Tag Archives: amaretti

Yet more rhubarb….

Shed under clematis

Another holiday weekend, and while the weather hasn’t been as glorious as the Easter weekend, it has at least been dry and sunny in parts, if cold for the time of the year, so limited gardening has been on the agenda. Having mown the lawn – and neatened the edges with a half-moon spade – last week, and paid someone to cut the over-long grass and edges at the allotment, I’ve been able to concentrate on weeding the raised beds and potting on my chilli and aubergine seedlings at home. For some reason, my sweet pepper and basil seeds have failed to germinate in the propagator this year. While I can sow more basil (from a new packet), it’s too late to sow pepper seeds in May. I’ll either have to do without, or buy a couple of plants. Strange how the chilli and peppers seem to germinate better in alternate years… I also dead-headed my hellebore flowers to give other plants more room and stop the plants putting energy into producing seed. I have quite enough self-sown hellebores around the garden after all!

At the allotment, I spent a good hour yesterday painstakingly prising the dreaded couch grass out of my existing strawberry bed, where it has really taken hold. I’ve already planted up a new bed earlier this year, so if I can just keep this one going this season, I can empty the whole bed over winter and really blitz this pernicious weed. I also cleared my sprouting broccoli beds: most of the plants have gone to flower by this stage and I need the tunnel structure to protect my peas, sown last weekend, from the pigeons. The sprouting broccoli has done amazingly well this year, so the individual plants took some removing – four-feet tall triffids with yellow flowers everywhere! The stalks are too chunky for the compost heap, so up to the communal bonfire pile they went. I still have a couple of plants with edible shoots, but I suspect they won’t last more than a couple of days. Just in time for the asparagus to come on stream 🙂

Needless to say, the rhubarb is still going strong and more experimentation has been in order to keep up with the flow. I hosted another four-generational lunch this weekend with my parents, my elder son and his wife, plus my granddaughter of course, and inevitably rhubarb had to feature on the menu, this time in the guise of a rhubarb & ginger trifle, perfect for my gluten-intolerant daughter-in-law. You could also make it with plain sponge if you felt so inclined, or, if you are catering for coeliacs, make sure you check that the Amaretti really are gluten-free – homemade macaroons would fit the bill in that case too.

Rhubarb & Ginger Trifle – serves 8

Rhubarb and ginger trifle

500-600g rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1cm slices
3-4 tbsp demerara sugar
Juice and rind of 1 large orange (or 2 small)
2 tbsp syrup from a jar pf preserved stem ginger
2 pieces preserved stem ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp rhubarb gin (or Grand Marnier / liqueur of your choice)

4 egg yolks
2 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
2 heaped tsp cornflour
300ml milk
few drops orange blossom water
Rind of 1 orange

15 or so Amaretti biscuits, plus extra to garnish
300ml double cream (or mix whipped cream and mascarpone)

First, trim and cut the rhubarb (unpeeled unless really thick and woody – shouldn’t be necessary with early-season produce) into 1cm pieces, halving the stems first if really chunky. Place in a shallow, rectangular baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar (to taste), orange rind and juice, plus the chopped preserved ginger and 2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (Gas 5) until tender, but still whole, for about 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool, then add the rhubarb gin (or alcohol of your choice)

Combine the egg yolks, 2 tbsp caster sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Stir in the cold milk, then strain into a small pan. Cook gently until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Add the grated orange rind and orange blossom water to the custard. Allow to cool slightly.

Place the cooked rhubarb into a trifle bowl and place the Amaretti biscuits on top to cover, pushing partly into the liquid to allow them to take up the juice. Pour over the cooled orange custard and place in the fridge to set for a couple of hours.

Whip the double cream and spread carefully over the custard, making generous swirls with a large spoon. Crumble a few extra Amaretti and sprinkle on top, adding pansies or other spring flowers to garnish if the mood takes you! Trifle fans will be in seventh heaven…

You’ll have four egg whites left over from this recipe, so you can either make macaroons or, as I did, lemon & almond ricciarelli, which conveniently use precisely 4 egg whites and are also ideal for gluten-free guests. In actual fact, I adapted the recipe to make lime & almond ricciarelli and they were equally good.

lime and almond ricciarelli_landscape

Then again, if you decide to turn the egg whites into meringues, either one large pavlova, or smaller rounds or individual cases (using 225g caster sugar to 4 egg whites) to keep for another day, you could consider combining crushed meringue and rhubarb to make a wonderful Rhubarb Eton Mess.

Rhubarb Eton Mess – serves 2-3

300g rhubarb, chopped
Juice and rind of 1 orange
2-3 tbsp demerara sugar
150ml double cream, softly whipped
2-3 tbsp natural yogurt
2-3 meringues, roughly crushed

Place the rhubarb in a shallow ovenproof dish and add the grated rind and juice of the oranges, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Roast in the oven at 180°C (Gas 5) for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Leave to cool.

Whip the double cream until soft peak stage, then fold in the natural yogurt, followed by the roughly crumbled meringues – aim to leave some big chunks for texture.

Spoon into 2-3 glass dishes and swirl the top, decorating with toasted flaked almonds or crushed biscuits depending what you have at hand.

A variation on this theme when you haven’t any rhubarb is a Blueberry Mess: Sainsbury’s had large punnets of blueberries on offer recently, so I stirred a large handful, washed but uncooked, into the cream and yogurt mixture above along with 1 tbsp Chambord raspberry liqueur and crushed Amaretti rather than meringue. Grated white chocolate and blueberries to decorate – to die for…

Blueberry mess_cropped

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Bulb planting time again…

Poppy with ball Nov 2017 Rotherfield Woods

Despite a couple of sharp frosts, it’s still resolutely autumnal here: the trees are still (just about) decked in their golden and orange autumn finery, although I don’t think the colours have been quite as rich as usual this year. After a rainy day yesterday, which stopped play in the garden quite convincingly, today dawned crisp, bright and blustery – an ideal opportunity to get out in the garden and allotment and get on with more of those end-of-season jobs.

I’d managed to finally empty my summer containers and plant up my winter/spring offerings a couple of weeks ago and they’re looking good: blue pansies from the garden centre, with pinky-peach wallflower Aurora (grown from seed in a nursery bed at the allotment), all underplanted with a mixture of crocuses and daffodils from last years’ containers, but new tulips of course, as they don’t come again reliably. As usual, I like to ring the changes and had ordered a new selection from Sarah Raven – if you’re haven’t ordered yours yet and you’re quick, I believe there’s up to 50% off some varieties in the end-of-season sale. Tulips can be planted right up to the end of the year, and it’s actually better to plant them from November onwards to avoid any residual fire blight

This year I went for Sanne, an apricot and pink blend I’d seen and loved at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, two other apricot tulips from the Apricot Sorbet collection: Charming Lady (double) and Apricot Foxx, and Mistress Mystic, a silvery pink. The final variety, bought on impulse from my local garden centre on a 20% off day, is Hemisphere (finally found it by checking my receipt – thank goodness for computerised till receipts!). This is supposed to start off white with pink flecks, then deepen to a dark pink over time – sounds glorious, but we shall see!

This weekend it was time to plant last year’s saved tulip bulbs in the beds at the allotment. They did so well last year that I was finally able to cut some for the house without spoiling the display (precisely the point of planting them there in the first place!). I hadn’t labelled them, so they’ve all gone in together, but with white, cream, soft pink and palest lemon, they’re sure to look good in any event. I don’t expect them all to flower, but quite a few of the bulbs looked extremely fat and hopeful – a sure sign that they will flower again. Less likely for those that split into a number of smaller bulbs.

The rest I planted up at home on the island bed opposite the house, where tulips usually do extremely well in the full sun. This year, they hadn’t done as well as in previous years, but I put it down to the takeover ambitions of Phlomis samia, which seems to have suppressed a lot of other growth in its all-encompassing vigour! I decided to remove a whole swathe of it and have replanted a new rose, Frilly Cuff, a gorgeous neat, deep red shrub rose that I’ve seen a couple of times at Chelsea and coveted each time. I decided to treat myself with some birthday money and ordered online from the breeder, Peter Beales. Here’s hoping it likes this aspect too….

frilly_cuff_-_c_35_1000px

All in all, a very satisfying day in the fresh air, and I really enjoyed my much-needed cup of tea and slice of cake when I finally came indoors after walking the dogs at 5 o’clock – virtually in the dark! This was a whisky tea loaf I like to make in the winter as it keeps really well. If you double the ingredients and prepare two at once (not really any more effort), you can freeze one for when you’re too busy to bake! The original recipe was from Rachel Allen, although it’s not dissimilar to the cold tea cake my mum has made since time immemorial. This one is a fatless loaf – although I have to confess I like to serve it slathered with butter 🙂

Whisky Tea Loaf

Tea loaf

200ml strong warm tea (I use Assam or Early Grey, but any tea will do!)
150g light muscovado sugar
50ml whisky
300g mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins and currants are my usual choices)
1 medium egg, beaten
150g self-raising flour, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder

Pour the tea into a bowl, add the sugar and stir, then add the whisky and dried fruit. Cover with clingfilm and leave to soak for a few hours or even overnight. (Alternatively, if you want to make this in a hurry, you can boil the tea, sugar and dried fruit in a pan for 2 minutes, then add the whisky and allow to cool before using in the cake.)

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C fan, Gas 3 and grease and line a loaf tin (or two if doubling the recipe). Add the beaten egg to the tea and fruit mixture, then fold in the sifted flour, baking powder and spice. Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until just firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin and serve sliced with butter and a lovely cup of tea.

One final recipe that I really want to add here before I forget is one I made last weekend when all the family were home for Bonfire Night. My younger son had requested Sticky Toffee Pudding, but some of the party are gluten-intolerant so I decided to make a Pear & Amaretti Cheesecake as well – which coincidentally also goes extremely well with the sticky toffee sauce! This is another recipe torn out of a magazine in my very ancient recipe scrapbook. I think it was by Gordon Ramsay in the first place, but I’ve adapted it with an Amaretti base, and rewritten the instruction sequence, as chef’s recipes often make rather a lot of assumptions that can prove frustrating for the amateur cook. My son’s fiancée had offered to help prepare this, but found the steps in the original in a very strange order!

Pear & Amaretti Cheesecake – serves 8-10

Pear and Amaretti Cheesecake

250g bag Amaretti biscuits*
100g butter, melted
2 large pears (or 4 small)
50g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 tsp lemon juice
Vanilla extract
300g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
150g crème fraiche
1 x 300ml pot double cream
75g Amaretti biscuits

Make the base by crushing the Amaretti biscuits in a food processor (or in a large plastic bag with a rolling pin), then mix in the melted butter until thoroughly blended. Tip into a 24cm round springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with a circle of baking parchment. Chill in the fridge while preparing the filling.

Prepare the poaching syrup for the pears by dissolving the sugar in 100ml boiling water, then add 1 tsp vanilla extract (if not using vanilla sugar) and 1 tsp lemon juice. Prepare the pears by peeling, removing the cores, cutting into quarters and then chopping into 1cm dice, and add to the simmering syrup. Simmer until just tender – 5 -10 minutes or so. Drain and reserve the syrup to use elsewhere. Allow the diced pear to cool.

Whisk the cream cheese with 150g caster sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add the crème fraiche, then whisk the double cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks form and fold into the cheese mixture. Finally crush the remaining 75g Amaretti biscuits roughly in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Fold the crushed biscuits into the cheese mix with the cooled, diced pears. Spoon onto the prepared base, level the top and chill in the fridge for a good couple of hours.

Serve with toffee sauce (see Sticky Toffee pudding recipe) or make a bitter caramel sauce by melting 9oz granulated sugar in a small frying pan until dark golden in colour – watch like a hawk, but do NOT stir! Add 2 tsp boiling water (care as it will spit!), then add 1 tsp vanilla extract and single cream until you get the consistency you want – not too thick. You can also add some of the reserved pear syrup to the sauce.

*Note: true Amaretti biscuits (or home-made macaroons) shouldn’t contain any wheat flour, but some of the mainstream brands may. I’ve just checked on the Doria Amaretti I usually use and surprise, surprise they do contain a small amount of wheat flour. Fortunately my guests weren’t coeliac, but PLEASE check if it’s an issue for you.

Leo in Rotherfield Woods

Another wet weekend…

Poppy in the forest
Poppy in Ashdown Forest

Another weekend in February creeps damply past – no chance of venturing out in the garden, yet again: when will we feel the tide has turned? Fortunately, I’ve been far too busy the past few weeks to have any time to spend outside, even had the weather been more forthcoming – probably just as well!

Roast tomatoes_cropped

I set up the Foodie Translators Facebook page just a few short weeks ago, and have seen it grow from a tentative idea to a group with over 570 members – amazing! Lots of fabulous foodie photographs, delicious recipes and food-inspired tales later – and a not inconsiderable time spent drooling over them – and it’s hardly any wonder that I haven’t had chance to either garden or update my blog lately! The inception of the group has led in turn to another new initiative with Translators Without Borders, creating a translator cookbook as a fund-raiser for the ongoing refugee crisis. Amazing how little seeds grow into fully-fledged fruit-bearing projects….

I’ve also been out in Barcelona, attending a conference, but finding time to sight-see and explore the city too – a mecca for foodies and Gaudi aficionados alike. The fabulous La Boqueria market was a feast for the eyes and there were stunning pastelerias on every corner – I shall definitely be back!

Boqueria market

Returning to the UK after the delights of a sunny Mediterranean city has come as bit of a shock – and arriving back on a Sunday meant that my fridge was rather bare too. As a result, this week’s meals have centred on the contents of my well-stocked freezer, supplemented with staples from the allotment: parsnips, leeks and the ever-faithful apples in storage in the garage. Where would I be without them?!

A delicious Parsnip Gratin one night was simplicity itself: thinly-sliced parsnip placed in a buttered gratin dish, topped with cream brought to the boil with seasoning, nutmeg and thyme and Cheddar cheese grated on top, cooked in a bain marie in the oven at 180 degrees C for an hour or so – mmmmm….

Leeks roasted thanks to a tip from a colleague in Foodie Translators with chunky slices of pear, drizzled in olive oil, thyme and seasoning and sprinkled with crumbled Feta (or goat’s) cheese were sublime and only took 20-30 minutes in a medium-hot oven.

And then a variation on a trusty Apple Crumble: roughly chop 2-3 cooking apples, add a sprinkling of brown sugar (my stored apples are quite sweet this late into their storage time) and a dash of water and microwave for 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Crush 5oz Amaretti biscuits, then add 2oz melted butter, 1 tbsp Demerera sugar and mix before sprinkling over the semi-cooked fruit. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crispy – serve with crème fraiche or cream for a heavenly and extremely easy winter pud. In autumn fresh dessert apples can be softly cooked and combined with blackberries from the hedgerow to make a Blackberry & Apple Amaretti Crumble – or freeze the blackberry & apple mix to knock up a quick pudding any time of year 🙂

Tonight’s classic roast chicken will be served with my favourite Oven-Roast Veg using my own potatoes, parsnips, rosemary and bought (sadly) carrots, celery, garlic and onion – I parboil the potatoes, carrots and parsnips, cut into 2-3 cm chunks, mix in the remaining vegetables and herbs, drizzle with olive oil, then roast in a hot oven for 35-40 minutes. Sometimes, the simplest recipes are the best – and after a busy (non-gardening) few weeks, that’s just what I need.

Oven-roast veg

Still hoping spring will soon be round the corner and I can get out in the garden again….

 

 

Rhubarb Raptures

Charged with the task of creating a gluten-free dessert for my guests this sunny spring weekend, and with the early rhubarb finally getting into gear down at the allotment, I decided to experiment with a rhubarb and orange cheesecake. Rhubarb and orange are already one of my favourite combinations for a roast rhubarb compote, so it was just one step further to imagine it as a delicious topping for a light cheesecake. The base couldn’t be the usual biscuit crumbs, of course, so I wondered about trying crushed amaretti biscuits for a change. Rhubarb and almonds are another flavour twosome made in heaven, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’m delighted to report that it went down a storm – and was even better the following day when the flavours had really married together, although the base wasn’t quite as crisp. Here’s how:

Rhubarb & Orange Amaretti Cheesecake

Rhubarb orange cheesecake

serves 10-12

250g bag of amaretti biscuits*

100g melted butter

500g mascarpone (2 standard tubs)

300ml double cream

Juice and grated rind of 1 orange

100g caster sugar

700g rhubarb

4-6 tbsp light brown sugar

Juice and grated rind of two oranges

2 tbsp amaretto liqueur (optional)

Cut the rhubarb (unpeeled unless really thick and woody – shouldn’t be necessary with early-season produce) into 2” batons, halving the stems first if really chunky. Place in a shallow, rectangular baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar (to taste), orange rind and juice. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 160°C (Gas 4) until tender, but still whole, for about 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool, then add the amaretto liqueur if using.

Make the base by crushing the amaretti biscuits in a food processor (or in a large plastic bag with a rolling pin), then mix in the melted butter until thoroughly blended. Tip into a 23cm round springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with a circle of baking parchment. Chill in the fridge while preparing the filling.

Whip the mascarpone lightly in a large bowl with the caster sugar. Stir in the grated rind and juice of 1 orange. Whip the double cream separately until softly stiff, then fold into the mascarpone mix. Scrape the mascarpone/cream mixture onto the prepared base and chill the cheesecake in the fridge for at least 6 hours.

Just before serving, drain the rhubarb batons from the liquid (retain the liquid to serve separately in a jug) and arrange over the cheesecake, removed from the springform tin, as decoratively as you can.

Serve and enjoy!

The rhubarb compote is also delicious served on its own or as a sublime accompaniment to panna cotta. I love Nigel Slater’s slightly lighter recipe from Kitchen Diaries, also ideal for anyone avoiding wheat or gluten for whatever reason:

 Rosewater & Yoghurt Panna Cotta

300ml double cream

100ml milk

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1.5 sheets leaf gelatine

3-4 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

2 tsp rosewater

150 ml thick, creamy yoghurt

Put the double cream and milk into a small pan, the add the vanilla bean paste. Put the pan over a moderate heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes. The mixture will reduce a little during this time. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water until soft. Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the sifted icing sugar. When dissolved, add the drained gelatine and the rosewater. Fold in the yoghurt. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a large jug, then pour into six lightly greased moulds placed on a tray – or use small espresso or tea cups if you can’t face turning them out afterwards! When cool, cover the whole tray with clingfilm and refrigerate until set – preferably overnight.

To serve, turn out – you may need to quickly dip the mould in boiling water or run a hot knife around them! Or place the cups on a pretty dessert plate if you’re not upturning, of course. Serve with the rhubarb and orange compote.

In season, I have also served this with a gooseberry and elderflower compote, cooked in the oven the same way as the rhubarb, but with a tablespoon of elderflower cordial rather than the amaretto. In this case, you could also add elderflower cordial to the panna cotta instead of rosewater.

Heavenly….

Sissinghurst hot garden spring 2015Hot garden at Sissinghurst in all its spring glory

*Note: true amaretti biscuits (or home-made macaroons) shouldn’t contain any wheat flour, but some of the mainstream brands may. I’ve just checked on the Doria Amaretti I usually use and surprise, surprise they do contain wheat flour. Fortunately my guests weren’t coeliac, but PLEASE check if it’s an issue for you.

Winter weekends in front of the fire

January and February are invariably the bleakest months of the year, with little doing on the gardening front and little inclination to brave the elements apart from the twice-daily dog walks. Far nicer to stay inside and gather together with family and friends in front of a blazing log fire! Fortunately it’s a busy few weeks for birthdays in my family, so plenty of excuses to get together and enjoy good food and convivial company.

Poppy in front of fire

A few weeks ago it was my elder son’s birthday and 14 of us gathered for a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant at the foot of the castle (Mango Lounge – well worth a visit!), rounded off by a brisk walk in the wintery sunshine of Windsor Great Park to the raucous sound of parakeets. By the time we returned we’d worked up enough of an appetite for birthday cake and my contribution to the feast (as instructed in case the cake didn’t go round!) – chocolate amaretti bars. My son’s girlfriend is increasingly wheat-intolerant; she’s found that she feels so much better if she omits wheat from her diet and has progressed from just cutting down on bread and cake to abandoning it completely. She made the delicious birthday cake, a gooey and scrumptious chocolate mousse cake based on ground almonds, so my challenge was to produce another wheat-free treat.

Adapted from a Mary Berry recipe, the Chocolate and Amaretti Bars are wheat-free and deliciously rich, yet light at the same time, the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea. I love amaretti crumbled into a mixture of whipped cream, natural yogurt and lemon cheese for an ultra-quick and delicious pudding, or squished in the base of a sundae dish as a speedy base for a trifle, or crushed with melted butter and brown sugar as a substitute for a fruit crumble (plums and blackberries being a particularly yummy combination). Here is Mary’s recipe, adapted ever so slightly to the contents of my store cupboard:

Chocolate and Amaretti Bars

4oz butter

2oz flaked almonds (or whole almonds chopped, if you prefer)

2oz pine nuts

3 tbsp golden syrup

7oz dark chocolate, chopped (I use Waitrose Belgian dark)

2 tsp cocoa powder

4oz dried apricots, chopped

1 bag (8oz) amaretti biscuits (I like Doria)

2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur (optional)

Line a deep rectangular cake tin with foil and grease lightly – my favourite one for tray bakes is 7” x 11” x 1”, but use the nearest you have. Put the almonds and pine nuts on an enamel plate in a hot oven (180°C, Gas 4) for 5 minutes or so until golden – watch like a hawk as they catch extremely quickly!). You could dry-fry them in a frying pan or toast them under the grill, but I find the oven method easiest and most reliable for an even golden colour. Put the butter, syrup and half the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and allow to melt, stirring gently every so often. (Add 2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur if using – see below!) Remove from the heat, stir in the sieved cocoa, apricots and nuts, then coarsely crumble in the amaretti biscuits. Stir to mix evenly, then transfer to the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, melt the remaining chocolate (either over a pan of water as before, or I find it as easy to do this in the microwave, for 1-minute bursts, stirring after each session – it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes in all, but don’t forget to stir otherwise it can burn in the centre!). Spread thinly over the top of the cake and leave until set. Cut into 18 bars with a sharp knife and serve – hopefully to general acclaim!

Next time I made these, I added 2 tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur to the chocolate mix after melting, before adding the rest of the ingredients, to make this even more almondy – even better! You can leave it out if you don’t want the alcohol hit, but it works really well. Good as an after-dinner treat, cut into daintier bars…

Amaretti bars

Sticky Toffee Heaven

Sticky Toffee Pudding

AND STILL THE STORMS, the wet and the wind of this dreadful winter rage on… Flooding over a huge part of the country, no chance of getting out in the garden, dogs returning mud-bespattered from every walk – definitely time for some comfort food!

My son was back from university this weekend with his American girlfriend and they put in a request for his all-time favourite winter pudding: Sticky Toffee. It certainly hits the spot on these dank, sunless days, all the better for being served with some homemade ice-cream – honeycomb or amaretto are two of my favourites. Well, it WAS his birthday, so what could I do but rise to the challenge?

I believe my Sticky Toffee Pudding is the original Sharrow Bay recipe from the famous Lake District hotel of the same name. My version is now recorded on a very scruffy magazine cutting in my well-worn recipe scrapbook, but it has certainly stood the test of time!

Tempted? Here’s how:

6oz stoneless dates, finely chopped (I snip them with scissors)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2oz unsalted butter

6oz caster sugar (or Muscovado sugar works well for a more treacly result)

2 medium eggs, beaten

6oz self-raising flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

Toffee sauce:

7oz light Muscovado sugar

4oz butter

Small pot double cream (1/4 pt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

7” square cake tin, greased and lined

Pour ½ pt water over the chopped dates in a small pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add bicarbonate of soda and set aside for 10 mins to cool.

Set oven to 180˚C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in eggs. Carefully fold in the flour, then the date and water mixture and vanilla extract. The mixture will look very loose and sloppy at this stage: this is quite right! Do not be tempted to add anything else to thicken it up!

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes until springy to the touch and dark-golden in colour.

While it’s cooking, prepare the sauce: mix all ingredients together in a pan over a gentle heat until they come to the boil, then simmer gently for 3-4 minutes until toffee-coloured.

When the pudding is cooked, drizzle a little of the sauce over the top and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

To serve, cool slightly, then cut into generous squares and serve with the hot sauce.

Leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge and reheated in the microwave: you may find you need to add more cream in this case to keep a runny consistency. The sauce is also delicious with ice-cream and/or profiteroles!

AS FOR THE ICE-CREAM, good vanilla is always acceptable but I like to make a very simple honeycomb ice-cream (no  ice-cream maker required!) or an amaretto ice-cream which I do make in an ice-cream maker, but you could always part-freeze and re-whip in the time-honoured manner.

The Honeycomb is simplicity itself: place 5 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup in a pan and cook over a low heat until the sugar melts, then boil quickly until it turns a mid-gold caramel colour. Remove from the heat and quickly sift 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda over it – it will froth up dramatically, so stir gently to combine any loose powder, then pour onto a greased baking tray and leave to cool and set. Meanwhile whip 1 pint of whipping cream with a large tin of condensed milk (not the light version) until quite stiff. Fold in the honeycomb pieces and place in a freezer container. Freeze overnight until set: enjoy!

And last but not least, the Amaretto for a more sophisticated treat: make a syrup by dissolving 4 oz granulated sugar in 4 tbsp water in a small pan and cooking for 5 mins until syrupy. Allow to cool completely. Whip 1 pt whipping cream with the cold syrup and 3 tbsp amaretto liqueur until it thickens and begins to hold its shape. Pour into an ice-cream maker (mine is a basic Magimix Glacier model where you have to freeze the bottom bowl in the freezer overnight beforehand: simple but effective – and not very expensive to buy if you make a lot of ice cream (or have made the mistake of making your own and are unable to revert back to the shop-bought stuff like me!). It should take about 30-40 minutes to churn, then turn into a freezer container and stir in about 12 crushed amaretti biscuits – or more according to taste! Freeze overnight and serve as desired. The alcohol content keeps this one relatively soft, but you may need to get it out of the freezer 10 mins or so before serving for ultimate unctuousness.

There: probably most of your sugar quota for the month, but worth every mouthful. And just what’s needed whilst we wait for the first shoots of spring….

Springing spring