Carrot Cardamom Loaf Cake with Burnt Honey Cream Cheese Icing

I have always loved carrot cake (I even had it as one tier of our wedding cake!). I tend to nowadays veer towards flavours that are new and interesting but there are times when the classics are called for and comforting. With the global shutdown for coronavirus currently confining us to our homes and lending an air of anxiety to our daily lives, I decided to make a classic carrot loaf cake (with a twist of course!) for an Easter treat.

The recipe is based on standard carrot loaves, using oil instead of butter and brown sugar for depth of flavour. I used half plain and half wholemeal flour, but all plain flour will work too. I also used a mix of dark soft brown sugar and caster sugar, but for this type of rustic cake I think it is fine to play fast and loose with whatever sugar you have (espeically given the current shopping restrictions too!).  Cinnamon and mixed spice are typical additions to carrot cake, but I chose to add some cardamom too for an extra layer of flavour.

Burnt honey was something I came across in my browsing of recipes and was a bit of a revelation! If you have a really good honey perhaps with citrus flavour this would work beautifully. I only had a standard honey in my cupboard which is perfectly fine too. The bicarbonate of soda aids in the caramelisation of the honey. The recipe makes extra honey but use this can be kept and used in any recipe or situation you use honey. If you don’t want to make burnt honey a little plain honey or as an alternative some citrus zest would also work well in the icing.

Happy Baking!

Suzanne x

 

Carrot Cardamom Loaf Cake with Burnt Honey Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients for the Cake:

  • 150ml rapeseed oil (or other oil), plus extra for greasing
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 100g dark soft brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 300g grated carrot
  • 90g plain flour
  • 90g wholemeal flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground cardamom
  • 1tsp mixed spice

Ingredients for Burnt honey:

  • 120ml honey
  • 1/8 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 30mls water

For the Cream Cheese Icing :

  • 50g butter
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 180g tub cream cheese
  • 3-4 tbsp burnt honey plus extra for drizzling

Method:

  1. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.  Grease a loaf tin with some oil and line with baking parchment.
  2. Place the grated carrot, rapeseed oil, eggs and sugars into a large bowl and whisk to combine. .
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.
  4. Pour the dry ingredients into the carrot mixture and stir well to combine.
  5. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin.
  6. Bake for approx 60mins, until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean.
  7. Leave the tin to cool for 10mins before turning out onto a wire wrack to cool completely.
  8. To make the burnt honey, heat the honey in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it starts to bubble and turn a darker brown colour. Reduce heat to low and gently add they tiny amount of bicarbonate soda. Be careful as it will bubbble. Stir using a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the water, stirring to combine. Set aside to cool.
  9. To make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar together in a stand mixer. Add the cream cheese and beat again. Finally add burnt honey to taste.
  10. Once the cake is cool, spread with the icing and drizzle extra honey over the top.
  11. As this cake has a cream cheese icing store in the fridge.

 

 

Healthier Chocolate Beetroot Bundt with Orange Coconut Cream Ganache

It was my birthday this week (I’m an April fool!), and this year I had time to make cake. We are currently in a global shutdown to combat a coronavirus pandemic and it is an anxious time for everyone I think. We have to live day-by-day and hope that we can overcome it together. In the midst of all the gloom it is important to keep busy and do things you love…and that would include baking!

I chose to make this Chocolate Beetroot Bundt cake from a desire to maintain a nourishing and healthy diet at this time. While no cake is healthy, this one uses honey as a sweetener, rapeseed oil in place of butter and of course has one of your 5-a-day in the form of nutritious beetroot! It is also dairy-free, making it suitable for those with dairy intolerances or dietary preferences.

The recipe is adapted from one by Green Kitchen Stories, who write wonderful vegetarian cookbooks. I have made changes to their Decadent Beetroot Chocolate cake by substituting some flour for wholemeal, adding in ground almonds for added moisture and increasing the chocolate content. I also decided to go all-out (it was my birthday after all!) and add a vegan Chocolate Orange Ganache icing, which really makes the cake! I sometimes pair beetroot with orange in a salad and I think the flavour combination works well here too. I love vegan ganache (perhaps more so than regular ganache actually!), made with coconut cream it is equally as rich as that made with dairy cream but has added flavour. Any leftover could be rolled into delicious vegan truffles.

As shopping and stock availability is not always easy in the current global shutdown, feel free to make variations with whatever you have available. If you don’t have a bundt tin, this recipe would also works well in an 8″ or 9″ round cake tin. I have used a mix of wholemeal and plain flour but if the flour shortage seen in supermarkets here is widespread, feel free to use any flour you have, eg. self-raising (omit the baking powder), or gluten-free or other flour alternatives.  Ground almonds are also a non-essential element. The original recipe calls for 70% dark chocolate but I only had 54.5% available so clearly either will work.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, it is an easy one to make so kids can be roped in too. And perhaps a nice nourishing choice for an Easter treat too!

Happy baking!

Suzanne x

Chocolate Beetroot Bundt Cake with Orange Coconut Cream Ganache

Ingredients for the Cake:

  • 150ml rapeseed oil (olive would work too), plus extra for greasing
  • 120ml honey
  • 75g dark chocolate (70% best but I used 54.5%)
  • 250g grated raw red beetroot
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • 100g wholemeal plain flour
  • 100g plain flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 75g good quality cocoa powder
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt

Ingredients for Ganache:

  • 150g coconut cream (can take cream settled at top of tin of coconut milk or use a small tin coconut cream)
  • 150g 54.5% dark chocolate
  • Grated zest of 1 small orange

For decoration (optional):

  • Whatever you have available! I used dried rose petals, other dried flowers, toasted nuts, sliced fruits etc would also work well.

Method:

  1. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.  Grease a 20cm bundt pan with oil. I use a silicone bundt mould which is best to avoid sticking. If using a metal one it may be advisable to also sprinkle with flour to avoid sticking. If using a cake tin, grease and line.
  2. Heat the rapeseed oil, honey and dark chocolate together on a low heat in a medium sized pan.
  3. Add the grated beetroot, beaten eggs and vanilla and stir to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Add the ground almonds.
  5. Pour the dry ingredients into the chocolate beetroot mixture and stir well to combine.
  6. Pour the mixture into your chosen cake tin.
  7. Bake for 25-35mins, until the top is cracked and a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool for 10mins before turning out onto a wire wrack to cool completely.
  9. To make the ganache, place the chocolate and coconut cream in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir to melt chocolate. Add the orange zest and stir. Pour over the cooled bundt cake. Decorate as you wish.
  10. Enjoy!

 

Ooni Pizza Oven: Blueberry, Honey, Goats Cheese, Orange and Thyme Pizza Recipe

My journey into cake making actually started with a general love of making food for family and friends which I discovered after taking a career break following the birth of my first child. To this day, despite many hours a day in my kitchen making wedding cakes, I still love to make and celebrate with food. One my family’s favourite things to make is homemade pizza. From kneading the dough to choosing their own toppings, the children love nothing more than getting involved (and I always manage to sneak a few veggies in to the sauce or toppings too!). Our homemade pizzas have always been good, but our oven never managed to recreate that crispy base and wood-fired flavour you get from pizza restaurants, meaning that from time to time we would still treat ourselves to a pizza night out. Until we discovered the Ooni pizza oven….

A chance encounter at a mutual friend’s birthday party with a member of the Ooni team, where we relayed our love of food and cooking, led us to receive a Christmas present of the Ooni 3 wood-fired portable pizza oven. The energy-efficient wood pellets give that authentic taste and the temperature range means that once hot you can cook pizzas in 60s. The first time we tried it was a revelation…restaurant pizzas at home! Kids and their friends couldn’t contain their excitement. The oven is completely portable, so come the finer summer weather we hope to take it to the beach or any holiday rentals we may take.

We have since had a few pizza making nights where I have been experimenting with recipes and pizza flavours, one of which I am sharing on the blog today: Blueberry, Goats Cheese, Honey, Orange and Thyme Pizza. I choose this one as it is something of a sweet/savoury pizza, perhaps being described as the dessert or cheese course. Sweet blueberries, which are coming into season soon, marry with the honey and citrus, all of which contrast with the savoury thyme and goats cheese. (I do believe these flavours could even be adapted into a cake!).

If you don’t have an Ooni pizza oven yet you can try this in a conventional oven, but for the real wood-fired taste check out the Ooni range here,

Happy pizza making!

Suzanne x

 

Blueberry, Goats Cheese, Honey, Thyme and Pecan Pizza 

Ingredients for the pizza dough (makes 4-5 pizzas):

  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 325ml warm water

Ingredients for the pizza:

  • soft goats cheese
  • blueberries
  • few sprigs thyme
  • honey
  • orange zest
  • pistachios or pecans

Method:

  1. To make the dough, mix the two flours, salt and yeast together in a large bowl.
  2. Add the oil and warm (not hot) water and mix with your hands to form a dough.
  3. Tip out onto the work surface and begin to knead for about 10 mins until smooth. The dough will be wet and sticky at first but don’t add too much flour if you can avoid it, it will become less sticky and more smooth as you knead it.
  4. Pour a little oil into a clean bowl and place the kneaded dough in the bowl, turning to coat in the oil. Cover with a clean tea towel and place in a warm position for approx 2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.
  5. To make the pizza,  preheat your Ooni pizza oven.
  6. Punch down the risen dough and weigh out 175g balls of dough. Place on floured work surface and cover with tea towel until needed. Taking one ball of dough at a time, roll out on a floured surface and leave to rest for a few minutes. Place on the floured Ooni pizza paddle.
  7. Meanwhile, using a fork, mix the goats cheese with some honey. Spread the goats cheese over the pizza base, top with the blueberries and sprinkle over the thyme, orange zest and crushed pistachios.
  8. Slide into the preheated Ooni Oven and bake for 1-2 mins, turning every 30s. Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little more honey before slicing and sharing!

 

 

Chocolate Cranberry and Chestnut Layer Cake Recipe

I am always a little indecisive about what to make for a Christmas dessert, but generally come to the conclusion that a centrepiece cake can never go amiss!  I have hence been experimenting with some traditional seasonal flavours and am delighted with this resulting Chocolate Chestnut and Cranberry layer cake recipe.

The chocolate cake is light and moist and is adapted slightly from a recipe in Tessa Huffs fabulous cake book, Layered. The lightness of this chocolate cake gives the perfect balance to the rich bitterness of the cranberry ganache and the sweetness of the chestnut meringue buttercream.

The cranberry ganache is adapted from a macaron filling recipe by patissier Eddy Van Damme. It is deliciously decadent with a fabulously rich colour. You may not need to use all of this ganache but leftover can be used to fill macarons or frozen for use in a future bake. It would pair well with other flavours too such as cranberry or gingerbread.

For the chestnut puree in the swiss meringue buttercream I used the French brand Clement Faugier but others are available in good supermarkets or delis. Leftover puree can be used in a variety of recipes such as with meringues in the classic Mont Blanc dessert, added to cakes or brownies, or made into chocolate chestnut truffles which would actually be a lovely decoration and accompaniment for this cake. I didn’t have time to do this but there are recipes available online.

The cake is rich and decadent and will hence easily serve a crowd of 10-12..just what is needed for the festive season! The cake itself will keep well for 4-5 days wrapped in tightly cling film.  Once filled and iced eat within 2-3 days. I don’t think this will be a problem!

Happy baking!

Suzanne x

Chocolate Cranberry and Chestnut Cake Recipe

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 235g plain flour
  • 70g best quality cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120ml rapeseed or other flavourless oil
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 180ml whole milk
  • 240ml strong coffee

Ingredients for Cranberry Ganache:

  • 180g fresh cranberries
  • 120g cream
  • 120g sugar
  • 120g 54.5% dark belgian chocolate

Ingredients for the  Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  • 150g fresh egg whites (about 5 eggs)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 240g unsalted butter, cool but not cold
  • 4-5 tbsp tinned sweetened chestnut puree (or more to taste)
  • pinch salt

For decoration (optional):

  • Fresh cherries or other seasonal fruits

Method:

  1. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.  Grease three 7″ round cake tins and line with baking parchment.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
  3. Beat the oil and sugar together in a stand mixer for a few mins until pale. Add the eggs and beat again until combined.
  4. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk. Scrape down the bowl and mix again to combine.
  5. Finally with the mixer on low add the coffee and mix until just combined.
  6. Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25-30 mins until the top of the cakes are firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Remove the cake from the tin after 10-15mins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. To make the cranberry ganache: Put the cranberries, cream and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender. Strain back into the pan to remove skin and seeds of the cranberries.
  9. Put the chocolate callets into a bowl.
  10. Bring the cranberry cream mixture back to the boil and then pour over the chocolate mixture. Leave for a few mins to allow the chocolate to melt before stirring to achieve a smooth ganache. Set aside to cool and thicken.
  11. To make the icing: Clean the bowl and whisk of an electric mixer with a squeeze of lemon juice and dry with paper towel to remove any traces of grease.
  12. Place the egg white and sugar into the bowl and place over a pot of simmering water, whisking constantly, until the temperature reaches 160°F on a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  13. Transfer the bowl to the mixer and using the whisk attachment whisk until the meringue is thick and glossy and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch.
  14. Switch to paddle attachment and with mixer on low speed add the butter a cube at a time, mixing until incorporated after each addition. If the mixture curdles continue to mix until it comes back together. Add the chestnut puree and salt and mix to combine.
  15. If the buttercream is too runny, refrigerate until firmer and mix again before using.
  16. To assemble the cake, trim the tops of the cooled cakes to level. Fix one cake layer to a cake card or directly onto a cake stand using a small bit of buttercream. Pipe a layer of cranberry ganache on top followed by a layer of the buttercream, smoothing each with a palette knife. Repeat with a second cake layer and another layer of ganache and buttercream. Top with the final cake layer. Refrigerate until firm.
  17. Once the cake has been chilled for at least 30 mins and is firm, crumb coat the cake in a thin layer of buttercream, scraping away any excess. Refrigerate again.
  18. Continue to add layers of buttercream, using a scraper to remove excess until the cake is covered in a smooth layer of buttercream icing.
  19. Decorate as you wish with gilded fruits, sugared cranberries, chocolate truffles or anything else that takes your fancy!

 

Almond Cake with Plum and Sweet Geranium Jam and Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I only recently discovered scented rose geranium as a baking ingredient, having bought some at our local farmer’s market. While not the pretties of leaves, it releases a wonderfully delicate rose scented flavour simply by rubbing  to release the oils. It can be used in sweet dishes in a variety of ways, for example by infusing sugar to use in baking and desserts in place of normal sugar, or in scented syrups or jams. It pairs well with citrus flavours, fruits and spices.  I choose to use my geranium in a jam with plums, which happened to be in season at the time of late Autumn. It is quite possibly the best jam I have ever made! While we have been using it on toast and scones for several weeks, I finally satisfied my original intention of using it as a cake filling by creating this delicious recipe for Almond Cake with Plum and Geranium Jam and Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

I chose to make this as a tray or sheet cake. I will tell no lies, I was in a bit of a rush and didn’t have the time to consider layering and icing in my usual way. And actually I quite like the informality of a tray cake; it is easy to cut and serve for a casual teatime treat! The large surface is a perfect canvas for decorative prettiness too!

The almond cake is particularly dense and moist, and is a classic pairing with the plum jam. The sweet geranium in the jam adds just the right amount of floral fragrance.  I used quite a few geranium leaves but feel free to adjust this flavour to your preference.  You could also try making the jam with geranium-infused sugar, rather than the chopped leaves I have used here, although this would take a little more forward-planning. I chose a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream for a simple, light and complimentary flavour.

The quantities for the jam makes much more than you need, but store in sealed sterilised jars and use it in other bakes, or simply enjoy on your favourite toast, croissant or scone! If you can’t find geranium or seasonal plums, this cake and buttercream recipe works well with other similar fruity floral combinations, try shop bought raspberry jam with a little rosewater added for an even quicker but equally delicious cake.

Similarly the Swiss meringue buttercream makes more than required. However as this is a more labour-intensive buttercream than the straightforward recipe of mixing icing sugar and butter, I always go for the larger quantity and freeze leftover icing for my next bake. You can of course halve the quantities if you don’t envisage using it again in the foreseeable future.

I was delighted to donate this bake to my local community Crosscare cafe, which offers hot meals and a warm and friendly environment for those in need. Spread love with cake!

Happy baking!

Suzanne x

Almond Cake with Plum and Sweet Geranium Jam and Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 400g unsalted butter
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 100g plain flour
  • 250g ground almonds
  • Pinch salt
  • Few drops almond essence (optional)
  • 4-6tbsp milk

Ingredients for Plum Jam:

  • 900g plums (washed, dried, stoned and sliced)
  • 700g caster sugar
  • 5-6 large sweet geranium leaves, finely chopped
  • Juice one lemon

Ingredients for the Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  • 300g fresh egg whites (about 10 eggs)
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 680g unsalted butter, cool but not cold
  • seeds 1 vanilla pod
  • pinch salt
  • pink paste food colouring (optional)

For decoration (optional):

  • Sliced plums
  • Dried edible flower petals (rose and cornflower)
  • Toasted flaked almonds

Method:

  1. To make the jam, place the plums in a large pan with 250ml water. Cover, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20mins until the plums are soft.
  2. Remove the lid and add the sugar, sweet geranium and lemon juice. Simmer on a medium heat until the jam is reduced down and has reached setting point (you can test this by placing a spoonful on a cold plate in the fridge for a few minutes. It should form a skin when you push it with your finger).
  3. Remove from the heat and pour into clean sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool.
  4. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.  Grease and line a 9″x 12″ baking tray that is approximately 1.5″ deep (or similar size) with baking parchment.
  5. Cream together the butter, sugar and almond essence in a mixer until pale.
  6. Sift together the flour and salt into another bowl.
  7. Add the eggs one at a time into the butter sugar mixture, beating well after each addition.
  8. Add in the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.
  9. Add the ground almonds and mix again.
  10. Finally add milk and mix to achieve a dropping consistency.
  11. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 35-45 mins until the top of the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  12. Remove the cake from the tin after 10-15mins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
  13. To make the icing: Clean the bowl and whisk of an electric mixer with a squeeze of lemon juice and dry with paper towel to remove any traces of grease.
  14. Place the egg white and sugar into the bowl and place over a pot of simmering water, whisking constantly, until the temperature reaches 160°F on a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  15. Transfer the bowl to the mixer and using the whisk attachment whisk until the meringue is thick and glossy and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch.
  16. Switch to paddle attachment and with mixer on low speed add the butter a cube at a time, mixing until incorporated after each addition. If the mixture curdles continue to mix until it comes back together. Add the vanilla seeds and salt and food paste colouring as desired.
  17. If the buttercream is too runny, refrigerate until firmer and mix again before using.
  18. To assemble the cake, when cool cover the cake generously with plum jam followed by a thick layer of delicious buttercream. Scatter with plum slices, flaked almonds and dried flower petals. Serve with a cup of tea!

 

Lime Basil and Blackberry Bundt Cake Recipe

Bundt cakes are so easy to make, require little decoration and serve a crowd…hence I always love making a bundt cake for weekend treats or family celebrations!

Lemon Curd and Violet Loaf Cake Recipe

Loaf cakes are a weekend favourite, partly because they are so quick and easy to make. Without the need for layering and filling, a quick glaze or icing and some edible decorations results in something delicious and pretty with minimal effort.

This recipe evolved from a half jar of homemade lemon curd lurking in my fridge that I had left over from a wedding cake order. I am always loathe to throw away food and try to use everything up, so decided to add the curd itself to this loaf cake to add an extra tang and moistness.

Lemon and violet are a perfect summery combination. I had crystallised violet petals from Sous Chef UK in my cupboard so used them to add a subtle violet flavour to the cake as well as flavour and decoration on the icing. You could also use other violet products such as a violet sugar (try substituting some of the regular sugar for violet sugar) or violet food essence. Another nice addition would be some seasonal blueberries.  Feel free to experiment!

Lemon Curd and Violet Cake

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 190g unsalted Irish butter
  • 190g plain flour
  • 190g caster sugar
  • 3 medium free range Irish eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 tbsp lemon curd (homemade or shop bought)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4tsp crystallised violets, ground

Ingredients for the icing and decoration:

  • 100g icing sugar
  • Juice 1 lemon
  • Crystalised violets, coarsely ground
  • Edible flowers

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.  Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin with baking parchment.
  2. Cream together the butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and ground crystallised violets in an electric mixer or by hand until light.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time into the butter sugar mixture, beating well after each addition.
  5. Add in the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.
  6. Finally add the lemon curd and mix again.
  7. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45-55 mins until the top of the loaf is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake from the tin after 10-15mins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the lemon juice to make an icing with a thick pouring consistency. Add more lemon juice/icing sugar as required to achieve this.
  10. Pour the icing over the cooled cake, using a spatula to spread over the top and allowing a little to drizzle down the sides. Decorate with crushed crystallised violet petals and edible flowers if desired.
  11. The cake keeps well in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

 

Orange Fennel and Honey Loaf Cake Recipe

I do love a loaf cake…easy to make and requiring little decoration, they are a perfect weekend teatime treat. I devised this recipe for a feature in the November 2018 edition of Irish Country Magazine and hence had the pleasure of having talented photographer Ramona Farrelly follow me in its making in my kitchen…thank you for these lovely photos Ramon!

This is a classic loaf cake recipe, kept moist by the addition of yogurt and given a refreshing zing with orange zest and syrup. Fennel seeds add a subtle liquorice flavour and heighten the sweetness of the orange. Decorated here with dried edible flowers and chopped pistachios feel free to experiment with presentation…an orange icing would also work well, as would candied orange slices or other nuts.

Orange Fennel and Honey Loaf Cake

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 190g unsalted Irish butter
  • 190g plain flour
  • 190g caster sugar
  • 3 medium free range Irish eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 25g natural greek yogurt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 3tsp fennel seed

Ingredients for the syrup and decoration:

  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 1tbsp Irish honey
  • 50g caster sugar
  • Handful chopped pistachios (optional)
  • Handful dried flower petals (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.  Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin with baking parchment.
  2. Lightly toast the fennel seed in a hot pan until fragrant. Pour into a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.
  3. Cream together the butter, caster sugar and orange zest in an electric mixer or by hand until light.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, ground fennel and salt.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time into the butter sugar mixture, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add in the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.
  7. Finally add the yogurt and mix again.
  8. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45-55 mins until the top of the loaf is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Meanwhile make the syrup. Add the orange juice, honey and sugar to a pan and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer until reduced slightly. Pour over the loaf cake when it comes out of the oven.
  10. Remove the cake from the tin after 10-15mins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Decorate with chopped pistachios and dried flower petals if desired.

Lemon Balm Shortbread

I love to bake with herbs either in savoury recipes themselves or to add a savoury twist to sweet recipes. My herb garden is currently abundant with beautiful leaves, from flowering thyme and sage to chives and rosemary. A new addition to my herbs this year was lemon balm. Being a member of the mint family, lemon balm is also known as balm mint, and indeed has similar leaves and vigorous growing properties to mint. The leaves have a mild lemony scent and I have been using it on fish and in salads for an alternative citrus flavour. Last weekend I used it to add a herby twist to a traditional lemon shortbread. (If you don’t have lemon balm however just add a little extra lemon zest to this recipe). Decorated with some dried edible flowers these would make a pretty edible gift, or a lovely summery teatime treat!

Lemon Balm Shortbread

Ingredients for the Shortbread (makes 12):

  • 170g plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 110g room temperature butter
  • 1tbsp finely chopped lemon balm leaves
  • Finely grated zest 1/2 lemon
  • Dried flower petals (optional, to decorate)
  • Icing sugar (optional, to decorate)

Method

  • To make the shortbread, preheat the oven to 180°C/356F.
  • Place the flour, caster sugar, butter and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has almost come together.
  • Add the chopped lemon balm and pulse a few more times until mixed in.
  • Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to between 0.5-1cm thick. If you are using edible flowers, sprinkle over the rolled dough at this point and give a further roll to press the petals lightly into the dough.
  • Cut out biscuit rounds using a 6cm round cutter (or any size or shape you prefer!).
  • Place the biscuits on a baking tray and bake for 8-10mins (turning half-way through if required) until lightly golden.
  • Leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes before gently transferring to a wire wrack to cool completely.
  • Once cool, dust with a little icing sugar.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Chocolate Raspberry and Pink Peppercorn Cupcakes

February is synonymous with Valentine’s Day which calls for some romantic baking! Dark chocolate and raspberry are a match made in heaven…here I have spiced up the combination in a cupcake recipe with the addition of some pink peppercorns. The spice adds an interesting little kick we well as being a pretty decorative flourish!

This recipe makes approx 16-20 cupcakes. Feel free to half the recipe if you don’t wish to devour this many between you and your loved one!

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry and Pink Peppercorn

Ingredients for the Dark Chocolate Cupcakes:

  • 100g unsalted butter,
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 180g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½  tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 8g cocoa powder
  • 120g good quality 70% dark chocolate
  • 160ml whole milk

Ingredients for the Raspberry Buttercream

  • 100g raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 300g unsalted butter
  • Handful of pink peppercorns

Method

  • To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 160°C/315F and line two 12-hole muffin tins with 16-20 paper cases.
  • Place the chocolate, milk and half the sugar in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring until all the chocolate and sugar have dissolved.
  • Meanwhile beat the butter and remaining sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape down the mixture from the sides if necessary.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the butter and sugar mixture and mix gently until just combined.
  • Pour in the melted chocolate mixture and mix again, scraping any mixture down from the sides if necessary.
  • Divide the mixture between the cases and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the top of the cupcakes are springy to the touch.
  • Leave to rest in the tray for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely (note: tops of the cupcakes sink slighltly on cooling which is normal)
  • To make the buttercream, place the raspberries in a small saucepan with a small splash of water and heat gently until soft. Remove from the heat and mash. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl, scraping the sieve to get as much of the juice as possible. Return the raspberry puree to the saucepan and simmer gently until the juice has thickened and reduced by about half. Leave to cool and thicken further.
  • Meanwhile, beat the butter and icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for approximately 10mins until light and fluffy. A little at a time, add the concentrated raspberry puree to the buttercream, mixing between each addition, until the desired strength of flavour is achieved. Take care not to add too much such that icing is too runny.
  • To finish the cupcakes, pipe the raspberry buttercream on each cupcake and sprinkle with crushed pink peppercorns!