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!

Last week I got an advertising-type email from a gym that reminded all recipients that ‘summer bodies are made in winter’. Reader, I threw it in the rubbish.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping kaftans and elasticated waistbands are going to be the height of fashion in summer 2015. Various things – birthdays, parties, stressful life events – are conspiring against my ‘summer body’.

Homemade-Pasta-Atlas-Marcato-Machine

Firstly, I found this – a pasta machine at a charity shop for $20, still in its original box, with its original warranty and instructions. I’ve always, always wanted one to play with and although I’ve only used it once so far, I can see plenty of pasta in my future.

Eclairs-With-Coffee-Custard-Chocolate-Icing-And-Walnut-Praline
Eclair image thanks to my colleague and co-baker Lisa

I know DIY pasta has a difficult reputation but it was a cinch compared to some of the things I’ve been making lately. In a moment of weakness I joined the Wellington On a Plate Bake Club team at work, which has meant many a late Sunday night making pies, slices, cakes and eclairs.

The upshot of all of this is that I won our in-house contest against some seriously tough competition and now I have to join the winners of 80+ Bake Clubs this Sunday morning for the final Bake-Off. I normally go for a run on Sunday mornings – but if the gods have decided I need to be in a room full of cakes, I can only go along with their wishes.

Perhaps I’ll take inspiration from these cute cupcakes – these are made by 15-year-old Emily, of three winners in the Better With BRITA contest. Emily, who made bespoke cupcakes for each of the judges – it takes a special kind of talent to make a miniature BRITA water jug out of icing – joins Alex, who made gluten-free brownies and Rekha, who made samosas, at The Big Feastival in London at the end of the month.

I’d love to join them, but my real goal for August is to make something out of My Paris Kitchen. If you haven’t got a copy of this yet, you’re missing out. My lovely sister-in-law gave it to me for my birthday and I think it’s a strong contender for book of the year.

My-Paris-Kitchen-David-Lebovitz-Book-Of-The-Year!

How has August been for you?

This month the We Should Cocoa challenge has been all about making a chocolate cake for less than £1 (NZ$1.97). I have to confess I didn’t even try.

Instead, I can share with you the way to make your favourite chocolate cake taste – and look – like a million dollars. It’s this – a cloud of chocolate meringue buttercream that will make people close their eyes in bliss as they eat it. It defies all current trends in that it is resolutely full of sugar, butter and eggs. And it is worth every single mouthful.

The ultimate chocolate meringue buttercream
If you find ordinary buttercream icing – the sort you make with icing sugar and butter – too sweet and somewhat gritty, then this is the icing for you. It’s still sweet and quite rich, but incredibly light. It’s stable enough to pipe, spreads like a dream and keeps well in the freezer if you don’t use it all in one go. I have to leave the house to stop myself eating it straight from the bowl before it reaches the cake. It’s THAT good.

320g caster sugar
170g water
4 egg yolks
2 eggs
350g butter, at room temperature, sliced into 2cm chunks
2 tsp pure vanilla
150g good quality dark chocolate, at least 60 per cent cocoa solids, melted and at room temperature

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir well, then boil until the temperature reaches 118C. While the syrup is boiling, put the egg yolks and eggs in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and whisk until they are light and fluffy. When the syrup has reached 118C, carefully drizzle it into the egg mixture (beating all the time). Beat on high until the mixture is thick and pale, and the sides of the bowl are cool to touch. At this point, switch from the whisk to the paddle attachment and start adding the butter, a piece at a time, until it is all mixed in. Don’t fret if it starts to look a bit like mayonnaise, just keep beating it.
When the butter is all in, and the buttercream is very light and fluffy, add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat until well mixed in. You can use this straight away, or leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours (as long as it doesn’t get too hot or cold). It also keeps in the fridge for a week, though you’ll need to beat it again.

Best Chocolate Meringue Buttercream Cake Recipe: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake
If you want to make the ultimate chocolate cake, make two batches of this easy chocolate cake. When the cakes have completely cooled, chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes. Spread the surfaces of three of the cakes with good boysenberry jam, then a layer of chocolate meringue buttercream. Stack them on top of each other, then cover the lot with a thin ‘crumb coat’ of buttercream. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes to set, then cover in the remainder of the buttercream (you can go crazy here with a piping bag if you like). The cake can be left in the fridge overnight, but let it come to room temperature before serving.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

One of the most serendipitous things that happened to us on our great European adventures last year was meeting up with Karen Burns Booth of Lavender and Lovage. There we were, mooching around in southwestern France, when Karen replied to an out-of-the-blue email I’d sent her. When we worked out there was less than 100km between us, we hopped in the car and sped over.

It was blisteringly hot – the photos we have of that day make us all look like we’re on the verge of heat exhaustion – yet Karen and her husband Malcolm welcomed us with open arms and a sumptuous afternoon tea. It was one of the nicest, least expected, things that happened to us.

Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth

When she’s not hosting impromptu visitors, Karen is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a freelance foodwriter, an extremely prolific blogger, a social media whiz and the proprietor of a charming French B&B. She also makes an extremely fine cup of Yorkshire Tea, even in rural France in 40-plus degree heat. In case you haven’t come across her blog, here’s a little bit more about her.

What’s your blog about?
Seasonal and local recipes with the emphasis on French and British cooking, with the odd drop of gardening, vintage kitchenalia, historical recipe research, book reviews and travel. Sort of food and European lifestyle!

When did you start it? Why?
After I lost my regular byline in a monthly UK magazine, Country Kitchen, I needed a creative culinary outlet to share my recipes and photos, so set up my blog. Regular readers of the magazine followed me and I am now writing for magazines and newspapers again, as well as online food sites.

Lavender And Lovage Strawberry Curd Recipe  Photo Credit: Karen Burns Booth
Fresh Strawberry Curd (Photo: Karen Burns Booth)

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
I am self-taught and have my grandmother and mum to thank for an early start! They were and are in my mum’s case, both amazing cooks and incredible bakers, all of which seems to have passed down to me, for the most part! I have taken short cookery courses, but nothing major.


Who’s your food hero?
I know it’s a bit old hat, but Delia Smith was my first food hero and inspired me to try new things, as well as Elizabeth David and Dorothy Hartley.

South African Street Food Photo Credit: Karen Burns Booth
Karen’s ‘Bunny Chow’ (Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth)

Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?
Masterchef used to be hot, but not now so much, well for me anyway… and although I like some TV food shows, there are TOO many of them now, which has diluted the quality in my humble opinion.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
My most recent post about Bunny Chow, South African Street Food, a post about Fresh Strawberry Curd and the last post I really love is my Little Victoria Lemon Daisy Cakes Recipe.

Little Lemon Daisy Cakes Photo Credit: Karen Burns Booth
Little Victoria Lemon Daisy Cakes (Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth)

What’s your day job? What else do you do?
My blog is almost my day job now, along with recipe development for major UK brands. I am also a freelance writer and have more and more work nowadays, so, my day job is a food writer and food stylist. We also have a B and B in SW France that we run with cookery school courses, fine dining weekends and local wine tasting trips.


Tell us about another blog you love.
I hate questions like this as I LOVE so many blogs and follow hundreds! But, a recent discovery, that I LOVE is Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things – she is an Aussie blogger who is generous with her comments on other blogs, is a fabulous photographer and has some amazing recipes. But, there are lots more out there that I love too!                

Low Calorie Cauliflower Crust Pizza Recipe And Photo: Karen Burns Booth
Low-calorie cauliflower crust pizza (Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth)

Who do you cook for?
I cook for Malcolm, my husband, and my daughter Hannah when she is home, as well as some feisty free-range chickens and two cats – Cherie who is a Korat cat and Nina who is a Burmese Blue. I also cook for my parents when I am back in North Yorkshire in England.

What’s for dinner tonight?
It’s a fast day today (I am on the 5:2 diet) and I am making my famous Low-Calorie Cauliflower Crust Pizza, but for yesterday, which was a feast day, we enjoyed good old bangers and mash with a shallot and cider gravy!  

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When it comes to seemingly effortless chic, you have to hand it to the French. It’s evident in what they wear, how they act, what they eat – whatever you think of their politics or their pop music, they’ve got it all over the rest of us. Only the French could make shredded carrots and vinaigrette seem chic, n’est-ce pas?

Last month in Paris (see how I just slipped that in there?) I fell back in love with carrottes rapees – which must be the simplest of all salads. It doesn’t sound much on paper – just shredded carrots dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette – but it’s sweet, crunchy and refreshing, just the thing for a hot summer night. It’s about 20 degrees cooler here than it was in Paris in late July, but I made a batch of this up the other day and can report that it’s equally good in the southern hemisphere. The views aren’t quite the same, but you can’t have everything.

Chic carrot salad
A bowl of this manages to be quite satisfying, which is probably handy if you’re having a French Women Don’t Get Fat sort of moment. It’s a good accompaniment to fish, or rice, or rolled into sushi, or tucked into a peanut butter and alfalfa sprout sandwich. Just one thing – I think it’s best made with carrots shredded in a food processor or with a mandolin. Using a box grater doesn’t quite yield the same result – like having a Chanel couture dress made in a factory.

4 medium carrots, peeled and finely shredded
For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, crushed
a good pinch of salt
4 Tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
8 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

To make the dressing, put the garlic, salt and lemon juice in a lidded jar (I use an old Maille mustard jar for extra authenticity – and because we have dozens of them) and shake well. Add the mustard and honey and shake again. Add the oil and shake until it has emulsified. Taste – it should be slightly sharp.
Put the shredded carrots in a large bowl and pour over half the dressing. Toss gently, then drizzle over the rest if you think it needs it. The carrots should be damp, not drowned.
Serve at once or keep well covered in the fridge for a day.

What’s your favourite French food? Nul point for whoever says ‘French fries’…