It looks good, doesn’t it. It tastes good, too. If you don’t mind breaking your teeth. (Or, baking for the first time with a 10 week old puppy).

IMG_5283…a 10 week old puppy whose domain is the kitchen. These are salted caramel tartlets, from the delightful Patisserie at Home by Will Torrent, a birthday present that I have been avidly waiting to dive into. The recipes look delicious, brought to life by gorgeous photographs and plenty of them. I can’t wait to give them a try.

Fucking patisserie. The pastry is pâte sablée, which requires a dozen more processes than the good old sweet shortcrust that always works perfectly for me. The inside is brushed with melted chocolate. Hidden inside is a salted caramel filling. The topping is a chocolate ganache. The decorations are caramelised hazelnuts – made with nuts, sugar and, who knew, vodka. Crème diplomate (a “lighter” version of crème pâtissière…made with all the effort of crème pât plus some folded in whipped cream for good measure), And tempered chocolate. Not melted, tempered. With a thermometer. So it goes crisp and shiny. Or something.

1,2,3,4,5,6, the hours go by with surprising speed, until I get to the part that says: leave to rest overnight. Damn.

I try one anyway – who needs set ganache? I’ll do without the créme for tonight and take the photographs tomorrow. It tastes good, but when my teeth reach the middle of the tart they don’t go any further. I should have suspected it already. The caramel is more of a hard toffee, something akin to a Werther’s Original and most definitely not something that belongs in a delicate, melt in the mouth tartlet. (the pastry is also slightly too thick, the ganache a little grainy, the crème a tad lumpy. But ssssh, don’t tell anyone and I might get away with it).

But they tastes damn good, and I look forward to other beautiful challenges the book has to offer. And the puppy, Kipling (whose nominal associations combine a love of literature – Rudyard – and a love of cake – Mr) really is a delight. Even when he jumps with all four paws in the air on to my baking drawer. It’s a new trick he’s learnt. Just like my pâtisserie tricks. To be mastered.

My ever supportive girlfriend is eating one right now. “You might have had problems at every single stage”, she says, “but I’m not having any problems eating it.”

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Sugar, sugar, sugar: Fudge, Caramels, Brittle, and everything in between

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Every six weeks I have an appointment to sit down for an uninterrupted hour and talk about baking, cooking, and Masterchef. Oh, and get my hair cut at the same time. This week my hairdresser and I share our affection for Keri, the last woman standing on this year’s Masterchef: The Professionals and a worthy finalist not because of her gender but because she cooks food that I, and Greg Wallace thank god, really want to eat. We also bemoan the fashion for the ‘smear’ of [insert your choice of vegetable here] purée that adorns practically every plate of food on the show. Imagine if you were the first person to invent that smear. How bored would you be of it by now. Must come up with something different. My hairdresser’s Christmas menu sounds out of this world, the kind that you might see on a restaurant menu card: the kind that will struggle with how to smear onion purée across a plate without ‘smearing’ onion purée across a plate. My Christmas menu will have no such problem, as it will be as traditional as can be with everything doused in gravy with no thought for presentation. That’s what it’s all about.

IMG_0494To add to preparations for Christmas festivities we’ve spent the last week with a fake dog. Not a cuddly toy dog as a present for my nephew, no. Something much more sensible: an imaginary dog. In order to decide whether we can really fit the responsibility of being parents to a little furry creature into our busy lives, we try to start each day by deciding, for instance, ‘who’s going to take care of Frankie today’ (choice of name not mine). Or, alternatively, ‘I need to go to campus for a couple of hours but I’ll make sure I’m back in time to take Frankie for a walk’. Or, of course, ‘where’s Frankie going to spend this week, in Small House #1 or #2?’ And so on. Frankie has been a delight, but has also taught me not to leave unwrapped fudge on the counter top.

IMG_0492The fudge is now wrapped and accompanies a variety of other flavours and textures of sweets. I have spent the whole weekend making them, to the disapproval of my mother, whose ‘oh dear’ over the phone tells me she doesn’t trust me not to eat them all myself. I am careful to only leave myself the odd ends, however, and once the rest is packaged up ready to distribute to assorted family and friends there’s no chance I’ll unravel them. The real showstopper is cardamom and white pepper fudge which is, if I do say so myself, out of this world, with an enduring heat from the pepper. It is also, satisfyingly, my own recipe, although I am indebted to inspiration from both Dan Lepard and Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. I want to put white pepper in everything now I have discovered its effectiveness, and I add it to a batch of biscuits that finish the weekend in style – orange blossom and pistachio, adapted from a tried-and-delightedly-tested cardamom and rose water shortbread recipe from Sugar and Spice. I still haven’t made the Panettone, as an exhausted end-of-term weekend deserves more frivolity than a recipe that (if authentic) demands four rounds of proving. There may well not be enough hours in the day.

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