Bite Street Food at Chrisp Street Market, Poplar

Street food has been around in London for longer than you think.  Long before the Thames ceased to be a working river, oysters were sold on the banks for hungry dockers.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, baked potatoes were sold from shop fronts and house windows in some of the more notorious London slums as a form of cheap sustenance.  And we all remember the ubiquitous kebab vans outside of late night bars and gig venues in the more recent past.

In recent years, however, street food has taken on a new form offering affordable gourmet food to Londoners.  Whether on their lunch hour or lazily meandering around markets at the weekend, the street food van is never far away.  Once, Borough Market was the only real option for street food, but more recently markets have begun to pop up across the capital, some in rather unexpected places.

Poplar, in East London, is not the first place you think of as a gastronomic destination; but the new Bite Street Food collective are seeking to rejuvenate the culinary reputation of the area right at its centre:  Chrisp Street Market.  With traders hailing from the local area, and across London, and entertainment from local performers, a charmingly frayed town square is transformed into a market to rival any lunchtime markets across London.  I was invited to come down and check it out.  And told to come hungry.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

My first stop, as always, was for coffee.  On the far side of the market, I found a man making coffee seemingly whilst cycling.  We Walk the Line is a social initiative to encourage disadvantaged young people and ex-offenders become entrepreneurs through selling coffee.  The bike powers the grinder, which grinds up the Nude Espresso beans for the coffee.  A very good cup indeed.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

After this, I popped to Boca Empanadas, which sell those little Argentine pastries I love so much.  My favourite is the humitas, which contains corn and chilli.  These were perfect – crispy pastry and both sweet and spicy in the middle.  Limiting myself to one was very difficult.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

My plan was to try a number of small items, so that I could sample as much as possible.  On the hunt for my next snack, I came across the bargain of the century:  three jerk wings for ONE POUND.  My weakness for good jerk is well documented and I couldn’t resist.  These were really good.  Spicy with the unmistakable hit of scotch bonnets, with an underlying kick of lime and allspice.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan street food has been growing in popularity in recent years, so I was not surprised to see a vegan vendor on the site, Ruperts Street.  I managed to snag the very last item of the day: a vegan burger.  A sweet potato and lentil patty with a smear of relish on a wholemeal seeded bun.  It came with a delicious kale salad, for extra health points.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

Never one to end a meal without having dessert, I popped over to Cat Food Cakes, to see the lovely Cat and her crazy creations.  The market took place on Hallowe’en, so there were some beautiful cupcakes and brownies with spiderwebs, pumpkins and ghosts.  Spying a chocolate cupcake decorated with candy corns, I quickly nabbed it.  A candy corn in the UK is a difficult thing to find.  Sadly Cat did not have a supplier: her boyfriend brought them back from a trip to the states.

Bite will be taking place on the last Friday of every month at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar.  If you should find yourself free on a Friday lunchtime, it is definitely worth a trip over to check it out.  The vendors are not those that you will find at the bigger street food markets, such as KERB, Brockley or Broadway; but they are an excellent representation of cooking in the diverse east end.  I also spied a Ghanian lady selling jollof rice, and a young man making Louisiana gumbo, but could not manage all of these in the same afternoon.  It seems another visit is in order.

Also: Canary Wharf office workers, take note.

For transparency, I was invited to visit Bite Street Food.

Chocolate Rolo Cake

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Chocolate rolo cakes. The holes are from birthday candles

I’ve been trying to post the recipe for this cake for quite a few days now, but life, as they say, has gotten in the way.  I actually made this cake for my friend Dan’s birthday nearly two weeks ago and have only just managed to get myself a cup of tea, sit down in my laptop and write this thing up.  Good things, however, come to those who wait.  Or so the phrase goes.

I have a bit of a tradition of making vertiginous chocolate cakes for Dan’s birthday, getting more and more elaborate each year.  This year, I was struggling to find something to top the Chocolate Behemoth of 2013, until I came across this rolo cake by the brilliant Raspberri Cupcakes.  If you have not yet visited this beautiful baking blog, prepare yourself to feel both inspired and completely inadequate all at once.  Her cakes truly are masterpieces.

This particular creation is a rich chocolate brownie cake, sandwiched with a thick salted caramel and covered with a glossy slick of chocolate ganache.  As if that isn’t decadent enough, it has the added surprise of having a whole packet of rolos baked into each of the two cake layers; which melt a little to create pockets of caramel within the cake.  And more rolos piled on the top, natch.

To be honest, it really is best not to think too much about the ingredients for this cake.  Especially the 400g of butter.  Being the evil feeder that I am I also neglected to mention to my dining companions that it probably had hundreds and hundreds of calories per slice.  Especially those who went for second helpings.

A little bit about making caramel:  in short, don’t bother. I’ve tried every method from heating sugar to boiling condensed milk and both are time-consuming and fraught with hazards.  Use pre-made caramel or dulce de leche.  Carnation make one in a 397g tin that is just perfect.

Chocolate Rolo Cake

For the cake
400g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 large eggs
200g caster sugar
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tubes rolos

For the filling
1 x 397g tin of carnation caramel
½ tsp sea salt

For the ganache
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
300ml double cream

To decorate
4 tubes rolos, each sweet cut in half

Preheat the oven to 150ºc.  Grease two 8inch sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter and sugar in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water and set aside to cool.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale.  Fold through the chocolate mixture and then gently fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tins.  Push the rolos into the surface of the cake mixture and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes.  The cake will have shrunken away from the edges of the tin but may still have a slight wobble in the centre.  Allow to cool completely in the tin before transferring to a wire rack until needed.

Stir the sea salt into the caramel and, using a palette knife, spread a thick layer over one of the cooled cakes.  Place the other layer on top.  Reserve a small amount of the caramel to spread thinly over the top and sides of the cake.  This will help the ganache to ‘stick’.  Chill the cake in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.  Place the chopped milk and dark chocolate in a large bowl.  In a saucepan, heat the cream until it just reaches boiling point.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to sit for a couple of minutes.  Stir with a balloon whisk and the chocolate will melt into the cream to form a smooth, thick ganache.  Allow to cool.

Place the chilled cake on a rack over a tray.  Pour over the cooled ganache, using a palette knife to spread it out.  It should coat the cake evenly and any excess will be caught in the tray below.  Stack the chopped rolos on top.  Transfer to the fridge to set the ganache, but be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Adapted from a recipe by Raspberri Cupcakes.

One Year Ago:  Key Lime Pie

A Chocolate Beetroot Cake for Chocolate Week

Chocolate beetroot cake

Chocolate beetroot cake

This week, 13th – 19th October, is Chocolate Week, and I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about this.

Right now I am a bit of a sorry picture.  I have a bit of a cold and a bout of asthma, so am sat wheezing away on my big couch under a blanket.  The weather in south east London has become even more dismal – all grey skies and rain lashing against the window.  Thank goodness for Netflix and Green & Black’s Maya Gold: the two things that are making today somewhat bearable.

Chocolate is a wonderful thing, for it always has the power to make you feel better, whether your woes are emotional or physical.  A neighbour of my grandmother’s use to give us chocolate when we fell off our bikes and went running to her with grazed knees and dirty tears.  It sounds silly, but it worked.  Now, in my thirties, I tend to reach for a bar when I’ve had a bad day at work.  It has the same effect.

I tend to use chocolate in baking mainly for special occasions, for huge, multi-layered birthday cakes or decadent desserts for massive family gatherings.  With my lurgy keeping me from any kind of company, I needed to bake something far easier, more wholesome and more humble.  I had a bag of mixed beets I bought for a mid-week salad, so decided one could be spared for a cake.

I remember a while ago when the idea of using vegetables in cakes became big, spurred on by the resurgence of the carrot cake.  Suddenly we were all baking from the vegetable patch, with varying degrees of success.  Two such cakes that have survived in my repertoire are the lemon-courgette cake and this chocolate beetroot cake.  Adding vegetables certainly gives cake a new dimension, plus has the added benefit of getting more veg into your diet.  Speaking of which, a friend of mine writes a very good blog about getting your children to eat more vegetables by sneaking it into their food.  It’s called Sneaky Veg and has some brilliant recipes.

This chocolate beetroot cake is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks.  It has quite a few processes and is a little time-consuming, but the end result is worth it.  It’s not too sweet but has the richness of chocolate and the sweet earthiness of beetroot.  The topping is a simple smear of creme fraiche topped with poppy seeds, although I used mascarpone as the shops of East Dulwich only had half-fat creme fraiche, which is far too runny.  Don’t bother using the expensive varieties of beetroot for this cake, as you don’t really see them once baked.  The good old purple kind will do just fine.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

250g beetroot
200g dark chocolate
4 tbsp espresso (I used Workshop Coffee’s Cult of Done)
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 eggs
190g caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Creme fraiche or mascarpone
1 tsp poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s) and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Cook the beetroot whole in a pan of salted water until tender.  Remove and cool under cold running water.  Peel and blitz to a rough puree in a food processor.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the espresso.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  Leave them there for a few minutes to allow them to melt.

Separate the eggs.  Set the yolks aside and whisk the whites in a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add the sugar and continue tho whisk until glossy.

Stir the chocolate mixture so the butter is fully incorporated.  Beat in the egg yolks then fold in the beetroot puree.

Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.  Do not overmix.  Finally, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and fold this through.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake in and put in the oven, turning the heat down to 160º.  Bake for 40-50 minutes until the edges start to come away from the sides of the tin.  There may be a slight wobble in the centre, but this is OK as it will solidify as it cools.  Leave it to cool completely in the tin before removing.

Spread over the creme fraiche or mascarpone using a palette knife and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Pumpkin Pie

Cherry Oat Bars

Cherry oat bars

Cherry oat bars

I’m writing about sweet things again.  I apologise.  Despite how it looks here, I can assure you that I do eat proper food. Promise.

One of the things I love about the street I live on is the cats.  Almost every other house has one and they can often be seen parading up and down, jumping on walls and hiding under cars.  Being surrounded by pets reminds you that you are in a part of the city where people actually live.  Real people, not just those with a city bolthole they use from time to time.  My favourite cat is a fluffy ginger one that lives at the end of the street.  Regardless of what time I am arriving home, he always seems to be there to greet me.

My friends John and Heather have just got a cat, and on Friday we popped over to meet him.  He is just too cute and, despite my being allergic to his fur, we became firm friends.

I baked these cherry oat bars to take for them as a little gift.  I seem to be making quite a lot of cake bars at the moment – I think it’s because I seem to be transporting bakes across town, and are more robust than a cake or cupcakes.  These are a cake bar combined with a fruit flapjack, with an oat crumble baked into the topping.  Cherries have recently gone out of season, but the tinned ones work well. Just make sure that they are well drained as the coloured liquid will spill into the base and ruin the effect of the layers.  If you don’t fancy cherries, other fruits will work equally well.

Cherry Oat Bars

For the bottom layer and topping
185g plain flour
100g icing sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp lemon zest
175g butter, at room temperature
90g rolled oats

For the filling
400g tin black cherries, drained and halved
2 large eggs
175g caster sugar
40g plain flour
125ml natural yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

In a medium bowl, combine the plain flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon zest.  Rub in the butter until you have a smooth dough.  Separate a small handful of the dough (about half a cup) into a separate bowl, this will be used later to make the topping.  Press the remaining dough into the base of the tin, spreading evenly to cover.  Bake for around 15 minutes until brown at the edges.

Arrange the black cherries over the crust.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, caster sugar, plain flour, natural yoghurt, lemon juice and salt until well combined.  Pour this mixture over the cherries.

Add the rolled oats to the reserved dough and rub together to form a crumble.  Sprinkle this over the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until set.  When baked it should have a very slight wobble.  If it is too wobbly, return to the oven.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays:  Viet Van, East Dulwich

The Last of the Summer Raspberries

Raspberry-almond bars

I don’t know how, but it is October already.  Something has changed in the air and we seem to be settling in for winter.  This morning, I unpacked my scarves from their vacuum bag and got out my winter coat, ready to be taken to the dry cleaners.  I turned on the heating.  I started thinking about Hallowe’en.

I have had a punnet of raspberries in my fridge that have been there since before I went to Germany.  Despite expecting to have to throw them away on my return, they survived remarkably well.  If I’m honest, I can’t believe I risked letting them go to waste; raspberry season is quickly coming to an end, and it will be a long time before fresh British raspberries will be available again.

could have just tipped them into a bowl and eaten them with a little icing sugar and a lot of creme fraiche, but instead I decided to bake something with them.  I swore off cake after eating so much of it in Baden-Baden, but there is something about the new chill in the air that makes me want to nest; and baking is always the biggest part of that need.  Raspberries always work so well in baking; their sharp flavour cuts through all of the butter and sugar and makes everything just a little less sweet.

My favourite combination is a classic one: raspberry and almond.  The world probably does not need another raspberry-almond recipe, but I am just going to squeeze this last one in.  These raspberry-almond bars are based loosely on Dan Lepard’s Blueberry Almond Bars from his book Short and Sweet – he suggests that you can use blackberries instead of blueberries, which is where I got the idea.  The base is a dense cake, almost biscuit-like, topped first with a raspberry jam, thickened with cornflour, and then with a brown sugar-almond crust.  The result is more biscuit than cake and lends itself to being sliced up and eaten with a strong cup of tea.  Once the raspberries have gone completely, I am going to try this with a plum jam and a hazelnut crust.

Raspberry-Almond Bars

125g caster sugar
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
180g punnet fresh raspberries
2 tsp cornflour
50ml whole milk
2 tsp honey
100g light brown sugar
100g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

Mix together 75g of the caster sugar, the plain flour, baking powder and ground almonds in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the mixture.  Add the egg and bring the mixture together in a soft dough.  Press this evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake tin and set aside.

In a small pan, combine the raspberries, cornflour, the remaining 50g caster sugar and 100ml of water.  Cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the raspberries have broken down and the mixture thickens.  Set aside.

In a separate pan, combine the milk, honey, brown sugar and flaked almonds and simmer over a medium heat until thickened.

Spread the raspberries over the base layer (you probably won’t need all of it), then top evenly with the almond mixture.  Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until browned.  Leave to cool completely in the tin and then cut into slices.

One Year Ago: In Praise of Granola

A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

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Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

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Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

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Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

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More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

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Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

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Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

I seem to be making a lot of cakes lately.  Perhaps it’s making up for lost time in the lead up to my wedding where I barely made any.  Also, making cakes in the summer is a bit of a nightmare, isn’t it?  I made four for a friend’s wedding this year and had to ice them in a marquee on the hottest day of the summer, whilst decorations were put up around me, bands soundchecked and the wine began to arrive, also needing fridge space.  My icing kept melting, which resulted in several dashes to said fridges to try to chill it before the cakes were ruined completely.  If I ever came close to understanding the stress of the contestants on The Great British Bake Off, it was then.  Worth it in the end, though, as the wedding was amazing.

Anyway, last weekend I made this cake for my brother-in-law, his girlfriend and her parents who were busy renovating their flat.  They’re not just painting and doing a bit of moderate DIY, this is the ripping-down-walls-rebuilding-new-ones kind of renovating which, I imagine, is pretty hungry work. 

This cake is one I have made time and time again, and it comes from my favourite baking book, Dan Lepard‘s Short and Sweet.  It is a great alternative to a coffee and walnut cake and uses so much coffee that the flavour is really quite strong.  The finely chopped brazil nuts and spelt flour give it a coarse texture all the way through, rather than a cake studded with nuts, which is often the way. 

It also has coffee water icing.  Which is basically espresso and icing sugar.  What’s not to like about that?

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

For the cake
100ml whole milk
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp fine-ground coffee beans
175g unsalted butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g brazil nuts, finely chopped, plus extra for decoration

For the icing
200g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp strong espresso

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Grease two sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, espresso powder and ground coffee and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated.  Beat in the coffee mixture.

Fold in both flours, the baking powder and the brazil nuts until you have an even smooth batter.  Do not overwork it. Scrape the batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the icing sugar and espresso until smooth and thick.  If it is too runny, add more sugar; similarly, if it is too stiff, add more coffee, a little at a time.  Using a palette knife, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cakes.  Place one cake on top of the other and decorate with the remaining brazil nuts.