Beige food gets a bad rap – but done right, it’s anything but dull. Let these Mary Berry’s recipes from new book Simple Comforts be your guide…
You need look no further than our neutral autumn wardrobes, tonal nude manicures and wicker and rattan homewares to know that beige is going nowhere this season. We’ve long had a taste for all things camel, stone and taupe – yet when it comes to food, it’s hard to shake the idea that beige equals boring.
Admittedly, beige food is unlikely to be Instagram bait (leave that to rainbow-toned grain bowls, statement focaccia and chocolate brownie cookie sandwiches). But its beauty lies in its ability to make us feel good. From toad in the hole and fish and chips, to apple pie, macaroni cheese and hot buttered toast, beige food is almost always comforting: the culinary equivalent of a favourite hoody or a warm embrace from a loved one.
And if there’s one person who can challenge preconceptions about beige food, it’s Mary Berry. The national treasure’s new cookbook Simple Comforts is full of classic, spirit-lifting dishes – so with autumn just around the corner, we figured there was no better time to spotlight three of Berry’s brilliantly beige recipes.
Ever attempted a soufflé? Berry’s mushroom and cheese creations topped with creamy spinach sauce are light, full on flavour and surprisingly easy to make, too. If home-cooked pastry is your go-to when the weather gets chillier, then her golden-brown onion, artichoke and sage tart is a satisfyingly herby alternative to a standard gravy-filled pie.
Finally, Berry’s brioche frangipane apple pudding is one comfort dessert that goes just as brilliantly with ice cream, custard, cream or crème fraîche. Beige? Absolutely. Boring? Never.
Double-baked mushroom soufflés
Mary says: “Pure indulgence in the best way! You can make these simple mushroom and cheese soufflés well ahead of time, then reheat them in the creamy spinach sauce and they still stand tall.
Prepare ahead: can be made up to 8 hours ahead and reheated with the sauce as in step 8
- 75g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 200g chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
- 50g plain flour
- 300ml hot full-fat milk
- 50g Gruyère cheese, grated
- 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
- 3 eggs, separated
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
- 300ml pouring double cream
- 50g baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
You will need 6 x size 1 (100ml) ramekins. Preheat the oven to 220°c/200°c fan/Gas 7 and butter the ramekins generously. Lay a piece of kitchen paper in the base of a roasting tin – the paper stops the ramekins for slipping in the tin.
Melt 25g of the butter in a large, non-stick frying pan, add the mushrooms and fry them over high heat for a few minutes. Cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat and cook for another 4 minutes, then remove the lid and fry over a high heat to evaporate the liquid. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set them aside.
To make the soufflé base, melt the remaining butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour to make a roux and cook for a minute. Gradually add the hot milk and whisk over a high heat until you have a thickened, smooth sauce.
Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until the sauce is smooth. Add the mushrooms and the cheese and season, then set aside to cool a little.
Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Stir about a tablespoon of egg whites into the egg and mushroom mixture and carefully fold it in, keeping everything light and airy.
Divide the soufflé mixture evenly between the ramekins and sit them on the paper in the roasting tin. Pour enough boiling water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the soufflés for about 15 minutes until risen and lightly golden.
To make the sauce, pour the cream into a jug and add the spinach and mustard. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
To serve, preheat the oven to 220°c/200°c fan/Gas 7. Carefully run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and remove the soufflés. Sit the soufflés, browned side up, in an ovenproof dish, then spoon the sauce around them. Reheat for about 12 minutes until piping hot. Serve with dressed leaves or some brown bread.
Onion, artichoke & sage open tart
Mary says: “With buttery puff pastry and a deliciously herby filling, this tart is simple to make and so good to eat. Puff is the ultimate comfort food pastry and works so well with these vegetables. You can buy chargrilled artichokes but they are often packed in oil, so drain them well before adding them to the tart.”
Prepare ahead: can be assembled up to 4 hours ahead, ready to put in the oven
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 large onion, sliced into thick wedges
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 400g mixed mushrooms (such as chestnut, shiitake, button), thickly sliced 1 x 375g sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 75ml pouring double cream
- 2 tsp chopped sage
- 1 tsp chopped thyme leaves 100g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
- 175g chargrilled artichokes, drained and cut into large pieces
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
You will need a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/Gas 7.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and fry over a high heat for 3–4 minutes. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the onions gently for about 20 minutes until soft. Remove the lid and continue to fry for a minute to evaporate the liquid. Add the sugar and vinegar and fry for another couple of minutes until golden. Remove the onions from the pan and set them aside to cool.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and place over a high heat. Add the mushrooms and fry for 2–3 minutes. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for 3–4 minutes, then remove the lid and fry over a high heat to evaporate the liquid. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and add them to the onions.
Unroll the pastry on to the lined baking sheet and cut o a 2cm (3⁄4in) strip around the edge. Brush over a border of 2cm (3⁄4in) around the large sheet of pastry with some beaten egg. Sit the pastry strips on top, pressing them down lightly to make a raised border. Prick the base inside the border with a fork and brush the border with a little more beaten egg.
Whisk the cream into the remaining egg in a bowl. Pour in the cream, add the herbs and season. Stir in the grated cheese.
Spoon the onions and mushrooms on to the pastry, keeping them inside the border. Scatter the artichokes over the top. Season well and spoon the egg mixture on top of the vegetables. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown. Serve hot, with a dressed tomato salad.
Brioche frangipane apple pudding
Mary says: “When you feel in need of a comfort pudding this one really fits the bill. It’s perfect for Sunday lunch, served warm with ice cream, custard, cream or crème fraîche.”
Prepare ahead: can be made and baked up to 8 hours ahead and reheated to serve
- 1⁄2 brioche loaf
- 175g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 175g caster sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 175g ground almonds
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 25g plain flour
- about 2 red dessert apples, skin on, cored and thinly sliced,
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
- 1 tbsp baked almonds, toasted
- icing sugar, for dusting
You will need a large, shallow ovenproof dish, about 28cm (11in) in diameter. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas 6 and grease the dish with butter.
Slice the brioche into thin slices, about 5mm/¼in, and arrange these over the base of the dish. Make sure you cover the base and fill in all the gaps, but don’t overlap the slices.
Measure the butter and sugar into a food processor and whizz until pale and fluffy. Add the almond extract, ground almonds, eggs and flour, then whizz again until the mixture is soft and creamy and there are no lumps. Be careful not to over-process.
Spoon the mixture over the brioche base and spread it to the sides. Arrange the sliced apples in a neat overlapping circular pattern over the top. Bake the pudding in the oven for about 40 minutes until lightly golden all over and firm in the centre when lightly pressed.
Melt the jam with 2 tablespoons of water in a small pan.
Brush over the surface and sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Dust the pudding with icing sugar and serve warm.
From Simple Comforts by Mary Berry (£26, BBC Books), out now
Photography: Laura Edwards
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.