Musso and Frank Grill

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In London, Christmas is the whole month of December. I see that now, from a distance. It’s about mulled wines on 2nd as much as it’s about turkey sandwiches late on 25th. A mince pie after every meal. The whole kit and caboodle. You only have to go outside to feel Christmas arrest your whole shivering body. But you don’t mind being cold for Christmas.

In LA, we’ve been struggling to find it. Is it at the Hollywood Christmas Parade? Not really – that’s just the Batmobile and the BTTF Delorean and Knight Rider driving past you while Scientologists hand out flyers and onions sizzle. Is it in the syrups of seasonal Starbuckses? Rich and I tried our luck on two different Holiday Beverages and sadly when we received them we couldn’t tell them apart, even though one was “tea” and one was “coffee”. Is it at the shops? I did feel festive in the slow-moving queue at Sur La Table waiting to buy a pancake bauble I can’t use until next year.

We went to Musso and Frank’s for what we hoped would be a Christmassy dinner. We’ve been eating a lot of quick, snacky stuff here – sushi, tacos, Korean barbeque, breakfast, pie. So we were excited to have the kind of dinner that comes in several parts and allows you the luxury of time to get drunk. You know, dinner.

Musso and Frank’s is old Hollywood – red booths, slivers of gold light, coat-stands, waiters in red waistcoats, all of that. They had wreaths up. I was mad for it. One of the first things I heard when I got in there and began to lose my tiny mind was: “You’re at the back, in Jack Nicholson’s booth”. How could you not be razzle-dazzled by that? It’s good. I’m afraid it’s the whole point of Hollywood.

I ordered a whiskey sour and it came with a straw, which I removed because it wasn’t how I saw tonight going. I was wearing a black and gold playsuit and burgundy boots and lipstick and big earrings. Rich had a martini which is what you’re supposed to have and that’s a crying shame because they’re disgusting. They remind me of downing triple vodka shots when I was 15.

To start, I ordered “iceberg lettuce wedges”. I hoped but didn’t know for sure the wedges would come with blue cheese and bacon and loads of gloopy, creamy dressing. They did! Plus brioche croutons. And the dressing was in a boat! What a jubilant lettuce; what a way to get this show on the road.

Rich got a French dip for his main course. Over the last few weeks – having never eaten or known a French dip – we’d been getting steadily electrified by the idea of one. So, in he went. A big beef sandwich with beef jus for dipping and a huge pile of truffly, garlicky crisps. I was a little surprised at the fervour with which he attacked it at the beginning. He’d taken care of the first half by the time I’d twirled some spaghetti round my fork and noticed my meatballs had cheese inside.

He ate the sandwich but not the crisps and then we swapped plates so he could twirl some leftover spaghetti and I could just have crisps and red wine, which is what I always want really.

I talked about whatever for a bit and then suddenly, realising he hadn’t been replying much, Rich went: “I’ve gone quiet”. The black beef juice was hitting him, and hard.


I looked down at it. Black as tar, with a single strand of my hair lying across its surface. We started playing the game, “out of 10, how sick does the following thing make you feel?”. Cod goujons got a 6. An apple got a 0. Chocolate mousse got a 7. Chicken soup with lokshen and kneidlach got a 4. A battered sausage got a 10.

A battered sausage got a 10.

Merry Christmas.


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We are in LA for three months. If you’re on holiday, three months is a luxurious stretch, but if you’re living, it’s nothing. It’s one third of your friends’ innumerable pregnancies. One third of the time it takes to grow a human – a little or a lot depending on how you look at it.

I’m not on holiday and I’m not living either. I’m old enough and boring enough to know I need to keep working, but old enough and surrounded enough by pregnant people to know I need to make the most of this time or regret it forever.

The best thing is I get to do things I’d never have or – more honestly – make time to do at home. You can look at more art and watch more movies when you don’t have any friends to hang out with and you’re not riding the great grimy wave of London that has you working from breakfast to bed.

And that’s how we ended up where Sunset meets Figueroa at 9am on 9th December 2016.

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We’d walk to the sea. We’d follow big, wide, silly, ugly Sunset until we reached the sea, and when we got to the sea – in time for the sun to actually set – we’d raise a couple of glasses to the most meaningless and meaningful day we’d ever spent.

Almost immediately, Rich needed a wee. Quite soon after that, I wanted a snack. Then, I was chilly. Chilly but sweating, wondering if I was ill. Sunset raged on – wide and grotesque and usually devoid of anything to look at. Sometimes devoid, even, of pavement to walk on, and never, ever devoid of maddening, smelly, grotesque cars, charging up and down – hurtling to Figueroa or the sea.

We started inventing gibberish lyrics to She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

We said: “This isn’t a good activity”.

We thought about giving up. But then, what would today be? “We walked a few blocks and ate lunch at Chipotle” (because that’s what we did, by the way, we couldn’t stray from Sunset, so that’s what we did).

Nope. That couldn’t be it. If we didn’t keep moving, we might not get hungry again later, and then Chipotle would be it. No way. So we kept walking. We just walked. We stopped talking to each other. The road surged round bends and the sea got further away and closer and further away and oh my God would we ever come round the mountain wom bee wah?

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I was counting paces. I counted to 1500 paces knowing there’d be thousands more paces after that. This was so stupid. This was bananas. We were slavishly following this stupid street and we couldn’t see a way out of it.

I heard sirens and my imagination pranced off into the wriggly distance, like Sunset Boulevard. The policemen would surround us, with their machine guns. They’d yell through a cone: “We’ve had reports of two British people pacing Sunset’s grassy verges singing She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain Zum Bee Jum, put your hands up.”

We got to the sea. It smelled of drains. I took my shoes off and couldn’t get them back on again.

This is the story of take-away pizza. Can you imagine what it was like, when – two hours later – we found ourselves on the couch under a fleecy blanket, Home Alone on the TV, two pizza boxes on the coffee table?

The pizzas are quite small, because they’re 20 dollar pizzas from Pizzeria Mozza. They have a blistery crust that reeks of money. One bianco: fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere (truffly guy) with fried sage leaves on top. “A lovely cheese pizza just for me”, says Kevin McCallister. One rosso: just tomato sauce, cherry tomato and oregano, but with a beautiful catch – a whole burrata for us to disperse between slices as we see fit. Keep the change, you filthy animal.

A bottle of red wine that Rich walked to the shop for, you’d better believe it. And a butterscotch budino, which is a humble plastic pot filled to its lid with butterscotch pudding, salted caramel and a dollop of cream.

RIP the wet bandits. RIP all other pizzas. This is the life.

Which isn’t to say I would ever walk that walk again – not for all the formaggio in Rome.

[There’s no pizza pic, for obvious reasons.]


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 “Julia, oblivious to it all, ordered oeufs mayonnaise and a beer… She ate hers euphorically, spreading the mayonnaise on the eggs, the baguette, anything that could hold it and lifting her head now and then to look around, smiling to the kids, who smiled sarcastically back. She was in France. She was at home.”
- Amanda Hesser on Julia Child

I am a big fan of euphoric eating. And I feel Julia to the max here. Oeufs durs mayonnaise is no big thing to the chefs of Parisian cafes, but if you’re just a person, it’s everything. Two perfect eggs, halved, with loads of tangy, rich mayo. I love to slather that mayo all over the place, and dip chips in it too.

You can’t eat jubilantly all the time, but one fried egg can bring a jubilant dimension to a lot of otherwise restrained lunches. The thing I love most about visiting American diners (or maybe second, after beautiful, hot, weak filter coffee) is ordering my eggs sunny side up – dramatic, ridiculous, delightful.

The subtly crisp edges of the white, the rich pop of that sunny yolk – it’s exciting, right? Thankfully, our cooking lives in 2016 are very much about putting a fried egg on it. Here are a few things you should put an egg on: Nigel Slater’s invincible ratatouille, Deb’s zucchini ribbons with almond pesto (she has the good grace to call it a salad, does not pretend it’s pasta), David Lebovitz’s lentil salad with goats cheese and walnuts – worth having in the fridge as an all-week work-in-progress.

My best everyday eggs are the dippy kind. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it ’til I die: season the soldiers, not the eggs. A film of pepper atop an egg is no good to you. If you want a soldier with salty chutzpah, whip up some anchovy onion butter, I dare ya.


Oeufs mayo, though, take it to the next level. Mayonnaise is one of those things we overthink – if we didn’t, we’d have a batch of it on the go all the time. It gets the best out of roast chicken, elevates sandwiches, and changes your life. It’s just egg, oil, mustard, acid – you have to believe it isn’t going to split, trickle that oil as slowly as you can, and whisk like you mean it. I love Jamie Oliver’s recipe because it doesn’t make a fuss; it has the difficulty rating “not too tricky”. The ‘mixed oils’ debate is real, though – a bit of extra virgin olive and a lot of groundnut or sunflower will do the job.

If it curdles, don’t panic.

Admittedly, I don’t regularly pipe mayonnaise onto halved eggs for myself; I save it for Paris. But once the chimney in this new house has been reinforced and we are finally housewarming-ready, I’ve got a lot to consider: devilled eggs, asparagus-stuffed eggs, miso-sriracha eggs.

I’m gunna leave you now with something nuts: soufflé suissesse. The cheesy, creamy, billowy puddle of a soufflé that swamps its gratin dish and was designed to be eaten in the sassiest, priciest surrounds. Egg magic.


Why do we all want a barista who knows our order? Is it because of Friends? Is this the other Friends legacy, after the feathered hair one? It is tragic, honestly. But then so are we.

I moved out of Clapton at the end of last year, and despite now being eight months deep into living with my parents in Watford, when I go to or through Clapton, I don’t yearn for it. That chapter became untenable as rapidly as the corner shop’s organic aisle expanded. As the ravishing new nut butter blends displaced Sun Pat, so the shonky Victorian houses sold for one point five million pounds, a good few k over asking.

The one thing I yearn for is the place where the baristas knew my order. And when I say baristas, I mean the guys in the Turkish restaurant Numara Bos Cirrik II. I don’t even mind that they reserved their big jolly handshakes for my husband because of “masculinity”. The biggest, jolliest handshake you can give me is a plate of your crispest courgette fritters, hot and smothered with yoghurt, quickly, before anything else happens – don’t even try to converse with me. And of course I’ll have a glass of red wine while he has a beer (masc-u-lin-it-y).

Nothing is free these days – sometimes not even bread. But at Numara Bos Cirrik II the best bits of the dinner are free. The blackened onion slivers, sour and sweet with pomegranate, showered with parsley – free. The green salad, vivid and bounteous with pickled red cabbage and grated carrot – free. The squares of Turkish bread, salty and rich from close contact with lamb fat, straight off the grill top – knock yourself out.

And that’s before you’ve started dinner, which is – you know – whatever’s your thing. Chicken wings, lamb chops, yogurtlu sis. On big, inexplicably oblong plates that fill the table and my heart. Numara Bos Cirrik gave me what I expected and what I hoped for every time I showed my face.

It’s where we went after a bad day or a good day or a medium day. It’s where we went for lunch or dinner, lunch and dinner. It’s where we picked up lahmacuns stuffed with salad and hot sauce on the way home in the rain – the greatest meal in London – for £2.

If Clapton was “home”, then it was mostly Numara Bos Cirrik II’s fault.

P.S. If your first basket of bread isn’t glisteny with lamb fat, you can completely ignore it and they’ll bring a proper one as soon as the thing fires up. You just have to believe.


Sqirl is so famous to me I can barely believe I’m here. I always have a swell in my heart when I see the Hollywood sign and I haven’t seen her yet, but I feel the swell. The LAness of what I’m doing is too much. The day is on fire before it’s started.

We have London > LA jetlag, the best kind of jetlag. We are lively and enthusiastic morning people. We’re at Sqirl at 7.30 am and I’ve already been for a run down a silent Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Faced with this blackboard, I am giddy. It’s the actual Sqirl blackboard and I am actually about to eat sorrel for breakfast.

I list off the items I’m going to eat, enough for three people – to my boyfriend and to no one and to myself and to whoever. And then, feeling a little more relaxed, I check back to see how long the queue is, and the queue is still not long but it’s getting longer, and – wait, what? – there is Mark, a person I know. Mark works for an American restaurant group and lives in New York and I have only ever seen him in London, where I live. He looks at me, shakes his head, closes his eyes to clear the debris, opens them again. I shout: “WHAT THE HELL”. And the man in between us doesn’t want to be in between this display of radical joy at this hour of the morning, so he kindly drops back a place. We thank him animatedly but he doesn’t want to be thanked. His friend isn’t here yet anyway.

Mark is doing work stuff in LA. Is he? He doesn’t know really. Because he just came from Istanbul and the last person he expected to see in the early morning Sqirl queue was me.

Everything is wonderful. We have seats outside. Mark needs to try everything for work reasons and we need to try everything for life reasons, so between us we try everything,

California avocado fanned out like this is all a dream. A sorrel pesto rice bowl with an egg on it– tart, fresh, crisp, supreme. A slab of brioche heavy with creamy-fresh ricotta and jam, like I’ve seen Kiernan Shipka order on Instagram. Another slab of brioche laden with chocolate and nut butter, like nothing I have ever seen. Some cookies.

Our coffees are gone. Mark has to work but says we should head up the road to Intelligentsia… You could walk, he says, but you’re in LA. We drive up to Silverlake’s Intelligentsia, a café that is the blue of the sky we will see in full later, when we’re at the Griffith Observatory. This is a two-coffee day. This is a two-coffee day and my heart can barely take it.




Du-pars is where you want to eat a pie, with its brown leather, black and white tiles, and light that’s gold like pastry. But I’m in a hurry so, regrettably, it’s coconut pie to go or no coconut pie at all. Du-Pars asks me, impatiently: “Coconut cream or coconut custard?”.

“What’s the difference?” (I want the good one.)
“One has cream; one has custard.” (Lol.)
“Custard please.”

A big man nearby says “you got the good one” and I shout “really?!” even though I know he’s right by the number of pies he’s eaten.

I spend the hot, hot day protecting my slice from becoming as oozy as I am. It makes it. By the time I eat it, the filling is lukewarm but good and smooth – a true dairy custard loaded with desiccated coconut. I concur.



We’re on one of those drives that LA haters love to go on about. It is painful, and we’ve heard Hotline Bling six times in the last hour, so we swerve off at Apple Pan. The horseshoe-shaped bar contains a man in a white hat, striding from customer to burger to pie slice.

The steakburger comes with a cinnamony relish in a greaseproof parcel that is made for your hand and mine. I turn to my neighbour (a stranger) and talk pie. “I share with my wife”, he says. “She always gets the pecan. She likes the pecan.” He then tells me, s l o w l y and d e l i b e r a t e l y, what other flavours there are (banana cream, chocolate cream, boysenberry cream, apple), and that he’s been coming here for 64 years. He likes banana cream but has been getting pecan for 64 years.

I don’t want to hurt his feelings but I am 100% sure it has to be boysenberry cream. It’s laden with slightly sour dark fruit, and topped with a thick layer of sweet cream. It’s a really balanced meal.


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We are driving around looking for more pie and I hear myself say: “you’re turning right on Sunset”. Is there a more delicious thing you could ask your driver (husband) to do? I turn it over in my mouth (you’re turning right on sunset) while watching the flash of palms in my window.

Four ’n’ Twenty is an old resto with Tiffany lamps, vintage pie posters and creamer in little containers. Our waiter tells us the special is banana fudge with added peanut butter. Get real, sir. I’ll take it.

There are slices of banana lost in the thickest, richest, heaviest custard, and there is frilly whipped cream just about everywhere. It’s ludicrous, and we wipe it out.



In NoHo, the Republic of Pie is quite Central Perk – raggedy sofas and wooden tables with laptops on them, plus a spotlit area comprising two stools, two mics and one
guitar – poised for some sort of horrible entertainment.

Peach and blueberry pie is a thick, almost-savoury pastry shell around a super-sweet party of a filling – two of the posterboys of the fruit world. It can’t fail.

I take key lime home for later. It’s pale yellow-green zesty custard and nothing else.

Show me the world and the citrus pie will always win.



This is a cream-coloured one-layer cream cheese sponge with cream-coloured cream cheese icing (sprayed with pink lustre).

It is the cakiest cake I’ve ever known, and it’s the most delicious. I love it like it’s my friend. I love that in this raucous world, where 8,000 useless recipes are published every day, we found each other. I feel known by this cake.

It’s one of the first things I baked when I moved into my flat and felt overcome with freedom. It’s got six eggs in it! A whole box! Butter and cream cheese! Mum would say: “that’s a lot of eggs”.

I don’t like sponges that fall apart – that have big, wide crumbs. Loaf cakes in 99% of cafes – I don’t dig them. I love a sponge that is both dense and creamy-soft with sour cream, or buttermilk, or cream cheese.

But this isn’t even about me. The main thing about this cake is that it will not let you down. It’s a mensch – as steadfast as it is rich and creamy. I have made it for countless people now, and whereas usually I experience a few hours of panic-stricken foreboding before I hand over my baked goods, I am at the point with this where I can just sit back and prepare to be adored.

“You MADE this?!”
“It tastes like cheesecake!”
“I’m not even supposed to eat dairy!”

One year, I made it for my friend’s birthday and he said: “I don’t think you’ll ever make a cake that’s nicer than this. It is the best cake ever”. I didn’t take this as a challenge because life presents enough challenges for my tastes. I just made it again for his next birthday.

Because he’s right! There is no better cake than this! It’s perfect! I will be making it forever. It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realised I am loath to give it to you. This cake is mine.

Round spring bottom cake tin, buttered

Pre-heated at 160°C

340g unsalted butter, softened
225g cream cheese
6 eggs
500g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
0.5 tsp almond extract
375g flour
1tsp salt

150g white chocolate
360g cream cheese

1. Put the soft butter and cream cheese in a big bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth.
2. Add the sugar and ramp up the speed of your mixer. You can get this really pale, light and airy, so keep going for at least five minutes.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula whenever you need to. The batter might go a bit curdly here. This is more than fine. Keep going.
4. Add the vanilla and almond.
5. Fold in the flour and salt with a spatula, until just incorporated.
6. Tip the batter into your tin and tap gently to even it out. Bake until the cake is golden on top and a skewer comes out clean – about an hour, but possibly longer.
7. As it cools, it’ll crackle a bit on top. This is excellent.

8. Melt the white chocolate in a bain-marie.
9. Meanwhile, put the cream cheese in a bowl and give it a whisk.
10. Pop two tablespoons of whisked cream cheese into the tepid chocolate and mix with a wooden spoon.
11. Pour the white chocolate into the rest of the cream cheese and mix well.
12. Leave to cool, then frost your cake and decorate it however you like. It’s ever so versatile.



Here I am several moons ago at Harbour House Café, looking delirious, stupid, alive.

We’d driven along Pacific Coast Highway from Long Beach and we were on our way to Huntington Beach to sip Jamba Juices with surfers.

It was probably about the time that London was going hell for leather on Americana. Everyone announcing things like ‘brioche buns!’ and ‘American cheese!’ and ‘nine pounds a pop!’ all over the internet, in the pubs, and at the pop-ups.

So we must’ve felt quite special to be sitting there next to the Pacific Ocean in a real place, with leather booths and Coors Light posters and burgers that cost approximately a ninth of nine pounds. We didn’t eat a meal; we had chilli fries and malt shakes. Sometimes – even when meals are your favourite things in the world – the best days are the ones where you don’t eat meals at all.

When I got home from that trip I remember tirelessly searching for authentic Carnation malt powder (Horlicks is fine) and eyeing up authentic Hamilton Beach milkshake makers (beautiful and about £500). But you can’t chase that shit. You can’t turn your flat into California by having the right machine on your counter. Rattan bistro chairs won’t turn your living room into Paris. Things belong in their places.

It’s OK to invite California indoors every now and then, though. Especially in the middle of a London heatwave – or, summer – whatever you want to call it. Go absolutely LA-LA for a second. This shake is the one.


50ml milk
100g vanilla ice cream
1 tbsp Horlicks
1 tbsp peanut butter
10g salted pretzels
Whipped cream (for the top – if that’s your thing)

1. Put everything in a blender and blend well (I used a NutriBullet because I live in Hackney).
2. Pour into glasses and top with cream and pretzel crumbs.

Ten things I’ve enjoyed in the vast chasm of time that has passed since I last wrote a blog

  1. Almond granita with fingers of brioche, on repeat, in Siracusa.
  2. This coffee granita (so into smushed ice right now).
  3. Yogurtlu cop sis (practically weekly forever and ever at Numara Bos Cirrik on Stoke Newington High Street).
  4. Mum’s sticky toffee pudding.
  5. Crêpe suzette and Grand Marnier soufflé at Bistrot Paul Bert, my favourite restaurant in Paris/ the world.
  6. Chips and scraps in Scarborough. Scraps are free?!
  7. Great bosoms of warm ricotta brought out from the oven on a tray at Caseificio Borderi, a wild sandwich shop in the middle of Siracusa’s market.
  8. Vermut Negre. Bit like Coca-Cola, bit like red wine, but better than both.
  9. Crab tater tots from Bob.
  10. A halloumi cone – it came through when I needed it the most at Glastonbury (post-Pharrell, pre-Kanye).



Custard_art 2
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)

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.