Truth be told, I’d take shortbread biscuits over all other biscuit-kind for the simple reason that as well as being deceptively indulgent, they are also incredibly fragile and, dare I say it, fleeting. The dough barely holds itself together, you bake them to the palest shade of gold and you know that the minute a piece of shortbread passes your lips, you have a matter of moments before it melts away – and that’s the trick, it is the very definition of short and sweet.
First of all, this is a not an homage to the Crunchie. It’s more like what happens when a Crunchie takes a trip to the dark side, rolls around in all manner of sexy toppings and turns up at the end of a dinner party, just in time to be served with the coffee. That type of thing. This is all because when I make caramel I take it pretty dark, cooking it past the golden stage until it turns a deep, burnt amber. This smokes up the sweetness of the honeycomb making it the perfect partner to dark chocolate and a sprinkling of something sharp, salty or sour.
Here’s a little known fact. I’m an East End girl at heart, actually born within the sound of Bow bells and therefore perfectly entitled to go a little bit giddy at the prospect of a Hackney Bun. I have my newest cook book splurge, Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth, to thank for the introduction to Chelsea’s edgy little sister, and having given them a go, I’m hooked and can’t recommend them enough. What sets the Hackney Bun apart is the Guinness-soaked fruit, bringing a bittersweet, malty stickiness that’s almost too cool for school.
Ask any good double act and they’ll tell you that the secret to their success lies in the blending of opposites; a subtle mix that both elevates and tames their individual traits that on their own can be, well, just that little bit too much. For me, a rich, velvety custard tart needs a serious side of tang to cut the creaminess down to size, and this rhubarb compote has that in spades. On top of the rhubarb’s natural sharpness, the pink peppercorns give a hint of smoky warmth as well as adding to the Pretty in Pink vibe – always a good thing in my book.
As a citrus fiend, I’m never happier than when I can turn something inherently sweet just that little bit sour, and I’ve found that when you want citrus to take centre stage don’t mess about, you need a diva; step forward the pink grapefruit. Ridiculously beautiful, pale pink segments, fragrant tropically-tinted zest and a juice that while sharp, has non of the bitterness of lemons or limes, she’s the complete package in my book – and so this zingy take on the classic Bakewell slice is my ode to her. If you need any more convincing of the pink grapefruit’s fabulousness, it translates into French as la pamplemousse rose, chic, non?
For those of you that have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know me and pistachios, we’re involved. There’s something delicate yet striking about them, all jade green and flecked with pink, so it was to my favourite nut I turned, when creating a birthday cake for my mum last week. The result was a light, moist, pistachio sponge laced with rose water, filled and covered with a pistachio French buttercream. I’ve never attempted a tiered cake before either but I was chuffed with how it turned out; chic, a little extravagant and completely delicious.
And then there was bread!
13 days after first mixing together some four and water, I’ve cultivated active yeasts, kept my starter alive and finally produced a loaf. After the sponge had its overnight fermentation, I was pretty hopeful about getting some bread as the sponge was frothy, thick and bubbly, so the starter was alive and kicking. The final step before baking is to then make the dough by adding to the sponge mix, 300g of your chosen bread flour, 10g fine sea salt and an optional tablespoon of rapeseed or olive oil. Next step, knead until smooth and silky which fortunately I left to my very capable dough hook and Kitchen Aid that did the job in about 10mins. I then placed the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with oiled cling film and left it to prove in a cool spot overnight. It’s important to know that sourdough isn’t going to rise quickly, or as high, as a regular loaf, but you should see it double in size given the right amount of time.
Finally it was bake day. I knocked back the dough and placed it into a floured, cane, proving basket and popped it into the airing cupboard for its second proving. Hugh suggests up to 3 hours in a warm place and this did seem enough time for my little loaf. The oven has to be super hot, 230°C / Gas Mark 8 at least, and it’s a good idea to pop the baking tray in for 5mins before baking. Dust the baking sheet with flour and then turn out the dough. Have a spray bottle full of water handy so that you can pop the loaf in and then spray the water over and round the loaf in the oven, this will help you to get a good crust. After 15mins I turned the temperature down to 200°C / Gas Mark 6, and cooked the loaf for another 25mins, until I had a hollow sounding base. Done at last. Don’t dive straight in, give the loaf about 20-30mins to cool and then go for it. I had my first few slices toasted and smothered in scrambled eggs, and they were a real treat. Tangy and nutty with a great crust, success!
As for Tallulah, I’m going to keep her of course. Once your starter is active you can continue to feed it everyday in the same way if you intend to make a loaf every day or so, but if you are baking less frequently, then simply add enough flour (no water) to form a stiff dough, then the starter won’t need feeding for 4 days or so. You’ll just need to add more water when you come to make a sponge again. If you won’t be baking for a while you can also freeze your starter, it will reactivate when thawed and fed. Clever little things aren’t they.