There are two topics when it comes to desserts that I’ve found will split people: the ideal dessert menu (up to two chocolate options, at least one lemon option, and a soft choice for brace/denture wearers – anything after that is inconsequential) and the perfect crumble.
It’s a surprisingly divisive dessert, when you get down to it: you can’t deviate much when it comes to a pie, but when it comes to this particularly British pudding, “crumble” can be both its name and what happens to your relationship with your best friend when you realise they’re devoted to some white sugar based sandy monstrosity. Don’t even get me started on a mushy apple filling.
Why yes, I do have strong feelings on this. How could you tell?
Any crumble is a marriage of flavours. The fruit layer, the one that diminishes any (badly placed) feeling of guilt over the butter, will inform the nuances of the crumble itself: the sugars; the spices; the nuts.
That layer of virtuousness, for me, is a vehicle – an excuse – for a thick layer of lightly spiced topping, made up equally of crumbs, oats, and little balls of what is essentially shortbread. Read More
Back home, in that small village with the fields of crops I’m incredibly allergic to, most of my neighbours have known me since birth. They’ve watched as learned to walk, ride a bike, and eventually as my brothers and I left home.
My favourite neighbour is an 80-year-old man called Bill. Sometimes when I’m back for a weekend, I’ll nip over one evening, and we’ll end up drinking wine and chatting for hours in his front room, while my parents sit at home and wonder what on earth we could be discussing. Often, when he leans back in his chair, he’ll lace his fingers together and rest them on his tummy while he talks, his Scottish accent still very much there despite his decades in England. He’s not an ordinary old man – he’s fiercely independent and physically active – and we have the same conversations you would with anyone half his age or younger. Read More
It’s struck me recently that as you get older, you not only find surprising things you’re good at, but also things you’re truly, woefully bad at. I always thought that one day I’d just discover something I had a natural talent for – say, gardening (nope), or baking bread (also nope). In another life, I might have been able to grow my herbs and then whack them into a really impressive artisan loaf. Alas, it’s not to be.
In the last year, I’ve discovered that I’m excellent at navigating the tube network when tipsy, but awful with London buses, even when sober; that I cannot for the life of me paint any of my nails without looking like I was at an explosion in a paint factory; and that I’m completely useless at making icing. Read More
One of my most vivid memories from childhood is, unsurprisingly, centred around food. When we were young, my mother seemed to have frequent dinner parties with five of her friends, an affair that saw her slightly on edge the days preceding the “big night”, busy with writing lists, checking and double checking ingredients while she planned an enormous array of dishes.
When the guests arrived, us kids were sent upstairs, far away from the delights that covered the dining room table and often sideboards and kitchen worktops too. I’ve since been around during these parties and heard what a group of six ladies talk about over dinner, and, um, not all of it is suitable for children’s ears.
So we hid away upstairs until the party relocated from the dining room and it was safe to emerge from our bedrooms like insects from the woodwork. We crept down the stairs and sneaked into the room to devour the leftovers. Some items were safe bets: you always knew there’d be garlic bread, and inevitably some of whatever dessert my mother whipped up, which was usually too much for six ladies to devour but the perfect amount for six ladies and three children who had stayed up a little too late.
But there was one thing that was never, ever, still on the table at the end of the night. One thing that if you wanted to get hold of it, you had to either ask very nicely, or sneak one out of the kitchen in the chaos of dinner party preparations (mum, if you’re reading, I 100% never did this. Maybe). My mother’s chocolate cups were like gold dust.
They’re one of many dishes she’s passed on to me – along with a nervous need to feed whoever is visiting – and although there’s an element of “don’t fix what’s not broken”, I couldn’t resist trying to make them even better. Everyone likes chocolate orange, right?
And if that wasn’t enough, it’s really, really funny to watch people try to take off a case that isn’t there.
Notes For the first chocolate layer, use a pastry brush as this will help you to get the chocolate into the creases in the case. For the second layer, use the back of a teaspoon instead as this will give you a smoother finish and reduce the chance of dragging white chocolate that has melted slightly with the heat of the melted milk chocolate.
100g white chocolate, broken into cubes
120g milk chocolate, broken into cubes
220g dark chocolate, broken into cubes
180ml double cream
7 heaped tablespoons orange curd
1) Set out 50 miniature baking cases, double layering them so there are 25 cases to use.
2) Melt the white chocolate and paint the inside of the cases with it using a pastry brush. Allow to set completely.
3) Melt the milk chocolate, and then paint this on top of the white chocolate, using the back of a teaspoon to smooth it up the sides. Allow to cool completely. When cool, gently remove the paper cases.
4) Over low heat in a small saucepan, warm the cream and dark chocolate until half the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and stir until the rest of the chocolate has fully melted and the mixture is dark and shiny.
5) Allow the mixture to cool, until it is just firm enough to hold its shape when drizzled. Stir in the orange curd using a spatula and transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle.
6) Pipe the ganache mixture into the chocolate cases. Store in an airtight container in a cool area for up to 3 days.