Monday, 25 June 2012

Strawberry cake

Everybody is blogging about strawberries. Well, it is the season after all. Before I carry on, there's one thing I have to get off my chest - much as I love strawberries, I don't particularly like them with cream. There, I've said it. I realise that in most people's eyes I have just committed heresy but I just don't think that they go very well together. The blandness of the cream detracts from the fresh succulence of the fruit, at least in my mind (and my palate). I'd much rather eat the strawberries on their own, unadulterated but I understand that I am and forever will be firmly in the minority in this case. Mine is a lonely road...

The cake here incorporates two strawberry elements - a puree of the fruit, lightly sweetened, folded into the batter and fresh strawberries scattered over just before baking. The puree gives the cake a subtle pinkish hue and the taste is delicately fruity. I love it just as it is, but you could treat it like a Victoria sponge, splitting it open and sandwiching with jam, crème patissière or even whipped cream.

As the theme is Summer Fruits, this is my entry to June's Tea Time Treats challenge run by Lavender and Lovage and What Kate Baked, hosted by Kate this month. It also neatly fits in with the One Ingredient Cooking challenge, which is hosted by Nazima at Working London Mummy and Laura at How to cook good food and the theme is strawberries.



140g butter
180g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
260g strawberries
1 tablespoon icing sugar
zest and juice of a lemon

A 22cm cake tin, greased and base lined with baking parchment.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C .

Wash and hull the strawberries. Put just over half of them in a food processor or blender and whizz them together with the icing sugar and a good squeeze of lemon.
Halve the other strawberries and leave on one side while you get on with the cake.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each addition. Fold in the sifted flour and then the strawberry puree.

Pour into the prepared cake tin. Place the remaining halved strawberries on top, pushing them in slightly so that they're partially submerged.  Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until a cake-tester (be it a knitting needle, metal skewer or anything else you might use) comes out clean.

Leave in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool.

Before serving, dust with icing sugar or slice in half and spread with whatever you like (see note above).

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Insalata Caprese - tomato and mozzarella salad

Now, I know that you probably don't actually need a recipe for this salad but I include it more as a reminder really. It is an all-time favourite of mine, simple and yet utterly delicious, perfect for lunch at this time of year. It requires almost nothing of you in the way of preparation, ready to eat in less than 3 minutes, but in such a simple dish the quality of the ingredients is paramount. The basil has to be as fresh as possible and the tomatoes must be ripe and full of flavour (don't even think about making this in winter!). Make sure that they haven't just come out of the fridge either, the cold diminishes their flavour. Olive oil is used alone here so make sure it's the best - this is the time to use your single estate, cold pressed, unfiltered extra virgin stuff. Oh, and the mozzarella should be from buffalo milk (although I have to confess that I love this salad so much I even enjoy eating it with the bog-standard rubbery mozzarella from supermarkets).

As you can see from the photo, I don't go in for the classic 'Caprese' presentation as I find the overlapping spiral of perfect slices rather clinical and austere. I just tear the mozzarella, roughly chop the tomatoes and pile it up on a plate - so much more inviting and just begging to be devoured.

RECIPE (for one person)

a ball of mozzarella (buffalo if possible)
a handful of tomatoes (any size or variety as long as they've got flavour!)
fresh basil leaves, about 5 or 6, or to taste
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Roughly chop the tomatoes and tear the mozzarella into chunks. Place on a plate, scatter over the basil leaves, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. (I use black pepper too because I think it really enhances the flavour of tomatoes but you would never see it in Italy).
Serve and eat.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Crema di mascarpone

This recipe comes from Lombardy in northern Italy and is usually served at Christmas time with panettone. However, I think it goes really well with fresh summer berries and on its own, makes an elegant pudding served with some crisp langue de chat or tuile biscuits. It can be made the day before and kept in the fridge.

Some versions of this are very rich and sweet; I prefer to reduce the sugar and make it a lighter consistency by whisking the egg whites. I suppose it's a bit like an Italian style syllabub. I've used sweet marsala here but you can pretty much use any alcohol you like - brandy, rum and sherry are all good. Just remember that you might need to add more sugar if the alcohol you are using is on the dry side.

RECIPE - serves 4

2 large eggs, separated
100ml sweet marsala
250g mascarpone
50g caster sugar

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and put aside for a moment. Beat the egg yolks with the caster sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the mascarpone a spoon at a time, mixing well between each addition. Then mix in the marsala. Finally, fold the egg whites in carefully and pour into glasses. Leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.