Plum Tuckered Pud!

The seasons have started to shift, it’s almost as if you can taste it in the air,  as we swap long lazy Summer days for softer sunsets & cosy nights.   Hot-headed August has passed the baton to sultry September,  bringing with her the bountiful & beautiful beginnings of a delicious Autumn.  There is nothing as therapeutic as an early morning meander in the countryside, especially during September!  Gloriously gorgeous berries adorn the brambles & hedgerows, while trees are groaning under the weight of their fruity loot.  Nature is amazing, turning tiny Spring blossoms into an Autumnal array of plump berries & fragrant fruits, with a little help from her pollinator peeps of course!

One of the most deliciously juicy fruits of this season are plums, especially Victoria plums – sweet, golden centres wrapped in tart,  sherry-coloured skins.  We were lucky enough to be given a couple of bags of these beauties by a kind neighbour & so I decided to create something a bit special, a sweet but tangy treat – my Plum Tuckered Pud!  Now before you get all excited, this is a bit more involved than my usual “chuck it in a bowl & bake” kind of recipe.  It’s easier than it sounds, I promise, but the best bit is you can make each stage in advance & fling them together at the last minute, making you look like a superstar dessert ninja.  If you don’t have the time to make the pastry or can’t be bothered, you could always skip that step & buy a ready-made pastry case or ready-to-roll shortcrust pastry instead.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the pastry:
175g Self Raising Flour (with extra for dusting your worktop)
60g Salted Butter, cold from the fridge
60g Sugar
1 large Free Range Egg
Zest of half an Orange & half a Lemon

For the fruit compote:
2kg Victoria Plums, washed
3 Star Anise
1 Cinnamon Stick
3 long strips of Orange Zest (I used a speed peeler)
1 ball Stem Ginger, chopped finely
100g Sugar
50ml Cold Water
2 teaspoons Ginger Syrup from the jar
A good squeeze of Lemon Juice
25g Cornflour & approx 2 tablespoons of cold water to make a liquid

For the cream topping:
250g Mascarpone Cheese
250ml Double Cream
2 generous tablespoons Greek Yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (the good stuff)
1 generous tablespoon Lemon Curd
Fresh mint leaves to decorate
1 teaspoon Icing Sugar for dusting

What to do:

Firstly, we’re going to make the plum compote.  Half the fruit, carefully remove the stones (you can put them in the composter).  Set aside a few plums in a dish, cover & pop in the fridge to keep them firm for later (these will be for your topping).

Cut the rest of the plums into quarters – leave the skins on because they naturally contain pectin, which will help the compote thicken up.  Put them in a large saucepan with the sugar, water, lemon juice, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, ginger syrup & the long strips of orange zest.

Gently heat until the sugar dissolves into the water, carefully nudging everything around the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Bring to a boil & simmer gently for about 15 minutes on a medium heat, stirring regularly to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  It should reduce to a sunset-coloured jammy syrup that smells like Autumn.

Turn down the heat, remove the spices & orange strips, then add the cornflour water.  Stir swiftly into the fruit compote (not so much you splash yourself, but enough to blend everything).  Once the compote has thickened up, turn off the heat immediately. 

Leave to cool in the pan, without a lid on (because that will trap condensation & add unwanted moisture).  When cool, transfer to a dish, cover & put in the fridge to chill.

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C (fan oven) & prepare your baking tin – I used a loose-bottomed quiche/pie tin, about 9 inches across.  Smudge a little butter around the inside & edges, then sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on top, shaking it all around until you have a fine floury layer.  Tip out the excess onto your worktop for rolling out your pastry.

Put the flour & sugar into a mixing bowl, then add the butter.  Using your fingertips, squish the butter into the sugary flour & rub together, until you have a fine crumb-like mixture.

Break up the egg with a fork, then add that & the zest to the floury crumbs & mix together to form a soft pastry dough.

Roll out the pastry a couple of inches larger than your tin & about half a centimetre thick.  Lay it carefully over your rolling pin & gently lift onto the baking tin, allowing it to drape into the middle.  Push it into the edges gently, so that it covers the entire base & sides of your tin evenly.

Cut off the excess around the edge of your tin, or you could just use your fingers to press it off against the edge.  Prick a few tiny holes in the base with a fork.  (Any leftover pastry can be cut into shapes & baked on a flat baking tray, dusted with a little icing sugar – perfect for nibbling).

Grab a bit of greaseproof paper, screw it up to make it easier to shape to your tin & then loosely place on top of your pastry.  Tip some baking beads or dry pasta shapes onto the paper, spreading them all across the top & filling the pastry case.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, just until it starts to go golden.

Remove from the oven & place the tin on a cooling rack.  Carefully lift out the paper & baking beads or pasta (which you can save for another time).  Set them to one side on another rack to cool too.

Tip the Mascarpone cheese, double cream, Greek yoghurt, lemon curd & vanilla extract into a large mixing bowl & briefly whisk together until thick & fluffy.  It’s going to be piped on top of your dessert, so it needs to be thick enough to do so.  If it’s too thick, add a little more Greek yoghurt to loosen a little (a couple of teaspoons should do the trick).   Once you’re happy, pop the bowl in the fridge to chill.

Remember the leftover plums?  These are going to be your dessert decorations.  Cut the plums into thin slices, cover & put in the fridge.

Time to assemble!  Before lifting your pastry case from the tin, here’s a tip to give it a more elegant edge.  Take a sharp knife & run it around the top of the pastry, level with the tin edge, slicing off any bobbly bits.  Transfer your pastry case to a pretty serving plate.

Spoon the plum compote into the pastry case, filling it to just over three quarters of the way to the top, smoothing the surface.  Save any leftover compote (more on that later).

Snip the end off a piping bag (we’re going nozzle-less!) & half-fill with the Mascarpone cream, twisting the top of your bag to make it secure.  Starting at the outer edge, pipe round plump splodges of the cream close together to form a bumpy circle.  Then pipe more splodges on the inside, working your way towards the centre of your dessert.  If you have any gaps, pipe a few smaller ones to fill them in.

Now for those pretty plum slices we made earlier!  Place the slices skin-side up at intermittent gaps across the top, like shards of sunshine peeking through the clouds.  Add a couple of mint leaves at intervals – you don’t need many, just a few will do.   Pop your dessert in the fridge for about ten minutes or so.

Just before serving, remove from the fridge & give it a delicate dusting of icing sugar.  Slice & share!  This delicious dessert would make a pretty Autumnal centrepiece for a special dinner or celebration.  Refreshingly tangy, softly spiced plum compote, crowned with a feather-light fluffy cloud of Mascarpone cream & fresh plums, all sat atop a crisp, melt-in-the-mouth pastry base.  If you have any of that delicious plum compote left over, it’s a magical multi-tasker – it tastes rather lovely spread on hot buttered toast, or try a spoonful with a few slices of cheese & crackers too.

So why not make the most of the fabulous plums available this Autumn & try my pretty Plum Tuckered Pud!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

 

Easy Like Sunday Cuffins!

Weekends are perfect for baking & I especially adore Sunday mornings!  It’s as if time stands still, those precious couple of hours when it’s just you, your cup of coffee calmness & the birds singing outside.  Although I do love baking anytime, there’s a ravishingly relaxing appeal about weekend baking – up & at ’em early, whipping up a batch of bakes, their heavenly scent perfuming the whole house while everyone sleeps.  Plus, we all have those days where only cake will do, even for breakfast.  This is one of my favourite family “weekend baking” recipes & it fills that cake-shaped gap we sometimes have.

When I wrote this recipe, I wanted the fluffiness of a cupcake combined with the moist fruitiness of a muffin, so I created my brown sugar cuffins – no, that’s not a spelling error!  My cuffins are just what Sunday mornings need – a delicious cupcake-muffin hybrid that’s a little bit lazy & fabulously faff-free.  There’s not a drop of oil in sight, definitely no buttercream & there’s more whisking than stirring (electric whisking too, so very little effort required).  They’re not going to win any awards for their supermodel looks either – cuffins are meant to be gloriously rustic homemade fayre, rather than delicate dainty perfection.  Over the years, I’ve used different fillings (raspberry & white chocolate is always popular), but these are my favourite version.  I’ll admit, they’re not the healthiest option, but they are exquisitely satisfying & if you do eat them for breakfast, you’ve got the whole day to burn off those calories!

The recipe below makes a dozen cuffins, although I like to bake double this amount & freeze some for future cuffin cravings (it’s real, trust me!).  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

4oz Self Raising Flour
4oz Salted Butter (room temp, slightly softened)
2 large Free Range Eggs
3oz Light Soft Brown Sugar (Muscovado)
1oz Caster Sugar*
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (the real stuff, not “essence”)
1 dessertspoon Greek Yoghurt (overflowing a little, not very precise)
Tip of a teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 a heaped teaspoon of Baking Powder
Approx 150g fresh Blueberries, washed
Zest of a whole Lemon (wash & dry it first)
1 heaped teaspoon of Self-Raising Flour for the fruit

For the syrup:
Juice of a whole lemon
2 tablespoons Caster Sugar*

(*If you don’t have caster sugar, which I rarely ever do, you can use regular granulated sugar & whizz it up in a coffee grinder/blender to make it finer).

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 175*C (fan oven) & line muffin trays with paper cases (I used paper cupcake cases, which work perfectly).

Pat the washed blueberries on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper, then tip them onto a shallow plate or casserole dish lid & add the lemon zest.  Sprinkle with the teaspoon of flour (you don’t need much) & give everything a good shake around, until the blueberries are completely coated.  The zest may fall to the bottom of the dish, but there should be hardly any flour left (if there is, don’t worry, just tip everything into a sieve to shake off the excess).  Set aside on the plate for later.

Using an electric whisk, cream the butter, sugars & vanilla extract together until it becomes a fluffy, spun gold colour.

Add one egg at a time to the creamed butter & sugar mixture, then whisk thoroughly, repeating until all the eggs are combined.

Sieve the flour, bicarbonate & baking powder into the mixture & then using a spatula, fold into the wet ingredients completely so you are left with a pale golden batter.

Add the Greek yoghurt & give it a good swish around with the spatula, before sprinkling in approximately three quarters of the blueberries & lemon zest (save some for pre-baking topping).  Stir them into the mixture & you’re done!

Scoop little mounds of the mixture into your prepared muffin tins (carefully, so you don’t burst any blueberries), using either an ice-cream scoop or two large dessert spoons (they don’t need to be exact).

Once they’re all full, plop a few of the leftover blueberries on top of each cake with a few strands of lemon zest.

Bake on the lower shelf of the oven for approximately 20 minutes, until the cuffins have risen & are a deep gold – the plopped on blueberries will have half-disappeared into the tops.

To check they are cooked, poke a strand of dry spaghetti in the centre of a cuffin & if it comes out clean, they’re ready!

Carefully place onto a cooling rack & leave to cool slightly, while you make the zesty lemon syrup.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a jug (I usually stick a fork in the centre of each half,  then squish it around firmly over the jug).  Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar & heat either in the microwave or in a small pan, until the sugar has dissolved into the lemon juice.  Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.

Get the spaghetti strand again & poke a few holes in the top of each cake while they’re still warm.  Spoon a little of the lemon syrup onto the cakes, drizzling sparingly (you can save any leftover syrup in an ice-cube tray in the freezer).

Leave them for a couple of minutes, until the syrup has soaked nicely into the top of each cuffin.  If you allow to cool completely, you can freeze them in small batches using a bag or air-tight container.  They take a few minutes to defrost on a cooling rack & will still be as moist & fluffy as when you first baked them – perfect for when you crave a cake, but don’t want to bake!

Before the rest of the family get up, go pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, grab a cuffin or two & indulge in a little cakely goodness before you start your day!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x