A jubilee celebration with cake, an indulgent creamy dessert or a slice of shimmering tart. A sugar-crusted meringue perhaps or even a piece of thick, sweet toast soaked with purple juice and carrying a colourful cargo of warm, sharp fruits. There may be a chocolate cake with layers of coffee-infused frosting, and the tart may be one of citrus-flavoured custard and marinated berries.
My celebration may come mid-afternoon with a pot of green tea or tall glasses of something cold and sparkling, or better still in the middle of the morning with the day ahead of us.
Orange custard tart
I have swapped the warm, familiar notes of vanilla and grated nutmeg for the more refreshing notes of citrus zest for an early summer custard tart. The first strawberries sit at its side, their flavour given depth by a trickle of glossy balsamic vinegar. It is worth taking great care with the pastry case; it is essential that it contains no cracks or tears, lest your custard leak (believe me, I’ve been there more than once).
For the pastry
plain flour 150g
caster sugar 25g
egg yolk 1
water 1-2 tbsp
For the filling
eggs 6 large
golden caster sugar 200g
double cream 200ml
balsamic vinegar 1 tsp
You will need a deep 20cm tart or sponge tin with a removable base.
To make the pastry, work the butter and flour together in a food processor or rub with your fingertips to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then mix in the egg yolk and enough of the water – about 2 tablespoons – to bring it to a firm, rollable dough.
Dust a pastry board or work surface with flour, then knead the dough for no longer than a minute, until it is smooth, then wrap it in foil or greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry and line the tart or sponge tin, bringing the pastry right up the sides and making certain – absolutely certain – that there are no cracks or tears. If the pastry is slightly above the top of the tin, then all to the good.
Chill the pastry case in the fridge for 45 minutes (and please don’t skip this, otherwise your pastry will shrink alarmingly in the oven). Set the oven at 160C fan/gas mark 4.
Remove the tart case from the fridge, place on a baking sheet, then fill it with baking parchment or foil and baking beans. Bake for 20 minutes then remove from the oven. Tenderly lift out the paper or foil and the beans, taking care not to tear the pastry. If you like a neat edge – I don’t – then you can trim the pastry at this point using a sharp knife, cutting it level with the top of the tin. Return the pastry case to the oven and bake for a further 12-15 minutes till dry to the touch.
Lower the oven heat to 130C fan/gas mark 2. For the filling, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Finely grate the zest from the orange and the lemon, then squeeze the juice from them both. You need 100ml of juice. Mix together the juice, zest and egg mixture. Stir in the double cream, then pour into the baked pastry case. (Rather than carrying the tart case full of custard to the oven, I find it easier to place the empty tart case on the oven shelf, then pour in the filling from a jug, then gently slide the oven shelf into place.) Bake for 50 minutes till it is lightly set. The filling should be set but quiver slightly when gently tapped.
Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool. Chill thoroughly – a good couple of hours.
To finish, peel and thinly slice one of the oranges and put them, together with any juice, in a mixing bowl. Hull and halve the strawberries and add them to the oranges. Halve the remaining orange and squeeze the juice over the berries. Pour in the balsamic and toss everything together. Set aside, in a cool place for 30 minutes before serving with the tart.
Gooseberry and elderflower fool with dark chocolate
Gooseberry fool is the quintessential, dreamy summer dessert. For it to hit the spot with me, all that voluptuous, billowing cream needs something of a contrast.
A crisp almond tuile is good here, but so are layers of crunchy crumbs and a trickle of dark chocolate left to crisp in the fridge.
For the fool
gooseberries 400g (fresh or frozen)
caster sugar 3 tbsp
elderflower cordial 2 tbsp
double cream 250ml
For the topping
chocolate chip oat biscuits 75g, or similar biscuit
dark chocolate 75g
Top and tail the gooseberries (or, in other words, pick off the dried flowers from one end and the stalks from the other), then put the fruit into a stainless steel or enamelled pan with the caster sugar, elderflower cordial and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes or so until the gooseberries are soft enough to crush.
Remove the gooseberries from the heat, pour into a sieve suspended over a bowl and leave to drain.
When the berries are cool, crush them with a fork and chill thoroughly in the fridge. (The liquor that comes from them is rather refreshing when topped up with sparkling water and ice.)
Crush the biscuits to coarse crumbs in a food processor or with the end of a rolling pin. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, tip in the crumbs and stir well to coat. Spread on a small tray or plate and chill till the butter is set.
Whip the cream till thick (but not so thick that it will stand in stiff peaks), then fold the gooseberries into the cream and return to the fridge.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of simmering water.
Remove the fool from the fridge. Divide between 6 glasses or serving dishes, layering it alternately with some of the crushed crumbs. Trickle the melted chocolate over the top and chill briefly until the chocolate is crisp.
Brioche toast with grilled apricots and blueberries
Any variety of soft milk bread will work for these fruit toasts. The point is that the bread is light and slightly sweet – such as brioche or Japanese shokupan – and is cut thick. You could serve them with cream but I prefer them without, as long as the toast is generously soaked through with blueberry juice.
Makes 3 toasts
For the apricots
ripe apricots 6
elderflower cordial or caster sugar 3 tbsp
For the blueberries
caster sugar 2 tbsp
brioche or shokupan 4 thick slices
Get an overhead (oven) grill hot. Slice the apricots in half lengthways, twist in half, then remove and discard the stones. Place the fruit, cut side up, on a baking sheet or grill pan. Trickle the cordial or caster sugar over the fruit, letting it settle in the hollows, then cook under the hot grill for 7-10 minutes until the fruit is soft and luscious.
Meanwhile, tip the blueberries into a saucepan, add the sugar and 4 tablespoons of water, then bring to the boil. Let the berries cook for a few minutes until they have burst and release their juices. Remove from the heat.
Toast the bread lightly on both sides and place on plates. Spoon a little of the warm blueberry juice over the toast, then place three halves of apricot on each. Spoon over the rest of the blueberries and serve immediately.
Passion fruit meringue roulade
The offspring of a Swiss roll and a pavlova, the meringue roulade is a good way of using up egg whites and can be filled with any sharp fruit you fancy. Raspberries, passion fruit and gooseberries all work well, but the fruit should be sour enough to balance the full-on sugar hit of the meringue. Orange, lemon or passion-fruit curd all work well here.
For the meringue:
eggs 6 large, seperated
caster sugar 275g
cornflour 1 tbsp
white wine vinegar 1 tsp
For the filling
double cream 250ml
passion fruit 4
lemon or orange curd 300g
caster sugar 4 tbsp
Line a shallow, rectangular baking tin measuring roughly 32cm x 22 cm with baking parchment.
Preheat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat till thick. Add the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, whisking continuously. By the time you have added all the sugar the meringue should be thick and glossy. Add the cornflour and vinegar, give a final couple of turns with the whisk, then scoop out into the lined tin. Push the meringue into the corners and gently smooth the surface, then bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 140C fan/gas mark 3 and continue baking for a further 20 minutes till puffed and pale biscuit coloured. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in in its tray.
Make the filling: in a cold bowl, whisk the cream until thick and sitting in soft peaks. Cut the passion fruit in half, and remove the pulp and seeds with a teaspoon. Fold gently into the cream with the lemon or orange curd, taking great care not to overmix.
Place a large piece of parchment or a clean tea towel on a work surface – long side towards you – and sprinkle with the 4 tablespoons of caster sugar. Turn the meringue out on to the sugared paper – just flip the tin over so the cake falls out on to the sugared cloth – again long side facing you, then carefully peel off the baking parchment. Spread the filling over the meringue, leaving a narrow bare rim around the edge. Now, taking one of the short edges of the paper, roll the meringue up into a fat cylinder. The surface should crackle delightfully. Using a palette knife or flat kitchen slice transfer the meringue carefully on to a long serving dish.
Chocolate coffee mascarpone cake
A large chocolate cake that is less sweet than most, its filling tasting like creamy, iced coffee. Make it when you have a lot of people to feed as it is best eaten the same day (though it won’t come to too much harm in a tin overnight in a cool place). This is best made with an electric food mixer.
For the cake
caster sugar 280g
eggs 2 large
self-raising flour 275g
cocoa powder 50g
soured cream 250ml
vanilla extract 1 tsp
For the icing
icing sugar 50g
strong espresso 4 tbsp, chilled
a little cocoa powder and a few chocolate coffee beans to decorate
Preheat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4. Line the bases of 2 x 20cm sponge tins with baking parchment. Do this even if your tins claim to be non-stick.
Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a food mixer with a paddle attachment. It will take several minutes to become thick and fluffy – more like marzipan than a traditional sugar and butter mix. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them together with a fork. Mix the flour and cocoa powder together.
Introduce the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, beating at a moderate speed till the egg is thoroughly incorporated, then add the cocoa/flour mix and soured cream, alternately, in two or three goes. Mix in the vanilla extract.
Divide the mixture equally between the two lined cake tins, working quickly and gently smoothing the surface of each with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25 minutes till each cake is lightly springy to the touch.
Remove the cakes from the oven and leave to settle for 15 minutes before running a palette knife around the edge, then turning them out on to a cooling rack. Leave until thoroughly cool.
Make the frosting: beat together the mascarpone and icing sugar, then stir in the cold espresso (please don’t be tempted to use hot coffee, it will melt the frosting). Place one of the sponges upside down on a cake plate, spread a good third of the coffee frosting over, then place the second cake on top. Spread with the remaining coffee icing, smoothing it flat or leaving it in waves as you wish. Dust very lightly with cocoa powder and scatter a few chocolate coffee beans over the top.