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!