Before Tarunima Sinha moved to the UK in 2000 to get married, she had only ever eaten two types of cake. They were made by the bakery in her village in India: a marble sponge and a pineapple cake. After that came her own wedding cake, then a lemon cake which was, in a way, life-changing. “I know now it wasn’t a good cake,” she says. “Dense, with artificial flavouring.” But she had never had lemon in a dessert, so would try it in every cafe she visited. She’d make notes about what she liked and started to teach herself how to cook.
Her process, which she still uses, was to master one basic recipe, then adjust techniques or flavours. When Sinha started her baking business, My Little Cake Tin, friands were in one of her first orders. The version featured on page 33 came about when she was making gluten-free cakes: gluten-free flour wasn’t suitable for dusting tins, so she used sesame seeds. The result was a golden crust, the distinctive taste countered here by the intense sweetness and fragrance of dried apricot and cardamom.
“I don’t think Tarunima recognises how talented she is,” says Ravneet Gill, pastry chef and judge on Junior Bake Off. “Her understanding of flavour and texture is ridiculous; the way she puts sweet and salty together is so well balanced. I don’t know anyone who cooks like her, to be honest.”
Sinha is known for her clever approach to flavours, often blending aspects of the dishes of her heritage into the framework of western recipes: her savoury galette, on page 28, is inspired by an Indian breakfast – “the base is a riff on a chapatti”.
“I love baking in autumn,” Sinha says. “The light is good, and it feels lovely to be in the kitchen.” It’s her favourite time for local produce, with good apples and pears, and brassicas at their freshest. “Spring has a promise, and summer seems rushed, whereas autumn is here, now. I don’t want to rush through autumn.”
Potato curry leaf rolls
This is my take on a potato puff-pastry snack available in India. Sausage-roll lovers have never been disappointed with this vegetarian option.
Makes 6 rolls
For the potato filling
sunflower oil 4 tbsp
black mustard seeds 1 tbsp
cumin seeds 1 tbsp
fresh ginger 20g, grated
medium red onions 2, finely diced
curry leaves 10-15
turmeric powder ½ tbsp
salt 1 tbsp
ground black pepper ½ tbsp
red chilli powder 1 tbsp
potatoes 350g, peeled, boiled and coarsely mashed
coriander leaves 4 tbsp, chopped
hot green chillies 3-4, finely chopped
amchoor (dry mango powder) 1 tbsp (substitute with 2 tbsp of lemon juice)
For the pastry
puff pastry 1 sheet of readymade, all butter
egg 1, beaten
coriander leaves a few to garnish
sesame seeds to sprinkle (optional)
readymade tamarind chutney 3-4 tbsp
Add the oil to a wide frying pan and put it on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds. They will pop but be careful not to burn them. Lower the heat then add the grated ginger, onions and curry leaves. Sauté until the onions are just translucent.
Add the turmeric, salt, black pepper, chilli powder and stir. Add the mashed potatoes and gently mix everything together well. Finish with the chopped coriander, green chillies and amchoor powder or lemon juice, and give it a good stir. Taste the seasoning and spices. It should be well seasoned and the flavours quite pronounced.
Switch off the heat and let it cool completely. (This also makes a delicious toasted sandwich filling or even a side dish.)
Roll the puff pastry sheet on a board. Spoon the cooled potato filling in the middle of the sheet. Bring the two long ends together and pinch to join. Roll into a tight log shape. Chill the prepared pastry for 20 minutes. Then take it out of the fridge and turn it upside down so the sealed edges are the base.
Brush the top with the beaten egg. Place a few leaves of coriander for decoration and brush the egg over the leaves too. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds if using. Chill the prepared pastry again in the fridge for an hour or freeze for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/180C fan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the pastry from the fridge or freezer and cut into six equal portions. Place on the baking sheet. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until light golden and the base is crisp.
In a small bowl take the tamarind chutney and, using a small pastry brush, glaze the top while still hot.
Serve warm or cold with extra tamarind chutney.
Autumn vegetable galette
Delicately spiced, ginger and panch phoron-spiced seasonal vegetables sit on a green chilli, carrot tops and cashew nut pesto, baked in a wholewheat pastry. Keep this pastry recipe safe, it is a good one for a savoury shortcrust.
Makes 6 galettes
For the carrot-top pesto
carrot leaves 1 bunch (can be substituted with 200g basil)
watercress or rocket leaves 200g
lemon 1, juiced and zested
garlic cloves 4, peeled
cashew nuts 75g
olive oil 6 tbsp
green chillies 2-3 (optional)
sea salt 1 tbsp
freshly ground pepper 1 tbsp
For the pastry
wholewheat flour 150g
bread flour 250g
salt 1 tbsp
turmeric powder ¼ tsp (optional)
sugar 1 tbsp
nigella seeds 10g
poppy seeds 30g
butter 175g, very cold
Greek yoghurt 2 tbsp, cold
For the vegetable filling
carrots 1 bunch (6-8)
butternut squash 1 small
cauliflower 1 medium
olive oil 4 tbsp
English mustard 4 tbsp
fresh ginger 25g, grated
panch phoron 3 tbsp (a spice blend of mustard seeds, fennel seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds and cumin seeds), plus more to sprinkle
red chilli flakes 1 tbsp (optional)
cream cheese 100g
cherry tomatoes 200g
turmeric powder ½ tsp
egg 1, beaten
poppy seeds enough to sprinkle
olive oil to drizzle
Greek yoghurt 4-5 tbsp, thinned with a couple of spoonfuls of water
pesto a few dollops
First make the pesto. In a food processor, whizz all the ingredients to a coarse paste. It makes a little more than required but will keep in the fridge for pasta or sandwiches.
Next, make the pastry. In a large bowl, add the two types of flour, salt, turmeric, sugar, nigella and poppy seeds. Grate in the cold butter. Mix to a coarse breadcrumb texture. Then add the egg and cold yoghurt to bring the dough together. Knead gently a couple of times. Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in greaseproof paper. Chill in the fridge for an hour.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/170C fan. Chop the carrots, squash and cauliflower into 2.5cm pieces. Transfer to a large oven tray, drizzle over some olive oil and season with salt, turmeric and black pepper. Put the tray in the oven for 15 minutes, just to soften the vegetables. Remove the tray from the oven and let it cool.
In a large bowl, add the mustard, a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, more black pepper, the prepared and cooled carrot, squash and cauliflower mix, grated ginger, panch phoron and chilli flakes. Mix well and keep aside.
Take the pastry out of the fridge. Divide the chilled pastry into six portions – each one should be roughly 100g.
Roll out each portion between two sheets of baking paper into discs roughly 15cm round. The edges don’t need to be neat. If the pastry is cracking, the dough is too cold. Give it a few minutes at room temperature and then roll again.
Line two baking trays with parchment paper. Brush the paper in each one with a teaspoon of butter.
Place three rolled discs on each tray. Spoon a large dollop of cream cheese and a spoon of the pesto in the middle of each one. Spread the mixture, leaving an inch spare around the edges of each disc. Pile high with the vegetable mix. Tuck in 5-6 cherry tomato halves.
Roughly fold in the edges over the vegetables a little, making a rim. Rustic folds are good here. Brush the edges with a beaten egg. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and some panch phoron spice mix, also on the pastry edges.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges and base are lightly golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and let them rest for 10 minutes. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, a drizzle of yoghurt, some dollops of pesto, black pepper and sea salt.
For the pickle: use 2 thinly sliced red onions in a bowl, add 1 tbsp of sea salt and 3 tbsp lemon juice. Stir and leave it to infuse for an hour.
Serve warm, with a leafy green salad and the quick pickle.
Apple panjiri crumble cake
Panjiri is a gently toasted mixture of wholewheat flour, ghee, nuts, seeds and jaggery or brown sugar crumbled together. People snack on spoonfuls during autumn and winter in northern India. I love to make it when the weather starts to turn cold. One such batch became a topping of an apple crumble some years ago and then this cake followed soon after. Blending apple and panjiri is like merging the two worlds I call home in a cake. I use browned butter to lend ghee flavours to the cake but if you can source good ghee, or can make your own, it will be rewarding.
For the panjiri crumble mix
porridge oats 50g
wholewheat coarse flour 75g
plain flour 50g
light brown muscovado sugar 100g
demerara sugar 50g
whole almonds 25g, with skin chopped
cashews 25g, chopped
pistachios 25g, chopped
sunflower seeds 25g
pumpkin seeds 25g
salt ¼ tsp
turmeric powder ¼ tsp
cardamom powder ¼ tsp
ginger powder 2 tbsp
fennel seeds 1 tsp, crushed
ghee 100g, or melted and cooled butter (room temperature)
apples 4–5, medium
lemon a squeeze
soft brown muscovado sugar 200g
self-raising flour 200g
ground almonds 100g
salt 1 tsp
eggs 3 large 100g sour cream
vanilla extract 1 tsp
cornflour 1 tbsp
In a large bowl, add all the dry ingredients for the panjiri crumble, then the ghee or melted butter. Using clean hands, mix and clump everything together until it has a knobbly, chunky crumble mixture – a fistful should hold together when squeezed. Chill in the fridge until the cake batter is prepared.
Butter, dust with flour and line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with parchment paper. Peel and chop the apples and set aside in a bowl of water, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent discolouring.
Melt the butter for the cake in a small saucepan, keeping it on a gentle heat until you see light golden sediments on the bottom of the pan and clear golden liquid. This is clarified butter or a quick version of ghee. Strain and keep aside while still warm.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/170C fan. In a large bowl, assemble all of the remaining dry ingredients, except the cornflour. In another bowl or jug, assemble all the wet ingredients.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Stir a couple of times using a large wooden spoon or spatula but don’t overmix – lumpy is good.
Drain the water from the apples, pat them dry with a clean dish cloth and sprinkle with corn flour before adding to the cake batter.
Mix the apples in and gently fold them through but, again, don’t overmix. Lumpy batter is okay, too. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin.
Take the crumble mix out of the fridge. Place large chunks of the crumble mixture on top of the cake batter, pressing it in gently. (Leftovers can be stored in the freezer for future fruit crumbles.) Bake for 45-60 minutes, or till a skewer comes out clean. If the crumble is browning, place a piece of tin foil on top.
Once baked, let the cake cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes. Then remove the springform ring and slide the cake onto a wire rack. Serve it warm with custard as a pudding or at room temperature with tea. The cake will keep well in an airtight container for three days.
Pear, saffron, pistachio upside-down cake
This cake captures the colours and flavours of autumn. Gently poaching pears in saffron, cardamom and black pepper reminds me of my mother making murabba with seasonal Indian berries. Murabba is a way of preserving fruits in spiced sugar syrup and is quite popular in India, probably a technique borrowed via the spice route. I baked this cake for my mother as saffron and pistachio is her favourite flavour combination and murabba is a food memory I associate with her.
Makes 10-12 slices
For the saffron poached pear
pears 8 ripe but firm (like williams or conference)
cinnamon stick 2.5cm
green cardamom pods 5-6
black pepper seeds 8-10
sea salt ½ tsp
saffron strands 1 large pinch
lemon 1, zested and juiced
For the cake
pistachios 150g, unsalted and shelled
saffron 1 large pinch, crushed to a powder
self-raising flour 185g
baking powder 1 tsp
salt 1 tsp
ground almonds 50g
butter 200g and 50g, plus more for greasing the tin
soft brown sugar 50g
caster sugar 200g
eggs 4 large
vanilla extract ¼ tsp
lemon 1, zested
Peel the pears and remove the stalks. Cut in half lengthways then, using a small melon baller or a teaspoon, neatly scoop out the seeds.
In a large saucepan, add the water, sugar, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods (gently crushed so the seeds are still inside) black pepper, salt, saffron strands, lemon zest and juice.
Put on low heat until the sugar just starts to melt. Add the cut pears to the simmering syrup, making sure they are fully immersed. If not, add some more water until they’re completely covered.
Cut a disc of parchment paper to the size of the pot and place it directly on top of the poaching pears. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook on medium heat for 25 minutes. (It really depends on the ripeness of the pears but don’t over cook, al dente is what we are looking for, as they will be cooked again in the cake.)
Once they are ready, switch off the heat and let the pears sit in the syrup for a few hours to infuse and cool completely. Then remove them using a slotted spoon and place in a suitable container.
Now, on a gentle simmer, reduce the leftover poaching liquid to a honey-like consistency. This will be brushed over the pears once the cake is baked, making them shine. Any extra can also be served drizzled on the cake and also makes a good sugar base for cocktails and lemonade. (It will keep for a week in the fridge).
Using a food processor, blitz the pistachios to a fine crumb, until they’re almost the same texture as the ground almonds.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/170C fan. Grease a 20cm cake tin, then dust with flour and line the base with baking parchment. Put the saffron powder in a little bowl and soak in 1 tbsp of lukewarm water. Stir and keep aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt, then add the ground almonds and pistachios. Set aside. Beat 50g soft butter with 50g of soft brown sugar and spread over the base of the lined cake tin.
Layer the poached pears, cut side down, over the butter and sugar layer. Pack the pears snugly to cover the base. You may need 14-15 pear halves. Chill the tin with the pears in until the cake batter is ready.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the saffron water. Add the eggs one by one, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Give it a quick stir. Sift in the flour and nut mixture, a third at a time, gently folding after each batch, to make a smooth cake batter.
Take the cake tin out of the fridge, the butter and pears must be cold and set now. Spoon the cake batter evenly over the pears. Give the cake tin a gentle tap to remove any air bubbles.
Cover the top of the cake tin with tin foil and bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. Remove the foil then bake for a further 15-20 minutes.
A skewer should come out clean. If not, bake until the cake is done. Sometimes it can take longer, depending on your oven.
Once the cake is baked, let it cool in the tin for 20 minutes then carefully invert on a large serving plate. Let it cool for another 15 minutes and then brush the pears with the prepared saffron syrup. Serve at room temperature, cut into wedges with a sharp knife.
Optional: Sprinkle with ground pistachios and slivers of pistachio and edible flower petals.
Notes: At home, I sometimes serve this as a dessert with pistachio ice-cream or just a few spoonfuls of cream on the side with a drizzle of the saffron syrup.
Make ahead: You can make the poached pears a few days in advance and store them in the fridge. It is also a good idea to double the recipe as it makes a quick dessert served with cream or ice cream, or a great breakfast with yogurt and granola.
Apricot, cardamom and sesame friands
Sesame is considered warming and often eaten throughout autumn and winter in India. Cardamom and a hint of rosewater adds a delicate floral note. Sesame seeds are dusted on little buttered cake tins before the batter is poured to add a lovely crust around the cake once baked. This recipe can easily be adapted to be gluten-free, replacing the plain flour with a good quality gluten free-flour.
For the apricot compote
dried apricots 250, roughly chopped
green cardamom pods 4-5
caster sugar 50g
sea salt 1 tsp
lemon juice 3 tbsp
For the friand batter
sesame seeds 150g, plus more for sprinkling on top
butter 145g, plus extra for brushing the tins
plain flour 60g
icing sugar 225g
ground almonds 145g
lemons 2, zested
ground cardamom ¼ tsp
salt ¼ tsp
egg white 175g (from approximately 5 large eggs)
vanilla extract ¼ tsp
rose water ¼ tsp (optional)
flaked almonds 40g
To decorate (optional)
icing sugar to dust
rose petals a few, fresh or dried
Roughly chop the apricots into small pieces. Gently crack the cardamom pods ensuring the seeds are still inside. Put the apricots, cardamom, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a small saucepan, add water and simmer gently on low heat until all the water is absorbed. Stir a couple of times to avoid any burning. It takes 15-20 minutes. Once all the liquid is absorbed let it cool completely then discard the cardamom pods. (Should you wish, the compote can be made 3-4 days ahead and stored in the fridge).
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/170C fan. Generously butter a 12-hole oval friand tin (a 12-hole cupcake tin works well too). Sprinkle 50g sesame seeds all over the friand holes so that they cover the buttered area. This creates a lovely sesame crust once baked so be generous with the coating. Keep the prepared tray aside or chill in the fridge or freezer until the batter is made.
Put the butter in a small saucepan and melt on a moderate heat. Keep an eye on the pan. In about 8-10 minutes, light brownish spots will appear on the base of the pan with a golden liquid on top. Switch off the heat at this stage. It is important not to burn the butter. Once ready, pour through a small metal sieve in a heat proof bowl and cool slightly.
Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl then add the ground almonds and the rest of the sesame seeds, along with the lemon zest, cardamom powder and salt. In a separate bowl, gently whisk the egg whites using a balloon whisk, just to a very soft cloud, not to any peaks.
Pour the slightly cooled but still warm butter over the dry ingredients and stir to a thick paste. Then add the egg whites in three batches and using a spatula gently mix until the batter is smooth. (Add the vanilla and rose water at this point, if using). Keep aside 2-3 tbsp of the apricot and fold the rest into the batter. Give it all a gentle stir.
Spoon the batter into the prepared tins, sprinkle sesame seeds and flaked almonds over the mixture and bake for 18-20 minutes until risen and lightly golden in colour.
Remove the tray from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before removing the friands with a small palette knife. Cool on wire racks before dusting lightly with icing sugar. Top with reserved apricots and sprinkle over a few rose petals.
These are good eaten warm but keep well in an airtight container for 3 days or frozen for up to a month.
Tarunima Sinha is the owner of baking delivery business My Little Cake Tin