polenta | The Proof of the Pudding


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

Meatloaf | The Proof of the Pudding


It’s officially autumn. October has arrived, bringing with it darker mornings, clock changes, early Halloween decorations and the need for extra layering and a big, cosy scarf. We can complain about the weather and the darker mornings, but in the world of food there’s a lot to celebrate. Apples, figs, plums, pears, pomegranate, carrots, brussel sprouts, kale, leeks, parsnips and much more are in season and I’m hoping to pack in as many recipes as possible involving seasonal produce over the next few months. I’ve already planned some recipes involving apples, plums and carrots which I’ll post soon, but there will be plenty more to come.

Dreary weather and dark nights are also a perfect excuse for good old-fashioned comfort food. Again, I have a few recipes in mind to share with you, but we’ll kick things off with an absolute classic: meatloaf. I had never made meatloaf before, but after constant (unsubtle) hints from my other half (who never stops talking about his Grandmother’s meatloaf) I caved. I used this recipe from BBC Good Food, adding some extra ingredients for even more flavour like apple, mustard and thyme. Reviews after eating concluded that it was “very nearly as good as Grandma’s”, so I guess I’ll take that as a success…

Ingredients (cuts into 8-10 slices) 2 slices stale white bread 1 onion 1 garlic clove 1 apple Small bunch of parsley 500g pork mince 1 tsp dried oregano 1 tsp dried thyme 1 tbsp Dijon mustard 4 tbsp grated parmesan 1 egg

8-10 slices of serrano ham or prosciutto

Rhubarb curd | The Proof of the Pudding


Spring has finally arrived in Scotland! Easter weekend passed and suddenly the evenings seem longer, the temperature milder and the sun has been gracing us with its presence for weeks now. Despite the warning of a drop in temperature, and more than a drop of rain, this weekend the season has undoubtable changed and brought with it a new crop of spring produce. Every spring my mum makes a batch of lemon curd (you can find the recipe here) and seeing ruby red stalks of seasonal rhubarb inspired me to try a new twist on the recipe. I can reveal the results of this experiment now: superb.

Luckily my local gardener (dad) has a bumper harvest of both regular and forced rhubarb right now. I decided to go for the regular rhubarb for this recipe, purely based on aesthetics – I wanted a curd with a gorgeous pink colour. The initial juice from the rhubarb is an almost shocking pink, but when mixed with the butter and eggs it turns a more pastel shade. Very spring-appropriate, I think. If you have extra rhubarb and want to make something that retains the vivid pink then you can cook up the excess juice into rhubarb syrup for drinks. I’ll post a recipe in the next few days!

Ingredients (makes 1 medium-sized jar) 400g rhubarb (for leftover juice for rhubarb syrup increase to 700g) 100g butter 150g granulated sugar

3 eggs, well beaten

cinnamon | The Proof of the Pudding


This was a bit of an experimental recipe, which turned out to be absolutely gorgeous (forgive me if I blow my own trumpet on this one, but it really was a scrumptious cake: light, moist, rich, sweet and spicy). Obviously the idea comes from a pineapple upside-down cake, which has become to be regarded as somewhat of a retro cake that would fit in at a 70s themed dinner party along with prawn cocktail, cheese fondue and duck a l’orange. Now I don’t mind telling you: that sounds like a great menu to me, “retro” or not. With plums still in season they seemed like the obvious fruit choice, and they work well with festive spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. A simple vanilla sponge cake recipe made using the all-in-one method was all that was needed to top (or bottom, depending on which way round you look at it…) the fruit.

I do have a confession to make about the execution of this recipe, which will demonstrate how things in my kitchen don’t always go so smoothly (as if you needed that after mayonnaise-gate). The oven was at temperature, the cake was layered in the tin and I popped it into the oven with great anticipation. Less than five minutes later acrid black smoke was billowing from the oven as a little of the sugar and butter mixture (and presumably some juice from the plums) oozed out the bottom of the cake tin and hit the hot oven floor. At the speed of lightning I whipped the tin out, onto a baking tray and back into the oven, to prevent it getting worse. Luckily, neither the opening of the oven door at the start of baking or the smoke seemed to affect the quality of the cake in the end. SO, if anyone has any bright ideas about how to prevent this from happening do leave a comment below! For now, my advice would be to put the cake tin on a baking tray from the start or perhaps to use a cake tin that doesn’t have a loose bottom (though in this case I would grease the tin extremely well as it may be more difficult to turn out).

Ingredients 50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing 50g light soft brown sugar ½ tsp ground cinnamon ½ fresh nutmeg, grated 1 tsp vanilla extract

6-8 ripe plums

200g softened butter 200g caster sugar 200g pain flour 4 tsp baking powder 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 21-23cm cake tin generously with butter. 2. Cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla until smooth and well combined.

This recipe comes from my very lovely Auntie Rosie. My mum has had a hand-written copy tucked away in a folder for years, and it’s really the only go-to carrot cake recipe that you need. It’s very lightly spiced with cinnamon and comes out the oven dense, but deliciously moist thanks to the carrots and apples. A light, fluffy Victoria sponge can be absolute perfection, but sometimes your cravings call for a richer cake, one with the caramel flavour of brown sugar, the softness of cooked fruits and vegetables and small bursts of fudgy raisins throughout. The sourness of the icing on top helps to balance the sweet sponge. It’s a simple cream cheese affair, flavoured with lemon juice and, my own personal addition, orange zest.

Ingredients 115g butter 2 tbsp olive oil 250g carrots, peeled and grated 2 apples, peeled and grated 170g soft brown sugar 2 eggs 200g flour 7 tsp baking powder 1 tsp ground cinnamon ½ tsp salt 115g raisins

3 tbsp milk

60g icing sugar 250g cream cheese 1 tbsp lemon juice

Zest of 1 orange

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 20cm cake tin with a little butter. 2. Melt the butter and mix with the olive oil.

3. Mix the fats with the sugar, eggs, and grated carrots and apples.

4. Sieve the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) and fold into the wet mix.


5. Add the milk and raisins to the cake mixture and stir well.

6. Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about an hour until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean.

7. Turn the cake out and leave to cool while you make the icing.

8. To make the icing simply beat together the icing sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice and orange zest. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to ice the cake.

9. Once the sponge is completely cool, spoon the cream cheese frosting onto the cake and spread evenly. Leave like this, or decorate in whatever way takes your fancy: I dotted some orange food colouring gel around the top of the cake and then used a skewer to swirl it through the icing.

This carrot cake doesn’t need any extras, like cream, on the side whether it’s served up mid-afternoon or for pudding. All you need is a generous wedge of cake, and perhaps a cup of tea.

Thanks for the fabulous recipe Auntie Rosie! x


The days are getting a little shorter, the temperature has dropped a noticeable few degrees and a few tell-tale leaves are already turning brown. It’s all pointing to the inevitable fact that Autumn is creeping up on us. Perhaps we still have a few more warm September days to come, but if not we have lots to look forward to: cold mornings with hot porridge, crisp afternoons with a bowl of soup or a steaming mug of hot chocolate and evenings wrapped in a blanket while tucking in to a hearty stew or a slice of pumpkin pie. Although eating apples aren’t quite ripe yet, the cooking apple tree at my grandparents’ house was laden with a huge crop of fruit. At the weekend we helped strip the tree bare, ending up with buckets and boxes and bags of cooking apples. A traditional apple pie made with short crust pastry is a beautiful thing, but here is something just a little bit different – miniature individual apples pies made with puff pastry.

I’ve been planning to share a recipe for puff pastry with you for a while now, and pastry week on Great British Bake Off seemed like the perfect timing. Puff pastry is a scary beast for most people, and we always hear chefs telling us not to bother making it from scratch, but to buy the ready-made pastry available in the shops. Now there’s nothing wrong with using shop-bought puff pastry – it’s relatively cheap, easy to store and use and cuts down cooking by a reasonable amount of time – and I often do so. However, “rough puff pastry” is actually very, even surprisingly, straightforward to make. Granted, “proper puff pastry” is a little more complicated, but this quicker version below produces beautifully light, flaky, buttery pastry.

Ingredients (makes 12 individual pies) 190g flour Pinch of salt 125g chilled butter, cut into cubes 100ml iced water 400g cooking apples (about 4 small apples) 2 tbsp sugar 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 and lightly butter a 12-hole muffin tin. 2. Add the butter to the flour and salt and mix to coat.

3. Add 10 tbsp of the iced water, stirring with a knife to roughly combine. Add a little extra water if the mixture seems much too dry, but don’t worry that the mixture doesn’t come together completely – you need to be able to gather the mixture together with your hands, but you don’t want it to be wet.

4. Flour a surface and tip the pastry out, forming into a rough rectangle with your hands.

5. Gently roll the rectangle longer. Again, don’t be scared if the mixture cracks a little at this point, it will become smooth soon.

6. Fold the top third down on itself, and the bottom third up over this.

7. Turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat this process of rolling and folding. Repeat a total of 4 or 5 times, until you have a lovely smooth block of pastry. Wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for 15 minutes while you make the filling. (If chilling for longer, leave it in the fridge and take out 10 minutes before you need to roll, so that it’s not too hard. This pastry can be frozen if you want to store for another day.)

8. Peel, core and chop the apples into very chunks. Mix together with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

9. Remove the pastry from the freezer and roll out to a half centimetre thickness on a well-floured surface. Move quickly at this point, since the high butter content of the pastry will make it sticky and hard to work with if it gets too warm. Use a pastry cutter to cut 12 circles of pastry and gently press them into the buttered tin. Fill with a large spoon of the apples.

10. Dab a little egg around the edges of the pastry using a pastry brush to help stick the pie tops and bottoms together. Cut another 12 circles of pastry, lay them over the filling and gently press round the edges with a fork. Brush egg over the tops of the pies and make two small cuts on the top of each pie with a sharp knife to allow any steam to be released from the pies during cooking.

11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

These can be eaten warm from the oven, or you can let them cool completely and then reheat them at 180C for about 5 minutes. They will keep in an air-tight container for a couple of days.


Serve these with cream or ice-cream for dessert, or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. This is also how I usually make mince pies at Christmas time, replacing the apples with mincemeat, but for now miniature apple pies seem like the best way to celebrate the fact that Autumn has really arrived.


Rhubarb has a fairly long and generous season, as I mentioned before when sharing my recipe for a Rhubarb Crumble. At the start of the year forced rhubarb starts to peak its golden-crowned head up, but now that spring is really upon us the dark red stalks are really coming into their prime. Now is the time to peruse the supermarket shelves or pop into your local greengrocers and grab a pile of stalks for a crumble or a pie or some simple stewed rhubarb. I’m lucky enough to have a green-fingered father who lives nearby, and received a beautiful bunch of rhubarb stalks freshly picked from his allotment two weekends ago. It was so perfectly fresh that I didn’t want to muck around with it (besides, with only two of us in the house most of the time, endless puddings and desserts can get a bit much…it’s a hard life, I know). So I stewed it up with a few complementing flavours: vanilla, cinnamon and ginger.

Ingredients 600g rhubarb (about 6 large stalks, with the ends chopped off) 150g caster sugar 2 tsp vanilla extract 1 tsp ground cinnamon 2 tsp freshly grated ginger

6 tbsp water

Method 1. Chop the rhubarb into small pieces, about 2 inches long.

2. Place the rhubarb into a large pan and add the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes for a mixed consistency with some rhubarb still in whole pieces – you want a fork to easily slide through the chunks, and not meet with resistance. If you’d like a more liquid consistency then the take the cooking on for a couple more minutes, it won’t take long.

3. Eat hot or leave to cool in the pan, then transfer to a bowl or container and refrigerate.

This compote was so simple but utterly scrummy, and the ginger in particular made it wonderfully fragrant. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that we had it (the night I cooked it) on top of mini pavlovas:

All I did was follow the meringue recipe from a previous post (but without the extra flavourings and using just one egg white), shape the mixture into two large meringues and top with crème fraiche and the compote to finish. I also had the compote for breakfast every day for a week with coconut yogurt and never got bored of it:

This would be perfect on top of porridge or cereal – I did try to tempt Ross to have it on his cereal, but he has a strict No-Fruit-On-My-Cereal policy. This will keep in the fridge for a week, or you can even freeze it for later. I’m hoping for another fresh rhubarb delivery this week and am thinking about a rhubarb and strawberry pie – a match made in heaven. What’s your favourite thing to cook with rhubarb?

I’ve always been a bit scared of buns. All that kneading and proving and shaping (mainly all that kneading, jeez what a faff). So when I saw the front cover of the Guardian Cook (14 December 2013) lying innocently on the kitchen worktop I gazed longingly at the bronzed swirling buns, but resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t brave enough to attempt making them. I commented to Mother that they looked delicious and she confessed, “Hmmm yes…actually I thought that might be something that you would like to make us”. Cheeky Mother – not such an innocent Guardian Cook after all. My instant reaction was “No”, but grudgingly I had a look at the recipe and lo-and-behold no kneading! And a pretty straight forward recipe at that. Deal done.

I altered the recipe slightly – my dough needed much more time to prove and a little more time to cook than the recipe suggested; and, not only did I not have “vanilla salt” and ground cardamom at home, but I couldn’t find any at Waitrose. If those aren’t the precise ingredients that Waitrose exists for then I don’t know why it does! I also added sultanas just because.

Ingredients (Makes 7 buns)

225ml whole milk 75g butter 300g spelt flour 125g plain wholemeal flour 70g caster sugar 1-2 tsp green cardamom pods ½ tsp salt 10g fast-action dried yeast

1 medium egg, beaten

For the filling: 75g softened butter 2 tsp cinnamon 50g caster sugar ½ tsp sea salt flakes 3-5 twists of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Handful of sultanas

To finish: 1 medium egg, beaten

Demerara sugar

Method

  1. Heat the butter and milk until almost boiling and remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly.
  2. Gently bash the cardamom pods to open them up and remove the small black seeds. Violently bash these until you have a fine powder. I used a pestle and mortar, so “fine” is a generous description.
  3. Sift the flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, sugar, yeast and 1 tsp of the cardamom. Mix.
  4. Now that the milk is warm, not hot (if it is too hot it can kill the yeast) add it to the dry ingredients with your egg. Mix.
  5. The “dough” will be a thick, sticky consistency. You’ll think it’s wrong. It’s not. Cover with cling film (lightly oiled if your bowl is small, so that if the dough rises a lot it won’t stick) and leave in a warm place for anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours until the dough rises. I covered mine in a towel to keep him extra cosy.
  6. Cream the softened butter with the sugar, cinnamon, sea salt and vanilla. Resist the temptation to spread on toast and shove in gob.
  7. Tip (scrape) the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rectangle which is roughly 35cm by 25cm. Spread the butter mixture all over the dough using a palette, or any other flat, knife. Sprinkle over the sultanas.
  8. Roll the dough starting from one of the long sides so you have a long sausage shape. Cut into seven pieces, leaving the seventh piece slightly smaller than the others.
  9. Butter a 23cm cake tin (with sides at least 5cm high) and place the smallest roll in the middle, pretty swirl side up. Place the remaining six evenly around this one. Leave in a warm place for anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour to double in size.
  10. Let’s get these buns in the oven. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan and brush the buns with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25-35 minutes until dark golden brown. If you tap the bottom of the cake tin it should sound hollow.

We had these the next morning with fresh orange juice and coffee: perfection. They would go equally well with a cup of tea mid-afternoon. Ross also suggested having them iced, or with streaky bacon and maple syrup. I’m not sure about the last idea.

These are rich, dense buns, with a satisfying, cakey texture. The flavour of the cinnamon and cardamom is beautiful, though the recipe is definitely adaptable to other combinations. I like the idea of orange zest and dark chocolate chips. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try one of the more fiddly recipes that call for kneading. But for now, excuse me while I go polish off the last sticky crumb of these buns.

mango ice-cream | The Proof of the Pudding


Happy New Year from Proof of the Pudding! Or is it bad form to wish you that when January is already nearly over? January can be a hard month, especially where I live as we know there are still a couple of months of dark mornings and evenings to get through, and if we’re to get a bad snow storm this year then it’s yet to come (EDIT: I spoke to soon, it seems this weekend is our first of the season). Sometimes you feel ready to jump into January with gusto: stocking up the cupboards, fridge and fruit bowl with healthy foods, pulling on your gym gear to work off that Christmas dinner and diving back into work at 9am on Monday morning, to-do list at the ready. But sometimes it takes a few sluggish days, or even weeks, to get back into a routine and not want to rush home every evening and immediately get your pyjamas on. However your January started, I hope it’s ending well. Let’s all look forward to February and longer days and Pancake Tuesday!

Now I’m not going to try and pretend that this is in any way a healthy recipe (see double cream and sugar), but it’s certainly refreshing and might be a welcome change from all that trifle and chocolate and Christmas pudding. This is also a satisfyingly straightforward ice-cream recipe which doesn’t require you to have an ice-cream maker (although if you do then by all means use it). The freeze-blend-freeze method ensures that the ice crystals are broken up and gives a smooth texture. Make sure you buy very ripe mangos for this recipe, for both texture and flavour. The squishier the better really. In particular, if you can find alphonso mangos these have an incredible, sweet flavour.

One year ago:
– Minestrone soup
– Courgette antipasto rolls

Ingredients 3 large ripe mangos (approximately 1kg) 300ml double cream 100g caster sugar ¼ tsp vanilla extract (optional)

50g frozen raspberries, defrosted

sponge | The Proof of the Pudding


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.

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.

This recipe comes from my very lovely Auntie Rosie. My mum has had a hand-written copy tucked away in a folder for years, and it’s really the only go-to carrot cake recipe that you need. It’s very lightly spiced with cinnamon and comes out the oven dense, but deliciously moist thanks to the carrots and apples. A light, fluffy Victoria sponge can be absolute perfection, but sometimes your cravings call for a richer cake, one with the caramel flavour of brown sugar, the softness of cooked fruits and vegetables and small bursts of fudgy raisins throughout. The sourness of the icing on top helps to balance the sweet sponge. It’s a simple cream cheese affair, flavoured with lemon juice and, my own personal addition, orange zest.

Ingredients 115g butter 2 tbsp olive oil 250g carrots, peeled and grated 2 apples, peeled and grated 170g soft brown sugar 2 eggs 200g flour 7 tsp baking powder 1 tsp ground cinnamon ½ tsp salt 115g raisins

3 tbsp milk

60g icing sugar 250g cream cheese 1 tbsp lemon juice

Zest of 1 orange

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 20cm cake tin with a little butter. 2. Melt the butter and mix with the olive oil.

3. Mix the fats with the sugar, eggs, and grated carrots and apples.

4. Sieve the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) and fold into the wet mix.


5. Add the milk and raisins to the cake mixture and stir well.

6. Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about an hour until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean.

7. Turn the cake out and leave to cool while you make the icing.

8. To make the icing simply beat together the icing sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice and orange zest. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to ice the cake.

9. Once the sponge is completely cool, spoon the cream cheese frosting onto the cake and spread evenly. Leave like this, or decorate in whatever way takes your fancy: I dotted some orange food colouring gel around the top of the cake and then used a skewer to swirl it through the icing.

This carrot cake doesn’t need any extras, like cream, on the side whether it’s served up mid-afternoon or for pudding. All you need is a generous wedge of cake, and perhaps a cup of tea.

Thanks for the fabulous recipe Auntie Rosie! x


There are some food combinations that just undeniably work: tomato and basil, salmon and dill, goats cheese and figs, lamb and mint, and so it goes on. In my books, chocolate and fruit are one of these matches made in heaven. I’ve been seeing punnets of really plump, dark raspberries in the shops lately and find them utterly irresistible. After a fruitful (seewhatIdidthere) trip to the greengrocers on Sunday morning, I spent Sunday afternoon whipping up some treats for an afternoon tea catch-up with some of my very favourite ladies. Of course there had to be chocolate included in the spread somewhere, and so the chocolate-raspberry loaf was born.

If raspberries aren’t really to your taste (although we may have to have a little falling out if this is the case) or if you can’t get your paws on any, then this recipe would definitely be easy to adapt. Try candied orange peel folded through the sponge mix and orange zest in the icing. Or dried cherries and a splash of Kirsch. Or freeze-dried strawberries in the sponge and strawberry puree whisked through the icing. If the idea of fruit anywhere near your chocolate is an insult, then just leave the offending ingredients out for an unadulterated chocolate hit. A table spoon or two of cocoa powder in the icing might be more up your street. Whatever you decide, the underlying recipe is ridiculously easy – we’re using the “all-in-one” method where all the ingredients are whisked together in one go. No creaming, no risk of egg-curdling, no sifting. Convinced? Ready, set, let’s go!

Ingredients 140g butter, softened 180g plain flour 20g cocoa powder 3 tsp baking powder 200g caster sugar 3 large eggs 6 tbsp milk

3 tbsp freeze-dried raspberries

125g butter, softened 250g icing sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp milk

100g fresh raspberries

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/gas Mark 4. Butter a loaf tin and line with baking parchment. Leaving some excess paper hanging over the long sides makes it easier to lift the cake out after baking.

2. Place the butter, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, caster sugar, eggs and milk in a large bowl. Using a hand whisk or wooden spoon mix the ingredients together for a few minutes until they are fully combined and the mixture has a light, aerated texture.

3. Gently fold the freeze-dried raspberries through the cake batter. Try not to over-mix as you will lose some of the air that you whisked in at the previous step.

4. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and smooth flat with the back of a spoon.

5. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the cake is dark brown and a knife or cake tester comes out the centre of the cake clean. Lift out of the loaf tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

6. Whisk the softened butter together with the icing sugar for 5 minutes. A good tip here is to cover the bowl with a large tea towel to stop every surface in your kitchen becoming dusted in powdered sugar.

7. Add the vanilla extract and milk, and continue whisking for a few more minutes. Finally add the fresh raspberries and whisk until evenly combined.



8. Ice the top of the cooled loaf with a generous layer of raspberry icing.

This cake is super light and fluffy in texture, and the icing is a perfect mix of butter-icing sweetness and sharp raspberry flavour. It is at its peak eaten on the day of baking, but will keep well for another couple of days in an airtight container. Serve with tea or a large glass of ice-cold milk. Lovely.

comfort food | The Proof of the Pudding

Does a recipe need much more introduction than that video…? Probably not, but I’ll give you one anyway. Back in June I mentioned that I was going to France for a couple of weeks, and that I would be attempting to eat and drink all the cheese and wine that the country had to offer. Well, we put in a good effort and ate like kings (or queens) for two weeks. We had delicious homemade meals expertly cooked by my Grandpa, dined on fresh local seafood on the island of Houat, tried regional specialties like gallettes and cidre royal in Normandy and had the most simple lunch picnics by the side of the road that were turned gourmet due to the amazing quality of the ingredients – fresh baguette, perfectly ripe tomatoes and soft, melty cheese (thanks to the heat!).

By far the best meal we had out was in a small town in Normandy called Sainte-Mère-Église. Although it’s small, Sainte-Mère-Église is well-known and gets a lot of day visitors. This is partly because it was the first village to be liberated on D-Day, but also thanks to the incident involving the American paratrooper John Steele. In the very early hours of the morning on D-Day about 13,000 paratroopers of the Airborne Division of the US Army dropped into Normandy. The parachute of one particular paratrooper, 31-year-old John Steele, became tangled in one of the church spires, leaving him dangling on the side of the church. Despite playing dead, he was cut down and take prisoner by German soldiers, but he managed to escape a few days later and re-join his division to continue fighting through France. John survived the war and regularly went back to visit Sainte-Mère-Église during his life. He was made an honorary citizen of the town and had a statue erected in his honour – a model of a man, parachute attached, hanging from the church steeple. On our last night in Sainte-Mère-Église we ate at the Auberge John Steele, which is named after the soldier and was recommended to us by my parents. And so this is all a very long way round of saying that I had the best dauphinoise potatoes of my life at this restaurant! They were just the side to my main dish of steak and mushrooms, but I decided right then that I had to recreate them when I got home. So here we are: my version of the most indulgent, rich, creamy side dish you could ever ask for…

One year ago:
– Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse

Ingredients (serves 2-4, depending on your appetite!) Butter for greasing 400g (about 2 large) floury potatoes e.g. Maris Piper, Red Rooster or King Edward 150ml double cream 100ml milk 1 garlic clove Fresh nutmeg Salt and pepper

15g parmesan, grated

Method 1. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas Mark 5. Grease an ovenproof dish well with a little butter.


Happy New Year gorgeous readers! I hope your festive break was filled to the brim with your favourite people, your favourite food and drink, and your favourite films, music, books and games. I know mine certainly was, and so much more. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. You know that kind of laughter that makes your stomach and throat hurt and your breathing difficult? Yeah, that.

And so now it is January. The fruit bowl has been piled high, the vegetable drawer in the fridge is stuffed full and gym memberships have been renewed with gusto. I have just discovered Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga and what a revelation it is. I had forgotten how amazing just a short yoga practice every day is, plus there is the bonus that Adriene is an absolute babe. Serious babe crush going on.

But on the other hand, we are still in the depths of winter. The days may be getting gradually longer, but it really doesn’t feel like it right now. So let’s all agree that we still need some comfort food every now and then, yeah? We can stick to stir-fry and steamed vegetables and baked fish during the week, but on a Sunday night let’s snuggle up together on the sofa, wearing our comfiest pyjamas, with steaming bowls of stew and glasses of red wine. Cheers to that.

Ingredients (serves 2-3) 1 generous tbsp dried ceps (aka porcini mushrooms) 2 small onions, finely chopped 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped 2-3 small carrots, cut into chunky wedges 2 medium parsnips (or in my case, one daddy, one mummy and one baby parsnip), cut into chunky wedges 350g beef shin 180g mushrooms, either cup or button Large glass of red wine 2 bay leaves 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas mark 2. Lightly crush the dried ceps in a mortar and pestle.

Cover with a few tablespoons of hot water and leave to soak. 2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole pot or pan and gently fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown.

3. Turn the heat up so the onions sizzle and add the carrots and parsnips, mixing well to coat them in oil. Allow the vegetables to cook for another 5 minutes.

4. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil and wait until very hot. Generously season the beef shin with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Fry on a very high heat for a couple of minutes until brown and caramelised on both sides.

5. Pour the wine into the pan and bubble for 3-5 minutes to reduce the liquid by about one third.

6. Add the vegetables back into the pan, along with the now-rehydrated ceps (including the soaking water), and stir. Season and tuck a couple of bay leaves into the stew, pop the lid on the pan and put into the oven.

7. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, peel and cut in half. If you’re using button mushrooms then skip this step and use them whole! Ain’t nobody got time for that.

8. After an hour and a half remove the stew from the oven and stir in the mushrooms and redcurrant jelly. If necessary add a splash of water to the stew.

9. Continue to cook the stew in the oven for a further 30-60 minutes. The meat should be beautifully tender and the relatively large amount of fat in the cut of beef shin should have melted away into the sweet, rich liquid.

Serve with potatoes, cooked in the style of your choice, or some lovely fresh bread which you can use to mop up the delicious sauce. And of course, since it’s January, I suppose some steamed vegetables on the side will help to make us feel that little bit more virtuous.

Steak pie is a dish that is strongly associated with childhood memories for me. Just last week my sister and I were reminiscing about those rare evenings when we’d get home after school and spot a Marks and Spencer steak pie in the fridge – what a treat! We absolutely loved the rich, meaty filling and the crispy top on the puff pastry, but sometimes the best part was that bottom bit of the puff pastry right next to the beef which would go a little bit soggy. A serious pleasure. I still think you’re hard-pressed to find a better ready-made steak pie than those at M&S (apart from at a butchers I suppose), but a homemade one has all the same qualities – the melt-in-the-mouth beef, the rich gravy and the flaky pastry – with the added satisfaction that you get when you make a pie.

My method for steak pie is basically to make a delicious beef stew, allow it to cool and then pile it into a pie dish and top with pastry. I usually pack as much flavour into my stew as possible with extras like mustard, redcurrant jelly and herbs. A little glass of red wine or a dark beer will also add flavour to the stew, and I almost always add mushrooms, partly because I like the texture but also to bulk up the stew without spending lots of money on beef. You can cook the stew on the hob, but I find that a couple of hours in a low oven is the best way to achieve melting chunks of beef. You can also use short crust pastry – puff pastry is just my personal preference when it comes to steak pie, probably from those M&S ones – and shop-bought pastry is perfectly acceptable if you’re short on time. Or patience. This puff pastry follows the exact same method as I showed you before, and the ingredients are nearly identical. The one difference is that I substituted a small amount of the butter for white cooking fat for added flakiness. Never a bad thing.

Ingredients (serves 4) 450g casserole or stewing steak, cut into large chunks 2 heaped tbsp seasoned flour 1 white onion, diced 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped 2 carrots, diced 250g mushrooms, cut into quarters if large 1 tsp dried rosemary 2 tsp dried thyme 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar Few drops of Worcester sauce Small glass of red wine or ale (optional) 500ml beef stock 1 tbsp Dijon mustard 1 tbsp red currant jelly 1 bay leaf

Vegetable oil

190g plain flour 100g butter 25g white cooking fat 20 tbsp iced water

1 egg, beaten

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/ Gas Mark 3. Toss the cut beef in the seasoned flour. You can do this in a bowl, but I find it easiest to pop everything into a freezer bag, tie the top and give it a good shake.

2. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a casserole pan (the casserole pan needs to have a lid and be able to go in the oven). Fry the beef until golden brown and remove onto a plate with some kitchen roll to soak up the excess oil.

It’s best to do this in batches, so that the beef is just in one layer at the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry if the meat sticks to the pan, and leaves behind crispy bits – this is all added flavour in the end.

3. Throw the onion, garlic and carrot into the hot oil and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any residue from the beef that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft and turning golden brown.

4. Tip in the mushrooms and continue cooking for a few more minutes, then add the beef back in, along with the dried herbs, and give everything a good mix.

5. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and let it bubble for a few seconds. If you’re using wine or ale then add this now and bubble for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced a little. Otherwise go ahead and add the stock, mustard and red currant jelly. Bring to the boil, tuck the bay leaf into the stew, top the pan with the lid and pop it into the oven.

6. Cook for about 2 hours or until the beef is tender and the liquid has thickened to a gravy consistency. Check the stew after about an hour – give it a stir and add a little extra stock if necessary. Once ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

7. While the stew cools you can make the puff pastry. This follows exactly the same steps as the puff pastry I showed you here (with more pictures): mix the fats into the flour; add the iced water and bring roughly together with a knife; tip onto a floured surface and shape into a rectangle; fold the top third down, the bottom third up, roll, turn and repeat. Once you have a smooth pastry, cover in cling film and pop into the freezer for 10-15 minutes to rest.


8. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Spoon the beef stew into your pie dish and spread out evenly.

9. Roll out the puff pastry until it’s about 1cm thick and bigger than the pie dish. Lift the pastry onto the pie and press down firmly round the edges – a little egg wash round the lip of the pastry dish will help to stick it down. Cut round the pie with a sharp knife to remove the excess pastry.


10. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate your pie if you like. Brush with egg and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. If you’re not ready to bake the pie right away, you can leave it in the fridge until you are.

This pie will easily feed 4 people, served with a pile of lightly steamed and buttered green vegetables. However, you could definitely make it stretch to 6 people if you also make a generous helping of mashed potatoes.


A glass of red wine is not essential, but advised.


Just a quick little recipe today, but very much in-keeping with the autumnal theme. Stewing is a great way to use up a large batch of fruit, and means that the fruit keeps well for much longer than it normally would. At this time of year, gluts of apple are a common occurrence and we picked an enormous crop from my grandparents’ cooking apple tree last month. Although I used some of the apples in my mini puff pastry apple pies and a couple for a savoury apple sauce with roast pork belly, most have been used in three separate batches of my mum’s simple recipe for stewed apples. In the final lot I also had some plums in the fruit bowl which hadn’t ripened well, but are absolutely perfect once they’ve been lightly stewed. You can make this without the plums, using just apples, or you could add some pears, or even a handful of blackberries right at the end. Lovely autumnal fare.

Note: this recipe makes a very large quantity, so adjust depending on how much you want or how much fruit you have.

Ingredients 1.35kg fruit (I used about 900g cooking apples, and 450g plums) 550ml water 340g sugar

2 handfuls of raisins

Method 1. Peel and core the apples, then cut into small chunks. De-stone the plums and slice into eighths.

2. Heat the water and sugar until boiling.

3. Add the apple, plums and raisins and bring back to the boil. Simmer for about 3 minutes and turn off the heat. Leave to cool.

There are lots of options for your stewed fruit now, depending on how big a batch you’ve made! Use immediately while still warm, or leave to cool in the pan and then transfer to a tupperware tub…

This will now keep in the fridge for at least a week, or in the freezer for a few months. The fruit can be spooned over porridge or cereals for breakfast…

…or topped with natural yogurt and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon either for a light breakfast or a filling snack…

…of course, the options are endless. Re-heat gently and spoon over vanilla ice-cream, use to top meringues and cream similar to what I did with my spiced rhubarb compote, or smash the meringues up with the fruit and cream to create an autumnal Eton Mess.


It’s officially autumn. October has arrived, bringing with it darker mornings, clock changes, early Halloween decorations and the need for extra layering and a big, cosy scarf. We can complain about the weather and the darker mornings, but in the world of food there’s a lot to celebrate. Apples, figs, plums, pears, pomegranate, carrots, brussel sprouts, kale, leeks, parsnips and much more are in season and I’m hoping to pack in as many recipes as possible involving seasonal produce over the next few months. I’ve already planned some recipes involving apples, plums and carrots which I’ll post soon, but there will be plenty more to come.

Dreary weather and dark nights are also a perfect excuse for good old-fashioned comfort food. Again, I have a few recipes in mind to share with you, but we’ll kick things off with an absolute classic: meatloaf. I had never made meatloaf before, but after constant (unsubtle) hints from my other half (who never stops talking about his Grandmother’s meatloaf) I caved. I used this recipe from BBC Good Food, adding some extra ingredients for even more flavour like apple, mustard and thyme. Reviews after eating concluded that it was “very nearly as good as Grandma’s”, so I guess I’ll take that as a success…

Ingredients (cuts into 8-10 slices) 2 slices stale white bread 1 onion 1 garlic clove 1 apple Small bunch of parsley 500g pork mince 1 tsp dried oregano 1 tsp dried thyme 1 tbsp Dijon mustard 4 tbsp grated parmesan 1 egg

8-10 slices of serrano ham or prosciutto

Method 1. Look out a 1.5 litre loaf tin and preheat the oven to 170C fan/190C/Gas Mark 5. 2. Cut the stale bread into small chunks and blitz in a blender or food processor until you have fine breadcrumbs.

3. Finely chop the onion, garlic, parsley and grate the apple. You can also do this with a food processor if you have one – use the chopping blade for the onion, garlic and parsley, and then the grater attachment for the apple.

4. Mix together the pork mince, chopped ingredients, bread crumbs, parmesan, mustard, dried herbs and egg.

5. Line the loaf tin with the ham, overlapping each slice a little so there are no gaps. Leave about a third of the slice to overhang the edges of the tin.

6. Spoon the meatloaf mixture into the tin and press down firmly.

7. Fold the excess ham over the top of the meatloaf so that it’s entirely encased.

8. Place the loaf tin in a roasting tray and fill with boiling water to about halfway. Cook in the oven for 1 hour until the loaf has shrunk from the sides. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 or 10 minutes, drain the excess liquid and lift the meatloaf out.

Serve either warm or cold. The first night we had it for Sunday dinner hot from the oven, with a homemade tomato sauce and steamed vegetables. After storing in the fridge we ate the remainder of the loaf cold, served with baked potatoes and a salad.


What are your favourite comfort foods for autumn nights? Are there any recipes you’d like to see next…?


It feels like there’s always a long gap between my latest blog posts, since I’ve only been posting one recipe a week for a while now. Life has been busy, especially what with a certain political event happening in my country next Thursday (oh, and I guess there’s that PhD thing to be getting on with too). As much as a healthy dose of democracy is wonderful (and necessary) in life, at times what you really need is a respite from excessive politics. And what is the greatest antidote to politics? No, not alcohol: that is fuel of politics (or at least, “politics” around the dinner table with friends and family). Chocolate. Chocolate is the answer.

This chocolate mousse recipe could not be simpler if it tried – in fact, it comes from a children’s cookery book that we absolutely loved as kids. Posh it up with berries and cream if you want to serve for a fancy dessert, but really this can be whipped up in an instant (barring the chilling time in the fridge) if life is getting just a bit much and you need a large dose of comfort.

Ingredients (serves 2) 60g good quality dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids) 2 eggs Sea salt Berries, or other fruit, to decorate

Crème fraiche for serving

Method 1. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a bain marie (a bowl placed over a pan of water, without the bowl actually touching the water) over a low heat. Heat slowly until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and set aside to allow the chocolate to cool.

2. Separate the eggs and beat the two yolks together well.

3. Pour the yolks into the cooled melted chocolate and mix well to form a thick, glossy mixture.

4. Add a large pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk until the whites are fluffy and make stiff peaks when you lift the whisk.

5. Now the whisked whites need to be combined with the chocolate mixture – this is the trickiest step as you want to retain as much of the air that you just whisked into the whites as possible, so that the mousse has a lovely light texture. A good technique is to add about a third of the whites to the chocolate and stir fairly briskly to combine well and loosen the chocolate mixture. Now add another third of the whites, but this time fold gently with a large metal spoon until just combined – this should be a lot easier since the first batch of egg white went in. Finally fold in the remaining egg white, again folding gently.

6. Spoon the mixture into two small dishes or glasses and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.

When you’re ready to serve, top the chocolate mousses with your chosen fruit and a small spoon of crème fraiche.


This is a rich pudding, with quite a bitter taste from the dark chocolate. You can use a lower coca content if you don’t like that bitter edge, but some gorgeously sweet berries will balance everything out otherwise. Comfort eat away!


This weekend was mostly about painting, even more trips to Ikea (do they ever end?), hammering things into walls and more painting. In between we did manage to fit in a meal at Kyloe Restaurant and Grill, to belatedly celebrate our birthdays and, of course, our new home. If you are a carnivore and looking for somewhere special in Edinburgh for a celebratory meal then I highly recommend trying out Kyloe: our waiter was lovely and talked us through all the different cuts of beef in detail; the bubbly and wine were delicious; and the food really was amazing, not just the steaks which of course were divine, but the starters, sides and puddings too.

Anyway, by the time Sunday evening came around we were in desperate need of sofa + dinner + Gogglebox (Leon is a hero, AMIRIGHT?). I wanted a pudding, but couldn’t find the energy for anything fancy, and there was a quarter of a loaf of bread going stale in the cupboard that just seemed like a waste to throw out. Bread and butter pudding it was.

For some reason, as a child I hated bread and butter pudding, but after having my grandparents’ version some years ago, with marmalade spread on the slices of bread and caramelised raisins scattered over the top, I was converted. It’s a rich, soft, sweet, tart, sticky hug in a bowl.

Ingredients (serves 2) A few tablespoons of very soft butter 3 slices of stale white bread (or any other “breaded item” e.g. baguette, croissants, etc) A few teaspoons of marmalade 40g raisins 1 egg 150ml milk 2 tbsp caster sugar

2 tsp muscavado or Demerara sugar

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 2 and butter an oven-proof dish.

2. Cut the crusts off the bread, spread with butter and cut in half to make triangles.

3. Spread each triangle with a little marmalade and layer into your dish, sprinkling a few raisins between each slice.

4. Beat the egg well, with the milk and caster sugar.

5. Top the bread with the remaining raisins and pour over the liquid. Leave to soak for 10-15 minutes.

6. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and bake for 30-40 minutes until the liquid is set and the top is golden brown.

Serve warm and for extra indulgence top with cream, ice-cream (Ross’ favourite) or crème fraiche (my favourite, as the sourness balances out the sweet pudding).

This is a really basic recipe that uses store cupboard ingredients, plus leftovers that would otherwise be thrown away, but the results feel like a real treat. Adapt the recipe to whatever bread, milk, dried fruit and sugar you have in the house, but trust me on the marmalade!

chocolate | The Proof of the Pudding


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.

Ok first, click here and press play. Now I have your attention let’s continue…

It’s either the saviour or the downfall of Masterchef contestants everywhere. If perfected then in the words of Gregg Wallace “Ah, mate, I tell you what, that’s the sort of thing I would dip my head in”. If it doesn’t work then there’s no bigger disappointment and a contestant’s dream will be fading fast. But! I’m here to tell you that it need not be the downfall of the home cook. Sure, it takes a bit of time, and you need to stick to the recipe instructions meticulously, but this is my go-to impressive pudding for a dinner party and it has worked every time. I really hope you give this recipe a go, and please let me know if you do – it’s such a satisfying dessert to make. Good luck!

Ingredients (serves 4) 25g butter, melted 4 tsp cocoa powder 100g dark chocolate 100g butter Large shot of chocolate liquor (or any liquor of your choice) 2 medium eggs, plus two extra yolks 100g caster sugar 100g plain flour

Double cream or ice-cream to serve

Method 1. Brush the inside of four small pudding tins or ramekins with the melted butter.

Use upward strokes with a pastry brush to line the sides – this helps the puddings to rise nicely.

Place in the freezer for 10 minutes, or in the fridge for 30 minutes, and brush on a second layer of butter when the first has hardened. Chill again.

2. Put a teaspoon of cocoa powder into each tin, shake and tip out in order to completely coat the inside – this stops the puddings from sticking to the tins and will guarantee your little cakes will tip out easily after cooking.

3. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie and set aside to cool to room temperature.

4. Add a shot of your chosen liquor to the chocolate mixture and stir well.


Chocolate liquor will result in a deeper, richer chocolate flavour, but coffee or mint liquor, Cointreau or brandy would all work as well.

5. Use an electric whisk to beat the eggs and sugar together.
You need to achieve a really thick, bubbly texture so keep whisking until the mixture turns considerably lighter in colour and the batter leaves a trail from the whisks.

You can of course use a hand whisk, but be warned, you will need guns of steel.

6. Sift the flour into the egg mixture and beat to combine.


7. Add the chocolate a bit at a time, beating well to ensure that it incorporates evenly into the batter.

8. Now you’re ready to fill the pudding tins or ramekins. I find that the easiest and most mess-free way to do this is to transfer the batter into a jug and then pour the mixture into the tins from there.

Fill the tins evenly and then chill in the fridge until ready to cook – wait at least 30 minutes, but you can leave them overnight if you’re preparing ahead.

9. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Place the puddings on a baking tray and bake for 12 minutes. I have always found that this timing works perfectly, so I trust it every time and don’t let myself be tempted to take them out sooner or leave them in longer.

The puddings should rise out the tins slightly and be well cooked round the outside, but soft in the centre.

10. Gently tip the fondants out onto small plates or bowls (this should be easy due to the double layer of butter and the cocoa powder in steps 1 and 2).
Serve with lashings of double cream or good quality vanilla ice-cream.


Sit back and revel in the ooh-s and aah-s that will ensue as your guests cut into the fondants and the chocolate centre oozes out. To. Die. For.


The credit for this cake goes 100% to Deb from the Smitten Kitchen blog. This is one of my favourite food blogs out there, and when I saw her picture of this cake on Instagram a few weeks ago I knew straight away that I had to make it. Happily, it coincided with my other half’s birthday and with his only request for his cake being “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate” this seemed like it was the only and ideal solution.
This cake was a complete success. Although it’s really all about the piles of sweet chocolatey buttercream on top, the sponge itself was delicious. It’s dense, almost like a brownie, but the overall effect is not too overwhelming as it’s a fairly thin sponge cut into small pieces. Instead of using buttermilk as in the original recipe, I went for Deb’s suggestion of substituting for red wine. On the day I baked it, we didn’t think the red wine flavour came through strongly, although it did add some much needed acidity to cut through the rich chocolate flavour, but on the second and third days after mellowing in the fridge you could definitely taste the red wine. If you’re baking this cake for little ones (it would be the perfect birthday cake for a kids party, and the quantities can easily be increased to make a larger cake) then just switch back to the buttermilk.

Ingredients (cuts into 12-16 small pieces) 85g softened butter 145g soft dark brown sugar 25g caster sugar 1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk 1 tsp vanilla extract 175ml red wine 40g cocoa powder 125g plain flour ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

55g dark chocolate 180g icing sugar 115g softened butter Pinch of salt 1-2 tbsp whole milk or cream ½ tsp vanilla extract

Topping of your choice – I used rainbow chocolate beans from Sainsburys

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 175C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 20x20cm cake tin and line it with a square of baking parchment.

2. Tip the soft butter and both dark and caster sugars into a large bowl.

Use a hand whisk to mix until the mixture is fluffy and turns lighter in colour.

3. Add the egg, yolk and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.

4. Pour in the red wine and mix again. At this point I had a minor panic as the mixture looked split. However, Deb says in her original recipe “don’t worry if the batter looks uneven”, so I decided to put my full trust in her and continue. Sift the dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt) into the bowl and give one final mix to combine.

And lo and behold I had a smooth, unctuous cake batter. Never doubt the Smitten Kitchen.

5. Pour the batter into your cake tin and smooth the top out with a palette knife or the back of a spoon.

6. Bake for 25 minutes until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then turn the sponge out to cool completely.

7. While the cake cools make the icing. Melt the dark chocolate in a bain-marie and then set aside to cool to room temperature. This is important, because if the chocolate is still hot when you add it to the buttercream then it will melt the butter and ruin your icing.

8. Whisk the butter and icing sugar together until very light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on the time you give to this step as this is what gives the frosting a gorgeous texture.

9. Add the melted chocolate, salt, milk or cream and vanilla extract and whip again for 5 minutes until well combined.

10. Carefully move the sponge onto your serving plate or board and pile the frosting in the middle of the cake.

Using a palette knife or the back of a butter knife spread the chocolate buttercream over the cake. Start in the middle and push the icing towards the edge of the cake, swirling as you go.

11. Finally, liberally sprinkle your cake with the topping of your choice. Don’t hold back: chocolate sprinkles, flakes, buttons, popping candy are all more than acceptable here.

The cake will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days, and longer in the fridge – after the first day the texture of the sponge became even fudgier. This recipe really is chocolate heaven.


It feels like there’s always a long gap between my latest blog posts, since I’ve only been posting one recipe a week for a while now. Life has been busy, especially what with a certain political event happening in my country next Thursday (oh, and I guess there’s that PhD thing to be getting on with too). As much as a healthy dose of democracy is wonderful (and necessary) in life, at times what you really need is a respite from excessive politics. And what is the greatest antidote to politics? No, not alcohol: that is fuel of politics (or at least, “politics” around the dinner table with friends and family). Chocolate. Chocolate is the answer.

This chocolate mousse recipe could not be simpler if it tried – in fact, it comes from a children’s cookery book that we absolutely loved as kids. Posh it up with berries and cream if you want to serve for a fancy dessert, but really this can be whipped up in an instant (barring the chilling time in the fridge) if life is getting just a bit much and you need a large dose of comfort.

Ingredients (serves 2) 60g good quality dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids) 2 eggs Sea salt Berries, or other fruit, to decorate

Crème fraiche for serving

Method 1. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a bain marie (a bowl placed over a pan of water, without the bowl actually touching the water) over a low heat. Heat slowly until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and set aside to allow the chocolate to cool.

2. Separate the eggs and beat the two yolks together well.

3. Pour the yolks into the cooled melted chocolate and mix well to form a thick, glossy mixture.

4. Add a large pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk until the whites are fluffy and make stiff peaks when you lift the whisk.

5. Now the whisked whites need to be combined with the chocolate mixture – this is the trickiest step as you want to retain as much of the air that you just whisked into the whites as possible, so that the mousse has a lovely light texture. A good technique is to add about a third of the whites to the chocolate and stir fairly briskly to combine well and loosen the chocolate mixture. Now add another third of the whites, but this time fold gently with a large metal spoon until just combined – this should be a lot easier since the first batch of egg white went in. Finally fold in the remaining egg white, again folding gently.

6. Spoon the mixture into two small dishes or glasses and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.

When you’re ready to serve, top the chocolate mousses with your chosen fruit and a small spoon of crème fraiche.


This is a rich pudding, with quite a bitter taste from the dark chocolate. You can use a lower coca content if you don’t like that bitter edge, but some gorgeously sweet berries will balance everything out otherwise. Comfort eat away!


There are some food combinations that just undeniably work: tomato and basil, salmon and dill, goats cheese and figs, lamb and mint, and so it goes on. In my books, chocolate and fruit are one of these matches made in heaven. I’ve been seeing punnets of really plump, dark raspberries in the shops lately and find them utterly irresistible. After a fruitful (seewhatIdidthere) trip to the greengrocers on Sunday morning, I spent Sunday afternoon whipping up some treats for an afternoon tea catch-up with some of my very favourite ladies. Of course there had to be chocolate included in the spread somewhere, and so the chocolate-raspberry loaf was born.

If raspberries aren’t really to your taste (although we may have to have a little falling out if this is the case) or if you can’t get your paws on any, then this recipe would definitely be easy to adapt. Try candied orange peel folded through the sponge mix and orange zest in the icing. Or dried cherries and a splash of Kirsch. Or freeze-dried strawberries in the sponge and strawberry puree whisked through the icing. If the idea of fruit anywhere near your chocolate is an insult, then just leave the offending ingredients out for an unadulterated chocolate hit. A table spoon or two of cocoa powder in the icing might be more up your street. Whatever you decide, the underlying recipe is ridiculously easy – we’re using the “all-in-one” method where all the ingredients are whisked together in one go. No creaming, no risk of egg-curdling, no sifting. Convinced? Ready, set, let’s go!

Ingredients 140g butter, softened 180g plain flour 20g cocoa powder 3 tsp baking powder 200g caster sugar 3 large eggs 6 tbsp milk

3 tbsp freeze-dried raspberries

125g butter, softened 250g icing sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp milk

100g fresh raspberries

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/gas Mark 4. Butter a loaf tin and line with baking parchment. Leaving some excess paper hanging over the long sides makes it easier to lift the cake out after baking.

2. Place the butter, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, caster sugar, eggs and milk in a large bowl. Using a hand whisk or wooden spoon mix the ingredients together for a few minutes until they are fully combined and the mixture has a light, aerated texture.

3. Gently fold the freeze-dried raspberries through the cake batter. Try not to over-mix as you will lose some of the air that you whisked in at the previous step.

4. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and smooth flat with the back of a spoon.

5. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the cake is dark brown and a knife or cake tester comes out the centre of the cake clean. Lift out of the loaf tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

6. Whisk the softened butter together with the icing sugar for 5 minutes. A good tip here is to cover the bowl with a large tea towel to stop every surface in your kitchen becoming dusted in powdered sugar.

7. Add the vanilla extract and milk, and continue whisking for a few more minutes. Finally add the fresh raspberries and whisk until evenly combined.



8. Ice the top of the cooled loaf with a generous layer of raspberry icing.

This cake is super light and fluffy in texture, and the icing is a perfect mix of butter-icing sweetness and sharp raspberry flavour. It is at its peak eaten on the day of baking, but will keep well for another couple of days in an airtight container. Serve with tea or a large glass of ice-cold milk. Lovely.


I’m back! March and April have been two of the craziest months I’ve ever had. It began with three birthdays in one week, immediately followed by Hen/Stag weekends. We moved into our first home and spent just two weeks moving, unpacking, drilling, painting and making multiple trips to Ikea, before we packed up again and sped up north for a fantastic Easter week in the highlands with family and friends. We left a day early to travel to Glasgow to see two of our loveliest friends tie the knot and enjoyed a glorious, fun, exciting and relaxed day celebrating with them in the Scottish sun. And then, this Easter Monday, BAM! No, not bus, but a nice double dose of spring illness. Blocked sinuses, runny noses, sneezing, sore throats: all of the fun. However, life is slowly returning to normal and I’m looking forward to May and June passing in a slightly more chilled fashion….wishful thinking?

Now I have a confession for you. A couple of weeks ago on Instagram I promised to put up the recipe for an Easter cake I was making. I fully intended to – an introduction was written, photos had been taken and the recipe was scrawled in my notebook. However, in the end I wasn’t satisfied with the result. The frosting (ohhhhh the cream cheese frosting), now that I could have eaten an entire bowl of. But the cake itself was just a little too dry. I don’t know if I over baked it or if the recipe needs tweaking but either way it needs another test run (or two). So I’ll save that recipe for another day, but if you’re still with me next Easter then I promise to perfect it by then and hopefully it will be worth the wait!

So today we’re moving on. And we’re moving on to something that I can guarantee you will work and be so ridiculously delicious that you’re actually tempted to go back for a second piece even though you know it will make you queasy. Last night we got to catch up with our old flatmate and dear friend for the first time in a year and half since he jetted off to work in Swaziland. Famed for inventing the greatest party game ever, Does It Float, and for his fish eye stew, he also has the sweetest tooth I know. Seriously, chocolate is not safe in your house if he is there. There was only one thing for it, so I present to you, Triple Chocolate Cheesecake…

Ingredients (serves 10-12, depending on how large you slice!) 250g milk chocolate digestive biscuits 100g butter 300ml double cream 600g cream cheese 300g white chocolate

Dark chocolate to decorate – I used dark chocolate chunks, but you could grate over dark chocolate, use a knife to make chocolate swirls from a large block or melt dark chocolate and drizzle it over the top

Method 1. Place your biscuits in a plastic freezer bag and tie the top. Select your weapon of choice (the trusty rolling pin is a classic, but without one I used the humble tin of beans) and bash the biscuits into small crumbs. Try not to take too much of life’s frustrations out on them or you risk the bag splitting. If you’re worried that you can’t hold back then wrap the bag in a dish cloth just in case. Tip the biscuit crumb into a bowl.

2. Melt the butter and pour over the biscuits. Mix well.


3. Firmly press the buttery biscuit base into a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and place in the fridge to cool – I left mine for a couple of hours but 30 minutes should do it.
4. Slowly melt the white chocolate in a bain marie, ensuring that the bowl with the chocolate in it does not touch the water in the pan underneath. White chocolate can become grainy if it’s heated too much, so be patient. Remember that chocolate has a very low melting point so you can even take it off the heat before all the chunks have melted and it will still fully melt. Set aside to cool slightly.

5. Whip the cream cheese and double cream until thick, but not over whipped. Over whipped cream is a sin.

6. Thoroughly mix in the white chocolate.

7. Spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the base and smooth with the back of a spoon. Chill for at least 2 hours, or longer if you have time.

8. Take the cheesecake out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving. Remove the cake tin and decorate with dark chocolate.

We had the cheesecake with raspberries which I had taken out the freezer a few hours before and sprinkled with a teaspoon of sugar. They went perfectly with the rich, decadent, creamy cheesecake.

Chocoholics, this one is for you!

These brownies were a gift, along with a ridiculously sized growler of porter, for a close friend who turns another year older and wiser today. Ok, maybe just older if the antics of Saturday night are considered. I would argue that the basic brownie recipe that these are based on (Nigella Lawson’s in “How To Be a Domestic Goddess”) is the best out there: a bold claim, I know. If you champion a rival recipe then I would love to hear it!

The original recipe adds chopped walnuts to the brownie mix, but I wanted to do something a bit different. A long list of potential edible extras came to mind: white chocolate chips, peanut butter, marshmallows, raspberries, orange zest, Oreos, and so on. Ross demanded “No Fruit”, but in the end he lost that battle. I think I struck a pretty fair compromise though, by balancing out fruit with booze. Rum and raisin is a classic combination – I love rum and raisin ice-cream – and, once that idea had popped into my head, I just couldn’t let it go without making it. Unfortunately, I had sultanas, not raisins, and the dregs of some apricot liquor, not rum. And so Not-Rum-and-Raisin Brownies were born.

Ingredients (Makes about 15 brownies)

Small handful of sultanas A few glugs of fruit liquor or rum 190g butter 190g good quality dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids is ideal – or higher if you love dark chocolate 3 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 250g caster sugar (Note: this seems like a ridiculous amount of sugar when you weigh it out. We’re making full fat brownies here. Deal with it.) 115g plain flour ½ tsp salt

80g of fudge, chopped into small pieces

Method

1. Soak the sultanas in the liquor and leave for a couple of hours, at least.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Butter an 18cm by 28cm tin (at least 3cm deep) and line with baking parchment. If you leave some excess parchment on either of the long sides then lifting the entire bake out of the tin is much easier.

3. Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat, stirring until glossy and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

5. Sift the flour into a separate bowl and add the salt.

6. When the chocolate mixture has cooled enough (unwanted scrambled egg action would be a disaster here), beat in the egg and sugar mixture.

7. Combine the chocolate mixture with the flour. Drain the excess liquid from the sultanas and add to the brownie mixture with the fudge. Beat to a smooth batter.

8. Pour the thick brownie mixture into the lined tin, using a spatula to scrape every last drop out. Give the tin a shoogle (technical term) so that the mixture spreads into the corners.

9. Bake for about 25 minutes, depending on how you like your brownies*.

10. Leave to cool on a baking rack and then cut into pieces. Dust liberally with icing sugar.

*The consistency of brownies is very much a personal preference. 25 minutes in the oven produced a wonderfully fudgy consistency, but if you prefer your brownies soft and gooey in the centre then 20 minutes should do it. Any less than that and you might be scooping out your brownies into a bowl. Do remember that the brownies will keep cooking once they are out the oven.

These went down extremely well, if I do say so myself. The hint of booze was just right and the fudge was slightly melted but still chewy. They are very, very rich so one piece is definitely satisfying enough…unless you are the birthday boy, in which case no one is counting!

Happy Birthday Colum!

orange | The Proof of the Pudding


Last Friday I gave you a sneak peak of what I was about to cook, and I’ve finally recovered from the weekend enough to write up the recipe for the main event of my birthday dinner: Puerco en Naranja (or Pork cooked in Orange Juice). This is a stunning recipe and perfect for a really special occasion. It takes a bit of time, but it is so worth it.

Mum ordered the pork from the butchers (it’s an unusual cut, so you will probably need to order from your local butcher, or at least visit the meat counter at the supermarket. However, if you fancy the flavour of this dish without the cost, you could try the same marinade with a cheap cut of pork like shoulder or even chops and just adjust the cooking times and technique). I gave the butcher the name for the order. He returned with the biggest cut of pork loin I’ve ever seen, chuckled and commented “Spears: never a small order”. Well he’s not wrong. But to be fair, every last morsel of meat was devoured.

Ingredients (serves 10 to 12) 9 lbs rib-end pork loin, with the bones chined and the skin scored (ask your butcher to do this for you) 10 cloves of garlic 2 tbsp salt 4 tsp oregano 24 peppercorns

6 oranges

Method 1. Pierce any exposed meat with a sharp knife and place skin side up in a large roasting tin.

Serve with wraps, rice and whichever extras you like – we went to town and had beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, jalapeños, cheese and lettuce. I’m not sure how many of these are authentically Mexican sides but darn they taste good!
This recipe is in Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. It was originally passed on to my parents more than 25 years ago by Professor David Weisblat, my dad’s boss while he was a postdoc in California. I’m told that David was a genius at cooking Mexican cuisine, and one night he scrawled this recipe on a scrap of paper for mum and dad. Now we have Diana’s recipe book, but I just love the jumble of words and instructions that David wrote so I thought I’d share it with you:

Recipes for some of the sides are to come later in the week….



There’s something about meringues that is pretty magical. Maybe it’s the way that a gloopy, anaemic liquid can be transformed into light, frothy clouds with just a whisk. Or maybe it’s the glossy, bright white mixture that appears once sugar has been added. It could be the texture after cooking, a perfect combination of crisp, soft and chewy. It’s definitely the wonder that only two basic ingredients, egg whites and sugar, can result in such a delicious treat.

Meringues can fit in equally well at afternoon tea or a fancy dinner party, and look impressive, but are easy enough that children love to make them. When we were small we had a wonderful step-by-step children’s recipe book which included a recipe for pavlova that we loved to make. Aged about 10 my little sister gave it a go all by herself. Unfortunately, she misread teaspoon as tablespoon and the end result was, shall we say, a little vinegary in flavour. A valiant attempt, but an advert for reading a recipe thoroughly if ever there was one.

I’d been contemplating making flavoured meringues a lot recently, and with four unused egg whites leftover from the custard I made last Sunday this seemed like the chance. I think the flavours I chose work perfectly together: the sharpness of the fruit, the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the intense sweetness of the meringue itself. If you want to try other flavours then go for it, but be careful when adding anything wet or runny as this can affect the texture of the meringue (for example, in this recipe don’t add any extra zest than stated because of the orange oil that will come with it). If you want plain meringues then just leave the added extras out, they will be just a scrumptious in their natural form.

Ingredients (makes about 14 meringues, depending on size) 4 egg whites 115g caster sugar

115g icing sugar

Zest of 1 small orange 2 tbsp freeze dried raspberries

Orange and pink gel food colourings (optional, but this gives a stunning finish)

150g dark chocolate

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Meringues require an extremely low oven temperature, which cooks them through without burning the outside and dries them out. 2. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. You are really going to want either an electric whisk or someone with tireless biceps to do this.

3. Add the caster sugar a spoon at a time, whisking constantly.

4. Add half the icing sugar, whisk, then add the other half and whisk. Pro tip: do not add the icing sugar while the blades are switched on. This results in unnecessary clouds of powdered sugar billowing around your kitchen and requires a lot of wiping down of surfaces, chairs and toasters.
5. You will now have a glossy, sticky mixture. Remove half of it into a different bowl and gently fold in the orange zest. Fold the freeze-dried raspberries through the remaining mixture.

6. Line 2 baking trays with parchment, not greaseproof, paper. Meringues will stick to greaseproof paper, but not baking parchment. I like to place a small blob of meringue mixture at each corner of the trays, so that the baking parchment has something to stick to and doesn’t slide around.

7. Use a large dessert spoon to create individual mounds of meringue mix on the trays. Dip the end of a skewer into the gel food colouring and swirl through the meringues to your hearts content.

8. Cook the meringues for approximately 1¼ hours, or until they are crisp on the outside. Turn the oven off, turn the meringues upside down and leave in the oven to cool. Pro tip: do not forget that you have meringues in the oven and switch it back on to cook something else. This will lead to burnt meringue (or pavlova, as it was in that case).

9. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water. Make sure that the bowl does not touch the water otherwise the chocolate will get too hot.
10. Dip the base of the meringues into chocolate, allowing a few seconds for excess chocolate to drip off. Leave to dry upside down, again on baking parchment.

We had these after a delicious Thai meal that my mum cooked on Saturday. She made her ridiculously simple, but exquisite tasting caramelised oranges. (**BONUS RECIPE** Allow 1 orange per person. Peel and slice. Slowly heat 170g sugar with 140ml water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the juice of ½ a lemon and pour over the sliced oranges. Chill.) As I banged on about before, oranges are at their primes right now, and they went so well with the meringues.

I think that the raspberry meringues would also be amazing served with fresh mixed berries and a generous dollop of cream during the summertime.

Speaking of which, is it summer yet? I have such a hankering for pesto and salad niçoise and fresh strawberries and Pimms.

No?

Sigh.


Crumble has to be one of the ultimate comfort-food puddings. It’s simple, sweet and stodgy, plus anything that can be served with custard is already winning. The choice of the crumble base can be whatever fruit you fancy – apple crumble is a classic, gooseberry is my personal favourite and in the autumn it’s amazing with a seasonal combination of apples, pears, plums and brambles. Rhubarb is in season, roughly, between late December and June. Forced rhubarb, which has been grown in the dark, has beautiful bright pink stalks and pale yellowish leaves and is available in the earlier months of the year. This was what I saw on the shelves on Sunday and it had to be mine. The smell of fresh rhubarb reminds me of being little and dipping raw stalks into mounds of sugar – sometimes the simple things in life are the best.

This was my first attempt at home made custard, and I have to say it was easy-peasy. This is not a boast – I guarantee you that, provided you can whisk and stir, you can make homemade custard too.

I think that one of the nice things about crumble is that you can tailor the topping to your own tastes and whatever you have in the cupboards. If you like a plain topping then just go by my mum’s basic recipe of 250g flour, to 125g butter and 60g sugar. Otherwise get creative – oats, ground almonds, flaked almonds, pine nuts, desiccated coconut, sesame seeds, even granola, are all delicious.

Ingredients (serves 6 to 8) 4 sticks of rhubarb, about 400g 40g golden caster sugar Zest of 1 orange 1 star anise

A few grinds of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

150g plain flour 50g ground almonds 125g chilled butter, cut into small cubes 40g oats 30g pine nuts

60g light brown muscovado sugar

500ml milk 4 egg yolks 70g caster sugar

1½ tbsp cornflour

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Chop the rhubarb into pieces approximately 2-3 inches long. Lay snuggly in a baking dish and sprinkle with the golden caster sugar, orange zest, star anise and vanilla.

Roast for 20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and the sugar has melted into a pink syrup.

2. Add the chopped butter to the flour and ground almonds. Use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour and almonds. The aim is to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients so that you are left with a “breadcrumb” texture.

3. Mix in the oats, pine nuts and brown sugar.

4. Whisk together the egg yolks, caster sugar and flour. Heat the milk in a saucepan until just at the boiling point, then remove from the heat.

5. Add the hot milk to the egg yolks a little at a time, whisking continuously – no scrambled eggs here please! Put the mixture back on a low heat for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you stir constantly and remove from the heat as soon as the mixture is thick, so as to avoid the horror of lumpy custard.

6. Spoon the crumble topping over the roasted rhubarb and bake for 30 minutes (still at 200C/180C fan/Gas 6) until the topping is golden brown and the rhubarb juice is starting to bubble up the sides.

If you want to make the custard ahead of time then a good tip is to transfer the custard to a jug or bowl and cover with cling film directly touching the custard. This stops the custard forming a skin on top. When you are ready to eat, put the custard back into a pan and reheat slowly. Or serve the custard cold – this might gross some people out, but personally I think cold custard is the food of gods.

We enjoyed this on Sunday night after dinner, sat in front of the last episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones (mum and dad are catching up). So excited for the new season to start!

 
Would you put crumble near the top of your comfort-food list? What are your favourite crumble flavours?

One of the joys of cooking is using fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season. It really does make a difference if your ingredients are at their prime: there is nothing better than the first home-grown artichoke of the year; or biting into a crisp Autumn apple; or the pungent smell of basil as it is crushed to a pulp for pesto in July; or cutting into a pomegranate at Christmas time and seeing the deep red juices run out. I had been planning to make a pomegranate cake for a while, but their best days are nearly over and right now oranges are some of the best fruit you can eat. We have a fabulous local green grocer who provides us with entire crates of oranges. As you can see, ain’t nobody getting scurvy in this household.

We use most of the oranges for juicing – freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best things you can have on your breakfast table – but it also seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a baking experiment. I gathered the ingredients I had to hand, plus a pile of oranges, and the results were delicious. The structure of this cake holds very well and the brown sugar gives it a rich, caramel-y flavour. The topping adds moisture and a burst of freshness. If you have oranges in the house then I encourage you to give it a go…if not, then go out and buy some! They are the fruit moment.

Ingredients 200g butter, softened 100g caster sugar 100g light brown muscavado sugar 3 large eggs Zest of 1 lemon Juice of ½ a lemon 250g plain four 2½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping: Juice ½ lemon Juice of 2 oranges (200ml) 50g sugar

3-4 oranges

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3. 2. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line with a circle of baking parchment at the bottom. 3. Beat the butter with the two sugars until fluffy and pale. An electric whisk will be your best friend here, but if you don’t have one then give it some welly with a balloon whisk. 4. Beat the eggs in one at a time.

5. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla extract.

6. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well until all the ingredients are combined to a thick batter.

7. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread flat. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 50 minutes. The cake is ready when it is golden brown in colour and a skewer comes out clean from the middle. 8. Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes. 9. While the cake is cooking, combine the lemon juice, orange juice and sugar and heat in a pan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid to a thick syrup.

10. Peel and slice the oranges. I learnt the following trick years ago and it was such a revelation when using peeled oranges in a recipe. It will be much, much easier if you use a serrated knife.

11. Make holes in the cake with a thin skewer and spread over the orange syrup, reserving a little of it for the very top.

12. Remove the cake from the tin and decorate with the orange slices. Finish by brushing the remaining syrup over the oranges as a glaze.

This cake is perfect served with crème fraîche or natural yogurt, and will keep in a tupperware box for a couple of days.

I’ll just leave you with the little nursery rhyme which inspired the name of this recipe…

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

brandy | The Proof of the Pudding

Truffles and Christmas go together like Batman and Robin. Or peanut butter and jam. Or gin, tonic and sunshine. They’re the perfect treat to have around the house over the Christmas holidays, but they also make a lovely present for someone special, and they’re surprisingly straightforward to make (once you master the rolling!). Even better, they can be customised so that they are totally unique to you. I think the flavourings in these ones work particularly well with dark chocolate, with a hit of festive brandy and the odd burst of sea salt, but orange zest and Cointreau would be gorgeous, as would coconut-rum truffles rolled in desiccated coconut, or even sea salt and peanut butter truffles.

Ingredients (makes about 20-25 truffles) 150g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) 150ml double cream 25g butter Pinch of sea salt flakes Brandy

Cocoa powder

Method 1. Finely chop the dark chocolate into as small pieces as you can – you could also pop it in a food processor if you have one.


I am really pleased with this new recipe. It’s going to be my festive go-to recipe for whipping up a last minute sweet treat from now on. Basically, it’s a mince pie in disguise, and one that is even easier to make and store (which is really saying something, since mince pies aren’t exactly the trickiest kitchen task and don’t take up an awfully lot of room in the freezer). This mincemeat-packed pastry is the most efficient use of freezer space and can be put together in a matter of minutes. I used shop-bought puff pastry for this recipe because it’s all about convenience, but if you have time on your hands you can always make yours from scratch.

If you’re organised and already have homemade mincemeat ready to use then it will be perfect in this recipe. If not, then you can buy lovely mincemeat in the supermarkets, and we’ll perk it up with some orange zest, fresh pear and obligatory Christmas spirit anyway.

Ingredients (makes 24 pastries) 300g mincemeat 1 orange Splash of brandy 2 ripe pears 1 lemon

500g all-butter puff pastry

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. Measure out the mincemeat into a bowl and add the zest of the orange and a splash of brandy. Mix together.

2. Peel, core and finely dice the pears. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pear to stop the pieces from browning.

3. Generously flour the work surface and roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle, with the long edge facing you. The pastry should be about 0.5cm thick.

4. Gently spread the mincemeat onto the pastry, right up to the edges of the sides, but leaving an inch gap at the front and back. Sprinkle the pear chunks on top.

5. Roll the pastry into one long sausage-shape. Start by folding over the long edge closest to you (as shown below) and then roll up gently, using both hands. It will get easier as the roll gets thicker.

6. Trim the edges from the pastry roll to neaten it up. Cut it in half to make two manageable rolls. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up the pastry and make it easier to slice. Alternatively you can wrap the rolls in cling film and leave in the freezer, ready to slice and bake whenever you like.

7. Remove the firmed pastry rolls and slice into 24 circles (or 12 if you’re just using one of the rolls). Space out on a large baking tray lined with baking parchment.

8. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Leave to cool on a wire rack (or eat them while they’re warm!).

Dust these flaky, spiced pastries with icing sugar for the perfect snowy effect if you like. Serve with steaming mugs of tea, coffee or (preferably) mulled wine.

Note: if cooking from the freezer, remove the roll about 30 minutes before you slice it. Cut off as many pieces as you need. Use a sturdy and very sharp knife, as the frozen pear makes the roll particularly hard. Bake as instructed above. Feel smug about how organised you are.


Traditional mincemeat is a great little recipe to make around this time of year. It’s incredibly simple, keeps well and your homemade jar can be whipped out the cupboard at a moment’s notice if you’re in need of emergency mince pies. If you’ve already made your Christmas pudding (like this one here…) then it’s highly likely that you have leftover dried fruits or chopped peel or even some suet lurking in the cupboards. This is a great way to use them up, and with 18 days left til Christmas (yes, that’s right, EIGHTEEN DAYS) now is the perfect time to do so. If you can resist, it’s best to leave this recipe to infuse for 2 weeks; and if you manage there will be a jar of perfect mincemeat sitting in your cupboard to use in the days leading up to Christmas – and of course, most importantly, on Christmas Day itself.

Before you begin making this recipe make sure you sterilise the jar, or jars, you are using to store the mincemeat in. You can do this in a few different ways. If you have a dishwasher then the easiest method is to put your already clean jars through a hot rinse. If not then you can wash them out with boiling water (or heat with water in them in a microwave until the water boils – I couldn’t do this since my jar has metal on it!) and leave to dry upside down either naturally or in a very low oven.

Ingredients (makes enough mincemeat to fill a 2 litre jar) 600g mixed dried fruit e.g. raisins, currants, sultanas, cranberries, cherries 300g suet 90g chopped peel 250g soft brown sugar ¼ tsp mixed spice ¼ tsp ginger ¼ tsp ground cinnamon ½ fresh nutmeg, grated 1 lemon 1 Bramley apple, peeled and grated 100ml brandy

2 bay leaves

Method 1. Put all the dry ingredients except the bay leaves (so the dried fruit, suet, chopped peel, sugar and spices) in a large bowl. Mix well.

2. Add both the zest and juice of the lemon, along with the apple and brandy, and give everything a really thorough mix.

3. Carefully spoon the mincemeat into your sterilised jar(s) and push one or two bay leaves into the top. Seal and store for a couple of weeks.

Mincemeat will store for a long time provided you have properly sterilised the jars – lots of recipes say up to 6 months, but I’m pretty sure I have used mincemeat from the year before and it tasted delicious.



I know, I know: IT’S NOT EVEN DECEMBER YET, SHUT UP ABOUT CHRISTMAS. I feel ya. I’m a great believer in no Christmas decorations, shopping or music before December. Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love Christmas and all the festivities that go with it. The moment December 1st arrives I will be all Micheal Bublé on repeat, festively scented candles and wreath-making. Let’s savor the festive period for a few weeks, packing in as many glasses of mulled wine and repeats of Elf as possible. But let’s not drag it out too long until the sight of another mince pie makes you feel a bit queasy and the sound of Mariah Carey singing All I Want For Christmas makes you want to smash your head off a wall. Nobody needs that.

However, there are quite a few Christmas recipes that need weeks, if not months, of storing and maturing before they are ready, so in this case we’ll make an exception and think about Christmas early. The best of these recipes is, of course, Christmas pudding. This is my Grandma’s recipe and I can safely say that it is the best and only Christmas pudding recipe you will ever want or need. It’s an all-in-one Christmas dessert, with sweet dried fruits, festive spices and warming alcohol.

For me, there is something happy and sentimental about Christmas puddings. I love the traditions that come with making it, that are either old (hiding a sliver coin inside, which brings wealth in the new year to the finder) or new (for example, Colum and I having to nearly set fire to a kitchen each year during the flaming, or spiking the pudding with brandy from a syringe as it matures); the stories of forgotten Christmas puddings discovered at the back of the cupboards after years, which are still edible and in fact the tastiest ones of all; and the fun of the pudding on Christmas Day when the lights are dimmed, the flaming pudding is ceremoniously presented and my little cousin manages to pack away 5 large portions.

Traditionally, Christmas pudding is made on “Stir-up Sunday”, which is the last Sunday before the season of Advent and this year it is Sunday 23rd November. That’s this Sunday people! Also traditionally, everyone in the household has to give the mixture a stir and I guess this is another reason why I love this recipe so much. Gather everyone together this Sunday, fill your house with an early treat of Christmas smells and then enjoy the satisfaction when you pull out your matured homemade Christmas pudding in four and a half weeks time!

Ingredients (makes one small pudding) 85g plain flour ½ tsp ground ginger ½ tsp ground cinnamon ½ tsp grated nutmeg ½ tsp salt 125g vegetarian suet – it doesn’t need to be vegetarian but I like to be prepared just in case 85g breadcrumbs 175g currants 175g raisins 125g sultanas 125g dark brown demerara sugar 85g chopped mixed peel 125g grated apples Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon 1 large egg ½ small wineglass of brandy A bottle or can of stout

A well-washed silver coin

Method 1. Sift the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl.

2. Add the suet, sugar, bread crumbs, dried fruit and peel, and mix very well.

3. Add the grated apple and lemon rind, and mix well again.

4. Beat the egg and add in, then add the lemon juice and brandy, and mix well one more time.

5. Add a little stout until the mixture is quite moist (but not too wet!). Usually a substantial amount of the bottle is leftover so one lucky helper will get to polish it off… Grease your bowl well. Put about half the mixture in and then pop in your clean silver coin (don’t forget to remind everyone that there is a coin hidden inside when it comes to serving…we don’t want any chipped teeth!).

Fill the bowl with the remaining mixture.

6. Cover the pudding with cloth, foil or baking paper (or a combination) and tie tightly with string to keep out the steam.

Place on top of a small plate, in a large pan and fill with a few inches of water. Cover with a lid and steam on a low heat for 8 hours – keep an eye on the water level to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.

7. When cool, wrap well in a few layers of new foil, baking paper or wax paper and tie tightly with string again. Store for at least 4 or 5 weeks, or any time longer!

8. On the day you are serving the pudding, re-steam in the same way for 3 hours. Top with a sprig of holly, flame with some lightly warmed brandy and serve with cream or, even better, homemade white sauce.

….and of course I can’t let this post go by without pointing out the adorable, and aptly lettered, bowl that I made this year’s pudding in, which was bought for me by my dad…


Last week was named Salad Week and we had different summer salads from sweetcorn salsa to refreshing watermelon to raw fennel. All delicious, healthy dishes, packed with strong flavours and perfect for summer eating. However, in the interest of balance this week will be all about booze and frying.

In our house, sangria means New Year (or Hogmanay as we call it here). A slightly odd combination, I’m not actually sure where it came from, but it’s now a firm family tradition. Sangria is one of my favourite alcoholic cocktails, and when I’m in Spain I can drink it by the bucket load with a bowl of olives and be happy with the world. It’s the perfect drink to make for a barbecue during the summer, or for any occasion that involves lots of people, as you can multiply up the quantities to serve as many as you like – just make sure you have a jug big enough!

This recipe is based on one from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook (our cooking bible, as I mentioned before), with a little extra booze and fruit thrown in for good measure. You can follow this exact recipe to start with, but adapt it to your own taste as you learn what works for you. I’ve had some sangrias in Spain that have enough liquor to get you under the table after just a couple of glasses (I remember one particular concoction at a beach bar which included nearly every spirit in the bar – actually very delicious, but totally deadly) so experiment with different spirits if that’s up your street. If you have a particularly sweet tooth then use lemonade instead of soda water, but personally I find this too much. As for the fruit, basically anything goes. We added peach in to this batch and it worked a treat, as would nectarine. Melon is a great addition to sangria, though some people don’t like the taste. I should probably tell you to get a half decent wine to use, and in fact a Rioja is a perfect option if you find a nice bottle, but really this is a great opportunity to use a cheaper wine. Once the fruit, spirits and soda have gone in, no one will be any wiser. Even more true after a couple of glasses have been quaffed.

Ingredients 1 orange 2 lemons Any other fruit you like e.g. apple, peach, melon 1 tbsp sugar 1 tbsp brandy 1 tbsp cointreau 70cl bottle of red wine, chilled

350ml soda water, chilled

Method 1. Chop the fruit into similarly sized pieces. Remove any pips from the lemons and orange, but leave the skin on.

2. Place the fruit into a large jug and pour over the sugar and spirits. Mix well and leave to marinade for at least an hour.

3. Add the chilled red wine to the jug and leave for at least another half hour.

4. When ready to serve top the sangria up with soda water. You can alter the quantities of soda water to your taste, depending on whether you like the sangria weaker or stronger.

5. Fill glasses with ice and pour over the sangria with some fruit pieces.

Serve as a punch at a party, with the main course of a Spanish meal or as an aperitif with olives, some sliced Manchego cheese and serrano ham or just some fresh crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Close your eyes as you sip and you could nearly be on the beaches of Spain.