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.
For the sponge:
300g dried figs, chopped
325ml hot black tea
185g soft butter
275g light brown soft sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
375g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp ground cinnamon
pinch black pepper
For the salted caramel (this is a sort of cheats caramel- a bit like butterscotch sauce):
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:
300ml double cream
3-4tbsp icing sugar
fresh figs and herbs
Preheat the oven to 170c fan (325F/ gas mark 3). Grease and line a deep square tin (around 22x22cm).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
125g chopped pistachios
2tbsp caster sugar
cracked black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180c. Line 2 trays with greaseproof paper (you can secure this down with a little meringue once it’s made).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
This panna cotta recipe can be adapted by substituting the coconut for flaked almonds, basil or other nuts and herbs. I love this tropical combination for summer though; paired with mango sorbet, sesame seeds and lime zest it makes for the perfect refreshing and light dessert to follow a late lunch or dinner.
Ingredients (makes 4):
225ml whole milk
225ml double cream
200g coconut flakes (lightly toasted)
1 stick lemongrass
3 1/2 leaves gelatine (around 6g)
Lightly grease four dariole moulds with a flavourless oil (such as sunflower).
Place the milk, cream and lightly toasted coconut flakes in a saucepan. Bash the lemongrass with the back of a knife to release the flavour and add to the pan. Heat the mixture and bring gently to the boil. Boil for 1 minute then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for half an hour.
Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes (until soft). Sieve the panna cotta mixture to remove the coconut and lemongrass then place back on the heat. Reheat until just steaming then squeeze the water from the gelatine and add. Mix in until dissolved then pour into the moulds.
Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours then remove from the moulds and serve as desired (dip the moulds in boiling water for a few seconds to make turning them out easier!).
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…
225ml vegetable oil
225g soft light brown sugar
125g grated carrot
125g grated apple
225g self raising flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
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
Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line a large loaf tin with baking paper.
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.
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.
While the cake is cooling, make the maple cream cheese icing. Simply whisk together all the ingredients until thick and spreadable.
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.
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).
300g caster sugar
300g soft butter
225ml soured cream
2tsp vanilla extract
75g cocoa powder
300g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the buttercream:
100g soft butter
100g salted caramel sauce
large pinch salt
500g icing sugar
For the brittle:
200g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a 10 inch cake tin.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
This deliciously refreshing tart is simpler to bake than you’d think, and it rounds off a summer lunch perfectly. A classic lemon and lime filling encased in sweet short pastry is always a crowd pleaser, but the basil added to this one balances the sharp citrus with a sweet aromatic flavour; a great twist on a much loved warm weather dessert.
For the pastry:
185g plain flour
90g caster sugar
90g cold, cubed butter
3 egg yolks
For the filling:
175g caster sugar
150ml lime juice
50ml lemon juice
zest 3 limes
zest 3 lemons
125ml double cream
large bunch basil
lemon and lime zest (fresh or candied)
First off, make the pastry (you could buy shortcrust pastry instead of making this special sweet variety yourself- if you do, just follow from step 2). The easiest way to do this is to place the flour, sugar, butter and salt in a food processor and blitz together until a breadcrumb-like consistency is achieved (or rub together with your fingertips, handling as little as possible). Once you reach this stage, add in the egg yolks and blitz again, very briefly, until the mix just comes together to form large lumps. Tip the pastry out onto a clean surface and shape (again handling as little as possible) into a thin disc. Now wrap this pastry disc in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190c. Very lightly grease a 22-24cm tart tin with butter. Take your pastry and roll out on a floured surface to a little under 3mm thick. Line your tart case, using a ball of spare pastry to push right down into the corners. Run a knife around the top of the case to neaten the edges. Chill for 20 minutes.
Fill your pastry-lined tart case with non-stick baking paper and baking beans then blind bake for 10-15 minutes (until the walls are set). Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until the pastry is cooked through and the base is sandy and dry but not overly golden.
Now it’s time to make your filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 150c. Place your eggs, sugar, zest, juice, cream and whole bunch of basil in a saucepan and leave off the heat for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes some scum will have formed on the surface; skim this off with a spoon then place the saucepan on a gentle heat. Warm until hot to the touch (not boiling), then sieve to remove the basil leaves and zest. Pour this filling into the prepared pastry case and bake for 15-25 minutes until the middle has a uniform and slight wobble when gently shaken.
Cool completely in the tin to allow the filling to fully set (this will take an hour or so) then remove carefully, slice up and serve. Decorate as desired and keep refrigerated once cool.
I’ve been eating a lot of chocolate covered raisins recently (health god) and yesterday I had a brain wave (daydream) about throwing them into brownies alongside chocolate chips. I cooked a batch up today and they might just be my favourite variety ever; moist middle, crispy shell-like top, pockets of chewy chocolatey fruit and chunks of white chocolate- a definite winner. Try my recipe out and join the party.
250g dark chocolate
275 caster sugar
175g plain flour
large pinch salt
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped
125g chocolate covered raisins
Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a brownie tin.
Melt together the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, then set aside to cool a little. Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt until pale and thick.
Add the melted chocolate and butter into the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Sieve over the flour and fold in then do the same with the white chocolate chunks and chocolate covered raisins.
Tip the brownie batter into a baking tin and level out. Bake for 35-40 minutes until crisp on top and fudgy in the centre.
Leave to cool in the tin then slice into squares and enjoy!