Monthly Archives: July 2010

Les saveurs de l’été – Gooseberry Fool

There was a recent fuss in the press about how traditional British summer berries are being squeezed out by North American blueberries. Shock, horror!

Well, as always, there is more to this than the media would have you believe. For starters, up in Scotland, we used to go out into the woods every year and eat as many blaeberries (the smaller Scottish cousins of blueberries) as we could find, returning home with faces, hands and tongues stained purple. They were also much sweeter and had a lot more flavour, at least in my (biased) opinion, than the imported mega-berries you see today…

Another “casualty” in the berry wars is apparently the gooseberry, but I can’t understand why it is not more loved. OK, you don’t usually eat them raw, but they can be stewed with a little sugar to make a wonderful fruity, sharp compote, or added to a crumble. They also make wonderful jam, a rich, deep red, which keeps its tang. Plus, they look cute!

And then, there is the classic gooseberry fool, which is also incredibly simple and has a name which always amuses small children. A creamy base (custard, cream, yoghurt, or a combination of each) which is combined with a little gooseberry compote, then dollop a good amount of “pure” compote on top. Simple, and delicious. You can also adjust the colour to your preference – use green gooseberries, get a green fool. Use those tinged with red, and you get a pudding that has a brilliant, garnet-red colour.

For the base, I have used a mixture of thick yoghurt and (shock!) bought custard. If you buy good-quality, fresh custard, it makes life so much easier. A cheat, I know, but I am just a home cook, not a professional chef, and I am allowed to cheat from time to time! If you prefer, you can use just yoghurt, or even lightly whipped double cream, but I think the yoghurt is nice as it has a thick, rich creaminess which is lovely with the fruit.

For the gooseberry fool (serves 4):

• 400g gooseberries
• 100g sugar (more or less, according to taste)
• 150g thick Greek yoghurt
• 150g good quality custard

Top and tail the gooseberries, then put into a saucepan with the sugar and a couple of spoonfuls of water. Cook gently until the gooseberries are cooked and the mixture is a little thick (not too much water, but also not too jammy). Sieve if you like, or keep all the seeds and skins in there. Allow to cool.

Combine the yoghurt and the custard, and add one-quarter of the gooseberries. Mix well. Add another couple of spoonfuls of gooseberries, and swirl together (don’t mix, we want it to have a “ripple” effect). Spoon into glass serving dishes, and divide the remaining gooseberries between the dishes. Chill until ready to serve.

Worth making? If you can get gooseberries, this is an easy and delicious way to transform them into a classic British pud. Just be sure to adapt the base (yoghurt, cream, custard) to your taste. With the yoghurt and not too much sugar, why it might just be healthy!

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Rösti

Like potatoes but want to try something new? Think Switzerland, think rösti. This is a tasty, fried treat, so the sort of thing that you would want to eat at the end of a long day hiking in the mountains and dancing around Alpine meadows.

This is a traditional Swiss dish, which was originally eaten for breakfast (lots of calories, see above re hiking and spending all day in the fresh Alpine air) and you can see why this would be the perfect thing to set you up for the day. Nowadays, each region has its own version, but in my view, the buttery Zürich version is best of all. This is often eaten with a not-too-sweet applesauce, but I like it with a dollop of mayonnaise. I also like to have it with a fresh green salad with a sharp dressing, to balance the richness of the rösti.

This recipe is simplicity itself – just take some coarsely grated cooked potatoes, mix with a few sliced onions(*), fry in butter until golden, then flip over to cook the other side. These are a little like hash browns, but rather than solid blocks of potato, you grate them so there are lots of individual crispy strands at the edges. You could use vegetable oil if you are looking for a healthier dish, but I love the taste of butter when you make these. The one thing to be careful about is the potato you use – look for waxy potatoes, as they are easier to grate, whereas floury potatoes will collapse and turn to mush. Just as tasty when fried in butter, but the finished rösti isn’t nearly so appealing.

(*) I use onion in mine as I love their flavour, but you don’t have to. If someone in your house doesn’t like them, then omit them, rather than be faced, as I was, with a request to “pick the bits of onion out of the potatoes” once I had mixed them with the onion.

To make 2 large rösti (serves 4):

• 1kg boiled potatoes, peeled (ideally a waxy variety)
• 1 white onion, peeled
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 50g butter

Grate the potatoes using a coarse grater. Cut the onions in half, then slice very thinly. In a bowl, combine the potatoes, onions, salt and pepper, and combine gently using your hands.

Melt half the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add half the potatoes and cook until golden, then flip over and cook on the other side. Once done, cook the rest of the potatoes (or do two at the same time).

Worth making? This is a super easy recipe, and tastes delicious. A good one for every cook’s repertoire!

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On Location: La Porchetta (Clerkenwell)

As a vegetarian, Italian food is always a favourite as you are guaranteed to have enough to choose from. I really like pasta, gnocchi, scamorza, bruschetta et al, but I just love good pizza. For me, the best pizza has a thin, crisp base with a puffy, golden crust, a tangy, rich tomato sauce and just enough topping to satisfy without swimming in cheese.

My favourite pizzeria in London is La Porchetta. It is tucked away in the north end of Clerkenwell, just off Exmouth Market. It is never too busy to get a table, the staff are really friendly, and the decor it bright and fun (with the little pig motif dotted around) without all the kitsch Italiana that is usually found in these places. OK, well just enough kitsch Italiana to be fun. And, of course, it serves really great pizza.

Why is it so good? For starters, the pizza is prepared in an area at the back the restaurant. There is no chance for the pizza chef to hide from hungry diners, as you can see him work the dough and spin it out into a big, eh, pizza using his hands before your very eyes. When the pizza comes (which usually happens quite quickly, also a plus), the base is as I like it, thin and crisp, and the sauce actually tastes of tomato, rather than just being a bland red paste. Tangy, fruity and just a touch of sweetness. They are also more than happy to customise your toppings and – something of a rarity in London – they actually get them right.

The location is also convenient – it is a few minutes walk from Sadlers Wells dance theatre, so good for pre-theater bite to eat, and you have the bars of Exmouth Market if you want to keep the socialising going into the small hours.

As I go here a lot, I also have the benefit of seeing how they perform over a number of visits, and the pizza is consistently good. I used to live round the corner from La Porchetta, and it was the takeaway of choice. When I moved, I missed it and still live in hope that they might decide to open a new restaurant in the neighbourhood. I still go quite often, and am even starting to get into the “limoncello zone”. They clearly know how to keep their regulars sweet!


La Porchetta,  84 – 86 Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QY. Tel: 020 7837 6060. Tube: Angel or Farringdon.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Galettes Bretonnes with Mushrooms

Imagine you are on holiday in the French Pyrenees mountains. You’ve been walking in the forests, and reach a remote little village just in time for lunch. What to eat? Local cheeses on rustic mountain bread? Well, if you were me on holiday last year, it turned out that the only veggie show in town was a place selling, eh, buckwheat savoury crepes from Brittany. Not that they are not tasty, just not what you would expect half way up a mountain. But it could have been worse – a plate of cucumber was a strong possibility in the meat-loving South of France.

The particular out-of-place delicacy that is the subject of today’s post is the galette bretonne. I really love them, and they always score well in my book given the fact that they are not a warm goat cheese salad, and thus finding them in la belle France is always a pleasure. These are delicate, lacy, savoury crepes, but have some substance to them as they are made using a goodly amount of buckwheat flour, which adds a bit of a nutty flavour to the crepe. They typically also have a lot of filling to make them into a satisfying meal – often eggs or cheese, but my favourite is with chopped mushrooms cooked with cream and black pepper, and sprinkled with chives. The trick with presenting them is to put the filling the middle (while it is on the stove, if you like it to cook or melt), then flip each of the four sides over a little bit to form a square, with the filling just peeping out of the middle to entice you in.

Another helpful thing about these galettes is that they don’t have egg. I know, a crepe/pancake with no egg is a bit strange, but they do work just fine, and so they are actually the sort of thing that you can make from items in the store cupboard and basic fridge rations. I’m thinking of that moment when you get home from holiday, late at night, and you just want something tasty and filling. OK, you could call for takeaway, but where is the fun in that? Alright, at least you have something to cook for a guest who does not eat eggs…

If, like me, you go for the fungi option, you’ve got to get your mushrooms right too. White button mushrooms will work absolutely fine, if if you can get a more special variety, then do – the taste is soooo worth it. They just add a bit more mushroomy “oomph” to the finished dish, as well as having a more rounded and richer flavour.

Would these galettes (or crepes?) work with something sweet? No idea. I always use them with savoury fillings, and quite like it that way. Indeed, a though just came to me – portobello mushroom and taleggio cheese filling? Now that would be something worth climbing a mountain for.

For 10 galettes:

• 125g plain flour
• 125g buckwheat flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 250ml milk
• 250ml water (more if needed)
• 50g butter, melted

Put all the ingredients apart from the butter in a large bowl, and mix well for a minute using a balloon whisk. Finally, add the liquid butter, stirring all the time. Place the bowl to one side and allow the batter to sit for 40 minutes before cooking. Trust me, this makes a difference.

To cook the galettes, heat a non-stick frying pan. Test the first galette – the mixture should be thin enough to quickly coat the surface of the pan if you shake it and tilt it. If the mixture is too thick, add more water. They should not stick thanks to the butter in the batter, but if they do, put a little butter on a piece of kitchen paper, and wipe the pan with it just before adding the batter.

Serve with the filling of your choice, remembering to flip the corners over to form a square (or be lazy and fold in half like I did with the rest after I took the photo…shhhh!). Below is an idea with mushrooms.

For the mushroom filling:

• 500g mushrooms, roughly sliced
• 300ml double cream
• black pepper
• salt, stock cube or a spoonful of miso paste
• teaspoon plain flour

Put all the ingredients except the flour into a saucepan, and cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat. The mixture should be light brown in colour (from the mushrooms) but should appear quite thin. Mix the flour with a couple of spoons of water, then add to the mushroom mixture. This will make the mixture thicken into a cheat’s mushroom stew.

Use to fill the galettes, and sprinkle a little grated Gruyère cheese and chopped chives over each before serving.

Worth making? These are super-easy savoury pancakes, which have a little more substance to them than the plain flour versions. I make they quite often, and something use them filled, the topped with a little white sauce and cheese, then bake in the oven. Delicious every time!

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Cherry Pie

dum…dum dum dum dum-te-tum dum dum…

Yes, you might recognise that as the theme tune for the classic TV series Twin Peaks. Famous for many things (secrets, lies, Laura Palmer, white horses), but specifically some damn fine cherry pie.

Cherries are now in season here, so what better time to make pie from them? There is a tree on Stoke Newington Church Street which is positively groaning with tantalisingly large, ripe fruit, but sadly it is behind a large metal fence, and so they will remain out of reach. Shame! I could do great things.

What I did manage to get were a few punnets of lovely English cherries from Kent, which are beautiful – deep rich purple in colour, sweet and juicy. A lot of people will only use sour cherries for cherry pie, and while they will give you that wonderful tart-but-sweet pie, you can still easily use sweeter fruit if you add some lemon juice to your pie to give it a little more kick. In this way, you can use sweet black cherries, which makes for a visually stunning pie.

My recipe is pretty simple – an easy pastry with lots of butter, to produce a flaky, buttery result, then a juicy filling with lots of fruit, and just a touch of cinnamon. Sometimes, fruit pies using juicy fruits can be very watery as all the juices come out, but that is easy to deal with. Just cook the cherries in a pot until they release their juice, add the sugar, and then cook briefly with a little cornflour so that you get a thick, glossy pie filling which will lightly set when you bake the pie. The result is something that might even please Agent Cooper.

This looks like quite a lot of work, but it isn’t – I’ve just tried to set out all the steps clearly!

For the pie shell:

• 400g plain flour
• 200g unsalted butter, from the fridge
• 50g caster sugar
• ice cold water

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and butter with your hands until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add enough water until the pastry is just mixed. Cover in cling film, and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

• 800g fresh cherries (I used ripe sweet black cherries)
• 200g granulated sugar
• juice of 1 lemon
• 4-5 teaspoons cornflour
• 2-3 drops of almond extract
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Prepare the cherries by pulling off any stalks and removing the stones. Place the cherries in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice, and cook gently until the cherries have released their juice (around 10 minutes).

In a bowl, combine the cornflour with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Add the mixture to the cherries, stir well, and cook the cherries until the liquid thickens. At this stage, add the almond extract and/or cinnamon (if using) and stir well.

To assemble the pie:

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Roll out half the pastry, and use to line a 23cm pie dish. You want to leave 2-3cm of pastry hanging over the edge of the dish. Pour in the cherry filling. Use a little milk to wet the overhanging pastry.

Roll out the rest of the pastry and use to cover the pie. Make sure the edges of the pie are well sealed, and trim off any pastry. Make a few holes or slits in the top of the pie to release steam when it cooks.

Coat the surface of the pie with a little milk or cream, and sprinkle generously with granulated or demerara sugar.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 175°C and bake for a further 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden. Allow to sit for at least an hour before serving with vanilla ice-cream, or a dollop of softly whipped double cream.

Worth making? This pie was incredibly good. The fruit makes for  rich, dark filling, and using the lemon helps to keep it suitably tart and highlights the flavour of the cherries. The pastry is also very easy, and can easily be made ahead of time – perfect if you are off for a country walk and expect to come back with a haul of goodies.

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Sour Cherry Jam

In one of the local parks(*) here in London’s glamourous Hackney, there was a fantastic display of cherry blossom earlier in spring. On the off chance, I passed by a few days ago, and bingo! There were loads of cherries on the tree. As you can see below, these were not the large, dark, juicy sweet cherries, but small, bright red and quite tart. They were sweet and edible, but there was a distinct tang to them. They would need to be cooked if their flavour was to shine, and sadly I had not been able to pick enough to make a pie. However, there were sufficient little red fruits for a couple of jars of jam.

Not keen on spending an hour with a knife picking out stones, I bought a cherry stoner. This is a nifty device, where you pop the cherry in the holder, then it pushes out the stone. A great idea, but…it does require you to have cherries that are big enough. Mine were so small – just 1cm diameter – so they were pushed out of the de-stoning device. Somewhat miffed, this meant I had the pleasure of de-stoning by hand after all. Luckily, I could just crush them lightly, then squeeze and the stones came out easily. Some just popped out, whereas others got quite a bit of force behind them and pinged across the kitchen. Quite a few things were jazzed up with little red flecks of red cherry juice. What do we learn from this? Wear something red while de-stoning cherries!

The jam itself was a breeze – boil the fruit, add sugar and lemon juice, boil and keep testing until it sets. At the end, I also added a drop of almond oil just to complement the flavour. Just be careful – too much, and it will be less cherry jam and more like Amaretto liqueur spread. Be judicious – you will need less than you think.

Result? This is a really nice jam – good chunks of fruit and a lovely balance of sweetness and sharpness. If you see a tree groaning with fruit, do it a favour – pick it, cook it and enjoy it. Times are though, so it might even be rude not to!

For the jam:

• Cherries (sweet or sour)
• Granulated sugar (3/4 of the amount of stoned fruit)
• Lemon juice (I used juice of one lemon for 500g cherries)
• Almond oil

Wash the cherries, removing any stalks or bad fruit. Remove the stones from the fruit.

Weigh the de-stoned cherries, and place in a heavy saucepan with three-quarters the amount of sugar (i.e. if you have 1kg of cherries, use 750g sugar, but you might want to use less sugar if you are using sweeter cherries). Add the lemon juice, and cook gently.

Once the mixture comes to a gentle rolling boil, allow it to cook for as long as is necessary to come to a set(**). Pour the mixture into sterilised jars and seal. See here for how to sterilise jars. My 500g of cherries yielded 2 jars of jam.

(*) Just to say, this is a very large park, and the tree was very far from roads and other sources of nasties.

(**) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little jam on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the jam  “wrinkles” when you push it, the jam is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the jam will be very thick, sticky and syrupy.

Worth making? If you get some cherries and need something to make with them, this is a great recipe. This took me no more than 30 minutes to make, and it looks, smells and is delicious. Also a bargain, as I got fresh, sun-ripened fruit for nothing! Result!

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How to dine like a 30s film star

Ever wondered what Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner might have served at a dinner party? Or what dessert would have been dished up at Johnny Weissmuller’s house?

Well, I might just have the answer. I was recently introduced to a fantastic blog where a couple of talented ladies are thinking about just this sort odd thing. Silver Screen Suppers have amassed a vast collection of recipes from the stars of the golden age of film, and one by one, cooking their way through them to let you know how things like Bette Davis’ apple dessert turns out.

But why a post rather than just adding a link to my blogroll? Well, I have had a link for some time, but as of yesterday, rather excitingly, I am now a test cook for Silver Screen Suppers project, and will be testing some of them ahead of a book being published at some future date. But don’t you just love the idea of Zsa Zsa Gabor or Alan Ladd actually preparing these recipes in their kitchens? Would they have known where their kitchens were? I like to think they did…

I think this will be fun and interesting for several reasons. A lot of these recipes will have seemed very exotic back in the day, but will be rather more familiar to our sophisticated palates. Will there be a need to adapt recipes, or even jazz them up to make them match our expectations? I suspect that in some instances the answer will be yes, but given anyone making a film star’s cake in the 30s was hoping that just a little of the stardust would rub off on them, I secretly hope that a lot of them will also be quite good as they are. Perhaps there will be more of an impact in terms of the ingredients use, as many of those considered “luxuries” in the 30s have gone on to become commonplace. To misquote Miss Davis, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride“. But a fun one too!

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Granita di Mandorle (Almond Sorbet)

A few weeks ago at the Couleur Café festival in Brussels, as we were leaving at some silly hour of the morning, I spied an artisanal ice-cream stand by the exit. It was still very warm at that time (of the morning!), so we grabbed a cone for the walk home. My friend Heinrich got excited about the lait d’amandes flavour, so I took one too. It was a creamy ice-cream, but still, the almond flavour was superb. Aromatic, delicate and surprisingly refreshing.

Thinking about this, I reasoned that I should be able to make a successful almond-based sorbet. Indeed, making it into a sorbet rather than an ice-cream should enhance the almond taste. A little research via Google revealed that almond sorbet is a specialty of Sicily, where it is called granita di mandorle, and often served with a piece of fresh brioche bread.

Now, the proper way to make this would involve tracking down good-quality almonds, grinding them at home, then preparing some sort of sugar syrup to cook the chopped nuts in order to extract their delicate flavour and aroma. And one day, when I have the time, inclination and someone to clean up after me, I might try that, but I opted to take a shortcut. I happened to have a bottle of orgeat syrup in the house, so I decided that make a sorbet using that instead. The flavour is probably not as delicate or authentic, but it was much quicker and easier. Hey, we’re all busy people!

The brand of orgeat syrup I used, Monin, was quite sweet, so I just added a mixture of semi-skimmed milk and water until I was happy with the flavour, erring on the slightly-too-sweet side (given that sweetness is dulled by freezing). I also went through the process of heating and briefly boiling the mixture to sterilise the milk. I don’t know if this was necessary, but it didn’t seem to affect the end result. However, if you are making this to eat quite soon afterwards, you could just mix everything up, skip the cooking, and put straight into the machine (*).

The flavour? It was amazing! It was like snow married with sweet almonds. Feather-light, translucent, and amazing. It is a complete contrast to lemon sorbet, as the almond version is sweet, silky and aromatic. Lemon would wake you up, whereas this would send you off into a gentle slumber on a warm afternoon. I think I am even inspired to pick up some decent almonds when I’m on holiday in Italy and try making the real deal. In the meantime, this version is more than sufficient.

(*) I’ve made it again since, and I can confirm you can skip the cooking stage if you want, and still have great results.

For 1 litre of almond sorbet:

• 300ml orgeat syrup
• 400ml semi-skimmed milk
• 300ml water (use more or less according to taste)
• 1 tablespoon almond liqueur (Amaretto)

Place the orgeat syrup, milk and water in a pan. Bring to the boil, cook for 30 seconds, then allow to cool completely.

Add the almond liqueur, mix well, and freeze the mixture. Serve with crisp biscuits or a slice of fresh brioche.

Worth making? I am really happy with the recipe. The use of the syrup makes it super-easy to prepare, and the result is light and fresh with a pronounced almond flavour. I will happily make this again, as it results is quite a sophisticated-tasting sorbet. One for the adults rather than the kids – not that youngsters won’t enjoy it, but adults will just be able to appreciate it a little bit more.

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On Location: Stout! and Villa Zeezicht (Amsterdam)

I just got back from a fun long weekend in Amsterdam. Pandering to many Dutch stereotypes:

We were there for a wedding which took place in quite a curious location – the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses). A fun little venue, made even more fun by the fact that during the reception, we were allowed to wander round and look at the exhibits with a glass of fizz in hand. As the weather cleared, we moved out into the garden to enjoy the sun, where the museum’s overly-friendly but moulting resident feline decided to rub itself against my new black suit. Cats!

Over the weekend, I was also at the arts festival De Parade in Utrecht. There are loads of little plays, songs and cabaret performances to attend, plus a great selection of food, from excellent Italian food to traditional Dutch street food. I also loved the art installation on the railway building in Utrecht. Looks a little like an alien invasion!

In the downtime in Amsterdam between weddings and culture, I hit upon two little foodie gems.

Firstly, I finally got some good appelgebak (Dutch apple pie) at Villa Zeezicht. Lots of nice fruit, lots of brown sugar and cinnamon, with nicely cooked pastry and a decent dollop of lightly whipped cream. In slightly chilly weather, this was just heavenly with a cup of coffee. They also offer this with a scoop of cinnamon ice-cream, which would be perfect when the weather is a little warmer.

Zeezicht also has a great (large) terrace by the Singel, where you can enjoy the sun, the apple pie and their tasty broodjes (sandwiches).

My other find was Stout! on the Haarlemmerstraat. This is a very up-and-coming street with boutiques, shops, delis and restaurants, just a few minutes walk from Amsterdam Centraal station. I passed it at lunchtime, still a little the worse for wear from the wedding the day before, and my eye went straight for the “Old Holland” sandwich. This was a whole grain roll, with ripe tomatoes, rocket, very mature Gouda cheese and truffle-infused mayonnaise. This was, by quite some way, the most delicious sandwich I have had in quite some time. The cheese was nice and strong, the bread excellent, and the truffle flavour just sublime. A gorgeous snack in a nice place, with friendly staff where you can watch the world go by. Should you find yourself with a little spare time while waiting for a train in Amsterdam, dodge all the tourists and check out the Haarlemmerstraat!

Villa Zeezicht, Torensteeg 7, Amsterdam 1016. Tel: +31 20 6267433.

Stout!, Haarlemmerstraat 73, 1013 EL Amsterdam. Tel: +31 20 6163664

LondonEats locations map here.

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Fairy Cakes

The bakeries and cafes of Britain have in recent years seen an influx of interlopers. I speak of the brash, brightly-coloured cupcake, huge in size and piled high with whipped buttercream icing.

The thing that really gets me is just their sheer size. The traditional equivalent in Britain is the much more dainty “fairy cake”, usually decorated somewhat whimsically – coloured sugar sprinkles, which we call “hundreds and thousands” – but not quite as outrageously as their American cousins. Whereas American cupcakes flaunt their whipped, sweet topping – which often seems to exceed the volume of the supporting cake – fairy cakes make do either with just a touch of simple buttercream frosting (made with just butter and icing sugar, so much less sweet too) or, more usually, simple glacé icing (icing sugar plus a little hot water to bind). If you don’t fancy hundreds and thousands, add a single glacé cherry. Small children tend to look at these as if they are the height of sophistication.

The big advantage of being a more dainty cake creation is that they are also far more suited to an afternoon tea. Part of the ritual is that you are able to enjoy your cuppa with a selection of savoury and sweet goodies. As such, you can quite happily tuck into a few sandwiches, with or without crusts according to taste, then enjoy a fairy cake, before moving on to scones, a sliver of chocolate cake or whatever else is on offer. Try doing that after eating a whole American cupcake(*) the size of a plate!

To make 12 fairy cakes:

• 110g butter, at room temperature
• 110g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 110g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2-3 teaspoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a muffin tin with cake cases.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (until it gets lighter in colour). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and then add the vanilla and salt, and stir well. Fold in the flour, and finally add enough milk to make a light batter that drops off the back of a spoon.

Divide the mixture between the cake cases, and bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden.

For the icing: combine 150g icing sugar with 2-3 tablespoons of boiling water (plus any colour, if using) to form a thick paste. Top each cake with the icing, and immediately cover with some sugar sprinkles (the top of the icing dries very quickly, so don’t wait until you have iced all the cakes before adding the sprinkles, or they won’t stick).

Worth making? Yes. These are quick and easy to make, and always seem to be popular. The cake itself if light and moist, and works well with the simple icing. A change from the excesses of giant cupcakes!

(*) Nothing against American food, it’s just that I can’t get over the size of their cupcakes!

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