Parsnip, pear and ginger cake

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Two of your five-a-day in a cake – it’s almost almost a health food.  The combination of parsnip, pear and ginger might raise a few eyebrows but this deeply flavoured cake hovers around the same region as a fruity, moist carrot cake.  Yes, I said moist.  This cake is very moist.  Loitering on the threshold of February, this is the time when New Year’s resolutions start to unravel and strict dieting develops a wobble.  The iron-willed determination that spurred us through January, encouraging us to impulsively sign up to gym memberships and stock pile quinoa is losing its appeal.  The treadmill just isn’t as fun as sparkly cocktails and twirly straws and surviving solely on egg white omelettes and miso soup has left a deep craving for something soft, sweet and squidgy.

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This spiced fruit and vegetable cake is the best of both worlds: health and happiness.  The base of parsnip and pear give the sponge an honest, earthy depth that’s a natural partner for the oil-rich hazelnuts and spelt flour.  Ginger is a zingy wonder food with anti-inflammatory properties to soothe those post-gym muscles, and adds a warmth and kick to the unassuming sponge.  So far, so good.  Health, health and yet more health.  Then, an icing-laced curveball – seeing as the cake itself was SO wholesome and healthy, I decided to top it with a silky, not-so-healthy, cream cheese icing.  I put this cake in my top five cakes ever made.  Utterly delicious.

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Parsnip, Pear and Ginger Cake

Adapted from Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 250g pears and parsnips, peeled, cored and grated
  • 20g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 100g raisins, soaked in hot water
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 150g plain spelt flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 150g ground hazelnuts (or almonds)
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 125ml olive oil

For the cream cheese icing

  • 60g soft unsalted butter
  • 100g full-fat cream cheese
  • 125g icing sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chopped hazelnuts to decorate

Grease and line a 23cm/9 inch spring-form or loose-bottomed cake tin.  Preheat your own to 180°C.

Use kitchen roll or a clean tea towel to squeeze out any excess moisture from the grated pear and parsnip.  Mix together  in a bowl with the drained plumped up raisins, ginger, lemon juice and zest.   In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk until very light and airy, about 5 minutes on a high speed.  Then beat in the oil to incorporate.  Sieve in the spelt flour, ground ginger and cinnamon, baking powder and ground hazelnuts or almonds and fold in gently to combine.  Add the pear and parsnip mix and combine.  Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level out.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then remove from the tin to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the cream cheese icing, beat the butter with an electric whisk for 4-5 minutes, then add the cream cheese and beat for another 2 minutes.  Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat slowly until combined before increasing the speed and beating until smooth and evenly mixed.  If you want the frosting to be firmer, add more icing sugar.

Spread the frosting over the top of the cake and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.

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Hong Kong-inspired Crispy Duck

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Looming up in a fistful of skyscraper digits, Hong Kong is a clash of cultures, a city in the tropics, an infectious buzzing throng in a cocoon of tranquillity.  Two of my best friends hotfooting it out of the UK and setting up camp in Hong Kong was the perfect excuse to visit this pulsing city – an impulsive but brilliant decision.

I had heard wild stories about Hong Kong.  Expats living the high life in Asia; partying, boozing, cruising and, erm, more partying.  Stories that became reality; a real life rollercoaster of fun-filled nights out, breezy boat trips through the shimmering turquoise waters of the bay and, of course, fabulous food.  A huge sense of community and inclusiveness ripples through the city, any newcomer being welcomed with open arms (and a vodka jelly syringe) into friendship groups.  I love London with all my heart, but us Londoners tend to be be a bit frosty – this made a refreshing change.  A city with a financial focus, of course there is some cash flashing.  But if the cash is being flashed at you, it’s really not too much of a problem.  Especially if the cash being flashed is used wisely, on something sensible and long lasting like a round of Sambuca shots.

One of Hong Kong’s surprises was that it’s not just a city.  Dumbo.  I stupidly believed that.  It doesn’t say much for my GCSE Geography.  Hong Kong Island not only has its vibrant, colourful city but it also has sun-soaked beaches, calf-crunching hiking and spectacular views that give you a sharp beautiful jolt, reminding you that you are indeed on a tropical island.  This was a great surprise, but not as exciting (obviously) as the discovery of the FOOD in Hong Kong.

The food is hugely eclectic, varying from authentic Chinese, either from a strip-lit noodle shop, or from the exclusive China Club, to Peruvian, Spanish, French, American, endless cuisines and gastronomy that reach the heights of any other culinary metropolis.  I couldn’t deny myself a solo visit to Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant (cheap, so CHEAP!).  For the equivalent of about £8.50, I ate my way giddily through sweet, flaky buns filled with sticky char sui pork, delicate steamed dumplings bursting with juicy pork and prawn and crisp savoury bean curd rolls.  Forgetting that each dish comes with at least three or four dim sum, I was bombarded with a hefty amount for one person, much to the amusement and disbelief of my tablemates.  I mean, I know I’m greedy, but their slight embarrassment at the steaming baskets that continued to be put down in front of me hammered it home.  A cheap as chips vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island was basic but flavoursome.  A bit murky, but better than it looked, and a real taste of simple Chinese cooking.

Vegetarian feast at Po Lin Monastery

Vegetarian feast at Po Lin Monastery

Lunch on Lamma Island at Rainbow Seafood restaurant looking out over the sea was a feast of fresher than fresh fish and seafood (lunch picked out of a fish tank was a new one on me).  Black cod skewers with ponzu miso and rocoto chilli aioli and pan con chicharones – a Peruvian slider of crisp edged melting pork belly with aji amarillo paste cushioned within a soft white bun at Chicha.  The super trendy Brickhouse, all exposed brick walls, teetering stools, and graffiti, wouldn’t have looked out of place in London.  Located deceptively at the end of a narrow alley, it dished up some serious Mexican; authentic grilled corn with chilli, mayo, lime and queso fresco, pulled pork-stuffed soft tacos, and gooey queso fundido – a bowl of cheese-topped black beans so melted and stringy that they give you scissors to hack your way through it.  The best pain au chocolat I’ve ever tasted at The Mandarin Oriental – so mesmerizingly delicious, we had to go twice.

Mega pain au chocolat at The Mandarin Oriental

Mega pain au chocolat at The Mandarin Oriental

Amongst all this culinary continent hopping, there was one thing that I missed out on, and I can’t get it out of my head: Chinese crispy duck.  I happened to have a whole duck hanging out in the freezer, as you do, so I decided to conjure up this Chinese dish back home – somewhat excessive for three of us but as I always say, ‘If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it properly…’

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Hong Kong-inspired Crispy Duck

From Jamie’s Dinners 

Ingredients

  • 1.2 kg duck
  • salt
  • five-spice
  • fresh ginger
  • 10-12 destoned plums
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 pinches five-spice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder
  • grated orange zest
  • ½ cucumber
  • 1 bunch spring onions
  • 2 packs pre-made pancakes

Preheat the oven to 170ºC/325ºF/gas 3. Rub a nice 1.2kg duck with loads of salt, inside and out. Dust the bird all over with five-spice and, if you’ve got any, grate some fresh ginger and rub it round the cavity, leaving the ginger inside to flavour. Place the duck in a roasting tray and put it in the oven. All you need to do is check on it every so often and spoon away the excess fat that has rendered out of the duck. This will make the skin go wonderfully crispy. Generally, after a couple of hours it will be perfect – the leg meat will pull off the bone and the skin will be wonderfully crisp. You don’t always need to, but I sometimes turn the heat up to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6 for a short while until it’s really crispy.

While this beautiful bird is cooking, you can make your plum sauce. Chuck 10 or 12 destoned plums into a pan with 5 tablespoons of sugar, a couple of pinches of five-spice, a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, half a teaspoon of chilli powder and a splash of water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until you get a nice shiny pulp. You can remove the plum skins if you want to, but I usually leave them in. Sometimes I add a little grated orange zest, as this goes well with duck. Put the sauce to one side to cool before serving it, and taste to check the seasoning.

As for the spring onions and cucumber, that’s straightforward. Use half a cucumber and a bunch of spring onions and finely slice them. I strongly advise buying a couple of packs of pre-made pancakes which you can place in a steamer or microwave and slowly steam until nice and hot. The bamboo steamers are only a few quid from Chinese supermarkets, so it’s worth getting hold of some and they’re great to serve at the table.

Once the duck has cooled a little bit, use two forks to shred all the meat off the carcass. I remember the Chinese lady at the restaurant in Sawbridgeworth doing this. You can do the same, putting all the meat with its crispy skin on to a serving plate. Take a pancake, place some duck, a bit of spring onion, a little cucumber and a dollop of plum sauce on to it, then roll it up – lovely.

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Seabass, Corn and Avocado Ceviche

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As autumn waits to cast its ochre cloak, I wanted to make something that sings of summer, a dish  that zings and bursts with flavour  to enjoy while the sun still shines.  Ceviche is the perfect foil to a hot summer’s evening – cool lime-infused sea bass, firm and succulent, paired with nuggets of fresh crunchy corn and cubes of creamy avocado.  The explosion of flavour you get from minimal cooking effort speaks volumes for the bare ingredients.  I really pushed the boat out and bought the freshest seabass from Moxon’s fishmongers in Clapham – it makes it all too easy to take the lazy way out, avoiding the filleting, de-boning and de-skinning of the slippery glistening fish.  Guzzle it down before we tip the seasonal see-saw…

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Seabass, Corn and Avocado Ceviche

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 400g skinless and boneless sea bass fillets
  • ½ red onion, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp salt, plus extra to season
  • Juice of 4 limes
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 corn on the cobs
  • 1 avocado
  • Small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

Finely dice the onion and put into a bowl.  Cut the fish into 2cm cubes or slices and add to the bowl along with the salt, lime juice and chilli and leave to marinate for about 10 minutes.

While the fish is marinating, cook the corn on the cobs then slice off the kernels.  Cut the avocado flesh into cubes and add both to the marinated fish with the chopped coriander and give everything a mix.

Serve garnished with more coriander.

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

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Salted caramel freaking rocks.  I know, I know, it’s become so super trendy that it appears on everything from bronze-crusted pork belly to towering ice cream sundaes, but it’s so damn good I unashamedly hang on to its billowing coat tails as it sweeps through every menu around town.  Deeply flavoured sweet caramel given an edge by a shard of ice-white crunchy sea salt – whoever came up with that idea deserves a hearty pat on the back.  Once you get a taste for for the salty-sweet see-saw, you can take the most familiar of flavours and spin them on their head.  A few crystals of salt on top of a rich dark chocolate mousse, salted peanut butter cookies, guiltily delicious chocolate-covered pretzels and the breakfast of champions, a fluffy stack of bacon-layered pancakes drenched in a waterfall of smoky maple syrup; these all tickle the sweet and savoury tastebuds in the best of ways.

This ice cream was part of a dreamy dessert for my sister’s birthday – silky smooth salted caramel ice cream, flourless chocolate brownie (courtesy of Nigella) and a gloriously decadent melting Mars Bar sauce.  No judgement please.  It was banging.

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

From Hawksmoor at Home

Ingredients

For the ice cream base

  • 600ml milk
  • 275ml double cream
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 150g caster sugar

For the caramel

  • 140g caster sugar
  • 50g liquid glucose
  • 15g butter
  • 290g double cream
  • 6g Maldon sea salt

To make the ice cream, you need to have a couple of bowls that fit into each other.  Fill the larger bowl with ice and some water and place the other bowl on top.  Have a fine sieve ready to strain the custard.

In a medium-sized saucepan bring the milk and cream to simmering point.  In a separate bowl lightly whisk the egg yolks and sugar to break up the yolks.

Pour a little of the hot milk/cream over the egg yolks and whisk before slowly adding the remainder, whisking continuously.

Return the custard to the pan and whisk again over a low heat until the mixture starts to thicken – just below simmering point, taking care not to let it boil.  You are looking to make a thin custard (if it’s too thick it will split in the ice cream machine).

Pour the custard through the sieve into the chilled bowl and allow to cool.  Place cling film over the custard and place in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Next make the caramel.  In a large deep saucepan, place the sugar, glucose syrup and 25ml of water.  Heat, without stirring, until dark brown (but not burnt – 180°C).  Remove from the heat, add the butter and stir until incorporated, then quickly whisk in the cream (be careful, you are adding a cold liquid to a very hot caramel, so there will be lots of steam.)  In my ice cream, the caramel solidified when the cream hit it, but with a bit of stirring back on the heat, it all came smoothly back together.

Return the pan to the heat and once it comes to the boil carry on stirring and boil for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir the caramel into the ice cream base, along with the salt, and let it cool.

When cool, place in the fridge for 2 hours.  Sieve into a large jug and churn in an ice cream machine (according to the manufacturer’s instructions) and then place in a container in the freezer to fully set.  OMG.

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Serious Sausage Rolls

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A serious sausage roll is a fine fine thing.  Concealed beneath a shroud of crisp, buttery puff pastry, a tube of herby sausage meat lies hidden, only revealing itself in glimpses where the pastry fans open along its surface.  The highlight of these piggy treats is the caramelised underbody, burnished to a golden brown, flaking away in the most savoury of mouthfuls.

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When the excesses of the night before are threatening to overwhelm you, sit tight, and make rough puff.  This is the hugely important lesson I learnt one hungover Sunday morning.  Falling out of bed, blurry and dazed, the idea of making sausage rolls lodged itself  in my head and wouldn’t budge.  Now, rough puff isn’t as hard as puff pastry, but I wouldn’t put it high on a slightly jaded list of priorities.  What I found out though is that repressing an urge like this just doesn’t work; you can’t fight the porky craving when it hits, even if it’s in the most unsuitable of moods.

Despite having a dazed moment mid pastry-folding, swaying dangerously wielding my floury rolling pin, I managed to tuck these up and get them in the oven with no major catastrophes.   They were so good, that all evidence of my hard work; all the rolling and folding, chilling and resting, wrapping and sticking was gone in a matter of minutes as they were snaffled down before my very eyes.  I blinked and they were gone.  Yum. 

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Serious Sausage Rolls
By Paul Hollywood
Makes 6
For the rough puff pastry
  • 225g/8oz plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 200g/7oz butter, chilled and cubed
  • 180ml/6fl oz chilled water
  • ½ lemon, juice only
For the filling
  • 600g/1lb 5oz sausagemeat
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tbsp caramelised onion chutney
For the glaze
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten
To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and add the butter.  Mix the butter around with a large metal spoon to coat it in flour.  Be careful to keep the butter in lumps.  Mix the water and lemon juice together in a jug and gradually pour it into the flour and butter mixture.  Using a round-tipped knife, cut across the contents of the bowl several times, turning the bowl continuously as you chop the butter into the flour, until the dough comes together.  The dough is very wet at this point.
Tip it onto a lightly floured work surface and quickly shape it into a rectangle about 30cmx20cm. With the pastry vertically on the board, fold the bottom third of the pastry up onto the middle third, then the top third down onto the other thirds.  Wrap in cling film and chill for 10 minutes.  Bring the pastry out of the fridge and with the folded edge to the sides, roll the pastry again into the same proportions as the original narrow rectangle and fold in the same way again.  Chill again.  Repeat this twice more.  After the last folding stage, wrap the pastry in cling film and chill in the fridge for two hours.
Place the sausagemeat, chopped thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.  When the pastry is ready to use, if it is very firm, allow it to warm in the room for a few minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Cover a large baking sheet with baking parchment.
Place the pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll out to a rectangle about 36cmx30cm.  Cut into 6 even rectangles measuring about 12cmx15cm.  On the short side of each small rectangle place a cylinder of seasoned sausage meat weighing about 100g/3½oz.  Spread some onion chutney onto the remaining pastry.  Wet the short edge of the pastry with a little water and roll up the sausagemeat in the pastry.  Place onto the lined baking sheet with the seam underneath.  Repeat with the remaining sausagemeat and pastry.  Glaze each sausage roll with the beaten egg.  Diagonally slash each sausage roll on the top seven times.  Cook for 30 – 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and the sausage is cooked through.  Eat warm or cold.

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Rhubarb Bakewell Tart with Brown Bread Ice Cream

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Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.  So pink and glorious.  A vivid beacon that signals the true arrival of spring, injecting a sharp jolt of colour into this until-now very grey of years.  I love the stuff and have to reign myself in from using it in everything I cook at the moment.

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I made this tart mostly because I wanted to make a bakewell tart.  And then the rhubarb sneakily weaselled its way in there as a replacement for the more traditional raspberry jam.  I was aiming for a gorgeous bright pink jam but I instead ended up with a murky green sludge.  It looked like the slime they used to douse poor unsuspecting guests in on Fun House; gloopy, viscous and not particularly appealing.  Do not judge a book by its cover, or a jam by its goo-like resemblance.  It may not have looked like a rhubarb jam, but it very much tasted like one.   Especially when gobbling hot guilty spoonfuls of it from the sticky pan.

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I also wanted to make a brown bread ice cream to use my dusty ice cream machine which has been hibernating at the back of the cupboard.  About six years ago, I BEGGED for an ice cream machine for my birthday.  I pleaded with persuasive promises of frequently churned ices and sorbets.  I assured that it would be my MOST used piece of kitchen equipment, that it would absolutely be worth it, and it definitely would not, under any circumstances, clutter up the kitchen.  Six years later, and only one measly batch of Rolo ice cream under my belt, it was time for the whirring and churning to make a reappearance.  And it was totally and utterly worth it.  Studded with buttery, caramelized nuggets of toasty brown bread, the ice cream was rich and ever-so-slightly tangy from the sour cream.  The smooth vanilla base was a soft cushion to the biscuity crunch of the crumb, and I could have easily polished off the whole lot.  I’m not going to pretend that these two puds go together particularly well on the plate – the rhubarb bakewell tart only needed a dollop of cold crème fraîche as an accompaniment, and the ice cream…well, I just wanted to make it.

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Rhubarb Bakewell Tart with Brown Bread Ice Cream

Adapted from Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Bakewell Tart

Makes a 23cm bakewell tart

For the pastry

  • 140g plain flour, plus extra to sprinkle
  • 85g cold butter, plus extra to grease
  • Pinch of salt
  • Ice cold water

For the rhubarb jam (not the recipe I used (gunge recipe), which is a good thing…)

  • 250g rhubarb
  • 250g jam sugar
  • A good squeeze of lemon juice

For the frangipane

  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g ground almonds
  • 25g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Zest of ½ lemon

25g flaked almonds, to top

To make the pastry for the tart, mix the flour and salt in a bowl, and then grate in the cold butter.  Rub this into the flour, then stir in just as much cold water as you need to bring it together into a dough; it should not be sticky. Alternatively use a food processor (which I did).  Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.  Preheat the oven to 190°C (170°C fan)/gas mark 5.

Grease a 23cm tart tin and roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until large enough to line the tin.  Do so, then line with baking paper and weigh down with baking beans or dried pulses.  Bake for about 15 minutes until golden.

Meanwhile, make the rhubarb jam by putting the rhubarb into a large saucepan with the sugar.  Heat gently, stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved, then squeeze in the lemon juice and increase the heat.  Boil for about 10 mins, skimming off the scum as you go (the fruit should be soft).  Once the jam is ready, let it cool slightly to one side.

To make the frangipane, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs.  Fold in the dry ingredients and lemon zest and a pinch of salt.

Remove the paper and beans and return the pastry to the oven for a couple of minutes until golden.  Spread the rhubarb jam over the base, and top with the frangipane.  Level out and bake for 25 minutes until golden and well risen.  Add the almonds on top in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Brown Bread Ice Cream

About 1.25l (1¼ quarts)

By David Lebovitz

For the caramelized brown bread crumbs:

  • 2-3 slices of brown bread (250g)
  • 45g (3 tbsp) butter, salted or unsalted
  •  100g (½ cup) caster sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the ice cream custard:

  • 250ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 375ml (1½ cups) double (heavy) cream
  • 65g (1/3 cup) caster sugar plus 65g (1/3 cup) brown sugar (dark or light)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 225g (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

To make the brown bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF ).

Crumble the bread into small, bite-sized bits.  The largest should be no bigger than a kernel of corn.  Heat the butter in a frying pan until it melts, then continue to cook until it starts to brown.  Remove from the heat and stir in the bread bits, 100g (½ cup) sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Spread on the baking sheet and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring a few times during baking, until the bread bits are well-toasted; a deep, dark brown.  Cool completely.

To make the ice cream, heat the milk, 125ml (½ cup) of double cream, sugar and salt in a saucepan.  Pour the remaining 250ml (1 cup) into a medium-sized bowl and the sour cream.  Set a mesh strainer over the top and set the bowl in an ice bath.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks.  Gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour.  Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.  Strain the custard into the heavy cream and sour cream and stir until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla.

Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Once churned, quickly fold in about two-thirds of the brown bread crumbs, or as much as to your liking, then store the ice cream in the freezer until firm and ready to serve.

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Raspberry and Coconut Whoopie Pies

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These aren’t the most delicate of cakes.  Boulder-like in appearance, they are intimidatingly inconvenient to eat without getting jam in your ear and crumbs down your top.  I mean, sticky fruity goo lodging uncomfortably in your oral crevices is a complete nightmare.

Lumpy and slightly misshapen, these whoopie pies are a deceptive ugly duckling, transforming into a soft spongy swan the moment you first bite into them.  If you can manage to get your mouth around them that is.  Unintentionally enormous, they demand a tactical approach to avoid whoopie-on-face syndrome.  Slightly overestimating the size of an unshelled walnut (which I think is an ambiguous size reference anyway…) they grew from dainty little morsels to saucer-sized rocks faster than you could say whoopie.

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Shouting out “Whoopie!” at the excitement of seeing these marshmallow-filled confections is indeed where the name for these un-pie-like pies originated.  According to food historians, whoopie pies are believed to have been baked by Amish women for the farmers’ lunchboxes, where upon opening and discovering the sweet surprise, they would down spades and pitchforks, leap onto a nearby hay bale, and exclaim a “Whoopie!” of joy at the sight.  Sort of like a scene from Oklahoma.  Without the singing.  Ok, ok, I made up the hay bale bit.  And the spades and pitchforks.  But they were exuberant and grateful and that’s what matters.  I’ll be damned if you don’t shout out “Whoopie!” after a bite of one of these goodies.

Raspberry and Coconut Whoopie Pies

From Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard

Makes 5 (says the recipe, but we definitely made more, and they were BIG! I feel like maybe I got the numbers for this wrong somewhere along the way…)

Ingredients

For the cakes

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 125g soured cream
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 275g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g desiccated coconut

For the marshmallow filling

  • 100g white marshmallows
  • 25ml milk
  • 125g very soft unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp raspberry jam

Line a baking tray with non-stick paper and heat the oven to 180°C.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and then set aside.  In a mixing bowl, beat the egg until light and fluffy using an electric whisk, then gradually beat in the sugar, a third at a time, until thick and glossy.  Beat in the melted butter, sour cream, half the milk and vanilla.  Sift the flour and bicarb into the mixture and beat until smooth.  Add in the desiccated coconut and the other half of the milk and mix until smooth.

Pipe or spoon balls of the mixture, the size of an unshelled walnut (…), onto the baking tray, spaced 3-4 cm apart.  Sprinkle over a little extra coconut and then bake for about 13-14 minutes until almost evenly golden on top.  Allow to cool slightly then transfer to a wire rack to cool and bake the remaining mixture.

Heat the marshmallow and milk in a saucepan over a low heat.  When half melted, take off the heat, beat with a hand whisk until smooth then leave to cool.  Beat the butter until creamy then gradually beat this into the marshmallow mixture until whipped and smooth.  Mix in the raspberry jam.  Sandwich two ‘cakes’ together with the marshmallow filling, then dust the cakes with icing sugar.

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Custard Creams

Custard creams are one of those biscuits that are so often overlooked,  elbowed out in a cloud of crumbs by the other more extrovert biscuits that litter the everyday treat plate.  You’ve got to feel for them.  How can the mild, nursery sweet, creamy sandwich compete against the likes of the dark edgy bourbon?? Or, the popular, leader-of-the pack chocolate digestive?  The stickily seductive jammy dodger?  The stylish and elegant Viennese finger?

These other teatime treats may be more fashionable and embellished, but sometimes, simplicity is the comfort that you’re looking for with a soothing cup of tea.  Especially when they are homemade and so vastly improved.  Real butter makes all the difference.   A life without butter is undoubtedly puritanical, but like a broken pencil, it’s also decidedly pointless.

These crumbly golden discs were sandwiched together with a sweet, mellow buttercream, buttercup yellow, and all too easy to swipe straight from the bowl.  You would never say they tasted of custard; what the custard powder adds is a background hum, a sweetness that doesn’t come from sugar, a flavour that you can’t quite put your finger on.  Those little dots circling each disc?  Yes, I did them..by hand..with a skewer.  What I haven’t shown are the ones I got bored of and decided to aggressively poke at random, creating a unique pointillist pattern.  Extremely artistic.  You may also notice that there isn’t any tea in the patterned blue mug.  That’s because I didn’t put any in.

Tea with no tea

Tea with no tea

Custard Creams

By Nigella Lawson

Makes 14

Ingredients

For the biscuits

  • 175g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp custard powder
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 100g butter
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milk

For the custard buttercream

  • 1 tbsp custard powder
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 50g soft unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp boiling water

Preheat oven to 180°c.

To make the biscuits, put the flour, custard powder and baking powder into a processor and pulse to mix.  Add the butter, cut into smallish cubes and pulse to cut into the flour to create a crumbly mixture.  Tip in the sugar and pulse again.  Beat the egg and milk together.  Pour down the funnel of the processor with the engine running until it clumps into a ball.  Form the dough into a ball and press down into a fat disc, wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 4mm.  Dip a 5cm cutter (whatever shape you like) in flour and cut out your shapes.  You need an even number of shapes to sandwich together.  Prick the outside edge of each shape all the way around on one side with a skewer.  Cook on a lined baking sheet for 15 minutes, and then leave to cool before sandwiching them together.

To make the custard cream, put the custard powder and icing sugar into the processor and pulse briefly to combine and de-lump.  Add the butter and blitz together until you get a smooth cream.  Add the tsp of boiling water and pulse again.  Sandwich each biscuit with about 1tsp of custard cream by gently spreading a layer of cream over the unpricked side of a biscuit and then squishing a matching biscuit on top of it.

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Maple-Pecan Date Spice Cake

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I’ve got a confession to make.  Every year I give up sugar for Lent.  Don’t ask me why.  I’m not religious.  I’m not on a diet.  I’m on speaking terms with my dentist.  I think it might be as a challenge – I’m too much of a sugar-guzzling addict – tunnelling my way through mountains of the sweet grains, and falling into sugar coma after sugar coma until I start to resemble a glucose-saturated sloth. A six week hiatus from all things sticky and syrupy can only be a good thing.

The problem with giving up sugar is…sob…no cake.  “NO CAKE!” I hear you cry in a tone of fretful desperation. “But what do you EAT??”  The lack of cake from my diet is indeed significant – no sneaky office cupcake, no teatime slab of lemon drizzle, no fluffy frosted red velvet giant to celebrate it being a Wednesday.  No nutty, caramel-hued banana bread (for breakfast).  And BIRTHDAYS.  I mean, what do you do on a birthday other than eat cake?  I’ve started eating vast quantities of cheese in the hope that it will replace the longing for a spongey treat.  It hasn’t worked.

Luckily, there is always a loophole.  And where cake is concerned, I have unrestrained determination to find that loophole.  After scouring the internet enthusiastically for a cake that I could eat, I noticed a trend amongst sugarless cakes for using naturally-sweet dates as a replacement for the sugar.  It had to be tried – not only would the cake be sweet, but wait for it, it would be healthy.  A cake with one of your five-a-day.  Hurrah!

This cake is loosely based on one from the petite kitchen blog.  I’m not going to say that it’s the best cake I’ve ever eaten, but the simple joy of cake after a few weeks of self-restriction was enough to give it serious brownie points.  The dark sponge was bouncy, light, and redolent of a homely gingerbread.  The dates added sweetness, but no overwhelming date flavour, the ground almonds lingered fragrantly adding depth and structure, but the real punch came from the cinnamon and ginger – warming and autumnal (even if it is nearly spring).  The pecan nut topping became slightly caramelised in the oven under its maple syrup coating, and added great crunch to the cake in contrast to the soft sponge.  Served with crème fraîche (almost like icing…) and an extra drizzle of maple syrup, it was a highly successful, saintly pudding.

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Maple-Pecan Date Spice Cake (sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free!)

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 170g dates (soaked for a couple of hours, then drained)
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 4  tbsp maple syrup
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For the topping

  • 100g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup

Crème fraîche and more maple syrup to serve.

Preheat the oven to 160°C and grease a 20cm square (or round) cake tin with butter.  Line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper.
Place the soaked dates, ground almonds, maple syrup, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and spices into a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Mix together the chopped pecans and the maple syrup and then scatter them over the surface of the cake.  Bake for 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before removing it.  Serve with crème fraîche and maple syrup.

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Filed under Baking, Desserts, Fruit

Patty & Bun

Welcome to Patty & Bun...

Welcome to Patty & Bun…

The burgers at Patty & Bun are total dudes.  If burgers could walk, these would swagger.  They would be wearing a leather jacket.  They would be achingly cool.  Right now in London, burgers are ubiquitous – street food trucks, pop-ups, totally trendy but dark and cramped joints; they are all trying to achieve the ultimate burger, the heights of burgerdom, the best thing between bread since…you know…a sandwich.  Everyone trying to compete however they can – the provenance of their carefully caressed and matured meat, the exact structure and crumb of their bun, the jazzy condiments,  yada yada yada.  Who knew that so much thought could go into a single bovine entity that, frankly, is gone in about 5 minutes.

The spread

The spread

Saying that, I am very very happy that so much love and care has been put into the burgers at Patty & Bun.  The anticipation that built up from waiting outside in the cold, catching the occasional waft of a burger’s charred crust, and gawping ravenously through the windows at the defenceless diners, made the final arrival of food even more exciting.  It got so bad that, at one point, I was almost hallucinatory with greed and was convinced that the nice queue-controller was emanating the scent of burger juice.

My ‘Smokey Robinson’ burger was held together by a golden, glossy brioche hat and a bottom layer saturated to a sodden squish by the robustly savoury burger juices.  A crisp shell of lettuce and a sweet slice of tomato added colour and texture, the bronze-tinged mayo was crazy good, all smoky and sloppy and with a tendency to infiltrate the tiniest crevices of your face.  Midway through the burger scoffing, I ended up with mayo on my eyebrow.  Note to self: stop eating like an animal.  The cheese was melty and gooey.  The caramelised onions were heaped in a generous mound of sticky luscious strands; my favourite addition.  I do love a caramelised onion.  I didn’t think that the bacon particularly stood out – I sort of forgot it was there as I was merrily chowing down, but then again, if it hadn’t been there maybe I would have missed it.  The patty itself was a carnivore’s delight – a good chunky grind, a rightful crust concealing a brilliantly pink and succulent centre that, with every bite, struggled to contain its flow of richly-flavoured juices.  Do not be alarmed if the juice makes it down to your elbows – you can always trust a good friend to catch the stream with a well-positioned open mouth.

One hell of a burger

One hell of a burger

On to the rest.  The skin on chips were a perfect rustle, wonderfully crisp and a hop and a skip away from the norm by the addition of rosemary salt.  Scrummy.  And OH GOD, the chicken wings.  I mean…nom…wowsers…nom…sssh, I’m eating…  It was a reverential experience.  Hands down, the best chicken wings I’ve ever had.  Barely had you brought the wings to your lips before the tender chunks fell off effortlessly into your mouth.  They were coated in a rich deep barbecue sauce that clung stickily to the wings, sweet and tangy, and dangerously moreish.  The spring onions passed me by as I ploughed my way through, but they must have been there for something.  Garnish? Colour?  An attempt at one of your five-a-day?  Decorative rather than tasty.

AWESOME chicken wings

AWESOME chicken wings

For a totally hip, no bookings restaurant, it was surprisingly comfortable and un-cramped – no one was being elbowed, no one had a stray bum cheek resting on their lap, the music was fun and not too loud (at the risk of sounding like a granny) and the service was great.  It’s very speedy and definitely not a place to linger, mainly to avoid the death stares from the queue as you take a millisecond too long to put on your coat.  All I can say is, GO, GO, GO, GO, GO!  And get the chicken wings.  That is all.

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Filed under Eats Out, Main, Meat