Shhh! The lovely Karen Burns Booth from Lavender and Lovage is off galavanting around Canada at the moment, so I’ve snuck a recipe on her blog. Take a look here! Continue reading “Blondies with pistachio and cardamom”
Look away now if you’re on a diet. While this mousse might contain a generous helping of roast beetroot, I can make no claims for it being at all healthy. It’s rich, indulgent and highly calorific. Which is why it tastes so darn good.
Isn’t it the most amazing colour? You can imagine the look on my girls’ faces when they first saw it. Continue reading “White chocolate, beetroot and cardamom mousse”
This post originally featured in the Wells Journal on Thursday 12 December 2013.
This can be a very expensive time of year. Like most people I am looking for ways to stretch my budget that little bit further. But I have been thinking a lot about why we put so much pressure on ourselves each year to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas. Why does perfect need to equate to expensive?
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has been vocal on this subject recently. Whether or not you’re religious, there is a lot of sense in his comments and we should heed his reminder that being generous at Christmas should be in a way that demonstrates our love and affection, rather than by trying to buy that love and affection.
So this year, please don’t break the bank simply to let people know what they mean to you. In my eyes, a homemade gift, particularly if it is something you can eat, is so much more special and meaningful than a hastily bought piece of tat.
These simple cookies are a perfect Christmas present. They are easy to make and beautifully festive, featuring that tried and tested combination of cranberries and white chocolate. While cardamom might make you think of Asian cookery, it is also very popular in Norwegian baking and so the Scandinavian theme I started last week with my baked ham and Finnish mustard continues…
White chocolate, cardamom and cranberry cookies
100g soft butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
150g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g ground almonds
2 tsp ground cardamom (or 1 tsp cardamom seeds crushed in a pestle and mortar)
125g dried cranberries
125g white chocolate chopped
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat again, before mixing in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground almonds and cardamom.
When the dough is smooth and thick, stir in the cranberries and chocolate.
Roll pieces of the dough into walnut-sized balls and place onto baking trays lined with baking parchment. Make sure they are well spaced out.
Bake for around 10 minutes until they are a pale golden colour.
Leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
As these cookies are super easy to make, they’re ideal for baking with children to give as gifts at Christmas, I’m entering them into December’s Family Foodies challenge at Eat Your Veg, where the theme is Kids Christmas.
December’s theme at Tea Time Treats is Festive Gifts and Treats, so I’ve got to enter these cookies there too. This is Kate from What Kate Baked‘s last month hosting this brilliant challenge, and Karen from Lavender & Lovage will be announcing her new co-host in the new year.
Deena Kakaya is running a new challenge called Fabulous Fusion Foods and so I thought these cookies might make a good entry, as they bring together a spice I associate with Asia, cardamom, with white chocolate and cranberries, which I connect with a very Western Christmas.
And finally, I’m entering these cookies into the AlphaBakes challenge hosted by The More than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes, where the theme for December is the letter X – perfect for all things Xmas…
Is there anything nicer than tea and cake? In my book, it’s difficult to find a more pleasant way to while away an afternoon, especially when the tea is served in beautiful vintage china and the assortment of cakes on offer rivals the finest French patisserie.
As you can probably tell, one of my personal highlights of the Wells Food Festival earlier this month was the wonderful vintage tea party at the Fountain Inn. I adore vintage but it can be a tricky look to get right and there’s a fine line between vintage chic and bring-and-buy shabby. So this was the perfect opportunity to get a few tips from the experts.
All the charming china at the tea party was on loan from Sara Kirkby, who runs a vintage crockery hire business called Elsie Florence based in Wincanton, Somerset.
With a degree in fashion and textiles, Sara attributes her appreciation of all things vintage to her grandmother. “As a child, I would use my bedroom wall as a fashion mood board,” Sara tells me. “My granny was my soul mate and my love of vintage and the start of my huge china collection comes from her.”
After college, Sara worked as a surface print designer and then a design consultant in fashion and interiors, working in both London and Hong Kong. Following the birth of their son and daughter, Sara and husband Steve bought an old town house (one could say vintage) in Somerset, which was in need of lots of work.
“With an original double shop front it was then that I started Elsie Florence, named after my granny,” Sara explains. (There’s a fantastic photo, by the way, of her grandmother on a motorbike on Sara’s website.) “I use the windows for styling vintage china displays and have a store room one side and a show room on the other.”
What is it about vintage that makes it so popular, I wonder?
“For me there is something magical about vintage,” says Sara. “It stirs emotions and always captures one’s eye. It makes people reminisce. Latterly vintage has become so popular because of fashion trends. Wedding budgets are different for everyone and the trend now seems to be smaller weddings but the detail is the key which the vintage theme provides. Vintage afternoon tea suits this trend and always impresses guests and appeals to all generations. Quite often each guest will have a tea cup and saucer as a place name or a favour to take home. What is there not to love?”
And Sara’s advice for anyone trying to create their own vintage look?
“With vintage styling I think you must have an eye. You can get it so wrong and it can end up like a jumble sale. Less is more in some cases and mixing vintage pattern with plain white can allow the eye to appreciate the delicate patterns. I have spent years sourcing vintage china and I will only buy a piece I adore. This is now a collection of over 600 teacups!”
The Wells tea party was hosted by former model and fashion designer, turned vintage guru, Pearl Lowe. Like Sara, Pearl has been in love with vintage from an early age. “I’ve always loved pretty things,” she tells me. “I don’t like the minimalist look. For me things have to be beautiful and decorative. That’s why my house is absolutely brimful of beautiful things. My husband tells me ‘That’s enough!’ but I can’t stop!”
“History was always my favourite subject at school,” Pearl continues, “and I’ve adored old houses and old clothes since I can remember. My grandfather sold antiques and my mother did up old houses, so perhaps it is in my DNA.”
Pearl is currently setting up her house for a vintage Christmas-themed photo shoot for the Sunday Telegraph’s Style magazine. “It’s incredible how quickly you can transform a room with just a few simple additions.
“You can pick up boxes of beautiful old crockery for next to nothing at auction rooms,” Pearl advises. “The auction rooms in Frome is fantastic. And then with a pretty vintage lace tablecloth, some scented candles, a few jam jar posies of garden flowers and fairy lights strewn around the place – you’ll find you’ve created a gorgeous vintage look in next to no time.”
If you do plan to throw a vintage tea party yourself, I think I might have the perfect cake for you to serve your guests. It’s the coffee, cardamom and walnut cake I baked for the cake competition at the Wells Food Festival. The recipe is from professional cake baker Fiona Cairns and all the entrants in the Taste category were tasked with baking this same recipe. Sadly, I didn’t win – it was the first baking contest I’d ever entered, so I honestly wasn’t expecting to – but nonetheless it’s a simply delicious teatime cake; the cardamom raises the classic coffee and walnut combination to a whole other level.
The winner of the Taste category was Helen Roberts and even without tasting it, you could easily see hers was a cut above the rest.
When I asked her for the secret of her success was, she reckoned it was down to the caramelising of the walnuts. You’ve got to let the caramel turn really dark golden brown apparently and Helen says she used a sugar thermometer to make sure she got hers to precisely the right temperature before drizzling onto the walnuts. Now I know for next time.
And according to Fiona Cairns, originator of the recipe and judge of the cake competition, it was also down to the balance of flavours. I must admit I didn’t taste my cake batter at all while I was baking, placing my trust entirely in the quantities specified in the recipe. In hindsight, perhaps I should have added a little more coffee and a little less cardamom. But do you know what? Fiona also said all the entries were delicious, and considering I’m not really that experienced a baker, that’s good enough for me! So if you do fancy trying out the recipe for yourself, you’ll find it at the end of this post.
As well as judging the cake competition, Fiona Cairns was also the guest speaker at the vintage tea party, sharing her experiences as creator of the royal wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
It was fascinating to hear Fiona’s story. Trained as an illustrator, Fiona then went on to train as a pastry chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant for three years. She started her cake making business from her kitchen table 25 years ago. “Baking wasn’t trendy back then,” Fiona recalls. “There weren’t cupcakes everywhere, and no-one had heard of the Great British Bake Off. How things have changed!”
Fiona set up the business with her husband. “He was the one who spotted the business potential for my cake making,” explains Fiona. “I couldn’t have done it on my own. I’m just not a business-minded person; creative types quite often aren’t.”
Today there are more than a 100 people working in Fiona Cairns’ bakery and from the very early days, she has been supplying high-end stores such as Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and The Conran Shop. “I always aim for the top,” Fiona smiles.
Despite making plenty of cake for celebrities over the years, Fiona isn’t really known for making wedding cake. She says this is precisely the reason she was chosen to make the royal wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“We received plenty of calls asking if we were in the running, but we really had no idea we might be,” says Fiona. “It was such a surprise to get the call in February (bearing in mind the wedding was in April) from Clarence House to inform us we were being considered. And at this point we were invited for tea with Kate. I was so nervous going into Clarence House, I actually managed to walk right past Prince William without even noticing him!”
Fiona says that Kate was very clear on her wishes for her cake; she wanted the whole wedding to tell a story. The language of flowers was to feature throughout the cake decoration, and the Duchess chose 17 flowers to be included, such as the four national flowers (the English rose, the Welsh daffodil, Scottish thistle and Irish shamrock). Lily of the valley symbolising sweetness and humility was also to feature on the cake, and echoed in Kate’s bouquet and in Westminster Abbey. There would also be acorns, taken from the Middleton crest.
“I was told the cake was to be simple but elegant,” says Fiona. “And the Duchess was very clear that there was to be no glitter!” Fiona was also given a piece of lace to take away with her to see if she could transpose designs from it onto the cake. It was only later she learned this was actually a piece of lace from Kate’ wedding dress.
Four days later, Fiona received the official call to say she had been selected to make the royal wedding cake, and from that point her life was pretty much turned upside down. “There were lots of visits to London and we had to make up so many excuses, as we weren’t allowed to tell anyone what we doing. Everything to do with the wedding was top secret!” Fiona and her team had to work on the cake in a secret room for seven weeks.
Word got out to the media about a month before the big day that Fiona was creating the royal wedding cake and so Clarence House had to make an official announcement. “The world’s media absolutely swarmed on us,” remembers Fiona. “Of course there was lots of interest from the British press, but I think we got most attention from the US and Brazil. It was crazy and we had to take on a PR agency to field all the calls.”
Building the cake the day before in the Picture Gallery was one of the most stressful days of Fiona’s life. “This was the first time the actual cake had been put together and we had spare bits of everything with us, just in case. When the photographer climbed up a ladder to take the official photograph of the cake, I was so scared he was going to topple over and fall right into it! Once the cake was complete, it was just so difficult having to walk away from it.”
It wasn’t until the royal pastry chef Kathryn Boyden sent word to Fiona that the Duke and Duchess had seen the cake and told her it was “beyond all their expectations” that she could finally relax and enjoy the wedding with her husband.
Fiona’s life and business has been transformed since then. She’s gone on to publish books and host TV cookery programmes, created a Jubilee celebration cake for Harrods’ window, make the cupcakes for Heston Blumenthal’s Jubilee picnic, and this year her company will be baking more than 24,000 Christmas cakes!
It was a real delight to meet Fiona at the Wells Food Festival, and equally lovely to sit with her mother during the vintage tea party, who is clearly so proud of what her daughter has achieved. And I’m very grateful to Fiona for providing me with her top baking tips, which have transformed my approach to baking!
If you’d like to try Fiona’s coffee, cardamom and walnut cake recipe, here it is…
Coffee, cardamom and walnut cake
For the cake
175g unsalted butter, really soft, in pieces, plus more for the tins
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
15 cardamom pods
175g caster sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water, cooled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
50g ground almonds
125g self-raising flour, sifted
For the caramelised walnuts
50g walnut halves
100g caster sugar
For the buttercream
5 cardamom pods
150g unsalted butter, softened, in pieces
250g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp Camp coffee essence (or 1 tbsp instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp of boiling water and cooled)
1 tsp double cream
Preheat oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Butter two 20cm round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment.
Keeping them separate, place the nuts both for the cake and the caramelised nuts on baking tray and roast for six minutes. Watch carefully, as they can turn from beautifully toasted to bitter and singed quite rapidly. Set aside to cool.
Lay the walnut halves you have toasted and cooled for the caramelised walnuts on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Have a sink or washing up bowl of cold water to hand. You are about to make a caramel, so take great care: hot caramel can be dangerous.
Put the sugar and 100ml of cold water in a saucepan and dissolve the sugar over a gentle heat, stirring with a metal spoon. Once it has all dissolved, increase the heat to a boil, stop stirring and occasionally brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water to prevent crystals forming. Boil until the mixture turns a beautiful caramel gold and has thickened. Immediately plunge the base of the pan into the cold water to stop the cooking. Then using a teaspoon, drizzle the caramel over the walnuts on the tray. (You’ll need to be speedy here; I found the caramel thickened very quickly.) Leave to set.
De-seed all 20 cardamom pods for the cake and buttercream. Grind the seeds to a powder in a mortar and pestle and sift to remove husks. Keep one-quarter aside for the buttercream.
In a food mixer (or a bowl with a hand-held electric whisk), cream together the butter, sugar and coffee until very light and fluffy. Take a good five minutes, which is longer than you might expect.
Gradually add the eggs, then the almonds and cardamom for the cake. Gently fold in the flour and chopped nuts; don’t over-mix, but fold until they are just combined.
Divide the batter between the tins, smooth the surfaces and bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave the cakes in their tins for a couple of minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and remove the baking parchment. Leave to cool.
To make the buttercream, in a food mixer (or in a bowl with a hand-held electric whisk), beat the butter and icing sugar for a good five minutes – again this is longer than you might expect, but it leads to a far fluffier, buttercream.
Add the vanilla, cardamom, coffee and cream and beat until smooth. Spread over both cake, then place one on top of the other. You can spread the buttercream over the sides of the cake too, if you like. Decorate with the caramelised walnuts and shards of the caramel.
Recipe from SEASONAL BAKING by Fiona Cairns, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
We’re getting lots of beetroot in our weekly veg box at the moment. And that is a very good thing as I have come to rather like beetroot in recent years. Whereas once I’d automatically roast them in the oven and serve alongside a roast joint, I’ve discovered just how versatile the humble beetroot can be. It’s wonderful raw in winter slaws or sweet and sour salads, partners well with a tangy goat’s cheese in a simple tart, and it’s incredible juiced with carrot and lots of ginger.
Beetroot is also fantastic in cakes and has a natural affinity with chocolate. These brownies for example always go down well with my children and are so incredibly moist and gooey. So when I saw an Abel and Cole recipe for a beetroot and chocolate cake which also used fresh ginger and ground cardamom, I knew I had to give it a go at the earliest opportunity.
At the weekend we all went to London to stay with my Dad and Step Mum, or as they’re known to the kids, Grandad Chris and Nana Sue. Since Nana Sue had treated us to her heavenly clementine polenta cake the last time they came to stay with us in Somerset, I felt it only polite to return the favour by taking some tasty homemade offering. And of course it had to be this chocolate, beetroot and ginger concoction.
After a lovely Sunday morning brunch in Highgate, followed by a walk up Parliament Hill to look out over the hazy London skyline, a couple of games of What’s the Time Mister Wolf? and some tree-climbing and green-parakeet-spotting, a cup of coffee and a slice of cake was very much required. While my Dad looked a little dubious at first, the chocolate, beetroot and ginger cake seemed to go down with all, children and adults alike – even Dad, with the whole family making lots of positive mmmmming noises as they got stuck in.
As well as using fresh ginger in the cake itself, the Abel and Cole version also adds ginger to the mascarpone topping, along with orange zest. I opted to leave these out, and I’m glad I did as I think a calmer, creamy topping acted as a perfect foil for the spicy cake.
Spicy chocolate and beetroot cake
150g cooked beetroot
150g dark chocolate
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
6 cardamom pods, seeds extracted and ground to a powder
125g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g soft butter
150g caster sugar
100g mascarpone cheese
200g cream cheese
75g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
Puree the cooked beetroot in a food processor. Pop into a bowl along with the dark chocolate, broken into pieces, and heat gently in a microwave for a minute or two until the chocolate has melted.
Combine the chocolate and beetroot well, then mix in the grated ginger and cardamom powder. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the butter and caster sugar until pale and creamy. Whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks.
Gently fold the egg yolk and butter mixture into the flour. Then gently fold in the egg whites, a spoonful at a time. Finally stir in the beetroot and chocolate mixture.
Grease an 23cm cake tin with butter and dust with flour. Pour the cake mix into the tin. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. You want it be a little soft and gooey in the middle. Leave to cool on a wire tray before removing from the tin.
To make the topping, simply put the mascarpone and cream cheese into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Mix together well. When the cake is cool, use a palette knife to spread over the mascarpone topping. Dig in!
As this cake features both chocolate and ginger, I’m entering it into February’s We Should Cocoa, a blog challenge created by Chocolate Teapot and Chocolate Log Blog, and hosted this month by Blue Kitchen Bakes.
I’m spending much less time in the kitchen these days. At the beginning of September I started working in-house four days a week covering someone’s maternity leave, which means evening meals need to be quick and easy as I really don’t want to be slaving over a hot stove for hours when I get home.
So more leisurely, experimental cooking has been relegated to the weekends for now. It’s tricky though, as obviously weekends are also now my main family time. However, this beautiful blackberry and cardamom pavlova was the perfect way to bring family and cooking time together.
We all spent a splendid Sunday afternoon traipsing over the fields near our home in Somerset, hunting for blackberries and sloes (they’re still sat in the fridge waiting to be added to gin) and trying not to get stung as inevitably the plumpest, juiciest berries are always the ones obscured behind a clump of nettles. When Jess and Mia tired of picking blackberries, they ran around pretending to be galloping horses while Jason and I finished the job.
Normally the first thing I make with blackberries would be a blackberry and apple crumble. But since we only had a disappointing six apples off our tree this year I decided to try something new. I’ve been meaning to have a go at making meringue for ages – I know how embarrassing is that, a food blogger who’s never baked a meringue? Particularly because we have an Aga and as all Aga owners will tell you, they are perfect for baking meringues. So the idea of a blackberry pavlova came to mind.
I found a recipe for a blackberry cardamom pavlova from Adventures in Cooking and came up with my own a slightly simplified version. The combination of blackberries and cardamom is absolutely inspired. The spicy, perfumed flavour works incredibly well with the sticky, juicy fruit, cutting through the richness of the cream so the end result doesn’t end up being too heavy. Which of course means it’s absolutely fine to have a second helping.
I was so surprised at just how easy meringues are to make, especially with a little help from Aga Queen, Mary Berry. As with most baking, it’s more about setting aside enough time to do it properly, than about the recipe being all that complicated to make. I baked my meringue the evening before, so all I had to do on Sunday after we’d picked the blackberries was to whip up the cream and make the blackberry sauce.
Blackberry and cardamom pavlova
For the meringue:
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
175g caster sugar
1tsp corn flour
1tsp ground cardamom
½tsp vanilla extract
For the blackberry topping:
juice and zest of half a lemon
½tsp ground cinnamon
For the blackberry and cardamom cream:
300ml whipping cream
60g icing sugar
½tsp ground cardamom
zest of half a lemon
1tbsp blackberry topping (above)
1tsp vanilla extract
Plus another handful of blackberries to garnish
If you don’t have an Aga, preheat the oven to 150ºC / gas mark 2.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time, and finally whisk in the corn flour, ground cardamom and vanilla. Lay a sheet of silicone paper on a baking tray and spread the meringue mixture onto the sheet, forming a circular shape. Build up the sides of the circle to create a well in the middle to hold the cream and fruit later.
If you have an Aga, put the baking tray on the floor of the roasting oven for three to four minutes, until the meringue is ever so slightly coloured. Then move down to the floor of the simmering oven for about an hour until the meringue is firm on the outside but gooey in the middle.
If you’re using a conventional oven, bake for an hour and then turn the oven off. Open the door halfway and allow the meringue to cool to remove to room temperature before removing.
To make the blackberry topping, place the berries, sugar and honey in a saucepan over a medium heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Scoop out a large spoonful of blackberries and set aside for later. Continue to simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, zest and cinnamon. Allow to cool before chilling in the fridge.
And then to make the blackberry and cardamom whipped cream, pour the cream into a large bowl and add the icing sugar and cardamom. Whip until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold in the spoonful of blackberry topping set aside earlier, along with the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to assemble.
Place the meringue on a serving plate and pile the blackberry and cardamom whipped cream in the well. Cover this with the blackberry topping and arrange some fresh blackberries around the edge. Serve at once. Enjoy!
PS Tomorrow I’m off to the MAD Blog Awards ceremony in London. I’m a finalist in the MADs Best Food Blog category and I’m really rather excited. I don’t have a chance of winning as I’m up against some splendid food bloggers who’ve been doing this much longer than me, but I’m just so chuffed at making the finals. If you voted for me – then thank you! And I’ll let you know next week how I got on…