Not how my scones looked

I’ve been making scones for as long as I can remember. Mum always said that I was good at it because I had cold hands or something – I was able to rub the butter into the flour without the butter melting.

It’s been years since I made scones that way though. In recent times it’s been about something involving a lot less mess and fuss like these lemon lime and bitters scones. Just a few ingredients and stir it about a bit.

I have, however, been craving the real thing over the past week or so – I’m blaming this head cold that I can’t seem to see the end of. It’s making me feel desperately sick of myself and craving anything other than salad.

This morning I picked up the draft of the novel that I should have finished writing at the end of last month and deleted a few sentences, then a few more. Then I took myself out to my favourite coffee shop hoping that the change of scenery would bring the words back. Nope, I deleted a few more sentences though. So, back home I came – even more sick of myself than when I started out.

In retrospect, I was ripe for the subliminal seduction of a headline on the front of my foodie magazine: “Matt Moran: Best Buttermilk Scones.” Why not? I thought. They’ll go beautifully with the strawberry jam I made last weekend.

‘Don’t mess with the classic,’ warned my daughter. ‘Remember what happened with Nigella?’

I did remember. That was the day that Nigella came crashing down of the pedestal upon which I’d sat her. The day of the Nutella brownies. Before that, I used to think that Nigella was never wrong. Ever. Nigella was perfect in every way.

Until that day I made the Nutella Brownies from Simply Nigella.

It all seemed so promising to start with. The ultimate brownie madeNutellaella and eggs…with a little icing sugar. Miss 18 was excited – she loves nutella and she loves brownies. And Nigella’s snow flecked brownies from Feast are still the brownie to beat all brownies.

So I made them.

Miss 18 hung around – as she always does- for the beater and the bowl. She says it’s her contribution to the baking process. The first sign of trouble came as she licked the spoon I’d used to mix the batter.

‘Oh,’ she said, sounding disappointed.

‘What does that mean?’ I asked. ‘That “oh”?’

‘I’m not keen.’

She was less keen when they came out of the oven.

‘I’m sorry Mum, but I’m disappointed. Nigella talked these up and,’ she was shaking her head, ‘they taste like jellied chocolate squares – like those choco, jubey lollies.’

‘It’s not that they’re awful,’ she said, ‘just that they’re not brownies. I guess if I was gluten free they’d be good.’

Because it was a girls night in, I’d also made her sweet potato macaroni from Simply Nigella. Nigella had described it as the best macaroni ever.

‘What do you think?’ I asked her. ‘Is it the best ever?’

She chewed some more and shook her head sadly. ‘No. It’s good, it’s really good, but your pumpkin mac is better.’ Feeling generous she added, ‘if I hadn’t had that, I’d rate this one up there.’

The more months went by the more she decided she disliked those Nutella brownies. I was quick to forgive Nigella and restore her goddess status, but my daughter – now 20 – has a longer memory.

‘Do we really trust Matt Moran when it comes to scones?’ she asked now.

‘Of course we do.’ I frowned as I read the recipe and wondered at the wisdom of using melted butter and buttermilk. ‘It’s Matt. He knows what he’s doing. Plus he does Bake-Off these days…’

My concerns began when I saw the oven temperature – 170C. What scones are done in an oven that low? And for 25-30 minutes? Seriously? I contemplated straying from the recipe and following my instinct. But I trusted Matt and stuck instead to his instructions.

The result? They look nice, but they’re not nearly as light as my tried and true recipe. They also didn’t rise as much as they should – and yes, I followed the recipe. They also taste a bit…ummm…I don’t know…overly buttery? Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. With strawberry jam and cream though, they’re fine….to a point.

My husband – who normally loves my scones – picked one up, tasted it, and said ‘didn’t you make your usual recipe?’

‘No,’ I said through gritted teeth.

‘The jam is nice though.’

‘What did I tell you Mum? Don’t mess with the classic.’ She shook her head. ‘I’m not sure that I’ll be able to trust Matt after this.’

It’s a hard lesson to learn.

 

 

 

 

Nigel Slater wrote in his memoir toast that even a bad crumble is good. It’s a point of comfort.

I’d agree with him except that one time I attempted to make a gluten-free crumble for a gluten-free guest. In the interests of being a thoughtful hostess, I provided a gluten-free crumble as well as a non-gluten free brownie for dessert. Naturally, that was when I discovered that the gluten intolerance this guest warned me she had wasn’t really a gluten intolerance but rather a vague desire to cut back on bread.

The brownies were a success, the crumble was not and my family made me promise never ever to mess with it again. My family, though, are fussy about their crumble and my daughter likes nothing more than the leftovers for breakfast the next day. As she justifies it, it contains oats, fruit, and, with custard on top, could almost be said to be a breakfast cereal. In all honesty, it probably has less sugar than some breakfast cereals.

So if crumble is that good, how about crumble two ways? Below I’ve given you my basic crumble recipe. I’ve also taken it one step further and turned it into a crumble slice. It has a biscuit base, and the fruit in the filling has been taken to an almost jam-like consistency before the crumble is sprinkled over the top.

This is great on its own with coffee, or dolloped with custard and eaten as a pudding. I’ll leave that decision with you.

Fruit Crumble

The crumble

  • 110g plain flour
  • 110g rolled oats (the traditional kind not the quick cook sort)
  • 90g brown sugar
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • pinch salt

Throw it all into the food processor and let it do its thing. It should end up resembling little bits of sand. Of course, you can also rub the butter into the mixture – if you’re so inclined.

The fruit

As for the fruit? I usually use a few apples (peeled, cored and chopped) and sometimes add whatever berries we have in the freezer. I do, however, take them out do defrost first. In total, I guess there’d be about 500g fruit all up. You can put them straight into the dish you’re cooking them in if you want, but I tend to heat them through on the stovetop with a little lemon juice and 1-2 tablespoons sugar.

Put the fruit into an ovenproof serving dish – I prefer a wider, shallow one so the juices can bubble through the crumble – and spread the crumble mix over the top. Bake it in the oven you’ve remembered to pre-heat to 200C for about 30mins or until the top is golden.

Serve it with ice-cream, custard, cream, a combination of, or all together…your call.

Fruit Crumble Slice

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a slice tray (about 24cm x 30cm) with baking paper.

The biscuit base

  • 150g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2 cups plain flour, sifted
  • ½ cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blitz the flour, butter and sugar in the food processor until it looks like fine breadcrumbs, then add the egg and vanilla and whiz it again.

Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a slice tray (about 24cm x 30cm) with baking paper.

The fruit

  • 2 green apples peeled, cored and chopped
  • 250g berries eg blackberries, raspberries. I use whatever berries we have in the freezer, but this doesn’t work as well with strawberries. If using frozen berries, take them out to defrost first.
  • Juice of one lime
  • ¼ cup caster sugar

Place all the ingredients plus ½ cup of water in a larger saucepan than you think you’ll need – the fruit needs room to simmer. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. The apple should be soft and most of the liquid gone.

Remove it from the heat and allow to cool, then either puree with a hand-held blender or, if you prefer a little texture, squash the fruit about with a fork.

The crumble

Make the crumble as per the recipe above. If you want, you can substitute some of the flour and oats for a handful or so of toasted and chopped hazelnuts – but it’s just as good without. I do, however, add about ½ teaspoon of ground ginger.

Putting it all together

Remove the dough, flatten to a disc and roll it into a rectangle shape. I place the dough between two pieces of baking paper to do this. Place the dough in the base of your prepared tin. Don’t be too precious about this – I often just press it in.

Prick the base liberally with a fork and bake it for about 20 minutes – it should be starting to brown.

Once it’s out of the oven and cooled for about 5 minutes, spread the fruit over the base, toss over the crumble, and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar.

Pop it back into the oven – this time for 25-30 minutes – or until the crumble top is golden.

Don’t even think of taking it out of the tin or attempting to slice it for at least 30 minutes – it needs that long to firm up.

 

In the opening scene of the most recent (and I think best) version of Murder on the Orient Express, a servant boy is seen running around town to fetch some fresh eggs. The eggs are boiled and presented beautifully in front of Kenneth Branagh’s  Poirot who then takes out a ruler, measures them and sends them away. Although (we assume) they are cooked perfectly, Poirot requires them to appear to be perfectly matching. Off runs the boy again for some more eggs.

I have no such hang-ups – as you can see from the pic above.

I can’t remember the last time that I had boiled eggs and soldiers – it was probably the last time I was sick. Yet I craved them all last week – presumably because I wasn’t well. It was nothing serious – just a head cold followed by a couple of days of asthma as head colds tend to go with me. Let’s just say that the shareholders of Kleenex would have been happy with me.

It was, however, the first head cold I’d had in at least 18 months, maybe 2 years, and my first sick day since 2011. Come to think of it, maybe it was more serious than a cold – it might have even been man flu.

As well as the boiled eggs, I also had sardines on white toast for brekky one morning – another dish from my childhood that I have a hankering for only when I’m sick. Naturally, I didn’t have the boiled eggs at the same time as the sardines – that would just be too gross.

I’m fussy about each as well. The eggs have to be soft-boiled but with the whites set. I bring the water to the boil and then pop the eggs (that have been brought to room temperature) in for just over 5 minutes. The toast has to be plain white bread with proper butter, and the sardines have to be John West and squashed quite thinly on the toast.

As far as cravings go, the sardines are, I grant you, an unusual one – and something I didn’t even crave when I was pregnant. It did, however, get me thinking about comfort food.

When I’m feeling tingly in the throat or my energy is a tad low a bowl of rare beef pho or Thai Boat Noodle soup is usually enough to lift me back up. I always have home-made chicken stock in the freezer and a bag of dumplings, so it’s also easy to knock together a chicken dumpling soup.

My ultimate comfort food of choice is, however, Hainanese chicken rice – it’s sometimes also called white-cooked chicken. It’s essentially poached chicken that’s sliced and served cold with a bowl of the stock, some chilli sauce, kecap manis (sweet, sticky soy), minced ginger and shallots, cucumber and rice that’s also been cooked in the stock.  I haven’t found a good one here on the coast so we make our own.

It’s probably no wonder that I put on weight when I’m sick!

A couple of years I published a book titled Wish You Were Here. The star of that show was a character named Maxine (Max) Henderson. Max lived in a (fictional) village in The Cotswolds called Brookford.

Max worked in a nursery in Brookford – one of those ones that sells plants, gifts with a little local produce on the side.  She took what was in season and wrote a monthly newsletter for the shop – what to plant, what to harvest, and what to do with it. It was a kitchen diary of sorts, detailing what she’d been baking or cooking from the ingredients available – seasonal home cooking at it’s absolute best.

Max now lives in Queenstown, but through her, I discovered a love for writing about food – so much that my new novel, Happy Ever After, also falls firmly into foodie lit territory. This time though, food and family are closely intertwined.

On this blog, I’ll be talking about food – and only food. It’s my kitchen diary – where I tell you what I’m cooking, what’s inspiring me, and what I’m testing to use in my next novel. Some weeks there’ll be recipes, and some weeks it will be more of a ramble.

I hope that you’ll join me.