Sticky Ginger Cake

When staying in Newcastle with our daughter Catherine I offered to make a ginger cake. The recipe I’ve been making for decades uses ground ginger because fresh ginger wasn’t available back then. It came from my Dad’s cousin by marriage who was known as Auntie Vina.

Auntie Vina and Uncle Hector lived at Hill House, a busy dairy farm on the moors of County Durham, where I spent many summers as a child. The farm hands all came into the farmhouse for meals, so Auntie Vina and her daughter in law Little Mary spent a lot of time cooking. She taught me all her basic cake recipes, such as sponge cake, chocolate cake, ginger cake and fruit cake, which I still use today.

Times have changed and most recipes using ginger now call for the fresh kind. I decided to do some research online, looking for ginger cakes which use fresh ginger, or a combination of ground and fresh. I then adapted Auntie Vina’s recipe, using some of the new ideas I had found online. This is the result which we served as a dessert with Mangoes in Ginger Wine.

Sticky Ginger Cake

250g unsalted butter
½ cup water
¾ cup treacle (or molasses)
¾ cup golden syrup (or honey)
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup milk
2-3 Tbs finely grated fresh ginger (to taste)

Preheat oven to 165°C. Butter and line a 22cm baking pan – round or square. I chose a ring tin – always a bit risky because being fluted you can’t line it, but fortunately the cake came out in one piece.

Place butter, water, treacle, golden syrup and brown sugar in a mixing bowl then heat in the microwave (covered to stop it spattering everywhere) for a minute or two until melted. Alternatively heat in a saucepan over moderate heat.

When cooled a bit, beat in the eggs with electric beaters or a hand whisk. Add the sifted flour, salt and spices, the milk and lastly fold in the fresh ginger. Scrape into cake tin and bake for 40-60 mins. Cooking times vary depending on your oven and the cake tin you use. If you overcook the cake it won’t be sticky, so as soon as the top is firm and springy to the touch it’s ready. Remove from the oven and when cool remove from the tin.

Serve as a dessert with whipped cream with a little rum or brandy added and some stewed fruit. Or serve with Mangoes in Ginger Wine as shown in the photo.

Or serve as a cake dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with lemon icing (1 cup sifted icing sugar mixed with 2 Tbs lemon juice).

Serves between 12 and 20 depending on serving size

Note: if you don’t have self-raising flour use plain flour and 2 tsp baking powder

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

I’ve always been a cheesecake fan, but I don’t like all cheesecakes, especially ones which are dry. This one is rich and creamy and not too sweet.

Chocolate, vanilla and raspberries go together extremely well, but if you prefer leave the cocoa powder out and just have a simple biscuit base. Vanilla paste is nicer than essence because it has the little black vanilla seeds in it.

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

Crust:
170g plain sweet biscuits (digestives, Nice, any will do)
3 Tbs cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
Filling:
500g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese at room temp
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Finely grated rind one lemon
Pinch salt
Topping:
2 cups sour cream
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Raspberries:
500g frozen raspberries
1 Tbs sugar (or to taste)

Place biscuits in food processor and process to fine crumbs. Add cocoa and sugar and blitz for 30 secs. Meanwhile in a mixing bowl melt the butter in microwave. Add biscuit crumbs and mix well.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Butter or oil a 22cm springform pan. Press biscuit crumbs over the base and about three quarters up the sides of the pan. Use your hands to coat the sides and a small glass to press down the bottom – try to avoid it being too thick where the sides meet the bottom. Place in the fridge or freezer.

Rinse out food processor. Place all ingredients for filling in food processor and mix until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides and checking there aren’t any large lumps of cream cheese left. Scrape into the biscuit lined pan, then bake for 40-50 mins or until cheesecake is set around the edges but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Mix all ingredients for topping and spread over the top. Put back in the oven for 8-10 mins until just set, then remove and cool. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and  when cold refrigerate overnight, covered.

Serve cheesecake with the raspberries which have been left to thaw in a bowl with the sugar, then gently stirred.

Serves 12-16

Variations: use gingersnap biscuits instead of plain ones and omit cocoa. Serve with fresh or frozen berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or slices of fresh mango.

Rhubarb Syrup Crumb Cake

Rhubarb grows like a weed in our garden, so I’m constantly looking for new ways to cook it and giving away what we can’t eat.

This recipe by Annabel Crabb is so good you simply have to try it. I’ve adjusted the method slightly and cut down a bit on the sugar in the rhubarb. The cake would go well with other poached fruit, such as quinces, pears or figs and instead of almonds you could use walnuts or other nuts.

If you don’t like the acidity of sour cream or crème fraîche, serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but I think sour cream provides a perfect contrast to the sweetness of the cake.Rhubarb Syrup Crumb Cake

Cake:
100g almond meal (or make from whole or slivered blanched almonds)
1 heaped cup stale coarse breadcrumbs (preferably sourdough but any kind will do)
75g whole un-blanched almonds
1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
½ tsp baking powder
Rhubarb:
400g rhubarb (as red/pink as possible)
½ cup water
3-4 Tbs sugar
To serve:
Sour cream or crème fraîche

Preheat oven to 170°C and grease a 20cm cake tin. If tin is metal line with baking paper, but if it’s silicone just spray with oil.

If you don’t have almond meal make your own: place blanched almonds in food processor and process till fairly fine, then tip into a bowl. Blitz bread in the processor until you have coarse crumbs then tip onto a baking tray. Add whole un-blanched almonds to the processor and chop coarsely, leaving some bits the size of a pea. Add to the breadcrumbs on the baking tray and spread out evenly. Place in the oven for about 5 mins or until golden then remove and cool. Watch carefully as they burn easily.

Place eggs and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl and whip with electric beaters until thick. Continue to whip while gradually adding the oil. With a spatula, fold in the almond meal, toasted breadcrumbs/almonds and baking powder, sifted. Tip into cake tin and bake for 45 mins or until golden, risen and firm to touch. Remove from the oven and when cool remove from tin. If cake has puffed up leaving a big air pocket underneath (mine did) just flatten it down gently with your hand.

Wash and trim rhubarb and cut into 4cm lengths. Place in a bowl with the water, mix to wet them all, then tip into a baking dish with the water and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with sugar then bake for 10-15 mins or until tender but still holding its shape.

An hour or so before serving, drain rhubarb and keep the syrup. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and drizzle with the syrup. Serve each slice of cake with a pile of poached rhubarb and some crème fraîche or sour cream.

Serves 10

Useful Tip: don’t throw stale bread away. Make breadcrumbs in the food processor and store them in the freezer to make this cake or to use in a stuffing for roast chicken.

Lemon Slice

Having offered to take a dessert to a family picnic for more than twenty people I decided that a slice, which could be cut into 20 or 30 squares, was the answer.

For some time I’ve been wanting to create a lemon version of Galaktoboureku, the traditional Greek Custard Slice. I thought I would make a lemon-flavoured custard instead of the usual vanilla one, sandwich it between layers of crispy fillo pastry and drizzle it with lemon syrup, rather than a plain syrup which the Greek version uses.

Well here is the result. Matthew enjoyed the leftovers which I called Lemon Slice for his benefit. Any mention of custard would have put him off. For a smaller version just halve the recipe and make it in a standard 22cm cake tin.

Lemon Slice

125g butter, melted
About half a packet of Fillo pastry, thawed if frozen (about 16 sheets)
2½ cups milk
2 cups cream
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups (200g) semolina
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups Lemon Curd (preferably home-made)
Syrup:
Juice of 1 large or 2 smaller lemons
¾ cup sugar
To serve:
Whipped or pouring cream (optional)

Line a buttered 20x30cm roasting pan or deep baking tin with about 8 layers of fillo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter and cutting or overlapping the sheets as necessary. If the pan is non-stick you don’t need to line it with baking paper, but if in doubt you’re better off doing so.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat milk, cream and sugar until simmering point, then add semolina and cook, stirring, until thickened. Add lemon curd and beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Pour into the pan and spread evenly. Cover with another 8 layers or so of fillo pastry, brushing each one with melted butter.

Bake for 45 mins or until set and lightly golden. Meanwhile heat lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer the syrup for a minute then cool a bit.

Remove slice from the oven and drizzle the warm lemon syrup evenly over the top. Cool then cut into squares. Serve warm or cold, with or without whipped cream or pouring cream.

Cuts into about 20 or more small squares

Bread & Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas

Matthew doesn’t like bananas or custard, especially if they’re served together as Banana Custard. A few years at boarding school in the UK during his impressionable youth is to blame. He describes over-ripe greenish-black banana slices mixed into lumpy, cold, congealed custard. You can just imagine it.

I grew up in the UK with my mother’s version of this traditional British dessert – hot, creamy custard with perfect slices of banana folded through, all topped with lightly toasted coconut flakes. Delicious.

In the early days of our marriage I tried to persuade Matthew that my banana custard was different. He would love it. But no-way-José could I persuade him to try it. I had never been to boarding school, he said, so I had no idea how strongly these culinary disasters were etched on his soul.

For the first six months of married life we lived in a granny flat tacked onto a large house which was owned by an elderly widower. From time to time we invited Tom for dinner and once or twice he invited us back. He wasn’t much of a cook and his repertoire was fairly basic. Roast hogget (somewhere in age between lamb and mutton) with vegetables, cooked in a pressure cooker to within an inch of their lives, by which time they all took on the same greyish hue, followed by a simple dessert.

As I helped Tom to clear away the dishes from the main course I spotted the dessert on the sideboard. Banana Custard. This is going to be fun, I thought.

Now it’s important to point out that Tom had quite clearly used the boarding school recipe book. And for those who don’t know him, I should also point out that Matthew was about five years into what ended up being a successful career in diplomacy.

Tom served three generous helpings of Banana Custard. Matthew glanced at me and rolled his eyes. He could see I was on the verge of uncontrollable laughter. He was not even slightly amused. Well, the diplomat rose to the occasion and you would have been proud of him. He ate the lot, then looked at me with an expression of relief that clearly said “Thank God that’s over.”

I really don’t know what came over me, but I heard myself saying “That was delicious Tom, Banana Custard is Matthew’s absolute favourite.” And with that Tom served Matthew a huge second helping.

By the time he had finished the second bowl Matthew was looking somewhat green around the gills. But he didn’t follow through with his threat to kill me when we got home, divorce proceedings were avoided and we’re still together 40 years later.

This Bread and Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas, from one of my favourite UK food writers Nigel Slater, is a 21st century update on Banana Custard. So delicious even Matthew eats it!

Bread & Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas

300g brioche or croissants
1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp cinnamon
400ml can coconut milk
400ml milk (or use half milk and half cream)
3 eggs
3 Tbs brown sugar
Pinch salt
A sprinkle of sugar for the topping
For the bananas:
2 Tbs sugar
50g butter
4 large bananas
Zest of one orange
To serve:
Thick cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a baking dish (approximately 22cm) or 6-8 individual ones. Lightly toast the sliced brioche or halved croissants until golden-brown. Arrange in dish, overlapping slightly. If using small dishes you will need to cut the brioche or croissants into smaller pieces.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush with a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. With a hand whisk, beat cardamom, vanilla seeds or extract, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl until combined.

Pour custard over brioche and sprinkle a little more sugar over the top. If using individual dishes you can fill them to almost the top, but you may have some custard left over. Dessert can be made ahead to this point and kept in the fridge for several hours. Bake for 25 minutes or until nicely browned and the custard is just set. Cool for 10-15 mins then serve with the bananas.

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways or slice on the diagonal. Heat sugar in a large non-stick frying pan. Swirl it around and when melted and caramel colour add the butter and swirl to combine. Add the bananas and turn to coat them with caramel on both sides. Cook very briefly or they will become too soft. Sprinkle with orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding and thick cream if liked.

Serves 6-8

Gluten-free Christmas Pudding

Christmas puddings keep for months and improve with age, so I usually make them in October or November. One for the family and a couple of smaller ones to give to friends. I collect pudding bowls in second hand stores for this purpose.

In cooler climates you can store them in the pantry, but in Australia I prefer to keep them in a second fridge we have in the garage. Sometimes I make two large puddings and keep one to serve at a “Christmas in July” dinner party. And if that doesn’t happen the second pudding will still be delicious the following Christmas, more than 12 months after it was made!

I decided to adapt my traditional recipe to make it gluten-free. Still perfectly nice for everyone, but suitable for a growing percentage of the population who don’t tolerate gluten. A food processor makes quick work of the breadcrumbs, grated apple, chopped figs and pureed orange. Some people don’t like mixed peel and glacé cherries, so I have included substitutions for these.

The number of puddings you end up with from this recipe depends on the size of the bowls – two big ones, or one big one and two small ones, or four small ones. This year I doubled this recipe and ended up with 8 puddings of various sizes as you can see in the photo.

Gluten-free Christmas Pudding150g currants
200g dried figs, stalks removed then chopped
200g sultanas
200g raisins
60g dried mixed peel or dried apricots, chopped
60g glace cherries or dried sour cherries
60g blanched slivered almonds (or walnuts or macadamias)
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored & grated
½ tsp salt
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
350g gluten-free bread made into crumbs in food processor
4 eggs, beaten
150-200g dark brown sugar
½ cup brandy or rum
1 cup gluten-free beer or sherry
1 Tbs black treacle
250g unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 orange, blitzed in food processor, skin and all
Brandy Butter to serve

Place all the ingredients in a very large bowl and mix well. Choose 2 to 4 pudding bowls, depending on size, grease lightly then fill with pudding mixture. They don’t rise much so bowls can be filled almost to the top.

Cover puddings with buttered baking paper, butter side down, and tie down with string. Steam puddings (see below) for about 5 hours or until evenly browned. Cool then cover with a fresh piece of baking paper or wrap in foil and store in the fridge.

Steaming the puddings: If you have a very large stock-making saucepan you can steam two puddings at the same time, one on top of the other. Place a metal trivet or an upturned saucer in the bottom of the pan, then the first pudding, then an upturned side plate and then the second pudding. Pour hot water in to come halfway up the bottom pudding. Hopefully everything fits and you can put the lid on. If not use two pans, or make half the recipe and just one pudding. Turn on the heat and let the water simmer for 5 hours, topping up from time to time as necessary.

The other way to steam puddings is in the oven. Choose a deep roasting pan into which the puddings all fit. Pre-heat oven to 150°C. Place bowls in roasting pan. Pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the bowls. Cover the entire roasting pan with foil and crimp it under to seal. You may need two pieces if it’s not very wide. Place in the oven for 5 hours. Check after 2  hours and top up the water as necessary.

To serve, steam puddings again for 2-3 hours and serve with Brandy Butter.

Makes 2-4 puddings

Strawberry Panna Cotta

When I was growing up in Kent – otherwise known as the garden of England – we ate everything in season. In early June the local strawberries were ready and there were a few places where you could pick your own. They were cheap and plentiful, so we ate big bowls full, with a dollop of double cream and a sprinkling of sugar, just to add a little crunch. Now, thanks to imports from warmer climes you can buy strawberries pretty much all year round wherever you live in the world. But they never taste the same as when you pick your own and eat them the same day.

Like bacon and eggs, strawberries and cream is a marriage made in heaven. As I was looking for something to serve at a dinner party recently I came across this beautiful dessert on a site called Home Cooking Adventure.

You can make them the day before, so they’re perfect for entertaining.

Strawberry Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta:
400ml milk
400ml cream
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 Tbs gelatine
4 Tbs water
Strawberry Sauce:
750g strawberries
2-3 Tbs sugar, to taste
2 Tbs water

Place milk, cream and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile place gelatine and water in a small bowl then zap in the microwave briefly to dissolve. Mix gelatine mixture and vanilla into cream then cool a bit and divide among 8 attractive glasses such as Martini glasses. Chill overnight.

Save four nice strawberries then wash and hull the rest. Cut into four and place in a saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Blend until smooth in a blender, then pass through a sieve to remove seeds. Chill overnight.

To serve, divide strawberry sauce among the 8 glasses. Top each with half a strawberry.

Serves 8

Variations: use raspberries instead of strawberries.

No-Bake Raspberry Cheesecake

We were staying with Catherine in Newcastle for a few days when she said “Oh by the way, we’re invited to a BBQ lunch tomorrow and we’re taking a dessert. What shall we make?”

We found cream cheese, cream and 2 punnets of raspberries in the fridge and a few other ingredients in the pantry. The result was this delicious no-bake cheesecake which was popular with the adults and kids alike.

Make this the day before serving.

IMG_0695300g white chocolate
500g Philadelphia-style cream cheese (at room temp)
300ml thick cream
3 Tbs caster sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) raspberries
½ cup red jam (preferably raspberry)
About 12 sweet biscuits or sponge fingers
To serve:
1-2 cups fresh raspberries
Honey to drizzle

Melt chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. In another bowl, with electric beaters, beat cream cheese, cream and sugar until smooth. Add melted chocolate and mix well.

Line a loaf tin with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang. With a fork, mash 1 cup raspberries with the jam on a plate. Spread half the cream cheese mixture in the loaf tin. Spread the berry mixture over the top. Then spread the rest of the cream cheese mixture over the jam mixture. Arrange a single layer of biscuits or sponge fingers over the surface, pushing them in slightly – this will be the base. Rectangular or square ones are easier than round ones. Bring excess plastic wrap over the top to cover, then refrigerate overnight.

No-Bake Raspberry Cheesecake

To serve, tip cheesecake onto serving plate and remove plastic. Arrange raspberries over the top and drizzle with honey.

Serves 12

Variation: use strawberries instead of raspberries

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp

You have to add quite a bit of sugar to rhubarb to make it palatable. But a friend told me recently that she cooks it with a little salt instead of sugar and eats it with Greek yoghurt.

So as we had rhubarb in the garden I decided to experiment. I mixed all the rhubarb pieces with a little melted butter (or you could use olive oil) then rolled half in some raw sugar and arranged them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. I then added a little salt to the remaining rhubarb, mixed it well and arranged the sticks on the other half of the baking sheet. I baked them in a hot oven for about 15 mins or until they were “al dente”.

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The sweet ones were, as you would expect, quite sweet and delicious served with meringues and whipped cream. Interestingly the salty ones were not unsweet – the salt having brought out the natural sweetness of the fruit. Serve for breakfast or dessert with thick Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey if you need more sweetness. They would also go well as a garnish for duck. chicken or pork.

My third experiment was to cook the rhubarb with some fruit cordial such as Ribena – an idea I read somewhere once and filed away in my head. The result was a delicious ruby red compote. Rhubarb and strawberries go well together, so I used the compote to make a tasty variation on a traditional rhubarb crumble.

500g rhubarbunnamed (1)
½ cup blackcurrant or raspberry cordial (see note)
1 punnet strawberries
125g butter
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 Tbs self-raising flour
4 Tbs rolled oats
4 Tbs slivered or flaked almonds
1 tsp vanilla essence

Wash and trim rhubarb and cut into 2- 3cm lengths. Place in a bowl, add the cordial and mix. Cover and microwave for 5 mins or until cooked but not mushy. Meanwhile wash and hull strawberries and cut them into quarters. Grease a small round or oblong pudding dish. Mix strawberries with rhubarb and spread over base. Melt butter then mix in sugar, flour, oats, nuts and vanilla. Spoon evenly over the fruit, using a fork to close any gaps and give an even covering. Can be made ahead to this stage.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Bake for 25 mins or until golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, cream or labneh flavoured with a little icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence.

Serves 4-6

Notes: if preferred double the rolled oats and leave out the nuts or double the nuts and leave out the oats. Instead of using fruit cordial to cook the rhubarb, use a little water and sugar to taste.

Chocolate and Ginger Cheesecake

Chocolate and Ginger CheesecakeWith a food processor this dessert is quick to make. Really chocolatey and not too sweet.

Crust:
125g Ginger Nut biscuits
50g butter
Filling:
250g mascarpone or sour cream
500g ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2-3 Tbs sugar, to taste
150g dark chocolate, melted in microwave
2-3 Tbs crystallised ginger, chopped
To serve:
Labneh
Icing sugar
Crystallised ginger or stem ginger in syrup, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 170°C. Place biscuits in food processor and process until fine. Melt butter in microwave, mix in biscuit crumbs then tip into a 20cm (8″) springform pan which has been greased and bottom lined with baking paper. Press the mixture evenly over the base of the tin. Bake for 10 mins.

While biscuit crust is cooking make filling. Wipe out the food processor. Place all ingredients except ginger in processor and mix till well combined, stopping to scrape down the sides halfway. Add chopped ginger and process briefly, just to combine.

When ready remove biscuit base from the oven tip in the filling and smooth the top. Return to the oven for 30 mins or until just set, but still a bit wobbly when shaken. Cool cheesecake, then refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Dust the top of the cheesecake with icing sugar. Serve with Labneh or whipped cream, with some chopped ginger and a little icing sugar mixed in.

Serves 10-12