Cottonrake: English Custard Tart

I’ve just had a taste sensation that will stay with me for a very, very long time.

These last couple of days, I’ve had a flavour of what life might have been like if I had made the choices many urged me to make – my lovely wife went to work put people to sleep all day, and I got up and took the dog out, made myself tea and then coffee upon coffee and I wrote.

I had breaks in between writing, of course, to visit the local cheese shop (I J Mellis on Great Western Road), and to the bakery just across the road – Cottonrake.

I always recommend Cottonrake as the best bakery in the West End, nay Glasgow, and not just because of its handiness. Stefan and his team make an awesome selection of patisserie and viennoiserie; all of it in-house, in their tiny, tiny kitchen. They produce a mean sourdough, and the only authentic baguettes around.

Popping in for my pastry fix between the third and fourth thousand word today, Stef handed me a little brown bag. He said – “It’s an English Custard Tart. I’m fed up with these Portuguese ones.”

I think my look must have been of slight bewilderment – “It’s been 3 months in the making, and I think we’ve got it. Proper puff pastry, made here, with a little bit of a soggy bottom. It should remind you of a Tesco custard tart, at least a bit.”

Now just confused, I thanked Stef and untied the dog and walked home. First, another flat white. Then, the tart.

This tart. This English tart made in a wee Scottish bakery. A three month labour of love. From the top, it looks like any other. From the bottom, though, look at that organised lamination. That deep, sweet golden brown. It hints at what is to come.

One bite and I was laughing-out-loud with joy. The soft, eggy custard. The crisp outer layer pastry of flaking pastry and, Stef’s right, just that perfect measurement of stodge. It makes it. It is sublime. It is perfect.

I’m not sure if it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten, but it feels like it is just now. I can’t say when they’ll have this as a regular feature (it might already be, for all I know) but I can see the word spreading at such a rate that they’ll have queues out the door of tourists from every continent, and they’ll have travelled here only to taste this little £1.50 custard tart.

https://www.cottonrake.com – 497 Great Western Road, Glasgow

 

 

7-day NHS a huge pay cut for Trainee Doctors

I have spent most of my clinical years in medical school hanging around the wards and listening to doctors moan. They moan most about the NHS. Some common nuggets include: “Why are you here?” and “Get out whilst you can” and “Be a baker. You’ll be much happier.”

Cutting doctors’ pay would probably drown any remaining morale. Already, so many talk about leaving for Australia or Canada, the private sector or industry, for a wage several times their own. Taking at least one year out to work as a highly-paid locum in an exotic part of the world is already the plan for a good chunk of my graduating colleagues. Many will not return.

Much has been made about its impact on consultants, but the 7-day NHS proposals in England amount to little more than a huge pay cut for junior and trainee doctors. I’m not even working as a doctor yet (I start on “black Wednesday”, 5th August). I’m in Scotland, and therefore I am protected due to devolution. But I feel it is my duty as someone who is mildly in the public eye and entering the medical profession to talk about it.

I’m not opposed to the idea of a 7-day working week and the more efficient use of the resources we have. I do feel, however, that we’d need to implement it very slowly, wisely and, most importantly; train far more doctors and nurses than we have already. Almost all of us have rotas that mean we work at (or over) our 48-hour European Working Time Directive limit, including regular night shifts and weekends. We are spread as thin as we can be, and far thinner than most of us should be. This impacts patient care. This causes the headlines. It is not our fault.

Most people don’t know how doctors get paid, so it’s easy to claim in public that, under the new proposals, we’d get as much as a 19% increase to our basic wage. This is technically true. But very few doctors actually get paid this wage – because we get paid more for unsociable hours. We work a lot of these, as you can see on Twitter if you search #ImInWorkJeremy.

Our wages works like this. Trainee doctors earn a basic wage. In 2015, my very first year as a doctor, my basic wage will be £23,205. If I work only between the hours of 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday, that’s how much I’ll take home, before deductions. Depending on how much I work outside those times (i.e. nights and weekends), I’ll get more.

For most of us, our pay-banding gives us around 1.5x our basic wage. This means that a newly qualified junior doctor, working both nights and weekends, might expect to earn £34,807. Which is great. I can’t bloody wait. But then again, it’s pretty much comparable to what someone in the tech or engineering industries might hope to earn should they get a place on a graduate programme. Considering the exhausting training, the cruel competition at every stage, the bloody hard work and the unsociable hours, the NHS is getting a pretty good deal from us.

Below is a picture of planned proposals of a 7-day NHS. Many thanks to Chris Smart for highlighting this and doing the maths on Facebook: (ref: https://www.facebook.com/chris.smart.355/posts/10153043919937473:1 )

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Of the scenarios listed under the new proposals, Scenario C+ works out best for most trainee doctors. Yay, we’d receive a 14.9% rise to our basic pay. And for every hour worked outside sociable hours, we’d get 50% on top of this new basic pay, or 33% on a Sunday. Compared to what we’re getting right now, we’d be getting 1.72x banding on nights, and 1.52x banding on Sundays. Which sounds kinda good, right?

Except then you realise that currently, we get the blanket 1.5x banding for every hour we work, irrespective of whether these hours are social or not. Under the new system, to maintain pay at the current levels, a junior doctor would have to work over 4 night shifts for every day shift.

Chris gives an example of a typical, if harsh, rota. Over an average 28-day period, an on-call registrar might expect to work 12 weekday shifts, 2 weekend shifts and 7 night shifts. In this time, working at or below 48 hours per week, they would currently earn 1.5x their basic pay. In the best-case scenario under the new proposals (Option C+), they would earn a mere 1.31x their current basic pay. This amounts to a 12.5% pay cut. Option A, including an increase to our basic wage of 19.1%, would amount to a 16% pay cut.

Many junior doctors working fewer nights than the above still get 1.5x banding. These will be harder hit. This is despite the reality, where many work far beyond the hours their rota states, because they aren’t contracted for enough time to get the job done. There are still a few jobs that are 1.8x banded, a level of pay achievable when there aren’t enough doctors to get even each person’s scheduled hours below the 48-hour European limit. These, the hardest working in the most stressful working environments, will be the very hardest hit under the new proposals.

Whenever doctors complain about their wages, it’s easy to point out how much they earn to begin with, before telling them to shut up and be grateful.

But we should all be grateful. If doctors weren’t publicly funded, wages would be several orders of magnitude higher. Doctors are not just highly trained and skilled, but carry huge responsibility on their shoulders. It is into their hands that we all, at our most vulnerable, place our lives. And that’s exactly why, if left to our own devices, we are prepared to pay so much for their services. That’s why doctors in the USA earn such mind-boggling amounts and why so many consultants are tempted into the private sector.

Which is where the NHS will be, too, if everyone who works in it is screwed out of a fair wage.

Summer Lager Taste Test

As Britain is drowned in mediocre craft beer and crusty real ale, it’s easy to overlook the lager. Understated, humble lager. Given a bad name by the macrobreweries that ruin them, some examples deserve some serious respect. No, they aren’t swamped with hops, barrel-aged or 15% abv, but give them a little sunshine and they cannot be matched.

Ask most here in Glasgow which lager they prefer and you’ll likely get one unified chant: Tennent’s. The local pint. If ever the West was to become independent from the rest of Scotland, the saltire would be replaced with a Red T. Tennent’s begins life as a strong, foul-smelling fermented syrup, polluting the eastern parts of our city with the stench of Edinburgh. It’s then watered down (“cut”) before canning or kegging at a nearly-tolerable 4%. Because it’s mostly water, it’s actually not bad; a bit less horrible than Carling or Stella. It is truly artisanal compared with Miller.

I’ve enjoyed many-a-can of tepid Tennant’s in plenty of our public parks, but now I feel there’s just no excuse for that. There are far tastier and thirst quenching options available in the smallest supermarkets and local off-licences alike.

THE BEERS:

Name: Früh Kölsch

Style: Kölsch

Origin: Germany

Abv: 4.8%

 beertest-1

Name: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

Style: Munich Helles

Origin: Germany

Abv: 5.2%

beertest-4

Name: Alechemy Talisman

Style: Pale Lager

Origin: UK

Abv: 4.1%

 beertest-3

Name: Camden Hells Lager

Style: Munich Helles

Origin: UK

Abv: 4.6%

 beertest-2

Name: Coors Light

Style: American Light Lager

Origin: USA

Abv: 4.2%

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THE SYSTEM:

This was a blind study conducted by two beer snobs. Myself and a friend each poured the five beers, in a random order, into numbered glasses. These were tasted one by one and each marked according to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines. Beers gained points for appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel and overall impression, up to a maximum of 50 points. We have then combined our scores and simplified this to an overall score of 1 to 10, with a separate score for how refreshing we felt each was.

RESULTS

Früh Kölsch

A Kolsch is a beer from Cologne, and this was one of a few examples of the style available in the local and excellent beer shop, Hippo Beers. It’s a ‘hybrid’ style – meaning it’s fermented with a yeast that gives lager-like qualities, but at the higher temperatures of an ale yeast. Kolsches, for that reason, are very popular amongst home brewers who struggle to control temperature accurately.

This one was a moderate hit. It was by the far the fruitiest of the beers, and definitely betrayed its ale origins. We agreed it was not nearly as dry as we’d hoped for and that it had a moderate, quite harsh bitterness. Much of the more delicate malt- and yeast-derived flavours you might hope for in a Kolsch were not present, but this could be down to the time it took for the bottle to get here.

Overall score: 7/10

Refreshment rating: 6/10

Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

This is a personal favourite of both of ours, and so it was to my fellow judge’s great disappointment that he slammed it. It is for this reason alone that he did not wish to be identified. From Munich, this beer is an oft-cited example of a Helles, a style that should be extra pale, malt-forward, not very hoppy and supremely drinkable.

I found it to be brilliant in all of those regards – straw-gold, completely clean, plenty of maltiness but with a bone-dry finish – and gave it a world-class score of 43/50. My friend didn’t, and said he was picking up on astringent after-taste. He didn’t think it was a bad beer by any means, but was put off enough to mark it down. We had to agree to compromise on the final score.

Overall score: 7/10

Refreshment Rating: 8/10

Alechemy Talisman

This bottle was included as the wild card – I wanted something from the latest wave of Scottish craft breweries, and it even had “refreshing” on the bottle. How could I resist? Unfortunately, we had to discount this beer from the final ranking. On pouring the 5 beers, this was significantly darker than the rest, so we could immediately identify it.

But still, we tried it. I really wanted to like it, because I know that Alechemy and James, the head brewer, are both excellent at what they do. But neither of us could stomach more than a mouthful. It reeked of diacetyl, a butter-like aroma that’s one of the most basic and horrible off-flavours that can be present in a lager. It was far too sweet, almost cloying. Definitely not refreshing, definitely not one to have again. Try their other beers and avoid this one.

Overall score: N/A

Refreshment rating: N/A

Camden Hells

Another Helles, but this time fresh from London. This was a surprise and overwhelming hit. I’d had it before, and never had I quite appreciated what an excellent beer it was. Maybe that’s down to beer snobbery. Maybe I’d assumed a good Helles must be made by rotund moustachioed men from Munich and not from some hipster English upstart. How wrong I was.

We both ranked this beer as world class. Even more malty than the Augustiner, and completely clean. It finished very dry and not-too-bitter and just begged you to go back for another sip. I finished my entire 100ml glass and once the rest of beers were ranked and the results revealed, this was the first I went back for.

Overall score: 9/10

Refreshment Rating: 10/10

 (OVERALL WINNER)

Coors Light

Don’t mock. If someone complains that they do not like a Coors Light, they’re an untrustworthy individual. It is impossible to find fault in this beer, because it tastes and smells of nothing. And sometimes that’s what you want. I’d rather have an American Light Lager any day, over pretty much any other mass-produced pish. This tastes like nothing; they taste of nastiness.

When I went to sniff this beer I had to look down to check that there was indeed beer in the glass. Another sniff filled my nostrils with foam and still I perceived nothing. Myself and my fellow judge were in agreement – supremely refreshing, expertly brewed and utterly tasteless.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Refreshment Rating: 10/10

First Leaders’ Debate Drinking Game

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1 finger every time:

Natalie Bennet mentions ‘Climate Change’

Nick Clegg looks straight at the camera to make him appear more human

Nigel Farage mentions ‘immigration’ ‘migrants’ or ‘Britishness’

Ed Miliband repeats an exact phrase twice or more

Leanne Wood says something that definitely doesn’t sound like it is spelled

Nicola Sturgeon uses the word ‘independence’ or ‘45%’

David Cameron blames labour for the ‘mess’ he inherited

2 fingers every time:

Any leader proposes a plan to tackle the deficit

Someone claims to safeguard frontline services

‘Coalition’ is mentioned

Four or more leaders are speaking over each other at once

“HS2” is mentioned

The audience comprehensively boo

MPs’ expenses or wages are mentioned

3 fingers every time:

Natalie Bennet has a ‘Brain Freeze’ or makes a major gaffe

The prospect of Nick Clegg’s seat being lost is raised 

Nigel Farage becomes outraged at his marginalisation on the panel

Ed Miliband’s charisma, family or race is called into question

Someone asks Leanne Wood “who are you?”

Nicola Sturgeon raises the prospect of a future referendum

David Cameron is asked to resign

Finish your drink if:

Any formal coalition is agreed 

Any leader falls over

There is heckling from the crowd

The word “Goodbye” is used.

(soft drink use advised)

Banana Bombs

I’ve just had a bite of a Banana Bomb.

As I bit through the just-crunchy skin and into the moist flesh within, life stopped. Oh, the pleasure. But then I panicked. As I swallowed, it was like it had found a hidden fistula that bypassed my intestines, instead sneaking straight into each vulnerable nook of every artery.

There was nothing for it – a dash to the cupboard and a sip of live-saving Laphroaig 10 and I’m here to warn the world. I might have even dissolved the bulk of the fat fast enough to limit the lasting damage, until the next bite.

The inspiration for this experiment came from a few sources: yesterday I was complimented on my banana bread recipe by a local café owner; this morning, flipping pancakes, I marvelled that I was simply frying a loose muffin mixture and wondered what shallow-fried cake-mix would taste like; this afternoon, I saw that Tesco is now selling the notorious, and deep-fried, “Duffin”.

This was the natural progression. The first attempt, made using my standard banana bread recipe, ended up like a soggy amalgamation of those little bits of overfried chip that collect in the polystyrene corners at the bottom of a chippy.

Then I upped the flour, lost the egg and quenelled the (considerably stiffer) mixture into the hot oil. Now, they may look like chicken dippers encrusted with days-old cat semen, but if these came out of a trendy bakery in Shoreditch, there’d be a queue worthy of national news. They are, as you probably guessed, dangerously good. Cronuts? Duffins? You’ve got a new top dog.

Disclaimer: if you live anywhere south of Carlisle and are therefore minimally adept in the handling of hot oil, don’t blame me if you burn your house down.

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Banana Bombs

30g salted butter

1 banana, ripe or overripe

50g caster sugar

30g milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

120g plain flour

500ml vegetable oil, for frying

Caster sugar, for dusting

Makes 6-8 bombs. Plenty.

 1. First, melt your butter in a medium bowl in the microwave. Add in your banana, sugar, milk and baking powder and use a whisk or spoon to mush everything together until mostly-smooth.

 2. Add your flour in and stir until it is combined – you should have a mixture that resembles a scone-mix for consistency. At this point, slosh some oil into a saucepan and place it over a medium heat. Whilst that begins to heat up, coat the bottom of another mixing bowl with caster sugar.

 3. Keep an eye on your oil. You want it at 170C, and you should make absolutely sure it never gets above 180C. When it’s up to temperature, turn down the heat and spoon in lumps of your mixture.

 4. Fry for at least a minute, checking the bottom for golden-brownness. When present, flip them and fry for an equal amount of time on the other side. They should rise plenty.

 5. Using a slotted spoon, give any excess oil the choice to drip away or be absorbed, then place each bomb into the sugar. Toss them until fully coated.

Best enjoyed approximately half an hour after frying. I made use of the leftover fat by oiling up our wooden boards, thus permanently infusing our kitchen with the evocative aroma of childhood fairgrounds.

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Cinnamon Buns

Boredom.

Not boredom like I’ve been doing nothing and have nothing to do; what I have to do is so tedious that my mind is wandering onto nearly anything that interrupts the monotony.

My medical finals are in three days. And as I do the 3000th MCQ or past paper question today, I think it’s forgivable that my mind moseys onto other, less important things. In this case, that’s buns.

Cinnamon buns. Have you seen Better Call Saul, yet? The excellent Breaking Bad spin-off makes American chain Cinnabon looks so unbelievably appetising in its opening scene that I sat in the library for a solid week salivating, lamenting the lack of any Scottish branch. Product placement works on me, anyway.

So here’s the recipe I used to make some (superior) substitute cinnamon buns. These are much less sickly than the aforementioned chain’s offerings, the subtle sweetness of the dough balancing well with the cream-cheese icing. The secret to the most amazingly soft buns you’ll ever have is baking them in a pot; the cold, thick walls and steamy, lidded environment prevent any crusts from forming.

TIP: If your tastes lie on the more American spectrum of life and you fancy an oozing sweet centre, up the brown sugar in the filling to a whopping 250g. Mix this with two teaspoons of corn flour so the filling holds its shape after baking. And enjoy your diabetes.

For the dough:

500g plain white flour

8g table salt

One sachet (7g) instant yeast

50g caster sugar

280g milk, warmed until tepid in the microwave

1 medium egg, at room temperature

50g unsalted butter

1 tsp cinnamon

For the filling:

Another 50g butter

Soft brown sugar; a sprinkling (or 250g as above)

2-3 tsp cinnamon

For the topping:

250g icing sugar

150g FULL FAT cream cheese

Makes 6 US-sized buns.

  1. First, make the dough. Weigh your flour, salt, yeast, sugar, tepid milk, egg and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix them together. Yup, just bang em all in. If you’ve got a mixer or you enjoy kneading, give it a slap about for 10 minutes. If not, just leave this covered for 30-40 minutes at room temperature and the yeast will do their thing and you don’t need to knead.

  1. Heat your butter (best use the microwave) until just-melted, then add this to your dough. Mix it in by hand or using a machine until completely combined. Cover your bowl with cling film and leave the dough to rest for 60-90 minutes at room temperature, or until it has swollen to roughly double its original size.

  1. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a big, long rectangle. You want the rectangle to be about 20cm by as long as you can make it – mine was nearly a metre without any effort. Melt your other 50g of butter in the microwave and brush this over your rolled out slab. Next, sprinkle on your brown sugar and finally an even coating of cinnamon.

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  1. Roll up your dough along its long edge (so it’s still 20cm wide post-rolling, I mean). You’ll essentially have one really tall cinnamon bun. Slice this cinnamony sausage into 6 roughly equal pieces using a knife. Line a large lidded casserole pot with a piece of baking paper (non stick greaseproof) and arrange your buns on their cut end, as shown above.

  1. Place the lid on your pot and leave your buns to rise for another hour at room temperature. Half an hour before you’re going to bake them, preheat your oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6.

buns-small-2

  1. Your buns should have risen plenty. I sprinkled a little more cinnamon on top at this point, then placed the pot in the oven, lid on. In my oven using a heavy cast iron pot, my buns took 40 minutes lidded then another 10 minutes with the lid off. If your pot is thinner walled, they’ll probably bake quicker – check ‘em after 25 minutes and make sure the sides aren’t crisping

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  1. It was late, so I left my baked buns overnight. I awoke to observe their glory. God, they’re awesome. Tear them apart and make the cream cheese icing – use an electric whisk to beat together your cream cheese and icing sugar in a large bowl; no sieving needed. You need to beat for at least 5 minutes, and eventually you’ll have stiffish peaks. Spread this over your buns. Congratulations, you should now be very happy.

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My new book, How Baking Works, is available for pre-order. It is out March 12th and it is bloody amazing. Order it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Baking-Works-what-doesnt/dp/009195990X/

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buns-small-6

Referendum

The oil? Who cares. It does not matter. In a mere 100 years, Scotland would still be independent and the oil would be long-gone.

I’ve stayed out of the debate as much as I could bear. To potentially polarise my already diminishing demographic? My publishers would be appalled. My single foray into the promotion of the mostly-incompetent Better Together campaign involved nothing more than approval of a few bland words of support (http://www.bettertogether.net/blog/entry/we-knead-your-help). This smallest of gestures resulted in mountains of social media manure from some of the more dubious (and universally male) Yes supporters. The nastiness was such that I was put off getting involved again.

But now the vote is coming. Now I’m scared.

Now I feel I’ve got to do something. Anything I can. Now I feel compelled to plead. To you who still could be convinced either way and to you, who haven’t decided if you’re going to vote or not.

You might see leaving the United Kingdom as thrusting off the rusty shackles of the Tories to form a new Social-Democratic utopia where health and economic equality is the norm. A phoenix emerging from the ashes of a failed state, so to speak. If this is you, you probably admit to some clear risks, but see them as worth it.

But it doesn’t take much to see Independence a different way. A less panglossian way. I see Independence as a people running away from the problems that plague their country. I see Reporting Scotland as our national news and I shudder with shame. I see the idea of creating a new state for ideological, ethnic, religious or any reason other than to escape persecution, as inherently ridiculous.

We, as a world, are heading towards a more inclusive, integrated and borderless society and this is a wonderful thing. Imagine, for a moment, that lots of states decided to split whenever a certain ethnic or geographical portion of the population disagreed with the central government. The world would be a cesspool of international bickering at best and military conflict on questionable grounds at worst.

We share more with the people of the cities of England than we do with any other people in the world, genetically and ideologically. And we should be proud of sharing one thing most of all: our tolerance. Our multicultural population in the UK is probably the best example of international integration in the world. We welcome those in need and we are happy to pay our taxes to support them. My problem with Yes campaigners (not necessarily Yes voters) is their absoluteness. Their lack of doubt and their lack of tolerance for anything anti-Yes. There is no debate, there is only Yes. This is where trouble likely lies. Real trouble. Whichever way the vote goes, ask any of your English friends if they’d be comfortable walking the streets of Glasgow on Friday night.

Despite what the more fervent nationalists will say, it is clear that there would be no question of a Yes if the vote was held when a Labour Government was in power. The choice has been elegantly pitched, by those same nationalists, as The Left (Scotland) vs. The Right (England). Given that choice, it’s a wonder the polls didn’t narrow sooner. But of course, that isn’t the true choice. Just the same as there’s a significant political divide in England, there is too here in Scotland. As is obvious, we don’t all agree with one another up here:

The fact that Scotland’s vote hasn’t been the deciding factor in 14 of the last 18 general elections is often lauded by Yes as justification for leaving like-minded Britons to their own devices. But our vote has swung left and right, just like in the rest of the islands. Moreover, our vote has decided 22% of those last 18 elections, despite our population being a mere 8.3% of the UK. We already have disproportionate influence.

And imagine what that influence could do if we were all as politically riled as this great debate has made us. Just imagine what influence we could have on an international scale if we were as driven as we are now. United. Together we would stand a much better chance at doing good internationally, our voices channelled and amplified through the imposing halls of London. It’s a far better choice than running away into our wee Edinburgh hole, oblivious to the troubles beyond Unst or Dumfries.

 

Whilst Big Ali D might make the cringeworthy mistake of pitching the debate as Labour vs. Salmond and the SNP, nearly every news story similarly focuses on fairly inconsequential issues. The permanence of this vote doesn’t seem to have been grasped. The oil? Who cares. It doesn’t matter. In a mere 100 years, Scotland would still be independent and the oil would be long-gone. The pound? Might still be around, who knows. The SNP’s plan to turn Scotland into a tax haven operated out of Trump Tower? No, that doesn’t matter either. All we’re hung up on is our own interests, when we should be thinking about the outnumbering generations to come.

The problem we face is that we just don’t know what problems our children will face. We know that there are plenty of risks involved in going it alone, but we do not know the doubtless risks that have yet to be revealed. The poverty and obesity crises in Scotland are already huge elephants in the room as we refuse to talk about our own clear deficiencies as a state.

Alongside my own romantic nationalism, it is the presence of these risks to our nation and our wealth that decided it early on for me. Not without some doubt and regular re-examination of my position. Then, when the evidence for the maybe-benefits of an independent Scotland are so easily unpicked with minimal research, there can only be one way to vote. I’ll see you there. Tomorrow.

Blueberry Pizza

This isn’t even distraction from writing my book. This is a recipe going in my new book. I thought I’d share it on here because it’s special.

 

BLUEBERRY PIZZA

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This recipe exists because of a wee boy called Elliot. The lovely Sarah Lavelle (@InnatelyN8), who is going to be editing this book and edited my last book and who heads up food and drink at Ebury Publishing, is his mum.

Elliot invited me round for dinner once during his first year at primary school. He was turning the house into a restaurant, accomplishing his lifelong ambition. I was thrilled to learn that “blueberry pizza” was on the menu.

The experience at Elliot’s restaurant was definitely 5 stars (the sherry he served was especially excellent) but there was one disappointment: there was no blueberry pizza. I promised we’d make some together next time I was around. And this is what I have planned.

Despite involving a genoise sponge, three different types of superheated sugar and a blowtorch, this is an excellent recipe for doing with kids. Seriously. It’s healthy (well, it involves fruit, and you can use low fat custard), fast and pizza-shaped. You can take care of the potentially scalding stuff whilst the kids do all the whisking.

 

For the sponge:

2 medium eggs

50g caster sugar

50g plain flour

The finely grated zest of a lemon

For the jam:

200g blueberries (frozen are best)

100g caster sugar

For the drizzle:

The juice of a lemon

100g caster sugar

One quantity of vanilla custard (see my up and coming book), or shop bought

A little caster sugar, for sprinkling

Chopped nuts, for the praline

Fresh Blueberries, to finish

1. First, preheat your oven 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Line the bottom of the largest tin you own (I used a 12 inch springform) with baking paper, grease the sides and dust with flour. If you’ve not got shop-bought, make the custard.

2. Into a large bowl, weigh out your sugar and crack your eggs and grate your zest. Whisk these for at least 10 minutes until light and fluffy and nearly stiff peaks. You can get the kids to do this if you like.

3. Fold in the flour gently with a spoon, until it is all combined. Pour your mix into your prepared tin and spread it out evenly.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes on the middle shelf, or until light and springy.

4. Whilst that’s baking, you can make the jam. Into a pan, put your frozen blueberries and sugar. Place this on a medium heat to melt the blueberries, then continue heating until they’ve broken down and the mixture is boiling. Turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken, then remove from the heat until it’s time to use.

5. Once your cake is done, leave it to cool in the tin. Whilst it’s cooling, make the drizzle. Squeeze your lemon juice into another pan and add the caster sugar. Place the pan on a high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, and as soon as it is bubbling furiously, remove from the heat completely, Use a skewer to make little holes in your cake, then spread about half your drizzle on top with a pastry brush.

6. Transfer your drizzled cake onto a pizza board or peel, then upcycle the baking paper it was baked on by folding it and placing a handful of chopped nuts (I used pistachios) on top. Place your pan with half your drizzle back onto the heat (medium this time) and simmer until golden brown. Pour this onto your nuts and leave to set.

7. Spread your jam on top of your ‘pizza base’, nearly to the edges.

Then, spread a thick layer of custard on top and sprinkle the whole thing with sugar. Blowtorch lightly (or put it VERY close to a high grill) to brown for a melted cheese-style effect.

8. Scatter your fresh blueberries on top, and blowtorch these quickly to give them a shine (or glaze them, but the former is quicker). Chop your praline up into shards and lay this on top. Your pizza is now ready to enjoy. Keep it in the fridge for up to a day or two.

Pizza Cake

Hullo!

Today, I’ve been distracted from the furious final dash to deliver the manuscript of my 2nd book on time. There was one post/possible-troll that kept popping up on assorted social media that I just could not ignore. The Pizza Cake.

Pizza Cake

This genius concept (for it is still just that: a concept) comes from Canadian chain Boston Pizza, who are asking their customers to vote for the next pizza trend. Obviously, this is winning and by a mile.

The above image was created by a combination of photographer’s fakery and photoshop. Despite the fact the pizza cake isn’t yet here, I was struck by two things:

1. There’s no cake: it’s just a load of pizzas stacked on top of each other.

2. This is awesome.

So today, with a couple of friends, I set about creating the pizza cake. And what a success it was. Seriously, it was delicious. But you already knew that. The following set of pictures and steps, however, shouldn’t exactly be used as a perfect guide. I’d suggest a read-through first, to see where I went wrong so you can adjust and improve. I’ve included a set of learning points at the end. Many thanks to Paul and Cathryn for helping me out during this one.

 

PIZZA CAKE

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For the dough:

500g strong white flour

330g tepid water

30g olive oil

7g instant yeast

10g table salt

For the sauce:

A tin of tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic

salt

pepper

tomato puree

Toppings:

375g fresh mozzarella, chopped (3 blobs of cheese)

Pepperoni, chorizo, jalepenos

 First, make a pizza dough. I mixed the ingredients together in a bowl, covered it with cling film and left it for half an hour at room temperature. I then stretched and folded it until smooth, then left it to prove another 90 minutes. This could all be replaced by leaving your dough overnight in the fridge. During this rest, I made a basic tomato sauce out of chopped tomatoes, garlic, puree and seasoning – you could just use tomato puree. Any pizza dough/sauce recipe will work.

To get started, I turned my dough out onto a floured surface ready to use and preheated my oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 5:

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My first thought was to start by coating the sides of a high-sided cake tin and then to build the layers up from the inside. To do this, I cut off a chunk of dough, about an eighth, and rolled it into a rough rectangle.

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I stretched it out so it was long enough

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Then I made it into a cylinder shape:

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I then lined the sides of the cake tin with this cylinder, cutting off another chunk of dough and rolling it into a rough circle to line the bottom of the tin.

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However, quickly after spreading the first layer of thick tomato sauce, I could see that the dough was gathering in a thick layer towards the bottom. This method wasn’t going to work.

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So I removed the bottom from the cake tin and cut off all that excess dough from the sides. Leaving a disc covered in about a tablespoon of tomato sauce. If attempting at home, this is how you should start.

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I then began to build up the layers. Each layer should essentially be a complete pizza:

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Beginning to take shape. Don’t worry about the excess – this is going to be cut off so you can make MORE pizza cakes (or just make a nice loaf of bread with it)

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Once you’ve done 6 or 7 layers, top out and don’t put any more sauce on top. You should have at least a tablespoon of sauce left. Trim around the edges with a sharp knife, feeling where your cake tin is:

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Take a small chunk of dough and roll it out into a long rectangle, as wide as your unbaked pizza cake is tall. This should then be wrapped around the sides:

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Carefully, squish the loose bottom back into the rest of your cake tin. There’s a knack…

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Bake your pizza cake in the oven for approximately an hour, until a golden brown colour. If you have a thermometer, you want the inside temperature to be over 90C before proceeding. Check it regularly.

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Once baked through, spread your remaining tomato sauce on top and build a final pizza layer. Turn your oven up to maximum.
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Bake to brown the toppings and melt the cheese:

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Remove from the tin (again, a knack)

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Serve, and enjoy. You will enjoy it.DSCF7866

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The glorious innards. Mmmmmm.

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Served with homebrewed beer and cider, extra jalepenos, cornichons, mayo and sriracha. Nom.

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A breakdown of the layers:

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Learning points:

The inner layers were soggy. This was due to the wetness of the cheese and the tomato sauce, as well as probably underbaking. If trying at home, make sure your tomato sauce is reduced until a thick, dry paste. Bake your pizza cake for bloody ages.

Building up the sides first is a waste of time. Build it up like lots of pizzas, then cover the sides.

It’s never going to look like it does in the picture. The only way to achieve this would be to par or fully bake lots of different pizza bases and stack them on top of each other. This is against the principle of the thing, in my mind.

 

I hope you enjoy baking this. I did.

How to Make Cider (or Scrumpy)

Cider Ingredients

This isn’t intended as a guide on how to make the most artisanal product in the world – this is a guide on how to make a genuinely nice, drinkable cider for those of us who live in cities, in flats or without a supply of time, cash and apple trees. The above juice was half price due to the season, so this batch will end up less than 50p a pint.

You CAN do it with all supermarket ingredients quite easily. This involves using Baker’s (rather than a Brewer’s) yeast and will give you “turbo-cider”, or one that’s not really going to be appropriate for giving as a thrifty gift, lest it be for a distant, unloved or alcoholic relative. However, it’s now October. Most of the off-flavours you get from fermenting with Baker’s Yeast will dissipate out by… Christmas, say? Just saying.

The most important thing you need to think about is keeping everything CLEAN – and I mean cleaned to the point of being dirt free, and THEN  sterilised. This is fine for the first stages because you’re dealing with ingredients that are clean anyway. Afterwards, I’ve recommended a fast rinse with boiling water or a run through the dishwasher for simplicity’s sake. If you’re going to make a habit of brewing, get a sanitising solution such as Star San.

 

What you’ll need to start making cider:

One 5L bottle of water

5 litres of apple juice (not from concentrate)

200g caster sugar (will bring final abv up to about 6.5-7%)

One sachet of yeast*

 

*The choice of yeast (and it’s fermentation temperature) will largely determine the quality of your cider. Going for baker’s yeast (“instant”, “easy bake”, whatever) will give you a hard cider that tastes a bit bready, but this will age out by a couple of months. For a great tasting cider from just a week or two after bottling, use a brewer’s yeast from your local homebrew shop. Any English Ale yeast will work, as will champagne yeast or mead yeast (or indeed, cider yeast). Good examples to look out for are “Nottingham” and “s-04”.

 

Method

1. Empty your large bottle of water down the drain, keeping the lid.

2.  Fill your just-emptied 5L bottle with apple juice – this must be from just-opened cartons/bottles.

3. Add your sugar and your sachet of yeast**, replace the lid and shake like hell

4. Remove the lid and replace with a bit of tin foil – this is to let the CO2 that builds up inside, out. If you’ve got an airlock like on mine (below), you can use that too to keep the bugs out.***

5.  Leave to ferment for 2 weeks, by which time it should have completely stopped bubbling (shine a light in to have a look). During this time, do not touch or bump it or you risk oxidising it – it should be in a safe place. The temperature is also important – it should be definitely less than 20 degrees but not under 15. Fluctuation in temperature is a bad thing and will cause more off-flavours. I use our windowless box-room, which stays a lovely 17. Little-used cupboards can be good.

6.  Once fermented, you’re ready to bottle. I’d use screw-top wine bottles, seeing as this is going to be flat. If you were adding some sugar to the bottles (about a quarter teaspoon per pint) to make a carbonated cider, do not use wine bottles as these will explode. Fancy flip-top lemonade (or beer, Grolsch) bottles would be ideal. Or just plastic soft drink bottles. Anyway, clean your bottles with hot soapy water and rinse until there’s no suds. Add some boiling water to each one, replace the lid and shake until too hot to hold all over – be careful! If you have a dishwasher, you can just run them through this.

7. Using some sterilised tube (important that it is clean, you can do the same way as above. It should also be “food safe” tubing, but I’m not going to stop you using garden hose), syphon your cider from your fermenter into your laid-out, clean, empty bottles. The tube should be at the bottom of the bottles so there’s no spray – spray means you get in air in which means oxidisation – think 3-days-since-you-opened-it wine flavours. Be careful not to disturb the yeast and sediment-cake at the bottom of the fermenter. You will get roughly 9 pints of cider, or 6 wine bottles full. Leave for 2 weeks before cracking one open. For a clearer, less yeasty cider, leave the bottles at the back of the fridge.

 

**Pitching the yeast: Ideally, you should rehydrate your yeast before “pitching” into the juice. For this, prepare a mug. Fill it 1/2 full with boiling water, cover with foil and swirl around to heat/sterilise. Leave the mug until just about room temperature – this will take a wee while. Once cooled, add your sachet of yeast, stir, replace the foil and leave for 15 minutes. Add a heaped teaspoon of sugar (make sure to sterilise your teaspoon with boiling water!), stir, cover and leave for a final 30 minutes. This mixture is now ready to be added into your juice.

***Keeping the bugs away – rather than using boiling water and risking breakages of glass and deforming of plastic, you can use a sanitising solution in a skooshy bottle. I use Star-San, an emulsifier-acid combo that kills nasties in high concentrations and acts as a yeast nutrient in lower concentrations, so there’s no need to rinse anything. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough

Bubbling cader