Salted caramel seems to be all the rage at the moment. Particularly using a posh variety of salt such as Maldon Sea Salt. It’s drizzled over the top of banana cakes, ladled into pastry cases, and poured over ice cream. A sprinkling of salt offsets the cloying sweetness of the rich, buttery caramel rather nicely.
Calling these ‘puddings’ is a little vague, and I apologise. They are a cross between a chocolate fondant and a collapsed soufflé. However, they do encapsulate the very definition of a pudding – rich, indulgent and very, very bad for you. The salted caramel is swirled into the chocolate mixture before it goes in the oven, so it oozes down the side of the ramekin (and drips onto the bottom of your oven, so you might want to put them on a tray).
I served these as the final hurrah to a Come Dine With Me style dinner party I threw for a few friends before Christmas. We had the filo wrapped carrots for a starter, followed by duck, followed by these. Unusually, I managed to not go to overboard on portion sizes, so the general consensus was that we were full but not uncomfortably so. I wish I could say the same for Christmas Day…
I am writing this in the throes of a brutal hangover from one of the many festive get-togethers that happen at this time of year, always inevitably involving gin. And more gin. Christmas is the only time of year that I seem able to drink on consecutive evenings – culminating in the all day booze-fest that is Christmas Day.
On the day itself, it is perfectly permissible, verging on mandatory, to start consuming something with an ABV of above 10 before 10am. Along with some poor excuse for breakfast, such a Lindt chocolate and a stale mince pie. These nibbles would be an ideal thing to wash down with copious amounts of booze all throughout the day, safe in the knowledge that you haven’t really eaten anything. And anyway they’re vegetables. This leaves ample room for a large roast later in the day, followed by the obligatory Christmas pudding. At which point all pretense of sobriety goes out the window, and the Baileys is poured directly on to your pudding.
These nibbles can be easily made in advance, then just whacked in the oven to cook on the day. I chose to make my own mayonnaise (it really is a doddle) but you can just mix mustard into some bought stuff if it’s too much hassle.
I have started feeling very festive all of a sudden. I guess it must be due, in part, to decorating the tree today. This was accompanied by the crashing overtones of Handel’s Messiah, not directly Christmas-y, but, being choral, it puts me in the festive mood nonetheless. Having resisted the descending season with some effort for the last few weeks– even with the repetitious Christmas playlist pounding its way into my head at work – it now seems time to embrace the inevitable.
I made the optimistic, blasé resolution way back in October to make edible Christmas presents this year. I already have the Rhubarb and Ginger Gin in the bag, along with some Quince Cheese, but need to supplement it with something else. I decided to take the plunge with Florentines, which I have never attempted before. More to the point, I’ve only ever eaten a nice on one occasion. I managed to eat a total of about ten in small little ‘tastes’, which I assured myself were for quality control purposes.
I underestimated just how many I would need (due to, unfortunately, having lots of friends and family to give them to) and the amount of time it would take to make around 100 Florentines. They are basically simple, but anything made in a large quantity gets a bit stressful, and you end up staring around slightly manically, covered in bits of whatever it is you’re making. I kept leaving trays of cooked Florentines around the house to cool, then forgetting about them. The tipping point came for me when I’d thought I’d finished, only to find a rogue batch on top of the washing machine a few hours later.
I have had a lovely day off today. An upshot of working lots is that I really appreciate my time off. This morning, I wrote a letter to a friend in Boston – an actual letter, with a pen and paper, rather than a Facebook message- that I have been meaning to write for ages. Then I wandered up the lane to feed my horse, spending an idle few minutes brushing the twigs out of her mane.
Another activity I usually reserve for a day off is baking. It’s such a pleasure to bake slowly and carefully, with no pressures on time. Today I chose to bake some cinnamon biscuits. I have a friend coming over shortly to help me eat them. We’ll sit in front of a fire that I have made, luxuriously and slightly pointlessly, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
The recipe is from a book that I have featured on this blog before, called ‘Tea with Bea’. Bea calls these biscuits ‘Snickerdoodles’ – apparently a traditional Amish cookie. But this name is misleading, as my friend pointed out, as you might assume they have something to do with Snickers bars. Or at the very least be slightly baffled as to what they actually are. I decided to rename them ‘Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits’, due to the fact that they are dipped in cinnamon sugar before they are baked. I ate rather too many – another perk of a day off being pretty much constant eating.
I have been quite busy lately. As well as working almost full time in the café, I have started an internship with a food magazine in Bristol two days a week. This doesn’t leave much time for coming up with unique and interesting recipes for my blog. So this recipe is willfully and unashamedly ripped out of a cookbook, with only a few minor alterations. Thanks, Nigella.
Poor Nigella, she’s got such bad press lately. Cocaine or no cocaine, I still think she’s fantastic. A brilliant food writer and presenter, she has managed to amass a net worth of around fifteen million. I have found lots of her recipes, like this one, that I make again and again. It uses ingredients that I could pilfer entirely from the freezer and store cupboard. She does simple, unfussy cooking remarkably well, and with apparent effortlessness.
My lack of time also equates to a lack of daylight to shoot in, given that the inky-black winter evenings are drawing in. So this was a good opportunity to experiment with using artificial light, rather than daylight. Ultimately, I think daylight is always going to be most flattering for photographing food, but it’s interesting to try artificial light. I used an ordinary desk lamp, the dust brushed off from the loft, as the main light source. I placed a diffuser between the lamp and the food, to even out the light, and stop too many shadows forming. This set up threw a dark and moody light on the scene, which helped to convey an evening setting.
There is something quite frustrating about trying to take a photograph of your food at dinner time, when all you want to do is scoff it down. But I think it also makes you concentrate harder on what it actually is that makes you want to eat it, and try an capture that in the photos.