Eggs for Easter

April 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

Two simple egg dishes for Easter. The first is a beautiful looking quail egg, pea and ham salad, the second a simple dish of baked eggs with cream and herbs.

They would work equally well as a starter before your Easter Sunday meal or as a lunch or supper dish.

Recipe for quail egg, pea and ham salad

This is hardly a recipe, more a culinary improvisation based on idea on the Ocado online grocery shopping website. I didn’t like the idea of hearty fried bacon in this delicate little salad so replaced it with slivers of ham. Airfreighted fresh peas and mangetout didn’t appeal either so I used lightly cooked British frozen peas which are sweet and good and bulked out the salad with some crisp Little Gem lettuce instead of the mangetout. I simplified the salad dressing too, making it light and lemony.


1 pack 10 quail eggs
2 generous handfuls frozen petit pois, cooked for 1 minute in boiling water and drained
4-6 slices Parma ham, torn into artful shreds
1 bag peashoots
2 little gem lettuces, washed and separated into individual leaves
For the dressing:
2-3 tablespoons of your favourite salad oil (olive, hazelnut or pistachio if you can get hold of it)
Generous squeeze of lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
snipped fresh soft herbs (optional)

Hardboil the quail eggs following the timings specified on the pack. Cool, peel and slice carefully in half lengthways.

Make the dressing in the usual way in a pretty serving bowl. Add the peas while still warm and leave to soak up the dressing for 5 minutes.

Then add the lettuce and peashoots and toss all together gently. Add a little more dressing if the salad needs it.

Strew the eggs and ham artfully over the top of the salad and your done.

Recipe for baked eggs in cream with fresh herbs

Otherwise known as Oeufs en Cocotte, a French classic. I use Julia Child’s instructions in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, a book I refer to very often (even before the film!).

For each serving

1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons double cream
1 egg
1-2 teaspoons mixed fresh parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon (use whatever combination you have to hand – I particularly like tarragon)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

You will also need a ramekin for each person and a deep tray containing 3/4 inches simmering water. I use a loaf tin if I’m just cooking for one or two people.

Butter the ramekin saving a dot for later. Add 1 tablespoon cream, half your herbs and a little seasoning and set the ramekin in the simmering water over moderate heat. When the cream is hot, break your egg into it. Pour over the remaining tablespoon of cream, season and scatter over the remaining herbs. Top with the reserved dot of butter.

Place in the middle of a moderate oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. The eggs are done when they are just set but will still tremble slightly.

Serve with fingers of your favourite lightly toasted bread to dip into the runny yolks and cream.

After such a light lunch, you will have plenty of room to tuck into your easter chocolate:

Happy Easter!

Hot Cross Buns

April 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

…is a recipe title that might confuse American readers but we in the UK know what we mean!

I spend most of the year going “Tsk, tsk” looking at unseasonal packets of hot cross buns on the shelf of my local Marks & Spencer food store.

Finally, Good Friday is almost upon us (yes, I know I have jumped the gun just a little) and we can eat them at their proper time.

If you fancing making a batch of your own, they are easy-peasy if you are familiar with the basics of yeast cookery (especially if you have a Kenwood or Kitchenaid electric mixer). Here’s my favourite recipe from Margaret Costa’s “Four Seasons Cookery Book”. As ever, I’ve tinkered with recipe just a little substituting half the white flour for wholemeal so you can kid yourself they’re good for you. Also I’ve added my favourite spice, cardamom, to her suggested nutmeg and cinnamon mix.

You unlikely to find cardamom in a shop-bought hot cross bun as it’s too pricy for the mass-market so you really will taste the difference (haven’t I heard that phrase somewhere before…).

Surprisingly, you can find the fresh yeast specified in the recipe at your local Sainsbury’s bakery counter. You may be able to find it at other supermarket in-store bakery counters too – Sainsbury’s just happens to be convenient for me.

I think there’s something magical about the way fresh yeast turns rapidly from an unyielding beige lump of putty into liquid when it is mashed and stirred for a few moments with a teaspoon of sugar. And it might be my imagination, but the rise, flavour and crust of bread and buns made with fresh rather dried yeast always seems superior to the result you achieve with dried yeast.

Here’s the mise en place for the hot cross buns – it’s a matter of just minutes to assemble what you need. The yeast and flour sponge after 45 minutes’ proving can be seen in the wider and shallower of the 2 stainless steel bowls.

Here are the buns after final proving ready to go into the oven. I happened to have a little ball of leftover pastry lurking at the back of my fridge so the buns are adorned with dinky crosses. I usually simply mark the crosses with sharp knife which is much quicker.

The finished product is shown at the top of the post. The aroma of warm spice and orange peel currently wafting round the kitchen is irresistible…

Recipe for Hot Cross Buns

From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book with some additions of my own.

1 lb (450g) plain flour ( I like to use half strong wholemeal and half ordinary white or vice versa half strong plain white and half ordinary wholemeal
1 oz (25g) fresh yeast
1/2 pint (300ml) milk-and-water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
seeds from 10 green cardamom pods pounded to as fine a dust as you can muster using a pestle and mortar
1 teaspoon salt
2 oz (55g) golden caster sugar
3 oz (85g) currants
1-2 oz (25-55g) chopped mixed candied peel
2 oz (55g) melted butter
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water for glaze

Sift half the flour into a bowl. Blend the yeast into a liquid with a pinch of sugar and a little of the lukewarm (not more than blood heat otherwise you will kill the yeast) milk-and-water mixture. Pour the yeast mixture and remaining milk-and-water mixture into a well in half of the sifted flour and mix well. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warmish place for about 45 minutes. The mixture will by then have become puffed-up and spongy.

Meanwhile sift the rest of the flour with the spices, salt and caster sugar. Stir in the currants and peel. When the first mixture has proved, add it to the flour then pour in the melted butter and egg. Mix thoroughly and knead until smooth. 5 minutes with the dough hook in your Kenwood mixer will make short shrift of this task. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to prove this time for about 1 hour. The mixture should approximately double in bulk.

Now turn the dough onto a floured board, knead it lightly and cut it carefully into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into rounds and place not too close together on a lightly greased baking sheet. Mark each bun with a cross using a sharp knife or alternatively criss-cross the buns with narrow strips of shortcrust pastry or, even better, marzipan.

Cover the baking trays lightly with clingfilm or a clean tea towel and leave to prove for a further 15 minutes until well-risen.

Bake in a hot oven 220 degrees C (425 degrees F; gas mark 7) for about 15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them generously with a glaze made by boiling together in a small saucepan for a minute or so the sugar and water.

Cool on a wire rack and eat them, split and spread liberally with butter, as soon as you dare!

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