A Pearway to Heaven!

The Spring might seem a little way off yet, as this morning’s Wintry winds & persistent downpour are proving, however Nature is just as persistent.  Beautiful golden daffodils, delicate narcissus & tiny tête-à-tête trumpets are all blossoming on patios, windowsills & supermarket shelves, their slender sleeves tightly packed together with golden tips peeking out of the top, ready to burst into brightness!  Nature is defiantly poking her tongue out at the world, with crocuses & snowdrops lining the grass verges too.   It’s this beauty amongst the harshness of Winter that has been my inspiration recently, especially with the sugar art I’ve been creating.  Just the scent of daffodils lifts the spirits, so I decided to try making a sugar version in their honour.

Family birthdays have been at the forefront throughout January, with three birthdays (including my Husband’s) arriving within ten days of each other – that’s a lot of cake to consider!  After the end of year festivities, it’s always nice to make birthday cakes especially light, bright & slightly Spring-like.  Thoughts turn to tiny flowers, pretty petite petals & floral freshness, inspiring me to create a very chocolatey, two tier birthday cake of slightly epic proportions for my Husband’s birthday (there are only two of us now, so anything bigger than a regular cake is epic for us).  The cake had four layers of rich chocolate cake in each tier & took me two days to make & decorate, but the actual decorations took just over a week & a bit to make, as they needed to dry/set before they could be added to the cake.  Fred Bear, a white modelling chocolate creation I made, was sat by the cake with sugar paste balloons for the birthday boy (worry ye not readers, Fred is currently sat with some sugary friends & won’t be eaten – he took a while to make & is far too cute!).

Chilly weather always invites pudding after dinner & this recipe is based on one my Mum used to make when I was a young girl, a flavoursome fluffy sponge cake crowning a layer of sweet fruit.  Now, in those days this was made mostly with apples & earned the name Eve’s Pudding, however I’ve adapted it over the years & used other fruits (usually whatever’s in the fruit bowl that needs using up).  This sumptuously sticky version is my Pearway to Heaven, made with really ripe eating apples & pears (apples & pairs is Cockney rhyming slang for stairs, hence it’s name).  The delicious caramel syrup enveloping the fruit has a light, zesty flavour & will satisfy any sweet cravings during this cold snap, plus that fading fruit in the bowl will be used up, so no waste!  If you’re buying fresh, check out any that are “wonky” or on sale – really ripe fruit has plenty of natural sweetness & requires less sugar.  Ready to get your pud on?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

6 Pears
4 medium Apples (eating apples, like Cox’s Pippin or similar)
3oz Salted Butter
3oz Light Muscovado Sugar
Half a ball of Stem Ginger, finely chopped
Zest of half a Lemon & an Orange, mixed together
Pinch of Ground Cinnamon
Quarter teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

For the Sponge topping:
4oz Butter
4oz Sugar
4oz Self Raising Flour (or Plain with 2 teaspoons of baking powder)
2 large Eggs

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat the oven to 170*C & grease a casserole dish big enough to get your fruit in (a medium sized one should do).  If you have the wrapper from the butter, these are brilliant for this job – I also save them & stash them in the fridge/freezer for future greasing of cake tins, etc – just fold them over butter side together & pop in a freezer bag.  Once you’ve finished with them, they can go in the recycling.

Next, prepare your fruit. Go through that fruit bowl & pick out any apples & pears that are about to walk out in protest, because they’re so ripe.  The riper the fruit, the better the pudding.

Wash, dry & peel them, then remove the cores & trim away any brown bits.  Chop into small bite-sized chunks, about the size of your little fingernail & put into a deep saucepan.

Add the Muscovado sugar, butter, vanilla extract, sprinkle in the cinnamon & zest.

On a low heat, stir everything together until the butter & sugar have melted into a gooey, caramel sauce.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break up the fruit too much.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop the fruit into the bottom of the greased casserole dish with the caramel sauce (be careful not to splash yourself, as it’s sugar & it will burn you!).  There should be some liquid left over, so tip this carefully into a heatproof jug  & put in the fridge to chill (you’ll be needing this later).

Now to make the sponge cake topping!  In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar & butter together until fluffy (I do this with a wooden spoon, but you can use an electric whisk if you prefer).

Add the eggs & beat into the buttery sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

Sift the flour into the creamy mixture & fold in (move your spoon around like a figure of eight in the bowl, scooping flour into the mixture).  Make sure all the flour is combined into the cake mixture & give it a good stir at the end just to make sure.

Spoon over your fruit mixture evenly, gently spreading around to the edges (be careful not to press hard, otherwise it will sink).  Don’t worry too much about any gaps at the edge, as the mixture will grow & cover these.

Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 35-40 minutes, until risen & golden (your kitchen will smell absolutely gorgeous by now too!).

To test if your cake is ready, get a piece of spaghetti & gently poke it into the centre of the sponge.  If it comes out clean, the sponge is done.  If not, pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes & check again.

Once ready, place on a cooling rack to allow the pudding to rest & cool for about 10 minutes (it will be hotter than the sun & nobody wants a mouthful of red hot lava-like fruit straight from the oven!).  Trust me, it will still be warm & the sauce will soak into the bottom of the sponge cake nicely.

Scoop into bowls & serve with a drizzle of the leftover zesty caramel sauce.  Add a splodge of ice-cream & get stuck in!  The perfect pudding for warming up these Wintry evenings, my lightly zesty caramel version will satisfy those sweet after-dinner cravings.  Try making it with plums, peaches or blackberries to create your own favourite & use up any fresh fruit that needs eating.

Next time your fruit bowl is looking a bit sad & squishy, turn it into a Pearway to Heaven Pudding!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

Fig-Get Me Knot Tartlets

Now that the Summer has slowly slipped into Autumn, the sunrises are arriving a little bit later & the mornings are just a little bit fresher.  One of my favourite things about Autumn is the amazing array of vegetables & fruits in season, all ready to create rich warming suppers & decadent desserts.  On my way back from the train station on Friday, I decided to pop into my local shops to pick up a chicken for dinner & somehow got side-tracked by the most delightful fresh figs.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can’t just pop in anywhere for one thing & will always leave with a jam-packed shopping bag, crammed full of inspirational ingredients that take my fancy.

This is where my little flaky fig tartlets began.  A shelf full of soft, jewel-coloured deep purple beauties just sat there, seeming to whisper “pick me!” & as thoughts of crisp puff pastry parcels with slender slices of sweet, jammy baked figs took over, I swiftly put two trays in my basket.  Obviously, once home, I decided that I would need some rather special ice-cream to top them off.  An hour later, I returned to buy Greek yoghurt (more about that later) & ended up chatting to the lovely Assistant about what I was going to make (I love sharing food tips & have been known to scribble random recipes on scraps of paper for people, as some of you will know!).

Usually, I would make a rich buttery shortcrust pastry for a fruit tart of any description, as I find it a bit more substantial.  However, something as delicate as fresh figs requires a lighter, crisp casing to contrast against the jammy fruit centre.  Now you all know that I like making my own flaky puff pastry & it does take more time to make, but once you’ve tasted this you’ll understand why all the effort is worth it!  If you do prefer to buy ready-made puff pastry, please make sure it’s got proper butter in it.  As I’ve shared my puff pastry recipe before, I’ve copied it here for you (to save you having to wander off & find it in my blog).  Ready to begin?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

For the pastry:
8oz Self Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the filling:
4 fresh Figs, washed & stalks trimmed, each fig cut into 8 wedges
Half a jar of Apricot Jam or Preserve (you can use whatever flavour you prefer)
1 teaspoon of Runny Honey

1 large Egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (this makes it smoother to brush onto your pastry)

What to do:

Firstly, you need cool hands so wash them under the cold tap, rinsing your wrists well – trust me, pastry likes cool conditions & this works.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during hot weather, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  If you’re like me & like to get organised, this would be a good time to make the ice-cream (my recipe is a bit further down).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tin by brushing with melted butter all around the inside, then run under the cold tap to add a film on top, shaking off the excess.  Your pastry should just lift off after cooking.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry (not too thinly).

Cut into squares, about 4 inches long on each side.  At each corner, make a cut towards the centre, stopping about half an inch from the middle (so everything is still attached).

Mix the honey with the jam & give it a good stir.  In the centre of a pastry square, put half a teaspoon of the jam mixture & top with a couple of fig wedges, skin side down.

Take the pastry edges of one of the four sides of the pastry & pinch together.  Do this to the other three sides & then pinch them all together in the centre above the figs, twisting them to make a little knot on top.  Repeat until you have used all the figs & pastry up.

Place them all on your prepared baking tray & brush with a little beaten egg.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until golden & risen.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool if you want to serve them later, or you can serve them warm if you prefer.

Now onto the adornment of such a dainty delight!  This ice-cream actually came about from a rather lovely July Sunday afternoon & a random tub of Mascarpone in the fridge.  It goes with pretty much everything & it’s light, yet creamy flavour tastes incredibly decadent.  This is not the traditional way to make ice-cream, because (a) I don’t like custard & (b) I’m not making custard.  You don’t need a special machine, there won’t be any churning or standing on one leg with your left eye shut type of nonsense either.  If you prefer not to use Greek yoghurt, simply replace it with double cream & give it a light whip up beforehand to give it a bit of body.  Ready to get started?  Here we go!

What you need:

2 tubs of Mascarpone Cheese
500ml tub of Greek Yoghurt (the proper stuff, not diet)
Juice & zest of a Lemon (if you have large lemons, just use half)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 tablespoons Runny Honey

What to do:

Wash your lemon in warm, soapy water to remove any dirt or wax from the skin.

Zest the lemon using a fine grater or zesting tool (I use my fine cheese grater).  Leave to one side for now.

Juice your lemon into a jug or large cup.  This is so that if you have any pips or pith, they will go straight into the jug & you can strain it into another cup before adding it to your ice cream (nobody wants a sour lemon pip in their ice-cream!).  Set to one side with the zest.

Tip the Mascarpone & Greek yoghurt into a large mixing bowl.  Add the vanilla extract, one tablespoon of the lemon juice & a good pinch of the zest (you want a subtle hint of lemon here, not a “smack you round the chops” kind of taste that makes your ears flap).

Using an electric whisk, mix for about a minute or so, until everything is blended together into a creamy fluffy mixture.

Get a teaspoon & have a little taste.  If you think it needs a bit more honey or a bit more zest, add a tiny bit more – don’t go mad with them, because once it’s in you can’t extract it!  Give it another quick whisk & taste again (with a clean spoon please!).

Once you’re happy with it, spoon the mixture into a couple of plastic tubs, only filling about halfway up & put the lids on.

Place in the freezer for an hour, then remove & using a fork, give everything a thorough stir to remove any ice crystals that may have formed.

Smooth it back down into a nice swirly pattern, sprinkle a little more zest on top & put the lid on.  Replace in the freezer for another hour at least, or until you are ready for dessert.

Serve a generous scoop onto your crisp puff pastry fig tartlets (or spooned in a quenelle shape if you want to impress your dinner guests).

This light, fluffy ice-cream can also be layered onto crisp wafer cones, or any dessert that requires a simple adornment of light, lemony cool creaminess (& not a custard in sight!).  It’s also nice with a drizzle of Limoncello over the top, but that’s definitely one for those nights curled up on the sofa!

Next time you see fresh, fragrant figs in the shops, remember this recipe for my fig-get me knots!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

It’s Hip to be Squarecake!

The sun is shining, the bees are buzzing & Summer is definitely making her presence felt, especially in the garden!  We might have had a few soggy moments (although the grass is still a bit straw-like), but that hasn’t stopped the bees from busily working their magic & the plants from producing a beautiful bounty of fruits & berries.  Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants & blackcurrants, are all gracing shop shelves in their punnetfuls!  When I was a little girl, gooseberries (or “goosegogs” as they were known) were more readily available too, but seem to have become a bit rare these days.  These crunchy pale, zesty-green oval berries would turn your mouth inside out & make your ears flap with their tart tang if you ate them raw, but they also made lovely preserves & pies.  Recently, a lovely friend gave me a huge bowlful of these gorgeous green berries after she had been fruit picking with family.  We shared them with my Mum & simply ate them by the handful the next day!  Whatever your berry preference, the temptation to just eat them as they are is rather difficult to ignore, but they will give any dessert a deliciously luscious lift!

One of my best memories as a child is picking & eating strawberries.  There is nothing quite so fabulous as the heavenly scent of softly sun-ripened strawberries & it takes me right back to garden picnics, with a bowlful of berries & dipping them in sugar (it was the same with rhubarb & blackberries too).  We didn’t need fancy desserts as kids & would just pop down to the garden & pick whatever your Mum asked you to get in for dinner.  Obviously, a few things kind of evaporated on the way back from garden to kitchen (especially peas & their pods, which would be munched by the handful, fresh from the vine).  My freshly washed strawberry swag would be daintily dipped in a little bowl of sugar (I’m talking a couple of teaspoons here, not a kilo!).  It was bliss!  Now when I’m buying strawberries, I always smell them before putting them in my basket for an instant trip back in time.

As a result of a rather impromptu dinner party on a warm Summer evening (where I had to quickly improvise with what was in the fridge at the time), the simple yet spectacular Strawberry Sponge Square Cake was created!  Family, friends & neighbours have all indulged in a slice of this sweet strawberry delight & it has become a firm favourite!  Another lovely friend gave me a bowl of beautiful ripe strawberries the other day & obviously, I thought of making this cake.  This lighter than air sponge cake is one of the swiftest I’ve made, plus the sponge itself can be made the day before & kept in an airtight container with greaseproof paper between the slices, then all you need to do is assemble it!  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2 large Eggs
3oz Self-Raising Flour
3oz Vanilla Caster Sugar (or give normal sugar a whizz in a coffee grinder like I do)
A little melted Butter for preparing your tin
1 heaped tablespoon extra Vanilla Sugar (for laying your sponge on)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.  Get a shallow baking tray or Swiss Roll tin & brush the melted butter all over the inside, or just get your fingers in it & rub it all around.

Line the tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper that is slightly bigger than the tin, leaving half an inch of paper out of the tin all the way around – you will need this to lift your sponge out at the end.  Push the paper into the corners, smoothing it down in the tin & making sure it is completely covered with the butter.

Take the greaseproof paper out, turn it over & repeat, leaving it in the tin, with the edge sticking up all the way around.  The paper will turn translucent, so you can see through it.

Crack the eggs carefully into a mixing bowl & give them a whisk to break them up.  A little tip to test if your eggs are fresh:  half fill a jug with cold water, gently plop the egg in & if it sinks, it’s fresh.  If it floats, probably best not to use it.

Add the sugar & give it a good firm whisking.  I usually use the electric whisk for this (even I have my limits!) & whisk for about 4 minutes, until you have a fluffy, pale & cream coloured cloud-like mixture.

Next, you need to fold in the flour.  Folding is easy, just take your time – you don’t want to undo all that whisking by knocking out the bubbles you’ve just put in.  Sift the flour into the bowl, then using a large metal spoon, make a figure of eight & tip the flour over into the liquid.  Repeat until all the flour has been incorporated into a lovely, thick foamy mixture.

Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into your prepared tin.  Make sure you get it into all the corners & level it out with the spatula if necessary.  Then pick up the tin about six inches off the worktop & drop it – this will knock out any large bubbles.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 6 – 8 minutes, until it is lightly golden & slightly risen.  Give it a gentle pat with a finger & it should spring back – that’s when it’s ready.

Sprinkle the other sugar onto another sheet of greaseproof laid on top of a wire cooling rack.

Remove your sponge from the oven & carefully, but swiftly, flip the whole thing over onto the sugared greaseproof paper, using the edge of the cake paper to help you if need be.

Pull off the greaseproof paper from the sponge cake & discard.  It should come away easily (& the smell of baked butter is just beautiful!).  Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Once completely cooled, take a large knife with a smooth blade (like a French cook’s knife) & trim the edges of your sponge (you can eat these or feed them to the birds).

Cut the sponge into three equal sized rectangular pieces & set aside while you make the filling.  The filling can be prepared the day before too, just keep it covered in the fridge.

For the filling:

600ml fresh Double Cream (the real stuff)
1oz Icing Sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 large punnet of Strawberries & a drinking straw (plastic or metal is fine – if it’s plastic, you’re recycling it into a handy piece of kitchen equipment!)

What to do:

Wash, trim & hull your strawberries – that’s the tough bit under the leaves in the top of the strawberry.  This is where your drinking straw comes in!  Push the straw up from the bottom to the top of the berry, then pull the tiny strawberry tree from the straw.  It’s that simple & you can then pop those tiny trees in the composter, so no waste!  The riper the strawberries are, the easier it is.

Stand them pointy end up & using the paring knife, slice thinly – keep the trimmed edges to one side for decorating (or munching).  Put to one side in a bowl or large cup.

Get the electric whisk out again & whisk the double cream in a large mixing bowl, adding the icing sugar as you do so, until it is in soft peaks – the icing sugar gives the cream body & will hold it’s shape when piped.   You can whisk it by hand if you need to release some stress, but it’s really important that you don’t over-whip the cream, otherwise you’ll end up with butter (yes, really – I’ll cover that in another blog when we’ve all got more time).

Now you’re ready to assemble your sponge cake!  Take your first layer of sponge & lay it on a serving plate.

Scoop the cream into a piping bag – if you want to use a nozzle, that’s fine, or just use the smooth end of a piping bag.  Pipe a layer of cream in a decorative pattern around the edge to start, then fill in the centre.  Take your time over this, there’s no rush & you can do whatever pattern you like, whether it’s swirls with a star nozzle or plain plump splodges!

Place a single layer of strawberry slices all over the cream, leaving the pointy tips over the edge slightly & using the end slices to fill any gaps in the centre area.

Take the next layer of sponge & squeeze a few little splodges of cream on the underneath side, then carefully lay it on top of the strawberries.  Press gently to make sure everything is sandwiched together.

Repeat with the next layer in exactly the same way, leaving a layer of sponge cake on the top.

When you’ve finished, you should have a beautiful strawberry sponge square cake (yes, I’m aware it’s more of a rectangle, but just go with it).  Dust lightly with icing sugar all over the top (use a tea strainer for this & you only need a couple of teaspoonfuls of icing sugar to do the whole thing) & serve immediately.

Use any remaining strawberries & cream to decorate each person’s plate, maybe dusting with a bit more icing sugar if you like.  Or you could just hide the rest in the fridge for nibbling on later (I think you’ve earned it!).  If you don’t like strawberries, maybe use raspberries, blackberries, cherries, blueberries or even your favourite jam!  I’ve used all kinds of different fruits for this & it always turns out beautifully!

One of my favourite treats for afternoon tea is to cut the sponge into individual fingers, pipe with dark ruby-red cherry jam & whipped double cream, then sandwich together.  These fruity, fluffy pillows are then generously dusted with icing sugar, before being topped with a whole Amareno cherry & fresh mint leaf.

Another way I like to serve them is to create bite-sized sponge circles using a cookie cutter, then pipe a swirl of sumptuous strawberry conserve on the base, followed by whipped cream & make mini-sponge sandwich cakes, before sifting with a light layer of icing sugar.

For a truly scrumptious Summer treat, why not have a go at making my strawberry sponge square cake, or maybe try one of my other versions for your next afternoon tea!  Stay hungry 😉  A x