Actual best cookies ever

In my hand-scrawled recipe book (started circa 2001) I have this recipe down as "Best Choc Chip Cookies (Actual Best!)" and as far as I've experimented over the decades they really are. I have absolutely no idea where they came from, but what a find! On Sunday Konch's oldest pal Mark popped over to see his little god-daughter and I realised at the very last minute that we barely had a withered carrot in the house to offer him. These took about 15 minutes to whip up and were gone again almost as quickly. One batch makes a LOT o' cookies but the dough refrigerates like a dream and freezes great too.  They are crunchy *and* chewy and everything they should be. I've made it so many times, often with way less chocolate than the recipe calls for and they still turn out scrummy, so they are great for just making at the last minute with whatever chocolate...nuts...etc... you've got. On Sunday I used choc chips, raisins and chopped pistachios in place of just chocolate and it was a magical combo...

eeeeeeat meeeeeee

eeeeeeat meeeeeee

225g butter, room temp (soft)
200g caster sugar
220g packed brown sugar
2 eggs
10ml vanilla extract
375g flour
5g bicarb of soda + 10ml hot water
3g salt
335g chocolate chips (I find chopped up good quality dark choc works better)

Heat the oven to 175C. Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla. Dissolve the bicarb in hot water and add along with the salt. Stir in the flour and chocolate/nuts/raisins/whatever you fancy. Bake for 8-10 mins, then leave to cool a bit before trying not to eat all in one sitting.

lady lunch

Had a tasty lunch this week at my friend Laura's beautiful home, and caught up with friends and babies and home made whoopie pies from heaven (THREE, I ate three...) We even had a glass of prosecco, then about thirteen coffees. The babes had a lovely time exploring and it's crazy how fast they are all growing. Special honorary male guest was teeny tiny Tor Albion who stole everyone's hearts...

Indy mostly got her kicks by trying to tumble down stairs. Luckily she was thwarted. 

Indy mostly got her kicks by trying to tumble down stairs. Luckily she was thwarted. 

note the enormo-me reflected in the toaster, pre-whoopie-binge...

note the enormo-me reflected in the toaster, pre-whoopie-binge...

strawberry milkshake cake

My lovely friend Jennie is always so patient and generous with her time when it comes to helping me out with little sewing projects (and teaching me how to make amazing quilts! Well, her quilts are amazing. And so are her classes - bookable here) that when she offered to spend her actual birthday helping me to prep a quilt for Pablo I thought it would only be right to make her a big old cake...

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Jennie is one of the more colourful folk I know (literally - she was dyeing her hair turquoise as we sewed) and made a special request for no chocolate, so I was excited to have an excuse to hunt out a suitably colourful cake. As usual, Sweetapolita did not disappoint and I went with an adaptation of her Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting

350g Granulated Sugar
85g Strawberry flavoured gelatin crystals (don't be a moron like me and get block jelly. I had to send husband on a last minute urgent errand to buy crystals and all he could find were raspberry vegetarian jelly crystals, which worked perfectly, just fyi...)
227g unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
300g cake flour (this is not widely available in the UK - see tips on how to make your own here)
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
240ml whole milk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
60ml strawberry puree (blend a handful of slightly defrosted frozen strawberries)

Preheat oven to 170C. Line 3x6in round cake tins with parchment and flour, tapping out any excess. Ensure strawberry puree is not icy, then combine with milk and vanilla. In a mixer, cream the butter with the sugar and jelly crystals until light and fluffy. I usually cream the butter a minute or two on its own first to make sure it's soft enough, or this can take ages... Sift the remaining dry ingredients together. 

Add eggs to the creamed butter and sugar one at a time and mix well after each addition. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that everything is combined. Next alternate adding your dry ingredients and strawberry milk mixture, starting and ending with the dry. Mix well between additions but be careful to only mix until combined, not over mix. At this stage I also added a couple of drops of Americolor Neon Pink gel colour to give the cake an extra pink kick. 

Divide the mix between three pans. I thoroughly recommend weighing the batter so that this is as exact as possible. Bake in preheated oven approximately 30 minutes - my oven is pretty hot, but I recommend carefully (and speedily) checking the cakes with a skewer after 25 mins and keeping an eye on them every 5 mins beyond that. 

When the cakes are done, leave them in the tins 10 mins before transferring to racks to cool completely. Then make the icing!

250g unsalted butter, softened and in cubes
330g icing sugar
10ml milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
30ml strawberry puree (as above - it can be cold but make sure it isn't icy)

Whip the butter for 8 minutes at medium speed with an electric mixer. Add sifted icing sugar slowly with the milk and vanilla and mix on slow 1 min and then on high for 6 more. Then add the strawberry puree, and a drop of pink gel colour (optional - and you can of course add more than a drop! Just be aware that the colour does add a slightly yucky taste, and that it MUST be gel colour or you will be adding too much liquid). 

Stack the cakes and ice generously between layers before doing a very thin crumb coat to cover the whole cake. Pop the cake in the fridge for 30 mins before removing and applying a thick final coat of icing. 

The cake was DELICIOUS, really moist and tasted just like those naughty strawberry milkshakes I'd get at the seaside as a kid. It also looked pretty spectacular in all its pinkness. Definitely one to make again. Two large slices was probably a bit much but I needed to keep my strength up for cutting all those quilt squares...

Christmas bake

The couple of weeks leading up to Christmas were INTENSE, mostly due to baking commitments (ok, and whims...) Here's a few things we got up to:

L-R from top...

  1. cutting heart shaped doughnuts
  2. double choc 70th birthday cake
  3. making christmas biscuits with Elton John
  4. incredible rolls by Konch
  5. red velvet christmas cake
  6. finished doughnut heart
  7. cassis mince pies (with cinnamon-chic ice cream)
  8. our gingerbread cabin
  9. proud biscuit baker
  10. all iced and packed up for the school party
  11. cinnamon-choc ice cream getting going
  12. satisfying gingerbread poke by Pablo

sunday sunday

I made it out on Saturday night for the first time in about a month (I've been too sleep deprived to contemplate having any fun after dark) so classically overdid it and spent Sunday in a bit of a haze. We still have a slightly crazy amount of turkey leftover from Thanksgiving, and I made a damn good pie with leftover cream, leftover thyme, bacon and other fine stuff. Then we topped it off with leftover s'more pie and a slump on the sofa watching movies and having indulgent naps. Yummy Sunday....

thanks oh thanks oh thanks

Yes, I'm English and live in London... but I'm also in love with food, and I grew up in the States. Therefore I love Thanksgiving! It is a big, wonderful excuse to gather together with friends, force yourself to feel grateful for things, and eat stuff that is not at all savoury enough to be served as a main course.  My brother Xander or I often host a big get together, but this year I was asked to do a Thanksgiving pop up at the local pub by friends who run the E17 Pop Up Project. Kind of scary but a chance to learn some new cooking skills and get a bit of catering experience. I roped Xander in to help, and his wife Zara for decorating back-up, and we set about prepping Thanksgiving for FORTY TWO!

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I have never been particularly keen on cooking turkey. They are MASSIVE! They take up entire ovens and never seem to cook properly and often end up dry and are regularly a huge disappointment. I had to find a way not to disappoint my 42 paying customers, though, and after extensive turkey research I found the most amazing recipe. I will never cook turkey another way again. It came out absolutely perfect, moist and scrumptious - and I don't even like turkey, as a general rule. Just in time for Christmas I've copied it out below. Seriously it's nuts how good - and easy - this is...

Malt-Beer-Brined Turkey with Malt Glaze

original recipe from bonappetit.com

Glaze
160ml barley malt syrup (can substitute black treacle or molasses)
60ml malt vinegar
6 fresh sage sprigs
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Brine
4.5 litres water
400g coarse sea salt
3 x 340ml bottles/cans of stout 
1.5 cups barley malt syrup (can substitute black treacle or molasses)
thyme

This recipe will give you enough for a 14-16lb turkey/8-10 servings. Multiplying it for more was simple. Also we prepared two giant turkey crowns, not a whole turkey, but I can't see it making much difference.

Brining the turkey helps to infuse juiciness - there is a full on technical explanation of the whys here - and is crucial to the success of this recipe. I am never not brining a turkey again! You need to  brine the turkey for about 16-18 hours so start the day before. Pour the water into a non-reactive pot. Add the salt and stir to dissolve, then add the beer and malt syrup. The original recipe calls for you to then place two oven bags (one inside the other) into a large bowl, rinse the turkey inside and out, place in the bags (in the bowl) breast side down and pour in the brine. We had so much turkey I just brined it in one immense pot. Either way, chill the turkey in the brine for the aforementioned 16-18 hours. I chucked in some thyme sprigs for kicks, as I rather over-bought it. After brining dry the turkey and, if possible, return to the fridge to further air dry for an hour or so. 

Brining the night away

Brining the night away

You can make the glaze in advance too. Bring the malt syrup, vinegar, herbs and pepper to boil in a small saucepan. Stir occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer until the glaze coats the back of a spoon (5ish minutes). Mix in the butter. 

Cook your turkey at 170C for 20 mins/454g plus 20 additional mins. Add a couple of cups of water to the pan and keep topping it up if it dries out. For gravy purposes it is a good idea to add some celery, onion and garlic to roast with the turkey, but actually I didn't get round to it and the gravy was awesome regardless. Leave the turkey to cook for a couple of hours before opening the oven and brushing with the glaze. After that continue to brush with glaze every 20 mins until cooked. Remove the bird an hour before serving (ideally) and cover with foil to rest the meat. For gravy I poured the sauces from the roasting tin into a jug, separated the fat and returned it to the tin on the hob, added a handful of flour and made a roux, then slowly added the reserved juices plus about a bottle of red wine. it was DELICIOUS and took about five minutes... 

A big shout out to Smitten Kitchen whose faultless recipes I relied upon for sweet potato biscuits (which were un-be-lievable), the best homemade pumpkin pie I've ever tasted, and the best excuse to finally attempt homemade marshmallows - s'more pie. IT WAS EPIC. And it turns out marshmallows are not that difficult to make! An extra shout out to my brother, who lugged big tins of pumpkin and bottles of corn syrup over from a trip to New York so we could be as sickly sweet as we could. 

Now I never want to see another orange food again. Until next November, maybe...

sunday sunday

Growing up (in the US), buttermilk pancakes for breakfast was a weekend ritual. With obscene amounts of bacon and buckets of filter coffee and probably a few stray teenagers crashed out from the night before. Brunch was a once in a while mega-feast, usually at a restaurant with whole cake bars and omelet chefs and buffets of tiny bagels, sausages, immense waffles and rainbows of melon. These days Pablo demands pancakes or waffles at least once a week, but having people over for brunch is a bit more exciting. Brunch is perfect because it gives you an excuse to eat two meals-worth in one, and to basically get a bit merry at breakfast-ish-time (bucks fizz! bloody marys! yay!). It's also not too much of an undertaking to whip up brunch for friends, and when you're up with the cubs from something painful like 6:30am it's nice to have people over for a meal around midday and then have the last couple of hours before bedtime free for a family movie, rather than spending all morning and early afternoon cooking and then sitting around in the dark eating a roast exhausted... 

Kristyn, James and very pregnant Laura came round and we feasted on papaya, mango and blueberries, stacks of waffles with cream and syrup and some pretty impressive Eggs Benedict with home made hollandaise (thanks, Kristyn!). Then Indiana helpfully had a mega nap so we could weep with laughter playing Cards Against Humanity and slurping grapefruit juice mimosas...

Indy mostly continued her standing up all over the place

Indy mostly continued her standing up all over the place

After a 4pm dusky stroll in the park, everyone headed home and we curled up for Pablo's first taste of Home Alone. I nearly cried watching him laugh so hard.

With Jam in

Have been desperate desperate desperate to make some doughnuts for a long time now. I want to make lots, really, in all kinds of flavours and glazed with all kinds of colours and chocolates and sprinkles and... I have proper little daydreams about it. Have recently started following Sidecar Doughnuts on Instagram which is killing me a little bit, too. Talk about living the (doughnut) dream!

I had to nick this from their  Pinterest  to show you how beautiful their doughnuts look... I hope they don't mind!

I had to nick this from their Pinterest to show you how beautiful their doughnuts look... I hope they don't mind!

So I was dying for an excuse to make some doughnuts of my very own, and finally got one (isn) when we were invited to a Halloween bash by Pablo's best bud Edie. I have about 10 recipes I'm eager to test, and I started with Richard Bertinet's little beignet style ones (except I totally cheated and used the Kitchenaid - sorry Richard! I still need to buy a dough scraper, in my defence...)

Transient

Doughnuts 

250ml full fat milk
15g fresh yeast (I actually used 14g dried yeast as had no fresh, and it was fine
500g strong bread flour
60g unsalted butter at room temperature
40g caster sugar
10g salt
2 large eggs
500ml groundnut oil for frying
caster sugar for dusting
filling (jam, creme patissiere etc) - optional

Heat the milk until it is "body temperature" - neither warm nor cold - in a saucepan. Mix the yeast into the flour by hand (if it is fresh yeast, rub it in as you would making a crumble), then rub in the butter (I had cut mine into little cubey shardy bits). Add the sugar and salt, then the eggs and the milk. 

If you are working the dough by hand, you need to follow Richard's method - which involves lots of stretching and lifting the dough until it comes together. Do not add more flour even though it seems super sticky! If using a mixer with a dough hook (like me) pop it on a medium speed for approx 6 or 7 minutes, until the dough comes together in a smooth, elastic lump. Shape the dough into a ball.

Rest the dough for 1 hour in a lightly floured bowl with a damp tea towel or some cling film over the top. Preferably pop it somewhere warm, but I know we don't all have agas and airing cupboards (I have neither) - don't panic, it will still rise. It may take a bit longer than an hour somewhere not-so-warm, so keep an eye on it - you want it to double in size. 

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.

Divide the dough into three. With each piece, flatten with the heel of your hand into a rough oval shape. Fold one side into the middle and use the heel of your palm again to press it down and seal. Repeat with the other side, then fold the whole thing lengthways into a long sausage shape, sealing the long edge. Cut this shape into 30g pieces (I weighed them! They don't have to be bang on 30g, of course, just thereabouts). Work each piece into a ball by folding the edges into the centre and pressing down well, rotating the ball of dough in your hand as your go. Do this a few times, then roll the ball in your hand to to smooth the sealed edge. Pop them on a lightly oiled, lightly floured baking tray under a damp tea towel and leave to prove for 45ish mins. They balls should about double in size. 

Heat your oil to deep-fry stage in a 20cm saucepan (about 180C - if you have a thermometer use it! Richard said it would take about 15 mins to get this hot on a medium heat, but after 10 minutes mine was smokingly, screamingly way too hot and I had to turn it off to give it a minute to calm down. Whoops!) Be very careful lowering the dough balls into the oil on a slotted spoon. Obviously the oil is dangerously hot so avoid getting any closer than you have to! Pop about 5 doughnuts in at a time. After 30-45 seconds, turn them over to fry the other side (you can tell by the colour when they are ready). Then remove and leave to cool on some kitchen paper...or a muslin, if you have no kitchen paper but an abundance of baby muslins! 

"EAT ME!" ok...
"EAT ME!" ok...
Transient

Because they were for a Halloween party I conjured up all kinds of ambitions to fill them with coloured creme patissiere or make some home made jam, but typically ran out of time and had to buy a jar of jam. A tiny bit of foresight and an Amazon Prime membership meant I had this badass instrument ready to help me out with the next step. But in theory a piping bag and nozzle would do the job.  Pablo was an ace little helper and it was actually a really fun project for him - especially the tasting bit. We might have consumed a few in various states of jam-filled-ness...

The verdict in the end was that they were DELICIOUS. And very easy to make. Only trouble is now I can't stop eating them...

sunday sunday

Lovely family brunch - buttermilk pancakes, fruit salad, eggs benedict, bacon, bucks fizz, coffee galore. Pablo was showered in Halloween goodies by his Grandpa & Grandma, and Uncle Xander & Auntie Zara. Brunches are also the best because the whole afternoon still exists for lying around watching films.

sunday sunday

Overjoyed to be invited to a Mexican birthday brunch today, and commissioned to provide the cake! I spent the week constructing a rad sugar skull to go on top (another red velvet cake was requested). Felix & Catherine (the birthday girl) live in a big warehouse apartment built for parties, and had made a giant pot of hot chilli for us all. Pablo got stuck into the pinatas (multiple!) and thought all his Christmases had come at once. 

A highlight was Katie D's incredible margarita meringue cake, which I'm going to try and beg the recipe for. Watch this space...