"A comfort blanket in a bowl": three recipes for dal

Next week marks the first British Dal Festival, which this year is taking place in my home city of Bristol. Surely there couldn't be a clearer prompt to write a little about one of my favourite dishes and share some of my favourite recipes with you?

If dal (dahl, dhal?) was a person, they would inspire severe envy. They’d be clever, funny, beautiful, rich, sociable, hardworking - and so nice that you couldn't even dislike them. Because dal, in its various guises, really does have it all. It’s delicious and luxurious, yet also easy and cheap to make, very nutritious and incredibly versatile. You can eat it as a soup with a hunk of bread, serve it as a side dish to a curry, or dress it up as the main event with extra toppings, condiments and rice or chapattis. It's also welcome at any time of year.  As Felicity Cloake observes, “the fresh, sharp spices and clean herbs work as well on a cooling summer evening as a dark winter's night.”  

Little wonder, then, that dal has become a staple dinner in my home. For me, dal in any form is pure comfort. It’s a bowl of deep flavours that I can wallow in, with a gentle, creamy texture that soothes and satisfies. And I’m not the only one - I’ve spoken to many others, from different backgrounds and with different tastes, who regularly cook dal. It seems that this dish, or rather the array of dal dishes from across the Indian subcontinent, have become beloved by many communities living in Britain.

I’ve eaten dals made with different pulses, cooked in different ways and served with different toppings, yet I've not even scratched the myriad surface of this dish. However, I’ve shared three firm favourites with you below to get you started on your dal addiction:

 

The showstopper: Dhal with crispy sweet potato and quick coconut chutney (Anna Jones)

This recipe is available in A Modern Way to Eat and online via Anna's website.

If you're looking for a dal to turn heads, look no further than this one from Anna Jones. I’m not surprised that it has become one of her most popular dishes. Whilst the spiced, spinach-swirled dal is delicious by itself, it is the topping of roasted sweet potatoes and bright coconut chutney that elevates it to the realm of a showstopper. It looks pretty gorgeous, too. This is the dal to serve to your friends when you’re looking to impress. (Pictured below with a 'rustic' homemade chapatti).

Anna Jones dal with sweet potato and coconut chutney

 

The weekday workhorse: Lentil, tomato and coconut dahl (Elly Curshen)

All four variations of this recipe are available in Let's Eat; the version with tofu, avocado and pickles is available online via The Pool.

Make a batch of Elly Curshen’s dal and you’ll have six portions ready to grab from the freezer when you need a quick dinner.  Elly isn’t constrained by ‘authenticity’ and plays with her dal for delicious effect, suggesting three different toppings and a fourth option that transforms the dal into a soup. I can confirm that all variations are excellent, and can even be mixed-and-matched to keep things interesting. My favourite suggested toppings include crispy seared tofu or a soft-boiled egg, the yolk bleeding deep yellow into the red-gold dal. (Pictured below with 6-minute egg, wilted greens and breadcrumbs.)

Eleanor Curshen's lentil, tomato and coconut dahl

 

The taste of home: Gujarati dal with peanuts and star anise (Meera Sodha)

This recipe is available in Fresh India or online via the The Happy Foodie.

This dish can be eaten as a side dish, but it is delicious in its own right owing to its layers of robust flavour: the fragrance of star anise and curry leaves, the spike of lemon offset by the sweetness of honey, the crunch of toasted peanuts. “This dal is my and every other Gujarati’s taste of home,” Meera Sodha says in the introduction to the recipe. It’s been made so often in our household that, for me too, it now feels like the ultimate, homely meal. A comfort blanket in a bowl, if you will. (Pictured below with brown basmati rice and peanuts, and awaiting a swirl of yogurt.)

Meera Sodha's Gujurati dal with peanuts and star anise

Mince Pie Porridge recipe

This recipe brings together two of my favourite warming winter foods: porridge and mince pies. The combination came about quite by accident when, whilst making breakfast one morning, my eyes fell upon a leftover half-jar of mincemeat in the fridge. I've added a little extra fruit to freshen it up, but it definitely still has all the joy of eating pudding for breakfast. (Last year, I even swapped the almonds listed below for some mince pie pastry that was going spare, and I bet a little shortbread crumbled over would also be delicious!)

Serves 2, or scale up the recipe as required. 

Mince pie porridge

 

Ingredients

For the topping:

  • ½ clementine or satsuma
  • ¼ apple
  • 2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of mincemeat
  • 1 tablespoon of flaked almonds (or some crumbled pastry or shortbread!)

For the porridge:

  • 1 cup* of oats, approximately 100g
  • 1 cup milk, approximately 250ml 
  • 1 cup water, approximately 250ml 
  • Zest of one clementine (you can use the same clementine as above)
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • A few drops of vanilla extract 

*Use the same cup to measure out the oats, milk and water. As long as you have equal parts of each, the consistency should be right. 

 

Method

  • Toast the flaked almonds in a small pan set over a low heat. Watch them carefully and, as soon as they start turning golden brown, remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Gently grate the peel of the satsuma using the finest side of your grater. Set the peel aside for the porridge. Dice the satsuma and apple into small squares. 
  • Add the diced fruit to a small pan with the sugar and three tablespoons of water, then set over a low heat. Cook gently for a couple of minutes until the fruit is starting to soften. Add the mincemeat to the mixture and continue to cook for another couple of minutes until warmed through. Set aside. 
  • In another pan, add all the ingredients for the porridge. Cook over a low heat, stirring often, until it reaches the consistency of your liking. If it gets a bit 'claggy' before the oats are fully cooked, add a splash more water and continue cooking.
  • When the porridge is almost ready, pop the fruit and mincemeat mixture back over a low heat for a minute to warm through.
  • Serve the porridge in bowls, topped with a swirl of Greek yogurt, the fruit mixture and the flaked almonds. Pour over any residual liquid in the fruit pan and, if you have a really sweet tooth, add a dusting of light brown sugar.

Grapefruit, coconut and cardamom porridge

A bowl of porridge is traditionally seen as comfort on a cold morning, but its cosiness doesn’t mean it can’t also be fresh and bright. Here, the brightness comes from citrus fruit and the exotic notes of coconut and cardamom. This is one of my favourite winter breakfasts at the moment. 

Serves 2.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 mug oats (about 120g)
  • 1 mug water
  • 1 mug milk 
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon desiccated coconut
  • Natural yogurt (or plain yogurt of your choice), to serve
  • Brown sugar, to serve

 

Method

  1. In a small pan, toast your desiccated coconut until it starts to turn golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Peel and slice your grapefruit. Set three quarters of the slices aside. Finely chop the other quarter of the slices and add them, along with the juices they will release, to the small pan.
  3. Add the oats, water, milk, coconut oil and ground cardamom to the pan. Bring to a simmer and stir regularly until the porridge has reached a thick, creamy consistency.
  4. Pour the porridge into two bowls, top with a swirl of natural yogurt, the grapefruit slices, the toasted desiccated coconut and brown sugar, to taste.
Grapefruit, coconut & cardamom porridge

Gin and Grapefruit Drizzle Cake

Any child of my mother must appreciate homemade baking and a good gin and tonic - marmite, too, for that matter. In this recipe, I bring together the baking and the gin (not, you’ll be relieved to hear, the marmite) with grapefruit to create a soft, fat-crumbed drizzle cake. Like the best drizzle cakes, it has a thick sugar crust, which reminds me of the deep layer of sugar that, as children, we spread on grapefruit halves, before leaving overnight to sweeten and soften for breakfast.

I think that the first crunch of sugar, followed by the bright citrus and the mellow hit of booze, could cheer even the darkest winter day. The flavour is gentle and, despite the sugar coat, not too sweet, so it can be eaten as happily at 11am with a cup of coffee, as it can at 5pm with a cup of tea. With a spoonful of fruit compote and another of creme fraiche, it also makes a simple dessert - perhaps enjoyed with a G&T.

 

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 9oz (225g) self-raising flour
  • 6oz (170g) caster sugar
  • 6oz (170g) unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten 
  • Grated zest of one grapefruit
  • 50ml gin
  • 50ml grapefruit juice

For the topping:

  • 5oz (140g) granulated sugar
  • 100 ml grapefruit juice (about 1/2 a grapefruit)
  • 50ml gin
  • 50ml tonic

 

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180c. Grease and line a loaf tin, leaving the baking parchment coming up and over the long edges of the tin to help you take out the cake later. 
  • Beat together the sugar and butter until pale and creamy. Add in the grapefruit zest and beat for another 30 seconds until it is well incorporated. 
  • In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs with a fork. Then add to the cake mixture and beat until frothy and full of air. 
  • Sieve the flour on to the cake mixture and gently fold it in with a large metal spoon.
  • Combine the gin and grapefruit juice and, a little at a time, fold it into the mixture. It looks like a lot of liquid, but I promise it will incorporate. 
  • Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly and the top is golden and springs back when pressed gently. 
  • Whilst the cake is baking, place the gin, tonic and grapefruit juice in a small saucepan with a spoonful of the granulated sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir for one minute until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  • When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and leave to rest for a few minutes
  • While the cake is still warm, prick holes in the top with a fork, sprinkle half the granulated sugar evenly over the cake and gradually spoon over half liquid slowly until absorbed. Repeat with the other half of the sugar and the liquid. Scoop any sugar that runs off the edges back on top of the cake. Again, it looks like a lot of liquid, but it will be absorbed and give a nice, moist texture. 
  • Use the edges of baking parchment to gently lift the loaf out of the tin and onto a cooling rack.
  • If you want the top to be very crusty, sprinkle on a little extra granulated sugar.
Gin and grapefruit cake

Alice's Foolproof Flapjacks

World's best flapjacks

This recipe was first shared on British Corner Shop's blog.

My sister, Alice, has much to teach me - she is collected, self-effacing and keeps her own counsel; she is conscientious, hard-working and a great cook. Although I can’t pretend to possess her composure (I’m far too prone to blurt out the first thing that comes into my head), I hope I’ve picked up her work ethic and do pretty well with the cooking, too. When Alice cooks, it isn’t often complex or elaborate, it’s just food you really want to eat.

Her flapjacks are a great example. They are straightforward to make, yet they’re also among the recipes for which I consistently receive the most compliments. By the time a recipient’s teeth have sunk from the caramel-crisp edges to the soft, buttery centre, they’re sure to have grown a smile - often followed up by a request for the recipe. I don’t blame them - I, for one, think this recipe can’t be equalled, especially if Alice makes it. 

Elaborate iced cakes are great sometimes, but this salute to the power of just sugar, butter and oats should become a regular in your baking repertoire. 

 

 

Alice's flapjack recipe

 

Ingredients

  • 4oz brown sugar - either soft brown or demerara work 
  • 6oz butter, cut into cubes
  • 8oz chunky oats
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • Olive oil
  • 1 standard round cake tin, approx. 18cm in diameter 

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160c. Grease a round baking tin with olive oil and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan set over a low heat.
  3. When the butter is melted, add the sugar and golden syrup and stir until the mixture is smooth and even.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats.
  5. It should be just right, but if the mixture looks too wet, add in more oats; if the mixture looks to dry, add in more syrup.
  6. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes until golden brown. (Tip: ovens vary, so check after 10 minutes to see if it is done and if any oats are leaking across the edge, scrape them back into the tin.)
  7. Remove and score into 8 pieces with a knife. Leave in the tin to cool for 15-20 minutes. 
  8. Turn out onto a chopping board and leave to go cool completely before cutting into 8 pieces - if you try to cut it too soon, it will crumble!

Courgette recipes: from one vegetable, a week of good eating

Courgette. Glut. If we played a word association game, surely these two would appear together? The summer season is upon us, when gardeners must harvest their courgettes several times a week for the plants to remain productive. It’s a time of year when, for courgette growers, every meal has courgettes on the side and every friend receives a courgette delivery. 

Yet one man’s glut is another’s gift. I adore these dark green vegetables, speckled with paler spots and suffused with a delicate flavour. They are delicious eaten simply - thinly sliced or peeled into strips and dressed in oil as part of a salad, with a grain and mild cheese. Yet they are also very versatile and can be used to add softness, both of flavour and texture, to many more complex dishes. 

However, much as I like courgettes, when my partner's grandparents sent us no less than twelve one Sunday, I struggled to think of ways to keep them interesting over the course several meals. I turned to my favourite food writers and my own back-catalogue for inspiration. And so, from one type of vegetable, I created a week's worth of meals - as well as leftovers for lunches and a cake for elevenses or afternoon tea. 

 

Courgette kofta (Meera Sodha)

A fresh, summery curry. Lightly spiced courgette kofta bask in the warmth of the ginger and tomato sauce. Leftover kofta are great wrapped in a flatbread, with a little of the tomato sauce, a swish of yogurt and some crunchy greens. The recipe is available in Fresh India. 

Courgette kofta (Meera Sodha)

 

Courgette carbonara (Rachel Roddy or Diana Henry) 

This dish has all the creaminess of carbonara, but is lighter and fresher. The mild sweetness of the courgettes works particularly well to counterbalance the rich egg and the saltiness of cheese. Rachel's recipe is available in Five Quarters or online here; Diana's recipe is available in Simple. 

Courgette carbonara (Diana Henry/Rachel Roddy)

 

Courgette, pepper and chickpea stew (Nigel Slater) 

A great weeknight dinner or packed lunch. Follow Nigel's tip to add capers, balsamic and/or herbs to intensify the juices. I eat it with a grain, such as couscous, or with a hunk of good bread to soak up the juices. I gave this recipe to a colleague last year, who recently told me that she now cooks it almost weekly - a testament to the tastiness and ease of this quick meal. The recipe is available in A Year of Good Eating or online here

Courgette, red pepper, chickpea stew (Nigel Slater)

 

Griddle courgette, burrata, fregola

This dish is quick to prepare, but still offers waves of soft, summery flavours. Courgettes, fried in oil until golden and almost collapsing, are layered with chunky fregola (I used Israeli couscous), basil and strips of creamy, milky burrata curds. A squeeze of lemon and a little more oil complete the dish. It's light, bright meal designed for warm days. The recipe is available in Simple or online here.

Griddled courgette (Diana Henry)

 

Courgette fritters (Me) 

The crisp, golden shell of these fritters conceals a soft, squidgy centre, with the grated courgette keeping them moist and light. Try them stuffed into a pitta, with a herby yogurt dressing, salty feta and crisp salad. Leftovers will make a very fine packed lunch. Get the recipe here.

Courgette and lentil fritters

 

Stuffed courgettes (Honey & Co) 

Here, courgettes are stuffed with risotto rice, covered with foil, and steamed in the oven. Once it's in the oven, you can get on with other tasks for an hour (remembering to check and baste once), before returning to reveal the finished article. It's a gentle, fragrant dish suffused with warm spices, fresh herbs, and sweet bursts from currants and tomatoes - all lifted by the bright, clean notes of lemon. The recipe is available in Honey & Co: The Cookbook.

Baked courgettes and lemon rice (Honey & Co)

Baked pasta with ricotta, courgette and broad beans (Rachel Roddy) 

If you didn’t think it was possible to create a light, summery pasta bake, think again. Huge shells of pasta are stuffed with mild, lemon-flecked ricotta and soft green vegetables, before being bound together with béchamel. Supple strips of courgette wind around the pasta and seal in the moisture. A dish that it so delicious and comforting it will win over any friend, family member or guest. The recipe is available online here.

Baked pasta with ricotta and spring veg (Rachel Roddy)

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake  

If courgette in a cake sounds strange, think of the ubiquitous (and delicious) carrot cake or chocolate beetroot cake. The courgettes lend moisture and a delicate, nutty flavour, but don’t affect the texture. This recipe brings together my own ideas with inspiration from some of my favourite cooks - Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater and Mary Berry - to create a spectacular summer cake. Get the recipe here.

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake

Layered lunches: planning ahead for a week of good eating

Lentil fritters 2
Bulgar wheat salad 1

We often struggle to recognise our own strengths, but one of mine is organisation. Sometimes it feels more of a weakness - for instance, if a friend changes plans at the last minute, my organised mind struggles to adjust. But most of the time, organisation plays to my advantage. Never more so than in the preparation of packed lunches, which have often been the envy of my colleagues.

I am frequently asked how I put together my packed lunches and the secret is layering. I batch cook different layers - a base, vegetable, topping and dressing - and store them in the fridge, ready to be thrown together each day. Below are two of my favourite layered lunches, including seasonal suggestions for the vegetable 'layer' to see you through the year. 

With just a little preparation at the beginning of the week, you can feel smug about your delicious lunch as others resort to a sad supermarket sandwich. These days, I’m feeling even more smug as I transport my lunches in the new, sustainable bamboo lunch boxes from Leon (pictured below). 

*These recipes make enough for four portions, after which the food won’t keep well. When Friday comes around, I like to treat myself to lunch from a local food stall or cafe.*


Lentil and veg fritters, feta, herby lime yogurt

These fritters have recently been a staple on our table. Light, gently spiced, with a crisp shell that gives way to a squidge in the centre, they never fail to please. They are perfect stuffed into a pitta with salty feta, crunchy salad leaves and a bright yogurt dressing.  Makes around 12 fritters (enough for 3 per day). 

Base:

  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tin green or brown lentils
  • 1 egg
  • 20g dill
  • 20g parsley
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Vegetable:

  • 250g courgettes (1-2 medium courgettes)
  • 100g broad beans

Topping:

  • Feta (or another soft cheese, such as goat’s cheese or ricotta)
  • Pittas
  • Lettuce (optional)

Dressing:

  • 100g plain Greek yogurt 
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp cumin, toasted
  • Drop of honey
  • 2 tsp each of dill and parsley (set aside from the base ingredients)
  1. Grate the courgettes and place them in a sieve over the sink while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a large frying pan set over a low-medium heat. Once warm, gently cook the red onion for 10 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the spices and fry for a further minute. Remove from the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the broad beans for 3 minutes, drain and, once cool, slip the beans from their skin. Finely chop the dill and parsley. Set 2 tsp of each aside in a small bowl for the dressing.
  4. Add the lentils, breadcrumbs and beaten egg to a food processor and blend until just mixed. Add the onion mix and pulse until it is incorporated. Tip into a bowl and fold through the herbs, courgette and broad beans. Season to taste and stir. 
  5. Wipe the frying pan clean. (Now is a good time to toast the cumin for the dressing, then set aside in the bowl with the herbs). 
  6. Put a thin layer of olive oil in a pan set over a medium-high heat. When hot, use two tablespoons to scoop small mounds of the mixture into the pan, flattening slightly. Fry for 4 minutes on each side or until golden. You will need to fry them in two or three batches depending on the size of your pan.
  7. Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients in a small bowl, including the herbs that you set aside earlier.
  8. Once cooled, place the fritters and the dressing into separate containers and store in the fridge until ready to use. 

To assemble: If warming the fritters, re-heat in a pan or under the grill so they stay crispy. Warm your pitta in the oven or a toaster. Stuff with the fritters, feta and lettuce, and drizzle with a generous spoonful of the dressing. 


Seasonal vegetable variations:

Winter: 

  • Cauliflower (cut into small florets; boil until al dente or roast in a little oil until golden) 
  • Kale or cabbage (thinly shredded and steamed or boiled)

Spring: 

  • Broccoli (cut into small florets, boiled or steamed until al dente) 
  • Spring greens (shred finely, steam until wilted or fry gently in a little oil until wilted)

Summer (as above): 

  • Courgettes (grated)
  • Broad beans (boiled and shelled)

 

Autumn: 

  • Roasted squash (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Leeks (thinly slice, gently fry in a little oil until golden)
Lentil fritters 3
Lentil fritters 1

Bulgar wheat salad, goat’s cheese, lemon and pomegranate dressing

This bulgar wheat salad is a lighter, more sprightly option for lunch. The nutty grain is suffused with the juice from the roasted vegetables and the sharp-sweet dressing. Its especially good with goat’s cheese - or any soft cheese - crumbled on top to turn it into a fuller, more balanced meal. 

Base: 

  • 240g bulgar wheat (other grains also work well - couscous, quinoa, farro, pearl barley and brown rice. Adjust cooking times according to the packet instructions)
  • 20g flat leaf parsley

Vegetable:

  • 450g courgettes (2-3 medium courgettes)
  • 400g ripe cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli flakes

Dressing:

  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
  • Salt and pepper 

Topping:

  • Goat’s cheese (or another soft cheese, such as ricotta or feta)
  • Little gem lettuce (optional)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Slice the courgette into 1cm coins and place on a baking tray with the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, season well with salt, pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the courgettes are golden brown and the tomatoes are bursting. 
  3. While the vegetables are roasting, place the bulgar wheat into a small pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, until it is just tender. Drain and leave to cool, before gently using a fork to mix through the flat leaf parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little olive oil.
  4. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and pour into a jam jar or small pot. 
  5. Once cooled, place each element - the bulgar wheat, roasted vegetables and dressing - into a separate container and store into the fridge until ready to use.

 

To assemble: Whisk the dressing with a fork if separated slightly.  Take one quarter of the bulgar wheat and vegetables. Drizzle with a spoonful or two of dressing and mix gently. Lay the bulgar salad on a bed of lettuce (optional). Crumble over the goat’s cheese.


Seasonal vegetable variations:

Winter: 

  • Root vegetables (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Kale or cabbage (shred finely, steam until wilted or toss in oil and add to the root vegetables for the last 10 minutes)

Spring: 

  • Asparagus or purple sprouting broccoli (steamed or boiled until al dente)
  • Peas (fresh or frozen, boiled according to the packet instructions)

Summer (as above): 

  • Courgettes (sliced, roasted in olive oil until golden)
  • Tomatoes (roasted in olive oil until bursting)

 

Autumn: 

  • Roasted squash (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Mushrooms (slice, sauté in a little oil until the water has evaporated and they are golden)
Bulgar wheat salad 2

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake

Recipes are rarely unique to the writer. They have a provenance in the cultures and the people that we encounter. My recipes develop organically as I find inspiration around me. Perhaps I will adapt a method suggested in a cookbook with a flavour combination found via a friend, a food writer or a famous chef. 

This cake is a fantastic example of the complementary process of recipe development: a sponge adapted from Nigella comes together with a lemon curd from Nigel and mascarpone icing from Mary, with decorative pieces modified from BBC Good Food. Separately, each of these elements are good in their own right (I would eat the lemon curd straight from the jar). Together, though, they make the most glorious summertime cake.

The light, syrup-soaked sponge reveals rather beautiful green speckles when it is sliced. Don’t be put off by the vegetables - courgette and cake make wonderful bedfellows. You can’t taste the courgettes, but they add moisture and a delicate sweetness. I’ve added just a little sugar to the mascarpone icing, so it is not too heavy and balances the richness of the luscious, sharp-sweet curd. To take a bite of this cake is, for me, to taste sunshine. 

You can make most elements of this cake ahead. The lemon curd can be made up to a week or two in advance; the meringues, lemon slices, icing and even the sponge can be made the day before eating. On the day, you can just assemble, decorate and serve with fresh summer berries. If there's any leftover after the first (and second) helping, store in the fridge because the icing and curd can run in the heat.

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake (1)

 

Ingredients

Lemon curd

  • Zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 eggs

Mini meringues (optional)

  • 1 large egg white
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 25g icing sugar

Candied lemon

  • 100g golden or plain caster sugar
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, thinly sliced into rounds

Courgette sponge

  • 250g courgettes (1 large courgette), weighed before grating
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Mascarpone icing

  • 250g mascarpone cheese
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
  • Fresh berries, to decorate and serve

 

Method

Lemon curd (can be made in advance)

  1. Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and cubes of butter into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water - make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir with a whisk until the butter has melted. 
  2. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook, stirring regularly, for ten minutes, until it is thick and feels heavy on the whisk. Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools.
  3. If it develops some lumps from the cooked egg white, you can strain through a sieve. Pour into sterilised jars and seal. If will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, but I never find lemon curd lasts that long!

Mini-meringues (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 100°C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment.
  2. Beat the egg white in a clean mixing bowl with an electric whisk until the mixture stands up in stiff peaks. Turn up the speed and add the caster sugar a little at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture should look thick and glossy.
  3. Sift the icing sugar over the mixture and fold in with a big metal spoon. 
  4. With two teaspoons, scoop up a heap of mixture with one spoon and use the other to ease a small swirl onto the baking sheet. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up.
  5. Bake for 1-1  1⁄2 hours until the meringues are a pale golden colour and crisp underneath. 

Candied lemon and lemon syrup

  1. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring the syrup to the boil, drop in the lemon slices and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Carefully remove the slices from the syrup and place on a piece of baking parchment to dry. They will remain a little sticky, so if you want them to dry fully, place them on a tray lined with baking parchment and bake in the oven at a low heat (around 40-50°C) for 30 minutes.
  3. Set aside the remaining syrup.

Sponge cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Wipe the courgettes with a kitchen towel (don’t peel them) and grate using the course side of a box grater. If you grate them too finely, they will turn to mush. Place them in a sieve over the sink to let any excess water drain.
  3. Put the eggs, oil and sugar in a large bowl and beat until creamy. Sieve in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Fold in the grated courgette with a large metal spoon.
  4. Pour the mixture into the tins and bake for 30 minutes, checking after 20-25 minutes. They should be golden brown and firm to the touch - a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack.  
  5. Whilst the cakes are still warm, lightly pierce the top of each sponge with a fork and brush over a few spoonfuls of the lemon syrup. Leave to cool.

Mascarpone icing

  1. While the cakes are cooling, make your mascarpone icing. Beat the mascarpone in a small bowl with the sieved icing sugar and the vanilla extract, until the sugar is just incorporated and the icing is thick. Be careful not to beat too much, or the mixture may split. 

Assembly

  1. To assemble, spread half of the mascarpone icing on one sponge and decorate with your mini meringues, lemon slices and fresh berries. Fresh flowers are also nice for decoration, but make sure you check first which ones are safe to use. 
  2. Put the other sponge on a plate and spread with the remaining mascarpone icing, followed by a layer of lemon curd. Gently lift up the first sponge and place on top. 
  3. Serve with leftover berries and a big smile.

 

Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake (2)
Courgette, lemon and mascarpone cake (3)

Recipe for a positive morning routine (inc. peach, almond & cardamom bircher)

I am a morning person. Sometimes this is a source of frustration, because I am a bad sleeper and often wake early, unable to return to slumber. Yet, mostly, I relish the early hours. My head is clearest, my ideas are brightest and my heart most hopeful in the morning.

That time before the late risers appear feels precious, almost stolen. As if I’ve somehow added some secret extra hours to my day. Perhaps I’ve braved the rain or discovered the sun on a jog, made headway on a work project or cooked a great breakfast. I’m aware that all this may change if and when I have children, but for now I savour the luxury of those calm early moments to myself.

Whether or not you’re a morning person, getting into a routine when you wake up can set you on the right course for a productive day. These are my four essentials for a positive start to the morning. Except at the weekend, of course, when I hope to be found lounging in bed with a cup of tea and a good book. 

Morning routine

Move: Head out on a run, walk round the block or follow a yoga video. I find taking some exercise first thing awakens not only my body, but also my mind. As I work my muscles, I also work through the night time’s worries or sort out plans for the day ahead. If you have a garden or can get to some nearby green space, even better. There’s nothing as restorative as the sight of green leaves against blue skies and the sounds of water flowing or birds singing. 

Hydrate: Swap your first cup of tea for a more hydrating drink, particularly if you have taken some early exercise. My favourite morning brew is hot water with fresh ginger, lemon and a squeeze of honey. The rousing kick of ginger and the zing of lemon are soothed by the sweet honey, which makes this drink a gentle wake up call each day. 

Nourish: There are plenty of studies that demonstrate the importance of a good breakfast, so I’ll leave the science to them. For me, breakfast is important because it is delicious, but it also gives me energy for a productive morning. It could be anything from a bowl of cereal to egg on toast, but make sure you choose options that you find tasty, that aren’t too sugary and feel kind to your body. Take the time to prepare and eat something you enjoy. 

My friends and social media followers will know that I eat porridge year round. In the heat of the summer, however, I am sometimes persuaded to swap to what I like to think of as ‘summer porridge’ - bircher muesli. The recipe for one of my favourite summer flavour combinations is below.

Pause: Before you hurtle into action, spend a minute or two taking stock and setting intentions for the day, or week, ahead. I usually take this moment before I begin breakfast and open my emails, but find a time that works for you. Pause, breathe and begin.

 

Bircher muesli

Peach, almond and cardamom bircher muesli

Bircher muesli is filling, healthy and easy to adapt to your palate. In this recipe I love the gentle sweetness of almonds and the sunshine of cardamom as a base for the peaches, which are my favourite summer fruit. It would also work well with nectarines and apricots. 

The majority of the recipe is made in advance, so you’ve got the joy of knowing there’s a delicious breakfast ready for you in the morning. If it’s helpful to have several days' worth of breakfasts prepared ahead, you can make a big batch and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days. Bircher is also very portable, which is ideal if you like to take breakfast to work with you. 

The recipe serves 2, but you can multiply it according.

 

Ingredients

  • 100g oats
  • A handful of chopped dried fruit (about 50g) - I like dates, sultanas, cherries and/or apricots
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds, plus extra to serve
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • A few drops of vanilla bean extract (optional)
  • 150ml milk
  • 150ml water
  • 1 tbsp yogurt, plus extra to serve
  • 1 apple, grated
  • 1 peach, sliced or diced
  • Honey, to serve

 

Method

  1. Place the oats in a medium-sized bowl or plastic tub. 
  2. Add the dried fruit, ground almonds, sunflower seeds, cardamom and vanilla, if using.
  3. Cover with a mixture of half milk, half water (around 150ml each) and stir in the yogurt.
  4. Refrigerate overnight or for a couple of hours.
  5. Grate the apple and fold through the oats. (I add the apples in the morning so they retain their crunch, but this step can be done the night before if you need to quickly grab the muesli and head out the door).
  6. Loosen to your desired consistency with a little more milk.
  7. Place into a bowl and top with the peach, a spoonful of yogurt, a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds and a drizzle of honey.

Cookbook review: Practical Cookery, 1935

Household cake

In his old age, my Grandpa collected elastic bands on his walking stick. The wooden handle, worn smooth by his knobbly hands, became a mass of reds, greens and browns by the time it reached the base. So, when my mum handed me an old cookbook that was really more a bundle of tattered pages bound together with an elastic band, I could guess to whom it had belonged. Practical Cookery by Marjorie Michael had originally belonged to my Grandpa’s mother and she had handed it down to him, along with the instructions and extra recipes that he has scribbled in the margins.

My parents couldn’t understand my fascination with Practical Cookery, as I pored over the recipes and carefully reordered the pages. But, for me, this is a piece of social history. It is perhaps the closest I’ll ever get to my culinary heritage - though, as I would find out, not a heritage I necessarily wanted to claim (more on that later…). My auntie squealed with excitement, and a little sadness, when she spotted it on my bookshelf. For her, it evokes memories of my grandparents’ divorce. When my Grandpa was left to fend for himself, he turned to his mother’s book as an authority on how to get a meal to the table. 

Practical Cookery is structured around courses, from soups, to meats, vegetable dishes and eggs, through to pastry and puddings. It begins with a section entitled ‘Food Values’, which gives advice on ‘body building’, ‘energy giving’, ‘blood hardening’ and ‘bone hardening’ foods. A forerunner to Jamie’s Super Food books, if you will. Each chapter opens with hints for the cook, but otherwise instructions are direct and sparse. A level of basic knowledge is assumed that many millennials, accustomed to the handholding of modern cookbooks, have lost. The temperature of a ‘moderate’ or ‘hot’ oven, how much of a flavouring to add, what you are testing for when you skewer a cake and many other things go unexplained. In a hyper-visual culture, it’s also strange to cook from a book with no pictures. Are my potatoes browned enough? Is my sauce the right consistency? I yearn for photographic confirmation that my meals are ‘correct’.

I decide to spend a week cooking from the book. “Really?” asks my other half as he dubiously eyes a recipe for boiled tongue. I reassure him that tongue will not be on the menu - I’m interested to see how someone who follows a pescatarian diet, which is how we predominantly eat, would fare in the 1930s. As I write my rather limited weekly shopping list, I realise how fortunate I am. In my supermarket, for instance, I can buy miso to use in a marinade for aubergines, before roasting them until they are meltingly soft and suffused with a deep umami flavour. When this cookbook was written, not only would miso be unheard of, but even aubergine would have been nigh on impossible to find. And so many things that I use regularly to create fragrant vegetarian curries - fresh chilli, cumin, coriander, turmeric, tamarind paste - are not there to add colour. 

There are, I admit, some nods to food from further afield, but the consequences are often unappetising flavour combinations. The curry sauce consists of infusing stock with desiccated coconut (so far so good), then adding apples, onions, sultanas, lemon juice and jam (less good). A pineapple and banana salad sees the fruit mixed with cream cheese, walnuts, lemon, lettuce and grated carrot, then dressed in mayonnaise. Even recipes from Europe are controversial. Italians would weep to read the instructions for ‘risotto’, in which rice is “boiled quickly”, before stirring in cheddar and tomato sauce at the last moment. 

Beyond a squeeze of lemon or a grating of nutmeg, I decide to stick to ingredients found closer to our shores. But while I never expected to find excellent recipes from other cultures, I am surprised that the best of British produce is not celebrated. So many of the Spring ingredients that I enjoy at the moment are nowhere to be found. There is no rhubarb, no chard, spring greens or broad beans. Herbs that can be grown in our gardens - thyme, dill, sorrel, mint - are not harnessed to add bright, clean notes to dishes. Just occasionally I stumble across simple, sympathetic cooking of seasonal ingredients, such as asparagus cooked in lots of butter and served on toast. Most of the time, though, it is a case of a little parsley and a lot of potato. 

Just as there is little celebration of seasonal British produce, there is also little pleasure taken in the process of cooking itself. My favourite food writers, from Rachel Roddy to Meera Sodha, have taught me that time and care coax the best out of ingredients. Yet in an era when every task took much longer, from washing clothes to the weekly shop, it seems time is a luxury. Prep time, in particular, must be minimal - ingredients are thrown in a pot, or in the oven, and left to cook. Onions are not sweated gently until they are sweet and mellow, but sliced and quickly fried or boiled vigorously with other ingredients. All vegetables are treated equally: twenty minutes for boiled potatoes, twenty minutes for (very soft) green beans and peas. Onions are not sweated gently until they are sweet and mellow, but sliced and quickly fried or boiled vigorously with other ingredients. The result is, with some exceptions, rather a mush. 

This style of cooking is about function rather than flavour; a utilitarian process of getting the basic nutrition required. I am saddened by the thought that my forebears did not experience the joy of cooking, that journey from base ingredients to delicious meal. I wonder if they found joy in eating together, either? Did they have time to chat the evening away over the debris of empty plates and wine glasses on the dining table? The baking chapter is the one place where care and time is often found, perhaps in kneading dough, resting and rolling pastry or making preserves. Steamed sponges soaked in syrup; stale bread transformed into custard-steeped puddings; intricate tarts and flans; delicate biscuits and petit fours; cakes that don’t need mountains of buttercream to taste delicious. Here, there is pleasure in the making and in the eating, too.

Below is a list of what we ate during the week. I quickly discovered that what are listed as vegetarian meals are often, in fact, side dishes and learned to scale up the portion sizes accordingly. Even so, after several dinners that were essentially just boiled vegetables, we turned to peanut butter on toast as a second course. 

  • Savoury baked fish: White fish fillets are covered in grated onion, sliced tomato, parsley and breadcrumbs, before being baked. This was quite tasty, although the cooking times left the onion a little raw and the fish slightly overdone.
  • ‘Spanish’ rice: The inverted commas are needed here, as there wasn’t much that the Spaniards would recognise in this dish. Rice is boiled with grated onion, grated carrot and diced tomato, stirred with Cheddar cheese and curry powder, then poured into a wetted moulds to set before turning out. I had learned my lesson from the still-raw onion of the previous night, so I deviated from the recipe slightly by gently frying the onion before beginning. It wasn’t a sophisticated meal, but it was soft and gooey, with a background warmth from curry powder. Comforting, nursery food.
  • Green salad (side dish): A much more classic salad than the pineapple and banana number mentioned above, this contained cucumber, tomato, radish and lettuce. The French dressing was delicious (if a little incongruous when paired with the Spanish rice) and is a recipe I'll definitely return to.
  • Vegetable hotpot: Sliced vegetables - potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, onions and lentils - are layered with dabs of butter, then stock is added to the pot and it is baked for an hour and a half. The result soft and bland, though inoffensive. Proof that most things are improved by a poached egg and a good grind of pepper. 
  • Curried lentils with rice: I was relieved to find a dish where onions not boiled, but gently fried in fat - here, with curry powder added for the last minute. Lentils, desiccated coconut, sultanas and stock are then added and simmered until soft. Although it did not have the depth of flavour I have come to expect from a dal, it was sweet and warming. 
  • Spaghetti tomatoes: This was one of several recipes for stuffed tomatoes in this book. You start by halving and hollowing large tomatoes. Chopped cooked spaghetti is mixed with a white sauce and the tomato pulp, spooned into the tomatoes and covered with croutons and grated cheese. Bake in the oven or under the grill until golden brown. It was like a fresher, tastier version of tinned spaghetti hoops. 
  • Apple flan: A recipe that shows simple is best. You need nothing more than very crisp, slightly sweetened pastry crowned with a ring of sliced apples. There is no frangipane or icing, but it is spread with a mix of butter and sugar that turns the apples a golden, caramel brown upon baking.
  • Household cake: The cakes in this book aren't the decadent, multi-layered, over-iced affairs of the modern day. The idea of a cake for a special occasion is a fruit cake packed with dried cherries, currants, sultanas, raisins, peel, almonds and spices. This a more simple, everyday cake that uses less fruit, fat and eggs. I was concerned it would be dense, with only 1 egg and a method of mixing that is more similar to making a crumble than beating air into a cake. Yet, though thin, this cake is glorious and rather light. Crisp on the outside with a very soft, buttery crumb in the middle. It’s light enough to eat every day, but tasty enough to feel like a treat. It’s the type of thing my granny would have eaten with a wedge of cheese and my dad would spread liberally with butter, but I think it’s best eaten unadulterated. It works equally well in a lunchbox or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. Recipe below.
Savoury baked fish
'Spanish' rice
Apple flan
Spaghetti tomatoes

 

 

Household cake

 

Ingredients

  • 6oz flour (or 4oz flour and 2oz ground rice)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A little grated nutmeg
  • 3oz of sugar
  • 3oz butter
  • 2oz currants
  • 2oz sultanas
  • 1oz peel
  • 1 egg
  • Milk and water

Method

  1. Grease tin and line the bottom only with greased paper.
  2. Prepare fruit (I presume this means weigh out!)
  3. Mix flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. Rub in fat until the mixture is like fine crumbs.
  5. Add beaten egg and sufficient milk to make a slack dough.
  6. Mix in fruit. 
  7. Put into tin and bake in a moderate oven (I baked at 180°C) for 45 minutes - 1 hour. Test with a hot skewer or a hat pin (I love this!). 

Recipe: sweet cardamom dukkah

The food and drink sector is a fantastically collaborative space. From no waste pop-up restaurants to independent food tours to podcasts, I see chefs, home cooks, journalists, PR companies and bloggers who are creating, eating and learning together. For me, this collaborative learning process is often as simple as a friend introducing me to a new flavour, ingredient or dish that then influences my work. Recent inspiration came at a supper club when, as we waited for dinner, social media guru and fellow food lover Charlie appeased the group's hungry stomachs by serving bread and oil with dukkah. And so began my infatuation with this Egyptian spice mix. 

Of course, I’d eaten dukkah many times before at restaurants, usually as a garnish to complete a deeply-flavoured dish. Yet when served so simply, clinging to oil-soaked bread, the ingredients were free to sing of themselves. Suddenly, the heady blend of nuts, seeds and seeds became the focus on my palate, rather than just the final flourish on a plate. Since then, I’ve used it to add character and crunch to my own cooking - scattered over salads, lentils and poached eggs, swirled on labneh or hummus, and as a crust for tofu or fish. Most often, though, I’ve eaten it just with bread and oil. 

As the consummate sweet tooth, I have also created a version to dress my desserts, breakfasts and snacks. The foundation stones remain the same: hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds. Yet, instead of cumin and coriander, the bricks and mortar are bright, citrusy notes of cardamom and warm cinnamon. A few pink peppercorns retain the subtle heat that would come from white or green pepper, but wrap it in a soft, fruity flavour. And then there is the toffee crunch of demerara sugar to bring out the sweetness of each ingredient and tie them together as a whole.

This dukkah is big and bold, so you’ll only need a little to elevate the flavour of a dish. My favourite way to eat it is, most simply, on top of yogurt, porridge and fresh fruit. It is a good match for soft, mild cheese and is particularly wonderful on toast with ricotta and honey. The layers of fragrant flavours also work well for desserts. You could crumble it on poached or baked fruit; wrap it in filo pastry and pour over syrup, before baking until golden; roll truffles in it for a crisp coat; use it as an ice-cream topping; or sprinkle on cakes and crumbles, pavlova or chocolate mousse. 

However you choose to serve it, its warm, intensely aromatic flavours seem to celebrate the recent turn towards sunny days and meals eaten alfresco in the garden. Recipe below.

Dukkah (1)

Ingredients

  • 100g hazelnuts, skin on
  • 3 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • Seeds from 20 cardamom pods
  • ½ tsp pink peppercorns 
  • 1 ½ tbsp sesame seeds 
  • 2 generous tsp cinnamon 
  • 2 tsp demerara sugar 

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C
  2. Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. After 5 minutes, add the sunflower seeds, making sure to keep them separate. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, place a frying pan over a medium heat.
  4. Toast the cardamom seeds for 30 seconds, until they start to smell fragrant, then transfer them to a small bowl. Repeat with the peppercorns and transfer them to a separate bowl.
  5. Turn the heat down to low and toast the sesame seeds until golden brown, before transferring to a separate bowl. Toast the cinnamon for around a minute, or until fragrant, and set aside in another bowl.
  6. Once your hazelnuts are cool, rub them between your hands to remove the skin.
  7. Roughly chop the hazelnuts in a pestle and mortar, then move them to a large bowl. Chop the sunflower seeds and add them to the hazelnuts. Don’t process them too much, as the texture should be quite course and chunky.  
  8. Finely grind the cardamom seeds and add to the nuts and seeds in the pestle and mortar; then repeat with the pepper. Add both to the nut and seed mixture. 
  9. Finally, add the sesame seeds, cinnamon and sugar directly to the mixture. Stir together well.
  10. Store in an airtight container or jar for up to a month. 
Dukkah on porridge
Dukkah (2)

Recipe: Carrot, tomato and butterbean salad

Carrot, tomato and butterbean salad

This salad was born with the New Year. On the 2nd of January, after many days of excess, I fancied a lunch that was fresh and vibrant, yet still warming. With little more than carrots and a few tins in the cupboard, my expectations were not high. Yet this recipe goes to show that gentle spicing and a good dressing can transform even the most humble vegetables into a satisfying meal, rather than just a side dish. 

For me, a salad must always contain more than leaves. I need beans, pulses or grains to keep me going until the next meal. Here, plump, creamy butter beans are added to the vegetables, oil and spices for the last ten minutes until they become burnished and juicy. To build the final layers of flavour, toss with peppery rocket and the sweet-sharp pomegranate dressing. 

When you're ready to plate up, tumble the vegetables and beans in a messy pile, before embellishing with sesame seeds and a touch of tahini. Slice up a loaf of sourdough to serve alongside and soak up the juices. 

Serves 3-4 people.

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 500g Chantenay carrots
  • 500g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tins butter beans
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds 
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 60g rocket

For the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

To serve:

  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • Tahini

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200º C
  2. Begin by preparing the vegetables. Wash the carrots and cut them in half lenghtways. Half the cherry tomatoes. 
  3. Set a small pan over a low-medium heat. Once hot, toast the coriander and cumin seeds for around a minute, or until they smell aromatic. Leave to cool slightly before crushing in a pestle and mortar.
  4. Add the carrots to a large baking tray with the olive oil, the smoked paprika and the cumin and coriander mixture. Stir to combine well, then roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Give the carrots a stir, add the tomatoes and roast for a further 15 minutes
  6. Stir the carrots and tomatoes, add the butterbeans and roast for a further 10-15 minutes.
  7. While the vegetables are roasting, whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and toast the sesame seeds over a low heat until golden.
  8. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to cool for a minute, before tossing with the dressing and the rocket.
  9. Pile on your plate, before topping with the sesame seeds and a drizzle of tahini. 
  10. Serve with slices of sourdough or another bread of your choice.
Carrot, tomato & butterbean salad (3)
Carrot, tomato and butterbean salad (2)

Recipe: Cocoa, cardamom and orange porridge, with pear and hazelnuts

Cocoa, cardamom and orange porridge (1)

I love porridge. Not only on a cold winter's morning, but every day for breakfast - and possibly lunch or dinner - all year round. At university, I was known to skip a portion of chips on the way home from a night club in favour of returning home to make porridge. If we are what we eat, I am an oat.

Porridge's recent rise in popularity has often been within the context of the growing influence of Scandinavian culture, the much-cited concept of hygge and the experimentation with different grains - millet, buckwheat, rye, spelt, amaranth. But, for me, the humble oat porridge is quintessentially British. Porridge adorns our national breakfast table, whether it's served with a dash of drambuie in Scotland or a sliced half-banana, a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of milk in my family home on England's South coast.

As I've grown, my porridge has evolved with me. I'm certainly no porridge purist; on the contrary, I've found that porridge is the perfect base for an experimental cook - a litmus test of flavour combinations and textures, if you will. It is mild enough to withstand aromatic spices and sweet fruit computes, and even works well savoury flavours from miso to mushroom. Nuts, seeds and increasingly hipster toppings (bee pollen, anyone?) make the perfect foil to porridge's creaminess, yet it retains enough bite to withstand a velvety slick of yogurt or crème fraîche.

This winter, one of my favourite porridge flavourings has been just a touch of cocoa powder. Here, it's deep bitterness marries so well with the mellow sweetness of ground hazelnuts and vanilla, and with the sunshine of orange and cardamom. With its crown of honeyed pairs, the crunch of hazelnuts and a swirl of thick Greek yogurt, it makes an ideal bowlful for a slow, soulful morning.

Ingredients

For the porridge:

  • 1 large mug oats (about 100-120g depending on your appetite)
  • 1 large mug water
  • 1 large mug milk
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 tbsp ground hazelnuts

For the topping:

  • 1 pear, thinly sliced or cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp honey 
  • Greek yogurt, to serve
  • Chopped toasted hazelnuts, to serve
  • Brown sugar, to serve

Method

  1. Prepare all the ingredients - zesting, chopping, toasting and grinding - before you begin
  2. Place all the porridge ingredients in a pan and cook over a low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes or until the porridge is thick and creamy
  3. Meanwhile, place the pear in a small pan with the honey and 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the pear is lightly golden
  4. Divide the porridge between bowls and top with the pear, Greek yogurt and toasted hazelnuts. If you are a sweet tooth, like me, a sprinkle of soft brown sugar is also lovely.
Cocoa, cardamom and orange porridge (2)
Cocoa, cardamom & orange porridge (3)

Recipe: Keralan squash curry

Kerala

When you go on holiday, I highly recommend staying with a local family. Short of living somewhere yourself, a homestay is the best way to gain a real feel - and taste - for the region’s culture. The growth of Airbnb and similar websites is making this style of travel easier, and safer, than ever before.

On a recent trip to Kerala, we stayed with the Nair family, who live 15 miles from the main tourist hub of Alappuzha. After several trips up and down the main road, we found our turning and followed the narrow path until tarmac became dirt track and track became river. There, a canoe awaited to transport us to the beautiful white family home on the opposite bank.

Kerala (2)

Almost immediately, we fell into the slow rhythm of life on the Keralan backwaters. We enjoyed early morning yoga, hours spent reading while sipping sweetly spiced chai tea and gentle walks through the local village where children paused their play to gaze at us. Above all, there was the luxury of having time to simply watch life pass by on the Pamba: women washing clothes and cutlery, men fishing from canoes, houseboats carrying inquisitive tourists, and the spectacular twice-daily procession of five hundred ducks being readied for Christmas feasts. 

Food, too, soon fell into a familiar pattern. For breakfast, there were idlis (steamed cakes made from ground rice and lentils) or dosas (fermented rice-flour pancakes), served with vegetable sambar. Best of all were the steamed cylinders of layered rice and coconut, or puttu, which one crushes with banana and sugar before sprinkling with crushed popadom for crunch. At lunch time, a trio of vegetable curries and stir fries were served on a banana leaf or in small metal pots. At dinner, the pots were filled with more vegetables, daal, perhaps a little fish, mutton or chicken. We learned that popadoms are for lunch, chapatis for dinner and a mountain of rice accompanies both.

Kerala (3)
Kerala (4)
Kerala (5)

As with may less wealthy countries I have visited, the people here intrinsically understand how to eat in a sustainable, healthy way: lots of vegetables, fruits and grains; a little dairy and a little meat; no undue fuss about oil or refined sugar. Everything is local, with few air or even road miles. Rice comes from the paddies behind, fish from the river in front or the nearby Arabian sea, fruit and vegetables from the garden, spices from the region’s mountains. The food’s flavour is that of the land, from sweet coconut to sour tamarind to spicy chilli.

Behind the flavours we enjoyed was the Nair family’s matriarch, Padma. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Padma's kitchen, where our language barriers disintegrated. It seems the patterns of chopping, sizzling, stirring, tasting and seasoning are universal. Happily, here I discovered that gourds, pumpkins, squashes, beetroots and beans feature heavily in their curries - perfect ingredients for creating a seasonal, cold-weather curry back in England. 

Kerala (6)

  


Keralan squash curry

I made this curry with a beautiful green Kabocha squash grown locally, but it would be equally delicious with any variety of squash or pumpkin available to you.

Ingredients

(Serves 4)

For the curry paste:

  • 20g unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 50-100ml water

For the curry:

  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 6 shallots
  • 1/2 a large squash (about 750-800g)
  • 1 tin of lighter coconut milk + the tin refilled with water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • Mustard seeds
  • A handful of curry leaves (about 20 leaves)
  • 4 dried red chillies 
  • Coriander
  • Brown basmati rice
  • Chapattis (optional)
     
Kerala (7)
Kerala (9)
Kerala (8)

Method

  1.  Start by preparing all your vegetables. Finely slice the shallots. Peel the squash and cut into 1.5cm cubes. Roughly chop the tomatoes. Trim the beans and cut in half at an angle.
  2. To make the curry paste, fry the desiccated coconut in a dry pan set over a medium heat, stirring often to prevent it sticking or burning. Once the coconut is golden brown, remove from the heat and add the coriander and chilli powder. Leave to cool for a minute before transferring to a blender or food processor (keep the frying pan aside for later). Add 50ml of water and blend to a smooth paste, adding a little more water until it is a thick but runny consistency. Transfer to a small bowl, using a little extra water to swill round the processor and catch any stuck pieces that have become stuck.
  3. Warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the shallots and cook gently for around ten minutes until they are sweet and soft. Now would be a good time to put your rice on to boil.
  4. Add the squash, turmeric and salt to the shallots, and stir before adding the coconut milk and water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the squash is soft. Add the tomatoes, green beans and coconut paste, and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and collapsing into a thick sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of oil in the frying pan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried chilli. When the mustard seeds start popping, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little before stirring through the curry.
  6. Leave the curry to stand with the lid on for 5 minutes before serving with a sprinkle of chopped coriander, rice and chapattis.
Keralan squash curry

Recipe: Shakshuka tarts

I always choose the sweet breakfast option. Except, that is, when shakshuka is on the menu. Eggs lightly poached in a sweet, fiery tomato and pepper stew, with a hunk of bread to mop up the juices. There are few things more comforting.

When I held a fundraising brunch, I wanted to include shakshuka in the breakfast spread. It needed to be in a form that people could eat with their hands, so I created little shakshuka tarts: rich yolks and tomato sauce offset by a bittersweet walnut and paprika pastry. One, two, three bites of heaven.

These tarts are perfect as part of a breakfast feast for friends, as mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks, or as evening canapés. Perfect anytime really. You can make the sauce and pastry in advance, then just roll, cut, fill and bake when needed.

Shakshuka tarts

 

Ingredients

(Makes approximately 10 tarts)

For the walnut pastry:

  • 100g plain flour, sifted
  • 50g cold unsalted butter
  • 25g walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten

For the shakshuka sauce:

Makes enough for a full shakshuka for two people, far more than you will need for these tarts. Enjoy the leftovers topped with a poached egg for breakfast, with herby bulgar wheat for lunch, or on top of a baked sweet potato for dinner.

  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, cut into 1-2cm dice
  • A handful of ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A few springs of parsley, leaves and finer stalks chopped
  • A few springs of coriander, leaves and finer stalks chopped

For the filling:

  • 10 egg yolks (you can use the leftover whites to make meringues or financiers)

1 x 12-hole cupcake tin

 

Method

  1. First, make the pastry. Tip the flour and butter into a bowl with a pinch of salt. Rub the mixture together with your fingertips until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the walnuts and paprika.
  2. Slowly add enough of the beaten egg to bind the mixture, stirring it in with a knife. Knead the pastry briefly until smooth, flatten into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Now make your shakshuka sauce. Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan, and fry the onion and garlic on a low-medium heat until softened and starting to turn golden. Add the pepper and continue to fry for a few minutes.
  4. Add the spices and fry for a minute or so until fragrant. Now add in your chopped and tinned tomatoes, and the herbs. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until it has bubbled down to a thick sauce. Take off the heat until you are ready to use.
  5. While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 200 and lightly butter and flour a 12-hole cupcake tin (or a muffin tin if you’d like slightly deeper tarts)
  6. Take your pastry out of the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface to around 0.5cm thick. Cut rounds using a cutter slightly bigger than the cupcake holes.
  7. Press the pastry circles into the cupcake tin. Don’t worry if the pastry comes up over the sides, as it will shrink in the oven. Cover with a sheet of baking paper and bake blind for 15 minutes. Remove the baking paper, brush the pastry circles with a little beaten egg and trim the edges if you’d like. Bake for another 5 minutes.
  8. When you are ready to serve, spoon a little shakshuka sauce mixture into each pastry case and make a well in the centre. Crack an egg into the bowl and very, very carefully use a spoon to scoop out the whole yolk. Place the yolk in the well at the centre of the sauce and drizzle over a little olive oil. Repeat until all the pastry cases are full.
  9. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or a little less if you’d like your yolk to still be runny.

Recipe: Ginger cake

Ginger cake

When summer comes around, British bakers turn to lighter sponge cakes full of seasonal fruits and fresh creams. Yet, in the recent glorious July weather, I have found myself craving a cake suffused with the warm spices and deep flavours that belong to hotter countries. What better spice to satisfy my craving than ginger, whose popularity for both medicinal and culinary purposes has seen it spread from China, across Asia, to the Carribean. In Jamaica, the spice developed an intense, punchy flavour that is perfect for baking - hence, the Jamaica ginger cake.

I could hardly avoid growing up without an appreciation of this spice, because of my dad’s love of ginger. Not just a love for his flame-haired daughter, but for all food products containing ginger's sweet heat. Most particularly, he loves our family recipe for ginger cake, which is syrupy, caramel-crusted and flecked with crystallised ginger. The soft, tender crumb makes it a little temperamental to slice, so it’s much easier to cut into big slabs - at least that’s my excuse!

Ingredients

  • 4oz plain flour
  • 40z wholemeal flour
  • 1.5 oz of soft brown sugar
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1oz of chopped crystallised ginger (plus an extra sprinkle for good measure)
  • 1 egg
  • 4oz margerine or unsalted butter
  • 8fl oz of golden syrup
  • 150mls of warm milk
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin.
  2. Mix together sifted flour, sugar, spices and crystallised ginger in a large bowl.
  3. Melt butter and syrup together in a pan set over a low heat. Leave to cool slightly.
  4. Mix the egg, milk and bicarbonate of soda together in a small bowl.
  5. Add the butter and egg mixtures into the flour, and whisk by hand until well combined.
  6. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the lake comes out cleanly.
  7. Enjoy with a cup of tea as late afternoon cools to evening, or eat warm with ice-cream for a decadent dessert.

Recipe: Elderflower, strawberry and almond cakes

Strawberry, elderflower and almond cakes (3)

As a child, I paired elderflower cordial only with fizzy water and ice. Yet, after posting my recipe for cordial recently, I began to wonder why I have never incorporated an ingredient that I love so much in my cooking. Elderflower cordial’s delicate, citrusy sweetness makes it the ideal accompaniment to tart summer berries and perfect for gently infusing cakes – two elements that are brought together in this recipe.

In the mood for something more robust than a traditional sponge to stand up to the thick, sugary cordial, I took inspiration from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s financiers with their crisp crust and dense, tender crumb. Named after the gold bars they were originally made to resemble, financiers’ ground almonds and browned butter lend them a complex, nutty flavour that works wonderfully well here with an elderflower-infused strawberry compote and fresh strawberry crown.

For the final flourish, a tangy yogurt icing acts as a foil to the rich buttery cake and its sweet fruit centre. I couldn't resist adding a touch of elderflower cordial to the icing, as in all other aspects of the recipe; after all, it’s about time that my baking paid respect to its elders.

Ingredients

Makes 8 cakes, depending on the size of your tin

Compote:

Cakes:

  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 40g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 140g ground almonds
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 100g strawberries, cut into eighths (or smaller)
  • 2 tbsp elderflower cordial, for brushing
  • 1 x 12 hole muffin tin

Icing:

  • 100g thick, Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • A handful offlaked almonds, toasted

 

Method

Compote:

  1. To make the compote, cut the strawberries into small cubes and add to a small saucepan with the elderflower and lemon juice.
  2. Place over a low heat for around 25 minutes, occasionally stirring and crushing the strawberries with the back of a wooden spoon.
  3. When the fruit has broken down and you have a thick syrup, remove the compote from the heat. Set aside until ready to use.

Cakes:

  1. Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7.
  2. In a pan, warm the butter over medium heat. Use a little softened butter to grease 8 holes of a muffin tin, dust with flour and chill in the fridge.
  3. Heat the remaining butter until the milk solids turn nut brown and the clear liquid is a rich, amber colour. Strain into a bowl using a muslin or tea towel, discard the solids and whisk in the honey. Set aside to cool.
  4. Sieve the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl, then stir in the ground almonds. Stir in the egg whites until well combined, then pour in the browned butter and mix until smooth.
  5. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins, and gently place a few strawberries along the centre of the mixture – the strawberries move outwards as the cakes rise and expand, so it’s best to start with them in the centre.
  6. Bake for six minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and cook for a further six minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cakes in there for five minutes to firm up.
  7. Remove and, using a fork, gently prick some inconspicuous holes in the cracks of the cake or under the fruit. Brush the top of the cakes with a little elderflower cordial.
  8. Allow to cool for five minutes in the tins, then turn out on to a rack right-side-up to cool completely.

Icing:

  1. While the cakes are cooling, make your icing.
  2. Simply mix the ingredients together until smooth.

Assembly:

  1. If you haven’t already, toast the flaked almonds in the oven at 160c for 5 minutes until golden brown. Keep an eye on these, otherwise you’ll be throwing out burned nuts!
  2. With a chopstick or similar implement, carefully make a hole in the top of the cake to about half way through. Swirl the chopstick around to widen the cavity at the centre, without widening the hole at the top.
  3. Put the compote into a piping bag and fill each hole. You may need to pipe a bit in, push it down with the chopstick, and repeat until the hole is full.
  4. Zig zag each cake with icing and then sprinkle on the flaked almonds (and, if you like, a sprig of elderflowers) so that the chopstick hole is covered.
  5. Enjoy with a cup of tea or a cool glass of elderflower cordial!
Elderflower, strawberry and almond cakes
Strawberry, elderflower and almond cakes (2)

Recipe: Lemon, raspberry & mascarpone cake

Lemon, raspberry & mascarpone cake

This cake is an ode to my mother and her love of lemon curd. First crafted for her birthday in July, the cake also features my favourite summer fruit and lemon’s ultimate ally – raspberries. The tartness of the fruit here lightens an otherwise entirely decadent premise and keeps greedy hands reaching back for more. I’ve now tested the cake on a number of audiences, and each time the slices disappear so swiftly that soon only stray crumbs, sticky hands and sated smiles remain.

The cake is made up of three elements: a light lemon sponge studded with raspberries, a sweet citrus curd, and a rich raspberry-ripple mascarpone filling. Ingredients and method for each element are found below. The recipe will make more lemon curd than you need, but it’s so delicious that it won’t be left languishing in your fridge for long. I love it swirled on porridge and yogurt, or simply spread on toast.

 

Ingredients

For the lemon curd (makes one large or two small jars):

  • 4 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 3 free-range eggs, plus 1 free-range egg yolk

For the cake:

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 225g caster sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 free range eggs, at room temperature (this allows for more air to be whisked in)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 225g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 100g raspberries

For the raspberry and mascarpone icing:

  • 100g raspberries
  • 70g mascarpone
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar

2 x roughly 20.5 sandwich tins

 

Method

Lemon curd:

  1. Begin by making the lemon curd. Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Stir until all of the butter has melted.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk, then whisk into the lemon mixture until all the ingredients are well combined. Leave to cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve to remove any solid pieces. Once cooled, spoon into sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

Sponge:

  1. For the sponge cake, preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line the two sandwich tins.
  2. Put the butter into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar and lemon zest, then keep on beating for 3-4 minutes until the mixture turns almost white and becomes very fluffy.
  3. Break the eggs into a small bowl, add the vanilla and beat lightly with a fork to break them up. Slowly add to the creamed mixture, a tablespoonful at a time, giving the mixture a good beating after each addition and frequently scraping down the bowl. If the mixture looks like it is about to curdle, add a tablespoon of the sifted flour and continue adding the last portions of egg.
  4. Sift the flour again, this time onto the mixture, and add the milk. Use a large metal spoon to fold the flour into the egg mixture until no streaks of flour are visible. Do this as lightly as possible so you don’t knock out any of the air you have beaten in.
  5. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and spread evenly, right to the edges. Sprinkle two thirds of the raspberries on top and press down lightly until they are almost covered by the mixture.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes. After 15 minutes, open the oven and quickly dot the remaining raspberries in a pretty pattern on one sponge – this will be the top layer. Continue baking for the final 10 minutes or until the sponges are golden brown and springy when gently pressed with your finger.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave for a minute, then run a round bladed knife around the inside into each tin and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. The top of the cake will need to be cooled right-side (that is, visible raspberry side) up.

Filling:

  1. Beat the unsalted butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Sift in the icing sugar and beat until well incorporated. I like to place a clean tea towel over my hand and the bowl to stop icing sugar coating the kitchen!
  2. Add the mascarpone and continue beating for a few minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  3. Gently fold in the raspberries, crushing some of them with the back of the spoon, until you have a ripple effect.

Assembly:

  1. Set the bottom sponge on a serving platter. Spread on the mascarpone icing and then the lemon curd. Carefully place the other sponge, raspberries up, on top and dust with icing sugar.
  2. Serve and enjoy.

Recipe: Frances' elderflower cordial

Elderflower cordial (1)

As a child, summer always began with a trip to pick elderflowers from the Dorset hedgerows. Mum would mix the flowers with lemon, citric acid and plenty of sugar, and it was then an impatient five day wait - an eternity! - until the cordial was ready. At last, it would be time for the first taste of that sweet, refreshing drink, which would be waiting on hot days when my sisters and I returned from school or playing in the garden.

Nowadays I'm foraging my elderflowers from South London's commons, but every sip still tastes like the English countryside, sunshine and my family. Recipe below.

  

Ingredients

  • 21 elderflower heads, picked with the sun on them (this is when they are most fragrant)
  • 2kgs granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 2 pints boiling water
  • 100g citric acid

Method

  1. Stir all ingredients together (don't worry about the bugs that come off the flowers- they will be killed by the boiling water and, as my dad would say, it's extra protein!)
  2. Leave for 5 days, giving the mixture a good stir once or twice a day
  3. Sieve through a muslin or a tea towel
  4. Store in sterilised bottles and refrigerate
  5. Serve with fizzy water and ice

 

 

 

Recipes: Pam's lemon drizzle cake

Lemon drizzle cake

Within weeks of starting my job, I had become the teams’s unofficial birthday cake baker. So when a colleague mentioned that her favourite was lemon drizzle, I knew what was required when her birthday came around. The only problem? I’d never made a lemon drizzle. Luckily, my boyfriend’s nan, Pam, makes one of the world’s best lemon drizzle cakes and was kind enough to give me the recipe.

When I read the recipe I was worried. Where were the equal amounts of butter, sugar and flour that are the foundations of sponge-making? Trusting in Pam, I forged ahead anyway. And sure enough, a light, moist marvel emerged from the oven, ready to be soaked in lemon syrup and topped with the delightful sugar crust that is the trademark of a good lemon drizzle. Recipe below, with my few minor alterations to make it just that little bit fluffier.

 

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 6oz self-raising flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 4oz butter, at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • A splash of milk

For the topping

  • 3oz granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1½ lemons (or 2 small lemons

*1 loaf tin or 7-inch round tin, greased and lined with baking parchment*

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180. Cut the butter into cubes. Using a hand-held beater or the paddle attachment of a free-standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and beat until well incorporated.
  2. Beat the eggs with a fork in a separate bowl. Gradually add the eggs to the butter-sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. If the mixture looks like it is going to curdle, add a desert spoon of the flour. Beat until the egg is all incorporated and the mixture is light and frothy.
  3. Sieve your flour and baking powder on to the mixture. Either beat in with the mixer or fold in with a large metal spoon, but be careful not to knock out any of the air you have just beaten in. Make sure there are no streaks of flour left in the mixture.
  4. Pour the mixture into your prepared and gently smooth the mixture – you can make a small hollow in the middle to encourage the cake to rise more evenly. Bake at 180 for 40-45 minutes until a knife inserted in the centre comes out cleanly.
  5. Once the cake is cooked, leave to cool for a few minutes before pricking in several places with a fork and pouring over your topping, reserving a spoonful or two. It is important that the cake is still warm so that it fully absorbs the lemon syrup and leaves the sugar on top, but allow it to cool a little first so that the syrup doesn’t run straight through. After a minute, turn out the cake on to a cooling rack and add the remaining spoonful of topping, drizzling down the sides.
  6. Serve with a nice cup of tea, a comfortable chair and, if possible, a ray of sunshine pouring through the window.