Sweet sweet Friday: Sticky Buns

It never fails to surprise me when I see people having leisurely breakfasts in cafes on weekday mornings. Do they not have jobs to get to? Or children to wrangle? Leisurely breakfasts are a thing of the distant past in our house, so I try to make up for it by occasionally having two breakfasts on weekend mornings. These chocolate and hazelnut-filled sticky buns, which I made last Sunday with this month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge in mind, would be just the ticket.

Sticky Buns

Claire’s original recipe uses a rich mixture of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins in the filling, but I had some incredible hazelnut spread (made in Blenheim, by Uncle Joe’s Nuts) lurking in the cupboard that I’d been dying to use. Mixing it with some smashed dark chocolate turned it into a kind of extra posh Nutella. You may think the icing is over-egging the pudding, to mix food metaphors, but it makes it even more luxurious. If you can’t find this spread, try the best hazelnut butter you can buy. Or, use more butter and sprinkle it with ground hazelnuts. Or just use Nutella, I guess. I invited a friend around to share these with us and was actually glad when they couldn’t make it, they’re that good.

250ml lukewarm milk (around 40C)

2tsp dried yeast

1Tbsp brown sugar

2 egg yolks

50g butter, melted

600g strong white flour

1tsp salt


50g very soft butter

100g hazelnut butter

100g dark chocolate, smashed into little bits


1Tbsp melted butter
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups icing sugar
Hot water – from a kettle – to mix

Put the warm milk into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your freestanding mixer) and whisk in the sugar and yeast. Leave to activate (froth) for 5-10 minutes, then add the melted butter and egg yolks. Stir in the flour and salt to form a dough, then either knead by hand for about 10 minutes, or in the mixer with the dough hook for about five minutes, until you have a smooth, springy dough.
Return to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then leave in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).
Knock down and press out with your fingers until you have a large sheet of dough. Mix the butters together and slather on top, then sprinkle with the smashed chocolate. Roll up tightly, as if making a swiss roll, then cut into 3cm slices. Place into a large, well-greased roasting dish or cake tin, allowing about 2cm between them. Cover with plastic and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C. When the buns have risen, bake for 10 minutes, then cover loosely with foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until they are well-risen and golden.
While they are cooking, mix the icing ingredients together, adding hot water until you get a reasonably runny consistency. When the buns are done, slide them onto a rack and liberally drizzle with icing. Makes about a dozen. If you can resist eating them all in one go, they can be frozen.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday and a great weekend everyone x

Impromptu salad

Do you ever look in your fridge and think, “damn, where has that bag of salad leaves/head of broccoli/bottle of wine gone?” I do, frequently. Which is why, the other night, I bravely went out into the garden in search of Something Green To Have With Dinner. Our miniature vegetable patch has suffered much neglect over the winter months and even the spinach, which now looks like something from The Day of the Triffids, is beyond use.
But amazingly, the parsley has taken off in great leaps and bounds while I wasn’t watching, and I now have a huge patch of it to pick from. There’s also mint growing in the middle of the lawn, but that’s another story.

Impromptu Salad
No matter how lean things get in the rest of the cupboards, we always, or nearly always, have olives and red onions. A splash of vinegar, some capers, handfuls of parsley and voila, an impromptu salad to have with deep-fried whitebait and chips. Stir some drained, rinsed chickpeas through this salad mix and you also have something to take to work for lunch the next day. Oh, hang on, where are the chickpeas…?

1 red onion, finely sliced into half moons
3Tbsp red wine vinegar
2Tbsp salted capers, rinsed
a handful or two of black olives, pitted
lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley – three or four big handfuls, perhaps?
extra virgin olive oil

Put the onion in a heatproof bowl and pour over some boiling water. Drain immediately. Transfer the onion to a salad bowl and pour over the vinegar. Stir and leave to macerate for at least 20 minutes. Add the other ingredients and toss gently. Add a splash of good extra virgin olive oil and taste for seasoning – it should be refreshingly sharp, but not so much that your throat burns. Serves four as a little salad or add a can of chickpeas and it’s lunch for two.

Invalid’s benefit

The Small Girl is ill. Not life-threateningly sick, just miserable, out of sorts, not wanting to eat anything sick. For a child who loves to eat, this is a bad sign. In the weekend I tried to atone for all my bad mothering by making her a sort of invalid’s pudding, the sort of thing that Nanny would  take up on a tray in books. She turned it down flat. So after putting her to bed I lay on the sofa with a cold cloth on my forehead, gobbled up every last bit and felt much better.

Caramel Pudding
I made this completely by memory – having a vague recollection of reading about it in an Alison Holst cookbook for toddlers that I picked up in a charity shop (and then, with great strength, put down again). There’s something similar, which is hailed as a great restorative for the infirm, in the Edmonds’ Cookbook. It’s a bit like a very thick custard. I wouldn’t serve it at a posh dinner party, but there’s something weirdly addictive about it (imagine eating cake mixture and you’re on the right track).

50g butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1tsp proper vanilla
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk (not skinny milk,  thanks)
walnuts (optional)

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (you can do this in the mini bowl of your processor if you’re a slack mummy like me). Pulse or stir in the lightly beaten egg, vanilla and flour. Put this mixture in a small saucepan and gradually add the milk, stirring constantly over a low heat until it thickens. Don’t let it get too thick or you’ll end up with glue. Pour into four ramekins and top with walnut halves if desired. Chill until set.

Do you have a favourite morsel to tempt your kids back into eating when they’re ill?

Random Recipe #9: Fear of frying

Oy vey, this months’ Random Recipes challenge really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Not only did I have to let some strange man rifle through my cookbooks, but then I had to confront a life-long fear of deep-frying.

Let me explain. The strange man was Gary from Exploits of a Food Nut. I met him on the internet – you know how it is these days. Anyway, as per Dom’s instructions, I had to choose a recipe at random from Gary’s cookbook collection, and he got to do the same with mine, even though we live some 12,000 miles apart. Thanks to Twitter, that part was easy – Gary got James Martin’s My Kitchen and I got New Pleasures of the Jewish Table by Denise Phillips.
The hard part was realising I was going to have to heat a litre of oil to 200C on my stove top. I’m not sure why I’ve got such a deep-seated fear of frying. I think it might have something to do with being at primary school, when one of my classmates, who was pretty and clever and fantastic at athletics, came back from a long absence with a protective bandage covering her lower leg. She never talked about it and we weren’t supposed to either, but it had something to do with boiling oil and a fire. She later went well off the rails and last I heard she was in jail for GBH after beating up an old lady for her handbag, but that’s another story. This one has a much happier ending, even though I was so overcome with the process that I forgot to photograph the end result.

Egyptian Fish Balls with Tomato Sauce
I can’t recall how I came to have a copy of New Pleasures of the Jewish Table, nor do I remember ever making anything out of it. It’s a great little book though, full of socio-cultural food history (and good recipes). It’s a bit short on deep-frying advice, but I rolled my sleeves down, banished the Small Girl to watch rugby with her father and got on with proceedings. Fear factor (and a few dishes) aside, this is a great, family-friendly dinner. Make the tomato sauce first so you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

The fish balls:
700g white fish (I used alfonsino, Denise suggests bream, haddock or cod)
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic
zest of one lemon
handful of fresh parsley
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp salt
3Tbsp matzo meal (I whizzed up a few crackers in the processor instead)
1 egg, lightly beaten
plain flour, for dusting

The tomato sauce:
2Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2Tbsp tomato puree
120ml red wine
450ml vegetable stock (or water)

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pot and saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 30 minutes. Set aside while you get on with the fish balls.

For the fish balls: Put the onions, garlic, lemon zest and parsley in the processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add the salt, cumin and fish and whizz again to form a smooth mixture. Tip into a bowl and mix through the matzoh crumbs and beaten egg. Dust a couple of plates with flour. With wet hands, take tablespoon-sized amounts of the fish and roll into balls, then place on the floured plates.

To deep-fry, heat one litre of vegetable oil in a deepfryer or in a deep, heavy bottomed pot. Heat to about 200C and fry the balls in batches (about five at a time should do it) until golden brown. When they’re cooked, add to the tomato sauce and heat through gently for about 10 minutes.
Serves 4-6 with rice, couscous or bread and salad.

Now, can anyone tell me what to do with the used oil? Can I pour it down the sink?

One plain, one fancy

Our lovely French houseguest has gone, leaving us with promises to meet again and the world’s biggest pile of biscuits and chocolates. I get a shock every time I open the pantry.

Among the haul is a tin of assorted biscuits, similar to the Sampler tins we used to get at Christmas. We never had bought biscuits when I was a child and these were a special festive treat. But they came with rules: whenever the tin was opened I remember someone (Mum?) reciting the mantra: “one plain, one fancy”. Shortbread, Dundee biscuits (the round ones with sugar crystals on top) and Krispies were most definitely in the ‘plain’ camp, while pink wafers, custard creams and anything chocolate were ‘fancy’. I think this rule was invented to stop us eating all the good ones first – there was nothing more disappointing than prising open the lid to find there were only boring ones left.

I thought everyone’s family obeyed these sorts of rules, then I met the Boy Wonder, whose family operate under the assumption that if you don’t eat all the good ones first, someone else will beat you to it. It’s just as well we don’t have bought biscuits very often or there would be (even more) robust debate in our house.

Do you have ‘rules’ about biscuits? What do you judge as ‘plain’ and ‘fancy’?