Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jamaican Buttermilk, Apple and Ginger Cake – resistance is futile !

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When the virtue of patience was being dished out, I was too darned impatient to wait in line. If only I’d known...
... You see, the thing with Jamaican Ginger Cake is, that while it takes under an hour from start to finish, it is best wrapped and left for 24 hours for the flavours to develop.
All those spices smell so good. I know from experience that I will probably unwrap a little corner to take a peak - just to make sure the Alchemy is working... (I’ve been know to dig up seeds to see if they have started developing roots yet...).
Before you know it, I’ll be cutting a wee slice - just a taste - and that tiny taste will call for another... the irresistible warmth of the spices... the tender sticky crumb and I’ll never learn just how good it can be when I include that missing ingredient, patience!
Up the ginger quotient by increasing the amount of allspice and fresh ginger to taste. A little finely chopped stem ginger stirred into the batter also heats things up a bit.
Will I be able to resist this time? We’ll see...
For one irresistible 1 x 2lb loaf you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 160˚C
 
Ingredients
a little butter for greasing a 2lb loaf tin
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground allspice* (not mixed spice!)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine table salt 
100g treacle
100g golden syrup
100g dark brown sugar
100g butter
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
125mls buttermilk**
150g unsweetened stewed apple***
1 egg, beaten 

Method
Grease and baseline a 2lb loaf tin (or line with a loaf tin liner).
Place the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground spices and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Weigh the treacle and golden syrup directly into a medium saucepan and add the sugar, butter, fresh ginger and vanilla extract and place over a low heat just until the butter has melted into the other ingredients. Remove from the heat immediately – at no point should it simmer or boil.
Meanwhile, mix together the buttermilk, stewed apple and beaten egg. Add this mixture to the flour mixture in the bowl and stir with a whisk until combined into a thick batter.
Melt, mix, stir, pour - it's that simple !

Add the warm mixture from the saucepan and whisk until combined into a smooth, fairly runny batter. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and transfer to the preheated oven.
Bake for 40 minutes or until well risen and the surface bounces back when lightly pressed. A cocktail stick inserted in the middle should come out clean, with no crumbs clinging. (Replace in the oven for a further 5 minutes if necessary and test again.)
Leave in the tin until completely cold, then remove from the tin and wrap in a layer of baking paper, then in cling film. Leave for at least 24 hours for the flavours to develop before cutting into thick slices and devouring with a decent cup of tea or coffee.
It is not the most beautiful cake in the world, but a dusting of icing sugar works wonders against the dark crumb of the cake, or you could drizzle with a water icing made according to the instructions on the packet.
 

Not the most beautiful cake in the world. A dusting of icing sugar works wonders !
 
*Allspice is a gorgeous warm aromatic dried berry – also called Jamaican Pepper – I grind the berries as I need them as they have a longer shelf life than ready ground – and there is the bonus of the lovely aroma they release when crushed.
Mixed spice is ... um... a mixture of spices.
**If you don’t have buttermilk, simply use the same amount of fresh milk to which you have added a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
***For the stewed apple, simply peel, core and slice a large Bramley apple or similar (prepared weight approximately 200g. Place the flesh of the apple in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water, apple juice or cider. Place over a medium heat. Cover and allow the apple to steam in its own juices – stirring occasionally - for about 15 minutes or until completely soft and the slices of apple can be easily mashed with a fork. Mash to a reasonably smooth puree and leave to cool before using as above.

 
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Friday, October 3, 2014

French Onion Soup – Ooh là là!

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The smell of frying onions reminds me of fairgrounds; of treasure hunting in a drizzly Camden Market; of hotdogs on a New York street corner; of the gently sizzling start of many a comforting soup, stew or casserole.  Proust, you can keep your Madeleines.

What I am after today is something even the fickle sugar rush of chocolate can’t provide. I need a bowl of no-nonsense, unapologetically pungent, solidly satisfying French onion soup with a lid of thick cheesy croutons.

Just as Ooh là là! has acquired a different meaning in English, French onion soup has come to mean an onion soup made with beef broth. However, if you can get someone to make you this dish in France, it is just as likely to be made with a chicken stock or just plain water. I’ve chosen a middle ground, going for chicken stock, as I find the beef version too ... well, too beefy. I’m in an onion sort of mood and that’s what I want this soup to sing of.

(The traditional method is to place the croutons on the soup, cover with cheese and put the whole lot under a hot grill but I find that preparing the croutons separately is quicker and safer.)

To create a little Ooh là là! for about 4 people you will need...
...for the soup
75g butter
1kg onions, peeled and sliced thinly into half moons
1L good chicken stock (or 350mls dry white wine and 650mls stock)
2 tablespoons of whiskey or brandy (optional)
a small bunch of thyme
2 or 3 bay leaves
time and patience (about 2 hours worth)
a little salt and black pepper to taste 

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat and add the onions. Turn down the heat and cook the onions gently until they have reduced dramatically in volume and have turned a deep caramel brown (anything up to 2 hours), stirring occasionally, particularly towards the end.

Add the stock, whiskey or brandy (if using), and the bunch of thyme and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

At this point it is ready to serve, however, I prefer to leave it cool, then chill it in the fridge overnight. I scrape off and discard any butter than has congealed on the top before reheating while I make the croutons.
Transform the humble onion into a pot of gold
 
 
... for the croutons
8 slices of baguette, about 1.5cm thick
1 clove garlic, peeled
100g Gruyere (or a mixture of Gruyere and Mozzarella) grated

Place the slices of baguette on a baking tray and bake at about 175°C for about 15 minutes or until golden, turning once about half way through the time. Leave to cool.

When the soup is ready to serve, rub the croutons lightly with the clove of garlic, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.

Ladle the soup into bowls and launch two croutons on the surface of each golden oniony sea. Serve immediately. Ooh là là !
Ooh là là !

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