Monthly Archives: January 2010

Chocolate and Tahini

I love chocolate. I don’t mean in the typically British “sit down and devour a pound of Dairy Milk” love of chocolate. I lived in Brussels for almost four years, and my love is for the treasures you find in a chocolatier – dark, delicious, decadent and a Very Serious Thing. Most of all, I love the innovation when it comes to flavours. Forget Roses and After Eights (*), Belgium is looking at cardamom, tea, bergamot, fresh pink peppercorns, fleur de sel caramel, mango, cloves, saffron, jasmine, tamarind and all manner of other exotic and unusual tastes. Their chocolate also follows fashion – one of my favourites, Pierre Marcolini, produces temporary selections, beautifully presented and available for a few months before they are gone forever. Perhaps their fleeting presence in the shop is part of the attraction – trying something wonderful that you just can’t have again.

Chocolate and Brussels are inextricably linked, but I need to focus on London, so what does our fair city offer? I am a fan of Paul A Young, and when he recently brought out a book, I ordered it forthwith. When it arrived at work, I snuck off to a café to enjoy the secret pleasure of reading his recipes without and distractions. A good recipe collection can be as thrilling as any art book or a good novel as you read the recipe, admire the photos and try to imagine just how the tastes and flavours would work together.

So bringing this all together, I wanted to make chocolates with an unusual flavour. Then I came across an enticing idea – honey and tahini truffles. This is a winning combination on its own (try on a hot bagel on a cold Sunday morning), so these truffles sound quite thrilling. As you can see below, they look great with their nifty little rugby-ball shape.


Makes about 20 truffles and takes about 30 minutes (not including setting time).

• 100ml water
• 20g honey
• 35g tahini
• 170g dark chocolate, chopped into very small pieces.
• 50g sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Boil the water and the honey, add the tahini and simmer until well mixed. Stir well, and pour the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth to form a chocolate ganache. Put the chocolate mixture somewhere cool and leave to set for at least two hours.

Once the mixture is firm, use teaspoons to form dollops of ganache into the desired shape, and roll in the sesame seeds. Voila!


I liked these, but didn’t love them. I wanted something with more of a tahini kick to them, and I felt there was not quite enough there. This was probably to do with the mild tahini I used – a stronger paste with a more pronounced “nutty” flavour would probably work better.

I would also think about increasing the amount of honey. I used French rosemary honey I had in the cupboard – delicious, but the depth of flavour wasn’t there.

Messing around with a ganache recipe can be tricky, but I think it is worth trying here. They certainly look stunning, so I’ll make these again but with a few tweaks.

* Well, I do have a weak spot for Cadbury’s Roses from time to time.

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Jam tomorrow

This is sort of cheating…

Last summer, we went for a walk through Epping Forest near London and picked kilos of amazing brambles with our friend SF. We got them home, made bramble jelly, but it’s been hiding in the cupboard behind the rice ever since. SF has since moved back to New York and taken her jar with her – I’ve been told it is great, so I’m looking forward to today’s grand tasting.

Trees in Epping Forest, the frozen berries, the label and the jelly

Opened and tasted – amazing!!! Better than anything I’ve ever bought.


• 1.5kg brambles, gently washed (I successfully froze them for a week between picking and cooking)
• 2 large apples or a couple of handfuls of crab apples (washed and diced)
• 550ml water
• Juice of 1 lemon
• White sugar

Put the brambles, apples, water and lemon juice in a heavy-based pan, heating gently. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 25 minutes until the fruit is very soft.

Pour the mixture into a jelly bag or muslin cloth, and leave somewhere quiet for the juice to drip through the net. This should sit for at least 8 hours or overnight. If you want clear jelly, don’t squeeze. If you don’t care about cloudy jelly and want to win every drop of juice from your hard-won fruit, then squeeze as much as you want (*).

Now measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice, add 450g of sugar. Put the juice and sugar into a heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the setting point(**) is reached – around 10-15 minutes.

Pour the hot jelly into sterile jam jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

* We opted for clear jelly, but there was a LOT of pulp left in the jelly bag, so we put it through a sieve, and boiled up the fruit pulp with some sugar and water for an improvised jam. I had a lot of thorns in my hands and was not going to let any fruit go to waste!

** To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on a cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jelly wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.


The result was fantastic – rich and fruity, with the right balance between sweetness and sharpness.

I am glad this was as good as it is, but making fruit jelly is a right faff. Basically a LOT more work than jam, but with more mess, more waste and less jars of the good stuff at the end of the day. So no more jelly – this will be the year of just jam.


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Chestnut jam with tonka bean

I recently became the proud owner of a couple of pounds of Kent chestnuts. It’s just too cold and dark to make something as predictable as a nut loaf so I was on the  lookout for something more exciting. Then I remembered a recipe that I’d quickly scribbled down when visiting my friend S in Brussels – chestnut jam with tonka bean.

The mystery element here was the tonka(*). By chance (meaning “on purpose, for for the day I make the chestnut-tonka thing”) I have a jar of tonka beans at the back of the cupboard. The beans are dry, black and hard with a strong vanilla/tobacco/almond aroma. I tend to put two or three times the amount of spices in recipes as I like things to be flavourful and aromatic, but tonka seems so strong that it would be prudent to use the suggested half-teaspoon (on balance, the right call – the finished jam had a subtle marzipan-like flavour but was not overpowering).

* Tonka is prohibited for food use in the United States!


Set aside an afternoon for this – you will be back and forth to the kitchen for a couple of hours.

• 2 kg chestnuts
• 1-1.5 kg sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground tonka bean
• water

Make a cross on each chestnut (removing any bad ones) and boil for around 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and peel off the tough outer skin.

Return the chestnuts to a pan and boil for a further 45 minutes, and then drain and peel the inner skin (again removing any bad nuts).

Weigh the chestnuts, nothing the weight, and return to a pan with cold water (for each kilo of chestnuts, add 750 ml of water).

Gently warm the mixture, bring to the boil, and then purée with a hand blender (careful, it’s hot!). At this stage, it will look a rather unappealing grey-brown translucent goo.

Now add the sugar – add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the chestnuts (or less if you prefer a less sweet jam) and the ground tonka bean. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes or until you have a thick paste which becomes firm when you put some in a saucer. Just remember that, unlike fruit jam, you won’t get a “set”. Once ready, put into sterile jars and seal.

Now enjoy the jam on crêpes, croissants or with yoghurt.

To sterilise jars: wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. Leave the jars in the warm (not hot!) oven until you need them, as the glass is less likely to crack from the hot jam if the glass is at a similar temperature. You should also sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling in a pot of hot water for five minutes.


All through the cooking process (a good few hours), I though “never again”. The chestnut purée was an unappealing grey sludge with little flavour. However, once the sugar and the tonka went in, the mixture transformed into the beautiful creamy confection I was hoping for and the whole house smelled of  marzipan. Today I finally had some on a croissant – and the result was spectacular. This is a keeper! And S will be getting a jar next time I am in Brussels.

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A New Year and a new start…

Ooh, a blank page.

So…this moment is a bit harder than I thought it would be. My New Year’s Resolution was to start this blog (done!) after I’ve spent the last couple of weeks thinking about what to put on it. Yesterday I was thinking “I’ve got so many ideas to put on the blog, so exciting and interesting, it will all just flow”. Unsurprisingly it’s a bit harder to get started than I thought.

Anyway, enough worrying. Hello and welcome! This blog will hopefully develop into the place where I record what I get up to in the kitchen – trying out the classics and the favourites, but also experimenting with new ingredients and having a go at some of those recipes that just seem a bit too hard to try at home for any sane person. I do find there is a deep sense of satisfaction to be derived from taking on a recipe that you would usually think is way to hard to ever bother with*, and that making something that is far better than you’ve had before. It can, of course, be something of a double-edged sword – once you know how to make the ultimate cupcake, the perfect dip, the best cheese biscuit or ideal curry, then it can be a little bit annoying to have something sub-standard in a restaurant. It’s for that reason that I also like to go out for food in places that serve those dishes that I can’t cook (yet) or things I just would not make myself.

That brings me to what this blog is intended to do. My recipes will form one limb of this blog, but I also want to share the culinary side of London and other places – cafes, bars, restaurants, takeaways, bakeries…but I want to focus on the food. London has some visually amazing places to go, but I’ve had many experiences of places that have stylish decor and a hip vibe, so you order that oh-so-tempting dish…and then a deeply underwhelming plate of something average emerges. Equally, there are so many places that don’t look like worth popping your head round the door, expect that you are missing some of the best food you might ever eat. So here’s to putting substance over style and focussing on what London Eats when London wants some good food!

* I’m willing to try a lot, but I remain firmly of the opinion that home-made filo pastry will forever remain in the “too much work” category.

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