This year was the year I was going to start getting exercise back on track, sort out the "dad bod" and get going on all the projects that have been hanging over me. Of course, as January landed I was off to a flying start, jiggling away in the gym, making time to read books and meditate, basically all the things that might equate to "#InstaGoals". I was going pretty strong too, until, like everybody else, things started changing pretty quickly thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the gym closed (don't start with me Zoom workout aficionados!) and childcare a distant memory, the bikini bod is a long way away.
To be honest, it's the last thing on my mind at the moment. In amongst the unfolding world events, we had been excitedly planning to return to Ireland to spend the rest of the year and beyond at home to be closer to family and friends. We were due to travel at the beginning of May to move to a place in Ireland.
With an ever-changing situation we've now been advised by the Irish consulate here in LA to move home as soon as possible or risk cancelled flights and closed borders. So for the past couple of weeks we have been scrambling to move out of our home here in LA and attempt a transatlantic move with two children and a dog. I could never have imagined it all happening like this and even as I write this there is an uncertainty as to whether we can even travel. As we waved goodbye to a truck full of our life in 36 boxes a couple of days ago, I'm hopeful we won't be stuck in limbo for long and we'll be able to see family (albeit potentially waving through a window) soon. By the time you guys are reading this, we should be safely back in Ireland.
It is true that comfort can always be found in sugar and fat. As far as I can see, the whole country has gone baking mad and if you can track down some eggs and flour, the recipes here will hopefully have you on a roll and offer a welcome distraction to any isolation anxiety that may flare up.
A blessed lemon curd cake inspired by the nuns at Kylemore Abbey, a raspberry ricotta pound cake that's rich and indulgent with a creamy white chocolate glaze, and a tres leches cake that is tooth-achingly sweet and devourable. Enjoy!
Cook time 50 mins
A no-fuss basic baking recipe to easily master which can be adapted with any fruit you might like to substitute. I particularly like the combination of raspberries and white chocolate here though, a combination I often add to muffins for sweet summery vibes.
For the cake:
200g caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large free range eggs
125g butter, melted
200g white chocolate, roughly chopped
50ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, seeds removed
150g white chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm round springform tin and place onto a large baking tray.
2. Add the sugar, flour and baking powder to a large mixing bowl and mix to combine and make a well in the centre.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ricotta and eggs with the melted butter.
4. Pour the egg and ricotta mix into the dry ingredients and fold through along with 125g of the raspberries and white chocolate.
5. Pour into the prepared tin and then place in the preheated oven for 50 minutes until risen, golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
6. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes in the tin and then remove onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
7. While the cake is cooling, prepare the topping; heat the cream along with the vanilla seeds in a small saucepan over a low heat and bring to a gentle simmer.
8. Finely chop the chocolate and add to a large bowl. Once the cream is at simmering point, pour over the chocolate slowly a little at a time, whisking as you go until the chocolate has melted.
9. Top the cooled cake with the glaze, strawberries and remaining 125g raspberries.
Cook time 45 mins
This lemon sponge is light, airy and so moist because of the tangy lemon curd and creamy buttercream filling. This recipe was inspired by a lemon cake I was treated to while filming with the nuns at Kylemore Abbey, and it's hard to beat.
For the lemon curd filling (or 2 cups store-bought lemon curd):
300g caster sugar
50g corn flour
120ml lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
4 large free-range egg yolks
A pinch of salt
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
For the sponge:
225g caster sugar
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
4 large free-range eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
210g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
About 3 tbsp of milk to loosen batter
For the buttercream:
300g butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract
520g icing sugar, sifted
Dusting of icing sugar
1. For the lemon curd, place the sugar, corn flour and 450ml water in a large saucepan and stir until you have a smooth mixture. Stir in the lemon juice, egg yolks and salt. Place over a medium heat and keep stirring while the mixture boils, for about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and butter until the butter has melted, then remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line two 21cm/8" springform tins. In a standalone mixer, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until pale and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one by one before adding the vanilla extract and lemon juice.
3. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and baking powder until you have a smooth mixture. Use a little bit of the milk if you need to loosen the mixture. You want the mixture to be a bit loose.
4. Divide the mixture into the two springform tins, flatten the top with a spatula if needed. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until it's nice and golden. When the bases are cooked, take them out and let cool for a few minutes before you take it out of the tin to cool completely.
5. While the bases are cooling prepare the buttercream filling by beating the butter and vanilla extract together in a bowl until light and fluffy, then add the icing sugar, a little at a time, until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
6. To assemble the cake, spread some lemon curd on one of the bases before topping with buttercream, then add the second base and sprinkle with icing sugar.
Cook time 30 mins
Tres leches is a Mexican dessert and gets its name from the triple mix of condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream that is poured over the just-baked cake. Before you whisk the egg whites make sure the bowl is really clean to allow the egg whites to whip up.
For the cake:
225g caster sugar
125g unsalted butter
5 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150ml evaporate milk
150ml condensed milk
100ml double cream
500g cream, whipped
100g caramel sauce
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan)/390°F/Gas Mark 6. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular baking tin with baking parchment and set aside.
2. In a free-standing mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, add the egg yolks and vanilla extract to this mix and beat again. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold through followed by the milk.
3. Using an electric handheld mixer, beat egg whites in another clean large bowl until firm peaks form, beat in a little to the cake mix and fold through the remaining. Transfer to the prepared tin, smoothing the surface so that it is even and transfer to an oven to bake for 25-30 minutes until golden, risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
4. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tin and then invert onto a tray with edges, to hold the liquid which is to be poured over.
5. Using a skewer and while still hot, poke holes all over the top of the cake. Whisk the evaporate, condensed milk and cream in a jug. Slowly drizzle half of the milk mixture over the cake, letting liquid soak in before adding more.
6. When the cake has cooled fully, whisk the cream with a little sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form, spread over the surface of the cooled cake, dot the caramel sauce across the top and swirl through the whipped cream. Cut into 12 even squares and serve.