Raspberry Mille Feuille

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Raspberry Mille Feuille

October may bring the chilly autumnal winds which make you want to settle down to steaming soup and various forms of melted cheese, but I also always think of it as the last chance for amazing Scottish raspberries. Raspberries from Scotland are some of the best in the world and varieties such as Autumn Bliss thrive in the chillier climate, making for a more fragrant and juicy berry.

Raspberries are an amazing berry; there is no comparison when it comes to the soft and yielding texture combined with the perfumed sweetness as they burst in your mouth. They always seem a bit more special than strawberries and so deserve some extra effort.

Mille feuille is part of the repertoire of highly classical french patisserie; the name itself comes from the puff pastry; ‘mille’ meaning a thousand and ‘feuille’ meaning layers. If you want to be less fancy, you can call it a custard slice, but I think this loses the romanticism of the name somewhat. The traditional delicate layers of buttery puff pastry and the richly vanilla-scented crème pâtissière are perfect with raspberries.

There is no getting away from the fact that patisserie can be very fiddly; there is a reason why pastry chefs specialise in this very thing for years before they perfect certain techniques. However, despite the fact that this is patisserie and looks very impressive, this recipe is very straightforward; it is just a matter of following the steps and taking your time.

Using shop bought, all-butter puff pastry saves hours of time and effort. Crème pâtissière is simply custard thickened with flour so it holds its form. Making your own ‘creme pat’ does induce feelings of great smugness, not to mention that it tastes amazing, but if you are in a rush or are nervous about custard, you can also skip this and simply use 300ml of double cream, whipped until it becomes firm, with the seeds of a vanilla pod and 2 tbs of icing sugar.

Raspberry Mille Feuille

makes 4

Ingredients

300g raspberries

For the crème pâtissière

300ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod

 3 egg yolks

4 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp cornflour.

For the pastry

1 packet of all butter puff pastry

2 tbs icing sugar

Method

  1. Start with your pastry. Roll out a sheet to the thickness of fifty pence piece. Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, top with another layer of greaseproof paper and pop another baking sheet on top. Then weigh down the top baking sheet with something heavy, like a ceramic or glass baking dish. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  2. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 25 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly with the baking tray on top. 

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    Baked puff pastry sheet

  4. Remove the baking dish and top baking sheet. While the pastry is still warm, cut the sheet in half across the middle and then downwards into twelve rectangles-6 at the top and 6 at the bottom. Trim the edges so they are neat and the same size.

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    puff pastry rectangles

  5. Sprinkle the rectangles with icing sugar so they are completely covered and caramelise the sugar lightly using a blow torch. You can use a hot grill but you need to be very careful that they do not catch.

  6.  Now make the crème pâtissière, put 300ml whole milk and 1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways, in a pan and heat to just below boiling point.
  7. In a bowl, whisk together 3 egg yolks, 4 tbsp caster sugar, 2 tbsp plain flour and 2 tbsp cornflour.IMG_6157
  8. Pour the hot milk over the egg mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon continuously. Return the mixture to the pan and set over a medium heat, mixing all the time, until it has a thick custard consistency. The custard is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and when you draw your finger across, the line remains.

  9. Transfer to a bowl, cover the surface directly with cling film, leave to cool, then chill for at least 1 hr (can be made 2 days ahead).IMG_6164
  10. Transfer to a piping bag and snip the corner off it, or fit a plain nozzle. Chill until ready to use.IMG_6192
  11. When you are ready to assemble, squeeze a small dot of crème pâtissière on a plate and put a pastry rectangle on top to stop it moving around. Squeeze twelve large dots of crème pâtissière on top of the rectangle, then place a raspberry on top of each dot. Repeat.
  12. Place one rectangle on top of the other and then top with one more pastry rectangle. Serve immediately.IMG_6332

 

 

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Spiced Plum Compote

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Spiced Plum Compote

It’s cold, it’s dark and just a bit miserable. No-one likes January. Every magazine and newspaper I see at the moment shouts about New Year diets, clean eating and losing weight. The media seems to think this is what everyone wants at this time of year, whereas the reality is that when it’s dark and damp, you crave nourishment and comfort from your food, not guilt and denial.

I have written before about how I am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘clean eating’. It implies that some food is clean and some is dirty and is therefore consumption of certain foods should make you feel shameful and guilty. This is just not true; the reality is that lots of foods are very good for us and lots are not. Most sensible people know the difference.

However, if you have overeaten during the festive season you will know it. Your jeans may be tighter, your skin a little pallid and you may feel the need to eat a little less fatty, processed food and a little more fresh and natural produce.

With that in mind, I loaded my bag with even more fruit and vegetables than usual at the market the other day. Unfortunately, I broke one of my cardinal rules and bought some plums, knowing full well that they are not in season. I would never buy soft fruits such as strawberries or raspberries at this time of year, but I was seduced by the plums’ majestic appearance with their cloudy, rich purple skin and they actually smelt vaguely sweet and perfumed. It also helped that they were only £1.50 for 1 kg!

As I should have suspected, they were flavourless, dry and joyless. In fact, verging on inedible. I truly hate to waste anything edible if possible and I know that the only way to extract any kind of flavour from underripe or flavourless fruit is to cook them.

By adding warming spices and subtle sweetness, you can coax out an incredible amount of flavour from the most unpromising of fruit. This recipe works very well with other stone fruit such as nectarines and cherries, but there is something hypnotic about the scent and colour of this compote once it is cooked.

As with any fruit, plums are full of goodness and vitamins. They are a good source of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain the amino acid tryptophan which is used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is the hormone that makes you feel good. The combination with the wonderfully fragrant vanilla and the spicy undertones of the cinnamon make it taste like a deeply rich and delicious treat.

This compote is fabulous on its own, but it’s subtly spiced sweetness is beautiful with plain yoghurt, porridge and rice pudding. It is also luscious warmed up and poured lavishly over good vanilla ice cream.

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Spiced Plum Compote

Ingredients

1kg plums, stones removed and quartered

250ml water

75g runny honey-5 tbs

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds removed

3 slices orange

1 cinnamon stick

Method

1) Stone and slice the plums into quarters

2) Put all the other ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the honey dissolves

3) Put the plums into the syrup and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the syrup has thickened and the plums have given up their juices

4) This will keep for a week in the fridge in an airtight container

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Plums before cooking

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Plums during cooking

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Cooked plums

Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

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Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

When I’m on holiday, especially in Italy, one great pleasure is to skip a mediocre restaurant dessert and find an authentic Gelateria, preferably one with a queue, marvel at the vast array of colours and flavours, perhaps taste a few and then wander back to my hotel, happily licking drips from my wrist. Ice cream just seems to taste better on holiday and it’s not unusual for me to eat it every day of my time away.

In comparison, ice cream culture at home is somewhat disappointing. There are some amazing ice cream shops to be found in various cities across the country and, if you’re lucky, on a local high street, but what most of us eat at home is bought in a supermarket. I find most of the big brands are overly sweet and sometimes a little synthetic as they often contain various emulsifiers and preservatives. As a result, ice cream is not something I usually eat regularly at home.

Homemade ice cream has not been successful for me in the past. It doesn’t seem to matter which recipe reassures me that you do not need an ice cream machine to make good ice cream, I find that making it without one is not very satisfying. It’s true that you can get fairly good results by beating away the ice crystals by hand, as they form in the freezing mixture, but it’s never quite right. The ice crystals are too large and really change the way the ice cream dissolves on your tongue.

With this in mind, I decided to go for it and invest in a proper ice cream machine. They vary massively in price, but you can get a basic one for about £30. That’s the equivalent of about seven tubs of a premium ice cream brand, so pretty good value, even if you only use it a few times a year.

Once you have an ice cream machine, the world is your oyster ; you can make ice cream of course, but you can also make gelato (an Italian, softer, milk-based ice cream), sorbet and frozen yoghurt.

Frozen yoghurt is arguably the easiest thing to make, as you do not have to make a custard and risk it splitting;  you can simply pick your favourite yoghurt and churn it. It sounds too easy, but that’s how it works-it is literally yoghurt that is frozen. It can also be a lighter choice when you do not want to be eating masses of eggs and cream. You can simply pick your favourite flavours and add them to plain yoghurt to make amazing frozen desserts.

Since obtaining my ice cream machine I have tried so many flavours out, but this is one of my favourites. Mango and mint go so well together as the mint gives a small wave of freshness to the aromatic sweetness of the mango. Natural Greek yoghurt is a great vehicle for these flavours as it has a slight tang and just enough creaminess to feel indulgent while still being refreshing. It is an exotic taste of summer. Ice cream and frozen desserts often contain a lot of sugar, as the act of freezing something dulls the flavour and so it is needed. There is very little sugar in this recipe, as if you can get ripe mangos, you do not need much. In addition, do not be tempted to add more peppermint extract: this stuff is super powerful and you genuinely only need a few drops.

Ripe mangos are a true treat. You will know if they are ripe as they will fill the air of your kitchen with their beautiful aroma before they are even cut. Once you pierce the yielding flesh, the smell intensifies and you instantly become covered with masses of gorgeous, sweet juice. If you cannot get ripe mangos (the supermarkets ones are so often hard and sad), do not add more sugar, but buy a bag of the frozen chunks. It works very well here as you are pureeing the flesh and so it does not matter is it is a bit soggy when it defrosts. This will always be riper than a slightly hard fresh mango.

If you don’t like mint here, you can leave it out, or add the juice of a lime for extra zing.

Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

Makes 1 litre

Ingredients

3 large ripe mangos, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1kg)

500ml Natural Greek yoghurt

75g icing sugar

3-4 drops natural peppermint extract (not essence) or the juice of 1 large lime

Method

1.  Puree the mango with a stick blender or normal blender

2. Mix the puree with the yoghurt, sugar and peppermint essence

3. Churn in your ice cream machine according to the instructions

4. Scoop into a 1 litre plastic tub with lid and freeze

5. Remove from the freezer  5 minutes before you want to serve it. Decorate with fresh raspberries if you wish

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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

Just Brownies

Just a brownie

Just a brownie

This post was supposed to be a demonstration of a wonderfully simple and foolproof recipe for hot cross buns. More fool me. Alas, after three failed batches, I have resorted to buying some from my local bakery.

So, in its place, I am offering something vaguely in line with Easter, in that it contains a vast amount of chocolate. It is also a recipe which always works, which is a bonus for a cooking blog. This particular brownie recipe was given to me by my friend Luda a few years ago. She adds honeycomb and sometimes crumbled Oreo cookies, which is outrageously good.

Brownies are a contentious issue because the varieties are infinite; some people love nuts, others prefer the addition of dried fruit, some like chocolate chips or honeycomb to chew on. I have tried many of these exotic combinations, but this recipe offers none of these; I have stripped it back to be as straightforward, pure and plain as a brownie recipe can get. These really are ‘just’ brownies. This simplicity should not detract in any way from how amazing these brownies are. They are dense, gooey in the right places, rich and totally satisfying. It also helps that they are truly the work of moments to make. What makes it a great, as opposed to a good, recipe is the use of light muscovado sugar. It brings a subtle fudgy and caramel note to the brownie, which is about a good a companion to chocolate as you can get. As it is not disguised by any extras, I would urge you to buy a very good dark chocolate, by which I mean at least 70% cocoa solids in content.

These are rich enough to serve as a dessert after dinner; simply add a dusting if icing sugar and a big spoonful of creme fraiche.

Just Brownies

Ingredients

165g unsalted butter
200g dark, good quality chocolate
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
165g light muscovado sugar
2tbps plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder (not hot chocolate powder)
pinch of salt

Method

Grease and line a 20cm baking tin or swiss roll tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Break up the chocolate into small pieces, place in a heatproof bowl with the butter. Melt the butter and chocolate over a pan of just simmering water. Be careful not to allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. When melted together, remove from the pan and allow to cool a little.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt together. Add the flour and cocoa a little at a time until all combined.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs little by little and whisk until fluffy.

Pour the mixture into the tray and bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes. When it is ready, the top will crack slightly, but you will be able to feel a wobble underneath when you press the top gently.

Allow to cool if you can bear it.

Deconstructed Apple Crumble

Deconstructed Apple Crumble

Deconstructed Apple Crumble

Sometimes only a properly comforting dessert like a crumble will do.

This is a slightly different way of doing a crumble, which I came across in a very old Gary Rhodes book several years ago and is now the only way I cook it. The main difference is that the fruit and the crumble bits are cooked separately and then assembled. What you get from this is the soft, hot fruit, crowned with a really crunchy topping. Purists will baulk at this, but I find the stark difference in textures wonderfully satisfying. You can add 75g of nibbed almonds to the crumble topping if you are so inclined. I am not.

It’s not often in cooking that you are told that lumps are important, but for this topping, they really are. When you mix the butter, sugar and flour together, it is really vital to pinch the mixture together so you get a mixture of smaller and larger lumps, as shown in the picture below. If you don’t create these lumps, you will just have a tasty powder and not really a crumble topping at all. The more variety in sizes, the better the texture.

Crumble topping before baking

Crumble topping before baking

I have used apple here because I love it, but you can use any fruit; pears, plums and rhubarb will all be great, although you will have to add more sugar for the rhubarb if you want to avoid a tummy ache.

Crumble with custard is a given in my house. Some people swear by Bird’s, for that schoolday nostalgia, but you can also buy some very good fresh custard from the supermarket now. I often buy this, but if I have time, I love to make my own. I cannot pretend it’s a very easy or quick process. However, don’t be afraid; stick with the guidelines below and you will be beam with pride if someone asks if the custard is homemade. The recipe below is very rich, very creamy and very luscious. It is not an everyday indulgence. I have experimented a lot with different recipes and ingredients; sometimes you want a blowout and have the full fat version, but if you want a lighter version, you can used all semi-skimmed milk instead of the milk and cream option below. Be aware that making it this way means you will be standing a stirring the mixture for about three times longer than with a full fat version. It will seem like it is never going to thicken. Your will to live may wane slightly, but keep at it, as it will thicken eventually. If your patience doesn’t stretch that far, you can always reach for the Bird’s.

Deconstructed Apple Crumble
Serves 6

Ingredients

For the apple part
700g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped into large chunks
2 large eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into large chunks-Coxes work nicely
25g butter
75g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon

For the crumble

100g butter
175g plain flour
75g demerara sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Start with the topping. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it has a breadcrumb texture. Add the sugar, mix. Begin to work through the mixture, pinching it together with your fingertips to create different sized lumps. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally. Once it looks crunchy and golden, you can take it out and set aside until you need to use it. Once cool if you put it in an airtight container, it will last a few days.

For the apple base; melt the butter in a large pan and add the apple. Turn in the butter and then add the sugar and lemon zest. Turn the heat right down and cook for about 15 minutes until the apples are soft. Try to resist the urge to stir them too much, or you will end up with apple puree.

When you are ready to make the crumble, put the cooked apple in a baking dish, top with the crumble mixture and heat in the oven for about 10 minutes. You can also reheat the apple in a pan or in the microwave and just top with the crumble if you wish.

Homemade Custard
Makes 750ml

Ingredients
8 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
300ml full fat milk
300ml double cream.

Method

Pour the milk and cream into a pan. Split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add to the milk and cream. Throw in the pod as well. Bring the mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a heat-proof bowl until well mixed. Put the bowl over a pan of simmering water and pour in the cream mixture. Stir continuously-it is vital to keep it moving, so you don’t get lumpy custard. I find a wooden spoon works best for this.

Stirring the custard mixture

Stirring the custard mixture

As the eggs cook, the custard will start to thicken. The test to know when it is ready is to coat the back of the wooden spoon with the mixture, then run your finger over the back of it. If the line you have drawn stays open as in the picture below, the custard is ready, if it fills up straightaway, you need to cook it for a bit longer.

Custard coating the back of the spoon

Custard coating the back of the spoon

If you are not using this immediately, cover the mixture with some greaseproof paper to avoid a skin forming.

You can serve this cold or warm, but do not let it boil when reheating it, or it will split.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Square

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Square

There is often an alchemy in good food: certain ingredients are enhanced simply by pairing them with certain others. Smoked salmon with spicy horseradish, sea salt with hot caramel and oily mackerel with tart gooseberries.

Chocolate and peanut butter may not be such a chic combination, but nonetheless, it is nothing short of genius. This is one of those dream partnerships: the rich, stick-to-the-roof of your mouth quality of the peanut butter seems to meld perfectly with the unique melting qualities of chocolate.

I do not know whether to boast or be embarrassed about how easy these are to make. What I will tell you is that these squares will win you friends and great influence wherever you take them. I do not know anyone who hasn’t tried them, closed their eyes and become strangely quiet as the flavours meld in the mouth. They are reminiscent of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but much more interesting from the texture of the caramelised peanuts scattered over the top.

These squares make gorgeous petit fours or larger squares of loveliness. You can use all dark chocolate as a more sophisticated topping, but normally I like a mixture of half dark and half milk. There are not many ingredients, so quality will shine through. Buy chocolate with a high cocoa content: it makes up of the recipe and so good chocolate does make a difference.

Apparently they keep well, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares
Ingredients

For the base

250g smooth peanut butter
200g icing sugar
50g softened butter
50g dark muscovado sugar

For the chocolate topping
150g dark chocolate
150g milk chocolate
20g butter

For the nuts
50g salted peanuts
30g icing sugar

Method

Line a Swiss roll or brownie tin with cling film.

Mix all the base ingredients together in a mixer. You can do this by hand but it is a bit hard going. The mixture will be a little like rubble. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon smooth the mixture evenly in the base of the tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a pan if gently simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl as it will make the chocolate split.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the peanut butter base and smooth.

Heat the oven to 180. Mix the peanuts with the icing sugar and a few drops of water to combine. Spread the sugary nuts over a baking tray and bake for about 10 minutes until the nuts caramelise. Leave to cool.

Sprinkle the caramelised nuts over the chocolate top. Chill until required then cut into the desired size.

Grown Up Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Grown Up Chocolate Chunk Cookies

It’s been quite a week in one way or another and in seemingly typical female fashion, chocolate has seemed an excellent remedy to life’s woes. I hate to be obvious and stereotypical, and actually, the reverse has proven true, as my other half is the one who has polished most of the test batches for these off with a surprising vigour. I actually has to re-make one of the first batches from scratch as he got to them all before I did. Do not let anyone tell you that chocolate based snacks are the sole preserve of the female of the species, as I have often found it to be quite the opposite.

And so to cookies. In researching this post, I have found that cookies are incredibly subjective; some people love the chewy ones, some people love a crunch and some like something in between. One recipe can fit all, as it really depends on how long you bake them for. I think my taste buds have changed a lot as I have grown older and one of the ways in which this has manifested itself is that I am not a great fan of overly sweet things any more. I actually hate myself a little bit for having Malibu and Pineapple as my favourite drink for a shaming few months as a late teenager. Moving on, I now find that a yearly foray into something as sweet as cinder toffee is enough for me.

As a consequence, these cookies are quite adult in flavour; they are not sickly sweet and are deeply rich with dark chocolate and cocoa. The muscovado sugar gives a lovely caramel note, rather than just straightforward sweetness. I prefer to use a bar of chocolate and roughly chop it, rather than using chips, as this means you get both tiny shards and bigger chunks of chocolate in every mouthful, rather than the regulation size of chips, but feel free to use whatever you like. If you do choose a bar, make sure it is at least 70% cocoa. This recipe uses plain chocolate but you can also add any of the amazing combinations that are everywhere now: sea salt, mint, orange and even chilli are all fabulous and add to the feeling that these cookies should stay a strictly adult pleasure!

Ingredients

Makes about 20 cookies

150g salted butter, softened
100g light brown muscovado sugar
60g granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
30g good quality cocoa powder
225g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
150g plain chocolate chips or chunks

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Put the butter and sugars into a bowl and beat until creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract and egg. Sieve the flour, cocoa bicarbonate of soda and salt over the mixture and mix in with a wooden spoon. Chop up your chocolate if using a bar- add to the mixture and stir well. The mixture will be very stiff.

Using a teaspoon, place small mounds of the mixture well apart on the baking trays as they will spread a lot when cooking. Bake in the oven for 10-12 mins if you want them squidgy in the middle or 12-15 minutes if you prefer them crunchy. They will feel soft  when hot, but they harden up as they cool so do not overbake them.

Leave on the tray for a couple of minutes to firm up and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Chocolate & Raspberry Pavlova

Chocolate & Raspberry Pavlova

Chocolate & Raspberry Pavlova

There are some things which are just so right when the sun shines in summer; a proper, creamy Italian gelato in a sugar cone, new flip flops which don’t cause you blisters, a glass of white wine so chilled the glass glistens with condensation or sitting in a park or woodland until 9pm just because you can. Summer eating should be about light pasta sauces, interesting and unusual salads, chilled soups and ice creams. What is also perfect in summery weather is a pavlova. In the winter I want dark, rich, steaming puddings, oozing with sauce and hot custard. But in the summer, when you want something a bit more interesting than another bowl of fruit salad, not much beats a pavlova with it’s meringue that is crunchy on the outside and fluffy marshmallow on the inside, topped with whipped cream and fruit; it’s a gem of a pud for a time when the sun shines for longer and you’re not having to sit next to a radiator to keep warm, which is often the case in this country.

Following on from my earlier post about how to make the perfect meringue; many people I know are scared of making meringues, but if you follow a few rules, it is very simple really. Once you have tasted the real thing, you will never go back to buying them from the supermarket again.

British raspberries, particularly Scottish ones, are one of the greatest fruits we produce. Their delicate, fragile structure means they have to be eaten very quickly after they are bought. Luckily this is not a problem in my house. They are perfect just as they are, but doing that would make this post about them pretty boring, so here is one of my favourite ways to scoff them.

I cannot take the credit for this recipe, as it is a very close relation to one which Nigella Lawson published in Forever Summer. I feel the need to share it here, as it is a something I have made so many times, always with a fantastic reaction. It is really simple to prepare and if you make the meringue the night before, the assembly is a matter of moments. The combination of chocolate and raspberries is obviously wonderful from a visual, as well as a taste point of view. The blood-like redness of the raspberries looks stunning against the snowiness of the cream and the deep darkness of the meringue. This chocolate meringue works equally well with any other berry of your choice. You can also make a white chocolate version without the cocoa powder and with 75 g of chopped white chocolate; this is very sweet, so works best with a tarter tasting berry like redcurrants. You can also use this recipe to make individual portions; just bake them for a little less time.

You can make the meringue base in advance, but do not add the cream until the last minute, or the meringue might collapse. This will obviously not change it’s luscious flavour, but it won’t look quite so beautiful. Use the freshest berries you can find and chocolate with a cocoa content of no less than 70%.

Chocolate & Raspberry Pavlova

serves 8

Ingredients

6 large egg whites

300g caster sugar

3 tbs cocoa powder, sieved

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

50g dark chocolate, finely chopped

500 ml double or whipping cream

500g raspberries

3 tbs dark chocolate, grated

Method

Heat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy and then add sugar a spoonful at a time until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Add the cocoa, vinegar and the chopped chocolate. Then gently fold everything until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Heap the mixture onto a baking sheet in a circle. Put in the oven, then turn the temperature down to 150°C and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours. When it’s ready it should look crisp around the edges and on the sides and be dry on top, but when you push it gently, you can feel a softness underneath. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, and let the meringue cool completely.

Place the cold meringue on a large serving dish. Don’t worry if it cracks a little-a pavlova is not meant to look pristine. Whisk the cream until thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter over the raspberries. Grate the chocolate over the top and serve as soon as possible.

Kitchen Tip #13 The Perfect Meringue

Chocolate Meringues

Chocolate Meringues

A lot of people are quite scared of making meringues. They prefer to buy the rock hard, dried up ones in the supermarket which shatter as soon as you bite into them. This is not how a meringue should be; the perfect meringue should have a crisp shell on the outside, containing a wonderfully fluffy marshmallow-like centre. You can only get this if you make it yourself, which can seem a bit daunting, but follow these few rules and you will always end up with a great meringue.

The first thing to remember is that the amount of sugar must be half that of the amount of eggs whites. For example, if you are using 6 egg whites, you must use 300g of sugar. This means you do not need a recipe for meringues or go out and buy a whole box of eggs because you think you don’t have enough-simply use what you have.

A rough guide is that 5-6 egg whites will make a pavlova for about 8 people, but just 2 egg whites will make enough for 4 individual meringues or enough for an Eton Mess.

The rules for making a cooking meringue are quite simple.

1) The bowl you use has to be spotless; any grease or dirt will stop the eggs from holding together when whipped. I normally have a half dried out lemon in my fridge; this is perfect to wipe the bowl with to get rid of anything lurking.

2) Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks first. This simply means until they are a white bubbly mound and hold their shape when you remove the whisk or beater. Then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, otherwise it will not blend properly, until the mixture is beautifully shiny.

3) Add some vinegar. This sounds crazy, but this is what makes the meringue fluffy inside. You only need a tiny amount, so 1 tsp for a 6 egg white meringue.

4) Oven temperatures; put the meringue into a fairly hot oven to start (about 180°C), then immediately turn it down to 140°C. Cook for at least an hour to dry out the crust and then turn the oven off, leave the oven door very slightly ajar and leave to cool completely.