Archive for the ‘Puddings’ Category

Blackberry and apple crumble

When I was younger, I used to create ‘to do’ lists, and actually do the things on them. They were achievable both in length and level of ambition: French vocabulary test – check. Write history essay – check. Letter to granny – check. Buy some more toothpaste – check.

Now my ‘to do’ lists have to be divided into three tiers:

Tier 1 – Urgent. Must do. (eg. pay electricity bill, pay council tax, buy more loo roll, chuck dead flowers)

Tier 2 - Life-improving/disaster-averting things I’ve been meaning to do for a while (eg. switch to an internet provider which actually provides the internet, buy a vacuum cleaner which actually vacuums, do dry-cleaning, get home insurance, replace my only pair of jeans which now have holes in the bottom, book doctor’s appointment about dodgy toe, write a blog post…)

Tier 3 – Things I want to do, but have resigned myself to never achieving (eg. lose one stone, read book for next book club, learn Farsi, start pottery evening classes)

Occasionally the things in Tier 2 whizz up into Tier 1 and eventually get done. But it’s rare that anything in Tier 3 moves up into Tier 2 and is in any danger of actually happening. One of the things, for example, which has been in Tier 3 for some time is ‘learning more poetry off by heart’.

I’d like to be the sort of person who could drop the odd quote or relevant rhyming prose into conversation. Sadly, it’s an activity mainly left to our grandparents’ generation. Our schooling was too focused on SATS/CE/GCSES/AS and A-levels to squeeze such soul-improving activities into the syllabus.

And it’s a problem – because I often worry that if I were in a Count of Monte Cristo situation, arrested for political crimes and imprisoned in Chateau d’If for a decade, then I should like to be able to call upon some poetry rattling round my mind as a way to stay occupied. As it is, I only have a repertoire of three poems. And I’m not sure how ‘improving’ or thought-provoking any of them are. I can do the first two verses of The Jabberwocky, the first three verses of Macavity – The Mystery Cat, and all of Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry Picking.

But I must count myself lucky, as three is more than many people. And poems are such lovely things to mumble to oneself while pottering about. Indeed, at the weeked I was picking fruit in my pyjamas, and called upon Mr Heany’s prose to fill the time. So I dedicate this crumble recipe to him – and (seeing as it’s the only one I know off-by-heart in full), my all-time favourite poem:

Blackberry picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full,
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Blackberry and apple crumble recipe

100g plain flour
50g butter, cut into cubes
50 caster sugar
250g blackberries
cooking apples (see photo below)
Optional: zest of 1 orange (for some zing) 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (for some spice), 1 teaspoon of cornflour (to thicken the juices).

There’s nothing more joyful than using ugly, little windfalls and cutting round the maggot holes and bruises. In fact, if an apple is being used for cooking, then it makes me a little sad to use a perfect, gleaming specimen when it’s getting chopped up into a pie or crumble anyway

Put the plain flour, butter and caster sugar into a bowl and rub it all between your fingertips until the mixture is an even, breadcrumb consistency.
Peel, core and chop the apples and put them in a pie dish.
Add the blackberries – and some orange zest/cinnamon/cornflour if desired.
Pour the crumble topping over the fruit filling, and put it in the oven at 190C for 20 minutes. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard…or (even better) all three.

I made the crumble in several little ramekins (ok, old Gu pudding pots) - that way I could have one for supper, and one sneaky little one for breakfast this morning

Read Full Post »

Gries Schmarn: a recipe from my Granny's cookbook (just under Povidl Noodles, whatever they were..!)

I think my appendix could be about to burst. Or something chronic.
I’ve tried to go to the doctors, but I can’t get an appointment until next Wednesday evening. I might be dead by then. The only small comfort is that I could be hailed as a martyr for the NHS. Probably not though.

When I was little, there were two small perks of illness: Ill-Person’s-TV (episodes of Blue Peter I might’ve missed while I was out at brownies, compiled on one ultimate mix-video), and Ill-Person’s-Food, which, in our house, was ‘gries schmarn’ – a Czech dish passed down my mum’s side of the family.

When your tummy needs to be gently cajoled into eating, and your nose can’t deal with anything too fragrant, and you’re too shattered to even do proper chewing and eating with a knife and fork, this is perfect.

You have to be careful choosing Ill-Person’s-Food. Thick dairy products can get easily thrown up again, and fruit can be too acidic on sensitive stomachs. I once had a stonkingly bad hangover and turned to a bowl of plain mashed potato to fill my tum and rebalance the food-alcohol ration in my system. Not a good idea.

Semolina has bad reputation from the prunes and custard horror days of school dinners, but I really recommend this to all the sickly people out there who have been struck down by Norovirus or who might have exploding appendixes too.

Gries Schmarn
2oz semolina (50 grams)
½ pint milk
1 small egg
sugar to taste
handful of sultanas
2oz butter (50 grams) - though I only used 25g which still seemed like quite a lot.

Mix together the semolina, milk, egg, sugar and sultanas. Melt the butter in a dish and pour the mixture in. Bake in a moderate oven (180C) for about ½ hour stirring occasionally.

• It’s fine to store semolina in the fridge and reheat in the microwave, but add a splash of milk as you reheat it and stir mid-way through heating.
• Serve the gries schmarn with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon and a couple of extra knobs of butter.

PS. Let me know what your Ill-Person’s-Food is in case I get bored with gries schmarn.

Read Full Post »

Christmas is a time of tradition. But tradition is a fluid thing.

For a while there was the tradition of Dad finding waifs and strays on Christmas Day and bringing them back for lunch—but that petered out after couple of real odd balls.

Then there was the tradition of going to the family church service on Christmas morning, but Mum boycotted that after a torturous hour next to a hyped-up toddler with a steaming, turd-filled nappy.

So we started a new tradition of going to midnight mass instead.
One weird year, we were squished up in the pew when my sister announced that she’d forgotten to put any pants on. So she declared that ‘not wearing pants to midnight mass’ should become new tradition—but the following year she fell asleep before the service even started, which (thankfully) put an end to that tradition…along with the tradition of us all going to a Christmas church service together.

Even the ‘traditional’ meal changes—last year we decided that nobody liked turkey apart from Dad, so we all had beef instead (though Dad was cooked a turkey leg as a compromise). I also set up a ‘cocktail bar’ in the kitchen meaning ‘Christmas cocktails’ have been put forward as a new tradition—but I wonder how long it will take before I get bored of fiddling about with pisco and Angostura and that ‘tradition’ gets knocked on the head too.

There is one tradition though that will never die out though. And that’s the tradition of marzipan fruits. It’s carried out with military precision and planning—Mum starts hoarding Ferrero Rocher boxes to put the fruits in around February…

When the big day of marzipan fruit making comes my brother, sister and I are put round the table in a Henry Ford-esque, conveyor belt formation while my mum acts as the factory foreman, furiously making batches of marzipan and instructing us what part of the fruit to make before passing it on for the next stage of the process.

Over many years, we’ve honed the fruits down to an achievable selection. There were a couple of over-ambitious years where we attempted pineapples and bunches of grapes, but now the fruit bowl is unchanging:

Strawberries—mould plain-coloured marzipan into a strawberry-shape. Paint all of it apart from the base with red food-colouring, and while it’s still wet, roll it in sugar. Roll two tiny sausages of green marzipan, arrange them in a cross, squish flat and put it on the base of the strawberry as the stalky bit.

Apricot—roll a ball of orange-coloured marzipan into an oval, apricot-shape. Use the blunt, back of a knife to create an indent in the fruit, then use your finger to dab a red blush on one side. Finally, dip a cocktail stick into black liquorice paste and make a dot on the top of the fruit where the stalk would go.

Orange—get a little ball of orange-coloured marzipan, then gently roll it over the side of a grater you’d usually zest things on—this gives it a pleasing bobbly effect. Make a cross in the top of the orange, and stick the gnarledy end of a clove in it to look like the stalk.

Apple—roll a ball of green marzipan, and gently push your knuckle into the top to create a little dent. Poke the straight-end of a clove into the dent to represent the stalk, and then use your finger to dab a little bit of red food colouring on one side.

Mushrooms—get a ball of brown marzipan (unlike all the other colours which are made with food colouring, this is made with cocoa powder). Use a knuckle to make an indent in the ball, and then roll a thick-sausage base out of plain marzipan to act as a trunk for the mushroom to sit on.

Marzipan recipe (if you’re making your own instead of relying on shop-bought).

Mix together equal amounts of ground almonds and sugar (half caster sugar, half icing sugar).

Bind this together with an egg white—or, if you’re worried about using uncooked egg whites, then powdered egg white (roughly 1 egg white per 8 oz of ground almonds—but use your judgement).

If the mixture needs a bit more liquid to come together, then add a splash of lemon juice and brandy.

When you have a big batch of neutral food-colouring, break off three smaller balls—dye one orange and one green using food colouring, and then use cocoa powder to turn the final ball brown for the mushroom tops.

Complete your marzipan-making kit with an old paintbrush and saucer-ful of red food colouring for the strawberries, a cocktail stick, black liquorice paste, and chopped-in-half cloves so you can use one end for the oranges, and the other end for the apple stalks.

Once the marzipan fruits are finished we pop them in petit fours cases and arrange them in Ferrero Rocher boxes which have individual holes for the fruits to sit in. Have a go yourself and introduce a new Christmas tradition to your family’s repertoire.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to lose some weight.
Nothing too drastic—maybe cutting pork pies out of my diet, or restricting myself to one pudding per meal, or drinking more tonic that gin…

I’ve been in denial about the gentle weight gain that’s a by-product of this blog—convincing myself that the tightening of jeans was down to my poor grasp of washing machine settings rather than my exceptionally ‘healthy’ appetite.

But I was forced to face the few extra pounds head-on a couple of months ago. I popped by to visit my granddad who, on opening the door, frog-marched me to his scales, stood me on them and promptly announced I was overweight.

Over the last 25 years I’ve learned to take most of what my grandad says and does with a pinch of salt, so I wasn’t especially upset. Though the incident did register enough for me to investigate the reason for behind this specific ambush.

Sure enough, it transpired that mum had been on another weight campaign with Lucy (Grandad’s particularly beautiful, though undeniably plump golden retriever). Whenever granddad and Lucy visited, she was ceremoniously placed her on the scales, declared fat and her dinner had been rationed.

This makes granddad very angry. There aren’t many things worse than insulting another man’s dog. So, the obvious revenge, (obvious to grandad anyway) was to insult mum’s daughter in return. Me. (—there’s no way that mum’s dog could classify as overweight, so I guess I was next in the firing line).

Well, there’s nothing I like more than disagreeing with granddad. But on this occasion, he did have a bit of a point. So the idea began to creep into my mind that maybe I should be a little more selective about what I eat (it’s too cold to exercise).

This would be a super plan if I had even a smidgen of restraint. But I don’t. And it’s coming up to Christmas so my body needs to hoard fat stores to get me through the winter (especially as I still can’t work my heating—as mentioned in a previous post…incidentally, I’m disappointed that nobody’s taken the hint and come and shown me how to switch it on yet.)

So, the punch line to this post is that I don’t really care enough. The punishment’s not worth the prize. Life’s too short not to eat puddings, et cetera.

…which is why I made a beautiful little batch of sticky toffee puddings last week. And I’ve eaten three. Yes granddad, if you read this, I’ve eaten three. So I suppose the only fair thing to do is to go and make Lucy some too…

75g butter
150g caster sugar
2 beaten eggs
175g self-raising flour
175g stoned and chopped dates
175ml boiling water
½ teaspoon of vanilla essence (optional)
2 teaspoons of coffee essence (optional)
¾ teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

(for the sauce)
175g soft brown sugar
110g butter
6 tablespoons of double cream

Pour the boiling water into a measuring jug, then add the dates, vanilla and coffee essence then the bicarbonate of soda. Put to one side.

Meanwhile, cream together the butter and the sugar in a mixing bowl until it starts to turn pale and fluffy. Add two eggs, then fold in the sifted flour with a metal spoon.

Add the watery-date mixture, and stir gently to make sure that it’s evenly mixed in. At this point everything will look unappetizingly brown and sloppy, but don’t worry—it’ll look beautiful very soon.

Spoon the mixture into muffin moulds and pop into an oven at 180C for 25 minutes. In the meantime, put the butter, cream and brown sugar into a pan and stir cover a low-medium heat until it comes together as a dark, rich toffee sauce.

Read Full Post »

The very word ‘sloe’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘sloe gin’ or ‘sloe vodka’. Not so much ‘sloe whisky’ though…which is a real pity.

As much as I love gin, it has got a dry, sharp taste which works really well with the acidity of lemon or lime…but in my humble opinion sloes work best with warmer, richer whisky.

They’re a jammy, damson-like, fruit – and as a compliment to venison or hare it’s a good excuse to put it with a Scottish spirit.

Now’s a great time to make sloe whisky. Sloes are at their prime after the first frost – and if you get this underway soonish, then it’ll be ready in time to decant and bottle as Christmas presents.

1 litre of whisky
450g sloes
125g sugar

After washing the sloes, cookbooks will advise you to stab them all over with a fork. This is quite time consuming though, so I squashed them between my thumb and first finger – just enough to make sure that all the juices are released.

Put the sloes in a container. Pour whisky over them, and then add the sugar. Give it a good stir, and then leave it in a cool, dry place. When you walk by the sloe whisky, give it a stir from time to time.

After a couple of months, strain the whisky through a sieve, and decant the liquid into smaller bottles for presents. The leftover fruit can be added to melted chocolate or made into a naughty, boozy jam!

Read Full Post »

On Saturday I set about tidying my room. This was even less fun than I expected. Especially on a sunny day, and especially when it took me two hours to clean the goddamned windows. As soon as you start to notice the dust in London that’s the end of it. The only option is to zone out into a state of ignorance and back to ignoring the grime and dust that settles on everything – especially the clean, hard surfaces.

Anyway, half way through this fairly traumatic day I decided to go for a walk. I’d heard about a vintage fair at Shoreditch Town Hall, and thought it would be fun. I queued. I paid my £2. I got in, and it was all rails of fusty fur coats. Nothing vintage-themed…but just old stuff which I wasn’t in the mood for. It was dark anyway. So I thought I’d find a little smackral on Columbia Road and sit and read my book in the sun.

I went to Treacle, and was hit by the wall of warm cupcakes…but by this point I’d spent my £2 on the entrance to the stupid fair and couldn’t afford one. I stalked about the place trying to find something for the remaining £1.18 I had rattling about in my pocket. But the nearest was a £1.20 croissant at Campania. So I went back home and decided to make something myself and sit and read book on the sofa instead.

But, all this grumpiness turned quite happy in the end. I thought I’d try some mini Victoria sponges in rosti rings which actually turned out to be quite brilliant – far more nibblable than a big old sponge cake. So, here’s the recipe which I used. Highly recommended!

200g unsalted, softened butter
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
200g self raising flour
Jam (I used Mum’s redcurrent and strawberry-thank’s Mum!)
250ml double cream (whipped)
Icing sugar

Use an electric whisk to mix the butter and caster sugar until it’s white and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs – one at a time, then fold in the flour.

Spoon into the greased rosti rings which should be placed on a greaseproof and ovenproof sheet. Cook for 25 minutes in an oven at 180C.

When the sponge is cool, push them out of the rosti rings, cut them in half, then slather jam on one side, cream on the other and put them together like a sandwich. Dust with icing sugar by tapping it through a sieve from a height. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Like nearly 4 million other Brits, I was glued to the quarterfinals of The Great British Bake Off last Tuesday evening.

Who would have thought that watching four women grapple with iced buns, wrestle croissants into shape and take on the art of patisserie would be so compelling?

Well, I certainly wasn’t alone. “A perfectly risen melange of stately homes, sun-dappled lawns and Cath Kidston kitchens” exclaimed Tom Parker Bowles. “It is redolent of a mythical Albion of village fetes and Victoria sponge, a place where, in the words of John Betjeman, ‘all the world goes home to tea and toast’.”

And go home to tea he did. Parker Bowles went on to explain how, like many other Brits, he’d been inspired to do a spot of baking, so had made a dozen cupcakes with his daughter.

If only I’d started small with a dozen cupcakes too. But all the food theatre and elaborate baking goaded me into starting big instead. I thought that if the ‘amateur’ contestants could sculpt layered mousse sponge cakes, then being an ‘amateur’ chef myself, I could too.


I set aside Saturday afternoon to faff around with genoise sponge (“technically challenging” and “one of the most difficult to pull off” according to The Great British Bake Off) and gelatin (my own personal nemesis).

And what did I learn? That genoise sponge really was very tricky indeed, and that gelatin really is very temperamental.

One of the professional bakers on the programme said that “in the old days, the most important thing for the patisserie client was what the cake was going to look like – they didn’t even start to think what it was going to taste like. That’s a huge revolution now – people want the dessert to taste as good as it looks.”

…so, I figured that my cake was a sort of nineteenth century specimen. It looked rather impressive…but it did taste…well…a bit hard.

Still, in the words of Mary Anne Boermans: “I know which end of a spoon is up, and sometimes [my baking] is great, and sometimes it’s not so great – but if it’s not so great then I’ve learned something.”

Recipe based on this.

For the genoise sponge
100g butter, melted
8 free-range eggs
200g caster sugar
280g plain flour

For the raspberry mousse
250g raspberries
2 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp caster sugar
2½ sheets leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes
150mll double cream
fruit, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 200C and grease your cake tin with a bit of butter.

Put the eggs and sugar in large bowl and hover it over a bowl of only-just-simmering-water. Don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Beat with an electric whisk until the mixture is thick and fluffy then remove it from the pan and beat for about three more minutes.

Stir in the melted butter, then fold in the sifted flour using a large metal spoon. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 25 minutes. Let the sponge cool entirely and then cut in half.

Meanwhile, make the mousse. Place 125g of the raspberries in a bowl with the icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir gently until the sugar has dissolved then set aside.

Mash the remaining raspberries with a fork, until they’re pulpy but not completely smooth. Place the crushed raspberries in a small saucepan with the caster sugar, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then remove the pan from the heat. Squeeze the water from the gelatine and add it to the pan, stirring until it has completely dissolved, then mix in the whole raspberries.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside to cool. (You could place the bowl over iced water to speed up the cooling process.) When the raspberry mixture is cold and starting to set, whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks then gently fold it into the raspberries.

Use half of the sponge as a base. Put the edge of the cake tin (with the base removed) round the base sponge, and then put the mousse mixture on top. If (like me) you want some extra prettiness, then halve some strawberries, and arrange them round the edge facing outwards before you scoop the mousse into the middle.

Dust some icing, and (or) arrange some fruit on top which can be glazed by coating it with a little bit of jam and boiling water.

Slice. Share. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

I’m not the biggest fan of cheesecake, so I won’t be waxing lyrical about this recipe. As cheesecakes go though, it’s a real good’un. The addition of mint and balsamic stop it from being one-dimensional creaminess, and turn it into something a bit more sophisticated and interesting.

It’s a Fiona Cairns (of royal wedding cake-maker fame) concoction from her Bake & Decorate cookbook. If you’ve got some end-of-season strawberries, then this would be a great way of using them up—especially if you’re throwing a party for pudding lovers over the weekend, and you’re looking for a centre piece to finish the meal with.

For the base:
50g unsalted butter, melted, plus
more for the tin
300g dark chocolate digestive
10 large mint leaves, finely

For the strawberry filling:
300g strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
10 large mint leaves, finely
1 tbsp icing sugar
For the cream cheese filling:
3 tsp gelatine crystals
250g unsalted cream cheese,
at room temperature
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
45g golden caster sugar

To decorate:
150-200g strawberries
few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter very well the base and sides of a 23cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round springform tin, making sure the flat side of the springform base is uppermost (the lipped side makes it hard to remove the cheesecake).

Put the biscuits in a polythene bag, seal, then bash with a rolling pin until very fine. Tip into a bowl and mix in the butter and mint. Lightly press into the tin with a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool.

For the strawberry filling, simply mix everything together in a bowl and leave for 1-2 hours for the strawberries to absorb the flavours. Drain the strawberries, reserving all the delicious juices.

For the cream cheese filling, place 3 tbsp cold water into a small, wide-bottomed heatproof bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Every single crystal must be wet, or it will turn to lumps later on. Set the bowl over a pan of hot (not boiling) water until every crystal has melted. Don’t let it get too hot or it won’t set properly.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. In another bowl, lightly whip the cream and vanilla. Using an electric mixer (or handheld whisk), whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick, pale and doubled in volume. Carefully fold in the cream cheese, then the cream.

Take the strawberry juices and mix them into the gelatine liquid, sieve out any lumps, then fold in a spoonful of the cream mixture. Once well blended, gently fold in the remaining cream. Spread the marinated strawberries over the centre of the biscuit base, ensuring they do not reach the edges. Spoon on the cream, level the surface and place in the refrigerator overnight to set.

When you are ready to serve, dip a knife into hot water, release the spring and run the knife around the edge of the tin. Ease off the base with a warm palette knife and transfer to a serving dish. Finally, decorate with the sliced strawberries and mint sprigs.

Read Full Post »

Hooray for plum season!
My mum very kindly brought me a haul this weekend. I had to do something with them fairly quickly, so decided that stewing was the best option. It makes for a super breakfast.

lots of plums
half a mug of water
couple of tablespoons of sugar
sprinkling of cinammon
juice of 1 lemon or 1 orange

Wash, stone and slice the plums

Put all of the ingredients in a pan. Put a lid on, and stew very slowly over a light heat.

Store in a covered bowl in the fridge, and serve with yoghurt, porridge or sweet rice. Yum.

Read Full Post »

When your boyfriend has gone away on business, and it’s an uninspiring Saturday morning, then this is a sure fire way to perk yourself up. Yum yum!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 99 other followers