Tiramisu

Often derided as a tired Italian classic, tiramisu’s history is shorter than one might think. Unlike other traditional Italian desserts, which boast rich culinary lineage, it is generally agreed that the conception of tiramisu dates back only as far as the 1970s (although its origin is hotly contested).

Unfortunately, bad tiramisu is two a penny in the UK – as food writer Felicity Cloake writes, it is often ‘soggy sponge and claggy, sickly sweet mousse, topped with furry layer of bitter cocoa powder’. However, done right, tiramisu can be nothing short of sublime. After all, coffee, mascarpone, alcohol – what’s not to like?

When I briefly lived in Florence in 2018, I made the sampling of tiramisu a competitive sport in its own right, and felt obliged to order one at virtually every restaurant I went to (strictly for research purposes, I might add). If nothing else, such gluttony taught me that there is no one ‘right’ way to do tiramisu – I personally see no issue with the multiple versions of tiramisu that are proffered across different countries and cultures. For instance, I have enjoyed both single and multi-layered versions and both are delicious. Similarly, I love the variation of types of alcohol used in different recipes; I prefer brandy and sherry, whereas my sister likes to spike the mascarpone with Irish cream, and I know that Nigella is prone to use Frangelico.

Having said this, whilst diversity can be welcomed in tiramisu, there are three things that are non-negotiable when making it:

The Biscuits – If you can, use savoiardi, which are the Italian version of ladyfingers or Boudoir biscuits. Crucially, they are drier and more crumbly and therefore are able to absorb the coffee/alcohol mixture without becoming soggy. They are available in large supermarkets and Italian delis (but can of course also be found online). I’ve only ever been able to find gluten free savoiardi in Italy, and so usually make my own using The Loopy Whisk’s brilliant recipe.

Soaking – One of the most common mistakes when making tiramisu is over-soaking the savoiardi, which often results in the biscuit layer resembling alcoholic baby food. The trick is to briefly dunk them in your coffee mixture long enough to absorb it (you don’t want the centre of the savoiardi to be pale and dry) but not so long that they begin to go mushy. It’s a fine art.

The Mascarpone Cream – This is the part of tiramisu that I feel most strongly about. The creamy element of the tiramisu must be made with mascarpone, eggs and sugar, and absolutely not – under any circumstances – whipped or double cream. I dismiss any tiramisu that doesn’t contain eggs. Whilst I had a stonkingly rich (and delicious) tiramisu once in Bologna that was enriched only with egg yolks, I do think that overall the egg white is needed to lighten the cream a little.

I recommend making this the day before you want to serve it, as it really benefits from chilling overnight in the fridge. This also makes an excellent breakfast – best eaten in private, safe from judgemental stares.

Serves 6.

You will need a shallow serving dish.

Ingredients

  • 125ml strong black coffee
  • 4 x 15ml tablespoons brandy (or alcohol of your choice – rum is particularly good here)
  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons sweet sherry
  • 15-20 savoiardi biscuits (depending on the size of your dish)
  • 500g mascarpone
  • 2 large eggs, separated, plus one yolk
  • 25g icing sugar
  • 2 x tablespoons cocoa powder
  1. Combine the coffee with 2 x tablespoons of the brandy and pour into a shallow dish for dipping. Briefly dip each savoiardi biscuit into the coffee mixture on both sides, until it has absorbed it and is light brown in colour, but not turning into mush. Arrange the soaked savoiardi fingers in a single layer in a shallow serving dish.
  2. In a medium bowl, use an electric hand whisk to whisk the egg whites into soft peaks. In another large bowl, beat together the mascarpone, egg yolks, sugar, sherry and remaining brandy (no need to clean the beaters) until just combined – don’t overmix as this can cause the mixture to become too loose.
  3. Using a metal spoon, gently fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture, ensuring that there is no visible egg white left but being careful not to knock too much air out.
  4. Spoon the mascarpone mixture over the soaked biscuits and smooth with a spatula. Use a sieve to dust the tiramisu generously with cocoa powder, then cover and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours to firm up before serving. Remove the tiramisu from the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it.

More than just cake: Proust’s madeleine and finding ourselves through food

Proust’s monumental novel, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) was published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927. It is renowned for two things – its length, and ‘the episode of the madeleine’: 

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin… And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.

Delicious though they may be, this episode is not really about the madeleine, the ‘short, plump little cakes…which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell’. Proust’s infamous musings on his madeleine dipped in hot tea are a vehicle for the novel’s primary sentiment: the capacity of a sensory experience to unlock involuntary memory. Indeed, recently published manuscripts of À la recherche du temps perdu have revealed that Proust’s metaphor began as toasted bread mixed with honey, and later, a biscotto, or hard biscuit. It was Proust’s editor who suggested employing the madeleine, a visually beautiful and therefore memorable delicacy. The metaphor retains a prominent position in the French imagination; in France, a madeleine de Proust is a colloquial expression to convey a sound, taste or smell which excavates a buried memory, and the French edition of Desert Island Discs was known for a time as ‘Madeleine Musicals’.

The evocation of memory through food is a universal sensation. It is poignantly chronicled in the animated film Ratatouille, when one bite of the eponymous dish transports the acerbic food critic Anton Ego back to his mother’s kitchen. We all have a particularly nostalgic food which reminds us of home. One of my own strongest food memories is tucking into a piping hot bowl of my granny’s ‘apple snow’ – hot stewed apple topped with a duvet of billowy, toasted meringue. Today, one mouthful takes me straight back to her blue-and-white striped oilcloth-covered table, in a draughty kitchen occupied by several terriers, and feebly heated by a battered old AGA cooker.

Of course, there are other means of triggering memory – music, for instance, can hold strong associations of a certain time or place. However, if I was to reflect on some of the more poignant moments in my life, a great deal of these memories are centred around food. According to the anthropologist John S. Allen, this is no coincidence:

Evolution has seen to it that food in general may be a privileged target of memory in the brain…The hippocampus is particularly important for forming long-term, declarative memories – those that can be consciously recalled and which contribute to the autobiographies that we all carry around in our heads.

Our brains’ response to food is fundamentally rooted in the fact that we need food to survive. The hippocampus (the part of the brain critical for memory) is directly linked to the digestive system, and is specially tailored to form memories about food in order to help us find food for survival. However, as agriculture evolved and the acquisition of food became less of an elemental struggle for many of us, food abundance became a tool for the enhancement of memory at a cultural level. This relative abundance has enabled food to garner a symbolic status, and it has since become a system of cultural communication or even language of its own. 

Taste memories are so evocative precisely because they are so sensory; memories centred around eating are the only kind to arouse all five senses, creating particularly rich and vivid vignettes. When we encounter a food memory, we don’t just think about what we were eating, but who we were with, and in what environment. Food memories from childhood are especially nostalgic since they can induce the reassuring feelings of safety and comfort that so often come from the family experience; whilst we can recreate a favourite childhood dish, it is impossible to recreate the context.

If food is intertwined with memory, it is also instrumental in connecting individuals not only to their own identity, but to others as well. The food we prepare, eat and remember enables us to communicate who we are and where we come from, and in turn, can connect us to others.

Hazelnut, coffee and sea salt brownies

Brownies are something that I find myself coming back to bake time and time again. I can’t recall ever meeting someone who has been able to resist sampling a fresh batch of brownies – as Nigella once said, however much people have eaten, there is always room for a brownie. They’re also very difficult to get wrong, and thus are, I find, very soothing to make.

I’m definitely of the ‘fudgy’ brownie party as opposed to the ‘cakey’ one, but concede it is possible to go too far on this front – I want my brownie to be dense and moist, not verging on raw batter.

These particular brownies were born out of a need to use up a 1kg tub of hazelnut praline paste that I bought on a whim at the dawn of England’s third lockdown. Unlike most lockdown impulse-buys, I haven’t regretted this one – I initially used it in a crème mousseline for Paris-Brests, but have since put it in buttercream, ice cream and several batches of brownies. Comprised solely of caramelised sugar and toasted hazelnuts, the praline paste is not dissimilar in texture to Nutella (but without the cocoa). You could make your own by blitzing homemade hazelnut praline in a food processor, or omit it entirely and just increase the quantity of chopped, roasted hazelnuts that sit in the centre of the brownies.

These are particularly decadent brownies with quite a grown-up feel to them – there’s bitterness from both the dark chocolate and the coffee, tempered by the earthy sweetness of hazelnut and the hit of sea salt. They’re particularly good with a strong cup of coffee (for a double-whammy of caffeine), but would be equally delicious served warm as a pudding, perhaps with a mascarpone cream. The quantities here make a slightly smaller batch than as standard, but I find this works well to cut them into 16 smaller squares, as they are rather rich.

  • 150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I use 50-60% cocoa solids)
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 90g plain flour (I use Doves Farm gluten free plain flour)
  • 12g cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 110g soft light brown sugar
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g hazelnut praline paste (see intro)
  • 50g chopped, roasted hazelnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/Gas 5. Line a 20×20 square metal baking tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Melt the dark chocolate and the butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with about 2cm simmering water, stirring the chocolate as it melts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl and fork together to combine. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, both sugars and vanilla extract with an electric hand whisk until thick and pale – around 3 minutes. Pour in the melted chocolate, scraping every last bit from the bowl with a spatula, and whisk to combine. Mix in the dissolved coffee before folding in the dry ingredients until just combined.
  5. Pour half the brownie mix into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Then, pour the hazelnut praline paste in an even layer over the brownie mixture – if the paste is quite stiff, heat it in the microwave, stirring at 10 second intervals, until it is looser and easier to pour. Scatter the chopped hazelnuts evenly over the praline paste, and then slowly pour over the remaining batter in an even layer over the hazelnuts. If there is any exposed praline paste or chopped hazelnuts, gently tease the brownie batter over it so that it is evenly covered.
  6. Bake the brownies in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the surface is set with a shiny crust, and is beginning to crack. The surface should be relatively firm to touch, with the promise of a slight wobble beneath. It’s better to take them out too soon rather than too late, as they will continue to cook once they are out of the oven.
  7. Allow to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting the brownies into 16 squares with a sharp knife. The brownies will keep well in an airtight container for up to five days.

Lemon, Raspberry and Rose Battenberg

Judging by its colour and retro design, I’d always assumed Battenberg cake was a kitsch creation of the 1960s or 70s. Upon a little light Googling, however, it transpires that the Battenberg’s conception dates back a lot further, to the 19th century. Although its exact origins are unclear, it is widely purported that the first Battenberg was baked to honour the marriage of Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. Early recipes for the cake feature several alternative names, including ‘Domino Cake’ (recipe by Agnes Bertha Marshall, 1898), ‘Neapolitan Roll’ (recipe by Robert Wells, 1898) and even ‘Church Window Cake’.

Until recently, I’d never tasted Battenberg cake before – being a coeliac, I hadn’t been able to for obvious reasons. As a child, I remember being mesmerised by the pretty pinks and yellows of the supermarket version, but grew increasingly indifferent to the idea of it as I got older, suspecting that the lurid colours would give way to a saccharine-sweet cake with an artificial almond aftertaste.

Although it looks rather complex, Battenberg cake is surprisingly straightforward to make – the hardest part of the process is preparing the tin! Traditional Battenberg cakes are flavoured with almond extract and are typically held together with apricot jam before being covered in yellow marzipan. My version includes both lemon and raspberry for a bit of sharpness, complemented by the zingy lemon curd which sandwiches the cakes. I know it may seem like a faff to make your own marzipan, but it’s surprisingly easy, and yields a result which is altogether less sweet, and subtly flavoured with rose (the key word here being subtle; it’s easy to end up with soap-flavoured marzipan!).

I strongly recommend using gel food colouring here to give the sponge and marzipan a vibrant colour – it’s now widely available in large supermarkets. I find that the little bottles of liquid colouring don’t give a good quality colour to the end result.

For the cake:

200g butter, softened, plus extra to grease

200g caster sugar

50g ground almonds

3 large free-range eggs, beaten

175g self-raising flour (I use Dove’s farm gluten-free)

½ tsp baking powder

2 tbsp milk

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

10g freeze-dried raspberries, ground to a powder in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder

Pink food colouring (gel food colouring is best here)

For the marzipan:

250g ground almonds

160g caster sugar

150g icing sugar, sifted

1 large egg

1 tsp rose water

pink food colouring

To assemble:

100g lemon curd

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4 and get to work preparing a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin. Cut a sheet of greaseproof paper so it’s 38cm long (usually the width of the roll) and 20cm wide (the width of your tin). Use it to line the base and 2 sides of the greased tin, then grease the paper with butter.
  2. Now cut a second sheet of baking paper to 48cm long and 20cm wide, then cut one of foil the same size. Put the baking paper on the work surface, grease it with butter and lay the foil on top. Fold in half widthways to give a 24cm x 20cm shape, then fold over 5cm of the folded edge. Open out the paper/foil, with the baking paper side up, but keep the 5cm fold together, creasing it so it stands up as a ridge – this will be used to divide the cake tin in half.
  3. Use the paper/foil to line the base of the tin and the 2 sides that aren’t already lined, making sure the ridge is exactly at the halfway point in the tin. This will enable you to cook the 2 different coloured sponges at the same time.
  4. Weigh your mixing bowl and write down the weight – this is important!
  5. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for 5 minutes until very pale and fluffy. Mix in the ground almonds. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time, adding 1 tbsp of the flour with the last bit of egg so the mixture doesn’t curdle. Sift over the remaining flour and baking powder, then gently mix it in, followed by the milk.
  6. Weigh the bowl and mixture combined, subtract the weight of the bowl, then scoop exactly half the mixture into a second bowl. Stir the lemon zest into one half of the mixture. Stir the freeze-dried raspberry powder and a dash of pink food colouring into the other half.
  7. Spoon the cake mixtures into different sides of the prepared tin, then lightly level the surfaces with a spoon or off-set spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer pushed into the centre of each sponge comes out clean (turn your attention to the marzipan now). Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin, then carefully lift out the sponges (still on the baking paper/foil) and peel away the paper and foil.
  8. Whilst the cake is in the oven, make the marzipan. Put the ground almonds, caster sugar and icing sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a beater attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric hand whisk) and mix very briefly, just to combine. Add in the egg, rosewater and a few drops of food colour, and mix on a low speed until a soft, smooth and kneadable dough has formed. You may need to knead the marzipan a little by hand in order to evenly distribute the colour. If the marzipan feels too dry or brittle, add in one teaspoon of water at a time until smooth and pliable. Wrap the marzipan in clingfilm until needed.
  9. Once the cakes are cool, trim the sides of each sponge. Put one sponge on top of the other and trim again so they’re exactly the same size (about 9cm x 18cm), then cut both sponges exactly in half lengthways to give 4 long sponges (2 lemon, 2 raspberry).
  10. To assemble the cake, spread the long sides of a lemon sponge and raspberry sponge with lemon curd, and sandwich them together, then do the same with the other pair. Brush the top of one pair with more lemon curd and place the second pair on top, alternating the colours that lie against each other to create the classic chequerboard effect.
  11. To determine the size your marzipan needs to be, cut 2 pieces of string – one as long as the cake and one that’s long enough to go all the way round the middle of the cake. Roll out your marzipan between two large pieces of cling film into the shape of a rectangle that corresponds in size to your pieces of string (around 18cm x 36cm). The thickness of the marzipan should be about 0.5cm.
  12. Peel the top layer of cling film from the marzipan, and carefully lift the cake and position it so it lies across the centre of the marzipan. Spread a thin layer of lemon curd on the top and sides of the assembled cake. Now wrap the marzipan tightly around the outside of the cake, using the clingfilm to help you. Press the marzipan it firmly to the sides of the cake as you wrap it, bringing the edges together in a neat seam along the top. Smooth all the sides with your hands (or an icing smoother, should you have one) and press the edges of the marzipan together to seal.
  13. Carefully turn the cake over onto a plate or serving dish, so the seam-side is facing down. Cut a thin slice from each side of the cake to neaten it, removing any excess marzipan to reveal the pattern. Cut yourself a slice and enjoy with a strong cup of tea. The cake will keep well in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Bittersweet: Britain’s sticky history with sugar

Frank Newbould, Waterlow & Sons Ltd, Reaping Sugar Canes in the West Indies, lithograph. Image source: manchesterartgallery.org

A simple cup of tea – white, one sugar – is something that has been quintessentially British for centuries. But scratching the surface of the seemingly innocent act of stirring a spoonful of sugar into a cuppa reveals a dark, oppressive past. In fact, almost the entire social and consumer history of Britain can be examined through a crystallised ‘prism’ of sugar.

The first agricultural production of sugar can be traced to North India, sometime after the first century AD. It wasn’t until the 11th century AD that sugar was first recorded in Britain in 1069, as a result of the Crusades. Over the subsequent centuries, trade between Europe and the East saw sugar become a luxury commodity in Europe; by the medieval period, sugar had been discovered worldwide, with its worth comparable to valuable goods such as musk and pearls.

Today, we consider sugar as a foodstuff or ingredient, but in 12th-century Britain sugar was consumed as a spice, a preservative, and – most crucially – a medicine for a variety of ailments ranging from fevers, coughs, stomach disease and even chapped lips. However, as industrial sugar-refining technology advanced in the 16th and 17th centuries, sugar transformed into a pivotal symbol of wealth and rank amongst the European elite. Throughout the early modern period, sugar’s value was in its materiality as it became an artistic medium, and was used to create elaborate sugar sculptures for the banquet tables of royalty and the aristocracy. As sugar developed into an early form of installation art, confectioners’ social status rocketed as they came to be considered as highly skilled artists. The painstakingly specialised labour required to fashion such intricate sculptures was matched only by the cost of the raw material itself. A single ‘sugarloaf’, which until the late 19th century was the standard form that refined sugar was produced and sold in, would have cost the equivalent of an average labourer’s monthly salary in the 16th century.

The European elite were so beguiled by white sugar not only because it was expensive, but because it was pure, beautiful and exotic. Sugar sculptures enabled the wealthy and the powerful to demonstrate their status through what they served on the table. Such sculptures, however, were a dazzling yet superficial veneer to an ugly, burgeoning business which valued raw materials over human life.

To accommodate the mounting demand for sugar in Europe, more and more sugar plantations were built, first in Brazil and then in the Caribbean. Sugar plantations were gruellingly labour intensive, and plantation owners struggled to source enough Europeans and prisoners to work them. Consequently, it is estimated that between 1500 and 1850, some 20 million African people were shipped to the Americas, marking the largest enforced migration the world has ever seen. It goes without saying that conditions for the enslaved people on plantations were atrocious – there is a fundamental semantic failure when it comes to conveying the sickening inhumanity, indignity and brutality of enslavement and forced labour. Ironically, these African enslaved persons who were branded as ‘primitive’ and ‘unskilled’ helped to build the comparative ‘sophistication’ of the West and revolutionised the way we eat today. As African American cook and author Michael Twitty puts it, the man and the woman who became enslaved in turn enslaved the palettes of those who subjugated them.

 As plantations were established in the Caribbean, the price of sugar fell dramatically, and by the 18th century, sugar had become available for consumers from all levels of British society. Initially, sugar was mostly used to sweeten tea, but was soon being added to enriched breads, biscuits and cakes, with confectionery and chocolate becoming immensely popular in the early 20th century. Soon, Britain had the highest annual per-capita consumption of sugar in Europe – it soared from 4lbs in 1704 to 18lbs in 1800 and a staggering 90lbs in 1901. Britain became a nation built on sugar – a nation defined by its sweet tooth. Sugar’s transition from a rare, foreign luxury for the elite to an ordinary necessity of modern life traces the historical progression of Western industry and capitalism, and was entirely facilitated by slavery.

Today, sugar has well and truly fallen from the proverbial pedestal, and is now most associated with its negative effects on our health. Although our sugar consumption is higher than ever, we are constantly reminded by the media of its dangerous health implications: aside from being dense in calories, high consumption of sugar is thought to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and potentially cancer. The last few years have seen the UK government impose a ‘sugar tax’ to tackle rising rates of diabetes and obesity. Whilst opinions and studies vary as to the extent of these health implications, there is certainly a recurrent theme: sugar is addictive, and it is this addiction which fuelled centuries of injustice.

As the Black Lives Matter movement resurged in 2020, several corporate businesses were called out for historic slave trade profits, including the British sugar giant Tate and Lyle. Although Tate and Lyle’s history begins with Henry Tate’s partnership with John Wright in 1859 (and thus after the formal abolition of the slave trade), it is still a business built on the shameful exploitative practises of unpaid apprenticeship of former enslaved peoples and the indentured labour of Indian and Chinese people which followed the abolition. Something as ordinary as sugar, then, can be emblematic of the need to be transparent about our cultural history, and to acknowledge the problematic aetiology of modern-day consumerist culture. Failure to address our instrumental role in the sugar trade – and therefore slavery – runs the risk of Britain’s sweet tooth going rotten.

White Chocolate and Miso Cookies

I find it all too easy – especially in the tedium of lockdown – to become obsessed with perfecting a recipe. In January, I was determined to find the trick to making the ultimate gluten free choux pastry (still an ongoing quest). After a long conversation about cookies with my friend Anda a few weeks ago, it became my mission to make the perfect gluten free white chocolate and miso cookies. I’ve made countless classic chocolate chip cookies in the past, but I knew that the addition of miso and white chocolate would change the structure and quality of the dough.

The first batch I made were good – but not good enough. They were too thin, which made them bendy once stored, and they were ever so slightly greasy to the touch. Chocolate chip cookies are strangely deceptive – although they seem like an accessible, ‘Everyman’ bake, even the slightest change to the recipe can produce fairly drastic results. The type of sugar, for instance, is instrumental to a good cookie dough; using only white sugar will yield a pale and more brittle cookie. I find that a balance of caster sugar and dark brown sugar here gives a result that is crisp-edged, chewy in the middle and wonderfully caramelised. Some bakers barely cream the butter and sugar, others beat them together for up to ten minutes, whilst some swear by browned butter. The ratio of raising agent is also very important. Too much, and the cookies will rise too high and then deflate; too little, and the cookies will be dense and cakey.

This recipe uses the ‘pan banging’ technique popularised by Sarah Kieffer, which essentially ensures a flat cookie with a crisp edge and chewy middle. Try not to skip the chilling process here – the world won’t stop spinning if you do, but chilling the dough will drastically enhance the texture, flavour and appearance of the finished cookies.

A note about miso: brands can really vary in their saltiness and pungency (I use Waitrose white miso). I recommend adding it to the batter a teaspoon at a time and tasting as you go to find a balance that works for you.

Makes 16-18 medium sized cookies

Ingredients:

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

85g caster sugar

65g dark brown muscovado sugar

4 tsp white miso paste

1 large egg, at room temperature

200g plain flour (I use Dove’s Farm gluten free plain flour)

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

200g good quality white chocolate, roughly chopped

  1. In a medium bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and fork together to mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand-held electric mixer and a large mixing bowl) beat together the butter and sugars on a medium speed until fluffy and very pale in colour – about 5 minutes. As you mix, scrape down the sides of the bowl using a spatula to ensure everything is thoroughly and evenly mixed.
  3. Add the miso, mixing until just combined, then add the egg, again scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix at a medium low speed. Beat until roughly combined, and then add the remainder of the dry ingredients and beat for about 10-15 seconds, until the mixture is smooth and homogenous.
  5. Tip in the chopped white chocolate and mix until just combined. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a lid, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably 8-24 hours.
  6. When you’re ready to bake the dough, preheat the oven to 160°C fan (or 180°C) and line two large sheet pans with greaseproof paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and, using a tablespoon measure or small ice cream scoop, scoop out as many cookie dough balls as you can from the dough. Arrange the balls of cookie dough on the sheets, leaving plenty of space for them to spread – I do about 4 cookies per tray. (If you have any cookie dough you don’t want to use right away, you can freeze the balls of cookie dough and bake straight from frozen at a later date).
  7. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes. About 8 minutes into baking, open the oven door and raise the cookie tray by a few inches, then use a little bit of force to tap the tray against the oven rack, so the cookies deflate a little. Close the oven door and let the cookies bake for another minute, then tap again. Bake them for another minute, then tap for a third time. Bake for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, until they are golden, crisp around the edges and just set in the middle. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the trays for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat as necessary until all the cookies are baked. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Damson and blackberry ricotta cake

Cooking with fruit is one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen. Whether it’s making jam, compote, crumbles, tarts or cakes, it always feels like a wonderful celebration of the season and the produce that grows here in the UK. This cake is a fantastic base or blank canvas to top with whatever seasonal fruit you have – berries and stone fruit are particularly good, but I’m sure apples and pears would work well, too. I actually made this back in September with some beautiful blackberries and damsons, but I’m tempted to make it again over Christmas using frozen cherries (available in most large supermarkets). You can also play around with the flavourings of the cake – if you’re making it with raspberries, change the cinnamon for lemon zest, or if you make it with cherries, add in orange zest and amaretto in lieu of the cinnamon and vanilla!

Ingredients

140g unsalted butter, softened
220g caster sugar
3 large eggs
165g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
250g ricotta
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g fruit (I used damsons and blackberries) tossed in 1/2 tbsp plain flour
Demerara sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C or 160°C fan. Grease a deep, 8-inch cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer (or by using a hand-held electric whisk and a large bowl), beat the butter on a medium speed for a few minutes until really soft and light. Add in the sugar, and beat again for another 3-5 minutes, until very pale, light and creamy.
  3. Next, add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to incorporate any unmixed batter. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix gently until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and mix again for ten seconds.
  4. Add in the ricotta, cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat very gently to incorporate. Transfer the batter into the tin and smooth it into an even layer. Scatter the fruit over the cake and press it in very lightly. Bake the cake for 40 minutes, and then quickly sprinkle over a scattering of demerara sugar whilst it’s still in the oven. Close the oven door and bake for another 25-30 minutes, until golden and a cake tester comes out clean (except for the fruit juices!). Leave to cool for about 15-20 minutes in the tin before removing and leaving to cool completely on a wire cooling rack. Dust with icing sugar, to serve.

Apfel-Marzipan-Kuchen

Over the years, I have found marzipan to be a very divisive thing – it seems to be one of those contentious ‘love it or hate it’ ingredients. Luckily enough, this cake provides a happy middle ground if the jury’s out; since the marzipan is grated (and then melted) into the batter, it lends a very subtle almond flavour to the cake without being overly sweet or cloying. Plus, the marzipan gives this cake a hint of festive potential (even if you’re not ready to fully commit to Christmas quite yet).

The recipe for this apfel-marzipan kuchen (apple and marzipan cake) is slightly adapted from one from Food52 – as soon as I saw it on their Instagram in 2016, I knew I had to make it, and I’ve made it every year since. It so reminds me of the sort of cake you’d see on the side in an Alpine Swiss or Austrian restaurant. The crumb is wonderfully tender and rich, and it keeps incredibly well thanks to the moisture from the apples. This is lovely on its own with a cup of tea, but is equally delicious served warm as a pudding with some ice cream or custard.

Ingredients
  • 6 medium dessert apples (about 800 grams)
  • 200g good quality marzipan
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 200g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large, free-range eggs
  • 150g plain flour (I used Doves Farm GF)
  • 85g corn flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 75g apricot jam
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 9-inch/23cm springform pan with greaseproof paper.
  2. Peel, halve, and core 3 of the apples, and cut each half into 6 even slices. Set aside.
  3. Peel, halve, and core the remaining apples, and then cut into 1/3-inch/8mm dice. Set aside.
  4. Grate the marzipan and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment (you can also use a handheld electric whisk). Add the salt and melted butter; beat for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth. Then beat in the sugar and vanilla extract. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Beat into the almond batter, and then fold in the diced apples. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Distribute the sliced apples decoratively in concentric rings on the top of the cake. Then, using the flat of your hand, very gently push the apples into the batter; they should not be submerged, but rather lightly anchored.
  6. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a rack to cool.
  7. Immediately heat the apricot jam over medium-high heat until just bubbling. Brush a thin layer of the hot jam over the still-hot cake. Let cool completely before removing the springform ring. The cake will keep at room temperature, lightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for several days.

Chocolate Bundt Cake

A very good chocolate cake is an elusive thing. In fact, even a half-decent chocolate cake is deceptively difficult. I find that the main issues with chocolate cake are that it is either too dry, or that is lacks a depth of flavour – and herein lies the conundrum. The more cocoa powder you add to a chocolate cake, the drier it gets, as the cocoa menacingly absorbs any liquid in the batter. This can be remedied by using varying forms and proportions of both fats and liquid in the cake – some recipes use oil rather than butter, some use hot water, some use yoghurt or sour cream – but even this can be temperamental.

This recipe is so exceptionally good because it manages to not only yield a moist chocolate cake but also one that is in bundt form (bundt cakes, incidentally, are also often rather dry due to their depth). I can’t take any credit for it – it’s written by the fantastic team at delicious. magazine – but I can say that it worked extremely well made gluten free, using (as always) Doves Farm gluten free flour and xantham gum.

Strangely enough, this cake is much better the day after it is made – it becomes denser and damper – but I don’t insist that you wait that long to try it!

Tempting for both humans and furry friends…
  • 200g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 300g plain flour (I used Doves Farm GF plain flour + 1 tsp xantham gum)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 160ml soured cream
  • 55g cocoa powder
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 3 large free-range eggs, at room temperature
  • 150ml double cream
  • 70g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan150°C/gas 31/2. Make a quick lining paste by combining equal parts of soft butter, vegetable oil and flour until you get a smooth paste. Use this to generously grease the inside of a 2.4 litre bundt tin (I used a Nordic Ware one) using a pastry brush to get right into the corners of the tin. Don’t rush this stage – you need to take care and be really thorough, otherwise the cake won’t turn out of the tin.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Once melted, take off the heat and sift in the cocoa powder. Add the vanilla extract, soured cream and 80ml boiling water, then stir to a smooth, thick paste.
  4. In another large bowl, using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition, then stir in the chocolate paste until well combined – but don’t over-mix. Fold in the flour mixture, using a metal spoon.
  5. Dollop the mixture into the greased bundt tin and smooth the top. Bake for 45 min or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake cool and firm up in the tin for 15 minutes, then carefully turn the cake out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.
  6. To make the ganache topping, heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just comes to a simmer, then remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Leave for one minute so the hot cream has a chance to start melting the chocolate, then stir until the chocolate has fully melted and the mixture is smooth. You can pour this all over the cooled bundt, or drizzle it within the ridges, and leave to set.

Lemon Bars

I have long been fascinated by lemon bars, and they’ve been on my ‘must bake’ bucket list for some time now. They are a quintessentially American treat, and something that I have heard lots about – mostly from American literature and TV shows – but they’re rarely seen or tasted in the UK.

Researching what looked like a reliable recipe for these was something of a challenge; it seems the variations on lemon bars are endless (some have a thin pastry, whilst others boast a thick shortbread base; some feature a no-bake, chilled curd, some a baked lemon custard), and every American cooking icon has their own beloved version, from Pioneer Woman to Ina Garten to the team at Bon Appétit.

For those of you who have never tried a lemon bar, the best way to describe them is probably as a slightly more robust tarte au citron, in traybake form. The base here is thin and melt in the mouth, with a sharp-sweet lemon curd-like topping. In short: they’re extremely delicious.

The recipe is largely based on one by the great Alice Medrich, but I’ve tweaked it ever so slightly to make it gluten-free and UK-measurement friendly. A copious dusting of icing sugar to finish is, of course, non-negotiable.

Ingredients

For the crust:

100g unsalted butter, melted

30g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

125g flour (I used Doves Farm gluten free plain flour + 1/2 tsp xantham gum)

For the topping:

250g caster sugar

25g plain flour

3 large, free-range eggs

Grated zest of 3 lemons, preferably unwaxed

Juice of 2 large lemons

Icing sugar, for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 8 x 8 inch square metal baking tray and then line it with baking paper so that it overhangs (this will make it easier it lift the bars out of the tray).
  2. To make the crust, combine the sugar, vanilla, salt and melted butter in a medium bowl. Add the flour (and xantham gum, if using) and mix until incorporated, and you have a nice, soft dough. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the tin, then bake for about 25 minutes until the crust is well browned at the edges and golden brown in the centre. When the crust is done, remove it from the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 150°C.
  3. Whilst the crust is baking, make the topping. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour to combine. Next, whisk in the eggs until blended, followed by the lemon zest and juice.
  4. When the base is cooked, remove it from the oven and carefully pour the lemon mixture onto the warm crust, then return the tin to the 150°C oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes longer, until the topping is puffed at the edge and no longer jiggles in the centre. Transfer the tin to a cooling rack and let it cool completely. Once cooled, I like to transfer the tin to the fridge for an hour or so for the filling to firm up completely.
  5. Once completely cool, lift the baking paper liner out of the tin and transfer the bars to a cutting board. If the surface is covered with a thin layer of moist foam (not unusual), you can blot it gently with a paper towel (although if you’re covering the bars with icing sugar, this isn’t really necessary). Using a sharp knife, cut into bars and then dust liberally with icing sugar just before serving.
  6. The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.