It’s been a while since I posted a cake recipe, so I thought I’d cheer up the chilly weather with a cakey treat.
And it’s fabulous!
I was initially a little conflicted about this cake: on the one hand it tastes amazing, but then it also falls into the category of my pet hate of ‘food looking like something that isn’t food’, even though it is achieved almost by accident. In the end the ease of baking/construction, coupled with the amazing flavours persuaded me to bend my own rules and I hope you’ll be as delighted with the result as I am.
It’s very straightforward, based on a chocolate sponge, and takes almost zero skill to put together. Huzzah!
I found it on a Romanian version of Pinterest, and it appears to be something Romanians can create from a Dr Oetker box cake mix.
However, there’s no need to resort to box cake mixes, no matter how convenient they might be. Hands up anyone who has eaten one and thought “Oh my! This tastes so convenient!”.
So this is a hand-made version, which is only marginally less convenient but with added fresh, natural ingredients. I call it the very best kind of clean eating. I might start a food trend…..
Requiring just 2 bowls – one if you rinse it out after mixing the cake – it also requires practically zero washing up! Bonus!
The cake is my go-to, one-bowl chocolate yogurt cake, so easy you could mix it with just a spoon – although I recommend a balloon whisk. Once baked and cooled, the cake is hollowed out and the bottom filled with whole (or as whole as possible) bananas, then a creamy filling mounded on top. The cake that was hollowed out, plus any excess you cut off to level the top, are blitzed to crumbs and patted onto the mound of cream and voila! Something that resembles a molehill but with a much more appetising taste!
You can make one large cake, or, as I managed, one large and several small, individually-sized versions.
The filling can be as simple as sweetened, whipped cream, a custardy diplomat cream (crème patissière + gelatine + whipped cream) or, my favourite, a combination of cream cheese, crème fraiche and double cream, whipped to firmness with a little vanilla paste and icing sugar.
Also optional is whether or not to include some chocolate in your creamy filling. My daughter voted for chocolate chips in an earlier version (she also preferred diplomat cream), however I went for hand-chopped chocolate. Other options might be pure chocolate sprinkles or indeed none at all.
The comforting combination of the richness of the chocolate sponge, the freshness and sweetness of the banana, the creamy topping and the novelty of the overall appearance have immediately shot this cake into my top five list. In fact, the only downside of this cake is the time spent waiting for the cooked cake to cool down before you can fill it!
Chocolate Sponge Cake
150ml vegetable oil
150ml plain yoghurt
60ml golden syrup
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
- Line the bottom and sides of a deep 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
- Put oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.
- Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl. Mix well.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
- Bake in the oven for 60-75 minutes, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides, no bubbling sounds can be heard and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Yes, it does seem a long time, but the low temperature means it really needs the full allowance. The result is a beautifully-textured cake that actually improves on keeping, if you want to make it ahead. Additionally, the low-and-slow cooking means it is invariably gently and perfectly rounded on top and without any cracks.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
300g cream cheese at room temperature
300ml low-fat creme fraîche
1-2tsp vanilla paste
2-3tbs icing sugar
300ml double cream
100g good quality chocolate – white, milk or plain – chopped fine
- Mix the cream cheese, vanilla paste and creme fraîche thoroughly.
- Add icing sugar to taste.
- Add the double cream and whisk until firm.
- Stir through the chopped chocolate.
- Cover with plastic and chill until required.
- Cut the cake horizontally at a height of 4cm. If the cake has risen a lot, you might be able to cut it in half and make 2 large molehill cakes. Alternatively, you can cut out circles of sponge from either one or both halves using a baking ring to make individual-sized portions.
- Cut a circle 2cm deep around the edge of the cake, 2cm from the edge.
- Hollow out the middle of the cake so that the remaining sponge resembles a tart case. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the cake. Reserve the cake scraps.
- Lay whole bananas in the hollow, making sure they cover the whole of the bottom of the cake.
- Pile the cream filling on top, using a palette knife to shape it into a tall mound.
- Blitz the cake scraps to crumb and press lightly onto the sides of the cream until completely covered.
- You can serve the cake immediately, but it does benefit from being wrapped in foil and thoroughly chilled in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is ideal.
- Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.
If you fancy making a romantic effort for your nearest and dearest, you could spoil them with a fancy-schmancy, gourmet meal, and spend the next three days shopping/chopping/baking/caking/slaving.
Or you could make these pastry hearts, using a recipe you already know and love, and a filling you know s/he loves. They are neither complicated nor elaborate, but last time I checked, stress in the kitchen was not an aphrodisiac.
The pastry is a regular sweet shortcrust, with a little food colouring added to the iced water used to mix it together – a shade a little lighter than red wine in the water makes for this lovely pastel pink once mixed. If inclined, you could even make 2 or 3 batches, each of a different shade of red/pink for an eye-catching jumble of hearts.
I chose a filling of vanilla pastry cream, made with real vanilla bean and firmed up with a little gelatin for ease of piping. If your loved one has a favourite sandwich filling then go with that – Nutella, peanut butter, banana, Banoffi-pie caramel, slices of apple, all of the above….
Don’t limit it to sweet flavours. If your Valentine has a savoury tooth, fill his/her hearts with sausage, cheese, omelette, bacon, all of the above…
- Divide the chilled pastry in half. Roll out each half thinly (2-3mm) and cut into twice as many squares as you require of around 10cm in size.
- Turn half of the squares so that one corner is pointing toward you and pipe/arrange your filling in heart shapes onto the pastry. Be sure to pile up the filling quite well, in order to give substance to your ‘hearts’.
- Using a pastry brush and water, dampen the edges of the pastry around the filling.
- Lay a second piece of pastry over the top and smooth it down and around your filling, making sure its fully enclosed. Try to make sure there’s no air trapped inside, as this may cause your pastry to burst during cooking.
- Using a sharp knife, trim the excess pastry, leaving a border of 1cm around each heart.
- Transfer the pastry hearts to a baking sheet lined with parchment. I didn’t poke holes in the pastry, but I did get a bit of the filling oozing out on one or two. To avoid this, you could poke some vent holes in the tops in a decorative pattern.
- Chill in the fridge while the oven heats up.
- Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Add a glaze if liked – milk and caster sugar for sweet, egg-white for savoury. I did experiment with both of these, but decided the unglazed puffs were more visually striking.
- Bake for 11-12 minutes, turning the baking sheet around half-way through.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- If sweet, dust lightly with icing sugar to serve.
Something a little different today, with a recipe that is simple, quick, delicious and easily made gluten-free.
I came across it whilst browsing Chinese language food blogs (see the lengths I go to, to bring you the cutting edge of fashionable recipes??). Anyhoo – this recipe seems to be riding a sizeable wave of popularity, which is understandable for all of the reasons I started with, plus the ease with which it can be customised. I’ve ‘interpreted’ the Chinese name to the most suitable translation, the variations I came across whilst researching being many and varied, e.g. Snowflake Cakes, Snow Puff Pastry, Snow Q Cake, Snowflake Crisp, Dry Snow Cake and my favourites – Reticulated Red Snowflake Pastry, Swept Eat Snowflake Crisp Circle & Delicious Non-Stick Tooth Nougat Failure.
It is like a cross between Chocolate Salami and nougat – fruit and nuts are mixed into melted marshmallows, with the addition of crisp biscuit pieces for added texture. The biscuits also ‘lighten the bite’ and prevent it from being either too sweet or too cloying. Once formed into a slab, it is dusted with dried milk powder to give it a wintery effect.
I would recommend having some latex gloves on hand, no pun intended, to help with shaping the warm mass, but it is also possible to make-do without.
When your block has set firmly, you can slice it into serving portions and dust all cut surfaces with milk powder if liked, but I must confess to preferring to see the contrast between the powdery top/bottom and the crisp and sharply delineated sides showing the embedded jewels of fruit and nut. You can even omit the milk powder altogether, or substitute with desiccated coconut, but I would recommend at least trying it to begin with – maybe cut off a slice or two and just dust those.
In terms of variations, the most popular I have found are chocolate (cocoa) and matcha. Being in powder form, they are easy both to add to the melted marshmallows and use for dusting – although changing the overall colour means you do lose the whole ‘snow’ theme somewhat. That said, it does allow you to use non-white marshmallow, if packs of all-white are difficult to find.
Fruits and nuts are entirely to your taste, but bright colours and whole nuts make for attractive shapes when cut through. If you make your own candied peel – and as readers of this blog you all do, obvs (no pressure 😉 ) – it can be substituted for some or all of the dried fruit, and a mix of seeds can replace the nuts.
The quantities given are sufficient for a block of about 20cm square – you can, of course, shape it however you prefer. They are also easy to remember, as I have made them proportional, and thus fairly straightforward to scale up or down, as required.
The biscuits you require should be crisp and dry. In the UK, Rich Tea biscuits or Arrowroot are ideal (regular or gluten-free), although you will have to break them into quarters for ease of shaping. If you’re a fan of the pairing of salty and sweet, you could even substitute Ritz crackers – the mini ones being perfectly sized to leave whole. Crisp and salty pretzels are a further option.
50g unsalted butter
200g white marshmallows
50g dried milk powder
50g dried fruit – cranberries & orange peel/blueberries/apricots
50g mixed nuts – pistachios & walnuts/almonds/cashews
200g crisp biscuits – Rich Tea/Arrowroot/gluren-free/Ritz, broken into quarters if large
Extra milk powder for dusting
- Put the fruit, nuts and biscuits in a pile on a silicone mat.
- Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a very low heat.
- Add the marshmallows and stir gently while they melt. This will take some time. Do not be tempted to turn the heat up, as they will quickly start to turn brown and caramelise.
- When the marshmallows have melted, add the milk powder and stir until fully combined.
- Pour the marshmallow mixture onto the fruits and biscuits.
- Put on your plastic gloves and thoroughly mix everything together. Use a series of gentle lifting and folding motions. You want the marshmallow to coat everything and hold together, without crushing the biscuits into dust.
- Once the mixture is holding together in a mass, you can use a non-stick tin to help mould it into a rectangle. Press the mass into a corner of the tin to help form two square edges, then turn it around and repeat, pressing it gently by firmly into the sides.
- When you’re happy with the dimensions of your slab, wrap it in plastic and put into the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
- When the slab has firmed up, dust with more of the milk powder, making sure the whole surface is covered. Turn the slab over and repeat.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the slab into serving sized pieces – about the size of a matchbox is good – it’s allows the edges to be seen and admired, and cn be eaten in just 2 bites.
- Store in an airtight box.
- Chocolate: Add 15-20g cocoa to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with cocoa.
- Matcha: Add 15-20g matcha powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of matcha and milk powder, or just matcha.
- Fruit variations: Add 15-20g freeze-dried fruit powders (available here) to the pan together with the milk powder, use whole dried fruit in the filling and dust with extra fruit powder.
- Coffee: Add 15-20g espresso coffee powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of coffee & milk powder.
- Oats: Replace half of the biscuits with toasted, rolled oats.
I wasn’t sure whether to put this up as a recipe as it seems a little ordinary, but then again, not everything in life has to be complicated. Especially if it is delicious. As this undoubtedly is.
This actually started out as a cake of a much different pedigree, and I’m going to show you the recipe that initially caught my eye: A version of the famous Kiev Cake. I’m not going to steal the author’s content, so you will have to click on the link to see all the stunning photographs. And they really are spectacular. AND the author has included step-by-step photos. I even made the cake as described. I just didn’t like it.
My reasons, which I freely admit are entirely subject to my own fickle tastes, were that it was too sweet, I found the nuts unnecessary and the sponge cake itself was too dry, even with the soaking syrup. If you have a sweet tooth and a love of nuts, you will adore the Kiev cake and the linked recipe is certainly a stunner, it was just not for me.
However, I thought the general idea had merit and so went through the creation of several versions, trying to refine the flavours and textures. In the end, the simplest idea was the best: sponge, cream, fruit, meringue.
Essentially, this is a Victoria Sponge filled with Eton Mess, but it is also extremely versatile in that this basic idea can be used and re-used in a multitude of ways, by simply varying the flavours of the cake and the fruit. In the summer months, it can take advantage of the range of fresh soft fruits and berries available either in the shops or to pick yourself. In the colder months, it can be whipped up using fruit tinned in either light syrup or fruit juice. In fact, a store-cupboard with a tin of fruit and a pack of meringue nests and a pot of cream in the fridge renders this cake a treat that can be enjoyed in about an hour from start to finish.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say – an hour? To make and cook a whole cake? Why yes – because it doesn’t HAVE to be a large cake – see below.
Vwa – as they say – la!
The perfect combination of soft sponge, crunchy meringue, sweet-sharp fruit and fresh, billowy cream.
NB If you’re using fresh fruit, then you will need a little preparation in order to bring out their best flavour and also avoid the tricksy problem of juice. See recipe instructions below.
Much of this recipe depends on the size of cake you want to make. Choose quantities accordingly. The amounts given are for a medium-sized single cake.
170g unsalted butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
200g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
- Grease and line your tin with parchment paper.
- Beat the butter until light and fluffy.
- Add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes.
- Add the eggs one by one, whisking thoroughly before adding the next.
- Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add to the other ingredients, mixing only enough to combine.
- Stir through milk until the mixture achieves a dropping consistency.
- Pour mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and golden, and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin.
- Allow to cool in the tin for 10m minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
You can choose almost any fruit that takes your fancy, in whatever quantities you like, because any extra can be served alongside your cake as an added bonus.
Tinned fruit can be found in both juice and syrup. Both are fine and have the advantage of no juice problem, once drained. If your meringue/cream/fruit mixture needs a little sweetening, or it’s a bit stiff, you can add a little juice/syrup rather than raw sugar.
Fresh fruit is equally delicious, but requires you to address the problem of juice. This isn’t such a problem for small berries that you can tumble into your filling whole (blueberries, raspberries, etc), but for fruit which requires slicing (strawberries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, mango, etc.) the juice problem will become apparent as soon as it is cut. If you add chopped fruit directly into the meringue/cream mix, the juice will start to seep into the cream and will eventually turn your filling runny and unstable. Aside from the natural ooziness, the sugar in the meringue will actively draw more juice from the fruit, so in order to prevent this, you need to draw out the juice before mixing it into your filling. This is easily done by first preparing the fruit in small, bite-sized pieces, then sprinkling over 3-4 tablespoons of sugar and gently mixing. Set the fruit aside for 1-2 hours, and you will find that the drawn juice has created a delicious syrup and the fruit has softened and sweetened indulgently. Drain the fruit thoroughly from the syrup before adding to the meringue and cream. Use the syrup to sweeten the mixture, or soak the cake, or not at all.
If you have egg-whites to spare, then you can always whip up a batch of meringues yourself, but I’ve found that the extended shelf-life of ready-made meringues make for a great store-cupboard stand-by. I’ve used both meringue nests and tub of meringue ‘kisses’ and, provided you don’t assemble the cake too far in advance, they both provide the sweet, textured crunch the filling requires. In terms of quantities, it is very much to your own personal tastes, but as a rough guide I would suggest 4 meringue nests or 1/2 a tub of meringue kisses for a cake serving 6-8 people.
You can use double or whipping cream, however I find that double cream whips up firmer and adds just the right amount of stability to get a good,clean slice when serving. 300ml is probably sufficient, but whisk up more if you think it might be required.
To assemble the cake
- Drain the (tinned or fresh) fruit from the syrup.
- Slice the cake horizontally.
- Soak the cut surfaces with syrup from the fruit (optional).
- Whip the cream.
- Add the fruit and crumbled meringues to the cream and fold in.
- Taste and add more fruit syrup if required.
- Spread over the bottom half of the cake and add the top layer of cake.
- Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve.
The recipe this week, as with most of my late-summer posts, is inspired by holidays in France. In addition to the usual holiday activities, this year we also enjoyed WiFi where we were staying, and I was able to binge-watch many episodes of the French version of Britain’s Best Bakery.
In true Bake Off style, each bakery is graded across three rounds: initial visit and tastings, specialist round, and group challenge – where the 3 (later dropped to just 2) bakeries in the region make a recipe set by the judges.
The most recent series has emphasized bread for the second round, so the bakeries must present their best-seller or their most favourite of their bread range, but in earlier seasons, there was no such stipulation, and bakeries could put forward whichever of their products they liked.
One of the bakeries in the Aquitaine Nord region put forward these pastries which really caught my eye as being both simple yet flavoursome. The contrast between the crisp pastry and the soft, moist filling, together with the obvious enjoyment of the two judges, struck me as so delicious and so unusual, I decided to try them myself. Helpfully, the programs also show the bakeries making these recipes, although omitting for the most part any details such as weights, oven timings and even the full list of ingredients. Nevertheless, I managed to piece together this recipe and here we are.
Jesuits get their name from their triangular form, resembling the headgear worn by Jesuit priests in the 17th century. There doesn’t seem to be any further link to the priesthood at all, so we can move swiftly on to their structure. A orange-flavoured almond sponge, or frangipane, is baked between two sheets of puff pastry. Once cooked and cooled, the pastry is cut into triangles and coated with Italian meringue, and briefly returned to the oven to bake until lightly tinted brown.
Apart from being delicious, these are incredibly simple to make. Like the bakery in the program, I initially made a large ‘tray bake’ and then cut it into triangles, but you could also make individual-sized portions. The frangipane is easily customised to any flavouring you like, and the meringue coating is not compulsory – you can just spread a layer on top if you prefer (it’d be a lot less sticky to do, too). Several versions ‘out there’ have only a simple water glaze if meringue isn’t a favourite. You could even omit it altogether: the simple, crisp, unadorned, butter pastry is a great contrast to the soft, moist, orangey, almond filling. If you think that this version sounds more your thing, I recommend making individual pastries – any shape, although I find (Mille-feuille/custard slice sized) rectangles both easy and most appealing.
The classic topping is almonds, flaked or chopped, but for the large bake, I was out of both and so opted for nibbed sugar, which added both sparkle and crunch. The plain pastries can be adorned with a brush of syrup and some flaked almonds for the last 10 minutes of baking and then finished off with a dusting of icing sugar, or indeed nothing at all.
Variation: Ground hazelnuts, if you can find them, make a fantastic pairing with candied orange.
Obviously, you could hand-make your puff pastry, using only the very best ingredients and taking two days to do so, but for speed, practicality, and the unknown quality of a new recipe, a roll of ready-made is the sensible choice. Splash out on an all-butter version. Go wild.
2 sheets puff pastry
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g ground almonds
50g candied orange peel, chopped fine
grated zest of 2 oranges
2-3tbs orange liqueur (optional)
To finish – all are optional
sugar syrup – I used the syrup from the candied orange peel.
flaked or chopped almonds for sprinkling
icing sugar to dust
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Dock the pastry sheets with a pastry docker or use the tines of a fork to poke holes all over.
- Whisk the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again until the mixture is pale and light.
- Add the eggs, one by one, ensuring the first is thoroughly incorporated before adding the second.
- When the eggs are incorporated, fold in the almonds, orange peel and zest, and liqueur if using.
- Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with 1 plain, 2cm tip.
- Lay one of the pastry sheets onto a baking sheet on a piece of parchment.
- Pipe the mixture evenly onto the pastry in a rectangle, leaving a border of at least 3cm around the edges.
- Brush the edges with water and lay the second sheet of pastry over the filling. Press the edges firmly, trying to trap as little air as possible.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. NB For individual pastries, you need bake for only 30 minutes, brushing with syrup and sprinkling them with flaked almonds for the last 10 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- When just warm, cut off the excess pastry from around the edges and then divide the filled pastry into triangles. The size is entirely up to you. You can either enjoy them as is, or add the meringue and almond coating.
- Make an Italian meringue. My recipe is here.
- Lay a fresh piece of parchment onto a baking sheet.
- Coat the sides and the top of each pastry with a layer of meringue, no more than 1cm thick.
- Lay the coated pastry onto the parchment.
- When all pastries are coated, sprinkle them with the chopped/flaked almonds and bake for 10 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned.
- Enjoy warm, or allow to cool.
- If covered with meringue, these are best on the day they are baked. Unadorned pastries can be enjoyed for 2-3 days. Crisp them up by warming gently in a low oven.
After six years I decided to revisit the Apple Rose Tarts I created for Season 2 of The Great British Bake Off.
These are essentially the same tarts, but with a bit of a make-over for the apple decoration. Looking less like roses, but still with a floral semblance, these variations are formed from a swirl of poached apple slices on top of a set apple compote.
You can, of course, use the filling from the originals, but this simplified variation means that these tarts can be prepped in advance, and then assembled just before serving, something that was possible, but rather tricky, with the rose tarts.
I also experimented with using puff pastry. The above shells were created by draping puff pastry over the back of a star-shaped tart tin. The shell on the left was made from pastry cut with a six-petalled cutter. The form on the right was made using a large circular piece of pastry. In order to ensure they kept their shapes, a second tin ‘sandwiched’ the pastry inside, and a wire rack place on top to hold them in place. They were baked at 220°C, 200°C Fan for 15 minutes.
600g Bramley apples
200g caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon
sweet shortcrust pastry, cornflour pastry or ready-rolled puff pastry
red-skinned dessert apples as required
1 litre apple juice
250g caster sugar
red food colouring (optional)
- Use the pastry to line and fully bake whichever tartlet shells you prefer.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack.
- When cooled, if not using immediately, store in an airtight container until required.
- Peel, core and chop the Bramley apples.
- Put them in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Cover and simmer over medium low heat until they become fluffy.
- Stir briskly to remove any lumps, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Continue to simmer until the mixture has thickened. Set aside.
- Prepare the dessert apples. If you have a mandolin that can cut 2mm slices, core the apples and slice them with that. You will need to cut these slices in half before using them. Otherwise, cut the apples in half from top to bottom, remove the core and cut into exceedingly thin, semicircular slices, 2mm if possible.
- Pour the apple juice into a saucepan and submerge the apple slices as you cut them , to prevent discolouration.
- Simmer the apple slices gently for 10 minutes or until tender – You need the apples to be soft enough so that you can roll them, but not so soft as to fall apart.
- Lift the apple slices from the syrup with a slotted spoon and allow to drain/cool in a sieve.
- When cool enough to handle, lay out the apple slices as follows.
- The slices should be laid exceedingly close together, so there is only about 3mm of each slice visible.
- The overall length of the strip of apple slices needs to be at least 15cm in order to be curled round into a form that will sit inside a single, cupcake-sized pastry shell.
- Cover the strips of apple slices until required.
- Add the sugar to the apple juice and stir until dissolved.
- Simmer over medium heat, until the juice has thickened into a syrup.
- Add a little red gel food colouring to tint the syrup, if liked.
- To assemble the tarts:
- Warm the apple compote and spoon 1-2 tablespoons into each pastry case. Allow to cool. As it cools, it will firm up and give support to the apple decoration.
- For each strip of apple slices:
- Lift the strip from the board and stand it on the flat base of the slices.
- Curl one end of the strip around in a circle until it meets the other end of the strip.
- Check whether the form is small enough to fit into the pastry shell. If not, ease the slices round into a tighter circle.
- Place the curled slices into the pastry shell. Keep a hold of the form with one hand until you’re sure it has all fitted inside. A cocktail stick is handy here for tucking in the ends of any sticking-out slices.
- When everything is tucked inside, you can stop holding the form, as the pastry case will support it.
- Use the cocktail stick, if necessary, to tweak the apple slices into place. I particularly like the subtle variations in the finished patterns, depending on the number and curl of the apple slices – see below.
- Brush the apple slices generously with the apple syrup, and serve.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: Jane Newton’s mini chicken & bacon pies!
In food, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s really difficult to be original. Whatever blinding flash of inspiration you think you’ve had, I promise you that it has been done before; usually better, sometimes worse. If it hasn’t been done before, then that’s usually a good indication that it’s not such a great idea (i.e. it was done before and discarded because it wasn’t fab at all). If it was fab, we’d have heard about it in the last 5000 years. This goes for top-level chefs as well as for the humblest baker.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe and putting your own spin on it. Tweak it enough and then you can claim it as your own (and acknowledge the inspirational recipe, but it’s surprising how many people seem to forget this bit).
Example: Ian Dowding and the invention of Banoffi Pie. Except, of course, he didn’t invent it, he readily admits that it evolved by adding bananas to a recipe for Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie brought back from the US by Russell the chef, with whom Dowding worked in a restaurant in Berkshire. Read all about it here.
And so to this week’s recipe. I recently watched an episode of a food show from the US and one of the items shown was a Goat’s Cheese and Blueberry Pie with fresh basil. I liked the unusual combination and re-watched the clip several times in order to jot down what looked like the quantities/ingredients. It took a couple of tries to get the sweetness and texture right, and my overall verdict was: No. The goats cheese was odd. The tart lacked zing. The fresh blueberries were OK, but had no pop of flavour, and so I set my notes aside.
Until I had a brain wave a couple of weeks ago with: blackcurrants! I resurrected my notes and swapped in blackcurrants for blueberries and it was amazing (she said modestly). The fresh basil is very reminiscent of the aroma of blackcurrant leaves and the amazingly tart pop of flavour from the berries was just what had been missing from the original. After guarded compliments from friends after the first attempt, I swapped the goats cheese for cream cheese and found I didn’t miss the lack of tang at all. – it was creamy, but not so dense as to push it into cheesecake territory (although it’s close!). Disliking unnecessary waste, the surplus egg-white from the filling ended up in the topping, along with butter instead of margarine, which all made for a crunchy variation to the original. Finally, there was a need to balance out the basil: the boldness of the blackcurrant flavour meant a larger quantity was needed in order for it not to be lost in the background whilst avoiding being too heavy handed and tipping it over into a borderline savoury tart. Luckily, the perfect amount was almost exactly the quantity of leaves you get in a 28g pack of fresh basil in the supermarkets.
Interesting Fact: I read recently that blackcurrant is, for the most part, an unknown flavour in the US, due to a ban in the early 20th century when it was thought to harbour a disease harmful to the logging industry. All can say is: you’re missing out, my friends across the water, and it’s high time you invested in blackcurrant bushes in order to enjoy all the wonderful things you can do with them. Exhibit A: this pie! If you’re lucky, you will be abe to find frozen berries in your supermarkets and farm shops until your bushes bear fruit themselves.
So yes, I did not conjure this fabulous tart up out of thin air, I evolved it from something else. That doesn’t mean it’s not fabulous and you should all rush out and get some blackcurrants immediately. If nothing else, for the vitamin C, doncherknow.
“But where!? It’s March!” I hear you wail. If you’re not lucky enough to have some in your own freezer from the bounty of last summer, then (in the UK) some supermarkets have them in the frozen fruit section. You can also find them in farm shops that have large chest freezers, alongside other berries and fruits in a kind of scoop-your-own setup.
I’ve opted for a pastry crust, but you could just as easily use a cheesecake-like, biscuit-and-butter crumb instead. Fresh basil is a must – don’t even think of trying to fudge it with dried.
It goes without saying – but I shall say it anyway – that, obviously, you can sub back in all the stuff I took out and try it for yourselves and make it YOUR own. 😀
Blackcurrant and Basil Tart
1 x 20cm shortcrust pastry case, blind baked (or biscuit base of your choice)
300g cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g caster sugar
15g fresh basil leaves, shred finely (from a 28g bunch/pack)
300g blackcurrants – frozen is fine
50g caster sugar
1 large egg white
50g flaked almonds
50g melted butter – cooled
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Whisk the cheese until smooth, then add the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour and mix thoroughly.
- Stir through the shredded basil and the blackcurrants. The blackcurrants can be used frozen, just make sure they’re not all stuck together in a big lump.
- Pour the filling into the prepared tart case.
- Whisk the sugar and egg-white together, until frothy, then stir through the almonds. Add the cooled butter and mix thoroughly.
- Pour the topping evenly over the filling.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes until almost set, and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool, then chill thoroughly before serving.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: A super quick, fruity Soda Cake from 1835