lemon curd cheesecake

The easiest cheesecake I know: just cream, soft cheese and bright lemon curd folded through the lot.

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There are, broadly speaking, three ways to make a cheesecake. The first is to bake it, using eggs to set the cheese. This sort is usually my favourite: rich without being over-sweet, creamy and (if baked patiently and sympathetically) with a velvety smooth texture. The next method uses gelatine, but it’s not an approach that I’m keen on. Although these are fresher and brighter than baked cheesecakes, a delicate balance has to be struck if you’re to avoid a rubbery texture. Besides, the faffing around involved in using gelatine isn’t, in my eyes, worth it – especially when you can achieve a similar result without. The third approach (used in the cheesecake below) achieves the summery lightness of a gelatine-set cheesecake, without any of the fuss. The trick is double cream – whisked until firm then folded through the cheese.

You can substitute other flavours into this cheesecake but it’s crucial that you maintain a level of sharpness – perhaps with redcurrants, passionfruit or lime – to balance the creaminess of the filling. Using curds is a good way of incorporating flavour without ‘diluting’ the mixture too much, which would prevent the cheesecake from setting.

For the base:
175g ginger biscuits
90g unsalted butter

For the filling:
300g cream cheese
zest of 2-3 lemons*
150ml double cream
300g lemon curd

*if you want, you can make the curd for this recipe using the juice from these zested lemons. There’s a curd recipe over here at my Guardian column. Usually you’d use the zest and juice of the lemons in the curd, but I think that this cheesecake benefits from having the flecks of zest fresh through the mixture, so just make a juice-only curd for economy’s sake.

8″ loose-bottomed or springform cake tin

1 Line the base of the cake tin with a circle of greaseproof paper or baking parchment.

2 Crush the biscuits or blitz in a food processor until reduced to crumbs. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat then add to the crushed biscuits, stirring to combine. The mixture needs to be just moist enough that it’ll hold in small clumps when squeezed, so add a little more butter if necessary. Press firmly into the bottom of the prepared tin, levelling the surface with the back of a spoon. Chill in the refrigerator.

3 Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until completely smooth, then add the lemon zest. Fold in 200g of the lemon curd. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until firm (it should just about hold stiff peaks, but take care not to over-whisk) then, using a cutting motion with the spoon, gently fold this into the cream cheese mixture. Taste it now: if it needs a little extra zest or sweetness (different curds will have slightly different sugar content) add more lemon or a touch of caster sugar accordingly. Otherwise, spoon it over the chilled base, smooth the top and chill for a good few hours.

4 Once chilled and firmer, spoon the remaining lemon curd on top. Let chill for a further 20 minutes or so then carefully unmould and serve. This cheesecake is softer than a baked one, but as long as you’ve handled the mixture lightly and chilled thoroughly, it should still hold in quivering slices.

chocolate orange swiss roll

Swirls of velvety buttercream and light sponge.  Because the claim that you can sate a chocolate craving with one meagre square of bitter, dark chocolate (‘it’s healthier!’, ‘it really satisfies you!’) is, at best, rather optimistic.

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The cake used here – called a genoise sponge – is comparatively low-fat… until you slather it with thick chocolate buttercream, at least.

The whisking stage might seem a bit of a hassle, but it’s the key to a light, springy cake.  Just keep going until you reach ‘ribbon stage’ – when the whisk, lifted from the egg, leaves a ‘ribbon’ of the mixture which sits for a moment on the surface before slowly sinking back in.  This stage can be catalysed by warming the eggs and sugar slightly over a bain-marie, but if you do this, be careful not to accidentally cook the eggs.  

For the cake:
20g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
85g caster sugar
85g plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
zest of 1 orange

For the buttercream:
75g unsalted butter, soft
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
zest of 1 orange
150g icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk

A little icing or caster sugar, to dust

Swiss roll tin or rimmed baking tray, approximately 22x33cm

1   Line the tray or swiss roll tin with baking parchment.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.

2   Melt the butter over a low heat then set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the remaining ingredients.  Whisk the eggs and sugar until very, very thick and creamy.  The mixture needs to be thick enough that when the whisk is lifted out it’ll leave a ribbon trail which will sit on the surface of the batter for several seconds before sinking back in.  This will have 5 minutes or so with an electric whish, or 10 minutes and a lot of willpower by hand.

5   Stir the flour and cocoa powder together before sifting half of this over the surface of the egg mixture.  Very gently fold in then repeat with the remaining flour.  Be sure to dig right to the bottom of the bowl when folding in the flour, as it tends to clump and sink through the mixture unless carefully incorporated.  Add the melted butter and orange zest.  Work the batter as little as possible: you need it to remain fluffy and aerated – excessive stirring will deflate it.

6   Spoon the batter into the tin, gentle level it and bake for 9-11 minutes, or until well-risen and springy to the touch.  Take care not to over-bake, which could result in a dry, shrunken cake.

7   Let the baked sponge cool for a minute or two then turn out onto a sheet of baking parchment dusted all over with sugar.  Peel the original piece of parchment off of the sponge.  Now roll the sponge, on its dusted baking parchment, up into a roll – the parchment will stop the layers sticking to each other.  Roll from short end to short end, creating a roll around 22cm long.  Sit with the join underneath to stop it unfurling then let cool.  Cooling it this way helps the sponge to ‘remember’ this shape and helps it to stay tightly rolled later, once filled.

8   While the sponge cools, prepare the buttercream.  Beat the butter with the cocoa powder and zest until combined, adding the icing sugar gradually and slackening with the milk.

9   After around 30 minutes the sponge should be cool.  Unroll it, spread evenly with the buttercream and roll back up, this time without the layer of baking parchment.

malt loaf

Malt loaf flies in the face of a growing fussiness over the way our food looks.  It’s a cake in practice but a bread in spirit: frugal, basic, free from artifice or ornament.  It’s a simplicity which allows flavour and texture to take centre stage, and in a cake as gloriously malty and chewy as this, that can be no bad thing.

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Light brown sugar will leave the loaf tasting fudgy, dark brown sugar will create a deeper, treacle flavour.  It’s up to you to choose which you use.  As for the malt extract, you can find it in most health food stores and some of the larger supermarkets.

50g unsalted butter
110ml strong black tea
150g malt extract
120g light or dark brown soft sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest 1 orange
juice 1/2 orange
275g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
generous pinch salt
150g sultanas or raisins

1 Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan). Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2 Melt the butter over a low heat with the tea and malt extract. Once combined, add the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and orange zest and juice.

3 In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. And this mixture to the wet ingredients, whisking until fully incorporated. The batter will be thinner than you might be used to for some other cakes – this is nothing to worry about. It’s precisely this high moisture content that’s responsible for the loaf’s characteristic density and stickiness. Add the dried fruit.

4 Pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake for around 60-75 minutes. It’s ready when a knife inserted into the centre emerges with no more than a crumb or two stuck to it. Don’t be tempted to wait until the knife emerges bone-dry: the loaf will continue to cook in its own residual heat for a short while after you take it out of the oven.

coffee & blackcurrant roulade

Coffee & Blackcurrant Roulade

This is one of those desserts that cause a hush to settle over the table, broken only by the clinking of cutlery on plates as each person tries to scrape up every last blackcurrant and drop of thick cream.  Coffee and blackcurrant are unlikely but perfect partners, sharing a dark fruitiness and depth.

Another, even easier version of this dessert would be to serve it as an affogato.  Make a firmer meringue, using ground instant coffee folded into the meringue mix instead of espresso, bake in generous heaps in a low oven and then crush into small bowls with spoonfuls of soft blackcurrants, a mound of ice cream, and a drizzling of steaming hot espresso over the lot.

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4 large egg whites
200g caster or soft light brown sugar
2 tbsp very strong espresso, cooled

200g blackcurrants
50g caster or granulated sugar
300ml double cream

50g icing sugar

1   Line a large roasting dish or deep baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan).

2   In a very clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites just until they’re completely foamy and hold in mounds as the whisk is lifted out.   Add the sugar a little at a time, whisking thoroughly between each addition.  Adding the sugar all at once or before the previous addition has been incorporated may cause the meringue to collapse, so do be patient here.

3   Once all the sugar has been added keep whisking.  You’ll feel the meringue become thicker, you’ll see it grow glossy and smooth, but don’t stop until the point when, as you slowly lift your whisk away from the meringue,  the mixture holds in a firm, well-defined, straight peak.  At this point you can very, very gently fold in the coffee – the mixture will deflate a little, but never mind – and spoon into the line tin, gently smoothing the top.  Bake for 45 minutes.

4   While the meringue is baking, heat the blackcurrants in a saucepan over a low heat with the sugar, just until the sugar has dissolved and the blackcurrants begin to release their juices.  Set aside to cool.  Whip the cream until very thick but not too firm.

5   Once the meringue is baked, sprinkle the remaining sugar onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and turn the meringue out onto it so that it’s upside-down.  Peel the paper off of the underside of the meringue and let cool.  Once cool, spread with the cream and spoon over the blackcurrants.  Roll up, starting from one of the short edges.  Don’t worry if the meringue cracks or it some of the cream and blackcurrant juice oozes out – this is a beautiful dessert but not one to get precious over.

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream

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A wedge of Christmas pudding – heavy with fruit and nuts, alcohol-sodden, damp and dark – after the extravagances of a full roast dinner is, even for me, far too much.  Sometimes (even at Christmas) a lighter dessert is called for… one like this: less stodgy but still bursting with the tastes of Christmas.  Imagine the last scraps at the bottom of the bowl as you finish a slice of Christmas pudding: yellow cream, brandy, crumbs of dark pudding, stray currants all melting together.  This ice cream tastes of just that.  The purists can run screaming if they want: this is going to be my Christmas pudding this year.  Loosen your belts and stoically – all in the festive spirit, of course -tuck in.

80g currants
50g prunes
80ml rum or brandy

300ml double cream
300ml full fat milk
4 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

50g candied peel
75g glace cherries, chopped
25g candied or crystallised ginger, chopped

Combine the currants, prunes and rum/brandy in a small saucepan over a very low heat, heating only until just warm.  This will help the fruit to absorb the liquid.  Set aside to cool.

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until scalding, keeping an eagle eye on the pan to make sure that it doesn’t boil over.

Whisk the yolks, sugar, spies, salt and vanilla together in a large bowl (you’ll be pouring the cream etc into here in a moment, so do make it a large bowl) until thick, paler and creamy.

As soon as the milk and cream are scalding, pour slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking continuously.  The milk must go into the eggs, and not the other way round, otherwise the eggs may scramble.

Once combined, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Please don’t be impatient at this crucial stage – the mixture must be kept moving in the pan, and the heat must be kept low otherwise the whole lot will scramble.  It can about 10 minutes for the custard to thicken, so just turn on the radio and take it slow.  Because there are fewer egg yolks per volume of liquid than in regular custard, this won’t thicken as much as you might expect.  Just let it get to the stage where it’s noticeably smoother and as thick as heavy cream.  If you have a sugar or meat thermometer, take the custard to just under 80C.

Take the pan off the heat and add in the soaked currants and prunes, any unabsorbed rum/brandy, the peel, cherries and ginger.  Stir to combine.  You can add an extra tablespoon of alcohol, to taste, at this point if you want but don’t add any more than this – alcohol stops the ice cream from setting up as solidly as it freezes, which is fantastic to a point, but which could result in a sloppy ice cream is you use too much.

Now transfer the custard to a Tupperware tub with a lid or even, appropriately, an old ice cream tub.  Leave it unlidded to cool at room temperature.  Once cool, transfer it to the fridge to chill for an hour or two.

The next step is easy if you have an ice cream maker and a little more labour-intensive if not.  If you have an ice cream machine, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  If not, make sure that you’re going to be home for a few hours because the ice cream will need to be stirred at intervals until frozen.  Freeze for 30 minutes then beat vigorously.  The beating motion will help to break up any ice crystals that may form, ensure a smooth – not crystalline – ice cream.  Repeat the freezing then beating process for around 3 hours or until the ice cream is much thicker.  At this point it can be left to freeze until you need it.

If you find that it freezes a little hard, just allow half hour or so for it to defrost slightly in the fridge before serving.

walnut & clementine sponge puddings

Despite the greyish school dinner versions, sickly supermarket substitutes and a few traumatic experiments with ‘microwave mug cakes’, I can still think of nothing that comforts me more than sponge and custard.  It’s a typically, unashamedly British innovation in stodge.  These baked sponge puddings use ground walnuts in place of some of the flour to lend them a rich, nutty flavour.  If you can’t find clementines, use orange zest instead, just don’t be tempted to leave the zest out – it really brings these puddings to life.
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walnut and clementine sponge puddings with zesty custard
for the sponges:
100g walnut pieces
100g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
60g butter (room temp)
pinch salt
50g soft (light) brown sugar
50g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest 2 clementines
75ml full fat milk
1 large egg
for the custard:
3 egg yolks
40g caster sugar
zest 1 clementine
300ml full fat milk
4 x individual metal pudding moulds
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).
Toast the walnuts for ten minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.
Once toasted, blitz half the walnuts in a food processor or coffee grinder until ground. Careful not to process too much, as this will release the oils in the nuts, and the mixture will clump.  Chop the remaining walnuts into smallish pieces.
Line the bottoms of the tins with circles of greaseproof, and grease the tins with butter.
Combine the flour, ground walnuts, baking powder and salt.  Cream and butter and sugars together in a separate bowl, then beat in the egg.  Add the zest and combine.  Then add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately until all combined.  Add the chopped walnut pieces.
Spoon the mixture into the pudding moulds so they’re just about two-thirds full (care not to overfill, as mixture will rise in oven) and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Meanwhile, heat the milk for the custard. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.  When the milk is scalding, slowly pour it into the bowl with the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Decant mixture back into the saucepan, and heat very gently, stirring continuously.  When mixture thickened enough to coat back of spoon, turn off the heat and stir in the zestServe the puddings while still warm with some custard.

blueberry, orange & pistachio buns

Only a variation on the Almond & Cherry buns posted previously, but worthwhile inclusion nonetheless. It’s very easy to adapt sweet dough to your own needs/preferences, and I hope you’ll have the courage to do so. You can always add extra spices to the flour mixture early on, knead in a little zest or some dried fruit, or shape the dough into balls, finger shapes or even knots – it’s a versatile baking discipline: make it your own.

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Blueberry, Orange & Pistachio Buns

500g strong white flour
100g butter
7g yeast
7g salt
40g sugar
230ml tepid milk
2 large eggs

100g butter, softened
150g soft light brown sugar
200g blueberries
100g pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
zest 2 oranges

1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt, to glaze

cream cheese icing (optional):
50g butter, very soft
100g cream cheese
30g caster sugar
A little milk

Combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast.  Rub in the butter.  Add the milk and eggs, and use your hands to thoroughly combine.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands mucky – it’s a sticky dough, but you’ll need to give it a lot of handling before it comes together.  After 10 minutes of kneading it should be elastic, less sticky and more robust.  Let double in size at room temperature over 1.5-2 hours.

Beat the sugar and zest into the very soft butter for the filling.  The butter should be very slightly melted in order to be soft enough to spread evenly over the fragile dough.

Knock back the risen dough, and roll to 50x30cm approx on a well floured surface.  Spread the butter mixture all over, leaving a border of 1.5cm around the edge to prevent leakage.  Sprinkle over the blueberries and chopped pistachio kernels, gently patting in to help them adhere to the dough.

Roll the dough up lengthways to get a roll of 50cm length.  Tacking on long side to the workbench by smearing with your thumb will help secure it while you roll the rest towards it, and will help the dough adhere.  Cut the log into 12 pieces, arrange in a 30 x 20 cm (approx.) roasting dish so that each roll is close to the adjacent ones, but not touching.  Let rise 30-45 minutes, while preheating the oven to 200C.  Glaze with the egg wash, bake for 10minutes before reducing the oven temperature to 180C and baking for a further 20mins.

For the cream cheese drizzle, beat the sugar and sugar until very smooth and pale, then add the cream cheese.  Beat until smooth.  Add a little milk until the mixture is loose enough to drizzle over the buns.  You can go for a minimalist Pollock here, or just drench the buns.  It’s up to you.

Almond Praline & Cherry Buns

Praline and cherry swirled in a buttery dough.

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Almond Praline & Cherry Buns

500g strong white flour
7g yeast
7g salt
50g butter
30g sugar
230ml tepid milk
2 large eggs

200g whole blanched almonds
250g caster sugar
2-3 tbsp water
150g dried cherries

1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt, to glaze

Combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast.  Rub in the butter.  Add the milk and eggs, and use your hands to thoroughly combine.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands mucky – it’s a sticky dough, but you’ll need to give it a lot of handling before it comes together.  After 10minutes of kneading it should be elastic, less sticky and more robust.  Let double in size over 1.5-2 hours.  Meanwhile, toast the almonds at 180C for 10minutes – keep an eye on them! Let cool on an oiled baking tray.  While the almonds are cooling, combine the caster sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan for the caramel.  Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Then leave it alone to simmer over a med-high heat until a light amber colour – don’t take it too far otherwise it’ll burn and become bitter!  Pour the caramel over the almonds, covering well.  Let cool completely before giving it a bash with a rolling pin to break up.  Break it to smallish pieces, then use a food processor or coffee grinder to blitz the praline until the almond is in small pieces.  Knock back the risen dough, and roll to 50x30cm approx on a well floured surface.  Spread the praline mixture over the dough, sprinkle on the cherries, and gently pat to secure.  Roll up lengthways to get a roll of 50cm length.  Tacking on long side to the workbench by smearing with your thumb will help secure it while you roll the rest towards it, and will help the dough adhere.  Cut the log into 12 pieces, arrange in a roasting dish so that each roll is close to the adjacent ones, but not touching.  Let rise 30-45minutes more, while preheating the oven to 200C.  Glaze with the egg wash, bake for 10minutes before reducing the oven temperature to 180C and baking for a further 20mins.

franzbrötchen

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These are such wonderful pastries. They’re not a cinnamon bun, or a croissant, but lie somewhere in between. Crisp layers of pastry and cinnamon warmth. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and any time in between.
These might not be ‘authentic’ franzbrötchen, but they are delicious, and that’s good enough for me.

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Franzbrötchen

500g strong white flour
7g instant dry yeast
1 1/2 tsps salt (8g)
50g unsalted butter
200ml milk (at room temperature)
2 large eggs
250g unsalted butter (firm but not chilled)

150g sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1 egg, to glaze

Combine the flour, yeast and salt. Rub 50g of the butter into the flour mixture until no visible flakes of butter remain. Add the milk and the eggs. Mix with your hands until the mixture is well combined. Knead very very lightly just for a minute or so, to make sure the ingredients are properly integrated. Place in a bowl, cover bowl with cling film and let rise for about 60-90 mins, or until doubled in size. Turn out of the bowl and roll to about 30x45cm. Flatten the 250g butter between cling film or two pieces of baking parchment to just under 30x30cm. Place the butter square over the lower 2/3 of the dough rectangle. Fold the uncovered 1/3 down over the butter, then fold the bottom third up over that (as if folding a letter to fit it in an envelope). Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 mins.
Give the dough a quarter turn, then roll out once more and fold as before. Chill for 15mins. Repeat the turn, roll and chill twice more.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon. Roll dough to 60x30cm approx. Sprinkle all ovr with the sugar, gently patting the sugar into the surface of the dough. Roll the dough lengthways (so you have a 60cm long roll). To help secure the roll, use your finger to tack one of the long edges of the dough to the work surface (just press and smear the edge of the dough), then roll tightly from the other edge. Very lightly dampen the tacked edge, then as you roll the main body of dough over onto it, they should adhere a little better.
Cut off the rough ends of the roll, then cut into 10-12 pieces. Press down in the centre of each piece with the floured handle of a wooden spoon (or similar) until the spoon is pushed nearly to the bottom (don’t break the piece in half though!).   See the photo below for reference.

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Arrange the pastries on a baking tray (or two) and let prove at room temp for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200C.  Bake for 10 minutes, then lower oven to 180C.  After another 10 minutes, glaze with the egg (beaten lightly with a pinch of salt) and bake for 5 more minutes. (So a 25 minute bake total).  The reason for glazing part way through baking is because the laminated dough’s layers are exposed to the surface, and if glazed before baking they won’t puff and separate as they’re supposed to.

honey quince cake

A different use for quince – no need to condemn it to a lengthy boil and a life in a jam jar.  It’s a good ingredient to play with, but it does need to be teased into life with a little heat. Quince does become much more fragrant as it ripens, so be patient with it. You could always help to bring out its fragrant taste with a drop of two of rose water.

I found quince at a few grocers and markets near me, particularly in Turkish and middle eastern stores.  Have a look, but if you can’t find any use pear instead.  If you do use pear, however, be sure to choose a firm, crunchy variety.  You’ll need about 175g of the grated fruit in total, so bear that in mind.  You could also add a little cinnamon, or even sprinkle demerara sugar on top instead of the almonds.  This is a simple, homely cake: make it your own.

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Honey Quince Cake

1 quince
80ml vegetable oil (or, even better, almond oil)
2 large eggs
40g honey
100g caster sugar
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

30g flaked almonds
40g honey

Preheat oven to 180C.  Grease and base line an 8″ round cake tin (not a very shallow sandwich tin).
Peel the quince and coarsely grate on all sides until you’re left with only the core.  Combine the grated quince, oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and honey in a large mixing bowl.  Sift together the cinnamon, allspice, flour and baking powder.  Add the dry to the wet ingredients and gently fold in.  Once combined, transfer to the tin.  Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top, and bake for around 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out with no more than a crumb or two on it.  Heat the remaining honey very gently in a saucepan or in the microwave, until runny. Drizzle over the top of the cake while the cake is still warm. Enjoy with a cup of black tea.