Almond dacquoise & meringue are layered with lemon curd cream & toasted nuts
A major occupational hazard of baking is the mess.
If you’ve ever left sticky fingerprints on a work surface, mistakenly smeared chocolate behind your ear, walked flour footprints across the kitchen or somehow managed to turn every pan and utensil you own into a pile of washing up, you’ll know what I mean.
My tiny little space for baking might be more hazardous than most. Because it’s so small, every cupboard in the kitchen is crammed to its limit, herbs and spices jostling for space with packets of pulses and only one dedicated place to keep all my baking ingredients. It’s not that I haven’t tried to encroach on other cupboards, but after storing chocolate in the same place as curry powder resulted in it taking on a strangely spicy flavour, I’ve returned to a single space to store my flour, sugar, chocolate, nuts and syrups for fear of cross contamination. Continue reading
Where do you stand when it comes to freezers? Are they a baker’s best friend, a modern monstrosity or simply a necessary evil?
If you like to bake as much as I do, you’ll be familiar with the issue of leftovers. While our household has as large an appetite for sweet treats as the next (ok, possibly ever so slightly larger), sometimes there’s simply more than we can manage. And while one of the best things about baking is sharing the spoils with family and friends, if they’re not around the freezer can be a lifesaver. Continue reading
Crisp pastry, a sharp layer of lemon & pillows of light mascarpone cream
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better – Samuel Beckett
I think that awful moment when a recipe goes wrong is one that we can all relate to. While some people may have many more of these moments than others, whether you’re working in a Michelin starred restaurant or a Bridget Jones-type sheepishly scooping string from a blue soup, you’ll have experienced the horror of a major recipe fail in one way or another. Be it an overflowing tart tin, a sunken cake, a loaf left in the oven too long or mistakenly substituting sugar with salt, everyone is subject to these kitchen mishaps once in a while. Not everyone admits to them, of course, but they definitely do happen.
While no-one wants their cooking to be a catalogue of complete disasters, failure isn’t always such a bad thing. Experimentation – whether planned or otherwise – leads to innovation, and some of the world’s favourite foods can be attributed to the fortuitous mistakes of their creators – just think of Ruth Wakefield’s discovery of the chocolate chip cookie when pieces of chocolate in her Butter Drop Dos failed to melt properly. A world without the chocolate chip cookie would be a very sad place indeed. Continue reading
Layers of hazelnut & chocolate meringue, vanilla & praline cream & chocolate ganache
While Italian food will always hold a special place in my heart, when it comes to desserts I have to admit it’s the French who really know what they’re talking about. Their puds are good. Too good, perhaps. Elegant, flawless and invariably involving multiple stages, these incredible feats of confection can often feel beyond the realm of your average home baker, appearing more frequently in the pages of a restaurant menu or the window of your local patisserie than on a private kitchen table. Recipes requiring rounds of piping bags, pints of cream and the patience of a saint aren’t everyone’s idea of fun, and a fancy French gâteau can be altogether far flightier than a dependable British pud.
That said, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. It’s easy to stay in your kitchen comfort zone and shy away from anything that sounds too tricky, but where’s the fun in that? Continue reading
Spicy biscuit base & unctuous caramel topped with sweet banana & coconut cream
‘I am the woman who believes most anything can be solved with butter and sugar’.
So begins an article in the latest edition of Made with Butter magazine written by Joy Wilson, a baker – aka Joy the Baker – who has taken the US by storm with her irreverent attitude, quirky charm, scrumptious recipes and ability to create sheer magic using such simple ingredients as flour, butter and sugar.
Quite apart from a string of amazing accolades, her own catering company and a cookbook coming out next month, the proof that Joy knows what she’s talking about when it comes to baking is really in the pudding. Her puddings to be more precise. If you’re not already familiar with her blog, I suggest you head over there now. We’re talking brown butter banana bread, double-dipped doughnuts, chewy molasses chocolate chip cookies and more incredible cakes and bakes than most people could make or eat in a lifetime. Although I’d be willing to take up the challenge on that one . . . Continue reading
Toasted panettone, melting Nutella & crunchy, boozy cream
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse . . .’
Unless you happen to have left a little plate of treats out for Father Christmas, in which case said mouse is probably having a mince pie-fuelled field day as you sleep.
When I was little, we’d always leave a tray of treats out on Christmas Eve – homemade mince pies for Father Christmas, carrots for the reindeer and a snifter of brandy to help our festive friend on his way (or my Dad to sleep, the more cynical amongst you might suggest). The next morning my big brother and I would excitedly examine the crumb-specked plate, empty glass and convincingly nibbled carrots, taking them as evidence that Santa and his helpers had enjoyed our hospitality. Continue reading
Crispy, chewy, creamy chestnut meringue cake
With Christmas just around the corner, thoughts are turning to festive food. Turkeys, geese and glistening hams have already been ordered, mincemeat made for perfect pies, salmon smoked, butter brandied and puddings laden with boozy fruit stored. In the last week or so there’s been a creeping chill in the air, and suddenly all this hearty winter fare feels just that little bit more tempting.
For most, a Christmas spread wouldn’t be complete without stuffing, and when I think of stuffing, chestnuts come to mind. Associated with warmth and winter, chestnuts are in their element when roasted over hot coals, the toasty smells wafting temptingly through the streets as vendors tout their treats to passers by. The Christmas Song, composed in 1946 and sung by Nat King Cole, is alternatively titled ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ and conjures up all the cosily romantic images we so strongly associate with Christmas. There’s never been a better time to cook with these strong, sweet, shiny nuts.
Chocolate marquise with a delicate mint crème anglaise
I can hardly begin to imagine a life without flour. Yes, it forms the basis of a lot of the food that I put in my mouth, but for me flour is so much more than that. It’s the foundation of baking, a hobby and passion I find therapeutic, relaxing, rewarding and escapist. I love the process of rolling up my sleeves, dusting down the work surfaces, sifting and weighing, kneading and shaping, folding and finishing.
Flour is a staple ingredient in bread, of course, but so much more besides; think biscuits and brownies, pastry and cakes, pizza, pancakes and puddings, even quietly playing its part as a subtle addition to something as simple as a white sauce. It’s the ultimate easy ingredient; long-lasting, cheap and filling. Continue reading
Creamy crème brûlée with a shiny crackly crust
Dessert, for me, is all about decadence. While a main meal tends to provide sustenance in addition to satisfaction, pudding provides an opportunity for sheer indulgence. You’re hardly going to get your five-a-day from chocolate, cream, sugar or any combination thereof, but that’s not really the point. What it fails to do for your health, dessert doubles for your happiness.
And what could be more decadent than a dessert that requires its very own bit of kitchen equipment? Continue reading
Bite-sized cream puffs with molten peanut butter fudge sauce
I love watching cookery programmes. Whether it’s the jaunty Jamie Oliver cruising round Italy in his camper van and crusading against American obesity, a group of stressed out contestants in the latest series of Masterchef, or simply a boozed up Keith Floyd making friends with the locals, there’s just something about food and TV that makes for a great evening’s entertainment. This year I’ve become slightly obsessed with the BBC’s Great British Bake Off.
I didn’t watch it last year, but am a big fan of crowned king of cake The Boy Who Bakes, and an avid reader of the recipes that both he, and his fellow finalist The Pink Whisk, post on their respective blogs. In last night’s episode, five female quarter finalists battled it out to create beautiful baked cheesecakes, perfectly rolled roulades and towers of croquembouche; a pastry traditionally served at French weddings and celebrations consisting of hundreds of crispy choux buns held together with hardened sugar.