This is a lovely, simple soup which showcases the taste of leeks, a much undereated vegetable. There are two keys to making it special. Firstly, you must cook the leeks and onions slowly to allow them to sweeten and soften. Secondly, you must use a good quality, flavoursome stock. I generally use vegetable stock as my daughter is a vegetarian – Bouillon gives an excellent flavour.
A large, heavy saucepan and a blender (or stick blender).
This is a really easy soup which can be eaten either hot or cold. Although it uses relatively cheap ingredients, the soup is elegant and flavourful and is not out of place as a first course at a dinner party.
2 onions (I use white onions to keep the colour of the final soup pale)
2 large potatoes (about 500 g)
50 g butter
1 tbs oil
1 litre stock (good quality chicken stock or vegetable stock)
A bunch of fresh chives
A little double cream (optional)
Wash the leeks, trim off the dark top parts of the leaves and chop the stalks roughly. Peel and chop the onions.
Heat the butter and the oil in your saucepan. Add the chopped leeks and onions, season them with salt and pepper, and very gently fry them for around 20 minutes until they are soft and sweet. It is really important to add seasoning at this point and to cook gently to bring out the flavour of the vegetables – it will make a huge difference to the taste of your soup.
Next, peel and chop the potatoes and add them to the saucepan with the leeks and onions. Cook gently for a few minutes.
Add the stock to your saucepan and simmer the vegetables gently for about 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly before blending.
Lilac and Vanilla Victoria Sandwich Cake with Lilac Honey and Mascarpone Frosting
This Lilac and Vanilla Victoria Sandwich Cake is early summer on a plate! It tastes wonderful – creamy, buttery and floral – and looks beautiful with its decoration of edible flowers. I made my Lilac Cake for a special family tea, which thanks to recent surprisingly sunny weather, we were actually able to eat in the garden, close to the tree that had provided the blossoms.
This is a simple Victoria Sandwich cake, which is flavoured with lilac through the use of Lilac Sugar in the cake mix and Lilac Honey in the frosting. It is really easy to make both the flavoured Sugar and Honey but you need to do this around a week before you plan to make your Lilac Cakee to allow the lilac flavour to be absorbed. If you don’t have the time, inclination or opportunity to do this, you can make the cake without the lilac flavour – just use ordinary sugar in the cake mix and ordinary honey in the frosting. The cake will still be delicious but, personally, I think it is worth going down the lilac route as the taste is unusual and results in a beautiful floral cake (to taste and to look at!) which captures the spirit of an early English summer.
Set your oven to 180 degrees centigrade or Gas Mark 4.
Cream the butter with the sugar. (I usually soften the butter for about 30 seconds in the microwave first as it makes it much easier!)
Gradually add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture. If it looks as if it is going to curdle, add some of the self-raising flour.
Once the eggs have been incorporated add the rest of the self-raising flour.
Add the milk and the vanilla extract. It really makes a difference if you use a good quality vanilla extract – as opposed to vanilla essence – as this will give it a much more intense flavour.
Grease your Victoria Sandwich tins or containers and then add the cake mixture.
Bake your cakes in the oven for around 35 minutes. They are done when they are golden brown, springy to the touch and have shrunk away from the edge of the tin. You can test this by inserting a skewer in the middle of the cake – if it comes out cleanly with no mixture attached, your cake is done.
Allow your cakes to cool on a rack before removing them from the tins or containers.
Beat the mascarpone and honey together in a food processor or using a hand blender until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Use a third of the frosting to sandwich together your two cakes.
Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the assembled Lilac Cake.
Take the small lilac flowers off the flower heads and wash them in cold water. Allow to dry off on kitchen towel and then use them to decorate the top of the cake. You need to complete this part of the decoration just before you are ready to serve the cake to ensure that the flowers look fresh and lovely!
In the (unlikely) event that there is any Lilac Cake left over, this needs to be stored in the fridge due to the mascarpone icing. It will keep for a couple of days but, like all sponge cakes, it tastes better when it is freshly made.
Make sure that the lilac you use has not been treated with chemicals. The best place to get it is from your garden or that of a friend or neighbour. Shop-bought lilac is not suitable for this recipe.
Over the past few years, elderflower has become a very popular flavouring for all kinds of cakes and desserts. The flavour choice for these Elderflower Cupcakes was inspired by the cake at a recent high profile wedding (congratulations Harry and Meghan).
I made these Elderflower Cupcakes at the request of my daughter for her to share with her biology class. Each week a member of the class brings in cakes to share – school doesn’t sound so bad nowadays – and she specifically asked me not to make cakes with an unusual flavour. Her exact words were “don’t make the flavour too ‘out there’, mum”. After a focused discussion, during which various flavours were discounted – lilac? (No), Lady Grey tea? (No!), dandelion? (Seriously?!!) – we agreed on elderflower.
Although I love elderflower and use it in desserts regularly, this was the first time I had tried it in Elderflower Cupcakes. I am not really a big cupcake maker! I made two batches – one with just elderflower and one with elderflower and lemon. When I tasted them, I understood immediately why it is usual to include lemon as an additional flavouring. The cupcakes made just with elderflower were far too sweet for my taste but those made with elderflower and lemon were just right – floral but zesty!
Make the cake batter by creaming together the 250 g butter with the 250 g sugar. Add the eggs gradually to ensure the mixture does not curdle. Then add the 250 g self-raising flour.
Add the grated lemon zest and the 4 tbs of cordial to the mixture and stir to combine.
Put a dessert spoon of the cake mixture into each of the cupcake papers.
Put your cupcake trays into the oven and cook for around 15 minutes. The cakes will be done when they are golden brown and springy to the touch.
Remove the cupcakes from the trays and put on a rack to cool.
Make the icing by putting the 500g icing sugar, 250 g butter, lemon juice and 3 tbs elderflower cordial in a mixing bowl and beating until they form a pale, smooth icing. Ice the cooled cupcakes and decorate as you wish!
Keywords: elderflower and lemon cake, elderflower cupcakes
What can you do if you have three over-ripe mangoes? Make ice-cream, of course! This recipe for Mango and Lime Ice-cream is based on one included in Delia Smith’s Winter Collection – a cookery book I go back to year after year – but I include the lime zest as well as the lime juice as I like a stronger lime flavour. Also, I generally make it with cream rather than crème fraiche as I am more likely to have this in the house. Luckily for me, this ice-cream is better if your mangoes are very ripe as this gives it a stronger flavour.
This is a lovely ice-cream – exotic mango and zesty lime – and very easy to make. It makes a great dessert following a spicy meal (thai green curry anyone?) but is also very nice eaten straight from the tub in the garden on a hot summer’s day (don’t ask me how I know this!)
Liquidiser, mixing bowl, freezer proof dish, Ice Cream Maker (although you can make it without this – see below)
This ice-cream combines the fruity deliciousness of mango with a zing of fresh lime.
120 g caster sugar
3 large, very ripe, mangoes
200 ml double cream
Put the sugar into a small saucepan together with 150 ml of water. Heat slowly until the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer uncovered for around 15 minutes until the mixture has reduced and looks thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Peel your mangoes, remove the flesh, put it into your liquidiser and blend into a smooth puree.
Put the mango puree into a bowl and add the cooled sugar syrup and the juice and grated zest of the limes.
In a separate bowl (or food processor) whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.
Fold the mango mixture into the whipped cream.
Put the combined mixture into the fridge and allow to get completely cold.
If you have an ice-cream maker, put the mixture into it and process according to instructions. Once the ice-cream has thickened, transfer it to a freezer-proof container and keep in your freezer until you wish to eat it.
If you do not have an ice-cream maker, you can transfer the mixture straight into the freezer-proof container, freeze for one hour, then stir and return to the freezer.
Keywords: mango and lime ice-cream, mango ice-cream
Asparagus and Herb Cheese Tart is a really quick and easy supper or lunch dish and can be eaten hot or cold. Using ready-made puff pastry makes it a doddle. There is no shame in using ready-made pastry – it makes things so much easier – but if you can find a brand that says it is made with butter it will taste so much better!
There are lots of ready-made cream cheeses with herbs and garlic – you can probably think of a few brands! However, it is the work of moments to make your own version and, as with all home-made food, you can tailor it to your own tastes. Don’t like garlic? Leave it out. Love chives? Put loads of them in! I have used herbs that I had to hand in my garden and which I think go well together – and with the asparagus – but go with what you have and what you like! The one thing I would recommend keeping in, is the lemon zest. Asparagus has an affinity with lemon and with dairy products – a traditional way of serving it is with buttery, lemony Hollandaise sauce – which highlights its fresh, grassy flavour.
This Asparagus and Herb Cheese Tart combines crisp buttery pastry with creamy cheese and fresh asparagus. It is very quick and easy to make for a light lunch or supper.
375 g pack of puff pastry (the brands made with butter are best!)
200 g cream cheese
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Grated zest of half a lemon
A bunch of mixed herbs to taste – I used fennel, thyme, chives and parsley – (finely chopped)
Salt and pepper
7 or 8 stems of asparagus
Set your oven to 180 C, 350 F or Gas Mark 4.
Roll your puff pastry out into a rectangle to fit your baking tray. Place it on the tray.
Place the cream cheese in your mixing bowl and add the crushed garlic cloves, lemon zest and chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread the cheese mixture onto your pastry rectangle leaving about 2 cm clear around the edges.
Remove the thyme leaves from the woody stems (keep the stems) and put them in a small bowl. Add the grated zest of your lemon along with the crushed garlic. Put your softened butter into the bowl and mash to combine with the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the ends of the asparagus stems as these can be woody and difficult to eat. The best way of doing this is to simply bend the stem and it will snap at the right point.
Place the asparagus on top of the cheese mixture on your pastry rectangle. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
Place the baking tray into the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp, golden and puffed up and the asparagus is soft.