A friend of mine is having what can only be described as a royally crap time. There’s me, moaning about not having slept since April, as if it’s such a massive deal. And there she is left holding her 3 month old while her selfish ex has decided he can’t handle having a baby and would rather take Special K and try to pull 18 year olds instead. So he’s basically upped and left her. This is someone so spectacularly gutless he didn’t even have the decency to tell her to her face, so broke up via SMS.
There are times when nothing you say can make things better, but silently sharing a bit of cake can ease things a little. I decided to make her some comforting, fudgy banana bread and chocolate-peanut butter pudding made with thick slabs of said bread, soaked through with salted choc and nut butter sauce. It turned out to be more of a spread in the end (I had to deal with an ENS* so didn’t manage to add milk to make matters less viscous) but for a little while at least, made her forget about what a lucky escape she and her beautiful son have had from a total loser.
*Emergency Nappy Situation
For the banana bread
115g plain flour
115g wholemeal flour
150g brown sugar
90g roughly chopped walnuts
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
6 small ripe bananas- approx 480g (the blacker the better), roughly broken into chunks
2 large beaten eggs
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. syrup from a jar of stem ginger
For the sauce
200g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
100ml double cream
- Line a loaf tin with greased and floured baking paper and preheat the oven to GM 4/180C (fan)
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and walnuts in a bowl.
- If you have a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar for a good 5 minutes (otherwise a lot of elbow grease and about 15 minutes with a wooden spoon ought to do it). Gradually add the olive oil, eggs, banana, stem ginger syrup and vanilla, a little at a time.
- Gently fold in the flour mixture, being careful not to overmix and bake for 1 hr
- Cool and slice the banana bread up and layer in overlapping layers in a dish.
- Melt the chocolate in a bain marie. Add the peanut butter and vanilla extract and mix well. Stir in the salt until it dissolves. Finally swirl in the double cream. If you’re able to, add enough milk to form a runny sauce.
- Pour this over the bread, so it’s nicely submerged.
- Bake for 40minutes. Serve with something hot, strong and possibly alcoholic depending on the circumstances.
For me there are few things more rewarding than cooking for others, so I was super chuffed when those nice people at farm:shop asked me to start regularly supplying the cafe with my treats. These past few weeks have been a blissful blur of baking chard, smoked cheddar and mushroom quiches with delicate walnut and chive or nigella seed and parmesan crusts, ultra crumbly lavender shortbread, mini keema pies, feta and spinach rolls, artisan popcorn, pretzels and vats of panch phoran chutney. There’s such a buzz about hearing the lovely feedback from the customers and it’s great fun dreaming up new and exciting ways in which to cook up the latest harvest.
When a request for a cake came in, I wanted to make something decadent and “money’s worth” so decided to fox up a classic Green & Blacks’s chocolate marquise recipe. I massively heart the ruthlessly aromatic camphor of cardamom, which like its protean brethren nutmeg; means it’s just as comfortable in a rice pudding as in a biryani and makes it the perfect partner to pretty much anything cocoa based. Crushing those resinous pods to add a subtle twist to sweet dishes is something the Bangladeshi cook has been onto for centuries. As kids we grew up squabbling over clotted bowls of my mother’s legendary Bengali cardamom-infused rice pudding or “payesh”, shandesh (a ricotta, cardamom and pistachio dessert) and rasgullas (which literally means “globes of juice” and takes the form of pistachio curd dumplings soaked in a rose and cardamom syrup).
In this obscenely rich cake (you only need the teeniest slice), the cardamom is a veritable plectrum to the fruity, almost bitter notes of the dark chocolate and lingers gorgeously on the tongue. The separate cakey base and mousse may seem like a total faff, and I won’t lie – they are. If you really can’t be bothered and you’re in the area, I would recommend getting down to 20 Dalston Lane and treating yourself to what’s left of mine.
Serves 15-20 decadent little slices
For the base
Melted butter for greasing
300g (10 ½ oz) dark chocolate minimum 60% cocoa solids (I used 200g/7oz dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids plus 100g Maya Gold) broken into chunks
165g (5 ½ oz) butter
1 tbsp ground almonds, plus extra for dusting the tin
275g (10oz) caster sugar
A pinch of sea salt
5 large eggs
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed to powder
For the mousse
250g (9oz) dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
100g (3 ½ oz) icing sugar
175g (6oz) unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated
6 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed to powder
150 ml (1/4 pint) double cream
Cocoa powder to dust
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
- Brush a 23cm (9in) springform tin with high sides and removable base
- Make the cakey bit by placing the chocolate, cardamom, sugar, butter, and salt in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water until melted and amalgamated.
- Whisk the eggs and add the ground almonds and fold into the chocolate mixture off the heat. Continue to fold until the mixture thickens. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin for about 2 hours before starting the mousse.
- To make the mousse, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over some barely simmering water. Remove from the heat and add half the icing sugar, stir and then whisk in the butter and cardamom. Whisk in the egg yolks on at a time. Set aside.
- Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage and add the remaining icing sugar. Keep whisking until glossy. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until stiff peaks form.
- Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the melted chocolate mix and carefully mix to blend. Gently fold in the remaining whites, alternating with the whipped cream. You don’t want to over mix or crush out the air bubbles, but you do want it to be well blended. Pour this mousse over the cooled cake base in the cake tine and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, remove the tin from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving. Dip a palette knife in boiling water, dry it and slide around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the tin and then remove the ring. Re-heat the knife in boiling water, dry it and gently smooth the sides of the mousse.
- Dust generously with cocoa powder and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche.
When she first arrived on these shores, nineteen and newlywed – a green eyed slip of a girl, shivering in her unfamiliar winter coat and grappling with the lingo; my mother struggled with a number of elements. One of the toughest aspects of her new life was trying to recreate traditional dishes minus so many of the familiar ingredients she’d grown up casually plucking from the trees and plants in her village. Back in the days when curry came in Fray Bentos tins and garlic was still considered to be a foreign ingredient, creating the most basic Bengali supper or teatime snack was more often than not an exercise in creative improvisation. Relatives returning from trips to the motherland would be excitedly mobbed, their suitcases bulging with delicious secrets. Chinese dates (boroi), dried fish (shutki), jaggery (toffee like boulders of unrefined palm sugar), jolpai (Bengal olives), jackfruit seeds and other precious edibles were meticulously divvied up. For these much coveted goodies simply weren’t available for love nor indeed, for any sort of currency.
How times have changed.
I know the trains are rubbish and the air is filthy, but one of the best things about living in the smoke right now is the astonishing amount and variety of ethnic treats you can lay your greedy mitts on, if you’re so inclined. A brief jaunt around Chinatown the other day resulted in the following haul:
Almond Tea –You add hot water to these luscious sachets of gingko nuts, fungus, yam and almond powder, and the results are pure molten marzipan.
Dried anchovies and peanuts – these pocket sized snackettes are pretty moreish. Speckled with chilli and spring onion, the anchovies are both salty and caramelised to addictive effect – which might sound a bit wrong, but tastes oh so right.
Umeshu- super fruity and podgy with booze-saturated umeboshi plums that loll around at the base of the bottle. An icy drop of this stuff can slip down with dangerous ease.
Despite having access to grub from practically every crevice of the globe, it seems there are still some foodstuffs that require a bit of the old suitcase smuggling. One of the few things I haven’t been able to track down anywhere has been the elusive, lesser spotted tiger nut.
The Ancient Egyptians ranked tiger nuts amongst their oldest cultivated plants, having discovered them some 4000 years ago, before introducing them to the Spanish. Apparently, they used to make cakes with them. On a recent trip to Valencia I raided the local supermarket for a hessian bagful of “chufas”, after acquiring a taste for the cool, sweetened nut-milk they sell on street corners. Back in East London I decided to celebrate the arrival of summer with some horchata ice cream and plum wine jelly. However, most of the recipes I came across seemed to be made with the Mexican version of rice and almonds, rather than the sweet, nutty tubers, so I decided to experiment by soaking and grinding the tiger nuts, before adding them to a classic custard base. This is definitely one of those start-a-day-or-two-before-you-want-to-eat-it type recipes, but is absolutely worth this piffling hassle. Rich with cream and custard and with a subtle nutty chord woven throughout, this makes quite a sophisticated little ice. It works particularly well with the fruity joy that is plum wine jelly – all in all the perfect way to rip off that dingy shroud of winter and bask it up in the intermittent sunshine (cool shades and VW Beetle are optional).
For the ice cream
130g soaked tiger nuts (I soaked mine for a good 24 rather than the instructed 8 hours)
3 egg yolks
1 small cinnamon stick
200ml whole milk
200ml double cream, whipped
60g vanilla sugar
½ vanilla pod
- about 8 hours before you want to start, grind the nuts and water in a blender to a smooth paste. Leave in the fridge for 8 hours to macerate.
- Toast a small cinnamon stick in a dry, hot pan.
- Add the milk, sugar and vanilla pod and heat very gently (you don’t want too much sugar as the tiger nuts are already quite sweet).
- Just as it’s on the brink of boiling, fish out the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod.
- Beat the yolks and pour the hot, sweet, milk over, whisking continuously.
- Return this to the saucepan and gently heat until viscous. Once thickened, allow to cool.
- Stir in the cream and the ground, macerated tiger nuts.
- Freeze in an ice cream maker (or in a plastic tub in the freezer, stirring every 30 minutes or so to avoid a congestion of ice crystals).
For the jelly
Mixed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries and blackberries)
200 ml plum wine
100 ml water
Juice of half a lime
One sachet of gelatine
- Heat the wine and the water in a small pan. Add the lime juice to taste.
- Arrange the fruit in jelly moulds, or glasses.
- Just before simmering point, stir the gelatine into the wine mixture, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before pouring over the fruit.
- Leave to set in the fridge.
It does make me laugh when people go on about “super foods”. I mean, surely all fruit and vegetables are good for you, aren’t they? What makes a blueberry so much better for you than say a carrot? Or some nice runner beans? We fork out for fancy pomegranate seeds and goji berries, when you can get just as many health benefits from the humble apple, and for a fraction of the price, at that. From perfumed crunch, to complex tartness and rich vanilla scented flesh, the varieties and nuances of this most English of fruits run deep and wide. These shores have borne countless breeds that have been sadly aborted in favour of a few sickly sweet, mushy types and we continue regardless to import our bland, flawless varieties.
I wanted to use up a surfeit of those cheap bags of “basics” carrots I found hiding in the bottom of my salad box. It seemed like such a good idea in the supermarket, what with everyone fighting over the reduced cabbages, the ubiquitous recession mentality rife in the fruit and veg aisles. Then you get home and all you really want is steak and chips.
There’s a great recipe in Delia’s Vegetarian Collection, but after a bit of research I found that the best “tried and tested” recipes seem to rate vegetable oil over butter and definitely golden syrup as well as sugar. I also added a drop of vanilla essence and a touch of nutmeg. I had some pecans that needed using up so threw those in too. It was perfect eaten straight from the oven with slices of cheddar. This will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days (if you can resist it for that long). Even a couple of days later it was still moist and crumbly.
I don’t really like bananas, but I hate wasting food even more. I had to make this after I found myself unable to part with a glut of slowly blackening bananas. The walnuts and rum-soaked raisins really bring out the sweetness of the ripe fruit. This goes beautifully with chunks of cheddar.