Tuesday, 28 October 2014

PVC Cake (AKA Pistachio, Vanilla & Chocolate Marble Cake)

There's no doubt about it; I am like a woman obsessed at the moment. Obsessed with all things pistachio, that is! Well I'm still experimenting and this cake was just so good, I had to share the recipe. This is just a quick post…but believe me the cake is fab and looks so pretty!

This is essentially a simple marble cake - lightly blended, differently flavoured or coloured cake batters that are baked together in the one tin to create a mottled/marbled finish when sliced. I considered these cakes the height of sophistication when I was a child and regularly begged my grandmother to bake them as a special treat for me. As a child, my favourite marble cake was one made with chocolate, plain and brightly pink coloured cake batter - we called it our Neapolitan Marble Cake as it resembled the Neapolitan ice-cream that my brother and I had such a penchant for.
Here I was keen to create a cake that looked a little bit more elegant and one that showcased my nut du jour - pistachios. The cake was very simple to make but looked beautiful when sliced. The pistachio, vanilla and chocolate flavours all came through distinctively yet complemented each other so well. I am confident that this is a cake that both young and old will delight in.
I chose not to decorate or ice the finished cake, but a simple chocolate glace icing or some melted chocolate drizzled on and allowed to set, would not be out of place!


225g butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
275g self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
25ml milk
25g pistachio paste
1/2 tsp vanilla extract/paste
1tblsp cocoa powder + 1-2 tblsp boiling water, mixed together to form a paste


1. Preheat the oven to 160C/Fan Oven 140C/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin and set aside. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the creamed mixture, adding the milk half way through. Make sure that everything is mixed together well, but do not over mix as this will develop the gluten in the flour and result in a heavy cake.
3. Divide the cake batter into three, placing in separate bowl. To the first bowl add the pistachio paste; to the second the vanilla extract/paste and to the third the cocoa mixture. Make sure that each of these additions is we" mixed through the batter in their respective bowls.
4. Drop spoonfuls of the three cake batters into the prepared loaf tin, alternating them until all of the batter is used up. Drag a thin skewer through the cake batter (once it is in the tin) to encourage the intermingling of the batters. You need only do this three or four times.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes until the cake is well risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Serves 8-10.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Bat 'n' Bird Cake... A ghoulish treat for Halloween???

Ok ... so my title may be a little misleading, but every time I hear Bat 'n' Bird Cake, I cannot help but laugh ... and in all truth this alternative version to a classic Battenburg Cake, which is based around the flavours of pistachio and vanilla has nothing specifically to do with Halloween other than the fact that bats and spooky bird-like creatures may be out and about on that particular night!

A classic Battenberg Cake consists of pink and plain sponge cake sandwiched together with apricot jam in a chequerboard pattern and encased in marzipan. (Have a look at my recipe for traditional Battenberg cake here). When you say Battenberg really quickly, and often when children say it - it sounds like Bat 'n' Bird Cake, which in many ways appeals to me far more than it's correct title!

For my Battenberg, I wanted to do something a little different to the usual pink and yellow version. Given that I am still experimenting with the big tub of pistachio paste that I recently bought, I knew that pistachio would definitely feature and that I would follow it through to flavour the marzipan. But I wasn't sure what would best complement the pistachio. Inspired by some books on Middle Eastern cookery, I toyed with the idea of using rosewater, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, I still remain to be convinced of the wonders of this particular flavouring! In the end, I decided to keep it simple and opted for vanilla.

Traditional Battenberg Cakes employ apricot jam to sandwich the sections of cake together and to attach the marzipan. I am a great lover of raspberry jam, so I used this instead for 'gluing' the cake together, but as I didn't want the marzipan to become stained by the colour of the raspberry jam, I used apricot jam to attach the marzipan.

Some recipes for Battenberg Cake use ground almonds in the cake batter and whilst these keep the cake from drying out, I find that they don't add much in terms of flavour to this type of cake. The batter that I use here, made by the creaming method with flour, eggs, butter and sugar, is light and moist and when wrapped in the pistachio marzipan keeps extremely well.
Assembling this cake is a little tricky, but I will admit that I have the ultimate 'cheat' as I have a special Battenberg tin which bakes the cake strips separately and to an exact width and length. This is such a great tin, and whilst it is not absolutely essential to have one, it does make assembling the cake so much easier.
I was delighted with how this cake turned out. It looks so pretty, but more importantly tastes delicious with its wonderfully intense pistachio flavour. I used pistachio paste for making the cake, but you can grind your own pistachios and use them instead (I give the various options in the recipe below). You won't get such a beautifully intense green colour, so you could add a scant drop of green food colouring/gel instead.
I have made my own pistachio marzipan here, but you can use standard marzipan, even a purchased version, if you'd prefer!


175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
175g self-raising flour, sifted
25g pistachio paste OR 50g ground pistachios
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
A drop or two of green food colouring if using ground pistachios
225g granulated or caster sugar
75ml water
100g ground almonds
75g ground pistachios
20g pistachio paste (optional)
1 egg white, lightly beaten
To assemble:
4tblsp raspberry jam, warmed and sieved
4tblsp apricot jam, warmed and sieved


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.

2. If using specialist Battenberg tin, base-line with some baking parchment cut to size. Grease this and all the internal sides of the tin with a little butter and then lightly flour, shaking out any excess. If you don't have a specialist tin, grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm square cake tin, using baking parchment, but make a fold in the centre which stands upright and created a division so that the two differently coloured sponges can be baked separately but beside each other. Set aside Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Finally fold in the sifted flour, making sure that it is fully incorporated.
3. Put half of the mixture into a separate bowl and mix through the vanilla extract/paste. Mix the pistachio paste (or the ground pistachios and food colouring) through the other half of the cake batter.
4. Spoon the vanilla batter into one half of the prepared cake tin and the pistachio batter into the other half and bake in the pre-heated oven for 23-25 minutes until well risen and cooked through. Allow to cool in the tin and then turn out onto a wire rack.

5. Put the sugar and water into a medium-sized, heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil. Allow to bubble until the mixture reaches the 'soft-ball' stage (116C on a sugar thermometer). Remove the saucepan from the heat immediately, but stir continuously with a wooden spoon as it starts to cool and becomes a little cloudy. Tip in the ground almonds, ground pistachios, pistachio paste and egg white and mix well until everything is thoroughly combined. You should have a very stiff paste-like mixture at this stage. Allow to cool completely and then knead briefly on a work surface, lightly dusted with icing sugar and form into a ball. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until required.
To assemble:
6. Trim the cake so you have four even shaped strips or long-rectangle shaped pieces of cake (two of
pistachio and two of vanilla).

7. Brush the long side of one of the sponges with some raspberry jam and sandwich together with a strip of cake in a contrasting colour. Do the same with the other two pieces of cake. Sandwich the two pairs of sponges together to create a chequerboard pattern.
8. Roll out the marzipan (on a work surface dusted with a little icing sugar) into a large rectangle, roughly 40cm x20cm so that it is large enough to wrap around the outside of the Battenberg leaving the ends exposed.
9. Using the warmed and sieved apricot jam this time brush the top, bottom and sides (not the exposed ends). Wrap the marzipan around the cake, pressing it gently onto the sides of the cake brushed with apricot jam. Press the edges together so that they are firmly joined. Place the cake so the seam is on the bottom and trim to neaten by cutting a thin slice from each end of the cake leaving the chequerboard pattern exposed. Serve.

Serves 8-10.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Plum Pie and a heated discussion...

Pies are a perfect way of using seasonal fruits to create delicious satisfying puddings.

I recently had quite a heated discussion with someone about what the difference between a pie and tart was. As I have always understood it, a tart has pastry on the bottom and the filling is exposed, whereas a pie has a top which encloses the filling. This top is most often made of pastry but can also be made of potato (in the case of savoury pies) or other things such as meringue… or whatever takes your fancy. Pies can also have a double crust – in other words, they can have a pastry top and bottom which contains the chosen filling completely. Both pies and tarts can be sweet or savoury.
For me, there is something so comforting about eating a pie, whereas tarts have pretensions to sophistication and elegance, which depending on how well they are made may not be realised!
Whilst apple pie in all its variations seems to reign supreme, you can pretty much use any fruit to make a pie. Although I love a tasty apple pie, I think that so many of them disappoint as they are made with flavourless apples. When making my apple pie, I use cooking apples (Bramley) AND a crisp eating apple (Granny Smith) to create a pie that still retains a little texture but where the fruit is all completely cooked through. I also favour adding a pinch of ground cloves as opposed to the ubiquitous cinnamon to add little spicy warmth. I find that the cloves really enhance the flavour of the apples whereas cinnamon can take over.

In any event, apple pie was not on the agenda here. Plums are plentiful and cheap at the moment and I had a hankering for something to eat that included them; so I plumped for plum pie!
A good friend recently sourced a large supply of wonderful plump vanilla pods for me so I decided that I would flavour my pie with vanilla. This is an incredibly easy pie to make, using a simple shortcrust pastry and although you could par-cook the fruit before baking it in the pie, I think the fruit tends to turn into a purée; far better to tumble the uncooked fruit into the pie and let it soften in the heat of the oven as the pie bakes.  A tablespoon of arrowroot thickens the fruit juices that are released to create a beautiful fruity, plum-flavoured sauce.
This is a really flavourful pie and lovely served with some custard or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.


250g plain flour
20g caster sugar
125g butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 tblsp cold water
To finish:
12-14 plums, stoned and thickly sliced
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod
25g caster sugar plus a little extra for sprinkling on the finished pie
1tblsp arrowroot
A little beaten egg


1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips, rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the egg yolk and water. Using a fork, mix everything until it comes together in a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
To make the pie:
3. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a 20-23cm round pie dish with some butter and place on a baking tray. Set aside.
4. Mix the sliced plums, sugar, arrowroot and vanilla seeds in a bowl and set aside. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out 2/3 of it into a circle large enough to line the bottom and sides of the pie dish. Tumble the fruit into the lined pie dish and roll out the remaining pastry into a circle large enough to cover the pie.
5. Using a pastry brush, brush a little egg around the edge of the pie and place the other circle on top to cover the fruit filling. Press the edge to seal , trim off any excess pastry and crimp the edges if desired. If you like you can use some of the pastry trimming to cut out shapes to decorate the top of the pie. Brush the top of the pie with a little more of the beaten egg and cut a slit in the pastry to allow steam to escape.
6. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 4 and cook for a further 20 minutes until the pie is golden brown and the fruit has softened and started to release its juices. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve.
Serves 6-8.



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Cabinet Pudding

I regularly bake celebration cakes for neighbours, friends and family and over the years have made many birthday, wedding, christening and first holy communion cakes. This is something that I enjoy doing when I get the opportunity. Sometimes, when I have a particularly big or elaborate cake to make, it can really feel that I am being engulfed by flour, eggs, sugar and sugarpaste.

Although I make a whole range of cakes including chocolate, lemon, carrot etc., the one that seems to be the most popular is based on my basic madeira cake. This I bake in the relevant sized tin; I then split and fill it and trim it so that everything is level before I start decorating.

This inevitable means that I often have cake offcuts left over and rather than thrown these out, I try to use them up in other recipes.

One of these is a traditional steamed pudding called cabinet pudding. This is made up of small cubes of leftover or stale cake, glacé or other dried fruits and an egg custard. The cake is allowed to soak in the egg custard for an hour , the dried fruit is added and then the pudding is steamed for 75 minutes. What emerges is a sweet pudding which is not at all stodgy and is surprisingly light.
Here I have made the pudding using glacé cherries only, but you can add in a handful of sultanas, chopped angelica or whatever dried fruits you fancy. I have often though a tropical using some canned pineapple chunks along with some added desiccated coconut would be nice… but the recipe that I give here is based on the more traditional versions of the pudding.

Serve this in wedges with a little pouring custard or softly whipped cream on the side.


25g butter for greasing the pudding bowl
75g glacé cherries, halved
275g sponge/madeira cake
75g crushed amaretti biscuits (the hard kind)
500ml cream
3 medium eggs
25g caster sugar
2tblsp Amaretto


1. Grease a 1 litre pudding bowl with the butter and then line the base of the pudding bowl with a little circle of non-stick baking parchment.
2. Embed some of the cherries (cut-side to the edge of the bowl) in the buttered sides of the bowl.
3. Cut some of the cake into strips and use to line the pudding basin. Cut the remaining cake into 2-3cm chunks and place in the basin with the remaining cherries and crumbled amaretti, making sure that they are well distributed.
4. Heat the cream in a small saucepan and whilst it is heating beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl. When the milk is almost at boiling point, pour it in a steady stream onto the egg mixture, gently beating all the time. Add the Amaretto and then strain this mixture, through a sieve onto the cake chunks in the pudding basin. Set aside to soak for 60 minutes.
5. Cover the pudding with a sheet of baking paper pleated in the centre. Secure the paper in place by tying with string around the outer lip of the basin. Steam in a steamer for 75 minutes following the manufacturer’s instruction or alternatively, place the basin in a large saucepan with boiling water coming halfway up the sides. Place the lid on the saucepan, and reduce the heat so that the water is gently simmering away. Check every 20 minutes and add some more boiling water if needed to maintain the water levels.
6. When the time is up, remove from the steamer saucepan and allow to sit for 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate.
Serves 6-8.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

There are so many recipes out there for butternut squash soup, but without a doubt my favourites are those that have a spicy curry flavour and a little chilli heat or those that also include some apple in them.

The first time that I tried butternut squash was many years ago when I first visited the United States, where it was served as a mashed vegetable accompaniment to roast turkey in the restaurant that I was working in. The thing that struck me when I ate it then, was how naturally sweet it was. It is because of this sweetness that butternut squash can take on other punchy flavours without its inherent personality being lost. As already mentioned, I love it paired with apple in a creamy soup, but I would strongly recommend using cooking apples or tart Granny Smith as you need a certain acidity to balance all the sweetness.
This is a great soup for this time of year. It’s creamy and comforting to eat but the inclusion of chilli and ginger adds a zingy warmth to the finished soup which enlivens the taste buds. I have only used half a chilli, but if you like it hot, add some more.

Roasting the butternut squash before adding it to the soup really intensifies the flavour, so I would advise you to do it, but if you are short on time you can chop the peeled butternut squash in medium sized chunks and simmer them in the stock.

I have used ground coriander and a few rasps of nutmeg and added these to the onions, garlic and ginger whilst they were softening in the pan. I definitely think that this spice combination added a little something extra to the soup.
This is a perfect soup for autumn and looks so cheery and inviting that it is sure to enliven even the most miserable day.


To roast the butternut squash:
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into medium sized chunks
25ml olive oil
A sprig of thyme
½ thin red chilli, chopped finely
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tsp of fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground nutmeg
500ml vegetable stock
250ml coconut milk from a can
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
To garnish (optional):
Some coriander leaves
Some thin slices of chilli cut across the centre
Toasted coconut flakes


Roasted butternut squash:
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Tumble the butternut squash chunks into a roasting dish along with the thyme, chilli and olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the squash has softened and started to caramelise at the edges. Remove from oven.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, coriander and nutmeg and allow to cook for about 5 minutes without colouring or until the onions have softened and become translucent.
3. Add the roasted butternut squash, the vegetable stock and coconut milk and increase the temperature under the saucepan. Bring up to the boil and then immediate reduce heat so that everything just simmering away gently. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.
4. Purée the soup in a blender until smooth and then return to a clean saucepan and keep warm until ready to serve. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
5. Garnish with some coriander, chilli and coconut flakes if desired. Serve hot with some crusty bread.
Serves 6.