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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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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!

Pistachio Meringues with Strawberry and Black Pepper Compote

Shake up the classic British pavlova by combining seasonal strawberries with black pepper, tangy creme fraiche and pistachio meringues; the combination of sweet, spicy and savoury balances beautifully and is a great dessert option for casual summer evenings.

Ingredients (makes 12):

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 6 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • 125g chopped pistachios
  • 400g strawberries
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • splash water
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Line 2 trays with greaseproof paper (you can secure this down with a little meringue once it’s made).
  2. Put the sugar on a baking tray and heat for 10 minutes in the oven until hot to the touch (not melting), then set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 120c.
  3. Place the egg whites in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and whisk until you reach medium peak. Add one third of the hot sugar and increase the whisking speed until well incorporated. Add the remaining sugar in 2 additions, whisking well between each. You should eventually have a thick glossy meringue with no grains of sugar. Tip the chopped pistachios onto the meringue and fold in gently. Spoon the meringue into piles on the prepared trays and smooth into your desired shapes.
  4. Bake for 1-1/2 hours until the meringues can be peeled from the paper with ease. Once baked, turn the oven off and leave to cool with the door closed (to prevent cracking).
  5. Now make the strawberry compote; place the strawberries, sugar and water in a saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and the strawberries release some juices. Now just cook until your desired consistency is achieved (I like to keep the fruit whole where possible but you can break down the strawberries by cooking for longer if a smoother result is what you’re after).
  6. Cool the compote and serve up with a generous spoonful of creme fraiche (or lightly whipped chantilly cream) and a crisp but chewy pistachio meringue.

Enjoy!

Soured Cream Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream and Almond Brittle

This isn’t a sophisticated cake. There is nothing particularly fancy or groundbreaking about the flavours or decoration; however, sometimes (and by sometimes I mean far more often than is deemed acceptable) I just crave a proper, dense, delicious chocolate hit, and for that this delivers every time (whether smothered in salted caramel buttercream or chocolate ganache- I’ll take either).

Ingredients:

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 300g soft butter
  • 225ml soured cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch salt

For the buttercream:

  • 100g soft butter
  • 100g salted caramel sauce
  • large pinch salt
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 2-3tbsp milk

For the brittle:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 100g almonds

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a 10 inch cake tin.
  2. Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and cream together until light, pale and fluffy. In a jug whisk the eggs, soured cream and vanilla. Add to the creamed mixture in 3 additions, beating well between each to ensure they are fully incorporated (add a little of the flour if you’re worried about curdling).
  3. Sift the cocoa powder, plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt over the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45-55 minutes until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Once baked leave to cool in the tin.
  4. Now make your brittle. Line a tray with lightly oiled baking paper. Place the sugar and almonds in a heavy bottomed pan and heat until the sugar melts. Tip the pan to coat the almonds in the caramel and leave it until it reaches a deep golden brown then pour onto the prepared baking paper. Use a wooden spoon to move the almonds around into a single layer, then leave to set hard.
  5. For the salted caramel buttercream (this is a bit of a guilty pleasure- it’s obviously very sweet so you could coat the cake in a dark chocolate ganache if you’re more grown up than me), simply beat the soft butter, caramel sauce and salt (I will be posting a recipe for salted caramel sauce soon if you’d like to make your own, otherwise just buy shop bought!) together until creamy, then gradually add the icing sugar until it reaches a light and thick consistency. Lastly, loosen up with a few drops of milk if necessary (do this by eye).
  6. To assemble, remove your cake from the tin and smother in buttercream. Break up the brittle and use as shards, or smash into a crumb and sprinkle over the top of your finished bake.

Enjoy!

Orange, Dark Chocolate, Pistachio and Cardamom Cookies

This recipe takes the classic chewy chocolate cookie and turns it into something altogether more grown up with a little help from crushed pistachios, orange zest, dark chocolate chunks and ground cardamom. Stash them away from kids (and other adults- let’s be honest) and enjoy when you’ve got a quiet moment to yourself, preferably with a strong coffee.

Ingredients (makes 20-24 large cookies)

  • 225g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 150g dark brown soft sugar
  • zest 1 orange
  • 1tsp ground cardamom (or 8-10 cardamom pods, crushed)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 300g plain flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • 300g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. Place the butter, sugars, zest and ground cardamom in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) and cream together until light and fluffy using electric beaters (or a wooden spoon if you’re slightly mad/ less lazy than me).
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, tip in the pistachios and stir. Now sift the bicarbonate of soda, flour and salt into the batter and beat briefly to form a soft dough.
  3. Finally, add the chocolate chunks and stir with a spoon to evenly distribute. The dough won’t be firm and to make cooking easier I like to freeze it before baking. To do this simply lay a long rectangle of cling film across your work surface, spoon on the dough in a long line and roll up, shaping into a log. Chill for half an hour and at this stage preheat the oven to 180c and line some baking trays.
  4. Once your cookie dough logs have firmed up a bit, unwrap them and cut into slices (about 1.5 cm thick). Place the slices on the prepared baking trays with generous spaces between them for spreading (I usually put about 4 on each tray).
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden but still soft and chewy in the middle. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

Lemon, Thyme and Honey Cake

I’ve been back in my winter coat and even wore a scarf yesterday due to the fact that the weather here in the UK has been akin to a small child throwing a tantrum… that said, when I made this cake (and naturally spent the day inside) it was gloriously sunny and something light and zesty was in order. This is essentially a lemon drizzle with a couple of welcome extras; a subtle hum of thyme and a honey spiked tangy cream cheese icing- the perfect understated but delicious cake for a casual summer get together.

Ingredients:

  • 225g soft butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • zest 4 lemons
  • 1tbsp chopped thyme
  • 4 eggs (free range)
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 2-3tbsp milk

For the lemon drizzle:

  • 3tbsp runny honey (local where possible)
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • 125ml lemon juice

For the lemon cream cheese frosting:

  • 300g cream cheese
  • 50ml double cream
  • zest 2 lemons
  • 3tbsp runny honey (plus extra for a final drizzle, if you like)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line a square baking tin.
  2. Place the butter, sugar, lemon zest and thyme in a bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and cream together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Once the eggs are thoroughly incorporated, sift in the flour and pour in the milk. Fold gently until well combined then scrape into the prepared tin and level off. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  3. While the lemon and thyme sponge is cooking, make the lemon and honey drizzle. To do this simply put the honey, lemon juice and caster sugar together in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and formed a syrup. Set aside.
  4. When the cake is ready, skewer holes all across the surface and pour the drizzle evenly over the top, allowing it to soak in. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
  5. While the cake is cooling, make the cream cheese icing. Place the cream cheese, double cream, honey, lemon zest and icing sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick. Spread a generous layer over the completely cooled cake and drizzle with any extra honey.

Enjoy!