Condensed Milk Cake

Condensed Milk Cake


The recipe this week has two relations on the blog – firstly to last week’s Diplomacy Cake and also to the recipe for Cream Cakes of a few months ago.

It’s a deliberate follow-on cake from last week’s triple stack of deliciousness in order to give you something to use up the rest of the prunes you rushed out to buy for one of the cake layers. You DID rush out and buy prunes, didn’t you? To make the cake? Hello??

Puss in Boots Guilt Trip look

Please tell me you bought prunes!


This cake is also related to the Cream Cakes recipe in that it contains no butter, but instead substitutes a tin of sweetened condensed milk instead of the previous double cream, making it a fantastic store-cupboard cake. As you can see from the top picture, it’s a very light and pale sponge, which is perfect for absorbing moisture from its sweetened creme fraiche filling/coating.

Soak the prunes in warm water to make them really soft and unctuous – you can even add a little splash of booze if liked.

Allow the filled cake to mature overnight – the cake becomes melt-in-the-mouth soft and the cream sets like cheesecake – and enjoy for breakfast with a mug of sherry tea.

Condensed Milk Cake

150g prunes
50ml rum/Madeira/mead/sherry/Marsala, etc. (optional)

2 large eggs
1 x 397ml tin of sweetened condensed milk
150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
600ml reduced-fat crème fraiche
50-100g icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

  • Put the prunes into a small pan and cover with cold water. Add alcohol if liked.
  • Bring the pan to a simmer, then turn off the heat and allow the fruit to steep.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a tall, 20cm cake tin with parchment.
  • Whisk together the eggs and condensed milk until pale and frothy.
  • Sift the baking powder and flour together, then whisk into the egg mixture.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake is risen, slightly shrunken from the sides of the tin and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out free of liquid cake mix.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Using a balloon whisk, gently mix the icing sugar and vanilla into the crème fraiche. Don’t over-stir, as it will make the cream more liquid.
  • Drain the prunes. Sort out 8-10 of the best-looking fruits to decorate the top of the cake. Cut the rest into quarters and divide into three portions.
  • Cut the cooled cake into four layers.
  • Put the bottom cake layer onto a serving plate and cover with a generous 2cm layer of the sweetened crème fraiche.
  • Sprinkle over one of the portions of prunes.
  • Repeat with the other layers and finish by coating the whole cake with the remaining cream.
  • Arrange the reserved prunes over the top.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and allow to mature overnight in the fridge.
  • Let the cake return to room temperature before serving. Cover any unevenness in the cream coating with judicial employment of lightly-dusted cocoa powder.

Diplomacy Cake

Diplomat Cake


Haven’t done one of these in ages – cake! An actual cake! And not a whiff of yeast to be had – yes, I’m well aware not everyone shares my current obsession andit has been a bit yeast-heavy so far this year.

So here’s a cake with a difference. Well, several differences, actually: the flavourings of the layers, the ingredients in said layers, the unusual cream sandwiching everything together…..

This recipe is adapted from something I found on a Russian message board. It’s a distant relation of the Russian Honey Cake in that it requires time to allow the cakes to soften to a delicate crumb, but since they are cake-y to start with, as opposed to biscuit-y, the whole thing ends up beautfully light.

I’ve found versions of this cake listed under a variety of names, but I’ve opted for Diplomacy Cake because the three similar-yet-different cake layers all work wonderfully well together, whilst remaining distinctively separate – which seems to me to be the very epitome of diplomacy!

The three cake layer flavourings are a little different to those we’re used to in the UK – poppyseed and walnut, prunes and chocolate chips and rich raisin. In addition, the cakes are moistened with a suitably boozy syrup before being sandwiched together with a home-made cream mixture ‘stabilised’ with gelatine. This allows the cream to retain it’s volume and become mousse-like as the moisture is absorbed into the cake layers. It is the home-made (and much nicer) equivalent of Cool Whip.

This cake is great to make ahead, if you’ve got a special event coming up, or even if you just feel like an indulgent weekend without having to spend the preceding hours making it: make it Friday night, eat for breakfast Saturday!

A word or two about the ingredients…

  • Potato starch is gluten free and makes for a very light cake. You could substitute rice flour or even use 100% wheat flour. NB Dried potato is NOT the same thing at all.
  • Citric acid, together with the bicarbonate of soda, reacts with the dairy to raise the cake. You can substitute with ordinary baking powder. Citric acid is available at pharmacies. You will probably be asked why you need it. It’s simplest to say you’re making lemonade.
  • I’ve replaced the original sour cream with reduced-fat creme-fraiche. Feel free to reinstate it for a much more decadent cake experience.
  • I used mead as the alcohol base – use whatever your favorite tipple is.

Diplomacy Cake

These quantities are for one cake layer. You need three layers altogether. The different flavourings are listed below the main cake recipe.

1 large egg
100g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
100g reduced fat creme fraiche
90g plain flour
35g potato starch
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp citric acid


  1. 50g chopped walnuts, plus 4-8tbs poppy seeds – depending how seedy you want it
  2. 75g ready-to-eat prunes, chopped, plus 75g chocolate chips
  3. 150g raisins


  • Grease and line a 24cm diameter spring-form tin with baking parchment.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan.
  • Whisk together the egg, sugar and vanilla until light and foamy.
  • Mix in the creme fraiche.
  • Sift the flours with the bicarb and citric acid.
  • Gently combine the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. NB Using a balloon whisk will achieve this much more easily than folding-in with a spatula.
  • Stir through the nuts and seeds/fruits.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth out evenly.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. It will be a shallow cake, no more than 3cm in height.
  • Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
  • Repeat twice more until all three layers have been baked.

Soaking syrup
200ml water
50g caster sugar
50ml mead, rum, Baileys, whiskey, madeira, etc

  • Mix the sugar and water in a pan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Remove from the heat and add the alcohol.
  • Set aside.

Stabilised Cream

5 sheets gelatine
700g reduced-fat creme-fraiche
200g caster sugar
500g double cream
100g icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

60ml mead, rum, Baileys, whiskey, madeira, etc

  • Soak the sheets of gelatine in cold water until bloomed.
  • Mix the caster sugar into the creme-fraiche until just combined.
  • Add the icing sugar, vanilla and alcohol to the double cream and whisk until thickened.
  • Melt the bloomed gelatine in a small pan over a low heat. Add a little water or more alcohol to dilute.
  • Mix the two creams thoroughly and then whisk in the gelatine. It will make for a soft cream that holds its shape when piped.

To assemble the cake:

I didn’t trim the layers to an even height, because I would probably have ended up throwing the trimmings away (and I hate waste), but you could easily trim them for a more delicate overall appearance, as well as making them more open to absorbing the soaking syrup.

  • Lay the poppy seed and walnut layer onto a serving plate and brush over 100ml of the soaking syrup.
  • Spread or pipe one third of the cream over the cake. It will appear quite a thick layer initially, but as the moisture is drawn into the cake overnight, it will slowly settle.
  • Lay on the prune and chocolate layer and repeat with the syrup and half of the remaining cream.
  • Finally place the raisin layer on the top upside down (to give a nice flat top to the cake), soak with the syrup and spread or pipe on the last of the cream.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and allow to mature overnight. If you have no cool place to leave the cake, it can go in the fridge, but you should give it time next day to soften before cutting.
  • Sprinkle with a little cocoa just before serving.




The recipe this week is a wonderful cakey-pastry-thingy (technical term) from Ukraine.

They are probably best described as a cross between a cheesecake and a scone and are light as a feather and just a joy to eat.

The scone pastry is gently folded around the sweetened curd cheese filling and then baked for just 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, these aren’t what you’d call spur-of-the-moment bake, as they require some well-drained curd cheese for the filling. Now it is possible to find curd cheese in your local supermarket, but if they’re like the ones round here, it’s not always on the shelf, so instead of schlepping round all of them to see who has it in this week, if any, it’s easier just to make your own.

This too will require a little planning, in that you’ll need to get hold of some vegetarian rennet and some cheesecloth or muslin in which to drain your curds. Once you’ve got your hands on these items, it’s simplicity itself.

To make about 500g of cheese curds, you’ll need 4 pints of milk. Whole milk is fine, Jersey milk is richer, raw milk if you can get it would be amazing. Bring the milk to just above blood temperature and turn off the heat. Add 12 drops of rennet per pint of milk (48 in total), swirl to mix, cover and leave to cool. As it cools, the milk will set into curds.

When cool, gently break up the curds with a spoon. Pour boiling water over your muslin or cheesecloth to scald it, then line a colander with it. Put the colander over a saucepan and spoon the curds into the cloth, letting the whey drip through. You can either leave the curds to drain in the colander, or tie the corners of the cloth together  and hang the curds up to drain, preferably overnight. Remember to put a pan or a bowl under to catch the whey, and also remember to tell your husband not to grab said pan/bowl when he’s looking for things to fill up the dishwasher…..

To ensure really well-drained curds, in the morning you can return them, still inside the cloth, to the colander and put a weight on top (some tins or jars will do) to press out the last of the moisture. Don’t worry (for this recipe) if the quantity of curd is less than 500g, this is very much a That’ll Do™ recipe. Save the whey and use it as the liquid when making bread – it makes for a beautifully soft crumb!

The scone component of this recipe is slightly unusual in that there’s no hard and fast quantity of flour to add – it all depends on the moisture content of the rest of the ingredients. The flour is added last and you should stop adding when you feel the dough is together enough to handle/roll. Do not feel obliged to use all the flour!

Ukrainian Sochniki

Makes 14-15 large-ish pastries.

For the filling:
500g curd cheese
50g low-fat creme fraiche
3tbs caster sugar
3tbs semolina or ground rice
1tbs vanilla sugar or 1tsp vanilla extract
zest of half a lemon
1 large egg-white

For the dough
150g unsalted butter – softened
200g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar or 1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
200g low fat creme fraiche or sour cream
2 large eggs
700-800g plain flour – maybe
2 tsp baking powder

To glaze:
1 large egg yolk
1tbs milk

  • Put all of the filling ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
  • For the dough, cream the butter and the sugars together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the salt, creme fraiche and eggs and whisk until smooth.
  • Measure out 500g of flour and sift it with the baking powder.
  • Gradually add this flour into the wet ingredients, mixing thoroughly.
  • If the dough still seems a little soft, gradually add some of the extra flour until workable.
  • When it’s firm enough to handle, tip out the dough and knead smooth.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Roll the dough out to about 1cm thick and cut out circles of diameter 12cm. A fluted, individual tart tin is just about ideal. You can, of course, make smaller sochnikis – roll the dough thinner, use 1.5tsp filling and reduce the cooking time accordingly.
  • Put a heaped tablespoon of the filling onto each circle and lightly fold over the other half of the dough, leaving the edges open.
  • Transfer the pastries to the baking sheets.
  • Mix the yolk and the milk together and brush over the tops of the pastries. Use the tines of a fork to mark the tops with an attractive pattern.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, turning the baking sheets around after 10 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy warm.


Bara Brith

Bara Brith

The obsession with yeast continues!

This time, it’s the classic Welsh speckled bread Bara Brith. Nowadays, this is usually made using baking powder as the leavener, but personally I prefer the more traditional yeast.

And bonus! There’s two recipes for you to choose from!

When looking at an old recipe, I usually study the range of recipes available and select the one that, to my imagination, sounds the nicest. If there is a tie, then I will make both and decide which makes the cut by taste. This time, however, it was too difficult to decide, so I chose not to choose and leave that decision to you.

Both recipes have their strongpoints, not least from their provenance and pedigree.

On the left of the photo above, we have the recipe from Walter Banfield’s classic book “Manna”: A Comprehensive Treatise on Bread Manufacture (1937), a book admired by Elizabeth David and breathtaking in its breadth and scope. It is based on additions made to ordinary white bread dough after its first proving. The large quantity of fruit and peel contrast brightly against the white of the dough and make for a very sturdy slice that will keep moist for a long time.

On the right of the photo, a possibly more authentic Bara Breith from Mrs E.B.Jones, who, for many years, ran the Powys Temperance Hotel on Market Square, Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant in the first half of the 20th century. The recipe was collected by Dorothy Hartley and included in her iconic book Food in England, first published in 1954. As can be seen from the picture, this recipe isn’t as heavily fruited as the first one, but it has the added interest of being made from half wheat flour and half oat flour (finely ground oatmeal). Against expectation, the crumb is very light, making it a much more delicate slice.

I love the richness of the fruit in the bread dough version, but also really enjoy the delicate flavours of Mrs Jones’ version. I suggest you make both and decide for yourself.

Both loaves will keep well wrapped in parchment and foil, in a cake tin. Both are best enjoyed sliced and buttered, with a hot cup of something in front of a roaring fire.

Mrs Jones’ Bara Brieth

Don’t feel the need to order oat flour especially for this recipe, you can make your own by blitzing rolled oats in a spice grinder, or just use medium oatmeal for a more robust texture.

60g candied orange peel – diced
100g currants
70g sultanas
225g strong white flour
225g oat flour or medium oatmeal
115g lard
115g Demerara sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg
1 tsp mixed spice
1tsp soft brown sugar
30g fresh yeast

  • Put the peel and the fruit into a bowl and pour over boiling water. Set aside to plump for about 30 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, cream the yeast and the soft brown sugar together.
  • Put the flours and the lard into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip into the bowl you will be using for mixing and add the Demerara sugar, spice and salt
  • Drain the fruit, retaining the water, and use it to mix the dough. Keep the fruit warm in a low oven while the dough is kneaded.
  • Add the yeast to the flour mixture with the egg, lightly whisked. Use the (by now just) warm fruit-soaking water to mix everything to a soft dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Mix in the warm fruit, cover with plastic and allow to rise until doubled in size. Due to the richness of the ingredients, this may take anything between 1 and 2 hours.
  • Grease a large loaf tin.
  • When the dough has risen, tip it out and pat down to deflate. Form into a loaf shape and lay into the prepared tin.
  • Cover lightly and allow to rise for about 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tin around 180 degrees and lay a sheet of foil lightly over the top, to prevent the loaf browning too much.
  • Bake for a further 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and if the bottom doesn’t sound hollow, return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. You can place the loaf directly onto the oven bars.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Walter Banfield’s Bara Brith

450g strong white flour
½ tsp salt
1tsp soft brown sugar
30g fresh yeast
warm water to mix

115g lard in small cubes
5g mixed spice
65g Demerara sugar
1 large egg
300g currants
90g sultanas
90g raisins
60g candied orange peel – diced
50g plain flour

  • Cream the sugar and yeast together with a tablespoon of the flour and a little warm water and set aside to work
  • Mix with the rest of the ingredients into a soft dough.
  • Cover with plastic and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  • After 30 minutes, spread the fruit (not the peel) out on a baking sheet lined with parchment and put into the oven on its lowest setting, just to warm through.
  • Grease a large loaf tin.
  • When the dough has risen to twice its original size, add in the finely cubed lard, spice, egg and sugar and knead smooth.
  • Add the warmed fruit and peel and mix thoroughly.
  • Sprinkle over the flour and mix thoroughly.
  • Shape into a large loaf and place into the prepared tin.
  • Allow a long second rise, of 1-2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tin around 180 degrees and lay a sheet of foil lightly over the top, to prevent the loaf browning too much.
  • Bake for a further 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and if the bottom doesn’t sound hollow, return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. You can place the loaf directly onto the oven bars.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Heaven and Hell Cake

Heaven and Hell Meringue Cake


This week’s recipe is a variation on a meringue cake, where sponge and meringue are baked at the same time, on top of one another, and then sandwiched together with any of a range of fillings.

The first meringue cake I ever saw was a glorious chocolate-hazelnut-raspberry flavoured one by Miranda Gore Brown on Season 1 of The Great British Bake Off.

I discovered this German version in a rather roundabout way, on a Croatian cooking site. Loving both the name (Himmel und Hölle Kuchen) and the striking appearance, I decided to try my hand at it, since there was suitable fruit in the freezer and I needed some space for this year’s harvest. It’s a cake of contrasts – my favourite kind of cake: sharp, red fruit in jelly, smooth sweetened cream, crunchy meringue and moist sponge. Delightful!

I didn’t actually get as far as the fruit, initially, because the sponge and the meringue required a bit of work: the original sponge was too dry and the meringue went soggy within an hour. So I opted for recipes that I have more faith in, viz: the cream cake recipe of a few weeks ago, and a French meringue recipe from a professional French patisserie site. One of these days I shall compile a chart of how various sugar and egg-white ratios perform with the different meringue methods but, as a famous Braavosi once said, not today.


With the cake and meringue sorted, I could turn my attention to the fillings. The name Heaven and Hell comes (I’m assuming) from the contrast between the red ‘hell’ of the fruit and the white ‘heaven’ of the cream. The red fruit is a mixture of raspberries and redcurrants and is set with gelatine. The white cream was originally a sweet Chantilly, but for the above cake design, I felt it needed something a little more robust, so I’ve substituted a variation I used to fill my mille feuilles in the GBBO.

Which reminds me – the above cake design – don’t. I decided to make the cake/meringue as a tray bake and then cut and constructed it in a rectangular, spring-form tin. It makes for an elegant slice, but, on reflection, it would have been much less complicated to use two sandwich tins and then construct in a regular spring-form tin. Additionally, you’d only have to pipe one layer of meringue ‘kisses’ for the top layer, and make the second layer just smooth meringue, thus allowing the cakes to get into the oven more quickly. So I highly recommend that course of action.

Although the red and the white form a great contrast, I think an equally great combination would be blackberries and blackcurrants – one which I shall be trying shortly – and this time in round tins!

Heaven and Hell Cake

There are four elements to this cake: sponge, meringue, fruit filling, cream filling. Once all four elements are ready, the cake can be constructed. The slightly tricky part is the meringue mixture and the cake mixture need to be ready at the same time. Whilst practicing, I made the cake first, then the meringue, but I think for future reference, making the meringue first might be the better way to go, hence the following recipe order.

French Meringue

150g egg whites
20 g caster sugar
125 g caster sugar
125 g icing sugar

  • Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until soft peaks.
  • Add the 20g caster sugar and whisk until firm.
  • Mix the remaining sugars together and gradually add to the egg-whites.
  • Whisk until firm, at least 5 minutes.
  • Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain tip.
  • Set aside while you mix the cake.

Vanilla Cream Cake

150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml cream – double or clotted
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder

1tsp vanilla extract

  •  Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line 2 sandwich tins with baking parchment – the size can be small – 20cm – for an impressively tall final cake, or up to 24cm for a lower-level affair.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk (or by hand or stand mixer) until the eggs are frothy and the sugar dissolved – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and vanilla and whisk in.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the rest of the ingredients
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the baking tins. Smooth over.
  • Pipe meringue ‘kisses’ onto the top of the cake mixture in one tin, and pipe an even layer of meringue over the cake mixture in the other tin.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake is risen and cooked and the meringue lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Red Fruit Filling
150ml redcurrant juice [1]
450g fresh raspberries
sugar to taste
1 sachet powdered or 4 leaves gelatine

  • Put the juice and 300g of the raspberries into a pan and warm gently over a medium-low heat, mashing the raspberries into the juice.
  • Taste and add enough sugar to take the edge from the sharpness.
  • Soak the leaves of gelatine and then add to the pan, or sprinkle over the powdered gelatine and stir until dissolved. NB The quantities given normally set a whole pint of liquid, and you might therefore think it a bit excessive. The reason behind this is that gelatine isn’t overly fond of acidic mixtures, so a little extra concentration is helpful in encouraging it to set up properly.
  • Set aside to cool.

Cream Filling
200ml double cream
200g cream cheese
200g low-fat creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar to taste

  • Put the creams, cheese and extract into a bowl and whisk together until firm.
  • Add icing sugar to sweeten. It won’t need much – 2-3 tablespoons is about right.
  • Set aside.

To assemble the cake

  • If available, line the spring-form tin you’re using to construct the cake with food-grade acetate around the edge. This will allow the fillings to form clearly defined layers and not smudge when you remove the cake from the tin for serving. Alternatively, use clingfilm, and cover the whole of the bottom/sides.
  • Lay the cake with the flattened meringue into the bottom. There are two options available: meringue up or meringue down. Meringue up makes it easier to move/serve, meringue down might be more aesthetically pleasing, being a mirror of the top meringue/cake layer. You also need to bear in mind the effect the fruit layer will have on either the meringue or the sponge.
  • Once the fruit mixture has cooled a little, it will start to thicken. Fold in the remaining raspberries, trying to keep them as whole as possible, then spread in an even layer over the bottom sponge/meringue layer.
  • Put the cream mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle and pipe a thick line of cream all around the edge of the cake tin, then fill in the middle. Strictly speaking, the piping bag isn’t compulsory, but I find it’s the best way of getting the filling nice and even around the edge.
  • Place the top layer of sponge and meringue on top of the cream and press gently.
  • Chill in the fridge until the gelatine has completely set.
  • When set, remove the cake from the tin and place onto your serving dish. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve.


[1] I thawed 400g of redcurrants and then sieved the softened berries. It doesn’t need to be all juice – a mixture of pulp and juice is fine, just so the gelatine has something to dissolve into.

Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding


Final Festive Food recipe this week, and it’s fantastic!

Fruity, spiced, zesty with candied peel, suet-free and thus vegetarian, less than 2 hours in the making/baking – and over 300 years old!

I found this recipe in the manuscript recipe book of Elizabeth Philipps (circa 1694), when I was hunting for Christmas recipes. The recipe’s full title is “An excellent Plum Pudding Hot or Cake Cold”, which is just the kind of two-for-one recipe that our modern Christmas needs – especially if you’re running late and missed stir-up Sunday. Excellent example of Deja Food too!

The recipe is marked with the annotation “daughter Green”. I think this must mean the recipe was passed on by her daughter, whose married name was Green – although there were unusual naming conventions back then; perhaps Mistress Philipps had a rainbow of daughters? We can but guess. As if the title wasn’t endorsement enough, a later hand has also awarded a tick and the comment ‘good’. This made this recipe a culinary ‘dead cert’ in my opinion: something that was so delicious when tasted, the recipe was requested and recorded by hand in the family recipe book, and this approval was then endorsed by a third party coming across the recipe at a later date.

Mini Puddings

You can bake this in a regular cake tin, but a ceramic pudding bowl works just as well, and makes the resemblance to a Christmas Pudding much clearer. The hour-long baking time creates a wonderfully dark and crunchy crust, which contrasts dramatically with the light, pale insides.  You can also bake it in individual pudding bowls (the recipe makes 10 small puddings), which looks very sweet too, although the shorter cooking time makes for a paler outside. This would be too much traditional Christmas Pudding for one person, but this pudding is a yeast-raised, light, fruited, cake texture, and much more refreshing to the palate as well as being easier on the stomach.

I’ll be putting  up  a Festive Food Index at the weekend – suggestions from the blog over the years, including this year – on a single handy page, but apart from that, this is the final blog post this year.

Happy Holidays to all and I’ll see you in 2015!

Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding

375g plain flour
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 sachet fast-action yeast

40g granulated sugar
150g unsalted butter
150ml cream/milk
50ml cream sherry or mead
2 large eggs

300g currants
75g raisins
60g mixed candied peel [1]
40g flaked almonds

  • Mix the flour, yeast and spices.
  • Put the sugar, butter and milk/cream in a pan and warm gently until the butter is melted.
  • Add the sherry or mead.
  • If the mixture is still hot, let it cool a little first, then whisk in the eggs.
  • Add the liquids to the flour and mix thoroughly. It should form a soft dough. Add up to 150ml more milk if you think it is required.
  • Set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the fruit and almonds until thoroughly combined.
  • If you are making small, individual puddings, each mould or aluminium foil cup will take about 125g of dough. Otherwise, generously butter a 1.6 litre pudding bowl and add the dough.
  • Set aside for 15 minutes while the oven warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake
    • a single, large pudding for about an hour. Turn the basin round after 30 minutes and check for done-ness at 50 minutes.
    • the small, individual puddings for 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Run a spatula around the sides of the basin to loosen the pudding, and carefully turn out onto your serving plate.
  • Serve warm, with double cream.
  • For later: Even though this pudding is nice cold, it really is at its best just warm, so for serving later, zap slices/individual puddings in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.

[1] I used 20g each of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit, rinsed of excess syrup, which I made using the recipe on the blog. Do try it!

Luxury Brownies

Luxury Brownie

Luxury Five-Layer Chocolate Brownie


Week 5 of Festive Food and it’s a full-on chocolate fiesta, because what is Christmas without some chocolate? A dang-poor Christmas, that’s what it is!

For years, I have resisted making Brownies, because the last time I’d tasted them, they didn’t strike me as anything special. Of course, this was 1987 and I seem to recall that vegetable oil featured rather heavily, so all in all, no wonder.

So I decided to turn my rehabilitation eye on the humble brownie and force it to raise its game by using top quality ingredients and adding a bit of elegance to its appearance.

What I’ve got for you here is the culinary opposite of those shabby specimens of almost 3 decades ago: it is a multi-layered extravaganza of dark 70% chocolate, real cocoa, fresh butter, rich praline, and creamy milk chocolate. Like Cinderella, humble beginnings have been primped and tweaked and slathered in more bells and whistles than a whole troupe of Morris Men (wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!).

I’ve made many versions over the past few weeks, but like some glorious cocoa-based Pokemon, THIS is it’s final form.

FIVE layers – yes, FIVE! Go on, count them! – of indulgence, the textures getting lighter and more luscious as they get higher and higher: from crisp chocolate crunch shortbread, though rich brownie, creamy praline ganache, ethereally light milk-chocolate Chantilly  cream and finally, to be topped with  shower of real chocolate sprinkles! If you wanted to go all-out, I guess you COULD add a dusting of pure cocoa powder, but that seems a little over-the-top if you arsks me….

If you’re starting to panic about how complicated this all is, stop. It’s not. Yes, there are five layers, but you don’t HAVE to make all of them. The brownie by itself is pretty amazing. Add one or two of the other layers, and it’s a real winner. Pick and choose what you want to make – your kitchen, your rules.

This is a 2-day recipe, so don’t think everything has to be done in one go. The bottom two layers are baked in the same tin, one on top of the other, and the ganache is then poured on top – the first three layers all neatly contained in a single tin – no mess, no fuss. The only other thing to do on the first day is to melt some chocolate in cream. So you end up with just 2 items in the fridge. Simples!

It’s a what-I-call Lego™ recipe, with bits taken from here and there and stuck together to make something new. Bonus: each layer is delicious just on its own:

  • Chocolate crunch base – makes fabulously crisp biscuits.
  • Brownie – bakes in 15 minutes for a speedy dessert – serve with cream!
  • Praline Ganache – once cooled, can be rolled into decadent truffles and tossed in cocoa.
  • Milk chocolate chantilly – with just 2 ingredients and a little planning ahead, the easiest dessert of all.
  • Real chocolate sprinkles – delicious on bread and butter for breakfast.

 You need to start it the day before it is required, because the ganache and the Chantilly must chill overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, it’s very straightforward.

WARNING: This makes a SLAB of brownie, and due to its richness, serves up to 20. If you’re not wanting such a huge quantity, even though it will last for several days over the festive season, consider scaling the recipe down.  Also, if you’re thinking this could be regarded as a serving for 1 (which, technically, I suppose it could be), for the sake of your arteries, consider scaling the recipe down!

I make this a pan of dimensions 24cm x 32cm x 4cm. If you haven’t got a tin exactly the same, then just go with what you have – smaller and deeper – or even two small tins – is better, to keep the ganache from overflowing.

Luxury Brownies

Day 1

Chocolate Biscuit Base

This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.

135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
1g salt
135g flour
10g cocoa
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine [1]

  • Line your tin with baking parchment. Leave the edges quite long, so that they stick up well above the sides of the tin.
  • Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
  • Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
  • Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
  • Roll the mixture out to fit your tin. The overall thickness should be between 5-8mm thick. You might find it easier to roll this out onto the baking parchment from the tin, then you’ll know exactly where to trim/patch.
  • Prick all over with a fork (to keep it from blistering) and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes and then set aside to cool. The biscuit will be mostly cooked, and will finish off as the brownie mixture bakes.

Rich Chocolate Brownie

100 g egg yolks (5 large)
125 g caster sugar (to mix with the yolks)
120 g of egg white (3 large)
120 g caster sugar (to mix with the white)
15 g of cocoa powder
50g flour
60g chopped walnuts (or pecans).
220 g of dark chocolate (I used 70% )
120 g unsalted butter

  • Increase the oven heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Mix the egg yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy (10 mins-ish).
  • Meanwhile melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool a little.
  • Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with the whisked yolks. NB Use a balloon whisk for this – it’s more effective and doesn’t knock out as much air as a spoon or spatula.
  • Fold in the butter/chocolate mixture.
  • Fold in the walnuts.
  • Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
  • When thoroughly combined, pour onto the biscuit base in the baking tin.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how baked you like your brownie to be – I went for 20 minutes, because I like a cakey cake rather than a gooey cake).
  • Set aside to cool in the tin.

Praline Ganache
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar                   ) for the praline paste.

You CAN buy praline paste ready made[1], but it’s generally made with hazelnuts and is therefore not as delicate a flavour as a purely almond praline paste.

115g praline paste
345ml double cream
285g dark 60-70% chocolate
2tsp vanilla extract (optional).

  • Make  the praline paste, or see footnote [1] below:
    • Put the almonds on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
    • Turn the heat to 160°C, 140°C Fan and let the nuts toast for 15-20 minutes.
    • Put the sugar into a pan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt and become golden brown. NB Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise. Swirl the sugar around the pan.
    • Put the toasted nuts onto some baking parchment or a silicone mat, and pour the caramel over them.
    • Leave to cool.
    • Cut the praline into pieces and blitz it in a food processor to ‘breadcrumbs’.
    • Keep the machine running and eventually (5 minutes or so) it will turn into a paste, as the oil in the nuts is released.
    • Weigh out the quantity you need. Any remainder will keep very well in a sealed box.
  • Chop the chocolate and add to the praline paste in a bowl.
  • Heat the cream to just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes. This waiting time allows the heat of the cream to act on the chocolate and allows it to melt gradually. Vigorous stirring immediately after adding the cream will just create and trap air bubbles and spoil the finish of the ganache.
  • Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
  • Stir in the vanilla, if using.
  • Pour onto the cooled brownie in the tin. It will have sunk a little in the middle as it cooled, but I like also to press the edges down a little, so that the ganache sets as an even layer across the whole brownie. Just press the raised edges gently with the flat of your hand until the surface seems level., then pour over the liquid ganache.
  • If you’re having the ganache as the final topping – and it does set to a beautifully glossy finish, you’ll want to try and get rid of as many of the air bubbles as possible, so that the surface is smooth and shiny. To do this, lift the tin about 10cm off the kitchen counter and drop it onto the worktop. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You will see the bubbles rise and burst through the ganache. This dropping will also help level out the ganache. You can also jiggle the tin from side to side to ensure the ganache has got into all the nooks and crannies.
  • Allow to cool on the side, before covering lightly with foil and putting it in the fridge to set.  If it’s still warm when you cover it, you run the risk of droplets of condensation falling onto the ganache.  Clingfilm is an acceptable alternative to foil, if you can ensure it doesn’t touch the ganache, as this would spoil the mirror finish.

Milk Chocolate Chantilly

This is a fabulous concoction to have up your sleeve. Once prepared, it has the texture of mousse, but without the fuss of either gelatine or whipped (raw) egg-whites. Great for vegetarians!

400ml whipping cream
200g Milka milk chocolate

  • Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
  • Heat the cream until just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes.
  • Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
  • To ensure that the cream and chocolate are fully combined, you can, while the mixture is still hot, BRIEFLY whisk it with an immersion blender – no more than 4 or 5 quick pulses.
  • Allow to cool.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.

Day 2

You can, of course, serve this as a traybake, with or without the chantilly cream, but it is so rich, and looks so pretty when you can see all the layers, I really recommend portioning it out neatly in either squares or fingers.

  • Remove the tin of brownie from the fridge. The Ganache will have set to a lovely smooth and shiny finish.
  • Take hold of the parchment and lift the whole thing out of the tin and set it on the work surface.
  • Slowly peel the parchment away from the sides.
  • Cut up the brownie. This might seem a little over the top, to have a section devoted to cutting up a tray bake, but having gone to so much effort, a little care to ensure beautifully smooth slices like the one in the picture is time well spent.
    • Have a large, sharp, smooth knife to hand. A serrated knife won’t give you the sleek, smooth edge required.
    • Also have a jug of very hot water and a clean tea towel.
    • Have a board/serving dish for the slices of brownie, and a side plate for the offcuts and trimmings.
    • Hold the blade of the knife in the hot water for a few seconds, to heat up. This will allow it to cut through the ganache cleanly.
    • Dry the blade thoroughly with the tea towel.
    • In one smooth movement, trim one of the short sides of the slab, to reveal the layers.
    • Put the trimmings on the side plate.
    • Wash the knife blade clean. This removes all crumbs and traces of ganache, which would spoil the clean cut surface the next time you made a cut.
    • Repeat – heating/drying/cutting/washing the blade clean – until all four sides have been trimmed.
    • Divide the trimmed brownie slab into fingers. My suggestion is for fingers no larger than 10cm x 3cm.
    • Carefully place each cut slice onto the board/serving dish.
    • Remember to clean your blade after each cut, and every serving will be perfect.
  • Prepare the milk chocolate Chantilly cream by whipping it with either a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or a hand mixer. The setting power of the milk chocolate means that the cream will hold its shape like whipped double cream, but be altogether lighter. NB Be careful not to over-whip the cream – it will take only 1-2 minutes of whisking to thicken up.
  • Pipe the cream onto your brownie slices. For the pattern in the picture, I used a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle to form ‘kisses’ in rows. Feel free to choose both a different piping tip and pattern.
  • Sprinkle real chocolate sprinkles over the top to finish.

[1] is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.