Monday, May 28, 2012

Chocolate Brownies for a New Kitchen

I apologise for my mini-hiatus from this site folks. I’ve been a-moving this last weekend and the week before was so filled with negotiating out of an old contract and into a new one, plus my regular day to day PhD goings-on that I didn’t end up baking or making anything. The low point was spaghetti with parmesan. Although on a level, that’s not really a low point is it? There’s something incredibly comforting about plain pasta with cheese. Like a hark back to my childhood, when Sunday dinners on the farm were occasions where we all ate pasta and cheddar cheese with abandon, the bowls precariously balanced in our laps, in front of the fire.

But I digress. I have officially moved and I can now boast about an actual oven. With four hobs and a grill section and an oven section.

The lady who showed me around the place was quite surprised by my reaction to the (still tiny) space, but how could she know about the even tinier space I’d been cooking in? This kitchen is like the ones at Hampton Court in comparison. And what better way to break in my new oven, find out it’s nooks and quirks than with a chocolate brownie recipe. 

The choice of chocolate brownie is as a result of a number of factors really. I’ve been re-reading Chocolat and now The Lollipop Shoes so I’ve been immersed in chocolate fiction. The descriptions of tempering and moulding and dipping candied orange peels are enough to drive one to distraction. I also happen to have the 300g of dark chocolate required by this recipe, plus the butter (which is unusual) and I’ve had the page of the magazine, from which this recipe is adapted, open for the better part of a month. It’s like destiny chocolate brownies. The fact that they make my flat smell perfect (perfect for reading books about chocolate) is just an added bonus.

So to business. This recipe is adapted from Food and Travel magazine, the June 2012 issue. It’s straight forward and similar to a standard recipe I would normally use. The key is to whisk the eggs and sugar until white, until you can draw a ribbon of mixture from your whisk and write your name with it. (This is known as ribbon stage…) I omitted the coffee and used plain flour with baking powder rather than self-raising flour. I also used less walnuts than originally asked for but I think it worked out okay. I also prefer golden caster sugar to regular caster sugar. If I was being professional I’d probably argue that the golden sugar highlights the caramel notes in the chocolate, but I’m not so, use whichever is your preference.

Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Food and Travel

300g dark chocolate, 70%
220g unsalted butter
3 eggs
220g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
70g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
Handful of bashed walnuts (use up to 100g)

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular baking tin with baking paper.
Whisk the eggs and sugar until white and at ribbon stage. (They should double in volume.)

Stir in the vanilla.
Melt the butter on the stove, remove from the heat and add in the chocolate, broken into pieces. Allow everything to sit for a minute before stirring until smooth. 

Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and fold together until the mixtures are fully incorporated. 

Fold in the flour and baking powder and then the walnuts. 

Pour into your lined tin and bake for about 30 minutes, depending on your oven. 

Allow to cool slightly before slicing. I ate mine still warm, with the first of the summer’s strawberries. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I seem to make a lot of cookies and biscuits for this site. I'm not entirely sure why. Possibly because cookies require only a baking tray and can usually be made with only one bowl getting dirty. Plus they last longer than cake and can be eaten in small batches. And they're easy to transport to the office. Okay, it's fairly clear why I make lots of cookies.

But I never seem to try to recreate store bought cookies at home. I've never been inclined to make Jolly Jammers or chocolate digestives or anything. But I was perusing Smitten Kitchen's website again (work avoidance behaviour I think it's called) and I came across this recipe for Oreo's. Now, I'm a big Oreo fan. I can almost eat an entire box in one sitting. Almost. The box never really lasts more than a day or two in my house. So I don't buy them that often. But when I do they are such a treat. The dark saltiness of the chocolate, the creamy filling. The way it all sticks to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter. (They're not bad smothered in peanut butter either...) So obviously I had to try the recipe.

It worked like a dream. I melted the butter because I was feeling lazy and couldn't be bothered with rubbing it into the flour mixture but I don't recommend that route. The cookies were slightly oily as a result.

Stick to the recipe people. You can find it here. I even went and found the vegetable shortening the recipe asks for. (Surprisingly easy, in amongst all the cake baking ingredients). The cookies themselves are awesome - I ate three warm, straight from the baking tray. So I suggest you make these soon. Possibly this weekend. So you can eat them whilst sipping tea and reading a good book. Or whilst on a picnic. Or from a stash in the office. You see where I'm going with this...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fitzbillies, Cambridge

I've been wanting to visit Fitzbillies ever since I read the story of it's saving in The Guardian.

On Monday I finally got the chance.

I was in Cambridge visiting family and made a specific stop to pick up some of their legendary Chelsea buns (plus a Florentine) on the way out of town. I'm sorry I couldn't stay and sit down because it was warm and inviting inside with plenty of other things on the menu I'd like to try. Next time.

I ate the Florentine on the cold, wind swept train platform. It's crisp, sticky, almond goodness made the wait bearable. When I finally got home I opened the brown package and slipped the bun onto a plate.

I then tore it apart with my fingers, savoring every sticky bite. It was a perfect Chelsea bun - sticky, sweet, perfumed with cinnamon, and loaded with raisins - and the perfect end to a long day.

52 Trumpington St
Cambridge CB21RG

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chocolate Tart

Sometimes you need a bit of chocolate tart in your life. I know I do. At Easter I made one of my staple recipes, a dark chocolate tart and served it with burnt caramel ice cream and raspberries. I like the idea of toasting some pistachios and placing them on the bottom of the tart, or cooking the raspberries in the tart. Or you can just have it plain. Either way it's going to be winning. This is rich and dense chocolate, the kind you only need a small slice of. It's very good slightly warm but it works as breakfast too.

Dark Chocolate Tart
For the Pastry Base:
375g flour
250g butter, unsalted, soft
125g caster sugar
1 egg

For the Filling:
350ml milk
150ml double cream
400g dark chocolate (70%)
2 eggs
Handful of raspberries

To make the base:
Grease either a round tart tin or a rectangular tart tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until white. Add in the egg followed by the flour. Beat slowly until the mixture starts to come together. At this point, use your hands to knead it into a smooth dough. Form into a flat disc and wrap in clingfilm. Refrigerate for half an hour. Roll the dough into the shape you require (ie: oval for the round tin). You want it quite thin - so you can see the counter underneath (roughly 1/2cm thick). Line the tart tin, making sure it's totally covered and there are no holes around the edges. You should have extra dough left over - form into a disc and freeze until needed again. Refrigerate the tart for another half hour. Preheat your oven to 180C. Line the tart shell with baking paper and fill with rice or baking beans. Blind bake for 15 minutes until the tart has started to colour at the edges and the base looks dry. Remove the beans/rice and paper and place the tart back in the oven for 5 minutes. Brush the tart with the white of one egg, just lightly, to seal the base and ensure crispness. Keep aside until necessary. Don't skip the blind baking. The filling doesn't cook at a temperature that can cook both the base and the filling. You'll end up with raw base if you don't blind bake.

To make the filling:
Preheat the oven to 160C. Heat the milk and cream to scalding point. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl. Pour the hot milk mixture over the chocolate. Allow to stand for a minute before stirring until smooth. Whisk the eggs together in another bowl and then add to the chocolate mixture. The mixture will get thick. Strain this into a jug. If you're using raspberries or pistachios, place them onto the bottom of the tart case now. Pour this mixture carefully into your tart base. If you like, place the tart base on an oven tray lined with baking paper, slide this partway into the oven and then pour in the mixture. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tart is set but slightly wobbly at the centre. It should rise up ever so slightly at the edges. The tart will continue cooking whilst it cools. Allow to cool before removing from the tin and serving. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I'm dreaming of these today. No matter how cool macarons (macaroons if you're inclined) get, I can't stop loving them. These I bought from The Patisserie whilst I was in Johannesburg. I also had a fleeting love affair with the ones Cassis in Cape Town make. I've been known to drag people into Laduree (in both London and Paris) simply to gaze lovingly at their stock. The passion-fruit ones are my favourite.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hunting Darcy in Derbyshire (with tea and cake)

There are many things I like about living in England - tea, chips and gravy, pubs, parks, Victoria sponge, majestic houses, deer - but two of my favourites are the ability to walk across private land (the rights of way) and getting to see places that only previously existed (for me) in books. And what better way to spend a Bank holiday than doing both?

The next county over from mine is Derbyshire - in my mind Darcy country. So when PhD friends suggested we spend the day walking between tea shops in Derbyshire, I was only to happy to comply. Darcy country is rather spectacular. All rolling hills and sleepy villages. We started our journey in a superbly lovely little village (the name of which has now eluded me) with tea and a ginger biscuit (for me) and teacake and scones (for the others). It's always a good idea to start out a day's walking with tea no?

We walked a bit along the Monsal trail before getting to Bakewell - home of that famous tart and and also a pudding. We had to stop in at the shop and buy samples of each to take home. I prefer the pudding personally, there's just too much almond essence in the tart.

From Bakewell we walked to Ashford-in-the-water where another cosy teashop awaited us. Lunch was a posh fish finger sandwich. I feel like I've been cheated all my life. For me, the only way forward is fish finger sandwiches.

We then walked up a few hills before reaching our final teashop, overlooking the Monsal viaduct. More tea was had, along with a slice of Victoria sponge. Sadly no Darcy was found. But that's okay. I'm all for more walking in Derbyshire.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flat Breads

These are like little pizzas but are super fast to make and healthier to eat. At least I think they're healthier to eat, what with the spelt flour and the lack of cheese. I could be very wrong. Either way, they're delicious. I made the sunflower and spelt option, the recipe for which you can find over here. I followed them to the letter and they worked wonderfully. The recipe makes four flatbreads so I cooked two and kept the rest of the dough in the fridge for use later in the week. I made a courgette, spinach, leek and feta topping for one and used some tomatoes I'd cooked earlier in the week (with shallots and garlic) for the other (together with some cheddar cheese). I saved what I didn't manage to eat and reheated them for lunch the next day. The topping options are endless and the breads bake crispy and are extremely thin. All round winning supper I think.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chicken Soup

I was sick all of last weekend, taken out from the world with a nasty bout of illness. I didn't really want to eat anything except this soup. Essentially it's a very simple vegetable broth. You can add vegetables of your choice  - I like the carrot and leek combination but you could throw in some celery or potatoes too. The chicken adds body and flavour and the whole thing takes moments to put together. I made it, put it on the stove to simmer and fell back into bed until it was ready. I then ate nothing but this soup the entire weekend. It's light and restorative and I'm fairly sure it contributed to my recovery. My medic relatives and friends will laugh at this, knowing full well it was the medication and sleep which did the trick but I think the soup made a difference in some way too. I add garlic into the soup which you don't have to do. Last summer when I was traveling and sick, I had garlic soup in a place called Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. The place looked like it was haunted with vampires and demons (yes, I have an over-active imagination) and I had the soup partially to ward off any over eager vamps. It was also healing - garlic is powerful stuff - and now I add it in to most soups, just in case.

Chicken Soup
1 shallot
3 garlic cloves
1 leek
2 carrots
2 chicken thighs

Slice the shallots, leek and carrots into similar sized rounds. Crush and finely chop the garlic. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and slice into similar sized pieces, keeping the bones.
Heat some oil in a pan. Fry the thigh pieces and bones together until sealed and slightly coloured. Remove from the pan.

Fry the shallot until slightly translucent before adding the leek and carrots. Allow everything to soften slightly before adding the garlic. Finally add back the chicken pieces and bones. Add enough cold water to cover everything and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, skimming the surface to remove any impurities every now and then. Season with salt and pepper.

Eat hot with crusty baguettes.