Tag Archives: sweet treats

Christmas Eve Traditions – Stollen and Cranberry Relish

Tree

Having had our pre-Christmas family gathering last weekend before my younger son and his girlfriend flew out to the States to spend Christmas with her American family, today has been a much quieter Christmas Eve than usual. I’m having Christmas lunch with my elder son’s fiancée’s family tomorrow, so no last-minute dinner preparations for me – that was last weekend with a venison-based dinner for 12! Oh, and Nigella’s chocolate tart for dessert – simply divine!

Christmas Eve wouldn’t feel right without doing certain traditional things, however. It’s become a tradition to make lemon cheese, and come to think of it, my grandmother (my mum’s mum) always served lemon cheese tartlets at Christmas tea too. I still have mince pies from last weekend, but Stollen is another festive treat I feel compelled to make. I made the marzipan last weekend (so much better than the bought stuff and simplicity itself to make!) and my trusty breadmaker (Panasonic) does most of the hard work. Then finally I had a last-minute call from my friends this morning to see if I had any cranberry sauce for dinner tomorrow; well, I don’t buy cranberry sauce (me?!), but it’s a matter of minutes to make if you can source cranberries at such a late hour – and again, infinitely nicer than the jars you can buy. The aromas of Stollen and cranberry relish cooking seem like the very essence of Christmas….

Stollen

1/2 tsp dried yeast (I use the organic Dove’s Farm quick yeast)

225g strong white flour

1 tsp sugar

25g butter

1 tbsp milk pwder

1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg

100ml water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

100g mixed dried fruit of your choice

150g marzipan (see below)

Place the first 10 ingredients in a breadmaker (i.e. all apart from marzipan and fruit), and prepare using Basic Raisin Dough mode, adding the dried fruit when the machine beeps – unless you have a more modern version than mine, in which case you may well have a basket that neatly releases the fruit at the necessary time! Do NOT be tempted to add the fruit at the start, as the mixing process chops it to smithereens – not the effect you want! When ready, roll the dough out on a floured surface to a slipper shape about 20cm long and maybe 15cm or so across. Wet the edges lightly with cold water and then roll your marzipan into two long sausages, just shorter than the length of the dough. Place in two lines down the centre of the dough, then neatly wrap the dough over, pressing into the middle to ensure there is dough between the two marzipan logs. (You can make one fatter marzipan sausage too, but I quite like the double hit of marzipan you achieve this way.) Flip over and place on a greased baking sheet, cover with oiled clingfilm, then leave to prove for 2-3 hours in a warm kitchen (less if you have an airing cupboard or proving drawer!).

Stollen uncooked

Heat oven to 180°C, Gas 5, then brush the Stollen with milk or beaten egg and cook for 20-25 minutes until golden-brown and firm underneath. Brush with melted butter whilst still warm and dredge with icing sugar.

Serve warm with tea or mulled wine. Any leftovers are delicious toasted for breakfast too!

Stollen

Marzipan

225g ground almonds

225g icing sugar, sifted

225g caster sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

Put the almonds, icing and caster sugar into a large bowl and mix well. Beat in the remaining ingredients, until the paste is soft but not sticky. You may end up using your hands as it’s easier! Knead on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge until ready to use.

This amount makes plenty to cover a 20/25cm Christmas cake or to fill several Stollens and keeps well in the fridge. Also delicious as a topping for mince pies or mixed with apples, plums or apricots in pies….

Marzipan

Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

 250 g fresh cranberries

5 tbsp port

1 orange, grated rind and juice

50g caster sugar

Put cranberries, orange juice and grated rind and port in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes or until the berries start to burst. Add sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture thickens. Cool, then refrigerate until required.

Happy Christmas!

Viburnum Charles Lamont Dec 2015

Viburnum Charles Lamont in full bloom

The Sweet Scents of Autumn

Autumn is a surprisingly scented time of year, from the assorted woodland smells of foliage in various stages of decay to the tiny but sweetly fragrant flowers on eleagnus shrubs. Walking down by our local reservoir in the sunshine the other morning, I was blown away by the fabulous fresh scent of the newly fallen larch needles as I crushed them underfoot. Yet another of my favourites is the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), with its bronze-pink tinted autumn leaves and their amazing aroma of candy floss and burnt sugar – an absolute delight for the senses on a crisp autumn day. Viburnums and mahonias are other shrubs that come into flower in November, although we’ll probably have to wait until January for the heavily-scented daphnes to outmanoeuvre the opposition.

We had our first frost just a couple of weekends ago and fortunately I’d brought my last few tender plants inside the night before: the tuberous begonias had been lifted, wrapped in newspaper and put to hibernate in the shed, fuchsias are undercover in the cold frame, but the South American tibouchina and rose geraniums have to take shelter in the conservatory over winter. My rose geranium is “Attar of Roses”, a pelargonium really, with beautiful pale pink flowers and deliciously scented, crinkled, silvery-green leaves. It will survive quite happily in the conservatory, but it often spreads to cover a wide area over the summer, so I like to trim it back when bringing it inside. You can then prune it even more ruthlessly in the spring, using any promising cuttings to start off new plants, and allowing the parent plant to reshoot.

Rose geranium Attar of Roses

This year, I decided that I would put those leaf offcuts to good use and experimented with Rose Geranium Cordial on Sarah Raven’s recommendation. What a revelation: delightfully light and fragrant – an autumn variation on the elderflower cordial theme and equally good with sparkling water. I suspect it would also be delicious with Prosecco for a very unusual cocktail with a twist! This is based on Sarah’s recipe – do try it and see!

Rose Geranium and Lemon Cordial – makes 2.5 litres

Rose geranium cordial

2kg granulated sugar

1 litre water

large handful of rose-scented geranium leaves

juice of 6 lemons

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

30g citric acid

Heat the sugar, water, lemon juice and zest, plus the geranium leaves until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool and infuse. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin to remove the geranium leaves and add the citric acid. (You can omit it, but I’ve found with other cordials that they really don’t keep long at all without the preserving effects of the citric acid.) Pour through a funnel into sterilised bottles. Keep in the fridge once open.

Dilute to taste with sparkling water or soda.

Another good use of rose geranium leaves is to make scented Rose Geranium Sugar, along the lines of vanilla sugar, for sprinkling on biscuits and lemon drizzle cake to add an extra dimension. I just layer up caster sugar in a pretty glass Kilner jar, adding a few rose geranium leaves every so often. The only thing to watch here is that the moisture in the leaves can make the sugar stick together, so be prepared to crush it with a spoon when you come to use it!

My final idea for making the most of this heavenly resource is to make rose geranium shortbread biscuits – beautiful and unusual served with mousses or ice cream, or delicious with morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Rose Geranium Shortbread Biscuits

Rose geranium biscuits

125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling (or use rose geranium sugar if you have it!)

225g butter, softened

300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

50g ground rice (or rice flour or semolina work just as well)

3-4 rose geranium leaves, very finely chopped

Zest of 1 lime (or lemon)

Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Sift the flour and ground rice (or rice flour/semolina) into the mixture, add the finely chopped rose geranium leaves and lime zest and mix together. Using floured hands, work the mixture together to form a smooth dough. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out until 5mm thick and cut out biscuits using a round or heart-shaped cutter. Place the biscuits onto the baking trays, and sprinkle with a little extra rose geranium sugar. Leave to chill for a further 30 minutes in the fridge. Bake at 160°C/Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Cool on a rack, sprinkling with extra sugar if necessary.

Waste Not, Want Not

Sheffield Park pools

Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s excellent programme, Hugh’s War on Waste, on television recently, I thought I’d share some of my favourite recipes for using up leftovers. It’s always been a theme of mine, ever since I first had a house of my own and a beginner’s vegetable garden – having gone to all the trouble of growing your own, it always seems criminal to waste it! Plus, money was tight in the early days, so wasting food was doubly questionable. Delia Smith’s Leftovers section at the back of her “Complete Cookery Course” was my bible, along with Jocasta Innes’ “The Pauper’s Cookbook”, dating back to my student cooking days. Delia’s cottage pie and rissoles were stalwarts of my early forays into cooking and Jocasta’s chapter on programmed eating, based on cooking a joint or a casserole and then using the leftovers over the following days, seemed to make perfect sense. It still does! I often think the leftovers from a joint can be almost as good (if not nicer!) then the joint itself; think roast chicken followed by a chicken & ham pie or a chicken risotto, with plenty of stock to make soups over the coming weeks…. Or a gammon joint, followed up by ham and tomato pasta, a delicious quiche or as a pizza topping, plus ham and lentil soup for the freezer…. I pride myself on being able to stretch a joint for at least two, if not three meals after the main event and not including the essential stock. Definitely no scope for waste!

Halloween pumpkins

A couple of weeks ago my son and his American girlfriend came home for the Halloween weekend, bearing not one but four pumpkins! The intention was for them to decorate them for the Halloween festivities, and for my elder son and his girlfriend to do their own too. Unfortunately they didn’t get home in time, so I had two rather large pumpkins going spare. My own squashes down at the allotment have been a miserable washout this year, with only two smallish pumpkins to show for a whole season of growth – I blame the late start and not enough days of sunlight. Anyway, although the large orange pumpkins you buy at Halloween don’t have quite the depth of flavour of the home-grown squashes, I had no intention of letting them go to waste!

Cue several roast pumpkin risottos (see Butternut Squash, Leek & Bacon Risotto for the basic recipe), a delicious oven-baked pumpkin, tomato & feta frittata and the following soup recipe, adapted from October’s Waitrose Food magazine.

Roast Pumpkin, Apple & Stilton Soup – serves 6-8

½ large pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 5 cm chunks

4 Cox-type apples, peeled, cored and quartered

1 tbsp chopped sage leaves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 cm lengths

2 sticks celery, cut into 2 cm chunks

2 leeks, sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped,

2 red chillis, finely chopped

Olive oil

25g butter

1 l vegetable or chicken stock

125 g Blue Stilton, crumbled

Milk or extra stock or white wine to taste

Pre-heat oven to 200°C / Gas 4. Toss the pumpkin and apple on a large roasting tray with the cinnamon, chopped sage and olive oil to coat. Roast for 35 minutes until tender and golden.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and a dash of olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic, leeks, celery, carrots and chilli and cook over a gentle heat for 8-10 minutes until softened.

Add the roast pumpkin and apple to the pan with the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool slightly, then liquidise until smooth (in batches). Add milk or extra stock (or a dash of white wine!) until the desired consistency is reached. Add the crumbled Stilton and reheat to serve.

Still on the waste avoidance theme, I often end up with brown, spotty bananas in my fruit bowl and have a number of delicious ways of using them up, so I really have no excuse for them ending up on the compost heap. One such recipe is Banana Cream, simplicity itself and also delicious with perfect yellow bananas if you can’t bear to wait. Banana & Cherry Buns are another delicious use for past-their-best bananas – cooking bananas somehow transforms them into another taste dimension. One thing I don’t advise is following the advice of a certain TV chef and freezing brown bananas whole, then whizzing in a blender for instant ice-cream; I tried this the other day, admittedly with bananas that I’d put in the freezer and forgotten about for quite some time, but the resulting mix tasted revolting – like cold banana mush, just as you’d expect really!

These recipes I can vouch for, however: a perfect use of over-ripe fruit!

Banana Cream – serves 2-3

Banana cream

2-3 ripe bananas

Juice 1 lemon

125 ml double cream

125 ml natural yogurt

1 tbsp caster sugar (optional – I find I don’t need this these days)

Chopped walnuts, grated dark chocolate or blueberries to garnish

Chop the bananas into a bowl with the squeezed lemon juice and 1 tbsp caster sugar, if using. Mash roughly with a potato masher. Stir in the yogurt until blended. Whip the double cream until the soft peak stage and fold into the banana mixture. Spoon into 2-3 sundae dishes and top with a garnish of your choice.

Banana & Cherry Buns

175g butter, softened

150g caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 ripe banana

Lemon juice

125g glacé cherries, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C fan, Gas 5. Place 24 bun cases in bun tins. Mix butter, sugar, flour and eggs together using a hand-held mixer until the mixture is light and creamy. Mash the banana in a small bowl, adding lemon juice to stop it browning. Fold in the banana and cherries. Spoon into the cases and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch. Absolutely delicious warm from the oven with a cup of tea – although the banana flavour intensifies the longer you leave them – allegedly! They certainly don’t last long in my house…

Now I just need to find homes for all the windfall apples under my allotment trees – I’ve picked loads, given lots away, advertised them on Facebook and e-mailed my fellow plotholders to help themselves, but there are still lots on the ground. Sorry, Hugh….

All Change for Autumn

Sheffield Park A's photo - colours

I love autumn, but it’s hard to predict what the weather is going to do from one day to the next! We’ve had a very mild spell recently down here in East Sussex, so the gardens are still full of late bloom and the autumn colours have been spectacular. Last weekend we managed to fit in a trip to nearby Sheffield Park (above), a National Trust property renowned for its fantastic foliage at this time of year and were rewarded with a fine sunny afternoon and plenty of photo opportunities. This weekend, it’s still unseasonably warm, but we’ve had so much rain, so no photo shoots today. Yesterday it poured all day long, just letting up in time for our annual village bonfire and fireworks – we didn’t need gloves or hats to watch the spectacle, but wellingtons were definitely in order to negotiate our way through inches of mud and slurry combined! Pity the poor girl I saw tiptoeing through the quagmire in her Ugg boots…..

Today’s been a typical November day: dank and gloomy, but at least dry enough for me to venture out and finish planting up my winter pots. I started a few weeks ago, but the remainder were full of nasturtiums and fibrous begonias and still flowering merrily away. Tulips, too, don’t mind waiting until November to go in, so I wasn’t unduly worried, but I’m glad to have that job ticked off my list now. This year, I’ve gone for two doubles, Antraciet (dark red) and Chato (a deep magenta-pink paeony-flowered beauty), and singles Jan Reus (deep crimson), Request (a scented deep blood orange) and Atlantis (ivory with purple feathering), all ordered from Sarah Raven as usual. I’d kept my daffodil and crocus bulbs from last year, so just mixed them in too. Next year I really will have to order some new oak barrels, as my faithful bulb planters must be getting on for 20 years old now and are definitely showing signs of wear…. I finished the pots off with violet pansies, still going strong in the mild weather, and primroses divided from the garden. Should be a lovely show in spring!

Autumn walk Nov 2015

There’s very little time for gardening at this end of the year once the clocks have gone back, especially by the time I’ve fitted in two dog walks in the limited daylight hours. Still time, though, to nip down to the allotment and bring back handfuls of fresh rocket, coriander, parsley and dill, a perfect head of calabrese, some giant leeks and yet more windfall apples. The beans have all but finished, after a late start, but we really need a frost before I can make a start on the parsnips!

Time, instead, to head back into the kitchen and make some cake for afternoon tea in the late afternoon – I won’t say in front of the fire, as it’s far too warm! This is one of my sons’ favourite tray bakes, originally from a Delia Smith recipe booklet issued in the early 2000s for Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. Perfect with a cup of tea…

Marbled Energy Bars

Marbled energy bar

150g dark chocolate, chopped

150g white chocolate, chopped

100g pecan nuts (or nuts of your choice)

125g dried apricots, chopped (or dried cranberries are nice)

150g oats

25g Rice Krispies

25g bran flakes, lightly crushed (or use corn flakes for a wheat-free option*)

75g raisins (or sultanas)

1 tsp maple syrup

½ can (approx. 150 ml) condensed milk

Heat the oven to 160°C / Gas 4. Toast the pecans on a baking tray for 7 minutes, leave to cool, then chop roughly. Mix together the oats, chopped apricots, pecans, Rice Krispies, bran flakes and raisins in a large bowl. Warm the condensed milk and the maple syrup in a small pan and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix together well and turn into a baking tin measuring 30 cm x 20 cm x 5 cm, pressing down firmly. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 mins until golden. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate separately in bowls over simmering water as usual (or use the microwave with great care, heating for minute-long burst each time!). Put spoonfuls of each molten chocolate dotted over the cake, alternating the white and dark chocolate. Make sure there are no gaps, then take a skewer and swirl the two chocolates together using a zigzag motion to create a marbled effect. Chill in the fridge until set, then cut into 16 bars. Scrumptious!

* Note that proprietary corn flakes are not guaranteed wheat-free, so make sure you buy special gluten-free ones (and oats, for that matter) if baking for coeliacs.

Moreish Macaroons

KitchenAidcropAll this Bakeoff fever of late has inspired me to treat myself – well, with some birthday money – to a coveted KitchenAid food mixer in shiny candy apple red. Having taken delivery a few weeks ago, I’ve been so busy with work and with going up to London every Saturday for the past three weekends, that I simply haven’t had time to christen it! Until today, that is, when I finally put it through its paces with some luscious lemon macaroons.

I’ve given a recipe for coffee macaroons before, and Nigella’s chocolate macaroons in her Domestic Goddess book are another favourite of mine, but I hadn’t tried lemon ones. It was surprisingly hard to track down a recipe that appealed, i.e. didn’t use an inordinate amount of egg whites, or sound too fiddly, so I ended up adapting a number of recipes I came across online and adding my own previous macaroon-making experience – so far so good! A number of recipes used cream, mascarpone or buttercream to fill, but I wanted the zesty, tangy hit of pure lemon to offset the sweetness of the macaroons themselves, so opted for home-made lemon cheese. Here’s what I did:

Lemon Macaroons – makes 16-18

Lemon macaroons100g icing sugar

75g ground almonds

Finely grated rind 1 lemon

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

75g caster sugar

Home-made lemon cheese to fill

 Spritz a silicone macaroon mat with oil (if you have one! See the coffee macaroon recipe for details otherwise – I really do recommend them for perfectly even-sized macaroons!) or line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Place the icing sugar, ground almonds and lemon rind in a food processor and blitz to a fine dust.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar a little at a time until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (You can add a few drops of yellow food colouring at this point if you like, but I prefer my food to be natural, and am happy with beige macaroons!)
Gently fold in the icing sugar and almond mixture with a metal spoon, until well incorporated.
Transfer the mixture to an icing bag with a plain nozzle and pipe the mixture evenly into the macaroon tray or onto the baking parchment-lined trays. It should make about 32-36 small (say 4cm) circles.

Bang the sheets down a few times, to remove any air bubbles and peaks – that’s the theory anyway; I really struggle to make my macaroons completely flat without the little peak where you detach the piping stream – any tips gratefully received! It’s not really a problem, but completely smooth tops would be the ideal. Set aside for 30 minutes to dry out and form a skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C, then bake the macaroons for about 18-20 minutes until the surface is firm and the macaroons lift off the paper or tray when gently eased with a knife or by bending the silicone mat. Leave to cool on the baking tray.

When cool, fill with lemon cheese and serve.

If lemon macaroons don’t appeal, I also experimented with another variation on the theme for my birthday afternoon tea party back in the summer, making coffee and vanilla macaroons (using vanilla extract rather than coffee essence), but sandwiching them together with a rather scrumptious salted caramel filling instead of the usual chocolate ganache. The filling is from a recipe by Eric Lanlard in Sainsbury’s magazine. Try it and see!

Vanilla Macaroons with Salted Caramel Ganache

Birthday afternoon tea_crop4oz ground almonds

4oz icing sugar

2 large egg whites

2oz caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Mix the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar in a bowl until well blended.

Whisk the egg whites in another large bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Gradually fold in the almond/icing sugar mixture a third at a time and finally add the vanilla extract or paste until smooth and shiny.

Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 24 -28 small rounds, perhaps 1½” across, onto a parchment-lined baking tray or, even better, one of Lakeland’s macaroon moulds, placed on a baking tray for support and sprayed with a fine oil spray to prevent sticking.

Leave to set for at least 30 minutes so that a skin can form and they don’t spread during cooking.

Bake at 150°C (fan) / 170°C (conventional oven) / Gas Mark 3 for about 15 minutes or until firm and crisp on top. Another test is to see if one can be lifted gently from the tray without sticking or leaving a gooey residue – return to the oven if they do! When you’re happy that they’re done, remove from the oven and leave on the trays until completely cold.

Salted Caramel Ganache

175g salted butter

150g vanilla sugar

150ml double cream

Cut 25g of the butter into small cubes. Heat the sugar in a thick-based pan until it turns a dark caramel colour, stirring from time to time – it will happen! Remove from the heat and add the diced butter. Heat up the cream in a separate pan. Put the caramel back on the heat and gradually add the hot cream, bubbling for a few minutes – stir if lumps of caramel form and these should melt again. Allow to bubble for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. Whisk the remaining butter until pale and fluffy, then gradually whisk into the cooled, salted caramel.

This makes more than enough to sandwich both the coffee and the vanilla macaroons (i.e. a 4-egg white macaroon mixture in total) and still leave extra in the fridge to dip your finger in when passing…

Oh, and the KitchenAid, you might ask? It passed its first test with flying colours: simplicity itself to use, easy to dismantle and wash, and what a treat to be able to wander off to the other side of the kitchen whilst it’s doing its stuff!

Tray bakes – Très bon!

Thirty-minute fruit cakeOn a quiet, wet afternoon at the tail end of summer, conjuring up a quick tray bake often feels like exactly the right thing to do. Quick to make, usually with straightforward, readily available ingredients, they’re the ideal way to restock empty cake tins for afternoon tea and unexpected visitors – and your freezer too, should you so choose.

I often make my straightforward Victoria sponge mix (Delia’s classic all-in-one with 6oz SR flour, butter, caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and 3 large eggs – sorry, I’ve been making this for so long that it doesn’t come naturally to specify metric units!) and cook it in a deep tin (measuring approx. 30cm x 20cm x 5cm deep) at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When cool, ice with glacé icing or spread with home-made jam and sprinkle over desiccated coconut to make quick and easy Lamingtons. In season, of course, you can add chopped chocolate to the sponge mixture, ice and decorate with mini eggs for the perfect Easter treat. The possibilities are endless.

Another of my favourite tray bakes at this time of year is a Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake that appeared some years ago in a Waitrose Kitchen magazine summer fête special. I’ve cooked quite a few of these recipes and they’re all good (see Rocky Road Flapjacks), but they do make substantial quantities, so cook for a crowd or be prepared to freeze some!

Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake

225g self-raising flour

75g polenta

250g softened butter

250g caster sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Juice and zest of 1 lime

2 tbsp milk

150g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

6 tbsp granulated sugar

Juice and zest of ½ lime

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a hand whisk until light and fluffy. Transfer to the greased and lined tin (see above), then scatter over the washed blackberries. Leave them on top of the mixture as they will inevitably sink as they cook! Bake for 30 minutes at 160°C fan, Gas 4, or until the sponge bounces back when pressed gently with a finger. Leave in the tin while you mix together the elderflower cordial, granulated sugar and juice and zest of ½ lime. Prick the cake all over with a fine skewer, then pour over the cake while it’s still hot and leave in the tin to cool completely. Slice into at least 16 – 20 squares and serve with afternoon tea and a happy grin.

This cake won’t keep more than 3-4 days because of the fresh fruit content – but it’s so delicious, that’s not normally a problem…

Another favourite tray bake when I have limited time to bake is the so-called Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake. It’s now a much-splattered cutting in my ancient recipe scrapbook, so I can’t remember where it came from originally – probably Good Housekeeping magazine. This really is child’s play to make and consists almost entirely of store cupboard ingredients. Served just warm, it’s delightful, but it keeps well in a tin for a good week if necessary.

Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake

125g softened butter

125g soft light brown sugar

Grated rind of 1 lemon (or lime)

2 large eggs

Few drops vanilla extract

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

50g glacé cherries, chopped

50g each currants, sultanas and raisins

25g desiccated coconut

25g demerara sugar

50g flaked almonds

Lemon (or lime) juice to mix as required

Grease and base line a deep 28 x 18 cm baking tin. Beat together the first eight ingredients, adding the lemon juice if necessary to create a soft dropping consistency. Then gently mix in the cherries, dried fruit and coconut.

Transfer to the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with demerara sugar and flaked almonds – I don’t actually bother to weigh these, just add what looks right, but I’m sure I must have started off with the recipe amounts back in the mists of time!

Bake at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Slice into 16-20 bars and enjoy!

Leo and the apples

Berry Bonanza

allotment haul July 2015Summer in the allotment is a fabulous time for soft fruit and this year is no exception. From the end of June through to the end of July, there’s a constant stream of delicious berries to harvest, starting with strawberries, closely followed by currants, white, red and black, and on to raspberries. This week I’m also looking after my neighbour’s allotment whilst she’s on holiday and she has jostaberries too: a German hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries (hence the name: Jo-hannisbeeren (blackcurrants) and Sta-chelbeeren (gooseberries)). This makes a huge bush – my neighbour’s must be at least 8-10 feet across and this year, secure in its fruit cage, is absolutely dripping with fruit. I’m under instructions to help myself, and so have jam in my sights, but for now have just picked enough for a delicious compote to top a cheesecake – tangy and delightful, tasting of both its parents, but unique too – definitely one to try again! I usually make this recipe with fresh strawberries (as shown in the photo) or raspberries, but it was equally good with jostaberries and would work beautifully with blackcurrants too.

Strawberry (or Jostaberry) Cheesecake – serves 6-8

Strawberry cheesecake 75g butter

250g HobNob or digestive biscuits

150ml double cream

200g full-fat cream cheese

200g crème fraiche

Juice and zest of 1 lime

75g caster sugar

Few drops vanilla essence

Fruit to top: 500g strawberries (sliced) or raspberries

or 500g jostaberries or blackcurrants

50-75g sugar (to taste)

1 tsp arrowroot

I make this in a shallow 30cm x 20cm rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom, but you can use an equivalent round tart tin if you prefer. Grease the tin with butter.

Melt the butter in a small pan and add the crushed biscuits (the old-fashioned way using a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or food-processor if you prefer, but don’t overprocess: a chunky mix is good). Mix and turn into the base of the tin. Spread out and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Whip the cream lightly with the sugar, then add the lime zest and juice, cream cheese, crème fraiche and vanilla essence, continuing to whip until the mixture makes soft swirls. Turn into the base and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight for the best set.

Top with fresh berries if using, garnishing with borage flowers if you have any.

If serving with compote, cook the jostaberries or blackcurrants gently with the sugar until just cooked. Don’t be tempted to add water as the fruit will produce plenty of juice as the berries burst. Pour some of the juice into a small bowl and mix in the teaspoon of arrowroot, then stir the resulting mixture into the cooked berries over a gentle heat, until the mixture thickens slightly. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture will turn runny again! Cool overnight and use to top the cheesecake just before serving.

My summer raspberries are just about coming to an end, and my autumn raspberries (along with many others on the allotment) have succumbed to a mystery virus this year, so I won’t be enjoying my autumn breakfasts of muesli, yogurt and fresh raspberries this year, sadly. It’s been a great season, though, and I’ve used raspberries in so many ways, including the following delicious summer pudding, great for a dinner party. This recipe originally came from the Beechgrove Garden TV show when we lived in Scotland, but I’ve adapted it slightly and it has been part of my summer repertoire ever since:

Meringue Roulade – serves 8

Meringue Roulade4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

25g flaked almonds

1 dsp cornflour

1 tsp lemon juice

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

Fresh raspberries or strawberries (at least 250g)

Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Set oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk egg whites until firm and gradually whisk in the sugar until glossy and stiff peaks have formed.

Fold in the cornflour and lemon juice using a metal spoon, then transfer to the prepared tin using a spatula and gently level the surface. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, then bake for about 20 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper a little bigger than the roulade, place on a large chopping board and gently place over the roulade. Invert the whole board gently so that the roulade is upside down on the paper. Carefully peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until the soft swirl stage, then whisk in the yogurt. Gently spread over the meringue and top with the fruit of your choice. The more fruit you add, the more challenging it will be to roll, but the more delicious it will taste! You can always add more fruit on the side if you’re not sure…

Finally roll up firmly, using the paper as a guide. Think positive! Transfer onto a serving platter and serve to much acclaim!

The original recipe suggests serving this with raspberry sauce, but I don’t think this is necessary if you add enough fruit to cover in the first place….

The starting point for my final berry recipe was a recent Waitrose recipe leaflet that coincided with a glut of raspberries in the kitchen. I misread the recipe when I first tried it (more haste, less speed!) and forgot to separate the eggs. I also used gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and halved* the mixture – they were delicious! This morning I experimented again for my weekend house guests, separating the eggs, and using the full quantity and standard self-raising flour: they were even better! I also changed the proportions of yogurt and ricotta as I only had half a pot of ricotta left after the first time. Just goes to show that you can sometimes deviate from the recipe with great success….

Raspberry and Redcurrant Ricotta Pancakes – serves 4 hungry people!

raspberry and redcurrant pancakes

125g self-raising flour (gluten-free works fine)

50g caster sugar

100ml natural yogurt

250g ricotta

1 tbsp milk

3 large eggs, separated

Zest of 1 lemon (or lime)

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g raspberries or redcurrants (or a mix of both)

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, yogurt, ricotta, milk, lemon or lime zest and vanilla extract until well mixed. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat the wet yolk mixture into the flour, then fold in the egg whites, followed by the fruit.

Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil in a large frying pan, pour off excess and place small ladlefuls of the mixture into the pan, in batches. I cooked four at a time in my large pan. Fry on a medium heat for a couple of minutes each side, turning with a spatula or fish slice when golden brown on each side. Keep warm (or serve to impatient breakfasters!) while you continue with the rest. Serve on their own, or with butter or maple syrup. Any leftover (ha!) are delicious toasted the following day….

*If, like me, you decide to halve the mixture for 1-2 people, use 1 whole egg and 1 egg white, but you can add 75g fruit without any adverse effects 🙂