Semlor, or Mardi Gras with marzipan…

After a very long wait since Easter is so late this year, Fat Tuesday finally rolled round this week with its myriad delicious ways to use up rich or fatty ingredients and shrive in time for the start of Lent. Most people went for the always excellent pancake as their Shrove Tuesday treat, but after my recent trips to Scandivanian Kitchen, I decided to celebrate with the Swedish favourite of the cardamom infused, marzipan stuffed and cream filled buns known as semlor. Made with fresh yeast and similar in texture to a doughnut, these chewy soft buns are perfect with a strong coffee and could be sampled in the afternoon, leaving plenty of room for a pancake fest in the evening…

Scandinavian Kitchen are a one stop shop for these little beauties, supplying both the recipe and all the ingredients for them in one place. I stocked up on fresh yeast there for the amazingly bargain price of 45p a pack, but used my own flour and some marzipan I had in the house for emergencies. With the sun shining for the first time in months, I rolled my sleeves up and got baking. Read more

Sprats, spuds and Swedish sauciness

Miss South and I have a long-running appreciation of the herring family: from whitebait, the essential anchovy (in all its multifarious forms) through to sprats, pilchards, sardines and herrings; little silvery fish get a full-on thumbs up.

Curiously I’d come late to the pleasures of sprats… but once I discovered how cheap (and I mean cheap) a handful of good fresh sprats could be, I was a convert. Normally I’d have them very simply; tossed in a dusting of flour and smoked paprika, grilled whole and finished with a little freshly-squeezed lemon juice, then eaten with some fresh crusty bread. The fact these small fish also answered to the delightfully silly scientific name of Sprattus Sprattus only enhanced their place high up the canon of favourite, fast, fishy fixes. But I alliterate too much…

So I was delighted when Miss South gifted me a tin of Swedish sprats as a Christmas stocking filler, which she’d picked up on her previously documented mission to the wonderful Scandanavian KitchenRead more

Summer pudding

Yes yes, I know summer is hiding her light under a bushel right now, but I’m hoping to coax her back by eating a variety of delightfully summery dishes all the while. And what is more gloriously summery (or more gloriously British) than a panopoly of soft fruits?

A recent trip to Brixton’s Farmers’ Market came up trumps when I came home with an old fashioned paper pick-you-own punnet with a handle filled with fresh juicy Kent cherries, gorgeous redcurrants and tiny tart whitecurrants all for £4. The cherries didn’t even make it til teatime, eaten one handed on the patio while reading the Sunday papers. The currants didn’t lend themselves just as well to absent-minded nibbling being much tarter and less juicy. I half-heartedly ate a few and went off to rummage in the freezer for something for dinner…

And while there I espied a forgotten bag of frozen summer fruits from Sainsbury’s and my mind leapt to making a juice drenched summer pudding as a beautiful vehicle for some organic thick cream I happened to have picked up as well. I’m a big fan of the frozen fruits Sainsbury’s sell, especially when on an offer for three bags for a fiver and often buy them to make my five a day more interesting and affordable. The fact that they also make a mean frozen daiquiri is entirely incidental!

I haven’t eaten summer pudding for years and wasn’t entirely sure how you make it, but figured it would be fairly easy once I found a recipe. A quick Google turned up this fantastically easy sounding one from Sophie Grigson on the BBC Food Website that sums up just how easy this fabulous dessert is to make! Especially since my local shop has an inability to sell fresh sliced bread, with all their loaves seeming a bit dry round the edges. This makes them perfect for a good summer pud!

Luckily I had lots of time to make the pudding so I was able to leave the frozen fruits to defrost overnight and brings the juices out as recommended, although I halved the amount of sugar she suggested. However I don’t think you’d be missing too much if you go straight to the heating stage. I simmered the fruit for about ten minutes, before adding a few tablespoons of Ribena and allowing it to cool enough to be able to dip my bread into without burning myself. I trimmed the bread of crusts while I waited and cut the slices into triangles, except for one that I cut into a circle using the base of the bowl as a template.

Once the fruit mixture had cooled enough, I dipped the circle of bread for the base in juice on both sides and began lining the bowl. I dipped each triangle on one side and began making my juicy jigsaw, wedging each piece of bread in carefully to make sure there were no gaps, adding little plugs of bread where needed. I then filled the bread shell up with the gorgeous fruit mixture and realised I was slightly short of bread to make the lid. Some judicious cutting and trimming later and all the fruit was covered and I was relieved that no one would see its hotchpotch look when the pudding was served!

I then put a saucer on top of it all, popped the bowl into the vegetable drawer of my fridge and put a few cans of chickpeas on top to weight it down overnight and allow the lovely juices to soak into the bread and help shape the pudding before eating. This should happen overnight, but it was a full 48 hours before I got back to mine. The juice hadn’t completely soaked through the lid and I was a bit worried that the pudding would fall apart when I turned it out. Crossing my fingers while I did it made it a bit trickier, but I needn’t have worried! It slipped out of the bowl easily and looked lusciously purple and mouth-watering on the plate.

I had a generous slice cut and on a plate with a dollop of thick cream in next to no time. It was delicious. The soft succulent bread contrasted with the still crunchy berries beautifully. The cream tempered the slight sourness of the berries and turned this frugal dessert into something truly stunning that I would servee to anyone. I’ve been eating this for breakfast most mornings this week and as well as tasting wonderful, it keeps incredibly well in the fridge. My five a day haven’t been this enjoyable in a long time!

Suffering fools gladly…


I was recently chatting with Miss South about the relative dearth of gooseberries for sale; prompted in part by a recent episode of the Food Programme about berries. We both loved gooseberries straight from the garden at our granny’s… the slightly peculiar texture (a little hairy and seedy like pomegranates or tomatoes) and tangy flavour was unlike anything else, and distinctly seasonal. A highly evocative memory of childhood.

An occasional treat, and one which brings back deliciously happy memories, is that of gooseberry fool. Thick cream and fruit, served in glass dishes during halcyon summer weather conditions in the countryside. In my mind’s eye, heavenly. The fact I’ve not had this dessert for so many years has undoubted contributed to a little rose-tinted spectacle wearing on my part, but also led me to crave enjoying this unctuous creamy delight all the more.

So when I saw a couple of punnets in Tesco (I’ve been scouring the markets but haven’t seen any for sale anywhere else) I pounced on them. The particular variety was touted as being sweeter and more suited to desserts than normal, and they had a slight ruddy glow to their green translucency. I was all for following a straightforward recipe for fool, but skimming through the ever-dependable Leon Cookbook I noticed they suggested pairing gooseberries and elderflower, which sounded like a wonderful match. They also suggested mixing greek yoghurt with double cream to create the creamy base, which I thought would add a touch more tang and bite to the flavour. As with all good recipes, it provided a helping hand rather than a restrictive straightjacket… not least as I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand in the correct quantities.

First the fruit got cooked down in a mix of water and sugar (a bit less sugar than Leon had suggested as the variety of berry was supposed to be sweet) and then cooled down. A couple of tablespoons of elderflower cordial got added to the mix (my homemade elderflower liqueur is still brewing away although I’d like to try this again with that once it’s ready). I used roughly a 2-to-1 proportion of double cream to natural yoghurt, then whipped the mix until it got as close to that ever-smirkworthy state of ‘stiff peaks’. The fruit was then folded into the dairy mix, squashed and smashed but still ostensibly whole. This proved to be much better than creating a smooth compote, as it made for a contrasting texture sensation. After dividing into bowls and bunging them in the fridge overnight I was able to enjoy a decadent breakfast course… light, creamy, tart, sweet and so moreable. Yum!

I’ve always liked the British predilection for fools, flummeries, blancmanges, syllabubs and other traditional dairy desserts. These haven’t totally faded from public culinary consciousness, but receive far less attention than they should. I urge you to rediscover the delights of fruit fools as they’re so damn good, and wonderfully easy to make.