Gypsy Tart with Cachaça Lime Curd

You either know what Gypsy Tart is, were brought up on it at school and love it, or you really don’t, and are probably faintly alarmed by the idea of this searingly sweet creation that is sweet pastry filled simply with dark sugar and evaporated milk. It’s a Kent thing, and the only positive food thing I can remember from my school days living in Maidstone. It was also the subject of one of my first blog posts and still the one that gets the most hits, when I can be bothered to check, I guess people love a bit of nostalgia.

Whilst in Brazil, I developed quite the dulce de leche habit. Though the many versions I tried varied in texture, firmness and flavour, quite often I was reminded of that old childhood favourite. It is, after all, essentially the same two ingredients; milk and sugar. I liked them all, from ones slightly less sweet with more of a curdy consistency, they ranged right through to one that is stirred in a heavy pan all day then formed into blocks, more grainy in texture, it’s served in slices like fudge.

My flavour awakening of lime and cachaća seems to have come back to London with me, and I felt inexplicably drawn to combine them in cake form. At first I thought maybe a sort of lime drizzle cake would work. But then I had a fantastic tart at 40 Maltby Street that was, I think, a hazelnut frangipane on a layer of lemon curd, and my brain went into overdrive. I still want to try that tart with blood orange or rhubarb curd. From that inspiration, this one was born. It’s still beyond sweet but also with a subtle zing. A reworking of a Kent classic, and my own roots, with new Brazilian influences.

Gypsy Tart with Lime and Cachaça Curd

For the curd

115g golden caster sugar

28g cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 large eggs, beaten

juice of 2 limes

zest of 1 lime

30ml cachaça or white rum

Place the eggs, butter, lime juice and sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a moderately low heat and whisk for around 15 minutes until it thickens. Pour the cachaça in slowly whilst whisking to retain the same thick consistency.

Pour through a sieve into a jar, stirring through the zest at the same time. Leave to cool, cover and refrigerate until required.

For the tart

225g plain flour

110g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

80g golden icing sugar

1 large egg, beaten

ice cold water

400ml evaporated milk

330g dark muscovado sugar

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Add the flour, egg, and a pinch of salt and mix to combine, adding the water in teaspoons if necessary. Roll out and line a 21cm loose bottomed tart tin. Blind bake in the centre of an oven pre heated to 180 degrees for 15m. Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the pastry becomes golden.

While the pastry is cooking whisk together the muscovado sugar and evaporated milk. Whisk hard and consistently for about 15 minutes until the colour pales and it starts to firm up and expand.

Spread a generous layer of lime and cachaça curd into the bottom of the tart then pour the sugar mixture on top and bake for around 10-15 minutes until the filling is risen and the surface is tacky and starting to firm up.

Going to stick my hand up here and admit that my pastry skills are ‘rustic’ a best, I have little patience in this area I’m afraid and if it tastes good that’s enough for me!

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Three Cheese, Porchetta, Pink Radicchio, Hazelnut & Truffle Honey Toastie

Last weekend I suggested B might like to make his own dinner. Knowing I was eating at home too, and he being not often prepared to miss out, the obvious question followed; ‘Why, what are YOU having?’ . His response, after assuring him he wouldn’t want it, was one I get often –  ’Why can’t you blog stuff that will actually come up on a Google search?’. He says this with mild contempt, as he doesn’t understand the concept of doing things ‘just because’. Just because I want to, because it’s fun, because I can. Because I’m not fussed about SEO or monetisation.

Add to this the fact that I HATE being told what to do. I SHALL eat weird combos if I want to. *sticks bottom lip out*

The idea for this was formed during and after a leisurely wander along Bellenden Road, as I’m wont to do after a weekend morning’s gym session, and find myself in the uber middle class shopping den of General Store. As usual, all sensibilities go out the window as I purchase random ingredients in no rhythm or order than that of prettiness and impulse. In hindsight they’re also ingredients that hint at a snifter of that Spring in the air that I grasp to my chest with culinary intentions.

I’m not a remotely girly girl, in most situations, but who can resist the pink kissed frilly hem of pink radicchio, soft focus bloom of the vegetable world, that pairs so well with slender slivers of marbled porchetta that lilt a similarly hued tune.

I want a toastie. A toastie needs cheese. This one, I feel will benefit with a combination. A smear of goats curd shouts ‘hazelnuts’, so these also go in, lightly toasted and smashed. But it also needs melty cheese for full on, molten toastie effect.

I’d brought a wheel of cheese back from my trip to Brazil. Typical of the region of Minas Gerais, where local cheese is as ubiquitous as dulce de leche. Often served together no less. They have two common varieties; a pale, firm, fresh and unsalty number and then this. I visited the farm where they produce this particular one, named simply ‘Araxa Quesa’ – cheese of the region it’s exclusive to; just 9 cities within the region of Minas own the PDO. This award winning farm’s 56 cows (including a number of Jersey’s I notice with astonishment, standing out with those doleful eyes and lengthy lashes against the local ones that look to me to be indian with their drooping ears and slender physique, though I’m told they’re both a fairly common thing here) are milked twice a day with all production going to make cheese. The unpasteurised cheese is sold at different stages of ageing, the locals preferring it pale and milky but it’s aged much longer and also exported nationally (mine has got a proper funk going on, but I’m told to keep it out of the fridge to let it develop naturally). It’s affectionately known as ‘drop cheese’ due to it’s dripping process, it’s then stored, rotated and washed regularly. It’s delicious eaten in slices with their coffee, taken black and sweet, served in glasses and always made in batches then kept in a thermos for whenever required. Eaten for breakfast, snacking and post meals, the Brazilians of Minas like cheese. A lot. Even their butter tastes and smells like cheese.

ANYWAY. I figured it would make a great addition to my cheese mixture, and a pungency to add structure to what was, so far – sweetly bitter radicchio, sweet and fatty porchetta, nutty hazelnuts and creamy curd. I finish this combo off with more sweet and nutty in the form of comte and then a drizzle of truffle honey.

Did I mention that the bread I used is made by Little Bread Pedlar? They make the best pastries I’ve tried in London and their sourdough ain’t too shabby either, it looks like they’re stocking it regularly at General Store too. Good bread times for SE as Brickhouse opens shortly with their own cafe, using Square Mile coffee too no less.

I give you – The Pink Toastie – pure unbridled romance. If you’re into that sort of thing

Construction tips

Butter outside sides of the bread liberally – I usually do the insides too (and ALWAYS match the slices up so they don’t sit back to front – yeah, OCD)

Spread the bottom, inside, layer with goats curd and scatter over toasted hazelnuts, lay over crisp leaves of pink radicchio, then thin slices of porchetta or other fatty ham. Finally add handfuls of the other two cheeses, grated and mixed together. Always much, much more than you think is decent.

Place in a sandwich or panini press and leave for much longer than you think it needs. The cheese should fully melt, pool around the base of the sandwich and then crisp up again for optimal sandwich crust.

If you don’t have a sandwich press, a similar effect can be achieved by placing the sandwich in a heavy based frying pan with a weighted plate on top, then flip half way through so both sides toast.

As a sub for the minas cheese, I’d probably use something of a washed rind but firm.

I’ve barely touched the cachaca I brought home from Brazil, in fact most went out as gifts, mainly because I simply couldn’t imagine it tasting the way I’d developed such a taste for, made here in the deep murkiness of London as it makes it’s final push to emerge from the grips of Winter. But, believe me, we encountered plenty of it whilst out there, at least one caipirinha a night was the rule. Not a bad one to live by to be honest. Of course it’s made from fermented sugar cane juice, which I tried on the side of the road, squeezed fresh and simply directly from the cane – the ultimate in thirst quenching sugary treats.

Back home, as another kick up the backside to Spring, I made a twist on the classic by subbing lime for floral bergamot – pure sunshine in a glass.

Muddle 1 quarter of a bergamot, chopped into wedges with 1 tablespoon golden sugar (I’d LOVE to try this with raw cane sugar) then shake with plenty of cracked ice and 60ml good quality cachaça and serve.

Try it!

I gathered many and varied versions of the sugar cane spirit across the regions I travelled, caipirinhas should be made with the clear or silver variety rather than the barrel aged sipping ones. I need to investigate the brands over here…

 

 

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Bar Dining – My Recommendations

This time of year tends to signify a period for reflection, ahead of striding forward into the next year with all guns blazing, resolutions like ammo sitting loaded in pockets, learned nuggets of wisdom promising a, perhaps, straighter path through the following twelve months.

I’ve learnt enough about myself now to know not to be too hard on myself, though it’s taken many years to get here. So no New Year’s Resolutions for me, no restrictive diets or detoxes and no dry January. What may be more useful, is to learn to say ‘no’ a little more often. …We’ll see about that.

With old age I’ve also got to the point where I don’t really feel the need to use this blog to write about every restaurant experience, in fact I don’t necessarily feel that desperate urge these days to try any and every new place like I might have done once. God knows the internet doesn’t need any more inept thoughts on them. I know what I like, and more often than not I find Twitter and Instagram are as good a place as any to share those meals I do enjoy. Having scanned the last year’s, increasingly infrequent, posts I’ve noticed my shift towards recipe ideas and seasonal flavours. If I’m honest that’s partly because I find them far quicker to write but also because I like to note these things down here as a sort of scrap book and reference.

There *are* a number of places I feel I’ve neglected to comment on over the year, mainly again due to time restraints, so here I’m going to jot down my stand out recommendations for bar dining, since I’ve established that this is by far my favourite way to eat out. I, more often than not, don’t really want a full and coherent meal these days, so mix and match, snacky options score highly, I also require delicious wine and or cocktails, a relaxed atmosphere and warm but unobtrusive service. These that follow come up with the goods consistently and with aplomb.

40 Maltby Street is a place that fills me with warm tingles every time I walk through it’s doors, and at the same time makes me wonder why I don’t visit more often. It’s like coming home. Well, to a home with a very well stocked wine cellar and an accomplished chef in the kitchen. I know they’re now open some weekday evenings, but for some reason I can’t remove them from a Saturday lunchtime slot that always coincides with a trip to Maltby Street, having failed as yet to visit at any other time. Always busy, always warm, always welcoming, I’ve yet to find a more consistently, impressively ever changing, desirable menu in London. The wine list is always interesting, natural, with a couple of red and white corkers by the glass.

A recent trip just prior to Christmas was a particular highlight. A plate of pheasant sausages with sprouts, pancetta, chestnuts and bread sauce and a couple of glasses of wine a far more festive way to spend a saturday afternoon than the horrors of Christmas shopping. If there’s Yorkshire ham on the counter, make sure to get a plate.

I think the only place on this list I haven’t ever dined alone, and doesn’t technically have a bar to sit and eat at, is Quality Chop House. However it still fits the criteria. I would ordinarily say stick to the bar area and select from their delightfully comprehensive wine list along with a collection of plates of food. But having now dined in the main dining room, I’d say you surely have to try the set menu here at least once for the incredible experience and value.

Always, ALWAYS order the confit potatoes. Possibly the most ridiculous food item in London.

Wines are available to take away by the bottle and many of the ingredients can be purchased in the grocery and butchers next door. Whipped lard I find particularly hard to resist.

Josē’s simply can’t be beaten for tapas in a tiny but great space, I’m such a fan I’ve never visited the more proper Pizarro for fear of disappointment. Ooozing croquetas, unrivalled ham, the best potato bravas and should the Iberico Pork be on the chalkboard, DO NOT resist.

A plate of ham and a glass of sherry sat on one of the window seats is surely one of life’s great, simple pleasures. If you can shoehorn yourself in that is.

I’ve been a regular at Lyle’s since they opened in Shoreditch’s Tea Building earlier this year. The beautifully spartan room, a perfectly serene backdrop to a menu that is pared back to basics and transformed into astonishing plates. Highlights have included sweetmeats served with brown butter dressed grilled lettuce, duck hearts with sweetcorn and hazelnuts and a completely jaw droppingly delicious broth described simply as chanterelles, egg and onion that tasted all of myth and magic.

Lyle’s coffee bar is worth a mention as one of the only really decent places in London to get great restaurant coffee, serving a rotation of roasters but do keep an eye out for Parisian roasters Belleville as it’s one of the only places you’ll find them over here. It’s also one of my favourite, secret spots to sit and work, though just try and resist the incredible doughnuts and smoked pork fat canneles on the counter if you do. Seriously, just try.

I have a dirty little secret – I’ve never actually dined at The Clove Club. By that, I mean I haven’t eaten in the dining room from their set menu. I can’t ever get past the rather lovely bar and it’s snacks. It suits me just fine to be honest. Service is utterly charming, martinis excellent, wine best ordered by the bottle with friends and plates of aforementioned snacks. The pine fried chicken is now infamous, but don’t overlook some of the other small plates. We had some incredible chicken kebabs on a friend’s birthday made from various parts of a chooks anatomy including cleverly deboned and puffed up feet.

I’ve been to The Remedy a handful of times and each time I do, I remember how utterly charming it is. Just a small bar towards the top of Cleveland Street, they always have a great selection of light, natural reds (my preference) along with a list of small plates. The pair behind the bar always more than happy to chat, offer advice and tastes of their wines. It’s another of my secret little working lunch spots. They’re usually quiet around late lunch, so a plate of livers on toast with a glass of wine at the corner of the bar is pretty much perfection. I’ve heard a horrible rumour they’re now closed at lunch now though….

Best kept secret, if other rumours are true, is that they have a half price Monday industry night on all bottles.

Honey & Co never fails to delight. Again, it’s actually another spot without a bar, the tiny room is intimate enough to offer a similar service though. I’ve dined here alone and with friends and it’s always hit the spot perfectly. Itamar and Sarit are an absolutely charming couple, full of joy, and it comes through fully in their food. Middle Eastern mezes and larger dishes, turkish coffee and the most completely irresistible Fitzroy buns; one of my favourite sweet dishes in London – the pic below is of one half eaten, they way I do by uncoiling it’s syrupy goodness slowly, eking out the pleasure.

It’s been too long since I’ve darkened Duck Soup‘s doors. Shame on me. The danger of London’s vibrant dining scene is in that of neglecting old favourites. I fell in love with the small bar at first sight, and spent my first evening there feeling transported from the busy london streets, to European and warmer climes. It’s embodies a tick list of my favourite things; great wine list, classic cocktails, seasonal small plates, great bread and a chilled atmosphere that comes alive in the evening. Those small plates so enticing I’d happily order one of each, and pay a number of limbs for the pleasure, this type of dining can certainly rack up. But here I don’t mind because it works; it’s charming and intimate and welcoming in a way Raw Duck (sister restaurant) just doesn’t achieve – though I like it for other reasons.

It didn’t take Sager & Wilde to win me over, in fact I was hooked almost from day one. Leading the pack of a new breed of wine bars, of which I’d include The Remedy, that London was really, finally ready to embrace. I shan’t write in length as I did when they opened, but it remains one of the most perfect places to relax for a glass, or five, seduced by attentive staff and a wine list that boasts some of my very favourite things.

A serious trip here is not complete without one of their infamous toasties.

I plan to write similar posts on cocktails and coffee shops. For as ace and new and sparkly Kitty Fishers, Portland etc etc  look, oh and they sure do, I chose to dine, with a friend, at Duck Soup last Friday night. It was as brilliant as it’s always been, better than when they first opened (surely a lesson there…) – an intoxicating experience, wine splashed chatter rising above jazz, glasses chinking in candlelight. A white negroni to start, a dish of lamb hearts, bulgar, mint and pomegranate a highlight, not everything is perfect but the languid atmosphere soothes over any wibbles like the most effective of salves.

 

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N’duja, Goat & Ewe’s Cheese, Truffle Honey & Sage Toastie

I’ve been to some great restaurants this year and some terrible ones, some fancy and some more basic, but I’m a simple creature at heart and quite often all I really want is something comforting betwixt two slices of bread. You’d think finding this whilst out and about wouldn’t be a problem, especially since toasties are having a bit of a moment around town. But, as I’d previously found with doughnuts, they’re all too often to be found lacking, tear inducingly dull and badly assembled. Toasted sandwiches are not hard to get right, but it appears, diabolically easy to get wrong. I mean, who really wants a clump of ham and cheddar? Soggy tomato? Really? I know simple is sometimes best but NOT ALWAYS and only when the ingredients are outstanding (as they should be quite frankly) – at least put something else in there, even if it’s just some herbs, chutney, freshly cut tomato, spring onion, whatever. Also, fill evenly, I expect spreads all the way to the edges and I want an equal amount of filling in each and every bite – no-one wants naked toast.

You know that’s why I started making doughnuts don’t you? Because I was so bored and disappointed with everything else out there; just jam or custard; where were the curds, the pistachio creams and boozy jams? It remains that my favourite toasties are still the ones make at home.

I’m being overly ranty. Of course Kappacasein do an extraordinary beast, the bench mark for toasties, Sager and Wilde always have a great one on at their wine bar and the ones at Embassy East are very much worth a try. I just mean that on the whole toasties are disappointing when they should be a delight, small details too often ignored and SO uninspiring.

I wrote an ode to them once - well, sandwiches, but nearly.

So, I’m seeing 2014 off with this one and, as with many things, I’ll likely overdose on the combo till I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than eat it again. I’m like that – addictive personality and all that.

N’duja, Goats Gouda & Ewe’s Cheese, Truffle Honey and Sage Leaf Toastie

Cut two slices from a soft white loaf and butter the exterior sides.

Spread n’duja onto the unbuttered side of one, drizzle with truffle honey then pile on great handfuls of grated cheese, much more than looks decent. I used a combination of a sweet and tangy goats gouda and a semi soft ewe’s cheese, you could go regular goats cheese but you won’t get the alluring cheesy dribble and stringyness that I love in a good toastie. Finally add a couple of sage leaves to the top before putting in a sandwich press, they fry up all pleasingly crisp in the external layer of butter.

(I bought my n’duja and truffle honey in the foreign section at M&S but you can get both at various farmers markets and Borough Market and the n’duja at L’Anima Cafe is pretty unbeatable)

Always leave to toast for longer than you think it needs, till the n’duja melts and the cheese oozes out of the sides into molten pools.

Happy New Year!

 

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Of Sprouts and Marzipan.

Sprouts and marzipan. Both pretty  divisive festive ingredients – I imagine those little sprouts made of marzipan are enough to turn many a stomach while at the same time reducing others to wobble knee’d joy. I bloody love them both – perhaps not together, mind – and will eat either at any opportunity whilst they’re readily available.

I recently stumbled across purple sprouts (well, they’re actually labelled ‘Redarling brussells’ – but you know – PURPLE) and as such they immediately trump all other brassicas. They were damn delicious doused in David Lebovitz’s Pistachio Aillade but even better with my fridge staple; nduja. A mess of sweet, fried shallots, halved purple sprouts, a handful of toasted hazelnuts, generous spoonful of n’djua, all topped with a Burford Brown egg; it’s a very smile inducing, easy dinner indeed.

When people say they don’t like marzipan, I’m inclined not to believe them. I think most have been permanently scarred by the memory of those cloyingly sweet, modelled fruits. But honestly, what’s not to love about sugar and almonds? I just don’t get it. I adore the stuff in every guise, from frangipane and all levels of sickly sweet to the more restrained, less saccherine homemade versions, I guess you’d call them nut pastes.

I very, very rarely eat any of the sweets and puddings associated with this time of year, but I do make a lot of time for marzipan. One of my ultimate breakfasts over Christmas is a thin slice of sourdough toast, liberally anointed with salty butter and then finished with slivers of marzipan. This pistachio paste is a fragrant and fancy version, in keeping with the season. I only make small amounts at once, partly because it’s a pain pummelling too many pistachios at once, but also because I can’t be trusted not to eat it straight from the bowl until there’s not a scrap left.

Pound around 50g of pistachios in a pestle and portar until mostly ground but with plenty of texture, add around 25g ground almonds, 50g golden icing sugar, enough egg white to bring together as a paste, a good pinch of salt, clementine zest and a drop or 3 of maraschino liqueur.

Spread on buttered, sourdough toast and serve with the best coffee you can lay your mitts on for an insouciant take on the serious matter of breaking fast.

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Warmed Figs with Crumbled Roquefort, Red Wine & Black Pepper Syrup & Red Wine Salt

It’s  a rare day that I actually cook a coherent meal. You know, traditional fare like a roast dinner, meat and veg or pie. No, I’ve adopted an in house dining style that mimics my bar led dining out style. A little of this, a nibble of that, things on toast. I make a LOT of Things On Toast. Maybe that’s a subject for another post.

Often I find that ingredients speak for themselves and need little more than a spot of prep to create a delightful plate, full worthy of dinner with a little accompaniment. Little dishes on dainty plates please me greatly.

In this instance I stumbled upon some tiny, sweetly ripe figs that were crying out for a salty, creamy counterpart. Scattered Roquefort the obvious choice, I layered sweet upon salty, over again and again. A sticky, reduced red wine syrup pepped up with black pepper and then a smattering of red wine salt that’s pretty purple colour makes up for any questions over it’s flavour. I mean; Purple Salt!

The idea for the syrup stolen entirely from a blog, I think it was Manger, but I can’t be entirely sure now as it was a couple of months ago.

This is more of a simple assembly than a full-on recipe.

To make the syrup, add a couple of glasses of red wine to a saucepan, leftover (what’s that?) or otherwise, with around half a cup of sugar. I didn’t measure to be honest, doesn’t really have to be too precise, bring to the boil with a couple of grinds of black pepper and simmer until it’s reduced to a syrupy consistency and coats the back of a spoon.

Warm the figs in the oven for a few minutes to release their juices and warm through.

Split the figs, scatter over the roquefort then drizzle with syrup. Finish with a good scatter of red wine salt (mine was an impulse purchase from The Quality Chop Shop).

Seeing as it’s the festive season and all that, you could use the red wine syrup in a number of different ways by infusing with different ingredients. Try an infusement of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and orange zest over ice cream stirred with crumbled christmas pudding or crushed mince pies.

 

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Two Twists on the Classic Turkish Egg Dish, Çilbir

I’ve spoken about my love of brunch before, how I will often have brunch for dinner, it’s usually a quick solution combining many of my favourite things. I tend to err towards a balance of comfort and spice, something faintly exotic, transportational, so often it’s influenced by dishes from the Middle East, more recently brought to our attention by Ottolenghi and the like. Shakshuka is a firm favourite as is Çilbir; a Turkish egg, yoghurt and spicy brown butter dish that’s rich, soothing and yet spicy all at once, pretty much the ultimate comfort food, with a necessary tower of buttered sourdough on the side to mop, swish and sweep up.

I recently discovered World of Zing, an online resource bursting with curious cooking ingredients and immediately waved my debit card at it, buying a fairly random selection of flavoured salts, chilli’s and a bottle of Bordeaux Barrel Aged Negroni.

What?

It’s as delicious as you might imagine it to be and is great for lazy moments.

Anyway, back to Çilbir, and I decided to put a couple of twists on it, playing with some of the variables whilst not straying too far from the classic.

The original calls for garlic pepped yoghurt and a paprika or chilli flake spiked brown butter sauce. I softened the raw garlic hit by using smoked garlic, ground to a paste with Sage and Juniper Sea Salt. Aji Limon Chillis have a unique citrussy zing and so I use one of these, finely chopped and seeds removed to spice up my brown butter. I kept the fried sage leaves because, well they’re just delicious aren’t they.

Straying a little further from the classic whilst still keeping it’s form, this is my favourite iteration on the dish yet, inspired by a trip to the gorgeous spice chest of a shop that is Persepolis. A post gym hunger had me prowling around nearby Peckham once again, a grumbling stomach dictating I perform a smash and grab style of shopping for random ingredients that would become the basis of my brunch; goats curd from The General Store, Brickhouse bread from Anderson & Co, Muhammara (a spicy pepper and walnut dip), Dukkah and Sage leaves from Persepolis.

The assembly is simple and quick for what is one of the most satisfying meals; a magical combination of almost ethereal ingredients that’s pure nourishment for the soul. Simply smear and swhirl goats curd and muhammara onto a plate and top with a poached duck egg, plenty of dukkah to season, fried sage leaves (just because, ok) and brown butter. The result is a seriously oomphed version of the classic; rich, a tiny bit decadent and gorgeously nutty.

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Doughnut Takeover at Bruno Coffee & Bakes

Who knew eh?

That the quaint and touristy Kent town of Rochester would lap up the weird and wonderful doughnut brain farts of me and Bruno. But they did. They were even banging on the door for us to open (we were slightly behind schedule) and at intervals throughout the day, there were even queues out of the door until we sold out. Imagine!

I spent at least one day a year in Rochester when I was a kid growing up in the backwaters of Kent, and that was inevitably for the Dickens festival; a strange spectacle whereby many of the shop owners and locals dress up in Dickensian garb for the day. I harbour some pretty warped memories of Miss Faversham forever sat, gathering cobwebs and dust in one of the shop fronts.

I never thought I’d ever return to appear behind one of those shopfronts myself.

Funny how things turn out.

When a friend took a lease on a tiny but beautiful shop to open a cake and coffee shop I planned to visit, of course I did, but almost a year went by in which I simply couldn’t find the time. Eventually, Bruno forced my visit by suggesting we collaborate on a doughnut takeover at his cafe. We put it off for too long, struggling to collide diaries, but eventually we put our lives aside and went for it. As sometimes you just have to do.

I’m so pleased we did, for as tiring as it was. And it was exhausting; I have absolutely zero desire to work in a kitchen full time; an evening of dough prep was crushingly rapidly followed by an early morning of more prep, then hours spent in front of a deep fat fryer and piping fillings. Well, you get the idea. It was also fantastically rewarding, exhilarating, adrenaline pumping fun.

Believe it or not, and I had no idea how they’d go down – if they’d even sell, it was the sweet and savoury beasties that went down the best and if we do it all again I think we’ll focus on these and expand our range. Maple glazed doughnuts were stuffed with fried streaky bacon and either a fried egg or a huge smear of peanut butter. There was one wonderful lady who enjoyed hers so much she returned for a second immediately after her first. Respect.

100 doughnuts in total may not seem much but I can assure you it’s much, much harder than making the odd batch at home and I’m immensely proud we somehow managed to pull it off.

 

We also has pistachio and cherry and black pepper.

There was hazelnut and raspberry.

Coffee, cardamom, rum with a little orange zest.

Finally, there were little bags of sugar dusted, spicy ‘nduja filled doughnut holes

Oh, and there were also blueberry fritters and deep fried cheesecake.

OOOOOF.

Bruno and I shared one of the savoury doughnuts at the very beginning of service and then I had a quiet moment with one of the pistachio and cherry beauts at the end, covered in sugar and reaching of oil. Health.

A couple of Twitter faces turned up and took some much better photos than I was able to – thanks to @Big_Fat_Dan

Maybe we’ll see you at the next one…..

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Brick House Bakery, Bamn Fit and Manfood’s Cocktail Jams

I’ve made two life changing discoveries in the last couple of months. In fact it was making the decision to take up semi private training sessions at Bamn Fit (highly recommended) that enabled the discovery of the second. Yeah. *smug face* (sorry) . Actually, I’m not sorry at all, committing to four, one hour sessions a week is making me feel so much better about myself that I’m going to refuse to apologise. An hour where I can ignore my phone and focus completely on my body and what it can (and  can’t) achieve is something I’m going to let myself have, and hopefully I’ll get a brand new, strong and lean body in the process. I’m not quite taking the nutrition stuff to heart yet, I’m enjoying eating and drinking too much for that, but maybe…everything in moderation and all that. Well, we’ll just see eh?!

Anyway, turns out that if I get my arse out of bed at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, then I find a food market waiting for me when I get to Herne Hill Station, muscles wobbling and stomach roaring with hunger. RESULT. I don’t have long before my train (only twice an hour when you’re out in the ‘burbs – so you don’t want to miss it) but just enough time to snaffle a jar of Blackwoods excellent marinated cheese, and a loaf of Brickhouse Bakery sourdough, something I’ve been meaning to try for yonks.

Oh! And, What Bread.

It’s become something of a rapidly instigated weekly tradition and I’ve started requesting Sunday morning training sessions almost for this reason alone – madness surely? Or at a least a fairly accurate indication of how good it is. I left from East Dulwich this Sunday rather than Herne Hill and have been feeling BEREFT.

Previously I’ve been a devout fan of E5 Bakehouse’ Hackney Wild, in my opinion it reigned supreme. Elliot’s is also excellent as is Bread Ahead. But this. This is in another league. As a nod to my pummelled and sweaty body, I choose to feed it, not their signature Peckham rye, but the multi grain variety. Not only is it an absolute picture of perfection but it’s got buckets of developed flavour, a chewy bubbly crust, and moist (actual apologies this time, but how else do you expect me to describe it?!) light textured crumb. As with all sourdough loaves it’s heaven simply hewn into and buttered, fresh from the loaf on day one, and then as The Best toast every day after.

My Negroni fangirl stance must precede me as Andre, whom I know through various PR roles and Twitter, thought to kindly send me a couple of jars of his cocktail jams. You heard me right. Cocktail Jam.

Apart from taking umbrance over the whole Man Food name; why should any food be gender specific? Is it somehow not my place to eat beer laced pickles or booze ridden jams?? Hmmmmph. The branding is actually rather nice though.

It took me a while to eat it, not through lack of want. No, definitely not that, in fact I ingested some of it simply via spoon to mouth. But, as with many things, I over think. How could I do something different with this product?

In reality, I simply don’t need to. It already is it’s own new thing.

You know when it’s best?

That’s right. After an evening training session after a long day at work. I can’t be bothered to cook, I can’t even be bothered to stir a cocktail GODDAMIT. Instead I lightly toast a couple of slices of Brickhouse, slather on some salty, unpasteurised butter and finish with a smear of cocktail jam. Carbs, fats and sugar in one fell swoop. It’s every nutritionists nightmare and I don’t do it every night, but on the odd occasion I do, It’s GOOD.

In all honesty the jams are not overly boozy, and actually in my opinion could be fortified slightly, but then I’m a lush so don’t listen to me. The Negroni is a strawberry jam, which may sound strange at first, but is delicious all the same; it’s got an edge of bitterness with an underlying play of orange and a faint hum of booze on the finish. The Bramble is all rich brambles and gin – yeah, that’s right, yum.

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BIRD

It’s very easy to be cynical isn’t it? Especially in East London, when so many places appear to be simply ticking off a list of current trends; industrial fit out, stripped back cool, fried chicken, cocktails, doughnuts etc etc. It’s also right to have your wits about you. But you know what? Sometimes, it’s ok to like somewhere, despite the cliches, when they seem to be so nice and convivial, and the food’s good. Maybe I’m gullible.

I turn up to an invite at BIRD, on the bottom of Kingsland road, the top of Shoreditch in what’s become a strange vortex of essex day-tripper/hen goer meets hipster hell, and I’m half expecting to want to leave as soon as I sit down. Almost. But, as soon as we’re settled,  owner, Clara, slides into our booth and chats to us warmly, genuinely seeming delighted we’re sat in her restaurant, and it doesn’t feel effected or rote, she comes across as a hard working, small business owner. She tells us how despite opening in the second quarter of the year, they only stepped up their PR as of August – it shows; my Instagram feed has been heavy with images of *that* chicken waffle burger. Cara goes on to answer all our questions, explaining that fried chicken was something both her and her partners parents and grandparent all put on the dinner table, it’s something that comes naturally, and here they use the best, British, free range birds and make all their own sauces. The asian influence that’s apparent throughout the BIRD menu is just their own twist on a home staple, in order to lighten things up and cut through what could be an overly heavy menu. My friend notes a tiny BIRD logo tattoo on her wrist, hopefully not a flash in the pan then, and Clara leaves us to our meal, clutching a small takeaway bag of chicken as she rushes off to a parents evening.

I admit that I’d been ready to Write BIRD off as too many cynical marketing exercises, and it’s only after asking a few friends, who’d already been, for feedback, and consequently hearing positive noises, that I agree to visit. I’m not in the habit of going to restaurants I’m expecting to dislike, life’s surely too short?

And as it happens, the chicken *is* really rather good. We order a couple of ‘small’ mixed white and dark meat (nice touch – you can also choose all white or all dark meat) portions from the start of the menu, assuming they’re starter size, and are alarmed when a whopping great basket arrives. Chicken is crisp and greaseless; the gochujang, sticky and addictive, but it’s the classic buffalo that wins with that sharp, hot kick and crispy skin that is faultless whilst the chicken within stays tender and moist. Deep fried pickles are  on the lacklustre side but corn pudding makes up for this as cheesy, stodgy fun.

We’re filling up fast, despite efforts to pace ourselves, when things take a turn for the ridiculous as our chicken waffle burger arrives. You may be thinking that it’s not likely to be the meekest order, yet we’re still not quite expecting and what is easily a double portion; a towering pair of beasts that I’m keener to Instagram than I am to pick up and eat, if I’m really honest. Whilst the idea is extravagant and eye catching, I think it works better as a ‘concept’ to splash across social media than it does in reality. I actually like the soft, stodge of the herby waffles – I’m not normally a fan, but these are rather good. However I think they’d work better not hugging chicken, cheese and bacon feel a bit unnecessary, and on a practical level, I can’t even fit it into my mouth. I’ll stick to the excellent chicken, with a waffle on the side next time, now I’m prepped on portion sizes.

Cocktails are good, my friend and I are both taken with a cheeky, Lolita-esque theme that runs through the menu, a cherry sour is a deceptively boozy number with a true cherry flavour, I switch to well made Negronis as the meal progresses.

Desserts are where we truly find our groove again. As a tray of freshly fried doughnuts is waltzed past, our magnificently delightful waiter packs away a couple for us with our doggy bags (we admit defeat fairly early on so as to squeeze in dessert), effectively knocking my top choice from the dessert menu; a doughnut ice cream sandwich. Going to have to go back for that and cocktails I reckon. Instead we decide to share the cherry sundae that’s so magnificently nostalgia inducing, we forget all reserve when digging to the bottom. Cherry and vanilla ice creams swirl with crushed meringue, cream and a tooth jarringly glorious cherry sauce. Despite our groaning bellies we quickly regret not ordering a whole one each.

Our doggy bags make for a fine lunch feast the following day. It’s the doughnut that I’m most keen to get stuck into though, and generously gifting the vanilla away, I find a quiet moment for the cherry one. I’m not going to lie, it’s not a life changing experience, but very, very tasty indeed; a classic light dough with a subtle hint of cherry in a thick fondant icing. I imagine that caught fresh from their doughnut hatch, with a decent coffee, they’d be even more of a treat.

I intend to do that.

 

Bird on Urbanspoon

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