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.
OK, so I’m going to tell you about a brilliant new diet to ensure you lose all that Christmas flab.
It throws 5:2, Keto, raw food, Mediterranean and intermittent fasting out of the window. If you’re disillusioned with all those malware-laden pop up adverts on illegal streaming sites that you secretly clicked on promising flat belly magic trick, let me right that for you.
After some hardcore, scientific studies on how people gain weight, which foods trigger fat gain and how we’re rotting our metabolism, my dad had an epiphany and realised that all these diets were ignoring the obvious.
All those Instagram/YouTube stars chronicling the secrets to peachy bums, thigh gaps, hotdog legs and concave stomachs have been holding back their industry secrets. It’s not food groups that need to be cut out, but letters. All the foods (and often drinks) that stand in the way of a lean, rippling bikini bod have something in common: biscuits, cookies, bread, chocolate, cake, bagels, beer, cocktails, champagne, and brownies. Yes. That’s right – you’ve wasted money and/or time logging on to My Fitness Pal, consulting dieticians, and calorie counting when I have just given you the secret to fat loss. Cut out the Bs and Cs and you are on your way to fitfluencer stardom.
Pregnancy is the benchmark by which weight gain is measured in my household, and my dad came back from India in his second trimester.
Turns out feasting on gulab jamun, breakfast, lunch and dinner dosas, curry upon curry, daily afternoon tea and even straight up jaggery does that to you. This drastic increase from two to five months’ gestation in the space of two weeks, plus a stomach of steel allowing evasion of the revolting bug that had churned up the rest of my family’s insides, meant that a new diet and regime was mandatory. And when my dad commits to something, he is an all-or-nothing person. And let me tell you, cutting out B and C foods is far easier than you might think. In fact, it’s practically seamless. Don’t worry about cheat meals or relapses because this is a diet that works perfectly with whatever lifestyle you were already leading.
My dad’s commitment to the diet has been so fervent and admirable that when I offered him a Jerusalem bagel (from last week) he refused.
He heroically turned down the molten chocolate brownies that I brought into work. He didn’t even respond to me when the exotic perfume of these thick, soft and chewy spice cookies wafted round the house (commendable).
You see the diet works so well that if you’re clever about it, and careful, you don’t really need to sacrifice anything at all.
His resolve has been so strong that cookies are now banned from our house, as are bagels, biscuits, chocolate and brownies.
Instead, we have a whole inventory of agels, and iscuits, hocolate and rownies and ookies.
My dad has had five of these spice ookies today and he’s still fully committed to the diet - and so can you. Just like that one calorie that gets left floating in the can when you have diet coke, so all the muffin-top inducing calories are left behind when the B and C’s are seamlessly spliced from your favourite treat.
This is the diet to be on because these (c)ookies are the ambrosia of the (c)ookie world – they’re a one bowl wonder and can be whizzed up in a matter of minutes.
There’s no freezing, chilling or resting meaning that they can go from flour packet to final product-in–mouth in about half an hour (pausing en route for some of that dough). I know cookies can be a very subjective, personal and emotional topic, but these are undeniably the top tier: slightly crisp on the outside and soft thic(cc)k and chewy. If you fear that the batch may disappear before you get a look in, feel free to double it – the results will be the same. They can also be stored in an airtight container in a freezer for up to three months which is ideal if you want to whip them out for unexpected occasions (emergencies).
Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies - Recipe
Makes 12-14 cookies
220g white spelt flour (or plain white flour, if you prefer)
2 ½ tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking soda
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, roughly cut into cubes
100g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
large baking tray lined with baking parchment
1) Preheat oven to 160°C.
2) If using a food processor (super quick), pour in all the dry ingredients and whizz to combine. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes like damp sand. If making by hand, in a large bowl stir together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and rub into the dry mixture with your fingertips until it reaches a damp sand-like consistency.
3) In a small pan over a low heat, pour in the syrup and treacle, and stir until combined and warm. Pour into the sand-like mixture, and pulse until it just about comes together into a dough, taking care not to over mix. If making by hand, pour the treacle into the sand-like mixture, and stir together until it forms a dough.
4) Make the cookies by breaking off pieces of the dough with your hands and rolling them into a sphere. I make each one 35g to ensure that they bake consistently. Then space the spheres on a baking tray at least 5cm apart. Place in the preheated oven to bake for 8-12 minutes until golden but soft to the touch. They will continue to bake once removed from the oven so taking them out slightly underdone ensures that they have a chewy centre.
5) Allow to cool before eating (they will be too friable when straight out of the oven), then devour. Once cool, they can be kept in a sealed airtight box in a freezer for up to 3 months.
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This bread is the love child of a brioche and stollen. The dough is soft, buttery and ridiculously moreish. And the filling is like that marzipan core of stollen except less overpoweringly almondy, lighter and less tooth-achingly sweet (which means you can have more of it, of course). One of my many intolerances is not gluten, nuts or dairy but overpromising. If the title promises a filling, I want that filling, and I want it in abundance. If it says caramel, I want luscious rivers of it; if it’s olives on a pizza, I want at least one for every 2cm squared (NB I am disappointed by this every time - unless I make it myself). And, if it is a frangipane bread, I demand every mouthful to be molten with frangipane.
So, in response, this bread will not fail to meet expectations: not only a show stopper in appearance, it is also ambrosial. I had to make this several times in order to photograph it before it was inhaled by surrounding friends/family.
If you want to have plain bread, just leave out the frangipane and follow the instructions below. Similarly, if you’re feeling experimental add another filling in place of the frangipanes - think Nutella, marmalade, fruit conserve…
Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
For the bread
30g fresh yeast (or 15g dry yeast)
100g caster sugar
250ml lukewarm milk (normal or any non-dairy alternative)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
700g white spelt flour (or plain wheat) + more for kneading
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the frangipane
180g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp salt
250g ground almonds
1 ½ tsp almond extract
2 large baking sheets lined with baking parchment
1) In the bowl of an electric mixer (or large mixing bowl), cream together fresh yeast and caster sugar until the sugar begins to dissolve and turns the yeast liquid. If using dry yeast, add it into the milk first and allow to sit for five minutes before continuing with step 2.
2) Pour in lukewarm milk, 3/4 of the beaten eggs (i.e. 1 ½ eggs, keeping the other half aside to paint the bread) and salt, and whisk together. Whisk in 100g grams of the flour to begin to incorporate air.
3) Add the remaining flour into the mixture and mix together. Once combined, either using a mixer fitted with the dough hook, or on a heavily floured surface knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and bounces back when pressed with your thumb. Temperature and humidity can affect the dough texture so you may need to add a touch more flour if it is truly unworkable, though try to keep it to a minimum as too much will make the bread tough and the dough difficult to roll out. I find that using the dough hook initially until combined and then kneading by hand for the last stretch particularly effective.
4) Place in a large oiled bowl in a warm spot and cover with a cloth or clingfilm to allow to rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes to an hour).
5) At this point, if you wish to make the bread without the frangipane, proceed to step 7a
6) To make the frangipane, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. You can do this by hand or in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in the eggs (don’t worry if it looks slightly curdled at this point), then stir in salt, ground almonds and almond extract. It should be a smooth almondy paste.
7) Once the dough has risen, punch back down, turn it onto a heavily floured surface
a. For bread without filling: divide dough into two (to make two loaves). Shape as desired, but if you favour a plaited loaf, as I do, taking one of the dough halves, divide it into three or four pieces (depending on whether you prefer a three- way or four-way plait.) Roll each piece into a long, even strand of about 3cm in diameter. Then pinch the ends together and plait as normal. When you reach the end of the plait, pinch the strands together and tuck under. Repeat for the second loaf, place on a baking tray and cover. Leave to rise for about half an hour.
b. For bread laced with frangipane: place the dough on a large, flat, heavily floured surface and roll it to a rectangle of about 60 x 30cm and about ¾ cm thick. Tip the frangipane mixture into the centre of the dough, and spread it out evenly with a spatula right up to the edges. Then, from the long side, roll the dough to make a long tight coil. Finish with the seal at the base of the roll. Then slice the roll into two (in order to make two loaves). Take one long roll and holding the knife directly above the roll, with the blade parallel to the length of the roll, bisect it running the knife through the centre along the its length. Once split, with the open halves separate, pinch them at the top and then cross one over the other repeatedly in a kind of two string plait. Pinch at the end and tuck it under then place on baking tray. Repeat with the other half.
8) Cover both breads with a cloth, and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 °C.
9) With the remaining beaten egg, brush the tops of the breads. Place the breads in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 180 °C and allow to bake for a further 10-15 minutes. Ovens can be temperamental, so check every 5-10 minutes to ensure that the bread doesn’t burn. If it looks like it is beginning to catch, cover with aluminium foil and continue to bake. Remove from the oven when the outside is a deep golden colour. Place on a cooling rack and allow to reach room temperature, then devour. Best eaten on day of baking, but the bread can be frozen in a sealed air tight container for up to 3 months.
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I’ve just returned to UK reality after touring the east coast of America with my band, Mediaeval Baebes.
In fact, it was definitely more of a crash landing, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by a concoction of delight and disorientation.
I’ve had two weeks of hilarity and salacious tales: from White Russian parties in Maryland to rooftop partying with firemen in NYC, from hazy, mead-imbued late-night encounters with ex-jailbirds to flouncing around in cemeteries for photoshoots. I’ve met more people and fans of the Baebes’ music (and it has been an honour) in the last week than in the last year, from women with heaving bosoms in skull-coated corsets to a South Dakotan ranger who discovered a dinosaur on his territory, from cage fighters Instagram influencers to wiccans.
Those who are involved in the music industry will know that the intense peaks of performing are accompanied by elongated troughs of waiting around before and after sound checks, not to mention the driving from venue to venue, one state to the next.
But even the stretches of time were filled: from learning how to do the electric slide (an achievement for someone who can perform a semblance of a dance only to hip hop music), playing airplane with other band members (the childhood favourite of lifting someone into the air with your feet), to hours of ‘I Spy With My Third Eye’.
We were gifted things from the delicious to the ludicrous (though none of the following necessarily fit into the aforementioned categories):
hand sown leather wallets, chocolates, cases of homemade mead, hand-crafted wooden lanterns inlaid with silver, pumpkin bog wine (yes, that’s its official name) and goblets straight out of Game of Thrones. I’ve also signed an interesting range of specimens including various body parts, guitars and recorders, Gandalf-style staffs and animal-bone drinking horns.
I’ve witnessed the way in which music makes people dance and cry, and I’ve heard accounts of how some have walked down the aisle, given birth, and woken from comas to our music.
I’ve had ecstatic highs of my own (performing to over a thousand people in the middle of forest glades, and exhausted hysterical laughter set off by the merest glimmer of a joke) and extreme lows, where the adrenalin temporarily stopped, energy levels buckled and desolation took hold.
Being on the road for two weeks has also meant that I have been lurching between feast and famine.
The restaurant selection in NYC is almost infinite. The highlights this time round included the following:
The Pool, one of NYC’s finest fish restaurants. While I am not a huge seafood eater and am largely vegetarian, the branzino was the best I have ever eaten – delicate and tender without need for any fancy sauces or dressings. The room is elegant and slightly imposing and the service impeccable (apart from the moment when I collided with a waiter en route to the bathroom and he succeeded in pouring champagne directly down my chest).
Barrio Chino: my favourite Lower East Side Mexican haunt. It used to be a hidden secret, without website and only noticeable in passing if you were in the know. It has now become a bit more open about its existence, but the quality has not diminished. Go for the extensive range of margaritas (from chili to berry to tamarind – the list goes on). The tacos are also delicious, but the show stoppers are the enchiladas – suffused with flavour and fresh herbs and oozing with molten queso – this is the only place I will eat them. The ambience is also electric. I went on a Tuesday evening and it was packed and totally abuzz.
The Butcher’s Daughter– I got caught in the tail end of Hurricane Florence and had to battle through headache-inducing heavy rain to get here. It was worth it. This vegetarian NYC and LA hotshot has a sublime selection of fresh and wholesome, zingy, protein-rich salads. I had the self-professed” Best Kale Salad” and added some veggie chicken into the kale, red cabbage, green apple, jalapeno, red onion, mint, turmeric and cashew mix.
Dean & Deluca– In some ways I am sad that their plans to open a branch in London fell through and that they have settled for selling a minor selection of products at Selfridges. In other ways I am not, because if they had opened here I would probably have moved in and would now be rolling around due to gorging upon their selection of salads and endless array of artisanal snacks. Every time I walked past the crisp white exterior in NYC, I felt its magnetism drawing me in. Mostly I managed to restrict myself to buying a selection of salads. All are excellent, but the highlights were the General Tso cauliflower – battered, deep-fried and coated in a moreish, sticky sweet, umami sauce - and the sriracha-soaked tofu. The soups there are as good as many you would enjoy in a high-end restaurant.
Conversely, I’ve experienced pit stop, intra-state, highway grub, with the choice between early-onset obesity via deep fried foods, diabetes through the sugar-laden, inevitably chocolate-peanut butter coated candies, or heart attack via the sodium-laden snacks (I opted for the latter).
The most radical of trends that emerged was the “substance on a stick” that prevailed as a dining option in the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The good folk of the festival clearly thought they were on to a good thing with this particular serving contrivance and didn’t feel the need for variation. Options included the following (see pictures for evidence): white chocolate-coated key lime pie on a stick, dark chocolate-immersed cheesecake on a stick, sausage on a stick, chocolate-covered peanut butter pie on a stick, and macaroni cheese on a stick. The lattermost culinary innovation was my favourite - a praiseworthy feat of science, concocted to adhere strictly to the theme. Even the choice meat option, turkey leg, was by its very nature “on a stick” – the Neanderthal look of gnawing the dull red flesh from the bone worked well with those who were dressed in animal horns and fur (of which there were many).
And so I am back in reality – or what I can piece together:
it may only have been two weeks away but it feels weird to have to pronounce the “t” in water again (rather than a “d”) to make my request understood, to ask directions for the “loo”, not restroom, to not be in a tour bus laughing hysterically with eight other wickedly funny band (coven) members, to not feeling the daily adrenaline rush of performing and experiencing post-gig tequila-fueled highs, to not dancing to old school hip hop tunes in hotel rooms until 3am, and to reverting to cutlery after becoming accustomed to sticks.
Maryland Renaissance Festival
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If I told you that a vegan, refined sugar-free, protein-rich, wheat-free, ancient-grain (and if you so desire, gluten-free) cookie existed, you’d think it was the stuff of myth and legend or, alternatively, something so disgusting that it couldn’t be deemed edible.
Well, it does exist.
After an overindulgent stay in NYC, I made these for my birthday. They aren’t overpoweringly sweet, and they aren’t going to be equivalent to the 500 calories a pop thick, fudgy cookies you see in bakeries. However, they are delicious in their own right, soft and just sweet enough. Plus, being vaguely healthy automatically entitles one to devour 5x the quantity. In fact, for a snack to be officially deemed a source of protein, it needs to contain 6g protein. Well, 3 of these cookies contain just that.
They are extremely quick to conjure up and would be good for that weak-point, late afternoon slump when you crave something sweet, and delicious, too, paired with a (vegan) ice cream for dessert, or even with a wedge of stilton and a dollop of pear compote if you’re going down the non-vegan route. If you want a slightly more savoury option, substitute the dates with figs as in the photos.
Ingredients (makes 20 medium cookies)
160g pitted medjool dates, roughly chopped (about 10) (if you want a more savoury cookie, substitute dates with figs, as per the photos)
4 tbsp orange juice
4 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp finely grated orange zest
80g smooth peanut butter
200g spelt flour (or gluten free flour)
½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp salt
baking tray lined with baking parchment
4-5cm round cookie cutter
1) Pre-heat oven to 180°C
2) Place the chopped dates, orange juice, water, vanilla extract and orange zest in a small pan over a medium/high heat and allow to come to a boil. Stir continuously for about 4/5 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the dates have turned into a thick, sticky pulp.
3) Place the date mixture together with the peanut butter in a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour in the spelt flour, mixed spice, and salt and pulse until it comes together to form a slightly sticky dough.
4) Lightly flour a board and roll out the dough to a 0.5cm thickness. Stamp out cookies with the cutter and place on the baking tray. Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes until firm and slightly golden. Allow to cool, then devour.
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NB. Photos are all my own as the food was not photogenic
Let’s start with the positives – there are only three, and they’re rather brief at that:
1) The waiter was charming, easy going and knowledgeable.
2) So buttery it almost made my tongue translucent, yet so sweet and light I could have eaten five of them, the kubaneh bread was sublime.
3) I’m mainly a vegetarian and rarely eat lamb, but the fact that the minced beef and lamb dish (shakshukit) was palatable, and even rather moreish, signifies a success.
I wish that I could keep the list going. From online reviews to food-obsessed friends, all I had heard about Palomar was a stream of praise. So, I thought I would emerge from the restaurant blasting Palomar’s praises to everyone to whom I spoke. I wanted to have found a mini-haven in the heart of London where I could gorge on the full-flavoured abundance of the Middle East.
I did not.
Stop reading now if you don’t want your opinion tainted. If you are curious, read on.
We squeezed our way past the tight and chaotic bar area, to be seated in the farthermost corner. Dark, wooden, and Spartan, it felt like an old-fashioned train carriage.
Aside from the kubaneh and shakshukit, we ordered an array of dishes, starting with baba ganoush, and “spicy experience”, from the menu section titled “Rip and Dip”. “Pinch and Scrape” would be more fitting. The baba ganoush was delivered: we were presented with a shallow, hamster –sized plate-let (ie a disk) of the meanest little scraping of mashed aubergine. They must be using tweezers in the kitchen, as it was adorned with just three pomegranate seeds, as if they were in fear of our being trapped, like Persephone, in the Underworld.
The so-called spicy experience promised a roller-coaster of excitement and exotic warmth. What arrived was a confusing, tiny saucer of some possibly shop-bought harissa that had been unceremoniously tipped onto the plate, with a few pickled chillies, also suspiciously jar-emanating, and some charred chilli husks. Why confusing? Because there was no reason behind it: no vehicle to carry the diner off into the realms of a capsaicin extravaganza. If it were meant to be a condiment, surely it should have been signposted as such, not presented as a starter? Needless to say, it was quickly abandoned.
We ordered pitta breads. I expected them to be the large, puffed up, hot pillows that you receive, on the house, at Maroush. Instead, they were seemingly imported from the film “Downsizing”, with a diameter barely extending to that of my palm, and £1.50 apiece.
At this point all the scrapings and scraps and stalks had begun to merge into a sludge on our plates. Like an inverse of the Twits we had only been provided with miniature side plates - as if by changing the proportions of the crockery we would be tricked into believing that the food portions were lavish and abundant. When the waiter showed no sign of refreshing our plates we asked for a change. A new set of the Lilliputian side plates arrived – without the doll’s house-sized cutlery that would have been appropriate. We asked for regular-sized dining plates, only to be told that “since the tables are so small they usually only give side plates”.
I understand all restaurants are businesses, running tight margins. However, it is no good thing when a restaurant becomes so transparently business-like that you can see the pound signs twinkling in their eyes. Tables so small that you need to shrink the portions and plate size in order to squeeze in more people, and thereby maximize margins on your dishes, makes for neither a comfortable nor an enjoyable experience. Added to that, Palomar is meant to be Israeli–influenced. Aside from the fact that the menu seems to have taken us on a rocky ride from England, to Italy, to the Middle East, they missed several key characteristics of Middle Eastern cuisine: generosity, colour, robustly-flavoured abundance and freshness.
The artichokes arrived: three measly, wan halves sitting on an ill-defined scrape of grey puree. These were followed by a tiny sauce boat containing the mushroom polenta. Polenta can be made delicious, but this dish was incomplete. It lacked crunch to counteract the slushy baby-food texture, the sloppy mushrooms providing no relief. Nor was there any astringency or freshness to counteract the starchy palidness.
The climax was reached with the sea bass, supposedly josperized with herb salad, candied lemons and pine nuts. I am lazy and not very caveman like (when dining) and prefer not to have to fight my way through bones and skins to eat my food, especially in an ill-lit environment. I ordered this on the waiter’s promise of it being “boned”. It arrived splayed, frowning, Tiresias -eyed. The first few mouthfuls were enjoyable, succulent and tender. I helped myself to more. The next mouthful came with a sharp gift of bones. I plucked them out, and persevered. However, my next attempt at a mouthful was thwarted permanently – it was raw.
The waitress was fair and professional, removing the fish and a number of other items from our bill. However, if you’re looking for a Middle-Eastern influenced feast, I would bypass Palomar and head straight to Ottolenghi, Nopi, or either of the Honey & Co. branches.
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Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.
But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise.
It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).
This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.
Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.
NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.
Ingredients (serves 4)
50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)
1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced
3 cloves garlic
4 sticks celery, roughly chopped
Large sprig fresh thyme
100ml white wine
1 litre vegetable stock. (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)
500g frozen peas
20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks
100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil
2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time
3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third
4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes
5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately
6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm.
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A trip to Toronto when I was seven years’ old is anchored for me by one thing: not the CN tower, or Niagara Falls or my cousin’s wedding, but a visit to the farmers’ market, and in particular, a potentially life-changing stall. A tall, russet-cheeked man was in command, his floured apron stretched taught over his protuberant belly.
And on his table lay not the garish, sprinkle- speckled swirls that would have drawn a normal child. Instead, tray after tray of rubbly slabs of oat and date crumble bars were arrayed.
The date layer of the bars was jaw-clenchingly sticky, and thick – not like the mean, shop-bought equivalent. The oaty outer layers were both crunchy and then soft, golden and not overly sweet, allowing the natural date sweetness to shine through.
. For the last seventeen years I’ve been raiding bakeries and markets, seeking to relive the experience, but the date and oat crumble bars always disappoint – too saccharine, too solid, too floury. In between raids, I’ve been working on my own: these are the closest I have come to Toronto’s best kept secret. I added the crushed amaretti to give them a little twist. Feel free to leave the sugar out of the crumble if your palate is adjusted to the less-sweet.
It’s incredibly hard to resist them when they emerge from the oven golden and crisp, but I think they taste even better when they have cooled and the flavours are more distinct (or maybe try them both ways, just to be sure…).
NB. They can be made gluten-free by substituting gluten-free flour for spelt.
400g medjool dates, pitted & roughly chopped (about 20)
3 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp finely grated orange zest
100g wholemeal spelt flour
50g dry amaretti biscuits
40g light brown muscovado sugar
¼ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
A square 20cm baking tin (or tin of equivalent area), lined with baking parchment, with sides and base fully covered.
1) Preheat oven to 180°C
2) Place all ingredients for the date filling in a pot and place on a medium heat. Stir as the mixture begins to simmer. After about 5 minutes, when the dates have broken down into more of a paste and all the water has evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside.
3) Pour all the crumble ingredients into a blender and pulse until the mixture still has some texture and is slightly coarser than sand.
4) Pour 2/3 of the crumble mixture into the base of the tin, and, with your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the mixture down evenly across the base of the tin until firm and compact. Pour the date filling over and spread evenly across the base. Then pour over the remaining crumble mixture and press down until even and as compact as possible.
5) Place in oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.
6) Slice and allow to cool before devouring. Keeps well in an air tight container in fridge for up to 5 days, or in freezer for 2 months (also tastes delicious when frozen).
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
If they had stayed for a little longer, they might have realised that the story I was telling was one of salaciousness, survival of 6.3 Richter scale earthquakes, 800 years of in-breeding in hidden Tuscan villages, and scandal. Alas, they missed out. All three couples came, perched for 10 minutes or so, before murmuring into the waiter’s ear something which meant that they then proceeded to shuffle across the crisp white and mustard-toned restaurant to somewhere where they could engage in their own (much more dull) tales. Admittedly, at the age of ten my teacher did declare that I was a foghorn, but in this situation it was not the decibels that were the issue, but rather the proximity of the tables.
I don’t know whether it’s part of the Australian vibe, or whether the blinding whiteness of the restaurant has some sort of narcotic effect. Whichever it is, the waiters just seemed very lax. At the back of both upstairs and downstairs dining areas there are, at an initial glance, what appear to be bars. But as the meal progressed, and I winked, waved and stared until my eyes my eyes began to water at waiters in the hope of catching their attention, I realised their hidden purpose: they are the restaurant version of the bird watcher’s hide - a camouflaged refuge where under the guise of polishing glasses the staff can spectate and judge the gorging and imbibing. Eventually, I managed to snare a waitress before she shuffled behind the hide.
As an obsessive fan of MasterChef Australia (I refuse to watch the British version), I was rather excited by the promise of an Australian-Pan-Pacific menu, and plumped for the Thai chicken salad: fresh, crisp and crunchy to the point where I could feel my jaw muscles ache the next day. It was definitely palatable, albeit lacking that sweet sticky, spice-kicked tang that the word “Thai” promises. My dining companion enjoyed what was apparently smashed avocado, charred tomato, feta and grilled sourdough, but which was hard to make out under the crisp kale shroud.
Our meal ended at the two dishes. We felt rather abandoned by the waiters, who did not even try to maximise spend-per-cover by offering us dessert or drinks menus. Their tactic must have worked to some bizarre extent as I returned to the restaurant some weeks later, mainly out of curiosity: spiced halloumi with falafel, preserved lemon, and pickle salad for me. Crunchy and tender in all the right places, bitter, zesty, sharp and sweet, it was a success. For dessert, a delicate twist on the pavlova - a soft set lemony curd, berries and basil infused cream - in no way satisfying, but refreshing all the same.
So, in summary, my experience of Dickie Fitz was crowd-shy waiters, not outstandingly innovative yet refreshing, clean, tasty food, and (squashed together) tables that are actually bookable for brunch, an increasing rarity these days.
Suitable for: brunch, celebrations, actually being able to book a table, vegetarians
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
This is the cinnamon apple crumble pie 2.0. Tried, tested, and enhanced... Soft, crunchy, crumbly, fresh, sweet, and on the cusp of sour – the Gail’s Bakery apple crumble cake is what I crave. It’s the ultimate winter treat, although I gaze longingly through the bakery window at them year-round.
I bought the Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook a few months ago in the hope that they had divulged the secret of their signature apple crumble cake. They hadn’t.
As a result I’ve just had to develop my own recipe – more wholesome, with more cinnamon and less sugar, I’ve heard they may even be superior…
320g (11.3 oz) wholegrain spelt flour
110g (3.9oz) icing sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
165g (5.8oz) butter, roughly chopped into cubes
1 large egg, beaten
700 (1lb 5oz) grams of peeled, cored and coarsely grated Bramley apples (about 3 large apples)
70g (2.5oz) caster sugar
80g (2.8oz) wholegrain spelt flour
45g (1.6oz) oats
45g (1.6oz) caster sugar
50g (1.7oz) butter
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
15 hole muffin/cupcake tin, greased (usually they come in 12s, in which case you will need 2 x muffin trays
- In a blender, blitz together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand. Pour in the egg and continue to pulse until the mixture clumps together into a dough. Avoid mixing it more than necessary.
- Flatten the dough roughly into a disc and wrap in cling film or baking parchment. Chill in the freezer while you make the other elements.
- Place all ingredients in a pan and stir over a high heat for about 5 minutes until the apple turns soft but some texture still remains. Strain the mixture using a sieve, pressing down to get rid of excess liquid (about 250ml, which incidentally tastes like a delicious mulled cider). Set aside to cool.
- Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand.
- Preheat an oven to 180˚C.
- On a floured surface, roll out the chilled pasty to a thickness of 0.5cm. Cut the pastry into circles with an area similar to that of the muffin tin holes (about 8-10cm), and press each circle in the holes. You may need to patchwork the pieces together.
- Prick the pastry lining the muffin holes with a fork, and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or cooked through and beginning to golden slightly.
- Take the tin out of the oven and spoon 2tbsp of the cooked apple into each pastry shells. Top the cakes by spooning a few tablespoons of the crumb topping over each cake, patting it down and then sprinkling the rest of the mixture over. I like to clump some of it together before scattering it over in order to add further texture and rustic appeal.
- Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the crumble topping is golden and crisp. Serve hot or cold.
Afternoon tea. What do you think of when someone says those words? Tiers of fluffy isosceles sandwiches, miniature entremets layered with fruit, caramel, and chocolate, and maybe a scone glistening with strawberries. Crisp napkins, high ceilings, the tinkling of fine bone china…
Near where I live there is an Austrian tea room. The window is filled with garish glace cherry- adorned, deflated pastries, crusted squiggles of festering cream, and opera cake melding into a brown sludge. It opened 60 years ago, and the décor and pastries appear not to have been refreshed since.
Inside, it is dark and cramped, and the airless atmosphere is thickened with hot breath and the oversweet smell of fat and sugar.
Their Linzer biscuits, however, remind me of Jammie Dodgers – those jam-filled, shortbread biscuits of my childhood that only other people’s mothers allowed – and inspired me to re- interpret them.
These have a slight Moroccan edge: spiced, delicate with a slight chewiness, filled with the tangy conserve of your choice.
I like marmalade for the tart/bitter contrast against the sweetness of the pastry, but strawberry also works well. Of course, you can go for any shape, but I am rather taken by the cog-like –quirky take on a Jammie Dodger look.
290g (10.125 ounces) white spelt flour (or plain flour if unavailable)
140g (5 ounces) ground almonds
100g (3.5 ounces) caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp almond extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest (about ½ lemon)
1 tsp grated orange zest (about ½ medium orange)
225g (8 ounces) unsalted butter
200g (7 ounces) marmalade or jam of choice (I used marmalade and strawberry)
30g (1 ounce) icing sugar
Large and small cookie cutters (I used 7cm and 3.5cm diameter rings)
2 large baking sheets, lined with baking parhcment
- Pour flour, ground almonds, caster sugar, salt cinnoman, cloves,orange and lemons zest, and almond extract into a food processor and pulse until fully combined. Add in the chopped butter and pulse again until the mixture forms a damp sand-like texture. Keep pulsing until it clumps tighter to form a dough.
- Divide the dough into two rounds and flatten both onto sheets of baking parchment, wrap them and place them in the freezer for about 20 minutes or the fridge for an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 160˚C (325˚F). Remove the disks of dough from the freezer/fridge – if they are too firm to roll, let them sit for a few minutes. Ona thoroughly floured board, roll one disk out to a 3mm (1/8 inch) thickness. Cut out as many cookies as possible and set aside the scraps. Space the disks out on the baking trays as you go. Repeat with the second disk and use the smaller cutter to cut out small holes from the rounds. Press together the accumulated scraps and roll out again. Make sure there are an equal number of whole circles to circles with a cut out circle. A tip to avoid the cutter sticking in the dough is to dip it in flour first.
- Place the trays in the oven and bake for 12- 15 minutes until the cookies are golden but still soft to the touch – they will continue to cook as they cool. When cool, for aesthetic effect, sieve the icing sugar onto the rounds with the circles cut out of them. Then spread a teaspoon of the jam/marmalade onto the complete circles, and lightly press the cut-out layer on top. Devour, delicately, of course…
Last week I went to a blind wine-tasting in a stuffy carpeted room on the top floor of a Mayfair pub. On the table, columns of bottles were massed, awaiting palatal analysis and identification. One of the sweaty, post-work crowd sidled up to me and refused to leave my side the entire evening. Not for any flattering reason: he had arrived drunk at the alcohol imbibition. The sole potential benefit of his presence was his vaunted knowledge of wines, gained from downing over fifty years’ worth of ethanol. Wine after wine he sipped, swirled, glugged, holding each up to the window despite the fading light. Glass after glass he swigged and squirted from one side of his mouth to the other, patting his lips, flipping his tongue up to his palette in order “to catch the aftertaste”, sucking and squelching. “Taste the vanilla in that”, “feel the syrupy smoothness of this”, he said, nodding sagely. 1/9 of his answers were correct…
To me, this is all a manifestation of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome which may sometimes be applied to Michelin-starred restaurants. Do I really want to dine on fussy little squiggles of substance that I have to chase with another globule of something or other so that the perfect scientific reaction can effervesce at the back end of my tongue? However, Jason Atherton’s soon to be double Michelin-starred flagship is not in this category. An idyll amongst the raucous, tourist-ridden bustle of Regent Street, Pollen Street Social sits opposite its sister restaurant, Little Social (see review here). Its style is unfussy, open, and clean, with attention to detail: even our bags were given individual stools.
Before we had even turned the page of the menu, a selection of amuse bouches materialised: dainty sweet corn muffins topped with delicate swirls of dill and cucumber cream, beetroot and blackberry filled tuiles that burst with sweet vinegary freshness, and my favourite, a Jerusalem artichoke crème. These were followed by cups of mushroom consommé topped with delicate parmesan foam, salty and meaty while being vegetarian.
To start, I chose the neeps and tatties in a mushroom ragout- a wonderful coil of tender turnip ribbons generously grated with umami Berkswell cheese. I could have easily devoured my dining companions’ portions as well.
Out of the whirr and buzz there then appeared the sprightly figure of Tiziano, the junior manager, who filled the room with his energy and excitable charm. He whisked me off to view the upstairs kitchen and the pass – a dark, orange- lit forge, tantalisingly situated behind glass.
It was sprung with energy but, unlike the amped up drama so often portrayed on TV, it was at the same time controlled and calm. Whilst fixing plates, advising chefs on the pass, and approving the dishes that flowed past us on wooden board, Dale (Head Chef) talked me through the dishes.
Our main courses were served as soon as I returned to my seat: the juiciest of chicken breast with a skin so crisp that even I (spurner of skin) couldn’t resist – its earthy savouriness was contrasted with the little pops of peas and broad beans, underpinned once more by the seasonal buttery, almost molten, girolles. The wild garlic flowers added to the dish with their fresh savouriness. My dining companions’ lamb and gnocchi dishes were also successes, although if there were any criticism it would be the mushroom theme that was developing throughout the vegetarian dishes – a non fungi fan would have had difficulty. In addition, my companion found some of the mushrooms somewhat too heavily salted.
We decamped to the dessert bar to watch the pastry chefs practising their craft. First, a palate cleanser which was one of the highlights of the meal, straddling the line between savoury and sweet, and without risking losing stomach room for dessert: light yogurt foam with fairy-thin shards of meringue and a verdant and astringent basil sorbet.
We watched as cylinders of tempered chocolate were filled with an aerated milk mousse and crumbled sticky and crunchy caramelised puffed rice. A chocolate disc was delicately placed on top like a lid, and adorned with a gold leaf foil, and then accompanied by a rocher of honey ice cream. My dining companions' poached berries with lime and cream cheese sorbet with honey sugar tuile were also a hit. These were chased by a velvety chocolate mousse, and an almond and cherry financier, and a passion fruit and blood orange pâté de fruit, as well as a hazelnut crème entremets for the road…just in case.
Delicious, unfussy, comfortable and exciting – this is one of the finest dining experiences I have had in the last few years. And I can say that without any fear of an emperor’s new clothes diagnosis.
What’s your crumble-to-fruit ratio? If you’re the kind who favours a preponderance of stewed fruit with an insubstantial fairy dusting of oaty-flour, turn away now. If you lean towards the lavish when it comes to crumble proportion - good. Read on…
I have experienced many a crumble: from damson to mulberry to cherry to apple, from autumn to winter to spring to summer. But regardless of the lusciousness of the interior, the crumbles that garner the most attention, that leave people scratching way at the remaining crumbs that have become forged to the side of the pan in yearning for more, are the ones with a superabundance of crumble topping.
Crunchy, nutty, warming and eminently comforting – this is what a good crumble should be. Enough so that you don’t worry about rationing the crumble in your bowl to suit the amount of fruit – enough so that every mouthful has a good proportion of both.
A good crumble, as with so many things, should leave you wanting more.
But what if you don’t want to have to face the risk of eating the whole pot by mistake – or at least you if do want to be able to eat the whole lot, do so in a more measured way?
What if you want to extend the experience beyond the comfort of your kitchen i.e. a portable crumble?
Try these – fruity, nutty, fresh, and summery, with a subtle tang and not overly-sweet. They are extremely quick and easy to make and, more importantly, the crumble–to-fruit ratio is verging on perfect…
½ tsp baking powder
210g white spelt flour (substitute any flour of your choice: plain, gluten-free or otherwise)
115g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
¼ tsp salt
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of ½ orange
2 generous cups of strawberries, quartered
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (substitute with 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract if unavailable)
20g unsalted butter
30g finely chopped walnuts (remove if allergic)
50g white spelt flour (substitute with any flour of your choice, plain, gluten-free or otherwise)
Pinch of salt
20cm x 20cm tin lined with baking parchment (or a pan of similar area)
- Preheat oven to 190˚C. Pour sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, and zest in a blender and pulse to combine. Add butter and egg, and pulse until fully combined and has reached a slightly clumpy, damp sand consistency. Pour this into the lined baking pan, and press down to create an even base layer.
- In a bowl, stir together chopped strawberries, orange juice, orange zest and cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the base layer (including the fruit juices.)
- Make the topping by pulsing together the butter, sugar, oats, flour and salt until fully combined and sand-like in texture. Stir in the walnuts, then sprinkle the mixture over the strawberries.
- Bake in oven for 30 – 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the base is cooked through. Make sure to check after 20 minutes - you may need to cover the crumble with tin foil to prevent the top from catching (depending on your oven’s temperament). Once cooked, remove from the oven and slice into squares. Eat immediately or later.
'Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ Samuel Johnson, The Dictionary of the English Language, 1755
If I were the type of person that leafed (ironically) through Cosmo, and stumbled across one of those lazy, page-filling content, tree diagrams which happened to ask “what is your spirit animal?”, I know what mine would be. A horse. Well, at least that’s what it would have been during the second year of my time at university in terms of comestibles…
Essay crises necessitate fuel in order to feed the adrenaline and, for me, that fuel came in the form of oats.
When you have a 9 am deadline approaching, and there is only one hour remaining, every minute is precious - so there is no time to spare for cooking oats over the hob until they break down into a creamy mulch.
That’s the excuse I gave myself. Instead, I developed the rather grotesque habit of eating oats straight from the packet, raw and desiccated. In my maddened and pressured state, I savoured the clagginess of the oats, where you can’t quite conjure up enough saliva to swallow them. Ideal.
I have since moved on from this stage (with the very occasional relapse) to a more acceptable way of dealing with my love of oats: Bircher muesli, invented by Bircher Benner, a pioneer of raw foodism, in the late 19th century as a way of curing his jaundice. It worked.
I feel, somewhat justifiably, that it runs in my blood (thick & creamy): my great-great-uncle was a frequent patient at Benner’s rather avant garde Swiss raw food clinic and, one sunny day, he stepped down from a plane on an impromptu visit from Scotland to South Africa with no clothes besides the ones on his back, a vegetable juicing contraption which he trailed behind him on a rickety little cart, and a proselytising passion for Bircher muesli.
I have tried many a Bircher muesli, from Swiss versions to Vietnamese attempts, but I feel I have concocted the ultimate version (excuse my arrogance). Creamy, healthy, juicy, and exotic, it’s effectively manna, and I would happily have it for every meal of the day (jaundiced or not).
The Best Bircher Muesli (Serves 5)
2 Braeburn apples, grated
Juice of 1/2 lemon
200ml orange juice
200g natural yogurt
200g almond and coconut milk (can be substituted with dairy or non-dairy alternatives)
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you can’t get hold of this, omit it, or substitute with ½ tsp vanilla extract)
50g desiccated coconut, lightly toasted in a pan on a low heat until pale gold)
200g porridge oats
Pinch of salt
200g of fresh fruit of your choice (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, figs, sliced banana work well)
40g coconut chips (optional but adds great texture)
- In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients apart from the fresh fruit and optional coconut chips. If you are making this the night before, cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge overnight to let the oats soak up the flavours. If you are serving the muesli immediately, stir the mixture for a couple of minutes to break down the oats until they are creamy.
- If you are leaving the muesli overnight, allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Scatter mixed berries and fruits and coconut chips over the top and serve.
I am often asked how it is that I am not obese. I am by no means super skinny, but people wonder how I avoid rolling around the place when I am seemingly baking the whole time and have little resistance to delicious things. So, here’s my secret. Have a go.
What I need: a running machine; a radio; an oven; a timer
What I do:
Pour the batter into the cake tin, lovingly smooth the surface over with a spatula. One lick of the spatula before it goes in the sink (just a little indulgence). Carefully open the oven door, and bend down slowly so that the batter remains level. Place the cake tin tenderly on the rack. Set the oven timer. 22 minutes. Then GO.
Run up the stairs, two at a time. That’s one minute either side to rush back down. Turn up the radio. Leap on to the treadmill, and run. 10 mph minimum. 20 mins to go. Sweat, pound, sweat. 15 mins. Beyoncé’s screaming. Oven beeps. Run back down (Beyoncé’s mumbling). Open oven door, skewer the cake. Damn - not cooked. Rip out a sheet of tin foil. Cover the cake. Burn hand. Set timer: 7 mins more. Repeat process until skewer comes out clean. Place cake on rack and allow to cool.
Stretch and shower.
Hover over the cake with a knife.
You can make the cake sans-icing by simply halving the recipe and, before serving, dusting with a little icing sugar.
200g butter, at room temperature
170g caster sugar
30g light brown muscovado sugar
2 tbsp ground coffee
¼ tsp salt
70g toasted walnuts, ground to a fine sand
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp instant coffee, dissolved in as little hot water as possible to make a smooth paste
240g self-rising flour, sieved
2 x 8 inch cake tins, greased and with bases lined with a circle of baking parchment
40g golden syrup
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp instant coffee
100ml boiling water
300g butter, at room temperature
450g icing sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in as little hot water as possible to make a smooth paste
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp water
- Preheat oven to 180˚C. Using an electric mixer, or with a vigorous hand, in a large bowl beat together the butter, caster sugar, muscovado, ground coffee and salt until light and fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, vanilla and dissolved instant coffee. Beat this into the butter-sugar-coffee-salt mix. Once combined, stir in the ground walnuts.
- Finally, gently fold the sieved flour into the mixture, being careful not to overbeat. Divide the mixture between the two tins and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes (checking after 20) or until a skewer comes out clean.
- While the cakes are baking, make the coffee syrup. Dissolve the instant coffee in the water and pour into a small pan along with the syrup and sugar. On a medium high heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to simmer for 5 minutes or until it thickens slightly to the consistency of maple syrup.
- Remove cakes from oven. Stab them all over with a cake tester or skewer, and spoon the syrup equally over the two cakes. Set aside on a rack and allow to cool.
- Beat together butter and icing sugar. Once combined, beat in the vanilla, coffee and salt.
- Remove the cakes from tins, place one on the serving plate and spread ¼ of the icing on its surface. Place the other cake on top and spread the icing evenly over the cake.
- In a shallow pan, over a medium-high heat, stir together water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Then pour in the walnuts, and continue to stir and coat them until all the water has evaporated. Decant them on to a sheet of baking parchment, and allow them to cool.
- Once cool, chop roughly, and scatter as desired over the cake.
Is it just me, or is anyone else sick of logging on to Facebook, innocently hoping to drain away half an hour of one’s day (minimum) by looking at pictures of people one may or may not have half met once trying to prove how much fun they are having by posting pictures of themselves with friends/family, strained smiles stretched across their faces, and who are clearly not that immersed in the fun as they have had to spend half an hour trying to get one decent picture out of the hundred they’ve taken to emblazon it across their Facebook wall and maybe, just maybe, turn it into a cover photo?
And then – BAM - your gaze is diverted,
and you are staring down into the depths of a garishly coloured plastic bowl filled with some unidentifiable artificial gunk, pink fleshy hands massaging some other substance into it to form some putty-like emulsion which is then mushed and squeezed and squidged into a plastic mould, whizzed up, and extruded through a bag and…… oh look, it’s that Gooey Oreo, Jellied Eel and Green Marshmallow Mini Coffee Cup that “you’ve always wanted to make for your slumber party with the gals”.
Here’s an antidote. It is simple yet sophisticated, humble yet sumptuous, tangy but not cloyingly sweet, and light yet not so light when you’ve had 4+ pieces….
200g white spelt flour (can be substituted with plain flour)
100g butter, roughly cubed
2 tbsp icing sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 small egg, beaten
12 x 36cm tart tin, greased and dusted with flour
800g frozen blueberries
250g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp cornflour
Zest of ½ medium sized orange
- Place flour, butter, icing sugar and salt in a food processor, and blitz until it resembles damp sand. Pour in the beaten egg, and pulse until the mixture combines to form a soft dough. Remove from the processor, wrap in baking parchment and place in the fridge for half an hour (or freezer for 10-15 minutes) – this will prevent the dough from shrinking when it bakes.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Lightly dust a surface with flour and roll out the dough in a rough rectangle to 0.5cm thickness. Roll the pastry around a rolling pin and transfer to the tin, pressing it into the fluting (if, indeed, your tin is fluted). Run a knife along the top edge of the tin to remove excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry a few times with a fork, and place back in the fridge for 30 minutes (or freezer for 10 minutes).
- Prepare the pastry for blind baking by lining the inside with a sheet of tin foil and filling it with baking beads to weigh it down while it bakes and to prevent it from shrinking. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is dry and beginning to turn golden. If it is cooking too slowly, you can remove the beads and tin foil after 15 minutes and continue to bake. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- To make the spiced blueberry filling, place a large pan over a high heat and pour in all the ingredients. Stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved in the juice that runs off the blueberries. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from catching, until the liquid is almost completely reduced and with the viscosity somewhere between a syrup and a jam. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into the pre-baked pastry case.
I never caught on to the Disney hype – I endured a few of the films when I was younger but was never enthralled by its saccharine princesses and unrealistic princes. I rejected the dressing up stage of childhood, and have none of the nostalgia that is awakened in many when hearing or singing the songs. My only knowledge of Lion King is from Cindies (arguably the stickiest night club in Cambridge) which is played for 30 seconds without fail every Wednesday evening to excite the Disney addicts and to jolt inebriated students out of their drunken kisses.
What I did love was the sugar-glazed brutality of the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film.
I adored the Chocolate Room, and my six year old self spent a lot of time fantasising about edible wallpaper and edible TV adverts. However, the first scene, where 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.
These are not those tooth-breaking, individually wrapped little rocks you might impulse buy at coffee shops. They’re soft, aromatic and chewy (and great for the dentally challenged).
Amaretti are also perfect for coeliacs, and can make a wonderful dessert paired with ice cream and a tangy berry sauce (see recipe here).
This recipe should be paired with my one for summer berry lemon curd tarts (see recipe here) which awkwardly leaves you with spare egg whites. Don’t waste them, make these instead –you won’t regret it…
Ingredients (makes 35 small cookies)
360g ground almonds
220g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
½ tsp salt
115g egg white (3 large eggs, approx.)
4 tsp honey
¼ tsp almond extract
100g icing sugar, sieved, for rolling
1 large baking tray lined with baking parchment
1.) Preheat oven to 170˚C. In a large bowl mix together the ground almonds, sugar, lemon zest and salt, and set aside.
2.) Pour the egg whites into the bone dry and non-greasy bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk on high speed until soft and frothy peaks form. Pour the honey into the eggs and continue to whisk on a high speed until the peaks are glossy (see above photo). Sprinkle the almond extract into the eggs and whisk together very briefly at a low speed just to combine.
3.) Very gently fold the whisked egg white mixture into the dry ingredients. They will combine to form a soft and sticky paste.
4.) Using your palms, roll 20g at a time of the mixture into spheres (roughly 2.5cm in diameter), and then roll each generously in a bowl of icing sugar. Repeat and arrange on the tray, leaving at least 3cm between. Use the tines of a fork to slightly flatten the amaretti spheres. Place the tray in the oven to bake for 8-12 minutes until they are beginning to turn golden on the outside but are still soft inside. They will continue to cook as they cool.
I refuse to believe that the macaron is simply a fad. Admittedly, there was a craze which saw the opening of several French macaron boutiques in London. I shan’t name names but one of the largest French specialists does not even make them fresh in London. Instead, they import them frozen from France - in a state of hibernation, as they call it.
Despite this, the specialists remain, and the macaron is here to stay. Now that the craze has faded a little, I feel more free to write a recipe as people will be slightly less sick of the sight of the perfect ruffled shells.
Many are intimidated at the prospect of making them, but there really is no need. The rumour of the challenge in making them may well have been promulgated by the macaron specialists themselves in order to justify their extortionate pricing.
To make them extra tangy and fruity, raspberry is worked into these macarons in three ways: freeze dried raspberries, raspberry jam and raspberry liqueur. If you can’t get hold of freeze dried raspberries, just omit this element from the recipe.
Triple Raspberry Liqueur Macarons
Makes about 30 small macarons
110g icing sugar, sieved
50g ground almonds, blitzed in a blender to a fine powder, and sieved
5g freeze dried raspberry powder OR 10g freeze dried raspberries, crushed or whole (see below)
60g egg whites (about 2 eggs' worth)
40g caster sugar
A couple of drops of pink food dye (optional)
200g seedless raspberry am
4 tbsp Chambord (raspberry liqueur)
2 large baking trays lined with baking parchment – if you wish to achieve perfectly circular macarons, create guidelines for the piping by drawing in pencil round a 4cm bottle lid repeatedly on the greaseproof paper, leaving at least 4cm between each circle. Flip it over after doing this to ensure that the pencil does not transfer to the macaron
Piping bag fitted with 0.5cm nozzle
- In a large bowl, mix together the sieved icing sugar, ground almonds and freeze dried raspberry powder. If you can only get hold of crushed or whole freeze dried raspberries, place these in a blender and blitz until they are as pulverised as possible, and then sieve to remove the seeds. You should be left with a fine red dust.
- Pour egg whites into the bowl of a bone dry electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk at a high speed until soft, foamy peaks form. Then, with the whisk still ongoing, add in the caster sugar, a tablespoonful at a time. Keep whisking until the meringue is glossy and firm peaks form.
- Take a third of the meringue and mix it into the dry ingredients. If the dry ingredients don’t fully combine, stir in another tablespoon of meringue. At this point you can add a couple of drops of food dye to reach desired colour - anything from baby girl to schiaparelli pink. The mixture should turn into a thick, smooth paste. Then, gradually fold in the rest of the meringue, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture becomes glossy and smooth.
- Spoon mixture in the piping bag and pipe little dots directly onto the corners of the baking tray to stick the baking parchment down. Then pipe the mixture into each circle. Once finished piping, tap the tray down firmly on a hard surface a couple of times to remove the air bubbles from the macarons. Then set the macarons aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. This will allow a skin to form and will lead to the creation of the often-elusive but essential “macaron foot”.
- While they are resting, preheat oven to 150˚C. Bake the macarons for 20 minutes or until they can be lifted off the tray cleanly with a pallet knife. Allow them to cool until they reach room temperature.
- Place raspberrry jam in a small pot over a medium-high heat and stir continuously. After it has bubbled furiously for a couple of minutes, stir in the Chambord. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until it has become more viscous and thick enough to be able to be dropped off a spoon. Remove from the stove, allow to cool for 5 minutes and then sandwich each pair of macaron shells together with a teaspoon of the mixture.