eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

Tag: London

Spinach and Chèvre Sandwich & my London book launch at the Maltese embassy

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

Malta, Berlin, London – three countries in less than 24 hours! The pace of my traveling fit the mood, vibrant and exciting, I didn’t want to rest. I arrived in England at noon, had at a scrumptious lunch at Ottolenghi Spitalfields and a chat with chef Sami Tamimi. To charge my batteries, I finished my meal with a double espresso and a luscious piece of Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey’s frosting. London looked bright and sunny as I stepped out onto the streets and I felt ready for my third book launch event, on the roof terrace of the High Commission of Malta in the English capital.

To make my travels feel even sweeter, I got to stay at the luxuriously relaxing Corinthia Hotel London. Right between St. James’s Park and the Thames, the location couldn’t have been better. I could walk to my event at the Maltese embassy and to my book signing at the Tate bookstore the next day. Before the festivities started, I had enough time to enjoy the amenities and comfort of the house, and especially the most beautiful marble bathroom I ever happened to see. It was marble heaven and I felt like a princess as I dressed up for my big night.

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

Unfortunately, the pretty lace dress that I had bought for this festive occasion didn’t really fit London’s weather conditions – it was freezing cold as I opened the door to the terrace of the High Commission of Malta. I wrapped myself in a warm coat most of the time, which I only took off quickly for the photographers and an interview. The jump in temperature between summery Malta and England’s rather rough climate was too painful. However, the stunning view over roof tops, church spires, and The London Eye made all of us forget about the weather. We just stood there, high up under the Maltese flag, astonished by London’s beautiful sunset, dramatically framed by the darkest clouds. We were lucky, not a single drop of rain fell onto the delicious looking buffet prepared by Kitty Coles (thank you so much, my dear) or into our glasses, filled with Meridiana‘s finest wines, poured by my book tour mate and Meridiana‘s best man, Karl Chetcuti.

I have to thank a few very special people who made this unforgettable night happen: His Excellency Norman Hamilton, High Commissioner of Malta, Nerissa Sultana, Political and Communications Officer, and their fantastic team at the embassy. Thank you for sharing the High Commission’s roof terrace with us, thank you for all your help and support, for all the time to exchange ideas for this event. Thank you Emma Cook from Prestel for helping me organize this special evening.

The speeches of the High Commissioner and of Andrew Hansen, Managing Director of Prestel Publishing London, both touched my heart, and then it was my turn to welcome our guests. It was too dark and windy to follow our manuscripts, our microphone decided to stop working, but that didn’t do our celebrations any harm. It felt like a scene from Peter Pan, high up over London’s roof tops, the air filled with laughter, glasses filled with good wine, and lots of delicious food on our plates. But unlike the book or movie, we didn’t need our imagination, it was all real.

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

Before we drove back to the airport, we enjoyed a sandwich that was so good that I decided to re-create it at home and share it with you: spinach and ripe chèvre in carrozza (meaning in a carriage). This sandwich is similar to french toast, however, it’s a savoury treat, lusciously filled and hearty. The combination of winter greens and ripe cheese was fantastic. I have an in carrozza sandwich recipe in my book, which I adore, but there are so many ways to fill two slices of bread!

Thank you London! xx

At the event, I was interviewed by Rita for her Share Food with Sainsbury’s Magazine radio show, you can listen to our chat here. To see all the pictures of the event in London taken by the amazing photographer Agnese Sanvito, click here. And here are the pictures of our book signing tour at Tate, Waterstones, and Foleys.

All the pictures of the launch are by Agnese Sanvito.

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch-2

Spinach and Chèvre Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

spinach leaves, a large handful, about 140g / 5 ounces
fine sea salt
ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
ripe chèvre, about 60g / 2 ounces
organic eggs 2 (mine were quite small)
milk 3 tablespoons
plain flour 2 to 3 tablespoons
soft white bread 4 slices
butter, about 1 tablespoon
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

In a large pot, bring salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach for 1 minute. Rinse with cold water, drain, and let cool for a few minutes. Using your hands, squeeze out most of the liquid and chop roughly. On a large plate, crumble the spinach and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Cut the chèvre into thin slices, leave out 4 slices for the topping, and crumble the remaining cheese over the spinach.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the flour on a flat plate.

Divide the spinach-chèvre mixture between 2 slices of bread, leaving a thin border around the edges. Top each with a second slice of bread and press the sandwiches together. Dip both sides of each sandwich in the flour until lightly coated. Carefully dip each sandwich in the egg-milk mixture, repeat until all the liquid is soaked up—mind that the filling stays inside.

In a large, heavy pan, heat the butter over medium heat and cook the sandwiches, turning and pressing down on them gently with a spatula, for a few minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Lay the remaining chèvre slices on top of the warm sandwiches and sprinkle with crushed pepper. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch-2

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch-3

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch-4

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

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Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

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Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

Eat In My Kitchen London Book Launch

 

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Spinach Chèvre Sandwich In Carrozza

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake, London, and my first book presentation

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

London welcomed me with blue skies and the brightest sunshine – the city looked like a blossoming beauty as I stepped off the train. It was supposed to be a two day work trip but spring temperatures made it feel like a little holiday. Great food and wine and the company of wonderful people almost made me forget why I went to the capital: my publisher’s London team invited me to present my Eat In My Kitchen book for the first time at the Photographers’ Gallery. To say that I was nervous, is a slight understatement. I drove the people around me crazy in the past few days! We just finished the last edits for my book this week, which means I can’t change anything anymore and I’m not yet sure if I like this feeling. Now I have to learn to let go. But the thought of talking about it in front of 30 people straight after closing the last pages of my book to send it to the printing press felt a little overwhelming.

I booked an early flight on Wednesday morning so that I’d have the day to myself. I wanted to have enough time to meet a couple special people. My first stop was the gorgeous Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair where I stayed for the night. My last visit to London – and a scrumptious meet in your kitchen tea time feature – made me fall in love with this wonderful hotel. It’s the perfect choice when you need a relaxing place to stay during a busy trip. London is like a beehive but Brown’s Hotel is the calm oasis you can go back to to rest. Thank you Sophie Grounds for making me feel so good again!

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

A stroll through the sunny streets of Mayfair took me to busy Oxford Street and the charming building of Selfridges. I came here to visit Melissa Hemsely at the sisters’ brand new Hemsely + Hemsley Café located on the third floor of the luxury department store. It’s a cozy place that’s only been open for a month and it was totally packed. All the tables were taken and I saw lots of happy faces enjoying beautiful dishes from the girl’s books, like quinoa roasted vegetables with basil pesto (delicious!), salmon burger with lime slaw, and the sisters’ fantastic sweets. We chatted about our books – they just published their second book called Good + Simple – and I also got to try a wonderfully juicy banana cake that’s not on the menu yet.

Spitalfields was next, and here I met a man whose work I’ve admired for quite a while and who I got to know through another one of my meet in your kitchen features: Sami Tamimi. This man is a great inspiration, he’s open and charismatic and he talks with a warm, calm voice. Sami seems to smile the whole time, genuinely, and it felt like I’ve known him for years. He gave me such a flattering quote for my book and I wanted to thank him in person. Sami invited me to the latest addition to the Ottolenghi restaurants, their deli in the heart of Spitalfields that opened just a year ago. The place is bright and airy and the long counter right at the large window front is filled with the most beautiful food you can imagine. No one presents food as tempting, lush and perfect as the Ottolenghi crew. Large bowls filled with colourful salads and vegetables, the freshest meat platters, and piles of colourful meringue, delicate tartlets, and cakes dripping with thick icing turn this room into a food lover’s paradise. I was in heaven.

Sami constantly works on new creations and tries the food prepared by his team working in and for the five restaurants, he’s an absolute perfectionist. There was a little banana cake on a plate of six that he spotted, it wasn’t as straight as the other ones, so it had to go – right into my mouth, I didn’t mind. Seeing him in this environment, surrounded by the food he creates with so much passion and perfection, made me understand why he’s so successful and why guests from all over the world love the Ottolenghi restaurants so much. The vision that the team behind Ottolenghi once had, has been brought to life completely. There’s no compromise and that makes it so good. Before I left, we exchanged spices, and when I stepped out onto the street I felt a little sad to leave.

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

My dinner plans took me to an old, traditional pub, The Grenadier in Belgravia. It was an early night, I enjoyed my obligatory fish & chips and a glass of wine to the fullest and went to bed early – I had an exciting day ahead.

On the morning of my presentation, I felt like a student going to her exams, but after a few minutes of talking I was fine again – as always in life. The Photographers Gallery was the perfect surrounding and I can only recommend visiting one of their great exhibitions when you’re in town. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for the arts but I had a lovely crowd to talk to about my book instead, which felt even better. Thank you everybody at Prestel for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome. It was a pleasure to meet you, Andrew, Emma, Oliver, Lincoln, and Will!

My London days called for a traditional British treat when I was back home in Berlin, ready for a cozy weekend on the sofa: a simple Victoria Sponge cake refined with lemon zest, filled with plump blueberries, jam, and whipped cream. It’s an honest, uncomplicated treat that fits perfectly after a week of lots of excitement.

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

 

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

You’ll need 2 18cm / 7″ springform pans for this cake. If you only have one pan (like me), divide the ingredients in half and prepare and bake one cake after the other. For the 3 eggs, beat them lightly and then divide in two equal portions.

For the sponge cake

plain flour 145g / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
cornstarch 15g / 2 tablespoons
baking powder 1 teaspoon
a pinch of salt
butter, at room temperature, 160g / 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 160g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
freshly grated lemon zest 2 teaspoons
vanilla bean, scraped, 1/2
organic eggs 3

For the filling

blueberry jam, lightly beaten, about 4 tablespoons
fresh blueberries 120g / 4 ounces, plus a few berries for the topping
heavy cream, whipped, about 120-180ml / 1/2-3/4 cup
icing sugar, for the topping

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (conventional setting) and butter 2 18cm / 7″ springform pans.

For the sponge cake, in a large bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using in electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla seeds until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between. Using a wooden spoon, fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well combined.

Divide the batter between the two buttered springform pans and make a slight dip in the middle of each of them (to prevent the cakes from rising too high in the middle). Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and spongy. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Take the cakes out of the springform pan and let them cool completely (about 15-20 minutes).

Transfer 1 sponge cake to a plate and cut off the tip if it rose to high, it shouldn’t be too pointy but it doesn’t need to be completely even either. Brush the top generously with jam and spread the blueberries on top. Spread the whipped cream all over the berries and sandwich with the second sponge cake (you don’t have to even this cake out). Dust the cake with a little icing sugar and, if you want to decorate it with blueberries, dip the berries in the jam and stick them on top of the cake.

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

 

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

 

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

 

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake

meet in your kitchen | London: Clair Ptak’s Pecan Caramel Sandwich Cookies

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

Walking down one of east London’s quiet roads lined with cute brick houses on a Sunday morning was more than pleasing, but knowing that I would enter the private kitchen of one of the most acclaimed baking goddesses of the hour piqued my excitement. I flew to London to meet Claire Ptak from California who followed the love of her life to live in Hackney and start a baking business ten years ago. She learned her profession in Berkeley, at Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse, before she left California for Europe and opened a sweet stall at Broadway Market in London. Her baked goods were well received from the start, the long lines leading to her mobile shop got longer and longer every Saturday. Claire had to turn her cozy London kitchen into a busy bakery to keep up with the production, two days of hard work from the early morning until late at night before the weekly market day was her weekend routine for years. The huge demand for her utterly delicious cookies, cupcakes, pies and cakes called for a change and Violet Bakery was born. She opened a cafe in 2010 on the same street where she lives with her husband, and today it seems like this is the place that everybody is talking about when it comes to the best sweets – not only in London.

Claire works with only the best ingredients, often organic, and she respects the seasons. Something she learned as a child through her parents. Growing up in a village, an hour outside San Francisco, she picked fruit from the trees and bushes in their garden when they were ripe and foraged for mushrooms and wild berries when they were in season. Her mother used to bake so many pies with her that little Claire mastered the perfect crust and fruit fillings at a young age.

Claire has a confidence, intuition and calmness in the kitchen that impressed me as soon as she took out the baking sheets for her amazing pecan shortbread and salted caramel sandwich cookies – Alfajores, the most addictive sandwich cookies ever. She works instinctively and uses her years of experience and, as a creative mind, she takes it onto the next level. It’s not a surprise that she has already written several cookbooks, as well as her own column for The Guardian and works as a food stylist for established authors, such as Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi. And she has one of the best cookbook collections I’ve seen in a long time!

Here’s the link to Claire’s fantastic new book – a baking bible – the Violet Bakery Cookbook!

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

 

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

Claire Ptak’s Alfajores – Pecan shortbread and salted caramel sandwich cookies

Makes about 12 sandwich cookies.

For the cookies

unsalted butter, softened, 250g / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
icing sugar 100g / 1 cup
salt 1/8 teaspoon
plain flour 300g / 2 1/3 cups
rum 1 tablespoon
pecans, finely chopped, 70g / 2 1/2 ounces
Icing sugar for dredging

For the caramel filling

double cream 150g / 5 1/4 ounces
vanilla bean, scraped, 1/2
water 4 tablespoons
caster sugar 250g / 1 1/4 cups
golden syrup 2 tablespoons
lemon juice 1 teaspoon
fleur du sel 1/4 teaspoon
unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 65g / 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon

Cream together the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the flour and mix just to combine. Add the rum and pecans and just until it all comes together.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C convection setting) / 350°F (325°F convection setting). Line two baking sheets with parchment.

On a lightly floured surface, roll your cookie dough out to about 3mm / 1/8″ thickness. Use a 60-70mm / 2 1/2-3″ round cutter (or a drinking glass will work too) and cut as many rounds as you can. You can re-roll to get a total about 12 sandwiches (24 individual rounds).

Bake until it just starts to colour. They should move out of their spot when nudged.

Sift over them with icing sugar whilst still warm and let them cool completely. Meanwhile, make the caramel.

In a heavy saucepan, measure the cream and vanilla. In another large saucepan put your water, sugar and golden syrup. Have the other ingredients measured out and ready to go. Begin by heating the cream. Keep an eye on this as it can scorch quite easily. Meanwhile start heating the water, sugar and golden syrup, all the while keeping an eye on the cream. As soon as the cream starts to bubble, turn it off. Do not stir the sugar pot, but you can swirl it if need be. Once it starts to colour, give it a few swirls. You want the sugar to turn golden brown and then almost black. A swisp of smoke will start to rise out and then you know it is done. Take the caramel off the heat and immediately whisk in the vanilla cream. Don’t worry about the pod at this point as it will continue to infuse flavour. Stir in the lemon juice, salt and butter until smooth. Allow the caramel to cool before using it in the cookies. Once the caramel is cool to the touch, it can be used. Caramel will also keeps well for up to two weeks in the fridge and three months in the freezer.

To assemble the sandwiches, turn 12 of the cookies upside-down and place a heaped tablespoon on caramel on top. Sandwich together with a second cookie. Sift over with a thick layer of icing sugar and devour! Will keep for two weeks in a cookie tin.

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

In 2010, you opened Violet bakery and café In Hackney, east London. What moved you to take this step?

I had been baking from home for 5 years but there was a moment when it had kind of taken over our home, so we decided to look for a location. Originally, I actually didn’t want to have a café, I just wanted to have my stall and have that kind of nice creative expression of what I like to cook and bake, and then do my styling and writing. I was very happy with that but there was something, I don’t know, the baked goods were so well received that it seemed crazy not to have a brick and mortar. I thought I could grow it a bit, get help, and hire good people, and I could still do the other stuff I wanted to do. Originally this was just going to be like a production kitchen for more markets but then the whole neighborhood was knocking on the door while we were fixing it up saying “this is so great, you’re opening here!”, so we thought “let’s do that”, it kind of came organically.

How did working as a pastry chef at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley influence your creative work as a baker?

I was really inspired by how much they place value in the ingredients and the quality of the ingredients. That is kind of everything about what she does, it’s really about eating things at the perfect moment and that could be like a day difference. So we were going to have something on the menu and we’d think “no, actually, those pears need another day to ripen”, so we’d change the menu and do it tomorrow. And that kind of detail is so incredible when you’re working in a restaurant because, so much of the time, in restaurants, it’s just like “that’s what we’re doing, make it work, turn it out!”. And there it was “we’ll make something else and it has to be exquisite”. Every single day everything changed. You’d have a guideline of what you’re going to do but then, if things weren’t right that day, you’d change it to make it as good as it could be. So in terms of my aesthetic, because that’s so integral to how I also cook, it’s pretty natural because I think it’s really about highlighting and emphasizing the ingredients but then making them feel professional but not mass-produced. If everything looks super homemade it’s not special enough, it’s nice to have something that’s a bit of a stretch, so you’d think “I wish I could make it look that nice at home!” – it’s about giving it a little extra lift and still being natural.

Have you always been more into baking than cooking? What fascinates you about baking?

I started baking at home, with my mum and my grandmother, when she’d visit or we’d visit them. I always had an affinity for the sweet side of things but my father is also a great cook and so I’ve always cooked as well. And now, with the bakery, it’s been 10 years as a business, I’m drawn a lot more to the savory side of the kitchen. So we’ll see, I think my next book is going to have lot more savory in it.

What fascinates most people about baking, is that you can start and finish a project in an hour. I think there’s nobody who doesn’t love the way that feels. To take an hour and just bake something is such a nice feeling of accomplishment.

What is the hardest part about running a bakery and café?

It’s managing all the staff, even though I’m so lucky, I have such a wonderful crew of people, you still have fifteen personalities, sets of emotions, and lives that you have to work within and around. I very much want to create a space where people are happy to come to work and enjoy their work. Part of having an open kitchen was about that, I don’t want to hide all my cooks in the basement. When people come in and buy the cakes the cooks just made, they get to see the reactions and appreciation. That’s so much more fulfilling as a cook. But still, it’s so challenging. Maintaining that good working environment and being a good boss is way more challenging than I ever imagined.

You studied film theory and video art at Mills College in Oakland, California. Although you didn’t choose to work in this field, how did this experience influence your food business?

Mills is a women’s college, it’s a great place to be, and I loved studying video art and film theory there. I wanted to go into film making, I wanted to be a writer and director. So the writing has always been there, although I wanted to write film rather than cookbooks. Somehow I also did a lot of cooking when I was in university, I did a lot of films with food in them, and I would focus on that in my work. But I ended up working for an LA director for a year and I decided that I’d rather not do that. It was brutal work and the kitchen seems like a walk in the park compared. I think I wasn’t passionate enough about it, I was more passionate about food.

You grew up in California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now you live in London. What made you move?

I grew up an hour outside San Francisco, quite a rural village, so we were picking wild blackberries and foraging, food was really central, which was great. Then I went to live in San Francisco for university and I loved the urban life as well. I was really drawn into it and I suddenly saw this whole other life. I loved the sort of country background that I have but then I really loved being in the city. I thought “this city is a small city and I’d love to see a bigger city”. I met my husband in San Francisco who’s from the countryside in England and we both thought it would be so great to live in London. So we moved here. It’s very different but with starting my business and having a real California influence on my business, I managed to make my California life incorporate into my London life. I try to bring it all together and it worked out really well. I miss San Francisco and I visit it, and whenever I go back, I think “yes, let’s live here” but at the end of three weeks I want to go back to London. 

In the 1960s, your parents moved to a community of intellectuals and artists, how did this lifestyle influence your relationship with food?

Automatically, growing up with the seasons, having a real strong connection to nature, both cultivated and wild, because we also did foraging too, for mushrooms and berries, seafood, my brother is a great diver, you’re already close to seasonal, organic, sustainable. All the stuff that everybody talks about and that’s trendy, in real life, it’s quite different. I realize, I’m very, very lucky to have grown up with that. I encourage that philosophy coming into mainstream but I would like it to be a bit more understood.

There’s the best farmers’ market in our (home) town because there are so many farmers and the weather is such that you can grow everything all year round. Just having that is pretty inspiring to cook when you have all that kind of raw ingredients around you. We had fruit trees and wild blackberries in our backyard, so my mum and I would make a pie because we had to get rid of the apples, and then, every year, you’d be so excited when the apples were falling outside. You had a real sense for when to do it and why to do it without having to have a theory behind it.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in London?

As a small business owner, I really value my local loyal customers who come to Violet for their morning coffee, and order cakes for special occasions. We feel so lucky to be part of a wonderful local community, and some of my favourite places in London are right on my doorstep! I regularly eat at Raw Duck, and love to browse J Glinert and Momosan Shop on Wilton Way when I’m passing by. If I’m meeting a friend for a drink after work, I love to go to Pinch on Greenwood Road.

Broadway Market will always be a special spot for me, as it’s where Violet began and still has a stall every Saturday. It’s a great place to pick up flowers, bread and organic produce for the bakery. I also love Chatsworth Market, which is where the wonderful London Borough of Jam – who suppliers our jam at Violet – is based. Spa Terminus is another seasoned favourite for beautiful ingredients from likeminded suppliers.

And for occasions, I always choose The River Cafe. The food is so special, it’s totally worth travelling across town for. When I’m in meetings in central London, I’ll often stop at Bao Bar, which is definitely one of the shining additions to west-central eating of 2015.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Richard Olney because he edited all these good cookbooks (the Time-Life book series), I would love to have met him. He was a great influence on Alice Waters and they were great friends, he was an American living in France. Olney cooked everything in a fire pit in the garden, anything that he would make, if it’s a little piece of lamb and some beans, that’s what I want. Or a salad, I would just love him to make me a green salad.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

My husband doesn’t eat meat but he eats fish, so I love to just throw a fish over some potatoes, with some herbs, bake that, and make a salad.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

As a kid, pie, I was obsessed with fruit pies. As we had a lot of fruit growing, we’d make pies all the time. I got really into getting the pastry right and getting the fruit right. I’m really loving English fruit cake at the moment, I think it’s because of the season. It’s cold outside and the cake is warming. I’ve just been developing this recipe for my new column (for The Guardian) with dried figs and whiskey, it’s delish.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I love to cook with other good cooks, I can’t cook with people that don’t have the same level very well, it’s not fun. I prefer to cook with my fellow chefs, I love it.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

I like a planned meal, but it will still have a simplicity to it. I like to be organized.

Which meal would you never cook again?

I had a really hard time making fried chicken a year ago. I couldn’t get the oil hot enough. I made a mistake of having a huge pot of oil because we had so many people, rather than just quickly frying it in less oil. And it was so frustrating, it tasted amazing but it was pale.

Thank you Claire!

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

 

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

 

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

 

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

 

Caramel Sandwich Cookies

meet in your kitchen | Scones & Tea Time at Brown’s Hotel in London

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

As soon as the charming doorman George opened the wooden framed glass door of the elegant Brown’s Hotel in the heart of Mayfair, I found myself in another world – in old Britain. Brown’s is London’s oldest hotel, it was opened in 1837 by James Brown and his wife Sarah. It was here that the first UK telephone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell, President Roosevelt enjoyed the house’s quiet luxury during his honeymoon, and it inspired Agatha Christie and Rudyard Kipling to many of their novels. With no doubt, this house has a glamorous history.

I celebrate my own little tea time at home every day, but for quite a while I’ve been in the mood for the complete English ceremony in all its extravagance at a traditional hotel in London. The stunning English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel  – renowned and awarded for serving one of the best tea ceremonies in the city – seemed like the perfect choice and I happily accepted an invitation by the hotel. It was an unforgettable Afternoon Tea of almost Roman proportions. Sophie and her fantastic team at the hotel treated me heavenly from the moment I set foot on the hotel’s beautiful black and white mosaic floors.

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

While I sat at a long table, decadently filled with delicate pastries, scrumptious scones with clotted cream and jam, delicious sandwiches, Christmas fruit cake and calamansi chocolate yule log, I got the chance to chat with Lee Kebble, the hotel’s Executive Chef, and Thomas Coly, the French Pastry Chef and the master of one of the best scones I’ve ever eaten in my life. Thomas Coly stole my heart with an outstanding Mandarin Chestnut Tart and a fine composition of blood orange and saffron – and of course, with his French charm. He learnt under the guidance of Alain Ducasse and praises his strict regiment in the kitchen. Thomas follows his patron’s culinary philosophy: Respect the produce and focus on just a few dominant flavours, three at most. If you work with a ripe peach in the kitchen for a composition, you should be able to see a peach in your mind’s eye with your first bite. The French chef misses his family in Toulouse but he loves the diversity of food in London where the culinary landscape is influenced by so many cultures from all over the world. He sees his role as a chef as that of an ambassador, to present his guests with the best produce, transformed into delicious dishes in his own style. Very British but with French finesse, like his scone recipe which Thomas graciously offered to share with us.

My splendid tea ceremony started with an introduction to the tea room’s selection of 17 teas by a tea sommelier who helped me with my choice: the fine Jing’s Gong Fu Tea. I also tried a few nibbles from the Tea-Tox, the healthy sister of the traditional afternoon treat, and although I don’t mind dairy and sugar in my own diet, I enjoyed these treats just as much. But in the end, Thomas and I agreed that butter, eggs and sugar cause too much fun in the kitchen to cut them out of our lives.

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

When Lee Kebble came into the room I was more than impressed by his calm and kind nature, he seems like a rock in the kitchen. Leading a brigade of 24, he takes care of the famous HIX Mayfair restaurant, The English Tea Room, The Donovan Bar, private events and in room dining at the hotel, and despite all my expectations, he doesn’t come across as a man who needs to raise his voice. He spreads an aura of confidence and competence, which is easy to trust. Lee’s love for food started early, at the age of ten, when he used to meet with a friend on Sundays at one of their houses to cook extravagant meals – such as Coq au Vin – for their parents, with recipes from their personal bible – the Hamlyn cookbook. His own kids seem to follow his passion, they already love their family tradition of baking pancakes or waffles with their dad on Saturdays, or preparing pizza, bread or homemade pasta together. Lee learnt in the kitchen of the award-winning chef Anton Edelmann at The Savoy who had as much of a strong influence on his cooking as Mark Hix. He says he was thrilled by the vibrance of restaurant kitchens since he first stepped in at the age of 16. Mark Hix introduced Lee and his team to a special tradition that is held in the kitchen every two weeks: His suppliers fill a huge table with the best seasonal produce and Mark himself cooks and experiments with it all morning. He then invites the chefs from all his restaurants to compete with him in a 20-minute-cooking challenge. This way, they develop new recipes, learn from each other and evolve their skills. When I asked what happens to the unlucky ones who have a bad day or can’t work under this kind of pressure, Lee gave a very British answer: “Their food will go to the staff’s table, and that’s also where they’ll have to sit”, and laughed. I love the British!

The five-star Brown’s Hotel is one of ten Rocco Forte luxury hotels, and a stay in this house located at one of the city’s most prestigious addresses is one of those special treats that you should allow yourself once in a while, even if it’s just for one night. It’s the kind of luxury that puts your mind at ease and let’s you relax immediately. The hotel’s wonderful team does an excellent job of fulfilling all your wishes – even the ones you weren’t aware of.

Thank you Sophie, Lee, Thomas, and the rest of the Rocco Forte family!

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

Brown’s Hotel Scones

Mind that the dough for the Brown’s scones has to rest twice,  for 4 hours, before you can bake the scones in the oven.

For about 12 scones

plain flour 500g / 3 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons
fine sea salt 1/2 teaspoon
baking powder 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
butter, cold, diced, 100g / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons
whole milk 250ml / 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon
sultanas (optional) 60g / 2 ounces
eggs, beaten, 2, for the egg wash

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar, and beat in the butter with the dough hooks of an electric mixer or rub it in with your fingers. Gently mix until just combined.

Slowly pour in the milk and mix with the dough hooks of an electric mixer, mix in the sultanas (optional) before the milk is completely mixed into the dough. Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of 2 1/2 cm / 1″. Flip the dough upside down and cut the scones with a round 4cm / 1 1/2″ cutter. Transfer the scones to the lined baking sheet, leaving space in between for the scones to rise. Brush the top of the scones with half the egg wash and leave to rest for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 390°F.

Brush the top of the scones with the remaining egg wash and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Bake the scones for about 8 minutes, then turn the tray and add another 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy warm.

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

Lee, you’ve been working with renowned chefs since the beginning of your career, first under the guidance of Anton Edelmann at The Savoy and now with Mark Hix at Brown’s Hotel as the hotel’s Executive Chef. What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt from these two mentors?

Firstly, with Anton Edelmann I developed a passion for food that wasn’t very prominent as I embarked on my career. At 16 I had no idea of what to expect, but was very quickly wrapped up in the atmosphere of The Savoy Hotel kitchens and especially in the presence of Anton Edelmann himself. Under his guidance I learnt and perfected classic culinary skills, but most importantly the respect for ingredients in their storage, preparation and cooking. This philosophy and care will never leave me.

Working with Mark Hix has had a major impact on my career. The philosophy of food has a massive impact on the way I cook. Also working with Mark and his team has taught me a lot about organisation and developed me in areas that are generally not taught in other kitchens. The structure and organisational systems that are in place have helped me tremendously over the last 8 years. Mark has a different view of what is happening in every situation and it has been amazing watching and learning the thought processes he uses.

Thomas, being the Head Pastry Chef, you’re also responsible for the sweet treats for one of London’s most famous Afternoon Teas at The English Tea Room. What’s so fascinating about this old English tradition? 

The Afternoon Tea is the showcase of an English tradition and is an institution, which is being realised with different interpretations. The concept of Afternoon Tea is fascinating, you can spend time as a couple, with family or on business, by being relaxed. I am personally proud to represent this tradition.

What are the main differences between working in the kitchen of a hotel or a restaurant?

Lee Kebble: Working in a hotel is an ever changing environment. There needs to be control over every outlet, at all times. The structuring of this is very important to ensure consistency over every area. That’s where the fun is in hotels though. No two days are ever the same, there’s always a request, a bespoke event, an afternoon tea promotion to look after.

I think that in a restaurant you have what’s in front of you and the focus can be very clear, on the opposite hand in a hotel you have many angles to channel that focus.

Thomas Coly: Everything, the organisation, the quantity of production and the flexibility.

What do you love about the British cuisine, sweet and savoury?

Lee Kebble: I love the energy in British cuisine now, the demand chefs are putting onto UK suppliers to source and grow produce that has previously been ignored and left for our friends all over the world. The whole style is taking on a new approach and shedding the heavy, stodgy image of the past and pushing the boundaries with fresh, light and modern techniques using new ingredients. This really applies to sweet and savoury. I like the foraged and wild ingredients popping up, for example sea buckthorn which has allowed us to have desserts that mirror passion fruit and citrus flavours.

Thomas Coly: I’m French and like most French people I used to have a bad vision of the British cuisine, but I discovered, in England, we have excellent products.

How important is seasonal and local produce for your creations?

Lee Kebble: Our philosophy is all about seasonal and local produce. At HIX Mayfair we only use British produce. Elsewhere we use a more international array of ingredients but still keeping to the seasonal core values.

Thomas Coly: It’s very important, seasonal first and foremost, to make use of the products at their peak, when the quality is best, and local because we are the ambassadors of British food and it’s our duty to represent and show all the local products to ours guests.

How do you develop new recipes? Where do you find inspiration?

Lee Kebble: Our suppliers are the true inspiration for our recipes and ideas. It all starts with them and we take their ingredients or products to where we want. They provide the sparks that create menus, keeping us at the forefront of seasonal changes and new / un-used products.

Then secondly, the Hix team provides a huge and important part of generating ideas and working on new recipes. We have a bi-weekly challenge where we all cook for 20 minutes as many new and experimental dishes as possible, alongside Mark Hix. From here menus can be written, dishes tried and developed for later dates.

Thomas Coly: I start with the season first, the combination of flavours and then the textures. I find inspiration everywhere – in my experiences, my childhood, memories, travels …

Who has been your biggest inspiration in the kitchen? Who or what inspired you to start a career in food?

Lee Kebble: My family, no one in particular but all were equally supportive when I decided to take on a profession that was unknown and unheard of in past generations.

Once I was in the kitchen it was Anton Edelmann and the Savoy kitchens that stoked the fire for me. I always remember my first week. I watched the sauciers working away in awe and knew I wanted to be like that.

Thomas Coly: My biggest inspiration in the kitchen was Alain Ducasse and his chefs with whom I learnt respect and sensitivity towards the product. I think it was my nanny when I was a kid who used to cook everything fresh, I still remember her making jam in the morning during my breakfast.

What was the first dish you cooked or baked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

Lee Kebble: Coq au vin from the Hamlyn cookbook. Each week when I was around 10, a friend and I would go to each other’s houses and cook for our parents. The Hamlyn cookbook was our bible and we tried many of the recipes.

Thomas Coly: The first dish I cooked was an omelette with my dad. My first cooking memory is when my mother baked a tart on a Sunday afternoon, it was amazing.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become a chef?

Lee Kebble: Be prepared for hard but extremely rewarding work. Adopt a can do attitude. Work with a smile because if you love your job you will never do a day’s work in your life.

Thomas Coly: My advice for those who want to become a chef is to have a passion above everything as it’s a very hard job and without the passion you can’t do this for sure.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in London?

Lee Kebble: I have always had a soft spot for Borough market and often go picking up goodies to cook for friends and family. Here, there is a real array of producers and treats to feast on.

Other than that, I enjoy many varieties of restaurants. I like fresh and exciting flavours.

Thomas Coly: I love Borough market, under the train station, and all different types of food. I love London for its diversity of restaurants, you can eat Chinese, English, Italian, French, Peruvian, Polish…

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Lee Kebble: My Mum and it would have to be Christmas dinner! She makes the best!

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

Lee Kebble: Lots of salads, probably homemade breads. I cook in the garden for most of the year so something from the BBQ is always on the go.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

Lee Kebble: There’s a family lemon cheesecake recipe that was always the winner when I was younger, only ever for special occasions.

Nowadays just simple seasonal fruits at their prime. You really can’t go wrong when at their peak.

At home, do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

Lee Kebble: I always involve my children as much as I can with cooking. I try to teach them to make pizza and homemade pasta. We bake a lot of fresh bread at home and it’s good to do this together.

Which meals do you prefer when you cook privately, improvised or planned?

Lee Kebble: There is fun in all aspects here. Sometimes the best meals are created with minimal ingredients at short notice.

On the other hand there is such a reward in planning and executing a meal that has been carefully created.

Which meal would you never cook again?

Lee Kebble: Anything with tripe, sorry it’s just not for me.

Thank you Lee and Thomas!

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

 

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

 

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

 

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

 

Scones & Tea Time at London's Brown's Hotel

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