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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!

Tahini Crumble Mince Pies with Cardamom, Pomegranate and Orange

In the old school spirit of stir up Sunday I thought now might be a good time to share my favourite mincemeat recipe (it’s not compulsory to make this on 25th November though, it will work just as well after a few days of maturing!). This is pretty classic in it’s foundations and I’ve been making it for a few years, but this year I’ve jazzed it up with some of my favourite Middle Eastern flavours (think pomegranate molasses, orange blossom, cardamom and pistachios). You could make traditional pastry-topped mince pies with this mincemeat, but I think it works really well with a tahini crumble topping- try it out!

Ingredients

For the mincemeat (makes about 1kg)

  • 275g sultanas
  • 100g dried apricots, diced
  • 100g dates, diced
  • 75g dried figs, diced
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 2 oranges, juice and zest
  • 1tbsp orange blossom extract
  • 2tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-2tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 Bramley apples, peeled and diced
  • 200g vegetarian suet
  • 50g roughly chopped almonds
  • 50g roughly chopped walnuts
  • 75g roughly chopped pistachios
  • 150g Demerara sugar
  • 50g muscovado sugar
  • 200ml spiced rum

For the pastry (enough for 8 large, deep fill mince pies or 12 smaller mince pies)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 140g butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2tbsp milk

For the crumble topping

  • 50g tahini
  • 30g demerara sugar
  • 50g butter, cubed
  • 150g plain flour

Optional

  • 1tbsp icing sugar, for dusting

Method

  1. Ideally a week ahead of making the mince pies, make the mincemeat. To do this stir together all the ingredients except for the rum in a large bowl. Cover and leave the flavours to develop overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 120c. Tip the contents of the bowl into a deep roasting tray or oven-proof baking dish and cover with foil. Cook for 2 hours, turning gently every 45 minutes or so with a wooden spoon. Add in the rum and stir, then return to the oven, covered, for a further half an hour.
  3. Set the mincemeat aside and allow it to cool to room temperature, stirring a couple of times to keep everything well coated.
  4. Once the mincemeat has cooled down, store in well-sealed, sterilised jars. You can use the mincemeat at this stage, but if you can, leave it for a week or so for the flavours to intensify even more.
  5. When your mincemeat is ready to be used, make the pastry. Place the flour, butter, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. At this stage add the egg yolks and milk and pulse again until the mix comes together in large lumps (alternatively, rub the butter into the flour, salt and sugar using your fingertips then stir in the yolks and milk using a cutlery knife). Tip the dough out and shape into a disc using your hands. Wrap in cling film and chill for 10 minutes.
  6. For the tahini crumble rub the butter and flour together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs, then stir through the sugar, tahini and sesame seeds.
  7. Grease your cupcake tray generously with butter. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick and cut out circles to fit the cupcake holes (make sure your circles are big enough to create a deep mince pie- you want a generous amount of filling!). Push the pastry into the holes then fill with the mincemeat (in my large deep fill tray I put about 2 heaped tbsp of filling in each, but judge according to your tin).
  8. Top with a heaped tbsp of the crumble and bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the crumble crisp. Enjoy hot from the oven with a dusting of icing sugar and dollop of cream or brandy butter.

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.

Caramelised White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ice Cream

It might be winter, but there’s no reason why ice cream should be an indulgence reserved for the warmer months (especially when it tastes this good). This variety consists of a smooth and nutty peanut butter custard base and a generous helping of crunchy caramelised white chocolate, which is rippled through and sprinkled on the custard after churning. Side note, caramelising white chocolate in the oven is a game changer- it takes on a beautiful golden colour and intense butterscotch flavour; once cooled it can be broken into a crumble and used on just about anything!

Ingredients (makes about 1.5 litres)

  • 200g white chocolate
  • 250ml double cream
  • 725ml whole milk
  • 225g peanut butter (I’d usually always favour the crunchy variety, but use smooth for this!)
  • Generous pinch sea salt
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • a handful of peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 140c. Before you make the peanut butter custard, caramelise the white chocolate. To do this break the chocolate into rough chunks and lay out on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Pop the tray in the oven for about half an hour, or until the chocolate is golden brown (it will look a little almost burnt, but don’t worry!). Set aside to cool while you make the custard.
  2. Pour the double cream and full fat milk into a large saucepan, bring to a boil then set aside. Whisk the sugar and egg yolk together in a large bowl until pale and thick, then gradually add the hot cream mixture followed by the peanut butter and salt then whisk again to combine.
  3. Return the mixture to a clean pan and set over a medium heat. Stir constantly until it thickens and reaches a custard consistency (or coats the back of a spoon- be careful not to overheat or the mixture will end up looking like scrambled eggs).
  4. Once the mixture has thickened, strain through a sieve and chill for an hour, then pour into an ice cream maker and churn for at least half an hour (or until very thick and creamy). 
  5. While the ice cream is churning, break up the caramelised white chocolate into a coarse crumble then line a 1.5litre tub or loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
  6. When the ice cream is ready, scrape it into a bowl along with 2/3 of the white chocolate crumble. Ripple the chocolate through the ice cream with a large metal spoon, then tip it into the lined tub/tin and level out. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate crumble on top and finish with the chopped peanuts. Cover and freeze until firm. Remove the ice cream from the freezer 10 minutes before you’d like to serve it, to make scooping easier.

Enjoy!

Pecan Pie Cheesecake with Brown Butter Pastry and a Caramel Core

I’m under no illusion that this bake is a bit of a project and should probably come with a health warning, but I can honestly say that the the result it delivers is well worth the effort and extra 4539 calories (joking about the calories… although probably not far off). I’ve gone for a brown butter rye pastry in place of a biscuit base here, which might sound controversial (maverick), but it matches up to the nutty pecan topping really well and acts as a great textural contrast to the smooth, caramel-cored cheesecake filling. Give it a go, but be warned, it’s been described as ‘like crack’ by my eloquent taste-testers (who aren’t and never have been ‘on crack’, for the record).

Ingredients

For the base

  • 150g butter
  • 175g plain flour
  • 75g rye flour
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2tbsp milk

For the caramel core

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 25ml water
  • 50ml double cream
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2tbsp rum or bourbon (optional)

For the filling

  • 600g full fat cream cheese
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2tbsp corn flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 180ml soured cream
  • pinch salt

For the topping

  • 1 egg
  • 50g dark brown soft sugar
  • 3tbsp golden syrup or honey
  • 1tbsp butter, melted
  • 1tbsp plain flour
  • 100g pecan halves, lightly toasted

Method

  1. Start off by browning the butter for the pastry. To do this simply melt it in a pan until it’s gently foaming, smells nutty and is a light golden brown colour. At this stage pour the butter in a heatproof bowl and pop in the fridge or freezer to set hard.
  2. While the butter is firming up, make the caramel core. Place the sugar and water in a pan and gently heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and you are left with a clear syrup, then increase the heat and boil until it reaches a deep golden brown. Add in the cream (be careful as it will spit!) and stir for a further two minutes on the heat, then remove from the heat and add the salt and rum to taste. Set aside until needed.
  3. Back to the pastry; once your butter has firmed up, chop into cubes and tip into a food processor along with the flours, cinnamon and sugar. Pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add in the milk and egg yolks. Pulse again a few times until the mix comes together in large lumps, then tip out onto your work surface and shape into a disc. Wrap in cling film and chill for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease a 2.5inch tall/ 8inch wide spring form cake tin with butter and place a disc of greaseproof paper in the base.
  4. Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick on a floured work surface then line the prepared tin, pushing the pastry into the corners as you go (I actually find it easier to cut out a circle of pastry for the base and 2 long rectangles for the walls when I’m using a cake tin for pies and tarts- just make sure you blend the joins between the pieces together and don’t leave any gaps). Trim away any excess from the top of the tin, prick a fork all over the base (not all the way through) to prevent air bubbles, then chill for 10 minutes, or until very firm. If you like you can cut out some leaves for decoration at this stage.
  5. Once firm, line the pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans (ensuring that they come all the way to the top of the walls), then blind bake for about 15 minutes, or until the walls are supporting themselves. At this stage, remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through and golden. Set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 120c.
  6. For the cheesecake filling simply whisk together the cream cheese, sugar and corn flour until smooth, then add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Lastly, whisk in the soured cream and salt. Tip half of this mixture into the pastry case then drizzle over the caramel. Top with the remaining cheesecake mix (this should come to about an inch below the rim of the pastry case). Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the middle retains a little wobble. Set aside and allow to settle and cool down slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 170c.
  7. While the cheesecake is baking, mix together all the topping ingredients, except the pecans,until smooth. Once your cheesecake has cooled to a point where it’s no longer hot to the touch, arrange the pecan halves across the surface, then pour over the syrupy mixture. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes until the topping has thickened slightly. Set aside to cool then chill to set up for at least 4 hours (ideally overnight). When you’re ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the tin and gently release the cheesecake, then slice up and enjoy!

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!