Chocolate coffee cupcakes with orange cheesecake icing

Chocolate cupcake with orange cheesecake frostingThese incredibly easy cupcakes use the magical reaction of vinegar and baking powder to create a light and fluffy texture but you’d honestly never know the vinegar was in there I promise. Because of this kitchen alchemy they are completely dairy free, until you smother them in this delicious icing that is, in which the orange and vanilla balance beautifully against the coffee in the cake, but if you wanted to keep them vegan a simple icing of orange juice and icing sugar would still be lovely.

Super-simple chocolate coffee cupcakes with orange cheesecake icing
Makes 12 cupcakes or 20 fairy cakes

225g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
225g granulated sugar
½ tsp fine salt (if using flakes – Maldon for preference – powder them in a pestle & mortar first)
1½ tsp good-quality instant coffee (I like Kenco Millicano wholebean instant)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or Madagascan vanilla extract)
6 tbsp olive oil
For the icing:
50g white chocolate
100g full-fat cream cheese
50g soft unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
Zest of 1 small orange
250g icing sugar
Edible glitter, to decorate (optional*)

Ready on for the rest of the recipe…

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial Few things capture the scent and flavour of early summer as well as elderflowers and homemade cordial is my favourite use for these aromatic beauties. There are hundreds of recipes out there, almost all of them based very simply on varying quantities of flowerheads, lemon, sugar and (optional) citric acid. The method is similarly very easy: measure, stir, steep is almost all there is to it, but there are a few key things to bear in mind which will ensure exemplary results….

1. PLAN AHEAD. Citric acid is often listed as an optional ingredient, however if you want your cordial to last more than a week or two it’s actually pretty darn essential, and generally not as easy to get hold of as most writers would have you believe. Recipes will tell you to seek it out in chemists but I checked with the chemists of all chemists – Boots – and they only sell it on prescription. You may have some luck with a small friendly non-chain store, or alternatively I’m told many kitchen/homewares stores selling home-brew kits will stock it. I buy mine from a lovely Warwickshire company called Fox’s Spices (01789 266420) – they don’t have a website but if you give them a buzz they’ll send you a catalogue in the post. Citric acid lasts almost forever, so buy plenty and then you wont have to worry next year.

2. PICK FRESH. Pick your elderflowers early in the morning on a dry day – rain does the flowers no favours and their aroma is stronger first thing. Whatever you do, don’t pick them until you have procured all your other ingredients, as the aroma vanishes within hours of picking.

3. PICK EARLY.  Avoid older ‘turning’ elderflowers – the smell is quite unpleasant in the finished product. Make your cordial at the beginning of the season in late May and early June (although this can vary – my Elder has already finished for this year, but elsewhere in the country they’re only just starting to bloom), and pick only the freshest-looking, bright white blooms.

Now you’re ready to make your cordial. I’d make as much as you possibly can, as it makes excellent presents (the commercial stuff can’t hold a candle to it, and your friends & relatives will love you forever). Most recipes will tell you it lasts at most a few months, but I’ve found (with this recipe at least) that it will easily last a year if you sterilise your bottles before decanting, and keep it nice and cool – I keep my sealed bottles in a box in the garage, and opened bottles in the fridge. There’ll be some sediment after a few months but just give it a shake before pouring.

Read on for the recipe…

Gin and Tonic Granita

Gin & Tonic GranitaMy mother-in-law is utterly addicted to G&Ts, as indeed are most members of my husband’s family (must be something genetic?), so when a friend told me that delicious. magazine had run a recipe for a gin & tonic granita recently I took it as fate, as the whole horde of in-laws were due to visit the very next weekend.

Being a cautious soul, I decided to make the recipe well in advance so that I could remake or replan as necessary, so the day before I whipped it up and tested it on my good friend Merialc and her lovely partner. It was, to say the least, a triumph. So delicious that we all scoffed it down, and so alcoholic that we promptly forgot it was meant to be saved for the next day and ate the lot! Oh well…..

Be sure to use both gin and tonic water that are of good quality – it really will make a difference to the final result.  Normally I’m a Sainsbury’s basics tonic water gal, but for this I used the Fevertree brand, which has a lovely complex flavour that survives the freezing process. I’d resist the urge to use a low-cal or diet tonic water too, as the artificial sweeteners will affect the way the granita freezes.  For the gin, I used Juniper Green dry organic, but something like Bombay Sapphire would also work well.
Read on for the recipe…

Seville orange curd tart

Seville orange curd tart

I adore fruit curd tarts, but finding the right balance between creamy unctuousness and tart citrus can be difficult for any but the most experienced pâtissier to achieve. Seville oranges are therefore a novice’s dream, as they are both sharp and bitter – but without too much of the intense mouth-puckering sourness of a lemon – and therefore make the most divine curd.

Sevilles have a very limited season (December-February), but they freeze well, either whole or already juiced, and if you make them into curd you can store them in this form in the fridge for a couple of months and bring a ray of sunshine to any day.  They’re available for just a few more weeks so, having made my annual batch of marmalade, I looked to this tart recipe which is almost word-for-word from Nigella Lawson’s excellent book, “How To Eat“. Pastry making is more of a scientific procedure than any other form of cookery, and it requires precise balances of ingredients, but my inclusion of a little lemon peel in the base is an addition which doesn’t interfere with the balance of the pastry.

Ingredients for the pastry:
120g extra fine plain flour
60g butter (cold from the fridge), in small cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Pinch finely grated lemon zest
Ingredients for the filling:
3 eggs + 2 extra yolks
100g caster sugar
75g muscavado sugar
4 Seville oranges – zest & juice
150g butter, in small cubes

First, make the pastry case by mixing the flour and butter until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs (I recommend using a Magimix, or other food processor if possible, as it keeps the mixture cooler than rubbing-in with your fingers). Nigella recommends freezing the butter & flour for 10 mins before mixing, but so long as the butter is cold and hard, and you work quickly, this isn’t essential. Beat the egg yolk with the lemon juice and zest and add to the flour/butter mix, with the motor running on the processor, or whilst mixing with a fork if doing by hand. Keep mixing until the dough forms a smooth ball – you may need to add a few drops of iced water to bring it all together. Leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour, well wrapped in cling film.

Preheat the oven to 200oC/180fan/Gas mark 6. Roll the pastry out nice and thin, using as little flour as possible (you don’t want baked flour coating the base of your lovely tart!). Use the pastry to line a 20cm fluted loose-bottomed tart tin (the fluted edge isn’t essential, but it looks so pretty and is less likely to show up flaws in a novice pastry-maker). I like to gently prick the pastry base to stop it puffing up, but make sure you don’t plough big holes for the filling to pour out of. If you’re particularly concerned about shrinkage you can chill the pastry again, in the tart tin, for another 30 minutes, but I’m too impatient, and I’ve never had a problem yet. Trim the top edge of the tart with a small sharp knife, and line with a little sheet of greaseproof paper and some baking beans (or dried rice and lentils). A useful tip here is to dampen the greaseproof paper and scrunch it up into a ball before flattening out again, you’ll then be able to neatly line the soft delicate pastry without pressing big rigid marks in it. Put the tart tin on a baking sheet and pop in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and baking beans/rice and allow the tart to get some colour back in the oven for another 15 mins at the lower temperature of 180oC/160fan/Gas mark 4. Keep a beady eye on it for the second half of cooking – it may not require the full 15 minutes and overly browned pastry is a friend to no-one.

Allow the tart to cool whilst you make the filling. Off the hob, in a smallish heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and both sugars together (I recommend using a metal coil whisk, in which case don’t use your best non-stick pan!). You want it to be well mixed without any discernible traces of sugar granules, and definitely no lumps. Try not to get the sugar up the sides of the pan or it will stick. Whisk in the juice and zest of the Seville oranges, and then the butter cubes. Now put the pan on a medium hob and stir constantly and evenly whilst the mixture melts, seethes and starts to bubble. I’d switch to a wooden spoon at this stage, preferably one with a corner to it so you can get to all edges of the pan. Once it comes to the boil take it off the heat and pour straight into the tart shell and leave in the fridge to cool and set. When ready to serve, I recommend lightly glazing the top with a blowtorch (extra sugar should not be required, unless you’re going for a glass-like finish). Don’t use a grill as the heat will not be direct enough and you’ll end up with scorched edges on your pastry. Serve as it is or with a spoonful of creme fraiche.

Makes 1 x 20cm tart – enough to serve 4 greedy people, or 8 with a more restrained slice each.