Sunday, November 22, 2015

Orange, Cardamom & Coriander Madeleines – It's not what you've got, it's how you use it!

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For Café Europe - a cultural initiative held as part of Austria’s EU presidency in 2006 - Ireland offered scones, and France offered the Madeleine. While very different products, scones and Madeleines have some things in common – flour, sugar, butter, and social ambition. While both had relatively humble beginnings, they were adopted by high society – the scone becoming an essential part of ‘Afternoon Tea’, made fashionable by a rather peckish Anna Duchess of Bedford in the mid-nineteenth Century. The Madeleine (according to one account) was already a favourite at Versailles, adopted by the Court of Louis XV a century earlier. Both got a little lift from the invention of baking powder. There the similarity ends. Perhaps it's a lesson in "It's not what you've got, it's how you use it!"

In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust’s narrator famously has a foodgasm brought on by the Madeleine. He doesn’t mention scones.
For 24 foodgasm-inducing Madeleines you will need…
… 2 x 12-hole Madeleine tins (you’ll get away with 1, just let it cool between bakes)
150g butter
3 eggs
130g caster sugar
a teaspoon of finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon coriander seed, finely ground
the seeds from 2 fat green cardamom pods, finely ground
¼ tsp salt
130g plain flour
¾ tsp baking powder

a little extra flour for dusting the cake tins

Icing sugar for dusting over the finished cakes

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium to high heat (use a light-coloured saucepan such as stainless steel if possible as it allows you to see the colour change in the butter that indicates it has reached the right point). Once melted, let it continue to foam and splutter, swirling occasionally to make sure it is heating evenly. As the foaming and spluttering dies down, the butter will continue to darken from yellow, to golden, to toasty brown. The butter will also begin to smell a little nutty. The milk solids in the butter will separate out and sink to the bottom. Remove the pan from the hob and pour into a heatproof bowl or jug to cool to room temperature, leaving as much of the milk solid residue behind as possible (If you leave the melted butter in the pan, it will continue to cook in the residual heat and may burn).
Remove 2 tablespoons of the melted butter right away – you’ll need this to brush the cake tins later – cover and keep it at room temperature so that it remains liquid.
Put the eggs in a large bowl and add the sugar. Whisk until pale, pale yellow and has thickened to the ‘ribbon’ stage – the whisk will leave a trail as you move it through the mixture and when you lift the whisk, the batter will fall in a ribbon and stay on the surface for a couple of moments before slowly disappearing back into the mixture.

From top left to right, you can see the colour change as you whisk the batter

Add the salt, orange zest and ground spices.  Trickle in the cooled butter, whisking all the while until incorporated into the batter.
Add the baking powder to the flour and sift about one-third onto the surface of the batter. Using a metal spoon such as a dessertspoon, gently fold the flour into the batter. Repeat twice more until you have folded all the flour into the mixture.

Cover with cling film, pressing down lightly so that it is in contact with the surface of the batter.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight if possible.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Brush the Madeleine tins lightly with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle lightly with flour, tapping off the excess. Divide the batter evenly between the tins filling no more than about three-quarters full (an ice cream scoop or piping bag is good for even portioning). Don’t bother to spread the batter out to the edges - gravity will do the work for you.

Don't bother spreading the batter to the edges - gravity will do the work for you!
Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until risen and golden and spring back under the touch of a finger. If the God of Madeleines has been kind, they should have formed a ‘dromedary’ hump (which I always thought was a defect, but turns out to be Madeleine perfection – who knew!). 
A ‘dromedary hump’ is desirable...
Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for a minute or so before tipping gently out of their shells onto a wire rack to cool. They freeze marvelously and are restored to oven-fresh magnificence after about 12 seconds in the microwave. If you are going to freeze them do so now, without their sugar dusting.

If they are to be eaten now, once cool, dust with icing sugar and consume with a decent cup of tea or a glass of sticky dessert wine.
You could also dip them in good dark chocolate or white chocolate.

A bit of quality control… baker's privilege ...

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pigs in a Duvet - Sausage Rolls with an Education !

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Rouen is a very charming French city with the dubious honour of having flambéed Joan of Arc at the tail end of the middle ages. I was there some years ago for a romantic break with my beloved. Unfortunately, he fell ill and was confined to the hotel for 3 days.
I ended up exploring the city alone for the most part. Luckily the trip accidentally coincided with the 24-hour boat race on the Seine so there was a lot to see and do and there were plenty of stalls selling many delicious things. This was one of them - a version of saucisson en brioche. 

For 6 Pigs in a Duvet you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 170°C when ready to bake
6 good-quality meaty pork sausages, (about 350g in total) cooked – they should be cooked just before you start the dough - any excess fat patted away with paper towel - and left to cool to room temperature

350g strong white flour (bread flour)
40g caster sugar or honey
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
175ml milk at between 27°C and 35C° (this is when the milk feels neither hot nor cold to the touch)
2 egg yolks, beaten
75g butter, in small cubes, softened

To glaze, one egg white

Dried herbs and/or seeds to complement flavours in the sausage (optional) 


Place the flour, sugar (or honey), salt and yeast in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and quickly combine.
With the mixer running, add the milk, beaten egg yolk, and butter.
Leave the mixer running on low for about 10 minutes or until you have a smooth soft ball of dough.
Remove the dough hook and cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel or cling film. Leave in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.
When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead for a minute or two.

... and s-t-r-e-t-c-h...

Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 50cm x 30xm.
Mark 3 notches into each long side, at intervals of one-third – see diagram. Using a pizza wheel, pastry wheel, or non-serrated knife, cut 6 triangles as shown. (You can cut a small wedge off the bottom if you want a perfectly level base, but it’s not really necessary).

Mark 3 notches into each long side... then cut into 6 triangles as above

Taking the first triangle, place it with the short edge closest to you. Make a small cut in the middle of the edge, about 3cm long. Place a sausage along the length of this side, just clear of the cut you made. Taking a corner of the dough in each hand, tug it apart gently as you fold it over the sausage. (If you are good at patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, this is your moment to shine!) 

Now, roll the dough-wrapped sausage away from you with one hand, while at the same time, take hold of the tail – the long pointed bit of the triangle - keeping the dough taut. Keep rolling and when you reach the pointy bit, roll over it so that the very tip of the point sits just underneath the roll. Repeat with the remaining 5 triangles. 

Tug, fold, roll

Roll so the tail sits underneath

Sit the dough-wrapped sausages on a non-stick baking sheet (or one lined with baking parchment), leaving about 6cm between them to allow for rising. Cover loosely with cling wrap and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.

Repeat with the remaining 5 triangles

When the oven has been pre-heated, place a roasting tin in the base and carefully add about 250mls of boiling water to create the steam that will allow the best rise for this savoury.
Uncover the rolls and brush gently with a little beaten egg white (egg yolk makes this bake too dark). Sprinkle with dried herbs and/or seeds if desired (I used dried thyme and fennel seed this time though sesame and poppy seed are also good)

Place in the pre-heated steamy oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until well risen and a dark golden brown.
Place on a cooling rack until at room temperature. These are great for a picnic, an interesting change to a sandwich, and are even more delicious with a smear of French mustard or onion relish. These rolls don't hang about and are best eaten on the day of baking. Just as well they fly off the cooling rack !

Having a duvet day!

If you want these for breakfast, make 'em the night before: once you have assembled the rolls, cover and place in the fridge to rise overnight. Then, in the morning, bake as instructed. You may need to give them a few extra minutes in the oven but keep an eye as brioche can darken very quickly. 

Taste-tester verdict: "Is it ok if I have another?"
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Monday, October 12, 2015

Spiced Apple and Almond Cobbler – Tempting!

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"Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits."

-Samuel Butler

Mmmm, I do love Autumn. It is the season when some of my favourite fruits are at their best: plums and damsons, blackberries, apples – all delicious in a pie, or its even easier, lazier cousin, the cobbler. Today, I’ve gone for spiced apple and almond version.
You’ll notice the slightly unusual ‘cake tin’ I’ve used – a 24cm frying pan. If you don’t have an ovenproof non-stick frying pan, you can cook the filling in a regular non-stick frying pan then turn it into a lightly buttered baking dish of similar proportions and spoon the almond batter on top. 
Anyway, first to the recipe…

To conjure up a delicious Autumnal cobbler for 8 you will need…
For the filling
750g apples, prepared weight (peeled, cored and each cut into 8 wedges) Drop the prepared apple wedges into a bowl of cold water with a little lemon juice added, until ready to use. This stops them going brown.
30g butter
50g Demerara sugar, or brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves, ground to a powder using a pestle and mortar (or your imagination)
1½ teaspoons cornflour
a little cold water

For the Topping
150g plain flour
100g butter, cubed
75g ground almonds
50g Demerara sugar, or brown sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
175mls milk

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

icing sugar to dust

First prepare the filling: Melt the butter over a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan suitable for use both on the hob and in the oven, and large enough to contain all the apples.
Dry the apples in a clean tea towel and add to the pan. Cook gently for about 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until beginning to soften. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and continue cooking until the sugar has melted and all the apples are coated with the mixture.
Mix the cornflour with just enough water to make a runny paste. Stir this into the apple mixture until any juices that have escaped into the pan have thickened up. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside while you make the topping.
Sugar and spice and all things nice...

For the Almond Batter you will need…
… to pre-heat the oven to 180˚C.
Put the batter ingredients - except the milk, slivered almonds and icing sugar -into a food processor and pulse until combined into a crumbly mixture like fine breadcrumbs. (If you don’t have a food processor, place the flour and butter in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix until just combined.)
Add the milk and pulse (or mix) until it comes together into a thick but smooth mixture.
Dollop large spoonfuls of batter onto the surface of the apple mixture. Sprinkle evenly with the slivered almonds, and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and dust with a little icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with good vanilla ice cream.

Come and get it!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad – Bish ! Bash ! Bosh !

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Is cucumber really at its happiest cut into slippery slices, the sole, straight-laced player in a sandwich for a prim tea with the vicar? 

Doesn't it secretly long to luxuriate in a dish of cool yoghurt, garlic and herbs as part of a classic Tzaziki? Wouldn't it be happier doing the backstroke in a bowl of Gazpacho

On its own, it is nothing. With the right company, it can be a star. Here, it is smashed into rough-edged chunks to join the riot that is Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad. Smash ! Mix ! Serve !

For a cucumber salad with personality you will need…
2 English cucumbers (long, narrow, smooth-skinned), ends removed

Dressing ingredients
3 tablespoons groundnut oil or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 red chilli (hot is best, but go mild if you must), very finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
2 tablespoons of very finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon of very finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)

To serve
a handful of coriander leaf (cilantro)
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds (optional)
salt, to taste

Bish (well, bash really)

Bish:  to prepare the cucumber, place on a chopping board and bash with a rolling pin, mallet, or other suitable object, until broken (but not mashed). Discard any seeds that come loose and cut or break the cucumber into bite-sized pieces. (You may want to cover the cucumber with a clean tea towel to prevent splashes, and bits escaping).

Place the pieces in a colander, and place the colander in a bowl. Put a plate or saucer on top so that it is in contact with the cucumber. Weigh it down - with food cans, a water-filled saucepan, whatever - to help squeeze out the excess juice. Set aside for about 30 minutes while you make the dressing.

Bash: For the dressing, simply mix together the ingredients – I put them in a jar with a screw top lid, and give it a good shake.

Bash (well, mix really)

Drain and discard the juice from the cucumber and place the pieces in a shallow serving dish. Pour the dressing over. Cover and place in the fridge. Leave to bask in the reflected glory of the dressing for a few hours.

Bosh: When ready to serve, mix through the coriander leaf (and scatter with the toasted sesame seeds, if using). Taste and add a little salt and a touch more sugar only if necessary.

Bish, bash, bosh (but mostly bash, really).

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Friday, August 21, 2015

A 'dyschefull' of Apple Snowe - a hauntingly delicious dessert from medieval England

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England was on its very best 'green and pleasant land' behaviour for our recent visit - all blue skies and sunshine. We spent Sunday morning visiting the ancient bones of Henry VIII’s ship, the Mary Rose, in Portsmouth (wow, by the way – what a feat of marine archaeology!). However, there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth when himself missed out on a change of plan and had to forego his much anticipated, post-sightseeing ye-olde-traditional-English-country-pub-Sunday-roast-dinner-with-all-the-trimmings.

He was like a dog with two tails when we got an unexpected invite to a delicious traditional-English-homecooked-Sunday-roast-dinner-with-all-the-trimmings… on the following Tuesday… in the garden of a gorgeous 350 year-old cottage, (complete with ghost, or so it is rumoured).

Leaving with very contented stomachs, we were further delighted to receive a bag of organically grown apples plucked from the two heavily-laden trees in the garden – one, deliciously zingy, rosy-cheeked eaters; the other, tart, green-skinned cookers. For some reason, Apple Snow sprang to mind immediately. This is a dyschefull the Tudors - perhaps even the bold Henry himself - would have enjoyed in one form or another. Maybe it was a favourite of the ghost

My version is soft meringue mixed with apple purée – an apple mousse if you will. You can serve it virtually fat-free as in this recipe, or fold in swirls of whipped cream and yet more apple purée  A drizzle of honey or maple syrup over the top won’t hurt if the apples you use are a little on the tart side. Scoop it up with shortbread fingers or langue de chat biscuits.

Note: As the meringue is so lightly cooked, it should not be given to pregnant women, infants, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Drop the prepared apple slices into water with a generous squeeze of lemon juice to stop them going brown

First, to make the apple purée you will need…

900g apples, uncooked weight, sliced (this was 8 medium apples, after peeling and coring. I dropped them into cold water with a generous squeeze of lemon juice to stop them going brown until I was ready to use them.)
50g caster sugar or honey
the zest (in slices) and juice of a lemon (you should have about 4 tablespoons of juice)
the zest of an orange
2 whole cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
3 drops almond extract

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan with a lid, over a medium heat. Cover the saucepan and cook the apples until soft (about 10-15 minutes) checking occasionally to make sure they haven’t boiled dry (if necessary, add a small amount of water, apple juice, or cider). When the apples are soft, remove the lid and if there is a lot of juice, continue cooking until any visible juice has evaporated.

Remove from the heat, cover, and leave to cool. Taste and add a little more sugar or honey if necessary.

Next, for the meringue you will need…
… a sugar thermometer and an electric whisk or stand mixer (or good strong muscles in your arms)

2 egg whites room at room temperature
60g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cold water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until fluffy and the mixture flops into soft peaks when you remove the whisk.

Place the caster sugar, water, and vanilla extract in a small saucepan and place over a medium heat until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil the mixture until it reaches the ‘soft ball’ mark on your thermometer (or 118°C or 235°F).

Carefully remove the saucepan from the heat and drizzle the hot syrup slowly into the bowl of egg whites, whisking all the while. (Avoid drizzling the hot liquid directly onto the whisk unless you want to enamel your kitchen with molten sugar and quite possibly burn yourself into the bargain). Continue whisking until you have incorporated all the syrup, the mixture is thick and smooth and white and glossy, and a clean finger touched to the mixture tells you that the temperature has dropped to about room temperature (3 - 5 minutes).

The assembly job…

Next, remove the strips of zest, cinnamon stick and cloves from the cool apple mixture and pass it through a coarse sieve. Whisk the resulting apple purée into the meringue and chill until needed. It will keep for about 48 hours, covered, in the fridge.

When ready to serve, swirl into pretty glasses or bowls, and serve with shortbread biscuits or langue de chat. 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Pickled Fennel – Stealing the Show

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Midsummer … the woodland theatre at Kilruddery House’s 17th Century gardens. Could there be a more perfect setting for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  A light drizzle filtered through the woodland canopy and midges snacked on our ears as Titania and Oberon squabbled and Puck ran amok with a magic potion.
There was a smell of crushed grass and wet bark, mothballs and old attics as folk opened proper, wood-wormy, leather-strapped wicker baskets, quietly popped bubbly, or unscrewed interesting-looking/smelling/tasting flasks and jars. On that eerie, enchanted patch of damp grass, people shared… quietly… so as not to break the spell.
One jar that went home empty was a delicious fennel pickle. Sorry Shakespeare, it stole the show.
While I’m not the world’s greatest fan of either pickles or fennel, I can eat this fragrant crunchy pickle straight from the jar. It goes wonderfully with smoked mackerel pâté, white or oily fish­, and it has been the secret ingredient to lift a potato salad out of the ordinary.
About to get in a bit of a pickle...
For 1 x 500ml jar of show-stealing pickled fennel you will need…
1 fennel bulb, washed if necessary and trimmed of any blemishes
1 slice of lemon
1 fat clove of garlic sliced into about three thick slices
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole mustard seeds
½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
350mls white vinegar
150ml cold water
2 tablespoons each of sugar and salt
Slice as finely as you can...
Slice the fennel bulb as finely as you can then pack it into a wide-mouthed 500ml jar leaving about 2cm clear at the top. Tuck the lemon, garlic and bay leaf down the side

Pack into a wide-mouthed jar...
Place the peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a dry medium saucepan over a medium heat. When the seeds begin to pop add the rest of the ingredients.
Peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds... the supporting actors...
Simmer until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Carefully pour the hot liquid over the contents of the jar until everything is submerged. Poke with a skewer or chopstick to remove any bubbles of air that have become trapped before topping up the liquid if necessary. You’ll have a bit of the pickling liquid left over. Keep it in a non-reactive container and use it to make quick cucumber pickles.
Get rid of any air bubbles...
I usually leave the pickle in the fridge for at least three days before using to allow the flavours to develop (Alchemy...) and it will keep for up to a month, covered and refrigerated.
Alchemy at work...
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