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.

DSC_2138

DSC_2185

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.

DSC_2164

DSC_2170

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

Standard
Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Parenting in the Imperfect / Nutella Macaroons with White Chocolate Ganache

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” John Steinbeck

My three-year old son spent most of today with at least one hand down the back of his nappy or up his nose. Although I can admire his tenacity, I felt the need to gently and persistently steer him away from this new activity. Partly because I can’t keep an eye on everything he touches after; and partly because the only other part of his body he’s currently obsessed with is the inside of his mouth. And he gives me lots of kisses, which can turn into licks. Just one of the many joys that come with parenting a toddler…

His other new activity’s opening his mouth as wide as possible and yelling a single note as loudly as he can. Mostly in response to something he doesn’t want to hear. Which, these days, could be just about anything. He has no compunction about doing this in the car, in a cafe, in the supermarket. I believe his preference is somewhere public and definitely where others are quiet.

I was laughing with a fellow mother the other day about our opinions on parenting before we had children. Before my son was born, I was judgemental towards parents who allowed their children to use electronics, once staring in horror at a family allowing their two-year old to use an iPad for an entire breakfast. My child was never going to have a dummy. My child was going to sleep through at 6 weeks thanks to letting him cry himself to sleep. My child was going to only eat organic, biodynamic produce, prepared entirely from scratch by me and was never, never going to have sugar, salt or preservatives in food. Before he was born I seriously considered cloth nappies and unpainted, Scandinavian wooden toys. I briefly played with the idea of changing all our cleaning products to white vinegar and baking soda, with the occasional whiff of diluted eucalyptus oil. He’d never have a temper tantrum because I’d read all the right books. I’d never bribe him to behave. I would exude patience, love and tolerance at all times.

DSC_1928

Three years on, as he’s eating chocolate covered sultanas (totally a fruit in there), watching his second hour of television (Dora’s educational, right?), wearing clothes probably made in terrible sweat shops in a third world country (Kmart have trolleys with child seats – my new essential for a shop), with an ugly plastic toy xylophone that keeps him happily entertained for the 20 minutes it takes for me to have a shower; I’m so very grateful that I’ve learned to be happy about being an imperfect parent. And beyond grateful for the parents who snort with laughter when I tell them about this, before responding with tales of their children sharing bites of food with dogs, of co-sleeping, of owning 14 types of dummy, of fish finger dinners and of having watched every episode of Peppa Pig… twice…

As part of my softening to all parenting ideas that involve parenting as happily as possible, my boy and I share a love for these macaroons. Hazelnut and chocolate is a completely delicious combination, as the Italians discovered many years ago by creating Nutella. As a side note; there are macaroons and macarons, two completely different nibbles. Macarons are the slightly fussy, often poorly made meringue biscuit sandwiched with something creamy. Macaroons are a very easy-to-make, robust meringue biscuit; super-light in texture, packed with flavour and last happily for several weeks in an airtight container  — perfect for toddlers (and adults) who need to be bribed out of a brewing temper tantrum (yup, I do that too) or for afternoons when your friends drop by and the only other food in the house is a honey sandwich…

Enjoy.

DSC_2015

Nutella Macaroons

  • 250g (9oz) hazelnut meal
  • 125g (4.5oz) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 50g (2oz) cocoa powder
  • A pinch of sea (kosher) salt
  • 150g (5.5oz) egg whites (about 4 egg whites)
  • 25g (1oz) caster (superfine) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C and line two baking trays with baking paper

Place the hazelnut meal and salt in a bowl

Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder and stir to combine

Place the egg whites and caster sugar in a separate bowl and whisk together until soft peaks form

Gently fold in the hazelnut mix

Spoon into a piping bag and pipe walnut-sized balls onto the trays, about 5cm apart (if you don’t have a piping bag, you can shape using two teaspoons. The only warning I have with this is that when I tried it this way they looked like… and I don’t know another way to say this… cow pats. Yes, they still taste amazing but they will look slightly dung-like. My son thinks this is hilarious and now won’t let me pipe them. You have been warned.)

Decrease the oven temperature to 160˚C and place the trays in the oven, baking for 25-30 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly coloured and dry to the touch

Cool on the trays for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely

White Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 440g (15.5oz) white chocolate (choose real chocolate, check on the ingredients that it contains cocoa butter)
  • 150ml (5.5oz) double cream (at least 35% fat)
  • Small pinch salt
  • 5ml (½ tsp) vanilla essence

Heat up your cream until it almost starts to boil and then pour over the chocolate

Let it sit for 30 seconds and then stir

If there are still lumps of white chocolate you can microwave it for 10 seconds and stir it again until it’s smooth

Leave it to cool

Using a palette knife (really any blunt knife will do), smear the ganache onto the macaroons in quantities and patterns that make you happy

Use for all your most important bribes.

DSC_2026

Standard
Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Leaning into Home / Banana, Coconut & Chocolate Loaf Cake

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” Meister Eckhart

I’m sitting in my new coffee shop just around the corner from my new house, watching my new neighbours pass by. It’s noisier and busier than my old area, the barista doesn’t know how I like my coffee, there are fewer trees, and I haven’t seen a child shoot past the window yet — and a crooning voice says this is a mistake, that I should go running back to my old life, that I can’t possibly risk all of this.

I know this voice so well, it’s the sprawling bad neighbourhood in the city of my mind, and have learned over time to gently and kindly ignore its sentiments until another voice wraps itself around my fears and murmurs comfort, finding courage in just doing this one small step at a time. That I don’t need all the answers all at once. That not knowing what my world looks like beyond today is just fine. That my only job is to making a beginning and keep trying.

And then the universe lovingly joins in to console by sending a little boy, about the same age as mine, racing past the cafe so that he can beat his heavily pregnant mother to the crossing and press the button for the pedestrian light.  An old lady is leaning on her walking stick, also waiting to cross, and the three of them share a big smile before the green man appears to propel them across the road.

In watching their ease with each other and in deliberately moving to the peaceful parts of my head, I know in this moment that we’re going to be just fine here. We’re going to find new spaces to be happy and to live fully. My son will do what he does everywhere we go and make friends with everyone on the street, even people who don’t warm to me will be swept up in the joy he exudes with every heartbeat.

I’ll learn where I can join in and where I can be still, I’ll learn to do it standing on my own two feet, I’ll learn to smile in a new house and in a new car and in a new neighbourhood. I’ll learn to take photos in the new light. I’ll learn to bake in the new oven. I’ll learn where my joy has travelled with me, where old joys can be let go, and where new joys can be found.

Grief and fear are still present, but in this moment they are stilled by the possibility of truly living a full and authentic life. I deliberately started walking down this path to make sure I lived that way, and with each seemingly trivial step, I’m living bigger than I’ve ever lived before.

So welcome back to The Imperfect Kitchen everyone. I’ve no idea what the road ahead looks like, but the road today’s looking pretty good.

All starting with this banana, coconut and chocolate chip loaf cake. I wanted something that was easily transportable while we moved house, something low in sugar so my son could eat some without becoming manic, and something that I could make with ease in an oven I didn’t know much about. Philip’s fabulous Home Baking recipe book gave me the base for this recipe. The great thing about this cake, other than the gorgeous flavours and that it lasts for days in a cake tin, is that it’s quite hard to mess up; something that my distracted mind needs at the moment!

Enjoy.

  • 200g (7 oz) unflavoured Greek yoghurt
  • 110g (4 oz) shredded coconut
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 150g (5 ½ oz) raw sugar
  • 150g (5 ½ oz) wholemeal self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g (3 ½ oz) dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180˚C

Grease and line a loaf tin with greaseproof baking paper (my loaf tin is 22cm x 12cm, 8.5 inches x 4.5 inches)

Thoroughly mix the yoghurt, coconut, salt, banana and sugar in a mixing bowl before covering and placing in the fridge for about ½ hour (if you’re in a hurry don’t worry too much, it’s just slightly tastier to let the coconut soak and soften before baking)

Stir the chocolate chips into the banana mix before folding in the flour and cinnamon to create a smooth batter. Spoon the mixture into your tin to bake for about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I find that the top is brown enough after about 45 minutes but the middle takes another 15 minutes, so I place some tin foil over the cake to finish baking. Just keep an eye on it and do the same if you need

Remove the cake from the oven and rest for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool

Eat in great big slabs. On its own or with butter if you prefer

Standard
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.

DSC_1181

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.

DSC_1246

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…

Standard
Dessert, Morning or Afternoon Tea, Not So Easy, Sweet

A Messy, Hopeful Path / Ginger & Lemon Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Thyme

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
C.S. Lewis

This year’s been hugely challenging and revealing. I’ve had an unshakeable instinct that life’s been headed in the wrong direction and the quiet, steady voice deep inside’s been nudging me towards alternate routes I’ve been unwilling to walk.

The only outcome to battling myself in this way is heartache; and some days the pain of the struggle’s been immense. I’d love to be able to see things are headed into shaky emotional territory and sensibly guide myself back into grownup land. I’m just not. I fight and holler and stamp my feet until, eventually, I’m curled in a ball on the floor, begging for ease of mind and promising anything to the universe if it stops the pain.

After lots of searching, I’ve found that this path’s about authenticity; specifically to drop behaviours developed in childhood as a reaction to feeling unsafe and unprotected in the world. At a young age, I subconsciously took the hand of the small, scared child I was, placed her in the middle of my heart and started building walls around her to keep her safe from whatever was happening outside. Thick, heavy, impenetrable walls. And I’ve kept her there ever since.

Blueberries - TIK

I built a personality designed to keep her protected and ensure no one could ever hurt her again. I became tough, standoffish, controlling, funny, prickly. I chose a career that guaranteed no softness. I surrounded myself with emotionally distant people who also kept everyone at arm’s length, forming no real connections, making enough money that I didn’t have to rely on anyone, never allowing myself to fully love.

Now, having walked a gentler path these last ten years, having fallen utterly in love the day my son was born two years ago, and having continued to seek a path through this pain all year; the girl in the middle of my heart has found enough courage to poke her head above the ramparts and start asking for a place in the world. And it’s terrifying. I keep wondering who’s going to protect her if I can’t anymore (after all, she’s me and, no matter how multiple personality-esque this piece might sound, I don’t have a mind capable of being more than one person at once…) — she’s the writer, the introvert, the dreamer, the idealist, the one who loves without constantly looking for an exit. She’s also vulnerable, easily overwhelmed and very new to the world.

When I’m her, I’m clunky and awkward. I say clumsy things that replay in my head for hours. I talk to people I no longer want to keep at a distance and find myself ducking for cover mid-conversation. I’m writing, baking and photographing for a living even though I’m not making money and yet the thought of walking back into a big corporate leaves me feeling nauseous. I’m not the me of 3 years ago, but I’ve nothing to replace me with yet.

In short, life’s messy.

TIK - Thyme

But I’m back on the path that brings ease and comfort. It’s muddled and awkward with more challenges to come, but it’s also full of the kind of hope I’ve struggled to find for a while.

On walking this new journey, I’ve already found an unexpectedly loving community in my area. This week, after an impromptu breakfast with a local friend, she went home to find ‘just because’ flowers from a neighbour on her doorstop; and I got home to find a book for my son’s current sleep troubles from a lovely friend in my mother’s group, propped against my front door. The most amazing part is how commonplace these acts of kindness are around here.

I’m also challenging myself to seek people who intrigue me, to see if honest and whole connection is possible; I’m particularly excited that those I’m drawn to are funny, smart and irreverent, with a passion for life and a hefty side-helping of quirkiness. This, in particular, remains a fragile area, but intimacy doesn’t seem like the distant planet it once was.

And if I can keep opening my heart and stay on this tangled path that still makes no sense at all; it’s possible those big, tough walls will be dismantled for good. And who knows which paths I’ll be walking then.

A path I’m entirely happy to walk is the one that ends with this delicious Lemon Panna Cotta and Gingerbread with Blueberries and Thyme from Alisa over at The Family Meal. I’ve been in serious sleep deprivation land again with my toddler’s night-time antics and have been pretty sick for the last few days (which is why this post is so late) so food of any sort is not high on my agenda. Luckily, Alisa writes one of my favourite food blogs and I’m happy to share any of her recipes anywhere, the main photo is hers as well so any kudos go straight to her! I made this about a week after she posted it onto her site and it is truly delicious.

Enjoy.

http://familymealblog.com/2014/07/17/lemon-panna-cotta-and-gingerbread-with-blueberries-and-thyme/

Standard
Morning or Afternoon Tea, Super Easy, Sweet

Six Dollar Man / Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Plato

I met a guy at the petrol station this morning. Dark haired, Mediterranean heritage, wiry body. He jittered constantly, as those on large doses of speed do; his hands, eyes, legs and speech all falling over each other for attention.

He was standing in front of me in the queue to pay, quibbling over the cost of cigarettes and repeatedly asking about newspapers.

“How much are the cigarettes?… 25 dollars? But I’ve only got 23!… I’ll give you 23 for the cigarettes and the newspaper. Although I need two newspapers don’t I? What if I miss some news?… What?… No! I said I’d give you 23! I don’t have 29, I only have 23!… But I need them… Nonononononono, I need them.”

Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies - TIK

With four people behind me and the guy becoming increasingly agitated, I lean forwards and offer to add another 6 dollars onto my petrol.

The attendant looks relieved and immediately takes my card. The speeding guy spins around and peers closely at me, “Thanks mate. Thanks so much. I wouldn’t normally accept but I got to get them, see? I’m on my way to my parole officer. Just out of jail. Yup, just last week out of jail.”

I smile at him and start typing in my pin as he peers a little closer, “Hey mate, I know you, don’t I? Yes! I never forget a face! I know you from somewhere! Where is it?”

Peanut Butter Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies - TIK

I finish paying and look over at him. He looks vaguely familiar, but in the way that all strangers who insist they know you look vaguely familiar, “Maybe,” I say, “are you local?”

“Nope.” he jitters, “Nopenopenope. Not me. Just out of prison. Just out. Been in a long time this time. Ha! Got out though, yes I did! Hey! Are you on the prison board?”

“No.” I smile, watching the index and middle fingers of his left hand as they tap a furious, syncopated rhythm on his thigh, “When did you go in though? May be we knew each other before?”

He suddenly rears up on his toes and squeals in excitement, “Yes! Yesyes! I knew I knew you! You know Dave and Linda! And plumber Ron! You! I know you!”

Peanut Butter chocolate and shortbread blondes - TIK

And it hits me who he is. Eight years ago I was living with a woman called Linda, who was friends with a guy called Dave. We spent a bit of time together and he had a friend called Frank who would occasionally come along. Dave was worried about Frank because he was drinking too much and had just started taking drugs. Dave said that Frank was a guy who couldn’t help how much he drank once he started and became nasty after too many beers. Frank’s job as a high powered executive in an advertising firm was under threat because he’d attacked a client when drunk, and his wife was threatening to leave.

Eight years later, this man standing in front of me; just out of jail, off his head on speed at 10 in the morning, without enough money to buy cigarettes, was practically unrecognisable from the successful family man I’d been introduced to so many years previously.

“Ah!” he shouts, pointing at the road, “My bus’s here! Gotta go see my parole officer! Yupyup, gotta go! Good to see you mate! I never forget a face!”

And he runs down the road, cigarettes firmly clasped in one hand, the other waving frantically at the bus headed away from him, his flannel shirt ripped from armpit to stomach, his trousers held up by string.

Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Shortbread Blondies - TIK

I climbed slowly into my car, all worries and plans about my life temporarily stilled. And sent out a quiet word to whichever powers in the universe save us from the worst of ourselves, asking them to show him as much love as they could spare this day.

And then I came home and slowly made this bake. I’d planned something complex and a bit flamboyant this week. But in the end my heart needed simple and loving. Something to still the ache for those who haven’t managed to make it through this day without a painkiller for their soul. Something that reminds me of where I came from — and of where I am.

Enjoy.

Print this recipe

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g peanut butter (I’ve used both crunchy and smooth in this recipe and either work well)
  • 260g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 185g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 100g great quality white chocolate, chopped roughly into small pieces (today I used Green & Blacks. Dark or milk chocolate also work well)
  • 100g shortbread, roughly broken into chunks slightly bigger than the chocolate, about the size of a fingertip

Preheat the oven to 170˚C / 325˚F

Grease a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square cake tin and line with baking paper

In a large bowl, cream the butter and peanut butter together until very soft. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla and continue to beat until completely incorporated

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and gently fold into the peanut butter mix until just combined

Separate half the mix into another bowl and carefully stir in the shortbread

Stir the chocolate into the remaining half

Spoon the shortbread mix into the prepared tin and spread right to the edges before adding the chocolate mix on top and smoothing with a palette knife

Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and almost firm in the centre (always err on the side of caution here, slightly underdone is gorgeously fudgy and definitely preferable to overdone)

Allow to cool in the tin, before removing and cutting into squares

Eat. Smile. Repeat.

Standard
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

Standard