Celebratory Chocolate, Caramel and Mango Layer Cake

When I think of a showstopper, this is probably the cake I have in mind. With its 4 sponge layers, each with a varying intensity of caramel and chocolate, chocolate ganache coating, choux buns filled with cream and mango custard and meringues on top, you could hardly envisage such a cake for a non-celebratory occasion. The truth is, however, that as difficult, complicated and lengthy as it may look, this cake is in fact pretty easy to make. Ok, maybe not easy, but straightforward is the word here. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. As it says on the tin, there are a lot of stages required here. Just make sure you read the whole recipe first and only then start making it. Believe me, you will love it.

The recipe for the cake appeared a while ago on a BBC Good Food magazine. I have saved it and keep on using time and time again, with minor tweaks here and there, as it’s such an easy and delicious one. The sponges are very moist thanks to the addition of natural yoghurt and the dramatic effect is ensured when you cut through the whole cake to reveal sponges of different colours. This time, seeing as I was making this cake for a birthday, I decided to push the boat out and top it with choux buns and meringues. Mango, caramel and chocolate go surprisingly well together, and the subtle acidity of the custard cuts through the richness of the cake beautifully.

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Ingredients (for the vanilla and chocolate sponges)

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Ingredients (for the caramel and chocolate & caramel sponges)

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 140g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 140g milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 300ml double cream

Ingredients (for the choux pastry)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175ml water
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the mango custard)

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 40g cornflour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 whole mango
  • 1/2 lime, juice only
  • 2 gelatine leaves

Ingredients (for the meringues)

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • orange food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (to assemble the cake)

  • 1 x 397g can of caramel (Carnation is a good brand)
  • 300ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks
  • 60g dark and milk chocolate, melted over a bain marie
  • Chocolate sprinkles, optional

Method

  1. First of all, start with the mango custard as it will need some time to set in the fridge. Peel and stone the mango, then transfer the flesh to a food processor with the lime juice and purée until smooth. In the meantime, heat the milk and the vanilla in a saucepan over a medium heat. Mix the caster sugar with the cornflour to disperse the latter evenly, then transfer to a heatproof bowl, add the egg yolks and whisk until fully combined and slightly paler in colour.
  2. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. In the meantime, transfer the mango purée to a small saucepan on gentle heat and bring to the boil, then reduce by approximately half. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Once the milk has come to the boil, remove from the heat and, whisking continuously, slowly pour onto the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Make sure to scrape the sides, then gently pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Make sure the heat under the saucepan is not too high or the eggs will scramble and, most importantly, stir the custard constantly until nicely thickened. You will be able to tell because the custard will cover the back of a spoon and small ridges will form when you stir it.
  4. Transfer the reduced mango purée to the saucepan with the custard and mix to combine. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove excess water, then add to the hot mixture and stir to dissolve. Transfer the mango custard to a heatproof bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool before putting in the fridge for a good 5 hours.
  5. Now, moving on to the sponges. Start with the vanilla and chocolate one, so as to get the hang of it. Grease the bottom and sides and line the bottom of 2 x 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).
  6. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer equipped with the paddle attachment or in a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until slightly paler in colour and fully combined. Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla bean paste too. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, then add to the bowl while mixing on low speed. Finally, add the yoghurt and mix well to combine. The mixture should be very creamy and full of volume.
  7. Divide the mixture into two, pouring half into one of the prepared tins (this will be the vanilla sponge). Pour the other half into a bowl, then sprinkle in the cocoa powder and mix well to combine with a rubber spatula, ensuring not to knock all of the air out of the sponge. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the other prepared tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, but do check them after 20 minutes to ensure they don’t overbake. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.
  8. To make the caramel and chocolate & caramel sponges, prepare 2 more tins as outlined above. Cream the butter and sugars together, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then add them, together with the vanilla bean paste, to the remaining mixture. Pour in the natural yoghurt, then mix well to combine. Pour half of the mixture into one of the prepared tins, then add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture, gently fold it in and transfer to the other cake tin. Bake as above, then set on a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. To make the choux pastry, combine the butter, water and salt into a saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat and tumble in the flour. Use a wooden spoon to combine the pastry – don’t worry, it will look lumpy, but persist and you will be fine. Put the saucepan back on the heat to dry the pastry out. You are ready to go when the lump of pastry easily comes together and stays together, stops sticking to the sides and leaves a coating on the bottom of the saucepan. Transfer the warm lump of pastry to a heatproof bowl, flatten it out slightly with the back of the wooden spoon and leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (or silicone mats).
  10. To make it easier, transfer the eggs to a jug. When the pastry has cooled down (you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs), start adding a little bit of the eggs, then mix really well with the wooden spoon after each addition. As before, do not be put off by the way the pastry look. Continue adding eggs, a little at a time, and mixing well. You are aiming for a silky yet somewhat solid consistency. There are several ways to test the pastry: when you gather some on the wooden spoon then tilt the latter, the pastry should slowly fall back into the bowl leaving a triangular-shaped trail on the spoon; also, if you trace a line in the bowl, the pastry should divide evenly and keep the trail, not fall back on itself, etc.
  11. Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a plain round nozzle, then pipe even round mounds on the baking trays. I opted for two different sizes (one slightly bigger than the other) to add a dramatic effect to the cake. Bake for 30 minutes without ever opening the door to check on them, by which time they will be golden and puffed up. Quickly remove from the oven, make a small hole in the base or on the sides to let the steam escape, then put back in the oven to crisp up for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  12. Cool the oven down to 130°C (110°C fan) to bake the meringues. To make them, in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until frothy. In a separate bowl, combine the caster sugar and cream of tartar, then increase the speed to high and slowly add the sugar mixture, one tablespoon at a time, until you get a very glossy and stiff mixture.
  13. Prepare the piping bag by adding a star nozzle at the end and using some orange food colouring to drag some lines on the inside of the bag (I used a toothpick, but a small brush is also fine). When ready, transfer the meringue mixture to the piping bag, then pipe small meringues (again, I went for two different sizes) on previously lined baking trays. Bake for 2 hours or until crisp. When done, turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool inside the oven with the door ajar.
  14. To assemble the cake, start by making the chocolate ganache. Transfer the chopped chocolate to a heatproof bowl, then pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Transfer the hot cream to the chocolate, then mix to combine until smooth. Place in the fridge to set, mixing occasionally, while you assemble the sponge layers.
  15. Place a small dollop of caramel on the cake board/base/platter you will use to build the cake on. Gently peel the parchment off the back of the vanilla sponge, then place it upside down on the cake board. Use 1/3 of the caramel to cover the cake and spread it around using an offset spatula. Top with the vanilla & caramel sponge, cover with half of the remaining caramel, then top with the caramel & chocolate sponge, the remaining caramel and, finally, the chocolate sponge.
  16. Once the ganache has more or less set (but is still of a spreadable consistency), use it to cover the top and the sides of the cake and give it a smooth or a rough finish according to preference. Place in the fridge to harden while you get on with the decorations.
  17. In a bowl, combine the whipped cream with some of the mango custard, then fill a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle and use it to fill the choux buns. For reasons of practicality, I decided to fill the small ones with the mango custard alone, thus leaving me with leftover whipped cream.
  18. When you are ready to proceed, take the cake out of the fridge. Spread some of the melted chocolate on the bottom of each choux bun, then gently pile them up on top of the cake and down the sides. Repeat with the meringues, ensuring there is a good proportion of them all around the cake. I shall leave it the final design up to you.
  19. Use the remaining melted chocolate to drizzle on top of the cake, then decorate, if you so wish, with some of the mango custard (also drizzled over) and chocolate sprinkles. Enjoy!

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Summer Berries and Custard Tart

In case you hadn’t noticed, summer has begun! And yes, you would be excused for not realising seeing as I am currently writing this blog post in my flat and when I cast my gaze outside the weather is simply horrible. Truth be told, we had some nice weather recently, although I keep on repeating myself I shouldn’t be expecting too much from the North of the UK. Anyway, despite the weather and what not, we should still celebrate the beginning of summer. In my opinion, nothing beats a dessert with an abundance of sweet and ripe berries.

This recipe is freely inspired from one which appeared in a summer issue of the Feel Good Good magazine. I like keeping old magazines, I stack them on my shelves in chronological order (I have a bit of an OCD, I’ll have you know) and use them as reference material when I am stuck for ideas or need pointers to prepare my weekly shopping list. I used blueberries and raspberries in this tart, but you can swap these for any other berries you might like. Also, I kept the custard quite plain, but you could look into flavouring it with lemon, orange… you get the gist. This tart is best served slightly chilled, so the custard will not risk oozing out everywhere.

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Ingredients (for the sweet shortcrust pastry)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tbsp cold water

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 35g custard powder (or cornflour/flour)
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 300ml full fat milk
  • 200ml double cream

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 250g blueberries
  • 150g raspberries
  • 2 tbsp berry jam (I used cherry and berries)
  • 1/2 lemon, zest only
  • some mint leaves (optional)

Method

  1. Start by making the pastry. You can do this in a food processor, but for such a small amount I usually tend to avoid using the heavy machinery and rely on my hands and a glass bowl. Pour in the flour, icing sugar, salt and butter, then use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour mixture, stopping only when you get to a sandy consistency and the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
  2. Pour in the yolk mixture, keeping about 1 tsp back. Use a knife to move the mixture around and start to combine it, then use your hands to bring the pastry together. Only add the remaining yolk and water mixture if the pastry looks too wet. Use the pastry block to clean the bowl and soak up all of the crumbs, then shape into a flat square (easier to roll if using a long rectangular tin like I did), wrap it in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  3. In the meantime, move on to the custard. In a saucepan over a medium heat, mix the milk with the vanilla bean paste, then bring to a gentle simmer. In a glass bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, custard powder (or cornstarch/flour). Whisk these ingredients together until the mixture is free of lumps, then remove the milk from the heat and gently pour into the yolk mixture, stirring constantly.
  4. Pour the liquid custard back into the pan and place it over a medium-to-low heat, stirring constantly. Use a balloon whisk or a wooden spoon to judge the consistency of the custard – it is ready when it easily covers the back of a spoon and it has thickened considerably. Pour into a heatproof bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool before putting it into the fridge to set completely.
  5. Back to the pastry. Remove it from the fridge and unwrap it. Dust your surface and rolling pin with some flour, then roll the pastry out to a large rectangle to match the tin (mine is 9.5 x 32cm). Gently lift the pastry and lay it in the fluted tin, pressing it down to make it adhere to the case. Trim the excess pastry with a knife, then go around the edge and gently press the pastry upwards to make it fall into place, keep the fluted edge and make the pastry stretch a little above the edges. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
  6. Once the time has elapsed, preheat the oven to 160°C and place a flat baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up. Remove the pastry case from the fridge, use a fork to prick the base at regular intervals, then line the inside of the tin with baking parchment and cover with baking beans, pressing them down and ensuring they cover the whole surface evenly. Blind bake the pastry case for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans and baking parchment and bake for another 15 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and feels cooked to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  7. To finish the custard, remove it from the fridge. Whip the cream to soft peaks in another bowl, then gently fold it in the custard, mixing well to ensure there are no lumps. Put the mixture back in the fridge until it is time to use it.
  8. To assemble the tart, pour the custard mixture into the pastry case until it fills it completely. Wash the berries, then scatter them on top the way you prefer. Warm the chosen jam in a small saucepan until it becomes liquid, then drizzle it on top. I like to fill any raspberries too. Scatter with the lemon zest and arrange the mint leaves on top. For an extra touch of sweetness, you could also dust the tart with some icing sugar (optional). 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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Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat

We Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a joy to watch, both for the eyes and the senses. The meekness of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, located somewhere in the Alps and ravaged by war and poverty, is set against the grandeur of the equally fictional Grand Budapest Hotel, the place to be if you had some cash back in the 1900s. The plot follows the misadventures of Gustave, the first ever concierge of the popular hotel, as he trains the future owner of the hotel, Zero, who starts his career as a bellboy. The cast is exceptional, with Ralph Fiennes playing the leading role and rendering a magnificent (and very camp) Monsieur Gustave. The film also features its own pastry, local pastry chef Mendel’s Courtesan au Chocolat which, much in the same way as the rest of movie, is the result of a very vivid imagination.

The dessert, which looks very similar to a religieuse, consists of three choux buns filled with chocolate pastry cream, decorated with pastel-coloured icing sugar and butter cream and topped with a coffee bean. If you are interested in what is claimed to be the original recipe, here is an article fully dedicated to it. It looks impressive and, believe me, it is. As complicated as it might look, however, it isn’t. Once you have made your choux buns and have filled them, it’s just a simple assembling job. The recipe below is my take on Mendel’s Courtesan. I started off by following the recipe in the article above, then decided to make it my own. The quantities below make 6 whole desserts, plus you’ll have extra choux buns in case some of them don’t come out as planned. The whole recipe takes about 2 hours to make (although I suggest you make the pastry cream the night before), so don’t panic and get baking!

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Ingredients (for the choux buns)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 175ml water
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the chocolate pastry cream)

  • 300ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 60g golden caster sugar
  • 25g dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp corn flour
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 sheet of gelatine

Ingredients (for the icing and butter icing)

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar, for the butter icing
  • 2 tsp whole milk
  • 500ml double cream
  • 3 x 100g icing sugar, one for each colour + extra milk
  • violet, pink, green and blue food colouring

Method

  1. To make the choux buns, start by putting the water, salt and butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Melt the butter and bring to the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. It will look like a lumpy mess, but that is perfectly fine.
  2. Put the saucepan back over a low heat and slowly dry out the lump of pastry with a wooden spoon. Keep on cooking the pastry until it easily comes off the sides of the pan and it forms a cohesive lump of dough. Transfer to a big glass bowl and leave to cool slightly. Pre-heat the oven to 200C and line two baking trays.
  3. Once the dough has cooled to slightly below body temperature, start adding the eggs, beating them into the pastry one by one with a wooden spoon. Be confident the pastry will eventually come together and keep on beating with the spoon. The consistency you are looking for is soft but holding, so that if forms a beak when it falls off the spoon.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe mounds in three sizes. As a guide, the bigger ones should be about 5-6cm in diameter and about 3 in height, then you will need some medium ones and some small ones. Use all of the choux dough you have and remember you need at least 6 buns per size. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven, make a small indentation on the bottom of the choux buns with a sharp knife and put them back in for another 5 minutes to dry out. Leave to cool on the side.
  5. To make the chocolate pastry cream, slowly heat the milk in a saucepan with the dark chocolate pieces. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, flour, corn flour and cocoa powder until pale and frothy. When the milk has come to a boil, slowly pour it onto the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan, then heat over a medium heat to cook the flour off. Keep on whisking as the mixture will thicken very quickly.
  6. In the meantime, soak the gelatine leaf in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes, then add it to the cooked pastry cream. Whisk until smooth. At this point, you can also add liqueur or chocolate flavouring, if you like. Cover the pastry cream with a sheet of clingfilm and leave to cool completely on the side.
  7. To assemble the dessert, make some butter icing by mixing the softened butter with the icing sugar. Add the milk to soften the mixture, then beat until fluffy and pale. Divide the mixture in two, then add the blue food colouring to one half. Transfer the two mixtures, the white and the blue one, into two piping bags fitted with a small star nozzle.
  8. In three bowls, make the icing mixtures to decorate the choux buns. Mix each batch of icing sugar with 2-3 tsp milk and the pink, violet and green food colouring. You are aiming for a thick but glossy paste to cover the choux buns, but try not to make too liquid or it will run off the buns. Whip the double cream with 2 tbsp icing sugar and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle. Using a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle, pipe the chocolate pastry cream in the middle buns, then pipe the whipped cream in the big and small ones. Now you are ready to assemble.
  9. To assemble the courtesans, dip the biggest buns in the pink icing paste, the medium ones in the green one and the small ones in the violet mixture. Position the biggest choux buns on a serving plate, then pipe a small mound of plain butter icing on top. Place the medium choux bun onto the bigger one, using the butter icing to stick them together. Repeat by piping some more plain butter icing on top of the medium bun, then position the small one on top.
  10. Use the blue butter icing to cover the joints by piping small star-shaped collars all around the base of each bun, when it joins the following one. Pipe the remaining double cream in a star-shaped pattern at the base of the biggest choux bun. Leave to harden slightly, then serve and enjoy.

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Paris Brest version Conticini

Philippe Conticini is an award-winning French master of patisserie. A creative genius, the New York times once wrote that “Every time you feel you’ve figured out what he’s thinking, he is way ahead of you.” In the 80s, he revolutionized patisserie by using salt and spices, but other inventions include the pastries in glasses (the so-called verrines) and the de-contextualization of desserts from horizontal to vertical (think millefeuilles, to give you a for instance). A constant innovator, he is always on the lookout to recreate traditional French dessert with a modern and own twist, such as this Paris Brest. This pastry dessert was created in 1981 to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. It comprises a wheel-shaped ring made of choux pastry which is usually filled with cream and praliné, a hazelnut paste.

Conticini’s revolutionary idea was to keep the choux and the praliné components of the dessert, but to turn a wheel into a chain of choux buns, which get extra crunch and texture from the addition of craquelin, a sugary and buttery paste added on top of the choux buns before they are baked to create an even layer of crunchy goodness. The craquelin, in addition to adding texture to the pastry, also ensures an even rise. This recipe was also featured in the finale of the French edition of the GBBO (Le meilleur patissier). I suppose you can buy good quality praliné either online or from specialist shops, but I decided to make my own. Alternatively, you can use any hazelnut paste/spread (Nutella, to name one), but remember those also contain cocoa powder and plenty of other fats – not that this ever scared me. Making your own praliné is extremely easy and only requires the help of a sturdy food processor. The sugar and the natural oils contained in the nuts will do the rest. Last but not least, if you understand French, you can have a look at the tutorial for this recipe here. Hope you enjoy it!

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HOW TO MAKE HOME-MADE PRALINÉ

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Ingredients

  • 125g hazelnuts
  • 125g almonds with the skin on
  • 165g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 45g water

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 165C. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and roast for 20 minutes. Roasting the nuts ensures a deeper flavour and allows to remove their papery skins.
  2. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Take the hazelnuts only and place them inside a towel, then wrap it around them and gently rub them together for a good 2 minutes. This will allow you to remove and detach their skins, which will be left in the towel. Alternatively, take the hazelnuts in your hands and rub them or do it one by one. Either way, discard the skins and put the now peeled hazelnuts together with the almonds.
  3. Pour the sugar, vanilla bean paste and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until the mixture boils. Boil it until it reach 120C (use a sugar thermometer).
  4. Remove from the heat and add the nuts, then use a wooden spoon to mix them in. The sugar syrup will seize and crystallize – don’t worry, this is normal. Put the pan back on the heat over a very low heat and leave the sugar to melt again until it turns a dark amber colour.
  5. Remove from the heat and pour the caramel and nuts onto a baking tray lined with oiled baking parchment or a silicon mat. Leave to cool for 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a food processor equipped with the blade attachment, then process it until it first turns into a sugary powder and then, little by little, it starts to clump together. Keep on processing until you obtain a fairly smooth paste, then remove from the food processor and transfer to a bowl. If the mixture looks too brittle and powdery at first, keep on processing. The nuts will start to yield their natural oil which will turn the powder into a paste.

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HOW TO MAKE THE PARIS BREST VERSION CONTICINI

First of all, we start with the craquelin.

Ingredients

  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or even by hand in a normal bowl), mix the unsalted butter with the rest of the ingredients to obtain a smooth dough-like consistency, then remove from the bowl and place between two sheets of baking parchment.
  2. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to 3mm thick. Remove the top baking parchment sheet and use a 3-4cm round cutter to impress round shapes on top of the craquelin, then cover with the second sheet of baking parchment and put in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

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Then, we move on to the crème mousseline au praliné

Ingredients

  • 250ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 10g plain flour
  • 10g corn flour
  • 2 medium egg yolks
  • 75g praliné

Method

  1. Sift the flour and the cornstarch together.
  2. In a bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, then add the flour mixture and mix that in too.
  3. In a saucepan, combine the milk and the vanilla bean paste, then bring the milk to the boil. While still mixing, trickle the milk into the egg yolk mixture, then combine and transfer back on to the heat.
  4. Mix with a balloon whisk for about one minute, by which point the mixture will have thickened nicely. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a shallow tray, then cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to cool completely.
  5. Once your custard has completely cooled, cream the butter with a whisk or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, then add the praliné and, tablespoon by tablespoon, the custard. Mix over medium speed until the mixture is combined and fluffy.
  6. Transfer to a piping bag with a plain round nozzle.

Last, but not least, let’s make the choux buns.

Ingredients

  • 125g water
  • 80g plain flour
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 2g salt
  • 2g caster sugar
  • 125g whole eggs, lightly beaten (measure without the shells!)

Method

  1. In a saucepan, combine the water, salt, sugar and butter, then bring the mixture to the boil but ensure the butter has completely melted.
  2. Take the pan off the heat, then add the flour all at once. Use a wooden spoon to combine the mixture, which will look like a messy lump. That is normal. Put back over medium heat and dry the mixture by beating it with the wooden spoon until the mixture come well together into a big ball and it leaves a slight layer of dough at the bottom. Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with a paddle attachment.
  3. Leave the mixture to cool slightly, then start beating it on medium speed. Slowly start adding the eggs two tablespoons at the time and wait until the mixture is fully combined before adding the next lot. Once you have used all of the eggs, the mixture should be thoroughly combined and it should create a trail once you lift the beater. Also, if you were to draw a line in the middle, the mixture should keep the line and not close on itself very quickly.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a plain nozzle.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line a big baking tray with parchment.
  6. Use the piping bag to pipe 4 blobs of choux pastry on the parchment where the 4 corners of a 20cm square should be. Turn the baking parchment 90 degrees and repeat the process, piping in the middle of the already piped blobs. Use the rest of the mixture to fill the buns if they look small, they should be approximately 4cm in diameter, all equal and touching.
  7. Remove the craquelin sheet from the freezer and detach the rounds you had pre-cut. Arrange on the piped choux buns, then transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

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To assemble and fill the Paris Brest

Use a serrated knife to cut the crown-shaped choux buns in halves, making sure not to damage the circular structure. Remove the top and set aside.

In a bowl, combine 100g praliné with 50g double cream. I also added 1 tbsp Nutella, but that was a personal choice more than anything else. Transfer this mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.

Now, pipe a good dollop of the crème mousseline inside each choux bun, then top with one eighth of the praliné and top with more crème mousseline. Cover the crown with the top, then dust in icing sugar and serve. Best eaten on the same day.

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Pistachio Cups with Berries and Yogurt

The inspiration for this recipe comes from Sugar and Spice: Sweets and Treats from Around the World by Gaitrich Pagrach-Chandra. This was the Christmas present from a very good friend and I have already successfully tried a couple of things off this wonderful book. These, in particular, are presented in the book with a mango shrikhand as the filling. However, after trying them that way and deeming them too sweet, I slightly adapted the recipe and topped them with an apricot half instead, much to the delight of my workmates in the office.

This time, I decided to shake things a little bit. Using yogurt as a filling is a great idea, especially because it’s not as fat as double cream and if you use extra thick Greek yogurt then you can play with textures too. In this case, I swirled it with a homemade berry compote and piped it in the pistachio cups. On that note, I had never thought about changing the way I make pastry. This is a real revelation to me: the addition of nuts to the shells makes them extremely crispy and crunchy, not to mention they pack a punch in terms of flavour! Shame the pistachios’ emerald green colour does not come through after baking, but one cannot ask for too much I guess. Try the pastry with different nuts too and be creative with the filling. This recipe is extremely versatile!

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Ingredients (for the pastry cups)

  • 100g pistachios, very finely ground (but almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc. are also good choices)
  • 115g plain flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g chilled butter, cubed
  • scant 2 tbsp beaten egg

Method 

  1. If using a food processor to grind the nuts, add the dry ingredients to the nuts and pulse again until well combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, then transfer to a large bowl.
  2. If doing it by hand, mix the dry ingredients before rubbing in the butter with your fingertips until you get the same texture.
  3. Add enough beaten egg to moisten the dry ingredients and knead lightly in the bowl to form a dough. Use the egg sparingly, as there is not much flour to absorb it.
  4. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill until it firms up enough to roll.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out to the thickness of just under 3mm, then cut out 12 circles with a plain 10cm cutter, re-rolling the trimmings as necessary.
  7. Line the muffin tin neatly with the pastry, pressing it against the sides and ensuring that it comes all the way to the top of each cavity. Chill again for 30 minutes or put in the freezer for about 7 minutes.
  8. Place a paper case on top of each pastry shell and fill with baking beans, dried beans or rice. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the paper cases and weights and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through. Twist the pastry shells free after a few minutes and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  9. Store in an airtight container at cool room temperature for a few days, or freeze for up to a month.

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Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g white chocolate, melted
  • 300g blueberries
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 2 tbsp Chambord
  • 1/2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 75g sugar
  • 300g thick Greek yogurt
  • 30g pistachios, finely chopped

Method

  1. First prepare the berry compote. Put the blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan and cook with the lid on for about 20 minutes over low heat. You want the blueberries to burst completely and the juice at the bottom of the saucepan to become dark red.
  2. Remove the lid and add the Chambord and the redcurrant jelly, then mix well to combine and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  3. Pass the compote through a fine sieve and use a spoon or a rubber spatula to extract as much juice as possible from the blueberries. Return the liquid to the saucepan.
  4. Mix the cornflour with 1/2 tbsp water, then add to the berry juice. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then transfer to a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Chill until needed.
  5. Retrieve the baked pistachio cups and, using a teaspoon, spread some white chocolate on the inside. Ensure to cover well the sides too, as the chocolate will prevent the yogurt from seeping into the pastry and making it soggy once assembled. Set aside until cooled and completely set.
  6. Once your compote is thoroughly chilled, pour it into a big bowl, then dollop the Greek yogurt on top. With a few swift movements, roughly mix the two together, although you do want to clearly see the two ingredients and a few streaks are more than welcome. Transfer the whole mixture to a piping bag with a star nozzle.
  7. Gently pipe some filling inside each pistachio cups. You can choose to go for a fancy design or keep it simple, that’s up to you. As you haven’t mixed the berry compote and the yogurt completely, you will obtain a nice swirled and speckled effect.
  8. Top with some chopped pistachios and refrigerate until needed.

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Custard Tarts

In my attempt to try and give a go to all desserts and bake-related goods, I decided to go for a very traditional British recipe: the custard tart. Very few of you might know, indeed, that custard tarts

have a long history in Britain, and were served at the Medieval table where they were know as doucets or darioles. Henry IV had a doucet at his coronation banquet in 1399. Doucets could include meat ingredients such as pork mince or beef marrow, but they were always filled with a sweet custard. The Medieval cook may have used almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Almond milk was a rather expensive alternative, but suited the wealthy whom consumed it on ‘fast’ days, when rich dairy products were not permitted. Almond milk was an infusion of blanched, ground almonds and either syrup, water, or water and wine. (from Baking for Britain)

The recipe below is Paul Hollywood’s and was given to the GBBO bakers this year as a technical challenge. I found the pastry too wet to work with, so I strongly advise you to check whether it is dry enough and, in case, add a tad bit more of flour. This will save you having to heavily dust your work surface with flour to roll it out.

Also, please make this by hand. It’s not a huge quantity, but sweet pastries should be made by hand and not in a food processor (or in a freestanding mixer) in order not to develop the gluten in the flour. If you want to, you could mix the flour and the butter in the food processor, but please make sure the following steps are done by hand.

Last note. I have halved the quantities indicated for the custard. Using a normal 12-hole muffin tin I had more than half of the custard leftover…

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 165g plain flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 120g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 350ml full-fat milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 45g caster sugar
  • ground nutmeg

Method

  1. To make the pastry, stir the flour and ground almonds together in a large bowl, then add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Break in the egg and work it into the mixture with your fingers, bringing it together to form a soft dough.
  2. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Flatten with your fingers to a disc and wrap in cling film. Leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  4. Roll out the sweet pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Using an 11cm fluted cutter, cut out twelve discs and line the muffin tray moulds with the pastry circle.
  5. For the custard filling, warm the milk in a saucepan, and beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a separate bowl until pale and creamy. Pour the milk onto the egg yolk mixture and stir well, creating little bubbles. Transfer the custard mixture into a pouring jug with a lip, then fill each of the tart cases. Sprinkle a small pinch of ground nutmeg into the middle of each tart.
  6. Bake the tarts in the oven for about 25 minutes – turn the temperature down to 180C for the final 10 minutes. You are looking for a very slight dome on the custard, indicating that it is baked. If the custard domes too much this indicates that you have over-cooked the custard, it will have boiled, and will sink back down leaving a big dip. If this does happen you can help rescue it by removing the tarts from the oven immediately and placing the tin in cold water on a cold surface. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes and then carefully remove from the moulds. The base of the tarts should be perfectly baked through, without having over-cooked the custard filling.

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Goat’s Cheese, Red Onion and Caraway Seed Tart

The peculiar thing about this tart is the presence of caraway seeds in the filling. Otherwise, this would be only a (still delicious) caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart. The combination of caraway seeds, balsamic vinegar and the natural sugars contained in the onions is just scrummy. The onion are slowly cooked and reduced down to a jam consistency, which also provides an added texture for the tart. Balsamic vinegar adds a sharp edge to the onion marmalade, which is in turn offset by the goat’s cheese. The spice seems to be bringing all the ingredients together. The recipe comes from an episode of The Incredible Spice Men, a TV series where two Indian chefs demonstrate how incorporating spices in your daily meals can be both easy and tasty. I have to say I am not a particular fan of this series, but this recipe stuck into my mind as I love balsamic vinegar and I was curious to try adding caraway seeds (I spice I had never cooked with before) to the ensemble.

The spices should be ground, possibly in a mortal. Use a coffee grinder if you don’t have one, or use them whole if you do not happen to own any of the above. Remember, however, to toast them before using them as the heat from a dry pan helps release the natural oils contained in the seeds and increases their aroma. As for the pastry, please feel free to use your favourite pastry recipe here. The one I used is the one as per original recipe, where the addition of lard to the usual butter & flour mixture provides for extra crumbliness. Last note, I have reduced the amount of sugar used in the onion marmalade as I thought the overall result was a bit too sweet.

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Ingredients (for the shortcrust pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g chilled butter, cubed
  • 75g chilled lard, cubed

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 800g red onions, finely sliced
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 80ml balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g soft goat’s cheese

Method

  1. To make the pastry, you can either put the chilled fats in a bowl and add the flour with a pinch of salt, then rub the butter and lard in or you can whiz the three ingredients in a food processor. Once the dry ingredients have been combined, slowly work in 4-6 tbsp of icy cold water to bring the pastry together. Knead it until smooth, then wrap it in clingfilm and chill it for 20 minutes.
  2. Take the pastry out of the fridge, turn it onto a slightly floured surface and roll it out to a circle big enough to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. Gently press the pastry into the creases, then use the prongs of a fork to prick the base, cover it in clingfilm and chill for a further 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, get started with the onion marmalade. Heat a large frying pan and add a drizzle of olive oil and the unsalted butter. Stir in the onions, season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Sprinkle in the sugar and stir again, ensuring the sugar melts with the heat and mixes with the onions. Cook the onions for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions have released their juices.
  4. Pre-heat your oven to 190C, then remove the pastry case from the fridge and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the parchments and beans and set the pastry case aside.
  5. Increase the heat under the pan with the onions and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the juices have reduced. Add the caraway seeds and follow with the balsamic vinegar, then leave on the heat for another 3-4 minutes for it to go back to a jam consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 200C.
  6. To complete the filling, beat the eggs and the cream in a jug or bowl. Mix in the onion marmalade, then pour into the pastry case. Arrange the goat’s cheese slices on top, then bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is set and browned on top. Remove from the oven and garnish with some chopped parsley.

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Danish Pastries with Fruit

I have only recently noticed that a book my mum gave me last time I went back home to Italy is indeed a manual for patisserie. Wahou! Come think of it, that explains why it contained so many pastry recipes… Anyway, this is one of the first ones and it looked grand on paper. I decided to give it a try because, after all, what’s life without a challenge? It took me two days to complete, but only because I wanted to make sure the dough was given plenty of chilling & resting time in the fridge after each turn.

The overall concept behind it is puff pastry (of course!). You layer a yeasted dough with butter and fold it over and over again, more or less as you would do to make croissants. The only very tricky part (I would say) is probably creating the 8-shaped spirals, which take a bit of practice. Your first ones might come out a bit out of shape, but insist and you’ll get there. As you can see from the pictures below, mine were not all equal, but I like to think that adds to the charm of the whole thing not being industrially made. Last point, the fruit: choose fruits which is in season! The original recipe had kiwis, strawberries, grapes and apricots, but I decided to use some of the glorious British berries instead.

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Ingredients (for the starter)

  • 100ml lukewarm whole milk
  • 150g strong flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 350g strong flour
  • 100g lukewarm whole milk
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk

Ingredients (for the butter filling)

  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 25g strong flour

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tbsp double cream
  • granulated sugar
  • apricot jam
  • 400g firm custard (I made my own)
  • mixed fruit

Method

  1. To prepare your starter, melt the dried yest into the lukewarm milk, then pour that in a small bowl and add the flour. Bring together to make a small dough ball, then cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
  2. Once that is ready, sift the flour and the salt into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or you can use a normal bowl and knead by hand). Turn the mixer on low speed and use the hook attachment to mix in the egg, egg yolk and caster sugar.
  3. Slowly pour in the lukewarm milk and the starter, then increase the speed to medium and knead until fully combined. Now add the butter and keep on kneading until fully incorporated and the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl (approximately 10 minutes or 20-25 by hand). Tip the dough in a bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare your butter. In a bowl, mix the softened unsalted butter with the flour, then spread that on a piece of clingfilm, wrap tightly and use a rolling pin to roll out to a rectangle about 20x30cm and 1/2cm thick. Put in the fridge to chill and firm up.
  5. When the dough has risen, chill it in the fridge for about 10 minutes, then tip it out on a floured work surface, deflate it and roll it out to a rectangle. Take the butter sheet out of the fridge, remove the clingfilm and place in the middle of the dough. Ensure the dough rectangle is bigger than the butter sheet. Fold the edges of the dough over the butter sheet, then pinch together to seal.
  6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 60x30cm long rectangle, ensuring to press evenly on the butter so it spreads within the dough. Fold a third of the dough at the top and at the bottom towards the centre of the dough, then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Repeat this folding technique another 3 times (4 turns in total), much in the same way as you would do with puff pastry. If you are a novice to puff pastry, please have a look at the very detailed tutorial from Emma, someone who is definitely more technical than me.
  8. Once the pastry has been chilled thoroughly after the fourth turn, take it out the fridge and roll it out to a big rectangle, about 50x30cm. It should be slightly less thick than a pound coin.
  9. Using a floured and very sharp knife, cut 1.5cm along the longer side of the pastry, then roll them in pairs to create a braid. Shape each braid into an 8, tucking the excess pastry underneath. Put each braid on a lined baking tray.
  10. Leave the 8-shaped pastry braids to rise until doubled in size, then put in the fridge to chill until firm.
  11. In the meantime, clean and slice (if necessary) your fruit, then set aside. Towards the end of the chilling time, preheat your oven to 190C.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the cream, then set aside. Dollop some custard into each hole of the 8-shaped braids, then brush the braids with the egg and cream mixture. Sprinkle with some granulated sugar. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes until golden and well puffed up.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool almost completely on a wire rack. In the meantime, melt some apricot jam in a saucepan, then arrange your fruit of choice on the custard bits and brush the apricot jam on the whole Danish pastry to keep everything in place. Serve warm or cold.

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Peach & Frangipane Tart

The perfect dessert to serve at the end of a meal or for breakfast (which is what I made it for), this tart is both delicate and delicious. It comprises two main parts: a sweet shortcrust pastry and a frangipane custard, which is a traditional custard flavoured with ground almonds. From start to finish it merely took me one and a half hour to make it and bake it, and that includes chilling times!

The original recipe also asked for a long rectangular fluted tin (approximately 12 x 35cm), but the same tart would look just as good in a round one.

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 100g butter, chilled and cubed

Ingredients (for the frangipane custard and decoration)

  • 70g ground almonds
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 20g plain flour
  • 30g butter, at room temperature
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 1 orange, zest of
  • 2 tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 x tin apricot halves in juice

Method

  1. First of all, start with the pastry. Sift the flour and icing sugar in a big bowl, then add the cubed butter and work it in using your fingertips by rubbing it with the flour and sugar. You should aim for a sandy texture. If you haven’t already, have a look at my shortcrust tutorial. Alternatively, you can put the ingredients in a food processor and whiz until combined.
  2. Crack the egg in a small bowl and lightly whisk it with a fork. Start adding it little by little to the flour and butter mixture and work that in. You might not need the whole egg. Don’t overwork your pastry but only ensure it is smooth and evenly combined. Wrap it in clingfilm, flatten it slightly and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Now move on to the custard. In a saucepan, combine the egg, egg yolks and icing sugar. Whisk the ingredients together with a balloon whisk, then sift in the flour and whisk that in too. Slowly pour in the milk, then combine the ingredients.
  4. Put the saucepan on a medium heat and keep on stirring with a balloon whisk until slightly thickened. This might take between 10 and 15 minutes. Do not be tempted to increase the heat or your eggs will scramble!
  5. Once thickened nicely, remove from the heat and stir in the ground almonds, orange zest and softened butter. Lightly scatter the top surface with some caster sugar and set aside.
  6. In the meantime, drain the apricot halves from the liquid and pat-dry on kitchen paper. I found the tins I buy yield exactly 12 apricot halves, which is perfect.
  7. When the pastry is thoroughly chilled, remove from the fridge and from the clingfilm, set between two pieces of baking parchment and start rolling out to the thickness of a pound coin. When ready, transfer to the fluted tin and press gently on the sides. Trim any excess pastry by passing the rolling pin on the tin. Chill for another 15 minutes.
  8. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and put a baking sheet in the oven to warm up.
  9. When your pastry case has hardened again, prick the base with a fork, then pour in the frangipane custard and spread it around. Arrange the apricot halves in rows of two all over the surface and lightly press into the custard. Bake for 35 minutes until slightly golden.
  10. Turn the oven down to 150C and bake for a further 15 minutes, to ensure the case is baked all the way through. Remove from the oven and, while still warm, use a pastry brush to spread the apricot jam on top. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

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