Panna cotta with fresh raspberries

Panna cottaPanna cotta is Italian for cooked cream. It’s a light mixture of cream, milk and sugar (along with some honey in my version – I love the combination of milk and honey), set with gelatine and served cold. If you see panna cotta moulds for sale, buy a few – they make the job much easier. If you don’t have panna cotta moulds, ramekins work well too, but you will have to be a bit more patient when it comes to turning the set puddings out.

The vanilla is important here – I’ve used both vanilla sugar (sugar which has been stored with a vanilla pod buried in its jar) and the seeds from a vanilla pod in this recipe. Vanilla is expensive, but there’s nothing like the fragrance of the real stuff in this dessert. If, however, you can’t find any or prefer not to shell out for the real thing, a few drops of vanilla essence will work here too.

To serve six, you’ll need:

1 tablespoon powdered gelatine (from the cake-making shelves at the supermarket)
200 ml whole milk
600 ml double cream
Seeds from one vanilla pod
5 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
Pinch salt
Raspberries or strawberries to garnish

Put the milk in your heaviest-bottomed saucepan and sprinkle the surface with the gelatine. Leave for ten minutes away from the heat for the gelatine to soften.

When the gelatine has softened, put the pan on a low heat and, stirring continually, warm until the milk is heated through and the gelatine dissolved. The milk should not boil at this stage. Add the cream, vanilla seeds (slit the pod down its length and use the handle end of a teaspoon to scrape all the seeds out – you can keep the pod and put it in another sugar jar), honey, vanilla sugar and salt to the pan and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Divide the mixture between six panna cotta moulds. Cover and put in the fridge until set (it’s best to leave the mixture at least overnight to make sure it’s completely firmed up). To turn out the moulds, dip their undersides in water from the kettle to loosen the mixture and pop a plate over them, then turn the whole assembly upside-down. Decorate with berries and serve chilled.

Dr Weasel’s lemon raspberry cake

Dr Weasel, my fine and upstanding husband, has an uncontrollable urge to bake about once a year. This year’s annual cake orgy has just taken place – he made several for a shared birthday party at work, where twenty ageing computer programmers played competitive Dance Dance Revolution in the office and ate cake at each other.

There were cupcakes, a couple of chocolate cakes, trays of brownies and this lemon raspberry confection. This particular cake was going to be a nice short semolina sponge, sliced across and glued together with jam and whipped cream. Unfortunately, it didn’t really rise enough in the middle to be sliced in two across the bottom successfully, but Dr Weasel, undaunted, raided the fridge and made one of the best quick cake toppings I’ve tried. He successfully disguised any sag in the middle, created something quite delicious, and ended up with something nearly as popular as my brownies. I am shocked. Has he been having lessons while I’ve not been looking?

This cake will work just as well if your semolina sponge rises better than Dr Weasel’s did (I think his egg whites were not whipped sufficiently – it still tasted brilliant, though). You’ll need:

4 oz (100 g) caster sugar
2 oz (50 g) fine semolina
½ oz (15 g) ground almonds
3 separated eggs
Juice and zest of a lemon
5 fl oz (150 ml) whipping cream
5 tablespoons lemon curd
Fresh raspberries to cover (about a punnet)

Preheat the oven to 180° C. Grease and line a round cake tin.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together with an electric whisk until they are pale and frothy. Add the lemon juice and keep whisking until the mixture thickens. Fold in the lemon zest, semolina and almonds.

Clean the blades of the whisk very carefully to remove any trace of egg yolk. In a different bowl, whisk the whites of the eggs until they form soft peaks. Fold the beaten whites into the semolina and yolks mixture, turn into your lined cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes until golden (and, hopefully, risen).

When cool enough to handle, turn the cake out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Meanwhile, whisk the cream until it is stiff, fold in the lemon curd and use a palate knife to spread the thick lemon cream over the top of the cake. Stud the surface with raspberries and serve in slices.

Raspberry Eton Mess

Raspberries are one of my favourite fruits. Not only are they great raw, in jam or baked into cakes and puddings; they freeze like a dream, so you can have a ripe, squashy taste of summer all year round.

Strawberries are the fruit traditionally used in Eton Mess, but at this time of year they’re very bland and prohibitively expensive. To be honest, I prefer the tart sweetness you get from raspberries anyway, so this isn’t a hardship. Using defrosted frozen raspberries in this dish will leave a lovely pink swirl in the cream. If you are using fresh raspberries, crush about a quarter of them for the same effect.

Eton Mess originated at Eton College in the 1930s, when something rather like it (a mixture of strawberries and bananas with whipped cream or ice cream) was sold in the school tuck shop. It’s evolved into a lovely flopsome, light desert punctuated with shards of meringue, crisp and chewy all at once. In the spirit of making a very quick, easy dessert, I’ve used supermarket meringue nests – you can make your own if you prefer.

To serve six, you’ll need:

1 pint double cream
1 lb raspberries
8 meringue nests (Waitrose and Marks and Spencer carry meringue nests which are ideal for this – crunchy on the outside with a soft give in the centre)

Crumble the meringues into bite-sized chunks with your hands. Whip the cream into soft peaks and fold in the raspberries and crumbled meringue. Spoon into serving bowls and decorate with a few spare raspberries (sometimes you’ll find mint leaves dressing an Eton Mess – I prefer mine mint-free). Serve immediately.

We ate our Eton Mess with an accompanying glass of Framboise liqueur. I’d planned to fold it into the dessert, but it was so very, very nice that a corporate decision was made among those dining to drink it instead. I think we made the right choice.

Barb Schaller’s famous custard cake – with raspberries

I lack a sweet tooth. Mr Weasel’s sweet tooth, however, is pointy, fang-like and preternaturally well-developed. So while I slept in late at the weekend, he set about making Barb Schaller’s rhubarb custard cake. We didn’t have any rhubarb, so he fished some raspberries out of the freezer, and used them instead.

I found this cake recipe on Usenet several years ago. It’s very easy, making use of (I’m going to hell) cake mix in a box, and is obscenely delicious, even for those of us who don’t usually go for pudding.

Barb’s original recipe follows. Mr Weasel substitutes each incidence of the word ‘rhubarb’ with ‘raspberries’, the dear, dear man:

Rhubarb Custard Cake

Recipe By :shared by Barb Schaller
Serving Size : 18 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : cakes desserts

Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
——– ———— ——————————–
1 yellow cake mix — 2-layer
4 cups rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pint whipping cream — 2 cups

Prepare batter for cake mix according to package directions; turn into
greased and floured 9×13″ pan. Dump the chopped rhubarb on top of the cake
batter. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the rhubarb. Pour the whipping cream
(unwhipped) over the sugar. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes, until cake
springs back when lightly touched.

Cream, sugar, and rhubarb sink to bottom, forming a custard layer. Makes
1-18 (depending on how you cut it!!) dee-vine servings.

When I first read this recipe, the comments posted on Usenet following it were so rhapsodic I decided it deserved a spin, even though yellow cake mix is not something you can buy here in the UK. I visit America reasonably regularly, and there’s always space in the suitcase when we go abroad for interesting local ingredients, so on my next visit I used some of the space usually devoted to California chili pods and chipotles in adobo, and bought a couple of boxes of cake mix. (Later I discovered you can buy it and other American groceries in the UK at websites like American Soda, which is splendid, but which makes me worry for the sanity of some of its customers, who leave feedback on Mountain Dew saying that the stuff is ‘the best drink in the world’. If you’ve not tried it, please don’t. It’s not.)

What on earth do they put in this cake mix? This Duncan Hines stuff is disturbingly good for something out of a packet. It’s almost . . . unnatural. Once beaten with butter and eggs using the hand mixer, it’s white and fluffy. The raspberries are sprinkled on top, dusted with sugar, and the cream is poured over.

Raspberries are more expensive than rhubarb (unless you’re growing them, of course), but my, this substitution is good – like your hair, it’s worth it. They’re sweet but tart, and the creamy custard is a perfect companion for them. Stock up when they’re in season; they freeze well.

I usually find that the mixture needs cooking for a little longer (ten minutes or so) than the recipe states. It’s easy to test with a skewer, which should come out clean when pushed through the mix (if a bit raspberry-coloured at the end).

The top of the cake cracks and becomes a golden crust, with an occasional spurt of pink custard bubbling through. The smell is, as Barb says, dee-vine. We leave the cake on the side for half an hour to cool until it’s warm and buttery, and dig in.

I think I’m developing a sweet tooth.