Upside-down plum cake

Upside down plum cake served with creme fraiche
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 for upside down plum cake
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
4 eggs

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.
Butter and sugar for creaming
Creamed butter and sugar
3. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones.
Halved plums
4. Spread the creamed butter and sugar onto the bottom of the cake tin and push the plums into the mixture, cut side down. Pack the plums tightly together – you may need to cut the final one into more than halves in order to fill all the gaps.
Top layer of the upside down plum cake
Plums pushed into the creamed butter and sugar
5. Place the ingredients for the sponge (butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla and eggs) into a large bowl. Using an electric whisk beat together the ingredients until everything is incorporated and you have an incredibly light, fluffy mix.
Ingredients for the all-in-one method
All in one method sponge mix
6. Spoon the sponge mixture on top of the plums and spread evenly. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean and the sponge springs back to the touch. Leave the cake to cool slightly before turning out.
Pouring the sponge mix into the cake tin
Upside down plum cake ready to be baked
When you are ready to serve, gently release the cake from the tin. Place your serving plate on top of the sponge and flip the cake in one brave move.
Upside down spiced plum cake with vanilla sponge
Cut at the table so everything can admire the beautiful pattern and colour of the plums on top.
Upside down spiced plum cake with vanilla sponge
As this is a very sweet and spiced cake, I would recommend serving it with a dollop of crème fraîche or natural yogurt. Enjoy!
Slice of upside down plum cake with creme fraiche

Peter Rabbit’s Party Cake

Carrot cake for afternoon teaThis 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 for homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
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.
Melted butter mixed with olive oil for carrot cake
3. Mix the fats with the sugar, eggs, and grated carrots and apples.
Mixed wet ingredients
4. Sieve the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) and fold into the wet mix.
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting 1
Adding the dry ingredients to the wet mixture for carrot cake
Carrot cake batter after mixing wet and dry ingredients
5. Add the milk and raisins to the cake mixture and stir well.
Adding milk and raisins to the carrot cake batter
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.
Pouring the carrot cake batter into the cake tin
Carrot cake ready for baking
7. Turn the cake out and leave to cool while you make the icing.
Baked carrot cake
Cooled carrot cake ready for 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.
Mixing the cream cheese icing
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.
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
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.
Homemade carrot cake
Thanks for the fabulous recipe Auntie Rosie! x

Mini puff pastry apple pies

Mini puff pastry apple pies with homemade pastry
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 for mini puff pastry apple pies
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.
Chilled and cubed butter and flour
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.
Adding iced water to the puff pastry mix
4. Flour a surface and tip the pastry out, forming into a rough rectangle with your hands.
Making puff pastry - gathering the ingredients together
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.
Making puff pastry - the first roll
6. Fold the top third down on itself, and the bottom third up over this.
Making puff pastry - folding down the top third
Making puff pastry - folding up the bottom third
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.)
Making puff pastry - the pastry after 4 or 5 roll-and-fold processes
8. Peel, core and chop the apples into very chunks. Mix together with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
Apple pie filling flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla
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.
Filling the mini apple pies with the cinnamon and vanilla apple mixture
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.
Mini puff pastry apple pies ready to be baked
11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Cooling the mini puff pastry apple pies
Cooling the mini puff pastry apple pies 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.
Mini puff pastry apple pies with homemade pastry
Mini puff pastry apple pie
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.

Ginger-Spiced Stewed Rhubarb

Cooled stewed rhubarb with vanilla, ginger and cinnamon
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.
Fresh rhubarb for stewing with sugar, fresh ginger, vanilla and cinnamon
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.
Chopped fresh rhubarb for stewing
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.
Rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, fresh ginger and cinnamon for stewing
3. Eat hot or leave to cool in the pan, then transfer to a bowl or container and refrigerate.
Stewed rhubarb with ginger, vanilla and cinnamon

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:
Mini pavlovas with fragrant stewed rhubarb
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:
Yogurt with fragrant stewed rhubarb
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?

No-Knead Cardamom and Cinnamon Cake Buns

Cinnamon and cardamom buns displayed on a wooden board

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 for cinnamon and cardamom buns

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.

Cinnamon and cardamom buns in the cake tin cooling on a wire rack

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.

Breakfast table with cinnamon and cardamom buns, coffee, orange juice and daffodils

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.