Browsing through The Times this weekend I spotted a basic fudge recipe and, having all the ingredients in the house already, I felt inspired to whip up a quick batch. The last time I made fudge I was probably about 17 and I remember it involved a tin of condensed milk, a bucketload of sugar and a splash of vinegar? The fudge of my teenage years was delicious, but this recipe sounded equally good: Cream, sugar, butter - how could such a delightful combo of ingredients produce anything less than perfect? 

I thought I'd pimp the recipe a bit and give my fudge a festive twist with the addition of dark chocolate and dried cranberries. A good idea, if I say so myself. The chocolate helped to balance out the sweetness of the fudge and the chewy berries added some textural interest. While we're talking Christmas, a pretty plate piled high with homemade fudge, would make a lovely (not to mention super easy) edible gift. Or eat it all yourself - as I'll be doing. 
Vanilla fudge with dark chocolate and cranberries.

300ml single cream
350g caster sugar
100g butter
1tsp vanilla extract
50g of dark chocolate (you could add more if you wanted a very chocolatey fudge - see step 3 below)
A handful of dried cranberries

  1. Put the cream, sugar and butter into a large pan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. 
  2. Turn up the heat and boil for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the fudge reaches 115'C. If, like me, you don't have a sugar thermometer, then don't worry, you can check to the see that the fudge has reached soft ball stage by dropping a teaspoon of the mixture into cold water - it should form a soft ball. 
  3. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract and about a third of the chocolate. For a really chocolately fudge, add up to 100g of dark chocolate at this point. With a wooden spoon, beat for about 5 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken and lose its shine.  
  4. Pour into a baking try lined with greaseproof paper. 
  5. Add the rest of your chocolate to a heatproof bowl and sit over a pan of barely simmering water until it starts to melt. Remove from the heat and artfully drizzle the chocolate over the fudge. Sprinkle with a small handful of dried cranberries. 
  6. Allow the fudge to cool completely (not in the fridge), before cutting into squares. And devouring it all. 
December is here, Christmas is getting ever closer and it's bloody freezing, so I'm feeling the annual urge to overindulge on festive fare. What's more festive than mince pies? Now I do love these little things, so this year I thought I'd try and make my own. Admittedly I did cheat and buy the mincemeat in a jar, but I made the shortcrust pastry and added a frangipane topping after seeing something similar in a food magazine. They were actually remarkably easy to make, and the frangipane spared me from the faff of making little pastry lids for them all. 

After a jam tart disaster the other day, where the oven shelf was skew and the filling overflowed to make a sticky mess, I was a bit worried about how these would turn out. But they were pretty damn good. So good, in fact, that I had to do multiple taste tests... you know, just to check that they were edible. Aren't I thoughtful?
Frangipane mince pies.
A cross between a traditional mince pie and a bakewell tart, these moreish little things are best served warm with a big mug of tea or, better yet, a glass of mulled wine. 

Makes 24 tarts.
For the short crust pastry:
280g plain flour
20g icing or caster sugar
150g cold butter, cubed
A few tablespoons of ice cold water
410g jar of mincemeat
150g ground almonds
100g butter
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
25g plain flour
1tsp vanilla extract
zest of a lemon
50g flaked almonds
icing sugar, for dusting

  1. To make the pastry, put the flour and sugar in a bowl and add the cubed butter. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in just enough water to bring the mixture together until you have a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for about half an hour.
  2. When the pastry has rested, roll out on a floured work surface. Use a biscuit cutter (or the top of a glass if you're ill-equipped like me) to stamp out circles, gently pressing the dough into the holes of your tart tin. Chill the pastry cases for about 15 minutes. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 180'C. To make the frangipane, whizz together all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. 
  4. Put 1 teaspoon of mincemeat into the bottom of each pastry case, then top with a teaspoon or 2 of the frangipane. Scatter with the flaked almonds, then bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. 
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.
So a few days ago I made creme brulee with 2 egg yolks - this means I've had the leftover whites lurking in the back of the fridge ever since. Not wanting to waste them, and always keen to try something new, I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to make meringues. Now my experience of meringue-making is limited to pavlova (and the basic kind that tops a lemon meringue pie). I scoured the internet for ideas and found a rather intriguing Ottolenghi recipe - unusual in the fact that he roasts the sugar first. Roasted sugar? It all sounded rather bizarre, but his theory is that you end up with something resembling an Italian meringue without all the fuss of making a sugar syrup. If I needed any further convincing, The Guardian website tested out a whole bunch of meringue recipes and declared his the best. It was worth a go.

I reduced the original recipe, which called for 5 egg whites, but followed the rest of the instructions to a T. I roasted the sugar, until it started to melt, then slowly added it to the already-whisking whites. I watched in wonder as the mixture  transformed into a swirling, glossy cloud-like mass. By the time it was ready, it was beautifully thick and marshmallowy. I decided to vamp my meringues up a bit by adding some grated dark chocolate and finely chopped walnuts. I stirred the additions into the mixture, right at the end, before dolloping mounds of the fluffy meringue onto a lined baking tray. 
Now meringues are not a quick thing to make. I had to wait for them to bake and then cool overnight, uncertain as to whether my patience would be rewarded with utter delight or disappointment.

This morning, I opened the oven door and was greeted by a lovely sight - an army of pretty little meringues all lined up and ready to be eaten. But, the proof is in the pudding - I (obviously) had to eat one to see if they'd turned out alright. It was better than alright - the meringue was sweet and delicate with a lovely underlying nuttiness and just a hint of chocolate. 

Rather than eat them all as is, I turned mine into a bit of an experimental tiramisu-inspired dessert. To go with the chocolate and walnut meringues, I made a coffee and vanilla whipped cream and a dark chocolate ganache. I served this up by topping a spoonful of the cream with a meringue, a generous drizzle of ganache and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. A tower of decadent layers, each delicious on their own but even better together. Sinful - but oh so good.
Chocolate & Walnut meringues.
Based on an Ottolenghi recipe, found on the Guardian website. Just bear in mind that you need a freestanding mixer to make these meringues.

Makes 9 meringues.
2 egg whites
120g caster sugar
1 wedge of lemon
30g dark chocolate, grated
30g walnuts, finely chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 200'C and spread the sugar out on a baking tray, lined with baking paper. When the oven's ready, put the tray in the oven for about 5 minutes, until the sugar just begins to melt at the edges (make sure you watch it - you don't want the sugar to caramelise). 
  2. Meanwhile, separate your eggs if you haven't already done so. Make sure your mixing bowl is clean and dry, then wipe the inside of the bowl, and the whisk, with the wedge of lemon. 
  3. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, start whisking the egg whites at a high speed. 
  4. Get the sugar out of the oven, then slowly add it to the still-whisking egg whites. 
  5. Leave the mixer to do its job for 10 - 15 minutes, until the meringue has completely cooled down and turned really thick and glossy. Turn the oven down to 110'C. 
  6. When the meringue's ready, turn off the whisk and gently fold in the grated chocolate and the walnuts. 
  7. Line a baking tray with parchment and then spoon the mixture (leaving some space between the meringues as they'll spread out slightly as you cook them). 
  8. Bake for an hour and a half, then turn off the heat and leave the meringues to cool down in the oven for another hour and a half, or overnight.
Meringues with coffee cream, chocolate ganache & walnuts.
If you want to turn your meringues into more of a feast, here's a simple dessert recipe that looks really impressive.

Serves 2
150ml double cream
30g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of icing sugar
30g walnuts

  1. To make the ganache, bring 50ml of double cream to the boil, turn off the heat and stir in the dark chocolate - the warmth of the cream will melt the chocolate and you'll end up with a thick, glossy sauce.
  2. Dissolve the instant coffee and vanilla in a teaspoon of boiling water and a splash of the cream. Add the rest of the cream, the icing sugar (sifted) and whip until it forms soft peaks.
  3. Divide the coffee flavoured cream between 2 bowls. Top with a meringue, then a generous amount of chocolate ganache. Finish off the dessert with a few finely chopped walnuts. 
I have pyromania in my genes (I blame it on my mother), and for a while now I've been secretly lusting after a blowtorch so I can burn things. All in the name of cooking of course. Last week, spurred on by a lengthy Amazon browse, I finally succumbed to temptation and ordered one. After all - a serious cook needs serious gadgets, right? It arrived a few days later, my cute little blowtorch wrapped protectively in a blanket of brown paper. Isn't internet shopping the best? I couldn't wait to get it fired up, but my first mission was to fill the thing with butane gas. The instructions on the packaging were rubbish. I ended up covered in gas and, feeling rather flammable, thought it safest to stay out of the kitchen (and away from any open flames) for the rest of the day. Yes, I did manage to get the blowtorch filled in the end, but let's just say it wasn't as easy as I'd thought! 

So anyway, with my new gadget finally working I (obviously!) had to make creme brulee. I scoured the internet for recipes and finally settled on Rachel Khoo's version. I only wanted to make 2 portions, so I reduced the recipe and it made just enough to fill the ramekins. I've never really made a baked custard before, but it was surprisingly easy and the mixture set beautifully. I had to wait overnight for the custards to cool, and woke up excited with the anticipation of caramelising the hell out of some sugar! I sprinkled some demerara lightly over the custards, fired up my blowtorch and watched as the sugar slowly melted into a golden layer of caramel. The satisfying crunch, as I broke through the topping with my spoon, was all the reward I needed. But yes, it tasted great too - what's not to love about creamy custard and burnt sugar? The only question now is - what can I burn next? 
Creme brulee
Adapted from a Rachel Khoo recipe. Make's enough to fill 2 small ramekins. 

100ml double cream
70ml semi-skimmed milk (or full fat, if you have it - just don't use the skimmed stuff) 
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract 
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
Demerara sugar, for the topping

  1. Preheat your oven to 120'C. 
  2. Pour the cream and milk into a pan, along with the vanilla extract, and bring to the boil before removing from the heat.
  3. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks and caster sugar then slowly pour in the hot cream, whisking continuously. 
  4. Fill 2 ramekins with the custard, then place them in a roasting tin. Pour cold water into the tin so that it comes halfway up the ramekins. 
  5. Bake for about 30 - 35 minutes, until the custard has set but still has a bit of a wobble to it. 
  6. Allow the custards to come to room temperature, then cover with cling film (don't let the film touch the custard) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  7. When you're ready to serve, remove the custards from the fridge. If any condensation has formed on the top of the custards, lightly pat dry with a piece of kitchen roll. 
  8. Sprinkle over a nice, even layer of demerara then fire up your blowtorch and heat the surface until the sugar caramelises. 
I was given a colander-full of blackcurrants the other day and thrown the question "What on earth can we do with these?". I had no idea, having never really come across so many of these sour little berries in their natural state before. Feeling culinarily challenged, I hit the internet and was soon rewarded with an answer - make sorbet! Now I haven't had much success with sorbet before. When I was a teenager, I made a passion fruit version I'd seen on a Jamie Oliver show and the flavour was good, but it was icy and the texture was all wrong. Then a few years back I tried a Heston recipe for a strawberry sorbet, which I had high hopes for because I was using my dad's new icecream machine, but the mixture didn't freeze and we ended up with a large batch of virgin daquiris instead. Needless to say, my expectations were not very high but the fruit needed using up and I was determined to succeed in my mission or renounce from making sorbet ever again. I followed a fairly basic recipe, but realised the key to getting it right this time was blitzing the mixture in a food processor at regular intervals to break up any ice crystals and create the perfect consistency. It was a bit of a schelp, and the food processor and half the kitchen are now stained pink, but hey - it worked! The end product was a gorgeous bright, smooth mixture with a lovely refreshing flavour.  I'll be making this again if I ever find my fruit bowl overflowing with berries - I'm thinking blackberries next time? Yum. 
Blackcurrant sorbet.
Scale the recipe up or down depending on how many blackcurrants you have. I made a slightly smaller batch and it worked like a dream. I found the recipe here (on the Marie Claire website of all places!) but you can also read it below. 

4 cups of blackcurrants
2 tablespoons of orange juice
1 cup of sugar (I used caster)
1.25 cups of water

  1. Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan, until the mixture is boiling and the sugar has all dissolved. Allow it to bubble away for a few minutes and reduce slightly.
  2. Wash the blackcurrants then blend them up in a food processor. Using the back of a spoon, push the blackcurrant puree through a sieve so you're left with just the smooth pulp. 
  3. Mix the blackcurrant puree with the orange juice and sugar syrup and pour the mixture into a lidded container.
  4. Freeze for 2-3 hours, then remove from the freezer and blend the mixture up in a food processor. Repeat this process 2 or 3 more times until the sorbet has set. 
Well it's bank holiday Monday, which means very little to me since I work everyday, but the sun is shining, I'm getting paid  time and a half and I just made this fabulous lunch, so hey - it's all good! Now I've been dying to try out this Ottolenghi recipe that first caught my eye about a week ago, when I was dodging the rain by bookshop browsing, and has been on my mental wish list ever since. I spotted it in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, which is a book I haven't bought for one reason: I hate the layout. But design snobbery aside, the recipes all sound amazing and most of them are for things that I've seen, and lusted after, in Ottolenghi's deli. Anyway, when I saw this recipe for salmon with a roasted sweet pepper and hazeulnut salsa, I thought it'd be the perfect thing for a summery lunch - healthy, colourful and big on flavour. The fresh, sweet, tangy salsa goes beautifully with the salmon, but to be honest, it'd go with anything. I could imagine it making a lovely bruschetta topping, a dip for corn chips, a dressing for a salad, or even just drizzled over a plate of roasted veggies to liven them up. And, while his recipe calls for chives, I think it'd be just as good with basil, flat leaf parsley or coriander. I'd even throw a finely sliced red chilli in next time. 
Salmon with a roasted sweet pepper salsa.
This is the original recipe, which makes enough salsa for 4. I halved mine, and it turned out fine, but I'd definately make a bigger batch next time so I'd have some leftover!

2 large red sweet peppers
2 tablespoons of hazelnuts - I counted and it was about 16 nuts
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
The juice & zest of 1 lemon
A glug of olive oil
A small bunch of chives, finely snipped
A clove of garlic, crushed or finely grated
Salt & pepper
4 salmon fillets

  1. Roast the peppers (either on the direct flame of a gas hob or in the oven) until the skins are black and blistered. Cover with cling film or wrap in a plastic bag, leave to cool for 10 minutes, and then peel - discarding the seeds and stalk. 
  2. If you're using whole, raw hazelnuts, then toast them in the oven (or in a dry frying pan on the stove) for a few minutes before rubbing off their skin. Chop them up finely. 
  3. Zest and juice the lemon, mix in the white wine vinegar, garlic and chives. Add the flesh from the sweet pepper (roughly chopped) and the hazelnuts. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook the salmon fillets in a little olive oil, and serve with a big spoonful of the salsa on the side.
So it seems that I've only blogged about sweet things lately. I'm not sure why. I guess it's because normal every day food isn't always that... exciting? You know, it might be delicious, but do you really want to see a photo of a sandwich or a bowl of pasta? Baking is always a bit of an experiment, as I tend to hop from one recipe to the next, slowly eliminating them based on my ingredients (or lack thereof). That's what makes it fun for me - the cupboard raiding, the recipe searching, and finally the throwing together of whatever it is. I've made biscuits 3 times over the last 2 weeks. That pretty much doubles the amount of times I've made biscuits in my whole life. They're just something I generally don't bother with. Shop bought biscuits tend to be just as good - or better. The first 2 batches I made proved that. I attempted some ginger biscuits which were nice (but not amazing), and some chocolate and ginger biscuits that were edible, but really they were only eaten because everyone was too polite to decline them. These ones I made today, however, were a huge success! Hallelujah - third time lucky! 
Chocolate, raisin & oat biscuits.
I followed a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog, which you can find here and I got 17 biscuits from one batch. They filled the kitchen with the most gorgeous smell and were utterly irresistible from the moment they came out of the oven - hot, soft and gooey from the melted chocolate. 

1/2 cup (or 115gs) of butter, softened
A heaped 1/2 cup of soft brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 & 1/2 cups of rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup of dark chocolate, hand cut into chunky pieces 

  1. Cream together the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until soft and fluffy.
  2. Fold in the dry ingredients - the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  3. Stir in the oats, raisins and chocolate then refrigerate the mixture. Chilling the mixture slightly is supposed to help the biscuits retain their shape and stop them from spreading. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 175'C and line a baking tray with parchment.
  5. When the oven's ready, spoon dollops of the mixture onto the baking tray leaving about 2 inches between biscuits.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until they're just slightly golden around the edges but still soft-looking. Leave to cool on the tray for about 5 minutes before transferring to a rack. 
So yesterday, in my fridge browsing, I discovered some rather sad, unloved pastries lurking in the back corner. They'd been there a few days and had hardened into inedible, brick-like forms that could well have been used as a deadly weapon should I have had to improvise in a sudden kitchen attack. I think stale pastries are a rather depressing thing. If you think about it, they start their life warm and tempting, scented with the aroma of melted butter and sugar and within a day or 2 they've transformed into hard, cold, dry, miserable things, usually destined for the rubbish bin. These stale pastries were luckier than others - they were about to be rescued. A bit of rummaging revealed all the ingredients I'd need to turn my nasty old pain au chocolat into the best bread and butter pudding. Ever. 
As far as bread and butter pudding recipes go, this one's fairly basic. But it was really good. The raspberries on top really made this dish for me, they were tart and juicy and helped cut through the richness of the dessert. Blackberries, in season, would work well too. 
Pain au chocolat pudding.
Serves 2-3, but feel free to double the recipe to make more.
2 pain au chocolat pastries
A knob of softened butter
50ml double cream
150ml whole milk
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
2 eggs
A handful of raspberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 180'C. Lightly butter the baking dish you'll be using for the pudding.
  2. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the demerara sugar into the buttered baking dish so it roughly coats the bottom. 
  3. Cut the pastries into 1cm slices and arrange in the baking dish.
  4. Whisk together the cream, milk and eggs and pour the custard mixture over the pain au chocolate slices. Let it rest for 5 minutes or so, until the pastry has absorbed some of the liquid. 
  5. Sprinkle a tablespoon of demerara sugar over the top of the dish and bake in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes until golden but still a little wobbly in the centre. 
  6. Sprinkle with raspberries and serve with a drizzle of cream. 
I'm not complaining, honestly, I'm not. But London has been pretty damn hot lately. So hot, that they were issuing heatwave warnings last week and blaming almost every accident/incident on the warm weather. The strangest thing I heard on the news was that there's been an increase in toe amputations due to more people gardening in the sunshine! Needless to say, it came as a bit of a relief when a certain Royal baby took over the headlines this week. I confess, I did join the throng of tourists outside Buckingham Palace so see if there was anything exciting happening. There wasn't really. Although I did see the Queen (corgi in tow of course) arriving back from Windsor Castle looking a little, dare I say, unenthused? Perhaps she was just hot and bothered and needed an ice cream. I mean, I can definately relate to that. I have spent the last few weeks lusting after the stuff on an almost daily basis. A hot summer's day is made so much better by a cold, refreshing ice cream and, as this British season is generally so fleeting, I figure why not enjoy it while it lasts?
I first discovered this wonderful banana ice cream when I was a student in Cape Town and I've been making it ever since. This is as simple as recipes get, in fact, it's just frozen bananas whizzed up to a beautiful soft serve consistency. Which means, while I call it ice cream, it's dairy free and sugar free and definately counts as one of your five a day. What's not to love about that? 
The world's easiest banana ice cream.
Bananas - allow 1 per person, but add an extra few if they're small
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A splash of cream, milk, coconut milk or fruit juice
A sprinkle of caster sugar or a drizzle of honey

  1. Cut the bananas into roughly 5mm slices, ready for freezing. If you have enough space in your freezer, I find it easiest to lay them on a baking sheet so that they don't stick together. If not, don't fret, you can use any tupperware or an old ice cream tub. Put the bananas in the freezer for a few hours.
  2. When the bananas have frozen, you can add any of the optional ingredients. I usually find a few tablespoons of milk or cream makes it all a bit easier to blend.
  3. Using a blender (I tend to use the hand held variety), blitz up the bananas until you have a smooth and velvety ice cream. If the bananas are rock solid, you can let them thaw just a little, then blitz them up. 
  4. Tuck straight in, this is guilt free ice cream after all! 
So this week I finally stumbled upon one of Ottolenghi's shops, having subliminally been hunting it out for a while. The window display alone was totally worth the discovery - gorgeous, sweet delights stacked at different heights to create a mountainous terrain of goodies. Inside, were artfully arranged platters heaped high with some extraordinary looking (true Ottolenghi style) salads. Despite being completely stuffed from lunch, I thought it would be, you know... rude not to buy anything, given that I'd been drooling at the window for 5 minutes. My eyes were instantly drawn to the passion fruit meringue tart, with its soft golden peaks waving at me through the glass. So I got one. And gosh was it good. The sweet pastry worked beautifully with the tart curd and the meringue was really sticky and soft. The tart got me craving some more tangy curd so I set off home to make just that. 
Curd is one of those things I really find so satisfying to make. I love how it starts out a runny mess of eggs and juice and lumpy butter but then it all melts together, thickening slowly, until it's glossy and smooth and delicious. I'll be swirling this batch into Greek yoghurt, but one day (soon!) I'll definately attempt a copycat version of Ottolenghi's tarts.
Lime & passion fruit curd.
I sieved the lime juice and passion fruit to make a smooth curd but you could skip that step out if you don't mind the seeds or odd bit of pulp. I would usually add the lime zest to the curd but was aiming for a silky consistency so I left it out. This recipe made about a jar and a half of curd. 

5 limes
6 passion fruit
5 heaped tablespoons sugar
5 eggs
125g salted butter

  1. Place a sieve over a glass, heat proof bowl. Halve the limes, squeeze the juice and pour through the sieve. 
  2. Cut the passion fruit in half, scoop out the pulp and add to the sieve. Use the back of a spoon to push through the fruit, leaving just the seeds behind. This takes a while, but persevere, it does work! 
  3. Beat the eggs, then sieve into the bowl. You can put the sieve aside now.
  4. Add 5 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar.
  5. Add the butter, cut into rough cubes, then give the mixture a stir.
  6. Place the glass bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't actually touch the liquid.
  7. Stir for about 20 minutes, or until the curd thickens to the consistency of custard.
  8. Pour into clean, sterilized jars and store in the fridge for up to a month.