How to make: Wild Damson and Pear Crumble

 

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Wild damsons have a mind of their own. According to those who know, the last good season for them in Ireland was the fall of 2014, that is until now. I was on my bike, heading over to Marl Bog lake to pick blackberries, when I came upon the wild trees on the side of the country road. Deep plum coloured fruits, the size of engorged grapes were hanging heavy on the branches. Instinctively I knew there were damsons, even though I hadn’t seen them in the wild before now. I plucked two with a few leaves & headed onwards to pick the first of the blackberries.

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On returning home, I checked with my wild fruit taster, my father, who confirmed they were indeed the rare wild damson. The taste was akin to a greengage plum but deeper & with a pleasant sourness. Back on my bike the next evening, I headed off to collect a bounty of them, with damson jam & crumble being the plan.

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Autumn crumble is really one of the finest puddings there are. It is simple, warming & delicious. I chose pear to accompany the damsons, their soft sweetness is a good countermeasure & once poached they hold their shape & add a little bite to the ripe softness of the damson fruit. Cooked first in a pan with a little butter & sugar, the damson juices flow and burst & a wild aroma fills your kitchen. The de-stoning is little finicky, but your fingertips will be a gorgeous colour which your childhood self would appreciate.

The deep warm purple stickiness, warming spices & buttery sugary crumble laden in a bowl filled with cream or custard is truly one of my favourite autumnal recipes. Serve with a big pot of tea, curled up somewhere comfy with good company or book & hopefully you will feel the same.

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For the pears:

  • 3 just ripe pears
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 5/6 cloves

For the damsons:

  • 450g wild damson fruit
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 3 tablespoons of water

For the crumble topping:

  • 175g plain flour
  • 25g almond flour
  • 25g porridge oats
  • 110 butter (chilled from the fridge) & cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • A grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 50g soft brown caster sugar
  • 60g demerara sugar

Preheat your oven to 180℃ & lightly butter your crumble dish. I used a shallow rectangular ceramic dish measuring about 26cm x17 cm.  First poach your pears.

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  1. Wash, peel, & quarter your pears, removing the pips & any hard bits. Bring a 1L pot of water to the boil.  Take off & stir in your sugar until dissolved. Pop in your cloves.  Turn the heat down to a medium & add in your pears quarters.
  2. Cut out a circle of parchment paper & place on top of the pan, covering the pears. Poke a little hole in the center. This will prevent the fruit from browning.
  3. Leave to simmer for between 9-13 minutes depending on the ripeness. (A paring knife will go through a pear/apple piece with ease when done).

Take off the heat & keep covered with the parchment paper until ready to use.  Next prepare your damsons.

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  1. Place your damsons in a large shallow pan. Add in the sugar, butter & water & cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, giving a quick stir. You just want the juice to start to release into the pan, the skin will just be about to burst & a lovely smell will fill the air.

Take off the heat & leave to cool a little while you prepare the crumble topping.

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  1. Add your flour, almond flour, porridge oats & spices (cinnamon, nutmeg & mixed spice) into a large bowl & give a quick stir with your hands.
  2. Rub the cubed butter into the flour with your fingertips until you have texture of coarse breadcrumbs with some little larger lumps of butter.
  3. Add in your caster & demerara sugar to the bowl & stir together with your hands.

Now go back to your damsons, they should be cool enough by now.

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Using your fingers (or a small paring knife), carefully remove the stones, trying to waste as little as the flesh as you can.

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Drain off your poached pears & place the pear quarters into the bottom of your crumble dish. Spoon the damsons on top, including the stick juice from the pan.

Add the crumble mixture on top & bake in the oven for about 35 minutes. The crumble will be a golden brown & some juices should be bursting through.

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Serve warm with lashings of something creamy & enjoy. Best to eat most that night & if some is left over, tuck into it for breakfast.

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How to make: chocolate & blackcurrant cordial cake

 

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May & this first week of June have been all about fresh tarts & summer fruit galettes & I fully intend to keep this up.  However, I have had a longing for something chocolate even amidst this beautiful sunny weather, the buttercups in the fields, wild daisies springing up everywhere, early mornings  birdsong & sunset walks.   So came to being this summer infused chocolate cake.  The sweet tartness of blackcurrants pairs perfectly with a gooey, almost flourless, chocolate cake.  The cake itself is infused with blackcurrant cordial & topped with a chocolate & blackurrant buttercream icing. Luckily, I have a local supplier, Mr. Jeffares for my cordial & if I’m feeling extra summery I add a dash to a glass of prosecco or cava for a Kir Royale.

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For the cake batter

  • 225g good quality dark chocolate
  • 225 grams butter 
  • 1 tbsp wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • tsp vanilla extract
  • 50 grams light brown sugar
  • 100g dark brown sugar 
  •  3 eggs 
  • 150 grams ground almonds
  • 100 grams chopped walnuts
  • 30ml blackcurrant cordial

For the buttercream icing:

  • 50g milk chocolate
  • 100g soft butter
  • 200g icing sugar (sifted)
  • 2-3 tbsp blackcurrant cordial

(If you have a skillet, you can make this recipe in the one pan.  Otherwise use a small saucepan for step 1 & then transfer to a mixing bowl).

Preheat your oven to 170°C.   Generously butter a 9inch cake tin.

  1. Break the chocolate into small pieces.  Place the broken chocolate & butter into a pan & melt over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  2. Remove from the heat and while still warm, using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla extract & sugar.  This will take a few minutes to fully stir in.
  3. Leave to cool.  Beat your eggs well in a small bowl.
  4. Blitz your chopped walnuts in a food processor until it is half flour/half larger bits.
  5. Tip the eggs into the cooled chocolate mixture & stir in until fully combined.
  6. Add in the ground almonds & chopped walnuts about a third at a time & fold in using a spatula.
  7. Sift in your flour & baking soda & fold in using a spatula.
  8. Pour into your cake tin & bake for 30 minutes until set.
  9. Just before you take the cake out of the oven, bring the cordial to boil in a small saucepan.
  10. Take the cake out of the oven & using a fork or a skewer, pierce holes all over the cake and brush the cordial over the cake letting it soak in.
  11. Leave to cool a little before removing from the cake tin & leave to cool fully on a wire wrack.
  12. Wrap in parchment paper & leave to set & infuse for at least a few hours & preferably overnight.

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  1. Break your chocolate into small pieces & place into a bain-marie to melt.  Stir gently with a wooden spoon.
  2. Using an electric beater, beat your butter until soft.  Beat in the sifted icing sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time until fully combined.
  3. Using a spatula, beat in the melted chocolate mixture.  Beat in the cordial to taste.  Spoon on top of the cake & smooth out using a spatula knife.

Finish by decorating with fresh fruit of your choice.  This cake keeps very well for about 4 days, just keep covered.

 

 

 

How to make: Strawberry buttermilk cake

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Irish strawberries are not quite ready yet, but I did pick up some gorgeous Dutch ones (ignoring the generous price tag) & they were worth it.  A little bowl of summer, juicy, ripe & full of flavour.  This simple yet delicious cake is the perfect showcase for these wonderful fruits.  The recipe is adapted from Deb Perelman & is bursting with strawberry goodness.  I’ve swapped in some dark brown sugar, which is a perfect partner to the sweetness of sugar, a little almond flour for texture & buttermilk for a gentle tang.  The result is pools of baked strawberry, a delicate golden crunch on top & a cake that will probably not last a full day.  Serve with a little dollop of cream or mascarpone for extra pleasure.

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  • 90g butter (room temperature or softer for best results)
  • 50g golden caster sugar (plus 1 tsp to sprinkle on top of cake)
  • 100g soft dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 118 ml buttermilk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 33g almond flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 350g strawberries (hulled & cut in half)

Preheat your oven to 180°C & generously butter an 8 inch cake tin with removable base.  Line the bottom with parchment paper.

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  1. In a large bowl, using an electric beater, cream your caster sugar, dark brown sugar & butter together for about 4 minutes until you have a sandy mixture with no visible clumps of butter.
  2. Beat your egg & vanilla extract in for a further minute until fully combined.
  3. Pour in your fresh buttermilk & beat in for a further minute or so.
  4. In a separate smaller bowl, sift your plain flour, almond flour & baking powder.  Add in your salt & give a quick stir with your hands or a metal spoon to mix together.
  5. Using a spatula, gently fold in the dry flour ingredients (a 1/4 at a time) to your cake batter until fully  combined.
  6. Pour this mixture into your cake tin.
  7. Dust your strawberry halves with flour (to prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake).  Place them cut side down on top of the cake until covered.  Finish by sprinkling a teaspoon of golden caster sugar on top.  I find a small sieve gives good distribution.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes at 180°C, turn the temperature down to 160°C & bake for about a further 50 minutes.  The sides of the cake will come away from the tin, the top will be a rich golden colour & a skewer will come out clean of batter.
  9. Leave to cool before removing from the cake tin & finish cooling on a wire rack.

A fresh fruit packed cake such as this will last for 2-3 days, just keep covered.  You can also serve this cake warm out of the oven for a lovely pudding.

How to make: rosemary & lemon olive oil cake with crystallised primroses

 

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April has been a mixed month so far, sometimes all four seasons in one hour, nevermind one day.  It is a beautiful fresh month however & this easy breezy bundt cake is a celebration in itself.  The recipe is adapted very slightly  from one of my favourite food writers, Sky McAlpine. Olive oil cakes are really so delightfully easy (one bowl, a measuring jug, a spoon & you are set) & yet have a certain flavour & crumb that feels very grown up.   They are the little black dress of the baking world.  If you can, spend a little extra on olive oil, it guarantees that it is indeed olive oil & has a wonderfully nutty & distinct flavour that is worth the investment.  The trio of olive oil, in season lemons & fresh sprigs of rosemary come together to provide layers of flavour that release happily in your mouth.  Finished off with a lemon drizzle icing for a final hit of sweetness, this is a cake that is made to be baked again.

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For the cake:

  • 150g plain flower
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 180g soft brown sugar
  • 20g golden caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 medium eggs
  • juice & zest of  1 unwaxed lemon
  • 80ml olive oil
  • 60ml brandy

For the lemon drizzle icing:

  • 110g icing sugar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp water
  • generous squeeze of lemon juice to taste

Preheat your oven to 180° C & generously butter & flour a bundt cake tin.

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  1. Sift your flour & baking powder in a large bowl.  Add in your ground almonds, sugar & salt & give a quick stir with your hands or a spoon to mix together & break down  any lumps of  brown sugar.
  2. Chop your fresh sprigs of rosemary very finely & stir into your flour mixture making sure to distribute evenly.
  3. In a measuring jug, measure out your olive oil & brandy.  Add your eggs & lemon juice & zest & whisk together.
  4. Make a small well in your dry ingredients and, using a spatula, stir in your wet ingredients (a 1/4 at a time).  Fold together until fully combined.
  5. Pour into your cake tin & bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden & the cake comes slightly away from the edges.  A skewer will come out clean.
  6. Leave to cool for about 15-20 minutes before carefully removing from your cake tin.
  7. Leave to cool on a wire wrack completely before icing.
  8. To make the icing simply sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of water at first and mix together with a small whisk or metal spoon until it comes to an icing consistency.  If you want a slightly thinner icing, add more water at this stage.  Finish by stirring in the lemon juice.
  9. Drizzle over the top of the cake using a metal spoon & leave to set.

 

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If you like, finish with a decoration of some fresh & crystallized edible flowers, I used some primroses here, which are in abundance in Ireland at the moment.  Some crystallized lemon or rosemary would also be very pretty.

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Crystallizing flowers is very simple, but you do need to make them at least 24 hours in advance.

Carefully dip or paint the flower in egg white and then roll in caster sugar.  Place carefully in on parchment paper & leave to dry.

 

This cake keeps very well for 3-4 days, just keep somewhere cool & cover with clingfilm or pop in a cake box.

 

How to make: lemon & lime, raspberry yoghurt cake

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French yoghurt cake is a classic for a reason, it is full of tangy flavour & a delightful airy lightness.  As the coming days will be full of chocolate eggs & hot cross buns, this is a cake that is a delicious breath of fresh air in every sense.  I’ve adapted the basic recipe to include the tartness of lemon & lime (both the zest & juice), the  natural sweetness of raspberries & a little almond flour for extra crumb.  This recipe is light on sugar, letting the flavour of good quality fresh yoghurt shine through.  This is the type of cake that can easily be eaten with a good cup of coffee for a slightly decadent Easter breakfast treat or the perfect finish to weekend brunch with friends and family.

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    • 240ml full fat natural yoghurt
    • 2 eggs (beaten)
    • 160g soft dark brown sugar
    • 20g golden caster sugar
    • 175ml sunflower oil
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • zest of 1 lime
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • juice of 1/2 lime
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 250g plain flour
    • 128g ground almonds
    • 1tsp bread soda
    • 1tp baking soda
    • 220g raspberries

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Preheat your oven to 180°C. Generously butter a 20cm cake tin (with removable base) & line the base.

      1. In a large bowl, using a metal whisk, whisk the yoghurt & sugar together.  Whisk in the vanilla extract, sunflower oil & lemon and lime zest & juice.
      2. Whisk in the beaten eggs until fully combined. (At this stage it will be an unappealing brown colour, but don’t worry.)
      3. Using a spatula, gently fold in the almond flour (about a 3rd at a time).
      4. Sift your flour & baking powder & give a quick stir to mix together.  Gently fold in (about a fifth at a time) until fully combined.
      5. Weigh out 130g of your raspberries & give a quick dusting with flour (so as they won’t sink to the bottom of your cake).  Gently fold in to your cake batter, so as evenly distributed.
      6. Using your spatula, pour the mixture into your cake tin & level off with a palette knife to prevent doming.
      7. Bake for about 40-50 minute until golden on top & a skewer comes out clean.  Leave to cool about 15 minutes before removing the sides of the cake tin.  Leave on a wire rack to cool fully before moving to a serving plate.  Cover with parchment paper & leave to set overnight.

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This cake stays very well for up to a week.  Just keep covered with parchment paper or clingfilm.  It continues to deepen with flavour & stays remarkably moist.  Sprinkle your remaining raspberries on top & dust with a little icing sugar for decoration.

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How to make: ricotta & blueberry cheesecake

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Traditional baked cheesecake, thick & full with flavour is one of my sister’s favourite desserts.  Usually, I can take it or leave it (with a slice of chocolate cake instead), but baked ricotta cheesecake, I will always take at least one slice of.  Fresh & light, it is much more suited to a bright March spring day.  I’ve adapted a recipe from the wonderful Rachel Allen, incorporating ricotta & mascarpone sitting on top of blueberries which burst open while baking to add a deep hue of colour & a welcome pop of flavour.  Finished off with a buttery biscuit base, this is a cheesecake that somehow manages to be rich, creamy & light all at once.  In other words, one worth having a second slice of.

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For the base:

  • 160g biscuits (digestives work well)
  • 55g butter
  • 150g blueberries

For the cheesecake:

  • 280g cream cheese
  • 250g ricotta
  • 70g mascarpone
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 60ml cream

Line the bottom & sides of a 20cm springform cake tin.  Preheat your oven to 140ºC.  (This low heat will slowly bake your cheesecake to perfection & you won’t have to trouble yourself with a water bath.)
 

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  1. First make the base.  Melt the butter over a low heat.  While cooling, pop your biscuits into a food processor for about 1 1/2 minutes until you have a fine sandy mixture.
  2. Mix the melted butter & biscuits with a metal spoon.  Tip into your cake tin & using the back of the spoon or your hands, press into the base of the tin until smooth & level.  Dot your blueberries on top & place into your refrigerator while making up the cheesecake mixture.
  3. Place the cream cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, sugar & vanilla extract in your mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat together for about 3 minutes until smooth & creamy.
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down any mixture from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Beat in the cream until fully incorporated.  Give a quick mix through with a spatula at the end, as some of the cheese may settle to the bottom.
  6. Using a spatula, pour this mixture over your blueberry biscuit base & bake in your oven for about 90 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.  What you are looking for is a deep golden yellow on top, a gentle wobble when you shake your cake tin & a skewer should come out with the mixture clinging to it a little.
  7. Leave to cool for about tin minutes before removing the springform sides.  Leave to cool for another 5-10 minutes before removing the parchment paper from the sides of the cake.  Once completely cool, chill in the refrigerator for a further 4 hours.

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For best results, take out of the fridge about 15-20 minutes before slicing.  This cheesecake holds very well, once kept refrigerated, for 4 days.

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How to make: potato & rosemary focaccia

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Growing up bread and potatoes were a daily staple & I’m pretty sure I have never gone a day without a serving of at least one.  That may be considered almost devilish in some corners, but I’d rather not spend much time in such corners!  Much better to combine the two in this recipe from the ever wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi for a potato focaccia.  I’ve exchanged the baked potato in the dough for mashed potato, simply because I had some leftover & upped the flavour with some smoked sea salt (a very worth addition to any pantry).  Our new potato season is still a while away, but the trusty Irish rooster worked perfectly.  This went down a treat at the weekend,  served warm out of the oven with a poached egg, smoked salmon & a cup of tea.

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  • 350g cold mashed potato (nothing added)
  • 350g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp  yeast
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 7 tbsp good quality olive oil
  • 2tsp smoked sea salt
  • 210g peeled potatoes (approx 2 small/medium roosters)
  • 2tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 garlic gloves (depending on personal preference)
  • 130ml water

Notes: Proofing time is minimum 2 hours & the bread itself bakes quickly, about 20 minutes.  A large baking tray will do the trick, mine is 30 cm x 30 cm.  I used a mixer with a dough hook, otherwise add a few minutes onto the timings for kneading.

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  1. Into your mixing bowl, add your mashed potato, flour, yeast, sugar, 3 tablespoons of olive oil & 1 teaspoon of salt.  Mix with a dough hook on a low speed for about 3 minutes until the dough comes together.
  2. Increase the speed of your mixed to a medium speed & leave the dough hook to work it for about another 12 minutes.  When finished it will have a good elasticity to it & have a soft feel to it.
  3. For the first rise, coat a mixing bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Place your dough in the bowl, cover with clingfilm & leave to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in size.
  4. Line your baking tray with parchment paper.  Coat the parchment paper with another tablespoon of oil.  Place your dough on top & gently stretch out until the baking tray is covered.  Again cover with clingfilm & leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
  5. At this stage you can peel & slice your potatoes & garlic thinly (as shown).  Place into a bowl with your chopped rosemary, thyme & 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Give a stir with a metal spoon or your hands to mix through.
  6. Coat the top of the focaccia with this  mixture.  Gently press into the dough so it bakes into it, rather than on top of it.  For the final prove , cover again with clingfilm & let it rise for a further 30 minutes.  At this stage pre-heat your oven to 220°C.
  7. When ready to bake, finish the bread by sprinkling with a teaspoon of smoked salt.  Pop into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until golden on top & bottom.

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Leave to cool on a wire rack & serve warm.  Kept wrapped in parchment paper, this will last well for 3 days.