The Musette: maple caramel pears

Yesterday evening we had a crowd of friends round for dinner. As we’re still enjoying wonderfully sunny and warm weather, I wanted something light which would appeal to everyone and could be served at room temperature outside on the terrace.

We started with an apero of sparkling rosé wine with nibbles, followed by my gazpacho soup with water melon and black olive fougasse.

A main course of Salade Niçoise, made with salmon not tuna,

followed by these soft caramel pears. It can all be prepared well in advance so, no stress!

 

 Ingredients (serves 4 people)

  • 150ml (3/4 cup) maple syrup
  • 50g (1/4 cup) raw cane sugar
  • 30g (1/3rd stick) unsalted butter, diced
  • juice and zest organic orange
  • juice ½ organic lemon
  • splash of pear liquer (optional)
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 ripe pears, unpeeled, halved and cored

To serve:-

  • handfull coarsely chopped, roasted, slightly salted pecans
  • crème fraîche with scraped seeds from vanilla bean, or 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat oven to 240C/220C fan/500F/Gas mark 6. Combine maple syrup, sugar, butter, juices, zest, liquer, star anise and cinnamon in a roasting pan large enough to fit halved pears snugly in a single layer, and place in oven for butter and maple syrup to melt (1-2 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, halve pears and scoop out cores. I use a melon-baller. Stir maple syrup mixture in roasting pan to combine, add pears cut-side down and roast, turning halfway through cooking, until tender and caramelised (40-45 minutes, depending on firmness of the fruit; check every 15 minutes). Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

3. Meanwhile, for vanilla crème fraîche, whisk ingredients in a bowl to soft peaks. Serve pears topped with vanilla crème fraîche and nuts! How easy was that?

The Musette: courgette and lemon drizzle cake

My brother-in-law has an allotment and every year he has a glut of courgettes (zucchini) many of which my sister turns into courgette loaf using her tried and trusted Mary Berry recipe. In case you didn’t know, Mary is the doyenne of British baking and was one of the original judges on the Great British Bake Off. She’s as close to British royalty as you can get without being royal.

I took the recipe and played around with it – sacré bleu! Don’t tell my sister, or indeed Mary, but I found it a little on the heavy side. Indeed, my sister always serves it buttered. I think I’ve come up with a much moister cake by combining it with everyone’s favourite lemon drizzle cake. This way the flavour of the courgette fades away beneath the zingy lemon, while leaving pretty decorative flecks of green. What’s more, the courgettes provide one of your 5-a-day! What could be better? I usually make this as a loaf cake but during confinement I made large muffins so I could more easily share the spoils with my elderly neighbours who were isolating.

Ingredients (makes 12 large cup cakes)

  • 350g (3 cups) courgette (zucchini) raw, grated
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
  • 2 organic eggs, approx. weight without shells 125g
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp fresh organic lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated organic lemon zest
  • 300g (2 1/2 cups) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • ½tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Lemon glaze

  • 85g (3/4 cup) powdered icing sugar
  • 1tbsp fresh organic lemon juice
  • organic lemon zest to decorate (optional)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan). Grease and line a  2-ltr (1 lb) loaf tin or 12 muffin sized baking tray.

2. Coarsely grate the unpeeled raw courgettes (zucchini) (in a box grater or food processor). Tightly squeeze the gratings in a clean tea towel to remove much of the moisture.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the oil, eggs, sugar, zest and juice together until smooth, then stir in the courgette. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate, baking powder and salt, and gently combine.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared tin(s) and bake for 75 minutes (large cake)/30 minutes (muffin sized cake), or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

5. Leave to cool in the tin completely.

6. Mix the lemon juice and icing sugar together until smooth. Drizzle over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the lemon zest.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake(s) in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cakes are browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover them with an aluminium-foil tent.

4. Don’t skip the step to remove moisture from the grated courgette. Otherwise the cake will be soggy!

5. No need to peel the raw courgette – a lot of goodness is in the green skin.

6. This cake itself has a reduced amount of sugar on account of the lemon drizzle topping.

7. Swap the lemon for lime for a totally different flavour. I’ve also made these cakes with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of chopped basil.

8. Make it gluten-free by using gluten-free flour and baking powder.

9. Make it vegan: swap eggs for flax or chia eggs (2 tbsp of ground flax or chia seeds stirred into 6 tbsp of water and allow to stand for 5 minutes to become gelatinous).

10. This is a dairy-free courgette cake.

The Musette: spiced caramel tart

During the summer months we like inviting friends round for lazy Sunday lunches. You could call it a picnic on the terrace except that I can serve dishes I wouldn’t necessarily take to an extenal picnic, largely because of logistics. In keeping with the warm temperatures, I like to offer a selection of cold appetisers, main courses and desserts most of which can easily be prepared in advance, particularly the day before.

This spiced caramel tart recipe is simple to make, but the beautiful just-set texture of the filling elevates it to showstopper status. It looks innocent enough but really packs a flavour punch. Be sure to properly caramelise the sugar to achieve the required rich, deep and nutty flavour.

Ingredients (serves 10)

Sweet shortcrust pastry

  • 300g (2 3/4 cups) all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 200g (2 sticks, less 1 tbsp) ice-cold, unsalted butter
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 organic egg yolks, for egg wash

Spiced caramel filling

  • 150g (1 1/2 cup) caster (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
  • 1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 750ml (3 cups) cream
  • 3 sheets gelatine, (6g)

Method

1. Preheat an oven to 210°C/190°C Fan/(410°F)/gas mark 7. Lightly grease a 20cm (8″) loose-bottomed tart tin, sprinkle evenly with flour and set aside.

2. To make the pastry, combine the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can also do this in a mixing bowl by rubbing the flour and butter together using your fingers, then stirring in the sugar once a breadcrumb texture has been achieved). Continue to mix until the dough just starts to come together, then turn out and lightly knead until smooth – do not overwork, or the pastry will be tough.

3. Roll the pastry out to a 3mm thickness. Using your rolling pin, roll up the pastry and drape over the tart tin. Very gently press the pastry into the edges, using a rolled up scrap of pastry to assist you. Line with ovenproof cling film, baking paper or foil, fill with a blind-baking mixture (you can use rice, baking beads, coins whatever) and blind-bake for 15–17 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the blind-baking mixture and brush the tart with egg yolk – this will help to seal the case. Return to the oven for a few minutes until golden brown all over, then remove and allow to cool.

4. To make the filling, add the sugar, nutmeg and vanilla seeds into a large pan and place over a medium heat. Heat the cream in a separate saucepan and soften the gelatine in iced water.

5.  When the sugar has melted into a golden caramel, remove from the heat and pour in the warmed cream, whisking vigorously – take care as the hot caramel will spit.

6. Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out any excess liquid. Add to the caramel mixture and stir until dissolved. Strain through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl set over an ice bath.

7. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, pour into the tart case and allow to set in the fridge (at least 4 hours but preferably overnight).

8. This sweet, rich tart needs no adornment but, if you feel the need………….just go ahead.

The Musette: hazelnut torta

This is a wonderfully easy cake to make, redolent with the flavours and scents for which Piedmont in Italy is famous – think Nutella! Hazelnuts are called tonda gentile delle Langhe – the ‘sweet round nut of the Langhe’ – and with a bit of chocolate, you have the match made famous in Turin – gianduja. This torte is a classically moist, rich dessert. The darker the chocolate you use, the more intense the flavour. I prefer snappy dark 70% chocolate, though you could use less or even more. The hazelnuts give the cake a wonderfully toasty flavour, while the vanilla and hint of coffee balances all those dark chocolate chunks.

It’s also a very versatile dessert. Serve it simply dredged in icing sugar or with decadent whipped cream on the side or flanked with a scoop of chocolate hazelnut ice cream or a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. In Piedmont, they often serve the cake with a coffee zabaglione.

A fair few ingredients but the end result is worth it

Ingredients (serves ten)

  • 90g (1½ cups) hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off in a tea towel and reduced to rubble in a food processor. (
  • 180g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 160g (1 cup + 1 tbsp) caster sugar
  • 85g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 3 large organic eggs, approx weight without shells 45g (1⅔oz) each
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp espresso coffee powder
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 250ml (1 cup) buttermilk, dairy milk, or plant milk
  • 60g (4 tbsp) dark chocolate chips

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Lightly butter and flour a 23cm (9-inch) round spring-form cake tin.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add the chopped hazelnuts and the chopped chocolate.

2. In the mixer, cream the sugar and butter together until light, smooth, fluffy and white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Incorporate the eggs one by one along with the olive oil and vanilla extract at slow speed, scraping the bowl then beating at high speed for a couple of minutes to lighten.

3. On a slow speed, incorporate the dry ingredients and buttermilk/milk/plant milk alternately, starting and finishing with the dry.

4. Scrape the batter into the cake pan – it should have a soft-dropping consistency – and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. The top should be lightly browned and just spring back to a light touch.

5. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so, remove the side ring of the spring-form and let the cake cool completely.

6. The torte will keep in the refrigerator for a week, well wrapped in cling film (plastic wrap) or for a month in the freezer.

Equally nice on its onw as with.............

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.

4. You’ll note from the picture that I’ve baked mine in a square rather than the recommended round one. The two pieces on the plate will become four and the cake will be sliced and distributed at one of our many cycle club events. It’s always easier to bake cakes for events in square or rectangular tins. Whereas if you’re going to serve it as a dessert, circular looks nicer from a presentation perspective (as shown above).

5. I have also served the cake as a dessert smothered in hazelnut chocolate ganache. Toast 60g (2oz) hazelnuts in a dry frying pan shaking them around frequently for about five minutes, or until they are lightly browned, then allow them to cool completely. If the nuts have skins, put them in clean tea towel after toasting and rub them around – this will remove most of the skins. Cut them in half. Chop 120g (4oz) 70% dark (bitter-sweet) chocolate and put in a saucepan with 125ml (½ cup) of double (heavy) cream over a medium-low heat. Once the chocolate has melted, whisk to combine and then add 1 tbsp of Frangelico hazelnut liquor (optional), then leave to cool. Pour cooled ganache over the cake, spreading lightly to create a smooth, shiny surface, and stud all over with hazelnuts.

6. This cake is at its best when served at room temperature.