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

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Upside-down Cake

More on rhubarb – my favourite rhubarb recipe of all has to be this delicious upside down cake.  I am bit particular about my flavour pairings with my rhubarb.  Whilst many lean towards orange and ginger, I feel that they are too distracting in flavour and think that the more subtle vanilla or almond works better. Muscovado sugar adds a toffee note and makes sure that the cake is not too sweet. I am particularly fond of the sort of cakes that you can serve as a pudding, with a big dollop of clotted cream or a jug of custard Finally you cannot deny that this cake fully exploits the rhubarbs beautiful colour with its mosaic like pattern on top. If you wished you could take a little time arranging the rhubarb pieces in even more of an intricate design, but personally I just chuck them in.  The rhubarb gently stews in its own juices and ever so slightly begins to caramelise.  Quite delicious!

(I am attempting a dairy-free / gluten free version of this cake this week using rice flour and baking powder instead of the self-raising flour.  I’ll let you know how I get on.)

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Upside-down Cake prep

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Upside-down Cake

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Upside-down Cake

400g pink rhubarb

150g golden caster sugar

130g dark muscovado Sugar

150g unsalted butter, softened

3 large eggs, beaten

110g self-raising flour

110g ground almonds

135g (1/2 cup) sour cream

1 tsp of Vanilla Bean Paste

pinch salt

Spring-form cake tin with a diameter of 24cm and a depth of 6cm, greased, sides and base lined with one piece of baking parchment

Serves: 8

Cut the rhubarb into 1cm slices and toss them, in a bowl, with the caster sugar.

Tip into your tin and scatter evenly.

Preheat the oven to 170C, 325F, gas mark 3.

Cream together the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs.  Don’t worry if it curdles.  Fold in the flour, almonds, vanilla and sour cream. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth on top of the rhubarb, making sure it is evenly covered.  Bake in the oven for about 3/4 hour or until the cake is firm to a light touch in the centre. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before loosening around the edges with a knife and turning out either onto a serving plate or a wire rack to finish cooling.

This is good served with some custard, clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb 1

Perfect Rhubarb Crumble

Next up, I’m on about Rhubarb again. You have to make the most of it whilst you can! My favourite crumble is Rhubarb and I make it all the time. Being a Chef, I have never really followed a recipe, I just sort of made it up as I went along, never quite remembering what I had done the time before but recently, I have to admit it started to go wrong. Too much crumble to rhubarb or stodgy instead of crumbly or not quite the right amount of sugar. I was getting a bit desperate, so quite uncommonly, being a Chef, I had to turn to my Mum for advice. Mrs Beaton she said, and whipped out her well-thumbed and much trusted tome of Every Day Cookery and shared her superior wisdom.

Perfect Rhubarb Crumble

Perfect Rhubarb Crumble

1lb Rhubarb

1oz sugar


3oz sugar

5oz plain flour

3oz cold butter, cut in cubes.

Pre-heat oven to 170C. Top and tail the Rhubarb and cut into 1cm pieces. Toss with 1oz of sugar. Tip into a pie dish and lightly press down to compact. Mix the four with the sugar and rub in butter until you have fine breadcrumbs. Pour over the Rhubarb and bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown on top and bubbling underneath. Serve with cream or vanilla ice-cream.


Rhubarb Fool

So excited to get rhubarb in my box this week. Rhubarb is actually one of the few vegetables which I seem to be able to grow on my allotment effortlessly. So as you can imagine, I am over-run with the stuff, but I don’t care, because I just love it.

I stew it by the kilo. It is one of the least calorific of any vegetable, so I don’t feel too bad when I add a little sugar and it is nice to know that rhubarb is high in vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, calcium, manganese, and many other essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function at the highest level. Rhubarb also contains powerful antioxidants such as anthocyanin and lycopene, which are good for your overall health.

Whipped Cream for Rhubarb Fool

Here is a recipe for my much-loved rhubarb fool recipe. It is important to get the quantities on fruit to cream just right. If you want a healthier option you could go for yogurt but personally I always go with my favourite moto – “Something that tastes this good, can’t be bad for you!”

Stewed Rhubarb

Stewed Rhubarb

600g Trimmed rhubarb (top and tailed)

100g Unrefined golden granulated sugar

Vanilla (optional)

Cut the rhubarb into 1 cm chunks. Put into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar. Stir well. Cover and cook on a medium heat. The lid will help the rhubarb cook down without having to add any water. Once the rhubarb has released enough liquid to cover itself, remove the lid, reduce the heat and gently poach until all the rhubarb is cooked through. It is nice if there is still some texture though and not a puree. Check the sugar. Remember rhubarb is a vegetable and needs enough sugar to stop tasting like one. Add vanilla if using.  Allow to cool.

Rhubarb Fool

Rhubarb Fool

250g cold stewed rhubarb

100mls double cream

Lightly whip the cream until it holds its own shape, Fold through the stewed rhubarb. Pour into glasses and chill for half an hour before serving. Serve with shortbread.


Apple and Cinnamon Crumble Cake

It is apple season and I am overwhelmed with apples at the moment after inheriting a huge tree in my new garden. It left me craving apple cake but I have to admit that I did not have a famous, family recipe handed down for generations  but I was determined it should be perfect. So, where to start?  No cookbooks of mine sprang to mind, so I scoured the internet and as I have found before, this is a dangerous pastime. There are literally thousands of recipes to choose from and no real guarantee that any of them are any good or even going to work. In the past I have stuck to safe bets such as Jamie Oliver, BBC Good Food or Large corporations, such as Jamie Oliver have testing kitchens which try out all the recipes, so they tend to be more likely to work. Other websites such as allrecipes have ratings so you can try and get an idea on the feedback. So after sifting through at least half a dozen recipes I decided on one by Nigella Lawson which had been tested and had good ratings. I am very disappointed to say it really was not very good. More of a pudding than a cake, it just was not special at all. I was quite irritated to say the least. I had made it and photographed it for this blog, which had taken quite some time and now I was at a bit of a quandary as to whether I should just write it up anyway, and say it was OK or start again. The cake sat there uneaten. It was the kind of cake which was just not worth sacrificing your waistline for. I wanted a cake that made you say “to hell with the calories, this is too good.” I decided I just had to try harder. Back to the drawing board.  I thought about what I really wanted from an apple cake. Apply, crumbly, not too sweet and a hint of Cinnamon. I wanted a cake that it didn’t matter exactly how many apples you used or what type of apple they were, it would still deliver on texture and taste. I finally found a recipe and I am proud to say that it is nothing short of perfect. Irresistibly good and every bit worth the calories.

Apple Crumble Cake 2

Apple and cinnamon crumble cake

For the crumble topping:
125g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g slightly salted butter, cold, cubed
125g demerara or light brown sugar
50g roasted chopped hazelnuts or almonds

For the cake:
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
125g slightly salted butter, softened
150g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
100ml milk
2 large organic free range Eggs
6 Cox or Braiburn apples or 4 Bramleys
Juice 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Grease and line a 22cm round cake tin with baking parchment. For the crumble topping, place the flour, cinnamon and cold butter into a large bowl or and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and nuts then transfer to the fridge. (Alternatively put the whole lot in a food processor and pulse until you have breadcrumbs)

2. For the cake, sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside. Using a mixer or electric handheld whisk, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs. Gradually beat a little flour into the butter mixture, followed by a little of the milk and eggs, alternating until they’re all mixed in. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tin and level with the back of a spoon. (This can all be done in a food processor too.)

3. Peel, core and halve the apples, then slice thinly and toss in the lemon juice. Arrange on top of the cake mixture then sprinkle the chilled crumble over the top.

4. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. You can see when it is done as the cake rises in the middle and the apples begin to poke out. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Great with vanilla ice-cream, whipped cream or clotted cream.

Apple Crumble Cake

Blackcurrant Jelly and Ice-cream

It’s blackcurrant season and for the first time ever, that I have noticed anyway, Riverford are supplying their own. These specimens are actually from my allotment where we have produced a bumper crop this year. Blackcurrants tend to need cooking (unless you are my son Daniel who eats them, along with the gooseberries by the fistful.)

Blackcurrants from the Allotment

With some fruit such as bananas or raspberries, they are so perfect as they are it seems a bit of a waste of time to start fiddling around with them. But blackberries need a bit of sugar and removing some of the pips certainly makes them more palatable to me. When I was a kid on holiday in the South of France, of all the vast selection of fantastic ice-creams and sorbets on offer, it was the Cassis sorbet that was my absolute favourite. The perfect balance of sweet and sour and bursting with the deepest flavour. But I recon I have found a recipe to beat it – Blackcurrant Jelly. When I tasted the results I was instantly transported back to being 11 years old, bright sunshine, relishing in the amazing intensity of flavour, like nothing I had tasted before. Of course all jelly needs ice-cream and a good quality vanilla is the perfect accompaniment. Save back a little of the syrup when making and add to a glass of Champagne (or Prosecco) for a Kir Royal.

Blackcurrant Jelly 1

Blackcurrant Jelly
400g Blackcurrants
350g sugar
300mls water
1 sheet of gelatine (25g each sheet) for every 100mls (about 6)

Tip the blackcurrant into a large pan with the sugar and water and bring gently to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes and mash with a potato masher to break up the fruit. Tip into a sieve and press with a spatula to remove all the juice. Tip into a measuring jug. You should have about 500 mls to 600 mls. For every complete 100mls use one sheet of gelatine. Soak the gelatine in cold water until really soft. Remove and squeeze out any excess water with your hands. Reheat a little of the blackcurrant puree in a saucepan. When hot add the gelatine. Stir until completely dissolved. Mix in any remaining puree and stir well. Pour into Dariole moulds or ramekins and put into the fridge to set. When set, quickly put the containers in a bowl of boiling water, making sure none comes into contact with the jelly itself. Turn upside down and release the jelly with your finger into a bowl. Serve with ice-cream.