I’ll keep it short: think of these as little clouds. Soft, melting clouds to serve with afternoon tea on what we can only hope to call the very last days of what has been a very cold winter. Provided you have a stand mixer, meringues are easy indeed. They do require a bit of time in the oven, but will keep very well.
Cinnamon and Almond Meringues (adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
- 100g cold, fresh egg whites (3-4)
- 130g (1 1/4 cup) superfine sugar
- 70g (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 20g unskinned almonds, coarsely chopped
Preheat your oven to 225°F/110°C and line one or two baking trays with parchment paper.
Fill a saucepan halfway with water. Heat the water to a low simmer and place the egg whites and sugars in a heat-proof bowl. Put the bowl over the water, making sure it doesn’t actually touch the water, and stir occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is hot and the sugars have dissolved.
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed for about 8 minutes, until quite glossy and firm, and it holds its shape.
Sprinkle the cinnamon on top and fold in gently with a spatula.
Take apple-sized dollops of the mixture and plonk it onto the baking trays using two spoons, being careful to allow some space between the meringues. Using the spoons, shape the tops into spiky dollops, then sprinkle over the chopped almonds. Place in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until the undersides are dry but the centres are still a little soft. Let cool. Packed in a sealed container they will keep well for several days.
Excuse me while I go drop half a month’s salary on cookware. No, but seriously, are you going to a Christmas wedding for your very best friend, or do you think you’re going to need to atone for something REALLY stupid this holiday season? Look no further! Or just trawl through some eye candy, baby.
KitchenAid Stand Mixer ($349): OK, yes, we begin with something that “I” already have! My sister just got one and it is a thing of beauty. It will also let you make otherwise-annoying recipes with ease: think croissants, brioche, meringues and jelly rolls. Hoorah!
Mauviel Fondue Pot ($981.64): Haha just kidding except NOT. I’m sorry, this is almost one. thousand. dollars. But it requires no explanation. Gruyere was made for this.
Champagne Saucers ($100): We all need champagne saucers in our life–for birthdays, breakups, Christmas, weddings, engagements, showers, bachelor parties, movie nights, company picnics and New Year’s! There’s something about saucers that makes them a bit more chic than flutes. Very Gatsby.
Vitamix ($579): I have never used one, but they are apparently the most awesome of blenders. They turn kale into pulp in seconds. Want! True, they look like they belong in the year 1982, but they do their thing better than anything else. Cooks illustrated said so.
Espresso Machine ($2,400): In an age of boring old Nespresso pods, this Rocket Espresso Evoluzione Cellini is so “authentic” haha. Whatever, but it’s got this retro-future gleam, right? Can you imagine walking into someone’s house and they’re all, “can I make you a capuccino,” pointing subtly to this? YES.
Vosges Travel the World through Chocolate Steamer Trunk ($1,045): Say whaaat? Eee this is the most amazing gift ever, no need to thank me. It comes with pretty much every chocolate ever made, and in a vintage steamer trunk.
Think about how much your life could be enhanced with all these goodies, and how many people you could impress! Happy shopping!
Putting aside for a moment the homemade Snickers bars, this might be the most unhealthy recipe I’ve ever posted; five egg yolks, half a pound of butter, and nearly half a pound of sugar. But since we’re going to be stuck in Moscow winter for all eternity, there’s no need to prepare for swimsuit season.
This cake is based on the traditional French Gâteau Breton, which tells me right away that it will be satisfyingly old-fashioned: butter, flour, sugar and eggs. No leaveners, no stabilisers. In fact, there’s nothing light about this at all.
Click here for another buckwheat cake, from almost exactly this time last year
- 140g buckwheat flour
- 140g all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp plus 1/3 tsp sea salt (this is the place to use any fancy salt you have lying around)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 175g sugar (any kind will do)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- seeds of one vanilla pod (alternatively, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar)
The glaze: 1 large egg yolk and 1 tsp milk
Butter a 9- or 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan or, failing that, use a pie dish as I did. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.
In a small bowl, mix the buckwheat and all-purpose flower together with 1/2 tsp salt and the cinnamon
In a separate bowl, cream the butter until it’s soft and airy. If you’re too lazy to wait and put the butter in the oven to melt as I did, it won’t be any great harm. Mix in the sugar and cream together until it’s uniform.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the 4 egg yolks and the whole egg. Stir in the vanilla. Give it a few good whisks or a good pass with the electric mixer. Then mix the eggs into the butter and sugar, stirring well. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and stir until it’s just combined. Scrape into your prepared pan and level the top with a spatula.
Mix the glaze together and spread over the top of the cake with a pastry brush or your fingers. Then draw a lattice design over the top by raking your fork across the top in three parallel lines. Then make three parallel lines going diagonally, forming a criss-cross design. Sprinkle the rest of the salt over the top, and put your cake in the oven. The original recipe says it should bake for 45 minutes, but mine took 25. Judge accordingly: you want your cake to be golden and shiny, but not at all dry.
My cake got a little burnt in our manic Soviet oven, but even so I think it looks very pretty with its latticed top and glazed edges. A good cake for staying in while the last of winter plays out. This little guy understands:
I’m lucky that I live near Maroseika, a major Moscow dining street, which has many diverse restaurants. But it’s funny–anytime we’re likely to start talking about Indian restaurants someone says, “oh, Maharajah.” Yes, been there, done that. Oh, Thai food at Thai Thai? That too. In a city of ten million, surely there must be more than one restaurant of each cuisine. While Indian and Thai may not be so popular (“too spicy,” I’ve heard) sushi is huge here, and hopefully it’ll be only a little while before we see other Asian cuisines become equally popular. In the meantime, there are some super-luxe creations to contend with. Just take a walk down Tverskaya and you’ll see what I mean. None of what I ate over the holidays was super luxe, really, but most of the time that’s the way I like it. Simple and delicious:
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, 13-15 West Street, Soho : My colleague suggested this one ages ago. Any time he had a special occasion coming up, he said, he liked to book a place at L’Atelier. With good reason; this branch has garnered two delicious Michelin stars and has reasonable prix-fixe prices for the pre- or post-theatre crowd. Robuchon has been doing well in nine countries, and I see no reason to stop him. Indeed, I quite enjoyed my foam-laced amuse bouche and the most beautifully cooked salmon. Not to mention the darling French waiters and even more darling mango dessert.
The Dove, 24 Broadway Market, Bethnal Green: My sister’s friend lives in the area, which is so cool it might have already become ironic. She said that at one of the ATMs nearby she was asked if she wanted service in English or…Cockney. We made fun of those damn hipsters all afternoon–their beards, Ray- Ban glasses, plaid shirts, open-whenever-they-feel-like-it speakeasies, and the way people sighed after her flat, which used to be council housing–but I don’t know…I like a high-quality wine and an all-arts bookstore every now and again. And, obviously, brunch. This place served it up nice. I’d like all eggs florentine all the time, thanks. Later on we went to The Book Club in Shoreditch, where (case in point) there were no actual books, though there was, I believe, a ping pong tourney going on in the basement. Oh, and a good Aperol spritzer.
Recipease, 92-94 Notting Hill Gate, Notting Hill: There are lots of restaurants around, but I’m not sure I need Jamie Oliver’s name slapped on all of them. I’ve eaten at one of Jamie’s Italian places in Oxford, which was nice, but this one seems more necessary; it’s different because the ground floor is done pantry-style with prepared foods: fresh soups, pastries, even lasagnas and whole chickens, and then the upstairs is more of a traditional cafe: brunch offerings and sweet homemade (read: £3) sodas.
Princi, 135 Wardour St., Soho: For a good catch-up session, my friend Kasia and I ate giant buffalo mozzarella pizzas and sipped on fresh juice in this bustling shop. I wish I had taken my own pictures of their fabulous pastry section, but you can see the website for that. Highly recommended, with extremely good Yelp reviews.
Rossopomodoro, 50-52 Monmouth St., Covent Garden: OK, not our absolute first choice, but it was the 28th of December, and beggars can’t be choosers. This place proved nice indeed, and my olive oil pasta was simple and tasty. I also appreciated the giant portions of bruschetta and the sweetest and most humble Italian waiters.
Thai Rice, 42 Crawford St., Marylebone: I also like Two Point down the street, but this one is probably a bit better, though with strange lighted tabletops. Luckily, on those crazy tables as you enter are free wasabi peas to nibble on and clear the palate. Everything was really well prepared, especially the pad thai and its jumbo shrimp.
Zayna, 25 New Quebec St., Marylebone: Somewhat hilariously, my Yelp review of this excellent Pakistani/North Indian restaurant was featured in their digest a while back. How proud I was! I’m also glad to know that this place is still going strong since the first time we first visited a few years back. Zayna, La Porte des Indes and Woodlands form the perfect trifecta of North Indian, French-influenced, and South Indian dining.
This isn’t the prettiest of cakes. It’s brown–the most unloved of colours–and has a very different flavour from traditional cinnamon-/chocolate-/fruit-based coffee cakes. But this cake, befitting its sophisticated Italian roots, is subtly elegant, with a bit of cinnamon and a hint of lemon zest. This was originally supposed to be baked in a springform tin, cake-style, cut into wedges, but my lack of such a tin meant that this became moist cubes of buckwheaty goodness. Somehow cubes makes this seem more like breakfast, less like a giant slab of cake. And really, even though there’s a lot of butter and sugar, this wheat-free beauty isn’t too bad for you.
Buckwheat, гречка, is a hearty winter favourite here, especially in its whole-grain form. Really, as a relative of rhubarb, buckwheat is not a grain, but it can be eaten like one with mushrooms, especially at this великий пост (Lent) time, where many Russians aren’t eating animal-derived ingredients like dairy and eggs. This is no good for lent (because of its milk and well-beaten eggs) but the moisture from the ground almonds means that it will stay soft for many happy days, and you could eat it later. I’m rather surprised I haven’t seen too many buckwheat-based cakes here; this one is a goodie.
Buckwheat Coffee Cake (adapted from The Traveler’s Lunchbox)
- 175g whole almonds (blanched if you want; I used almonds that were roasted with the skin left on)
- 200g buckwheat flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- zest of 1 large lemon
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 300g sugar, divided
- 180 ml milk
- 4 room-temperature eggs, separated
Preheat your oven to 175°C. If your almonds aren’t roasted, put them on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool completely. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or similar-sized baking dish. In a blender, food processor or clean coffee grinder, grind the almonds together with 50g of sugar. In a medium bowl, stir together the ground almonds with the buckwheat flour, salt, cinnamon, lemon zest and baking powder.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and 200g of the sugar. Beat in the egg yolks one by one. Beat in the dry mixture alternately with the milk until everything is well combined.
In a clean mixing bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the remaining 50g of the sugar until you have stiff, glossy peaks. (I got tired shortly before the end point, but I’d suggest making sure they’re nice and puffy.) Stir one quarter of the whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest. Pour the batter into the tin/pan and smooth the top.
Bake the cake for around 40 minutes, covering it with foil if it becomes too dark (this wasn’t necessary for me). When a toothpick comes out clean, take the cake out and put it on a cooling rack for around 10 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with some powdered sugar, if you like.
Photo courtesy of Echoing Footsteps
The last couple of years I’ve made it my tradition to wake up early on Christmas morning and make a nice breakfast for my family. Then we all sit down with our cups of coffee, look through our stockings and keep our cats from devouring the pulled-off ribbons and broken tree branches. As long as I can remember we’ve always had to wait for all family members to be present before we’d even enter the room with all the gifts, so the kitchen was a refuge; close enough to see the twinkling lights of the tree, far enough away that you wouldn’t spoil the surprise of the gifts Santa had put in your stocking. Having to wait for everyone also meant that sometimes you were left dilly-dallying for ages while someone was still sleeping. When I was a kid this was torturous, but now it’s not so bad; sometimes I’m the one sleeping in. I can now sleep soundly on the night before Christmas, because I’m a grown up. Hurrah!
This Christmas morning I snuck down to the kitchen to bake away, greeted by my early-rising mother. There’s something so comforting about cooking in the early hours of the morning before everyone is up, like your magical baked goods are going to wake the family from slumber and start the day. If there’s anything that will start you up on a cold morning, it’s these popovers; they taste like doughnuts (even though they’re baked, not fried), have a good crunch from the sugar that coats them and a divine smell from the orange zest. We were all happy to get seconds, so I can assure you that this was a sweet success.
This was my first attempt at making popovers–so named because their eggy filling pops over the sides as they bake, soufflé-style–so I was definitely not going to buy a proper popover pan. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one of those! You can certainly just use a muffin tray, as I did.
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk or milk alternative (I used coconut milk, which worked nicely with the orange flavour)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 tsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tbsp grated orange zest
- pinch of sea salt
- 1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat your oven to 450°C and start making the batter: in a blender, whip together the eggs, milk, flour, butter, salt and vanilla until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Let it sit for a half-hour. After 20 minutes, prepare your tray by putting 1/2 tsp vegetable oil in each and sticking it in the oven to heat up.
Remove the pan from the oven and divide the batter among the eight cups. Return the pan to the oven and–without opening the oven door–bake for twenty minutes. Lower the heat to 350°C and bake for a further fifteen minutes, until your popovers are golden. Remove from the oven and turn onto a wire rack.
While your popovers cool a bit, prepare your sugar coating: mix together the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, orange zest and salt together in a shallow bowl. Brush each popover with the melted butter and dredge them in the sugar mixture. Serve warm with plenty of hot coffee.