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.

Madeleines

 

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“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 at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … 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.”

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

 

It’s not easy to write about madeleines without referring to their ultimate fan, Marcel Proust. Proust’s infamous musings on madeleines in his novel In Search of Lost Time covertly seek to contrast voluntary memory with involuntary memory through the experiences of his nameless narrator. Much like Proust’s narrator, I too find madeleines extremely evocative, and have memories of eating them in France as a very young child (in the blissful years prior to my coeliac diagnosis). However, madeleines are so much more than a Proustian literary cliché. Put simply, they’re a lighter-than-light sponge cake from France comprised of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, most often baked in distinctive shell-shaped moulds. However, method and flavourings can vary hugely, with purists favouring a modest dash of vanilla to the batter, whilst revolutionaries have (sacrilegiously) fashioned such creations as ‘funfetti’ madeleines. For me, when it comes to madeleines, the simpler the better. However, keeping it simple unequivocally demands the best quality ingredients; there’s nowhere to hide with madeleines made with cheap butter and battery-farm eggs.

Under the guidance of the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi and Phil Vickery, I have always made madeleines with honey as well as sugar, which I find lends a more complex and often floral sweetness to the cake. My most recent madeleines, however, used browned butter along with the honey, yielding what I believe to be my most delicious batch yet (thank you, Ravneet Gill). Whilst browning the butter takes a little more time, the deep, sweet nuttiness of the finished cakes is well worth the effort; affording simple ingredients like butter such love and affection transforms a simple confectionary into a more ambrosial pleasure.

It is widely recognised that madeleines are at their absolute best when served straight from the oven (like they do at St. JOHN). The beauty of Gill’s batter, then, is that is keeps beautifully in the fridge for several days, meaning that we could enjoy freshly baked madeleines periodically over three days. Although Gills’ recipe claims to make 12 madeleines, I suspect this is a misprint as I actually came out with 40 (which was just as well in the end). These really are one of my absolute favourites, and if I were to ever have my own restaurant, these would be the first thing on the menu.

 

Ravneet Gill’s Brown butter and honey madeleines:

Ingredients:

185g unsalted butter

40g medium-dark runny honey

4 large eggs

150g caster sugar

20g demerara sugar

1tsp vanilla bean paste

185g plain flour (I used Doves Farm gluten free plain flour)

pinch of salt

10g baking powder

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and keep heating until it is browned and smells nutty. Stir in the honey and set aside.
  2. Put the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl. Beat together at a medium speed for 2 minutes using the whisk attachment or a hand-held whisk. Add both sugars and the vanilla and beat at a medium-high speed for around 5 minutes until thick and frothy.
  3. Meanwhile, sift the flour, salt and baking powder together into a separate bowl and set aside.
  4. Beat the honey butter into the egg mixture at a slow speed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl if using a stand mixer.
  5. Fold the flour mixture in three separate batches. I like to use a whisk to fold in the same way you would use a spatula to fold as this minimizes lumps. Transfer the batter to a container, cover with a lid and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours (and maximum of 3 days).
  6. Preheat the oven to 180° fan/200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
  7. Heavily grease madeleine tray with butter and dust with flour. Place 1 tbsp of batter into each indent and bake for 8-12 minutes until there is a bump in the middle of each cake that springs back once pressed. Tap the tray on the table to release the cakes. These are best eaten freshly baked and warm.

Comforting Chickpea Stew

There is huge comfort and reassurance in the possession of a few cans in the cupboard, especially so in times like these. Many have been the time that I have wearily returned home, unhopeful of any good supper, and found relief in a can or two hiding at the back of the cupboard. Tinned tomatoes and pulses are the most common rescue, though coconut milk comes a close second. This stew is one such recipe that requires very little fresh ingredients – or rather, as little as you like, as many of the ingredients can be omitted depending how destitute your fridge is. It is a variation of Alison Roman’s infamous ‘The Stew’, which caused a stir all the way through New York when the recipe was first published in the New York Times. It’s very hard to know what exactly makes a recipe go ‘viral’, but there are certainly no bells and whistles here; I think the secret to this particular recipe lies in its simplicity, wholesomeness, and the comfort it brings in what Nigella has called ‘the solace of stirring’. I often make this is in a big batch and then freeze leftovers in portions, and it never fails to soothe the soul. It’s substantial enough to be eaten on it’s own, but I like it with brown rice and a dollop of yoghurt, though I’ve often served it with naan or roti to mop up the golden juices. This takes 30 minutes from start to finish, but if you’re short on time (or energy) you can always forgo the crispy chickpeas (although they do add a lovely crunch!).

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Ingredients

For the crispy chickpeas:

1 x 400g chickpeas, drained and rinsed

oil

2tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1tsp fennel seeds

 

For the stew:

Oil, for frying

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tin of full-fat coconut milk

1 stock cube or stock pot (vegetable or chicken)

large bag of baby spinach

Handful of fresh chopped mint (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Tip one can of chickpeas into a medium roasting dish, drizzle with a glug of oil, spices and salt and pepper, then shake the dish to coat the chickpeas. Place the tray in the hot oven and cook for about 30 minutes until dark golden and crispy, and slightly shrunk in size. You will need to keep checking them every ten minutes or so and shaking the tray so that they cook evenly and don’t catch.

In a large pan, heat a good glug of oil, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Fry over a medium-low heat until the onions are soft and translucent, then add the ginger and spices and cook, stirring, until the pan smells fragrant. Add two cans of chickpeas and use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to partly crush the chickpeas so that they’re semi-broken down – this helps to thicken the stew. Once the chickpeas have been smooshed a bit, add the coconut milk, 250ml of boiling water, and the stock pot. Bring to a bubble and cook for about ten minutes, until the chickpeas are nice and soft and the stew has reduced very slightly. Stir through the fresh spinach to wilt, and then check the seasoning. Serve with rice or flatbreads, with mint and crunchy chickpeas sprinkled over.

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake

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I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling anxious, worried and a bit frightened in these very uncertain times. Most of us have never lived through anything like this, and it’s sometimes difficult to know what or how to think about it all. However, if there’s one thing that I always turn to in times of sadness, anxiety, sleeplessness or loneliness, it’s baking.

So, here is my humble offering of consolation – a very easy but very delicious rhubarb cake. The crumb is moist yet dense, which makes this perfect with a cup of tea, or served warm with ice cream (or preferably custard). It’s an all-in-one method cake, so it really couldn’t be easier, and you can switch it up depending on what you have in your store cupboard – you could leave out the ginger, perhaps, or use any fruit (fresh, frozen, dried or tinned) in lieu of the rhubarb. I hope that you can find as much solace in stirring, measuring, mixing and smoothing as I do. 

 

Ingredients

  • 200g softened butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g caster sugar, plus 3 tbsp for the topping
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste (optional)
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 200g self-raising flour (if you don’t have any, use plain flour + 1 heaped tsp baking powder)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 heaped tsp ground ginger
  • 5 balls of stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 300g/10½oz pink rhubarb, trimmed and cut into roughly 2cm pieces (or any fruit you have!)

Method

  1. Put on some nice music and make yourself a cup of tea.
  2. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4, then grease a 23cm/9in springform cake  and line the base with baking paper.

  3. Put all of the ingredients except the rhubarb into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and well-incorporated (you can also use a food processor). Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure everything is mixed in.

  4. Spoon the cake mix into the prepared tin and top with the rhubarb . You can scatter the fruit randomly or arrange it in a concentric-circle type pattern – it’s up to you!. There is no need to push the rhubarb into the batter as it will sink a little as it cooks.

  5. Sprinkle with the reserved 3 tablespoons of sugar and bake for 45 minutes.

  6. After 45 minutes, cover the tin loosely with foil and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

  7. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. It’s lovely served warm, but equally nice cold, too!

Apricot Frangipane Tart

IMG_3536Although apricots are at their most abundant at this time of year, I am beginning to think that they are one of those rare fruits that are almost always better eaten cooked rather than when fresh. Admittedly, there is something rather affecting about a perfectly ripe, plump, honey-sweet apricot, firm yet yielding, with its velvet-soft skin. However, the window between flesh that is hard, crunchy and sharp and that which is too soft and powdery is one, I suspect, of a matter of hours.

This particular tart came about in part for this very reason, although its conception was also down to my efforts to clear out our chest freezer before moving house – I recently found some homemade gluten free pastry from last Christmas that needed using up (the recipe for which can be found here). This tart would work well with any seasonal stone fruit to hand – plums, peaches or cherries, perhaps – though it is also excellent with raspberries or blackberries.

 

For the tart

300g sweet shortcrust pastry, chilled

3-5 apricots, depending on size

2 tbsp apricot jam

2 tbsp flaked almonds

Honey, for glazing

 

For the frangipane filling

100g unsalted butter, softened

50g caster sugar

50g honey (I use lavender honey, but any floral honey is great)

2 large free-range eggs, at room temperature

100g ground almonds

1 level tablespoon plain flour

1 tbsp amaretto or sweet sherry (optional)

 

You will also need: 8-inch fluted tart tin

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and put a large metal tray into the oven to heat up (this will help prevent a dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ as this tart is not blind baked).
  2. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the pastry to a thickness of a £1 coin, slightly larger than the tin. Line the base and sides of the tin (you can use a small ball of pastry to help coax the pastry in to the fluted sides of the tin to give a smooth finish). Note: gluten free pastry can be very tricky to work with. I tend to press the pastry into the tin (much like shortbread) rather than rolling it out and transferring it all in one piece (which is virtually impossible with gluten-free pastry due to the lack of elasticity).
  3. Chill the pastry case in the fridge whilst you make the frangipane.
  4. To make the frangipane, cream together the butter, sugar and honey in a large bowl using an electric hand whisk until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix to combine – don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled at this stage. Add the ground almonds, flour and alcohol (if using) and mix to combine.
  5. Remove the pastry case from the fridge and spread the base with apricot jam. Spoon the frangipane mixture on top of the jam and carefully smooth it. Halve the apricots and arrange them prettily in the tart case, cut-side facing down, lightly pressing them into the frangipane so that they’re still visible. Sprinkle the tart with flaked almonds and then put it into the preheated oven, directly onto the heated tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and the frangipane feels firm yet springy to touch.
  6. Cool the tart on a wire baking rack. Once cool, place the tin on top of a can or jar, then remove the outer ring by pushing it down. Then, carefully slide a palette knife underneath to remove the base of the tin and transfer the tart to the serving plate.
  7. Heat a little honey in a pan to melt slightly, then use a pastry brush to glaze the tart with the honey. It is lovely served with cream, ice cream, or clotted cream for a special treat.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

0658BF9D-6C8D-4C45-8E4D-8E2659F69679Sometimes, I just need something sweet. Others, I just fancy half an hour or so in the kitchen to wind down and heal the soul after a long day. In either case, this is always my go-to recipe, day or night, rain or shine. I remember when I first encountered these cookies in Nigella’s Simply Nigella, and being bewildered by the recipe – these cookies are naturally gluten free and contain no flour at all. I’d come across flourless cakes hundreds of times, but flourless cookies seemed almost like a paradox. Indeed, to this day – having made these cookies more times than I care to count – it never ceases to amaze me how a flourless cookie dough can be so, well, dough-y. As you beat the egg into the sugar and peanut-butter mix, something magical happens and all of a sudden the mixture transforms from being wet and smooth to starchy and thick. It doesn’t matter how or why it happens, all that matters is how damn good the cookies are.

I don’t exaggerate when I say the dough takes literally 5 minutes to make, and you don’t need any fancy equipment at all – literally a bowl and a wooden spoon. After that, it’s just 10 minutes in the oven and you’ve got a batch of the most perfect cookies imaginable – soft yet chewy, with a perfect harmony of sweet, salty peanut and bitter dark chocolate. I’ve taken the liberty of doubling the prescribed quantity of chocolate here from 50g to 100g – sorry, Nigella.

Makes about 12.

Ingredients:

100g soft light brown sugar.

225g smooth peanut butter (needs to be something cheap, like SunPat – organic just does not work here).

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda.

A pinch of salt.

1tsp vanilla extract.

1 large egg.

100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped.

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, peanut butter, bicarb and salt with a wooden spoon. Once nicely combined, gently beat in the egg and vanilla. When the mixture has formed a dough, mix in the chocolate.

Form the dough into golf-ball sized balls, and arrange on two large baking sheets lined with baking parchment, leaving plenty of space for the cookies to spread. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown – the sheet on the bottom layer will need a little longer than the one on top. As soon as you have taken the tray out of the oven, give it a sharp tap against the side to spread and flatten the cookies. Leave to cool completely on the trays (they will firm up as they cool). Store in an airtight container.

 

Leftovers Tart

IMG_7153I’m sure I’m not alone in my consciousness of food waste (I’ve written about it more extensively in the past here) and my desire to revert back to the mentality of ‘waste not, want not’ of the past. This tart was born out of this same hatred for food waste; my mum had a couple of jars of homemade mincemeat left over from Christmas which needed to be used up lest they go off.

In fact, I actively enjoy the challenge of finding ways to use up leftover or over-abundant food. In our culture of richness and choice in food, it’s quite refreshing to be presented with just one ingredient and the task of creating something delicious from it. Yes, mincemeat is traditionally a Christmas delicacy, but it can perhaps be short-sighted to write off a foodstuff entirely based on the time of year. The richly fruited and spiced preserve mix has as much, if not more, value in bitter January and February as it does in December.

This tart is an extremely versatile one – it can be made throughout the year with varying fillings depending what is in season. Whilst mincemeat is wonderful in mid-winter, poached rhubarb may be used as spring begins to creep in, and fresh berries and stone fruits in the summer. Alternatively, a layer of good jam nested beneath the frangipane would also be equally delicious.

This is my absolute favourite gluten free pastry recipe, courtesy of Pearl and Groove bakery. It is wonderfully easy to make, and, once chilled, easy to handle. The pastry is so tender and just melts in the mouth – my non-coeliac family love it as much as I do. You will have some leftover pastry, here, but it freezes very well (although I like to use the off cuts to make jam tarts).

 

For the pastry:

250g gluten-free plain flour, plus extra to dust

65g caster sugar

50g ground almonds

Finely grated zest ½ orange

Pinch salt

175g unsalted butter, cubed

1 free-range egg

2-3 tbsp sherry (rum or brandy also works well)

 

For the frangipane:

200g unsalted butter, softened

200g caster sugar
4 large eggs
200g ground almonds
2 level tablespoons plain flour
2 tbsp sweet sherry

 

About 500g mincemeat

Handful of flaked almonds

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190° Place a large baking tray in the oven.
  2. For the pastry, briefly whizz the flour, sugar, ground almonds, orange zest and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and use the pulse button to combine until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs. Work swiftly and be careful not to overwork, which would make the pastry tough. Add the egg and 2 tbsp of the sherry, whizz briefly, then bring the pastry together with your hands. (If you don’t have a food processor, put the same ingredients in a mixing bowl and rub the butter into the dry ingredients using your fingertips, then work in the egg and rum with your hands until it comes together.) If the pastry is too dry add just enough extra rum to bring it together; it shouldn’t be wet. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill until ready to use.
  3. Now make the frangipane. If you’ve used a food processor for the pastry, you can use it again for the frangipane – no need to wash it (alternatively, you can use a hand-held electric whisk). Add the butter and sugar to the food processor bowl, and whizz them until they look smooth and creamy. Then add the eggs, almonds, flour and sherry and process until combined, occasionally scraping down the side of the processor to incorporate all the mixture.
  4. Take the pastry out of the fridge, and roll it out on a surface that has been lightly dusted with flour. Try to be as swift and gentle as you roll it out – ideally to a 3mm thickness. Use the pastry to line a 25cm fluted tart tin – don’t panic if the pastry cracks, just patch it up with the off-cuts.
  5. Spoon the mincemeat into the tart case, and spread evenly. Spoon the frangipane on top of the mincemeat and smooth neatly. Scatter with flaked almonds.
  6. Place the tart in the oven on top of the hot tray (this helps to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom). Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the frangipane is puffed, light and golden brown all over.
  7. This can be served either warm or cold. Excellent with thick cream, vanilla ice cream, or even brandy butter.

Bonfire Night Gingerbread

IMG_5044There is something about this time of year which is, for me at least, synonymous with gingerbread. It is unquestionably a deeply seasonal cake – it would seem almost morally wrong to eat it in the height of summer –  and one which brings back fond memories of my childhood, when my mum would make it every year for Bonfire Night. There is something about the warm, fragrant depth of gingerbread that is a perfect companion to the orange hues of autumn, and with it the rustle of fallen leaves and sweet scent of wood smoke.

As recipes go, gingerbread is a particularly rewarding bake; not only is it enchantingly easy (you won’t need any electric whisk here; just a wooden spoon and a swift arm), but it will make your kitchen smell like heaven. Unlike most cakes, it actually improves with time – if you can bear it, once cooled, leave the cake in a storage tin for 24 hours before tucking in, as it really is better the day after.

This gingerbread is lovely in thick slices spread with butter alongside a strong cup of tea, but is also equally delicious served warm as a pudding, with vanilla ice cream and poached pears (or, if you’re lucky enough to find them, quinces). I also don’t see any reason why you couldn’t ice this with a simple lemon juice icing, and perhaps decorate with more crystallised ginger. It is much easier to measure out the treacle and golden syrup if you’ve left the tins in a warm place for an hour or so; alternatively, place the tins in a saucepan of just-boiled water for a few minutes to warm through.

I made the gingerbread gluten free without any trouble at all using Doves Farm gluten free plain flour, along with ½ teaspoon of xanthum gum, which improves the crumb structure to give the mouth-feel of a normal cake.

 

Ingredients

175g plain flour

1 ½ tbsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tbsp milk

75g black treacle

75g golden syrup

75g dark brown soft sugar

75g unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

75ml water

1 large egg, lightly beaten and at room temperature

100g crystallized ginger, chopped into 1cm cubes and tossed in 2 tsp plain flour

 

1 classic 2lb loaf tin, greased and base-lined with greaseproof paper

 

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3.

Place the flour (and xanthum gum, if using) and spices in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

In another small bowl, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the milk and set aside.

Now measure the black treacle, golden syrup, sugar, butter and water into a medium saucepan. Put the saucepan on a medium heat and gently stir until thoroughly melted and blended – stay with it and don’t let it come anywhere near the boil.

Next, add the syrup mixture to the flour and spices, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon – and when the mixture is smooth, beat in the egg a little at a time, followed by the bicarbonate of soda and milk. Fold in the crystallized ginger pieces.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1¼–1½ hours until it’s well-risen and firm to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out.

 

Based on a recipe by Delia Smith.