Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Lime and pistachio cake

This was a cake I made for a leaving do at work last Autumn, but I've been asked for the recipe so it's a very belated write-up.

Sorry about the picture, I blame taking it at work...

I was asked for a vegetable cake and carrot was just to obvious. Once my thoughts turned to courgette, I then got thinking about how to decorate. And green was the only way to go, hence the lime and pistachio. I wanted to try and make the cakes actually green but pistachio paste is very hard to get hold of in SE London! Nonetheless, it went down a treat. A lovely moist cake, with a rich cream cheese icing cut with lime and the occasional crunch from a sweet pistachio.

Lime and pistachio cake

250g butter
200g caster sugar
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Juice and zest of 2 limes
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
300g courgette (skin on), grated and left to drain in a sieve
75g pistachio + 25g chopped pistachio to decorate
Lime curd filling:
3oz caster sugar
1 eggs, well beaten
Grated zest and juice of 2 limes
2oz butter
Lime cream cheese icing:
50g butter
200g cream cheese
85g icing sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lime

1. Grease and line two 8" cake tins. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar.
3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until combined. Add some of the flour after each egg to prevent the mixture splitting.
4. Beat in the vanilla extract, lime zest and juice.
5. Sift in the remaining flour, baking powder and salt and fold until combined.
6. Fold in the grated courgette and pistachios.
7. Divide the cake mixture between two 8" greased and lined cake tins.
8. Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes until the sponge is cooked (the top will spring back and the sides will have come away from the sides of the tin).
9. Whilst the cakes are baking and cooling make the lime curd. Place the ingredients in a heat proof bowl and suspend over a saucepan containing hot water. Cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 20 minutes.
10. To make the icing beat the butter until soft.
11. Gradually beat in the cream cheese until completely combined.
12. Beat in the lime juice and zest and sugar. (Add sugar to taste).
13. To construct the cake, spread lime curd over the top of one of the cakes.
14. Invert the top cake and spread half the cream cheese icing over the bottom of the cake. Turn this cake the right way up and sandwich the two cakes together.
15. Spread the remaining icing over the top of the cake.
16. Decorate with chopped pistachios and lime zest.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Pastel de nata

Pastel de nata (or just simply "nata" when you're in a bakery) is the Portuguese name for their legendary custard tarts. Having just come back from Lisbon, I can confirm that they are absolutely delicious (and absurdly good value at less than two euros for a pair of delicious mouthfuls). Best eaten fresh as possible from the oven when the pastry is as crisp as can be and the custard gently warmed. 

Clearly I had to indulge my obsession to the max: a mere two a day (and the rest) was not enough, I had to search out the best!

I went to the two oldest bakeries in Lisbon the Pasteis de Belem and the Confeitaria Nacional both founded in the early 19th century but with the Belem establishment claiming to be the originator of the nata. I had fresh tarts at both as well as taking a half dozen away with me. Let's be clear about this though: these things are not for keeping. They are best eaten as fresh as possible while the pastry is crisp and the inside gooey. Although if you are going to take some home with you, buy them on your last day and warm them in the oven before eating at home.

Now these custard tarts are not an what is known as an English custard tart. You know the dessert with the short crisp pastry and the just set custard served in slices dusted with nutmeg. No, these are made with puff pastry and offer a short, sumptuous, sweet hit, at any time of day.

Natas from Lisbon: On the left from the Confeitaria and on the right from Belem.

The thing is these things are bloomin' lovely. It's a hardly an arduous task to be deciding which of two lovely things is the loveliest. For my money though the Belem edges it. Fresh out of the oven the pastry is impossibly crisp and if you manage not to get any flakes on you, then you're a better person than I. The custard is so rich and only just set. It seems to have a more complex flavour with overtones of caramel. It's entirely satisfying as well as delicious.

Let's face it, if you haven't been to Lisbon them you should. You'll be entirely happy with whichever of these you go to. The Confeitaria is right in the centre of Lisbon if you can't be bothered to get the short train or tram to Belem. Just get yourself to Lisbon and fill your face with as many of these beautiful little delicacies as you can.

One last thing. Don't pretend there's any point in "being good" (or some such similar nonsense) and ordering just a single nata at a time. Quite simply as soon as you've finished the first you will berate yourself for not having ordered another...

Monday, 6 June 2016

Malteser cake: The revenge!

A while ago I tried out a Malteser cake. It was a mixed success:
  • Decoration - epically good
  • Taste - not quite the malty party in your pants I was after, more like a mingle in your mouth
I can't quite remember how a Malteser cake came up in conversation at work, but it did. Never one to shirk an opportunity to right a cakey-wrong, it meant this weekend the time was ripe to give it another go. 


It's fair to say it's not quite such a looker as the previous attempt (do you realise white Maltesers are about as rare as hens teeth?), but in terms of taste I think this is one of those occasions where there's a meme for that:

The flavour profile was everything I had hoped for: deeply malty with a really long finish. The perfect accompaniment to chocolate. I put it down to using malt extract (available from Holland & Barrett) rather than Ovaltine and in particular substituting some of the sugar to reduce the sweetness. This did mean the cakes were more delicate and needed a slightly longer bake, but that shouldn't be any cause for concern. Anyway you'll soon see what I mean >when you try this recipe yourself.

Malteser cake 
For the sponge:
8oz butter
5oz Muscavado sugar
2oz caster sugar
4tbsp malt extract
4 eggs
7oz plain flour, sifted
1oz cocoa, sifted
2tsp baking powder
For the filling:
60g white chocolate50ml double cream
15g butter aka a small nob 
For the frosting (this will make plenty to cover the top and side):
8oz butter
150g icing sugar (approximately)
1.5tbsp malt extract
1tsp vanilla extract
Decorate with as many Maltesers as you dare (I used 6 packs)

1. Make the sponge in the usual way by creaming the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs and the malt extract. Fold in the sifted flour, baking powder and cocoa.
2. Divide the batter between two 8" pans and bake for about 20-25mins at 180°C (or until the top springs back to the touch, the sides are coming away from the tin and a skewer comes out clean from the middle).
3. While the cakes are baking and cooling make the ganache and frosting.
4. For the ganache, melt the white chocolate and cream together in a bain marie. Once melted, take off the heat, add the butter and stir to mix together. Allow to cool..
5. To make the frosting, beat the butter and sugar together until soft. Add the vanilla extract and malt extract and beat together. Add more sugar, if required, to suit your tastes.
6. Once the cakes have cooled, sandwich togther using the white chocolate gnache.
7. Cover the cake in a thin layer of icing (the crumb layer) and refrigerate to set.
8. Once set, use the remaining frosting to ice the cake liberally.
9. Decorate with as many Maltesers as you want.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

War on Waste

Hopefully you saw "Hugh's War On Waste" on the BBC recently.

It ended with a call to arms to get supermarkets to address food waste.

The supermarkets will only change if their customers, us, tell them we want them to. To make that happen you can sign the pledge at

Nearly 250k people already have, please add your name too.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Vegetables cakes

Today at work Millertime came to an end. What better way to mark the occasion than with an assortment of cakes?

Given that she proclaimed significant adulation at the recent carrot and courgette layer cake (and as a nod to her commitment of never having eaten meat) an array of vegetable-based cakes was the order of the day.

The first conundrum was just what vegetables to use (for once seasonality would have to be by-passed as this would have just been too restrictive)? Carrots were ruled out straight away due to the ubiquity of carrot cakes. After some research I was left with beetroot, parsnip and courgettes as my vegetables. The remaining question was just how to "cakify" them? I ended up going with: 
  • Beetroot brownies;
  • Parsnip cupcakes with maple syrup butter cream; and
  • Courgette muffins with lime cream cheese frosting

These all went down remarkably well. (Mind you I was reasonably confident as the naked muffins and cupcakes had gone down very well in a little taste-test-preview with the Aussie yesterday)

The muffins were stupidly moist even two days after baking. They had a loose crumb structure making them very light. The lime flavour was very strong to begin with but faded to a subtle sweetness. Fortunately they weren't too sweet and the icing gave a good contrast (although arguably slightly dominant). It was a shame that the pistachio wasn't more prominent. This might have been down to chopping them too finely, bigger pieces may have worked better.

The parsnip cakes were like nothing else I have ever baked. The texture was fantastic: quite crumbly, so moist as to be almost on the verge of falling apart, but with a pleasingly slightly crisp top. The flavour was dominated by coconut. The maple syrup added a nice hit of sweetness. Overall it was a very pleasing little cake but with a surprising lack a unique taste given the remarkable blend of ingredients.

The brownies were excellent and possibly the best of the three. They were gooey but at the same time light (possibly due to my new found trick of whipping the eggs and sugar to ribbons stage). The flavour was fully developed and was deep, rich and long (I think due to the use of both cocoa and chocolate) with an ever so slight earthy undertone from the beetroot. All in all a crackin’ brownie.

On to the recipes.

Parsnip cupcakes with maple syrup icing (adapted from this Henry Dimbleby recipe from The Guardian)

Makes ~20

250g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
150g rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g desiccated coconut
200g cashew nuts, finely chopped
250g parsnips, finely grated
About 4 tbsp milk
For the maple syrup icing:
4oz butter, softened
6oz icing sugar
4tbsp maple syrup
To decorate:
50g dessicated coconut

1. Cream together the butter and caster sugar in a mixing bowl, then add the eggs to the mixture one by one, beating well after each addition.
2. In a second bowl, sift the rice flour with the baking powder and mix well. Add the coconut, cashews and grated parsnip.
3. Combine the two bowls of ingredients, adding the milk slowly, until the cake mixture reaches “dropping” consistency.
4. Line a tart or muffin tray with 12 muffin cases.
5. Divide the mixture between the 12 cases (roughly fill each to approximately 3/4 full) and bake at 150°C for 35 minutes (check after 30mins), or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
6. To make the icing, beat the butter until smooth and gradually sift and beat in the icing sugar.
7. Beat in the maple syrup (add more to your taste) and add water as required to get a smooth consistency. Ice each cake with ~1dsp of icing
8. To decorate, dry fry the dessicated coconut until golden and sprinkle on top.

Beetroot brownie (adapted from this Small Steps recipe)

Makes ~18

250g dark chocolate chopped
200g unsalted butter, cut in cubes
250g beetroot, cooked
3 eggs
1/2tsp vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
50g flour
1tsp baking powder

1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bain marie.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until they reach the ribbon stage: light and fluffy and a trail of mix can be seen if the whisk is wafted over the top.
3. Whizz the cooked beetroot in a food processor, adding the egg and sugar mix and the vanilla. Mix until smooth.
4. In a separate bowl, sift the cocoa powder, flour and baking soda together.
5. Stir the beetroot mixture into the melted chocolate and fold in the dry ingredients.
6. Use parchment paper to line a rectangular tin, pour in mixture and bake at 180°C for 30-35mins, until firm to touch.
7. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into portions.

Courgette muffins (adapted from this GoodtoKnow recipe)

Makes ~12.

250g courgettes (about 2-3 medium-sized)
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
150g golden caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
50g pistachio, chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lime
For the lime cream cheese icing:
200g cream cheese
50g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lime

1. Grate the courgettes and leave them to drain in a sieve hung over a bowl.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add the eggs, vegetable oil and sugar and beat until well mixed and slightly fluffy
3. Sieve in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and beat together.
4. Finally, add the drained courgette, pistachios and the lime juice and zest and divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases.
5. Bake at 180°C for 20-25 mins or until the muffins are nicely brown and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely before icing.
6. To make the icing, beat the butter with the icing sugar until smooth. Beat in the cream cheese and the lime juice and spread generously over the top of each muffin.
7. Decorate each muffin with a sprinkle of lime zest.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Peanut butter and salted caramel cake

Cakes for work have turned into requests recently. It was N's birthday on Wednesday and a cake was required to mark the occasion. Given that she is 

obsessed with salted caramel and love peanut butter also

what could I do but try and incorporate those into a cake? 

I went for layers of peanut butter cake and chocolate cake, sandwiched by a salted caramel and finished with a peanut butter butter-icing.

I'm always worried when I've made a cake to "order" as I just hope it lives up to expectations. Thankfully I think this one did. Remarkably when the e-mail went out to the team a queue formed!

The peanut butter cake was quite subtle which, it turns out, was a good think. The peanut butter hit came from the wondrously rich icing which was offset by the bitter chocolate layer (the chiffon cake that I had previously used for my banana, chocolate and peanut butter cake) and the salty caramel. (I was a bit worried about the salted caramel as it seemed to split slightly as it cooled. It was also terribly difficult to spread.) All the elements worked harmoniously together to give a rather satisfying cake.

Peanut butter and salted caramel layer cake

For the peanut butter cake (adapted from The Woks Of Life Classic Peanut Butter cake):
145g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4tsp salt
4tbsp oil
65g smooth peanut butter
84g caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2tsp vanilla extract
118ml buttermilk
For the chocolate cake:
4 eggs
4oz caster sugar
3oz plain flour
1oz cocoa
3tbsp boiling water
2tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
For the salted caramel (adapted from Felicity Cloake's perfect recipe):
200g white sugar
125ml water
100g butter, cubed
75ml double cream
1tsp sea salt
For the peanut butter icing:
6oz smooth peanut butter
3oz butter
9oz icing sugar
To decorate:
Reese's peanut butter cups, halved

1. For the peanut butter cake whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and set aside.
2. In a separate bowl beat together the oil, peanut butter, and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. 
3. Add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Fold it all together gently until smooth.
4. Put the batter into a lined and greased 8" cake tin. Bake for at 180°C for 25-30 minutes at 180°Cor until the cake is done (a skewer comes out clean and the sides are starting to pull away from the tin). Allow to cool.
5. For the chocolate cake, separate the egg yolks and whites. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, oil, water and vanilla into a smooth batter.
6. Sieve in the flour, cocoa and baking powder and beat until combined.
7. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold into the chocolate mixture.
8. Put the batter into a lined and greased 8" cake tin. Bake at 180°C for 40mins or until the cake is done (a skewer comes out clean and the sides are starting to pull away from the tin). Allow to cool.
9. For the salted caramel, put the sugar in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and pour over the water. Set over a medium heat and keep an eye on it as the sugar melts and begins to brown.
10. Once it turns a deep, but not dark, amber colour, take it off the heat and whisk in the butter until it is completely melted, then stir in the cream and ½ tsp salt.
11. Once you have a smooth sauce, scoop a little up on a teaspoon, allow to cool, and taste for seasoning; add more salt if you like. (Add a little milk if it is too thick).
12. For the peanut butter icing, beat together the peanut butter, butter and icing sugar. Use a milk to get a good consistency.
13. To construct the cake, first halve the two cakes. then sandwich together using a third of the salted caramel (this may be best spread slightly warm). Alternate between chocolate and peanut butter cake layers.
14. Use a small amount of the peanut butter icing as a crumb layer and cover the whole cake. Chill.
15. Generously ice the cake with the remaining peanut butter icing.
16. Decorate with the halved Reese's peanut butter cups.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Alternative Christmas dinner: Camembert en croute, Christmas pizza and cranberry clafoutis

I love being with my family at Christmas and we all enjoy Christmas dinner. It's the same meal every year, but we look forward to it because it's the ultimate roast with bells on and it never gets boring.

The only down-side for me is that I don't get to do any of the cooking. To combat this if ever I have people round for dinner during the festive period I like to do an alternative Christmas dinner. All the required tastes and components just in a non-traditional manner. This was exactly the motivation for this evening's meal:

Camembert en croute
Christmas pizza
Cranberry clafoutis

Camembert en croute

Fresh out of the oven this really looked quite unassuming.

However, a pair of swift incisions revealed its glory.

This was delicious and worked out far better than I had anticipated. The Camembert had been reduced to a molten flow, the tart but sweet cranberry sauce was a beautiful contrast and provided a real depth. The pastry was crisp giving a real texture contrast. I had planned to use puff pastry but filo was definitely a superior choice. I think it was far lighter than puff and even more crisp.

It was a parcel of delight that kept on giving. Quite frankly, adding a green salad to this would have satisfied me for dinner.

It's not an elegant thing to eat though...

Christmas pizza

I couldn't have been more pleased with this. Out of the oven the aroma was more then reminiscent of Christmas dinner and every bite offered something slightly different. The toppings were roast turkey, smoked bacon lardons, onion stuffing, sausage meat, cranberries and chestnuts. It was everything you could want from a pizza and Christmas dinner!

The genius stroke was using a cauliflower cheese sauce instead of a tomato sauce. This was so good because not only did it allow cauliflower cheese to be included on the pizza but it also meant that the toppings weren't battling a tomato sauce (clearly there's no tomatoes involved in Christmas dinner). The scant few cranberries provided an unusual but welcome occasional sour burst.

Cranberry clafoutis

The remaining cranberry sauce was supplemented with a dash of raspberry gin and provided the base for the dessert. The raspberry goes remarkably well with cranberry adding a light berry freshness. The tart fruit encased in a just sweet-enough smooth set custard with a hint of almond to finish. This was rich and yet light. A great way to finish things off.

All in all, I was quite happy with this meal. Festive flavours delivered in a more than satisfying manner.

On to the recipes.

Cranberry sauce

150g cranberries
75g caster sugar
Zest of half one satsuma/tangerine/clementine
Juice of one satsuma/tangerine/clementine
2tsbp port

1.Put everything in a pan and heat gently until thick and "jammy". This should take about 5-10mins.
2. Decant into a bowl and leave to cool

Camembert en croute

Whole Camembert
7 sheets of filo pastry
2oz butter, melted
Cranberry sauce (see above)

1. Layer four sheets of filo each slathered copiously with butter.
2. Place the Camembert in the middle of the pastry and top with cranberry sauce.
3. Bring the corners of the pastry up and over the cheese to wrap it snugly.
4. Layer up another three sheets of filo and place the cheese in the middle with the join bottom-most. Wrap the cheese, as before.
5. Turn the parcel over (this should put the cheese with the cranberry sauce back on top). and place on a baking sheet.
6. Bake at 180°C for 10-20mins until the pastry is golden.

Christmas pizza

For the base:
225g strong white flour
1 sachet of easy-use yeast
1/2tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil
~125ml water

For the cauliflower cheese sauce:
Half a cauliflower, broken in to small florets
250ml white sauce
100g mature cheddar, grated
1dsp Dijon mustard
For the toppings use whatever represents your Christmas dinner and in whatever quantities you see fit. I used:
~150g roast turkey
80g onion stuffing, moulded into thin discs
2 sausages, skinned and broken into chunks
20g smoked bacon lardons
50g cranberries
5-8 chestnuts, broken into pieces

1. Make the base first. Stir the yeast in to the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
2. Add the olive oil to the flour and gradually add the water to make a soft dough. Use less or more water, as required.
3. Knead for 10mins and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.
4. To make the cauliflower cheese sauce, steam the cauliflower until just soft ~10-20min.
5. Warm the white sauce and add the cheese and cauliflower. Blitz with a hand-blender and season to taste.
6. Once the dough has risen, knock it back and then stretch out on a baking sheet to make the pizza base.
7. Liberally cover the base with the cauliflower cheese sauce and adorn with your chosen toppings.
8. Drizzle over a little olive oil and bake at 220°C for 20mins

Cranberry clafoutis

100g cranberries
10g caster sugar
~150g cranberry sauce
20ml raspberry-based spirit, if liked
95g plain flour
30g ground almonds
50g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
300ml milk

1. Mix the sugar and cranberries and leave to macerate (~30min).
2. Mix the raspberry liqueur and the cranberry sauce, if using
3. Mix the flour and almonds in a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk together with the milk and eggs to make a smooth batter
4. Butter a 8" pie dish and spread the cranberry sauce over the base and scatter with the cranberries. Pour over the batter.
5. Bake at 180°C for 30mins until just set.
6. Allow to cool slightly and dust with icing sugar before serving.
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