Spiced Pear Sticky Toffee Muffins

Sticky toffee pudding is one of my all time favourite desserts; rolled out on many a Sunday after a family roast and drenched in sweet, buttery sauce, there are few dishes more comforting. Now, I’m not going to lay claim to these sticky toffee inspired muffins beating the classic pud format, however, unlike that Autumn staple, they needn’t be reserved for lazy weekends as they’re conveniently hand held, light in texture, benefit from the addition of fresh pear, and are just as delicious cold as they are hot from the oven and dripping in toffee. Make them now and they’ll last for a few days in an air tight box.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 large muffins)

For the muffin batter

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 1/2tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g light brown soft sugar
  • 1 large pear, diced
  • 100g pitted Medjool dates, soaked in boiling water

For the sticky toffee sauce

  • 60g butter
  • 60g light brown soft sugar
  • 80ml double cream
  • pinch salt

Optional finish

  • caramelised pear slices (to make these, just slice up 1 pear into 3mm thick pieces. Heat 2tbsp light brown soft sugar and 2tbsp butter in a pan until gently bubbling then add the pear pieces and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with muffin cases (this recipe makes 6-8 large muffins but if you prefer a smaller cupcake-size you will get 12).
  2. Place the flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a small bowl and stir together. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla and sugars until well combined, then stir in the diced pear. Drain the boiling water off the dates and crush them up into a rough paste and add those in too. Finally, fold in the dry ingredients until just combined (don’t worry if the batter is lumpy and a few specks of flour remain- the trick with muffins is to mix as little as possible to achieve a light texture).
  3. Fill each case 3/4 of the way up and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are well risen and a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  4. While the muffins are baking make the sticky toffee sauce. Place the butter, sugar, cream and salt in a small saucepan and set over a gentle heat. Allow the butter and sugar to melt, stirring occasionally, then cook until the ingredients come together to form a smooth, golden sauce. Add the salt to taste.
  5. When the muffins are ready, prick a few holes over the surface of each one and pour on a generous helping of toffee sauce. Finish with some caramelised pear slices, if you like.

Enjoy!

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Orange, Cardamom and White Chocolate Shortbread

These buttery shortbreads, dipped in white chocolate and flavoured with warming cardamom and citrus, have got me feeling (dare I say it) pretty festive. The format might be a bit retro but there’s something comforting and nostalgic about bedding in with a batch of homemade biscuits and a cup of builder’s tea at this time of year. Give them a try for a quick and easy twist on a classic.

Ingredients (makes 20-24 biscuits)

  • 225g soft butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • zest 1 orange
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 75g rye flour
  • 100g cornflour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 50g pistachios, finely chopped (optional)

Method

  1. Place the butter, sugar and orange zest in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) and beat until very light and fluffy. Add in the flours, salt and ground cardamom and beat briefly until the flour is just incorporated and the mix starts to come together in large clumps (it’s important not to over-mix here as beating for too long could result in a tough biscuit which isn’t buttery and short!).
  2. Bring the mix together with your hands and roll out on a floured surface to about 1cm thick. Stamp out biscuits using a cookie cutter (or just slice the dough into squares with a knife) and line up on a lined baking tray. Chill for at least 30 minutes, or until firm. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  3. Once your biscuits have firmed up, bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  4. Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (or melt in the microwave at 30 second increments, stirring between each) then dip each biscuit in, about half way up. Place the dipped biscuits on a piece of greaseproof paper for the chocolate to set and sprinkle with pistachios.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin and Pecan Brown Butter Cake with Bourbon Caramel Icing

Make the most of squash season with an ode to the Autumn months; made up of heavily spiced pumpkin and brown butter layers, smooth bourbon-laced caramel cream cheese icing and a slightly salty crunch of pecan brittle, this cake is absolutely delicious and marries together some of my favourite flavours.

Ingredients (serves 10-12)

For the bourbon caramel

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 50ml water
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1-2tbsp bourbon ( spiced rum would also work, or feel free to omit the alcohol)
  • pinch sea salt

For the cake

  • 250g butter, cubed
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 50g soft light brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • large pinch salt
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground cardamom
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 450g grated pumpkin (alternatively, you could use carrot or squash)
  • 75g sultanas
  • zest 1 lemon
  • 100g pecans, roughly chopped

For the icing

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 250g full fat cream cheese
  • the bourbon caramel

For decoration (optional)

  • pecan praline (to make this melt 100g caster sugar in a pan until golden, then add 75g pecans, stir to coat and set on a piece of baking paper- once set, crush up)
  • thyme sprigs

Method

  1. Start off by making the caramel. To do this place the water and sugar in a saucepan set over a gentle heat; do not stir, but swirl the pan occasionally to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Once the sugar has dissolved and you have a clear syrup, increase the heat and boil until it turns golden brown. At this stage add the double cream and stir, then pour in the bourbon and stir again. Continue to stir on the heat for another couple of minutes, then set aside and add the salt to taste. Leave to cool completely.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins with baking paper. Place the butter in a saucepan and leave to melt and bubble until it starts to brown and smell nutty. Set aside to cool.
  3. Once the butter has cooled put it in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) along with the sugars and egg and mix until pale and thick (about 5 minutes). Beat in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, baking powder and spices and stir until just combined. Stir through the pumpkin, sultanas, lemon zest and pecans. Split the batter between the cake tins and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  4. Leave the cakes to cool completely in the tins. Meanwhile, make the icing by simply whisking together the mascarpone, cream cheese and caramel until smooth. Pile into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle.
  5. Once the cakes are completely cool, remove from the tins and slice in half horizontally (leaving you with 4 layers). Pipe the icing in little mounds over the whole surface area of the first layer, then stack up the remaining layers, repeating the piping as you go. Decorate the top with pecan praline and thyme.

Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Brownies (Vegan/Gluten Free)

I’ve tried a lot of vegan brownies which are dry, crumbly or ‘raw’. Sure, there’s a time and a place for healthy alternatives and we can’t just slob around eating sugar-laden baked goods all day, but if I want a brownie and I’m vegan (I’m not I’m just being really selfless…) I want the real thing, not a load of dates and coconut oil. With this not-very-2018 thought in mind, I’ve been attempting to put together a recipe for a completely vegan and gluten free brownie which rivals a conventional dairy/egg based one. The recipe I’ve devised delivers a fudgy core and crisp top, rich flavour and all round delicious result- give it a try, it’s a good place to start with vegan baking.

Ingredients (makes 16 small brownies, or 9 big ones!)

  • 125g smooth peanut butter, plus 50g more for the core and topping
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 275g dark chocolate (I used half 60% and half 80%), plus 75g roughly chopped for chocolate chips
  • large pinch salt
  • 100ml aquafaba (the starchy water you get in a can of chickpeas- you will get about 100ml from one can)
  • 1tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 1tbsp water (this replicates an egg yolk very well!)
  • 100g dark brown soft sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g gluten free plain flour (I used Doves Farm)
  • few chopped peanuts, for topping (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a 20x20cm square brownie tin.
  2. Mix together the flaxseed and water at this stage to give it time to thicken an form an egg-yolk consistency. Put the oil, peanut butter and 275g of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Allow the ingredients to melt together, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat to cool to room temperature.
  3. Place the aquafaba in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment) and whisk until soft peaks just form. At this stage add in the flax mixture, sugars and salt (it’s amazing how much this looks like eggs whisked together with sugar!). Whisk again until the sugars are well incorporated then fold in the cooled chocolate mixture with a metal spoon, followed by the flour. Scrape half of the batter into the prepared tin then dot over half of the extra peanut butter and some of the chopped chocolate. Top with the remaining batter and repeat the peanut butter/chocolate stage, then finish with the peanuts (if using).
  4. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until crisp on top but very slightly wobbly in the middle. Leave to cool completely then slice up and serve.

Enjoy!

Craquelin Choux Buns with Honeyed Walnuts, Mascarpone and Orange

A couple of months ago I bought, then promptly forgot about, some delicious pine honey which I intended to use as the central flavour in a pastry-based recipe. Now that it’s been retrieved from the depths of my cupboard it has well and truly fulfilled that destiny in these crisp craquelin choux buns. Simply filled with honeyed orange mascarpone and walnuts (also baked in the honey and a little salt) these make for a delicious treat, but served alongside honey butterscotch sauce and they’re next level- perfect for a fancy Autumnal dessert.

Ingredients

For the craquelin top

  • 55g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
  • 65g soft light brown sugar
  • 65g plain flour

For the choux

  • 85g butter
  • 220ml water
  • 100g plain flour
  • 3 eggs (plus 1 extra for glazing)
  • pinch of salt

For the filling

  • 300g mascarpone
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2tbsp (heaped) good quality honey (I used Greek Pine Honey)
  • Zest of 2 oranges

For the honeyed walnuts

  • 100g walnuts
  • 2tbsp (heaped) good quality honey (as before)
  • good pinch salt

For the sauce (optional)

  • 75ml honey
  • Juice 1/2 orange
  • 25g butter
  • 100ml double cream
  • Generous pinch salt

Method

  1. Start off by making the craquelin topping (when baked, this forms a crispy sweet layer). To do this simply mix the butter, sugar and flour in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment on a slow speed) until it starts to form large lumps, then bring it together with your hands. Place the dough on a large piece of baking paper, top with another piece of baking paper, and roll out to about 3mm thick. Pop this onto a tray and leave in the freezer to solidify.
  2. To make the choux, put the water, butter and salt in a saucepan set over a medium heat (do not let it boil at this stage). Meanwhile, sieve the flour to remove any lumps. When the butter has melted into the water, increase the heat and bring to a rolling boil, then tip in the flour and stir vigorously until you have a smooth paste-like mix which comes away from the edges of the pan. Continue to stir for another minute to cook out the rawness of the flour, then tip into a clean bowl and close cover with cling film (this eggless stage is known as a ‘panade’). Leave to cool to room temperature.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190c. Line 2 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  4. Once the panade has cooled it’s time to add the eggs; whisk in a jug to break them up then very gradually add into the panade while beating with electric beaters. Stop adding the egg (you might have a little leftover) when the smooth, lump-free mixture reluctantly drops off the end of a spoon. Pile the choux mix into a piping bag, fitted with a large round nozzle.
  5. Pipe rounds of about 4cm wide onto the prepared baking trays, leaving plenty of room for expansion. Whisk the remaining egg in a bowl and brush a small amount onto each mound, smoothing down the tip. Take your craquelin sheet and stamp out 3cm circles. Place one on top of each choux mound (the egg will help secure it in place). Bake the choux for around 35 minutes, then skewer a small hole in each bun and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, to dry out the middles. Once baked, they should be crisp and golden brown with a crackled appearance on top. Cool while you make the other elements.
  6. Toss the walnuts in the honey and salt and spread out on a baking tray. Cook for around 10 minutes or until caramelised then set aside to cool. Once cooled, roughly chop.
  7. For the filling, just whisk together the mascarpone, cream, honey and orange zest until light and smooth. Pile into a piping bag. Finally, for the sauce heat the honey and orange juice in a saucepan and simmer for a couple of minutes, add in the butter and stir until it’s melted, then add the cream and salt. Keep gently simmering, stirring occasionally, until slightly thicker (a few minutes should be fine), then set aside.
  8. To assemble the choux buns, slice each one in half and pipe some mascarpone cream into the base. Top with a sprinkling of walnuts and a little sauce, then place the lid on. Serve with some extra sauce.

Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil and Espresso Torte

No intricate decorations, fillings or tiers here, just one humble layer of ludicrously fudgy, crinkly chocolate joy (which is, entirely by chance, dairy and gluten free). For a real depth of flavour and the perfect balance of bitter and sweet, take note of my chocolate recommendations and use a good quality olive oil (this recipe idea actually stemmed from a yearning to bake with a deliciously floral, wincingly expensive extra virgin oil I picked up in Greece last month*).

* Disclaimer: don’t judge, I was in that holiday headspace where you flash your card with the sort of cavalier attitude usually reserved for Monopoly money… sufficed to say, I could do with passing GO right now

Ingredients

  • 200g 60% dark chocolate
  • 100g 70% dark chocolate
  • 100g 80% dark chocolate
  • 200ml good quality olive oil
  • 275g light brown soft sugar
  • 75ml strong espresso
  • 5 eggs
  • Generous pinch sea salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line an 8 inch cake tin.
  2. Roughly chop all the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl along with the olive oil. Put the sugar and coffee in a saucepan and gently heat until the sugar has completely dissolved (avoid bringing it to the boil at this stage).
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved increase the heat and bring to the boil, then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes while the chocolate melts, then stir everything (chocolate, olive oil, sugar, espresso) together to form a smooth, glossy liquid. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then stir in the egg yolks.
  4. Place the egg whites in a large bowl with the salt (or bowl of a stand mixer) and whisk to stiff peaks. Carefully fold the whites into the chocolate mixture in two batches using a large metal spoon, then scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin (make sure you don’t scrape from a height or you’ll knock out some of that air you’ve just put into the whites!).
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, then leave to cool completely in the tin. When cooling, the top of the cake will dip and crack- don’t worry, it’s a smooth, flourless torte, not a sponge cake! Once cool, slice up and finish with a dusting of cocoa powder. Serve with creme fraiche, if you like.

 

Pistachio and Lemon Cake with Raspberry and Rose Cream

Bloom and Wild have just released a beautiful range of bouquets for Autumn/Winter, in collaboration with infamous London department store, Liberty. Each bouquet has been artfully designed to reflect some of the most coveted prints in the Liberty archive, from the vintage look 1910 Elysian Day, to the vibrant 60s Ciara. This week marks 5 years of letterbox flowers from Bloom & Wild, and to mark the occasion they asked me to create a very special birthday cake which encapsulates the style of the Bloom and Wild X Liberty collection.

To make this celebratory cake really striking, I’ve decorated it with meadowy blooms and wild greenery from the Rachel Deluxe bouquet, which is inspired by a 1988 Liberty print. To keep things simple but delicious, the sponge I’ve developed is light and zesty, with a hum of pistachio. For the filling I’ve gone with a raspberry and rose cream, in part because the bouquet boasts stunning quicksand roses but also because British raspberries are nearing the end of their season, so we need to make the most of them while we can. To apply the flowers, I trimmed and sealed the stems, then arranged them in as natural a way as possible, staying true to the print. I hope you all like what I came up with and enjoy the recipe- it’s perfect for late summer celebrations!

Ingredients

For the sponges

  • 350g soft unsalted butter
  • 325g golden caster sugar
  • Zest 2 lemons
  • 6 eggs
  • 200g ground pistachios (just blitz 200g shelled pistachios in a food processor until fine)
  • 150g plain flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt

For the rose and raspberry cream

  • 400g double cream
  • 200g mascarpone
  • 2-3tbsp rose water (add this in small amounts, tasting between each addition)
  • 2-3tbsp icing sugar (to taste)
  • 200g fresh raspberries, lightly crushed with a fork

To finish (optional)

  • Bloom and Wild Rachael bouquet, or pistachios and crystallised rose petals

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line two 7 inch cake tins.
  2. Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and beat until very light, pale and fluffy (this can take about 10 minutes). Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition (add a little bit of the flour with each egg if you’re worried about curdling). Once all the eggs are well incorporated, add the rest of the flour, ground pistachios, salt and baking powder and fold in using a large metal spoon.
  3. Once you have a light, lump free cake batter, split between the two tins and level off the tops. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  4. Once baked, leave the cakes to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. While the cakes are cooling make the filling. To do this simply whisk together the cream, icing sugar, mascarpone and rose water until spreadable. Take 2/3 of this filling and ripple through the raspberries. Put the remaining 1/3 to the side (this is for coating the outside of the cake).
  6. When you cakes are completely cool, slice in half horizontally so that you have four even layers. Place the first layer on your serving plate and spread over 1/3 of the raspberry cream, then repeat until you’ve stacked all four.
  7. Take the remaining rose cream and spread a very thin layer over the cake to seal in any crumbs. Chill for 10 minutes to firm up a little, then cover with the last bit of rose cream (use a palette knife or cake scraper to do this). This stage is optional, you can leave the sides bare if you like.
  8. To finish the cake, arrange fresh flowers all over the top (ensuring that you seal any ends and remove them from the cake before consumption!). Alternatively, decorate with lemon zest, pistachios and rose petals.

Enjoy!