A Double-Baked Brownie Conundrum 

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Double-Baked Brownies

I am a little torn. On one hand I feel quite strongly that the Internet does not need another brownie recipe. On the other hand, I’m rather excited by the success of this recipe. I have been on a long quest to find the perfect brownie recipe and this one happened quite by accident.

I must have made close to a hundred batches of brownies over the years, using a wide variety of recipes, ingredients and techniques. The difficulty is that people often want different things from a brownie. Some want a dryer, cakey texture, others want something more fudgy and gooey. Some like nuts, others are vehemently against this addition. The type of chocolate and sugar you use, how much flour you add, how long you beat your eggs (if at all) along with the size and depth of your baking pan all make small but crucial differences to the end product.

For me, I am devotedly in the fudgy and nutless camp. Nuts have no place in brownies as far as I’m concerned. I am aware I am likely to have some opposition to this standpoint, so please feel free to add them if you really want to. My ideal brownie is very rich, densely chocolatey and more like a dessert than cake, especially in the centre. The more it sticks to my teeth in a rather unattractive but highly necessary way, the better! I like a very thin, crunchy crust on top and a slightly dense, more risen edge. It’s a long list of requirements for a humble brownie. It is also one that is rarely fulfilled.

As with many great discoveries, this recipe came about by a total accident. In essence, this was a slightly new twist on a recipe I have used many times before. This particular trial was using slightly less flour and cooking for longer at a lower temperature. Fate intervened ten minutes before the end of cooking time and I had to get the brownies out and leave them on the kitchen top.

A few hours later, I returned to the batch to find it completely cool but also very undercooked, especially in the centre. I’m all for a fudgy brownie, but this was essentially a raw mixture. I decided to return it to a hot oven to see what happened. The first time I tried, it was overbaked, dry and too crumbly at the edges and the next time it burnt on the top, but I could see the potential for the idea of baking it twice. After several further attempts, I believe I have it cracked. Essentially the double-baking allows for a crispy, slightly chewy edge to the brownie, whilst maintaining a really moist and dense centre, which would be overcooked if you baked the brownies once but for longer.

The chocolate you use for the recipe is crucial. For the main brownie element, you need to use good quality cocoa powder (not hot chocolate powder) and dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solid content. Any less, and the brownies will taste sickly sweet rather than sweet and rich. For the chopped chocolate to mix in, feel free to use whatever you like. I like milk, but white, dark or a mixture is equally good. The main thing is to keep the chopped chunks fairly large, or they will just melt into the cooked mixture, rather than staying in lovely chunks. Using golden caster sugar is also important, as it adds a slight caramel flavour to the brownie, rather than just straight sweetness. If you must add nuts, use 100g of roughly chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, adding along with the chopped chocolate. But I would really rather you didn’t.

Double-Baked Brownies

Makes about 15 squares

Ingredients

  • 185g soft salted butter
  • 185g dark chocolate-at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan or 150°C for an ordinary oven and line a 15cm square tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Melt the dark chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. Stir slowly until the mixture is shiny and all the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

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Butter and chocolate melted together

3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy. The texture should be like a frothy milkshake.

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Whisked eggs and sugar

4. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and fold in. Try to do this as gently as possible to trap the air from the eggs.

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Folding the mixture

5. Chop the milk chocolate into large chunks of about 1cm diameter.

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Chopped chocolate

6. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into the mixture.

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Sieved cocoa powder and flour

7. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder until the mixture is smooth.

8. Add the chopped chocolate and gently mix.

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Add chopped chocolate

9. Gently pour the mixture into the lined tin. Slide onto the middle self of the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

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About to go into the oven

10. Remove from oven. When they have cooled completely, return to the oven for 15 minutes.

11. When cooled for the second time, remove from the tin and cut into generous squares.

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Best-ever brownies?

 

 

Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

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Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

There are certain things that you can’t always see the point of until you cook them. It is usually very simple things with straightforward recipes and few ingredients. Very often we look for inspiration and exotic concoctions, rather than old-fashioned and easy things.

A loaf cake definitely falls into this category. The concept seems to be almost pointless. Why would you bother to make or eat a cake without a filling, without icing and jam? The shape of a loaf cake is pedestrian and dull; there is no fancy decoration, usually no buttercream, no edible glitter or roses made from icing. However, this is actually where the appeal of the loaf cake lies; it is the utter simplicity of texture and flavour that is comforting and utterly satisfying. It is homely, warming and nostalgic, like something your grandma would always have in the cake tin. It is essentially, a hug in cake form.

This light sponge, spiked with a tangy citrus syrup will not win any competitions for novelty baking, but it is all the better for it. It is also the easiest cake you can make, with no layers or icing to worry about. You can use a stand mixer, or just a wooden spoon and bowl. The syrup also creates so much extra moisture, it will keep for days.

Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

You will need a 1lb or 450g loaf tin
Ingredients
125 g softened butter
175 g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lime
175 g self raising flour or plain flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
splash of milk
For the syrup
100g icing or caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon and 2 limes

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180 °C.
2. Line the loaf tin. I use baking tin liners for ease.

3. Cream together butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in colour a little

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Whipped butter and sugar

4. Add eggs and zest, beating them in well. The mixture will look curdled-do not worry, this is normal.

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Curdled-looking mixture

5. Add the flour and mix well. Add the milk. The consistency should be slightly firmer than dropping consistency-this means when you take a spoonful of batter and tilt it, it will fall off the spoon slowly.

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Mixture consistency

6.  Spoon the batter into your prepared tin and bake for 45 mins or until cake tester comes out clean.

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Ready for the oven

7. While the cake is cooking, put the lemon and lime juices and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

8. As soon as cake is out of oven, puncture all over with skewer and slowly spoon  over the syrup. Don’t worry if the cake drops a little. Leave cake to cool completely before removing from the tin.

This recipe also works incredibly well with just lemons or just limes. For lime, just add the zest of 2 limes to the cake mixture and then use the juice of 4 for the syrup. For lemon, add the zest of one lemon and the juice of 2.

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Madeleines

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Madeleines

For the literary fans amongst you, madeleines may evoke thoughts of Proust. For me, they are an integral part of  the most fabulous petit fours I have ever had in Paris over ten years ago, where these babies were like little clouds on my tongue.

Until about a month ago, I had never made madeleines. In the back of my mind, these beautifully delicate shell-like cakes have been linked to the category of very tricky baking and patisserie and something that needs hours to prepare. They are also made with a genoise sponge, which I rarely make as it does not keep for very long .

An important breakfast meeting prompted the need to make something a little more delicate than bacon sandwiches and so I was inspired to try them. Since then, hundreds have seen their way through my kitchen. I would like to attribute this to the fact that I have been so diligent in preparing this recipe that I have made multiple batches, just for testing, but it is more the fault of Michel Roux Jr, who states in his recipe that they should be eaten within an hour of cooking.

Based on a genoise sponge, these little shell cakes are made with little fat, lots of eggs and even more elbow grease. This is unless you have an electric mixer, in which case it is the work of moments. The result is a mouthful full of rich, buttery flavour and featherlight texture. Michel Roux Jr is correct in his assertion that they should be eaten soon after baking. Not only are they even better eaten warm, but as time goes on, the delicate internal fluffiness starts to collapse, making them denser and slightly chewy. Therefore, although they are very easy and quick to make, you need to time them so they are consumed in their optimal state.

The only specialist equipment you will need is a madeleine tray. Purists may prefer a metal one, but after trying both, I find a silicone one makes it easier to remove the cakes while they are warm. I like a hint of lemon in mine, but you could add orange zest and a little juice, or honey. Another great addition is to full the shell section of the tray halfway, add a little raspberry jam and cover with more batter on top. This is the basic recipe, but the only limit is your imagination.

Madeleines

Makes about 15

Ingredients

2 free-range eggs

100g caster sugar

100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 lemon, juice and zest

¾ tsp baking powder

100g butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing

Method

1.Preheat the oven to 200°C. Brush the madeleine tray with melted butter then shake in a little flour to coat, tapping out the excess.

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Buttered and floured Madeleine tray

2. Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until they become much lighter in colour and very frothy.

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Frothy eggs and sugar

3. Lightly whisk in the remaining ingredients. Leave to stand for 20 minutes before carefully pouring into the prepared madeleine tray.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture has risen a little in the middle and is fully cooked through.

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Madeleines in the oven

5. Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly. Depending on how many sections your tray has, you may need to do more than one batch. These are best eaten within an hour of cooking.

Perfect with a cup of tea!

Perfect with a cup of tea!

Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Cantuccini

Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Cantuccini

Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Cantuccini

I don’t like repeating recipes on this blog. I feel that it short-changes my readers when you visit expecting something sparkly and new and it reads with a little too much familiarity.

I make an exception here, as I can claim it is a worthy variation, rather than a direct repetition. Every recipe I post has been tested at least three times, often many times more. I post recipes that I love and I hope my readers will love too. As a result I cook the food featured on this blog often in my everyday life. This does lead to tweaks and alternations that sometimes don’t work, but sometimes lead to something wonderful. This is one of those times.

You may or may not have read my previous post about cantuccini which suggested several, rather traditional additions to the dough. After a recent trip to Italy, I was inspired to try out a chocolate variation, darkly rich with cocoa, chocolate chips and glistening green pistachios. Do not be tempted to use anything other than the best quality dark chocolate here. Even if you do not like dark chocolate, it is necessary here for the richness and depth of flavour which works so well with the pistachios. It is a fabulous combination and totally addictive. A worthwhile post, I hope you will agree.

Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Cantuccini
Makes about 30

Ingredients

250g plain flour, sifted
250g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tbs good quality cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)
150g good quality dark chocolate-60% cocoa solids or more is good.
2 eggs

Method

Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and line two baking trays with baking parchment. Shift the cocoa powder into the flour and mix all the dry ingredients together. Chop the chocolate into rough shards and mix into the flour. Beat the eggs and pour half into the dry ingredients. Mix.

Add the eggs until you have a dough which comes together and feels slightly sticky. You may not need to use all the eggs, so go carefully or the dough will be too wet.

Dust the worktop with flour and divide the dough into six. Roll each section out into a rough sausage shape, about 3cm wide, using a bit of flour if they stick. Lay on the lined baking trays, leaving a good 3-4 cm apart as they spread when they cook.

Pop in the oven for about 25-30 minutes and cook until they are a light golden brown. Take out and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Turn the oven down to 150°C. Slice each section on a diagonal using a serrated blade into pieces of about 2 cm and lay back on the baking trays. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes but do watch them as they catch quite easily. They make be pliable when hot, but it is imperative that they are cooked through, as this is what gives you a fantastic crunch.

Cool on wire racks and store in airtight containers.

Kitchen Tip #20 Easy Lining for Cake Tins

Cutting roughly round the tin

Cutting roughly round the tin

I would love to pretend that I have reusable, pre-cut liners for all my cake tins that I wash after every use and pop back in the tins, ready to use next time.  The reality is that it is quite a way down my list of priorities and I always use greaseproof paper.  Lining round cake tins is a pain; the drawing round and the cutting out, which never ends up right anyway. However, I have found a cunning way of making it very quick and it always works. You don’t even need scissors for this, as you can just tear the paper where necessary.

Folding the paper

Folding the paper

Place your tin on top of the grease proof paper so that the edge of the tin lines up roughly with the edge of the paper. Cut straight down near the other side of the tin so you have a square which is roughly the diameter of the cake tin. You really don’t need to be accurate, as long as it is bigger than the cake tin.

Take the tin off the paper. Fold the paper in half, turn 90 degrees, then half again and once more. Turn the tin upside down and put the tip of the folded paper at roughly the centre of the tin.

Measuring the cake tin with the paper

Measuring the cake tin with the paper

Make a rough mental note of where the paper comes to at the edge of the tin. Take your scissors again and cut the paper at this point.  Unfold and there you have it. A perfectly lined cake tin in about 20 seconds.

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Fig and Frangipane Tart

Fig and Almond Tart

Fig and Frangipane Tart

I am learning Italian and I love discovering new words, not surprisingly, especially ones about food. Le primizie is a new one for me this week. It means the fruit and vegetables which people can buy out of season. In the UK, we are used to being able to wander into our local supermarket and buy whatever we want, at any time of year. It often doesn’t work like that on the continent; in the local markets you find on nearly every village square, what you can buy is only what is in season. Although supermarkets are catching up in popularity, unlike the UK, it is rare to go into a supermarket in France, Spain or Italy and find strawberries in December.

I very much believe in the idea of ‘eating the seasons’. It seems the most natural and economical way to get the best out of fresh food. Out of season fruit and vegetables will often be such an expensive disappointment. I will always remember nearly fainting at the checkout at my local supermarket one Christmas when presented with a £20 bill for four boxes of fresh raspberries, having been asked to make a raspberry pavlova for a party. Unsurprisingly, they were like bullets and tasted about as appetising. It wasn’t a shock, but a valuable lesson. Just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should.

Often, seasonality in particular countries is the important thing. For example, those gorgeous tiny French Gariguette strawberries are perfect right now, but English varieties still have a way to go, despite being on sale already. Do not be tempted, your patience will be rewarded in a few short weeks.

As much as I want to eat fruit and vegetables that are in season, I also want to eat fruit and vegetables that taste delicious, no matter what time of year it is. I therefore advocate the ‘taste and see’ approach. If you like the look of something, it may still taste good, even if it’s not strictly the right time of year for it. If you buy any fresh produce from a market, you can ask to taste it first. Any vendor with pride in their produce will be happy to let you try it; you should be suspicious of one who won’t.

Figs are certainly not something that are in season in early May. The best figs are often the Turkish Black Bursa figs, which are deeply perfumed, jammy and sweet, but they only come to the markets at the end of the summer for a few precious weeks. However, last weekend, I was kindly given two boxes of some tiny, plump, blackish purple figs which looked remarkably like mini Black Bursas. The friend who gave them to me had no idea what they were called or where they came from. They were not bullet-hard and tasted ok, but completely lacked that beautiful honeyed softness that perfectly ripe and in season figs always have.

However, cooking figs changes them completely. Dried figs are eaten a lot in the Middle East, usually to fill in time and compensate until the new season starts. Baking acts as a sort of drying out. They shrink as the moisture evaporates and the texture becomes slightly chewy like a sweet. They taste considerably sweeter when they are baked, as the sugars concentrate during cooking. Cooking these figs was, therefore, the logical option.

Figs and almonds are a beautiful pairing. A frangipane simply acts like a cake mixture, but using ground almonds, rather than flour. It is a great friend in the kitchen as it is so delicious and works with so many flavours. It is also surprisingly easy to make. This tart needs nothing more than a good dollop of sour creme fraiche to set it off. If you haven’t got a friend with a mysterious glut of figs at the moment and don’t fancy paying extortionate amounts for supermarket ones, frozen berries such as blueberries or blackberries work equally well here. You can, of course, buy a pre-made sweet pastry case, but I have included the tart case in the recipe below, if you are so inclined. Do not be scared of pastry, you must be prepared to muck it up several times when you first try it but you will get the knack eventually. You will need a 28″ tart tin: loose bottomed or silicone are best. If you don’t have one this size, see my tip here.

Fig and Almond Tart
serves 8
Ingredients

For the pastry
225g plain flour
150g cold butter
25g icing sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp ice-cold water

For the filling
200g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
200g ground almonds
50g plain flour
zest of one lemon
8-10 figs, top of the stems trimmed, cut lengthways into halves or quarters, depending on size

Method

To make the pastry, pulse together the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, then the beaten egg  and pulse until just combined and pulling away from the edge of the bowl – add the iced water a tiny bit at a time and only if necessary. If you do not have a processor, rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar (or grate it in from frozen), the add the beaten egg. Bring together and add the water if you need it. Try not to kneed the pastry, just bring it together into a smooth ball. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry until about the thickness of a pound coin on a lightly floured surface. Using a loose-bottomed 28″ tart tin, gently place on top of the rolled out pastry to check that the circumference of the pastry is at least 6cm wider all around than the bottom of the tin. Lift the rolled out pastry onto your rolling pin and place it over the tin. Carefully ease the pastry into the tin so that it starts to fit into the contours of the tin. Roll a bit of extra pastry into a ball and use it to push the pastry down into the tin. If you use a finger, the pastry is more likely to split. If it does, do not worry, simply use a sliver of excess pastry to glue it back together.

Pressing the pastry into the tart tin

Pressing the pastry into the tart tin

Trim the excess pastry from the edges of the tin. the easiest way to do this is rolling your rolling pin over the top to trim. Chill again for 15 minutes. Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans or dried pulses, and blind bake for 20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, and bake for five to 10 minutes longer, until the base is dried and slightly golden. Leave the shell to cool, and turn down the oven to 150°C.

Lined tart tin

Prepared tart base

Now make the filling. Cream the butter, sugar and almonds together. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until combined well. Add the flour and lemon zest and mix well. Spread this mixture into the cool tart case. Slice the figs and place on top, cut side up, pushing the pieces slightly into the frangipane.

Adding the figs

Adding the figs

Bake for between 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes until the mixture is nicely puffed up and the centre is set. The edges will catch a little due to the high sugar content, so you can cover with foil if it looks like it is getting too dark. Allow to cool before trying to remove from the tin to avoid breakage.

Fig and Almond Tart

Finished Fig and Frangipane Tart

Homemade Custard Creams

Homemade Custard Creams

Firstly, an apology. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but to be honest, you have probably forgotten all about this blog as I haven’t posted for so long. Lots of reasons, many excuses, but everyone is busy, so let me hang my head in momentary contrition and we’ll move on. OK?

In these cold and dark days, it always seems perverse that we are all expected to deprive ourselves on every level with punishing diets and life changes. In rebellion, my thoughts turn to the comfort of obscene amounts of butter and sugar. There’s something reassuring about a full biscuit tin. I am too much of a control freak to keep mine stocked in the hope that lots of people will ‘pop round’ unexpectedly, as it will always be the day I am drying underwear on the radiators or the bathroom needs cleaning. I do it because I like that homely feeling or something made with care and love, which will also give a big sugar hit. I also like the idea of turning my back on things I am supposed to do in January and, let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Retro biscuits are something everyone loves, even if they don’t admit to it. I always loved Custard Creams as a child but haven’t bought them for years as ingredients such as calcium carbonate and soya lecithins don’t really appeal to my grown-up self. These custard creams are based on a simple biscuit recipe, enhanced with Bird’s Custard Powder. When I first started playing about with this recipe, I was determined to create something similar without resorting to it. This is because, upon inspection, I was amazed to see that this magic powder is basically cornflour with flavouring and colouring. I was sure I could do better than that.

I couldn’t.

As frustrating as it is to admit, whatever the combination in that tin, it works better than anything else here, so that is what I am using. The cornflour gives the biscuit a more silky texture, just as you would have in shortbread, and the colour is warm and cheerful-although not artificial, I am assured.

When trying these out on friends, one reaction was that they are the wrong shape for custard creams. I know, but I don’t have a small rectangular cutter, so tough! Feel free to use any cutter you like, they taste great any way you want to make them.

Homemade Custard Creams

Makes 14 biscuits

Ingredients

Biscuits:
175g plain flour
3 tbsp Birds Custard Powder
1tsp baking powder
100g unsalted butter (softened)
50g caster sugar
1 medium egg
1tbsp milk

Custard filling:
1tbsp Birds Custard Powder
100g icing sugar
50g unsalted butter (softened)
1tsp hot water

Method

Preheat oven to 180°C.

For the biscuits, rub the butter into the flour, custard powder and baking powder to create a crumbly, breadcrumb-like mixture.

Tip in the sugar and mix. Beat the egg and milk together and add to the mixture. Mix well. You can do this in a stand mixer, but it is just as easy to do by hand. The mixture will come together into a dough.

Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. This will make it easier to shape.

Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of a pound coin. Cut out as many biscuits as you can with your cutter. Any offcuts can be squeezed back together, re-rolled and cut out. You can prick them with a fork or cocktail stick to make pretty patterns if you have the time or inclination.

Place the biscuits on a lined baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes-this timing is based on average sized biscuits. If you chose a bigger or smaller cutter, keep an eye on them and adjust the time accordingly.

Leave to cool. Now make the filling.

Simply put the custard powder, butter and icing sugar into a mixer or bowl and combine until smooth. If it feels a little stiff, add the tsp of boiling water and mix again.

Spread every other biscuit with about 1tsp of filling and squidge together with another biscuit on top.

Dust with icing sugar if you wish, but they never came out of the packet like that.

These biscuits will not keep as long as the packet ones-about a week at a push.

Kitchen Tip #17 Helping Scones Rise.

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Having made several batches of scones for my previous recipe of Summertime Scones with Strawberry and Basil Compote it reminded me of how often my scones used to turn out lopsided at best or totally misshapen at worst.

The solution is really simple. First, flour your cutter. Second, NEVER twist as you cut. Simply press down and turn out. It seems quite a natural action to twist as you cut out but this way scone disappointment lies. If you twist the cutter, it’s almost impossible for a scone ( or any other baked good) to rise up evenly, as you will have disturbed the delicate sides as you twist.

Happy scones, happy baker.

Summertime Scones with Strawberry & Basil Compote

Scones with Strawberry & Basil Compote

Scones with Rapid Strawberry & Basil Compote

Scones, strawberries and cream. There are few other combinations of words that give off that warm glow of hazy, summery days than this. A cream tea sums up so much about what is wonderful about the British summertime, although they have been arguing in the South West for years about whether to serve your jam topped with your cream, as they do in Cornwall, or your cream topped with jam, as they do in Devon. Personally I think it is just plain wrong to put the cream on top of the jam, but that’s just me.

In terms of how to eat your cream tea, I would never be so presumptuous as to tell you how you should do it. If you want whipped cream or clotted, it is your choice (although if you are in possession of a can of squirty cream, you should hand yourself in for crimes against food). If you are feeling really outrageous(!), you could have raspberry jam rather than strawberry. Fruit scones or plain? Be a rebel and go for both. The pleasures of a cream tea are infinite in variety.

I am going to throw in a curveball here. It all started when, after lovingly making fresh scones and purchasing clotted cream, I discovered that someone (probably me to be fair) had eaten the last of the jam. I have posted about how to make jam before. I had a punnet of strawberries in the fridge, but it is not a quick job to make jam, nor is it really worth it unless you are doing a big batch. Undeterred, I immediately thought of strawberry compote.

A compote is basically any kind of fruit, simmered with sugar and eaten while still fresh and zingy. It is not as sweet or thickly set as jam, as it has less sugar and more fruit. Arguably, you can make compote without sugar at all, but for scones, you definitely need the extra sweetness to offset the deep richness of the cream. My eyes then alighted on the pot of basil sitting on my kitchen windowsill. Basil and strawberries are a combination of food dreams, each bringing out the flavour of the other in a quite marvellous way. Basil is very delicate-if you store it in the fridge it will go black very quickly-no matter how the supermarkets advise you to store it. It is at it’s best when it is added right at the end of any recipe, so it can add all it’s wonderful flavour. It is, therefore, a highly unsuitable ingredient for a jam as the rapid boiling would destroy all it’s fragrance, but added to a compote when it has cooled, it is perfect. I will warn you now that this is a highly messy way of eating scones-compote is runnier than jam and so you will certainly need a napkin tucked into your shirt before starting to eat this.

If you have never made scones before, I urge you to give them a go. They taste so different warm from your own oven to the brick-like texture you can get from those packets in the supermarket. They also take about 30 minutes from start to eating. If you have never baked anything, scones are a very good place to start. You can customise them in any way you want; add some sultanas, lemon zest or even chocolate chips if you want a true sugar overload. The finish of the top of the scone is also something you can control if you make them yourself. Before you put them in the oven, you can dust them with flour for a soft top, paint with milk for a more crunchy top or paint with egg for a really crunchy crust.

Be gentle when laying them on a baking sheet. Give them enough room to spread a little and rise a lot.

Scones about to be baked.

Scones about to be baked.

As son as they are out of the oven, put them on a wire rack to cool. It is best to serve them warm, but not piping hot, as they will just crumble apart.

Scones cooling on a rack.

Scones cooling on a rack.

This recipe is based on the one found in the Leith’s Baking Bible. Rubbing the butter into the flour really is the most technical part; it simply means taking the lumps of butter between your fingers and rubbing your fingers together into the flour until the texture is like breadcrumbs and you cannot feel any big lumps of butter anymore. If you cannot bring yourself to do that, you can use a food processor to whizz the butter in. I have used this recipe over and over again and it always works. Except the time I use plain flour-then it didn’t work at all. Made nice biscuity things though.

Scones with Strawberry & Basil Compote
Makes 6 scones

Ingredients

For the scones
225g Self Raising flour
½ tsp salt
55g butter
150ml milk
30g sugar (optional)

For the compote
400g Strawberries, washed and chopped in half
100g caster sugar
2 tbs fresh basil leaves, as finely chopped as you can

Method

First make the compote. Pop the strawberries and sugar into a large pan and heat gently until the sugar starts to melt. Turn up the hat until the mixture is rapidly boiling. Boil for about 5-10 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool. When cold, add the chopped basil. The consistency should be like a very soft set jam. Leave to the side, but do not refrigerate or the basil will go black.

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Add the salt to the flour, sifted into a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour. Stir the sugar (if using) into the flour/butter mix.

Add the milk into the flour mixture and mix it in with a knife. You want it to combine without stirring it too much.

Place the dough onto a floured surface, pat down with floured hands and lightly roll the surface using a floured rolling pin to make it even. Aim for about 3cm depth.

Using a floured cutter, press down firmly and gently lift out the shapes onto a lined tray.

Brush the tops gently with a little milk; you don’t need a pastry brush, fingertips will do, but try to avoid the milk running down the side of the scone as it will impede the rise.

Bake the scones for between 12 and 15 minutes, until golden on the top.

Serve warm with clotted cream, topped with the compote and a few fresh strawberries on the side. The scones will keep in an airtight container for a day or so, but are best eaten the day they are made, as is the compote.