vanilla | 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 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

Method 1. Peel and chop the mangos into chunks.

2. Blend the mango to achieve a smooth puree.

3. In a large bowl add the cream to the sugar and vanilla extract.


4. Whisk the cream and sugar together until loosely whipped – be very careful not to over whip here.

5. Add the mango puree to the whipped cream and mix well until completely combined.

6. Pour the ice-cream mixture into a loaf tin or tupperware tub and freeze for about 3 hours, or until just frozen.

7. While the ice-cream is in the freezer, make the raspberry ripple by simply pressing the defrosted raspberries through a sieve to remove the seeds.

8. After a few hours in the freezer, scoop or cut the ice-cream out into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth again.
9. Pour the mixture back into the tin or tub.

10. Drizzle over the raspberry puree and use a skewer to ripple it through the soft ice-cream. Freeze again for a few hours, or until ready to eat.

Take the ice-cream out the freezer about 10 minutes before serving to soften up and make scooping a little easier. Serve with fresh mango or raspberries, or just eat as is. With a spoon. Out the tub. What January diet?


I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again (and many times more): Scottish strawberries are the best strawberries. Despite the amount of moaning we do about our weather here, we are actually lucky enough to live in a country which happens to have the perfect strawberry-growing climate: long daylight hours during the summer, consistent temperatures that aren’t too scorching (see, it’s good for something!) and water, water everywhere. Right now we can get a kilo of Scottish strawberries for £3 in our local supermarket, which is the perfect excuse for over-indulging in the small, sweet treats until your finger tips are stained pink and your tummy is just a liiittle bit sore.

And this weekend is the perfect time to fit some strawberry-themed baking into your schedule, since it’s the Wimbledon finals. This cake is just a regular Victoria sponge, but it’s a handy little recipe to have under your belt, or up your sleeve, or in whatever metaphorical clothing garment you desire. It’s the simple rule of 200:200:200:4, which means 200g of butter to 200g of sugar to 200g of flour and 4 eggs, and it works perfectly every time. A Victoria sponge is often sandwiched together with jam and butter cream icing, which is lovely too, but I think fresh strawberries and double cream are called for during the summer. And without horribly jinxing the outcome of tonight’s semi-final, maybe your Scottish strawberry cake will have a particularly patriotic connotation come Sunday afternoon…

One year ago:
– Strawberry and vanilla muffins

Ingredients 200g soft butter, plus a little extra for greasing 200g caster sugar 4 medium eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 200g self-raising flour 1 tsp baking powder 300ml double cream 400g strawberries

Icing sugar for decoration

Method 1. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas Mark 5. Grease and flour 2 x 21cm cake tins.

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

2. Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat well to a light, fluffy consistency.

3. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one, and add the vanilla extract. A tip to avoid a split batter (where the mixture looks a little curdled) is to add a dessert spoon of the flour after both the first and third eggs.

4. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the cake batter until well combined.


5. Divide the mix evenly between the cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until they are golden brown. The sponge should spring back when gently pushed and a skewer pushed into the centre should come out clean.

6. Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the tin. Then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

7. Whip the cream to soft peaks and prepare the strawberries by removing the stalks and cutting into thick slices.

8. Place the bottom layer of the cake (I usually pick the flatter sponge for this) onto the plate you want to present your cake on and arrange the strawberry slices into a thick layer.

9. Carefully spread a generous layer of double cream on top of the strawberries.

10. Sandwich the top layer of the cake on top of the cream, pressing down firmly.

Dust the cake with icing sugar just before serving.

This cake doesn’t really need to be served with anything, other than perhaps even more strawberries piled on top. And of course a cup of tea, or a glass of Pimms if you’re really doing things right, to wash it down with.

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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

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.

3. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Cut at the table so everything can admire the beautiful pattern and colour of the plums on top.

As this is a very sweet and spiced cake, I would recommend serving it with a dollop of crème fraîche or natural yogurt. Enjoy!


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 (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.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

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.

4. Chop the strawberries into small pieces and fold through the muffin mixture.


5. Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling to roughly half way. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack.


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…


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?


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?