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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Apricot and Lemon Fragipane Tart

Oh spring, where have you gone?

Just this week, after a particularly miserable Wednesday in more ways than one, a magnificent Thursday followed all at once. Bright blue skies were matched by a soft breeze and Aberdeen’s granite cast pools of cold shadows on the pavement. I was dashing around this wonderful city in the morning, my little phone serving as my dictaphone as I chatted and laughed with some wonderful people with intriguing stories to tell. I sipped a beautiful Lavender Citrus iced tea, squinted my eyes in the sunshine as I sucked on a Caramel Frappuccino (first of the year!) and talked and talked. It’s funny to think in this little old job of mine, talking is at the very centre of what I do.

So when this glorious day disappeared as the wind whipped against the side of the flat, creating cows’ licks at the sides of my ponytail, it felt like that beautiful spring day had gone. Plans crumbled and the rest of the weekend was looking boring and miserable. Until I bought a flan tin.

As much as I pray for beautiful sunshine to stream through the windows as I crumble butter into clouds of flour, sometimes a dark moody sky reminds me that photography in this weather is a challenge. I have been playing around with Luke’s camera for a good few months now and I am finding the experience exhilarating and terrifying all at once. My white balance may be blue-tinged at times and the colour saturation way off, but the challenges of lighting and ambience make for a better blog I feel.

So after a week of sun-saturated chatter, I’ve found myself in the dead silence of a Saturday morning. The rain lashes against the windows and the sky is that particular hue of grey that screams ‘stay indoors and curl up with blankets’. Instead I savoured the quiet silence and reflected on my past week, soaking in my appreciation for my life and all the challenges it brings. And so my quiet weekend led me back to one of my favourite pastimes, pastry making.

It can often seem a scary thing – I am constantly running my hands under cold water to keep a short crust and mindful of adding too much liquid to the mix. But the act of pastry making requires concentration and quiet, and all at once I am quite grateful for the grey weather giving me that space. I filled my favourite pastry recipe with a delicate frangipane and studded it with sliced apricots. A flake of almonds and a flash in the oven yields a beautiful spring-like tart that is perfect for cosying into those piles of blankets and enjoying the fat rain splashing against the windows. Summer is just round the corner anyway.

 

Adapted from Rachel’s Favorite Food by Rachel Allen and Sweet Tooth by Lily Vanilli

 

You Will Need

For the Pastry

250g plain flour, sieved

25g icing sugar, sieved

125g cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 egg, beaten

 

For the Filling

230g unsalted butter, room temperature

230g caster sugar

230g ground almonds

3 eggs

50g plain flour, sifted

Zest of 1 lemon

3 apricots, each sliced into sixths

A couple of handfuls of flaked almonds

 

Note: This frangipane recipe makes enough for two tarts, so use one half for this recipe and either refrigerate the other half for up to three days in an airtight container or freeze. Bring back to room temperature before using again.

 pastry ingridents

To make the pastry, whisk together the flour and icing sugar then rub in the butter carefully. Make sure you have cold hands to avoid melting the butter. Once the mix resembles breadcrumbs, add ½ to ¾ of the beaten egg and mix to form a pastry ball. The shortcrust needs to hold together but not be too wet. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and press down to form a flat disc then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Do not throw the remaining egg away.

Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the pastry in a round bigger than the bottom of the tin – I used this 23cm fluted flan tin. Roll to a 5mm thickness then loosen from the surface with a palate knife. Carefully lift the pastry over your rolling pin and drape over the tin. Gently press into the fluted edges then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a further 30 minutes – this will eliminate shrinking.

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 6. Cut the top off the pastry by rolling the pin over the top or by pressing with your thumb to form a neat edge. Place a sheet of baking parchment over the pastry and fill with baking beans or lentils. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry feels dry. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further minute to dry out. Brush the pastry with the remaining egg to seal and return to the oven for a final bake for 2 minutes. Cool the pastry case completely.

assembling a tart

To make the frangipane, beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer for three minutes until creamy. Add the almonds then beat in each egg one at a time. Add the flour and lemon zest then spoon half the mix into the cooled pastry case, refrigerating or freezing the remaining half. Arrange the apricot slices in two circles on top and scatter over the flaked almonds.

Tart before baking

Bake in the oven at the same temperature for 25-30 minutes. Mine caught slightly in the oven so take care to keep an eye on the frangipane as it can brown quickly. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and cooling completely. Finish with a scattering of flaked almonds and whipped cream or ice cream.

Apricot and Lemon Frangipane Tart

 

Peach and Lemon Thyme Scones

Sometimes, it’s nice to go back to the beginning.

Around a year and a half ago I took to my student kitchen, armed with a point and shoot and a much-loved scone recipe ready to throw together a bake for my first ever blog post. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing – all squinty angles and dozens of pictures with a scabby looking chopping board – but that first post was the beginning of Victoria Sponge Pease Pudding. That post prompted me to pour my foodie musings into the internet every few days, accompanied by pictures of cakes and snippets of my brightly coloured nail varnish.

It’s funny to think how much has changed since that first post. In the past 19 months I’ve picked up blogging tips from some of my favourite writers, made friends thanks to this awesome awards scheme and accumulated a fair amount of blogging paraphernalia that clutters up the kitchen cupboards and quite possibly makes my flatmate hate me. But I bring him crumble when he’s hungover so I think we’re even.

I realise this sounds like a benchmark post, like VSPP’s anniversary or something, but really it’s about appreciating where my blogging journey all began. And in appreciation, I decided to honour those White Peach Scones with Rosemary Sugar by reimagining them for my post-university self. The fresh peach has gone and instead the lurid comfort of the tinned variety lurks in its place. Bursting with colour and a smash of sugary sweetness, fragrant lemon thyme complements the fruit with a little zing of citrus. Buttermilk brings together the dough into a robust American style scone and is turned out into a subtle afternoon treat.

These pretty scones might not have been devoured by a gaggle of girls sitting on the worktop in a pokey student flat, but still, it’s nice look back  and know that was the moment it all began.

 

Adapted from this recipe, originally by Joy The Baker

 

You Will Need

450g plain flour

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 ½ tsp baking powder

Zest of 1 lemon

170g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

1 egg

2 tbsp honey

180ml buttermilk, plus extra for brushing

Small bunch lemon thyme, leaves picked

400g tin of peaches, drained welland patted dry with kitchen paper

 

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 6. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and lemon zest. Rub in the butter until the pieces are the size of peas.

Scone dough

In a separate bowl or jug, whisk together the egg, honey and buttermilk until smooth. Chop the peaches into chunks and give them a final pat with kitchen paper then add to the butter mix along with the lemon thyme leaves. Stir then pour in the buttermilk mix all at once and mix to a soft, shaggy dough.

cutting out fresh peach scones

Turn out onto a well floured surface and roll or pat into a 1 inch thickness. Cut out with 2 inch sized round cutters. Roll and repeat with scraps until you have 12 scones. Brush with the remaining buttermilk then bake for 15-18 minutes until golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve warm with butter and a cup of tea.

baked scones

Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake Side View

I once wrote in an essay that I thought a certain journalism subject was vanilla.

What the what? Seriously? Did I actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to describe something I meant to call dull vanilla? My post university self is kicking my coffee-addled 3am brain from two years ago, whilst licking vanilla frosting from a coated spoon. Clearly at that point in my life, I still had a lot to learn.

When discussing this cake with friends, so often the phrase ‘I love vanilla’ squealed from their lips, yet when do we ever appreciate the bean in its entirety? Only a few days ago I wrinkled my nose at a man at the cinema who eagerly asked for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. With so many flavour combinations and options to go for, why chose the simplest?

Easy – it is often the simplest flavours that are the best. Whilst brainstorming flavour combinations for this cake – a birthday offering for my boyfriend – I envisioned crazy ‘out there’ ideas as my imagination grew wildly out of control. I may actually revisit these ideas at a later date, but for now the delicious simplicity of a cake studded with flecks of vanilla hints at a rapidly warming climate. The sort with a thick summer air that reminds me of crisp apples, citrus fruits and the warming notes of vanilla.

This isn’t to say this cake is completely straightforward because of the simple flavour profile. I would hasten to add you should plan how you will whip up the batter, as you will need three large bowls and at the very least a handheld mixer with beaters and a balloon whisk attachment. I would also advise to cream the butter and sugar in the largest bowl you have, as this will be the bowl the meringue will be mixed in to, creating a large volume of cake batter. Aside from these notes, this is a fairly easy cake to master, and provides a light crumb that is complemented by bright bursts of berry sandwiched between the layers. For a summery twist, try substituting strawberries or raspberries but leave vanilla as the star. It may be simple, but this certainly isn’t a dull cake.

 

Adapted from The Boy Who Bakes by Edd Kimber

 

You Will Need

 

For the cake

225g unsalted butter at room temperature, with extra to grease the cake tins

470g plain flour, sifted

4 tsp baking powder

½ tsp table salt

400g caster sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

250ml milk

 

For the frosting

200g cream cheese, (make sure this is at room temperature to avoid curdling)

110g unsalted butter, softened

250g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

200g mixed berries, washed and dried (I used blueberries and blackberries)

Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake Ingredients

Preheat an oven to 170oc/150oc fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line three 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment and set aside. In the largest bowl you have, cream together the butter and 300g of the caster sugar in a stand mixer or electric whisk until creamy. Beat in the four egg yolks one by one until the mix is light and airy. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt then add a third of the dry mix to the wet along with half the milk. Combine on a low speed, then repeat. Finish by folding in the remaining third of the dry mix.

how to fold in egg whites to cake batter

In a clean, dry bowl, whisk together the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 100g of sugar then whip to stiff peaks. Cut a third of the meringue mix into the cake batter to loosen, then fold in the remaining egg whites, careful to not knock the air out of the batter. Divide between the three cake tins and bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.

To make the frosting, whip the cream cheese in a stand mixer or with a hand held electric whisk until smooth. Add the softened butter then whip again. Beat in the icing sugar then mix in the vanilla paste.

washing blueberries and blackberries

To assemble, place one cake on a stand or plate and smooth over a third of the frosting. Sprinkle over a third of the berries then top with a second cake and repeat. Place the third cake on top and smooth over the remaining frosting and pile the berries in the middle.

Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake Landscape