NIGELLA CHRISTMAS

nigella
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.

brioche2

PASTELERÍA IDEAL

pizap.com14152888646961
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.

mexcity4

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.

mexcity2

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.

pizap

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.

tresleches

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.

treslechestrain1

OATMEAL MASCARPONE COOKIE STACK

DSCN2783

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.

DSCN2791

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).

DSCN2797

GUINNESS PUNCH

punch

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.

DSCN2726

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.

DSCN2746

GINGERBREAD

tree
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.

DSCN2674

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

DSCN2676
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.

photo (5)

BORDIER ❤

photo 2 (1)

I once read some writing guidelines that said you shouldn’t write stories about moments in time that change everything forever, because that’s boring. Never mind. Isn’t that most stories?

Paris, my birthday, spring. We’ve torn through a poulet rôti in the park. And we’re all what shall we do now?

Do you want to look at clothes?

Another gallery?

Coffee?

A chipsy, cigarettesy Marais pavement cafe for WiFi, Orangina and research. On my phone, the Independent says Echiré is a “stand-out spread” but you can buy it at Waitrose, so never mind Echiré, that’s not birthday butter. The smoky pavement WiFi wobbles its way to 10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris, a blog post by King David Lebovitz.

after I tasted this handmade butter from Brittany, I’m spoiled for life and won’t spread any other butter on my morning toast

There’s this butter called Bordier.

The Oranginas at this cafe are like 5 euros each, so I push the WiFi to its limits.

da rosa St-Germain
62, rue de seine

We start walking to the fancy bit where we were earlier. All the way back there to find this place that may or may not have this Bordier. It’s my birthday and this is what I want to do.

We buy five blocks, and when we get back to London, we get a crusty loaf. The Bordier is embarrassingly creamy. Rich, smooth, butteriest. Correctly salted. We hardly use the knife to spread it. There are toothmarks where I bite.

So, you know, then everything was a bit different and stuff. Lurpak lost its lustre.

[Le Beurre Bordier]

TWO CURDS

curd1

It’s a source of much excitement to me that most of my best fruits can be turned into curds.

So, when I’m not enjoying my freelance job and I have no time for a haircut and someone has vomited on my car and I feel kind of like I can’t do it anymore, I remember that I haven’t made passionfruit or apple curd yet and I’m ~ ice cool ~. Today, we’re doing raspberry and lime.

This coconut loaf is a thing that cries out for curd. It is one of my favourite things to bake. If you or someone you like is having a shit time, this is an A* comfort thing. It swells all bronze and triumphant over the loaf tin. It’s easy, but gratifying in a way that actual bread probably is if you don’t fear yeast like I do.

Some curd recipes use way more sugar than mine. Some use more fruit. I reckon this is the right tartness to richness to sweetness ratio, but you might not. That’s life.

DSCN2635

THE VESSELS:
One large jar per curd

RASPBERRY CURD:
400g raspberries
100g sugar
60g butter
2 eggs

LIME CURD:
2 limes
100g sugar
60g butter
2 eggs

FOR RASPBERRY ONLY:
1. Put the raspberries in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and simmer for a few minutes, until the fruit is really soft.
2. Force the pulp through a sieve and into a bain-marie…

FOR BOTH:
3. Put the butter and sugar in a bain-marie with the raspberry pulp or lime zest and juice.
4. Stir occasionally with a whisk until the butter has melted.
5. Mix the eggs in a mug with a fork, then stir them into the fruit mixture (still off the heat).
6. Cook the curd on a low heat, stirring regularly with a whisk, for about 12-15 minutes, until thickened and heavy.
7. Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools.
8. Force through a sieve before jarring up.

DSCN2614

 

PASSIONFRUIT PROFITEROLES

In Paris, I ate a perfect finger of food: a raspberry and passionfruit eclair from L’Éclair de Génie. It’s the top one…

I mean, this thing was pristine! If a knowledgeable Parisian hadn’t handed it to me, I would have assumed it was too beautiful to be delicious. But they are clever, these French people, and their beautiful things are delicious.

Anyway, I can’t really make perfect patisserie, but I can make a big ol’ mess.

So, I made choux buns, filled them with passionfruit custard and poured chocolate sauce on top. Ta-da.

Mum used to fill a measuring jug with chocolate sauce. This was back before mum had bought all the Nigellas, Delia had taught everyone about houmous, and Britain had been through the transformative Christmases of Ken Hom’s woks and Jamie Oliver’s Flavour Shakers (what the actual). Mum’s chocolate sauce was really dark and rich, so I just sort of loosened up melted dark chocolate with hot water and a bit of milk – I didn’t want it to out-dairy the filling; I wanted it to be glossy and dark.

Otherwise, my recipe is adapted from this Great British Chef dude.

Prof-3_Final

THE TRAY:
A lined baking sheet

MAKES:
24 buns

OVEN
Pre-heated at 200ºC

CHOUX BUNS
100g butter
130ml milk
130ml water
1 tsp golden caster sugar
½ tsp sea salt
120g plain flour (pre-measured and set aside, so you can add it quickly)
4 eggs

PASSIONFRUIT CUSTARD
3 egg yolks
65g sugar
20g plain flour
250ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Icing sugar
The pulp of 5 passion fruits
50ml double cream, pre-whipped

CHOCOLATE SAUCE
200g dark chocolate
Some boiling water
Some milk

Prof-4_Final

PASTRY FIRST
1. In a saucepan, bring the water, milk, butter, salt and sugar to the boil until the butter has melted.
2. Add the flour in one swift motion. Stir it in and take the pan off the heat.
3. Beat fiercely with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the pan.
4. Separately, beat the eggs while the flour mix cools.
5. Add the eggs to the flour mix a drop at a time, beating well.
6. Use teaspoons to form the buns on a baking tray, leaving gaps in between (about 8 buns per tray). Slightly damp fingers will help to smoothen them out, but spiky’s just fine.
7. Bake for about 16 minutes, turning the tray half-way through.

CRÈME LOVE
8. Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy.
9. Whisk in the flour.
10. Bring the milk and vanilla extract to the boil. Then add a splash of hot milk to the yolk mix, whisking like a boss. Add the remaining milk in stages.
11. Return the mixture to the (low) heat, and stir with a wooden spoon until it thickens.
12. Sprinkle icing sugar on top to stop a skin from forming, and leave to cool.
13. Add passionfruit pulp.
14. Fold in whipped cream.
15. To fill the buns, skewer a hole in them, and pipe the custard into it. Or, give up and chuck it on top.

FREESTYLE YOUR SAUCE
16. Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie.
17. Loosen up the chocolate by adding splashes of boiling water and milk until you
say so.

Prof-5_Final