Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hampstead Tea Tests

The folks over at Hampstead Tea were kind enough to send us a selection of their finest for us to sample. Overall, the teas were all of an excellent qualitea. A couple appealed to some testers' tastebuds more than others....

Hampstead Assam

A popular tea with all our reviewers. Strong and malty with a mellow flavour and no hint of bitterness.

3 reviewers rated this tea at 4/4
All said they would buy again

"Very nice – a mellow tea. Lovely with a drop of milk, made a good strong cup."

"Really tasty & malty. Good follow-through taste, with or without milk"

"A good, flavourful Assam – this is a really great cup"

Hampstead White Tea

This tea split our reviews – it’s delicate and light. Fans of green tea will probably enjoy a cup.

Most people rated the tea highly and would buy again, with one dissenter.

"Very nice and smooth with no bitter aftertaste."
Cathy R

"It’s very light – almost too light."
Adam W

"I don’t seem to like white teas – just tastes like a bitter, pale green tea to me."

Hampstead Rosehip

Another tea which split our reviews. Those who enjoyed herbal or fruit teas really loved it. Others just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

The people who liked it gave it full points & would buy again, the others said 'no way!'.

"Quite fruity and has a refreshing depth of flavour (I left the teabag in for maximum steepage").

"Lovely refreshing fruity flavour"
J Whelan


Hampstead Darjeeling

Overall this was the reviewers’ second favourite tea. Darjeeling’s got less punch than our favourite (the Assam) but it’s still tasty – reviewers described it as refreshing, smooth and lovely.

People rated this tea highly overall, and most would buy again.

"Doesn’t taste of the Himalayas nor does it remind me of the B class of the DHR but it is refreshing and I would drink it again."

"This has a lovely delicate flavour."
J Whelan

"Very light, delicate taste. Good without milk. Smooth, easy to drink."

"I’m not normally a fan of darjeling tea, t’s often a bit insipid. This one is more robust, it can take a bit of milk & still has a reasonable flavour. Makes a nice cuppa."

Hampstead Oolong & Elderflower Iced Tea

Another tea which scored well with our testers. It’s a grown up elderflower cordial with a tea-y aftertaste which would suit genteel summer picnics.

Most people enjoyed this & would consider buying it again.

"I mainly go for hot drinks, so I’m unsure if I would buy this. But it had a very nice taste and served cold it is very refreshing."

"I really enjoyed this – adding the tea to the sweet elderflowers gave it a bit of body and nice contrast. It’s a very elegant drink, would be good for a genteel picnic."

Hampstead Ginger Green Tea

You’ll either love or hate this one – it split our tasters right down the middle. Some thought it smooth, refreshing and easy to drink. Others labelled it as bitter and were under whelmed by the ginger content. You’ll have to try it yourself to decide if it’s for you!

"Meh. I’d rather drink Crabbies ginger beer."

"Nice ginger smell but couldn’t taste it. Bitter aftertaste."
Cathy R

"Very light but with a ginger taste, refreshing. Very easy to drink – light tasting and not bitter like many green teas can be."
Barry & J9

"I enjoyed this – I was careful to not let the tea over-steep (as I find that green tea can go bitter if you stew it too long). I usually think of ginger as an autumn flavour but this was refreshing and surprisingly enjoyable on a warm summer day."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hotel Chocolat Review

When teaandcake got offered some free Hotel Chocolat goodies to review, there was only ever going to be one answer to the question of ‘what would you like’. ANYTHING AT ALL as it all looks divine.

Here’s what the nice folks sent us.

Peepster Box – White Adventure

£14.50 for 4 bars

This multi-pack comes in luxurious packaging – thick, glossy cardboard with a neat silky cord carrying handle (the handle is very pretty, but we’re not sure it’s terribly recyclable). Each bar comes wrapped in a plasticy cellophane – a bit cheap looking but it does showcase the pretty swirls and top-quality finishing touches on the chocolate bars.

The first thing to say about Hotel Chocolat’s products is that the bars are shaped like small slices of toast, or ingots. They seem precious and at the same time happily domestic and informal. We like them.

You probably wouldn’t get something this well packaged just for personal consumption whilst Eastenders is on. It’s a gift pack from heaven for your favourite chocoholic.

Caramel Road

One solid, chunky bar – ½ caramel chocolate, ½ white chocolate. Caramel buttons, cinder toffee pieces and one little chunk of florantine.

What We Thought
Good chunks of caramel (not really like cinder toffee, but probably nicer overall) – they had just the right amount of resistance in the chewing texture

The caramelly chocolate was very nice – possibly one of our overall favourites of the day.

The white chocoalate was really nice – really creamy rather than sugary, and had a really nice texture as ir melted. It’s not too sweet for a white chocolate, very vanillar-y.

The caramel buttons nice, and the Florentine chunk was lovely (thought there was only one, making it look more decorative than deliberately part of the bar’s taste experience). We’d quite happily buy this one & take it home.

Strawberry Fusion
Two thinner slabs of chocolate – ½ white, ½ strawberry (real strawberries used in the flavouring).

What We Thought
The two halves of the bar are swirled together appealingly. It’s a very pretty effect. The strawberry half tastes like strawberry icecream or strawberry milkshake (a good quality strawberry icecream). It had a really good depth of strawberry flavour and a slightly grainier texture, due to the fruit used.

The white chocolate was as above – really lovely. The two halves complimented each other well.

Cookies Crème
One solid, thick bar of white chocolate. Generously peppered with small milk, dark and shortbread biscuit pieces.

What We Thought

First impression – it’s clearly inspired by Hersheys. That said, the chocolate is (as above) gorgeously smooth and creamy, with a good distribution of crunchy biscuitty bits. Lots of these escaped when the bar was broken into pieces, so this is one to probably eat over a plate, or you’d loose the cruncy spheres.

The textural combination is really great, but there is less of a flavour hit than the other bars – it’s your classic white chocolate with a different density. It’s more about ‘mouthfeel’ sensations than taste sensations.

Think a very high-class nestle’s crunch bar, or yorkie with biscuits, and you’re imagining this.

We might sound underimpressed, but it was our second favourite overall. It’s a classic combination done really well.

Classic White
Two thinner bars of white chocolate. No decorative touches, but patterened (looks a bit like it’s embossed with mini Union Jacks).

What We ThoughtReally tasty. As above, this is top quality white chocolate. It melts better for being a thinner bar. It’s smooth and luscious and unadulterated. there’s not much more to say.

If you like white chocolate, you’ll love this.

Our overall comments on the Hotel Chocolat Experience
We all agreed we couldn’t eat an entire bar (or even half a bar) in one sitting. Barry (a dark chocolate fan) found all chocolates in this pack too sweet - so you'll denfinately select to pick chocolates to suit your particular chocoholic.

All chocolates were quite rich – this is quality chocolate you have a bit of rather than pigging out on. You’d want it to last at this price – and it would. We thought that one bar would probably be about 4 portions.

This might be partly due to it being white chocolate, which feels sweeter and creamier than the bog standard milk chocolate we’re used to guzzling on the way home to stave off hunger cravings.

Our overall favourite was the caramel chocolate, but in fairness we happily sampled them all and what’s left will not be going to waste.

Thanks for the samples, Hotel Chocolat.

We’ll be drooling over the rest of your wares online and wondering what we should buy next. We were all left very curious as to what the rest of the Hotel Chocolat ranges tasted like, so you can count us as three customers who’ll be back soon.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Gosh, it's been a while since I've posted stuff here. That is not because I've not been baking, I should point out. I've been baking. Oh, yes. I've been doing my usual cake and whatnot, but also kicked off a sourdough starter and made a loaf from it; this is quite exciting and will take up a post all of its own, but for now I want to talk about muffins.

Y'see, I had a quiet weekend planned. I was going to go to a brunch event on Sunday organised by Culture Vultures, called (in it's shortened form) Platespinning. Held at Armley Mills it was a discussion about how to keep as many projects going for as long as you can without them all coming crashing down amongst your ears. Sounds like fun, so I signed up.

On Friday I got a message from the delightful Bake Lady asking if I wouldn't mind doing some muffins for the event, for various reasons. The main catering was being done by Fish&, so I didn't mind pitching in. And, yanno, I like baking.

So I made three batches of muffins (actually four, but that was because one batch was so good I didn't get to try any of them!): some Raspberry & White Chocolate, something I made up on the spur of the moment, Bakewell, and something else I made up on the spot, Carrot & Ginger.

Raspberry Muffin

The raspberry & white choc ones are a staple repertoire muffin - I make them a *lot* - but they're delightful. If you use chunks of chocolate instead of drops they're even better, but sometimes it's just easier to open a bag of drops and pour them into the bowl.

Oven to GM5, or 190°C-ish. Use a muffin tin, line with muffin cases (that fit!) and this will make 12 muffins.

Ingredients are; 250g self-raising flour, 200g caster sugar, 100g white chocolate drops, 150g frozen raspberries (or fresh, but they're out of season at time of writing and frozen are perfectly acceptable), 2 medium eggs, 100g milk and 100g sunflower oil.

Note: yes, that's 100g there on the liquids. 100g milk is 100ml of milk, but 100g of oil (because it's less dense) is 125ml of oil. I like to use digital scales for weighing stuff out and because I can't be bothered trying to read those tiny, raised numbers on plastic jugs I'll just read the scales.

First, in a jug, whisk together the eggs, milk and oil. Next, in a bowl put together all the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the raspberries and mix them in too. Then add the liquid, pour it all in and with a metal spoon fold the liquid into the flour until just mixed. Don't worry about lumps, and don't over mix otherwise the muffin will go chewy and the razzies will break up too much. Just get the flour combined, and you'll be fine.

Pour into the cases, put in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden on top and not wobbly if you tap the tin. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES. Really, don't, they'll collapse and be awful.

Easy peasy!


The other two follow the same basic principles but use slightly different ingredients. Let's do the bakewells first.

Same oven, muffin tin and liquid rules as before (ie, 100g milk, 100g oil, 2 eggs). In a bowl mix 150g self-raising, a half-teaspoon of baking powder, 100g ground almonds, 175g caster sugar. Add a big handful of frozen cherries (cf what I said about razzies above) and mix as before. After putting the mix in the cases dab a half-teaspoon of cherry jam on top, and then top with some flaked almonds. Bake as before.

The carrot & ginger ones are just as simple. Same liquids, and the dry ingredients are 250g self-raising, 150g caster sugar, 1tsp ground ginger, 100g grated carrots (from the bag in my fridge that's about two medium carrots, peeled, topped & tailed) and 50g mixed dried fruit, and four chunks of stem ginger that have been finely diced. Add a couple of tablespoons of the syrup from the stem ginger to the oil/milk mix. Bake as before.

See? Muffins are easy, and coming up with ideas for them are, if you follow the right basic guidelines, almost as simple.

Anyway: in addition to my muffins were some superb examples from Lynn (some chocolate chip ones, and a batch of apple & cinnamon) and the food done by Andrew & Debs was excellent: kedgeree, smoked salmon blinis and sausage-in-a-bun. Top marks all round, I think!

And the event was enormous fun, with conversations from the Queen of the UK Supper Club Scene amongst many other plate-spinning luminaries, artists and clever people. My photos from the event are on Flickr; I had fun, and I hope everybody else did too. (And that they liked my muffins!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rhubarb & Egg Custard tarts

You know how I have a bad recipe book habit? I bought a copy of Peyton and Byrne.

Don't get me wrong; this is a lovely book. Great photos, clear text, sensible design. But I wonder about the recipes; Peyton & Byrne has a recipe for egg custards that I looked at and thought "what?" as it required 2 whole eggs, 4 yolks, and only 60ml of cream. No, no, no. It'll make the custard very eggy and have a strange, bouncy texture. Way too much egg to cream. A proper egg custard is one of the prerequisites for a good recipe book but I couldn't imagine this working tremendously well. Still, there's no reason why I couldn't tweak the recipe a little...

So I doubled the cream with the same amount of egg. So far, so normal; but I'd had a thought about some rhubarb that I'd bought that morning. A blob of stewed rhubarb in the bottom of an egg custard. Could that work? Rhubarb and custard is a time-honoured traditional dish, of course.

Next I made some ginger shortcrust; normal 2:1 shortcrust with a teaspoon of ginger added to it, and (after chilling) rolled out on icing sugar for (i) crispness and (ii) a tiny touch of sweetness.

For pastry novices; two parts flour (200g) to one part butter (100g). Rub together to a sandy texture, no big lumps, then sprinkle a tablespoon of water over it and mix in using a flat, rounded knife. Add a bit more water and carry on mixing, and it'll come together in a soft ball; overdo the water and it'll turn to mush, underdo and it'll be too stiff. Wrap in cling, fridge for 30 minutes, then roll out to desired thickness; in this case, 2mm thick, and cut into 10 circles to fit my (buttered) muffin tin.

Into the muffin tin, into the oven for blind baking, there we are.

Except everybody has an off day. It didn't work, for two reasons: I didn't fill the shells with baking beans/rice whatever and I didn't chill the pastry before putting it in the oven. I could have got away with either, but not both; in the end my pastry shells started sliding down the sides of the tins like Nora Batty's tights, and ended up looking very flat, wrinkled and sad.

After a tiny amount of swearing I redid the pastry and using fairy cake cakes as liners inside the tart shells I filled them with rice to support the structure. This time it worked; 15 minutes at GM4 and the shells had picked up some colour. Picked out the rice, filled with custard, blobbed in a teaspoon of stewed rhubarb with honey, and BAM; ended up with these little bundles of joy:

Egg & rhubarb

These are so good. Faint ginger notes, crisp pastry, zingy rhubarb and slightly bouncy custard. Bloody lovely stuff. Made ten, there were five left when we went to bed, I expect there will be two left by the time I get home tonight. The thing to note here is: pastry is capricious, but simple enough so that if you cock it up you can re-do it without too much faff. And making pastry interesting is not difficult.

I'd better write an article on pastry, I suppose; it isn't as scary as people so often think, but at the same time you need to treat it with respect.

Also, the book has some great looking recipes in that I have no doubt will work superbly. And - oh, such an important point - it is all about British Baking. There is much to be said for proper patisserie, but I think there is much to be said for picking a Chelsea bun over a Danish.

Minor edit to add: the non-rhubarb egg custards look like this:

Interesting bubble structure and this doesn't have the sense of fragility that a great egg custard often has. But it is still very, very tasty.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Talking about Cake (again)

In other news, my cake talk to the WI is available!
Cake talk to WI by nalsa

I had *enormous* fun doing it.

Review: Hotel Chocolat "Your Eggselency" Easter egg

Full disclosure: I was sent an egg by Hotel Chocolat via Beth from Jam & Cream PR, in exchange for a review. One thing I learned during writing this review is that if you type the word "egg" often enough it ceases to look like a real word. "Chocolate", however, always remains real.

When I was a kid the most important thing about Easter was the chocolate. Quantity was far more important than quality, and with care I could get it to last until Whitsun, although this was entirely down to getting a mountain of cheap eggs from many different relatives. But, as a kid the only eggs that were generally available were ones that these days are two for a fiver in the cheap supermarket of your choice. Thornton's might have done eggs, but they were far too expensive for the likes of us.

As an adult I don't have hordes of family members giving me Easter eggs any more. Thank goodness; the chocolate on your average egg is often only distinguishable from grouting by the colour, is as thin as cardboard and contains the tiniest of sample packs of chocolate bars you could get every day in the newsagent. But these days there is an alternative; boutique chocolatiers have been springing up and the one that seems to have become most widespread is Hotel Chocolat.

Now, I like Hotel Choc stuff, as a rule. The chocolate is great quality and the fillings are fun and flavoursome. I've been getting TCTC boxes for about five years now, but not really thought about getting an egg; these days I don't go through chocolate as much as when I was a lad and keeping chocolate through to Whit is less of a priority. But! An egg! Can I feel like that kid again?

So, a sucker for a bad pun, I opened up "Your Eggselency"; first impressions were

  • this feels heavy
  • ooh! silver paper
  • where's the stuff?

Because eggs contain stuff, don't they? These days the stuff is rarely inside the egg, it's in vacformed plastic holders hidden beneath the egg. Not in this egg, though. Inside each silver foil-wrapped half were tissue-wrapped five miniature eggs, each with a different filling. I shall come to them in a second.

No, the first thing is the chocolate. This is thick chocolate, and it's so thick that it is quite hard to break through; no bad thing, in my opinion. Each half-egg is a different chocolate, one milk, the other dark and so in Chez Nous this saves arguments; the Lady of the House prefers milk, and I'm fine with either but like the complexity of dark. And so to the taste; this is quality chocolate, the milk rich and sweet and with perfect melt-in-the-mouth consistency, the dark slightly bitter and complex with a faint lemony tone to it. They both taste of chocolate (unlike cheap eggs which tastes of slightly rancid sweetened fat). It smells right, it sounds and feels right when you do manage to snap it, but above all it tastes like chocolate ought to taste.

If I have one complaint it is of the texture of the dark chocolate; it is ever so slightly gritty at the start of the taste, like there is too much cocoa in it (if you can have such a thing). I've been making chocolates with some 80% Callebaut recently and it feels a bit like that in the mouth; don't get be wrong, this is exceptional chocolate, but sometimes the higher percentage ones can do that.

No complaints about the milk, though; I barely got a look-in. I like Hotel Choc's lower sugar, higher percentage milk chocolate bars and would love to see an egg made from that, but in the meantime this is some tasty chocolate to be getting on with.

As to the miniature filled eggs; these are truffles in a crisp shell, and enormous compared to normal truffles! Five flavours with varying degrees of success; some of them tasted just like alcohol with little to make it stand out from the rest (still tasty, mind you). But the orange and vanilla was sublime and could stand on its own merits. A box of them would certainly keep me going 'til Whit. Well, maybe.

But, this egg is not cheap; you get what you pay for, of course, but this is not an egg aimed at children. There is an interesting nostalgia thing here, where the target audience are people like me who enjoyed easter eggs as a kid and then grew up into an adult with a little disposable income and a hankering for the joy of being a child again. I'm a big fan of this sort of thing and it is with no small measure of enjoyment that for a moment, I felt like that kid again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Clandestine Cake & Buns and Roses

You know that life has taken an odd turn when you find yourself in front of an organisation known for home baking (as well as jam, crafting, nude calendars and a quietly social, lefty agenda) about cake.

Before that, though, I had to run the gauntlet that is the Clandestine Cake Club. My word; the biggest yet, we had at least 16 cakes and about 36 people turn up to pack out Primo's in the Corn Exchange. Theme was savoury and "saucy sweet" so I eschewed savoury and came along with a new cake of my own invention; apple and fennel seed crumble cake with toffee sauce. The apple cake was one thing (standard cake mix + 2 chopped apples + crushed fennel seeds + crumble topping sprinkled on before going in the oven); the toffee sauce was a joy of melted butter, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest that I brought along in a jar and warmed through as we were setting up.

The cakes we had were of the usual great home baking quality. Of the savoury cakes my favourite was a basil & parmesan loaf cake that tasted like pesto; brilliant stuff (I had two half-slices). The sweet cakes were great, with a sachertorte and the instantly recognisable Raymond Blanc's lemon tea loaf making an appearance. We had a couple of fruit loaves that were lovely and an apple and cheddar cake that was intriguing, and an interesting marmite and chocolate cake that seemed to polarise opinion. A chocolate and aubergine torte was fun (and not at all auberginey), and the last cake I was capable of trying was an apple & maple syrup cake made with olive oil; lovely, rich and it finished me off.

After much tea I gathered together a small group who were being as nuts as I was and attending both events, and we wandered up to Buns & Roses.

Ok, so B&R isn't your stereotypical WI; the average age sems to be "early thirtysomething", tattoos and interesting piercings are common enough to be almost de rigeur, and these guys go through great amounts of booze, but it is still the organisation that kept the tradition of home baking alove as much as it were able in the age of convenience food and supermarkets. If there is one group of people in less need of a lecture about cake it would be a bunch of artisan patissiers.

My talk kicked off as it has done for a while, by referencing Allie Brosh, and then it was off; from neolithic lake villages in Switzerland, taking in classical civilisations, etymology, middle ages, Chaucer, Alfred Bird, hippies, Belle Lowe (and swearing about Ferran Adria), Lemon Curd and Caramel, personal philosophy, SCIENCE and the future, and how important it is to experiment once you've got the basics down pat. I ended up talking for at least 90 minutes, probably a bit longer (certainly longer than the minidisc recorder was capable of - 75 minutes - which I'm a little annoyed at as I was hoping to podcast it). Marie Antoinette was mentioned, because it's probably her fault that croissants are the universal breakfast item they are today instead of an extinct pastry from a Viennoise baker.

People asked questions. I attempted to answer them.

Links, then:
  • Allie Brosh (again)
  • Tea & Cake and the associated blog, Teas & Cakes (soon to be incorporated into the main website)
  • My basic cake recipe and some of the wittering alongside it is also on T&C (but not the science, and not my "for the love of whatever deity you hold dear, don't open the oven door every ten minutes" shouting.)
  • The science comes from a combination of my own experimentation, Belle Lowe and Harold McGee. History partially from Nicola Humble and Andrew Dalby.
  • Caramel comes from my blog post about Millionaire's Shortbread; to make caramel sweeties boil the mixture for maybe another three minutes - to the soft crack stage - and add half a teaspoon of sea salt. Leave to cool on a lined baking tray - don't leave it longer than an hour or so, otherwise it'll start to absorb atmospheric moisture and go gooey again - then cut into squares and dip in chocolate.
  • The Lemon & Poppyseed cake (including a "I dropped it" story I'd forgotten to tell, with is a shame because I do pathos really well) is also on the blog.
  • Bakewell slices are also on the blog.
  • The Tea Loaf recipe; blog.
  • Lemon curd is not on the blog:

    Whisk together 3 eggs, 100g sugar, 3tbsp honey, then zest and juice 3 lemons and whisk thm in too, so it's a nice smooth mixture. Melt 75g butter to foaming in a heavy bottomed saucepan, pour over the whisked together eggs & juice, and stir until well combined. Pour back into the pan and stir over a gentle heat until it thickens, which happens very suddenly. Don't overcook, or it turns into scrambled eggs. Makes enough for a 1lb jamjar. Takes longer to measure out the ingredients than it does to cook.

  • I think that's it.

Particular highlights: mentioning Alf Bird inventing a culinary industry by accident because he wanted his wife to be able to enjoy custard and bread, despite being allergic to eggs and yeast, raised an "aww!" from the audience. Someone coming up to me at the end and offering cake to try (great texture and good ganache topping). Being informed that I'd forgotten the most important part of cake making; licking the bowl. Someone audibly slapping their forehead when I was talking about caramels.

I hope that I wasn't patronising, accidentally sexist or offensive, and that everybody took something away with them that was useful. I had a whale of a time talking to the WI, and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Next Leeds Clandestine Cake is on April 14th at Harvey Nicks. This one promises to be something else.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

T&C goes to B&R

t&c t-shirt


This is just a quick note to mention that I'll be talking at Buns & Roses on Thursday 17th March.

Buns & Roses is also known as "Leeds City WI". Let me make this clear, because it's freaking me out a little: I shall be talking to the Women's Institute about Cake, and if there are a body of people who know cake, these are them. So: a wodge of history, some science, some philosophising, and at least one disaster. Maybe some decorating, but only a little bit. For a change I'm not constrained by a 5 or 20 minute time slot, so I can expand a bit, talk slightly less manically (yeah, that might not happen) and go into the two main digressions I never have time to do; Caramel, and Lemon Curd.

Come along! All welcome; free for the WI, £3 for non members. Details of location & other relevant contact info are on the B&R website.

(If you've not seen it before, the somewhat manic, five minute version of this talk is here on Youtube)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pancake day!

Gosh, pancake day has come upon us again! It seems to turn up with alarming regularity these days, which is probably another sign that I'm getting older. Anyway, my impeding decrepitude is not the point of this particular blog entry.

The point of shrove tuesday is that we use up the rich, expensive and perishable ingredients we have kicking about the place, and no matter how glossy your pancake recipe is, the point is that it should be all about the fillings, not the pancakes themselves. Which doesn't mean to say that you can't have a great pancake recipe, of course, but to be a bit more adventurous with the fillings.

Pancakes themselves are a bit like historical cake; early forms of the usual types of cake were basically griddled blobs of flour & egg, and scotch pancakes (or drop scones, basically the same thing) were just thicker versions that could be carried and stored for slightly longer. Regular pancakes make a great transport mechanism for other foodstuffs, a little bit like a warm, comforting sandwich only without the faff of making bread. As a qucik snack, there's nothing finer.

Proper crepe are thin and light, but fragile and you need to be sure of your pan and flipping skills; perhaps better to think about is the classic British pancake, slightly thicker than a crepe but not as thick as the American buttermilk pancake or drop scones. Thickness of pancake is all about the mixture you use - a runnier mix makes a thinner pancake - so perhaps it's worth thinking about the recipe.

You need: plain flour, eggs, milk and salt. I rarely measure out my ingredients for pancakes, preferring to judge the texture by feel, but let's start with about 100g flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a well and crack an egg into it. Start whisking the two together and slowly add milk, a glug at a time and whisking until smooth, until it reaches the consistency of double cream. It normally works out at 250ml milk to 1 egg + 100g flour, but use your best judgement; add more flour or more milk if you feel it is necessary. Then leave it alone for an hour.

Next, it's all about the pan. Heavy is the watchword here; it needs to be a substantial pan, and if it's nonstick the surface has to be smooth, without scoring. Melt some butter in the pan over a medium heat, and then pour it into the batter, whisking as you go. Take some kitchen towel and gently wipe the surface and then put the pan back on the heat before pouring in the batter; think about rolling the batter around the pan, and leaving enough room for a spatula to get under to flip it, so in an 8" pan stop pouring batter when you have a circle 4" in diameter in the centre of the pan. Roll it around so it covers the surface, and then leave on the heat until the top surface is cooked and little bubbles are forming; then flip it with a spatula. Don't toss it, especially if you've been drinking, unless you don't mind picking bits of pancake off the light fittings.

As for fillings, then think about the rich food that would have been given up for lent, a period of fasting. I like to make a good tomato sauce and sprinkle it with cheese after filling pancakes with it, or some creamy garlic mushrooms with parsley and nutmeg. You might like to think about meaty fillings, or making cannolini, baking spinach and ricotta filled pancakes in a creamy bechemel before serving (pancakes make a great alternative to sheets of pasta - even lasagne can be made with them). Sweets? Lemon & sugar is the classic but I can't imagine how it started, as these aren't necessarily rich fillings to have prior to fasting. Still, it's very tasty. Try something different, though: beat the juice and zest of a lime into 250g mascarpone with about 50g caster sugar, perhaps? Or make a hot marmalade and cointeau sauce and serve with ice cream. Caramelised apple slices, nutella and cream cheese, nuts and jams and all sorts of things of that nature all lend themselves to pancakes beautifully, so experiment with what you have stashed away in the cupboards or fridge.

And tomorrow? Go for a run :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Make time for tea!

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month! Have a tea party for a good cause! You can hold your tea party at home, school, work or at your local club. When you register, you'll receive a free fundraising pack with ideas, tasty recipes from celebrity supporters and lots of tips and advice.

Win afternoon tea with GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly! Tea party organisers will also be in with a chance to win afternoon tea with GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly!

To receive your free Make Time for Tea fundraising pack with everything you need to get you started, call 0207 299 4430, alternatively you can email For more info follow this link

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bakewell bars

Last night I felt the need to bake so I made some bakewell bars. These can be a bit tricky, but the results are bloody lovely. You basically make a sort-of shortbread base, cover it in jam, then make some frangipane and bake it until it's properly cooked. But if you undercook it, or even open the oven door before the frangipane is cooked it will never set properly and you're effectively stuffed. Recipe for those who want it:

Base: 3oz butter, 1oz caster, creamed. Add an egg yolk, a teaspoon of vanilla, and mix well. Then squeeze in 6oz plain flour. Beat it until it forms a dough - it will all go, I can assure you. Do not be tempted to add any liquid. Roll this out to fit a deep 8" square tin that's been lined with baking parchment, then squeeze it in so it goes right up to the edges of the tin (and if you leave dimples in the dough there's more room for pockets of jam). Cover this in jam and put in the fridge. Turn the oven on to GM4.
Frangipane: 3oz butter, melted and left to cool (but not cool solid). Beat in two eggs. Then add 3oz caster, 3oz semolina and 4oz ground almonds, and mix until very well combined. Leave for a couple of minutes and it should start to set a little. Blob this onto the jam layer and join it all up with the back of a spoon if it's not runny enough to join up together by itself. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown*. Leave to cool in the tin and slice into 3x4 bars. You can drizzle almond icing over the top if you like.

* DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR TO CHECK IF YOU CAN AVOID IT. Really, in my oven it's 45 minutes at a minimum (fan assists might be able to get away with 35) but if you open the door too early and the middle isn't cooked it will collapse and nothing you can do will save it.

Results: delicious, and look like this:
Bakewell Bar

Bloody nom.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cake Inventing

Sometimes I need to keep track of my thought processes when making cake. Or inventing it. You see, I can't always work out how I get from A to C and on more than one occasion I start off thinking that I want to make one thing and end up making something totally different. This happened on Sunday when I started off wanting to make marmalade and ended up making a tea loaf.

What happened was this:

  • I was sat thinking "I want to make some marmalade, but have no seville oranges. Where will have some oranges? Twitter will tell me."
  • So I went on twitter and asked. While I was waiting for a response I looked up "marmalade recipes" on Google. This took me half an hour.
  • Ah, I got a response on twitter. Leeds Markets have some! Great, I thought. Then I realised it was Sunday. Markets closed on Sunday.
  • That's ok, though, because what I really want is a cup of tea.
  • Oh! Tea bread, that's an idea. Is it tea bread or tea loaf? Hm. Best google that.
  • This took me half an hour.
  • All the recipes said "soak your fruit overnight in tea." Bugger, thought I, because it was Sunday and I can't make cake on Monday because of that pesky work thing.
  • Then I saw a thing for "boiled fruit cake" which said that this would be the easiest christmas cake ever. I don't like christmas cake but thought the principles would still apply.
  • So I came up with this:

    • 225g dried fruit, whatever you have in the cupboard. Apricots, mixed dried, currants, sultanas, what the hell there's some glace cherries that I'll never use that can make up the weight.
    • 300ml black tea, strong as you like, earl grey, tetleys, twinings, whatever you've got.
    • 200g soft brown sugar. Or white sugar. Or probably honey. I know I've got 200g of "sweet" in the cupboard.

  • put all these in a pan, bring to the boil, leave to boil for about 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and go & have a shower, or a nap, or read a book. Watch some Simpsons, maybe.

    • Then crack an egg into the cold mixture and stir it in.
    • Then throw in, say, 250g self-raising flour.
    • Some mixed spice would be nice. There we are. About 2 teaspoons.
    • That lemon looks a bit sad. Tell you what, let's zest that into it.

  • Stir it so it's all well mixed, then pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin.
  • Bake at GM3, or whatever the metric equivalent may be, for about an hour and a quarter. Don't open the oven door until at least 1hr is up.
  • If the top looks a bit singed, stick some baking parchment on it.
  • Stick a cocktail stick in it and if it comes out clean, it's done.
  • Tip it out, remove the lining, and leave it to cool completely before breaking into it.


It's bloody lovely.

eta: I should perhaps point out that the little postcard that I wrote out my recipe on reads:

225g fruit, 200g SBS, 300g tea. Boil 3m. Cool.
1e, 2tsp GMS, 250g SRF.
GM3 75m.

Yeah, I know.