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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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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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!

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I used to be a Christmas cake hater. All that boozy fruit and tooth-achingly sweet fondant icing. But I’d never had homemade Christmas cake until last year.

My then-flatmate brought some of her mum’s homemade cake home and instructed me to eat it with a crisp tart green apple and the mild, salty rubble of some Wensleydale. It turned me around gentle readers, it really did. The fruity richness of the cake was perfectly offset by it’s equally rambunctious playmates of cheese and apple. So, I’ll never eat Christmas cake in any other way now.

And when I decided to make my own this year, I thought that Dan Lepard’s recipe for a caramel Christmas cake would sidestep the throat-sticking booziness of a traditional Christmas cake but replace it with the smokiness of caramel. It turned out to be a very prudent choice indeed. So, now I’ll never eat Christmas cake any other way and I’ll never make any other Christmas cake.


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Crunchie nuggets


So I know that every bloody food blog going runs a twee make you own edible Christmas gifts! style feature at this time of year. Whilst in principle I like the idea, between all the Christmas parties/quaffing of mulled things/mandatory viewing of Christmas films, who has time to churn out lovely thoughtful and artisanal looking hunks of chocolate bark for everyone? I did it last year and was up until 1am getting increasingly fretful about the way that crushed candy canes are a pisser to deal with (far too sticky).

Things like chutney and mincemeat are great because they’re easy to churn out in batches and dole out to people. But in my experience, chutney isn’t a universally loved thing and mincemeat is only a good gift for other baking nerds. Sweeties however, are pretty safe territory.

Cinder toffee. Honeycomb. Hokey pokey. Many names for what is basically sugar and golden syrup bubbled up into honeycomb with the aid of some bicarbonate of soda. Dip it in chocolate and you get what is essentially a homemade Crunchie. Apparently it is unacceptable to gift mass manufactured cheap confectionary for Christmas but make your own and most people will consider you a Wonka-like figure.

Crunchie nuggets
I made this in one large silicone cake mould but small silicone cupcake cases or mini loaf moulds would work well too. In any case, use silicone where possible as it makes life (i.e. the washing up situation) far far easier. (Pro tip: before washing up things that have contain hot syrup, let it soak in very hot water first. This will dissolve all the sugar and prevent any tantrums.)

200g sugar (caster or granulated)
4 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
400g dark chocolate

In a heavy bottomed pan, combine the sugar and golden syrup. Heat and stir until the mixture caramelises to a gingery colour (think Irn-Bru). Take off the heat as soon as it reaches this point and whisk in the bicarbonate of soda, at which point it should froth up like some sort of amateur Wiccan cauldron. Pour into your mould and leave to set for a few hours until firm.

Once it is set, cut up the honeycomb as best as you can (don’t try to go for uniformity, it is nigh on impossible). Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water and keep on a low heat whilst you dip and coat the nuggets in, leaving them to cool on a sheet of greaseproof paper. I used crumbs of honeycomb to decorate but sea salt flakes or gold leaf would be suitably in vogue as well.

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You know what I’m going to say and you are going to roll your eyes at it but really, making homemade marshmallows is incredibly simple. The difficult part is getting round to buying a sugar thermometer (which is easily obtainable from Amazon or any good kitchenware shop – I got mine from Divertimenti and had change from £5). Once you have a sugar thermometer, you can a) make all sorts of sweeties and b) snigger in a puerile fashion at the different temperatures marked on it (“hard ball”, “soft crack”…come now confectioners, you filthbots.)

Why bother going to the trouble of making your own marshmallows? Apart from the customisation factor (any flavour you want, any colour you want), homemade marshmallows are incredibly light, fluffy delicate things. It’s like eating a cloud, kitten and yummy fog all rolled up into one chunky square.* If you’ve made a meringue, then a marshmallow is simply the next-door neighbour. It’s whipped egg whites stabilised with a sugar syrup heated precisely to 122c (the “hard ball” stage…you have my permission to snigger at the back) and gelatine. Honestly, the most troublesome thing about making marshmallows is the washing up and that’s a small price to pay if you’re a mallow addict like me.

*N.B. No kittens were harmed in the writing of this post.


“See Naples or die”

Well, apparently that’s what the locals say in Naples. I’m not sure if that’s a threat or a testament to the sights of Naples (actually, having been to Naples, I’d suggest that it’s most likely the former but I’ll save that for my memoirs. Out at Christmas at all reputable book retailers etc.)


What I really want to talk about is this sugary looking confection which I conjured for a recent charity bake sale at work…

Neopolitan layer cake

Never mind that I almost cried making this cake (due to extreme tiredness and lack of proper sustenance apart from two iced buns and a Heston spiced shortcrust mince pie).

Never mind that it turned out slightly lopsided because as it turns out, the oven in my flat is on a slight tilt.

Never mind that I had a batter calculation error which left me with less layers than I originally planned for.

Because as much as it looks like this cake has been manufactured by Katie Price and will probably vanquish the enamel right off you teeth within fifty paces, the nifty inclusion of a fresh strawberry puree in the strawberry layer brings a welcome tart tang which makes the cake sing. I know what you’re thinking – fresh strawberry puree sounds like an absolute sodding arse to make. If you’re a soup fanatic or hopelessly middle-class, you’ll own a hand blender and it’ll be a whizz (HAHA). If not, I imagine that a potato masher (or fist if you’re endearingly macho) will do pretty much the same thing.

Anyway, what with the craze for multicoloured layer cakes and the surprise factor once you cut it open, this is one of those perfect party cakes. It’s the kind of thing that cries out to be eaten alongside board games, skewiff party hats and with a smear of buttercream left on the tip of your nose.

Neopolitan layer cake cover image

Neopolitan layer cake

Inspired by the ever-marvellous Sweetapolita and I Am Baker, I cobbled together a combination of my favourite chocolate and white cake recipes and modified it for a strawberry layer too. All with UK measurements so no messing about with US cup measures (I am always exceedingly suspicious of measuring butter by cups. Probably due in part to the mess factor.) Unlike other multicoloured layer cakes, you can’t knock up one batch of batter and tint it different colours – each layer needs to be made separately so I’d recommend making the sponges the day before they’re needed (they keep very well wrapped in clingfilm and kept in the fridge for a few days) and then all that’s needed is an assembly job.


For the chocolate cake (adapted from Tarek Malouf’s recipe for Brooklyn blackout cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

100g salted butter

260g caster sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

45g cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

170g plain flour

160ml milk

For the strawberry and vanilla layers (adapted from Edd Kimber’s raspberry ripple cake recipe from The Boy Who Bakes)

335g salted butter

335g plain flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

400g caster sugar

6 large eggs, separated

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

185ml milk

250g fresh strawberries, washed, topped and pureed

Pink food colouring (I tend to opt for Wilton’s rose gel icing)

For the icing

250g salted butter

150g icing sugar

2 tablespoons plain flour

100ml milk

Pink food colouring

Jam of your choice to sandwich the layers (I went for a combination of St Dalfour strawberry and Tiptree Christmas jam)

For the chocolate layer

Preheat your oven to 170c/325f/gas mark 3 and prepare a 23in springform cake tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully combined. Now add in the vanilla extract, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Once those are fully combined, alternate between adding one-third of the flour and milk and mix until well combined. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before unmoulding.

For the vanilla and strawberry layers

Preheat your oven to 180c/356f/gas mark 4 and prepare aforementioned 23in springform cake tin.

Beat together the butter and 300g of the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until fully combined and then add in the vanilla extract. Once fully combined, alternate between adding one-third of the flour and milk.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage and then gradually add in the remaining 100g caster sugar until the mixture becomes stiff and glossy.

Divide both the batter and egg white mixtures equally into two. One half will be baked as is to form the vanilla layer and the other half will be combined with the strawberry puree.

Side note: as I only own one 23in cake tin, I had to bake each layer separately. So, I didn’t fold in the egg whites until each layer was ready to bake because I didn’t want to lose the air and lightness by combining in advance. If you are more organised than me and have more than one cake tin, then a) well done, I salute you and b) carry on, you know what you’re doing.

For the vanilla layer, fold the egg whites into the rest of the cake batter until fully combined. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before unmoulding.

For the strawberry layer, mix the strawberry puree into the egg, butter and flour mixture and then add the food colouring in to tint to your desired shade of pink. Fold in the egg whites once you are ready to bake the layer, pour into your tin and again, bake for 50-60 minutes. The strawberry puree makes this layer quite moist so it may need slightly longer than the other layers. Check with a knife, cake tester or toothpick before removing from the oven.

For the buttercream

Start by making a milk and flour roux: whisk the milk and flour in a small saucepan on a low heat. Once it starts to thicken, take off the heat and leave to cool whilst you make the rest of the buttercream. Using a handmixer, beat the salted butter until fluffy and creamy. Gradually add in the icing sugar, tasting after each addition – you want to aim for a buttercream that is still slightly salty to provide a counterpoint to the sweet sponge. Consequently you might not use all of the icing sugar specified in the ingredients (to be honest, I never measure how much icing sugar I use, I always do it by taste). Once the butter and sugar are fully combined, mix in the roux, at which point the buttercream should take on a whipped consistency. Tint with food colouring to desired shade.

To assemble

Carefully cut your layers in half. As you can see from my picture, I only managed to successfully do this with the chocolate layer because a) I assembled it at 11:30pm at night and was deathly tired and cold, b) I cut the strawberry layer unevenly so only one half survived and c) I divided the batter unevenly so there was only enough for one vanilla layer. Learn from my mistakes gentle readers. And don’t despair if you do make mistakes because you can always tell people that you originally intended four layers. SHH. It’s our secret. Never tell.

Sandwich together your layers with a jam of your choosing. You don’t have to go for a mismatched combination like I did. That was a failure on my part for not conducting a conserve audit before proceeding to assemble this.

Start off by icing with a thin crumb coating (that chocolate layer will flake off like a bastard, just to warn you). Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes to set (or overnight). Once this has set, you should be able to frost the rest, free of the worry of errant crumbs in the final outer layer. I finished it off with a spatula (a palatte knife would be preferable but I realised that I no longer own one) for a smooth and clean finish and multicoloured sugar sprinkles.