Wednesday, 19 June 2013

A sweet good morning to you


We always buy too many croissants. I think it’s because whoever’s up first likes the idea of the little excursion to the bakery. But in reality, my father breakfasts frugally on an abstemious bowl of cereal, my sporty brother and sporty nephew like the protein hit of huge omelettes, I eat what I eat at home, yoghurt and fruit, Séan cruises what everyone else is having and picks out what he likes best. My mother dines luxuriantly on the worry that everybody has exactly what they want, that it’s not too hot, not too cold, that it’s just right.

So we often have croissants left over. This morning I made eggy bread, french toast, pain perdu, whatever you’d like to call it, from yesterday’s poor, overlooked specimens. This is so easy it’s barely a recipe, but it does make a very fine breakfast. On that at least we have an early-morning consensus.

Very french french toast


You could also add some vanilla if you like, or use lemon zest in place of the orange zest.

4 eggs
About 100ml cream and 200ml whole milk, or any combination of the two, or just milk
A few gratings of orange zest
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 day-old croissants, halved
A few knobs of butter
Icing sugar, to dust, though I don’t have any here so I didn’t.
Maple syrup or jam, to serve

Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, zest, cinnamon and salt in a wide, low dish. Put the croissants into the custardy mixture, cut-side down, for about 10 minutes.

Turn over and leave to soak for another 5 minutes. Warm the butter in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the croissants until golden, about 3 minutes per side.

Serve dusted with icing sugar (add a bit more cinnamon to the icing sugar if you like), with maple syrup or jam.




Tuesday, 18 June 2013




A summer evening in the Languedoc.


in summer, the song sings itself
above the muffled words--


from The Botticellian Trees
William Carlos Williams

Friday, 14 June 2013

One for the road



Browned butter biscuits

Tomorrow morning, Séan and I set off on our annual drive to the south west of France. That’s just the 16 marriage-enhancing hours, door to door. It’s a modern Kerouacian romp of shouting at the SatNav and arguing over whether the dog needs a wee.

Service stations are where whimsy goes to die, or at least to stock up on wiper blades and pallid chips, where low aspiration and low blood sugar meet, and weary, glazed eyes seek out sticky glazed doughnuts to fill the hungry gap between now and inevitable Type 2 diabetes. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t say ‘holiday’ to me.

Due to our (my) desire to be on holiday as soon as possible, we don’t stop much. We rely for sustenance on a hastily-scrabbled-together-at-dawn holiday picnic of egg-and-cress sandwiches, salt-and-vinegar crisps, fruit, perhaps some leftover pie or cake, sturdy biscuits which will withstand being rattled about in the car, bottles of water and a huge thermos of coffee.

Of course, some take en route sustenance very seriously indeed. You know when you get on a plane and your neighbour suddenly produces a linen napkin and a beautiful bento box filled with sushi? You never want to sit next to that person. They would be no use at all if there was An Incident. For example, if we were suddenly required in the cockpit to fly the plane, she would be unavailable to take instructions from air traffic control due to an urgent need to remove the wasabi stain from her three-ply dodo wool sweater.

I am a great believer in the redemptive power of the snack, but it doesn’t do to be too precious. Contrary to what many a modern calendar/mousemat/comedy mug/inspirational postcard might have you believe, sometimes it really is the destination not the journey.

Sturdy biscuits which will withstand being rattled about in the car

These are made from browned butter, which gives them a deliciously sweet and nutty flavour. They are a plainish biscuit, which is generally my preference. You can even leave out the rolling in sugar part if it offends your abstemious nature. They’re the sort of thing you can make when the cupboard’s practically bare and they last for ages in a tin. Perfect for a road trip. If you have one of them in your future this summer, you should try them.

Makes about 3 dozen

150g unsalted butter, cubed
1 tbsp vanilla extract
260g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp flaky sea salt
2 eggs, 1 separated
320g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
Golden caster sugar, for rolling


Roll them in sugar, or not.
It’s entirely up to you.

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the solids go a deep golden brown and it has a rich, sweet, nutty aroma - it really will smell delicious. This should take about 6-7 minutes. Hold your nerve. Immediately pour the butter into a medium-sized mixing bowl to cool and stir in the vanilla. Beat in the sugar until well combined and glossy. Beat in the whole egg and one egg yolk.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat into the butter and sugar until you have a smooth, firm dough. Divide the dough in two. Roll each piece into a log about 5cm wide. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least an hour. At this point if you like, you can freeze one of the batches of dough.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line some baking sheets with baking parchment. If you are rolling the biscuits in sugar, scatter and few tablespoonfuls onto a sheet of baking parchment. Lightly beat the remaining egg white with a teaspoon of cold water and brush the dough with the egg wash before rolling in the sugar. Slice the biscuits into 5mm rounds and place on the baking sheets – leave a minimum of 2cm between each biscuit as they spread out a bit.

Bake until firm and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheets before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. They will keep for about a week in an airtight tin.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Things to say and do


In the next few days, I’ll be making projects from my book, Gifts from the Garden, at various points across north and east London and I’d love it if you would join me. If you don’t it’ll just be me, weeping into my dried lavender over what might have been, like a demented, sherry-swigging old fool. And none of us want that.

So, tomorrow night do come to the verdant and lovely N1 Garden Centre at 6.30pm – not only can we get to know one another a little better, there’ll be that added delight of running about a shop when it’s closed.

If you can’t make that, I am running two events at my house this weekend as part of the fabulous StokeyLitFest. Come and sit in my kitchen, walk around my garden, eat nice things, come out smelling fragrant and wonderful. All that for four quid. That’s Saturday or Sunday at 3pm. I hope to see you then.

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