September 11, 2017

London Cheesecake

Wallace: “Gromit, that's it! Cheese! We'll go somewhere where there's cheese!”
[Looks at Cheese Holidays magazine, then out window] 
“Everybody knows the moon is made of cheese…”

As a small child, I would upturn the breakfast table stools and climb into them with a colander on my head, rocketing off into outer space – a dark and velvety night sky surrounding me, speckled with dazzling freckles of glowing light, on a mission to the moon. If I was lucky, I’d have my younger co-pilots joining me with our spaceships pushed up against the window, our warm breathe fogging the glass, peering out at the vast expanding world beyond.

It’s quite possible that my love of cheese stemmed from the moment, snuggled under blankets on the sofa, we watched Wallace & Gromit’s A Grand Day Out. Those crackers and the plasticine cheese they cut from the moon’s potholed surface looked entirely delectable from a TV screen. After all, it was “like no cheese [Wallace had] ever tasted...” T-10 seconds until lift off…

At dinner parties, I’d excitedly ask to try the cheeses laid out on the cheese board at the end of the night. A wrinkle across my 10-year old nose as I took my first taste of Stinking Bishop and a tongue stuck out in disgust after Cornish Yarg. And so for a number of years, until my taste buds ripened, I would spread good ol’ Philadelphia over bagels or slather on cucumber sandwiches cut into triangles (because they tasted better cut that way). 

I discovered Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess in the early noughties and never looked back. Her London Cheesecake recipe plied with dollops of Philadelphia and touched with vanilla and a hint of lemon is the simplest but most tasty of recipes in her almanac. The method of baking it in a bain-marie regulates the baking temperature of the cheesecake for an even, slow bake and prevents overcooking, making it thus by far my favourite cooking method. The steam in the oven also keeps it moist and lessens cracking for that perfect finish. 

So, even if I may now officially call myself an adult, I still take myself back to those days of sky-rocketing to the moon and back, stealing nibbles of cheese at dinner parties and discovering new bakes as the years pass by...


April 18, 2017

Fondant au Chocolat

bank holidays are few and far between and so when one comes along, it should be mightily treasured, full of adventure, smiles, laughter and above all, time spent with crazy good people. Having prepared my Dad for the mischief my brother and I would no doubt be up to in order to make up for the lost time I'd spent with our parents from living away from home, the weekend was sure to be an exciting mix of jovial repartee from the youngsters, Dad jokes, scrabble-wars from my Mum and outlandish comments from the one and only Grandma Avent. 

Friday played out beautifully, with two rounds of tea and biscuits on the agenda matched with a historical retelling of some old photographs my Grandma had saved in crinkled, battered envelopes; our Great Great Great Grandmother sitting plump in the middle of 10 children, a babe in arms and a man, unknown to all, on her right. I wanted to revel in the family resemblance but all I could see was The Trunch from Roald Dahl's Matilda in her sturdy frame, the buttons of her frilled frock bursting and ready to pop (I imagine straight into the photographer's face). Her stern look and severely swept-back hair did nothing for her round features and the absence of a smile made me grateful that at least our traditional beach selfie would be far more charismatic than this.

We wheeled Grandma to the beach on Saturday, sending her down the zig zag hill to the pier, her whispy hair dancing in the wind and all our cheeks flushed with the pinch of cold in the air. There were surfers out in the waters; rather them than me! The warmth of the sun as it peeped out from behind the thick white marshmallow clouds was the only saving grace to keep us from getting too chilly, as each family member was slowly donating an item of clothing to keep Grandma from going blue. 

As we made our way home on Easter Sunday, after the best eggs my Dad had ever boiled in his life(!!) and an over of cricket which finished swiftly as I hit a six over the garden fence, I was already considering the options for a chocolate dessert to have that evening. A beautiful friend of mine brought me a cracking birthday present last year; a framed print with the words "whip it, whip it real good" neatly scrawled across the white background. It stands, propped against my bookshelf and trust me, the recipe I chose calls for a full eight minutes of whipping eggs and sugar so it's a philosophy that should be taken seriously.

Rather than receiving traditional Easter eggs, my parents decided that my love of salted caramel should also be taken seriously. Having purchased a jar of the sweet, sticky substance in Aldeburgh last weekend and additionally giving me a glossy cellphone bag of duck-egg blue speckled chocolate eggs that were also salted caramel flavoured, this dessert had to follow suit. After much whipping and a little pre-dinner preparation, I had set myself up for a taste-test like no other... I just hoped that the reality lived up to expectations! 


April 12, 2017

White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake

london was in full bloom this weekend. Temperatures soaring above 20C officially announced that every single British person should whip out their summer wardrobe in an instant. Minus the suncream, for the brave. My priorities were somewhat askew when the first things that came to mind were cake, prosecco and strawberries: the necessities of summer soirées. Homemade picnics are the bomb; think creamy potato salads tossed with spring onions, quiche lorraine and chunks of French cheese, grapes from the vine with much-needed chilled rosé and bubbles to wash it all down.

So I spent the morning preparing a light but delicious cake that would satisfy the hunger of the Arup football team and compliment our nibbles and drinks delightfully. A light breeze ruffled the air, but the smell of fresh grass and the pinky-white blossom cascading from the bows in Regent's Park gave London its beauty, bathed, glistening in sunshine. The childlike excitement of seeing familiar faces, eyes wide and smiles beaming, a testament to the friendships fused over the years. We munched our way through cheese and cornbread, guzzled fizz and pulled out the croquet set to see if we were well and truly British. After completing two full games, of which I lost both, a mélange of franglais and a little bit more tipple, it was time for my cake to get eaten! 

The guys finished up their football match, t-shirts mottled with perspiration, rosy cheeks, hungover bodies and lazy legs collapsing upon the grass ready to devour the feast we'd laid out before them. This cake had to be finished, for I was not carrying it home with me. Delegating this accolade of Chief Cake-Cutter to one of the guys, he certainly did not fail at the task at hand, the soft crumbs and smear of buttercream coating my plastic tupperware box a tell-tale sign it had been enjoyed by all. 

As the sun set behind the rows of trees, and the cold chill picked up in the air, it was time to kiss the day goodbye (even if we never wanted it to end!) and hope for more summer evenings to come our way, just like this one... 


March 06, 2017

waking up to golden shards of sunshine seeping through your blinds is a little life pleasure I wholly enjoy, whether the sky is bright and the air crisp or the heat of summer has enveloped the city. I was lucky enough to take over the top room in my parent's house when I lived with them and claim it as my own, with a view of London that, as I pulled up my blinds each morning, never ceased to amaze me; the tip of the sunrise peaking over the horizon and wrapping its beams around the tree branches below. 

Occasionally, when the clocks went forward, I would set my alarm early and hop out of bed to jog round Alexandra Palace and Highgate Wood before making it back home in time to ready myself for the day. But of course, the transition from winter to spring, and spring to summer is undeniably slow in the UK and the mornings still embrace you with fresh air and a cold snap until June/July come round. There were days when porridge wouldn't quite cut it and I'd decided that cake for breakfast was entirely acceptable.

At Christmas, my Aunt made a gingerbread that was too good not to steal the recipe for. In fact, I stole a few (including a recipe for a brownie cheesecake which was to die for and I hope will make an appearance sometime soon on the blog). Not only do I now have a reputation for bringing home-baked goods into the office, the gym crowd like to drop not-so-subtle hints that cake is what they really want when I turn up for a workout. There was even a jovial backlash when this week I told them I would not be able to make it to our 10am Saturday session. No Charlotte? No cake!? The disappointment was undoubtedly evident.

Luckily for them, I'd already been planning to bake even if it meant having to go to five grocery stores to get my hands on stem ginger. I made this cake last week, but before I'd even had a chance to photograph it, it had been gobbled up by my family who quite clearly enjoyed the lot! So, Saturday started yet again like most do by way of breakfast brainstorming and I whipped up another loaf to keep the majority of the people in my life happy. 

Gingerly (pun entirely intended), I sliced myself a piece of the gingerbread and slid it under the grill, waiting for a sugar char round the edges and a crunchy top, eagerly readied for the spread of butter. With a cup of earl grey tea brewing on the counter, there I was with a little smirk on my face revelling in the satisfaction that I could enjoy my breakfast of toasted gingerbread without anyone getting their hands on it first! 


November 21, 2016

The Ultimate Carrot Cake

it's been a long time coming since I made another carrot cake; the reason being that, even if it's my favourite cake, there are so many more exciting and unusual things I want to give a shot. This week however, I had no choice, as it seemed to be a week of broken promises and empty stomachs. 

You see, I train religiously (or so I like to think) with a group of strong, lean, carrot-cake eating machines every single week. They push me to work that little bit harder, throw me outside my comfort zone but keep my going through till the end. Each week without fail, I come away lighter, brighter and generally with an amazing weekend glow about me. I heard a rumour that the guys had been secretly whispering, debating the deliciousness of the promised carrot cake last week, which indeed was not plonked on the table of a nearby cafe in a pristine white cake box as originally promised. So this week, I had to deliver. No excuses. 

My Wednesday started at 5:30am when my alarm buzzed, the all too-familiar sound of gentle chimes ringing out in their monotonous rhythm. Warm and cosy, I reached over to switch on my bedside lamp, cursing as I knocked over a full glass of water in the process. I rubbed my eyes and hated every minute of getting out of bed but knew I'd feel better for it after. I soaked up the water that had seeped into the carpet and was dripping from the corners of the wooden table top, pulled on my gym leggings, laced my trainers, brushed my teeth then grabbed my gym bag and quietly tiptoed out the flat and into the night. 

My high-glow shimmered in the lights of passing cars, their headlights flashing past in quick succession. London was alive... at 5:30am. I made my 7am spin class, secretly racing against the guy next to me as we climbed the hill and then sprinted down the valley before calling it a day (yes, at 7:45am). I took the Victoria Line to work and treated myself to a flat white from the exceptionally cute Espresso Room in Covent Garden to give me a kick whilst going over my inbox. The day had begun. Except I'd be going for four hours already...

This was to be no ordinary carrot cake. Oh no. This would be THE carrot cake. Eyes would swivel, and mouths would water. Hopefully. I baked that night and adapted the recipe to cram as much goodness into the cake as I could. What kind of carrot cake recipe omits pecans, sultanas, cinnamon, ginger, orange zest? It seems most of them, which is bizarre since these are the things that make a carrot cake even more delicious. So I merged a few recipes and adapted the ingredients for a foolproof bake that anyone could attempt. 

Saturday morning beckoned and the anticipation was undeniable. Had I known that not a crumb would be left, perhaps I would've made another for me to enjoy with a cup of tea on the sofa at home later that day. Instead, I enjoyed the leftover icing scooped up atop crunchy pecan nuts from the bowl instead, which I have to say, was a little pleasure in itself. 


November 14, 2016

Chocolate Chestnut Cake
when I was younger, I used to enjoy coming home and attempting to persuade my dad that it really was cold enough for a real hearth fire. But more often than not, it wouldn't be until the frost started to appear on car windscreens and the box of scarves and mittens were taken out the loft that he would finally give in. As soon as the fire was blazing hot, I'd grab my packet of white and pink marshmallows, pierce them onto long metal skewers and sit cross-legged in front of the mantelpiece, toasting the spongey sugar squares until they were oozing and charred on the outside. I'd tentatively eat the sticky exterior and hold them back over the fire to caramelise once more until I had eaten all of the marshmallow and the process would start again. 

As I've grown up, the novelty has definitely not worn off and if I can find an excuse, I will still sit cross-legged and toast my marshmallows over the fire until they're a melting mess of pastel coloured fluff. Yet as I've grown older, I've also wished there was a little more sophistication to the activity. As a Londoner, I regularly pass the chestnut vendors who sit on the cobbled streets of Covent Garden, roasting their nuts in giant black carbon pans, the nutty aroma a satisfying scent for the nose, however I am ashamed to say, I have never in fact tried a roast chestnut. 

A friend recently told me her family would replace the traditional Christmas pudding with a chocolate chestnut cake every year and honestly, this sounded like the best idea anyone has ever had. I pretend each year to enjoy the homemade Christmas cake or sticky pudding that we've doused in alcohol and set alight, a dollap of brandy butter melting beside the hot soft dessert. Though really, I just want to scoff a mince pie and eat cake instead of picking off the royal icing and donating it to whoever at the table might take it. 

Since it really feels as if winter is upon us, and it's time to bring out our puffa jackets, hats and scarves, a chocolate chestnut cake sounds sufficiently satisfactory for any evening of the week. Even if a little indulgent, this recipe calls for a real wood fire but sadly no marshmallows. And for the intolerant among us, it's entirely gluten-free. 


November 07, 2016

Chilli Almond Biscuits

bonfire night is for snuggling up; rosy cheeks and pinched noses, foggy plumes of breath escaping into the cold night. The 5th November is one of my favourite days of year; a time when the leaves crunch under foot and the warmth of a British pub roast is all you need after a long Autumnal walk. It is totally acceptable to carb-load on these kind of days, when the wind is roaring outside and chill in the air makes your knuckles turn white. 

This year, I stayed in, watching the glittering rockets of light soar into the air from my living room window. There's something gluttonous about cosy-ing up indoors, blanket wrapped round you, the kettle on ready for a warming cup of tea and not feeling in the least bit envious of those who've ventured out into the cold for the fireworks. Saying this, sparklers and mulled wine are totally my thing and wrapping up ready to embrace the cold for an evening where the sky is alight with shimmering brilliance is something I have done every year since I was a child. Perhaps there is a first for everything. 

Part of that affinity is the food stalls selling candy floss, caramel popcorn, cobnuts and barbecued bangers, mulled wine, hot ciders and frothy chocolate milk. And I'll take any excuse to slip on a pair of mittens and pack a thermos flask to keep everyone warm, along with sparklers and smiles. Though, on cold nights like these you need more than mittens to keep you warm: Food with a kick, that is entirely grown-up in the melange of sweet treats.

I have to say that this recipe was not my first choice. I had really wanted chocolate. Dark chocolate to be precise. A perfect bonfire night chocolate cake. However having searched high and low for one ingredient in particular, and spending most of my morning running from supermarket to organic food store with no luck whatsoever, I resigned myself to the fact that the bake was simply not meant for this weekend. So, with one packet of lonely blanched almonds peering at me from the shelf of aisle three, I grabbed them and got myself back in the warmth of my flat before my fingers got numb and my nose turned any pinker than it already had. 

Instead, I decided to bake something that packed a punch, full of warming flavours and home comforts. If I dared breathe the word "cheddar" to any of my French friends, I am sure they would gasp with shock, but yes - cheddar cheese, in a savoury biscuit with chilli and blanched almonds. The perfect pre-dinner delight on a cold winter night or beautiful as a gift parcelled in cellophane and finished with ribbon. Plus, who can resist a bit of cheese? Even if it is cheddar.