baking

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!

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!

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!

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!

Carrot, Apple and Walnut Loaf with Maple Icing

Looking at the photographs of this cake, you could be fooled into thinking it’s mid Autumn and the trees are turning. They’re not, but given the weather here in the UK (it’s pretty miserable; grey skies and that fluffy rain which get’s you far more wet than you’d think) it might as well be. With this in mind I thought I’d bake something spiced, nutty, simple and comforting to combat the bad weather blues: enter this moist carrot and apple loaf cake laced with cinnamon, ginger and walnuts topped with maple cream cheese frosting…

Ingredients:

  • 225ml vegetable oil
  • 225g soft light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 125g grated carrot
  • 125g grated apple
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2tsp ginger
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 100g chopped walnuts
  • zest 1 lemon

For the icing;

  • 5tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 heaped tbsp icing sugar
  • 250g cream cheese (full fat)
  • 100ml double cream

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line a large loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. Place the oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) and, using electric beaters, beat together until voluminous and well combined. Now add the grated carrot and apple and briefly beat again to evenly distribute.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt over the wet ingredients and beat in until just combined. Lastly, fold in the walnuts and lemon zest. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Cool in the tin.
  4. While the cake is cooling, make the maple cream cheese icing. Simply whisk together all the ingredients until thick and spreadable.
  5. Once the cake is completely cool, top with the cream cheese icing and some walnuts, edible flowers or apple crisps, if you’re feeling fancy.

Enjoy!