Monthly Archives: July 2011

Summer Pudding

Summer in Britain means an abundance of soft fruit, and this year has been a bit of a bumper crop. I just spent the weekend back at the family ranch (note: not an actual ranch) up in Scotland, and the garden was positively groaning with raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and blackberries. Things don’t get much more local – or tasty – than this.

Often one of the best ways to eat summer’s bounty is “as is”, possibly with cream or ice cream. However, there are times when you want something a bit fancier, but which still shows off these fruits to their best. If this is the case, then you might want to think about a summer pudding.

The origins of summer pudding seem to be a bit vague, but to me it has the air of something that probably comes from the Victoria period. Nothing that I can put my finger on, but I just have a feeling. Origins aside, it’s a real star – light but bursting with flavour.

This dessert is actually quite cunning in its simplicity – cook the fruit for a moment to that the juices are released, then put in a bowl that has been lined with bread. The bread absorbs the juices, and becomes sweet and velvety-soft. And the fruit, as it has had only a minimum of cooking, retains all of its fresh flavours and aromas. It also has a real visual “wow-factor” – it’s a deep purple, and surrounded by fresh fruit straight from the garden, it really does capture the essence of a summer’s day.

Given how simple it is, you might think it should just fall apart. However, as the bread absorbs the juice, the pudding does magically stay together.

To serve, I recommend a dollop of softly whipped cream. I’m normally not a fan of cream on desserts, but in this case, I think it really helps to highlight the flavours and bring them to life, so you can enjoy the “fruits” or your labour in the garden. Or, like me, to take advantage of all the hard work that a family member put in. Thanks!

If you like to experiment, you can try adding a dash of vanilla, a pinch of spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or some citrus zest. If that’s what you like, then go for it, but I like it with just the fruit. Then finish it off by arranging lots and lots of fruit around the pudding in an artful-yet-rustic way. I think you’ll agree, it looks stunning!

To make a large summer pudding:

• 750g soft fruits (raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries…)
• 1 loaf of slightly stale white bread, thinly sliced and crusts removed
• 150g caster sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur

To prepare the fruit:

Put all the fruit (apart from any strawberries, if using) into a sieve and rinse. Shake dry. Put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and cook over a low heat until the fruit releases its juices but the berries still hold their shape. Leave to cool slightly, then add the chopped strawberries and cassis liqueur (if using).

To assemble the pudding:

Line a pudding bowl with cling film. Cut a circle of bread for the base. Dip one side in the fruit, then place juice-side down in the bowl. Cut more bread into triangles, dip one side in the juice, and use to line the inside of the bowl. At the end you should not have any gaps, and aim to have the bread coming up over the edge of the bowl.

Pour the fruit mixture into the bread-lined bowl. It should come to the rim of the bowl.

Use more bread to cover the fruit (this will form the base of the pudding). My tip is to rest the bread on top of the fruit for a moment, then flip over so that the base will also be properly coloured by the juice. Trim any extra bread from the edge of the bowl.

Place something flat (like a baking tray) on top of the bowl, then weigh down something heavy (stones, tin cans, weights…). Place in the fridge for 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve:

Remove the pudding from the fridge about an hour before serving. Trim off any bits of excess bread. Put a plate on top of the pudding and with one swift movement, flip over. Remove the pudding bowl, and then carefully peel off the cling film. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Serve in slices with softly whipped cream.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! This is an easy but spectacular dessert – very worth trying, either as a large pudding or in individual portions. Can also be adapted depending on what is in season. In fact, to show how easy it is to make – we did this twice over one weekend. Simple!


Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Recipe, Sweet Things

Scottish Food: Smiddy Dumpling

Today we are revisiting Scotland’s culinary heritage again. This is a recipe sent to me by my friend Sarah (who previously very kindly shared a family recipe for Belgian Loaf). It has come via her family located north of Inverness, so on at least one measure, it is probably about the most Scottish thing I’ve made for quite some time. So…presenting the “Smiddy Dumpling”.

The name Smiddy Dumpling is a bit of a misnomer though – it’s actually a simple fruit loaf. It’s similar to the famous Clootie Dumpling, which got its name from the fact that it was cooked (boiled) in a cloth – called a “cloot” in Scotland. Smiddy Dumpling is more like a traditional teacake, baked in the oven and served by the slice. It’s crammed with fruit (sultanas, raisins and whatever else you like) and has grated carrot in it to add moisture and some additional sweetness. It’s great with a cup of tea (what else would you drink in Scotland?) spread with a little butter and maybe honey or jam. It is equally good as a comforting pudding with a good glug of custard and/or a scoop of ice cream.

However, maybe we Scottish people approach these sort of recipes with the fond, fuzzy memories of childhood when eating it. We tried it on a German – he just point blank refused to eat what he called “another of those funny little Scottish recipes“.

The method is simplicity itself. It’s the same idea as Belgian Loaf – everything apart from the eggs and flour is put into a saucepan and brought to the boil. This ensures that the sugar and liquid are well-mixed and that the dried fruit has a chance to soften before baking. Once it has been left to cool, you mix in the flour and eggs and pop the cake into the oven. Cook slowly and wait for the final result. One things that I would caution – I am not sure that this will work so well if you try to make it using a muffin tray. It needs a long time in a slow oven for the raising agent (baking soda) to work its magic. Putting the batter into small muffin pans means less cooking time, which might leave a bit of a funny taste from the soda. If you are nevertheless a believer that small is beautiful, I would swap the baking soda for baking powder, and add it with the flour rather than when you boil the mixture. Just a thought.

The resulting cake is similar to Christmas cake. Well, actually, it is better than Christmas cake, as I actually cannot stand the traditional British festive cake. The Smiddy Dumpling has very moist fruit (given that it’s been boiled up with water and sugar) and the “cake bit” holding it all together is very light and soft. You can play around with any spices – keep it plain, add things like cinnamon, ground cloves or allspice, or be creative (for example, you could add festive German Lebkuchengewürz mixed spice like I did).

As a fruity teatime treat, this is easy and pretty hard to beat. Sarah’s sister made this for work and had several colleagues after the recipe – now, that sounds like a pretty good endorsement of this recipe to me!

And finally – you’ll see that the recipe is in cups and ounces – this is how it came to me, and that is how it is staying. If you need to convert, go by volume, not weight, at a rate of 1 cup = 240ml.

To make Smiddy Dumpling (makes a 2lb loaf):

Step 1:

• 1 cup water
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 1/2 cups fruit (sultanas, raisins…)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
• 4oz (100g) butter
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice

Put all ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes. Allow to cool.

In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Step 2:

• 1 cup plain flour
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 2 eggs well beaten

Add the flour and eggs to the cooled mixture and stir well. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours. The loaf should roughly double in size.

Worth making? If you like dried fruit, this really is an excellent fruit loaf, and probably one of the best that I have had in a while. It’s neither too sweet nor too heavy, but has enough good stuff in there so that you don’t feel you are being cheated in any way. Definitely a winner from my perspective!


Filed under Guest chef, Recipe, Scottish Food, Sweet Things

Almendras Fritas – Olé!

What stinking weather today! And after such an arduous week at the office. A big project, all of us locked away in a project room with no windows, only seeing last week’s wonderful sunshine when we went outside at lunchtime. Never mind, I thought. I’ll enjoy the sun at the weekend. Maybe a nice long bike run…

Fast forward to Saturday, and the weather is foul. Sheet rain, heavy showers. Open the window, and you get soaked. Clearly not going out.

My response to this is to open a bottle of white wine and make something Spanish to give the impression that it’s somewhere sunny. Almendras fritas or fried almonds. No, really. Bear with me.

If you normally just serve a bowl of peanuts with drinks on the basis that anything else smacks of too much work, then you’ll be happy to know that this is simplicity itself. If you have almonds in the house, it takes about 1 minute to make.

I rummaged around in the store cupboard, and found the packet of Mallorcan almonds I bought on holiday. Just throw a couple of handfuls of nuts into a saucepan with a little olive oil, fry, sprinkle with salt and that’s it – a little tapa to go with your well-earned glass of wine. OK, maybe it doesn’t transform London in the rain into the sun-drenched main square of Valencia, but they do taste great. The texture is crisp and they have rich, toasted flavour that plays very well with the sprinkling of sea salt

Now just one question…¿Dónde está el sol?

To make almendras fritas:

• skinned whole almonds(*) – allow one handful per person
• olive oil (1 tablespoon per 2 handfuls of nuts)
• sea salt (flaky fleur de sel type)

Put the almonds and oil into a saucepan. Put over a medium heat.

As the oil gets warm, start to shake the pan or stir with a wooden spoon until the nuts are golden. When ready, drain the nuts (use a sieve or transfer to kitchen paper), then put the nuts in a dish and sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Serve warm.

(*) If you need to skin the almonds, bring a pan of water to the boil. Throw in the almonds, boil for one minute, then drain and cool. The nuts should slip out of their skins.

Worth making? Super-easy and very, very delicious. Makes a nice change from peanuts too!


Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Sour Cream and Cinnamon Swirl Cake

Ah, it’s Bastille Day. I should be making macarons, financiers or something with camembert in it. But I’m not…

I am a total cinnamon nut. I love it in biscuits, muffins, doughnuts, cakes, pastries, chocolate…you name it, and I will happily have cinnamon in it. Coffee too. I’ve even got a recipe for Moroccan carrots which are dressed in a cinnamon dressing.

So, here is an absolute cinnamon extravaganza. It’s a rich vanilla cake, rather like pound cake, and made with sour cream. The twist is a great big seam of cinnamon, brown sugar and chopped walnuts running right through it.

The result is superb. It’s got an air of an “olde worlde” Viennese coffee-house cake about it, assuming that you are able to limit yourself to a refined wafer-thin sliver.

The cinnamon seam is there to be mined, and it works nicely with the plain cake. The cinnamon mixture is soft inside the cake, and a little bit crunchy where it has been against the tin, making for a nice contrast. It also keeps amazingly well, so it will easily see you through several days if you are the sort of person that likes cake on tap.

Best enjoyed, one slice per day, when you’re at work. It’s been a very busy week, so that 11 o’clock break is all the more appreciate with a slice of the good stuff.

To make Sour Cream and Cinnamon Swirl Cake:

For the cinnamon swirl:

• 130g soft brown sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 100g walnuts, finely chopped

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

For the cake:

• 200g white caster sugar
• 170g butter
• 3 eggs
• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 300g self-raising flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 300g sour cream

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Grease a 2.5 litre (4 1/2 pint) ring tin or bundt pan with butter.

Cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the vanilla extract.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well.

Fold one-third of the flour to the butter/sugar mixture. Fold in half the sour cream. Add another third of the flour, mix well, fold in the rest of the sour cream, then add the last of the flour. Mix well until you have a smooth batter.

Put half the mixture into the cake tin. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the batter. Add the rest of the batter (one spoonful at a time so as not to disturb the cinnamon mixture) and smooth the top with a spoon.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake is risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

For a dressy look, dust the finished cake with icing sugar or sprinkle with a 50/50 mixture of cinnamon and caster sugar.

Worth making? Oh yes. This is a very easy cake to make, and it tastes superb. Great for a classy afternoon tea.


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things, Uncategorized

Dream a little dream…

As you may have worked out by now, I have a bit of a thing for Scandinavian food, so I have turned my hand to making a Swedish specialty called drömmar (droo-mar).

The name translates as “dreams”. As you would expect from something with that sort of name, they are very light, melting little morsels. You’ve probably got a little bit of Mama Cass going around you head by now…

Now, the lightness really is their star quality.

These are really quite simple biscuits – just butter, sugar, flour and a dash of vanilla. The magic comes from what you add to make them rise. Not normal baking powder, but ammonium carbonate. This difference matters – it doesn’t just give baked goods a little lift, it releases a lot of gas so things get very puffy indeed. It was a bit of a saga to find this stuff, so I was quite excited to finally try making a cookie that I associate with my time living in Stockholm.

However, this magic powder has a downside. It stinks to high heaven!

I found this our pretty quickly. I made the dough – a breeze, took no more than five minutes (helpfully no need to bother chilling the dough) – shaped the biscuits, and put them into the oven. Boy did they rise!

Then…when I opened the oven to remove them, as expected, there was a horrid pong of, well, ammonia fumes that filled the kitchen for a moment. All I can say is that I am very, very glad I attempted this on a bright, breezy summer day, as all the windows were open and so the stink was quickly dispersed.

Having experienced the stink issue, but with the house once again fresh-smelling (i.e. not of ammonia), the cookies were ready.

They look good and strangely (given the earlier experience) they actually have a pleasant butter-with-a-hint-of-vanilla aroma. And they taste very good. Like shortbread, but with a very airy texture. You can see from the picture below that there are massive air pockets in the cookies, so they really are light as a feather – when you pick them us, they just don’t weigh anything. Most odd. Quite dreamy indeed.

When just baked, drömmar are crisp and light, but left overnight, they become a little softer. Either way is delicious, but which you prefer is up to you. Every Swedish mormor or farmor (grandmother) will have their own recipe, so this is just one version. There are others out there, and I make no claims that this is the only way to make them!!!

Biscuits made, I did a little research on this stinky but effective raising agent. Ammonium carbonate was originally known by the more poetic name salt of hartshorn, and was apparently derived from the horns of the male red deer (!). If you’re worried this might be cruel, I’m happy to note the antlers appear in the spring and are naturally shed each year, and in any event, these days you buy the chemical powder in stores. It inevitably features in German and Nordic baking, given that these are the areas in which the red deer might be found wandering in the forest, and in a lot of recipes, nothing else will really do if you want the requisite lightness. If you’re a curious Londoner, and don’t have deer roaming in the back garden, then you can buy it here.

The only limit on using this raising agent is that you need the stinky stuff to be expelled from the biscuits during baking – so it’s fine for small cookies, but you wouldn’t want to use it for a large cake. And just a couple of wise words to conclude – don’t eat the raw dough, as it tastes nasty until you bake it, and in case you are wondering – all the chemical stuff turns to gas, so there is nothing left in the cookies once they have been baked, and they are just sweet-smelling and tasty. And don’t we all like a bit of culinary alchemy?

If you’re still not happy using ammonium carbonate or just can’t find the stuff, use baking powder. You’ll get some lift, not as much as with the real thing, but still tasty.

So…relax, stick on a bit of Mama Cass, make a cup of tea and enjoy a couple of drömmar. Happy baking!

To make drömmar (makes 30-35):

• 200g unsalted butter
• 170g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon ammonium carbonate
• 250g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°C). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Fold in the vanilla and ammonium carbonate.

Work the flour into the mixture until you have a soft dough.

Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet (don’t flatten them), leaving at least 5cm (2 inches) between them.

Put the cookies into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. The balls will flatten down and then puff up, but will stay very pale.

Worth making? I was dubious about using ammonium carbonate in baking, but actually the outcome was great. The biscuits are lighter than anything I have ever made before, and there is of course the novelty factor of the stinky baking process. The mixture is ready in about 5 minutes, and can be made in less than 30 minutes from start to finish. As they say in Sweden – lycka till!


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte

I’m not going to write very much today…

…instead, I’ll just tell you a little about this Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte and let your imagination and the pictures do the rest: it is made from layers of chewy meringue made with toasted hazelnuts, filled and topped with a rich chocolate ganache, and finished with a rich salted caramel sauce, studded with hazelnuts dipped in caramelised sugar.

Hopefully by now you’re drooling with notions of rich, decadent luxury.

Just a couple of tips: be sure to use good-quality hazelnuts, and do toast them lightly. This will release their full, rich flavour. Use a dark rather than milk chocolate for the ganache – the meringue is quite sweet, so you want something to counter that. And make sure to use salt in the caramel topping. Yes, salt. It takes the caramel from being sickly-sweet to something that is rich and  sophisticated. All this, and it’s gluten-free – not even a dash of wheat flour comes near this torte.

The recipe below looks quite elaborate, but each stage is quite easy. You can even skip the caramel on top, and it is still richly delicious.

Tempted yet? You should be!

To make a Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte:

I know this looks quite long and labourious, but it’s actually three relatively easy stages – I’ve just tried to set out what happens and what to watch out for as you’re going, so you don’t get any surprises.

For the layers:

• 4 egg whites (120g)
• 225g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vinegar
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two 20cm (8 inch) cake tins with greaseproof paper (I recommend double-lining them – this prevents burning.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Add the sugar in 4-5 batches, whisking very well after each batch. Keep mixing until you have a stiff, glossy mixture.

Stir in the vinegar and vanilla, then fold in the ground hazelnuts. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins. Spread level, and bake for 45-50 minutes until crisp (it won’t puff up much, if at all). The surface will develop to a light beige, but should not get brown.

Once the meringue layers are ready, remove from the oven, and leave to cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache filling and topping:

• 300g double cream
• 150g dark chocolate
• 1 scant tablespoon caster sugar
• 1-2 drops vanilla extract

Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Stir and put to one side.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Leave to cool until lukewarm. Pour the chocolate into the cream mixture and whisk immediately. The mixture will quickly thicken into chocolate whipped cream (takes only a few seconds, so act quickly and do not over-whisk!).

Spread half the filling over the base meringue. Put the second layer of meringue on top, and add the rest of the chocolate cream  Finish as desired – smooth, swirly or peaks. If you are going to add the caramel on top, then make peaks around the edge to keep the caramel from dripping off the top.

Store the filled torte in the fridge, removing about 30 minutes before serving.

For the caramel:

• 150g white sugar
• 2 tablespoons water
• 150g double cream
• 25g butter
• fleur de sel/kosher salt, very finely ground

Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water. Cook on a medium heat until the water has evaporated, and the sugar turns to a light caramel (watch like a hawk – it goes from golden caramel to bitter and burnt in a matter of seconds).

Pour about two-thirds of the cream into the caramel, and stir vigorously. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble up. Add the butter, and stir well. Leave to cool for around 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the cream, and add salt to taste – this really is matter of personal judgement, but it is easy to add to too much, so little by little is the way to do it.

Leave the caramel until completely cool. It should flow, but be very thick (if too thick, add a teaspoon of cream and stir well). Pour or drizzle over the chilled torte.

To make caramelised hazelnuts:

• 100g white sugar
• 2 tablespoon water
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted

Put sugar into a saucepan with a little water. Cook until you have a light caramel. Add the nuts, mix quickly, and transfer to a non-stick baking sheet. Using a fork (because they’re very hot!) separate the nuts. If the caramel is too hard, put the lot into a hot oven and it will soften.

Worth making? Indeed! I made this for a party – it lasted about 5 minutes on the table.


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things


There has been a distinct Spanish flavour to a lot of my posts recently…and today, we’re keeping that going.

I’ve been making a dish called tumbet rather a lot recently. It’s traditionally from Mallorca, and it’s really just about the simplest thing you can make. Chances are, you’ve got just about everything in the kitchen right now. Look at this lot – nothing too fancy here, eh?

But what is this dish? Well, it’s clearly a lot of potato, peppers and aubergine. It’s all sliced up, fried in a little olive oil, then topped off with a thick tomato sauce that’s rammed with lots of garlic. There seem to be quite a lot of variations out there (which is only to b expected with such a traditional dish), but I’ve made a tweak and added a few slices of Spanish Manchego cheese before pouring over the tomato sauce to add a bit more substance so that this makes a tasty and filling main dish.

Now, a lot of blogs feature recipes that are “simple” or “easy” or “a breeze”. I’m not going to lie – this is one that’s easy, but its not quick. I think this tastes best when you can leave the vegetables to fry gently on a very low heat, rather than cremating them over a hot flame. If you’re able to multi-task and do something else at the same time (which coudl involve, perhaps, glasses of wine in the sunshine) then it is indeed simply. It’s just that some thing cannot be rushed.

This a really nice dish that works either as a cold tapas-style nibble with drinks (serve it up with bowls of olives, almonds and patatas bravas with garlic mayo with a few glasses of chilled white wine), or have it as a main dish with a large green salad. Either way – delicious, and you get the feeling of just a little summer sunshine as you eat it.

To make tumbet (as a side dish for four, main for two):

For the sauce:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
• pepper, to taste

• salt, to taste
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)

Heat the oil over a low heat. Add the garlic and fry very gently for about a minute (it shouldn’t brown). Add the salt, pepper, oregano and chopped tomatoes. Cover the sauce, and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. If the sauce is too dry, just add a little more water.

For the layers:

• 300g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 aubergine, sliced
• 2 peppers (I used one red, one yellow), cut into sticks
• 75g Manchego cheese, sliced
• olive oil, for frying

Fry the potatoes in a little olive oil until they are starting to turn golden brown. Put in the bottom of an ovenproof dish.

Brush the aubergine slides with a little olive oil, and fry gently until soft and browned on both sides. Place on top of the potatoes.

Finally, fry the peppers until soft. Put on top of the aubergine, then arrange the slices of cheese on top.

Pour over the sauce and spread evenly on top of the vegetables.

Worth making? This is a tasty dish with lots of flavours and textures, and in my view, makes a nice change from lasagna, moussaka or the dreaded mushroom risotto(*) if you have to serve something to a veggie guest.

(*) Acutally, I love mushrooms risotto – it’s just that it tends to be the only thing on the menu is so many place in London these days!


Filed under Recipe, Savoury