Search results for 'poppy'

tebirkes (poppy and almond danish pastries)

17 Nov


Paris has been rewarded with a glorious autumn, to make up for its washed-out summer. The air is crisp and the sun bright*, so much so that I have been cycling around town instead of hiding in the metro. I took a Velib home from the Persian cultural centre by the Canal St Martin, after their soothing tea with cardamom and dried lemon. I crossed town, cycling along the water, for another meeting of the Grape Leaf Club. This time we made chicken paupiettes and French onion soup, and each of us went home with a jar of stock and chicken thighs in a spicy marinade. I discovered a whole row of posts painted to look like Lego men up at Pantin and another line near Nation in rainbow colours. Some of the best street art is clearly temporary: condemned buildings soon to become flats, allowed to live a last hurrah with a swirl of graffiti.

A few weekends ago, we stayed inside for a Danish movie night. On the menu, Blinkende Lygter (Flickering Lights), rye bread with salami, cheese and mackerel, and meatballs with mashed potatoes to follow. The latter were pretty simple: veal and pork, an egg and some diced onion, all squashed into rounds, browned and finished with a cream and mushroom sauce. With the mashed potatoes, they were the ultimate comfort. It is amazing we stayed awake for the film, although it was actually quite funny – a black, bitter humour – starring a young Mads Mikkelsen.

While browning the meatballs, while the others were laughing in the other room and piling meat and cheese onto bread and teasing the cat, I was also rolling out the tebirkes** for the next day. (The kitchen is one of my favourite places to be during a party: I can hear and enjoy enough of the conversation while my hands are busy.) To continue the theme: Danish pastries for Sunday morning. But not the “Danishes” that people in Britain grew up with, custard and apricot and a thick glaze. I had never tasted anything like it. These tebirkes are a hybrid of a croissant, a brioche and a Germanic seeded roll. They have all the butter and flake of a French pastry (confusingly called “viennoiserie” here, from Vienna) but some of delightfully sour taste of a multi-grain sourdough – from the addition of yoghurt. Plus, they are rolled up with a marzipan filling that caramelises around the edges as they bake, and topped with more poppy seeds.

I took the recipe from this blog here and adapted the method a little to make it more familiar, more like making croissants. Unlike croissants though, tebirkes I am happy to make at home because I know they can’t be found within walking distance from my flat of a Sunday morning. They sound labour intensive but they only need a little work the night before, and a good hour or two to rise the next day. (And they could be frozen for later.) I love the way the dough is speckled with seeds, the poppy seed cap on top. When they come out of the oven, some of the filling will have oozed out onto the tray, forming a toffee-like, brandysnap brittle. Worth making for that alone. Chef’s prerogative. They should be flaky outside and chewy inside, with a satisfying heft. Mine have been approved by one Danish friend, but she admitted that as with croissants, each bakery makes a slightly different version. And from what I understand if you make them longer and thinner they can be twisted into frosnapper. An extended culinary research trip to Denmark is clearly required to check. Perhaps in the spring…

*Technically, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago. It rained all day this Sunday. But we did eat another batch of tebirkes, just to check they were still good.

**Pronounced tay-beer-kes. I think.

tebirke diagram

Tebirkes (poppy and almond danish pastries)

adapted from Honest Cooking

makes 8-10

125g unsalted butter

250 g bread flour

25g seeds (eg linseed + poppy)

20g rolled oats

4 g salt

10g fresh yeast (or 5g instant dried yeast)

125 ml milk

35g greek yoghurt

15g honey

1 egg yolk


40g sugar

40g unsalted butter, room temperature

50g marzipan


1 egg white (leftover from filling)

10g poppy seeds

Start by flattening out the butter to about 15x10cm: Fold a piece of greaseproof paper to the right size and enclose the butter within, then roll out with a rolling pin.  Refrigerate.

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl, including yeast (crumble it up if using fresh yeast). Make a well in the centre and weigh milk, yoghurt and honey directly into the well with the egg yolk. Mix with a fork until it comes together into a dough. Lightly flour the work surface, tip the dough out and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and stretchy. Try not to add too much extra flour, keep kneading and scraping the work surface. Once it is stretchy enough to form a thin membrane, shape into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and let sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

Lightly flour the work surface and roll the dough out into a long rectangle, about one and a half times as long as the butter, and a couple of centimetres wider on each side. (E.g. about 25x15cm – see diagram above for proportions.) Brush off any excess flour, then place the butter at the top of the rectangle. Fold over the bottom end which should cover about half the butter. Then fold over the top so that the edges meet: basically the dough should have been folded in three, with the butter on the inside. Press the seams gently with the rolling pin to seal the butter in. Turn the parcel of dough so that it looks like a book – the seam on the right hand side, and roll it out lengthways, about 40cm long. Brush off any extra flour. Fold the edges into the centre so they meet halfway, then fold in half. The dough has now been folded in four. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate 30 minutes. (Optional: chill between the first two folds if the dough is too soft.) Finally, roll the dough out one more time (“like a book” again) to about 30cm long, and fold in three. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Cream softened butter and sugar until smooth then grate over the marzipan and mix in well. Roll out the dough to a large rectangle (40x25cm approximately). Spread the marzipan mixture all over, but leave a border along the long side furthest away from you. Roll up the dough lengthways towards the border, press down gently to seal. Brush the log with thhe remaining egg white and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Cut into 8-10 slices. Either let them rise at room temperature for an hour or two, until doubled in size. Or refrigerate until the next morning. In a cold environment, to speed up the rising process I like to heat my oven to 50°C for five minutes, then place the tray of tebirkes inside and turn the oven off.

Once tebirkes have doubled in size, preheat oven to 225C. Get a couple of ice cubes ready. Open the oven, throw in the icecubes and quickly slide in the trays. Close. This will create a nice steamy environment and help them puff up. Drop the temperature to 180°C. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden-brown all over. Serve warm. Best eaten on the first day, or gently warmed through later on.

(If making more than needed, either freeze extra tebirkes unrisen, or already baked.)

poppy seed biscuits with beetroot and goat’s cheese

25 Oct

poppy beetroot biscuits

As a somewhat professional pastry person and therefore disqualified from competing, I have a lot of feelings about the Great British Bake off. Most of which I will spare you! My main grudge is that the contestants do not seem to tidy up after themselves, one cut and the bench is neat and tidy. Who is the kitchen elf that does the washing up? Where can I get one?

On the positive side, many of the challenges I have never attempted (the French are unaware of fondant fancies!) or would never try at home (puff pastry is meant for a pastry break, the great powerful laminating machine). So I learn things by watching. And since they are in competition for most original, the flavours are often unique combinations that are unusual in France.

This week I had an apéritif dinatoire (a drinks party with snacks) to prepare – and the home bakers had savoury canapés. The poppy seed biscuits with beetroot, made by Ruby, stuck in my mind. Though they look bright and elegant with the disc of jelly on top, I made an easier version, one more adapted to a crowd.

A simple poppy and buckwheat dough, rolled out and cut into irregular triangles with a pasta wheel. (Since they tesselate, it saves on scraps.) Then goat’s cheese mixed with mascarpone and a little milk to a smooth creamy paste. This can be piped on with a star tip for a hint of kitsch, or dolloped just so. Top with little cubes of plain cooked beetroot – or cut larger triangles to match the shape of the biscuits.

A perfect mouthful, the rather severe biscuits with the expansive rich cheese and earthy magenta beetroot.


Poppy seed biscuits with beetroot and goat’s cheese

original recipe with beetroot jelly on the BBC website

makes 40 small canapes

75g white flour

75g buckwheat flour (or rye, or wholemeal)

pinch of salt

80g butter

50g poppy seeds

2 tbsp water

100g soft goat’s cheese (the kind without a rind)

80g mascarpone

2-3 tbsp milk


2-3 small cooked beetroots

In a food processor, blend the flours, salt and butter until there are only pea-sized lumps. Add the poppy seeds then drizzle in the water until the dough starts to come together then bring together into a ball with your hands (add an extra tbsp water if needed). Push into a flat disc, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out quite thin and cut into irregular triangles. Bake at 175C for about 15 minutes. They should be crisp and ever so slightly golden around the edges. Let cool.

Mix the goat’s cheese, mascarpone and milk with some pepper to taste. Add more milk if needed, for a smooth pipable consistency. Finely dice the beetroot or cut into larger triangles to match the size of the biscuits. Pipe swirls of goat’s cheese, or or just dollop with a spoon, onto each biscuit and top with beetroot.

raspberry and poppy seed cheesecake

12 Feb

raspberry poppy cheesecake

At supper with the charming Italian flatmate and her equally charming boyfriend (I am a welcome extra wheel because I always bring dessert) we discussed the decor of their future apartment (or, they politely argued, I concentrated on the saffron risotto).

He likes black and white with just a touch of colour. He is French, of course. She is a walking rainbow. He has been known to scold her gently for wearing purple and red together. Her room mirrors her colourful personality, an honest representation of herself.

Decorating cakes should follow the same rules, to reflect what is inside. Pierre Hermé believes strongly that it should be minimal, and should enhance not hide. (An error I certainly committed in my final exam when there was a dent in my tutti frutti entremets. I did indeed use all of the fruits to cover it up.) Hermé’s vanilla tart has a line of real vanilla seeds on a shiny white glaze. That is all. The reason that it is minimalist and not simply boring is that he delivers on his visual promise – the execution is perfect, the tart is a concentrated explosion of vanilla.  A sort of dessert sincerity. At work we place a dried vanilla bean on our apple tart because it contains a compote made with a spidery tangle of vanilla pods. However we also put chopped pistachios on the lemon tart, the acid-green contrasting prettily with the yellow when there is no pistachio in the tart itself: false advertising.

One of my favourite people – who detests cooking – asked me what on earth was the point of ‘dressing a plate.’ I compared it to ‘bookcase styling,’ a term I came across on the internet. The step-by-step guide to artfully arranging knick-knacks and bibelots just so on the shelves treated the (very few) books as an afterthought – or a stand for pretty vases. The same goes for dressing a plate: if all the drizzles and sprigs of parsley obscure the actual food, then the fundamentals have been lost somewhere between the kitchen and our mouths.

To see my bedroom with its stacks of books, haphazard wall of gilt frames is to know that I am far from being a minimalist. But I like my desserts to be fresh and simple, clean flavours and lines – and the garnish should reflect that.

We carried on discussing furniture – there was a violent disagreement over the idea of a violet pouffe – until I brought out the cheesecake. Made with Quark I brought back from Germany specially, it was light and tangy with a hint of lemon. It was baked in a loaf tin for neat oblong slices befitting a dinner party, that showed the pink bloom of the raspberries inside. It was neither rich nor cloying, more akin to the dense German kasekuche I had had in Stuttgart. That one had had a poppy seed topping; I adapted the idea and put the poppy seeds in the biscuit base for a bitter crackle, and covered the cheesecake with a thin layer of whipped cream instead. It might seem redundant, cream on top of cheese, but it works. Then a few diagonal lines of poppy seeds and candied lemon zest. Simple. Fancy. It was much appreciated – and because it was not too sugary nor too creamy, even those that normally hate cheesecake approved.

The charming flatmate left this week (interestingly, on the day that the Japanese traditionally celebrate casting out devils and inviting in good spirits!) to move in with the boyfriend. Soon there will be a new, and nice, French girl. For now I am alone in the apartment, its walls now bare, the bookshelves gone. In lieu of buying more, and trying in vain to style them, I shall make myself this cheesecake and actually read a book instead.


Raspberry and poppy seed cheesecake

adapted from Valentina’s recipe, one that I have been meaning to make for years now

75g butter, melted

175g plain biscuits, crushed

35g poppy seeds

80g raspberries (fresh or frozen)

450g cream cheese, quark or drained fromage blanc*

150g caster sugar

4 eggs

zest of 1 lemon

to decorate:

100g cream, whipped

lemon zest, poppy seeds, fresh raspberries

*I have tried all the cheeses below, each are delicious, but have a slightly different texture – however the fromage blanc needs draining 24 hours beforehand. A goat’s milk fromage blanc is particularly tangy and interesting. Drain in a colander lined with a tea-towel, leave in the fridge for 24 hours or more with a heavy weight on top. Start with about 800g to get 450g in the end.

Grease a 24cm-long loaf tin and line with paper (makes it easier to lift out when cooked). Heat oven to 180C.

Either bash the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin to crumbs, or blend in a food processor. Stir in melted butter and poppy seeds and press firmly into tin.

Mix cream cheese or quark, sugar, eggs and lemon zest. Pour half into tin, scatter over raspberries then pour in the rest.

Bake for 50 minutes or so. The cheesecake will be golden brown and just set, and will come away from the side of the tin.

Lightly whip the cream and spread over the cooled cheesecake. Decorate with thin diagonal stripes of poppy seeds and crushed raspberries, or whatever takes your fancy.

(Still good the next day, were it to  be prepared ahead, refrigerated and decorated last minute.)

pear and poppy tart

15 Jul

Sometimes you make a mistake. In trying to fix it, you only compound the error.

Soon, your hair is six inches shorter, from a desperate effort to even up the left hand side. Your cake looks like it has been attacked by a rabid horde of neon fruit, which is trying to cover the blurry squiggle of chocolate… that was supposed to cover the uneven cream.

That is to say, I had my final patisserie exam. I wished my efforts had been shinier.

Then I called my Granny to recount the whole thing. As cheerful and encouraging as she is, I had to tell it with a positive spin. And felt better as a result.

To celebrate, I baked a tart. (Twenty four hours later, when the shock had worn off.) This time too, I made mistakes. I could feel them. The butter wasn’t properly cold. An extra-large not a medium egg. The poppy flour was a fingers-crossed-no-scales guess. The pastry, not yet chilled, was sticky and recalcitrant. It got pushed into the pan anyway.

I poached some pears with a star anise. They turned soft and sweet and scented. In a rush to get outside, I forgot to pat them dry. Into the oven went an uneven tart shell, finger marks all over it. Pear juice threatening to run overboard.

Out of the oven came

“it’s a star!”

my friend said. A five-legged pear starfish nestled in almond cream, in a stony grey poppy shell. It was pretty. Definitely rustic. Like a classic French pear tart, but with a touch of spice. The earthy base of poppy seed flour adds colour and a indefinable nutty taste,

“like basement!”

said the same friend, searching for an appropriate simile. (Don’t listen to her, she had three slices.)

Sometimes you make a choice. You rush to get outside in time for sundown over the canal. Sometimes it turns out just right anyway.

Pear and poppy tart

for six – or two as a main course! I think ground walnuts would give a similar flavour and texture if you can’t get hold of poppy seed flour

3 small pears, unripe

500ml water

250g caster sugar

1 star anise

for the pastry:

160g plain flour

40g Mohn – poppy seed flour

80g caster sugar

100g butter, cold

1 medium egg

for the almond cream:

50g butter, softened

50g caster sugar

50g ground almonds

1 medium egg

for decoration: poppy seeds

Peel, halve and core/destalk the pears. Place in a large pan with the sugar, water and star anise. The water should just cover the pear halves. Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer until tender – 15 minutes or so. Leave to cool in the liquid. (Remove the star anise if you leave them for longer than a few hours, it will be too strong otherwise.)

Make the pastry: mix the flours and sugar. Cube the butter and rub in lightly with fingertips to form a breadcrumb texture. Work in the eg and bring the mixture into a ball. Add a teaspoon of water if too dry. (You can do this in the food processor, if you like.) Flatten into a disk, clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Make the almond cream: whisk the softened butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Stir in ground almonds, then the egg a little at a time.

Preheat oven to 175C. Grease a 22cm tart tin or thereabouts. Roll out the pastry with a little flour, press into tin. If it is too sticky to roll, press it in with your fingertips. (There will be some leftover.) Smooth the almond cream over the pastry.

Drain the pear halves and pat dry carefully with a paper towel. Slice them very thin horizontally. Arrange each half on the almond cream, keeping the slices together like spokes in a wheel. (I could only fit five halves, so I ate the last one!)

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the shell is crisp and the almond cream set and turning golden-brown.

mohnkuche (poppy flour cake with lemon glaze)

20 Apr

A parcel of steely powder and a blue flower-printed card. The International Gourmet Penpal Project has begun.

Poppy seeds with lemon is obviously a classic combination, but I had never heard of Mohn (poppy seed flour) until Mary sent it to me. The sandy texture of ground almonds, it is a beautiful dark grey colour with a bitter taste like walnuts. My German friend scoffed when I told him about it – just a normal boring cake for him, nothing special.

And yet it bakes up to be almost blue! Looks like granite, but soft as anything. You could ice it in layers with thick buttercream, but I preferred the lemon juice and sugar option – just a thin white crust over the nutty base. (No flour, for you gluten-free people!)

In the end I had to give the last two slices away to the picky German friend, else the whole cake would have been gone by the end of the day. (He liked it too!) A grown-up sponge cake, I suppose – a sophisticated colour, a bitter twist and simple sweet icing – Mohnkuche may be my new favourite afternoon snack.

So, who’s next? What crazy ingredients can you send me?


Mohn cakewith lemon glaze

makes a large sized cake – I halved the recipe and still made 6 generous slices

150g soft butter, at room temperature

50g icing sugar

6 eggs, separated

a pinch of salt

zest of 1 lemon

200g Mohn flour

100g ground almonds or walnuts

110g caster sugar

for glaze: juice of lemon + 100g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a 20-22cm round tin or line it with baking paper.

Cream the butter and icing sugar. Add the egg yolks one by one and beat well. Fold in the salt, lemon zest, Mohn and ground nuts.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites. As they become stiff, add the sugar a spoonful at a time and keep whisking to thick glossy peaks. Mix the whites into the Mohn mix a dollop at a time, folding gently so as not to lose the airy volume.

Tip cake mix into tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until it comes away from the sides of the tin and the top springs back when pressed.

Mix a few drops of lemon juice into the remaining icing sugar, adding more until it makes a thick pouring consistency. Smooth over hot cake as it comes out of the oven.


coffee cheesecake with a walnut crust and salted caramel ganache

21 Sep

cheesecake ingredients

Bringing a cheesecake to a party seems like cheating: pretty much everyone will love it. Forgive the fashion metaphor: after five years I finally caved and bought a black leather jacket, to match everyone else in Paris. And you know what? It makes everything else I wear instantly cooler. I have never looked cool before. Cute or quirky or colourful maybe. There is a reason that the French word for a leather jacket is un perfecto.

It feels like cheating because it is the same, simple recipe I have used forever, from the wife of my Italian tutor. Blend biscuit crumbs, whisk filling, pour into a tin, bake. Ice if you are fancy. I just adapt it to every occasion – with lemon zest and a poppy seed crust; kumquats and apricots; or Earl Grey tea – but keep the basic ratio the same. My trick is to bake it in a long loaf tin, which makes it less likely to crack or leak, and elegant and easy to slice later on. You can have the whole thing in the oven in about ten minutes. Leaving you lots of spare time to watch the Great British Bake Off and marvel at how complicated they make things for themselves.

Last time I tried another recipe, an involved one with several layers, a frozen ganache, extra bells and whistles, I was disappointed. My oven ended up covered in butter and chocolate. So I have gone back to my staple recipe. (It was high time I drew a new picture for cheesecake anyway.) Not too sweet, not too heavy. This version has a biscuit base of speculoos (cinnamon) biscuits as well as savoury crackers, and some ground coffee and walnuts for a grown-up edge. (Since I had some grapefruit marmalade lying around, I spread a little over the base too.) The mascarpone cream is flavoured with more coffee and rum, as well as a touch of grapefruit zest. On top, a bitter caramel white chocolate ganache and a few flakes of sea salt. No more decoration needed.


Coffee cheesecake with a walnut crust and salted caramel ganache

Ganache topping borrowed from Dana Cree’s not nutter butters. Feel free to substitute cream cheese or Quark for mascarpone; change the biscuits; swap the walnuts for any other nuts/seeds; change the coffee flavouring to cinnamon, lemon or tea… For a lighter topping, just smooth over some crème fraîche or sour cream when cool. Use this recipe as a template for your favourite flavours!

makes enough for at least 8 generous slices


120g speculoos biscuits

55g TUC crackers

35g walnuts

1 tbs ground coffee

25g caster sugar

75g butter, melted

(optional: 2-3 tbs grapefruit marmalade)


2 tsp instant coffee

1 tbs rum

450g mascarpone

150g caster sugar

4 eggs

zest of one grapefruit

caramel ganache:

20g water

50g caster sugar

75g whipping/heavy/single cream

20g butter

150g white chocolate

flaky sea salt to finish


Grease and line a 24cm-long loaf tin with baking paper, with an extra few centimetres sticking up to make it easy to pull out of the tin later on.

Preheat oven to 170C.

Blend the biscuits, coffee and walnuts in a food processor to make fine crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter and blend again to combine evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom of the loaf tin firmly with the back of a spoon. Optional: carefully spread grapefruit marmalade over the crumb base.

Rinse out the food processor then blend instant coffee with rum to dissolve it. Mix in mascarpone, sugar, eggs and zest and blend until smooth. Pour into tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until puffed up, starting to crack slightly and a skewer inserted in the top comes out clean.

Let the cheesecake cool in the pan for at least half an hour before making ganache:

Finely chop white chocolate, put in a bowl with a sieve on top. Gently heat cream in a small pan or microwave. Measure out the butter. Heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan, without stirring, to make a very dark caramel. It should be just on the point of smoking, almost burnt, to balance out the sweetness of the white chocolate. Quickly take off the heat and slide in the butter. Let it melt before stirring it into the caramel. Add the warmed cream, stir again to combine. Strain the caramel sauce through the sieve into the white chocolate. Let it absorb the heat for 30 seconds then stir together to combine. If it starts to split or look a bit greasy, whisk in a teaspoon of hot cream or hot water and it should come back together. Carefully smooth onto the surface of the cheesecake. Refrigerate to set.

Just before serving, sprinkle some flaky salt over the cheesecake. Carefully lift out of the pan with the paper, cut into thick slices, cleaning your knife each time you cut it.

rich and luscious dark chocolate cream-cheese frosting

10 Apr

rich luscious dark chocolate cream cheese frosting

The three year old son of one of my friends has an active imagination and a very gourmand palate. When asked, how was nursery school, he will say: “Today I built a coffee machine” or “I took the night train to Copenhagen.” And once: “I cooked polenta with tomatoes and parsley. And calamari.” Which sounds perfectly delicious.

Sometimes I am lucky enough to have that kind of free, three-year-old inspiration. This week I built a blanket fort and made a cake. On separate days. Both were even better than I imagined they would be: first I was cocooned in a warm glow of blankets with cups of tea and a kitten, no screens, it felt like an escape in my own flat. And then the idea for a cake just came to me in all its disparate elements. A British friend’s birthday prompted something with Earl Grey, something light and delicate. Then a student came for a macaron class and showed me a beautiful picture of a cake with a whole cheesecake between the two layers instead of frosting. The sheer audacity of this meant I had to try it. Luckily, I already had both an Earl Grey cake and a simple cheesecake in my archives. The former is a light genoise, with only a touch of butter. Thinking of Earl Grey and chocolate macarons, i wanted a frosting that would not overwhelm but complement the delicate citrus-tea layers. With real dark chocolate AND cocoa, and cream cheese for a creamy, slightly salty edge. Made in a food processor it was incredibly smooth and delicious – a substantial afternoon snack for the baker. Me. It was better than my imagination.

For an Earl Grey-citrus-chocolate cheesecake-cake you will need:

One Earl Grey cake, from Fanny Zanotti

One basic cheesecake recipe  no crust: whisk together 450g cream cheese, mascarpone or ricotta, 150g sugar, 4 eggs + zest of one lemon + tea from 2-4 Earl Grey teabags

One quantity rich and dark and luscious chocolate cream-cheese icing, see below

Simple syrup made of 100g water, 100g sugar and one teabag. Boil everything and let cool with the teabag still in.

For the tea: either cut the fine tea out of teabags or blend proper tealeaves in a food processor with the sugar in the recipe. Line two 22cm round tins with baking paper. Bake cake in one and cheesecake in the other, let cool. Slice the cake into two layers, evening up the top if not totally flat. I like to flip the cake over and use the bottom of the cake as the top layer since it is the most even. Lightly brush one layer of cake with syrup. Top with cheesecake, then second layer of cake. Brush with more syrup. (You won’t need to use it all. Save the rest for cocktails.) Ice with chocolate frosting. If you are very meticulous, start with a crumb layer: spread a very thin layer all over first, then refrigerate for 20 minutes. This is supposed to stop crumbs from getting into the final layer. Then carry on frosting. You can do it in an artfully messy way, a la Smitten Kitchen, or neat and smooth with piped rosettes on top.

Rich and luscious dark chocolate cream-cheese frosting

adapted from wickedgoodkitchen: I reduced the sugar and halved the original recipe. It still makes enough to ice and decorate the outside of a 22-24cm round cake – multiply by 1.5 if you want a thick layer of frosting between layers as well.

65g dark chocolate (60-70% cacao content)

115g unsalted butter

115g cream cheese

30g cocoa

180g icing sugar

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are both room temperature. Chop chocolate and melt over a bain-marie or in a microwave (careful not to let it get too hot or it will go grainy). Let it cool a little. Blend the soft butter in a food processor with a blade until smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend again. Sift the cocoa and icing sugar together. Add about half to the food processor, blend, add melted chocolate (cooled but still fluid), and blend again. Scrape the sides, tip in the rest of the icing sugar/cocoa and blend one last time. It should be beautifully smooth and shiny.

To ice the cake: smooth icing around the sides first, then over the top. Use any leftovers to pipe swirls on top. If you want contrasting swirls, mix a dollop of cream cheese with some remaining icing and alternate dark and light chocolate.

Icing refrigerated really well, staying nice and soft. No tests yet on how long it keeps. Cake was demolished in about ten minutes.

jennifer mclagan’s radicchio pie

17 Feb

radicchio pie

Bitter is a recurrent theme here: grapefruit, endive, caramel… The other day in fact I took a jar of grapefruit juice, hot water and honey onto the metro: handwarmer and homemade cold cure. So I was overjoyed to receive the book ‘Bitter‘ for Christmas, with its elegant grey cardoon leaves on the cover. (I also love grey: poppy seeds, black sesame desserts…) Jennifer McLagan peppers her cookbook with poetry, quotations and thoughtful essays on taste and flavour. I especially liked her discussion on the word itself, bitter, one that doesn’t have enough synonyms when it comes to writing about food. The Japanese word, shibui,she writes, means a kind of tangy bitterness. A quick thesaurus search in English gives ‘harsh, sour, acid, astringent, tart’ in that order, none particularly appetising except perhaps the last. (Yesterday I had to teach French flatmate that it was acceptable ‘to get tarted up’ but not to be a tart. In French the quiche gets the dubious honour of comestible-used-as-an-insult. Etre une quiche means to be an idiot.)

radicchio leaves

I have bookmarked the Seville orange and whiskey marmalade and the homemade tonic water; I approved of the grapefruit and Campari sorbet (one of my favourite cocktails). I was intrigued by the beer jelly, made in ice-cube trays to serve a piece or two with rich, fatty starters like smoked pepper mackerel. And straightaway, I bought some radicchio for her savoury tart with prosciutto, fontina and a hint of ginger. It should have had lard in the pie-crust but in typical French fashion the butchers at the market first asked about our intentions, and then refused to sell it to us since it was the wrong kind for pastry. And no, we couldn’t try it anyway. A substitute of butter and a little duck fat, always on hand in the south of France, was more than acceptable. The pie was delicious straight out of the oven, a complex bitter taste, the wilted radicchio with melted cheese and crisp pastry. (Served with a salad of Belgian endives, of course.) And it was even better the next day as a snack by the fire, with a glass of Campari and apple juice.

radicchio half

Jennifer McLagan’s Radicchio Pie

serves 4 as a light lunch with salad

250g plain flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

125g cold butter or leaf lard

75ml cold water


75g fatty prosciutto or pancetta

400g radicchio

1 leek

1 tbs balsamic vinegar

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 tsp salt

a few generous grinds pepper

125g Fontina or mozzarella cheese, grated

1 egg

2 tbs fine breadcrumbs

Dice the cold fat (butter or lard) and rub it into the flour, baking powder and salt until the flakes of butter are no bigger than peas. (You can do this step in the food processor.) Stir in the cold water and bring the pastry together into a ball with your hands. Wrap in clingfilm, flatten into a square and chill, in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10.

Roughly chop the prosciutto or pancetta and cook in a large frying pan for 2 minutes while you chop the radicchio and leek. Add them to the pan and cook on high heat for 3-5 minutes to wilt the vegetables. Stir in the grated ginger, salt, pepper and balsamic and tip out onto a plate or tray to cool.

Preheat oven to 180C.

Roll the pastry out into a large rectangle, approx 30x40cm. Slice in half, but so that one rectangle is slightly wider than the other (approx 19 and 21cm). Place smaller rectangle on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and brush some egg around the pastry in a 2cm border. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the pastry apart from the egg.

Gently squeeze any extra liquid out of the cooled radicchio. Stir in the grated cheese. Spread the radicchio over the breadcrumbs, then carefully roll the second rectangle of pastry over the top. Press down around the edges with your fingertips, then use a fork to mark the border. If you have any scraps of pastry, cut out some leaves or designs to go on top. Egg wash all over and prick the top a few times with a sharp knife to let out any steam.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until nice and golden, crisp and shiny. Serve warm – also great reheated the next day.

just breakfast

21 Nov


One of the first food blogs I followed, Simply Breakfast, was just that. Elegant and interesting breakfast for one, simply photographed. It disappeared a while ago, but some of her photos can be found here.

I love weekend breakfast, I love inviting people over for pancakes or waffles. (Or tebirkes!) I love making several pots of coffee and sitting around in pyjamas and slippers long past noon.

In the week though, I tend to oversleep and run out of the door with fruit and a yoghurt to eat standing up at work. Not so good. I need the motivation to wake up earlier and eat something heartier.


Porridge: a surfeit of regular, oat porridge got boring a while back. But Holybelly’s black rice porridge with fromage frais and berries is absolutely fantastic, ink-dark and full of flavour. I tried it at home twice, forgot about it twice, burned it twice. Working on it…

Toast: in any French household there is always a bit of baguette lying around from the night before. Our fridge is full of half-full jars too, lemon curd, fig jam, a tangerine-raspberry experiment that is a touch too stiff. Weirdly though, my sweet tooth is fading, the more I work with pastry. Who knew you could eat too many macarons?! For a savoury option, we have enormous avocados from the Indian shop across the road. They are as big as two normal ones, light and delicate. Mashed avocado, olive oil and coarse salt on toast. Perfect.

Eggs: Am too lazy to turn on the stove before work, so a stash of boiled eggs in the fridge makes things easy. This morning I had boiled eggs on buttered bread, plenty of pepper; a leftover matcha pannacotta with honey; and a pomelo. Luxury.

What are your breakfast staples? I would love some new ideas.

growing up in a curious garden

8 Oct


The other day in the Buttes-Chaumont, I was almost hit by a falling conker. I picked one up , rubbing its shiny surface, whorls of colour in espresso and caramel. One autumn my brother and I collected enough to fill a hammock. I’m not sure what for, except that each one was shinier and more covetable and was thus added to the collection. I would keep one in my pocket as a talisman until it dried out and wrinkled.

Children love conkers – to battle with, of course – but also just to have. My granny wrote about it in her short story ‘Growing Up in a Curious Garden.’

Everything in the garden could be made use of, though not always successfully. Further round from the nursery window the japonica fruit made very good doll’s apples and near those my father fixed up what must then have been the latest fashion, devised by his friend Clarence Elliott of Six Hills Nursery.

It was an alpine sink, made from one of the stone feeding troughs then being thrown out by up to date farmers. It had been propped up by a brick pier at each end and carefully planted with small alpines and rocks. Now each autumn my sister and I puzzled as to how to preserve the wonderful sheen on the newly opened conkers.

We had tried shoe polish but this was not a success and in the autumn of the alpine sink we decided just to keep the conkers in water, which seemed to preserve that wonderful chestnut colour. We put our best conkers in jam jars, filled them up with water and put them in what seemed to be a convenient and safe place, under the piers of the alpine sink.

Then, as so often, we forgot about them. In the spring there were cries of despair from my father. The conkers had sprouted and, such is the power of nature, their sprouts had dislodged the alpine sink, scattered the precious plants and totally spoiled the effect. We were in disgrace.

Not much changes between generations. I love the idea of shoe polish. Her father was a great gardener and wrote several books on plants. Her love of gardening  shone clear. Except for certain pink flowers, she hated pink. Her daughter and daughters-in-law (my mother included) learned everything from her. My aunt said that she never had to remember the names of plants; Granny was an encylopaedia. She was incredibly knowledgeable about literature as well, but she rarely showed anyone her writing apart from the ‘Naughty Harold’ stories she typed up for us as children.


‘Growing Up in a Curious Garden’ is a short story and memoir based on reminiscences with her sister Ursula. My granny Jillian walks the reader around their childhood garden, picking out plants and telling stories, She seemed to anchor her memories with flowers the way I do with food. (Which is not to say that she didn’t love to cook; I have already written about her lemon drizzle cake, her brownies and old-fashioned oatcakes.) This story is so vivid, so sharp and well-told without being sentimental that one day I sat down to illustrate it, though I had to google a lot of the plants. She saw it before she died, and politely informed me that some of the colours are wrong, including the Himalayan poppy on the front cover. I claim artistic licence.



It is not very long, only 3000 words. I wanted it in the style of a children’s book, giving due space to her words. Now it is a 38 page book, illustrated and printed in a large font similar to her italic black handwriting. It isn’t much, but it is a tactile memory of her as a daughter and sister, and as a mother, grandmother and writer.

I have printed a few copies of ‘Growing Up in a Curious Garden’ with the excellent Parisian photo service, Negatif Plus. If you would like one, please write and let me know. The cost covers printing and postage, no more. Mostly, I would like to share her words.

Details: 38 page book, 21x14cm, printed on 300g matte paper with a soft cover.

Cost: UK – £12 / Rest of Europe – £13.50 / Rest of the world – £15

Payment by cheque or Paypal. Write to frances.m.leech (at)

new p38

%d bloggers like this: