Sticky Fig Cake with Pistachio Praline

Ripe, pink fleshed figs are one of my very favourite fruits and pair brilliantly with so many other ingredients, from goats cheese and honey to cured hams and walnuts. In this cake I have used dried figs soaked in tea ( a method commonly used with dates to make sticky toffee pudding) to flavour the spiced sponge, then added a salty sweetness with the caramel drizzle and finished it off with a tangy mascarpone cheese icing, earthy pistachio praline and slices of fresh fig. Though the finished cake makes for a really beautiful centre piece, you could also enjoy it as a warm pudding with the salted caramel and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients

For the sponge:

  • 300g dried figs, chopped
  • 325ml hot black tea
  • 185g soft butter
  • 275g light brown soft sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 375g self raising flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch black pepper
  • pinch salt

For the salted caramel (this is a sort of cheats caramel- a bit like butterscotch sauce):

  • 50g butter
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g light brown soft sugar
  • 50ml double cream
  • pinch sea salt

For the pistachio praline:

  • 150g caster sugar
  • 200g shelled pistachios

For the mascarpone icing:

  • 200g mascarpone
  • 300ml double cream
  • 3-4tbsp icing sugar

Toppings (optional)

  • fresh figs and herbs

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c fan (325F/ gas mark 3). Grease and line a deep square tin (around 22x22cm).
  2. Place the chopped dry figs in a bowl or jug and pour over the hot tea. Leave to infuse while you start making the cake batter.
  3. In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) cream together the butter and sugar along with the vanilla until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  4. Once the eggs are incorporated, sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt. Fold until the batter is smooth and all the ingredients are well combined then tip in your soaked figs (along with the tea) and fold once more.
  5. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and level off. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs attached when inserted.
  6. While your cake is baking, make the salted caramel. To do this simply pop the butter, syrup, sugar and cream in a saucepan and melt together. Once melted bring to the boil and let it bubble for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat, add the salt to taste and leave to cool.
  7. Next, make the pistachio praline topping. Line a tray with greaseproof paper and put the sugar and pistachios in a heavy bottom pan. Heat gently until the sugar starts melting. Swirl the pan occasionally to coat the pistachios and prevent burning. Once the sugar has completely melted increase the heat and turn the pistachios with a wooden spoon until the caramel reaches a deep golden colour, then tip onto the prepared tray and leave to set hard.
  8. Lastly, make the mascarpone icing. In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment) whisk together the mascarpone, cream and icing sugar until you have a spreadable (but not overly whipped) consistency.
  9. Once your cake is baked, prick lots of holes all over the surface and pour on about 2/3 of the salted caramel, allowing it to sink into the sponge. Leave to cool in the tin.
  10. When your cake is completely cool you’re ready to decorate. Spread the mascarpone icing in an even layer all over the top and sides (or just the top if you like, it’s up to you!) and smooth with a palette knife. Use the remaining cooled caramel to drizzle down the sides then crush up the praline and sprinkle around the edges. Arrange the fresh fig slices on top and add some woody herbs (such as rosemary) for colour.

Enjoy!

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Apricot and Thyme Tart

Crisp pastry, apricot jam, almond thyme frangipane, fresh apricots and a honey glaze make up this seasonal take on a classic Bakewell tart. It works really well with a big spoonful of creme fraiche and can be enjoyed warm or cold, perfect for this unpredictable British ‘summer’.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 140g butter
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • zest 1 lemon
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2tbsp water

For the Filling:

  • 175g butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g ground almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1tbsp thyme, chopped
  • 5 tbsp good quality apricot jam
  • 300g apricots, sliced

For the glaze:

  • 50g honey

Optional toppings:

  • few thyme sprigs
  • some toasted almonds
  • some creme fraiche

Method

  1. Start off with the pastry. Place the flour, butter, caster sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can also do this by hand by rubbing the ingredients lightly between your fingers). Lightly mix the egg yolks and water in a cup then, with the processor running, pour in through the funnel. Stop blitzing as soon as the mixture clumps together then tip onto a clean surface and quickly shape into a disc. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180c (fan) and lightly grease your tart case ( I used a long rectangular tin but this recipe will also work with a 20-22cm traditional fluted tin). Take your pastry and roll out to about 3mm thick on a  lightly floured surface. Line the tin with your pastry, using a little extra to push it right into the corners. Trim any over hanging pastry from the edges and then cover with cling film and chill again for 10-15 minutes, until firm.
  3. Line your chilled pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10-15 minutes (or until the sides are set) then remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for around 10 minutes (or until the bottom is sandy with no grey undercooked areas). Set aside while you make the frangipane filling and lower the oven temperature to 160c (fan).
  4. For the filling, cream together the butter and sugar (in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or with electric beaters) then add in the almonds and mix briefly until well incorporated. Crack in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition, then finally stir in the chopped thyme.
  5. Take your cooled pastry case and dollop the jam all over the base. Spread out evenly then pile on the frangipane and level off. Top with the sliced apricots in a pattern of your choice then bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden.
  6. Heat the honey a little to loosen the consistency (either in a saucepan or in the microwave) then brush all over the top of the tart to add shine. Once cooled, decorate the tart with thyme sprigs, almonds and creme fraiche, if you like.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Honeycomb Celebration Cake

Whenever I bake a chocolate cake (the layered kind, not the flourless, fudgy sort) I’m looking for a sponge which actually tastes of chocolate, is really moist without being overly dense and isn’t too sickly sweet. I’m always tweaking my go to chocolate cake with these characteristics in mind and think I’ve pretty much cracked it with this recipe. I’ve teamed the light chocolate layers with honeycomb toppers, salted toffee cream filling and a rich ganache coating here, but you could definitely fill it with chocolate buttercream if you want a pure chocolate fest.

Note: this cake is so extra and is definitely one for a special occasion- you could half the recipe and just coat with ganache if you’re after something indulgent but a little more modest

Ingredients (makes a tall 8 inch celebration cake- feeds 12-14 people)

For the cake:

  • 375g plain flour
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 85g cocoa powder
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • large pinch sea salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 325ml milk
  • 175ml vegetable oil
  • 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 325ml just boiled water
  • 2tsp instant coffee granules

For the toffee cream filling:

  • 325g soft light brown sugar
  • 225ml double cream
  • 175g butter
  • pinch sea salt

For the ganache:

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 300ml double cream

For the honeycomb (this makes more than enough- I use about half and store the rest in a jar for my many weak snacking moments):

  • 60g butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 1 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c (325F / gas mark 3). Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins.
  2. Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in the microwave in short stints, stirring often). Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl stir together the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In a jug, lightly whisk the eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the contents of the jug into it. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together until well combined then add the melted chocolate and stir again (I just use a balloon whisk for this- nothing electric is required as you don’t need to incorporate much air).
  4. Pour your just boiled water over the instant coffee granules and once they’ve dissolved, gradually add to the chocolate batter, stirring gently with your whisk as you go. The final cake batter will be very thin but don’t worry, it bakes beautifully.
  5. Split the mix evenly between the prepared tins and bake for 45-55 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached). Once baked leave to cool completely in the tins.

  1. While your cakes are cooking and cooling you can get on with the filling, ganache and honeycomb toppers.
  2. For the filling, place the cream and sugar in a saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved and you are left with a smooth caramel coloured cream. Set aside, add the salt (to taste) and cool completely. Once your cream has cooled take the butter and whisk (in a stand mixer or with electric beaters) until it reaches a light, whipped consistency then gradually add your cream mixture. Keep whisking this until it has thickened and is spreadable. Set aside for later.
  3. For the ganache chop up the chocolate and scrape into a heatproof bowl or jug, then heat the cream until it just reaches boiling point and pour directly on top. Leave for a couple on minutes then stir to make sure the chocolate has melted into the cream leaving you with a smooth ganache. Set aside to cool and thicken.
  4. For the honeycomb line a baking tray with some lightly oiled baking paper then place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan. Gently heat until all the ingredients start melting together then stir to combine. Turn up the heat and leave to bubble until it reaches a deep golden colour then add the bicarbonate of soda and briefly mix to make sure it’s evenly distributed- it should now start bubbling up and becoming lacy in appearance. At this point pour it quickly onto the lined baking tray and leave to set hard.
  5. Once you’ve made all your elements and they’ve cooled to room temperature you’re ready to assemble the cake. To do this slice any uneven tops off your sponges then slice in half horizontally, leaving you with four layers.
  6. Sandwich the layers on top of one another, filling with the toffee cream as you go. Once stacked, spread any remaining toffee cream all over the cake and then chill for 10 minutes (this setting time makes it easier to cover the cake neatly in ganache).
  7. After chilling the cake spread the ganache all over its surface. I used a palette knife to create a line pattern on my cake to tie in with the honeycomb theme but you could make it super sleek and smooth or go for a really rustic look- it’s up to you. To finish it off break up the honeycomb and use as decorations; I also made some toppers by setting melted chocolate over bubble wrap, but it really isn’t necessary!

I hope you all enjoy this recipe- my family and friends went absolutely mad for it so it’s definitely worth the effort if you’re up for a little bit of a baking project!

Peach and Blueberry Hazelnut Crumble Cake

Peach puree and ground hazelnuts run through this cake batter, giving it a distinctly fruity flavour and very moist crumb. I love the added nuttiness wholemeal flour brings to the end result too and think it works really well served with a tangy creme fraiche and drizzle of local honey.

Ingredients (serves 10-12):

For the crumble topping:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 85g hazelnuts, chopped
  • 75g butter, melted

For the cake:

  • zest 1 lemon
  • 225g soft butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 400g ripe peaches, blitzed into a chunky puree
  • 200g wholemeal self raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 100g finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 peach, finely sliced
  • large handful blueberries

To serve:

  • dollop creme fraiche or greek yoghurt
  • drizzle of honey

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160c (325f/gas mark 3). Grease and line a 9inch spring form cake tin.
  2. Before you worry about the cake batter, make the crumble topping. To do this simply stir together the flour, sugar, hazelnuts and butter until you have a rough crumbly consistency. Set aside for later.
  3. Now it’s time for the cake. In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Whisk the pureed peaches and eggs in a jug and add to the creamed mixture in three additions, beating well between each. The mixture may curdle so add a small amount of flour occasionally to bring it back (don’t worry too much about this, the batter comes together nicely in the end and the cake is always moist and delicious!).
  4. Once the eggs and peaches have been incorporated into the butter and sugar, fold in the remaining flour, blitzed hazelnuts, baking powder and salt. Scrape the mix into the prepared cake tin and level out. Arrange the peach slices on top in a pattern then sprinkle over the blueberries and hazelnut crumble.
  5. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs attached. Serve with creme fraiche.

Enjoy!

Chocolate, Cardamom and Raspberry Macaroons

I’m no macaroon master. I’ve never really committed much time to perfecting the art and will fully admit I’ve had a few disasters which have put me off practicing (not the best attitude). That said, I’ve recently been playing around with the classic patisserie staple and have become a lot more comfortable with the making process. This spiced chocolate variety is my favourite experiment to date and although they’re not entirely perfect to look at, the shells are both crisp and chewy, the fillings are well balanced and, most importantly, each mouthful is deliciously moreish.

Ingredients:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 80ml water
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 175g ground almonds
  • 15g cocoa
  • 160g egg whites
  • pinch salt

For the filling:

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 10-12 cardamom pods
  • 1 punnet fresh raspberries

For decoration (optional):

  • some additional dark chocolate, melted
  • edible gold paint

Method (makes about 30 macarons):

  1. Before I begin- you will need a sugar thermometer, an electric whisk or stand mixer, a food processor or blender, some greaseproof paper with 4cm circles traced on to use as a piping guide (see here) and piping bags.
  2. The first thing to do is weigh out your ingredients accurately (this is something I don’t often do but for this recipe, its a necessity!) and line up to 4 baking trays with your greaseproof paper templates.
  3. Now, place your ground almonds, icing sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor and blitz until very fine (about 30 seconds- 1 minute). Pass through a sieve into a bowl, discarding the chunky bits.
  4. Next, pop your water and caster sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Once dissolved, increase the heat and boil until the temperature reads 115c on your sugar thermometer.
  5. While your sugar syrup is heating up, stir half of the egg whites (80g) in with the ground almond mixture to create a thick paste. Place the other half (remaining 80g) in a clean bowl (or bowl of  a stand mixer) and whisk to stiff peaks.
  6. Take your sugar syrup (which should now be at 115c) and, while whisking on a high speed, pour it into your stiff egg whites in a slow stream. Your egg whites will become smooth and glossy (as you would expect from meringue). Now continue whisking for about 5 minutes until the bowl has cooled down to room temperature.
  7. Take 1/3 of this cooled meringue and stir it into the almond paste to loosen the consistency. Once well mixed add the remaining meringue and fold, very gently, until you have a mixture which is thick enough to be piped without running but not so thick that the meringue isn’t fully incorporated.
  8. Pile the mixture into a piping bag and snip the end off (about 1cm diameter). Take your macaroon template and pipe vertically (not at an angle) into each circle. Be sure to leave a tiny bit of space for spreading. I find that working quickly is best for consistency as you develop a bit of a rhythm.
  9. Once you’ve piped all your circles lift the trays a few inches off the work surface and drop them down a few times- this eliminates air bubbles. Now leave them for an hour to form a bit of a skin before baking. Preheat the oven to 140c (fan).

  1. While your macaroons are forming a skin, make the chocolate cardamom ganache. To do this, put the cream in a saucepan, crack the cardamom pods and add to the pan then very gently heat. Bring to the boil then set aside to infuse for 20 minutes. Chop the chocolate finely and scrape into a heatproof bowl.
  2. Once infused, strain the cream into another saucepan and bring to scalding point (just before boiling) then pour over the chocolate. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes then stir together to form a smooth ganache. Set aside until cool and thickened.
  3. Now your macaroons will be ready to bake; they will take around 18-22 minutes but check after 15. You’re looking for a crisp top and chewy middle, and they should peel off the greaseproof when ready.
  4. Cool the macaroon shells on a wire rack when they’re baked.
  5. To assemble the macaroons, pipe the thickened ganache in a ring around one shell and place a raspberry in the middle, then sandwich with another shell. Decorate with drizzled chocolate, edible gold paint and freeze dried raspberries.

Enjoy!

Gooseberry and Elderflower Layer Cake

Layers of zesty elderflower sponge sandwiched together with tart gooseberry compote and lightly whipped elderflower cream make up this delicious nod to the British countryside. Bake it for a special mid-summer occasion or round off a Sunday lunch with a generous slice.

Ingredients:

  • 275g soft butter
  • 275g caster sugar
  • zest 1 lemon
  • 5 eggs
  • 275g self raising flour
  • 3-4tbsp elderflower cordial

For the gooseberry compote:

  • 500g fresh (or frozen and defrosted) gooseberries
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 50ml water

For the elderflower cream:

  • 600ml double cream
  • 4-5tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 1-2tbsp icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins.
  2. Place the butter, sugar and zest in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) and cream together until light, pale and fluffy.
  3. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition to ensure they are fully incorporated. Now tip in the elderflower cordial and briefly mix once more to distribute it evenly through the batter.
  4. Sift over the flour and fold in with a large metal spoon. Split the mixture between the two prepared tins and level out. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
    While the cakes are baking, make the gooseberry compote. Put the gooseberries, sugar and water in a saucepan and gently heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruits are soft and a loose compote has formed (10-15 minutes).
  5. When the cakes are ready, leave to cool completely in the tins. While they cool, make the elderflower cream. To do this simply whisk together the cream, cordial and sugar until soft peaks form.
  6. Once all your elements are cool, assemble the cake. Spread a generous layer of compote and several dollops of elderflower cream between each sponge, then finish with a few sprigs of elderflower for a simple, effortless summer pudding.

Enjoy!

Cherry and White Chocolate Brownies

These fudgy brownies incite frenzied eating in my house; they barely saw the light of day when I made them last and half my family were out… It’s hardly surprising they are so addictive though- white chocolate matches brilliantly with fresh cherry compote (particularly when accompanied by a very generous glug of slightly unseasonal brandy).

Ingredients:

For the compote:

  • 300g cherries (stones removed)
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • 1tbsp water
  • large glug brandy (this amount is totally down to your taste)

For the brownies:

  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 200g white chocolate chunks

Method:

  1. Start by making the compote. Roughly chop the cherries. Place in a pan along with the sugar, water and brandy. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the cherries become soft and the syrupy liquid starts to thicken (about 10 minutes). Once the consistency is somewhat jam-like, taste and add more brandy if you like (you can leave out the brandy entirely if it’s not your jam- ha.). Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line a brownie tin (around 22x22cm is perfect).
  3. Place the butter and dark chocolate in a  heatproof bowl and set over a pan of gently simmering water (don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl). Stir occasionally and remove from the heat once melted together.
  4. Place the eggs and caster sugar in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and beat together until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture to the bowl and fold in followed by the flour and 2/3 of the white chocolate chunks. Tip into the lined baking tin and level out.
  6. Dollop the compote all over the surface of the brownie and finish by sprinkling on the remaining white chocolate. Bake for 25-35 minutes until the top is set but the inside is moist and a little gooey.
  7. Allow the brownie to cool completely in the tin then slice up and serve.

Enjoy!