Honey, Honey

I’ve had a couple of great honey moments over the last few days. Firstly, going back to one of my all time favourite places in London: Honey and Co. I love understated restaurants like this, there’s no ponce or finery to detract from the fabulously tasty Middle Eastern food. I’d escaped from my work just off Regent Street in the mid-afternoon and wandered through Fitzrovia to Warren Street. I always feel like a tourist when I work in London, it’s great to explore new areas- I’d never found Fitzroy Square before – it’s glorious… but back to Honey and Co.

Husband and wife team, Itamar and Sarit, are originally from Israel, they worked for Ottolenghi amongst others, and long dreamed of having their own neighbourhood restaurant. Now they have it, Honey and Co, and it’s heaven (lots of reviews here) Others have said it before, and it does sound corny, but the food really does ooze love and care.

By the time I got there, around four, I was ready for a cup of fresh mint tea and a small slitherette of something sweet. The window sill is always crammed with cakes but these are no ordinary cakes, they’re not M&S cakes either, they’re one off, eat-with-your-eyes-but-just-wait-’till-you-taste-and-they’re-simply-sublime-cakes. The warm, kaffir lime and mango cakes were recommended. Itamar had bought a box of kaffir limes a few days before and these were the first results. They’ll be too late to make it into The Baking Book which is out next month, and if any of you don’t already own the first Honey and Co, Food From The Middle East cookbook ( v.v. inspiring and a great read too) then you’d better buy the pair. My next visit will be for lunch, and not just a cake.

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I have to admit I’ve never really known much about honey. I always  buy a pot of local stuff when I visit my sister in Devon but I’ve never thought too much about tasting and using a variety of honeys. I know that I adore heather honey and I’m not so sure about chestnut honey and that’s about it. Now we have a selection of four delicious honeys on the go  (LOVE the lemon blossom honey) as a result of one of my latest book purchases,  Spoonfuls of Honey by Hattie Ellis. There’s a great glossary on bees and honey, tips about keeping the bees happy in your garden, a guide to different honeys and masses of savoury and sweet recipes….altogether a very lovely book and, most importantly, one I really want to get into the kitchen with.

Imi and I decided to make some Madeleines from the book yesterday for her to take to her friend  Lettie’s party. She gets very excited about making presents and spent as long decorating the box as making the cakes. But, just in case this all seems a bit syrupy, gorgeously homey-mother-and-daughtery you’ll be pleased to know that we did have a near melt down at the spooning into the tin stage. I dared to suggest that Imi could perhaps be a little more careful and sparing with the mixture and then had to take a hold of myself and STAND AWAY from a very stroppy child for a few tense minutes.

Madeleines – (recipe from Spoonfuls of Honey) makes 20-24

100 g unsalted butter, + extra for greasing
2 tbsp honey (Hattie recommends a medium/dark honey such as heather – I’d just fallen in love with the blonder lemon blossom honey and they still tasted GOOD)
3 eggs
100 g caster sugar
100 g self raising flour
50 g ground almonds
pinch of sea salt.

Melt the butter and honey together (I zapped mine on low in the microwave)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar with an electric whisk. Hattie recommended 10 minutes in order to triple the volume, an 8 year old’s wrist was apparently going into spasm after about 5 so that’s all we managed.

Fold in the flour, almonds and salt. Now Hattie suggests leaving the mixture in the fridge to rest for a couple hours making it easier to spoon into the tin as it holds its shape better. We were running out of time so it only got 20 minutes. (Maybe this led to our slightly messy pan filling?)

Preheat the oven to 180ºc/Gas 4

Grease the madeleine tray and put a couple of teaspoons of mixture into each mould. Bake for about 7 minutes (check after 5) remembering, as Hattie says, that the madeleines will be browner on the bottom than the top.

Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes in the tray (Imi managed about 3 max!) and then unmould onto a wire rack to cool.

You can keep these in a tin for a couple of days but the fresh cakes, were (as they always are) simply the best.

I can see these elegant little cakes becoming a regular in my repertoire (I’m not much of a cake maker but I could memorise this recipe), they were so easy and worked brilliantly despite our shortcuts.
I did hesitate before buying another cake tin but as Hattie says “a madeleine mould is an object of beauty”. If you ask me the madeleine itself is the Juliette Binoche of the cake world; an absolute breath of fresh air in a world of fancy cup cakes and frosted doughnuts.

There’s so much left to say on the honey subject too; we have a  bottle of gold dust from the Nepalese honey gatherers that Peter brought back from his filming trip 20 years ago,  but more on that at a later date.

 

Wild Garlic Flower and Tomato Salad

I’m determined to make this post a short one; I’ve not got much time because I’ve been squandering it of late. I took a day away from my desk yesterday to go for a walk in the woods. I so rarely allow myself to take time out on a weekday, it’s that ridiculous Protestant work ethic we had drummed into us as children.

Well, it was glorious and now I’m determined to get out more often (I really do need a dog and then perhaps I wouldn’t feel so guilty or self indulgent).  I know that “the simple things…..” message is an old one but I often need reminding myself, so perhaps you do too?

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Prior’s Wood is just 15 minutes drive from my home in Bristol and at this time of year it’s renowned for the carpets of bluebells. The bluebells were heavenly yesterday yet I can’t help feeling that the haze of lacy, white wild garlic flowers deserve a shout too. Just like the rest of their allium cousins the flowers are arranged in glorious little star-bursty spheres and look so delicate above the lush green leaves.

The flowers aren’t just pretty , they taste fabulous too – you don’t need many to garnish a salad or a cheese plate so I’m not recommending that you set off with your empty knapsack and pick flower heads for the five thousand. Just a dozen flower heads will be plenty to serve at least four people. Have a taste, each tiny flower has a little bubble of garlicky juices that burst into your mouth as you bite.

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Wild garlic leaves are tasty too but by the time the plants are flowering they’ve often become a little bitter. So now’s the perfect season for sprinkling teeny flowers over the first of the English tomatoes, which is exactly what I did for my lunch.

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I could have added some young cheese too but those green tomatoes were spectacularly good and I wanted to savour them. So, a dash of extra virgin Arbequina olive oil and a few grains of coarse salt was all I added before garnishing with the flowers.

As I said, the simple things…..

Frugal but Fab’ Chickpea, Chilli and Mint Soup

Today’s recipe is cheap to make, has very few ingredients and only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. It’s also one of those dishes that seems to taste so much better than it ought to; the whole, quite simply is, better than the sum of its parts.

Jenny Chandler Frugal Chickpea soupI’ve chosen this fabulous soup recipe for a couple of very good reasons. As you know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, I am rather obsessed with pulses, chickpeas in particular. Secondly I’ve been challenged by the guys at The Hunger Project to come up with a supper recipe that costs under 33 pence per serving to tie in with World Hunger Day on 28th May. This part of the My Voucher Code World Hunger Campaign – you can take a look and see if you’d like to get involved too.

I have to say that I am constantly badgered by emails asking me to support “Days” and quite frankly most of them annoy the hell out of me. So someone just decided that we should have a “National Sandwich Week”, a “World Doughnut Day” (yes it does exist!) or worse still “Happiness Day” (for God’s sake what happens if your dog’s died or you’ve just received a parking ticket?- it’s ridiculous) However, (rant over), I do concede that there are a few of these “Days ” that can help raise awareness about much bigger issues and, of course World Hunger Day is one of them. You can find more out about the aims and achievements of The Hunger Project in some truly inspiring stories on their website.

The 33p price tag per portion does rely on you buying your chillis and mint from a local greengrocer or an Asian/Middle Eastern store (where you’ll undoubtedly do better than those silly little, extortionately priced, supermarket packets). You can use any left overs in an equally economical ginger masoor (red lentil) dal

Chickpea, Chilli and Mint Soup
Serves 4-6Frugal ingredients

You can blend this with a stick blender in the pan if you want to keep the washing up to a minimum, but if you do have the time this becomes beautifully silky and creamy when well whizzed in a blender.

3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 – 3 red chillis chopped finely
500 g/1lb cooked chickpeas or (less economical) 2 x 400 g/14 oz tin of chickpeas
1 litre/1 1/4 pints vegetable or chicken stock (you can use a stock cube)
Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
salt

Plenty of mint leaves, sliced.

Take a large saucepan and fry the onion in the olive oil until golden.

Add the garlic and the chilli then, as soon as you can really smell the sizzling garlic, throw in the chickpeas and the stock.

Simmer for about 10 minutes and then blitz the soup with a stick blender for convenience or, for a smoother result, use a blender.

Taste. The soup will seem rather bland, don’t worry the salt, plenty of zippy lemon juice and the fresh mint will work wonders. Season the soup well and serve.

How about?
Toasting a bit of yesterday’s bread and putting it in the bottom of your soup bowl. Allow the bread to soak up the soup and collapse into a tasty and satisfying gloop – great if you’re really hungry, this also makes the dish a fully balanced, protein-rich meal.

Adding lime juice and coriander instead of lemon juice and mint.

And just a word about the rather twee “Chez Jenny” tablecloth in the finished soup picture – it’s actually one of those ancient roller towels. It’s old and authentic, it just happened to have my name on it. I found it in The Cloth Shop  in Notting Hill, London.
Come on, if there’d been one with your name on it, you wouldn’t have been able to resist either!

My Chickpea Love Affair and Perfect Hummus

Not all chickpeas are created equal

Chickpeas are perhaps my number one base ingredient, although they’re not often the star player in my favourite curries, salads and soups they add an earthy, nutty creaminess that I just can’t get enough of. There’s also the fantastic chickpea flour or “gram” flour that I use for making farinata and the odd bhaji – it’s ludicrously cheap, easy to use and great for all the gluten-free clan. Then a couple of weeks ago I came across frozen green chickpeas in one of  my favourite shops,  Sweetmart in Bristol.

I turned my “fresh” chickpeas into simple lunch with potatoes, spices and plenty of fresh coriander. I do admit that I got a bit taken in by the lush green peas on the packet- they were more khaki in reality and didn’t look that appetising, also the texture was a bit more mealy than I was expecting. All in all,  I have to be honest, I was rather disappointed – it seems to me that the chickpea, like so many things in life, benefits from a bit of ageing.

So, back to the dried chickpea (and it becomes more and more apparent that you really do get what you pay for – a can of supermarket chickpeas will be fine, but never sublime). The Spanish are serious legume lovers and have all sorts of different chickpea varieties on offer, whereas most of us Brit’s mistakenly think a chickpea is just a chickpea. I’d never seen a growing chickpea before spending some time in the beautiful Sierra de Francia, near Salamanca in Spain. The locals harvested their own crop and then had them drying out on mats in the street. I’ve thrown in a few gratuitous pic’s from Miranda del Castañar and the surrounding villages -it’s such a glorious part of Spain. You’re in Ibérico ham, cherry and legume land.

The caviar of chickpeas is , as far as I’m concerned,, the humungous blanco lechoso (the “milky white”) which has a fabulous sweet flavour and velvety texture. This is the perfect chickpea for making hummus – there must be equally delicious  Middle Eastern equivalents available out there  but I’ve yet to find them. Tinned chickpeas always seem to give a grainy textured hummus whereas these are silky smooth once puréed. My chickpeas are from a Spanish producer called Burcol and I tracked them down in the fabulous Papadeli in Bristol

I  doubt that you’ll be needing a hummus recipe but just in case here’s one from my book Pulse.

Perfect Hummus - Jenny Chandler

 

Hummus Bi Tahini

300 g/10 oz home- cooked chick peas or 1 x 400 g/ 14 oz tin of well rinsed chick peas
juice of 2 lemons
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
4-6 tbsp tahini paste
salt and black pepper or cayenne pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Place most of the chick peas (keeping a few aside for the traditional garnish) in a food processor with the lemon juice and garlic. Give the tahini a good stir and then add 4 tbsp along with 2 tbsp of water (preferably the cooking water if they are home cooked),

Blend until the mixture is really smooth and then add more water to thin it down if necessary. Season. You will need some salt, you can zip the dish up with cayenne or just use black pepper; to enrich the purée , add more tahini; or lift the purée with more lemon juice.

Serve in a wide bowl. Swirl extra virgin olive oil over the surface of the hummus. Sprinkle over the reserved chickpeas.

Try garnishing with:
Pomegranate seeds and coriander
Toasted pine kernels and long, slow-cooked caramelised onions

As always I’ve cooked up a large pot and plan to use the rest of the chickpeas in a salad tomorrow with left over roast chicken, roast pumpkin, rosemary, salad leaves and plenty of parmesan. The rest of the pot will probably be made into soup – I’ll give you the recipe v. soon, it’s sooo quick…. chicken stock from the carcass, lots of garlic, mint and chilli peppers and chickpeas of course.

AND For those of you in The West Country…. ……….It’s only a couple of weeks until the 2nd Bristol Food Connections festival – take a look at what’s on

1428593255086 On May 2nd Lou Marchionne and I will be giving a Pulse demo at the Better Food Company  as part of the Bristol Food Connections Festival. It’s all about how to enjoy plenty of legumes in your diet, the health benefits and the tasty factor too. It’s a freebie – do come along – you can book tickets here

I’ll also be joining a panel of illustrious writers, earlier in the day at
The Business of Pleasure – Stem Rooms, At-Bristol, Anchor Road, Harbourside, Bristol
12.30 – 1.30: How to be a food writer/blogger: making your way in these parlous days of publishing, and how to diversify to best use your skills. With Xanthe Clay, Fiona Beckett, Claire Thomson, Sarah Lavelle, Jenny Chandler and Martin Booth. You can book here 

 

Homemade Granola and Mothering Sunday

Jenny Chandler Mothering Sunday

Last year I wrote a blog piece for Borough Market about Mothering Sunday and my hopes for a lengthy lie-in and simple day of feeling appreciated and loved. As I said, I have no need for a luxury pampering kit or a “Mum in a million” mug and really no desire to be woken up with the dawn chorus to eat breakfast in bed.

Surprise, surprise. I was woken at seven (can’t complain too much, but not exactly a lie in) by Imi and Peter with a “Mum Rules” mug and two trays of breakfast delights for us to spill on the sheets. And yes, the sheets were filled with scratchy crumbs when I got to bed that night and there was jam on the duvet cover. They’d also been up to some baking………. Just in case you haven’t read my blog before and assume that I have two children, Peter is in his fifties, Imi was seven at the time. They managed to confuse tablespoons for the teaspoons of baking powder in the recipe so that the chocolate cake literally erupted leaving a small chewy biscuit in the bottom of the cake tin and a rather large cowpat of molten chocolate lava burnt onto the bottom of the oven.

SO….if you’re reading Peter (or any father for that matter, who might just manage to steer proceedings in their own household) This is my dream Mother’s day morning.

Having a lengthy doze in bed whilst Imi spends a ridiculous amount of time laying a beautiful table, adorning it with a few flowers (provide a suitably small vase or the garden/window box could be decimated) and serving up some fabulous homemade treats. Imi and I have been cooking and baking together quite a lot recently so she’d be up to scratch with some muffins….. But, my dessert island option would be this homemade honey granola with tangy rhubarb compote and a bowl of Greek yoghurt.

Jenny Chandler granolaHomemade Granola

50 g unsalted butter or 4 tablespoons of coconut oil
150 g honey, maple syrup (or even,at a push, golden syrup)
300 g rolled oats
150 g raw nuts such as cashews, almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios
100 g seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower
100 g dried fruit such as apricots or figs, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 150 ºC.

Add the butter and honey/syrup to a large saucepan (it’s a good idea to weigh the syrup directly into the pan set over the scales or you will have lots to wash up).

Now heat until the butter has melted and then stir in your other ingredients until everything is well coated.

Pour the mixture onto 2 lined roasting trays and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Stir a couple of times along the way so that the granola gets evenly and wonderfully tasty. Once golden, leave to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Try
-Adding a splash of rosewater or vanilla extract to the honey and butter mixture
-Stirring a good pinch of cinnamon or ginger into the oats for the last 5 minutes of baking.
-Throwing raisins, toasted sesame seeds, dried cherries, cranberries or barberries or  roasted coconut slices into the granola once it is ready.

The granola is delicious eaten with milk or yoghurt but a spoonful of fruit compote is the icing on the cake.

Rhubarb Compote

– to make a large jar
About 500 g of rhubarb chopped into large chunks
Juice of 1 orange
75 g light brown sugar (such as muscovado)

Put all the ingredients together in a pan and simmer gently for about 5 minutes until just soft.

Remove about a third of the rhubarb pieces and then blend the remaining rhubarb and juices to make a thick compote. Replace the rhubarb pieces, leave to cool and serve.

Try
-Replacing the orange and sugar with a couple of knobs or crystallized ginger and a few tablespoons of the syrup.
-Eating the compote with icecream, folding into a rhubarb fool or layering in a trifle.
-Making other fruit compotes with raspberries, plums, apples or whatever is in season.
-Freezing in old yoghurt pots for quick fix fruit smoothies when whizzed up with yoghurt.

Ideally, weather permitting, breakfast would be in the garden. There’s so much going on out there right now – hellebores, daffodils and some pretty rampant frogs.

I’d better add, just in case anyone thinks that I’m an ungrateful old bag, that I fully appreciated all last year’s efforts – crumbs, encrusted ovens and all. The best bit of the entire day was getting Imi’s  carefully drawn voucher for a 1000 hugs, to be used through the year.

And just a bit of history about Mothering Sunday

You’ll be pleased to hear that some indulgent eating has always been tied up with the traditional Christian Mothering Sunday celebrations that gave us today’s, often more secular, Mother’s Day. In the Downton Abbey era Mothering Sunday was the one and only day of the year that every servant had a holiday; the time to go home to their “mothering” church where they were baptised. It was the family get-together of the year and the story goes that everyone gathered wild flowers from the hedgerows for their mothers as they made their way home. Other classic names for the day are Mid-Lent Sunday or Refreshment Sunday as the church allowed us to break the Lenten fast with Simnel cakes and puddings. So, all in all a day of joy and very good excuse for a feast.

 

 

 

 

 

Big bottoms, kale smoothies and candy floss.

I’m going off piste today: no recipe, no, not one – just a quick flurry of thoughts…. don’t worry it won’t take me long, I just wondered if anyone else felt the same way?

So first, big bottoms……not just big, but truly humongous bottoms. It seems like yesterday (it turns out to be 20 years ago) that Arabella Weir got us all going with her Fast Show catch phrase “Does my bum look big in this?” . But I can’t help wondering whether this is still a concern for the under 30’s ? How does a young dude reply nowadays? Beyoncé’s bottom launched a million dollar business in magic pants with silicone buttock enhancers a few years ago – I’ve yet to invest. And then there’s Kim Kardashian? I switched on the TV the other night and there she was on the Brit Awards all trussed up in a Julien MacDonald one piece. There’s no denying it, she’s a highly groomed and stunning looking lady BUT the size of that derrière? I’m still in a state of shock, her 27 million Instagram followers are obviously not, it’s (quite literally) her biggest asset.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the beautifully wholesome and sylphlike Ella Woodward whose cook book Deliciously Ella (named after her highly successful blog) has topped every bestseller list. Ella shares the gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free recipes that have turned her own life around, she has an incredible story. BUT, though I feel awful saying it,  I can’t help hoping that Imi doesn’t turn into a health nut….well not until she’s left home in any case (she is only 8 so we’ve a while to wait). I just couldn’t  embrace a world of Matcha, kale and banana smoothies, or spiralised courgettini instead of my al dente pasta. And all those judgemental looks you’d get as you tucked into your plate of crispy pork belly or a slice of cheesecake. What about when you want to go to your favourite restaurant? Have a gelato on holiday? Hang out for a coffee with your friends? Oh please don’t let’s create an entire generation of food police.

Well, to be honest, there’s no chance of that happening! During half term I was persuaded , under huge duress, to enjoy the waves and tube slides of the Swindon Leisure Centre swimming pool. Lesson 1 – never ask a child what they’d really like to do for a special treat. After our one hour time slot in the pool (that was a relief at least) surrounded by posters hailing the health benefits of exercising and swimming we headed for the café. Lesson 2 – never go anywhere near the café; the waft of tired, hot fat hit you before you even got to the counter, there was the token “healthy’ jacket potato on the menu but that was about it. The most depressing sight though, was the wall of vending machines: fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate bars, popcorn machines and the first un-manned candy floss machine that I’ve ever seen. Whaaaaaat? So you supposedly burn off all that fat in the water ready to pile triple the amount back on before you’ve even reached the car park.. ..depressing.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this ….just wondering what my 8 year old Imi makes of it all; we seem to live with such extremes nowadays. I’m just all the more determined to get her cooking for herself, enjoying food that just happens to be mostly healthy, most of the time. I’m praying that she will be happy in her own skin, without a need for padded pants or a constant stream of selfies.

If you are looking for a fabulous book that takes the “accidentally healthy” approach to cooking then Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite is absolutely inspirational.diana_2842935b

& don’t forget that legumes are fantastically good for you too…… there is, of course, also a particularly good book about pulses on the market!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Batty Bristol and Beetroot Chocolate Muffins

Bristol’s a fabulous place to live, I never feel trapped like I do in so many other cities; virtually every where you look there is a glimpse of countryside beyond the buildings. You’re a stone’s throw from wild Wales, Devon and Cornwall and yet you can be in London in under two hours. Better still is the fact that Bristol itself has such a dynamic heart – there’s the great food scene that seems to lack the ponce and showmanship of most big cities, there’s the earthy vibe that has earned Bristol the title of  European Green Capital 2015 and then there are the offbeat, quirky community events that just seem to flourish here.

On Saturday evening we set off on a “magical walking trail to light up winter” in Bishopston  (that’s just North of the city centre to any non-Bristolians). I’d chatted to a “balloon artist” in the sauna at The Lido earlier in the day (it’s where all the best conversations seem to take place) who was on her way to dress a shop window for the event. Shops and, better still,  households were lighting up their window displays between 5 and 8pm. There were over 150 random exhibits at Winter Wanderland– we saw about 40 of them, including meticulously crafted mini cinemas, a shadow puppet show, The Queen and Obama enjoying angel food cake and gin in the back of a camper van, a “live show” – dog lying on a sofa, lego displays, a pompom solar system – the sheer diversity was incredible. We snapped a couple of shots but you’d do so much better taking a peek here here.

Today I took the long way round to my local greengrocer Reg the Veg, walking along the glorious Georgian sweep of Royal York Crescent soaking up the sunshine. What a city! (Clifton pic’s coming soon) I was going to buy some fruit for the muffins that I’d promised to make with Imi after school but settled on some beetroot instead.

I’ve been meaning to play around with that great chocolate/ beetroot partnership in a muffin recipe for ages. I’m well chuffed with the results – still a hint of beetroot flavour, but hopefully not enough to scare off the kids, and some chunks of luxurious chocolate.

Beetroot Chocolate Muffins  – 12

200 g light muscovado, or soft brown sugar
100 g melted butter (use oil if you prefer)
2 medium eggs
100 g  (4 tbs) natural yoghurt
200 g  self-raising flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
170 g beetroot
100 g dark chocolate

Pre heat the oven to 170 C,  Gas 3 and grease a 12 medium -sized muffin tray or line with papers.

Take a big bowl and mix together the sugar, butter, eggs and yoghurt.

Weigh out the flour and cocoa powder into another bowl.

Grate the beetroot on a coarse grater otherwise the mixture can become a bit too wet and sloppy (you could do this in the food processor but that’s a lot of pink washing up).

Chop the chocolate up roughly or use drops (I find it virtually impossible to get small domestic quantities of decent quality chocolate in the cooking drops)

Throw the flour mix, beetroot and chocolate in with the wet ingredients and stir it all together. Don’t be too zealous, it really doesn’t matter if there are a few lumps and too much stirring leads to solid, chewy muffins.

Spoon the mixture into the greased/lined muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and baked through when tested with skewer (no gloop on the skewer – you’re done)

Leave to cool on a wire rack and eat as soon as possible.