If the choux fits: the secrets of perfect profiteroles

Choux pastry can inspire fear in even the most confident of cooks. There’s a good reason for it: it’s difficult to give a very precise recipe for choux pastry, as the amount of egg needed to create the correct texture depends on the flour you’ve used, how long the choux has rested, and how fast and how thoroughly you have cooked the choux mixture out. It’s the water content in the egg that primarily causes the choux to rise and puff in the oven into those distinctive domes or elegant eclairs: not enough and they will fall flat, but too much and the pastry will be too sloppy to pipe

Alison Roman: ‘My desserts are consistently imperfect’

Alison Roman’s cooking is a counsel of imperfection. She serves dinner late (fine, as long as you have snacks), gets her guests to pitch in on the washing up and won’t make her own ice cream – ‘it simply will never be better than what you can buy, sorry’. ’Her ‘pies leak, cheesecakes crack and pound cakes are pulled from the oven before they’re fully baked. Lopsided and wonky, occasionally almost burned, unevenly frosted, my desserts are consistently imperfect’. In her new book, Sweet Enough, Roman wants to free the home cook from the dessert ties that bind them. ‘My hope for you,’ she tells her reader, ‘is that you

The art of postal baking

When life moved to Zoom in March 2020, I quickly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. With events and weddings off the cards indefinitely, I needed to pivot my baking business and realised that if people couldn’t go out to eat cake, I needed to get the cake to them. Overnight, boxes and packing tape were ordered, recipes chosen, and my postal bakes business was formed. Thanks to the power of Instagram, demand was overwhelming. People ordered boxes for their households – their arrival a mini event to look forward to amid the monotony of lockdown – but most ordered for others. Boxes were being sent

Labour of love: producing the perfect loaf

Wheat flour, and the bread made from it, has been a recurring cause of concern for the British for centuries, with parliament passing laws to control the size of loaves and quantity of additives. The 1758 Act required bread to contain ‘genuine meal or flour, common salt, pure water, eggs, and yeast or barm, or such leaven as magistrates shall occasionally allow of’. Flour might be adulterated, mostly to whiten the bread; but rather than this being the work of a mad baker-poisoner it was more likely a response to a public that wanted not just the whitest bread but the cheapest, whitest bread. In the years following the 1820

We should never take our daily bread for granted

In the seventh and final chapter of this small but lingeringly powerful book, the author reveals his motivation for writing it. His father, he explains, a Russian-born Yugoslav soldier, had been a prisoner of war of the Germans, part of a group consigned to do forced labour felling trees during the bitterly cold winter of 1942-43. One evening, freezing, starving and looking barely human, the group was stopped on the road back to camp by a stranger, a Protestant pastor who invited them into his house and, risking reprisals, nonetheless gave them a chance to warm up and eat some bread with a glass of wine. After the war, living

I want to support cinema but I have my work cut out with Love Sarah

Some cinemas have reopened, with the rest to follow by the end of the month, thankfully. But the big, hotly anticipated films — Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, for example, or A Quiet Place II — won’t be out for a while yet, as opening schedules are adjusted. However, there is a new film that is cinema-only: it’s British, and it’s called Love Sarah. It stars Celia Imrie and is about three generations of women who seek to overcome grief by founding a bakery in London’s Notting Hill rather than running away to join Isis, say. (Is it always a bakery in Notting Hill or does it just feel like that?) I

Blancmange is either ignored or despised: here’s how to make one that’s neither slimy nor bland

Blancmange. Poor, maligned blancmange. The slimy, over-set staple of children’s birthday parties and school dinners, destined to be pushed around a plate and loathed for life. Blancmange has become shorthand for an age of blandness: the dessert equivalent of Chris de Burgh. Even its name sounds heavy on the English tongue. But we do the blancmange a grave disservice. It is, after all, essentially a panna cotta. Shouldn’t a milk jelly by any other name taste as sweet? It is slightly lighter than its Italian counterpart, yes, but that’s all to its credit. So why the bad reputation? The culprit, I think, is packet blancmange. No amount of careful preparation