Lemon and almond cake, crème fraiche, berries

Whilst desserts and afternoon bakes come to my mind endlessly, it’s not long before I have to rack my brain to think of an inspiring savoury course for dinner. When I work as a private chef, my menus are always based around the dessert course. They are what come to me first and are always the longest section of my ‘menu ideas’ list that I send to clients. Alongside a pavlova and crème brulees, this dish is one of my go-to desserts when I am on a private cooking job. I have cooked a lemon and almond cake in Norfolk, Wales, the South of France and the Scilly Isles. Always for very different people, but it always goes down well. It also often appeals to people without too much of a sweet tooth (my fear) but still feels like enough of a treat for sugar addicts like me.

Lemon and almond cake

I’ve made this in so many places because it is so versatile. Not only can you mix up the fruit depending where and when you are baking – berries in an English summer, stewed apricots in Avignon – but the cake is also tough enough to survive all manner of tin shapes and ovens. I have served this straight out of terracotta dishes like a pudding, cut into squat slices from a loaf tin for picnics or elegantly plated up with quenelles of the crème fraiche for stylish desserts. If you can resist, it also keeps well and will happily sit in a tin for a few days with the ground almonds keeping it moist.

Lemon and almond cake

  • 200g soft butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50g plain flour
  • 125g ground almonds
  • zest of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line a 20-22cm round cake tin, or a 22cm square tin with baking parchment.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using an electric hand whisk or wooden spoon. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time. When the eggs are fully incorporated, fold in the flour, then the almonds and lemon zest.

Scrape the mixture into the tin and tap the sides to release any air bubbles. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the sponge is lightly golden-brown, coming away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Apricot frangipane tart

Cookery school was a year where I learnt the true art of pastry. Quiches lined with buttery shortcrust, proudly freestanding hot water crust pork pies, summer tarts edged with towering layers of rough puff, afternoons spent stretching homemade filo across entire tables – we did it all. For the majority of the year we also did everything by hand, the true Leiths way, in order to get a proper feel for the doughs we worked with. Since I finished Leiths and went to Cambridge, the proportion of my time spent perfecting pastry in this way has sadly largely declined. A situation that needed to be rectified immediately – with this frangipane tart!

Frangipane Tart

I didn’t start making this until about 6pm one evening, which made me think visions of eating freshly baked frangipane for dinner that evening might be overly ambitious. However, this came together in a cinch. As much as I enjoy occasionally labouring over the perfect crisp-bottomed quiche, it was joyous not to have any blind baking involved in this recipe. The jam, frangipane and fruit are all layered on the raw pastry and everything all baked together at once. You can pop it in the oven and forget all about it until the timer beeps 40 minutes later, with no baking beans in sight. The perfect way to get back into pastry making. When raw, the frangipane layer seemed perilously thin but it puffs up perfectly in the oven so do not fear! You can vary the flavours to suit seasonality and the jam you have to hand – the combinations are endless. I based my tart on this Mary Berry recipe (who better to use to avoid a soggy bottom?) with a few adaptations: I snuck a layer of jam in between the pastry and frangipane, used fresh apricots and skipped the icing layer as the jam gave that extra hit of sweetness instead. Enjoy!