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Pear and chocolate meringue

… but I defy anyone to have any patience whatsoever when putting this dessert together.

There was supposed to be grated orange zest scattered over the top. There was supposed to be vanilla scenting the whipped cream and roasted, chopped hazlenuts dotted throughout the mix. The chocolate sauce was supposed to be artfully drizzled, not dolloped on in an excited hurry of -oh-my-god-I-need-to-eat-this-NOW!

Clearly none of those things happened. In fact, I was in such an excited, giddy rush to eat this that when I transferred a slice to my plate, the meringue collapsed under the weight of that luscious chocolate-pear-cream combination and ended up looking like this:

pear and chocolate meringue

I’m happy to report that this didn’t affect the taste in any way, shape or form. But I did have a second slice, just to be sure 🙂

Tray-baked meringue with pears, cream, toasted hazlenuts and chocolate sauce from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

Serves 6 to 8 people

You’ll need:

4 large egg whites
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
a pinch of sea salt
100g hazlenuts, skins removed
2 x 400g tins of halved pears, in syrup
optional: 2 pieces of stem ginger, thinly sliced
200g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
400ml double cream
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped out
zest of 1 orange

1. Preheat your oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2 and line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

2. Put your egg whites into a clean bowl, making sure there are absolutely no little pieces of egg shell or yolk in them. Whisk on a medium speed until the whites form firm peaks.

3. With the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and the pinch of salt. Turn the mixer to the highest setting and whisk for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the meringue mixture is thick and glossy. To test whether it’s done, you can pinch some between your fingers – if it feels completely smooth, it’s ready; if it’s slightly granular then it needs a little more whisking.

4. Dot each corner of the greaseproof paper with a blob of meringue, then turn it over and stick it to the baking tray. Spoon the meringue out on to the paper. Using the back of the spoon, shape and swirl it into an A4-sized rectangle. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until crisp on the outside and a little soft and sticky inside. At the same time, bake the hazlenuts on a separate tray until golden brown (watch out – they burn easily).

5. Drain the tin of pears, reserving the syrup from one tin. Cut each pear half into three slices. Pour the pear syrup into a saucepan with the ginger and warm gently over a medium hear until it starts to simmer. Take off the heat and snap the chocolate into the saucepan, stirring with a spoon until it’s all melted.

6. Take the meringue and the hazlenuts out of the oven and leave to cool. Place the meringue on a nice rustic board or platter.

7. Whip the cream with the sifted icing sugar and the vanilla seeds until it forms smooth, soft peaks. Smash the toasted hazlenuts in a tea towel and sprinkle half of them over the top of the meringue.

8. Spoon half of the whipped cream over the top and drizzle with some of the chocolate sauce. (If the sauce has firmed up, melt it slightly by holding the saucepan over a large pan of boiling water.).

9. Divide most of the pear pieces evenly over the top. Pile over the rest of the whipped cream and pears. Drizzle with some more chocolate sauce, then sprinkle over the remaining toasted hazlenuts with some grated orange zest.

10. Serve straight away. Or eat leftovers for dinner the next day and don’t look at the bathroom scales. Ahem.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any tinned pears. So I poached some rock-hard little numbers that were just sitting and laughing at me from the fruit bowl – taunting me with the fact that one day soon they would just turn to mush without ever passing through a ‘ripe’ phase. Eddie Izzard has a joke about that somewhere…

Now, who wants to lick the bowl?

Who wants the last bit of meringue?


mushroom risotto

You have a bit of time to daydream when you’re standing around stirring risotto.* Time to ponder some of life’s great mysteries, like what can we do about global warming, what’s going to happen when the oil runs out, or who is the final undercover Cylon in Battlestar Galactica?**

Or you can just zone out and watch the rice swirling around in the pan as it absorbs the stock, transforming into plump little grains of savoury goodness.

Where does your mind wander to when you’re cooking?

*Mostly because you can’t go anywhere while you’re making it. Enforced relaxation? Hmmm…
**Some of us need to know, dammit. Roll on the final season in March, writers’ strike permitting.

Roasted mushroom risotto with parsley
 from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver

This recipe comes in two parts – the risotto bianco and the roasted mushroom add-ins. But once you’ve got the risotto bianco sorted, you can go wherever you like with it if you’re not a fan of ‘shrooms 🙂  

Serves 6

For the risotto bianco, you’ll need:

2 pints/1.1 litres stock (veggie/chicken/whatever you prefer)
2 tablespoons olive oil
a knob of butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 head of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
400g risotto rice
2 wineglasses of dry white vermouth (dry Martini or Noilly Prat) or dry white wine
seas salt and freshly ground black pepper
70g butter
115g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Stage 1: Put the olive oil and butter into a large, heavy-based pan, add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes without colouring. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.

Stage 2: Keep stirring the rice until it looks slightly translucent (about a minute). Add the vermouth/wine and keep stirring.

Stage 3: Once the vermouth/wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice to check if it’s cooked. If not, carry on adding stock until the rice is soft with a slight bite.

Stage 4: Remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for two minutes. Then serve up 🙂

For the roasted mushrooms, you’ll need

200g wild mushrooms, cleaned and torn
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and halved
a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 tablespoon butter
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
1 lemon
Parmesan cheese, for grating

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/400F/gas mark 6. Start making your risotto bianco. When you come towards the end of stage 3, you need to roast your mushrooms, so…

2. Heat a heavy-bottomed ovenproof frying pan or baking tray until medium hot and add a splash of oil. Fry the mushrooms for a minute or two, until they begin to colour, and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, thyme and butter, and mix together.  Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast the mushrooms for 6 minutes or so, until cooked through.

3. At stage 4 of the risotto bianco recipe, when you add the butter and Parmesan, stir in all the parsley. Roughly chop half the roasted mushrooms and garlic, and stir into the risotto, adding a good squeeze of lemon juice to balance the flavours.

4. Divide between the plates and sprinkle over the remaining mushrooms. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Cook’s notes

I only had chestnut mushrooms but they worked out just fine.

Loved Jamie’s advice about letting the risotto relax for a couple of minutes after stirring in the Parmesan and butter. As he says, ‘it becomes amazingly creamy and oozy’ during this time. Perfect.

I kept this post pretty short because of all the recipe-typing-up involved. And because my arm has nearly fallen off from stirring risotto.

Butternut squash isn’t something I ate as a kid but after trying it a few years ago I came to love it, love it, love it. I’ll throw this versatile veg into soups, salads, stews, risotto, eat it roasted as a side dish… However, I’ve never used it to make anything sweet rather than savoury. High time, then, to remedy the situation.

Which brings us back round to Jamie Oliver’s latest book,* in which he has a recipe for butternut squash muffins. Bingo. He mentions that the result is a bit like carrot cake, which had me hooked straightaway, seeing as that’s one of my favourites (along with all the other favourites…). And, as if I needed an extra reason, there is cinnamon involved – oh yes, count me in. What I wasn’t so sure about was the fact that you use the entire butternut squash, skin and all.

What? Grate the whole lot? All I could imagine was encountering bits of hard squash rind in the middle of an otherwise perfectly delicious muffin. Why? Why would you do that to yourself?

But Jamie’s rarely set me on the wrong path before so I gritted my teeth, trusted the recipe and got on with the grating.

After some skinned knuckles and a bit of swearing, I realised that everything would turn out ok. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the skin on a butternut squash is pretty thin. So it would just melt into the batter as the muffins cooked – exactly the same as carrot cake. Hurray!

Of course, this means you’re sneaking in an extra bit of fibre too. But sssssssssssh – don’t tell anyone 😉

Butternut squash muffins from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

Makes 12 muffins

You’ll need:

300g, plain flour, unsifted
350g light brown soft sugar
sea salt
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
175ml extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
400g butternut squash, skin on, deseeded and grated
a handful of walnuts, chopped

For the frosted cream topping, which I clearly didn’t use:

zest of 1 clementine
zest of 1 lemon and juice of half a lemon
140ml soured cream
2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
optional: lavender flowers or rose petals
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and line your muffin tin with paper cases.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil and eggs.

3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mix and stir until just combined. Then add the grated squash and chopped walnuts. Stir to combine but being careful not to overmix.

4. Fill the paper cases with the muffin mixture and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to rest for five minutes and then take the muffins out of the tin and leave to coo on a wire rack.

5. Icing: Place most of the clementine zest, all the lemon zest and the lemon juice in a bowl. Add the soured cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds, and mix well. Taste and adjust the balance of sweet/sour by adding a little more icing sugar or lemon juice as necessary. Spoon the icing over the muffins once they’re completely cold.

Cook’s notes

As you can see from the photo above, I didn’t bother icing the muffins. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit lazy.

Next time I’ll add some raisins or sultanas too, making it even more like carrot cake.

If I’d read the blurb at the beginning of the recipe properly then I would have seen the sentence, ‘The skin of the butternut squash goes deliciously soft and chewy when cooked, so there’s no need to peel it off.’ And then I wouldn’t have worried in the first place. Guess I was in too much of a hurry to make those muffins!

*I renewed the book from the library – there are a few more things I’d like to try 🙂

Sometimes you open a cookbook and a recipe leaps off the page, teasing you with its mouth-watering description and general all-round sexiness. So you amble into the kitchen like a person hypnotised, cookbook in hand, because you have no other option – that recipe isn’t going on any ‘to make’ list nor will it be filed away for another day. You have to make it now.

At least, that’s what happened to me after I found this sitting happily on the shelves of my local library in all its hardback glory:

Plum bakewell tart is the recipe that worked its voodoo magic on me. There are a few others I’d like to try from this book* but the thought of a thick layer of vanilla-scented frangipane and juicy plum quarters, with a dollop of spicy jam hiding underneath… Mmmmmm. Before I realised it, I was rummaging through the kitchen cupboards, looking for the necessary ingredients. By some minor miracle, I had them all. Hurray!

Having said that, it had better be a sustained case of baking lust, as you need the best part of an afternoon to make the recipe. The pastry and frangipane both need half an hour to rest in the fridge, then there’s a further hour in the freezer (!) for the pastry once you’ve eased it into the tart tin… And you have to make the jam. So I’m thinking it’s more of a lazy Sunday afternoon project than something to whip up after work. But it’s worth it. Oh yes. Like Mr O. says, it blows any factory-made version out of the water.

*Maybe I’ll try for a proper book review before the library due date at the end of the month.

Plum bakewell tart from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

You’ll need a 28cm tart tin for this recipe.

For the sweet, shortcrust pastry (which makes enough for two tarts), you’ll need:

500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g icing sugar, sifted
250g cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
A splash of milk

1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Using your hands, work the cubes of butter into the flour and sugar by rubbing your thumbs against your fingers until you end up with a fine crumbly mixture. Now add the lemon zest.

2. Add the eggs and a splash of milk to the mixture and gently work it together until you have a ball of dough. Flour it lightly. Flour your work surface and place the dough on top. Divide the dough into two pieces. Pat each piece into a flat round, flour them lightly, wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour. (Put the half you’re not using in the freezer at this point for another day.)

Or just buy some good-quality ready made pastry. I was in the mood to make pastry this time around but that’s not always the case 🙂

For the plum bakewell tart you’ll need:

A knob of butter
½ x sweetcrust pastry recipe above
1kg plums (mixed varieties would look pretty)
100g vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cornflour, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
50g flaked almonds
icing sugar

For the frangipane, you’ll need:

285g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of good-quality vanilla extract)
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten.

1. Grease a 28cm tart tin with a little butter and make your pastry. After it has rested for 30 mins in the fridge, take it out and roll it out on a floured surface. Line the tart tin with your rolled-out pastry, easing it into the ridges at the side. Place in the freezer for an hour.

2. Put the ground almonds and plain flour together in a large bowl. Halve the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds, using the back of your knife and add to the bowl (or just add the vanilla extract). Beat together until light and creamy. Add the eggs and beat again until the mixture is smooth. Place in the fridge to firm up for at least half an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4 and bake the pastry case for around 10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on.

4. Halve the plums and remove the stones. Finely chop half of them and place in a saucepan with the vanilla sugar and the cinnamon. Cook gently until softened, with a jammy consistency, then stir in the cornflour and simmer until thickened.

5. While the plums are cooking, cut the remaining plum halves into quarters and macerate them for 5 minutes by sprinkling them with icing sugar. Carefully spoon your plum jam into the pastry case and smooth it out across the bottom. Spread the frangipane over the plum jam. Arrange the plums on the surface of the frangipane, pressing them in lightly. Scatter the flaked almonds across the top.

6. Bake the tart in the oven for about 1 hour, with a baking tray under the tart, just in case it bubbles over. Once cooked through and golden brown on top, remove the tart from the oven and leave it to cool.

7. If you like, mix together a few tablespoons of icing sugar with a little warm water and drizzle over the top of the tart before serving.

Cook’s notes

So, what didn’t I do as per the recipe this time? Well, I didn’t have a 28cm tart tin for a start, so I filled a 21cm tin instead and used the leftovers to make free-form tarts. I think I stuffed too much frangipane into the tin but other than that, it worked pretty well.

The pastry – it was ok. I’ve tried other, better versions, so if you have a ‘go to’ sweet pastry you’d probably be better off using it. Also, I used a teaspoon of cinnamon instead of the lemon zest recommended because I was angling for a more spicy autumn flavour overall.

Jamie recommends half a teaspoon of mixed spice for the jam but my love of cinnamon won out and I chucked in a teaspoon instead. While this made for quite a spicy jam, it balanced out when paired up with the frangipane.

It is a loooooooong recipe. I think the easiest way to make it would be to make the consituent ingredients on one night and then put the tart together on the next.


I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
July 2018
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