The ideal combo of oatmeal, pancake and muffin. They’re protein and fibre-full and naturally sweet (no refined sugar), bursting with berries (zero dryness here) and filling. They’re quick to make, and super convenient as they can be made in advance, frozen and defrosted when cravings strike. They also look rather irresistible on any breakfast table, so great for when you have guests.
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I’ve just returned to UK reality after touring the east coast of America with my band, Mediaeval Baebes.
In fact, it was definitely more of a crash landing, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by a concoction of delight and disorientation.
I’ve had two weeks of hilarity and salacious tales: from White Russian parties in Maryland to rooftop partying with firemen in NYC, from hazy, mead-imbued late-night encounters with ex-jailbirds to flouncing around in cemeteries for photoshoots. I’ve met more people and fans of the Baebes’ music (and it has been an honour) in the last week than in the last year, from women with heaving bosoms in skull-coated corsets to a South Dakotan ranger who discovered a dinosaur on his territory, from cage fighters Instagram influencers to wiccans.
Those who are involved in the music industry will know that the intense peaks of performing are accompanied by elongated troughs of waiting around before and after sound checks, not to mention the driving from venue to venue, one state to the next.
But even the stretches of time were filled: from learning how to do the electric slide (an achievement for someone who can perform a semblance of a dance only to hip hop music), playing airplane with other band members (the childhood favourite of lifting someone into the air with your feet), to hours of ‘I Spy With My Third Eye’.
We were gifted things from the delicious to the ludicrous (though none of the following necessarily fit into the aforementioned categories):
hand sown leather wallets, chocolates, cases of homemade mead, hand-crafted wooden lanterns inlaid with silver, pumpkin bog wine (yes, that’s its official name) and goblets straight out of Game of Thrones. I’ve also signed an interesting range of specimens including various body parts, guitars and recorders, Gandalf-style staffs and animal-bone drinking horns.
I’ve witnessed the way in which music makes people dance and cry, and I’ve heard accounts of how some have walked down the aisle, given birth, and woken from comas to our music.
I’ve had ecstatic highs of my own (performing to over a thousand people in the middle of forest glades, and exhausted hysterical laughter set off by the merest glimmer of a joke) and extreme lows, where the adrenalin temporarily stopped, energy levels buckled and desolation took hold.
Being on the road for two weeks has also meant that I have been lurching between feast and famine.
The restaurant selection in NYC is almost infinite. The highlights this time round included the following:
The Pool, one of NYC’s finest fish restaurants. While I am not a huge seafood eater and am largely vegetarian, the branzino was the best I have ever eaten – delicate and tender without need for any fancy sauces or dressings. The room is elegant and slightly imposing and the service impeccable (apart from the moment when I collided with a waiter en route to the bathroom and he succeeded in pouring champagne directly down my chest).
Barrio Chino: my favourite Lower East Side Mexican haunt. It used to be a hidden secret, without website and only noticeable in passing if you were in the know. It has now become a bit more open about its existence, but the quality has not diminished. Go for the extensive range of margaritas (from chili to berry to tamarind – the list goes on). The tacos are also delicious, but the show stoppers are the enchiladas – suffused with flavour and fresh herbs and oozing with molten queso – this is the only place I will eat them. The ambience is also electric. I went on a Tuesday evening and it was packed and totally abuzz.
The Butcher’s Daughter– I got caught in the tail end of Hurricane Florence and had to battle through headache-inducing heavy rain to get here. It was worth it. This vegetarian NYC and LA hotshot has a sublime selection of fresh and wholesome, zingy, protein-rich salads. I had the self-professed” Best Kale Salad” and added some veggie chicken into the kale, red cabbage, green apple, jalapeno, red onion, mint, turmeric and cashew mix.
Dean & Deluca– In some ways I am sad that their plans to open a branch in London fell through and that they have settled for selling a minor selection of products at Selfridges. In other ways I am not, because if they had opened here I would probably have moved in and would now be rolling around due to gorging upon their selection of salads and endless array of artisanal snacks. Every time I walked past the crisp white exterior in NYC, I felt its magnetism drawing me in. Mostly I managed to restrict myself to buying a selection of salads. All are excellent, but the highlights were the General Tso cauliflower – battered, deep-fried and coated in a moreish, sticky sweet, umami sauce - and the sriracha-soaked tofu. The soups there are as good as many you would enjoy in a high-end restaurant.
Conversely, I’ve experienced pit stop, intra-state, highway grub, with the choice between early-onset obesity via deep fried foods, diabetes through the sugar-laden, inevitably chocolate-peanut butter coated candies, or heart attack via the sodium-laden snacks (I opted for the latter).
The most radical of trends that emerged was the “substance on a stick” that prevailed as a dining option in the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The good folk of the festival clearly thought they were on to a good thing with this particular serving contrivance and didn’t feel the need for variation. Options included the following (see pictures for evidence): white chocolate-coated key lime pie on a stick, dark chocolate-immersed cheesecake on a stick, sausage on a stick, chocolate-covered peanut butter pie on a stick, and macaroni cheese on a stick. The lattermost culinary innovation was my favourite - a praiseworthy feat of science, concocted to adhere strictly to the theme. Even the choice meat option, turkey leg, was by its very nature “on a stick” – the Neanderthal look of gnawing the dull red flesh from the bone worked well with those who were dressed in animal horns and fur (of which there were many).
And so I am back in reality – or what I can piece together:
it may only have been two weeks away but it feels weird to have to pronounce the “t” in water again (rather than a “d”) to make my request understood, to ask directions for the “loo”, not restroom, to not be in a tour bus laughing hysterically with eight other wickedly funny band (coven) members, to not feeling the daily adrenaline rush of performing and experiencing post-gig tequila-fueled highs, to not dancing to old school hip hop tunes in hotel rooms until 3am, and to reverting to cutlery after becoming accustomed to sticks.
Maryland Renaissance Festival
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
A trip to Toronto when I was seven years’ old is anchored for me by one thing: not the CN tower, or Niagara Falls or my cousin’s wedding, but a visit to the farmers’ market, and in particular, a potentially life-changing stall. A tall, russet-cheeked man was in command, his floured apron stretched taught over his protuberant belly.
And on his table lay not the garish, sprinkle- speckled swirls that would have drawn a normal child. Instead, tray after tray of rubbly slabs of oat and date crumble bars were arrayed.
The date layer of the bars was jaw-clenchingly sticky, and thick – not like the mean, shop-bought equivalent. The oaty outer layers were both crunchy and then soft, golden and not overly sweet, allowing the natural date sweetness to shine through.
. For the last seventeen years I’ve been raiding bakeries and markets, seeking to relive the experience, but the date and oat crumble bars always disappoint – too saccharine, too solid, too floury. In between raids, I’ve been working on my own: these are the closest I have come to Toronto’s best kept secret. I added the crushed amaretti to give them a little twist. Feel free to leave the sugar out of the crumble if your palate is adjusted to the less-sweet.
It’s incredibly hard to resist them when they emerge from the oven golden and crisp, but I think they taste even better when they have cooled and the flavours are more distinct (or maybe try them both ways, just to be sure…).
NB. They can be made gluten-free by substituting gluten-free flour for spelt.
400g medjool dates, pitted & roughly chopped (about 20)
3 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp finely grated orange zest
100g wholemeal spelt flour
50g dry amaretti biscuits
40g light brown muscovado sugar
¼ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
A square 20cm baking tin (or tin of equivalent area), lined with baking parchment, with sides and base fully covered.
1) Preheat oven to 180°C
2) Place all ingredients for the date filling in a pot and place on a medium heat. Stir as the mixture begins to simmer. After about 5 minutes, when the dates have broken down into more of a paste and all the water has evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside.
3) Pour all the crumble ingredients into a blender and pulse until the mixture still has some texture and is slightly coarser than sand.
4) Pour 2/3 of the crumble mixture into the base of the tin, and, with your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the mixture down evenly across the base of the tin until firm and compact. Pour the date filling over and spread evenly across the base. Then pour over the remaining crumble mixture and press down until even and as compact as possible.
5) Place in oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.
6) Slice and allow to cool before devouring. Keeps well in an air tight container in fridge for up to 5 days, or in freezer for 2 months (also tastes delicious when frozen).
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Adorned with dew drops of glaucous fruits, the damson tree was innocent in its fairy tale perfection. Plump and firm, tart and succulent they were ideal contenders for picking. There seemed at first glance to be very few, but as the minutes rolled by, our bags heavier and the ladder creaking, the tree continued to proffer its bounty. The result: 6kg of damsons and a swollen stomach from ones that never quite made it into the bag.
Our supply of sugar rather pitiful in the wake of the unsurpassed abundance, I heaved an Olympian quantity back from the supermarket. The one bag that decided to split has left a coating of sticky grit on any coins that I dig out of the corners of my bag.
Then on to the stove went the damsons, the heated sugar and a touch of water. They blistered, bubbled and broke out of their skins. The stones rose to the surface like witches on trial and had to be picked out one by one. Meanwhile the mixture boiled and thickened, giving off a foamy pink effervescence that I carved off as it supposedly tastes slightly bitter (although I rather enjoyed spooning it directly into my mouth). Then as it reached its rich amethyst depths and a satisfying viscose texture, I took it off and poured it into the sterilised jars: therapeutic and deeply satisfying…the first-time round.
But as I tried to leave the kitchen I was bludgeoned with another 3kg worth of damsons. I was pelted, too, with threats of waste and rotting fruit if I didn’t make jam immediately. The kitchen became heated with the upset from my father who had cultivated and nurtured the tree for years.
So, I gave in and became a slave to the damson tree once more, boiling, straining, stirring pouring. And now we have half a fridge thronging with jar upon jar of jam. And what does one do when he or she has a year’s supply of jam? Well, I find eating it straight from the jar perfectly acceptable, but others need a medium as an excuse. So I made scones. These are not the dry, stale and overly sweet ones that leave you desperately seeking a currant to relieve you from the accumulating doughy mass at the top of your palate. These are soft, light, moist and crumbly. Rustic in shape, they are best eaten immediately or on the same day (though it is unlikely they will survive longer).
Spelt Scone Recipe – makes 12
500g white spelt flour (can be substituted with plain)
4 ½ tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
(optional: 2 tbsp sugar if would like them sweet)
1/2 tsp salt
125g cold unsalted butter, diced
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
6cm round cookie cutter
Large baking sheet, lined with baking parchment
1) Preheat the oven to 220°C.
2) Into a large bowl sift all the dry ingredients. Add in the butter and with fingertips rub it into the dry ingredients until like damp sand. Pour in the milk and very gently fold in until just combined (there may still be pockets of flour).
3) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it lightly for about 10 seconds. Roll out to a 3cm thickness and then cut out as many scones as possible. Lightly re-knead the scraps of dough and roll out once more to cut out the last remaining scones. Space them out on the tray and blush with the beat egg. Place in oven to bake for 8-10 minutes until they are shiny and golden.
Damson Jam Recipe (makes about 3kg, 9 jars)
NB. This recipe can be adapted for any number of damsons by maintaining the ratio
2kg damsons (slightly under-ripe and not too soft)
9 jam jars, sterilised
1) Pour sugar into an over proof dish and place in oven heated to a low temperature (around 120°C) while the damsons are prepared. Place a couple of small plates into a fridge to cool – these will be used to check the jam’s consistency later.
2) Grease a large stainless-steel pot with butter to prevent the fruit from sticking. Then pour in the damsons and water and stew over a medium-low heat, stirring gently until the damsons’ skins break. Pour in the warmed sugar and stir over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
3) Increase the heat to medium-high and allow to boil (controllably), stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking. After a few minutes, as the fruits break down, a pink foam will rise to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, siphon this off into a bowl. If some remains it won’t ruin the jam, it just doesn’t taste as pure as the rest. Then, as the stones begin to rise up, siphon off those too.
4) After about 15 minutes of boiling, when all the stones have been removed, pour a teaspoon of the liquid onto a cold plate. Let it sit for about a minute then tilt the plate, if the liquid is no longer watery, with a viscosity between a sauce and a jam, and wrinkles when pushed with the finger, it is set. For the more scientifically-minded, it should be 105°C on a sugar thermometer. Pour the jam into the sterilised jars and allow to come to room temperature before sealing them with lids.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
This is the cinnamon apple crumble pie 2.0. Tried, tested, and enhanced... Soft, crunchy, crumbly, fresh, sweet, and on the cusp of sour – the Gail’s Bakery apple crumble cake is what I crave. It’s the ultimate winter treat, although I gaze longingly through the bakery window at them year-round.
I bought the Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook a few months ago in the hope that they had divulged the secret of their signature apple crumble cake. They hadn’t.
As a result I’ve just had to develop my own recipe – more wholesome, with more cinnamon and less sugar, I’ve heard they may even be superior…
320g (11.3 oz) wholegrain spelt flour
110g (3.9oz) icing sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
165g (5.8oz) butter, roughly chopped into cubes
1 large egg, beaten
700 (1lb 5oz) grams of peeled, cored and coarsely grated Bramley apples (about 3 large apples)
70g (2.5oz) caster sugar
80g (2.8oz) wholegrain spelt flour
45g (1.6oz) oats
45g (1.6oz) caster sugar
50g (1.7oz) butter
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
15 hole muffin/cupcake tin, greased (usually they come in 12s, in which case you will need 2 x muffin trays
- In a blender, blitz together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand. Pour in the egg and continue to pulse until the mixture clumps together into a dough. Avoid mixing it more than necessary.
- Flatten the dough roughly into a disc and wrap in cling film or baking parchment. Chill in the freezer while you make the other elements.
- Place all ingredients in a pan and stir over a high heat for about 5 minutes until the apple turns soft but some texture still remains. Strain the mixture using a sieve, pressing down to get rid of excess liquid (about 250ml, which incidentally tastes like a delicious mulled cider). Set aside to cool.
- Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand.
- Preheat an oven to 180˚C.
- On a floured surface, roll out the chilled pasty to a thickness of 0.5cm. Cut the pastry into circles with an area similar to that of the muffin tin holes (about 8-10cm), and press each circle in the holes. You may need to patchwork the pieces together.
- Prick the pastry lining the muffin holes with a fork, and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or cooked through and beginning to golden slightly.
- Take the tin out of the oven and spoon 2tbsp of the cooked apple into each pastry shells. Top the cakes by spooning a few tablespoons of the crumb topping over each cake, patting it down and then sprinkling the rest of the mixture over. I like to clump some of it together before scattering it over in order to add further texture and rustic appeal.
- Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the crumble topping is golden and crisp. Serve hot or cold.
'Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ Samuel Johnson, The Dictionary of the English Language, 1755
If I were the type of person that leafed (ironically) through Cosmo, and stumbled across one of those lazy, page-filling content, tree diagrams which happened to ask “what is your spirit animal?”, I know what mine would be. A horse. Well, at least that’s what it would have been during the second year of my time at university in terms of comestibles…
Essay crises necessitate fuel in order to feed the adrenaline and, for me, that fuel came in the form of oats.
When you have a 9 am deadline approaching, and there is only one hour remaining, every minute is precious - so there is no time to spare for cooking oats over the hob until they break down into a creamy mulch.
That’s the excuse I gave myself. Instead, I developed the rather grotesque habit of eating oats straight from the packet, raw and desiccated. In my maddened and pressured state, I savoured the clagginess of the oats, where you can’t quite conjure up enough saliva to swallow them. Ideal.
I have since moved on from this stage (with the very occasional relapse) to a more acceptable way of dealing with my love of oats: Bircher muesli, invented by Bircher Benner, a pioneer of raw foodism, in the late 19th century as a way of curing his jaundice. It worked.
I feel, somewhat justifiably, that it runs in my blood (thick & creamy): my great-great-uncle was a frequent patient at Benner’s rather avant garde Swiss raw food clinic and, one sunny day, he stepped down from a plane on an impromptu visit from Scotland to South Africa with no clothes besides the ones on his back, a vegetable juicing contraption which he trailed behind him on a rickety little cart, and a proselytising passion for Bircher muesli.
I have tried many a Bircher muesli, from Swiss versions to Vietnamese attempts, but I feel I have concocted the ultimate version (excuse my arrogance). Creamy, healthy, juicy, and exotic, it’s effectively manna, and I would happily have it for every meal of the day (jaundiced or not).
The Best Bircher Muesli (Serves 5)
2 Braeburn apples, grated
Juice of 1/2 lemon
200ml orange juice
200g natural yogurt
200g almond and coconut milk (can be substituted with dairy or non-dairy alternatives)
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you can’t get hold of this, omit it, or substitute with ½ tsp vanilla extract)
50g desiccated coconut, lightly toasted in a pan on a low heat until pale gold)
200g porridge oats
Pinch of salt
200g of fresh fruit of your choice (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, figs, sliced banana work well)
40g coconut chips (optional but adds great texture)
- In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients apart from the fresh fruit and optional coconut chips. If you are making this the night before, cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge overnight to let the oats soak up the flavours. If you are serving the muesli immediately, stir the mixture for a couple of minutes to break down the oats until they are creamy.
- If you are leaving the muesli overnight, allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Scatter mixed berries and fruits and coconut chips over the top and serve.
Is it just me, or is anyone else sick of logging on to Facebook, innocently hoping to drain away half an hour of one’s day (minimum) by looking at pictures of people one may or may not have half met once trying to prove how much fun they are having by posting pictures of themselves with friends/family, strained smiles stretched across their faces, and who are clearly not that immersed in the fun as they have had to spend half an hour trying to get one decent picture out of the hundred they’ve taken to emblazon it across their Facebook wall and maybe, just maybe, turn it into a cover photo?
And then – BAM - your gaze is diverted,
and you are staring down into the depths of a garishly coloured plastic bowl filled with some unidentifiable artificial gunk, pink fleshy hands massaging some other substance into it to form some putty-like emulsion which is then mushed and squeezed and squidged into a plastic mould, whizzed up, and extruded through a bag and…… oh look, it’s that Gooey Oreo, Jellied Eel and Green Marshmallow Mini Coffee Cup that “you’ve always wanted to make for your slumber party with the gals”.
Here’s an antidote. It is simple yet sophisticated, humble yet sumptuous, tangy but not cloyingly sweet, and light yet not so light when you’ve had 4+ pieces….
200g white spelt flour (can be substituted with plain flour)
100g butter, roughly cubed
2 tbsp icing sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 small egg, beaten
12 x 36cm tart tin, greased and dusted with flour
800g frozen blueberries
250g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp cornflour
Zest of ½ medium sized orange
- Place flour, butter, icing sugar and salt in a food processor, and blitz until it resembles damp sand. Pour in the beaten egg, and pulse until the mixture combines to form a soft dough. Remove from the processor, wrap in baking parchment and place in the fridge for half an hour (or freezer for 10-15 minutes) – this will prevent the dough from shrinking when it bakes.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Lightly dust a surface with flour and roll out the dough in a rough rectangle to 0.5cm thickness. Roll the pastry around a rolling pin and transfer to the tin, pressing it into the fluting (if, indeed, your tin is fluted). Run a knife along the top edge of the tin to remove excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry a few times with a fork, and place back in the fridge for 30 minutes (or freezer for 10 minutes).
- Prepare the pastry for blind baking by lining the inside with a sheet of tin foil and filling it with baking beads to weigh it down while it bakes and to prevent it from shrinking. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is dry and beginning to turn golden. If it is cooking too slowly, you can remove the beads and tin foil after 15 minutes and continue to bake. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- To make the spiced blueberry filling, place a large pan over a high heat and pour in all the ingredients. Stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved in the juice that runs off the blueberries. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from catching, until the liquid is almost completely reduced and with the viscosity somewhere between a syrup and a jam. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into the pre-baked pastry case.
The scent coming from the paper bag was soft and sweet, and old fashioned rose-like, and when I turned out its contents, eight yellow, somewhat misshapen apple-pears tumbled out.
These quinces were the unwanted fruit of an unappreciated tree in someone else’s garden. Beguilingly biblical in appearance, their uncompromising hardness metamorphoses into something utterly different after cooking.
Originally referred to as the Kydonian melon, and mentioned in 6th Century BCE Greek poetry, the quinces we recognise today are believed to have been indigenous to Kydonia on the island of Crete. The Ancient Greeks dedicated the quince to Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, who was often represented with the golden apple of Hesperides in her right hand – that apple, in all likelihood, a quince. Indeed, quinces symbolised love and fertility, and Plutarch refers to the ancient wedding ritual whereby a bride would take a bite from a quince before retiring to the bridal chamber with her husband – possibly to freshen her breath, too.
The path of the wedding procession of Helen and Menelaus was said to have been strewn with quinces, myrtle leaves and crowns woven from violets and roses. The fruit was also said by Pliny to have warded off the malign influence of the evil eye, and its medicinal value as an aid to digestion was also noted.
The Byzantines made wine from quinces as well as kydonaton, a thick quince jelly, probably the ancestor of French cotignac or condoignac, a delicacy made with honey, wine and spices that was considered a worthy gift for kings.
Apicius, the first extant Roman cookbook writer, of the first century CE, preserved quinces whole in honey diluted with a spiced wine reduction, and also combined them with leeks, honey, and broth in hot oil in a dish known as Patina de Cydoniis. In the 4th Century CE, Palladius, an agriculturist and writer, composed a recipe for baked quince strips, possibly the first stirrings of membrillo, the Spanish quince gel that we know today.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, cooks in England prepared many variations of quince preserves which they called quidoniac, quiddony or paste of Genoa. Often the preserve paste was thick enough to be moulded into animal or flower shapes. Nowadays, many cultures use quinces in their cuisine: in India, a quince sambal is made by making a puree out of quinces, onions, chillies, orange juice and salt. In Iran, quinces are sometimes cored and stuffed with minced meat, and Moroccan tagines often include quince along with dried fruit and spices.
Despite its pertinence in history and mythology the quince has rather fallen out of fashion. Now the prized aphrodisiac and breath-freshener has been reduced to an unloved (except by the cognoscenti), knobbly peculiarity. I hereby am starting a quince appreciation campaign and when life gives you quinces, make membrillo, and with the membrillo make Tarta de Santiago.
Membrillo is the rose-tinted translucent and slightly grainy gel that miraculously results from boiling quinces with water, sugar and citrus. Its perfumed exoticness makes one think of orange groves and balmy breezes, and when combined with the citrus infused almond cake and pastry layers, one is transported right to the Alhambra.
150g white spelt flour (substitutable with any flour of your choice including gluten-free to create a gluten-free dessert)
40g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
Grated zest of ½ unwaxed orange
100g butter, roughly chopped into small cubes
1 egg yolk
25cm x 25cm square tin (or round tin with similar dimensions) at least 8cm deep, lined with greaseproof paper
250g quince paste (membrillo)
2 tbsp lemon juice
Grated zest of ½ unwaxed orange
Grated zest of ½ unwaxed lemon
65g ground almonds
150 ground almonds
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
150g butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
100ml triple sec
Optional candied orange decoration
Follow instructions from my recipe for Citrus Syrup-Soaked Cake
- In a blender, blitz together sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt and butter until the mixture resembles damp sand. Add in the egg yolk and blitz until the mixture comes together into dough. Flatten into a disc, wrap in greaseproof paper and chill in a freezer for 15 minutes or refrigerate for ½ hour.
- On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out to a 3mm thickness and transfer to the tin to line the base. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
- Preheat oven to 180°C. To make the filling, place the quince paste (membrillo), lemon juice and zest in a small pan over a medium heat and stir until smooth and fully combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the ground almonds. Remove the tin from the fridge and spread the quince mixture evenly over the pastry. Refrigerate once more.
- To make the cake layer, whisk together ground almonds, sugar, cinnamon, salt and zest in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, triple sec and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until combined in a loose paste.
- Remove the tin from the fridge and pour the cake layer mixture over the quince layer. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, springy to touch and a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving.
Standing on a dining room chair to reach the kitchen counter top, swamped by my grandmother’s floral apron, and covered head to toe in drifts of white flour, at three years’ old I felt important and grown up. But first my grandparents and I would visit art galleries, going for afternoon tea (lemon cake for me, always), sitting on the top deck of the bus, drawing, painting, drinking more tea, and then, finally, at the end of the day, my grandmother would let me help her bake her oat and ginger cherry-bejewelled cookies – what I knew and still know as “Granny Biscuits”. They are still in ready supply whenever I visit my grandmother’s house, and are as chewy, oaty and delicately sweet as they’ve ever been.
My grandfather possessed a dangerously sweet tooth, and, as I’ve previously mentioned, was inclined to satisfy this without regard for moderation. He would sneak into the larder and consume an entire box of glace cherries.
This trait has wound its way down into my family. I name no names, but once the plastic seal has been broken, glace cherries mysteriously disappear at a rapid rate. Although I admit I have, at several low points in my life, spooned jam without any justifying bread straight into my mouth, the general jam supply in my household is a more reliable presence.
This recipe is further adapted with coconut replacing oats to provide a more even coating and a beautiful golden crunch once baked.
You can use whatever jam or marmalade you desire – strawberry and apricot are two of my favourites.
Ingredients (Makes 25-35 approx.)
350g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
Zest of ½ lemon
½ tsp salt
350g white spelt flour
1 egg, beaten with 2 tsp water
200g desiccated coconut
100g strawberry jam
100g apricot jam
2 baking trays lined with baking parchment
1.) Preheat oven to 180˚C.
2.) In a food mixer fitted with the paddle, or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt together until fluffy and pale.
3.) Sift in flour and mix together until fully combined and a soft dough is formed. Flatten the dough into a roughly 2 cm thick disk, wrap in baking parchment, and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for ½ hour.
4.) Roll the dough into 30g spheres (roughly 3 cm in diameter), dip each one in the beaten egg and then roll in the coconut. Space the spheres at least 5 cm apart on the baking sheet.
5.) Press your thumb in the middle of the spheres to create a teaspoon- sized indent. Fill the indent with a teaspoonful of the jam of your choice.
6.) Place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and the coconut turns golden. Allow to cool and serve.
When I was six I experienced peak cinnamon bun. In the middle of a farmers’ market in Toronto I was handed a parcel wrapped in brown paper. Inside was a glistening golden sticky buttery cinnamon swirl - a full face experience, and well worth it. Ever since then I’ve been looking for one to mirror its spiced perfection, but my quest continues to this day. To the untrained/inexperienced/non-cinnamon obsessed palate a cinnamon bun is just a cinnamon bun. Wrong.
My gluttonous many-year quest has allowed me to sample the many different types: there is the American gloopy, slightly under baked, doughy, cream cheese-coated type. This can be found in a ubiquitous American chain (at particular low points during my degree I used to linger outside the Cambridge branch just to catch the cinnamon perfumed scent).
At the opposite end of the scale there’s the more refined flaky and French variety which is unsatisfyingly mild in terms of cinnamon flavour if you’re an obsessive like me.
Somewhere in between the two is the Nordic variety, cardamom and cinnamon infused, with a delicate dough (my trip to Norway this summer will be dedicated to experiencing as many of these as possible).
My own recipe falls somewhere in the middle of the 3 varieties. The brioche dough is soft and light on the inside and crisp on the outside, the browning of the butter in the filling adds a nutty richness, and the muscovado sugar makes the bun moister and adds greater depth of flavour than plain caster sugar. As the buns cook, the sugar cinnamon filling caramelises slightly at the base adding a moreish stickiness.
Although the brioche dough requires starting the evening before, don’t let it stop you from making these. They are, in fact, incredibly easy and quick to make. It’s also rather lovely going to bed knowing that a cinnamon bun awaits you the next day…
1 ½ tsp active dried yeast
3 tbsp lukewarm water
285g strong white bread flour
¾ tsp salt
40g caster sugar
3 medium sized eggs + 1 to paint the buns
115g cold unsalted butter
160g light brown muscovado sugar
3 tbsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 round 9 inch tin, greased and dusted with flour
- In large bowl stir together yeast and water until the yeast has dissolved. Leave in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is activated and the mixture begins to go slightly frothy.
- Add in the flour, salt, sugar and eggs and mix until thoroughly combined and the dough is smooth and sticky. If you are using a Kitchen Aid, as I do, fit it with the paddle and mix.
- Stirring continuously (or with the machine on a medium-high speed) add in the butter bit by bit, waiting until it is fully combined before adding more. Once the butter is fully combined, keep mixing until the dough is smooth and shiny. This will take about 8-10 minutes.
- Placed dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with cling film, and place in fridge overnight or for minimum 8 hours.
- The next day make the cinnamon filling by placing the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Once it has melted, leave it on the heat for another minute until it goes golden in colour and has a rich, nutty aroma. Mix the sugar, salt and cinnamon with the butter to form a paste and set aside to cool.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and, on a board dusted with flour, roll it out to a rectangle of roughly 30cm by 38cm and to a 3/4cm thickness. Spread the cinnamon filling evenly over the rectangle.
- With long side of the rectangle closest to you (i.e. landscape as opposed to portrait), roll the dough from the long side to the other long side tightly, like a scroll. With the seam side down, slice the roll into 12 even slices. Arrange the slices spiral side up in the prepared tin, cover with a tea towel, and allow to rise for an hour in a warm place.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C. To give the buns a beautiful golden shine, beat the egg and brush a thin layer over them.
- Place the tin in the oven and allow to bake for about 20-30 minutes until the surface is a golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. If it looks a little too dark early on in the bake, cover with tin foil. Once cooked, place on a wire rack to cool (or eat immediately).
If something becomes a fad, I usually try to avoid it. Cupcakes were once things of joy, their light, sweet, spongeyness perfuming the house with the scent of birthdays. And there was always the hope of left over icing, not to mention the ease with which one could convince oneself that the perfectly domed surface was in need of decapitation, just to preview the crunchy golden coated delicate sponge, just in case the cupcakes weren’t guest-worthy. But now those simple pleasures have been crushed for me as the once-a -year treat has lost its golden hued novelty.
The single-concept shops dedicated to cupcakes are now a graveyard for the dying fad. I walked past a well-known purveyor of cupcakes in the middle of an airless department store only last week, and watched as the woman behind the counter shuffled the gaudy treats into reverse rainbow order in an attempt to look busy.
Frozen yoghurt is no longer a novelty, but for me at least it has not yet lost its appeal. Some people (including me) are able to delude themselves that even with the marshmallow, cookie dough, caramel topping it’s a healthier version of their favourite ice cream.
When the clouds deigned to expose a sliver of sunlight for a short while on Saturday, I decided to indulge in a little frozen yoghurt.
The cherries at my favourite fruit monger were so glossy and irresistibly crimson they were begging to be involved in my hoping-for-summer recipe. I combined them with yuzu juice for a touch of astringency to cut through the sweet creaminess of the yoghurt. Then, to add a childlike allure, I sandwiched the frozen yoghurt between two discs of biscuit which I’d infused with almond extract to bring out the cherry flavour further.
The yuzu juice provides a wonderfully tart citrusy note to the frozen yoghurt. If you can't find it, substitute it with lemon or lime.
I used an ice cream churner to make the frozen yoghurt smoother and the ice crystals finer, but if you don’t have one this stage can be skipped and the result will still be delicious.
Of course, the cherry and yuzu frozen yoghurt can be enjoyed sans biscuit. The biscuit is however, rather useful if you wish to turn it into a hand held treat, whether or not the sunshine lingers.
Ingredients (makes 8-10)
Cherry and Yuzu Frozen Yoghurt
375g cherries, halved and pitted
125g caster sugar
250g full fat natural yoghurt (don’t use Greek)
1 tsp yuzu juice
6 drops of almond extract
1 medium sized (18cm x 28cm approx.) loaf tin, lined with cling film
160g butter, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
10 drops almond extract
210g plain flour
1tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1 large baking tray lined with baking parchment
4.5/5cm circular cookie cutter or wine glass
Cherry & Yuzu Frozen Yoghurt
- Place cherries and sugar in a small pan over a high heat. Stir occasionally to prevent sugar from burning. When enough liquid has run out from the cherries to coat the base of the pan and it begins to boil, reduce heat to medium. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes until the liquid from the cherries has reduced and is just slightly thicker than maple syrup.
- Allow the cherries and syrup to cool then blitz them together with the yuzu, almond extract and yoghurt until smooth. If you are using an ice cream maker, chill the mixture and then churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, proceed to step 3.
- Pour the mixture into the cling film-lined loaf tin, and smooth the surface with a spatula. Place in freezer for 1-2 hours until solid.
- Beat the butter in a mixer (or by hand) until light and fluffy. Into this, beat the almond extract, vanilla extract and egg yolks.
- In a separate bowl, mix together flour, sugar and salt. Stir this into the butter mixture until a dough forms.
- Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in baking parchment and place in freezer for 15 minutes (or fridge for 30 minutes).
- Preheat oven to 160˚C.
- On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 7mm thickness. Using the cookie cutter, cut the dough into the discs and place on lined tray.
- Bake for 7-10 minutes until cooked all the way through but still pale. Allow to cool.
Remove the loaf tin containing the frozen yoghurt from the freezer. Using the cookie cutter, cut the frozen yoghurt into discs and sandwich each disc between two almond biscuits. Store these in an airtight container and return to the freezer until ready to serve.
Khanom krok, crepes, blinis, dosas, tortillas, msemmen, ingera, beghrir, and both pandan and rice pancakes - dense, spongy, fluffy, light,... I've devoured them all. But when it gets to Sunday, and brunch is obligatory, I always revert to American-style pancakes. I want to whisk up something quick, easy and delicious.
The internet is currently riddled with recipes for "sugarless, 2-ingredient protein pancakes". Warning: two ingredients = egg and banana, and there are many things I'd rather eat than a banana omelette. So I came up with my own healthier version of American-style pancakes using wholegrain spelt and coconut oil.
They're fluffy, light and filling, and the wholemeal spelt flour adds a warming nuttiness as well as lowering the overall GI level. They're also really addictive - the photos are of the fourth batch I made on the day (as the first batch were consumed as a solo act, and the second and third were inhaled by my brothers).
I paired them with a very simple mixed berry compote, the recipe for which is below.
Wholesome American Style Spelt Pancakes
340g wholemeal spelt flour (can be substituted with plain flour, wholemeal wheat or white spelt)
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
450ml unsweetened almond milk (can be substituted with any other kind)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
45g coconut oil, melted + extra to coat frying pan (can be substituted with butter)
500g mixed frozen berries
3 tbsp maple syrup (optional)
1tbsp vanilla extract
1.) In a blender, blitz together all the ingredients until smooth.
2.) Place shallow frying pan over a medium-high heat and melt 1tbsp of coconut butter (or butter, if using), swirling it around to coat the pan.
3) Pour batter into pan to desired pancake size and cook for a couple of minutes until bubbles begin to break through the surface. Flip, and cook for a further couple of minutes until golden.
Mixed Berry Compote
1.) Place pan over high heat, pour in all ingredients, and stir to mix through.
2.) When the berries have melted and the mixture begins to simmer, reduce to a low heat and cook until berries are completely cooked through.
3.) Drench pancakes.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Last year I spent a week in the middle of nowhere, in freezing cold, exercising over 6 hours a day in mud/gales/snow/hail, under the supervision of ex-military trainers who pushed me physically beyond my limits until every last droplet of sweat had been purged. My fellow “bootcampers” included a fresh out of prison and rehab drug dealer/addict, a morbidly obese woman who refused to communicate with anyone, a creepy London shop owner, a z-list celebrity from a certain Chelsea based reality TV show, whose ego was undeservedly overblown, and some poor guy whose father had told him he was going on a spa retreat in Spain but despatched him instead into gruelling and bleak middle England.
Our diet was heavily regimented, too: no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, and nothing processed. Despite its virtuousness, it was delicious - fresh, wholesome and innovative - all cooked by an ex-OXO Tower chef. Admittedly, food is the first thing I think of when I wake up anyway, but this feeling became intensified at the camp, especially with a 6 o’clock alarm call, and two hours of torture before breakfast. No, it wasn’t a prison camp: I did this out of choice.
It was one of the only occasions when getting chummy with the chef didn’t reap any edible perks. I did , however, manage to glean the recipe for the breakfast highlight of the week: Bircher muesli. It traditionally has a fluid consistency and is made the night before to allow the oats to become plump with apple juice and yoghurt. This one breaks all the rules but is more delicious, healthier and a hundred times more convenient – most people (excluding me) spare little thought for breakfast, let alone prepare for it the night before.
This recipe is dairy-free and sugar-free simply because I think it’s delicious that way, but feel free to use dairy equivalents, and add some maple syrup if you’re that way inclined – it works equally well. It can also be made gluten-free – just use the appropriate muesli brand.
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 cups sugar-free muesli
1 Braeburn apple, grated and sprinkled with 1 tsp lemon juice (this will prevent it oxidising and going brown)
¼ tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup coconut yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt)
3 tbsp coconut milk (or dairy)
2 tbsp apple juice
(1 tbsp maple syrup – optional)
¼ cup coconut yoghurt
A handful of strawberries
2 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted in a dry pan over a medium heat for a few minutes until pale brown
- Stir together all topping ingredients. It should be of a thick consistency but feel free to add another splash of coconut milk if you prefer. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the muesli to absorb the flavours.
- Top with yoghurt, and scatter with berries and flaked almonds. Drizzle with maple syrup if you like.
I’ve been asked several times in the last couple of weeks what my blogs are about, what my angle is, which niche I am filling, what the selling point is. So here it is: there is no niche. Niches are overcrowded and limited places in which to write. To me, food is a form of communication, even, to some extent, representative of character. So why should I pin myself down to some of the so-called niches in which other bloggers have incarcerated themselves?
Healthy cooking blogs, for example, seem to be proliferating at the moment, or so they call themselves, but what they are promoting is not cooking, nor is it necessarily healthy (or particularly interesting) – I’ve seen enough versions of green smoothies to make me want to down a packet of muscovado sugar (it tastes really good on its own, by the way).
I’m also sick of reading and hearing about avocado-based baking. You can try to convince yourself that it tastes good. It does not. It tastes rubbery, and bland, and makes me want to retch. Another example is cauliflower pizza. If you want pizza HAVE IT. If you’re worried about its calories/fats/sugars/carbs/GI/salt, then don’t eat it. If you’re desperate, have it in moderation. And if by mistake on purpose you eat the whole thing and it was really delicious, and you feel guilty, then just don’t do it again for a while. Do not try to replace that experience with cauliflower as it simply does not work. I’ll tell you the truth now: cauliflower does not equal bread. It doesn’t matter how small you grind the cauliflower, how tightly and agonisingly you squeeze out the liquid, and how densely you pack it into a tin, it does not turn into bread. Plus the amount of mozzarella you have to add to make it hold together undermines the whole attempt at making it “healthy”.
Baobab dust, acai capsules, psyllium husk powder - these are not what cooking and baking are about. They will not be included in my recipes unless they add flavour. And even then, at £10-£15 for a thimbleful, it’s not worth it.
Turn away now if you’re looking for a fad. As I have said before, gluten-free baking is for coeliacs only. Just because it says “free” doesn’t mean that it liberates you or your spare tyre. In fact, you’re probably adding another one by eating it as it shoots blood glucose levels sky high, above even those of wheat.
So to conclude, I’m not going to slot into any niche like the Priapus statue in Newby Hall. The blog is to be viewed in the round and the recipes are for bold, modern and flavoursome cuisine.
This recipe destroys the common misconception that pastry is hard to make, and combines with the nectarine topping just a hint of Triple Sec to add subtle tang. Very little effort is involved, but the result is impressive.
280g plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
170g cold unsalted butter, diced
125ml cold water
4 nectarines, halved, destoned & sliced horizontally to 3-4mm thickness
100g caster sugar
60g cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ tsp salt
½ cup of smooth apricot jam
2 tbsp Triple Sec
Sheet tray lined with baking parchment
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten
- Blitz flour, sugar and salt in a blender to combine, then add the butter and pulse briefly about 10 times until the mixture turns to pea-sized pieces.
- Pour in water and blitz until the dough begins to come together.
- Make it into a chunky disk and wrap in clingfilm/baking parchment. Place in freezer for half an hour
- Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
- Roll out the pastry to a roughly 25x35cm rectangle, slicing off the edges to make it a clean rectangle.
- Arrange the nectarine slices, slightly overlapping, in a diagonal down the middle of the tart then continue with rows on either side.
- Sprinkle the cubed butter and sugar and salt over the nectarine slices and bake in centre of an oven for 40 minutes or until crisp and golden. Check about half way during the baking time whether the pastry has become puffy. If so, simply cut slits in it to let the air escape.
- Once the tart is ready, heat the apricot jam together with the Triple Sec and brush it all over the tart, including all the nude sections of pastry.
When you get the 4 o’clock slump, moderation is at an all-time low and chocolate bars are winking at you, reach for one of these carb-free, sugar-free, gluten-free fruit & seed bars instead. They are high in protein, vitamin rich, low GI, ridiculously easy to make (no baking), yet despite their virtuousness, they are irresistibly delicious.
500g mixed seeds (I use pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
40g ground almonds (optional)
3 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
3 tsp vanilla bean paste (use vanilla extract if not available)
200g medjool dates
200g dried figs
Pinch of salt
20x25cm baking tray, greased
Makes about 30, depending on size
- Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C.
- Spread out the mixed seeds on a large baking tray (not the pre-greased one) and place in centre of oven to toast for 5 minutes until they are beginning to turn golden. To achieve the same result without an oven, toast them in frying pan over a medium heat and stir continuously for about 5 minutes.
- Blend together figs, dates, vanilla bean paste and salt until they turn to a smooth paste.
- In a large bowl mix together toasted mixed seeds, ground almonds, chia seeds and the fig-date paste until thoroughly combined.
- Press the mixture into the pre-greased baking tray and slice into bars of desired size.
- Wrap the tray with clingfilm and place in freezer for at least an hour, or leave overnight in fridge to set. The bars will last for several weeks.
If you’re undecided as to what to have for breakfast, make this: fruit, oatmeal/porridge and pancakes rolled into one. It’s delicious, quick to make, filling, and just sweet enough to satisfy any sweet craving but also not so sweet that it will send blood glucose levels skyrocketing...
The almond milk & coconut oil can be substituted for their dairy equivalents, (milk & butter) in the same quantity.
Wholegrain spelt flour can be substituted for white/wholegrain wheat flour, or gluten-free.
110g rolled oats
300ml hot unsweetened almond milk
100g coconut oil
60g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 medium egg
Zest of half a lemon
1 tsp baking powder
140g wholegrain spelt flour
300g frozen mixed berries (or fresh)
11 x 22cm loaf tin (or one of a similar area), greased and dusted with flour
- Preheat oven to 180˚C. Mix oats with hot milk and allow to soak.
- Beat together oil, sugar, honey, vanilla, egg and lemon zest. Sieve in baking powder and flour and mix until just combined. The bran in the wholemeal flour won’t sieve so just add it in once you’ve sieved as much as possible.
- Using a sieve, drain the excess liquid from the soaked oats , then stir them into the mixture.
- Pour into loaf tin and scatter berries on top.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm or cold.