his cake was borne of a feeling that told me, Yes, okay, it’s time to bake now, stop claiming lack of inspiration and just look around you. Eggs that supposedly went out of date days ago (still fine!), tubs of yoghurt, and a couple of limes. I desperately wanted to be back on the baking wagon right away; to be able to say, Whisk, whisk, fold, oven, done – victory! But my first attempt at this cake was honestly poor.
My ever-so-polite colleagues ate it even though the glaze was too thin and soaked through to make the cake the texture of gummy bears, so moist that it sat heavy in your stomach. But I knew it needed a lot more work – I knew I’d made mistakes, and I almost decided not to admit that on the internet.
Growing up alongside the invasion of social media makes it amazingly easy to have a skewed view of everyone else’s lives. It brings you to just a few clicks away from being fully mired in grass-is-greener delusions and gives you the tools to compare yourself to every single friend or stranger that pops up your feeds, while you sit there thinking, Oh my god, I know at least three people with book deals and I couldn’t even find a matching pair of socks this morning. (True story. I only have socks in three colours and I still struggle.)
Buuuuut of course that’s ridiculous. We all have different paths, and this small segment of mine means I can tell you guys what changes absolutely should not be made to this recipe (see notes!). It took a couple of tweaks – and a couple of batches of cake forced upon those colleagues – but it’s finally just right. Read More
This time last week, I was waking up from a nap, with a pounding headache and a strange sense of home that contradicts everything I wrote about in my past post.
If you’re expecting this to be a romantic story about friendship and discussing deep issues under the stars…you’re going to be disappointed. At a friend’s place, we were far enough out of London to actually see the stars, but bank holiday Friday was a night of tequila shots and pizza, cookies baked at 1am and so many ridiculous stories that will become part of the lore of our group. The weekend has been the subject of a number of flashbacks throughout the week that have left me burying my face in my hands, half in laughter and half in disbelief. In short, it was excellent. Read More
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. 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 my birthday this week, so cookies are back. It’s my party and I’ll gorge myself on browned butter if I want to.
It’s probably a symptom of having older siblings, but it’s hard to forget how old twenties always used to sound to me, how much I thought I’d have sorted by now. But then, I thought that at 18 and 21 too, so I suspect my heart and my brain will forever be playing catch up to the passing of timing and the aging of this bundle of cells. I also suspect we all feel the same way.
But these cookies are probably one of the most grown up things I’ve achieved so far. They’re dark and toffee-y and use fancy salt — when did I become a person who gets excited by fancy salt? — in ways that take them a million miles from Maryland’s excuse for cookies.
The making of them completely feels like magic — the process of browning the butter, then whisking it with sugar and leaving it for a bit means that you start out with a gritty mix but end up with a gorgeously thick, glossy mixture. And then! And then you add the flour and the chocolate and it becomes the most gorgeously rich, nutty cookie dough imaginable.
It’s not a cookie to hand out to children — it’s one to be served warm, and savoured, the crisp outside giving way to a soft chewy inside, studded with dark chocolate brought to life by smoked sea salt. It’s an indulgence that, dipped into coffee, makes grey Monday mornings at your office job a lot brighter. It’s most certainly a cookie for grown ups. Read More
So that was a bit of a gap between posts, eh? 2014 has already been somewhat bonkers, to the point that food has been about what can be cobbled together in the few hours between getting home and going to (sweet, sweet) bed, rather than something of experiments and long weekends in the kitchen.
Letting go of the festive season has been a struggle. Our Christmas tree came down long after January 6th, and the rest of the month saw me gleefully throwing leftover Roses and Quality Street down my gullet and swigging beer while I chuckled at the poor chaps giving up sugar and taking part in Dry January.
But it’s February in a few days, and nothing makes you realise you need to step out of Hotel Chocolat, even if there are bargains to be had, like facing Valentine’s Day as it rushes at you head-on.
Of course, I realised this after I made this cake. It was a multi-purpose delight: a birthday cake, a look-how-strong-my-willpower-is-I’m-not-even-saving-myself-some cake (kidding no-one, I know), and as the last slice was devoured with a cup of tea by a friend, fork in one hand, tissues in the other, a break-up cake.
The cake itself is layers of salted caramel, carried by a simple vanilla sponge and wrapped in white chocolate buttercream, the sweetness offset by the touch of salt. What a way to wave goodbye to January. Read More
There are still nine days till Christmas and I am preemptively festively plump. I’ve drunk cocktails and sprained my ankle and danced on it anyway already. The tree is up, wrapping paper has been purchased, and still it does not feel like the season, because none of these things, in this city, are part of the traditions.
It’ll be almost time for the real festivities when I catch the train home, listening to “Driving Home for Christmas”, carrying a suitcase containing far more pairs of shoes than are at all necessary.
It’ll feel like December when I get the chance to sneak-peek at the presents.
It’ll be Christmas when I’m at home, sat in front of the fire with one of my mum’s boozy mince pies, watching Miracle on 34th Street yet again.
The best mince pie I’veever had remains a mystery to me – it was eaten during the sweltering part of summer 2012 in a test kitchen, where I was part of a team sampling dozens of Christmas puddings and mince pies. It was tough work. The one I loved was flaky, and buttery, and had just the right amount of booze and…I have no idea who made it. It will forever remain a mystery to me.
So rather than go around every supermarket trying to find it, I thought this year I’d break with tradition just a little bit. I put my own twist on it to make a festive variation that keeps in with one of 2013’s biggest baking trends, the hybrid dessert. Bottom half mince pie, Viennese whirl top, 100% delicious. Read More
Last weekend, my mamma suggested that I try meditating. My very first thought was, so typically, “I don’t have time for that.”
I thrive on keeping busy, and have a creative mind that doesn’t rest even when I’m sleeping. I’ve been guilty before of juggling multiple projects, writing to-do lists broken down into many different sections, and realising too late that it’s worth taking a step back every now and then to avoiding burning out.
As Friday evening rolled around, the long weekend with no commitments stretched ahead of me, I realised that it had been weeks since I last baked, and weeks since I last didn’t feel on edge. And I remembered that, as it always has been, baking is my meditation.
So I baked, and baked some more, and then I had to find someone to take cookies off my hands. And now, my head’s in a more peaceful place.
Of course, it helps that there’s clafoutis in my fridge now too.
Before this weekend, I’d never eaten clafoutis, and to be honest wasn’t even 100% sure how to pronounce it. I’m that person who goes to an Italian restaurant and picks what to eat based on how easy it is to say: a lisp and a slight country bumpkin accent have set me up for a lifetime of pronunciation errors without even factoring ignorance in. It’s all kinds of embarrassing.
But with three empty days, and puddles to avoid as summer and autumn exchange pleasantries, the decision to stay inside and try something new came easily. Any ingredient list that includes sugar, milk, eggs, flour, and blueberries is guaranteed to pique my interest.
What came of it wasn’t like anything I had half-heartedly expected (having, really, no idea what to expect at all). I’d been fooled into likening the appearance to that of a cake; tricked myself into thinking it’d be like some bizarre sweet quiche. But clafoutis isn’t any of those things. It’s a smooth texture – hard to describe but kind of like a cross between a no-bake cheesecake, custard, and an English style pancake.
The addition of lemon gives the mixture a little lift, a zing right at the end of each mouthful like a full stop. Only it’s hard to fully stop because it’s so damn good. The recipe says it serves 6…but I honestly wouldn’t judge anyone who accidentally ate 2 servings in one sitting. (What? No, of course I didn’t. Maybe.)
95g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
2 large eggs + 1 egg white
Juice of approx. 1/3 a lemon
1) Preheat oven to 190C and butter a 25cm round dish.
2) Sift together flour and salt, then stir in the sugar and lemon rind, before forming a well in the centre. Beat the eggs and pour into the well, whisking to gradually incorporate the flour. Slowly add the milk, and then lemon juice, whisking continually until you get a smooth batter.
3) Spread the blueberries in the buttered dish, and pour in the batter. Bake on the centre shelf for around 40 minutes, until golden brown and just set in the centre. Allow to cool before dusting with icing sugar and serving.
– Frozen blueberries are fine! They’re what I used. If using frozen blueberries, allow them to defrost and transfer to the baking dish using a slotted spoon so that as little juice as possible is added with them.
– It may be worth putting a baking tray on the bottom of the oven to catch any drips or blueberries that spill over when the clafoutis rises.
– Pedant’s note: technically a non-cherry clafoutis isn’t a clafoutis at all – it’s a flaungarde.
As far as play on words go, that was pretty bad, I know. I’m sorry. Let’s move swiftly on, shall we? This is a longish story, and perhaps contains a little too much information. I’ll probably cringe as I hit the publish button. It’s a story about my face, inspired by this post on adult acne by the oh-so-fabulous Laura Jane Williams, who also wrote an entire ebook on acne which is pretty damn good.
Now, I wouldn’t call my face situation adult acne, mostly because at 22 I don’t class myself as an adult, despite the fact that I now have to pay council tax. Sadly, to the rest of the world that’s probably what I am.
During my teenage years, the universe, not content with making me ginger, overweight, short sighted and a brace wearer, threw a healthy dose of pizza face my way. Really, it was never that bad and I’ve not been left with any acne scars, but it was enough that I spent 8 years on the hunt for a cure.
When I approached my doctor, they prescribed me with a roll-on solution, with an aroma much like chip shop vinegar, to apply to my face every morning and night. It worked. It made me smell like a fish and chip wrapper, and gave my skin the feel of a recently wiped chalkboard, but it really did help my skin.
Sadly, the last thing an 18-year-old girl wants is vinegar face, particularly when it comes to snuggling down for the night with a fella. Nothing says “Worship me, for I am a goddess” less than snogs that taste like that anti-biting nail varnish your mum made you use when you were 7.
At university, passed between doctors that saw dozens of students every day, things improved slightly, starting with a puzzled GP asking me why I was on the pill and applied acne medication. She looked at my records and saw that at no point had my doctors at home tried to merge these 2 medications by moving me onto a pill that’s better for skin.
It was a start. But none of them – none of the dozen or so doctors I’ve seen in the past 8 years about my skin – mentioned that I might not need medication for it at all.
Let’s back up a second. That original medication. The one that worked, but made my face smell distinctly unappealing. The active ingredients in that solution had 2 main functions: inhibiting bacteria growth (ew), and getting zinc into the skin.
The recommended daily allowance for zinc is 5.5-9.5mg for men and 4-7mg for women
So I did my research and it turns out that zinc is an unsung hero. Despite being one of the lesser vitamins and minerals in terms of recommended intake, it’s linked to a wide array of bodily processes: most notably, the immune system and cell renewal. It’s also linked with fatigue, which explained being constantly tired, and stress. The puzzle pieces all came together and, without any medical professional saying so, I knew that the problem wasn’t acne that needed meds. I just needed to get more zinc.
You could say that making the following changes means a generally healthier diet which would of course lead to improved skin. But when I flicked through my mother’s well-thumbed copy of “Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal”, I raced to the shops to buy supplements, not actual food, and within days the situation got better. These days, it’s all about getting it through small changes in diet, and if I fall off the wagon a few green smoothies sort me right out. Here’s my top 5 foods for getting more zinc without faddy eating.
Spinach isn’t just for Popeye. I can’t say it’s made me particularly strong yet, but it’s one of my favourite ways to get a quick hit of zinc and a load of other vitamins, blitzed up in a green smoothie with apple juice and ginger. Zing!
But it doesn’t have to feel like a health food, as this deliciously cheesy spinach bake at Smitten Kitchen shows. Good news there, too – 100g of cheddar cheese will give you 3.11mg of zinc. I probably wouldn’t recommend eating that much cheese, though. Nobody likes the cheese sweats.
0.53mg per 100g
Also a good source of: vitamins K, A, C, B1, B2, B6 and E, and manganese, iron, and calcium.
Roasted pumpkin and squash seeds and dried watermelon seeds provide a whole lot of zinc in a really small space, with about 10mg of zinc per 100g, so there’s no excuse for not eating those watermelon pips. Throw seeds into your breakfast, straight into your mouth, or on top of a cake (totally counts). There are also some amazing sounding recipes for pumpkin seeds here.
I know, I know, it just keeps getting better and better. High cocoa content (70-85%) dark chocolate contains up to 9.6mg of zinc per 100g, whereas milk chocolate contains around 2.3mg.
Nope, that doesn’t mean eating a lot of houmous. Chickpeas can be worked into main meals really easily, by adding them to meat dishes and curries to make the most of their 3.4mg/100g zinc levels. For a sweeter tooth, honey cinnamon roasted chickpeas may be the way forward.
Shellfish are among the most zinc-rich foods out there. Oysters ranking as the most laden with 3.49mg zinc per oyster, whereas crab provides 5.5mg/100g. There’s a good excuse to go to that fancy seafood restaurant, eh?
Please note this does not constitute medical advice. I’m not trained in health in any capacity – this is simply what has worked for me and it is possible to overdo zinc consumption. Visit NHS Choices for more information on zinc and consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet!
A few days ago, my (food) world fell apart a little bit, with a friendly nurse in a cardigan and a swooshy skirt gently uttering six little words.
“You need to cut out carbs.”
Outwardly, I nodded solemnly as she clarified – because we all know that cutting out whole food groups is a bit ridiculous – “Well, maybe have them once a day, definitely not more than that.” But maniacal laughter echoed around my head through all the talk about BMIs and pasta, as I envisioned my life without starchy deliciousness. Stir fry without noodles. Poached eggs without English muffins. No more cake.
But this time, it’ll be more sensible – not like the disaster month that saw me shed a stone and almost a few friends when I did the Dukan diet (not even allowed fruit) and went a bit mental. It’s a good story, but one that illustrates why carbs are not optional for me.
So here we go. I’ve not really eaten much meat, until now – not because I don’t like it, but because both meat and my rent are expensive, and I am unfortunately contractually obliged to pay for the less delicious of the two.
But for now, let’s focus on biscuits. Obviously the best way to deal with all this is to make biscuits which contain both flour and polenta, as a last supper, if you like. If I was doing it properly, it’d be a last supper of something crazy like mashed potato toasties (I have no idea if that’s a thing people do. But I can’t try it out for the foreseeable future).
With the butter (£££) swapped out for margarine, these biscuits are a little cakey like a Viennese whirl biscuit, and a whole lotta delicious, thanks to the subtle addition of lemon.
110g plain flour
Zest of half a lemon
1 medium egg + 1 yolk
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1) Preheat your oven to 180C (170C for fan ovens, 350F, gas mark 4) and line two baking trays with baking parchment. Combine flour, salt, and polenta and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the margarine, sugar, and lemon zest.
2) When light and fluffy, add the egg and then the yolk, beating until just combined after each addition. Add vanilla, and then, gradually, the flour mixture, beating until combined.
3) Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, and pipe onto the baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
4) Bake until just going golden at the edges – about 15 minutes.