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. 


October 24, 2016

Ricotta, Pear & Almond Toast

occasionally it's the little things in life that make each minute count. Like the wink of an eye of a passer-by, a familiar smile, kind gesture or the cosy warmth of your duck-down duvet and the waft of freshly grilled toast on a Saturday morning. Sometimes it's good to stop and slow down; to appreciate the little things that little bit more. The simplicities. And when we stop, we realise that actually, these small things are what make our day shine bright. 

On Saturday morning, I realised we were J-1 until my sister left for real and I wasn't prepared for the organised chaos I'd be faced with when heading home to my parents for a weekend of what I thought would be "leisure". Suitcases littered the hallway and peeped round corners, sprawling onto the stubby carpet of our living room floor. Make up empties and testers burst out of plastic bags like something of an art installation at the Tate. Tiny coloured post-its peeked awkwardly from a wad of paper, zips burst at their seams and I was somewhat smug by the fact that I had not had to endure the craziness of my family in the preceding 48hrs when the tumble dryer was not working and the last minute panic of crossing off the to-do list had set in. 

I made a mental note to remember not to step on the upturned plug of my sister's straighteners that had escaped the grasp of one of her bags when I eventually returned upstairs, and whacked the Nespresso machine on. Today I was going for a "satiny smooth, elegantly balanced" Dulsão do Brasil: The calm before the storm. I lay down in my pyjamas in my favourite spot in the house, coffee cup beside me and wondered whether I should chance it slicing into the freshly bought rustic loaf on the counter. You can never tell what's being used in this house for some culinary experiment so I find it's always best to establish the facts first. 

I heard tiptoes on the landing and a muffled groan of "this place looks like a bomb has hit it" from my rather disgruntled dad as he padded down the stairs in his sheepskin slippers. A jovial "morning Charlie" greeted me with a "would you like some toast?" Now, the first thing that comes to mind is what is going to go on top of my toast. Marmalade, honey, poached eggs, smashed avo, all of which I love as much as each other, however today I really wanted elegant simplicity. Some may chuckle at the concept of this "simple" recipe, since it does require a little labour. But it is a labour of love. And that affair is what makes breakfast so pleasant. 

I cut five slices of bread from the rustic loaf and dropped them into the toaster. Leaning against the granite counter, I sipped my coffee and wiggled my toes, waiting for the bread to brown. The thought of a salmon and cream cheese bagel seemed extraordinarily appetising; the thick spread smothered onto crispy sesame-sprinkled halves. But all I could find after inspecting the fridge was a reduced-price ricotta I'd bought two days earlier. Some plump conference pears lay out on the granite worktop, firm and dotted with brown spots and freshly toasted almonds were cooling in a ramekin.

My toast popped. I stood two pieces together like a teepee to cool off whilst I ran thin ribbons of orange zest into the bowl of ricotta. I squeezed in some honey, gave it a mix and spread it thickly onto the crisp wholemeal squares. I sliced my pear and fanned it over the ricotta mix, taking a handful of almonds to throw on top and a little extra honey to finish. The table was set for five. Placing the toast on the table, I called up the stairs that breakfast was served and heard the feet of tiny elephants coming to greet me. 


October 17, 2016

Rice Krispie Squares

art is the illusion of spontaneity; a spark of creativity flourishing in a fluid moment. As an individual who thrives on the notions of order and forward planning, I’ve come to realise that the act of now – the present – is where we are boundless and where we should embrace a little impromptu living into our lives. If you’re anything like me, scribbling notes and ideas for future bakes, endless shopping lists of double cream and Himalayan salt, gianduja chocolate and hand-picked hazelnuts, you’ll know that the desire to bake starts with a little spark. 

That spark started with my sister, who recently decided she was to quit her job and travel as far away as possible from the vibrant chaos that is London: Melbourne, Australia. Having booked her one-way ticket to Down Under, the party planning was under way for her leaving 'do. Naturally, my parents started to panic like there really was no tomorrow and so in the build-up to the big day and with less than a week before we drive her to Heathrow Airport, I was commandeered with the task of producing three deliciously delectable desserts to take a little load away from them on the food front. 

I spent the week planning and leafing through books, magazines, scouring Pinterest and Instagram for foodie inspiration, making lists on post-its, eyeing up the baking aisles as I did my weekly shop and eventually finding myself plonked on the sofa contemplating what she'd love best. 

Number one: Brownies. Rich and chewy, crammed with white chocolate and doused in Baileys or Tia Maria. Nutty and decadent. Number two: Apricot and ricotta cake. Definitely one you can expect to serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and plate up for Sunday breakfast (for any leftovers that might be going...!). Number three: Now, this is where my brain ticked over one too many times. Considering we also had pavlova, banoffee pie and the cheese platter to get through, I ruled out anything overly indulgent and eyeballed my recently purchased box of Rice Krispies. 

Remember the times at primary school, when you found yourself face to face with a Kellogg's Rice Krispies Squares? Either your face lit up like a fairground carousel, or crumpled, nose upturned by the sight of the shiny, metallic blue glare emanating from your plastic lunchbox. Unfortunately, mine was the latter and so reluctantly I melted my marshmallows and butter, stirred in the puffs of toasted rice cereal and dumped the gooey mess into a square tin to set. 

Thinking this was indeed a crime against baking and also a sad excuse of a dessert to present my sister at her leaving party, I reluctantly laid these out for our guests to devour. Yet to my astonishment, they disappeared within minutes of being placed on the dining table. Seems like the Rice Krispie Square hasn't been lost on us then. And it caused a stir among those of us born in the 80s and 90s who nostalgically turned the conversation to that ghastly blue packaging we all remember so well. Even if my sister didn't eat one, her send-off was one of spontaneous speeches, glittering emotion and one hell of a good laugh. And in that moment of encompassing warmth, I almost forgot she was going... 


April 02, 2016


meet the brookie. Yes - half cookie, half brownie. That might as well be enough to stop you dead in your tracks because who doesn't love a cookie crowned in brownie glory?! 

Recently there's been lots of change. I moved, into a new flat, and jetted off to places in the sun and snow, finally landing back in London town to baking deprivation. I realised I hadn't properly baked in what felt like forever (ok, a couple of weeks), but this was a couple of weeks that could have involved many a pastry-coated dessert or buttery muffin. So when I'd finally settled, I wiped Sainsbury's like a magpie to a glittering watch, clearing the shelves of baking powder and sugar, flour, eggs...

And so, my classic brownie would take a twist too. If Easter didn't bring with it enough chocolate consumption, then this surely would. The crinkly crackly topping, the crisp outer edge and chewy centre. To die for. So if you really want to know the secret to a brookie, check out the recipe below. 


February 07, 2016

Tutti Frutti Smoothie Bowl with Buckwheat Granola
eat breakfast like a King which, as one of London's "breakfast and brunch lovers" is a mantra I like to stick by, I figured a post to tantalise the morning tastebuds was in order. 

There's something quite melancholy and relaxed about taking breakfast at a leisurely pace, especially on a Saturday or Sunday. The French are rather good at this, with chairs and tables spilling onto the pavements outside little boulangeries or cafés on the coin de la rue. I wake up extra early on weekdays to make time for a languid start to my hectic day; it's my little quiet in the storm of a busy London lifestyle. 

Brunch is one of Britain fortés and one of my favourite pastimes. My weekends are laden with a little respite from the working week at brunch locations across London (or so I like to think..). That's not to say you can't set the alarm an hour early and meet a friend pre-work to prep you sufficiently for ploughing through a morning's worth of midweek emails (this has become a Pancake Day tradition for me) or that "brunching" with weekend papers and a coffee is underrated. No, no, no. Us Brits are known for our extravagant and varied brunch menus, from the traditional fry-up to gluten-free, vegan and health-conscious porridge and smoothie bowls. Wherever you look in London, there's a hip hang-out for all tastes to enjoy. 

My get-up-and-go for the start of this week is a "tutti frutti" smoothie bowl, crammed full of forest fruits and topped with buckwheat granola as per Madeleine Shaw's book Get The Glow (a superb addition to my growing foodie bookshelf by the way). I added nuts to make this super crunchy. Filled with glowing goodness, as it should be, I'll be starting this week strong. 


January 26, 2016

Omi's German Apple Cake
parties bring together laughter, crazy dancing, good friends, great food and even better desserts! Which is why, on my wishlist of the perfect evening, my Omi's German Apple Cake takes top priority. Found whilst leafing through a cake-splattered, butter-battered Liberty's recipe book and handwritten in blue biro, inked on a browning page since September 1989, this was my kind of cake for a winter evening of great company. 

When I was little, I would visit my Omi weekly, more so to take out her silver tea set of teapot, cups and saucers which I'd fill to the brim with water and serve up among Sapphire's "Gold Collection" of Butter Cookies. Even now, I can taste the metallic rim of the cups as I sipped and enjoyed an afternoon of make-believe "tea" and biscuits. However, one immense treat was a traditional German Apple Cake which my Omi would make it her tiny, dark kitchen with the beige linoleum flooring and I came to love it more and more as the years flew by. 

The recipe has been in the family for as long as I can remember and having passed hands to my mum who took note of the recipe and recreates this delicious teatime cake for weekends, roasts and dinner parties, has finally made it's way to me. I added dollaps of sweet-salty dulce de leche to the apples which creates the undeniably irresistable caramel-apple flavour, to warm the palette on a cold winter night. Moist, dense and crammed with grated apple, this butter cake is delicious served with whipped double cream laced with vanilla sugar and a flood of white icing. 

I owe the beautiful Prunelle Grise for my props - she really is the Queen of brocante! Make this cake for your favourite friends and family for a party evening like no other. 


January 07, 2016

White Chocolate Peppermint Pretzels
who can take a sunrise / Sprinkle it with dew / Cover it with chocolate / And a miracle or two / The candy man / The candy man can. My beautiful American colleague brought back suitcases of Trader Joe's peppermint pretzels to the impatient requests of us Brits. With eyes googling and tongues lolling, the crispy rustle of a red packet emerged from her handbag. Heads turned. The click of a keyboard ceased. Sweet candy-coated air burst from the bag and drifted through the office, desk by desk.

I decided that this could not be an all-American affair. Christmas might be over but my tastebuds were tingling for the flavour of festive treats! A last sugar rush before the new year fully engulfed me. The red and white spiral of a peppermint candy cane and the salted twisted knot of crunchy pretzels made their way home with me alongside a baton of white chocolate. 

This very simple recipe is beautiful to give as a gift, wrapped up with ribbon and love. Dip salted pretzels in glistening melted white chocolate and then sprinkle with splintered peppermint candy canes. Leave to set and refrigerate before cramming full cellophane bags for the ultimate chocolate dream.