Mini Victoria Sponges

Sometimes it’s never too late to salvage a cake. If you’ve over baked or a cake has gone a little dry you can pour sugar syrup on to moisten it. Add some vanilla or orange extract to a plain sponge to add extra flavour. Or if it’s sunk in the middle, like my attempt at Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge, then you can turn them into mini versions of this tea-time classic. My mistake was opening the over door too soon and the perfectly risen sponges fell flat right in front of me.

I used a cookie cutter to cut out 2 discs of the sunken sponge and then trimmed off any lumps and bumps to get 2 smooth layers of cake.

Take one of the discs and with the crust side down, spoon on a teaspoon of jam, add some chopped strawberries before spooning on some whipped cream. Place the second layer on top with the crust facing up. Put some icing sugar in a sieve and lightly dust over the top. Serve with a cup of tea for a delicious salvaged disaster!

Couples Come Dine With Me

In November 2014 Paul and I participated in series three of Couples Come Dine With Me. It was intense and exhausting, but an enormous amount of fun. We met 2 couples over 3 days for dinner. We hosted the final evening, with the big reveal. I cooked a full on flavoursome feast that clearly proved too much for some diners. You can watch the episode on Channel 4’s site and if you want to have a go yourself the recipes are below.

Starter

Roast Chestnut and Truffle Soup with Caraway and Gruyère Rye Bread Rolls

Chestnut and truffle soup

Chestnut and truffle soup

  • 375g roasted chestnuts
  • 2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1.75l fresh chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 small glass sherry
  • 200ml double cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, for cooking
  • Large teaspoon of black truffle pesto

For the crispy breadcrumbs:

  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 8 sprigs of thyme, picked
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed

Method

  1. Cross-cut the chestnuts and roast for 30 minutes in the oven at 200C
  2. Let the chestnuts cool before peeling removing the pith and the shell
  3. Heat a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add a dash of olive oil. Sweat the shallots down slowly until soft and then add the chestnuts. Season well, pour over the sherry and the stock and bring to the boil
  4. Turn down to a simmer for about 10 minutes to soften the chestnuts and reduce the liquid. Once the liquid has reduced, remove from the heat and add the cream. Stir well
  5. Blend the chestnuts in a food processor, adding the liquid a little at a time, finally adding the truffle pesto. The consistency should be fairly thick and soupy. Season to taste and keep warm
  6. Gently fry the breadcrumbs with the garlic and thyme over a medium heat in some olive oil. The crumbs should be golden brown. Season to taste and drain well
  7. Divide the soup between the bowls and the sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and serve garnished with some more thyme and olive oil, and homemade bread rolls

Main Course

Confit Duck Leg with Parsnip Puree and Pan-roast Heirloom Carrots, Fondant Potato and Cranberry Jus

Confit Duck Leg

Confit Duck Leg

For the Duck Legs

  • 2tbsp dried thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2tbsp salt
  • 6 duck legs
  • 4tsbp duck fat

For the Parsnip Puree

  • 3 Large Parsnips, peeled, cored and cut into 3-4cm chunks
  • 500ml Whole Milk
  • 1 small sprig of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 25g unsalted butter

For the Pan-roast Heirloom Carrots

  • 1 dozen Heirloom Carrots
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 1 Star anise

Method

For the Duck Legs

  1. To prepare the duck legs, crush the dried thyme and bay leaves in the salt until it is evenly mixed. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the duck legs. Place in the refrigerator and let cure for 36 hours
  2. Remove the duck legs from the refrigerator and rinse thoroughly with cold water
  3. Set the Sous Vide Professional to 75°C
  4. Place the duck legs in a medium vacuum bag and add 4tbs of the duck fat
  5. Seal the bag to the desired vacuum
  6. Once the target temperature of 75°C is reached, place the bag in the circulating water bath
  7. Cook the duck legs to the desired doneness, 10 to 12 hours
  8. Remove the bag from the circulating water and remove the duck legs from the bag
  9. Just before serving, in a hot pan, warm the remaining 2tbs duck fat. Add the duck legs and sear until the skin is crisp
  10. For the Parsnip Puree: Place the parsnip chunks into a heavy based saucepan with the milk, bay leaves, thyme and garlic. If necessary top up with water to cover the parsnips by 1cm
  11. Bring to a simmer and cook for 25mins or until parsnips are tender
  12. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig and ladle the parsnips and milk into a blender. It is likely you will need to do this in batches. Puree the parsnips until they are of a smooth and silky consistency
  13. Return the puree to a clean pan. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the butter until melted
  14. Heat through to serve

For the Heirloom Carrots

  1. Slice the carrots in half
  2. Place in a pan of boiling salted water for 2 minutes
  3. Plunge carrots into ice water to cool and then drain
  4. Heat the butter in a pan with the star anise and add carrots on a medium heat for 15 minutes to colour and put to the side
  5. Heat carrots in a warm oven (140C) for 5 – 10 minutes

Chocolate-Avocado Mousse with a Brandy Snap Basket, Mixed Berries and Berry Sauce

Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Chocolate Avocado Mousse

For the Mousse

  • 6 very ripe large avocados peeled and pitted
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1dstspn vanilla bean paste
  • 3tbsp honey

For the Berry sauce

  • 100g of each blackberry, raspberry, strawberry
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 1tbsp water
  • 2tbsp icing sugar

To finish

1tbsp hazelnuts

Method

For the Mousse

  1. Blend the avocado thoroughly in a food processor. Add the honey, then the cocoa powder and finally the vanilla bean paste
  2. Scrape down the sides half way through blending, make sure all the mixture is blended and smooth,
  3. Transfer to a piping bag and refrigerate until needed
  4. Pipe the mousse into glasses

For the Berry Sauce

  1. Put berries, water, icing sugar and lemon juice in a pan. Bring to boil and then simmer on a low heat and allow to reduce for approximately 10 minutes. Put to one side to cool until needed
  2. Toast the hazelnuts on a low heat until they start to colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Crush the hazelnuts coarsely. Garnish pudding with brandy snap basket, fruit, berry sauce and toasted hazelnuts