summer memories|gluten free lemon mascarpone tartlets

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I’ve been feeling incredibly thankful today. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with lots of old friends, and laze around in the newly born summer sunshine. After months of rain, cloud and unseasonable snow, finally, summer seems to have arrived, and with it, bright coral blooms have appeared on our rose bushes, begging to be immortalised next to a super seasonal dessert. pistachiocrust

Mascarpone is an ingredient that I haven’t ever used in my baking; it had been so long since I had even tasted it. My childhood memories usually seem to hinge on food in one way or another – I remember a weekend in which I stayed with my best friend in her big farmhouse. We paddled a rickety, bobbing boat across the pond and picked blackberries, slid down a hill on slippery, sudsy tarpaulin, and played tennis in the farmyard. At the end of the day, we all sat around the table eating soft boiled eggs and toast with Marmite, and watched hungrily as her mother filled tiny pastry cases with a teaspoonful of sweetened mascarpone, and topped the bite sized treat with a few raspberries.  lemontart

In this way, I think that mascarpone will always be an inherently summery ingredient to me. This tart offers a different texture to the usual crisp, buttery pastry, with bright green pistachios forming a dense, sweet, citrus touched base to complement the tart creaminess of the lemon mascarpone filling.IMG_1683Gluten Free Lemon Mascarpone Tartlets | plumful

For two 10 cm tartlets (serves 4)

3/4 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup spelt flour

1/4 cup melted butter

zest and juice of 1 lemon

3/4 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature

A couple of drops of vanilla extract

1/4-1/2 cup icing sugar

In a blender, blitz the pistachios well, until they have reached a fine breadcrumb texture. Add the spelt flour, butter, and half of the lemon zest, before blending until a firm, dough-like consistency is achieved. Grease and flour the tartlet tins, before pressing the pistachio dough into the base. Bake at 150 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes, before chilling completely in the fridge. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the mascarpone, remaining zest, and vanilla extract. Add 1/4 cup icing sugar, and beat. Add lemon juice in teaspoonfuls, beating after each addition. Be careful to avoid the filling splitting by being cautious with addition of lemon juice. Adjust sugar to taste, before splitting between the tartlet tins, and topping with twists of lemon and sprigs of mint. Chill before serving.

for you|strawberry + balsamic layer cake

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When I imagined writing this post after reading Elissa’s recent blog entry, I didn’t think for a second that I would be opening it up to people I know. I’d made such a conscious effort to remove every single trace of Plumful from anywhere where I could conceivably be discovered by my friends and family that it hasn’t taken a direction I expected. Despite the coveted spots on Tastespotting and the hard work I’ve put into this, it’s not what I wanted, and I think this has shown in my somewhat erratic posting schedule and dark words.

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Depression is not something that I had planned for this year. By rights, I should have finished my first year of university by now. I certainly put the effort in, but something went wrong along the way. When I reached the point that talking to friends was painful, when hearing my favourite music made me want to throw the radio at the wall, when I could no longer explain why I was doing this degree, why I was crying, why I couldn’t bear to leave the house, all the fight left me. I knew that I was ill, but I wasn’t willing to give in to it, and I couldn’t comprehend how other people could be happy and successful and have left me languishing behind.

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Now I’m just feeling some kind of grief, numbness and detachment, which at the moment is better than the desperation, loneliness and intimidation of a few months ago, when thinking about study sent me into a wild panic. Everything that I expected to happen, now won’t, and I feel like I’m emulating a version of Caitlin, because I’m not really sure who Caitlin is at the moment, without this future I had planned. So, this is my clumsy way of saying that, in being entirely open about this blog, and by being able to share it with the people that I care about, I’m hoping that it will improve, and that I’ll be able to piece together what happens now. So, hi! I’m sorry. I missed you.

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But maybe you just came here for cake? I’ve been wanting to try out some permutation of the strawberry and balsamic vinegar combination for some time, after discovering it nestled in the pages of a Nigel Slater book. However, the time for luscious, sweet British strawberries is only just beginning, so when mid June hit, and an excuse for a birthday cake appeared, I finally got to test it – and it is not at all how I expected. The two flavours are not, as I had thought, distinct. They muddle together and balance each other out, the fresh sweetness and the tart earthiness, and make this impossibly unsophisticated cake a little more complicated beneath it’s pretty pink veneer.

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an expression of love | lavender raspberry cream cake

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Whilst trawling through a stash of my favourite cookbooks on a murky Saturday morning, the vast expanse of bland, blank cloud drifting on for miles across the fields out of my kitchen window, I came upon a weighty, glossy, forgotten tome that my brother gave me for Christmas, lovingly and clumsily wrapped in my own paper. Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, less a recipe book than a memoir, is full of delightful paintings of a voyage of young, naive adventures in New York, breakfasts in Paris, India and Mexico, and a chart of the eponymous Sophie’s attitude to food, in a career dictated by her body.

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When baking this play on a British classic, a Victoria sandwich cake, Sophie’s observation that cooking can be “a far reaching expression of love and humanity that is universal” sprung to mind. Though, for the past few weeks I have been drinking green tea and forgoing any form of sweet treat to combat the curves that have crept up on me, unwittingly, in these past few miserable months, her writing has encouraged me to see food, not as the enemy, but as a form of connection with everyone I have missed.

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This cake, a gift for my mother, made the most of the fragrant lavender nestled in our garden, with the sturdy fronds being massaged in a bed of caster sugar, allowing their floral oils to be released, lending the sweet cake a delicate flavour. A light whipped cream, unsweetened, coated the layers of sponge, sandwiched with tart raspberry jam, littered with crunchy seeds.

Image The sweet simplicity of this cake rather appealed to me, without embellishment from elaborate icing techniques, or a punch of vanilla, the whisper of lavender is allowed to sing through without being masked. It was perfect for afternoon tea on a briefly sunny afternoon, the rays heating the damp earth, and the sweet scent of summer in the air.

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lavender raspberry cream cake | plumful

I used a basic Victoria sponge ingredient ratio here, the first recipe I ever learnt. Ensure that your ingredients are fresh here, especially the eggs; in the absence of flavours such as vanilla or chocolate, the few ingredients that you use must be at their finest.

6oz unsalted butter
6oz golden caster sugar
3 large, fresh eggs
6oz self raising flour
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp lavender fronds, fresh
500ml double cream
3-4 tbsp seeded raspberry jam

Place the sugar and lavender in a bowl. Gently rub the lavender into the sugar for about five minutes, until the sugar has taken on a gentle lavender fragrance. Be sure not to let the sugar become too fragranced, to avoid a soapy tasting cake. Remove the lavender. Beat the butter until pale and creamy in a large bowl, before adding the sugar, a third at a time. Beat for at least five minutes, until the mixture is extremely pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in a third of the flour at a time, along with one tablespoon of milk. Fold in with a metal spoon. Alternate until all flour and milk is incorporated. Split mixture into two 20cm cake tins, and bake for 20 mins at 180 degrees Celsius, or until golden brown on top and when the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Leave to cool, and beat the cream to soft peaks. Pipe a ring of cream on the outer edge of one of the cakes, and fill the centre of the ring with jam. This prevents the incorporation of jam into the cream when covering the outside of the cake. Place the second cake on top, and spread the cake liberally with cream using a palette knife. Heat the knife in a glass of hot water to allow you to smooth the cream properly. Store the cake in an airtight container in the fridge. Best served a few hours after finishing.

making that change | chocolate cake semifreddo

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There was a moment, a couple of months ago, where I found myself sitting in a deserted, chillingly cold library, accompanied only be the whir of surrounding computers, the soft, soporific patter of fat city raindrops falling on the faceless windows, and a teetering pile of lecture notes, ready to be written up. None of these things were obvious to me, as I turned page after page of well thumbed textbooks, created brightly coloured diagrams of enzyme mechanisms of action and learnt the time it takes for the average lipid to pass through the cytosol of a bacterium from one end to another. Every few pages I’d quietly slip a rough, salty oatcake from it’s packet and snap a piece into my mouth to prevent the inevitable mid afternoon stomach rumbles.
IMG_1012I think it was at this point that I realised that something wasn’t right. The humble, boring oatcake seemed like a damning metaphor for how I was living. I was eating crackers as a form of subsistence, but they weren’t providing my body with sustenance. Just as, I realised, following this programme had just become something that I woke up to do in the morning; it wasn’t making me happy. I’ve been battling with this for months, and now, finally, I’ve made the decision to make a change. Although, now, my reason to wake up in the morning has gone, I’m using this time out to heal and recover. To fill my time with things that enrich me, by bringing flavour and excitement to my days.

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coming out of hibernation|earl grey bitter lemonade

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I think Spring has finally sprung, albeit a little late, and with it, a feeling of renewal and nostalgia for hot summer days has clouded my vision. These winter months have allowed me to descend into a dull routine, and I’ve long needed a second to refresh myself. Cycling down country lanes has replaced trudging through the snow to sledge. Chiffon shirts have replaced thick, woollen jumpers, and lemonade and tea have replaced hot chocolate and strong, revitalising coffees.
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This lemonade syrup was a spontaneous creation, using ingredients that were in the house on a sunny day. I decided to use a technique that I picked up from the goddess that is Joy the Baker, and further intensified the lemon flavour by coaxing out the aromatic oils that reside in the rind of the fruit by rubbing strips of zest into the gritty, crystalline sugar. The light, fresh flavour of the Earl Grey gave the syrup depth of flavour and colour, whilst a hint of lavender further intensified the sweetness, without clouding the sharp lemon with saccharine stabs. The bitterness of the tonic water counteracts the bright syrup, lending itself beautifully to create a drink perfects for sipping in the garden.

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early morning|caramelised white chocolate tart

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3Early morning is my favourite time of the day. On a sleepy weekday, when the sun is still just a watery wash over your head, and the night time chill in the air still lingers, I love to wander around and revel in the tranquillity – the calm before the storm of another day comes rushing past.
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This week, I took an entire day to bake something completely out of the blue. Without recipe or guidance, I drove down to the shops on quiet roads, and bought ingredients that I wanted to combine. I took my time to wander the aisles and finally settled on some good white chocolate, eager to augment it’s sweet intensity by caramelisation.

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the weather|browned butter salted caramel cocoa brownies

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In honesty, I’d thought that this post would be full of pictures of daffodils, watery morning sunshine, some fresh Spring fruits and bright, tart flavours. Then, the weather had other ideas.

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Days of non-stop, perfect, powder white snow fell from the slate grey sky, and the house was plunged into a solemn, drab quiet, reminiscent of the festive season; the cheerful refrains of Sinatra and Crosby on our lips, a few months too late.

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