Monthly Archives: March 2010

On Location: Café de Jaren (Centrum, Amsterdam)

Today is quite exciting as LondonEats goes international. I am currently in the Netherlands and this presents a great chance to cover a few places that are quite different from London. The weather here is great, very conducive to a stroll though the streets in the spring sunshine while dodging the famous Dutch devil cyclists.

One of the most famous culinary exports from the Netherlands is Dutch Apple Pie, so when I saw this on the menu at De Jaren in the centre of town, I went for it straight away.

This was completely different from what I was expecting. I had an image of the usual apple pie in my head, but instead it was about 5 inches tall and filled with lots of sliced apple. This was one of those moments when you think you are getting one thing, but are pleasantly surprised to get something even more exciting than you had thought.

However, today is also a first as I can’t say that I actually loved it all that much. There was a lot of apple and not too much crust, which I think is the right way to make an apple pie, but the crust was soggy and seemed a but undercooked from all the juice from the apples, and it could have done with a bit more cinnamon. I like to mix the apples with a little brown sugar, a generous pinch of spice and some salted butter before putting them in the pie shell, so I though this lacked a little something. The pie was also oddly warm on top but cold at the bottom, and I am not really sure why this happened. I find sweet dishes are often best served at room temperature!

So on balance, it was a nice cafe and had good coffee, but I think I need to look elsewhere for an apple tart fix next time I come to visit. Hopefully my version of an apple pie will also be up here in the near future.


Filed under Amsterdam, Sweet Things

On location: Wahaca (Canary Wharf, London)

Wahaca opened a couple of years ago in Covent Garden and has recently acquired a little sister in the business district of Canary Wharf. Finding myself with a friend in this part of town on a Saturday, we slipped in for Mexican street food and a cheeky margarita.

The concept is fun, bright and fresh. Wahaca is clear about its influences, but this place does not claim to food exactly as you would eat it on the streets of Guadalajara. Think more like fusion food that has spend a lot of time hanging out in Cancún. The decor is nice and picks up the themes from the Covent Garden location, but as this is the middle of a corporate area of town, it does not have the same buzz, and nor does it have quite the same explosion of colour and the odd-but-it-works quasi-industrial look. Maybe you need to come back at night when the tall buildings of the wharf start to light up…

Back to the food. We started with margaritas, which did the trick. Strong and cold, served in a salt frosted glass. I’m not sure why, but these are very drinkable and very strong, so well worth watching out as you order another. The food comes in quite small portions at reasonable prices, so we both merrily picked out all of our favourites, plumping for vegetable tacos, black bean tostadas, black bean and cheese quesadillas and huitlacoche and feta taquitos. The black beans were absolutely great, rather like comfort food with a Latin twist. We both though that the food was quite cheesy and might have liked a little less if we had been eating more of it, but everything was well executed and utterly delicious.

After mains and a few more margaritas, thoughts turned to dessert, and our eyes were inevitably drawn to the churros. The dough had been fried to golden, crisp perfection and dusted with cinnamon sugar. The chocolate sauce was fantastic – rich, dark, flavoursome and just the right consistency. Oil, chocolate and sugar might not be healthy, but when they come in small portions and are as delicious as these, who can argue? Viva México!


Filed under London, On Location

Food trends and coffee walnut cakes

I remember the “old days” (i.e. the 1980s) when there did not seem to be food trends. The same cakes appeared in shops and cafes up and down the land, year in, year out.

Fast forward 20 years, and I’ve notice in the last two weeks that coffee and walnut cake seems to be everywhere. I think this is an interesting response to the recession/depression/armageddon we are in the middle of, but Britain is seeking comfort in old favourites, but with a new “old favourite” popping up every few weeks.

I remember my mother used to make these cakes when I was young, so this is my attempt. The eagle-eyed of you out there (I am assuming that someone, somewhere is actually reading all of this…) will notice that I’m not talking about “cupcakes”. To me, this difference matters. American cupcakes are huge.  Actually, they are too much for one person to eat, and I know that very often you would share one, but I have issues with the idea that one of these things is intended as a snack for one person. In Britain, we use the rather marvellous term “fairy cakes”. Small, light, whimsical and traditionally small sponge cakes with butter icing and covered in lurid hundreds and thousands. Fun! The point is that they are about a quarter of the size of their US cousins, so they really can be a little treat that you don’t feel so bad about. The coffee/walnut combination makes them more mature, with the walnuts providing some interest alongside the coffee.

For 12 cakes:

• 100g light brown sugar
• 100g butter
• 2 eggs
• 50g walnuts, chopped
• 100g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 50ml very strong espresso, cold (or strong instant coffee if you are in a hurry)

Set the oven to 180°C.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and a spoonful of the flour, and mix well. Add the cold coffee and the chopped walnuts, stir well, then add the rest of the flour and the baking powder.

Divide the mixture between 12 fairycake cases (make sure these are the small ones – if you use the larger muffin-sized cases, they won’t be full). Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the icing:

• 100g butter
• 200g icing sugar
• 50ml very strong espresso, cold

Combine the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and mix by hand until combined. Now add the coffee, the use an electric beater (or hand whisk if you prefer) to get the mixture really fluffy. Use it to top the cakes, and press a walnut half onto each cake. Voila!

Would I make it again? Well, that’s a bit of a cheat as this is my recollection of a childhood favourite. I love them, but be careful with the coffee – if you do use instant, it is easy to go crazy. Remember, we want a taste of coffee, not the feeling of sucking on coffee grounds!

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Salted Caramel Macarons

LondonEats has featured a lot of simple things recently, so it is time to go to the other extreme: macarons. I realise this trend has been around for quite some time, but N16 is a long way from the chic bits of New York and London.

So why macarons? I’ve made them before, but I recently had one from Paul which was underwhelming. First, it looked bad – the two sides were put together squint, and the shell was damaged. Second, the filling was unpleasantly “gritty” rather than smooth. “I could do better myself” I thought. Never one to shy away from a challenge, LondonEats presents my own version of salted caramel macarons.

If you haven’t tried salted caramel before, this taste combo might sound strange, but it really works. It’s just another example of the amazing flavour enhancing properties of salt – but think of it as an accent to support the main ingredients. “Plain” caramel is very sweet, so the salt cuts through that and makes it taste richer and gives more depth.

In terms of adding salt, you can either add it so that it dissolves into the mixture, or grind it very finely so that you get fleeting moments of saltiness in the middle of the caramel.  I used the caramel to sandwich together the macaron shells, but make sure you serve them at room temperature – the taste is better and you get all the fun of the caramel squirting out one side as you try to eat them.

For the macarons:

• 70g egg whites (2 eggs), aged if you wish (*)
• 10g caster sugar
• 10g muscovado sugar
• 137g icing sugar
• 85g ground almonds

Put a macaron template on a large baking sheet, and cover with greaseproof paper. I find it works best if you lightly cover with non-stick spray. To make things easier for later, also set up a piping bag with a round nozzle. I stand this in a glass so you can fill the bag easily one the mixture is ready.

Mix the icing sugar with the almonds, and sieve two times until well combined. Put in a large bowl and place to one side.

Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until you have soft peaks. Add the caster sugar, whisk well, then add the muscovado sugar and keep whisking until you have a meringue mixture with very stiff peaks. You should be able to hold the bowl upside-down without the mixture falling out.

Add the meringue to the icing sugar and almonds, and mix quickly with a plastic spatula. The idea is that the batter should be thick, but flow slightly (so when you pipe it, the macaron shells will be smooth on top). I find about 30 seconds of very vigorous mixing gets you there.

Add the batter to the piping bag, and start to pipe on the sheet following the macaron template. Try to stop squeezing before you lift the piping bag, as this seems to help avoid an obvious “tail” on the top as you pull the piping bag away. Once you have finished, and if you are feeling theatrical, lift the tray two feet in the air, and let it drop with a satisfying bang. This is supposed to get rid of air pockets, and it adds to the ritual. Casual observers in the next room also tend to wonder what the heck you are up to.

At this stage, if there are bumps on the top of the macarons, smooth them with a wet finger. Purists would shudder at this idea, but it works for me.

Leave the macarons to dry for around 30 minutes, or longer if you have the time. If you want to add a topping (which is part of the fun!), then sprinkle it over while the macarons are still wet. I used muscovado sugar for a bit of contrast.

Once the macarons have dried slightly(**), place in a pre-heated oven at 150°C for 10-12 minutes. Watch them carefully as you don’t want them to brown. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow them to cool completely.

When the macarons are cool, remove from the sheet, turn them upside-down, and pipe the filling one half of them. Sandwich them together and refrigerate until you want to eat them. I find the consistency is best if chilled for 24 hours, and then allowed to come to room temperature before eating.

(*) To age the egg whites, put them in a bowl and cover in cling film. Peirce the film several times and leave to sit for two days. In this recipe, you want 70g of egg whites, post-ageing.

(**) Be careful that you don’t allow the macarons to dry so long that they glue their tops to the baking sheet. If you think this has happened, take some paper and wet it. Transfer the greaseproof paper with the dry macarons onto this wet paper, and leave for a few moments so that the greaseproof paper becomes damp. Place the greaseproof sheet back on the baking sheet and cook as normal. Again, not something the purists would like, but it can save your macarons.

For the filling: you can use anything you want, but here I used caramel:

• 150g caster sugar
• 120g double cream
• 45g salted butter
• Large pinch of
fleur de sel (sea salt flakes), very finely ground

Warm the cream in a saucepan. Next, put the sugar in a separate pan to make a “dry” caramel. You want to heat the sugar gently until it melts, and then becomes a light caramel colour (if it too dark, there will be a bitter taste, even if has not yet burned).

Once the sugar has caramelised, add the warm cream and the butter, and stir. If all goes well, the mixture will be smooth, but if you get some lumps of solid sugar, cook the mixture gently for a few minutes until the lumps dissolve (or cheat by simply straining it).

Let the caramel cool slightly, and stir through the powdered salt. Use to sandwich the macarons. If you find that the caramel is too runny, make a simple buttercream (whip butter and icing sugar) and combine.


Macarons are difficult and time-consuming, and will often fail. However, they are great fun to make and always go down a treat, and I like the scope to play with flavours and colours.

I really recommend giving them a try – I made them for the first time last June, and the initial batch was a DISASTER (but crushed up, mixed with cream and raspberries, they were a tasty disaster). The trick is to evaluate what went wrong, and try again. It took me six months to go from the tasty mess to serving a platter of pistachio and orange-blossom macarons to 12 people at a New Year dinner. So take it from me, it’s possible!

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things