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.

Home again

Liptauer, an easy and delicious snack.


London is dark and damp. Walking Barney in Abney Park on Friday morning, the bitter smell of sulphur from the previous night’s fireworks hung in the air.

A damp dog walk in Abney Park.


But all is not dreary. Our local church hall is hosting an evening of Sing Along A Sound of Music to raise money for UNICEF’s Sing for Syria appeal and my friend Liz has signed me up to help decorate the entrance to the hall in a suitably Austria en fête fashion. So last night, in Episode 1127 of my Jill Archer life, Liz came round to discuss the suitability of floral fabrics pulled messily from my craft cupboard and how many fairy lights was too many fairy lights. And by discuss I mean drink, and by fabric I mean wine.

The Sound of Music is the first film I remember seeing, with my dad and my grandmother, aged about five or six, back in the day when small market towns still had cinemas, so it’s always had a special place in my heart.

I also spent part of the summer I was 15 staying with friends of my parents in Vienna. My strongest memory of that trip is seeing women wearing dirndls in an entirely unironic fashion, to go to the office or walk to the post box. But I also remember eating liptauer, the hummus of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as a mid-afternoon snack. This spicy, paprika-spiked spread is terribly easy to make and I thought it would see Liz and I through our important decoration discussions. And it goes well with wine.

Liptauer

The things that make liptauer taste so good.


You can leave the butter out of this if you like (that’s not something I often say), and just make up the weight with more cream cheese or quark. Or you can substitute some cottage cheese for either. Just make sure it’s mixed until very well blended.

Serves 4 as a snack, or more as part of a selection of starters

100g butter, softened
200g quark (or cottage cheese, if that’s your thing)
180g tub of cream cheese
3-4 cornichons, diced
3 spring onions, white and pale green part only, finely diced
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp capers, rinsed if salted, roughly chopped
2 tsps white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or juice from the cornichon jar
1 tsp caraway seeds
A good pinch of hot paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve
Rye bread, more cornichons and other pickles, chopped boiled egg

In a mixer or with a wooden spoon, beat the butter until smooth then beat in the quark and cream cheese a little at a time until very smooth. Beat the rest of the ingredients until well combined. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and/or vinegar or cornichon juice if required.

Beating everything together.


You can make the liptauer up to a couple of days ahead. I suggest you make it at least a couple of hours ahead for the flavours to develop. Seal in a tub or in a bowl with clingfilm and remove from the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it. Give it a good stir, spoon it into a serving bowl and sprinkle over some hot paprika.

Serve with rye bread (you can lightly toast this if you like) and more pickles, and/or some chopped boiled egg.

Back-of-the-fridge dinners


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Sunday is when I run errands. I start early at the flower market, then on to Fabrique to pick up some bread for the week and a couple of cardamom buns for Sunday tea, next The Turkish Food Centre on Ridley Road for yoghurt, feta, olives, spices and finally – nearly home – the greengrocers’ for big bunches of herbs, fruit and veg. Sorry if this is beginning to sound a bit Goop. I warn you it’s not going to get much better. If it helps, you would almost certainly be horrified at the state of my jump-out-of-bed-and-get-going fashion stylin’.

To make room for all of the fresh stuff, on Saturday I rummage through the fridge and cupboards for anything that needs using up. Ends of cheese, wilting half heads of celery, softening spinach, dairy leaping over its sell-by date, olives lurking at the bottom of tubs, a remembrance of drinks parties past, everything short of a biohazard ends up in salads, soups, casseroles or pies. There is a pleasing randomness to Saturday night tea at our house. Here is this weekend’s experiment.

Saturday night chorizo and fennel

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A few slightly vintage chorizo sausages, some bulbs of less-than-perky fennel, a bendy leek and a stick of celery I could almost certainly have wrapped into a bow if I’d so desired were the inspiration for this supper. Take your time browning the fennel and softening the onions – it really adds to the flavour. If I’d had some feta lurking at the back of the fridge, I’d have crumbled that over the top at the end too.

Serves 4

3 bulbs of fennel
A few tablespoons of olive oil
250g cooking chorizo, cut into 4cm chunks
3 onions, finely diced
1 leek, white and pale green part only, finely sliced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 red chilli, finely minced – remove the membrane and seeds if you like a milder flavour
2 teaspoons ground cumin
200ml white wine
100ml red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato purée
400g tin chopped tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes
400ml chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, tough stalks removed, finely chopped
Small bunch of coriander, tough stalks removed, finely chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Trim any brown bits off the fennel and save any fronds to finish the dish. Cut each bulb into 6-8 wedges lengthways, depending on its size. Keep the root and core intact so the wedges hold together.

Warm a splash of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole over a medium heat and sauté the chunks of chorizo until they take on a bit of colour then remove them to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon – you want to leave enough of the nice, red, spicy fat in the pan to fry everything else. Raise the heat a bit and put the fennel wedges into the same pan. Sauté on both sides until they take on some colour. You’ll have to do this in a couple of batches. As each wedge is done, put it in the bowl with the chorizo.

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Make sure to get the fennel nice and golden.

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I love these tinned tomatoes.

When you’ve cooked all the chorizo and fennel, lower the heat and tip the onions and leek into the same pan. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring from time to time, until very soft, about 30 minutes. Add the celery and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chilli and cumin and sauté, stirring, for a minute. Pour in the wine and vinegar and simmer quite hard until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato purée, chicken stock and tinned tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the reserved chorizo and fennel, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the fennel is very tender. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 5-10 minutes until thickened slightly. Season, stir in the coriander, parsley and any reserved fennel fronds and serve.

Welcome Home Breakfast Eggs


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I spent most of the summer, with a little back and forth, in south west France. You’d think a person couldn’t live on oysters, peaches and rosé alone but I’m here to tell you if you try very hard and put in the hours, you really can. As delightful as that sounds and, hell, is, I miss Hackney – my dearest, dirty, cranky and sometimes just plain weird belovèd – when we’re apart too long. I miss being able to eat lunch whenever you want, a petition on every counter and a pop-up on every corner, I miss the bearded boys and the tattooed girls and being able to buy five different kinds of anything you want at midnight.

And I definitely miss Turkish food. When I come home, I like to have breakfast at one of the many cafés on Stoke Newington High Street. In summer, I’ll take the trad plate of olives, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, tomato, boiled egg and simit bread with honey. Around about now, I choose menemen, a combination of hot peppers, tomatoes and chillies with scrambled eggs.

Even on cold days, I sit at a pavement table. This isn’t just because I usually have my dog with me, but because it’s all the better to watch the neighbourhood theatre: the boys in the barbers’ having precise and elaborate patterns shaved into their hair, skateboarders whizzing past (cue Barney: ‘BARK BARK BARK’), young couples with buggies, old ladies wheeling bags of laundry, the women in the flower shop arranging their pavement display and old men absent-mindedly working colourful tesbih, or worry beads, through their fingers. If I’m really lucky, I might see a Turkish wedding – so much mascara, so much hair, so much satin, so many metres of ribbon looped into festive decoration on newly-polished cars.

This weekend, as I sat over my breakfast menemen, I thought about how I always feel more inclined to make new resolutions in autumn than I do in the dreary milk-thistle-laced days of January. I may not have name tapes, new socks and sharpened pencils but I have new ideas and intentions. One of these is to post more here about my favourite things: daily life here in east London and all of the time I spend in France. I hope you’ll come along with me, jump in, comment, and tell me about some of your own favourite things. I’d love to hear about them.

Autumn in East London

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Graffiti in Abbot Street, Hackney.


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Tree with a hole in it, Clissold Park.

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The beginning of the football season, Emirates Stadium, when we still dare to hope.

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Chillies, autumn flowers and leaves in the kitchen.


Yellows and Golds at Columbia Road Market

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Yellow mums.

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Chinese lanterns.


Turkish Breakfast Eggs

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You can add spicy sausage or bacon to this if you like. You can also poach the eggs in the sauce rather than scramble them. You sometimes see this described as menemen, but it’s really shakshouka. If you’d like to make a poached version, make small wells in the thick sauce with the back of a spoon, tip an egg into each well and put a lid on the pan for a few minutes until the whites are just set.

1 tablespoon olive oil
A knob of butter
2 red onions, halved and finely sliced
2 red peppers, halved, cored, deseeded and sliced (it’s more usual to use a combination of red and green, but red its what I had and I prefer it anyway)
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped – leave in the seeds and membrane if you like a little heat
4 large, ripe tomatoes, cored and finely diced – don’t bother to skin or deseed them
A good pinch of sugar
Some chilli flakes (optional)
4 eggs, seasoned and lightly beaten
A small handful of parsley, tough stalks removed and chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil and butter in a frying pan approximately 20cm diameter over a medium heat until the butter has melted and stopped foaming. Add the onion, peppers, garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt and fry, stirring from time to time, until everything is softened. This should take about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and sugar. Stir and continue to cook, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is thickened – you want it to be rich, and not watery at all. Taste, season and add a pinch or two of chilli flakes if it’s not fiery enough for you.

Season the eggs with salt and pepper and pour them onto the vegetables. Don’t stir them at this point. You want them to set a little before you stir them into the eggs. At the last minute, just before serving, give everything a brief stir, scatter with parsley and eat with bread.

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

Make yourself a merry little Christmas…

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Join me at my house for a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a slice of cake and a little light crafting and cooking. I’ll show you how to make some simple and irresistible Christmas presents, such as marigold soap and rose milk bath, scented sugars, pine cone firelighters, seedy crackers and chilli vodka. I’ll also demonstrate some easy decorations like dried orange and pine cone garlands, so your home smells as good as it looks this Christmas.

WHEN? NOVEMBER 9  – Sold Out
      or NOVEMBER 30 – Sold Out  
      2.30-4.30pm

HOW MUCH? £30, includes refreshments and a copy of my book, Gifts from the Garden: 100 Gorgeous Homegrown Presents
You can book from the PayPal link in the right hand column, or email me for further details.

A taste of figs

 

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A box of figs, £3.49.

When we went to the Turkish Food Centre on Sunday I bought a whole case of figs for £3.49. They were sticky and ripe, the kind you can eat greedily with the skin on, spitting out only the stalk. I think there’s something a little revolting, life-denying, about peeling figs. They look so raw and unappealing, like dead baby mice.

Of course, when you’re buying them as ripe as this you need to use them within a day or so. I like them with yoghurt for breakfast or cooked on the griddle with some slices of halloumi and a trickle of honey, maybe a few slivers of toasted almonds. But there are a lot of them in a box.

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Figgy lunch, with halloumi , almonds, thyme, olive oil and honey.

I’ve wanted to try making a fig liqueur since Séan and I were offered sticky little glasses of the stuff to round off dinner at one of our favourite local restaurants, the almost painfully charming and invariably delicious Oui Madame! on Stoke Newington High Street.

I’m not sure if what we tried was Figoun, the Provençal fig liqueur made from red wine, figs, vanilla, angelica, oranges and tangerine among other, secret ingredients, but I thought I’d try combining figs, vanilla sugar, orange zest, red wine and a slug of cognac and see how I get on.

I think it should be quite good by Christmas, even better by next Christmas. If you’d like to try it, I’m giving you the recipe I’ve used here but of course it’s something of a leap of faith. I’ve never made this before. I’ve no idea if it will work, but if it does won’t we all be enormously pleased with ourselves on Christmas Day?

Fig Liqueur

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This lovely illustration is by my Twitter friend, artist Anna Koska (@gremkoska). Do take a look at her website here.

[Copyright: Anna Koska]

When you’re buying figs, especially if you’re buying them by the box, lift them out of their pretty paper cases and inspect them for mould – the mortal enemy of figs everywhere. One mouldy fig will turn the rest very quickly indeed.

Should make about 1.5 litres. We’ll see.

600g figs
225g caster sugar or vanilla sugar, I used vanilla sugar
1 strip of orange peel, pared with a very sharp vegetable peeler, any white pith removed
1 bottle fruity red wine, plus a bit, enough to almost fill the jar
100ml cognac
You’ll need 1x2l cold, sterilised jar and some cold, sterilised bottles to decant the liqueur into

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Cut figs…

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Macerating in sugar…

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Add the wine and cognac.

Wash the figs, trim off the hard stem and cut into eighths. Place some in the bottom of the jar and scatter some of the sugar on top. Continue layering fruit and sugar until you’ve used them all up. Seal the jar and put in a cool place for 2-3 days, turning it every day until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the orange zest. Pour in the wine and cognac. Seal and store the liqueur in a cool, dark place for a couple of months, shaking the jar every week or so. Strain through a sieve and then strain again through a sieve lined in muslin. Pour into cold, sterilised bottles and seal. Ideally, leave it for a month or so before drinking.