As a natural ginger, I often find summer kind of tough – I’ve got skin that burns quicker than a slice of toast if I’m not careful, and would rather be caught in autumn drizzle than stuck in the stifling heat of midday sun bouncing off buildings. This used to mean a) browsing in supermarket frozen aisles for a long time, and b) clutching a Starbucks frappucino more frequently than anyone’s bank balance can really take.
Homemade iced coffees just weren’t the same, with the drink getting weaker with every drop of melted cube. Enter coffee ice cubes. Made with coffee stronger than what you’d actually drink, they stop your drink from losing its power. They do tend to be a little sticky – you can encourage them out of the tray by running the back of it under the tap before popping them out. Happy bank balance, happy inner thermostat.
Pick of the Week
Now Wimbledon is over, it’s time to break away from plain old strawberries and cream. You could go with a cake, or cookies, sure, but Kathryn at London Bakes has gone a step further to make these phenomenal balsamic-roasted strawberry margaritas. Balsamic strawberries, tequila, and lime – yeah, I’m gonna need a few of these.
Surprisingly delicious: black pepper cream cheese & fruit
It’s a well-known fact among friends that I’m a weird eater – one of the ladies I went on holiday with was frequently openly baffled by what I ate, although considering one of those experiments was mussels and chocolate sauce, you can hardly blame her. But the juxtaposition of sweet and savoury is one of the best things about pairing foods, as proven by maple syrup and bacon.
So when it comes to snacking, of course I follow suit. Black pepper (light!) cream cheese (so far I’ve seen it in Morrisons and Sainsburys) goes wonderfully with apple and strawberries, keeping that 3pm lull interesting as well as virtuous.
Tip of the Week – How to rescue “seized” chocolate
Seizing – or, to you and I, “Oh balls, the chocolate’s gone grainy” – happens when chocolate overheats or the cocoa powder in it absorbs water. You can bring it back for use in brownies or puddings by gently reheating it in a bain marie and adding 1 tsbp of vegetable oil, boiling water, or hot cream for every 175g of chocolate. No more sadly spooning gritty Green & Blacks into your mouth before dashing to the shops again.
It’s April, and I sneeze at least five times every morning, right when I wake up. Pollen’s in the air. We’ve cracked out the light jackets. Summer is coming for us.
Summer is the time for falling in love: with cities, with food, with freezing cold showers. It’s suncream, hot tarmac, and that unmistakable smell of strawberries, an aroma that hit me unexpectedly a few weekends ago, giving just a hint of things to come, before the UK was once again blanketed in grey.
London has never been my home – I never yearned for the big city like other teenagers did, and for too long after I moved here I lived in a bubble, terrified that I just couldn’t do it and yet too stubborn to give in. At no point has it been love. London and I are like the married couple that stays together for the sake of the kids.
People still say, Ooh, London eh? Good place to live while you’re young. You must have so much fun. And every time, I smile and nod and think, Well, sort of. The economy is harsh, meeting people is difficult and honestly I would rather cook for my friends and pack them off, giggly and stumbling, with a fist full of cookies, than hit the nightlife.
But just when I think it’s too much – the isolation, and the cost – something good happens. A gaggle of strangers offers to help a women with a buggy, or a museum visit turns out to be particularly good. In this case, it was a trip to a local grocery stall – the one that’s not part of a market, and where you get called “babe” as standard – that saw me laden with almost more fruit and vegetables than I could carry.
I’m still not in love, but it helps. It’s more bearable when you can go home and say, Okay, so a pint might bankrupt me but damn it, I can buy 750g of strawberries for a quid and I dare you to beat that. These are small pleasures, and it’s almost worth it. Summer is a little slice of sunshine breaking up the unrelenting grey, and I suppose this posh jam tart is my sunshine. Continue reading →
I never have been, and never will be, sporty. Not just in terms of partaking in sport, but in terms of watching it. I don’t “get” it. Even when the Olympics were going on just a hundred miles down the road, it was still just a bunch of people jumping about in shorts to me.
At school – the last time sport was compulsory for me – PE lessons meant one of three things: chatting while walking around the circuit for cross country, recycling a selection of sick notes and then…having a chat, or playing ping pong over the top of 6 tables set up in the hall. PE lessons contained very little actual PE. We liked it that way.
So unsurprisingly, the fact that this week heralds the beginning of Wimbledon means just two things, much as I’m sure it does for the majority of the nation: strawberries, and Pimms. Not so much about sport.
In the family home, I am the chief Pimms maker, due, no doubt, to the fact that I make it stronger than anyone else does. That’s the only part I have in it. Just when the tennis starts to get “good” – marked by gasps, shouts, and my dad shifting to the edge of his seat rather than dozing – I retire to take a Pimms-induced nap in a roasting conservatory. For now, I’m without the Pimms and the warmth of sleeping in, essentially, a fancy greenhouse, but I can keep hold of those strawberries.
As I’m not completely weird, I like my cookies soft. Eating a cookie shouldn’t be a jaw workout. These are beautifully soft.
Adapted from Picky Palate Makes 14
Note: It pays to bake the whole batch at once, as when the mixture is left out for a while before baking it spreads more and the cookies don’t rise so nicely.
50g light brown sugar
135g granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1/2tsp baking soda
100g chopped strawberries (about 1cm cubes)
100g chopped white chocolate
1) Line two baking trays with baking parchment, and preheat the oven to 160C. Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
2) Add the egg and vanilla and mix until just combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Gradually add to the wet ingredients, stirring as you go.
3) Add the chocolate and strawberries, and mix until they’re evenly distributed throughout the dough. Space tablespoons of dough about 3 inches apart, and bake for around 10-15 minutes, until a deep golden brown.
Every now and then I get really, really obsessed with a particular flavour or ingredient. I’ve been in danger of switching the target of my fickle foodie love to speculoos – I mean really, who doesn’t love biscuits smushed together with syrup? – but the sun’s shining and I’ve truly fallen for strawberry and coconut and oh my god I cannot stop jamming these tiny pastries into my pie hole.
With a little bit of oh-so-British sweetness teamed with the more exotic freshness of coconut, they’re the summertime cousin to the warmer months’ cinnamon rugelach. And as a bitesize morsel that can be prepared a few days ahead and doesn’t wilt in the sun, they’d also be superb for picnics and barbecues. I guarantee that despite their unassuming exterior, this little bite of summer will not disappoint.
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes 32 pastries
Notes Using a sharp knife to cut the dough into slices (step 8) will work, but for less drag use a pizza cutter.
For the cream cheese, low fat works absolutely fine and helps to balance out all that butter guilt!
1) To make the dough, using an electric whisk, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
2) In a small bowl, combine the flour and icing sugar, and add to the cream cheese and butter mixture, beating on the lowest speed until just combined. If your whisk’s lowest speed is still pretty fast (mine is) do this by hand with a metal spoon – you might need to get your fingers in there to fully bring the dough together.
3) Scrap the dough into a large piece of clingfilm, wrap well and chill in the fridge for two hours.
4) When the dough has chilled, divide it into to halves and pop one back into the fridge while you prepare the other.
5) On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle (or squircle, we’re easy-going around here) about 30cm in diameter.
6) Quickly heat the jam in a small saucepan to thin it out a little, then spread it over the dough using the back of a teaspoon or a pastry brush.
7) Sprinkle the coconut liberally over the top.
8) Cut the dough into 16 slices (like a pizza!). Starting from the outside edge, roll each slice tightly inwards and transfer to the baking tray, spacing them about 1 inch apart, taking care to tuck the point underneath.
9) When all the slices have been rolled, pop the tray into the freezer for 15 minutes, or fridge for 30, and repeat using the second piece of dough. Preheat the oven to 160C.
10) When all the pastries are rolled and chilled, bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and puffed up. When baked, transfer the pastries to a wire rack immediately to prevent the jam acting like superglue as it cools. Sprinkle with icing sugar when cool.
This time last year, I was in stress-central. I was just about finishing up at the student paper: kissing goodbye to long evenings of cabin fever and fussing over typefaces, trying to let go of the tiny frustrations that made up my final weeks in the insular world of student media.
Instead, I’d begun spending 9-5 in a badly lit room with grey-tinted windows, worrying about the projects that would decide what grade would be on that piece of paper I would receive in July. I thought back to being 18, sitting, terrified, in a local cupcake shop and conducting an interview for the first time as my voice wobbled with nerves. My dreams took on the form of the work I was doing during the day, and I’d wake disappointed that I’d spent all night working and yet had to do it all over again.
But those final months were also when we spent evenings in the park and scorched black rectangles into the grass outside our house with our throw-away barbecues. They were the days when Pimms was on offer in the Tesco down the road and we drank it from tiny paper cups adorned with union jacks. They were the hours, days, weeks, and months we tried to savour as they rushed by and took us, willingly or not, ever closer to a more grown up life.
Recently, one of my best friends asked me: if someone had told you a year ago that this is where you’d be now, would you take it?
In the not-quite-year since I finally handed in that last project and went to bed, at long last, after being awake for 30 hours, a lot has changed. I have discovered what I love to do and I’m excited for what the future holds.
I left university, left home, and watched as everyone I’d come to love in those three years was scattered across the country, leaving us connected by only wires and signals. It has been scary and it has been sad, but blackened grass, too-strong Pimms, and cupcakes will always take me back.
As I mulled over the question my friend had asked, I made these strawberry and coconut cupcakes to transport me back to the wonder of that cupcake shop, to the array of colours and decorations nestled among retro cake stands and gingham fabric.
Strawberry and coconut is one of my most recent food obsessions: like pumpkin last year, I’ve tried to put it in almost everything. Strawberries and yoghurt and honey and coconut. Porridge with jam and coconut. Plotting and planning to make dairy-free ice cream with this extraordinary pairing. Of course I had to try it in cake form. What I love most about these cupcakes – apart from the fact that the cake is really simple – is that they look totally unassuming…and then you bite into one and bam! Flavour bomb.
I baked these cupcakes and then I took them to the best place I could: to a bar, to be eaten with three of the girls I slaved over that student paper with.
Strawberry and Coconut Cupcakes
Makes nine cupcakes
100g self-raising flour
2 medium eggs
185g unsalted butter
260g icing sugar
4 1/2 tbsp desiccated coconut, plus extra to decorate
1) Pre-heat oven to 160C and line a muffin tray with cupcake cases. Cream margarine and sugar until pale and fluffy.
2) On a low speed, beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour.
3) Split the mixture between the nine cases and bake on the centre shelf for about 10-15 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
4) Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. While they cool, whisk together the butter, sugar, and coconut on a low speed, and when combined, turn the speed up and continue until smooth.
5) When cook, use a sharp knife to make the space for the jam centre. Holding the knife at a slight angle, cut a cylinder about 1.5cm wide out of the centre of the cake. Discard (or, er, eat) these centres. Fill the space with about half a teaspoon of jam, so that the jam comes level with the top of the cupcake. Repeat for all cakes.
6) Using a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, pipe the frosting on. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut to decorate.
P.S. Go and check out the Saveur food blog awards! There are so many incredible nominees, you need to give them your time.