The joy of sticky toffee hot cross buns

When it comes to cooking, I make no secret of the fact that I’m something of a traditionalist: I like old-fashioned steamed puddings, I like the classic and the heritage. I like blancmange and rice pudding and suet. I am unashamedly unfashionable. I’m not sure whether I chose the Vintage Chef recipe writing life, or whether the Vintage Chef recipe writing life chose me. I just don’t see the point in reinventing the wheel, or injecting unusual flavours and twists just for the sake of it. But, as I look back through recipes I’ve written, Easter has always been my exception: hot cross bun ice cream sandwiches, hot cross bun

The magical kitschiness of Black Forest gateau

Kitsch is something of my stock-in-trade. And it doesn’t get more kitsch than Black Forest gateau. Pots of cream, pints of cherry schnapps, a storm of chocolate shavings and some very baroque decoration: it ticks all my old-school boxes. Of course, we are very familiar with the Black Forest gateau’s – BFG to its friends – punchy flavours. Chocolate, cherry, cream. What a trio! Now so classic that we barely give it a second thought. But where did this particular combination of ingredients first come from? I like the (unsubstantiated)theory that it harks back to a traditional costume worn by women in the Black Forest: dark chocolate for their black

How to bake a no-chocolate chocolate cake

This week’s recipe is for a chocolate cake that is not a terribly traditional chocolate cake. But that is its charm. It uses only one egg, no butter and, most magically, absolutely no chocolate. Instead, it uses cocoa powder and boiling water: the boiling water releases a deeper, rounder flavour from the cocoa, which is enhanced by vanilla, a little strong coffee, and a pinch of salt. The cake’s flavour is a little like that of a packet mix of brownies – which is not to diminish it, but to signal its fudgy darkness. Feel free to swap the sugar for whatever you have: caster, granulated, even dark brown sugar would

The ultimate spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs is an iconic dish: whether it’s Lady and the Tramp that springs to mind at the name, cosying up over a shared bowl of the stuff, facilitating their canine kissing, or Henry Hill describing the prison meatballs that they make to remind them of home in Goodfellas, while Paulie slices garlic paper-thin with a razor blade, there’s no denying that this pasta dish is one which has taken on significance beyond the sum of its parts. I rather hope that I never find myself in the position of either Henry Hill (imprisoned for mob crimes) or either of the romantic leads in Lady and the Tramp (snogging

How to cook with wild garlic

In British cooking we have traditionally had a complicated relationship with garlic. Let the french use it to their hearts’ content: fine in a Toulouse but no thank you in a Cumberland. Suggestive of this wariness is wild garlic’s many names – ‘devil’s garlic’, ‘gypsy’s onions’ and ‘stinking Jenny’ amongst others. But in recent years British cooks have taken to wild garlic with unabashed relish (and indeed it makes rather a good one, as seen here). Food always tastes better having foraged or hunted for it yourself and so it is with wild garlic. The leaves appear in March and you will find them throughout spring but they are best

The giant pancake that feeds everyone

With Shrove Tuesday upon us, I am forced to face my annual pancake day gripe. It is, inevitably, the cook’s gripe: standard crèpe-like pancakes should be eaten as soon as they are cooked, each doled out to waiting mouths as soon as it’s ready. Yes, recipes tell you you can keep them warm in a low oven, but doing that tends them towards the rubbery and luke-warm. This means that the cook is standing at the stove ladling batter while everyone else eats. As a greedy cook, I resent this. But there is a pancake solution: the Dutch baby. The name does not point to a Holland heritage: instead, the

The trick to making blueberry muffins

I don’t quite know how the Americans got away with it: convincing first their own people, and then the rest of the world that a muffin is a suitable breakfast food? A foodstuff which is, let’s be honest, cake. But then, we are quite happy to sprinkle our worthy porridge liberally with demerara sugar, to use yoghurt in our overnight oats or alongside granola, to combine butter and flour in any manner of breakfast staples from toast to pancakes, what’s so different about combining all those things? In any event, I’m not one to complain about an excuse to squeeze more baked goods into my life; and seeing as those

Eggs en cocotte: the perfect Valentine’s breakfast

There’s something inherently romantic about eggs: whether you’re preparing them for another person, or being served them, they always strike me as a little act of love. Maybe it’s that they suggest breakfast in bed. Breakfast in bed is not about flirting or seduction, it’s more than that. You don’t make breakfast in bed for someone in whom you’re uninterested. Breakfast in bed is not a collaboration, it’s a gift from one person to the other, reserved for those you wish to impress, or to whom you wish to signal your love. That said, while in theory I like the idea, in practice I can feel a little allergic to

How to make chocolate truffles

There is a very particular fear that runs down your spine when you realise you’ve forgotten to buy a gift, be it for a birthday, Christmas or as a surprise for a special someone. Whatever the occasion, the same panic spreads through you, the social anxiety of knowing that you have failed in gift-giving etiquette, that you’re going to have to receive their present with nothing to hand over in return. Having learnt the hard way, this is why I like to have a little stash of homemade edible presents at home, ready to swerve such an occasion. Over the years I’ve done jams and jellies, fudges and toffees, little jars

The secret to making perfect chocolate chip cookies

If these chocolate chip cookies are my only achievement for the entirety of last year’s lockdown, I think I’ll be satisfied: crisp and buttery on the outside, fudgy and sweet within, with pools of dark chocolate, and just the right amount of salt. As ever, with baking, there are always substitutions you can make, if you don’t mind a slightly different (but still delicious) end product. Sub in the light brown sugar for dark brown sugar for an even deeper toffee flavour, or swap out the caster sugar for granulated or demerara. Strong white bread flour will work, if you can spare it, and rye or spelt flour will produce a

A week of winter dishes from The Vintage Chef

Chicken forestière Unlike loads of my other favoured stews, this one doesn’t take hours on the stove or in the oven. I can’t pretend it’s a ten minute start-to-finish dish, but it is one you can start after work and comfortably finish in time for dinner – and after the initial time investment, you can leave it to do its thing. Recipes differ as to the cut of chicken you use: I’ve used fillets here which are not normally my favourite cut, but here it helps the quick cooking process, and means that you don’t have to faff around with bones when eating. The ‘forestière’ in the dish title means

Galette des rois: a perfect epiphany pudding

There’s always a bit of a post-Christmas sag, isn’t there? The presents have been piled up but not actually put away yet, the tree is dropping needles like there’s no tomorrow, and those final bits and bobs of leftovers in the fridge aren’t looking terribly appealing (a weary parsnip and some withered peas do not a Christmas sandwich make). So it’s no surprise that the French have made sure there’s something to look forward to before we pack away the festive season for another year: the galette des rois. Named after the three kings of the nativity story, galettes des rois are traditionally eaten on 6 January, or Epiphany, the

Tartiflette: a French winter warmer perfect for New Year

Well, Christmas may be complete, but the festivities are far from over: the new year is just around the corner. As we stare down the barrel of the end of the decade, we’re not quite ready to give up the cheese board, the doorstep-sized leftover sandwiches, or remove our hand from the Quality Street box. But although the food might be the same post-Christmas, the tone of our eating has changed slightly. Christmas cooking (and eating!) can turn into a logistical marathon: juggling pans and hob space, reconciling wildly different cooking temperatures for items that need to be in the oven at the same time, catering to a raft of

Hummingbird cake: a bake from America’s Deep South

I’d always assumed that the hummingbird’s cake derived its name from its unapologetic sweetness: a cake so singing with fruit juice and soft caramelly sugar that it charms the (humming)birds from the trees. The origins may in fact be more prosaic: originally called the Doctor Bird cake, it was named after the national symbol of Jamaica, a type of hummingbird, only found on the island, and it first came to fame outside of Jamaica thanks to a bit of a PR stunt. It was a marketing tool, really: one of a number of recipes exported by the Jamaican Tourist Board in 1968 in little press packs sent to the USA.

The ultimate turkey curry

Turkey curry, as a means of using up festive leftovers has become something of a joke: the turkey curry buffet in Bridget Jones is the true low point of Bridge’s festive calendar. The prospect can strike fear into the most Christmas-spirited of souls. But actually, on boxing day, or the day after, the last thing you really want is the same meal you’ve been eating for the past two days, looking a little tired and fridge-worn, all the best bits gone. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be first to the table for cold roast meats and my fifth serving of stilton in 48 hours, and if you hesitate for a

The secret to making a Yule log

I watch a lot of Great British Bake Off. I’d like to say it comes with the baking territory, but the truth is, I’m simply hooked. I love all of it: the triumphs, the disasters, the crap jokes, the obscure technicals, all of it. My dedication to GBBO has taught me a couple of things: the Hollywood handshake has been so devalued in recent years as to be completely worthless; it’s probably worth breaking down and having a cry over your macarons just to get a hug from Noel Fielding, and swiss rolls are a bloody nightmare. They’re fiddly: they require whisking the yolks and whites separately, and then gingerly

How to create the perfect cheeseboard

The cheeseboard is, arguably, the highlight of any dinner, but there’s an art to crafting a delectable selection. From selecting the right cheeses and serving them at their best to the ensuring a balanced pairing of sundries and sippers, the craft of the cheeseboard is a skill to learn. It’s time to do away with whipping out a Stilton wheel straight from the fridge. We asked top cheese experts, Hero Hirsh and Sam Wilkin, about the do’s and don’ts of Christmas cheese eating: How much cheese should you serve? As a rule, around 100g-150g per person should be plenty, but keep in mind that buying generously ensures your stock will

The joy of old-fashioned gingerbread

Christmas baking should be a source of joy. It should be something we look forward to, a break from the hectic organisation of dozens of presents, reams of wrapping paper, cosy-but-thoughtful decoration, enormous meals, endless Christmas parties, and stressful hosting. But Christmas baking can take on a life of its own: fruit cakes that ‘should’ have been made months ago (that three members of your family will tell you loudly they do not like and will not eat), puddings that need hours on the hob, edible biscuity decorations with boiled sweet centres that will inevitably stale on the tree. It can just become another chore. Now, I love a Christmas

Panforte: a sophisticated alternative to Christmas cake

If you’re looking for an alternative to Christmas cake (or an addition to it), then panforte is the bake for you. Sufficiently similar to our traditional Christmas cake in its flavours of Medieval spice, dried fruit and candied citrus that it can’t fail to evoke the Christmas spirit, it is still entirely distinctive. Panforte is shallower than Christmas cake, and more solid; the honey in the mix means that it is chewy rather than crumbly, and where a Christmas cake is stuffed full of vine fruits and cherries, panforte majors in dates and figs. A slim wedge of the dense, spiced bake is more than sufficient and even, whisper it,

The art of cauliflower cheese

There are some dishes on which I am well aware I hold strong opinions: toast (well done but not burnt, real butter, generously spread; must be eaten hot), crumble (crunchy, not soggy, lots of it; simply must be served with custard, ideally cold), roast chicken (cooked hot and fast, with more butter than is sensible, until the skin crackles; the chicken oysters are always cook’s perks). But some catch me unawares. I don’t realise that I feel strongly about a particular recipe of foodstuff until I’m staring down the barrel of a recipe, or contemplating something that doesn’t meet my surprisingly exacting standards. I’ll find myself holding forth on the