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‘Talking About Cakes’ by Margaret Bages

I just love rummaging around in vintage and charity shops. You never know what you’ll come across. Often, I find nothing at all but occasionally I unearth a treasure of no particular interest to anyone else. During a recent trawl through random books in a West Cork shop, I came across what for me is a little gem. A cookbook entitled ‘Talking About cakes with an Irish and Scottish Accent’ by Margaret Bates.

When I went to pay, the sweet lady at the till quipped… “Thought you’d have enough baking cookbooks by now”!

From what I understand, Margaret Bates was vice principal of the Belfast College of Domestic Science in the 1960’s and author of the Belfast Cookbook, ‘Talking About Puddings’ and ‘Talking About Cakes’. The latter is definitely one of my all-time favourite baking books, I owned a paperback copy in the 1970’s which somehow, I managed to mislay. It was chock-a-block with brilliant recipes. Every recipe was tested and retested, over and over again until Margaret was happy that she had perfected the very best version of each for her students and readers. 

I bought this preloved, hardback copy, published in 1964. (Is this a first edition?) for the princely sum of €2.00 – how about that for a bargain!

Every recipe calls for margarine but as you know I don’t do marge so I’ve substituted butter for margarine in every recipe. 

Despite my best efforts, a deep dive into Google yielded little information about Margaret, perhaps some readers may be able to share some further details. Somehow, I understood that she also taught at Atholl Crescent in Edinburgh, but I haven’t been able to verify that.

The book looks really dated and old-fashioned, but don’t jump to conclusions, so many of the recipes are unusual and contemporary, delicious combinations of texture and flavour. 

Margaret has no less than 10 riffs on “good scone recipes” including coconut scones, dates scones, ginger and walnuts scones, Montréal scones…

There is a whole chapter on coffee cakes, another on favourite chocolate cakes and yet another on ginger confections.

The art of making a feather light sponge and super tender Victoria and Genoese sponges with lots of tips on “how to dress them up” deliciously.

She is fairly flaithiúlach with the bottle of sherry and rum and appears to love caraway seeds, which I hated as a child, but absolutely love now. 

There are cakes for the store cupboard and featherlight pastries and curiosities like conversation cakes – “troublesome to make but delicious “, Scots current bun, continues, English, rout biscuits, with five variations, Pitcaithley bannock, rich slim cakes… 

 Keep an eye out for the little paperback, ‘Talking about Cakes’, you may be able to find a copy on eBay. If you love baking, it’s really worth seeking out.

All recipes are taken from ‘Talking About Cakes – with an Irish and Scottish Accent’ by Margaret Bates

A Strawberry Meringue Cake

Strawberry meringue cake is equally at home on the tea-table or as a luscious pudding for a special occasion.  It is unusual in that a thin layer of cake mixture is baked with a covering of meringue and you might well imagine that this arrangement would not really be feasible.  In fact, it works very well, the result having a good eating quality as well as looking most attractive. Two of these are sandwiched together with a generous mixture of strawberries and whipped cream and, while any fruit might be used, one with a sharp flavour is best.


50g butter 

110g caster sugar 

4 egg yolks

110g flour

a little vanilla extract 

1 tsp baking powder 

5 tbsp milk 


4 egg whites

225g sugar 

2 tbsp flaked almonds


1 punnet strawberries 

225ml cream 

sugar if necessary  

Line the bottom of two 23cm cake tins with circles of greased paper.

To make the cake.

Cream the butter and the sugar together in a bowl and when light, beat in the egg yolks adding one at a time.  Then add the flour, vanilla extract, baking powder alternately with the milk. 

Divide this mixture between the two tins and spread evenly.

To make the meringue.

In the bowl of a food mixer, add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk until stiff.  Gradually beat in the sugar.  Divide between the two cake tins and swirl attractively.  Sprinkle one cake with the flaked almonds.  Bake in a moderate oven at 180°C/gas mark 4 for approximately 45 minutes.   

When cold, sandwich generously with a mixture of fruit and whipped cream.  The cake sprinkled with almonds should be uppermost.

Chocolate Log Cake

2 eggs 

pinch of salt 

75g caster sugar 

50g flour 

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp milk 

40g cocoa 

a few drops of vanilla extract 

Chocolate Butter Icing 

110g butter 

175g icing sugar 

50g melted chocolate 

a few drops of vanilla extract 

Separate the whites from the yolks.  Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk until stiff.  Then gradually beat in the sugar and yolks adding each alternately and beating well between each addition. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and thick.  

Sift the flour and baking powder onto the eggs and fold it in.  Gently fold in the cocoa, milk and vanilla extract.  Spread into a lined and greased Swiss-roll tin and bake in a hot oven 230°C/gas mark 8 for approximately 8-10 minutes.  Turn out onto a piece of baking paper lightly dusted with caster sugar and roll up without any filling.  Leave for a few minutes then carefully unroll. 

To Finish.

First make the chocolate butter icing.

Melt the chocolate over a bowl of simmering water and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.  Cream the butter in a bowl.  Add in the sieved icing sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  When cool, fold in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract.

Spread over the cake when quite cold and roll up once more.  Dust off any surplus flour.  Then cover the cake with the remainder of the icing, creating some peaks to simulate the bark.  Trim the ends.  If wished, a diagonal wedge may be cut from one end of the cake before it is iced.  This piece can be placed at the side of the roll to gauge an even more realistic appearance. 

Sherry Cake


2 eggs 

75g sugar

75g flour 

a pinch of salt 


1 1/2 egg whites 

75g ground almonds 

110g caster sugar 

a little almond extract


75g butter 

110g icing sugar 

2 tbsp sweet sherry (Harvey’s)

2-3 tbsp sherry to soak the cake plus chopped pistachio nuts and silver balls to decorate it 

one x 20.5cm square tin

Make the sponge.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy.  Sieve the dry ingredients together and fold into the egg mixture. Pop into the cake tin and bake at 200°C/gas mark 6 for 15-20 minutes until golden and shrinking away from the sides of the tin.

To make the macaroons.

Whip the egg whites until stiff and then fold in the sugar, ground almonds and extract.  Spread the mixture on a baking tray lined with oiled parchment paper.  Use a wet palette knife for this purpose and spread to approx. 5mm in thickness measuring 25cm x 25cm.  The area of the macaroon mixture should be greater than the cake, to allow trimmingsto crush for the outside.

Bake the macaroon in a moderate oven at 180°C/gas mark 4 and when set and golden, remove from the oven and cut a piece the exact size of the cake.  Crumble the trimmings with the fingers and return to the oven.  Dry until quite crisp, then crush with a rolling pin. 

Make the icing by creaming the butter until light and then gradually beating in the sieved icing sugar together with the sherry, adding a little at a time, since it is likely to cuddle the mixture.

Put a generous spreading of the icing on the portion of macaroon and sandwich with the cake – the piece of macaroon makes the base of the sherry cake.

Next soak the sponge with sherry, being as generous as possible, without making the cake sodden.

Spread the icing on the sides of the cake and roll it, as you work, in the crushed macaroon.  Finally, spread the top of the cake with icing and cover, like the sides with macaroon.

Decorate simple with a sprinkling of chopped pistachio nuts and silver balls.

Ginger Crowns 

These little cakes are particularly delicious to eat and consist of a combination of marzipan and finely chopped ginger.  They are finished somewhat after the shape of a crown and the centre is iced with a ginger-flavoured water icing.  If this seems too laboursome, use the same basic mixture and simplify the shape as you please.

50g ground almonds 

50g caster sugar 

1 tbsp finely chopped preserved ginger 

1-2 egg yolks 

a little syrup from the jar of ginger 


2 tbsp icing sugar 

1 tsp ginger syrup 

a little boiling water 


small pieces of preserved ginger 

Put the ground almonds, caster sugar and chopped ginger in a bowl.  Stir in the ginger syrup and mix to a stiff paste with the egg yolks.

Divide the mixture roughly in half and, from one piece, shape small balls like marbles.  Roll the other piece out thinly and cut into strips, the width being a little greater than the diameter of the ball of mixture – one side of this strip should be cut with a fluted edge if possible.  Wrap these around the little balls in such a way as to make miniature ‘crowns’.

These are best left overnight before baking, then brown quickly by placing in a hot oven at 220°C/gas mark 7 for 5-10 minutes until golden brown.  Lastly fill the centre of each crown with a little ginger-flavoured icing and decorate with a small piece of ginger. 

Deep River Chocolate Fingers

A friend who lives in Deep River, Ontario, sent me this excellent recipe for chocolate fingers, hence its curious name.

Base Mixture

150g plain sweet biscuits 

110g butter

40g caster sugar

3 tbsp cocoa 

1 beaten egg 

1 tsp vanilla extract 

50g coconut 

50g chopped walnut

Middle Mixture

50g butter

175g icing sugar

2 tbsp custard powder

5 tbsp hot water 


110g chocolate

50g butter 

To make the base mixture.

Begin by crushing the biscuits with a rolling pin, then put the butter, sugar and cocoa in a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until smooth.  Stir in the egg and vanilla extract.  Remove from the heat and add the crushed biscuits, coconut and chopped walnuts.  Press the mixture into a greased Swiss-roll tin and put in a cool place to set.

When firm, prepare the middle mixture.

Cream the butter and gradually work in the icing sugar, custard powder and hot water.  Spread smoothly over the base mixture.  Again, leave aside in a cool place to firm.

Lastly,  prepare the top mixture.

Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water ensuring the bowl does not touch the water.  Spread like an icing on top of the cream mixture.  When firm, cut into finger pieces.

Peanut Biscuits 

Especially for those who enjoy peanuts.

110g butter 

110g sugar 

1 egg 

150g peanuts

150g oat flakes

60g flour 

1/2 tsp baking powder 

a pinch of baking soda

a pinch of salt 

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl and gradually beat in the lightly whisked egg, the roughly chopped nuts and the dry ingredients.  Put small spoonfuls of the mixture on a greased tray.  Flatten with a fork, making a criss-cross mark and bake at 190°C/gas mark 5 for approximately 20-30 minutes.  Remove from the tray and cool on a wire rack.

Student’s Pop-Up Dinner

Last weekend on a balmy summer’s evening, we had a wonderfully convivial event here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

The Certificate Course students put on their fundraiser Pop-Up dinner.

This time the proceeds were divided between the Seva Mandir India Fund and The Marmalade Project, a charity launched by Belinda Davies, one of the current students whose Mum died tragically from a stroke a couple of years ago.

The Ballymaloe Cookery School students Pop-Up dinner occurs just three times a year, a delicious multi-ethnic event with a different theme each time.

On this occasion, it was Carpe Diem…live in the moment. A celebration of the bounty of beautiful fresh produce in season at present on the farm and in the gardens.

With a little guidance from Rory O’Connell, Pamela Black and Gary Masterson, the 3-month students planned and orchestrated the entire event.

They designed the menu, tested and retested recipes, created the artwork, designed the table setting, picked and arranged fresh flowers from the garden.

They churned the butter from the Jersey cream on the farm and added nasturtiums to make a fiesty butter to accompany the five freshly baked breads – rosemary and roasted garlic soda bread; potato and spring onion sourdough; turmeric and black pepper sourdough; caraway, nigella seed, fennel seed sourdough and a 3-day focaccia.

Other students designed and filled the goody bags for guests to take home as a memento of the evening.

Guests were greeted with a glass of elderflower fizz and some innovative canapés to nibble on.

Smoked cod gougère, chive, pickled cucumber

Beetroot, piccalilli, goat cheese

Summer roll, peanut satay

The starter was a fresh tasting salad of nectarine, buffalo mozzarella, anchovy, candied lemon

This was followed by a beetroot sorbet garnished with pretty pink elderflowers.

Organic harissa chicken, courgette, tabbouleh, Irish cherries, lemon yoghurt

The dandelion coffee panna cotta with nougatine biscuit and caramelised milk skins was quite the revelation.

Then to cap it all, a selection of four delicious petit fours, each created by a different student:

dark chocolate truffle, pistachio, fennel seed

almond, elderflower, gooseberry

fresh strawberry fool

raspberry macarons

Planning and ticking all the boxes went on for over five weeks.

It’s a brilliant learning experience for the students who quickly realise just how much advance planning needs to go into a successful event.

Another student, Fionn wrote a little poem for the menu, and two others, Luisa and Tyler provided the musical entertainment as guests made their way from the welcome marquee into the midsummer’s feast.

We were super proud of our students and lecturers who got a spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the meal from the 70 plus guests. The students (15 nationalities) were thrilled with the response. It’s worth noting that many scarcely had done little or no cooking nine weeks ago… a fantastic achievement.

They kindly shared the recipes for some of the dishes.

Heini Lanthaler’s Nectarine, Buffalo Mozzarella, Anchovy, Candied Lemon

Heini from Meran in Italy created this delicious summery starter – it got a rave review.

Serves 4

2 nectarines

2 buffalo mozzarella

10 anchovies, halved lengthwise

lemon zest

candied lemon peel (crunchy)

lemon oil made with 250ml olive oil, zest from 1 lemon and 3-4 lemon balm leaves (allow to marinate in the oil for 3 or 4 days before using)

a few mint leaves and corn flowers if available

Cut the unpeeled nectarines into 10 equal wedges.  Slice the mozzarella about 2cm thick.  Arrange the nectarine and mozzarella slices in a wheel pattern on a serving plate, lay an anchovy half over each piece of mozzarella.  Sprinkle with freshly grated lemon zest and candied lemon peel.  Drizzle with lemon oil and garnish with some fresh mint leaves or corn flowers if available.

Candied Lemon Peel

We always have lots of candied lemon, orange and lime peel in a jar to decorate tarts, scatter on mousses or just to nibble.


2 lemons

450ml cold water

Stock Syrup (dissolve 350g granulated sugar in 600ml water and bring to the boil for 2 minutes and allow to cool.  Store in the fridge until needed).


Peel 2 lemons very thinly with a swivel top peeler, be careful not to include the white pith.  Cut the strips into fine julienne.  Put into a saucepan with the cold water and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water, cover with fresh water and repeat the process

Put the julienne into a saucepan with the syrup and cook gently until the lemon julienne looks translucent or opaque.  Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to cool on parchment paper or a cake rack.  When cold, toss in castor sugar and allow to dry in a cool, airy place. 

Can be stored in a jar or airtight tin for weeks or sometimes months.

Hilary Van Leeuwen & Eline Teunissen’s Beetroot Sorbet

Hilary from Australia and Eline from Rotterdam magicked up this fresh tasting sorbet with the beets from the farm.

Serves 10 as a palate cleanser

150g sugar

150ml water

440ml beetroot juice, from peeled beets

20ml lemon juice

60ml liquid glucose

2 gelatine leaves


pink elderflowers if available

sprigs of sweet cicely or mint

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan.  Stir over a medium heat to dissolve, boil into a syrup. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly. Add the sugar syrup to the beetroot juice, freshly squeezed lemon juice and liquid glucose.  It should be slightly sweeter than you would like it. (It will lose some of its sweetness during freezing).

Soften the gelatine leaves by soaking in cold water (3-4 minutes), squeeze out any excess water and add to the beetroot mix.

If the mixture is too cool to melt the gelatine, it can be warmed slightly on the stove. 

Churn the mixture in an ice cream maker until it is softly frozen then freeze.

To Serve

Scoop into individual bowls and drizzle with a squeeze of lemon and decorate with pink elderflowers if available and a sprig of sweet cicely or fresh mint.

Bryce Wyman’s Dandelion Coffee Panna Cotta, Nougatine Biscuit, Caramelised Milk Skins

Bryce comes from Alberta in Canada – the dandelion coffee panna cotta was a revelation.  Omit the caramelised milk skin if you are short on time.

Serves 8

panna cotta

600ml cream

50g sugar

50g dandelion coffee (roasted dandelion root – available to buy in health food shop, we sourced it from Well & Good in Midleton www.corkhealthstore.com)

pinch of salt

2 gelatine sheets

nougatine biscuits

87g mixed nuts

75g sugar

⅜ tsp apple pectin

67g butter

25g glucose syrup

1 tsp water

Irish coffee sauce

87g sugar

35ml water

115ml coffee

½ tbsp whiskey

caramelised milk skins

8 tbsp milk

pinch of salt

8 teacups

First make the panna cotta.

Put the cream, sugar, dandelion coffee and salt into a saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a simmer.  Soften the gelatine sheets in a little water, drain well and add to the saucepan.  Stir and pour into the moulds, cover and allow to set overnight.

To make the nougatine biscuits.

Chop the nuts to a semi-coarse texture.  Combine the remaining ingredients and cook on a low heat until the mixture is melted and smooth.  Add the nuts. 

Preheat the oven to 190°C and bake until golden caramel in colour (10 minutes approx.).  As the biscuits cool, cut into shards.

To make the coffee sauce.

Put the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir until the sugar dissolves and the water comes to the boil.  Remove the spoon and do not stir again until the syrup turns a pale golden caramel.  Then add the coffee and put back on the heat to dissolve.  Allow to cool and add the whiskey.

To make the milk skins.

Add enough milk to cover the bottom of a non-stick saucepan with a pinch of salt.  Allow to boil and bubble until it collapses (be patient).  Allow to caramelise on the bottom of the pan and peel off with a spatula while hot. 

To Serve

Pour 1 dessertspoon of Irish Coffee Sauce over the panna cotta.  Top with a little softly whipped cream, nougatine shard and milk skin. 

Noor ter Meer’s Dark Chocolate Truffles with Pistachio and Fennel

Noor from Amsterdam created this irresistible petit four to nibble with an espresso after dinner.

Makes approximately 25 truffles

225g dark chocolate (we use 62% chocolate)

225ml cream 

50g pistachios

5g fennel seeds 

First make the ganache.

Put the cream and chocolate in a Pyrex bowl, sit over a saucepan of water.  Bring to the boil, making sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl, turn off and remove the saucepan from the heat immediately. Allow the chocolate to melt over the residual heat. Remove the bowl from the pan and gently stir the chocolate mixture until smooth. Cool, then cover and chill until set.

Meanwhile, make the coating for the truffles.

Finely chop the pistachios. Toast the fennel seeds in a dry pan for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Grind the fennel seeds finely in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. 

Combine the fennel and pistachio in a bowl and mix well. Scoop a teaspoon of ganache, roll the ganache into a ball with cool hands. Drop the truffle into the fennel and pistachio mixture to coat well. If the ganache becomes too warm to roll, put it in the freezer for a few minutes and proceed to roll the truffles in batches. 

The truffles are best eaten cold.

Fionn Corcoran’s Turkish Delight

This treat is full of exotic sweetness. Flavoured with rose water and vanilla, they will surely put a smile on your face when you try them! They also happen to be vegan. Fionn hails from Killarney in Kerry.

Makes 36 squares approx.

sugar syrup

600g caster sugar

270ml water

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

thickening paste

100g cornflour

540ml water

Turkish delight flavour

2 tbsp rose water

1 tsp vanilla extract 

red food colouring (enough to create a bright red colour)


approx. 80g of icing sugar and 40g cornflour

1 x 20cm square tin – base and sides lined with parchment paper and brushed with a little vegetable oil

Place sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan, stir to dissolve. Bring to the boil, stirring now and then simmer until mixture reaches between 112-115°C on a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Mix the cornflour and water in a large saucepan, stir over a medium heat until no lumps remain and the mixture is a thick glue-like consistency.

Gradually, stir the sugar syrup into the cornflour mixture. When all the syrup has been added, stir constantly for 5 minutes over a low heat.

Now simmer the mixture, stirring frequently, for between 45-60 minutes, until mixture is lightly golden.

Next add the rose water, vanilla extract and a few drops of natural red food colouring.  Stir to combine.

Transfer the Turkish Delight mixture to the lined tin.

Smooth the surface with a palette knife.  Allow to set ideally overnight or up to 24 hours. 

Slice the Turkish Delight into small squares, pat them dry. Arrange on a wire rack to prevent them from sweating. Toss the squares in the cornflour and icing sugar several times to create a dry, almost crusty outer layer of sugar. They are better eaten sooner rather than later as sometimes they can absorb the icing sugar.

Best stored in a cool/dry place away from sunlight.

Stephanie Hughes’s Raspberry Macarons

A gorgeous petit four made from fresh summer raspberries by Stephanie from London. 

Makes 70 approx.

120g egg whites
25g caster sugar

a few drops of natural red food gel
200g icing sugar
125g ground almonds

190 salted butter
750g icing sugar

100g crushed raspberries (crush with a masher)
2 tbsp of milk

34 raspberries for decorating (a few packs)

baking tray or trays

large plain piping nozzle 

Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas mark 1. This recipe works best in a fan oven. 

Cover the baking tray with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

Whisk the egg whites and caster sugar until stiff.  Add a few drops of red food gel and continue whisking until the colour has been incorporated. 

Sieve the icing sugar twice into a bowl. Add the ground almonds to the icing sugar. Mix half the dry ingredients into the egg whites and then fold in the remainder.

Pipe into approx. 2.5cm rounds onto a baking tray. Bang the tray on a flat surface to remove air bubbles. Rest for 20 minutes, then bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until the macarons lift easily off the paper. Cool on the tray.

To make the filling. 
Whisk the salted butter using an electric or stand whisk. Add 250g of icing sugar and whisk until absorbed. Add the crushed raspberries and 2 tablespoons of milk and whisk until fully combined, cleaning down the side of your bowl as you go. The mixture may look as though it is separating at this stage. Add the remaining icing sugar in batches whisking all the time.

To Decorate
Lay the half macaron on a flat surface.  Using an icing bag with a star nozzle, pipe the butter icing on the top of the macaroon. Put half a raspberry on top of the butter cream, facing cut side up.

Pastry Chef, Natasha Pickowicz

We’ve just had Natasha Pickowicz, one of the hottest young US pastry chefs to teach a class here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Natasha is a San Diego, born NYC-based, chef and writer and three times James Beard Foundation Award finalist. She created magic in the pastry section of two of my favourite restaurants in New York, Flora Bar and Café Altra Paradiso before starting her blog, Natasha now has over 46,000 followers on Instagram…check it out (@natashapickowicz).

Natasha is no ordinary pastry chef, much of her pastry work explores the relationship with baking and social justice, including ongoing collaborations with New York City institutions, like the The Bridget Alliance, Lenox Hill Neighbourhood House, God’s Love We Deliver, and Planned Parenthood of Greater New York.

Natasha has a really fresh approach, I was intrigued by how she combined savoury ingredients with her sweet confections. I love how she decorated the top of one of her cakes with fresh Castel Franco and radicchio salad leaves, it looks and tastes so beautiful and needless to say it’s quite the conversation piece.

Before her class, she wandered round the farm and gardens collecting fresh herbs and flowers to embellish her delicious creations.

Natasha picked fresh fig leaves from the tree in the fruit garden to line muffin tins for the Leafy Dinner Rolls. The leaves imparted their characteristic coconut aroma to the crumb, why didn’t I ever think of that neat idea!

The crispy capers scattered over the olive oil cake was another unexpected stroke of genius, the crisp saltiness was the perfect foil for the slightly savoury cake.

Her vanilla bean Swiss buttercream was quite a mission to make but so silky light and delicious. She used it to ice a passionfruit, coconut and tequila cake, a really sumptuous cake that would be perfect for a special celebration – a wedding, birthday, anniversary…

During her class, she regaled us with stories of her legendary Charity Cake Sales, where up to 30 pastry chefs have fun, cooking together to raise money for good causes, an inspired idea.

Natasha’s debut cookbook, ‘More Than Cake’, which weaves unique baking recipes with stories of her family, social justice and food history, was published by Artisan Books earlier this year.

Enthusiastic cake makers will love all the brilliant little tips that she adds to each of her recipes which help to ensure a perfectly delicious result.

Leafy Dinner Rolls

Excerpted from More Than Cake by Natasha Pickowicz (Artisan Books)

There’s a large fig tree that grows in the corner of my backyard, but the squirrels eat the budding fruits well before I can harvest them myself. Luckily, there’s so much more to this plant than its jammy lobes of fruit—the flat, wide leaves, like edible sheets of wrapping paper, have plenty of uses, too. And, like banana and grape leaves, fig leaves are sturdy enough to wrap anything from sticky rice to poached fruit while also infusing the contents with their unique, dreamy scent.

When gently toasted in the oven or over an open fire, fig leaves release an intoxicating aroma—something between coconut sunscreen and vanilla buttercream. They also provide an elegant, natural lining for fluffy dinner rolls, infusing the dough with their sweetness in the oven. Think of these as Parker House rolls on a beach vacation.

You can absolutely make these rolls without fig leaves; the coconut milk in the bread dough has the same beachy notes as the fig leaves.

makes 12 rolls


60g warm water

2 tbsp (40g) honey

2 tsp active dry yeast

240g full-fat coconut milk, warmed

1 egg (50g)

420g all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more for rolling the dough

½ – ¾ tsp salt

8 tbsp (112g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

12 small or 6 large fresh fig leaves (see tip #1)

1 large egg white (30g)

flaky sea salt


Tip 1 — To create a similar frilly skirt to dress the rolls, try substituting other flat, wide leaves like Swiss chard, beet greens, or Savoy cabbage for the fig leaves.

Tip 2 — The motion of shaping dough balls by hand is a very tactile, intuitive feeling. Add too much flour to the counter, and you won’t have enough grip on the table to create the tension needed to shape the balls; don’t add enough flour, and the enriched, buttery dough will stick to the counter and smear. Form a protective cage over the dough ball with your palm, and don’t apply any downward pressure. Just lightly move it around in a circular motion until you feel the bottom of the dough “catch” on the table and tighten up. Remember that feeling. It will also serve you for shaping the matcha buns for Buttered Cucumber Sliders (opposite).

Mix the dough. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the warm water, honey, and yeast and let sit for a few minutes, or until the yeast looks foamy and puffy. Add the coconut milk, egg, flour, and salt and mix on medium-low speed until the dough begins to wind around the hook, about 5 minutes. With the mixer still running, pinch 4 tablespoons (56g) of the butter into small pieces and add piece by piece to the dough, beating until the dough looks smooth and the butter is incorporated. (The dough will be sticky and wet; scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula halfway through mixing to ensure that the dough mixes evenly.)

Let the dough rise. Transfer the dough to a medium bowl. Cover tightly and let rise in a warm area until doubled and puffy, about 1 ½ hours. Then refrigerate the bowl of dough for at least 1 hour (or up to 24 hours) to make it easier to handle.

Build the nests. Set out one large muffin tins. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons (56g) butter over low heat. Lightly brush the muffin cups with half of the melted butter. Gently drape a small fig leaf into each muffin cup, pressing it into the corners to adhere to the butter; the edges of the leaf should poke up out of the top of the tin. If using large fig leaves, tear into 7.5 – 10 cm pieces and press them into the cups to fit.

Shape the buns. Divide the chilled dough into 24 equal portions (between 30 – 35g each). Lightly flour a clean work surface. Cup your hand into a claw position and quickly roll each portion of dough into a tight, taut ball (see tip #2). Place 2 balls side by side in each lined muffin cup. Cover the muffin tins and let the dough rise again until doubled, 1 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven. About 30 minutes before the rolls have completed their second rise, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Egg-wash and bake the rolls. Whisk up the large egg white with a fork, then brush all over the rolls, being careful not to deflate their rise. Transfer to the oven and bake until the rolls are shiny and golden, about 20 minutes.

Soak the buns with more butter. Remove the rolls from the oven and immediately brush with the remaining melted butter, then add a sprinkle of flaky sea salt to each. Gently pop out each roll from the pan and admire the fig leaf pattern underneath.

Olive Oil Cake with Crispy Capers

(Artisan Bo Excerpted from More Than Cake by Natasha Pickowicz (Artisan Books)

This olive oil cake, with its coarse, amber crumb, glows as if lit from within. Use your everyday workhorse cooking olive oils for the cake batter (see tip). Your fanciest finishing olive oil—the kind you’d dress a salad with, or drizzle over fresh fish—is best saved for the final soak after the cake is baked. For that, you want straight-up fireworks: you can’t go wrong with olio nuovo–style olive oils, which are the super-intense verdant oils made with the first pressing of just-harvested olives. A special cake soak “vinaigrette,” made from whisking orange juice, fancy olive oil, and fortified wine together, further underlines this cake’s subtle savoriness, as does a flurry of crispy capers, which add an addictive crunch and surprisingly mellow flavor.

makes one 25cm round cake

serves 8


1 large orange

2 eggs (100g), at room temperature

200g caster sugar, plus 2 tbsp (30g) for sprinkling

½ tsp baking soda

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

240g all-purpose (plain) flour

½ tsp salt

185g whole milk, at room temperature

150g olive oil

½ tsp almond extract

3 tbsp (20g) capers

3 tbsp (45g) grapeseed (or sunflower) oil

60g finishing olive oil

2 tbsp (30g) Marsala wine or sherry

flaky sea salt


Tip — Delicious, affordable choices include the cold pressed oils from Partanna, Campagna, and Palermo in Southern Italy and Arbequina olive oils from Catalonia, Spain, and Capay Valley, California. (Look for high-end brands sold by the gallon for more affordable options.)

Preheat the oven and prepare the cake pan. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4). Cut out a round of parchment paper to fit a 25cm round cake pan and secure with cooking spray.

Process the oranges. Grate the zest from the orange; you want about 1 tablespoon zest. Juice the orange and measure out 80g juice for the cake batter. Then measure out another 30g for the vinaigrette and set aside.

Dissolve the sugar in the eggs. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer), whip the eggs on high speed until foamy, about 20 seconds. Slowly stream in 200g of the caster sugar and continue to whip until the mixture is lightened in color and doubled in volume, 5 to 6 minutes.

Combine the dry ingredients. Sift the baking soda and baking powder through a small tea strainer into a small bowl. Add the flour and salt and whisk to combine.

Incorporate the remaining ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, stream in the 80g orange juice, the orange zest, milk, olive oil, and almond extract and mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined (the batter will be thin with some lumps; do not whip until the batter is totally smooth, as that would make the cake tough).

Bake the cake. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and sprinkle the surface with the 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until the cake springs back when poked with a finger, 35 – 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the capers. Spread the capers out on a tea towel and gently pat dry. In a small saucepan, heat the grapeseed (or sunflower) oil over medium heat. (A thermometer inserted in the oil should read around 175°C.) Add the capers all at once and fry, stirring constantly, until they have lightened in color and the flower buds are beginning to open up, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the capers to a paper towel and let drain completely.

Mix the cake-soak vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved 30g orange juice, the finishing olive oil, and the Marsala.

Soak the olive oil cake. Run a small offset spatula around the edges of the pan and gently tug the cake out and onto a platter to cool completely. Gently lift the cake up to peel off the parchment and discard. When ready to serve, gently dab the vinaigrette onto the cake with a small pastry brush. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Slice into wedges and serve with a scattering of crispy capers.


Cake soaks should have a balance of tart, sweet, and savory notes—just like a vinaigrette for your favorite salad. Try adding champagne or balsamic vinegar to the soak, a spoonful of jam, or a grind of black pepper.

Oil-based cakes don’t mind lots of ingredient substitutions. Try Meyer lemon or lime in place of the orange. Sub out 3 tablespoons of flour for cornmeal for cake with a heartier texture. Add 2 tablespoons (18g) poppy seeds for a slight crunch. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons finely diced rosemary into the flour for an herbal note. The whole milk can be replaced by non-dairy alternatives like coconut milk or almond milk. You can truly make this recipe your own!

Vanilla Bean Swiss Buttercream

Excerpted from More Than Cake by Natasha Pickowicz (Artisan Books)

My go-to layer cake is not too sweet, sumptuous but not greasy, and easy to customize with extracts and spices. The meringue base of the buttercream comes together in a double boiler before being whipped into a thick cloud. Once it is cool, nearly a pound (!) of butter is introduced into the meringue, which gives the frosting outlandish richness. Use to ice your favourite cake.

makes 615g, enough for two 20cm layer cakes


4 large egg whites (120g)

200g granulated sugar

48g icing sugar

1 vanilla bean

300g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

½ tsp salt


Cook the egg whites. In a heatproof medium bowl, combine the egg whites and granulated sugar and whisk well. Set the bowl over a pot of steaming-hot (but not simmering) water and whisk until the mixture is hot and the temperature is 115°F (45°C), 4 – 5 minutes.

Beat the meringue. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk (or to a large bowl if using a handheld mixer) and whip on high speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixer off and add the icing sugar. Whip on medium-high speed; the meringue should look glossy and stiff.

Harvest the vanilla seeds. Use a small sharp knife to halve the vanilla bean lengthwise, pry open the halves, and use the knife to scrape the vanilla seeds out into the meringue. Whip to combine, about 1 minute.

Add the butter. With the mixer running on medium-high speed, add the cubed butter, piece by piece, over 3 – 4 minutes. The buttercream may look like it will break but keep beating; it will come back together. Add the salt and beat the buttercream for another 5 minutes. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

To ice a cake. When ready to ice a layer cake, let the buttercream come to room temperature for at least 2 hours (or overnight) and then re-whip for 5 minutes so it is fluffy and light.

Elderflowers and Green Gooseberries

I’ve just picked a bowl full of fresh green gooseberries, they’re about the size of hazelnuts, still tart and under ripe but at their best for pies, fools, jams and jellies. It’s difficult to convince people that these hard green berries are so good at this stage, not for nibbling, but for cooking. Try them.

My guide for when they’re ready to pick is when I spy the first of the elderflowers blooming in the hedgerows in late May early June.

Nature has cleverly arranged that gooseberries and elderflowers are in season at the same time of year. The combination of flavours is a marriage made in heaven. All the more mysterious because the white frothy umbelliferous heads of elderflowers made up of hundreds of tiny flowers have a slight musky smell and rather unpleasant taste when fresh, which disappears and instead becomes deliciously muscat flavoured when cooked. Wonder who first discovered the combination of flavours, I first read about it in Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’, one of my most treasured cookbooks…

For over 4,000 years, the early summer elderflowers and the elderberries in autumn have been used as medicine, the elder tree was often referred to as the ‘country folks medicine chest’.

Elderflower has many essential vitamins, including vitamins E, B1, B2, and B3 complex and a little vitamin C. It’s known for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. All very important.

Elderberries have a whole other set of nutrients and a significant vitamin C content to help protect against winter colds and flu. The substantial amount of fibre helps to prevent constipation but they’re not around until Autumn so let’s enjoy the elderflowers while they last.

Gooseberry bushes are horribly prickly. Picking the berries one by one can be super tedious but I’ve got a brilliant tip for you. Put your hand underneath the base of a branch of gooseberries. Grasp, then run your cupped hand up towards the tip. The leaves and berries will come off together, but the leaves will protect you from the prickles, try it…special thanks to David Cullinane for sharing this tip a few years ago.

Green gooseberries and elderflowers both freeze well. Gooseberries can be frozen just as they are but it’s a good idea to tray freeze the elderflowers first, then store them in layers interleaved with parchment paper in a covered plastic box in the freezer. Try dehydrating them too, they’ll last for months in an airtight jar.

Elderflowers add magic to so many drinks and dishes – elderflower lemonade, syrups, jams, cordials, desserts, cakes, ice cream, popsicles and of course elderflower champagne. The latter is so much fun to make with children. They love how it fizzes up within a couple of days. All the more exciting if you show them how to identify and gather the elderflowers themselves, a gift for life… 

The whole heads are delicious, dipped in a light batter, then sprinkled with caster sugar, a perfect accompaniment to a creamy gooseberry fool.  

For a really fast and super delicious dessert, slice a few new season’s strawberries into a bowl, drizzle with a little elderflower cordial, add a squeeze of lemon juice, scatter with some shredded mint, toss, taste, tweak if necessary and enjoy!

A green gooseberry or green gooseberry and elderflower compote makes a gorgeous accompaniment to a panna cotta or a scoop of good vanilla bean ice cream.

And last but not least, don’t forget that a tart green gooseberry sauce cuts the richness and is delicious served with pork, duck or pan-grilled mackerel.

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce

This is a master recipe for pan-grilling fish.

The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel.  I love a pat of simple parsley or herb butter melting over the top but I’ve been enjoying them with the first of the green gooseberries – they cut the richness of the mackerel deliciously.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 175g fish form main course, 75g for a starter)

seasoned flour

small knob of butter



Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with a little bowl of green gooseberry sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley or with some gooseberry leaves if available.

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Use the tart hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment, they make a delicious sauce.

275g fresh green gooseberries

approx. 175ml stock syrup to cover made with 110ml of water and 75g of sugar boiled together for 2 minutes

a knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless-steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts.  Taste.  Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool

So simple to make but so good… As the Summer goes on and the gooseberries mature, less sugar is needed for this fool. The base purée freezes well, a terrific standby for a quick dessert another time …

Serves 6 approximately

450g green gooseberries, topped and tailed

3-4 elderflower heads

stock syrup (dissolve 175g granulated sugar in 300ml water, bring to the boil for 2 minutes, cool completely)

To Serve

whipped cream

shortbread biscuits

Barely cover the green gooseberries and the elderflower heads with the stock syrup. Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit bursts, about 5-6 minutes. Liquidise, purée or mash the fruit and syrup and measure.  When the puree has cooled completely, add one third to half of its volume of softly whipped cream according to taste.

Note: If you want to make the fool a little less rich, use less cream, and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white instead.

Jane’s Biscuits – Shortbread Biscuits

My go-to recipe for a quick and delicious biscuit… This recipe was originally in imperial measurements, to get best results, weigh in oz.

Makes 25

6oz white flour or Spelt

4oz butter

2oz caster sugar

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 7mm thick.  Cut into rounds with a 6cm cutter or into heart shapes.  Bake in a moderate oven 180°C/gas mark 4 to pale brown, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.

Delicious biscuits to nibble but we also serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content, they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.

However, if they are too pale, they will be undercooked and doughy.  Cool on a wire rack.

Elderflower Cake with Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

If you have a food processor, this can be whizzed up in seconds.  The elderflower syrup will keep for several weeks in your fridge.

350g soft butter

350g caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

350g self-raising flour

Elderflower Syrup

50g caster sugar

150ml water

2 heads of elderflower

zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon

To Serve

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote (see recipe)

23cm round cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Meanwhile make the syrup. 

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat.  Stir until the sugar dissolves, add the elderflowers, bring to the boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and juice.  Leave aside to cool.  Strain.

As soon as the cake is cooked, pour all or most of the syrup over the top, leave to cool. (See note at end of recipe).

Remove the cake from the tin and serve with Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote and softly whipped cream for dessert.  Decorate with a few fluffy elderflower heads… 

A slice of the cake on its own with a cup of tea is also delicious.

Note: If you are serving the cake on its own, only pour half the syrup over it.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

When I’m driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom.  Then I know it’s time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.

Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.

Serves 6-8

900g green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml cold water

400g sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries.   Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water.  Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.   Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts.  Allow to get cold.  Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers. 

N.B.  The tart green gooseberries must actually burst otherwise the compote of fruit will be too bitter.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam

It’s worth growing a gooseberry bush just to make this jam alone.

The gooseberries should be green and tart and hard as hailstones – as soon as the elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows, search for the gooseberries under the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or Farmers Market.

Makes 6 x 450g pots

1.6kg tart green gooseberries

5-6 elderflower heads

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons

900g sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3.

Top and tail the gooseberries and put into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the elderflowers tied in muslin and the lemon juice and enough water to measure 300ml. Simmer until the gooseberries burst.

Warm the sugar in a bowl in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached (200°C on a jam thermometer) or put a teaspoonful on a cold plate, leave in a cool place for a few minutes, then if the jam wrinkles when pushed with the finger it has reached setting point.  This jam should be a fresh green colour, so be careful not to overcook it.

Pour into hot clean sterilised jars, cover and store in a dry, airy cupboard.

It will keep for 6-12 months but is best enjoyed when it’s fresh.

Elderflower Champagne

This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.

2 heads of elderflowers

560g sugar

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

4.5 litres water

1 lemon

Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler.  Pick the elderflowers in full bloom.  Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water.  Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles.  Lay them on their sides in a cool place.  After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink.  Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.

Top Tip

The bottles need to be strong and well-sealed, otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

An Abundance of New Season’s Produce

How glorious is this time of the year? I seem to spend much of my time at present giving thanks for the blessing and joy of the new season’s produce. The thrill of being able to cut asparagus spears directly from the bed and pop them into a pot of well salted water within minutes of picking. Add a drizzle of melted butter or a blob of three minute Hollandaise sauce, a sublime feast…

And then there are the fresh peas swelling in the pods and the joy of watching the grandchildren and their little friends racing up and down the row tweaking the fattest ones off the vine and then the excitement as they learned the new skill of how to get the sweet, juicy peas out of the pods rather than out of a plastic bag in the freezer. It’s an eye-opener to realise how many folk and not just children have never seen a pea in a pod and have no idea how to go about getting them out or realise that they can be eaten raw.

We’ve also had the first of the broad beans, possibly my favourite vegetable of all.

Once again, they must be super fresh to blow your mind.

Freshness is incredibly important to flavour and indeed nutrients in vegetables. This is where home gardeners score, plus one enjoys every bite, even more, when you understand how much time and TLC went into growing them. 

Broad beans also grow nestled inside furry pods, so they are even more appealing to extract. We love to sit around the table, podding them before supper, while we sip a little glass of something.

When they’re young, I love to eat them raw, just dipped in a little bowl of extra-virgin olive oil, then a sprinkling of sea salt…. 

They are also delicious pan-grilled in the pods, brilliant on the barbecue too, then eat them straight from the pods.

We’ve also been gorging ourselves on new season’s carrots, I love to nibble them, freshly pulled from the ground, a quick wash under the tap in the greenhouse – crunch, crunch…

And the children love them raw too, it’s brilliant to see them feasting on fresh vegetables, preferring them raw when they might have turned their sniffy little noses up at a cooked version.

Carrots are also super tasty roasted.  Try it, they are particularly delicious added to salads with some labneh or a goat cheese and lots of fresh herbs. 

Last but certainly not least, we planted a few rows of a variety of cabbage called Caraflex in the greenhouses this year. They’ve got a pointy nose like ‘sweetheart’ or what we used to call ‘greyhound’ cabbage years ago. The flavour is absolutely wonderful, either raw or cooked. Once again, my favourite new way of cooking it is either fried in a ton of sizzling butter or a combination of frying and roasting…Who knew that roast cabbage would be so good. I’ve no idea who came up with this way of cooking cabbage but whoever it was, I will be eternally grateful for their ingenuity….Perhaps it was an accident as so many great discoveries are.

Looks like we will have a glut of blackcurrants this year. They won’t ripen until mid to late July but meanwhile, the leaves are incredibly aromatic, so we’ve been using them for Blackcurrant Lemonade and this irresistible blackcurrant leaf sorbet that makes a chic starter for a summer dinner party.

Here are a few of my favourite recipes to celebrate the bounty of the new season.

Chargrilled Peas in the Pod

Peas cooked in this way are super delicious and totally addictive

Serves 4-6

450g fresh peas, about 85 pods

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

Pop a pan grill on a high flame. Toss the pea pods in a very little extra virgin olive oil and some flaky sea salt. When the pan is very hot, lay the pods in the pan in a single layer, allow to colour from the grill, flick over and char on the other side.

Taste, add a little more salt if necessary.

Put the pod between your teeth and enjoy the peas as they pop out

Chargrilled Broad Beans in the Pod

Grill broad beans in a similar way.

Chicken Breasts with Green Asparagus

Soaking the chicken breasts in milk gives them a tender and moist texture. We often serve this recipe with orzo, a pasta which looks like grains of rice sometimes called riso.  Always worth having a packet in your pantry. 

Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, free range if possible

milk, optional

salt and freshly ground pepper

15g butter

110g Irish asparagus in season

150ml homemade chicken stock

150ml cream

roux (equal quantities of butter and flour – melt the butter and cook the flour for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)


sprigs of chervil

orzo, optional (see recipe)

Soak the chicken breasts in milk, just enough to cover them for 1 hour approx.

To prepare and cook the asparagus.

Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus, but we rarely do. Cook in about 2.5cm of boiling salted water (1 tsp salt to every 600ml water) in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily.  Refresh in cold water, drain and cut into 2.5cm pieces at an angle.

Next, discard the milk, dry with kitchen paper and season with salt and pepper.  Heat the butter in a sauté pan until foaming, put in the chicken breasts and turn them in the butter (do not brown), and cover with a round of greaseproof paper and the lid. Cook on a gentle heat for 5-7 minutes or until just barely cooked.

When the chicken breasts are cooked remove to a plate. Add the chicken stock and cream to the saucepan.  Bring to the boil, whisk in a little roux just enough to thicken the sauce slightly. When you are happy with the flavour and texture of the sauce, add the chicken breasts and asparagus back in.  Simmer for a 1-2minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve immediately garnished with sprigs of fresh chervil and some freshly cooked orzo as an accompaniment.


If the sauce is too thick add a little chicken stock to thin to a light coating consistency.

Orzo with Fresh Herbs

Orzo looks like fat grains of rice but is in fact made from semolina. It is sometimes sold under the name of ‘Misko’.

Serves 4

2.3 litres water

1 ½ tsp salt

200g orzo

15-25g butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

Bring the water to a fast rolling boil and add the salt. Sprinkle in the orzo, cook for 8-10 minutes* or until just cooked. Drain, rinse under hot water, toss with a little butter. Season with freshly ground pepper and garnish with some chopped parsley.

*Time depends on the type of Orzo.

Orzo with Peas

275g of orzo and 200g peas

Add the peas to the orzo 3-4 minutes before the end of cooking – serve as in master recipe.

Charred Cabbage with Katsuobushi

Charred cabbage is a revelation, who knew that cooking cabbage in this way could taste so delicious and lift this humble vegetable into a whole new cheffy world. Lots of sauces and dressings work well with charred cabbage but I love this combination.  Katsuobushi are shaved bonita flakes. Bonita is a type of tuna. Buy some – you’ll soon be addicted and find lots of ways to use it up.  Alternatively, omit the katsuobushi flakes and serve the butter basted cabbage as a side.   Can be served as a starter or as a side.

Serves 6

1 medium cabbage

1 tbsp light olive oil or a neutral oil

50-110g butter

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

katsuobushi flakes (optional)

Trim the cabbage. Cut into quarters or sixths depending on the size.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 8.

Heat a cast iron pan, add a little oil, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Lay the cabbage wedges cut side down on the pan, cook on a medium heat until well seared on both cut surfaces, add butter to the pan. When the butter melts and becomes ‘noisette’, spoon the melted butter over the cabbage several times. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover and continue to cook, basting regularly for about 10 minutes.  Test with a cake skewer or the tip of a knife close to the stalk to make sure it’s tender through.

Add some katsuobushi flakes (if using) to the butter and baste again. Transfer to a serving platter or individual serving plates. Sprinkle some more katsuobushi flakes over the top and serve immediately. 

Rory O’Connell’s Salad of Roast Carrots, Chickpeas, Lemon and Coriander

Thank you to my brother Rory for sharing this delicious recipe.

‘This is a fresh tasting and delicious salad. It would fit into a selection of salads or could be a standalone dish when served with a little labneh. It would be a good accompaniment for roast or grilled lamb.’

Serves 6-8

To roast the carrots

850g carrots

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

pinch of sugar

2 x 400g tins of chickpeas

2 tsp roasted and ground cumin

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tbsp chopped coriander

zest of 1 lemon

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

pinch chilli flakes

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

pinch of sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

If necessary, peel the carrots, otherwise scrub until spotlessly clean. If the carrots are large, they can be cut at an angle into 1cm thick slices. Very small carrots can be left whole or medium carrots can be halved lengthways. Toss the prepared carrots in the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar and place on a roasting tray in a single layer. Roast for approximately 20 minutes until tender but not soft. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.

While the carrots are roasting, drain the chickpeas of their liquid and rinse well. Place in a bowl and add the cumin, olive oil, coriander, lemon zest and juice, pomegranate molasses and chilli flakes. Season with sea salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and mix well. Taste to ensure that seasoning is accurate and delicious.

When the carrots have cooled to tepid, mix them into the chickpeas and stir with a flexible spatula. Have one final taste to check seasoning.

Blackcurrant Leaf Sorbet

Use only young blackcurrant leaves, when the bushes begin to flower, they lose their powerful blackcurrant flavour.   We also use this recipe to make an elderflower sorbet – substitute 4 or 5 elderflower heads in full bloom.

2 large handfuls of young blackcurrant leaves

600ml cold water

185g sugar

juice of 3 lemons

1 egg white (optional)

Crush the blackcurrant leaves tightly in your hand, put into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water and sugar.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely.  Add the juice of 3 freshly squeezed lemons.

Strain and freeze for 20-25 minutes in an ice cream maker or sorbetière.  Serve in chilled glasses or chilled white China bowls or on pretty plates lined with fresh blackcurrant leaves.

Note: If you do not have a sorbetière, simply freeze the sorbet in a dish in the freezer, when it is semi-frozen, whisk until smooth and return to the freezer again.  Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white.  Keep in the freezer until needed.

If you have access to a food processor.  Freeze the sorbet completely in a tray, then break up and whizz for a few seconds in the processor, add 1 slightly beaten egg white, whizz and freeze again.  Serve.

Celebrate Our Producer’s Day at Ballymaloe Cookery School

As cooks and chefs, we are totally dependent on the quality of the raw materials we can source to make beautiful fresh tasting food.

We are super fortunate in Ireland to have many fantastic artisan and specialist producers – since Covid even more seem to be popping up every week.

There’s a growing entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude around the country and the brilliant thing is that many of these start-ups are situated in rural areas, creating extra employment in the countryside.

Recently we had a Celebrate our Producers Day here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School to introduce our students to some of the food heroes behind the ingredients they cook with.

Rod and Julie Calder Potts came from Kilkenny and Eunice Power from Dungarvan in Co. Waterford.  There was also quite a representation from West Cork where many of the pioneers got started.

Sally Barnes from Woodcock Smokery overlooking Castletownsend harbour has been smoking fish for over 40 years.

She learned her trade by trial and error…her initial fish smoking efforts were a desperate attempt to preserve four beautiful brown trout that had been caught in Ballyalla Lough, now devoid of trout.

She shared her passion for wild caught fish, fire and smoke and her deep knowledge of the state of the seas, lakes and rivers and the tragic demise of fish stocks around our coasts.

Sally, one of Ireland’s most iconic and feisty artisan producers is now teaching master classes in an attempt to pass on the skills she painstakingly acquired smoking award-winning wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and other white fish over the years. The herrings and sprats have now all but disappeared, much of the catch transformed into pellets for farmed fish.


Anthony Creswell’s Ummera Smokehouse is also in West Cork. A second generation multi award-winner who also smokes duck and chicken breast and traditional cured rashers as well as organic salmon. Ummera Smokehouse ships smoked salmon all over the world and they too are happy to have visitors to the smokehouse close to Timoleague in West Cork.


Toby Simmons, known to many from his stall in the English Market in Cork city but also based in West Cork where he and his lovely wife, Jenny Rose have transformed the Toonsbridge Dairy close to Macroom into a destination café with a woodfired oven, shop and dairy that produces five or six types of Italian filata style cheeses to supply his many Olive stalls around the country.

Toby’s story which started with olives is also intriguing. He set up the Real Olive Company in 1993. Toby imported a herd of buffalo into Ireland to make mozzarella, burrata, stracciatella, caciocavallo, halloumi, smoked scamorza, ricotta and Cheddar – also worth a detour…


Rupert Hugh Jones produces both native and gigas oysters in Cork Harbour close to Carrigtwohill in East Cork where his father David established oyster beds in the 1960’s. Rupert shared the intriguing story of the life cycle of the oysters, and the challenges and rewards of producing one of Ireland’s most prestigious products.

Rupert is also founder of the award-winning Mahon Point and Douglas Farmers Markets. Students were intrigued to hear about the many opportunities the farmers markets present to do market research and sell their artisan and specialist products.

Rupert does many exciting corporate events and bespoke tours of Rossmore Oysters.


Eunice Power from Dungarvan in Co. Waterford is another totally inspiring and seemingly unstoppable entrepreneur with a ‘can do’ attitude in spades. She enthusiastically regaled the 12 Week Certificate Course students with tales of her life in food…restaurants and gourmet catering, everything from weddings to huge rock concerts in the O2 Arena and delectable picnics for the Lismore Opera Festival. Always highlighting local ingredients, local fish and shellfish and meat from her treasured local butcher Michael McGrath from Lismore.

Her fish and chip restaurant in Dungarvan named ‘And Chips’ established in 2019 draws devotees from far and wide. This is no ordinary chipper……


And last, but certainly not least, lovely Rod and Julie Calder-Potts, from Highbank Nurseries in Co Kilkenny, an extraordinary couple of passionate entrepreneurs who farm with nature to produce a variety of beautiful apples, from which they make 15 plus organic products… apple juice, apple cider vinegar, several ciders, apple syrup, apple treacle, Calvados (apple brandy) and more recently a sensational rum (and I don’t use the word sensational lightly) Dark Doyle Apple Rum, created to celebrate their daughters marriage to Jamie Doyle last year.

Seek out their products in various locations all over the country (listed on their website) and online and watch out for events at the Highbank Farm.


A Plate of Locally Smoked Fish with Horseradish Sauce and Sweet Dill Mayonnaise

We have fantastic smoked fish in Ireland. Artisan smokers like sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in West Cork, Anthony Cresswell of Ummera and Frank Hederman of Belvelly near Cobh who have developed a cult following for their smoked Irish salmon and other fish.

Serves 4

A section of smoked fish – smoked salmon, smoked mussels, smoked mackerel, smoked trout, smoked eel, smoked tuna, smoked hake and smoked sprats.

Sweet Dill Mayonnaise (see recipe)

Cucumber and Dill Pickle (see recipe)

Horseradish Sauce (see recipe)


segments of lemon

sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves

First make the horseradish sauce and sweet dill mayonnaise. 

Slice the smoked salmon into thin slices down onto the skin, allow 1 slice per person.  Cut the mackerel into diamond shaped pieces, divide the trout into large flakes.  Skin and slice the eel.  Thinly slice the tuna and hake. 

To Serve

Choose four large white plates, drizzle each plate with sweet dill mayonnaise, divide the smoked fish between the plates.  Arrange appetizingly, put a blob of horseradish sauce and cucumber pickle on each plate.  Garnish with a lemon wedge and sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves.

Sweet Dill Mayonnaise

1 large egg yolk, preferably free range

2 tbsp French mustard

1 tbsp white sugar

150ml groundnut or sunflower

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp dill, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time, then add the vinegar and fresh dill.

Cucumber and Dill Pickle

Cucumber pickle keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Serves 10-12

1kg thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

225g granulated sugar

1 tbsp salt

225ml cider vinegar

2 tbsp dill, chopped

Combine the cucumber and onion sliced in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar together, stir in the chopped dill and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before using. 

Horseradish Sauce

This is a fairly mild sauce.  If you want to really clear the sinuses, increase the amount of horseradish!  Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.

Serves 8-10

3-6 tbsp freshly grated horseradish

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

225ml softly whipped cream

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle.  The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours. 

Stracciatella with Raisins, Toasted Almonds, Preserved Lemons and Marjoram

Stracciatella is soft creamy cheese made from Buffalo milk in Bergamot near Puglia. It has a similar texture to the centre of Burrata.*  Look out for Toby Simmond’s stracciatella.

Serves 6

110g toasted almonds, coarsely and unevenly chopped (pistachio nuts can also be used)

75g plump raisins

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

35-50g preserved lemon, coarsely diced 

Espelette or Aleppo pepper

350g stracciatella – 3 mozzarella

flaky sea salt

fresh annual marjoram leaves

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Blanch and peel the almonds, spread out on a baking tray and toast in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. (You can also do this in a frying pan on a medium heat.) Set aside to cool, then chop coarsely and unevenly.

Put the raisins into a little bowl, cover with boiling water and allow to plump up for 10-15 minutes.

Drain and dry the raisins, put into a bowl with the toasted almonds and diced preserved lemon. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, toss gently.

To Serve

Put a couple of tablespoons of stracciatella onto a serving plate, spoon some of the raisin, almond and preserved lemon mixture on top. Scatter with annual marjoram leaves. Sprinkle with a little pinch of Espelette or Aleppo pepper and flaky sea salt. Serve with a few pieces of sourdough toast. Repeat with the other plates.

*Note: If stracciatella is difficult to source, buy the best mozzarella you can find, coarsely chop and cover with 2-3 tablespoons of rich cream. Marinade for an hour or so.

Highbank Orchards Mussels in Cider

Ruth Calder-Potts kindly shared this recipe with us.

Serves 4

4 rashers, dry-cured bacon

2 shallots, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2kg Irish mussels

1 bay leaf

50ml Highbank Proper Cider

150ml cream

freshly ground black pepper

handful of fresh parsley

crusty bread (for soaking up all the sauce)

Fry or grill the bacon until crispy then set aside.  When they have cooled, cut them into strips.

Wash the mussels in cold water.  Discard any open mussels.

Fry the shallots, until translucent along with the garlic.

Place the mussels, bay leaf and cider into a large pot.  Add the onion and garlic and cover with the lid. 

Place on the hot for about 5 minutes, shaking the pot a couple of times during cooking.  The mussels should all have opened, remove the closed ones.

Add the cream, pepper and chopped parsley and cook for a further 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the bacon.

Serve with the crusty bread to mop up all the yummy sauce. 

Eunice Power’s Raspberry Coconut Cake

Every now and then you want to make a cake for someone special and push the boat out! This is one of those cakes. The addition of coconut makes for a deliciously damp cake, the raw coconut on the exterior introduces an element of fun. It’s worth putting a little planning into the cake. Firstly, organise your ingredients, never underestimate the importance of a shopping list!  I suggest making the coconut filling the day before so that the cake can be assembled when it’s fresh.

275g self-raising flour

70g desiccated coconut

1 tbsp rosewater

375g caster sugar

175g butter, melted

3 eggs

375ml milk

Coconut Cream Filling

300g white granulated sugar

6 egg whites

350g salted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes

1 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

160g coconut milk

2 tbsp of raspberry jam

100g raspberries

100g raw coconut (available in health food shops, I buy mine in Blasta Health Food Store, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford – 058 23901)

a tiny drop of red food colouring

Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas mark 3.

Lightly grease a 20.5cm tin with high sides and line with parchment paper.

Add all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir until mixed, then add in all of the wet ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool for 1 hour. This cake is moist and dense.

Coconut Cream Filling

Place egg whites and sugar in a saucepan and whisk until almost simmering. Remove from the heat and pour the egg white and sugar mix into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed for about 10 minutes, until the sides of the bowl are cool, and the mixture has about doubled in volume.  Add the butter chunks, a few at a time, and beat until incorporated.  It may look curdled but keep beating until the butter is well incorporated and the frosting is glossy.  

Add the vanilla, salt, and coconut milk.  Whip for another couple of minutes until smooth.  

If you make this ahead of time, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Before using, bring it back to room temperature and whip it for a few minutes until smooth.  

To assemble the cake.

Slice the cake into three equal size layers, the cake may be quite dense in the middle, don’t be alarmed – this is fine. Spread a tablespoon of raspberry jam over the first layer, then pipe lightly with a quarter of the coconut cream filling and sprinkle with half of the raspberries.  Place the next layer on top and repeat with the jam, coconut cream and raspberries. Put the third layer on top.

Using a spatula, spread the remainder of the coconut cream evenly over the cake and decorate with raw coconut.


To make the coconut pink in colour, add a tiny drop of red food colouring to a bowl of water, then stir in the coconut. Leave for about 10 minutes until the coconut turns pink and strain the water off using a sieve. Pat the strained coconut with a tea towel before spreading on a sheet of baking parchment and allowing it to dry overnight.


Food is my subject so everywhere I go, I’m on the lookout for new ideas, new trends, delicious flavours, both new and traditional.…

Recently I popped over to Amsterdam, ostensibly to see the once-in-a-lifetime Vermeer exhibition, but also to get a flavour of the food scene.

I have an enviable hot list of restaurants, cafés, bakeries, markets, wine bars passed on to me by Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni from the Netherlands.

Amsterdam feels like it would be a wonderful city to live in, meandering canals, houseboats, beautiful, elegant houses with Dutch gables reflected in the water, cycle lanes…

My head was virtually on a swivel from looking to left and right but

I managed to survive a few days without ending up on the handlebars of a super fit ‘Dutchie’s’ bike…It’s notable how few people are overweight or obese.…

More and more of the cobbled streets are like gardens with cars hidden in underground car parks.

We were super lucky to get a last-minute cancellation for a table for lunch at De Kas, a plant to plate restaurant in a series of greenhouses dating back to the 1920’s, the dynamic kitchen crew create a menu of delicious, small plates every day from their homegrown fresh herbs, vegetables and local seasonal produce. Everyone was all agog because Obama had eaten there on the previous day. He too loves beautiful, fresh, seasonal food – put De Kass on your Amsterdam list.

Just round the corner from where we were staying in the Museum Quarter, we found a super chic café and shop called Edible Treasures where we met a lovely red-haired girl from Tipperary. The Saturday Zuider Farmers Market close by was really worth checking out for the quality of its produce, I stocked up on some aged Gouda and in the midst of it all on the fish stall was Harty’s oysters from Dungarvan! Cheese lovers shouldn’t miss Betsy Kosters shop, La Amusé and a visit to Duikelman is like a wander round Aladdin’s cave for cooks and chefs…

There’s so much to discover… Ballymaloe alumni, Florence Gramende’s bakery levain et le vin on Jan Pieter Heijestraat 168 bakes some of the very best bread and pastries in Amsterdam and there’s superb coffee and a fine selection of really interesting natural wines, this is just one of many really interesting bakeries in Amsterdam. Also loved LOOF where I happily joined a queue of 20 plus people to order a couple of their superb focaccia sandwiches. There was also a long queue at Brod, another notable artisan bakery. Don’t miss the original Holtkamp in a beautiful art deco shop for a dazzling selection of pastries and apparently the best meatballs in Amsterdam.

Zacht Staal, a properly authentic farm to table restaurant is a 30 minute drive out through the beautiful flat Dutch countryside. There we found yet another restaurant in a greenhouse in the midst of a 40-hectare organic farm with lots of cool cabins and pods constructed from mainly recycled materials to snuggle up in the midst of the long grass. The chef, Kees Elferink spent a number of years at Chez Panisse in Berkeley with Alice Waters before returning to the Netherlands to open several restaurants including Marius in Amsterdam. This is his newest venture and the food was super delicious, I particularly enjoyed it.

We took a 45 minute boat ride to the Lighthouse Island, Vuurtoreneiland … to have dinner at Zomerrestaurant, a repurposed army camp, an interesting experience. Another of my favourite meals was at Restaurant VRR in a converted shipyard workers canteen, the owner Sandar Overeinder also spent time with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley in California which was evident in the many plates of delicious, fresh tasting food and really impressive list of natural wines.

We also loved having lunch overlooking the canal at Buffet van Odette and at Bambino, a natural wine bar and bistro with a mainly vegetable based menu. We didn’t manage to get to their sweet little sister restaurant BAK in the former timber port of Amsterdam Houthaven but it’s definitely on the list for next time – more simple seasonal dishes.

One doesn’t necessarily associate Amsterdam with delicious food, but I have to say that my perception has completely changed. We didn’t have enough meal slots to enjoy all the recommendations we got this time. Virtually everywhere we ate and drank, the food, coffee, wine and focaccia sandwiches were super delicious and really, really good…

Here are some of the delicious dishes we enjoyed and don’t forget frites and mussels…

Roast Peppers with Anchovies, Walnuts and Chervil

A delicious little starter, inspired by Café Bambino in Amsterdam. Use the best anchovies you can find.

Serves 2

2 plump organic red peppers

6 beautiful anchovies

4 or 5 whole walnuts

sprigs of fresh chervil 

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Chargrill the red peppers on a gas jet, turning frequently until blackened all over, they should be soft and tender and completely charred. Put into a bowl, cover tightly and allow to soften in the steam for about 10 minutes. Rub off all the skin, then remove the stalk and discard all the seeds.

Open out each pepper and arrange in a square on the base of two white plates. If necessary, trim the edges to neaten.

Lay three beautiful anchovies diagonally on top of each pepper.  Crack the walnuts and divide each half into two pieces. Arrange 6 or 7 quarter walnuts and 5 little sprigs of chervil on each one.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and serve with crusty sourdough bread or focaccia and good butter.

A Little Spring Salad

We’ve just picked the first of our new season, broad beans… bliss!

Once again inspired by a little starter at Café Bambino in Amsterdam.  The original was made with green peppers but we used red because we had no green in the pantry. 

Serves 6

110g (4oz) of feta crumbled 

150g (5oz) cream

a tiny bit of flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

and maybe a tiny drizzle of runny honey if needed

125g red onion, diced 7mm

125g (4 1/2oz) white radish or mooli, diced 7mm (1/3 inch)

125g (4 1/2oz) organic green pepper, diced 7mm (1/3 inch)

125g (4 1/2oz) blanched and peeled broad beans (1/3 inch)

a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

a good squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh dill and flowers when available.

Place the finely crumbled feta and cream into a food processor and blitz lightly until really smooth. Taste and season with a very little flaky sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of runny honey if necessary. Mix, taste and tweak.

Dice the red onion, put into a sieve and rinse well in cold water, allow to drain.

Wash, peel and dice the white radish or mooli and green pepper, put into a bowl. 

Add the drained red onion and broad beans, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Sprinkle with coarsely chopped dill. Toss, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

To Serve

Spread a generous tablespoon of feta cream on the base of each plate, sprinkle a pile of the chopped salad on top, add a few more sprigs of dill and a few fresh dill flowers if available.

Enjoy with good crusty bread. 

Dutch Cheese Croquettes

The Dutch love croquettes of all kinds – meatballs and fish fritters…

Makes about 20 croquettes

450ml (16fl oz) whole milk

225g (8oz) roux (equal quantities of butter and flour – melt the butter and cook the flour for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)

2 egg yolks

225g (8oz) Gouda or mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 heaped tbsp snipped fresh chives (optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dijon mustard

For the coating

100g (3 1/2oz) plain flour

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

dried breadcrumbs, toasted

To Serve

Ballymaloe Country Relish or a chutney of your choice

Pour the milk into a medium-size pan, bring it to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Whisk in enough roux while the milk is simmering to make a thick white sauce.  Then stir in the egg yolks, cheese and chives if using.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Taste and add a little Dijon mustard if necessary.  Leave to cool off the heat. Shape the mixture into about 20 sausage-shaped croquettes or round balls.

To prepare the coating, place the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, whisk the egg well.  Spread the breadcrumbs out onto another plate. Dip each croquette in the seasoned flour, then the beaten egg and roll in the toasted breadcrumbs.

These can be fried in a shallow pan but are best deep-fried at 160°C. If the oil is any hotter, the filling tends to leak out into the fryer.  To check if the oil is hot enough, drop in a breadcrumb. If it comes back up to the top relatively quickly, the oil is the perfect temperature for frying. If it immediately burns, the oil is too hot.

When the oil is at the right temperature, add the croquettes and cook for about 8 minutes turning over a few times.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with some Ballymaloe Country Relish or your favourite chutney.

Dutch Apple Cake with Cinnamon Sugar

This will become a family favourite.

Serves 6

2 large eggs preferably free range and organic

175g (6oz) caster sugar

110g butter

150ml (5oz) creamy milk

185g (scant 6 1/2oz) plain flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3-4 Bramley Seedling cooking apples

25g (1oz) granulated sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

Mix 25g (1oz) caster sugar with 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon or alternatively use caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Grease and flour a 20 x 30cm roasting tin.

Whisk the eggs and the caster sugar in a bowl until the mixture is really thick and fluffy. Bring the butter and milk to the boil in a saucepan, and stir, still boiling, into the eggs and sugar. Sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that there are no lumps of flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared roasting tin. Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices, arrange them overlapping on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining 25g (1oz) caster sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/gas mark 4, for a further 15-20 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cut into slices. Serve with softly whipped cream.


Watch out when you buy your next pot of honey…

Nearly half, (46%) of the honey sold in the EU market is fake, according to a recent investigation by the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud office.

It is adulterated with cheap sugar syrup made from rice, wheat or sugar beet. Honey fraud is lucrative and apparently difficult and expensive to detect but EU countries led by Slovenia are pushing back and demanding action against the unfair competition of faux honey which as one EU official put it is basically ‘sugar water’ and is damaging the livelihoods of small beekeepers, misleading customers and discouraging would be apiarists.

The perpetrators are sophisticated fraudsters, and it seems continually ahead of the investigators in many countries.

According to Safe Food, there is no evidence to indicate that adulterated honey causes any significant health risk but this is scarcely the main issue.

The consumer has clearly been duped, paying dearly for faux honey that has been adulterated not just with sugar syrup, but also artificial colourings and additives to falsify the true botanical and geographic origin of the natural product. Much of this fake honey is imported from China, Turkey and Ukraine.

At present, honey is one of the most adulterated foods on the planet, but mostly goes undetected.

Be particularly wary of cheap honey labelled a blend of honey from EU and non-EU countries. 

Slovenia wants an end to ‘trafficked honey’ and ‘honey laundering’.

Really pure natural honey is laboursome to produce and needs to cost €7.50 or more for a jar depending on size.

Pure honey is a wonderful food with many health benefits. Its flavour and components vary significantly depending on what the bees are feeding on. You’ve all heard of the much sought after Manuka honey from New Zealand, famed for its health benefits but wait for it… research on Irish heather honey found it contained similar powerful antioxidants called phenolic compounds at a fraction of the price.

These help to prevent cell damage in the body and are important to overall health and well-being.

Honey is known to have antibacterial properties and a unique pH balance and has been used for thousands of years for healing wounds and burns.

Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support the theory, there is a widely held belief that local honey helps to alleviate hay fever but even if it doesn’t help it certainly won’t harm provided it is pure honey.

From earliest times, Ireland has been known for the quality of its honey hence the name, ‘the land of milk and honey’. The name Ballymaloe means the townland of sweet honey, meal means honey in Gaelic and luath is soft or sweet. These place names entered into the language over 2,000 years ago and usually reflected a particular attribute of the area.

Beekeeping was first recorded in Ireland in the 17th century, there’s been a surge in popularity in recent times and the number of beekeepers with many young people becoming involved. 

The island of Ireland produces a wide variety of honey. Early in the season, the bees collect pollen from a variety of trees, flowers, furse bushes, whitethorn, dandelion, rapeseed, wildflower, heather, apple blossom, ivy. Each has its own unique flavour and can be used accordingly.

The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association and The Native Irish Honeybee Society are rich sources of information and support for beekeepers and the public. There are local beekeepers in virtually every parish in Ireland – www.irishbeekeeping.ie

So where to find real honey…go along to your local Farmers’ Markets or a shop in your local village where everyone knows everyone!

Here are a few delicious ways to enjoy honey apart from my favourite way to slather it on hot buttery toast.

Apricot, Chamomile and Honey Scones 

Taken from ‘Love Is A Pink Cake: Irresistible Bakes for Morning, Noon and Night’ Claire Ptak’s new book published by Square Peg 

I’ve never been a huge fan of chamomile tea, but it’s one of my favourite baking flavours, particularly as vanilla is so ubiquitous.  I especially love it paired with apricots – they harmonise to be greater than the sum of their parts.  Add clotted cream and a perfectly buttery scone and it’s difficult to do better.

Makes 6 large scones 

For the compote:

1kg firm, ripe apricots, halved and stones removed 

½ vanilla pod 

1 tbsp dried chamomile flowers (or 2-3 teabags, opened, depending on size)

150g caster sugar 

For the scones:

280g plain flour 

1 tbsp baking powder 

2 tbsp caster sugar 

½ tsp fine sea salt 

115g chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes 

100g double cream

100g whole milk 

For the egg wash:

1 egg white, beaten 

2 tbsp milk

2 tbsp caster sugar 

clotted cream to serve (or use whipped cream or mascarpone)

Honey for drizzling 

First make the compote – put all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss together well.  Macerate for 1 hour to dissolve the sugar and draw the juices out of the fruit.  

Tip into a heavy-based saucepan and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until the apricots have broken down a bit.  Allow to cool and then transfer to a container to chill in the fridge.  This will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge. 

Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5 (170°C fan) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. 

In a food processor; combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt, then add the cold butter, blitzing until it resembles a coarse meal texture.  (You can also do this by hand with a pastry cutter).

Drizzle in the cream and milk, mixing until the dough just comes together (be careful not to overmix).  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, pat into a cube shape and leave to rest for 10 minutes.  

Once rested, roll to a thickness of 2cm, then cut into 6cm rounds and place on a tray.  Chill for 20 minutes in the freezer, then remove and transfer to your lined baking tray.  Whisk together the egg wash ingredients and brush this over the chilled scones.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until springy and golden at the edges. 

Allow the scones to cool slightly before filling with compete and a dollop of the cream.  Add a drizzle of honey and serve immediately. 

Turkish Cereal

A delicious gluten-free breakfast cereal and an addictive nibble.  This recipe was given to us by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from Honey & Co Restaurant in London.

95ml (scant 3 1/2oz) vegetable oil – coconut oil
110g (4oz) honey
110g (4oz) dark soft brown sugar
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground mahleb seeds or replace with freshly ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom pods
1 x packet puffed rice (160g/scant 5 1/2oz)
85g (scant 3 1/2oz) pecans, roughly chopped
40g (generous 1 1/2oz) sunflower seeds
50g (2oz) pumpkin seeds
30g (1 1/4oz) sesame seeds
85g (scant 3 1/2oz) almonds, very roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to fan 170°C/gas mark 4.

Line a couple of large flat baking trays with baking parchment.

Combine the oil, honey and sugar in a medium saucepan and set on a high heat. Mix well and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally to avoid it burning on the base.

Place the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Once the honey syrup is bubbling, carefully pour it over the dry ingredients in the bowl.  Use a large spoon to stir, turning the contents of the bowl over a few times until everything is well coated with the syrup.  Transfer the mixture to the baking trays and flatten it out a little so that there is an extra there is an even layer of cereal.

Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Carefully remove one tray at a time and mix the cereal around to make sure everything is getting roasted and crispy.  Return the trays to the oven for an additional 5-6 minutes, then remove and leave the cereal to cool entirely on the trays before breaking into large clusters.

Once the cereal is cold, transfer it to an airtight container.  This keeps for well over 2 weeks, if you don’t get addicted and eat it all before then!

Sausages with Honey and Grainy Mustard and variations

Super easy and delicious.  Everyone including children love these honey and mustard sausages, even if there are lots of other fancy bites.  They are brilliant to nibble with drinks.

Makes about 30

450g (1lb) good-quality cocktail sausages

2 tbsp Irish honey

2 tbsp Irish grainy mustard (such as Lakeshore wholegrain mustard with honey)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

Prick the sausages and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, shaking occasionally until cooked and golden.  Baste several times during cooking.

Mix the honey with the mustard. Toss the sausages in the honey and mustard mixture and serve hot or warm. 

Sesame and Honey Sausages

Add 2 tbsp of sesame seeds to the above recipe and omit the mustard.

Honey and Rosemary Sausages

Add 2 tbsp of freshly chopped rosemary to 4 tbsp of honey.

Sweet Chilli and Lime

Use 4 tbsp of sweet chilli sauce and the juice of ½ – 1 lime, depending on size.

Chicken Drumsticks or Thighs with Honey and Mustard and Aioli

These can be cooked on the BBQ, grill or in the oven.

Serves 8 or 4 hungry people

8 organic chicken drumsticks or thighs


5 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp honey

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Maldon sea salt

Aioli – optional but a delicious accompaniment. 

Just add crushed garlic and chopped flat parsley to mayonnaise

Slash the drumsticks in 2 places on each side.  If using thighs, just cut through the skin side.  Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together and toss the chicken in it so that all sides are evenly coated.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour or more.  Drain.

Sprinkle the drumsticks with sea salt and grill over medium coals, turning regularly until no trace of pink remains – about 15 minutes.  Alternatively, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, roast in a preheated oven at 180°C/gas mark 4 for 20-25 minutes until fully cooked.

Serve with Aioli. 

Ottolenghi’s Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts and Honey

One of our best loved recipes and a favourite for dinner parties.

Serves 6

8 large organic or free-range chicken thighs or 4 chicken thighs and 4 chicken drumsticks

2 onions, roughly chopped

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

a generous pinch of saffron strands

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsp cold water

2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 tsp black pepper

100g (3 1/2oz) unskinned hazelnuts

70g (scant 3oz) honey

1-2 tbsp rosewater depending on strength of rosewater

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

sprigs of coriander

Mix the chicken pieces with the onions, olive oil, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, lemon juice and water in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour, or overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. 

Spread the hazelnuts out on an oven tray and roast for 10 minutes, until lightly browned.  Chop roughly and set aside.

Reduce the temperature to 180°C/gas mark 4.

Transfer the chicken and marinade to a roasting tray large enough to accommodate everything comfortably.  Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up and put the tray in the oven for about 35 minutes or until nearly cooked.

While the chicken is roasting, mix the honey, rosewater and nuts together to make a rough paste.  Remove the chicken from the oven, spoon a generous amount of nut paste on to each piece and spread it to cover.  Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, and the nuts are golden brown.

Transfer the chicken, the juices and toasted nuts to a serving dish and garnish with the sliced spring onions and coriander leaves.


Replace the hazelnuts with 100g (3 1/2oz) pumpkin and sunflower seeds for a delicious alternative.

Chilli Honey

This delicious, sweet, perky chilli honey is a delicious condiment to drizzle over pizza, bread, toast….

Makes 1 x 360g (scant 12 1/2oz) jar


1 jar (360g/scant 12 1/2oz) runny honey

2-3 tbsp chilli flakes, depending how hot you like it

pinch of salt

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar


Pour the honey into a small saucepan, add the chilli flakes and a generous pinch of salt.  Warm gently on a medium heat, just as soon as it begins to simmer, turn off the heat and stir in the cider vinegar.  Pour into 1 or more sterilized jars.

Store in a cool dark place, no need to refrigerate.

Labneh with Medjool Dates, Pistachio and Honey

Serves 4-6

Labneh (see recipe)


6-8 Medjool dates

50g (2oz) Iranian pistachios


rose petals or wood sorrel leaves (optional)

To Serve

Put a generous 2 tbsp of labneh on each plate or in shallow bowls.

Stone the Medjool dates and slice into rounds or lengthwise. Scatter with some slivered pistachios and drizzle each with honey.  Sprinkle with rose petals or wood sorrel if available.  Serve.

Soft Yoghurt Cheese – Labneh

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh

1kg (2 1/4lb) natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yogurt over a bowl. Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens.


The labneh should be like softly whipped cream.  If thicker, simply stir back in some whey. 

Bernie’s Lithuanian Honey Liquor

Bernie Ter Braak who attended our summer 12-Week Course in 2013 kindly shared this recipe with us.

Makes 2.2 – 3.4 litres (scant 4 – 6 pints) 

2 tbsp orange peel

1 tbsp lemon peel

3 sticks cinnamon (break lightly)

4-5 pods of cardamom, lightly crushed

1 nutmeg, lightly crushed

3-5 cloves (leave whole)

1 tsp fennel seed, crushed

3-4 allspice, lightly crushed

1 tsp black pepper, lightly crushed

1 tsp white pepper, lightly crushed

3-4 thin slices white ginger

3-4 thin slices red ginger (if available)

1 tbsp or 3 sticks of vanilla

a pinch of saffron (for colour)

1.3kg (3lb) honey

1.1 litres (generous 1 3/4 pints) of water

750ml (1 pint 5fl oz) vodka

Put the water into a large pot.  Simmer the dry spices until fragrant.  Add the moist spices.  When blended, add the honey, simmer but do not boil.  When the honey is dissolved, remove the spices (strainer).  Remove from any flame source and add the alcohol.  Allow to cool and bottle in sterilized containers. 

Some people drink this right away, but it is highly recommended that you allow it to mature in the bottle in a dark, cool place, for at least 6 months.  The longer it ages, the better it gets.

Portugal (Algarve)

Such a lovely surprise to get a spontaneous invitation to join my two super fit sisters for a relaxing week on the Algarve, A quick flight from drizzly, frizzly Cork to Faro and seemingly eternal sunshine. What’s not to like about blue skies, 28°C to 30°C and not a chance of rain…In this idyllic scenario, no one was mentioning last summer’s fires, but the charred remains of umbrella pines were a stark reminder of global warming, and that life is a trade off…already the temperature is several degrees higher than this month last year.

A week ago, the summer crowds had not yet descended so the restaurants and cafés were still eager and enthusiastic to welcome customers for the new season. We ate in several lovely cafés overlooking the white sandy beaches watching spectacular sunsets. As the light faded, little local fishing boats appeared along the horizon, close to the shore ‘lamping’ for squid and cuttlefish. Every menu features the beautiful fresh fish of the Algarve.

Giggi’s, close to the beach in Quinta de Lago served memorable spider crabs in the shell and delicious canilhas…the little sea snails that I love, I saved the beautiful curvaceous shells to add to the walls of the Shell House in the Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens. And then there was wild sea bass, simply grilled on the bone with a butter sauce and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, exquisitely simple. This is the signature dish on so many restaurant menus… Antonio’s, Izzy’s, Edwardo’s on the beach at Almancil….

Lots of highlights on this trip, Irish chef Johnny Pratt at Trimoulet introduced me to a board of delectable local cheeses and tempted me with wafer thin slices of cured tuna called Muxama, a new discovery for me…

I also linked up with several BCS alumni. Zé Canine and his mum, legendary restaurateur Jackie Price showed us around their farm, which supplies the Casa do Campo restaurant with fresh organic vegetables, fruit, herbs and chillies. Later we enjoyed the fruits of their gardener Fatima’s labours under the ancient fig tree in the outdoor dining room. Maria Flaminga’s organic farm and farm shop in Tavira was another exciting discovery. 

Lots of farmers’ markets and local craft in the area too, love the Saturday Market along the water’s edge in Olhão and the Loulé Market which meanders into numerous cobbled side streets. Check out the scene at O Postigo, a local taberna traditional Portuguesa or 8100 in the market, for an espresso and a pastel de nata or some of the much talked about artisan homemade ice cream. Look out for the huge squishy, juicy, red Portuguese tomatoes, local Tavira fleur de sel and a tantalising selection of salami made from the pork and blood of the long-legged black Iberian pig, studded with juicy chunks of tender fat. I also found little sachets of Aleppo pepper and many variations on the little fig and almond sweetmeats.

At the neighbourhood restaurant overlooking the sea at Vila Nova de Cacela, I particularly loved the riso con lingueirão, razor clam rice, a local Portuguese dish I love to seek out. Carob was everywhere, but somehow, I don’t love the flavour… 

For Sunday lunch, we travelled up into the hills to a busy traditional local village restaurant called A Tia Bia, where three generational families had come to tuck into fine helpings of hearty, home-cooked food. Meltingly tender, slow roast goat or pork cheeks with cabbage, wild boar stew, migos with deer, pheasant, partridge, and wild boar served in a scooped-out bread loaf.

For those of you who love fish, the market at Quarteira where the local fishermen land their catch is not to be missed. Spanking, fresh fish with many rare species not found around our coast.  Wild sea bass, (endangered in our waters), bream, Portuguese sole, corvina, eel, gurnard, gorgeous silver scabbard fish, octopus, clams, tiny conquilhas.  Beautiful little anchovies, whole or gutted, ready to be pickled or fried. Sadly, the sardine season doesn’t start until the end of May but there were pilchards and lots of superb, tinned sardines, mackerel and tuna. Sardine pâté is another Portuguese favourite often served with bread at the beginning of a meal, and then there’s Piri Piri chicken, delicious, spicy chicken that you can’t leave Portugal without tasting. There are several favourite haunts with their own interpretation, but we enjoyed SR Frango in Almancil. Their version is made with poussin, tender, delicious, spicy, but not too searingly hot. The perfect supper after a walk or cycle along the boardwalk or bird watching on the Rio Formosa lagoon and nature reserve, flamingos, bitters, storks, herons, egrets, spoonbills, hoopoes, blue magpies…

Here are some of the dishes that I’ve enjoyed recreating since my return from the beautiful Algarve.

Spider Crab with Olive Oil and Lemon

Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) spider crab meat

extra virgin olive oil

freshly squeezed lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

homemade mayonnaise

1 lemon cut into eight wedges

To serve, drizzle the crab meat with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, divide between the shells.

Put a generous tablespoon of homemade mayonnaise into a little shallow bowl and pop onto the plate, add a segment of lemon and serve.

How to cook spider crabs

All types of crab are best cooked in seawater.  Alternatively, cook in well-salted freshwater.  Put the crab into a deep saucepan, cover with cold or barely lukewarm water, using 175g (6oz) of salt to every 2.3 litres (4 pints) of water.  This may sound like an incredible amount of salt but try it: the crab will taste deliciously sweet.

Cover the saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 12 minutes. 

We usually pour off two-thirds of the water halfway through cooking, and then cover and steam the crab for the remainder of the time.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then remove the crabs, cool and pick the meat from the legs and clean and wash out the carapace. 

Piri Piri Chicken 

Careful not to make it too hot…serve with chips and lemon wedges as the Portuguese do.

Serves 4

4 chicken legs – separate the thigh and drumstick but leave the skin on and bone in

For the marinade
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or flaky salt

For the piri piri sauce
1-4 red African or Thai bird’s eye chillies, to taste
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel or flaky salt
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
50ml (2fl oz) olive oil
1 tablespoon port or 1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)

Whisk together the lemon juice and garlic for the marinade. Slash the chicken skin and put into a small roasting tin just big enough to hold it, pour the marinade over it, turn to ensure it’s well coated. Season generously with the salt, cover and leave at room temperature for an hour or so.

Meanwhile, roughly chop two chillies and the garlic together. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and salt, whizz to a purée (or use a pestle and mortar). Whisk in the paprika and oil. Taste, add more chilli if you think it needs it.

Light or heat the barbecue, if using. When it’s up to temperature, grill the chicken for 20 – 30 minutes preferably on a BBQ with a lid on.  Check when it’s almost done, brush with piri piri and cook, lid off, for about another 10 minutes, until cooked through – cooking times will depend on the size of the chicken.

Alternatively, heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6, roast the chicken for about 35 minutes, until cooked through, basting occasionally with its juices. Heat a grill pan to medium hot, brush the chicken with spicy piri piri, and grill for a few minutes on each side, until just starting to char.

Serve hot with some extra sauce on the side and lots of crispy chips.

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

Pasteis de Nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts

Makes 24

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

115g (scant 4oz) golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

400ml (14fl oz) whole milk

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

a sprinkling of ground cinnamon (optional)

900g (2lb) puff pastry

Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.

Cook on a medium heat and stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and cinnamon if using.

Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool.  Cover with parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs.  Press into the muffin tins.

Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16 – 20 minutes or golden on top and slightly charred.  Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

Portuguese Coconut Roll

The Portuguese make several riffs on this egg roll, orange, praline, caramel…I really enjoyed a coconut version at A Tia Bia restaurant on my recent trip who have taken ‘poetic licence’ by adding a layer of lemon curd but it’s also pretty delicious without it.  Careful not to overcook or it will be dry. Traditionally egg rolls were made in convents to use up a surplus of egg yolks when the white were needed for fining wine.

Serves 12

4 eggs, separated

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) softened butter

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) milk

50g (2oz) grated coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon baking powder

75g (3oz) plain white flour, sieved

caster sugar for dusting

2-3 tablespoons coconut

Lemon Curd (optional) (see recipe)

softly whipped cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4

1 baking tray – 32.5 x 23cm (13 x 9 inch) lined with parchment paper and brushed with melted butter

Separate the egg yolks from the whites – save the whites until later. Whisk the egg yolks and 100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar in a food mixer at medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy. 

Add the soft butter, milk, grated coconut, vanilla extract and honey.  Mix for 2-3 or until evenly incorporated (it may curdle a little but don’t worry). Mix the baking powder with the sieved flour, stir into the wet ingredients and beat on a low speed until creamy. Whisk the egg whites until light and fluffy, fold gently into the mixture. Spread the dough evenly into the prepared tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes approximately or until slightly golden.

Meanwhile, lay a tea towel on the worktop, cover with a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle with a mixture of caster sugar and coconut.  When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and flip the tin onto the parchment paper.  Remove the tin and carefully peel the parchment paper off the sides and base of the roll. Slather with lemon curd (optional).  Then using the towel and parchment, start to roll gently from either the long or short end depending on how chunky you would like the roll.  Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with a little more grated coconut and serve with softly whipped cream.

Lemon Curd

Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge.  It is best eaten within a fortnight.

Flavedo is the outer coloured skin of citrus fruits.

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)

Filhós (Portuguese Donuts)

A filhó is a traditional dessert in Portugal. Filhós are usually made by shaping balls from a mixture of flour and eggs but can be cooked in sheets. When the dough has risen, the balls or squares are deep fried and sprinkled with sugar or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.

Serves 12

2 x 7g (1/4oz) active dry yeast sachets

110ml (4fl oz) warm water 

350ml (12fl oz) warm milk 

5 large eggs, lightly beaten

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

60g (scant 2 1/2oz) butter, softened

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

625 – 685g (1lb 5oz – 1lb 7 1/2oz) plain white flour

oil, for deep-fat frying

225 – 350g (8oz) granulated sugar

2-4 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon (optional)

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.

Add the milk, eggs, sugar, butter and salt; beat until smooth. Stir in enough flour to form a soft dough (do not knead). Start with 625g (1lb 5oz) flour, although you may need to use 685g (1lb 7 1/2oz) – the dough should not be sticky.

Place in a greased bowl, flip over to oil the top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 190°C/375°F.

Drop tablespoonfuls of dough, a few at a time, into the hot oil. Fry for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes on each side or until deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Immediately roll warm doughnuts in the granulated sugar or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.


Sustainable continues to be quite the buzzword with many awards being meted out to establishments and companies who are making strides in this area. Yet Ireland with its clean, green image still ranks very poorly on the (SDG’s) Sustainable Development Goal’s. Having said that, we have apparently moved from 11th out of 15 comparable countries in the EU in 2022 to 10th out of 14 this year on the Sustainable Progress Index. Confusing or what…
Overall though, it seems the general public are anxious to make a difference and long for bold, courageous leaders to show us the way with legislation and incentives.
We fear that time is running out for our planet and desperately want to play our part in making a difference in the many little ways we can in our own environment.
Well, by coincidence, a brilliant new book I’d ordered recently arrived on my desk last week, It’s entitled ‘The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z’ by Tamar Adler, author of yet another gem, ‘Something Old, Something New’.
Regular readers of this column, and those of you who have been to the Cookery School will be aware that I have always loved to use up leftovers. It’s not a recent conversion on the road to Damascus…for me it’s almost like a game…I get terrific satisfaction out of using up leftovers deliciously. Plus, those of us who were brought up by parents who lived through the war and rationing will feel a kind of culinary caution until our final days. Butter, meat and eggs, no matter how plentiful are not to be lightly wasted. In the words of M.F.K Fisher, ‘there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for itself’.
I suppose that dates back to my childhood, when wasting anything even a piece of spare string wasn’t an option, we actually washed and hung out plastic bags to dry on the clothesline in the early days…
I reckon to be able to do a ton of riffs on leftover bits of this and that but Tamar Adler has 1,500 recipes ‘for cooking with economy and grace’.
Here at the Cookery School, we have a ‘Leftover of the Day’ suggestion, so the students learn the art and skill of using up leftovers, creatively – an essential part of their culinary training.
After all, costs are so high and margins so small nowadays that the chef’s attitude to waste can quite easily be the difference between profit and loss in the hospitality business.
There is waste at every level in many different areas of production. There can be phenomenal waste in the vegetable and food sector on the farm, partly to do with the tight specifications on size and shape for the retail trade, but also for traditional reasons. Forever, we’ve chopped off and discarded the green tops of leeks and cauliflowers…dumped the turnip greens so sought-after in many countries.
Young beetroot, stalks and greens are delicious in salads or wilted with a lump of good butter or doused in a good extra-virgin olive oil.
The tender sprouting shoots at the end of the kale or broccoli crop are a true delicacy, meltingly tender. They ought to be sold at twice the price, that’s if you could even get them. Bravo to the Organic Stall at the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market for introducing them to their customers. Many will already know how good those thick broccoli stems are peeled and grated into coleslaw – free, delicious and nutritious food.
Use the tough ends of the asparagus that’s in season at present to make a simple asparagus stock… Remember you have paid a premium price for it, so use the stock to make an asparagus risotto.
Throw garlic and ginger peelings into a ‘stock box’ in the freezer with other vegetable peelings and fresh herb stalks to make a celebration pot of stock every now and then when you have the time.
The new season’s vegetables are jumping out of the ground right now. Don’t waste a scrap – we’re using broad bean shoots in soups, add to stews, gratins, risotto, frittatas, melted greens or use fresh in salads…
And on and on, once you begin to think zero waste, it becomes like an exciting challenge.
Enjoy the fun and feel-good factor of working towards being sustainable.

Soda Bread and Butter Pudding with Cheese and Herbs 

A delicious way to use up a few little slices of stale soda bread, vary the fresh herbs as you please.

Serves 4-6

12 slices of wheaten bread (brown soda bread) – 330g (generous 11oz) approx.

50g (2oz) butter 

2 teaspoons each of chopped thyme, rosemary and chives

100g (3 1/2oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese 

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

8 organic eggs 

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) milk  

1 x 1.2 litre dish, generously buttered

Butter the slices of soda bread.

Arrange half the bread side by side in the dish butter side up, allowing a little space between each slice. Sprinkle with half the chopped herbs and half the grated cheese. 

Whisk the eggs with the milk.  Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Carefully pour half the egg mixture into the dish, making sure that the slices are evenly covered. Arrange the remainder of the soda bread on top.Pour the rest of the custard over the surface. Scatter with the remaining herbs and cheese.  Leave to soak for 30 minutes or more if time allows. 

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

When ready, pop the dish into the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the custard has puffed and the bread is golden brown at the edges.  Cover loosely with parchment paper if it’s getting too dark on top. Check that the custard is set in the middle – a skewer should come out clean when inserted into the centre, but careful not to overcook.

Serve with a salad of organic leaves in season. 

Ballymaloe Risotto with Asparagus

Everyone needs to be able to whip up a risotto, comfort food at its best and a base for so many good things, from crispy pork lardons or kale to foraged nettles…

Serves 6

225g (8oz) precious Irish asparagus, in season now

1 – 1.3 litres (1 3/4 – 2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock made from the asparagus ends

50g (2oz) butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

400g (14oz) risotto rice, such as arborio, carnaroli, or Vialone Nano

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or a mixture of Parmesan and Pecorino

sea salt

Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until al dente. Cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices at an angle.

Bring the stock to the boil, reduce the heat and keep it at a gentle simmer.  Melt half the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Add the rice and stir until well coated.  Cook for a minute or so and then add 150ml (5fl oz) of the simmering stock, stir continuously, and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150ml (5fl oz) of stock.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly.  The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if it’s too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside.  If it’s too slow, the rice will be gluey.  It’s difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously.

The risotto should take 25-30 minutes to cook.

After about 20 minutes, add the stock about 4 tablespoons at a time.  I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on.  The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly al dente.  It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick.  The moment you are happy with the texture, stir in the asparagus plus the remaining butter and Parmesan, taste and add more salt if necessary.  Serve immediately on hot plates.

Alternatively, you can pre-cook the rice for finishing later.  After about 10 minutes of cooking, taste a grain or two between your teeth.  It should be firm, slightly gritty, definitely undercooked but not completely raw.  Remove the risotto from the saucepan and spread it out on a flat dish to cool as quickly as possible.  The rice can be reheated later with some of the remaining stock and the cooking and finishing of the risotto can be completed.  Risotto does not benefit from hanging around – the texture should be really soft and flowing.

Pasta Frittata

Taken from The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z by Tamar Adler published by Scribner

3 eggs (whisked with a little salt)

400 – 600g (14oz – 1 1/4lb) cooked pasta

olive oil

30g (1 1/4oz) chopped parsley (optional)

freshly grated Parmesan for serving

Heat the oven to 190°C/375F°/Gas Mark 5.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and salt, stir in the other ingredients.

Heat a 20.5 – 23cm (8 – 9 inch) ovenproof saucepan over a medium heat.  Coat well with olive oil.  Add the egg mixture and move the set part toward the middle a few times.  As soon as the sides have started to cook, transfer to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Cool briefly in the pan, then turn out onto a serving plate.  Frittatas are better served at room temperature than hot.

Egg Salad Fried Rice

Taken from The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z by Tamar Adler published by Scribner

2-3 tablespoons peanut or grapeseed oil

3 tablespoons sliced or chopped onion or scallion

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

250g (9oz) leftover cold cooked rice


anything else you want in your fried rice

1-3 tablespoons egg salad (see recipe)

Hea a wide pan or wok.  Add the oil, onion or scallion and garlic, fry for 5 seconds then add the rice.  Spread the rice over the surface of the pan and add salt to taste.  When it seems like every grain has had a moment to fry, scoop the rice all together, add anything you want and the egg salad and stir it through. 

Egg Salad

boiled eggs




grated lemon zest

minced chives

Smash the eggs with a fork and mix in mayonnaise sparingly.  You can always add more.  Pound the garlic to a paste with a little salt.  Add 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon garlic paste for every 2 eggs, then sprinkle with lemon zest and minced chives.  Mix, taste and adjust seasoning. 

Brown Bread Ice Cream

This is also known as ‘poor man’s praline ice cream’ because it gives a similar texture but uses cheaper ingredients. This is a great way to use up brown soda or wholemeal yeast breadcrumbs that would otherwise be wasted.

Serves 12–16

Ballymaloe Vanilla Ice Cream (see recipe)

350g (12oz) brown soda or wholemeal yeast breadcrumbs

150g (5oz) vanilla sugar

150g (5oz) soft dark-brown sugar

Make the Ballymaloe vanilla ice cream and freeze.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 4. 

Spread the chunky breadcrumbs on a baking tray. Sprinkle with sugar and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Stir every 4 or 5 minutes until the sugar caramelises and coats the breadcrumbs. Turn out onto a Silpat mat and leave to cool. Pulse the caramelised breadcrumbs into small, chunky bits in a food-processor. When the ice cream is semi-frozen, fold in the mixture and freeze until fully frozen.

Ballymaloe Vanilla Ice Cream

Serves 12–16

4 organic egg yolks

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or seeds from 1/3 vanilla pod

1.2 litres (2 pints) softly whipped cream (measured after it is whipped, for accuracy)

Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringues). Combine the sugar with 200ml (7fl oz) of water in a small heavy-based saucepan. Stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the ‘thread’ stage, about 106–113°C (223–235°F): it will look thick and syrupy, and when a metal spoon is dipped in the last drops of syrup will form thin threads. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time by hand. (If you are whisking the mousse in a food mixer, remove the bowl and whisk the boiling syrup in by hand; otherwise, it will solidify on the sides of the bowl.)

Add the vanilla extract or vanilla seeds and continue to whisk the mixture until it becomes a thick, creamy white mousse.

This is the stage at which, if you’re deviating from this recipe, you can add liquid flavourings such as coffee. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mousse, pour into a bowl, cover and freeze.


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