I feel obliged to issue a public health warning before I go any further with this post. This dessert is not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for anyone on a calorie-controlled diet. It’s extremely rich and something of a colossal beast, easily serving 12 to 14 people, so only make this if you’ve got the man, woman and child-power to tackle it, and be sure not to feed them too much beforehand. Continue reading “Chocolate cheesecake with blackberry cream”
I think I may have a new addiction. I simply can’t seem to get enough of it at the moment and I am obsessing over new ways to use it to enjoy another fix. Thankfully my new addiction isn’t harmful, although I’ve learnt it is wise to use it sparingly (a little goes a long way), and it won’t result in any lasting damage to my health or nasty side effects. Well, not as far as I’m aware anyway…
My latest foodie addiction is rosewater. Isn’t it the most heavenly ingredient? That heady, evocative perfume, mirrored so closely by that same wonderfully floral, fragrant flavour; it really is a magical and fantastical foodstuff that transports you instantly to star-swept scenes from the Arabian Nights.
Ever since my husband bought some to create Yotam Ottolenghi’s sublime Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts & Honey (inspired in turn by another culinary idol, Claudia Roden), I’ve been dreaming up different ways to feature rosewater in our cooking.
This Raspberry, Strawberry and Rose Millefeuille was my first experiment and it was a brilliant success, even if I say so myself. Using ready-made puff pastry, it’s deceptively easy to make too, yet looks quite impressive when you serve it up for your eagerly awaiting guests.
Raspberry, strawberry and rose millefeuille
3 tbsp caster sugar
350g ready-made, pre-rolled puff pastry
300ml double cream
1 tsp rosewater
300g strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 tbsp icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6.
Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment and sprinkle with caster sugar. Lay the pastry onto the baking parchment, scatter with more sugar and cover with more parchment. Place another baking sheet on top, and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown. Leave to cool.
For the filling, pour the cream and rosewater into a large bowl. Whisk until the cream forms soft peaks. Fold the strawberries and raspberries into the cream and then place in the fridge.
When the puff pastry is completely cool, use a sharp knife to trim the edges to form a tidy rectangle, and cut this into three equal rectangles. Place one rectangle of pastry on a plate and cover with half of the cream and fruit. Place the second layer of pastry on top and press down very gently. Top with the remaining cream mix and then place the final layer of pastry on top. Again press down gently squeeze the filling to the edges. Run a palette knife around the sides to level out the filling.
Chill until ready to serve. Liberally sprinkle the top with icing sugar and then very carefully cut the millefeuille into six elegant slices.
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My youngest turned five today. While of course I’m brimming with maternal joy and have loved sharing every moment of her anticipation in the run up and bubbling over of excitement on the day, my emotions are also tinged with a touch of sadness. It feels like my little baby is growing up too fast. When she was four I could just about get away with thinking of her as big toddler. But now she’s five, she’s a proper little girl. Bye bye baby.
We celebrated Mia’s birthday on Saturday with a party. It was a small do at the house with a handful of school friends from her reception class; quite an old-fashioned party really, without any party entertainers, bouncy castles or spectacular cake sculptures.
The highlights of our party were simple delights: playing with balloons, a messy chocolate cake covered in hundreds and thousands, fizzy flying saucers, old school games like pass-the-parcel and musical bumps, getting gluey making Easter bonnets, telling fart and poo and bottom jokes while gobbling chipolatas and party rings, and playing a new game we invented called pin-the-nose-on-the-Mia. Turning five is lots of fun!
The chocolate birthday cake is very easy to make, especially if, like me, you’re not a natural-born baker. It’s the kind of cake that actually looks better if it’s not too perfect. Fill it with whipped cream and your child’s favourite soft fruit – we went with raspberries. Pour over the icing and cover liberally with sprinkles, Buttons, Smarties or whatever your little one’s favourite happens to be – this also happens to be the perfect way to disguise any imperfections.
The end result is a celebration cake fit for a five-year-old. It’s a tried-and-tested party cake recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s early cookbooks, The Return of the Naked Chef. I first made it when my oldest daughter turned one, and have been baking it ever since.
Chocolate birthday cake
3 tbsp cocoa powder
200g caster sugar
200g soft butter
200g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp flaked almonds
200ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
2 large handfuls raspberries (or any soft fruit of your choice)
For the chocolate icing
100g cooking chocolate
100g icing sugar
3 tbsp milk
Decorations – hundreds and thousands, Smarties, Buttons or the like
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with baking parchment.
In a cup mix the cocoa with 4 tablespoons of boiling water until smooth.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the cocoa mixture, eggs, flour and baking powder and mix well. Fold in the almonds.
Split the mixture between the two cake tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the oven. The cakes are ready when an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before removing the cakes from the tins.
To make the chocolate icing, place the butter, chocolate, icing sugar and milk into a bowl and place over gently simmering water in a pan. Stir until it’s all melted and blended together. Allow to cool a little.
Whip the double cream until it forms soft peaks and sweeten with icing sugar.
Remove the baking parchment from both cakes. Place one a wire rack, over kitchen towel or newspaper, and spread the whipped cream over the top, almost to the edge. Scatter the raspberries on top.
Place the second sponge on top and press down. Drizzle the chocolate icing over the top – you’ll be glad of the kitchen towel or newspaper at this point as the chocolate drips and gloops everywhere. Decorate with your chosen treats. Leave the icing to set before adding the candles and serving to your young birthday girl or boy and their party guests.
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…
My parents split up when I was very little. I can barely remember them being together. So much so, I’m not totally sure how old I was when they went their separate ways. Two perhaps, or three?
But despite that, my dad’s parents, my Nana Barbara and Grandad Peter, ensured they remained constant factors in my life – through my childhood and teens, my university days and when I started my own family and they became great-grandparents. My mum moved around the UK quite a bit as I was growing up, but no matter where we went, Nana Barbara and Grandad Peter would trek across the country to come and visit me. Because family is important. I grew up knowing that and knowing how much I was loved. And that is so important.
I am so pleased my Nana Barbara has entered these recipes into the Care to Cook recipe challenge to raise awareness of the fostering and adoption charity TACT. I always associated visits from my grandparents and then later, when I was old enough to go and stay with them in Lancashire and then the Lake District, with food. Homebaked cakes, pies, tarts, casseroles and puddings. Dinner round the table. Proper family food.
The two dishes Nana has entered are actually new ones on me, and I can’t wait to try them out…
In one bowl mix:
2 grated courgettes
1 grated carrot
1 chopped onion
5 rashers of chopped up crispy bacon
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 cup self-raising flour
In a second bowl mix:
5 eggs, beaten
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
crushed clove of garlic
You’ll also need:
Parmesan or cheddar for sprinkling on top
Chopped fresh parsley to finish
Stir bowls one and two together, then spread into a lasagne dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Cheddar cheese.
Cook at 200°c for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot or cold, garnished with fresh parsley. Will serve six people.
Vanilla Cream Terrine
2 tsp vanilla extract
425ml whipping cream
11g sachet powder gelatine
85g caster sugar
425g Greek yoghurt
Mint leaves and raspberries to garnish
Begin by placing the gelatine in a cup together with three tablespoons of the cream and leave to soak for 10mins.
Meanwhile place the rest of the cream in a saucepan with the sugar and heat gently until sugar has dissolved. It is important not to overheat the cream. Next, add the soaked gelatine to the warmed cream and whisk everything over the heat for a few seconds. Now remove the cream mixture from the heat.
In a mixing bowl, stir the yoghurt & vanilla together, then pour the gelatine cream mixture through a sieve. Mix very thoroughly and pour the whole lot into a plastic box (I use an old ice cream container). Allow to cool, cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
Serve sliced, with fresh raspberries and mint springs, with a pouring of raspberry coulis.
Fools are one of my favourite puddings. There is nothing finer than the combination of sweet, almost syrupy cooked fruit folded into gorgeously indulgent whipped cream.
I’m intrigued as to why they deserve the name fool, as there is nothing foolish about this desert in my eyes. All I’ve manged to discover is their first mention is in England during the 15th/16th century, along with that other great favourite of mine, the trifle.
The problem is though they really don’t do any favours for my ever-expanding waistline. I’ve taken the decision recently to try to eat a little more healthily. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going overboard. Just a few tweaks here and there – a little less butter, a few less carbs, watching those portion sizes, avoiding the biscuit tin in the office, and controlling my passion for double cream.
So I’ve tried out a couple of healthier takes on the traditional fool and the results have been rather pleasing. Both times I served them up for dinner guests and both times they went down a storm.
The first was a plum fool and I replaced all of the whipped cream for low-fat Greek yoghurt. When my husband heard what I was doing, I could see the disappointment in his eyes. A fool without cream? That’s like a hot crumpet without the butter! But there was no need for despair. The almost fat-free fool was a complete and utter triumph and still felt naughtily indulgent and satisfying and, well, everything you’d expect from a proper pudding, but without all the calories. Fabulous.
I followed this a week later with a rhubarb fool. This time I went for a half-cream half-yoghurt combination.
Again it was delicious and certainly more creamy, but I wouldn’t say it was any better than the plum version for the inclusion of cream. So I proudly present a pudding that is delicious without being too bad for you. You decide whether to use cream and yoghurt or just yoghurt – it all depends on how happy you are with the size of your waist I guess.
Both fools feature crystallised stem ginger quite heavily too, as I happened to have a jar in. But if it’s not one of your favourite flavours, feel free to omit. Replace the syrup in the recipe with some runny honey or icing sugar.
Plum and stem ginger yoghurt fool
5 plums, stoned and quartered
1 ball crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped, and some of the syrup from the jar
2 tbsp demerara sugar
Splash of orange or apple juice
300ml low-fat Greek yoghurt
Place the plum quarters, ginger and sugar in a saucepan with a splash of fruit juice. Cover and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes until the plums are soft. Leave to cool.
Stir a tablespoonful or two of the syrup from the jar of crystallised ginger into the yoghurt.
Spoon a layer of the yoghurt into the base of four glasses or small bowls, followed by a layer of the plums. Continue with alternate layers of yoghurt and plum until they’re all used up. Keep chilled in the fridge until you are ready for them.
Rhubarb and stem ginger fool
400g rhubarb, cut into inch long chunks
1 ball crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped, and some of the syrup from the jar
3 tbsp demerara sugar
Splash of orange or apple juice
150ml double cream
150ml low-fat Greek yoghurt
Place the rhubarb chunks, ginger and sugar in a saucepan with a little of the fruit juice. Cover and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes until the fruit is soft. I like the rhubarb to be just turning mushy but still has a little bite. Leave to cool.
Stir some of the syrup from the jar of crystallised ginger into the yoghurt.
Whisk the double cream until it forms soft peaks and then gently combine with the yoghurt.
Pour half of the cooled rhubarb into the cream and yoghurt and mix together gently.
Divide the remaining rhubarb between four glasses or small bowls and then top with the rhubarb, cream and yoghurt mix. Chill in the fridge until it’s time for pudding.