Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Those of you old-school Wafflers will have noticed that there's been a recent re-vamp of this lil' blog of mine. Although I adore cookie cutters, it's never terribly gratifying to look like you were formed by one when it comes to web design. And that's sadly what the case was three or so weeks ago.

(The full picture where the banner was cropped from)

From the start, I'd always had the intention to make my blog look like mine, but then you begin to find that other silly small things get in the way like writing or cooking. Grrr. The template I had was passable but you could see the very same colour scheme and banner on a trillion other blogs. But I finally managed it, one very industrious morning. The kind where you sit down to work, still in your bathrobe, before you've even had coffee or breakfast and end up working until the afternoon without even noticing the time, let alone your state of undress.

Well, at least I managed it partially, in the ways that matter most. In doing this I feel like I've forged a touch more identity and hopefully sometime in the future (I'm refraining from using the words "not too distant" here because I'm really not sure), the layout will be entirely my own design. What mattered most was changing the banner image to something appropriate and beautiful. Really, there was only one option succinct enough to define what this blog is.

Waffles are my favourite food ever. Some of my fondest childhood food memories are of my mother making them in her charming, brick-red Tefal waffle iron (I'll grace you with a picture some day) which was one of those every-housewife's-dream gadgets at the time. It came complete with sandwich toaster plates and grilling plates from Family Circle magazine, along with the wrong instructions - or so the story goes. It has been with her for just about the same amount of time as I have.

Just able to see over the counter, I'd strain to watch this machine turn out these steamy, spongy squares, the kitchen redolent with an aroma not dissimilar to a baking sponge cake. We would eat them standing up in the kitchen, and as I hazily recall, unadorned. The syrup came later in life, along with thick chocolate spreads that stuck in the roof of your mouth and required the waffle to be devoured using utensils.

Practically every time I go back to my parents' home, my mum will dust off the waffle iron and I'll mix up a batch of batter for breakfast. They are nothing like the waffles of Brussels, I know this. They do not possess that yeast-inflated texture, or contain the dried pools of crystal sugar within their walls. But to me they are just as sublime and they taste no different to the ones I ate as a child, or at least I'd like to think they don't.

The ones pictured here were made at home and transported back to London. They were, more fancily put, cryogenically preserved until I woke up to the sunniest morning I'd seen all year. That's when I knew it was time to implement the syrup bottle. Sadly, I knew I would only be able to use part of the image, which is why I wanted to show you the finest results from the shoot in all their sun-kissed glory. The recipe below is not a defining method for making waffles by any means, but I'm rather attached to it. It comes from an equally old Bamix cookbook and is therefore in imperial measurements. I've listed the metric ones because I'm lovely like that.

Waffles (makes 4-5 square ones)

  • 4½ oz. (130g) Unsalted butter
  • 4½ oz. (130g) Plain flour
  • 4½ oz. (130g) Caster sugar
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 3 eggs (preferably free range)

As with any kind of sponge cake: cream the butter and sugar together until voluminous. Beat the eggs in, one at a time until blended and then sift in the flour and baking powder, incorporating gently with a folding motion. Ladle the batter onto an awaiting waffle iron (the amount varies depending on your machine - trial and error is usually the way to dose the perfect amount) and cook until they feel springy (their done-ness is your call - some people like their waffles more crisp than others). What you eat your waffle with is your business. No rosettes will be awarded, however, for guessing what I like mine with.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

'What's for Pud?' I'll tell ya what...

The moment I read the brief for this St. George's day blogging event, there was little doubt in my mind what I wanted to make.

Ever since I saw Food and Drink’s Michael Barry joyfully pressing a lemon into a small amassment of butter and sugar with his thick fingers, I’ve been intrigued by the much forgotten Sussex Pond Pudding. I was about 12. As a general rule, watching someone with big ol’ sausages manipulating stodgy pastry inspires emotions close to disgust, but no, seeing that retina-burning vision did little to put me off, even at such a tender age. It was so fascinating. Beautiful, even. Simple elements, barely mixed together, yet the alchemic end product looked like it came from the hands of gods. Nothing could have dissuaded me from staring at that screen. Even if Mr Barry had stripped down to the waist and babyoiled himself up.


But the pudding was sadly never mine. The fact is though, food and memory are so inextricably entwined, so much so that forgetting food you've always wanted is an exacting task. It stays in your subconscious, bubbling subcutaneously until someone hands you a cue to remember. 'What's for Pud?' was a little like looking back through old school photos and seeing all those tiny faces you once shared classes and pencils with. Just like you and your best friend at Primary school, childhood and puddings go joyfully hand in hand. Memories made in sugar and eggs and butter. It doesn't matter that you may have never gotten to eat your longed-for-dessert either. You just had to dream of it.

Sussex Pond pudding is called as such because once made and inverted on a plate, cutting it open unleashes a molten flood of sauce consisting purely of butter, sugar and a whole lemon (buried inside like a toy surprise). Continuing to pour, the golden tar then encircles the low-looming pudding, forming a pond of sorts. Its name supposedly originates from the similarities between the dessert and circular, man-made 'dewponds' which are found in Sussex's downs. The few times I’ve seen this dish on TV have been like small wooden spoons stirring up old memories. Best of all, the pudding is oh so very English - how could it not be my entry for this event? Of course, being a fan of variation, there is the extreme temptation to hide a lil' lime in there instead of the more yellow member of the citrus family, but I am well aware it is not fitting for this particular occasion.

Problem number one: I am put-off making steamed puddings time and again for the sheer fact that they take, on average, 2 to 3 hours to steam. I’m not averse to the wait, but the idea of running a stove for that long makes me anxious to receive the next gas bill.

My second dilemma is that pudding staple: suet. Beef or vegetable? One is made from fat originating in parts of cows I doubt I’ll ever want to see, the other comprises mainly of brain-solidifying trans-fatty acids. So after much self-debate, rather than compromise my ethics, I plumped for the health-risking vegetable version. Standing in the supermarket aisle the whole argument imploded; Sainsbury’s only sell original beef-licious Atora. What’s a girl to do?


So, vacillations aside, I bit the bullet. I knew it was time to put a pudding to steam, lie back and think of England.

Sussex Pond Pudding

Suet Pastry:

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a decent pinch of salt
  • 110g shredded beef or vegetable suet

Melting middle:

  • 175g Demerara sugar
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 1 squeaky clean lemon

Check that your 900ml pudding basin fits in your saucepan (which must have a well-fitting lid too) and check how much water you need to fill the pan with to get the level halfway up the side of the bowl by doing a dummy run with cold water. If you don’t check this you could overfill the pan and displace a load of boiling water all over your thighs, which is careless, seeing as I’ve just warned you about it. Plus you could flood your pudding which would be possibly more tragic (I jest – scalding is a horrendous fate I wish on no one). Once you’ve done this, generously butter the basin.

To make the suet pastry, sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, tip in your suet and combine with a knife (I like to use knives with plastic handles to ensure that the heat from my hand isn’t conducted down the blade and therefore doesn’t affect the pastry). Add the water in a tiny splash at a time, making curved motions with the knife through the mixture to incorporate it. Be light and swift and try not to overwork the pastry. Once enough water has been added to make the pastry clumpy but not wet, get stuck in with your hands and bring the lot together. The amount of water you use may end up being less than stated as many weather-type factors can affect pastry making. Regardless, it should feel firm and elastic and leave the bowl spanking clean.

Turn it onto a very lightly floured surface and set aside a quarter of the dough. Gently sculpt the three quarter amount into a round and with a floured rolling pin, gently but decisively stroke the pastry out, turning the dough a quarter of the way round every so often to keep it as circular as possible. Rather than there be a massive overhang of pastry, it needs to just line the bowl so don’t sacrifice thickness (which is what I did since I had no idea how the pastry would behave but with hindsight now know I could have kept the round a little smaller and had thicker pastry as a consequence). It will look as if it has a bad case of cellulite, but this is normal. Repeat the same with the quarter amount of pastry for the lid, rolling it so it is nearly as big as the diameter of your pudding bowl.

Lay the larger circle into the bowl and press it lightly to fit it to the interior. Try not to pound it so hard that you distort its thickness. However, if you do tear it, suet crust seems to be pretty forgiving and is easily patched up by using a little from the edge as a bandage (a healing kiss is not obligatory here, you will be pleased to know).

Measure out your butter and sugar separately. Cut half the butter into cubes and place into the lined basin with half the sugar. Stab your lemon all over with anything thin and sharp (knives better than forks here) and nestle it into the fat/sugar.

Pack in the remaining butter cubes and demerara around the lemon covering as much as possible. Dampen the edges of the lining and place the lid onto the filling, folding and pinching the two pastry edges over to seal in the goodness. See? It’s all very simple.

Now take a big sheet of foil, lay it shiny side down and place an equal sized sheet of baking parchment (or greaseproof paper) over it. Holding both, fold a pleat into their middle and place them over the basin with the foil now on top, so the pleat lies centrally. Smooth down across the sides and tie tightly round it with string, making a handle with another piece too. Make sure your knots are tied the right way too so that when you pick up the handle, they don’t come apart and you drop the whole load.

Lower crane-like into the pan of water which should now be boiling, Steam for three whole hours, which will give you time enough to continue your patriotism and perhaps watch two whole Britflicks. Bear in mind Trainspotting and things with Ewan McGregor sadly do not count. About an hour and a half into the steaming time (or after the first film), lift the pud out and top the water back up with a boiling kettle.

Three hours later, disrobe the basin and place a plate on top, inverting the whole unit ever so swiftly. If you hesitate midway, you may find a substantial dripping of sauce in places where it isn’t welcome.

Yes, it might look like a brain but don’t be put-off. It might look unsophisticated but this pudding is far more complex and luscious than it looks. Grab a spoon, dig in and let the sauce just flow. As the pastry deliquesces in the mouth, the tongue forms thoughts of a Demerara-crunchy, subtly bitter marmalade. Eat it how you like it – cream, custard or, like me, enjoy it just as it is. I promise it would put the most beatific smile on any face on anyone who consumes it. Even if they had just seen a half-naked, greased-up Michael Barry.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Selling like hot(cross)cakes

I’ve been feeling guilty (in a blog sense) that I’ve practically ignored Easter’s bountiful traditional grub. Silly really, considering I’m in no way shape or form a Christian, but that’s beside the point. So I’m remedying this right now. As one may be able to guess from past blog entries, I’m very partial to a bit of bread baking, and I’m especially fond of things pungently aromatic with spices, so it is tragically predictable what my Easter offering is.

aren't they pretty?

Traditionally, the hot cross bun should be made on Good Friday, when it is supposed that all bread made on this day will keep for 12 months. I made mine on Easter Monday, but considering that the things are virtually sold all-year round, being three days late can’t count as a sin (at least I hope). Besides, as any sane person will agree, they’re so damn delicious that it’s impossible to keep them for more than their life-expectancy. The notion of sacred mould-free bread therefore has little sway.

Aside from being, subjectively I’ll concede, far more exciting than the Easter Egg (give me that big hulking bar of chocolate, if you please), you’ve got to love the hot cross bun for its controversial nature. We’re not just talking Cromwellian legend either. Call it the burkha of bread, if you will, because much like the Muslim head garment, it too has been banned for its visible display of religiousness. Some schools in Britain are now calling for the buns to have cross-ectomies, or flat-out bun-bans because they are worried they may offend non-Christian pupils. Lord, is nothing sacred? (Yes, as it would seem, things are in fact too sacred). Another point to note is that some believe they are actually of pagan origin and were yet another tradition adopted/robbed by Christianity. The crosses actually represent the four quarters of the moon and were baked to celebrate the goddess Diana. Now that’s more like it.

It may seem a ridiculously lengthy operation to home bake these fine fellows because they are sold tout le annee (pardon my awful French), but take a supermarket’s packet in your hand, flip it over and all manner of horrors will make themselves apparent as you peruse the shockingly long list of ingredients. Hand-making these are the only way to ensure that you’re not going to end up imbibing a whole host of chemo-tastic substances or be wrist-slapped by St. Jamie Oliver this Easter.

I perused the web long and hard for a bun recipe which a) contained most of the ingredients I had in the house, b) could be done during the day and did not require a slow night-time rise c) used a mixture for crosses that was not a watery, drippy consistency. I can only explain why the last point mattered in that I am freakishly obsessed with being in control, so the crosses had to look clearly visible (hard to achieve when you’re dribbling the mixture on with a teaspoon). Yes, I know I’m not a Christian or a Pagan, but we’re making hot cross buns here, not, erm, ‘Hot Buns’ (which would be a whole different creative endeavour).

I digress. Did I find an exact formula which met my unreasonably high criteria? No. So I did what came naturally and concocted a new one from a few different recipes I found. The basic mixture came from the culinary wonders found here (I am a little embarrassed to mention the site by name, but you’ll see for yourself), but I added citrus (lemon in this instance) zest on the advice of several recipes such as Paul Hollywood’s and Nigella Lawson’s (in 'Feast'), and rather than ready mixed spice, mixed my own. I appreciated Nigella’s idea of using cardamom, but it seemed predictable to use it in the dough itself – I decided to give the sticky-icky glaze a fragrant twist and infuse it with some of the crushed pods instead. The method for the crosses came from a Waitrose Food Illustrated recipe which uses the flour and water to form a pliable(ish) dough rather than a paste. Finally, not being a big lover of those retro-fantastic bags of mixed dried fruit, I brought my own combo to the party and used some raisins, dried apple and dried cranberries. Post-consumption I now believe the last fruit would be better substituted for dried (not glacé) cherries because the cranberries punctuated the bread with such acrid (yet mercifully brief) sourness, it made me wince. However, this may just be the particular batch of Holland & Barrett berries I used. Really, you should use whatever dried fruit turns you on. Same with the spice balance – mine was quite, quite arbitrary – just add what suits your tastes and your kitchen cupboard.

There are three excellent reasons to make these:

1) The buns outshine any you could pick up from Mr Sainsbury or dare I say it, Mr Lewis, with their tightly-packed texture and oven-plumped fruit.
2) You get the satisfaction from the bread-making catharsis and also from the knowledge that you know exactly what went into the things.
3) During their baking and subsequent toastings, the whole flat/house becomes aromatically akin to a spice merchant’s chest. This is everyone’s fantasy, obviously, not just mine.

I beseech thee: go forth and bake, my children!

Hot Cross Buns


  • 450g strong plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • ¼ of a nutmeg, freshly grated
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ tsp ground cloves
  • ⅓ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 sachet (7g) easy blend dried yeast
  • 225g mixed dried fruit (I made this up with 75g each of raisins, chopped dried apple rings and cranberries)
  • 110g soft light brown sugar
  • 250ml organic milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 free range egg, beaten
For crosses:
  • 75g plain flour
  • 4 tbsp water

For glaze:

  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 6 tbsp water
  • 3-4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

Whilst your butter is melting in a pan, sift your bread flour, salt and spices into a large bowl and mix in the yeast, dried fruit, sugar and some Easter cheer.

Stir the milk into the melted butter heat gently until tepid. Blitz the egg in before pouring the entire lot into flour mixture.

Combine well until it comes together into a sticky dough. Turn it onto a floured work surface and knead heartily for a good 10 minutes until you feel its texture change and become elastic and smooth.

Split the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into smooth bun-shaped balls. Arrange the doughy babies on a large non-stick baking sheet making sure each one has a little room to breathe. Cover with a clean tea towel or lightly-oiled cling-film and leave to prove in a warm place for about one and a half hours until the buns have swelled. Do not fear if they don’t puff up as much as you expected – mine didn’t and the texture was beautiful. If yours do swell up until they start reaching out and touching each other this doesn’t matter as they are easily split post-baking.
Preheat your oven to 200°C.

To make the crosses mix the flour with the water to make a pliable dough. Roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin and cut it into 24 equal strips. Score each bun with a cross shape using a sharp knife, dampen each strip with a little milk to help them stick and lay them in a cross formation on each bun.

Place the tray on the middle shelf of your oven and bake for 20 mins, until the rolls are tinged baked-bronze. You’ll smell the moment they’re ready.

As the buns are baking, prepare the glaze by heating the sugar and water gently (you are dissolving the sugar – not caramelizing it here) with the crushed cardamom pods in a small pan for
5-10 minutes. When the buns are ready, brush the sticky sugar glaze over them immediately and allow to cool a little before greedily shoving one in yer gob. You don’t even need to split, toast and butter these but I wouldn’t hold it against you if you did.


Happy Easter!