I came up with the idea for this cake after searching for “white currant recipes” on Google and finding….not very many! In my garden, I have a number of long-established currant bushes in my garden. I always find lots of uses for the red currants and the black currants but always struggle to find recipes that make the most of the white currants.
Advice from the internet is that you can use white currants as a substitute for red currants. However, I wanted a recipe that would make the most of their pale, understated, opalescent beauty. My feeling was that a pale, minimal cake, simply decorated with fresh white currants, was what was needed in visual terms. To balance the creamy mascarpone icing, I made a sharp-sweet white currant compote to sandwich the layers of cake.
This cake is a pale and understated beauty with creamy mascarpone icing, a tangy white currant compote filling, and minimal decoration of beautiful opalescent white currants.
For the cake:
450 g butter (softened)
450 g caster sugar
450 g self-raising flour
7 tablespoons of milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
For the white currant compote:
300 g white currants
180 g caster sugar
2 tablespoons of water
For the filling and topping
500 g mascarpone
200 ml double cream
3 tablespoons of icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 or four sprigs of white currants
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 vanilla extract.
Grease three 19 cm Victoria Sandwich tins and then add the cake mixture.
Bake your cakes in the oven for around 30 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.
Method: White currant compote
Wash the white currants and remove them from their stalks.
Put the white currants, sugar and water into a saucepan. Gently heat to simmering point and then cook for one minute.
Remove the currants from the sugar liquid and set aside.
Bring the sugar liquid to boiling point and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.
Return the currants to the sugar liquid and allow to cool.
Method: Filling and topping
Whip the mascarpone, cream and vanilla essence with the icing sugar until the mixture is combined and forms soft peaks.
Spread a quarter of the mascarpone mixture on top of one of the cakes which will form the bottom tier. Spread a half of the white currant compote on top of it.
Place the second cake on top of the first one. Spread a quarter of the mascarpone mixture on top of this cake which will form the middle tier. Spread a half of the white currant compote on top of it.
Place the third cake on top of the second one. Use the remaining half of the mascarpone mixture to coat the top and sides of the assembled cake.
Decorate with the sprigs of fresh white currants.
In the (unlikely) event that there is any cake left over, this needs to be stored in the fridge due to the cream icing. It will keep for a couple of days but, like all sponge cakes, it tastes better when it is freshly made.
Keywords: white currants, cake, victoria sandwich cake
This Tomato Soup is perfect for a summer lunch or supper. It is really easy to make and perfectly showcases the taste of those beautiful sun-ripened tomatoes that are currently in season. My method of only thinning the soup down with water, stock or milk once it has been blended means that you have control of how thick it is and avoids you ending up with watery soup if the tomatoes that you use are particularly juicy.
This is a very versatile soup as it can be eaten either warm or chilled. This makes it perfectly adaptable to the vagaries of English weather. You make the soup and then decide whether you want something warming and comforting or refreshing and cooling.
What you need to know about my Tomato Soup
Cooking the chopped onions, carrots, celery and tomatoes slowly is really important. It caramelises the vegetables and gives the soup a real depth of flavour.
The quality of the tomatoes that you use will affect the flavour of the soup. Try and use good quality, flavourful tomatoes. If you have home-grown tomatoes, so much the better. Otherwise, seek out tasty tomatoes in your local farmers market, farm shop or supermarket. You can use any kind of tomatoes for this recipe but choose those which have a good strong flavour.
A useful tip to skin the tomatoes is to put them in a saucepan, cover with boiling water, drain and cool with cold water. The skins should then be very easy to remove.
Potatoes are used to thicken this soup rather than flour. This adds an additional element of nutrition (potatoes contain a lot of nutrients) and makes the soup perfect for anyone who is gluten intolerant.
As the soup is thinned right at the end of the recipe, you can make it as thick or thin as you wish. You can also choose whether to use milk which will make richer soup rather than water or stock. A swirl of cream is also good if you are not focusing too hard on being healthy!
My recipe is vegetarian but it is easily converted into a vegan recipe. Just replace the butter with vegetable oil and using water or vegetable stock to thin the soup.
This easy made-from-scratch Tomato Soup highlights the sweet taste of lovely seasonal tomatoes and can be eaten either warm or chilled.
25 g (1 oz) butter and a tablespoon of oil
2 onions (peeled)
2 carrots (peeled)
3 sticks of celery
1 bulb of fennel
2 medium potatoes (peeled)
2 cloves of garlic
14 tomatoes (approximately 1 kilo or 2 lbs)
Salt and pepper
Liquid to thin the soup (milk, vegetable stock, water as preferred)
Roughly chop the onions, carrots, celery and fennel.
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy pan or casserole. Add the chopped vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Cook gently for approximately 15 minutes until they have softened. This is the base for your soup and seasoning the vegetables and slow cooking to ensure they are soft and sweet will greatly enhance its flavour.
Roughly chop the potatoes and add them to the saucepan along with the crushed garlic cloves. Cook gently for a further five minutes.
Skin the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to put them in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and leave for two minutes. Then remove from the saucepan, run under cold water so that they are cool enough to handle. The skins should be easy to remove.
Chop the skinned tomatoes. If you are using bigger tomatoes, when you slice them in half you may see green tougher bit of flesh where the stalk end of the tomato. It is worth cutting this bit off to avoid any fibrous lumpy bits in your soup!
Add the tomatoes to the saucepan with the rest of the vegetables.
Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on. Do not add any extra liquid as the tomatoes will release their juice during cooking.
After 15 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and allow the soup mixture to cool.
Liquidise the soup in a liquidiser or using a hand blender. Once you have done this, you can thin your soup down by adding some extra liquid. How much you need depends on how much juice came out of your tomatoes and how thick you like your soup. You can use milk, vegetable stock or water or a combination of liquids depending on your preference. I generally add a mixture of vegetable stock and milk.
Reheat gently if serving the soup warm. If you are planning to eat it chilled, allow it to cool to room temperature and then place in the fridge for at least an hour.
I love lavender! I grow several varieties in my garden and look forward to the first hot day of the year when you get a waft of lavender scent on the air and know that summer is truly here. Lavender Shortbread is an excellent way of capturing the essence of this beautiful, fragrant plant.
Lavender has many culinary uses and its fragrance works well in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. However, you do have to be a bit careful though as lavender is a very strongly scented plant and, if you use too much, it can overwhelm other flavours. For this reason, I think it is best used on its own rather than in combination with other aromatics.
Plain shortbread is delicious – it should have a fairly soft, crumbly texture – but it also makes great vehicle to showcase a range of flavours, including lavender, rose geranium, thyme, rosemary and lemon verbena. It is a great accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee and is also a good partner with ice-cream or sorbet.
The English word lavender is thought to be derived either from Old French lavandre which is taken from the Latin lavare “to wash” which refers to the practice of using it in infusions or from the Latin livere “blueish” in reference to its colour. Lavender (“nard” in Hebrew) is mentioned in the Song of Solomon.
It was introduced into England in the 1600s. At that time, it was used to make herb tea which was appreciated for its taste and for its medicinal properties. It was also used to make a conserve which was prized by members of the aristocracy including, allegedly, Queen Elizabeth 1. Although lavender is often now associated with southern French cuisine, it was not widely used until the turn of the 20th century and its use was popularised only later by its inclusion in the 1970s in herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs invented by spice wholesalers.
This Tomato Tart showcases both the look and taste of sweet, seasonal tomatoes. A pastry case holds the sliced tomatoes which are surrounded by a savoury custard made with eggs, cream and strong cheddar cheese. A few chopped chives are added to enhance the flavour.
This Tomato Tart can be eaten hot, warm or at room temperature. It is a great vegetarian make-ahead recipe which can be served at lunch or dinner or taken on a picnic.
I make a lot of tomato-based dishes but in many of them the tomatoes are reduced to a sauce. The taste is great but it doesn’t look so pretty! My aim was to create a tart where their beauty and variety could be seen as well as their taste enjoyed. There are so many different varieties now available in stores, or to grow in your garden, in such a range of sizes and colours from yellow to orange to deep red. They look beautiful and are great eaten just as they are in salads or as an accompaniment to cold dishes. However, I came up with the idea for my Tomato Tart because I wanted a cooked dish which retained their beautiful colours and shapes as well as highlighting their taste.
What you need to know about this Tomato Tart recipe
I generally make my own pastry. I was a late learner when it came to pastry and for years used ready-made versions. However, a few years ago I decided I had to get to grips with pastry-making and discovered how easy it is. So, if you have the time to make your own pastry, it is really worth doing as the taste will be much better than anything you can buy in the shops. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination, you can make this recipe using ready-made pastry and it will still taste pretty good.
Whether you are making your own pastry or using ready-made, it is really important to bake the empty pastry case in the oven for 15 minutes before you add the filling (step 3). This sets the pastry and means that it is properly cooked so it will be crisp and delicious rather than soft and soggy.
You can easily remove the skins from the tomatoes by immersing them in boiling water and then cooling them down in cold water (step 4). Make sure that you don’t leave them in the boiling water for too long or they will start to cook and may go a bit mushy.
I use a strong, extra-mature cheddar cheese in this recipe. You can use other hard cheeses but make sure you use one with a strong flavour. You need this to balance the sweetness of the tomatoes.
In this recipe, I add chopped chives to the Tomato Tart. I often add chives to a tomato salad and think that the combination works well together. However, you could use other herbs if you prefer. I think basil or oregano would be good alternatives.
I make a lot of quiches and savoury tarts. In my view, they are one of the most versatile and useful dishes. They are easy to make and easy to divide into portions. Also, they can be made in advance and they can be served hot or cold. There are a lot of vegetarian options which still seem to please meat-eaters and there are lots and lots of possible flavour combinations. In addition to this Tomato Tart, some of my favourites from this are listed below.
This make-ahead, vegetarian Tomato Tart using sweet, juicy tomatoes, fresh chives and tangy cheese is the perfect choice for a summer lunch or picnic.
For the pastry:
275 g (10 oz) plain flour
125 g (4 oz) fat (I use a mix of half butter and half Trex as I think this makes the lightest pastry)
A little water
For the filling:
150 ml (5 fluid oz) double cream
150 g (5 oz) strong cheddar cheese (grated)
Salt and pepper
A large bunch of fresh chives (around 15 stems)
6–7 assorted tomatoes – I use various sizes and colours as I think it looks nice!
Set your oven to 180 C, 350 F or Gas Mark 4.
Make the pastry. Put the flour in a bowl. Add the fat and combine – either by “rubbing in” by hand or processing – until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little cold water (2-3 tbsp) and shape the mixture into a dough.
Roll out your pastry and use it to line your quiche or flan dish. Bake for 15 minutes in the oven to allow the pastry to “set”. This will stop the filling making it soggy.
Remove the skins from your tomatoes. I find the easiest way to do this is to immersing them in boiling water for around 1 minute and then immersing in cold water to cool them down (so that they are not too hot to handle and do not continue to “cook”). The skins should then be easy to peel off the tomatoes.
When you have skinned the tomatoes, slice them into thin discs.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, add the cream, and beat until combined. Finely grate the cheddar cheese and add to the mixture.
Chop your fresh chives and add them to the egg, cream and cheese mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into your pastry case.
Place the tomato discs on top of the mixture in the pastry case.
Place your quiche or flan dish in the oven and cook for 25 minutes.
The tart can be eaten hot, room temperature or cold.
Get in touch with your girly side with this pretty-in-pink Raspberry Pavlova. Sometimes, even the least girly of us (and I include myself in that description) feel a need to embrace pink. If you feel a girly mood coming on, this Raspberry Pavlova, with delicate pink rose-flavoured meringue could be the answer!
Raspberry and rose is a classic flavour combination. In this Pavlova, the meringue is flavoured with rosewater and topped with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. The slightly sharp flavour of the raspberries is an excellent contrast with the sweetly floral meringue.
Pavlova is my go-to dessert for celebrations of all kinds. It is very easy to make, can be prepared in advance, looks impressive and is not too heavy so is perfect as a summer dessert. If you like the recipe for this Raspberry Pavlova, you may also like my classic Pavlova , my Rose Meringues and my classic Meringues.
If you are making any of my meringue-based recipes, you might also check out my ice-cream recipes such as Lavender Ice-cream, Thyme Ice-cream with Honey and Mascarpone or Elderflower Ice-cream. You need four egg whites for this recipe which means you will have four spare egg yolks. As I hate waste, I pretty much always make some form of ice-cream when I make any type of meringue. Very conveniently, all my ice-cream recipes require four egg yolks.