Monday, December 20, 2010

Spiced Orange Shortbread – a celebration of festive laziness

Pin It Laziness is vastly under-rated. As far as I am concerned it is an unrecognised but significant catalyst for inspiration, motivation and resourcefulness. Laziness prompts the dawning of that great realisation: there must be an easier/faster way of doing this – whatever this is. That realisation, in turn, sparks creativity in pursuit of that easier/faster way.

Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day-ay-ay! 

I had been planning a chickpea and chorizo stew as a savoury change from all the sweet baking I’ve been featuring lately, but the chickpeas need overnight soaking and there’s lots of gathering of herbs and chopping of vegetables and slicing of meats involved. That’s not normally any hassle at all, but I have yet to trim the Christmas tree, write the Christmas cards, wrap the Christmas presents – all on my To Do list today - and I want something I can produce quickly, with minimum effort – something extremely lazy.
I ask myself what could be easier/faster? The answer that quickly springs to mind is shortbread.
Measure! Mix! Bake! (Eat!!!)
It couldn’t be lazier easier. Measure. Mix. Bake. What’s more, it is so true to my philosophy - simple ingredients, magical food – that I know it is meant to be.
Santa baby, slip some shortbread under the tree for me...
I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, but shortbread is my downfall. I can safely say this one is the best I have ever made. With the barest touch of clove and cinnamon and studded with tiny nuggets of caramelised orange peel, it is utterly festive. I have redeemed my complete lack of effort slightly by dipping half of these little stunners in melted dark chocolate. Oh, raise a glass to laziness!
For about 30 shortbread cookies you will need...... to pre-heat the oven to 170°C

175g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
200g plain flour
50g corn flour
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
a pinch of fine table salt
2 tablespoons candied orange peel, diced
2 tablespoons iced water

1.      Place the butter and sugar in a food mixer or a large bowl and mix together until fluffy and paler in colour.
2.      Mix in the plain flour, corn flour, vanilla essence, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and salt. When these are mixed into a fine sandy crumb, add in the candied peel.
3.      Finally, add in the water, mixing just until the ingredients come together in a ball.
4.      Roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of about 7mm / ¼ inch. Cut out Christmassy (or other) shapes and place on a non-stick (or lightly floured) baking sheet. Squash any off-cuts into a ball and re-roll.
5.      Bake the cookies in the pre-heated oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until evenly golden.
6.      Transfer to a cooling rack. When cold, dust with icing sugar or dip in decent quality melted chocolate – dark, milk, or white, I’ll leave it up to you. I’m feeling far too lazy to make that decision!

Aaah - the perfect antidote to Christmas shopping!
Pin It

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pine Nut and Almond Macaroons – and not a pink poodle in sight!

Pin It
When I think of macaroons, the first image that comes to mind is of the currently fashionable Parisian version available in a variety of pastel shades and exotic flavours. For me they are the confectionery equivalent of the pampered pink poodles you find trotting along the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, looking over-primped and more than a little absurd.
Pine nut and almond macaroons - one is never enough!  

Then a very fond memory swoops in, of a time I spent in Almería in Southern Spain, and the gorgeously simple macaroons I found at Almería’s favourite pastry shop.
If you get a chance to visit Almería, seize it! It is a little jewel of a town, full of romance and the history of millennia (and a large helping of petty thievery – so keep a weather-eye open). It is right on the coast so you can swim away the extra calories you are bound to take on board while you are there - Almería has some wonderful places to eat.
As the heat begins to fade from the day, the paseo begins. Crowds emerge and begin a stately promenade around the town. It is a chance to see and be seen. If you are a people-watcher, you could hardly get a better ringside seat than the pavement tables outside La Dulce Alianze, the 19-Century pastelería on Paseo de Almería. It is like a more refined and much smaller Bewleys of Grafton Street. You will be lured in by the stunning window display. An Aladdin’s cave of chocolates and pastries will call to you as you make your way to the stylish café area at the back. Resign yourself to the fact that you will emerge with at least a half-dozen prettily-wrapped sweetmeats (maybe these macaroons) to eat later.
Meanwhile, here’s something to whet your appetite in advance of your visit. These little beauties make a light, slightly chewy treat during the festive season, and not a pink poodle in sight!

For approximately 20 macaroons you will need... pre-heat the oven to 160°C

Scatter with pine nuts and
press lightly into the batter  
 2 egg whites
¼ teaspoon table salt
150g caster sugar
130g ground almonds
20g plain flour
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pine nuts and flaked almonds to decorate

Icing sugar to finish

You will also need sheets of rice paper or non-stick baking parchment

1       In a large mixing bowl (or food mixer) whisk the egg whites with the salt until the whisk leaves soft peaks in the mixture when you lift it out.
2       Mix in the caster sugar, ground almonds, plain flour and vanilla extract until combined.
3       Cover two baking sheets with ricepaper or non-stick baking parchment onto which you place teaspoonsfuls of the mixture about 5cm apart, flattening them slightly. You should get about 20 macaroons from this mixture.
4       Sprinkle 10 with pine nuts and 10 with flaked almonds, pressing the nuts lightly into the batter so that they stick.
5       Place in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes or until evenly golden.
6       Transfer the macaroons – still on their backing paper – to a wire rack to cool. When cold, peel away the rice paper if that’s what you used (it doesn’t matter if some sticks – it’s perfectly edible) or carefully remove the non-stick parchment paper*.
7       Dust with icing sugar.
These are wonderfully Christmassy and just the thing to accompany a cup of real hot chocolate.
Tip: *If your 'non-stick' baking parchment sticks, don’t panic! Any paper that adheres is easily scraped away with a knife.

Pin It

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Coconut Brioche – cupboard-diving reveals a little treasure

Pin It
Once upon a time, I met this surfer dude from California.  He was busking his way around the world with more infectious enthusiasm than musical talent. When necessary, he supplemented his income with a variety of jobs, mostly busboy or short-order cook.  His home was furnished with the fruits of his favourite hobby: skip-diving. He had evolved a uniform – which included thick boots, strong overalls, and gloves. And thus prepared, no skip was left unturned.
As you can see, this loaf bit the dust before I got to take the photos
It was the challenge that attracted him, the sheer creativity needed to assess his discoveries and to transform them into something wonderful. Some of his treasures included a custom-built computer cannibalised from assorted bits, a reconditioned antique dressing table for his wife’s birthday, a stunning dolls' house for his youngest daughter, and a parade of bikes for his whole family. 

Often he would find little treasures ready-made: a ruby ring in a jacket pocket; and, more often than you’d expect, he’d find bundles of cash!
While not quite in the same realm, cupboard-diving can be a bit of a culinary adventure, (Yes, the snow still hasn’t melted!) putting a variety of surprise ingredients in front of you if you venture into the shadowy recesses. For me, snaring store cupboard ingredients in this manner takes them a little out of context because I usually start with a dish in my head and then gather up the necessary bits. This way, the process is reversed.  
The first treasure to emerge was a tiny pot of paté de foie gras. This set my thoughts wandering in the direction of brioche. My discovery of a shortage of cow’s milk coincided with the discovery of a can of coconut milk with its sell-by date looming.  By now, the thought had developed into a craving for the light fluffiness that can only be had from Brioche.  Hmmm...  said my cooking brain, today I cannot live without brioche...  milk is milk... isn’t it?
The result is this divine coconut brioche.

For 2 lovely loaves you will need:
... to pre-heat the oven to 180°C towards the end of step 5

400g plain flour
50g desiccated coconut
1 sachet dried yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
175mls coconut milk, warmed slightly
70g runny honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g butter, softened
4 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
a little beaten egg to glaze
a large pinch of desiccated coconut to scatter over the top

A little star in a universe of canapé bases!

1.   First, mix together the flour, desiccated coconut, yeast, and salt.  Mix together the coconut milk, honey and vanilla extract and mix into the flour mixture (a food mixer with a dough hook is best for this job as it is quite a wet dough).
2.   When the milk mixture has been incorporated, drop in the softened butter - about a tablespoonful at a time - mixing until incorporated before adding the next piece of butter.
3.   When all the butter has been added, mix in the beaten egg, about a quarter at a time. When the egg has been incorporated, keep mixing for a further 5 minutes then cover and leave to rise in a warm place for up to 2 hours or until doubled in size.
4.   When the dough has doubled in size, lightly butter and base-line two 2 LB loaf tins. (To base line a tin, sit it on greaseproof paper or baking parchment and using a pencil, trace around it. Cut out the shape just inside the pencil lines. Lightly rub the inside of the tin with butter so that the paper sticks to the base. This makes it easier to remove the brioche from then tin when cooked.)
5.   Uncover the risen dough and mix for 5 minutes using the dough hook – it will deflate alarmingly. That’s ok - it is supposed to. Divide the dough between the two tins, cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise once more for about an hour or until doubled in size. Towards the end of this time, pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
6.   When the dough has had its second rising, very gently remove the covering, brush lightly with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with desiccated coconut.
7.   Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool for about 5 minutes in the tins before turning out on a wire rack.
Best eaten warm, this is also wonderful used in a luxurious bread pudding or – as I did – cut into stars, toasted and used as tiny rafts for my pot of paté de foie gras.
Pin It