Ratty Spanish Eggs

 

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A couple of months back, I had breakfast at Providores on Marylebone High Street with my friend Esther, she of the highly-addictive Recipe Rifle. Spurred on by her advice (I wasn’t going to argue with a pregnant lady) and a few reviews I’d read, I plumped for a cortado – my new favourite coffee – and Turkish eggs, baked in spicy tomatoes and swimming under hot chilli butter and yogurt. They were utterly delicious and if you’re a fan of soldier-style dipping I urge you to go along and try them.

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Chelsea Snail Buns

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We had grand plans for yesterday, but then the weather reverted to recent form, so we ensconced ourselves in the brilliantly local and cosy Parlour for breakfast (more about that soon), watched the mizzle draw across the window like a lace curtain and shortened our agenda. Better to be realistic, surely, when the elements are winning. I mean, how long can it last…?

The result of our brainstorming over coffee, Bircher muesli and unlimited toast with lemon curd: a spell of long-overdue exercise in the gym and a batch of home-baked Chelsea buns.

I probably should have consulted baking legends Paul Hollywood and Dan Lepard on the bun formula, but yesterday I thought I’d ask my Panasonic bread-maker manual. A great hulk of white plastic, there is nothing pretty about this gadget, which lurks on the counter – in fact it may be even too large to call it that – it is, rather, an appliance. When we bought it four years ago we were told that we’d never use it, that it’d be on Gumtree within a month or in the attic gathering dust until our grandchildren found it.

Always in the back of my mind lurks a desire to prove the naysayers wrong, so as a consequence, this weekend was a particularly pleasing one. We kicked off on Friday with homemade pizzas (made with wholemeal bread flour in the absence of white), especially thin and crispy, the crust bubbled in spots, slathered with a tomato and anchovy sauce and combos of our favourite things. Thank you, bread-maker, for your 45 minute bout of kneading and pummelling to elastic-y wondrousness (honestly, I wouldn’t want to be a lump of dough in that thing).

Flicking through the machine’s manual, largely ignored but for aforementioned pizza dough and our favourite loaf recipes, its pages stuck together in places, I lighted upon the Chelsea Bun formula. Slightly daunting, the prospect of having a whole batch of these in a tin in the kitchen when they are supposed to be a one-off treat a safe distance away at the baker’s. Clearly there would be a time limit on optimal consumption too… which amounts to a few hours after baking as it turns out (they’re becoming more and more bullet-like as today continues, sorry BSG, but they could be gone before you get home).

This soft enriched dough resembles a starter as it is airy – in short, it has a beautiful life of its own, so don’t beat it about too much as you roll it out. This will mean it’ll spread nicely in the tin. As well as the fruit and spice mix ‘spread’, I certainly recommend adding a little diced stem ginger. I am not sure that there won’t be marmalade and chocolate chips in there too, next time. Baffled as to why the dough Catherine wheels were meant to sit together in a sandwich tin with sides, I now understand. On my low baking tray, they were prone to unravelling, rather than keeping the goodies inside their coils as they baked and rose into one another. The results were no less delicious, but perhaps more ‘garden path’ than ‘garden party’ Viennoiserie.

Practice makes perfect, I suppose, but this first attempt has left a tantalising enough taste in our mouths to want to try again. Next up, hot-cross buns. Why on earth not? It’s nearly Easter, after all.

If you have a bread maker (which makes super light work of creating the perfect conditions for your dough) the formula is below, from the gospel according to Panasonic. If you don’t have a great placcy lump dominating your kitchen (besides the fridge, of course), try Paul Hollywood’s recipe out for size.

Chelsea Buns

Dough

½ tsp yeast
250g strong white flour
1 tsp sugar
25g butter
tbsp milk powder
½ tsp salt
1 medium egg
100 ml water

Topping

15g butter
100g mixed dried fruit, stem ginger, chocolate chips, etc
50g soft brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice

Once the dough is ready (you want to use the dough setting, whatever yours is), knead it lightly and roll it out to an oblong 26 x 20 cm.

Melt the butter and brush it over the dough. Mix the topping ingredients together and scatter evenly over the top, pressing the fruit in a bit. Roll it up from the long edge and cut into 8-10 slices.

Arrange these in a greased sandwich tin so they fit neatly and prove in the oven at 40C until doubled in size (approx. 20 mins).

Bake in a preheated oven at 220C for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool on a rack and drizzle with glace icing.

 

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The River Café

The BSG and I managed to sneak our way into the perennially popular River Café on the first sunny day of spring, thanks to an amazing winter lunch offer (on ‘til 22nd March, if you’re asking). We’d mused over a visit for some time, but couldn’t quite swallow the prices. However, this deal and the fact that it was my birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to sample for ourselves the much-vaunted seasonal ingredients, painstakingly sourced and treated with simplicity and respect. Not bad for a place that started out as a staff canteen for Richard Rogers’ firm of architects next door. Lucky them.

Its list of cheffy alumni that have worked under co-founders and superwomen Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray has clout to equal that Cambridge-footlight dream class of Thompson, Fry and Laurie: Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stevie Parle, April Bloomfield, Theo Randall, Sam and Samantha Clark (and many others), so we both conducted a mental audit of the cast working smoothly and diligently behind the very visible pass. If this was a school it’d be out of the league tables – no doubt many of the current crop will go on to be stars as well.

Cooking in full view – YIKES.. I’d certainly have dropped something. If nerves ever jangled or tempers rose, they didn’t show. In fact, you could almost smell the quiet authority that extended to each plate smoothly winging its way out to the tables. Everyone was busy doing their own thing on this tight ship – the BSG and I supposed that someone was in charge of pasta, another veg, fish and so on. The friendly waiting staff pepetrated this feeling of zen, were relaxed and efficient and ever so slightly über-cool…though of course they all made that look effortless too.

The day was utterly perfect, especially considering it was a Monday; the warmth of spring sunshine on our backs a foil to the chilly breeze that blew off the river. Once we got inside, lemony light spilled through the large windows across our table; cue Prosecco with fresh blood orange to wet our whistles. What followed a basket of bread and gorgeous, grassy olive oil was a series of perfectly simple dishes; including fennel salami and chicken-liver crostini, a plethora of exciting leaves we’d never heard of, fresh sardines, gum-bubble thin filled ravioli (the best pasta I have EVER eaten), sweet scallops with Castelluccio lentils , slow-cooked fennel and monkfish with salsa verde. A lot, you may think – and you’re probably right – but for some reason it felt light and healthy due to the freshness of the flavours (until we got to the lemon tart and polenta cake, that is). It was beautifully simple: there were no ground-breaking cooking techniques to distract from the food, so it was just as well that the headliner ingredients were on form.

This restaurant is a classic, an institution, a favourite – exactly what a dream canteen at work would be like (albeit work would have to be a merchant bank). Like the Rolling Stones live in concert – rather than a 2-hour late, squeaky Justin Bieber surrounded by gyrating backing dancers and tedious smoke effects – it continues to stand the test of time, taste and wallet. In short, it could prove ruinous come April and we don’t give a damn if it’s AT ALL trendy, but the BSG may well make The River Cafe a habit. Once a year. If we save.

Spring has sprung. Yippeee.

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