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.
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.
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.
Crisp pastry, apricot jam, almond thyme frangipane, fresh apricots and a honey glaze make up this seasonal take on a classic Bakewell tart. It works really well with a big spoonful of creme fraiche and can be enjoyed warm or cold, perfect for this unpredictable British ‘summer’.
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
2tbsp caster sugar
zest 1 lemon
2 egg yolks
For the Filling:
175g caster sugar
175g ground almonds
1tbsp thyme, chopped
5 tbsp good quality apricot jam
300g apricots, sliced
For the glaze:
few thyme sprigs
some toasted almonds
some creme fraiche
Start off with the pastry. Place the flour, butter, caster sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can also do this by hand by rubbing the ingredients lightly between your fingers). Lightly mix the egg yolks and water in a cup then, with the processor running, pour in through the funnel. Stop blitzing as soon as the mixture clumps together then tip onto a clean surface and quickly shape into a disc. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180c (fan) and lightly grease your tart case ( I used a long rectangular tin but this recipe will also work with a 20-22cm traditional fluted tin). Take your pastry and roll out to about 3mm thick on a lightly floured surface. Line the tin with your pastry, using a little extra to push it right into the corners. Trim any over hanging pastry from the edges and then cover with cling film and chill again for 10-15 minutes, until firm.
Line your chilled pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10-15 minutes (or until the sides are set) then remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for around 10 minutes (or until the bottom is sandy with no grey undercooked areas). Set aside while you make the frangipane filling and lower the oven temperature to 160c (fan).
For the filling, cream together the butter and sugar (in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or with electric beaters) then add in the almonds and mix briefly until well incorporated. Crack in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition, then finally stir in the chopped thyme.
Take your cooled pastry case and dollop the jam all over the base. Spread out evenly then pile on the frangipane and level off. Top with the sliced apricots in a pattern of your choice then bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden.
Heat the honey a little to loosen the consistency (either in a saucepan or in the microwave) then brush all over the top of the tart to add shine. Once cooled, decorate the tart with thyme sprigs, almonds and creme fraiche, if you like.
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
400g ripe peaches, blitzed into a chunky puree
200g wholemeal self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
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.