This the perfect non-picnic picnic cake. It’s light with a cloudy vanilla sponge, and laced with fresh cherries which burst in your mouth and whose astringency perfectly cut through the smooth rich vanilla-cream. I keep the cherries fresh and unadulterated so as to keep the cake not too sweet, with a hint of cherry jam just to counter too much acidity.
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In my dictionary definition of cookie, I’m going to be demanding. It needs to be thic(ccc)k so that each mouthful contains some of the promised flavours, be they chocolate, nut, or candy. I want it crisp on the outside so that when broken, it gives way to a chewy cookie-dough goo. If there’s chocolate or caramel, they need to be molten. They also need to have enough salt to balance the sweetness and add depth of flavour.
And, after years of trials, the quest to create the perfect cookie becoming increasingly Sisyphean, I’ve done it. And you need to make them ASAP.
Here is a recipe for a focaccia that is not a futon i.e. mean, hard and thin. It’s the emperor of mattresses: the dimples are deep, the texture is soft yet springy, and there is no scratchy dryness that a futon focaccia may have but, rather, a balmy olive oil-enriched crumb.
Having had a few scarring experiences with the brittle, mouth-desiccating, hard mats that parade as focacce (even in their Italian heartlands), this recipe is not only sublime but a protest against my negative experiences.
And while I’m singing its virtues, I have to stress that it’s ridiculously easy to make. Bread-making has such a bad press in terms of time, effort and skill required, but it is all a conspiracy to get you to buy the overpriced, chemical–laden, factory produced supermarket types. All you need to do is hang around a bit and the yeast does all the work for you. Total contact time with focaccia is only about 15minutes - the rest of the time is just a matter of rising or baking (or eating).
I make this with spelt which lowers the GI and adds a little nuttiness. You can play around with the toppings: rosemary is traditional, but you can add caramelised onion, parmesan, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage…whatever you wish.
I like to make a lot in one go and freeze the loaves sliced, so you can dip into them when you please. But if you want to make fewer, just halve or third the ingredients.
Recipe - makes 3 loaves (or mattresses)
14g dried active yeast (2 sachets) or 25g fresh yeast
2 tbsp sugar
675ml lukewarm water
4 tbsp olive oil, for the dough + 3 tbsp for topping
1kg white spelt flour (or plain, if not available)
2 ½ tsp normal salt
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
4 sprigs of rosemary
3 x 25cm square cake/bread tins (or tins with the equivalent area), greased with olive oil
1) If using fresh yeast, cream it together in a large bowl with the sugar until it turns to liquid. Then, stir in the water and oil. If using dried active yeast, mix it with the sugar and water, and let it sit in a warm place for five minutes to activate. Then, stir in the oil.
2) Into the wet ingredients, stir in the flour and salt –it should form a sticky, craggy mass. If you have a stand mixer, fit it with the dough hook and knead the dough for five minutes. If you are making the bread by hand, pour the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and springy, so that it bounces back when pressed. I like to use the dough hook for most of the kneading, take it out when it's almost done and finish by hand.
3) Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rise for about 1 to 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.
4) Punch down the dough (so. much. fun.) and divide it into three. Stretch each piece of dough in its tin so that it is even in depth and reaches the sides (you may need to do a bit of pummeling to do this). Then, sprinkle over the rosemary and olive oil and dimple the dough with your fingers, pressing almost to the bottom of the tin. Allow to rise for a further 45 minutes to an hour until almost doubled in size.
5) Preheat the oven to 200C. Then, sprinkle the breads with coarse sea salt, and place in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until deep golden in colour and crunchy on top. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool. Best eaten on day of baking (which is usually inevitable as testament to their deliciousness). Or place in an air-tight box and freeze for up to 3 months.
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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.
OK, so I’m going to tell you about a brilliant new diet to ensure you lose all that Christmas flab.
It throws 5:2, Keto, raw food, Mediterranean and intermittent fasting out of the window. If you’re disillusioned with all those malware-laden pop up adverts on illegal streaming sites that you secretly clicked on promising flat belly magic trick, let me right that for you.
After some hardcore, scientific studies on how people gain weight, which foods trigger fat gain and how we’re rotting our metabolism, my dad had an epiphany and realised that all these diets were ignoring the obvious.
All those Instagram/YouTube stars chronicling the secrets to peachy bums, thigh gaps, hotdog legs and concave stomachs have been holding back their industry secrets. It’s not food groups that need to be cut out, but letters. All the foods (and often drinks) that stand in the way of a lean, rippling bikini bod have something in common: biscuits, cookies, bread, chocolate, cake, bagels, beer, cocktails, champagne, and brownies. Yes. That’s right – you’ve wasted money and/or time logging on to My Fitness Pal, consulting dieticians, and calorie counting when I have just given you the secret to fat loss. Cut out the Bs and Cs and you are on your way to fitfluencer stardom.
Pregnancy is the benchmark by which weight gain is measured in my household, and my dad came back from India in his second trimester.
Turns out feasting on gulab jamun, breakfast, lunch and dinner dosas, curry upon curry, daily afternoon tea and even straight up jaggery does that to you. This drastic increase from two to five months’ gestation in the space of two weeks, plus a stomach of steel allowing evasion of the revolting bug that had churned up the rest of my family’s insides, meant that a new diet and regime was mandatory. And when my dad commits to something, he is an all-or-nothing person. And let me tell you, cutting out B and C foods is far easier than you might think. In fact, it’s practically seamless. Don’t worry about cheat meals or relapses because this is a diet that works perfectly with whatever lifestyle you were already leading.
My dad’s commitment to the diet has been so fervent and admirable that when I offered him a Jerusalem bagel (from last week) he refused.
He heroically turned down the molten chocolate brownies that I brought into work. He didn’t even respond to me when the exotic perfume of these thick, soft and chewy spice cookies wafted round the house (commendable).
You see the diet works so well that if you’re clever about it, and careful, you don’t really need to sacrifice anything at all.
His resolve has been so strong that cookies are now banned from our house, as are bagels, biscuits, chocolate and brownies.
Instead, we have a whole inventory of agels, and iscuits, hocolate and rownies and ookies.
My dad has had five of these spice ookies today and he’s still fully committed to the diet - and so can you. Just like that one calorie that gets left floating in the can when you have diet coke, so all the muffin-top inducing calories are left behind when the B and C’s are seamlessly spliced from your favourite treat.
This is the diet to be on because these (c)ookies are the ambrosia of the (c)ookie world – they’re a one bowl wonder and can be whizzed up in a matter of minutes.
There’s no freezing, chilling or resting meaning that they can go from flour packet to final product-in–mouth in about half an hour (pausing en route for some of that dough). I know cookies can be a very subjective, personal and emotional topic, but these are undeniably the top tier: slightly crisp on the outside and soft thic(cc)k and chewy. If you fear that the batch may disappear before you get a look in, feel free to double it – the results will be the same. They can also be stored in an airtight container in a freezer for up to three months which is ideal if you want to whip them out for unexpected occasions (emergencies).
Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies - Recipe
Makes 12-14 cookies
220g white spelt flour (or plain white flour, if you prefer)
2 ½ tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking soda
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, roughly cut into cubes
100g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
large baking tray lined with baking parchment
1) Preheat oven to 160°C.
2) If using a food processor (super quick), pour in all the dry ingredients and whizz to combine. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes like damp sand. If making by hand, in a large bowl stir together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and rub into the dry mixture with your fingertips until it reaches a damp sand-like consistency.
3) In a small pan over a low heat, pour in the syrup and treacle, and stir until combined and warm. Pour into the sand-like mixture, and pulse until it just about comes together into a dough, taking care not to over mix. If making by hand, pour the treacle into the sand-like mixture, and stir together until it forms a dough.
4) Make the cookies by breaking off pieces of the dough with your hands and rolling them into a sphere. I make each one 35g to ensure that they bake consistently. Then space the spheres on a baking tray at least 5cm apart. Place in the preheated oven to bake for 8-12 minutes until golden but soft to the touch. They will continue to bake once removed from the oven so taking them out slightly underdone ensures that they have a chewy centre.
5) Allow to cool before eating (they will be too friable when straight out of the oven), then devour. Once cool, they can be kept in a sealed airtight box in a freezer for up to 3 months.
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Do your ears hang low? Well, attached or unattached, furry or fuzzy, chunky or petite, this recipe is an ode to the earlobe.
Specifically, it is a celebration of stretched earlobes, whether those of an 85-year-old glamazon who refuses to compromise on opulence in pursuit of practicality or pain avoidance, and has transformed the once-small piercing pin pricks into gaping chasms by the weight of her bejewelled, solid gold hoops. Or the nonchalant indie who has plugged and gouged and strained their lobes to form human wind tunnels.
Like stretched lobes, these sesame studded bagels are not your standard chewy round.
They are a rare sight in the UK, only occasionally vaguely mimicked by the odd fougasse dangling in the windows of French bakeries. Though related to those that are more common sighted, Jerusalem bagels are elegantly elongated, less chewy, more fluffy, yet with a crusty exterior (I’m on the topic of bread now, not lobes). And the Jerusalem bagel is in no way a lesser version – being a rarer breed and a much more fun shape to nibble (yes, still on bagels), I actually prefer them. They are also easier to bake: the absence of the boiling stage means less room for error, and no witch-hunting of wet doughy rounds, bobbing up and down and falling apart in vats of boiling water.
If you are intimidated by bread-baking, do not be.
These are extremely simple, and though the process from flour to end-product takes a while, they are very undemanding in terms of action – the sesame seed dipping is, in fact, rather satisfying from a pre-school art class perspective. Feel free to halve the mixture if you want fewer bagels, though they are so delicious and addictive it’s probably not worth it.... Also, do have a play around with ingredients: you could try poppy, flax, sunflower, or nigella seeds, as well as sprinkling the bagels with cheddar cheese or parmesan if you aren’t vegan.
750ml warmed, unsweetened almond milk (can substitute with oat, or another neutral-flavoured, unsweetened plant-based milk)
21g active dry instant yeast (3 sachets)
60g caster sugar
500g strong white flour (+ extra flour for dusting surfaces)
500g white spelt flour
4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp olive oil
100g white sesame seeds
15g black sesame seeds
4 tbsp boiling water
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey if you’re not vegan)
3 baking trays lined with baking parchment
1) In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a large stand-alone bowl, stir together warmed milk, yeast and sugar. Pour in all the flour (apart from that to be used for dusting the surface), salt and baking powder and stir to combine into dough.
2) If using a mixer, knead the dough for about five minutes on a low speed with a dough hook. If making by hand, pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand until soft, smooth and springy. It may be slightly sticky, but try to avoid adding too much flour as this will make the bagels dry and tough. Even if I use the dough hook, I take the dough out to knead by hand for the last minute.
3) Coat the inside of a bowl with the olive oil, place the dough inside and cover with cling film or a tea towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.
4) When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it on to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. You can approximate this by quartering the dough and dividing each quarter into five pieces. Or you can weigh it: each piece should be about 85g. Then gently roll each into a ball. To make the Jerusalem bagel shape, take each ball of dough and press your thumb through the centre to create a hole. Whilst keeping the dough even in diameter, gently stretch the hole into an oval so the bagel is about 11 cm long. Place each back on the floured surface and allow to rest and rise for 15 minutes.
5) Preheat the oven to 200C. Make the topping by mixing the water, pomegranate molasses and agave/honey in a bowl. Then pour the mixture into a small tray or large flat-based bowl. On another tray, mix together the black and white sesame seeds (or whichever other seeds you are using). Taking each bagel lobe, dip it first (on one side only) into the water molasses mix, then into the sesame, so that one side is coated in sesame seeds. Then place it on the tray lined with baking parchment. If the bagel stretches a bit, that is fine. Repeat with the rest of the bagels, spacing them at least 3 or 4cm apart, and allow them to rest again for a further 10 minutes.
6) Place them in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes until they are deep golden and crusty on the outside. Once baked, transfer the bagels to a baking rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day of baking (and it will be a miracle if they last beyond a day). However, if you want to save them for another time, you can freeze them as soon as they have cooled for up to three months in an airtight container.
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I feel immense joy when I see canapés floating along the horizon of a wine-soaked room. Salty, crunchy, flavour-filled bites to pop into your mouth and stave off hunger. But in reality, the canapés path is far more obstacle- laden. Here are a few of the typical scenarios that I have endured, or have watched others enduring:
- The hidden two- biter: where you hesitate over whether to put the whole thing in your mouth, decide to go for it and then have to find a way to swivel the thing around inside your cheeks until it becomes vaguely chewable, all while trying to hold down a conversation
- The crumbler – this one disintegrates before it even reaches your mouth. This doesn’t necessarily result in interrupted conversation, but ends up being problematic when you shake hands with someone and end up leaving a stick, flaky deposit in their palm
- The burner – you were warned about the heat but went for it anyway. If you were alone you would probably spit it out, but in the interests of politeness and retaining friends, you endure a scorched oesophagus
- The stringer – this is reserved for molten- cheese filled croquetas. Delicious, yes, but they leave the unsuspecting devourer s with frills around their lips reminiscent of Futurama’s Zoiburg.
The following will help you steer clear of the above pitfalls: small, savoury and succulent, these are the perfect canapés. Indeed, they are suitable for consumption at any time. They are crisp on the outside and soft and light inside, flecked with molted feta and cheddar, and with a hint of the more exotic nigella seeds. This recipe makes 18 but I would urge you to double it as they are so addictive. They are also ridiculously easy and quick to conjure up.
NB. these can be made gluten-free by simply substituting spelt flour with gluten-free)
Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones (makes 18)
100g sour cream
2 tbsp milk
80g mature cheddar cheese, grated
80g feta, roughly diced into 0.5cm cubes
50g unsalted butter, cold and roughly diced into ¾ cm cubes
200g white spelt flour (can substitute with plain flour or gluten-free)
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp nigella seeds
[optional: ½ tsp cayenne pepper]
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
1 large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
1) Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl by hand, or in a food mixer fitted with a paddle, briefly mix together the sour cream, milk, cheddar, feta and butter. Pour in the flour, baking powder, salt and nigella seeds (and cayenne if using), and mix until just combined into a dough. You may need to knead the dough by hand very slightly for it to come together.
2) Place dough onto a floured surface, pat into a square and roll it out to roughly 2.5cm thickness. Slice the dough into nine squares, like a noughts and crosses board, and then slice the squares diagonally to form 18 triangles.
3) Arrange the triangles on the baking tray, leaving at least 3cm between them. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on the outside. They are best devoured immediately or on the day of baking.
Adapted from Honey & Co's "Food From the Middle East" recipe for Bouikos
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It’s on an almost daily basis that I find my thoughts converging on that scene in Matilda: Bruce vs the chocolate cake – moist, dense, dark, and yes, revolting. It’s a tempting challenge, and only on a handful of occasions in my life have I come close to those chocolatey depths (or heights, depending on your perspective).
The first time was at my 9th birthday party which took place in the civilized private room of a pottery painting shop, surrounded by friends from my all-girls school, all politely detailing their teacups with flowers, and hearts, and stars. The birthday cake arrived, tall and majestic, lavishly enrobed in sumptuous swathes of soft chocolate buttercream.
All I can say in mitigation of what was to come was that at least I waited until my slice was placed in a bowl. But then the urge became overpowering, and it was with unbridled joy that I plunged my face into my bowl and into the luscious embrace of the cake.
But my Bruce experiences don’t end there. I waited a further nine years until I was at university, when a five pence coin thrown into a neighbour’s dessert meant that it had to be devoured without cutlery. This was a curse to many, but an opportunity I wholeheartedly seized. Why waste time on cutlery when you can cut to the chase, pig-in-trough style, with an audience?
The desire was mostly satisfied then but I still dream up opportunities to replicate it. I imagine this cake would be peak territory for such caveman antics: a base layer of moist and rich chocolate cake (ticks the Bruce box), a golden middle tier of coffee cake, and a fluffy vanilla sponge top tier. The buttercream is deeply chocolatey with a pinch of salt to counteract the sweetness, and the cake is topped with a mirror ganache drip glaze (easier to do than you may think). Nigella famously writes in her recipe: “Feeds twelve, or one with a broken heart”. This feeds twenty, or one with an overpowering Man vs Food, Matilda’s Bruce desire.
Although this cake has multiple elements and steps it is not difficult to carry out.
- If you wish to have all three layers identical, then just triple the quantity of one cake.
- Feel free to experiment with buttercreams as well (for example, vanilla, coffee, or caramel).
- Additionally, I use dark fruits to decorate the cake, but you can keep it plain, or venture down more chocolatey routes. It is also delicious kept simple, without the mirror chocolate ganache.
- This is effectively three cakes in one so you can just make one of the cakes, and make a third of the icing in which to cloak it.
- The chocolate cake recipe makes slightly more than necessary, hence the muffin cups into which the excess mixture is poured – a bonus in my book…
The vanilla and coffee cakes:
450g unsalted butter, at room temperature
450g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp milk
8 large eggs, at room temperature
450g self-raising flour, sieved
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tsp boiling water
The chocolate cake:
400g plain flour
250g caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
50 high quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
140g soured cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted
125g corn or vegetable oil
300ml cold water
Salted cocolate buttercream:
250g high quality 70% dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter, at room temperature
680g icing sugar, sieved
½ tsp salt
4 tsp vanilla extract
Mirror chocolate ganache:
100g double cream
100g high quality 70% dark chocolate
3 (or 2 if you wash one up in between making vanilla/coffee and chocolate cakes) x 20cm diameter round cake tins, buttered, with the base lined with a circle of baking parchment
1 muffin tin with 5 muffin cases
piping bag fitted with a 2-3mm round nozzle
The vanilla cake and the coffee cake:
1) Preheat fan oven to 180C. In a large bowl with a spoon, or in a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat together butter and sugar for about 3 minutes until the mixture turns fluffy, soft and almost white. Beat in the vanilla and milk.
2) Then beat in one egg at a time alternating each egg with a tablespoon of flour. Don’t panic if it looks slightly curdled, as this is normal. Add in the rest of the flour and salt and, by hand, gently fold them into the mixture.
3) Pour half the mixture into one of the lined baking tins – this is the vanilla cake. For the coffee cake, add in the dissolved espresso powder into the remaining mixture and fold in gently. Pour into the second baking tin and place both in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. After 30 minutes, you may need to cover them with tinfoil to prevent the surface from burning.
4) Once cooked, remove from oven and place on a rack to cool.
The chocolate cake:
1) Preheat fan oven to 180C. Into a large bowl, sieve all the dry ingredients and mix through. In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, soured cream and vanilla.
2) In a third, large bowl, either by hand or in a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat together oil, butter and water until combined. Into this bowl, pour the dry ingredients and fold gently to combine. Then pour in the egg, cream, vanilla mixture and fold gently together until smooth and just combined.
3) Pour off 300g of the mixture into a separate bowl and divide equally between 5 muffin cases. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place muffins and large cake in the oven. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, and the large cake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Check the large cake after 30 minutes, as you make need to cover it with tinfoil to prevent the surface from burning. Once cooked through, remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool.
The salted chocolate buttercream:
1) Melt the chocolate in a bowl sitting on top of a pan of boiling water (don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl containing chocolate). Set the melted chocolate aside to cool slightly.
2) In a mixer fitted with a paddle, or in a large bowl with a spoon, beat together the icing sugar and butter until combined. Pour in the melted chocolate, salt and vanilla, and beat once more until combined.
The chocolate mirror ganache:
1) Make this only once the cake is iced. Heat the double cream in a small pan over a medium heat until it just begins to bubble. Remove from heat immediately and stir in the chocolate until it has melted and both combine into a glossy ganache.
1) The cakes should be of equal depth, so line the three cakes alongside each other and, with a long-serrated knife, slice the domes off each to make them even. I then place the cakes in the freezer for 10 minutes as it makes them easier to ice.
2) Place the chocolate cake on the stand on which you wish to serve the cake. This will be the bottom most layer. Place about a fifth of the icing mixture on top and spread it carefully with a spatula. Place the coffee cake directly on top and repeat, finally placing the vanilla layer on top.
3) At this point, if you are impatient, you can continue to ice the rest of the cake with the remaining buttercream, and proceed directly to stage 4. If, however, you want to ice the cake perfectly, it is advisable to do a crumb layer. This involves placing another fifth of the buttercream on the top of the cake and using a spatula to spread it evenly in as thin layer as possible around the cake, coating and filling any irregularities or gaps so that the sides and top are totally smooth and flat. Once this is done, place the cake in the fridge for a further 30 minutes until the icing is slightly hard to the touch. Remove from the fridge, and place the remaining icing onto the top of the cake and use a spatula to spread it off the top and around the sides. I dip the spatula in hot water to help achieve a smooth result. Place the cake back in the fridge while making the ganache.
4) Spoon a third of the ganache into the piping bag. Begin by drawing a line round the edge of the cake surface as a border. Then to make a drip, hold the piping bag very still with the nozzle pointing directly down, and put consistent pressure on the bag to allow the drop to fall from the edge down the side of the cake. Stop when the drip is nearly at the length you want. Continue along the edge of the cake making drips of different lengths. Once this is done, pour the remaining ganache onto the top of the cake and spread with a spatula to cover the surface.
5) Top with dark fruits or any decoration of choice, and serve.
All cake recipes are adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake and Victoria Sponge Cake recipes
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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.
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Entremets, soufflés, macarons, choux buns - even making ciabatta, a two day process, which culminates in a dough whose tenacious elasticity has been known to reduce some people to tears - I’ve generally met their challenges.
However, hubris met nemesis a couple of weeks ago. I came home to the nutty toasted perfume of a new recipe my mom had tried out: ridiculously simple, five ingredient coconut wafers so thin you could see the sunset through them, so tender that they crumbled in anticipation of hitting one’s tongue, and so light and moreish that a second batch was immediately required in order to satisfy my family’s greed.
I duly crumbed, clumped, chilled, and sliced. “Make them thinner,” my mom said. And I did, each slice crumbling into thousands of buttery coconut crumbs. I pressed them together and started again. And again. Unfortunately, it was only my patience that turned out thin, and the petulant three year old in me ended up scooping together the entire mixture and, from a height, throwing it down onto the tray.
Finally, I managed to get the fragments to coagulate by adding water. Things went more smoothly, but the biscuits, when baked, were slightly tougher, less flaky and less moreish than the original batch. Nevertheless, my brother took them to university. One of his friends, suffering from tonsillitis, reached into the box of biscuits, and in taking out one, touched many. The rest were binned, mostly due to the possibility of their having being infected with tonsillitis, but clearly not delicious enough to warrant risking it – a failure in my book.
After nursing my crumbled confidence for several days I swerved off the rocky path of coconut wafers to try my hand at financiers. I have always admired them - perfectly bite sized and innocent- looking with the flush of raspberry in the centre. They are also simple to make, requiring few ingredients, and turning out both delicious and delicate.
The history is much debated, but some say they were create by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and then adapted by a French baker, Lasne, to sell in the Parisian financial district where their almond content allowed them to keep well in the pockets of bankers.
They are elegant and dainty, slightly crunchy on the outside, the tender blond crumb perfumed with a slight orange tang and moistened by the burst of raspberry. They do keep rather well and would bless a summer’s picnic.
Makes 30 (approx)
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
160g icing sugar
140g ground almonds
1/2 tsp salt
200g egg whites (6 large eggs)
1/4 tsp almond extract
zest of 1/4 orange
60g raspberries (minimum of 30 raspberries i.e. 1 per financier)
Very well-greased and flour- dusted 3 x 12 hole mini cupcake tins (with 2.5cm diameter circles) OR 1 to be used 3 times
- Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. When completely melted, stir the bottom of the pan continuously until the butter turns a deep gold colour and nutty in aroma. Set aside to cool.
- Sieve the flour and icing sugar into large bowl. Stir in the ground almonds and salt. Once combined, pour in the egg whites, almond extract, zest and slightly cooled butter and stir to fully combine. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Spoon the batter into the holes until each is two thirds full. Press a raspberry into the centre of each - the batter should rise to all the way to the top.
- Place in the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes or until light gold in colour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (to avoid them becoming soggy) or devour immediately.
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.
Afternoon tea. What do you think of when someone says those words? Tiers of fluffy isosceles sandwiches, miniature entremets layered with fruit, caramel, and chocolate, and maybe a scone glistening with strawberries. Crisp napkins, high ceilings, the tinkling of fine bone china…
Near where I live there is an Austrian tea room. The window is filled with garish glace cherry- adorned, deflated pastries, crusted squiggles of festering cream, and opera cake melding into a brown sludge. It opened 60 years ago, and the décor and pastries appear not to have been refreshed since.
Inside, it is dark and cramped, and the airless atmosphere is thickened with hot breath and the oversweet smell of fat and sugar.
Their Linzer biscuits, however, remind me of Jammie Dodgers – those jam-filled, shortbread biscuits of my childhood that only other people’s mothers allowed – and inspired me to re- interpret them.
These have a slight Moroccan edge: spiced, delicate with a slight chewiness, filled with the tangy conserve of your choice.
I like marmalade for the tart/bitter contrast against the sweetness of the pastry, but strawberry also works well. Of course, you can go for any shape, but I am rather taken by the cog-like –quirky take on a Jammie Dodger look.
290g (10.125 ounces) white spelt flour (or plain flour if unavailable)
140g (5 ounces) ground almonds
100g (3.5 ounces) caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp almond extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest (about ½ lemon)
1 tsp grated orange zest (about ½ medium orange)
225g (8 ounces) unsalted butter
200g (7 ounces) marmalade or jam of choice (I used marmalade and strawberry)
30g (1 ounce) icing sugar
Large and small cookie cutters (I used 7cm and 3.5cm diameter rings)
2 large baking sheets, lined with baking parhcment
- Pour flour, ground almonds, caster sugar, salt cinnoman, cloves,orange and lemons zest, and almond extract into a food processor and pulse until fully combined. Add in the chopped butter and pulse again until the mixture forms a damp sand-like texture. Keep pulsing until it clumps tighter to form a dough.
- Divide the dough into two rounds and flatten both onto sheets of baking parchment, wrap them and place them in the freezer for about 20 minutes or the fridge for an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 160˚C (325˚F). Remove the disks of dough from the freezer/fridge – if they are too firm to roll, let them sit for a few minutes. Ona thoroughly floured board, roll one disk out to a 3mm (1/8 inch) thickness. Cut out as many cookies as possible and set aside the scraps. Space the disks out on the baking trays as you go. Repeat with the second disk and use the smaller cutter to cut out small holes from the rounds. Press together the accumulated scraps and roll out again. Make sure there are an equal number of whole circles to circles with a cut out circle. A tip to avoid the cutter sticking in the dough is to dip it in flour first.
- Place the trays in the oven and bake for 12- 15 minutes until the cookies are golden but still soft to the touch – they will continue to cook as they cool. When cool, for aesthetic effect, sieve the icing sugar onto the rounds with the circles cut out of them. Then spread a teaspoon of the jam/marmalade onto the complete circles, and lightly press the cut-out layer on top. Devour, delicately, of course…
What’s your crumble-to-fruit ratio? If you’re the kind who favours a preponderance of stewed fruit with an insubstantial fairy dusting of oaty-flour, turn away now. If you lean towards the lavish when it comes to crumble proportion - good. Read on…
I have experienced many a crumble: from damson to mulberry to cherry to apple, from autumn to winter to spring to summer. But regardless of the lusciousness of the interior, the crumbles that garner the most attention, that leave people scratching way at the remaining crumbs that have become forged to the side of the pan in yearning for more, are the ones with a superabundance of crumble topping.
Crunchy, nutty, warming and eminently comforting – this is what a good crumble should be. Enough so that you don’t worry about rationing the crumble in your bowl to suit the amount of fruit – enough so that every mouthful has a good proportion of both.
A good crumble, as with so many things, should leave you wanting more.
But what if you don’t want to have to face the risk of eating the whole pot by mistake – or at least you if do want to be able to eat the whole lot, do so in a more measured way?
What if you want to extend the experience beyond the comfort of your kitchen i.e. a portable crumble?
Try these – fruity, nutty, fresh, and summery, with a subtle tang and not overly-sweet. They are extremely quick and easy to make and, more importantly, the crumble–to-fruit ratio is verging on perfect…
½ tsp baking powder
210g white spelt flour (substitute any flour of your choice: plain, gluten-free or otherwise)
115g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
¼ tsp salt
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of ½ orange
2 generous cups of strawberries, quartered
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (substitute with 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract if unavailable)
20g unsalted butter
30g finely chopped walnuts (remove if allergic)
50g white spelt flour (substitute with any flour of your choice, plain, gluten-free or otherwise)
Pinch of salt
20cm x 20cm tin lined with baking parchment (or a pan of similar area)
- Preheat oven to 190˚C. Pour sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, and zest in a blender and pulse to combine. Add butter and egg, and pulse until fully combined and has reached a slightly clumpy, damp sand consistency. Pour this into the lined baking pan, and press down to create an even base layer.
- In a bowl, stir together chopped strawberries, orange juice, orange zest and cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the base layer (including the fruit juices.)
- Make the topping by pulsing together the butter, sugar, oats, flour and salt until fully combined and sand-like in texture. Stir in the walnuts, then sprinkle the mixture over the strawberries.
- Bake in oven for 30 – 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the base is cooked through. Make sure to check after 20 minutes - you may need to cover the crumble with tin foil to prevent the top from catching (depending on your oven’s temperament). Once cooked, remove from the oven and slice into squares. Eat immediately or later.
I am often asked how it is that I am not obese. I am by no means super skinny, but people wonder how I avoid rolling around the place when I am seemingly baking the whole time and have little resistance to delicious things. So, here’s my secret. Have a go.
What I need: a running machine; a radio; an oven; a timer
What I do:
Pour the batter into the cake tin, lovingly smooth the surface over with a spatula. One lick of the spatula before it goes in the sink (just a little indulgence). Carefully open the oven door, and bend down slowly so that the batter remains level. Place the cake tin tenderly on the rack. Set the oven timer. 22 minutes. Then GO.
Run up the stairs, two at a time. That’s one minute either side to rush back down. Turn up the radio. Leap on to the treadmill, and run. 10 mph minimum. 20 mins to go. Sweat, pound, sweat. 15 mins. Beyoncé’s screaming. Oven beeps. Run back down (Beyoncé’s mumbling). Open oven door, skewer the cake. Damn - not cooked. Rip out a sheet of tin foil. Cover the cake. Burn hand. Set timer: 7 mins more. Repeat process until skewer comes out clean. Place cake on rack and allow to cool.
Stretch and shower.
Hover over the cake with a knife.
You can make the cake sans-icing by simply halving the recipe and, before serving, dusting with a little icing sugar.
200g butter, at room temperature
170g caster sugar
30g light brown muscovado sugar
2 tbsp ground coffee
¼ tsp salt
70g toasted walnuts, ground to a fine sand
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp instant coffee, dissolved in as little hot water as possible to make a smooth paste
240g self-rising flour, sieved
2 x 8 inch cake tins, greased and with bases lined with a circle of baking parchment
40g golden syrup
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp instant coffee
100ml boiling water
300g butter, at room temperature
450g icing sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in as little hot water as possible to make a smooth paste
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp water
- Preheat oven to 180˚C. Using an electric mixer, or with a vigorous hand, in a large bowl beat together the butter, caster sugar, muscovado, ground coffee and salt until light and fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, vanilla and dissolved instant coffee. Beat this into the butter-sugar-coffee-salt mix. Once combined, stir in the ground walnuts.
- Finally, gently fold the sieved flour into the mixture, being careful not to overbeat. Divide the mixture between the two tins and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes (checking after 20) or until a skewer comes out clean.
- While the cakes are baking, make the coffee syrup. Dissolve the instant coffee in the water and pour into a small pan along with the syrup and sugar. On a medium high heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to simmer for 5 minutes or until it thickens slightly to the consistency of maple syrup.
- Remove cakes from oven. Stab them all over with a cake tester or skewer, and spoon the syrup equally over the two cakes. Set aside on a rack and allow to cool.
- Beat together butter and icing sugar. Once combined, beat in the vanilla, coffee and salt.
- Remove the cakes from tins, place one on the serving plate and spread ¼ of the icing on its surface. Place the other cake on top and spread the icing evenly over the cake.
- In a shallow pan, over a medium-high heat, stir together water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Then pour in the walnuts, and continue to stir and coat them until all the water has evaporated. Decant them on to a sheet of baking parchment, and allow them to cool.
- Once cool, chop roughly, and scatter as desired over the cake.
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.
I never caught on to the Disney hype – I endured a few of the films when I was younger but was never enthralled by its saccharine princesses and unrealistic princes. I rejected the dressing up stage of childhood, and have none of the nostalgia that is awakened in many when hearing or singing the songs. My only knowledge of Lion King is from Cindies (arguably the stickiest night club in Cambridge) which is played for 30 seconds without fail every Wednesday evening to excite the Disney addicts and to jolt inebriated students out of their drunken kisses.
What I did love was the sugar-glazed brutality of the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film.
I adored the Chocolate Room, and my six year old self spent a lot of time fantasising about edible wallpaper and edible TV adverts. However, the first scene, where