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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This is my favourite meal and has been since I was three – the precocious (and pretentious, no doubt) answer to my friends’ parents’ question as to my favourite food. Apart from the fact that there really isn’t anything fancy about it, it’s crazily simple to make. Despite being pastry-based and with a molten bed of mozzarella, it is very light, and perfect for a gathering.
Moreishly light & flaky pastry swirled with chewy & caramelised cinnamon dusted apricots & sultanas
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.
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 Augustus Gloop falls into the ‘chocolate’ river, is almost too painful to watch.
It was concocted using 150,000 gallons of water, real chocolate and real ice cream, yet despite its authenticity, its watery thinness is more the stuff of sewers than of dreams.
If I were going to bathe in chocolate it would need to be velvety, glossy and thick… and after 15 years of dwelling on this I’ve come to terms with the fact that this tart is probably the closest I will get to doing that.
225g plain flour
150g unsalted butter, chopped into cubes
110g white caster sugar
3 egg yolks
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp ice water
baking beads/uncooked rice/dry beans
4 fresh figs, halved (optional)
12 x 36cm tart tin, greased and dusted with flour
Salted caramel chocolate ganache
300g 70% good quality dark chocolate
300g white caster sugar
300ml double cream
20g light brown muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 200˚C
- Blitz all the ingredients in a blender. Pulse until into turns into a damp sand texture. Tip out on to a surface and press it so that it clumps together into dough. Wrap the dough in baking parchment and put it in the fridge for an hour, or in the freezer for 15 minutes.
- Dust a surface with flour and roll the pastry out in a rectangle to a thickness of 0.5cm. Any excess can be frozen and used within 2 months. Transfer the pastry to the greased and floured tin to line it. Don’t panic if it crumbles in the transition, just patchwork it together in the tin. Place a sheet of baking parchment or tin foil over the pastry, and fill it with the baking beads to weigh it down to prevent the pastry from shrinking as it cooks.
- Place it in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the baking parchment and baking beads. Reduce the oven temperature to 150˚C, and place the pastry back in to bake for a further 10-15 minutes until it is fully cooked. Set aside to cool.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Method
- Chop the dark chocolate roughly, and set it aside in a heatproof mixing bowl.
- Place the caster sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat and, when it starts to melt, stir gently with a rubber spatula to avoid it burning around the edges. Push any unmelted sugar into the already caramelised sugar to aid the caramelising process.
- Once the sugar has turned a rich, dark gold colour, while still on the heat, pour in the cream whisking all the time. If clumps form, don’t panic: keep whisking over medium low heat, and they will eventually melt.
- Once the lumps have dissolved, whisk in the muscovado sugar, butter, vanilla and salt, and stir the bubbling mixture on a medium heat for another 2 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into the bowl of chopped dark chocolate and stir immediately until all the chocolate has melted and the caramel and chocolate are fully combined.
- Pour into the tart shell, smooth the surface over with a palate knife, and place this in the fridge for an hour (or freezer for half an hour) to set. Decorate with sliced figs to serve.
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.
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.
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.
After donning chef’s whites for the second time, proudly hooking my tea towel into the tie in what I thought was a professional way, I spent Day Two in the cold section i.e. meat and fish. Valentina took me under her wing, overseeing my making of duck beignet – duck sausage sliced and dipped in flour, then egg yolk, and then in panko crumbs.
This was done again for the golden nuggets of molten goat’s cheese for the beetroot salad. It was at this point that I realised one of the reasons why everything in Le Caprice kitchens run so smoothly: Tupperware. Tubs upon tubs upon tubs, gallons, half gallons and smaller take out ones all stacked ceiling high. Everything goes into Tupperware, and not in any haphazard order, but only after it has been perfectly portioned. The beignets were laid out flat, no overlapping, tortellini were five to a container, and duck for the crispy duck salad (my favourite) was carefully weighed out to the last gram.
After wrapping halved lemons in gauze, I went off to 11 o’clock lunch: fluorescent Thai green curry. I chatted more to some of the chefs and waiters, finding out how long they’d been there, whether they’d always loved food, enjoyed cooking etc. Some dreamed of opening their own restaurant, their own bakeries. One chef said he prefers the food at KFC…
I met Valentina upstairs preparing for service in the cold section (to my relief, no fires of Hell that day). Mike came over, took a bowl, filled it with a handful of Mooli (white radish), julienned carrot, beansprouts, and finely chopped spring onion, and drizzled it with a sweet chilli dressing and swirled it all around. Then he took a punnet of perfectly portioned boiled duck breast, sprinkled it with some sort of starch, and dropped it with nonchalant cool into a pool of sizzling oil.
A couple of minutes later, he dropped the duck portions into a stainless steel bowl to drain. Crisped to perfection, they rattled around as he drenched them with the stick soy-honey –hoisin sauce. This was poured onto the salad, scattered with torn pomelo and chilli cashews and topped with the watercress. “You’ll be making this today, try it first,” he said. I began to gorge myself: sticky, sweet, crunchy, acidic, salty, spicy. So good. Three quarters of the way through, I noticed that he had handed me two sets of cutlery. Pretending that I hadn’t seen them, I continued feasting.
Service began. The crispy duck salad was the most popular dish. Pressure was on. Receipts rolled in, along with pressure and excitement. Every now and then Mike would ask: “How many minutes Sophia?” I whipped up the dish, pestering Valentina with questions to make sure it was perfect, and then I’d transport it over the pass to be inspected by Mike. “Good work,” he said. Though it was probably the simplest dish on the menu, I cannot describe the thrill of the satisfaction.
Service continued until receipts began to peter out, and Valentina and I chatted the whole time. She’s from Romania. None of the meat here tastes like home, she told me, where her family keeps, raises and kills their own animals. We discussed art, her love of drawing, and how she never had the time when she was working in the kitchen. She adores baking (chocolate and pistachio are her weaknesses), and yet lamented her lack of time for experimenting. We discussed our favourite blogs and recipes and desserts, and she described a recipe for a delicious lemon pudding that she promised she would let me have (if you’re reading this, Valentina, please send it to me - I’m desperate to try it!). Although she enjoyed working in the kitchen, it seemed that some of her creativity was held back. The hours are long – five shifts a week, including one double shift. Hours are from seven until four, and then some evenings, when the shift ends, later than one a.m., depending on last orders. The adrenaline from service sometimes prevents her from sleeping for at least two hours – something I can completely understand as I was buzzing from only a couple of days in the kitchens.
I spent the next three days in what can only be described as the Elysian field of the Underworld kitchen: pastry. Nicky is head pastry chef, and she couldn’t have been lovelier. She told me that I could make anything that I liked from the menu. This is the kind of thing I fantasize about. So, I made plum tarte tatin,
apple and blackberry tartlets,
rhubarb crumble pies,
lime parfait, white chocolate ice cream, mint chocolate chip ice-cream, focaccia, brioche, carta di musica, orange and cinnamon palmiers,
and the truffles that I lust over in the time between visits to the Caprice. For the latter, she handed me the recipes and set me free. I boiled the sugars and cream together for the ganache, and whisked in the passion fruit puree, before pouring it over the chocolate to melt it – luscious and glossy, it would have been a sin not to steal a spoonful, and another. I piped this into chocolate shells where it set.
The same was done for the caramel truffles, but these required hand rolling in dark chocolate – a lengthy process, but well worth it.
The effort of rolling the several hundred truffles was reduced slightly by a simple reduction in the number of caramel truffles i.e. I, together with my partner- in- crime, Blair (see below), gorged myself sick.
I was then asked to place the Caprice brioche burger buns in plastic bags to freeze them.
Peta (senior pastry chef at The Ivy) took me over to the seal wrap machine. “Put the edge of the bag here and press the lid down for a couple of seconds. Don’t let it suck the air out,” she instructed me. It seemed simple enough. She left, entrusting the hundreds of fluffy, burnished, seeded buns to me.
It worked perfectly the first time, and the second. I became arrogant, and was distracted by the bustling of chefs behind me. I turned back to the buns - but they were no longer buns. Six wrinkled and deflated solid misshapen things stared back at me. Panic stricken, I hid them behind the back of the machine. Thinking better of this, I pulled them out, but if I threw them away someone would notice. I considered telling Peta, but shame prevented me. So I prised the layers of shrink-wrapped plastic apart in an attempt at bun CPR. I almost convinced myself that they appeared slightly rejuvenated. Wracked by embarrassment, I even considered rushing to the office, squeezing past Mike and hiding them in my bag. In the end, I placed them down the side of the freezer hoping to give the impression that they’d been crushed by something else. Those buns continue to haunt me.
I accompanied Nicky upstairs for service. Pastry service is much calmer than savoury. The dessert menu at Le Caprice is also decadently extensive, so it was rather like watching a piece of art work being created as Nicky worked her way through the receipts.
This beauty, a yuzu and cherry mousse with pistachio macarons, was invented by Nicky herself only a couple of weeks before.
Part of the thrill of being a pastry chef, she said, was the injection of creativity. Every two weeks, she has to present a new dish to the board of tasters who are apparently very blunt when voicing their opinions. The dish cannot be similar to anything else on the menu, nor any of the other menus of The Caprice Holdings Group.
It happened that Judi Dench was in the house that day, and one of her party ordered sugar brioche doughnuts with chocolate sauce and strawberry jam. I had made the dough, stamped into little rounds and portioned it into Tupperware earlier.
I poured these out into the oil, and under Nicky’s direction, flipped them continuously. They puffed up gloriously into golden brown globes.
I drained them and rolled them in white sugar until they glistened. Nicky arranged them on a plate and I shouted ‘Service!’
Each of the waiters was friendly, each with a strong personality, one more so than the others. He waltzed into the kitchen, chest puffed, flicking his slicked and coiffed hair, and as he whisked away my dish to transport it to the realm of the diners, he burst into rather monotonous and very loud song “All of me loves all of you, la la laaa la laa la la laaaaaaa”.
Le Caprice has no dearth of famous diners, but what I found more interesting were the eccentric ones. “No shortage of those,” Nicky said. One man apparently had come the week before for the pre-theatre menu. He pored over the menu studiously and ordered three courses. He didn’t touch one of the dishes, and made himself a sandwich from the bread basket instead. There is also a regular whose reasons for coming to the restaurant are somewhat particular: he comes in once a week, sits down at the table, reaches into his bag, and pulls out his own packed lunch.
Friday came almost too quickly. I spent the morning slicing brownies (and eating the off cuts, obviously),
learning how to segment oranges, painting carta di musica,
and trying absolutely everything from chocolate delice to caramel popcorn ice cream.
Nicky had whipped up a batch of popping candy mint ice cream and was handing it out to all the chefs.
It was also the last day for three of the chefs: Mike was moving on to become head chef of his own restaurant, Lauren, after four years in Le Caprice was moving to its sister restaurant, Daphne’s, and Valentina was taking a break to explore. Champagne was cracked open, toasts were made.
The vibe was convivial. “We’re all like brothers and sisters,” Nicky had said to me, and I saw this for myself.
Mike kindly invited me to join them for drinks afterwards.
At 5 o’clock, I untied the bow of the striped blue apron, unpoppered the floppy white shirt, and changed out of the elasticated black trousers. I ascended the stairs for definitely, hopefully, not the last time – like Persephone, I had had more than my fair share of the pomegranate, and the Underworld had me in its warm, savoury, sweet clutches, or rather tongs.
I’ve been asked several times in the last couple of weeks what my blogs are about, what my angle is, which niche I am filling, what the selling point is. So here it is: there is no niche. Niches are overcrowded and limited places in which to write. To me, food is a form of communication, even, to some extent, representative of character. So why should I pin myself down to some of the so-called niches in which other bloggers have incarcerated themselves?
Healthy cooking blogs, for example, seem to be proliferating at the moment, or so they call themselves, but what they are promoting is not cooking, nor is it necessarily healthy (or particularly interesting) – I’ve seen enough versions of green smoothies to make me want to down a packet of muscovado sugar (it tastes really good on its own, by the way).
I’m also sick of reading and hearing about avocado-based baking. You can try to convince yourself that it tastes good. It does not. It tastes rubbery, and bland, and makes me want to retch. Another example is cauliflower pizza. If you want pizza HAVE IT. If you’re worried about its calories/fats/sugars/carbs/GI/salt, then don’t eat it. If you’re desperate, have it in moderation. And if by mistake on purpose you eat the whole thing and it was really delicious, and you feel guilty, then just don’t do it again for a while. Do not try to replace that experience with cauliflower as it simply does not work. I’ll tell you the truth now: cauliflower does not equal bread. It doesn’t matter how small you grind the cauliflower, how tightly and agonisingly you squeeze out the liquid, and how densely you pack it into a tin, it does not turn into bread. Plus the amount of mozzarella you have to add to make it hold together undermines the whole attempt at making it “healthy”.
Baobab dust, acai capsules, psyllium husk powder - these are not what cooking and baking are about. They will not be included in my recipes unless they add flavour. And even then, at £10-£15 for a thimbleful, it’s not worth it.
Turn away now if you’re looking for a fad. As I have said before, gluten-free baking is for coeliacs only. Just because it says “free” doesn’t mean that it liberates you or your spare tyre. In fact, you’re probably adding another one by eating it as it shoots blood glucose levels sky high, above even those of wheat.
So to conclude, I’m not going to slot into any niche like the Priapus statue in Newby Hall. The blog is to be viewed in the round and the recipes are for bold, modern and flavoursome cuisine.
This recipe destroys the common misconception that pastry is hard to make, and combines with the nectarine topping just a hint of Triple Sec to add subtle tang. Very little effort is involved, but the result is impressive.
280g plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
170g cold unsalted butter, diced
125ml cold water
4 nectarines, halved, destoned & sliced horizontally to 3-4mm thickness
100g caster sugar
60g cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ tsp salt
½ cup of smooth apricot jam
2 tbsp Triple Sec
Sheet tray lined with baking parchment
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten
- Blitz flour, sugar and salt in a blender to combine, then add the butter and pulse briefly about 10 times until the mixture turns to pea-sized pieces.
- Pour in water and blitz until the dough begins to come together.
- Make it into a chunky disk and wrap in clingfilm/baking parchment. Place in freezer for half an hour
- Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
- Roll out the pastry to a roughly 25x35cm rectangle, slicing off the edges to make it a clean rectangle.
- Arrange the nectarine slices, slightly overlapping, in a diagonal down the middle of the tart then continue with rows on either side.
- Sprinkle the cubed butter and sugar and salt over the nectarine slices and bake in centre of an oven for 40 minutes or until crisp and golden. Check about half way during the baking time whether the pastry has become puffy. If so, simply cut slits in it to let the air escape.
- Once the tart is ready, heat the apricot jam together with the Triple Sec and brush it all over the tart, including all the nude sections of pastry.
Its origins lie as either Central Asian Turkic traditional layered breads, or traditional Roman desserts from Istanbul the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (I favour the latter option). Breakfast, afternoon tea, dinner – these golden perfumed sweets are appropriate at any time of the day in may book and they are way simpler & quicker to make than you might think.
Many recipes call for the pastry to soak for 8 hours or more – I came up with a recipe that can be made and cooked (and eaten) in less than half an hour.
¼ cup caster sugar
¼ cup water
¼ cup orange blossom honey
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp rose water
100g pistachios (ground to affine rubble)
100g walnuts (ground to a fine rubble)
Pinch of salt
6 sheets filo pastry
200g melted butter
100g bread crumbs
½ cup water
½ cup caster sugar
¼ cup orange blossom honey
1 tsp lemon juice
¾ tsp rose water
tray line with baking parchment
- Preheat oven to 200˚C.
- Place sugar, water and honey in a pan over high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Reduce to medium-high heat and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes until slightly more viscous. Stir in the lemon juice and simmer for 1 minute, then remove from the heat.
- Stir the ground nuts, pinch of salt and rose water into the syrup and set aside.
- Lay out a sheet of filo pastry lengthways (with the shorter side of the rectangle nearer to you), paint with melted butter and lightly sprinkle with bread crumbs. Lay another sheet on top and repeat.
- Cut the layered pastry into 4 long strips. Place a teaspoon of nut mixture at the bottom right hand corner of a strip and fold the corner over to great a triangular pocket. Keep folding, in triangles until you reach the end of the strip then paint with melted butter and place on baking tray.
- Bake in oven for 10 minutes, or until the outside is golden and crisp.
- While the baklava are baking, make the syrup by repeating step 2 with the syrup ingredients.
- Once baklava are cooked, place on serving plate & drizzle generously with the syrup.