The Musette: butternut squash and sweet potato cake

During Lockdown II, I’ve re-started my cake delivery service to my elderly neighbours. This one is obviously healthy as it contains not one but two vegetables! Of course, many of you already know that the sweet potato is your friend when it comes to baking cakes. It’s sweet, it’s moist, it’s filling and it’s easy to work with – what’s not to like? It gives cakes a lovely fudgy texture. Appropriately, it has a bit of a Thanksgiving vibe!

Of course, I never let on how healthy my cakes are and this one will blow your mind. No one can tell its not the real deal. It’s moist, sweet, spicy, fudgy and absolutely delicious. It can sit in the fridge for a couple of days  – as if that’s going to happen – and be as good if not better than the day you baked it.

Ingredients (makes 1 large cake or 8-10 muffin-sized cakes)

  • 250g (2 cups) sweet potato, cooked
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp organic honey
  • 2 tbsp any nut butter
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp vanilla sugar
  • 25g (1 oz) coconut flour
  • 30g (1 oz) rolled oats
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp grated orange zest
  • 150g (1 cup + 2 tbsp) butternut squash, cooked
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Orange glaze

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

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan). Line your baking tin(s) with muffin cases or greaseproof (parchment) paper.

2. In a food processor, process all the ingredients into a smooth batter. It should easily drop from the spoon.

3. Pour the batter into the tin or tins. It should come 2/3rds of the way up the tin.

4. Bake in the oven for 30-55 minutes depending on the size of your cake(s). A toothpick should come out clean when inserted to the center of the cake.

5. Let the cake(s) cool for minimum of 30 minutes before glazing them. Just mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the cake.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.Make the cake vegan by substituting 2 flax or chia seed eggs (2 tbs of seeds plus 6 tbsp water for 2 eggs) or medium sized banana for the two eggs. Use coconut, brown rice or date syrup instead of the honey.

2. If you don’t have some of the ingredients, then here’s is a list of easy substitutes:-

  • Any nut butter: Coconut oil or butter
  • Rolled oats: tapioca flour, polenta
  • Coconut flour: Almond flour, hazelnut flour, or process unsweetened dessicated coconut until it’s fine

3. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

4. 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 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

5. If you think the cake(s) is browning too much at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.

6. The cakes look a bit craggy. To make them more visually attractive I either use an orange drizzle icing as per above although this time I used some left over white chocolate and mango ganache. But there’s loads of glazes, icing etc that you can happily use. Just use your imagination!

The Musette: lemon cream

It’s not just my beloved who believes no meal is complete without dessert, all my French friends are of similar minds. They don’t necessarily want something hearty, often preferring something small, yet rich and decadent. This fits the bill.

I love this dessert because I can prepare it well in advance. It tastes delicious 15 minutes after it has come out of the oven, when it’s still warm and the centre a bit runny. Equally, about half an hour later, when it’s cooler and set but still soft and cloud-like. Or, the next day which, after a night in the fridge, means it’s deeply set, thick and fudgy. Yes, that’s three desserts for the price of one!

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 3 organic lemons, zested and juiced (6 tbsp)
  • 275g (10 oz) golden caster sugar
  • 6 medium organic eggs
  • 250g (9 oz) mascapone or double-cream
  • pinch sea salt

Method

1. Finely grate the lemon zest, then juice the lemons and add both to the sugar. Typically, I’ll peel the zest and mix with the sugar in my food processor before adding the juice.

2. Beat the room-temperature eggs, pinch of salt and marscapone together, ensuring there are no lumps.

3. Combine the contents of both bowls, mix to thoroughly combine, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave in the fridge for up to two days.

4. Preheat oven to 150°C/130°C fan/(300°F/265°F fan)/gas mark 2 and boil the kettle. Pour the mixture into 8 ramekins or similar small dishes, put the dishes onto a paper towel in a larger roasting tin and pour in the hot (not boiling) water until it comes half-way up the pots.

5. Bake for approx. 25 minutes or until they are just set but still have a bit of a wobble in the middle. They will set more as they cool.

6. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving, or leave them for a couple of hours.

7. If you make them in advance, take them out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving.

8. I would typically serve these with a small buttery (shortbread) or crunchy (florentine) biscuit.

The Musette: roasted pears and nougat with chocolate sauce

You may recall that my beloved husband believes no meal is complete without dessert. While I can occasionally fob him off with fresh fruit, yoghurt or cheese during the week, this does not go down well at weekends, particularly after Sunday lunch.

Sometimes I can get away with cooking the fruit and serving it with a sauce, or crunchy topping or, in this case, both. This mouth-watering dessert is so simple, speedy and made with ingredients that I often have in stock. The nougat melts like roasted marshmallow over the soft unctious pears then you drizzle on the sensuous dark chocolate sauce. Desserts don’t get much better (or easier) than this – trust me!

Ingredients (serves 2 greedy cyclists)

  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and cored
  • 1 tbsp fruity olive oil
  • 200g (7 oz) soft nougat
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 100g (4 oz) dark chocolate (70% min. cocoa solids) broken into small pieces

Method

1.Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF)/170ºC (350ºF)/gas mark 4. Peel the pears, cut them in half, core them and put them in a baking dish and brush them with tbsp olive oil.

2. Cut the nougat into chunks and scatter them over the pears. Roast the pears in the oven for about 15 minutes or until golden and tender.

3. To make the sauce, put the syrup and cocoa powder in a pan and add 100ml (10 tbsp) water. Bring to the boil while whisking. Add the chocolate and stir until it melts. It should be beautifully glossy.

4. Serve the sauce with the pears.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.Use softish nougat which doesn’t have too many ingredients, preferably white nougat with almonds. You want the edges to just catch and the rest to partly melt over the pears.

2. The recipe makes more chocolate sauce than you’ll need but extra chocolate sauce is never a problem. It’ll be delicious on all sorts of things such as rum baked bananas, banana bread, pain perdu or just poured over ice cream.

3. At the end of a three-course meal, if you were so inclined, you could make this dessert stretch to four, but I wouldn’t!

The Musette: easiest vegan banana cake ever!

This recipe was inspired by the wonderful 3-ingredient banana cake on Violet’s Vegan Comics. I was intrigued. Could you really make a tasty cake from just three ingredients? Turns out you can!

Having made the original recipe, I started to tinker with it and have come up with a few iterations. The original recipe uses “mugs” for measures which I translated into weighted amounts. I found the original recipe too sweet for us, but it’s just a question of taste. I then looked at what you could add………………….

Ingredients (serves 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 300g (10 1/2 oz) approx. 4 very ripe bananas
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) raw cane sugar
  • 225g (8 oz) self-raising flour, sifted

To which I subsequently added:-

  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC (325ºF)/150ºC (300ºF)/gas mark 3 and line a 1kg (2 lb) non-stick loaf tin with grease-proof (parchment) paper.

2. Mash the bananas with the sugar, salt and vanilla then add the sifted flour. Combine using a figure-of-eight movement with a spatula, do not overmix. It should have a gentle dropping consistency.

3. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for approx. 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack in the tin, for at least 10 minutes. Remove from tin, allow to cool and enjoy.

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 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

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

4. I’ve substituted two tbsp of flour with two tbsp of expresso coffee powder to produce a delicious coffee cake.

5. I’ve also replaced the sugar with 100g salted caramel and five tbsp maple syrup though, of course, the butter in the sauce now renders it non-vegan but still vegetarian.

6. In theory the cake should keep for a few days in a cake tin but I’ve found it disappears the same day.

7. It’ll keep for up to two months in the freezer.

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.