creme brulee

Malted Milk Crème Brûlée

creme brulee

Life has been extremely busy recently and days and hours have been whizzing by in a blur. I’ve been enjoying it immensely, but I’m not used to the pace and I crave quiet and familiarity to keep me grounded. I need a break from the newness and novelty and seek comfort in things I know well, especially with food.

Simplicity doesn’t have to mean denial though. You can make classics eternally interesting with quality ingredients and care. It can be mashed potato beaten with butter and hot milk until silky soft and smooth or the boiled egg cooked with a perfectly gooey yolk and fingers of toast just the right golden shade or a cup of tea drawn with fresh boiling water and proper tea leaves in your favourite cup. It’s the sum of its parts more than anything else.

At times like this, my greatest indulgence is crème brûlée. Combining how easy it is to make with the contrast between the crisp sugar shell and the smooth cream custard inside, it always hits the spot for me. I’m not an enormous fan of making this classic dessert too fussy, but I’ve always found the utterly simple vanilla version slightly lacking something. Inspired by the way that the malt powder in my recent Paris Buns deepened the flavour without dominating, I decided to use it instead of my albeit brilliant homemade vanilla extract.

Malted Milk Crème Brûlée (makes 2 large or 4 small, adapted from Felicity Cloake’s Perfect)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons malt powder (I used Horlicks)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Heat the oven to 150℃. Place two ramekins in a deep oven proof dish. Beat the egg yolks and the caster sugar together until they form a slightly airy mix. Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just boiling. Pour over the Horlicks powder in a heatproof bowl and stir well. Then add into it into the egg yolk mix. Transferring it from the pan to a bowl will cool the cream just enough to make sure the eggs don’t curdle. Make sure it is evenly mixed and voila, you have custard!

Pour the custard into the ramekins, leaving a bit of space at the top. Then fill the oven proof dish with cold water until it comes about 2/3s of the way up the dishes. This makes a water bath or bain marie and it cooks the custard gently so it stays wobblingly soft and yielding instead of omelette like. Bake for about 40 minutes and allow to cool at room temperature. You can then keep them in the fridge until needed.

horlicks brulee

Once cooled, sprinkle the top of the custard with the demerara sugar and blast under a very hot grill for about 5 minutes until blistered and melted or use a cook’s blowtorch for even more fun. Cool down again for about 10 minutes and the sugar will have formed a glistening crust that just cries out to be shattered with a spoon and eaten alongside the smooth creamy sweet custard with gusto. I won’t judge you at all if you run your finger round the dish to finish it all off…

This was the best crème brûlée I’ve made (and I’ve made a few, believe me!) The malt powder enhanced the natural sweetness of the cream and everything felt even more creamy and more luxurious than normal. Simple and classic but with just enough of a twist to be relevant. It’ll soothe even the most stressful day.

Easter Rarebit

toast

Like everyone else in the UK I am absolutely desperate for spring to arrive. These grey skies, raw winds, bare trees and frozen crocuses are getting to me. There are two options: buy a lightbox or start adding spring flavours into my food despite the fact the view suggests it is January. One of my favourite fresh light flavours is tarragon. I adore this herb even if I cannot for the life of me get it to grow for me. The slightly liquorice, slightly aniseed taste is probably my favourite fresh herb and bunches of it from the deli are my indulgence. It works beautifully with chicken or fish or eggs, making very versatile.

However there is no finer use for tarragon than Béarnaise sauce. Sharpened with a pucker of vinegar and poured heartily over anything, but preferably steak, I adore the stuff. I made some on Saturday night and was faced with the greatest of middle class dilemmas. Should I reduce the recipe to one egg yolk and run out or go with all three and eat it all week? You can probably guess the answer.

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Keep taking the tablet…

dime tablet-2

Last weekend I found myself in the slightly retro experience of finding myself with half a can of evaporated milk needing used up. I haven’t eaten the stuff neat since childhood and even then I never particularly liked the slightly metallic taste. I generally prefer the toffee-ish tones of condensed milk and its sticky sweetness, and as a topping, I always preferred cream, so it seemed for a minute like I’d either be throwing it down the sink or finding out if squirrels like a spot of Carnation.

But then a conversation with the Lovely Scotsman reminded both of us about that peculiarly Scottish delicacy of tablet. Harder than fudge, sweeter than falling in a bag of pure caster sugar after being dipped in syrup and utterly lovely, it seemed like the perfect solution to my evaporated milk* dilemma. I prepared to roll up my sleeves and beat some molten sugar into submission when I espied that you can magic this sweetmeat up the modern way and do it in the microwave making it perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Tablet is usually served simply. Some even suggest that the addition of vanilla extract is too newfangled, but I’m no stickler for tradition so it seemed like a marvellous idea to add a Scandinavian twist and add some crunch to the tablet in the shape of some crushed up Daim bar. I thought the saltiness of it would work here without just copying the salted caramel trend.

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Banana bread

Brixton Banana Bread

Banana bread

I am very fussy about how I like my bananas. Barely yellow, top tipped with green and a satisfying crack when they open, this means that there is about five minute window when they are at the stage where I can eat them and enjoy them. This means I spend a lot of time realising that the little blighters have gone and ripened on me while I was making a cup of tea or turning my back for just a second. This could be pretty wasteful except that I make really really good banana bread.

Like all banana bread, this is a great way to use up overripe bananas, but unlike many banana bread recipes, it’s as simple and straightfoward as you want it to be. In fact this recipe is so simple that it was the only thing at all I could make at all in my teens when I thought cooking and baking was too difficult and scary to be bothered with. I felt confident to make this recipe because I’d learned it from the mother of the family I au paired for one summer in America who couldn’t cook at all. In between ordering take out food or heating up frozen burritos, she whipped up fresh banana bread for breakfast and I figured if someone who struggled with doing carrot sticks to go with hummus could do it, so could I!

Over the 17 years I’ve been making this recipe, I’ve tweaked it a bit and it’s changed from Boston Banana Bread to Brixton Banana Bread with the addition of some different spices, but it’s still super easy to do. I simply mash up bananas as they ripen and freeze in bags until needed. They defrost by the time you’ve measured everything and it means you don’t chuck black bananas out all the time.

Brixton Banana Bread: makes 1lb loaf

  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 mashed bananas

Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin and heat the oven to 180℃. Then put the flour and all the other dry ingredients in a bowl. Put the sugar, oil and all other wet ingredients in another bowl and add in the eggs, beating them until combined. Then pour the wet mix into the dry and add in the bananas, mixing lightly til combined. The batter should be dark, glossy and slightly lumpy. Pour it into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for as long as you can wait and then have a good thick slice of this with a strong mug of tea. It’s super soft and sticky with a lovely sweet banana flavour and if you don’t devour the whole loaf in one sitting, it keeps really well for several days when wrapped in a tea towel. It also toasts beautifully with a smidge of butter as an excellent breakfast. It’s simplicity itself and I think it’ll probably something you make for years to come to once you’ve tried it!

Tadpoles in the Hole

toad in the hole

It’s been cold and grey recently with even snow on the ground and a chill in the air and I’ve wanted warm, filling food, rich with carbs and comfort to see me through. A recent trip to Waitrose to get ox cheek from their butchery counter to make Mister North’s famous tongue and cheek pudding also resulted in the purchase of a lovely jar of beef dripping and so my mind immediately thought of Yorkshire puddings or a proper toad in the hole. But sadly my house was sausage-less and I thought such delights would have to wait for another day when I suddenly thought ‘could you make it with meatballs instead?’

My dinner companion assured me that would work very nicely indeed and because he’s wittier than me, named it Tadpoles in the Hole before I’d even rolled my sleeves up to roll the meatballs. How could you not want to eat a meal with a name like that? The oven went on to get lovely and hot to make sure my batter rose well and I turned my attention to the meatballs.

I used turkey mince for mine as it was the first draw on my game of freezer roulette, but any relatively lean meat would work well. I mixed the meat with some breadcrumbs and added lemon zest and tarragon as I had both to hand, but your seasonings here are only limited by your imagination. Some chilli would have been just the ticket here actually and I do love black olives and parmesan in a meatball. Whatever you go for, roll your meatballs nice and small so you get one in every bite of batter and chill for at least half an hour first. You’ll also need to leave your batter to sit for about this long so plan ahead slightly and then this is a very simple dish to assemble and cook.

It also works fabulously well with a caramelised onion gravy which if you have a bit of extra time to spare, but is extremely good served naked as well. I tend to slow cook a big batch of onions at a time and then freeze them in portions so you don’t need to wait on them turning sticky sweet and golden every time you need them.

Tadpoles in the Hole (serves 4)

For the meatballs:

  • 250g lean mince
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 25g chopped tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the batter:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoon beef dripping

For the gravy:

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 25g butter
  • pinch demarara sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 300ml stock (vegetable or animal, depending on your meat choice)
  • 100ml vermouth or wine (replace with more stock if you don’t have any)
  • generous dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • seasoning

Start with your onions for the gravy. Slice them into half moons and cook in the butter on a low heat for about 30 minutes on a low heat or until soft and just starting to colour. If there is liquid coming off them, drain it and keep for the gravy as it’s pure onion flavour. Add in the sugar and leave to cook for about another 45 minutes. They need no attention (I went off and watched an episode of Breaking Bad which meant I wouldn’t have noticed the kitchen going on fire) but to properly caramelise an onion til jammy and golden takes time. If you do extra, they freeze well and take only a few seconds in a microwave to defrost.

Try not to become utterly fixated by the do it yourself meth trade while your onions are cooking, and start on your batter instead. Resting it really does make a difference, making it much lighter and fluffier and rise better. I presume this is something to do with the gluten. But I like to think it’s a reward for patience. The batter is easy, put everything but the beef dripping into a bowl and mix til the consistency of double cream. The odd slight bump in the batter doesn’t matter as mixing it too much can make it flop. Leave to rest on the worktop til needed.

Your meatballs also like a rest before dinner and are similarly simple. I love rolling them, I find it very relaxing and the longer you chill them for the less they fall apart when cooking. They are so easy to make, it’s also worth doing a freezer batch while you’re there. Basically put everything but the egg in a bowl and mash together well with your hands to combine everything. Then add the egg a bit at a time, making sure the mix isn’t too wet and mix well. Then roll about a fork’s worth at a time into a meatball and chill til needed. Doing them with this proportion of breadcrumbs makes them very light and stretches the meat a longer way making this great value.

raw meatballs

When you’re ready to eat, put the meatballs in your dish and add the dripping and heat for at least ten minutes or until it is smoking hot. Hot fat may be mildly terrifying, but it’s the secret of a pillowy billowing batter. Pour your batter in carefully from the edge so you don’t cause the meatballs to float and pop into the oven as fast as possible and leave it to cook for 40 minutes. On pain of death, don’t open your oven door again before then or you’ll end up with a giant pancake with meatballs poking out forlornly.

Make your gravy about 10 minutes before by adding the plain flour to the buttery onions and cook til quite dry. Then add in the warm stock, including those onion juices and the wine if using, and stir until it starts to thicken. Season and add the Worcestershire sauce. Add more liquid if you like it less thick. This gravy can be adapted to be veggie or vegan if you use oil and tamari instead if you need a meat free gravy at some point.

When your tadpoles are completely cooked and the hole is puffy and golden and slightly quivering with its own self importance, serve big slices of it with lashing of gravy and heaps of peas (garden or mushy) on the side and give fervent thanks for cold weather. As comforting as eating a hot water bottle, this is deliciously decadent with the meat to batter ratio and a great twist on a old favourite. It’s just as well we’ve got a north wind coming in…

portion