Letters: the joy of a male book club

The state of our defence Sir: Your article on the etiolated state of European, including Britain’s, defence, is spot on (‘The price of peace’, 27 April). Rishi Sunak’s belated conversion to increasing defence expenditure is welcome but is, frankly, too little, too late. What it most definitively does not do is place the UK on a ‘war-footing’. By contrast, Russia is already in that state. It spends between 6 and 8 per cent of its GDP on defence. It has established strategic alliances with China, Iran and North Korea, and now much of West Africa too. We need a severe dose of realism. To begin, we must stop pretending that Ukraine

How to make the most of asparagus

It is hard to think of a vegetable which is as eagerly anticipated as that of home-grown asparagus. Partly it is because the season is so short: St George’s Day traditionally marks the start of the season which typically lasts for just eight weeks. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and, so long as we resist the temptations of year-round flown-in asparagus from foreign climes, the arrival of the first spears of this vegetable grown on home soil is as exciting a moment as any in the culinary calendar. There are occasional disruptions to nature’s rhythm: last year frosts ruined large parts of the British crop forcing supermarkets to stock

How to turn your pineapple into a showstopper

You can’t please me: the grass is always greener. I spend the summer months longing for a time when crumbles and stew, cardigans and the big duvet, are not only welcome but required. Then as soon as we hit the autumn and the weather changes, I’m trying to hold onto the last vestiges of sunshine. This, I suppose, is as close as I can get to a compromise, a middle ground: pineapple, peeled but whole, still sporting its Sideshow Bob haircut, roasted until cooked all the way through, and caramelised on the outside. Served hot with ice cream, or boozy cream, and drizzled with the spicy, dark glaze that drips

Greek salad: the ultimate heatwave dish

Good lord, it’s hot. I mean, really, really hot. Right now, the heat is so overwhelming as to feel like it is tangible, as if you could reach out and touch it. All we’re capable of talking about is the heat; any other polite conversation is too much for our fried brains. Normally, when our annual heatwave hits, I proffer some halfway house of a recipe: a dish that only needs the hob, not the oven, or is sufficiently refreshing or brightening that it justifies the added kitchen heat. But, this year, even that compromise seems unmanageable. At this stage, it would feel disingenuous, nay cruel, to offer up a

Lemon drizzle cake: how to bring out the zing

Call it nominative determinism, but a lemon drizzle cake is perfect for disappointing, drizzly weather. It’s cheering: brightly flavoured, and packed with zest, but still comforting, filling your home with a warm citrus scent as it bakes. It’s also a more enjoyable food-based activity than picnics or barbecues when winds are high. A lemon drizzle cake is really just a pound cake – equal quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour – that’s then spritzed up with zest and juice. But it’s a pretty glorious one, managing to be both zingy and sweet, light and sticky. The key to a superlative lemon drizzle is packing in as much citrus as

The trick to making good focaccia

Focaccia is one of my favourite breads: glossy and golden on top thanks to the olive oil, but firm and crisp, with a chewy, aerated, oil-soaked crumb with a real spring. You should be able to squish a good focaccia with your hand and watch it slowly rise back up to its former glory. Focaccia’s a brilliant bread to make if you’re a little nervous of yeast and dough: the ‘shaping’ of focaccia is far easier than that of a traditional loaf, or even a ciabatta or baguette. To make focaccia, you spread your dough out in a tin – an imprecise art – and then paddle it with your

How to master homemade strawberry sorbet

There’s no better time of year to tuck into one of the seasons finest ingredients, the strawberry. The crowning jewel of June’s harvest, its arrival signals the beginning of summertime – at long last. This strawberry sorbet is a winner. It’s deceptively easy to make, packed full of flavour and makes for the ultimate treat when served with a dash of Champagne. We love to serve this after a long al fresco lunch in the garden. It’s fresh and light and always goes down a treat. Rustle up some little shortbread fingers to accompany it and it’s the perfect pudding. Task the children with that whilst you crack on with

What are the true ingredients of a Bakewell tart?

Northerners take their puddings seriously: Eccles cakes from Manchester, sticky toffee pudding from Cartmel, and Bakewell tart from Derbyshire. These hyper local puddings have been adopted by sweet tooths all over the country, but woe betide anyone who tries to mess with their traditions. In this, Bakewell tart provides its own challenges: the locals call it a pudding, and many will argue that it should have a puff pastry base rather than the shortcrust that it tends to have elsewhere, and even feature custard rather than frangipane. And we also have to contend with another variety – those made famous by Mr Kipling, which use a cherry jam, and decorate

Why your summer pudding needs a splash of elderflower

Is there a sight more pleasing, more cheering, than the vermillion dome of a summer pudding? Its vibrant colour cannot fail to raise a smile, even on dreary June days, suggestive as it is of all that is best about the British summer when it plays ball: gluts of sweet, juicy fruit, that sweet-sour tightrope that our summer crops walk so deftly, long lunches in the garden, and sticky fingers. Each time I make a summer pudding, I am convinced it won’t hold. That, after a day of soaking, the flimsy bread frame will give way, spilling forth its berry contents all over the plate. Each time I turn out

The secret to making sumptuous scones

I love scones. I would go so far as to say they are my favourite morsel of all in the traditional afternoon tea spread. Yes the finger sandwiches are nice, and the mini tarts, eclairs and macarons often an impressive display of the pâtisser’s skill and finesse. But if the afternoon tea doesn’t have a scone, in my book it is not an afternoon tea at all. The appeal of the scone is partly in its simplicity. I can find the opera cake with multiple different types of ganache and the various mini tartlets that feature in hotel afternoon teas sometimes all a bit much. But a scone consists only

Tarte au citron: serve up a slice of sunshine

There is something inherently uplifting about a lemon. Even in literal or figurative dark times, lemons shine bright – little bumpy orbs of joy that cry out from the fruit bowl or the greengrocers to be turned into something mouth-puckering or, once paired with enough sugar, that perfect balance of sweet-sour. Perhaps I am overly sentimental, but lemons always strike me as cheering, and full of promise. Lemon curd was one of the first things I learnt to make when I began cooking, but I’ve held off turning it into a tart for a while, unable to work out how to create the exact pudding I wanted to eat. For

The sheer delight of Cherries Jubilee

Cherries Jubilee is a dish with real heritage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its name, it was created to celebrate a jubilee: it is thought to have been created by Escoffier for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee celebration in 1897. It consists of cherries cooked in flaming brandy, and then served warm over vanilla ice cream, although in the original dish it was even more pared down, lacking the ice cream element. The dish is flambéd, which means that the alcohol from the kirsch is ignited with an open flame, and cooked off quickly. Of course, safety is paramount: don’t let your six year old nephew take charge of this bit, make sure

The secret ingredient that transforms banoffee pie

I have been labouring under a misapprehension for some time, perhaps my whole life. I thought that the ‘offe’ in ‘banoffee pie’ was a reference to the thick, gooey toffee layer that sits between the biscuit base and the cream. But no, the ‘offe’ has nothing to do with what is, in any event, really a caramel, but the coffee flavour that should be folded through the cream topping. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a banoffee pie that features the sort-of-eponymous coffee, and I am relieved to discover that wide swathes of the internet (including the fallible wikipedia) has made the same mistake. But as I experiment with the

Why I’m wild about Waldorf salad

You don’t see Waldorf salad so much nowadays. It’s a simple dish: raw celery, apple, grapes and walnuts, tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing. Although you might still find it packaged in the bigger supermarkets, it’s fallen off dinner tables and restaurant menus alike. We wrinkle our noses at the prospect of combining fresh fruit and mayonnaise: the combination always makes me mentally place the Waldorf salad in the 70s, alongside big platters of dressed salmon, covered in wafer-thin cucumber scales, and a host of other mayonnaise-coated, tricky-to-identify bowls purporting to be salads, possibly involving tinned mandarin oranges. But it’s actually much older than it feels: it was invented in 1896

The delicious silliness of pink lemonade jelly

The onset of summer makes me feel giddy. And it seems from those piling into beer gardens and loading up their hampers for picnics in parks, I’m not alone. Perhaps this is because it is of course too early for summer, I’m not ready for it. And to be fair, it’s barely arrived. Spring is still stamping its feet with April showers, and shaking its blossom filled trees to remind us of its presence. But those hot hazy golden days are creeping in, even on bank holiday weekends, the traditional domain of miserable, dreary weather, which we bravely brazen out, so determined are we to make the most of the

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

How to use up your spare hot cross buns

It always feels criminal to throw away hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are marked by their scarcity in my house: no sooner do they cross the threshold than they are pounced upon and demolished. Assuming that you are capable of more restraint than me, this recipe deals with the unlikely scenario of how to use up those leftover buns. The ravenous will be relieved to hear that only two buns are required. And if you have more willpower than I do, you can even hold back a couple more hot cross buns and serve the ice cream between two halves of a bun, as a particularly Eastery ice cream sandwich. This is a

Whisky syrup sponge: the perfect pick-me-up

Bringing something golden, sweet and uplifting into your kitchen and life is exactly what is required at this time of year. And it doesn’t get more golden, sweet or uplifting than a syrup sponge. A syrup sponge is a steamed pudding, laced with golden syrup. The pudding itself is made by pouring a cake-style batter into a basin or bowl, sealing it with paper and foil, and then placing it in a half-filled pan of water, where it is gently cooked by the steam, until the sponge is light and risen. Golden syrup is an inverse sugar, which means it is created in the process of refining sugar, or after

Rhubarb and custard cheesecake: a true romance of flavours

Sometimes, when I am planning a pudding, it can feel like there is a hitch in my brain, a little sticky spot that I catch on, and have to release myself from before I can move on. That hitch, that sticky spot, is rhubarb and custard. I know that there are other pudding bases, sweet dishes that are more original, more popular. I know that there exist other marvellous fruits that deserve the spotlight, that there are chocolate concoctions that will ooze and impress, bitter caramels that will shock and delight. But in order to get to them, I have to move past my first instinct which is always: rhubarb

How to eat well for less

Inflation is (if you’ll excuse the pun) biting. So how can you keep down the cost of the weekly shop and get maximum bang for your buck in the kitchen without compromising? I have always shopped by the yellow sticker and the discount aisle. When I first started getting creative in the kitchen as an early teen, I wanted to try searing scallops and practice filleting Dover sole, French-trim a rack of lamb, and prepare artichoke hearts – and none of that comes cheap. So, I went to the supermarket an hour before closing and bought from the man in the hairnet who I knew and who I liked to