Pear (or apple) pudding cake

Working in the arts was meant to herald a life filled with glamour, parties, intellectuals and Interesting People. To be paid to write for a living, what a privilege! And all that is true – in part – but most of the time life is rather more mundane (think freezing cold workshops, too-much-time at the computer, that kind of thing). And then once in a while I’ll be called upon to be an actual MODEL in a shoot that I’m working on, donning a smelly old wig from the costume store, and will have to ACT for a camera. Oh the joy! This pic is for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new exhibition The Play’s The Thing, which opens this weekend. You can read about it in this Telegraph article. And that’s another career highlight ticked off the list…

The Play's The Thing

The photoshoot for the RSC’s exhibition The Play’s The Thing

In the rather more prosaic world of allotments, things have sloooowed right down. I’ve pulled out the squash and courgette: they probably all had another couple of weeks left in them, but really, enough is enough. The cosmos have come to the end of their insanely-good four month life, but the dahlias and chrysanthemums are still producing several bunches of colour a week.

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Pink and apricot on one side…

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…pumpkin shades on the other!

With so many wonderful English apples and pears around, it’s good to have at least a few fruity cake recipes up one’s sleeve. This one is a favourite – an apple and almond sponge, dense with caramelised fruit and damp with almonds. The original recipe comes from the River Cottage Every Day book, and it’s fabulous, but occasionally I’ll sub the apples for pears and will chuck in a few chunks of diced marzipan for an extra hit of almond-goo.

First, prepare a 20cm springform or loose-bottomed cake tin, and pre-heat the oven to 170c.

Next we prepare the fruit. Peel, de-seed and chop into wedges 2 firm pears or dessert apples (use more or less, or a mixture of both, depending on how large the fruits are. If using pears I don’t always peel them). Melt 25g unsalted butter in a frying pan, add 1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar and heat until the butter begins to bubble. Add the fruit and let it all cook together over a medium heat until the caramel begins to brown, then remove from the heat.

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Caramelise the prepared apples or pears then leave to cool slightly

The batter is very simple. Cream together 150g unsalted butter with 125g caster sugar until very light and pale. In a separate bowl, mix together 75g self-raising flour and 75g ground almonds. Alternatively beat the flour into the butter mixture along with 2 eggs and a drop of almond extract, if liked. You’ll end up with quite a stiff cake mix.

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Prepare the cake batter

Pile the cake batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top, then stud the batter with the fruit, drizzling over any buttery-caramelly juices that remain. If you want an extra hit of goo, dice some marzipan and arrange the chunks on top.

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Arrange batter, fruit, juices and marzipan in the tin

Then bake for about 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. I usually cover the cake after about 30 minutes to prevent it getting too brown (you can see that this one still managed to get slightly singed). Allow to cool in the tin before turning out.

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A gooey pear and almond pudding-cake

This is called a pudding-cake as really it’s best served warm with a dollop of creme fraiche or vanilla ice-cream, but it’s also good at room temperature. This is a damp cake so it doesn’t keep brilliantly – try to gobble it up within a day or two. If eating it for pudding, the cake can be successfully reheated in a low oven (150c) for ten minutes or so.

Rhubarb upside down cake

The first allotment architecture of the 2016 has been raised! First the sweet pea poles went up, at which point we were on a roll and so the bean sticks were installed too. It’s a tricky thing, choosing where to put the sticks – we’re stuck with them now for a good 8 months – and they provide the height and structure for half the plot.

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First garden architecture of 2016 is raised: bean and sweet pea poles

Meanwhile the hops are needing their own supports; this one has shot up a foot in the past week.

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The hops are crying out for the hopolisk

The sorrel that I chopped down to the ground a few weeks ago have grown back with gusto! I love its lemony freshness and given that my lettuce seedlings are pathetic, this is a great salady perennial to have in the veg patch.

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Sorrel ready for cropping

Matt came home from Tamworth on Sunday with a ‘small amount’ of rhubarb from his parent’s allotment – yup, it’s that time of year when we enter the rhubarb glut! Our rhubarb plant is still small but will be cropping well within a fortnight.

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The first of the rhubarb glut

What to do with all this pretty pink fruit (and yes, I know that technically it’s a vegetable)? I’ve made two versions of this pudding-cake in the past week, once with frozen stems (rhubarb freezes particularly well) and once with fresh. It comes out with a pretty pink top but the caramel turns the sides of the cake treacly, which helps to offset that mouth-stripping acidity of rhubarb. This upside-down cake is now a permanent addition to my rhubarb repertoire.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook

500g rhubarb, fresh or frozen (no need to defrost), sliced into 5cm pieces

60g soft brown sugar

60g butter

Grated zest of 1 large orange

125g soft butter

175g caster sugar

3 eggs (though if using massive eggs from Chappers, use only 2)

175g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp milk

Toasted flaked almonds

Grease a 8-inch round non-stick springform or push-pan tin and place it on a baking tray to catch any drips. Preheat the oven to 180c.

First make the caramel rhubarb. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, then tip in the rhubarb. If using frozen rhubarb, allow the fruit to sit in the caramel on a very low heat until defrosted, about 10 minutes. If using fresh rhubarb, allow it to cook in the caramel until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add the orange zest. Remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and place in a pretty pattern on the base of your cake tin. Bring the caramel to the boil and bubble until reduced and sticky, then tip over the rhubarb.

Now make the cake. Beat the butter and caster sugar until pale and light, then alternatively beat in the eggs and flour until well mixed. Add the baking powder and milk. You want a light, pale batter with a soft dropping consistency. Spread the batter over the top of the rhubarb and smooth the top.

Bake for about 50 minutes but keep an eye on the cake and cover with foil if it’s looking too brown. It’s ready when a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cake to rest in the tin for about 20 minutes and  then turn out directly onto a plate. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

This is lovely served warm with a dollop of thick fresh cool cream.

Blueberry crumble cake

Despite the past week of rain and cloud, the allotment flowers are perky and sunshiny. I don’t even particularly like marigolds, but these ones look great in an impromptu arrangement with sunflowers and bishop’s flower (that’s the white frothy stuff).

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Allotment blooms

But there are early signs of autumn. Apples are swelling on the boughs and on Friday I spied cobnuts ripening in the grounds of Compton Verney, the art gallery in Warwickshire.

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Ripening cobnuts at Compton Verney art gallery

Plus it’s really not very warm. At this rate I’ll be lucky to get a raspberry or blueberry harvest, the chill wind stopping any ripening in its tracks. Not so for my mother, who came at the weekend with these beauties:

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Moody blue: blueberries from Mother’s veg patch

So on a rainy Monday morning I whipped up a blueberry crumble cake, good for late breakfasts, lunch, afternoon tea and pudding.

First you make up a really stiff batter. Take flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and sugar, then rub in butter until finely mixed. I use my hands but you could use a food processor if you’re that way inclined.

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Crumble flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and butter

Next the wet ingredients: simply whisk a large egg with buttermilk and vanilla extract. If there’s no buttermilk to hand, use yoghurt or even cream, loosened with a splash of milk.

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Whisk an egg with buttermilk and vanilla

Then mix the two together to make a really stiff batter. It needs to be stiff in order to take the weight (and juice) of the fruit and crumble.

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Combine the two to make a stiff batter

For the crumble, simply take flour, caster sugar, muscavado sugar, butter and cinnamon and rub it all together.

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For the crumble, take flour, sugar, butter…

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…and rub together

Then it’s time to bake! Spread the batter into the base of a spring-form tin, pile the fruit on top, then sprinkle the crumble on top of the fruit. I’ve used a bowl of blueberries plus a few alpine strawberries but I think most summer fruits would work well here: raspberries, sliced strawberries, peaches, apricots, plums.

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Spread the batter in your tin and top with berries, then sprinkle the crumble over the top

Bake for about an hour, until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for at least an hour before removing from the tin (else it’ll likely fall apart). Serve it up warm or cold, perhaps with a dollop of cream on the side. Yum! Incidentally, this is not a cake that keeps well, so eat it up within a day or two.

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Blueberry crumble cake

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Eat with cream

Blueberry crumble cake

Adapted from this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/11755276/Strawberry-cake-recipe.html

190g plain flour

100g caster sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

115g cold butter

1 egg

115g buttermilk (or cream or yoghurt, loosened with a splash of milk)

1 tsp vanilla extract

400g or so blueberries (or other summer fruit, such as raspberries, strawberries, etc)

For the crumble topping:

50g muscavado sugar

50g caster sugar

60g plain flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

60g cold butter

Preheat oven to 180c and grease and line a 22cm springform tin.

Combine flour, baking powder and bicarb in a bowl then rub in the butter until the mixture is fine, with no lumps. Beat the egg with the buttermilk and vanilla,  then mix it all together to a stiff batter. Spread in the base of your tin then pile the fruit on top.

For the crumble topping, rub the butter into the flour, sugar and cinnamon until well distributed, though a few lumps are OK. Pile on top of the fruit.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for an hour or so before serving.