The summer fruits are slowly starting to ripen in our fruit cage. Pink raspberries take centre stage, their browning canes beginning to droop with the weight of their developing bounty. A smart row of blueberry bushes edge the front of the cage; a mix of varieties that will each fruit at a different time in order to span the whole of summer. Tucked into the back left corner are the strawberry plants; the common Elsanta variety. There are a couple of huge blackcurrant bushes too, laden with large berries and wonderfully scented leaves. Perhaps the most beautiful of all are the dangling bunches of white and redcurrants. They shimmer and glow as the sunlight catches them and shines through their translucent skins. Every few days we come away with a jumbled bowlful of the fruits that were just ready to pick. It’s such a treat to be able to round off dinner with a little handful of these jewel-coloured treasures, either eaten just as they are, or scattered over a few spoonfuls of thick yoghurt and drizzled with honey.
Today, to make the best of one of these small harvests, we decided to make a sponge flan. This light and summery dessert has a fluffy, fat-free sponge, which we make with the freshest of eggs from our chickens. The base of the flan is covered with a layer of cream that has been laced with vanilla beans and sweetened with a spoonful of icing sugar. The hotchpotch of berries are tumbled into the centre and spiked with some torn leaves of fresh mint. Then there are some tangy little cubes of jelly, made from some of last year’s frozen blackcurrants (which we need to use up before this year’s crop arrives in full force) and a bottle of our apple juice from the autumn pressing.
Rather than following the traditional seventies approach of covering the whole contents of the flan in jelly, we have dotted it amongst the fruit more sparingly. We find this stops the jelly overpowering the fresh berries and looks stunning. We used a silicone ice cube tray to make the jellies (a tip picked up from the wonderful Fern Verrow recipe book). However, in the absence of one of these, we would just pour the jelly mix into a little glass to set, then lift and drop teaspoons of it amongst the berries.
Note: Making a sponge flan from scratch is super quick and really easy, but requires a special raised flan tin to bake the mixture in, which will ensure that the sponge is left with a hollow in the middle. We use this Master Class Flan Tin, which does a great job.
Summer Berry Sponge Flan with Blackcurrant & Apple Jelly Cubes
For the jelly
- 150 g blackcurrants, fresh or frozen
- 100 ml apple juice (plus a little extra to top up if needed – see below)
- 2 gelatine leaves
- 1 tbsp golden granulated sugar
For the sponge (to fill a 20cm flan tin):
- 2 medium chicken eggs
- 50 g unrefined golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 50 g plain flour
- A small pinch of sea salt
For the sponge filling
- 150 ml double cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla bean seeds or the seeds from ½ a vanilla pod
- 1/2 tbsp unrefined icing sugar plus a little more for dusting
- A couple of handfuls of mixed summer fruits (we used strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, white currants, and blueberries)
- A few small, fresh mint leaves
Start by making the jelly. Put the blackcurrants (there's no need to top and tail them first) in a small saucepan with the apple juice. Warm to a gentle simmer until the currants break up and release all of their dark purple juices (you can do a bit of squishing with a spoon to help with this if you like).
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in some cold water for around five minutes until they soften.
Push the blackcurrant mixture through a sieve and sweeten to taste with a little brown sugar; a tablespoon should be sufficient. Top with extra apple juice (as needed) to bring the amount up to 250ml.
Return the juice to the saucepan to warm through again. Squeeze any excess water from the gelatine leaves and add them to the pan, giving them a stir to quickly dissolve them.
Pour the mixture into a silicone ice cube tray and leave to set for around 8 hours (or overnight) in the fridge. We find that a short stint in the freezer after the jelly has set (30 minutes should be plenty) is a good way of firming up the cubes so that they are easier to pop out of the tray and add neatly to the sponge filling without breaking.
To make the sponge: Preheat the oven to 200°C. Crack the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugar and vanilla essence and whisk on a medium-high speed until thick and frothy, and the mixture traces a clear line across the bowl when you lift out the whisk (this should take around 5-7 minutes). Meanwhile, liberally grease your flan tin with butter.
Sift the flour with the salt and very gently fold into the bowl of eggs and sugar.
Pour the sponge batter into the prepared cake tin and pop in the oven for 5-7 minutes until golden (keep a close eye on the sponge as it cooks - it can catch and burn very quickly). Once cooked, leave in the tin for a couple of minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla bean seeds until stiff. Then, using a palette knife, spread the cream over the base of the hollow of the sponge (make sure the sponge is completely cool before you do this or the cream will melt).
Gently tumble your mixture of summer berries and currants into the centre of the sponge. Dot a few of the jelly cubes amongst the fruit (any leftovers are delicious served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) and scatter over the mint leaves.
Finish with a very light dusting of icing sugar just before serving if you wish.
The sponge itself will keep for up to a week in an airtight container but, once filled, it is best eaten the same day (put it in the fridge if you're not planning on serving it immediately). Any leftover jelly will keep happily for a couple of days in the fridge.