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 canapĂ©. 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.