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sweet, sweet corn

5 Oct


There are some recipes that I do not need to re-write, because they already exist somewhere out there on the internet in their truest form. I might have made them over and over again at home, but I do not have anything more to add. Rachel’s peperonata is one of those. No tweaks or tips necessary.

Rarely, a totally new recipe floats into my head in the five minutes before I fall asleep, or on a long run. If I can remember the idea the next day, it takes several trials to pin it down properly. Which makes me feel like the BFG, mixing dreams and blowing bubbles.

While I work on one of those, which still frustratingly eludes me after four attempts – all delicious but not quite right – here are two recipes that seduced me exactly as they were written, both involving corn in one form or another:


Vaghareli Makai, spicy Indian sweetcorn with peanuts, coriander and lime from Near and Far by Heidi Swanson (recipe via David Lebovitz). She has a knack for the fresh, healthy and addictively more-ish. Serve as a side dish in an Indian feast, with plain grilled fish or meat, or my personal favourite, a whole bowl with sliced hardboiled eggs on top. (Yep, the whole “four servings” all for me.) I often substituted cashews for the peanuts, as suggested, which was just as good if not better.

Perfect corn muffins from Smitten Kitchen. I had a craving for which I was pretty sure Smitten Kitchen would have (thrice-tested) answer: and of course, she had not one but two corn muffin recipes. The ‘perfect’ recipe has you make a quick porridge with half the cornmeal – or instant polenta in my case – making the muffins lovely and moist. The only change I made was to add cubes of leftover blue cheese in the centre of each muffin just before baking. Great with soup, or just a savoury afternoon snack.



common and garden variety pizzas: butternut and cherry tomato; courgette and pesto

3 Sep

homemade garden pizza

Once upon a time, four Parisians and a cat escaped to the south of France for a rural holiday, in a little yellow house with a large garden. They talked and read and lazed in deck-chairs. When they played pétanque, the cat raced up to each ball, like a referee judging distance. There was a jazz festival and a meteor shower. When it rained they sat around a fire with books, stirring only for tea and bread and jam. If they were too lazy to go the market, they only had to walk through the long grass to the vegetable patch. There were spaghetti squash (steamed, tossed with basil pesto, also from the garden) and beefheart tomatoes (sliced with salt and oil)  and long stalks of chard that were starting to go brown. (The chard went into everything – baked eggs, courgette soup, sauteed with chili and orange as a side dish.)

The menu started to look like an achingly hip farm-to-table restaurant, from the fresh sourdough – parmesan and black pepper – to the homemade jam – apricot and ginger – not forgetting the handmade mayonnaise to go on the local chicken salad. With chives from the pot next to the outside tap. They made lists of meals, and lists of Things Googled. (Why is Judy Garland a gay icon? Can zombies swim? Etymology of condom? What is the French for knuckles? Answer: They don’t have any. They have finger joints. So no knuckle sandwiches in France.)

They recycled all the leftovers into more meals – the chicken stock into soup, the bread into croutons. They ate duck and more duck. Ethiopian bread with its hint of vinegar, spread with duck rillettes and fig jam. Magret de canard with lentils. One restaurant served an incredible beef tartare, briefly seared top, with toasted hazelnuts and a generous slab of foie gras on top. They ate too much. But they only made it halfway through the enormous marrow. You can only eat so much marrow.

These recipes came from a wet morning, and a roasted butternut that needed a purpose. Perfect for using up the end of summer overload of squash, tomatoes, courgettes. They were some of the best pizzas ever made in that little yellow house.

pumpkin butternut

Butternut and cherry tomato pizza; courgette and pesto pizza

serves two, hungry

Make your favourite pizza base, enough for 2. For example: mix 250g bread flour, 150g sourdough leaven*, 120g lukewarm water, 20g olive oil, 5g instant dried yeast, 5g salt. Adjust water if necessary – but it should be initially sticky rather than dry and tough. Knead for 10 minutes or so until the dough can be stretched as thin and translucent as the surface of a balloon. Shape into a ball, allow to rest in a oiled bowl, covered, for an hour or so at room temperature until doubled in size. Halve, shape into two balls, rest 10 minutes. Roll out with a little flour to desired size/thickness.

*instead of leaven, make a starter by mixing 75g bread flour, 75g water and a pinch of dry yeast 12 hours before; or skip it altogether, just add the extra flour/water directly to the mix


(The day before.) Roast one butternut squash, whole, until soft.

Finely slice one small onion and a clove of garlic, sauté in olive oil until soft. Peel and mash about half the squash into the onion with a potato masher, or a fork. Add a large dollop of crème fraîche. Flavour with salt, pepper, paprika, chilli powder, lemon juice, chopped thyme. Stir in a splash of water if too thick.

Spread over pizza base. Halve some cherry tomatoes, tear up some ham and fresh mozzarella and scatter it all over the top. Add some extra thyme too.

Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned.


Very finely slice a large courgette, enough to cover a whole baking tray without overlapping, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 250C until golden-brown. Leave the oven on for the pizzas.

Blend large handfuls of basil with a handful of grated parmesan, some toasted pinenuts or almonds and a few generous glugs of olive oil to make a rough paste. Taste and add salt, lemon juice, and/or a garlic clove if desired. Spread pesto over pizza base, cover with roasted courgette circles, then fresh mozzarella and a little more olive oil. Add herbs – basil, oregano – if desired, before and/or after baking.

Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned. Serve with chopped parsley or rocket on top.

guillaume’s gazpacho

25 Apr


My favourite kinds of recipes are the ones that are handwritten, folded neatly into squares and maybe lost at the bottom of a handbag for a while. Or written in a travel notebook to be made on returning, to bring a bit of the holiday sunshine home.

Even though it was a grey, cool Sunday, I really wanted to make the gazpacho recipe I have been carrying around, neatly written out on French graph paper. I had been warned that it needed at least 12 hours if not 24 to marinate, and was curious to see what difference that made. And we were going to have a long, rich, foie gras filled lunch out. So in the morning, I roughly chopped all of the ingredients and left them in the fridge to soften and meld and intensify. It looked remarkably like panzanella, one of my favourite summer dishes – tomatoes, bread, herbs, oil and vinegar, bread to soak up all the juices – that I wondered if I would blend it after all. The ingredients are so simple that you will have to trust me, the way I trusted my colleague Guillaume, that the sum is greater than its parts.

Most important are good tomatoes, which are popping up at the markets again. The ones that seem to be barely held in their own skins, they are so juicy. The final stall at the end of my street market had the most attractive coeur de boeuf, with those satiny grooves in their flesh. We had jugs of herbs – one euro for three bunches – decorating our new yellow kitchen. And there is always at least half a baguette going stale on the second shelf, just out of reach of the cat. (She will eat everything she can get her claws into, anything we forget to guard for a minute or two, including hummus, brioche and macarons. Sometimes she just likes to puncture bags of flour to watch it stream out and pool on the floor.) Everything ready for a gazpacho.

After a day in the fridge, after blending, the garlic lost its bite, the bread absorbed the oil and tomato juice. The fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumber kept the spark and verve of almost-summer. For a cold soup, it had real body. And yet it was remarkably comforting, easy to eat at the end of a long day, even if not boiling hot outside. And a few simple, crunchy toppings – garlic croutons, herbs, cucumber – allow people to customise their own gazpacho bowl.


Guillaume’s Gazpacho

Do buy the nicest, ripest tomatoes you can find. Coeur de boeuf, or beef heartare full of flavour. The recipe is minimal effort, maximum patience: chop everything and then let marinate for up to 24 hours. Trust that your evening self will be grateful for your preparation the previous night, or morning. If I am making a half-batch for one or two people, everything just fits into the food processor bowl which goes in the fridge. One less bowl to wash up.

makes enough for 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter

4 large beefheart tomatoes (about 800g)

2 large red peppers

1 large cucumber

2 fat cloves garlic

half a stale baguette (or 150g white bread)

80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil

40ml (2 1/2 tbs) balsamic vinegar

salt, pepper

(optional: generous handful of fresh herbs like basil or parsley)

to serve:

more stale bread / olive oil / garlic clove

seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)

cucumber / avocado

fresh herbs

Peel the cucumber, and roughly chop it and the tomatoes and peppers. Cut or tear the bread into cubes. Finely mince the garlic. Toss it all with the oil, vinegar and herbs. Season with the salt and pepper. Leave to rest for 12-24 hours in the fridge.

Blend in batches with a food processor or blender, adding a little water to thin it out – between 125-250ml (1/2 – 1 cup). If you want it really cold on a hot day, you can add ice cubes instead. Check the seasoning and consistency as you go: some like a very smooth soup, I like a little texture.

For the toppings: cube any leftover stale bread and gently fry in olive oil with a whole clove of garlic until crisp and brown. Or toast some seeds with oil and some chilli pepper. Dice some cucumber and/or avocado. Finely chop some herbs (parsley, chives, coriander) or tear up some basil.

Ladle the gazpacho into bowls and add a drizzle of olive oil on top. Serve with a selection of toppings in little dishes so that everyone can add their own.

talmouses au fromage (tricorner cheese pastries)

6 Jul

talmouses au fromage

From an old notebook of mine:

“How NOT to take a nap: Do not fall asleep on sofa with no trousers, oversleep and wake up at 11.30pm.”

“Call my restaurant PUDDING.”

“Playing the matchbox game – Chef grumbles.”

Sometimes I am grateful to my past self. (As for preparing nutritious meals and freezing half for later.) Sometimes my past self is wiser than I am. Sometimes I totally disagree.

In this case, my present self still fails at taking relaxing naps, does not want a restaurant AT ALL never mind one with a silly name; and only barely remembers the “matchbox game”. I believe it comes from a Monty Python sketch and subsequent dinner-table conversations with my parents, wherein they laughingly try to outdo each other for the most miserable childhood.

“…We grew up in a shoebox…. You were lucky, we only had a matchbox AND we had to eat gravel for dinner…. Dinner? Lucky! We….” etc

One note says: “Talmouses: favourite dish of Louis XI, 1461-1483: tricornes of puff pastry, brie, fromage blanc and egg.”

What? Where did that come from? What a silly name. Tall Mouses. Mice. Mices. Shaped like pirate hats?

Is it worth trying?


We have puff pastry in the fridge! And cheese and eggs. Perfect. Lunch it is.

Post-prandial verdict: they were super delicious. Cute triangles of crisp pastry and melted cheese, what’s not to like? With a hint of spice and chili. Flatmate agrees, Louis XI had good taste.


Talmouses au fromage

Adapted from Elle – I basically just upped the cheese content. Excellent for using up the leftovers of that smelly cheese that is perfuming your fridge.

Makes 40-ish mini-pastries: enough for hors d’oeuvres for 6-8 or a light lunch with salad for 4

300ml milk

50 g butter

50 g flour

2 egg yolks

salt and pepper

pinch nutmeg or cinnamon

pinch chili flakes

180g cheeses, preferably some strong (mature camembert) and some melty (gruyere, emmental), grated or chopped

2 packets (550g total) all-butter, ready rolled, puff pastry

Heat oven to 200C. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Tip out into a mug or jar. Add the butter and flour to the same saucepan. Make a roux: keep stirring over a medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the paste is golden, smells a little nutty. Off the heat, add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between. Heat gently again, still whisking. (This makes a weirdly thick bechamel sauce, so I just heated it for a minute or two and then it clumped together.) Off the heat, add the egg yolks, cheese and salt/pepper/nutmeg/chili. Taste. It shouldn’t need much salt because of the cheese.

Cut out 7-8cm circles from the puff pastry. (You should get 30 or so the first time around.) Brush with a little water around the edges. Dollop a generous teaspoon of cheese mix in the middle of each and pinch the edges to make three corners. Firmly pinch the sides together up to the middle, leaving a 2cm gap open in the centre.

Roll out the scraps of pastry and stamp more circles. (You should be able to make 10 more.) Repeat.

If making ahead of time, brush pastry with a bit of egg yolk so it doesn’t dry out, clingfilm and refrigerate. They are nicest served straight from the oven.

Bake talmouses for 15-20 minutes at 200C. When the pastry is lightly brown and the cheese bubbling, they are done. Serve immediately.

Works as a snack with drinks, or for lunch with boiled eggs and a bitter salad (endive or rocket, cucumber, mache and a sharp dressing).

egg and spinach cocottes

1 Apr

egg and spinach cocottes

My mother got cross when I admitted to using frozen spinach. (But she is a purist that thinks nothing of growing her own vegetables and herbs.) What can I say? I know the fresh stuff is delicious and cheap and in season. I just always feel cheated, bringing home an enormous bag from the market, washing it, sauteing it only to find a miserly heap of green, a tenth of the original volume. My expectations are lower for the frozen stuff.

And sometimes you are standing in line at the Paris Store, the Chinese supermarket, at the end of a long day at work and you decide you need a first course because the chicken legs look too skinny. And you aren’t queuing up again, or buying anything else, because the plastic bags are carving grooves into your fingers. But you do want to impress your guests. And you did buy 30 eggs for baking. And there is spinach in the freezer.

These cocottes – or oeufs en cocotte – to give them their proper French name only take a few minutes to make but in their individual dishes they look fancy and taste better. The sesame oil and miso paste add an extra kick without overpowering the spinach. It tastes more complex than it is, with all the umami of salmon. The egg yolk should be runny for dipping your bread, the spinach neatly coated in cream, tangy and salty. It somehow surpasses the sum of its parts. Works equally as a starter for a dinner party or jealously guarded for a solo dinner (I can eat at least two).


Egg and Spinach Cocottes

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light supper

4 eggs

300g frozen spinach (preferably leaves, no finely chopped)

1 tsp sesame oil

2 small shallots, or 2 spring onions

1 tsp miso paste

50g creme fraiche (or 50g cream + squeeze of lemon)

salt and pepper

For individual portions, you will need 4 small ramekins (8-10cm wide). Or else one oven-proof baking dish (approx 16cm) to bake them all at once.

Heat oven to 180C. Gently heat frozen spinach in a saucepan until it defrosts. Add the sesame oil. Chop the shallots/spring onions finely and add to the pan, saute until soft. Then stir in the miso and cream and cook for a minute, just to heat through.

Divide the spinach between the four dishes and hollow out a hole in the mixture. Crack an egg into the hole. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the white is no longer translucent but the yolk is still runny.

Serve immediately with a baguette tradition or thin slices of toasted sourdough.


rebecca’s salmon and lychee salad

8 Feb

salmon salad 3

Travelling is best when you can put on someone else’s life for the weekend, see a city through a local’s eyes. Visiting yet another cousin, I was happy to bypass Parliament House and go straight to the farmer’s market early Saturday morning instead. I tagged along to a yoga class and ran a race with her in the nearby mountains. I liked her version of the green city that involved a lot of walking, with breaks for vegan chocolate chip cookies in a bar decorated with skulls and cacti. I liked that it was small enough that we bumped into her friends everywhere we went, to the extent that one of them joked he had been paid to make her seem popular. I liked that the woman in the Chinese supermarket knew and joked with her when we bought lychees and coconut milk.

Maybe it was all of the outdoors that made me hungry, the scent of gum trees and crackle of leaves underfoot, but I especially liked the supper we cooked together, better than any restaurant. It was her weekly standby, one she is happy to eat again and again, changing a few ingredients but keeping the basics: salmon marinated in fish sauce, pan-fried to give it a crisp brown edge; a bowl of greens, cucumber and lettuce and onion; the unexpected addition of lychees, canned were fine; and a lime-chili-fish sauce dressing. It was fresh, salty, tangy with plenty of crunch and bite from the chili. The generous handfuls of herbs and that addictive dressing made it totally addictive. I made it twice more in the next ten days, not always giving Rebecca the full credit! So here is her official acknowledgement; this will go down in my cavallo di battiglia folder to be made over and over.


For an easy dessert along the same theme, mix equal quantities of leftover lychee juice and coconut milk to make a quick and unusual granita: pour into a shallow metal dish and freeze for 3-4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes to break up the crystals. Serve plain or with fresh mango.


Rebecca’s salmon and lychee salad

Originally adapted from Bill Granger

Feeds 2-3 people, depending on appetite

2 salmon steaks

3 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs brown sugar

1 bag mixed leaves

1 cucumber

1 red onion

½ bunch coriander

½ bunch basil

1 tin lychees


1 small red chili

Juice of 2 limes

1 ½ tbs fish sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

Marinate salmon in fish sauce and sugar. Meanwhile slice the red onion as finely as possible, cut the cucumber into rounds, tear up the herbs, tip it all into a large salad bowl with the leaves. Drain lychees, reserve the juice and add the fruit to the salad. Cut up the chili (remove the seeds if you don’t like it too hot) and mix with lime juice, fish sauce, 1 tbs of the lychee juice. Taste and adjust accordingly, so it makes a nice balance between sweet, sharp, salty and hot. Pan fry the salmon until crisp around the edges, breaking it up into chunks in the pan as it cooks. Tip onto salad and pour over the dressing. Toss the salad, taste again and add more salt-sweet-sour if necessary.

blue cheese and pecan scrolls

29 Jan

pecan snail scones

Scones that come ready rolled up with extra butter, melting cheese and crunchy, toasty pecans. All in one bite. Genius. Like a savoury snail bun. When there is no bread in the house, when there is a boring soup or an overly virtuous salad that needs livening up, these scrolls can be made in 20 minutes flat. Use any odds and ends of cheese in the fridge: blue cheese, a mustardy cheddar, gruyere. Add chopped herbs, thyme or basil, swap the pecans for walnuts or almonds. Called scrolls after the oversized Australian buns these are manageable, moreish, marvellous… We had them with Swedish Pea Soup as per our Christmas Eve tradition (in our totally un-Swedish family), spicy soup and miniature cheese scones.


Blue cheese pecan scrolls

Makes 9 regular or 18 mini – recipe adapted from Belinda Jefferey

300g self-raising flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp caster sugar

70g butter, cold

180g milk


70g butter, softened

100g blue cheese or other strong cheese

100g pecans, roughly chopped

1 egg for eggwash

Preheat oven to 170C. Cube the cold butter and rub into the flour, salt and sugar, to the consistency of breadcrumbs, with lumps no larger than peas. Add the milk and stir together to form a dough. (Add an extra tablespoon of milk if necessary.) Knead once or twice to bring together. Roll out onto a floury surface to about 20x40cm. Whiz the soft butter and cheese in a food processor. Spread over the cheese mixture and sprinkle pecans, leaving a couple of centimetres bare on long side; brush the bare strip with a little water. Roll up the dough from the other long side and press gently to seal. Slice into 9 or 18 depending on size wanted. Brush them with a little egg and bake for 12-15 minutes until nice and golden brown. Serve warm.

(Can be frozen, sliced, before baking – just bake them for an extra couple of minutes.)

ripe for the picking: spiced plum chutney

2 Oct

plums on branch

Back in Hereford for the weekend, I found myself in an overgrown garden. Since I arrived in England I had experienced comically heavy rain, bursting like a cartoon thundercloud whenever I stepped out the front door. Now the rain had just stopped, the sun sparing us a few rays. The garden was sodden. The plum tree in the middle was weighed down, its boughs bending all the way to the grass. Some had already gone over, mould blooming, carefully tracing an intricate map of decay on the dark pink fruit. The rest were different shades of sunblush, pale yellow and dusty speckled rose. Some were small enough to pop straight into my mouth (for an extra plummy accent?), some heavy enough to fill a palm. A few beads of clear sap dotted the plums, Some had cracked, bursting out of their skins.

I started picking absentmindedly, making a sling out of my square cotton scarf. Somewhere else in the garden came the snip and crack of secaturs, voices. I was within the bowed arms of the tree by now, hidden. With so many plums I vacillated from one branch to another, this one, that one, leave one take one. The toes of my boots were damp, my cuffs soaked with the drops of moisture that rolled off the surface of the plums. I cradled several kilos in my arms, in the scarf.

Later that morning we arranged the flowers and greenery picked in the garden into aesthetically pleasing groups, a harder task than I had imagined. There are formulas for flower arranging: odd numbers of individual blooms, threes and fives, the total height to be one and a half times taller than the vase. Like taking a photo you can use the rule of thirds as a guideline, but then you need skill and practice and an intangible feel for an image. The same way I leave white space when drawing, or add a simple asymmetrical decoration on the side of a plate or a cake. Too much frou-frou ruins the effect, too little leaves the dish unappetising, the bouquet flat. Finally we added a plum branch to the table, harvest festival style, their tawny colours brightening that corner. They were Victorias, my mother told me; it is her name too.

For lunch we had the miracle of a whole half hour of sunshine. (What is it called, my mother asked, the thing in the play with weather and emotions? This I knew: pathetic fallacy.) With our sun, we had bread, butter and cheese and a pot of chutney marked hot apple and shallot, and a number that might have been 2005. It had turned tar-black, but was sweet, subtle. Not too hot, just right. In between bites of cheese and chutney, in that farmyard that belonged to a real ploughman once, we relaxed a little and reached for fresh plums, heavy with juice.

After a long drive back home through the drizzle, I lugged my plums into the kitchen. First there was crumble, then a clear pink jam. There was still a kilo left to stone and cook. Chutney, it had to be chutney. Onions, sauteed in a little oil. fruit simmered with water until soft. Then sugar, vinegar and spices. It felt like alchemy, being a little girl playing at witches. Chutney mellows and develops so over time the flavours deepen and blend, twist into new combinations. You can only really guess at the results. Last time I made plum and apple with fresh ginger and a little cinnamon. This time I added cinnamon, cloves, chili and turmeric.

The mixture gradually went yellow-orange, and turned from a watery, lumpy minestrone into a thick ragu. Watch it as it bubbles, drag a spoon over the bottom every now and then. Try not to breathe in too many vinegary fumes and wait for the moment, not long after, when the mixture is thick enough to leave tracks after the wooden spoon. When it takes a second for it to fall back into place. Turn off the heat, carefully pour into a jug and decant into glass jars, right to the brim.

The jars were turned upside down and left to cool and I went upstairs for a bath, for the weather really had turned chill. Later I added a label in masking tape, ‘Granny’s Victoria Plum Chutney, 2013’ a name that has both my mother and grandmother in it. For the best flavour, I will have to wait a month, or better three. (Make some now for it to be ready in time for Christmas presents.) When it is finally opened, probably for bread and cheese, I will be able to taste the results of my alchemy and of that wet morning in the overgrown garden.


Spiced Plum Chutney 

makes three or four jars – also nice with half plums, half apples and 3cm fresh ginger, grated

2 onions, diced

900g plums

100ml water (more or less)

200g sugar

200g vinegar

spices, choose any or all:

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp turmeric

a pinch of chili powder

Use a large, heavy bottomed pan – this will help it cook quicker and stop it sticking and burning. Sautee the diced onions in a little oil, until translucent but not brown. Stone and quarter the plums. Add plums and water (more if your plums are unripe) and cover. When the plums are soft, add the sugar, vinegar and spices. Bring the mixture to the boil, and let it bubble uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the mixture looks more like a thick tomato sauce than minestrone soup. The chutney should be thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, it will take a second to come back together after the spoon. Decant into a large jug and pour into clean glass jars, right to the brim. Screw the lids on tight and turn upside-down to cool. Label, and do not open for at least a month, better three.

je brunch, tu brunch: extras

25 Sep

homemade lemon curd and raspberry jam

(Following on from “je brunch, tu brunch: savoury” and “sweet”)

To round out what is now a monster brunch, a jar of homemade raspberry jam, some lemon curd and a killer recipe for Belgian Chocolate Spread, from a neighbour of mine. Simply melt 100g each of chocolate and butter and mix with 150g sweetened condensed milk. Rich and sweet, more like ganache than Nutella. Pure chocolate indulgence. Supposedly to be served on fresh baguettes, really just for spooning up when no-one is looking.

If you have time you can blend some chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and pickled red peppers for a quick red pepper houmous. Taste, season and serve with a few red pepper slices artfully arranged on top.

Finally, for a touch of class, make some cold brewed coffee overnight (it has a much cleaner flavour than cooled-down coffee) and some chilled green tea with cucumber and mint. And a little jug of vanilla syrup to sweeten (250g sugar, 250g water brought to the boil, add 1/2 tsp vanilla extract).

brunch extras 3

Have guests bring all the rest: fresh bread, some cheese, some ripe fruit. Brioche or croissants. Orange juice, sparkling wine. People like to bring things, and it is best to be specific. I am often too pernickety: bring a baguette tradition but from the bakery on the corner, not the one opposite my house. Bring strawberries, but only Gariguettes and not those Spanish monstrosities. Avocadoes ready to eat. My friends mostly laugh and comply – they know they will be well fed for their troubles.

In the end there was… too much food. As ever. Always better to have more than less. I sent people home with cakes – a cake pusher. My lists were crossed off and crumpled up. I learned things and tried new recipes. Satisfied, grateful for my friends, ready to dream of the next menu and even the next three years…

brunch extras 2

je brunch, tu brunch: sweet

23 Sep

brunch sweet 2

(Following on from je brunch, tu brunch: savoury)

For sweet teeth, two cakes to start with: a round chocolate and a square upside-down pear and pecan (from Diana Henry). Both rich and full of flavour, stand-alone cakes – no need for icing or frills.

When cooking for a crowd in a miniature oven, it is best to choose at least one simple recipe that you know off by heart, that you can mix together in five minutes and have in the oven straightaway while you read and measure the next, new recipe. Then you have time to slice pears and caramelise them, and to whip up a fluffy buttermilk sponge.

My chocolate fondant recipe is a piece of cake (ha) and so decadent it tastes like a lot of effort went into it: Melt 200g chocolate and 200g butter over a bain marie. Whisk 170g sugar and 5 eggs in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mix and 125g ground nuts (hazelnuts are nice). Pour into a 22cm greased and papered tin, bake for 25 minutes at 175C until just starting to crack, not wobbly but still soft. Optional extras: orange zest, cinnamon, 2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water. Slice very finely and decorate with icing sugar.

Another easy option: the Nigella clementine cake. Instead of boiling the fruit for two hours as traditional, you microwave them, covered, for eight minutes, turning once. Then blend, add sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Done. Simple but with a depth of flavour; moist and fragrant, both dairy and gluten free.

brunch sweet 1

Meringues keep well and can be prepared a few days in advance. Pipe bite-sized versions in neat swirls for a professional finish. Ottolenghi’s brown sugar and cinnamon meringues have you dissolve all the sugar in the egg whites over a bain-marie, which creates glossy meringues that are delightfully sticky on the inside.

So, on the sweet side of the brunch table, there are already two cakes and some meringues. Maybe some cookies dug up from the freezer. I like making logs of shortbread mixture and freezing half for a later date, to slice and bake as many as needed.

And finally, a fruit compote for the glut of produce in the markets at the moment: for autumn, figs and plums cooked in syrupy red wine, sprinkled with fresh purple grapes (Henry again). I didn’t follow the recipe properly but the result was still lovely: I cooked a dozen large figs, halved, with a dozen fat plums, in red wine with sugar and a bit of liquorice vodka until soft. Then removed the fruit, simmered the sauce to a thick syrup and decorated with red grapes. All in a luxurious velvety purple, sweet and ripe. Delicious with fromage blanc.

brunch sweet 3

Enough to feed an army yet? With a few added extras – homemade lemon curd, some iced coffee –  your brunch should leave your guests in a happy (comatose) heap on the sofa…


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