Vanilla and Lemon Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb

I remember my first panna cotta. It was in Riva in Barnes and I must have been about 20 something. I was determined to try and recreate it but try as I might, I could never get close. A few years later whilst working at The River Café, I learnt how to make their version, which was different, but just as superb. I always thought though that it was so delicious due to the quantity of Grappa in the recipe. But in this recipe, I have omitted the Grappa, mainly because I did not have any, and now realize that it is the combination of vanilla, lemon and cream which actually results in its complete amazingness. Delicious alongside roasted rhubarb but also wonderful with poached figs or just some fresh raspberries.

Vanilla and Lemon Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb

Serves 4

70 ml milk

2 vanilla pods, scored and seeds removed or 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste

1 lemon, finely grated zest of

375 ml double cream

1½ leaves beef gelatine, soaked in cold water

70 g icing sugar

250g rhubarb

65g golden caster sugar

Put the milk, vanilla pods, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and half the cream into a small pan and slowly simmer for 10 minutes or until reduced by a third. Remove from the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine leaves until dissolved. Stain through a sieve and then allow to cool a little, then place in the fridge, stirring occasionally until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Whip together the icing sugar with the remaining cream. Mix the two cream mixture together. Divide into four serving moulds. Cover and chill for at least an hour.

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Rinse the rhubarb and shake off the excess water. Trim the ends and cut the rhubarb into little finger-sized pieces. Put the rhubarb in a shallow dish or baking sheet with sides, tip the sugar over, toss together, then shuffle the rhubarb so it’s in a single layer.

Cover with foil and roast for 15 mins. Remove the foil. The sugar should have dissolved, so give everything a little shake and roast for another 5 mins or until tender and the juices are syrupy. Test with a sharp knife; the rhubarb should feel tender, not mushy, and still have kept its shape.

To serve, sometimes I’ll dip the mould or cup into some simmering water to loosen the pannacotta a little, then turn it out on to a plate next to some rhubarb with its juice Or you can just put the rhubarb on top of your cups or glasses of pannacotta and serve from there.

Baked Blueberry and Vanilla Cheesecake

I like to have one or two definitive recipes for each seasonal fruit. Ones that I know will always work and when the season for that fruit comes around again I get excited and start salivating about making again. But up until now, I have never had one such recipe for blueberries. So, I set about rectifying the situation and the first thing that sprang to mind was Blueberry Cheesecake.

I am always a little apprehensive about making cheesecake. I think I have just had so many horrid ones, over sweet, gelatinous and gloopy! When I was a kid in the 70’s I even remember making one from a packet which was pretty disgusting. But then I went to New York and I will never forget the wondrous baked cheesecakes, topped with sour cream. Slightly grainy at the edges, totally wobbling creaminess in the middle. Mind-blowing. So, I was a little nervous of trying to recreate what I had reminisced. I scoured through hundreds of recipes to find one that sounded right, and never imagined that the first one I tried was going to turn out such perfection.

Baked Blueberry and Vanilla Cheesecake

150g digestive biscuits, smashed

20g caster sugar

70g butter, melted


800g Philadelphia cream cheese

150g creme fraiche

190g caster sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, or essence

4 eggs

30g flour

50ml milk

200g blueberries

100g creme fraiche

200g blueberries to decorate

Preheat oven to 170 C / Gas mark 4. Lightly oil a 25cm cake tin. I lined mine with grease-proof as I was frightened that otherwise it would leak.

Mix the biscuits, sugar and butter together and press evenly into the bottom of the tin to form a base. I used a potato masher.

Mix the creme fraiche, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer. Add the eggs one after another and always mix well in between. Add the milk and flour and mix as well. Stir in the blueberries and pour into the tin. Bake for about 1 hour in the oven. The cake should be well risen, golden brown on top and just very slightly wobbly in the middle. Take out and allow to cool. After cooling spread the cake with 100g of creme fraiche and let it cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours. I couldn’t wait and ate mine after about an hour. Decorate with blueberries.


Blood Orange Sorbet

I know it is hardly the weather for sorbet but when I see blood oranges, I just can’t think of anything else. This is super delicious and super easy to make but you will need some sort of ice-cream machine. Mine is just a cheap one and cost under £20 at the time. You freeze the bowl first and it can’t cope with large quantities but worked brilliantly for this recipe.  Blood oranges are not around for long so make the most of them and get them whilst you can!

Blood Orange Sorbet

If using an ice-cream maker like mine, be sure to freeze your bowl overnight. (Serves 4)

7-10 blood oranges (400ml strained juice)

125g white sugar

Roll each orange on the work surface to release the juice, then squeeze. Pass through a sieve and you have about 400ml juice.

Heat 75ml of the juice gently in a pan with the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Allow to cool slightly, then add the remaining juice. Chill well.

Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to instructions. Eat as soon as possible for the best texture.

Carrot Cake

I can’t believe that in over a year of writing this blog with Simon, that I have never shared my Carrot Cake recipe with you. I have served this cake up at countless Riverford Lunches over the years and everyone is always after the recipe. So here it is. By the way, when I say “my” Carrot Cake recipe, I actually blatantly stole it  from the fabulous “Baking with Passion” by Dan Lepard.


Carrot Cake

This cake can be dairy-free if you use a different icing. This is a big cake. You can half the recipe for a smaller one, or it works well as cupcakes too. Just cook for a little less time.

Serves: 10-12

300g self raising flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

pinch of salt

4 eggs

335ml sunflower oil

450g sugar

125g of grated carrots

140g chopped walnuts

2 tbsp boiling water


175g unsalted butter softened

300 full fat cream cheese softened

200g icing sugar sifted

Pre-heat the oven to 170C. I use two spring form tins (23 cm) that I butter bottom and sides. Cover the buttered bottoms of the tins with a circular piece of baking paper. Separate 2 of the 4 eggs. In a large bowl (or food processor) beat together both the oil and the sugar. Add the whole eggs one at a time, beat the mixture well before adding the two egg yolks. Stir in both the grated carrots and the chopped walnuts. Fold in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt then add the boiling water. In another bowl, whisk the 2 egg whites to soft peak stage. Fold it into the batter. Divide the cake mixture between the two tins. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted at the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool before removing them from the tins.

Make sure the butter is really soft before making the icing. Whisk all the ingredients together with a electric mixer until thick like frosting. Make sure your cake is really cool before you ice it. In summer, keep the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Sandwich some icing between the two tiers of cake and then cover the rest with what remains.


Fig and Almond Tart

Back raving about figs again this week. They are just such a beautiful fruit. I love their dusty, deep purple colour and their contrasting, vibrant jammy red centres. And they taste no better ever, than in this most delicious Fig and Almond Tart. Serve with a large dollop of crème fraiche.


Fig and Almond Tart

Flan tin 10” / 25cm


175g plain flour

90g butter

50g icing sugar

2 egg yolks


175g butter

175g ground almonds

175g golden caster sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon flour

Glug of amaretto

6 ripe figs

Put the flour, butter and sugar for the pastry in a food processor. Mix until you have breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and just mix enough for the pastry to come together in a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes. In the same food processor bowl add the butter and sugar for the frangipane. Mix until smooth. Add the almonds and the egg and whiz again until smooth. Add the amaretto and the flour. Mix once more. Remove the pasty form the fridge when ready. Preheat the oven to 170C. Roll out the pastry and line the tart tin. Get a round piece of greaseproof paper and carefully cover the pasty with it. Folding it down over the top edge. Blind bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the greaseproof and add the frangipane filling. Cut the figs in half and press into the frangipane in even spacing. Bake in the oven until the farangipan is risen all over and golden brown.


Caramelised Pear and Almond Cake

Pears can be a little tiring. They often seem to go from rock hard to too soft whenever you are not looking. It is so rare to catch them just perfect. This is a great recipe because it doesn’t really matter how hard they are. You just cook them in the caramel for a little longer and it the best pear cake I have ever eaten.



Firm Conference pears should work a treat here. Add a glug of Amaretto if you like or a little vanilla extract. You can replace the flour with gluten free flour and a teaspoon of baking powder.

Serves 8

For the caramel

25g Butter

25g Sugar

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened

190g caster sugar

6 pears, firm but not too hard, peeled, cored and quartered

3 eggs

115g ground almonds

115g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease a 20cm diameter, spring-form cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Put a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the sugar. When it starts to melt, stir and cook until a deep golden brown and beginning to smoke. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Stir to dissolve and add the pear quarters and return to a medium heat. Cook the pears in the buttery caramel for five to 10 minutes, until they start to brown and soften (the time taken will vary greatly, depending on how ripe the pears are). Tip into the bottom of your prepared tin.

Put the remaining butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the amaretto or vanilla if using. Add the self-raising flour and almonds and fold in gently (or pulse in the food processor.) Top the pears with the cake mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife pushed into the centre comes out clean.  Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.


Perfect Apple Puree and Apple Turnovers

Its apple time of year. At the allotment they are recklessly falling from every tree in a constant downpour. I have so many apples, that I am desperate to think of new ways to use them up.

They fall into two distinct categories – eating apples which no matter how much you cook them, will always retain some of their texture and a little bite. And cooking apples, which almost seem to explode when exposed to heat, before dissolving to a smooth mush. It is the later which are perfect for making apple puree, which I love to eat just on its own or with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt. It makes a delicious breakfast. You could even sprinkle over a little granola too.

But I had so much puree that I needed help. I tried to coax my kids into having it for breakfast too but they didn’t look impressed. Instead I came up with the brilliant idea of turning some of my excess of puree into apple puffs or turnovers. It worked! So well in fact that they demolished the whole batch for tea, when they got home from school. And what is more, they demanded more for breakfast.


Perfect Apple Puree

1 ½ kg Bramley or other cooking apples, peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 cup (200ml) water

1 cup (200g) golden granulated sugar

50g butter

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)

Combine all the ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer until apples completely dissolve into the liquid and you have a smooth puree with no lumps. Serve hot, at room temperature or refrigerate until cold.


Apple Turnovers

Makes 8

1 sheet good-quality all butter ready-made, ready rolled puff pasty

1 egg, beaten

A little caster sugar

8 dessert spoons of apple puree

Preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas 6.

Unfold puff pastry sheets, and cut into equal sized squares. I got 8 out of my sheet, although I know sizes vary.  Spoon apple puree onto the centre of each square. Brush 2 of the edges with a little beaten egg. Fold over from corner to corner into a triangle shape, and press edges together to seal.


Crimp the edges with a folk. Pierce each parcel with a fork too, to let out air whilst cooking. Place turnovers on a lightly oiled baking tray, leaving about 2cm between them. Brush each pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until turnovers are puffed and lightly browned. Eat as soon as you can without getting burnt.


Cherry Clafoutis

Finally, for this week a Cherry Clafoutis. I was asked to make one for my son’s “French Day” last week and he expectantly came home with a recipe in French, demanding that every parent of a Year 6 child produce one by Thursday. Half cake, half custard, it is quite a challenging recipe.

To spring this on me, in a week where my son not only needed a French outfit to compliment his French Day, but a pirate’s outfit for his Year 6 play, in the very same week I also had to deal with “Leavers hoodies” for 30 and as class rep to my daughter’s year 4 was expected to produce flowers, cards and thank you presents for the teachers, plus a picnic lunch, a T-Birds outfit from Grease for my daughter and of course go to work every day as usual and produce dinner every night for my family. This of course was the week that my cleaner told me that she was going home for a five week holiday to Poland. Five weeks! Who gets a five week holiday? So add cleaning and ironing to my list.

Pushed beyond limits, I was most gratified to hear that my Cherry Clafoutis had been the hit of Year 6. Kids had been clambering over it and even parents approached me and asked me what was my secret. Quite simply, unfortunately due to my appalling French, I had not been able to follow the supplied recipe from the school, in French. Therefore, I had used a completely different one! Years of experience taught me, no matter what you are making, “use a good recipe”. Coming from the most excellent book “Baking with Passion” by Baker and Spice and written by Dan Lepard, I knew that it would produce excellent results and apparently, according to Year 6, I was not mistaken.

Cherry Clafoutis 1

Cherry Clafoutis

Obviously I missed out macerating the cherries in alcohol for the kids and it was still delicious.

For the cherries

400g ripe cherries, the best you can find, stones removed

50g / 3 tbsp caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

50mls / 3 tbsp kirsch or brandy (optional)

For the batter

30g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

2 free-range eggs

50g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

½ tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

125g plain flour

150 mls whole milk

50mls double cream

Gently mix together the cherries, sugar and kirsch and leave to macerate for two hours. (The sugar will slowly permeate the cherries and intensify their flavour.)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease a baking dish with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Shake the sugar around the dish so that it is evenly coated, then tip out any excess.

For the batter, melt the butter in a small pan. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside in a warm place. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add the flour, whisk until smooth, then slowly incorporate the milk, cream, salt and melted butter.

Mix the macerated cherries and their juice into the batter and pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is slightly domed and the blade of a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. To finish, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve warm.


Nectarines Macerated in Chilled Beaujolais

Next up, another amazing fruit recipe for a hot summers day. Nectarines Macerated in Chilled Beaujolais. What is not to like! A lot of recipes reduce the wine, but I like to add it straight to the sugar syrup to keep its fresh, fruity flavour alive. If you can’t find Beaujolais, then any light fruity red will work – try Fleurie, Gamay or a light Pinot Noir or Cabinet Franc.

Nectarines Macerated in Chilled Beaujolais 1

Nectarines Macerated in Chilled Beaujolais

6 ripe nectarines

200mls / 1 cup good red wine

200g / 1 cup sugar

100mls 1/2 cup water

Make a stock syrup by putting the sugar and water in a saucepan. Stir as you bring the liquid to the boil. Increase heat and boil syrup for 1 minute. Add nectarines. Simmer until nectarines are tender but still hold shape, about 10 minutes. When cold add the red wine. Allow to chill well in the fridge, preferably overnight



Roast Rhubarb and Vanilla Custard Tart

I am still overrun with rhubarb. I decided to try baking it this week instead of stewing and I was thrilled with the results. The flavour is somehow more intense and it holds is shape, which is much more visually appealing. I don’t like the popular combination of rhubarb and orange so I omitted the juice in the recipe this week and just poached mine in a little vanilla bean paste and a couple of tablespoons of water and it was delicious. Look out for vanilla bean paste in large supermarkets. It is worth the extra money.

Roast Rhubarb

I found this week’s recipe in Good Food magazine. I love the combination of rhubarb and custard. It is so indulgent and comforting. But you can cheat. A tin of Ambrosia Devon custard will work very well!  And if you can’t be bothered with rolling out the pasty and lining a tin, you could just make biscuits. Roll the pastry into a fat sausage shape, wrapped in cling film. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes and then slice into ½ cm slices and bake until golden brown. Then make shortbread sandwiches with the poached rhubarb and custard. Delicious!

Roast Rhubarb and Vanilla Custard Tart

Roast Rhubarb and Vanilla Custard Tart

For the pastry

225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

3 tbsp icing sugar

140g unsalted butter, diced and chilled

1 medium egg yolk, plus 1 medium egg yolk beaten, for glazing (save the whites for meringues)

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

For the vanilla custard

½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

250ml whole milk

3 large egg yolks

100g golden caster sugar

25g cornflour

1 tbsp unsalted butter

For the roasted rhubarb

700g thin forced rhubarb (about 5 stalks), trimmed, rinsed and cut into 9cm/3 ½ in-long pieces

175g golden caster sugar

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out, or 1 tsp vanilla paste

juice 2 oranges


Put the flour, icing sugar and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and mix together. Add the butter and rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add 1 egg yolk, the vanilla and 1 tbsp cold water, and mix together until it just starts to come together as a dough. Tip the mixture onto a clean work surface and gently bring together with your hands. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for at least 1 hr before rolling out. You can make the whole thing in a food processor.

Put the vanilla beans scraped from the pod (or the paste) in a pan over a medium-high heat, add the milk and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, tip the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour into a bowl and whisk together until smooth. Pour the milk over the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Pour the custard back into the pan and cook, whisking constantly, for 2-3 mins until thickened. Scrape into a bowl and add the butter, mixing until melted and combined. Press a sheet of cling film onto the surface of the custard to stop a skin forming, and chill for 3 hrs. Can be made and chilled 3 days ahead.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a large rectangle big enough to line a 30 x 20cm fluted rectangular tart tin. (I used individual tins,) Roll the pastry onto the rolling pin and carefully drape it into the tin, carefully lifting and pressing into the corners and edges. Roll your rolling pin over the tart tin, cutting off the excess. Chill for 30 mins or until the pastry is firm.

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line the tart with a piece of crumpled baking parchment and fill with baking beans or rice and place on a baking tray. Bake for about 30 mins, then remove the parchment and the beans, and return to the oven for another 5 mins or until the base is golden brown. Brush the inside of the tart with the remaining beaten egg yolk and return to the oven for 1 min to set (this creates a seal, meaning the pastry won’t become soggy as quickly). Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Put the rhubarb batons in a small roasting tin (so that they are in one flat layer) and sprinkle over the sugar, the vanilla pod and its scraped out seeds, and the orange juice. Roast for 15-20 mins, or until the rhubarb has softened but is still holding its shape and a vibrant pink syrup has formed. Remove from the oven, discard the vanilla pod and allow to cool.

Remove the custard from the fridge, beat to loosen, then pour over the pastry and smooth with a spatula. Top with the roasted rhubarb, brushing a little of the syrup on top, then sprinkle over the pistachios. Best eaten on the day it’s made.

Roast Rhubarb and Vanilla Custard Tart 2