After-school lemonade

26 June 2015


One day I will write extensively about London weather, or rather the interesting relationship the English have to English weather. Today I am just enjoying another one of those glorious summer days we’ve had this year, hot afternoons that simply scream of cooling lemonades. I usually just wing it, here I paid attention as the proportions seemed just right.

4 lemons

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Large sprig of fresh mint

Ice cubes

Sparkling water

Juice the lemons. Pour the juice into a large jug over a few handfuls of ice cubes. Add the sugar and stir until it’s completely dissolved. Add the mint and give it a swirl.

Pour the juice into each individual glass to about a third full and top up with sparkling water.

Gooseberry elderflower jam

25 June 2015


For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.


Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries were thought better than those of the Continent). Wild bushes were apparently the only native fruit-bearing plants of the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Notwithstanding my enduring passion for the prickly little things, they are not the most beloved of berries. Perhaps because they tend to be impossibly tart. Or because they sport the most peculiar names. Gooseberries in England and groseilles à maquereau (mackerel redcurrants) in France. Those epithets probably linked to the rich dishes they initially accompanied. (There is another theory for the English name, which could be derived either from Scottish or Dutch origin.) In German they are guardedly called ‘Stachelbeeren’ — ‘prickleberries’ — an apt description, and not the most inviting one.


I can well imagine that gooseberry compote tastes great with a savory dish, a little like cranberry sauce, but when one compulsively buys over a kilo of berries as soon as they appear in spring, the best solution is jam. They pair remarkably well with elderflowers, which are in season coincidentally. And so I’ve adapted Christine Ferber’s simple gooseberry jam. The result is very delicate. And deliciously tart.


Gooseberry and elderflower jam
Adapted from Christine Ferber’s two-step technique

1.1 kg gooseberries

800g white or caster sugar

2 small lemons, juiced

One small lemon, finely sliced, each slice cut into quarters

2 heads elderflowers, just-picked

Rinse the gooseberries in cold water, strain, then dry in a clean tea towel (dish cloth). Rub the berries with the cloth very gently to remove the fuzz. Trim the stems and what is left of the flower. In a heavy, cast-iron or marmalade pot, mix the gooseberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Inspect the elderflowers and carefully remove any bugs. Submerge the elderflower heads into the fruit/sugar mixture. Give a gentle stir to mix the aroma, then cover the fruit (and flowers) with a sheet of parchment paper and  place in the refrigerator overnight (up to 24h hours).

The next day, remove the elderflowers. Transfer the fruit back to the cooking pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam sets*. Stir frequently and don’t leave the room, this jam burns very quickly! Skim off the excess scum as it boils.

*To test whether the jam has set, place a spoonful of jam in a small dish in the refrigerator, it will cool quickly and reveal its consistency.

Boil about 12 small or 8 large jam pots in water for 5 minutes to sterilize.

Once the jam has reached the jelling point, remove from the heat, spoon into jam pots, and close immediately. Try to keep the jam for a few weeks before opening, it gets better with time!

Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015


The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made a few times doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measures such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I hardly make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, original French recipe
The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.
1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above

1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot of oil or melted butter

2 pots sugar

3 pots flour

2 eggs

Baking powder

Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.


Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe
I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot (100ml) melted butter

1 pot (100ml) olive oil

3 pots brown sugar

3 pots flour

3 pots almond flour

4 eggs

2 tsps baking powder

Zest from 2 lemons

Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

Additional variation (pictured above)

For a festive cake without nuts, use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour).

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top. NOTE: I don’t do the jam filling with the almond flour version as it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy.

Simple things | Radishes with butter and salt

24 April 2015


Pleasures of spring. The weather entices away from kitchen and stoves. Eating becomes simpler. Food speaks for itself, cooking takes a sidestep.

This could be breakfast; an afternoon snack; apéro bites; the start of dinner. With a slice of good bread.

It’s just a reminder.


Two chocolate cakes

17 April 2015


I only just recently happened upon these two chocolate cakes, and already they are indispensable.

Until now I had little need for chocolate cake. I rarely make it, because I rarely crave it; when, about once a year, I do long for a chocolate dessert, I bake these really good brownies. For years my children didn’t care much for chocolate cake. Until Louise.

In this decidedly un-chocolatey family, Louise loves chocolate. Worse things happen. So for this little one’s birthday, I needed a chocolate cake recipe. I found two.

One is an intense though surprisingly light dessert; the faultless chocolate touch at the end of a lingering meal. The other is cakey and moist but not too crumbly; slices hold together well in clumsy little hands. It could be stacked into layers with cream or cherry jam. A flawless tea-time cake.


The flourless, almond olive-oil chocolate cake, which I discovered via the same friend who pointed me toward the revelatory date cookies (food-obsessed friends are the best kind), beat all expectations. It is light and predictably nutty, perfectly moist with a bare hint of olive. Also ridiculously easy to make. The recipe, by Nigella Lawson, also happens to be wheat and dairy free, which bears mentioning. The recipe is here, as I have not altered it one bit.

I found the second cake in a cookbook from which, until now, I had never actually cooked. Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. It is the perfect party cake. Pointedly described as ‘moist and versatile,’ and which ‘can be made in any format from cupcakes to a multitiered wedding cake.’ I had intended an extra chocolatey frosting, but time ran out so it was just a dusting of icing sugar and plenty of smarties.


Chocolate cake for a party by Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food

115 g (4 ounces) unsweetened (or very dark) chocolate

2 cups flour

2 tsps baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tbsps (unsweetened) cocoa powder

115 g (8 Tbsps) butter plus more to butter the pan

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 tsps vanilla extract

3 eggs

120 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk

300 ml (1 1/4 cup) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F) and take the butter, eggs, and buttermilk out of the refrigerator to soften and bring to room temperature.

Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment paper. Butter both the pan and the paper, and dust the paper with flour or cocoa powder, shaking out any excess.

Heat some water in a large frying pan/skillet. Roughly chop up the chocolate, place it in a heat proof bowl, and slowly melt it over the water bath (bain marie), stirring occasionally, until just melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time and stir until fully incorporated.

Stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients.

Finally, gradually pour in the boiling water, until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared bake tin, slide carefully into the preheated oven as the batter will be fairly liquid, and bake for about 45 min, until a knife of skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean with just a  crumb or two attached.

Allow the cake to cool completely before turning it out of the tin. (The cake keeps well. If not using immediately, leave in the tin and cover tightly with aluminum paper.)


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