Sunday, 27 July 2014

Fresh Apricot & Cherry Upside-Down Cake

I absolutely adore fresh cherries and rejoice when they are in season and readily available to buy. I have been playing around with different recipes where cherries might be used and admit that most of my ideas have been variations on the clack forest gateau theme; in other words recipes that marry cherries with chocolate. It is so hard to deviate from this combination, because cherries and chocolate just taste so darn good together. However, in this recipe I have come up with what I think is another winning combination… Cherries and apricots. Going on the premise that Mother Nature is very wise and has arranged it so that foods that are in season at the same time, tend to have an inbuilt natural affinity for each other, I decided to see how cherries and apricots would taste together.
I chose to make an upside-down cake for my first experiment and I was delighted with how the cake turned out. Asides from looking very exotic with its stained-glass like exotic looking colours, it tasted absolutely fabulous. I used a fairly standard sponge cake base to which I added some ground almonds to keep everything moist and add a little body. I also added a good splash of Amaretto as I felt that its almond flavour would work well with the stone fruits. Amaretto is one liqueur that I always have around the place because it is so incredibly useful to the home cook and so much nicer to use than almond extracts or flavourings.
Preserved or bottled cherries are available to buy and these can be used in many recipes, but when fresh cherries are in season, I love to use them. One of my favourite recipes to make is cherry clafoutis – a sweet Yorkshire pudding-like batter in which cherries are baked. (I have previously given my recipe for this delightful dessert and it was one of the first that I blogged about). Preserved cherries work wonderfully in a clafoutis, but for this cake, You really do need to use fresh cherries.

As the cake bakes, the fruits soften and release some of their juices which caramelise slightly to give an added sweetness which is absolutely delicious. The apricots that I used were slightly tart but the sweetness of the cherries compensated for this and the overall taste was fabulous. In fact, I think it is because of this contrast between the two fruits that this works so well. I really do encourage you to try making it.
This cake is wonderful to eat as just a cake, but served still slightly warm, with some lightly whipped cream on the side, it would make a wonderful summer dessert.


50g butter, softened
50g soft brown sugar
6 Apricots, cut in half and stoned
150g cherries, pitted and cut in half
175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 large free range eggs
135g self-raising flour, sifted
35g ground almonds
1tblsp Amaretto


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Grease the inside of a 20cm round spring-form tin with butter and sprinkle the sugar over the base. Arrange the apricots and cherries in the bottom of the tin with the cut-side in the butter and sugar mixture.
3. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs until they are well incorporated. Fold in the self-raising flour and the ground almonds. Finally mix through the Amaretto.
4. Spoon the cake batter over the apricots and cherries and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. Place the cake tin on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until well risen and a golden brown colour.

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Waterford Blaa

I love a yieldingly soft bread roll to eat with a homemade burger or my latest fave food; pulled pork! I do love brioche rolls where the slight sweetness and the richness of the bread makes it perfect for stuffing with a variety of fillings whether it be meat burgers, cold meats or salads. So many of the bread rolls available to buy in supermarkets, even those which have in-store bakeries, are tasteless, texturally pappy and although commonly inexpensive enough to buy are ultimately so disappointing. So, yes… brioche is great, but here in Ireland, we have a bread that I also think is absolutely prefect - Waterford Blaa!
The blaa is a very soft (but this shouldn’t mean undercooked), slightly chewy white bread roll which is dredged in white flour prior to baking. This results in a crust that is also beautifully soft in texture like the interior of the rolls. It is this softness that makes the blaa perfect for pairing with burgers or hot meats as the juices of the meat are soaked up by the bread making for a truly tasty eating experience. Blaas are sometimes mistaken for baps and whilst there are similarities blaa purists will throw up their hands in horror at the suggestion that the two are interchangeable.

After a concerted campaign by local producers the Waterford Blaa was awarded Protected Geographical Indication Status by the European Commission, which means that only blaas made in a specific area are entitled to be called blaa. Historically the breads were made in Waterford, Wexford and parts of Kilkenny, but now they are primarily associated with Waterford - hence the name.
I think that it’s great that the quality of so many traditional foods is being recognised and championed. In many ways our culinary heritage says so much about who we are as a nation. It’s all too easy to be clichéd and think that Irish food begins and ends with the potato. Yes, the old spud had a key part to play in our history, but our dairy products are second to none; our beef is unbeatable (to mention just a couple of examples) and thankfully, we now seem to be developing a truly vibrant modern food culture which is very much rooted in local communities using locally sourced ingredients and produce.


500g strong white flour
10g active dried fast-action yeast (I used Doves Farm)
10g caster sugar
10g salt (preferably fine sea-salt)
300ml lukewarm water
Extra flour for dredging


1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the yeast and caster sugar to one side and the slat to the other. Make a well in the centre and add the water gradually mixing with your hands to form a soft dough which comes together easily.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for ten minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and springs back when poked. Place into a lightly oiled clean bowl, cover with cling film and leave somewhere warm to rise for 60 minutes until doubled in size.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and knock back to remove the air from the dough. Divide the dough into 8 pieced and form each one into a ball. Place the balls onto a baking tray dusted with flour and dredge with some flour. Cover and leave to rise for 45 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 210C/Fan Oven 190 C/Gas Mark 6.5. Just before placing in the oven, dredge the blaas with some more flour. Bake in the oven for 17-20 minutes.

Serves 4.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Black Forest Pavlova with Fresh Cherries

Food is like anything else and is susceptible to the fashions and fads of a particular era. When I was a young child in the 1970s, the height of sophistication, in culinary terms, was a meal consisting of a starter of prawn cocktail, steak diane for main course and black forest gateau for dessert. Due to their popularity, there wasn’t a restaurant menu in the land that didn’t seem to have at least one of these dishes on it. The reason for this is very simple – these dishes tasted wonderful! Well… they did; when cooked with love and attention to detail, but as with many things in life, their very popularity was their downfall and, particularly in the case of black forest gateau, inferior mass produced versions were bought into restaurant kitchens and served up to diners in an effort to maximise profits and cut back on the effort involved in actually making them in-house.

The black forest gateau began to fall out of favour and became to be seen as something a little kitsch and vulgar. In my opinion, this is an awful shame, because at its core, it is an absolute classic on the taste front! Chocolate, cherries, cream and kirsch… yum! These are flavours that were just meant to go together and when treated with love and an understanding of the flavour balances at play, they are heavenly.
I was thinking about food fashions recently and lamenting the fact that so many of the old favourites are now deemed unsophisticated and people regularly scoff at them.

Cherries are in season at the moment and whilst not the cheapest of fruits to buy, they are a lovely treat every now and again. I absolutely love them. Fresh cherries bear absolutely no resemblance to the tiny sugary orbs known as glacé cherries which are used in baking, most especially the fruit cakes that I love to bake at Christmas time. Fresh cherries, when ripe are unlike any other fruit – there is something so decadent about them and their rich and rounded fruity flavour tastes divine. I always think there is an air of naughtiness about them and they possess a definite air of hedonism.

Armed with a large bag of ripe cherries, I decided to start playing with the basic black forest gateau flavour combinations. I have been experimenting with mousses and tarts and pies and cakes and will post some photos and recipes for the dishes that I have been working on in the near future, but for the time being here is my recipe for Black Forest Pavlova.

The pavlova base for this is chocolate flavoured courtesy of some added cocoa powder and some chocolate chunks folded into the basic meringue mixture. I have topped the pavlova with some cream lightly flavoured with kirsch and a load of fresh cherries which I had great fun pitting with my newly acquired cherry pitter (every home should have one). Oh…and because I could, I also drizzled some melted dark chocolate over everything to give an added chocolate hit.

This is rich; this is sweet; this is deliciously unctuous… all the things a good dessert should be!


4 large egg whites
215g caster sugar
2tsp cornflour
20g cocoa powder
1 tsp white wine vinegar
30g chocolate chips or chocolate cut into small chunks
To finish:
250ml single cream, whipped
2tsp kirsch or other cherry flavoured brandy
200g pitted fresh cherries
100g dark chocolate, melted


1. Preheat oven to 150C/Fan Oven 130C/Gas Mark 2. Line a large baking sheet with some non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together to the soft peak stage. Gradually add the caster sugar, mixing well after each addition to create a glossy meringue.
3. Sift in the cornflour and cocoa powder and fold into the meringue using a large metal spoon. Finally, mix in the vinegar and fold through the chocolate chips.
4. Pile the mixture onto the parchment lined baking tray, and using the back of a metal spoon spread out into a circle about 20cms in diameter. I always try to create an almost bowl shaped circle so that the fruit is easier contained in the baked pavlova. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 75 minutes. Switch off the oven and allow the pavlova to cool completely in the oven before removing.
To finish:
5. Place the pavlova on your serving plate/cake stand. Mix the kirsch through the whipped cream and pile onto the centre of the pavlova. Pile the cherries on top of the cream and finally drizzle the melted chocolate over everything.
Serves 6-8.

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

I always love to have a few home baked biscuits in the tin; something nice and sweet to enjoy with a cup of tea after the long and busy days that seem to make up my life. This is my treat to myself and the moment of the day that I always look forward to.

I love reading through my many cookbooks and make mental lists of recipes that I want to try in the future. Because I am quite a confident cook and really enjoy the whole cooking and baking processes, I regularly adapt recipes that I come across and try to put my own stamp on them. I have talked before about the trend towards new and wacky flavour combinations in cooking; and whilst I do think it is important to push culinary boundaries, there are times when some things are just too ridiculous to consider making – and you just yearn for some good old honest cooking with no fancy frills or artifice. A particular pet hate of mine is food that looks amazing but tastes of little or nothing. To my mind these dishes fail, because although food has to look inviting to eat, it must also taste wonderful… because otherwise, what’s the point?
Anyway, I was recently thinking about some of the first things that I ever baked and I recalled the jam thumbprint cookies that I loved so much as a child. It is years since I made them, but I was so glad that I recently did. They tasted wonderful. The biscuit is short and sweet with a lovely hint of vanilla which goes so well with the raspberry jam. As I was eating these, I decided that raspberry jam has to be the most wonderful preserve that there is. There is something about the preserving process that accentuates the raspberry flavour and makes your taste buds sing.

There’s nothing more to say about these biscuits – they taste fab, are incredibly easy to make and are something that you can definitely get the children to help with; they just love creating the thumbprints and splodging the jam in.

The one thing that I would recommend is using a good jam, one with a high fruit content because this will make all the difference to the finished product.


100g butter, softened
85g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1tsp vanilla extract
115g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
30g ground almonds
2tblsp raspberry jam


1. Preheat the oven to 150C/Fan Oven 130C/Gas Mark 2. Line a large baking tray with some non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract and mix through again.
3. Sift the plain flour and baking powder together and fold into the creamed mixture along with the ground almonds.
4. Take tablespoonfuls of the mixture and gently roll them into balls in the palm of your hands (you should get 16-18) and place them on the lined baking sheet, spacing them about 5cms apart. Slightly flatten each ball of dough and using your thumb or the bottom of a wooden spoon make a small indentation in each. Fill the indentation with a little splodge of raspberry jam (about half a teaspoonful). Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approximately until a pale golden colour. Allow to cool on trays and then serve!

Makes 16-18 cookies.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Gooseberry Cake with Orange Flower Water Drizzle Icing

Gooseberries can be an awkward fruit to use in cooking; because of their tartness, they need to be cooked and sweetened in order to make them appetising. There are dessert varieties to be found, but these can be hard to source and are often more problematic for the gardener to grow, and as such are not often readily available. It is all too easy to merely use gooseberries in pies, crumbles or to make jam and I have been on a quest to try and find new and interesting but also delicious ways of using them in my cooking.
Unsurprisingly, gooseberries are so called because the berries were traditionally used to make a sauce to accompany Roast Goose. Because of their tartness, gooseberries cut through the richness of many foods and create balance in the dish. In particular, gooseberries go extremely well with mackerel where their fruity but acidic tartness balances out the oiliness of this fish. I have been experimenting with different ideas for savoury dishes that include gooseberries and when I have perfected them, I will, of course, post the recipes here. For the moment though, I have been preoccupied with recipes for desserts, cakes and other bakes where gooseberries could be used.
This cake is extremely simple to make and is absolutely delicious. I was so pleased with how it turned out. Elderflower is often the flavour of choice when seeking something to pair with gooseberries, but I find that orange also works very well. Initially, I was going to add the grated zest of a large orange to the cake batter, but then I opted to use orange flower water instead as I thought the floral notes would complement the gooseberries perfectly, in much the same way that elderflower works so effectively.
This is what I would call a “plain” cake, to which I have substitutes some of the flour for ground almonds and to which I have also popped a few gooseberries on top. I have introduced the flavour of orange flower water and finished the cake with drizzle icing. So long as you keep the basic proportions of the cake batter constant, you can tweak the recipe a little and add your own flavourings. This is what I love about cooking and baking… once you become confident and understand why certain ingredients or proportions are used, you can then unleash your culinary creativity and start to experiment. I don’t believe that you should experiment just for the sake of being different and shocking; there should be a sound basis for the cooking choices you make and I certainly don’t regret the ones that I made concerning this cake – that’s not to say that I won’t also make a good old gooseberry crumble, because I am sure that I will before the gooseberry season finishes!


250g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
6 large eggs
2tsp orange flower water
200g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
350g gooseberries, topped and tailed
1tblsp caster sugar for sprinkling
100g icing sugar
1-2 tsp of orange flower water
A little boiling water if needed


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm round spring-form tin with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat together using a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually mix in the eggs, beating well after each addition, until they are fully incorporated and then mix in the orange flower water.
3. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the egg mixture along with the ground almonds. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and level the surface. Arrange the gooseberries on top of the cake and sprinkle with the tablespoon of caster sugar. Bake in the oven for approximately 60 minutes until the cake is well risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
To finish:
4. Mix the icing sugar and orange flower water together to create a smooth but slightly runny icing. You may need to add a tiny amount of boiling water as well to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle over the cake and allow to harden a little before serving.

Serves 8-10.