Happy 2014 with Brazilian carrot and chocolate cake!


If I had to start 2014 with an overused food writing commonplace, I’d say that Brazilian carrot cake is my Proustian madeleine. Of all the cheese bread, brigadeiros, black beans and deep fried fare to pick from, it is the carrot cake that most strongly tastes of my childhood in Sao Paulo. It was pretty much a weekly occurrence at home, yet it never lost its special treat status .

It took me a while, and some disappointment, to realise that what we Brazilians call carrot cake is another creature altogether  from the cinnamon-nutmeg laced, cream cheese frosted variety common in England and America. Ours is a simple beast. Quite brightly orange, it’s pure carrot, with a chocolate topping that can’t really be called frosting. Halfway between a glaze and a syrup, one of the pleasures of carrot cake days was to surreptitiously run my fingers around each slice, breaking the just set crust of chocolate and reaching the chocolate goo lurking underneath it. And yes, I did say carrot and chocolate as a flavour combo. You will not know food love until you try it.

Maybe because bolo de cenoura is the special welcome I get when I visit Brazil, I probably decided at some point it should keep its superstar allure, which I suppose explains why I never attempted to make it myself. Except that’s a big fat lie. I did try to make it a few times, many years ago. And it was a complete failure. Really shockingly bad, straight-to-the-bin quality. At the time, I declared ‘English carrots’ were to blame, and let the matter rest. And then Christmas came, and the thought of family and home must have brought on the desperate craving, and with it the alarming realisation I did not possess a single recipe of my beloved cake. Which is exactly what the internet was invented for. After selecting the most attractive recipes and heading for the kitchen , this is what I learned about Brazilian carrot cake:

  1. Deceptively simple covers it. Who knew this humble and homely cake  was so particular about the way it gets baked?
  2. Do follow instructions closely, or be prepared to end up with a heavy and unbaked mess.
  3. Do not go for vague recipes. Even though this really is a simple and quick cake to make, there are a few tricks which, if not specified clearly on the instructions, will lead you to failure.
  4. If you find a recipe for ‘one step blend-it-all-together carrot cake’, bin it. It won’t work.
  5. This one I didn’t learn now, but was pleasantly reminded of all week: it makes the entire house smell like a piece of confectionery heaven like no other dessert does.
  6. It remains my all-time favourite cake.


I did get it right eventually, and I have one of the last delicious slices right here next to me as I type this. I still suspect there is a difference in the type of carrots from country to country, possibly in the water contents or freshness of carrots. For my now tried and tested recipe, I’ve used 2 medium carrots, but have stated the weight of them to hopefully make it more reliable. What you should get is a fluffy cake, not dry, but in no way as wet as a pudding. It should have a slightly sturdier consistency than a Victoria sponge, but still airy and bouncy. If it looks moist in the middle, it’s because it didn’t bake properly: go back to square one. As for the shape you choose to bake it: at home it was usually a square tray cake, but I have come across some taller and round ones. If you decide to use a bundt tin, add a third to the baking time. Also, the recipe I’m writing here is for a smallish tray. I used a brownie tin of 20X30 cm (8X12 in), so again, consider the size of the tins if using different shapes. I also found it much easier to get it right using a tray. I really hope my efforts have paid off and will ensure you get this right first time around. I promise you will never think of carrot cake the same way again.

If your 2014’s resolution was to try something new, I can’t think of any better way to start it!


Brazilian carrot and chocolate cake

As it’s common with regional recipes, any Brazilian you speak to will have their own version of what the ‘authentic’ chocolate topping should be like. For me, it must be the right side of viscous so it infiltrates the cake just so, and then sets on top of it as it cools down to form a barely there crust – a bit like the sugar crust on top of a lemon drizzle cake, only a bit less subtle.

 For the cake:

  •  2 medium carrots, sliced into 3 cm disks (roughly 1 inch). Or 230g.
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (230ml). I used corn, as it’s the only one I remember was available when I was a child, and I wanted this to taste like the real thing. Any neutral vegetable oil is fine.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups caster sugar (280g)
  • 2 cups plain white flour (300g)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  1. Grease and flour a 20X30 baking tray (8X12 in).
  2. Set the oven to 180C (350F).
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. In a blender, mix the carrots, oil, eggs and sugar. Blend it on the highest setting until it is completely smooth and not one bit of carrot is visible. Put the blender away and do not let it even look at the cake until it’s ready.
  5. Gently add the liquidised carrots to the flour mix and use a whisk to bring it all together. The dough will be liquid enough not to get stuck in the whisk. Mix it very well, but don’t beat it.
  6. Pour the dough into the prepared tin and bake it for approximately 30 minutes, or until the proverbial toothpick comes out clean. The house will be as fragrant as a dream  by now.
  7. When it’s ready, remove it from the oven, let it cool in the tin for 20 to 30 minutes, then gently transfer it to a plate and glaze it while still warm.

For the chocolate glaze:

  • 1 cup caster sugar (225g)
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 5 – 6 tbsp milk, preferably full fat
  • 4 tbsp good quality cocoa powder. Pure Dutch is less acidic if you have it.
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract. Don’t overdo on the vanilla.

Mix all the ingredients in a small saucepan, mix well on a gentle heat and bring it to the boil. Let it boil for a minute or so.

While the cake is still warm, make small holes on its surface with a fork or toothpick. Slowly drizzle about half the glaze over the warm cake and let it sink in. Allow the remaining glaze to cool for 5 minutes or so and it will thicken a bit. Spread it on the cake so it forms a thin layer over it. As the cake cools down, the glaze will form a very thin and satisfying crust on it. It’s at its best the next day.


Green Door Supper club news!

A little while ago, I promised to bring some exciting news to you. So, here’s what’s been going on:

–         CatfordCanteen To start with, not quite breaking news, but it’s never too much to say it: the next Green Door supper club is happening this Saturday! That’s the 23rd November. At the brand new, über cool Catford Canteen! We’re working very hard to deliver an evening to make Catfordites proud. There’s still a chance to book at GrubClub. The menu will be very similar to the last supper club we did in Hither Green, with rich, comforting Northern Italian food – which should feel like a hug under the arctic weather we’re expecting this weekend. If you’re undecided about coming, I have 3 words for you: home made nutella. See you there!

–          Now the really, really exciting bit: the Hither Green Christmas market is coming back with a bang this year, and the Green Door will be there, apron and whisk at the ready! It is now official: we will be serving the finest porchetta sandwiches all day on the 7th December at the F.U.S.S Christmas market. I am very excited about this, and the variety of stalls – food and drink and crafts and more – and entertainment will make for the happiest welcome for the man himself – yes, DJ Father Christmas will be in the house!

Poster 2013 FUSS

–          If you haven’t seen this yet, the lovely folk at the Never Eat Wobbly Jelly blog wrote a very generous review of our October supper club . You can learn more about our food, and since you’re there, stop to look at other great stories, and some seriously good food finds. Their photos of Sicily make me want to pack my Sophia Loren sunglasses and fly.

 So there you have it. A lot of cooking, the new exciting Catford Canteen, and your Christmas shopping sorted with a day of mulled wine, choirs and roast pork in Hither Green. To paraphrase Gregg Wallace, winter doesn’t get happier than that!



Gnocchetti sardi


Malloreddus, or gnocchi sardi

Complete the sentence: Making your own pasta is _____:

a) therapeutic

b) messy

c) overrated

d) such a palaver

e) well worth the effort

Yes, the correct answer is indeed E. And since very recently, I’d also add: surprisingly quick and easy, mess-free and of such obvious superior quality.


As much as I enjoy making pasta, I’ve never been too confident about it, and it does tend to turn my kitchen upside down, with flour everywhere and pasta drying out on every surface. I’m a bit better with egg-based ones, although it puts me off, as you need to be ever so careful for it not to stick or break.

HL_Oliena_gnocchetti_sardiMy recent 2 weeks stint in Sardinia, and an almost daily encounter with their omnipresent gnocchetti – or malloreddus, as they’re called locally – , set the tone for a new pasta challenge. And they turned out to be such a pleasure to make and cook that I think I may have found my new best pasta friend.

Unlike their more famous potato cousins, the gnocchi sardi  are made with just durum wheat flour and water. They’re also bite sized, or even smaller if we’re talking of gnocchetti. Their shape is similar to an almost closed shell, a bit similar to  conchiglie. The shape, along with the groovy surface, make them a most welcoming host to rich tomato sauce – with which is very commonly served. In their special ‘Sunday clothes’,  gnocchi sardi have added saffron in the dough for the beautiful colour and flavour.

I didn’t want the heartbreak of facing our aneamic tomatoes after a fortnight in Southern Italian tomato sauce heaven, so I went with broccoli and garlic. It is a scientifically proven fact that adding any dark green and garlic to a dish immediately increases its chances of being a success by 75%.

As for the flour, I used remilled durum wheat semolina (or farina di semola rimacinata, if you’re looking for it in Italian delis). This is more refined than normal semolina flour, and after a bit of research, I found opinions on both sides: the remilled version is ideal for pasta making for its fineness; or you should stick to the normal durum wheat for better quality and bite. I found it easier to work with than the other semolina flour I normally use , and we had just perfectly al dente pasta for dinner. I’ll be going back for more.

Gnocchetti sardi with broccoli and garlic

I used a small wooden gnocchi board, also called ‘chitarrina’ (small guitar) with grooves on it to shape my gnocchi. You could also use the tines of a small fork.

For the pasta:

  • 500g remilled durum wheat flour
  • 250 ml very warm water

For the sauce:

  • a small head of broccoli.  Or, if available, broccoli florets, as they’re delicious on pasta
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped – or more, according to taste
  • the nicest extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on
  • salt and black pepper

Make the pasta:

  1. place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre
  2. gradually add the warm water to the centre and, using your fingers,  start mixing the flour from the sides until it’s all incorporated and you have a uniform dough. Yes, the water is very hot, but as soon as it mixes with the flour the temperature drops and you won’t burn your fingers. Just be careful when you first pour the water.
  3. turn the dough out onto your work surface. Mine is wood and I did not need to flour it
  4. knead well, and with vigour!  Approximately 15 minutes, until the dough is soft, silky and elastic
  5. form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 30 minutes
  6. cut a small portion out of the dough and roll it into a snake like shape of approximately 0.5 cm of diametre
  7. with a sharp knife, cut 1 cm round pieces of dough
  8. now, grab a piece and roll it against the gnocchi board/fork tine. Press it firmly against the board and roll the gnocchi down (see photo). It will curl over itself, and pick up the groves from the board.

Prepare the sauce:

1. separate the broccoli into florets and steam them for 3 to 4 minutes, until it’s tender, but still very al dente. I do this by placing a colander over a saucepan with simmering water, and cover the colander.

2. remove the broccoli from the steam and chop it into very small pieces.

3. warm a good amount of olive oil (about half a cup) in a large frying pan and add the chopped garlic on medium heat. Do not let it brown. As soon as it starts getting yellow-golden, add the broccoli and mix well so it’s all well coated with the oil. Keep the heat to a medium and cook for about 3 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Bring it all together:

1. boil abundant water in a large saucepan. Add salt

2. throw the gnocchi in. It is ready as soon as it comes to the surface. Mine took no longer than 3 minutes

3. if you have big enough a frying pan, keep the warm broccoli in it and add the drained gnocchi to the pan as soon as they come come out of the boiling water. Mix it well and warm it for less than a minute. Otherwise, transfer the cooked gnocchi to a large serving dish, and mix the warm broccoli.

4. Serve with grated pecorino.


Eating Fish in Alghero. And a recipe for stuffed squid


Warning: this blog post contains clichéd images of stereotypical Italian holidays. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

If I had to describe Sardinia in one word, I’d choose stunning. But since I can be as verbose as I wish (I’ve been quiet for ages!) I’ll also go with warm, incredibly varied, exotic, funny, intriguing and unforgettable.

Having mostly lived in enormous cities, I’m always surprised to find myself in fully working cities that are also manageable on foot. Alghero has 40 thousand people living by the sea (I am told this number goes up to 4 times as much in summer), and the Mediterranean is right there. You can smell it and see it from anywhere in town.  It was really my civic duty to get to know their sea food properly. Luckily, our flat was just down the road from the daily fish market, which made the task less arduous. Inside the market, I ate at what is probably the restaurant with the fewest overheads in history: fresh fish from 5 minutes away, fried or barbecued. And a choice of local cold white wine.

I’m not sure if I was more excited about the market or the restaurant itself. They’re both outstanding. We spotted the Boqueria restaurant – more on that surprising Spanish influence on Alghero to come –  early on a Saturday and felt very smug for having discovered such a hidden gem – only to be told to book immediately for any chance of getting a table that day. By early afternoon, the place was packed. As it so often happens in Italy, I went with what the waitress told me to, and received a plate with king prawns, squid, and a magnificent bream (orata) cooked in a crust of salt. Simply barbecued with nothing more than salt, it was all delicious, but the orata was the star of the show. The thick layer of salt kept the sweet flesh from direct heat, resulting in a moist, tender, delicate meat that held well as you picked it up, only to melt in your mouth a second later. Washed down with a bottle of prosecco, that sent me straight to a very happy holiday afternoon nap. Unfortunately, the Resident Vegetarian had to supplement his lunch with a cheese sandwich. This was the non-meat item on the menu:


Vegetarian fish feast.

Vegetarian menu shortcomings aside, that meal was one of the highlights of the week, and the market on Via Cagliari a stop I’d recommend to anyone visiting Alghero.


As for the city itself, it was full of surprises. This was my first time in Sardinia, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from Alghero. The image I had from Sardinia was exclusive beaches, remote Berlusconi villas, and intimidating millionaire tourists on dubious yacht parties. What I found on our first stop was a beautiful, lively city that has a life outside the tourism industry, although it clearly makes the best of the summer months too. I didn’t see any obvious millionaires, but I met a lot of fishermen.

The walled historic centre is reasonably well preserved, while the town that has developed around it is well planned and green, and the local beaches clean, accessible and gorgeous.  Alghero was populated by Catalan settlers from the 14th century, and in its eventful history has had both Catalan and Spanish as the official language, before it went back to Italian rule in the early 1800s –  well, it was then really the House of Savoy before the Italian unification, but that country has way too complicated a history for this blog. My point is, the Catalans have left a strong mark, and the local dialect heard in the streets, along with the unique architecture and local food makes the place feel very Spanish. There is a local version of paella (same name) made with the Sardinian fregola pasta; crème catalan is a ubiquitous dessert, and food names such as seadas sound decidedly  un-Italian. And speaking of seadas: thinly rolled-out dough made into a large pasty, filled with fresh sweet cheese and deep fried. What can I say? Seadas are usually served with drizzled honey (I found they have an adoration of honey all over Sardinia, with menus specifying which varieties you can have: from strawberry tree honey, to rosemary, eucalyptus and chestnut), or sugar. It is an amazing dessert. Available everywhere I went, always freshly made. I had mine with sugar.


Back at the market, being left alone in that fish Disneyland for 5 minutes, I of course could not resist buying some squid and sardines, and since I was there, some Sardinian buffalo mozzarela smuggled amongst all the seafare. The mozzarella was firmer and saltier than the better known one from Campania, but still very good. We had a lovely flat with a roof terrace overlooking other terraces and gardens that looked much more tropical than Mediterranean: I had breakfast over banana trees, pomegranate and sharon fruit. Determined to use as many Sardinian ingredients as I could manage, I used the sardines with pan carasau and herbs to make a stuffing for the squid. I then barely grilled the squid just to get a bit of a smokey flavour in them, and cooked them in Vermentino white wine. To go with the squid: green fried tomatoes, the breadcrumbs crust also made with pan carasau. I am fully aware of how touristy this is, but is there anything better than a quick food shopping spree in an Italian market for a delicious, fresh and easy dinner?

A note on the bread: pan carasau is a Sardinian bread religion, and I was given a few lectures during the holiday on just why this is obviously the best and most versatile bread in the world. Of Italians I admire the passion for food, and the modesty. I must admit that I never ‘got’ pan carasau before. It is very thin, crispy, and I didn’t quite understand what to do with bread you can’t mop food with. A fortnight in Sardinia has converted me, and the stuff really is delicious.

Alghero had enough going on for a full weeks’ stay. The beaches were far above my expectations, and you would be happy if all you’re looking for is a beach break right in the middle of autumn. All it takes is a 10 minute bike ride (through pine trees!) to reach a stunning sandy beach – Pineta –  almost deserted, despite the temperatures of over 25C and warm waters in late October. Walking through the beach in town, the scenery is very rugged and really wild, like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere in continental Italy. There are lots of other beautiful beach destinations, all under 10 miles away – Capocaccia being a highly recommended one, although we didn’t make it that far.

But Sardinia really is as varied as you’ll be told by any tourist brochure. We then headed to the mountains and found a whole other world, of which I’ll talk in another post. For now, I’ll keep looking at my photos and wishing I could pop round the fish market for a quick oyster feast.

Other highlights of the week in Alghero:

  • casa del formaggio algheroCasa Del Formaggio: Via Mazzini, 43. We were treated to a sampling of pecorino by age: from 6 to 12 months, accompanied by full explanation of origin and production of each cheese by the passionate and deeply knowledgeable owner/shopkeeper.
  • Our flat: through the wonder that is airbnb, we found this gem in central Alghero. The landlady, Giovanna, picked us up from the airport, gave us a city tour on the way home, and even baked us cookies! She lives in the flat downstairs with her family and my new Algherese best friend, Pongo the dog. And best of all, the flat has this dream of a pasta making table! Which I will from now on include in every birthday and Christmas wish list until I get one. A perfect base from which to explore the town, and a reminder of how shortsighted and petty New York’s attack on airbnb is.  Long live airbnb and the benefits it brings to tourists, landlords and any city.
  • Sardinian vermentino wine.
  • Sword fish. This is my all-time favourite fish, and I tend to go crazy on it during trips to Italy, since it’s a popular fish there. At La Botteghina (Via Principe Umberto, 63), they had a sword fish carpaccio that was out of this world. Have it.
  • Al Refettorio: Vicolo Adami, 47. Again, beautifully fresh swordfish cooked with capers. And a dessert I ate so quickly and so avidly the waiter asked if I’d like a second one. It was: a pistachio fondant with a warm almond and pistachio filling. Get out of here!

A special note of thanks to Luigi from Capo Caccia Foods in London, who generously shared his insider tips on his hometown of Alghero before we went – and who, bizarrely, we bumped into while there! If you’d like to try Sardinian food before you venture there, a visit to Capo Caccia will make you book your tickets in a minute.

Squid stuffed with sardines cooked in wine

I wanted to use local Sardinian ingredients for my dinner, although many of the ingredients here can be replaced. The pan carasau can be replaced by any bread. Just adjust the quantities, as the bread is there only to give some consistency to the filling. Don’t make it to doughy.

This recipe serves 2.

  • 4 whole squid, cleaned, cartilage removed.
  • 2 sardines, cleaned, gutted and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 small fennel, chopped. Include the leaves, also chopped
  • 1 small red pepper, chopped
  • a few capers
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • 2 chopped spring onions
  • half an onion, thinly chopped
  • olive oil
  • 2 slices of pan carasau
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp tomato sauce
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Make the filling:

  1. cut off the squid tentacles and chop them.
  2. break the pan carasau into rough pieces into a small bowl and cover it with water and the tomato sauce. Mix it all and let the bread to soak while you prepare the sardines.
  3. fry the spring onions in 3 tbsp of oil. Add the peppers and fennel and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until tender. Add the sardines, the tentacles, some salt and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat until the sardines are done.
  4. squeeze the bread to drain off the liquid and transfer it to a separate bowl. Add the prepared sardines, the lemon zest, capers, salt and pepper, and mix it well to form a paste.

Prepare the squid:

  1. stuff the squid with the sardine filling. Secure each squid with a toothpick.
  2. heat up a griddle pan and cook the squid on the highest heat for just about half a minute on each side, only enough to get a bit of colour and a smokey flavour.
  3. on a deep saute’/frying pan, fry the chopped onions in about 3 tbsp of olive oil until translucent. Add the squid, cook it for a couple of minutes, and cover it with the wine. Cover and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated.


Re-charging… please wait

The Larder is eating some pecorino and drinking various wines and doing a little rest in Sardinia. We will be back in a couple of weeks, full of new ideas borrowed from this wonderful island, still filled with sunshine so late in the year.
I hope to see you at the Green Door’s next supper club on the 23rd November.
For now, I’m off to try some of the little beauties from the local fish market.


Mini Green Door supper club with sort of porchetta: St Swithun’s Harvest Market

It’s all kicking off at Larder Towers. Work is insanely busy, and there hasn’t been a lot of time to blog lately, so please accept my apologies for the temporary disappearance. I could tell you I’m halfway through baking a tray of award-winning featherlight macaroons – but in reality I am watching the England qualifier match and waiting for the pizza delivery. Yes, it’s refined dining and rock’n roll all the way!

I do have a backlog of recipes, photos and restaurants to share with you as soon as I have a little break. For now, I may as well get out of the way that the Peckham Bazaar has been the most exciting place I’ve eaten at in ages. Amazing. Bear with me and I’ll soon go through photos, their succulent-delicious barbecued lamb neck, and the resident cat I so wish I could take home with me.

What else has been going on? A few recent highlights:

  • The Green Door Supper Club joined forces with the Hither Green wine club again last Saturday, and we rocked a fundraiser for the Jimmy Mizen Foundation at the Café’ of Good Hope. And I still have no photos to show for it! It’s all a bit of a shambles with the blog lately, I know. But I’m happy to report that the Italian menu I had inside my head worked just as I imagined. It wasn’t all my doing, though. The lovely and patient Iris from the beautiful Whatever Gets Your Through The Day blog (her photos make me so hungry!) provided valuable advice using her Friuli credentials to tweak some of the dishes and come up with great ideas.  Thank you, Iris! As per usual, I went a bit off-piste and didn’t strictly stick to the brief of a Piedmontese 3 course meal. There were mushrooms (tick), osso buco (tick), but I also sneaked in a classic Milanese risotto, which in my book is close enough to Piedmont. This was my personal favourite supper club menu so far, which I may repeat soon, as I don’t believe you can have too much osso buco.
  • St-Swithuns-Harvest-Market-768x1024If you’re somewhere around Southeast London tomorrow, the Green Door supper club will venture into StreetFoodLand and serve a variation of porchetta sandwiches at the Harvest Farmers’ market at St Swithun’s church in Hither Green. Since I am not planning to roast a whole suckling pig, this is not strictly porchetta as the Romans know it. But turn up and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty close approximation of it, in the form of very slowly roasted pork cuts in a herby sauce served with crusty bread. It’s how I’ve decided to welcome autumn into our hearts. The market will run from 12:00 to 18:00 and I am delighted to report they are licensed – which can only mean a reliable Hither Green Wine Club presence! Alex from GG Sparkes butchers – incidentally, the source of that scrumptious pork belly I will be roasting tomorrow – is bringing some pulled pork pies that can’t really be missed.
  • There’s some exciting news I am hoping to announce soon too, but for now I’ll just keep the aura of mystery and dreamy possibilities.
  • And above all, I am one week away of ridiculously much anticipated holidays! My first ever visit to Sardinia is planned to start with a pecorinocouple of very long sleeps, followed by a fortnight of exploring what should be a very empty and quiet island in autumn. Pecorino tasting, litres of cannonau wine and some adventurous Tyrrhenian swims – I am told its waters are at their warmest at this time of the year (no, I don’t know either) – are all in the list. First in the suitcase are the names of special food places recommended by Luigi from the Capocaccia stall of Sardinian delights at Catford Broadway Market. If the cheese I had from him last week is anything to go by, this is going to be a superb holiday!

Special Green and Yellow Door Supper Club Night


Last Saturday was Brazilian Independence Day. To make the best of that and the nearly tropical weather, the Green Door supper club went all bossa nova and caipirinhas, and threw a special South Of The Border night. I must admit I was a bit nervous of serving food that was too unfamiliar, and feared people would politely try some dishes, and return them only half eaten. Well, if that was the case, then what a polite crowd that was! This was meant to be a one-off, but it seems Brazilian food is more popular than I imagined, and we  may need to throw a few  more of those soon. Is next month’s Brazilian Republic Day a good enough excuse?

To add to the usual army of free labour we’re blessed with at the Green Door Towers, this time we had the Resident Vegetarian’s world famous caipirinhas to kick off the evening and put a smile on everyone’s faces. The wonderful and talented Martin Coceres spent all day documenting the carving, chopping, baking, singing and mild swearing that goes with the days’ cooking. If you’re wondering how come the photographs look so much better than my usual iphone shots, well, that’s why. Thank you, Martin!

On the menu: pasteis, the crispy pasties filled with fresh cheese, tomatoes and oregano that are my ultimate weakness and the food that would probably feature in my last meal on this earth. I also managed to get my hands on some charque – salt cured beef – which I cooked with plenty of onions and coriander and served inside baked pumpkins.

As with other supper club nights, I was amazed by how social these dinners are. It was so lovely to see people unceremoniously moving along tables, sharing drinks, and then next day to see them all chatting away on Twitter like old friends.

Above all, I was stupidly happy to see one of my all-time favourite desserts being equally appreciated by guests. Romeo & Juliet, the guava paste and white cheese flavour combination, served in a mille feuille incarnation, and vanished almost immediately with the last of the wine.

And to answer a question that came up on the night: of course the guava is Juliet!


Last bits of summer with pie, secret drinks, markets, and cake revelations. I heart London

After a pretty busy week at work and not much cooking, Friday evening was one of those moments that make me fall in love with London all over again. I’ve no idea how it passed me by in all these years living here, but here are a few gems I only discovered last week, all in Vauxhall, Southwest London:

–          Bonnington Square Garden: at the end of a very green, hidden side street and built on a WW2 bombed out site, the square has a great history of local community action making their neighbourhood a great place to live. The initiative to transform it, as well as current maintenance of the garden is all down to local residents. Their self-managed garden association then went on to plant trees and gardens in the surrounding streets, making the area feel a whole universe away from the nearby Vauxhall station.

–          Italo Deli: trays of just-made ravioli, fresh burrata, ham perfumed air, all to the soundtrack of a metal whisk preparing aioli. Like Italy, but quieter.

–          Brunswick House: why can’t I live there? This place is incredible! Set in a Georgian Mansion selling architecture salvage, right opposite the ugly chaos that is Vauxhall roundabout, Brusnwick House manages to be really laid back and very, very grand at the same time. The shop was already closed when I visited, but they kindly let me in anyway, and I got lost in the 3 floors and beautiful rooms filled with antiques, some of them available to hire for weddings and parties. The bar served great cocktails, and I hope I can go back and try their restaurant soon.  One of the coolest places I can think of in London. Definitely one to either impress on a first date, or show out of town visitors how in the know you are. Just be careful when you’re visiting the mansion, as the specter of a lion headed lady is said to haunt the place:


The Brunswick Lion Head Ghost is harmless as long as you give her cake

– Bonnington Café’: a former squat opposite the square, it’s now a very lively vegetarian café’, and clearly a secret only to me, given how absolutely packed it was. They’re not licensed, but also don’t charge corkage, so remember to take a bottle or two. Their gazpacho and the peanut tart dessert won the Resident Vegetarian’s seal of approval.

As for the week, it was full of early starts and long commutes, so only a couple of dishes worth the mention:

As the squashes and courgettes pile up this time of the year, I continued my love affair with smoked paprika and made this 5 minute wonder: thinly sliced courgettes marinated in olive oil and smoked paprika, then grilled over foil to avoid the mess. I mixed that into salads all week long.

I also decided to finally act on the common feedback I receive from people: why 2 martini glasses on the cover of a food blog? But I do love that shot, taken in one of my favourite South London parks, with the privileged view we suburbanites have into central London. And so I headed to the same spot, armed with a freshly baked raspberry tart, drinks and camera, to make the blog look more edible. As for the tart, I became slightly obsessed with this recipe since reading about it in Ruth Reichl’s book earlier this year, which also turned into weeks of immersion into her wonderful memoirs and recipe books. I won’t publish the recipe here, since I have not changed a single thing, except for the freshness of the ingredients, which probably didn’t match the ones Ruth encountered when she first tried this tart in Ile D’Oleron in France.  In the book, she describes the raspberries as ‘intoxicatingly fragrant’ and the tart as ‘so much better that other tarts’. And I really want people to love these books as much as I do, so go and read them and find your recipe there. This dessert is such a treat, and it was an easy winner when it came to pick a looker to represent the blog. Notice how the updated cover shot now features the Shard!

My slight heavy head on Saturday was beautifully taken care of by coffee at Brockley Market, in the company of a friend who was responsible for the second revelation of the week: gluten-free cake can be amazingly delicious. Who ever knew that? I must confess I had seen the Sugar Grain stall at the market week after week and, although their goods undoubtedly look very attractive, I couldn’t help but have reservations and downright prejudice about gluten-free baking. It was only thanks to my more enlightened friend, who insisted on buying me their lime and coconut cupcake that I was introduced to just what I needed in my life: a whole new world of cakes! I really want to be extra clear about this: this was not ‘good for a gluten free cake.’ It was really, really gorgeous! Everything that I believed was impossible to achieve without gluten, it was there: a juicy, fluffy, light, airy cake with A LOT of flavour. And what an inspired idea to pick limes rather than lemons for this. It made all the difference. Great food to munch on in the park while the sunny days last.


HL_squashfeastThe weekend was full of surprises. As I carried 10 kilos of pumpkins back from the market (yes, I know. I am using them in this Saturday’s supperclub. It’s Brazilian Independence Day, and the pumpkin overload is part of the celebrations), a restorative break at Café’ Oscars in Ladywell revealed a diamond of of a garden I never knew was there. It would be very easy to spend a whole afternoon there, especially with next door’s giant ginger cats pottering about.

And just to make it clear how much South London rocks, here are some highlights of the yet-to-take-off Catford Broadway Sunday Market. On the first Sunday of every month. It would be great to see you there!

Amen: Angel Food Cake, angel hair, coconut frosting


It was always going to happen. Another year, another Great British Bake Off, another rush of trying the show’s recipes.

This week I decided to finally have a go at 3 recipes I’ve been meaning to for a while.

HL_fiosdeovos_aftermathOn Tuesday, after much anticipation, the new series of The Great British Bake Off finally started!  Having worked up to the last minute before the show and with no time left to cook, I got myself a bowl of cereal and settled for an hour of emotional cake rollercoaster. The nerves, the suspense, the laughter, the oohs and ahs at the creative talent coming up with Gaudi-inspired tower cakes, it all left me exhausted. Mel and Sue remain at once hilarious and very sweet and protective of the contestants; Mary Berry delivered the authoritative yet benevolent presence. And Paul Hollywood remained the fair judge with a firm hand. It’s such a predictable formula, but, just like the sandwich cakes on the first round, it’s comforting and never seems to get old. My only criticism: they could have given us a double bill season opener. I had to spend the next hour on Twitter to get the GBBO chatter out of my system.


The technical challenge was an angel food cake. I had this cake on my to-try list since I first read about it a while ago on David Lebovitz’s blog. It looks very white, light and pure, and I imagine very easy to mop up with a glass of cold milk. Or champagne. Looking at American recipes online, there seems to be a firm division between camp pure and simple, and those who prefer adding a bit of jam for the taste and colour contrast. Mary Berry apparently likes hers with sweet whipped cream. I’m not a fan of whipped cream on cakes, but an alternative quickly sprang to mind: I’ve also been meaning to try a coconut frosting for some time. I love coconut a great deal. It always annoys me when I come across coconut cake recipes, and it’s actually vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, the only coconut in it being the shredded variety on top of the frosting. That’s not a coconut cake! So, I quickly got excited about making the angel food cake and topping it up with actual coconut icing. For a bit of colour, my own technical challenge: angel hair. Or Fios de Ovos, as I know them.

Now, please hear me out. I KNOW this may sound strange and possibly repulsive, but it is a truly marvellous addition to desserts, and I am amazed it is not more widespread outside its native Portugal. Made with a gargantuan amount of egg yolks and sugar, these eggy threads are very popular in Brazil – I suspect possibly more well-known there than in Portugal. It is one of the sweets I dedicate hours to every time I visit Sao Paulo, marvelling at the resilience of my liver. It is surprisingly delicate and light for something that uses so much sugar, and juicy  and sweet at every bite. I had never made it before, but this looked like the perfect opportunity. Since the cake took 12 eggs whites, I’d use the yolks for the angel hair.

HL_bundt_tinThe angel food cake: it requires a special ‘non-non-stick’ tin with legs, to allow the cake to rest upside down after baking without falling out. Since it’s made with a lot of stiff egg whites and little else, it’s very airy and fragile when warm, and it risks collapsing under its own weight if you remove it too quickly from the tin. And so I toured the cooking shops and department stores of London looking for the special tin, feeling like a right fool running to the shops whenever the telly tells me to do so. (yes, I could have ordered online, but I wanted it NOW!) The standard reaction was: ‘ah, you’ve been watching the GBBO, haven’t you? No, we don’t have them.’ Now, a word to the British entrepreneurial minds: this is a massively – massively – popular show. It attracts the sort of obsessives like me who of course will run and make the recipes they see on the show. Is it really much of a leap to work with the show’s PR, anticipate and prepare for the obvious demand? I had the same problem over a decade ago when cupcakes started becoming popular after the famous Sex And The City episode and the success of Magnolia Bakery. It took a good 3 or 4 years for cupcake cases or stands to be available in shops over here. Anyhow, I didn’t find the tin, but used the trick of resting a bundt cake tin upside down on the neck of a bottle. I also spread a thin layer of raw batter over the surface of the cake to try to make sure it stuck to the tin, which was non-stick and the only one I had. It worked! The cake rose beautifully, stayed put in the tin after baking, and finally came out once cool in one glorious piece. It did not collapse. It was springy and very, very light.  And at this point, I want to take a moment to say Thank You, America, for Angel Food Cake. If the world was a logical place, this would be known as wedding cake, because it would fit so well with most wedding decorations I can think of, and the lightness of it would be so welcome after a wedding feast. Although it is hard to improve on a name such as angel food.

The coconut frosting: is it too sad to admit that I dedicated a great part of my 4 day long weekend to perfecting this? None of the recipes I found quite did the trick, so I made this up with cream cheese, double cream and reduced coconut milk. It’s fresh and tangy and has a hint rather than a full-on taste of coconut.



And now for the fios de ovos (angel hair): it seemed the week was determined to throw obscure kitchen utensils at me. If you want to make this like a pro, you’ll need a special mug-funnel that I did not even attempt to look for. What you need to do with this dessert is have a cup of hardly beaten eggs yolks, then slowly and steadily pour a drizzle of yolks over a pan with steaming flavoured sugar syrup. Yes, it is essentially sugared egg yolks, but you really must try this to understand just how special it is. You could do this with a small sieve, but the specially designed funnel has larger holes that ensure continuous and long threads. I improvised: I got a small tin and made 5 large holes in it. It worked. The bright yellow threads looked striking over the fluffy white frosting. And the cake was as unique and delicious as described by every angel food cake enthusiast I met. If only Mary Berry could see me now!


Angel Food Cake: David Lebovitsz’s recipe

I went with almost the exact same recipe from David Lebovitz’s blog, which I am copying here with a few comments.  I’ve adjusted the amount of eggs slightly, and replaced cake flour – not easily available in the UK – with a mix of  all-purpose flour and a small amount of corn starch. His recipe states 45 minutes baking time. Mine was ready in just under 40, so start checking early.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour with 2 tbsp taken out (120g)
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 12 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


If you have an angel food cake tin, use that. Do not grease it. Otherwise, a tube or bundt cake tin will do the job, but do not use non stick ones. As soon as the cake is ready, turn the improvised tin over the neck of a bottle – see step 6 below.

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)

2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, corn starch, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt.

3. Whip the eggs with an electric mixer. When they start becoming foamy, add the cream of tartar and lemon juice.

4. Increase the speed to high and continue to whip the egg whites until they just begin to hold their shape in soft, droopy peaks. Gradually whip the remaining 1 cup of sugar into the whites, 1/4 cup at a time. Do not overwhip; the egg whites should not be overly dry or stiff, but soft and cloud-like. At the last moment, mix in the vanilla.

5. With a rubber spatula,  fold the flour and sugar mixture into the whites gradually, a small amount at a time.

6. Spoon the batter in the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 40 -45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately invert the tube pan over a cooling rack. If the pan doesn’t have “feet”, set it over the neck of a heavy bottle or overturned metal funnel, using the center hole of the pan to hold the cake, until completely cool – at least an hour.

Coconut frosting:

  • 2 tins of coconut milk (800 ml/ 4 cups )
  • 200 ml (1cup) double cream. You may not need all of it. Keep the rest and add to to a cup of coffee to go with the cake.
  • 200g (3/4 cup) cream cheese
  • 6 tbsp caster sugar


  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let it boil for 30 min or until it has reduced to 200ml (cup). Let it cool completely.
  2. In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese and a splash of the double cream. Whisk it with a fork until it’s lose and the cream completely incorporated into the cheese.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the double cream until it has firmed up to soft peaks. I prefer to do this by hand to avoid over-whisking. You want a soft consistency, so that cream still drops from the whisk when you lift it.
  4. Add the reduced coconut milk (which should have a much thicker consistency now that it’s cooled down) to the softened cream cheese and mix well.
  5. Add the whisked double cream and sugar, one tablespoon at the time, and mix until you achieve the taste and thickness you want. I added 6 tablespoons of cream and 3 of sugar, then stopped.
  6. Keep the frosting in the fridge and frost the cake just before serving.

Fios de Ovos/Angel Hair:

  • 12 egg yolks.
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 clove and 1 small stick of cinnamon (optional)


  1. If you don’t have a special angel hair funnel: either use a small sieve (only large enough to fit over a mug) or wash a small empty tomato tin and with a nail or sharp knife, make 5 holes in the bottom of the tin.
  2. Pass all the egg yolks through a sieve into a bowl. Mix it well with a fork, but don’t whisk it.
  3. In a wide heavy bottomed saucepan, mix the water and sugar and warm it over a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla and, if using, the cinnamon and clove. Bring it to the boil, reduce the heat to low and let it boil for 5 minutes. Remove the clove and cinnamon.
  4. With the water and sugar still boiling on low heat: half fill the tin and stand it over the pan, making wide circles over the water. Keep the tin only a couple of inches above the water surface to ensure a continuous flow. Make about 5 circles and stop. Return the tin to the bowl with egg yolks.
  5. Watch the saucepan closely and allow about 2 minutes for the threads to solidify and turn bright yellow. You should see long threads forming. If they’re sticking, use a fork to separate them.
  6. Transfer the cooked threads to a large sieve over a bowl. Wet your fingers in cold water and slightly separate the threads. Leave them on the sieve while you cook the next batch.
  7. Repeat the process until all the eggs are cooked. If the sugar syrup becomes too thick, add more water, half a cup at a time.  Just drop new batches over the old ones on the sieve, and remove them all to a plate when you’ve finished. You should end up with a small cereal bowl of the final product, which is a bit more than what you’ll need to cover the cake.
  8. Serve cold from the fridge.



TGBBO_logoThat’s it.

I just wanted to remind everyone that it is tonight! The Great British Bake Off 2013 starts tonight!

Tonight. At eight. On BBC 2.

I trust you will drop what you’re doing and schedule your next few weeks around Mary Berry, Signature Bakes, Technical Challenges and uninhibited squirrels.

I’m stocking up on butter just in case.

Remember: it’s tonight! Enjoy.


HL's strawberry and pistachio number

HL’s strawberry and pistachio number