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indian street food

19 Jun

At the cookbook fair in the beautiful 104 (once Paris’ state morgue!) there were a mix of heavily mediatised chefs, modest cookbook authors, talented photographers and nervous Cordon Bleu students as demonstration helpers.

One Finnish photographer was promoting her stunning concept of “visual recipes”: a wide shot of all the ingredients and different steps laid out in the same frame. Creme brulee, hand rolled pasta, houmous, she made classic recipes into a careful design piece. There was an English chap who makes landscapes out of broccoli and smoked salmon most famous for his panoramic view of London, a watermelon St Paul’s. (He said only the Brits recognised the Curly Wurlys on his Eiffel Tower.)

Around lunchtime we found a spot at the demonstrations. Two Indians – the equivalent of the Hairy Bikers – were tossing large handfuls of puffed rice and cucumber, sharp chili sauce and mustard oil. They threw everything together with their hands, piled it into newspaper cones to serve and stressed the importance of making a MESS while cooking as well as involving all the senses. It was certainly a performance and a half. I scribbled down:

  • puffed rice
  • diced onion and boiled potato
  • tamarind chutney
  • jaggery (sugar cane juice)
  • green curry paste (made with coriander and mint)
  • cumin, red chili powder, rock salt
  • papri (wheatbread crackers deep fried with cumin)
  • lemon juice
  • coriander

Mixed together in generous handfuls with huge spoonfuls of spices, it was unlike any Indian food I had tried – light and sweet and clear burning hot, all with a satisfying crunch. No recipe, just trial and error. To finish, a cashew and condensed milk sweet to relieve the taste buds from the fierce chili. (They said they only used a fifth of normal Indian quantities!)

Now to hunt down some papri and jaggery…

apple and cinnamon butterbeer

26 Feb

Red mittens and a perilous bike ride through the snow. On the way home, a little boy in a hat throwing chunks of baguette at the ducks sitting on the large glass shards of ice patterning the canal.

A cold snap always creates a certain cameraderie, a common enemy to complain about. My colleagues arrive in the morning, shivering and repeating samui, samui. Then we take turns to open the oven and stand in front of it. (I like the snow more than they do, ran up the kitchen stairs to watch the snowflakes instead of filling choux puffs.)

In the absence of a fireplace, I like to warm my hands around a large spotted mug. Normally tea, but sometimes butterbeer is more appropriate. Just the word sounds like a snowstorm and golden firelight.

Watch the hot cider fizz and the icecream disappear in a cloud of spiced foam. Like a tankard of mead in a comfortable pub. Like melting snowflakes.

Apple and cinnamon butterbeer

from Oh Comely magazine

makes 6 large mugs

500ml vanilla icecream, softened

70g dark brown sugar

55g butter, also soft

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 litre apple cider (the alcoholic kind)

Cream butter sugar and spices. When fluffy, stir in the vanilla icecream, then refreeze for an hour or so.

Warm a mug of cider each (either in a big saucepan or individually in a microwave). Not too hot, or the alcohol will disappear. Top each cider with a scoop of spiced icecream and sip as it melts.

hazelnut banana macarons

19 Feb

These ain’t the fancy kind, my loves.

Yes, they are cute. Two colours! Light and dark! Hazelnut on one side, cocoa the other, sandwiching a slice of banana and a dollop of mascarpone.

No, they are not shiny perfect. The ground hazelnuts make them rustic (read: bumpy). They might crack in the oven.

No, you do not need boiling sugar. Or an electric mixer. Or even really a sieve. You can even dollop the silly things with a spoon should you be lacking in piping bags.

No, it doesn’t really matter. Macarons are such a simple cookie: egg white, sugar, ground nuts. You can invent anything you like to go inside, colour them any which way.

You don’t need to make a creme au beurre with fancy italian meringue and creme anglaise. Just a spoonful of marscarpone with its loud creamy taste that balances all the sugar in the shell. (Or a make a quick airy chocolate cream with a mix of Nutella and mascarpone, for the sweet-toothed.)

I have just saved you 1.85 euros per bite. (Yes, my favourite shop macarons are more than their weight in gold. Actually they are covered in gold dust.)

Bake. Love. Repeat.

Easy banana hazelnut macarons

125g ground hazelnuts

250g icing sugar

15g cocoa powder

100ml egg whites (about 4)

for decoration: 250g Nutella

200g mascarpone

2 bananas

Prepare some baking sheets lined with baking paper.

Whisk the egg whites until nearly stiff, add 2 tbs icing sugar and keep whipping to pointy peaks. Sieve the rest of the icing sugar and hazelnuts into the whites and fold in gently with a spatula, until just incorporated.

Divide batter into two bowls and fold the cocoa into one half.

Pipe, or spoon 3cm circles of batter onto baking sheets, spaced apart at least 2cm. (Trace circles first with a template if you are a dessert nerd.)

Leave macarons to sit for half an hour – they will smooth themselves out a little – while you heat the oven to 200C.

Bake for 1 minute at 200C then 8-9 minutes at 180C. They should be crisp on top – the plain hazelnut ones will be a little golden around the edges.

Remove from oven and pour a little water onto the tray, underneath the baking paper. This will stop the macarons sticking.

When cool, peel off paper and sandwich them together- try to match plain and cocoa shells together.

With a small dab of Nutella, stick a slice of banana to one macaron shell. Top with a dollop of plain Nutella, a divinely creamy mix of 50/50 Nutella/mascarpone or just plain mascarpone for a less sweet effect. Press the other half on top.

For best results, chill in fridge for 12 hours: the icing and shells will meld together for a harmonious fusion of nutty chocolate banana goodness.

butterflake rolls

31 Jan

Family mythology constructs itself on half-remembered truths, oft repeated until solid, like a memory made backwards from an old photo.

Supposedly my granny read the whole works of Dickens every Christmas, while my mother used to cook for Roald Dahl. One cousin walked the breadth of Africa, barefoot and living on beans; a great-uncle battled through the Amazon in a canoe. Mine comes on a smaller scale: I used to rollerblade and read a book at the same time, once ate seven helpings of lemon pudding.

You get a little older, the more prosaic truth slips out. Although by then, the mythology has become dear, rubbed smooth and comforting. Maybe it was only Dahl’s secretary who once made my mum’s chicken pate for him. (He liked it.) So what? The truth is only sometimes less beautiful, sometimes more intriguing, but it belongs less.

We wrap ourselves up in stories: they insulate us from the wider world, give us a sense of place.

My favourite third-hand story involves a penguin being kidnapped from the zoo, later forgotten in a rucksack. Though the telling of it requires a staunch declaration of veracity, I don’t really want to know one way or the other. The bus and the boy and the soaking wet bag are firmly real to me.

Re-reading my mother’s cookbook and I find more of these backwards memories, food that conjures family supper at our long wooden table. I suspect that they are blurred amalgamations, edited to remove silence and sulks, but that’s okay. The goat’s cheese and pear tartlets that were my speciality; my brother’s “world tour” of tiramisu; our New York lasagna with spinach and sausage, all part of a past that is continually retold, continually changing.

Butterflake rolls were eaten often enough that they just conjure an image of a white tablecloth, set for adults at one end, kids at another. Tarnished silver forks, a big dining room window. The rolls would be hot, served in a wire basket. Each one could be peeled apart, the bread divided into buttery petals. The salad and lamb and pear terrine could easily be forfeited for more of this flavourful, tactile bread.

Later, I would hide under the tablecloth and listen to the grown-ups talk. Betrayed by a stray cat, I would get called Big Ears and kicked out to go play.

Butterflake rolls

(makes 12, which is not very many – from Victoria O’Neill’s Seasonal Secrets)

175ml lukewarm water

250g strong white flour

1 1/4 tsp fast action dried yeast

3/4 tsp sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tbs powdered milk*

15g softened butter, cut in cubes

50g more butter, melted, for assembly

*If you don’thave powdered milk, you could substitute 50ml of water for fresh milk. It gives it a slight brioche taste, delicious.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the water – just at body temperature – incorporate gradually with your finger tips. When you have a nice lump of dough, add in the butter.

Turn the dough ball onto a floured surface and knead it for 5 minutes or so. This will work in the butter and give a nice smooth, elastic ball. (To knead: stretch the dough a little, fold in half and press down. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat.)

Leave the dough in the bowl, clingfilmed, for an hour in a warm place. (Try heating a bowl of water 20 seconds in the microwave, then quickly replace it with the dough bowl. Then you have a warm humid atmostsphere perfect for rising.)

When the dough has doubled in size, gently push it down, tip it out and roll into a rectangle approx 20x25cm. Brush with the 50g melted butter. Cut lengthwise into 5 or 6 long strips. Stack the strips on top of each other and then cut into 10-12 squares.

Put each of stack of squares, cut side up into a greased cupcake tray. Leave to rise again for 20-30 minutes until they have puffed up and fill the cupcake dents. Preheat oven to 200c.

Bake for 15-20 minutes to a crisp golden brown. Serve immediately: with delicious vegetable soup or just more butter and honey.

cheat’s fondue

25 Jan

A Swiss boy once told my mother that the forfeit for letting a stray crouton fall into the fondue was a kiss, payable immediately to the person on the right.

I would be willing to bet that he was sitting there eagerly, on her right-hand side, maybe even scheming to accidentally knock her bread with one of those skinny little fondue forks.

I like the rule, though it does make dinner more competitive than normal.

I don’t really like fondue. Too clingy, too complicated. An asset for winning kisses, a struggle too eat. The silly forks, the little candle to stop the cheese from congealing into a gelatinous lump.

This is much easier, and much more delicious. Baked cheese, in a box. Mont d’Or more specifically, a cheese that looks like a tubby sort of Camembert but a little more wrinkly, more suntanned. (That’s about as attractive as the pushy Swiss boy, no?) Let’s try again.

Pour a glass of red wine. Heat the oven hot hot hot. Push a clove of garlic into your Mont d’Or cheese and bake it – still in its wooden box, lid off – until it bubbles. You will just have time to boil cute little purple potatoes, chop a few chestnut mushrooms and light some candles. Drink the wine.

When the cheese has liquefied inside, delightfully rich but tangy, break the cratered surface and dip in crusts of bread, corners of potato. Alternate with baby tomatoes and draughts of wine. Try not to burn your fingers, draw out the long strands of melted goodness.

Keep eating until the wooden box has been scraped clean of cheese. Sigh. Blow out the candles.

banamillionaire’s shortbread

13 Jan

Three kinds of awesome: crunchy chocolate shortbread, sticky caramel and a dusting of sweet banana. Each bite sized piece envelopped in a crackly chocolate coating.

I think that was more than three. That was many varieties of awesome. Like millionaire’s shortbread marries banoffee pie at an extravagant ceremony and then has spoiled chocolate children.

What’s more: this is not hard at all.

Prepare the perfect mathematical shortbread in five minutes. Spread with (store-bought, eek) caramel mixed with blended banana chips. Cut into squares. Dip in melted chocolate. Lick fingers (wash hands) then decorate.

Are they presents? Depends how awesome your friends are. My batch was for my excellent little brother, who definitely deserved it. (Minus the uneven-looking squares of course.)

Banana millionaire’s shortbread

(makes 30 chocolate-sized squares, or a dozen fat chunks)


1 cup plain flour

2/3 cup caster sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

100g butter, cold


400g jar of dulce de leche, confiture de lait or Nestle’s caramel topping for banoffee pie

200g packet banana chips

at least 100g good quality dark chocolate (Lindt 70% was perfect)

Preheat oven to 170C.

In a large bowl, mix flour, cocoa and sugar. Cube the butter and rub into dry mixture until it forms even crumbs, that start to stick together. Press firmly into a paper-lined baking tray – make a square about 20x20cm, 1cm thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes until it smells delicious and looks fim but not stiff. Cut into small squares straight away before it cools – but do not separate them, leave it as one slab.

Blend about 100g banana chips to a crumbly dust. Mix half a jar of caramel – about 200g – with a handful of banana dust. Taste. Add more banana for a stronger flavour or a stiffer texture. Spread the mix over the whole slab of chocolate shortbread, smooth neatly with a palette knife. Now spread on a little more caramel without banana to get a clean line.

Freeze the shortbread for 15 minutes make it easier to coat/cut. Meanwhile, prepare a bain-marie for the chocolate: one large bowl on top of a medium sized saucepan. Heat some water in the saucepan (not enough to touch the bowl) until it simmers but doesn’t boil. Place the bowl with the chocolate on top, let it melt. Don’t stir.

Take shortbread from freezer, spread a very thin layer of chocolate over the caramel. Be quick – it will set hard. This will make it easier and neater to cut the squares.

Place clean baking paper and another tray on top of the shortbread and flip it upside down. Now recut the squares along the lines. With a fork, dip each square in the melted chocolate. (Remove the bain-marie from the heat, but let the bowl sit over the saucepan so it stays warm.) Place on a clean baking sheet and top each square with a shard of banana chip before it sets completely.

Probably keeps for more than a week. (Let me know if you last that long.)

raspberry crème brûlée boats with chocolate nougatine sails

11 Jan

If you live in Paris for a while, you stop noticing the curlicued metro signs. The dusky grey rooftops pass you by. Horror of horrors, you stop being a bohemian and start acting like an estate agent, or your mum.

Newly glamourous things become: only two flights of stairs instead of six! Now you can afford to forget things.

You have an actual balcony. Big enough for one person and a martini, what luxury!

The kitchen boasts the space for kettle and a toaster!

You get to live in your flatmate’s wardrobe for 400 euros a month. You might have to walk through her room to get to the bathroom. Or the front door. But privacy is expensive here.

Space is at a premium. Other people sigh over our real human-sized bath, a luxury I only now appreciate. Bubbles and steam and scalding heat. But I lust for a proper oven, not our table top microwave-oven. It whirs and beeps enthusiastically, but can only cook a sad six cupcakes at a time.

On the other hand, it’s Paris. Land of profiteroles, where strawberries line the streets. You buy your pastries, you don’t make them.

Still, I made a deal. My bath for her crème brûlée torch. A roaring flame thrower to toughen up these girlishly pretty pink custards, baked in the shape of boats. Just raspberries and cream, really. A little stirring, baking at a low heat even a baby oven can handle, then a sprinkle of sugar and a fiery blast from the torch.

For elegance – and ease – you can make nougatine as well, lace-thin chocolate crackle that you snap into an approximation of sails for the little pink boats. Raspberries and chocolate, smooth cream and crunchy almonds. All in a little Paris kitchen for the price of a bubble bath.

And note, I don’t even like crème brûlée normally: too sticky-rich, sluggish cold cream. These are different, they have a subtle flavour without being gimicky. And I used silicon boat-shaped moulds that make them irresistable.


Raspberry crème brûlée with chocolate nougatine

serves an elegant 6

60ml milk

300ml cream

200g raspberry puree (start with 400g frozen raspberries)

180g egg yolk, about 8 yolks

50g sugar + more for serving

Heat oven to 100C.

In a small saucepan, bring to the boil the milk, cream and raspberry puree. (If you can’t find puree, whiz some frozen raspberries in the blender then push through a sieve.)

Whisk egg yolk and sugar to a thick glossy texture. Pour half of the hot raspberry liquid into it, keep whisking (you don’t want to scramble the eggs). Add it all and mix well.

Pour into ramekins, small oven proof dishes or silicon moulds on a oven tray. Bake for 30 minutes: the surface will darken and the custard will just set. Springy to the touch but no longer liquid.

Let them cool at room temperature. For silicon moulds, freeze them, then pop them out. Freeze again in a plastic bag or let them defrost on the serving plates. Sprinkle with an even layer of sugar and burn them with a torch or under the grill.

Chocolate nougatine sails

110g sugar

90g butter

35ml milk

35g glucose (or golden syrup would do)

30g dark chocolate

110g almonds, chopped very finely

Preheat oven to 165C. Place chocolate in a small bowl on top of the oven to melt.

In a small saucepan, heat butter, sugar, milk and glucose (or golden syrup). When the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved, add the melted chocolate and almonds, stir well.

Tip the mix out onto a large baking tray lined with paper. Spread it out a little, then place another sheet of baking paper on top and roll out the chocolate mix as thin as you can. It should be at least 20x30cm, until the nougatine is almost transparent. Bake for 12-15 minutes to a crisp crackly texture.

Break off into long triangles and serve with crème brûlée. Store the rest between baking paper in a tin, keep for weeks.

2011 (winter tangerine pancakes)

4 Jan

Many decisions were made this year, most of which caused tears, then relief, then joy.

There was the new white apartment, pizza and beer surrounded by moving bags. (The flatmate laughed as I threw the clothes on the floor and put up the pictures first.)

There was a weird art project and new acquaintances to share oranges and wool and chalk with.

The long long hair got shorter and shorter, and finally lopped off after a particularly frustrating afternoon with my little students.

I ran another 21km around the Hotel de Ville, thought I might die before the end.

Fought, fell and got baptised as a tall skyscraper arranha-ceu.

Started learning Japanese by accident and got re-named again: Fran-pi (more amenable to the Japanese tongue).

Took five illicit holiday weekends in five months. Drove on the other side of the road, only made a mistake at one junction.

Most prominently, and yet most naturally, I up and started cake-school and life as an apprentice. Just because I like cakes.

Mostly, what this year taught me was that you don’t often get a choice as an adult. Not between two paths anyway.

Once you get past school and university, you don’t have clearcut options. You have a big white empty space and you get to make the decisions. The best ones normally involve movement, running around in the space, however unsure you might be.

And I don’t regret any of the movement, no matter how tired or bald it made me.

This year, I would like to sit and think and run and dive. I would like to keep making decisions, to change my mind, to go round in circles. I know that someone will catch hold of me eventually and make me tea.

As the flatmate says, like a movie tagline, “2012: même pas peur!” (No fear, baby.)

Something old and new for the two-headed god Janus, who looks forward and back. The last of the festive season, the beginning of a new leafy one:

Winter tangerine pancakes

serves 2

1 recipe easy banana pancakes

zest of 2 tangerines

2 big tablespoons Christmas mincemeat (or assorted dried fruit, chopped small)

Heat large frying pan with ample amounts of butter. Stir up the one bowl mix of pancakes, adding in mincemeat and tangerine zest. A pinch of spice, if you like. Fry pancakes on a medium heat until brown around the edges. Keep warm in oven, make several batches.

Serve with maple syrup, tangerine segments and yoghurt.

modern mince pies with apple and grapes

28 Dec

Originally, this post started, diplomatic and without any gross generalisations:

French people suck at Christmas.

It’s not about the presents or the lights or even the day itself, but a colourful silliness that is sadly lacking over on the Champs Elysees.

Maybe the Gallic shrug was finally getting to me. That studied indifference, their dislike of dressing up is cute for most of the year but not in December.

I was just missing the childish enthusiasm of Christmas at home, copious mince pies and crowds of drunken Santas swarming London. Really, I was just tired and grumpy because I had to work 15 or 20 hour shifts at the patisserie.

In fact, French people don’t suck at Christmas. Oh, they still don’t like the English tomfoolery. But they are very good at ooh-ing  and aah-ing* over the chic yule logs, de rigueur for any Christmas Eve dinner.

We started making them just before midnight, more than a hundred logs of chocolate or caramel or green tea matcha mousse. We glazed with shiny cocoa icing and sprinkled with stars and arranged slivers of apricots with chopsticks, glued on mini-macarons and gold holly leaves until the next afternoon. Slept for four hours. Started again.

After a week of this, I was a Christmas log zombie. Hated Parisians, chocolate, sunlight, anything that normally made me jolly. Up until 9 a.m. on the morning of the 25th, when we were set free after the long night shift. Free to come home on the deserted metro, fall asleep in the bath. My mama made mince pies, my brother handed me his new headphones playing my still most favourite song.

I wasn’t mad at the French anymore. All my childish enthusiasm for tree and presents and family lunch was back. I never wanted to see another log-shaped dessert again though. Just to eat these flaky buttery mince pies, updated with chopped apples and grapes. My mother’s recipe calls for a fine crumble on top. I like stars, for extra Christmas cheer. (Can you tell that I like this season, a lot? A lot a lot?)

Conclusion to rambly post and repost: Don’t work in a French patisserie if you want to be awake during the holidays. Do make delicious mince pies instead. Do wear a Santa hat.


*Although French people do not literally ooh and ahh, which I had assumed to be normal human amazement. For them ooh-ing is like booing, so they can only aah to be positive. Problem right there: only half the capacity to express delight.


Modern mince pies

from Victoria O’Neill’s Seasonal Secrets. She makes one large beautiful pie to be sliced into wedges and served with sweet brandy cream. For 15-20 small pies, chop the apple and grapes a little smaller.

225g plain flour

150g butter

1 tbs caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 tbs water


125g chopped peeled apples

100g grapes, quartered

15g candied peel

100g raisins

100g currants

1 tbs flaked almonds

grated zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon

pinch of mixed spice

75g brown sugar

1tbs melted butter

2-3tbs brandy or sherry

Rub flour, sugar and butter together with your fingers. For a flaky crust, stop when there are still some pea-sized lumps of butter. Mix egg yolk and water then stir into flour mixture. Press together gently into a ball. Add an extra tablespoon of water if it really won’t stick, but don’t knead too much. Divide dough in two and flatten into discs 1cm thick. Refrigerate.

Make filling: mix all other ingredients in a large bowl. Easy, no?

For a large pie, roll out the larger disc of pastry and press into 20cm tin. Fill. Roll out the rest of the pastry into a circle, cut out an 8cm hole in the middle.

For small pies, roll out the dough nice and and thin. Cut 8cm circles and small stars. Press into pie tins, fill and top with stars.

Brush with water, sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes (large pie) 10-15 minutes (small pies).

Optional: These would also be nice with marzipan tops: bake the pies without pastry stars (this way you get more pies!) then when cool, add a thinly rolled marzipan star.

Or: just add mashed apple (instead of chopped apple and grapes) to the dried fruit mix for a beautifully sticky-sweet pie.

cabbage, chocolate and turmeric (not together)

21 Dec

Would you like to hear about my wholesome cabbage laden supper? Or the chocolate dessert?

The soup was pretty nice: cabbage and coconut and turmeric, served with salty and sweet tofu croutons. But let’s be honest, we (I) only eat vegetables to get chocolate afterwards. A bar of Lindt or a slab of alaxy, whatever your poison.

But this is not just any vehicle for chocolate. It combines, in a genius invention if I say so myself, my two favourite flavours. Not coconut and turmeric, although they come up a lot, even in cake. Something that goes with rum, with gin, with cream. A flavour whore, if you will.

Earl Grey Tea. Better than that: Earl Grey Hot Chocolate! Two delicious hot drinks in one.

Warm the cream, steep the tea leaves in it. Melt the chocolate with loving care. Strain the cream, stir into the chocolate. Now you have a ganache which you can use for homemade truffles, cake icing… It might sound like a bother, but if you make a batch you can keep it in the fridge for hot chocolates all week

Whisk in hot milk and call it a (very good) day.

Earl Grey Tea Hot Chocolate

For the ganache: Equal parts dark chocolate (Lindt is good) and whipping cream. At least 100g of each.

Warm the cream in a small saucepan or in the microwave, til very hot but not boiling. Add some Earlg Grey leaf tea: 2 tsp per 100ml cream.

Melt the chocolate very carefully, do not overheat! Boil some water and pour into a large bowl. Place the broken-up chocolate in a smaller bowl and stand it in the hot water. Leave for 5-10 minutes, barely stir it.

Strain the cream into the chocolate, stir gently. Let it cool to a Nutella consistency and spread out into a slab about 1cm thick. Refrigerate. Now cut into squares and dip in more chocolate to make truffles, or make hot chocolate…

For the hot chocolate:

Heat up a mug of milk. Stir a little into ganache until fully melted. Whisk in the rest of milk.

Per person:

For a genteel bedtime drink: 40g ganache / 250ml milk

For an over-the-top brunch: 70-100g ganache / 250ml milk

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