Raspberry Mille Feuille

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Raspberry Mille Feuille

October may bring the chilly autumnal winds which make you want to settle down to steaming soup and various forms of melted cheese, but I also always think of it as the last chance for amazing Scottish raspberries. Raspberries from Scotland are some of the best in the world and varieties such as Autumn Bliss thrive in the chillier climate, making for a more fragrant and juicy berry.

Raspberries are an amazing berry; there is no comparison when it comes to the soft and yielding texture combined with the perfumed sweetness as they burst in your mouth. They always seem a bit more special than strawberries and so deserve some extra effort.

Mille feuille is part of the repertoire of highly classical french patisserie; the name itself comes from the puff pastry; ‘mille’ meaning a thousand and ‘feuille’ meaning layers. If you want to be less fancy, you can call it a custard slice, but I think this loses the romanticism of the name somewhat. The traditional delicate layers of buttery puff pastry and the richly vanilla-scented crème pâtissière are perfect with raspberries.

There is no getting away from the fact that patisserie can be very fiddly; there is a reason why pastry chefs specialise in this very thing for years before they perfect certain techniques. However, despite the fact that this is patisserie and looks very impressive, this recipe is very straightforward; it is just a matter of following the steps and taking your time.

Using shop bought, all-butter puff pastry saves hours of time and effort. Crème pâtissière is simply custard thickened with flour so it holds its form. Making your own ‘creme pat’ does induce feelings of great smugness, not to mention that it tastes amazing, but if you are in a rush or are nervous about custard, you can also skip this and simply use 300ml of double cream, whipped until it becomes firm, with the seeds of a vanilla pod and 2 tbs of icing sugar.

Raspberry Mille Feuille

makes 4

Ingredients

300g raspberries

For the crème pâtissière

300ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod

 3 egg yolks

4 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp cornflour.

For the pastry

1 packet of all butter puff pastry

2 tbs icing sugar

Method

  1. Start with your pastry. Roll out a sheet to the thickness of fifty pence piece. Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, top with another layer of greaseproof paper and pop another baking sheet on top. Then weigh down the top baking sheet with something heavy, like a ceramic or glass baking dish. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  2. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 25 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly with the baking tray on top. 

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    Baked puff pastry sheet

  4. Remove the baking dish and top baking sheet. While the pastry is still warm, cut the sheet in half across the middle and then downwards into twelve rectangles-6 at the top and 6 at the bottom. Trim the edges so they are neat and the same size.

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    puff pastry rectangles

  5. Sprinkle the rectangles with icing sugar so they are completely covered and caramelise the sugar lightly using a blow torch. You can use a hot grill but you need to be very careful that they do not catch.

  6.  Now make the crème pâtissière, put 300ml whole milk and 1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways, in a pan and heat to just below boiling point.
  7. In a bowl, whisk together 3 egg yolks, 4 tbsp caster sugar, 2 tbsp plain flour and 2 tbsp cornflour.IMG_6157
  8. Pour the hot milk over the egg mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon continuously. Return the mixture to the pan and set over a medium heat, mixing all the time, until it has a thick custard consistency. The custard is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and when you draw your finger across, the line remains.

  9. Transfer to a bowl, cover the surface directly with cling film, leave to cool, then chill for at least 1 hr (can be made 2 days ahead).IMG_6164
  10. Transfer to a piping bag and snip the corner off it, or fit a plain nozzle. Chill until ready to use.IMG_6192
  11. When you are ready to assemble, squeeze a small dot of crème pâtissière on a plate and put a pastry rectangle on top to stop it moving around. Squeeze twelve large dots of crème pâtissière on top of the rectangle, then place a raspberry on top of each dot. Repeat.
  12. Place one rectangle on top of the other and then top with one more pastry rectangle. Serve immediately.IMG_6332

 

 

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Antonio Carluccio’s Penne Giardiniera

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Penne Giardiniera

Even the most unadventurous cooks will have an Italian cookbook somewhere in the house. For all the hype and fashion around Korean or Israeli food, Italian cuisine remains what a huge amount of us want to cook and eat. The number of books I have on Italian cooking far outweigh any other country. I use a lot of these books frequently, but what is interesting is how few of them have real heart in the writing; despite glossy photos and beautiful typefaces, many will sit for months before I re-open them, as they just do not grab me.

There are, of course, a number of exceptions. The fabulous Anna Del Conte, a giant in the history of Italian cooking and Giorgio Locatelli, the incredible chef, both write with passion, authority and an incredible depth of knowledge. Another chef and writer who writes with this intrinsic authority is Antonio Carluccio. If Anna Del Conte is the Godmother of Italian cooking, then Antonio Carluccio must certainly be a contender for the Godfather. His numerous books all have one thing in common; passion. He has such a deep love for the food of his country, despite living in England since 1975, that it radiates through the page. You cannot help but be drawn in by his words; they are sp evocative that you cannot help but be enthralled. It also helps that his recipes are wonderful. I don’t know about you, but I have a small list of food writers and chefs who I know that when I try one of their recipes it will just work. This list really is small, but Antonio Carluccio is one of the people on that list.

In 1999, he opened the first ‘Carluccio’s Caffe’, an Italian restaurant with an authentic food shop combined. It has now grown to over 80 branches throughout the UK. Carluccio himself left the company and has now rejoined as a consultant. During the early 2000’s, the concept was fresh, innovative and the food was very good. Today they are ubiquitous on the high street and the quality of the restaurant food can be very hit and miss. The deli-sections remain a welcome source of excellent new season olive oil and delicious antipasti, but I have to admit; it is a long time since I sat down to eat inside a branch.

This should not detract from the excellence of some of the original recipes. This one for Penne Giardiniera was thrown together by Carluccio in the early days of the restaurant, when the chef was looking for a vegetarian pasta dish. It combines crispy fried spinach balls with a creamy courgette pasta sauce, spiked with flecks of chilli. It is rich, tasty and utterly satisfying and highlights the genius of the man who created it.

Antonio Carluccio’s Penne Giardiniera

serves 4

Ingredients

For the spinach balls

75g breadcrumbs – dry

1 egg

½ garlic clove very finely chopped

35g finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

black pepper and salt to taste

Nutmeg – a very small pinch

260g spinach-an average bag from the supermarket-cooked

Olive oil for shallow frying

For the pasta

80g butter

1 medium sized red chilli- finely chopped

2 medium courgettes-finely grated

3 garlic cloves-finely chopped

175g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

500g dried penne

Method:

1. Make the spinach balls. Cook the spinach in the microwave by piercing the bag and microwaving at full power for 2 and a half minutes. Let cool a little, then squeeze out all the water.

2. Chop the spinach coarsely.

3. In a bowl, place the chopped spinach, garlic, eggs, nutmeg and mix well, add in the Parmesan then half the breadcrumbs; season with salt and pepper.

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Fry in hot olive oil until golden.

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4. Cook the pasta to al dente in salted water for one minute less than the packet advises. Retain a few tablespoons of the cooking water before you drain it.

5. While the pasta is cooking, mix the grated courgette, chopped chilli and garlic.

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6. Heat the butter and add the grated courgettes. Pan fry for about a minute or two. Add the cooked pasta into the pan and toss with the grated cheese. Add a little of the cooking water to get an unctuous, creamy-looking sauce.

7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in a pasta bowl with spinach balls sprinkled over the top. Add extra parmesan if you wish.

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Spiced Plum Compote

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Spiced Plum Compote

It’s cold, it’s dark and just a bit miserable. No-one likes January. Every magazine and newspaper I see at the moment shouts about New Year diets, clean eating and losing weight. The media seems to think this is what everyone wants at this time of year, whereas the reality is that when it’s dark and damp, you crave nourishment and comfort from your food, not guilt and denial.

I have written before about how I am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘clean eating’. It implies that some food is clean and some is dirty and is therefore consumption of certain foods should make you feel shameful and guilty. This is just not true; the reality is that lots of foods are very good for us and lots are not. Most sensible people know the difference.

However, if you have overeaten during the festive season you will know it. Your jeans may be tighter, your skin a little pallid and you may feel the need to eat a little less fatty, processed food and a little more fresh and natural produce.

With that in mind, I loaded my bag with even more fruit and vegetables than usual at the market the other day. Unfortunately, I broke one of my cardinal rules and bought some plums, knowing full well that they are not in season. I would never buy soft fruits such as strawberries or raspberries at this time of year, but I was seduced by the plums’ majestic appearance with their cloudy, rich purple skin and they actually smelt vaguely sweet and perfumed. It also helped that they were only £1.50 for 1 kg!

As I should have suspected, they were flavourless, dry and joyless. In fact, verging on inedible. I truly hate to waste anything edible if possible and I know that the only way to extract any kind of flavour from underripe or flavourless fruit is to cook them.

By adding warming spices and subtle sweetness, you can coax out an incredible amount of flavour from the most unpromising of fruit. This recipe works very well with other stone fruit such as nectarines and cherries, but there is something hypnotic about the scent and colour of this compote once it is cooked.

As with any fruit, plums are full of goodness and vitamins. They are a good source of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain the amino acid tryptophan which is used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is the hormone that makes you feel good. The combination with the wonderfully fragrant vanilla and the spicy undertones of the cinnamon make it taste like a deeply rich and delicious treat.

This compote is fabulous on its own, but it’s subtly spiced sweetness is beautiful with plain yoghurt, porridge and rice pudding. It is also luscious warmed up and poured lavishly over good vanilla ice cream.

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Spiced Plum Compote

Ingredients

1kg plums, stones removed and quartered

250ml water

75g runny honey-5 tbs

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds removed

3 slices orange

1 cinnamon stick

Method

1) Stone and slice the plums into quarters

2) Put all the other ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the honey dissolves

3) Put the plums into the syrup and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the syrup has thickened and the plums have given up their juices

4) This will keep for a week in the fridge in an airtight container

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Plums before cooking

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Plums during cooking

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Cooked plums

Chicken Liver Parfait

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Chicken Liver Parfait

There’s very little I don’t like to eat. I genuinely love food in all forms. However, I really do not like okra and I would rather starve than eat goat’s cheese in any form, but apart from that I will eat with impunity. I based this blog around recipes I know very well, have cooked many times and I love to eat. With that in mind, it might surprise you to know that, even though I am featuring it as a recipe, I am not a huge fan of chicken liver parfait. I will taste it gladly if offered, but I would never order it from a menu. I do love a taster of the rich, gamey silkiness, but it is too rich for me to eat a whole serving. Yes, I did write that.

The reason I am including this recipe is that I do believe there are staples which it makes sense to know very well, because even if you are not a massive fan of it, you can guarantee someone else will be. In addition to this, parfait is a fantastic starter to make if you want to be super-organised and efficient. It is very quick to make and very cheap, but the best thing is that it can be left for up to week in the fridge and only needs to come out 20 minutes before you want it to take the chill off it. I serve it with toasted sourdough and cocktail gherkins; simplicity itself. Around Christmas time in particular, you will be weeping tears of gratitude you chose to make this.

I happen to make chicken liver parfait quite a lot, mostly as an alternative to any fish starters that I make for my fish-hating other half when we have people over for dinner. What I have noticed is that not only does he love it, but nearly every time my guests notice that there is an alternative to the fish starter I have lovingly prepared, I will be asked if there are any more portions available instead. You see, someone always loves chicken liver parfait. There always are surplus ramekins of it around, as it’s impossible to make less than six at a time.

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The dish is rich and elegant with a silky smooth texture that so many people love. Chicken livers should not be feared-they are very easy to cook, the only tip is not to overcook them, as they will taste grainy in the end product. A few minutes on each side, so they are still slightly pink in the middle is about right.

This recipe is for a parfait (French for perfect), rather than a paté as I undertake the rather arduous task of sieving the pureed mixture before potting it to get it super smooth and silky. It is not difficult, just time-consuming. If you really can’t be bothered with this step, it’s not compulsory, but it does make a big difference to the end texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

Serves 6

Ingredients

400g free range chicken livers

2 sprigs thyme

300g very soft butter

100ml madeira (you can use port, marsala, even dry sherry at a push)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 shallots, finely diced

6 small bay leaves (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Fry the garlic and shallots gently in a large frying pan with a little butter until they soften, but not colour. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

2. Add a little more butter, heat until foaming and add the chicken livers and the thyme. Fry on all sides for a few minutes.

3. Add the madeira and bubble for a few minutes. Check the livers are still a little pink in the middle.

4. Remove the thyme stalks from the livers.

5. Tip the cooked onions and garlic and the chicken livers into a food processor and blitz for a few seconds.

6. Add 200g of the very soft butter and process until no lumps can be seen.

7. Taste and season.

8. Push the mixture through a fine sieve. Taste again and divide into 6 ramekins. Do not fill up to the top, as you need to cover them with clarified butter.

9. Melt the remaining 100g butter in a pan, allowing the milky whey to sink to the bottom.

10. Pour the clear yellow part of the melted butter onto the top of the parfait so it is covered.

11. Allow the butter to set slightly and press a single bay leaf onto the top of each covered ramekin.

12. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, removing 20 minutes before you want to serve.

13. Serve with piles of hot toast and pickles.

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True Tabbouleh

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Tabbouleh

The nights are drawing in and there is a definite chill in the air. There is no doubt that Autumn is here and seasonal produce is changing. But while there is still a hint of the sun’s rays in the sky, I will cling to the tiny amount of residual warmth and still crave a little freshness and clarity in my food before months of comforting stews and warming soups take over the kitchen.

Tabbouleh is one such dish; a beautifully light and fresh salad with a zingy dressing that you can either eat on its own for a simple lunch, or as part of a mezze with things such as hummus and mujadara.

Tabbouleh is probably one of the most mistreated recipes in Lebanese cooking. If you buy what is called tabbouleh in a pot from a supermarket, it will taste nothing like the real thing for various reasons. The main one being that most shop-bought versions in this country are a take on bulghar wheat salad with a few herbs. This is not true tabbouleh, which is actually a herb salad with a little bulghar wheat added. As such, it is not a salad you can box up and keep in the fridge for long, as the herbs wilt in the dressing very quickly. The whole point of tabbouleh is the fresh, crunchy sharpness, so make it yourself and eat it as soon as you can.

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Tabbouleh ingredients

Tabbouleh is much more than the sum of its parts. The list of ingredients is short and simple, but combines to make the most wonderful salad.

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Flat leaf parsley

Parsley is the most important ingredient in this recipe. Always choose flat leaf, as curly will not work here. Do not be afraid of the amount of parsley here-it really is necessary. The way you chop it is also important; try to slice rather than chop too finely, as parsley  bruises and goes soggy very easily. I would recommend buying a few of the giant bunches you get from asian corner shops or Middle Eastern supermarkets, as it is cheaper and usually better in flavour than the supermarket versions. However, I appreciate that not everyone has these places nearby and so, to serve four people, you will need at least seven 30g supermarket packets of parsley. Yes, at least seven.

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Mint

You will also need mint. Not as much as parsley, as it’s a zingy note to accompany the parsley, rather than to overwhelm it. It’s important to pick the leaves from the stems to avoid any woodiness.

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I have waxed lyrical about sumac in previous recipes. It really is the most beautiful spice; bitter, citric and will make your mouth tingle in the most wonderful way. Here it enhances the lemon in the dressing and brings out all the freshness of the other ingredients. If you don’t have any, or can’t find it, you can just use a little more lemon, but I would really recommend you trying to get hold of some. It works wherever lemon does; you can sprinkle some on a piece of chicken or white fish to roast and it is simply beautiful.

The amount of bulghar wheat so small you may wonder if it is worth putting it in. Although small, it is essential, as it adds a lovely texture and a subtle, nutty taste. It may seem odd not to cook the bulghar before you add it to the salad, but there is a method in this apparent madness. Fine bulghar is well named. It is so fine that it absorbs any liquid it comes into contact with instantly and so it sucks up the dressing for the salad as soon as it is added. If you cook it beforehand, it will be soggy and dissolve into mush. Not nice.

True Tabbouleh

makes enough for 4 lunch portions or as part of a larger mezze

Ingredients

175-200g flat leaf parsley, chopped

45-60g mint, picked and chopped

400g very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 large cucumber, de-seeded and chopped

3 spring onions, finely sliced

45g fine bulghar wheat

juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp sumac

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, sumac and a little salt and pepper in a large bowl. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

2. Add the bulghar wheat and mix into the dressing.

3. Add the parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions.

4. Mix well and serve with toasted pitta bread to soak up the lovely juices.

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This recipe is for my lovely friend Luda, who recently said she was missing my posts. Hope you like this one!

Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

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Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

When I’m on holiday, especially in Italy, one great pleasure is to skip a mediocre restaurant dessert and find an authentic Gelateria, preferably one with a queue, marvel at the vast array of colours and flavours, perhaps taste a few and then wander back to my hotel, happily licking drips from my wrist. Ice cream just seems to taste better on holiday and it’s not unusual for me to eat it every day of my time away.

In comparison, ice cream culture at home is somewhat disappointing. There are some amazing ice cream shops to be found in various cities across the country and, if you’re lucky, on a local high street, but what most of us eat at home is bought in a supermarket. I find most of the big brands are overly sweet and sometimes a little synthetic as they often contain various emulsifiers and preservatives. As a result, ice cream is not something I usually eat regularly at home.

Homemade ice cream has not been successful for me in the past. It doesn’t seem to matter which recipe reassures me that you do not need an ice cream machine to make good ice cream, I find that making it without one is not very satisfying. It’s true that you can get fairly good results by beating away the ice crystals by hand, as they form in the freezing mixture, but it’s never quite right. The ice crystals are too large and really change the way the ice cream dissolves on your tongue.

With this in mind, I decided to go for it and invest in a proper ice cream machine. They vary massively in price, but you can get a basic one for about £30. That’s the equivalent of about seven tubs of a premium ice cream brand, so pretty good value, even if you only use it a few times a year.

Once you have an ice cream machine, the world is your oyster ; you can make ice cream of course, but you can also make gelato (an Italian, softer, milk-based ice cream), sorbet and frozen yoghurt.

Frozen yoghurt is arguably the easiest thing to make, as you do not have to make a custard and risk it splitting;  you can simply pick your favourite yoghurt and churn it. It sounds too easy, but that’s how it works-it is literally yoghurt that is frozen. It can also be a lighter choice when you do not want to be eating masses of eggs and cream. You can simply pick your favourite flavours and add them to plain yoghurt to make amazing frozen desserts.

Since obtaining my ice cream machine I have tried so many flavours out, but this is one of my favourites. Mango and mint go so well together as the mint gives a small wave of freshness to the aromatic sweetness of the mango. Natural Greek yoghurt is a great vehicle for these flavours as it has a slight tang and just enough creaminess to feel indulgent while still being refreshing. It is an exotic taste of summer. Ice cream and frozen desserts often contain a lot of sugar, as the act of freezing something dulls the flavour and so it is needed. There is very little sugar in this recipe, as if you can get ripe mangos, you do not need much. In addition, do not be tempted to add more peppermint extract: this stuff is super powerful and you genuinely only need a few drops.

Ripe mangos are a true treat. You will know if they are ripe as they will fill the air of your kitchen with their beautiful aroma before they are even cut. Once you pierce the yielding flesh, the smell intensifies and you instantly become covered with masses of gorgeous, sweet juice. If you cannot get ripe mangos (the supermarkets ones are so often hard and sad), do not add more sugar, but buy a bag of the frozen chunks. It works very well here as you are pureeing the flesh and so it does not matter is it is a bit soggy when it defrosts. This will always be riper than a slightly hard fresh mango.

If you don’t like mint here, you can leave it out, or add the juice of a lime for extra zing.

Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

Makes 1 litre

Ingredients

3 large ripe mangos, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1kg)

500ml Natural Greek yoghurt

75g icing sugar

3-4 drops natural peppermint extract (not essence) or the juice of 1 large lime

Method

1.  Puree the mango with a stick blender or normal blender

2. Mix the puree with the yoghurt, sugar and peppermint essence

3. Churn in your ice cream machine according to the instructions

4. Scoop into a 1 litre plastic tub with lid and freeze

5. Remove from the freezer  5 minutes before you want to serve it. Decorate with fresh raspberries if you wish

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A Double-Baked Brownie Conundrum 

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Double-Baked Brownies

I am a little torn. On one hand I feel quite strongly that the Internet does not need another brownie recipe. On the other hand, I’m rather excited by the success of this recipe. I have been on a long quest to find the perfect brownie recipe and this one happened quite by accident.

I must have made close to a hundred batches of brownies over the years, using a wide variety of recipes, ingredients and techniques. The difficulty is that people often want different things from a brownie. Some want a dryer, cakey texture, others want something more fudgy and gooey. Some like nuts, others are vehemently against this addition. The type of chocolate and sugar you use, how much flour you add, how long you beat your eggs (if at all) along with the size and depth of your baking pan all make small but crucial differences to the end product.

For me, I am devotedly in the fudgy and nutless camp. Nuts have no place in brownies as far as I’m concerned. I am aware I am likely to have some opposition to this standpoint, so please feel free to add them if you really want to. My ideal brownie is very rich, densely chocolatey and more like a dessert than cake, especially in the centre. The more it sticks to my teeth in a rather unattractive but highly necessary way, the better! I like a very thin, crunchy crust on top and a slightly dense, more risen edge. It’s a long list of requirements for a humble brownie. It is also one that is rarely fulfilled.

As with many great discoveries, this recipe came about by a total accident. In essence, this was a slightly new twist on a recipe I have used many times before. This particular trial was using slightly less flour and cooking for longer at a lower temperature. Fate intervened ten minutes before the end of cooking time and I had to get the brownies out and leave them on the kitchen top.

A few hours later, I returned to the batch to find it completely cool but also very undercooked, especially in the centre. I’m all for a fudgy brownie, but this was essentially a raw mixture. I decided to return it to a hot oven to see what happened. The first time I tried, it was overbaked, dry and too crumbly at the edges and the next time it burnt on the top, but I could see the potential for the idea of baking it twice. After several further attempts, I believe I have it cracked. Essentially the double-baking allows for a crispy, slightly chewy edge to the brownie, whilst maintaining a really moist and dense centre, which would be overcooked if you baked the brownies once but for longer.

The chocolate you use for the recipe is crucial. For the main brownie element, you need to use good quality cocoa powder (not hot chocolate powder) and dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solid content. Any less, and the brownies will taste sickly sweet rather than sweet and rich. For the chopped chocolate to mix in, feel free to use whatever you like. I like milk, but white, dark or a mixture is equally good. The main thing is to keep the chopped chunks fairly large, or they will just melt into the cooked mixture, rather than staying in lovely chunks. Using golden caster sugar is also important, as it adds a slight caramel flavour to the brownie, rather than just straight sweetness. If you must add nuts, use 100g of roughly chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, adding along with the chopped chocolate. But I would really rather you didn’t.

Double-Baked Brownies

Makes about 15 squares

Ingredients

  • 185g soft salted butter
  • 185g dark chocolate-at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan or 150°C for an ordinary oven and line a 15cm square tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Melt the dark chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. Stir slowly until the mixture is shiny and all the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

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Butter and chocolate melted together

3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy. The texture should be like a frothy milkshake.

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Whisked eggs and sugar

4. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and fold in. Try to do this as gently as possible to trap the air from the eggs.

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Folding the mixture

5. Chop the milk chocolate into large chunks of about 1cm diameter.

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Chopped chocolate

6. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into the mixture.

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Sieved cocoa powder and flour

7. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder until the mixture is smooth.

8. Add the chopped chocolate and gently mix.

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Add chopped chocolate

9. Gently pour the mixture into the lined tin. Slide onto the middle self of the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

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About to go into the oven

10. Remove from oven. When they have cooled completely, return to the oven for 15 minutes.

11. When cooled for the second time, remove from the tin and cut into generous squares.

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Best-ever brownies?

 

 

Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

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Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

There are certain things that you can’t always see the point of until you cook them. It is usually very simple things with straightforward recipes and few ingredients. Very often we look for inspiration and exotic concoctions, rather than old-fashioned and easy things.

A loaf cake definitely falls into this category. The concept seems to be almost pointless. Why would you bother to make or eat a cake without a filling, without icing and jam? The shape of a loaf cake is pedestrian and dull; there is no fancy decoration, usually no buttercream, no edible glitter or roses made from icing. However, this is actually where the appeal of the loaf cake lies; it is the utter simplicity of texture and flavour that is comforting and utterly satisfying. It is homely, warming and nostalgic, like something your grandma would always have in the cake tin. It is essentially, a hug in cake form.

This light sponge, spiked with a tangy citrus syrup will not win any competitions for novelty baking, but it is all the better for it. It is also the easiest cake you can make, with no layers or icing to worry about. You can use a stand mixer, or just a wooden spoon and bowl. The syrup also creates so much extra moisture, it will keep for days.

Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

You will need a 1lb or 450g loaf tin
Ingredients
125 g softened butter
175 g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lime
175 g self raising flour or plain flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
splash of milk
For the syrup
100g icing or caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon and 2 limes

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180 °C.
2. Line the loaf tin. I use baking tin liners for ease.

3. Cream together butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in colour a little

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Whipped butter and sugar

4. Add eggs and zest, beating them in well. The mixture will look curdled-do not worry, this is normal.

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Curdled-looking mixture

5. Add the flour and mix well. Add the milk. The consistency should be slightly firmer than dropping consistency-this means when you take a spoonful of batter and tilt it, it will fall off the spoon slowly.

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Mixture consistency

6.  Spoon the batter into your prepared tin and bake for 45 mins or until cake tester comes out clean.

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Ready for the oven

7. While the cake is cooking, put the lemon and lime juices and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

8. As soon as cake is out of oven, puncture all over with skewer and slowly spoon  over the syrup. Don’t worry if the cake drops a little. Leave cake to cool completely before removing from the tin.

This recipe also works incredibly well with just lemons or just limes. For lime, just add the zest of 2 limes to the cake mixture and then use the juice of 4 for the syrup. For lemon, add the zest of one lemon and the juice of 2.

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

A friend of mine recently went vegan. I have been a vegetarian and pescatarian in my past life, but I have never gone the whole hog-if you will forgive the terrible pun. It has always seemed a difficult choice, with many people, food outlets and restaurants unwilling to adapt their menus to it. There are lots of convincing arguments for veganism; a plant-based diet avoids any ethical or moral problems about food production. We are aware that we eat too much meat as a society, which impacts on our health, animal welfare and the environment. Although I dislike the concept of ‘clean eating’, as it implies other ways of eating are somehow ‘dirty’, focussing on fruit, pulses and vegetables as the basis of your diet does appear to be a healthier way of eating.

Despite these convincing reasons, my overall opinion is that this diet is not for me. I decided a long time ago to make specific decisions about the items that veganism excludes; I buy less meat, but make sure it is free-range or organic. I buy free range or organic eggs and dairy products. I have at least two meat-free days a week. I ask about ingredients in restaurants and sometimes avoid ordering certain items because of the answers. In reality, I love many meats and fish, but dairy and eggs form a huge part of my diet too.

However, I have respect and admiration for those who wish to eat this way; it appeals to my creative side, as you have to be inventive to avoid eating mushroom risotto at every meal. There is also the necessity to be very mindful of what you are putting into your body, to ensure a nutritional balance. I know vegans who have tried to live on cereal bars and juices and the result is not too pretty.

I cook things that I enjoy, with flavours that will stimulate, comfort or satisfy, according to how I feel at that particular time. It started me thinking about how much that I cook is vegan, just by coincidence. Lots of southern Mediterranean and Indian food happens to be vegan and Middle Eastern flavours seem to compliment this way of eating brilliantly. Punchy spices, pulses and an abundance of vegetables and fresh herbs does not immediately strike you as a diet based around restriction.

Cauliflower has cast off it’s reputation as a soggy, flavourless vegetable, cooked to death for school lunches and leaving the smell of old socks behind it. It seems a very fashionable ingredient at the moment, being used as ‘couscous’ and in salads and soups. It is incredibly versatile, feels surprisingly substantial and responds well to many ways of cooking, but roasting it brings a lovely smoky dimension to it. Cauliflower has unique flavour and a wonderful texture that I urge you to revisit.

This salad is a variation on one that Nigella Lawson features in her latest book. It keeps brilliantly in the fridge. It is great on its own and makes lunchtimes much more interesting rather than grabbing yet another limp sandwich.

So, if you are a vegan or a full on carnivore, please make this recipe knowing that it is vegan, but that it is also delicious.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

Serves 2 hungry people

Ingredients

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 small head cauliflower trimmed and divided into very small florets

400g tin of chickpeas

1–2 tbsp harissa

150g cherry or baby vine tomatoes, halved

A large bunch of flatleaf parsley

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 220C.

2. Pour the oil into a large bowl, add the cinnamon and cumin seeds, and stir. Tip in the cauliflower and toss to coat. Pour into a small oven tray  and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until it starts to catch a little.

3. Add the chickpeas to the bowl, and add the harissa, tasting it after adding the first tablespoon to see if you want both. Toss to coat. Add the tomatoes to the bowl, and mix.

4. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Toss to combine and return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender.

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Roasted in the tray

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close up

5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the chopped parsley. Taste and season again if necessary. You can add extra chilli if you like a real kick.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. You can add yoghurt or feta for more protein, but this will, of course, cancel out the vegan element of the dish.

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad