30 May 2013

Pimms Cupcakes

The British weather seems to do this to us... have us jumping out of bed and out for picnics as soon as we see the sun and then it all comes crashing down with a few days of heavy rain. Just perfect.
However I'm defiant against the rain and these are definitely a taste of summer.


For the cakes:

175g soft butter
175g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
175g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
3tbsp Pimms

For the strawberry filling:

200g strawberries
2tbsp Pimms
1tbsp sugar
1tbsp cornflour

For the mint cucumber syrup:

1 small handful of mint, finely chopped
2tbsp sugar
2tbsp water
12 thin slices of cucumber

For the buttercream:

150g butter
300g icing sugar
1tbsp milk
4tbsp Pimms

To serve:
Extra cucumber and mint

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.
To make the cupcake batter, cream together the soft butter, caster sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. 
Gradually add in the eggs until fully incorporated and then whisk in the flour, baking powder and Pimms until you have a smooth batter. 

Spoon evenly into cupcake cases and bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until risen and golden brown. 
Once baked, remove from the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the strawberry filling. 
Blend the strawberries in a food processor and then sieve over a small pan to remove the pips. 
Add the sugar, Pimms and cornflour to the blitzed strawberries in the pan and heat gently, stirring constantly with a balloon whisk until it starts to thicken.

Continue to whisk over the heat until you have a jam-like consistency and then pour it into a separate bowl, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the cakes.

To make the syrup, add the cucumber and finely chopped mint to a small pan along with the sugar and water. Heat until the sugar begins to bubble and turns syrupy and then strain and chill in the fridge.

To make the buttercream, whisk together all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl until smooth and then spoon into a piping bag. 

To assemble the cakes:

Using a sharp knife, cut out a circle from the top of each cake and fill the hole with a teaspoon of strawberry filling. 

Replace the top of the cake and then pipe on the buttercream icing using a piping bag.

Top the cakes with the fresh fruit and chopped mint and drizzle with the cucumber and mint syrup. 

Enjoy in the sun with your feet up and a very cold glass of Pimms! Cheers!

 Strawberry filling and mint cucumber syrup recipes taken from:

27 May 2013

Dark Rye Bread, Homemade Ricotta and Balsamic Strawberries

For once we have actually had sun on a British Bank Holiday! I've been treated to a lovely afternoon tea at Fawsley Hall to celebrate the end of exams and a weekend of endless waitressing shifts. 
After a hectic few days I'm beginning to start packing for my trip to Sri Lanka but am also trying to fit in as much cooking as possible before I'm kitchen-less for 5 weeks! 
So last weekend I set myself a little challenge to make some homemade cheese. Thanks to Annie's recipe at Annie's Eats, I now realise that making cheese can be quite easy! 

Ricotta is a good basic cheese to start off with and was surprisingly easy to make. I came across Annie's recipe that step by step shows you the details of how to make ricotta with great photos and easy-to-produce delicious results. I also attempted my first rye bread made with dark black treacle and cardamom and topped with fennel seeds. I love the dark nutty flavour of rye bread and it doesn't need much kneading however the dough will feel fairly different to your usual bread dough as the rye flour makes it slightly denser. I followed Paul Hollywood's recipe for rye bread as I think his recipes are really reliable and easy to follow. 


2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
2tbsp distilled white vinegar, plus more as needed
2.3 litres pasteurised whole milk
1tsp salt

1tsp cardamom seeds, ground
Fennel seeds
500g rye flour
10g salt
10g instant yeast
20ml black treacle
350ml cool water
Olive oil for kneading

1tbsp honey
1tbsp balsamic
Strawberries or fresh figs

Rocket leaves


Annie's recipe for homemade ricotta:

Put the milk and salt into a suacepan over a medium heat and continue to heat, stirring occasionally until the milk reaches 185 degrees F. 

While the milk is heating, prepare a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth layered over it. 
Once the milk has reached the desired temperature, remove it from the heat and immediately stir in the lemon jucie and vinegar. Stir it just enough to distribute the acids evenly and then leave for 5-10 minutes. 

When the mixture has fully curdled, it will have separated into white curds and translucent yellow whey. If it hasn't fully curdled add a little more vinegar a spoonful at a time and leave to sit for a bit longer. 

Then carefully pour the mixture into the colander and let it drain for about 8-12 minutes or a little less if you want it a little more moist which is best for sandwiches. 
Then transfer the curds to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until chilled. 

Store for up to 5 days. 

Paul Hollywood's rye bread:

Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other. Add the treacle, ground cardamom seeds and three quarters of the water and then turn the mixture round with your fingers. Gradually add a little more water until all the flour is incorporated and you are left with a rough soft dough.

Coat a clean work surface with a little olive oil and then knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes until the dough starts to form a soft skin and is slightly more pliable and elastic. 

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size. (Roughly 4 hours)

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and fold it repeatedly in until the air is knocked out. Then form the dough into a smooth ball and put it into an oiled loaf tin. Leave to prove again for another 2-3 hours until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C and put a roasting tray into the bottom and a baking tray onto an oven shelf. 

Once proved, score the top of the dough with a sharp knife and sprinkle with a bit of extra rye flour and some fennel seeds.

Bake the loaf on the baking tray and immediately pour some hot water into the roasting tray in the oven to create steam (which will give the loaf a nice crust)and bake for 30 minutes until the loaf sounds hollow. 

To serve, heat the honey and balsamic until syrupy and then serve drizzled over strawberries or figs, the homemade ricotta, some rocket and a piece of freshly cut rye bread. 

I found that my rye bread was a little too dense in consistency- I think this is because I hand-kneaded mine and wasn't strong enough to give it the extra power it kneaded so I'd suggest using a dough hook in a mixer if you can!

Just thought I had to share this photo with you- I swear Eddie is actually smiling!

23 May 2013

Pistachio, Rose Water and Honey Cake

It's the time of the year when exams are finally finished, the sun is shining and the garden is full of summer flowers. In order to celebrate I decided to make this delicately flavoured summery rose cake- ideal for a summer tea party!
Rose water can sometimes be quite an overpowering ingredient but here it pairs beautifully with pistachios and if you want a slightly more subtle flavour, use 2tsp rose water instead of 3. 

We are just in the middle of re-doing our garden and will soon have a new summer house- which I can't wait to deck out with bunting, cushions and then to sit there all day with a good book, some tea and a piece of this cake. Perfect. 

Sri Lanka is going to be somewhat different to the sort of British summer I'm used to - I keep thinking it's going to be great tanning weather with beautiful sunshine however I'm visiting the south of Sri Lanka in mid-monsoon season. So It's going to be a very different kind of heat and lots of rain- but definitely worth it!- not long now!


175g butter
150g caster sugar
11/2 tbsp honey
3tsp rose water
3 eggs
100g gluten free self-raising flour
75g ground almonds
1tsp baking powder
75g pistachios 

125g butter
200g icing sugar
1tsp rose water
1tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Grease and line a deep circular cake tin with baking parchment. 
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and creamy and then add in the honey and rose water. Beat again and then gradually incorporate the eggs into the mixture, beating well in between each addition. 
Measure out the flour, almonds and baking powder and then beat into the wet ingredients. 
Put the pistachios into a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. 
Add the pistachios to the mixture and mix well with a spoon. 

Spoon the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, springy to the touch and baked the whole way through. You can check this by inserting a skewer into the middle and if it comes out clean, the cake is baked. 
(If you find the cake is browning too quickly, then cover the top with some extra baking parchment or tin foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.)

Once baked, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. 

To make the icing, beat together the icing sugar, butter, milk and rose water with an electric whisk until smooth and then swirl over the top of the cooled cake. 

Top the cake with some extra pistachios and enjoy on a warm summer's day with a pot of herbal tea! Delicious!

18 May 2013

Spiced Rack of Lamb with a Roasted Squash Salad

It's nearly over.
A month's worth of hardcore studying and only one exam left to go. 
It's been very odd compared to the last few years: no end of term celebrations or summer school events.
Instead uni has just kind of petered out due to our odd term timetables and everyone finishing exams at different times!
I can't wait to finish, one because it means I will have so much more free time in the kitchen to finish and experiment with all the draft blog posts that are filling up my blogger account, full of all the ideas I've had whilst revising! But also because I'm off to Sri Lanka for a whole month. 
I'm off to volunteer with a few good uni friends in a volunteering centre run by a Sri Lankan family who work with the local orphanage, school and home for the elderly. 
I really can't wait to meet the people out there- I hear there's even a chance I may get to teach swimming lessons!- which I'd love, and we're also planning on visiting the elephant and turtle sanctuary nearby.
I'm also really excited to sample Sri Lankan food!
So although I may become a little quiet over the next few weeks (although I'm saving up some good recipes to post for you whilst I'm away) I will hopefully return with lots of tropical, Sri Lankan inspired dishes!

In the meantime, before I start packing and preparing, I have a few more recipes to share with you. 
This has been one of my most favourite suppers recently. 
I made this supper for a bit of a special occasion and its influenced by some of Ottolenghi's Middle Eastern style cooking.

It's the type of supper to share with friends over a good cold glass of white wine out in the sun. 

The lamb is a deliciously tender, cinnamon and sumac spiced recipe served with a fruit couscous and a nutritious earthy butternut squash salad which is also great cold for lunch the next day! 

Spiced rack of lamb with couscous and a roasted butternut squash and chickpea salad.

Hands-on time: about 30 min
Cooking time: about: 30 min
Serves: 2

For the couscous:
150g couscous
260ml vegetable stock
50g whole almonds
100g pre-cooked Puy lentils
75g pitted soft dates, chopped
salt and pepper

For the lamb: 

Rack of lamb (approx 275g)
2tsp sumac
1tsp cumin seeds, ground
1tsp cinnamon
1tbsp olive oil

For the salad:
450g butternut squash (when peeled,seeds removed and cut into small chunks.) 
Salt and pepper
1½ tbsp olive oil
1tsp sumac  
½ tsp paprika
½ large red onion
200g chickpeas
Small sprig fresh mint
Large handful of spinach leaves 

For the dressing:

1 small garlic clove, crushed
2tsp tahini
1tbsp natural yoghurt
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp water
1tsp lemon juice

1.    Preheat the oven to 220°C, (200°C fan) 400F, mark 6
2.    Mix together the spices for the lamb and then rub all over the lamb with some salt, pepper and the olive oil. Leave to marinate for 10 minutes.
3.    Meanwhile, add the butternut squash to a roasting tray with some salt and pepper, the sumac, paprika and olive oil and mix well to coat the squash. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.
4.    After 10 minutes, put a frying pan onto a high heat with 1tbsp olive oil. When the oil is really hot, sear the lamb for 2 minutes on each side and the ends of lamb and then put the lamb in a separate roasting tray along with the juices from the frying pan and 2tbsp water.  Roast the lamb in the oven for 9-10 minutes and then remove from the oven and cover with foil until ready to serve.
5.    Whilst the lamb is cooking, heat the vegetable stock in a small pan until boiling and then add the couscous. Stir and cover with a lid until all the water is absorbed and then remove from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
6.    To make the dressing, mix together all the dressing ingredients until smooth. When the butternut squash is cooked, remove from the oven and toss in a bowl along with the chickpeas, red onion, mint and 1 tbsp of the tahini dressing.  Serve on top of a bed of spinach leaves.
7.    Using a fork, fluff up the couscous and then add in the chopped dates and Puy lentils along with 1 tbsp olive oil. Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan on a high heat for 3 minutes and add to the couscous.
8.    Serve the lamb on top of the couscous with the salad, garnished with a little more chopped mint. 

16 May 2013

Raspberry and Basil Creme Patisserie Tartlets

Sometimes you have baking days where everything goes wrong, you're covered in cake batter and your custard has curdled. 
Other days, things just seem to fall into place and this was one of those days. 

I've been really interested in experimenting with combinations of fruit and herbs and wanted to try out this combination of basil and raspberries. 

I couldn't decide how strong to make the basil flavour but in the end infused the milk used to make the creme patisserie with basil leaves and then removed them after boiling. This resulted in a really delicate flavour that paired  well with the raspberries. However, if you wanted a stronger flavour you could always blend together the boiled milk with the basil leaves in a food processor.

These pretty little tarts are way easier to make than they look and if you've got a crowd coming round, you could make one big tart to cut and serve rather than these dainty ones.

The pastry I've used is my standard sweet shortcrust pastry that I also used for my plum frangipane tart however this time it is flavoured with lemon zest. 

Spring has finally arrived in our garden.


For the pastry:

200g soft slightly salted butter
400g plain flour
1 egg
1 dsrt spoon icing sugar
2 dsrt spoons caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4tbsp water

For the creme patisserie:

4 large basil leaves
280ml milk
4 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
25g plain flour
2tsp cornflour

1 tbsp raspberry jam
Basil leaves
Icing sugar to dust


To make your pastry:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Put a baking tray into the oven. In a large mixing bowl, rub together the soft butter, lemon zest and plain flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Break the egg into the mixing bowl and add in both sugars, mixing with a spoon to combine. Gradually add the water and bring the dough together with a spoon, being careful not to work the dough too much. 
Bring the dough into a ball with your hands and wrap in cling film.
Chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. 

Remove the pastry from the fridge and on a floured work surface, roll out the pastry to slightly thicker than a one pound coin. 
Butter your tartlet tins very well and then divide the dough into sections and lay each over a tin case.

Carefully ease the pastry into the case and use a little ball of pastry to push the pastry right into the grooves around the side.

Using a rolling pin, roll over the top of the case in order to remove the excess pastry from the sides of the tin. 
Fill each case with a little square of baking paper and a few baking beans( I use rice) in order to stop the pastry from rising and ballooning when baking.

Bake the tart cases on the heated bake tray in the oven for 10 minutes and then remove the baking beans and baking paper and bake for a further 5 minutes until golden brown. ( I bake the pastry cases on a hot baking tray to ensure the bottom of the tarts are properly cooked and you are not left with a "soggy bottom"- Mary Berry would not be a happy bunny! )

Whilst the tarts are baking, make the creme patisserie. Put the milk into a saucepan along with the basil leaves and slowly bring to the boil. 

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and slightly thicker and then beat in the flours. When the milk is boiling, remove it from the heat and remove the basil leaves. Pour the milk gradually into the egg and sugar mix whilst you are still whisking. Now return the mixture to the pan and continue to heat, stirring continuously until the creme patisserie boils and thickens. Remove from the heat and cover with cling film whilst it cools to prevent a skin from forming. 

Once the tarts are baked remove them from the oven and allow to cool before removing from the cases and putting them to cool on a wire rack. 

Once both the pastry cases and the creme patisserie are completely cool, fill each tart with the basil infused creme patisserie and top with fresh raspberries. 

In a small saucepan, heat the raspberry jam until runny and then using a pastry brush, brush a little of this raspberry glaze on top of the raspberries. 

Top each tart with a few extra small basil leaves and dust with icing sugar. 

Creme patisserie recipe adapted from: