I wanted chocolate. I wanted peanuts. I wanted caramel. And so came together three revered ingredients to make this simple but deeply luscious dessert. I admit to a glimmer of inspiration from the Season 11 contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, the drag queen with the moniker Silky Nutmeg Ganache. But apart from that, I attribute this recipe to greed.
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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.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Rovi is everything Palomar is not.
Palomar is dark and claustrophobia-inducing. You have to squeeze past ten diners’ bums on bar stools to enter the restaurant, itself a tight, gloomy, un-windowed space. Rovi is spacious, vibrant and airy, the tables circling the room with enough space between them to avoid conversation leakage. The waiters are friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and the open kitchen flashes in the background, fulfilling the promise of the restaurant concept of “fire and fermentation”.
I’ve had multiple debates about small plates, my distaste for them reaching fresh heights at Palomar. Done badly (as in the aforementioned restaurant), they are lazy and mean. In the case of Rovi, however, the opposite is true.
The meal started with hot spiced butter beans that melted on the tongue. They were an on- the-house opener, which was a nice touch. These were swiftly followed by the tempura stems with Szechuan, mandarin and kaffir lime vinegar, the batter so light and so crisp that I crunched my way out of previous tempura-ambivalence.
The spaghetti squash followed, its rich, sweet resplendence counterbalanced with the cold zestiness of the ezme and mandarin yoghurt. Next came the hasselback beets - lifted from their unassuming earthy roots, caramelised and roasted without being messed around with unnecessarily.
I hate to bore you with endless eulogizing but I cannot fail to mention how the red cabbage was glorious with little pops of sweetness from the grapes, or how the celeriac shawarma was so cleverly elevated from the oft-scorned and rejected vegetable that often assumes a mouldy jacket in the bottom of my fridge, to a crispy, umami, centre stage.
Dessert came in the form of fig clafoutis, olive oil and lemon ice cream, and plum and juniper doughnuts, bay leaf cream, and almonds. All was delicate and light, sweet, but not teeth –curdlingly so. But the winner was the salted miso caramels, so good that if I concentrate hard enough I can summon up again their umami, caramelized fudgy- sweet/ savouriness.
Unfortunately, I can’t conjure up any negatives to indulge anyone's schadenfreude (if you’re looking for that, click here). I can, however, thoroughly recommend the well-balanced, carefully flavoured food served in Rovi. This is Ottolenghi at his best, contrasting textures, flavours and temperatures, and pushing ingredients to their limits.
Good for: brunch, family lunch, vegetarians, vegetable-lovers, Ottolenghi obsessives, healthy eating
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.
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…
Last week I went to a blind wine-tasting in a stuffy carpeted room on the top floor of a Mayfair pub. On the table, columns of bottles were massed, awaiting palatal analysis and identification. One of the sweaty, post-work crowd sidled up to me and refused to leave my side the entire evening. Not for any flattering reason: he had arrived drunk at the alcohol imbibition. The sole potential benefit of his presence was his vaunted knowledge of wines, gained from downing over fifty years’ worth of ethanol. Wine after wine he sipped, swirled, glugged, holding each up to the window despite the fading light. Glass after glass he swigged and squirted from one side of his mouth to the other, patting his lips, flipping his tongue up to his palette in order “to catch the aftertaste”, sucking and squelching. “Taste the vanilla in that”, “feel the syrupy smoothness of this”, he said, nodding sagely. 1/9 of his answers were correct…
To me, this is all a manifestation of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome which may sometimes be applied to Michelin-starred restaurants. Do I really want to dine on fussy little squiggles of substance that I have to chase with another globule of something or other so that the perfect scientific reaction can effervesce at the back end of my tongue? However, Jason Atherton’s soon to be double Michelin-starred flagship is not in this category. An idyll amongst the raucous, tourist-ridden bustle of Regent Street, Pollen Street Social sits opposite its sister restaurant, Little Social (see review here). Its style is unfussy, open, and clean, with attention to detail: even our bags were given individual stools.
Before we had even turned the page of the menu, a selection of amuse bouches materialised: dainty sweet corn muffins topped with delicate swirls of dill and cucumber cream, beetroot and blackberry filled tuiles that burst with sweet vinegary freshness, and my favourite, a Jerusalem artichoke crème. These were followed by cups of mushroom consommé topped with delicate parmesan foam, salty and meaty while being vegetarian.
To start, I chose the neeps and tatties in a mushroom ragout- a wonderful coil of tender turnip ribbons generously grated with umami Berkswell cheese. I could have easily devoured my dining companions’ portions as well.
Out of the whirr and buzz there then appeared the sprightly figure of Tiziano, the junior manager, who filled the room with his energy and excitable charm. He whisked me off to view the upstairs kitchen and the pass – a dark, orange- lit forge, tantalisingly situated behind glass.
It was sprung with energy but, unlike the amped up drama so often portrayed on TV, it was at the same time controlled and calm. Whilst fixing plates, advising chefs on the pass, and approving the dishes that flowed past us on wooden board, Dale (Head Chef) talked me through the dishes.
Our main courses were served as soon as I returned to my seat: the juiciest of chicken breast with a skin so crisp that even I (spurner of skin) couldn’t resist – its earthy savouriness was contrasted with the little pops of peas and broad beans, underpinned once more by the seasonal buttery, almost molten, girolles. The wild garlic flowers added to the dish with their fresh savouriness. My dining companions’ lamb and gnocchi dishes were also successes, although if there were any criticism it would be the mushroom theme that was developing throughout the vegetarian dishes – a non fungi fan would have had difficulty. In addition, my companion found some of the mushrooms somewhat too heavily salted.
We decamped to the dessert bar to watch the pastry chefs practising their craft. First, a palate cleanser which was one of the highlights of the meal, straddling the line between savoury and sweet, and without risking losing stomach room for dessert: light yogurt foam with fairy-thin shards of meringue and a verdant and astringent basil sorbet.
We watched as cylinders of tempered chocolate were filled with an aerated milk mousse and crumbled sticky and crunchy caramelised puffed rice. A chocolate disc was delicately placed on top like a lid, and adorned with a gold leaf foil, and then accompanied by a rocher of honey ice cream. My dining companions' poached berries with lime and cream cheese sorbet with honey sugar tuile were also a hit. These were chased by a velvety chocolate mousse, and an almond and cherry financier, and a passion fruit and blood orange pâté de fruit, as well as a hazelnut crème entremets for the road…just in case.
Delicious, unfussy, comfortable and exciting – this is one of the finest dining experiences I have had in the last few years. And I can say that without any fear of an emperor’s new clothes diagnosis.
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 refuse to believe that the macaron is simply a fad. Admittedly, there was a craze which saw the opening of several French macaron boutiques in London. I shan’t name names but one of the largest French specialists does not even make them fresh in London. Instead, they import them frozen from France - in a state of hibernation, as they call it.
Despite this, the specialists remain, and the macaron is here to stay. Now that the craze has faded a little, I feel more free to write a recipe as people will be slightly less sick of the sight of the perfect ruffled shells.
Many are intimidated at the prospect of making them, but there really is no need. The rumour of the challenge in making them may well have been promulgated by the macaron specialists themselves in order to justify their extortionate pricing.
To make them extra tangy and fruity, raspberry is worked into these macarons in three ways: freeze dried raspberries, raspberry jam and raspberry liqueur. If you can’t get hold of freeze dried raspberries, just omit this element from the recipe.
Triple Raspberry Liqueur Macarons
Makes about 30 small macarons
110g icing sugar, sieved
50g ground almonds, blitzed in a blender to a fine powder, and sieved
5g freeze dried raspberry powder OR 10g freeze dried raspberries, crushed or whole (see below)
60g egg whites (about 2 eggs' worth)
40g caster sugar
A couple of drops of pink food dye (optional)
200g seedless raspberry am
4 tbsp Chambord (raspberry liqueur)
2 large baking trays lined with baking parchment – if you wish to achieve perfectly circular macarons, create guidelines for the piping by drawing in pencil round a 4cm bottle lid repeatedly on the greaseproof paper, leaving at least 4cm between each circle. Flip it over after doing this to ensure that the pencil does not transfer to the macaron
Piping bag fitted with 0.5cm nozzle
- In a large bowl, mix together the sieved icing sugar, ground almonds and freeze dried raspberry powder. If you can only get hold of crushed or whole freeze dried raspberries, place these in a blender and blitz until they are as pulverised as possible, and then sieve to remove the seeds. You should be left with a fine red dust.
- Pour egg whites into the bowl of a bone dry electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk at a high speed until soft, foamy peaks form. Then, with the whisk still ongoing, add in the caster sugar, a tablespoonful at a time. Keep whisking until the meringue is glossy and firm peaks form.
- Take a third of the meringue and mix it into the dry ingredients. If the dry ingredients don’t fully combine, stir in another tablespoon of meringue. At this point you can add a couple of drops of food dye to reach desired colour - anything from baby girl to schiaparelli pink. The mixture should turn into a thick, smooth paste. Then, gradually fold in the rest of the meringue, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture becomes glossy and smooth.
- Spoon mixture in the piping bag and pipe little dots directly onto the corners of the baking tray to stick the baking parchment down. Then pipe the mixture into each circle. Once finished piping, tap the tray down firmly on a hard surface a couple of times to remove the air bubbles from the macarons. Then set the macarons aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. This will allow a skin to form and will lead to the creation of the often-elusive but essential “macaron foot”.
- While they are resting, preheat oven to 150˚C. Bake the macarons for 20 minutes or until they can be lifted off the tray cleanly with a pallet knife. Allow them to cool until they reach room temperature.
- Place raspberrry jam in a small pot over a medium-high heat and stir continuously. After it has bubbled furiously for a couple of minutes, stir in the Chambord. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until it has become more viscous and thick enough to be able to be dropped off a spoon. Remove from the stove, allow to cool for 5 minutes and then sandwich each pair of macaron shells together with a teaspoon of the mixture.
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.
Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake with Salty-Sweet Fudgy Biscuit Base & Blackcurrant Glaze
I’m at risk of sounding like one of those mindless click-bait buzzfeed articles when I say this, but I mean ever word: you’ve been eating white chocolate incorrectly your whole life.
Would you believe me if I told you that the innocent Milky Bar Kid’s saccharine white cocoa butter chocolate has a deeper, darker, more seductive side?
The corruption process is simple. All you need is:
- good quality white chocolate
After about 20 minutes, the heat will begin to convert the pool of glossy molten cocoa butter into white chocolate’s luscious evil sister. I dare you to try it.
It’s pretty sublime on its own but, if you can resist eating it all, it works deliciously well in a cheesecake. I pair it with a fudgy, salted, graham cracker-style base and an astringent blackcurrant glaze to cut through the sweetness.
Often cheesecakes call for a base simply made out of crushed store-bought cookies. I’m no stranger to doing this myself, but I’m always left with a pang of guilt for cheating. Not only does homemade biscuit base taste better, it’s chemical-free and you have much more control over the flavour balance – this one’s especially fudgy.
However, if you’re feeling lazy you can make the base using 400g digestive biscuits blitzed into crumbs with the 120g browned melted butter. If you are a coeliac just use gluten-free digestive biscuits.
You can also use non-caramelised white-chocolate. It will still taste delicious, just not anywhere near as ambrosial.
If you can’t get hold of any blackcurrants, feel free to use fresh or frozen raspberries or redcurrants instead.
This is best made the day before serving and kept in the fridge overnight. In fact, the fridge works wonders.
Salty-sweet, fudgy biscuit base
200g white spelt flour
60g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
60g unsalted butter, diced
70g clear honey
4 tsp vanilla extract
120g unsalted butter, for melting
Large baking tray, lined with baking parchment
20cm square tin (or round with similar capacity), lined with baking parchment
Caramelised white chocolate filling
300g good quality white chocolate, broken into pieces
180ml double cream
500g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or the seeds of 1 vanilla pod)
Bone dry baking tray (preferably non-stick)
Sour cream topping
220ml sour cream
40g icing sugar, sifted
80g caster sugar
3 tbsp water
100g fresh blackcurrants to decorate (optional)
Salty-sweet fudgy biscuit base
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Pour flour, sugar, bicarb, salt and diced butter into a blender and blitz until the mixture resembles damp sand. Alternatively, use your fingers to rub the butter into the other ingredients.
- Whisk together the honey, vanilla and milk. Stir this into the dry mixture to combine and form a paste-like dough.
- Spread the dough on to the baking tray in an even 0.5cm thick layer. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. If it doesn’t become dry and brittle after cooling, bake for a further 5 minutes.
- Brown the 120g of butter for melting by placing it in a pan over medium heat and allowing it to turn a golden brown before setting it aside to cool. It should give off a wonderfully nutty aroma.
- Crumble the baked biscuit into a blender with the browned melted butter, and pulse until it turns to damp sand-like consistency. Tip this out into the lined cake tin and press down to form an even layer. Place in freezer to set.
Sour cream topping
- Whisk together sour cream and icing sugar until smooth. Store in the fridge until ready to use
Caramelised white chocolate filling
- Preheat the oven to 130˚C. Pour broken white chocolate on to the tray and place in the oven. Every 10 minutes remove the chocolate from the oven, stir with a bone dry utensil, and place back in the oven. After about 30-40 minutes it will have taken on a beautiful honeyed caramel tone. As ovens vary in character and different chocolate brands vary in ingredient quality, it may take longer. The chocolate may also seize. Don’t panic if this happens: just keep going until it turns golden (I’ll explain how to proceed with this in the next step).
- Increase the oven temperature to 160˚C. Place the double cream in a small pan over a high heat. Once it begins to boil, remove from the heat and pour into it the caramelised white chocolate. Stir to combine until smooth. If the chocolate did seize in the oven, it will be lumpy. If this is the case, pour the lumpy cream and chocolate mixture in a blender and blitz until completely smooth. If a few recalcitrant lumps remain, simple sieve them out.
- Either using a stand mixer fixed with the beater or a hand held whisk, beat the cream cheese together with the caster sugar until completely soft and smooth. Beat in the cream and white chocolate caramel. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla. Pour this into the cream cheese mixture and beat until completely smooth and glossy.
- Remove the cake tin with the biscuit base from the freezer, and pour into it the filling mixture. Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours, checking after 45 minutes. If it begins to go brown, cover with tin foil and continue to bake for the full time.
- Keeping the oven on, remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Spread the sour cream topping in an even layer over the surface of the cake. Place the cheesecake back in the oven, switch off the oven and leave its door slightly ajar while the cheesecake sets inside for a further 1 ½ hours.
- When the cheesecake reaches room temperature, remove from the oven, cover the cake tin with cling film, and place it in the fridge to allow it to set over night, or place it in the freezer for a couple of hours.
- Place 200g blackcurrants, caster sugar and water in a small pan over a high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. When it begins to boil, reduce heat slightly and allow it to simmer for 5-10 minutes or until it thickens to a viscosity like that of maple syrup. Strain the mixture through a sieve and place the liquid back in the pan to simmer for a further 3 minutes.
- Allow the syrup to cool slightly then carefully pour it over the chilled cheesecake. Scatter with fresh blackcurrants and serve.
And then there is the ramasse-miettes: I love the scrape of the metal across the tablecloth sweeping away evidence of earlier greed, heralding a new course winging its way across from the kitchens, and reassuring one that the meal isn’t over yet. I love, too, the re-laying of the tablecloth – a delicate procedure, in which the fresh tablecloth, crackling with starch, is laid across the table while the old cloth is simultaneously peeled back without allowing a crude sliver of the denuded table to be seen - comparable in some ways to a very discreet changing of a baby’s nappy.
There is no such pleasure in a flimsy sheet of paper scrunched up after each course to be replaced with another. Fine if I’m going to Wagamama, or a corrugated iron hipster hotspot. Not fine if I’m dining at a refined and traditional Mayfair institution - in this case, Scott’s - and paying commensurate prices .
I imagine the oyster bar, the focal point of the room, might be appropriate for a boring date. The whizzing by of waiters bearing stunned seafood reclining on ice crystal cairns would provide enough distraction to fill any chasms of silence. The menu, like many of Richard Caring’s establishments, is extensive and includes a well-trawled ocean’s section, but it is somewhat less inspired than Le Caprice.
To start, I ordered the hot-smoked salmon: flushed and delicately flaky pieces were nestled in a tangle of pea shoots and broad beans, tied together with a green goddess dressing - a pretty dish, notwithstanding the potency of the tarragon in the dressing. My dining companion enjoyed his chargrilled squid with quinoa, spicy sausage and rocket.
Seared sea bass with lemon and herb butter followed. I am still tormented by this mis-decision. Why when there was miso-blackened salmon did I choose the least interesting thing on the menu? I blame the yuzu cocktail. The fish was fresh and cooked well, but with the bar set high by the exquisite cod with duck broth at Little Social (see review here), my expectations were not met.
The obligatory chips were chunkier relatives of Le Caprice’s, but good nonetheless.
Three hours into the meal I expected what has now become an almost universal occurrence: the arrival of a bill-pushing waiter, willing one to leave. Much to my delight, this did not occur - so Scott’s definitely gets bonus points for service. In terms of gastronomy, Scott’s was unadventurous, good quality, unfussy and well balanced.
Ambience: 7/10 (9.5/10 if there were tablecloths)
Suitable for: Smart dates, celebrations, business lunches, seafood lovers
I endured school lunches for four years and then abandoned them. Waking up twenty minutes early to throw together a packed lunch seemed worth it at the time. My school lunches weren’t even bad. In fact, they were probably rather good – good enough to avoid having Jamie Oliver sniff his way into our school kitchen in pursuit of good TV.
What turned me (and my stomach) resided in the stainless steel vats adjacent to the desserts: pools of lurid yellow purulence (custard).
Notwithstanding my decade old aversion, I decided to venture into custard territory last week. And I found my cure: lemon curd-filled tarts.
Made using both lemon juice and zest, paired with a lemon-infused tart shell, and partnered with fresh berries, these make a tangy and refreshing summer dessert.
I use spelt flour in the pastry to add extra nuttiness and depth of flavour. It also has a lower GI than wheat flour. However, if you can't find it, you can substitute plain flour.
Lemon tart shells
360g white spelt flour (substitute with plain flour if unavailable)
110g icing sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ tsp salt
190g cold unsalted butter, roughly chopped into small cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cold water
A 10cm pastry cutter
1 12-hole cupcake tin, greased with butter and then placed in fridge to chill
Baking beads or rice to weigh down the pastry while it bakes
12 cupcake cases
Finely grated zest of 4 lemons
200 ml lemon juice (4-6 lemons)
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
4 medium egg yolks
180g unsalted butter
1 baking tray with lipped sides
Icing sugar for dusting
Lemon pastry tart shells
- Blend together flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor, and add in butter, pulsing to combine until the mixture resembles damp sand. Alternatively, if working manually, mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and rub the butter in with your fingers.
- Pour the egg yolk, vanilla and water into the mixture and pulse/stir until the mixture just comes together. Flatten the pastry dough into a disc , wrap in baking parchment/cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour, or freezer for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
- On a floured surface, roll half the dough out to the thickness of 2 or 3 mm, and cut the pastry into discs using the pastry cutter. Gently press the pastry discs into the prepared cupcake tin. You will find that there is some dough left over. This can be frozen for about a month.
- Set the cupcake cases into the pastry shells and fill them with the baking beads/rice to weigh the pastry down and prevent it from losing its shape during the bake.
- Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden and firm to touch. If they have not turned golden by this point, remove the baking beads/rice and cupcake cases and bake for a further 5-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. These can be made 2 or 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight container until you are ready to use them.
- Place lemon zest, juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and half the butter in a saucepan over a medium-high heat and whisk continuously while the ingredients cook together. When the mixture has thickened slightly and threatens to stick to the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat and continue to whisk for another couple of minutes until thickened, whisking all the while. Off the heat, whisk in the remaining butter until thoroughly combined. It should be smooth and glossy.
- Sieve the curd over the baking tray, and spread it out with a spatula so that only a thin layer coats the tray. Cover the surface of the lemon curd with baking parchment or cling film and place the tray in the fridge for a minimum of half an hour or until it has cooled and become slightly firmer. Alternatively, place the tray in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Arrange the pastry shells on a serving plate and spoon in the lemon curd (roughly 3 tsp per case). Top generously with the berries and dust with icing sugar just before serving. They can be kept in the fridge for up to 6 hours before serving; longer than that they tend to become soggy.
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).
There is a particular trend that is permeating the London dining scene like a contagion.
In the flurry of new openings, and novel and exotic twists on traditional gastronomies, a number of restaurateurs have become smitten with Spanish tapas, and have decided to exploit this style of cuisine for all its worth. Tapas are traditionally displayed on a menu in a long list, and served all at once, so diners can delight in dipping in and out of them with a few drinks as they please. Instead of serving a carefully structured plate of well-balanced complementary elements, the restaurants at fault are breaking the plates down into individual elements.
They call them “small plates”, and I detest them.
You’ll know that you’ve found yourself in this “small plate” trap when the waiter suggests that each person orders three, despite the fact that one is the cost of a normal large plate. Not only do they expand their profits substantially by doing this, but the effort required by the kitchen is significantly reduced. Chefs don’t need to bother about planning dishes when they can just make whatever the hell they like, call it another small plate and let the diner err when structuring their picky little meal. Oh, and these small plates seem to have a life of their own: you see, they can arrive according to their own whim and in any combination. At my most recent visit to a restaurant of this type, all vegetables were deemed unsuitable to be served with fish.
My rage against small plates had been boiling for several weeks when I decided to return to Honey & Co, where I knew my craving for a large plate could be fulfilled. Call me demanding, or even greedy, if you like. I’d been before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but sadly forgot to bring my camera. This time, however, I was armed. Itamar Srulovich and his wife Sarit Packer rule the roost at this tiny 30 cover Canaan. He’s ex- Ottolenghi - an almost guarantee of success - and the Ottolenghi influence is strongly evident in the cuisine. Décor is kept to a minimum, with stark white walls and patterned blue tiled floor forcing your eye greedily towards the focal countertop display of spiced and perfumed cakes. Despite the minimalism, there is no lack of atmosphere. Most people are so pleased to have acquired their 1.5 hour table slot that they exude an aura of excitement.
The menu is divided into starters and mains (hallelujah) – I plumped for spring salad of peas, courgettes, and warm manouri cheese with a lemon and saffron sauce. Crisp, and light with the nuttiness of the manouri and electric tang of citrus, the dish was very pleasant.
One dining companion went down the more obvious but inevitably delicious route of falafel served with a tabbouleh and tahini sauce – one of the most popular on the menu (the chefs undoubtedly roll falafel in their sleep).
The other opted for the braised artichoke with parsley za’atar and yoghurt dipping sauce.
This was rather a tame option as there only so much you can do to a whole artichoke in terms of flavour(read: very little), and so no matter how delicious the sauce the eating becomes tiresome. It resides alongside eating fish and quail on the bone in my list of things that I just don’t have time for. I can’t be bothered to fuss around with scraping a half centimetre of blandish artichoke flesh against the back of my teeth.
My main course was very good: a plate abounding with plump parcels (aka Menti) of burnt courgette and herb with olive oil braised broad beans and whipped feta, the latter adding a kick of saltiness to draw out the sweetness from the dumplings and green vegetables.
Despite the petit nature of the restaurant (even the waitresses are petite, needing to squeeze between the close-set tables), the kitchen at Honey & Co must go through roughly an entire field of mint every day. It resides proudly on almost every plate, and nor is its presence irrelevant – it lifts the earthier flavours into more summery tones, like for example, the shawarma of slow cooked lamb shoulder burnt pitta and goat’s yoghurt with amba mint and pomegranate. I’m not the greatest fan of lamb, but this dish convinced me that my prejudice was poorly founded.
The lamb was succulent, tender and sweet, and lifted to higher planes with the addition of juicy gems of pomegranate and the ubiquitous mint.
The only disappointment was my dining companion’s chicken makloobah with saffron rice and a lemon yoghurt sauce. Visually, the dish lacked the vibrant flair that every other possessed and was a little bland.
One dining companion went on to order the pink grapefruit and raspberry granita with yoghurt mousse and honeyed oat crisp. The flavours bounced nicely off each other but I found the granita a little too perfumed.
I’m also more inclined to a substantial dessert: I don’t particularly care for palate cleansers. If I’m going to sin, then I’ll sin properly. And there’s one vital way to do that at Honey & Co: the cheesecake with kadaif pastry and honey. Perhaps not the most beautiful of desserts, but more than made up for in flavour – the cheesecake is well balanced, creamy and contrasts perfectly with the crunchy, sticky tangled nest of kadaif.
Bold, well-balanced, vibrant, and generous, the food at Honey & Co is the perfect antidote to the small plate disease.
Suitable for: buisness lunches, casual dates, family, friends, vegetarians
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.
I’d like to be able to write how the waiter’s grime-rimmed thumbnail, with which he had just gouged something sinister out of his ear, nudged against the contents of the plate; how a glistening black hair, half submerged in the dish’s paludinal liquid, entangled itself with the semi-solid floating gelatinous elements; how the plate’s arrival was preceded by the fragrance similar to that of water left stagnant in a vase until the stems of the decaying plant have become slimy, and a beige skin has formed on the surface; how I lifted a debris-encrusted spoon of the liquid into my mouth only for my taste buds to be assaulted by the week-long damp cloth- tasting infusion.
But I can’t.
Because Little Social is impeccable. Nestled in a slither of a side street, it is an Elysium secluded from the tourist-thronged pavements of Regents St. Jason Atherton’s classic French bistro interior strikes a harmonious balance between refined elegance and comfortableness. Johannes, soon-to-be manager, glides around the room attentively, infusing it with his charm. The menu is French inspired Modern European with subtly innovative twists and combinations.
Always lured by the umami perfume of truffles, I ordered the Burrata, pear quince, truffled honey and pickled walnuts - a decadent combination that I imagine would have gone down very well at a lavish Roman banquet. Burrata is the queen of soft cheeses, and I’ve had the misfortune to witness numerous acts of treason committed against it by a number of restaurant kitchens. This was not the case at Little Social. Rich, latticed, and butter-soft, the cloud of burrata melted on the palate, while the truffle infusion added a kick of savoury to the sweet decadence.
The pear quince exceeded the expectation provided by the modest menu description: some slices were poached – soft, spiced and near caramelised, some were lightly macerated – sweet with a little more texture, and some were left fresh, adding a crispness to the dish. This sweetness was cut through by the astringent balsamic reduction and pickled walnuts.
I had carved out a path of indulgence in the menu but my dining companion opted for a lighter course: salad of baby carrots, avocado, fennel, clementines and coriander. I’ve ordered this several times before and it tastes and looks like summer: vibrant, fresh, crunchy, creamy and tangy, it is a well-balanced dish.
For main, I ordered roasted Cornish line-caught cod, Asian spiced cauliflower and aromatic duck broth.
The cod was so tender it almost anticipated the arrival of my fork. The cauliflower was done in two ways: florets, and a delicately spiced textured puree, both of which complemented the fish. The broth imbued the other elements with its contrasting smoky savouriness.
My dining companion’s choice of the risotto of wild mushrooms, parmesan & wild garlic proved that the vegetarian options are in no way neglected.
At this point in the review I would love to furnish you with an opportunity for schadenfreude. Alas I cannot. I can’t even say that I had the misery of having to wait a long time to return to Little Social as I returned a week later. On my birthday, I turned down the prime opportunity to sample another of London’s fine dining establishments, and I even eschewed my traditional birthday cake. Some might think this decision radical and rash, but the reason lay in the heart of Little Social’s pastry kitchen.
Deep russet brown, glistening, sticky, oozing, sweet, crisp, buttery, crunchy with a caramel darkened to sultry, sweet, savoury and nutty depths, just approaching the perilous realm of burnt: the tarte tatin can only be compared to Hephaestus’ offerings to the gods.
The crisp meringue with Gariguette strawberries, lime Chantilly, fraises des bois and elderflower sorbet was also delicious.
A perfectly formed orb of crisp meringue contributed texture and sweetness to the smooth tangy sorbet and berry interior, making it a delightfully elegant and refreshing dessert.
You may be unsettled by the fact that there were no faults. I strained to find even the finest of hairline cracks in the restaurant’s performance, reliving the meal in my head, scrutinising the individual elements. I even went back a second time to check. And checking yet again, and again, would be no Sisyphean task.
Suitable for: smart dates, business lunches, birthdays, family, friends, pre-theatre dining, vegetarians
This stripy lemon and raspberry cake speaks for itself: elegant and refined on the outside, yet quirky on the inside - great if you feel like a change from the usual, and you’re in the mood for something fun.
Unlike most layer cakes, the stripes are vertical. This makes it both superficially pleasing and more delicious - more stripes = more sumptuous raspberry compote...
Please don’t be intimidated by the lists of ingredients and the recipe. It really is a lot easier and quicker than you may think: the stripes are formed by baking the sponge in a baking sheet, spreading the cooked surface with the raspberry compote, cutting it into strips, and rolling them, one strip after the other, swiss roll-like, into a ‘log’.
The sponge is light and lemony, the raspberry compote is tart and moreish, and the icing is infused with berries to provide a little summery freshness.
120g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs
140g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
½ tbsp. water
Baking sheet 38x25x2.5 cm, lined with baking parchment and covering both the base and shallow sides.
Additional baking parchment
200g raspberries fresh or frozen, but if using frozen, defrost before use
40g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp water
150g raspberry jam
2 tbsp corn flour
½ tsp lemon juice
Crumb coating (optional – but makes icing easier and adds extra tanginess and interest to the cake)
75g icing sugar, sieved
50g butter at room temperature
2 tsp lemon juice
Berry-infused cream cheese icing
25g red berries (raspberries and redcurrants work well, and you can use frozen), blitzed until smooth to make a puree
½ tsp lemon juice
75 g cream cheese, at room temperature (essential)
50g unsalted butter, softened to the point that it is threatening to turn into liquid
300g icing sugar, sieved
- Place frozen/fresh raspberries, sugar, vanilla extract, and water in a saucepan over high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the texture is slightly syrupy.
- Stir in the raspberry jam and corn flour, and boil for a further 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Blitz the mixture together with the lemon juice in a blender until smooth.
Lemon Sponge Cake
- Preheat oven to 220˚C.
- Beat together eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes until pale and custard-like (I find it easier to use an electric mixer).
- Fold into the wet mixture the sifted flour and baking powder, lemon zest, salt and water. Stir as little as possible and with a light hand so as to keep the mixture airy.
- Pour the mixture into the lined baking sheet and spread it out in an even layer right up to the edges of the tray. Place in the centre of the oven, and bake for 4-5 minutes until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
- While the cake is still warm from the oven, flip it upside down on to a large sheet of baking parchment. Carefully peel off the parchment layer on which it was baked.
- Spread the compote evenly over the lemon sponge, and slice lengthways (i.e. from short side to short side) into 4 equal strips of cake.
- Begin with one strip and roll into a coil. Place the edge of the roll next to the edge of the second strip and continue to roll. Continue with the remaining strips until a large spiral is formed. Place the ‘log’ spiral side up on a plate or cake stand.
Lemon crumb coating (optional, but makes icing the cake easier, and adds extra tanginess and interest)
- Beat together icing sugar, lemon and butter until creamy and spread in a thin layer over the top and sides of the cake. Place in the fridge for half an hour, or the freezer for 10 minutes.
Berry-infused cream cheese icing
- Beat the butter until completely smooth, then beat in the cream cheese. Stir in the berry puree and lemon juice, before beating in the icing sugar.
- Spread evenly over the cake using a spatula. Decorate with berries, or as desired.