Apple and Blackberry Crumble

When I need a recipe that is fuss-free and easy, yet guaranteed to be delicious, Nigel Slater is who I generally turn to. He’s an ace at puddings. This is mainly, I think, because he uses lots of what makes them lovely. That makes sense, you don’t eat the dessert course if you are on a diet so why take half-measures when you are allowed?

As I put this into the oven, my wife came up behind me and asked if I had followed the recipe exactly. I had indeed. “You used all the butter? And all the sugar?” Again, I had indeed. I don’t see the point in denying the pleasure of eating something as wickedly rich as this, especially when it’s cold and miserable and you just know that this will make you happy. This made all of us happy, so happy that I’m making another later today…

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RECIPE 

450g cooking apples

a little caster sugar

450g blackberries (fresh picked are always best)

100g plain flour

175g fridge-cold unsalted butter

50g rolled oats

100g demerara sugar


METHOD

Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Peel, core and cut the apples into eighths. Put them into a large pan with a good pinch of caster sugar and a tablespoon of water, then cook over a medium heat for around 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the blackberries and mix thoroughly, then transfer everything to a suitably-sized pie dish.

Chop the cold butter into small cubes and put into a food processor with the flour. Pulse the processor until the butter and flour resembles breadcrumbs, taking care not to go too far – we are making crumble after all, not dough. Stir in the oats and sugar and scatter the crumble topping over the apple and blackberry mixture.

Bake for around 30 minutes until the jammy interior is bubbling through a crisp, golden topping. It’s wonderful hot, or warm, with ice cream or cream – and definitely not for anyone on a diet.

You can vary this almost infinitely, changing the fruit, and incorporating slivered pistachios or chopped pecans into the crumble, or using granola instead of rolled oats. Whatever you try, I’m sure you’ll love it.

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Salmon and Leek Pie

My lovely wife insisted that I blog this recipe. When I first told her what we were having for dinner she wasn’t convinced, it only took one mouthful to change her mind. “This is the definitive fish pie”, she declared.

Everybody swooned over it, and reheated the following day it was almost as good. The best thing about it? Just look at the meagre list of ingredients. This is a fish pie that has its simplicity as its strength, and it is incredibly easy to make. 

You can top this with puff pastry if you prefer, but there’s just something about mash…

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RECIPE serves 6

500g salmon fillet

1 pint of milk (I use semi-skimmed, use what you prefer)

55g unsalted butter

40g plain flour

1 large leek, washed, halved and cut into 1cm slices

a small bunch of parsley, chopped

a quantity of dry-mashed potato (see method)

freshly ground black pepper

Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, finely grated

olive oil


METHOD

Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Place the salmon, skin-side uppermost, in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the milk, cover with some foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until the fish is only just cooked and is starting to flake.

Remove the fish from the milk using a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove the skin from the fish, it should easily peel off. Retain the milk for use later. When the fish is cool enough to handle, break it into largish chunks – it will break up further when you assemble the pie.

Meanwhile, prepare your mashed potato: I have not specified an amount of mash here, people like different quantities of mash on a pie like this, so use your own judgement. I prefer to steam potatoes for mash, rather than boil them; it keeps them a little dryer and takes about the same length of time. When you come to mash, allow yourself a little milk to slacken the mash if you need to, but no butter. This needs to be a firm, dry mash so it holds peaks on the top that will char, and will soak up the juice from the pie underneath. When you have made your mash, set it aside for now.

Now make the sauce: melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat, then gradually add the flour whilst whisking constantly. Gently cook the resulting paste until it bubbles and has the first hint of brown, then remove from the heat and begin to add the milk.

Add the milk a little at a time to begin with, whisking all the time. As you add the milk it will be absorbed into the paste, which will become looser the more milk that you add. Return the pan to a gentle heat after adding around a quarter of the milk. When you have added around half of the milk, it has all been absorbed and there are no lumps in it, you can add the rest of the milk all together. Turn the heat up, keep whisking often, and bring the sauce to the boil. As it gets hotter, stir more frequently. Just as it starts to boil, drop the heat to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking often. Your aim is a smooth, glossy sauce.

After two minutes simmering, take the sauce off the heat and allow to stand whilst you bring everything together.

The leeks need to be steamed for a couple of minutes, just to soften them. This is an easy task that you can fit in while working on the other elements.

To assemble the pie, add the parsley and leeks to the sauce, and stir well. Then add the salmon and stir thoroughly, breaking the larger chunks down. Now carefully check and correct the seasoning.

Transfer everything to a 3-pint ovenproof dish, then add your mash over the top. It is best to work from the edges, working all the way round, then gradually working your way in to the centre using the outer layer of mash as a support – this is why you need dry mash. Fluff the top up into peaks and swirls using a fork, then give the entire surface a generous grinding of black pepper. Now grate a fine layer of Pecorino (preferred) or Parmesan over the top, and drizzle lightly with a little olive oil.

Bake for around 30 minutes until the top is nicely browned and charred in places, and the pie is piping hot.

We particularly enjoyed this alongside steamed tenderstem broccoli, and a very good Chardonnay.

Rarebit Puffs

I generally steer clear of processed foods, but I have two big weaknesses: pork pies and cheese puffs. If I’m travelling and find myself hungry it is one of these that I reach for from the cooler in the petrol station. I haven’t ever tackled making pork pies (yet) but I do make delicious cheese puffs. Now all I have to do is remember to make some before setting off on a long trip…

These are wonderful as they are, but you can add anything you like. Caramelised red onions, or some ham – or both – are my favourite additions, but these are so simple to make you can experiment to your heart’s content. The next time I make these I intend to try adding some dry, roughly mashed potato – no butter or milk added – to the cheese mixture.

You can also make these as individual slices, just cut the pastry into the appropriate number of smaller oblongs – not forgetting that for eight slices you will need sixteen oblongs. I did this to begin with, but I found that for me there wasn’t quite enough filling in each one to make them truly satisfying.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, crushed

100g mascarpone

50g Parmesan, finely grated

2 tsp English mustard

1 block of all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the garlic for a minute or so until it is just golden. Tip the butter and garlic into a mixing bowl and set aside for a little while, until it is cool enough to not melt the mascarpone.

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Mix the mascarpone, Parmesan, mustard and a little salt and pepper into the butter and garlic.

Roll out the pastry until it is about 4mm thick (if you are using a pre-rolled sheet it should already be at this thickness). Cut the rolled out pastry into two equal oblongs. When you cut the pastry, bring the knife directly down rather than pulling it through, to avoid the pastry being dragged and interfering with the way it rises.

Spread the cheese mixture equally over one of the pastry halves, leaving a good inch clear all around the edges. Brush the exposed edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg, then lay the other half of the pastry carefully over the top and firmly crimp the top and bottom edges of the pastry together. Brush with the remainder of the beaten egg, then finely grate a little more Parmesan over the top. Pierce the top of the pastry case a couple of times with the point of a knife, to allow steam to escape, then bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes until puffed up and golden.

Leave to cool for a few minutes, then cut into portions and serve alongside a crisp salad.

Cumin Flatbreads

I’m a big fan of flatbreads. Naan, rotis, pitta (or pied) or pizza, they are all so versatile, so easy to make and so filling. Rather than just serving them alongside a curry or as part of Middle Eastern mezze, they can be torn into strips and served under chilli instead of rice, torn into chunks as part of a salad, dipped into soups, used as a kind of spoon to gather up dal or sauce, split open to form a pocket for whatever filling takes your fancy, they can even be used as a plate. The next time you’re bored with the usual rice or potatoes, turn your thoughts to flatbreads.

These can be made with all kinds of spices: chilli flakes, coriander seeds, mustard seeds or cardamom. Cumin is my favourite though; it’s a heady, masculine spice with the aroma of hot desert about it, and bread is it’s perfect partner.

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RECIPE makes 8, but can easily be halved

1 tsp dried yeast

1 tsp sugar

250ml lukewarm water

400g plain flour

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for cooking


METHOD

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl. Make sure your water is just lukewarm – too hot and it will kill the yeast, then you’ll end up with thin, flat rotis rather than airy, puffed-up bread. Set the bowl aside in a warm place for about 15 minutes until it starts to foam slightly, that’s the yeast feeding on the sugar.

In a dry pan, warm the cumin seeds over a medium heat for a minute or so until aromatic, then tip onto a cold plate to stop them from cooking.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and cumin seeds, and mix well with your hand. Add the oil to the yeast mixture, then make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast mixture into it. Forming your fingers into a kind of claw, drag the liquid through the flour, mixing and picking up dry areas as you go. Within a minute or so it will have formed a cohesive dough that will still be quite sticky. Work the dough in the bowl for a few minutes more and you will find that it starts to become less sticky and will start to form into a ball, pulling dry and sticky bits from the side of the bowl as it comes together.

Now turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and start to knead the dough. The idea is to fully hydrate the flour and develop the gluten that gives the finished bread its structure and strength. You will have to knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it is smooth, elastic and not sticky (or at least not too sticky). I’m not going to deliver a masterclass on how to knead a ball of dough, if you do need some guidance YouTube is full of great video tutorials.

Roll the dough into a tight ball and place in a lightly-oiled bowl, covered, in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knock it back and divide into 8 balls.

Heat a ridged griddle pan until it is scorching hot, and roll the dough balls out into rough circles 3 or 4 mm thick. Turn the griddle pan down to a high but not furious heat, brush  one side of the rolled-out dough lightly with olive oil, then place oiled-side down in the griddle pan. Cook for about 1 minute per side, until you see bubbles of air forming on the top side and the bottom surface is golden and darkly-lined from the griddle. Brush the uncooked side lightly with oil, then flip over and cook the other side. Place in a large piece of cooking foil, big enough to fold over and around all of your cooked flatbreads to keep them warm.

Repeat with the other balls of dough, storing them as you go in the foil packet that you have made. This is a job that is much easier when two of you are doing it, you can get a production line going. If you are doing it by yourself, hard-won experience tells me it is better to concentrate solely on cooking them so get all your rolling-out done before you heat the griddle pan, then cook them one after the other keeping a close eye on them – they go from raw, to charred, to burned in remarkably short order.

I generally heat my oven to 100C then turn it off, storing my foil packet of cooked flatbreads in the warm oven until the rest of my cooking is complete and ready to serve.

Lemon Curd Crumble Bars

I sometimes like to empty my pantry completely, just to see what is lurking forgotten and unloved in its deeper recesses.  A little while ago I discovered a lone jar of home made lemon curd sitting there, waiting patiently for me to find a use for it. It has been there for well over a year. 

It was perfect by the way, testament to the efficiency of proper preparation of both curd and jar. Fortuitously, a few days before that I found this recipe in a copy of a Waitrose food magazine, so I knew exactly how to use it.

This morning, I began a new batch of lemon curd – because by popular demand I have to make these again…

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RECIPE 

170g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled, plus extra for greasing

285g plain flour

75g golden caster sugar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking powder

1 egg yolk

the zest of 1 lemon

30g demerara sugar

50g jumbo oats

30g flaked almonds

30g pecans, chopped

325g jar lemon curd


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ Gas 5.

Grease and line a 22cm square baking tin with parchment. In a food processor, pulse together the butter and flour until soft crumbs form. Stir in the caster sugar and salt, then remove 1 /3 of the mixture (about 175g) and set aside in a bowl.

Add the baking powder, egg yolk and lemon zest to the remaining mixture in the food processor and continue to pulse until combined. Tip into the baking tin and press down to form an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the demerara sugar, oats and nuts to the reserved mixture, with ½ tbsp water. Use a cutlery knife to mix everything together – it doesn’t matter if there are some clumps.

Spread the lemon curd over the biscuit base, then top with the crumble mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove and allow to cool completely in the tin.

To serve, use a cutlery knife to carefully ease the parchment away from the caramelised edges of the curd. Remove from the tin and slice into bars.

These can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days – though in my house we tend to skip the container and store it in our bellies…

Christmas Brandy Mincemeat

I know Christmas is still ten weeks away, but you owe it to yourself to feast on the best food possible when it does come. The traditional British seasonal delights – Christmas cake (for my recipe see here, it’s time to make it!), Christmas pudding and, of course, mince pies – all benefit from being made well in advance to allow the flavours to deepen, mellow and meld together.

We make the best mince pies in our house – everybody says so, it must be true! The reason is that we make our own, and we use the best recipes, like this one from Nigel Slater. It’s rich, deeply flavoured and extremely moreish – we have to ration them!

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RECIPE makes about 1.5 kg, enough for LOTS of small mince pies

200g shredded vegetable suet

200g dark muscovado sugar

200g sultanas

200g currants

200g prunes, chopped

200g dried apricots, chopped

750g cooking apples, small dice

50g skinned almonds, chopped

the zest and juice of a large lemon

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves (freshly ground from whole)

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

100ml cooking brandy


METHOD

First, sterilise your jars and lids: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lids and jars or you will undo your good work.

In a large pan, add the suet, muscovado, sultanas, currants, prunes, apricots and apples. Place over a medium heat and slowly bring to a boil – doing it slowly allows the fat and sugar to melt and the fruits to give up their juices.

Add the almonds, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Cook at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes. Then, leave to cool for about ten minutes before adding the brandy and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly before decanting into your still-hot sterilised jars. Fill the jars to within 5mm of the top, place a wax disc on top and put the lid on. Allow it to cool completely; the warm air in the jar will contract as it cools and provide you with a sterile vacuum which allows the contents to last without spoiling.

This will keep for years in a cool, dark cupboard, but why would you?

Blackberry and Brown Sugar Fingers

I have absolutely no idea where I found this recipe, it most definitely is not one that I created but I have been making it during the blackberry season for several years now. That is probably the only recommendation that you need, any recipe that you find yourself going back to time and time again must be a good one. I like to use a whole jar of jam in this, it results in a gloriously deep flavour.

I was encouraged to put this recipe on the blog by my friend Bridget, who sampled the latest batch last week and fell in love with them.

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RECIPE makes 24 fingers

For the base:

225g soft butter
75g sifted icing sugar
225g plain flour
50g cornflour
pinch salt
400g blackberry jam / bramble jelly

For the topping:

125g soft butter
125g light muscovado sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
25g self-raising flour
175g ground almonds
200g blackberries
25g flaked almonds
1 tbsp demerara sugar, plus extra for sprinkling


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

Lightly grease a small baking tin (I use one that is 20cm x 30cm) and line with baking parchment.

First make the base: cream the butter and icing sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift over the flour, cornflour and salt and stir into the butter mixture to make a soft, shortbread-like dough.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface almost to the size of the tin, lower into the tin and press out a little to the edges. Prick here and there with a fork and bake for 15-20 minutes until a pale biscuit colour. Remove and leave to go cold, then carefully spread with the jam to within 1cm of the edges.

Now make the topping: cream the butter and muscovado sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest. Gradually beat in the beaten eggs, then fold in the flour and ground almonds. Dollop small spoonfuls of mixture over the jam and carefully spread it out in an even layer. Scatter over the blackberries, pushing half of them down into the mix.

Sprinkle over the tablespoon of demerara sugar and bake for 10 minutes. Carefully slide out the oven shelf, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake for another 30 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer pushed into the topping comes out clean.

Remove, sprinkle with a little more demerara sugar and leave to cool in the tin before cutting into fingers.

Sour (Dough) Starters

I make bread quite often, in many forms. Flatbreads, pitta, pide, roti, pizza doughs, white loaves, rye and wholemeal loaves… I enjoy making all kinds of bread and love every aspect of the process because it’s hands on and you are dealing with a living thing with its own character. That goes double when dealing with sourdough, which uses a starter of water and flour energised by natural yeast in the atmosphere. A good sourdough loaf has a wide-open texture, with huge pockets of emptiness, a thick, chewy crust and a distinctly tangy flavour.

From time to time I have made and nurtured traditional sourdough starters – a process which, it has to be said, can be a bit of a faff – then I go away for a month or so, forget about it in the fridge, get engrossed in some other cookery (or DIY) project when I return, only to come back and find it has gone a bit horrible and beyond recovery.

Frustrated by my own inefficiency, I have tried various cheat’s sourdough recipes (all good, but most definitely NOT proper sourdough), and habitually start most of my doughs with a little flour and water and all of the sugar and yeast, and leave it for a couple of hours to allow it to develop a subtle tang that goes someway to replicating the special properties of sourdough. These are all things worth trying and developing as you become comfortable with using them. Lately though – the past six months or so – I have used a couple of halfway house starters that last in the fridge pretty well without turning bad, are dead simple to prepare, and only need occasional topping-up as they get used. The recipes are below, one each for a basic wheat starter and another for a rye starter.

We have homemade pizza every week, and I now always use one of these starters when I make the dough the night before, substituting the starter (which has the consistency of double cream) for around half of the water. It is impossible to give a precise measure of how much starter replaces how much water, it is just something you have to judge for yourself, which means this is a pizza dough that you have to mix by hand so you can judge when it has the correct balance. The same goes for regular loaves; no bread machines here, it’s time to work the dough by hand, and sweat. That’s what making bread is all about though, right?

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RECIPES 

Wheat Sourdough Starter – makes about 1 Litre

Day 1:

200ml lukewarm water

175g plain flour

1 tbsp honey

Day 3:

100ml lukewarm water

100g plain flour

Day 4:

100ml lukewarm water

100g plain flour


Rye Sourdough Starter – makes about 1 Litre

Day 1:

200ml lukewarm water

175g rye flour

1 tbsp honey

Day 3:

100ml lukewarm water

75g rye flour

Day 4:

100ml lukewarm water

75g rye flour


METHOD

To make either of the starters, on day one whisk the flour, honey and water in a large glass jar until it is a smooth mixture. Cover with clingfilm and let it stand at room temperature for two days.

On day 3 add the water and flour, whisk again until it is a smooth mixture and once again cover with clingfilm and let it stand at room temperature for another day.

On day 4 add the water and flour, whisk again until it is a smooth mixture and once again cover with clingfilm and let it stand at room temperature for one more day. After 24 hours you can now store it in the fridge where it seems to last pretty much indefinitely with the occasional stir to bring it all back together again (it will separate slightly over time).

When you have used around 2/3 of the jar, you can top it up by adding the appropriate quantities of the flour and water for whichever starter you are dealing with.

I told you it was dead simple…

Courgette Lemon Cake with Lemon Icing

We made a real effort this year to stock our garden with as many herbs and vegetables as we possibly could. As any gardener will tell you, this can lead to periods of glut, where suddenly you have piles of vegetables and herbs that all need to be used. At this time of year courgettes are threatening to overrun us, so now is the obvious time to make a courgette cake, something I have been intending to make for years but never got around to.

This beauty – courtesy of my fellow-blogger Kate Hackworthy – came out of the oven literally two hours ago, and is already decimated, so I’ve had to make do with the picture I took when it came out of the oven, before I glazed it. It’s delicious; moist, zingy and with its flecks of courgette skin it is absolutely beautiful. I’ve got loads of courgettes, I might make this again tomorrow!

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RECIPE serves 10  

a little butter, to grease the tin

350g courgettes (1 or 2 medium size), washed, skin left on

125ml vegetable oil

2 large eggs

100g golden caster sugar

the zest and juice of a lemon

300g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

for the lemon drizzle:

85g icing sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

the grated zest of a lemon


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas 4. I don’t like to use the fan oven for cakes as I find it cooks them too quickly and fiercely.

Grease a 900g loaf tin and line it with baking parchment.

Grate the washed courgettes, with their skins still on, on the coarse side of a box grater into a clean tea towel. Lightly squeeze the towel to drain off excess moisture, then set aside for a moment.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until smooth, then stir the grated courgette through it.

Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture and gently fold the mixture with a metal spoon until it is just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for between 60 and 75 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Leave it in the tin on a cooling rack, to completely cool.

To make the lemon drizzle, mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together until smooth, then spoon, spatter or drizzle it over the cake. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the top and watch it disappear!

Hazelnut and Orange Biscuits

Biscuits are always a great thing to make with children, and are quick and easy enough to whip up for a quick teatime treat or to add interest to an ice cream – these go particularly well with burnt orange ice cream to make an elegant dessert.

Once you have made the biscuit dough, you can keep it wrapped up like a fat sausage in greaseproof paper in the fridge, slicing off rounds to cook as necessary. I’m sure they keep well, but they never last long enough to find out!

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RECIPE  

200g unsalted butter, softened

150g golden caster sugar

1 large egg

225g self-raising flour

the finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

the juice of an orange

100g very fresh, whole roasted hazelnuts


METHOD

If your hazelnuts are not roasted, put them into a broad-bottomed pan over a medium heat and cook for around five minutes until they are lightly browned and aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them.

Zest the orange and set the zest aside for now, then juice the orange and boil the juice down over a high heat until you are left with a tablespoon of thick reduced syrup. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Bash the hazelnuts in a mortar until they are reduced to small lumps, don’t go too far and leave yourself with dust, these biscuits are best with a bit of texture. Children love doing this bit.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer, or by hand. Add the egg and whisk it in, then sieve in the flour, add the zest and nuts and combine well, then beat in the orange syrup.

On a lightly floured piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, divide the biscuit dough in two and shape into two fat sausages about 2 inches (5cm) in diameter. Wrap in parchment or greaseproof paper, and refrigerate for at least two hours, they are even better left overnight.

Heat the oven to 190C/ gas 5.

Slice the dough into as many round biscuits as you wish to cook, about as thick as your little finger. Place them on a greased baking tray, ensuring there is plenty of space between them, and bake in the middle of the oven for around 8 minutes. They should not have coloured significantly, keep an eye on them because they go from perfect to burnt in a flash.

Using a pallet knife, remove the biscuits to a wire rack immediately. At this stage they are very soft and bendy, but they crisp up very quickly. They will be crisp, nutty and scented with orange.

They are delicious served warm with burnt orange ice cream, which should be removed from the freezer 30 mins before serving.