Breakfast, Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Choosing Life’s Colours / Apple, Goat Cheese & Elderflower Turnovers

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” C.G. Jung

It’s the last limping steps of summer in our neck of the woods. We’ve been sneaking in as many beach days as possible, while slowly moving into long-sleeved tshirts, thicker duvets and autumn produce.

I love this time of year. I love autumn clothes, I love autumn food, I love that my Englishness feels increasingly comfortable as sunrises arrive later and the weather cools, I love that Melbourne sits in comfortably warm temperatures for many weeks yet. I love the anticipation of switching our summer wardrobes for winter ones; the gorgeous coat I haven’t worn for months, the new dress I bought for this Australian winter while in England last October. I love discussing the turning of leaves from green to gold with my son, the first time he’s been consciously aware of the change in season.

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Coincidently in line with this, I’m embracing all manner of change at the moment. My mood’s increasingly one of willingness to live a little differently, a little bolder. I’m no longer pushing down the rainbow of colours that flood through me, the parts I may have been embarrassed to show previously. I’m more anxious than I’d care to admit, and often more neurotic. Certainly more fragile than I’ve ever allowed myself to openly show. These have always seemed like negative traits, the dark sides I wished  away and tried to whitewash and replace with characteristics I once decided (and who knows when or how) were more acceptable.

I was standing outside my home yesterday, staring at a flat tyre on my car and wondering what comes next. Conversely, my friend was rummaging around in the boot, pulling out metal contraptions and wheels, asking where I keep my jack. Ummmmm… Moments later, two local boys came around the corner and asked if they could help and between the three of them I had a new tyre on my car within 10 minutes. The old me wouldn’t have let them do it, I’d have been ashamed that I’m not very practical and would’ve tried to hide it by assuring them I had it all under control. Yesterday, I let them help. And today I thanked them by baking for them. Practical I am not, but I know my way around an oven… So they got to feel good for helping, I got to practice honesty and humility by letting them and we all get some food.

Sounds like a fully coloured life to me.

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These creamy and sweet turnovers are a simple go-to on those days when a warm tummy is entirely welcome at any time. The soft goat cheese is the flavours’ foundation, tangy and decadently creamy; while the elderflower dances on taste buds with its cheerily floral notes; and right in the middle is the timeless combination of buttery, hot apples and a light flaky pastry. I like to sprinkle mine with sesame seeds before I pop them into the oven as the hint of smokiness adds an even great depth to this delicious combination of flavours.

Enjoy.

  • 800g (1.75lb) or 5 sheets of ready made puff pastry
  • 1kg (2.2lb) green apples (about 10 small apples), I use Granny Smith, only because we don’t get Bramley or Cox apples in Australia’s woefully limited varieties. If you can find something tarter, go for it
  • 75g (3oz) brown sugar
  • 3 tbl sp elderflower cordial
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 75g (3oz) unsalted butter
  • 100g (3.5oz) Chèvre (fresh goat cheese)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tbl sp sesame seeds

Peel, quarter and core the apples before cutting each quarter into four (quarter them again)

Heat the butter in a frying pan over high heat until foaming

Add the apple, half the sugar, elderflower cordial and vanilla and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until the liquid reduces to gooey sweetness

Transfer to a heatproof bowl and set aside for 15 minutes to cool

Stir through the rest of the sugar, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until chilled

Preheat oven to 200˚C / 390˚F and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper

Roll out half the pastry, using a lightly floured rolling pin, until about 2mm thick. Use an 8cm-diameter (about 3 inches) round pastry cutter to cut 12 discs from the pastry (if you’re using the ready-rolled stuff, you’ll need two sheet for this)

Place the pastry discs on the prepared baking tray

Pile 2 tablespoon of the apple mixture onto each pastry disc before dotting with the goat cheese and placing in the fridge (this can be a balancing act but trust me, it’s worth it!).

Roll out the remaining pastry until about 2mm thick. Use a 10cm-diameter (about 4 inches) round pastry cutter to cut 12 discs from the pastry (3 sheets of the ready rolled pastry). Brush the edge of each disc with the beaten egg

Remove the tray from the fridge and place the larger pastry discs on top of the apple mixture. Gently press the edges of the pastry discs together

Brush the pastry tops with egg and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds

Cut a small slit in the top of each turnover before baking for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden

Serve with cream or vanilla ice-cream, if desired

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Four Small Steps to a Big Life / Pecan & Chai Spiced Hot Milk Cakes

“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver

I’m thinking about living big. You may have picked up on the theme some time ago as I steeled myself to step out from my safe life and embark on this authentic one. The final days before leaving my marriage and home were a surrender, through gritted teeth and a shattering soul, that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t try hard enough, but that I kept trying to be a bunch of someones I can’t be.

So, in finally accepting I need a life that’s mine, the rest of the journey’s simple. Right?

Not so much. After all, the light can be blinding after so long in the false-safety of the dark. So, my recent behaviour’s been consumed with wild fears, obsessions, avoidance of practical matters, perfectionist-led procrastination and so many other unhelpful actions as I scrabble away from feeling exposed and vulnerable.

And damn it’s exposed. As I step hesitantly into a big life, I feel on the edge of failure most of the time and can rapidly turn into a dribbling mess. I may have been squashed into solitude before but at least I knew what each moment brought. Today, it can feel as if I know nothing.

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But then I remember that I know how to do this. Sure, I don’t know how to leap in a single bound to the end of this journey, but I’ve spent over a decade learning what it looks like to live big in each moment, and I’m finally getting to live it…

Firstly, just keep walking. Fear is a wily, sneaky, petrifying bastard and needs to be stared down. This week, I spoke with a friend about doing some apprentice work with a baker she knows whose work I adore. I baked and photographed. I wrote. My fear tells me I need to do so much more to be enough, but even one step forwards is a good day.

Secondly, in this moment, all is well. I’m currently sitting in my kitchen writing to you, while a thunderstorm rolls overhead. I lit some candles for my meditation this morning and they’re still flickering. Ryan Adams and Goldfrapp keep my reflective mood in good company, they mingle with the downpour as lightning cracks open the sky. Conversely, my head wants to be wrapped in future financial fears, while arguing with a person I’ve never properly met but who recently upset someone I love. I’m completely winning the argument (in my head), but am feeling hurt and angry (in real life) because they said things to me that I don’t like (in my head). My head can get pretty bonkers. So I focus on staying present. Far less madness…

Thirdly, don’t do it alone. I had to find my gang and let them see me. It’s horribly exposing to be vulnerable and human. But, once I found friends in the seas of people who weren’t mine, I no longer lived alone. This morning I had breakfast with one of those friends and spoke a little of my financial fears, they’re not gone but I feel so much better. Like now-I-can-eat-cake-and-grin better. I tell them stuff and they tell me the truth in return; lovingly, honestly and usually while teasing me. I just hear it better that way.

Finally, trust in life. I say and write this often. I need to write it often because I don’t naturally trust anything. I’m convinced a decreasing amount of the time that life’s out to get me. It’s exhausting and untrue. I had a bad case of the fears (again) last week, convinced (again) I was an idiot for trying something new, that culminated (again) in being unkind to someone I love. Afterwards (and I really do look forward to the day I can write ‘before’), I called a friend I trust to tell me the loving truth. After reminding me (again…) that I’d started walking this path to seek a bigger life, she sent a recording from Elizabeth Gilbert about creative fear, which I now listen to constantly. Another friend dropped in moments later to surprise me with a gift for a food styling course. Later, I was accepted into a photography masterclass I’d applied for. The friend who’d sent me the recording laughed, saying, “So it seems you haven’t been saved from drowning only to choke to death on the shore!” Trust. That is all.

Well, not all, because these cakes might be needed for everything to be completely right with the world. They’re super-light and fluffy, warmly spiced with superb chai flavours and dotted with pecans. They’re one of my most comforting bakes, set aside for those days when the past and future are crushing the present into misery. They stand proudly on their own merits, no adornments needed to improve them. Each bite reminds me the moment’s a deliciously preferable place to be, they’re best eaten in good company and, best of all, it’s a foolproof recipe; simple to follow and entirely trustworthy.

Enjoy.

  • 300ml (10.5oz) whole milk
  • 140g (5oz) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ tbl sp of strong, black breakfast tea leaves (equivalent of about 4 teabags), I use Yorkshire Gold
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 280g (10oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 80g (3oz) pecans

Preheat oven to 180˚C / 350°F

Lightly grease two 12 hole muffin tins

In a small saucepan heat the milk, butter, spices and tea on medium, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and bubbles are just starting to appear

Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to let the spices and tea infuse the milk

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs on high speed for a few minutes until they are thick, foamy and a pale yellow

Gradually add the sugar, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl

Sift the flour mix into the batter, before gently folding with a wooden spoon until smooth

Gradually add the milk mixture to the batter, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined

Gently stir in the pecans

Pour into your prepared muffin tins, filling each hole almost to the top

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted near the centre of a muffin comes out clean

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack

Eat as many as you feel you need in this moment

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Gratitude / Chocolate, Caramel & Marshmallow Cookies

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” Alphonse Karr

Something I’ve been struggling to write about, mostly because my tightlipped Britishness isn’t sure how, is the incredibly kind words sent to me over the past few months. Scores of The Imperfect Kitchen readers sent me messages, either on the blog or by private message and I read each of them frequently during my time away from here.

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I didn’t respond to any individually. I’m still unsure how to express my gratitude appropriately, convinced that each would have turned into some awkwardly gushy tome of thanks. I’m sorry if you were hoping for a response to your notes and hope that it’s sufficient to write here that every single one of your messages meant the world and were one of the things that kept me waking into the possibility of light each day.

I shouldn’t be surprised by now that the world is full of wonderful people. And I should be even less surprised that my readers and fellow-bloggers are some of the most thoughtful. I’m not nearly as competent at expressing my thanks as I want to be. But if a little warmth sinks into your heart today and you find yourself smiling for no real reason — that might just be a tiny piece of my gratitude seeking you out.

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As a small offering of thanks before I start writing in earnest again; here’s a very favourite recipe that I often play with liberally from Paris Pastry Club for you all to share with those whose kindness means something to you. Or may be with those you would like to introduce to a little more kindness. These cookies are charmingly soft in the middle and slightly crunchy on the outside, almost like brownies. The marshmallow is sweet and gooey, counteracting the almost sharp sweetness from the dark chocolate; and sitting unobtrusively in the middle, comforting and cradling, is the caramel. If I could bake these for each of you and share them over a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, I’d be one happy lady.

Until then, enjoy.

  • 100g (3 ½ oz) dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
  • 3 tbl sp dulce de leche (if you can’t find any in the shops, here’s a link to a couple of ways you can make your own)
  • 1 tbl sp unsalted butter
  • 90g (3 oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 egg
  • 75g (2 ½ oz) light brown sugar
  • 24 mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 200˚C / 390˚F and line a baking sheet with baking paper

Place the chocolate, dulce de leche and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over simmering water until melted (you can also do this in the microwave, just be careful not to burn the chocolate)

Set the bowl aside to cool down slightly

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl

Beat the egg and sugar in a separate bowl for a few minutes, or until light and fluffy

Gently fold in the melted chocolate mix

Working quite quickly, tip in the flour mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon

The dough will feel quite sticky and soft so use a couple of teaspoons to shaped into 12 walnut-sized balls and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Place two mini marshmallows in each ball and press down slightly

Turn down the oven heat to 170˚C / 340˚F and place the tray in the oven to bake for 10 minutes

The cookies should still be soft and their tops will be slightly cracked

Leave to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a serving plate

I have no idea how long these last in an airtight container, they’ve never lasted anywhere near that long in my house. Please feel free to let me know if you ever manage to find out…

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

A New Beginning / Lemon, Blueberry & Thyme Slice

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

We’ll call it a leave of absence, shall we? I think it’s justified, but then I would, I’m the one who disappeared and it suits me to call it that. A few weeks with my family in England, winding through the streets of central London. Reclaiming a version of my youth while introducing my son to the joys of London’s gorgeous parks and the unique political views of our taxi drivers.

There was a particularly bad day about a week in. I woke with my jaw clenched in tightened anxiety and immediately sought out the self-recrimination and self-loathing that can sear through my mind like wildfire since my marriage ended. Everything stood out in negative, the light in my mind utterly doused.

I left my son with my family and went for a walk, but nothing could shake my overwhelming fear and sorrow. Battered and broken by my thoughts, I wandered into an elegant cafe and ordered a tea, hoping to find some solace in the comings and goings of the world around. I turned my mind to the kindness I trusted still existed somewhere in the world, and asked desperately for some sign of hope.

lemon blueberry & thyme

Hunched over my tea a short while later, I nearly missed her as she shuffled in. A garish, floor length skirt under a shirt so small it rode up to show her ample stomach, her hair stringy and wild, dirt encrusted feet pushed into near-shredded ballet shoes, a big toe poking out from one in a gasping bid for more space. She stood in the middle of the floor, as out of place as a left shoe on a right foot, glaring around her with no seeming idea of where she was.

“I’m hungry!” She announced to the room, “Hungry! Hungry! I want food!”

The owner hurried over from the corner where he’d been smoothing a white table cloth onto a just-vacated table. He paused at the counter and then strode towards her. She shies away and I shy away with her because we both know what’s coming. He’s going to move her on; push her out. She’s smelly and bedraggled. They don’t want her sort in here making them look bad to the patrons who can actually pay a bill and may not if she’s here.

Instead, he stops in front of her and holds out a fresh blueberry muffin. He reaches onto the table next to her and pours a glass of water, “Let me know if you need a coffee love,” he says, eyes warm and inviting.

She snatches the food and crams it into her mouth, crumbs tumbling from her lips in protest from being overfilled. She doesn’t thank him, too far gone in her made up world to see his kindness.

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I felt it keenly though, it stabbed through my self-pity and I immediately started to tear up, although I didn’t let them fall. Not in public anyway.

It’s so easy to find darkness at this time, to see where all my fears of how life might be cruel can dictate where I point the mirror I hold up to others. And a man in a cafe, surrounded by a halo of everyday kindness shatters my mirror and presents a new, gentler light. I can almost hear the universe whispering at me; all will be well, there’s more kindness in this world than not, keep walking, keep trusting.

She has the coffee after her muffin and stands outside waving it at people walking by. I smile at the man as often as I can while I finish my tea. He probably thinks I’m a little strange for the constant goofy grin. He doesn’t know that his kindness has given me back the smile I’m currently turning on him. That he’s my sign. He probably thinks his only kind act is giving a sick person some food — but that sustenance has already spread so much farther than he could possibly imagine. How many others in that cafe found their ease in that moment? And how many more experienced his kindness rippling out from me as I left lighter-hearted and hopeful?

And, of course, I immediately decided that some form of blueberry concoction with a joyful twist had to be my first recipe back. Those requirements, coupled with having numerous loving visitors in my new house gave me the idea for this deliciously tender and fresh cake.

Enjoy.

  • 150g (5 ½ oz) self raising flour
  • 175g (6 oz) ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 160g (5 ½ oz) caster sugar
  • finely grated zest from 2 lemons
  • 2 tbl sp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 160g (5 ½ oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • roughly 80ml full fat (whole) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g (3 ½ oz) blueberries

Pre heat the oven to 180˚C. Grease a 20cm square baking tin and line with baking paper

Whisk the flour, almonds, baking powder, sugar, zest and thyme in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined and all lumps have disappeared

Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs

Weigh out 220g of the mixture and sprinkle it evenly over the base of the tin before pressing down firmly, ensuring there are no gaps

Pour the lemon juice into a measuring jug and top up with enough milk to make 100ml

In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs before adding the lemony milk and mix well

Using a spoon, gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, one-third at a time. You want a smooth batter but want to make sure you don’t over-mix

Pour the batter into the tin and scatter the blueberries over the top

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the tin and taking off the paper. Serve as you like with what you like

Find joy

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Lover’s Ache / Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pepper Cake

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back.”
Plato

I wander into one of my regular cafés and catch the eye of the barista. He’s the young surfer-dude stereotype; soft drawling voice, small scruffy goatee and dark hair cropped at chin length. I followed him here about 6 months ago from another café where he used to work. He’s just that good at making my drug of choice. We chat, as usual. He’s quiet, a little dampened. His fun and flirty banter doesn’t have its normal sparkle.

“What up?” I ask, “You look pretty flat.”

He sighs, ducking his head and looking up at me from eyes that I’d never before thought to meet, “Really? I mean, you really want to know? Cos I could seriously blurt today.”

I laugh, thinking if only he knew about the thoughts that whirl madly around my head on a daily basis, “Give me your best shot.”

Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pudding - TIK

He sighs heavily, silent while grinding the beans and sliding the coffee basket into place before starting the machine, then glances around the cafe to make sure we’re alone, “It’s a girl. An ex.”

“Ah. The worst.”

“Yeah, well, we broke up, y’know, two months ago. I mean, I broke it off man, y’know? I was so into her and she just brushed me off all the time. So, I ended it. Thought it was okay, and she’d started seeing someone else, so y’know, time to move on.”

He breathes in deeply and stares at the last drips of coffee spilling into my cup.

“But, y’know, we got together again, a few weeks ago. And, ahhh man, I just love her man. I just fucking love her.”

His pain’s almost tangible as it comes up for air, his usual professionally shallow cheer swallowed down low. It’s tempting to dismiss his feelings as a naivety of youth, but he’s so raw and aching that I just ask whether he’d said anything to her.

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“Yeah man, I told her. I told her. She didn’t say anything. She’s still seeing this other guy, y’know? I dunno what to do. All my friends say I was so unhappy with her, but I love her, I just dunno.”

He huffs a small laugh, attempting to insert social acceptability into a pain that rarely shows in public, “Whatever man. Doesn’t matter. Fuck love, right? It’s all Hollywood bullshit anyway.”

I try to tell him that it does matter but he barely hears me, pride and vulnerability fighting for the same spot in his heart. There’s more silence as he steams the milk and swirls it gently. He suddenly leans back against the wall, continuing to stare at the milk like it’s holding more answers than dairy ever really could, before looking up at me, his uncertainty shining through. And in that moment, he’s not a surfer-dude barista, he’s a vulnerable and slightly fractured twenty-something man looking for the safety of certainty and not sure when he’d drifted so far from it, “What should I do man? Should I just give up? I just don’t know what to do.”

I look inside for wisdom and find myself severely lacking. We’re silent again as he pours milk over the coffee and pushes the cup my way. And, as I start to stumble over words that feel wholly inadequate, someone walks into the cafe and he quickly buttons back up his soul, flipping out the hospitality frontman routine. He’s good at it too, before long he and the other customer are laughing and chatting; you can barely see the pain leaking out, like an old ballpoint pen in his shirt pocket.

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I take my coffee and he vaguely waves at me as I wander out the door. And all through the day, the conversation keeps popping into my mind and I think about how much love aches, and how incredible it is, and how bloody confusing it can be and I decide that this bake’s going to be about the love that’s unspoken in Hollywood movies. The sweet, satisfying and bitter flavours of dark chocolate, layered with the light bite of orange and finally, szechuan pepper — both smoking for the good times and numbing for the bad. And all of them in innocuous little molten cakes, so innocent looking until your first bite of incredible, explosive, unforgettable flavour.

Enjoy.

  • 185g (6.5oz) dark chocolate
  • 185g (6.5oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 6 tbl sp caster sugar
  • 3 tsp plain (all purpose) flour
  • Zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tsp szechuan pepper

Preheat the oven to 230˚C / 450˚F and grease 6 moulds or ramekins

In a small saucepan, dry toast the szechuan pepper for 2-3 minutes until the aroma is wafting up and they are just threatening to smoke. Remove from the stove and grind into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar

Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt with the butter, either in the microwave or over the stove.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar until thick and fluffy

Whisk in the chocolate and orange zest

Working quickly but carefully, fold in the plain flour and szechuan pepper

Divide the mix evenly between each mould and bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the outside is set and the centre is still soft

Turn each pudding onto a plate and carefully remove the moulds

Serve immediately with double (heavy) cream, ice cream or crème fraîche

Eat fearlessly…

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Easy, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Sweet

Making the Grade / Maltesers Madeleines

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Nelson Mandela

This blog is about the inspirations and struggles of life and this week, a school in central London provided the perfect inspiration to write about a group of people, and one in particular, who I think are dedicated, passionate and wonderfully human.

If you don’t live in England, you may not be aware that national exam results for schools came out this week. It was the first time I paid much attention to the announcements — because my sister’s year at King Solomon Academy in central London, also the school’s inaugural year group, were receiving their grades.

Maltesers Madeleine - TIK

Here’s the thing about my sister’s school; it’s an organisational model of education that didn’t exist in England until only a few years ago. And because of that all the children receiving results yesterday, living in the poorest ward in London were, according to statistics like the one below, almost completely guaranteed to fail at school. 58% of her year’s students receive free school meals (children living below the poverty line receive free meals in Britain) and over 75% don’t speak English at home.

A universal and heartbreaking statistic about education is the more free meals in a school (ie: the more poverty), the greater the rate of failure in exams. It’s a well known and much debated fact.

Graph of Doom...

Graph of Doom…

There are lots of opinions and shouty people talking about this. I’m not going to add my voice to theirs, because what I want to tell you about today is my personal experience of watching my sister and her friends from Teach First who, in their 20s, started working with the ARK Foundation to build a school and education model from the ground up into a game-changer of British education.

These teachers regularly worked over 100 hours a week, teaching for 41 weeks a year. They were usually up at 5 each morning and worked until midnight almost every day for the last 5 years. My sister would be at the houses of her students frequently; calming parents while convincing her more intractable students out of bed and into the classroom. She spent hours reassuring parents who couldn’t speak English and so felt utterly overwhelmed, while desperately caring for their children’s happiness and success. And in frequent phone and email conversations with politicians and journalists as the idea of their school caught on. All that before she taught a single English lesson.

Maltesers Madeleines - TIK

During regular sessions from their first term onwards, the teachers set aside time to teach basic skills like how to get on and off a bus politely, how to hold a knife and fork, how to behave in public, how to speak in job interviews. When older, the students went on field trips to universities, theatres and concerts; they learned to play musical instruments (one of my favourite memories of my sister is hearing of her weeping incoherently as she watched her students perform in their first orchestral concert).

A large percentage of students had low levels of literacy when they came into her English classroom at 11, and the poverty-stricken local community struggles with all the usual crime and drug problems, based on their poverty alone academic failure can seem assured. But this isn’t just any group of teachers and, based on their principle of ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ my sister had her students put on a full production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when they were 12. In case you’re wondering, they rocked it. I visited one of her English classes when these students were 13, they were reading classical Greek literature and debating philosophy.

And they have so much fun. The teachers make up chants for the whole school to learn, they set the world record for the largest number of people rolling numbers, they create times table rock stars, students and teachers also Harlem Shake pretty well…

Amongst the successes were profound challenges. I can’t count the number of times my sister wept on the phone to me about a student’s living conditions, about the personal struggles some of them were experiencing, about her utter exhaustion, about the fear that maybe it wasn’t going to work and they were going to fail the kids — it was never once about her, always about the students she’d come to care for so deeply.

So this week, as her year group received Britain’s highest results ever for a school with over 50% of free lunches; and 93% of students received five A* to C grades, guaranteeing them places in further education and beating top private schools at the core subjects, I’m filled with overwhelming admiration for the tenacity and passion of these young teachers and their students. And I’m about the proudest big sister in the whole world.

A surely-as-inspiring idea I had this week were these chocolate, malt and honey madeleines… I was on the way to a completely different recipe and just wasn’t happy with it, before I was suddenly struck by a memory of my sister and I as children eating almost our entire body weight in maltesers before causing havoc with our sugar highs. It’s a lovely childhood memory and I wanted to honour both it and her.

Enjoy.

Maltesers Madeleines - TIK

  • 90g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 100g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 80g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 20g cacao powder (if you don’t have cacao, a dark cocoa will work as well)
  • 10g powdered malt (I use Horlick’s)
  • ½ tsp baking powder

Cream the butter with a tablespoon of the sugar

Whisk the remaining sugar with the eggs and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl until light and fluffy

Hand whisk together the flour, cocoa, malt and baking powder in a separate bowl before gently folding into the egg and sugar mix

Scoop a third of the batter into the butter and whisk vigorously

Transfer into the remaining batter and fold very gently

Scrape the batter into a plastic piping bag and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days

Preheat the oven to 220˚C / 430˚F

Butter a madeleine pan and dust with cocoa powder

Snip a small (8mm) hole from the tip of the piping bag and pipe the batter three-quarters of the way up the prepared moulds

Reduce the oven temperature to 180˚C / 350˚F and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly crisp

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack

While the madeleines are still slightly warm, pop the piping nozzle of the honey malt cream (recipe below) into the mound of each baked madeleine and squeeze about a heaped teaspoon’s worth of the cream into each madeleine while slightly wiggling the nozzle to get into all the spongy crannies

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately, while still beautifully warm

Honey Malt Cream

  • 80g double (heavy) cream, cold
  • 15g powdered malt (again, I use Horlick’s)
  • 30g set honey
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until the cream is super thick and all ingredients are well combined

Maltesers Madeleines portrait - TIK

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Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Find The Road Home / Pear, Juniper & Lemon Tarte Tartin

“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.” Robin Williams

The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, that has no direct English translation, but can be loosely defined as homesickness for a home you can’t return to, a home which may be never was. I imagine it as a longing for the place you can go exactly as you are without needing any protection around your heart.

It’s a place I find glimpses of; safety in moments of time, people who seem to calm the yearning in me, pieces of music that lead towards the soft glow from my home’s windows, meditations that sink so deep I can nearly step over the threshold. I’ve wondered at times if the culmination of existence is to find our way home.

Peeled pears - TIK

I’ve recently begun picturing mine during meditations. A light-filled cottage with wild flowers and herbs leading up to the front door, surrounded by a garden big enough to grow a myriad of edibles. It’s perched at the base of a hill, overlooking the sea where you can swim all day and catch fish for dinner. I cook the day’s catch over the garden’s fire pit in summer and in the cook’s kitchen in winter, and serve it with homegrown salads to the few I can be comfortably around without switching into the extrovert mode I use to hide from the rest of the world. We’ll laugh and play music and my son’ll fall asleep under the stars long before the apple pie’s out of the oven. Later, I’ll carry him to his bed before heading to the kitchen to knead some dough for morning’s bread, afterwards curling on an armchair in blessed silence to read The Windup Girl for the first time ever, again.

Two things hold us from home. The first is the path to get there is windingly long and often feels like being lost; sometimes the road dips so low we lose sight of home and wonder if we’ll ever find it again. I think many people stop at a waypoint along their path and think, “this is good enough.” and for many of those it seems it is. The second obstacle is the path itself; strewn with false routes, dead ends and seemingly bottomless precipices, it can sometimes appear a pointless task, especially since the promise of home is just a rumour, easily ridiculed and discarded.

But I have a mind and heart that offer me no choice but to keep searching. For long stretches in time it feels as if I’m blindly stumbling from one confused moment to the next, trusting that the precipices I come across are actually invisible bridges of light, that if I can find the courage to step off, they’ll lead me to the next challenge and so, incrementally, to home’s freedom.

Juniper Berries - TIK

Very recently, it’s been made clear to me that the precipice I’ve been walking towards for the past two years has been one of living authentically. That I’m not the woman I thought I was, and I never was. That even some basic beliefs about myself are painfully misguided, brought on by years of a noisy and busy life, where I never gave myself the time to ask if I was really on the right path to my home.

And so, I’ve been gradually letting go of the good girl who toes the party line and looking for what’s real. I’ve been letting myself be imperfect, first to myself and then to others. I’ve a long way to go. Some days it feels like this’ll be my eternal struggle; authenticity requires courage I’m still not sure I have the fortitude to wear. But the promise of home whispers through threads of constant hope, the dream that it could one day be a reality in every moment.

Until then, I’ve started to recognise people who seem to be walking this path with me. There aren’t many, surprisingly few in fact, but I feel their longing as a mirror of my own and they calm the yearning, some knowingly and others who have no idea that just the sight of them or the smallest touch is enough to still the ache for a moment or more.

TIK - Lemon Caramel Pears

I have a child who reminds me all the time to be present; to make up a song together, or chase each other around the house breathless with laughter, to keep my temper when he’s not keeping his, to hold him close as he weeps and to gently guide him to be who he needs to be.

I have these words, baking and photography which never fail to challenge me to be utterly authentic and to keep moving forwards.

I have music and books that inspire me and fill me up every day. And then there’s this guy

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And I have whole days in silence, where I can allow my rapidly expanding introvert to breathe, and the highly-honed performance skills of my extrovert can drop into increasingly adored quiet.

And this week I have this tarte tartin. I’ve taken the sweet and sharp flavours of caramelised pear and lemon before dampening them down with the earthy flavour from juniper berries. Shortcrust pastry (puff pastry always becomes a little soggy the next day, so I’d avoid using it unless you intend to finish this immediately) is tucked, like a loving blanket, around the pears. No matter where you are, the smell of this baking will bring a sense of home.

Enjoy.

Save & print the recipe by clicking here

  • 4-6 ripe pears
  • 200g golden (raw) caster sugar
  • 20ml water
  • 30ml lemon juice
  • 50g butter
  • 12 dried juniper berries
  • 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • 175g shortcrust pastry (either buy or make your own — the recipe I use is below)

Peel the pears, then put in the fridge, uncovered, for 24 hours. This helps them dry out, so they won’t release too much juice and dilute the caramel when you cook them — don’t worry about them going brown as this actually adds to the finished dish

Put the sugar into a 20cm tarte tartin dish (I use an ovenproof frying pan, as it seems a little too far fetched to buy a pan just for tarte tartin) along with the water and lemon juice and leave to soak for a couple of minutes

Cook over a medium heat until golden and fudgy. Take off the heat and stir in the butter, juniper berries and lemon zest, until well combined

Half and core the pears before tightly packing them in a circle in the pan, ensuring that their more attractive rounded sides are pressed lightly into the caramelised sugar and place on a medium-high heat. The pears will shrink slightly as they cook, so don’t be afraid to add another pear half or two

Keep cooking for 15 to 20 minutes until they are a nice dark caramel colour and feel bouncy when pressed with a spoon

Take off the heat and allow to cool

Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C / 390˚F. Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick, and cut out a circle slightly larger than your pan before placing back into the fridge to rest

Put the pastry on top of the pan before tucking it down the sides, using a spoon or knife to lift the pears and tuck the pastry under. This will ensure the pastry ‘hugs’ the fruit as it cooks, keeping the tart nice and compact. Pierce the top several times with a fork

Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then place a plate, slightly larger than the pan, on top and then carefully invert the tart on to the plate. Best served warm, with crème fraîche

Shortcrust Pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 120g cold butter
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp cold water + extra if needed

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Grate in the butter, then rub together until it is coarse crumbs.

Mix the egg with the water and sprinkle over the mixture. Mix together into a soft but not sticky dough, adding more water (if required) very gradually. Shape into a ball, and then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before rolling out

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