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A Healthier Brunch Option – Farmacy, London

“I’m just a boy, standing in front a girl, asking her to love him.” – Can you guess where I’m going with this?

Address: 74-76 Westbourne Grove, London W2 5SH

For: Healthier twists on your favourite brunch foods

Average Price Range: £10-13 (not including drinks)

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Ah, Notting Hill, you are a wonderful part of London I never properly got to know until the autumn of 2018. With its specialised book shops, street food and quirky stalls selling all sorts of curious trinkets and antiques, it is a place that has truly maintained a unique character.

Home to many great restaurants (Fun fact: Ukai  is an Izakaya that my boyfriend and I absolutely LOVE – properly one of our favourite places in London) and cafes (Farm Girl is another I’ve tried and liked), Farmacy, as a vegan, health-centred cafe, stands out.

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Plants are integrated into the interior which, when paired with the open, inviting design of the space and the warm lighting that illuminates the room, makes Farmacy feel very much like a homely living room where everyone is welcome.

I was catching up with Hannah, a friend from boarding school and both her and I ordered coffees – soy lattes. This is rare for me – I’m usually a black coffee kind of person but was feeling milky that day.

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Hannah, being a strong proponent of savoury foods for brunch, ordered the avocado toast.

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I on the other hand, have a notorious sweet tooth so I was immediately drawn to the vegan Chocolate Chip Waffles. These were made with oats, Sun Warrior protein powder and chia seeds, served with fruits, house-made nutella and coconut yoghurt. ALL the good stuff.

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I definitely believe that having a plant-based diet is beneficial to the environment and to a person’s health. Though I’m not going to go full vegan or even vegetarian anytime soon, I genuinely believe that veganism should simply be incorporated into every person’s dietary habits in support of a healthier, more carbon-conscious lifestyle. Also, though the fact that a food dish or item might be “vegan” can be an indicator of good nutrition, I’m not one to sacrifice on taste. Farmacy gets it right – the waffles didn’t taste like “healthy” waffles – a consolation prize for the guilt-ridden. No, despite the addition of chia seeds and vegan protein powder (which often yield an unpleasant, gloopy texture), these waffles were fluffy on the inside but crisp on the outside. The nutella and berries were also a beautiful contrast and the overarching, mellow creaminess of the coconut yoghurt bound and brought the dish all together.

If I lived near Notting Hill, I’d definitely visit so much more often. I’m also very eager to try the other items on their brunch menu and am definitely looking to venture into their lunch and dinner menus too…

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Pumpkin Spice Bailey’s Marbled Bundt Cake Recipe

 

I’ve been known to stay at home on a free weekend, sipping on a Bailey’s hot chocolate with a good book in hand instead of going out to see my friends. And what’s even better, dare i say, than adding Bailey’s to milk? Adding it to a butter cake batter.

The special additional ingredient in this basic cake recipe is the Pumpkin Spice Bailey’s which I got from my local Tesco supermarket. Call me a granny but who doesn’t love Bailey’s and when I saw the seasonal special that they had put out for autumn I had to buy it. Cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y, sweet, milky alcohol? Count me in.

I know it’s August right now so it’s a little too early for Pumpkin Spice season but this is an old recipe that I created quite a while ago when I was still living in London and I’ve procrastinated long enough in posting it. So here, now you can prepare for autumn.

Ingredients

  • 200g Sugar
  • 250g Butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 250 g Self-raising Flour
  • 1tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 15g Cocoa Powder
  • 30g Milk
  • 20g Baileys

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease the bundt tin.
  2. Weigh out the butter and sugar and beat with an electric hand mixer/standing mixer.
  3. Crack in each egg one at a time into the butter and sugar mixture, mixing in between each addition until fully incorporated.
  4. Add the vanilla extract and mix until the butter, sugar and egg mixture is pale and fluffy.
  5. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt.
  6. Scrape sides of the bowl with a spatula and give the mixture a few mixes.
  7. Divide the mixture into two large bowls.
  8. In one bowl, sift in the cocoa powder and add the milk, give it a mix.
  9. In the other bowl, add the Pumpkin Spice Bailey’s.
  10. Take out the tin and dollop alternating scoops of chocolate and Bailey’s cake mix into the pan.
  11. Take a knife and create swirly patterns in the batter to create the marbled effect.
  12. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

 

 

 

A Lesson in Croissants (Trial 1)

All my friends know that I am a pastry fanatic. I am always on the lookout for good pastries and when I was in Paris and London this summer, I sampled so many croissants in an attempt to find the best ones that I can safely say 90% of my caloric intake for a majority of my holiday was probably just butter and flour. (Side note: If anyone is interested in my findings on where to find the best croissants leave me a comment and I’ll write up a post).

So when it comes to pastries, just as I judge a good cafe by the quality of its black Americano, so I judge a patisserie by the quality of its croissant au beurre. If you can make a plain croissant taste good, you’re golden. If a patissiere is skilled enough to make a good croissant, I have complete faith in his skills to make almost anything else.

The croissant is regarded by many as plain and unassuming – mundane in its ubiquity (especially in Hong Kong where cheap, vegetable shortening knock-offs are commonplace in local eateries). However, the production of a good quality croissant is pure artistry and constitutes a valuable showcase of two of the most fundamental baking ingredients: flour and butter. The perfect croissant is golden, light, with many visible layers of pastry that shatter as soon as you take a bite, while maintaining a body that has the slightest chew and a full, buttery flavour. To achieve this, one has to create a yeasted, laminated dough (a fancy term for a yeasted bread dough that has been folded upon itself many times over with a big block of butter). The quality of the product is highly affected by the precision of measurements and the temperature of the kitchen. Neatness is crucial when laminating dough and a cooler climate is ideal for making sure that the butter in the dough does not melt when being handled which results in a stodgier dough.

Given the procedure’s complexity, I have always stayed away from making croissants, but secretly I have always wanted to be able to make my own. Finally, I’ve taken on the challenge. I’ll put a disclaimer here now, I am very proud of my first attempt but they were by no means perfect and there are many things that I have yet to improve. Also, this recipe is not my own, but a Bouchon Bakery one. In this post, I do not aim to provide you with an original recipe, but shall take you through the Bouchon one and in the process, I aim to show you which of my mistakes led to what shortcoming in the product.

**

Makes approx. 16 croissants

Step 1: Poolish (Day before)

Ingredients

  • 100g All purpose flour
  • A pinch Instant yeast
  • 100g Slightly warmer than room temp. water

Method

  • Mix it all with a spoon and let it sit over night for 12-15 hours.

Lessons

  • Hong Kong is very hot so this poolish turned out great.

Step 2: Dough

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Ingredients

  • 500g All purpose flour
  • 75g Granulated sugar
  • 10g Instant yeast
  • 200g Lukewarm water (same as with the poolish)
  • 100g Butter
  • 15g Salt

Method

  • Combine flour, sugar, yeast in a bowl with the dough hook of the standing Kitchenaid mixer and mix on lowest setting to distribute all ingredients.
  • Pour half the water around the edges of the bowl of poolish to release it and add it to the dry ingredients in the Kitchenaid along with some more water (reserve 50g of this).
  • Add the butter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes to moisten the dry ingredients.
  • Scrape down the sides the bottom to make sure all the flour is incorporated.
  • Sprinkle salt over the top of this mixture and mix for a further 2 minutes to dissolve the salt.
  • Add water in small amounts as needed if the mixture feels at all dry.
  • Continue to mix for 20 minutes.
  • Put the dough on the countertop, fold it and then put it in a greased bowl and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Lesson

  • Start this process the day after.
  • The Bouchon cookbook also adds 3g diastatic malt powder. I didn’t have this so I omitted it, but next time, I’ll make an effort to find it and add it because it’s supposed to help with browning and rise.

Step 3: Butter block

Ingredients

  • 330g French butter

Method

  • I drew boxes onto parchment paper and then hit the butter with a rolling pin until my butter block was the right measurements.

Lessons

  • Fold parchment paper into a pocket of the correct size so when you bash the butter block into the right sized rectangle, you can use it almost as a mould to just fill.

Step 4: Encasing the butter in the dough

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Ingredients

  • Dough
  • Butter block

Method

  • Shape the dough into a 10 x 7.5 inches rectangle.
  • Cover with a plastic wrap.
  • Freeze for 20 minutes.
  • Take dough out of the freezer and roll it until you have a 16 x 17.5 inch rectangle that is 0.5 inches thick.
  • Place the butter block across the centre of the dough.
  • Fold the two ends of the dough together to the centre and pinch the ends together.
  • Wrap this in plastic and put it in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Lessons

  • When shaping the dough initially into the 10 x 7.5 inch rectangle, do this by patting the dough gently, disturbing the structure as little as possible. I think I used a rolling pin… Also, press any large gas bubbles to the edges and then out of the dough if any.
  • The edges of the butter block and the dough should match. There shouldn’t be any dough peeking out from under or over the edge of the butter on the sides (I had about 0.3 inches of dough) on each side sticking out and it resulted in an uneven distribution of butter in my dough which I’m sure affected the final product…

Step 5: First fold

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Method:

  • Use a rolling pin and press down firmly on the dough down across the steam from one side to the other to expand the dough.
  • Turn the dough so a short end faces you.
  • Roll the dough to expand it, adding flour only as needed.
  • Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 22 x 9 inches and 0.5 inches thick.
  • Fold the bottom third of the dough up as if folding a letter and then fold the otp third down to cover the bottom third.
  • Freeze for 20 minutes.

Step 6: Folds 2 and 3

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Method:

  • Lightly dust the countertop with flour.
  • Place the dough with the opening on the right.
  • Roll out again into a 22 x 9 inches rectangle that is 0.5 inches thick.
  • Repeat the folding process.
  • Turn the dough 90 degrees so that the opening is on the right. This is the second turn.
  • Repeat all of the above for turn 3.

Lessons

  • Press on the dough with the rolling pin before rolling it to warm it up or it will shatter (and butter will leak through like mine which will again affect the finished product).
  • Fluff the dough and flip more.

Step 7: Finishing the dough. 

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Method:

  • Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • It is especially critical at this stage that the dough remain cold.
  • Roll out the dough to 24 x 9 inches.
  • Cut the dough cross-wise making two 12 x 9 inch rectangles.
  • Stack them on top of each other, separated by parchment paper and cover both with plastic wrap.
  • Freeze for 20 minutes.

Note*

  • I refrigerated my dough overnight and shaped them the next morning before baking instead of freezing it for 20 minutes and then shaping and baking because the croissants require a further 3 hours to proof before the final bake and unless I literally start the whole croissant process at 12am to finish for breakfast time, I’m going to compromise a bit on taste for practicality.

Step 8: Shaping (in hindsight, do this before refrigerating)

Method:

  • Cut the dough into 4 rectangles.
  • Divide the rectangle into 2 triangles.
  • Pull out the triangle so that it’s 12 inches.

Lessons:

  • Stretch it out a little longer than 12 inches.
  • A wider triangle = bigger croissants, which might make it a bit lighter?

Step 9: Kickstart Proof and refrigerate overnight (in hindsight, do this)

Method:

  • Line them up and proof at room temp (or around 25 degrees overnight) for an hour to kickstart the proofing process.
  • Refrigerate overnight.

Step 10: Pre-bake proof and Egg Wash (Morning of baking)

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Method:

  • Take out the pre-shaped croissants from the fridge.
  • Make sure tail is tucked under.
  • Proof for minimum 2 hours under a cloth.
  • Preheat the oven to 175 degrees celsius when there is about 10 minutes left of the proofing stage.
  • Egg wash once they are a little warmed up.

Lesson

  • DO NOT SKIMP on the proofing time. Make sure they are really puffy before baking!! Under proofing will result in a stodgier croissant.
  • Do NOT attempt to move the croissants after the proofing and egg washing stage..they are very hard to pick up and I messed up the structure of quite a few of them by trying to do this…

Step 11: Bake

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Method:

  • Place the croissants in the mid-lower rack of the oven.
  • Reduce heat to Bake at 162 degrees celsius and bake for 30+ minutes.

Lessons:

  • When they are in the oven, make sure they aren’t burning but it is very likely you will need the full 30 minutes. As in, really – all the layers should be golden brown. I’d even verge on the just about to get burnt stage to make sure that all the layers are cooked through.

**

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Final thoughts?

Well, everyone who knows how much effort went into a batch of about 16 croissant (which between me, my family and boyfriend we finished them all in 3 days). About 7-8 hours of work for 3 breakfasts… Was it worth it…? My boyfriend seemed convinced that I wouldn’t make them again because of the effort but I’m inspired. It was an arduous process and a monstrous, undertaking and yet, I secretly really enjoyed the challenge. It’s like an art project right? But you get to eat the product. Even better. Though I was pretty chuffed with my first attempt, I titled this post trial 1 because I’m determined to keep making them until I produce one batch of croissants that I’m at least 90% pleased with. I want a thinner, flakier product. I want that shatter. If you look at the picture below of my finished product, the bottom of my croissant is too dense due to the lack of air pockets and the layers did not spread enough to create a thinner outer layer. I think it is because I under proofed it and they were a little underbaked as well.

I’m definitely going to make these again but maybe in a few months…IE. during winter when it’s not so hot and I’m on holiday again.

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My London Bucket List

  1. Kew Gardens
  2. Richmond Park: The Isabella Plantation
  3. Petersham Nursery
  4. Watch the sunrise at Duck and Waffle
  5. Watch the sunset at Primrose Hill with a beer
  6. Watch a film on a rooftop with outdoor cinema
  7. Walk around the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral
  8. Visit the Chelsea Physic Garden
  9. Watch a film at the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill
  10. Go to a speakeasy: Nightjar/the bar with no name
  11. Mayfield Lavender Farm
  12. Go to Hampstead Heath and write a poem inspired by your surroundings
  13. Visit the Hindu Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
  14. Notting Hill Carnival in August!
  15. Visit the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park
  16. Visit JM Barrie’s House and the Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens
  17. Play retro arcade games and drink at Pimp Shuei
  18. Trinity Buoy Wharf: Get burgers and a milkshake at Fatboy’s Diner
  19. Stargaze at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich/ Greenwich Observatory and Market
  20. Greenwich Observatory (watch the planetarium show) and Market
  21. Barbican Conservatory
  22. Take a ridiculously hipster photo at the OXO pier
  23. St Dunstan in the East
  24. Take a ballroom dance class at Pineapple Dance Studios
  25. Eat fish and chips at Geales in Notting Hill
  26. Have a drink on the rooftop bar at The Boundary in Shoreditch

 

Updated: 31/08/2019 (bolded items are completed)

Best Pancakes in London? – Chiltern Firehouse, London

Address: 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA

For: Breakfast/Brunch

Average Price Range:  £20 – £25

Over the Easter holiday, two friends came to visit London for about two weeks and they stayed at my place. As such, I of course used their visits as an excuse to try a bunch of different cafes that I had wanted to try but never got round to it. So as most of my friends know (and as my Hong Kong friend kept disparagingly kept pointing out), I have a mild obsession with pancakes. If pancakes are on a breakfast menu I actively have to forcefully convince myself that there are better more worth-it things that I could be eating. But it’s a real effort let me tell you.

Anyhow, because I’m such a pancake fiend, I like to think that I not only know how to make pretty great pancakes (recipes up soon) but also what the perfect pancake tastes like. If you’ve read my review on Durham brunch darling, Flat White, you’ll know that for me (and everyone who’s ever been to Durham), they hold the crown for best pancakes in the world. However, I also knew that everyone who had been to Chiltern Firehouse contended that their blueberry buttermilk pancakes were the best ever. So  after months of telling myself I’d go I finally made the effort to book a table and have a try myself.

I booked a table for a weekend breakfast and the place was packed. It was a little noisy with a fair few families present. The service was also a little slow and it took a while for the waiters to take notice of our efforts to wave them over because the place was so crowded but we weren’t in too much of a hurry so we didn’t mind too much.

I suggested sharing a french toast and a pancake but no one was up for that so we all just ended up ordering the Chiltern Firehouse Special – Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes. And there were definitely no regrets.

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My americano (lukewarm and not particularly inspiring) came first. I wouldn’t order it again but I was sleepy and needed coffee. However, when the pancakes arrived I was enthralled by the height of each pancake. Were they going to be stodgy? Overly-thick and floury? How did they achieve that height? And they were all uniform in size and shape which was of course extremely aesthetically pleasing. The pancakes were served with a small tray of condiments for self-pancake-dressing purposes. There was a blueberry compote (house-made I assume), creme fraiche, fresh blueberries and maple syrup. I was very very excited.

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The concentration was so real.

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Et voilà ! The finished product. Not stodgy or overly-doughey at all. Perfect. So so so good. I’m very loyal to Flat White, and Flat White is cheaper but these pancakes were not as heavy as Flat White’s so overall, I’d say that Chiltern Firehouse edged just enough ahead of Flat White to claim best pancakes in my rankings. However, Flat White is cheaper. So price for price, I’d still say Flat White wins. But then again, if I have to pay for a train from London to Durham just for pancakes it’s significantly cheaper to just go to Chiltern Firehouse.

Was Chiltern Firehouse expensive? Pretty. I paid over 20 quid for pancakes, my coffee and service charge which is slightly mad for a student budget. But would I come back? Yes. Would I get something else on the menu? I would very much like to try their crab-stuffed doughnuts, cornish crab scrambled eggs or french toast but I’d only get any of those dishes if someone assured me they’d share their pancakes with me.

 

Beetroot and Plain Hummus Recipe

I don’t know about you but I have a massive sweet tooth. So in order to stave off type 2 diabetes and cavities, I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of sweet things I eat by replacing my teddy grahams and muffins with savoury low carb snacks. So here is my blood-sugar level friendly hummus recipe.

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Makes about 6 servings (depending on how liberal you are with your hummus)

Ingredients 

  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 – 2 peeled and boiled beetroot (I get mine from Tesco that are already packaged and sealed in a vacuum bag)
  • 3 tbsp Tahini
  • 3 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 tsp Salt (add more to taste later on)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp Cumin

Method 

Simply blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor! (add the beetroot for the beetroot one and omit for the plain one)

Easy peazzzzyyyyy.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Heya pals,

Sorry I’ve been procrastinating with my posts but here’s a new favourite recipe of mine. Perfect for the holidays and the winter season in general.

So casting my mind back to October when I made this pie, I recall having a whirlwind of a Halloween/Thanksgiving season. If you know me, Halloween is always a celebration because it’s also birthday-eve. So I kind of wanted to do something to celebrate. Thus, in the spirit of halloween-birthday-eve, my cousin and her boyfriend carved jack-o-lanterns in the kitchen and I baked my pumpkin pie.

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Makes 1 x 8 inch pie

For the Pie Crust

Equipment

  • Food processor/ pastry cutter

Ingredients

  • 115g butter (cold)
  • 165g plain white flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3.5-4 tbsp ice water

Method

  • Dice the butter into small 1/2 inch cubes. Make sure the butter is cold and straight from the fridge! Try not to handle it with your hands as much as possible or it will melt. Keeping your butter cold with ensure a flakier, shorter pastry crust.
  • Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl.
  • Pulse the flour and cubed butter in a food processor just till crumbs form. (If you don’t have a food processor handy, then use a pastry cutter. If you don’t have that, use two knives or a fork. If you really have to, use your fingers and rub the flour and butter together until all the butter has been rubbed into the flour and your flour mixture has the consistency of crumbs)
  • Pour out the flour crumbs into the bowl again and add the ice water. Start with 3.5 tbsp and add a bit more only  if necessary until a dough forms.
  • Shape the dough into a rough disc with your hands, wrap it with clingwrap and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

 

For the pumpkin filling

Ingredients

  • 150g sugar (I always reduce my sugar content but if you like your desserts sweet go for 180g!)
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 can (15oz) pumpkin puree (I used ‘Libby’s’. I bought it off Ocado for those living in the UK)
  • 1 can (12oz) evaporated milk (I used carnation.)

 

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 220°C.
  • Whisk together the sugar, salt and all the spices (cinnamon, cloves and ginger) in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together.
  • Add the egg mixture to the spices and sugar and spices.
  • Add in the pumpkin puree and mix till combined.
  • Whisk in the evaporated milk slowly to prevent spillage.

 

Assembly

Equipment

  • Rolling pin
  • 7 inch pie dish (I didn’t have one so used a quiche dish instead! It works just fine)

Method

  • Flour your surface and rolling pin. Then, take the pie crust out of the fridge and roll into about a 9 inch circle on the floured surface.
  • Place your rolled out disc on top of your pie dish, let it fall naturally into the dish and press the crust gently into edges of the dish to fill it completely.
  • Trim off the excess dough from the tops of the dish. If you know how to crimp the top edge of the crust, do so now.
  • I used my excess to cut out into shapes to decorate my pie after it got out the oven. (I baked these decorative pieces for about 30 minutes on the rack below the pie.)
  • Now fill up your pie crust with your pumpkin mixture.
  • Carry your filled pie to the oven slowly and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Then, reduce the temperature to 175°C and bake for another 45 minutes or until the filling has just set and is a little jiggly.
  • Take it out and cool for at least 20 minutes until taking it out of the dish and eating!
  • Top  tip: Serve with vanilla ice cream for ultimate indulgence.

Pumpkin Pie

Another top tip: Literally the only reason my pie top looks a little uneven and blistered on the side there is because I was really dumb and didn’t take of the baking rack above my pie, forgetting that when the pie filling bakes it will bubble and blister. So the top of my pie touched the metal and peeled off onto that rack when I took it out the oven. Sad times.. So don’t be like me. Make sure your pie has a space above it to bubble! The bubbling will settle as the custard starts to set don’t worry.

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But look here! The perfect slice! Oh and despite not being a blind-baked crust, the crust was perfect. No soggy bottoms! And it’s a lot less hassle and effort not having to blind-bake the crust beforehand too.

This recipe is a true all-round winner. Get to it! xx