Category Archives: Fruit

Chocolate Beetroot Celebration Cake + chocolate dipped things

The cake part of this is Nigel Slater’s luscious chocolate beetroot cake from the Kitchen Diaries, which he serves with sour cream and poppyseeds, making it clear that it’s not a serving “suggestion”. The one time I encountered Nigel Slater in real life (at the butcher) I was exactly the too-eager, inept self we all hope not to be when we meet our heroes. To be exact, I announced breathlessly “I really like to both read and eat your recipes!!!” to which he responded, gravely, “Thank you.” I lingered just long enough for it to be awkward without saying anything else, then ran.

Anyway, I’ll never be able to face Nigel again, because rather than serving his cake with unsweeted Slavic accompaniments I’ve realised that a raspberry chocolate ganache filling and white chocolate icing (plus perhaps some chocolate covered strawberries) make it a perfect celebration cake.

Speaking of BBC talent in Islington, last summer I was on the same bus as Nick Robinson and called out to him from the top deck “You’re great on the Today Programme! Who’s going to win the Conservative leadership contest?” He called it right, incidentally.
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Healthy Banana Crumble

The essential elements of this pudding – bananas caramelised into toffeeish decadence, and a naturally sweet, buttery oat crumble – are gorgeous despite having not a single gram of refined sugar. Served with a touch of cool Greek yoghurt, or even some very cold cream, it is a gloriously satisfying low-GI dessert.

Banana crumble - sugar-free, dairy-free, wheat-free - yet delicious!

Banana crumble – sugar-free, dairy-free, wheat-free – yet delicious!

It’s been a great pudding for friends who come round, too (and the non-dieting husband) – a few extra elements mean that everyone can customise their pudding to their own specific dietary requirements, whether that’s minimum impact on blood sugar or maxmimum indulgence. I’m low GI but pretty relaxed about fat/protein, but someone limiting their fat intake might sprinkle on less crumble and have Greek yoghurt/ half-fat creme fraiche rather than cream. To cater for the other end of the spectrum, I’ll make a quick salted caramel sauce and heat up some custard (either tinned or homemade) and the building blocks are there for everyone to tailor their own dessert – from dairy-free and sugar-free dessert to banoffee crumble with lashings of custard.

add a layer of salted caramel sauce to make Banoffee Crumble

add a layer of salted caramel sauce to make Banoffee Crumble

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Poached-Roasted Quince (bonus: Quince Gin!)

The stalls along Seven Sisters Road sell £1 bowls of fruit and vegetables all year round. During the winter, they sell root vegetables, imported citrus fruits and bananas – but last weekend the first indicators of seasonal change arrived in the form of rosy pomegranates at one stall, enormous fragrant strawberries at another, and, almost glowing in their stainless steel bowl, bulging golden quince. I buy them every year from the local Turkish shops, but normally they are closer to a pound apiece than £1 for five, which is what I bought one Saturday a few weeks ago.


Raw quince – golden

Poached quince, photographed through glass

Poached quince, photographed through glass

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The Fat Duck’s Black Forest Cake

A seven-layer chocolate-cherry extravaganza combining juicy cherries, velvety ganache, dense chocolate cake, airy mousse…I could go on. Respectfully ripped off from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook, even my pragmatically streamlined version of the recipe takes most of a day to make, but behold: The Lazy Duck’s Black Forest Cake.

Black Forest Cake

Hopefully you can see the layers, which are (from top to bottom):

1. Dark chocolate-cherry ganache icing – originally chocolate mousse and chocolate spraypaint
2. Cherry ripple vanilla mousse – originally kirsch mousse
3. Flourless chocolate cake
4. Morello cherries (from a jar) – in the original, fresh cherries soaked in kirsch
5. (layered with) Dark chocolate ganache
6. Whipped milk chocolate ganache – aerated chocolate in the original
7. Honey madeleine

[two months later as I write this post, I’ve realised that the flourless chocolate cake layer was in the wrong position – it should have been layer 3., (in between the cherry/ganache layer and the cherry jam vanilla mousse) – so the instructions below in terms of assembly are for what I should have done, rather than what I actually did]

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Jam Sandwich Ice Cream (Bramble & Brown Bread)

I’d be misleading you if I pretended that ice cream was a trivial thing to make, but I’d be doing you a worse disservice if I pretended it wasn’t worth it. Desserts, I rather feel, SHOULD be a bit more effort. A treat. A celebration!

This ice cream is, for me, a true celebration of English summer – it tastes like the simple joy of a perfect picnic and has a silk-and-velvet mouthfeel that is pure luxury. Homemade ice cream, additive-free and unique in flavour, is a wonderful thing to make – and with an ice cream maker and a few non-classical tricks, a reliable one too. Please don’t let the length of the recipe put you off – if you can make cake, you can easily make the ice cream base – a custard-based vanilla gelato.

If you wanted to ripple through some homemade stewed fruit (simple as leaving apples in a pan over heat to make applesauce, or caramelising bananas with some butter and brown sugar on the stove, or a saucepan of frozen berries cooked down into a sauce), you’ve already made a wonderful concoction far better, I believe, than any fruit-based ice cream because fresh fruit flavours just cannot be replicated on an industrial scale. (In fairness, I prefer bought ice creams for chocolate, caramel and nut flavours – when I’ve tried making my own, these are not better than their good quality bought counterparts. And, just to be clear – and contradicting my first paragraph – I very much enjoy a good bought ice cream, which sometimes should be in the freezer and available with absolutely no effort at all.)

But can I suggest you have a go at this version, with brown bread praline (easy to make!) and bramble jam? The buttery nutty caramel flavour is a wonderful warm counterpoint to the delicate high notes of freshly-picked blackberries, which add a lightness to the ice cream like sunbeams breaking through the trees, dappling bramble thickets with spots of dancing light.

Jam Sandwich Ice Cream

Bramble & Brown Bread ice cream, pre-freezer

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Big Sur Bakery’s Brown Butter Peach Bars

Big Sur, apparently, is a region in California famous for outstanding natural beauty. Not many people live there, but many people go to visit and explore where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. I did not know any of this until about ten minutes ago, but it does sound like an outdoorsy kind of place, doesn’t it? Some people are drawn to places like that. “Why did you climb that mountain?” I might ask them, and they’d reply “Because it’s there.” Fair enough, I’d think. “And was there anything good to eat?”

I don’t climb mountains just because they’re there. I don’t climb them at all. But occasionally a recipe gets published online and it immediately gets a reputation for being delicious, but not worth making as written. Some are too technical, like Heston Blumenthal’s Black Forest Cake (edit: six months later, I actually attempted this), or Dominique Ansel’s cronut and I read them, like science journals, and forget them. Some need too many ingredients, like almost anything by Yotam Ottolenghi, and I think, maybe one day we’ll go to his restaurant, and forget them. Some use far too many processes, but can be made from basic ingredients and baked at home, and I am drawn to these, yes I am. One such recipe was for chocolate babka, the first thing I ever made from Deb Perelman’s amazing Smitten Kitchen blog. Another was Big Sur Bakery’s Brown Butter Peach Bars, which were featured in a preview of the bakery cookbook in the New York Times, and received so much online feedback that they were too complicated, that they were pulled from the cookbook before publication, and so the recipe only exists online.

Brown Butter Nectarine Bars

A couple of bloggers have made them, and had good results. But who has time to make these things? was the general consensus. Well, until a week ago I was  unemployed, and wanting to bake something to share with our Bible study group as we start a new year of studies at church. I only started at about 3, and they were ready to bring to church at 6, including baking and cooling time (except for making the  jam, which I made a few weeks previously and kept in the fridge). So don’t let the browning of the butter put you off – it’s really very do-able, and I’ve written up a slightly streamlined version of the recipe, which I adapted to use UK measurements (grams instead of cups), fewer dishes, less sugar (and replacing white/icing sugar with brown), and without the orange (following blogger comments that the flavour was overwhelming). I also used nectarines instead of peaches, because we happened to have some that weren’t good to eat – the flavour was amazing, and not-great peaches and nectarines do make seriously great jam.

So, was it worth climbing the mountain of this recipe? I’d definitely make them again – they were dreamy, custard and fruit and buttery biscuit base combining in a balanced, but nuanced way – and the wonderful nutty flavour of the browned butter makes this something very special.

Brown Butter Nectarine Bars

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Little Chocolate Fondants

Cost: £2 or so, pretty much all storecupboard ingredients

If in any doubt about what to make if people are coming over, may I recommend this pudding? You can make it in advance – even the day before, and bake them from the fridge just before serving. Conversely, if you are surprised by unexpected guests (or expected guests, but you have forgotten to plan a dessert) then you can whip it up out of storecupboard staples and bake right away. My preference is to make them ahead and leave them in the fridge until we are clearing the plates from the main course. Normally, the oven is still warm so it doesn’t take much time to heat up, and as they cook we can take away the plates and set up for dessert.

Chocolate fondants have a reputation for being technically difficult, but it is totally undeserved. They are easier to make than a cake, and the only slightly tricky thing is getting the timing right – cooking them for long enough to give them some structural integrity, but not long enough for the centres to set. The truth is, it depends a bit on your oven and on the size of your ramekins (and thus depth of your puddings); these timings work for me but they might need a little trial and error. I like to serve them with some frozen berries and a dusting of icing sugar – so if the worst comes to the worst and they are insufficiently firm you can pass them off as warm chocolate mousses, which are gorgeous with the frozen berries, and if they are solid all the way through they are individual chocolate cakes. And nobody will ever know.

Chocolate fondant

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