Sunday, 25 January 2009

Ben's Cookies = squishy yumminess

I stumbled across Ben's Cookies during a lunch break at their Covent Garden store while I was on my way to my favourite Jacket Potato guy at 'Dinner Jackets' - more on him and his spuds in another post. Looking for something sweet to finish with, I decided to give Ben and his cookies a whirl, as I happen to be a huge cookie fan and needed a bit of sugar to help me through the rest of the afternoon at work. 

The shop is tiny, just big enough to allow the cookie making/shaping/baking guy and the sales assistant room enough to move without banging into the oven. The cookie making/shaping/baking guy was scooping up tennis balls of cookie dough and dropped them onto sheets ready for baking. They spread a little while baking but still retain some of their bulk, allowing the baked cookie to keep some of the moistness and gooeyness on the inside. 

So, instead of getting just one of their massive cookie blobs, I got a 6 pack of Plain Chocolate Chunk, Double Chocolate Chunk, and Peanut Butter. Soft and gooey in the middle with a slightly crisp outside, these cookies are more like flat personal-sized cakes than conventional cookies. Suitable for under-baked cookie fans only, they sometimes verge on the point of raw cookie dough in the middle. Even though I am not usually a fan of undercooked foods, these weren't bad, and I actually enjoyed them a lot. 

One cookie is plenty for each person and they keep well (up to 4 days according to their website). I ate one at work and cut up the rest to share at home. Suffice it to say, we couldn't finish them and saved the rest for the next day, which were still moist and as fresh tasting as ever.

My personal favourite was the Plain Chocolate Chunk which was not too gooey in the middle and choc-a-block (pardon the pun) full of creamy dark chocolate chunks, just as the name implies. The flavours were nicely balanced and not too vanilla-y or chocolate-y. A nice choice if you want something to finish off a meal.

The cookies come nicely packaged in a little red box, each layer separated with wax paper meaning they won't stick together or damage each other before you get home. 

They might not be much to look at, but they sure do make up for it in taste and size. Plus, the guy serving me was friendly (a very rare thing in London!), so I will be back.

Where to find them:

Ben's Cookies
13a The Piazza, Covent Garden
London WC2E 8HH

Closest Tube stations: 
Covent Garden or Leicester Square

Friday, 23 January 2009


Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) - Rome, Italy

The Frenchman and I are married (!) and back from our mini-moon in Rome!

A highlight on our last day where we stumbled across a tiny cafe where we got our first  REAL cappuccino (real = creamy foam sans sprinkles and ultra strong) and tiny nutella-filled cannoli. Simple but oh-so delicious! We we actually looking for a featured cafe in the Frenchman's city guide but we look one look at it and turned around (bare and uninviting). A few paces away was this little cafe and what a great accidental find it was (sorry no name or photos, my bad).

With me being obsessed with Bruschetta (of the tomato or 'Pomodoro' kind), we tried to track down any restaurants featuring it (which come to think of it, automatically steers us towards the "tourist" food restaurants as it must be a summer dish because tomatoes are generally ripest during summer time? Maybe?). Even so, most were absolutely delicious and since the frenchman doesn't dig tomatoes, he opted for the melone e procsciutto (honey dew melon with cured ham) and that was great too, even with the staggering 10 euro price tag. But hey - how often do you go to Italy or even honeymoon in Italy? Hence, a little splurging is ok... and for good food, I think it's worth it.

Now, I can't have gone to Italy without trying a little bit of pizza. I know I wasn't in real Pizza land, a.k.a. Naples, but when in Rome... and so on... you just have to find some. Around the corner from the Trevi fountain was an unsuspecting little take-away pizzeria where all the locals seemed to be lining up for (our definition of locals = the majority of people speaking very fast in a language that was not english, french, or german*) and which looked pretty authentic.

Meet the friendly folk at 'Pizza Con La Mortadella'

Sold by the slice, which is custom cut depending on how hungry you are, it is then weighed and tossed in the roasting hot pizza oven for reheating. Meanwhile, you pay according to weight and it is seriously cheap. They hand you your slice on a sheet of wax paper and it is crisp, slightly chewy and so so good. The pizzas are simple and ultra fresh, using seasonal ingredients and the price is right!

Zucchini and Anchovy pizza slice


* English, French, and German being the languages we know fluently between us.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Crème brulée

I have always been disappointed with restaurant-made crème brulée. Either they have a too thin or too thick layer of caramalised sugar (too thin means no 'crunch' factor - too thick results in burnt tasting sugar rock) or I find that there's no mouthwatering infusion of vanilla (proven by the lack of vanilla bean specks in the custard). Simply put - they are usually quite crap!

I always thought that with a little time and a nice fat juicy vanilla pod, I could make the perfect tasting crème brulée. I decided to put my money where my proverbial mouth is and give it a go.

Unbaked Crème Brulée

315 mls Single cream
315 mls Double or Heavy cream
1 Vanilla pod (or the best vanilla extract you can find)
A small strip of fresh lemon rind (optional)
5 egg yolks
2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar
Extra sugar (preferabley caster sugar) for sprinkling

Start by heating the fresh single and double cream in a saucepan over a medium heat. Split a fresh vanilla pod down the middle and scrape out the seed paste with a small paring knife. Dropping that and the spent pod into the cream, I gently heat it until the flavour of the vanilla is well infused and the mixture is pleasantly dotted with the tiny vanilla specks (which are the only distinct sign that the chef has used a real vanilla pod in the recipe). I also like to add a piece of lemon rind to infuse a slight tangy flavour. Just a personal taste preference really...

Next I separate eggs (saving the whites for another recipe - most likely for a recipe involving meringue) and whip the yolks with a couple of tablespoons of sugar (most recipes call for caster sugar but I find any sugar at this stage is usable). Most of the time I try to use unprocessed raw sugar as I find it more caramely and slightly healthier than processed white sugar - personal preference and by no means am I preaching my sugarist ways. 

Anyway, beat the yolks and the sugar until slightly thick and creamy looking. Pour the infused cream through a strainer and into the egg mixture, gently whisking it so it doesn't scramble. 

In the empty pot, I pour the custard mixture back in and gently heat until it noticeably thickens to a light custard consistency, stirring gently with a wooden spoon (taking a lot of care not to boil it and turn it into sweet scrambled eggs like I almost did the moment I turned my back to wash a spoon).

Take it off the heat and pour into ramekins (or if you want to be true to the french - pour into flat crème brulée dishes) and chill for about 4 hours, until set. I got these ones for christmas from my mother-in-law. Unfortunately she could only get the last five dishes left in the store, but since these are the cutest ones I have come across, it won't matter that the set is incomplete (the OCD part of me likes even numbers for stuff like dishes, cutlery, etc). Traditionally the dishes are made from a glazed terracotta in a flat, round or oval shape. In these modern times you find them prominently in white porcelain or ceramic (for a more 'posh' look I guess).

Sprinkle each with a couple of teaspoons of caster sugar and flame (or grill) until the sugar turns to caramel and is dissolved evenly, taking care not to burn the crap out of it. I found that moving the flame in a circular motion helped to keep the heat even and made sure that no spot was heated longer than the other. Believe me, you can taste the bitter burned sugar straight away if you go overboard with the heat. 

Chill again to reset the custard (but no longer than one hour otherwise the crisp sugar coating will soften). 
Serve immediately with a small spoon and enjoy having your own little 'Amelie' moment. Come to think of it, I totally feel like watching that now! : )