The Cake Whisperer - Val Stones, GBBO Contestant 2016 and baking expert for Stannah talks to us about what to expect for this summer.
When I write my blogs for Stannah, I usually begin a couple of months prior to the publishing date. But this time, as I write my next feature, it is the end of March and we are at the start of a national lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus. We are living through history; never before have I been made to stay isolated for twelve weeks. I am classed as “vulnerable” because of my age and must not leave the house or see my family. So, thank goodness for social media - I can keep in touch with my family in so many ways!
There are of course positive aspects of being a senior citizen. I was born just after the Second World War and grew up in a household where “make-and-mend” and “waste not want not” were key mottos. My mum and grandmas baked bread daily, and they grew their own fruit and vegetables. My dad took us for long walks at the weekends and taught us woodcrafts - including what wild foods could be gathered and eaten. Most of all I was able to pick up on the tips for money saving food preparation. These early skills are serving me well now.
It's a good time to grow
When I retired, I decided that my garden should be a productive one. The house my husband and I bought had one mature apple tree and we planted four more. We also planted a Victoria plum, two grape vines, a fig tree, and had patches for blackberries and strawberries. In addition to these, I have an unusual berry tree called a ‘Japanese Wine Berry’; it has small jewel-like ruby red berries which taste delicious. All these grow in the borders along with rhubarb, garlic and potatoes. Raspberries and tomatoes grow in pots too.
I still need to go to “pick your own” farms for more soft fruits and I often swap jars of jam for quinces in a neighbour’s garden too.
June is the time that my work in the garden pays off and I can begin harvesting.
Summer fruit tart recipe
My pastry tart recipe has a crisp buttery case that is just right for filling with either whipped double cream or creme patisserie and topped with the summer fruits of your choice.
- Pate sucree (sugar pastry) makes 10 x 10cm tart tins or 6 tartlets and a 30cm x 10cm rectangular tart tin)
- 250g plain flour
- 100g unsalted butter cubed and slightly softened
- 100g icing sugar, sifted
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- Half a teaspoon vanilla extract
- Tin foil and baking beans
I use a mixture of dried peas and risotto rice as the mix allows me to push the small pieces of rice into the smallest of flutes whilst the peas add weight. Tin foil can be gently shaped to fit tart cases, whereas grease proof paper cannot be mounded so well.
- Fresh cream
- 250ml double cream
- Half a teaspoon vanilla extract
- Half a teaspoon icing sugar
- 6 egg yolks in a bowl, lightly beaten
- 125g caster sugar
- 500ml whole milk
- 1 level teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 50ml double cream
- 2 punnets of strawberries
- 2 punnets of raspberries
- Mint leaves to garnish
- Icing sugar for dusting
- First make the pastry.
- Sweet pastry should be made on a work surface, my kitchen has granite tops which are nice and cold but if you wish use a large mixing bowl.
- Put the flour on the work surface or in a bowl, and make a well.
- Put the butter in the well with the icing sugar and salt, mix them with your fingertips. Begin drawing in the flour into the centre until it becomes a rough dough.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the eggs and the vanilla bean extract.
- Keep lightly working the mixture until it forms a dough that holds together.
- When the dough has come together lightly knead the dough for a few turns until it is smooth.
- Roll into a ball and then slightly flatten out before wrapping in cling film and rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours before using.
- First make the pastry
- Sweet pastry should be made on a work surface. My kitchen has granite tops which are nice and cold but if you wish, use a large mixing bowl
- Put the flour on the work surface or in a bowl and make a well
- Put the butter in the well with the icing sugar and salt, then mix together with your fingertips. Begin drawing the flour into the centre until it becomes a rough dough.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, then add the eggs and the vanilla bean extract
- Keep lightly working the mixture until it forms a dough that holds together
- When the dough has come together, lightly knead it for a few turns until it is smooth
- Roll the dough into a ball, then slightly flatten out before wrapping in cling film and rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours before using
If you are going to make creme patisserie, make it whilst the pastry is chilling. Alternatively, it can be made up to three days before needed and kept chilled in the fridge.
- Whisk the egg yolks and one third of the sugar until the mixture thickens and reaches the light ribbon stage. That is when you lift the beaters out of the mixture - it will leave a trail that lasts momentarily before sinking back slightly
- Whisk in the flour until fully combined
- Place the milk in a saucepan with the rest of the sugar and the vanilla bean paste
- When the milk mixture comes to the boil, pour it onto the egg yolks, stirring briskly
- When fully combined, return the mixture to the pan. Then, on a medium heat, bring it to the boil while stirring continuously with a whisk for 2 minutes, allowing the mixture to bubble and thicken
- Pour it into a bowl
To make sure the mixture doesn't develop a skin, dust with icing sugar and then cover with cling film, pressing it onto the surface of the mixture so that the air is pushed out.
Allow to cool and then place in the fridge where it can be stored for up to three days.
To make the tarts:
- Roll out the pastry to 2-3mm thick
- Using a saucer or large round pastry cutter, cut circles from the pastry and place them in the pastry cases that have been lightly greased with butter. Press the pastry into the flutes and then, using a rolling pin, roll across the top of the tart cases to remove surplus pastry
- Use a fork to prick the bases of the tart cases
- Set aside the spare pastry to roll out later if needed
- Place the pastry cases in the fridge and rest for 20-minutes before baking
- Set the oven 180C, 170C fan gas 4
- Once rested, bake the cases blind for 10-12 minutes then remove the foil and baking beans
- Bake for a further 5 minutes or until firm and lightly coloured
I went out for a day in Devon about 20 years ago with my husband (he has taken me out since then!) and we had lunch in a village cafe that sold homemade chutneys. It was delicious. I love all things ginger, so soon after this trip I developed my own recipe. Before long, I was making the chutney for friends, family and charities.
Pear and ginger are a favourite and the combination goes perfectly with cold meats and poultry. It’s also good with cheeses and cheese scones.
This chutney is dark, spicy and with the addition of ginger there is heat that’s a real winter warmer. Chopping the ingredients does take a little time so put on some good music and the time will pass quickly. And of course, whilst you are stirring the mixture you can do a bit of dancing and stepping to get your exercise in - moving, dancing and stretching are all good for the body and soul, especially during a time when we’re probably getting less exercise than we are used to.
Pear, apple and ginger chutney recipe
Preparation time: 1-hour
Cooking time: 1-hour
What You Will Need:
- A large steel pan, at least 6 litres
- A large wooden or silicon spoon
- 4-5 clean 1lb jars with lids (place the jars on a baking sheet to make it easy to lift the jars out when they are hot and also to catch any spilled chutney)
- A heatproof jug (for pouring the chutney into the jars)
- A jam funnel can be very useful and worth investing in
- Waxed circles for 1lb jars
- Labels to stick on each jar
- 1kg pears, peeled, cored and diced
- 500g Bramley apples cored and diced
- 500g onions, skinned and diced small
- 225g finely chopped celery
- 200g stem ginger finely chopped
- 225g sultanas
- 700g dark soft brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 rounded teaspoon fine sea salt
- 12 twists of black pepper (I use my pepper mill)
- 600ml malt vinegar
- Put all the fruit and vegetables in a pan, simmer very gently until tender while stirring often. Do not add any liquid because as the pears and celery cook they’ll release liquid
- Place the clean jars in an oven set at 140C fan to sterilise them whilst the chutney is simmering
- Add the remaining ingredients and bring steadily to the boil - stirring all the time. Then turn down the heat and allow the chutney to simmer until it has reached a thick consistency
- To test whether the chutney is the right consistency, allow the chutney to drop from the spoon. It should drop slowly - if it drops quickly, continue to simmer the mixture. It can often take an hour to reach the correct consistency. I set my pinger timer for 10-minutes and go about my household chores. When I hear the pinger alarm, I give the pan a stir to make sure none of the sultanas stick to the bottom of the pan and burn
- Get the jars out of the oven and dip the jug into the chutney. I hold a tea plate under the jug to catch any drips. Place the jam funnel, if you have one, onto each jar in turn and pour the chutney into the jars to within a mm of the top
- Cover each jar with a wax circle before placing the lids on the jars. Wipe down the jars of any dripped chutney
- Write out the labels and date the jars, sticking the labels on the jars whilst the chutney is still hot
This chutney is best left to mature for at least 2-months so I make mine now ready for Christmas. If you can be even more patient, leave your chutney for a year and it will also be beautiful flavoured after two years. Once you have made your first lot you can make a second lot and leave that to eat the following year!
I hope everyone is safe and well. Remember, even in these times it’s important to remain active and most importantly, to keep on being you!