Wednesday, 30 November 2011


You're probably looking a bit confused right now. Porridge, Emma? Really?

My friend Elly (of Nutmegs, Seven) recently wrote a wonderful article about porridge. It really inspired me and I've been eating porridge for breakfast ever since. She sells it well: it's healthy, cheap and delicious.

When I was a little girl, porridge was a great wintertime treat. On a special morning mum would stir up a pot of oats then we would eat it drowned in double cream and brown sugar. I hadn't even considered adding spices to the mix.

This new, sexy porridge is amazing - full of flavour. I've tried lots of combinations and toppings. Elly inspired me to roast plums with orange juice and stem ginger and spoon them on top and from there I've experimented. The only things I've tried that were a little off were roasted figs on top and lemon zest in the porridge itself.

Writing a recipe for porridge seems a little ridiculous but I've put a sort of rough guide below. You can use your own basic recipe but do try adding in some spices and playing with toppings - it's fantastic.

(Also, if you're interested - top is fresh blueberry & toasted pecan, then raisin & pear, bottom is apple & sultana.)

My Porridge

about 1/3 to 1/4 of a tumbler of porridge oats (I use a small Nutella glass)
roughly 2/3 to 3/4 of the same tumbler of a mixture of water and milk, about half-half
handful of dried fruit (raisins etc), blueberries, grated apple
good sprinkle of cinnamon and ground ginger
fresh grind of sea salt and of nutmeg
optional splash of vanilla extract or dab of paste
fruit to top - chopped pear/apple/banana/roasted plums etc etc
nuts to top, toasted - I love pecans
Spoonful of brown sugar to finish (could use honey, maple syrup, golden syrup etc etc)

Measure the oats in the cup, then toss them in the saucepan. Measure the milk and water in the same glass, then pour in. Add the dried fruit/blueberries, spices & flavourings and stir. Put over a low heat and stir occasionally as it thickens. While it cooks, make a cup of tea and chop fruits/toast nuts. When it's thick enough (this changes with my mood), pour into a bowl and sprinkle your toppings on.

(Makes one bowl)

Monday, 21 November 2011

Tarte aux Pommes

The moment I tasted the tart you see here, I danced around my kitchen in jubilation. I've been trying to recreate this recipe for almost as long as I've been cooking.

The tarte aux pommes at Chez Simon is legendary. It's a Verbier staple - I've eaten it every winter for 19 years.

I finally discovered the key a few days ago: cream (as in all good things). There's this wonderful touch of creaminess underneath the apples I couldn't work out. It's not a full layer - just a tiny touch that slightly curdles into the juices. I can't explain why this is so heavenly, but it is. You can use either double cream or sour cream.

Together with a simple pastry, just-cooked apples and plenty of cinnamon and sugar, you have winter perfection. All you need is hot chocolate and a blustery wind to redden your cheeks. Sparkly snow optional.

Tarte aux Pommes
(inspired by Chez Simon's original, though I don't have his recipe)

For the pastry:
60g plain flour
1 tsp sugar
pinch salt
30g cold butter, cut into cubes
cold water to bind (about 1.5 tbsp)

For the filling:
1 tsp lemon juice
1-2 fairly tart apples, such as Granny Smith
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp double cream or sour cream

Sieve the flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Toss in the cubes of cold butter. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add a tablespoon of water and use a blunt knife to combine with the crumbs. Add a dribble more water until the dough comes together into a ball (use your hands at the end). Squish into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 20 minutes.

When the pastry has chilled, roll it out on a lightly flour-dusted surface into a circle an inch larger than your tin (a shallow 8” tin is perfect) – there is enough dough but it will be thin. Drape the pastry over your rolling pin and place it into the tin. Press into the corners and sides. Leave to rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Trim the sides down to 2cm, press in again and prick the bottom all over with a fork. Then line with paper and pack tightly to the top with baking beans. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is cooked except for a little dampness in the centre.

Place the lemon juice in a medium sized bowl and add a few inches of water. Peel the apples, placing them in the water as you go to stop browning. Half and quarter the apples and slice out the core. Thinly cut them lengthways into strips, so you have a pile of semi-circles – this is faster if you have a mandolin.

Turn the oven up to 220C/425F. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small container. Spread the sour cream over the bottom of the pastry case in a thin layer. Drain the apple slices, then tart arranging them in the case – begin with a row down the middle, tightly overlapping them so you don’t see the cored middle. Continue to the bottom and then start another row, repeating until the case is covered.

Sprinkle evenly with the sugar mix and bake at the top of the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the apples are soft (and knife should easily go through them) and the pastry is lightly browned. Best eaten while it’s still warm with your hands, like a slice of pizza.

(Makes 6 slices)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

How to bake a... Birthday Cake

The lovely Fiona Beckett recently asked me to write for her site Beyond Baked Beans. It's a wonderful resource full of cheap and easy recipes for students and anyone else on a budget. I'm going to be writing a series of posts on simple baking that can be done with a minimum of equipment. You read the little introduction here.

For this first post I decided to write about simple, crowd-pleasing birthday cakes. I want to make baking a cake for a friend or loved one possible for as many people as I can. There are four recipes - vanilla cake, chocolate cake, a cream cheese icing and a ganache.

You can read it here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Clementine Ricotta Doughnuts

Why do we only hang chocolate shapes and cookies from garlands and trees? Why not doughnuts?

They already look like little wreaths, after all. Wouldn't it be a lovely addition to your autumnal table for a party? I'm always up for making dessert or a tea snack into a fun event in itself.

I threaded and knotted them onto a piece of raffia in a string, but you could also tie each one individually to a branch (a bit like the sweet cakes in this lovely tiger in a jar video). Or even your Christmas tree. (Apologies for the early use of the C-word, but I had to mention it...)

The book I adapted this recipe from, Doughnuts, is fabulous. I had no idea there were so many versions and creative options. These are cake doughnuts, so they're easy to make and very quick - no yeast involved.

The method for getting cake doughnuts into the oil without a fancy machine is so clever. You pipe them onto greased paper and then drop them into the oil on the paper, which then loosens and you can remove it. Forgive me if it is common knowledge, but I was fascinated.

I adore clementines (and satsumas and tangerines - how are we meant to tell them apart?). I used to eat them by the bagful as a child. My beautiful old dog Silver loves them too. Probably partly because when she was a puppy I used to peel them and play 'one for you, one for me' with her (sharing my clementines was a gesture of great love).

Clementines are traditional stocking fillers here. One Christmas my belief in a certain someone was fatally wounded when I found a packet of clementines I had carefully marked with a pen so nobody else ate them at the end of my bed...

I bought my first bag of the winter a few days ago and so these doughnuts were born. I was going to show you a photo of the insides but I lost track of my thoughts while shooting and ate the halved one. Whoops. What can I say - they're rather moreish.

Clementine Ricotta Doughnuts
(adapted from Lara Ferroni's Doughnuts)

For the doughnuts:
120g plain flour
40g caster sugar
1 and 1/3 tsp baking powder
grating of fresh nutmeg
pinch of salt
zest of a clementine
2 eggs
150g ricotta
1/2 tsp vanilla
oil, to fry*

For the glaze:
50g icing sugar
1 tsp honey (to taste)
juice of 1 clementine (approx)

Sift the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and sugar into a bowl. In another bowl whisk the zest, eggs, ricotta and vanilla together. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until combine - try to not overmix, but you don't want lumps of flour. Scoop into a piping bag and set to one side.

Decide how many doughnuts you'll be able to fry at once (I could do two) and cut that number of 4" squares of greaseproof/parchment paper. Grease the squares with a little extra oil. Place a wad of kitchen towels to the side of your stove. In a heavy bottomed pot with a thermometer (deep-frying or sugar) heat approximately 2 inches of oil to 360F. Pipe circles on the greased paper of about 3 inches.

When the oil hits the right temperature, lower one upside down into the oil (check with one, then do more). The paper will start to loosen - take it out with some heatproof tongs. Cook until golden brown then turn and cook the other side. This only took about 45 seconds on each side for me. Remove with a slotted spoon to the kitchen paper. Repeat until you've used all the mixture.

Sieve the icing sugar into a medium bowl. Add the juice bit by bit until you have a paste, then add the honey. Finally adjust the consistency with more juice until you have a thin glaze. Dip the doughnuts into the glaze (either one side or both). Set onto a wire rack.

*I used sunflower oil but safflower, peanut or canola also would be good.

(makes about 12-15 doughnuts)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Queen of Puddings

Expectation is a funny thing.

It starts off from a rose-tinted idea in your mind. You call it a dream and think of how much lovlier your life will be when exams end or new adventures start. Some of these plans never come to fruition - the warm glow fades before it even happens and you turn to the next brightest flame.

It's not that reality is better or worse, just different.

I wonder why we can't keep that warm glow alive once it becomes reality. Maybe it's just that - reality cannot be perfect and there are always difficult or testing parts, however small. It feels so romantic to say and believe that you're following your dream, but I wonder if it is too much pressure. Maybe the only way to live is to try and focus on today rather than the future.

I couldn't decide which traditional pudding to make for this post, so I put it to the vote on facebook (I've also updated the page and added an album of black and white outtakes from posts). The choices were a baked custard tart (a.k.a. Henry IV's coronation dulcet - I nearly made this just because it mentions that Chaucer was at the feast), a Sussex pond pudding or this, the Queen of Puddings.

Jane Grigson describes the Queen of Puddings as "a pudding that deserves its name for the perfect combination of flavours and tastes, a most subtle and lovely way to end a meal".

How can a pudding live up to "perfect", to being the winner, to being deemed the "Queen"? It's just like an experience living up to the rosy 'dream' we have called it.

The pudding is definitely "lovely" and "subtle". The custard is warm and nubbly from the breadcrumbs (don't skimp on the vanilla and lemon zest as it brings it to life). The raspberry is only a hint, but it adds another layer of flavour. The meringue is pillowy like pavlova inside and crisp on the outside.

The reality is delicious, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It's no worse for that.

Time moves on. The dust settles, familiarity forms and habits are set into place. The next 'dream' or 'queen' recipe slips into the previous place, altered by your new experience. The cycle starts again, pushing you forward onto the next plan, the next idea.

I try to live for today, but my dreams and plans for the future are what drives me - striving for something gives me purpose in life. As with most things, a balance is probably the answer. To not wish the present away but hold onto those dreams. To anchor your feet but keep those brightly coloured balloons tightly wrapped around your hand, propelling you forwards.

Queen of Puddings
(adapted from Jane Grigson's English Food)

For the custard base:
75g fresh white breadcrumbs
zest of 2/3 lemon
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
300ml milk
30g unsalted butter, cubed
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 heaped tbsp raspberry jam or jelly
1/2 tsp lemon juice

For the meringue:
2 egg whites
70g caster sugar (I used golden)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. In a medium bowl combine the breadcrumbs, zest and sugar. Stir the milk, butter and salt in a medium saucepan and set over the heat. When the butter has melted into a golden film on the surface and the mixture is steaming but not boiling, pour it over the breadcrumbs. Mix together then let it stand for 10 minutes.

Beat the egg yolks into the breadcrumb mix with a spoon or spatula (not a whisk - you don't want to add air). Pour into a shallow ovenproof dish that holds approximately 750ml. Place into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the custard is set but still wibbles in the middle (you will be baking it again, so err on the side of underdone). Lower the oven to 150C/300F.

Warm the jam or jelly in a small saucepan with the lemon juice, stirring to combine. Sieve if you've using jam with seeds. Spread over the custard gently, being careful not to break the skin.

Whip the egg whites until they are firm and hold soft peaks. Sprinkle half the sugar over the top and whisk to combine. Repeat with the other half and then whip until stiff and satiny. Spoon the meringue on top of the jam and swirl, making sure it meets the sides of the dish. Place back in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden and crisp to the touch. Serve hot alone or with cream.

(Serves 3-4)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ginger Root Bundt Cake

Today I had lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. I'm no restaurant critic but it was a truly wonderful meal.

The menu is full of surprises and combinations you wouldn't imagine. The infamous meat fruit is charming, incredibly realistic and delicious. I went with my friend Helen (it was our bon voyage lunch - she's about to go off on a long trip) and her main of chicken with cooked lettuces sounded a bit odd but oh my - I'll never question cooked lettuce again.

All of the dishes needed to be balanced on the fork. Eating one element alone often didn't quite work, but when you had a little of everything - BAM. The brown bread ice cream with salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup (and a touch of apple and lemon) needed careful balancing. The most magical part of it was that every bite is different - each one a unique combination. It seemed to evolve as you ate.

I adored the Autumn tart - figs and blackberries with vanilla cream and blackcurrant and perfect pastry and biscuit ice cream. (I just can't stop raving. I should probably take a step away from the computer and calm down before I post, but I don't want to. You're just going to have to live with the barrage of delicious/mind-blowing/delighful/wonderful. And yes, if you're confused, I did have a starter and two puddings.)

As a final 'sweet taste' we were given tiny pots of Earl Grey ganache (made with a mixture of milk and dark chocolate) and a long finger of a shortbread-esque biscuit, flavoured with caraway seeds. I've never tasted a sucessful Earl Grey dessert before. I've never tasted caraway in a sweet dish before. Each element was delicious, but together? The combination totally blew me away. It seems so unlikely and difficult to imagine but they blended and enhanced each other perfectly.

This cake also works on an unusual-but-good combination. I chose the recipe because I was intrigued by the ingredients. Lots of treacle, sunflower oil, wholemeal flour, ginger, lots of raising agent and parsnip? As I was putting it together and baking it I was pretty unconvinced.

Yet I liked the first slice. The second? Even more. It just keeps on growing on me. I can only really describe it as dark gingerbread with a nutty taste. The drizzle adds a lovely contrast.  It's perfect with a cup of tea and a book (I'm currently addicted to an Icelandic Saga to the point that I missed my tube stop this morning because I was so entranced).

Ginger Root Bundt Cake
(adapted from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard)

For the cake:
2 eggs
100g dark brown sugar
100g black treacle
150ml sunflower oil
150g parsnip, roughly grated*
4 chunks of stem ginger, chopped
75g plain flour
75g plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger

For the drizzle:
50g icing sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon (approx)
finely grated rind of 1/4 lemon

Carefully grease a bundt pan with butter and dust with flour, making sure you get into the cracks and don't forget the central funnel (you can also use a normal 20cm round cake tin - line it with greaseproof paper). Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).

Separate one of the eggs and set aside the white. Place the yolk and the other egg into the bowl of a stand mixer with the dark brown sugar and whip for 5 minutes - the mixture should be paler and have increased in volume. Add the treacle and oil and whip again until smooth and fully combined. Add the parsnip and ginger and stir to combine. Sieve in the flour, wholemeal flour, baking power, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger and fold in. Finally whisk the remaining egg white to soft peak and gently fold into the mixture.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer can be inserted into the middle and come out clean or with a few small crumbs. Turn out immediately and let the cake drop down from the pan in its own time (a little boiling water can be poured onto a towel to place underneath the rack if you like - the steam seems to help it unmould).

While the cake cools, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl. Finely grate the lemon into the bowl. Add the juice litle by little until you have a smooth icing that dribbles off the spoon. Place the cooled cake onto a plate. Either drizzle onto the cake with a spoon or place in a small piping bag.

*Dan suggests you can also use swedes or turnips. You can also use 100% wholemeal flour instead of a mixture.

(10-12 slices)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Toffee Apples

Instead of Halloween, I associate toffee apples with Bonfire/Firework/Guy Fawkes Night, on the 5th November.

I remember the first time I ate one, as a little girl of five. I had just started school and they were hosting a bonfire party in a field nearby. Though my memory is a little fuzzy, I remember the darkness, the sparking catherine wheel, the heat of the fire and the incredible sweetness of a toffee apple. I rarely ate sweets as a child - the apple is one of the few instances I can remember.

Usually you combine caramel flavours with mellow cooked apple - tarte tatin, for instance. Yet when you combine it with a fresh autumn apple, full of juice and zing, something special happens. You get an interplay between sour and sweet, chewy and crisp, juice and stickiness.

I find balance in taste so fascinating - all the different ways of combining the types of flavour and texture we can detect, all the subtle touches that can take something from nice to divine.

Toffee Apples
(adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson)

8-9 small apples (5-6 big)
bamboo kebab sticks or lollipop sticks
60g dark brown sugar
50g granulated sugar
60g unsalted butter
75ml double cream
45g golden syrup
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch sea salt

Cover a baking tray with foil and butter with a bit of butter (or oil). Cut up the bamboo sticks and push them into the apples, making sure you don't pierce the bottom of the apple. Sit near the stove.

Place all the remaining ingredients in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Set over a medium-high heat and stir together. Keep heating until you reach 235F, stirring as you go. When it gets to the right temperature take the pan off the heat. Stir occasionally as it cools. When it hits 180F, dip the first apple, holding it by the stick and swirling it around. Let excess caramel drip off and then place onto the baking sheet.

Let the apples cool on the side then keep uncovered in the fridge.

(For 8-9 small apples)