seasonal | The Proof of the Pudding


I love an event or special occasion. Whether it is birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas or Halloween or Burns Night or even an election, I’ll take advantage of pretty much any excuse to do the two things I enjoy the most: planning and partying. I’m not even 100% sure which aspect I enjoy more given my obsession for lists and timetables and A PLAN, but there is nothing better than new decorations, nice drinks, great food, even better company and perhaps even a few days off. Even Valentine’s Day, which I will scorn for being an utterly commercialised “holiday”, gives us a (sometimes much-needed) excuse to make time for our other halves, even if it’s just the simple effort of lighting some candles and having a tasty dinner at home together. Anyway, the latest excuse for some planning and indulgence is Easter weekend.

I think Easter weekend is particularly appealing to me because it marks the change of the seasons from dark, cold winter to cheerful spring. The clocks are going forward, the days are getting longer, the daffodils and crocuses have opened up in all their beauty and the spring break is tantalisingly near. So, hot cross buns and a lamb leg have been bought, the flat is full of spring blooms, Easter eggs are hidden away until Sunday and a long walk has been planned to make the most of the bank holiday Monday. All we need now is for 5pm to arrive and the weekend to begin.

I actually made this particular pavlova for my mum’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, but I think it would be the perfect pudding for a big Easter Sunday roast dinner. This is a relatively straightforward recipe to make for a large crowd, the component parts can be made ahead and assembled at the last minute and most importantly it is totally delicious. The outside of the meringue should be completely dried out and crisp but the inside should be soft, almost cloud-like, in texture. The cool topping balances the sweet meringue, especially with the addition of yogurt to balance the richness of double cream which I think can be too much on its own sometimes, and the passionfruit and lemon add the final sharp bite to the dish. Finally, if you’re looking for something to do with your leftover egg yolks, treat yourself to some homemade garlic mayonnaise, perhaps as an accompaniment for a bank holiday brunch or dinner.

One year ago:
– The Easiest-Ever Loaf: Crusty no-knead white bread
– Vanilla espresso martini

Two years ago:
– Guacamole and zingy bean dip
– Mini lemon curd tarts

Ingredients (makes one large pavlova to serve 6-8 people) 4 medium egg whites 250g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tsp corn flour 1 tsp white wine vinegar 250ml double cream 200g Greek yogurt

3 tbsp lemon curd (homemade is particularly good – find a recipe here)

3 passion fruit

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 10C/130C fan/Gas Mark 2. Separate out the egg whites and whisk until they form stiff peaks.


Happy Birthday to me! Well, not me really, but my wee blog is turning two. How time flies. While I celebrate with a large wedge of cake (more on that in a second), let me extend a heart-felt thank you to everybody who visits my little piece of the internet. Thank you to my friends and family who still show enthusiasm for new posts, to old friends who have messaged to tell me how much they enjoyed a particular recipe, to strangers on the other side of the world who share their thoughts, and to my other half who puts up with me insisting on taking 20 pictures of our plates before he can start his dinner (although, he does get to eat all these recipes, so it’s not exactly a terrible deal…).

This week’s recipe was inspired by two different people. The first was a lovely friend who came for dinner last Wednesday and who can’t eat gluten (like, seriously, not just one of these “oh eating a loaf of bread makes me bloated”…tell me something I don’t know); so I needed a completely gluten-free pudding. To me this shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a pudding that isn’t sweet and squidgy and indulgent. Or, more importantly, it shouldn’t mean no cake.

In my quest to find a great gluten-free cake recipe I came across an old folder with an assortment of allergy-friendly baking recipes. Years ago, just after I left high school, I worked with a guy, Paul, who had severe allergies not only to gluten, but also eggs, nuts and legumes. Yup. I’m pretty sure he lived off potatoes, meat and cheese. Although, on second thoughts, that doesn’t sound too bad… Anyway, an allergy to gluten, eggs and nuts makes for an incredibly tricky baking challenge. This folder I found was a collection of various recipes, which (if memory serves correctly) I amalgamated into a few Paul-friendly bakes so that he could get in on the afternoon treats that everyone else in the office got to indulge in. Of course, poor Paul couldn’t have actually eaten this particular recipe because of the eggs and nuts, but in that folder I found a gluten-free lemon cake recipe (I have no idea where I copied it down from I’m afraid!) which used polenta and ground almonds instead of flour. I’ve changed up the lemons for oranges, since it is the season for juicy, sweet oranges and I seem to be developing a theme of orange-flavoured recipes on birthday blogs. I tweaked a few other parts of the recipe and added an orange drizzle topping. This cake is gorgeous: it’s super moist, strong with orange and has a satisfying sugary crunch on top. In fact, there is no reason to save this recipe just for coeliacs, so don’t be put off by the gluten-free billing: everyone deserves a slice of this action!

One year ago:
– Orange and milk-chocolate celebration cakes

Two years ago:
– No-knead cardamom and cinnamon buns

Ingredients 250g butter, softened plus a little extra to grease the cake tin 250g vanilla sugar* or caster sugar 3 large eggs 100g polenta 250g ground almonds 1 tsp baking powder 2 oranges

60g icing sugar

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm cake tin with a little butter and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. 2. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition.

4. Add the polenta, ground almonds and baking powder and mix to combine.

5. Zest both the oranges and juice one. Add the zest and juice to the cake mixture and stir again to evenly distribute.

6. Spoon the mixture into your cake tin and flatten the top as well as you can using the back of a spoon.

7. Bake for 1 hour until the cake has risen, the top is a dark golden colour and a skewer comes out clean from the centre. If you’re concerned about the cake browning too much then cover the top loosely with foil about half way through baking.

8. Put the cake, still in its tin, on a wire rack. Make the drizzle topping by simply mixing the icing sugar with the juice from the second orange (you might not need all the juice, depending on how thick you’d like the topping to be).

9. While the cake is still warm, prick lots of holes in it using a cake skewer. Pour over the drizzle topping and leave to cool fully in the tin.

This cake is best served the day you baked it, but it will keep for a couple more days in a tupperware tub. Serve with a little crème fraiche if you like.


* A quick word about vanilla sugar: I’m sure you can buy this in a large supermarket or fancy deli, but to make your own simply fill a tub or jar with sugar and add a split vanilla pod (I used one that I had removed the seeds from for another recipe). Seal, and use as and when you need!


GUYS GUYS GUYS. IT’S ONE WEEK TIL CHRISTMAS. One week until we can stuff our faces with turkey and bacon and mince pies (though it would be totally legitimate to have started this already…), rip open beautifully wrapped presents, throw back ill-advised quantities of champagne and sherry and then cry at the last ever episode of Downton. *Sob* (WARNING: to those who know me personally, I won’t be watching this until Boxing Day so approach me with spoilers on pain of horrific death). Below, in the “One year ago” section, are some appropriately festive recipes, but for now let’s celebrate a wonderful product of the season: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are for life, not just Halloween, so make the most of their time in the shops and do some alternative Christmas baking. I’ve posted a few pumpkin recipes in the past (spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie with maple cream), so there are plenty to chose from if you really get into the pumpkin-y swing of things. The recipe for these delicately spiced and deliciously moist muffins is based onthis recipe from BBC Good Food, with just a few tweaks to quantities, spices and method. It’s very similar to a carrot cake batter, and in fact if you’re really averse to the pumpkin idea then you could do a substitution, though I encourage you to give this recipe a try as is.

While we’re on the subject, let’s clear something up: yes, “Halloween pumpkins” sold in the supermarkets are edible! Although grown specifically for carving, resulting in quite tough skin and possibly a more watery flesh and milder flavour, they are perfectly suitable for human consumption. I’ve used “Halloween pumpkins” in this recipe before and it worked like a dream, but you can get lots of different varieties of smaller pumpkins so if you see them in your local shop then give one a go (I used an Onion squash, also known as a Red Kuri squash, for this batch). You could also use butternut squash if pumpkins aren’t available.

One year ago:
– Mincemeat puff pastry swirls
– Sea salt and brandy truffles

Ingredients (makes 12 muffins) 250g coarsely grated pumpkin flesh (approx. 1 small pumpkin) 3 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 175ml sunflower oil 175g soft light brown sugar 80g sultanas Zest of 1 orange 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp mixed spice ½ tsp ground ginger 200g self-raising flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

180g full fat cream cheese 85g unsalted butter 100g icing sugar

Zest of 1 orange

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ Gas Mark 4. Halve your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.

Peel and chop the pumpkin into large chunks – use a sharp knife for this and watch your fingers!

2. Coarsely grate the pumpkin until you have about 250g.

3. Beat together the 3 eggs, vanilla extract and oil and vigorously stir the sugar into the mix.


4. Add the pumpkin, sultanas and the zest of the first orange and stir well.

5. Sift in the spices, flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold through the cake mixture until well combined.

6. Line a muffin tray with 12 cases and spoon the mixture in leaving a few centimetres at the top.

7. Bake for 25 minutes and then check that the muffins are ready by inserting a skewer into the middle which should come out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack – the muffins need to be completely cool before icing. 8. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the icing sugar and whisk until light and well combined. You can either add the zest of the other orange at this point or wait till the end to sprinkle it on top. Pop the icing in the fridge to firm up a little.

9. Once the muffins are cooled, ice them with the cream cheese frosting and sprinkle over the orange zest if you kept some aside in the previous step.

The muffins will keep well in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, though they are most delicious eaten the day of baking.


Stroganoff is a traditional Russian stew consisting of chunks of beef cooked in a stock and sour cream sauce flavoured with mustard or tomato paste or both. Nowadays it’s usually flavoured with a generous sprinkling of sweet and smoky paprika – though I’m not sure how traditional this is, it certainly adds a beautiful depth of flavour to the sauce. The warm, creamy sauce makes this a lovely dinner for a chilly autumn evening, piled on a hefty serving of carbs (rice, pasta, mashed potato, thickly cut sourdough toast….wait, where was I?).

Autumn is also the time of year that many varieties of wild mushrooms are in season. I absolutely love mushrooms, and I don’t believe that you’re missing out on anything by substituting the usual strips of beef with mushrooms in this recipe, especially if you can find a mix of different types that are both meaty and packed with flavour. I used a combination of Portobello, chestnut and chanterelle mushrooms, the latter of which were a very exciting find in the local organic grocers. Chanterelles can be found in the UK from late summer all throughout autumn, and I think they are just as exciting (and expensive…) as a piece of good quality steak. You can use whatever variety of mushrooms you prefer or which are available in the shops. Of course if you dislike mushrooms then you can switch back to the traditional beef – use a cut suitable for quick cooking such as rump or sirloin.

One year ago:
– Steak pie with puff pastry
– Toad in the hole with onion gravy
– Easy apple tarts

Ingredients (serves 2) 400g mixed mushrooms 1 tbsp olive oil 25g butter 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped 1 tsp paprika ¼ tsp hot chilli powder ½ tsp Dijon mustard ½ tbsp tomato puree Splash of white wine 100ml vegetable stock 3 tbsp sour cream Salt and pepper Fresh parsley to garnish

Rice to serve

Method 1. Prepare the mushrooms. Lightly rinse them if you feel like they’re very grubby, but a wipe with a damp cloth and a quick dust of the gills with a pastry brush should do the job. Slice or halve any large mushrooms so that they are all in similar bite-sized pieces.

2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan until the butter begins to bubble.

3. Tip in the onion and garlic and mix well in the olive and butter. Cook over a medium heat for about five minutes until the onion has softened.

4. Turn up the heat and add the mushrooms, mixing well again. Fry quickly until the mushrooms begin to brown, adding a little extra butter if necessary.

5. Stir through the paprika, chilli powder, mustard and tomato puree, then add the white wine and allow to bubble for a few minutes.

6. Add the vegetable stock and sour cream and stir well. Reduce the heat and cook for another few minutes until the sauce is well combined and the mushrooms are cooked through. Season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve the stroganoff with rice, or pasta such as tagliatelle if you prefer, and top with fresh parsley.


One of my first ever recipes on this blog was for a rhubarb crumble, spiced with star anise and vanilla and served with homemade custard. While rhubarb crumble is a celebration of spring, this recipe is the ultimate, turbo-charged celebration of autumn. I mentioned the combination in that first post about crumble: a mixture of apples, pears, plums and brambles. These fruits are the absolute joys of autumn produce and come in a wide variety throughout the season, so you can make this recipe slightly differently each time. Use blackberries instead of wild brambles (though picking wild brambles is another joy of autumn in itself), use eating apples instead of cooking apples, use whatever types of ripe plums you can find at the shops.

One ingredient I highly recommend making the effort to get hold of is a bag of damsons, which are tiny darkest-blue plums that have an incredible jammy texture when cooked. They’re also quite sour after cooking, which balances out all the sweetness in the rest of the crumble. They are difficult to find in supermarkets, but you should have better luck getting them at a greengrocer.

I wished I’d had ground almonds in the cupboard when I made the crumble topping, as I think almonds go so well with fruits like pears and plums. Add a few tablespoons to the mixture with the oats if you have some. This makes a very generous quantity of crumble topping, which freezes very well, so if you don’t end up using it all just pop the remainder in a labelled plastic bag and store in the freezer for another time.

One year ago:
– Meatloaf
– Stewed apples and plums

Ingredients (makes one very large crumble to feed a crowd) 150g cold unsalted butter 250g plain flour 75g soft light brown sugar 50g oats 1.5kg autumn fruit (approximately – I used 3 cooking apples, 3 pears, 8 greengages and 3-4 handfuls each of damsons and brambles)

2 tbsp granulated sugar

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Cut the butter into small cubes.

2. Add the butter to the plain flour and rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Add the sugar and mix well.

4. Add the oats, and ground almonds if using, and mix again. Set the crumble topping aside.

5. Prepare the fruit by peeling, coring and chopping the apples and pears into chunks and removing the stones from the plums and halving. Arrange the fruit in a large, deep ovenproof dish.

6. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the fruit.

7. Pile the crumble topping over the fruit, pressing down gently with the back of a spoon.

8. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and the juice from the fruit is bubbling up to the surface.

Serve with lashings of warm vanilla custard, with the curtains drawn, the heating on and surrounded by flickering candles. Comfort food done right.


I absolutely love sharp flavours. I love the sour tang of a fizzy sweet or a slice of lemon tart, my salad dressings are always strong with lemon juice or vinegar or both, and don’t even try giving me a fish supper without a pickled onion on the side. Pickles are the ideal antidote to a craving for something sharp and sour, and they come in any variety you could want: onions, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, walnuts, beetroots, the mysterious pickled egg (which I am yet to try…it seems a pickle too far to me but do correct me if I’m wrong). Pickling is also a fantastic way to preserve fresh vegetables either if you have a huge glut or if you’re a small household, like us.

I got a bag of home-grown fresh beetroot from my dad a couple of weeks ago, but with only two of us in the house, one of us feeling very under the weather and the weeks menu already planned and bought I wasn’t sure where to incorporate these beautiful little vegetables into our meals. Pickling it was. A jar of pickled vegetables will keep extremely well in the fridge for several months, if not longer. Just make sure that you sterilise the jar before filling – wash the jar in hot soapy water, fill to the brim with boiling water and then drain and leave upside down in a warm oven or on the counter top to air dry completely.

One year ago:
– Pasta carbonara

Ingredients (makes one large jar) 500g beetroot 300ml white wine vinegar 200ml water 200g light brown sugar 2 bay leaves 3 whole cloves 1 tsp peppercorns 1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp course sea salt

Method 1. Give the beetroots a scrub under cold water if they still have earth on them, and trim the leaves and roots. Place in a large pan of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the beetroots, until a sharp knife can be easily inserted.

2. Drain the beetroots and leave to cool.

3. Peel the beetroots (this should be quite easy – I used kitchen roll to gently rub away the skin which meant my hands didn’t end up dyed completely red!) and cut into thick slices. Pack the beetroot slices into a large sterilised jar.

4. Place the vinegar, water, sugar and spices into a small pan. Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

5. Put a teaspoon of sea salt on top of the sliced beetroot.

6. Carefully pour the hot pickling liquor over the beetroot to fill the jar. You might not need all the liquid, but make sure to pack all the spices in. Leave to cool then seal with the lid and store in the fridge.

The beetroot doesn’t need a long maturing time, you can eat it a couple of days after pickling. It will keep well in the fridge for several months – label the jar so you remember when they were made.

Serve the pickles with a spread of cheese and crackers, or use in sandwiches or a goat cheese salad…or just creep to the fridge and eat a slice straight out the jar if your cravings demand it.


As the Starks are so keen to tell us, Winter Is Coming. And they’re not wrong, but first we have my favourite season of the year to enjoy: Autumn. For the next few months plums in the UK are at their prime and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and flavours and colours. There are tiny, intensely sweet greengages or plump, juicy Black Amber and Denniston’s Superb varieties or dark indigo-blue damsons with their sharp, distinctive flavour. One of the most commonly available plums in our shops and supermarkets is the Victoria plum. Oval in shape and red or yellow in colour, Victoria plums are sweet and have a firm texture so are perfect both eaten straight out the fruit bowl or used for baking.

Almonds are a perfect pairing with the sweet and sharp flavour of plum, so a frangipane tart seemed like an ideal way to incorporate this seasonal fruit into some baking. Frangipane is a sweet filling used in cakes and pastries, which combines ground almonds with butter, sugar and eggs, and sometimes a little flour or flavourings like vanilla or alcoholic liquors. When cooked in a tart frangipane puffs up in a most satisfying way to create a light, moist filling.

I first made this tart a couple of weeks ago, and by happy coincidence the following weeks Great British Bake Off episode (only the best television show ever amirite?) was pastry themed, and what did they have to make in the first challenge but frangipane tarts. This inspired me to add a layer of jam between the pastry and frangipane filling when I made the tart again last weekend. The addition got a resounding thumbs up from the lucky taste-testers. Finally, since frangipane requires a fairly long bake, there’s no need to blind bake the pastry first. Of course, we don’t want any soggy bottoms here, but we also don’t want burnt pastry. Paul Hollywood would not be happy, and that thought is scary enough, let alone imagining Mary Berry’s disapproving face.

One year ago:
– Dark chocolate mousse

Ingredients (makes a 28cm tart) 500g shortcrust pastry 12 small Victoria plums (about 400-450g) 100g unsalted butter, softened 100g caster sugar 2 eggs, beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp plain flour 100g ground almonds Optional: 2-3 tbsp plum jam

Crème fraiche to serve

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Roll the pastry on a floured surface until it is just bigger than the tart case and about half a centimeter thick.


The first time I made this recipe (shown in the picture) I went very thin with the pastry, so it was almost see-through, but I think it’s better to keep it a little thicker so the tart has a good, solid base and you can appreciate the short, crumbly texture of the pastry.

2. Carefully place the sheet of pastry into the tart case – drape it over your rolling pin and use this to lift it up and over. Gently, but firmly press the pastry into the case. I tear a little pastry from a corner, roll it into a ball and use this to press the pastry into all the edges, so that my nails don’t puncture the delicate pastry.
3. Trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife, prick the base with a fork and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

4. Halve and stone the plums.

5. Place the soft butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

6. Pour in the eggs a bit at a time, beating well in between each addition until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and flour and mix well again.

7. Fold the almonds through the mixture, ensuring they are evenly combined.

8. If using the jam, then spread a thin layer on top of the chilled pastry. Next carefully spread out the frangipane mixture into an even layer.

9. Arrange the plums on the top of the tart, cut side down, and push gently into the frangipane.

10. Place the tart on a large baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes until the frangipane filling has risen, the surface is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when pushed into the frangipane. Leave the tart to cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or cool with some thick, creamy crème fraiche. The tart will keep for a few days in an airtight container, though it is best eaten on the day it’s made so tuck in!