Monday, 19 December 2011


Torrone with dried cherries, almonds and pistachios. Sweets for grown ups

Torrone is Italian nougat. It's usually sold at festas, and at Christmas we always get some. Usually it's of the rock hard variety (I get the impression this is easier to make as the softer one - which I thought of as the ultimate luxury as a child - is much harder to find and more expensive). Sometimes it's covered in chocolate and sometimes it's pantorrone which is torrone with a booze-soaked sponge that runs through it, covered in chocolate.

The only person I know who ever made their own torrone was my uncle Bruno, but he died some years ago, so I couldn't ask him.  I knew it was fiendishly difficult.

I was not proved wrong.

Actually I don't want to scare you. It's not that it's difficult, difficult. But it's a lot about technique and temperature and there's no correcting it if you get it wrong. My heart was beating really fast when I made it and I think I probably shortened my life by six months.

Please do not try to make it if you're in a rush or you have young children running round the house.

Don't make it if you haven't got the right ingredients or utensils. You really need a sugar thermometer for example. 

You heat the mixture up to 130C and you have minutes to make it once it's at temperature. You really need to have all your equipment near to you (I actually moved my Kenwood Chef out of its specially built cubby hole next to my cooker and I strongly suggest you have your mixer next to your hob, too).

I wouldn't try to make this without a freestanding mixer.

And as I said, no small children that only you are in charge of; getting 130C sugar solution on skin is not a joke. I know, I've done it (when I made toffee apples one year) and the burn was ferocious.

So now that I've scared you stupid, here's the good bit. If you get it right - and you will - it's glorious. It looks lovely and it's pretty much all over in half an hour.

I got this recipe from the Donna Hay (I LOVE HER) magazine Dec/Jan2012 magazine, however I can't find it on line so I can't link to it. Which is a shame cos the pictures are GORGEOUS. If you have an iPad, do get the app (which is currently free). I've adapted it slightly in that I added the nuts and dried fruits I wanted to add. Basically once you've got the nougat done (and I wouldn't mess with that part of it) you can add any nuts/dried fruits you want up to a point. You don't want to overload the mixture. I'd say 400g total of nuts/dried fruits is probably the limit. I used about 200g and could easily have had more.

You need 2 x sheets of confectionery rice paper (I got mine from Amazon; Lakeland also sells it as does the Jane Asher on line shop. You may be able to get it locally, I couldn't).

550g caster sugar
350g liquid glucose
115g honey
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 eggwhites, at room temperature
100g butter, softened - mine was melted but cooled
then whatever nuts/dried fruits you want. I used about 160g almonds and pistachios and 60g dried cherries. Hazelnuts would also be lovely I think. Toast the nuts gently first.

A word about liquid glucose. You can buy it in small tubes/tubs from the supermarket. Your chemist may be able to sell you culinary grade liquid glucose in bigger quantities. I buy mine from Jayson's Pharmacy. JM Loveridge also sells it (and in fact the one I got from Jayson's was marked Loveridge) but I couldn't work out how to buy it on site and was in a rush.

You need to line the base of a 20cm square tin with the rice paper. My rice paper wasn't big enough so I overlaid another sheet to fill the gap. Keep the other sheet for the top.

Now, place the sugar, glucose, honey and vanilla in a saucepan with a handle. Very important this, as you'll need to use just one hand to eventually pour the ingredients into the mixer bowl.

Over a low heat, let it all dissolve. Stir until this happens. Once the mixture starts to boil, put in a sugar thermometer and watch the temperature rise as it heats. You need to watch it. Don't wander off. Donna Hay says that once it gets to about 110C put the egg whites in the free standing mixer and start whisking until stiff peaks form. I found that by doing this (my mixer was right next to me by the hob, have I mentioned) I had plenty of time.

You'll find the temperature goes up in leaps, then seems to stagnate (you may need to gently increase the heat but keep watching it), then jumps up again. Once it's at 130 you are green for go.

With the mixer beating (I had mine on medium speed), pour the molten sugar mixture very slowly into the egg whites. The idea is that it you cook the egg whites with the sugar mixture. A slow, steady, thin stream is what you're looking for. Beating continuously all the time. Don't stop! Once all the sugar mixture is in, continue beating for about a minute, until thick and glossy. But don't hang around or it will start to set and you won't get anything else into it. Now add the softened butter, whisking til well incorporated before adding more. It may start to look greasy and slightly separate. Do not panic. Once all the butter is added, keep whisking for another minute until it all looks well combined.

Now, working fast, lift up the mixer and take the bowl out. Stir in the nuts and fruits manually - you need to make sure they're evenly distributed but as you stir it you'll feel it setting so be quick - and pour/spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.

Cover with the other rice paper (again, using more than one sheet if yours isn't big enough) and flatten with another tin or just your  hands. Now leave to set. Donna doesn't say where, I think a cool kitchen is fine. Leave to set for eight hours (mine was done way before this). Then turn out - it can take some wrestling and cut into strips/cubes.

When I first made it and tasted it, it was really chewy. So chewy that I thought "hmm, my dentist isn't going to like this" but after a few days it changed to a really lovely, soft consistency that wasn't remotely filling pulling. Donna Hay says to keep it cold as the humidity will make it melt. In Italy they say to keep it in the fridge, too. But it's zero degrees here in Suffolk and my nougat has been at room temperature (room temp being about 20C) and it's absolutely fine. But if you do want to keep it cold, just remember to get it up to room temperature before eating it.

It's very delicious. Would make - has made - great presents. I wouldn't make this for every day but once/twice a year, a wonderful treat. And I feel it's elevated me onto a whole other level of 'cooking'. I mean, I made torrone and lived!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Your own orange chocolate orange

Okay. Two chocolate recipes in a row and then I think that's enough. I must talk about something hard core and tecchy next like SIM card entry systems (I do know about those, actually).

Hmm. I can't work out how to rotate this. Although I guess there's no right way up...

These are even simpler than the salted caramel chocolates because it's all done in one stage. BUT you do really need to have made the candied orange peel before that. That's the secret weapon.

The good news is that you eat far less chocolates if you've made them yourself. Promise. At least you do once the novelty has worn off.

So obviously you can do this in any sort of mould. You could even make them lolly shaped. But I just happentohave, woudln't you know it, some orange segment moulds. 

Melt some chocolate, I always use 70% cocoa but you could use more or less. Chop up some candied orange peel, really small. Then pour some chocolate into the moulds, half way, sprinkle the chopped up candied orange peel in. Top up with more melted chocolate. If you put the orange peel in first (which you can do) they will show at the top. Perfectly fine but not as pretty. That's it. Put in fridge for half an hour. Turn out. Eat. Won't make you quite as sick as a Terry's chocolate orange and much better for you.

I've checked with the Department of Health and these are officially one of your five a day...

Salted caramel chocolates

Here it is, cut in half.

I'm very fond of salted caramel chocolates. I know salted caramel is a bit everywhere now, but I am partial.

L'Artisan du Chocolat's are my favourite. But expensive. I went into the store within Selfridges not so long ago and a box costs £12 million pounds. Or nearly that.

Anyway, whenever I'm on a deadline, which is often, I think about how I can waste time in the kitchen. Because when I am failing at writing I need to achieve at something. Be it ironing or stuffing envelopes. I need a task that has a beginning, middle and end. Unlike writing which seems like all beginning and then huge relief followed by anxiety.

So this is what I did. I got my button chocolate mould, what I bought at Lakeland. This doesn't make buttons like Cadbury's buttons, it's bigger. Each button is about 2cm across at the widest part. (Or something, I haven't measured it I can if anyone wants me to). I melted some 70% cocoa chocolate, which isn't really chocolate, it's health food. I half filled the mould. Then put it in the fridge until set (not long). Then I put in some caramel sauce.

Here they are, chocolate at the bottom already. I actually put a bit more caramel in than is shown because I am very greedy.

Don't be mean with the caramel sauce. But don't fill so much that you can't seal the chocolate up. They key is not to get the chocolate too thick, but to strike the right balance between enough chocolate to hold the caramel in, without making it too thin/thick. Even if you get it wrong the result is totally delicious, so fret not.

I use this caramel toffee sauce, aka dulce de leche. I don't know how authentic it is but it's what I use.

You thought I made my own caramel to go in these? You were wrong.

On top of each puddle of caramel, I then put a sprinkle of sea or rock salt. My two year old sometimes helps with this bit and some get enough salt to put you in a coma and I have to go round cleaning up.

You then let it rest for a bit more in the fridge, then top up with more chocolate. I keep my chocolate runny by keeping it over a pan of boiling water (but not on the stove).

Voila. Easy. Let's just have another look at the finished product:

Pretty nice eh?

Addendum, November 2012.

I have now started making my own caramel to make these and it elevates them into something else. It doesn't take long to make, the caramel, but as it's my secret ingredient I am, for once, not going to share it. I'll just post this here to be really annoying.

But you can find a recipe for caramel anywhere...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

LED candle lights

Some years ago, I spied some rechargeable lights that looked really good. They were called Candela rechargeable lights by Vessel and they were not cheap: about £70 for four. I bought some and for a while, they were indeed great. You could use them inside or outside, no wires or batteries, and when they needed recharging you just put them in their recharging base (which did plug in). I could use them as a night light for my children - they could even take them to bed with them if they wanted.

The Candela (which means candle in Italian by the way). Not working because, well, they don't work anymore.

But. After not very long at all, they stopped taking a charge. After replacing the base three times I gave up and relegated them to the top of the dressing table, where they're still gathering dust. I can't seem to find them for sale in this country anymore and perhaps that's why, cos they just stopped working after a while and people got fed up with them.

This was a shame because they were also really good for when and where you wanted low, ambient light - a bath say - but didn't want to use a candle. I love candles, I have more scented candles than you could possibly imagine: Diptyque, Creed, Jo Malone, Fresh et al, but with two young children, I don't really use them much anymore.  So for the past few years I've been having a bath under what seem like 2000W bulbs. Restful? Not much.

Then I found these LED flickering Imageo candle lights from Philips.

Here they are off.

Here they are on. Magic init.

A company I can at least track down fairly easily if things go wrong. And instead of £70 they cost £17 for three (ha, just looked and they're even cheaper now, but you know with Amazon the price goes up and down, £17 is what I paid for them anyway). I though they'd be a bit naff, but actually they're rather good (they look like a candle in a frosted glass container). You tip them to turn them on or off and when not in use they sit charging in a base. Great in pumpkins come Hallowe'en, great anywhere you'd use a candle. I love them by the bath, don't have to worry about switching them off. They're really nice on a dinner table (no point pretending they're real but from a distance they do look authentic).  I give my children baths using them when they need calming down (works a treat, the little one goes into a sort of trance looking at them, so much so that I end up asking her if she's doing a poo in the bath, it's that sort of far away stare, but don't worry, cos she's not, she's just transfixed).

They won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I love 'em.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Pate de fruit

Fruit pastilles or pate de fruit. Not chewy, just soft set jellied sweets. Mmmm.

Each Christmas my eldest and I make Christmas cards that you can eat, or use. You know the sort of thing: gingerbread men, bath bombs etc. To give out to her school friends. I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from making cards with my daughter. And it’s very useful deadline-avoiding fodder. Please don’t let this make you tense, it’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but it is mine. (Even as a child Id make cakes to avoid doing homework. Then I’d flog them to my dad who had a café.) 

So anyway. This year I had the fanciful idea of making a sheet of fruit pastilles, then cutting them into Christmas tree shapes and putting them in clear front photo bags (I got them in bulk some years ago, which was in part what started this Christmas card project thing as I was determined to find a use for them). 
This was the idea anyway, making Christmas tree shaped red fruit jellies. In the end, I realised that you’d need an enormous amount of fruit to make the number of fruity Christmas trees we’d need, to enable her to give one to each of her school friends. I’m keen, but not that keen. 

But I made the fruit pastilles anyway and cut them into cubes. If you fancy whiling away half an hour, these make a pretty present (although they don't really last long) and are intensely fruity (don’t expect Haribo chewiness, these are like fruit jellies, or pate de fruits). I haven’t yet experimented with other fruit but I know people who make them with all sorts: rhubarb, apple, blackberry, mango etc. The only thing I will suggest is that you think of the final colour and use the fruit accordingly. You want something that looks appealing so if you use a wishy washy coloured fruit (apple, say) don’t let it dominate. Personally I think berries are ideal as the main ingredient.

This is what you need:

Some fruit – you really need to start with about 300g of it to make this worth your while. I used raspberries and apple for the ones here. About 90% raspberries to 10% apple.

Preserving or jam sugar (the one with pectin in it)

Put the fruit into a saucepan – chop up if necessary. Obviously that doesn’t apply to berries and if you’re interested I used frozen berries.  Squeeze some lemon on them, I squeezed a wedge on my 300g of fruit. It doesn’t have to be precise, as you can probably tell.

Cook over a gentle heat until sludgy. If you’re using a mixture of fruit (say, like I did apple and raspberry) you may want to start the harder fruit off first. Cook until mushed up. Towards the end, I help break everything up with a stick blender.

Now, take off the heat and sieve into a bowl or other saucepan. Be aware you’ll need to weigh the resulting puree. If you have chickens, you can feed them the sludge left in the sieve.

Whatever you’re left with, weigh it and add the same amount of sugar. I think I was left with about 150g of fruit puree so I added 150g of the preserving sugar.

Put the puree and sugar in a saucepan, and heat gently. Stir until al the sugar is dissolved, then keep heating gently for about 30mins. Stir occasionally. You know it’s done when it’s thickened and if you take a spoonful out it will dangle off the spoon as you drip it off (this will make sense when you do it) instead of just falling off. You want it to be glutinous.

Line a suitable tin/tray with baking parchment. I used the bottom of a loaf tin. It’s easier if you have nice straight sides as they’ll be less to cut off and straighten up later.

Put in the fridge and let it cool. Mine were done after about three hours. You can leave it overnight.

Turn out onto a chopping board. It should be one solid mass. Tidy up the sides but cutting (I use them as fruit snakes), and cut into cubes or whatever damn hell shape you want. Roll in caster sugar and let them air dry for about an hour to set. Personally I store them in the fridge as they can go a bit sludgy (gosh, I've overused that word today).

Monday, 21 November 2011

Oat pudding, or porridge pudding, in the style of rice pudding

I ate all of the strip missing just waiting for it to cool.

I recently discovered a really lovely, easy, recipe for a rice pudding that is simple but creamy without being laden with too much fat or sugar  (on the Waitrose site). Every time we have too much milk in the house I make it. I love having a pudding you can so easily heat up, and yet is so comforting in the house.

But I still felt slightly guilty eating it, mostly cos of the pudding rice which is hardly the world's most nutritious food stuff. And then I thought what would happen if I made it with coarse cut oatmeal, which is low in fibre, said to lower cholesterol and generally add 10 years to your life? This was also borne out of the fact that I love porridge, but often can't be arsed to make it first thing, especially not the 'really good' kind that takes ten minutes of stirring (sorry, not interested in cooking porridge in the microwave).

So I tried it with oats - coarse cut oatmeal - and I love it. The incredibly slow cooking makes it taste really creamy, even though it's only using semi skimmed milk. And the bay leaves and vanilla give it an incredible flavour, without adding calories. I guess you could try to do it with half water/half milk (how I make my porridge on the stove top) and I might try to cut the sugar down a teensy bit more. But I wouldn't play with this too much, because it's actually very good. I take a slice of a morning, heat it up in the microwave, add fruit if I want to, or seeds, and in under two minutes you've got ace porridge.

If you don't like porridge or rice pudding, there's little chance you'll like this. If you do though, give this a try and let me know what you think.

600ml semi skimmed milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 bay leaves (i use dried)
A sprinkling of sea salt
50g coarse cut oatmeal (or pudding rice if you want to make this into rice pudding, in which case up the sugar to 3 tablespoons and omit the salt)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons of flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 150C. Put the milk, vanilla extract and the bay leaves (tear them a little) into a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

Lightly grease a 1.3L shallow oven proof dish. For ease (until the milk is absorbed this can spill), I put the dish on a baking tray. Scatter the oatmeal, salt and sugar around the dish. Then strain the milk over the top (discard the bay leaves).

Cover with foil and bake for one hour. After an hour, remove the foil, stir, cover with the foil again and cook for another 30 mins.

After this, remove the foil, sprinkle the almonds on top and then put back into the oven (uncovered, you're done with the foil now), for another 30 mins. If your oven has a 'top oven' function, use it. I use it at this point - for the last half hour - to brown the top.

Eat. Enjoy. It's porridge, but not as you know it.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Here they are baked and on their sides showing off all their lovely ingredients.

My cousin Mary died recently. For her funeral reception, to celebrate the two very distinct sides of her heritage - Italian and English - I made cantuccini and a Bakewell tart.

If you think you know cantuccini biscuits as some dry little slab of a biscuit, offered as a consolation prize with your cappuccino, think again. These are crisp but moist and delicious. Even though it was a funeral, I got asked for the recipe and even though my father isn't known for compliments he declared these "first class". Here, in memory of Mary, who took me out on my first 'solo' trip to the newsagent to buy chocolate, and was the first person I remember ever telling me I was pretty, is the recipe. God bless you Mary, I'll never forget you.

75g butter - it should be very soft
150g icing sugar, no other will do
1 egg, preferably from your own chicken
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of brandy
225g plain flour
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, I implore you not to leave these out
100g almonds and pistachios, roughly chopped
the zest of half a lemon
the zest of half an orange

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Scrunch it up first and then smooth it out so it lies flat. Cream together the butter and icing sugar. At first this will seem like an impossible task, but believe and it will happen. It's also a great arm work out. You need to keep going until it's fluffy and thick and looks like...well, what it is. Icing sugar and butter mixed together. Don't give up  until you get to that bit, this is the only hard-work part of the recipe.

Then add the egg, mix up a bit, then the vanilla extract, mix up a bit then the brandy, mix up a bit.

Then add the flour and the bicarb, the fennel seeds, nuts and zests. Mix together. You should have a very soft dough. With your hands, man-handle the dough into two log shapes with tapered ends, place on baking paper lined tray and finesse the shape whilst in situ ((I flatten the top a little). These do rise a little so place as far apart as your tray will allow. Don't worry if it's only a few cms, but don't have them touching when they go in as they will fuse together (even that isn't the end of the world, but it's not ideal).

Cook for 20-25 mins. The tops should be golden but not super brown.

Just out of the oven. This is the colour they should be.

Slide the whole sheet onto a cooling rack and after about 20mins you can transfer the whole sheet onto a chopping board and slice them into, well, slices. I then transfer them back onto the cooling rack on their sides, so they can cool completely.

I find these so easy to make. They keep well and they're a lovely biscuit to have in. I hope you enjoy them. They also make great presents wrapped in cellophane bags.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Chocolate Mulled Wine

I found this recipe, in amongst various things I'd torn out of a magazine one Christmas past. It answered my question: "should I serve hot chocolate or booze (to the grown ups)?" for a Trick or Treating treasure hunt extravaganza that we were staging in our garden (for the children). It came from Delicious magazine and was written by Laura Santini. I really can't impress on you how very good it is. Even my partner - a wine expert and hater of mulled wine - got all knee-buckly about it.

This apparently serves six but there was four of us and we managed quite nicely...

750ml red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 large dried red chilli (I didn't have one so I used some chilli flakes)
1tsp ground spice
5 whole cloves
100g caster sugar
50g Venezuelan Black chocolate, 100% cocoa - grated*

*if you've never grated 100% cocoa chocolate, be warned: it's very brittle/dry and it goes EVERYWHERE. I wouldn't personally recommend grating it, but instead, scraping it off with a sharp knife.

This is what you do:

Put the wine and spices in a saucepan and warm slowly, over a very low heat. Then, add the sugar and stir until dissolved.

Add the chocolate and warm through. I used one of those Aerolatte whizzer things to homogenize it as it had a tendency to go a bit 'speckedly' with the chocolate. You can either then strain and serve, or strain and chill until you need it (it says it'll keep for two days), then warm it up again and serve.

I really don't plan to make mulled wine any other way now. And look: 100% cocoa is terrifically good for you, so this is practically a health drink.

I wish I had a really arty photo to show you, but not long after I made this I bashed my nose (really badly) on the children's playhouse roof, bending down to relight a lantern, so I was a bit out of it for the rest of Hallowe'en to take a pic. Next time. For there will be a next time very soon..

Monday, 10 October 2011

Snow Boots

My very best snow boots were bought when I was fourteen from a ski shop in Kensington, London.  In preparation for a school ski-ing holiday to Caspoggio in Italy. I forget the make of them, but they served me for about twenty years (my feet didn't seem to grow again til I got pregnant). I do remember that they were Canadian, made of leather, lined in sheepskin and with an extremely thick, rubber sole that seemed to stick to sheet ice. Eventually, they fell apart.

I don't have snowboots as such now. I wear my neoprene wellingtons, my sheepskin boots or my Ecco Navigators, which are brilliant (best buy!). But living in the country, we feel the winter more keenly than we did in London.

Raindrops is where I buy my children's snowboots. Every year I ring them up (excellent service) and trying to get them to work out what size I should buy, because I try to eek out two winters' wear out of them.

The eskimo boots, £42, look like they'd be the best boot of all, but for my eldest I bought the Molo boot (the design has changed this year, it used to be nicer: these ones, which they still do for £20 but in limited sizes), which is plenty warm and practical enough for a Suffolk winter.

Last year, for my youngest (who was a size two then), I bought her these baby snowboots, £32, which were utterly brilliant. The baby snowboots have a tight ankle, so they're quite a struggle to get in to, so go larger if need be, whereas I think the Molo and the limited stock ones come up quite big.

To help you with sizing, my youngest is a size 4G in StartRite and I got her a six in the baby snowboots - they are huge, but she can walk fine in them and there's a hope they'll still fit in February. Maybe even next year. My youngest is an 11.5F or G in StartRite and I got her a 12 in the Molos and they are big, but I'm not sure I'd go smaller. Thick socks and all that. Both these styles can go in the washing machine and I really rate them.

In fact I'm selling last year's baby snowboots in grey, size 3 if anyone is interested: email me annalisa dot barbieri at mac dot com.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Big pants for a small child

As soon as a child is out of nappies, the question of what to put them in next arises. And let me tell you, finding pants, knickers, for a small girl-child that are not

have stupid logos on
or writing on saying things like 'love' or 'princess'
or tiny

is not easy. I loathe logo-ed knickers.  Really, passionately hate them. And I believe, have always believed, that pants should be big and cover your kidneys because I have a Napolitan mother who told me these things (still tells me these things).

I'm also really fernickety about good quality stuff. This is why my house is full of Miele kitchen appliances. I searched very high and very low for simple, plain, not small, white knickers. I'm not stranger to finding things, having once been Dear Annie and having written a few consumer/shopping columns. But it was an impossible ask.

John Lewis did not let me down with plain white childrens' knickers. But they weren't BIG enough and after a few washes, I'm afraid to say, they just looked crap.

Then I remembered.

As a child, my French uncle, who was (is) impossibly glamorous and designed plane engines, and his wife, my Parisian aunt and Godmother, Josette, had bought me a pair of knickers once, when I was a child, that were my absolute favourite pants. And I remembered they had a little boat as a symbol, on the label.

Petit Bateau.

So I went in search of them here in the UK and lo, here was a company that made simple, big, white pants.

Let me tell you a few things about Petit Bateau childrens' underwear:

  • the quality is superb. After two years of daily wear and 60 degree washes, they still look like new.
  • the fit is superb
  • they are beautifully plain, although you can also get coloured ones (which I do buy occasionally) and this year they've introduced ones with writing on which is a big, big no-no for me.
  • they are expensive
  • PB also makes thermal underwear for children which is unsurpassed in looks, comfort and quality. It's made of wool and silk/cotton but constructed so that only cotton fibres are next to the skin.
The last time I made a purchase of PB pants and vests was when my eldest was six. Since then I've thought "can I really justify paying £4 for a pair of pants when for that price you can get at four pairs  (and, I know, in some places even cheaper). So last time we were in Johnny Loulous being measured for shoes, I bought a pack of four for £6.

And the quality is crap. After a few washes (40 degrees as they're coloured, but at least just stripes and stuff and no logos).

So back I went to PB, braving the nearly always surly staff to stock up. I really can't recommend the make highly enough and if you've got more than one child, such as I have, to pass down to, it makes them even better value and in price per wear, they can't be beaten because they last so long.

The plain white ones are code 66637 00110 and called Lot de 2 Culottes (be careful cos the ones with writing on are packaged so you can't see the writing) and cost £8.50 for two. Matching vests (thin straps) are 6663100110 and called 2 Chemises a Bretelles and cost £10 for two.

I'll put a photo up later.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Tangle Teezer

Probably loads of you have already heard of this. It was a 'Dragon's Den' reject a few years ago. But I hadn't heard of it, or seen one, or noticed them hanging there in haircare aisle. One of the juniors at my hairdressers used one on my head two weeks ago and I said "what's that?"

And what it was was a Tangle Teezer or a hairbrush that looks like a dog/horse's grooming brush (I actually think the addition of a strap around the back of it would be no bad thing).

They come in three permutations. This one which is the original, and you can pick them up from £9 to about £13 depending on where you shop and what colour you go for (I actually choose black but I got this flourescent pink, that's Amazon for you). Purple glitter, for example, costs the most as it's 'limited edition'. There's a child's version which is round and comes in a flower pot and then there's a mini version. I think this is the best - read easiest to use.

Anyway, children love it - it sails through dry or wet hair with ease and every one fought to use my daughter's at swimming (because of its design, it's really easy to clean so that didn't freak me out like it normally would). The the point of it is that it's a tangle destroyer that works without pulling the hair. I love it, it's kinda massaging. You can't style with it, it's really for just combing knots out. Not 100% sure how it'd cope with really thick hair, it struggled with the thicker bits of mine.

You might be able to see here that the 'teeth' are in two lengths - that's apparently the secret of its success. And they're bendy.

Anyway, you can buy them on line or in Boots/just about anywhere.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The perfect drinking glass?

La Gigogne. Very difficult to take a picture of a glass..

You may have gleaned, from one of my other posts, that I've got a thing about glasses. This may be because my beverage of choice is plain old water, and thus I need to get my kick from the vessel in which it's served.

I am crazy for these Duralex glasses. Duralex almost went bust a few years ago, which must take some doing considering that its glasses are so beautiful, simple, iconic and various other words that you wouldn't marry with a company that almost went bust. Perhaps its most famous glass is the Picardie. (That link not only takes you to a picture of the Picardie, but a rather good article on Duralex in general, in the Independent.)

But I'm not so keen on the Picardie. My particular favourite is the slightly lesser known, far simpler Gigogne glass. It looks a bit like a bowling ball with two lines etched around it (not easy to see in the pics, but you can just make them out). It sits so nicely in the palm of your hand and the 160ml size makes a lovely glass for children, too. Not so crazy when you realise (see below) how resilient Duralex is.

It comes in three sizes: 220ml, 160ml, 90ml. It's the middle size you can see here and it is perfect for serving water, red wine (I really do not like traditional wine glasses, they make me hyperventilate, especially the ones we have which are on stems about a foot high and I always fear knocking them over because I am quite clumsy. My partner is rabid about serving wine in the correct way, at the correct temperature, in the correct glass and then you holding it in the correct way. Me? I drink the Italian peasant way, in a glass rough worker's hands can pick up easily) or even, as you can see below, cappuccino. It holds, to my mind, the perfect proportions of a good cappuccino - not too much milk, one espresso shot.

You can also serve desserts in it - individual style trifles, mousses, you get the picture. Even though there isn't one of it holding such a dessert. Another time.

Duralex glasses are virtually unbreakable: tempered, can stand hot or cold, chip proof, can go in the dishwasher or the microwave. No wonder they were used in school canteens and put to various other commercial uses in the 60s and 70s.

I cannot imagine a more hard working, plucky glass. And all for a coupla quid each. I get mine from Rinkit via Amazon. They are surely due for a major come back.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Marketing

This little museum is just a short walk away from where I grew up. I've been meaning to go there ever since I discovered its existence, a couple of years ago. It's a lovely way to spend an hour or so and unless you're unlucky, it should be nice and calm and not too busy.

There are cabinets full of packets of washing up liquid, sweets, chocolate, biscuits, bleach, stock get the picture. It shows how packaging has changed over the years (or, not so much in some cases) and it's a great trip down memory lane. I found it comfortingly nostalgic. There are good toilets, a very simple cafe (simple as in the staff have a kettle and make the tea) but a few tables to sit at - very peaceful (or was when we went) with a TV showing ads from the past on a loop - which provided excellent entertainment.

The shop has some great postcards (55p showing vintage ads).

I loved this place. Go.

Ottolenghi is round the corner if you want to spend lots of money on great pastries.

Museum of Brands:

Opening hours
Tues-Sat 10.00:18.00, Sun 11.00:17.00
Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays
Last entry is 45 minutes before closing
Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day, Notting Hill Carnival
Adults £6.50 (including Gift Aid),
Children (7-16) £2.25, Family £15.00, Concessions £4.00. Group discount 10% (groups of 10 or more are asked to pre-book).

Monday, 18 July 2011

Revolutionary new treatment for verrucas!

Bet you're glad you discovered this blog. It's so full of useful, glamorous things. Don't worry. I'm sure I'll sneak a designer bag in next week.


In the meantime, something more useful. How to treat a verruca without spending very much money at all.

Despite growing up next to a swimming pool (and using it regularly) I have never had a verruca. But my eldest caught/grew/developed one a few months ago. Now for those that don't know, a verruca is simply a wart that grows inwards (because the weight of walking on your foot means it can't grow outwards), and those black bits you see are the blood vessels.

So we did the usual and bought Bazooka that Verruca and nothing really happened. Then another verruca grew and I started to worry that my child would become like one of those freaks that has a verruca farm on her feet (this happened to my cousin, she had about eighteen of them). So after a few months of painting on Bazooka and nothing happening I texted my friend Mary, who is a GP, and asked her if I should take my daughter to the docs to have the verruca frozen off with liquid nitrogen. "Yes, you can," she texted back, "or you can try something else that seems to be having lots of success." I bit my fingers whilst I waited to hear what that something else was. Perhaps something illegal. That would be exciting.

"Electrical tape" she texted.  She said it would take a few months, but the Bazooka had done nothing in a few months so thought it was worth a try. So I bought some, from the market stall. It was 35p (yellow, if it matters) and I swear in less than a fortnight, all the verrucas had gone.

This is, of course, ground breaking news because it could bring down the fortunes of various over the counter remedies. I don't know, perhaps it was fluke, but try it. I'm guessing electrical tape works the best as it's very sticky and watertight, but all you do is cut a little piece, stick it over the verruca and replace every day/few days.

Let me know how you get on.

Friday, 15 July 2011


Spot the eager small child trying to reach up for a madeleine

It started with the purchase of a madeleine tray. Because, ya know, I don't have enough baking tins. Then came the hunt for the perfect madeleine recipe.

Big disappointment. Many were nothing more than a sponge recipe that you then baked into a shell-shape.

Then I came across a recipe by Heston Blumenthal in, I think, The Times. If I recall the tale correctly he made these for his wife when he was courting her. They are exquisite.

Here's what you need:

125g unsalted butter, plus a bit extra for greasing the mould
100g icing sugar
40g ground almonds
40g plain flour, plus again a bit extra *
3 large egg whites
2 teaspoons of honey
Finely grated zest of a lemon

*I have made these, really successfully (like can't tell the difference successful) with rice flour for those that can't have wheat. I made these for the super talented opera singer Sarah Connolly with rice flour and she LOVED ME FOR IT. I think she may have even shed a tear, although that may have  been at my singing.

This is what you do.

Don't preheat any ovens just yet.

Put the butter into a small sauce pan over a medium heat and melt it, keep it on the heat until it starts to sizzle and, Heston says, have a nice nutty scent to it. I have an atrocious sense of smell so this never happens for me and I do it by eye, it goes darker is the only way I can describe it and takes about five minutes. You're making beurre noisette.

Don't panic. It's not like making caramel. Set it aside and take a deep breath. You're about to make something delicious.

Take your madeleine tray and grease it with some of that extra butter. Unlike when you make friands (more on them another time), don't be tempted to melt the butter and brush it on. It makes the mads too greasy. Once you've buttered the moulds, sprinkle some flour over and tap off the excess.

This is where a flour duster must really come in handy. A flour duster is a kitchen gadget I do not (yet) possess.

Now, sieve the icing sugar, ground almonds and flour into a bowl. You'll no doubt have some bits of round almond left over in the sieve, just chuck that in too when you're done. Using a fork, whisk the egg whites into the sugar/almonds/flour. Just lightly and with no panic. You're not making meringues.

Now add the honey, whisk it up a bit more. Now add the butter which should be warm, but not hot. Now the lemon zest and mix until everything is homogenous. To use Heston's very particular word. Now add a bit of salt. I grind up some rock salt for this.

Now press some cling film or baking parchment onto the surface of the mixture and rest it in the fridge for at least an hour. I've left it overnight and longer. The gluten relaxes to produce a madeleine that is, to quote Ross in Friends (The "Manny" episode) "Lighter than air".

I have, at this stage, transported the mixture on holiday, or to friends' houses so that I can cook up fresh madeleines on a whim. But what you're meant to do next is fill the moulds (which you could of course grease whilst the mixture is resting) with the mixture. Heston says they make 10 but I'm sure I've made 12. Anyway you fill with madeleine mixture and put it in the fridge again for half an hour (or longer if need be).

No-one said this was going to be quick.

Preheat oven to 170C.

Cook for 10-15 minutes. They should be dark brown around the edges but golden otherwise. Turn out (you may need to prise the edges with a knife) and leave for five minutes before eating. You REALLY need to eat these warm from the oven, they will never be that good again.

Nearly all gone..
Update, 24 June 2012

After several requests from my children to make chocolate madeleines, I decided to try to adapt this recipe. What I did was melt 50g of plain chocolate and divide the mixture made above into two.

Into one of the halves half I drizzled the melted chocolate and stirred it well. I then dolloped a spoon of the chocolate mixture into my madeleine tray, a spoonful of the plain mixutre and cooked as above. Result: fantastic. The chocolately bit was really chocolately. I had worried it might alter the mixture in some way, but only for the better!

The only thing I'd change is that, next time, I'd swirl the chocolate mixture into the plain mixture using  a skewer or something, to make it more marbled. Dunno why, just think it'd be nice.

But generally, I feel really very clever. 

My half and half mads.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

I love these tea towels

It's a joke in our house that whenever I'm on a particularly scary deadline, I iron tea towels. My partner can always tell when I'm procrastinating wildly because he comes home/downstairs/in from the shed and everything is ironed to within an inch of its life.

I only like industrial looking tea towels. The ones with the red or blue stripe and something (I've never worked out what) written down its length. I loathe cutsey, jokey ones. They are completely wrong. But I love these mid-century modern styley ones from M&S with their bright, graphic designs: £9.50 for three. I've seen similar for about £15 each so buy before they all go.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mid Century-ish glasses with apples on

I'm a total sucker for anything from the 1950s and 60s (and bits of the 1970s). It reminds me of my childhood, because invariably the stuff the grown ups had around them heralded from that time. I think my all time favourite year for design (and the year I think the perfect man's suit was made, it never got any better) was 1963, coincidentally also the year my parents got married.

Anyway. I wanted some every day drinking glasses that had a pattern on that was jolly, a bit retro, reminded me of my childhood in Italy (sniff) but weren't so expensive I'd never use them. I looked everywhere and then I found these from of all places - Tesco. £1.25 a glass or £6 for six. I love the design, which is a bit Scanda.

Worth straying away from Waitrose for, but then hurry straight back.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Baked ricotta and sweet potato salad

This is so delicious that I started eating it and then remembered I hadn't photographed it which is why it's half eaten. But it looks very good when first assembled and will appeal to those who like prettiness on a plate.

If I had tons of money, one of the things I'd do is hire a chef. Someone to make wonderful little delicate salads for me. I love salads. I'm not talking limp lettuce with enough vinegar to make your hair shine, I'm talking big, blousey salads with lotsa things in them.

The problem is I don't always feel like making them. Since my first pregnancy, sometimes preparing a salad can make me feel a bit sick. I have to do it before hunger makes me stupid, so a bit of pre-planning is required.

I'm hugely fortunate, but utterly deserving, because my partner is a fantastic cook, and I can sometimes boss him into making me a delicious salad, giving him the above reason/excuse and it seems to work. Despite me telling you all this, I've got quite a salad repertoire and this is one of them. It's from Peter Gordon's Salads. I think Gordon (The Sugar Club, The Providores) is hugely underrated by the at-home cook. I love Salads - published in 2005 - because Gordon proves that a proper salad can be a meal in its own right, not just an add-on to lessen the guilt.

The recipe below can withstand a lot of tweaking, so if as you make it you think "I can't possibly eat this much spinach" then don't put so much in. I found 400g waaaaay too much and only used about 150g. Don't know if it's a typo but see how you get on. I've reproduced the recipe here the way he printed it however.

Here's what you need for four worthy people:

400g ricotta
half a teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
quarter of a spoon of cumin seeds - leave them as they are no need to crush
quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

600g sweet potatoes, Gordon says to scrub their skins, I peeled mine cos I didn't read that bit
4 tablespoons of hot water
300g grapes off the stems. He doesn't specify which, I used red seedless. You'd be insane to use seeded ones unless you want your guests to be spitting all over lunch.
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (I got mine from a food market)
3 table spoons of grapeseed oil (I used a mixture of olive and rapeseed)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 handfuls of olives, stoned and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of baby capers, rinsed
12 mint leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
400g baby spinach (see above)

First you preheat the oven to 180. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and then slice the ricotta into 2cm pieces. Don't worry if it crumbles a bit. I sliced mine whilst still  in its little round container, and then lifted it out, and it worked fine. Mix the paprika, cumin and cinnamon together with a teaspoon of the olive oil and brush this on the cheese. Sprinkle with sea salt and cook for 15 mins. Take out and leave to one side to cool.

Turn the oven up to 200C.
You're now going to cook the sweet potatoes and grapes together, so pick two containers that will fit side by side. If you don't have, don't fret. This salad is served at room temperature so you can just cook one at a time. I'd probably do the grapes first.

So, cut the sweet pots into thin wedges and place in a small roasting tin. Pour in the hot water, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over the remaining olive oil. I know it sounds mad but just do it. Bake until just cooked - about 20 mins.

Place the grapes in a non-reactive dish and pour on the pomegranate molasses, grapeseed/other oil you're using and soy sauce. Bake for 20 mins. Remove when done and leave to cool.

Once everything is at room temperature, pour the juice from the cooked grapes into a bowl and mix in the olives, capers, mint and chives to form the dressing.

To serve, toss the spinach with half the dressing and place on four plates. Scatter the sweet potato wedges on top, then flake the ricotta on top of that. Scatter over the grapes then pour the rest of the dressing over the top.

Eat. You will enjoy it.   

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Sleepwear for the bigger breasted, a moan and a tip

One of the (many) things I envy about girls with breasts like tiny mandarins, is that they don't have to worry about nightwear. They can wear whatever they want and if they have to answer the door to the postman or the milkman or the Milk Tray man (where IS he these days?) they don't have to do it with their arms folded because their breasts are unsupported.

Naturally, big-breasted girls can do this too, but personally, I don't like wondering round the house in my pyjamas with unfettered breasts.

Also if your breasts are really large and/or you're breastfeeding, it really isn't that comfortable sleeping with no support at all. Many women really don't like wearing a bra at night but you don't want nuffin, neither. I know this from years of co-running a parenting board (no not that one, this one).

Now, you can get pyjamas/nighties with 'secret support' - Bravissimo being the most obvious - but they are all sleeveless, and I like to have my shoulders covered at night. But also it really limits you to the styles available (which you may or may not like) at a time when, as a big-bosomed woman, you already feel you have limited choice in clothes.

M&S now does (and has done for a while) some secret support camisoles that are really rather good and these work really well at providing a modicum of support and you can wear them on their own, atop a PJ style trouser, if - unlike me - you don't mind having your shoulders bare. Or under any normal PJ you like, thus opening you up to choose from any PJs out there. You could I guess also wear them with nighties, but I don't really do nighties.

My favourite M&S secret support camisole vesty things are these and these. Both are £12 a piece and come in a variety of colours, the shoulder straps also adjust, a nice touch.

Although Bravissimo does a racer back PJ top in lots of larger sizes, so it fits better than the M&S ones if you're big-cupped, they are over double the price and always sold out. It also has great strappy tops, but these cost even more: £32. So I think the M&S ones compare really favourably, especially if all you want is something to wear for a bit of support under your current nightwear without going to bed fully upholstered in a bra.

If you've found a solution that works for you, do share..

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Lollipops...lovely chocolate lollipops...

A mint leaf enrobed in dark chocolate atop a stick. Joy.

When I was researching how to make my One Giant After Eight mint, I came across this on t'internet which I thought was a fantastic idea.

So I made some and they were great and so easy. There's something about giving people a little chocolate something on a stick that makes them go crazy. (I got some mint leaves, melted some 70% cocoa chocolate, dripped it over the top and stuck a lollipop stick on, do the lot on some baking parchment, put in fridge for not very long at all, peel off, present with coffee.)

This got me thinking of making other chocolate lollipops. My children like chocolate and I don't mind them eating it, but prefer them to have good quality dark chocolate which is actually good for you: it's not easy finding dark chocolate lollies, the choice in milk chocolate whatnot is HUGE, in dark chocolate? Not so much. You can of course also make these chocolollos for adults and serve them after dinner with coffee/instead of a dessert. They are my new BIG NEW THING THAT I'M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT and am pressing chocolate lollies on everyone who comes round.

So I decided to get some lollipop moulds to make the process even simpler and because I'm a sucker for gadgets. This means you can make a tray of choco lollies in under five minutes and they look so neat and perfect. I just melt the chocolate in a jug, in the microwave (about 100g makes seven lollies, roughly), pour them into the moulds, putting in whatever you like - sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chopped nuts, chopped up mint leaves, whole mint leaves, flakes of chilli, bashed up mints or honeycomb. I mean just GO CRAZY. Up to you with whether you put the 'filling' in before or after pouring in the chocolate - you get different effects according to which you do.  I like it cos it means I can give my children a chocolate hit with omega-3 rich seeds which makes this practically a health food.

I got my moulds from Make a Wish Cake Shop, the 7 in one plain one is this one. (Ignore the pic, what you get is a plain tray with seven plain lolly impressions, those funny pics are stick on sugar discs, nothing to do with the mould.) I also got this 4 in one which gives you a much bigger lollipop, only really for special occasions I'd say. Then you need some lolly sticks.

There are lots of other places that do lolly moulds/sticks but that's where I got mine and the service was fast.

I am aware this is the third chocolate post in a row.

An update in November 2011. I make these all the time and have experimented with crushed coffee beans (espresso ones if it makes a difference): excellent. But the BIG find was popping candy (I get mine from Waitrose, it's in the baking aisle, near stuff like sprinkles and cooking chocolate. It's fantastic, you sprinkle some popping candy (it comes in little rocks almost like crystals) into each mould and pour the chocolate on top. Then, when you eat the candy it 'explodes' in  your mouth.

Lollies in chocolate. With bits.

And yet more..

Monday, 23 May 2011

Home made Nutella

Not the most amazing pic but it's real life home made Nutella-type spread in a jar, look!

I know this doesn't look good; two consecutive posts concerning chocolate.  There is tons of other stuff I could be writing about, I'm just not very fired up about them though. And as this is a blog, and I'm not being paid, it has to be a bit enjoyable for me.

In Italy Nutella comes in glass jars you can use, when you've scoffed the lot, as glasses to drink out of. They come in pretty patterns. I think you could get them here at one point too, but I don't see them anymore.

I used to eat Nutella out of the jar, on a spoon. I can't believe this now as I find it quite disgustingly sweet. The ads sell it to you as having slow release energy thanks to the 1.5 hazelnut you get in every serving...we have Nutella in our house but I loathe it now. It's laden with sugar.

So when I saw Annie Rigg's book about Edible Presents and saw there was a recipe for Chocolate and Hazelnut spread in it, I jumped.

You probably can do this without a food processor, but I don't.

Makes 1x 450g jar

75g blanched hazelnuts
100g 70% cocoa chocolate
100ml condensed milk
1-2 tablespoons of hazelnut oil
a pinch of salt
3-4 tablespoons of hot water (if you even need this much)

The recipe asks for you to use sterilised jars. I use them straight out of the dishwasher, if it's good enough for Nigella, it's good enough for me.

Toast the hazelnuts; you can do this in an oven or in a dry frying pan. Until they're golden. Cool slightly and then  grind to as smooth a paste as you can get in your food processor.

Melt the chocolate, condensed milk and hazelnut oil, very gently, in a saucepan. When the chocolate has melted and it's all mixed up nicely, pour this into the food processor, add the pinch of salt (I always use ground up rock salt in sweet things) and blend. Add as much hot water as you need to give it a thick, spreadable consistency. Don't panic if, like me, you see it has gone really runny. It firms up in the fridge. That said, you shouldn't overdo it, I'm just saying don't go into a tizz if you have (you can always use it as super luxurious ice cream topping if it does go wrong).

Spoon into a jar and keep in the fridge. Rigg says it keeps for up to two weeks. I doubt it will last that long.

Now, I didn't want to interrupt the recipe further up, with my tales of hazelnut essence, but I bought some from Bakery Bits.  I was wary because, unlike the excellent other 'essences' I have from there (Aroma Panettone and Aroma Veneziana are exceptional) which have natural oils in them, the ingredients listed seemed decidedly un-natural. Stupidly I thought it was like extract of hazelnut or something (this is probably impossible to do). Anyway, the jury's out on whether it's nice or not but my verdict is: disappointing. Its aroma is rather synthetic and artificial. I liked it at first, but you need to go really easy on it as it can become very overpowering; and I'm not sure I'd use it again. My partner's nose is far more sensitive and he found it overwhelming.

This recipe doesn't call for essence of any kind, but because I had it I added a few drops - about four. My seven year old loves this spread but says it's too 'hazelnutty' which is probably accurate. I think this essence is good for when you really need to convey 'this is made of hazelnuts' without actually adding that many real nuts and that isn't the case for this spread, or anything I'm likely to make.

This spread is, anyway, delicious and whilst still not a health food, is a damn sight healthier than shop-bought.

Mmmmm. Eat on toast, or on a croissant or straight out of the jar with your fingers.

Monday, 2 May 2011

One giant After Eight mint

I got this recipe from last month's Delicious magazine, although I worked out immediately that it didn't work for me - far too little chocolate for the size of tin it recommends (and the filling).

After dinner mint chocolate: make it, smash it, eat it

Anyway this is what I did.

I had a long tin of about 8cm by 30cm, cos I wanted that sort of shape. I lined it in baking parchment (tip: scrunch up the paper first, then flatten it out so it lays flat more easily).

I melted some dark chocolate. I used about 150g for the bottom and 150g for the top (I'll put the whole recipe, as I used it, below) I used 70% but actually you could easily go higher - and definitely no lower. It's important to get the chocolate spread thinly. Thick sounds good but in reality this means you end up with chocolate that's hard to crack and you want it thin. Don't sweat it though because unless you're an idiot you still end up with a great end product.

Pour/spread the chocolate for the bottom (so, 150g) on the bottom of the tin - refrigerate. Chocolate takes almost no time at all to set. Mine took what seemed like 10 mins. It should be hard and crisp.

Make the fondant bit. I used one egg white and 220g icing sugar.

This is a suitable juncture to point out that this product contains raw egg whites so you know, don't eat if you're old/young/pregnant/prone to hysteria.

Mix the egg white and icing sugar together (sieve the icing sugar in) until you have a consistency that you like. Add a teaspoon of peppermint essence. Note that refrigerating it doesn't really thicken it up much so aim for what you want the finished filling to be like, not what you hope it will turn into. To this end you may wish to add the egg white bit by bit.

When ready, spread over the base layer of chocolate and refrigerate for an hour or two.

Now melt more chocolate and spread it gently over the top - don't drag it or you'll end up with a mess.

Refrigerate and when ready to eat bring it out and smash it up with a hammer and let people help themselves. The circles on mine (if you look closely) are from the meat tenderizer I used. I'm sure finer folk have a toffee hammer or some such.

Abandon all idea of cutting this into chic squares or slices - but only cos I tried and failed.

Scoff after your meal with a strong espresso.

In summary you need:

about 300g very dark chocolate
220g icing sugar
1 egg white
one teaspoon of peppermint extract (I used the Star Kay White one from Waitrose)

A greedy disposition.