Category Archive: Sweet


  1. Berry Pie – The Taste of Summer

    Well here we are, it’s September. Late summer days are shortening already but I am hanging on for dear life to the still warm mornings and evenings, pretending that it will never turn cold again. It’s still boiling hot back home in Washington State in the beautiful Pacific Northwest after all! I have it in me to keep my head in the sand a little longer…

    This time of year in Washington, one of the top fruit growing states in the USA, you drive down a highway anywhere east of the Cascade Mountains and the road is lined with little stands selling summer fruits and berries. Buckets of bright red and blue line the fog line beckoning you in to spill juice down your front as you shovel in what you can’t wait to taste when you get home.

    I must say, I always recommend buying an extra punnet for the car. When I was a kid, I used to eat cherries and raspberries until my fingers turned pink and my tummy grumbled in protest. It was the absolute best!

    Now, what to do with those punnets you actually get home? Well don’t just turn it all to jam – make a pie of course!

    Berry pie is my absolute favourite summer dessert. Bursting with juicy flavour, natural sugars and a tang to balance every bite, I think it is the ticket to prolonged summer happiness.

    Serve it warm, just cooled from the oven, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have equal to the American dream on a plate. I made this back for the 4th of July, which I spent here in London yet again. Homesick? Yes!  But this sweet berry pie made me feel like I could smell the sparklers and hear the pop of fireworks all the way from home…

    cooling berry pie baking pastry homemade

    Berry Pie
    Serves 12

    Ingredients 

    1 quantity Double Rich Pie Crust

    1kg mix of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries

    50g caster sugar (if the berries are tart, add a bit extra)

    1 lemon, zested and juiced

    Pinch of salt

    50g plain flour

    1 tablespoon corn starch

    2 tablespoons butter, cubed

    Method 

    Preheat the oven to 190°c/375°f . You will need a 28cm/12inch fluted pie tin, preferably with a removable bottom.

    Start by making the pastry then form it into two flattened disks and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes to rest.

    In a large bowl, mix together the berries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, salt and the flours and allow to sit while you roll out the pie dough.

    Roll out one disk to line the bottom of the pie case. Press the dough neatly into the corners of the case so that you get neat bottom corners when you remove it for serving and roll off the over hanging dough with your rolling pin to neaten up the top edges. Please this in the fridge while you roll out the second disk.

    Roll the second disk out on a very well flour surface. Cut evenly sized strips out of the dough, making sure you can easily move them from the surface as any pulling will stretch the strips and make them irregular. Pour in the filling and begin the lattice. Starting from the center of the round and then use ever other strip going outwards. You should be following the same shape of the circle over the pie. and moving outwards on each side.

    lattice pie pastry berry summer baking

    If the pastry dough has warmed up a little too much, put the whole pie in the freezer for 5 minutes. You want the pastry to be cold as possible before baking so it comes out short and crisp.

    Bake the pie for a good 45 minutes on the middle shelf at 190°c/375°f for 30 minutes, check the top to make sure it doesn’t over brown and cook it for a further 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 170°c/340°c if it’s getting a little too golden to keep it at a high temperature.  I find it useful to put a square of tin foil over the top of the pie during the remaining cooking time if it starts to go too brown to early. You want to cook it the whole way through to make sure the bottom crust is done.

    berry pie a la mode

    Allow the tart to cool down enough to handle and then carefully lift it out of the tin and slide it off the base onto a serving plate. This step is best done while the pastry is still quite warm, else it will stick to the case and break.

    Berry pie is the absolute best served a la mode with good vanilla ice cream and shared with friends. Just make sure to reserve a slice for tomorrow’s breakfast… you won’t regret it.

    (Thank you to my dear friend Sian Henley for the lovely photo at the beginning of this post. I was too busy pouring fourth of July punch and forgot to snap one before we sliced it!)

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  2. Pancakes for Two

    Saturday mornings are heaven when you stack them up with fluffy buttermilk pancakes, but with only two people it can sometimes be a struggle to make up a batch of batter just the right amount.

    Here is a recipe for perfect pancakes for two people. It makes two each – just enough to fill you up, but not enough to send you into a sleepy food trance. Unless you partied to hard last night of course….



    Ingredients

    100g plain flour

    1 heaping teaspoon double action baking powder

    1/2 teaspoon baking soda

    1 tablespoon caster sugar

    Pinch of salt

    1 egg

    100ml whole milk

    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    2 teaspoons vegetable oil

    Method

    Whisk the dry ingredients together in a spouted bowl, for easy pouring. Squeeze the lemon into the milk and stir.

    Crack the egg into a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in half the milk. Whisk until it comes together to form a paste, then pour in the rest of the milk only until you have a loose batter. It should be runny but not liquid – think about the thickness of room temperature honey. Don’t be tempted to beat out all the lumps, these will help make the pancakes light and fluffy.

    Leave to rest for 30 minutes to allow the starch to swell, which makes for smooth pancakes. Place a little oil in the bottom of a hot medium sized non-stick pan and pour a pancake roughly 6inches / 15cms wide. Cook until bubbles form through the bottom and start to pop, then flip until it steams and fluffs.

    Serve on warm plates with whipped butter and hot syrup.

    Happy Saturday!

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  3. Hot Cross Buns

    Easter is almost here and I carry on wishing that fabulously silly Easter hats a la Steel Magnolias might be deemed appropriate attire anywhere outside the deep south of the USA … but alas. I’ll just comfort myself with other things, like gargantuin chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, coloured eggs and everything Cadbury’s. I really do love this holiday because even for the non-religious it’s just pagan enough for everyone to enjoy.

    But to commemorate a bygone era in another way – there are Hot Cross Buns, which are another of those old fashioned baked goods that keep coming back year after year. They fill our grocery store shelves in all sorts of strange variations from the original, which are never quite as good as the real McCoy. I even saw a chocolate version this year and bought it. Mistake! It was a no-go, trust me. Sounded fantastic but really ended up being some kind of mildly bitter, all too dry bread. So I’m sticking to the classics – dried golden raisins, red currants and orange with warming spices.

    hot cross buns easter baking

    They are filled with spice and fruit and are delicious fresh with slabs of butter and drizzled honey.  I am not a huge fan of dried peel, so have omitted it in my recipe, replacing it with fresh orange zest. If you love peel, of course add it in, replacing some of the weight of the sultanas and currants.

    These hot cross buns are undoubtedly best on the first day, as with all breads, but toasted on the second and third with lashings of butter is also delicious. A few days on, make a hot cross bun bread and butter pudding! Yum. Now where is that bunny???

     

    HOT CROSS BUNS

    Makes 16-17 buns

    Ingredients

    30g fresh yeast

    80g caster sugar

    450g strong white flour (bread flour)

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    80g salted butter

    225-300g milk, warmed to blood temprature

    2 eggs, whisked

    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

    2 teaspoons mixed spice

    50g dried currants

    75g golden raisins

    Zest of two oranges

    For the Egg Wash

    Mix together 1 egg yolk, 50g milk and 1 teaspoon caster sugar,and pass through a sieve.

    For the Flour Paste 

    Mix together 1oog flour and 1tsp sugar with enough water to make a paste the consistency of toothpaste.

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 220ºc/425°f.

    Mix the yeast together with a tablespoon of the sugar until it turns to liquid – quite a good science trick! It happens by osmosis. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl or stand mixing bowl and rub the butter in with your fingers until it resembles sand. Add in the spices and the rest of the sugar, make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast. Swirl a bit of the milk in the yeast pot and pour it in to get everything you can then pour in all but about 50mls of the milk. Don’t be tempted to add it all in at first, you might not need it and could end up with a sloppy dough. Mix everything together until combined, it should be quite a wet dough but not sloppy at all like batter – if there are any dry patches or bits of flour left in the bowl add in the milk in increments until you have a uniformly wet dough. Then leave it for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid fully.

    Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface or in a stand mixer for 5 minutes. The dough should look smooth and elastic and feel springy, which is a sign the gluten has developed nicely. Add in the fruits and the orange zest and knead together, then cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size. It should take about and hour to an hour and a half if its warm in your kitchen, longer if it’s cool.

    Hot Cross Bun Dough

    Knock back the dough and portion it out into 70g pieces. Shape into buns and place on a baking sheet.

    Hot Cross Buns Shaping Dough

    Lightly wash them with the egg wash and then pipe a cross on each using the flour paste.

     

    Hot Cross Buns Crosses

    Allow the buns to double in size, glaze them again carefully with the egg mixture on the dough only, avoiding the crosses, and then bake on the top shelf at 220ºc/425°f for 5 minutes. They should puff up beautifully. Turn down the heat to 200ºc/400°f and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Check regularly and if they start to go too brown too quickly, turn down the oven another 10º or so and continue baking. A little hint – if you have a conventional oven and your baking two sheets at once, like I did. Bake them for the first 5 minutes and then very carefully, without bumping them, switch their spots in the oven. Continue baking as normal.

    hot cross buns baking

    The buns are done when they are a dark golden colour and feel light for their size. Be careful not to get too much colour on them or they will be dry.

    Share among family and friends with lashings of butter and honey.

     

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  4. Peanut Butter Cup Cakes

    peanut butter ganache

    Peanut butter: the perfect combination of salty, sweet and that protein taste called umami. Leaving out the nostalgia for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, there’s nothing much better than a peanut butter cake in my book, which is why I keep re-visiting my recipe.

    This time I have added Greek yogurt to the mix, which I think has given it a creamier feel yet a lighter texture. The yogurt acts a bit like buttermilk, adding acid to the baking powder to create a nearly frothy reaction. You can see how the batter forms silky peaks.

    IMG_5388

    I’ve topped these ones with dark chocolate ganache and sea salt, so they’re a bit like a fancy peanut butter cup.

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  5. Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

    Thanksgiving is a holiday that  swings open the arms of home to invite in everyone that can fit at the table. We gorge ourselves to the brim with chat and turkey with all the trimmings until we can’t possibly fit anymore… but then comes the pie.

    pumpkin pie

    Pumpkin pie is one of those sacred American dishes. You have to have it on Thanksgiving, no ifs, ands or buts.

    The culinary rules say that since dessert is the last thing to cross our pallets, it had better be impressive, with flavour that beats out everything you’ve eaten thus far this meal. Never to be an afterthought, I have added a vanilla pod to the mix to ramp up the warming aromatics that make this pie utterly deserving of centre stage. I think this Vanilla Pumpking Pie is just the ticket.

    VANILLA PUMPKIN PIE

    INGREDIENTS

    One Quantity Basic Pie Crust (See my post on Short Crust and follow directions for Basic Pie Crust)

    425g Solid Pack Pumpkin Puree
    2 Large Eggs
    284ml Single Cream (or Evaporated Milk)
    180g Caster Sugar
    1/2 Teaspoon Table Salt
    1 Vanilla Pod, seeds stripped for use
    1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
    1 Teaspoon Fresh Grate Ginger
    1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

    METHOD

    First thing, preheat your oven to 200°c / 400°f.

    Pumpkin pie is terribly easy because all you do is mix your spices and vanilla seeds together with your sugar in a bowl, stir in the pumpkin, then stir in lightly beaten eggs. Try not to incorporate too much air as you want zero bubbles with any baked custard (yes, that is what this technically is). Don’t throw away that vanilla pod case, by the way! Put it in a jar of sugar and use this in whatever you like – it’s great in pancakes, cakes, cookies and biscuits or a cup of strong coffee.

    Cover the pumpkin mixture and pop it in the fridge to infuse while you sort out your pie crust.

    Roll out chilled pie crust and line a fluted 28cm pie tin. Cover with cling film and pop it in the freezer for 5-10mins. Or if you, like me, have zero room for anything in your freezer (not even ice), pop it in the fridge for 20mins. It should be completely firm when it comes out. Keep the scraps of dough for patching after blind baking.

    pie crust

    After chilling the pastry until firm, line it with a parchment paper cartouche ( a round piece of paper used in cooking), crinkled so it can be pushed into the corners well, and fill with baking beans to the rim. Blind bake (without filling) at 200°c/400°f for 15 minutes or until the sides are set up. Then remove the beans with a large spoon and the cartouche and bake for another 5-10 minutes until lightly golden with no gray patches of raw pastry left behind. You don’t want a soggy bottom! Lower the temprature of your oven to 160°c/325°f.

    Now patch up any cracks with scraps from the raw pastry and pour in the pumpkin mixture until it is full as you can make it without slopping over. As this is custard, you don’t need to worry about it rising but it could souffle if cooked at too high a temperature or for too long. So leave about a half cm or a quarter inch of pastry at the top. Bake this for 40-50 minutes until the center of the filling wobbles only slightly or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    Serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream or for even more excitement, cinnamon ice cream.

    Recipe adapted from Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie Recipe.

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  6. Lazy Almond Cake

    This is a ‘well I really want cake but I refuse to go to the shop for anything’ kind of cake. And I don’t have any baking powder… I am always running out of something. What the heck, let’s give it a go!

    It turns out it’s amazing what you can do with what is lying around in your cupboard. Phew! I don’t have to go outside… The result of this laziness is a dense, moist almond cake that works perfectly with tea and even better with coffee and a book. Tah dah!

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  7. Pizza Dough

    Pizza dough is a fantastically easy bread to make at home. It’s versatile and freezes beautifully. Make pizza, calzones, rolls or breadsticks. Do use ’00’ flour, which is very finely milled and high in gluten to give your bread a deliciously chewy texture. Simply shape, allow to prove for about 20 minutes and then cook in a high heat oven, around 220ºc/420ºf for the recommended time for whatever you are making.

    The classics are always nice, but try to go a little wild with flavours! I, for example, love it with a little rosemary, topped with gorgonzola and pears. The sky is the limit! Well, maybe not anchovies and chocolate…

    Pizza Dough

    PIZZA DOUGH

    Prep time: 20mins plus 1 hour for rising

    INGREDIENTS

    500g ’00’ flour

    500g plain, all purpose flour

    1tsp fine sea salt

    1.5tbs quick yeast

    650ml water, warm to touch

    1tbsp sugar, caster or granulated

    4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

    METHOD

    Whisk the flours and salt together in a large bowl – the largest in your kitchen, big enough for the whole mixture to double in size.

    Fill a jug with the water and add the yeast, sugar and oil. Allow the yeast to bloom out and activate by leaving it for at least 5 minutes. It should foam vigorously.

    Make a well in the bottom of the flour, pour in the liquid and stir with a large fork from the centre to the outside, slowly bringing in all the flour until a smooth, sticky dough forms. When it starts to get to difficult to use the fork, reach in with a clean, floured hand and work the dough together.

    Tip the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface – a countertop is usually the best – and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough becomes silky and springy. There should be some resistance as the gluten starts to develop, which will give it a wonderful chewy texture.

    Lightly flour the bowl you used to mix the dough in and lay the dough in the bottom, dust the top with flour and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size – it should take about an hour.

    Once risen, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured countertop and knock back, removing much of the air but not all. Using a scraper or a butter knife, portion the dough into 6 portions for medium pizzas, 8 portions for small.

    Either use immediately or wrap the portions in clingfilm for the fridge or freezer. If freezing, wrap double.

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  8. Project Wedding Cake – Dave and Mel

    Crafting this rather large wedding cake was hard work but so much fun that I would do it again and again. I thought I would share a few details of the adventure so here it goes! Let’s start with the final result:

    Wedding Cake Kiss

    Wedding Cake Kiss

    Wedding Cake Tiers

    I know you might be thinking ‘it’s only 12 inches, that’s the size of a pizza’, but it’s not like a pizza at all. I have never seen such a large cake tin in my life. You could practically bath an infant in it, though of course I wouldn’t recommend this multipurpose use! The depth feels like an abyss that ingredients might disappear into. If you’ve ever made a cake you might understand the anxiety…

    It fit in my oven by some miracle and by one even greater it cooked through. I can’t express the fear felt as you take a cake out of the oven that is four times an original recipe with lots of expensive ingredients. If doing this at home I recommend classical music, camomile tea and maybe a tranquilliser. Phew!

    12-Inch-carrot-cake

     

    But oh the bliss when it comes out perfect. BLISS. Only 5 more layers to go…

    Frosting is another adventure. I can’t tell you the grief of finding that your go-to icing sugar company had switched to a new emulsifier that doesn’t do its job, yielding grainy buttercream no matter the method. 2 kilos of sugar later and I finally decide to switch from a classic to a Swiss-style buttercream. The result was ace! Soft, cloud-like and sturdy all at the same time. Perhaps the sugar gods had a plan for me after all. I’ll never use another frosting again!

    meringue-whisking

    Essentially, you start with a Swiss meringue, where you heat caster sugar and egg whites over a bain-marie until the sugar dissolves, then whisk to stiff peaks, add flavour and a ton of butter. It turns into a lumpy mess at first but with more whisking you end up with heaven.

    It takes more frosting than you would imagine to cover a wedding cake. I try to go for enough to cover a VW Beetle – I think I might just make it…

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  9. Apple and Pear Crisp with Oat Praline

    Were it not for waning sunshine, Autumn would be my favourite season. I love jeans, sweaters, scarves and boots. I love Halloween and all the pumpkins that come with it. I love the colour orange, crisp morning air and crunching leaves. I love that subtle quiet that comes when all the tourists head back home. Well almost – this is London after all, they tend to keep on coming! More the proud am I to live in such an awesome city.

    Speaking of ‘crisp’ and ‘crunch’, how about apples and pears coming into season? How about apple and pear crisp?! Or crumble, for the British lexicon. Crisp and crumble are one in the same and yet another reason to absolutely love Autumn!

    Any of you who have searched out a recipe for crisp or crumble will know that there are a million and one ways to make it. Everyone has their own version and is usually at least slightly sentimental about it. It is nuanced dish and rightly so, as is true with any ‘family recipe’.

    Sweet and tart with a hint of salt, this staple dessert can be as simple as chopping up some fruit and chucking it into a baking dish with a layer of buttery crumb on the top, but it can also be something a bit more special…

    I am dressing mine up a bit by separating out the components to create a more beautiful dish with a blast of colour, suited to a dinner party rather than a standard weeknight supper. I cook the fruit in one step, the crumble in another and then add a couple of very easy bits to make the final dish even more gorgeous.

    apple-pear-crumble-after-the-market

    Apple and Pear Crisp with Raspberry Coulis and Oat Praline

    Serves 6

    Preheat oven to 180

    INGREDIENTS

    Filling

    3 eating apples, cut into chunks

    3 conference pears, cut into chunks

    50g butter, cubed

    40g light brown soft sugar

    40g caster sugar

    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

    1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

    1 lemon, zested

    grating of nutmeg

    Praline

    50g pecans

    50g blanched almonds

    50g caster sugar

    Crumble

    250g butter

    250g flour

    1tbsp caster sugar

    100g oats

    Raspberry Coulis

    300g frozen raspberries

    2tbs icing sugar

    1tsp lemon juice (to taste)

    METHOD

    For the filling:

    Mix spices with sugar. Toss chopped fruit and cubed butter in spiced sugar, vanilla and lemon zest and spread evenly in a roasting tin. Bake on the middle level of the oven until just soft and lightly golden, stirring occasionally. It should take about half an hour to fourty minutes.

    Take the raspberries out of the freezer.

    For the crumble:

    Whiz up the cubed butter, flour and a pinch of in a food processor, or alternatively cut in and rub in until like fine breadcrumbs. See my ‘Shortcrust and Cherry Pie’ post for instructions. Mix through the sugar and oats, spread over a baking sheet and bake on the top shelf of the oven for twenty to thirty minutes until golden and crispy, a bit like crumbled shortbread.

    For the praline:

    Oil a baking sheet and set aside. Turn on the extractor as cooking sugar always creates smoke, put the sugar and nuts in a frying pan and gently melt the sugar over a low heat. Once fully melted, swirl and cook to a caramel. It should be a dark golden but not burned.  Pour the caramel and nuts onto the oiled baking sheet and allow to cool.

    Once cooled completely, whizz up in the food processor or put in a plastic bag, wrap in a tea towel and bash up with a rolling pin. Don’t be tempted to do this while warm, you’ll end up with a sticky mess!

    While the caramel is cooling, check the fruit and the crumble. If done, break up the crumble and leave both it and the fruit in the oven, turned down to warm.

    For the coulis:

    Whizz up frozen raspberries, now close to defrosted, with lemon juice and sifted icing sugar. Because the raspberries are still half frozen, the coulis should look a bright pink colour rather than deep red. Think of a smoothie. The ice crystals have this affect by creating tiny bubbles as they cut through the fruit. Let out with water to desired consistency. Put into a squeeze bottle. If you don’t have one, a spoon will do the job too.

    For the styling:

    Start by squeezing a design on the bottom of the plate. Think of a messy grid. Do leave a border around the food as a frame, it will make the whole dish look more appealing.

    Next spoon the apple and pear mixture into the centre, making sure there is some height to the middle – always good for any dish.

    Sprinkle over a layer of crumble and then the praline.

    Serve with an optional jug of cream or custard on the side, or if you’re me – a neat little ball of vanilla ice cream in a small glass.

    There it is – the humble crumble, but so much better.

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  10. Porter Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Whisky Frosting

    I recently went out for dinner and we had this chocolate stout cake. It was dense, sweet, malty, moist, bitter (maybe slightly too bitter) – but mainly just a delicious piece of cake. Something worth baking at home, with a couple of little changes.

    First thing’s first – it’s the beer that gives this cake depth of flavour by introducing some of its fruity and malty notes, so the beer is one of the most important ingredients to think about.

    In Harold McGee’s book ‘On Food and Cooking’, the beer style chart lists stout as being mainly dark and bitter. Porter on the other hand has a bit of caramel sweetness to balance the bitterness from the dark roasted malt. It also has a bit more fizz, which might help to leaven the cake. I’ll tell you what – it works. I’ll never again bake a chocolate cake without it… and the whisky in the frosting? Well, it’s the icing on the, you know, cake.

    Porter Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Whisky Frosting

    chocolate-porter-cake-whole-after-the-market

     

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