Victoria plum and frangipane tart

Victoria plum and frangipane tart 2
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 for plum and frangipane tart
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.
Ready made shortcrust pastry
Rolling out shortcrust pastry
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.
Lining a tart case with shortcrust 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.
Trimming the pastry case and pricking with a fork
4. Halve and stone the plums.
Halving and stoning the Victoria plums
5. Place the soft butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy.
Softened butter and caster sugar
Beating the butter and sugar 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.
Adding the eggs, vanilla extract and flour to the butter and sugar
7. Fold the almonds through the mixture, ensuring they are evenly combined.
Ground almonds to be folded through the frangipane mixture
Frangipane mixture
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.
Filling the pastry case with frangipane
Spreading the frangipane evenly on the pastry base
9. Arrange the plums on the top of the tart, cut side down, and push gently into the frangipane.
Arranging the plums in the pastry case 2
Arranging the plums in the pastry case 1
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.
Cooling the baked tart 2
Cooling the baked tart 1
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!
Victoria plum and frangipane tart
Victoria plum and frangipane tart served with creme fraiche 1

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries and cream

Victoria sponge cake with strawberries and cream
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 for Victoria sponge cake with strawberries and cream
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.
Greased and lined 21cm cake tin
Or if, like me, you only have one cake tin this size then just bake the layers one at a time. Be ready to wash out the cake tin, and grease and line it quickly the second time, as you don’t want the wet cake batter to sit for too long – the raising agents begin to react as soon as they come in contact with the wet ingredients so should be baked as quickly as possible.

2. Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat well to a light, fluffy consistency.
Soft butter and caster sugar
Creamed butter and caster sugar
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.
Adding eggs to the butter and sugar
4. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the cake batter until well combined.
Sifting the flour and baking powder into the wet ingredients
Folding the dry ingredients into the wet mixture
Victoria sponge cake batter
5. Divide the mix evenly between the cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until they are golden brown. The sponge should spring back when gently pushed and a skewer pushed into the centre should come out clean.
Cake batter ready to be baked
6. Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the tin. Then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
Cooling the sponge in the tin
Cooling the sponges on a wire rack
7. Whip the cream to soft peaks and prepare the strawberries by removing the stalks and cutting into thick slices.
Preparing the strawberries and double cream
8. Place the bottom layer of the cake (I usually pick the flatter sponge for this) onto the plate you want to present your cake on and arrange the strawberry slices into a thick layer.
Arranging the strawberries on the sponge cake
9. Carefully spread a generous layer of double cream on top of the strawberries.
Spreading the whipped double cream on the strawberries
10. Sandwich the top layer of the cake on top of the cream, pressing down firmly.
Sandwiching the second sponge layer 1
Sandwiching the second sponge layer 2
Dust the cake with icing sugar just before serving.
Dusting the Victoria sponge cake with icing sugar
This cake doesn’t really need to be served with anything, other than perhaps even more strawberries piled on top. And of course a cup of tea, or a glass of Pimms if you’re really doing things right, to wash it down with.
Slice of Victoria sponge cake with strawberries and cream Continue reading

Strawberry and Vanilla Muffins

Homemade strawberry and vanilla muffins
It’s been a busy few weeks. Trips to the countryside, graduations, birthdays, painting, football, tennis, family celebrations, BBQs. Just like summer should be. Unfortunately it has meant that there has been very little time to photograph and write up new blog posts, although we have still been doing a lot of cooking (including an incredible beef brisket recipe which I can’t wait to share with you, if I could just manage to photograph it before it all gets gobbled up!).

But today I’m back with a simple, yet satisfying recipe: strawberry muffins. I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe for blueberry muffins, substituting the fruit and adding some vanilla extract for good measure. He recommends leaving the mixture to rest overnight, but after reading this article by Felicity Cloake (whose “How to make the perfect” series I absolutely love) I decided to skip this step in the name of speed and ease. I have to admit that blueberry muffins are still my all-time favourite flavour, but right now seems like the perfect time to go with a seasonal, summery fruit. If you have some slightly over-ripe strawberries then these light and fluffy muffins are the ideal way to use them up.
Ingredients for homemade strawberry and vanilla muffins
Ingredients (makes 9 muffins)
100g butter, softened
65g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
110g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
125g ripe strawberries

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 and line a muffin tray with 9 paper cases. If you don’t have paper cases then don’t worry – cut small squares of baking parchment and press them into the moulds, folding slightly in a few places. Pleasingly rustic.
Homemade muffin case
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Butter and sugar for creaming: strawberry muffins
Creamed butter and sugar: strawberry muffins
3. Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla, mixing for a few minutes. Fold through the flour and baking powder and stir well to combine.
Plain muffin mix ready for flavourings
4. Chop the strawberries into small pieces and fold through the muffin mixture.
Chopped ripe strawberries
Adding chopped strawberries to the vanilla muffin mix
Strawberry and vanilla muffin mixture
5. Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling to roughly half way. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.
Filling the muffin cases
Cooling the strawberry and vanilla muffins
Cool on a wire rack.
Close up of homemade vanilla and strawberry muffins
Strawberry and vanilla muffins
These are delicious eaten still warm from the oven, but will also keep well for a couple of days in an airtight container. If they survive hungry siblings and last that long…

Chocolate and Raspberry Loaf Cake

Raspberry and chocolate loaf cake
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 for chocolate and raspberry loaf cake
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.
Lining a loaf tin with baking parchment
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.
The all-in-one method for making a raspberry chocolate loaf
Chocolate loaf cake mix
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.
Folding in the freeze-dried raspberries to the chocolate cake mix
Chocolate and raspberry loaf cake mix
4. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and smooth flat with the back of a spoon.
Filling the loaf tin with chocolate and raspberry cake mix
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.
Cooling the chocolate and raspberry loaf cake on a wire rack
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.
Ingredients for raspberry buttercream icing
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.
Adding vanilla to the buttercream icing
Adding fresh raspberries to the butter cream icing
Raspberry buttercream icing
Raspberry buttercream icing
8. Ice the top of the cooled loaf with a generous layer of raspberry icing.
Iced raspberry and chocolate loaf cake
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.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie

Rhubarb and strawberry pie served with vanilla ice cream
There have been a lot of savoury recipes on the blog recently: pizza, lamb shanks, spring vegetables and fresh pesto. I make no apologies for this – this blog was never intended to be sweet-only; all food was created equal – but with “pudding” in the title it seems only fair to throw in a dessert after so many main meals. And what better to satisfy a sugary craving than a generous slice of pie. You might remember (if you have been reading the text in my posts and not just skipping through to the pictures…I know, I do it too) that a few weeks ago I was contemplating what to do with the next crop of rhubarb from my dad’s allotment. On Saturday he dashed round in his gardening gear, threw some stalks of rhubarb at me without even crossing the doorstep, muttered something about “we’re leaving for Oxford in 30 minutes and I still need to have a shower” and then ran back to the car. Needless to say, I was very grateful for the delivery and knew I had to do the fresh, ruby-red stalks justice. Rhubarb and strawberry is a classic combination, and paired with sweet and crumbly short crust pastry it couldn’t really go wrong.

Making your own short crust pastry from scratch can be a stressful experience. The “short” in the name refers to the shortening, or fat, that is added to the pastry and gives it a light, flaky texture. This means that the pastry can be hard to work with and often breaks when it is rolled out. However, that said, the blessing of short crust pastry is that it can easily be patched up no matter how delicate it is. Any holes can be covered up with another small piece of pastry and after cooking no one will notice. So if you’re being bold and making your own, don’t worry about the flimsiness of the dough – keep calm, carry on and it will turn out perfect in the end. If you’re short on time or just not in the mood for a battle with flour and butter, then the ready-made pastry that you can buy from the shops is a great substitute.
Ingredients for a homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie
Ingredients (serves 8-12 using a large pie dish approx. 28cm across the top)
About 10 stalks of rhubarb
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
450g plain flour
Pinch of salt
200g chilled butter, cut into small cubes
30g chilled white cooking fat, cut into small pieces
50g of caster sugar mixed with 10 tbsp cold milk and chilled
750g fresh strawberries, husks removed and halved if large
1 egg, beaten
White or Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. Chop the rhubarb into chunks and lay out in a roasting tray, sprinkled with the sugar and vanilla extract.
Rhubarb for roasting
2. Roast the rhubarb for 5-10 minutes until just tender.
Roasted rhubarb for a rhubarb and strawberry pie
3. Make the pastry following my previous recipe. The only difference here is that we have double quantities but the steps are exactly the same: rub the butter and fat into the flour and salt, add the sugar and milk to combine and knead the minimum amount of times needed to bring the dough together. Wrap the pastry in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. If you leave the pastry to chill for longer (there is no problem making it a day ahead) then give it 30-60 minutes out of the fridge otherwise it will be too hard to roll.
4. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 again. Cut the pastry in half and pop one piece back in the fridge while you roll out the base of the pie with a rolling pin (wine bottle). Use plenty of flour on the surface as you roll since the high butter content can make the pastry sticky. Roll into a rough circle 1cm thick and lift into your pie dish. Press into the edges, leaving the excess pastry to hand over the sides.
Lining the pie dish with sweet shortcrust pastry
Lining the pie dish with sweet shortcrust pastry
5. Fill the pie with the roasted rhubarb and fresh strawberries. If you have a sweet tooth then you can sprinkle with some extra sugar.
Filling the pie with rhubarb and strawberries
6. Roll the second half of the pastry out to top the pie. Press the crust down firmly to seal the pie and crimp the edges either with your fingers as shown below or with a fork. Brush the pie with egg and sprinkle with a little sugar. Cut two slits in the top to let the steam escape while the pie cooks.
Rhubarb and strawberry pie ie ready to egg wash and sprinkle with sugar
Crimping the pie crust
Rhubarb and strawberry pie ready to bake
7. Bake the pie for 40 minutes until golden brown. If the edges begin to brown too quickly then you can cover them with some tin foil, though I found this tricky because by then the pie was very hot!
Rhubarb and strawberry pie
Pie-fect (sorrynotsorry) served with lashings of cream or a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Slice of homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie with ice cream
Homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie
As you can see, this pie produces a lot of juice from the strawberries – don’t let this delicious syrup go to waste and drizzle it over your slice of pie or spoon of ice cream.

Chocolate and Peanut Cookies

Dark chocolate and salted peanut cookies with coffee
We’re not big biscuit eaters in this household. However, that’s not to mean that we won’t say “Yes please” when the right one comes along. It was a lazy Saturday and I had a few hours alone in the flat before we were off out for a game of pitch and putt and then back for a movie night with friends (The Wolf of Wall Street – so brilliant, I highly recommend it). Cookies seemed like the ideal film-watching snack, something sweet and satisfying to graze on with a glass of wine in hand.

Every recipe that I have made from the The Londoner’s blog has turned out beautifully, from meatballs to jerk chicken to banana and Nutella muffins. Her recipes are usually simple and straightforward, but with consistently tasty results. In the back of my mind I remembered seeing a chocolate and peanut cookie recipe, so to my laptop and google it was. I only made a few small tweaks to the original cookie dough recipe: I used dark chocolate and salted peanuts since these were what I had in the cupboards, and added peanut butter for an extra peanut hit. I also slightly reduced the amount of vanilla extract as it seemed like a lot for the amount of dough, and, at £5 a small bottle, vanilla extract is a luxury in my kitchen!
Ingredients for dark chocolate and salted peanut cookies
Ingredients (makes 24 large cookies)
170g butter
200g light brown muscavado sugar
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
250g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp peanut butter
80g dark chocolate – I used half dark chocolate chips and half dark chocolate broken into chunks
100g salted peanuts

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Melt the butter over a low heat and mix with the two sugars.
Melted butter for chocolate and peanut cookies
Melted butter and sugar for dark chocolate and salted peanut cookies
3. Lightly beat the egg and egg yolk with the vanilla and add to the sugar mixture.
Egg, plus one yolk, and vanilla extract for chocolate and peanut cookies
Beaten eggs and vanilla extract for chocolate and peanut cookies
Eggs, butter and sugar mixed together for chocolate and peanut cookies
4. Weigh out the dry ingredients (flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt) and sift. Or, if you’re too lazy to sift (read: I’m too lazy to sift) give the flour a light whisk: hey presto, lump-free aerated flour! Add the wet ingredients and the peanut butter and mix well.
Mixing the wet and dry ingredients for chocolate and peanut cookie dough
Mixing the wet and dry ingredients with peanut butter for chocolate and peanut cookies
Dark chocolate and peanut cookie dough
5. Add the chocolate and peanuts and mix thoroughly so the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Adding salted peanuts and dark chocolate chunks to the cookie dough
Dark chocolate and salted peanut cookie dough
6. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper. Wet your hands as this will make it easier to roll the cookie dough without getting it stuck to your hands. Roll the cookies into balls, roughly the size of a golf ball or a little larger, and place on the baking trays. Remember that the cookies will spread quite a lot as they cook so generously space them apart – this meant I had to do mine in two batches, so place the dough in the fridge while you wait for the first batch to cook if you need to do the same.
Rolling out the dark chocolate and salted peanut cookies
7. Use a fork to gently press the cookies down. Note: if you don’t do this last step then the cookies will take a little longer to cook, so be aware of this.
Dark chocolate and salted peanut cookies ready to be baked
8. Bake for 12 minutes and remove onto a wire rack to cool. The cookies will seem incredibly soft when first out the oven but will firm up slightly as they cool, so don’t worry.
Dark chococlate and salted peanut cookies out the oven
These cookies were deeeelicious. The texture is crisp on the edges, but satisfyingly chewy in the middle just as a good cookie should be. The dark chocolate chunks melt slightly and stay gooey after cooling, while the peanuts add a lovely saltiness to the cookies. Salty and sweet is just the best combination right?
Dark chococlate and salted peanut cookies
Dark chocolate and salted peanut cookies 3
I think it’s safe to say that the cookies were a hit: David took a doggy bag of cookies away with him after movie night, Ross has been taking them to work every day since I baked them and I took a couple for some kids I look after: one inhaled the whole cookie in about 30 seconds and the other savoured every mouthful (ate half before swimming, wrapped the rest up, ate half of the half after swimming, wrapped the rest up, ate the final quarter when we got home – unbelievable restraint for a 6 year old, how do I achieve that?!). Both declared “These cookies are even better than the ones from the Commie Pool Café”. If that’s not high praise indeed I don’t know what is.