There are weeks, like the one just gone where I can barely remember the slightest thing of interest happening in day to day life.Most noteworthy was hurriedly inflating an air bed on the pavement outside my in-laws' house fifteen minutes after the children were due to be asleep on it in our bedroom as there were guests needing theirs. I had to do it outside, in case you were wondering, because the air pump attaches to the car's cigarette lighter. It wasn't because I love the great outdoors.I immediately punctured it on the thorns leading up the path to the house. This is what comes of doing things last minute. We've had this mattress ten years without incident, using it perhaps three times over the decade. The one time we really need it a prick burst it.I've barely cooked this week at home –by home I mean the in-laws house as we continue our stay away from the dust sheets and collapsed lost tomb of the Incas our place resembles– which has made a welcome change. It is nice to have an occasional break from the kitchen, if a little odd. As much as I love feeding people, I like the control I have over something and the feeling I get when making other people happy. Filming every day this week I haven't been around much for my family; I've felt my absence keenly.Still, the food cooked for me by mother-in-law Sue has been delicious. Highlights were the mushroom risotto and an incredibly irresistible pineapple pudding from a Jane Grigson recipe that over the course of three helpings with ice cream overcame my avoidance of sugar during the week. I have a feeling that in a fortnight we will have extended waists as well as a redecorated home.But I have cooked a couple of things. A simple ten second pasta sauce for the children on Saturday (blitz together one tin of tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, olive oil, a pinch of oregano, a dash of tomato purée and a pinch of salt then cook quickly) which everyone tucked into except me. I had bratwurst onto which I spooned the remains of the salsa verde from the other night. Its zing and freshness had faded like a green velvet curtain left in the sun, it's lost grandeur just a reminder of better times. And because everyone else seems to hate bratwurst in my family I got all the sausages.On Saturday night, as we all sat down to watch 'Strictly', the children's eyes kept open with matchsticks, zombified with tiredness yet unwilling to admit defeat to the enemy of sleep, we ate bowls of haricot beans slowly stewed with chorizo, sofrito, a dash of stock and chicken thighs first browned in the paprika infused oil then left to slowly simmer in the mix until tender. Comforting and very tasty.Here's a recipe the children helped me to make the weekend before we shipped out. The sourdough starter and longer ferment gives the brioche stronger structure and deeper flavour than the standard brioche so it stands up a little more to serious abuse from pouring over a load of hot chocolate sauce, if that's your kind of thing. It is mine. At least when I'm not avoiding sugar...Ingredients2tbsp starter200ml lukewarm water plus 50ml350g flour plus extra for kneading15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)1 egg, beaten60ml milk, lukewarm80g butter80g golden caster sugarAnother 150g flourA generous pinch of saltChocolate buttons, I used a mix of dark, milk and whiteMethodAdd the water to the starter and stir well until dispersed. Stir in the 350g flour and mix well. Leave to rest for about half an hour.Add the salt and the 50ml water and knead together until mixed. The dough should be quite wet and sticky.Add a little more flour and start to knead on the bench, folding and pushing it until it starts to become smooth and elastic. Add flour a little at a time until it becomes tacky rather than sticky and you can shape it into a nice firm but soft ball of dough.Leave in the bowl, covered with a cloth for four hours.Add the yeast to the milk and stir to dissolve. Pour onto the rested dough and add the butter, sugar and egg to this. Mix into the dough. It will be quite sloppy. Add the 150g flour and knead well for another five minutes, adding a little more flour if the dough gets too sticky. Don't make it too dry and firm though, it needs to be on the wet side of tacky.While kneading, add a little more flour if you need, just so it doesn't stick to the bench too much. It will become sticky but silky enough to handle and shape into a ball.Leave to rise for a further two hours then knock back and shape into eight balls.Put the balls in two lines in two brioche or loaf tins. Brush the top with beaten egg mixed with a splash of milk. Dust the top with sugar crystals and a sprinkle of grated chocolate. Leave to prove for another half an hour and bake at gas 7 (190c) for 25 mins until golden and cooked through. Don't have the heat on too high and blacken them as I did. Leave to cool until just warm before serving.
Recently, before Christmas and in the throes of trying to establish a new world record for sugar consumption, I bought a box of gulab jamun from the local supermarket. I've eaten a few Indian sweets before on the mean streets of Tooting: kulfi on a stick, jalebis and so on, each time suffering an immediate and swift ecstatic rush followed by an instant diabetic death., but these were in a league of their own. They came in a palatial bath of syrup, enough to upset even the most sweet toothed cake lover. Of course, I ate the whole box.So now, as life is slowly groaning back into gear and constantly attempting to violate our cosy January, I am as much as possible off the sugar. This, in part is an attempt to try and regain my Adonis-like figure*, which I seem to have misplaced somewhere in 1994, and also, because sugar is, really, the devil's work. However, we all need a little devil from time to time, so a little treat here and there is necessary to keep up morale.These are my version of the sugar soaked sponge, baked rather than fried and not as soaked in syrup as the original (they also don't have milk powder in them). You'll need a round mini cake sphere mould or a cake pop maker, both of which are pretty cheap and easy to find. If not, you could spoon the mix into mini fairy cake moulds. The children loved making and eating these, and it makes a nice change to the icing clad, mouth clagging fairy cakes they usually want and then give up on halfway through.I used a bought caramel sauce that I had leftover from a job, but feel free to make your own, it's not hard.*not even remotely Adonis-like, more just a lot slimmer than I am now.Ingredients100g butter100g golden caster sugar100g plain flour1tsp baking powder1 egg1tsp cinnamon powder1/2tsp ground cloves1/2tsp ground cardammonA small handful of chopped pistachio nutsSome dried rose petalsA little gold leaf and edible glitter if you fancyFor the syrup50g golden caster sugar1tbsp waterA few saffron strands2tsp ground cinnamonMethodHeat the oven to 180c or turn on the machine and preheat it.Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg until smooth.Mix together the flour, spices and baking powder and add a little at a time to the butter mix, beating until smooth.Fill the moulds and bake for about seven minutes, until golden. Leave to cool a little.Make the syrup by bringing the sugar, cinnamon powder and water gently to the boil and then reducing it until syrupy, about five minutes.Pile the cake balls onto a plate, pour over the syrup and caramel sauce then sprinkle over the nuts, petals and gold. Serve slightly warm with coffee, or Thums Up! coke if you want a real rush, uncontrollable children and no teeth left.