As much as I love a good kitchen-based project, there some things that I would rarely, if ever, bother to make myself. I’d put pastry pretty high on that list, especially when you can buy such fantastic stuff ready-made by companies like Auckland-based French bakery Paneton*. I’ve loved their products for years and the buttery, super-flaky puff pastry has saved me on many a desperate dinner occasion.  In exciting news for chocolate lovers, their chocolate pastry is brilliant too.

My go-to showstopper dessert for a big crowd of people is the Pecan Praline Tart in Dean Brettschneider’s Pie book – essentially, chocolate pastry filled with praline-studded milk chocolate ganache, topped with dark chocolate ganache and a scattering of praline crumbs. But on a long run recently (which is when I do my best thinking about food), I started thinking about something lighter that would have more of a contrast with the pastry. Here’s the result…

Easy Raspberry Ripple Tart

Raspberry ripple tart

I used the Paneton brand discussed above for this tart – it’s very dark, rich and buttery – but if you want to make your own I’d recommend the Dean Brettschneider recipe above. It will be delicious either way. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

For the raspberry curd:

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 Tbsp water

juice of 1 lemon

6 egg yolks

1 cup caster sugar

80g unsalted butter

For the tart:

About 300g chocolate pastry

1 cup cream

Extra raspberries, for garnishing

Start by preparing the tart shell. Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 30 x 10cm tart tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, leaving plenty of overhang. Chill for 20 minutes.

Bake blind for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and paper and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is dry to touch and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool. Trim any overhang (the resulting pieces are a good cook’s perk, though you will struggle to get any if there are little helpers around) and set aside.

To make the raspberry curd, put the raspberries and the water in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook for three to five minutes, until the fruit collapses, then remove from the heat. Push the raspberries through a fine sieve, discarding any seeds. This should make about 120ml (just under half a cup) of puree. Squeeze in enough lemon juice to make it up to 150ml. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, then pour into the saucepan you used earlier. Add the butter and raspberry-lemon juice. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly (this will take about five minutes). When the mixture is bubbling, remove from the heat. Stir well and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the tart.

About an hour before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold in the curd to create a ripple effect, then pour this mixture into the pastry shell. Carefully put the tart in the fridge until ready to serve. Decorate with more raspberries before serving. A shower of grated chocolate – white or dark – wouldn’t go amiss on top, either. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

But wait, there’s more…

It’s highly likely that you’ll end up with some leftover pastry when making this tart. If you can stop yourself from eating it raw, I recommend turning it into easy ice cream sandwiches. All you need to do is cut the pastry into rounds, bake for about 10 mins at 180C and let cool. While you’re waiting, cut the ice cream into the same shapes and freeze. Sandwich the biscuits together with ice cream, dust with icing sugar and serve. This makes about 10 tiny ice cream sandwiches, which is just enough to leave them all wanting more.

*Please note, this is NOT a ‘sponsored’ post. In other words, I have not received any payment to say nice things about Paneton. In the interests of full disclosure, Paneton did send me a packet of their chocolate pastry to try recently. I was so impressed by it that I’ve since bought it twice more with my own hard-earned money (and I’ll definitely buy it again). I don’t think you can get a better recommendation than that!

Remember when coconut oil was going to save us all? I’m not sure it’s happened yet, given that the world needs saving more now than ever before. If you’ve doubted that coconut oil is a miracle product, this podcast will be music to your ears. If you’re like me, and love coconut purely for reasons of greed and culinary usefulness, you might be interested in this week’s Three Ways With… column, which features three delectable recipes for coconut in various forms (including oil, though it is most definitely not a recipe with any health claims).

I make no health claims for the following recipe either, except to say that making – and eating – it makes me extremely happy. Since happiness is closely related to wellness, I think I can justifiably say that a slice of this is very good for you.

Spicy Persian Love Cake
This recipe is an adaptation of Sam Mannering’s Persian Love Cake, which seems itself to be adapted from an internet-famous recipe by Australian chef Gerard Yaxley. I was inspired to make this version after Karen Dennison of Coyo sent me some of her wares to try. While Coyo’s chocolate coconut yoghurt is outrageously good (rich, yet with a tangy finish) and the passionfruit one is lovely, I was most taken with the chai version, which is made with Hakanoa ginger syrup. To stop myself from eating through a tub in one go, I turned the rest into this just-as-addictive cake.

1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup walnut halves (about 40g)
1 1/2 cups whole almonds (about 200g)
1 scant cup lightly packed brown sugar
80g soft unsalted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup Coyo Chai coconut yoghurt
finely grated zest of two oranges

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm tart tin (or springform cake tin).
Soak the dates in boiling water for five minutes, then drain.
Put the nuts in a food processor and whiz to fine crumbs. Add the dates, sugar and butter and whiz again until well combined. Press half of this mixture evenly into the prepared tin, creating a 1cm-ish rim at the sides.
Add the egg, yoghurt and orange zest to the remaining mixture in the food processor and whiz again until smooth. Carefully pour this mixture into the tin.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is dark golden and the middle is just set (it will continue to firm up as it cools). Cool on a rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into thin wedges – a little goes a long way – and serve with more yoghurt or whipped cream. Any leftovers keep well in the fridge.

How do you feel about the so-called healing powers of coconut?

Remember whoopie pies? They were going to be the new cupcakes, or the new macarons, but I don’t think they ever really took off. A shame, really; it’s always sad when little cakes never grow up to reach their full potential. Perhaps they’ll make a comeback (if slip dresses over white t-shirts, like we wore in the late 90s, can make a resurgence this summer, then surely there’s hope for the whoopie pie). I’m hoping I can get ahead of the pack on this one and I might have made the thing to do it.

Spicy Gingerbread Whoopie Pies With Creamy Apple Filling

Spicy gingerbread whoopie pies with creamy apple filling

This is a recipe with three stages, but it’s not hard. Just make the apple compote the day before, so it has time to chill in the fridge. The pies can be filled in advance and stored in an airtight container.

For the apple compote:
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
3 Tbsp caster sugar
3 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp ground cloves

For the pies:
1 large egg
150g caster sugar
100g butter, melted
150g sour cream
60ml milk
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
250g plain flour

For the cream cheese filling:
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla

To make the apple compote, put all the ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, until the apple is soft. Whip to a puree with a fork, then transfer to a bowl. Cover when cold and store in the fridge.

To make the pies, heat the oven to 160C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Put the egg in a large bowl and beat until thick. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar. Beat until pale and thick, then add the butter, sour cream, milk and vanilla. Beat to combine, then sift in the dry ingredients. Fold together until combined. Spoon into a piping bag with a wide nozzle and pipe small rounds of the mixture (about the size of a tablespoon) on the prepared trays, leaving room for spreading. You can also spoon the mixture on to the trays, but piping gives a nicer finish.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the pies are risen and golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla together until smooth. Fold in the apple compote and transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large nozzle (or use a plastic bag and snip off the end). Pipe a generous tablespoon or so of mixture onto the flat side of a pie half and top with another. Dust with icing sugar and serve – or store in an airtight container. Makes about 32 little pies.

Do you know how good it is to go nuts? In fact, we should all go nuts more often. Nuts are full of health benefits, with some recent studies claiming that eating them regularly may help improve heart health and lower cholesterol.

Of course, if you’d rather chew your own arm off than do anything perceived to be good for your health, you could always make this nut-packed chocolate slab. Ignore the nutty goodness, disregard chocolate’s antioxidant properties and shrug off the mental health benefits of treating yourself if you like, but there’s no way to avoid the fact that this is 100 per cent delicious.

Nutty tropical cluster fudge

If you can get your hands on a tin of condensed coconut milk, now’s the time to use it. Condensed coconut milk has all the same ‘eat-out-of-the-tin-with-a-spoon’ properties as the ordinary sort, but with the added richness of coconut. It also seems less sweet. I’ve used a mixture of macadamias and cashew nuts here, but hazelnuts and almonds would also be good. 

1 x tin coconut condensed milk

350g dark chocolate (I use Whittaker’s Dark Ghana 72 per cent)

150g roasted, salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

150g roasted, salted cashew nuts

100g dried fruit – crystallised ginger, dried mango, dried pineapple – roughly chopped if large

pinch sea salt flakes

Line a tin measuring about 10cm x 25cm (I use a large loaf tin) with baking paper. You can use a larger tin, but this makes a good, solid slab.

Put the chocolate and condensed milk into a large pot and set over very, very low heat, until melted (or, put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven for about 10 minutes). 

When the chocolate mixture has melted, tip in the macadamia nuts, half the cashew nuts and the dried fruit. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Press the remaining nuts on top and scatter over the salt.

Put in the fridge to set (this will take an hour or so), then cut into small squares. A little goes a long way! Store in a covered container in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Smile, it’s National Cheese Month! I know these things (National Donut Day, anyone?) are spurious at best, but if the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association wants us to dedicate October to the noble activity of eating cheese, I’m not about to argue.

Instead, I humbly offer you five of my favourite cheesy recipes…

 Secret cheese and onion bread – soft, white, pillowy dough, with a molten cheese middle. Blissful.

Roasted cauliflower cheese – exactly what it says, but with spices (and optional potatoes, or greens, or both).

Jenny’s cheesy potatoes – an absolute Corry family classic (no one can make them like Jenny can, but with practice, you can nearly reach cheese and potato nirvana).

Bermuda salad – a Moosewood Cookbook number, in which cheese plays an important but not overpowering role. I was dubious too, but it’s very good.

Sara Lee cheesecake – looks just like a bought one, tastes a million times better (and is about as easy to make as pulling one out of a packet).

What’s your favourite thing to do with cheese?