Wednesday 29 April 2015


My friend Tammy makes the best tiramisu. So when she became a vegan, a few years ago, I took it hard. As much as I admired her principles, I selfishly lamented the loss of my favourite dairy-laden dessert. I could have made it myself, it's true, but it just wouldn't have been the same. Luckily for me, her stance softened (she's still a very committed vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy as responsibly as possible) and tiramisu is back in my life. 

Tiramisu was big in the 80s. So much so it seems like the dessert equivalent of shoulder pads and big hair. Tammy would say it's timeless though, and she's right. There's so much to love about a dinner party dish that tastes incredible, requires only a few ingredients and can be made (and in fact must be made) ahead of time. Simple flavours that in combination pack a punch: coffee, chocolate, creamy mascarpone and booze. 

The booze is optional really - the original recipe, which can be traced back to the Veneto region of Italy in the 1960s, doesn't include it. I don't normally like alcohol-flavoured things but somehow it works for me here. Maybe because it doesn't overwhelm but melds beautifully with the other ingredients. In translation, tiramisu means "pick me up", which makes it ideal for the end of a long night... or the beginning of a new day. 

Be warned: this is not a quick fix sweet treat: tiramisu needs to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight so that the sponge fingers soften and the flavours have time to develop. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded. It's like eating a cloud. A sweet, caffeinated, slightly drunken cloud.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Walnut and halva cake

I set a dangerous precedent. A few years ago, when flying down to see friends in Victoria, I brought a cake in my carry-on luggage. Now, it's not possible to visit without one. The rules of carry-on cake are as follows: no delicate sponges, or sticky icing, no layers or fancy shapes. And by fancy, even round counts here. Loaf cakes only need apply, and sturdy ones at that - the sort I can wrap tightly in tinfoil, stow in a tote bag and slide under the seat in front of me. The sort that will survive take-off, landing and turbulence. The original carry-on cake, lemon yoghurt, fits this brief beautifully, as does the superlative pear, pistachio and chocolate. And now another one to add to my repertoire courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi: walnut and halva cake.

Halva is a dense yet crumbly confection made with tahini, a mainstay of many cultures from the Middle-east to eastern Europe. My mother used to buy it for us when we were kids to satisfy our craving for something sweet after school. I don't remember having much of an opinion on it then. I'm sure I liked it fine but it was never coveted, more something that would do when we couldn't have what we actually wanted (chocolate! ice-cream! chips!). As an adult, I like it rather a lot. So much in fact that I will only buy small amounts at a time as if it is in my fridge, I will eat it: with coffee, crumbled over vanilla ice-cream, and now, in cake...

This is a beautifully light sour cream cake, embellished with caramelised walnuts and a layer of smooth, sweet halva. It's simple but a little bit special. Easy to carry on, and to carry off.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Swedish coconut cookies

My work/life balance has been seriously out of whack these last weeks which is no doubt why I'm on my second cold of the year and it's only halfway through April. So Anna Brones' and Johanna Kindvall's lovely new book Fika arrived in my mailbox at the perfect time.

Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is the Swedish expression for coffee break. It's not just about the coffee but the little something you have with it. And respect for the ritual. The idea is to stop, to savour, sit still. And so, on Sunday, I did. There are so many recipes from the book I'm looking forward to making, but I just happened to have everything for this one on hand. Chewy, sweet and fragrant with toasted coconut, these are the Scandinavian version of the classic coconut macaroon. They're gluten-free, made only with coconut, butter, sugar, eggs and a pinch of salt. Everyday ingredients for an everyday ritual. I'm going to make it one.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Raspberry rhubarb pie

I've long aspired to be one of those people who can just whip up a pie. But to do that you have to either have grown up in small town America, or practice, and much as I'd like to, I just can't make a pie every day, or even every week. My freezer (and stomach) is only so big. This means that every time I make a pie, I will fret about rolling it out, either tackle the dough too soon, or apply pressure in the wrong places and end up with pastry that needs to be pieced together. The problem with pie, is that whatever triage you have to do to get the thing in the oven, however wonky it seems when it goes in, it always comes out looking pretty impressive. Especially this one. If ever was the time to try a lattice top, this is it - the pink/red pop of the fruit spectacular against the lightly golden pastry. And it tastes even better. The rich, buttery crust balances the sweet/tart of the rhubarb and raspberry beautifully. With a dollop of cream or a puddle of ice cream it's enough to make you forget the trauma of its making. Pie will never be effortless (for me, anyway), but it's always worth making the effort.