Saturday, 29 September 2012

Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap

Sweet treats by Fortnum & Mason

On Monday, I attended the Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap at Fortnum & Mason, hosted by the ever affable Vanessa Kimbell. It was great to talk to new and old faces and catch up on what had been going on over the past year since the last gift swap.

Vanessa's speech on organising the event and her experiences in Uganda really hit home the importance of using Fairtrade goods. It was wonderful chatting to other bloggers, as well as representatives from the Fairtrade Foundation too.

The preserves table. I was surprised to see the variety and popularity, from soft to firm sets, the fresh and fruity, the citrussy and the exotic.

A sneaky peek at Chantel's new, yet to be released, book. Gorgeous.

Huge congratulations to all the winners, there really were some beautiful and inspiring gifts!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap

Out of all the regular baking ingredients, I think vanilla is the most overlooked. I care about the humble free range egg, creamy British butter, flour and sugar. A fair price for our dairy farmers and their milk. Try and buy fairtrade chocolate and coffee etc when/where it is available. But vanilla? I've sloshed teaspoons of extract and paste here and there without really thinking about the source.

It wasnt really until Vanessa Kimbell wrote and spoke of her trip to Uganda with Ndali vanilla, that it pricked up a few ears and led me to research more into where our vanilla comes from. Vanessa has organised a Vanilla Gift Swap at Fortnum & Mason thi
s afternoon and here is what I'll be taking. Recipes and full blog posts to follow.

Pear & Vanilla Jam

Vanilla Caramel Fondant Swirls

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

We Should Cocoa: French Martini Macarons

Happy Birthday We Should Cocoa! The brainchild of Choclette and Chele has turned two! Tantrums and tears? No, just plenty of gorgeous looking creations from all over the world encompassing one of life's pleasures; chocolate. WSC was the first blog challenge I ever entered and I would like to say thank you to both Choclette and Chele, not only for producing a very popular challenge but introducing me to other bloggers and new techniques.

My first entry into WSC was Chambord truffles for the raspberry challenge. It just so happens that Chambord is a key player in my favourite cocktail too so I've come full circle and give you French Martini Macarons.

I could never get my macarons smooth shelled and glossy. My first attempt was a little grainy. My second wasnt glossy. No humps or bumps. I would fawn over photos in glossy food magazines. Idolise the macaron-ers of tastespotting. How did they do it? Made pacts with the devil? Voodoo?

Tips and tricks flood you. Italian meringue is best. No, no, French meringue. Add in egg white powder. Precise measurements to the gram. (Shut up, I've only just bought an electric set of scales but I still favour my Equilibrium Pebble Scales.)

Over fold it by one turn and its all over. One turn? I'm the girl who left cream beating in her KitchenAid and ended up with butter.

But then it happened. Not entirely unlike a Christmas miracle. Less farm animals. A lot less farm animals.

I pulled a sheet of these out my oven. Then went to find my husband for a fist-bump.

Recipe Here

Little Tweaks

I blended my icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa in small batches and didn't bother to sift. Dont judge. I have a vicious cup blender which is better than my big food processor.
I doubled up on baking sheets and banged them very hard on the worktop.
I left mine for 10 minutes before baking one tray at a time.

Halve my Chambord Truffle recipe for ganache and top each macaron with a feather of dried pineapple.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Brunch: Damson Days: Fluffy American Pancakes with Damson Sauce

Fluffy American pancakes smothered with damson sauce and cream

Damson Sauce
Simmer 200gr damsons with 100ml water, 3tbsp of sugar and 1/2tsp vanilla extract until the fruit is very soft. Push through a colander and serve warm.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Damson Days: Spiced Damson Cakes

A further morning chill in the air, since my last autumnal post, has really confirmed the change of season for me now. I’ve already hung up the chunky turquoise snood that I made earlier in the year. And now it's a waiting game for when the temperature really drops.

Summer scents are fresh and hazy but autumn is when spices and rich, comforting perfumes flood the kitchen. Seasonal fruits, luckily, soak up these warm flavours. Another experiment from my Damson Day.

Soft, spiced sponge with a sticky damson puree. Blanketed in cream.

Makes 4 mini cakes


Damson Sauce
200gr damsons
60gr water
3tbsp sugar (approximately)

Spiced Sponge Cake
60gr butter
60gr sugar
1 egg
2tbsp milk
60gr self raising flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp of ground mixed spice


1, Make the damson sauce first by simmering the damsons in the water for around 5minutes with the lid on, over a low-medium heat, or until they have split from their skins and softened. Break the damsons down with the back of a wooden spoon.
2, Add in the sugar and stir gently until the damson stones are visibly coming away from the flesh. Carefully taste a little to see whether you need to add a little more sugar. Pass the cooked damsons through a colander, really working as much of the sauce from the skins and stones as possible. Set this aside to cool whilst you make the sponge.
3, Preheat the oven to 170o/c and grease four dariole moulds or spray with cake release. Put these on a baking sheet ready for filling.
4, Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Beat in the egg and milk.
5, Sift in the flour, baking powder and ground mixed spice and gently fold in until combined and you have a soft smooth cake batter.
6, Add a couple of teaspoons of the damson sauce to the bottom of each mould four prepared moulds and divide the cake batter on top.
7, Bake for 15-18minutes or until golden, springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
8, Turn out your cakes and spoon on the rest of the damson sauce. Serve warm or cold with double cream.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Damson Days: Damson Cheese

It happened a year ago. It is still referred to as “The Great Damson Debacle of 2011”.

Two damson based dishes that were a complete disaster. Completely unsalvageable. A chutney that could have stripped paint and in fact worked quite well as a drain cleaner and a cobbler than was time consuming to eat whilst embodied the fear of smashing a tooth. (Although the 2011 damson vodka, which had its first tasting yesterday, is pretty superb!)

This year, I bolted myself into the kitchen and had a Damson Day. Face your fears and all that. One of the first things I decided to make was cheese. Damson cheese. (Click here more info on fruit cheeses).

250ml red wine
250gr soft light brown sugar
1.5kg damson, washed thoroughly
250ml water
250gr caster sugar

1, In a large, heavy based saucepan set over a medium heat, dissolve the brown sugar into the red wine. Tip your clean damsons and 125ml water. Stir to combine. Pop on the lid and gently boil for around 30-40minuts until your damsons are soft and the stones start to come away from the flesh and skin.
2, Mash the damson with the back of a wooden spoon. Mine is now dyed a delightful shade of purple.
3, Pass ladlefuls of the cooked damsons through a colander over a large bowl and clean out the saucepan ready for the second stage of cooking. Some people pass theirs through sieves to get a really smooth cheese, I love a bit of texture though. I'd recommend doing this over a sink...

4, Scoop out all the stones and skins and put them in a separate bowl. Pour on the remaining 125ml water and stir. Pass this back through the colander and add to the rest of the damson pulp.
5, Return the strained damson pulp to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the caster sugar and stir until dissolved.
6, Next comes the labour intensive part. You need to gently boil your damson pulp until you have a thick paste that will set into cheese. This can take 40-60minutes of arm strengthening stirring. (I admit, I did set up my iPad and watched the rest of a documentary on Netflix).
7, To check when your cheese is ready, gently scrape the spoon along the bottom of the pan and it should leave a clear path behind the spoon that will be swallowed up within a couple of seconds.
8, Pour into sterilised jars or silicone moulds. I filled two Le Parfait straight sided jars up to about half way and then had some left over which I poured into silicone moulds. I left the cheese in the moulds to set before turning them out, putting them into an earthen ware shallow dish and covering with clingfilm and popped them in the fridge. Store unopened jars in a cool dark place and opened jars also in the fridge.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Brown Butter Apple & Carrot Cake (With Brown Butter Icing)

The first breaths of autumn caressed me this morning. The air, undoubtedly crisper. How long before the hazy hues of summer disappear into burnt umbers, mellow browns and warm yellows?

The first browning leaves swept under my feet as I hurried through the city. I pulled my pashmina tighter around my neck. Wondered how long it would be before I had to switch to a thicker scarf.

When I could trade in my bare legs for thick back tights. My outdoor lunches of salad to indoor lunches of soup. Cardigans for coats. Ballet pumps for boots. Bronzer for blusher.

Freshly plucked and pulled carrots and apples. Cozy brown butter. Autumn is coming.



75gr butter
125gr soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
150gr self raising flour
150gr carrots, roughly grated
1 large eating apple, cored and roughly grated

75gr butter
175gr icing sugar
Couple of tablespoons of water


1, First make the cake by preheating the oven to 170o/c and line (or spray with cake release) an 8 inch square tin.
2, Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat until melted. Gently simmer it until it takes on a golden nutty brown colour and smell. Take off the heat immediately to prevent burning and let it cool slightly.
3, Beat the butter, eggs and sugar together. Fold through the flour until you have a smooth batter.
4, Fold through the grated carrots and apple until well combined.
5, Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 25-30minutes until springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely before icing.
6, Make the icing by browning the butter in the same way as before, leaving to cool slightly again.
7, Whisk in the icing sugar and slowly add a couple of drops of water until you have a smooth, spreadable icing.
8, Top your cooled cake with the icing and serve.