Saturday, 21 December 2013

Mulled Apple Tart

‘Tis the season to mull as much booze as you can reach and, until Twelfth Night at least, the aromas emanating from my kitchen will have a heavy focus on Christmas spices and good old fashioned grog.

Everyone and their aunt has been banging on about mulled cider this year. Apparently, in 2013 at least, spiced hot cider is much more chi chi than spiced hot wine. Granted, cider is the more economical choice when fuelling a crowd, but I can’t say I’m wholly convinced mulled wine should be discounted entirely. Why can’t we have both? Preferably one in each hand for easy comparison. In fact, when it comes to mulling, why stop at just drinking?

This year I decided to try my new apple peeler/corer/slicer contraption kindly sent to me by John Lewis to make an apple tart. But I didn’t want to make just any apple tart. It’s Christmas week after all and I wouldn’t dream of discarding festive tradition by not throwing a tipple and a cinnamon stick at it. The contraption makes swift work of peeling, coring and slicing. In fact, I got through all the apples in less than 5 minutes, plus it was fun and looks a bit like a medieval torture device. So, win-win.

Firstly, I mulled some cider with a generous forkful of calvados (but you can use rum or brandy if you prefer) and poached some apples to make a base puree on which to place slices of apple in a concentric circle before drizzling everything in spiced caramel. You can buy readymade all butter puff pastry, make your own or make a gluten-free version using my recipe for GF flaky pastry. This pudding is delicious hot with custard or vanilla ice cream or you can serve it at room temperature as an afternoon pick-me-up. I served mine with homemade custard made in a non-stick milk pan from the Raymond Blanc collection. Now, I wouldn’t normally get that excited by a saucepan, but this saucepan is non-stick and also goes in the dishwasher. I made porridge in it the other day and decided to go crazy by not soaking it before popping it in the dishwasher. There wasn’t a scrap of baked-on oomska left when it came out, which makes this the lazy girl’s dream saucepan.

This tart makes a very sophisticated and festive alternative for Christmas pudding haters, plus it leaves you with a pan of mulled cider ready for drinking, so you have plenty to keep you going while you get the mulled wine on for afters.

Mulled Apple Tart

For the mulled cider

2 litres
1 bay leaf
A few cloves
A few allspice berries
1 and a half cinnamon sticks
A suspicion of nutmeg
The grated zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1 star anise
5 tbsp. sugar
A good glug of calvados

For the mulled caramel

4 tbsp. soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp. calvados
A strip of orange zest
A strip of lemon zest
2 cloves
1 star anise
Half a cinnamon stick

For the tart

500g puff pastry/flaky pastry
7 eating apples (I used Jazz apples, because that’s what was in my fruit bowl)

First, make the mulled cider by placing everything, including the squeezed out orange and lemon and the scraped out vanilla pod, in a large saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Peel and core 3 apples and slice them before chucking them into the mulled cider. Once they are soft, drain and blitz in a food processor. Leave the puree to cool. While it is cooling, make the spiced caramel by chucking all the ingredients into a pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and boil until the liquid becomes caramel. Set aside.

Roll the pastry until it is about the thickness of a £1 coin. Place a dinner plate on top and draw the knife around the pastry to cut a large circle. Place the circle of pastry on a baking parchment lined baking sheet and prick it with a fork. Spread the cooled apple puree over the pastry. Core (peel if you like, but there’s no particular need) and slice the remaining apples and lay them over the puree in a concentric circle. Drizzle over a generous amount of the caramel, saving a couple of tbsp. for later and pop the tart in the oven to bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Trickle over the remaining caramel. Transfer the tart to a serving plate and dust with a little icing sugar before serving.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Gluten- and Dairy-free Coconut Snowballs

I’m going to reveal a little bah humbug indoorsy truth about myself. I hate running around in the snow, throwing snowballs, or more to the point, getting hit by snowballs. It’s not fun. Sure, it looks idyllic and picturesque. But then so does village cricket, and I don’t want to take part in either.

Hurty hands with freezing, wet gloves and numb toes aside, getting hit in the head by a snowball is as painful as it is icy. But, for some reason, it’s become the image of choice for snow day fun in the same way that slow motion running down the beach hand-in-hand is the shortcut visual for love. I’d much rather be sitting in a warm fairy-lit room with a large brandy, chomping down on one of these little snowballs anyday.

These bite-size cakes cater to most dietary requirements and make for the perfect sweet Christmas canapé. Milli from Milli’s Kitchen and I served them at a festive afternoon tea we hosted with donations to Crisis at Christmas. The coconut flavour is fully pronounced (no mean feat) and the cakes are feather-light, moist and moreish. If you have tried to use coconut flour before without success, please don’t be put off having another go. The trick is not to simply try to use it as a replacement for wheat flour. Coconut flour is a very thirsty ingredient, so you will need to make a batter that includes a lot of liquid. Once you master the wet to dry ratios, you won’t go back and you can smile smugly to yourself that you are indulging in a sweet treat that is not only delicious and festive, but also high in fibre and low in carbohydrates. Which means you will have plenty of room left for Yule log and plum pudding. Merry Christmas!

Gluten- and Dairy-free Coconut Snowballs

3 eggs
65g caster sugar
100g coconut oil, melted plus extra for greasing the moulds
160ml coconut cream
50g coconut flour
1 tsp. gluten-free baking powder

for the icing

150g icing sugar, sifted
As much Malibu as you need to make a thick icing
150g desiccated coconut

Use a pastry brush to paint the inside of a 20-hole silicone cake pop mould with coconut oil, place on a flat baking tray and preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4

Whisk the eggs and caster sugar until the mixture has doubled in volume and is thick and mousse-like. Continue to whisk on low speed as you gradually add the coconut oil, followed by the coconut cream. Sift over the coconut flour and baking powder and fold in with a large metal spoon.

Use a teaspoon to spoon the mixture into the base (no holes) side of the mould and press the top on. Pop the cakes in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the mould upside down and return the cakes to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes.

Turn the cakes out and leave to cool.

Mix the icing sugar and Malibu together to make a thick, drippy icing and place the desiccated coconut in a separate bowl. Stick a cocktail stick in a single cake and dunk it in the Malibu icing until it is fully coated. Then roll the cake in the desiccated coconut to make a snowball. Repeat until the cakes are covered.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Milk & Sugar’s Festive Afternoon Tea

I have started a new afternoon tea venture with the marvellous Milli from Milli's Kitchen and we are calling ourselves Milk & Sugar. We launched with a magical Alice in Wonderland themed event, which you can read all about here and now we're gearing up to create a special festive feast. We'd love to see you there so that you can kick off this Christmas in style!

‘Tis the season to merrily stuff your faces, so you’d be Christmas crackers to miss out on Milk & Sugar’s festive afternoon tea. After the success of our Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, we have joined forces again to come up with a Winter Wonderland of baked goods. While enjoying stunning views of the river, you can sip on mulled wine and indulge in such glittering delights as Partridge and Pear filo “crackers”, Virgin Mary tarts, miniature gingerbread houses and pine nut Christmas trees. There will certainly be enough free-flowing tea and tasty treats to keep you sated until Christmas Day!

To book, please email

Nearest tube: Putney Bridge. You will receive the full address once your booking has been confirmed.

Saturday 14th December 3 – 6pm


We want to leave a few surprises for you on the day, but to give you a glimpse of what's in store…


Stilton gougères
Virgin Mary tarts
Partridge and pear filo "crackers"
Pigs in blankets
Chestnuts wrapped in bacon

Finger sandwiches will include:

Smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill
Ham and Dijon mustard
Roast turkey, cranberry sauce and watercress
Cucumber and mint


Miniature Yule logs
Miniature gingerbread houses
Spiced chocolate truffle "Christmas puddings"
Mince pies
Orange and cinnamon stars (with a fleck of gold leaf)
Lemon and pine nut Christmas tree cakes
Chestnut mousse
Christmas cake "presents"
Clementine possets topped with fresh clementine segments
Orange and cranberry scones, so fresh they won’t be baked until you arrive

£25 per head, including a festive tipple

10% will go to Crisis At Christmas, so stuffing your face will be a charitable act!

We are happy to cater for gluten-free guests on request.

Menus are subject to change without prior notice.

We can't wait to welcome you to the party!


Victoria and Milli xx

Monday, 2 December 2013

Gluten-free New York Cheesecake

Smooth, creamy and rich, New York cheesecake ticks all the right boxes for a deliciously indulgent dessert. When I was a child growing up in the 80s, cheesecake always meant something defrosted from Bejams that had a fruity jelly top. I hated jelly in those days, awkward child that I was. There would have been no jelly and ice cream at my birthday parties if I’d got my own way. Just a table piled high with Cadbury’s animal biscuits and French Fancies with a whole bottle of Tizer to wash it down with.

Then came my discovery of Pizza Express in the early 90s and suddenly cheesecake got interesting. Their cheesecake was creamy white, not lurid pink or lilac with berries suspended in coloured gelatine on top. I’ve long since got over my fussiness about jelly, but I still think it has no place on top of a cheesecake. Pizza Express served it with a few slices of strawberries on the side and I thought it was the most sophisticated pudding I’d seen since chocolate profiteroles, but it was, in those days at least, a complete mystery to us how we could recreate it. Not that we didn’t try, but every cheesecake made from my mother’s cook books was set with evaporated milk or similar and set in the fridge. Don’t get me wrong, they were very nice in their own way, but they just weren’t right.

Suddenly, a few years later, the UK was going nuts for New York baked cheesecakes and there was at least one recipe for this stateside beauty in every weekly my mother subscribed to. This cheesecake is an adaptation of our family favourite from an old torn out page from a magazine that’s long since been lost, but luckily not forgotten. I like to serve this best with a simple blueberry compote at this time of year, but it would be equally delicious with roasted plums or poached pears.

Gluten-free New York Cheesecake

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4. You will need a 10-inch deep loose-bottomed round tart tin

For the base

150g gluten-free digestive biscuits
90g unsalted butter, melted
Plus extra melted butter for greasing

For the filling – make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

900g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese
250g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
30g cornflour
The scraped out seeds of 2 vanilla pods or 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. lemon juice
3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk
200ml soured cream

For the topping

225ml soured cream
1 tbsp. caster sugar
2 tsp. lemon juice

First, blitz the digestives in a food processor and add the melted butter and blitz again. Press the biscuit rubble firmly into the bottom of the tart tin and bake for 10 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, paint the inside of the tart tin liberally with melted butter and place the tin on a baking tray.

Increase the oven temperature to 220°C (200°C fan)/430°F/Gas Mark 9.

Beat the Philadelphia until creamy, before gradually adding the sugar, cornflour and salt. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice, before whisking in the eggs and yolk, one at a time. Whisk in the soured cream and pour the mixture over the biscuit base. Bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 110°C (90°C)/230°F/Gas Mark ¼ 

Bake for a further 25 minutes. If you gently shake the tin, there should be a slight wobble in the middle. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 2 hours with the oven door slightly ajar.

Combine the soured cream, lemon juice and sugar together to make the topping and spread it over the top of the cheesecake, right to the edges. Cover loosely with foil (without touching the top) and pop it in the fridge to set for 8 hours or overnight.

Place the tin on top of an upturned bowl and gently pull the sides of the tin down to release it, before prising the tin base off the cheesecake with a palette knife, while sliding it onto a serving plate. Serve with blueberry compote if you wish.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Gluten-free Pumpkin and Cinnamon Gravestone Cake

The nights are drawing creepily in, threatening us like the sinister shadow of a black cat over a dormouse.  You can’t move for the giant pumpkins (both real and fake) in supermarkets, green grocers and on peoples’ doorsteps and the shops are filled with revolting coloured sweets and plastic spiders. All this can only mean one thing: Halloween is here again.

I wanted to make a Halloween cake that was trick-, but not treat-free. This cake requires no fancy decorating equipment and you can buy everything you need from most supermarkets. In fact, this cake is so easy, it doesn’t even require the use of an electric hand whisk, which will leave you with ample time to paint your face green and slink into your best Grotbags costume (just me?).  

This is a simple loaf cake, spread with cinnamon buttercream and covered in green sugarpaste (roll out fondant). You can dye white icing, but some supermarkets are stocking black, orange, red and green ready-dyed especially for Halloween. The railings are made with thin sausages of black sugarpaste, but you can use liquorice if you prefer. The disturbed earth is made from gluten-free biscuits, crushed and mixed with cocoa and melted butter. The only vaguely specialist equipment I used was a liquorice pen (like an edible felt tip) for the gravestone, but you can simply etch the words on with a cake skewer.

As it’s Halloween, what can be more festive than a pumpkin cake? Granted, you can opt for more gruesome-looking cakes - perhaps a bright red velvet filled with raspberry coulis, so it looks like it’s bleeding when cut – but I wanted to steer clear of blood and guts this year and go for gently macabre instead. Besides, I know from bitter experience that if I give my nephews and niece too many E-numbers in one go, they’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the afternoon.

Popular culture has been rammed full of the undead for the last decade or so, thanks I’m sure, in part, to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In homage to the growing number of corpses waking up in the middle of the night to push their fists through the earth under which they’ve been buried, I decided to make a gravestone cake this year featuring the hand of someone whose consciousness, if not their pulse, has shown renewed signs of life. I can’t say I’ll never go back to the blood and guts of Halloweens past, but for this year at least, I’m leaving the fake blood in my decorating drawer.

Gluten-free Pumpkin and Cinnamon Cake 

Preheat the oven to 150°C (135°C fan)/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment

For the cake

3 medium eggs, beaten
200ml sunflower oil
300g light muscovado sugar
375g grated peeled pumpkin (it’s easiest to do this using a food processor with a grater blade)
The zest of 1 large orange
265g rice flour
1 tsp. GF baking powder
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt

For the buttercream

75g soft, unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
A splash of milk if needed

For the soil

6 gluten-free digestive biscuits
1 level tbsp. cocoa, sifted
25g butter, melted

To make the cake, simply whisk together the sugar, oil and eggs thoroughly until the mixture is thick (a balloon whisk is fine, no need to plug in the electric hand whisk). Add the remaining ingredients and fold in until fully combined. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in its tin on top of a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, simply whisk the butter until very soft and sift over half of the icing sugar. Whisk again to combine, before sifting the remaining icing sugar and cinnamon over the top. Add the vanilla and whisk again, adding a splash of milk to slacken the mixture if necessary. Spread the buttercream over the cold, turned out cake.

To make the soil, simply bash or blitz the digestives and add the melted butter and cocoa and mix together. Cool and set aside until needed.

Roll out approximately 500g of grass green sugarpaste (you can buy it ready-dyed or dye white sugarpaste yourself) and cover the cake, smoothing down the sides with your hands.

Roll thin sausages of black sugarpaste and attach them all around the sides of the cake using cooled boiled water or vodka. Next, melt 5 squares of dark chocolate and paint a long rectangle along the middle of the cake with a pastry brush. Stick the soil to the melted chocolate to form a muddy bed.

Mix together some black and white sugarpaste to make grey, and form it into the shape of a tombstone. Write or etch whatever you like on the stone. Break off two short pieces of r
aw gluten-free spaghetti (or you can use cocktail sticks) and insert them halfway into the base of the tombstone. Push the ends of the spaghetti into the cake to fix the tombstone in place.

Make a small amount of flesh coloured sugarpaste (you can buy it ready-dyed or dye it yourself with a mix of mostly pink plus a tiny dash of yellow). Form it into the shape of a hand and wrist. You can use a cocktail stick to scratch on knuckles and make indentations for fingernails. Place another small piece of spaghetti into the wrist of your hand and push the other end of the spaghetti into the cake. Rub the hand with a few bits of the soil to make it look realistically grubby. Voila! Happy Halloween!

Alice in Wonderland Afternoon Tea

I am joining forces with the marvellous Milli from Milli's Kitchen to host a very special Afternoon Tea Pop-Up.

Allow yourself to fall down the rabbit hole into the Mad Hatter’s tea party. You will eat your way through a colourful feast of sweet and savoury bakes, inspired by the magical world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. While enjoying stunning views of the river, you can sip on a glass of bubbles and indulge in such delights as the Queen of Heart’s jam tarts, caterpillars on toadstools and The White Rabbit's pocket watch. There will be enough free-flowing tea and cake to ensure you leave our doors grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Book your places now, or risk being late for a very important date.



Finger sandwiches:

Organic egg and cress

Smoked salmon, lemon and dill

Cucumber, cream cheese and mint

Ham, baby leaf and mustard

Plus a selection of savoury tarts.

Sweet Treats

We want to leave a few surprises for you on the day, but to give you a glimpse of what's in store, we can reveal that the sweet menu will include:

Vanilla bean 'playing card' sable biscuits

Cheshire Cat mousse (Blueberry and raspberry)

Chocolate brownie 'Top hats'

£25 per head including a glass of bubbly.

12% will go to the MS Society

We are happy to cater for gluten-free guests on request. 

Menus are subject to change without prior notice.

We can't wait to welcome you to the party!

Victoria and Milli xx

To book, please email
There are 4 sittings, please state which you would like to come to.
Saturday 9th November 12-2pm or 4-6pm
Sunday 10th November 12-2pm or 4-6pm

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Gluten-free Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies are so simple to make. Once the dough is made, you can bake all of your cookies at once or pop the raw dough in a bowl and cover it with cling film to make a few every now and then over the week. It feels like a particularly good time of year to have cookie dough in the fridge, with this capricious weather we’re having, I haven’t known whether to sport some summer sandals or wrap up in a winter coat. With all this change, it’s comforting to have the predictability of a quick sweet treat waiting for you in the fridge when you get home. They take less than a quarter of an hour to bake, so you can be curled up on the sofa with warm cookies and a glass of cold milk in no time.

Sweet and salty make perfect partners - just think salted caramel or bacon with pancakes and maple syrup – which is why peanut butter and chocolate together is such a winning combination. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups first hit US shelves in 1928 and our transatlantic friends haven’t looked back since. It’s taken us a little longer on this side of the pond to catch on, but now that we have, peanut butter and chocolate has become a firm UK favourite too.

Chocolate chip cookies are a personal favourite of mine, especially with a good sprinkling of sea salt. There is something so deeply satisfying about a soft, buttery crumb with a slightly chewy centre. This time I thought I’d up the saltiness by adding a generous couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter. And, as ever, I refuse to allow gluten dodging to affect the enjoyment of any food, so I have used rice flour and xanthan gum in these. If you prefer to use wheat flour, simply swap the rice flour for self-raising and leave out the xanthan gum and baking powder.

Gluten-free Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes approximately 20

200g soft butter
50g smooth peanut butter
75g light brown sugar
75g caster sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
250g rice flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp. salt
175g dark chocolate chips

Line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Cream together the butter, peanut butter and sugars until just combined. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla. Sift over the rice flour, xanthan gum, salt and bicarbonate of soda and then mix in. Fold in the chocolate chips. Although you can bake them straight away, the cookies taste better if you chill the dough in the fridge for at least 2 hours first.

Roll the cookie dough with your hands into golf ball sized rounds and space them well apart on the prepared baking trays. Slightly flatten each ball with a palette knife.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4. 

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until slightly golden. Transfer them on to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Gluten-free Chocolate Fondants

The humble chocolate fondant has gained itself something of a reputation. This culinary sword of a pud has sliced through the dreams of more Masterchef hopefuls than you can shake a spatula at, meaning only the brave now attempt them at home. But, I’m here to tell you to forget all images of Gregg Wallace slapping his shiny pate in disappointment, or John Torode smugly berating the death of another gooey middle, because it’s time to put your pinny on and man up for Chocolate Week. 

Rich, melting and indulgent, these modest beauties will render your guests speechless in gratitude. You can adorn their tops with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of clotted cream, but I prefer to eat them au naturel. If you find dark chocolate a little too intense for your palate, you can substitute half for milk for a creamier result. Or, for the little ones in your life, why not try using all milk chocolate for a nursery sweet version of this pudding. Another delicious variation is to freeze salted caramel in an ice cube tray and push one into the centre of each pudding for an even saucier centre. 

Breaking the outer shell to reveal the molten middle is a truly seductive pleasure. In fact, chocolate has long been revered for its apparent aphrodisiac qualities. Perhaps it’s down to the way it melts, gently, on your tongue or perhaps it’s down to the chemical anandamide, a cannabinoid neurotransmitter, which unleashes feelings of bliss similar to the effects of cannabis (ooh, I say!). Luckily for us, the high we get from chocolate fondants is entirely legal, so we can tuck in without fear of recrimination from anyone. Except, perhaps, the bathroom scales, if you indulge too often.

Fondants contain a very minimal amount of flour anyway and, as far as I’m concerned, taste exactly the same if you use wheat flour or gluten-free. I’ve used rice flour in this recipe, as it is a personal favourite for baking thanks to its fine texture and slightly sweet taste, but you can use any gluten-free blend you prefer, or even just sifted cocoa, if you want to crank up the anandamide effects further. But however you decide to make them, make them you certainly should.

Chocolate fondants, or FONDONTS if you’re Gregg Wallace, really are a doddle to make. As long as you preheat your oven and get the timing right, there’s very little that can go wrong. Strangely, despite the graveyard of overcooked fondants on Masterchef, as far as fondant mistakes go, I think it’s easier to under-bake them than over-. If that happens, you can simply pop them back in for a minute or two, but, as long as the goo is hot, I don’t think a little extra lava in your middle will offend anyone. If you’re not brave enough to turn them out, then simply serve them straight from the ramekin for a more homely, rustic result.

Gluten-free Chocolate Fondants

Serves 6

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/390°F/Gas Mark 6. Grease 6 ramekins with butter and generously dust with cocoa, tapping out any excess. Pop your prepared ramekins in the fridge until needed.

125g dark chocolate
125g unsalted butter
2 medium eggs, plus 2 medium egg yolks
100g caster sugar
40g rice flour
½ tsp. salt

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of barely simmering water. Once completely melted, set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick and the drips from the lifted beaters leave a slowly disappearing ribbon trail in the bowl. Sift over the rice flour and use a large metal spoon to fold it into the egg mixture. Next, pour in the cooled chocolate and butter and fold in with the salt using a large metal spoon. Be careful not to knock all the air out of the mixture.

Take the ramekins out of the fridge and divide the mixture between them (they should be filled to just shy of the top). Pop them on a baking tray and bake for 12 minutes. Turn out onto plates or serve straight from the ramekins. Happy Chocolate Week!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Gluten-free Spiced Butternut Squash and Pecan Cupcakes With Ginger Buttercream

It’s the last few days of National Cupcake Week and I can’t think of a better reason to indulge in some sweet treats to help take the chill out of the Autumnal air.

I’m never happier than when pumpkins and squashes start arriving in my veg box, with their welcoming orange flesh and earthy sweetness. Versatile and comforting, a butternut squash is perfect paired with a punch of spice. If you think it’s weird to put squash in a cake, think again. Vegetables in sweet dishes have a long and moist history. Courgette loaf or a beetroot and chocolate cake have become modern classics, not to mention pumpkin or sweet potato pie and the ubiquitous coffee shop staple: carrot cake.

These gluten-free butternut squash cupcakes are also dairy-free if you leave off the dollop of buttercream (or you can swap the butter in the icing for soya margarine) and, with a good chunk of fresh vegetables lurking inside, you can even class these little beauties as part of your five a day (warning: to make sure you are consuming a full vegetable portion, you may have to eat two or three, just to be on the safe side). Granted, butternut squashes can be a pain to peel (and for most savoury dishes I don’t bother), but my only advice on this score is to dispense with the peeler and get out the big guns in the form of a sharp chef’s knife. And once you’ve peeled it, the rest requires little more effort than a light stir.

Gluten-free Spiced Butternut Squash and Pecan Cupcakes With Ginger Buttercream 

For the cake

2 medium eggs
165ml sunflower oil
210g light muscovado sugar
270g (peeled weight) butternut squash, grated
75g pecans, chopped
185g buckwheat flour
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of salt

For the ginger buttercream

125g soft, unsalted butter
250g icing sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 - 3 tbsp. ginger syrup (from the Chinese stem ginger jar)
2 – 3 balls of Chinese stem ginger, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan)/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with cupcake cases.

Whisk together the egg, sugar and oil until fully combined and slightly frothy. Stir in the grated butternut squash and pecans before sifting over the buckwheat flour, raising agents and cinnamon. Add the salt and mix everything together thoroughly. Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter until very soft. Sift over half of the icing sugar and whisk again until fully combined. Sift over the icing sugar and ground ginger and whisk again. Add the syrup and chopped stem ginger and continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

Once the cakes are completely cold, fit a large piping bag with a star nozzle and fill it with the buttercream. Pipe a generous swirl of buttercream in the centre of each cake. Apologies for my terrible piping – who knew it would be so hard to pipe buttercream while on crutches!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Black Forest Pavlova

 I’m not sure I can think of a more perfect marriage of flavours than chocolate and cherry - especially if you throw a forkful of kirsch into the equation. A ubiquitous staple of British dinner parties in the 1970s, the Black Forest Gateau sadly fell from favour soon after. Heston Blumenthal did his best to bring it back with his poshed up version at The Fat Duck in recent years, but I thought I’d attempt my own, more modest, revival of this classic.

It’s hard to beat a Pavlova in the summer months. They’re a cinch to make, gloriously moreish to eat and naturally wheat-free; which means all the gluten dodgers in your life and mine needn’t miss out. This can also be made well ahead of time, so there won’t be any last minute pudding panics and you don’t need to bung it in the fridge until after you’ve smothered it in cream - which is extremely useful when your fridge is as micro-sized as mine.

The only relatively laborious process to this recipe is stoning the cherries. You’ll have to have a very dishy dentist to risk skipping this stage for, but I rather like the mindless repetition of sitting down with a large bowl of cherries, catching up on taped telly, and getting to work using my new fancy gadget. Be warned, you will end up looking like your hands have been marinating in Ribena for the last fortnight, but what are a few stains between friends? You can always pop on some latex gloves if you’re precious about your pinkies. Besides, cherries aren’t in season for much longer and I, for one, will miss them when they’re gone.

I will be dishing up this decadent dessert over the weekend and I can promise you won’t regret it if you follow suit. This Black Forest Pavlova makes a stunning centrepiece to any celebration, no matter the occasion, or the decade.

Black Forest Pavlova

Preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C Fan)/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line a large baking sheet with baking parchment

4 large egg whites
A pinch of salt
225g caster sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
50g chopped dark chocolate (you can simply blitz it in the food processor if you’re feeling lazy)

300ml double/whipping cream
2 tbsp. kirsch (optional)
450g cherries, stoned (you can macerate them in more kirsch if you like)
25g dark chocolate, grated

Whisk the egg whites and salt together until stiff, then gradually add the sugar, whisking well between each addition. You should have a thick, glossy meringue. Whisk in the cocoa and vinegar and fold the chopped chocolate in with a large metal spoon.

Dollop the meringue into a round on the lined baking sheet, making it slightly higher on the outer edges. Pop it in the oven to bake for 1 hour to 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until the meringue is crisp on the outside but marshmallowy on the inside. Turn the oven off and leave the meringue to cool completely inside, with the oven door shut. It’s easiest to make it in the evening and leave it to cool overnight.

Once you are ready to serve, Whip the cream until stiff but not dry and add the kirsch and whisk in again. Pile the cream on top of the meringue and spread it out a little. Scatter over the stoned cherries and top with the grated chocolate.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hazelnut Gateau l'Opera

Because everything in my work life is about creating elegance and beauty with the utmost care and precision, I have to admit that at home, more often than not, I opt for speedy suppers over pretty plates. Most days, the evening meal is something quickly rustled up out of the fridge, from whatever needs to be used up with the most urgency.

Don’t get me wrong, I like pulling out the stops when friends and family come over. It always feels, somehow, impolite and unwelcoming not to go to at least some effort for those you like and care for. But for average days, I make simple and unfussy food without much forethought or planning.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s nice to go a bit fancy, even without a party of guests to cook for. To treat yourself and your partner to a cosy date at home with posh grub and plenty of Prosecco, for no particular reason, other than because you can.

If you’re the type that needs a more solid excuse for a celebration, then the arrival of Prince George can be occasion enough. Republicans can raise a glass and a dessert fork to the warm weather instead. Whatever your feelings about the latest royal addition – joy, ambivalence or disregard – this Gateau l’Opera can unite us all!

This indulgent French dessert cake is the perfect celebration fare, whether you have a reason to party or not. It’s certainly fit for royalty, but once you taste it, I can guarantee you’ll want to keep it all to yourself.

Hazelnut Opera Cake (GF)

Opera Cake is traditionally made with thin layers of light almond sponge (called Joconde), soaked in coffee syrup and layered with French buttercream and chocolate ganache. I love the classic combination of chocolate and coffee, but I can never resist a hazelnut. So, I decided to combine all three and boy, oh boy, am I glad that I did.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (160°C Fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line two 15 x 10-inch roulade trays with baking parchment.

For the Hazelnut Joconde

2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
5 egg whites
A pinch of salt
50 g caster sugar
40 g melted butter
50 g rice flour, sifted
175 g icing sugar, sifted
175 g ground hazelnuts

For the crisp chocolate base

50g dark chocolate, tempered

For soaking the joconde 

150ml espresso, with 1 tbsp. caster sugar dissolved into it, before leaving the coffee to cool.
150ml hazelnut liqueur (I used Frangelico)

For the French buttercream

200g caster sugar
2 tbsp. water
200g unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp. espresso coffee
1 tbsp. hazelnut liqueur

For the ganache

250g dark chocolate, chopped
250ml single cream
25g soft, unsalted butter

Plus gold or silver leaf to decorate (optional)

To make the Joconde

Whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs and icing sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the ground hazelnuts and continue whisking on high speed for about 5 minutes. Stir in the melted butter and rice flour until thoroughly incorporated. In a separate, clean and oil-free bowl, whisk the eggs whites and salt until at the soft peak stage. Whisk in the caster sugar in two stages and continue whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add a third of the meringue to the hazelnut mixture and vigorously stir in to slacken the batter. Fold in the remaining meringue and pour the mixture into your prepared roulade trays. Use a palette knife to smooth the mixture out thinly.

Bake in your preheated oven for 8 – 12 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Keep a close eye on it, as it can burn very quickly. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in its tin on top of a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning out of its tin on to the rack to leave to cool completely.

To make the French coffee and hazelnut buttercream

Place the sugar and water in a pan and place over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat slightly and simmer until it reaches the soft ball stage (this happens at around 120°C).

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Trickle the hot syrup into the eggs, whisking all the time. Once the mixture is pale and fluffy, leave it to cool a little before whisking in the butter. Whisk in the coffee and liqueur and leave to cool completely.

To make the chocolate ganache

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Scald the cream in a saucepan and pour it over the chocolate. Leave to stand for 1 minute before mixing it in with a rubber spatula until all the chocolate has melted. Whisk in the butter and leave to cool slightly.

To assemble the Opera Cake

Trim both the sheets of Joconde into equal sized rectangles and cut each rectangle in half so that you have 4 equal sized pieces of cake.

Turn one piece of Joconde over and paint it with 50g of tempered chocolate to make a crisp chocolate base. Leave to set at room temperature before turning it over on to a sheet of baking parchment resting on a large chopping board.  Use a pastry brush to apply a liberal amount of coffee syrup – enough so that the cake turns brown.

Evenly spread a layer of buttercream about a ¼ inch thick over the coffee-soaked sponge. Place another layer of Joconde on top. Make sure the layers are very even. Soak the cake in hazelnut liqueur.  Spread a thin, even layer of ganache over the top. Leave to set at room temperature, or, if you’re feeling impatient, pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up. Top with a third layer of Joconde and soak with more coffee syrup. Spread with another layer of buttercream before placing the final layer of Joconde on top. Soak the top layer in hazelnut liqueur and top with more ganache. Leave to set at room temperature – do not be tempted to speed things up with the fridge/freezer here, as it could affect the sheen on your topping.

Once set, dip a long, sharp knife in hot water. Wipe it dry and trim each edge neatly, dipping the knife in hot water and drying it before cutting each new edge. Save these as a delicious cook’s treat for later. You can also attach a few flakes of edible gold or silver leaf for a little extra glamour.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Is it a burger? Is it a cake? No, it’s a burger cake!

Like burgers? Like cakes? Why not combine the two to create this playful sweet treat perfect for a celebration.

American food has had a culinary revival on British shores of late and our favourite of all is the all-American cheeseburger. Burgers are no longer reserved for emergency pit stops at motorway services or for bleak and fatty hangover cures. Burgers have got poshed up and us Brits can’t get enough of them. Even cabinet ministers are tweeting pictures of themselves tucking into a juicy Byron in an attempt to connect with the public (I’m sure Byron are thrilled to bits at being connected with George Osbourne in the recent Burger-gate “scandal”. Who wouldn’t be thrilled at being connected with George Osbourne? Oh, hang on…).

I love a burger as much as the next person, but I also love CAKE. Many people are frightened to attempt a “novelty” cake, in case it ends up taking a whole weekend only to resemble a digested dog’s dinner after all that effort. If you are not artistically inclined and if you are messy and impatient when it comes to creating smooth sugar paste and pretty marzipan figurines, then this is the cake for you. I promise that once the cakes are baked and cooled, you’ll be able to finish the decorating within the hour and, better still for those with an aversion to sugar paste, this cake is mainly constructed with a generous smearing of simple buttercream.

First you need to bake the cakes. Being a professional cake maker, I have half sphere tins knocking around in the kitchen, perfect to create a lovely burger bun top, but a pudding basin will do exactly the same job.  The “burger” in the picture is a shallow 6-inch chocolate cake, baked in a sandwich tin.  The “bun” is peanut butter cake – just for an added American feel – but you can just as easily make a simple vanilla cake or a Victoria sponge.  Simply bake the bun base in another 6-inch sandwich tin and pour the remaining cake batter into a 6-inch half sphere tin or pudding basin.

While the cakes are baking, make enough buttercream for the buns, mustard and ketchup. I covered the buns in peanut buttercream (simply stir a couple of tablespoons’ worth of peanut butter into your base buttercream) and used a handful of sesame seeds to scatter over the top. I dyed a generous blob of buttercream mustard yellow and another bright tomato red, then I spooned the two colours into a couple of plastic piping bags, ready to squeeze all over the burger during construction.

I dyed a very small amount of sugar paste (75g) bright yellow before rolling and cutting it into a neat square to create a slice of processed cheese. You can miss this stage if you don’t want to make a cheeseburger. I also dyed some more sugar paste bright green before rolling it out and ruffling it up very roughly in pieces to make lettuce. You can use marzipan to the same end or even dye some buttercream green and roughly smear it over the edges of the burger instead. You can buy ready dyed sugar paste if you’re feeling lazy or you’re short of time.

All the decorating for this cake was achieved with a light bit of palette knife work and a bit of squirting and rolling. Frankly, a child could do it. In fact, I felt slightly embarrassed at the enthusiasm this cake elicited from the friend whose birthday I made it for, as the effort involved in creating it was such a relaxed operation. It might take you a little bit longer than me to knock this one up, if you’re not used to baking and decorating, but I promise you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll be able to serve it up (on a paper plate of course, for added authenticity). So, go on, get baking! Your friends and family can’t fail to be impressed.


Buttercream is simple and quick to make as long as your butter is soft and your icing sugar is sifted. I prefer sugarcane icing sugar, to sugar beet, as I marginally prefer the taste but best of all it clouds up less when sifting – much better news for clearing up afterwards.

This quantity should yield enough for your burger cake if you follow measurements for 6-inch round cakes.

Basic buttercream

325g soft, unsalted butter
650g icing sugar (don’t use golden icing sugar as the colours will be less vivid when you dye it)
Vanilla extract (optional)
A splash of milk, if needed

Whisk the butter until light and fluffy. Sift over half of the icing sugar and whisk in until fully combined. Sift over the second half and whisk again. You can add a dash of milk to slacken the mixture if necessary. Buttercream always requires a longer whisking than you’d think for really smooth and soft results.

Add a generous splash of vanilla extract (or any other flavouring you like to the base buttercream recipe). If you’d like to make peanut buttercream, simply whisk a couple of tablespoons’ worth (or more if you like) of smooth peanut butter into the icing.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Blueberry and Coconut Cake (Gluten and Dairy Free)

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that a gluten AND dairy free cake sounds like a party with no music, but trust me on this. My blueberry and coconut cake is light, moist and seductively moreish. You’ll find you can’t help carving off just one more minuscule sliver (you know, just to even it up), until the horror suddenly dawns on you that you’ve just demolished a third of it. I’m speaking from personal experience here, so consider yourselves forewarned.

Everyone and their aunt has been banging on about coconut oil of late, so I thought I’d leap on the bandwagon and extoll praise where praise is due - this stuff really is gloriously coconutty. I’m not quite so bothered by its apparent health virtues and I will never suggest it as a blanket substitute for good old-fashioned butter, but coconut oil is a marvellous addition to any kitchen, whether you’re dairy-free or not. It can actually be quite difficult to pack a coconut cake with enough of the heady aroma of the exotic, without resorting to Malibu buttercream (which I’m certainly not knocking), but I think I’ve found the answer in coconut oil. It looks a bit like lard when at room temperature, but don’t let that put you off. Gently melt it in a saucepan and your whole kitchen will become intoxicated with sunshine and paradise.

I’ve ramped up the coconut hit further with that classic staple from your granny’s larder, desiccated coconut, to add a subtle chewiness to the cake. I’ve also added a not quite so classic ingredient: coconut flour. This stuff can be quite tricky to use. Like a dropped water bottle in the Sahara desert, coconut flour will slurp up every last morsel of moisture in your mixture, which means getting the right balance of fat and liquid is essential if you don’t want to be left with a sandy lump.

I love the fresh, summery addition of blueberries in this cake and the streaky purple prettiness they create. If you’re not a blueberry fan or want the taste of coconut to ring through uninterrupted, by all means leave the berries out, but you’ll need to go down a tin size and bake it in a 6-inch round.

Gluten and Dairy Free Coconut and Blueberry Cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line a 7-inch deep round cake tin

4 eggs
125g caster sugar
100g coconut oil, melted
50g coconut flour, sifted
1 tsp. gluten free baking powder
50g desiccated coconut
200g blueberries
Icing sugar to dust (optional)

Whisk the sugar and eggs until mousse-y and doubled in volume. This will take some time, so if you have an electric hand whisk, use it. Continue to whisk on a low speed as you add the coconut oil. Fold in the coconut flour, baking powder and desiccated coconut with a large metal spoon. The coconut flour will suck up the moisture like water in sand, but don’t worry, the cake will still be light and moist. Finally, fold in the blueberries and pour the mixture out into your prepared tin. Level the top with a palette knife and pop in the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 150°C (130°C fan)/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and bake for a further 25 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out of its tin. Leave to cool complete on a wire rack, before dusting with icing sugar and transferring to a serving plate.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Gluten Free Baking Doesn’t Have To Be Boring.

A lot of people assume that gluten free bakes can only ever be poor imitations of their wheaty cousins. Dry, heavy and even “dusty”: all words I’ve heard used to describe disappointing gluten free experiences, but I’m here to put your minds at rest. Gluten free bakes can be equally delicious, moist and flavoursome as bakes made with wheat flour, and often even more so.

Due to recent changes in agricultural practices to ensure faster production, the amount of gluten found in crops has increased and has had a direct impact on the increasing numbers of people affected by gluten-related digestive issues.

Being gluten free no longer requires a trip to the chemist’s or health food store to buy specialist breads, biscuits and cakes and is no longer observed only by those affected with the autoimmune disorder, coeliac disease. Gluten free is fast becoming a way of life for many of us, either personally or when catering for friends and family. Wheat intolerance can cause huge discomfort and lethargy and should not be seen as faddy or fussy. GF followers deserve to be taken seriously and they deserve to eat delicious food.

I do not personally follow a strict gluten free lifestyle and wheat is still very much a part of my diet. But I live with a gluten dodger and a consequence of that has been that I eat less and less wheat and have worked very hard to create a full gluten free repertoire that ensures he doesn’t have to miss out on his favourite foods, and neither do I.  When he first gave up gluten, I realised many of my failsafe and much loved bakes were already wheat free because I was already a big devotee to the wonder that is torte.

Tortes are cakes made without wheat flour, most often with nut flours (finely ground nuts) and are deliciously close textured and decadent - as perfect for a posh pudding as with a short black coffee in the afternoon. If you order a cake while out, be sure to ask if the torte on the menu is actually gluten free, as it should be. There are many cakes masquerading as tortes out there, which contain wheat flour, and should be avoided.

Some cakes are what I call “naturally” gluten free, in as far as they are not recipes that have been adapted to replace wheat, because they didn’t require wheat to begin with. Some of my favourite cakes, aside from rich chocolate tortes, are citrus spiked polenta cakes. Polenta is naturally gluten free as it is corn rather than wheat based. Moist, moreish and tangy, you won’t find a “dusty” crumb in sight with a slice of this.

With other cakes, I have adapted recipes to replace gluten. Although a simple all-in-one sponge will be fine if you substitute wheat flour for a ready mixed gluten free alternative, I personally often prefer the flavour of simple rice flour, sometimes cut with ground almonds for extra moisture.

GF bakes that use aerated eggs as the main or sole raising agent are pretty much undetectable as gluten free.  I have tested this on unsuspecting cake eaters and have yet to find someone who could tell they were eating a gluten free bake. Methods which require more eggs often use less flour than a standard sponge cake too, which may play a part in making their GF credentials less perceptible, even to the biggest fans of gluten. Jocande biscuit, génoise and chiffon cake are all excellent and tasty examples of the aeration method, which is particularly successful in gluten free baking.

To get you started, here’s my recipe for lemon chiffon cake which, as well as being gluten free, also happens to be dairy free too. I’m convinced this light, moist cake will be able to convert even the most hardened gluten lover into having a rethink. Gluten free really doesn’t have to be boring.

Whatever you do, don’t be scared or cynical of gluten free baking. Just crank up your oven and get stuck in.

Gluten and dairy free Lemon Chiffon Cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease (with oil if you are making this dairy free) and line a 7-inch deep round tin with baking parchment.

3 large eggs, separated
½ tsp. white wine vinegar
110g caster sugar, plus an extra 1 tbsp.
A pinch of salt
65ml sunflower oil
The zest of 4 lemons and the juice of 2
110g rice flour
¼ tsp. bicarbonate of soda
A little icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks. Add the 1 tbsp. of caster sugar and whisk to stiff peaks, then whisk in the vinegar and set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks, remaining caster sugar, oil, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl. Sift over the rice flour and bicarbonate of soda over the wet ingredients and mix in.

Fold the egg whites into the lemon batter with a large metal spoon and pour the mixture into your prepared tin. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool in its tin completely on top of a wire rack before turning out. Once completely cool, sift over a light dusting of icing sugar. This cake is also lovely sliced horizontally in half and filled with fresh, tangy lemon curd.