Caroline and Sophie have now written three brilliantly useful cookbooks full of everyday food that is delicious, quick and always appetising. You might well have read their series on jazzing up your lunchbox in The Guardian, which was richly illustrated and full of genuinely good ideas. As their third book, The Little Book of Brunch, hits the shelves, we caught up with them to talk about their worst kitchen disasters and most underused ingredients. They were also kind enough to share their mouth-wateringly easy recipe for Brioche French Toast, with Sour Cherries + Vanilla Sea Salt.
WHAT DID YOU HAVE FOR BREAKFAST?
Caroline: Banana with porridge and a pinch of salt. VERY unlike me. I usually have 65 slices of bread and butter with marmite.
Sophie: Three cups of Yorkshire tea (non-negotiable) and a slice of toasted German rye bread with peanut butter and Sriracha chilli sauce. It sounds weird but it’s really good – my brother calls it satay toast. It’s a favourite breakfast; I’m not interested in sweet things in the morning, unless it’s a sticky cinnamon bun. Then I’m very interested.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST USED COOKBOOK OR FOOD REFERENCE BOOK?
Caroline: I go through phases and I generally only use cookbooks when “entertaining” (hate that word)… and so right now it has to be Margot Henderson’s You’re All Invited. I can feel a Duck Soup phase coming on soon though…
Sophie: I tend to wing it quite a lot, but I refer back to Felicity Cloake’s Perfect books and column when I want to understand the how and why of a recipe. She’s such a brilliant writer, and makes me laugh. Fuchsia Dunlop is my oracle when it comes to Chinese food, which I love. I have to consult Every Grain of Rice before I go to my local Asian supermarket otherwise I don’t have a clue what type of fermented vegetable or bean curd or whatever I’m meant to be getting.
WHAT’S YOUR WORST KITCHEN DISASTER?
Caroline: Too many to count. In the kitchen am messy, forgetful, chaotic, use ALL the pans, and generally have too much on the go at once. Last winter, I accidentally smashed a glass into a simmering batch of delicious-possibly-my-best-but-we’ll-never-know chutney. Into the bin the lot went.
Sophie: I’ve not had anything really dramatic like on one of those Buzzfeed lists where you see a photo of an exploded pan, scorch marks on the ceiling and a woman huddled next to the fridge weeping. (Yet.) I did once forget to take the protective cover off a new stick blender and blended loads of tiny shards of plastic into a pea and mint soup. That was annoying.
WHAT’S YOUR EARLIEST FOOD MEMORY?
Caroline: Mine is a bad one: being force-fed mushroom soup in a nursery in Wimbledon. I’ve not been able to stomach the things since, which is sad because they are so beautiful looking.
Sophie: I worry there’s something wrong with my memory which is incredibly hazy. I remember the cake my parents got for my fifth birthday party when my mum was in hospital having my brother. It was a giant castle with little plastic ballerinas. I think I was more interested in the aesthetics than the taste though.
WHAT DOES HALEN MON GO BEST WITH?
Caroline: The vanilla Halen Môn salt is absolutely delicious in Sophie’s salted caramel brownie recipe from our first book. On the savoury side, I would say nothing beats a pinch over cucumber on buttered toast.
Sophie: One of my favourite things to eat, especially in summer, is a halved toasted bagel with cream cheese, really ripe, juicy sliced tomatoes, and lots of black pepper and Halen Môn salt. Heaven. I also love adding salt when baking: in cake batters especially, there’s something wonderful about getting the occasional salty tang amongst all that rich buttery sugariness.
WHERE IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE?
Caroline: I love Lewes, near Brighton. My friends have a gorgeous shop called Closet and Botts there. One of their mums also runs a fabulous art school there called St Andrews Place, and the Downs are a stone’s throw away.
Sophie: Hampstead Heath. I grew up in London and don’t get away from the city that often but a good walk on the Heath – and maybe a little dip in the Ladies’ Pond – makes me feel a bit more fresh and restored.
WHO WOULD YOU BE MOST SCARED TO COOK FOR?
Caroline: good question… I reckon Delia would be polite… perhaps a discerning critic who may not like my slapdash style? Giles Coren?
Sophie: Oh god. I recently made lunch for a group of friends including my old boss, who is a famously excellent cook. I was strangely worried about that, because I look up to her a lot. But it was fine! I’ve come to the conclusion that people are happy to be cooked for and disposed to be kind. I would be scared to cook for anyone I thought would be judgmental or mean. I think the lesson here is only to cook for nice people, if you can.
WHAT DO YOU EAT AFTER A LONG DAY AT WORK?
Caroline: 7 minute eggs on Toast. Toast and Marmite. Cheese on Toast. Toast.
Sophie: A baked potato with whatever’s to hand. Or, if I’m feeling lazy and the fridge is empty, a takeaway pho from my local Vietnamese restaurant Au Lac.
WHAT’S THE MOST UNDERUSED INGREDIENT?
Caroline: Anchovies wield a mysterious magic power yet so many people shy away… they add depth to ragus, umami to legs of lamb, and general deliciousness to winter salads.
Sophie: Good question… I like to use lemon zest. Rubbed into sugar when baking, mixed into meatballs for a bit of unexpected freshness, or breadcrumbs for sprinkling over pasta, or salad dressing. I could go on… Caroline often uses cinnamon with tomato which is a wonderful combination – cinnamon is great in savoury dishes but it’s not something I would think of instinctively.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SMELL?
Caroline: Baking potatoes… incomparable and actually I have one on the go right now. I would love Sophie and I to do a baked potato cookbook. If only for an excuse to eat them every day for 6 months.
Sophie: Woodsmoke. It makes me think of cosy pubs, warm knitwear, and that moment in autumn when the temperature drops enough that you can see your breath.
HOW DO YOU FIND WORKING TOGETHER SO CLOSELY?
Caroline: I absolutely adore working and writing with Sophie and she is one of my best pals. We encourage and bounce off each other, and laugh at the excellent (lame) puns we concoct (Kale Caesar Salad is a recent favourite of mine). We also have complimentary tastes and palates which give our books a good range of recipes I hope. and yes we totally disagree! But respect each other’s tastes and beliefs. I was once skeptical about a Spaghetti Frittata but Sophie showed me the error of my ways.
Sophie: Ha, I remember that frittata! I love working together and feel like we’re pretty in sync about things. Collaborating is brilliant: it’s so great having someone whose opinion you really trust and respect to ask questions or bounce ideas off. And when you feel a bit stuck or stale you can energise each other. Most importantly, we’re very good friends, so we have a lot of fun.
DESCRIBE WALES IN FIVE WORDS
Caroline: hilly, windy, fresh, cosy, welsh.
Sophie: lush, verdant, lilting, friendly, proud.
The Little Book of Brunch is available to buy now.