Date brownies and lemon slices: Nik Sharma’s recipes for picnic bakes

What would I take to a picnic? Anything that doesn’t require a lot of prepping outdoors, has minimal clean-up and ideally few to no leftovers to take home. Most importantly, though, the food needs to travel easily. Armed with a sweet tooth, it’s not surprising I opt for desserts all the time and, this week, I’ve got brownies sweetened with dates and a lemon curd slice scented with saffron and cardamom. To make life easier, cut them just before serving or keep them in individual cupcake liners in an airtight container – cupcake liners make travelling easy.

Saffron and cardamom lemon slices (pictured above)
Prep 15 min
Cook 35 min
Makes 1 x 20cm square tin, to serve 12-16

For the curd
55g unsalted butter, cubed and softened to room temperature
150g sugar
6 large egg yolks
60ml fresh lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
15 saffron strands
¼ tsp fine sea salt

For the crust
115g unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
140g plain flour
35g cornflour
90g sugar
¼ tsp ground green cardamom
¼ tsp fine sea salt

First, prepare the lemon curd. Put the butter, sugar and egg yolks in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive, stainless-steel saucepan. Add the lemon juice, zest, saffron and salt, and whisk over a medium-low heat for about eight minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken at about 70C – it should take on a thick, custard-like consistency, coating the back of the spoon and leaving a trail when you run a finger through it. Watch it carefully to avoid boiling, or it will curdle. Once the curd has thickened, remove from the heat immediately.

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Grease and line a 20cm square tin with a little butter and greaseproof paper, leaving a 5cm overhang on each side of the tin (this will make it easier to lift out later).

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cornflour, sugar, cardamom and salt, then pour over the melted butter and mix until crumbly. Transfer to the prepared tin and press down into an even layer. Prick the surface all over with a fork, then bake for 10 minutes, until the edges just start to turn lightly golden.

Remove the tin from the oven, pour the curd over the crust and bake for 10-12 minutes more, until the edges of the crust are a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes.

Once cool, remove from the tin using the paper overhang as handles. Carefully peel away the paper and put the pastry on a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, cut into 2cm squares and store in an airtight container. To prevent them from sticking, store them between cut squares of greaseproof paper or cupcake liners.

Date brownies with black pepper

Prep 20 min
Soak 20 min
Cook 25 min
Makes 1 x 20cm square tin, to serve 12-16

60ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
227g pitted dates, chopped
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
180ml boiling water
3 large eggs
2 tbsp unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp instant espresso or coffee
300g semi-bittersweet chocolate chips or 1 coarsely chopped bar
60g chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 185C (165C fan)/360F/gas 4½, and grease and line a 20cm square baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Put the dates and bicarb in the bowl of a food processor, pour the boiling water over them, blitz for a few seconds to make a paste, then leave to sit in the food processor bowl for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the mixture should be soft and gloopy. Add the eggs, blitz for 30 seconds until combined, then add the oil, cocoa, vanilla, pepper, salt and coffee, and blitz again until combined. Add the chocolate, pulse until the chocolate is just about combined but not all the way through (you should have a few chunks left in the batter). Remove the blade from the food processor and fold in the walnuts.

Transfer the batter to the lined tin and level the top with a palette knife or offset spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a skewer comes out with a few crumbs sticking to it – it’s better to under-bake this batter, to ensure a gooier brownie texture. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin to cool to room temperature before slicing.