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.

Peach Cobbler

Sometimes I miss baking in the summer. Baking lends itself perfectly to winter – all warming crumbles, lashings of custard, rib-sticking golden syrup sponges and Christmas puddings set on fire. In summer, meanwhile, for Londoners already struggling with the occasional heatwave the thought of adding more heat by switching on an oven seems insufferable. Magazines suggest simple fruit-swirled fools, ice lollies and jazzy fruit salad combinations for dessert instead. But sometimes, these just don’t cut it.

Peach cobbler

A crumble is a classic in my house, but this time I wanted to make a cobbler to try something a little bit different. I thought it turned out looking so sweet with the little dumplings sitting in neat rows on top of the peaches. It’s definitely heartier than a crumble – a higher ratio of topping to fruit – but it gives that same satisfying texture change between the crunchy demerara top of the dumplings and the fruit juice soaked layer of the underneath. I may have had the leftovers for breakfast. Shh.

Peach Cobbler

Serves 2

  • 210g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 70g cold butter, cubed
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 50-80ml milk
  • 2 tins of sliced peaches
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Sift the plain flour and baking powder together. Add the cold butter and rub together with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Make a well in the middle, and pour in 50ml of the milk. Mix with a knife to a soft dough, adding more milk if necessary. Pat out into a flat disc 1.5cm thick and use a 5cm cookie cutter to stamp out circles. Set aside.

Drain the sliced peaches and tip into a small pie dish. Sprinkle the vanilla essence over the peaches. Arrange the dough discs on top of the peaches, brush with milk and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the biscuits are golden and crisp on top. Serve warm with plenty of cream or custard.

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!

Confit shredded duck, miso plums and yuzu dressing

I remember once at cookery school getting thoroughly upset because I just couldn’t master an espagnole sauce. Every time we had to make it I got all nervous, found the whole thing a huge palaver and it never turned out right. However, after a while I realised that actually, not being able to master an espagnole, a word I’d never even heard of a few months before, was not the biggest flaw in the world. There were several other examples of that throughout my year at cookery school; moments where words you’d only discovered the day before suddenly ruled your day. A dish of ‘Bavarois, tamarillos and lebukchen’ was my clearest example – gobbledegook one day, three deal breakers the next.

Confit shredded duck, miso plums and yuzu dressing

This dish wasn’t quite up there with that, but it was still an adventure to make. I’d obviously heard of miso and yuzu, but I’d never actually cooked with them myself. Hunting down the red miso in Sainsbury’s, the little bottle of yuzu juice in Waitrose and then racing back to Waitrose at the last minute after realising the recipe called for duck legs that were already confit and not just regular ones all meant that this salad was quite the mission to get together. After all that though, it came together fairly speedily. The temptation to wrap the shredded duck up into pancakes with plum sauce and spring onions instead was tempting I can’t lie, but I’m glad I stuck with giving this a go. Tangy, fruity and peppery – all the flavours balanced into one intriguingly moreish plateful. The full recipe by Rose Prince is on The Telgraph website here – enjoy!

Salted Caramel Pineapple Cake

In my final year at school, classes started to have cake rotas. A sure fire way to lift the spirits (and waste a few minutes passing around a tin of muffins), these weekly occurrences were a great development of education. Sadly at university, any such notion disappeared. Even when I did a paper called ‘Food and Drink in Britain and the Wider World’, for an entire year, not once did we eat food in class. Equally my dissertation on food writers and 7,000 word coursework on the beginnings of the sugar trade turned up no eating opportunities in supervisions. Imagine my envy, therefore, when my friend announced that in her sole class of the year touching upon the theme of food and drink, the lecturer had turned up with a variety of cakes for them to try. One of these had been the 1970s classic of an Upside Down Pineapple Cake, complete with shiny glacé cherries, which are one of my many guilty pleasures. I decided to channel this case of envy and bad luck into my own seventies throwback, updated with salted caramel for a 21st century twist.

Salted Caramel Pineapple Cake

Sometimes cakes can over deliver on looks and disappoint on taste. Not this one. This more than lived up to expectations. The almonds (oh, and the lashings of caramel sauce) keep the cake super soft and moist, which also means it lasts well, not that that should be a problem. Although it lacks my beloved glacé cherries, the aforementioned sauce definitely makes up for it. The recipe makes a surprisingly fairly small cake, but it is rich and sweet enough that you don’t need (as much as you might want) huge slices so this is perfect. The recipe was originally from Waitrose Magazine but I tweaked it a bit to suit my ingredients to hand to ensure I could make it immediately.

Salted Caramel Pineapple Cake

  • 175g butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2tsp vanilla
  • 100g plain flour
  • 65g ground almonds
  • 1tsp baking powder

For caramel:

  • 75g butter
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 2tbsp double cream
  • 1 tin of pineapple

Preheat the oven to 170°C and line the base of a 23cm cake tin with baking parchment. For the caramel, gently melt the butter, sugar, salt and cream in a small saucepan over a low-medium heat, stirring now and then. When smooth and all combined, pour into the base of the tin. Arrange the pineapple slices in a single layer on top of the caramel, making sure they are fairly tightly packed, cutting one slice into pieces to fill in the gaps.

For the cake, beat the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating constantly, followed by the vanilla extract. Fold in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder to make a stiff batter. Spoon into the cake tin and smooth flat, being careful not to dislodge the pineapple layer. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the sponge is golden and just firm to the touch. Leave to sit in the tin for 5 minutes, then place a serving plate (with a lip to catch the caramel) over the tin, carefully flip over and remove the tin and baking parchment.

Blueberry Crumble Bars

Food photographs at this time of year are full of delicious ways to cook with the bounty of berries that summer provides. Particularly around the Fourth of July in America, my Instagram filled up with patriotically red strawberry galettes, blackberry pies and big sheet cakes with perfect berry specimens carefully arranged on top to depict the stars and stripes. Whilst these always look gorgeous, berries in my kitchen rarely last long enough to cook with. A punnet of strawberries on the counter will slowly be depleted throughout the day as I snack on a few every time I happen to walk past. Any stragglers at the end of the day simply get tipped into a bowl and smothered with cream to be eaten as dessert. Bowls of cherries disappear even faster, leaving just a tell-tale pile of stalks where they once were.

blueberry crumble bars

Blueberries, however, might be my one exception. Cheap enough that it doesn’t feel like sacrilege to bake with them, and not quite as sweetly addictive to eat by the greedy handful as the others, I knew that they were worth baking with. Plus these bars only need one simple punnet of blueberries as opposed to kilos of hulled and de-stemmed fruit, making this finger-staining recipe infinitely worth it.

Blueberry Crumble Bars

  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 125g cold butter, cubed
  • 200g blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line a 20cm square baking tray.

Mix the flour and caster sugar together in a medium bowl. Add the cubed butter. Rub together until it is the texture of fine breadcrumbs, then keep going for a few more minutes until it begins to come together in larger clumps.

Take 2/3 of this mixture and press into the base of the lined tin to form a shortbread. Scatter over the blueberries. Finally, sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of crumble mixture over the top.

Bake for 15-20minutes, until golden and crisp. Slice into squares.

Rhubarb Galette

I got an unusual message from my friend the other day. ‘Babe, you’re a bit obsessed with rhubarb on Instagram’. A quick check of my most recent likes showed that they were indeed skewed towards all things pink and long stemmed. Rhubarb vodka, cakes, just pictures of people’s bright fruit hauls ready to be turned into something delicious. In particular, my likes kept showing me lots of highly elaborate rhubarb tarts – with delicately fragranced custard fillings, carefully latticed pie lids or neat fruit arrangements in long rectangular tins. Whilst I desperately wanted to try all of these, my limited space and equipment at university meant that (for now) I had to go with something a little bit more rustic to turn my evident rhubarb insta-favouritism into something real.

Rhubarb galette

I used to make a plum and marzipan galette that was absolutely delicious and I wanted to recreate some of that magic galette simplicity with this. The brown sugar pastry gave a lovely extra flavour to the biscuity pastry and a generous slice, served with an equally generous pour of custard, proved the perfect afternoon treat.

Rhubarb galette

  • 200g plain flour
  • 140g cold butter
  • 85g brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 300g rhubarb
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 5tbsp caster sugar
  • 2tbsps ground almonds
  • 1tbsp demerara sugar

Rub the butter into the flour until resembling fine breadcrumbs. Stir through the sugar. Mix the egg yolk with 1tbsp of water, and pour into the flour mixture. Use a knife to stir together and bring into a dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill for an hour.

Cut the rhubarb into 5cm sticks. Stir together with the orange zest and sugar.

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Roll the pastry into a large disc, 3mm thick. Lift onto a lined baking tray. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the pastry. Pile the rhubarb into the centre of the disc, leaving a 5cm border of pastry. Fold the pastry border over the edges of the fruit. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the edge of the pastry.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp. Serve with plenty of custard.

Lemon and raspberry drizzle cake

It is always my pleasure to bake for friends. Let’s be honest, as much as I might want to, even I can’t eat the results of baking twice a week all by myself. I’m quite the feeder and offering up blondies, cookies and cake is as much to minimise damage to my own waistline as it is a sign of generosity.

Lemon and raspberry drizzle cake

Nevertheless, after a while one of my friends wanted to contribute to the baking so we came to a deal where she helps me out with an ingredient in return for baked goods. I made the rhubarb tart, she brought the custard. Today, she bought the raspberries, I baked the cake. Together we sat on my bed, eating warm freshly baked cake, gossiping and discussing Broadchurch theories. An ideal Saturday. The raspberries really made all the difference in this super simple cake – going super jammy and adding little pockets of colour and flavour throughout. It was light, sweet but sharp and dangerously moreish – enjoy!

Lemon and raspberry drizzle cake

  • 125g caster sugar
  • 115g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2tbsp milk
  • 125g plain flour
  • 5tsp baking powder
  • zest 2 lemons
  • punnet of raspberries
  • 100g icing sugar
  • juice of ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line the base of a 20cm round tin.

Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and creamy. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well between each addition. Pour in the milk and stir through. Add the lemon zest, plain flour and baking powder and stir until just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the lined cake tin. Dot the cake with raspberries. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

In a small bowl, sift the icing sugar. Make a well in the middle and add the lemon juice and stir to a drizzle-able consistency! When the cake is cooled, drizzle the icing over the cake.

Rhubarb, orange and almond cake

I look forward to rhubarb season every year. There is something so cheery about getting through the grey bleakness of January with a little help from these long bright pink stems, quite unlike anything else in season at this time of year. Those long stems may look a little bit ridiculous poking out of my bag as I walk through Cambridge, squeezed in amongst my dissertation draft and books on the Enlightenment, but it’s worth it for this cake.

Rhubarb, orange and almond cake

I initially really wanted to make a rhubarb galette with my stash, but as I’ve cooked a lot with pastry in the last week or so I have put this on hold for now. After searching through my rhubarb recipes and discounting elaborate tarts, delicate jellies and creams I settled on this cake – thinking that a generous slice warm from the oven, with a big dollop of crème fraiche alongside it, would be the perfect change from the baking trays of shortbread and cookies my oven has been churning out so far this term. Even my chocolate-dedicated friends enjoyed this and I didn’t face the predicament of having this languishing in a tin for days (admittedly not that miserable a prospect) as it was all gone in two days between three of us.

Rhubarb, orange and almond cake

  • 170g soft butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • zest 2 oranges
  • 150g almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 stick of rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line the base of a 21cm tin with greaseproof paper.

Slice the rhubarb into lengths around 7cm long. Cut each one into quarters lengthways to create thinner batons. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the eggs, beating well in between the addition of each egg. Add the orange zest and dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated.

Scrape the cake mixture into the prepared tin. Top with the rhubarb sticks in a clock pattern. Bake for 30-35 mins until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.