Lemon and poppyseed loaf

I am yet to meet anybody who doesn’t enjoy lemon loaf (and I’m not sure I’d like them very much if I did). There is just something so irresistibly reassuring about this cake – it is simple, yes, but could never be called boring. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have more with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon.

This particular loaf comes from Ottolenghi’s Sweet, and it’s the sense of safety and reliability from this recipe that provoked Ottolenghi and Helen Goh to affectionately name it their ‘National Trust’ cake. It works very well gluten free, using Doves Farm plain GF flour along with 1/2tsp xantham gum. I find that this loaf disappears incredibly quickly, and so it might be worth doubling the recipe here to stash one loaf in the freezer, un-iced, for a moment of need.

Makes 1 2lb/900g loaf

Ingredients

3 large eggs

225g caster sugar

120 ml double cream

75g unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing

10g poppy seeds

finely grated zest of 3 lemons (preferably unwaxed)

170g plain flour

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

For the glaze

100g icing sugar, sifted

2 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan. Grease the loaf tin and line with baking parchment, then set aside.
  2. Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on a medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and frothy. Add the cream and continue to whisk for about 2 minutes, until the mixture has combined, thickened a little and turned pale.
  3. In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, add the poppy seeds and lemon zest and set aside.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt (plus the xantham gum, if you’re making it gluten free) together into a bowl, then use a rubber spatula to fold this into the egg mixture before folding through the butter, poppy seeds and zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Place the tin on a baking tray and cook for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Whilst the cake is baking, make the glaze by whisking the icing sugar with the lemon juice in a bowl. Pour this over the top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, spreading it over the top so that it sinks in and creates a nice glaze. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the tin. Leave to come to room temperature before serving. The cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.

Bomboloni

I can’t quite shake the way in which the name of these wonderful little Italian doughnuts reminds me of the Gipsy King’s Bomboleo. Linguistics aside, the joyfulness of the anthem is certainly reflected in the delight that these tasty morsel impart on the lucky eater.

As a coeliac, the food that I have missed the most since my diagnosis back in 2002 is doughnuts. Gluten free doughnuts are almost impossible to buy – and I mean proper fried doughnuts, not the baked, ‘healthier’ ring-shaped cakes that lurk around health food shops, deceitfully masquerading themselves as the real thing.

Admittedly, these ricotta and orange bomboloni aren’t strictly doughnuts, seeing as they’re yeastless and therefore very low-maintenance. They’re perhaps best described as a cross between a beignet, churro, and loukoumade. I have made my own gluten free yeasted doughnuts in the past, and they were good, but labour intensive and temperamental. These bomboloni are the closest thing I’ve had to a damn good doughnut in 18 years , and they seem too good to be true – ludicrously easy and yet ludicrously delicious. In fact, they almost feel like cheating; they entail minimum effort but yield maximum satisfaction. There’s no yeast, no proving, no special equipment – the batter is literally the work of 5 minutes plus half an hour of resting time (for both you and the batter). 

I can take no credit whatsoever here for the recipe – it’s one by Ravneet Gill for the Guardian over the summer. I can, however, confirm that they adapt very well to be coeliac-friendly; simply substitute the flour for gluten free plain flour (I use the Doves Farm one). We demolished these very quickly just as they were, but I think they would also be very nice indeed served with a hot, bitter chocolate sauce.

Makes about 12-14 bomboloni

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 40g of caster sugar, plus extra, for coating
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 220g ricotta
  • 110g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  1. Lightly whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the sugar and orange zest, and whisk again to combine. Add the strained ricotta and stir gently to combine – don’t overwork it because you want to keep some of the lumps intact.
  2. In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the ricotta mixture and whisk to combine.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (or for up to two hours in the fridge).
  4. Put a medium-sized saucepan on the hob, add enough oil to come halfway up the sides and put on a medium heat. You’re ready to cook once the oil is hot enough to make a droplet of batter sizzle gently and float to the surface.
  5. Cooking the bomboloni in batches, drop small tablespoons of batter into the oil and fry for two to two and a half minutes in total, until golden – the bomboloni should naturally flip by themselves after about a minute.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to lift the cooked bomboloni from the pan and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining batter. Once all the batter is used up, toss the bomboloni in the extra sugar mixed with cinnamon, and serve. These are best eaten fresh, but they keep for a few hours at room temperature (once cooled, it’s best to store them in an airtight container).

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

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There is many a purist who would firmly contend tampering with a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe in any way. A typical cookie is formed from varying quantities of butter, sugar, flour and egg, with some form of raising agent, and, of course, chocolate. However, contrary to traditionalists, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the most perfect vehicle to experiment with, using different kinds of sugar or chocolate, distinctly flavoured flours such as rye, or adding things like nuts and dried fruit.

In any ‘classic’ chocolate chip cookie I make, I always add vanilla bean paste, espresso powder and salt, all of which enhance the flavour of the chocolate. The same can be said for the ingenious addition of tahini to David Lebovitz’s recipe for these chocolate chip cookies. The tahini creates another layer of flavour, lending a very subtle bitter, savoury note to the dough. I think chopped dark chocolate works better than commercial chocolate chips here, as the larger piece melt into little chocolate puddles within each cookie. I’ve altered the baking temperature of Lebovitz’s recipe, as I found a shorter bake in a hotter oven made for a better texture. If you can bear the wait, refrigerating the dough overnight really does yield a far superior cookie.

Makes around 25 cookies

115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml tahini, well stirred
100g granulated sugar
90g light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
tsp sea salt
280g chopped dark chocolate 
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

 

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, tahini, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy. 
  2. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the egg, the yolk, and vanilla, and continue to mix for another minute, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl during mixing, to make sure the eggs are getting incorporated.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and sea salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just combined, then add the chocolate chips. Do not overmix. Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 190ºC. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper or silicone baking mats.
  5. Form the cookies into balls using a small ice cream scoop, a tablespoon measure, or your hands.  Sprinkle each cookie ball with a little extra sea salt, if you like. Place them evenly spaced on the baking sheets, around 8cm apart. Bake one sheet at a time, so you can keep an eye on them, in the middle rack of the oven.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges but still pale in the centre. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet. Bake the remaining cookies the same way.

Storage: These cookies will keep for two or three days at room temperature. The unbaked dough can be refrigerated for up to one week, and frozen for up to two months.

How Covid-19 has changed the way we eat

 

 

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‘Still Life with Cheese’ by Floris van Dijck, c.1615 © Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

Scrolling past yet another banana bread photo on Instagram, it’s easy to feel cynical about the clichés of lockdown cooking that have exploded as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the onslaught of sourdough starters that heralded the nation’s return to wholesome home-cooking signals a much more significant shift in the way Britons think and feel about food.

Long before Boris Johnson implemented a nationwide lockdown in late March, supermarket shelves across Britain were swept clean, having been emptied of essentials like toilet paper and pasta by a hysterical wave of panic-buyers. As a direct result of consumer stockpiling and compromised supply chains, many people experienced scarcity for the first time in their lives. Forced to stare at the hard reality that food is, in fact, finite, we began to value, respect and honour food in a way that has been lost since wartime Britain. Many of us reverted back to weekly or fortnightly shops, carefully constructing meal plans and adapting to create new meals out of leftover food. Research by Hubbub – a UK-based sustainability charity – found that 57% of Britons value food more now than they did pre-coronavirus, and as a result, levels of food waste between April and June fell significantly in the UK.

Ever since the American-influenced consumerist culture boom in the 1950s, the UK has fostered a problematic food culture. As a nation, we have learned to rely on endless choice and abundance, regardless of quality or season. The idea of always being able to have whatever we want, whenever we want, has given way to a shockingly throwaway food culture. Recent figures published by WRAP in January 2020 revealed that households in the UK throw away 4.5 million tonnes of food each year that could have been eaten, collectively worth £14 billion. In the UK alone, 24 million slices of bread (or one million loaves) are wasted every single day, which annually produces an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to more than half a million return flights from London to New York. On top of this, prolonged austerity and rising poverty levels combined with increasingly busy work schedules and stressful lifestyles have generated a mass departure from home-cooking, with more and more households relying on take-out food or ready meals. In the space of just a few generations, an alarming pattern has begun to emerge in which the quality, nutrition and provenance of food is superseded by aesthetics, speed and convenience on a mass-scale.

However, the optimistic among us can see a silver lining to the pandemic in that it has helped us to see the true value of food. Many of those who have been furloughed or are working from home have enjoyed more time for cooking from scratch, partly necessitated by the closure of restaurants and pubs. Covid-19 has brought to light that not only is food a precious, limited commodity, but it also has an incredible emotional significance. Whilst the methodical, creative process of cooking can be a therapeutic time to slow down, the act of eating itself is one that is joyful, and has provided comfort for many over what has been a very stressful, uncertain and frightening time. During lockdown, a slower pace of life has lent crucial time to reflect on what is truly important in life, with sitting down and eating good food with loved ones high up on many people’s priorities.

Nationwide shortages of eggs, flour and sugar from March to May heralded a nostalgic return to home baking, as cooking simultaneously became a source of comfort and a rewarding source of entertainment that has the capacity to bring about a real sense of achievement. As a student, I’ve seen a number of friends get creative in the kitchen over lockdown, setting up dedicated Instagram accounts to document their culinary projects; beginner bakers soon grew to be focaccia aficionados and were relishing the challenge of more complex patisserie. My brother quickly became a gardening fanatic, using extra time saved from his two-hour daily commute to grow his own herbs and vegetables in the garden. This interest in sustainable, home-grown food is echoed in the sharp rise in applications for allotments across the UK during lockdown.

With cookery books and kitchen gadgets widely out of stock online, it’s clear that lockdown has incited a mass rediscovery of the joy of cooking. But as the world begins to slowly heave itself into recovery, the question remains – can we solve our relationship with food for good? Will we have time to bake bread and cook from scratch when we return back to work and university full-time? It’s easy to romanticise ‘the good old days’ of the early twentieth century, where Britons largely sat down every evening for a home-cooked meal made from local, seasonal ingredients. In today’s globalised world, food production and consumption are inherently different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be inherently worse. We must all take the responsibility of educating ourselves on how to be ethical and sustainable consumers, and make an active effort to carve out sacred time for both cooking and eating as lockdown eases further.

For all of us, the pandemic has been a life-changing period which has forced us to re-examine the way we live our lives. It’s impossible to know if society will ever fully return to its pre-Covid state, but over the last six months, many of us have made positive changes to the way we eat and perceive food. We still have a long way to go in terms of reducing the UK’s food waste, but the figures from lockdown are promising. The UK government’s plans for a so-called ‘green recovery’ from Covid-19 need a greater focus on food if we’re going to create a more sustainable society. Returning to a culture of home-cooking is a step in the right direction for repairing Britain’s relationship with food, not only in terms of food waste but also in battling the national obesity crisis. Relearning the intrinsic value of good food must be the springboard to address other issues we have with food and its production, including the threat to food standards imposed by an imminent US trade deal, and the detrimental effect that intensive animal farming has on ecosystems and climate. The next six to twelve months will reveal whether Britons can retain the lessons of this surreal and trying period, or whether we’ll swing back into old habits at the first given opportunity.