We took a little road trip up to Vermont in October to meet up with a couple of our friends from back home. This nicely coincided with my friend’s birthday. We also realised whilst we were away that we’ve known each other for 25 years, which means that this year is our Silver Friendiversary (or something like that – I’m sure Hallmark can come up with a catchier name for it).
Anyway, I wasn’t going to turn up in Stowe without a cake for my friend, but I did need to come up with one that could survive the 500+ mile journey up there. I’m pleased to say that this performed admirably. The cake has plenty of moisture from the pears and the frosting is less prone to melting than others that I’ve worked with.
The flavours of this are quite subtle, I didn’t want anything to be too over-powering. However if you want to amp-up the rosemary then just put the sugar for the sponge in a container for a few days with several sprigs of rosemary that you’ve bashed with a rolling-pin and it’ll take on a bit more of the flavour.
2-3 pears (depending on size)
handful of rosemary sprigs
150g sugar (or rosemary infused sugar)
pinch of salt
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g pear puree
2 tbsp milk
100g icing sugar
4 tbsp maple syrup
225g cream cheese
You need to start by making the roasted pear puree, this can be done a few days in advance if you like. It’ll be quite happy in the fridge.
Peel, core and quarter the pears, mix them with the rosemary on a baking tray and roast them at 190°c until they are really soft and tender. How long this takes really depends on how ripe the pears are to start with, so keep checking them. Once they are soft, let the fruit cool and then puree them (discard the rosemary) in a food processor until they are really smooth. I like to sieve mine too so that there are no lumps at all. Set this aside.
Once you have your pear puree you can get cracking on the cake itself. Pre-heat the oven to 190°c and grease and line a couple of sandwich tins.
Cream together the butter, salt and sugar until it’s fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, following each one with a spoonful of the flour to stop the mixture from curdling. Sift in the remaining flour along with the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and briefly beat it together. Add the pear puree and milk and beat the batter again so that it is well combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the tins, smooth off the tops and bake the sponges for 25-30 minutes. Test them with a skewer but they should be lightly browned and feel springy to the touch.
Remove the cakes from the tins and leave them to cool on a wire rack.
The frosting is very easy to make. Simply beat the butter, salt and sugar until they are fluffy then add the maple syrup and briefly beat again. Add the cream cheese and beat the whole lot until it’s thick and creamy. Use about a third of this to sandwich the two cooled cakes together and use the remainder to frost and decorate the cake however you like. There are some videos on youtube that will show you how to do the ‘basket weave’ piping that I’ve used. It’s really very easy (I promise!).
These are such lovely, autumnal flavours. The sweet fig, the rich, sticky maple syrup and the warm spices all blend so nicely together. And of course a steamed pudding is just wonderfully comforting anyway.
It’s not heavy though, not the sort of thing that my grandma would have described as ‘stick-to-your-ribs’ food. The sponge is very light and fluffy and the fresh fig makes it fruitier than using dried figs would, this is not your standard figgy pudding!
I promise this will be the last fig recipe that I force on you for a while…
120g butter (plus some for greasing)
100g soft light brown sugar
pinch of salt
120g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
splash of milk
4 small fresh figs
4 tbsp maple syrup
Grease each of the pudding moulds with butter and then pop them in the fridge.
Using a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and salt until it is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the flour, spices and baking powder and briefly beat them into the butter and eggs. Add a splash of milk to loosen the batter a bit, it shouldn’t be too stiff. Set a pan of water boiling on the stove and place a steamer over it.
Pour a tablespoon of maple syrup into the base of each of the moulds and divide the sponge batter between them. Gently push a fig (pointy end down) into each of the puddings and smooth the batter over them.
Cut four pieces of grease-proof paper and fold a pleat into each of them. Do the same with some foil. Place a piece of the paper and a piece of the foil as a lid on each of the pudding moulds, making sure that the pleats match up. Use a rubber band or piece of bakers twine to secure the foil and paper around the rim of the moulds.
Place the puddings in the steamer and steam them for around 30 minutes, making sure that the pan underneath doesn’t boil dry. Let them stand for a few minutes once they are cooked before running a knife around the inside edge and turning them onto serving plates. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream whilst they are still nice and hot.
I know I say this every time that I post a cheesecake recipe but this really is an incredible dessert. It’s got it all really, crunchy oaty base (Brit readers; think Hob Nobs!), creamy filling and warmly spiced fruit. What more could you ask for?
I had thought about making this as individual cheesecakes with apple rings in them. Then I realized that the word ‘individual’ implied the intention to share this with other people. At least if it’s one big cheesecake you can get away with cutting yourself an extra-large wedge!
The bourbon is quite subtle in this, it won’t blow your socks off, but just adds a little hint of something extra to the dessert. As always the secret to smooth, creamy cheesecakes is to have all of your ingredients at room temperature before you start.
serves 1-10 (depending on how much you can bring yourself to share)
100g digestive biscuits
1 large or 2 small eating apples (mine was a McIntosh)
1tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp bourbon (I used Gentleman Jack)
1/4 tsp allspice and 1/4 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
700g cream cheese
1tsp vanilla paste
1-2 tbsp bourbon
Start off with the base, crush the biscuits and combine them with the oats and melted butter. Press this mixture into the base of a spring-form cake tin. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. Pre-heat the oven to 160°c .
Peel and slice the apple, not too thinly and mix it with the maple syrup, 1 tablespoon of the bourbon and spices in a small pan. Gently cook the fruit for a few minutes over a medium heat, don’t let it get too soft. You just want them to infuse with all of the lovely rich Autumnal flavours. Leave this to cool a little whilst you make the rest of the filling.
Beat the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Add in the sugar and vanilla and beat again until it is nice and smooth. Next add in the eggs, one at a time, making sure that each is completely combined. Finally stir through the apple mixture and the extra bourbon.
Pour the filling over the chilled base and smooth off the surface. Wrap the bottom of the tin securely in foil and place it in a bain-marie. This ensures that the whole thing cooks evenly and reduces your risk of unsightly cracks appearing on the surface of the finished product. Bake the cheesecake for 45 minutes. It should still have a bit of a gentle wobble at the end of cooking and should not have coloured too much. Open the oven door a jar and leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool completely before placing it in the fridge to chill. Sprinkle the top with a little cinnamon and brown sugar before serving.
I’d never heard of monkey bread before I moved to America, in the UK we just call it ‘tear and share’ bread and it tends to be savoury rather than sweet. I’m none the wiser as to why it is called monkey bread but to be honest my mouth has been too full of it to bother to say its name anyway! It’s gloriously soft, sticky and sweet with just enough of a hint of spice.
This is another recipe inspired by our time in Vermont, which produces some delicious Maple syrup, wonderful, dark amber, full flavoured stuff. Obviously I wasn’t going to leave without getting some to take home. One of my favourite things about Vermont was that you couldn’t travel more than a few miles without stumbling across a farm stand straining under the weight of lovely local produce. Vermont is all about eating locally and they’re quite right too!
300g bread flour
1 sachet of yeast (7g)
pint of salt
1 tbsp sugar
30g butter (melted)
2 tbsp butter (melted)
3 tbsp real maple syrup
90g soft brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp chai spice blend
pinch of salt
handful of chopped pecans (optional)
Stir together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl. In a separate jug, warm the milk and water a little, just above lukewarm is ideal. Whisk in the melted butter and the egg. Gradually add this to the dry mixture, bringing it all together to form a soft dough. If it seems a little too dry add a couple of extra tablespoons of water.
Knead the dough for a few minutes to stretch out the gluten. It should become soft, springy and stretchy. Wash the mixing bowl in hot water and lightly grease it. Oil a piece of clingfilm too. Pop the dough in the warm bowl, cover it with the cling film and place it somewhere draught-free to double in size.
To prepare the coating you will need two small bowls. Combine the melted butter and maple syrup in one and the sugar, spices and salt in the other.
Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and gently knead it for a few minutes. Divide this into about 32 even(ish) pieces and roll each one into a small ball. One at a time drop each ball into the butter/syrup mixture and then roll it lightly in the sugar. Put the coated balls of dough into a lightly greased tin (it can be any shape you like but it’s best if it’s quite deep) Keep layering up the coated balls, it doesn’t matter if the last layer isn’t completely coated.
Recover the tin with the clingfilm and leave it to puff up again whilst the oven pre-heats to 170°c .
Once the dough has swelled to more or less fill the tin you can pop it in the oven for around 30 minutes. Once it’s baked and become golden you’ll need to take it out the tin almost immediately, so that the sticky coating is still warm. Leave it to cool a little on a wire rack, but obviously this is at its best when served warm.
I will always prefer delicate crepes or British pancakes to American pancakes. I’m sorry America, that’s just the way it is. I’m not even really a fan of Scotch pancakes. I always find them to be a bit too much of a challenge for my morning metabolism. However, these little discs of breakfast yumminess have earned their place in my frying pan.
They have a soft fluffiness from the ricotta cheese, a slight crispness to the outsides and a lovely sweet tang from the fruit, which burst into glorious little pockets of juice. They can definitely persuade me to get out of bed on a Sunday morning.
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
big handful of blueberries
Sift together the flour and baking powder before whisking in the sugar. In a separate bowl beat together the ricotta, buttermilk, egg and lemon zest until well combined and quite smooth.
Whisk the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir through the blueberries.
Lightly grease a heavy frying pan and place it over medium heat. Drop tablespoons of batter into the pan, turning them once the undersides have browned. You can keep these warm in the oven whilst you cook up all of the batter.
Serve hot with a trickle of maple syrup and a scattering of extra fruit.
Here is my offering of Americana for Independence day. I know I probably should have made something red, white and blue but those are the colours of the British flag too so I don’t necessarily associate them with the USA. Instead I’ve used flavours that for me are very evocative of America.
This is quite a soft-set panna cotta so if you want to be able to serve it as a moulded dessert then you may want to use an extra sheet of gelatine. Make sure that you use whole (full fat) milk too, if you don’t then it won’t blend as well with the cream in the mixture and you may get some separation as it sets.
250ml double cream
250ml whole milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp bourbon vanilla paste or 1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp good bourbon (I used Gentleman Jack)
3 gelatine leaves
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
handful pecan nuts (allow 4-5 per person)
Using a medium-sized pan over a moderate heat, heat the cream, milk, sugar, bourbon and vanilla but don’t let it boil.
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in a little water so that they swell and become soft. (There should be instructions on the packet)
Remove the cream mixture from the heat and let it sit for a minute or two. Squeeze the excess water from the gelatine and add the softened leaves to the cream. Stir well until it has completely dissolved.
Pour into ramekins, glasses or moulds and pop the panna cottas in the fridge to set for a few hours.
The glazed pecans are really easy to make. Simply toss together the pecans and syrup in a frying pan and heat gently until the syrup thickens and coats the nuts. Separate the nuts on a piece of grease-proof paper and leave them to cool and become crunchy. Use to garnish the panna cotta just before serving.
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.