July 24, 2018

 The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

My distaste of milk started from a rather young age, when we’d holiday to France; the three petits filous in the back of the car, winding each other up and giggling until our stomachs hurt and our eyes were streaming with happy tears. Our fidgety bottoms would wriggle around on the backseats, brows perspiring in the Provençal summer air and cheeks flushed. Mum and Dad kept a collection of audiobooks at the ready to keep us entertained for the 20 hour drive south, air ploughing through the open windows and pushing back, what we thought, were "cool" 90s fringes. 

Breakfast would consist of freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolats from the local boulangie where I’d bashfully order in my best rehearsed French (with help from Mum of course), “puis j’avoir cinq croissants et cinq pain au chocolats s’il vous plait” tiptoeing high enough so I could see the baguettes on the other side of the counter, stacked, cracked and crisp in their wooden crates.

We’d lay the table for five, each of us taking ownership of our own tiny triumphs: the fresh-out-the-fridge jug of milk, the cutlery, plates, glasses, the confiture and butter, juice and bread basket piled high with feuilleted pastry. I used to peel back the buttery layers of my pain au chocolat until I found the sticks of perfectly oval chocolate hidden beneath, dipping the excess pastry in my frothy hot chocolate, whilst everyone else dipped theirs in their cold milk.

As breakfast came to an end, we’d beg our parents to let us get in the pool, dipping our toes in from the edge of the glistening water, goggles strapped to our freckled faces. But after mouthfuls of delicious French patisserie , we were always told the same thing: “you need to wait at least an hour to digest your food”. Five minutes would pass. “Is time up yet?” we’d chortle… jumping up and down in eager anticipation of plunging into the cool liquid. When eventually we were allowed in, the three of us would line up in height order, Dad give the 10 second countdown before we bombed into the pool, water spilling excessively over the edge and underneath the sun loungers. 

Hours later, exhausted and sun-kissed, we'd crave shade, nibbles and a cold summer drink. This is when, if I could, I would've chosen a glass of cold milk and a cookie. However, since my younger taste buds decided that French milk tasted entirely different to British milk, and even then, British milk made my nose wrinkle, it wasn't until I was in my late teens that this idea started to appeal to me. And so for years, I'd have the French equivalent of madeleines. They do say however, that the best things come to those who wait. And they were entirely correct. 


October 02, 2017

Vanilla Fairy Cakes
with White Chocolate Icing

100s and 1000s. The joy of many children's faces where fairy cakes are involved. As far back as I can remember, fairy cakes were one of the first things I learnt to bake, smothered in white icing and dotted with dolly mixture or coated in sugar sprinkles to take to school for bake fairs and lunchtime snacks. I'd stand on a stool in the kitchen, so my tiny hands could reach the counter, wooden spoon at the ready and apron on, in charge of the fairy cake production line. 

I remember wanting to pour out my 100s and 1000s, dip my finger in the icing and then plunge it into the kaleidoscopic mass of sugar, licking the gloopy glaze before it fell on the floor. Instead, I dropped the container. Multi-coloured ball bearings began piling out, scattering everywhere, bouncing joyfully into the slits between our wooden floorboards, the harmonious tick-tick of each sugar coated sphere ricocheting around the room, until each one eventually stopped, rolling around before coming to a halt. And the room fell silent again. 

My face would give it all away. When asked what had happened, I'd reply with "it was an accident" as my mum swept up the particles into a dustpan. I'd flash a cheeky grin and get away with it, as I managed to on many more occasions. The fun part was licking the bowl afterwards, scraping my spoon around trying to get every last bit of batter and then sitting cross-legged in front of the oven, watching as the fluffy mountain peaks appeared, browning ever so slightly. 

There was always the desire to peel away the fanned paper cases whilst the cakes were still warm, but if I'd just waited a few moments more, the shiny icing and decorations would have made them even more of a treat. Icing was my sweet spot. I once decided to "ice" an entire room when holidaying in France at the age of eight; shaking an entire bottle of Johnson's baby powder out onto the floor. The discovery of me smirking in my pink dungarees covered head to toe in white talc, grasping the 600g plastic bottle gave it all away. No cheeky grin would get me out of this one. 

Sometimes the simple recipes are the most comforting. Nostalgia is a great thing, especially when it comes from a finger-full of whipped icing coated in crazy colours. Get your tongue round that and you'll remember reaching for the fairy cakes at your best friend's sixth birthday party or like I did, time-travel back to the kitchen worktop with a cake-splattered recipe book to bake your first fairy cakes: a fluffy vanilla sponge, topped with white chocolate buttercream icing and dipped generously into a bowl of rainbow embellishment. Because really, what's not to like?  


September 30, 2017

Paleo Bread

texans always seem to know best when it comes to food and I'm not just talking about that fried chicken and waffle or meat stack they've slapped on the grill. Oh no. I'm talking the Texans that know that good food doesn't always have to be naughty. I sneakily stole this recipe from a good friend who is one of the best Southern Chicken cookers I know, but equally a 100kg+ squatter who's serious about his gym-time. 

I was recently whisked into A&E with appendicitis, undergoing emergency surgery for the blighter which kept me bed-bound for the best of two weeks, until I gently started walking again unaided. My PB for my step-counter on day one post-bed rest was nine steps. NINE. With a flourish of flowers, chocolates (plus luxury hot chocolate) and cards sent to my address and my parents kindly buying me blocks of Dairy Milk Whole Nut for which my hand-to-mouth action got exceptionally good, it dawned on me that the lack of regular spin, weight and run sessions were not balancing out the comfort food I was so badly craving. 

Something needed to drastically change if I wasn't going to be gymming any time soon. I have a vague recollection of the GX Crew coming to visit me on day three post-op with my favourite brunch from The Food Room in Highgate in a brown cardboard box. Poached eggs, avocado, sweet potato hash, halloumi, mushroom, red pepper hummus on toast and spinach. Trust me, it's the bomb! Whilst knocked out on morphine, codeine and the aftermath of anaesthetic, and with my appetite next to nothing, I savoured what I could and saved the rest for my evening meal. But more so, I missed their company and our regular Saturday morning catch-ups after smashing legs in the gym. I was itching to get back on track, but unfortunately it will be a little while until I'm back on form again. 

I remembered said Texan bringing me a sample of this delicious paleo bread one Saturday after our session a while back and eating it toasted with a helping of crunchy almond butter. It's the ultimate alternative to regular bread and is low-carb and protein-fuelled making it the ideal guilt-free snack. The almonds give it moisture and some flavour but it's bland enough to top it with your choice of savoury or sweet toppings. In my current condition, I'm hoping it'll get me back on track sooner rather than later so I can join the crew and own leg day! 


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!