Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit that this recipe isn’t going to win any brownie (seewhatIdidthere?) points for originality – the combination of sea salt and caramel or toffee, essentially sweet and salty, is not going to be a revelation to you. However, this is what I’ve been baking lately and goddammit if it isn’t delicious, so it feels only fair to share the recipe in case you’re in need of a ridiculously indulgent treat. Because that’s exactly what this is, and it will satisfy any chocolate cravings instantly.
Last month we were given a joint birthday hamper filled with some amazing goodies, including this toffee crème:
(There’s also a mocha crème that we haven’t opened yet, which I think shows incredible restraint. When that day comes….uhhhhhh.)
Anyway, this. Is. The. Bomb. It’s brilliant on top of vanilla ice cream, and obviously it can be eaten straight out the jar with a teaspoon (been there, done that), but I thought I’d have a go at using it in some baking, and salted brownies was the obvious answer. This recipe is based on the best brownie recipe ever. Of course, you don’t need to have this particular product to make the recipe – you could use any caramel or toffee that you already have or can find in the shops, as long as it’s soft enough to swirl through the brownie mix.
One year ago:
– Chocolate fondant
– Rhubarb curd and rhubarb cordial
Two years ago:
– Banana bread
– Triple chocolate cheesecake
– Slow cooked BBQ pulled pork
Ingredients (makes about 16 brownies) 190g dark chocolate 190g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing 3 medium eggs 250g caster sugar ½ tsp vanilla extract 115g plain flour ½ tsp sea salt flakes, plus a few extra pinches for the top
3 or 4 tbsp of toffee crème (or other toffee/caramel product!)
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 20x20cm baking tin with a knob of butter and line it with baking parchment, leaving a little paper hanging over two of the sides – this will make it much easier to lift the brownie out at the end.
I love an event or special occasion. Whether it is birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas or Halloween or Burns Night or even an election, I’ll take advantage of pretty much any excuse to do the two things I enjoy the most: planning and partying. I’m not even 100% sure which aspect I enjoy more given my obsession for lists and timetables and A PLAN, but there is nothing better than new decorations, nice drinks, great food, even better company and perhaps even a few days off. Even Valentine’s Day, which I will scorn for being an utterly commercialised “holiday”, gives us a (sometimes much-needed) excuse to make time for our other halves, even if it’s just the simple effort of lighting some candles and having a tasty dinner at home together. Anyway, the latest excuse for some planning and indulgence is Easter weekend.
I think Easter weekend is particularly appealing to me because it marks the change of the seasons from dark, cold winter to cheerful spring. The clocks are going forward, the days are getting longer, the daffodils and crocuses have opened up in all their beauty and the spring break is tantalisingly near. So, hot cross buns and a lamb leg have been bought, the flat is full of spring blooms, Easter eggs are hidden away until Sunday and a long walk has been planned to make the most of the bank holiday Monday. All we need now is for 5pm to arrive and the weekend to begin.
I actually made this particular pavlova for my mum’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, but I think it would be the perfect pudding for a big Easter Sunday roast dinner. This is a relatively straightforward recipe to make for a large crowd, the component parts can be made ahead and assembled at the last minute and most importantly it is totally delicious. The outside of the meringue should be completely dried out and crisp but the inside should be soft, almost cloud-like, in texture. The cool topping balances the sweet meringue, especially with the addition of yogurt to balance the richness of double cream which I think can be too much on its own sometimes, and the passionfruit and lemon add the final sharp bite to the dish. Finally, if you’re looking for something to do with your leftover egg yolks, treat yourself to some homemade garlic mayonnaise, perhaps as an accompaniment for a bank holiday brunch or dinner.
One year ago:
– The Easiest-Ever Loaf: Crusty no-knead white bread
– Vanilla espresso martini
Two years ago:
– Guacamole and zingy bean dip
– Mini lemon curd tarts
Ingredients (makes one large pavlova to serve 6-8 people) 4 medium egg whites 250g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tsp corn flour 1 tsp white wine vinegar 250ml double cream 200g Greek yogurt
3 tbsp lemon curd (homemade is particularly good – find a recipe here)
3 passion fruit
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 10C/130C fan/Gas Mark 2. Separate out the egg whites and whisk until they form stiff peaks.
2. Add the caster sugar slowly, a dessert spoon at a time, whisking continuously until the sugar is fully incorporated and you have a thick, glossy meringue mixture. Add the vanilla extract, corn flour and white wine vinegar and whisk again. (Note: the corn flour and vinegar might seem odd here, but they are essential to give the pavlova its signature soft centre).
3. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with baking parchment and, as always when making meringues, putting a dot of meringue mixture under each corner of the paper to stick it down. This will make shaping the pavlova much easier.
4. Using a spatula or a large spoon, pile the meringue mixture into the middle of the baking sheet and then gently spread it into a rough circle, making a slight dip in the middle where most of the filling will go. Use the back of a spoon to create little peaks around the pavlova if you like.
5. Bake the pavlova for 50 minutes and then turn the oven off and allow it to cool completely inside. (Don’t forget it’s in there if you come to use the oven later! I learned this lesson the hard way…)
6. Whisk the cream until very loosely whipped and stir through the Greek yogurt.
7. Add 3 generous spoons of lemon curd to the cream mixture and fold through. It’s up to you (and the texture of your lemon curd!) whether you leave this a little rippled or whether you combine it completely with the cream.
8. Remove the seeds and juice from the passion fruits.
9. When you are nearly ready to serve, carefully transfer the pavlova to a serving platter and remove the baking parchment.
10. Pile the cream and yogurt filling into the middle of the pavlova and gently spread it towards the edges. Finally, sprinkle over the passion fruit topping with a teaspoon.
Serve soon after topping the pavlova, although if you have leftovers they will keep in the fridge for a day or two. Cut into generous slices and enjoy as the perfect end to your Easter Sunday dinner!
Happy Birthday to me! Well, not me really, but my wee blog is turning two. How time flies. While I celebrate with a large wedge of cake (more on that in a second), let me extend a heart-felt thank you to everybody who visits my little piece of the internet. Thank you to my friends and family who still show enthusiasm for new posts, to old friends who have messaged to tell me how much they enjoyed a particular recipe, to strangers on the other side of the world who share their thoughts, and to my other half who puts up with me insisting on taking 20 pictures of our plates before he can start his dinner (although, he does get to eat all these recipes, so it’s not exactly a terrible deal…).
This week’s recipe was inspired by two different people. The first was a lovely friend who came for dinner last Wednesday and who can’t eat gluten (like, seriously, not just one of these “oh eating a loaf of bread makes me bloated”…tell me something I don’t know); so I needed a completely gluten-free pudding. To me this shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a pudding that isn’t sweet and squidgy and indulgent. Or, more importantly, it shouldn’t mean no cake.
In my quest to find a great gluten-free cake recipe I came across an old folder with an assortment of allergy-friendly baking recipes. Years ago, just after I left high school, I worked with a guy, Paul, who had severe allergies not only to gluten, but also eggs, nuts and legumes. Yup. I’m pretty sure he lived off potatoes, meat and cheese. Although, on second thoughts, that doesn’t sound too bad… Anyway, an allergy to gluten, eggs and nuts makes for an incredibly tricky baking challenge. This folder I found was a collection of various recipes, which (if memory serves correctly) I amalgamated into a few Paul-friendly bakes so that he could get in on the afternoon treats that everyone else in the office got to indulge in. Of course, poor Paul couldn’t have actually eaten this particular recipe because of the eggs and nuts, but in that folder I found a gluten-free lemon cake recipe (I have no idea where I copied it down from I’m afraid!) which used polenta and ground almonds instead of flour. I’ve changed up the lemons for oranges, since it is the season for juicy, sweet oranges and I seem to be developing a theme of orange-flavoured recipes on birthday blogs. I tweaked a few other parts of the recipe and added an orange drizzle topping. This cake is gorgeous: it’s super moist, strong with orange and has a satisfying sugary crunch on top. In fact, there is no reason to save this recipe just for coeliacs, so don’t be put off by the gluten-free billing: everyone deserves a slice of this action!
One year ago:
– Orange and milk-chocolate celebration cakes
Two years ago:
– No-knead cardamom and cinnamon buns
Ingredients 250g butter, softened plus a little extra to grease the cake tin 250g vanilla sugar* or caster sugar 3 large eggs 100g polenta 250g ground almonds 1 tsp baking powder 2 oranges
60g icing sugar
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm cake tin with a little butter and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. 2. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition.
4. Add the polenta, ground almonds and baking powder and mix to combine.
5. Zest both the oranges and juice one. Add the zest and juice to the cake mixture and stir again to evenly distribute.
6. Spoon the mixture into your cake tin and flatten the top as well as you can using the back of a spoon.
7. Bake for 1 hour until the cake has risen, the top is a dark golden colour and a skewer comes out clean from the centre. If you’re concerned about the cake browning too much then cover the top loosely with foil about half way through baking.
8. Put the cake, still in its tin, on a wire rack. Make the drizzle topping by simply mixing the icing sugar with the juice from the second orange (you might not need all the juice, depending on how thick you’d like the topping to be).
9. While the cake is still warm, prick lots of holes in it using a cake skewer. Pour over the drizzle topping and leave to cool fully in the tin.
This cake is best served the day you baked it, but it will keep for a couple more days in a tupperware tub. Serve with a little crème fraiche if you like.
* A quick word about vanilla sugar: I’m sure you can buy this in a large supermarket or fancy deli, but to make your own simply fill a tub or jar with sugar and add a split vanilla pod (I used one that I had removed the seeds from for another recipe). Seal, and use as and when you need!
GUYS GUYS GUYS. IT’S ONE WEEK TIL CHRISTMAS. One week until we can stuff our faces with turkey and bacon and mince pies (though it would be totally legitimate to have started this already…), rip open beautifully wrapped presents, throw back ill-advised quantities of champagne and sherry and then cry at the last ever episode of Downton. *Sob* (WARNING: to those who know me personally, I won’t be watching this until Boxing Day so approach me with spoilers on pain of horrific death). Below, in the “One year ago” section, are some appropriately festive recipes, but for now let’s celebrate a wonderful product of the season: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are for life, not just Halloween, so make the most of their time in the shops and do some alternative Christmas baking. I’ve posted a few pumpkin recipes in the past (spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie with maple cream), so there are plenty to chose from if you really get into the pumpkin-y swing of things. The recipe for these delicately spiced and deliciously moist muffins is based onthis recipe from BBC Good Food, with just a few tweaks to quantities, spices and method. It’s very similar to a carrot cake batter, and in fact if you’re really averse to the pumpkin idea then you could do a substitution, though I encourage you to give this recipe a try as is.
While we’re on the subject, let’s clear something up: yes, “Halloween pumpkins” sold in the supermarkets are edible! Although grown specifically for carving, resulting in quite tough skin and possibly a more watery flesh and milder flavour, they are perfectly suitable for human consumption. I’ve used “Halloween pumpkins” in this recipe before and it worked like a dream, but you can get lots of different varieties of smaller pumpkins so if you see them in your local shop then give one a go (I used an Onion squash, also known as a Red Kuri squash, for this batch). You could also use butternut squash if pumpkins aren’t available.
One year ago:
– Mincemeat puff pastry swirls
– Sea salt and brandy truffles
Ingredients (makes 12 muffins) 250g coarsely grated pumpkin flesh (approx. 1 small pumpkin) 3 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 175ml sunflower oil 175g soft light brown sugar 80g sultanas Zest of 1 orange 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp mixed spice ½ tsp ground ginger 200g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
180g full fat cream cheese 85g unsalted butter 100g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ Gas Mark 4. Halve your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.
Peel and chop the pumpkin into large chunks – use a sharp knife for this and watch your fingers!
2. Coarsely grate the pumpkin until you have about 250g.
3. Beat together the 3 eggs, vanilla extract and oil and vigorously stir the sugar into the mix.
4. Add the pumpkin, sultanas and the zest of the first orange and stir well.
5. Sift in the spices, flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold through the cake mixture until well combined.
6. Line a muffin tray with 12 cases and spoon the mixture in leaving a few centimetres at the top.
7. Bake for 25 minutes and then check that the muffins are ready by inserting a skewer into the middle which should come out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack – the muffins need to be completely cool before icing. 8. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the icing sugar and whisk until light and well combined. You can either add the zest of the other orange at this point or wait till the end to sprinkle it on top. Pop the icing in the fridge to firm up a little.
9. Once the muffins are cooled, ice them with the cream cheese frosting and sprinkle over the orange zest if you kept some aside in the previous step.
The muffins will keep well in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, though they are most delicious eaten the day of baking.
As the Starks are so keen to tell us, Winter Is Coming. And they’re not wrong, but first we have my favourite season of the year to enjoy: Autumn. For the next few months plums in the UK are at their prime and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and flavours and colours. There are tiny, intensely sweet greengages or plump, juicy Black Amber and Denniston’s Superb varieties or dark indigo-blue damsons with their sharp, distinctive flavour. One of the most commonly available plums in our shops and supermarkets is the Victoria plum. Oval in shape and red or yellow in colour, Victoria plums are sweet and have a firm texture so are perfect both eaten straight out the fruit bowl or used for baking.
Almonds are a perfect pairing with the sweet and sharp flavour of plum, so a frangipane tart seemed like an ideal way to incorporate this seasonal fruit into some baking. Frangipane is a sweet filling used in cakes and pastries, which combines ground almonds with butter, sugar and eggs, and sometimes a little flour or flavourings like vanilla or alcoholic liquors. When cooked in a tart frangipane puffs up in a most satisfying way to create a light, moist filling.
I first made this tart a couple of weeks ago, and by happy coincidence the following weeks Great British Bake Off episode (only the best television show ever amirite?) was pastry themed, and what did they have to make in the first challenge but frangipane tarts. This inspired me to add a layer of jam between the pastry and frangipane filling when I made the tart again last weekend. The addition got a resounding thumbs up from the lucky taste-testers. Finally, since frangipane requires a fairly long bake, there’s no need to blind bake the pastry first. Of course, we don’t want any soggy bottoms here, but we also don’t want burnt pastry. Paul Hollywood would not be happy, and that thought is scary enough, let alone imagining Mary Berry’s disapproving face.
One year ago:
– Dark chocolate mousse
Ingredients (makes a 28cm tart) 500g shortcrust pastry 12 small Victoria plums (about 400-450g) 100g unsalted butter, softened 100g caster sugar 2 eggs, beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp plain flour 100g ground almonds Optional: 2-3 tbsp plum jam
Crème fraiche to serve
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Roll the pastry on a floured surface until it is just bigger than the tart case and about half a centimeter thick.
The first time I made this recipe (shown in the picture) I went very thin with the pastry, so it was almost see-through, but I think it’s better to keep it a little thicker so the tart has a good, solid base and you can appreciate the short, crumbly texture of the pastry.
2. Carefully place the sheet of pastry into the tart case – drape it over your rolling pin and use this to lift it up and over. Gently, but firmly press the pastry into the case. I tear a little pastry from a corner, roll it into a ball and use this to press the pastry into all the edges, so that my nails don’t puncture the delicate pastry.
3. Trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife, prick the base with a fork and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
4. Halve and stone the plums.
5. Place the soft butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy.
6. Pour in the eggs a bit at a time, beating well in between each addition until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and flour and mix well again.
7. Fold the almonds through the mixture, ensuring they are evenly combined.
8. If using the jam, then spread a thin layer on top of the chilled pastry. Next carefully spread out the frangipane mixture into an even layer.
9. Arrange the plums on the top of the tart, cut side down, and push gently into the frangipane.
10. Place the tart on a large baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes until the frangipane filling has risen, the surface is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when pushed into the frangipane. Leave the tart to cool on a wire rack.
Serve warm or cool with some thick, creamy crème fraiche. The tart will keep for a few days in an airtight container, though it is best eaten on the day it’s made so tuck in!
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again (and many times more): Scottish strawberries are the best strawberries. Despite the amount of moaning we do about our weather here, we are actually lucky enough to live in a country which happens to have the perfect strawberry-growing climate: long daylight hours during the summer, consistent temperatures that aren’t too scorching (see, it’s good for something!) and water, water everywhere. Right now we can get a kilo of Scottish strawberries for £3 in our local supermarket, which is the perfect excuse for over-indulging in the small, sweet treats until your finger tips are stained pink and your tummy is just a liiittle bit sore.
And this weekend is the perfect time to fit some strawberry-themed baking into your schedule, since it’s the Wimbledon finals. This cake is just a regular Victoria sponge, but it’s a handy little recipe to have under your belt, or up your sleeve, or in whatever metaphorical clothing garment you desire. It’s the simple rule of 200:200:200:4, which means 200g of butter to 200g of sugar to 200g of flour and 4 eggs, and it works perfectly every time. A Victoria sponge is often sandwiched together with jam and butter cream icing, which is lovely too, but I think fresh strawberries and double cream are called for during the summer. And without horribly jinxing the outcome of tonight’s semi-final, maybe your Scottish strawberry cake will have a particularly patriotic connotation come Sunday afternoon…
One year ago:
– Strawberry and vanilla muffins
Ingredients 200g soft butter, plus a little extra for greasing 200g caster sugar 4 medium eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 200g self-raising flour 1 tsp baking powder 300ml double cream 400g strawberries
Icing sugar for decoration
Method 1. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas Mark 5. Grease and flour 2 x 21cm cake tins.
Or if, like me, you only have one cake tin this size then just bake the layers one at a time. Be ready to wash out the cake tin, and grease and line it quickly the second time, as you don’t want the wet cake batter to sit for too long – the raising agents begin to react as soon as they come in contact with the wet ingredients so should be baked as quickly as possible.
2. Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat well to a light, fluffy consistency.
3. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one, and add the vanilla extract. A tip to avoid a split batter (where the mixture looks a little curdled) is to add a dessert spoon of the flour after both the first and third eggs.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the cake batter until well combined.
5. Divide the mix evenly between the cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until they are golden brown. The sponge should spring back when gently pushed and a skewer pushed into the centre should come out clean.
6. Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the tin. Then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
7. Whip the cream to soft peaks and prepare the strawberries by removing the stalks and cutting into thick slices.
8. Place the bottom layer of the cake (I usually pick the flatter sponge for this) onto the plate you want to present your cake on and arrange the strawberry slices into a thick layer.
9. Carefully spread a generous layer of double cream on top of the strawberries.
10. Sandwich the top layer of the cake on top of the cream, pressing down firmly.
Dust the cake with icing sugar just before serving.
This cake doesn’t really need to be served with anything, other than perhaps even more strawberries piled on top. And of course a cup of tea, or a glass of Pimms if you’re really doing things right, to wash it down with.
I’ve always been a bit of an odd one when it comes to breakfast. Unlike my SO, who wakes up ravenous every morning (before you get concerned, he’s well-fed at dinner time!), it takes me at least an hour after waking up before I feel like eating anything substantial. I’m much more of a brunch person when it comes to the first meal of the day. I’m all for taking the time to leisurely cook pancakes or French toast on a weekend morning, but let’s be honest this is never going to happen during the week (and it’s probably better for our waistlines that it doesn’t). Something a bit speedier is in order during the week. I’ve also never had a regular go-to breakfast of choice – I remember once going through a cucumber on crackers phase as a kid. I never said I wasn’t a weird child…but then who was a normal child, right?!…
So on to breakfast solutions! Smoothies are a tasty and quick option, and I always have a bag or two of frozen fruit in the freezer. For a more substantial meal, and if I have an extra few minutes when getting ready, then I might make an egg-based breakfast (usually a poached or boiled egg with toast) or if I’ve been even better prepared the night before then overnight oats are very convenient come morning. But for an in-between breakfast, both quick and filling, granola is one of my favourite options right now. As with all my recipes, adjust this granola to your own tastes. Slivers of dried coconut would be a lovely addition, and use any dried fruit you like: raisins, sultanas, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, chopped apricots or figs or pineapple, mango, apple, banana chips…
A little note on agave nectar: I’d had a bottle in the cupboard for a couple of years. I think I bought it when it was going through its health superfood phase, but never quite knew what to do with it. In fact, agave nectar is no better for you than other sugar products like honey (it’s actually quite high in fructose), but it works well in this recipe as it’s light and not as sticky as honey. A bit of both seems to do the trick in terms of both texture and flavour. On the other hand, agave nectar is plant-based so perfect for vegans – if that’s your concern then just replace the honey with extra agave nectar.
Ingredients (makes one large jar or tub of granola) 1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil 100ml agave nectar 50ml honey 1 tsp vanilla extract 400g porridge oats 100g flaked almonds
150g dried fruit of your choice
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Measure out the liquids (oil, agave nectar, honey and vanilla extract) and mix.
2. Place the oats in a large bowl and pour over the wet mixture, mixing well to coat the oats.
3. Stir through the flaked almonds.
4. Spread the oats out onto two large baking trays – don’t pile them any thicker than about half an inch so they cook evenly in the oven.
5. Bake for 15 minutes until just starting to turn golden brown (keep an eye on the trays while they’re in the oven as they can catch and burn quickly). Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the trays.
6. Tip the granola back into your large bowl, breaking it into small chunks.
7. Stir through the dried fruit.
8. Pack the granola into a large jar or tupperware tub.
The granola will keep for weeks in an airtight container. Serve with your choice of fruit, yogurt or milk for a filling breakfast – some accompaniment ideas here (stewed apples and plums) and here (stewed rhubarb).