Category Archives: food

Christmas notes: morning

I start the day by making bread, which feels happily necessary and symbolic. This is my favourite sort of bread: simple with a moist crumb, chewy crust and the distinct malty tang of sourdough.

This morning we’ll eat it with a plate of very buttery, softly scrambled eggs, some smoked salmon and champagne.

Basic sourdough – a good morning loaf

I give this loaf its final rise and bake in the early morning, having left the dough overnight. I poetically feel its routine follows my own, in its resting, rising and readiness, its coming to life.

I begin the night before by measuring out 12oz sourdough starter (at 1:1 ratio flour/water), 14oz strong white flour, 2oz rye flour, 8oz water, 1/2oz salt and, optionally, a sachet of fast-action yeast (this gives a more even crumb, which I sometimes want).

I keep back a handful of the flour. Everything is mixed and kneaded on a surface dusted with the reserved flour. I persist until the mixture is smooth, shiny and stretches elastically without breaking. The dough is shaped tightly into a ball by tucking it into itself and placed in a large floured bowl to prove overnight.

Day 2.

Up early, I knock back my dough and shape it into a ball by folding it tightly into itself in a circular motion, pulling the edges to the centre and pushing them firmly down and in. It should feel tight and self-supporting. I flour a bowl, roughly the shape of my imagined final loaf, and place the dough in seam-side up. It is now left to double in size – between one and two hours should do, obligingly giving me time to wake up, drink tea, drink coffee, read a bit.

Finally, I invert my risen dough onto a floured baking sheet and neaten and slash. A circle is simple and attractive.

The dough now needs to recover for fifteen mins while the oven heats to 240. A tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven creates a good steamy atmosphere, which you need to achieve the characteristic crust.

Now for the baking: twenty minutes at 240 and another twenty at 200. I also give it a final five minutes upside down so the bottom of the loaf gets good exposure.

I leave to cool on a rack for as long as I conceivably can.

It’s usually still warm by the time I cut off the first crust. I eat it with very cold, very good butter.


Christmas notes: biscotti

This recipe for biscotti is one I use often, but reprise it faithfully at Christmas, its making an economical gift for my aunt and uncle, who each year kindly claim to love the things.


The base mixture is simple: whisk two eggs with 8oz sugar until they’re pale, creamy and leave a fleeting trail when trickled from a whisk – ribbon stage. Add 1tsp salt and two capfuls of good vanilla extract. Whisk these in.

At this stage, you begin flavouring as liked. For

Almond and orange biscotti

I add two capfuls of best French almond extract, giving an unabashed whack of marzipan, and grate in the zest of an orange or two, depending on size and freshness. Whisk those in thoroughly.

Orange gives an unimaginable lift and twist to the flavour of almonds – one of those combinations that seems not only to ‘work’ but produce something greater or different than its parts.

But anyway, dry ingredients are 8oz flour, 2oz ground almonds, 4oz whole almonds and 2tsps baking powder and are added to the eggs and sugar. I fold together, with some idea of keeping intact the air I’ve whisked into the eggs.

The dough is divided into three rough mounds on a baking sheet. With wet hands mould three fine little logs and bake at 175 until an even pale gold – around 15mins normally does.

Remove from oven and leave to cool for five minutes, before slicing on the bias.

Lay on a baking sheet and return to the oven for their nominal second cooking (bis-cotto: twice cooked). I do this at a rather lower temperature, perhaps 140, and allow them to dry fairly slowly (we’re really drying away sponginess, not baking) rather than dicing with a higher temperature at which the high sugar content of your little bics would make them prone to burning. This will take another 15 minutes perhaps – timing isn’t especially crucial.

Take from the oven and cool on a cooling rack.

Pack in airtight containers.

My favourite variation, I think, is

Hazelnut and chocolate biscotti

The flavours are very Italian, slightly childish and quite delicious. All processes are the same except I omit the almond essence and substitute hazelnuts for the almonds in the dry ingredients: 2oz ground toasted hazelnuts and 4oz of the whole nuts, plus 2oz good dark choc.

These are mixed, baked, sliced, baked, cooled and packed in the same way.

Traditional and great with morning coffee, biscotti (esp. the hazelnut and chocolate ones) are nicer with fortified wine, vin santo being the authenticist’s choice. I like madeira too, if not better. A snappy verdelho is nice in the morning, perhaps something richer if taken later.


The glass in the photo contains H&H 10 year old verdelho. A good madeira is, I reckon, a “fridge door staple”. The opened bottle will last in perfect condition indefinitely until you polish it off.

Christmas notes: pepparkakor part ii

The dough has firmed up to an almost toffee consistency. I hack it from its bowl in portions with a dangerous knife. Now for batch work. These biscuits, much as I love them, are a labour of love. You’ll need to do about twelve batches: there’ll be about six from the original mixture, then a few more from the trimmings, rolled out again.

I roll the mixture very thin. This requires some real work, and you’ll feel your palms bruising against the pin, but the work feels good and right. Once it’s rolled thinly enough, you should be able to see light through it. Now for cutting. Hearts are the traditional symbol of Swedish Christmasses, and I’m very fond of them, but I also like little frilly rounds, like you buy in tins from Ikea.


I bake in a preheated oven at 220. Timing is fiendish: the menaces will burn on you in a flash, so keep an eye. You’ll see them puff, then fall, then begin to turn light gold, and give off a toasted spice and caramel scent. I can’t give an exact time, but somewhere around seven minutes would be a guess. If you become engaged in rolling your next batch, a drink, a conversation, you’ll suddenly smell a hit of burnt sugar, and know you’ve spoilt a trayful of biccies. This happens to me twice or thrice each time I make the things.

Take the pepparkakor from the oven, and slide onto a cool surface. Like brandy snaps, they’ll be very soft and puffy when you take them from the oven, and crisp as they cool. Once slightly cool and crisp, slide them to a cooling rack, where they can wait to be tumbled into a tin, packed into a cutesy jar, rolled in paper.

Christmas notes: pepparkakor

Pepparkakor are little Swedish ginger biscuits I only make, as other seasonal recipes, once or twice a year. I never quite recall the quantities that worked for me, the observations and alterations I made last time; I only have my most recent notepad with me.

So: I’m going to make notes up here as I go, for my own reference as much as anything. I’ve just arrived down in Sussex, so time to get some biscuit dough underway, as it’ll need a night in the fridge to develop and firm up.


I often find Swedish pepparkakor recipes a little under-spiced and under-sugared (trust me – I don’t have a sweet tooth). This is characteristic of Scandinavian baking, and mostly I find subtle sweetness vaery appealing. Here though I’m looking for little biccies that snap – and that means sugar. I want them to be toothsome rather than worthy, something to offset  a cup of strong coffee and morning blear.

In a saucepan I caramelise 3dl sugar with 1dl water. When just golden I stand back and add another 1dl water, which splutters volcanically as it solidifies and dissolves the caramel. Keep calm. I add 5oml golden syrup150g butter and allow it to melt over a gentle heat. Then, off the heat, spices: 1tsp ground cloves, 1tsp ground cardamom, 2tsp ground ginger, and 4tsp ground cinnamon or cassia (see note). The heat helps release the essential oils from the spices.

I add 2tsp salt and then 7 1/2dl flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder and mix. The texture should be smooth, and disconcertingly viscous. Once it’s had a night in the fridge, it’ll firm up and be ready to roll. More on which tomorrow!


  1. The “kanel malen” you buy in Sweden (or, as I do, at the fabulous Totally Swedish in Marylebone) is strictly ground cassia, not cinnamon. To me it tastes more deeply, ethereally fragrant than normal ground cinnamon. That’s not an affectation, honestly: the flavour is different, though I can’t deny, very evocative of Swedish holidays, childhood buns, so perhaps you wouldn’t mind so much.
  2. I think cinnamon/cassia more important to the flavour of pepparkakor than the peppery ginger that gives them their name – though it’s really the correct blend of spices, almost like a curry, that makes them individual.
  3. The Swedes insist on using volume rather than weight measurements for dry ingredients. It’s homey and convenient, though I worry not very accurate. Just use a measuring jug, and tap so that the flour/sugar settles. Never seems far wrong that way.
  4. 1dl=100ml.

pains aux raisins

It has taken me a long time to make pastries, danish pastires, I’m happy with; these I was. They turned out fluffy, puffy and flaky. They had a beguiling sweetness and richness, not overt, not bland; they had the vanilla fragrance and softness, the little caramel, fruity bite of raisins you look for. They were ethereal to eat with coffee and hot milk, the kind of fatty stodge that eats like a feather, and makes you want more.

This is the sort of recipe you need time to make. I don’t mean hours of labour, so much as hours of repose. You need time to rest, and let the dough rest. I went home last weekend because I was ill as ill, wheezing, eyes streaming, wanting a warm swaddle of familial sympathy, which I got. And I had time to bake and to read, to mill and listen to the radio. That’s when you make good pastries: when you’re not in a rush to.

Forgive the shoddy picture. I took it on my five year old Nokia brick and texted it to my email address…

The dough recipe is half of that detailed by Paul Hollywood in his new book How to Bake. Through lax measurement, or imperial conversion, I found the liquid content of the dough too high. It was: 8oz flour, 3tbsp water, 4oz milk, 2 1/2 oz sugar, tsp salt, 7g yeast, kneaded and beaten together until elastic. I had to add more flour, so perhaps next time, I’d hold on the water. The dough rests for an hour in the fridge. You beat with a rolling pin 4oz cold butter into a 4″x8″”panel in a little flour. Roll out the chilled dough to approx 4″x12″ rectangle. Place the butter across two-thirds of the rectangle, and fold the exposed third of dough down over the middle third, covering half the butter. Slice off the exposed panel of butter and place it on the middle third. Now you fold up the bottom third of dough and seal the edges. You have a package of butter and dough which goes: dough-butter-dough-butter-dough. Roll out to a rectangle 4″x12″ and fold like a business letter in thirds along the short side. This is a “single turn”, in the parlance. Chill for an hour, complete another “turn”, chill for an hour and complete another. Now chill the dough overnight.

When you take the dough from the fridge in the morning, it’s puffy and firm, and deeply satisfying to touch and work with. But you mustn’t touch it too much. Roll out to a square 12″x12″. Spread with a quantity of chilled, thick creme patissiere (see below), leaving a two inch gap at the bottom, which you brush with egg wash. Give the creme pat very light sprinkle of cinnamon and a generous helping of raisins. Roll up into a sausage, like a swiss roll, as tightly and neatly as you can muster, and seal along the eggwashed seam. Cut the sausage into 9-12 slices and leave to rise in a cool place for 2hrs. Bake at 200 for 20mins and glaze immediately with melted, seived apricot jam.

Creme patissiere: 1/2pt milk, 2oz sugar, 2/3oz cornflour, 1egg boiled together until very thick with a tsp vanilla extract and chilled until well gelled and firmly spreadable.

steamed treacle sponge, rhubarb, custard

scotch eggs