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.
For the cake
375g plain flour
300g caster sugar
85g cocoa powder
2tsp baking powder
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
large pinch sea salt
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
For the icing
200g soft butter
600g icing sugar
3-4tbsp black sesame seeds
For decoration (optional)
extra black sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line two 8 inch cake tins with baking paper.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
To decorate, spinkle with extra sesame seeds for an understated look, or go to town which chocolate shards and sesame brittle.
I’m kicking it old school today with a seasonal take on a childhood classic; baked custard. Custard is something which, until a few years back, filled me with dread. I think it has something to do with enduring memories of school puddings accompanied by lukewarm, thick skinned, unsettlingly lumpy custard… That said, a good baked custard I had at cookery school a few years back converted me after years of avoiding the stuff; it was deliciously smooth, creamy and comforting and since then I can appreciate how the simple format can make for a really versatile dessert.
In this spring recipe I’ve flavoured the custard with cardamom and paired it with some orange blossom roast rhubarb and pistachios for added texture. Once you’ve made it once though you’ll definitely want to play with other flavours. Coffee, chocolate, citrus, rose and almond are just some flavours you might like to try, but the possibilities and accompaniment choices are endless.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together to combine. Heat the milk, cream, vanilla and ground cardamom seeds in a saucepan to just below boiling point then leave the flavours to infuse for 10 minutes.
Bring the cream mix back up to scalding point then pour it all over the eggs. Whisk to combine then strain through a sieve into a jug. Distribute the mixture between four individual oven proof serving dishes.
Place the dishes into a deep roasting pan and fill with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the custards are almost set but have a gentle, uniform wobble in the middle.
The custards can be served warm or cold, so depending on your preference you might like to prepare the rhubarb and pistachio topping before baking the custards. I personally like them cold so once they’re cooked just take them out of the water bath to cool completely. Once cooled you can refrigerate the custards until required.
Meanwhile, up the temperature of the oven to 180c. Place the rhubarb in a bowl along with the sugar, orange zest, orange blossom water and orange juice. Toss to evenly coat then tip everything onto a lined baking tray and roast for 10-15 minutes.
When it’s done the rhubarb will be tender but hold its shape. Set aside to cool and make sure you reserve the delicious cooking syrup. Last of all, roughly chop the pistachios.
To serve, top the custards with a generous spoonful of roast rhubarb and some of the orange syrup. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and enjoy!
This ode to the fruits of winter will brighten any grey day with it’s sticky layers of spiced sponge, fresh ginger mascarpone cream and smooth blood orange curd. Decorate with pomegranate seeds, candied blood orange slices and chopped pistachios for a welcome explosion of colour during these colder months.
For the cake
250g golden syrup
3 tbsp ginger syrup
3-4 lumps stem ginger, diced
175g dark brown soft sugar
zest 1 orange
375g self-raising flour
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
For the blood orange curd
juice and zest 2 blood oranges
juice and zest 1 lemon
2 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
100g butter, cubed
For the ginger mascarpone cream
1tbsp icing sugar
1tbsp ginger syrup
300ml double cream
Garnish ideas (optional)
candied orange slices
shards of tuile or ginger biscuit
Start off with the ginger cake. Grease and line two 7 inch cake tins and preheat the oven to 180c.
Place the golden syrup, ginger syrup, butter, diced stem ginger, dark brown sugar and orange zest in a saucepan and melt over a low/medium heat. Once the ingredients are melted bring to the boil and leave to bubble for about a minute, then set aside to cool a little.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl stir together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Make a large well in the centre and tip in the melted butter mixture. Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together until smooth and flour lump free. In a jug whisk the eggs and milk together with a fork and add those into the mixing bowl. Whisk once more to combine then split the batter between the prepared cake tins.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
While the cakes are baking make the blood orange curd. To do this simply place the blood orange zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, eggs and egg yolks and caster sugar into a heatproof bowl. Whisk together to combine then set over a pan of simmering water (without the water touching the bowl). Add the butter cubes one at a time, constantly whisking. Once all the butter has been added and is melted, continue to whisk until the curd has thickened to a coating consistency (this will take between 5-10 minutes). Once the curd is ready, set aside to cool in a clean bowl with cling film flat across the surface (this will prevent a skin from forming).
When the cakes are ready leave them to cool completely in the tins. Once cool, even the tops off if necessary then slice each horizontally (so you are left with 4 even cake layers).
Now make the mascarpone cream; tip the double cream, icing sugar, ginger syrup and mascarpone into a bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and whisk until thickened and smooth.
Once all your components are cool it’s time to assemble the cake. Place one layer on your chosen serving plate and pipe dots of mascarpone cream around the edge then fill the centre with blood orange curd. Repeat until you’ve used up the cake layers and decorate the top as desired.
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
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
knob of butter for frying
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.
It’s hardly surprising that a combination of some of my very favourite ingredients (brilliant pink forced rhubarb, fiery stem ginger and warming cardamom) have married together to form my perfect cake (aside from fudgy, rich chocolate cake- that space in my heart will never be replaced). The recipe is super easy and the result is a moist, fruity bake packed full of flavour. Serve up with pistachio praline and additional poached rhubarb to brighten up the miserable grey that is January…
Ingredients (serves 8-12)
For the cake
250g self-raising flour
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g golden syrup
3tbsp ginger syrup (from a stem ginger jar)
4 balls stem ginger, diced
125g dark soft brown sugar
200g forced rhubarb
For the cardamom creme fraiche
300ml creme fraiche
10 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground to a fine powder
1tbsp icing sugar
poached rhubarb pieces (just pop 125ml water and 125g caster sugar in a saucepan and heat to melt the sugar- once it’s dissolved, bring to the boil and add 200g sliced rhubarb. Remove from the heat and leave for 5 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender but not mushy, then drain and use as desired)
pistachio praline (put 100g caster sugar in a heavy bottom pan and leave it to melt, swirling occasionally. Once completely melted add in 100g pistachios and swirl until the syrup has reached a deep golden colour. Scrape onto some greaseproof paper to set hard then break into a mixer, blitz and use as desired)
Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.
Stir together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a large bowl. In a saucepan melt together the golden syrup, ginger syrup, butter, diced stem ginger and sugar. Bring to the boil for a minute then make a well in the dry ingredients and add the melted mixture. Stir together to eliminate any lumps then whisk the eggs and milk in a jug and add those in too and beat once more.
Slice the rhubarb into 2 inch lengths and stir through, then tip the batter into the prepared tin (the mix is quite loose but don’t worry, it bakes beautifully and the rhubarb levels out within the cake during baking and doesn’t end up sinking to the bottom!)
Bake for 1 hour- 1 hour 10 minutes or until the cake has reached a deep golden colour and a skewer comes out clean when inserted (it’s quite a long cooking time but this is necessary as there is a fair amount of liquid in the fruit- if the cake starts colouring a little too much before it’s cooked through, just cover it in foil for the remaining cooking time).
While the cake is baking make the cardamom creme fraiche topping. To do this simply whisk together the creme fraiche, ground cardamom and icing sugar.
Once your cake is baked, allow it to cool completely in the tin before removing it and presenting it on your chosen plate. Dollop on the creme fraiche just before serving and decorate with rhubarb and pistachios. I like to be quite free with this presentation but you can make yours more refined if you like.
Tahini, a thick sesame paste commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking, is my go to ingredient for when I want to add a deep, nutty and slightly bitter flavour to a dish. I don’t usually think of incorporating tahini into my baking (for some unknown reason), and more often than not I’ll just pop it into baba ganoush, add it into a yoghurt dressing or drizzle it neat over slow cooked lamb and roasted roots to balance out a sweet date syrup glaze. This being said, yesterday I fancied making some cookies (someone put a stop to my wild and spontaneous lifestyle please…) and decided to bring tahini into the mix alongside sea salt and rich dark chocolate- the major players in my cookie game. The resulting cookies are absolutely delicious with a good balance of sweet, savoury, nutty and salty flavours; one hundred percent give the recipe a go, it’s a real winner.
110g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
150g dark brown soft sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp sea salt
300g plain flour
300g coarsely chopped dark chocolate, plus 50g extra for decoration (optional)
2tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180c. Line 3 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Place the butter, tahini and both sugars in a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. If the mix curdles or you’re worried about curdling, add 2tbsp of the flour with each egg.
Once the eggs are well incorporated add the bicarbonate of soda, salt and flour then mix to combine. Finally, add in the coarsely chopped chocolate and very briefly mix once more just to distribute through the dough.
Pop the dough in the fridge for half an hour to firm up a little, then line even balls onto the prepared trays leaving room for spreading (I like to use an ice cream scoop for this). Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are turning a light golden colour but the middles are still very soft (they will firm up during cooling).
To finish the cookies melt the additional dark chocolate and drizzle over the tops, then sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
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
350g self raising flour
12 cardamom pods, emptied and ground
4tbsp coffee granules mixed with 3tbsp boiling water
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
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.