iced gems

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They’re only little, but clustered on their tray in bright shades – fuschia, striped blue, a peachy blush – these iced gems look like the candy-coloured domes of St Basil’s. Any who accuse them of looking trashy, ostentatious or garish are missing the kitsch point entirely.

For the biscuit bases:
50g unsalted butter
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons cold water

For the meringue:
2 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
100g caster sugar
Food colouring

1 Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour for the biscuit bases until no visible chunks of butter remain. Stir in the baking powder, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks together with the vanilla and a teaspoon of the water. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and use a small knife to repeatedly cut through the flour until the liquid is well distributed and the flour lightly moistened. The dough should begin to come together in small clumps. If dry flour remains, just add another teaspoon or two of water. Once combined, press the dough clumps together into a flattish round, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30-45 minutes, or until firmer and less sticky. While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4 and line a large baking tray with baking parchment.

2 On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out to roughly 25x25cm, or no more than 4mm thick. Cut into 2-4cm diameter circles, either with a small cutter (I actually used a small lid) or using a small sharp knife and a template. If you don’t have a suitable sized cutter, you could make the job easier by cutting square – rather than circular, bases – you’ll just need to mark out a rough grid with a ruler and cut out.

3 Arrange the dough pieces on the lined baking tray and chill/freeze them for ten minutes or so if they’ve softened a lot as you’ve been working. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Once they’re golden and sandy, leave to cool.

4 While the biscuit bases cook, prepare the meringue: first, very thoroughly clean and dry a large glass, ceramic or steel bowl (plastic isn’t great for meringue as it tends to retain traces of grease, which can prevent the eggs from whisking up as they should). Lightly whisk the white just to slacken them and transfer a couple of teaspoons of the white to a small bowl or ramekin (we’ll use this later). Use an electric mixer to whisk the remaining whites until they’re completely foamy, then add the sugar a quarter at a time, whisking well between each addition to allow each batch of sugar to dissolve. The meringue will be foamy at first, before becoming thicker, glossier and whiter. It’s ready when it holds stiff peaks when you slowly lift the whisk from the mixture.

5 If you want to colour or flavour the meringue, now’s the time to do so. Divide the meringue in little bowls and very gently fold in food colouring or flavourings, stirring no more than is necessary – a few streaks will actually add to the effect. Spoon the meringue mixes into piping bags fitted with wide nozzles. You can actually dribble a drop or two of food colouring down the inside of the piping bag before filling it, if you want your iced gems to have a stripe of colour.

6 Just before you’re  ready to pipe the meringue onto the bases, brush each biscuit with a little of the extra egg white (we set it aside earlier), which will help the meringue adhere. Pipe small rosettes of meringue onto each biscuit and lower the oven temperature to 140°C/fan 120°C/gas mark 1-2. You may not need all of the meringue.

7 Bake the iced gems for 25 minutes if you’ve made very small 2cm biscuits or up to 40 minutes for large biscuits. The meringue should feel firm to the touch.

Black Pepper & Orange Rye Rolls

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An introduction to rye:

With a very different structure to standard wheat flour, and a notorious contrarian streak, rye flour isn’t always easy to work with. As ‘rustic’ and ‘organic’ as bread can be, when working with rye it’s imperative that you don’t just freestyle – throwing flour, water, salt and yeast into a bowl and hoping for the best just won’t work. But when rye bread is done right – with care, patience and thought – it can be put even the most elaborate white wheat loaves to shame.

Good news first: rye flour tastes fantastic. Scoop a handful of dark rye flour from its bag and you’ll notice that it’s got a greyish hue and light speckling through it; as it bakes, this ashy flour will darken to a deep brown and the dough will develop a slightly sweet, nutty, earthy flavour. It’s robust and hearty, a far cry from wholemeal wheat flour, which is coarser, blander and less complex. Rye also contributes a moist, chewy texture absent in the average bloomer.

The problem is that rye flour is very low in decent-quality gluten (the substance responsible for the elasticity of bread dough, and the good rise and structure of the finished loaf) and very high in other things – a cocktail of enzymes, complex sugars and low-quality gluten. This unfortunate combination means that breads made with any substantial amount of rye tend to struggle to rise, have a gummy texture and claggy crumb.

As such, to make the most of this great flavour and texture, you’ll have to do a careful balancing act of different flours – a bit of rye for flavour, a bit of strong white flour to contribute gluten for rise – and tweak the usual rhythms of your bread-making. In the rolls below, for example, just under a third of the flour is rye, with the rest comprised of a mixture of strong white and wholemeal wheat flours. Make sure that you add a little more water to your dough than you might usually do, too: rye flour can absorb up to eight times its weight in water (compared to 2x for wheat flours).

There’s only so far that flour-combining can take you, though. If you want to make rye bread with upwards of one third rye flour, you’ll likely have to foray into the strange world of sourdough. Thanks to the long, slow fermentation, natural yeasts and gentle acidity of sourdoughs, the enzymes that might usually give rye breads a heavy, sticky texture struggle to take hold. You could also replicate the acidity of sourdough by adding a dash of vinegar to a normal dough, but you’d have to exercise caution in doing so: yeast can tolerate only a certain level of acidity.

Once you’ve settled on the basic proportions of your dough, you shouldn’t find the bread-making process substantially different from that for any other loaf: just take care to knead thoroughly (you’re relying on the gluten in the strong white flour to take the slack for the rye), be patient during the rising periods and don’t be disparaged by the stickiness of the dough – this is completely normal. But for all this forewarning and explanation, I don’t mean to scaremonger: rye isn’t an enigma or an enemy – it’s just flour. Get stuck in.

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Black Pepper & Orange Rye Rolls

100g dark rye flour
50g strong wholemeal flour
350g strong white flour
7g instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Zest of 2 oranges
350ml lukewarm water

1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt, to glaze

1 Stir together the flours in a large bowl then mix in the yeast, salt, pepper and orange zest. Pour in the water and use your hands to combine until you’re left with a sticky, ragged dough. Leave for 15 minutes or so to rest and absorb a little water.

2 Knead the dough on a clean surface for 10 minutes, until it’s smoother, less sticky and more elastic. It’ll be heavy and difficult to work with at first, but resist the urge to flour the work surface – if necessary, you can add a drop of oil to your hands and the surface to prevent sticking, but with a little hard work you should be able to knead the dough as it is. Once kneaded, place in a large clean bowl and leave to rise at room temperature for 1 – 1 ½ hours. It ought to almost double in size.

3 Once risen, tip the dough from its bowl and divide into 12 equal-sized pieces. How you shape them now is your prerogative. You could gently roll the dough on a work surface under your cupped hand you make simple buns; rolling the portions out to sausage shapes (30-35cm long) gives you a change to play around with twisting, knotting or even plaiting the dough. The ones that you see in the photo were not pre-planned or researched – simply the result of playing around with the dough. Be imaginative.

4 Leave the shaped rolls to rise on a lightly greased baking tray, covered loosely with cling film. After 45-60 minutes they should be at least 1.5 times their original size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4.

5 Use a pastry brush to give each of the rolls a coat of egg wash and bake for 25 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

caramelised banana upside-down cake

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It’s not always easy to incorporate fruit into cake – stir fresh fruit into the batter and it’ll leave the cake soggy and dense, blend it in and you risk curdling the mixture. The safest options is to stick to the upside-down cake format: fruit embedded into a caramel layer at the bottom of the tin, buried under the cake batter and then turned upside down once baked to reveal a patterned top. It works particularly well with bananas, the edges caramelising to a deep reddish gold.

For the caramelised banana topping:
75g caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large bananas, cut into 1cm slices

120g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Generous pinch of salt
2 large eggs
30ml milk
120g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Grease a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin. Cut a circle of baking parchment a couple centimeters wider than the diameter of the tin and us it to line the base and the lower part of the sides of the tin – this should stop the caramel from seeping out, if your tin base doesn’t fit completely snugly.

2 In a small pan (preferably not non-stick) stir together the sugar and water for the caramel. Place over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved, swirling gently to combine if necessary. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat a little and *don’t stir*. Leave the mixture to bubble, untouched, until it has darkened to an amber colour. If your hob gives an uneven heat you might find some of the mixture colouring more quickly – gently tilt the pan to swirl it around if so. The danger with this method for making caramel is that it will crystallise, turning grainy and translucent. But you should be successful as long as you resist the urge to stir.

3 As soon as the caramel is ready, drizzle it into the prepared tin, covering the base. Arrange the banana slices on top while the caramel is still warm.

4 Cream the butter and sugar together until lighter and fluffy then stir in the treacle, spices, vanilla extract and salt. Stir in the eggs and milk – don’t worry if it looks a bit curdled. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda then add this to the wet ingredients and fold together until smooth.

5 Spoon the batter over the banana slices and bake in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes or until a small knife inserted into the middle comes out with no more than a few errant crumbs stuck to it. While it’s hot, invert the cake remove it from its tin and peel back the baking parchment to reveal the caramelised banana top. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

fruit & nut florentines

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This is just a basic template from which you may deviate as much or as little as you like: swapping the peanuts for hazelnuts works well, as does adding a few glace cherries, chunks of crystallised ginger or even a few dried (edible!) rose petals. As long as you don’t fiddle too much with the base – honey, sugar, butter, cream, flour – you’ll manage perfectly chewy, caramelised florentines every time.

Makes  12 florentines

50g runny honey
50g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon single cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons plain flour
60g flaked almonds
60g salted peanuts
40g raisins
100g dark chocolate

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4 and line a couple of large baking trays with baking parchment.

2 Place the honey in a medium pan over a low heat. Once it reaches a simmer, allow it to bubble for a minute then add the sugar, butter, cream and vanilla extract. Bring back to a simmer and then remove from the heat.

3 Stir the flour, flaked almonds, peanuts and raisins together in a bowl, then add this to the honey mixture in the pan. Stir until well combined then place heaped teaspoons of the mixture onto the lined baking trays. Take care to allow a lot of space for the florentines to spread as they cook – I usually bake them in batches, with no more than four florentines per tray.

4 Bake for 15 minutes or so in the preheated oven, until they’ve spread and browned. The edges of the florentines will likely be ragged when they first emerge from the oven: use a metal spoon to nudge them back into a neatly circular shape while they’re still warm and malleable.

5 Leave the florentines to cool completely on their trays, as they’ll be too soft to handle when freshly baked. Once cooled, transfer to a wire rack.

6 Melt the chocolate (either in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water or carefully in the microwave) then use a pastry brush to cover the undersides of the florentines with it. Leave to set (in the fridge, if necessary) before eating.

cherry pie

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From a Twin Peaks fanatic, with love.

Crisp golden pastry and sour-sweet crimson cherries. Enjoy with a mug of black coffee and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Despite using primarily sweet cherries, what really makes this pie exciting is the comparatively small quantity of sour (or Morello) cherries mixed into the filling. You’re more likely to find Morello cherries in a jar or dried than fresh so use whichever type you can get your hands on.

Makes 1 large pie, serving 8 generously

For the pastry:
400g plain flour
200g unsalted butter, firm but not fridge-cold, cubed
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:
500–600g frozen cherries (they’re cheaper and usually come ready-stoned)
Juice of 1½ lemons
3 tablespoons cornflour
¼ teaspoon almond extract
75g caster or granulated sugar
200g sour/Morello cherries, either dried or from a jar

1 large egg beaten with a tablespoon of milk, to glaze

Large pie dish, 25–28cm in diameter at its rim

1 Measure the flour into a large bowl, then use your fingertips to rub the cubes of butter into it until completely combined. The mixture should resemble fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the salt and sugar, then drizzle in the water. Use a butter knife to ‘cut’ through the mixture repeatedly (as opposed to stirring) to break up any wet lumps of flour and evenly distribute the moisture. It should come together into small clumps before long. If it doesn’t, add a splash more water. Quickly but firmly press the mixture together with your hands, form into a flattish disc and wrap it tightly in cling film. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

2 Put the sweet cherries in a medium-sized pan over a low heat, and warm gently until they’re beginning to release their juices (there’s no need to defrost first: use them straight from the freezer). Continue to heat the fruit for a couple more minutes, stirring all the while.

3 Add the lemon juice and cornflour to the now-juicy cherries. Cook for a few minutes until the juices begin to thicken with the cornflour. As soon as the juice has the consistency of double cream, take the pan off the heat. Stir in the almond extract, sugar and sour cherries then set aside to cool.

4 Divide the chilled pastry into two pieces, one of 400g and the other around 300g. Return the smaller piece to the fridge, again wrapped in cling film. Roll the larger piece into a circle big enough to line the base and sides of the pie dish (doing this on a lightly floured sheet of baking parchment will make it easier to transfer to the dish), then line the pie dish with the pastry and chill it for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.

5 Once the pastry case is chilled and the filling mixture has cooled, spoon the filling into the shell. Now roll the smaller pastry piece to a circle big enough to form the lid of the pie. Lay the lid over the top of the filling and, brushing the edges with a little milk, press into the rim of the pastry sides to seal. You could crimp it with a fork, but it’s not essential.

6 Brush the lid of the pastry with the egg and milk glaze, make a couple of incisions to allow steam to escape and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4 and cook for a further 25 minutes.

glazed ring doughnuts

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A trip to the States has rekindled a dangerous appetite for doughnuts. Each city had its own doughnut messiahs – from Seattle’s Top Pot to the less than saintly Voodoo Donuts in Portland – and I sampled each one with due enthusiasm: toffee-glazed apple fritters, cream-filled Long Johns and the familiar fat jam doughnuts. But the iconic ring doughnuts were the ones I would always come back to, to the detriment of both wallet and waistline. Some were flecked with saffron and others laced with chocolate. I even tried one spiked with lemon and thyme. The recipe below is for a simpler kind – just sugar or chocolate glaze and simple sponge – but you can make these as fancy or frivolous as you want with a little experimentation.

There’s nothing difficult about this recipe, but they do take a little time thanks to the slow-working yeast in the dough. Set aside a few hours and rest assured that most of the prep time can be spent hands-off, waiting for the dough to rise and watching – what else? – Twin Peaks.

Makes 14-16

For the dough:
500g strong white flour
10g instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
330ml milk
60g unsalted butter, softened

2l vegetable, corn or sunflower oil

For chocolate glaze:
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
100g icing sugar
40-50ml water

For butterscotch glaze:
200ml double cream
160g soft light brown sugar
25g butter
Generous pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For simple water icing:
200g icing sugar
Water, as much as needed
Food colouring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)

1 Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Heat the milk on the hob or in the microwave until it’s barely lukewarm. Be careful not to let the milk grow hot: yeast is incredibly sensitive to heat, and although a little warmth will speed the process up, too much may kill the yeast. Add the warmed milk to the dry ingredients along with the softened butter and stir together to roughly combine.

2 If you’ve got a mixer with dough hooks, this next step will be easy. Otherwise, roll your sleeves up and be prepared to get your hands messy: you’ll need to scrunch, squeeze and stretch the dough to finish incorporating all of the ingredients, then tip the dough from its bowl to knead it. There’s no need to grease or flour work surface – the dough will be slightly sticky to begin with, but if you persevere you’ll find it becoming smoother and more supple. Knead it for at least 5 minutes, but nearer to 10 minutes if time allows.

3 Place the kneaded bowl in a large bowl, cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 1-2 hours at room temperature, or until roughly doubled in size. How long this takes will depend on the temperature or your kitchen and the initial temperatures of the ingredients. Patience is important.

4 Once the dough has risen, it’s time to shape the doughnuts. Lightly flour your work surface then roll the dough out to around 40 x 30cm. Thanks to the dough’s natural elasticity, it will shrink back slightly as you roll it, but this shouldn’t worry you. Just let it shrink as much as it needs to, then re-roll, repeating until the dough has been tamed enough to stay at roughly 40 x 30cm.

5 Using a couple of round pastry cutters (or going free-form if you don’t have any) cut 8-10cm diameter circles from the dough, then cut 3-5cm circles from the middle of each one to give the standard ring doughnut shape. What you do with the off-cuts is up to you – gather them all together and re-roll or just leave the small circles (the ‘doughnut holes’) as they are to fry separately.

6 Place the doughnuts or a couple of large pieces of baking parchment, drape clingfilm over the top and leave to rise – again at room temperature – for around 45 minutes, or until visibly puffier and around 1.5 times their original thickness.

7 Around 30 minutes through the rising time, you should set the oil on the pre-heat. Use a large, deep (preferably non-stick) pan and fill around 2/3 of the way up with oil, making sure that you have at least 5cm of oil in the pan. If you’ve got a sugar thermometer, hook it onto the side of the pan now; if you don’t have one, you’ll have to guesstimate the temperature using a cube of bread: if it browns all over in 60 seconds, the oil is the right temperature. The oil should be at 170-190°C for frying.

8 If you plan to use the butterscotch glaze to ice your doughnuts, now is the time to prepare it: just warm the cream and sugar over a low heat until the mixture is smooth and glossy, then stir in the butter until melted. Add the vanilla extract and salt off the heat. This will thicken slightly as it cools, so you may need to warm it again when you’re ready to ice.

9 Once the doughnuts have risen and the oil is up to temperature, you can begin frying. Very carefully lower 2-4 doughnuts into the pan at once. Fry for 90 seconds, gently flip the doughnut over and fry for a further 90 seconds. They’ll deepen to a warm amber colour and develop a light crust. Keep an eye on the oil temperature throughout. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon or tongs to lift the doughnuts from the oil, and pat them dry between a few sheets of kitchen towel. Repeat in batches.

10 The butterscotch glaze is best applied while the doughnuts are still warm: just brush liberally all over the doughnuts using a pastry brush, or similar. The other glazes can wait until the doughnuts have cooled: just stir together the ingredients with enough water to give a thick but not gloopy glaze. It needs to be viscous enough to sit on top of the doughnut rather than run straight down the sizes. For a simpler finish, just toss the doughnuts in a bowlful of icing sugar to coat.

Best enjoyed soon after making.

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.