I’ve been spending too much time away from home. (You could measure my life in tubs of instant porridge eaten on trains and sandwich-shop lunches hastily devoured between meetings.) Of course, when I say away from home, I really mean away from my kitchen.
So, I stole two days off this week, time enough to get the house back to order, plant some spring bulbs for the pots on the steps and make my kitchen feel loved again. Most of all, I baked. My life feels restored with a cake in the oven, even more so when that cake is accompanied by a tart of mushrooms and herbs, its face turning golden as it cooks. Suddenly, the room is warm, the oven is aglow and the place feels like home again. Cake, anyone?
Mushroom and dill tart
For the pastry:
plain flour 150g
egg yolk 1
parmesan 40g, finely grated
For the filling:
double cream 400ml
parmesan rind about a 50g piece
small mushrooms 300g, such as shimeji
olive oil 3 tbsp
eggs 3, large
You will need a 22cm tart tin with a removable base
Cut the butter into cubes and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles coarse, fresh breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg yolk, lightly beaten, and the parmesan, bringing the ingredients together into a firm ball of dough, adding a tablespoon or two of cold water if necessary. You can do this in seconds using a food processor.
Tip the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead for 30 seconds or so (no longer) shaping it into a ball as you go. Wrap in kitchen film or greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
While the dough chills, make the filling. Pour the cream into a medium-sized saucepan, add the piece of parmesan rind and bring to the boil. Watch carefully, removing the cream from the heat immediately when it starts to boil, then cover with a lid and set aside.
Cut the mushrooms into small pieces. In a small frying pan, warm the oil then fry the mushrooms for 4 or 5 minutes, until slightly sticky. Chop the dill and toss with the mushrooms and set aside.
Remove the dough from the fridge and tenderly roll into a disc large enough to line the tart case. Press the pastry into the corners, patching it where necessary. Make certain there are no tears or holes. Chill for another 20 minutes, allowing the pastry to relax. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6 and place an upturned baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up.
Tuck a sheet of baking parchment or foil in the tart tin and fill with baking beans and slide into the preheated oven on top of the warm baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes then carefully remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes until dry to the touch. Lower the heat to 180C/gas mark 4. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat gently, then add the cream (removing the parmesan rind). Season with salt and pepper, add the fried mushrooms, then spoon into the tart case and bake for 25 minutes.
Chocolate chip Bundt cakes, quince compote
If you don’t have any Bundt tins (such things are hardly essential), you could use a 22cm round cake tin with a removable base, and change the baking time to 40-45 minutes. The compote is a pleasing change from cream as an accompaniment, the fruit being particularly good with dark chocolate, but I leave that decision to you. Makes 6
For the cake:
butter 200g, plus a little for the tins
caster sugar 200g
skinned hazelnuts 100g
self-raising flour 120g, plus some for the tins
dark chocolate 100g
For the compote and to decorate:
quinces 2 (about 800g)
caster sugar 250g
dark chocolate 75g
You will also need 6 individual Bundt tins
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Prepare the cake tins by melting a little extra butter, brushing it over the inside of the tin then dusting it lightly with flour. Turn the tin upside down and shake lightly to remove any excess flour.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer until pale and fluffy. Grind the hazelnuts to a coarse powder in a food processor then stir in the flour. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat thoroughly with a fork. Chop the chocolate into coarse crumbs, a matter of seconds in a food processor.
When the butter and sugar are well creamed, add the flour and hazelnut mixture and the beaten eggs, alternately and a little at a time, beating continuously. Fold in the chopped chocolate. Mix lightly but thoroughly then spoon into the cake tins, smoothing the surface as you go.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes have risen. Test with a skewer. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 15 minutes. Turn out on to a cooling rack.
Make the compote by squeezing the lemon juice into a mixing bowl. Peel, core and cut the quince into roughly 2.5cm cubes, adding them immediately to the lemon juice. Warm the sugar and water in a pan, add the lemon and quince and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 25 minutes until the quince is a glowing pinky-red in colour.
To decorate break the chocolate into small squares and leave it to melt in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Trickle the melted chocolate over the cakes and leave to set. Serve with the warm quince compote.
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