Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Upside-down Pineapple Cake

There is something about retro cakes that is so appealing. Victoria sponges, Battenberg Cakes, little Butterfly Cakes with their delicate sponge wings, Black Forest Gateau; the list goes on and on.

Without a doubt, one of my favourite cakes is pineapple upside-down sponge where tinned pineapple and glacé cherries are placed in a buttered and sugared cake tin, a light sponge is spooned on top and after baking the cake is upturned so that the pineapple and cherries are on the top of the cake. It just looks so kitsch and almost a little obvious and vulgar, but it tastes so delicious.
I recommend serving this cake as a dessert, warm from the oven with loads of thick pouring custard. You could serve it with cream, but this is one time when I really believe it should be custard and nothing else.
I just love the look of impossibly red glacé cherries sitting in the middle of a perfectly round pineapple ring sitting atop a light and fluffy sponge. You could of course use natural un-dyed natural glacé cherries and fresh pineapple which you prepare yourself, but to be honest, I feel that this would be missing the whole point of this cake cum pudding.
The recipe I give below is based on one which I have been using for years and which originally came from BBC Good Food Magazine. It is incredibly simple to make and relatively quick to bake. As a variation, and something that I am quite fond of doing, you can add a couple of tablespoons of desiccated coconut to the cake batter prior to spooning on top of the pineapple before baking.


Sugar topping:
50g butter, softened
50g light muscovado sugar
7 pineapple rings in syrup, drained
7 glacé cherries
Cake batter:
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla paste or extract
2 large eggs
2 tblsp milk 


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Spread this mixture over the bottom of a 20cm round cake tin (do not use one with a removable base).
3. Arrange the pineapple rings on top and place a glacé cherry in the centre of each pineapple ring.
Cake batter:
4. Using a hand-held electric beater, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, add in the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla paste/extract.
5. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the creamed mixture. Mix in the milk – the batter should have a soft dropping consistency.
6. Spoon into the tin on top of the pineapple and smooth it out with a palette knife or the back of a spoon to level the surface. Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the sponge is golden and springy to the touch. Remove from oven and leave to cool for five minutes before turning out on to a plate. Serve warm with custard.
Serves 6.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Fresh Fig Frangipane Tart... and a recipe for Fig Jam

Like many people in this country, my first taste experience of figs was of the dried variety as used in Fig Roll biscuits. Whilst I have a certain fondness for the dried version courtesy of their inclusion in these biscuits, nothing compares to the taste of fresh figs, which I must admit I first tasted well into my twenties!

There is just something so sensual, exotic and almost naughty about fresh figs. Their almost “meaty” and heady fruitiness works equally well in a range of both savoury and sweet dishes. They can be expensive to buy, but when used in a dish like this, a little goes a long way.
I was lucky this year and managed to get my hands on a crate of them at a fairly reasonable price and wanting to preserve their flavour and use them before they spoiled and began to rot (they have a fairly short shelf-life), I made a fig jam. I was delighted with how it turned out.
This is a fairly basic frangipane tart but it uses the figs to good effect and includes a layer of the fig jam as well as some of the fresh figs. I have halved the figs and displayed them cut side uppermost in the moist almond frangipane to show off their beautiful colours and shape.
I am really pleased with how this tart turned out - it is truly delicious and one that you will love if, like me, you like figs.


Fig jam:
1.5kg fresh figs
750g jam sugar (sugar with added pectin)
175g plain flour
50g icing sugar
100g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
2 large eggs
2tblsp plain flour
1tblsp Amaretto
To finish:
4 fresh figs, cut in half lengthways
3tblsp apricot jam
1tblsp Amaretto


Make jam:
1. Pick over the figs and discard any that look in any way mouldy.
2. Cut off the stems and place in a large saucepan. Squash the figs with a potato masher, breaking them into a lumpy paste.
3. Put the pan over a low heat and add the sugar and heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and bring the mixture to as boil. Allow bubble away for 6-9 minutes, stirring regularly until the mixture is thick.
4. The jam is ready once it reaches 105C on a sugar thermometer or when a spoonful of its sets on a chilled plate. When it reaches this point, remove from the heat and ladle into 4-5 sterilised 350ml jars. Cover and store for up to six months in a cool dark cupboard. Refrigerate after opening.
Make pastry:
5. Sieve the flour and icing sugar together into a large bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips, rub into the flour and icing sugar until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
6. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and a tablespoon of water and mix using a fork to bring everything together and form a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly and form into a ball. Wrap in cling-film and place in the refrigerator to rest for about half an hour.
Make the frangipane:
7. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and then fold in the ground almonds and flour. Finally, mix through the Amaretto.
To finish:
8. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Roll out pastry dough thinly and use to line the base and sides of a 35cm x 10.5cm x 2.5cm fluted, loose-based oblong tart tin.
Spread a couple of tablespoons of fig jam in a thin layer over the pastry base.
9. Next spoon the frangipane mixture and spread out evenly to the pastry edges to cover the fig jam completely.
10. Slice the fresh figs in half lengthways and press into the top of the frangipane with the cut side uppermost.
11. Place the tin on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until the frangipane filling is just set.
12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Heat the apricot jam with the Amaretto and sieve to get rid of any lumps, Use a pastry brush to brush the hot jam over the tart to glaze.
Serves 6.


Chocolate Caramel Squares AKA Millionaire's Shortbread

When I was young, I considered anyone who was able to make Chocolate Caramel Squares to be a culinary and baking genius. They looked so indulgent and when you ate one… the snap of chocolate giving way to sweet, gooey caramel, finished off with buttery crumbly shortbread! One slice was never enough.

My grandmother was an amazingly accomplished cook and baker and was very adventurous in the things she chose to cook for the family, but oh how I envied my friend who lived across the road because her mother used to make Chocolate Caramel Squares for her family.

The first time that I made them, I burnt the caramel in my eagerness (and haste) to produce the addictive bars that I loved so absolutely. It really is crucial that you cook the ingredients for the caramel over a low heat, using a heavy based saucepan and keep stirring all the time. Otherwise the caramel will catch on the bottom of the saucepan and will burn in no time at all. Other than that, the bars are relatively easy to make and keep very well for up to a week stored in an air-tight tin.
I have cut these into generous sized bars, but they can be cut into smaller bite-sized morsels and served as petits fours. I have used dark chocolate to top the bars, but you can use milk or even white chocolate. I do think the slight bitter edge that dark chocolate lends is preferred as the caramel layer is so sweet.
You can also add a few chopped hazelnuts, or nut of your choice, to the caramel once cooked and before spreading on top of the shortbread. What I give here is the basic recipe, which can be adapted as you like. Sometimes I forgo the shortbread base and instead use one made up of puffed rice cereal and melted chocolate. This can be very tasty and is less heavy than the shortbread.
As alluded to in the title to this post, these bars are also known as Millionaire’s Shortbread. The origins of this name are disputed but it seems generally accepted that it reflects the rich and decadent qualities of the bar.


150g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
225g plain flour
397g tin of condensed milk
150g butter
100g golden syrup
To finish:
200g dark chocolate, melted


1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Line a 30cm x 20cm x 4cm oblong shallow cake tin with non-stick baking parchment.
2. Using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Using a wooden spoon, work in the flour to produce a dough. Press the dough into the prepared cake tin to cover the base. Spread out and level the surface using the back of a spoon. Prick the base several times with a fork. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, until cooked through and just beginning to colour. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you make the caramel.
3. Place the condensed milk, butter and golden syrup into a medium/large heavy-based saucepan and heat over a moderate temperature until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Increase the heat slightly and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring frequently. The caramel will need to bubble away for approximately 12 minutes for it to reach the correct stage. When it is ready, it will have thickened and will have turned a rich golden brown colour.
4. Immediately pour the caramel on top of the shortbread base, spreading it out using the back of a metal spoon. Set aside to cool completely.
To finish:
5. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Once it is fully melted, pour it over the cooled caramel in an even layer. Set aside until cooled completely and the chocolate has set. Cut into 20 even-sized squares/bars.

Makes 20 bars.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Now this is real comfort food. Creamy tender rice simmered in milk and cream, simply flavoured with vanilla and a few rasps of freshly grated nutmeg… and a blob of homemade raspberry jam. Heaven!

I love it.

Although there are many exotic variations available these days (some using basmati rice, coconut milk) my favourite has to be the good old-fashioned version, using short-grained rice cooked in sweetened milk/cream. When the weather is horrible outside and the evenings are long and dark, one spoonful of this is like getting a huge big warming hug.

This is a pudding that reminds me of my childhood and in its simplest form, it is a very economical dish to rustle up. You can enrich it with egg yolks and butter or make it using cream alone, but I don’t think that this is absolutely necessary; as the rice cooks it releases some of its starchiness into the liquid which serves to thicken it and create a rich texture in the mouth. I do like to use a little double cream though, mainly because it lends a lovely creamy taste to the finished dish.

Rice pudding can be baked in the oven but the recipe that I give here is cooked on the hob. This creates a very creamy version without the caramelised skin that you get when you bake it, but I love both versions. This was just the one that took my fancy today!
I have specified “pudding rice” in the ingredients listing, which is something readily available in Irish supermarkets, but this is essentially short-grain rice and is interchangeable with any good risotto rice in this recipe. I have made it using both Arborio and Carnaroli risotto rice and they were equally as good as the “pudding rice”!
One last thought – I love nutmeg and I think that it is an absolute necessity in this pudding. Don’t use the ready ground version as it tends to go stale quite quickly. Add some freshly grated nutmeg just before serving and you will be rewarded with a gently spiced warmth that just compliments the creaminess of the pudding so well.


150g pudding rice
900ml milk (full-fat)
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split open lengthways and the seeds scraped out
50g caster sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg
To serve:
Jam or stewed fruit of your choice


1. Put the rice, milk and double cream into a medium sized, heavy-based saucepan along with vanilla pod and its seeds. Bring to a gentle simmer over a low heat and cook, stirring regularly for just over an hour until the rice is soft and has swelled.
2. Stir in the sugar and add a little freshly grated nutmeg. Remove the vanilla pod.
3. Serve hot, with a generous spoonful of jam or seasonal stewed fruit on top. (I used homemade raspberry jam, because it is my favourite).

Serves 4-6.

Coconut Cake

I have always loved the flavour of coconut. I associate coconuts with Halloween and the winter months and think they add an exotic air to what can otherwise be a very dreary time of year. Coconut has a special place in many people’s hearts and has been used in many familiar sweets and biscuits that have been available in Ireland for decades.

Jacob’s Mikado and Coconut Cream biscuits have long been firm favourites in many an Irish household and I distinctly remember packets of them being bought for special occasions when visitors were expected. Coconut is also used in Jacob’s Polo biscuits and although a simple and plain biscuit, it is hard to stop yourself eating your way through an entire packet in one sitting!!

A particular favourite of mine are Caffreys’ Snowballs; dome shaped coconut sprinkled chocolate shells filled with soft sticky marshmallow. I loved them as a child and I still do.

In business for over 70 years Caffreys is an Irish family-run confectionary company, based in Dublin All Irish children are familiar Big Time and Macaroon Bars, Tea Cakes, Snowballs and the company’s other products.

Coconut and chocolate go very well together but I decided that for this cake, I didn’t want to go down the chocolate route. Initially I was going to fill and cover the cake with the coconut buttercream icing, but I quickly decided that some raspberry jam would compliment the taste of the coconut and lend an added fruitiness to the cake.

I wanted to create a cake that was quite frivolous looking but was in reality quite simple to make... I think that I have achieved it with this cake which is essentially a basic Victoria sponge cake with added creamed coconut and a splash of Malibu to heighten the coconut flavour. I decided to colour the sponge with a couple of drops of pink food colouring and I particularly like the effect achieved of the pink contrasting with the white of the coconut icing.


175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
50g unsweetened desiccated coconut
2tblsp creamed coconut
1tblsp Malibu (optional)
1-2 drops of pink food colouring
300g icing sugar
100g butter, softened
3tblsp creamed coconut
1tblsp Malibu (optional)
To finish:
100-125g raspberry jam
3-4tblsp unsweetened desiccated coconut (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Butter and base-line three 15cm sandwich tins with non-stick baking parchment.
2. Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the ingredients together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well into the mixture before adding the next.
3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and thoroughly fold into the butter and egg mixture. Add in the food colouring and mix well to fully incorporate. Gently stir in the desiccated coconut, Malibu and creamed coconut.
4. Divide the mixture evenly between the three sandwich tins and bake in the pre-heated oven for 17-20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes before removing from the tins. Place on wire racks to cool completely. When cool, remove the baking parchment.
To make the buttercream:
5. Using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the icing sugar, butter, Malibu and creamed coconut together until smooth. Spread one side of the first of the sponges with raspberry jam and then top with a thin layer of the buttercream. Place the second sponge on top of this and again spread a thin layer of the raspberry jam and then the buttercream on top. Top with the third sponge. Use the remaining buttercream to evenly cover the top and sides of the cake. If liked, sprinkle some more desiccated coconut over the sides and top of the cake.
Serves 8.