Watalappan (Sri Lankan coconut milk custard)

Sri Lankan watalappan with mango and bananaAnother week, another Sri Lankan feast! This time, my husband cooked lots of rice and curry for our friends, and I made a dessert that we had a fair bit of when we were on honeymoon – watalappan, a set custard made with jaggery, coconut milk and lots of spices.

This is a great dinner party recipe, as it can be made in advance and left in the fridge until required. I used this recipe by Peter Kuruvita, who has also written a brilliant Sri Lankan cookbook that we use and that apparently is considered something of a bible by chefs in Sri Lanka!

I followed the recipe exactly, but I served it with toasted fresh coconut, in-season Indian mango and sliced Keralan bananas, which were the closest thing we could find to the bananas we ate a lot of in Sri Lanka. I also drizzled the plate with golden syrup as recommended by Kuruvita as a substitute for palm syrup.

The only tricky thing was baking the custards – they seemed to take longer than stated, but I reckon that’s just my oven rather than the recipe being at fault. They did eventually cook after I turned the heat up slightly.

The resulting dessert was rather wonderful – the sweet, spiced coconut custard combined with juicy mango and flavoursome bananas offered a perfect balance of flavours. It’s a great recipe to use if you’re planning a Sri Lankan or Indian feast and want an easy dessert that will impress!

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Basic baklava

Basic baklava
Another week, another Paul Hollywood recipe. This time, I made a very basic baklava from How to Bake. I must stress that this really is a simple recipe, but one that can be customised to create your own dream baklava!

Baklava is one of those desserts that be really, truly, utterly scrumptious when it’s made right. There’s something about the combination of thin flaky pastry, flavoursome nuts, lots of butter and a fragrant sugar syrup that ticks all the boxes for me.

Paul Hollywood’s recipe calls for pistachios only, but as I didn’t have enough, I made up the difference with almonds and walnuts. As this is a basic recipe, nothing goes in with the nuts, but I was sorely tempted to add some cardamom or another warm spice to them. However, I chose to stick to the recipe as closely as possible!

The baklava was easy to assemble – it’s pretty much just layering lots of filo on top of each other, brushing each layer with butter, then scattering the nuts on top and adding more filo and butter on top. The whole lot then goes into the oven, and you make the sugar syrup to pour over when it’s cool.

The sugar syrup is the other part of the recipe where lots of flavours can be added, but Hollywood opts for just lemon juice. Again, I had to fight the urge to add *something* else! Once the syrup was poured over the baklava and the whole lot had cooled, it was ready to eat.

Basic baklava
It was very nice – the star of the show for me was the richness of the butter paired with the trio of tasty nuts. However, the syrup felt a little but too simple – the pure lemon made it almost stark, if that makes sense, even for what is supposed to be a basic baklava recipe.

Hollywood admits himself that this is a very simple baklava and that you could add rose water or orange flower water to the syrup, which I would strongly recommend that you do. I would also experiment with different spices in the nuts, as I do think the right combination can make for an excellent baklava (see my gushing praise of this masala chai baklava by GBBO’s Chetna Makan). This is a great base recipe to start from, but don’t be afraid to add to it!

Melopita AKA Greek honey pie

Melopita Greek honey pie
I’ve never had much luck with cheesecake. In fact, the last time I made it was such a disaster that I decided I wasn’t going to attempt it again for a long time. Well, I think I finally struck it lucky with this honey pie AKA melopita AKA Greek cheesecake.

I spotted the recipe on Pinterest a while ago and was struck by how simple yet delicious it looked. There’s no (buttery) biscuit base here; it’s all about the honey and cheese, which in this case is a hell of a lot of ricotta (as I had no idea where to find myzithra in Manchester).

Melopita Greek honey pie
I can’t stress how easy this is to make. All you do is mix the ingredients together, transfer the mix to a tin and bake. Even I couldn’t get that wrong with my cheesecake-destroying ways!

Melopita Greek honey pie
I left the pie in the oven for longer than the recipe said, as it looked very wobbly and pale at the end of 40 minutes. I took it out when the top looked more set and golden. For reference, I didn’t make the whole recipe; I used 500g of ricotta instead of 600g and reduced the weight of the other ingredients accordingly. As you can see, the top cracked as the pie cooled!

Melopita Greek honey pie
We had the pie as a dessert after a Greek-themed meal and served it as suggested, with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. It was absolutely delicious – rich, fragrant and just the right sort of sweet.

Unlike the last time I made cheesecake, I will definitely make melopita again – and soon!

The recipe

Can be found on the Cook Me Greek blog here.

Dorset apple cake

Dorset apple cake
I’ve had some Bramley apples lying around for a while – I’d bought some to make mincemeat with, but Asda delivered way more than I needed due to their weird substitution rules. I recently acquired a fancy tarte tatin dish thanks to the folks at my old place of work, but I reluctantly decided that I couldn’t very well make a 30 cm tarte tatin just for myself and still keep to a post-Christmas sensible eating regime. Instead, I made this Dorset apple cake.

It’s a delightfully simple recipe (by Edd Kimber of GBBO fame) and contains raisins and cinnamon as well as the apple, making for some lovely flavours. You can serve the cake warm from the oven with custard or ice cream, or have it cold at teatime – it’s equally delicious either way.

Dorset apple cake
The only trouble I had with the cake was (as always) the baking time. Perhaps I didn’t cut the apple into small enough chunks, but my Dorset apple cake took well over an hour to properly cook through, as opposed to 30-40 minutes! Still, it meant that the house smelled rather deliciously of cooking apples for quite a while, which was very pleasant.

The cake was a little fragile while still warm, so if you make this do be careful when releasing it from the tin and slicing it up. It does become slightly sturdier when it’s completely cool, though.

Dorset apple cake
I made the cake yesterday and have so far had it warm with custard and cold on its own. I have one (big) slice left after distributing the rest to my mum, which I’m going to try warm with ice cream in the interests of trying all possible combinations so I can decide which is best. The things I do for this blog! :o)

The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Good Food website here. I used raisins instead of sultanas.

First bake: tres leches cake

Tres leches cakeA few weeks ago I posted about some Spanish bread I made as practice for my much-delayed Spanish-themed housewarming do. The big event took place the other week and the bread was indeed a success – as was this traditional Spanish dessert, tres leches cake.

I first saw this being made by Simon Rimmer on Something for the Weekend (RIP) years ago and have always wanted an excuse to bake it. Look away now if stodge makes you squeamish, as this is the kind of dessert that clogs up your arteries when all you’re doing is thinking about it!

The cake is basically a vanilla sponge soaked in a quite frankly amazing sauce made purely from double cream, evaporated milk and condensed milk – hence the name, as ‘tres leches’ means ‘three milks’. The cake is chilled and then served with even more of the sauce on top!

Apologies for the lack of pictures, but we were so busy cooking many, many tapas dishes for the party that I only remembered to take a picture after I’d served up the cake! It did taste absolutely amazing – a little bit like rice pudding in cake form. I served it cold but we had the leftovers hot the next day – even more amazing and really nice and comforting on a cold evening.

I would thoroughly recommend making this if you’re planning a Spanish-themed meal, or simply just because. It really is a lovely treat – just be prepared to spend a loooong time working off the calories…!

The recipe

On the BBC Food website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/tres_leches_cake_52393

First bake: apricot and raspberry buckle

Apricot and raspberry buckleI love the ‘reduced’ section at the supermarket – when some good stuff has been reduced, that is. Last week I discovered punnets of both raspberries and apricots with the magic yellow sticker on them, so I instantly snapped them up and started searching for a cake recipe that could include both fruits.

The first recipe that came up was a BBC Good Food one, so, of course, I decided to make that one. This was a recipe for apricot and raspberry buckle – a buckle being a type of cake that incorporates fresh fruit and has a crumble-style topping.

This was really easy to make (I’m not sure why BBCGF says it’s ‘moderately easy’ as opposed to ‘easy’). Make the crumble, make the mix, and layer the two in the tin before baking. Thassit.

Apricot and raspberry buckle mix

Apricot and raspberry buckle mix

However, I did find that the crumble mix was a little difficult to distribute evenly across the cake, whether that’s because I didn’t have enough or whether it was just the wrong consistency. As a result, it sort of settled in blobs and sunk slightly into the cake, as you can see below.

Apricot and raspberry buckleDespite this, the crumble was still pretty crumble-like and the cake overall was very tasty indeed. I’ve actually never had fresh apricots before and they were a bit of a revelation – they’re quite plum-like when raw, but wonderfully sweet when cooked (with, erm, a fair bit of sugar). The recipe says you can have this warm, so I had my first piece warm from the tin with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. YUM.

Apricot and raspberry buckleThe fact that you can have this warm or cold makes it really versatile and worth filing away if, like me, you quite like having leftovers to enjoy by yourself after cooking a nice meal for others!

The recipe

On the BBC Good Food website here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4472/apricot-and-raspberry-buckle

First bake: plum cake

Plum cakeHappy new year! Didn’t 2012 whizz by?! I was meant to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a Japanese meal at a friend’s house, so I made this plum cake to take round, as plums play a big role in Japanese cooking. Unfortunately, the meal fell through, so I ended up with a lot of cake on my hands… not really an awful situation to be in!

I originally meant to try my hand at sata andagi with cinnamon cream and a plum compote, but chickened out at the last minute, partly due to a lack of time, but also because I was a bit scared of doing doughnuts for the very first time. So I decided to make a plum cake instead.

This recipe was very easy to whip up, fortunately. The most time consuming part was halving and stoning the plums; everything else was just a matter of beating together all the ingredients.

Plum cake, pre-baking

Plum cake, pre-baking

I used my square brownie tin instead of a round tin as specified in the recipe, simply because I didn’t have a round tin that was big enough. It worked fine in the end, but I needded fewer plums (10 instead of 12) and had to bake the cake for a good deal longer than the recipe said. I also cut it into 9 pieces instead of 12. I was very generous with the cinnamon on top – 1 tsp doesn’t sound like much at all!

I also made an almond cream to go with the cake; this was just a matter of whipping some double cream until thick, adding a few drops of almond extract and mixing in a little icing sugar. And that was it!

The cake was very, very nice indeed, and I will definitely make it again. It’s quite sweet, and the plum flavour combined with the cinnamon is divine. The almond cream goes really well with it; I would recommend whipping up something similar to serve with the warm cake if you try this recipe too.

Warm plum cake and almond cream

Warm plum cake and almond cream

The recipe

From Allrecipes here: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/17476/easy-plum-cake.aspx