Monthly Archives: February 2012

Welsh Cakes

I realised recently that I don’t know many recipes that originate in Wales. I’ve done English, Scottish, Irish…even Icelandic. But no Wales, as yet. So here you go – Welsh Cakes!

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’m not really sure what makes the perfect Welsh Cake. I can express an opinion on scones, and I know my stuff when it comes to a Victoria Sponge, but with Welsh Cakes, I’m not really sure what they taste like when bought, freshly made, from a little old bakery in the Rhondda Valley.

However, for a first attempt, I am frankly delighted with how they have turned out. These are little griddle cakes, made with quite a lot of butter and a good amount of currants and a dash of nutmeg. They are made with self-raising flour, so they puff up a little bit during cooking (not baking) to they become lighter, and they take on a rather attractive golden brown colour. Once cooked, they are rolled in caster sugar, and they taste best while still warm, so they are pretty easy to run off at short notice.

For my recipe, I did a little digging, and there is a bit of variety out there. Some use currants, some don’t. Some add nutmeg, others avoid it. But what I did see it that the common ratios  seem to be 8-4-3-3-1 (flour, butter, sugar, currants and an egg). I’ve stuck with those proportions (remarkably for me, I even measured in ounces for a change!) but I’ve put the amounts in grammes as well for our metric cousins. I also took the lead from Angharad at Eating For England, who thinks currants are an absolute must – and I agree – you need those little bursts of juicy sweetness. You can also read her lovely post about rediscovering a family recipe for Welsh Cakes here.

I’ve seen various shapes when making Welsh Cakes, but I think the fluted look if pretty nifty. Nifty, and an excuse to use a cutter set I acquired before Christmas. But I reckon that round is probably more authentic.

So here they are! Little Welsh Cakes, filled with plump currants, aromatic nutmeg, rolled in sugar and delicious while still warm with a cup of tea.

To make Welsh cakes (makes 18):

• 8oz (225g) self-raising flour
• 4oz (115g) salted butter
• 3oz (85g) caster sugar
• 3oz (85g) currants
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 egg
• splash of milk

Combine flour and butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the currants, sugar and nutmeg. Add the egg and knead until the mixture comes together as a soft dough – add a tiny splash of milk if too dry. You won’t need much.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, roll to just over 1/2 cm thick, and cut out circles (use a scalloped cutter if you have one, it looks nice, but a round cutter is just fine).

Put a griddle or frying pan onto a medium heat. Grease very lightly with a little butter, then reduce to low-medium heat. Put 4-5 cakes in the pan at the same time, and cook for a couple of minutes, then flip over. Make sure the pan is not too hot – you don’t want to end up with burnt outsides and uncooked middles!

Worth making? I really recommend these cakes. Quick and easy to make, and very tasty.

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Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)

If you asked me to pick one food that symbolised Sweden, it would have to be the kanelbulle (pl. kanelbullar) – not herring, or meatballs, or akvavit, but the humble cinnamon bun.

When I ended up in Stockholm, these very quickly became an intrinsic part of every day life. Everyone else seemed to eat them with morning coffee, so I started as well. I also quickly learned that this was less a case of enjoying coffee, and more a case of it being something of national institution with its own name – fika. I’ve never consumed as much coffee as during that year…

The Swedish daily rhythm became a little confusing to me – for I noticed that many Swedes seem to start work very early (and so 8am classes were, sadly, not uncommon), so they would cram a fika in around 10am, and then go for a “late” lunch around 12. I swear that there were people having lunch from about 10:30…aright, in fairness, I never did any empirical research about whether the people that were enjoying coffee were the same ones that pitched up less than half an hour later in the cafeteria, but I was an innocent abroad, and you cannot help but notice the different pace of life.

So…what about the kanelbullar? These are the typical sweet accompaniment to fika, and are made from enriched dough, flavoured with cardamom, that is filled with sugar and cinnamon, the topped with pärlsocker (pearl sugar). My own preference is for the ones that have been left to prove for as long as possible, to make them very light and fluffy. And if you get them while still warm, they are amazing with a cup of coffee on a chilly day. As you can imagine, our days were less about sightseeing, and more about eating given the limited daylight!

As I mentioned in my post of making semlor, I don’t know if I ever managed to track down the place that made the best kanelbullar in the whole of Stockholm.

However, I can share one travel tip if you do happen to be visiting the city (and if someone else has tips – do share!). I did a Nordic odyssey a few years ago – three of us navigated our way through three of the Nordic capitals, taking in Helsinki, then taking the boat to Stockholm, then travelling by train through Sweden and across the Öresund Bridge to Copenhagen.

And in Stockholm, after looking at lots of mid-century modern furniture and someone buying a lot of impractical glassware in the Orrrefors store, we did a little sightseeing in the scenic Old Town. And…it was freezing. We had whipped out a book to look at what was nearby, and the Wallpaper guide had a tragically hilarious write-up of Chokladkoppen. It made much use of the word “divine”, which ended up become the adjective of choice for the rest of the holiday. How were the bathrooms? Diviiiiine. How is the soup? Diviiiiine. Is the train on time? Diviiiiine.

Wallpaper’s views aside, Chokladkoppen is a lovely little café on the picture-perfect square in the middle of Stockholm’s old town, and we had some truly delicious – and humongous – cinnamon buns. Great with mulled wine when it was dark at 3.00pm.

You’ll notice that these buns are made on individual little bun cases. This is (apparently) a traditional way to make them, and you can just use small cupcake or muffin cases to the same effect. During baking, the butter in the filling melts and makes sure that they don’t stick.

To finish them off, it is traditional to use pärlsocker on top of the buns for some extra sweetness and a bit of crunch. This is something that I don’t think I’ve seen in London (yet), and have sourced mine via friends when they visited from Sweden. They had asked what I wanted them to bring, and I think they were slightly surprised that the ask was nothing more elaborate than a box of mini-sugar lumps. Indeed, I lucked out – they brought two!

I’m definitely going to be making these a lot more often – they are great for breakfast, and are very welcome during the day with a cup of coffee. If you’ve got a bread machine to do all the grunt work, then it really makes them a breeze. Which makes me wonder why you would open a Swedish café without cinnamon buns? But if you’re after some buns and don’t have the patience to make them, I also recommend the Finnish version from the Nordic Bakery, which are topped with a sticky cinnamon-caramel. Now…it is time for a fika?

To make kanelbullar (makes 12):

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
• 325g strong white flour

First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 210°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake the buns for about 6 minutes until golden.

For the filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.

Worth making? Do you have to ask? These buns are delicious, and have so far been an absolute hit with everyone I’ve served them too. They are also delicious while still warm, so good for Sunday brunch.

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Pan di Ramerino

All my weekdays seem to be a rush of work, email, meetings and dashing around London in the tube. By and large, I don’t have much free time during the week. However, I do find myself with a little free time now and again, and I’ve actually gotten very comfortable with the idea that I can use that time for not very much at all. Just hanging in the neighbourhood. And one of my favourite places to hang out is in The Spence on Stoke Newington Church Street. It’s small, cosy and friendly.

When I go there, I am a creature of habit. Generally, it’s a coffee and a pan di ramerino, a sweet-ish bread with sultanas and rosemary. It’s one of those things that is nice to pick at while you’re reading a book or leafing through the papers.

I’ve often sat there, thinking that I should try making them myself. And this weekend, finally, finally, I got round to it.

What I don’t have is an authentic recipe (these buns are Italian, and I have not a drop of Latin blood in my, and no access to a secret family recipe), and I wasn’t really sure where to look for one. So I did what I often do when checking out something new, and tried to find out a little bit about the story behind the bun.

Pan di Ramerino is a traditional baked good from Florence, and is associated with Easter. So I put my thinking cap on, and looked at my recipe for hot cross buns. I decided to wing it – out with the spices and citrus peel, and in with the sultanas and rosemary, as well as a dash of olive oil. As simple as that.

I took the easy route and got my bread machine to do all the hard work for me. I know that there are purists out there who get a bit sniffy about the idea of using a machine when you could lovingly knead the dough by hand, but I’m busy and it’s rather nice to set everything going, then potter around until you hear the “peep”. Then you get to the fun bit – the shaping of the dough.

It is traditional to make a cross on top of the buns before baking – recalling the link back to the Easter story, and making me think that using my hot cross bun recipe wasn’t so crazy after all.

So…how did they turn out? There was scope for this to go wrong, but I was delighted with the results. Soft, lightly sweet buns with a hint of rosemary and lots of plump sultanas. Delicious! But I’ll still be buying them from The Spence from time to time – those occasions when I want just one, and don’t want to wait.

To make Pan di Ramerino (makes 12):

• 400g bread flour(*)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg, beaten
• 30g butter
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 75g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 150g sultanas
• Chopped leaves from 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

(*) Make sure you are using proper bread flour – plain flour just won’t work.

For the glaze:

• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• 2 tablespoons water

If using a bread machine: place all the dough ingredients except the sultanas and rosemary into the mixing bowl. Add the sultanas and rosemary to the raisin dispenser, and run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

If making by hand: put the flour, butter and olive oil into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Fold in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Work in the sultanas and rosemary. Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

Once the dough is ready, divide it into twelve round buns. Place on a well-greased baking sheet, leaving 4-5 cm between buns, and cover with oiled cling film or a damp teacloth. Leave somewhere warm until doubled in size. Bigger is better!

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Brush the buns with milk, and bake them for 15 minutes, until the buns are lightly browned. You may need to tun the tray during baking to an even colour.

While the buns are cooking, make the glaze: heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Once the buns are ready, remove from the oven, and brush right away with the warm syrup.

Worth making? Yes! This is a very easy and simple recipe, and the buns are great for breakfast or later in the day with a cup of tea or coffee. They also make an interesting change from the normal Easter hot cross buns.

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Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Buns)

This week most of Europe has been shivering. We’ve been doing all we can to keep as far as possible from icy winds, and here in London, it’s been a bit of a waiting game. We wait for snow, then it arrives, then we shiver, then it melts a bit, then it gets colder, then it snows again.

Given how cold things are, it may seem a little bit strange to be thinking about Easter, but it occurred to me a few days ago that we were coming up for the start of Lent quite soon, and that means a raft of calorific goodies. Now do you see how thinking about things made with lots of butter, cream, eggs and sugar is not quite as strange as it first seems? And that made me think about a traditional Swedish item – the semla (pl. semlor).

Selmor are a Swedish specialty (so rather apt in the cold weather) eaten in the run up to “Fat Tuesday”. They are enriched sweet buns made with cardamom, which are then hollowed out, filled with marzipan and whipped cream. So as you can imagine, this is not at the lighter end of the culinary scale. And thus, they’re delicious.

I remember tucking into these when I lived in Sweden, and while I liked them, I probably didn’t track down the place in Stockholm that served the ultimate semla bun. So if you have any tips, these would be very welcome for my next visit.

With no trips to Scandinavia in the offing, there was just one thing for it – this year, I would actually turn try my hand at making semlor.

In fact, thinking back to the winter I spent in Sweden (many feet of snow…frozen sea…) brought a wry smile to my face. No matter how much snow there was, or how cold it got, life seemed to go on and things ticked along as usual. Contrast with here. There is a light air of panic on the streets of London at the moment, as people fear we will, at any moment, find ourselves under inches, nay, feet, of the white stuff. About three years ago, we had a dusting of snow that brought the city to a standstill – roads deserted, no buses, no underground. Admittedly that was an extreme, but today, when the flakes start to flutter from a heavy sky, there is always that little voice in your head saying – Psssst! Might be time to go home, you don’t want to be marooned at work! Lucky for me that I can walk to work (a brisk one hour, but doable!).

I mentioned that these buns are flavoured with cardamom, and I think that when it comes to spices, this is the only way to go. Lucky for me, as I happen to really like cardamom – and I think it’s a spice that is easily overlooked. I like the peppery lemon-like aroma and freshness that it brings to baked goods. So if you want your semlor to be authentic, stick with cardamom. I’m sure they are still delicious made with cinnamon or nutmeg, but I think the combination of cardamom works best with the marzipan.

There is also an interesting technique that you can do to fill the buns. Rather than just stuffing with marzipan, you use a fork to scoop out the insides. Then turn the insides into crumbs, add marzipan and some milk, then use your hands to mash it all together into a paste. Much easier for filling the buns, and it makes for a nice soft squishy marzipan filling. Yes, these are the sort of buns where the filling squirts out when you bite into them.

I’ve included a recipe below, but I have to give fair credit to Anna Brones, who write about her own attempt at making the family version of semlor as a guest on Kokblog (a great site, where foodie posts are paired with lovely illustrations of the cooking process). The original recipe is here, and when you read it, you will understand why I agree with Anna’s mother – “if you’re going to make something decadent, make something decadent. It has to be a real semla!” These were wise words to urge the use of real cream to fill these buns!

So…I made them, and I love them. The creamy-almond-cardamom combination is light and fresh, and they make a fantastic – and slightly naughty – treat with a cup of coffee on these chilly days. Now that I have, squirrel-like, stocked up on calorific food, all that remains is to see what the weather has in store for us. A couple of days of snow is fun, and London looks great on cold, clear days. But a little springtime warmth and a few daffodils peeking through the soil will be most welcome too.

To make semlor (makes 18 small or 10 large buns)

• 250ml milk
• 100 grams butter
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 40g sugar
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 egg
• 450g strong white flour

Put the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Add the butter, and leave until the butter has melted. Mix well and allow to site until lukewarm.

Put all the ingredients, including the milk/butter mixture, into the bread machine tin and run the dough cycle.

When the dough is done, divide into portions (18 for smaller buns, 10 for larger buns). Roll into balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.

Brush the buns with beaten egg and bake in a preheated oven (200°C / 400°F) for 15 minutes (if necessary, turn the tray half-way through to ensure an even colour).

Once the buns are ready, place on a cooling tray and cover with a clean tea-towel (this catches the steam and makes the buns soft).

For the filling:

• 200g marzipan, grated
• 200ml milk
• insides of the buns
• 200ml double cream

Cut “lids” from the tops of the buns. Use a small fork to scoop out the inside of the buns. Put the insides into a bowl, and crumble with your fingers. Add the milk and marzipan, and work to a smooth paste. You can use a spoon, but it’s easier and more fun just to get in there with your hands. When smooth, fill the buns with the almond paste.

Whip the cream until stiff, then use to top the buns – either with a spoon, or use a piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzle. Use as little or as much as you like, but I would err on the generous side.

Place the “lids” back on top of the buns, then dust lightly with icing sugar.

Worth making?  While this recipe looks like a lot of work, if you’ve got a bread machine, it actually takes almost no time at all. You can also easily make the buns on day, and then fill them on the next. So on balance, easy to make and very, very delicious!

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Lady Marmalade

I’ve developed an annoying habit of working song references into my writing. I could offer sincere apologies…but I don’t see the need! While this practice is probably acceptable in the blogging context, I am not quite so sure that my attempts to weave in references to the greatest hits of Whitney Houston went down quite so well at work. And that, dear reader, is a shame, a there are two seminal works – “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” and “How Will I Know” that suit pretty much any situation that you will be faced with…

I digress. It’s the time of year when Seville oranges appear. Olé!

Seville oranges are good for one thing – and that is marmalade. You’ve never confuse them with juicing oranges more than once! And it’s that tangy tartness that makes for wonderful preserves.

And that’s why Lady Marmalade has been hummed with much enthusiasm recently, as I’ve been trying to get to grips with the tricky issue of marmalade. Indeed, you may wish to play it in the background (go on…go on...). You see, the thing is that while I am pretty happy to make jam or jelly, I’ve always thought of marmalade as “a bit too difficult”. However, I was in Barcelona recently, and the trees in some of the parks still bore oranges from last year, and I took that as a sign that 2012 was the year that I should give it a go.

What I do know about marmalade is that it’s a bit more of a dark art than my favourite jam, raspberry. Raspberries require no preparation, and are already pectin-rich. This means you just measure out equal amounts of fruit and sugar, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and boil until set. Marmalade, on the other hand, requires you to get the right sort of oranges. We need Seville oranges. These are rough little things, with mouth-puckerng juice and a real tang to them. Then you need to do “stuff” with the pith, juice, seeds and peel, then you need to separate out the peel, then you need to strain the mixture, then boil it…so you see why I’ve always been a bit apprehensive.

However, 2012 is going to be the year of dreams of winning gold in London, and I was going to make my marmalade. So I went looking for a recipe. What become pretty clear in no time was that there are many, many variations out there, but no single “right” way. This is probably inevitable when you’re trying to make something as traditional as marmalade. Finally, I stumbled upon a recipe by Dan Lepard which looked sufficiently easy for the novice to succeed with. It involved cutting the peel off the orange, shredding it, then putting it into a piece of muslin. Then you cook everything (and I mean everything) to get a zesty liquid, discard all the pith and pips, and just open the muslin cloth and add the zest, then boil with sugar. Simple.

Then I made it. And you know what? It was simple. I did the fruit peeling and boiling on a Saturday (filling the house with the fantastic smell of orange oil) and  left the mixture to drain overnight. On the Sunday, I boiled it up with sugar and bottled it. And now, I have six jars of beautiful marmalade, the colour of red amber and laced with delicate strands of vibrant zest.

Yes, I said strands.

Yes, I’m one of those people.

The world seems to split into those that love thick cut marmalade – with the great big chunks of peel – and those that like it fine cut. I fall into the latter camp, as I much prefer the marmalade to quiver on my toast, with lots of bits of peel sticking out. But I have a few oranges left, so I may well try my hand at a thick-cut recipe in the near future.

I couldn’t be happier with this marmalade – the method is quite easy, and the result is, frankly, stunning. The colour is beautiful, it has a delicate, soft set that quivers on the spoon, and it has a flavour that really wakes you up in the morning. Delicious!

Now just one question remains….what exactly is that magnolia wine they sang about in Lady Marmalade? Hmmm…

To make Seville orange marmalade (Adapted from Dan Leperd):

• 600g Seville oranges
• 1.1 litres water

• 1.2kg white sugar
• 2 generous tablespoons dark brown sugar (optional)

Day 1:

Wash the oranges in hot water and dry.

Cut the peel off the oranges in strips. Remove any bits of pith from the strips of peel. Cut the peel into fine strands, put into a piece of muslin, and tie very securely with a piece of string.

Cut the oranges in half, squeeze the juice into a large pan, chop the remains and add to the pot. Add any bits of pith you cut from the peel. Add the water and the bag of peel strips. Bring the mixture to the boil, then cover with a lid and simmer for around 2 hours until the peel is very soft.

Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or a jelly bag, pour in the orange mixture and leave to drain – at least an hour, but overnight doesn’t hurt.

Day 2:

Measure the liquid form the oranges – you should have just over one litre. If not enough, add a little more water.

Add the orange zest and sugar, and heat the mixture until it comes to a rolling boil. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears.

When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the strands “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot jam into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade  “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. 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 marmalade will be very thick and sticky.

(**) How to sterilise jam 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 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot marmalade. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

Worth making? I am surprised how easy this recipe for marmalade is, and the flavour is absolutely delicious on toast to give you a bit of a citrussy wake-up call in the morning. Highly recommended!

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Get Oaty!

You may or may not have appreciated from past posts that I’m Scottish (see here, here, here and here). Our cuisine is, in many ways, quite curious. On the one hand, you have fantastic products like wild salmon and fabulous fresh fruit (like these), but it’s also a nation famed for the deep-fried Mars bar. Contradictions. We love our sweet things (tablet and macaroon bars) but we also love our porridge.

In fact, I think this last comparison is one of the most contrary of all – tablet is about the sweetest things you can imagine, whereas porridge is just about one of the healthiest things you can eat – low GI, higher protein than other grains, low-fat and plenty of fibre. That, and it’s quick, easy and tasty.

I have always been a porridge fan, and it’s the perfect way to start the day when it’s nippy outside. This week we’ve been hit by a cold snap, so I’m grateful for a warming bowl of the stuff before I venture out onto the frozen pavements of Olde London Towne. But last week, I went along to a very intriguing evening, where the world of oats would be lovingly folded into the world of chocolate, thanks to Rude Heath and Demarquette Fine Chocolates.

The evening kicked off with a few wise words about all things oaty and porridgy from Nick Barnard from Rude Health. I would go so far as to say that what this man does not know about oats can be safely assumed to be not worth knowing. How serious is he? Well, he regaled us with tales of his participation in the World Porridge Championships in Carrbridge near Inverness, where he competed against a collection of “gnarly Scots” for the coveted Golden Spurtle. There were two parts to the competition – a “classic” round where participants made porridge from oats, water and salt, and a “creative” section where all manner of fantasy and whimsy could be deployed, provided that the results included porridge.

Now, first things first…if you’re wondering, a spurtle is a special implement (basically, a stick) used to stir porridge. Some people swear by it. I’m inclined to the view that it’s probably one of the silliest things that you could use to make porridge, and you’re far better off using a normal wooden spoon.

We started off with the “classic” version – porridge made from a mixture of course and medium oats, made with milk and water with a dash of salt. Having been identified as a Scot, I was asked what sort of oats I used. I told him I went for pinhead oatmeal, and I think that earned me some serious brownie points – for it seems this is the really hardcore stuff for, eh, gnarly Scots like me…

Now, I should confess that by this stage, having walked all the way from South Kensington tube station in the cold, we had been warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate made with oat milk, whipped cream and whisky (which was delicious, by the way). We’d also been able to nibble on a selection of chocolates and caramels. So by the time Nick had made his porridge, it’s fair to say that the version hearty, savoury porridge was actually rather welcome.

We were also offered some sugar, honey or cream to top it off. As a gnarly Scot, I stood there, skulking, and ate it unadorned…and I’ll let you muse on the idea of me standing in a shop, full of luscious chocolates, eating porridge…

Once we’d sampled the classic version (and I was shocked to see that not everyone devoured their bowl), it was time to see the “creative” section. Now, this was pure fantasy, combining decadence with Dalí: a dark chocolate cup, filled with warm porridge and salted caramel. The trick is that the filling is warm rather than hot, so that everything combines and melts slowly, such that the cup slowly collapses into sticky deliciousness. Think of those melting watches, but tastier.

As Nick made more porridge with an admirable focus of purpose, the resident master chocolatier Marc Demarquette got to work on the salted caramel sauce. In true Blue Peter fashion, everything was laid out ready for work!

I’ve made salted caramel before, but I have to admit that it tends to be a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, and it has, in the past, taken more than one attempt to yield the desired result. Helpfully, Marc shared some tricks of the trade with us, and mercifully for me, in clear and simple terms that I could understand!

Firstly, how to make the base caramel? It’s sugar with a dash of water, heated until lightly golden (too dark and it gets bitter) and you’re looking for “champagne bubbles” – that is to say, the small-ish bubbles you have once the initial larger bubbles subside. Next, adding the butter – the trick here to have it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge, and then drop it into the caramel and then let it sit without stirring. The butter melts, and then you are stirring hot melted butter into the caramelised sugar, which should help to stop things from seizing up. Then move onto adding the cream and salt (or, in this case Halen Môn vanilla salt) and you end up with a lovely, smooth, sticky salted caramel…

…then you fill the chocolate cups with a little porridge (or as the French probably call it to seem fancy – crème d’avoine) and top with a generous amount of salted caramel. As you can see, this causes the Dalí-like slow melting of the cup. Just lovely!

As the cup melts, you get to enjoy all three flavours together. All in all, a fun and very different little dessert. I’m pretty sure that chocolate and salted caramel have never been enjoyed in such a healthy way!

Now, a little damper on all this excitement – Nick told us a sorry tale. He’d fought the good fight last year to win the Golden Spurtle, but he was pipped at the post. Having just tasted this fantastic little dish, I was stunned. However, Nick assured us all that he’s going to have another go – and we all wish him good luck!

If you want to get some idea of the day, check out this film on Implausibleblog.com.

If you’re interested in getting hold of these chocolate cups, either for the porridge-caramel recipe, or for something of your own imagining, they’re available from Demarquette’s boutique in Chelsea, which I can highly recommend. I say this because below you can see some of the other chocolates that we sampled that evening. I know, after all that porridge and caramel (not forgetting the hot chocolate) I should have been full, but they were so tempting.

These little domed chocolates are a range of caramels with exciting flavours like winter berries, festive cinnamon and apple, Scottish raspberry and Cornish sea salt caramels. We also got to try the Medina chocolate, an award winner based on a whipped ganache filling. Given that this was the server’s first day in the boutique, we all think she did pretty well in guiding us through the display and served those chocolates with great aplomb!

Demarquette Fine Chocolates, 285 Fulham Road, London SW10 9PZ. Tel: 020 7351 5467. Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

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