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Posts tagged ‘Baking’

Christmas Comes Home: Party time!

I’m not ashamed to spend many an hour making my home wonderful for Christmas just for myself and my partner to enjoy. Who else really matters? After all, it is us who get the ultimate pleasure of waking and sleeping to lights twinkling like an enchanted forest all around us. Nevertheless, there is something of the Nigella in me, and I can’t help but revel in the opportunity to share my winter wonderland with friends. So in this last post extolling the virtues of my home at Christmastime, why not take a glimpse of the flat all trussed up for a small soiree we held last weekend.


Central to the event was the table. A vase at its centre hosted a flurry of discarded Clapham Common tree branches. What the wind had cast asunder, I recycled, creating the perfect skeleton for a cornucopia of lights and dazzling gold and glass decorations. On those branches, our glass treasures from Venice have never looked so beautiful, hanging freely, suspended in mid air, rather than getting caught up in the denser gathering of Christmas tree branches. Beneath this composition, a plethora of festive food gathered: a cheese board bedecked with berries and nuts, freshly cut meats from Italy and, best of all, the “Merookies” (a cross between meringues and cookies) recently featured on the newest Christmas episode of Nigella Lawson’s At My Table series. With an exquisite salty pistachio balance to the sweetness of the meringue and the rich depth of chocolate chips, I was completely sold on these Nigella creations. So was everyone else – they disappeared in seconds.


I love Christmas parties. I love sharing with friends. And I love seeing my home so pristine in its presentation for a night out on the town. But even more, I love the clearing up at the end of the evening – when empty champagne flutes tell of hours of merriment enjoyed, and the crumbs of cookies and Christmas biscuits intermingle with fallen shards of glitter flickering in the dying candlelight. Home sweet home.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ginger cakes for the onset of Autumn

Ginger Cake with dark chocolate and paprika or white chocolate and orange blossom icing

I haven’t baked for ages. Not even since I had my London kitchen revolutionarily overhauled with wonderful new Victorian green ceramic tiles which offset spectacularly against my Ferrari red accessories and frankly make cooking a joy. But two things prompted me to bake this week: First the weather, which has taken a decisive turn towards autumn; a time of cosy nights in and the comforting perfume of baking enriching the home experience. Secondly, and by no means unconnectedly, is the final collapse of all beach body hopes. At least for this year. Now, in the run up to Christmas, a little binge is surely justifiable?


So yearning for the smell of baking, and of seasonal spices, I set about making some ginger cupcakes, which also turned into a ginger cake because of excess mixture. I creamed together 200g of salted butter and 400g of soft brown sugar. To this I added 375g of self-raising flour, 4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 of nutmeg and another of cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. To help it all mix into a fluid and creamy batter, I added 8 fl oz of black treacle dissolved in another 8 fl oz of boiling water, and also folded in two egg yolks and the whisked up whites likewise.

Batter done, I made about 18 cupcakes and a small round sponge cake, so clearly you could decrease all of the quantities above if you’re after a smaller batch. I then split my butter cream (which I made quite recklessly without measuring – but essentially it was about 1 third butter to 2 thirds icing sugar with a dash or two of water) into two batches. In one I mixed melted dark chocolate and a sprinkling of smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika) and to the other melted white chocolate with a few drops of orange blossom essence picked up from the heavily scented streets of the Marrakech souks.


The result is frankly too much delicious indulgence, even for me. The dark chocolate icing combines magnificently with the soft ginger sponge to create a cake befitting of all the spice-enhanced warmth of the season. The white chocolate brings a promise of the summer again, and a heavy dose of buttery chocolatey happiness to get us through the cold days soon to come.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Wholemeal lemon and rosemary cake

I was sitting just next to my little blooming lemon tree, breathing in the subtle perfume of its abundant blossom one morning before work when I saw the recipe for a lemon polenta loaf cake go up onto the blog of my phenomenally talented (and heavily pregnant!) blogger friend Lady Aga. It was undoubtedly the heady combination of lemon blossom and her tantalising looking photos which immediately inspired in me the certain knowledge that I was going to make this cake at the first opportunity. And last weekend, lemon, rosemary and olive oil at the ready, I did! Sadly for Lady Aga’s wonderful recipe, and perhaps also for my resulting cake, I was a little too keen on the uptake. Midway through, I realised I lacked polenta and a loaf shaped tin. It quickly became clear that I might have to disembark from the Lady Aga road slightly.


So recipe a little altered, and a round cake tin employed for the purpose, I opted instead for  wholemeal not-so-loafish cake using the integral flour which we have in stock in an attempt to be healthy. I also blended a load of his trusty breakfast porridge oats as Lady Aga suggests, and with the rosemary growing fresh on our terrace, it worked a treat. I won’t recite the recipe here seeing as Lady Aga has it penned so well, but whether you decide to go with my wholemeal approach or the undoubtedly better polenta recipe, this cake is surely exquisite.


Fresh out of the oven, its sugary lemon juice drizzle still a little sticky, we eagerly devoured a slice or two of this delicious cake in the creamy afternoon (terrace photos happily intermingled with model-shots of cake above). Accompanied by a steaming earl grey, the lemon and rosemary flavour couldn’t have made for a better British-Mallorquín afternoon tea, and as for the wholemeal flour, while I worry that it may have made the cake slightly drier than the polenta version, the result is a cake which made every appearance of a morally highbrow, persuasively healthy teatime treat. Thank you Lady Aga!

Soller lemon posset with gold-covered raspberries and a ginger crunch

It’s been a long time since I shared a recipe on The Daily Norm, but the recent occasion of a dinner party with special friends Alejandro and Maria in our new Mallorquin home meant that it was time to take out my pots, pans and finest dinnerware and to show my Spanish friends what the English do best. And with that in mind, and after a locally-inspired starter of Mallorcan tumbet on puff pastry, and a main of pistachio-stuffed chicken with caramelised oranges, I decided to give the final course an English twist, with a theme characterised by the delicacy of afternoon tea, all brought together in a bone china tea cup.


The dessert was a lemon posset, certainly an English favourite, although given the Mallorquin twist thanks to the abundance of citrus fruit grown on the island (I used lemons from the lush mountain valleys of Soller).  It’s awfully simple to make – in a small saucepan you simply bring 300ml double cream and 75g of caster sugar slowly to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, and allowing the cream to bubble for 3 minutes, while stirring, once it has come to the boil. This mix should then be removed from the heat, and the juice of 1-2 lemons added (adapted to your taste – sweet and tangy is best) while continuing to stir. At this point the mix should thicken slightly and can be poured into containers of your choice and refrigerated over night.

I gave this indulgent creamy dessert a much needed crunch with some crushed spiced ginger biscuits, and topped this with a few golden covered raspberries. Refined English elegance for a sultry Spanish summer’s evening.

Marzipans for Mother’s Day

While for some, marzipan sweets are the domain of Christmas time, for whatever reason, I always start yearning for marzipan around Easter time. It might be that the Spanish origin of these sweet little treats (mazapan originates from the stunning city of Toledo where the various monasteries still make bucket loads today) is the reason for my Spring-time yearning, as the summer grows closer and my desire to be back in the Spanish sunshine increases. Whatever the reason, this year I couldn’t even wait for Easter to get my ground almonds whizzing around my food processor. Easter falls unreasonably late this year after all, and being as it is almost April, I thought it was about time to get baking. But treats of this deliciousness deserve an occasion, so what better excuse than yesterday’s Mothering Sunday to make a few marzipan sweets as a treat for my mother.

As these photos show, I didn’t just stick to one type of marzipan. And I didn’t just stick with marzipan either, this year adding Yemes de Santa Teresa to my repertoire (egg-yolk sweets).

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Yemas de Santa Teresa

My recipes for these sugary eggy treats are taken from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden. To make, you need to bring 100g sugar and 4 tablespoons of water to boil before simmering for around 10 minutes until the syrup coats the back of a spoon. Leaving the syrup to one side to cool slightly, you then whist up 6 large egg yolks by hand, but vigorously, before gradually whisking this into the sugar syrup. This combination should then be returned to a low heat and stirred continuously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens to a paste and comes away from the sides of the pan. It’s a tedious exercise, taking around 10-20 minutes, but so worth it.

Place your paste in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight. Then, after the cooling period it’s simply a case of taking a small spoonful of the mixture, rolling up in your hands and then in some caster sugar to give that sweet sparkly finish. Place in little paper cases for that petit four effect.


Panellets de piñones

The next lot of sweets to be taken from Claudia Roden’s book, and the first of my marzipan creations, are the pine-kernel covered marzipans, panellets de piñones. These panellets are a delicious, slightly more complex version of plain marzipans, but the method is similar. Whizz up 200g ground almonds with 150g caster sugar and the grated zest of 1 lemon, with 2.5 tablespoons of water. Plend for a few minutes until the almond oils start to really bind the paste. This should be refrigerated for around an hour before breaking into equal sized pieces and rolling into balls (I got around 16 at around 4 cm in diameter each). Then comes the tricky bit. Roll the balls in a lightly whisked egg white and then into a bowl of around 200g of pine nuts. Press as many as you can into the marzipan in the palms of your hands. But inevitably some with fall off so you’ll have to fill the gaps with the nuts by hand, pressing them in slightly. This is slightly time consuming and fiddly, but SO worth the effort. Once you have a complete “shell” of pine nuts, roll again in egg white and set out on a baking tray.

Once all your balls are all covered, pop them into an oven at 200C for 10 minutes until slightly golden. Once done, you’ll need to leave them to cool slightly before taking them off the tray, or they will quickly break apart.


Catalan marzipans

While the traditional marzipan recipe tends to stick to almond as its basis, catalan marzipans often use sweet potato in addition to the almond. Intrigued to try this addition, I turned to the marzipan recipe by Sophie Ruggles in her book, My Barcelona Kitchen. I started by making a basic marzipan recipe: I peeled and chopped one large sweet potato, cooking it in boiling water until soft, and then mashed and cooled slightly. This was added to 350g of ground almonds, 250g caster sugar,  and 1 egg and whisked up in the food processor. I then split the resulting paste into two batches, adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder to one lot to make a chocolatey marzipan, and a tablespoon of desiccated coconut to the other.

These mixtures, like the yemas paste above, were refrigerated for around 6 hours. I then rolled into balls, coating the coconut paste in more desiccated coconut before placing both lots of balls onto a lined baking tray and baking for around 30 minutes at 180C. Once cooled I finished off the chocolate balls by dusting with icing sugar.

The result of all this baking was a selection of very different sweets, but all with the subtle flavourings which characterise these traditional Spanish sweets. The sweet potato added an interesting textural variant and some subtle, natural sweetness. I particularly liked the chocolate marzipans which taste more like little chocolate cakes than traditional marzipan. All this shows that you can do lots with the basic marzipan recipe, whether rolling in nuts, in different flavoured sugars, into different shapes, or just leaving them plain. The marzipan is, as they say, your oyster.

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Dulces de Convento

I’m not sure what it is about Easter which makes me think of Spain’s greatest export, marzipan, as I gather that the little soft almond sweets are more the preserve of Christmas time than Semana Santa. But then again, mazapan, as the spanish call it, is a sweet originating from the closed convents of one of Spain’s most fervently religious strongholds, Toledo, and it is perhaps understandable therefore that my mind drifts to this very sacred city around this Easter time.


I was never a great lover of marzipan as a child – perhaps the almond flavours were too bitter for my very junior tastes. But when I visited Toledo a few years ago with my mother, I became completely seduced by these little sweet treats, which could be found everywhere, from little corner shops to cafes filled with little (slightly surreal) dolls of nuns captured in the act of marzipan making.

The beautiful city of Toledo

The beautiful city of Toledo


A Toledo cafe

A Toledo cafe

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While marzipan lasts a fair length of time (they contain no dairy, so stay fresh for a while), even those I bring back from Spain each visit in earnest do not last for long (partly because I scoff them fairly rapidly). It’s come a great relief therefore to learn that marzipan is so easy to recreate in your own home – if you’ve got some ground almonds and sugar, you’re pretty much there. For an Easter treat I decided that the Norms needed to become manifested as marzipan forms. But feeling like a little variety, I also made these delicious panellets de piñones – a succulent, slightly coarser lemony marzipan surrounded by a pine nut shell – delicious!

Mazapan de Toledo

My marzipans are adapted from the recipes of Claudia Roden (in her 2012 book, The Food of Spain) which are in turn a treasure-trove of recipes collected from across the multifarious gastronomic regions of Spain. For the Marzipan Norms, all you need to do is whizz up 200g of ground almonds with 200g of icing sugar in a food processor. Add around 3 drops of almond extract (being careful not to add more as the flavour can become overpowering very quickly) and 2-3 tablespoons of water, one at a time. You don’t need much water as the almond oil holds the mixture together. Knead into a smooth soft paste and then you are ready to start modelling.

My Norms, awaiting their fate

My Norms, awaiting their fate


The beauty of marzipan is that the world is quite literally your oyster. You may want to model yours into Norms, but equally, why not try little balls, or as in Toledo itself, how about a mixture of figuritas shaped into fish, snails, shells, saint’s bones…whatever takes your fancy. Once they’re shaped, leave the marzipan figures out on a baking tray. They’ll soon go harder on the outside. After a few hours, lightly whisk up the whites of one egg with a tablespoon of icing sugar and brush a very little on the marzipans to create a glaze (you really don’t need much). Place them under the grill for a minute or in the over at 200C for 2 minutes until slightly browned.

Panellets de Piñones


These panellets are a delicious, slightly more complex version of plain marzipans, but the method is similar. Whizz up 200g ground almonds with 150g caster sugar and the grated zest of 1 lemon, with 2.5 tablespoons of water. Plend for a few minutes until the almond oils start to really bind the paste. Break this into equal sized pieces and roll into balls (I got around 16 at around 4 cm in diameter each). Then comes the tricky bit. Roll the balls in a lightly whisked egg white and then into a bowl of around 200g of pine nuts. Press as many as you can into the marzipan in the palms of your hands. But inevitably some with fall off so you’ll have to fill the gaps with the nuts by hand, pressing them in slightly. This is slightly time consuming and fiddly, but SO worth the effort. Once you have a complete “shell” of pine nuts, roll again in egg white and set out on a baking tray.


Once all your balls are all covered, pop them into an oven at 200C for 10 minutes until slightly golden. Once done, you’ll need to leave them to cool slightly before taking them off the tray, or they will quickly break apart.


All that remains is for me to wish everyone reading The Daily Norm a Happy Easter, and a fiesta of unapologetically unrestrained chocolate egg and marzipan indulgence!

Pizzetta by Polpo

It’s official, I’ve gone Polpo-loco. Following Saturday’s octopussy success, on Sunday I went Pizzetta crazy, producing some 12 mini pizzas as inspired by the London eatery Polpo‘s glorious cookbook which was undoubtedly my favourite Christmas gift this year.

I was a little put off by the prospect of making my own dough, what with a day of painting ahead and a pile of Sunday-night ironing to get through and very little time for kitchen disasters. However, the toppings were almost too tempting to bare, and there was no way I was going to contaminate the fine flavours with a shop-bought pizza base. So, following the Polpo recipe, I set about making my pizzetta dough which, as it turned out, was as easy as it was enjoyable – all that kneading was both a stress reliever and January workout for the arms, which is good, because two weeks in and my new year’s resolution to workout daily is failing abominably.

My dough, ready to go...

My dough, ready to go…

To make the dough, you just take 500g of strong white flour, and mix this in a bowl with 300ml of tepid water, 15g of salt (2 teaspoons) and a 7g sachet of fast action dried yeast (or 15g if you can get your hands on fresh). Once mixed into a ball, you knead the dough for about 10 minutes on a floured surface, stretching the dough and then bringing it back into a ball, doing this again and again until the dough feels springier. I kneaded mine while watching Francesco Di Mosto’s BBC Venice series – a perfect accompaniment to my Venetian culinary adventure.

Once kneaded, place your dough in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm and leave somewhere warm until the dough doubles in size (at least 30 minutes). Then, divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll out each into an approx. 20 cm disk and then get creative with your toppings. I tried the following…

Prosciutto & Asparagus and Zuccini, Chilli and Mint

Prosciutto & Asparagus and Zuccini, Chilli and Mint

Pizzetta Bianca and Anchovy, olive and basil

Pizzetta Bianca and Anchovy, olive and basil

Spinach with a soft-cooked egg

Spinach with a soft-cooked egg

Mortadella with gherkins and blue cheese/ Salami Milano with fennel

Mortadella with gherkins and blue cheese/ Salami Milano with fennel

Rosemary and potato/ Prosciutto, mushroom and blue cheese

Rosemary and potato/ Prosciutto, mushroom and blue cheese

Salami, sundried tomatoes and torn basil

Salami, sundried tomatoes and torn basil

The combinations above are pretty self-explanatory, and who needs a recipe when you have the blank canvas of pizza dough before you. But a few tips: I started off with a basic cheese base of half grated parmesan and a scattering of good quality mozzarella. Don’t overload your  pizzetta with cheese or they will be soggy.

If potato and rosemary is your thing, thinly slice a potato and blanch the potato in boiling water for about 30 seconds before placing on the pizza. Do the same with the asparagus if using it with prosciutto as above. The spinach combination is a large handfull of wilted spinach chopped with half a clove of finely chopped garlic and a tablespoon of creme fraiche – cover your pizzetta base with the spinach mix and crack an egg over the top before placing straight in the oven – be sure not to overcook – that egg needs to be nice and runny. Oh, and don’t forget to season your pizzas as you would any other food, and a good douse of olive oil certainly adds the magic touch just before serving.

Re cooking, restaurant ovens are around 300C. My oven only goes up to 275C which was good enough – but make sure you heat your baking trays before hand so the base of the pizzetta’s go nice and crispy. Each pizza should only take around 6 minutes.

These pizzetta’s are so easy to make and somehow less daunting than full sized pizzas. Plus, you get to sample a more varied palate of delicious Italian ingredients in a single meal. Buon appetito!

Halloween Party Continued…

Further to yesterday’s post, I’ve been preparing further for Halloween. Lying around yesterday, feeling appropriately close to death with bronchitis coursing through my chest, I decided enough was enough. I forced myself full of paracetamol, took out some cake basics from the fridge, and set about baking. Illness will not stop me, and with regular breaks, perching upon a stool to save my energy, with my Partner as chief taster (I can’t taste anything!) and in fully sanitised conditions (naturally!) I have made some chocolate orange cup cakes for a chic Halloween gathering.

My cakes follow the same simple chocolate sponge as described on yesterday’s post with a delicious white chocolate-orange frosting. This is simple to make. Simply take 300g of icing sugar and whisk up with 100g unsalted butter and 40ml of milk. The longer you whisk this icing mixture, the fluffier and lighter it will become. Then in a metal bowl over a pan of water (making sure the water never touches the bowl) I melted approximately 150ml of orange flavoured (and coloured) white chocolate beads, before adding to the whisked icing mixture and folding in well. I then transferred the icing into a piping bag and placed in the fridge for a good 30 minutes or so while the cakes cooled down.

The wonderful orange icing was easy to pipe (I had to warm the bag up a bit with my hands since the chocolate and butter in the icing sets pretty quickly) and once done, I sprinkled with some dark chocolate drops to achieve the halloween contrast of orange and black.

So there you have it. Hopefully, unlike me, you will actually be able to taste the wonderful fusion of chocolate and orange – my Partner tells me it’s good! I leave you with some photos of my halloween party all set up and ready to go. Ok, so I’m way too ill to have any guests round, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the effort right? Happy Halloween everybody!

Halloween Party!

I won’t be having a halloween party this year. Sadly after daily encounters with people sneezing in my face on the tube, I have come down with something which progressed from a cold to flu to bronchitis. Fortuitously however, I won’t be needing a halloween costume – my face looks green enough on its own!

In times past however I have indulged in halloween to the full, and even this year I have managed to stem the tide of my all-encompassing malaise to carve a pumpkin or so. For this time of year, when the days are short and the dark evenings long, it’s all about candles and lanterns, baking and the homely smell of sweet cinnamon and warming winter broths. So in this short exploration of all things halloween, I thought I’d share with you some ideas for a halloween shindig, for baking, and for your requisite seasonal pumpkin.

First up the cakes – no Halloween is complete without them, and when I bake for Halloween, it’s more about the decoration than the sponge. I could go gingery and spiced (I’ll save those for another day), but for these little spooky treats, I stuck with the age-old chocolate sponge recipe my grandmother taught me when I was young. 200g of caster sugar, self-raising flower and butter respectively, two eggs, a dash of milk, a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder and a heaped teaspoon of baking powder – the ingredients are foolproof. I start by creaming the sugar and egg yolks, and tend to whip up the egg whites for extra air in the sponge. To the egg/sugar mixture I add the sifted dry ingredients, mixing well before folding in the egg whites. Then – and this is my mother’s baking tip – I add a little milk. Enough to make the mixture run off the spoon. This guarantees the lightest of sponges. I pour into fairy cake cases and bake for around 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees, and ice with a butter cream and some shop bought icing tubes. Easy.

For something more adventurous, check out these marzipan and gingerbread beauties sold in Betty’s tearooms in York.

For decorations, I tend to go with candles aplenty, like this ghoulish ghost-shaped floating candles scattered with pumpkin-shaped confetti and other ghosty shapes. I also have a few sparkly skeletons dotted around to bring some Damien Hirst bling to the event. Nats.

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Quick canapés to impress your colleagues

Apologies in advance for the rather fuzzy quality of my photos. As with the food featured, the photos were created in something of a rush. And this is the nature of my feature today – for in making up some canapés which don’t look half bad on a plate (they certainly look better than a packet of crisps and some sausage rolls) when you have neither the time nor skill to cook up a storm, party food doesn’t come much easier or quicker than this.

When my team at work decided that we should have a little drinks gathering to wave goodbye to a colleague of ours, I decided that some canapés were in order. But with only a few hours to spare the evening before, and with the prospect of travelling with said canapés on the London underground the following morning I had to think simple.

I came up with the following canapés which were a resounding success, are deceptively simple to make and which despite the ease of their creation, have the ability to seduce both in appearance and flavour.

My canapés

Slightly less glam – the canapés set out on paper plates and tupperware at work

Anchovy and parmesan palmiers

These are a simple savoury variation on my previously posted sweet palmiers recipe. Simply replace the sugar with a handful of freshly grated parmesan and four rows of anchovies laid out parallel to the long sides of the puff pastry (which you roll inwards). Then freeze for 10 minutes before cutting into slices and cooking in an oven at around 200 degrees centigrade for around 20 minutes. These treats are salty but mega moorish.

Proscuitto-wrapped grissini with a home-made pesto dip

Such an easy treat, but this one went down the best. Simply wrap one end of some Italian grissini (bread sticks) with proscuitto or parma ham. For the dip make some pesto – I wizzed up half a clove of garlic, four large handfuls of fresh basil with a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts and the same amount of freshly grated parmesan, a good dose of salt and enough olive oil to loosen up the mixture once blitzed in a mini food processor – there’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly made pesto to evoke the pleasant green lands of Roma, picnicking outside the Coliseum – and that was my pesto. I only used about 2 heaped tablespoons of this, adding those to 300g of soft cheese and there was my dip – creamy, with the exquisite flavour of the mediterranean.

White gazpacho

This is one of my favourite Rick Stein recipes and works great as a starter (in larger portions) or as a canapé in small shot glasses or flutes with a few white grapes scattered into the mix. It’s a creamier more indulgent version of the typical Andalus tomato gazpacho and is so easy to make. Simply soak 200g of stale white crustless bread in 400ml of cold water for around 30 minutes. Place this soggy bread mixture into a liquidizer with 100g of blanched almonds and 1-6 cloves of garlic depending on how strong you like your garlic (I only use one, and I think that’s strong enough) and whizz this up into a smooth paste. With the motor still running, gradually add 150m of good quality olive oil and 4 tablespoons of sherry vinegar. Then add around 400m of more water – more if the soup is too thick. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary. Then the key is to get the soup nice and cold, so refrigerate for at least 4 hours – overnight preferably. Serve with white grapes and a drizzle more of oil.

White gazpacho as a starter

Smoked trout dip

This one is slightly more controversial as it’s meant to be a mousse, but for some reason mine wouldn’t set. However, it turned out very well as a dip for the variety of crackers we had at the party, so why not add it in here. All I did was to whizz up 165g of smoked trout in a food processor with 225 g of creamed cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of dill (to taste) and 2 tablespoons of cream (it could be the cream which prevents it from setting – perhaps try without – I didn’t have time). If you have the time to chill the mixture and get it into a neat piping bag, you will probably succeed where I failed in piping little individual canapes of the mousse onto a blini or even a slice of cucumber. This looks great with some caviar on top. But failing that, serve it up as a simple dip – it’s delicious, especially when eat with the anchovy palmiers.

Figs stuffed with dolcelatte

Finally, and for the easiest of them all, a load of plump dried figs, slit them open as though you are performing a delicate surgical operation, get messy by breaking off some creamy dolcelatte and lovingly stuff each fig with your own fair hands – it’s sticky work, but strangely satisfying. You can seal the deal with some proscuitto wrapped around the fig, or leave it off for veggies (I do however find that a strand of ham makes these canapés looks lightly less poo-like). They’re not the most attractive canapés in the world admittedly, but for ease of method, and for richness of flavour, they don’t come better than this.

Tis soon the season to be jolly, so canapé season is just around the corner – these recipes are perfect for the kitchen shy host with the most – and these will enhance any bash with minimum skill or time required. Enjoy!