Nigel Slater's Baking Recipes

 ,  |  Updated: April 19, 2013 15:39 IST

Nigel Slater's Baking Recipes

Whether you begin with fruit pies, sweet buns or little cakes, once you've got the baking bug it's with you forever.

I can't stop baking. Earlier in the week I made a plate pie, filled with figs and berries; a tray of little yeasted buns, sugar-dusted and filled with cream; and there was a tin loaf, too, dotted with walnuts and dark with rye flour - more of which another time.

The first thing I ever baked, when I was hardly tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, was a tray of tiny cakes, each topped with hideously pink icing and scattered with a confetti of sugar strands. Half a century on, I still find myself taking a tray of buns out of the oven, each barely bigger than a golf ball, though now their insides are risen with yeast, their crust as brown as toast and this time they took more than 10 minutes from packet to plate.

The quick whisk 'n' bake method of my childhood cakes may have been replaced by a more complicated and interesting method, involving a light kneading and a modicum of patience, the lurid icing swapped for a cream cheese studded with crushed praline, but the buzz of baking is still there.

There was pastry this week, too, so short with butter and egg yolks I could barely lift it on to the tart tin. Baked in an old fashioned metal pie plate and crisped nicely on the bottom, it was a far cry from the first tart I ever made with its ready-made shortcrust base and Quick-gel topping. This time the pastry crumbled through design rather than by accident and the filling was seasonal rather than fruit from a syrup-filled tin, but the pleasure of putting it on the table is just as great.

Ingredients change, methods move on, and the details become more important, but the quiet joy of taking something homemade from the oven looks like it will never change. Once the baking bug bites, it is with us for ever.

Sweet vanilla cream buns

Makes about 15 little buns.

milk 350ml
butter 45g
plain flour 500g
fast-acting dried yeast 7g
caster sugar 60g
vanilla seeds a knifepoint
fine sea salt 1 tsp
a little beaten egg and milk for brushing

For the filling:
hazelnuts 150g, chopped
caster sugar 8 tbsp
raspberries 200g
cream cheese 400g
icing sugar a little

Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the butter and bring it up to the boil. As soon as the milk starts to rise up the sides of the pan, remove from the heat and set aside until just cool enough to briefly hold your finger in. If it is too hot you will kill the yeast.

Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the yeast, sugar, vanilla seeds and salt. Pour the milk into the bowl and mix well, then tip on to a lightly floured board and knead lightly, gently but firmly, for just two minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film or a clean warm tea towel and put in a warm place for an hour.

Roll the dough into about 15 small balls and brush each with the egg and milk.

Bake at 200C/gas mark 6 for 10-15 minutes until they sound hollow when tapped on the base, then remove and place on a cooling rack.

For the filling: Put the hazelnuts and sugar in a shallow nonstick pan and leave over a moderate heat until the sugar has started to melt. Watch carefully while the mixture darkens from pale amber to walnut brown. Remove as soon as it is a rich brown colour and scrape out on to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Leave to cool.

Chop the hazelnut praline coarsely and fold into the cream cheese with the raspberries. When the buns are cool, split each bun open and divide the mixture between them (there may be some left, it is good on hot toast, too). Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Fig, black grape and berry pie

This is not the sort of pie you can slice neatly. It is something to serve with a spoon. You will need a metal pie plate about 20cm in diameter. Serves 4-6.

For the sweet pastry:
plain flour 250g
butter 200g
cold water 40ml
egg 1 yolk

For the filling:
figs 4
grapes 280g, small and dark
blueberries 300g
caster sugar 2 tbsp
ground almonds 50g
a little milk for brushing

To make the pastry, sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, add a generous pinch of salt then rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse, fresh breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and enough of the water to bind the mixture into a soft, rollable dough. The mixture will be quite short and therefore difficult to handle. If you wish, make it in a food processor, taking care not to over-mix once the water and egg have been added.

Roll the mixture into a ball, wrap it in greaseproof paper or kitchen film and chill in the fridge for half an hour. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.

Roll the pastry out into a circle larger than the pie plate, leaving enough pastry - about 3cm - to fold up around the edges. Carefully lift the pastry up and on to the pie plate, patching together where it tears. Leave the extra pastry overhanging the edges.

Cut the figs into quarters, pull the grapes from their stalks and remove their pips if necessary and put them into a bowl with the blueberries, the sugar and the ground almonds. Pile the mixture into the pie dish, then gently fold the overhanging pastry up over the fruit, leaving the centre of the pie open so you can see the fruit. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little milk then place in the oven on the hot baking sheet. This will help the pastry on the bottom crisp nicely.

The pie should be done in about 45 to 50 minutes; it is worth checking regularly. Let it settle for a good 10 minutes before serving.

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Pic: In the pink: Nigel Slater's sweet vanilla cream buns. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer



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