Sunday, 17 August 2014

Cherry Bakewell Cookies

Marks & Spencer picnics used to be a staple of the summer holidays for my friends and I. An indecisive bunch, we’d spend ages at each section: the sandwiches, the fruit and drinks, the crisps, the baked goods. Only once everyone had finally chosen would we move to the next aisle and begin the deliberations all over again there. A staple of the picnics would be a packet of M&S cookies. We took this decision in particular overly seriously (bad biscuit selection can ruin a picnic): games of heads or tails and ip dip doo being employed to gradually narrow down the choice. When I was in a Marks and Spencer recently, I noticed the selection of flavours in this range has more than tripled since we last went – I’m not sure we would have had any time for the actual picnic if this had existed when I was younger. But one flavour in particular caught my eye: the cherry bakewell cookie. DSC_0156I’ve made mini cherry bakewell tarts before but I really liked the idea of changing this classic dessert into cookie form. I was also feeling inspired after watching the first episode of Great British Bake Off (side note – I’m fully obsessed with Norman) where they made a cherry and almond sponge. These biscuits have exactly the same flavours but none of the ‘will the cherries sink’ stress – it’s a win win! The M&S version I saw didn’t have icing but I couldn’t resist. I was really happy with the result considering I’d pretty much made up the recipe – buttery shortbread, decent level of almondy flavour and sweet glace cherries are a dangerously addictive combination. I’ll admit that the cookies did spread a little in the oven so I trimmed off the edges to make them all the same… an unnecessary OCD step probably but then cookie trimmings = chefs perks! You can find the recipe below, I’m off to dream up other cookie versions of classic desserts. Tiramisu cookies anyone?DSC_0150

Cherry Bakewell Cookies
Makes 8 large cookies

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 50g glace cherries, quartered
  • 100g icing sugar, sieved
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced

1. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the almond extract and mix to combine.

2. Add the flour and ground almonds to the mixture and stir to incorporate. As the dough begins to come together, add the glace cherries and continue to mix until they are evenly distributed throughout the smooth dough.

3. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to just under 1cm thick. Stamp out with an 8cm cookie cutter and place on the baking sheets. Chill for 20minutes. Preheat the oven to 180’C.

4. Meanwhile, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to a smooth paste.

5. Bake the biscuits for 10-15minutes, until lightly golden. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack, then drizzle over the icing. Enjoy!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Five Strand Plaited Wholemeal Loaf

When I was at Leiths, I used to work some evenings and holidays setting up and washing up for the evening or week long enthusiast classes. Lots of the things the students were made were the same as we had made on the diploma – hummus and crudites, boned chicken and lemon tart were a few recipes I saw made over and over again and all brought back memories of my own experiences. However, some recipes were things we never made on the diploma: notably a 3 strand plaited loaf.DSC_0158
I can tell you from repeated experience that watching a class of 16 make (the women teaching the men how to plait, some experienced Dads revealing secret skills), bake and take away plaited loaves is not fun. That smell of freshly baked bread, multiplied by 16, fills the kitchen all morning and then vanishes as they all proudly take away their bread to show their friends and family. Us washer-uppers secretly always hoped that someone would decide not to take it home, or absent-mindedly forget it, so that we could try some but of course no one was this foolish. I always vowed to give it a go myself at home so I could finally try this bread that always looked so delicious and today I finally got round to it!DSC_0162In keeping with my indecisive ways, I upped the ante slightly with a five strand loaf and made it wholemeal so I could feel less guilty about probably eating far too much . I really want to try Paul Hollywood’s eight strand plaited loaf but get baffled every time I read the braiding instructions so I stuck with the five for now, which turned out to be surprisingly really easy. I used this recipe and my only alterations were to include all the bran in the loaf, replace half the white flour with white spelt flour and only bake it for 30 minutes. The results were delicious! I broke all Leiths rules and enjoyed it still warm out of the oven… Enjoy!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Blackberry Coconut Macaroon Tart

In London, blackberry season is in full swing. Every week, we save the big tubs we buy litres of Greek yoghurt in for blackberry picking at the weekend. With their handle and lid they make the perfect vessel to bring home plenty of berries. I was never a very good blackberry picker (it was a case of two for me, one for the tub) so now my parents go and I wait for them to return, tubs overflowing with juicy fruit. It feels a treat to be able to go berry picking in the middle of London – they grow wild along the Thames. Once we have had our fill of the berries fresh or blitzed into a compote and served with nectarines and sour cream– it’s time to get baking.DSC_0165I didn’t want anything too heavy – I love a classic pie but at the moment it is just too hot to deal with melting pastry – so I searched through my bookmarks until I found this. I’ve made a few variations of crumble bars in the past because they are such an easy (but still, most importantly, tasty) way to use up fruit or jam but I liked the twist of the macaroon topping on this recipe. And with spelt flour in the base, and a generous layer of fruit sandwiched in the middle – this is basically health food! Somehow even the small slices that I cut are filling enough and the different textures of the crunchy shortbread, juicy fruit and chewy coconut are delicious together. Now, just to think of uses for the two remaining tubs of berries waiting in the fridge… 


Blackberry Coconut Macaroon Tart, adapted from this recipe
Crust: 1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
90g unsalted butter, melted

Filling: 1 cup shredded coconut
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 large egg whites
250g fresh blackberries, halved if large

1. Preheat oven to 180’C and lightly grease a 13x36 long tart tin, or 9inch round cake tin – a removable base is important.
Combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter until evenly distributed. Press the mixture firmly in the bottom of the pan to form a even layer. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden and firm. Remove and set aside to cool for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.
3. Stir together the coconut, sugar and egg whites. Evenly distribute the blackberries across the tart base. Spoon over the macaroon mixture and spread out lightly – it’s nice to still be able to see some berries.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the peaks of the macaroon filling are golden. Remove from the tart tin and cut into slices. Enjoy!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Blueberry & Lemon Bundt Cake

I feel like as it is mid-July I should be blogging about ice cream, barbecues and gluts of summer fruit. But it appears the English weather is yet to get the ‘summer sunshine and warmth’ memo so I made a cake instead. My first bundt cake!DSC_0175I’ve wanted to make a bundt cake for so long so when I finally got my hands on a tin last week I knew it wouldn’t be long until one graced my table. I’m now desperate to make another one at the same time as another batch of these and have a bundt cake party…but that’s a whole other day. I used this lemon drizzle cake recipe from olive magazine and just added a few handfuls of blueberries to the mixture and used some more for decoration. Berries tend to sink to the bottom in cakes, but the beauty of the bundt is that you turn it upside down to serve so it looks like all the fruit stayed perfectly at the top. The heavy pan means it did darken slightly alarmingly on the outside, but it actually cooked really well and the ground almonds and berries keep the cake moist for days… if it lasts that long! Enjoy!photo (21)


Friday, 4 July 2014

Life at Leiths: Looking Back

I started the year long Professional Diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine back in October 2013. On my first day the teachers told us that there would be tears on our last day. Sitting there, feeling intimidated and nervous, this was hard to imagine. Was choosing to spend a year learning to cook the right decision? Would I be good enough? But sure enough, 9 months later, the thought of leaving the Leiths bubble is pretty scary. Mountains of culinary knowledge aside, here are just a few of the lessons I learnt and the advice I'd give to anyone embarking on their own Leiths adventure...DSC_0070                      My first ever dish at Leiths, day 1: hummus and crudites

  • Don't be terrified on the first day, when you are taught how to chop and you instantly feel you know NOTHING. You will be fine.

  • By midway through the first term, you might not iron your whites anymore. That's ok.

  • For the first few weeks of the first term, you will be ridiculously exhausted. Then your stamina builds up and you're no longer crashed out by 8pm!

  • Sometimes a teacher actually is giving you a death stare. Most of the time, they're just thinking about getting through a day of tasting 32 lemon meringue pies.

    • Lavelli does the best coffee, Bridge That Gap does the cheapest sandwiches and The Ginger Pig is best for meat feast days. Tesco is marginally closer than Sainsbury’s. Lunch is a big priority at cookery school.

    • Salt and butter are your new best friends.

    • Enjoy the only time that reading Nigella or watching Bake Off can count as studying.

    • Learn to ignore the confused stares of other public transport passengers when they can smell a Thai marinaded mackerel or golden syrup steamed pudding on their journey home. They'll be used to it (and you) by the end of the year.

    • Try everything.

    • Don't be alarmed when you become perfectly accustomed to eating 5 different soufflés in a morning demonstration, a two course lunch cooked by the other class, a causal 4pm snack of veal steak and potato rosti... and then dinner as usual.

    • It's ok to spend the day learning to cook fabulous things and then have fish fingers for tea.

    • Sometimes you'll wind up having deep fried brains for breakfast. Sometimes you'll have tried 6 different glasses of champagne before midday. Relish being part of a world where this is acceptable.

    • Absorb every piece of advice, hint, tip and suggestion teachers give you.

    • Leiths is a bubble and sometimes a slightly dodgy espagnole sauce feels like the end of the world. It's times like these that it is important to step back into the real world and remember that 6 months previously you didn’t even know what an espagnole was and you survived. 

    • Blog it! I love being able to read back through my blog and remember all the food, the laughs and the ups and downs I’ve had this year. Also on a selfish note I’m going to really miss Leiths and I want to read enviously about all the new adventures next years lucky 96 students are having.

    • Be prepared for a roller coaster. It's going to be the best year ever.

      photo 2 (30)

        My last dish at Leiths – creative rabbit: braised rabbit and pancetta pie, Parma ham wrapped rabbit loin, baby carrots, potato puree, red wine jus and microherbs

      • Wednesday, 25 June 2014

        Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 9

        Feels very weird to be writing this. Advanced Term, Week, 9. Aka my last week at Leiths! Ok, technically I still have two more weeks of exams, graduation and one last fun group cooking task to go but I have had my last curriculum, written my last timeplan and had my last normal dish marked. It feels very surreal to be writing this and know that I won’t be writing ‘Bring on week 10!’ at the end. The last nine months have been a whirlwind, a rollercoaster, a journey and all the other X Factor style clichés out there. In fact, the ‘lasts’ all seemed to come in a hurry without warning and I don’t think it has really sunk in that my year of cooking is all but over and I only have two more sessions in the Leiths kitchen – one to cook a 3 course dinner party (that last group task) for 8 and one the dreaded practical exam. I don’t want to get too mushy and I have one more Leiths post planned, looking back at the last year, so here is what week 9, the last week, held for us…photo 1 (28)Making my own pasta was one of the things I was most excited about doing when I started Leiths so it seemed quite fitting that it was there again in my final week. This was a chicken and wild mushroom ravioli with broad beans, morels (we got a bag of morels each, each costing £22!) and Madeira cream sauce. The chicken filling meant a return to the dreaded mousseline making but after learning from previous goes (don’t skimp on the egg white, blitz heavily before sieving) it was much easier than fish quenelles, and much tastier too. I’m really going to miss the chances Leiths gives me to cook dishes like this – I don’t know how often I’ll just casually make my own ravioli at home. Hopefully remembering how much I liked this dish will be the push I need to make it a more frequent event. photo 2 (30)Our last week at Leiths ended with a bang – our craziest all day cooking session yet where we entered the kitchen at 9:45 and didn’t stop or leave until 4:30 that afternoon. We kept meaning to leave for lunch, but suddenly it was 2pm with a service time of 3pm and we all realised a break just wasn’t going to happen. After a morning of foie gras parfait (delicious until you eat too much and feel sick…), baking brioche and clearing a Sauternes jelly, the focus switched to our creative rabbit dish. This was essentially the savoury version of the plated dessert challenge as we were each given a whole rabbit, a list of ingredients, a service time and told to get cracking! After much deliberation (I really wanted to try a black pudding and rabbit Scotch egg) I made: a braised rabbit, pancetta and thyme pie, parma ham wrapped rabbit loin, potato puree, baby carrots and red wine jus. Aside from one forgotten pan disaster (when my teacher was thankfully out the kitchen) I was really pleased with how this dish turned out. It was busy but I served on time, my seasoning was the best I’ve done in a while and I finally got a chance to have a proper go at a potato puree so it was a lovely way to end. We got to tour the kitchens again once everyone had served and there were a huge range of ideas – one other pie, pastas, a variety of Scotch eggs, croquettes, mousselines and more. As someone said, we have come a long way from the hummus and crudites on Day 1 back at the start of October. Bring on…the summer?!