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.

Lemon and poppyseed loaf

I am yet to meet anybody who doesn’t enjoy lemon loaf (and I’m not sure I’d like them very much if I did). There is just something so irresistibly reassuring about this cake – it is simple, yes, but could never be called boring. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have more with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon.

This particular loaf comes from Ottolenghi’s Sweet, and it’s the sense of safety and reliability from this recipe that provoked Ottolenghi and Helen Goh to affectionately name it their ‘National Trust’ cake. It works very well gluten free, using Doves Farm plain GF flour along with 1/2tsp xantham gum. I find that this loaf disappears incredibly quickly, and so it might be worth doubling the recipe here to stash one loaf in the freezer, un-iced, for a moment of need.

Makes 1 2lb/900g loaf

Ingredients

3 large eggs

225g caster sugar

120 ml double cream

75g unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing

10g poppy seeds

finely grated zest of 3 lemons (preferably unwaxed)

170g plain flour

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

For the glaze

100g icing sugar, sifted

2 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan. Grease the loaf tin and line with baking parchment, then set aside.
  2. Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on a medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and frothy. Add the cream and continue to whisk for about 2 minutes, until the mixture has combined, thickened a little and turned pale.
  3. In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, add the poppy seeds and lemon zest and set aside.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt (plus the xantham gum, if you’re making it gluten free) together into a bowl, then use a rubber spatula to fold this into the egg mixture before folding through the butter, poppy seeds and zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Place the tin on a baking tray and cook for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Whilst the cake is baking, make the glaze by whisking the icing sugar with the lemon juice in a bowl. Pour this over the top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, spreading it over the top so that it sinks in and creates a nice glaze. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the tin. Leave to come to room temperature before serving. The cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.

Bomboloni

I can’t quite shake the way in which the name of these wonderful little Italian doughnuts reminds me of the Gipsy King’s Bomboleo. Linguistics aside, the joyfulness of the anthem is certainly reflected in the delight that these tasty morsel impart on the lucky eater.

As a coeliac, the food that I have missed the most since my diagnosis back in 2002 is doughnuts. Gluten free doughnuts are almost impossible to buy – and I mean proper fried doughnuts, not the baked, ‘healthier’ ring-shaped cakes that lurk around health food shops, deceitfully masquerading themselves as the real thing.

Admittedly, these ricotta and orange bomboloni aren’t strictly doughnuts, seeing as they’re yeastless and therefore very low-maintenance. They’re perhaps best described as a cross between a beignet, churro, and loukoumade. I have made my own gluten free yeasted doughnuts in the past, and they were good, but labour intensive and temperamental. These bomboloni are the closest thing I’ve had to a damn good doughnut in 18 years , and they seem too good to be true – ludicrously easy and yet ludicrously delicious. In fact, they almost feel like cheating; they entail minimum effort but yield maximum satisfaction. There’s no yeast, no proving, no special equipment – the batter is literally the work of 5 minutes plus half an hour of resting time (for both you and the batter). 

I can take no credit whatsoever here for the recipe – it’s one by Ravneet Gill for the Guardian over the summer. I can, however, confirm that they adapt very well to be coeliac-friendly; simply substitute the flour for gluten free plain flour (I use the Doves Farm one). We demolished these very quickly just as they were, but I think they would also be very nice indeed served with a hot, bitter chocolate sauce.

Makes about 12-14 bomboloni

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 40g of caster sugar, plus extra, for coating
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 220g ricotta
  • 110g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  1. Lightly whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the sugar and orange zest, and whisk again to combine. Add the strained ricotta and stir gently to combine – don’t overwork it because you want to keep some of the lumps intact.
  2. In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the ricotta mixture and whisk to combine.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (or for up to two hours in the fridge).
  4. Put a medium-sized saucepan on the hob, add enough oil to come halfway up the sides and put on a medium heat. You’re ready to cook once the oil is hot enough to make a droplet of batter sizzle gently and float to the surface.
  5. Cooking the bomboloni in batches, drop small tablespoons of batter into the oil and fry for two to two and a half minutes in total, until golden – the bomboloni should naturally flip by themselves after about a minute.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to lift the cooked bomboloni from the pan and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining batter. Once all the batter is used up, toss the bomboloni in the extra sugar mixed with cinnamon, and serve. These are best eaten fresh, but they keep for a few hours at room temperature (once cooled, it’s best to store them in an airtight container).

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

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There is many a purist who would firmly contend tampering with a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe in any way. A typical cookie is formed from varying quantities of butter, sugar, flour and egg, with some form of raising agent, and, of course, chocolate. However, contrary to traditionalists, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the most perfect vehicle to experiment with, using different kinds of sugar or chocolate, distinctly flavoured flours such as rye, or adding things like nuts and dried fruit.

In any ‘classic’ chocolate chip cookie I make, I always add vanilla bean paste, espresso powder and salt, all of which enhance the flavour of the chocolate. The same can be said for the ingenious addition of tahini to David Lebovitz’s recipe for these chocolate chip cookies. The tahini creates another layer of flavour, lending a very subtle bitter, savoury note to the dough. I think chopped dark chocolate works better than commercial chocolate chips here, as the larger piece melt into little chocolate puddles within each cookie. I’ve altered the baking temperature of Lebovitz’s recipe, as I found a shorter bake in a hotter oven made for a better texture. If you can bear the wait, refrigerating the dough overnight really does yield a far superior cookie.

Makes around 25 cookies

115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml tahini, well stirred
100g granulated sugar
90g light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
tsp sea salt
280g chopped dark chocolate 
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

 

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, tahini, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy. 
  2. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the egg, the yolk, and vanilla, and continue to mix for another minute, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl during mixing, to make sure the eggs are getting incorporated.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and sea salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just combined, then add the chocolate chips. Do not overmix. Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 190ºC. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper or silicone baking mats.
  5. Form the cookies into balls using a small ice cream scoop, a tablespoon measure, or your hands.  Sprinkle each cookie ball with a little extra sea salt, if you like. Place them evenly spaced on the baking sheets, around 8cm apart. Bake one sheet at a time, so you can keep an eye on them, in the middle rack of the oven.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges but still pale in the centre. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet. Bake the remaining cookies the same way.

Storage: These cookies will keep for two or three days at room temperature. The unbaked dough can be refrigerated for up to one week, and frozen for up to two months.

How Covid-19 has changed the way we eat

 

 

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‘Still Life with Cheese’ by Floris van Dijck, c.1615 © Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

Scrolling past yet another banana bread photo on Instagram, it’s easy to feel cynical about the clichés of lockdown cooking that have exploded as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the onslaught of sourdough starters that heralded the nation’s return to wholesome home-cooking signals a much more significant shift in the way Britons think and feel about food.

Long before Boris Johnson implemented a nationwide lockdown in late March, supermarket shelves across Britain were swept clean, having been emptied of essentials like toilet paper and pasta by a hysterical wave of panic-buyers. As a direct result of consumer stockpiling and compromised supply chains, many people experienced scarcity for the first time in their lives. Forced to stare at the hard reality that food is, in fact, finite, we began to value, respect and honour food in a way that has been lost since wartime Britain. Many of us reverted back to weekly or fortnightly shops, carefully constructing meal plans and adapting to create new meals out of leftover food. Research by Hubbub – a UK-based sustainability charity – found that 57% of Britons value food more now than they did pre-coronavirus, and as a result, levels of food waste between April and June fell significantly in the UK.

Ever since the American-influenced consumerist culture boom in the 1950s, the UK has fostered a problematic food culture. As a nation, we have learned to rely on endless choice and abundance, regardless of quality or season. The idea of always being able to have whatever we want, whenever we want, has given way to a shockingly throwaway food culture. Recent figures published by WRAP in January 2020 revealed that households in the UK throw away 4.5 million tonnes of food each year that could have been eaten, collectively worth £14 billion. In the UK alone, 24 million slices of bread (or one million loaves) are wasted every single day, which annually produces an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to more than half a million return flights from London to New York. On top of this, prolonged austerity and rising poverty levels combined with increasingly busy work schedules and stressful lifestyles have generated a mass departure from home-cooking, with more and more households relying on take-out food or ready meals. In the space of just a few generations, an alarming pattern has begun to emerge in which the quality, nutrition and provenance of food is superseded by aesthetics, speed and convenience on a mass-scale.

However, the optimistic among us can see a silver lining to the pandemic in that it has helped us to see the true value of food. Many of those who have been furloughed or are working from home have enjoyed more time for cooking from scratch, partly necessitated by the closure of restaurants and pubs. Covid-19 has brought to light that not only is food a precious, limited commodity, but it also has an incredible emotional significance. Whilst the methodical, creative process of cooking can be a therapeutic time to slow down, the act of eating itself is one that is joyful, and has provided comfort for many over what has been a very stressful, uncertain and frightening time. During lockdown, a slower pace of life has lent crucial time to reflect on what is truly important in life, with sitting down and eating good food with loved ones high up on many people’s priorities.

Nationwide shortages of eggs, flour and sugar from March to May heralded a nostalgic return to home baking, as cooking simultaneously became a source of comfort and a rewarding source of entertainment that has the capacity to bring about a real sense of achievement. As a student, I’ve seen a number of friends get creative in the kitchen over lockdown, setting up dedicated Instagram accounts to document their culinary projects; beginner bakers soon grew to be focaccia aficionados and were relishing the challenge of more complex patisserie. My brother quickly became a gardening fanatic, using extra time saved from his two-hour daily commute to grow his own herbs and vegetables in the garden. This interest in sustainable, home-grown food is echoed in the sharp rise in applications for allotments across the UK during lockdown.

With cookery books and kitchen gadgets widely out of stock online, it’s clear that lockdown has incited a mass rediscovery of the joy of cooking. But as the world begins to slowly heave itself into recovery, the question remains – can we solve our relationship with food for good? Will we have time to bake bread and cook from scratch when we return back to work and university full-time? It’s easy to romanticise ‘the good old days’ of the early twentieth century, where Britons largely sat down every evening for a home-cooked meal made from local, seasonal ingredients. In today’s globalised world, food production and consumption are inherently different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be inherently worse. We must all take the responsibility of educating ourselves on how to be ethical and sustainable consumers, and make an active effort to carve out sacred time for both cooking and eating as lockdown eases further.

For all of us, the pandemic has been a life-changing period which has forced us to re-examine the way we live our lives. It’s impossible to know if society will ever fully return to its pre-Covid state, but over the last six months, many of us have made positive changes to the way we eat and perceive food. We still have a long way to go in terms of reducing the UK’s food waste, but the figures from lockdown are promising. The UK government’s plans for a so-called ‘green recovery’ from Covid-19 need a greater focus on food if we’re going to create a more sustainable society. Returning to a culture of home-cooking is a step in the right direction for repairing Britain’s relationship with food, not only in terms of food waste but also in battling the national obesity crisis. Relearning the intrinsic value of good food must be the springboard to address other issues we have with food and its production, including the threat to food standards imposed by an imminent US trade deal, and the detrimental effect that intensive animal farming has on ecosystems and climate. The next six to twelve months will reveal whether Britons can retain the lessons of this surreal and trying period, or whether we’ll swing back into old habits at the first given opportunity.

Hazelnut meringue with roasted apricots and lavender

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I have historically had a very difficult relationship with making meringue. I am always painstakingly careful, diligently carrying out all of the ‘tricks of the trade’ that I’ve read up on: I whisk the meringue with spotlessly clean apparatus, ensuring there’s no fat; I use a metal bowl; I only use room temperature egg whites. And yet, more often than I like to admit, something goes wrong. My kitchen has seen all too many runny meringue mixtures or collapsed pavlovas, and a few tears of frustration along the way. This recipe, however, is fairly foolproof in that it doesn’t really matter what the meringue looks like. Mine collapsed a fair bit when it came out of the oven, and there were a few patches of meringue which had caught. None of this was a problem, of course, since it was destined to be slathered in cream and piled with fruit, and, being a flat ‘sheet’ meringue, it wasn’t as exposed as a normal pavlova.

This recipe is based on one written for Waitrose magazine by the lovely Georgina Hayden. The finished meringue has a perfect layering of flavour profiles: the combination of sweet, nutty, marshmallowy meringue, with the pillowy, tangy yoghurt-cream, finished with semi-sharp and floral apricots. Apricots are at their best at this time of year, and invariably taste better when cooked; if you can, roast them in a really floral honey (such as heather or orange blossom honey) to bring out the delicate flavour of the apricots. I’m not the biggest fan of using flowers in cooking, but lavender has a bewitching affinity with apricots – just be sparing with it so that your meringue doesn’t taste like soap!

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Serves 10-12

Ingredients

500g apricots, halved

3 tbsp floral honey

50ml white wine or rosé

250g caster sugar

5 large egg whites

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp white wine vinegar

100g pack roasted, chopped hazelnuts

300ml double cream, softly whipped

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

200g Greek yoghurt

Fresh lavender flowers (optional)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Put the apricots in an oven-proof dish and drizzle with the honey and wine. Roast in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Set aside to cool and lower the oven temperature to 180°C.
  2. For the meringue, line a large, rimmed baking tray (about 25cm x 30cm) with baking parchment. Put the egg whites in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk until stiff peaks form, then gradually whisk in 250g sugar, one teaspoon at a time. In a small bowl, stir together the cornflour and vinegar, then whisk into the egg whites. Finally, fold in the hazelnuts. Spread the mixture out on the prepared tray.
  3. Bake the meringue for about 45 minutes, or until set and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
  4. Stir together the whipped cream, yoghurt and vanilla bean paste, then spoon it over the meringue. Top with the roasted apricots and any roasting juices, and sprinkle over a few lavender flowers to finish. Serve immediately.

 

Lemon, almond and polenta cake

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There’s certainly a time and a place for multi-tiered, elaborate cakes. Over lockdown, I’ve particularly enjoyed devising increasingly complex and embellished celebration cakes for a number of quarantine birthdays and graduations, relishing the challenge of combining the perfect crumb structure with the right flavour profile, icing (cream cheese frosting, Italian meringue buttercream, or ganache?) and decorative finishing touches. However, I also find that there is equal – or even greater – joy to be found in simple, plain cakes; the kind you can cut and come again whenever the kettle is boiling. Over the last few years, social media platforms have been awash with ‘satisfying’ videos documenting cakes being cut, moulded, iced and decorated beyond recognition – think rainbow cakes, drip cakes, or cakes that have a hidden confectionary centre. While all of this is well and good, the phrase ‘style over substance’ comes to mind; these creations seem to consist primarily of saccharine icing and not much else. Yes, they look beautiful, but do they actually taste nice?

In my own kitchen, the most simple cakes are the most requested: Victoria sandwich, lemon loaf, maybe the odd carrot cake. It’s true that the simpler the cake, the less room there is to hide, but with the right recipe there’s little that can go wrong. This iconic River Café lemon, almond and polenta cake is the type of cake which is as at home alongside a cup of strong coffee as it is as an elegant dinner party pudding with a dollop of crème fraîche. It’s not iced, glazed, or soaked in syrup, but its beauty lies in its simplicity. The tender, damp cake is heady with lemon, and the polenta gives it a wonderful bite. It’s a one-bowl, one-tin kind of cake, and it’s flourless, too, so it’s naturally gluten free. For me, it’s the perfect cake for summer – moist, zesty, and somehow light despite the outrageously high butter content.

The original recipe (taken from the first River Cafe cookbook) makes a 30cm (12 in) cake, which is uncommonly large, so I’ve converted the quantities to make a standard 23cm cake (hence the slightly random measurements).

Torta di Polenta, Mandorle e Limone

338g unsalted butter, softened

338g caster sugar

228g ground almonds

1 tsp good vanilla essence

4 very large eggs

zest of 3 large, unwaxed lemons

juice of 1 lemon

169g polenta

1 heaped tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Butter and flour a 23cm springform cake tin.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the lemon zest and lemon juice, the polenta, baking powder and salt.
  3. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until set. The cake will be a deep brown on top.
  4. Leave to cool in the tin before releasing.

Cherry Ripple Ice Cream

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Admittedly, homemade ice cream is a bit of a labour of love, but it is almost always worth the effort. I have long been a disciple of ‘cheat’s’ two-ingredient ice cream – a no-churn option typically made with cream and condensed milk. However, having had much more time on my hands over lockdown, I’ve been making custard-based ice creams from scratch, enjoying the process and the technique. Now that I’ve found a trusty recipe for a custard base, I’ve been able to use it to make all sorts of ice creams depending what fruit is in season (or what’s delivered in our OddBox). My general rule is to lightly cook 400-500g of fruit of your choice in a pan with a tablespoon each of water and sugar (until the fruit is soft and releasing its juices), and then pour off any excess liquid before puréeing in a food processor or with a stick blender. This can then be incorporated into the chilled custard prior to churning in an ice cream machine.

Cherries have always been my favourite fruit, but I rarely buy them due to their  typically ruinous cost. However, our local farmers’ market has been selling 2kg punnets of the best cherries I’ve ever tasted for a very reasonable price, so we’ve been gorging ourselves whilst the season still lasts. Having made one clafoutis too many, I turned to this ice cream, which is as pretty as it is delicious. If you can’t get hold of any affordable cherries, any berry would work really well here.

If you’re really pressed for time (or don’t have an ice cream churner), you could always make the cherry purée mix and then ripple it through a basic ice cream base of 300ml of double cream that has been beaten with a 397g tin of condensed milk until thick and pillow-y (I like to add a glug of neutral alcohol, too).

Ingredients

For the ice cream:

4 free-range egg yolks

100g caster sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

400ml double cream

100ml whole or semi-skimmed milk

 

For the cherry ripple:

400g cherries, pitted

1 tbsp caster sugar

1tbsp water

Method

  1. Put the egg yolks, caster sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk until pale, thick and aerated – around five minutes. In a medium pan, heat the milk and cream to just below boiling point, then slowly pour onto the eggs, whisking all the time, until completely mixed.
  2. Wash out and dry the pan and then pour the custard back in. Over a medium-low heat, cook the custard gently, stirring all the time until it thickens and can coat the back of a spoon. Pour into a clean bowl and cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.
  3. For the cherry puree, put the stoned cherries into a small pan with the sugar and water. Heat the cherries over a medium heat until they begin to break down and release their juices – around ten minutes. Remove from the heat and pour away the liquid. Purée the softened cherries in a small food processor or with a hand stick blender until smooth, and then pass the purée through a fine sieve to remove any pith or fibre. Chill until needed.
  4. Churn the custard in an ice cream machine according to manufacturers’ instructions. Once thickened and frozen, transfer to a container or tupperware, and then ripple the cherry sauce through the ice cream attractively. Freeze.
  5. Remove the ice cream from the freezer at least 15 minutes before you want to tuck in to allow it to soften.