by wrapping greaseproof paper around the dish and letting the soufflé set before peeling off the collar and adding chopped nuts.  As far as I'm concerned, life's far too short, but don't let me stop you...

Lime Soufflé 
Cold Lime Soufflé 

3 large eggs
10oz/280g caster sugar
5 limes, zest and juice
15 floz/400ml cream
5 sheets gelatine, soaked then added to:
3 fl oz/85ml warm water

To finish: extra cream and basil tops

Separate the eggs and place the yolks, sugar and grated zest in a bowl and whisk until thick.  I usually do this in a Kenwood with the whisk.    Heat the lime juice, add, and continue whisking “to the ribbon” (ie, pale and very thick).    This takes ages!

Half-whip the cream (until you can see a trail from the mixer head, but the cream isn’t at all stiff) and fold into the mixture.  Dissolve the gelatine in the water over heat and stir into the mixture.  Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks but not dry.   Fold in the egg whites.  This is easier if you stir in a tablespoon of whisked egg white first to break the mix up a bit and then fold in the rest.   (It’s very hard to avoid little islands of egg white.) 

As the mixture begins to thicken, turn at once into a large bowl and put in the fridge to set.   When firm, decorate with cream and basil tops.