Sunday, 27 October 2013


Autumn's here and the clocks went back by an hour last night. Meanwhile the biggest storm of the century (so far) is predicted later this weekend. Time to hunker down then and to use up some of our glut of apples. This ice-cream has an unusual combination of sweet, sharp and bitter flavours (think toffee apples); it is soft textured, with chewy bits of apple and contrasting shards of brittle/melting caramel.

For the caramel brittle:
100g  granulated white sugar
¾ tsp  flakes of sea salt.

For the ice cream custard:
400ml  unsweetened apple juice
juice of ½ lemon
250ml  milk

300g  granulated white sugar
60 gr  salted butter
½ tsp  flakes of sea salt
200ml  double cream
300g  apple
5  egg whites
100g granulated white sugar.
1   Make the caramel brittle
     Place a silicone/Teflon mat (or a lightly oiled sheet of baking parchment) on a baking tray. Have this close to hand when cooking the caramel.
     Scatter the sugar evenly across a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently until it melts. Opinion is divided about whether or not to stir the sugar as it melts - safer to roll it around the pan until all is melted. For the proper bitter flavour, let the mixture brown until just before it burns - your nose is the best guide here. Then IMMEDIATELY scatter ¾ teaspoon of flaked sea salt into the pan and pour the caramel evenly over the prepared silicone sheet, tilting the tray to help it spread as evenly and thinly as possible. Once it has cooled and set hard, shatter the caramel into small shards which will be folded into the ice-cream as it freezes.

2   Prepare for making the ice cream.
     Simmer apple juice (freshly juiced if possible) and juice of half a lemon until reduced to 200ml.  Cool and keep to one side.
     Core, peel and dice the apple (into approx. 2cm squares) and plunge into cold water with juice of half a lemon to prevent discolouring.
     Half fill a large bowl with ice and water, and set a smaller bowl in the water - the ice bath will cool the ice cream mixture quickly. Place the milk in the bowl to cool.
3   Make the ice cream
     Prepare caramel in exactly the same way as before, with 300g sugar. As soon as it is ready, remove from the heat a stir in the slightly salted butter. Once the butter has melted, add the salt and cream and mix.
     Return the pan to a low heat; any lumps that have formed will melt away. Stir in the drained diced apple and let it cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow the apple to get soft. Pour in the prepared reduced apple juice and add the whole mixture to the milk in the ice bath and let it cool.
      Whip the egg whites to soft peaks and then beat in the sugar. Once the ice-cream mixture is cool, gently fold in the soft meringue, keeping the air in as far as possible. It won't necessarily all mix smoothly initially, but repeated folding as it sets in the freezer will solve this; it is easier to control the texture of this particular ice cream by using the freezer and by repeatedly folding from sides to centre, but churn in an ice-cream maker if preferred. Once the ice-cream is almost firm but before it freezes hard, stir in the small shards of caramel brittle.
     Because of the caramel, the ice cream never sets too hard, so can usually be served direct from the freezer. Serve it with extra caramel and thin slices of fresh apple - or even caramelised apple slices for a bit more sweetness; alternatively, sticks of shortbread work well, and add another texture and flavour.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013


artisan; sustainable; volunteer bakers;
railway arches; Hackney; community; sourdough; lost traditions; natural;
environmentally friendly; small; locally sourced; kitchen-table start-up;
Most of today's on-trend foodie buzz words describe The E5 Bakehouse pretty accurately: in fact, many can be found on their website. It is no surprise, therefore, that the E5 bicycle-delivery-service has to pedal further and faster each day, spreading its range of excellent sourdough loaves to an ever increasing number of outlets. No wonder the queue for fresh bread stretches so far each morning, lured in by the smell fresh baking and the tang of sourdough.

And there are few better ways to while away a weekend (or weekday) morning than breakfasting in the small rough-and-ready café at the front of the bakery - or even sunning yourself on the pavement outside on a good day.  So alongside sleek i-pads or laptops are chunky slabs of toast (made from the fresh bread that steadily emerges from the ovens) slathered with home made jam - try a slice of their signature loaf, the Hackney Wild; alternatively, go for healthy bowls of muesli or granola.
Meanwhile, the bakery, which has been busy since the early hours, continues to bustle along behind the counter, hand-crafting artisan sourdough loaves from locally sourced and organic ingredients to feed the long line of bread lovers waiting patiently to be served.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


What is it about the English and fish?  Think about the great, ancient markets of London: Covent Garden and Smithfield, with their porters, bustle and banter, both have an air of romance about them, are part of the image of Englishness.  Not so Billingsgate.  Even in its "new" location, it crouches at the feet of the gleaming modern cathedrals of commerce that make up Canary Wharf, seemingly cast in the role of ugly sister. And Old Billingsgate  was  apparently "a place apart" with a very different set of traditions. 
 "That it was a place apart from the rest of London is not in doubt;
here, in an atmosphere of reeking fish, with fish-scales underfoot,
and a shallow lake of mud all around,
specific types and traditions had sprung up.
There were the 'wives' of Billingsgate
who dressed in strong stuff gowns and quilted petticoats;
called 'fish fags' they smoked small pipes of tobacco,
took snuff, drank gin and were known for their colourful language."
(From Peter Ackroyd: London: The Biography)

It is just after 5:30am.  Canary  Wharf is still; silent; office windows are glowing but empty. However, Billingsgate is bustling with activity, and it's been going full tilt here for several hours already.  The car park is full; anonymous, dripping white boxes are loaded into vans which disappear out of the gates onto the empty streets. A small group, bleary eyed, yawning and clearly unused to life at this hour), gathers to take the Catch of the Day Class run by the Billingsgate Seafood Training School.

First, a tour of the market, led by CJ Jackson, fish doyenne, Director of the Seafood Training Course and writer of such classics as Leith's Fish Bible (she is a former vice principal of Leith's) and The Billingsgate Market Cookbook; it is her hand clutching the monster lobster below. 
At first glance, Billingsgate is nothing like the great, glistening open air fish markets of Spain or Venice. This isn't about display, the gaudy arrangements designed to seduce the casual passing eye.  Rather, this is about shifting merchandise, the practical packaging and sale of goods in large quantities to specialist purchasers. However, the fish are sparkling fresh, each eye is translucent, every scale shines like a tiny jewel.  The whole place smells of the sea. And everywhere you turn there is a different shape or colour or size.
For a couple of hours we are bombarded with facts about Billingsgate (the largest inshore fish market in UK, with one of the widest selections of fish in the world), about fish in general (the difference between Canadian and British lobsters and how to grow eels), while dodging porters and trolleys and ice.  Weirdly, both George Orwell (in the 1930s) and the Kray twins (1950s) have worked at Billingsgate. 
By 8:00am, the market is over and it is time to climb upstairs for breakfast in the Cookery School - a spicy kedgeree.  Then it is on to learning knife skills, creating a fish stock for bouillabaisse, filleting flat and round fish and cooking. Even those most squeamish at the start are soon de-scaling and hoicking out guts insouciantly while sipping glasses of wine and comparing the neatness of knife work.

A Gurnard is first up for filleting
The team in action
The joys of working with squid

Once the preparation is done, the cooking takes over and the resident chef demonstrates just how versatile fish can be - and how quick and easy each dish is to put together.  While she cooks, we watch over our bubbling vats of bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse in preparation

Plaice parcels stuffed with tomatoes and pesto ready to go into the oven
Baked Hake and chorizo
Grilled chilli mackerel

Our time is up. We have scraped, sliced, gouged, assembled and watched the experts in action.  All that is left is to enjoy the chilled rose, slurp our very own bouillabaisse and share personal triumphs and disasters - and above all to celebrate the wonders of fish.  Then, rather like the traders at the crack of dawn, we bag up our fish and head home.