Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Clotted Cream Shortbread

Clotted cream is one of those really naughty foods which are so lovely to eat every now and again as a special indulgent treat. I love its rich, almost buttery taste and always feel so decadent when I eat it.
If truth be told, I mostly use clotted cream as an accompaniment in desserts… I use it in place of ice-cream, custard or whipped cream to partner warm apple pies, rhubarb tarts etc. I also love it on freshly baked scones with some homemade raspberry jam.
Reading about the origins of clotted cream, I learnt that in the past it was regularly used in place of butter in baked goods. This intrigued me.
As is very apparent from many of my posts, I have an enduring love affair with butter; I really can’t see myself and butter ever falling out of love - but I have to admit, I was hugely attracted to the idea of using clotted cream instead of butter in baking. And, yes… I gave in to temptation and recently made a clotted cream cake which was absolutely fabulous! I almost felt like I was cheating on my beloved butter, but the taste and texture of the cake was divine. I had taken a step into the unknown and there was no going back. I felt that there was room in my life for both butter AND clotted cream! I wasn’t going to give either up! Excuse the pun, but I wanted my cake and I wanted to eat it as well!
In my research I came across references to clotted cream shortbread but was unable to source any recipes. Emboldened by the heady feelings of blossoming love, I resolved that the lack of recipes would not thwart me. As a starting point I decided to adapt my basic shortbread recipe by replacing half the weight of butter with an equal weight of clotted cream. The biscuits I made were wonderful… there’s nothing more to say. They were delicious! DELICIOUS! I urge you to make them.


100g butter, softened
80g caster sugar
100g clotted cream
200g plain flour
100g cornflour (or rice flour if a crunchier biscuit is wanted)


Make the dough:
1. Put the butter and caster sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together using a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Slowly work in half the flour using a wooden spoon and then thoroughly mix in the clotted cream followed by the rest of the flour and the cornflour to create a firm dough.
3. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for at least half an hour in the fridge.
Bake the biscuits:
4. Preheat oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
5. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to a thickness of approximately 5mm with a rolling pin and stamp out individual biscuits using cookie cutters of your own choice (I used a round cookie cutter, approximately 6cm in diameter).
6. Place the biscuits on the prepared trays and bake for 10-13 minutes until pale golden and cooked through.
7. Remove from the oven when baked and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the tray before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling. Sprinkle with a little extra caster sugar before removing to the cooling rack, if desired.

Makes 20 biscuits.


Maple Syrup & Pecan Scones

One of the great things about my never dwindling enthusiasm for cooking and baking is that the more I do, the more confident I become in adapting recipes to use the ingredients that I have immediately to hand. When I first started cooking, I always had to have the exact ingredients specified and I would slavishly follow recipes. As I have become more confident in the kitchen and my understanding of the basic principles of cooking has grown, I regularly change recipes around and experiment. Sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned, but quite often it does.
I had some pecan nuts left over after another dish which I was keen to use up, so decided that I would roughly chop them up and add them to my basic soda bread recipe. As I was weighing everything out, it suddenly occurred to me that the classic combination of pecan nuts and maple syrup would work beautifully as a flavour accent in come brown scones so they are what I made.
I didn’t want a densely brown scone so I also changed the ratio of white to brown flour that I normally use to include a greater proportion of white flour.

I was delighted with how the scones turned out. They were slightly sweet courtesy of the maple syrup used and the nutty crunch of the pecans worked wonderfully with the stoneground wholemeal flour.

The finished scones were delicious made even more so that I ate them with a generous wedge of perfectly ripe Cashel Blue cheese. The blue cheese tasted absolutely fabulous with the slightly sweet and nutty scones… Absolute heaven!



200g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
275g stoneground wholemeal flour
60g pecan nuts chopped
300-325ml buttermilk
50ml maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
To finish:
9-12 whole pecan nuts


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Lightly flour a baking sheet and set aside.
2. Sift the plain flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped nuts and mix through.
3. Add the egg and maple syrup and then pour in most of the buttermilk (do not add it all at once as you may not need it all). Mix everything together to create a soft, but not sticky dough.
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead very briefly. Pat the dough with your hands until it is approximately 4cms thick and then stamp out circles of the dough a round cookie cutter (approximately 6cms in diameter). Place these on the floured baking tray. Just before baking press a whole pecan nut onto the top of each scone. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes until well risen and golden brown.
5. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Makes 9-12 scones depending on size of cutter used.

Custard Creams

I love foods that evoke a nostalgic sense of well-being within me. Invariably many of these foods are either comfort foods or foods that I would consider “treats” and all of them originate from childhood memories. When I was a child, the only biscuits that were ever bought with any regularity were plain digestive or Rich Tea biscuits. Chocolate covered digestives, sugary Nice biscuits, Bourbon Creams or Custard Creams were only ever purchased for so-called “special occasions”. I especially loved Christmas time when friends and neighbours would give us large tins containing a selection of different types of biscuits. These foods hold a special place in my memory specifically because we didn’t get to eat them all that often.

This is not to suggest that we were not given great foods and lovely things to eat; my grandmother was an amazing cook and always served the most delicious homemade meals often including fabulous desserts or cakes that she had baked.
However, there are certain foods, that when I eat them, even now, make me feel as if I am being a little self-indulgent. Being a somewhat ungrateful and greedy child I always yearned to eat shop-bought biscuits and cakes. To me, they were the epitome of sophisticated food… how little I knew then and how it wasn’t until later in life when I began to really appreciate what good food, using quality ingredients tasted like, how privileged and fortunate we were to have someone like my grandmother regularly cooking these things for us.

Chief amongst my childhood must-haves were custard cream biscuits. I just loved them. The creamy buttercream like filling sandwiched between two crisp shortbread like biscuits. I loved the fact that the biscuits had a pattern on them…this seemed to further emphasize the almost debauched and frivolous nature of the biscuits and made them feel all the more appealing to eat.
The recipe that I give here is in homage to the custard cream biscuits of my childhood. They taste fabulous and like their mass-produced cousins are very moreish to eat – one is never enough.

I used an imprint mat that I use for cake decorating to press a pattern on to the biscuit dough prior to baking. I still want to play around with the consistency of the biscuit dough, as I want to perfect one that has a smoother finish after baking, but I will give this recipe here as it just tasted so good and the finished biscuits look so pretty.

I was surprised how well these biscuits kept, even after they were filled, still retaining their crispness and biscuity texture.


200g plain flour
50g custard powder
1 tsp baking powder
75g caster sugar
125g butter
1 medium egg
1 tblsp milk
75g butter, softened
125g icing sugar
25g custard powder


1. Sieve the flour, custard powder, baking powder into a bowl. Add the butter and using your fingertips, rub the butter in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and stir through.
2. Add the milk and the egg and using a fork mix into the flour mixture until everything comes together to form a dough Wrap the dough in cling-film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/ Gas Mark 4.
4. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment. Lightly flour your work-surface and roll out the dough until it is about 3mm thick. Using a rectangular cookie cutter (4.5 cms x 3cms) or other cutter of your choice stamp out individual cookies.
5. Put the cookies on the prepared baking trays and bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes until a light golden colour. Allow to cool for five minutes and then transfer on to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
6. Place the butter, icing sugar and custard powder into a bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until smooth.
7. Use the filling to sandwich the biscuits together in pairs.
Makes 20 sandwiched biscuits.


Sunday, 23 March 2014

Pear Custard Tart

Pears and almonds taste wonderful together and whilst I often make pear frangipane tarts, I wanted to make something a little different this time. I had a couple of boxes of amaretti leftover after Christmas and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to exploit their wonderful, intensely almond flavour. Initially, I was going to make a set pear cheesecake using crumbled amaretti for the base of the cheesecake; but then I decided to be a little bit more adventurous and make a pear custard tart into which I would crumble some of the amaretti. My brother had recently given me a gift of a bottle of Poires William – a wonderful pear flavoured liqueur and I felt that a generous splash of this in the custard would be delicious and would further accentuate the pear elements of this dessert.

I know that I have recently posted quite a few tart recipes, but this is because I love the fact that they can be prepared beforehand and served up when required. I am equally fond of both sweet and savoury tarts and find that using basic cooking skills and techniques; they can be easily adapted to include a range of ingredients that you may have hanging around in the fridge or at the back of the kitchen cupboard.

This tart is really tasty and looks so elegant – I was delighted with how it turned out. Despite being pre-soaked with the pear liqueur, they retain some of their crunch, which adds a pleasing contrast to the soft creaminess of the tart as whole. For this reason, it is important that you use the hard and not the soft type of amaretti.
I have not sweetened the custard as the pears were poached in a sugar syrup and I felt that this added enough sweetness. At a very fundamental level, I wanted the focus of this tart to be on the pears, and everything else to complement and not distract from their wonderful taste. It also occurred to me that a few hard gingernut biscuits might also work very well in place of the amaretti.


175g plain flour
50g icing sugar
100g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1 tblsp cold water
To poach the pears:
3 pears, peeled, halved and cored
75g caster sugar
150ml water
75g amaretti biscuits (the hard type)
2 tblsp Poires William
175ml double cream
2 large eggs
A little icing sugar for dusting the finished tart


Make pastry:
1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. And the diced butter and using your fingertips, rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and water and mix using a fork until everything comes together. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to form into a ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.
To blind-bake the pastry:
3. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5.
4. Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured work-surface. Use to line a 20cm round x 4cm high tart tin with removable base. Prick the pastry several times with a fork. Place some non-stick baking parchment on the pastry and then fill with baking beans. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, removing the parchment and the baking beans for the final five minutes until the pastry is cooked and a light golden brown colour.
5. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To poach the pears:
6. Place the pears in a small saucepan with the water and sugar. Bring up to the boil and then reduce heat and simmer gently until the pears are just poached – this should take 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool a little.
To finish the tart:
7. Place the amaretti in a bowl and sprinkle over the Poires William. Separately whisk together the cream and eggs and pour on top of the soaking amaretti.
8. Drain the pears and arrange neatly, cut-side down on the base of the tart case. Gently pour over the amaretti custard filling and bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 45 minutes until firm and set.
9. Remove from oven when cooked and allow to cool still slightly warm, dusted with a little icing sugar.

Serves 6-8.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Leek Tart

Every now and then I like to cook or bake something which does not contain meat. I am not a vegetarian, but I have never felt that I HAVE to eat meals which always contain meat. In truth, I love most vegetables and I am particularly drawn to dishes that celebrate the wonderful qualities and tastes of individual vegetables.

I think that leeks are an underused vegetable and too often people only consume them as an ingredient coupled with potatoes in a soup. Although I love a good leek and potato soup or the classic chilled Vichyssoise, I believe that leeks have so much more to offer and a far more adaptable than many people think. With their mild, subtle onion flavour they have a sophisticated taste which is fabulous.
Leeks pair together so well with cheese, eggs, cream and other dairy products and this is a combination that I love to exploit and experiment with! Leek gratins, made with your favourite cheese of choice are particularly good - I especially like to use a mild blue cheese such as Cashel Blue which is delicious. Dishes like these can be used as accompaniments but if served with some crusty bread can form the basis of a meal in their own right.
With the above point in mind, and given leeks’ natural affinity with cheese, eggs and cream, I decided to make a tart that included all these ingredients. This would be a great dish luncheon dish served with a lightly dressed, fresh, leafy-green salad.
Make sure to taste the filling as you go along, seasoning generously, because the tart really does need it and it will make all the difference to the finished dish. I added a generous spoonful of wholegrain mustard at the last moment because I felt that it needed “something else”. I am delighted that I did, because the slight piquancy of the mustard really accentuated the sweetness of the leeks. This is a lovely tart and whilst there are a few steps involved, the labour is worth it.


200g plain flour
100g cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1-2 tblsp water
50g butter
500g leeks, sliced lengthways and then chopped into ½ cm pieces
1 onion cut in half and then sliced
½ tblsp plain flour
250ml milk
150ml double cream
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
75g Gruyere cheese, grated
1 tblsp wholegrain mustard


1. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and then tip in the diced butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and water. Use a fork to bring the mixture together and form into a ball before wrapping in cling film and chilling in the fridge for at least half an hour.
To make the filling:
2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the sliced leeks and onions and cook over low heat for about half an hour, stirring regularly. Season to taste. After half an hour or so and once the leeks and onions have softened, but not coloured sprinkle in the flour and stir. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes, stirring continually.
3. Gradually stir in the milk and cream and once the mixture is smooth, cook gently for a further 10 to 15 minutes to cook out the flour. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool. Make sure to season well.
4. When cooled stir in the egg and egg yolks, followed by the cheese and wholegrain mustard.
To finish:
5. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5.
6. Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and gently lay 23cm loose bottomed tart tin. Line the pastry with baking parchment and then fill with baking beans. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, removing the parchment and baking beans for the final 5-10 minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
7. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3.
8. Pour the filling into the baked tart case and smooth the surface. Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the tart has set and is a golden colour. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 8-10.