When exercise ruins your waistline

Summer Fruit Tarts

(Summer fruit tarts)

I love running. Not for the feeling of the wind in my hair, or the way your limbs ache in a pleasing way at the end of the line. I love running because when you’re running, there are no interruptions. No phone you have to answer, no “I’ll just quickly Google that”, or “Maybe I’ll catch up on Jessica Jones on Netflix”.

Running gives me time to think. Unfortunately, most of my “thinking” tends to veer sharply towards the solemn contemplation of potential baked goods (thereby negating all the good work that running accomplishes). Which is incidentally how I came about to make a big batch of shortcrust pastry. Battling sweat and aching limbs, visions of Summer berries popped into my head (or maybe it was just bright lights and blurred vision caused by heat exhaustion).

My favourite thing to do with berries is actually nothing at all. Eat them plain and eat them often, I say. But there’s no denying that they also look fabulous perched on top of softly whipped vanilla cream in a buttery tart shell. And with that, afternoon tea is sorted. For extra pizzazz, I topped the fruit tarts with sugared thyme. (Isn’t pizzazz such a great word? If I had a pizza shop, it definitely be called Pizzazz.)

Vanilla Brulee Tart

(Vanilla brulee tart)

My current favourite easy recipe for pastry can be found here. Belinda Jeffery’s recipe, which also appears in her book Mix & Bake, is incredibly versatile. I’ve used it in both sweet and savoury applications to great effect.

Tips for pastry success : Heat is the enemy, when it comes to making or rolling out pastry. Keep everything as well chilled as possible. Also chill your lined tart shell before blind baking. This helps retain the shape of the shell. A blind baked shell can be used in all sorts of ways, such as the fruit topped tarts above. Alternatively, fill it with vanilla custard and brulee to give that golden burnished finish. The filling was based on this recipe.

Tomato Crostata

(Tomato, herb and chilli crostata)

If you find yourself allergic to lining tarts and engaging in all that blind-baking nonsense, make free form crostatas instead. Roll the dough out into a rough circle, fill with something sweet or savoury (in this case, Summer-kissed tomatoes and herbs) and bake for about 30-35 mins at 175’C. You’d break into less of a sweat making this than you would running.

Tomato Crostata

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Desert Island Cake

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Caramel Sauce

(Chocolate Fudge Cake, Salted Caramel and Toasted Almonds)

Call me boring and predictable, but my Desert Island cake would undoubtedly be chocolate. Even long after falling under the spell of swaying palm trees and a cool salt scented breeze, some of us still need our daily chocolate fix. As soon as I wade ashore, marooned with my 2 chickens (eggs), a cow (for cream and butter) and, somehow, the knowledge of how to cobble together a working oven out of coconut husks and sheer determination, a cake would be baking and a kettle brewing for tea. Paradise sorted.

The cake is from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Heavenly Cakes cookbook. If you haven’t yet gotten the book (and you really should), you can also find an adapted version of the recipe here.

On its own, the cake is moist, perfectly chocolatey and really doesn’t need dressing up. But if you want to take the cake from desert island to dessert island, a casual drizzle of warm salted caramel and sprinkle of chopped almonds certainly wouldn’t go astray.

Salted Caramel Sauce For A Desert Island Cake :
(makes enough for 1 cake; based on a Tartine recipe)

120g caster sugar
10g liquid glucose
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (depending on your preference)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
25g unsalted butter
squeeze of lemon juice
80g single/pouring cream

Melt the sugar and liquid glucose in a medium-large pot. Cook until it caramelises (you want it a nice dark colour, but not burnt). Turn the heat off, carefully add in the cream (the mixture will splutter), vanilla, butter, lemon juice and salt. Whisk until combined, then strain into a heatproof bowl and allow to cool before using. Just before serving, drizzle onto cake (you can warm the sauce up a little if need be) and top with chopped toasted almonds.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Caramel Sauce

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Pink Grapefruit, Brown Butter and Bay Leaf Cakes

Pink Grapefruit, Brown Butter and Bay Leaf Cakes

(Pink Grapefruit, Brown Butter and Bay Leaf Cakes)

There are no flowers in my garden at the moment. Zilch. Not from lack of trying, mind you. It’s just that everything feels as though it has come to a standstill. I could blame Winter, or I could just feel a bit grateful that the nasturtiums, lovage and bay tree are still moderately flourishing despite my attempts at love (read : possible over watering).

The bay tree is probably the oldest survivor of our garden. A gift from my mom many years ago, it has proven useful in flavouring soups and stews, as well as custards, ice-cream and cakes like the ones below. A few fresh bay leaves are even said to be the prescribed natural remedy for preventing an infestation of weevils in your kitchen cupboards.

Pink Grapefruit, Brown Butter and Bay Leaf Cakes

Despite the lack of flowers, it’s hard to begrudge Winter its lack of colour when there are pears and quinces to poach and all manner of citrus fruits to eat and bake with. Left with a single pink grapefruit languishing in the fruit bowl on our kitchen counter, I decided to turn it into a batch of small cakes. The cakes are pretty easy to put together, and can be customised to suit the season (blueberries in Summer, cherry blossoms in Spring..).

Pink Grapefruit, Brown Butter and Bay Leaf Cake

Pink grapefruit, brown butter and bay leaf cakes :
(makes 12 little cakes)

110g unsalted butter
3 bay leaves
3 large eggs
180g plain Greek-style yoghurt
finely grated zest of 1 large pink grapefruit
225g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of sea salt
170g caster sugar

Grease a 12-hole mini bundt tray. Preheat oven to 170’C.

Brown the butter with the 3 bay leaves. Strain, discarding the solids. You should have 80g of bay leaf-infused brown butter. Allow to cool a little before using.

In a large bowl, combine the plain flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the brown butter, eggs, yoghurt and grapefruit zest, and add this to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Pipe mixture into the greased bundt tray. Bake for 18-20 minutes. The cakes should spring back when lightly pressed.

Unmould the cakes and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Make a drizzly icing with icing sugar and some of the juice from the pink grapefruit (to make the icing more pink, tint it with beetroot powder) and decorate the cakes with as much or as little icing as you please. Finish by dusting with bay leaf powder (dry a handful of fresh bay leaves in a low oven for 10-15 minutes until crisp. Blend to a powder in a spice grinder).

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