Blood Orange & Pomegranate Cake

At least in the UK, February marks the beginning of the blood orange craze. While the availability window for this wonderfully sweet fruit is quite extended, lasting from late December well into May, the UK market seems to be pushing it only throughout February, meaning you won’t easily find blood oranges once you’re past that deadline. And 2016 is a leap year, which means even less days at your disposal. Therefore, better to make the most of it while it lasts. The idea behind this recipe comes from the BBC Good Food magazine, where it appeared as ‘Blood orange, blossom and pomegranate cake‘. As I usually do, I fiddled around with the recipe and this is my variation on the theme.

I find that using both sugar and honey in a cake batter makes the final result much denser and less light than it would normally be. Therefore, in my recipe I swapped honey with the same amount of light brown sugar, which still provides sweetness but also lends that slight caramel-y taste. Also, as I could not come across pomegranates and did not want to have to tour shops and markets (my life tends to be pretty hectic nowadays), I used pomegranate juice instead. This cake will keep quite well and, as a matter of fact, the taste will intensify as the days go by. It’s a very easy recipe and you all know I have a soft spot for upside-down cakes!

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Ingredients

  • 6 blood oranges, 3 whole, juice of 3
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g light brown sugar + 2 tbsp
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 140g full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 100ml pomegranate juice
  • dried rose petals (optional)

Method

  1. Place one of the whole oranges in a saucepan and pour in enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 40 minutes. Drain and allow the fruit to cool down. Once cold, slice it in half to remove any pips, then whiz in a food processor until you have a smooth paste/purée.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  3. Grease the base and sides and line the base of a 23cm round springform tin with baking parchment. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp light brown sugar onto the base.
  4. Slice the remaining two whole oranges into very thin slices, then arrange them on the base of the tin, following the pattern you most like. This will be the top of your cake once it’s finished.
  5. To make the batter, cream the butter, the remaining light brown sugar and 200g of the golden caster sugar in a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then slowly add the eggs, flour, baking powder, ground almonds and yogurt. Mix well until combined, then pour in the puréed orange and mix it in with a rubber spatula, trying not to deflate the mixture too much.
  6. Pour into the prepared tin, onto the orange slices, and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool almost completely before removing it from the tin.
  7. In the meantime, place the orange juice, pomegranate juice and the 100g remaining sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then cook until reduced to a lovely syrup. Don’t be tempted to leave this and go about the house as it may overflow. Once ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  8. Once you are ready, remove the cake from the tin, place a dish over the top (which really is the base) and flip the cake upside down. Gently peel off the base of the tin and the parchment paper, then drizzle the reddish syrup all over the cake, using a brush or a rubber spatula to spread it over. Save the remaining syrup to serve the cake with. Sprinkle some dried rose petals on top (optional), decorate with a few more blood orange slices, serve and enjoy!

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Chocolate Mousse Cake (GF)

I made this back in December for my Christmas party, but I somehow forgot to post about it. I don’t necessarily think you can only make this at Christmas. Yes, it’s a stunning centrepiece and during the holidays we tend to exaggerate a little bit, but I feel you don’t need a special occasion and that every day is fit for chocolate cake. Despite looking rather impressive, this mousse cake is quite easy to whip up (and quite literally too). The mousse itself does not contain gelatine but sets thanks to the cocoa solids in the chocolate. I have to say I was a little bit skeptical at first, but it works. If you want to, you can add some gelatine just to be sure, otherwise the cake will hold even 3 hours after it has been taken out of the fridge. Quite amazing if you ask me.

The raspberries on the top are not compulsory and you could just serve the cake on its own. However, I agree you need a touch of colour on top of such a big mountain of chocolate, and what’s more festive than some red berries? As for the golden sparkle… well, I think you can really go all out under Christmas, don’t you think? The recipe is Mary Berry’s, so it’s foolproof, but I have made it gluten-free by substituting the plain flour with half the amount of gluten-free flour and adding some ground almonds to give it body. I have left the brandy out, however, as I feel you don’t necessarily need it. The ground almonds make the sponge very moist already.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g gluten-free plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the mousse & decoration)

  • 300g dark chocolate (no more than 50% cocoa solids)
  • 450ml double cream
  • 225g fresh raspberries
  • edible glitter (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm round srpingform tin and line the bottom and the sides with baking parchment. Leave some extra paper hanging over the top because the cake tin will be filled with the mousse.
  2. To make the chocolate cake, measure the cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk together until it forms a thick paste. Add the rest of the dry ingredients followed by the eggs and butter, then beat well with an electric whisk to combine.
  3. Smooth the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  4. To prepare the mousse, start by roughly breaking up the chocolate and putting it in a large bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water. Ensure the bowl doesn’t touch the water or your chocolate may seize. gently melt the chocolate by stirring it frequently, then set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In another bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form, then gently fold in the chocolate until no streaks are left and you have a homogeneous mixture.
  6. When the cake has cooled (and while it is still in the tin), gently pour the chocolate mousse over the cake and use a palette knife to level the top. Cover the cake with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set (best done overnight).
  7. To decorate the cake, gently peel off the parchment from the sides of the cake once you have removed the outer ring of the tin, then carefully remove the round of baking parchment under the cake, slide the whole dessert onto a serving platter and decorate with raspberries and/or glitter. Enjoy!

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Avocado Brownies

Before you turn away in disappointment, let me tell you straight away these are not green brownies. Yes, they are made with avocados, but their pastel green hue gives way to the dark tones of chocolate and cocoa powder. The avocado itself doesn’t lend too much flavour either. However, these wonderful fruit are full of naturally good fats, mostly monounsaturated, which means they don’t raise ‘bad’ cholesterol levels in your blood, thus reducing the risk of heart diseases. Also, urban legends and tradition have it that dogs who feed off avocados tend to have a very shiny and glossy coats. All the more reason to be eating plenty of these pale emerald green and pear-shaped fruit.

For the purposes of this recipe, avocados fully replace the fats (butter and/or oil), thus making the brownies slightly healthier. Also, seeing as no flour is contemplated in the recipe, by using gluten-free bicarbonate of soda the recipe will also be suitable for those allergic to gluten. The inspiration came to me after seeing Yakumama, a local Latin American street food vendor, was selling avocado brownies at a local foodie event. It didn’t take me long to try and make my own version of this tray bake and I have heavily amended this recipe. Word of advice: these are very fudgy and they need to set in the fridge. Don’t expect a spongy texture but, rather, quite a dense moreish full on chocolate one. You have been warned.

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Ingredients

  • 2 avocados, stoned
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract
  • 85g cocoa powder
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment. Add the water, vanilla and chocolate extracts, and eggs to the bowl of a food processor. Use a teaspoon to scrape the flesh of the avocados into the mixer, then whiz the ingredients together until you get a smooth pale green mixture.
  2. In the meantime, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, then allow to cool slightly. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. Pour the melted chocolate into the bowl of the food processor, then tumble in the dry ingredients. Process until fully combined. You are looking for a dense, cake-like batter.
  4. Transfer the brownie mix to the prepared tin and use a spatula/palette knife to spread it out and smooth the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before transferring to the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.
  5. To serve them, remove the dense cake from the tin and slice it into square with a knife. I served these alongside a white chocolate and Earl Grey tea cream, which complements them quite well. Enjoy!

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Smoky Pea, Cheese and Prosciutto Quiche

I love it when I manage to source Italian ingredients from my local supermarkets. Although I normally shop at Morrison’s (mostly because it is the biggest in town), I sometimes like to browse the shelves at M&S for new and intriguing ingredients. Don’t ask me why, but they seem to very interested in widening the range of food they have on offer. Also, they import quite a lot from Italy. True, the majority of the food you find there is overpriced (£6 for 100g of Gianduiotti, seriously?!?) and please be aware most of these goods are specifically packaged and manufactured for exporting purposes. That said, they seem to be pretty much on the ball in terms of sourcing new ingredients, such as new varieties of oranges, etc.

It was in one of my latest trips to this wonderland that I found a close equivalent to speck. I have talked about this ingredient in previous posts, mostly complaining because I could not find it here. Well, now I can (happy me!). True, it is called ‘smoked prosciutto’ and it’s not the original one, but being as close as it gets, that will do. This is a recipe which I improvised to make good use of it – and what better way than to use it in a quiche? The traditional Quiche Lorraine, after all, also includes lardons, so why not stay more or less on the same theme? I added peas and smoked cheese because I think they work well together, but asparagus or cherry tomatoes would also taste nice.

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, fridge-cold
  • 50g lard, fridge cold
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks (keep one of the whites)
  • 200ml double cream
  • 100ml creme fraiche
  • 2 x 83g smoked prosciutto packets
  • 50g smoked cheese, finely grated
  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. To make the pastry, put the flour and the salt in a large bowl. Cube the fat (butter and lard) and add it to the flour mixture, then use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour until you get a breadcrumb consistency. Don’t overwork the fact or the pastry will be tough, but don’t leave big lumps of fat in the mixture either.
  2. Now add the water. I normally add 4 tbsp icy cold water to the mixture and it works fine every time, but start with 3 and take it from there. Use a round bladed knife to mix the water into the flour mixture and to bring the mixture together. Switch to your hand to briefly work the pastry into a big ball. You are looking for the pastry to be fairly dry and not excessively wet.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, gently press it down so it turns into a rough square and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. After this time has elapsed, remove the pastry from the fridge and use a rolling pin slightly dusted in flour to roll out the pastry on your work surface. Please ensure to lightly flour the rolling pin and the work surface. Don’t flour the pastry or you’ll compromise the balance between flour, fat and water. Roll out the pastry to a round big enough to line a 20cm fluted round tart tin. Gently press the pastry in place and ensure it closely adheres to the fluted edges, then use a knife or run your rolling pin onto the tin to cut the excess pastry overhanging. Working with your fingers, gently press the pastry upwards on the fluted edge so that the pastry comes approximately 2-3mm over the edge of the tin. This way, when you bake it, the pastry has room to shrink.
  5. Prick the tart base with a fork, then chill the pastry case for at least 30 minutes to relax the pastry.
  6. Move on to the filling. If you’re using frozen peas, gently poach them in simmering salted water for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside. In a large frying pan set over high heat, fry approximately half the smoked prosciutto slices until crisp, then set aside to cool. Chop then finely, then combine with the peas and the grated cheese. In a bowl, mix the eggs, egg yolks, double cream and creme fraiche with a pinch of salt and pepper. Go easy with the salt as the prosciutto and the cheese are already quite salted. Combine with the peas, cheese and chopped prosciutto, then set aside.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Slide a flat baking tray in the oven to warm up. Line the pastry case with baking parchment, then fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, then bake for another 10 minutes until the base is fully cooked.
  8. Use a pastry brush to lightly cover the cooked base of the pastry with the egg white, then return to the oven for 3 minutes to cook. This layer will make the pastry waterproof, ensure you get a nice crispy bottom and insulate the pastry from the wet filling.
  9. Lower the oven temperature to 180C. Remove the cooked base from the oven and arrange half of the uncooked slices of smoked prosciutto on the bottom so that they evenly cover it. Pour in the filling, then arrange the remaining slices on top in a pattern you fancy. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown on top and fully cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before removing from the tart case. Slice and enjoy!

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Caribbean Layer Cake

It’s that period of the year when the days have become increasingly shorter (it gets dark by 15:00) and the nights seem to be endless. Winter has arrived and the temperatures have now dropped quite quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I still can’t believe I need to wear my winter coat when I go out and I insist on wearing my trusted leather jacket. Sooner or later, I will have to give up. Either the jacket or my hands. Leeds has now undergone a substantial transformation, mostly dictated by the fact the city has gone Christmas-y (yes, already), the lights have been switched on and the (non)traditional Christmas Market is now proudly erect on Millennium Square. Go at your peril.

For those of you who don’t quite want the summer to end, this is the perfect recipe. The Caribbean twist of the cake is provided by the pineapple jam, the lime juice and the coconut, which permeates the cakes and is also present, albeit in spirit form, in the butter cream. The recipe is Jo Wheatley’s – she was the first ever winner of the Great British Bake Off and is a true talent in the kitchen. The quantities have been amended to create 3 x 20cm sponges. You don’t have to be super retro to serve this, although you could add cocktail umbrellas to each slice, if you don’t think it’s a bit over the top.

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Ingredients (for the sponges)

  • 337g unsalted butter, softened
  • 337g golden caster sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 330g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • splash of milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Ingredients (for the butter cream and the filling)

  • 50g desiccated coconut, toasted in a pan, then cooled
  • 5 tbsp pineapple jam
  • juice 1 lime
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tbsp Malibu (coconut liqueur)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line 3 x 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
  2. If you are using a freestanding mixer, cream the butter and the sugar in the bowl using the paddle attachment. Alternatively, a hand-held mixer or a bowl and wooden spoon would do just fine. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and approximately 20g of the toasted coconut. Add to the batter mixture and fold it in very carefully using a rubber spatula, then add the milk and divide the mixture among the three tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until well risen and golden. A skewer inserted in the middle of the cakes should come out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. To make the icing, pour the Malibu into a small saucepan, the bring to the boil and reduce down to 2 tbsp. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and the icing sugar and mix together with the paddle attachment until thoroughly combined. I usually add the sugar in two batches and cover the whole mixer with a tea towel to avoid turning my kitchen into a complete mess. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, then pour in the hot liqueur with the paddle on low speed and beat well until combined and glossy.
  6. Once your sponges have cooled down completely, mix the pineapple jam with the lime juice in a bowl. To assemble the cake, position the first sponge upside down on a cake platter/base, then cover with half of the jam and sprinkle over some of the desiccated coconut. Top with about 1/3 of the butter cream, then cover with the second sponge and repeat using the remaining pineapple jam. Top the last layer with the remaining butter cream and sprinkle with the remaining toasted coconut. Enjoy!

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Pomegranate and Lime Chiffon Cake

This cake is one of the wonderful creations of Gesine Bullock-Prado, who comes up with hidden design and spectacular cakes in her Bake It Like You Mean It. Originally called ‘Love is patient puzzle cake’, this is no exception. The idea for the cake is to have alternating layers of pomegranate and lime chiffon cakes, sandwiched together with buttercream (the real thing, not butter cream). Then, when your cake would almost be completed, you use a knife to carve out a wedge/cone from the cake and cover the ‘mess’ you have made with another layer. Lastly, you put back the layer you have removed and cover the cake with more buttercream. The result is very pleasant and surprising: it looks like one of the layers naughtily escaped the cake and came back at a later moment.

If you have never made buttercream before, don’t worry. The instructions below are very easy to follow and contain some advice on what to do if it curdles. I understand the idea og tackling a meringue + butter can be daunting, but the result is so much better than the traditional British butter cream and exponentially less gritty. Also, I cut down on the butter in the original because, honestly, 1kg of butter is just wrong. Lastly, I decided to go for a clean finish and not have the outside of the cake covered in crumbs, which I think makes it for a more elegant cake. A simple scattering of pomegranate seeds on top provides for an attractive decoration. The cake is a big one but it needs to be because, frankly, it’d delicious.

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Ingredients (for the pomegranate chiffon cake)

  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 160ml vegetable oil
  • 200ml pomegranate juice
  • red/orange food colouring (optional)
  • 420g plain flour, sifted
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the lime chiffon cake)

  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 160ml vegetable oil
  • 100ml lime juice
  • 100ml water
  • 420g plain flour, sifted
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the buttercream)

  • 600g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 15 egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 500g butter, at room temperature

Method

  1. Start by making the pomegranate chiffon cake. Grease and line the bottom of 2 x 25cm round cake tins with baking parchment – do NOT grease the sides because the cake will need to have something to cling on while rising. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg yolks and oil, then whisk until combined. Slowly add the pomegranate juice and food colouring, is using, then whisk until combined.
  3. In a bowl, sift together the flour, 100g of the sugar, the baking powder and salt, then slowly add the dry mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk on low speed until fully combined.
  4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then whisk on high speed and slowly add the remaining sugar (200g) until stiff, white peaks form. Make sure not to overwhip the egg whites or you won’t be able to fold them in. If you want, you can also whip the egg whites first then set them aside so you don’t need to wash the beaters/whisk attachment to prepare the egg yolks mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture in two additions until fully combined.
  5. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back when you touch it and completely cooked in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before unmoulding it, then set aside and wash the cake pans.
  6. To make the lime chiffon cake, repeat steps 1-5 but add the lime juice and water to the egg yolks rather than the pomegranate juice.
  7. Now, on to the buttercream. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the caster sugar, 240ml of water and the lemon juice. Stir until the sugar is completely saturated so that it looks like wet sand. Place over a medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon/rubber spatula until the sugar has completely dissolved. Stop stirring, increase the heat to high and attach a sugar/candy thermometer to the pan. Heat the mixture to 112C.
  8. In the meantime, in the clean bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a clean whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and salt and whisk on high speed until foamy. When the sugar syrup has come to temperature, decrease the speed to medium and slowly pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high and whisk until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool to the touch. Please use a very big bowl because 15 egg whites make a lot of meringue (I used the 6L one from Kitchen Aid and it was still slightly small).
  9. The meringue needs to be cold or at least at room temperature before you add the butter, otherwise the latter will melt and you will end up with a sweet mess. Therefore, ensure the bowl is definitely cool to the touch before moving on to the next step. Slowly add bits of butter to the meringue, about 2 tbsp at a time. Keep on whisking on medium speed to incorporate it in the meringue, then occasionally switch to high speed for a few seconds to mix it in better. If your mixture starts to curdle, stop the machine/whisk immediately and put the bowl in the fridge for a good 30 minutes. This will harden the butter. After 30 minutes, remove the bowl from the fridge and whisk on high speed to a smooth and fluffy consistency.
  10. To assemble the cake, we need 3 layers of pomegranate and 3 layers of lime chiffon cake. As it stands, you will have two cakes of each kind. Therefore, once the cakes have completely cooled, use a ruler and mark the cake every 12mm from the bottom up. Use a serrated knife to gently slice the cake – please ensure you are cutting horizontally, otherwise the layers will be wonky. You can also resort to marking the cake with toothpicks and placing the blade onto them to act as a guide. Cut each cake into 3 layers, so that you should end up with a whopping 12 layers in total.
  11. You might notice that not all layers are perfect: some might be more frail and broken than others, but that is perfectly fine. Remember, we only need 3 of each to assemble the cake! To start, place a pomegranate layer on a cake board/plate and spread a thin layer of buttercream on top, about 3mm thick. Top with a lime layer, then repeat the buttercream on top. Repeat this process with another pomegranate layer, followed by a lime layer, then another pomegranate on top and make sure to alternate them with buttercream. You have now created a 5-layer cake, which needs to set in order to carry on with the assembling. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to harden.
  12. Remove the cake from the fridge and use a 23cm round plate/disc to mark the top of the cake – you are only making a small indentation around the edge of the guide plate/disc. Remove the circle guide, then place your knife at a 45 degree angle and cut into the layers along the outline you made earlier. You want to take a cone-shaped chunk from the middle of the cake, so keep the knife steady and rotate the cake to obtain and even cone. Lift the cake cone out of the cake and set it aside. You now have a cake with a big cone-shaped crater in front of you.
  13. Coat the inside of the crater with a layer of buttercream, then take the last lime layer and use it to line the inside of the crater. You might need to gently press it down so that it adheres to the inside of the cake. Don’t worry if it cracks, it’s normal – after all, you are forcing cake into an uncomfortable position. Once the layer has adhered to the crater, cover the smaller crater resulting with more buttercream and finally place the cone-shaped cake wedge you cut out before back into the crater. You might need to press it down gently, but do not overdo it or you will break the cake in half. Apply a very thin layer of buttercream all around the cake and on top, then transfer the cake to the fridge to harden for another hour.
  14. Now, onto the final step! Use the remaining buttercream to coat the outside of the cake as evenly as possible and create a smooth, finished layer. Top with some pomegranate seeds (optional) and serve. Enjoy!

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Orange Rice Cake

Imagine rice pudding in cake form. Rather, a very creamy risotto you can slice. Really, there is no other way to describe this rice cake. And by ‘rice cake’ I don’t certainly mean the cardboard-cum-polystyrene small ones people on a diet seem to be swallowing all the time. This is a cake, except instead of flower and butter, the main body is provided by a creamy risotto with the addition of eggs. Rice cake is a traditional dessert in the North of Italy. In fact, it originated in Emilia Romagna, the region I come from. The cake was originally created for the so-called ‘Decorations’ Day’ (Festa degli addobbi), during which the whole town celebrated the 10th anniversary of their parish by decorating their windows with colourful drapes. As with every traditional dessert, there are many variations. This version is from Gennaro Contaldo.

Let me explain a few things. First of all, I know the amount of milk indicated might look like a lot but, believe me, it will boil down and get absorbed by the rice. Also, the final consistency of the rice should be extremely creamy and not stiff or dry. Then, this cake has been flavoured with orange zest, juice and extract. Go for liqueur too if you want to (in fact, the original recipe asked for it). Much in the same way, feel free to leave out the sultanas if you don’t like them. Last piece of advice: use a 25cm springform cake tin. I foolishly started to use a 23cm one, but as the amount of mixture is quite abundant, I wisely transferred everything to a bigger tin. Wise choice. The cake will rise and fall back on itself as it cools down. This is perfectly normal and is due to the presence of egg whites.

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Ingredients

  • 1.7 litres whole milk
  • 300g arborio (risotto) rice
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 orange, zest and juice (roughly 100ml)
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 40g sultanas

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line the bottom of a 25cm springform cake tin with baking parchment, then grease the sides. Set aside.
  2. Place the milk, vanilla extract, sugar and orange zest in a big saucepan, then bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer over a medium heat for about 25-30 minutes. Remember you are looking for a creamy consistency. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the orange juice. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.
  4. Add the yolk and juice mixture to the cooled rice. Slowly fold in the egg whites, the sultanas and the orange extract.
  5. Pour into the greased and lined tin, then bake for 50-60 minutes. You might have to cover the cake with foil midway through baking if the top starts browning too quickly.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar (optional) and enjoy.

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Vegetable Cheesy Tart

Finally (you might think), a savoury recipe! I get the idea to some people I come across as someone who merely feeds off dessert. Let me assure you, that is not the case. It’s widely renowned that I have a (massive) sweet tooth and, to be perfectly honest, desserts appeal to me a lot more than a chicken breast – this sounds wrong on so many levels, but I’ll just carry on. Come think of it, I have two punnets of blueberries in the fridge which I NEED to use. Will have to come up with something quick. Now, back to this recipe. The inspiration comes from Giallo Zafferano, the Italian equivalent, if you want, of the BBC Good Food website. This tart features on the website under the name of ‘Italian rustic tart/pie’ and has a fancy lattice pattern on top. I modified the recipe to suit my needs, but if you want the lattice on top, then by all means do make it.

The filling is encased by a very cheesy crust, made with Parmigiano Reggiano. Please don’t get Parmesan cheese, that tastes nothing like the real thing. I chose a good mature cheddar for the filling, which marries the ricotta and the vegetables beautifully. I also added an egg to the filling to make it set more, you’ll see when you cut it that it is crumbly as it is already. Last note, I added some dried herbs, namely oregano and sage, to boost the earthy and rustic feeling of the tart – once again, if you have fresh herbs, then don’t be scared to use them. The quantities indicated below make enough pastry and filling to line two tins. Depending on how deep your tins are, I managed to make two tarts using a deep 20cm fluted tin and a 10x25cm rectangular fluted tin.

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Ingredients (for the cheese shortcrust pastry)

  • 200g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 400g plain flour
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 4-5 tbsp water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • 200g carrots, finely diced
  • 200g courgettes, finely diced
  • 350g asparagus
  • 400g ricotta
  • 100g mature cheddar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 100g black olives, drained and sliced
  • olive oil
  • pepper

Method

  1. To make the shortcrust pastry, tip the flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor and process until thoroughly blended and the consistency of bread crumbs. If you prefer, you can also do this by hand by rubbing the flour and cheese mixture into the butter. With the motor running, slowly start adding the water, one tablespoon at a time. Check your pastry before adding more as it will start to clump together when it’s ready.
  2. Tip it out of the food processor and gently knead for a couple of minutes to bring the whole pastry together. Shape in a ball, flatten to a disc, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 1 hour to relax.
  3. In the meantime, start making the filling. Blanch the asparagus in a pan of boiling water, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Slice in rounds, then set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  4. Ensure the courgettes and carrots are finely diced, then tip them in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and the garlic, then gently cook over a medium heat until still crunchy but slightly softened. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the peas and the asparagus, then season with pepper and some salt (be stingy with salt as there is more cheese coming later). Set aside.
  5. Drain the ricotta in a sieve to get rid of the excessive moisture. Dice the mature cheddar cheese finely, then add them to the ricotta together with the egg, herbs, milk, olive slices and some pepper. Mix together, then add to the cooled vegetable mixture.
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge, then roll out half to line a 20cm fluted tart tin. Make sure you push the pastry into the edges, then roll a rolling pin over the top to cut off the excessive pastry and use your fingers to push the pastry slightly above the edge of the tin. This way, when the pastry cooks, it will shrink back to the level of the tin and you won’t end up with no pastry left. Small note: I usually chill the pastry case for another 30 minutes once I rolled out the pastry and before I blind bake it. This ensures the pastry doesn’t shrink as much as you give the gluten in the pastry time to relax again in the oven.
  7. Prick the base of the pastry case with a fork, then blind bake it using the required beans/weighs for 20 minutes. Remove the beans/weighs and return to the oven for another 7 minutes, to cook the base.
  8. Spread enough filling into the pastry case to reach the edges, then bake for a further hour. Keep an eye on the tart and check it regularly to ensure the top is not burning. When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring onto a serving dish.

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Triple Layered Carrot Cake with Orange Cheese Frosting

Has it ever happened to you to see a recipe or a dish made somewhere, whether online, on TV or in a restaurant, and to desperately want to make it at home? Well, this is the story behind this recipe. Jo Pratt made it on Perfect… and it hit me immediately because, let’s be honest, it’s very impressive. A carrot cake on three layers of thick sponge with a creamy zesty filling and caramelised pecans on top? I’m very easy to convince. The thing is, it took me an entire afternoon scavenging the Internet to actually find the recipe. As always, I only vaguely remembered where and when I’d seen it and the world wide web is full of carrot cake recipes. Anyway, this is a very indulgent, spicy and comforting one, which promises to be a showstopper if you have people for dinner or simply as a centerpiece.

A couple of recommendations. First of all, grate your carrots by hand using a grater. I’m all for simplicity in the kitchen, but if you use a food processor it means you’ll have more washing up to do and your carrots will also end up being more damp and wet. Stick to the old method, trust me. Secondly, this recipe is highly customisable. In fact, the one below is not the original one you can find online. If you don’t like the caramel on top (my partner didn’t), then simply swap it for toasted pecans/walnuts/hazelnuts or choose a topping of your choice. You can also change the spices in the cake. My best friend will probably try and replicate this in Italy, where you can’t get allspice: you can use clove instead. Lastly, weigh your carrots before you peel them and average by excess. If you end up with more carrots than necessary it’s not the end of the world.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 300ml flavourless vegetable oil (sunflower, not olive oil)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 345 wholemeal plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each of ground ginger, allspice and ground clove
  • 150g sultanas
  • 400g carrots, grated
  • 50g desiccated coconut

Ingredients (for the orange cheese frosting)

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey (optional)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp orange essence or liqueur

Ingredients (for the pecan topping)

  • 100g pecans
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 75g caster sugar

Method

  1. Grease and line 3 x 20cm sandwich tins and pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl or a freestanding mixer, whisk the eggs, light brown sugar, golden syrup and oil together for a good 5 minutes on high speed, until light, fluffy and pale in colour.
  3. In a bowl, mix all of the other ingredients together. Once the egg and sugar mixture is ready, fold in the rest of the ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. Don’t be over concerned about knocking the air out. The cake contains plenty of raising agents anyway and the sponges will turn out just fine.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly in the three tins, smooth out the top surface, then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check with a skewer for doneness before removing the sponges and allowing them to cool completely on a cake rack.
  5. While the sponges are cooling, make the caramelised pecans. Toss the nuts with the sugar and the allspice in a shallow non-stick pan, then place over high heat and cook, tossing frequently, until the sugar has caramelised. Tumble on a tray lined with oil baking parchment or a silicone mat, then leave to cool completely. When cold, use a knife to break the brittle into rough pieces.
  6. Wait until the sponges are ready to assemble to make the orange cheese frosting. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, add the softened butter, the cream cheese and the orange zest, then beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until creamy and combined. Add the icing sugar in two batches, mixing carefully on medium speed to incorporate it all. You can add the honey in between the two batches, but make sure you do add the orange essence or liqueur then. Give the mixture a final beating to make it into a smooth, creamy and fluffy icing.
  7. To assemble the cake, position the first of your sponges upside down on your cake board or serving platter, the cover the flat surface only with a third of the orange cheese frosting. Repeat with the two remaining sponges and the rest of the icing, then top with the caramelised pecans.

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Szarlotka (Polish Apple Pie)

A traditional apple pie the Polish way. This is a very warm and wintery dish and, in comparison to its American cousin, the dough is also made in a different way. First you make the base, then you scatter it with apple slices and then, and here comes the funny part, you grate the rest of the dough on top. Yes, you read correctly. This ensures the lid of the pie, if you wish, is very crunchy and has a squiggly look as well, which I find very appealing. The recipe is by Polish home cook and food blogger Ren Behan and was featured in the January issue of the BBC Good Food magazine.

There’s something so homely and warming about Polish cooking which reminds me of the Italian culinary tradition. The kitchen really is put at the heart of the family and this is evident even in the food itself. Plenty is an option here, as this makes a huge cake. Also be careful to stick to the advised chilling time (if not to prolong them), otherwise you will end up with a big mush on top. This cake is best enjoyed with some whipped cream, but I bet it still tastes amazing even if paired with some vanilla ice-cream. Must try!

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Ingredients

  • 6 large Bramley apples
  • 4 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 200g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 tsb vanilla extract

Method

  1. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular tin (or equivalent). Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Start with the filling. Zest the half lemon and put it aside for the dough. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples, then drizzle them with the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add to a large pan, then tumble in the sugar, cinnamon and 200ml water. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, then take off the heat and leave to cool in the liquid.
  3. To make the dough, you can either use the food processor (easier and faster) or do it by hand. If you’re doing it by hand, crush the butter pieces in the flour, then add the rest of the ingredients. Otherwise, put the flour and baking powder in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and mix again until the mixture is sandy. Add the sugar, lemon zest, egg yolks and egg, yogurt and vanilla extract, then mix to combine again. Tip it onto a lightly floured surface, then bring together to form a ball.
  4. Cut the dough in half. Wrap one half in cling film and put it in the freezer for at least 1 hour. Use the other half to cover the base of the previously lined baking tin, using your hands to squish it into place and cover any cracks which form in the dough. Try to ensure the surface is smooth, then cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for a good 40 minutes.
  5. When you’re ready to bake it, remove from the fridge, prick the base with a fork and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
  6. Remove the dough half from the freezer, then grate it coarsely (much in the same way as you would do with cheese). Sppon the filling and half of its cooking liquid onto the cooled base, then top with the grated dough. Try not to press it in place but, rather, scatter it. Bake it for 40-45 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack before unmoulding. Enjoy!

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