Thursday, 31 October 2013

DeViLiSh DaTe BrOwNiEs

One black and tempestuous night, with the wind howling and the rain battering down these infernal devils appeared in my mind, teasing and daring me to make them. Immediately bewitched by the thought of demonically dark muscovado sugar, shamelessly syrupy dates and just a dash of rummy rascality, I lumbered zombie-like to the kitchen and began to work on bringing my malevolent little monsters to life. In the cold, sobering light of day I now fear the felonious fiends I have created and it is up to me to destroy them, with my mouth, teeth and tummy...

Prep time: 30 Mins
Baking time: 35 Mins
300g Medjool Dates (As sticky and soft as you can find)
50ml Cold Water
50g Golden Syrup
1tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2tbsp Dark Rum

100g Unsalted Butter (Cold and cut into cubes)
100g Ground Almonds

50g Cocoa Powder
110g Dark Muscovado Sugar
2 Large Eggs (Beaten)

Begin by giving the dates a thorough chopping. Place the dates into a small saucepan, along with the water, syrup, vanilla and rum and bring up to a gentle simmer. Leave to simmer for around five minutes, until the dates have almost melted into the sweetly spiced syrup, then remove from the heat. Add the cold butter and stir through until melted. Leave to one side for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3, grease a 21cm square tin and line with baking paper. Add the almonds, cocoa powder and sugar to a large bowl, then tip in the date mixture. Mix together, then add the eggs and beat with vigour until you are left with an evenly combined batter. Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin, level to the edges with the back of a spoon, then bake in the centre of the oven for around 35 minutes, until a metal skewer comes out slightly sticky when inserted into the middle of the baked mixture. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 30 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin, peeling off the paper and place on a wire rack until cool (or just warm if that floats your boat). Slice with a sharp knife and serve. MwAh HaH hAh!!!!

Monday, 28 October 2013


F       R       U       I       T       C       A       K       E


Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus overnight soaking time)
Baking time: 60 Mins
150g Pitted Dates (Roughly chopped)
150g Soft Dried (Ready to eat) Figs (Roughly Chopped)
200g Mixed Dried Fruit and Peel
100ml Strong Hot Tea (I used Assam, but whatever you prefer is fine)
125g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
150g Light Muscovado Sugar
2 Large Eggs plus 1 Yolk
1.5tsp Mixed Spice
1tsp Vanilla Extract 
1/2tsp Baking Powder
165g Plain Flour
2tbsp Golden Syrup

The first task is to soak the fruit overnight. I use Assam tea for this, as I think the rich, almost honeyed flavour works beautifully. However you can experiment if you have a preference. Chai or Ceylon, even a smokey Lapsang are all delicious alternatives. Chop the figs and dates roughly, then add to a shallow airtight container along with the mixed dried fruit and peel. Pour over the hot tea, fix the lid tightly and leave overnight, until the fruit has plumped up and the liquid has become syrupy.

The following day preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3, grease a 21cm square tin and line with baking paper. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs along with the yolk. Add the mixed spice and vanilla extract, then sift in the baking powder with the flour and mix together to a smooth batter. Tip in the fruit, along with the soaking liquid and fold through until evenly combined. Spoon into your prepared tin and gently even to the edges, then bake in the centre of the oven for around 60 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake.

When you are happy the cake is baked remove from the oven, leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin and place on a wire rack. Drizzle over the golden syrup, leave to cool completely and guess what? You've only gone and blooming finished!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Orange and Almond Sponge with Dark Chocoblock Icing

This almond cake is wonderfully delicate, with subtle notes of both zesty citrus and creamy, biscuity ground almonds. It could even be called sophisticated, if it wasn't for the slab of thick dark chocolate icing unapologetically spread all over at the end. A needless vulgarity it may be, but as I've said many a time previously, there is always room in life for a little indecency.

With regards to the orange I decided to segment it for a change. Anyone who grew up with Ready Steady Cook will probably know precisely how to segment an orange, as they seemed to do it every week! However if you are unfamiliar with the concept all that is required is for you to zest an orange, then using a sharp knife, slice the top and the bottom from it. Once that is complete you then need to run the sharp knife along the outside top to bottom, turning as you go to remove the external skin and pith, then slice at an angle into each section, removing the segments (along with any juice that is released) into a small bowl. It is a very simple task, but if you have any issues at all leave a comment or tweet and I can provide further assistance if required!

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: 50 Mins
150g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1tsp Baking Powder
200g Ground Almonds
1 Good Sized Orange, zested, segmented and the segments chopped into little nuggets of citrussy joy.

For the Chocoblock Icing
100g Unsalted Butter
200g Dark Chocolate (Broken into squares)
100g Icing Sugar
50g Toasted Almonds

We begin with the sponge! Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a 20cm deep loose-bottomed cake tin and line the base with baking paper. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the baking powder and almonds, mix until thoroughly combined, then tip in the chopped orange segments (along with any juice that is left). Mix to an even batter then pour into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around 50 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake. When you are happy it is cooked, remove from the oven, leave in the tin for around 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack until completely cool.

For the icing melt the butter in a saucepan then pour over the dark chocolate. After a few minutes, with the occasional stir the chocolate should have melted entirely so at this stage add the icing sugar and mix until you are left with a thick icing, with no lumps. Spread the icing all over the cake. You can eat it straight away, but I personally like to wait until the icing has set firm. I'll leave this decision though to you.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Respected, revered and admired - Simon Rogan

When it comes to food the word innovation is often met with as much derision as it is praise, with many sneering at even the mention of foams and emulsions, spherifications or savoury sorbets. However, true innovation is being able to apply the variety of new techniques, concepts and combinations now available with delicacy, skill and elegance. When this fine balance is achieved successfully the results can reach beyond merely the commendable, even the exceptional. They can be extraordinary.

Simon Rogan is not only one of the UK’s best chefs, but a pioneer. He a master of synthesis, combining cutting edge techniques and technology with a deep affinity with nature. He is committed to the development of technical processes, but also to the promotion of farmed, foraged and even long forgotten ingredients. His restaurants have deservedly won numerous awards and his flagship restaurant L’Enclume was recently voted the best restaurant in the UK by the 2014 Good Food Guide. He is culinary legend in the making and recently I caught up with him to ask a few quick questions…

How would you describe your culinary philosophy?

Modern British food with a massive connection to our surroundings using the very best natural ingredients

You are renowned for delicately pairing technical innovation with an affinity for nature. Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of the inspiration during our current phase comes from our Farm and the wild, and produce available from it. These ingredients are then presented to Aulis where they are explored and prepared in a way that best suits our menu at that time.

What is the process of creating dishes for your menus?

As I said above, it all starts with the primary ingredient and possible accompanying items. Aulis then gets to work exploring a technique or using technology available at that time. As a rule though, as our ingredients get better and better we try to do less and less with them!

Have any combinations not worked?

Too many to mention although anything we tried to do with Cotton lavender was quite nasty

What locally farmed or foraged ingredient would you like to see more of on restaurant menus?

Farmed I would say Scorzonera and from the wild Sweet Cicely

What single piece of advice would you give to aspiring chefs and professional cooks?

Learn as much as you can by choosing your career path very carefully, keep your head and down and do your time.

Tell me more about the Aulis project?

The Aulis project is at the centre of all that we do, but primarily to constantly provide all new material for all our restaurants and to ensure that there is no obvious repetition. It is also involved in the agricultural and foraging side of our business, educational and consultancy projects and of course has The Table for guests to come and sample its latest creations.

What do you hope to achieve and what are the biggest challenges you foresee?

I hope to be remembered one day as someone who really made a difference during my period of time and my biggest challenge is keeping the backbone of my very talented team together to help me achieve that.

What do you see in the future for food, both in the UK and internationally?

Obviously, I believe standards in the UK will continue to improve in a very diverse way and I wish I had a crystal ball to see the future as you can never predict the latest trend and it would be nice to get in there first

What do you enjoy cooking at home?

I hardly ever cook at home as I work quite a lot but I do enjoy cooking a roast

What technique, tip or innovation would you recommend all home cooks learn?

Obviously, I would like to see more people growing there own and all methods of preservation is also the way forward.

What's next for you?

Who knows, but a return to London is probably a dead cert.

For more information about Simon Rogan, the Aulis project or his restaurants, please visit

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Chocolate and Maple Roasted Pecan Cookies

Dainty and delicate afternoon teas have their merits but just give me a big cookie and I will be one happy (gentle)man. Be it chocolate chip, oatmeal and raisin, even plain vanilla I could eat a hat-full and still would go back for just one more. I bake more than most, but when given the option at a cafe or tea room cookies are definitely my favoured choice.

And if you want a reason why, then just try these beauties. Roasting the pecan nuts in just a hint of butter and maple syrup imparts upon them a wonderfully toasty and biscuity flavour, which when combined with syrupy vanilla extract and the deep complexity of dark chocolate results in the very definition of pleasure. I implore you to try them for yourself, you will not be disappointed.

Prep time: 30 Mins
Baking time: 12-14 Mins
1/2tbsp Unsalted Butter (Melted)
1tbsp Maple Syrup
100g Pecans (Roughly chopped)

110g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
75g Light Muscovado Sugar
60g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg Yolk
1tsp Vanilla Extract
120g Plain Flour
1/2tsp Baking Powder
1/2tsp Salt
100g Dark Chocolate (Chopped)

The first task is to prepare the pecans. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6 and line a flat baking tray with baking paper. In a small bowl mix together the melted butter and maple syrup with a mini whisk or fork, then add the chopped pecans. Spread the coated nuts out onto the prepared tray and roast in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes, until they have darkened slightly and smell toasty. It is definitely worth checking about halfway through, giving them a little move about to stop any exposed edges catching. When you are happy they are nicely roasted tip them into a bowl and leave to cool for about 15 minutes.

For the cookies, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line two large, flat baking trays with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and both sugars, then beat in the egg yolk along with the vanilla extract. Add the flour (I don't even sift it) along with the baking powder and salt, then mix to a loose dough. Add the chopped chocolate and mix until evenly distributed.

Take some of the dough and roll into a ball, about the size of a golf ball, then place on one of the trays. Repeat for the rest of the dough, making sure each ball is evenly spaced apart, as they will spread during baking. You should get about 14-15 cookies from the mixture and you can even split the dough into three batches if you want to be safe. Bake in the centre of the oven for 12-14 minutes until light golden and just starting the darken at the edges. You can play about with the timings, depending on if you like your cookies soft and cakey, or crisp and biscuity. When you are happy they are baked remove from the oven and leave on the trays for about 20 minutes, before peeling off and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack, if you can resist that long! 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Bakewell Slices

It saddens me no end that for some, lunch is no more than yet another chore, a necessary act of refuelling before we steel ourselves for whatever the afternoon has in store. Be it limp sandwiches, dry crackers and crisp-breads or that last doleful banana (you know, the one that sits in your bag, slowly but purposely penetrating the contents with it's sickly scent), too many lunchboxes have become uninspiring to the point of melancholia and frankly, we deserve better. We deserve a little treat, a little forgotten surprise or a dainty delicacy we can look forward to during our morning's exertions. There are plenty of slices, squares, cookies and cakes for you to try on my humble blog, but one of my favourite recipes is this one for bakewell slices. They are great fun to make, delicious to eat and keep brilliantly, so no excuse not to make them at the weekend ready for Monday's lunchbox!

Prep time: Around 30 Minutes
Baking time: Around 50-55 Minutes
For the base
175g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
225g Caster sugar
1 Large Egg plus 1 Yolk
1tsp Vanilla Extract
225g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder

For the topping
100g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
100g Caster Sugar
100g Ground Almonds
2tsp Almond Extract
2 Egg Yolks
50g Flaked Almonds
340g Raspberry Jam (About a jar)
50g Flaked Almonds

For the icing
50g Icing Sugar
2tsp Water

To the kitchen once more! Begin by preheating the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a large rectangular baking or roasting tin (I used one around 32x22cm) and line with baking paper. If you can line with one single piece of baking paper it will help no end when it comes to removing the baked slices later. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg and yolk, along with the vanilla extract. Sift in the flour and baking powder then mix to a smooth, relatively stiff batter. Blob into your prepared tin and carefully smooth to the edges. This is actually the trickiest part! Place in the centre of the oven for around 20-25 Minutes, until the base is golden brown and feels set to the touch.

Whilst the base is baking you can prepare the topping. In a clean bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then mix in the ground almonds, almond extract and egg yolks until evenly combined. Leave to one side until you need it.

When the base is baked remove from the oven. Spoon over the jam and even to the edge, leaving a border of about 1cm around the edge. Using a teaspoon, blob (wow, two 'blobs' in one blog!) a little of the almond topping mixture all over, again leaving a small border. It doesn't matter if there are a few gaps between each blob (three blobs!) as it will spread and rise during baking. Scatter over the flaked almonds and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes, until the topping is a golden, toasty brown. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 30 minutes (Which helps everything firm up a bit), then carefully remove (You can leave on the paper) and place on a wire rack until cool.

To finish, peel the paper from the edge of the baked mixture and cut off each of the four edges, which you can discard or nibble on as you finish everything else off. Slice into your slices and peel each from their baking paper base. Mix together the icing sugar and water, using a little whisk or one of those looped whisk things (I'm still not sure what their exact purpose is), then drizzle a little over each slice. There you go, ready for your lunchbox!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Respected, revered and admired - Mourad Mazouz and Sketch

We are fortunate to live in an era of unparalleled variety with regards to the cuisine available to us and the manner in which it is presented. From bakeries to burger joints, fast food or fine dining, there is now a near limitless array of restaurants, diners and eateries to satisfy any occasion or appetite.

For me however, eating out is all about escapism. Whoever you are, whatever you do, life is a challenge so when the opportunity arises for one to treat themselves or their loved ones, the experienced offered should be truly unforgettable. There are many marvellous restaurants in the UK, with exceptional food and impeccable service, but nowhere reflects the sense of wonder, excitement and intrigue quite like sketch in London.

To describe sketch is not an easy task. Set over two floors of a converted 18th century townhouse, it is split into several remarkable rooms, each more different than the next and each offering an incomparable experience to those lucky enough to visit. From the Martin Creed designed Gallery where every single piece of cutlery, tableware and furniture is different, to the alluring and enticing fairy tale forest that is the Glade, it encompasses that wonderful sense of theatre more completely than anywhere else I have visited, playfully toying with convention and encompassing not only elements of the fantastical, but the vaudeville and even the burlesque.

With superb, Michelin starred menus designed by master chef Pierre Gagnaire served in such an enchanting and inspiring setting I can say with some assurance that sketch is truly unique. It is one of my very favourite places to visit, so I was delighted to recently take the opportunity to ask the mastermind behind its conception, award winning restaurateur Mourad Mazouz a few quick questions…

Tell me about each of the rooms at sketch and the experience they offer.

sketch – “it is all in the amalgamation”..

Every single room holds unique identity, but somehow all adhere to all the notions of what sketch is about..

The Lecture Room & Library is the most formal dining experience sketch has to offer. It is a luxurious, comfortable and cultured fine dining space that harbours a breath-taking gastronomic experience. This restaurant holds two well-deserved Michelin Stars along with 5 AA Rosettes. The tasting and A La Carte menus are designed by the French master chef Pierre Gagnaire who allures the senses, educates and inspires his audience through artistically infused cuisine.  Additionally, the acclaimed wine list was awarded 'Best Award for Excellence' by the Wine Spectator and AA Guide's Best UK Wine List.

The Gallery restaurant is equally captivating but entirely exclusive to sketch. In the Gallery you will find an Art installation and a restaurant all combined under one single roof.  Martin Creed, the turner prize winning artist who is the vision and shell of the Gallery, set out to unite food and art in order to push the boundaries of conventional dining.  The atmosphere and vibe is buzzy and the modern European menu available to our diners is wonderfully imaginative and ground breaking. The Gallery also holds a quirky bar that intends to lead diners further into the depths of sketch. Elaborate cocktails can be sampled and excite an already inspired palate.

The parlour is home to some of the finest treats and cakes that you could ever imagine. Pluck a pastry from a carrousel looking cake stand and enjoy the merge of sweet and savoury. The ambiance is comfortable yet exciting and operates like a traditional vibrant French café where breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea can all be acquired until the last drink before home. The interior of the Parlour holds great visual flair; both quirk and grunge are embraced by the underling tradition of high tea thus making the experience further charming.

Our other afternoon tea room, the Glade, is a creative haven of antiquated enchantment. This reserved French fairy tale forest with hand crafted walls holds some of the most otherworldly wicker furniture imaginable. Lofty assortments of appetising macaroons and pleasant savouries offer true afternoon tea innovation. Caroline Quatermaine and Didier Mahieu have taken much inspiration from early 20th century.

Which is your favourite room and why?

I often feel like art is in my blood, it is my passion and so my favourite room has to be The Gallery. Through a series of functional and decorative new works Martin Creed has created an environment that is at once an exhibition, an artwork, a restaurant and an events space. There are 96 different types of marble zigzagging across the floor, along with large-scale wall paintings. But my favourite detail of the room is that every single piece of cutlery, every table and chair is individual and was handpicked by Martin and myself. It is important to always remember that design is the shell and the menu is the heart.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Mostly art. It is a talent to combine the most unusual in the most unexpected way.

How do you go about turning an idea or concept into a reality?

I like to consider space as a concept as opposed to a location. Space is like soil, where ideas grow out of it at different stages and times. My waking hours are spent predominantly planning the design and (hopefully) the subsequent atmosphere of my venues in my head. I want everything to be exactly how I envisage it to be. The devil is in the detail, I say, and I cannot function any other way. sketch was the triple dream, launching a centre, a “lieu” or destination place, for food, art and music. With a great team of chefs and designers we were able to create this vision over two expansive floors of a converted 18th century building on Conduit Street.

Are there any ideas you’ve had for the rooms at sketch that just haven’t been possible?

In Mary Poppins levitated dining is possible, but it isn’t real. There is no point in trying to emulate such an experience if it has to be done with strings and beams. If I were magic I would want my diners to sip tea on floating chairs.

sketch has rightly received wide acclaim, but also at times proved divisive amongst some critics. Why do you think this is and how much attention do you pay to outside opinion?

People have said that our food is over priced - our food is expensive, but not overpriced. I think restaurant critic A.A. Gill, summed us up perfectly 'The food is brilliant. The best in London. But you have to have eaten a lot to know just how incredibly clever it is. He's fighting against the British idea that, while you'd spend huge amounts on football tickets, you never would on food - not when you can get a whole chicken for three quid.' It is nice to be noticed and receive great awards and reviews, but the only applause I need is from customers. 

How is the food at sketch linked to the design?

Pierre Gagnaire's culinary genius has inspired the menus throughout sketch. His eponymous Michelin three-starred Paris restaurant has a distinctive menu style, which he has adapted for sketch. Executed by his acolytes, the food is imaginative, bold, ground-breaking and delicious. The Gallery is where this is most apparent - Pierre has designed the menu in collaboration with Martin Creed, experimenting and creating dishes directly influenced by Martin’s art.  

You opened your first bistro in 1988. What are some of the things you have learnt in the 25 years since and how has the restaurant industry changed?

Over the years I’ve learnt not to rush a project, I give time and care to each in order to make it the best. I focus on developing my places and expertise with discernment and no sense of urgency. I need to feel and experience the spaces I create as they come to life.

Also my success in both Paris and London led to many partnership offers from entrepreneurs and investors. I learnt to resist the temptation of an easy expansion, I know I wouldn’t be content with just replicating a certain style like a formula.
And lastly, it is better to do one thing and do it well, rather then try your hand at many different trades unsuccessfully. I’m not a chef nor am a businessman with a multitude of chain restaurant brands either. I’m a restaurant owner, this is what I am passionate about, food is the central element, and what I care about is the heart and soul of each and every restaurant I create.

What single piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a restaurant?

I think passion is key, anything is possible once you have love for it. And don’t rush ideas, it is better to take time and get them just right. I'm a perfectionist, if I come in and something's not right, it breaks my heart.

With regards to restaurants what do you think will be the next big trend (and what do you hope it will be)?

I don’t like to follow trends, they are hard to predict and they never stay around for very long. However, I do think there has been a generational shift in culinary awareness, young people are now more interested in food.

What plans do you have for the future of sketch?

For me it’s all about moving forward, constantly evolving, hence why sketch is ever changing. When I told everyone the name I had chosen for sketch, people thought I was crazy. But like a sketch, you can rub out the edges and rework them – so this made sense to me and this is what I do daily. sketch is now a London institution, I would just want us to continue doing what we have been for years to come.

For more information, or to book a table at sketch please visit

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Simple Syrupy Spiced Slices

As I continue on my baking adventure I find myself experimenting more and more, to the point where I now find it hard to resist tinkering or toying with whatever base recipe I decide to attempt, with admittedly varying degrees of success. As much as I enjoy striding boldly into the baking unknown, some of my very favourite recipes are those that are altogether more elementary.

Take these slices for instance. Simply spiced and syruped, they are gloriously satisfying and absolutely brilliant with a cup of leaf tea. Looking at the ingredients it is hard to fully do justice to just how charming these bars are. I really cannot recommend them highly enough.

Prep time: 15 Minutes (Plus 30 minutes after)
Baking time: 30-35 Minutes
175g Unsalted Butter
110g Light Muscovado Sugar
115g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg plus 1 Egg Yolk
1tsp Vanilla Extract
1.5tsp Ground Ginger
1tsp Ground Cinnamon
0.5tsp Ground Nutmeg
225g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
3tbsp Golden Syrup

Baking time! Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a 21cm square baking tin with baking paper. I don't even grease it! In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars, then beat in the egg and yolk along with the vanilla extract. Add the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, then sift in the plain flour along with the baking powder. Mix together to a smooth batter and spoon into your prepared tin.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. When you are happy it is baked remove from the oven, leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin, peel away the paper and place on a wire rack with a plate or chopping board underneath (to catch any dripping syrup). Warm through half of the syrup in the microwave for 30 seconds and brush over the top. Leave for a further 10 minutes, then repeat for the rest of the syrup. Leave to cool entirely, then slice. I will leave the size of the slices up to you!