Top of the pots

When faced with the challenge of baking anything (and I mean anything) as long as it contains crème patissiere and summer fruits, what would you do? Make list after list of every summer fruit you can think of (yes, lychees included)? Doodle tart shapes on your chemistry notes and attempt to disguise them as atomic structures when your teacher notices? Drive yourself mad making 8 different flavours of crème pat’ and find they’re all ok…ish? Feel like a pro when you produce PowerPoint mood boards? Yeah, welcome to my world.

Having made it through to the semi-final of the Cambridge Bake-off this was exactly the challenge I faced.  After days of going back and forth I went back to basics. Going back to basics is always a good call. Try it sometime.

What shouts ‘summer fruit’ more than strawberries? It isn’t summer in my house until the first home-grown strawberries have been eaten. But instead of going down the classic clichéd strawberry tart/cake/meringue route I really did go back to basics. I’m talking about the soily, leafy, still in the ground kinda basics.  Go with it, this will make sense in a minute.

Crushed Oreos look surprisingly like soil. Fact.

Strawberry flowers are super pretty AND you can eat them. It baffles me why they don’t get the attention they deserve.  I guess life’s not fair.

Mini terracotta plant pots make brilliant tart tins. Cooking in terracotta’s cool. It’s like the most basic of basic: Caveman style basic.

Pastry plant pots filled with strawberry compote and chocolate crème pat’, sprinkled with Oreos and topped with strawberries, flowers and mint leaves became the way forward.

Strawberries made friends with raspberries when they became the compote. Raspberries brought a little tang that helped show the chocolate off in all its glory.

Crème pat’ has this scary hype around it. Don’t be scared. Take it on with all you’ve got. You’ll soon find it’s really not that creamy demon you first thought. Just whisk it like a chocolate biscuit. Ok, too far, sorry.

Dark chocolate and strawberry plant pots
Makes 10 pots

Sweet pastry plant pots
165g plain flour
90g cold unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1/3 tbsp. cold water
extra flour to dust surface
egg white to stick pastry together
10g chocolate to coat insides

Dark chocolate crème patissiere
375ml whole milk
85g dark chocolate
5 egg yolks
75g light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp. cocoa
3 tbsp. cornflour
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Strawberry and raspberry compote
340g strawberries + 15 strawberries for decorating
110g raspberries
4 tbsp. light brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 packet of crushed Oreos
A handful of strawberry flowers
A handful of mint leaves
10 mini terracotta plant pots – mine are 57mm x 50mm

Cover the outside of your plant pots with tin foil. Do not press the tin foil too tightly around the pots or it will stick when you try to get your cooked pastry out.

Rub the flour and icing sugar into the butter until they resemble fine breadcrumbs with no large lumps. Using a blunt knife, stir in the egg yolk and ¾ of the water until it comes together as a dough, being careful not to over work it. Add the extra water if required. Cover the pastry in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. If you want to do this part ahead of time it will last in the fridge for up to a week.

Cut all the strawberries into roughly 1cm2 pieces and place ¾ of them in a medium saucepan with the raspberries and heat until they start to produce juice. Then add the lemon juice and brown sugar and cook down for about 5 minutes until the fruit is soft and jammy. Stir in the vanilla and then add the water and cornflour mixture and stir until no cornflour is visible. Boil for a few minutes to rid the compote of its floury taste. Stir in the left over ¼ of uncooked strawberry pieces and pour into a bowl to cool.

And now it’s crème pat’ time. Oh yeah. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks, flour, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and cornflour until the mixture is really smooth. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and put to one side. Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat until steamy. Don’t boil it. Mix the melted chocolate into the warm milk and take off the heat. Pour ½ of the warm chocolate milk into the egg and flour mixture and whisk continuously until smooth. Return the egg and chocolate mixture to the rest of the milk and place back on the heat. Whisk the mixture continuously until it becomes really thick and custard like. Pour into a bowl and cover the top with cling film, pressing it onto the crème pat’s surface to avoid it forming a skin.

Preheat your oven to Gas mark 4/180°. Take your pastry out of the fridge and roll out to about ½ cm thick. Using a small round cookie cutter (the size of your pot’s base) cut out 10 circles of pastry. Press these onto the base of each of the pots. Use a sharp knife to cut a strip long enough to fit around the outside of your pots and wide enough to reach ¾ of the height. Roll your pot along the strip, attaching the edge to the base as you go. Cut another strip to act as your pot’s lip, egg washing the edge and similarly rolling the pot along, attaching to the pot as you go. Place your pastry-covered pots on a tray, base up, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a baking tray. Remove pots from their pastry case by unwrapping the foil and twisting the pots gently.

Melt the chocolate left for coating and brush the inside of each pot to ¾ of the way up. Leave to set and then half fill each pot with strawberry compote, before topping with chocolate crème pat’ to within 5mm of the top lip of the pot. Sprinkle the surface with crushed Oreos and decorate with strawberries, strawberry flowers and mint leaves to your heart’s content.

Many thanks to Ashley from Groover Photography, for the use of the title photograph taken at the Cambridge Bake-off.

The ultimate chewy cookie

If one food summed up my past year it would be the large chewy cookie. The ones you can buy fresh from the bakery section in the Sainsbury’s across the road from my college. Do you know the ones I mean? They have been the saviour of many a dull and tired day. There may even have been a week here and there when a new packet was a daily occurrence. Those were bad weeks.

I know a guy who will eat a whole bag for his lunch most days and a girl for whom getting through two bags in a day isn’t a rarity. I must say I have actually run to the shop to buy a packet when my friend told me they’d just put out a new, warm batch. There were none left. Major disappointment.


But come on, who doesn’t like a chewy cookie? My first week at college certainly answered that question: no-one. There didn’t seem to be a single person who wasn’t carrying round a packet of discount bakery cookies. It seemed such a small price to pay for five fresh, perfectly soft chocolate-studded beauties. The supermarket managed to tap right into what we needed, targeting weak-willed, energy-lacking students with the knowledge that buying a packet of these might make the day slightly less of a drag.

These baked delights set me thinking – there must be a way to recreate something similar in my own kitchen. Trying to make a chewy cookie is much harder than you’d think. It has taken months of testing and retesting recipes to reach this point but I’ve finally found something close. This recipe does make slightly darker, more buttery cookies than those I’m used to, due to the browned butter and brown sugar that add a slight nuttiness and caramel flavour that would benefit any cookie.


For those of you who are seeing ‘browned butter’ and scratching your heads as to what it is, it’s simply ‘unsalted butter that’s melted over low heat and allowed to separate into butterfat and milk solids. The milk solids naturally sink to the bottom of the pan and, if left over gentle heat, will begin to brown.’ (Thank you very much, Wikipedia.) Essentially your butter will become brown and have a lovely nutty, slightly caramel-y flavour – a very cool phenomenon.

One thing I’ve learned is that you want to under-cook your dough. Trust me. Please. When you look in the oven and they’re only just going golden at the edges, that’s when you should take them out. Wait until they’re golden all over and you’ll have one tough cookie. You’ll be left with a biscuit, not a cookie and that would be very sad.
Cooked all the way through=not chewy at all
Don’t let it happen, please, for the sake of the cookie.

A eureka moment in developing this recipe (which yes, did include a dance routine in the kitchen) was after a friend said she’d heard somewhere that to make cookies chewy you need to remove the tray from the oven half way through cooking, and give it a few sharp taps on the work surface . It works. It actually works. It knocks out all the air that can make them a bit cakey and crunchy. This part of the recipe is essential – DO NOT miss it out, they won’t be the same. Extra chewiness is also thanks to honey, an egg yolk and cornflour.


Dark chocolate and brown butter cookies
makes about 16 large cookies/24 smaller cookies

170g unsalted butter
150g soft light brown sugar
150g granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract
290g plain flour
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ tsp. cornflour
½ tsp. salt
150g dark chocolate chunks

Place your butter in a small saucepan and heat until it’s melted. Once melted, turn up the heat and watch it like a hawk, it can easily go past ‘brown’ and onto black. It will start to bubble and spit; don’t be alarmed, just be careful. At a certain point it will start to foam and you will be unable to see below the very thick froth. Keep heating until it smells fragrant and the butter’s turned an amber colour. Take it off the heat and pour into the bowl to cool slightly. Make sure you scrape any little brown bits into the bowl as well; they’re what give it its flavour.

Mix the sugars into the browned butter and beat until paler in colour and no lumps remain. Whisk in the egg and yolk and then add the vanilla and honey. Mix in the flour, bicarbonate, cornflour and salt until you can’t see any flour. The dough will be quite soft. Fold in the chocolate chunks. Cover your bowl in Clingfilm and place it in the fridge for an hour or so.

Preheat oven to Gas mark 4/180°C. Grease your baking trays. Using an ice-cream scoop, place scoopfuls of the dough about 10cm apart on your baking trays. Place each tray in the oven for about 7-10 minutes or until the edges have started to go golden and the middle’s still quite soft. ½ way through this time, take them out of the oven, bang the tray sharply on a flat surface a couple of times and return to the oven. Once done, leave to cool on the tray for two minutes and then lift them on to a cooling rack.