September 2011


Unencumbered as I am by ‘normal’ adult concerns like mortgages and small children, my brain generally concerns itself with questions such as, ‘Whose turn is it to put the kettle on?’, ‘Do I watch too much Black Books?’ and ‘What am I going to do with all those egg whites cluttering up the fridge?’ I’m keen on custard-making, which has the unfortunate (ha!) side-effect of using every egg yolk you can get your hands on, leaving you with bowls of sad-looking whites, destined for meringues that will never be made. Normal procedure is to leave them in the fridge until they go all watery, then chuck them out when you need the space to chill another bottle of wine.

These little cakes, from Lucas Hollweg’s Good Things to Eat, use five eggs whites. Five! Joy of joys. They’re very simple to make too, with no creaming of butter and sugar necessary; you needn’t even bother remembering to take the butter out of the fridge to soften, as it just needs to be melted. I used vanilla extract (Hollweg’s suggested alternative) instead of lemon zest, just because I fancied something vanilla-y with the raspberries.

Right – I’m off to make five egg yolks’ worth of custard.

Little almond cakes with raspberries (or almondberry cakes, as I’ve dubbed them)

Makes 12

175g butter, plus extra for greasing
250g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
140g ground almonds
60g plain flour
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (I substituted about a teaspoon of vanilla extract, which I stirred in just after the egg whites)
5 medium egg whites (I used large, and this doesn’t seem to have hurt the cakes at all)
12 raspberries (or blueberries, blackberries or blackcurrants, as Hollweg suggests. I agree with him that strawberries would be BAD)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and smear the holes of a 12-hole muffin tin with plenty of butter.
  2. Melt the butter gently until frothy and bubbly. Mix together the 250g icing sugar, almonds, flour and lemon zest (if using) in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites and beat vigorously for about 10 seconds, until everything is nice and smooth, with no clumps of almond or sugar. Add the vanilla extract now, if using. Pour in the butter and mix it well – it’ll take a bit of elbow grease to get it incorporated. What you’ll have now is much runnier than a normal cake batter.
  3. Divide the mixture between the 12 holes of your tin (easier said than done when it’s this runny. I used a ladle and it still went everywhere). Put a raspberry on the top of each one – no need to push it in – and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. They’re done when they’re golden brown round the edges and still a little unset in the middle; this will become firmer as the cakes cool.
  4. Leave them in the tins to cool before prising out with the help of a metal spoon, then dust with a little icing sugar just before serving. Enjoy.

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My birthday, falling as it does on the last day of August, marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. I can’t feel particularly sad about waving goodbye to the hot days for another year, not least because a) this is England, for gawd’s sake, and b) I hate being too hot. I hate picnics (I am forever plagued by wasps and dogs), sunstroke, and the indignity of sleeveless tops. (However, I can’t express my joy at the coming of autumn better that Eva Wiseman did in the Observer on Sunday.)

So, a year older and wiser, I am newly obsessed by the cosiness of autumnal comfort food. (If you don’t see much of me for the next few months, check my bed and then my kitchen.) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day! is my new favourite kitchen tome; I made the squash and fennel lasagne yesterday, and tonight seemed like a good time to try the swede and potato pasties. Even if they didn’t taste great, these would be worth making for the lovely rootsy savoury smell that wafts around your house while they’re in the oven; luckily, they’re also absolutely delicious. I’m taking one in for my packed lunch tomorrow (with age cometh thrift).

Swede and potato pasties (from River Cottage Veg Every Day!)

Makes 4

For the pastry:

300g plain flour
A pinch of sea salt
150g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the filling:

225g potato
125g swede
75g carrot
1 small onion, grated
Leaves from a handful of parsley, finely chopped
Leaves from a few sprigs of  thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
50g strong Cheddar, grated (Hugh says this is optional. I say: sling it in.)
30g butter, melted

To finish:

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon milk, to glaze

  1. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt together, then add the pieces of butter and toss them in the flour until each little cube is separately coated. Add about 150ml of chilled or iced water to form a fairly firm dough. (Clumsy as ever, I added a little too much, but a well-floured work surface and rolling pin did the trick.)
  2. Shape the dough into a rectangle with your hands on a well-floured work surface, and then roll it out away from you, in one direction only, until the rectangle is about 1cm thick. Fold the far third towards you, then fold the nearest third over the top of that – you’ll now have a rectangle made up of three equal layers. Give the pastry a quarter turn, and repeat the rolling, folding and turning five times. Wrap the pastry in cling film, then chill in the fridge for between 30 minutes and an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190°C. If there’s someone in your house who likes a bit of painstaking chopping, call them into the kitchen at this point.
  4. Peel the potato, swede and carrot and cut into 3–4mm dice. This is quite pleasing really, once it’s done. Put the chopped veg in a bowl, along with the grated onion, herbs, bouillon, seasoning and cheese. Melt the butter and stir that in last.
  5. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick, and cut out 4 circles using a small plate (around 19cm diameter) – you’ll probably have to squish together the trimmings and roll them out again for the last one.
  6. Divide the vegetable mixture between the four pastry squares, keeping it to one side of each circle. Brush the edges with a little water, fold over the other half of pastry, and crimp the edges together securely. Patch up any holes that appear as you stretch the pastry over – you don’t want leaky pasties.
  7. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Place the pasties on the sheets, and brush them with the egg glaze. Bake for 35–40 minutes until golden brown.