Golden star lebkuchen

Oh dear, the mad present dash is upon us. I told myself I would be prepared this year. I said I’d finish all my shopping by the 20th. I say that every year…

Strap on your best power striding shoes, gulp down that extra strong coffee, get yo game face on, it’s going to be one long endurance race till those gifts are under the tree – a slalom around aisles of dazed shoppers,  all trying their best to stand between you and the perfect present.

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When I’m on a present mission, I mean business. I shop like a man. None of that ‘mooching round town with friends’ … this girl takes no prisoners.

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Despite my conviction, I really struggle with the process of meaningful present buying. You know, the ones that have to be a bit more than a photo frame, a nice candle or pretty nail varnish.  Gifts for those who answer the question “What would you like for Christmas?” with “Something nice.”

“But I’m asking you because you are the most unbelievably difficult person to buy for and my perception of ‘nice’ is a million miles from yours. My ‘nice’ is a blow torch and a set of fine line piping nozzle. Yours is a book on how to develop natural glazes for handmade ceramics …”

Even Father Christmas requires a list …

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Much easier are the smaller, ‘you invited me round for lunch and I couldn’t come empty handed’, ‘Thank you for being utterly brilliant’, ‘Here’s a little something’ presents.  Probably because they can always be food. No-one ever turns their nose up at beautiful homemade treats. You’re always onto a winner.

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In this genre of gift-giving, Lebkuchen is like the Harry Potter or Pride and Prejudice of fiction. Timeless, satisfying, and it can be revisited time and time again. Although it does seem to be either a pivotal part of people’s Christmas food festivities or something they’ve never heard of.  I’m definitely the former. Lebkuchen stars take pride of place next to Grandma’s sausage rolls and mince pies at the post-church, pre-present stage of the day.

If you’re in the latter camp, let me educate you in the way of the Lebkuchen.  It’s a German biscuit with a cakey texture – does that makes it a cak-cuit, or maybe a bis-cake? You decide.  It’s spiced a bit like gingerbread, and is usually glazed in icing or chocolate. But I thought ‘hey, why not go to town and bring out the gold?’ It’s Christmas, after all.

Golden lebkuchen stars
makes 22
To make these biscuits dairy free, substitute the dark chocolate for water/royal icing

3 eggs
240g light brown sugar
240g plain four
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tbsp. ground ginger
¼ tbsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
125g ground almonds
The zest of ½ an orange
200g dark chocolate
1 can of edible golden spray (I use Dr Oetker)

Line baking trays with baking paper. Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and using an electric whisk, whisk until the mixture becomes thick, foamy and almost doubled in size. This’ll take about 5 minutes. Once it’s reached this stage remove it from the heat and continue to whisk for an additional 2 minutes.

Sift the flour, almonds, spices, cocoa and orange into the egg mixture and fold in to form an airy, soft dough. Cover the bowl in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Lightly grease a cookie cutter using a piece of paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Dust you surface in flour and roll out your dough to about 2cm thick. Using the cookie cutter, cut out stars and place on you baking tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes until they’re no longer stuck to the baking paper. Once cooked transfer to a wire cooling rack.

Melt the dark chocolate and dip each star, top first into the molten chocolate. I find stabbing a fork into the base of each biscuit and using this to dip can make this easier and less messy. Once the chocolate’s set spray each biscuit gold.

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Chai Latte Marshmallows

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At this time of year there is one thing that distinguishes those who cycle to college from those who take the bus. A badge that sets us apart, war wounds from a battle against external forces:

The wet thigh.

Don’t pretend you understand, bus-takers. Try to imagine a large oval, a shade darker than your trousers, appearing mid-thigh whilst cycling in the rain, refusing to disappear till at least period 2. Real fun. Or not…

Cyclists, you know who you are; you who leaned into that icy wind, took sleet to the face, arrived with eye make-up even pandas would be proud of and… a wet thigh. Compulsory damp, cold legs for the rest of the day: The mark of a true trouper.

These marshmallows are for you. Let the warm spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and clove warm your cockles and wrap yourself in a cloud of icing sugar and pillowy marshmallow till the trials of the day have passed.  Put them in your hot chocolate. Make radiator s’mores*. Toast them over a camp fire in the middle of the woods if you really want. Or just sit under a blanket in front of Come Dine With Me with the mixing bowl and a spoon and feel a little bit sorry for yourself. I give you my full permission, you deserve it.

*This invention is owed to the sister – my main gal. Take 2 of your favourite biscuits (I highly recommend the dark chocolate Hobnob),  place a marshmallow and 2 squares of chocolate in between, making a sandwich. Wrap tightly in tinfoil and wedge in/on/down the radiator for about ½ an hour. Uncover and eat quickly before your sister can get her hands on it.

Note to self: Waterproof trousers might not be such a bad idea.

Chai Latte Marshmallows
makes 36; adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the icing sugar dusting
65g icing sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tbsp. vegetable oil

For the marshmallows
1 tbsp. + 1¼ tsp. powdered gelatine
100ml cold water
230g caster sugar
80g glucose syrup
½ tsp. salt
1 large egg white
1 tsp. vanilla extract mixed with 15ml water
2 cloves
3 cardamom pods
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg

Sugar thermometer
Pestle and mortar

Line the bottom of a 20 x 20 x 5cm baking tin with baking paper. Using a piece of kitchen towel, grease the baking paper and sides of the tin with the vegetable oil.

Make the icing sugar dusting by mixing the icing sugar and  spices in a small bowl and transfer about 1 tbsp.  of the mix to the tin, tapping it around till the sides and base are covered. Tip any remaining icing sugar back into the bowl.

In a large bowl sprinkle the gelatine over 50ml of cold water and leave to stand.
Place the caster sugar, glucose syrup, salt and the other 50ml of water into a heavy bottomed saucepan and place over a low heat, stirring until the sugar’s dissolved. Once dissolved increase the heat to moderate and boil the mixture, not stirring, until the sugar thermometer reaches 240°F/Soft ball stage. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot sugar over the gelatine, stirring until the gelatine’s dissolved.
Using an electric mixer beat the mix on high speed until it becomes thick and white and has almost tripled in volume. This will take about 12 minutes if using a hand-held mixer.

Take the marshmallow spices and using a pestle and mortar crush them down as finely as you can manage. Place this chunky powder, the vanilla extract and water into a small saucepan and simmer for a minute or so. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg white till it forms stiff peaks. Sieve the spice mixture (draining out any large pieces of spice) into the sugar mixture along with the egg whites and beat until just combined. Pour the mallow into your dusted baking tin and sift some of the icing sugar mixture over the top. Chill the marshmallow, uncovered, for at least 3 hours.

Run a knife around the tin’s edges and turn the pan upside down onto a large cutting board dusted with a little more of your icing sugar mix. Loosen the mallow with your fingers and onto the board, and peel the baking paper off. Using a large knife trim the edges of the marshmallows and cut into 3cm cubes. Sift the remaining icing sugar into the empty baking tin and roll your cubes of mallow through it, covering all 6 sides before shaking off any excess. Keep in a sealed container for up to a week.

Custard tart cupcakes

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Do you eat cold custard? I do. I’m talking about making it in the microwave and then leaving it to cool completely before eating it. Or buying it in tins and eating it straight out with a spoon – none of that ‘put in a pan to warm up’ nonsense.  Or when offered ‘custard with that crumble?’ asking if I can have it later. That kind of cold. Dead cool. A bit like you really.

Hence, my love of custard tarts. Cold custard AND pastry AND nutmeg? In one? I must be dreaming.

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There’s something quite nostalgic about custard tarts. A sort of ‘I should really be eating this with my granny whilst watching Fireman Sam, reading the Enchanted Wood and wearing my pink Oshkosh  pinstriped dungarees’. I think it’s partially due to their beautiful simplicity. Oh, when life was just a bit simpler.

But it’s true, custard tarts and reminiscing go hand in hand. My mum tells me I’m too young to be reminiscing. Mums are always right. But how I long to go back to the days when all this slightly OCD 4 year old had to worry about was how best to arrange her skittles into rainbow order.

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Sadly, custard tarts are a bit of a hassle to make when you’re in that nostalgic mood but it’s the middle of the week and you have a Chemistry test the next day. SO… Next best thing? Custard tart cupcakes. Get excited.

Custard tart cupcakes
Adapted from Juniper Cakery
Makes 9

112g unsalted butter at room temperature
112g caster sugar
112g self-raising flour*
2 large eggs
¾ tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. vanilla extract

125g unsalted butter
125g icing sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ tbsp. custard powder
40g white chocolate
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg and extra to dust

*To make these Gluten free swap the self-raising flour for 125g Gluten free white mix and 1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 3/170°C and line a muffin tin with 9 cupcake cases.

Using an electric whisk cream the 112g of butter until soft and paler in colour and then beat in the caster sugar. Mix in the flour and one egg along with the vanilla and nutmeg. Add the other egg and beat for about 5 minutes.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling to about 1/3 from the top. Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes – until an inserted skewer comes out clean and they spring back when lightly pressed.

Once cooked, remove the cakes from the tray and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Meanwhile make the buttercream: Beat the 125g butter with an electric whisk and gradually add the icing sugar until you reach a smooth consistency. Melt your white chocolate (I should tell you to do it in a Bain Marie but you can do it in the microwave if you’re careful) and add to your buttercream along with the vanilla, custard powder and nutmeg. Beat for a couple of minutes until it reaches a light, creamy texture.  Fill a piping bag with your buttercream and pipe onto the cooled cakes, dusting lightly with grated nutmeg and dreaming of your younger years.

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Baked cherry and amaretti cheesecake

How was your bonfire night? The best night of your life? No? Then please accept my sincerest apologies. I was going to do a fun bonfirey, toffee appley, let’s whip out the sparklers and blow your taste buds off kinda post. It would have transformed your Tuesday.

Then I went to New York.

Before I knew it Tuesday was upon me and Mr Fawkes was giving me that ‘I’m disappointed in you’ look – you know, the one your mum gives you when she comes in to find you watching Made in Chelsea instead of unloading the dishwasher as you’d promised.

Please don’t subject me to that look too. I’m sorry it’s been at least 3 weeks, and that you didn’t experience the bonfire magic you could’ve done and that that’s my fault. Please say you’ll forgive me? What if I bribe you with cheesecake?

New York = cheesecake, right? Whilst in the Big Apple we indulged in the biggest piece I’ve think ever seen. Think cartoon cheese wedge proportions. It could’ve easily fed a family of 5. It fed a family of 3. I wish I had photographic evidence to show you.

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Now there’s one thing I want you take away from this post if nothing else. Even if you hate cheesecake, never read another post, and pretend we were never friends, note this: Frozen cherries are incredible. Why? Let me spell it out:
– They’re pitted so you’ll never have to navigate your way around those awkward stone-spitting shenanigans again. It’s over.
– Pop them in the microwave for a minute and Bingo! You have fresh berries in the middle of winter, that haven’t travelled all the way from Africa. Food miles and all that.
-They’re super tasty with yogurt and granola or just eaten frozen out the bag. And they dye your lips red. What’s not to love?

Oh, and they’re amazing in cheesecake.

Baked cherry and amaretti cheesecake
Serves 10
100g digestive biscuits
100g amaretti biscuits
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. salt
80g unsalted butter, melted
750g cream cheese
170g caster sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
300ml sour cream
2 tbsp. plain flour
300g frozen cherries – I use Sainsbury’s Dark Sweet ones

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/160°C. Grease and line a 22cm spring form cake tin with baking paper.

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor until they’re a chunky dust. Add the melted butter and almond extract and blitz again until mixed through. Press the buttery crumbs into the base of your tin and refrigerate.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer until combined. One at a time, beat in the eggs, followed by the lemon zest, juice and sour cream. Sieve in the flour and mix until smooth. Avoid over-mixing it otherwise it’s likely to rise and crack. Add the frozen cherries and pour the mix over the set biscuit base. Bake for 70-80 minutes – until firm but the centre trembles slightly when tapped.

Turn the oven off but leave the tin inside with the door slightly open until the cheesecake is completely cool. Take out of the oven, remove from the tin and top with additional defrosted cherries and crushed amaretti biscuits. It’s best eaten the same day although will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

Apple, rosemary and brown butter blondies

It’s officially autumn. There, I said it. Someone had to, before we start leaving the house without bike lights, trying to pair our floaty skirts with un-matching woolly tights and continuing to buy nectarines that might as well be labelled ‘apples’. I’m sorry, I tried to break the news gently.


I have a certain image of what autumn should be filled with. It includes long walks kicking leaves, crisp air on sunny mornings, snuggling on the sofa with pumpkin soup, collecting conkers on evenings with long shadows, smores and toffee apples by log fires. You know, the kind of autumn that American mothers on Pinterest portray.


Then reality hits. It’s filled with cycling in the rain, UCAS deadlines, runny noses and wishing it was Christmas already.


But all is not lost! These blondies will bring you all the crunchy leaves, pumpkin carving, crisp air, scarf knitting and apple picking you could need. They’re autumn in a mouthful, and truly delicious with it.


And please do not be freaked by the rosemary. Its addition MAKES these blondies. I sort of nicked the flavour combination from a long standing idol Lily Vanilli whose inspired apple and rosemary cake transformed the way I use this herb. I never would have thought of adding it to sweet dishes but it totally, 100%, most definitely works.

So whip out those windfall apples your neighbours keep bringing round, brown that butter and bless your tastebuds with slice of awesome. Sorry, I meant AUTUMN.

Apple, rosemary and brown butter blondies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 16

190g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
100g light brown sugar
110g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
175g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp fresh rosemary finely chopped (about 3 sprigs)
100g dark chocolate, cut into chunks
2 apples, chopped into 1cm-ish chunks (I use granny smiths)

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/180°C and grease and line a 18 x18 cm baking tin with baking paper.

Place your butter in a small saucepan and heat until it’s melted. Once melted, turn up the heat and watch it like a hawk, it can easily go past ‘brown’ and onto black. It will start to bubble and spit; don’t be alarmed, just be careful. At a certain point it will start to foam and you will be unable to see below the very thick froth. Keep heating until it smells fragrant and the butter’s turned an amber colour. Take it off the heat and pour into the bowl to cool for about 5 minutes. Make sure you scrape any little brown bits into the bowl as well; they’re what give it its flavour.

Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla to the butter and beat until light and fluffy. Next sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and fold into the mixture. Mix in the chocolate and apple chunks and chopped rosemary. Once combined, pour the batter into your baking tin and bake for 50-55 minutes until an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean. I’ve undercooked these beauties too many times, note to self: you don’t want a wobble like you want with brownies, they should be reasonably firm.

Allow the blondies to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the baking paper, cut into 16 pieces or as desired and sprinkle with light brown sugar. Eat within a couple of days.

Honey Biscuits

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Question: How do you know when you’re truly obsessed with baking? Answer: when you fall in love with cookie cutters.

It’s happened. I’ve fallen bad.

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Admit it, you want one like mine. If you fancy drooling over more cutters check this. They’re insane.

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I love baking with honey. It’s one of those ingredients that sees me through any season – it can be summery, springy, autumny, wintery and the weird in-betweeny-middley seasons. Perfect for today then. And tomorrow. Probably next week too. These biscuits actually last for ages without going stale so you can change that ‘probably’ to a ‘definitely’ and munch on them all week long. That’s if you can stop yourself from gobbling them up in one go. I dare you.

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These biscuits are super scrummy but even if all you do is eat the dough and they never make it to the oven you’ll still be happy. Whip out a spoon, forget what yo mumma told you and dive in. I’d even go as far as saying it’s better than raw brownie mix, and that’s saying something.

Bees, eat your heart out.

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Honey biscuits
Makes 10 sandwich biscuits

Honey biscuits
230g plain flour
3 tbsp. honey
50g unsalted butter
110g soft light brown sugar
½ tsp. ground ginger
1½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda

Honey buttercream
60g unsalted butter at room temp.
120g icing sugar
1 tbsp. milk
2 tsp. set honey

Grease 2 baking trays and preheat your oven to Gas mark 4.

Place the biscuit butter and honey in a small saucepan and heat until melted. Leave it to cool for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile weigh out all the dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour the molten butter mixture into the well and slowly stir to form a dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Dust your surface and rolling pin with a little flour and roll the dough out to about 3mm. Cut out your fun and quirky shapes and place about an inch apart on your baking trays. Bake for roughly 10 minutes, until golden but still soft to touch. Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave for about 30 seconds to firm up slightly and then remove with a palette knife onto a cooling rack to crisp up and cool.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter with an electric mixer until pale and soft. Add 2/3 icing sugar and the milk and whisk till thoroughly mixed. Next whisk in the honey and the remaining sugar until you have a smooth and airy buttercream – this usually takes about 5 minutes. Sandwich the biscuits together with the buttercream. They’ll keep in an airtight container for about a week.

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Coffee and walnut Saint Honoré

Verb: Patisserie crawl
An activity in which a group of people will try to visit as many patisseries as possible in one day, consuming at least one item from each  destination.

Yeah, you heard that right. Like a pub crawl, but subbing the beer for cake. Genius idea, you say? You saw it here first. After inventing the concept earlier this year I’ve indulged in two so far, in London and Paris, and they have by far exceeded the hype I created in my head. How have you not been on one yet?!

We consumed macarons in an array of flavours and colours (butter caramel was my personal favourite, although my friend’s melon one was mighty fine), visited Maison Bertaux for chocolate mousse cake, stopped off at Konditor and Cook for a flamingo cake, went to Patisserie Belle-Epoque, had a white chocolate and raspberry mousse and meringue cake at Angelina’s (Paris’s answer to the Ritz), scoffed pastries at Paul’s, dined on rose-brioche, ate a passion fruit cheesecake bombe and a large raspberry macaron sitting outside the Louvre. And then there was Ladurée… Oh, Ladurée… Where do I start?! It’s not just a patisserie, it’s an experience. They manufacture a buzz by having queues out of the doors, fancy décor and beautiful packaging. But amongst all this hype, their cakes still shine through . We ate our London purchases sitting on the pavement with a plastic fork (classy, I know) and they were still incredible.

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On top of the extraordinary number of calories gained, belts loosened and glasses of water drunk, I gathered a HUGE amount of inspiration and ideas to try out. This Saint Honoré is inspired by the classic  Ladurée version I ate in Paris.

Wikipedia is pleased to tell you that the cake’s named after the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs – you’ll never guess what his name was. It usually consists of a puff pastry base, covered in hard caramel and topped with choux buns, also dipped in caramel. The gaps between the buns  are then filled with ‘Honoré cream’ – crème pat with added cream or egg whites.

Now I hope Mr Honoré won’t mind, but I subbed a coffee macaron inthe place of his beloved puff pastry. Reason? I strongly dislike making puff pastry and I strongly like making macarons.

I’ve added coffee and walnuts because, well, I thought it would be really nice. Sorry, there’s no fun story behind that but we’re honest around here. Like how we’re honest about eating 6 pieces of cake for lunch yesterday. Or that the reason the ratio of granola to raisins in the cereal box is 1:6 is because for the past 5 days we’ve picked out all the raisins from our bowl and put them back in the box. Well, if you will insist on buying the one with raisins…

Coffee and walnut Saint Honoré

Coffee Macarons
60g (about 2 eggs worth) “aged” egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar, lemon juice or white vinegar
12g caster sugar
60g ground almonds
120g icing/powdered sugar
2 tsp. cooled espresso

Choux buns
65ml milk
50g butter
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tbsp. caster sugar
75g plain flour
2 eggs

Caramel
80g caster sugar
1½ tbsp. cold water

Coffee Chantilly cream
300ml double cream
3 tsp. cooled espresso
2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

50g chopped walnuts

First make the macarons: Take a sheet of baking paper large enough to fit your baking tray and, using a pencil, draw  four 10cm circles 5cm apart across the sheet.
Place the walnuts on a baking tray and roast for around 10 minutes on Gas mark 3.

Using an electric whisk (or a conventional whisk if you really fancy a workout), whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/white vinegar and continue to whisk until they hold really stiff peaks but don’t ‘break’. Whisk in the caster sugar to make a stiff peaked meringue, then in three additions gently fold in the icing sugar and ground almonds, using careful cutting motions to ensure most of the air’s kept in. Follow this by folding in the cold espresso.

Take a piping bag with a 1/2 inch nozzle and fill it with the mixture. Using your circles as a guide, pipe 10cm wide circles onto the baking paper, piping in a spiral from the outside in. Gently tap each tray on your work surface to release any air bubbles that can ruin the final appearance. Leave your macarons on a flat surface for 40-60 minutes until their surfaces have formed a tacky skin. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4/180°C. Place each tray into the oven to bake for about 16-20 minutes or until you can just about separate the macarons from the baking paper. If they leave behind their middles they’re not yet ready. Leave them to cool on the trays and then remove to a cooling rack using a spatula.

For the choux buns preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/180º and place a baking pan ½ filled with hot water in the bottom of the oven. Place the milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Add the butter, 125ml water, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, ‘shoot’ in all the flour at once and mix quickly with a wooden spoon until all the flour’s disappeared and the pastry leaves the sides of the pan. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a minute, continuing to stir. Whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl and then beat them into the batter a little at a time until the paste becomes smooth and shiny. Spoon the choux pastry into a piping bag with a large, plain nozzle and pipe into 2.5cm wide rounds onto a greased baking tray. Smooth the tops of the buns with a wet finger and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Once cooked, remove them from the oven and, using a knife or skewer, poke a hole in the bottom of each bun (this releases the steam trapped inside that can cause them to go soggy) and leave to cool on a drying rack.

For the caramel, place the sugar and cold water in a heavy bottomed pan over a low heat. Melt gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once no granules remain, increase the temperature and simmer, without stirring, until a golden amber colour – watch it like a hawk as it will turn from a nice amber to a burnt dark brown very quickly. Lay a piece of baking paper on a surface and, being very careful not to get any caramel on your fingers, dip the top of each choux bun into the caramel. Place the caramel covered top directly onto the baking paper and leave to cool. Once cooled, peel the choux buns off the paper and set aside. Pour the additional caramel onto the bottom of each macaron and spread evenly (you may need to reheat the caramel over a gentle heat if it’s started to set). Take the roasted walnut pieces and tip into any remaining caramel in the saucepan, stir and spoon out onto a piece of greaseproof paper to cool.

For the Chantilly cream, tip the double cream, icing sugar, coffee and vanilla into a bowl and whisk to soft peaks. Using a small, plain nozzle pipe the cream into the middle of each choux bun through the hole you created earlier.

To assemble your Saint Honoré, place each macaron, bottom up, on a plate and top with 4-5 choux buns arranged in a circle on the outer edge, caramel side up. Using a large star nozzle, pipe the remaining cream between each choux bun from the outer edge to the middle, adding a swirl on the top. Break up the walnut praline into small pieces and scatter over the top of your creation. Voilà. You, my friend, are basically a Parisian patissier.

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Homemade candied peel

I sometimes have domestic goddess impulses. The kind where I put on a floral pinny and some pearl earrings, turn on some Tim Hughes, and make cheese scones. Please tell me I’m not alone. Tell me you also pretend to be Nigella Lawson as you eat leftovers out of the fridge at midnight. Or pretentiously walk around the market, picking up fruit and herbs to smell them before deciding Sainsbury’s oranges were cheaper.

This homemade orange peel was a product of one of those urges.

‘Why would you make your own when you can buy it with far less effort?’ I hear you cry. Let me tell you:
1. Because you’re a fabulous domestic goddess who not only makes her own nougat but makes the peel to go in it. Oh yeah.
2. If you didn’t, you’d miss out on the A-mazing summery orangey scents that fill your house as you boil the peel for the first, second… and third time. You’re not only getting candied peel, but an all-day air freshener.
3. Most importantly, it’s SO much better than the bought stuff. This candied peel has a far fresher, fruitier, zingier flavour. Trust me. It’s a totally different ball game.

We’re going to top and tail the oranges and score the peel into quarters.

Peel the skin off, including the pith (the white bit just under the zest)

Cut the peel into ½ cm wide strips.

Place the peel into a pan and cover with cold water. Then place the pan on a high heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, drain the peel from the orangey water and repeat this process twice more. Tip: Don’t try to drink the orange water; you’ll think it’ll be nice. You’ll be mistaken. It’s not.

Pour water and sugar into a pan and simmer to create a syrup, adding the peel and candying to perfection.

Go on, give in to your domestic goddess calling. You know you want to.

Homemade candied orange peel
2 large oranges – I used Valencia
110g caster sugar
125ml water

Rinse your oranges, cut the top and bottom off each one and score the skin into quarters. Using your fingers remove the skin from the oranges and cut into ½ cm wide strips.

Place the peel strips into a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them. Place on the stove over a high heat until boiling. Drain the peel from the water and repeat this process twice more.

Pour the 125ml water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 9 minutes. Add the peel into the syrup and cook for 45 minutes-1 hour. Keep checking it to ensure it’s not boiling violently and adjust the temperature accordingly. Also avoid stirring the peels, instead swirling the pan around to coat those peels not covered. Once cooked, the peels should appear translucent.

Drain any remaining syrup from the peels. There shouldn’t be too much left but this orangey syrup can be a tasty addition to tea or gingerbread. Lay the peels out on a cooling rack and leave to dry for 4-5 hours. Store in an airtight container.

Dark chocolate, toasted almond and tangy orange nougat

I have a sad truth to tell you. I haven’t baked in 5 weeks. Say what?! 5 whole, long weeks out of my beloved kitchen. I know, it pains me. I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.

The only thing that’s made this absence slightly sweeter is the crazy fun adventures that have got between me and the flour. They include 2 patisseries crawls, 100 patisserie shop windows, 10 plays, caper berries (try them, they’re so great), 2 weeks with God and thousands of amazing people in a field , tiramisu ice-cream, Hunt and Darton café , Angelina’s, watermelon Tic-tacs and the leaning tower of Pisa. All this travelling and time to think has also inspired many new and exciting recipe concepts for you. Watch out, recipe #1’s coming at ya.

Think nougat. Now scrap that pink and white striped, semi-hard, cellophane-wrapped candy you had as a kid and refocus your thoughts on soft, chewy, mallowy nougat studded with dark chocolate, toasted almonds and homemade candied orange peel. Better thought? I think so.

Adding honey to the mix makes this recipe a whole lot sweeter. And the bees very happy. They’ll want a piece too if you’re not careful.

Italian nougat, as my summer travels have revealed, is something we Brits have taken, messed with to make it last longer, travel better and cost less, and essentially ruined. So let’s bin the candy stripes and pick up the honey jar. It’s nougat time.

Now this recipe requires very, very hot sugar. You’ve been warned. If you’re the kind of person who’s likely to drop a pan of boiling sugar when put under pressure I’d advise you try these instead. I’m just looking out for your fingers.

You’ll also have to work very quickly when it gets to juggling (not literally, let’s not get confused) different temperature sugar syrups and egg whites, so it might be helpful to have an extra pair of hands nearby. That’s unless you have a Kitchen Aid, in which case lucky you.

Dark chocolate, toasted almond and tangy orange nougat

Makes 36

220g caster sugar
150g liquid glucose
110g honey
1 egg white
90g whole almonds
100g dark chocolate, cut into chunks
80g homemade candied orange peel, diced (see next post for recipe)

Sugar thermometer

Line the base of an 18cm x 18cm baking tin with baking paper,  and oil both the paper and the sides of the tin with about a tsp. of vegetable oil.

Place the sugar, glucose, honey and 60ml water into a heavy-based saucepan and stir on a low heat until all the sugar’s dissolved. Increase the temperature and let the mixture boil until the syrup reaches 130°C.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. With your mixer still running, add half of the syrup in a slow and steady stream, ensuring it’s all mixed in. Whilst continuing to whisk the egg white and syrup mixture, return the remaining syrup to the heat and boil until it reaches 154°C. When that temperature’s reached, gradually pour the hot syrup into the mixture in the same way, whisking all the while.

Whisk the nougat mix until it becomes very, very thick. This may take up to 10 minutes. Stir in the nuts, chocolate and candied peel, and spoon into the prepared tin. Smooth the top as best you can with a palette knife and leave to cool completely for a minimum of 3 hours, although the longer you leave it the easier it will be to cut.

Turn out onto a board, remove the baking paper and cut into 3cm x 3cm squares. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Mint choc chip macarons

 I like food. But then again who doesn’t? My life would be far less fun, creative, messy, explorative, exciting and of course tasty without it. I always struggle with the question: What’s your favourite food? But if you reeeaaaaaally pushed me for an answer I’d have to go with ice-cream. Mmmmmm… even thinking about it sets me off. If I could I would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Sadly my mum cares too much about my teeth, heart and insulin production to ever let this dream become a reality. Sad times.

As much as I love its coolness, melty-ness, smoothness and ability to be eaten by the tub, the thing I love the most about ice-cream is the flavours it carries in its creamy base. Ice-cream has the ability to take on literally any sweet flavour – and there aren’t many other foods you can do that with so successfully; It’s special. Ice-cream makes eating raw cookie dough and cake-mix socially acceptable. That’s cool with me. What saddens me a little is that some of the flavour combinations used in ice-cream never seems to get the wider exposure they deserve. Like where else is rum and raisin really used? Or mint choc chip? Such a beautiful colour and fresh cooling sensation, with a depth of flavour brought from the dark chocolate. Super yum. So why restrict that to ice-cream alone? Let’s make macarons!

I know this may scare you a little, and that’s OK, they are a little scary, but it’s nothing that you can’t overcome. I believe you can do it. It’s quite easy to make bad macarons and it’s the little details in the process that make them good. It’s totally worth taking the time. A good macaron’s like nothing else you’ll eat. Pure delight in a mouthful.
You should separate your eggs at least 24 hours before you plan to use them and bring them up to room temperature just before. They will last in the fridge for up to a week.

To get a good meringue you need to have a very clean, grease-free bowl and beaters, and absolutely no egg yolk in your whites.
When you fold the almond/icing sugar mixture into the meringue you need to do it gently and with cutting motions so as not to knock all the air out. When you’re done you’ll have a macaronage – go on, wow your friends with that fancy word, they’ll think you know what you’re talking about.

I’ll let you into a secret: even the posh Parisian macarons don’t come out of the oven as beautifully soft on the inside and crisp on the outside as when you eat them. They go through ‘maturation’ which blends the flavour of the filling with the shell, adjusting the texture and balancing the sweetness. The shells are baked almost crisp the whole way through and then left to take in moisture from the filling. For the science geeks, a sort of osmosis takes place between the filling and the shell which absorbs the humidity from the filling, making the inside soft but leaving the outside crisp. Your macarons will be at their best 24 hours after they’re made.
Go on, take a leap of faith, separate those eggs, whisk that meringue, fold that sugar, pipe those circles and sandwich those bad boys. You’ll do great. Your mum will be so proud.

Mint choc chip macarons

Macaroons
100g (about 2 ½ eggs worth) “aged” egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, lemon juice or white vinegar
35g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
180g icing/powdered sugar
3 tsp. peppermint flavouring
Green and blue food colouring paste

Chocolate buttercream filling
115g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
45g cocoa
3tsp. peppermint flavouring
2 tbsp. double cream/milk

Take 3 pieces of baking paper large enough to fit your baking trays and using a pencil, draw 11/2 inch circles 2 inches apart across the sheets. This will give you a guide to help you keep the macaron shells the same size.

Using an electric whisk (or a conventional whisk if you really fancy a workout, I guess!) whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/white vinegar and continue to whisk until they hold really stiff peaks but don’t ‘break’. Then whisk in the caster sugar to make a stiff peaked meringue. Then in three additions fold in the icing sugar and ground almonds gently, using careful cutting motions to ensure most of the air’s kept in. Follow this by folding in the peppermint flavouring and food colouring. I advise mixing up a turquoise green food colour in a glass first and adding it in a few additions to ensure you end up with ‘mint green’ macarons and not fluorescent blue ones.

Take a piping bag with a 1/2 inch nozzle and fill it with the mixture. Using your circles as a guide, pipe 1 1/2 inch circles onto the baking paper. Gently tap each tray on your work surface to release any air bubbles that can ruin the final appearance. Leave your macarons on a flat surface for 30-60 minutes until their surfaces have formed a tacky skin. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4/ 180°C. Place each tray into the oven to bake for about 14-16 minutes or until you can just about separate the macarons from the baking paper. If they leave behind their middles they’re not yet ready. Leave them to cool on the trays and then remove to a cooling rack using a spatula.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter until paler in colour and airier. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and slowly mix (yes s-l-o-w-l-y; learn from my mistake, don’t cover yourself in a cloud of sugar) until there’s no visible sugar. Add the peppermint flavouring and milk/cream, and beat until the buttercream’s airy and stiffer in consistency. If it’s too thick to pipe add a little more milk/cream; if it’s too thin, add more icing sugar.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a ½ inch nozzle with the buttercream and pipe a circle slightly smaller than the shells on the underside of ½ of the macaron batch. Fill in the circles you’ve piped with more buttercream and sandwich with the other ½ of the shells. Eat, eat more, share and feel a warming sense of achievement. YOU just made macarons.

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