Lamb (or vegetables) for a springtime celebration

April 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last weekend, some 50 family and friends descended on the Northern Lake District hamlet of Fellside near Caldbeck to share our friend Bruce’s 50th birthday. As my contribution to the celebrations, I offered to cook a meal for all the guests staying over on the Saturday night.

This is the menu I put together with its foundations in the Lake District classics of Herdwick lamb sourced from Yew Tree Farm in Rosthwaite and Sticky Toffee pudding, a recipe that originated at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay hotel.

Menu for Bruce’s Saturday night

Olives

Hummus

Tzatziki

Dukkah and olive oil

All with pitta

*****

Herdwick lamb tagine

Seven vegetable tagine

Both with preserved lemons and harissa

Couscous

Date and orange salad

Root vegetable slaw

Chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic

*****

Sticky toffee pudding

Toffee sauce and cream

Cheeseboard with water biscuits and Winter Tarn Farm organic butter

Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire

Keverigg (like Caerphilly) from Winter Tarn Farm near Penrith

Burt’s Blue from Altrincham

The lamb tagine/sticky toffee pudding formula is a tried and tested way of feeding a crowd and I’m indebted to my friend Shelley for introducing me to this lamb tagine recipe which can be made ahead of time and will appeal even to those who, like me, are not lovers of stewed lamb. The fell-bred Herdwick lamb shoulder becomes meltingly delicious, sweet and spicy after two and a half hours of slow-cooking.

And for those who prefer vegetables to lamb, I offer a recipe for a Moroccan-inspired seven vegetable tagine. The vegetables are given flavour twice over first by being marinaded in olive oil, garlic and harissa and second by being roasted in a hot oven to concentrate their flavour further. As the sauce is made from pureéd vegetables and a little stock, this recipe is both gluten and dairy-free, an added bonus when feeding vegetarians with different dietary requirements.

Both recipes are straightforward to make, freeze and reheat well and are equally good eaten for supper at home or scaled up for a celebration.

Contact details for Yew Tree Farm, Borrowdale (for Herdwick Lamb via mail order or in person from the farm shop)

017687 77675
http://borrowdaleyewtreefarm.co.uk/herdwick/

Joe and Hazel Relph
Yew Tree Farm
Rosthwaite
Borrowdale
Cumbria
CA12 5KB

Tagine of Herdwick lamb

Adapted from Antony Worrall Thompson recipe on the BBC Food website. Serves 6 generously or up to 10 if served with salads and side dishes. Doubled up, this fits comfortably into a preserving pan and if making ahead and freezing, the double quantity can be ladled into 5 pour and store bags each serving four people and holding 1.1 litres/kg tagine.

The quantity of spices given in the recipe if measured accurately with cook’s measuring spoons will give quite a spicy tagine, particularly so if your spices are fresh. If you prefer a milder tagine, put in a quarter (for a mild end result) or half (for a medium end result) of the stated quantities of cayenne, ground ginger and black pepper. Replace the hot spices with more of the milder ones (paprika, cinnamon and turmeric). Taste the sauce half way through the cooking time and crank up spices according to your taste at that stage.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 and a half tablespoons mild paprika
1 and a half tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 boned shoulder of Herdwick lamb, trimmed carefully to remove excess fat and sinew and cut into 5cm chunks. There should be approx 1kg trimmed weight of meat
2 large onions, very finely chopped in a food processor (original recipe calls for grated onion)
2 tablespoon light olive oil
2 tablespoon argan oil
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
570ml tomato juice
400g can chopped tomatoes
115g natural colour (unsulphured) dried apricots, halved
55g Deglet Nour dates, stoned and halved
55g organic sultanas
85g flaked almonds
1 teaspoon best quality saffron stamens (I like Brindisa Belefran brand from Spain)
570ml lamb stock
1 tbsp clear strong tasting honey (I like heather honey)
1 can drained rinsed chickpeas
chopped fresh flatleaf parsley and coriander to garnish

Combine the dried spices in a small bowl and mix well to combine. Place the trimmed lamb pieces in a large bowl and toss together with half the spice mix. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat your oven to 140 degrees C fan.

Heat 1 tablespoon light olive oil and 1 tablespoon argan oil in a large casserole dish. Add the finely chopped onion and the remaining half of the spice mix to the pan and cook over a gentle heat for about 7 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes then turn off the heat.

While the onion and spices are cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon each of olive and argan oils in a large frying pan and brown the pieces of lamb a few at a time.

Add the browned lamb pieces to the casserole along with any juices. Deglaze the frying pan with a quarter of the tomato juice and add these juices to the pan.

Add the remaining tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, dried fruits, flaked almonds, saffron, lamb stock and honey to the casserole dish. Bring to the boil, cover, place in the oven and cook for 2 and a half hours. Cool, skim off and discard any excess fat. Add the chickpeas, stir in well and heat through when ready to serve. Garnish generously with chopped fresh herbs and serve with couscous.

Seven Vegetable Tagine

Source: adaptation and combination of several recipes from Paula Wolfert’s book “Moroccan Cuisine”. Apparently, in both Fez and Marrakesh, the number 7 is considered lucky and this recipe has both seven vegetables and seven flavourings so is doubly so.

This recipe was originally devised for a Moroccan-themed party to suit a vegetarian family member who cannot eat tomatoes.

Serves 7-8 as a main course; 12-15 as a vegetable accompaniment

Ingredients

The 7 vegetables

1 butternut squash, peeled and quartered
2 medium aubergines
2 red peppers
1 medium turnip (not swede), peeled and quartered
3 medium onions, peeled
1 large bulb fennel, trimmed
1 can white cannellini beans (400 g can, drained weight 225g) drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons olive oil

The 7 flavourings

4 crushed cloves garlic
3 teaspoons harissa
3 tsp cumin seeds
1-2tsp salt
few twists pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
1 generous pinch saffron threads
Three quarters to one pint vegetable stock (I use Marigold vegetable stock powder)

Cut all the vegetables, other than the beans, into bite sized chunks (roughly 1” cubes). Don’t worry if the the onions and fennel fall apart.

Put the flavouring ingredients except the saffron into a large mixing bow, add the olive oil and, tip in the vegetable chunks (but not the beans) and mix everything together with your hands, making sure all the vegetables are well coated with the flavoured oil.

Tip into large roasting tin – don’t cram them into too small a tin otherwise the vegetables will steam rather than roast – and roast for approx half an hour in a hot oven – 220 degrees C in a domestic fan oven. The vegetables are ready when they are soft but not mushy and the top layer are toasted and golden brown with darker brown edges – don’t let them blacken and burn. Stir them about once or twice while they are roasting.

While the vegetables are roasting, soak the saffron threads in a little hot water (1-2 fl oz) in a measuring jug for 15 minutes or so. Top up the measuring jug to the three quarter pint level with vegetable stock.

When the vegetables are cooked, remove from the oven, tip in the drained beans and stir to mix. Remove approximately one quarter of the vegetable mix and liquidize or blend with the saffron stock liquid to make the sauce. Add up to a further quarter pint of vegetable stock if the liquidized sauce seems to thick. Tip the sauce back into the roasting tin and stir gently to mix, scraping any toasty brown bits from the base of the roasting tin as you do so, but being careful not to break up the roast vegetables too much.

To serve – warm through and garnish with chopped fresh coriander and offer extra harissa and chopped preserved lemons separately.

Peasant girl with veil

August 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

I’ve been researching Danish food over the past couple of weeks in readiness for a forthcoming special occasion and yesterday decided to try out a recipe for the charmingly named dessert “Peasant girl with veil”. In its original form, it’s layers of stewed apple, whipped cream and fried breadcrumbs arranged in decorative layers in a glass bowl. It’s a really simple and effective formula that ends up tasting a bit like a deconstructed cheesecake.

I decided to serve up my version in small glasses and decorate the layers with edible flowers to pretty it up and make it suitable for a party.

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I lightened up the whipped cream by combining it with Greek yoghurt, pepped up the stewed apple with spices and Calvados and replaced the fried breadcrumbs with one of my guilty pleasures, crushed HobNob biscuits (for non-UK readers, these are an oat-crunch type biscuit made by UK manufacturer McVities).

To make the layering-up of the dessert more precise, I spooned the stewed apple and the cream into separate piping bags which worked a treat. Next time I make this I’m going to make sure the apple purée is really smooth to make the piping easier, and I won’t make the top layer of biscuit crumbs so thick as they showered everywhere when we dug our spoons in!

These tasted good yesterday after dinner and equally good 24 hours later straight from the refrigerator.

Peasant girl with veil

My version of this classic Scandinavian dessert claimed as their own by both the Danes and the Norwegians.

Serves 12 dainty portions or 8 more substantial ones.

Ingredients

For the apple purée

3 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into rough slices
6 tablespoons golden caster sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons water (if required)
1-2 teaspoons mixed spice
1-2 tablespoons Calvados

For the cream

150ml whipping cream
170g Greek yoghurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons icing sugar

To assemble

8 Hobnob (oat crunch) biscuits, crushed to fine crumbs (about 120g crumbs)
fresh or dried edible flowers (optional)

Begin by making the apple purée. Combine the prepared apple, sugar and mixed spice in a medium heavy-based saucepan. Cover and place over a gentle heat, stirring regularly to dissolve the sugar and make sure the mixture doesn’t stick and burn. Add the 2 tablespoons of water if the mixture seems to dry. Cook the mixture gently for about 15 minutes, stirring the apples vigorously with a wooden spoon so that they “fall” ie become a thick puree.

If you’re going for a dainty presentation involving piping the purée into small glasses then you need to cool it then run it through a food processor to remove any lumps that would otherwise clog your piping nozzle. Set aside and chill.

Now prepare the cream. Combine the cream with half of the icing sugar and vanilla extract and whip to the very soft peak stage. In a separate bowl, beat the Greek yoghurt with the rest of the icing sugar and vanilla extract. Now carefully combine the two mixtures by folding one into the other.

You are now ready to assemble the dessert. The layering-up is made very straightforward if the apple purée and cream are decanted into disposable piping bags each fitted with a 1cm nozzle.

Spoon or pipe a layer apple purée into the bottom of each serving glass or bowl. Top with a layer of cream, again piped or spooned as you prefer. Now spoon over a thick layer of crumbs. Repeat the process to fill the glasses but keep the top layer of crumbs very thin otherwise they scatter everywhere when you dig in with a spoon. If liked, decorate the top of each dessert glass with a piped blob of the cream and one or two edible flowers. Enjoy straightaway or cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

A simnel cake for Easter

April 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

I baked myself a traditional simnel cake last weekend just in time for Mothering Sunday. I was pleased with the end result and felt moved, albeit prematurely, to dig out the easter eggs I’d previously painstakingly blown and painted to complete the decoration of our Sunday lunch table.

Simnel cake was traditionally made for Mothering Sunday but has now become more usually associated with easter. It struck me as I gathered together the copious quantities of marzipan, butter, sugar, eggs and dried fruit needed for the cake that these ingredients seemed very much at odds with the spirit of the Lent fasting season. After all if we can’t even eat the humble pancake comprising just milk, flour and eggs after Shrove Tuesday how on earth would a cake like this be permitted?

I did a bit of research into the subject. One commentator suggests that the simnel cake was given as a gift on Mothering Sunday but put aside and not eaten until easter . This sounds unlikely and peculiarly ungenerous. I found a more likely explanation on a website devoted to the rites of Catholicism. Mothering Sunday coincides with Laetare “Rejoicing” Sunday close to the midpoint of Lent and on this day worshippers are permitted a bit of a breather from the strictures of the Lenten fast and may have a bit of a blow-out before resuming the fast the following day. This sounds much more plausible to me.

A properly made simnel cake is a lovely thing with the buried marzipan layer a delightful and finely flavoured surprise in its centre. I’m sorry but you really should make your own marzipan as the bought stuff is much sweeter than homemade and always has far too much almond flavouring added for my taste imparting a harsh chemical flavour to your otherwise lovely mellow cake

The Four Seasons Cookbook recipe on which I based my version of a simnel cake has perfect proportions for the specified 8 inch/20cm cake tin. The completed cake is golden in colour with a distinct citrus flavour from the combination of zest and candied peel. I found some rather pleasing golden sultanas (see pic) to heighten the golden colour of the cake.

Baking the cake presents something of a technical challenge as the usual test for doneness, sticking a skewer into the cake and seeing if it comes out clean, doesn’t work. The buried marzipan layer clings to the skewer come what may so the baker has to draw on other knowhow – checking for a slight shrinkage from the side and gently pressing the cake surface feeling for just the right degree of resistance. As always with rich fruit cakes, a long slow bake works best.

Simnel cake

Adapted from a recipe in Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book.

Ingredients

750g prepared weight of marzipan (homemade is best) divided into two pieces one slightly larger than the other plus a little sifted icing sugar for rolling out

175g unsalted butter
175g Demerara butter
3 eggs
1 tablespoon golden syrup
grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon each of freshly grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon and ground allspice
450g currants
225g sultanas
115g chopped mixed candied peel
up to 150ml milk

To finish the cake

The second piece of marzipan plus a little sifted icing sugar (see above)

2 tablespoons sieved apricot jam or marmalade (or light coloured fruit jelly if you have some to hand)
a few Cadbury’s mini eggs or similar
an easter chick or two
pretty ribbon to tie around the cake

Roll out the smaller piece of marzipan into a round the exact size of the cake tin. No need to trim as it won’t be visible but will form a layer baked inside the cake, just press this disc into shape with your hands. Do this before lining the tin so you can use the base as a template.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C fan and fully line with double thickness of baking parchment a deep 20cm/ 8 inch loose-bottomed round cake tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in first the tablespoon of golden syrup and grated orange and lemon zests then the eggs one at a time adding a tablespoon of flour after each addition of egg to help the mixture emulsify.

Stir the salt and spices into the remaining flour and fold into the mixture with the dried fruit. Finally stir in just enough milk to make the mixture a not too soft dropping consistency like a Christmas cake batter. If it’s too soft it won’t support the weight of all that dried fruit and the internal marzipan layer.

Spoon half the cake mixture into the prepared tin and level off. Carefully place the preshaped marzipan round onto the cake mixture and top with the remaining cake mixture. Level off and place into the preheated oven and bake until done, up to 3 and a half hours but could well be less depending on how your oven behaves at lower temperatures.

The usual technique of inserting a skewer into the cake and seeing if it comes out clean won’t work as even when the cake is baked into oblivion the marzipan layer leaves a false trace on the skewer. Instead, press the cake top gently to make sure it resists and look to see if the cake has shrunk just a little from the sides of the lined tin.

Leave the cake to cool in its tin for several hours or overnight until it is quite cold. This gives you time to gather together the bits and pieces needed to decorate and finish the cake.

Remove the cake from the tin and peel off and discard the layers of baking parchment. Knead and roll out the reserved marzipan to a thickness of no more than 1cm.

Brush the top of the cake with warmed sieved apricot jam, marmalade, apple jelly or similar – something with a suitably golden colour.

Invert the cake onto the rolled out marzipan and trim to a neat circle, reserving the trimmings for the traditional marzipan ball decoration.

Turn the cake the right way up and gently mark the top into large squares or, prettier still, into lozenges using a large cook’s knive. Try not to cut right through the marzipan.

To mark the top into lozenges first mark horizontal lines across the cake at a distance of c.2.5cm from each other. Then rotate the cake and mark another set of lines not at a 90 degree angle but offset so that the intersecting lines form lozenge or diamond shapes.

Slip the cake under a heated grill to lightly toast the surface to give an attractive finish to the cake. Be sure to watch it carefully at this stage so that it doesn’t catch and burn.

Make 11 small marzipan balls (the traditional number representing the apostles minus Judas) with the reserved marzipan trimmings and set these evenly around the cake, sticking them into place with a little more warmed jam if you like.

Complete the decoration by adding a few pastel coloured mini eggs and an Easter chick or two to the top of the cake and tying a decorative ribbon around its sides.

Bat cakes for a Night at the Opera

September 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

The opera in question was Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Clonter Opera Cheshire’s summer production. We’ve been going to Clonter for a number of years now and theming the dessert course of our opera picnic seems to have become my speciality.

Die Fledermaus is a light-hearted operetta composed by Johann Strauss the younger in 1874. It’s location is Vienna and the plot revolves around a ball set-piece scene, lots of disguises (including the bat costume) and all the silliness ends happily with forgiveness and reconciliation.

The combination of the bat image combined with the Viennese setting led me to the idea of a chocolate-bat decorated individual Sachertorte, Vienna’s iconic cake, as the centrepiece of my dessert. The Hotel Sacher has updated its chocolate cake offering by selling indvidual ganache-enrobed cubes of chocolate cake each topped with a chocolate seal. I loved the idea of these and thought they would look great topped with a discreet dark chocolate bat rather than the corporate Sacher logo.

Where on earth would I find bat-shaped confectionery in summer? There were various Halloween-themed bits and pieces available online but nothing the right size. Then I thought of Slattery’s, North Manchester’s own chocolatier. A quick phone call to John Slattery himself and two dozen bats were lined up ready for collection in two days’ time. I was even offered a choice of sizes. What service!

A single piece of chocolate cake was not going to be a show-stopper on its own so I decided that the Sachertorte would be one component within a dessert Bento-style box.

Our local cake shop supplied me (for a price!) with 12 cupcake boxes, one per guest, in a clean white card and cellophane window design that were perfect for my requirements. Sturdy enough for stacking and transport and flat-pack disposable for an easy clean-up at the end of the evening.

Now with box dimensions to work with I could visualise more easily what else I needed to complete the box. Vienna is famous for its cakes, in particular luscious layered tortes. After researching classic Viennese cakes I chose to construct a miniaturised version of the Esterházy Torte, a multilayered construction sandwiching nut sponge layers with a vanilla and nut flavoured cream, topped with a traditional feather-iced pattern.

That was two corners of the box taken care of. Now for the other two. I needed something to offset the sweet and dense cakes. A simple fruit compôte would be perfect and I chose apricot as both the Sacher and Esterházy Tortes use lots of sieved apricot jam in their construction so the flavours should be harmonious. Also, the best reason of all, apricots were in season and in peak condition.

Next I needed cream to set off both the tortes and the compôte. Sachertorte is traditionally served with a cloud of whipped cream but I like to combine Greek yoghurt and softly whipped cream 50:50, flavour it with real vanilla extract and lightly sweeten with icing sugar for a lighter, fresher result.

The apricot compôte and whipped cream could be served in transparent deli-style sealed cartons stacked one on top of each other. That left the final corner of the box to fill. What could I do here? I thought of chocolate-dipped Viennese fingers or sandwiched Viennese whirls, but these seemed to owe more to Mr Kipling than any true Viennese heritage. I then frantically thought of mini Kugelhopfs, perhaps marbled chocolate and vanilla, then had a memory flash back to my childhood when elaborate pink decorated tins of Viennese coffee flavoured with dried fig seasoning (can that really taste good?) used to be on sale. Maybe I could come up with a mini coffee meringue topped with fresh figs?

Finally I told myself to STOP and follow my own mantra of Less is More. I need not rush round the kitchen becoming frazzled before an evening at the opera. I filled the last corner of the box with a napkin, some disposable wooden cutlery (so much nicer than plastic) and the most elegant disposable plastic wine glass I could find. I then packed some half bottles of Hungary’s famous dessert wine Tokaji to serve alongside. Perfect.

Here’s the end result first with the box open:

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and then closed ready for packing and transport to Clonter:

L1060114

OK so that’s the overview, now for detail on the construction of the individual elements.

The Hotel Sacher recipe for Sachertorte is a closely guarded secret but fortunately it’s Mary Berry to the rescue. I used her Great British Bake Off recipe featured on the BBC Food website as the base for my Sachertorte cubes. Interestingly this is similar but not identical to the Sachertorte recipe featured in her Baking Bible. I doubled the recipe quantity given below and baked it in two 23cm (9 inch) square tins.

I then sandwiched the cakes together a generous quantity with sieved apricot jam flavoured with a little Amaretto liqueur (perfect as it is itself made from the bitter almond flavoured apricot kernels) and sharpened up with a spritz of lemon juice.

I trimmed the cakes, cut them neatly into 16 cubes and brushed each cube generously with more of that sieved apricot jam.

It was shaping up to be a warm, humid day so rather than a classic cream and chocolate ganache icing I chose to make the chocolate and butter ganache I’ve used before on the Ottolenghi golden clementine cake. You can find the recipe here. This worked a treat setting to a glossy sheen thanks to the honey and butter in the recipe. I needed to make a double quantity of the icing to coat all of the cubes but could probably have got away with 1 and a half times the recipe.

Finally, each individual cube was topped with one of those chocolate bats carefully transported home from Slattery’s and they were left in the cool cellar until being packed up in double white fluted cake cases later in the afternoon.

Moving on the Esterházy Torte. A classic version of this cake comprises a majestic 5 layers of nut flavoured cake sandwiched with nut and vanilla flavoured cream. The nuts might be toasted almonds or hazelnuts depending on your preferred version of the cake. There seem to be countless subtly different versions of this recipe out there so I combined features of several recipes and scaled the quantities down in order to come up with the recipe I give below for mini Esterházy tortes comprising just 2 cake layers sandwiching a layer of vanilla nut cream.

These were straightforward enough to make being similar to a macaroon batter but much easier to handle thanks to the differing proportions of egg whites, nuts and sugar.

For the filling, I reached for my failsafe Lenôtre vanilla buttercream recipe which I learned when making macarons a couple of years ago. To complete the vanilla cream I folded in some more of the toasted ground hazelnuts.

The next step before assembling the tortes was to ice the tops with the distinctive feathered icing which is an essential feature of the Esterházy torte. Despite my many years of baking this was to be a first for me and the result was going to be on show to 12 opera guests so no pressure… I decided to ice a few extra tops to make sure that at least 12 of the lids would make the grade. This proved to be a wise decision as there are plenty of pitfalls for the unwary…

The cake tops were first brushed with sieved apricot jam to create a barrier preventing the icing from being absorbed into the cake surface. I’d made my water icing using a newly available product on my local supermarket shelves, fondant icing sugar. I’d hoped this would give me the smooth glossy effect of true fondant icing but this stuff is a bit of a cheat as it’s merely regular icing sugar with a little added powdered glucose. This does give a nice sheen to the finished product but produces a slow-setting permanently soft icing which frankly is a pain to work with. Next time I will use ordinary icing sugar.

The contrasting colour in the feathered icing comes from melted dark chocolate. The addition of a little vegetable oil to the chocolate produces a softer slower-setting result giving you time to work the feathered pattern. I forgot the oil which made life difficult as by the time I had piped lines of dark chocolate onto a row of lids, the chocolate had set rock-solid before I had chance to try out my feathering skills.

I changed tack and piped a single lid with 3 neat parallel lines of chocolate and immediately ran the wooden skewer through in a perpendicular direction. This worked fine except that I set the lids down to dry at a slight angle and 5 minutes later the slow-setting fondant icing (see my comments above) had slid off onto the kitchen work surface. Very frustrating.

I managed to turn out 12 acceptable lids and left the rejects for home consumption later. Once the icing had dried for a couple of hours, it was time for final assembly. I chose to transport the Esterházy tortes in clear plastic clamshells designed for cupcakes and these proved to be perfect for protecting the delicate tortes. I place a torte base in the bottom of the clamshell, piped a disc of buttercream on top and gently placed the iced top-layer in position, applying just a little pressure to hold everything together.

On to the apricot compôte. This was relatively straightforward to make after the two complex mini-cakes, but with its sharp refreshing sweetness a very welcome element in the dessert box. I didn’t want a babyfood-smooth purée, nor did I want something resembling a can of apricot halves in syrup. What was required was something nice and thick but with a bit of chunky texture. I thought I could achieve the texture I wanted by gently poaching the peeled apricot slices in vanilla-scented sugar syrup, carefully draining the fruit then puréeing half of it before combining it with the remainder of the fruit cut into pieces. This worked a treat. The compôte was thoroughly chilled in the fridge before spooning neatly into small clear plastic deli-style containers.

The final step was to pipe my Greek yoghurt and vanilla cream into similar deli-style pots in a relaxed swirl – more elegant than just dolloping it in to the pots.

After 2 days’ work I was finally all done and packed up. The boxes and their contents travelled brilliantly and, sigh, were consumed in the interval in a matter of minutes.

Recipe for Sachertorte

Adapted from a Mary Berry Great British Bake Off recipe on bbc.co.uk/food. This quantity of cake batter makes a single layer cake. A double quantity is required to make 16 cake cubes.

Ingredients

140g plain chocolate broken into small pieces (or use professional baking drops or buttons)
140g unsalted butter, softened
115g golden caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
5 eggs, separated
85g ground almonds
55g sifted plain flour

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (fan). Grease and line with silicone paper your chosen cake tin. This quantity of cake batter will make a slim single layer cake if baked in a 23cm round tin, or a chunky layer for a two layer cake if baked in a 23cm square tin.
2. Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Remove and cool slightly.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together very well until really light. There is no raising agent in this cake so the only lift comes from air incorporated at this stage and when the beaten egg whites are incorporated.
4. Add the cooled melted chocolate and vanilla extract and beat again. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time then fold in the ground almonds and sifted flour.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Add about one third of the whisked egg whites to the chocolate mixture and stir will to mix in. This will lighten the mixture and make it easier to incorporate the remaining whisked egg white without beating all the air out.
6. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface with a palette knife.
8. Bake for 40-50 minutes until well risen and the top springs back when gently pressed with your forefinger. The shallower 23cm square cake will cook more quickly whereas the deeper 23cm round cake will need a little longer in the oven.
9. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15-20 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to complete cooling.
10. Glaze, ice, fill and decorate according to your chosen recipe and desired finish. A sieved apricot jam glaze topped with chocolate ganache icing is traditional.

Recipe for mini Esterházy Tortes

Makes 16-18 sandwich cakes (32-36 individual cake discs).

Ingredients

For the cake layers

210g egg white (whites of approx. 6 eggs)
250g golden caster sugar
125g ground hazelnuts, lightly toasted
2 and a half tablespoons flour

To complete

1 quantity vanilla buttercream
85g ground hazelnuts, lightly toasted
Sieved apricot jam
1 quantity thick water icing made with 200g icing sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon of schnapps and water to mix
50g dark chocolate melted with a teaspoon of flavourless oil

Begin by making the mini cake layers. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (fan). Whisk the egg whites until foamy then add the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time whisking after each addition. Continue whisking until the meringue mixture is stiff. Fold in the flour and toasted ground hazelnuts. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle and pipe small discs 4-5cm in diameter onto baking sheets lined with silicone paper or a non-stick liner. Leave about 2cm space between each disc to allow air to circulate to achieve an even bake. They don’t spread as they bake. Bake for about 15 minutes until the discs are a light golden colour. Allow to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes or so before carefully transferring to a rack with a palette knife to complete cooling.

Prepare the vanilla buttercream using the recipe given in the link above. Stir in the ground almonds. Set aside.

Divide the cake discs into two halves, one group will be the tops and the other the bottoms. Brush the smooth side of the tops with sieved apricot jam and leave to set for a few minutes. Feather-ice the tops by piping 3 parallel evenly spaced lines of dark chocolate across the freshly applied thick water icing layer and immediately drawing a wooden skewer through the chocolate lines at right angles. The chocolate is easily piped from a small piping bag made from a folded triangle of greaseproof paper with a tiny hole snipped off at the pointed end. Each draw of the skewer should be evenly spaced and parallel to form the feathered pattern. Three or four draws of the skewer should be about right for these small cakes. The feathering technique is more easily explained with diagrams and pictures so I’d suggest looking first at a detailed cake decorating book or at some of the videos available online (search terms marbled or feathered icing) if you’re trying this for the first time.

Leave the iced tops to set for a couple of hours before final assembly.

Assemble the cakes by piping a disc of buttercream onto the cake base. Use a disposable piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle. Set the iced layer on top and press gently to adhere.

Recipe for stone fruit compôte

Ingredients

800g-1kg ripe but not overripe stone fruit (eg apricots, peaches, nectarines or plums) peeled, stones removed and sliced
750 ml water
375g golden granulated or caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half
2-3 strips lemon peel
juice of a lemon

Make a syrup by bringing to the boil the sugar and water. Add the vanilla pod, lemon peel strips and lemon juice.

Poach the prepared fruit for 5-10 minutes until tender but not too pulpy. You may need to do this in batches.

Remove the poached fruit from the syrup with a slotted spoon. Purée about half of the poached fruit in a food processor or liquidiser. Cut the remaining poached fruit into bite sized chunks. Combine the fruit purée and chunks adding a little more poaching syrup if needed.

Chill until ready to serve. Don’t throw the deliciously scented poaching syrup away – keep it in the fridge and use as the base for a soft drink or cocktail.

German new year

January 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Twelfth night is behind us, the decorations are down and I’m almost into the second week of the now traditional alcohol-free January. Time to take stock of the new year festivities which this year took the form of a German-themed 3 day event hosted by our friends Mike and Janet. We ate our fill of homemade bratwurst (and that was just for childrens’ tea!), Mike’s excellent seeded and rye breads and lots of good wine.

Here’s the menu for the main event on New Year’s Eve:

Silvestermenu und weinkarte 2012

Wurst and leberkäse canapés

2006 Joh. Jos. Prüm Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese
NV René Muré Crémant d’Alsace Brut Prestige

~
Bräustüberl Weihenstephaner Obatzda mit Bretzeln
Soft pretzels with the original cheesy dip (Bräustüberl Weihenstephan)

1999 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett
~
Gugelhofer Riesling pochierte Forelle mit Thymian
Riesling-poached trout with thyme (Gugelhof, Berlin)

1999 Albert Boxler Riesling Brand
~
Rheinischer Sauerbraten mit Spätzle von Wolfgang Puck und Kümmel Krautsalat
Traditional beef sour-roast with spätzle and caraway cabbage salad

2009 August Kesseler Spätburgunder Cuvée Max
~
Birnenküchen
Roasted pears in a yeasted cinnamon-hazelnut cake

1996 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Beerenauslese
1976 Hugel et Fils Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles

~
Käse von Deutschland,England und die Republik Irland
Tilsiter, Colston Bassett, Coolea, Westcombe, Kirkham’s, Cornish Yarg, Tunworth

1983 Grahams Porto Vintage
1977 Warre Porto Vintage

~~~

Janet blithely announced on the morning of the 31st that our work preparing this feast would be “relatively light”. As if! It took us most of the day to get everything ready, and once we were done, Janet and Shelley set up the mincer, stretched the skins and produced several pounds of home made bratwurst. I watched in amazement as Shelley and Janet coaxed the pork and veal filling into seemingly endless pink links. My contribution to the project was a bit of washing up.

Back to the main event. My task was preparing the obatzda cheese spread and home made pretzels to serve alongside. I’d made pretzels before using an authentic Greg Patent “Baker’s Odyssey” recipe which I did again, this time dipping the pretzels in a bicarb solution rather than full-on caustic soda. I didn’t want to take the risk of chemical burns to self and children and damage to someone else’s home that working with caustic soda solution entails. After the effort of making the pretzels, whizzing up the obatzda was relatively simple. It was served deumurely from a small earthenware pot rather than in great scoopfuls on a big rustic wooden board as is traditional in Munich.

Next course was the trout, poached in a delicate riesling wine along with leeks and carrots for flavour and colour.

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The main course was a long-marinated and 5 hour simmered majestic beef Sauerbraten served with authentic spätzle noodles and a crunchy cabbage and caraway salad alongside, a good contrast to the meltingly soft been and noodles. Janet took charge of the spätzle, laboriously pushing the batter through a colander into boiling salted water in true Hausfrau style. The technique of cooling the cooked spätzle in iced water then briefly sautéing in hot oil and butter when ready to serve makes them practical for a dinner party.

Pudding was a magnificent yeasted pear and hazelnut cake which Shelley made. We managed to dovetail our use of the Kenwood mixer and oven very amicably. This was a truly magnificent cake, perfect served warm in delicate slices with billowy whipped cream. If there’d been any left, I’d imagine it would have been rather good served with coffee next morning!

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The meal concluded with cheese and port, then a rousing team demonstration of “Gangnam Style” to bring in the New Year and embarrass the children. Start as you mean to go on.

Recipe for Obatzda – Bavarian cheese spread

Traditionally served with soft pretzels as snack. Adapted from a recipe from the Bräustüberl Weihenstephan in Munich. Serves 6 as a starter or snack.

Ingredients

300g piece of Brie cheese, skin and all
23 g softened unsalted butter
50 g cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
pinch of ground caraway seeds
2 tablespoons German beer (Weihenstephaner Vitus Weizenbock or Weihenstephaner Weißbier for authenticity)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
40 g finely chopped red onion (or less depending on your preference).

Process the Brie to a mass in a food processor. Add the butter, cream cheese, seasonings and beer and process again to combine. Remember that the cheeses are already quite salty so go easy on adding salt at this stage.

Finally add the chopped red onion and process very gently once more just to combine.

Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavours to combine and mellow. You can serve the spread packed into a pretty earthenware pot as we did, or more traditionally, serve in scoops or quenelles on a rustic wooden board alongside the soft pretzels and garnish with red onion rings, chives, and lettuce – a Bavarian ploughman’s lunch I suppose.

Recipe for Spätzle – Germanic rustic noodles

Austrian born celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s recipe from Epicurious.com. Serves 8 as a side dish.

Ingredients

4 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 pound (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

In a small bowl, beat together egg yolks, egg, and milk.In medium bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix with wooden spoon just until well blended. Do not overmix. Refrigerate, covered for at least 1 hour.

Bring a large pan of salted water to boil. Fill a large bowl with iced water. Place a large-holed metal colander on top of the pan. push one-third of the batter through the holes into the water using a flexible spatula. We think that a food mill set on the large hole screen might do this job pretty well but haven’t tried it out yet. Cook for a minute or two then transfer quickly with a slotted spoon to the bowl of iced water. Make 2 more batches in the same way.

When the spätzle are cool to touch, drain well and toss with 1/4 cup oil. (They can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days.)

When you are ready to serve, place a large sauté pan over high heat and in it heat the remaining 1/4 cup oil. Add the spätzle and cook, without moving the pan, until undersides are brown, about 2 minutes. Add butter and sauté until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Recipe for Birnenküchen – German pear cake

Serves 8 generous portions for teatime or 12 dainty portions for dessert with whipped cream. Adapted from a recipe on Epicurious.com.

Ingredients

For the enriched yeast dough

3/4 teaspoon fast acting instant dried yeast (2-3g – the type that can be added directly to flour)
1 1/2 cups strong plain flour, plus additional for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup golden caster sugar
1 whole large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

For the pear topping
3 ripe but still firm Conference pears (about 1 1/2 lb total)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons plain fine dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Begin by making the enriched yeast dough. Ideally you need a stand mixer (Kenwood or Kitchenaid ) to attempt this recipe.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together the flours, fast action dried yeast and salt. Pour in the milk, turn the mixer on to a low speed and mix for one to two minutes until the flour is moistened and you have a fairly dry shaggy mixture.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a plastic dough scraper or rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to a low speed and add the egg mixture little by little, then the sugar. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes by which time the dough should have formed into a ball.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the butter in 2 tablespoon sized chunks, beating until almost incorporated before adding the next. You will end up with a very soft cake-batter-like dough. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Cover the bowl with cling film or a plate and let the dough prove until doubled in size, at least 1 and 1/2 hours, maybe longer.

While the dough proves, prepare the roast pear topping. Preheat oven to 180°C fan.
Peel pears, cut lengthwise into eighths, and cut out the cores. Toss pears with melted butter and 2 tablespoons brown sugar in a 13- by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish and arrange in 1 layer.
Roast pears, gently turning and stirring occasionally, until just tender and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes. Transfer pears to a plate with a slotted spatula. Stir bread crumbs into baking dish, scraping up all brown bits and butter, then transfer to a bowl. Stir the hazelnuts, cinnamon, and remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar into bread crumbs.

Line a deep 24cm round cake tin, ideally spring form, with a baking paper.

Now you are ready to assemble and bake the küchen. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C fan.
Knock back the proved dough and transfer it to the lined cake tin and and spread it evenly across the base of the tin with a rubber spatula.

Sprinkle half of the crumb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Gently toss the roasted pears with the remaining crumb mixture and scatter the pears over the dough. Let the küchen rise, covered with plastic wrap for about 30 minutes.

Bake the küchen for about 40 minutes until firm to the touch and deep golden brown. Cool the küchen in its tin on a rack for about 20 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin. Serve warm or at room temperature with softly whipped cream.

An alternative Christmas dinner

December 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve been teaching some local young people simple cooking skills at our local Parish Centre/Church Hall over the past few months. To celebrate the “end of term” we congregated together for a special pre Christmas meal.

My initial idea for this meal was to showcase the 3 original Christmas gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having researched their culinary possibilities I decided that whilst it would be straightforward to decorate a dessert with real edible gold leaf, incorporating frankincense and myrrh into savoury dishes might be more challenging and maybe even downright toxic. I sourced high quality frankincense and myrrh resins the origins of which were Oman and the Yemen and decided to incorporate them into the meal by burning them over charcoal.The fragrant smoke is very atmospheric and transports you instantly to the Middle East.

Hence the inspiration for the meal – food inspired by the the Holy Land as reinterpreted by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi in their rather gorgeous new book “Jerusalem” featuring recipes from their respective Jewish and Arabic heritages. The book, hardback and handsomely cloth bound, was an early Christmas present to myself and I couldn’t wait to put it through its paces.

This was the menu for yesterday’s alternative Christmas dinner for 18, largely taken from the pages of “Jerusalem”:

Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon
Open kibbeh
Root vegetable slaw
Mejadra
Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar
Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs
Basic hummus and hummus with lemon sauce and pinenuts
Pitta
Labneh

Golden clementine cake
Yoghurt, honey and pomegranates

Pomegranate and rose cordial

And here we are enjoying the rather magnificent feast:

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I did quite a bit of prep beforehand at home helped by Laura who made the rather beautiful roasted sweet potato and fresh figs:

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and stunning root vegetable slaw, vibrant in colour and taste, combining crisp raw roots sliced on the mandolin and cut into matchsticks combined with a sharp lemony dressing and Ottolenghi’s trademark abundance of fresh herbs:

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At the Parish Centre kitchen, Laura and Emma prepared the chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon which baked to a toasty gold and was aromatic and delicious with lots of slow-cooked shallot, sweet garlic cloves and of course the nuggets of Jerusalem artichoke. This would be a fantastic dish for an informal dinner party or a very welcome addition to a buffet for family and friends over the holiday period.

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Perhaps the best fun was preparing our own hummus, just as good as the stuff you can buy at Sainsbury’s! I’ve never had much success with homemade hummus before but I’d always started with canned chickpeas. WRONG! You need to start with dried kind, and some bicarb to help remove the skins. In fact the method is not so different from our own homegrown mushy peas. Oh, and a whole jar of tahini paste per batch, and the magic ingredient – ice cold water which turns the mix, after a whole 5 minutes of processor blasting, magically into an elegantly pale and silky smooth emulsion. Jess and Oli did a fantastic job of mixing up the two different batches of hummus, one plain and one garnished.

My simplified version of Mejadra, a spicy, oniony rice and lentil mix, was a more dramatic and interesting alternative to plain boiled rice:

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The finishing touch to our feast was the chocolate ganache iced and gold leaf decorated Golden Clementine cake, sweet and citrussy. This cake, minus the decadent chocolate icing, clearly derives from the many recipes for Sephardic Jewish cakes featuring citrus and ground almonds that the Jews brought with them from Spain hundreds of years ago. Many cookbook authors give recipes for similar cakes – Claudia Roden, Nigella Lawson and of course Delia to name but three. This version is simple to make, deliciously moist with the addition of syrup and very Christmassy with its sharp citrus notes shining through. It reminds you of clementines stuffed in your Christmas stocking and pays a nod to that old British confectionery favourite, the Terry’s chocolate orange. Clemmie and James were the pastry chefs who ably prepared the chocolate icing and painstakingly applied the gold leaf with tweezers.

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I give below the recipes we prepared together in the kitchen last night – maybe some of the young people will cook the dishes at home for their families over the holidays?

For the rest, you’ll need to buy the book – it would make a great late Christmas present for any keen cook.

Recipe for roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon

Adapted from a recipe in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Serves 8 as a main course or up to 16 if served as part of a buffet.

Ingredients

900g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 6 lengthways wedges, about 1.5cm thick
3 tablespoons lemon juice
16 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
24 shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
24 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium lemons, cut in half lengthways and then into very thin slices
2 teaspoons saffron threads
100ml olive oil
300ml cold water
3 tablespoons pink peppercorns, slightly crushed
8g dried thyme or herbes de Provence mix
40g chopped tarragon leaves
4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 further tablespoons lemon juice
further 40g chopped tarragon

Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a large saucepan, cover with plenty of water and add the 3 tablespoons lemon juice. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.s

Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients except the final 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 40g chopped tarragon into a large mixing bowl and use your hand to mix everything together well. Cover, refrigerate and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C/220 degrees C fan/Gas mark 9. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in the centre of a roasting tin and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the tin with foil and cook for a further 15 minutes by which point the chicken should be completely cooked.

Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.

Recipe for Mejadra

Adapted from a recipe in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

250g green or brown lentils (we used Puy lentils which were fine)
6-8 medium onions (1.4kg before prep)
6 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tsp cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
400g white basmati rice
4 tablespoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar
700ml water
salt and black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander and pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)

Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil and cook until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite, then drain.

Peel and slice the onions thinly. Fry in 2 large frying pans each with about 3 tablespoons light olive oil over a medium heat for about 20 minutes until the onions are soft and brown but not burnt. The original recipe requires the onions to be dipped in flour and deep-fried but I have simplified this step and the resulting slow-cooked soft brown onions still taste good mixed with the rice, spices and lentils.

Take a large heavy based lidded saucepan and place over a medium high heat. Once hot, add the cumin and coriander seeds and dry-fry to toast the seeds for a minute or two, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, lift off the lid and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.

Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion. If like, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and or coriander leaves and a few pomegranate seeds.

Recipe for basic and garnished hummus

Recipes adapted from those in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Serves 12 or more if served as part of a buffer

Ingredients

For the basic hummus

500g dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
540g light tahini paste
8 tablespoons lemon juice
8 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml ice cold water
salt

To garnish half of the batch

4 tablespoons whole cooked chickpeas reserved from the second batch
2 tablespoons pine nuts lightly toasted in the oven or dry frying pan
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley

For the lemon sauce

10g flatleaf parsley finely chopped
1 green chilli finely chopped
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt

Start a day before by washing the chickpeas well and placing them in a large bowl. Cover them with cold water, at least twice their volume, and leave to soak overnight.

The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place a large saucepan on a high heat and add the drained chickpeas and bicarbonate of soda. Coll for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3 litres fresh water and bring to the boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will take between 20 and 40 minutes to cook, maybe even longer. Once done, they should be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your finger and thumb, almost, but not quite, mushy.

Drain the chickpeas. You should have roughly 1.2kg now. Place half of the the chickpeas in a food processor bowl. Process until you get a stiff paste then, with the machine still running, add the half of the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in half of the iced water and allow it to mix until you get a very smooth creamy paste, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Repeat with the second batch of ingredients (you used only half), but remember to reserve 4 tablespoons cooked chickpeas to garnish.

Shortly before you serve the hummus, combine all the lemon sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Top the second bowl of hummus with the cooked chickpeas, drizzle generously with the lemon sauce, and garnish with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.

Recipe for golden clementine cake

Adapted from a recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Serves 8 generously or up to 16 if cut into delicate slices.

Ingredients

For the cake

200g unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
grated zest of 4 clementines and and 1 lemon
280g ground almonds
5 medium eggs
100g plain four sifted with a pinch of salt

For the syrup

80g golden caster sugar
120ml lemon and clementine juice

For the chocolate icing (optional)

90g unsalted butter, diced
150g good quality dark chocolate broken into pieces (or Valrhona or similar buttons)
¾ tablespoons honey
½ tablespoons cognac

To decorate

Long strips of zest taken from an orange using a zester
or flakes of real gold leaf (available from specialist cake decorating suppliers)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 degrees C fan/Gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 24cm round cake tin, ideally loose bottomed and line the base and sides with a double layer of parchment.

The cake is best made in a stand mixer such as a Kenwood. Cream together the butter and caster sugar thoroughly. Add approximately half the ground almonds. Beat in the eggs gradually, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula from time to time.

Add the remaining ground almonds, flour and salt and work them into the mix until completely smooth.

Spread the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and level with a palette knife (a small crank-handled one does the job well).

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, checking to make sure it’s not browning too much. Test in the usual way by seeing if the sides have shrunk just a little and by inserting a skewer which should come out clean.

Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the syrup by combining the sugar and citrus juices in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then remove the syrup from the heat.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with the boiling syrup until it has all soaked in. Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely before removing it from its tin.

Either garnish with the orange strips and serve as is or coat with chocolate icing.

To make the chocolate icing, put the butter, chocolate and honey in a heatproof bowl and set OVER (not in) a pan of simmering water making sure the bowl does not touch the water.

Stir until everything is melted, remove from the heat straightaway and fold in the cognac.

Pour the icing over the cool cake allowing it to dribble naturally over the sides without covering the cake completely.

Let the icing set then decorate either with strips of orange zest of flakes of gold leaf in the centre of the cake.

Cakes for Hansel and Gretel

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

The challenge for this year’s Clonter Opera (Cheshire’s answer to Glyndebourne) picnic was to produce a themed dessert which could be eaten during a 30 minute interval. This year’s production was Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”, so a selection of German mini-cakes, plus sweets and the obligatory gingerbread seemed to fit the bill.

I love proper cheesecake, so a traditional German-style baked cheesecake cooked in a rectangular tin and cut into dainty squares was first on my list. I chose my recipe from my newly acquired baking book, Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” and found it to be excellent. This was the “Classic Cheesecake” from p.458 and was everything a cheesecake should be – deep cream cheese flavour with hints of orange zest and vanilla and great texture. The Hobnob biscuit base was an inspired variation on the usual digestives and was neither too hard nor too soggy, but just right. You can see the cheesecake squares presented in pink foil cases in the picture above.

Talking of which, the dinky self-assembly cardboard three tier cake stands I used attracted at least as much interest as the cakes! These were a Caroline Gardner design, stocked by online supermarket Ocado and maybe also Waitrose and John Lewis too.

That much-bastardised 1970’s dinner party favourite, Black Forest Gâteau just had to be on the menu. Forget dry chocolate cake, too much buttercream and garish decoration, my version was constructed with featherlight chocolate génoise (I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from “The Cake Bible”); kirsch-infused syrup; luscious smooth chocolate custard (another winner from Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” book); white chocolate ganache which tastes and behaves like a super-stable whipped cream, great for a cake which has to sit in a warm room for a little time. The final decoration was a griottine-style morello cherry, a chocolate stick and for a final touch of bling, a shred of real edible silver leaf. The result was a delectable little mouthful:

So good in fact that I just had to put together another batch the next day for afternoon tea, this time with a double layer of sponge, fresh cherries and grated chocolate:

Both the chocolate génoise and custard are really good versions of these classic components and I’ve given both recipes at the end of this post.

Strawberry tartlets presented German style on a sponge cake rather than pastry base, completed my trio of mini-cakes. I used more of the white chocolate ganache and incorporated my mother’s trick of glazing the strawberries with redcurrant jelly for extra sweetness and shine. The cakes were finished off with a little edible gold leaf:

You can’t do Hansel and Gretel without a gingerbread house. I didn’t think a fully assembled gingerbread house would survive the minibus journey along bumpy country roads from home to Clonter so used the templates for mini gingerbread houses from the BBC Good Food site recipe here to make house-shaped biscuits. I didn’t use their gingerbread recipe though, opting for yet another Dan Lepard recipe from “Short and Sweet”, the gingerbread biscuit recipe from p. 243. Another winner, producing a dark, deeply spicy biscuit, its colour coming both from muscovado sugar and also a tablespoon of cocoa powder added to the dough, a neat trick producing a deep colour and rich flavour pointing up the spices but not overpowering them with obvious chocolate.

I decorated the biscuits very simply with white royal icing and a number 1.5 writing nozzle producing a stylish black and white effect:

A selection of old-fashioned sweets from Altrincham market’s pick and mix stall and Hale’s fabulous Gobstopper sweet shop (sugar mice, chevron lolly pops, candy canes, bon bons, comfits, sugared almonds..) plus squares of home-made fudge completed the spread. Shame the opera director had a slightly different vision of the story and went for a pyschedelic Affleck’s Palace style emporium complete with skateboard gear rather than a recognisable gingerbread house. Ah well, you can’t win them all…

Recipe for Chocolate Génoise

Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Cake Bible”. I’d recommend buying the book for all Rose’s invaluable tips and tricks though. This recipe is sufficient for a deepish 23cm diameter round cake. I wanted thinner sheets of cake so scaled up the recipe to a 7 egg version and baked two 25cm square trays of cake.

Ingredients

37g clarified beurre noisette
28g cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Green and Blacks)
60g boiling water
4g vanilla extract
5 large eggs (250g shelled weight)
100g golden caster sugar
75g sifted plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (fan).

Warm the beurre noisette until almost hot and keep warm.

In a smallish bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the vanilla extract and set aside, covering the bowl with the whisk still in it with cling film if you don’t plan to use it immediately.

Mix the eggs and sugar together in the large mixing bowl from your Kenwood or similar mixer. Set the bowl over, not in, a pan of simmering water and stir constantly until the mixture is just lukewarm. Take care and do not allow the eggs to coagulate or you will end up with hard little lumps in the finished cake. The heating of the eggs helps stabilise the mixture when whisked which is helpful when the dense chocolate is mixed in. I wouldn’t bother with the heating for a plain génoise.

Remove the bowl from the hot water, dry it off and return it to the mixer. Whisk at high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted.

Take a couple of big spoonfuls of the egg mixture and whisk them into the cocoa mixture using a balloon whisk.

Sift the flour over the remaining egg mixture and incorporate thoroughly but carefully using a balloon whisk. Add the cocoa and egg mixture and stir with the balloon whisk until half-incorporated. Fold in the beurre noisette in two batches by which time everything will be thoroughly combined yet still aerated.

Pour immediately into the prepared cake tin (greased and base lined for a deep round tin; fully lined with baking parchment if you’re baking a sheet of cake in a shallow square or rectangular tin as I was) and bake for about 30 minutes. You can tell when the cake is done as the cake shrinks away from the sides just a little.

Turn out straightaway onto a lightly greased cooling rack and peel off the parchment after a couple of minutes.

Recipe for Chocolate Cream Custard

From Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet”. Makes enough to fill 30 mini cakes with plenty left over.

Ingredients

100g golden caster sugar
25g cornflour
25g cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Green and Blacks)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
225 ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
2 egg yolks
50g unsalted butter cut into pieces
50g dark chocolate in small pieces (I like Valrhona Manjari buttons)
150ml double cream

In a heavy-based saucepan whisk the sugar, cornflour, cocoa powder and vanilla extract with the milk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk again. Heat gently over a low to moderate heat beating with a wooden spoon all the time. As the mixture warms, gradually add the butter piece by piece, stirring all the time. As the mixture begins to thicken, beat hard to keep it smooth.

Remove from the heat, tip the mixture into a medium sized bowl (you’re going to add cream to the mixture later) and cover the surface of the custard directly with cling film to stop a sking forming. Leave to cool then chill in the fridge until completely cold.

When you’re ready to complete the custard, take it out of the fridge and remove the cling film. Using a hand-held electric whisk, whisk the custard at a slow speed. When the custard is smooth, increase the speed to medium and gradually whisk in the double cream until the mixture is very smooth, shiny and thick. The mixture will thicken up further to a consistency which can be piped and will hold its shape if returned to the fridge to chill for a while.

Altrincham’s answer to Babette’s feast

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

The newly formed Altrincham Film Club chose the classic 1980’s Danish film “Babette’s Feast” for its March screening. The film is a loving adaptation, in almost BBC costume drama style, of the Karen Blixen novella which describes the effect of the arrival of refugee French chef Babette on the lives of the inhabitants of a remote and puritanical and village on the coast of Jutland. The story culminates in the preparation and serving of a stupendous French dinner which changes the lives of those lucky enough to share it.

The description of the meal and accompanying wines in the book is in fact a little sketchy with only these dishes and wines named specifically:

Turtle soup (Amontillado sherry)

Blinis Demidoff (Champagne Veuve Clicquot 1860)

Cailles en Sarcophage – Quails in coffins (Clos Vougeot 1846)

Grapes, peaches, fresh figs

The film necessarily fleshes out the meal with a salad course of chicory, frisée and walnuts, a plate of delicious cheeses, and its crowning glory, an immense glazed savarin liberally dosed with rum and finished in the Fanny Craddock manner with whole glacé fruits and whipped cream.

The Altrincham Film Club Committee decided they couldn’t let the opportunity of a food film go by without serving some film-themed snacks before and during the screening. Volunteers to bring cheese, pineapple, bruschette and blinis and so on soon came forward. Then my friend Gwyneth, baker extraordinaire (have a look at http://www.vintageafternoonteas.co.uk/ to see what I mean), approached me with the idea of collaborating on producing some sweet nothings to complement the savoury nibbles already on offer.

Thus the idea for the Babette’ Feast “bento box” was born, to contain an individual savarin modelled on the one in the film, a pot of Chantilly cream to accompany it and a final tiny pot containing a macedoine of black and white grapes, a passing reference to the immense platter of fruit served in the film. All this would be presented in a crisp white cardboard box with wooden cutlery, a nod to Scandinavian style and all fully disposable and biodegradable.

Here’s one of the completed mini-savarins sitting in its foil case which is happily durable enough to stand up to all that lovely rum-infused syrup:

The box I photographed below doesn’t look quite as pristine as the ones we actually served as I forgot to take a picture until I brought my own box back home again after the film, so it’s had quite a journey dislodging one or two of the carefully placed fruits!

And of course, we didn’t just have a handful of boxes to prepare but in order to cater for the AFC audience we needed a whole fifty of them which just about filled my dining room table:

The whole bento box production exercise took the best part of three days.

On day 1, a savarin recipe was developed and all the necessary ingredients ordered online. Hardest to track down was proper glacé fruit (not just common or garden glacé cherries but plums, figs, apricots, peaches and so on in the French manner) but a lovely deli in Wellington, Somerset http://www.thecheeseandwineshop.co.uk/came up trumps and was able to despatch a shipment in time. The flour, butter and eggs were all organic, the sugar all unrefined and fairtrade, the rum not Bacardi but finest Angostura from Trinidad and the vanilla the best available from Madagascar. This was going to be a baking project truly in the spirit of “Babette’s Feast”.

The next step was developing the right recipe. I began with Julia Child’s baba/savarin recipe (the two doughs are interchangeable, just the shape being different) from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. This produced quite a stiff dough, easy to shape:

but the resulting buns were dense with a tight crumb that become a tad slimy when soaked in the syrup. We needed a wetter, stretchier dough that would bake to open-textured puffy perfection and would soak up and retain the syrup.

Over to baking guru Dan Lepard who gives a rum baba recipe in his recently published “Short and Sweet” book. I haven’t bought the book yet so had to rely on a republished version of the recipe given on the website of the Melbourne newspaper “The Age”. This was much better, a very wet dough that was hard to handle but produced a brilliantly light stretchy dough. I wasn’t happy with certain aspects of the recipe though – there was too much salt and too much yeast in it for my taste.

The third and final recipe is a conflation of the best bits of all the recipes I looked through and is the one we ultimately ran with. I give it in full below. Whilst I love the aroma of good rum, I don’t like too strong a taste of raw alcohol in a cake or dessert. In flavouring the savarins with vanilla, golden caster sugar and lemon zest and their syrup with unrefined sugar, citrus peel, more vanilla and cinnamon I’ve tried to incorporate the rum flavours without adding very much rum at all. Each savarin is anointed with just a teaspoon of rum to point up these flavours. Much less wasteful than pouring half a pint of rum into the syrup and then having to throw lots of it away.

Day 2 was devoted to baking the savarins in three double batches. Fermentation was long and slow so each batch took 5 hours start to finish so although the workload wasn’t huge, this was a lengthy task. The dough started with making a “sponge”. a wet dough used to get fermentation going and add flavour to the finished product:

Once the remaining flour, butter and eggs had been added, the completed dough looked like this as it began its first proving proper:

After proving and knocking-back, the very soft dough has to be poked and coaxed into the dinky mini savarin tins:

I picked up this mini savarin tin in Zurich earlier this year and am delighted to have been able to put it through its paces. Large individual kugelhopf/savarin/bundt moulds are beginning to appear in the UK but I haven’t been able to find a similar mini moulds over here yet.

This is what the risen buns looked like just before baking – they increase in size dramatically creating all those lovely air pockets:

And this is the end result after baking:

And of course, every batch requires quality control to make sure taste and texture are just right. Very pleased with the open texture of the dough here:

And finally, we’re on to day 3, the day of the screening itself and the major task of completing the savarins and assembling the bento boxes. The first job was the preparation of the black and white grape macedoine. Black and white grapes were halved and macerated in a light syrup of Sicilian blood orange juice, freshly grated lemon zest and just a little unrefined sugar. These were then left in the fridge for the flavours to mingle.

It was a great relief when Gywneth arrived mid-morning and immediately and calmly took charge of the rum application, glazing and decoration of the savarins while I syruped and dunked and drained. Six man hours later, we’d produced 50 bento boxes arranged in serried ranks across the dining room table and my generously proportioned fridge was filled with 50 mini cartons of grape macedoine and Chantilly cream.

Final thanks must go to my long-suffering husband Tim who barely raised an eyebrow at this 3 day baking marathon and who patiently transported the boxes to the cinema in the boot of our car, and wasn’t even able to stay and watch the film!

The boxes were handed out to the Altrincham Film Club audience right on cue with no spillages – job done – and we even managed to remember bin bags to clear up afterwards. Job done!

Anyone fancy La Grande Bouffe for April’s screening…?

Recipe for individual rum savarins

Makes 24 savarins. This is the smallest quantity of mixture which it is feasible to make in my Kenwood mixer, so if you just want 12 savarins, halve the quantities and mix by hand with a wooden spoon and dough scraper.

Ingredients

For the savarins

250 ml milk
12g fast action dried yeast
450g strong plain flour – use 150g for the initial sponge and add 300g to complete the dough
4g vanilla powder
25g golden caster sugar
5g salt
150g softened unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
grated zest of a lemon (scant – the flavour of the lemon is quite strong so don’t be too thorough with the grating)

For the syrup

500g demerara sugar
500g granulated white sugar
1.1 litre water
2 vanilla pods
6 strips lemon peel and 6 strips orange peel pared without pith using a vegetable peeler
juice of a lemon

To serve

1 teaspoon dark rum per savarin (I like Angostura)
Apricot glaze
Selection of glacé fruit (optional)
Chantilly cream (I like a mixture of cream and fromage frais for lightness).

Begin by weighing your mixing bowl so that you can accurately divide the completed dough by weight later on in the recipe. Note the weight down. My Kenwood bowl weighs 1,029g for future reference.

The recipe proper begins by making an initial wet dough, the sponge. Put 150g of the flour, the milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together by hand using a balloon whisk until thoroughly combined and scrape down the sides of the bowl using a dough scraper. Leave the mixture at room temperature until it starts to bubble up. This might take 45 minutes or so, maybe longer.

While the sponge begins to ferment, break the eggs into a small bowl; mash the butter using a fork to make sure its very soft and malleable; sift together the flour, salt, sugar and vanilla powder and stir into it the grated lemon zest.

Now complete the dough. Add the flour mixture alternately with the eggs to the bowl in three or four batches. Mix the dough after each addition using the dough hook on a low to medium speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl using a plastic scraper frequently while you do this. Once all the flour and eggs are incorporated, turn the speed up to medium and let the dough hook do its work for 2 minutes.

Next, incorporate the softened butter into the mixture. Make sure the butter is really soft before attempting this. Add a spoonful or so of butter to the bowl and mix at a low speed until incorporated. Keep going until all the butter is added, scraping the butter plate clean with your dough scraper to make sure every last bit ends up in the dough and not on your dishes. Turn the speed up to medium and work the dough for 2 minutes. The resultant dough will not resemble bread dough but will be very soft and stretchy like an elastic cake mix. This is absolutely fine, do not under any circumstances be tempted to add more flour.

If, like me, you have only one tray of mini savarin tins, you will need to retard the proving of one half of the dough. Weigh your mixing bowl, subtract the weight of the bowl which you noted down previously and remove half the dough to a separate bowl. Scrape it into a neatish mound, cover with a plate or cling film and refrigerate.

Do the same with your original bowl, but leave this one out at room temperature to prove. Leave it until the dough has begun to swell visibly and if you poke it you can see lots of spongy bubbles in the mix. It won’t necessarily have doubled in size.

While the dough proves, make the syrup. Put all the syrup ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil the syrup vigorously for 3 minutes then switch off and leave all the flavours to infuse.

One the dough has proved, knock it back by beating it vigorously with a wooden spoon for 10 to 20 seconds. Now for the fiddly bit which is filling the savarin moulds. Make sure your moulds are well greased. I like to use Dr Oetker baking spray to do this quickly and conveniently.

Half fill each individual mould using about a tablespoon of mixture. Using a teaspoon and/or your fingers, gently tease the very soft dough into the mould and around the central metal spindle. Make sure the quantity of dough in each mould is approximately equal. This is very fiddly.

Cove the savarin tins with a big upturned roasting tin or similar and leave to prove a second time until the dough has risen to fill the moulds completely and puff up a bit more. This takes about an hour, maybe less. Make sure you catch the dough on the up rather than leaving it too long in which case it will collapse.

Put the tray of savarins into the centre of an oven preheated to 190 degrees C (fan). Chuck a small coffeecup of water onto the oven base to create steam and shut the door quickly. After exactly 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 170 degrees C, rotate the tray of buns so they bake evenly, and bake for a further 10 minutes. They should have a good golden brown colour and be just shrinking away from the edges of the tin. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Once the savarins have cooled to a warm temperature, they are ready for dunking in the syrup. Drop them into the pan of warm syrup and gently push them under. Leave them in the syrup for about 7 minutes to absorb all that lovely sugar, basting frequently. Remove from the syrup bath, invert them and leave them to drain for about 15 minutes on a rack set over a roasting tin to drain. Try and do the dunking with the savarins facing down and the draining with them facing up to ensure even syrup distribution.

This is a long recipe, but we’re nearly there now. All that’s left to do is to drizzle a teaspoon of rum carefully over each savarin, brush with apricot glaze and if you like, decorate with diamonds of glacé fruit. Serve with a dollop of softly whipped Chantilly cream.

Swiss new year

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yikes, we’re well into February, it’s almost the half-term holiday and I still haven’t written-up our New Year meal. It’s high time I put this right. We’ve been doing the new year thing since the big millennium celebration in 2000 and have taken turns hosting along with Neal & Shelley and Mike & Janet.

It fell to us to host this year and it occurred to me that despite my enthusiasm for all things Alpine I’d never yet chosen a Swiss theme. The challenge would be to avoid as many Swiss clichés as possible – cheese, chocolate, cowbells, cuckoo clocks and similar tat, and to keep the dishes relatively light so we’d all make it into 2012 feeling fit and raring to go.

Here’s the menu I came up with. You’ll see I didn’t entirely succeed with no cheese/light cuisine idea as the Malakoffs – deep-fried battered chunks of gruyère sound like the (Scottish?) first cousin of the deep fried Mars bar, but I couldn’t resist:

Canapés

(i) Bundnerfleisch (thin slices of air-dried cured beef)wrapped around celeriac remoulade; and (ii) Malakoffs – deep fried gruyère sticks

First course

Hay soup -light chicken/vegetable cream soup infused with meadow hay

Second course

Individual Luzerner Chugelipastete – puff pastry dome filled with braised veal pieces in cream and saffron sauce

Main course

Venison medallions with preiselbeer sauce, rösti and braised red cabbage

Salad

Lambs’ lettuce (the cutely named Nüsslisalat in German)

Pudding

Walnut and cinnamon parfait with mulled prune sauce and Zimtsternen – cinnamon star biscuits

Cheese

Vacherin Mont d’Or

Menu decided, next step was to set the scene. There’s never time to sort out a table centrepiece when you’re preparing a meal so I called in professional help in the form of Vicky Clements’ magnificent Swiss flag inspired floral arrangement in red and whie, a veritable alp in miniature (see her contact details below if you’re in or around S Manchester/Cheshire):

Vicky was responsible for the fairy-lit hearts too. Sehr gemütlich, Ja?

I dusted down my piping skills to write dinner guests’ names on an experimental batch of moulded biscuits using my newly acquired Swiss Springerle moulds. They were a little involved to make but I was quite pleased with these as my first attempt. My piping is rusty though and it took a few attempts to steady the hands and create something legible:

Air dried beef is usually served as part of a large platter of cured meats and cheeses in Switzerland. We chose to roll the beef around celeriac remoulade which created a light and fresh-tasting canapé packed with flavour. Janet made the celeriac – very simply made by mixing raw grated celeriac into a Greek yoghurt, lemon and parsley dressing – and assembled the canapés and very pretty they looked too. Celeriac makes a fantastic winter salad and we’ve eaten it several times already since then:

The doyennes of cookery and entertaining always tell you not to try out new recipes on your guests don’t they? Well, I think rules like this are meant to be broken, but sometimes minor disasters will ensue. I think it’s fair to say that the malakoffs didn’t work. Tim was banished to the garage to deep fry these battered cheese parcels. I can’t abide the smell of deep-frying fat in the house, so our deep-fat fryer lives very happily in the garage which means that, with the assistance of the barbecue it’s pretty easy to rustle up a mean steak and chips for al fresco consumption in the summer.

I thought we’d followed the malakoff instructions on the Swiss food blog http://www.fxcuisine.com to the letter. Maybe the batter was too light, maybe the oil was too hot, maybe we cooked them for too long, but when we came to consume the malakoffs, they turned out to be hollow as all the molten cheese had leaked out into the frying oil creating an unholy mess (which I have yet to properly clean up I’m ashamed to say). The fritters looked the part and retained enough of the ghost of a flavour of cheese to allow you to imagine how delicious a correctly cooked malakoff might be. Another time…

We began the meal proper with an unusual hay soup, expertly prepared by Shelley. This is a traditional Swiss soup, different versions of which come from the mountainous cantons of Valais and Graubünden. I’d tasted this in Klosters a couple of winters ago, and it looked so pretty presented on its bed of hay and garnished with dried meadow flowers that I had to put it on our menu.

I couldn’t find a definitive recipe but found several different versions by searching under “Heusuppe Rezept”. Our version used a hay-infused light stock, a flavour base of sweated vegetables and a little pearl barley to thicken. I think I’d like to try out the other versions before publishing a definitive recipe.

Sourcing the hay proved to be harder than I’d thought. I scoured farms in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales for an elusive handful of local organic meadow hay but without success – all I was offered was silage which I don’t think would make a very pleasant tasting soup. In the end, The Hay Experts (see contact details below) came to my rescue. They really do know their hays (even if the end consumer is usually a pet rabbit) and despatched just what I needed very promptly.

Our next course was a miniature version of the Luzerner Chugelipastete – an exuberant puff pastry dome filled with braised veal and veal sausagemeat in a creamy saffron flavoured sauce. In order to cut down on the pastry, I made pastry lids to cover the braised veal which was served in individual ramekins.
I posted last year on the subject of this dish:
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2011/03/03/lunch-in-lucerne/

I used a couple of cheat steps when I made the miniature version of the dish. Short of time, I used Dorset all-butter puff pastry – reliably good if you don’t have time to make your own. Instead of veal forcemeat balls made from scratch I used a pack of veal meatballs from Waitrose. These are made from ethically sourced British rosé veal and are delicious and versatile. Actually, I didn’t follow the Marian Kaltenbach recipe for the sauce which I’ve quoted before at all. I flash fried strips of veal tenderloin, combined them with the cooked veal meatballs, added a little stock and cream, reduced the whole lot down to make a sauce and added grapes macerated in a Swiss grappa type schnapps to finish. I was reasonably happy with the end result:

We were now well set up for the main event, a fabulous-looking venison tenderloin supplied from The Blackface Meat Company who are based up near Dumfries in Scotland. I’ve used them a couple of times before for game and rare breed meat. They may be a little expensive but they supply top quality meat, expertly butchered and delivered promptly and efficiently to your door.

I did try and obtain some local venison from Dunham Massey. Each year, the deer are culled and just a few of the younger deer are butchered and sold to the public via a local farm shop. Unfortunately because of problems with poaching this year I didn’t know if my tenderloin was going to turn up on time. When finally I did get the call that the venison was available, I was a little disappointed with what the butcher had done as this tenderloin was nowhere near as expertly trimmed as the Blackhouse meat. So Dunham’s answer to Bambi is in the freezer ready for a future Sunday lunch.

The Blackhouse website lists useful recipes and I followed chef Mark Hix’s instructions for marinading the venison in red wine before flash-frying and serving with a red wine reduction. Not an authentic Swiss recipe but very Swiss in character as you’ll find lots of robust game dishes cooked with red wine in restaurants during the autumn and winter hunting season.

The venison was expertly cooked by Janet and was served with everyone’s favourite Swiss dish, potato rösti,braised red cabbage and a spoonful of Preiselbeer sauce. The Preiselbeer is a smaller, tastier European relative of the more familiar North American cranberry. It’s also known as the lingonberry in Swedish and here in England it’s known as the cowberry but is not a popular forager’s fruit as yet.

Sorry my pictures of the finished dish are too dark to be meaningful, but here are photos of the meat bathing in its marinade, the same meat cooked and carved, and a jar of the Preiselbeer sauce brought back from a little shop in Klosters:

Avoiding the temptations of triple Toblerone chocolate mousse and the like, I chose a simple walnut and honey parfait for pudding served with prunes cooked in red wine and spices to give a delicious festive mulled-wine flavour. Alongside the parfait and prunes I served a traditional Swiss/German advent biscuit, the Zimtstern – a cinnamon flavoured dough made like a macaroon from ground nuts, sugar and whisked egg whites, topped with a crisp meringue icing. These are nutty, chewy and delicious and a tad difficult to make. I’ve not given the recipe in this post as frankly it’s too long already, and they merit a post all of their own.

To conclude the meal as we approached midnight, a superb Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese from the Jura region of Switzerland, one of my favourite cheeses. It’s soft and creamy and can be spooned out of its wooden box when properly mature and ready to eat. It’s only available during the winter months. Ours came from the Duty Free shop at Zürich airport, but you can find it over here sometimes either in a specialist cheese shop or occasionally in Waitrose. If you find one, grab it, you won’t regret it.

I couldn’t possibly list all the evening’s recipes in a single post – in fact to help with the preparations, I photocopied and printed them all out and have enough material for a small cookery book!

I’m just going to give two recipes, both straightforward and both now in my regular repertoire.

Recipe for celeriac remoulade

My lighter, fresher version of this bistro classic, replacing the usual mayo with Greek yoghurt.

Serves 4 or more as part of a selection of salads

Ingredients

1 small or half a medium celeriac grated in a food processor
juice of half a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons thick Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons half fat crème fraîche
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped flatleaf parsley

Grate the celeriac quite finely (easiest to do this in a food processor) and in a medium bowl mix thoroughly with the lemon juice to stop the celeriac turning brown. You can prepare the celeriac to this stage then refrigerate it several hours ahead of time and it will still be fine. When you’re ready to serve, add the other ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.

Recipe for walnut parfaits with mulled prunes

Translated from the German and adapted from a little Swiss cookbook called “Geliebte Schweizer Küche”.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the mulled prunes

1 bottle fruity red wine
200g prunes
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
2 cloves
1 large piece of peel from an unwaxed orange

For the parfait

2 eggs
2 dessertspoons runny honey
1 pinch powdered cinnamon
1 dessertspoon Grand Marnier
180ml whipping cream
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped

Begin by making the mulled prunes the day before you plan to serve the dish. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil then leave to cool and infuse overnight.

Next make the parfait. You can make this a couple of days ahead of time as it’s frozen. Mix the eggs, honey, powdered cinnamon and Grand Marnier together in a bowl. Using an electric whisk, beat together until the mixture is light and foamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to the soft peak stage and combine with the egg mixture and chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between 6 or more small moulds (china teacups or ramekins are fine) and freeze for at least four hours.

When you are ready to serve, dip the moulds briefly into hot water, loosen with a knife if necessary and invert onto individual serving plates. Spoon the prunes and red wine sauce around and serve.

Contact details

Vicky Clements – “Inside Out” flowers and gardening, Bowdon, Cheshire
Mobile 07762 387 372

The Hay Experts – suppliers of organic and other hays
http://www.thehayexperts.co.uk/

The Blackface Meat Company – suppliers of rare breed meat and game
http://www.blackface.co.uk/

Christobel Heginbotham’s ultimate parkin and other Bonfire Night treats

October 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

A name to die for isn’t it? I met the lady in question eight years ago after tucking into platefuls of cake in a scout hut at the edge of the Pennines after completing the annual “Autumn Leaves” fell race. The local running club organising the race have the inspired idea of combining it with a village cake competition and the runners get to eat the entries afterwards. Brilliant. So not only did I get to eat the most fantastic parkin (which in case you haven’t come across it is a a moist sticky gingerbread cake, a speciality from the North of England) but it had the baker’s name on it so I was able to find her and she very kindly emailed the recipe to me. I’ve been making it annually ever since, a recipe to treasure, and traditional for a Bonfire Night party.

The cake mixture, made simply in a single large saucepan by the melting method, looks disconcertingly runny when poured into the prepared cake tin:

But fear not, it will turn into this sweet, sticky, spicy, springy cake when cooked:

Which, as you can see, can be eaten straightaway – no wrapping and storing for a week as some recipe suggest. No need to seek out tricky-to-find oatmeal either – the recipe works just fine with rolled oats which you probably have in your cupboard already for making porridge.

By the way, golden syrup seems to be a peculiarly British ingredient. Looking at various web forums, the best US substitute might be a dark corn syrup – hope this works for you.

Thinking about a fireworks party theme, I have a great recipe for an Argentinian-inspired beef stew served spectacularly in a serving bowl fashioned from a pumpkin. Perfect for a party as it can be made well in advance, warming, substantial and full of healthy veg! Actually it would work really well for a Halloween party too and you could then pull out all the stops and serve it with black pasta (the stuff mixed with squid ink) or black rice if you can get hold of some. Perhaps more economical would be a mix of fettucine type noodles, some black, some green and some plain. Similarly a mix of basmati and wild rice rather than just wild rice or Vietnamese or Piedmont black rice.

Sorry, no photos available from when I last cooked this dish but I think this consignment of squashes from Riverford Organics currently decorating my front porch are destined for this dish next weekend:

Finally, a reliable recipe for toffee apples from my ever trustworthy Good Housekeeping recipe book. It wouldn’t be a proper party without toffee apples and the recipe is literally child’s play as my son Arthur proves:

Boiling the toffee to the correct “soft crack” stage isn’t as tricky as it sounds. Drop a teaspoon of the hot toffee into a bowl of chilled water. It’s ready when the syrup doesn’t just form a ball but separates into hard but not snappable threads.

Try my trick of shoving the handle of a teaspoon into the apple as a handle if you find yourself making these at the list minute with no wooden lolly sticks in your kitchen drawer.

Recipe for parkin

With thanks to Christobel Heginbotham. I bake this in a shallow rectangular metal baking tin approx 20cm by 25cm (see pic above) but you can, as Christobel suggests, double the recipe and bake in a square deep cake tin “to make a fair sized cake”, in which case a longer cooking time may be required.

Ingredients

100g butter
50g soft brown sugar
2 large tablespoons (this weighs 75g) black treacle
2 large tablespoons (ditto) golden syrup
175 ml milk
100g plain flour
2 teaspoons (10g) baking powder
1 teaspoon (3g) ground ginger
half teaspoon ground cinnamon
half teaspoon ground cloves (or ground allspice)
100g rolled porridge oats

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C (fan). Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, sugar and treacle together over a low heat. Be careful not to let it burn or bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the golden syrup and milk.

Add the plain flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and cloves or allspice. Mix well, beating to remove any lumps. Stir in the oats.

Pour into the baking tray and cook for 35-45 minutes. Test by pressing the top with your finger tip. It should spring back and not leave a dent. Cut into squares and leave to cool in the tin.

Recipe for Carbonada Criolla – Argentinian beef and vegetable stew served in a pumpkin

Adapted from a recipe in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book.

Serves 15-20

Ingredients

1 large beautiful pumpkin which will fit comfortably into your oven

For the meat stew

2 large onions, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil for frying
1.5 kg cubed chuck steak
2 tins (14oz size) chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoons tomato purée or 4 tablespoons passata
2 litres beef stock (made from cube is fine)
bouquet garni (a handful of parsley stalks, a sprig of thyme, and 2 bayleaves, tied together in a muslin bundle with a long string handle to aid removal from the pot)
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika (or ordinary paprika if you don’t have the smoked kind)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 kg sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
1 kg waxy potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled (unless you prefer them peeled) and cut into 2cm chunks
1 kg pumpkin or squash (choose a variety which will collapse and melt into the sauce when cooked to act as a natural thickener) peeled and cut into 2cm cubes or chunks
0.5 kg frozen sweetcorn kernels (or the equivalent canned or fresh if you prefer)
a pack of baby sweetcorn
12 canned peach halves sliced – you could use canned apricot halves if that’s what you happen to have in the cupboard – drained contents of 2 cans should be about right
Syrup from the canned peaches or apricots

Begin by preparing the pumpkin. Wash and cut out a lid from the top, keeping the stalk on to act as a handle. Cut a small nick out of lid and base to aid repositioning the lid accurately. Using your hands, a spoon and a small sharp knife, pull out and discard the central fibrous part of the pumpkin along with the seeds. Now cut and scoop away the solid pumpkin flesh, working carefully as you need to leave a good wall of pumpkin flesh for structural integrity when baked and the skin needs to be unpierced/intact. Weigh out the pumpkin flesh needed for the recipe and set aside.

Brush the inside of the pumpkin with a little olive oil. Replace the lid and set the whole thing in a shallow roasting tin.

In a frying pan, cook the onion and garlic in a little oil until soft but not browned. Transfer to a large lidded saucepan or casserole dish.
Add a little oil to the frying pan in which you cooked the onions, turn up the heat and brown the beef cubes in batches, transferring them to the large saucepan with a slotted spoon as you go. Add to the beef and onions the tomatoes, tomato purée, salt and pepper, bouquet garni, oregano and paprika. Now take about half a litre of the stock and use it to deglaze the frying pan. Tip the deglazing liquid into the saucepan containing the other ingredients along with a further half litre of stock. This means that you will have incorporated into the dish about half the stock at this stage.

Cover and simmer until the meat is almost cooked – an hour or so. Add the sweet potato, potato and pumkpkin plus more stock so that the pan contents are covered. Return to the boil and simmer with the pan lid on for a further 20 to 30 minutes until the meat is tender, the potatoes cooked and the sauce thickened with the collapsed pumpkin. Taste and correct seasoning. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.*

Finally, add the sweetcorn and peaches but not their syrup at this stage and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Taste and add a little peach syrup at this stage to sweeten the sauce if liked.

* You can prepare the beef stew ahead of time to this stage. Best not to finish the stew until you’re ready to serve to prevent the baby corn and canned fruit becoming to mushy in the reheating process.

To complete the dish, switch on your oven to 180 degrees C (fan)about 1 hour before you’re ready to serve. Bake the pumpkin for half an hour or so. Safest to keep it underdone as you don’t want the walls to collapse so check it after 20 minutes. After half an hour, ladle the hot stew into the pumpkin then pop back into the hot oven for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Recipe for toffee apples

Adapted from a recipe in UK classic cookery book “Good Housekeeping”. Mine is the 1985 edition.

Makes 6-8 apples

Ingredients

450g (1 lb) demerara sugar (turbinado sugar in the US)
50g (2 oz) butter
10 ml (t teaspoons) vinegar – I use malt vinegar but a white wine vinegar would be fine and a cider vinegar would be appropriate for apples wouldn’t it?
150 ml (1/4 pint) water
15 ml (1 tbsp) golden syrup (dark corn syrup probably OK as a substitute)
8 small/medium apples and the same number of wooden sticks

Wash and dry the apples and push the sticks into their cores, making sure they are secure.

Place the butter, sugar, vinegar, water and syrup in a medium-sized heavy based saucepan. Heat gently, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil without stirring further and boil rapidly until the syrup reaches the “soft crack” stage (143 degrees C or 290 degrees F if you’re using a sugar thermometer).

Remove from the heat and working swiftly to prevent the toffee from setting, dip the apples into the toffee, remove and twirl for a few seconds to allow excess toffee to drip off. Set on a sheet lined with baking paper to cool and harden.

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