Going through the ritual of bringing out the measuring scales, pouring out flour, whipping up the eggs, stirring the batter and impatiently slicing up warm cake is a beautiful thing that deserves to be enjoyed all year round no matter the day, season or occasion.
This is a cookbook that embraces simplicity, mindfulness and the therapeutic comforts of baking. The Great British Bake Off's 2016 contestant Benjamina writes so warmly about cakes and her recipes speak to a natural, seasonal and down-to-earth way of baking. Because every day is a good day to bake.
The sound of paper-thin pastry shards shattering under the weight of your teeth after the first bite of these turnovers will make you do a little happy dance. They're filled to the brim with roasted sweet potatoes, with nuggets of smoky, salty chorizo and pops of green spinach running throughout. Butternut squash would also work well here, as would a smoky veggie sausage for a meat-free option.
For the rough puff pastry:
325g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp paprika
250g cold unsalted butter, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
9-10 tbsp ice-cold water
For the filling:
550g sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1cm chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
150g chorizo, chopped into small chunks
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
100g baby spinach, washed
1 egg, beaten
1. To make the pastry, add the flour, paprika, butter and salt to a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour, keeping the butter pieces about the size of a walnut. Add the ice-cold water, a tablespoon at a time, and stir with a table knife to bring the dough together in clumps - you may not need to use all of the water. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a large rectangle, about 3-4 millimetres thick. Fold the top third of the dough down to the middle and then fold the bottom third on top of that (like folding a letter). Give the dough a quarter turn, roll it out to a large rectangle again and repeat the folding. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until you're ready to assemble.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C.
4. Spread the sweet potato chunks in an even layer on a baking sheet, and drizzle with the olive oil and a little salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside for now.
5. Fry the chorizo chunks in a frying pan over a medium-high heat until they start to release their own oil. Add the red onion, fennel seeds and chilli powder, if using. Fry for a few minutes until softened. Add the cooked sweet potato, followed by the spinach, and cook until the spinach wilts. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.
6. Roll the chilled pastry out to a large rectangle, about 3-4mm thick. Trim all four edges to neaten them up before cutting it into six squares. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of the cooled filling in the middle of each square. Brush two adjacent edges with beaten egg and fold over to form a triangle, pressing down the edges to seal. Use a fork to go around the sealed edges, pressing it into the pastry. Place the turnovers on a large baking sheet, brush with egg wash and sprinkle some fennel seeds on top.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the turnovers are well browned and the base is crisp. Let them cool completely before serving.
It's the free-form, effortless nature of galettes that I find most attractive. Not constrained by the walls of a pie pan or the expectation of perfectly straight edges, it's a beautifully humble, rustic bake that looks a little different every time you make it. This savoury version with its crisp, flaky crust and colourful, spicy filling is light enough to take along for a picnic and filling enough for a weeknight dinner.
For the pastry:
110g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
110g wholemeal flour
150g cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 tsp fine salt
100g mature Cheddar, grated
60-80ml ice-cold water
For the filling:
450g heritage carrots
2 tbsp harissa paste
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, plus extra to garnish
150g mascarpone cheese
1 egg, beaten
parmesan, for grating
1. To make the pastry, add the flours, butter and salt to a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour. You want quite a coarse mixture, so a few small chunks of butter are fine. Stir in the grated cheese. Make a well in the middle and add the ice-cold water a tablespoon at a time, using a table knife to stir until the dough comes together. You may not need to use all the water.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently and briefly to bring the dough together. Flatten the pastry to a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for one hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 220C.
4. Peel the carrots and slice bigger ones lengthways into quarters and smaller ones in half. Toss them in a bowl with the harissa, honey and salt and give everything a good mix with your hands to make sure the carrots are all evenly coated.
5. Arrange the carrots evenly on a baking sheet, making sure they don't overlap (you may need to use two baking sheets). Roast the carrots for 25-30 minutes, turning halfway, until they're fork soft. Set aside to cool a little until you're ready to assemble.
6. Finely chop the fresh thyme and mix with the mascarpone.
7. Lightly dust the work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry into a large circle about 35 centimetre in diameter. Spread the mascarpone over the pastry, leaving a 3cm border around the edge. Arrange the carrots on top of the mascarpone - you can have them all facing the same direction and overlapping a little or just arranged randomly. Fold over the edges of the pastry to enclose and then brush with the beaten egg. Grate some Parmesan on the crust and bake for 40-45 minutes until the pastry is well browned and crisp.
8. Remove from the oven, grate a little more Parmesan over the top and add some extra thyme leaves before serving warm.
It's hard to beat a fresh scone, still a little warm from the oven, smeared in clotted cream and devoured before you've had a chance to put the kettle on. Scones are my go-to when I'm short on time. Relying on store-cupboard basics, you're likely to already have everything to hand, allowing you to throw these together as soon the craving hits. The flecks of rosemary running through these add a warm, piney aroma that makes them feel a little fancy without doing much.
450g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp baking powder
40g caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
220g cold unsalted butter, diced
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
1 1/2 tsp honey
For the glaze:
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp water
2 sprigs of rosemary
salted butter or clotted cream honey, for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add in the butter and toss in the flour to coat. Rub the mixture between your fingertips until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the chopped rosemary and stir.
3. In a jug, whisk together the milk, egg and honey. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the liquid, using a knife to stir until it begins to clump together and you have a soft dough.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead very gently and briefly, folding the dough back on itself a couple of times - the surface doesn't need to be perfectly smooth, so try not to overwork it.
5. Pat the dough into a thick, round disc and slice into 8 wedges. Place the wedges on the baking sheets, leaving about 2.5cm between them.
6. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until well risen and golden.
7. To make the glaze, gently heat the honey, water and rosemary sprigs together in a small pan. Bring the mixture to the boil and boil for one minute, then brush directly over the warm scones.
8. Serve with salted butter or clotted cream and an extra little drizzle of honey.
Earl Grey is my go-to tea for that 3-o'clock pick me up, and is always accompanied with a little slice of something sweet. So, having the tea steeped into the cake kind of kills two birds with one stone. It's floral and citrussy with a soft delicate crumb, extra orange zest complements the bergamot notes in the tea, and it's all topped off with a creamy, white chocolate buttercream. For the days where a cup of tea alone doesn't quite cut it, this is the cake to make.
3 good-quality Earl Grey tea bags
120g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
280g caster sugar
grated zest of 1 1/2 oranges
280g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
For the syrup:
juice of 1 orange
30g caster sugar
1 Earl Grey teabag
For the buttercream frosting:
175g unsalted butter, softened
130g icing sugar
1/4 tsp salt
120g white chocolate, melted, plus extra shavings
flaked almonds and dried cornflowers (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 23 x 33cm sheet pan and line with baking paper, leaving an overhang to help you lift the sponge out later.
2. In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk, tea bags, butter and vanilla until just before the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let the milk steep and cool for 15 minutes.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and two-thirds of the orange zest on high speed for four to six minutes or until the eggs are thick, pale and nearly doubled in volume.
4. Remove the tea bags from the cooled milk and with the mixer still running, pour the milk slowly into the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder and beat until you have a smooth, runny batter.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-38 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
6. While the cake bakes, make the syrup. Heat the orange juice, sugar and tea bag in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for one minute before removing from the heat.
7. While the cake is still warm, prick the surface with a skewer and pour the syrup over the cake, then set aside to cool completely.
8. To make the buttercream frosting, beat the butter in the stand mixer on high speed for two minutes until creamy. Add the icing sugar and salt and beat for a further four to six minutes until you have a pale, fluffy buttercream. Pour in the melted chocolate and beat for another minute until combined.
9. Spread the frosting evenly on top of the cake, using a palette knife to either smooth it over or to add some texture. Top with the remaining orange zest, white chocolate shavings, flaked almonds, and dried cornflowers, if using, before slicing up.
Serves 12 (for a smaller, 20cm square cake, split the recipe in half).
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