Apr 16

Pistachio and Orange Blossom Cake

Spring has finally arrived and we can look forward to the lengthening and warmer days that stretch out in front of us. The garden is coming alive – shoots unfurl, spring flowers and blossoms at last. Although with so much to do – seeds to plant, weeds to keep at bay, there isn’t much time to simply sit and ponder. I will always find time to bake however! One of my absolute favourites for this time of year is my pistachio and orange blossom cake.


The cake delivers everything its name promises – it has a delicious nutty texture made with lightly roasted pistachios, a floral note of orange blossom and is topped with a light frosting of orange flavoured mascarpone.

Perfect to serve any time of day to celebrate spring’s arrival – with a morning cup of coffee, afternoon tea or as a dessert at dinner.

– I always make a habit of roasting nuts when cooking and baking. This will release their oils and greatly enhance the flavour. Take care to only light roast.
– When using orange blossom water (or orange water), rosewater or any floral flavour for that matter take great care! My advice is to add very cautiously – even less than the recipe requires and taste as you go, adding little by little. Brands can vary greatly in strength.
This month we celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s II’s 90th birthday – See my May blog for how we, at Fiona Cairns Ltd, are involved.

Pistachio & Orange Blossom Cake – serves 8

For the cake

175g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
100g shelled unsalted pistachios
70g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g golden caster sugar
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
4 eggs, lightly beaten
70g ground almonds
2 tsp orange flower water

For the syrup

juice of 1 orange
45g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp orange flower water

For the topping

250g mascarpone
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange flower water
30g golden caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 170C/350F/gas mark 4. Lightly butter a 20cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round loose-bottomed tin, and line with baking parchment.

Scatter the pistachios on to a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 5 minutes, shaking once and watching all the time to make sure they don’t burn. Allow to cool, then grind finely in a food processor.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then, in an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and zest until very light and fluffy – expect it to take about 5 minutes – and slowly add the eggs, adding 1 tbsp of the flour mixture as you do so to prevent curdling. Fold in the almonds and pistachios, the remaining flour and, lastly, the orange flower water.

Scrape the batter into the tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the syrup: tip the orange juice, sugar and orange flower water into a small pan and bring to a rolling boil. Cook until reduced to about 60ml.

Immediately the cake comes from the oven, prick it all over with a fine skewer or cocktail stick and evenly drizzle over the syrup. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Turn the cake upside down on to a cake stand or plate, so the flat base now forms the top. Beat together all the ingredients for the mascarpone topping, and spread it on with a palette knife.

Copyright (c) Fiona Cairns, 2013. Photography by Laura Hynd. Extracted from Bake & Decorate by Fiona Cairns published by Quadrille.

Mar 16

Easter Simnel Cake

Our traditional Simnel cake originated in Victorian times as a gift for Mother’s Day. We now associate it with Easter of course – the 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 apostles (minus Judas).
Much lighter than a dark fruited Christmas cake it is utterly delicious and extra moist with its layer of marzipan baked through the centre.
If you find yourself anywhere near Harrods during March do look out for the Cracking Gourmet windows display. We have been asked to decorate a giant egg, (as seen in my photo) all decorated in hundreds of spring flowers! It will be on display until the 28 March.

IMG_2100-AWhilst you are there, pop into the Harrods Food Hall and have a look at our wonderful display of cakes. If you aren’t going to be baking a Simnel cake then maybe treat yourself to one of two of our Fiona Cairns goodies! A selection of our Easter cakes can be found in all branches of Waitrose and Selfridges too.


Simnel cake
Serves 8

The perfect cake to celebrate Easter. This is a lighter spiced fruit cake than that we associate with Christmas, and the baked marzipan centre results in a deliciously moist, very moreish cake.

200g ground almonds
140g icing sugar, plus more to dust
140g golden caster sugar
2 drops of almond extract
1 tsp lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten

220g unsalted butter, very soft, plus more for the tin
170g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
50g ground almonds
220g light muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
4 eggs, lightly beaten
200g sultanas
70g currants
150g glacé cherries, halved
50g mixed peel, in chunks

2 tbsp apricot jam (or honey)
1 egg yolk, beaten
freshly picked and dry edible flowers, such as primroses
selection of 70cm lengths of
4–5mm-wide ribbon

For the marzipan, put the ground almonds and sugars into a bowl. Add the almond extract, lemon juice and enough egg to bind. Knead only lightly. Remove one-third, roll out on a work top dusted with icing sugar and cut out a 20cm circle. (Seal the remainder in a plastic food bag until needed.)

Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Butter a 20cm round, deep cake tin and line with baking parchment. Fold a strip of brown paper around the outside and tie with string. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a bowl and add the ground almonds. Place the butter, sugar and zests into the bowl of a food mixer. Cream until light and fluffy, then add the egg slowly, with 1 tbsp of the flour mixture halfway through to prevent curdling. Add the remaining flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with the dried fruits, glacé cherries and peel.

Spread half the batter into the tin and add the circle of marzipan. Spoon over the remaining batter, smooth and bake for 1¾–2 hours, or until well risen and a deeper brown. (If necessary, lay a piece of foil with a hole over the top to stop it over-browning.) Leave in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn on to a rack to cool.

Use half the remaining marzipan and a work top dusted with icing sugar to roll out another 20cm circle. Warm the jam gently in a pan, then push it through a sieve (if using honey, simply warm it gently). Turn the cake over and brush the flat surface with most of the jam. Place the circle of marzipan on top, and make a criss-cross pattern on it with a knife. Use the side of a teaspoon or the back of a knife to scallop the edge. Roll 11 balls from the remaining marzipan, and stick them on with the remaining jam.

Glaze with egg yolk, and place under a hot grill (watch like a hawk), or use a kitchen blowtorch, until it is a lightly toasted gold. Decorate with the flowers and ribbons just before serving.

Copyright (c) Fiona Cairns, 2013. Photography by Dan Jones. Extracted from SEASONAL BAKING by Fiona Cairns published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson priced £25 in hardcover and £12.99 in eBook.

Feb 16

Giant Jammy Dodger

If you are wondering how to express your love this Valentines (or Mother’s Day for that matter), why not get your pinny out and bake something simple? My giant jam sandwiches are a larger version of that well known and loved biscuit found in every supermarket in the land.

Freshly baked you will see that they are utterly delicious (no doubt you will be sharing hopefully!) Bake these any time of year of course – no need to wait for Valentines, and of course do change the filling to a favourite jam or spread. I’ve used strawberry jam but a chocolate or caramel would be just as delicious.


Tip: Bake the unfilled biscuit up to a few days ahead, and store in a sealed, airtight container. Once filled they will begin to soften so fill on the day if you can.

If baking is not for you – either by inclination or time, then why not pop along to Waitrose and buy a little box of our Valentines pink heart fairy cakes (as seen in my photo – in trays – and awaiting packing in our bakery)!

Giant jam sandwich biscuits
Makes three 15cm biscuits

For the biscuits:
250g plain flour, plus plenty to dust
50g cornflour
100g icing sugar, plus more to dust (optional)
250g unsalted butter, softened and diced
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbsp strawberry jam, or lemon curd, or caramel spread

Special equipment:
5cm heart cutter
Paint brush

You can freeze this dough, or make the biscuits a day ahead. Only dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Preheat the oven to 170°c/fan 160°c/340°F/gas mark 31⁄2.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, cornflour and icing sugar together. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Gently bring into a ball, wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or so, as this buttery biscuit dough is very soft and needs to firm up.

On a very well-floured board, with a floured rolling pin, roll out half the dough to 4mm thick. If the dough is too soft to work with easily, place the board of rolled-out dough into the fridge (room permitting!) to firm up for 30 minutes or so. Cut out three circles at a time using a 15cm baking tin or a plate as a guide. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cut a heart shape from the centre of three of the biscuits.

Place the biscuits on two or three baking sheets lined with baking parchment and, using the end of a paint brush, make a pattern all around the edges. Rest in the fridge or at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Bake for 12–15 minutes, re-cut the central hearts straight away if necessary, and cool on the baking tray; don’t try to move them until they’re cold.

If the jam is not smooth, warm it slightly in a small pan, then press through a sieve to remove any lumps. Let it cool completely. Spread 2 tbsp jam on to each of the whole biscuits, and dust those with heart- shaped holes with icing sugar, if you like. Place the tops of the biscuits on the bases.

Jan 16

Blueberry yogurt muffins

The festivities of Christmas and New Year are over – I’ve removed the very last bauble from the tree and hoovered up as many pine needles as possible. With all signs of Christmas away for another year I always rather look forward to early January. It can be a time of hope and promise, and a look forward to what the New Year may bring even though the days are long and often gloomy. Yesterday I found the very first snowdrop peeping through the soil in the garden; always a sign that spring isn’t so far away – even though in reality we are still in the depths of winter.

My recipe this month is for blueberry and yoghurt muffins. Just the thing to brighten a gloomy afternoon with a cup of tea – or for that matter to enjoy at any time of day. These muffins – packed with blueberries don’t feel too unhealthy either! Dead simple to make as you simply stir everything together in a bowl and pop into the oven. I have been known to make them for breakfast – just assembling everything in the kitchen the night before and tipping all ingredients together, giving it a good stir and baking it in the morning. For breakfast I would forego the cream cheese topping – a pile of these fresh from the oven are perfect for a lazy start to the day. They are made with yoghurt and blueberries which we often have with our cereal for breakfast in our home anyway. You can use any other berries of course – try raspberries or blackberries or de-stoned cherries. Enjoy!

Blueberry yogurt muffins

Makes 36 fairy cakes (smaller than cupcakes)


For the cakes:
36 paper fairy cake cases
300g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 tsp salt
220g plain yogurt, at room temperature
2 eggs, lightly beaten
170g golden caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
200g blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

For the topping:
600g cream cheese (half-fat, if you prefer)
120g golden icing sugar, sifted
Grape violet food colour paste

To decorate:
250g blueberries
3 tbsp caster sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 170°c/fan 160°c/340°F/gas mark 31⁄2.

Line fairy cake trays with the paper cases. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, mix the yogurt, eggs, sugar and butter using a large spoon. Add the flour mixture, berries, vanilla and lemon zest. Stir until combined, but do not over-mix. Divide between the cases and bake for 12–15 minutes, or until the cakes spring back to the touch. (You may need to bake in batches.) Stand for a few minutes in the trays, and then remove to cool on a wire rack.

To make the topping, beat together the cream cheese and icing sugar. Add enough food colouring to make a pale lilac. Divide the cream cheese between the cakes.

For the decoration, place the blueberries in a pan with the sugar, lemon juice and 1 tbsp water. Very lightly stew together for a minute or two, then strain the blueberries and dry on kitchen towel. Reduce the blueberry syrup in the pan until quite sticky and, when cool, swirl a little on to the frosting on each cake using the back of a spoon. Just before serving, place about three of the blueberries on each cake. (If you do not wish to poach the blueberries and drizzle over the syrup, then simply top each cake with a few uncooked blueberries.)

These delicious cakes, oozing with blueberries, will convince even the most health-conscious that eating cake can be a fairly wholesome experience! Ring the changes by using raspberries or blackberries, or a mixture.

Dec 15

Jewel Box Fruit Cake

Christmas is almost upon us! In the bakery, believe it or not we have been making Christmas cakes since July and soon it will be time to start beginning planning Christmas 2016! It always surprises me just how much I still enjoy it when it finally arrives! Maybe you are organised and have baked a traditional rich Christmas cake and stored it away to mature. If not, have a go at this really simple cake. My recipe this month takes its origins from the Italian Panforte and I’ve based it on an old Australian cake recipe which I think with its’ red and green cherry decorations it resembles a British Christmas cake!

cake cake1 rudolf


This cake is simplicity itself and is packed with whole nuts and fruits, bound with a little butterless cake batter. If you prefer, you could make a more tasteful, reserved cake using dark, undyed cherries.



For the cake


Unsalted butter, for the tin

180g whole Brazil nuts

180g whole pecan nuts

180g multi-coloured glacé cherries

100g self-raising flour

1 tsp salt

140g golden caster sugar

250g dates, stoned but whole

50g raisins, Lexia if possible

100g large pieces of candied peel, roughly chopped (not pre-chopped in little packets!)

Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

50g crystallized stem ginger, roughly chopped

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp dark rum or brandy, or to taste, plus more to feed (optional)

To decorate

350g multi-coloured glacé cherries, halved

3 tbsp apricot jam

Squeeze of lemon juice


Special equipment


25cm square cake board

80cm (4cm-wide) bejeweled ribbon



Preheat the oven to 140°C/fan 130°C/275°F/gas mark 1. Butter a 20cm, 7.5cm deep square cake tin and line the base with baking parchment. Wrap with a collar of brown paper tied with string.

Roast the whole nuts on a baking tray for about 10 minutes. If necessary, rinse the cherries of excess syrup: place in a sieve and run under warm water. Dry carefully with kitchen paper.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, and stir in the sugar. Tip all the whole fruits and candied peel into a large mixing bowl; add the whole nuts, lemon zest and ginger. Beat in the eggs and vanilla and add the flour mixture. Tip the batter into the prepared tin. Make a graphic pattern with the halved cherries all over the top. Bake for 1½–2 hours, or until a skewer emerges clean.

Remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When cool, prick with a skewer between the cherries and spoon over the rum. Carefully remove from the tin, remove the papers and place on the cake board. Gently warm the apricot jam, press it through a sieve if necessary, mix with the lemon juice and brush all over the cherries to glaze. Add the bejeweled ribbon to the sides of the cake. It will keep for a week or so wrapped in foil in an airtight tin. Feed occasionally with a little more rum, if you wish.


  • Of course it can be baked any time of the year – but decorated with glacé cherries or a mixture of dried or crystallised fruits, nuts and a pretty ribbon – it makes an ideal cake to serve at Christmas.
  • Choose the very best quality fruits and nuts you can afford.
  • Always roast nuts before baking (and in your cooking too) to release their oils and flavour.
  • Brush the tin with a little oil instead of butter and the recipe is then dairy free.
  • Replace flour with gluten free flour and the cake is then gluten free.
  • Substitute the fruits and nuts for others of your choice but keep to the same weights as the recipe.
  • This cake will only keep for a week or so, perfect for any last minute baking.

Nov 15

Christmas is coming!

Like it or not we now find ourselves in the run up to Christmas. In the bakery we are producing around 46,000 Christmas cakes this year! In fact we usually begin making our fruit cakes in July and pack them away for the flavours to mellow and mature. We start planning at the beginning of the year, so you could say it is Christmas for us all year round at Fiona Cairns Ltd! Surprising then that we still enjoy it but we do.

You can choose from have a wonderful range of our Christmas cakes, biscuits and fairy cakes online and of course our cakes and goodies are available from Waitrose, Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason and The Conran Shop too.




The recipe this month is so simple and a really good one to have up your sleeve. I make it all year round and even if you’re not really into baking it is perfect as it just sets in the fridge. The gold leaf only comes out at Christmas in our home and I have to say I usually cut it into little squares and apply little flecks of gold leaf (less generously than in the photo below!) Gold leaf is available in some supermarkets in the baking aisle or of course online.


Golden Chocolate Fridge Cake
Fruit and nut chocolate bars will never taste the same again after you try these! A cross between a delicious chocolate and a good biscuit, they can be served any time, but seem especially appropriate after dinner. The gold leaf adds luxury. I always make them at Christmas and they can be a very special gift, packed into a beautiful box. If you want to make nuggets, you will need silicone petit four tins.


5 Tips for success

  • When melting chocolate do so over very gently simmering water with the bowl not touching the water.
  • Always roast nuts – it will release the flavour.
  • For younger palettes, use milk chocolate instead and use honeycomb or fudge pieces (or 80g chopped Crunchie bar) instead of sour cherries. Play around with nuts and dried fruits but keep to the quantities in the recipe.
  • As instructed in the recipe, when cutting it up let it cool to room temperature first as it may crack.
  • If you don’t want it to disappear quickly, as it invariably does in my kitchen, hide it away. It keeps for a good week in a sealed container in or out of the fridge.


Makes 36 squares (or 27 golden nuggets)

100g unsalted butter, diced, plus more for the tin
80g shelled, unsalted pistachios (or hazelnuts or pine nuts)
1 tbsp golden syrup
100g 70% cocoa solids
Chocolate, broken into pieces
100g plain biscuits (or even unsweetened cornflakes)
80g dried sour cherries (or dried blueberries, cranberries, apricots or figs), finely chopped


A few sheets of gold leaf, to taste (and to budget!)
2 small paint brushes


Lightly butter a 20cm square tin or Swiss roll tin and line it with cling film; this will make it easier to remove the tiffin later.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/340°F/gas mark 3½. Scatter the nuts on to a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 5 minutes, shaking once and watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn, then remove and chop into chunks.

Find a bowl that will fit over a pan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. In the bowl, melt the butter, syrup and chocolate together. Place the biscuits in a large polythene bag, seal the top, then bash with a rolling pin until very finely crushed. Add the nuts, dried fruit and biscuits to the butter mixture and stir until all is very well blended.

Spoon into the prepared tin (or the silicone moulds, if you are making nuggets) and set in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. If you have used a tin, wait until the tiffin is set, then bring to room temperature to make it easier to cut (it might crack if too chilled). Cut into 3cm squares, wiping the knife with kitchen towel between slices.

The gold leaf needs to be applied very carefully in a room with no draughts. Take 1 square of tiffin or nugget at a time on to a work surface. Place the gold booklet close by and slide off 1 sheet, by gently holding the top 2 corners with the tips of the 2 paint brushes, using both hands. Static will cause the bristles to grip the sheet. Try not to breathe on or touch the gold before it is on the tiffin!

Loosely place the gold on a tiffin square, or wrap it around a nugget, then smooth it down with a paint brush. If it tears, it doesn’t matter, you can choose to patch it or leave it as it is with the chocolate showing through.

You can either lay the gold randomly over the squares, leaving many of them plain, or wrap each nugget completely in gold.

Bake and Decorate by Fiona Cairns. Published by Quadrille

Oct 15

Maple and Pecan Autumn Leaves Recipe

I’ve always enjoyed going blackberrying in September and October, rambling through the golden harvested fields and kicking through the falling autumn leaves. Compensation for the end of summer as winter fast approaches.

These are my daughters’ favourite biscuits of all, so I can’t think why I don’t make them more often. You don’t need a leaf cutter – any shape will do – finger biscuits or squares would be fine and they can be simplified by omitting the maple buttercream (although it is very delicious and so easy to make, so a bit of a shame). Use whatever nuts you have – pistachios, walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts would all be good – but just use one kind.

maple1 maple2

6 top tips for success all the way!
1. The oil in nuts can turn rancid in time, so taste them before using. I always roast them a short while in the oven whenever I bake or cook with them, to release their flavours.
2. When making the biscuit dough do not over mix it. Stop once it just comes together – otherwise you will toughen the biscuits once baked.
3. Biscuits and cookies continue to bake a little and will harden up on removal from the oven.
4. Make a batch (or even double the recipe), cut up shapes and layer up in a freezer container layered between sheets of greaseproof or baking parchment. Defrost a few as you need them (takes around ½ hour-1 hour). Larger biscuits (or if rolled slightly thicker) will take a little longer to bake.
5. Once baked store in an air tight container for a week, but once filled with buttercream they will soften after a day or so.
6. Never store biscuits and cake in the same tin, as the biscuits will soften.

Maple and Pecan Autumn Leaves Recipe

Wondering how to use my little tin of metal leaf cutters, I created these nutty biscuits filled with maple buttercream. Sit by the fireside with a plate of these while the wind howls around outside.

Makes about 50 leaves
(25 sandwiches)



50g pecan nuts
200g plain flour, plus more to dust
1 tsp ground cinnamon
60g light muscovado sugar
125g unsalted butter, softened, in pieces


100g unsalted butter, softened, in pieces
150g icing sugar, sifted, plus more to dust
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp maple syrup


Set of leaf cutters (mine are 3–5cm long)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Tip the nuts on to a baking tray and cook for five minutes, or until lightly roasted. Let cool slightly, then chop very, very finely. Set aside.

Sift together the flour and cinnamon, add the sugar and rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles crumbs. Add the nuts and continue to work; it will come together as a dough.

On a very lightly floured work top, roll out the dough to 3–4mm thick. Cut out the biscuits with the leaf cutters, remembering to make an even number of each shape, as you will be sandwiching them together. At this point, you can freeze the cut-out biscuits.

Lay the biscuits on the prepared baking trays and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Bake the biscuits for 15–20 minutes, until they are a lovely pale gold. Cool on the trays to firm up for about five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack with a palette knife to cool completely. The unfilled biscuits will keep well for several days in an airtight tin, but once filled need to be served on the day.

Meanwhile, to make the buttercream, place the butter, icing sugar, vanilla and golden syrup in a bowl and, using a hand-held electric whisk, beat for four or five minutes until paler and creamy. Drizzle in the maple syrup and beat thoroughly.

When ready to serve, sandwich the leaves together with the buttercream and dust with a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Recipe and Image credit to Orion Books –‘ Seasonal Baking’ by Fiona Cairns.

Sep 15

Chocolate courgette brownies

We’ve never had much success with our vegetable patch, that is until this summer. Over the last few months we’ve had our fill of salad leaves, French beans, carrots, herbs – and the leeks and parsnips are growing well. There has however, been a glut of courgettes. Risotto, soups, raw in salads, pasta, sautéed with garlic – you name it we’ve eaten it and savoured the courgette flowers too. It has got to the stage where we are giving away our courgettes – having overdosed for the time being. So naturally I turned to baking with them!

Don’t be put off with the idea of courgettes in cakes. These brownies are kept extra moist with the inclusion of courgettes – do try them. No-one will guess the secret ingredient! We are all familiar with some vegetables in baking – carrot cake has become a national favourite and beetroot makes a great chocolate cake. In fact, vegetables in cakes are nothing new – recipes including parsnips and even potatoes can be found in old recipe books.


Chocolate courgette brownies
From: Seasonal Baking, published by Winfield Nicholson
Serves 16

For the cake
120g unsalted butter, really soft, in pieces, plus more for the tin
300g plain flour
4 tbsp cocoa, plus more to dust
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
140ml sunflower oil
400g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
140ml buttermilk at room temperature
180g peeled and grated courgettes, excess water squeezed out (prepared weight)
150g 70% cocoa solids chocolate, finely chopped


Preheat the oven to 170˚C/fan 150˚C/340˚F/gas mark 3½. Butter a 23cm square tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt.

In the bowl of a food mixer (or in a bowl with a hand-held electric whisk), cream together butter, oil and sugar until very light and fluffy (this will take a good five minutes). Gradually add the eggs, vanilla extract and buttermilk. Gently fold in the flour mixture, followed by the courgettes and chocolate, and blend well together, being careful not to over-mix.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 55-60 minutes. Let cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sift over a little cocoa, cut into 16 squares and serve.

Aug 15

Bakewell tart

I’m just back from a fabulous week in the South of France with my daughter. We drove many miles from Provence passing fields filled with “Van Gogh’s” sunflowers on the way and over to the Alpes.
We stayed in a little French town nestled deep in the mountains.


Twice during our stay the small town square was transformed into a wonderful market by local farmers and artisan food producers selling their wares. Sun ripened, sweetest ever deep red cherries, peaches, strawberries, raspberries etc. – we ate our fill!

Every morning we collected our breakfast croissants from the town’s boulangerie. We eyed up the window display of goodies – pissaladiere, patisserie of all descriptions, breads and an array of wonderful French glazed fruit tarts.

Back home in the UK, and I thought I would like to recreate some of these French goodies. I’m making a Bakewell tart this weekend – we do have our own equally delicious British tarts and cakes.

Our Bakewell tart, when freshly baked can be quite a revelation. If you’ve never tried – then do have a go as it is not difficult at all. It is every bit as good as those French tarts I think!
Really quite simple, a crisp pastry base (that is not too sweet), a layer of good quality jam all topped with an almond frangipane and toasted almonds. Very versatile too.


Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee any time of day, or served slightly warm as a pudding with a dollop of whipped cream or even take it on a picnic. (In the picture mine is decorated with two sugar paste cherries – just a bit of fun if you have the inclination!)

Those piles of sweet cherries on the market reminded me to make my favourite cherry and vanilla jam. Perfect for this Bakewell tart – but so is raspberry or strawberry jam.
Bonne Maman is a good brand to look out for – and widely available if jam making is a step too far!


Tip: Do always ensure your summer fruits and berries are at room temperature. Remove from the fridge a good hour before eating, as when chilled the flavour is dulled.
Tip: If you have over ripe berries, (or a mix) de-stone if necessary and whizz up in the food processor to a purée. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, sweeten to taste. Sieve and you have made a lovely fruit sauce. Freezes brilliantly if you have made a lot. It is great stirred into yoghurt, poured over summer fruits and berries or ice cream.

Bakewell tart

Serves 8

This has become a classic. Created by accident, I understand, in the 1860s in Bakewell, much mystery surrounds its origins… which, surprisingly to us modern fans, didn’t include ground almonds. Make sure all the ingredients for the filling are at room temperature.

For the pastry
100g unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus more for the tin
200g plain flour, sifted, plus more to dust
Pinch of salt
40g icing sugar, sifted
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

For the filling
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g ground almonds
4 tbsp good-quality cherry, raspberry or strawberry jam
25g flaked almonds

To decorate (optional)
100g sugarpaste
Claret food colour paste
Christmas red food colour paste
Edible glaze spray
1 vanilla pod

To bake

Lightly butter a 23cm round, loose-bottomed metal flan tin (not ceramic; it won’t cook the pastry properly). To make the pastry, tip the flour, salt and icing sugar into a large bowl or food processor. Rub in the butter using your fingertips, or blitz. Lastly, add the egg yolks gradually until the dough comes together. If it is still too dry, add a very little cold water or, if too wet, a little flour. Try not to overwork the pastry as it will toughen it.

To line the tin, lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick. Lift it with the rolling pin, line the tin with the pastry and prick all over with a fork. Trim the edges and press well into the tin. Chill for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line the pastry case with a piece of baking parchment and fill with ceramic baking beans (or raw rice). Cook for about 15 minutes, remove the paper and cook for a further few minutes; the pastry will be pale gold. While the pastry is cooling, make the filling.

Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Start adding the eggs very slowly, then add the almond and vanilla extracts. Fold in the ground almonds. Spread the jam over the base of the pastry, then spoon the almond mixture over the jam – ensuring it is level – and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the centre is firm to the touch. Cool.

To decorate

To make the two giant cherries, colour the sugar paste with the claret and Christmas red food colours . Divide in half and roll into two balls. Indent the tops of each with the end of a paint brush or similar tool, and spray with the glaze for a shine. To make the cherry stalks, split the vanilla pod nearly in half, keeping one end intact. If necessary trim the two stalks to neaten them, but add the valuable seeds or trimmings to a jar of vanilla sugar. Place the tip of each into the indent in each cherry, and position into the centre of the cooled tart just before serving.

Jun 15

Thai Rice and Coconut Cake

Last summer we spent a wonderful exotic family holiday on the island of Kho Samui in Thailand. Long lazy days on the sandy beaches sitting under the shade of the palm trees, boat trips out to nearby islands and cocktails on the beach watching the sunset. In the evenings we wandered through the colourful local markets searching out a little café or restaurant for our delicious Thai dinner.
Thai rice and coconut cake instantly transports me back to that happy trip.

fiona-thaiWe never ate it there – in fact I understand it was originally created by the cookery writer Roz Denny for Tilda Rice!
Deliciously creamy this cake is made with Thai jasmine rice, subtly flavoured with lemon grass, cardamom and coconut. It is a sublime most unusual cake and quite difficult to describe – I’ve never tasted anything even similar. Try it for yourself – and serve it at any summer party accompanied with a large bowl of raspberries or strawberries – or any soft seasonal fruits. It can be made the day before – just sit back and wait for those compliments!

Thai rice and coconut cake
After all the rich excesses of the festive season, this is especially delightful.

Serves 10
Unsalted butter, for the tin
10 cardamom pods
250g Thai jasmine rice
750ml whole milk
1 lemon grass stalk, crushed
2 fresh bay leaves
125g white caster sugar
150ml whipping cream
150ml liquid coconut cream (not coconut milk)
6 eggs, separated
A few physalis (or other seasonal soft fruit), to serve

200ml quark (low-fat soft cheese), or mascarpone
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
30g caster sugar, or to taste


Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Butter a 25cm round, deep cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.

To de-seed the cardamom pods, split the husks with the point of a knife, empty all the little seeds into a mortar and grind them to a powder with the pestle. Sift to remove any pieces of husk.

Put the rice into a large saucepan of cold unsalted water, bring to a boil, then boil for three minutes. Drain.

Return the rice to the rinsed-out pan with the milk, lemon grass, cardamom powder and bay leaves. Add all but 1 tbsp of the sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, still stirring occasionally, then remove the lemon grass and bay leaves.

Mix the whipping cream and coconut cream together and stir into the rice with the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites until firm, then whisk in the remaining 1 tbsp of sugar until softly stiff. Fold into the rice mixture, and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. The top should still wobble very slightly when shaken. Cool completely in the tin, then turn out on to a serving plate and remove the papers.

Loosen up the quark (or mascarpone) with a whisk, and lightly whip the double cream until just firm. Mix the two together with the vanilla, adding the lemon zest and sugar to taste. Spread over the top and sides of the cake, swirling with a palette knife.

Decorate with a few physalis (I twisted the leaves back up). This cake can be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge.

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