Tag Archives: custard


gin and lemon tart

I was recently sent a newspaper clipping with ‘useful’ tips for gin (thanks Kath). Some of the tips were a bit silly, “why not use gin as an air-freshener?” Because I don’t want my house to smell like a 18th century tavern. “Why not use it as an aftershave?” Because I don’t want my husband to smell like an 18th century tavern. “Why not use gin as a mouthwash?” Because I don’t want to get pulled over on my drive to the gym every morning.
One of the tips, however, did make a lot of sense to me. “Why not use gin in pastry?” The chemists daughter in me thinks this actually makes a lot of sense, not just from a flavour point of view, but because the alcohol will evaporate at a different rate to water, therefore giving you a lighter, flakier crust. That has to be worth a try. I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for sticking booze in my food so why stop now? I think it worked too, the crust on this is rich and buttery but also very crisp and delicate.

gin and lemon tart
I like a creamy, custardy filling in a lemon tart, rather than the lemon meringue pie curd type. This one is very softly set and extremely tangy with a little warmth from the gin at the end. The booze also adds some very subtle botanical undertones so make sure that you pick a really nice quality gin.
I’m not sure that I could think of a better summer dessert than this!

gin and lemon tart

serves 12

170g plain flour
100g cold butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
25ml citrusy gin (I used Green Hat spring/summer edition)

150g icing sugar
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
zest and juice of 2 lemons
200g sour cream
50ml of the same gin you used in the pastry

gin and lemon tart

Mix together the flour and icing sugar, ensuring that they are well blended. Cut the butter into small pieces and then lightly rub this into the flour mixture, until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Beat together the egg yolk and the gin and use this to bring the dry mixture together to form a nice soft dough, you might not need all of the liquid so add it a bit at a time. If you need more liquid then add a tiny splash more gin. As always, when making pastry, you want to keep the mixing and handling to the bare minimum so that it doesn’t become tough. Wrap the ball of dough in cling film, flatten it a little and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes to relax. Grease a 23cm, loose bottomed tart tin.

lemon & gin tart
After the dough has done relaxing, roll it out so that it is big enough to fill the tin. I do this between pieces of cling film so that I don’t work any extra flour into it but by all means use a lightly floured surface if you prefer that. Line the tin with the pastry, gently pushing it into all the nooks and crannies. I also tend to leave a little overhang (you can trim it after it’s cooked) to allow for any shrinkage during baking. Recover the pastry case and put it back in the fridge to relax again for 20 minutes whilst the oven pre-heats to 190°c.
Prick the pastry base with a fork and cover it with a piece of grease-proof paper and then pile on some baking beans. Bake the pastry case for 20 minutes, then remove the beans and uncover it before returning it to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Once it is fully baked take the pastry case out and turn the oven down to 150°c.
At this point you can start on the filling. Mix together the icing sugar and lemon zest in a jug, then beat in the eggs and finally the lemon juice. Leave this to stand in the fridge whilst the oven cools down (for 10-15 minutes) so that the flavours can develop. when you are ready beat in the sour cream and finally the gin, making sure the filling is very smooth.

Doing a pretty good impression of Pac-Man!

Doing a pretty good impression of Pac-Man!

Put the pastry case in the oven and carefully pour then filling into it in there, it’s much easier than trying to fill it and then transfer it to the oven, there’s no way my hands are that steady.
Bake the tart for 30 minutes. It should have a little wobble to it, like a cheesecake, when it’s ready. Turn the oven off and open the door but leave that tart in there to cool down before putting it in the fridge to chill before serving.
I’ve garnished mine with a couple of leaves that I made from some leftover pastry (which got a bit too brown!), a caramelised lemon slice and a dusting of icing sugar.

gin and lemon tart



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Mmmm creme brûlée…it’s probably my favourite dessert but it’s easy to get wrong. Sometimes it can be too thin, sometimes too much like a dish of cold custard, sometimes curdled.
The best one that I’ve ever had was when Mr Colonial Cravings and I were working in Banff, Canada for a summer. I saved up (a lot) of pennies and treated him to dinner at the Rimrock hotel for his birthday. The whole meal was incredible (as was the view) but what really stood out for me was the Darjeeling and Camembert creme brûlée for dessert. I know it sounds all sorts of wrong but it was truly wonderful. So good that I e-mailed the chef the next day to beg for the recipe.
The Camembert is only there for texture, rather than flavour, and I’ve found that you can just about get away with substituting it with extra cream. The texture is a tiny bit less velvety the flavour is just as good.

It’s a little unusual as creme brûlée goes because it is set with gelatin rather than by baking in a bain marie, but I think this is what makes it more or less fool-proof. It is also a really easy recipe to modify as you don’t really need to worry about how things will be affected by the heat of the oven

makes 4 generous servings or 6 smaller ones if you want to accompany them with some biscuits or fruit

200ml double cream
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
4 egg yolks (about 50g)
25g white chocolate (chopped)
1.5g gelatine sheets (about 1 standard size sheet)


Whisk together the egg yolks, maple syrup, vanilla and corn flour until they are pale, thick and fluffy.
Gently heat the cream in a smallish saucepan, it needs to be hot but don’t let it get anywhere even close to boiling.
Strain this into egg yolk mixture, whilst whisking all the time to prevent it curdling and turning into sweet scrambled eggs.
Give the saucepan a quick rinse and then return the custard mixture to it and heat it very gently and steadily until it thickens. Be sure to stir it continuously so that you don’t get any hot patches that will cause school-dinner-style lumpy custard.

Once it has thickened add the chocolate and stir until it is totally melted and blended in. Prepare the gelatin, following the packets instructions, and stir this into the custard too.
Pour the mixture into little dishes or ramekins and refrigerate to set.
Just before serving sprinkle the tops with castor sugar and caramelise it with a kitchen blow torch.
These are really nice served with my rosemary shortbread.


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This is my 100th post! I’m a little surprised that my blog has made it this far. Although perhaps I shouldn’t be, I spend most of my days thinking about food, sometimes I even think about one food whilst eating another, it’s like I’m cheating on food. Either way, thank you all so much for sticking with me.

Strawberry trifle layer cake

Of course this means that there should be cake. It would be churlish not to take the opportunity to make one. Something terribly British is in order. However I think it should be something a little more extravagant than a classic Victoria sponge (not that I object to Victoria sponge.)
Although there are similar things from around the world (tiramisu springs to mind) proper trifle is a very British thing. My Grandmas, and subsequently my Mums, Christmas table was incomplete without a glorious bowl of creamy, custardy joy adorning it, usually embellished with chocolate shavings, glace cherries and shards of jewel green angelica. Very retro, but I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I was little some of my favourite books were the ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ stories by Dorothy Edwards and I can still recall the one in which she and Bad Harry demolish the trifle at his birthday party. Who could blame them!

Strawberry trifle layer cake

Normally the layers of sponge, jelly, fruit, custard and cream are built up in a bowl. In order to turn this into a cake I’m going to replace the jelly with jam as I’m not convinced about a layer of jelly in a cake.


110g butter (room temperature)
375g sugar
320g plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
320 ml milk
3 eggs
1 tsp almond extract

Custard filling
250 ml milk
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp corn flour
1 tsp vanilla paste

200 ml double cream
5-6 tbsp strawberry jam
1 tbsp sherry/pimms/port (optional)
6-8 fresh strawberries

Strawberry trifle layer cake

To make the sponge cake layers pre-heat the oven to 190°c and grease and line your baking tin(s). You can either use three standard 8 inch sandwich tins or one deeper one and cut the cake into layers but bear in mind this will take longer to cook.

Cream together the butter and the sugar before sifting in the flour and baking powder. Use an electric mixer to beat this all together. Lightly whisk together the milk, eggs and almond extract and then beat this mixture into the dry ingredients. This is best done in two stages.
Once everything is well mixed together pour the batter into the prepared tin(s) and pop it in the oven. If you are using three separate tins it’ll take around 20 minutes but for one large tin it may need 35-40 minutes. Check that the cakes are cooked through to the centre by poking them with a skewer and leave them to cool in the tins once they are baked.

For the custard filling, start by heating the milk in a small saucepan. It needs to be hot but don’t let it boil.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, corn flour and vanilla in a bowl until the mixture becomes pale and fluffy.
Pour half of the milk though a sieve onto the egg mixture, stirring it as you do so to prevent it curdling. Strain in the remaining milk and rinse out the pan.
Return the custard to the rinsed pan and place it over a moderate heat. Stir this continuously until it becomes really thick. Set the custard aside to cool. You can cover it with cling film if you like to prevent a skin forming but I think you get better results if you just remember to give it a stir every 20 minutes or so. Once it’s at room temperature put it in the fridge to get really cool and thick.

Strawberry trifle layer cake

To assemble the cake, warm the jam slightly and thin it a little with the alcohol (or a tiny drop of water) and spread it onto the bottom two layers of the cake. Follow this with a layer of custard and top it with sliced strawberries. Place the second layer of sponge on top and spread this with custard too. Again follow this with more strawberries and then carefully place on the top layer.
Whip the cream so that it’s quite stiff and then spread or pipe this on top. Decorate however you please, unless you were born before 1985 you may not feel the need to go quite as retro as I have…

Strawberry trifle layer cake


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One of the advantages of growing up in the West Country is that you will undoubtedly get taken on a trip to France at some point. In my case these trips were a semi-regular occurrence, largely dependent upon the condition of my Dads wine rack.

French supermarkets are like an Aladdin’s Cave for me. I can cheerfully while away the hours while my Dad stocks up on wine by taking in all the amazing produce that they offer. Here you can often struggle to find a supermarket with a fishmonger let alone one with tanks full of live crabs and lobster and mounds of fresh langoustine.

The patisserie is by far my favourite department. I marvel at the amount of effort and talent that must go into the array of beautifully decorated cakes, essentially created out of butter, eggs, flour and sugar. But for all their fanciness I don’t really think that you can beat a nice simple tarte aux fraise.
I love the fragrant strawberry nestling atop thick, creamy crème pâtissière piled into crisp, buttery pastry. Perfection.
Now, obviously strawberry tarts are not hard to find, it’s finding one that matches the high French bar that proves to be a challenge. I needed to make something with a pretty strong accent to satisfy this craving.

Google.fr and my incredibly rusty A’ level French held the answer. I clumsily struggled my way through a few articles extolling the virtues of various recipes and settled on one for the pâte sablée pastry and another for the crème pâtissière filling.

I halved the amounts here to make a tarte for two and eight dinky petits four sized tarts (using silicone mini cupcake cases). The full amount should make a 25cm tart.

Pâte Sablée:
250g plain flour
125g butter
70g sugar
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
splash of water
Crème Pâtissière:
400ml milk
4 egg yolks
80g sugar
40g cornflour
1 tsp vanilla paste or seeds of 1 pod

enough small ripe strawberries to fill the tart in your chosen style
1 tbsp warmed strawberry jam to glaze

Preheat the oven to 180°c.
To make the pastry case whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. If they look very stiff then you may want to loosen then with a tiny splash of water. Be careful not to add too much though, you don’t want there to be too much liquid for the flour to absorb.
In another bowl rub the butter into the flour. Mix together with the eggs and sugar using a butter knife until the dough forms a soft ball.
Now either carefully roll out the dough (do this between sheets of grease proof paper to avoid incorporating any extra flour into the dough) or gently press the dough into a greased tart tin to line it. If you use this second method try to keep the dough fairly thin so that it stays crisp when it bakes.

Once you have lined your tin with pastry prick the base with a fork and cover it with grease proof paper and baking beads. Blind bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is just starting to think about browning. Leave in the tin to cool.

Whilst the pastry case is baking you can make the crème pâtissière – this will give it a bit of extra cooling time before you assemble the tart.
In a large pan gently heat the milk and vanilla. It needs to be quite warm but not simmering. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour.
Carefully pour half of the warm milk on the egg mixture whisking continuously as you do so, no one wants sugary scrambled eggs. Add the remaining milk, give it a mix and return the whole lot to the saucepan.
Gently heat this mixture, stirring the whole time until the custard becomes gloriously thick and creamy. It needs to be able to hold its shape when the tart is sliced.

Once you’ve got the consistency right you need to cool the custard. I just pour it back into the bowl and then sit this in a sink of cold water. Supposedly if you dust the surface with icing sugar it will prevent a skin from forming on it but I’ve never had much success with that. I just cover the bowl with cling film.
When all the components are cooled you can assemble your tart. Simply pile the crème pâtissière into the pastry case (remove it from the tin before filling) and top with strawberries, whole or sliced in any pattern that you like. Warm the jam, I just use the microwave, and use a pastry brush to brush it over fruit and give the tart a lovely shiny glaze.


Chill until ready to serve. Bon appetite!

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