Welcome to the Elevenses Revival Society


I love the idea of elevenses. I feel a tremble of sadness that it’s now virtually extinct, but then I still write with a fountain pen and keep a dodo as a pet.

The first thing on my To Do list this week was to revive elevenses. The second thing was to have, tantalisingly on Monday at 11am, the first meeting about the food events for next year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival

What better reason to bring on the cake than a morning spent talking about books and food, two of my favourite things, with two of my favourite women? Julia, Chattanooga’s finest daughter, is one of my dearest friends and absolutely the sort of person you’d want by your side at the barricades. If your speaker were to arrive late, drunk and naked, she wouldn’t bat an eye. And Liz founded the festival five years ago on a hunch and a credit card. She’s a force of nature whose modesty is matched only by boundless sense of what’s possible. If anyone deserves cake it’s these two. I’m making them founder members and trustees of my Elevenses Revival Society, an arduous responsibility but I think they’re up to it.

Cherry, chocolate and orange bundt

Inaugural meeting of the Elevenses Revival Society.

I used dried morello cherries in this cake because I love them and I throw them into as many things I possibly can, from breakfast porridge to salads and cakes. If you don’t have them or don’t like them, cranberries, raisins or sultanas would also be good. You could substitute brandy or sherry for the kirsch, too.

When I posted a picture of this on instagram, a lot of people asked me about the plate. It’s Chinoiserie Green, a design that Jasper Conran did for Wedgwood a few years ago. It was a birthday present from my best friend Victoria and remains a great favourite of mine.

For the cake:
100g dried cherries 
About 150ml kirsch, just enough to cover the cherries in a small pan
130g cocoa powder
250g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
220g unsalted butter, softened
350g caster sugar
3 large eggs
160ml whole milk, you may need a little more
125ml sour cream
Finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

For the icing:
80g dark chocolate, about 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
125ml double cream
30g butter
2 tbsps kirsch, reserved from soaking the cherries

Put the cherries into a small saucepan and pour on just enough kirsch to cover. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and let the cherries fatten and cool completely.  You can leave them for several hours if you like. Drain the cherries, reserving the liquid. Gently pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas 3. Grease a 2 litre Bundt tin with butter, sprinkle with flour, place in a plastic bag and shake shake shake until every part of the tin is lightly coated with the flour. Tap off any excess. Alternatively brush with Wilton Cake Release – this stuff is great for intricately shaped Bundt pans.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt until very well combined and light, with no lumps. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on a plate and toss the cherries in it lightly to coat.

In a separate bowl or a jug, whisk together the milk, sour cream and 1 tbsp of the reserved kirsch.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (of course you can do this in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon), beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange zest.

With the mixer on very low, beat in a third of the flour then half the milk mixture, then repeat, ending with flour – be careful not to overprocess the mixture or the cake will be tough. If the mixture seems a little stiff, add a splash or two of milk until it has a consistency which drops easily from a wooden spoon. Fold in the cherries with a spatula.

Spoon the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a palette knife or the back of a spoon – it shouldn’t come more than two thirds of the way up the tin. Bake for 65-70 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin. Remove the cake from the tin then place on a cooling rack lined with a sheet of baking parchment. Cool completely.

When the cake is completely cold, make the icing. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Tip the butter and 2 tbsps of the remaining reserved kirsch (just swig any that’s leftover – it’s delicious) into the bowl and mix until smooth. Leave for a couple of minutes so that it thickens slightly. Pour over the cake and let the icing set before serving in thick slices, ideally at 11am.

So much cake

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Every weekend at this time of year I load a cake into a box and hope the combination of dark, rainy evenings + unfamiliar heels + a tiny cocktail livener before heading out to the party won’t lead to a baked-goods-buttercream-meets pavement disaster.

Almost everyone who is dear to me has a birthday round about now. I am in the middle of a four-weekend-long baking blitz. It started with Séan (chocolate, of course), then Liz (the cake you see here), tomorrow it’s my best pal Victoria (red velvet, cream cheese frosting) and next weekend my friend Lola’s daughter Mary – astonishingly – turns 18 (60 chocolate cupcakes). Depending on chance and shared geography, the dying glimmers of winter might also find me baking for my brother, nephew and mother. My scales are WHITE HOT and my baking cupboard runeth over with sprinkles, edible glitter and tiny candles in all colours.

Liz’s cake had to be a special one.

A few years ago, Liz noticed that whenever she went to literary festivals with her husband Pete she would bump into people from Stoke Newington reading from their books, singing their songs, telling their jokes. In a moment of creative-yet-cosy inspiration, she thought ‘If we had a festival in Stoke Newington we could all stay home and sleep in our own beds’.

So in the space of a few months, she took this idea and created Stoke Newington Literary Festival on a hunch and a credit card. Five years on, Stokey LitFest is a mad success, a riot of creativity, talk, fun, songs, drink and discussion which continues our little corner of London’s tradition of dissent, debate and dissolute behaviour.

So when Pete emailed some of us a few weeks ago to ask if we could help him organise Liz’s fiftieth birthday party, of course I volunteered to make her cake. Big enough for a hundred people or so. Truthfully, I enjoy the sheer exuberance of using dozens of eggs, kilos of chocolate and packets and packets of butter, working out the architecture of the thing. Gold dust! Let’s scatter gold dust over it, why not? For Liz is golden and we love her.

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Salted Caramel Buttercream Chocolate Cake

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A quick email back-and-forth with Pete and we decided on something chocolate-y and salted caramel-y, because really who wouldn’t love that? No one we would care to share a dance floor with, for sure. A quick Google search and I came across this smack-you-in-the-face-delicious recipe on Melissa Coleman’s elegant and charming blog, The Faux Martha. For those of us with WHITE-HOT scales at our disposal (and for whom cup measures are a challenge), I’ve metric’d up the ingredients’ list here.

This quantity makes one 23cm two-layer cake; I think I multiplied it by about six or so for Liz’s cake.

FOR THE CAKE:

Dry
170g plain flour
60g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt

Liquid
150ml single cream
100ml whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Creaming
170g unsalted butter, room temperature
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs

FOR THE Salted Caramel Buttercream:
225g caster sugar
60ml water
100ml double cream
heaping pinch of sea salt
340g unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large egg whites

FOR THE GANACHE:
280g dark chocolate
70g icing sugar, sifted
200ml double cream
2 large egg yolks
40g unsalted butter, room temperature
heaping dash of sea salt

A Sweet Thank You

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Cookies, as far as the eye can see.


I spent a happy evening turning the kitchen into a factory. A biscuit factory to be precise. In the space of a few hours I made eight dozen chocolate crackle cookies and four dozen oatmeal and raisin cookies. When I bake like this I go into a sort of trance of measuring, whisking, beating, sprinkling and rolling, punctuated by the ping of the kitchen timer. I rotate the baking sheets through the oven and put them onto the table in the garden to cool quickly between batches, enjoying the cooling blast of evening air.

Clearly even I can’t eat that many cookies, at least in one session. I parcelled them up in little bags to give to my neighbours and my favourite local shopkeepers. So if you’ve chatted with me over the fence, sold me a book or a bra, a lamb chop or a cat collar, a newspaper or a bunch of flowers, the chances are you’ve already tried the pretty Christmas Crackle Cookies here. If not, they’re fun to make in a mud-pie sort of way. I’ll post the oatmeal cookies in January, when we can all do with a cosy, chewy, pretending-to-be wholesome (they’ve got OATS in – they’re practically health food) cheer up. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who visit my blog and leave such lovely comments, both here and on Twitter. I wish you all a delicious Christmas and a sweetly chewy New Year.

Christmas crackle cookies

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This makes about eight dozen cookies, but you can halve it quite easily if that’s too many for you. The dough also freezes well so you could keep some of the packages in the freezer, ready for when you want to rustle up a quick batch.
I took as my inspiration for this recipe Martha Stewart’s recipe here, though I tinkered with the method quite a bit. My tips for success are these:

  • Chill the dough for at least four hours, or overnight if possible. Take the packages of dough out of the fridge one at a time – you want the batter to be very cold when you work on it.
  • It helps if your hands are really cool. Run them under the cold tap or dip them in chilled water from time to time. You’ll need to wash them quite frequently anyway, as it’s a rather sticky business.
  • Handle the dough as little as possible to turn them into little balls. They don’t have to be perfectly round. Roughly round is fine – the oven will do the rest.
  • It’s quite pleasingly messy, so line your work surface with baking parchment or clingfilm to make cleaning up easy.

225g plain chocolate
about 70%, broken up into small pieces
370g plain flour 
100g cocoa 4tsp baking powder 
½ tsp salt 
225g unsalted butter, room temperature 
400g light muscovado sugar 
4 eggs, lightly beaten 
150ml whole milk 
2 tbsp Kahlua, optional 
2 tsp vanilla extract

Icing sugar and caster sugar for rolling

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Melt, stirring from time to time. Cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. If I’m making this quantity, I sift it twice to make sure it’s well blended.
In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth then add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs about a tablespoon at a time, beating until well combined after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and Kahlua if using, then the cooled chocolate.

With the beater on a low speed, add a third of the sifted flour mixture, then half of the milk, and repeat, ending with the last third of the flour. Mix until just combined – with this large quantity, I finish it off by hand, but with a half batch you should be fine. Be careful not to overmix though or the cookies will be tough – the dough should be soft and cakey, rather mousse-y. Divide the dough into eight flattish discs of about 220g each and wrap them in clingfilm. Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Line baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. You will need to cook these in batches. Make sure the sheets are cool and the oven back up to temperature before you embark on each batch.

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Ready to roll.

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Ready for the oven.


Place a large sheet of baking parchment or clingfilm on your work surface and set up a bowl of caster sugar and a bowl of icing sugar, ready to roll the cookies. Remove one batch of dough from the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop out little balls of dough. Roll them quickly into balls roughly the size of a small walnut. Toss them first in the caster sugar then in the icing sugar until they’re well coated, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet about 2cm apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until flattened and the sugar coating has split into a crackle pattern. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. They will keep in an airtight container for about 4 days.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

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Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.


I wanted to make some crystallised peel for my Christmas pudding. The bought stuff often looks so impossibly tragic, the sad remains of citrus long past and barely lamented. Making your own takes a little time but it’s very easy and fills the house with the most deliciously uplifting smell as it bubbles away in the sugar syrup. A Dyptique Oranger candle costs £38. The ingredients for your crystallised peel cost about £4. This ensures money left over for Christmas cocktails. You’re welcome.

As we’re peeling and slicing and simmering anyway, I thought I’d make more than I need for the pudding to transform into orangettes – little slices of candied peel dipped in melted dark chocolate. They make a great little treat to go with coffee after dinner. They’re also a good Christmas present if you can bear to give them away.

Crystallised citrus and orangettes

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About 450g of peel, this will give you enough for the pudding and some left over to dip in chocolate, I used:
1 pink grapefruit
4 oranges
3 lemons
900g caster sugar
Granulated sugar for dredging

For orangettes:
About 200g dark chocolate, 70% works well with the orange

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Trim the top and bottom off the fruits with a sharp paring knife then go around the fruit cutting six incisions through the peel without piercing the flesh. Remove the segments of peel with your fingers. Cut away some of the pith – you still want a little cushion of the bitter white stuff so don’t cut all the way to the zest. Trim into strips about 5mm wide.

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Slicing the peel into strips.


Put the strips into a non-reactive pan and cover generously with cold water. Bring to the boil, boil for a minute, then drain in a colander. Repeat twice – this will help to remove some of the bitterness and will make it easier for the strips to absorb the sugar later.

Rinse out the pan, add the caster sugar and 1.2l water. Warm gently, stirring, until the syrup is clear and the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil then add the citrus strips. Lower the heat a bit and simmer until they’re very soft and the pith is translucent – this will take about an hour or so. Remove from the heat and cool the strips in the pan. If you want a break at this point, cover and refrigerate before going onto the next stage. You can keep them in the fridge for several days until you’re ready to proceed.

With a slotted spoon, scoop out the strips and put them on a wire rack on a tray and let the excess syrup drip off. Pat with kitchen paper to make sure they’re not too sticky. At this point, reserve the 225g crystallised peel for the Christmas pudding – chop it quite coarsely. It will keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container.

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Draining the fruit.

Heap a layer of granulated sugar on a plate and use two forks to toss the remaining slices a few at a time in the sugar. Make sure they’re coated all over. Arrange on a clean wire rack and leave to dry out for three or four hours.

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Orangettes

You can eat them as they are or dip them in melted dark chocolate. Break up the chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water (you can also melt chocolate easily in a microwave, but I don’t have one so you’ll have to look elsewhere for instructions for that). Dip the slices of peel in the chocolate so it covers half of each slice. Shake gently to remove the excess chocolate and place on a piece of baking parchment to dry completely. Once dry, store in an airtight container in single layers divided by sheets of baking parchment. They will keep for a couple of weeks, though the chocolate will lose its gloss after a few days.

Lazy tart

Debora's Lazy Tart

When we were here a couple of years ago, I wrote about my rugby-playing nephew Angus who was supposed to eat 4,000 calories a day and seemed keen to derive a fair amount of these from Nutella.

Well – despite a startlingly grown-up beard – he still has a child’s sweet tooth and an enduring affection for the chocolate and hazelnut spread. Last night we needed a quick sweet fix to round off dinner and together we came up with the 5 minute Nutella and peach tart. For a lazy tart, it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

Five minute Nutella and peach tart

Nutella and peach tart

1 circle ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
A generous amount of Nutella
3-4 ripe peaches, cut into segments
A small handful of hazelnuts, roughly chopped, or flaked almonds (optional)
Some egg wash or milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment (or use the parchment the pastry comes rolled in) and lay the circle of pastry on it. With a small, sharp knife, cut a border about 2cm in from the edge of the pastry disc, being careful not to cut all the way through the pastry. Brush the border with the egg wash or milk.

Using a spatula, spread a generous, even layer of Nutella within the border and arrange the sliced peaches over the top, cramming them quite close together. Scatter the nuts over the top if using and then bake for about 20 minutes, until the pastry if puffed up and golden and the peaches are slightly caramelised around the edges. Serve warm.

Angus John Robertson & Debora's Lazy Tart

Chocolate and the essential art of sloth

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I love working from home. I take phone calls with the Gilmore Girls temporarily on mute, check emails while singing along enthusiastically if tunelessly to 42nd Street and type with a dog to warm my feet and a pair of kittens snoozing in my in tray. My one shiver of envy for office workers comes when we have so much snow, trains don’t run, offices close and they get the day off. Frustratingly – as my office is a gentle 60 second stroll from my bed – it would take quite the snow storm to make it impossible for me to clock in.

IMG_2406 This picture was taken by my friend Stephen Morallee.

Ty Snow1 Ty tastes his first snow.

Stephen 1 Stephen trying to take pictures. Thwarted.

Jess scarf Jess, all wrapped up.

I was thinking about this as I walked Barney in the park, my boots crunching through the dazzling layer of crisp snow. Our usual dog walking number was swelled by a few office refuseniks, excited at the prospect of a day off. So – in the spirit of solidarity – I declared a snow day myself. No work, just pottering. If I’m honest, to the naked eye this wouldn’t have looked very different to a normal day. Show tunes, yes, messing about in the kitchen, certainly, but deadline stress, tricky emails and scaling of the accounts mountain so large its about to be granted its own postcode, were banned.

I’d been sent a bag of Trish Deseine’s new milk chocolate buttons to try. I needed to cook them – what they’re intended for – before I ate the whole bag. I flipped through the pages of Trish’s Best of Chocolat (in French, just so you know) which I bought when we were in Agde in the summer and decided the milk chocolate, date and almond cake was a suitable fate for my precious and rapidly diminishing bounty.

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I love Trish Deseine’s food. It’s cosy, sexy, sophisticated and her books are shot through with her natural warmth and humour. She is from Northern Ireland and has lived in France for the past twenty years or so, where she has enjoyed un succès fou showing the French how to create simple and delicious meals which require neither a sous chef nor a trust fund. Luckily for us, she has published several books in English. Try them. You will like.

Chocolate by Trish

Trish’s chocolate is available from Selfridges or by mail order in the UK from Chocolatebytrish.com

Rich chocolate cake with dates and almonds

This flourless chocolate cake has an intense, almost wine-y depth of flavour. It’s grown up, rich, fudgy and, yes, intensely chocolate-y. It keeps very well for a few days too, if you’re the sort of person who can sleep while there’s chocolate cake in a tin on your kitchen shelf.

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DSCN3374 Really, how could it not be good?

Serves 8 to 10 people

250g milk chocolate, Trish’s magic buttons are 38%
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
125g light muscovado sugar
175g ground almonds
100g whole almonds, toasted* and finely chopped
175g unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing
150g Medjool dates, stoned and chopped, if you can’t get hold of Medjool dates, poach ordinary dates for three minutes in a little water and sugar

Lightly grease a 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin, line it with a circle of baking parchment and butter the parchment. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in a microwave or over a bowl of barely-simmering water (the bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the water). Cool slightly.

DSCN3383 Pretty.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy – the beaters should leave a ribbon trail across the surface when you lift them out of the batter. Add the ground and chopped almonds and the dates and stir until well combined. Lightly but thoroughly fold in the melted chocolate and butter with a spatula. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes – the centre should still wobble a bit as it will firm up as it cools. Let it cool in the tin before turning it out.

* Place them in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake them at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for about 6 minutes. Cook them for a minute or two longer if they still look a bit pale but keep checking them as they can burn very easily.

IMG_2434 I took some of the cake to the park the next day – I’m kind like that. This picture was taken by Stephen Morallee.

Chestnut chocolate cake: Nailed

Chestnut and chocolate cake
I spent most of February in a clatter of pans and a blizzard of chopping, stirring and whisking as I devised recipes for my friend Mark’s new book, A Taste of the Unexpected. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Mark and I did seem to spend a lot of time on the phone gossiping about important stuff like 80s music, biscuits and football. We both support red teams, though not the same ones, so it made for lively, deadline-diverting, conversations.

One of our recipes is for a chestnut jam. It’s bloody good. It better be. It requires the peeling of 2kg of chestnuts. (Mark, don’t think I’ve forgotten. I am invoicing you for a manicure.) It was worth it though as the result is a fudgy, creamy, seductive combination of nuts, muscovado sugar, vanilla and a splash of apple cider brandy at the end because, well, how can that ever be a bad thing? I wish I could share it with you here, but I can’t. Not quite yet. You’ll have to wait until its publication in September. Just in time for chestnut season, in fact.

I have four jars of this heavenly concoction in the cupboard and I was dying to use some in a recipe. The obvious candidate was the flourless chestnut and chocolate cake in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Year. I’ve made it dozens of times, every time I want an easy, delicious slightly grown up chocolate cake in fact. It has a wonderfully light texture – it’s like a rich, silky mousse in cake form – perfect for afternoon tea or a divinely seductive ending to a great dinner. And another bonus? If you’re the self-controlled sort, it last really well in an airtight tin for four or five days.

I used 400g of our jam in the recipe. Until I’m allowed to share, you could use 400g of bought chestnut jam or just follow the instructions for making the chestnut puree below, perhaps adding half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a teaspoon of brandy too if you like. At least you’ll get to enjoy the cake without pursuing Mark to sort out your tab at the nail bar. You’d have to explain what a nail bar was to him first anyway, and that could get tiresome.

River Cottage chestnut and chocolate cake

250g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter
250g peeled and cooked chestnuts (I like Merchant Gourmet)
250ml milk
4 eggs
125g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas mark 3. Butter a 25cm cake tin and line with baking parchment.

Break the chocolate into pieces and place them in a heatproof bowl with the butter, cut into chunks. Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water until melted and stir until smooth. Cool slightly.

In another pan, heat the chestnuts with the milk until just boiling, then mash thoroughly with a potato masher or puree in a blender.

Separate the eggs and put the yolks in a bowl with the sugar. Mix until well combined then stir in the chocolate and the chestnut puree until you have a smooth, blended batter.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold them into the chocolate mixture, starting by mixing in a third of the whites to loosen the batter and then gently folding in the rest of the whites. Pour and scrape into the cake tin then bake for 25-30 minutes, until it is just set but still has a slight wobble.

If you want to serve the cake warm, leave it to cool a little, then release the tin and slice carefully – it will be very soft and moussey. Or leave it to go cold, when it will have set firm. Serve with a trickle of double cream, especially when warm, but it also delicious unadulterated.