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.

Pink Grapefruit Loaf Cake

One of my go-to bakes will always be a classic lemon loaf, either with a lemon syrup, crunchy sugar topping or zesty lemon icing – I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t like it. Therefore, being such a grapefruit fanatic, I was keen to experiment and see whether the cake lends itself to the bittersweet qualities of pink grapefruit. Fundamentally, cake is a sweet thing, and so it’s interesting to eat something that is bittersweet, or rather initially sweet, but with a slightly bitter aftertaste. From experience, I find that red grapefruit is more pungent and flavoursome than the pink variety, or though it can be slightly harder to come by. The lemon zest used here helps to bring out the zestiness of the grapefruit.

There is a time and a place for the creaming method, but here I find the all in one method to be delightfully quick and easy and produces an exceedingly light crumb.

This is delicious eaten with coffee, though for something a bit stronger, I see no harm in making a gin-spiced grapefruit syrup to soak the cake in lieu of the icing.IMG_1019

For the cake:

125g margarine, at room temperature

175g caster sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

175g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

4 tbsp milk

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 2 pink or red grapefruit

(+ 1/2 tsp xantham gum if making gluten free)

 For the icing

200g icing sugar, sieved

Juice 1/2 red grapefruit

Few drops natural pink food colouring (optional)

Fresh grapefruit, to decorate (optional)

23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin, buttered and lined/ 2lb loaf tin

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Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Butter and line a 23 x 13 x 7cm (or 2lb) loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and beat well using an electric hand whisk (or else in a freestanding mixer) for at least two minutes until smooth and well combined. Transfer the mix into the prepared loaf tin, smoothing with a spatula.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and risen in the middle. You will probably need to cover the loaf with foil and bake for a further 5-10 minutes to ensure the cake is cooked all the way through – the cake should feel springy to touch and a skewer should come out more or less clean. Once out of the oven, run a knife around the cake and then leave in the tin for 5 minutes to cool a little before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake cools, make the icing. In a bowl, add the grapefruit juice little by little to the sugar until the icing comes together – you want it to be quite a thick consistency so that it opaquely covers the cake and slowly drips down the sides of the loaf. The grapefruit juice gives a very subtle pink hue to the icing, but if liked, you can add 4-5 drops of pink food colouring for a more pronounced baby pink colour.

Once cool, gently pour the icing evenly over the cake and allow it to work its way down the sides of the loaf. You can leave the cake as it is, or decorate with some slices or fresh or dried grapefruit.

 

Note: omitting the citrus zest, this is a brilliant basic loaf cake recipe that lends itself well to a number of variations.

Lemon loaf – zest of two lemons in the cake batter, plus icing made with 200g icing sugar and the juice of 1/2 lemon

Lemon and blueberry loaf – as above but with 150g of flour-coated blueberries gently folded in before baking

Orange loaf – zest of one orange in the cake batter, plus a syrup made with 100g icing sugar, the juice of one orange and a dash of cointreau

Chocolate chip loaf cake – 150g dark chocolate chips folded into the batter before baking

Pumpkin soup

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Every year when halloween comes back around, I can’t help but think what a shame it is that so many pumpkins are wasted for decoration, as it happens that pumpkin flesh makes the very best of soups.

Roasted by itself, pumpkin flesh – from seasonal varieties such as delica and blue hokkaido – can often be woolier and less sweet (although also much earthier) than their more popular cousin the butternut squash, which lends itself better to roasting, sautéing and pureeing due to its sweetness and less fibrous flesh. Consequently, varieties of pumpkins like these are perhaps best whizzed up, creating a earthy, velvety-rich soup.

Try to buy as many squash and pumpkins as you can whilst they’re still in season; winter squash have tough, thick skin (almost like a shell) which – whilst it is a pain to hack into – protects the sweet flesh within, making them perfect for storage. They’ll keep for weeks in a cool, dry place and provide a lovely standby supper on a cold night.

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Acorn Squash and Kent Pumpkin

This recipe was originally given to me last year by my boyfriend’s lovely mum, Penny. With it’s earthy warmth and golden-orange hue, it really does feel like autumn in a bowl; the sweet wood smoke of autumnal bonfires is somewhat echoed by the smokiness of the lardons, which is then further complimented by the subtle heat of the chilli. I’m sure cardiac specialists would hunt me down for writing this, but it really is necessary to use the fattiest bacon here, either from lardons or streaky bacon – it’s the fat that renders from the meat that gives this soup such a great depth of flavour. Admittedly, squashes can be very tough indeed to cut into, so try microwaving them for a minute, turning every twenty seconds or so, to soften ever so slightly – this makes chopping them a little less precarious! I also find it’s far easier to roast the squash in their skins and then scoop out the flesh rather than peeling them raw.

This is lovely served with a dollop of crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt; niche as it is, goats curd would also be an excellent accompaniment. For me, a bowl of this soup served with a hunk of warm, crusty bread is just about the best autumnal supper you could find.

 

Serves 4/5

1 small pumpkin (about 900g-1kg in weight)

Small glug of oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1/4 – 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, depending on your taste

80g smoked bacon lardons

2 apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

600ml hot chicken stock

Splash of double cream (optional)

Salt and pepper

To serve:

Pumpkin seeds (optional)

Crème fraiche (optional)

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Chop up your pumpkin into 4-6 rough chunks depending on its size, then scoop out the seeds (see below). Arrange the chunks on baking tray, drizzle with oil and season, then roast until tender and a knife drops through with little resistance – about 30-40 minutes.

[If you have the time and energy, you can reserve the pumpkin seeds to eat later or garnish the soup. Simply remove the seeds from the stringy squash, rinse and then scatter evenly onto a baking tray. Drizzle the seeds with a good glug of oil, then add any seasoning you like – sea salt is essential, but you could also try using chilli flakes, ground paprika or fennel seeds. Toss the seeds gently so they’re well coated in the oil and seasoning, then bake in an oven at 180°C for about ten minutes, until they’re golden brown. Delicious as added crunch to soups and salads, or warm with an aperitif!]

Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and gently fry the onions, garlic and chilli flakes in a little oil for a couple of minutes before adding the bacon lardons and frying for a further few minutes – you want to onions to be beginning to caramelise but not brown too much.

Once the pumpkin is ready, leave it to cool a little before scooping out the flesh from the skins and transferring it into the pan of onions. Add the apple and hot stock, place a lid on the pan, and bring up the boil. Boil for ten minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and using a stick blender (or similar) blitz the soup to a smooth amber liquid, then stir through the cream if using. Add a splash more of hot water if it’s too thick. Taste to check for seasoning – the bacon and the stock should make the soup salty enough.

This soup is perfect just as it is, but for a decorative flourish it feels very appropriate to garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds – put a handful of the seeds in a frying pan over a medium heat, tossing occasionally, until they smell nice and nutty or start popping. Toasted hazelnuts would also be good here.

The soup keeps well, covered, in the fridge for three days.

Summer Berry Cake

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With the melancholy downpours of English midsummer comes a craving for cake. Admittedly, this base and almost gastronomically primitive longing of mine is not a bi-annual one but is shamefully perennial, come rain or shine. Nevertheless, it being July, I feel a duty to make a cake that is a trifle lighter, and slightly more delicate than the dense chocolate fudge cakes that are typical of the winter months. This is decidedly a summer cake – though cake is intrinsically sweet, this one is less tooth-achingly sweet than others, and there is a distinct lack of cloying icing or buttercream. The berries in this cake are a suitably seasonal addition, a subtle nod to the summer that is struggling to materialise; they add a sense of freshness, and, once cooked, lend a delicate tartness, enhanced by the whisper of citrus from the lemon zest.

The cake is best eaten on the same day its made, whilst the crumble is still crisp; it keeps well in an air-tight container, but the crumble topping will begin to soften from as the moisture from the fruit seeps in (nonetheless this softer cake is still delicious). I’ve used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries here but feel free to be flexible with the fruit you use – any seasonal currants or berries would work well, as would a sliced ripe peach or two. If you’re using either fresh strawberries or frozen berries, toss them in a little cornflour beforehand to absorb excess liquid during baking. This is delicious with a cup of tea, but serving it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream would turn it into a very acceptable pudding.


Serves 8

For the cake

175g butter or margarine, at room temperature

175g caster sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

175g self-raising flour

100g ground almonds

grated zest of half a lemon

1 tsp of vanilla extract

200g raspberries

150g blueberries

100g blackberries

For the crumble

75g plain flour

75g cold butter

75g demerara sugar


Line the base of a 20cm, loose-bottomed cake tin with baking paper. Set the oven at 170C/gas mark 4.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a with an electric whisk/food mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl then add, a little at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar, pushing the mixture down the sides of the bowl from time to time with a rubber spatula. If there is any sign of curdling, stir in a tablespoon of the flour.

Mix the flour and almonds together with a pinch of salt and beat into the butter/sugar mixture in two or three separate lots, with the mixer at a slow speed. Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla, then scrape the mixture into the cake tin. Scatter the berries over the cake mixture.

For the crumble topping, rub the butter into the flour until you have what looks like lumpy breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then scatter the crumble over the berries.

Bake the cake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Test with a skewer – if it comes out relatively clean, then the cake is done. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, run a palette knife around the edge, then slide out on to a plate.

Meat feast reinvented

Naturally, my initial reaction was to respond with both panic and sadness when, as I handed her a plateful of my carefully considering cooking, my sister threw around the words ‘meat feast’. Ordinarily, this very phrase is enough to curl my toes with horror, with its sordid connotations of greasy, mystery-meat laden, late-night pizzas or overly carnivorous Subway subs. However, gladly, upon eating the dish, all of my preconceived fears mercifully seemed to melt away. Remarkably, this recipe seems to administer its admittedly heavy meat content most graciously, not to mention it bearing a far more elegant accompaniment than most dishes characterised with this vulgar expression. I have to concede that the tender, juicy pork loin, stuffed with herby sausage meat and then wrapped in salty parma ham, paired with rich and creamy butter beans is exceedingly delicious, if not rather decadent. Though lacking the British criteria of potatoes and two veg, I think this would make a very acceptable offering as a Sunday roast; pulses are hideously underused and underrated when pinned against the argued versatility of that humble tuber. Perhaps most convincing a validation would be that the whole dish takes only 50 minutes from start to finish.

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Stuffed pork fillet with creamed butter beans

Serves 4-5

FOR THE MEAT

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 400g pork fillet (or pork tenderloin)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 14 slices (2 packets) parma ham
  • 2 herby pork sausages (try to find ones made with sage; otherwise just add a small bunch of chopped fresh sage), skin removed
  • 30g fresh breadcrumbs

FOR THE CREAMED BUTTER BEANS

  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 150ml white wine
  • 400ml double cream
  • 2 x 400g tins butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • 260g young leaf spinach
  • Small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • Squeeze lemon juice

 

  1. Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Heat a glug of oil in a large frying pan and add the pork. Fry for 3-4 minutes over a high heat to sear all over, then set the pork aside on a board (leave the pan on the hob).
  2. Lower the heat under the pan, then add a quarter of the onion and fry for 5 minutes or until it starts to soften. Meanwhile, lay out the parma ham slices on a work surface so each slice is slightly overlapping widthways, making a rectangle the length of the pork. Put the softened onion in a mixing bowl to cool; reserve the frying pan for later.
  3. Once the onion has cooled, mix with the sausagemeat, sage and breadcrumbs – it’s easiest to use your hands here. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the pork lengthways about three quarters of the way through, then open it out like a book. Top with the stuffing, then sandwich together, packing in the stuffing as best you can. Put the pork on top of the ham, then wrap the ham around to enclose the pork and secure the stuffing.
  4. Put the pork in a roasting tray, then roast for 20 minutes. After this time, turn the oven down to 200°C/ 180°C fan/gas 6, then cook for 15 minutes more or until a digital thermometer pushed into the thickest part of the meat reads 72-75°C (the pork will feel quite firm). Set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes, then slice.
  5. Once you’ve turned down the oven for the pork, prepare the beans. Set the reserved frying pan over a medium heat and melt the butter with a glug of oil. Add the remaining onion and fry for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and flour, then stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, then turn up the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid. Meanwhile, wilt the spinach with a small knob of butter in another pan.
  6. Add the cream to the onions, then the wilted spinach. Stir in the butterbeans to warm through, then taste and season. If your sauce seems too thick, loosen it with any extra cream, wine or just some milk. Finally, stir in the parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with the sliced pork.

 

Recipe adapted from Lottie Covell at Delicious Magazine

 

Christmas Cake

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It seems to me that Christmas cake is one of those things that people continue to make or buy through sheer determination to follow festive traditions rather than an actual desire to eat it. It’s reputation has been corrupted  by the all too common dry and tasteless hunk of carb, topped with thick and dusty white icing, and choked down with a cup of tea into an already festively full stomach. Allow me to mend your perception of this Yuletide treat with my own recipe, which is based on one from Mary Berry. It is, perplexingly, both traditional and un-traditional simultaneously; whilst the appearance of the cake is very much similar to one the Victorians might have enjoyed, the cake itself is light and moist and studded with succulent fruits. Perhaps most unusually, I’ve baked a disk of marzipan into the centre of the cake – much like a Simnel cake – which creates a thin but gooey, almost frangipane-like layer within, rather than having the raw marzipan sandwiched between cake and icing.

Whilst the cake isn’t the fastest thing to make – you’ll need to set aside an hour or two – I find it to be almost therapeutic and the process of baking it is a real saturnalia of festivity. Besides, it fills the kitchen with such Christmas-y aromas that it almost seems worth it purely for the scent.

Some of the spices used here are optional; you don’t have to use them, and by no means go and buy a jar of ground cinnamon, for instance, just to use half a teaspoon of the stuff in this recipe. Whilst mixed spice really is necessary for Christmas cheer, the others may be omitted if necessary; or just use whatever [appropriate] spices you already have to put your own stamp on the recipe. I use golden marzipan here, but that’s just because I love the colour; plain, white marzipan is, of course, fine. In terms of decoration, I like to use more almonds and glacé cherries along with some glacé pineapple. However, it can be a struggle to find glacé pineapple, so use any nuts and glacé fruits of your choice.

It really is important to dry the cherries and pineapple very carefully indeed – if they are too damp, the cake easily becomes mouldy.

 

Victorian Christmas Cake 

Makes 1 x 8 IN (20cm) Cake

 

For the Cake:

  • 12oz (350g) glacé cherries
  • 1 x 8oz (227g) can pineapple in natural juice
  • 12oz (350g) ready-to-eat dried apricots
  • 4oz (100g) whole blanched almonds
  • 12oz (350g) sultanas
  • finely grated rind of 2 lemons
  • 9oz (250g) self-raising flour
  • 9oz (250g) caster sugar
  • 9oz (250g) soft margarine
  • 3oz (75g) ground almonds
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
  • ½ tsp all spice (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 200g marzipan

To Decorate:

  • blanched whole almonds
  • glacé cherries
  • glacé pineapple

 To Finish:

  • 1 tbsp of apricot jam

 

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Grease an 8 in (20cm) deep round cake time and line the base and sides with a double layer of greaseproof paper.
  2. Prepare the fruit and nuts. Cut each cherry into quarters, rinse and drain well. Drain and roughly chop the pineapple, then dry both the cherries and pineapple very thoroughly on kitchen paper. Snip the apricots into pieces. Roughly chop the almonds. Place the prepared fruit and nuts in a bowl with the grated lemon rind and sultanas and gently mix together.
  3. Place the remaining ingredients in a very large bowl and beat well for 1 minute until smooth. Lightly fold in the fruit and nuts.
  4. Dust the work surface with a little icing sugar and roll out the marzipan into a circular disk the same size as the tin. Spoon half of the mixture into the tin, then place the circle of marzipan on top. Spoon the remaining mixture on top of the marzipan and level the surface.
  5. Decorate the top with almonds, halved glacé cherries and pieces of glacé pineapple (rinse and dry the cherries as before).
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 2¼ hours or until golden brown. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out  without crumbs on it (although there may be some gooey marzipan on there). You may need to loosely cover the cake with a piece of foil after about an hour to prevent the top becoming too dark in colour. Leave to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, then turn out, peel of the greaseproof paper and cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. Put the spoonful of jam in a small saucepan with a splash of water and heat until melted. Lightly brush the jam over the cake with a pastry brush to glaze.

 

Merry Christmas!