Summer is one the best times of the year to cook.
Whether you're battling the BBQ under an umbrella or basking in the glorious Irish sunshine, outdoor eating offers a welcome break from the humdrum of the everyday dinner routine.
Any al fresco feast needs a show-stopper dessert. There's a bounty of ingredients to enjoy at the moment and summer fruits in particular are one of the best ways to celebrate the season. This week I'm sharing three wonderful recipes with fruits that deserve a starring role on your menu. While it's still early days for stone fruits, berries are bang in season and can be transformed into some really impressive desserts with minimal effort.
My go-to summer dessert is a crumble. My version is not like the crumble I knew growing up, which had more of a soft, butter sand-like topping to strawberries and rhubarb. Mine lies somewhere between that and a crunchy American-style cobbler. I use oats to give it crunch and it results in a crisp buttery topping.
The scent of elderflower is a welcome sign of the new season and combined with strawberries it's one of the most gorgeous expressions of summer flavours. A classic victoria sponge is always a treat, but douse the sponge with elderflower cordial, top with freshly whipped cream and strawberries and it's elegant summer beauty.
Lastly, the summer dessert I was brought up on, a berry pavlova. My aunt Erica is the master of pavlovas! Her version uses icing sugar and egg whites whipped on high for 10 minutes, before folding through cornflour and white wine vinegar for the ultimate crispy shell and marshmallow-y interior. It negates the need to slowly add the sugar and the risk of having a grainy pavlova base. Top it with whipped cream and any berries and it will be devoured in minutes. Enjoy!
This crumble topping is the one I come back to time and time again. It's buttery and has bite to it rather than the sandy breadcrumbs of the crumbles of my childhood. Use it with any of the summer's bounty and adapt it with flavour-enhancers like lemon or orange zest, spices like cardamom and cinnamon, or additional ingredients like desiccated coconut.
For the crumble:
150g plain flour
150g rolled oats
Zest of ½ lemon, about 2 tsp
Pinch of salt
200g cold butter, cut into small pieces
For the blueberry filling:
½ cup sugar
Zest of ½ lemon, about 2 tsp
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp cornflour
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 3.
2. For the crumble, combine ingredients in a big bowl. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, press the small cubes of butter into the dry ingredients until it's combined and you are left with a crumbly texture. Set aside.
3. For the blueberry filling, in a separate bowl, combine all ingredients until mixed through.
4. Pour the blueberries in a large casserole or baking dish. Using your fingers, spread the crumble in a high pile on top.
5. Place directly in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly and golden.
Elderflower cordial is a perfect pantry ingredient that bottles summer and allows you to savour the flavour long after the last flower has fallen.
225g caster sugar
4 large free-range eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
225g self-raising flour
About 3 tbsp of milk to loosen batter
6 tbsp elderflower cordial
250ml double cream
1 jar of good quality strawberry jam
Dusting of icing sugar
A good handful of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 the grease and line two 21cm springform tins.
2. In a standalone mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one by one before adding the vanilla extract.
3. Using a spatula, fold in the flour 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.
5. 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. Pierce the top of each sponge with a stick and pour over half the elderflower cordial on each sponge and let it sit and soak.
6. While the bases are cooling prepare the filling by whipping the double cream and elderflower cordial together.
7. To assemble the cake, spread some strawberry jam on one of the bases before topping with cream, then add the second base and sprinkle with icing sugar and top with some strawberries and elderflower sprigs.
A show-stopping, fruity summer dessert which can easily be prepared ahead of time and assembled just before you are ready to serve.
250g icing sugar
4 egg whites
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
500ml double cream, whipped
250g mixed berries
Small handful of mint sprigs, to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC, Gas Mark 2.
2. Line two baking trays with baking parchment and draw a large 25cm diameter circle on each piece of baking parchment.
3. Put the icing sugar and egg whites into a standing food mixer (or use an electric hand-held mixer in a bowl) and whisk on high for 10 minutes until glossy white peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold in the cornflour and the white wine vinegar.
4. Divide the meringue mixture between the two baking trays and, using a tablespoon, form two large meringue discs. Bake for 45 minutes; then allow the meringues to cool in the oven.
5. Assemble the pavlova by spooning half the cream onto the first layer of meringue, then adding half the berries and topping with the other meringue layer, remaining cream and berries.
6. Lastly, decorate with the mint sprigs and serve.
One of Howth's most exciting restaurant openings in recent years, Mamó, is continuing to cook up their seasonal menu, operating an all-day menu for collection at their hatch. They are also delivering their summer picnic hampers filled with items like terrines, seasonal desserts, tartine bread and the house vadouvan spice butter, as well as some fantastic charcuterie and Irish cheese, and piccalilly made with McNally's vegetables. A brilliant treat if you want to picnic in style.
Husband-and-wife team Aisling and Michael Flanagan produce Velvet Cloud, a creamy and rich sheep's milk yoghurt available across Ireland. It contains just two ingredients: fresh sheep's milk - straight from their flock of grass-fed ewes which they milk twice a day - and live probiotic yoghurt cultures. We've been enjoying it with slow-stewed rhubarb, ginger and orange compote.
Despite juggling work and full-time parenting at the moment, we've been loving the time-out with our two boys the last few weeks! Taking them on little adventures has become our afternoon routine and it certainly breaks things up - as you can see, they are sunshine-ready even if the sun doesn't shine!
Food & Drink
If you're one of those smug people who has cracked the art of making sourdough and mastered the basics of kombucha, kimchi and kraut, then it might be time to take your fermenting to the next level. As a movement, it's been gathering pace in Ireland for some years - principally, due to its perceived health benefits. But in lockdown, when people have more time on their hands, fermenting is a food trend that is really finding a foothold.
Food & Drink
Be it a flask of coffee after my daily early morning swim; a sandwich and slice of cake in our local woods, or a sneaky cocktail after an evening stroll down the road, I love a picnic of any sort. Of course whatever food or drinks you’re bringing need to be easily portable and not get into a mess on the commute.