Tag Archives: chocolate

Macaroon wars

It started with Rachel, who brought her chewy and moreish macaroons into the office and proceeded to ply us with them – not once, but several times – as she perfected her technique.

Not to be outdone, Monaz – a Leith’s graduate – produced dinky and delicate, perfectly smooth and enviably uniform pink ‘macarons’, with a brittle crust and Nutella filling, for our delectation.

Charmaine was next up, handing round yet more delicious homemade macaroons delicately scented with Earl Grey.

I’d actually planned to avoid this particular bandwagon, but curiosity finally got the better of me and the other week I found myself throwing my hat into the macaroon ring. I spent another rainy Sunday afternoon amusing myself by piping miniature dog poo-esque spirals of meringue mixture onto a baking tray and trying to bring sugar to the soft ball stage with only a glass of water for guidance.

Waitrose provided the recipe. I whipped out the piping bag for another showdown. And here’s the result.

Chocolate pistachio macaroons

Not perfect... but not so shabby either

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Visions of the last supper

Have you ever choked on a piece of food so violently that halfway through your struggle for air a panicky thought enters your crowded head suggesting with increasing horror the idea that what you have just eaten might be (or have been…) your last meal? And, as you splutter, you think, ‘No, not this way, please God. Not over an M&S egg and cress sandwich or a slice of takeaway pizza. I’ve got my last meal covered, I’ve talked about it in depth, and this definitely isn’t it.’

I’ve witnessed similar thoughts cross the minds of people I know. Aged nine, I was at a stately home on a family day out when my grandad caused a stir in the cafeteria. One minute he was chomping on the limp lettuce that was bringing up the rear of a joy-stripped, cling-wrapped Ploughman’s; the next he was desperately rocking and wheezing, and a clamour of strangers was trying to expel said salad leaf from his grasping windpipe. Even as he coughed and gasped, you could see that he was thinking wildly, ‘Lettuce? A world war under my belt and in the end it comes down to vegetation? I don’t even rate lettuce.’ He was fine in the end, but his consciousness absolutely whispered those words during his fight for breath.

The same thing has happened to me. I don’t think that it’s because I eat too fast or in too much of a slovenly manner: I think it’s probably a hazard of eating as many things as I do – being over-familiar with the mechanics of eating probably makes me less alert to its menace. My two nearest-death experiences were not with overtly risky food – none of your Japanese blowfish or hand-picked wild mushrooms – but instead with the innocent-looking and innocuous stick of cheap confectionery that is the Twix.

Continue reading

The most fun you can have with a piping bag

Aah, I’ve been meaning to get round to these little he-devils for some time now. And what else was I going to do on another rainy Sunday afternoon?

These come courtesy of food writer, stylist and photographer Cannelle et Vanille and they work an absolute treat. I stuffed myself silly on the sofa, ignoring the thunder and pretending I was still in Spain (or perhaps I was hallucinating from the sugar).

Churros con chocolate

The one that got away... (technically a churro)

The chocolate bisque is the business here: heady hints of star anise, vanilla, coffee and orange enveloped in a rich, custardy chocolate. Too good to save until breakfast.

There are plenty more churros where these came from, and they’re heading for the table of our first pop-up restaurant soon. Get in on the brunch action via Rachel’s site. And be sure to pray for sunshine.

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It’s rude to stare

Do you ever forget your manners at home? All greedy gourmets will know what I’m talking about. Imagine that you’re coming to the end of a lipsmackingly good meal. In denial that it’s about to end, you start mining the last dribbles of sauce from the seams of your plate. Perhaps you’ll surreptitiously lick your knife clean. You might even brush a cheeky finger along the edge of the plate and bring it to your lips to capture any errant drops and make the pleasure linger. Suddenly, you’re snatched from your reverie by your mother, who slaps your hand sharply and gives you a dark look, or your partner, who grimaces at you pointedly and asks what’s for dessert. It’s happened to us all.

The same scene unfolds, for me at least, when I’m eating tricky foods alone and hidden away in my flat. Here, in privacy, received etiquette goes out the window and jars of peanut butter are treated as single servings to save on washing up, while visitors might find me hunched over the sink with peach juice dribbling down my chin and arm, or sitting in front of the TV with a plastic bag in my lap to catch the run-off from a particularly effusive orange.

All well and good, right? But I wouldn’t do this sort of thing in public – at least not sober. So why do other people?

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It’s a tough job, but…

As an antidote to London Fashion Week, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of a food photoshoot, where bellies are rubbed, not sucked in, and where mouths salivate rather than pout.

The rules

Rule one: food can be photogenic or otherwise, much like people. A ripe, rosy plum will be a natural in front of the camera, requiring only a bowl to sit in, some fellow plums for company, and favourable lighting. Life’s plainer ingredients, however, need tarting and gussying up like the mother of the bride in order to shine. The difference, of course, is that food will never writhe, smile more widely, or respond to calls of ‘lovely, that’s great, keep it going, you’re a confident, fierce bratwurst!’ It’s up to the team to sex up those pesky German sausages.

The team

The Photographer: usually a surprisingly skinny man.

How to spot him: the only one not making primitive ‘mmm’ and ‘aah’ noises – he’s not gazing longingly at the food; he’s looking at the light. Like a ripening pear whose flesh melts to mush in the time it takes for you to run to the kitchen and grab a knife, the light will tease your photographer, changing by the minute, every passing cloud or sunbeam frustrating his efforts. The only person in the room who understands the challenge he faces is…

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Sugar rush

(I wrote this in April 2008. The research was a killer, but you do what you have to do.)

Luxury chocolate is in vogue. Faced with more choice than ever, consumers are going cocoa for the sweet stuff. We report on the chocoholics and artisan chocolatiers causing a stir.

IN THE UPSTAIRS ROOM of a Charing Cross pub, twenty people sit expectantly around small tables, eyeing piles of luxurious chocolate. There are hand-made champagne truffles, fresh raspberry ganaches, and dark, bitter slabs of Incan gold.

These people are self-confessed chocoholics. They are all members of the London Chocolate Meetup group, a club for chocolate lovers. Tonight they are participating in a tasting evening run by chocolate website seventypercent.com.

The chocoholics all have different reasons for being here tonight. Some come regularly to the meetings to meet like-minded friends. Some are first timers, here to do something different. Others are, as Steve Chung, co-founder of the website puts it, ‘chocolate nerds’, here for the latest industry news.

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Food flirts in St Pancras

Commuting has a bad rep, but it’s not the journey that bothers me; it’s the destination. Once the rush to the train platform is over and I’m snugly and smugly on board, I can just relaaax until we pull into St Pancras. For me, it’s not the obstacle of getting to the capital that makes commuting difficult. It’s making it from train to tube without temptation leading me astray…

Every morning I walk briskly through the light-filled atrium of the main station, shoulders hunched into makeshift blinkers, eyes riveted to the ground, trying to ignore the smells of coffee and croissants emanating from warmly lit faux-rustique bakeries. I don’t even drink coffee! It’s just that smell… Every morning, the voice in my head suggests ‘how about a croissant?’ as if it were a novel idea. The puritanical and rational part of my brain rolls its eyes mockingly as I push on. Then it turns on me: ‘ooh, that place over there does healthy fruit salad…’. I pick up my pace and fix my eyes on the clock above the entrance to the underground station. No time. Must get to work. Under no circumstances must I dither. Normally I stay on track for the tube.

But if, God forbid, nature calls, right there in the station, she inevitably delivers me into the clutches of fate.

To get to the toilets in St Pancras, you almost have to walk back to where you came from. They really are a surprisingly long distance from the main station. It seems they were put there just so that more cafés could be created to pave the way. As you round the corner, the far-off toilet sign at last hazy on the artificial horizon, you are confronted with one of the stations’s biggest challenges. Enfin…Paul.

Café Paul, St Pancras

'Paul? C'est toi?'

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