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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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.
My household has recently been beset by a typical problem. My mom rather enjoys pressing the "+”button when ordering from Ocado. Whereas last week this resulted in a glut of cherries, this week it was passion fruit. Even after days of bisecting the plum-coloured orbs and slurping up the tangy yellow spawn (sans spoon, and only in the most ladylike way, obviously), the supply remained steady.
Clearly, truffles were the solution. Most truffle recipes create a molten ganache centre by simply combining melted chocolate with the flavour/ingredient of choice and a dribble of cream. Easy? Perhaps. Zero depth of flavour? Indeed. I make a caramel base to add a darker, nuttier complexity.
This is poured over the dark chocolate to melt it, and the golden toasted coconut is then swirled in with the fresh and tangy passion fruit juice.
I recommend using good quality dark chocolate – the results are worth it. The tangy molten ganache is then frozen, later to be formed into spheres. These are encased in a crisp white chocolate and coconut shell to add a touch of sweetness and contrast of textures.
The name “passion fruit” does not, as you might assume, come from any aphrodisiac qualities of the fruit. Rather, it comes from the shape of flower which resembles a crown like that that of thorns around Jesus’ head – thus, passion derives from the "passion of Christ”. Indeed, these truffles are rather ambrosial – you could even say that eating them is a religious experience.
Ingredients (makes 50 - halve if strapped for time)
For the Ganache
150g 70% dark chocolate (good quality)
150g caster sugar
150g double cream
10g unsalted butter
10g light brown muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
70g desiccated coconut
8 passion fruits, sieved to extract about 90ml of juice.
100g icing sugar, sifted
Large tray lined with baking parchment
For the shell
500g white chocolate
200g desiccated coconut
Pair of surgical gloves (optional)
- Chop the dark chocolate roughly, and set it aside in a large heatproof mixing bowl.
- To toast the coconut (70g), place a medium frying pan over a medium-high heat, pour the coconut in and stir continuously for 5 -8 minutes until the coconut turns a light golden colour. Add this to the dark chocolate.
- Place the caster sugar in saucepan over medium high heat, and when it starts to melt, stir gently with a spatula to avoid the sugar burning around the edges. Push 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 hot mixture into the bowl of chopped dark chocolate and coconut and stir immediately until all the chocolate has melted and the caramel and chocolate are fully combined. Pour the passion fruit juice into the mixture, and stir to combine fully. Pour this into a shallow tray, and place in the freezer for an hour to set slightly.
- Once it has become slightly more solid, remove the tray of mixture from the freezer. Use a teaspoon to scoop out dollops, and roll each between the palms of your hands to form 2cm diameter spheres. Roll the spheres in the icing sugar to coat them finely, and then place them on a baking tray with space around each sphere to avoid their sticking together. Once all the mixture has been rolled into spheres, place the baking tray in the freezer for half an hour or until the spheres are firm and cold to touch. You may need to do this in batches as the ganache mixture melts very quickly.
- Break half the white chocolate (250g) into pieces and place in a bone-dry, heatproof bowl (any drop of water will make the chocolate seize). Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water (without the boiling water touching the base of the heatproof bowl), and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted.
- Remove the dark chocolate spheres from the freezer, and one at a time, skewer with a toothpick and coat by spooning the melted white chocolate over each frozen chocolate sphere. Remove the skewer, replace the coated truffle on the baking tray, and replace in the freezer for 10 minutes for the first layer to set.
Melt the rest of the white chocolate (using the same method as before), and place the desiccated coconut (200g) in a bowl. Remove the truffles from the freezer. If you don’t want to get too messy, wear surgical gloves to do this stage. With one hand, roll the truffle in the melted white chocolate. Then, drop it into the coconut and with your other hand roll it to coat it. Once the batch is complete, place back in the freezer for a minimum 10 minutes to set.
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.
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.
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
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.
The child behind me was whining like a kid goat being dragged to slaughter. The woman on my right was snoring so loudly that she was trapped in an ineluctable cycle of waking herself up before falling asleep again. The man on my left had either forgotten that handkerchiefs exist, or rather enjoyed the sound/sensation of snorting every last drop of unconquerable mucus into the innermost depths of his Eustachian tube, only for it to creep back up again at ten second intervals. My choir master couldn’t have conducted this orchestral animal pen better. Before I’d even sat down, I’d already lost one armrest and some precious space to the woman overlapping my seat on the right. Not prepared to cede the other armrest, I draped my left arm determinedly over it, only for the mucus snorter to pile his arm on top of mine. I was forced to retreat after half an hour, having been worn down, too, by his second tier of offence: the occasional lifting of his arm to allow puffs of BO to corrupt my nostrils. The last straw was when the trolley, preceded by the unmistakeable signature stale aeroplane scent, reached my row, only to deliver some form of unidentifiable swill. My only escape was to conjure up a memory of last week’s brunch at Grain Store, King’s Cross….
An oasis in the desert that is the North London restaurant scene, Grain Store opened a year and half ago with others such as Caravan and Dishoom following suit. Locating it in King’s Cross has afforded the restaurant an atmosphere unlike most central London restaurants: a sprawling high ceilinged airy haven, urban rustic in feel, with an open kitchen. The cuisine is vegetarian-focused (very on trend for 2015) and excitingly innovative.
To start we tried the beetroot, apple, celery and pomegranate molasses juice and the hibiscus and raspberry cocktail. The beetroot was pleasant but, tastewise, the health benefits were a little too evident. The latter, however, was very good.
Focaccia with olive oil followed – freshly baked, with the crunchy dukkah addition an innovative twist on the standard.
I ordered the yoghurt and chickpea pancake with avocado, tomato and jalapeno salsa and merguez. The pancake, laced with slices of merguez, was velvety and wonderfully savoury. The salsa was well flavoured, but could have verged more dangerously on the side of spicy.
I’m a rather fierce food predator and so managed to steal a forkful of my dining companion’s Moroccan carrot salad, with spiced labneh and linseed flatbread. Well-spiced, fresh, and visually and texturally vibrant, I was struck with all too familiar food envy (not in place of my dish but as well as).
The empanada was also a success. I didn’t manage to try it but heard satisfied mumbles coming from my other dining companion.
I did manage to try the Korean slaw, Kaffir lime chicken burger with a fried egg on a muffin.
Succulent, savoury, spicy, slightly sweet and citrusy, the Korean slaw is a reason in itself to visit Grain Store. I shall dedicate some time attempting to replicate it. The burger was also delicious, although there was not enough of it.
Dessert was unavoidable. The baked apple, rosemary crumble, and crème fraiche with caramel sauce possessed all the right textures as well as flavours: sweet, salty and slightly perfumed by the rosemary. However, I am a crumble fiend and firmly believe there should be more crumble than fruit – much more – and this did not vaguely meet my crumble quantity requirements, nor those of my dining companion.
The special of the day was blueberry tart. It was as you would expect a good blueberry tart to be – the pastry crisp, and the blueberries jammy, but I would have liked a touch of citrus to offset the sweetness.
Overall, it was a great experience - so much so that it managed, in recollection, to transport me away from the animal pen sights and sounds during my recent flight. The atmosphere is informal yet chic, the service is fine, and the food strays into far more exciting and modern territory than many London restaurants dare to do, especially for brunch.
Suitable for: casual dates, friends, family, brunch, all-day dining, vegetarians, vegans
Twelve hours of starvation, a 5.30 wake up and, waiting for me, a pair of over-sized nappy-esque translucent paper knickers. Having first been warned of the potential risk of losing sensation in my mouth possibly forever, I was then choked by a mask pumping sickly sweet anaesthetic into my lungs, and my jaw was ripped into. Drilled brutally into five pieces and followed by a thorough excavation, there was not even a remote chance of the tooth fairy visiting to collect my wisdom tooth. The drugs they gave me were stomach-writhingly potent – strong enough to crush even my most resilient characteristic: hunger. Still, the thought of lunch the next day at Richard Caring’s freshly opened Ivy Market Grill, sister of London establishment, The Ivy, was enough to keep me going. The timing couldn’t have been worse: by Sunday morning my face had swollen to such an extent that I had to perfect a combo of Quagmire of Family Guy, and Debbie from The Wild Thornberrys, the Debbie hair curtain deployed to conceal the Quagmire jawline. The menu which I had pored over numerous times in admiration was restricted dramatically – only food that could fit through the 0.5cm letterbox that my mouth had become was a possibility. I was also doubled over in pain from the stomach-eroding drugs the doctor had supplied. Battling valiantly through all these obstacles, I made my way to Covent Garden. Following the success of Caring’s all-day restaurant chain, Côte, another all-day brasserie must have appeared to be a logical step. With its grand Parisian brasserie feel, elegant yet comfortable, the verbal and physical resonances of its well-established Soho sister are evident. To start: pumpkin with black truffle soup (I only just resisted asking for a straw). It was presented with the flourish and drama one would expect at a top end location – a neatly balanced pumpkin ravioli surmounting pumpkin puree scattered with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds was flooded with a sweet and truffle-rich pumpkin soup. I have yet to visit a restaurant with any pumpkin dish rivalling those of Caecilius, a host featured in the epigrams of Latin poet, Martial, who pushes the gourd creatively to its very limits (see below) . I long to try the thousand variations-on-a-pumpkin degustation that Caecilius prepares, but have so far been let down by London restaurants in this respect. Clearly, I shall have to honour the Roman myself. In the case of the Ivy Market Grill, pumpkin four ways went some of the way both in texture and flavour. I tried some of my dining companion’s winter salad (shaved apple, hazelnuts, golden raisins and celery with a stilton dressing) albeit a pathetically small mouthful with obvious constraints applying. It, too, was highly refined, refreshing both to look at and in its sweet salty flavour. At this point I realise the review should be dedicated to the dentally challenged with whom I now sympathise. Alongside its impressive vegetarian selection, I also deem the restaurant false–tooth friendly. The risotto was perfectly al dente (or more appropriately alla mancanza di dente), the flavours well balanced – umami with comforting autumnal warmth. The portion was on the generous side too. The roasted heritage carrots with parsley were delicious: perfectly honeyed and tender. One of my companions ordered the zucchini fritti, which I managed to taste. Thin and crisp and ridiculously light, one day I’ll return for more. The chargrilled Banham half chicken, with maître d’hôtel butter and thick cut chips was also a hit according to my dining companions, as was the baked open ravioli with spinach, peas, broad beans, creamed ricotta and basil. Unfortunately, the quinoa, avocado and mixed leaves making up the salad element of the grilled chicken salad were overly salted, but our waitress, Alexandra, was quick to make up for the error. With the quality of food otherwise good, I can only imagine that this was a first week opening blip. Dessert ensued. And, naturally, I ordered the melting chocolate bombe. Soft and soupy, it complied with the surgeon’s orders exactly. The thick, hot and rich salted caramel melted the chocolate exterior, drenching the plate with milk foam, vanilla ice cream and honeycomb. The surprise element, popping candy, kept me entertained for a while. I never usually seek out sorbet at a restaurant but I couldn’t refuse when my dining companion offered me some of his - doctor’s orders of course. The blood orange was sublime, the flavour both acutely sharp and sweet. Refined flavours, unfussy food, delightful served, and a warm, comfortable atmosphere, the Ivy Market Grill does not, in my opinion, dilute the brand; rather it strengthens it. It’s an all-day restaurant, and yes, I would happily spend all day dining there.
Martial, Epigrams XI.XXXI. On Caecilius. Caecilius, a very Atreus of gourds, tears and cuts them into a thousand pieces, just as if they were the children of Thyestes. Some of these pieces will be placed before you to begin with as a relish; they will appear again as a second course; then again as a third course. From some he will contrive a dessert; from others the baker will make mawkish patties, cakes of every form, and dates such as are sold at the theatres. By the art of the cook they are metamorphosed into all sorts of mincemeat, so that you would fancy you saw lentils and beans on the table; they are also made to imitate mushrooms and sausages, tails of tunnies and anchovies. This dextrous cook exhausts the powers of art to disguise them in every way, sometimes by means of Capellian rue. Thus he fills his dishes, and side dishes, and polished plates, and tureens, and congratulates himself upon his skill in furnishing so many dishes at the cost of a penny.
I blame salted-caramel for my short-sightedness. At the end of morning assembly, when I was five years’ old, the headmistress would read a prayer. Every one of us would dutifully lower her head and shut her eyes. I pressed mine tightly closed with my hands until, like some computer generated visualiser, semi-hallucinogenic patterns appeared. Well, mainly one pattern: a recurrent drop of molten gold slipping seductively into its glistening pool, creating ripples that seemed to extend to the corners of dark space behind my eyelids. I found the effect narcotic, and would do this without fail every morning.
I now realise that the real-life equivalent to that voluptuous liquefied gold is salted caramel: fudgy, creamy slick, viscous and dangerously addictive, I’m obsessed.
Too often it drenches and drowns all other culinary thoughts and ideas I have, but to resist its ambrosial pull is futile. So, instead, I have decided to partner it with its already well-established acquaintance - chocolate. That’s not to say that these cookies are in any way ordinary.
Most shop bought packets of chocolate cookies are filled with empty promises, often dry, floury, over sodium bicarbonated, and rock solid.
I have a friend who has developed and perfected the “cookie-pinch”. Her forefinger and thumb clamp down on unsuspecting biscuits in their paper wrapping. The motion is swift and discreet, but in that split second the pads of her well-attuned digits estimate the freshness of the cookie to the nearest hour.
These chocolate biscuits, however, are crisp, rich, chewy and soft, and cushioned by their silky smooth salted caramel filling, rendering my friend’s admirable skill totally redundant.
200g dark chocolate, chopped
40g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
35g plain flour, sifted
¼ tsp baking powder, sifted
¼ tsp salt
Salted caramel frosting
165g white caster sugar
125ml single cream
150g unsalted butter, chopped
250g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
2 baking trays, lined with baking parchment
- Preheat oven to 180˚C
- Melt chocolate and butter together in a small pan over a low heat until only just melted and smooth, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
- In an electric mixer, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla for about 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes smooth and slightly thicker.
- Gently fold in the cooled chocolate and butter mixture. Once combined, fold in the sieved flour, baking powder and salt until just combined and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Drop the mixture, 1 tablespoon per biscuit on to the baking trays leaving 5cm between them as the mixture will spread.
- Bake for 8–10 minutes or until shiny and cracked. Allow to cool on trays.
Salted caramel icing
- Stir together sugar and water in a pan over a high heat until sugar has dissolved. Allow to bubble up for about 5-10 minutes until it turns a deep burnished gold. Don’t be afraid to let it turn quite rusty in colour – the deeper in colour you dare to go (without it burning) the more depth of flavour.
- As soon as it gets to the above stage pour in cream and butter and whisk immediately and continuously over the high heat until fully combined. If the sugar crystallises, don’t panic. Keep whisking over a high heat until it melts once more.
- Remove from heat and let it cool. You can place it in fridge, or freezer, or, if you’re greedy and impatient, you can place the pan in an ice water bath and stir until cool. I opt for the latter option.
- Beat together caramel, icing sugar, vanilla and salt until combined.
- Sandwich the cookies together using 2 tbsp of the icing (or more depending on how caramel-crazed you are).
(adapted from Donna Hay)
Last weekend Culina was trumpeted into existence…literally, with an evening of jazz, ever-flowing champagne, canapés, desserts & petit fours. It was a wonderful evening of abundance and great company.
I had dedicated every evening of the previous week to “truffling” yet all 300 of the white chocolate coated salted caramel truffles disappeared without a trace. Salting caramel has become almost a cliché but there is definitely a reason for that combo: the salt balances the sickly sweetness of the caramel, making the truffles even more moreish.
If you’re short of time, you need not dip the truffles into the white chocolate. Instead, after rolling them into spheres, roll them in cocoa powder, chill in the fridge and serve.
Ingredients 300g 70% good quality dark chocolate
300g caster sugar
300ml double cream
20g light brown muscovado sugar
1tspn vanilla extract
1 tspn salt
450g good quality white chocolate
5 g freeze dried raspberries, crushed or powdered (optional)
100g icing sugar (or 100g cocoa powder if not coating with white chocolate)
(Makes approx. 60)
1. Chop the dark chocolate roughly, and set aside in heatproof mixing bowl. Or if you’re feeling aggressive, smash it against a surface (when still in its wrapper).
2. Place caster sugar in saucepan over medium high heat, and when it starts to melt stir gently with spatula to avoid burning around the edges. Push unmelted sugar into the already caramelised sugar to aid the caramelising process. 3. Once the sugar has turned a rich, dark gold colour, while still on the heat, pour in 150g of the cream whisking all the time. If clumps form, don’t panic: keep whisking over medium low heat, and they will eventually melt. 4. Once the lumps have dissolved, pour in the rest of the cream, the muscovado sugar, butter, vanilla and salt and stir the bubbling mixture on a medium heat for another 2 minutes. 5. 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. 6. To chill more quickly, pour the mixture into a baking tray and place in the freezer for about an hour, or until solidified. 7. Cover a clean baking tray with tinfoil. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the mixture, and roll between palms of hands to form 2cm diameter spheres. Roll the spheres in the icing sugar to finely coat, and then place them on baking tray with space around each sphere to avoid their sticking together. Once all the mixture has been rolled into spheres, place baking tray in freezer for half an hour or until the spheres are firm and cold to touch. 8. Break white chocolate into pieces and place in bone-dry heatproof bowl (any drop of water will make the chocolate seize). Place heatproof bowl over pot of boiling water without the boiling water touching the base of the heatproof bowl. Stir occasionally. Remove pan from heat when the chocolate has melted. 9. Remove dark chocolate spheres from freezer, and one at a time, skewer with a toothpick and coat by spooning over the melted white chocolate. Remove the skewer, replace the coated truffle on the tin foil lined baking tray. Drip enough white chocolate over the truffle to disguise any blemishes the toothpick has made. 10. While the white chocolate is still liquid, sprinkle with the freeze-dried raspberry, if using. 11. Replace the tray in the freezer for half an hour until the white chocolate coating has hardened. The truffles may be kept in the fridge until you wish to serve them. Alternatively, the truffles may be kept in a sealed box in the freezer for a couple of weeks.