Women in Food Part III

Bored of the same old December/January food media coverage? One moment extolling the joys of excess, the next the virtues of diets and detox? My new article for London's Feminist Library explores how to relish your festive appetites with better balance. Inspired by a female food radical of the 1890's, let's question our attitudes to greed, gluttony and sensory pleasure.

Read more here.

Women in Food Part II: chefs, we have a problem

The restaurant industry has an image problem. It's time we questioned the macho, testosterone-fuelled image of cheffing: we can do better. . . 

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A woman's place is firmly in the (professional) kitchen - so I've been discussing the challenges of being female in a traditionally masculine sphere. Read the full article for feminist organisation Engender here

Chocolate Hues (and how to style them)

Triple layered, double chocolate, sprinkle covered Button Cake. 

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The ultimate chocolate cake is a subjective thing. But let's face it, it's also one of the most forgiving: taste-wise, if you go heavy on real chocolate it's likely to be a people-pleaser. It can, however, be a messy business. So here's how I get a cake looking more swank than shambles (even if it is for a three-year-old's birthday, like this one).

1. Start with the Base. Choose carefully - a tender crumb but dependable structure is crucial. I go for a Devil's Food Cake style, which I've adapted to make signature 3-tier whoppers like this one. Start with something like this classic and make your own tweaks - I sub in light brown sugar for greater depth, always use vanilla paste in the batter and bake at 160C when making larger sizes (this gives a flatter, more uniform rise).

2. Softly does it. For a smooth finish, your icing needs to be easily malleable, ready to swoosh round the cake. Standard butter/icing-sugar buttercream can sometimes feel too stiff, so I've developed my own version to help things along. Try my White Chocolate Buttercream.

3. Freezer Friendly. When assembling your cake, think cold. I fill between each layer, then pop my cake in the freezer for 10 minutes. This chills down the edges, making them a firm surface on which to apply the icing. This avoids a shower of crumbs mixing in with your first icing coat and makes an altogether cleaner finish. After you apply the first thin layer of buttercream, put the cake in the fridge for 10-15 mins too: much easier to get those satisfying sharp edges and flawless swoops.

4. Get Dressing. The easiest way to get a perfect finish is to think about dressing your cake with a stylish outer coat. Giant buttons, chocolate cigarellos or even maltesers give an instantly perfect, even finish.

EASY.

Butter Me Up

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream

Luscious, creamy and smooth: this is my go-to soft-whipped icing. As good on a rich chocolate sponge as it is on juicy carrot cake.

  • 350g unsalted butter, softened
  • 700g icing sugar, sifted
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 150g white chocolate, melted and cooled *
  •  a pinch of salt

Place the butter in the bowl of a food mixer and beat gently with the K paddle. (This can also be done in a large pyrex bowl, with an electric hand whisk).

When the butter is soft and pliable, start adding the icing sugar. I add about a quarter at a time, and cover the mixer with a tea towel to stop clouds of icing sugar enveloping the kitchen.

The mixture will start to get stiff; add in a spoonful or two of cream cheese and then add the final amount of icing sugar.

Beat in the vanilla paste.

Quickly incorporate the remaining cream cheese: you don't want to beat the icing too much from now on, as the more you work the cream cheese, the looser the mixture will get.

Lastly fold through the melted chocolate, making sure it's evenly distributed through the buttercream.  

Stir through the salt, then get ready to ice your cake.

* If the chocolate is still a little warm when you add it to the buttercream it may mean your mix feels very loose/soft. Allow to firm up for 5 minutes in the fridge before use.

 

AW16 Apples

Autumn has arrived, and with it a ramped up yearning for comfort, soft spices and simple style.

This time of year either fills people with dread or delight. I'm firmly in the latter camp, and once there's a nip in the air, I get full on kitchen fever. Top of my list:

  • buttery girolles on toast (my favourite seasonal starter at the restaurant. A pain to prep, but worth very bite).
  • all things squash related (can't resist their bright, burnished colours)
  • jerusalem artichokes (roasted and caramelised, they make the best base for hearty salads) 

But if there's one flavour that encapsulates autumn, for me it's apples: understated, classic and hugely versatile. Baked, roasted or stewed -  they achieve timeless appeal by cleverly performing stylistic doublespeak. What else tastes of childhood nostalgia while simultaneously evoking an unassumingly grown-up elegance?

Feeding my autumn fetish this week, I couldn't resist this apple cake (delicious warm, but possibly even better the next day with a coffee). Based on a Genius recipe from the Food52 cookbook, I made a few tweaks: brown sugar for caramel tones, a touch of cinnamon and copious flaked almonds to adorn the top. But when I'm feeling even lazier than this, my go-to autumn fix is this pared-down dessert: maple baked apples. Autumn style at its best.

Effortless comfort. Utterly gezellig.

Maple Baked Apples {serves 4}

25g butter

4 small bramley apples

1 small handful pecan nuts, lightly broken

2-3tbsp chopped dates

4-6 tbsp maple syrup

75ml apple juice, masala or water (at a push)

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
  2. Grease a small ovenproof dish with a little of the butter.
  3. Core the apples, then score a line round the middle of each apple with a sharp knife. This will help the apples hold their shape, rather than bursting out of their skins while cooking.
  4. Place the apples in the oven proof dish and stuff the empty holes left by the cores with a mixture of pecan bits and dates. Drizzle the maple syrup over each apple, then pour the juice/masala/water into the bottom of the dish.
  5. Scatter each apple with a few bits of butter, then place the dish in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until soft through. After 20 minutes of cooking, check the apples every so often and top up with a little liquid if necessary (you should be left with a reduced syrup by the end of cooking).

serve with double cream

 

Food, Zero-Waste Style

Recently I've been shooting for a book that celebrates beautiful food made from ingredients we often throw away. Zero Waste week's about to start, so here's my favourite way to use up handfuls of greens that are a little past their best. This pasta is often the 'family meal' at the restaurant - deceptively simple, it's a definite staff favourite:

Green Sauce with Lemon

this is a traditional Italian sauce, usually made with cavalo nero (which happily comes into season at the same time as the new season's olive oil is ready. perfect partners).

  • blanch 3-4 large handfuls of leftover dark leafy greens, along with 1 peeled garlic clove, in salted water.
  • drain when tender and squeeze out the excess water.
  • blitz the greens with plenty of olive oil, sea salt and add the blanched garlic to taste. (I use the whole clove for every 250g of raw greens I cook). You're looking for a smooth, emerald sauce.
  • toss through cooked pasta, adding plenty of lemon juice and a spoonful or two of the pasta's cooking water to loosen.
  • taste and adjust the salt + lemon: these make the sauce really come alive. Serve with plenty of parmesan

Click here to find out more about Zero Waste Week.

Sneak Peak

The Collection: Season/2 is under way, so it's been a summer of (more) cake testing. Life can be hard. And this time it's all about the Singles. From Victoriana to the Classic Nude, I'm definitely getting my fill of cake culture to design this lot. Think rich chocolate + boozy fruit, soft vanilla + ripe summer fruits. . .All coming soon.

Japanese Chic

One trip to Japan and I'm hooked: it's impossible not to love their style. Clean + minimalist + stunningly detailed. Here's where to get a quick fix, when you need to channel the cool, calm beauty of a Kyoto tea ceremony:

1. For classic bowls and tea sets (not to mention great ingredients), my go-to shop is Japan Centre.

2. Kyoto is renowned for their beautiful copper; I completely fell in love with the cedar wood and copper bathroom at our boutique ryokan. Dress your table with mix of natural woods and beaten copper. Try these copper trays to get the look.

3. Order these beautifully wrapped packages of Ippodo Tea online.

Shades of Pink

At the restaurant we pickle everything: cucumbers, chillies, mushrooms, kohlrabi. A stellar favourite of mine is pickled red onion: a shocking tangle of pink that I have a tendency to put on everything (from lamb and labneh, to mackerel and beets).

But in the last month, I've developed a new obsession. One with a more understated vibe: I can't get enough of this palest of pale, pink pickled rhubarb: 

And it couldn't be simpler: finely sliced forced rhubarb, fresh ginger, pink peppercorns and cloves - tossed together in a bath of sugar and vinegar.

Honestly, try it. Here are my basic pickling rules:

1. Use equal measures of vinegar, caster sugar and water. Dissolve over a low heat and bring gently to the boil.

2. Put your pickling object of choice in a large heatproof bowl. Add a tsp of salt, then any aromatics you fancy: for 400g rhubarb I use 40g sliced ginger, 1/2 tsp bashed pink peppercorns and 2 cloves.

3. Pour the pickling liquor over the other ingredients and let it all cool. Jar it up, leave for at least 24hrs, then grab a sweet/sour/salty hit at every opportunity.

Be warned: it's addictive. 

Wedding Fever

A few photos from an early 2016 highlight -  a beautiful winter wedding in London.

My job? A dessert banquet of double chocolate brownies, strawberry macarons and treacle tart slices.

The brief: to create a relaxed, sugary feast for a Brixton warehouse venue. . .

. . . and the deconstructed aesthetic couldn't have been more bang on.

No fussy plating here: main course was served from a buzzing street food van, while Curated Cakes desserts were boxed and stacked for display.

A totally gorgeous event organised by a super stylish couple. . .

Cola Goes POP!

This month has been focused on an exciting new launch party. I've been collaborating with Culture Stories, a brilliant website full of carefully curated, globally sourced design. Not to mention the great editorial content that accompanies the products they sell.

Their Rubber Duckie event, on the 20th February, has been the reason for these (my double chocolate cola cakes):  

Because I'll be talking all things Americana, with scent expert Odette Toilette. And whatever you think of fizzy drinks, they definitely have a fascinating social history. We're discussing 19th century brain tonics, nostalgic soda fountains and the avant-garde art scene of 1960s New York. (All accompanied by some glugs of cologne and bites of these chocolatey 'culture cakes').

No-Recipe Salted Pecan Brittle

Forget January Detoxes, at CC it's birthday month. And this year it was a big one: a particularly special 30th.  And since I can't get enough of nut brittle at the moment (the almond variety eaten straight. . .crushed onto quince pavlova in its hazlenut form. . .), I decided to make this:


It went down a treat. And since brittle is so ridiculously easy (but seems nicely impressive), here's my failsafe, no-recipe masterclass:

1. Always take equal amounts of nuts and sugar. 

2. Toast the nuts separately. 5 mins @ 180c should do it - this way you can control both the caramel and the nut-toasting most easily.

3. Heat the sugar over a high heat but do not let it boil until all the sugar has dissolved.

4. When the sugar is a deep caramel, but a touch before it is dark enough, quickly stir in the toasted nuts.

5. After a couple more seconds, when the caramel is the rich hue you want, tip the whole lot onto silpat (a silicone sheet) or parchment. Sprinkle with sea salt and allow to cool.

The Bauhaus Biscuit

Gingerbread biscuits should be crisp, spiced and stylishly minimalist. Or so says Adolf Loos in 'Ornament & Crime' {an influential essay that helped define Bauhaus design}.

‘I prefer undecorated gingerbread. Modern people will understand [. . .] un-ornamented food tastes better, and decorations used to make food appear more appetizing are not for me.’  

With a self-confessed weakness for this stripped back aesthetic, I made this gingerbread for The Peanut Vendor. If you haven't come across them then, check them out: London furniture specialists that do a mean line in gorgeous mid-century design. In the space of a day, we transformed their shop into a Modernist christmas - complete with Bauhaus gingerbread boxes, mulled cider and Kandinsky tree decorations.

 

They're now the winter biscuit staple at CC. If, like me, you've got Modernist tendencies this Christmas, here are my top 5 gingerbread making tips:

1. Chill and chill again. This biscuit dough loves the fridge: chill gingerbread after rolling, then cut out shapes and chill these again before baking. This is the absolute key to getting crisp, sharp shapes.  

2. It's all in the syrup: most gingerbread dough uses golden syrup and treacle. Change it up - swap out some golden syrup for the addictive buzz of stem ginger syrup instead.

3. Double ginger: not content with just the stem ginger syrup, I normally throw in a batch of finely chopped crystalised ginger for added kick.

4. Dark brown sugar. Gingerbread isn't about sweetness and light: it should be nuanced and unsettlingly moreish. This isn't the time for light caster.

5. Embrace the unusual: add cardamom or star anise to the traditional cinnamon and mixed spice notes.