CUSTARD TART

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I love it when a food trend happens and I’ve got its number. Like how blancmange is panna cotta and pound cake is just cake and avocado chocolate mousse is a stain on humanity.

I was looking for an American pie. Oh, pie. Great and round and proud and delicious, and less intimidating to live with than a layer cake if there’s noone around to help eat it.

On my pie quest, I went through the menu at Four & Twenty Blackbirds, and the menu at A La Mode Pies, and the menu at Little Pie Company. I realised that every pie I was interested in had a pastry case and a custard base.

Hold up! I thought. Rewind! These pies are custard tarts! And what would be the point in messing with a fake custard tart when I haven’t had a “real” one in a while? Especially given how deeply I love nutmeg.

Nutmeg for prime minister.

I went straight to Jane Grigson’s English Food and – tbqh – I was shocked.

I had (unfairly) expected a plainer thing. But Grigson’s tart had chutzpah. All this cinnamon and mace! Plus, rosewater or orange blossom “if you want to give the tart an eighteenth-century flavour”. Oh but that’s exactly what I want to give it! Challenge accepted, Jane Grigson! However, I also liked the look of Edd Kimber’s: here. I do love the shameless eggy, creaminess of a proper custard.

So, I went for something ’twixt the two – using Jane’s rosewater but not her mace or cinnamon.

This is an English garden of a pie!

Blimey, henceforth, splendid, tally ho.

Butters_Custard (3 of 3)

TIN
23cm tart tin (preferably with a pop-out bottom), buttered up

SWEET PASTRY
200g plain flour
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Zest of half a lemon
40g golden caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly whisked
A splash of milk (on the subs bench)
1 egg yolk

CUSTARD
350ml single cream
50ml full fat milk
1 vanilla pod
8 egg yolks
70g caster sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 whole nutmeg

DON’T PANIC, IT’S ONLY PASTRY:
1. Rub the cubed butter into the flour, lemon zest and salt until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
2. Add the sugar and use use a whisk to mix it through.
3. Add the whisked egg gradually, until the mixture comes together into a smooth ball. If it doesn’t, add as much milk as you need to make it happen.
4. Flatten the ball slightly (to make it easier to roll later), then wrap it in cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

BAKE THE BOTTOM:
5. Roll out the pastry and line your tin with it.
6. To blind bake, cover the base with greaseproof paper and fill it with baking beans.
7. Put it in the oven for 20 minutes, removing the beans and paper for the last five minutes.
8. Tip from Edd for preventing soggy pastry: Take your extra egg yolk and paint it over the inside of the tart case using a pastry brush. Put it back in the oven for 5 minutes.
9. Take it out, and turn the oven down to 130°C.

MAKE THE CUSTARD:
10. Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan over a medium heat.
11. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla pod, and put the pod in, too.
12. Bring the creamy mix to a simmer.
13. Meanwhile, in a big jug or bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.
14. Take out the vanilla pod and pour the hot cream over the yolks and sugar, whisking all the time.
15. Add the rosewater – half a teaspoon at a time if you’re (understandably) scared, until it’s delicious.

BAKE ‘N’ GRATE
16. Put the tart case in the middle of the oven and then pour in the custard once it’s in place.
17. Grate half the nutmeg over the top.
18. Bake until it’s set around the outside, but still a little loose in the middle – about 30-35 minutes.
19. Grate the last of the nutmeg over the top.

 

CHOCOLATE-CHERRY CUPCAKES

It is March 2008 and we have just got back from a trip to southeast Asia, Australia and all of that. The cupcake is only just a thing. Or actually I have no proper idea whether it’s a thing or not because I’m not on Twitter, so where would I find out what we like and what we pour sweet, buttery scorn on?

I live at home with my parents whether they like it or not, because I just took off and came back like a brat. I wake up early because I have jetlag; the family PC whines loudly enough to wake everyone up. I wonder what possessed me to be home in time for my birthday.

I have a teaparty. (It’s tough not to have regrets when you spent your 23rd birthday at your parents’ house having a teaparty, but we do what we think is right at the time.)

Rich brings these. But only half a batch. Six perfect cupcakes, literally with cherries on top. And they’re a sign of our cooking twenties to come. He, taking his sweet time, making the correct quantity, seasoning accurately, ensuring optimum flavour. Me, winging it, slopping it on, leaving trails of ganache wherever I go.

It won’t be a surprise to you that while we were all cooing over buttercream, Nigella had already invented these (in How To Be a Domestic Goddess). They are rich and dark and full of it. They are the Nancy off Eastenders of cupcakes. I am crazy about them.

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THE TIN:
A cupcake tin and papers

MAKES:
12

OVEN:
Pre-heated at 180ºC

FOR THE CAKE:
125g soft unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate, broken
300g Morello cherry jam
150g caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten

FOR THE NOT-BUTTERCREAM:
100g dark chocolate, broken
100ml double cream
12 glacé cherries

1. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. When nearly completely melted, stir in the chocolate. Let the chocolate start to soften then take the pan off the heat.
2. Stir until smooth.
3. Add the jam, sugar, salt and eggs – stir with a wooden spoon until even.
4. Stir in the flour.
5. Spoon, scrape and tip the mix into the papers.
6. Bake for 25 minutes.
7. For the ganache, heat the cream and then pour it over the squares of chocolate in a bowl. Leave them to melt for a minute, and then stir until thick and glossy.
8. When the cakes are cool, ice them as neatly or as messily as is your disposition, and give them a cherry each.

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CLOTTED CREAM CARAMELS

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I became aware of the caramel as a thing in 2013. Is that surprising to you? Have you been eating individually wrapped caramels all your life? Good for you! I was only aware of caramel as a sauce, or a filling, or a Cadbury’s. Until that same trip to Paris on which I ate that éclair.

We left the Pompidou just as it started to rain idiotically hard, and we paced and squelched for 15 minutes to Jacques Genin. This is a chocolaterie, but don’t be fooled by that cosy word; it is nothing like Juliette Binoche’s place. It’s a gallery-like space with a few cabinets displaying little square chocolates with very fine hand-drawn designs on them.

We dribbled ourselves into the seats in the corner (square, cream, leather) and made a wet mess of the nice floor with our umbrella, bags and feet. Once we’d ordered two hot chocolates and six pieces of caramel, we shook our heads like dogs.

The hot chocolate came in teapots – thick and obscene, it flowed epically into our teacups. The traditionnel kind is unsweetened and I didn’t add any sugar because this is just one of the ways in which I am superior.

And plus, the degustation was coming! Six caramels, all different flavours. By this point we had no hope of passing ourselves off as sophisticated, so one of us took a tiny bite of the first caramel and passed the remaining tiny bite to the other.

We continued like this along our oblong plate. They were soft and buttery and smooth – not chewy like toffee or powdery like fudge. They are from the bit of the sugar thermometer that might as well just be labelled: PERFECT, STOP!

At that moment, I did not imagine I would ever be genius enough to make them! And I was right, because my sugar crystallised three times! Thrice! (Turn to this.) I used Dan Lepard’s recipe from Short and Sweet (the basics are here). Less of a recipe, actually, more a formula – once you’ve mastered white sugar, he says, you can progress to brown. You can also play with the cream – double, single, crème fraîche, clotted.

Of course, I meddled with the butter too: demi-sel forever.

Butters_caramel 2 (3 of 3)

THE TIN:
A square cake tin, buttered and lined to the best of your ability (the greaseproof creases will show up)

YOU ALSO NEED:
1 sugar thermometer
1 big, heavy-bottomed saucepan

MAKES:
40ish, depending how you cut them

INGREDIENTS:
300g caster sugar, divided in half
75g butter
200ml clotted cream
75ml golden syrup

TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND THEN:
1. Weigh everything out and put it all in separate bowls (including the two lots of sugar) like you’re on TV.
2. Put the first portion of sugar in the pan with 25ml of water. Mix it a bit. Turn the heat on very gently, and do not touch it again. As the sugar starts to melt, you can gently jiggle the pan, but strictly no spoons or spatulas.
3. Once the melted sugar has turned a reddish brown, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter.
4. You may stir it with a wooden spoon.
5. Add the golden syrup and the cream and stir it again.
6. Put it back on the heat, and bring it to the boil, being careful not to let it boil over.
7. Reduce the heat and let it simmer. Put your sugar thermometer in and turn the heat off when it reaches 127°C.
8. Let the pan stand for a minute so the caramel can stop bubbling.
9. Swirl the pan a little to smoothen it out, then pour the caramel (while it’s still hot) into your lined tin, and leave it to cool.
10. Take your slab out of the tin, cut it into pieces and wrap individual caramels in squares of greaseproof paper.

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NIGELLA CHRISTMAS

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There has been a general malaise about me for the last month, and especially surrounding me and the oven. We were supposed to get a new one in before Christmas but it wouldn’t fit, so now we have to wait until 29th, which is great timing for nothing. In the interim, I haven’t been mad keen to bake in that shitbox because I’d already imagined a life in which cakes came out even, or cooked.

But also I do not love Christmas baking. I am not really one to mess around with raisins. I do like to eat all the stuff, but I feel fine about getting it from the supermarket. I can heat up a Morrison’s mince pie and pour cream on it and be properly OK.

But I just got revived by Nigelissima – an Italian Inspired Christmas. Nigella, ogling some radicchio at the market. Nigella, spooning a voluptuous cream. Nigella, drizzling her dressing. Nigella, smiling into her blender. Nigella, telling us she’s a Pavaholic. Nigella, reminding us why we love to eat.

Lately, a lot of the chefs are on TV going “oh for Christmas I’m having some game I shot out of the sky, I’d never touch turkey”, but then Nigella is like “you know I love the big bird”. This particular topic of conversation gets on my nerves every year. Why are we still talking about how turkey “can be a bit dry”? Maybe turkey isn’t the best food in the world and maybe you’d prefer a pheasant or even a salmon en croute but I actually do not care. Have what you want! Just don’t be a twat. I don’t care how many AA rosettes you’ve got, champ.

I don’t want people on TV telling me how I’m doing things wrong, I want them to just tell me what’s good. Nigella knows exactly what’s good.

A very Nigella Christmas to you.

ACTUAL BRIOCHE LOAF

brioche 3Baking is mad. There are a million different things that have a combo of butter, flour, sugar and eggs at their hearts. So, when I set out to make brioche, I wasn’t convinced I’d end up with brioche. Maybe I wasn’t capable of kneading all the butter and eggs in the nuanced way that would result in a soft, buttery loaf. Surely it was more likely that I would just produce “yellow bread” or “chewy bread” or “burned dough”, or “bread that looks like scrambled eggs” or “a fuckery”.

But what came out was a shiny, fat, buttery triumph. “I made a brioche!”, I said, quietly. Then, I cut it, checked the cross-section, got a little louder: “I made a brioche!”. Then I toasted it; the kitchen turned gently sweet: “I made a brioche!”. And then I buttered it, because even when you’ve seen how much butter goes into a brioche, you still need more butter. I definitely made a brioche.

Baking is science, and that’s why you can always rely on it. Dan Lepard’s step-by-step is perfect. Just use that. You need to commit a few days to it (“proving”, etc).

I recommend eating this sandwich first, and this sandwich second.

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PASTELERÍA IDEAL

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I’m eating a taco al pastor after an accidental 4-hour nap and there is this squealing sound that makes the kid next to me drop his horchata. “Ah,” says Rich. “Camotes”.

A man walks through the middle of the road pushing a wood-fired pressure cooker – a steaming turquoise metal drum on wheels. Inside it, the camotes (candied sweet potatoes) shriek as their steam escapes. Horchata Boy and I stare after Camote Man, dazed and electrified, slowly dipping tortilla chips in seven types of salsa. I feel like I’ve gone – I dunno – down the rabbit hole? Up the Faraway Tree? Somewhere good.

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Mexico City goes like this. Every breakfast there is a new tamale configuration (black bean and cheese? cream cheese and blackberry?). Every lunchtime there is a mad new thing to drop your salsa on (gorditas, panuchos, huaraches). Whenever you want it, there’s horchata (cinnamony almond-rice milk). You are never far from tequila, corn or lime wedges.

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And as for cake.

We chanced on a couple of ‘European-style’ pastelerias, which were good in their own way; custardy. But I was interested in meeting a proper Tres Leches – the cake of three milks.

I found it at Pasteleria Ideal, which is stupid. A floorful of nonsense. The kind of nonsense I live for. At the front there is a quite generous Tres Leches counter. Beyond that there is just pastry and doughnut and biscuit and sponge and sprinkle and cherry and madness. Among the baked goods, humans hold trays in the air and wield tongs like lobster claws.

I made you this collage to set the scene.

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I joined in this manic circling, with tongs and tray, and I felt that I was on the precipice of something magnificent, but also at risk of taking home one shit rum baba. It was scary.

Suddenly, everything went still and silent. “Something’s coming,” I muttered; “Something fresh”. And a baker floated in with a tray of something. It was buttered, sugared bread, as far as I could tell. The crowd went wild. The tray was decimated. Crumbs.

Tres Leches was true milky wonder, on a bed of sticky, syrupy milk mix, on its own private plastic tray. Frosted with cream. More milky than sweet, just the way I like most things.

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Here I am eating the whole thing in hysterics on the train platform just after I realised we didn’t have enough time to get to Frida Kahlo’s house.

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OATMEAL MASCARPONE COOKIE STACK

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There have always been cookies. But more glamorous things kept usurping them. Cupcakes! Doughnuts! Cronuts! Even muffins.

Plus, too many cookies are mediocre. The difference between a soft, chewy, crisp-around-the-edges cookie and a cookie that isn’t any of those things is colossal. Like the difference between buttery mashed potato and unseasoned, stringy mashed swede. I once made some Mary Berry cookies and they were fine when they came straight out of the oven (everything chocolatey is), but within 10 minutes they were solid. They were burly English biscuits and they embarrassed me.

Then there was a woman we could all trust not to waste our time with rigid cookies and I was able to start understanding them. When Deb Perelman said “Cookies … desire balance – crisp exteriors, supple interiors”, I felt her. All of her cookie recipes are worth your time.

Anyway, sometimes you want to show someone you like and cherish them using cookies, but it’s underwhelming to give them a tubful. I know. On these occasions, it’s quite good to build tall cookie stacks and weld them with mascarpone and white chocolate and good feelings.

The oatmeal cookies here are intentionally minimalist and chocolate-free to accommodate the absurd glue that binds them. Even so, they are texturally perfect (as above), oaty, buttery and good. Plus, they come out level, all the better for pilin’ up.

Always do exactly what you want but if I were you I would cut the whole thing like a cake.

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THE TRAY:
A lined baking sheet

MAKES:
24 cookies

OVEN:
Pre-heated at 180ºC

COOKIES:
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp fine salt
200g softened unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
175g rolled oats
200g caster sugar
50g light brown sugar

CREAM:
500g mascarpone
200g white chocolate
Fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt or whatever flaky salt is your bag

MAKE THE COOKIE DOUGH:
1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and fine salt.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy.
3. Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as you continue to beat.
4. Add the egg and vanilla and scrape ‘n’ beat again.
5. Pour in the oats and the flour mixture, and mix. The buttery mixture will just coat the oats.
6. With slightly damp hands, roll the cookie dough into 16-24 balls (you might prefer bigger cookies than mine) and pat them on to the baking sheet, leaving two-inch gaps in between them.
7. Sprinkle each cookie with flaky salt before you put them in the oven.
8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, but always err on the side of under-baking.

MELT THE CREAM:
9. Melt the white chocolate and mascarpone together in a bain-marie (I added a bit of peach food colouring too).

LAYER UP:
10. Cookie, cream, cookie, cream… a bit of salt on top. Use the biggest, sturdiest cookies at the bottom (although actually they will all be exactly the same shape and size, of course).

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GUINNESS PUNCH

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Once, I went to Canada on my own to learn to ski (for work). After a top day spent falling over and being told off, I sat on my own drinking small stouts in the corner of a dumb ski bar, full of rich men comparing injuries. Two of them looked at me like I was the oddest thing in there, and they pointed at me just to be clear. I know for definite that I’m never going skiing again, but I think the experience might have strengthened my fondness for drinking small stouts. Power arm emoji.

Something I like a lot more than skiing is Notting Hill Carnival. When I was 15, I absolutely hated it. I got carried by the crowd for the whole day and at one point Daniel Peters crouched down to my level and laughed and said “oh my God, this is all you can see”. But since then I’ve been most years, and even though I haven’t got taller, I generally just get carried by nice feelings now. Touch wood.

To sort of celebrate, here’s Jamaican Guinness punch. It’s my kind of punch. It might sound confusing at first, but then think about this: malt shakes. Right. It isn’t “slimming” but neither is anything on this blog and at least this has iron in it. I’ve made it a few times for barbeques this summer, and sometimes I put a bit of cinnamon in it, but I think I prefer it without, because cinnamon is that guy that likes to run things.

I won’t be drinking it at carnival, though. I’ll be drinking Red Stripe because I’m normal.

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THE VESSEL:
Your finest punch bowl/ a jug

MAKES:
8 long glasses

INGREDIENTS:
500ml stout
150ml condensed milk
200ml milk
½ tsp grated nutmeg

IT’S NOT COMPLICATED:
1. Mix everything up with a whisk.
2. Have some ice if you want.

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GINGERBREAD

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Why are we only supposed to eat gingerbread at Christmas? We have enough to eat then. These gingerbreads are nothing like the lads whose heads you like to bite off in December. They are soft, somewhere between cake and biscuit, and so perfectly spiced. And look how dark! I English-ised the recipe from Tartine but I didn’t bother glazing.

Shape-wise, the palm trees bring the biscuits to the summery tropical space I would like them to live in, but sadly, they kept snapping at their trunks. Because – like I said – these things are soft.  So, I also made rounds, which, FYI, work as quite astonishing vessels for ice cream sandwiches.

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READ THIS FIRST:
The dough needs a night in the fridge before it’s ready to roll

THE TRAY:
A lined baking sheet, but not ’til tomorrow

MAKES:
12

INGREDIENTS:
265g plain flour
½ tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp ground black pepper
110g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
1 egg
70g black treacle
1 tbsp golden syrup

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DAY 1:
1. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, bicarb, salt and pepper using a whisk.
2 In another bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until creamy.
3. Gradually add the sugar until the mixture is smooth and soft.
4. Scrape the sides using a spatula to fully incorporate everything.
5. Add the egg and mix again.
6. Keep mixing. Add the black treacle and golden syrup. Scrape the sides and mix some more.
7. Add the flour mixture and stir in using a wooden spoon, until everything’s incorporated and you’ve got a (quite soft) dough.
8. Lay down a piece of cling film and slam the dough in the middle. Flatten it out into a 1 inch thick rectangle and wrap it up.
9. Put it in the fridge.

DAY 2:
10. The next day, you’ll have a proper slab. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and don’t get your slab out of the fridge until the oven is up to temperature. Cool dough is easier to roll and cut.
11. Roll it out to a thickness of about ⅓inch and cut into (simple!) shapes.
12. Carefully (and quickly) move the shapes to a lined baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes. They will still be quite soft, but will firm up as they cool.

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