You’ve probably heard the saying that dessert cookery is ‘scientific’. One mistake and your cake/tart/meringue will fall into a heap, your dinner party embarrassingly ruined.

It’s a reputation Anna Higham – executive pastry chef at the esteemed River Cafe – is trying to fight. “I always hear so many people say that they really don’t know how to make pudding, or that it’s this really scary thing.” To which she says: “No, this is just cooking, it’s the same principles. You’re just not as familiar with it [because] you don’t do this every day.”

“I know that I come at this with a lot of experience,” the 34-year-old adds, “but I think people just get really tense [about pudding cookery] and it’s just making something tasty.”

Higham wants home cooks to approach dessert cookery by engaging our senses and tasting – like we would with a meat, fish or a veggie dish – and to think about seasoning a pudding, in the same way we would season a savoury dish, but instead of salt and pepper, using sugar or other flavourings to adjust the taste.

“When people make a stew, they know how to adjust it, to get it to taste the way they want it to. Sometimes you can’t do that, you can’t adjust the cake really once it’s baked, but when you’re cooking fruit, that’s when you can adjust.”

Fruit is the focus of Higham’s debut cookbook – The Last Bite – a beautiful collection of more than 150 pudding recipes, including many innovative flavour combinations, laid out season-by-season. Think goat’s cheese and cherry tart in summer, fig leaf ice cream with fig leaf oil and warm almond cake in autumn, and clementine granita with clementine leaf cream and pumpkin seed oil in winter.

It may sound impressive but Higham, who hails from Scotland, wants to inspire home cooks, “as well as the next generation of pastry chefs”. Plus, with fruit, there’s more leeway than chocolate, for example.

“If you want to make a delicious fruit-based dessert, there’s a lot of space for error and to play around – it’s not all ruined. And if you overwork the cream one day, you overwork the cream. It’s alright,” she says with a shrug.

What’s notable, though, is her love of using only one fruit at a time. While you may find additional ingredients, no two fruits ever meet in her recipes (with the exception of summer pudding and Christmas pudding).

So have we all been making a grave error putting blackberries in our apple crumbles or heaping – gasp! – fruit salad atop a pavlova? What’s wrong with putting two or more together?

“I mean, nothing,” Higham laughs. “I just think if you’re going to spend time finding a really good version of that fruit, you’ve created it in a really respectful manner and tried to cook it to make it taste really delicious and really of itself, then why would you want to dim that shine a little?

“I’m a bit of a purist about ingredients, I think you should really taste whatever you’re eating. So if I’m tasting rhubarb, I just want to taste rhubarb and really kind of revel in it.”

Chocolate and fruit is a big no-no for Higham, however: “It’s just wrong”.

Her book includes some underrated fruits you might not be as accustomed to baking with – like grapes, quinces, and pumpkin.

Gooseberries tend to get a hard time, she adds. “People are just like, ‘Oh they’re sour’ and think that’s all they are, but there’s so much more to them, particularly if you can get red gooseberries. They’re really sweet and when they’re properly ripe, really delicious.”

She uses sweetcorn in deserts too – corn ice cream, for example. And why not? This influence comes from Higham’s time working at the Gramercy Tavern in New York (after learning her trade at the Gordon Ramsay Group).

“In the States, they use [sweetcorn] a lot more in desserts,” she says. When she returned to London to work at Michelin starred Lyle’s, “we were using it during the game season with grouse and duck, and I just thought, ‘Well it’s a delicious ingredient and it’s a sweet ingredient in and of itself – so why aren’t we making puddings with it?’ It pairs beautifully with the sweeter herbs and with honey and brown butter,” Higham explains.

After five years at Lyle’s, growing the ever-changing dessert offering, and its sister bakery Flor, she moved to River Cafe in 2020 – something of an institution among London restaurants – to run the pastry section. “There’s a lot of people who have been coming to the restaurant for almost all 35 years [since it opened] and [founders] Ruthie Rogers and Rose Grey really influenced probably every British chef around.”

It’s an Italian restaurant, “but not the lasagne kind”, Higham adds. “And it’s completely seasonal, completely ingredient-led. They rewrite the menu twice a day depending on what ingredients we’ve got.”

Female run, 50% of the cookery staff are women and her pastry team are all women. An oddity when it comes to professional kitchens. And it’s far removed from the shouty, fear-inducing kitchens she worked in at the start of her career.

“I worked very hard not to get shouted at – I’ve worked in some hard kitchens,” Higham says. She remembers only sleeping for four hours a night for five straight days once – “I actually don’t know how I used to do it in my 20s, I think I was very tired!”

“Kitchens are generally long hours, quite intense, stressful places. So it’s very easy for people to be rude and shout,” she adds. “[The industry] is male-dominated and it can be misogynistic at times. I’ve always felt quite lucky that I’m six-foot, I’m not going to be intimidated by a large man trying to stand over me, I can always hold my ground.”

“But I think the culture is really changing, particularly post-pandemic. People are saying, ‘Well no, let’s not make people work 17 hours a day, let’s make sure people only work single shifts’, in an environment where they get breaks, where they get enough days off to rest, where you’re not so stressed out that you react in aggressive ways.”

More effort is being made to keep women in the restaurant industry too, she says, with the creation of more maternity and paternity policies. The industry is behind on that front – “because they haven’t had to think about it” – being so male-dominated for so long. “I think if you go to the big hotels, it’s probably still French men [running dessert sections].”

But from Ravneet Gill (who presents Junior Bake Off) to Terri Mercieca (the owner of ice cream business Happy Endings), Higham says: “There are huge number of women [in pastry] doing really exciting things.”

Hay custard and tayberry tart


(Makes 6 individual tarts)

For the sweet pastry:

350g plain (all-purpose) flour

100g icing sugar

225g cold unsalted butter, diced

Pinch of salt

3 eggs: 3 yolks, 1 white

For the hay-infused cream:

30g hay

600ml double cream

For the custard:

140g egg yolks, from about 7 eggs

50g caster sugar

450g hay-infused cream

To serve:

200g tayberries, plus 100g per tart

100g icing sugar


1. To make the pastry: Combine the flour, icing sugar, butter and salt in a food processor and blitz to fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and mix until the dough is starting to come together. Turn out onto a work surface and knead firmly, just enough to bring the dough together. Wrap in cling film and chill until firm.

2. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of 2–3mm then cut out 15cm circles. Press into six 10cm tart cases, pushing the pastry into the edges. Chill the lined tart cases for 30 minutes in the fridge or freezer.

3. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Trim the excess pastry to give a neat finish. Line each tart with scrunched-up baking parchment, fill with baking beans and bake for 12–15 minutes until the top edge is starting to colour. Remove the baking beans and return the tarts to the oven for a further five minutes or until golden brown. Brush the insides with beaten egg white and leave to cool, still in their cases.

4. To make the cream: Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the hay on a baking tray and top with a cooling rack to help weigh it down. Toast in the oven for about 20 minutes until it smells very fragrant. Meanwhile, heat the cream in a saucepan over a low heat until it is starting to steam. Add the toasted hay and cover tightly. Leave to infuse in the fridge for three to four hours or overnight. Warm the cream gently then strain through a sieve, making sure to really squeeze out the hay to capture as much flavour as possible.

5. Preheat the oven to 115°C with as low a fan as possible. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Slowly whisk in the warm hay-infused cream to combine. Pass through a fine sieve. Pour into a saucepan and heat gently until the custard reaches 40°C.

6. Place the tart cases on a baking tray and pour in the warmed custard. I like to put the tray in the oven before doing this so that I can fill the tarts as high as possible without spilling the custard on my way to the oven. Bake for 20–25 minutes until the tarts have that gentle wobble. Leave to cool before removing from the tart cases.

7. Blend 200g of tayberries with the icing sugar and pass through a fine sieve. Use this purée to dress the remaining tayberries and to cover the surface of the tarts just before serving.

Milk meringue with tayberries and yogurt mousse


For the yoghurt mousse: (serves 6)

110ml whole milk

40g caster (superfine) sugar

15g (2tbsp) cornflour

500g thick plain yogurt

250ml double cream

For the milk meringue: (makes 15)

200g egg whites, from 6–7 eggs

Pinch of salt

400g caster sugar

50g (6tbsp) milk powder

To serve:

250g tayberries

4–5 perfect tayberries, to serve


1. To make the meringue; preheat the oven to 120°C with as low a fan setting as possible. Combine the egg whites and salt in a mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-slow speed so that you build a strong, stable meringue. Once the whites hold soft peaks, add the sugar one third at a time, whisking well between each addition.

2. Once all the sugar has been incorporated and you have a strong, glossy meringue, gently fold in the milk powder. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or a silicone mat. Either pipe the meringue into 6–7cm domes or use two spoons to scoop quenelles onto the lined trays.

3. Bake for two to two-and-a-half hours. The meringues should be crisp on the outside with a slightly gooey centre. Leave to cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar then store in an air tight container until ready to serve.

4. To make the yoghurt mousse; whisk together the milk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and continue whisking gently until the mixture comes to the boil and has thickened. Pour into a shallow container and chill completely in the fridge. Combine the milk mixture with the yogurt, and add 100g of tayberries in a food processor and blend until completely smooth (so that the fruit is pureed through the base). Whip the double cream until it holds medium peaks and gently fold through the thickened yogurt. Leave to set in the fridge before using.

5. To serve, take three tablespoons of yogurt mousse and add the remaining tayberries along with the whipped double cream, folding through so that you get larger pieces of slightly crushed berries.

6. Use a sharp knife to cut the top of the meringue and divide it into three rough pieces. Place the base of the meringue in a shallow bowl or plate and spoon the tayberry and yogurt mousse on top. Scatter the tayberries over the mousse then cover some of the mousse with the top of the meringue.

The Last Bite: A Whole New Approach To Making Desserts Through The Year by Anna Higham, photography by Kim Lightbody, is published by DK, priced £22. Available now.