On my kitchen shelf is a tiny metal box full of index cards, stuffed with recipes from my grandmothers, my parents and me, that I now have in my care. I’ve used many of them throughout my life, as well as adding to the collection. Many of the recipes are reminiscent of important family occasions.
And that was where the idea for A FAMILY RECIPE came from: a little box that holds recipes that relate to the life-changing events of the residents of 11 Lark Hill in Bath, from the war to the present day. Laura finds the box at a difficult time in her life, and uses it to help her move forward.
For this blog tour I am sharing some of my favourite recipes from my own box.
Birthday cakes have always been important to me – a demonstration of love, but also recognition of a person and what they represent.
When my children were small it was a labour of love to produce something spectacular that didn’t involve huge amounts of skill – I am not in the least bit artistic or crafty, so intricate icing was always going to be out. My eldest son’s first birthday cake was a big round chocolate cake covered in plastic zoo animals: I can still remember buying a bag full from the local toy shop and planting their feet in the sticky icing. I followed that method religiously for years afterwards: making the biggest cake I could manage, then topping it with Thomas the Tank Engine and all his friends, Biker Mice, Mutant Hero Turtles … Another favourite was a cake smothered in the contents of a huge bag of pick ‘n’ mix – lurid, additive-laden but a joy to a horde of small boys.
I used plain Victoria sponge, or the miracle that is Coca Cola cake – ruinously sweet but the most forgiving concoction that works every time and is light, fluffy and squidgy.
Now the boys are bigger they have rather grown out of statement birthday cakes. But I’ve had several friends with landmark birthdays recently, and have discovered the joy of a croquembouche. There is nothing guaranteed to bring a bigger gasp of admiration than these gravity-defying towers, and they are surprisingly easy to assemble.
Profiteroles themselves are quite easy to make – use a recipe from your preferred chef of choice (you can’t go wrong with Delia or Nigella) or you can buy them plain from most supermarkets. I like to fill mine with beaten double cream flavoured with Cointreau and a little icing sugar to thicken it up a bit – poke a hole in the bottom of each profiterole and pipe the cream in until its nearly full.
You can buy a croquembouche cone or make one from cardboard. I use melted white chocolate to stick each profiterole to the cone, starting from the bottom and building them up on top of each other in circles. The beauty of a croquembouche is that it doesn’t have to look perfect – a higgledy-piggedly-ness adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Remember to make it on the plate or board you are going to serve it on – it’s very dangerous to try and move it after assembly! Stick it in the fridge to harden the chocolate and strengthen the structure.
Once the tower is complete you can customise them to your heart’s content, depending on whether you are understated and have the nerve to leave them quite plain with just a drizzling of caramel, or if like me you have to throw everything at it! Sugared almonds are a traditional decoration, inserted randomly into the gaps – either gold or silver, or the pretty pastel ones in pink, white and yellow. I dip random profiteroles in white chocolate and roll them in dried flowers, which looks very rustic and pretty – or you could try crushed raspberries. I also highlight the occasional profiterole with edible gold leaf which looks stunning. There are so many pretty edible decorations available – you can go as rococco and over the top as you like. Traditionally they are covered in a web of spun sugar, but I’m way too scared for that …. For birthdays I stick in half a dozen mini sparklers to mark the occasion, or a single one of those fountain candles would be suitably dramatic and showy.
You can pre-order A Family Recipe from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 17th May 2018.