food

Spiced Pistachio and Sour Cherry Brownies

No matter how many elaborate desserts or multi-step bakes I make, I will always have time for the humble brownie; there is something deeply satisfying about that fudgy melt-in-the-mouth core and crackly top, plus they are incredibly versatile- throw anything in (within reason) and you can guarantee a delicious result. These festive brownies are studded with orange-soaked sour cherries, pistachios and milk chocolate chunks, and hum with cardamom, cinnamon and mixed spice.

Ingredients

  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 100g roughly chopped sour cherries
  • 250g butter, cubed
  • 100g 80% dark chocolate
  • 150g 70% dark chocolate
  • 100g dark brown soft sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  • large pinch sea salt
  • 1tsp ground cardamom
  • 1tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g roughly chopped pistachios
  • 150g roughly chopped milk chocolate

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a 22x22cm baking tin. Soak the sour cherries in the orange juice and set aside until required.
  2. Put the dark chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of gently simmering water. Leave to melt, stirring occasionally, then set aside to cool a little.
  3. Meanwhile beat together the sugars, salt, eggs and egg yolk in a stand mixer (or a large bowl) until very light and voluminous (it will pretty much double in size). This stage is well worth the effort- it will give you that classic cracked top.
  4. Once the egg mixture is ready, pour the chocolate mix down the side of the bowl and fold in using a large metal spoon. Add the flour, salt and spices and do the same until you have a smooth, lump free batter. Now add the pistachios, chocolate chunks and cherries (strain away the orange juice) and stir through to evenly distribute.
  5. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and level off then bake for 25-30 minutes. When it’s ready, the brownie will have a flaky crisp top but will still be gooey and moist on the inside. Set aside to cool in the tin then remove, slice up and serve.

Enjoy!

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Stem Ginger Scones with Caramelised Apples and Calvados Mascarpone

Scones are as quintessentially British as a full English and a Royal Wedding, and it’s perhaps because of this that I’ve rendered them a bit boring (sorry Harry and Megan). This being said, I was recently queueing in one of those ‘trendy’ artisan bakeries (clean lines, planters, exposed brick and 7 nut milks- you know the drill) and I couldn’t help noticing how delicious this enormous stack of golden-topped scones looked. Anyway, I didn’t buy one, I went away and made these- a classic scone studded with stem ginger and served with caramelised Bramley apples, as a nod to the season, and Calvados mascarpone. So delicious and definitely not boring.

Ingredients (makes 8-10)

For the scones

  • 375g self raising flour
  • generous pinch salt
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 100g butter, cubed
  • 4tbsp caster sugar
  • 185ml room temperature milk
  • 3-4 balls of stem ginger, diced
  • 1 egg, for glazing

For the apples

  • 2-3 large Bramley apples
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g caster sugar

For the mascarpone

  • 200g mascarpone
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2tbsp ginger syrup, from the stem ginger jar
  • 1tbsp icing sugar
  • 1tbsp Calvados (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200c. For the scones, place the flour, salt, baking powder and ground ginger in a bowl and briefly mix to combine. Add the cubed butter and rub in with your fingertips, using as light a touch as possible, until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. At this stage, stir in the sugar and diced stem ginger.
  2. Add the milk and stir quickly with a cutlery knife (as if you were making pastry) until the mix comes together to form a soft dough. Dust your work surface with flour and pat the dough into a round, about 3.5-4cm thick. Cut circles out using a 5cm wide cookie cutter and line onto a lightly greased tray (try not to twist the cutter as this can affect the overall finish of your baked scones). Beat the egg with a fork and brush the tops, making sure it doesn’t run down the sides as this can prevent an even rise.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and well risen. While the scones are baking, caramelise the apples. To do this just slice them up into wedges, then put the butter and sugar in a deep frying pan. Allow the butter to melt over a moderate heat then swirl the pan. Once the butter and sugar starts caramelising lie the apple slices in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes on both sides until golden and sticky but with a little bite remaining. Set aside.
  4. Whisk the mascarpone, cream, ginger syrup, icing sugar and Calvados together in a bowl until just combined. Don’t over-whip. To serve, slice the scones in half and top with a generous helping of mascarpone, a few slices of caramelised apple and any leftover pan juices.

Enjoy!

Spiced Christmas Buns with Cranberry and White Chocolate

In the words of Jez (Peep Show reference, sorry if you don’t watch it), ‘I am a Christmassist’. I love everything associated this time of year; heady spices, mulled anything, twinkling lights, the smell of fir, infinite chocolate, roll necks and nostalgic films. With that in mind, I’ve got lots of festive recipes lined up for December, kicking off with these spiced buns, packed full of orange-soaked fruit and white chocolate- delicious warm from the oven with a strong coffee.

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 75g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 220ml milk
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 2 sachets fast action dried yeast (14g)
  • 2 eggs (1 for the dough and 1 for glazing)

For the filling

  • 75g dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 50g sultanas, roughly chopped
  • Zest and juice 2 oranges
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g dark brown soft sugar
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 100g white chocolate, roughly chopped

For the topping

  • The reserved orange juice, plus 3tbsp caster sugar
  • A few extra cranberries, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 75g white chocolate, melted (optional)

Method

  1. Start off by making the dough. Put the butter and milk into a saucepan and very gently heat until the butter melts, then set aside until lukewarm. Stir together the sugar, salt, yeast and flour in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached) then make a well and add in the lukewarm milk/butter and one of the eggs. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, first using a wooden spoon to bring everything together, then using your hands to form a soft dough (alternatively, do this by setting your dough hook to a low speed).
  2. Once you have a soft dough, turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes (or just keep the dough in your stand mixer bowl and increase the speed of your dough hook for 6-8 minutes) or until your dough is smooth, stretchy and elastic.
  3. Now tip the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to prove for about an hour and a half, or until doubled in size.
  4. For the bun filling, place the cranberries, sultanas, orange zest and orange juice in a bowl and leave to soak for half an hour. Meanwhile, beat together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice until smooth. Grease a high sided 20x30cm rectangular tin or 25x25cm square tin and line with greaseproof paper.
  5. Once the dough has proved, tip out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle, about 5mm thick. Spread the cinnamon butter mixture across the surface of the rectangle in an even layer, ensuring that you go all the way to the edges. Now strain the orange juice away from the dried fruits into a saucepan (save this for later). Sprinkle the fruits over the cinnamon butter then lastly distribute the chopped white chocolate.
  6. Now, with the long side facing you, roll the rectangle up like a roulade. Slice into 12 even slices if you’re using a rectangular tin (about 2cm wide) or 9 even slices if you’re using a square (about 2.5cm wide). Arrange the pieces, swirl side up, in the prepared tin and cover with a piece of lightly oiled cling film. Leave to prove for 30-40 minutes or until well risen and springy (before this prove there will be little gaps between the buns, but they should be just touching when ready to bake). Preheat the oven to 180c.
  7. Once risen, whisk the remaining egg and brush all over the tops of the buns. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Meanwhile, place the reserved orange juice and caster sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is syrupy. When the buns are baked, brush the syrup all over the tops, then drizzle on the white chocolate and finish with chopped cranberries, if you like.

Miso Caramel Chocolate Fondants with Salted Cashew Crunch

A classic, but better; think filthy dark chocolate fondant with an oozing liquid centre, then throw in the addition of pooling, hot, slightly-savoury miso caramel sauce and a salted, nutty crunch topping. Need I say more?

Ingredients (these quantities yielded 6 large fondants but would make 8 smaller ones)

For the miso caramel

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 25ml water
  • 50ml double cream
  • 2tbsp white miso
  • pinch salt

For the chocolate fondant base

  • 180g butter, plus a little more for greasing
  • A little cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • 275g golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 175g plain flour

For the salted cashew crunch

  • 75g cashews, toasted
  • 100g caster sugar
  • Generous pinch salt
  • 1tbsp sesame seeds

Method

  1. Before you make the chocolate mix, make the miso caramel. To do this place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved, then increase the heat and boil until it reaches a deep golden colour. At this stage, add the double cream and stir for another minute before taking the saucepan off the heat and adding the miso paste and salt. Stir until smooth, taste and adjust the level of salt then pour into a heatproof tub and chill until firm.
  2. For the salted cashew crunch place the sugar in a pan and melt, then allow it to turn golden brown and add the cashews, sesame seeds and salt. Stir to coat the cashews with the caramel then tip onto a piece of greaseproof paper and leave to set hard, then roughly chop into a coarse crumb.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease the insides of the fondant moulds with the extra butter, then dust with cocoa, shaking to coat. Tip out any excess then place all the moulds on a baking tray, ready to be filled.
  4. For the chocolate mix, place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth then set aside to cool a little. Whisk in the sugar (using a good old fashioned hand whisk will do) then the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour and once you’ve got a smooth mix split half of it between the moulds. Now create a little indent in the middle of the chocolate in each mould and scrape in a heaped tablespoon of your caramel. Top up with the remaining chocolate mix until each mould is filled to about 2cm below the rim.
  5. Bake the fondants for 17-22 minutes or until they are set on top and around the sides but still have a slight wobble in the middle (this time will vary from oven to oven and mould to mould so keep an eye on them- bare in mind my moulds have a 2inch wide base/3 inch wide rim/are 2 inches in height, and the fondants took 22 minutes in my old school oven!).
  6. Once the fondants are ready, leave to sit for a minute or two then run a knife around the edge of each mould. Carefully turn the fondants out onto serving plates and sprinkle with some salted cashew crunch. Serve with vanilla ice cream for added indulgence.

 

Enjoy!

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!

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, 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.