Come To Lunch, Bring Your Slippers

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Last Saturday night, as I roasted and whisked and rolled, I wondered if it all might be in vain. I was prepping for a Sunday lunch which might never happen. I dusted the counter with flour to roll out the pastry as snow fell heavily on the kitchen’s glass roof. The cats shot through the catflap and threw themselves in front of the fire where they meticulously licked fat flakes from their whiskers and paws.

Lunch the next day was to welcome home four of our closest friends, Vanessa and James from Cambodia and Richard and Stuart from Australia. Their planes were due to arrive at Heathrow between five and six on Sunday morning. It seemed a good idea, on Boxing Day, when we discussed getting together for a jet-lag-deferring Sunday lunch. But now every news bulletin came with dire updates about runways being closed. Newspapers screamed about ‘Snowmageddon’. Perhaps it would just be Séan and I, tucking into that rolled shoulder of pork and rhubarb and custard tart?

But planes landed. Guests came. Radiators were draped with lightly steaming mittens and scarves. Pegs struggled under the weight of damp wool and fat down coats. Boots lay in a heap in the hall. They’d all brought their slippers. I like that. I like having a house where people pad about in their slippers. It’s what makes it home.*

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Snow soufflés rise from plant pots.

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Frosted magnolia.

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A present from Cambodia. Silk, peppercorns, peanut brittle, a little aluminium coffee filter and ground coffee which smells so deliciously of chocolate, I want to rub my face in it.

 

*Or perhaps a prelude to The Home, where I hope we’ll all end up one day, surviving on soup, show tunes, gin and gossip, cheating at cards and fighting over the best lounger on the terrace.

 

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

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Back in 2008, on the very first shoot I did for River Cottage, we made this pretty, and pretty delicious tart . I’ve made it quite often since and I’ve tinkered with it slightly, adding some orange zest to the pastry and cramming in even more rhubarb, because you really can’t have too much of a good thing.

For the pastry:

225g plain flour, plus a little more for dusting the tin
110g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
110g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
A few gratings of orange zest
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten


For the filling:

800g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
Zest of 1 small orange
Juice of half an orange
3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and cut in half


For the custard:

250ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
5 large egg yolks
2-3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar

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Sorry this picture is a bit rubbish. Snapped it on my phone just as I took the tart out of the oven and I forgot to take a new one the next morning, but it gives you an idea of the fruity, vanilla-y goodness.

First, make the pastry. Lightly greasy a 28cm, loose-bottomed flan tin, dust it with flour and tap out the excess. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk in the sugar, zest and salt with a fork. Add the egg yolks and mix with a knife until the dough comes together. Knead very gently and quickly into a round, smooth disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate while you prepare everything else.

While the pastry is resting, roast the rhubarb. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. In a roasting tin, mix the rhubarb, zest, juice, sugar and vanilla, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Cool, strain off the juices (save it to pour over greek yoghurt – so good) and remove the vanilla. You can rinse and dry the vanilla pod and use it in the custard if you like. Thrifty.

While the rhubarb is cooling, line the tart tin. On a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of baking parchment or cling film), roll out the pastry and line the baking tin, letting the excess pastry hang over the side. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes or so.

Reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line the tart tin with several layers of cling film, leaving plenty hanging over the side. Fill generously with baking beans or uncooked pulses or rice. Bring the excess cling film over the top to make a sort of blind baking ‘pad’. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, take out the ‘pad’ and prick the pastry all over with the tines of a fork. Brush lightly with egg wash (steal a little of the egg yolk from the custard and whisk with a splash of water or milk) and return to the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until the case is golden and completely cooked through. Remove from the oven and trim off the excess pastry with a small, sharp knife.

Reduce the oven temperature to 130°C/250°F/gas mark ½.

Make the custard. Pour the cream and split vanilla pod into a pan and heat until the cream is just scalded. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar, then pour into the cream, whisking to combine. Pour through a fine sieve into a jug. Scrape the seeds out of the pod and into the custard.

Spoon the rhubarb into the pastry shell and pour over the custard until it’s about 5mm from the top. Bake on a tray for 30-40 minutes, until the custard is just set but not too firm – it should still have a little wobble to it. Serve cold.

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Stir-Up Saturday, Sunday, Whenever You Like

Christmas Pudding Ingedients


I know it’s Saturday but I’ve been tinkering with the Christmas pudding recipe and I’ve made a few spicy, fruity additions to the ingredients I posted earlier this week. You may need to add them to your shopping list. Also, you need to leave the batter for a few hours or overnight before you boil it for six hours so some of you may want to start today.

This recipe makes about 2.4kg of batter, enough for three 825g puddings, though you can divide it up as you like. I made one small pudding to give to my best friend and an enormous 2kg one for us on Christmas Day. I’ve always loved a fat, cannonball-shaped pudding so this year I treated myself to a round mould from Silverwood Bakeware. You can use it for ice cream puddings too, so it’s a cake mould for all seasons.

This recipe is based on the traditional plum pudding recipe in Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food. This book has been a great favourite of mine for many years and Penguin have just released a beautiful new edition, complete with gorgeous spotted end papers (end papers are an obsession of mine, I’ve bought many books on this basis alone).

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I suppose I should write something here about the origins of Stir-Up Sunday, so you can gloss over this bit if you already know the story. This Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, when the traditional collect from the Book of Common Prayer read out in Anglican churches is:

Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.


Though historically many in the congregation would also be familiar with this version too:

Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot Stir up, we beseech thee, and keep it all hot.


After church, families went home to make the pudding, each member of the household giving the batter a stir, from East to West, to represent the journey of the Three Wise Men. And they would make a secret wish for the coming year.

Now is the perfect time to make your pudding as it gives it several weeks to mature before Christmas Day, though in the most traditional homes, two puddings would be made: one for this year, one for next. You may not wish to do this. As Arabella Boxer writes: ‘The old houses had cool airy larders in which to store them, however, and anyone who tries to keep a plum pudding for long in a centrally heated flat is in for a nasty surprise, as it is sure to grow a coating of mould.’

And when the pudding making’s over, anyone fancy making a Christmas cake next weekend? I’ve left it a little late this year but I plan to get around that by adding a sailor-on-shore-leave quantity of booze.

Christmas pudding

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Arabella Boxer’s pudding contains no flour and is simply bound together with breadcrumbs and eggs, which makes it lighter than some traditional puddings.

If you’re making your pudding over the weekend and you have any questions, either leave me a message here or tweet me @lickedspoon.

500g dried vine fruits (raisins, currants and sultanas, or you can use just raisins if you prefer)
200g pitted prunes, halved
290ml brandy
340g soft white breadcrumbs
340g shredded suet
120g light muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
225g cut mixed peel
200g glacé cherries, halved
120g coarsely chopped blanched almonds
8 eggs, lightly beaten
150ml Guinness

Some softened butter, for greasing the pudding basins
A little more brandy for flaming the puddings on Christmas Day

Put the dried vine fruits in a large, Parfait-type jar and sprinkle over 200ml of the brandy. Give it a shake and let it sit for a few days, turning the jar over from time to time to ensure the fruit is evenly soaked. You can ditch this phase if you don’t have time, but even a couple of hours sitting in the brandy will increase the succulence of the fruit.

In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the suet, sugar, zests, spices and salt until well combined. Add the vine fruits, prunes, mixed peel, cherries and almonds and mix again. Stir in the eggs, Guinness and remaining brandy. Leave for a few hours or even overnight for the flavours to develop.

When you’re ready to cook the puddings, grease three 825ml pudding basins (or whichever bowls or moulds you are using) with softened butter. Cut small circles of baking parchment and place them in the bottom of each basin. If you’re adding charms or sixpences (or five pence pieces –let’s be modern about it) to the puddings, wrap them in baking parchment and add them to the batter now. Don’t fill the bowls too full – you want about 2.5cm free at the top of the bowls to allow the puddings to expand as they cook.

Cut large circles of greaseproof paper, big enough to cover each basin generously. Butter one side of the paper and fold a pleat in the middle. Cut circles of tin foil the same size as the paper circles and pleat them too. Cover each pudding with paper then foil. Secure with string and trim off excess paper and foil with scissors. Tie loops of string to the string securing the paper and foil lids to make a handle – this will make it easier to lift the puddings out of the pan later.

To simmer the puddings, you will need a large, lidded saucepan or several saucepans. Place an upturned saucer or small cake tin under each pudding basin to act as a trivet which will keep the base of the bowls off the bottom of the pan/s. Fill the pan/s with boiling water from the kettle until it comes halfway up the sides of the basins. Simmer steadily for 6 hours, topping up with boiling water from time to time to ensure it comes halfway up the sides of the bowl/s.

When the puddings are cooked, carefully lift them out by placing a long wooden spoon through the loops of string. Leave to cool then remove the paper and foil coverings. Pierce the tops all over with a fine skewer and feed the puddings with a little brandy. Cover with clean, unbuttered paper and foil and tie securely with string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

On Christmas Day, the puddings should be boiled again in the same way for 4-6 hours. To serve, turn out onto a flat dish and stick a sprig of holly in the centre. Gently warm some brandy in a small saucepan, set it alight with a long match and pour it over the pudding just as you’re about to bring it to the table. Each of these puddings will serve 6-8 people; but 2 larger ones – or one giant – can be made if preferred.

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Spices

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Juicy fruit

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Mixing it up


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Covering the pudding basins


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Heaped into the mould

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Marvellous new cannonball mould. It looks like it might go into orbit at any second.

Christmas is coming , the fruit is getting fat

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This is a public service announcement. Next Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent. You know what that means.

If you don’t, it’s the day with the most cheering of titles: Stir-up Sunday, the day we traditionally make Christmas puddings to give them plenty of time to mature before the big day. I’ll be stirring up next weekend but I want to soak my dried fruit in booze first to make the pudding especially delicious.

If you want to make your pudding along with me, here’s how to get started. 

Mix together 200g pitted, halved prunes with 500g dried vine fruits (a combination of raisins, currants and sultanas. You could just use raisins if you prefer. You could also use 700g of raisins and ditch the prunes). 

Tip them into a Parfait-type glass jar which will hold them with some space to spare. Pour over 200ml brandy and seal. Store in a cool, dark place, shaking the jar from time to time so that all of the fruit gets evenly soaked.

Here’s the rest of the shopping list for next week:
225g chopped mixed peel (I’ll give you a recipe this week if you want to make your own)
225g glace cherries
120g blanched almonds
340g shredded suet
340g soft white breadcrumbs
8 eggs
150ml Guinness
Brandy

These quantities make enough for three 825ml puddings; each one serves 6-8 people. You can divide the pudding into two larger puddings or a single, enormous one if you prefer.

Chocolate and the essential art of sloth

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I love working from home. I take phone calls with the Gilmore Girls temporarily on mute, check emails while singing along enthusiastically if tunelessly to 42nd Street and type with a dog to warm my feet and a pair of kittens snoozing in my in tray. My one shiver of envy for office workers comes when we have so much snow, trains don’t run, offices close and they get the day off. Frustratingly – as my office is a gentle 60 second stroll from my bed – it would take quite the snow storm to make it impossible for me to clock in.

IMG_2406 This picture was taken by my friend Stephen Morallee.

Ty Snow1 Ty tastes his first snow.

Stephen 1 Stephen trying to take pictures. Thwarted.

Jess scarf Jess, all wrapped up.

I was thinking about this as I walked Barney in the park, my boots crunching through the dazzling layer of crisp snow. Our usual dog walking number was swelled by a few office refuseniks, excited at the prospect of a day off. So – in the spirit of solidarity – I declared a snow day myself. No work, just pottering. If I’m honest, to the naked eye this wouldn’t have looked very different to a normal day. Show tunes, yes, messing about in the kitchen, certainly, but deadline stress, tricky emails and scaling of the accounts mountain so large its about to be granted its own postcode, were banned.

I’d been sent a bag of Trish Deseine’s new milk chocolate buttons to try. I needed to cook them – what they’re intended for – before I ate the whole bag. I flipped through the pages of Trish’s Best of Chocolat (in French, just so you know) which I bought when we were in Agde in the summer and decided the milk chocolate, date and almond cake was a suitable fate for my precious and rapidly diminishing bounty.

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I love Trish Deseine’s food. It’s cosy, sexy, sophisticated and her books are shot through with her natural warmth and humour. She is from Northern Ireland and has lived in France for the past twenty years or so, where she has enjoyed un succès fou showing the French how to create simple and delicious meals which require neither a sous chef nor a trust fund. Luckily for us, she has published several books in English. Try them. You will like.

Chocolate by Trish

Trish’s chocolate is available from Selfridges or by mail order in the UK from Chocolatebytrish.com

Rich chocolate cake with dates and almonds

This flourless chocolate cake has an intense, almost wine-y depth of flavour. It’s grown up, rich, fudgy and, yes, intensely chocolate-y. It keeps very well for a few days too, if you’re the sort of person who can sleep while there’s chocolate cake in a tin on your kitchen shelf.

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DSCN3374 Really, how could it not be good?

Serves 8 to 10 people

250g milk chocolate, Trish’s magic buttons are 38%
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
125g light muscovado sugar
175g ground almonds
100g whole almonds, toasted* and finely chopped
175g unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing
150g Medjool dates, stoned and chopped, if you can’t get hold of Medjool dates, poach ordinary dates for three minutes in a little water and sugar

Lightly grease a 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin, line it with a circle of baking parchment and butter the parchment. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in a microwave or over a bowl of barely-simmering water (the bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the water). Cool slightly.

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In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy – the beaters should leave a ribbon trail across the surface when you lift them out of the batter. Add the ground and chopped almonds and the dates and stir until well combined. Lightly but thoroughly fold in the melted chocolate and butter with a spatula. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes – the centre should still wobble a bit as it will firm up as it cools. Let it cool in the tin before turning it out.

* Place them in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake them at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for about 6 minutes. Cook them for a minute or two longer if they still look a bit pale but keep checking them as they can burn very easily.

IMG_2434 I took some of the cake to the park the next day – I’m kind like that. This picture was taken by Stephen Morallee.

Baking for pleasure

Quince Tart Tatin

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes on my blog you might notice there’s an abundance of sweet things – enough pies, cakes and tarts to stock a rather ambitious bake sale. But I have a confession to make. I don’t really have a sweet tooth. My sister in law marvels that I can keep chocolate in my cupboards for weeks. I can eat a slice of cake or a biscuit I’ve baked and send the rest off to work with Sean so he can share it with his colleagues, or take them with me to the park to hand out to my dog walking posse without a glimmer of regret.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enormously greedy. Warm bread, hunks of cheese, slices of garlicky salami, salty olives or anchovies, creamy curries, spicy chorizo, how do I love thee? Let me count the plates.

But I love to bake. I love the craft of it and the sweetly intoxicating aroma that fills the kitchen. Opening a recipe book and reading ‘Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy…’ has the same effect on me as ‘Once upon a time…’ has on a fractious toddler.

When we have friends over for supper, making the pudding is my favourite part of the prep. Last Friday I found some beautiful golden quince in our local Turkish supermarket and couldn’t wait to get them home to turn them into the final course of our dinner on Saturday night.

Today I’m giving you three recipes, each component of our pudding of quince tarte tatin, Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream with candied walnuts. You can make everything ahead, bar putting the tart in the oven, so there’s no last-minute faff to induce a profound craving for Valium. Or you could simply make one or two of the recipes – serve the tart with crème fraîche, serve the ice cream by itself with an extra trickle of honey over the top and/or some of the walnuts or simply serve the walnuts as part of a platter of dried figs, prunes and apricots. Do whatever you like, so long as you do it with pleasure.

Quince tarte tatin

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Don’t be put off if you don’t have a tarte tatin tin. Most shallow, solid-bottomed cake tins will do. You can even make it in an oven-proof frying pan – this means you can cook and bake the tart in the same pan too, so less washing up. This is a real ‘ta-dah!’ tart. It looks very impressive but it’s really very easy to make.

4-5 biggish quince
200g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
500ml water
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Juice of half a lemon, plus a bit more for the lemony water
100g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
375g ready-made puff pastry – I like the one from The Dorset Pastry Company but any all-butter puff pastry will do

Put the sugar, water, split vanilla pod and lemon juice into a large pan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil hard for 5 minutes.

While the syrup is bubbling away, fill a bowl with cold water and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Peel and core the quince and cut each half into thirds, dropping them into the lemony water as you go to stop them from discolouring. When they’re all ready, drain and drop them into the syrup to poach for 5 minutes. Tip into a colander and leave the fruit to steam for a few minutes so it dries out a bit.

Melt the butter and sugar in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium-high heat (if you’re going to cook the tart in the frying pan, you want to use one that’s about 30cm in diameter) and let it bubble away for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Tip the poached quince into the pan and turn them over so they’re well coated. Cook, carefully turning the fruit over, until the buttery syrup turns into a clear, light caramel. Remove from the heat.

When cool enough to handle, either arrange the fruit, core-side up or side by side, in the pan or in a 30cm tarte tatin dish or cake tin. Make sure the fruit is crammed in tightly with as few gaps as possible. Spoon any of the caramel that remains in the frying pan over the top of the fruit if you’re baking the tart in a tatin dish or baking tin. Cool completely.

Roll out the pastry and cut it out into a circle about 1cm larger than the diameter of your tin. Cover the fruit with the pastry and tuck it in tightly around the edges. Make two or three cuts about 4cm long in the top of the pastry and chill until you’re ready to bake it.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan, place a large plate over the top, say a little prayer, and invert the tart onto the plate. Serve warm with the ice cream and walnuts scattered over the top.

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Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream

The ice cream recipe is from Morfudd Richards’ lovely book, Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes, with a ripple of honey added by me. This is about the easiest ice cream you’ll ever make – just whisk everything together and tip it into an ice cream maker. No custard-splitting anxiety, just cool deliciousness which goes beautifully with the sweet, perfumed stickiness of the quince.

500ml thick Greek yoghurt
125ml double cream
125g caster sugar
Juice of half a lemon
4-6 tbsps runny honey, lavender, orange blossom or acacia honey are good

To make the ice cream, mix everything together in a bowl until smooth and well blended. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Put into a plastic container, cover the top of the ice cream with waxed or greaseproof paper and seal with a lid.

Freeze for an hour or two until firm but not completely set. Remove from the freezer and make holes in the ice cream with a spoon. Pour over the honey and swirl gently with a spatula. Return to the freezer for a few hours until completely frozen.

Candied walnuts

I followed the instructions from the Simply Recipes site for the candied walnuts. Their recipe is super easy but you need to hold your nerve a bit and work quickly. Have everything to hand before you start messing with the caramel – the lined baking sheet, the forks for separating the nuts -and keep the walnuts close to the hob so you can stir them in as soon as the caramel is the right colour. I think adding some flaky sea salt at the end makes them even more special, though you can leave it out if you like.

100g caster sugar
About 150g walnut halves
Good pinch or two of flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Scatter the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes until fragrant and slightly toasted – if they’re not quite done, put them in for longer and check after each minute as they can burn very quickly. Cool.

Warm the sugar in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan (ideally one without a dark interior so you can keep an eye on the colour of the caramel). Once the sugar starts to liquefy, stir gently with a wooden spoon. As soon as it’s completely melted and a beautiful, rich amber colour, tip in the walnuts and stir quickly to coat. Spread them out on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a Siplat mat and, working very quickly, use two forks to separate the walnuts from each other. Sprinkle with the salt if you like then cool completely. When cold, store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Smart as a carrot

Carrot Halwa seved with Ice Cream

My dad is the sweetest man, kind to his bones, but like lots of northern men of his generation, he can be a little short on the compliments (‘Don’t be daft.’) So it’s rather marvellous when your appearance garners his greatest accolade ‘smart as a carrot’. I’ve no idea where this phrase comes from, though I’ve never heard it outside of my native north east. What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that you don’t want to be its antithesis: ‘a bag of tripe’. When I was a kid, my dad’s Saturday afternoon treat while he listened to the football results was a bowl of tripe with vinegar. I used to think it looked like a crumpled heap of greying laundry. This isn’t usually what I’m aiming for when I leave the house.

Today’s smart as a carrot dish comes from Karuna, who works with Séan. When I’m testing recipes, a church fête’s worth of cakes, biscuits and tarts can come out of the Lickedspoon kitchen. It would be impossible for us to eat them all, so I take some of them to the park and the rest Séan takes with him to the office. They are a very good tasting panel. I get notes: too sweet, not sweet enough, too many nuts, or too few, love the coconut, hate it. I’m grateful for the feedback, but I’m thrilled to get my hands on this recipe. Several of you commented on the White Chocolate Cake saying you love cardamom, so I hope this appeals to you too.

Next week, tripe… Maybe.

Recipe all written out Karuna’s recipe, such neat writing, such a messy fridge.

Carrot Halwa

Served with gold-leaf!

I didn’t have jaggery (and, shamefully, couldn’t peel myself out of the kitchen, walk around the corner and buy some) so I used molasses sugar. It meant my halwa ended up quite dark. I also got a bit distracted and let it simmer a little too long, so it was very thick and intensely fudgy. No matter, I just sprinkled on a little gold leaf and it was delicious with the ice cream. But, note to self, next time jaggery and pay attention.

Serves 6-8

450g carrots, peeled and sliced
280ml semi skimmed or whole milk
280ml double cream
4tbsp shelled, unsalted pistachios
225g jaggery, raw sugar or molasses sugar
55g granulated sugar
10-15 cardamom seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
200g ground almonds
4 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
4 tbsp almond pins

The ingredients

Put the carrots, milk and cream in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir well. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to half the volume and has become thick and heavy.

Carrots away Carrots boiled in cream.

Molasses in Adding the molasses sugar.

While the carrots are cooking, roast the pistachios in the oven at 180˚C/350˚F/Gas mark 4 until just fragrant, about 8 minutes.

Put both sugars into the carrot mixture, stir to dissolve and simmer for 10 minutes.

With a small, sharp knife, halve the cardamom pods and remove the seeds. Discard the shells. Grind the cardamom and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, or in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin, until fine.

Reduce the heat under the carrot mixture and add the ground almonds and ghee or clarified butter. Stir for about 10 minutes until the halva starts to pull together into a solid mixture. Stir in the ground cardamom and fennel.

Serve in dishes at room temperature, or straight from the hob, with cream, ice cream or kulfi. Garnish with the toasted pistachios and almond pins.

What do we talk about when we talk about cake?

White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

We went to Victoria and Helder’s for dinner. I told her I’d been to watch my nephew Angus play rugby. This is how long we’ve known each other. He was born just after we met. He’s now well over six feet tall and learning to drive.

Candle lit drinks

In those seventeen years, we’ve been each other’s autodial for crises large and small, deadlines and hemlines, heartbreak and house hunting, mortgages and marriages. She held my hand on my wedding day; I made the cake and a speech (complete with quotations from the Mary Tyler Moore show) at hers.

On this most recent sunny evening, we tucked into Helder’s barbecued cauliflower and spatchcocked chicken. He’s Portuguese. He knows his way around a grill. And I brought along a cake for pudding.

Helder's BBQ

Cake: the shortest measurable distance between now and then, something about its comforting sweetness pulls memories from their recesses better than any truth drug. Cutting into a big, soft slice is the culinary equivalent of ‘Once upon a time…’

Slice of cake

Our husbands really like each other, which is great as when they go off on some kind of techno gizmo riff, V and I can indulge in all of our ‘Remember when…’ conversations.

Like the time when, in our single days, we used to take each other out to dinner on Valentine’s Day.

Like the time when I was being pursued by a Nigerian musician and I forced her to come with me to an Ogoni wedding in a community centre in Dollis Hill. In a wedding album far, far away there are pictures of us drinking neat gin out of the bottle cap with the band.

Like the time we hitched a ride in a lorry up the Holloway Road with a French waiter we’d kidnapped from our favourite local restaurant. We were headed for a snooker club. This was in the days of stricter licensing laws and it was one of the few places you could get a drink after midnight, but you needed a bloke to sign you in.

Like the time she was invited to a reception at Number 10 and spent all day working out what her perfect opening line to the Prime Minister would be. When the moment came, what came out of her mouth was ‘Gordon, do you realise you have ink all over your sleeve?’

Like the time when I got a call for a job I really, really wanted and was so stressed out, over prepared and sleep deprived by the time I got to the interview, when the questioning got challenging my best retort was a tetchy ‘Look, you called me. If you think you’re going to make me cry, you’re not.’

Eyjafjallajökull fortold?

Victoria and Helder’s son Luca, my gorgeous godson, spent a lot of time in April making volcanoes. Then Eyjafjallajökull erupted. We are watching very closely for what he next moulds in clay, in case it’s a Tory government.

White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

This recipe is from Fiona Cairns’ cake-alicious book, Bake and Decorate: Tea Time Luxury (Quadrille, £19.99). It’s full of fabulous sweet treats, from fondant fancies and rosebud fairy cakes to gilded chocolate tiffin and strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake. It’s also crammed with Fiona’s great cake decorating tips, finely honed after years of being baker to the stars. It’s beautiful too, with photographs by the wonderful Laura Hynd. Laura took gorgeous pictures for Mark Diacono’s book, Taste of the Unexpected, which comes out in the autumn and for which I wrote the recipes.

Serves 8

130g unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease the tin
20 green cardamom pods (or 1 tsp ground)
170g self-raising flour
100g white chocolate, chopped
130g white caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE GANACHE:
100g white chocolate, finely chopped
100ml double cream
2 tsp rosewater

FOR THE GLACE ICING:
150g icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 170C/350F/Gas mark 4. Fiona Cairns makes this cake in a heart-shaped tin measuring 23cm at its widest point and 6.5cm deep, as did I, but she suggests a 20cm round, 7.5cm deep tin as an alternative. Butter the tin very well, then line with baking parchment.

Cardamom pods

Deseed the cardamom pods: split them with the point of a knife, empty out the little seeds and grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. There may be a few pieces of husk mixed in, so sift the cardamom powder together with the flour to remove them. (My note: or use 1tsp ground cardamom. I like the one from lovely spice company, Steenbergs,  – they do mail order.)

Place the chocolate in a food processor with half the sugar. Process until as fine as possible. Take 2tbsp hot water – not boiling or the chocolate will seize – and leave it until you can just dip in your finger. Dribble it into the chocolate, processing until most has melted. Add the remaining sugar and butter, cut into knobs, and process well. Add the eggs, flour and vanilla and mix again. Don’t worry if there are tiny pieces of chocolate left in the batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Rest in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, removing the papers. Leave until absolutely cold.

Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a bowl and, in a pan, bring the cream and rosewater to the boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate, leave it for a few seconds, then gently stir until smooth. Leave until cold, chill slightly, then whisk until it thickens.

White chocolate

The ganache is delicious and would be wonderful in other cakes too.

Filling

Filled

Sandwiched

Split the cake in half and invert so the flat base forms the top. Fill with the ganache and top with the second layer of cake. Place the icing sugar in a small bowl and add 1 ½-2 tbsp water until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour it over the cake and allow to trickle down the sides. (My note: I found it took about 3tbsp to get the icing trickle-able, but also that it was perhaps a little sweet, so sweet it overwhelmed the delicate cardamom and rosewater flavours. Next time, I might add a little lemon juice or rosewater to the water to thin it.)

To decorate, I scattered some sugared rose petals over the top. In summer, it would be lovely with real rose petals, if you have a good, unsprayed source.