It will come as no surprise to find out that I’m partial to a chocolate brownie, and having tried a fair few, I can safely say this variety (which I threw together as an experiment and didn’t have particularly high expectations for) is now a firm favourite. With a blackberry and cherry compote core and hazelnut praline top, these moist and deeply chocolatey bars deliver the dense, moist texture you expect from a great brownie, but also carry a welcome tang and contrasting crunch which make them a little different and perfect for late summer.
For the hazelnut praline
- 150g blanched hazelnuts
- 150g caster sugar
- Generous pinch sea salt
For the black forest fruit filling
- 400g fresh or frozen black forest fruits (blackberries, cherries, blackcurrants- choose one or use a combination depending on your preference/availability)
- 2tbsp caster sugar
- Zest and juice 1 lemon
- 4tbsp kirsch (optional)
For the brownie batter
- 250g butter, cubed
- 250g dark chocolate
- 100g dark brown soft sugar
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- large pinch sea salt
- 100g plain flour
- 100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
- 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- Before you make the brownie batter, prepare the fillings. Start with the hazelnut praline; to make this simply place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently until it forms a caramel (don’t stir, just swirl the pan to move the sugar around). Once the caramel has taken on a golden colour, add the hazelnuts and stir to coat. Scrape the contents of the pan onto a baking paper lined tray and spread out in an even layer. Leave to harden.
- To make the black forest filling, place 300g of the fruit in a saucepan along with the caster sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and kirsch (if using). Heat gently until the berries release their juices, then increase the heat to medium and, stirring occasionally, reduce to a compote consistency. Set aside to cool.
- The caramel will now have hardened around the hazelnuts. Break it up into pieces and place in a food processor, then blitz until you’ve got a coarse crumble (don’t over blitz, you want a little texture to remain).
- Now it’s time to make the brownie batter. Preheat the oven to 170c and grease and line a 20x20cm brownie tin. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and melt together over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool a little.
- While the chocolate mixture cools, place the sugars, salt, eggs and egg yolk in a stand mixer (or in a large bowl) and beat until very light and voluminous (it will pretty much double in size).
- Once the egg mixture is ready, pour the chocolate mix down the side of the bowl and fold in using a large metal spoon, then add the flour and do the same until you have a smooth, lump free batter. Now add the chocolate chunks and stir through to evenly distribute.
- Tip half the mix into the brownie tin and level off. Scrape in the black forest filling and sprinkle over most of the hazelnut praline. Top with the rest of the brownie batter then, finally, scatter on the remaining fruits and praline.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes.
- When it’s ready, the brownie will have a crisp top but will wobble slightly when shaken and have a gooey texture inside. Set aside to cool (completely) in the tin then once it’s set up a little, remove, slice up and serve.
With Pancake Day looming I thought I’d share my recipe for the best fluffy banana pancakes (even if I say so myself). The combination of spelt flour and banana makes for a nutty but naturally sweet flavour and they work really well with nut butters, maple syrup and winter produce such as forced rhubarb and pear.
Ingredients (serves 6-8)
For the pancakes
- 175g spelt flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 ripe bananas
- 175ml milk
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- knob of butter for frying
- 100g pecans
- 3-4tbsp honey
- 1tsp sea salt
- maple syrup or honey
- either fresh banana, winter berries, finely sliced apple or pear, orange segments or poached rhubarb
- either almond, peanut or cashew butter
- Preheat the oven to 180c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Toss the pecans in the honey and salt and evenly distribute on the prepared tray then bake for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl. Stir together and make a well in the centre.
- In a jug whisk together the milk, egg and vanilla extract then mash the bananas and add them in. Tip the contents of the jug into the dry ingredients and whisk together until you have a smooth, lump-free batter.
- Once the pecans are sticky and toasted set aside.
- Now you’re ready to cook the pancakes. Heat a large frying pan and add a knob of butter. Once the butter is gently foaming add 3 or 4 mounds of the pancake batter and cook on the first side until bubbles start to appear on the top, then turn over and cook for a couple more minutes. Continue cooking the pancakes in batches until you’ve used all the batter up.
- Serve with fresh banana, maple syrup and the honeyed pecans.
This pavlova screams Autumn; each element contains a seasonal hero and I definitely (big statement) prefer the combination of hazelnut meringue, blackberry cream and bay poached pears over the classic summer berry meringue we all know and love here in England. Make it for an Autumn gathering (or dare I say it- Christmas) and it is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
For the pavlova:
- 5 egg whites
- 300g caster sugar
- 1tsp corn flour
- 1tsp white wine vinegar
- 200g chopped hazelnuts
For the poached pears:
- 4 pears, peeled
- 200ml blackberry rum (or sloe gin)
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 bay leaves
- 75g caster sugar
For the blackberry cream:
- 400ml double cream
- 2-3tbsp icing sugar
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 250g lightly crushed defrosted frozen blackberries (these work really well for rippling as they are usually soft and juicy)
- Preheat the oven to 130c and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. To start, make the pavlova. To do this place the egg whites in a large clean bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and whisk to stiff (but not dry) peaks. Once you reach this stage add the caster sugar 1tbsp at a time and keep whisking until you have a thick, glossy, grain free meringue. Now tip in the cornflour and white wine vinegar and briefly whisk once more to thoroughly combine. Finally, pour 150g of the chopped hazelnuts into the bowl and fold gently with a large metal spoon.
- Spoon the meringue onto your prepared tray and shape into a rough circle with a dip in the middle. Bake for 1-1 1/2 hours until the pavlova is crisp to the touch and peels away from the paper with ease, then switch off the oven and allow it to cool with the door ajar to avoid any major cracks.
- While the meringue is cooking and cooling, poach the pears. Pop the peeled pears in a saucepan along with the blackberry rum, vanilla pod, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and caster sugar then top up with water so that the pears are just covered. Simmer for around 25-30 minutes until the pears are tender but not mushy. Once ready, pick out the pears and leave to cool, then return the liquid to the hob, turn up the heat and boil until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Set aside to use later.
- For the blackberry cream, whisk the cream, icing sugar and vanilla to soft peaks then fold through the defrosted blackberries with a little juice (reserve a few whole ones for decoration).
- Now you are ready to assemble your pavlova. Put the meringue on a plate or serving platter and fill the dip with the blackberry cream. Pile up the pears on top, sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts and drizzle over your syrup. Decorate with bay leaves or gold leaf, if you like.
Moist coffee and hazelnut sponge, rich cardamom-spiked ganache and smooth espresso buttercream make up this delicious twist on an old favourite; I love the classic combination of coffee and chocolate (painfully predictable- I am addicted to both caffeine and cacao) but the cardamom adds a welcome aroma of spice which makes this cake an altogether more decadent one than your standard coffee and walnut. Enjoy on an Autumnal evening for a proper grown-up treat.
For the cake:
- 350g softened butter
- 250g soft light brown sugar
- 5 eggs
- 350g self raising flour
- pinch salt
- 12 cardamom pods, emptied and ground
- 4tbsp coffee granules mixed with 3tbsp boiling water
- 3tbsp milk
- 100g chopped hazelnuts
For the cardamom ganache:
- 200g dark chocolate
- 250ml double cream
- 8 cardamom pods, cracked open
For the coffee buttercream:
- 200g softened butter
- 400g icing sugar
- 3tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2tbsp boiling water
- 2-3tbsp milk
- Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins.
- For the coffee hazelnut sponge, place the butter and sugar in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment) and cream together until pale and thick. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition to ensure the ingredients are well combined (add about 1tbsp of the flour with each egg if you’re worried about curdling).
- Next fold in the flour, salt and ground cardamom with a large metal spoon then finally stir in the coffee, milk and hazelnuts.
- Split the cake batter between the prepared tins and level off. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
- While the cakes are baking make the chocolate cardamom ganache. Place the cream and cracked cardamom pods in a saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil then switch off and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, chop up the chocolate and tip into a jug. Once the cream and cardamom has infused place back on the heat, bring to the boil then pour it over the chocolate through a sieve (to catch the cardamom pods). Let the cream melt the chocolate for a couple of minutes then stir to create a smooth ganache. Set aside for later.
- Now make the buttercream. To do this just cream together the butter and icing sugar with either electric beaters or a stand mixer with paddle attachment until very light and pale (about 10 minutes). Now add the milk and coffee and beat again to combine.
- Once the cakes are baked leave to cool completely in the tins, then turn out and slice each in half horizontally (leaving you with four layers).
- To assemble the cake stack up the layers sandwiched with chocolate cardamom ganache. Cover the whole cake in the coffee buttercream and decorate with piped buttercream peaks and a dusting of espresso powder.
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
- Preheat the oven to 170c (325F / gas mark 3). Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- While your cakes are cooking and cooling you can get on with the filling, ganache and honeycomb toppers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 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
- dollop creme fraiche or greek yoghurt
- drizzle of honey
- Preheat the oven to 160c (325f/gas mark 3). Grease and line a 9inch spring form cake tin.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
- Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs attached. Serve with creme fraiche.
These bars are the perfect grab and go treat to keep you going on a hectic day- I love my rhubarb and ginger jam sandwiched between the peanut butter flapjack and nutty topping, but you could choose any marmalade or jam in your version.
- 75g coconut oil
- 175g peanut butter (or another nut butter ie. almond, cashew)
- 150g dark brown soft sugar
- 4tbsp golden syrup
- 300g porridge oats
Filling and topping:
- 200g rhubarb and ginger jam (or your favourite jam- fig or raspberry would work well)
- 200g flaked almonds
- 75g pecans
- 75g brazil nuts
- 100g caster sugar
- 2tbsp water
- Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a brownie tray.
- For the base place the coconut oil, peanut butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan. Melt together over a medium heat. Tip the oats into a large bowl and add the melted liquid. Stir together until well combined then pack down into the prepared baking tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
- For the topping, heat the caster sugar and water together over a medium heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve then pour into a bowl along with all the nuts. Stir together to coat.
- Now you can assemble the next layers. Spread the jam all over the flapjack base and spoon on the nuts in an even layer. Press down the top then bake for 15-20 minutes, until the nuts are golden brown.
- Cool then slice into bars.
These Bakewell inspired bars are made up of a crisp pastry base, zesty mince meat centre, cinnamon frangipane top, toasted almond sprinkling and a dollop of obligatory brandy cream; delicious and oh-so festive!
- 250g plain flour
- 140g butter
- 1tbsp caster sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 3tbsp water
- 1 jar good quality mince meat (optional: add the zest of 1 orange and a handful chopped walnuts to it)
- 150g butter
- 150g golden caster sugar
- 75g ground almonds
- 75g self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 eggs
- handful flaked almonds
- 150ml double cream
- 1tbsp brandy
- 2tbsp icing sugar (plus extra for dusting)
- First, make the pastry (or skip steps 1 and 2 if you’re using shop bought shortcrust!). Place the butter, sugar and flour in a food processor and blitz until they form breadcrumbs. Pour into a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk together the water and egg. Add 4tbsp of this mix to the crumbs and stir with a cutlery knife. If there are still dry patches add a little more liquid until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Press into a thin disc shape and wrap in cling film. Chill for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 190c. Lightly grease a rectangular tart tin. Take your chilled pastry and roll out to about 3mm thick. Line into the tart tin, pushing it into the corners as you go. Chill again for 10 minutes.
- Now it’s time to blind bake. Screw up a piece of greaseproof paper and unfold, then press down into the case. Fill with baking beans and spread out to completely cover the base. Bake for 15 minutes until the sides are set then remove the beans and paper and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the base is dry and sandy. Don’t let it colour as it will be returning to the oven when filled.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 170c.
- Now make the frangipane. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition (add a little of the flour to prevent curdling if you like). Once well combined, beat in the ground almonds and fold in the remaining flour and cinnamon.
- Now it’s time to assemble. Take your tart case and spread a generous layer of mince meat across the base. Top this with the frangipane and level out as best you can. Sprinkle with flaked almonds.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the frangipane is cooked through. If the pastry or almonds are browning too much just cover loosely with foil.
- Once baked, cool on a wire rack while you make the brandy cream. To do this simply whisk together the brandy, cream and icing sugar until thick. Spoon onto each bar, dust with icing sugar and serve.
This four layer ginger cake filled with lightly salted toffee sauce and tangy cream cheese frosting is a great alternative to the classic Christmas fruit cake, and is usually the preferred option in my house.
The Scandi-style flowers I’ve used for decoration were sent to me by Bloom & Wild, a brilliant flower delivery company who focus on carefully selecting the best seasonal blooms. The bouquet I received ( the Sadie) is part of their Christmas range and I would definitely recommend you check out their other options; I don’t know about you, but I find it tricky to find a wide range of good quality cut flowers outside of London (I know, first world problems), so it’s great to know I can choose more unusual varieties online and have them delivered straight to my door the next day by Bloom & Wild.
I hope you like how I’ve made use of the flowers and perhaps this could inspire some other botanical themed Christmas cakes!
- 380g butter
- 220g black treacle
- 80g golden syrup
- 340g dark brown soft sugar
- 6 eggs
- 380g self raising flour
- 3tbsp ground ginger
- 2tbsp ground cinnamon
- 60g soured cream
- 6 pieces stem ginger, grated (from a jar)
- For the toffee sauce: 50g butter, 50g dark brown soft sugar, 50g golden syrup, 75ml double cream, large pinch sea salt
- For the cream cheese frosting: 200g unsalted butter (soft), 250g cream cheese, 900g icing sugar, seeds of 2 vanilla pods
- Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins.
- Place the butter, treacle, syrup and sugar in a large bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer). Beat together until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs in one at a time along with a little of the flour to prevent curdling. Mix well between each addition. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, sift in the remaining flour, cinnamon and ginger. Fold gently then finally stir in the stem ginger and soured cream. Split between the 2 prepared tins and bake for 30-40 minutes.
- While the cakes are cooking, make the toffee sauce. Place the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan and melt over a medium heat. Once melted pour in the cream and add the salt. Mix to create a smooth sauce then set aside to cool and thicken.
- Now make your cream cheese frosting. Put the butter in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) and beat until fluffy and light in colour. Add the cream cheese and vanilla and beat once again until well combined. Now, still beating, gradually add the icing sugar. Once all the icing sugar has been added increase the speed and mix until the consistency is light, thick and spreadable.
- When the cakes are ready, a skewer should come out clean when inserted. Rest in their tins for 10 minutes then remove and leave on a wire rack until they are completely cool.
- Now you are ready to assemble your layer cake. Level off the sponges as best you can then slice in two (you should be left with 4 layers). Place one layer down on your plate or cake board. Secure with some cream cheese frosting if it’s a little slippy. Now spread over a few tablespoons of the toffee sauce. Allow it to sink into the sponge then apply a thick even layer of cream cheese frosting. Top with the next sponge and repeat until the sponges are used up.
- With the remaining cream cheese frosting, cover the cake all over and smooth down with a cake scraper. Decorate with fresh flowers dusted in frosty edible glitter or get creative and come up with your own design to suit the occasion.
More decorating ideas:
- Leave the cream cheese frosting rough and decorate with mini gingerbread houses to create a snow drift scene.
- Top with traditional/vintage Christmas cake decorations.
- Make little white meringue kisses and cover the top of the cake with them, then dust with gold edible glitter.
- Top with frosted fruit and rustic greenery.