A quest for gastro-liberation, an excuse to buy more cookbooks…

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Tiramsu to me to you

The tenuous Chuckle Brothers reference for this post is apt seeing as it relates to this week’s calamitous episode of The Great British Bake Off. (As an aside, does anyone else think that it’s entirely unfair to task bakers with the challenge of making ice-cream? After all, bakers are people who deal with heating things on a regular basis, rather than the other way round…)

ANYWAY. Before disaster left Iain thunderstruck (not to mention the bin that was struck with a Unbaked Alaska), the technical challenge this week was a tiramisu cake. As I am currently attempting a weekly bake-a-long with GBBO, I had to come up with a more transportable version to bring to work. And thus, the tiramisu tart was borne.


I know that the tiramisu is contentious for those who don’t like trifle (what is tiramisu but a sexy trifle?) So compromise with this: a sweet and buttery shortcrust pastry shell, filled with a rich and fudgy Frangelico chocolate ganache and topped with an airy coffee mascarpone.


For the pastry
200g plain flour
100g chilled cubed butter
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 medium egg, beaten

For the chocolate ganache
300ml double cream
325g dark chocolate, broken up into small pieces
2 shots Frangelico (any booze will do here, sub in brandy or Amaretto for a similar flavour)
A pinch of table salt

For the coffee mascarpone
400g mascarpone cheese
4 tbsps icing sugar
1 cooled espresso (brewed from grounds or from instant)

If you are fortunate enough to own a mixer, give the butter, sugar and flour a quick blitz to combine to a rubble of the consistency of damp sand. (Don’t overdo it as it will just warm up the butter and the key to pastry is to keep it cool). Pour in half of the beaten egg and combine; keep gradually adding more of the beaten egg until the mixture just comes together (there is no need to use the whole egg mixture, pastry is a strange and inconsistent mistress. Sometimes you’ll use all of the egg, sometimes you won’t. It’s not the catchiest of bon mots but there you go).
If you are making the pastry by hand, rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips (again being careful to work quickly so as not to melt the butter). Then add half the beaten egg and combine; continue adding the beaten egg until it comes together as one ball.
Roll the pastry into a ball and flatten into a fat disc before wrapping in clingfilm and chilling in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Once chilled, roll out your pastry between two sheets of clingfilm or baking parchment (being careful to keep it roughly in a circular shape) and transfer to a 23cm tart tin, making sure to gently press the pastry into the corners of the tin. Return your lined tin back to the fridge and chill for another 30 minutes.
In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to gas mark 4/180c. Once thoroughly chilled, lightly prick the base of the tart with a fork before lining with clingfilm, foil or baking parchment and topping with baking beans (or uncooked rice, beans or lentils). Bake for 15-20 minutes before removing the baking beans and their lining. Bake for another further 5 minutes until the base is dry and golden. Leave to cool completely in the tin before trimming the excess (retain the trimmed pastry for decorating later) and filling.

The key to not shitting up a ganache is to basically not boil your cream (a mistake I’ve made too many times to mention). SO. Gently heat your double cream in a saucepan, it should be very warm (like a hot water bottle with a cover on) when you dip a finger in. When it gets to this stage, switch off the heat and add in your chocolate and salt and gently whisk until it has all melted. Once it has all combined, add in your alcohol of choice and whisk again. If the consistency seems too runny (it should feel like setting custard or curd), then add in more chocolate. Leave to cool slightly before filling your pastry shell.

Coffee mascarpone
Beat the mascarpone and icing sugar together (if this is proving a little tough then loosen it a little with a splash of the cooled espresso). Once fully combined, gradually add in the coffee to taste. Be careful not to add too much as it will loosen the mascarpone and make it too runny (if this happens then add in some beaten double cream to give it more hold and shape).

Keeping the pastry shell in the tin, pour your ganache in first (it should fill the tart halfway) and then chill for 20 minutes. Once cooled and slightly more solidified, top with the coffee mascarpone and decorate with crumbled up pastry, chocolate shavings and a dusting of cocoa.


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Grill. Ooze. Crunch.

I blame Bertha. I firmly lay the blame at her door.


This was entirely down to her. She was the reason that I didn’t go out running and instead inhaled this with some red wine and my own company. Sunshine brings the crunch and crisp of a rather different nature than the colder months. Cucumbers in gin; warm crisps in the park; the crunch of ice cubes in a sweating glass. This is the crunch that we are familiar with when we attempt to convince ourselves that we enjoy visibly sweating at every turn.

The crisp of the encroaching months is a very different beast indeed. It is the sound of a fork breaking into the shiny golden top of a pie; the crunch of new autumn apples; and the crackle of chicken burnished golden in the oven.

Let’s add another to that pantheon. I saw Chef a few weeks ago and have been obsessed with American-style grilled sandwiches ever since. Bread that is brushed with butter and crisps up when fried. Crisp without and tender within, cheese, caramelised onion and spinach oozing out. Ideal for a solitary meal, those nights where you have only yourself to please.

Grilled cheese


The spinach here is purely because I tend to have spinach in the fridge. Sautéing leeks along with the onions would also be most agreeable. As would a mixture of dried and fresh mushrooms.

Two slices of white bread
50g mature cheddar
50g emmenthal (other nutty hard cheeses also good here)
Dried thyme
Two small onions
A garlic clove
Two handfuls of spinach

Start by gently frying the sliced onions with a generous slug of olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Cook on a gentle heat for 20-30 minutes until soft, golden and sweet. Fold in the spinach to wilt and then decant into a bowl to mix with the grated cheese. Butter the bread and assemble your sandwich with the buttered sides on the outside. Place back into the pan on a medium to high heat and fry until golden outside and until the cheese melts. Serve with a napkin ready as this is not a knife and fork scenario.

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Being spoiled by the ambassador

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Old dog, new tricks. I’ve performed my baking party piece before of turning chocolate bars into swiss rolls (I’m the Sugar Messiah. Urgh gross, never call me that). Today, I’m going full-blown gateaux (which is what my first full-length, high-octane, action feature-film is going to be called).

My induction into baking was induced by an impulse purchase of St Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. It’s not one of the most highly used baking tomes in my arsenal but it’s one of the most beloved. The spine is closer to broken than cracked; dollops of butter and batter adorn the pages; and miniature snowdrifts of flour and sugar flurry out of the pages whenever I open my copy. It’s worth reading for the writing alone; it is a paean to the joys, comforts and love of baking for your Dear Ones. Ever since reading it for the first time, over a decade ago, her recipe for her Nutella Cake has been indelibly burnt onto my mental retina.

So when it came time to make a 30th birthday cake recently, I decided to act upon my recent obsession with double cream enriched cream cheese frosting and make a Nigella-Nutella (Nitella? Nugella?) inspired cake which morphed into a cakey-ode to everybody’s favourite Christmas chocolate, the Ferrero Rocher.

Rocher Cake

Okay. First off. I know that’s a LOT of cream but despite that, counterintuitively, this feels like a very light cake. The sponge is moist and on the verge of falling apart. The addition of whipped double cream to the cream cheese frosting adds a frothy lightness which is absent from the comforting denseness of normal cream cheese frosting. The sponge is based on my go-to chocolate cake recipe, taken from The Hummingbird Bakery’s recipe for Brooklyn Blackout Cake. The fatty moreish frosting is an adaptation of the frosting used in Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Guinness cake.


100g softened butter
260g caster sugar
2 large eggs
45g cocoa powder
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
170g plain flour
200ml double cream
Frangelico or hazelnut extract

300g full-fat cream cheese
100g softened butter
100ml double cream
200g icing sugar
Frangelico or hazelnut extract

Ferrero Rochers
Cocoa powder
Crumbled shortbread
Chopped and toasted hazelnuts


Pre-heat your oven to 170c / gas mark 5 and grease and line two 20in round cake tins.

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, before adding the eggs one at a time. Once fully combined, add in the cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt and mix again. Add in half of the flour and cream and combine before adding the remaining flour and cream. Add in 2 tablespoons of Frangelico or one teaspoon of hazelnut extract to taste (if you’d like a stronger hazelnut flavour, add more!)

Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30mins, until an inserted knife comes out cleanly. Leave to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before unmoulding onto cooling racks.

Whilst the cakes are cooling, make the icing by firstly beating together the butter until soft and creamy. Add in the cream cheese and slowly mix in, be careful not to overmix as it will warm up and go a bit runny. Alternately add in the icing sugar and double cream and whisk until the icing takes on a whipped consistency. Finally add in Frangelico or hazelnut extract to taste – you want a stronger hazelnut flavour in the icing so be generous! I used approximately 5 or 6 tablespoons of Frangelico.

Sandwich together the two sponges with half of the quantity of the icing and use the rest for the topping. Dust with cocoa powder and decorate with Ferrero Rochers.

A nice addition to mimic the flavour and texture of Ferrero Rochers would be to also add in a layer of Nutella in the middle with the frosting and then to crumble shortbread and chopped hazelnuts on top instead of cocoa powder.

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Roll up, roll up

Come and see the incredible, marvellous, splendiferous Swiss roller!

Up until a few months ago, I’d never attempted a Swiss roll and since then, I’ve been churning them out like there’s no tomorrow. Not only are they incredibly simple to make, they’re also the kind of thing that you can whip up at a moment’s notice because barring the cream, you’ll have all the ingredients in your well-stocked pantry already (see how I always think the best of you, gentle readers?)

I started out using the Peyton & Byrne recipe which advocates a separated egg approach with the dry ingredients mixed in with yolks whilst the whites are beaten until fluffy. In theory this should yield a nice fluffy sponge but the dry ingredient and yolk mixture always turned out grainy for me and then made the whole thing lumpy. Having never made a Swiss roll before I dubiously carried on despite my reservations. Since then, I’ve adopted the Delia recipe which goes for beaten whole eggs which produces a lovely even and fluffy sponge.

STOP. Filling time. Apart from the traditional jam and Chantilly cream combinations, I have been merrily recreating chocolate bars in Swiss roll form. Substituting 25g of cocoa for the flour will give you a chocolate sponge instead and then the Swiss roll world is your lederhosen. Or something.

Snickers Swiss roll
Chocolate Swiss roll sponge with dulce de leche, salted peanuts and whipped cream. The dulce de leche is one can of condensed milk, emptied into a shallow ovenproof dish which is then place in a larger roasting tray and filled halfway with boiling water. Cover firmly with foil and roast for an hour on gas mark 4. After an hour it should be a light golden colour but if you prefer your dulce de leche smokier, leave it in until it darkens further. I also like to add a generous pinch of smoked sea salt but then I am a salt fiend.

After Eight Swiss roll
Chocolate sponge filled with whipped cream, carefully tinted with green gel colouring (the merest hint to give it that kitschy mint-choc-chip neon pastel colour) and flavoured with peppermint extract (I’m a fan of Sainsbury’s American peppermint extract which is lovely and clean tasting). Add in shards of chopped dark chocolate for taste and texture.

Jaffa Cake Swiss roll
A plain Swiss roll sponge with whipped cream flavoured with the zest of an orange and finely chopped dark chocolate. Decorate with melted chocolate to replicate the crunch of chocolate through to sponge that you get with a real Jaffa Cake.

Bounty Swiss roll
Chocolate Swiss roll with whipped cream flavoured with coconut extract (available from Jane Asher’s Sugarcraft shop) and dessicated coconut.

A few things on the art of rolling: once your sponge is out of the oven, let it cool for 5 minutes and then unmould onto a chopping board covered in clingfilm. Use the clingfilm to roll up the sponge firmly into a roll. Let it cool in the clingfilm and then you’ll be able to easily roll it up once filled because it will have cooled in the distinctive spiral you need for a Swiss roll. Also sponges can be baked, rolled and frozen so they’re perfect for making in advance.

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From slow to fast now, like a gastronomic foxtrot. Weeknight dinners which are fuelled by the need to feed your dearest ones quickly whilst getting drowsy on sloe gin and strawberries should be the kind of thing that you construct whilst blathering away at the kitchen counter. This was inspired by a BBC Good Food recipe.

Having a two-week old aubergine in my fridge instead of a jar of roasted aubergine deterred me not. Pierce your aubergine and char it on an open flame on your cooker. Once the flesh is soft and gives to a gentle poke of the finger, peel off the blistered skin and mash the flesh with two teaspoons of tahini; the juice of half a lemon; a scant teaspoon of dried chilli flakes; and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix in 75g of crumbled feta and a handful of chopped mint. On two toasted wholemeal pittas, scrape on a coating of tomato purée before topping with the aubergine and feta mix. Crumble on some more feta before grilling on a medium heat for 10 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and top with basil before serving. By then it’ll be time to top up your gin and scarf down your pitta pizza whilst not skipping a beat in conversation. Good work.

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Were you to ask any of my dearest ones to describe me in a handful of adjectives, I’m not sure that ‘quick’ would number amongst them. Sure, I can come up with a ropey pun or single-entendre at speed. I’ve been known to tumble over my words from time to time. I tend towards speed rather than sloth when in a car. But I am still a girl who didn’t make it past stage three of the beep test in PE at school; I gave up on any instruments which required me to read notation because I couldn’t read and play fast enough; and I’ve only just begrudgingly realised how much I love the music of Taylor Swift. However, this weekend’s cooking has proven to me that haste isn’t the virtuous child.

Slow-cooking is geriatric in terms of gastronomic fads. It was the sort of thing that was being championed by The Guardian when I was but a zygote. However, being wedded to roast chicken as my roast of choice and also only becoming a fan of lamb in recent years, it’s taken me a while to get here. The unrelenting heat of an oven on a low-gas mark does that thing to meat that being fiercely sun-beaten on holiday does to you. It just relaxes. Positively oozes off the bone and pours itself into your gob.


Slow-roast Moroccan lamb with aubergine and chickpea stew

Look, I’ve said “Moroccan” but I have no idea whether that’s accurate or not. That’s just what I had in mind when I was raiding my spice cupboard. I knew I wanted that fierce kiss of heat and the arresting hit of cumin running through the whole thing. To my way of thinking, my mind is led towards Morocco. Indulge me and my wonky geography.



For the lamb

a shoulder of lamb (approx 1kg)

two cloves of smoked garlic

fennel seeds



salt and pepper


For the stew:

two romano peppers

two aubergines

a red onion

two cloves of smoked garlic


chilli flakes


cayenne pepper

a stick of cinnamon

a bay leaf


red wine

a can of chickpeas

two cans of chopped tomatoes

tomato puree

sriarcha sauce

a bunch of mint


Preheat your oven to gas mark 3 / 170c and make sure your lamb is room temperature before you throw it into the oven (you know this already, I KNOW. Sorry for backseat driving in your kitchen). Prepare your spice rub by crushing your garlic in a pestle and mortar with some sea salt. Add in the rest of your spices (I know, I haven’t included quantities. I tend to be bold and heavy-handed on the cumin and chilli. You just want the lamb to get an intensely savoury crust so don’t worry too much.) Combine with a generous glug of oil and smear over the lamb. Put it in to roast for 35 minutes, after which add in a mug of boiling water. You’ll want to roast it for three hours now, turning and basting every hour with the juices from the tin. Add in more boiling water if towards the last hour it all evaporates. After three hours, remove from the oven and let it rest for ten minutes. Don’t throw away the juices, that’s going into the stew.

Speaking of…

For the stew, start by charring the peppers on an open flame (I just stick them directly on the hob. Remember to pierce the peppers with a knife so that they don’t explode.) It’ll take about ten minutes for each pepper; you want to aim for blistered skin which is blackened in patches and for the pepper to be softened. In the meantime, roughly chop the onion and crush the garlic and gently fry in oil along with the spices and plenty of seasoning. Chop up the peppers and add into the pan. Chop the aubergines into generous chunks (bearing in mind that they shrink when cooking) and add in. Fry for a further ten minutes until everything is fully acquainted and coated in the happy mix of oil and spices. Deglaze your pan with a glass of red wine and then add in the two tins of chopped tomatoes. Stir to combine and then add in sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Throw in your cinnamon stick and bay leaf and leave to simmer for an hour. After an hour, add in the drained tin of chickpeas and simmer for a further half an hour, by which point the chickpeas should be soft and the aubergine should have imparted a silkiness to the whole thing. Add tomato puree to thicken and sriarcha sauce for that garlicky-tomatoey-chilli thing that it uniquely has. Once the lamb is out of the oven, add in the juices from the roasting tin. Just before serving, mix in chopped mint. Serve with a wedge of lemon and couscous or pitta bread.

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Get me to the church on time

A few months ago, my cool lady-drummer friend Ruth got married and I was lucky enough to attend and also contribute to her day by baking her wedding cake. Being given free rein and knowing that she is a chocolate fiend of the highest order, I decided to go for a triple-tiered chocolate behemoth. A luscious devil’s food cake sponge sandwiched together with salted dulce de leche; a fluffy red velvet cake; and finally a specially-created meringue and raspberry concoction for the top tier.


Due to incipient laryngitis (not that I had the foresight of diagnosis then), I couldn’t attend the reception but by all accounts, the top tier proved popular with all concerned. So here’s the recipe – make it for a wedding; make it for a birthday; make it for yourself. No judgement here. It’s named Babe Ruth because, well didn’t she look a babe on the day? (Lovely wedding photography by Maureen Du Preez, you can see more of Ruth’s wedding here if you’re nosy!)

Ruth and Steve

Congratulations Ruth and Steve!


Babe Ruth cake
The recipe is inspired, in part, by a Nigella Lawson creation. I stole the idea of a meringue base from her and substituted the truffle centre for a devil’s food sponge and filled it with fresh whipped raspberry cream. The result should be alternately sweet and tart; fluffy and chewy; and ultimately delectable.

Babe Ruth cake

For the meringue base

1 medium egg white

50g caster sugar

2 tsps cocoa powder

A drop of white wine vinegar

For the sponge

200g plain flour

40g cocoa powder

280g caster sugar

3 tsp baking powder

80g salted butter, softened

240ml milk

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling

A punnet of raspberries

A tub of double cream

Icing sugar to taste (or raspberry jam if you’re in a pinch)

For the icing

250g unsalted butter, softened

200g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp plain flour

3 tbsp milk

Start by preparing the meringue base. In a spotlessly clean bowl (I tend to give my bowls a quick wipe with a kitchen tissue spritzed in vinegar or lemon juice), whip the egg whites until they hold peaks. Add in the sugar and keep whipping until glossy and stiff. Finally combine in the cocoa powder and two drops of vinegar. Divide this mixture between two greased and lined 17cm tins and bake for 15-20 minutes on 180c/gas mark 4.

Whilst the meringue bases are baking, prepare the sponge mixture and start by creaming the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vanilla extract and combine until smooth. Finally, alternately add the rest of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and cocoa) with the milk in thirds, mixing to make a smooth batter of dropping consistency.

Once the meringue bases are cooked (they should still be slightly springy but firm to the touch), divide and pour the sponge mix atop the bases. Put these back into the oven at 170c/gas mark 3 for 30-35 minutes (check at 25 minutes and remove from the oven once an inserted cake tester comes out cleanly).

Leave both to cool completely (and do not have a disaster in which a ladybird falls into the cake, rendering one layer completely useless and the harried baker close to exhausted tears).

Once cooled, fill with the raspberry cream (just whip the cream, sugar and raspberries together in a bowl. If you’re more patient than I, you can puree the raspberries and sieve them prior to combining with the cream. I don’t mind the seeds so much so I don’t bother!). The icing is a standard whipped buttercream made by whipping the butter and sugar together until it lightens in colour. Add in the roux made of milk and flour (just heat and whisk the two together until thickened into a custard-like thickness) and the vanilla extract. I decorated the cake using the buttercream rose method as espoused by I Am Baker which looks incredibly impressive for very little extra effort!