Monthly Archives: October 2010

Dark Chocolate Tiffin

For the last couple of weeks I have wanted to start on the Christmas baking. The temperature has dropped, the leaves on the trees have turned various shades of red and gold, and, well, it just feels like time to get started. That, plus I just know that starting with the festive cookies has got to be more fun than fixing insulating film to the rickety old sash windows in my house.

But rather than give in to this urge by late October, I thought I would have a try at chocolate tiffin instead. If you grew up in the UK, this was a rainy-day staple to make by kids, as it doesn’t involve baking and can be eaten pretty quickly (and it usually was). As a happy compromise, I made a version with a lot of the things that would usually go into Christmas bakes (nuts! dried fruit! chocolate! candied peel!).

As with so much of baking, I think getting good results has to start by using good ingredients, so I made it my mission on a chilly evening to source decent quality items to use in this batch tiffin, something like a quick-and-easy version of panforte.


But while tiffin might be easy, but I still thought quite a lot about what I would put in it. Aside from the tasty fruit and nuts, I ummed-and-aahed about using salted or unsalted butter. I normally use unsalted butter in baking, but here I thought that slightly salted butter might be a good idea. The hint of salt would (should?) combine with the chocolate and the syrup, and – at least in theory – provide a touch of kitchen magic to enhance the various flavours.

Tiffin is also quite a useful thing to have in your baking repertoire because you don’t bake it. This means it is incredibly helpful when you need to make something, for later, but you don’t have time to make a cake and wait for it to bake. So just chop, melt, mix and whack in the freezer. Job done, head off into town to shop/take in some gallery art/walk, then come back and it’s good to go.

How it is? So unhealthy and so delicious. I love it. Full of festive flavours, different texture from dried fruits, nuts, crunchy biscuits and velvety chocolate. My tip would be to make it for special occasions, and to cut into small pieces to serve with coffee or afternoon tea, while resisting the temptation to keep picking away at it.

To make dark chocolate tiffin:

• 50g blanched almonds, toasted
• 50g blanched hazelnuts
• 50g candied peel
• 80g glacé cherries
• 80g sultanas
• Zest of an orange
• 225g biscuits (digestives, ginger nuts or Hobnobs)
• 150g dark chocolate
120g (4 tablespoons) golden syrup
• 170g butter
• Sunflower oil, for greasing the tray

Prepare a loose-bottomed square baking tin (mine was 20 x 20cm) by rubbing lightly with a little sunflower oil.

Roughly chop the hazelnuts and cut the almonds into slivers. Roughly chop the cherries and candied peel. Combine the nuts, candied peel, cherries, sultanas and orange zest in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, crush the biscuits with a rolling pin. Aim for 1/4 reduced to crumbs, and the rest in pieces of 1-2cm. Combine the biscuits with the fruit and nut mixture and mix well (I hands the best way to do this).

In a saucepan, heat the chocolate, golden syrup and butter until melted. Stir well, then add the dry ingredients and combine.

Pour the mixture into the tray and spread out. Smooth out the tiffin as best you can (however hard you try, it will look rather “rustic”). Transfer to the fridge and chill for at least two hours until the tiffin is firm. Easier to cut into slices while cold, but best served at room temperature.

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Brunch Favourites: Mushrooms on Toast

A lazy Saturday, finally! It was also once of those brilliant, cold autumn mornings where it is nice to sit around and catch up on what is going on in the world with light streaming into the house. With the Saturday papers bought, this is just the sort of day to say whatever I have to do, I am going to make brunch and laze around for a while!

Brunch is not a meal that I eat very often. During the week? Forget it! And at weekends, I’m generally too busy as it’s a case of up early and out the door to do “stuff” (travel, shopping, socialising, culture). But yesterday was a little quieter, and I fancied something comforting to enjoy with coffee as I read the paper. Creamy mushrooms on toast!

I have a really soft spot for mushrooms on toast. Good mushrooms, cut into chunks, then cooked up with butter, fresh black pepper and a little soy sauce, then add cream and cook until thick. And finally, if you are feeling decadent, add a dash of truffle oil from your holiday in Italy (which seems too long ago!). All actually very simple, but it seems such an extravagant way to start the day. Sure, you could have muesli with yoghurt (which I usually have), but when you have the time for something fancy, fancy usually wins, at least in my house.

By chance, fortune smiled on me as I had a punnet of chestnut mushrooms to make this dish with. I like then as they have that little something extra in the flavour department, which makes then great raw in salads, and they have a deeper, richer flavour when cooked as compared to white button mushrooms. And the little dash of soy sauce just adds to the magic, but I really mean just a dash. Try it.

Taking foresight to another level, I had used my bread machine the night before, and had a fresh loaf of granary bread waiting for me in the morning. I swear, none of this was planned, just a morning when you start to make something and are thrilled to find everything you need already in the kitchen! I cut some thick bread slabs, drizzled the slices with a little olive oil, and baked in a hot oven until they were crisp. This little trick means that the bread stays crisp once the creamy mushrooms are poured on top, so you have a combination of the silky mushroom sauce and the crackle of the bread as you munch your way through this dish.

To make mushrooms on toast (serves 2):

• 250g mushrooms
• 25g butter
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• soy sauce, to taste
• 200ml double cream
• 1/4 teaspoon truffle oil
• 2 thick slices of bread
• olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Cut the mushrooms into chunks. Melt the butter in a frying pan, then add the mushrooms, pepper and soy sauce. Stir well to coat the mushrooms in butter, and cook over a medium heat until the mushrooms release their water. Cook until around half the water has evaporated, then add the cream and stir. Cook on a gentle heat until the mixture has thickened.

In the meantime, brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a tray in the oven. Cook for 10 minutes until golden.

Remove the bread from the oven and put onto serving plates. Stir the truffle oil through the mushrooms, the pile the mushrooms on the toasted bread.

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On Location: St Moritz (Soho, London)

There have to be few foods that are as fun and comforting as a good cheese fondue. I know that some people like to get creative with quinoa and heirloom vegetables, but I am the sort of vegetarian that appreciates a vat of bubbling cheese from time to time. Yum!

I needed to book somewhere in central London before attending a party, and was at a bit of a loss, as there is plenty of choice, but so many places are difficult to book or just plain don’t take bookings and force you to turn up hope for the best (in my view: a bad, bad thing!). Then I remembered St Moritz, a Swiss restaurant specialising in fondue. I called on the off chance, and bingo! Table booked!

Now, this place is not an exercise in Alpine minimalism and sleek design. There are cowbells, Swiss flags and various Alpine farm utensils on the walls, and jaunty Swiss cowbell music piped throughout the restaurant. It’s all very kitsch, but also all very charming. When you walk in the door, you are hit with a very strong aroma of cheese. If that is your sort of thing, it’s heaven to enter on a cold evening.

We plumped for two fondues, a moitie-moitie (half-and-half with Gruyère and vacherin cheeses) and a fondue aux tomates which is made with the addition of a serious amount of – surprisingly – tomatoes. All served with large chunks of white and rye bread and boiled potatoes. I might not be an expert on fondue, but they were both utterly delicious and set us up for the evening.

As you can see, I tried my best with the pictures, but as St Moritz goes for a low-light intimate atmosphere, so they are not as great as they could have been. Still, it all tasted great.

Would I go back? Well, that is a little bit of a cheat question, as I do go here a couple of times a year. Fondue is one of those things that you can’t really eat too often unless you work the land or ski every day, but it is a wonderful thing to enjoy when it’s cold outside and you crave warm, filling, substantial food. So yes, I will definitely be here again before Christmas for another Gruyère fix.

St Moritz, 161 Wardour Street, London W1V 3TA. Telephone: 0207 734 3324. Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Oxford Circus.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Red Lentil Dal

For the last couple of days we have been living with a sudden cold snap. While I have been working the big thick coat and bright scarf look by day, I have also been looking out more wintery recipes. Time for filling, spicy food.

I’ve been making quite a lot of dal recently. This is an Indian dish, which is a bit like a thick, spicy soup,  made either with split yellow peas or red lentils. I always go with the lentil option, as I like the texture when they are cooked. I love this recipe as it is simple, quick and can be made from things that you more than likely have in the cupboard, so it is perfect for those days when you don’t want to venture back outside into the cold, and possible snowy, streets. Yes, we could be getting snow soon! I am looking at pictures of friends in Australia and New Zealand lying on beaches and enjoying barbecues. Meanwhile, I am sorting out my scarves.

But the dal. While it is simple to make, you can play with the recipe quite a lot. You can make it thin, and use piles of fluffy hot rice to mop up the sauce, or go for a thicker version that is more like a curry. Also, the spices can be adapted – more or less cumin, a spot of curry powder, a little paprika, powdered ginger. It can also be jazzed up with spice seeds – cumin seeds, mustard seeds or black onion seeds can all be dry roasted and added to the dal to add a bit of visual interest and little bursts of flavour. You can even make this into a complete meal by adding pieces of paneer, chunks of vegetables or tofu. Quite how authentic this all is I cannot say, but it’s tasty, and at the end of that day, that’s what matters!

Just a couple of points to note: I think the turmeric is essential. It provides a pleasant, warm flavour, but more importantly, it makes the dal a bright yellow colour, which looks amazing on the table.

Also: butter isn’t really part of this recipe, but I find that adding a knob at the end of cooking makes a slightly richer dish. Hey, it’s cold out there, and we need to keep warm!

To make lentil dal (serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main):

• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
• small knob fresh ginger, finely grated
• 150g red lentils
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 1/4 teaspoon chili or paprika
• 1 litre water
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 25g butter
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, lentils, turmeric, chili/paprika and water to a large pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are soft and the dal is creamy. If you like a very smooth dal, beat the mixture with a whisk, but I don’t do this as I prefer a bit of texture.

In a saucepan, heat the cumin and coriander (without any oil) until fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, butter and lemon juice to the dal, and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice and naan bread.

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Treacle Tart

Chilly days and autumn colours, time to forget ideas of fresh fruit desserts and bring out the British winter classics, and today it is quite a classic indeed – good old-fashioned treacle tart.

This is simplicity itself – a pastry shell, filled with breadcrumbs soaked in golden syrup, and a little lemon added to cut through the sweetness and keep things fresh. It is also something of a literary favourite, appearing in the Harry Potter books, and referred to in Agatha Christie’s The 4.50 from Paddington. I can imagine this as exactly the sort of desert served at after dinner at a grand stately home in the 1930s, just before the bad news reaches the guests…

But back to the tart. When I was younger, I always found it odd that something called “treacle tart” did not contain treacle as I knew it. I always think of treacle as the thick, black syrup (like molasses), but the wonder of the Internet tells me that “treacle” is a generic term for any thick syrup, and hence golden syrup, used for treacle tart, is also treacle. All confusing stuff for a child.

Out of curiosity, I have tried to make a tart using black treacle, but the flavour was just way too strong. After a bit of experimentation, I worked out that the trick was to add just a spoonful of black treacle. This adds a hint of spiciness and makes the filling a little darker too, contrasting nicely with the pastry. Some recipes call for a pinch of ginger, and by all means go for it, but I find the spoonful of treacle does it.

To serve, either a little whipped cream or good vanilla ice-cream works a treat. I find it’s best the day after, as the filling becomes soft and delicious.

For the treacle tart:

For the pastry:

• 175g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 115g butter, cut into pieces
• 3-4 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

• 260g golden syrup
• 1 tablespoon black treacle
• 115g fresh white breadcrumbs
• zest of 1 lemon
• 40ml lemon juice

Start with the pastry. In a bowl, rub together the flour, salt and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to bind. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 20 minutes. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Transfer the tin to the fridge, and chill for 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

To make the filling, warm the golden syrup and treacle in a saucepan until very runny. Remove from the heat, stir in the breadcrumbs and lemon zest, allow to rest for 10 minutes, then stir in the lemon juice. Pour into the pastry case, spread out, and jiggle lightly from side to side to even it out.

Bake the tart for 10 minutes at 200°C (400°F), then reduce the heat to 190°C (375°F) and bake for a further 15 minutes until the pastry is slightly golden.

Once the tart is cool, serve in slices. The tart will cut more easily if you use a knife heated in hot water.

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Käsekuchen nach Oma Friedel

If you have a smattering of German, you’ll know that this is Grandma Freidel’s cheesecake. Much as I would love to be able to claim this is a secret family recipe, passed down through the generations, that would be a great big lie. It is a family recipe, but it comes from my friend Klaus in Brussels shared at the weekend.

As baked cheesecakes go, this is a nice, simple recipe (no worrying about making a base, getting it cooked, then doing the filling…). Instead, just make the batter and bake. Simple. It also has a light, fresh hint of citrus, and is excellent either on its own, or served with red fruits (think a simple compote of redcurrants and raspberries). Served in giant slabs, you’ll be transported to the Black Forest in no time.

To make Grandma Friedel’s cheesecake:

• 250g butter
• 350g sugar
• 1 sachet of vanilla sugar
• 6 eggs
• Pinch of salt
• Zest of 1/2 lemon
• 1 kg Magerquark (similar to drained low-fat fromage frais)
• 8 dessert spoons of fine semolina
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 2 dessert spoons single cream

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Grease a springform cake tin and line the base with a disc of greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter and allow to cool. Add the sugar, vanilla sugar and lemon zest, and mix well.

Separate the six eggs, placing the whites in a separate bowl and add five of the yolks to the butter/sugar mixture (keep one yolk separate for later). Mix the yolks into the butter/sugar mixture and stir well until combined.

Mix the quark, semolina and lemon juice together. Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff, and fold into the quark mixture. Finally, fold in the butter/sugar/egg yolk mixture. Be delicate, trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Beat the reserved egg yolk with the cream and drizzle carefully over the top of the batter.

Bake for 60 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the top of the cake, and cover with a round of greaseproof paper to prevent it from burning.

Once cooked, remove from the oven – at this stage, it might look a little bit wobbly, but it will set when cool.

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Belgian Loaf

I was in Brussels at the weekend, and spent a rather pleasant time thanks to not having planned very much at all. On past visits, I have tended to try to meet everyone there that I know, resulting in running from social event to social event, and concluding by the end of the afternoon that I have had far too many cups of coffee in various cafés. This time, quite a few friends were out of town, so it was a very sedate affair. Dinner with friends on Friday, a lazy Saturday finished off by meeting friends for a little baking and dinner, and a lazy Sunday walking in the sunshine (it seemed like 25 degrees! In Brussels! In October!). A great weekend, as it was nice to see people for a decent amount of time and hang out, discussing everything from major changes to the little things in life.

As part of the Saturday afternoon baking session, my friend Sarah was keen to do a guest spot on my blog and to share some of her family recipes. Rather than bombard you, I’ll spread these over the next few days so that they can be enjoyed, and to start with, it’s the amazingly retro Belgian Loaf.

Ah, you’re just back from Brussels. So this must be a Belgian recipe! A logical conclusion, but it has – as far as both Sarah and I am aware – nothing to do with Belgium. She explained to me that the recipe is originally from the Women’s Institute, and was passed to her mother when she got married back in the 1970s, together with a well-meaning suggestion that as a new wife, this was the sort of thing that she should be turning her hand to. It’s actually quite a simple recipe – just cook up sugar, butter and dried fruit, then allow to cool, and mix with flour and bake – and to both Sarah and myself, it brings back the memories of home baking in Scotland that we knew as children. The resulting cake is a sort of light fruit cake, both in colour and flavour. You will also see that you can make this with or without an egg. Sarah made this once without the egg and found that it didn’t seem to make a difference, and has since stopped adding it. If you go with this tweak, it also means you have a recipe that is safe to make with kids who keep putting fingers into the batter and eating it raw.

I do find the name both funny and interesting, and have tried to find out why it is called “Belgian Loaf”. The internet didn’t provide any clues – lots of very similar recipes, but very little commentary on it. Having actually lived in Belgium, and having also tried a fairly wide selection of their baked goods over the years, I never came across anything that seemed remotely like Belgian Loaf. Given that this seems so much more like a familiar British teabread, I can only conclude that the Belgian title has been added to suggest a slightly more exotic origin. Scottish teacakes were plain, so adding a little dried fruit would add that little element of Continental sophistication to merit the name. That’s my theory, but if anyone knows differently, we would love to know more!

For one Belgian loaf:

• 1 cup (200g) sugar
• 1 cup (240ml) milk
• 1 cup (160g) dried fruit (sultanas, glace cherries, cranberries – in any proportions you like)
• 4 oz (100g) butter
• 2 cups (250g) plain flour
• 1 egg, beaten (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and grease and line a loaf tin.

Put the sugar, butter, milk and fruit into a saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil, stirring from time to time. Once boiling, remove from the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking power and baking soda. Add the milk mixture and the egg (if using) and stir until well combined. The mixture will be very runny.

Pour into the loaf tin, and bake for 50-60 minutes until risen, golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top darkens too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil during baking.

Note: the proportions in Sarah’s recipe were in cups, so I have reproduced them here, with conversions into grammes for those that prefer them.

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Autumn in Scotland

Much as we love living in London, we all love to escape from time to time. So no cooking today – I am visiting family in Scotland for the weekend (Perthshire to be exact), so here are a few pictures of the local apples (which, as predicted, have done really well and taste great), some blaeberries, a looks-like-a-wildcat-but-isn’t housecat (albeit still quite a fluffy specimen) and the nature along the River Tay. Enjoy!

After taking in the last of the harvest in the garden, we headed to Dunkeld on the River Tay for a brisk walk in the moody early autumnal forest.

Amazing what you can do with an iPhone and a little bit of patience, eh? Happily, this little nature walk took advantage of the best weather of the day, and we got home just as the heavens opened and rain poured down. We also picked up a tub of excellent local vanilla ice cream from Stewart Tower in Murthly, which was great enjoyed with raspberry sauce made from the fruit for which Perthshire is rightly famous.

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