All is sweet with the world: Decadent treats for all
In this exclusive extract from her latest book, Rachel Allen introduces a collection of deliciously decadent treats that are suitable for any occasion
I am thrilled to announce the publication of my brand-new book, All Things Sweet. Those of you who regularly read these pages will know that I admit to having something of a sweet tooth. So it was a fabulous treat for me to be able to devote an entire book to the subject!
Like everyone, I understand the importance of healthy eating and lifestyle. I think we all do our best to include wholesome food in our diets, but every now and then we deserve a treat, don't we?
One of the joys of baking or making your own treats is that you know exactly what has gone into them - so sometimes even the sweetest treat can be packed with nutritious and often healthy ingredients, such as fruit, seeds, nuts and yoghurt.
Of course it isn't all about nutritious, healthy ingredients and worthy options - this is a book about sweets, after all! Every so often I like pure, unadulterated indulgence, and I've included more than a few recipes for just such a deliciously decadent occasion.
For times when your hunger outweighs your patience, I've a chapter full of treats that you can make in minutes. These are recipes I've used for years for dessert emergencies, or instant after-school snacks.
There's a chapter full of recipes that children won't just enjoy - they can also help to make them in the kitchen. There are classic desserts with a twist, afternoon-tea treats, and so much more. The mood for something sweet can strike me at any time and there are enough ideas in this book to mean that should never be a problem!
So, whether it's baking cookies with your children, whipping up a celebratory cake for someone special, or simply making an indulgence for no one but yourself, this book will give you plenty of sweet inspiration.
Blueberry jelly and milk ice-cream
Jelly and ice cream: this is a classic twosome - and for very good reason, too. As the cool, refreshing ice-cream starts to melt into the thick, wobbly jelly, it's hard not to feel a little nostalgic for 1980s birthday parties! This delicious combination isn't just for the children, though. You will need an ice-cream machine for this recipe.
For the milk ice-cream, you will need:
150g (5oz) caster sugar or granulated sugar
Big pinch of salt flakes
500ml (18fl oz) milk
2 egg whites
250ml (9fl oz) double cream or regular cream
For the blueberry jelly, you will need:
250g (9oz) blueberries, plus a few to garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
50ml (2fl oz) water
75g (3oz) caster or granulated sugar
1 sheet of gelatine
To make the milk ice-cream, put the caster sugar or the granulated sugar, whichever you are using, the big pinch of salt flakes and the milk in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir together until the sugar has just dissolved, then set aside.
In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are slightly fluffy (a minute or two is fine). Add the double cream or regular cream, whichever you are using, to the sugar, salt and milk mixture that you set aside earlier, then combine with the whisked egg whites and cream mixture. Freeze in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
To make the blueberry jelly, put the blueberries and the lemon juice in a blender and whizz for a good few minutes until very smooth. Then push the mixture through a sieve and set it aside.
Put the 50ml (2fl oz) of water and the caster sugar or granulater sugar, whichever you're using, in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir just until the sugar has dissolved, then remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside.
Place the sheet of gelatine in a bowl of cold water and leave it to sit for 3-5 minutes until it has softened. Remove the gelatine sheet from the soaking water and squeeze out any excess liquid. Transfer the softened gelatine to the warm sugar syrup you set aside earlier and stir until it dissolves. Add 4 or 5 tablespoons of the blueberry-and-lemon mixture to the gelatine-and-sugar syrup and stir together, then pour this mixture into the remaining blueberry-and-lemon mixture.
Stir everything together well, then divide the jelly among four glasses or moulds and place in the fridge to set. This should take 3-4 hours.
Serve the blueberry jelly with the milk ice-cream. Garnish with some fresh blueberries.
Sesame and honey halva
Halva, which in Arabic means 'sweet' or 'desserts', is made in many parts of the world, including the Middle East, Asia, north Africa and eastern Europe. There are a few different types, but perhaps the most well-known one is made from the nutritious sesame-seed paste, tahini. The last time I was in Istanbul I ate nearly my body weight of the stuff! Happily, it's very easy and quick to make, too. You need a 900g (2lb) loaf tin. A sugar thermometer is optional.
You will need:
300g (11oz) honey
250g (9oz) light tahini paste (stirred well to mix in any excess oil)
Line the base and sides of a loaf tin with baking parchment.
Put the honey in a small-to-medium saucepan on a high heat and bring it up to the boil. Continue to boil it for 8-10 minutes, stirring regularly. It's ready when it reaches 115°C, 239°F. If you have a sugar thermometer, use it to monitor the temperature as soon as the honey boils. If you don't have one, you can test for the soft-ball stage. To do this, place a blob of boiling honey - a teaspoon or so - in a small bowl of cold water; as it cools, it will form a soft ball.
Once the honey is ready, cool for 3 minutes off the heat, then stir in the light tahini paste and pour the mixture into the lined loaf tin. When the mixture is completely cool, cover it and place the tin in the fridge. Leave it to sit for 36 hours to allow the small sugar crystals that give halva its distinctive texture time to develop.
Cut into chunks or slabs to serve.
Yoghurt with toffee figs
Something magical happens when figs are cooked with brown sugar. As the sugar caramelises, the figs take on a flavour like that of a sweet, dark, toffee-like sherry. The tangy Greek yoghurt is the perfect foil for the figs - and when toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of honey are added to the mix, this makes for a delightful Middle Eastern-inspired treat.
You will need:
20g (¾oz) soft light-brown sugar
4-8 ripe figs, depending on size
300g (11oz) Greek yoghurt
4 teaspoons honey
25g (1oz) pine nuts, toasted
Spread the light brown sugar out on a plate, then cut the figs in half.
Put a frying pan on a medium-high heat. Place the figs, cut side down, in the light brown sugar, then place them in the frying pan. Cook the figs for a few minutes until the light brown sugar darkens and caramelises.
As the figs cook, divide the Greek yoghurt among the plates, then drizzle over the honey and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Arrange the figs on the plate next to the Greek yoghurt, then serve.
Strawberry Victoria Mess
This is a simple little twist on the classic Eton mess - instead of using meringue, this recipe uses Victoria sponge. A delicious, quick recipe to assemble on a summer's day.
For the sponge, you will need:
100g (3½oz) butter, plus extra for greasing
100g (3½oz) caster or granulated sugar
100g (3½oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon milk
For the strawberries, you will need:
450g (7oz) strawberries, dehulled
100g (3½oz) caster sugar or granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the puree
Juice of 2 lemons
250ml (9fl oz) double cream or regular cream
Few sprigs of fresh mint, to decorate
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4, then butter and flour the sides of an 18cm (7in) diameter sandwich tin with 3cm (1¼in) sides. Line the base of the tin with a disc of baking parchment.
In a large bowl or in an electric food mixer, cream the butter until it is soft. Add the caster sugar or granulated sugar, whichever you are using, and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl for a few seconds until they are just mixed, then gradually add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture, beating all the time. Sift in the plain flour and the baking powder, then add the milk and fold it in gently to incorporate it.
Tip the mixture into the tin and place the tin in the centre of the oven. Bake the sponge for 18-25 minutes or until it is golden on top and springy to the touch.
Remove the sponge from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges of the cake using a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the sponge from the tin. Leave on a wire rack to cool down completely.
To make the puree, take 100g (3½oz) of the strawberries and put them in a food processor along with the tablespoon of caster sugar or granulated sugar, whichever you are using, and the juice of ½ lemon. Whiz for a few minutes, then push through a sieve and set aside.
Slice the remaining strawberries and mix them together in a bowl with the remaining 100g (3½oz) of caster sugar or granulated sugar, whichever you are using, and the remaining lemon juice. Set aside and allow to sit for about an hour or so to become juicy.
Strain off the juices and place the strawberries in a bowl. Next, cut the Victoria sponge in to 1cm-1.5cm (½in-¾in) pieces and add to the bowl. Mix together well to make sure each sponge piece is thoroughly moistened.
In a bowl, whisk the double or regular cream, whichever you're using.
To serve, add in layers to serving glasses - first, add a few pieces of Victoria sponge, then some sliced strawberries, next, a spoonful of whisked cream, and finish with a drizzle of the pureed strawberries and a sprig of mint.
Salted caramel cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes.
As you bite into these cupcakes, you get three different textures all at once - salted caramel frosting, sitting over a buttery, crumbly bun, which is oozing with a sweet-and-salty toffee sauce. What's not to love?
For the salted caramel sauce, you will need:
225g (8oz) caster sugar or granulated sugar
75g (3oz) butter
100ml (3½fl oz) double cream or regular cream
1 teaspoon salt
For the cupcakes, you will need:
150g (5oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g (5oz) caster sugar
Pinch of salt
100g (3½oz) butter, cut into cubes
100ml (3½fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the salted caramel buttercream icing, you will need:
475g (1lb 1oz) icing sugar
200g (7oz) butter, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 170°C, 325°F, Gas 3.
First, make the salted caramel sauce. Put the caster sugar or the granulated sugar, whichever you're using, in a saucepan on a medium heat. Allow it to heat up. As it gets quite hot, you'll notice the sugar melting and starting to caramelise around the sides of the saucepan. Gently shake the pan every so often until all of the sugar turns a deep golden brown and is smooth and glossy. You might need to stir it a little bit with a wooden spoon to bash out any sugary lumps. Stir in the butter and the double cream or the regular cream, whichever you're using, and keep stirring until the mixture is smooth again - it might take a minute or so. Add in the pinch of salt and remove from the heat.
Next, make the cupcakes. Put 12 paper cases in a cupcake or muffin tray. Sieve the plain flour, the cornflour and the baking powder into a bowl, then mix in the caster sugar and the pinch of salt. Rub in the cubes of butter.
Put the milk, the vanilla extract and the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk them to mix. Pour this wet mixture into the dry flour mixture in the other bowl, and mix everything together using a wooden spoon. Fill each paper case about two-thirds or three-quarters full, then bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked in the centre. There should be a light spring when you gently press the centres with your finger. Take the cupcakes out of the oven and allow them to cool.
While the cupcakes are cooling, make the salted caramel buttercream icing. Put the icing sugar, the butter, the salt and the vanilla extract in a mixing bowl along with 175g (6oz) of the salted caramel sauce - reserve any remaining sauce for later. Beat for about 10-20 seconds to mix everything together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Set aside.
When the cupcakes have cooled, using a small, sharp knife, cut a piece out of the centre of each cupcake, measuring about 1cm-2cm (½in-¾in) in size. Discard - or eat! - the cut-out bits of cake, then fill the holes with some of the reserved salted caramel sauce.
Put the salted caramel buttercream icing in a piping bag that has a plain or fluted nozzle, and pipe a swirl of icing over each cupcake. Drizzle any remaining salted caramel sauce over each iced cupcake to decorate.
Strawberry and rhubarb cobbler
Strawberry and rhubarb has to be my favourite early summer flavour combination and in this recipe, the two juicy fruits lie underneath a thick blanket of crunchy, buttery deliciousness.
You will need:
Butter for greasing
300g (11oz) rhubarb, cut into 2cm (¾in) pieces
300g (11oz) strawberries, sliced
100g (3½oz) caster sugar
For the batter, you will need:
225g (8oz) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
50g (2oz) butter
100g (5oz) caster sugar
75ml (3fl oz) milk
50g (2oz) almonds, chopped
Preheat the oven to 170°C, 325°F, Gas 3.
Grease a 1L (1¾pt) pie dish with butter, then add the rhubarb pieces and the sliced strawberries and scatter over the caster sugar.
To make the batter, sift the plain flour and the baking powder together into a bowl. Rub in the butter, then mix in 75g (3oz) of the caster sugar. Beat the milk and the egg together and mix in to the butter-and-sugar mixture to form a soft dough. Place this dough in 'blobs' over the top of the fruit.
Mix the chopped almonds together with the remaining 25g (2oz) of the caster sugar, then sprinkle them over the top of the cobbler.
Place the cobbler in the oven and bake it for 45-50 minutes until the centre is cooked through. Stick a skewer into the batter - the cobbler is ready if it comes out clean.
Double Chocolate Mousse Cake
Rich, flour-free chocolate mousse cake covered with a thick blanket of - yes, rich chocolate mousse. This is a no-holds-barred onslaught of chocolate deliciousness. I recommend using a dark chocolate with somewhere between 55pc and 70pc in cocoa solids.
For the chocolate mousse cake, you will need:
50g (2oz) butter, plus extra for greasing
200g (7oz) dark chocolate (55pc-70pc cocoa solids), chopped, or in pieces, or drops
150g (5oz) caster sugar
Pinch of salt
For the chocolate mousse coating, you will need:
100g (3½oz) dark chocolate (55pc-70pc cocoa solids)
50g (2oz) butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas 4. Line the base of 18cm (7in) cake tins with baking parchment and grease the sides of the tins with the butter.
To make the chocolate mousse cake, put the butter and the dark chocolate in a bowl, and place the bowl sitting over a saucepan that contains a few centimetres of water. Bring the water up to the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat and allow the dark chocolate and the butter to melt slowly.
Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk for a few minutes until the mixture is pale and light. Beat the butter-and-chocolate mixture into the caster sugar-and-egg yolk mixture.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks, then fold them into the butter, chocolate, sugar and egg yolk mixture.
Divide the chocolate mousse between the two greased, lined tins and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. A skewer inserted into the centre should just come out clean - but remember, the mixture should remain moist; it's not a sponge. Take the cakes out of the oven and allow them to sit for 30 minutes before taking them out of the tins.
Next, make the chocolate mousse coating. Place the dark chocolate in a bowl and place the bowl sitting over a saucepan that contains a few centimetres of water. Bring the water to the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat and allow the dark chocolate to melt slowly.
Separate the eggs and beat the yolks into the warm chocolate, then beat in the butter.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate, egg yolk and butter mixture. Next, add in the remainder of the egg whites, which should be folded in gently.
Place the chocolate mousse coating in the fridge for 1-2 hours until it is stiff enough to 'ice' the cake without it falling off. When you're ready to ice, put one cooled cake upside down on a plate or a cake stand. Spread a couple of heaped tablespoons of the chocolate mousse coating over the top as though you were generously buttering a slice of bread. Cover with the second cake, then ice the top and sides of the cakes.