pork buns

Jerk Pork Baozi

pork buns

I keep meaning to write a post about dim sum. Except that all I have to say is “I love dim sum. I’ve never met dim sum I didn’t like. Can we just order and talk with our mouths full?” I love the variety of dumplings, whether they are steamed, fried or both. I love the excuse to drink gallons of tea. I love that it makes lunch an event. I love that one of my favourite people in the world takes me out for dim sum sometimes and always orders the turnip cake for the table and bean curd skin rolls for me. I even love the surly table service.

I’m not sure why when I find the event of going out for dim sum so perfect that I decided to try making my own at home. You’d think it would be a recipe for disappointment, but it wasn’t. It just added another dimension of joy to dim sum. I’ve done mine with jerk pork for a Brixton feel but this would be a great way to use up leftover roast meat from Easter if you fancy an easy but impressive cooking project for the Bank Holiday.

Originally published at Brixton Blog…

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hot cross buns

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns

hot cross bunsI used to be very strict about only eating hot cross buns on Good Friday as tradition dictated and then Marks and Spencer brought out their limited edition chocolate and caramel ones and I had to start cramming as many in as possible in a short space of time to make the most.

This year, they don’t seem to be doing this variety at all and I am highly disgruntled. I had a little sulk and then I tried the stem ginger ones to see if they hit the spot. They didn’t, so I decided I would revisit one of the very first things I blogged and make my own hot cross buns instead of waiting for someone else to fulfil my baked goods needs.

They were going to be dark chocolate and ginger and then I realised that I didn’t have any crystallised ginger, but I did have a big bag of prunes and what goes together better than chocolate and prunes? The recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s Spiced Stout Buns which are actually very easy to make despite what I thought a few years ago as a novice baker.

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns (makes 18)

  • 325ml warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 875g plain flour
  • 50ml dark rum or brandy
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 250g prunes, stoned and chopped
  • 250g mixed dried fruit
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 200ml cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

You need to start the buns the night before. Measure out 325g of the flour into a large bowl along with the yeast, spices and warm water and mix it all well together. Cover with a clean teatowel and leave to prove overnight.

In another bowl , put the chopped prunes (I cut mine into pieces just bigger than the raisins) and your dried fruit. I used a hotchpotch of raisins, golden sultanas, currants and candied peel. Add the booze and the golden syrup and allow the fruit to soak up their flavours overnight

Next morning, melt your butter and add it and the egg to the fruit mixture and then add the chopped chocolate. Add it all to the bowl of yeast batter and stir in the remaining 550g flour, the salt and sugar and about 150ml of the cold water. Mix until it forms a dough. It should be soft and slightly ragged but not sticky. Allow it to sit and breathe for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes (or however much longer it takes you to tidy your work surface…) tip the dough out onto an oiled work surface and lightly knead for 10 repetitions. Leave it where it is and repeat this action twice at 10 minute intervals, then return the dough to a clean bowl and leave it covered for 1 hour.

Line a baking tray or two with greaseproof paper and then measure the dough out into 100g balls per bun. I just pulled lumps off the dough and roughly shaped them between my hands so they were a bit more rustic looking than they could have been if I was the kind of person who is a neat baker. Put the buns on the baking tray touching each other and leave to rise again by half their volume. Mine took about another 30-40 minutes in a warm kitchen while the oven heated to 200℃.

Mix 3 tablespoons of plain flour with about 5 tablespoons of cold water until it is a smooth but not sloppy paste and put it in a piping bag. Pipe a long line of the paste across the buns from top to bottom and then from side to side so each bun has a cross. Doing this individually gets really faffy in comparison. Bake the buns for 25 minutes and remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To glaze the buns, mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar and hot water together and brush over the buns while they are still hot. Repeat twice to build up a nice glossy top and then allow the buns to cool on a rack. Serve slathered with butter and with a good strong cup of tea to hand. They will keep for several days in an airtight container or freeze well. I’m going to enjoy the heap I made since it’s not like I can go completely untraditional and make these again before next year. That’s just too much…

half hot cross


potato soup

Cream of Potato Soup

potato soupFor some reason despite more or less worshipping at the shrine of the spud, I have never made a potato soup without adding either leeks or kale for caldo verde. In fact I’d never heard of cream of potato soup until I moved to England and saw packets of the Erin stuff in Irish sections of the supermarket and discovered it was thought of here as quintessentially Irish.

So when I checked out Ocado’s Irish shop for an event with them and Bord Bia for St Patrick’s Day, I was amused to see that they don’t stock this but lots of things I really do think of as Irish. I decided to make my own cream of potato soup though to be sure and top it with soda bread croutons, fresh dill and smoked salmon to make sure no one confused it with the packet stuff.

Cream of Potato Soup with Soda Bread Croutons (serves 4 to start)

For the soup:

  • 1 large onion
  • 25g butter
  • 500g potatoes
  • 650ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 100ml buttermilk
  • salt and pepper

For the soda bread:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 250ml buttermilk

To serve:

This is a very simple dish with a surprising amount of flavour from very few ingredients. I know I’ve described it as cream of potato but I forgot to buy any so I used the leftover buttermilk instead and the slight tang works brilliantly, so if you use cream, don’t skimp on a squirt of lemon juice too.

Finely slice the onion into half moons and allow it to soften into a sticky caramel tangle in butter over a low heat for about 30 minutes. Or use a batch of my slow cooker caramelised onions from the fridge where they last up to a month.

Peel the potatoes and cut into inch chunks. Add to the pan of onions and pour the stock over it all, seasoning well. Simmer on a low heat until the potatoes are collapsing around the edges for about 25 minutes. Use a handblender to blitz it all into a smooth soup.

It will thick and almost gluey at this stage but don’t panic. Add the buttermilk and blitz again and the texture will lift into a sleek soup with an almost foam like texture to the surface.

While the soup has been cooking, you’ll have been making the soda bread. I do buy mine for a emergency stash in the freezer, but having finally found a source of decent buttermilk, it seemed a shame not to make my own farls here.

Heat a dry heavy bottomed frying pan on the stove. Put the flour in a large bowl and add the sugar, salt and bicarb. Gradually add the buttermilk, bringing the dough together to a lump that shouldn’t be sticky. You may not need all the buttermilk. The acid in it activates the bicarbonate of soda and allows the bread to rise, so if you only milk, don’t forget to sour it with a splash of lemon or vinegar.

Flour the worktop and place the dough on it, pressing it into a circle with your hands until it is about an inch thick. Cut into four pieces or farls and cook two at a time in the dry frying pan giving them about 7 minutes on each side. Flip them over if they start to burn. Repeat with the remaining farls.

To make the croutons, split the farls in half and cut into small cubes. Add some oil or bacon fat to the frying pan and add the cubes to it and fry until the croutons are crisp and golden. Drain on some kitchen roll.

Serve the soup in shallow bowls scattered with the hot croutons, thinly sliced smoked salmon and chopped fresh dill. It probably doesn’t reheat well due to the buttermilk, but as there were only clean bowls from my guests, I’m not sure!

Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much. Read more

halwa cake

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake

halwa cake


Slow Cooked finally hit the shelves this week and what could be a better way to celebrate than a cake? (Clue: it has a cork you can pop, but I digress.) And what could be better than a cake you weren’t expecting? Surprise cake is, of course, always the best.

After months of feeling like I couldn’t really talk slow cooker stuff on the blog or Twitter so you didn’t feel that all the best stuff in Slow Cooked had been given away before you got your copy, publication has released my inner slow cooker mojo again. I’ve felt hugely inspired to cook again in the slow cooker and I’ve been keen to try new techniques again.

I happened to see Imran from Elephant in Brixton Village during the week as we promote the Brixton Blog crowdfunder and since it was the first really cold day in there of the autumn/winter, he had made some fantastic warming semolina in the tradition of very sweet comfort dishes from Pakistan and India and it got me thinking how much I love those milky desserts from the subcontinent.

I have a particular love for gajar ka halwa or carrot pudding which is made from slow cooking carrots and milk into a soft sticky super charged version of condensed milk sprinkled with pistachios to serve. I’ve had a notion to make it in the slow cooker for ages and wouldn’t you know it, I had a whole bag of carrots needing used up.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any of my usual storecupboard standby of evaporated milk and had to use whole milk instead which has a tendency to become a little bit grainy and burnt tasting in the slow cooker. I then compounded this by stupidly setting it to high rather than low and leaving it in about three hours longer than needed, ending up with curdled looking milk and halwa that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing enough to eat on its own this time. It worked perfectly next time though with the right milks. Evap and condensed milks are slow cooker saviours.

Rather than throw it in the bin, it occured to me that it could be recycled into a amazing spiced carrot cake which is how I came to be celebrating my second book this year with a whole cake to myself. To be fitting, I baked it in the slow cooker itself which is basically a slightly more grown up version of those Easy-Bake ovens you get when you’re a kid. Thanks to The Crafty Larder, Farmersgirl Kitchen and BakingQueen74, I’ve discovered you can use cake tin liners in the slow cooker instead of the sheets of reusable baking liner I’ve been using and you can create easy slab style cakes without greasing tins and turning the oven on.

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

For the halwa:

  • 500g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 x 400ml can evaporated milk
  • 1 x 297ml can condensed milk
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed
  • pinch sea salt
  • 50g sliced pistachios to serve
  • 50g sliced almonds to serve

For the cake:

  • 200ml sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 350g halwa (or grated carrot)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger cordial (optional)
  • 300g cream cheese
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Start by making your halwa. It’s incredibly simple if you don’t oversleep like I did and overcook it. Peel and grate your carrots, either with a box grater or food processor. Place into a slow cooker crock you have greased slightly with oil or butter. Press the carrots down so they are half way between loose and tightly packed.

Pour the evaporated and condensed milks over them. Sprinkle with the sugar, salt and cardamom and then put the lid on. Traditionally a pinch of saffron would be used too, but I don’t have it in my kitchen. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. The carrots will soften and break down into the slow cooked milk which creates a toffeeish dish. Stir the nuts through it. You could serve it as it is, but it was fantastic in the cake.

The cake is adapted from page 153 of Recipes from Brixton Village and uses the technique of whipping oil and sugar together to a syrup to make the moistest cake possible. This carrot cake is so good it has stopped me pining for my lost recipe for Nigella’s Venetian carrot cake from Vogue.

Line your slow cooker with a sheet of reusable baking liner or set a 9 inch cake tin liner into the crock. I find it’s easiest to line it first then set the liner in as you only have to lift one sheet that way instead of fumble with oven gloves.

Pour the oil into a large bowl and using an electric hand whisk, beat the sugar into it for about 3-4 minutes until it is a glossy syrup. Add the egg yolks one at a time. The mixture will get glossier with each one.

Beat in the flour, spices, halwa and ginger cordial if using, stopping when combined. Wash the beaters of your electric whisk well and in a clean grease free bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks. Fold them into the mix to create a light pillowy looking batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared slow cooker. Cover the top of the crock with double folded kitchen towel or a clean tea towel. This stops the condensation in the slow cooker from dripping down into your cake and making it damp. I prefer the kitchen roll as I find the tea towel can lower the temperature of the slow cooker too much and add cooking time. Bake the cake for 2 hours 30 minutes. Check the centre with a toothpick. It should come out clean. Give it another 20 minutes even time if it doesn’t.

Lift the cake out and cool on a rack. If using the liner, don’t peel it away until the cake is completely cooled or the little edge bits will pull off and the cake will look picked at. Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice and zest together.

Use a bread knife to carefully cut across the cake from side to side to create two sandwich layers. Fill with the zesty cream cheese frosting and serve in slices. It will keep for 48 hours with the frosting and 5 days without. I have to say, it didn’t last that long in my house…