Sunday, May 29, 2011

Peanut Caramel Slices

I am sure that other people have very busy weekend schedules but alas, I find myself at a loose end. And so, because when faced with nothing to do I tend to panic, I decided to occupy my time making these peanut caramel slices. At dinner on Friday we started to talk about the fabulousness of peanut butter and how it goes with (almost) everything and I guess I've been thinking about peanuts all weekend as a result.

The inspiration for these comes from Green and Blacks Organic Ultimate Chocolate Recipes, The New Collection in which there is a recipe for Not Millionaire's Shortbread. There are many different contributors to the book, the Not Millionaire's Shortbread is Allegra McEvedy. The recipe there uses peanuts like ground almonds and makes a flour-less base on which to put the caramel and chocolate. I've used a shortbread recipe and changed the flour content so that the peanuts make up some of the flour weight. I've also roughly chopped more peanuts to put between the base and the caramel. The princess, who is the world's most critical critic, approves and has been stealing small pieces from the edges.

Peanut Caramel Slices

250g soft, unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
splash of vanilla
70g cornflour
250g roasted, salted peanuts
180g cake flour

1 tin condensed milk (385g)
50g golden syrup
50g light brown sugar
50g butter

200g good quality dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 20cm square tin with parchment/baking paper.
Firstly, cream the butter and sugar until white. Add in the splash of vanilla and mix to incorporate. In a food processor, blitz 125g of the peanuts until fine (like ground almonds). Place the peanuts and flours into the mixer and mix just until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough into the lined tin. Using another sheet of baking paper, press the dough into the tin so that it reaches all the corners and is evenly distributed. Allow to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Whilst the dough is resting, start the caramel. Place all the ingredients in a pan and over a medium heat stir until the sugar dissolves and the caramel reaches a light golden colour. You need to stir all the tin as it will start to turn very golden at the bottom. Once you've achieved the right colour pour the caramel into a bowl so that you stop the cooking process taking place in the bottom of the pan.
Place the tin with the dough in the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until it is a lovely golden brown all over and cooked through. (The base is fairly thick so may need more time, depending on your oven, to cook all the way through.)

Roughly chop the other 125g of peanuts and spread these over the cooked dough. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. You will be able to smell the peanuts when you remove them from the oven. Pour the caramel over the mixture, making sure you reach the corners. Place in the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes until a deep golden caramel. (It will bubble away happily until you remove it from the oven.)

Now comes the hard bit. You need to wait until the caramel has cooled completely before continuing.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second batches until smooth and spreadable. Pour over the set caramel and using a palette knife, spread evenly. Allow to set (speed up the process by refrigerating for a while) before slicing and eating in large quantities. Keep in an airtight container for 4 days.

Note: This makes a rather thick base (which I like) so either cut the squares quite small (because it can be a tad overwhelming in sweetness) or make half the base quantity. Also, if you refrigerate the squares to set the chocolate, the chocolate will crack when you slice it up. Allow to come back to room temperature before slicing.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I first learnt about Thomas Keller and The French Laundry back in 2005. I was at chef's school and we were all completely obsessed with other chefs, particularly other chefs who were breaking all the boundaries of the French cooking methods we were learning. We spent hours of our days gawking over people like Charlie Trotter (food porn), Thomas Keller (like seriously?) and John Campbell (the pictures are just so beautiful, the taste combination's somehow mind blowing). Sometimes others even attempted some of their things. I was way too shy. I bought The French Laundry Cookbook (TFLC) that year and spent a significant amount of time staring at the pages, mind completely blown away. I've never tried any of his recipes with the exception of brioche. For me, cooking is generally about need or pleasure and to be honest, Keller is about work. Lots of it. And forward planning. I'm not so good at those things so this remains one of the most underused books on my shelf, which I guess is a little bit of a tragedy. I've been tempted to buy both Bouchon and Ad Hoc at Home but haven't yet. Maybe one day when I have my food library.

Anyway, so the recipe I chose to try from TFLC was the brioche. Brioche is something I've made before, a fair few times and I wanted to see if Keller's recipe was genuinely superior to others. I also figured brioche is something fairly hard to mess up. This recipe makes truly spectacular brioche. And it takes time! I make brioche for various things, to eat with pâtes, to make into French toast, to eat instead of bread and one year, mimicking Heston's Christmas feast, I made brioche with mince meat swirled through it that we had as French toast on Christmas morning. (It was really good!) Anyway, Keller's recipe uses lots of eggs and a seriously large amount of butter. This is not brioche for the faint - hearted or calorie counters. Its also super fantastic lightly toasted with butter and marmalade which is how I had it for breakfast this morning. And yes, I did question the need for more butter but you know? go big or go home.

Brioche (Made over 2 days)
Adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook
10g instant yeast
1/3c warm water
2 and 1/3 cups regular cake flour
2 cups stone ground cake flour* 
1/3c caster sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
6 eggs
315g butter

Put the yeast into a bowl and add in the warm water. Allow to activate for 10 minutes.
In a standing mixer bowl place the flours, sugar and salt. Using the dough hook, mix this for half a minute or so then add in the eggs. Mix for 5 minutes on a low speed. The dough will slowly come together.

Pull all the dough off the hook and add in the butter in 4 parts, mixing on a low speed in-between additions. It will look like there is too much butter for the amount of dough but just keep adding. Once all the butter is in, mix on a low-medium speed for 15 minutes. A magical transformation will take place. The dough, which was looking slightly overwhelmed for butter, will overcome this and the result will be a glossy, shiny dough that is super smooth and very sticky.

Turn (pour) the dough into a new clean bowl and wrap in clingfilm. Now leave it to prove in a warm place for THREE, yes THREE, hours. (Go and do something constructive now please.)

Once the three hours are up, gently turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. They're not kidding about the well floured bit - the dough is really sticky and you'll struggle if you don't use flour. Knead it a little, (Keller says gently) knocking out all the air and then form it back into a ball. Put this back into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. (I told you this takes a long time.)
The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge. Grease 2 loaf tins. It will be very stiff and difficult to work with at first (though not as sticky as the day before) so I recommend using a rolling pin to roll out the dough. Divide the dough into 2 parts and form into loaves. Place these in the loaf tins and leave, uncovered, until the dough is risen to about 2cm above the tin.

This is estimated to take another THREE hours and maybe it does in Keller's hot kitchen. In my cold house today, where the temperature outside was a decidedly unfriendly 11C, this took way way longer. At one point I had the loaves in front of the heater and still they did nothing. Eventually, after 6 hours, I gave up and chucked them in the oven. (Which you will obviously preheat to 180C.) As you can see, the bread is very under proved-that's why its cracked open. Patience is clearly something I must learn if I'm ever to become truly skilled. Still, the brioche tastes good and is going to become French toast on Saturday  so I can't say its causing me restless nights. But for those of you who worry about this stuff, wait until the brioche is 2cm above the tins - it should be poofy and incredibly light. The loaves are done when golden brown and when turned over sound hollow. (This means you need to tap the underside of the loaf...)   

*Keller uses all-purpose flour, something we don't have so I used stone ground cake flour instead. This has more body than regular cake flour and tends to take more liquids.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You are creamy and milky. You are easy to make. You fill me up. You are the perfect anytime dish when the weather has turned so cold I cannot even pretend I want to go outside. You fill the kitchen with the smell of happiness. And I never had any bad boarding school experiences with you.

I love rice pudding. I particularly love it warm, eaten straight from the pot sitting at the kitchen table with a good book. I suspect most of you do not feel this way about it. Its one of those hit or miss desserts (breakfasts sometimes) that people either have a horrendously atrocious memory of or a fond one. I'm obviously in the latter category (otherwise why would I be writing this post?). You can flavour rice pudding with almost anything that takes your fancy. Cinnamon? Cardamon? Nutmeg? Vanilla? And you can eat with lovely cooked fruits like apples, pears or peaches. You can even put chocolate in it. See, its fabulous.
Today I've made a plain vanilla one. I had a restorative nap this afternoon and woke up with a craving for rice pudding like nothing else. But the reason I've been craving rice pudding is all to do with the new Penguin series, Great Food.

I don't usually go in for token, random series books but these are an exception. Firstly, they look spectacular. They are beautiful and some day when I'm rich I will have the series in its entirety. You can view them here. Secondly, they are actually read-able, contain recipes and are written by some of the gems of food writing like Brillat-Savarin, MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David and Alice B Toklas. There are also books by Claudia Roden (my current read) and Alice Waters. Thirdly, they've included in the series housekeeping/cookbook guides for the 18th and 19th centuries which are a total riot and which started my whole rice pudding craving debacle.

Whilst leafing through Hannah Glasse, 18th century cookbook author extraordinaire, whose book is Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving*, I stumbled across her instructions for rice pudding in the chapter Preserving and Storing (a chapter she writes is useful for captains of ships). She says you should select rice you think appropriate, and boil it in a cloth for an hour. After the hour is up, untie it, sweeten it, add in some nutmeg and a knob of butter. Then retie it and boil the rice for another hour. This you eat with a sauce made from butter, sugar and a little white wine. Totally fabulous. I've never boiled rice for two hours and am unlikely to try anytime soon so I can only imagine what this must have tasted like. Other gems in this book of receipts are 'a certain cure for the bite of a mad dog' and 'to ragoo hogs feet and ears'. The spellings alone are cause for amusement.

Actually making rice pudding is cause for some debate. I make mine like risotto. You fry the rice in a little butter before adding in the sugar and spice of choice followed by the warm milk. You let this bubble away nicely for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally until the rice absorbs the milk and becomes soft and squidgy and the entire mixture is thick. Others prefer to make an anglaise (custard), pouring this over the rice and then baking it in the oven until the top is golden brown. Still others start with the risotto method but finish it in the oven for the 'crust'. I'm not a fan of 'crusted' rice pudding so thanks, I'll stick to the first method. When I checked David Lebovitz's book, Recipe for Dessert, he makes it this way too.

Rice Pudding
A particularly generous serving for one or a more realistic dessert serving for 2 or 3, depending on appetite
20g butter
50g risotto rice
40g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
500ml milk (full fat obviously if you're feeling indulgent, 2% or fat free if you're not)

Melt the butter in a pan and when it is foaming, add in the rice. Heat the milk in a separate pan or the microwave until warm. Stir the rice around a little (one of the chef's I trained with had this thing about only stirring clockwise the entire time you made risotto so that the rice didn't get too bruised. I have no idea but only stir clockwise now) then add it the sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod and add seeds and pod to the pan. Finally pour in the milk. Give it a good stir and leave it to simmer away merrily, stirring on occasion.

After about 35 minutes start to watch closely and stir more often. The rice will have absorbed most of the milk and will take on the appearance of a good risotto. If you leave it alone at this stage you will return to a rice-stuck-to-the-bottom-burnt-pan sort of situation. Keep stirring until you get the consistency you want. Check that the rice is cooked and then serve, removing the vanilla pod.The rice should sort of sigh into the dish, spreading itself a little. (Not so liquid that it runs everywhere.)

If there is still a lot of liquid but the rice is cooked, switch off the heat and allow it to stand for a few moments. Rice pudding thickens as it cools.

*. I mean the title alone is worth the book price.

Julia's Beef with Onions

Bœuf aux Oignons

I’ve wanted to write about dear Julia Child for a while now. I’ve actually wanted to do a blog each week on people in food I admire (food heroes some would say but that seems decidedly cheesy) but it requires some forethought and planning which I haven’t entirely got around to yet. Instead I will just slot them in as I use their recipes (look out on Friday for Thomas Keller). But back to Julia. We made Bœuf Bourguignon at Easter and it was totally fabulous, ridiculous amounts of work and I swore I would only ever make it for like 6 people and not 20 when I made it again. I love her books. Reading them is quite frankly one of the most entertaining things you can do on a miserable, cold Sunday afternoon. They take you to happy places. I particularly like the sections on vegetables, mainly because I have never considered cooking vegetables the way she does and I went to the cooking school of ‘No Butter, No Taste’. Take, for example, her recipe for Carottes à la Crème (Creamed Carrots). You boil some cream, pour it over the carrots; you then boil the carrots for about 20 minutes until the cream has been entirely absorbed by the carrots. Add some salt and pepper and finally, before serving, stir in some butter and herbs. Cream and butter in rather substantial quantities with my carrots? Yes please! Even regular carrots, braised, are boiled with butter until the water and butter has either been absorbed by the carrots or evaporated. If my mother gave me vegetables like this when I was young I would probably have eaten more of them.

So I love Julia. I love the recipe books and mostly I love the way that things just work. We had beef short ribs in the fridge so I decided it was time to try another recipe of Julia’s, this time from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. This book has way more pastry sections to it (which is why I have both volumes) and some day I will make real puff pastry according to her recipe. Not today though. Today is reserved for Beef with Onions. For those of you, like me, to whom the measuring system of pounds, ounces and pints is like working out the Holy Grail, you’re in luck. I have spent the afternoon converting the recipe into something understandable in cups, litres and grammes. (You can thank me later.)

Bœuf Aux Oignons*
150g bacon
1.2kg stewing meat (I used short ribs)
3 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
400ml beef/chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
8 cherry tomatoes
400ml red wine

This recipe takes at least an hour of prep time and needs 2-3 hours for cooking so either make it a day ahead or plan your time carefully.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
First, prepare the vegetables. Peel and slice the onions, mash or finely chop the garlic. Tie the bay, parsley and thyme into cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni. (I didn’t have cheesecloth so just chucked these into the pot loose which works fine but requires so hunting at the end to remove the herbs.) Slice the tomatoes into quarters.
Dice the bacon. In a large-ish frying pan, heat some oil (a glug) and fry the bacon until lightly brown. Then put the bacon into a large casserole dish that is ovenproof. 

Whilst the bacon is frying, dry the meat pieces with paper towel.
In the same frying pan, with another glug of oil, brown the meat, in stages if necessary. Tip these into the same casserole with the bacon. Check the pan for burnt fat and discard if necessary. 

Add the onions to the frying pan and fry over a low heat until lightly browned and mostly cooked through. Add extra oil if you need it. 

Whilst the onions are browning, add the garlic, bouquet garni, tomatoes and stock to the pan with the beef.

Once the onions are brown add them to the casserole too. 

Now deglaze the pan (that had the onions in it) with the red wine, allowing the wine to boil for about 2 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any caramelized loveliness the meat or onions has left behind and then pour the wine onto the beef in the casserole dish.
If there is not enough liquid in the casserole to cover the meat, add in some more stock or water. You want the meat to be just covered.
Cover the casserole dish with a lid and place in the oven. Keep an eye on it and baste the meat over the next 2 - 3 hours. The stew is done when you can pierce the beef easily with a knife. Here I just have to quote Julia’s instructions: “slice into it and sample several pieces if you have any doubts.”

Once your stew is cooked, you’ll need to make the sauce.

30g flour
30g butter, soft

Pour the liquid off the stew into a new large pan. Taste and season as necessary, if it is very weak, boil it down rapidly to concentrate the flavour. Mine was very concentrated so I didn’t need to do this. Beat the flour and butter together until smooth (this takes a little time) and add some of the liquid to the beurre manier base. Then pour this mixture back into the main liquid and whisk until smooth. Bring to a simmer and stir whilst simmering for a few minutes. Serve with the stew and what ever vegetables take your fancy at the time.
I used about half the quantity of beurre manier that Julia suggests so if yours doesn’t seem thick enough add some more. If it gets too thick add in some water to loosen it up.

*This is a smaller version than the one described in Mastering as I simply did not have 2kg of short ribs and did not need so much food.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lemon Curd

I have come down with that dreaded winter event, the flu. As such I am spending most of the day in bed, feeling sorry for myself and eating soup. Oh and I am reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake which so far is totally fabulous. I am not into self torture and so am eating ready made food, which I know, is like totally sacrilegious or something but what's a girl to do? Anyway, so I thought I would share a lemon curd recipe I found which is by far more superior than all the others I've tried. I made it a few months back for the filling for Lemon Curd Pavlovas. I didn't share it with you then but its so good I decided I needed to tell you about it now.

It goes without saying that I am a huge lemon curd fan. I suspect it all started with a trip to Borough Market in London town one sunny Saturday morning. It was summer and there were more strawberries than I care to mention. Next to one strawberry seller was a preserve person (the exact details are fuzzy) who had lemon curd. The two genius stallholders were letting people sample strawberries dipped in lemon curd. Its a totally sublime combination and I was obviously compelled to buy a punnet and a jar and have a happy day dipping strawberries into lemon curd. Lemon curd is good with other things too. Toast for one, especially if you do not like jam/marmite/peanut butter or are simply in need of a change. As someone who does not like jam sandwiched between cake, lemon curd is the perfect alternative. Victoria Sponge filled with lemon curd and mascarpone is elevated from the mundane into the catalogues of cake greatness. Even better, if you are a significant lemon fan is lemon cake filled with lemon curd. All round lemon yummy-ness. Lemon curd also works with white chocolate anything, lemon and white chocolate being a great pairing.

Lemon Curd
Makes enough for 1 1/2 preserve jars
3 lemons
200g caster sugar
125g butter
2 eggs
2 yolks
vanilla pod
Zest and juice the lemons into a pan. Add in the sugar, butter and vanilla pod and allow everything to melt together. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks until broken up. Pour the butter/sugar mixture into the eggs and give everything a quick stir before pouring it back into the pan. Over a low heat, cook the curd until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (Just like making custard folks.) Once you're at that stage, remove from the heat, sieve, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla and into the mix and pour into sterilized jars.Seal and store in the fridge for up to 3 months. If you're using all the curd straight away, strain into a bowl and put this bowl over another that is filled with ice. This will cool the curd quickly and can then be cooled in the fridge further until needed.

You will notice that my method works over direct heat. If you are nervous or new to the whole custard making debacle I would suggest you cook the curd over a pan of simmering water. I am too impatient for such things, don't have bowls that fit nicely over pans and figure that the worst is it starts to curdle and you have to start again.

If you don't like vanilla in your curd simply omit it from the recipe.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lamb Leftovers

So you've made the Roast Lamb with beans and because there aren't many of you there is a significant amount of lamb left over. So you make some lamb sandwiches for lunch the next day and possibly the day after that but then what? You've got this hulking piece of foiled lamb in the refrigerator and it looks at you in this way that makes you feel so guilty about waste and the poor lamb who gave up his life only to have his leg in your fridge getting old. Yup, that happens to me all the time. And realistically, there are only so many lamb sandwiches one can eat before moving on to other things.

But fear not! I have a recipe here for a lamb shepherd's pie that will make the roast lamb so much more justifiable and therefore enjoyable. Now, because we're talking about shepherd's pie, we have to spare a moment and talk about MASH. Yes, that is it there in capitals. MASH. There it is again. It is one of my favourite foods, possibly should have its own food group and it just makes everything seem more wonderful. Having a bad day? Eat some mash. It is guaranteed to make you feel better. I suspect that this is because of its texture which is reminiscent of baby food and therefore takes you back to a time where life was simple and stuff. (Am I reading too much into the powers of MASH?) Well anyway. Making mash is easy. You peel and dice some potatoes, boil them until tender, plow them through a sieve, add in salt, butter or cream and that's it.

Joel Robuchon, he of 12 restaurants and numerous Michelin stars, is said to add the same weight of butter to his mashed potatoes. (So, butter weight = potato weight.) People talk about this a lot. I for one look forward to the day when I can afford to sample these mashed potatoes. But personally, I do not feel the need to add in that much butter. A substantially sized knob of butter and if I have it in the fridge, a dollop of double cream, seems to do the trick. If I'm making dinner for other people or for special occasions I make them more decadent. If its just for me, on a weeknight, I use less butter and no cream. I think the best way to find out what you like is to experiment yourself. Obviously the more butter you add the more calorie laden it gets so bear this in mind (just a little) when making MASH. After all, it is an epic comfort food.

Shepherd's Pie

4 small onions or 1 large onion, red or white, sliced finely
60ml flour
500ml beef stock
400g roast lamb, shredded
1 tablespoon of tomato paste (one generous squeeze)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme

Sweat the onions in a knob of butter and a swig of olive oil. Add in the flour and cook for a minute then add in the lamb. Pour in the beef stock followed by the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf and thyme. Bring the mixture to the boil then turn down and simmer for about an hour. The sauce will thicken and the lamb will become tender. Keep an eye on the pan and give it a stir on occasion to prevent sticking. You can either use a single dish or individual ones so divide the mixture as you choose. Extract the bay leaf and thyme at this point.

Whilst you are doing all that preheat the oven to 180C, then peel and dice about 6-10 potatoes. (Depending on how many you are trying to feed!) Place them in a pot and fill it with cold water so that the potatoes are covered. Boil until tender. Push these through a sieve* back into the pot and add in some butter and salt. Stir so that the potatoes come together and then place atop the lamb mixture. Bang this in the oven for about 25 minutes, until the mash has turned golden brown-y and the sauce is bubbling up at the sides.

*I have a confession about the mash I made for this pie. I started to push it through a sieve when the whole sieve collapsed and broke. So I threw the sieve away, after turning the pieces of potato back into the pot and made a chunky version of mash. This is a totally acceptable thing to do if you are lazy, tired or have just broken the sieve-like I did. (The fact that this is the third, yes third, sieve I have broken in the last month is a story for another time.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Red Velvet Cake

It's a public holiday today (thanks Mr President!) so we can go out and cast our vote. In celebration of the unplanned holiday and because my sister ventured down from the far North for the day, I baked her favourite - Red Velvet Cake. To be honest I don't really need an excuse to bake Red Velvet. I love everything about this cake. I love its colour, the icing and mostly I love the combination of the not-so-sweet cake with the exceptionally sweet icing. I love this icing so much I could eat it with a spoon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I iced it when it was still slightly warm (you are not supposed to do this at home folks!) and it was fabulous, for dessert and tea and possibly dinner.

Red Velvet Cake is associated with the American South but was apparently a signature dish at New York's Waldorf-Astoria in the 1920s. The red colour (that part of it not embellished by food colouring) is said to come from the reaction between buttermilk, cocoa powder and vinegar. Well, my cakes always look like chocolate cakes until I add food colouring into them so I'm skeptical of how true this actually is. Red Velvet Cakes without cocoa powder are not Red Velvet Cakes. They're pretending to be but are in actual fact simply ordinary vanilla cakes with red colouring added in. These are pretend cakes people! Cocoa is a key ingredient.

My Red Velvet recipe is adapted from Annie Bell's book Gorgeous Cakes. It is a much thumbed, very grubby book that I use with fair frequency. Some day I will tell you about the lemon cake she has in there. But not today. I love Annie. Apart from the fact that she has a career I envy (first a chef at Books for Cooks then a cookery writer at Vogue and now a recipe book writer), her recipes always work. There is very little that needs to be done by way of tweaking.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gorgeous Cakes
120g soft, unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
some vanilla extract
300g cake flour
pinch of salt
20g coca powder
250ml buttermilk
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon bicarb
red or pink food colouring*

Preheat the oven to 180C and line 2 20cm cake tins. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. This will never be entirely pure white because of the brown sugar. Add in the eggs followed by the vanilla. Add in half the flour, then all the buttermilk and then the rest of the flour, beating well inbetween each addition. Mix the vinegar and bicarb in a mug (it will fizz up) and then add this into the mixture. It should be smooth and supple. Lastly add in the food colouring. I haven't put in a measurement here because I add the colouring in until I reach a colour that appeals to me. Some days its more pink, others its more burgundy. The colour darkens as it cooks too so bear that in mind. Also make sure you beat the colour in well otherwise you'll end up with streaks.

Divide the mixture between the pans and smooth down with a spatula.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes until the cakes have pulled away from the sides and are springy to the touch. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks. Cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Icing
180g soft, unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
500g Philadelphia cream cheese**
Cream the butter and icing sugar until bright white and soft. Add in the vanilla followed by the cream cheese. Beat until the icing is smooth, white and soft enough to spread.

* I have been using pink food colouring but use red if you so desire. I suspect the overall difference in colour is minimal.
** Use the best cream cheese you can afford because that is all you will taste. I have a love affair going on with Philadelphia so I use that, always.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Apple Crumbles

An apple crumble is like the epitome of comfort food in my book. Its warm, you can eat it with custard (as far as I'm concerned, custard constitutes its own food group) and it makes use of any excess tart apples you may have hanging around looking mournful in your kitchen. This afternoon it started to rain (again) just as I was in the kitchen sorting out dinner - lamb and tomato pasta. I decided that such weather was just screaming out for an apple crumble and I've been craving them all week so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Crumbles in general are quick and easy to make. I work on 1 and a half pieces of fruit per person (if you're doing apple, pear, peach, plum etc). If you're using berries I would go with a cup per person, give or take. One of the main debates in crumble is the amount of crumble for the amount of fruit. I personally like a lot of crumble with my fruit and so am more likely to use more. I also make more crumble mix than I need and freeze the excess. This makes it even faster to get crumble-y goodness going the next time. Some people put spices into their crumble, either tossing it with the fruit or adding it to the crumble mix. I didn't tonight but am partial to a little cinnamon once in a while. Depending on your fruit you may want to add a little sugar to the fruit itself, just a sprinkling mind because the crumble mix has sugar in it. I do this when the apples are particularly tart.

Apple Crumbles
1 and a half apples per person, peeled, and chopped into 1cm pieces
100g oats
100g flour
100g light brown sugar
100g butter, cold
nuts of your choice, if you so desire-about a handful, roughly chopped

Divide the apple pieces between 4 ramekins. Preheat the oven to 180C.
In a standing mixer, place the flour, oats and sugar. Cut the butter into cubes and add in. Mix until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Using a spoon, place the crumble mix on top of the apples. Don't be afraid to pile it up, the apples will cook down in the process so the mix on top will fall in too.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until the apples are soft and the crumble mix is brown. Serve with custard, ice-cream or cream.

The nut addition is personal. Sometimes I add some in, other times I don't. This time I did not but I find when I make berry crumbles, like blueberry for example, the extra nut crunch adds an unexpected texture.

Mrs Figg's Figgy Newtons

Herewith continues the saga of the Figgy Newtons. I admit that sometimes making shortbread is not the easiest thing. It doesn't come together and can break up when you roll it but my! I have struggled this morning. The dough kept breaking up, it flaked when I rolled it, and I have fought to get it into some form of what the instructions say it should look like.

This recipe comes from Flour by Joanne Chang. I'm obsessed with this book. Not least because it is so fabulously American in all its goods but also because the pictures are mouthwatering and the girl went to Harvard before realizing that baking was the only way forward. I could not agree more. Flour is in Boston, has 3 outlets and is most definitely on my 'list of places to go' when I next visit. (Would some divine good fairy please organize a trip for me?) I still have to make the vanilla cream filled doughnuts at some point. I dream about them. But as I said, I had a glut of figs and no ideas as to what to do with them. So Figgy Newtons it is! The pastry on these things is wonderful. Its perfectly crisp but then just melts away in your mouth. Better yet, they're not particularly sweet. The acid and tart fig jam complements the sweeter pastry resulting in something you could probably eat a lot of in a small amount of time. Particularly if you served them with vanilla ice-cream or mascarpone.

Mrs Figg's Figgy Newtons
Adapted from Flour
For the Jam
650g ripe figs
1 orange
110g light brown sugar
zest of one lemon
pinch of salt

Peel, seed and chop the orange. Remove the stems from the figs and cut into quarters. Chuck all the ingredients in a pot and cook down until thick and jam-y. This takes about 45 minutes on a low heat. Allow the jam to cool completely. See the pictures of the jam yesterday.

For the Pastry
230g unsalted butter, soft
75g light brown sugar
30g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
some vanilla
140g stone ground cake flour
120g regular cake flour
half a teaspoon of baking powder

Cream the butter and sugars until light, white and fluffy. Add in the yolk and vanilla. Finally add in the flours and baking powder. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Turn this out and knead into a flat disc. Refrigerate for half an hour. In the mean time, heat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Now, the instructions say to roll out the pastry into a rectangle and then fill and bake this. I couldn't get the dough to work nicely for me (see my rant above) so I eventually divided it into 2 pieces. I rolled each piece out, filled it with jam and then folded the edges to meet in the middle. As illustrated below.

Once you've done that, fold the other edges in and crimp to seal. It should look like a pillow with a seam down the middle. Now, very expertly and quickly, turn your pillow over so that the smooth side is turned upwards. I got lazy with the second one and didn't turn it over. It is not nearly as nice aesthetically speaking but also was harder to cut. Bake these for about 35 minutes until golden brown. If you're making a single one (those of you who are better skilled at this rolling thing than me) bake it for about an hour or so. Allow it to cool completely before slicing.

 This is supposed to be like an afternoon snack thing but I'd serve it as a dessert and I suspect it would go well with Greek yogurt at breakfast too.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Roast Lamb with Beans

It sometimes feels like we did not have a summer this year. You can expect me to gripe about this a lot in the near future as it gets colder and colder. The ‘summer’ we did have was ghastly and awful and rained all the time in the months when the sun was supposed to shine and there were supposed to be thunderstorms and now its freezing bloody cold and it’s still mostly raining. I am not a happy bunny. In such circumstances one is forced to abandon all attempts at salad eating and get down and dirty with some slow cooked something something. In my case it’s slow roasted lamb.

I love lamb in its many many forms but I mostly love it when it’s been slow roasted with tender loving care (in this case, my tender loving care). I love the sticky-ness of the meat, the way it all falls apart; the almost feral need to tear it from the bone with one’s fingers in a way reminiscent of ancient man. Okay, so I am getting carried away and poetic. The other brilliant thing about slow cooked lamb is that you bang it in the oven and leave it to get on with things for a number of hours. This frees you to do various things, not limited to but including: wine drinking, book reading, DVD watching, and general trash talking with friends. There are obviously many ways to slow cook lamb but for this particular evening I have chosen dear Jamie. Jamie is my source for all things basic. Curry? Tart cases? Tart fillings? Pies? I use Jamie in his various incarnations a lot. This is recipe actually comes from an Olive magazine (April 2011) and is from Jamie’s Jamie Does book which is one I don’t actually own but covet regularly in various bookshops.

The recipe is for lamb with beans, a decidedly French version and doesn’t contain any mint. (I’m not the biggest mint sauce fan for reasons mainly relating to the mint sauces’ exceedingly long life span in the fridge-it’s the jar that gets taken out once a year and then returned where things of unknown nature I’m sure breed on it invisibly.) Anyway, the genius of this recipe is that you cook the lamb over the beans. This results in all the lovely lamb juices falling down into the beans and creating the most wonderful bean accompaniment thing.

Lamb with Beans
Adapted from Olive Magazine

1 leg of lamb
Sprigs of rosemary and thyme
3 cloves giant garlic
2 bay leaves
A handful of parsley
4 cans of beans*
7 baby leeks
2 red onions
500ml to 1.5L stock, lamb, chicken or vegetarian

Preheat the oven to 230C.
Salt and pepper the lamb, rub it with olive oil and stab it all over with a small paring knife. Insert the thyme and rosemary sprigs into the holes. Slice one of the garlic cloves and pierce these into the lamb too. Place this on a rack that will fit over your roasting dish. 

Slice the leeks and onions, peel the other garlic. Place in a roasting tray and cook over a low heat until the onions and leeks have softened. Add in the beans with the can juices, the bay leaves, some extra thyme and the parsley. Place the lamb on top of the roasting tray and put in the oven. 
 Turn the oven down to 160C. Now, Jamie says to add in 1.5L of stock. Well, I missed this instruction until later in the cooking process and my roasting tin wouldn’t allow that much more liquid in without poaching the lamb. (And that is not what I was trying to achieve.) So I added 500ml of stock at the beginning but then didn't need to add any more after that. Cook the lamb for approximately 3 hours – it should be falling off the bone. When the lamb is done, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes (if you can wait that long). Turn off the oven and keep the beans covered in the oven until you’re ready to eat. Enjoy with much red wine on a cold winter’s evening. (In my case, an early autumn evening!)

*Jamie uses flageolet beans because this is a French recipe. I had no such thing so used 1 can of chickpeas, 2 of butter beans and 1 can of cannellini beans. 

Chocolate Chip, Life Saving Cookies

So, my friend lent me this book and insisted that I read it because the book was, well, I’m not sure. Maybe I borrowed it because everyone I know has now read it and I clearly felt out of the loop. Well, this book is making me depressed. I will begin this post by warning you; I like books where things work out well. Books where people get together, have successful lives and happy families and long, long love stories. In other words I tend to avoid books about reality and general unhappiness. This is not to say that I never read anything uncomfortable or unnerving, it’s just that I tend to like things to work out well. And this book is just not working out well. Things are not going well for the characters and its so damn frustrating when people don’t do what you want them to do! It’s like Wuthering damn Heights! (Which I secretly adore and read regularly but moving along.) In fact I have been forced to make chocolate chip cookies to cheer me up. I know. Chocolate chip cookies do not really need an excuse like a terribly life disturbing book but well, I certainly need them now. 

These cookies are from Nigella’s new book, Kitchen. I like Nigella a lot but I tend to use her for reference points rather than recipes. I’ve had bad experiences in the past of things not working out well. These cookies are an exception. As is her chocolate Guinness cake. (More on that another time.) These are American cookies, crispy on the outsides, chewy in the middle and so loaded with chocolate that it is hard to form them well. They are also an American size, that is to say, gigantic. And they take all of five minutes to make and thus make a good addition to the collection if you’re ever in a giant rush for a cookie fix.

Basically you melt the butter, allow it to cool and then mix all the ingredients together. Well, almost – see the instructions below. You don’t need a fancy mixer for this though, just a bowl and a wooden spoon. You can use dark, milk or white chocolate chips or a combination of all three, whatever takes your fancy at the time. I happen to have a mound of Easter eggs left over so I used those. (This wasn’t entirely wise because the Easter chocolate is of so poor a quality that I ended up with quite a few burnt chocolate edges – I’ve managed to get past that by eating around the burnt bits, obviously.) It hasn’t entirely dented my stock pile but it’s made a good improvement on a situation that was turning slightly awkward. Nigella also suggests that you use a 60ml measuring cup to form the individual cookies in and then knock out onto the baking tray. This works quite well and allows for even shape and cooking time. These make the perfect 4pm booster or lunchbox treat or any day, anytime eating thing.

I read an article on the New York Times relatively recently all about the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The article basically said that if you want the best tasting cookie you need to refrigerate the dough for 3 days. This gives the flour time to absorb the eggs and butter and results in a more caramel, sophisticated taste. Feel free to try this out. I am not the kind of person who can wait 3 days for a cookie. I’m also not the kind of person who thinks ahead by 3 days. Apparently the flavour improves after one day so perhaps you can wait that long. I can’t and these taste awesome when made and baked in a frenzy of depressed book madness.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Kitchen
150g butter, melted
125g light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg
1 yolk
Some vanilla
300g flour
Half a teaspoon of bicarb
About 250g chocolate chips*

Mix the melted, cooled butter and the sugars together before adding in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour until all the ingredients are combined. Lastly, mix in the chocolate chips. (I find this easiest to do by hand because the amount of chips is fairly overwhelming.) Form the dough into cookie shape mounds and press down to flatten. Bake at 170C for about 15minutes – depending on the size of your cookie and the oven itself.

* The original recipe calls for significantly more chocolate chips that this but I find that more is not necessarily better in the quest for chocolate chip godliness. In this case, this amount of chocolate is more than sufficient to get a well rounded, well studded cookie. 

The book is called One Day and I have now finished it. It gets better for a while so is slightly redeemable but I do think you need a supply of these cookies to get you through.

Fig Jam

I've started and lost this post more times than I care to count. These are the images for the fig jam I made to fill Mrs Figg's Figgy Newtons which you can read about here.

Fabulous ripe figs awaiting their evolution into jam
 Figs cooking down into jam