It has been an age since my last post, I am well aware. However, this is not without good reason. And in this instance that reason takes the unmistakable shape of a house. After five years of living in our beloved East London flat, we upped sticks to the sticks…. well, South East London.
Our little corner south of the river is blissfully quiet – we may even be among the youngest residents on our little street. We’ve been getting used to more space, bright light streaming in from all sides, a kitchen with potential, having a garden and… a leaky roof, windows that need replacing, ceilings that need to come down, a wasp problem, the cold and treacherous floors.
This is all, of course, before I get on to the plastering that needs doing, the bathrooms that look like a cross between a sauna and ship cabin (wood on the floors, walls and ceilings?!) and that kitchen… my kitchen of dreams is some distance away. And that distance covers some major building work tearing bits down and building other bits out and up.
Don’t get me wrong, these are definitely good problems to have. These are my diamond shoes are too small problems to have. However, they are undoubtedly time consuming, particularly as we have never done anything like this before. Making decisions takes research and becoming fluent in builder-banter takes some practice.
Moving to a brand new area is also always a bit scary, not least because I had a well-established links to our old neighbourhood – friends around the corner, suppliers I had made friends with (essential in my line of work) and well trodden cycle routes into town, to choir rehearsals, to appointments.
So we’re starting from scratch, with the house and with the location and I think the key is to be patient. It took years before East London truly felt like home and I expect our new area will take time too, not least because it is possibly a more mature move than we were anticipating. Perhaps we’ll grow into it?
There are still a number of boxes that will remain unpacked until bits of the house are totally finished (the husband’s studio kit, my less frequently used kitchen bits). But the other day, I opened a box marked ‘misc kitchen equipment’ and found my waffle maker. I’d forgotten I had it and so had to fire it up as an excuse to use up some leftover sweet potato mash. Here’s a breakfast dish for moving in days.
Sweet potato waffles with spring onion, chilli and a fried egg
You will need:
150g plain flour
2 tsp golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 small sweet potatoes, mashed
Fried egg, avocado slices, coriander and chilli flakes – to serve
1. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and cayenne with a pinch of salt. Season with black pepper and add the spring onions.
2. Whisk the egg, milk and sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
3. Fire up the waffle maker and cook waffles according to manufacturer’s instructions. I like to use a cooking spray to make sure the waffles don’t stick. Once the waffles are crisp and golden, transfer to a wire rack and keep warm – leave plenty of space between them so they don’t steam and go soggy.
4. Serve with a fried egg, avocado, coriander and chilli flakes
Here’s a little bonus fig recipe. These beautiful photos are by Faith Mason, who took them quite some time ago now and I’ve just been waiting until figs came back into season to post them. The pastry in this recipe is a bit pernickety but well worth the effort, as it is totally delicious, if a little tricky to work with. Super crumbly texture though, so worth any extra minor frustration. Stick with it. I baked mine some aluminium jelly moulds, which worked well, or you could try pudding moulds or ramekins. The idea is to get something deep enough to fit a fig with not too much wiggle room.
Recipe adapted from Lisa Eisenman Frisk and Monica Eisenman’s ‘Vinterns Söta.’
Fig and caramel pies
Makes about 5-6 pies
You will need:
3dl plain flour plus a little extra
1 dl caster sugar
100g ice cold butter plus a little extra
2 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
6 caramels, like Werther’s Originals
1. Preheat the oven to 200c. Liberally grease the moulds with butter and dust with flour. In a food processor, quickly blitz together the butter, sugar and flour to a breadcrumb-like consistency. Add the egg yolks, one at a time and blitz for a few seconds. Tip out on to a worksurface and bring together with your hands. If the dough is being really stubborn, sprinkle over a small amount of water and try again. Refrigerate for 30 mins.
2. Line the moulds with the dough. Rather than rolling out the dough, you may find it easier to use your fingers to squish bits of dough up along the sides and base of the moulds. Reserve some dough for the pie lids and refrigerate for a further 20 mins.
3. Cut crosses into the figs and pry them open slightly. Stuff a caramel into the figs and place one in each pie mould. Whisk the whole egg with a fork until frothy and brush along the edges of the pies. Roll and cut out the reserved dough to top the pie moulds, pinching with your fingers to seal. Use any remaining dough to decorate, then brush with the egg wash.
4. Bake for 25-30 mins until the pastry is cooked through and golden. Allow to cool slightly before tipping out of the moulds – you may need to use a palette knife to help ease them out. Serve still slightly warm with ice cream.
So I woke up this morning to rain and wind battering outside. Autumn is in full swing and I feel like it’s already just a matter of time before Christmas. How did that happen? Meanwhile, it’s been a busy time in my kitchen with a heavy work load seeing my already bursting cupboards fill up even more in a whirlwind of shoots and recipe testing. I also recently worked with chef Valentine Warner on some lunches for furniture makers Another Country, which was full on but great fun.
When there’s been a spare moment, I’ve been trying to make the most of Autumn produce as it is probably my favourite season for fruit and veg. There’s something so exciting about the deep colours and flavours at this time of year. It also lends itself particularly well to hunker-down comfort dishes, the perfect excuse to indulge. In particular, some purple and green figs in local Turkish greengrocer’s caught my eye. Their honeyed flavour is incredibly versatile in both sweet and savoury dishes so I’ve been making the most of them in puddings, jams and a steak salad. I’ve actually been hanging on to some of these recipes for a little while, since last year in fact, but wanted to re-test them and take a few new (better) snaps. I hope they are worth the wait.
Steak, fig and rocket salad
You will need:
1 rump steak
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 ripe figs
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 bag of rocket
1 chicory bulb, leaves torn
50g walnuts, toasted
parmesan, shaved, to serve
1. Begin by marinading the steak. Mix together the chopped leaves from 1 rosemary sprig with the garlic, a generous pinch each of sea salt and cracked black pepper and 1 tbsp olive oil. Rub all over the steak, cover and leave in the fridge for about a couple of hours.
2. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Scoop out the flesh of two figs and mash with a fork. Mix with the remaining oil, rosemary, red wine vinegar as well as some salt and pepper. Set to one side.
3. Preheat the grill and chop the remaining figs into wedges. Drizzle with a little balsamic, season with salt and pepper and cook until starting to caramelise. Heat a grill pan until scorching hot before adding the steak. Cook for between 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on your preference. I like my steak still crawling, so I’ve gone for the lower cooking time. Leave to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.
4. To serve, toss the rocket and chicory with the dressing, figs and toasted walnuts. Divide onto two plates and arrange the steak on top, scatter over some shaved parmesan and drizzle with any remaining dressing.
Goats milk, honey and thyme ice cream with fig ripple
You will need:
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp corn or potato flour
500ml goats milk
1/2 vanilla pod, split
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and roughly chopped
4 plump figs
50g golden caster sugar
1. Combine the yolks, corn or potato flour and honey in a large bowl and mix until thick and creamy. Slowly add in about 100ml of the goats milk and whisk to combine completely. Heat the remaining milk in a large saucepan along with the vanilla and thyme. When just coming up to the boil, remove from the heat and gradually, slowly, pour over the yolk mixture, whisking the whole time. Discard the vanilla and pour everything back into the saucepan. Heat very gently, until thick, custardy and clinging to the back of the spoon. Allow to cool before chilling for at least 4 hours.
2. Meanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the figs and place in a small saucepan along with the caster sugar. Bring to a boil before lowering the heat and allowing to simmer for about 5-7 minutes, until thick and syrupy – add a little water if necessary. The fig should have completely broken down, but you might have to help it along a little with a fork. Allow to cool completely.
3. Turn on your ice cream maker and churn the cool custard, following manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is very thick, tip half into a plastic tub. Spoon over half of the fig and ripple through. Add the remaining mixture and repeat with the last of the fig. Freeze for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight before tucking in.
Chocolate and Fig French Toast
Serves 1 greedy person
You will need:
2 slices bread (naughty white bread is best here, or brioche)
knob of butter
a couple of thin squares of dark chocolate
1 fig, flesh scooped out and mashed or a few tbsp fig jam
1. Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow bowl. Spread one slice of bread with the fresh fig or fig jam and top with the squares of chocolate. Sandwich with the second slice of bread. Heat the butter in a large frying pan until melted and foaming.
2. Dip the fig and chocolate sandwich in the egg and milk mixture to coat thoroughly. Quickly transfer to the pan and fry over a low heat until golden on both sides and the chocolate has melted and is beginning to ooze out. Serve straightaway.
I’ve been catching up on some reading lately and realised that I must be longing for a holiday. Both of my bedtime reads (I’m afraid I’m one of those people who has several on the go at the same time) have had a distinctly French flair. I’ve finally been spending some time with David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, which is full of fantastic recipes and stories from his expat life. I’ve been interspersing this with Julia Child’s letters to Avis DeVoto, which I’ve been dipping in and out of for a while. It’s great for when I need a kick up the bum – those women crammed so much into their lives!
All this has me longing for a trip across the Channel, but for the time being I’ll have to make do with some homemade French treats. I’ve also been working with Expedia recently who wanted me to make something from their World on a Plate campaign, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dip into a patisserie challenge.
These eclairs are totally decadent and the flavourings really sprung from a desire to use up the kirsch I made with a glut of cherries over the summer when they were in season. The choux pastry is actually pretty straightforward, this one is really all about having fun with the decor. Yes, there are a lot of steps, but you can keep it simple by just making a plain vanilla pastry cream instead of a chocolate and/or cherry one. Give them a go if you want a baking project for one of these rainy Autumn days.
Black Forest Eclairs
Makes 12 eclairs
I added an extra biscuit topping to my eclairs, which gives them a lovely crisp exterior and definitely worth the extra trouble.
You will need:
For the eclairs:
250g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml whole milk
4 large eggs
For the chocolate and cherry pastry cream:
400ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
325ml double cream
2 tbsp cherry jam
100g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids, finely chopped
1 vanilla pod
cherries soaked in kirche, glacé cherries or fresh cherries
a few chocolate biscuits, like Oreos or Bourbons
super shiny chocolate glaze (recipe below)
1. Begin by making the eclairs. Dice 100g of the butter and keep very cold. Add this to a magi mix along with 125g of the flour, 125g of the sugar and the vanilla extract. Blitz until it comes together to form a sticky dough. Flatten to a thick disc shape, wrap in cling film and refrigerate until needed.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C and line two oven trays with baking parchment. Place the remaining butter, milk and 100ml of water in a large saucepan. Heat to slowly melt the butter. Sift 125g of flour into a bowl with 25g of sugar and a pinch of salt. When the liquids are simmering, tip the dry ingredients into the saucepan. Remove the heat and stir briskly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball.
3. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before adding the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate. You should have a smooth, shiny dough. Fill a piping bag with the mixture and pipe out your eclairs onto the oven trays. They should be about 10cm long and 2-3cm wide. Be sure to leave plenty of space between them.
4. Get the chilled dough you prepared earlier and roll out as thinly as possible. Cut out 12 rectangles, each just large enough to cover the eclair, with some overhang. Drape the coverings over the eclairs and place in the oven for about 30 mins, until puffed up, golden and dried out in the middle. You can leave the oven door open just a little after about 15 mins to let some of the steam out. You should end up with crisp eclairs, with a crackled-looking surface.
5. While the eclairs are in the oven, make the pastry cream. Heat the milk, vanilla seeds and pod in a sauce pan and bring to a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and cornstarch until thick and pale. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and then pour over the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Clean out your saucepan and then pour the mixture back in. Heat gently until very thick and holds a trail on the surface when drizzled with a wooden spoon.
6. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Allow to cool completely then refrigerate until needed. Once ready to use, whisk 225ml of the cream to stiff peaks. Fold into the chilled custard to make the pastry cream. Divide into separate bowls and add your flavours. I made a cherry version by adding a few tablespoons of cherry jam (strained to remove any larger bits of fruit) and some very finely chopped cherries soaked in kirsch. Be careful not to thin too much or it will be too runny to pipe. You can also add a little food colouring for effect.
7. To make a chocolate pastry cream, begin by making a simple ganache. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and bring 100ml of the cream to a simmer in a small pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave for a few minutes. Gently fold the cream through the chocolate, so that it melts completely, leaving you with a thick ganache. Be careful not to over stir or it will seize up. Once cool, combine with the remaining bowl of pastry cream. Refrigerate until needed.
8. To fill the eclairs, I made 2-3 small holes on their underside and piped the cherry pastry cream into half, using the smallest nozzle I had. I erred on the side of caution, but you can be quite generous here, allowing the eclairs to ‘puff up’ a bit. Repeat with the chocolate pastry cream to fill the remaining eclairs.
9. Finally you are ready to decorate. I piped dots onto the chocolate eclairs, alternating vanilla whipped cream and a bit of the remaining chocolate pastry cream. I also used a few cherries soaked in kirsch and crumbled a few chocolate biscuits over them. Finally, I liberally drizzled the eclairs with some cherry jam let down with a bit of water for a drizzle-able consistency. For the cherry-filled eclairs, I used a super shiny chocolate glaze (recipe below) and some red sprinkles I had to hand.
Super shiny Chocolate Glaze
(makes a small amount, double to cover a cake)
You will need:
4g leaf gelatine (about 2 sheets)
125g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder, sifted
50ml double cream
25g dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids, chopped
1. Leave the gelatine in a small bowl of cold water to soak for 10 mins. Place the sugar, cocoa, double cream and 75ml of water in a small pan. Bring to a simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugar.
2. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring to melt. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes then add the drained gelatine. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool completely. You may find you need to stir it a little before using.
3. To decorate the eclairs or a cake, spoon over, allowing to pool and spill down the sides. Leave to set a little, although it will still be tacky to touch.