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Look, I know we’ve had torrential rain today. Don’t let that dampen your holiday spirit. With a UV lamp, a summery dessert and a sandpit to rest your feet in – or a handy cat litter tray – you can work all kinds of magic.
Here’s the summery dessert you’re looking for, courtesy of the frankly amazing Cheeky Kitchen: Plump and Perfect Berry Tart. It is fruity, yummy and looks all kinds of impressive. Best of all, it’s so easy that even kitchen dunces like myself can put it together in half an hour. I had to take twice as many step-by-step photos this week, just to get this post beyond two paragraphs.
So, here we go. Start with ready-rolled puff pastry (you can buy the stuff you roll out yourself, of course, but since you need to end up with two identical rectangles, you might’s well let a machine do the rolling for you). My box unexpectedly contained only one sheet of pastry, so I cut it in half. Then flour or grease a baking tray and lay the rectangles one on top of the other on the tray. That goes in the oven by itself for about 15 minutes. I brushed mine with milk first, because I never pass up an opportunity to use a pastry brush.
Once the pastry was out of the oven, I couldn’t help noticing that it was approximately twice the height of the tart in the photograph. I’d have a job balancing fruit on top of that, so I did a bit of cautious prodding to let the air out, until the pastry had reduced in size enough to go at it with a rolling pin.
You roll down the centre to create a little pastry well. Don’t be alarmed if you’re surrounded by little flying pieces of puff pastry dust at this point; just don’t roll too enthusiastically.
On goes the yoghurt. The recipe calls for vanilla flavoured Greek yoghurt, mixed with a vanilla bean. I used just plain Greek yoghurt, mostly because – I confess – the natural stuff is cheaper, plus I hadn’t the first clue where to find a vanilla bean in Tesco (do they come in ones? How large are they? How would you scan one at the till? A mystery).
Then comes the fruit. I stuck to the suggested kiwi fruit, raspberries and blackberries, because the latter two are in season at the moment and are on sale. You could use whatever fruit you prefer, of course. At the moment, I’d stick to the berries: it’s been a good year for berry-growing, and they’re HUGE. I did have a small crisis when I got out my two kiwi fruit and suddenly realised I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with them. We’ve never eaten them at home before. The last time I had this kind of existential dilemma, I was faced with chopping up a leek and couldn’t remember which bits you actually eat (don’t judge me).
Google to the rescue.
Turns out you chop off the ends, peel and then dice. It’s ok for the middle bits to stay in. Isn’t it amazing what helpful people have put on the internet?
Finally, microwave some clear honey for a few seconds, and drizzle over as you wish. Because I’d used unsweetened yoghurt, I ended up using quite a lot of honey. But if you’d gone for vanilla yoghurt, you probably wouldn’t need very much.
And there it is.
Doesn’t that look fabulous? You chop it up with a pizza slicer too, which makes any dessert worth having, in my book.
Deliciousness: The combination of fruit, pastry, yoghurt and honey is wonderful. Depending on the types of fruit and yoghurt you’ve used, you may need to sweeten to a greater or lesser extent. But you could always have honey on the table, so people could help themselves. Or eat it with icecream.
Complexity: A great deal easier than pie. It’s done in thirty minutes or less, even if you’re the kind of idiot who doesn’t know how to chop up a kiwi fruit.
Washing-up pile: A baking tray, a rolling pin, and a few spoons. A cinch.
Casualties: None. I didn’t even add to my burn collection. A winner!
Happy new year, cakery bakers! It’s been a while, I admit: after spending the Christmas season happily gluttonising dessert and chocolate with every meal, I entered January feeling distinctly and uncharacteristically restrained. For a couple of weeks all I wanted was savoury things; thankfully, however, the brief madness has now passed. So on, on in our quest to become Masters of the (Sweetmeaty) Universe: by the power of Greyskull!
This weekend I had the twin ambitions of making something comforting (after a long fortnight back at work) and something that would enable me to use the six empty ramekins I’ve inherited from various Gu desserts. Step forward, Nigella’s Glitzy Chocolate Puds, from her Nigella Express book (a very well-received Christmas present). The ingredients list was short and easily obtained, and the little puddings had the added novelty of being strewn with crushed Crunchie bars. Yum.
We ran into a little trouble when the Other Half came back from the supermarket accidentally carrying 85% cocoa Ecuadorean chocolate bars. I love dark chocolate, and almost always prefer it to the glass-and-a-half kind, but this was so strong it made our tongues roll up in our heads. In the end the puddings didn’t really suffer, and we lightened the chocolate glaze just enough to swallow by adding milk, a sprinkle of sugar and a drop of cream.
I think these qualify as puddings rather than cakes because they’re very eggy, and not very floury. You whisk the eggs and sugar (groan) until it’s thick, then add a bit of flour, some bicarb, and melted chocolate and butter. They rise in the oven like little soufflés – and sink like them too, afterwards, though the chocolate glaze and crunchie topping means this isn’t obvious. The mixture makes enough for eight ramekins, and I only had six – more Gu purchases are in the offing – so I poured the last bit into a normal cake tin and made a mutant puddingy mess to be consumed at our leisure. Two Crunchie bars make far too much Crunchie rubble for only six or even eight puddings, so don’t worry if you need to make more. We’ll have to eat the rest of ours from the bowl. Shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.
Deliciousness: Light and soft with chocolate sauce and honeycomb surprises throughout. Most importantly, they look impressive, so can be presented to guests as well as snaffled secretly in front of the telly.
Complexity: Surprisingly easy, actually. Even the whisking went without a hitch this time.
Washing-up pile: Eight, if you don’t include the ramekins. A messy clean-up, though, especially with potent 85% chocolate covering every surface.
Casualties: My newly washed jeans, after quite a bit of the pudding mixture made a bid for freedom down my leg. Shame I didn’t notice till I’d brushed up against seventeen other surfaces…
Phew. What a palaver.
This week’s cakery episode has proved beyond all doubt, assuming I had any in the first place, that the type of complex, delicate dessert-making one would require to work in a fancy restaurant, say, or to entertain a minor member of the Royal family, is not really my forte. I got a little cocky, I admit. ‘I bake now’, I thought, ‘it’s time to crank it up a notch’.
My attempt at cranking came from a friend at work, who brought this marvel into the office last week: a chocolate and ginger tart, from the BBC Good Food website. It was so impressive looking, and so self-evidently out of my league, that it seemed an ideal candidate. It also contained at least one Silly Item (something you’d only ever buy if you were making this: in this case, liquid glucose), and one of those vague-on-purpose recipes that assume you already know exactly what you’re doing. A false assumption in my case, I need hardly say.
The base of the tart is chocolate pastry, which I approached with a small measure of confidence after the pecan pie. What I didn’t know was that chocolate pastry is approximately 14.5 million times harder than normal pastry. It simply doesn’t stick together. After a frustrating couple of attempts to lever it over the pie dish, where it crumpled into a pile of shattered dreams, I engaged the services of the Other Half, and wielding two spatulas apiece we got it into the dish mostly intact. I did a bit of emergency surgery on the gaping holes, and it was ready for the freezer-lentils-oven routine. In the meantime, I melted white chocolate in a bowl, and dark chocolate and the glucose in a saucepan, and the Other Half whittled lumps of ginger out of our ancient jar of conserve. Ever so helpfully, the recipe called for ‘four lumps’ of ginger, without specifying how big the lumps were supposed to be, so we made a guess. I had a similar problem when it asked for lightly whipped cream – how long is a light whipping? (A question I’m sure more than one public school boy has had occasion to ask in the past.)
On and on it went, with cooling and melting and mixing and chilling, and I ran from bowl to microwave to stove in increasingly sweaty agitation, till eventually we had to shut it in the fridge and watch an episode of Merlin to recover. Once we’d calmed down a bit we let it out again and ate a slice. It’s absolutely yummy. And so it should be, the little attention-seeker.
Deliciousness: It’s beautiful. But very, very rich: eat it in small slices for maximum appreciation and minimum nausea.
Complexity: Despite the dismissive ‘Moderately Easy’ rating given to it by the BBC, this was the most nerve-wrackingly complicated dessert I’ve made so far. With the exception of the chocolate pastry, none of the steps are especially difficult in isolation; there’s just a lot of them. I found it very helpful to have more than one pair of hands.
Washing-up pile: An astonishing thirty-one items. For special occasions only, methinks.
Casualties: My hitherto untroubled blood pressure.