Burns Night delight!

It’s Burns Night tonight so I wanted to share a new Scottish-themed recipe with you. I love Burns Night because I absolutely love haggis! Even though we’re not a Scottish family my Mum always serves up haggis each year with a side of neeps and tatties. As much as I love my mother’s Burns Night meal this year I fancied doing something slightly different and have taken my favourite Scottish ingredients – haggis, black pudding and whisky – and created this scrummy gnocchi dish. A perfect plate of comfort, I served it with green beans. It was so tasty, it had me and Lovely Livvie, a fellow food fan, going back for seconds!

Haggis, black pudding and whisky cream gnocchi

Ingredients

300ml double cream

A generous tea spoon of Dijon mustard

A generous glug of whisky

A packet of fresh gnocchi (or homemade gnocchi)

Haggis (available from any good butcher)

Black pudding

 

Method

First to cook the haggis; remove the outer plastic and place into a casserole dish, cover and bake in the oven as per the instructions on the packet. Fluff out the haggis half way through baking.

Unwrap the black pudding and slice. Grill both sides of the black pudding slices for two minutes and set aside.

Heat the cream on a low heat and add the mustard and whisky. I love the flavour of whisky so I tend to add a good glug but if you’re after just a hint of whisky add a couple of tablespoons. Don’t worry, the alcohol will burn out through cooking it. Turn the heat up and simmer the sauce for a few minutes.

Stir in pieces of the cooked haggis.

Cook the gnocchi as per the instructions on the packet (if you’re feeling more adventurous you can make your own gnocchi!). Pour the sauce over the gnocchi and garnish with a couple of slices of black pudding. This is a rich dish so I suggest you enjoy with green beans, curly kale or something equally as fresh and green!

Roses and raspberries: a December wedding cake

One Friday in December my friend Mary sprung some surprise news on me: “I’m getting married on Monday!”

This was a surprise to me because, despite having known Mary for over 15 years I had no clue that she and her partner weren’t already married. What came next was an even bigger shock: “Can you make me a wedding cake please?”

What an honour to be asked to make such a special cake – the centrepiece of any wedding breakfast – but only having a couple of days’ notice, combined with having new staff to train in the tea rooms and already having other commitments that week did make this a bit of a challenge, but as I’ve said before, I do like rising to a challenge!

marys-wedding-5Mary loves anything chocolatey so we decided on a large chocolate and raspberry sandwich. It’s always a good idea to choose a contrasting flavour for your second cake, rather than something similar, so that you’re catering for wider tastes, so we chose a lemon buttercream sandwich for the top tier. Mary’s colour scheme was burgundy, perfect for a December wedding, so we decorated the cake with fresh flowers in white and dark red, and also used some lovely dark foliage and sparkly pine cones. And sitting on the very top of the cake was some miniature ‘Just Married’ bunting.

marys-wedding-2To accompany the main cake I also made some matching cupcakes – chocolate with vanilla buttercream icing topped with raspberries and lemon buttercream topped with red rose petals. The guests really enjoyed the cakes and the bride was thrilled with what I’d made for her. It really was a lovely cake for a lovely couple!

Pesto and parmesan pinwheels

This weekend I catered for a new year party in Surrey. I love new year parties – while extending the party season – and let’s face it, you can never have too many parties! – it’s the first opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with new ideas, moving on from Christmas flavours for another year and rediscovering other winter treats.

Because it’s so early in January and most people will still be on somewhat of a health kick, we decided to keep lots of the canapés fresh and light – melon and jambon de pays, on-the-vine tomatoes and crudités. But it is still winter and of course I wanted to include some more hearty goodies too, including homemade sausage rolls (watch this space for another blog about those beauties!), cheese biscuits, savoury tartlets and pesto pinwheels. I have my firm favourites but I’m always interested to hear what other people enjoy. The pesto pinwheels received rave reviews from the guests, many of whom were vegetarian and were grateful for the non-meat selection. They not only taste great but look great, especially if you use both red and green pesto. And they’re so easy to make, especially if you use the ready-made pastry! I can also imagine the bright swirls of pasty would be a super addition to a bonfire night buffet.

Pesto and parmesan pinwheels

Ingredients

2 sheets of ready-made short-crust pastry

1 small jar of red pesto

1 small jar of green pesto

100g parmesan, grated

1 egg, beaten (optional)

 

Method

Unwind the first sheet of pastry, leaving it on the paper, and using a palette knife, or similar flat-edged knife, spread out the red pesto until the whole sheet is covered. Sprinkle half of the grated parmesan on top of the pesto. Using the paper to help get you started, roll the pastry slowly and gently, width-way so you have a long roll of pastry. Wrap the roll in the paper and pop in the freezer for around 20 minutes.

Do the same with the second roll of pastry, green pesto and remaining parmesan.

Once you’ve removed the pastry rolls from the freezer slice them at intervals of around half an inch. Pop on a tray lined with baking paper, lightly brush the beaten egg on top of each pinwheel and bake in the oven, heated to 180 or equivalent, for around 25 minutes or until the pastry turns golden.

 

Angel kisses

For me Christmas baking is some of the best baking of the year; I’m not sure whether it’s the seasonal flavours of cinnamon, mint and orange that get added to so many goodies or whether it’s just good old fashioned nostalgia but whatever it is, the magic ingredient seems to send me into a festive frenzy!

And so many Christmas bakes make great presents too! These peppermint creams – or angel kisses as I like to call them – are not only tasty but look so pretty in a little box or cellophane bag finished off with sparkly ribbon. And I do think that homemade gifts are so much nicer – someone has taken the time to make something especially for you.

I make my Angel Kisses with American peppermint extract but they can be made for other occasions with rose water, lavender or bubblegum flavours. And they make lovely wedding favours or additions to party bags.

Angel Kisses

Ingredients

The white of one egg

12oz icing sugar

Peppermint essence

Silver balls to decorate

Method

Whisk the egg white in a mixer and then add in the sifted icing sugar, mixing periodically. Add a few drops of peppermint essence and mix again. You should end up with what looks like a ball of white plasticine.

Roll out the dough, making sure there’s plenty of icing sugar on the counter and the rolling pin. Using a cutter, cut out your mini-sweets and add a silver ball for decoration. I like to use a mini heart-shaped cutter with frilly edge – the perfect shape for angel kisses xx

Going bananas for cake!

Banana loaves are, as we all know, a great way to use up squishy brown bananas that have maybe seen better days. But I find they can be a great way to use up other fruits or other sweet foods.

The secret ingredient I use in my banana loaves is clotted cream. It adds richness to the cake and prevents the loaf from becoming too dry. With such a wet mix it does mean that you may have to bake it for a bit longer (top tip – cover the cake with foil for the second half of the bake to prevent the top from becoming too dark) but it’s worth it – and the extra calories!

Today I’m going to share not one but two of my favourites with you. Banana and pear is a particular favourite of mine; I love cooking with pears, whether savoury or sweet. I stumbled upon using pears in a banana loaf when I had some that were on the turn and I just didn’t fancy making a plain pear cake and I had bananas that needed to be used up so why not put them in the same cake? And it worked really well! So it’s now my go-to recipe when I want to make a banana loaf with a fresh twist.

In winter though, don’t we just want a bit of chocolate in almost everything we eat?! So today’s banana loaf included a good measure of roughly chopped dark chocolate. This makes the cake feel that bit more indulgent, especially if served with a generous blob of cream!

 

Banana loaf with pear

Ingredients

4oz butter

4oz sugar

2 eggs

1 banana, mushed

1 pear, finely chopped

1 tspn vanilla extract

4 dessert spoons of clotted cream

8oz self-raising flour

 

Method

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, followed by the vanilla extract, clotted cream and banana. Stir in the chopped pear before sifting in the flour and mixing on a high setting very quickly. Transfer into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake on 150c for 40 minutes. You may need to cover the cake with foil and bake further (I check at 10 minute intervals) until the cake passes the skewer test.

 

Banana loaf with chocolate

Ingredients

4oz butter

4oz sugar

2 eggs

2 bananas, mushed

100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

1 tspn vanilla extract

4 dessert spoons of clotted cream

8oz self-raising flour

 

Method

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, followed by the vanilla extract, clotted cream and bananas. Stir in the chocolate before sifting in the flour and mixing on a high setting very quickly. Transfer into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake on 150c for 40 minutes. You may need to cover the cake with foil and bake further (I check at 10 minute intervals) until the cake passes the skewer test.

 

A fond taste of summer

This week the cold weather has well and truly arrived and at Willow Bough Tea Rooms we’ve been missing the summer. So we were inspired to make this delicious lemon and coconut cake which takes us back to the sunny days of summer not too long ago! And our customers agreed that it was a much-needed slice of sunshine served with a nice cup of tea!

Lemon and coconut cake

Ingredients

12oz butter

12oz sugar

6 eggs

12oz self-raising flour

One lemon (zest and juice)

3 desert spoons of desiccated coconut

Icing sugar

Method

Cream together the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and then add the lemon zest and 2 desert spoons of desiccated coconut. My top tip for keeping a cake light and fluffy is to not over-mix at this stage, a quick blast on a high setting should do the job just fine! Bake in greased and lined cake tins (I use 8” tins) on 150 for around 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure you do the skewer test (insert a skewer in the cake, if it comes out clean the cake is ready) before cooling the cake!

Once the cake is cooled sandwich together with the lemon curd. Make the icing with the lemon juice and icing sugar and drizzle over the cake, topping with the remaining coconut. Enjoy with a fruit tea or a traditional cuppa!

Aligot; fabulous French fare!

This summer I was lucky enough to get away on a couple of European holidays to France and Spain. The first took me to spend some time with my parents at our home in the Aveyron; an idyllic little corner of France that’s rich in good food, wine and beautiful views. While it was a much-needed rest for me away from London life I couldn’t help but get my hands dirty in the kitchen. There are so many delicious foods in that part of the world and too many recipes to try out in just one week! But I gave it my best shot and over the next few weeks I’ll be bringing you stories of my culinary adventures in France and Spain as well as some super-yummy recipes to try for yourself.

I’ve been enjoying family holidays in France for as long as I can remember (my first holiday there was to the Pyrenees when I was just three months old) and been going to the Aveyron for over a decade now. And the first Aveyronaise food I fell in love with is still firmly my favourite! Aligot is the most delicious potato dish that goes wonderfully with the local beef or veal. I’ve served it to every guest I’ve hosted out there and they’ve all loved it. It’s beautifully garlicky and totally moreish!

You can buy aligot at pretty much any food market in the Aveyron, but I missed it when I was back in London and decided to have a go at making some myself. Of course I like to put my twist on it – and, I’ve been advised, this is also something some locals recommend; you may have guessed already, I like to add a spot of white wine. It gives the aligot a zingy kick that works well with a nice piece of pork belly and green beans, a great autumnal meal, but tastes especially good the next morning served on crusty baguette. Mmmm, delicious!

Aligot (serves 4)

Ingredients

2oz butter

Garlic (I like to use at least four fat cloves!)

2lbs potatoes (ideally Maris Piper)

14oz grated laguiole or cantal cheese (use Lancashire cheese if you can’t find the French cheeses in your local supermarket)

Salt and pepper to taste

Up to half a bottle of white table wine

Method

Place the garlic and butter in a pan and melt over a low heat for around 20 minutes. Leave the garlic for longer if you have the time.

Boil the potatoes and drain. Add the garlic infused butter and cream together with a handheld mixer.

Add the grated cheese little by little, stirring over a low heat until it is melted and smooth. Gradually add the wine, continuing to stir over a low heat. Once the aligot is at a consistency you’re happy with serve and enjoy. And enjoy again tomorrow!

Anyone for tennis?!

It’s that time of year… if you listen carefully enough you can hear the tap of the ball and the polite clapping, you can smell the grass in the air and taste the strawberries. Yes, it’s Wimbledon fortnight, the two weeks of the year when the London borough of Merton covers every last inch of itself in purple and green bunting, tennis attire appears in almost every shop window and tennis fever overcomes the borough’s residents – both permanent and those here just for the tournament.

As the final approaches many of us locals will be heading off to Henman Hill/Murray Mount with picnics to watch the finals. And we’ll need something refreshing to take with us… We’re now doing picnics and takeaway cream teas at the Willow Bough Tea Rooms (Wimbledon’s traditional tea room) but you can also do your own. Here are some of my tips for enjoying a Wimbledon picnic with a twist…

As we all know, the Wimbledon weather can be unpredictable – it’ll either be a total downpour or a scorcher, so it’s good to be prepared for both. If it’s a scorcher it’ll be important to drink plenty of fluids. There are lots of delicious bottled and canned drinks out there – at Willow Bough we especially like the San Pellegrino and Fentimans drinks. If you’re looking for something healthier and cheaper I really like to jazz up plain water with fruit. Just pop a couple of pieces of fruit, such as strawberries, or slices of lemon or orange, or some mint leaves into a bottle of water. It makes keeping hydrated taste so much better!

Strawberries and cream are a Wimbledon tradition, and for the adults I like to give this a twist by soaking the strawberries in vodka first. Strawberries are porous and absorb liquid like a sponge, so you won’t need to soak them for too long to enjoy strawberries with a kick!

Scones are so easy to make, and I like to add a twist by adding strawberries to them. You can either used fresh strawberries that you dry yourself in the oven or you can use already-dried strawberries. Please note that using already dried strawberries IS NOT CHEATING! Enjoy your strawberry scones with strawberry jam (I highly recommend Jam Packed Preserves strawberry extra jam, available to buy in Willow Bough) and clotted cream. I would say that you need to make sure you eat your picnic quickly before the clotted cream goes off in the sunshine, but I’m sure your scones will be so delicious this won’t be a problem!

Strawberry scones (makes 9)

Ingredients

350g self-raising flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

80g cold butter

175ml milk

3 tablespoons sugar

A generous handful of dried strawberries

Egg to glaze

Method

Sieve together the flour, salt and baking powder.

Using your fingertips, rub the cold butter into the flour until you have what looks like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and stir in the milk. Add the dried strawberries and use your hands to bring the mixture together into a dough.

Roll the dough out onto a floured surface and use a scone cutter to cut into rounds. Glaze the scones with beaten egg before baking at 150c for around 20 minutes or until golden.

Cheers! Here’s to a cocktail of cakes

Hurrah, summer is here at last (sort of)! And with all of the street parties, picnics and tennis on the horizon it’s the perfect time for those of us who do indulge in a drop of alcohol to enjoy a leisurely Pimms. Or maybe you’re a gin girl instead? Whatever your tipple, it’s possible to mix the indulgence of an afternoon drink in the sunshine with cake. What a treat!

Throw into the mix being asked to cater for a hen party, where the bride is partial to a summertime drink or two, and I had an interesting challenge coming up with the cake that was to be the centrepiece of her afternoon tea with a twist. The cake was a triple layer of her favourite summertime drinks, mojito, gin and tonic and, of course, a summertime Pimms. The cakes were surprisingly simple and easy to make, using a basic cake mix and adding in the relevant fruit/alcohol, so that you get the right level of flavour but not so much that the mixture is too wet.

Making a boozy cake wasn’t enough for me; I also wanted to have boozy icing (this was, after all, a party cake, was it not?!) so I made Pimms buttercream icing and drizzle, gin buttercream icing and matching drizzle and finally mojito buttercream icing and drizzle. It really was simple, just mix icing sugar and butter with the respective alcohol and fruit juice. The tricky part was not drinking it, licking fingers or testing the strength of flavour too many times!

Finally, having stacked the cakes one on top of another – and I’m not going to lie, this bit was, and always is, terrifying! – I decorated with cascading fresh mint and lime (mojito), slices of lemon (gin and tonic) and a scattering of strawberries, slices of cucumber and orange and fresh mint.

I really was thrilled with how the cake turned out – it looked great and tasted absolutely delicious. And it goes without saying, a three-tiered boozy cake at a hen-do will always go down a treat!

 

Ingredients

For the cake:

12oz butter

12oz sugar

6 eggs

12oz self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

A shot of your chosen alcohol

Buttercream icing:

5oz butter

15oz icing sugar

Up to a shot of your chosen alcohol and fruit juice

Drizzle:

10oz icing sugar

Up to a shot of your chosen alcohol and fruit juice

Fruit to decorate

Method

Cream the butter and sugar together and add the eggs, one at a time. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix on a high setting for a short time. Add a shot of your chosen alcohol and mix, again on a high setting for no more than a couple of seconds.

Transfer to two cake tins and bake on 150 for 30-40 minutes remembering to do the skewer test to ensure your cakes are cooked properly.

While your cakes are cooling prepare the buttercream by mixing together the butter, icing sugar, alcohol and fruit juice (lime for mojito, lemon for gin) until smooth. To make the drizzle mix together the icing sugar, alcohol and fruit juice until smooth. Sandwich the buttercream icing between the two cakes and top with the drizzle and fruit.

A fresh idea: fresh mint chocolate cupcakes

It’s always lovely when customers give you something, especially if it can be used in baking! Last Monday two little girls – who have been loyal customers since Willow Bough opened – called in for their usual hot chocolate and gave me a lovely bag of fresh mint they’d picked that morning from their garden. I could have used it for fresh mint tea (or taken it home to garnish my Pimms!) but instead chose to use it for cakes.

The challenge I have with mint – as much as I love it – is that I find it hard to disassociate it from toothpaste! So I wanted to find a cake that would complement the fresh taste of the mint without giving me that ‘just brushed’ feeling!

Because it’s summer, which makes me think about ice-cream just a bit too much, I thought I’d try mint-choc cupcakes. I used a basic chocolate cake mix, with just a hint of peppermint extract so the mint flavour isn’t too overpowering and finished each cake with a delicious minty buttercream icing in a pretty pale green shade, topped off with the fresh mint leaves. They look almost as good as they taste!

Mint choc cupcakes – makes 12

Ingredients

For the cake:

8oz butter

8oz sugar

4 eggs

6oz self-raising flour

2oz cocoa powder

A few drops of American peppermint extract

For the icing:

5oz butter

7oz icing sugar

A few drops of American peppermint extract

A few drops of green food colouring

Fresh mint leaves to decorate

 

Method

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy before adding the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix, adding the peppermint extract. Fill the cupcake cases until they’re three quarters full and bake in the oven on around 150c for 20 minutes. Once baked (test with a skewer, which should come out of the cake clean) leave to cool on a rack.

To make the icing, cream together the butter, icing sugar and peppermint extract until smooth. Add green food colouring a drop at a time, until you have the colour you want. I like the icing to be quite a pale green, as it contrasts well with the brightness of the fresh mint leaves and the darkness of the chocolate cake. Using a palette knife apply the icing to each cake, giving a smooth finish. Top each cake with one or two fresh mint leaves, put on a cake plate and invite your friends over to enjoy!

 

Willow Bough Tea Rooms is open 9am-5pm Monday to Saturday and can be found at 11 Merton Park Parade, Kingston Road, Wimbledon SW19 3NT.