If for you, like me, (nearly) a whole summer of warm weather and sunshine means an excuse to be in the kitchen experimenting with ice cream flavours, then no doubt you’ll end up with lots of leftover egg whites. Don’t throw them away – freeze in small plastic bags, labelled with the number of whites, then simply defrost as needed for your recipes (or keep in the fridge for up to a week). I remember once reading Nigella Lawson saying she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so she doesn't have the stress of figuring out what to do with all the leftover whites. Nigella, this one is for you.Read More
As food geeks, we all have a few ‘fun facts’ up our sleeve, right? Random snippets of foodie info that we use to pepper the conversations at parties or liven up a boring first date? Don’t tell me you’ve never reached for a bit of asparagus-related trivia to brighten up a dull moment, or quietened a room by pointing out that red Skittles are coloured with smushed-up insects. If you haven’t, I’m certainly never going to a party with you.Read More
A week or so ago, I was standing in our office kitchen at breakfast time waiting for the toaster to beep. This story requires you to be familiar with the concept of a Danish toaster, so we’ll get that vital detail out of the way first. The Danes, being the edgy, thinking-outside-the-box, design-conscious folk that they are, have quite literally turned the concept of the toaster on its head. They have horizontalised the toaster. Where us plebs in England drop our flaccid sliced Hovis into a fiery, gaping maw, where it sits clamped between metallic jaws and undergoes a thrilling gamble of a transformation that could either result in charcoal or warm dough, but never the sweet Goldilocks stage in between, and which requires you to either interrupt the whole process to check on its progress or to stick your face into the mouth of the beast and risk singed nasal hair, and which is really only appropriate for bread the precise thickness of a pre-sliced loaf or, at the very most, a crumpet – heaven forbid you should try and insert your wedge of artisanal sourdough or pain au chocolat into its tantalizingly precise orifice – the Danes have realized the many potential perils of this situation. (Not least, the possibility of dropping your house keys into the slot and causing a minor explosion, as my mother once managed to do in a feat of ineptitude that still astounds and perplexes me).Read More
I often find it odd that Earl Grey is an almost ubiquitous beverage, whose tell-tale floral perfume scents teacups the world over, and yet its key ingredient, the bergamot, is a rare specimen whose glowing presence amidst the jumbled crates of a farmers market stall is guaranteed to send serious food-lovers into paroxysms of excitement (and, subsequently, to lead to heightened activity on Instagram as we first show off our esoteric citrus haul and, not long after, start crowdsourcing suggestions on what on earth to do with this highly underrated and underused knobbly lemon thing). Earl Grey is available in myriad forms, from high-class zesty loose leaves for infusing in china teapots to the tannic dust likely to fill your cup in a greasy spoon café or on an aeroplane meal tray. That the actual source of these plentiful, cosmopolitan cuppas remains elusive is one of the strange realities of our modern food supply system.Read More
When I was seventeen, I worked in the kind of restaurant that I was far too much of a food philistine to appreciate. Why would a fussy teenager who lived off a diet of McDonalds super-size happy meals, cheese sandwiches and fish fingers care about organic food that was lovingly sourced from within a fifty-mile radius, with an emphasis on seasonality, ‘from-scratch’ cooking and unusual flavour combinations? Not for my anaemic adolescent palate the delights of duck liver and raisin pâté, pickled fennel, greengage pavlova or Moroccan lamb and preserved lemon tagine. Pass the chicken nuggets.Read More
Vilana cake is an unusual sweet from the beautiful tiny volcanic island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, and is named after the ‘vilana’, or tin pot, in which it is traditionally baked. Thanks to its sub-tropical climate, La Gomera boasts fabulous produce – avocadoes, fresh fish, bananas, tomatoes – but the region is best known for its potato recipes, making the most of the island’s flavoursome root vegetables which arrived there shortly after the conquest of America. This simple, hearty cake incorporates mashed potato into its moist, buttery crumb, along with other key ingredients from the island: almonds, spice and dried fruit.Read More
That auspicious transitional period between the years has arrived, and with it the impulse to invent unattainable goals as a coping mechanism, to quell the anxieties of liminality and assert some control over the unnerving blank space that is ‘2017’. While I will not be treading the same path as my friend’s husband, who last year decided that his new year’s resolution was simply and decisively ‘to be better’, it strikes me that using this threshold period as a time to consider ways of improving the year ahead is no bad thing. It’ll take more than a few facile resolutions to tackle the quagmire of misery, post-truth and political turmoil that was 2016, so let’s turn our attention instead to the more manageable, the smaller but still significant: our appetites; the food on our plates; how we eat. Since my life, and my years, are inevitably mapped out around the intricacies of food and cooking, it struck me that there are a few issues we food bloggers, writers, chefs and cooks may want to consider over the coming 365 days in order, ahem, ‘to be better’.Read More
How do you go about making a home?
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the gradual process by which a place shrugs off its aura of newness and unfamiliarity and starts to become home. The repetitive performance of micro-rituals that, step by step, wear down the strangeness of a place and cosset it in the comforting blanket of domesticity and belonging. When do you stop being a tourist and start becoming a citizen? When does house become home? How do you stop staying in a place and start living there?Read More
‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,’ wrote Henry James. If you’re planning on heading to the Royal York Hotel for afternoon tea, however, I’d allow a little longer than James’s allotted hour – you’ll certainly want to linger.
Served in a high-ceilinged, opulent lounge (the ‘Garden Room’) decorated in cream and slate grey, with quirky equestrian-themed touches, the Royal York afternoon tea would certainly have impressed Henry James, and will delight even the most sophisticated fans of this decadent meal. The hotel clearly understand that there should be something ceremonial about afternoon tea – although the meal was invented as an ingenious and practical way of filling the hunger gap between lunch and dinner, it has grown into a symbol of luxury and refined British cuisine. This couldn’t be clearer at the Royal York, where your tea arrives in stages on fine china and a towering platter and you are made to feel like minor royalty. The lounge is light and airy and, despite the views of the garden being somewhat marred by the car park, is a fabulous place to while away an hour or two while revelling in the understated luxury of the hotel, set in the heart of beautiful York. The staff are friendly and attentive, and each stage of the meal is an absolute treat.Read More
My latest project for Great British Chefs has involved playing with matcha, the glorious Japanese emerald green tea powder hailed for its health benefits, refreshing bitterness and versatility in the kitchen. It also makes a good latte, so I'm told, but instead of frothing it with milk I've been stirring it into cake batters and using it to cook meat and fish. I've come up with three recipes using this beautiful ingredient: a matcha loaf cake with candied lemons and lemon syrup, a soba noodle salad with matcha tea-poached salmon, avocado and edamame beans, and a mango rice salad with matcha-smoked chicken, brined and smoked with aromatic matcha. If you've never tried cooking with tea before, or are keen to experiment with something new, I'd encourage you to give these a try. For all the recipes in one place, head over to my contributor profile at Great British Chefs. Enjoy!
This post combines two things I don’t normally care about: tailoring blog recipes to specific seasonal food-related occasions, and Valentine’s Day. You won’t find me whipping up treats for National Tempura Day, National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day or World Tripe Day (if you needed proof that these ‘food days’ are just the farcical inventions of bored and desperate PR companies and marketing boards, there it is: World Tripe Day), because there is apparently some silly culinary designation for every single day of the year now, so by that logic I would never ever be able to make a spontaneous decision regarding what I cook. I can also take or leave Valentine’s Day, and it certainly doesn’t inspire me with culinary ambition (if I see one more hackneyed recipe feature telling me that I must serve oysters and fillet steak on the special day, I might find a decidedly more violent use for my oyster knife).Read More
“I’ll have it with the chocolate sauce, please.”
Believe it or not, there is one circumstance under which it is absolutely not acceptable to utter this phrase. Just one, mind. But it exists.
Should you ever find yourself at the wonderful eastern European restaurant Moya in central Oxford, having chosen the apricot dumpling for dessert and faced with the choice between its two possible accompaniments, you simply cannot plump for the chocolate sauce. You cannot retain any modicum of respectability by making this, quite frankly, borderline criminal decision. You may as well sign the rest of your life away right there and then, knowing that thereafter it will be filled with nothing but the bitter tang of regret. Is it worth carrying that albatross around your neck, sporting that white feather of shame in your cap?Read More
Some of my favourite recipes are those that involve a slightly risky frisson of surprise. Those ‘no-peeking’ dishes where, perhaps worryingly, you won’t know how they’ve turned out until the cooking is over and the moment of revelation is at hand. A stew that’s been simmering and melding beautifully under a lid in the oven for a few hours, for example. What went in as lumps of meat and veg suspended in a watery broth emerges – hopefully – as a dark, glossy and unctuous mass of slippery vegetables and tender chunks of meat, deeply rich and savoury.Read More
Rejoice: here is a recipe that uses egg whites. Are you the kind of person who keeps egg whites stashed in bags in your freezer after making ice cream because you can't bear to see them go to waste? Are you the kind of person who once took home a kilner jar of thirty egg whites from the restaurant where she worked because the chef was otherwise going to throw them in the bin after a furious bout of pasta-making? Are you the kind of person who is horrified by Nigella Lawson's admission that she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so as to avoid the conundrum posed by the leftover whites? If you're not, you're probably on the wrong blog and we have nothing in common. If you are, read on. You'll be delighted.Read More
When I was a child, I used to collect the Michelin ‘I-spy’ books. These were little pocket guides to various aspects of the natural world – birds, flowers, rock formations – that gave detailed and illustrated overviews of the various things you might encounter within these genres, and a handy checklist for you to tick off whenever you’d seen one. While the guide to exotic frogs remained largely unticked during family holidays to rainy National Trust properties throughout the UK, I had largely more success ticking off fossils, plant and bird life, getting incredibly excited when I encountered a new bird species or tree that I could proudly tick off as ‘done’. It’s a habit I’ve retained in adulthood with countries of the world, although unfortunately this is a far more expensive hobby than ticking off different types of fern.Read More
Apple puree is a very versatile thing to have in your kitchen. Made by simmering peeled, cored, chopped cooking apples with a little water until they turn to mush, and then blending to a pale green foamy puree with a silky texture, it has a multitude of uses in cooking. You can add a little lemon juice and a pinch of sugar and turn it into a tangy accompaniment to roast pork. You could mix it with a little maple syrup and drizzle it over ice cream. You can use it, mixed with honey, cinnamon and vanilla, to coat muesli mix before baking to make homemade granola. You can cook it down to form a dark, thick spread that Americans call ‘apple butter’, which is delicious on toast. And you can also use it to make cakes.Read More
Baking, in our culture, is so often inextricably connected with love. Family memories and relations are shaped around food; some of our fondest recollections of our mothers and grandmothers are perfumed by the heady scent of a baking pie or cake. Missing the closeness of home and the familiarity of domesticity is frequently couched in terms of our longing for a particular dish, and even parental ineptitude in the kitchen is usually recalled with wry affection. Childhood friendships are formed and dissolved over the sharing of cake and other baked goods: I still remember once refusing to speak to my best friend for a week because she stole my lunchtime flapjack and ate it. We bake cakes, bread, brownies to cheer up our loved ones or as a token of our affection; the humble combination of flour, butter and sugar has become fetishized in our culture to such an extent that we apparently believe there are few gifts more redolent of love than a homemade baked good.Read More
Over a year ago, I had a sudden burst of culinary inspiration, arising from that notoriously profound and powerful motivator: sheer, unabashed greed. Exhausted by one too many episodes of menu indecision when it came to choosing dessert in a restaurant, I decided to combine my two favourite desserts into one glorious whole. Thus, the rhubarb ginger crumble cheesecake was born.
It was a quiet and humble success, enjoyed by myself and a few friends and family in the comfort of my own kitchen. Now, many months later, the phrase 'rhubarb crumble cheesecake' is the term that leads the most people, via google, to my blog. What happened?Read More
I used to make myself a tea loaf every few days when I was in my second and third year of university. I remember this very distinctly. I can remember the exact spot on my bookshelves in my room where I would keep the polka-dot Emma Bridgewater cake tin (a present - I can never afford that sort of stuff normally). I can remember my daily afternoon ritual: returning from the Bodleian to have lunch, then working in my room for the rest of the day, occasionally getting distracted by people-watching through my gigantic bay window that looked out onto a busy thoroughfare (sometimes I'd see a friend frantically waving up at me). Around four o'clock, I'd make myself a big mug of tea, slice a thick slab of tea loaf, lick the sugary residue off my fingers after transporting it to a plate, and sit down, settled, a fork in hand.
There I would sit, sun streaming in through the window, books piled up around my laptop, tea steaming, the faint sound of voices and laughter emanating from the street outside. Mouthful after sugary mouthful, the tea loaf would disappear in a haze of sweet stickiness, and I would feel revived, ready to carry on with Marvell or Richardson or Defoe or whatever else I had to set my mind to that afternoon.
Sometimes it was banana bread, when I had bananas to use up, but often I'd make various variations on the theme of a tea loaf. Tea loaves are, to me, a quintessentially British bit of baking. They involve steeping dried fruit in strong tea for several hours (or overnight), before mixing this fruit and tea medley with flour and eggs; sometimes a little sugar (not much is needed as the fruit is so sweet), sometimes ground almonds to add moisture; sometimes a pinch of warming spice. The main point is that there is no fat added: the tea-soaked fruit makes the cake perfectly moist and gooey without the need for butter or oil. Thus, the beauty of the tea loaf: good for those watching their waistline.
I wasn't, incidentally, but few things can perk up the academic brain more than a slice of cake packed with dried fruit. I used to use apricots, figs, prunes, dates and sultanas. My favourite mouthfuls were those featuring the dates, which turned gloriously sticky and toffee-like during the baking process. Sometimes I added almonds, for a little crunch, or steeped the fruit in orange juice instead of tea.
I love the magic that happens when you soak dried fruit. Used to eating it raw, or throwing it raw into things like cakes and breads, I forget how deliciously plump and juicy it becomes after a nice hot bath. The saturated fruit makes the cake all the more moist, sticky and gooey. It's kind of how a fruit cake should be - I always find those fruit cakes we make on festive occasions, like Christmas cake or simnel cake, far too dry.
There's something intensely comforting about a tea loaf. It's solid and robust, a good, proper, old-fashioned cake. It often has a lovely crunchy crust around the outside, while the inside is gloriously moist and gooey from all the fruit. The fruit is plump and sweet, having absorbed the tea or juice, while the cake itself is fluffy, often with a hint of spice. It's the kind of thing you eat when you are feeling a bit sad, or a bit tired, or a bit peckish. I can't think of something better to revive you in the afternoon. Also, because it's lower on sugar than most cakes, it doesn't give you a horrible sugar crash when you come back down to earth - the dried fruit is good, honest, slow-release energy. At least I feel it is; I'm no nutritionist.
You can eat a tea loaf spread with a little butter, but when it's fresh from the oven it needs no accompaniment other than tea. The smell as it bakes, filling your kitchen with homely, warming aromas, is - for me - what baking is all about.
This recipe is inspired by my recent trip to the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival. There I bought a delicious rhubarb and ginger 'brack', an Irish name for a sweet, fruited bread that is now often used to denote a tea loaf. I gave it to my mum for Mother's Day, and it only recently emerged from the freezer, allowing me to finally have a taste. It's delicious - quite a dense cake, with wonderfully gingery, sweet sultanas and sticky chunks of rhubarb. The sort of thing you could almost justify having for breakfast. It feels wholesome, somehow, robust and earthy and inviting.
Inspired by a few mouthfuls of this, I decided to have a go at creating my own. Having never made a rhubarb tea loaf before, I experimented, basing my recipe on a few others I'd come across online and the taste and texture of the brack I had bought. I was a little worried it wouldn't work, but it did - beautifully.
I soaked a mixture of raisins, finely chopped crystallized ginger and finely chopped rhubarb in strong Earl Grey tea overnight (part of me wanted to use Yorkshire tea, given the provenance of rhubarb and where I live, but I thought Earl Grey would add a lovely floral fragrance). In the morning, the raisins were plump and the ginger had perfumed the whole thing with its sharp, hot scent. To this mixture I added an egg and a little brown sugar, then folded the whole lot into flour, baking powder, ground almonds, a hefty amount of ground ginger and a little cinnamon. I wanted the whole thing to be really gingery - I almost considered adding some stem ginger syrup as well, but restrained myself. The batter was the perfect consistency (I worried I'd put in too much tea, and the rhubarb would be watery) as I spooned it all into a lined loaf tin.
This honestly is one of the easiest cakes you could ever make. I whipped it up in the time it took me to make a cup of tea to go with my breakfast. You only need a couple of bowls and spoons, and a loaf tin. And an oven, of course. I really love how simple and homely it is - just a few ingredients, no fancy techniques (not even a whisk needed), and the result is a beautiful old-fashioned loaf.
And the taste? Fantastic. It's incredibly gingery, fiery bursts of crystallised ginger peppering the dense, moist crumb. This, though, is tempered by the gooey pieces of rhubarb throughout, and the sweet, plump raisins. I actually think it's better than the brack I bought from the festival! Although tea loaves have a tendency to be quite dense, the juicy rhubarb in this really lightens it, while still making it seem indulgent. You could serve it as a pudding after a light meal, with some ice cream, or have it for breakfast spread with butter. I ate it still warm from the oven, unable to believe that my spontaneous experiment had worked out quite so well.
If you're a rhubarb fan, or a ginger fan, I'd urge you to try this. It's unlike any other rhubarb or ginger cake I've tasted, and perfect for lovers of very gingery cakes. For such a simple recipe, it's immensely rewarding. And, even better, it's low-fat - but you wouldn't guess.
Rhubarb and ginger brack (makes 1 loaf):
- 300ml strong, hot tea (I used Earl Grey)
- 100g raisins or sultanas
- 150g finely diced rhubarb
- 50g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
- 200g plain, wholemeal or spelt flour
- 50g ground almonds
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 75g light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp demerara sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Soak the raisins, rhubarb and crystallised ginger in the tea overnight.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, almonds, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon. To the tea and fruit mixture, add the egg and sugar and stir together. Pour the fruit mixture into the flour mixture, and mix with a large spoon or spatula until evenly combined.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar, if using. Bake for 55 minutes, until the top of the loaf is crusty and golden, but still gives slightly in the middle when pressed. Leave to cool a little before slicing and serving. It's also very good the next day spread with butter, and freezes well.
Do you remember that Ribena advert, proudly proclaiming that '95% of Britain's blackcurrants end up as Ribena' (or something to that effect)?
How many of you, like me, ponder that figure in your food-addled brain and think, 'wow, what a waste'?
A recent study discovered that blackcurrant juice, from concentrate, only accounts for 5% of the total Ribena product. You don't have to be a mathematician to work out that something is tragically wrong here. Take 95% of a crop of something totally beautiful, and dilute it to the point of vapid, watery nothingness? This is not how blackcurrants should be treated.
Blackcurrants are another of those slightly elusive and much-underrated fruits that I have a certain penchant for. By 'penchant', I mean 'tendency to buy large quantities and hoard them in the freezer for months on end'.
While I'm self-confessedly awful at hoarding foodstuffs in general in my freezer, there are some things that find themselves in there much more frequently, and in greater quantity, than others. Beautiful bright pink Yorkshire rhubarb is one, for the main reason that the season is so short and you just can't get that gorgeous colour all year round. Odd cuts of meat are another, because I find myself carnivorously intrigued by them and know I won't be able to get them just anywhere - ox cheeks, goose breasts, pigs cheeks, grouse breasts, whole stuffed wild ducks and venison loins have all found themselves snuggling in the frosty depths of my voracious freezer at some point or another.
Other peripherally but not immediately useful things, too, like bags of egg whites (usually a relic of a vigorous ice-cream making session), breadcrumbs, homemade stock, and apple purée (great for baking and making homemade granola), also take up valuable space in there.
The worst, though, for catching my eye and ending up consigned to the chilly white halls of the freezer, is fruit. Specifically, seasonal fruit that is only around for a short time (gooseberries, redcurrants, cranberries...), and which I therefore snap up in order to indulge in when it is in short supply.
Except I don't. I buy it all, it sits in the freezer awaiting a recipe idea worthy enough to make the most of its sumptuous scarcity...until the season comes round again, thereby totally invalidating the idea of saving it for when it's not available.
I realised quite recently that this saving of gluts for hard times is completely ridiculous, because there is always something new and delicious in season at any given point of the year, which more than makes up for the lack of something else. I save winter rhubarb for the summer months, yet in the summer months I'm far more likely to make the most of the fresh apricots in the market than want to make a rhubarb crumble. I bottle those apricots for the autumn, yet when it comes around I'm gorging myself on beautiful juicy English pears and gorgeous plump Turkish figs. Even winter isn't exactly barren of delicious things: imported lychees and persimmons, fresh cranberries, and fabulous blood oranges. I don't think there's ever been a point where I've wished for a fruit outside its season, because there's simply so much else around to tempt me.
So, in the spirit of using up things in the freezer and trying to break this compulsive hoarding habit, I decided to finally use up a punnet of blackcurrants that have been sitting there since last summer.
There's a reason I bulk-buy these little black beauties. They are quite unlike any other fruit or berry, possessing the most amazingly complex flavour and fragrance. I always think there's something floral, even grassy, about their aroma and taste. They have a mouth-puckering sharpness, but one that is infinitely more pleasant and complicated than that provided by, say, a lemon, adding its unusual qualities to whatever you choose to do with those currants. They're also beautiful, often ranging in size from tiny black dots like little bullets to much rounder, swollen globules, their skins somehow matt yet glossy at the same time, utterly fragile and yielding to the slightest bump or pressure.
And when they do yield, they pour forth a deep, rich purple liquor, possessing a gorgeous fragrant sharpness and an addictive sourness. A mass of blackcurrants, softened in a pan until just starting to release their shining juice, is a lovely addition to so many things.
Why on earth you would take that potential and water it down and sugar it up until it barely resembled the original product, I really don't know. I can think of so many better ways to use our blackcurrant crop.
They do have an affinity with apples, a pairing capitalised upon by many a soft drink, although I actually think they do better with pears, which are less sharp than apples and therefore form a beautiful soft, fragrant partnership to the assertive currants. They are also delicious with anything buttery or crumbly, as are most tart fruits.
Where blackcurrants really come into their own, though, is with dairy. Nothing like the beautiful bland, sweet foil of dairy to let their complex aroma shine, as well as set off their vibrant purple colours.
These cheesecakes capitalise upon all those partnerships: apples, butter and dairy. There's a buttery shortbread biscuit base, somehow richer than the usual Digestive biscuit base and a mellower match for the currants. There's a sweet unbaked filling, perfumed with vanilla and rippled through with a basic blackcurrant compote. There are spiced, caramelised apples on top, providing the deep warmth of ginger and mixed spice (from JustIngredients) to complement the sweet dairy and buttery base.
These are inspired by a cheesecake I had recently for dessert at one of my favourite restaurants in York. The combination of sharp, fragrant currants, creamy cheese filling and that super-crunchy buttery base is fantastic. The spiced apples on top lend a sweet and warming note to the whole thing. I made these in individual glasses, for the very pragmatic reason that I knew if I made a whole cake, I'd end up going back for seconds and then thirds and disgusting myself. That said, you can pack quite a bit of cheesecake into my individual dessert glasses, so I ended up feeling pretty gluttonous anyway.
Totally worth it, though - these are delicious. Clearing out the freezer has never tasted so good.
Apple and blackcurrant cheesecakes
This recipe can either make one cake, between 18-20cm diameter, or several individual cakes. Depending on the size of your individual moulds/glasses and your appetites/greed, it will make four to six individual cheesecakes.
- 10 shortbread finger biscuits
- 50g butter, melted
- 250g blackcurrants, stems and leaves removed (frozen are fine)
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 250g Quark
- 250g light cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- /1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 sachet powdered gelatine
- A large knob of butter
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 2-3 apples, cored and cut into thin slices
First, make the base. Blitz the shortbread in a blender to fine crumbs, then stir into the melted butter. If making one large cake, grease and line an 18 or 20cm springform cake tin and place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom. Pour the biscuits into the tin and press down to form an even layer. If using individual glasses or moulds, use the biscuits to line the bottom of each. Chill in the fridge for an hour.
Meanwhile, make the blackcurrant compote. Place the blackcurrants in a small saucepan with a tiny drop of water and the caster sugar, then cook over a low heat just until they've started to soften and release juice. Set aside and leave to cool.
For the filling, beat together the Quark, cream cheese, icing sugar. Either beat in the vanilla extract or, if using a pod, scrape the seeds from the pod into the cheese mixture. Beat together until well combined.
Bring the 3 tbsp water to the boil in a small saucepan, then remove from the heat. Immediately sprinkle the gelatine evenly over the surface, then leave for a minute. Stir the gelatine into the water, until it has all dissolved. You need to work quickly now before the cheese mixture sets. Pour the gelatine into the cheese mixture, then quickly whisk it in. Pour half of the blackcurrant compote (reserve the rest for garnishing) into the cheese mixture, then stir gently to ripple it through the cheese.
Divide the cheese filling between the individual moulds, or pour into the cake tin. Place in the fridge and chill for a few hours, or overnight.
For the spiced apples, heat the knob of butter together with the brown sugar in a non-stick pan until foaming, then add the spices and sliced apples. Sauté over a fairly high heat until the apples turn soft, brown and caramelised. Turn off the heat and set aside until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, spoon the apples over the cake(s) to decorate, then finish with the remaining blackcurrant compote.