28 Feb 2014

Budding Chefs 2014

With great pleasure, I recently attended the press launch of this year’s exciting Budding Chefs programme to hear all about it from co-founders Fred Berkmiller (Escargot Bleu/Blanc) and Vincent Guérin, (director of the Institut Français d’Ecosse), as well as Craig Sandle (head chef at The Caledonian Hotel) and Alex Renton (journalist and food writer).   

This is what it is all about:
“The fourth edition of the Budding Chefs in Scotland will see a new group of 16 French budding chefs and waiters come to Scotland from 18 to 22 March. The young chefs will experience the Scottish larder, meet Scottish producers and chefs and run a Pop-up Restaurant at The Hub with their mentor Craig Sandle. The other highlight of the week will involve a series of talks on food and will gather some of the greatest names of the food industry from France, Great Britain and Scandinavia: Nicholas Lander (restaurant critic, England), Roderick Sloan (sea urchin diver, Norway), Michael Booth (journalist and writer, Denmark),Hervé Mons (cheese affineur, France), Erica Randall (gardener, Scotland), Loic Bienassis (historian, France), Tom Kitchin (Chef, Scotland), Craig Sandle (Chef, Scotland) and Fred Berkmiller (Chef, Scotland) will follow one another on The Hub’s stage to talk about gastronomy, larder, restaurants andall other things food. The talks will be chaired by food writer and journalist Alex Renton.”
Hearing about this exciting programme, I almost wish I could stand in one of these youngsters’ shoes and embrace the culinary Auld Alliance!  Both events will take place on 22nd of March in the Hub and promise to offer a fantastic day for anyone interested in food. I went to the pop-up restaurant last year and must say, it’s been one of my most memorable dining experiences in 2013! The food was utterly delicious (and plentiful!), the atmosphere great and I met lots of interesting and lovely people including last year's budding chefs.
Tickets can be booked here. This is an opportunity not to be missed! I say that because unfortunately, I am going to miss the event due to my mum’s 60 birthday celebration in France. This, I suppose, is a good excuse, but I would have loved to attend the “Talking Food” series and sample what I’m sure will be a great dinner, especially after having been told that Fred and Vincent are planning a few innovations. Here's the tentalising menu:
Drink on arrival
Amuse bouche Barley and winkle risotto
Starters Pollock Fish Quenelle, Squat Lobster à l’Armoricaine; Whelks Mayonnaise; Rillette of Hot
Smoked and Cured Salmon; Julienne of Seasonal Roots Vegetables, Vinaigrette; Beef Cheeks and
Tongue Pot-au-Feu en Salade; Green Lettuce Salad
Main course Lamb Selection Slow Cooked au naturel, Lamb Jus, Seasonal Roasted Vegetables
Cheese Selection of Cheese by Hervé Mons: Camembert, Roquefort, Selles-sur-Cher
Dessert Gateau Opéra

By attending the dinner, you not only experience the best what Scotland's Larder has to offer in a unique setting but crucially, you support this valuable programme. I look forward to hearing all about it soon!

26 Dec 2013

An unconventional Christmas Stollen

Back in November when it was 10°C outside, I wasn't quite yet in Christmas spirit, but as always up for a small challenge in the kitchen, I unexpectedly found myself "competing" against the big supermarkets in a Stollen taste-test.
For their December taste-testing "Off the trolley" column, the local Edinburgh Bite Magazine had sampled 8 industrially-produced Stollen alongside my home-made version. Full-well knowing that I was going to take a big risk in making a Stollen that differed from the beloved marzipan Stollen, I opted to make one of my favourite versions: A poppy-seed Stollen with an added twist of brandy-soaked cranberries.
Personally, I was very happy with the result and particularly with the first ever "excuse" to eat Stollen prior to the start of advent. But I seem to have strongly divided the jury who either hated or loved the stronger and less-sweet flavour of my Stollen compared to the industrially sugar-ladened Stolle. You can read all about the result of Bite's taste-testing here.

my first-ever home-made Stollen filled with poppy-seeds and cranberries

The following recipe is an adaptation from the traditional Christstollen that I was given from an old German friend of mine. The poppy-seed filling can be used for any other yeast-based sweet dough, for cakes and tarts or to make traditional poppy-seed dumplings. Of course, if poppy-seeds isn't your thing, you can fill the Stollen with marzipan or any other nut-based filling.a

For the Stollen dough:
  • 500g plain flour
  • 50g fresh yeast (I buy it in the Real Foods shop)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 150ml milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 75g lard
  • 75g butter
  • 1egg
  • 100g cranberries, soaked in brandy over night
  • 100g crushed almonds
  • splash of almond essence (optional)
  • 50g mixed peel
For the poppy-seed filling
  • 200g poppy-seeds
  • 1 tbsp rice
  • 200ml full-fat milk
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g good-quality or home-made marzipan, grated

For the finish
  • 100g melted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 200ml full

Dissolve the yeast in luke-warm milk and add 1tbsp sugar. Mix the remaining sugar with the flour and the salt in a large bowl, make a well and add the yeast/milk mixture into the well. Cover the yeast/milk mix with flour from the edge of the bowl and leave in a warm place for 10-15minutes. Add the softened lard and butter and the egg and kneed for 10minutes (I happily use my wonderful KitchenAid dough hook). Add the remaining dough ingredients and mix well until evenly distributed. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size (takes about 1 hour in a warm place).

In the meantime, prepare the filling:

Grind the poppy seeds (I use a powerful coffee grinder). Finish by grinding the rice, which has the added benefit of cleaning your coffee grinder. Heat the milk until boiling stage and add the ground poppy seeds, rice, sugar and vanilla extract. Take off the heat and mix well. Let the mix cool before adding the eggs and the grated marzipan.

Knock back the Stollen dough and divide into two. Roll each half into a rectangle of about 3cm thickness and spread with half of the poppy seed mixture. Make an indentation side-length in the middle of the dough and fold one half into the middle and press down a little. Fold the other half onto the first in order to create the typical Stollen shape. Admittingly, this requires a bit of pratice, or better a professional to show you! Lift the Stollen on a lined and butterd baking tray, place some baking paper in between them if baked together, cover and leave to rise again for 1 hour.

Bake at 200°C for 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 175°C and bake for another 30 minutes until golden brown.

Melt the butter and cover the Stollen generously with alternating layers of melted butter and icing sugar until a thick layer of icing sugar has been obtained.

If stored in an air-tight container in a cool place, the Stollen will be great for at least 3 weeks. In fact, as for Christas cakes, the flavours improve after a few days.
Happy Christmas!

20 Sep 2013

A special birthday cake

The “gateau Opera” for me typifies what French patisserie is all about: Elegance, sophistication, great taste, delicacy and above all a little bit of indulgence. I’ve wanted to make this cake for a while, especially after having watched it made in Martin Wishart’s kitchen on my visit of the restaurant earlier this year. But I hadn’t found the time and the right occasion until recently – my nephew’s very first birthday. Given that it was a children’s birthday in summer, I opted to diverge a little from the traditional coffee-flavoured opera for summery flavours to include Scotland’s delicious wild raspberries that have been growing in such abundance this year. In addition, my cream is flavoured with refreshing lemon and my

The cake admittedly requires a bit of planning and doesn’t travel very well. Therefore, I prepared all components (sponges, cream, sauce and ganache) in advance and transported them all individually in boxes. The final assembly took place at the location of celebration the night before and the decoration on the birthday itself. Sounds a bit like a faff but I thoroughly enjoyed planning and preparing the cake and dare I say – it was well worth it!

The following recipe is adapted from a French recipe site.

Gateau Opera with Raspberries, Lemon Cream and Chocolate


» Joconde sponges:
4 large eggs, 150g ground almonds, 40g icing sugar, 4 large egg whites, 40g plain flour,   40g caster sugar, 30g melted butter, a few drops of lemon
» Chocolate ganache:
200 g de sucre, 200 ml d'eau 180ml double
cream, 80g milk chocolate, 110g dark chocolate, 50g softened butter
» Raspberry sauce:
80 g caster sugar, 80ml water, 100ml raspberry coulis (blended and passed through a sieve), splash of raspberry liqueur (optional) 
» Lemon cream:
2 large eggs, 4 egg yolks, 4g powdered gelatine, 120ml fresh lemon juice, 100g caster sugar, 150 butter
» White chocolate and raspberry ganache:
150ml double cream, 40g caster sugar, 50g white chocolate, 70g pureed and sieved raspberries, 4g powered gelatine, splash of raspberry liqueur (optional)


»Joconde sponges : Whisk the eggs and the sugar using an electric whisk until tripled in size. Incorporate the almonds and the flour with a spatula. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and 4 drops of lemon juice to stiff peaks, add the sugar slowly half-way through. Incorporate the egg whites carefully to the 1st mix.  Line a baking sheet with baking paper and dust with flour. Spread a third of the cake mixture evenly onto the tray and bake at 180°C for 12 minutes until just starting to become golden. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, remove the sponge from the tray and repeat this step twice with the remaining dough.  

»Dark/milk chocolate ganache: Heat the cream and add both chocolates broken into little pieces. Mix until the chocolate is completely melted before adding the butter. Leave to cool.

»Raspberry sauce : Heat the raspberry puree in a small sauce pan together with the sugar and the water until the sugar has dissolved. Take of the heat and add a splash of raspberry liqueur if desired. The punch has to be used warm during assembly and can be re-heated if necessary.

»Lemon cream: Soak the gelatine in just enough water to cover the powder. Using an electric whisk, mix all ingredients with exception of the gelatine and the butter in a bowl placed into a bain-marie until the mixture starts to thicken. Incorporate the softened gelatine slowly while mixing. Take of the heat, leave to cool for a few minutes and whisk in the butter until smooth. Chill overnight.

»Raspberry/white chocolate ganache: Soak the gelatine in just enough water to cover the powder. Heat the cream, sugar and raspberry puree in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Take of the heat and add the white chocolate broken in pieces. Stir well until all the chocolate has melted. Add the gelatine bit by bit while constantly mixing and the raspberry liqueur.  Leave to set in the fridge overnight.


Melt 50g dark chocolate and spread it evenly onto the topside of the bottom sponge with a pastry brush. Leave to cool completely before turning over the sponge. This will create a seal for the entire cake. Warm up the raspberry sauce and generously brush the topside of the first sponge with it. Leave to soak for a few minutes before spreading half of the lemon cream evenly on top making sure to go all the way into the corners. Soak the bottom side of the second sponge with raspberry sauce and place on top of the lemon cream. Brush the topside of the 2nd sponge with raspberry sauce. Leave to soak in before spreading all of the dark/milk chocolate ganache on top of the 2nd sponge. Brush the 3rd sponge with raspberry sauce as before and spread the remaining lemon cream onto the 3rd sponge. Carefully layer the raspberry/white chocolate ganache on top of the lemon cream using a palate knife. If the ganache is too hard to handle, it can be warmed up a little. Chill in the fridge overnight. Trim all edges before decorating the cake to your own desire.

24 May 2013

My Favourite Scottish dessert in the Guardian

Another recipe of mine in the Guardian’s Cook on 4th May! With the brief being “local”, I really wished to try and champion Scottish produce in the paper since I’m so passionate about it. 

Here’s the small article:

Since I moved to Scotland and tasted this seasonal dessert, I’m in love with it. All ingredients are local and complement each other perfectly. I’ve modified the traditional recipe slightly by adding another local Scottish speciality, crowdie cheese, in order to give the cream texture and acidity. This dessert is best after a walk in the hills using wild raspberries collected by hand!

Serves 4

  • 60g Pinhead oatmeal
  • 200ml Double cream 
  • 50g Crowdie cheese2-3 tbsp Malt whiskey
  • 4 tbsp Scottish heather honey
  • 300g Raspberries

Toast the oatmeal in a dry hot pan for a few minutes and leave to cool. Whip the double cream, fold in the crowdie cheese, whiskey and honey.  Crush 200g raspberries into a puree using a fork or a food processor.  Fold the fruit puree lightly into the cream mixture in order to create a ripple. Spoon half of the cream mixture per portion into a glass, top with half the toasted oatmeal and raspberries and repeat the process once more decorating with the remaining raspberries and oatmeal.

14 May 2013

Russell Up Supper Club

I’m terribly late writing about my first ever supper club experience. However, Russell Up's Bread and Butter Supper Club was such a memorable evening that it is worth writing it about several months later. 

Russel and Greg plating up desserts
Having heard about the concept of supper clubs for a while and being tempted myself to host one in the future, I was delighted to hear the announcement of Russell Up’s Supper Club back in January and indeed, I was the first person to book two spots for me and my partner - a wise move as places were limited and snatched up pretty quickly. My expectations were high, even more so after I had coincidentally met Russell on an evening meal out with the Edinburgh Total Food Geeks. Well, I was not disappointed, if anything the supper club exceeded all my expectations. The location was a flat in Granton on the 8th floor with a stunning view over the harbour, sea and city, which set the scene perfectly for the dinner.  On arrival, we were greeted by Russell, his friend and chef Greg, and 16 other diners. Everything including the menu card was set with great attention to detail and lots of care. 

To start, there was sourdough bread and goat butter on the table. Despite the theme of the evening, I tried to resist the temptation of filling myself up with this admittedly very special bread and butter, but guessing (correctly) that there was a lot of excellent food to come.

Roast celeriac purée, roasted hazelnuts, 
alexander leaves

And I didn't have to wait long for the first starter: Roast celeriac purée, roasted hazelnuts and alexander leaves; a great light start that boosted my appetite and my enthusiasm for the following courses even more. Possibly my favourite course of the evening was the second starter: Terrine of pigs head, served with apple, watercress and a vanilla-balsamic dressing. It was amazing how beautiful and appetizing a pig’s head looked on the plate!

Terrine of pigs head, apple, watercress, vanilla-balsamic dressing

Next, the fish course consisted of grilled mackerel with black quinoa, pennywort and sea beets; lots of exciting new ingredients for me to try ans that complemented the fish very well. 

Grilled mackerel, black quinoa, pennywort, sea beets

 The star of the evening must have been the succulent beef rib and cheek that were served with onions, purple carrot, wild leeks and a delicious sauce. I was so tempted by it that I started eating before taking a picture, hence the missing bit of the carrot and slightly destroyed presentation - sorry!

Beef rib and cheek, onions, purple carrot, wild leeks

Both desserts that followed were purely indulgent but also very exciting. First, a baked duck egg custard with mandarin mousse and butternut squash jelly was served in a black stone ramequin and had left everyone at the table amazed including my partner whose favourite dish it was (that was before we found out he had a duck egg allergy!). The second dessert of banana cake with chocolate, salted caramel and coffee ice cream didn't disappoint either and was just as delicious!

Baked duck egg custard, mandarin mousse, butternut squash jelly
Banana cake, chocolate, salted caramel, coffee ice cream

By the time we were served the much-needed coffee accompanied with chili-flavoured truffles, we had missed our last bus, but the prospect of taking a taxi back home after this extraordinary fine dining experience was much more adequate anyway!

And my conclusion from my supper club experience to date: It’s a great way to meet like-minded people in a relaxed atmosphere, an unusual dining experience, and most importantly an opportunity to eat delicious food prepared with care and respect!  
If Russel hosts a supper club again, which I very much hope he plans to do in the future, I will make sure I get my name on top of the list again!