food writing

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!

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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!

Chocolate Sesame Layer Cake

Chocolate, tahini, sesame seeds (and more chocolate). What’s not to like? With four layers of dark chocolate sponge sandwiched together with creamy milk chocolate ganache smothered in sesame-studded tahini buttercream, this little twist on a classic chocolate fudge cake makes for a great celebration centrepiece which boasts a delicious balance of  sweet, nutty and rich cocoa flavours.

Ingredients

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 milk chocolate ganache

  • 200g milk chocolate
  • 175ml double cream
  • pinch salt

For the icing

  • 100g tahini
  • 200g soft butter
  • 600g icing sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 3-4tbsp black sesame seeds

For decoration (optional)

  • extra black sesame seeds

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins with baking paper.
  2. Melt the dark chocolate, either in a heatproof bowl in the microwave or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Split the mix evenly between the prepared tins and bake for 40-50 minutes ( or until a skewer comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached). Once baked leave to cool completely in the tins.
  6. For the chocolate ganache, place the milk chocolate,salt and cream in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Gently melt together (ensuring that the water does not touch the base of the bowl) and once smooth and creamy, set aside to cool completely.
  7. For the buttercream, beat together the butter, tahini, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer (or using electric beaters) until light and fluffy. Now add the icing sugar in batches, beating well on a slow speed between each addition. Once it’s all in increase the speed and beat for about 5-10 minutes until very light, smooth and creamy. Add in the sesame seeds and briefly mix again to distribute them evenly through the buttercream.
  8. To assemble the cake, slice the cooled sponges horizontally into two even layers (leaving you with four layers). Sandwich them on top of each other with a generous helping of ganache in between, then cover the whole cake with a thick coating of tahini buttercream using a palette knife (this buttercream is a little more textured than the regular kind due to the addition of tahini, so dampen the palette knife before spreading to achieve a smooth surface).
  9. To decorate, spinkle with extra sesame seeds for an understated look, or go to town which chocolate shards and sesame brittle.

Enjoy!

Willie’s Cacao: Individual Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cheesecakes

I promised more chocolate, so here is the recipe for my second ‘single estate’ experiment, made using a Willie’s Cacao 100% Venezuelan black chocolate block. As the name suggests, this is seriously intense stuff which carries some deep nutty flavours, so I have paired it with macadamia nuts and created a no-bake cheesecake with a smooth and silky texture; this is rich, decadent and best enjoyed with a coffee at the end of a dinner party or special meal.

cheesecake 2

INGREDIENTS (serves 12-16)

For the base: 70g butter (melted), 200g digestive biscuits, 100g macadamia nuts, 1tbsp caster sugar

For the filling: 150g melted Venezuelan black chocolate (0r a good quality 100% dark chocolate), 150ml double cream, 250g cream cheese, 180g caster sugar, pinch salt

For the praline topping: 100g macadamia nuts, 100g granulated sugar

cheesecake 1

METHOD

Line a 18cm spring form tin with greaseproof paper.

Now start on the base- blitz together the digestive biscuits, nuts and caster sugar until they have achieved a fine breadcrumb consistency. Add the melted butter and blitz again until it comes together then pour into the prepared tin and smooth down, packing it tightly in with the back of a spoon. Place in the fridge to firm up while you make the filling.

To make the filling, whisk the cream to soft peaks then add the melted chocolate (it should be cool when added). Whisk again to combine then set aside.

In a separate bowl stir together the cream cheese, sugar and salt. Fold this into the chocolate and cream mixture until you have a smooth, streak free filling. Pile this chocolate filling onto the biscuit base and even it out with a spoon or spatula. Chill for at least 3 hours to set.

For the praline, place the sugar and 3tbsp water in a heavy bottom pan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved, turn up the heat and boil until it turns a deep golden colour, then add the nuts to coat in caramel and pour out on lightly oiled silicone paper. Leave to set solid.

Once the cheesecake has set slice into the shapes of your choice and sprinkle with macadamia praline. I like the rectangular slices and have decorated them with some chocolate shards.

cheesecake 3

Enjoy!