Category Archives: Baking

Ginger-Spiced Fruit Bread + bread troubleshooting

What’s the best way to say “I love you”? Assuming words are out of the question, there’s always the grand gesture – but that can backfire. For example, a chap I knew at university covered every available surface of his bedroom with glowing tea lights, only to be informed by his not-for-much-longer girlfriend that “Fire hazards are not romantic”.

To adequately convey a sense of “I love you – obviously not romantically because that would be super weird – just as friends but somehow more than friends, siblings almost but without any sense of obligation, and in fact it’s more of a collective expression of love; that is, we love you (plural)” I can think of worse ways than a loaf of homemade bread.


You don’t have to use words, or even make eye contact! What could be less awkward than that?

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Chocolate Beetroot Celebration Cake + chocolate dipped things

The cake part of this is Nigel Slater’s luscious chocolate beetroot cake from the Kitchen Diaries, which he serves with sour cream and poppyseeds, making it clear that it’s not a serving “suggestion”. The one time I encountered Nigel Slater in real life (at the butcher) I was exactly the too-eager, inept self we all hope not to be when we meet our heroes. To be exact, I announced breathlessly “I really like to both read and eat your recipes!!!” to which he responded, gravely, “Thank you.” I lingered just long enough for it to be awkward without saying anything else, then ran.

Anyway, I’ll never be able to face Nigel again, because rather than serving his cake with unsweeted Slavic accompaniments I’ve realised that a raspberry chocolate ganache filling and white chocolate icing (plus perhaps some chocolate covered strawberries) make it a perfect celebration cake.

Speaking of BBC talent in Islington, last summer I was on the same bus as Nick Robinson and called out to him from the top deck “You’re great on the Today Programme! Who’s going to win the Conservative leadership contest?” He called it right, incidentally.
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Healthy Pizza

Or, as per the message I sent to my vegetarian friend, “come round for dinner? I’ve made cauliflower pizza dough, so we can eat like hipsters”.

It might not quite be hipster pizza, because I forgot to put the kale on top, but I consider this relatively healthy pizza – with a thin wholewheat crust, half made up of vegetables, topped with reduced fat cheese and more vegetables (spoiler alert: heaps of vegetable ribbons, instead of tomato sauce), it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for a weeknight dinner.

Traditional pizza with asparagus, mozzarella and fresh basil

Healthier version: thin crust courgette pizza with aubergine, salami and reduced fat cheese

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Whole Wheat, No-knead, Sourdough Bread

This is real bread, not breadlike foodlike substance – just grains, water and salt in its simplest version. And lots of time. Bread isn’t great for a diet, I know that – but sourdough is lower GI than conventionally yeasted bread, longer fermentations like those in no-knead bread ease digestibility, and whole wheat provides fibre alongside the carbohydrates, lowering the GI further. By which I mean it’s probably as diet-friendly as it’s possible to be whilst still being bread, not broccoli or egg whites in disguise. Substituting 10% of the wheat flour for rye also makes it incrementally healthier! It took me many iterations to develop this formula and timings, based on the helpful recipes found online for white no-knead, whole wheat sourdough, and sourdough no-knead – but I couldn’t find a single recipe that combined all three – so here goes.

Having neglected my previous (highly-strung) sourdough starter to death, I wanted to try and develop a basic loaf that would fit in with our daily schedule and be as low GI as possible. This starter is based on Mike’s from Sourdough Home, and it’s wonderful – very stable and with a lovely rise. It was started on organic, stoneground rye but it’s now fed on plain white supermarket own-brand flour/filtered water and has a 100% hydration ratio (equal weights flour and water). His instructions and pictures are great, but the timings can vary depending on conditions – for example, in my cold February kitchen it took twice as long at each stage initially, 24 hours instead of 12 to see any activity. I gave some to a close friend who is a much better baker than I am, and we’ve both been baking with it for a few weeks very happily – so if you don’t fancy the one-week lead time or the faffing about, rather than making your own starter, see if you have a friend who can give you some of theirs. (maybe me!)

Bread and honey (2)

My friend came round for weekend breakfast – sourdough toast with butter, eggs and honey – she brought me some lovely green tea and I gave her a jam jar of starter to take home. The honey in the picture was a gift from the wonderful people at The Ledbury restaurant in West London, where the Husband took me for the best meal I’ve eaten in the UK.

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Healthy Banana Crumble

The essential elements of this pudding – bananas caramelised into toffeeish decadence, and a naturally sweet, buttery oat crumble – are gorgeous despite having not a single gram of refined sugar. Served with a touch of cool Greek yoghurt, or even some very cold cream, it is a gloriously satisfying low-GI dessert.

Banana crumble - sugar-free, dairy-free, wheat-free - yet delicious!

Banana crumble – sugar-free, dairy-free, wheat-free – yet delicious!

It’s been a great pudding for friends who come round, too (and the non-dieting husband) – a few extra elements mean that everyone can customise their pudding to their own specific dietary requirements, whether that’s minimum impact on blood sugar or maxmimum indulgence. I’m low GI but pretty relaxed about fat/protein, but someone limiting their fat intake might sprinkle on less crumble and have Greek yoghurt/ half-fat creme fraiche rather than cream. To cater for the other end of the spectrum, I’ll make a quick salted caramel sauce and heat up some custard (either tinned or homemade) and the building blocks are there for everyone to tailor their own dessert – from dairy-free and sugar-free dessert to banoffee crumble with lashings of custard.

add a layer of salted caramel sauce to make Banoffee Crumble

add a layer of salted caramel sauce to make Banoffee Crumble

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Mozzarella Garlic Bread

A particularly bouncy, airy bread; edges crisped and burnished with garlic butter and topped with strings of melted cheese. What could be more welcoming than a huge pan of fragrant bread, brought out of the oven as guests arrive? and Well, perhaps a tidy house. No matter. People who come round to our house generously describe it as having a “relaxed atmosphere”, and assure me that they feel more at home because I didn’t go to the effort of tidying up. What they don’t realise is that I actually did…

Cheesy Garlic Bread

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The Fat Duck’s Black Forest Cake

A seven-layer chocolate-cherry extravaganza combining juicy cherries, velvety ganache, dense chocolate cake, airy mousse…I could go on. Respectfully ripped off from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook, even my pragmatically streamlined version of the recipe takes most of a day to make, but behold: The Lazy Duck’s Black Forest Cake.

Black Forest Cake

Hopefully you can see the layers, which are (from top to bottom):

1. Dark chocolate-cherry ganache icing – originally chocolate mousse and chocolate spraypaint
2. Cherry ripple vanilla mousse – originally kirsch mousse
3. Flourless chocolate cake
4. Morello cherries (from a jar) – in the original, fresh cherries soaked in kirsch
5. (layered with) Dark chocolate ganache
6. Whipped milk chocolate ganache – aerated chocolate in the original
7. Honey madeleine

[two months later as I write this post, I’ve realised that the flourless chocolate cake layer was in the wrong position – it should have been layer 3., (in between the cherry/ganache layer and the cherry jam vanilla mousse) – so the instructions below in terms of assembly are for what I should have done, rather than what I actually did]

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