Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lemon And Cardamom Nonnettes

I've wittered on about nonnettes in the past  but I love them and I can't understand why everyone else in the world doesn't feel the same way. So apologies for nearly repeating myself but here's my current favourite variation on the nonnette theme, replacing the more traditional orange flavours with lemon.

Nonnettes are most commonly associated with the town of Dijon, although there are bakers elsewhere in France who seem a little unconvinced by this suggestion. Wherever the recipe originated, though, it's certainly been around a long time. In fact, it seems to  date from the middle ages. One notable feature of these cakes is that they don’t contain any eggs (well, not the way I make them anyway). I've used lemon curd in this particular version, but if you want to avoid eggs, substitute marmalade or jam (raspberry, blackberry or boysenberry will all work well).

Nonnettes are closely related to pain d’épices and so will often contain a more complex mix of spices and will also often use rye flour, at least in part. For this version I've stuck to a single spice and I've used a mixture of plain white and wholemeal flours. Nonnettes are usually baked in round tins and so smallish muffin tins will be fine. Just for a bit of variety I used a friand tin on this occasion.
Lemon and Cardamom Nonnettes
This recipe should make around 15 cakes.

200 g runny honey
100 ml water
100 ml milk
100 g light soft brown sugar
80 g butter
1 tsp limoncello (optional)
200 g plain flour
100 g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
15 tsp (or one teaspoon per cake) lemon curd

For the glaze:
     5 tbsp icing sugar
     a little lemon juice

Put the honey, water, milk, brown sugar, butter and limoncello (if you’re using it) into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the ground cardamom. While the honey mixture is still warm, sieve the flour mixture onto it and whisk the two together until smooth. Stir in the lemon zest. Put the mixture into the fridge and leave it there for at least an hour until thoroughly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spoon the mixture into the muffin or friand tins until they’re somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters full. Place a teaspoon of lemon curd on top of each nonnette. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes. It can be a little tricky to judge when the cakes are ready – they should be golden brown and, although still soft, they should spring back when pressed gently.

While the nonnettes are still warm and in their moulds, mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to create a thin icing. Pour the icing over the nonnettes or, better still, spread it on with a pastry brush. The idea is to create something resembling a thin sugar glaze rather than an iced cake. Allow the nonnettes to cool before removing them from the tin.

Nonnettes keep well in an airtight tin and, in fact, taste even better if allowed to mature for one or two days, if you can wait that long.
Lemon and Cardamom Nonnettes
I haven't entered many blog challenges in recent months because of a serious lack of time (and energy) but the theme for this month’s Love Cake challenge, hosted by Jibber Jabber UK is French. If you've read this blog before, then you might have noticed that French cake is a bit of an obsession with me, so I can't resist entering this particular challenge.
Love Cake Logo

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Coconut and Elderflower Rice Pudding for M. Satie

The other day I was listening to a fine rendition of Erik Satie’s ‘Je te veux’ on the radio and, for some reason, I remembered that he claimed to eat only white food. This choice may have stemmed from an artistic desire for purity, although, let’s face it, Satie was as mad as a box of frogs a trifle eccentric.

I started to imagine what I’d serve up if Satie came round for dinner. I wouldn't put it past him to turn up out of the blue with a bouquet of umbrellas in hand expecting to be fed. I'm not sure that being dead for nearly 90 years would stop him. The starter could be a white soup, I suppose, and maybe chicken in a white sauce for the main course. But this is definitely the dessert.

My version of coconut rice pudding isn't dairy-free, because I like the silkiness that the dairy elements bring to the dish. The fromage frais not only gives some extra creaminess, but also adds a little sharpness, which I think lifts the flavour of the pudding.

There are other elderflower liqueurs around, but I used St-Germain. You could use some elderflower cordial instead if you want to avoid booze. I know that St-Germain is not truly white – it’s more of a light straw colour – but I think M. Satie may be willing to make an exception to his white rule for alcohol. He was all too fond of a particular green form of alcohol, after all. (I've no connection with the St-Germain company, by the way, and I've never received so much as a drop of liqueur for being nice about them.)
Coconut and Elderflower Rice Pudding
I dished up five servings from the amounts given, but I've no idea how much M. Satie will eat if he ever arrives. After all he insisted that dinner should last for no more than four minutes.

120 g short-grain, pudding rice
400 ml coconut milk (you can use reduced fat coconut milk at the expense of a little richness)
80 g caster sugar
400 ml milk (full-fat ideally, although it’s not essential)
8 tbsp fromage frais (ideally a richer version rather than a fat-free option)
2 tbsp elderflower liqueur such as St-Germain
A sprinkling of white chocolate curls for decoration

Mix the rice, coconut milk, sugar and milk in a saucepan. Bring slowly to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer very gently, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened and the rice is tender. If you’re being very gentle, this could be 35 – 40 minutes. Remember to keep stirring towards the end of this time to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the liqueur and the fromage frais. Chill until you’re ready to serve.

To serve, place into serving glasses or dishes (white dishes, of course) and decorate with a few white chocolate curls. I make the curls by scraping a vegetable peeler very lightly across a cold bar of white chocolate.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Pig Cheek Curry

Pig (or pork) cheeks seem to have become a trendy ingredient over the last couple of years. I'm a long way from trendy, but I have to admit that they’re a fine cut of meat. As long as they’re cooked slowly and gently, they’re meltingly tender and full of flavour. For the moment at least, they’re also reasonably cheap. In fact, they can be a bit of a bargain. Most of the dishes using cheeks that I've come across recently have been based on traditional European slow braised recipes and there's nothing wrong with that. If you fancy something a bit different, though, I've found that cheeks work well in spicier dishes.

Despite what might seem like a lot of ingredients this is actually a midweek, standby sort of recipe, assuming that you have enough time to let it simmer away slowly. Apart from the cheeks and the squash, everything can come out of the store cupboard or freezer and it’s not only very simple to put together but it will also cook gently while you get on with something useful or diverting.

Actually, this is a simplified and quick version of the way I learned to make a Madras curry in the remote past. The Madras is a very flexible restaurant institution, so who cares about a little extra variation? I've given a simple spice mix here, but you could use a Madras curry powder instead to make the whole thing even easier still.
Pig Cheek Curry
With a little rice or flat breads of some kind, this will serve 2 people.

Spice mix:
     ½ tsp black pepper
     ½ tsp chilli powder (or more, if you like it hot)
     ½ tsp ground turmeric
     1 tsp ground cumin
     1 tsp ground coriander
     ½ tsp garam marsala
     Seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed

1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into small dice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato purée
280 g (or thereabouts) pig cheek – trim off any large bits of fat or membrane but leave whole
400 g tin tomatoes
200 ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground almonds
½ butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into cubes (other types of squash would do)
A few green beans or peas, if you have some – frozen or fresh (optional)
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, or use some frozen spinach
A few leaves of coriander, chopped (you could use frozen chopped coriander too)
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Soften the onion and green pepper slowly in a little oil. If they start to dry out and catch, then add a little water. Once softened, stir in the garlic and continue to cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato purée, the spice mix (or curry powder) and a couple of tablespoonfuls of water and stir together well. Let the mixture cook gently until the water has evaporated. Turn up the heat a little and add the pig cheeks. Stir them around in the mixture for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes, the chicken stock and the ground almonds. Bring slowly to the boil, turn the heat to low, cover the pan and let it simmer very gently for a couple of hours. Ideally, every twenty minutes or so, turn the pig’s cheeks and give the mixture a quick stir.

While that’s cooking, coat the cubes of squash lightly in oil and roast in the oven at 180°C until soft and starting to brown around the edges. This will take roughly 20 to 30 minutes but could vary a fair bit. Cook the beans or peas in a little boiling water, if you’re using them.

At the end of the 2 hours, the cheeks should be very tender but not falling apart and the mixture should have thickened a little. If the sauce is still a little too liquid for your taste, then remove the lid, take the cheeks out, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid until you’re happy. Stir in the cooked squash and beans or peas. Add the spinach and cover the pan again. Cook gently until the spinach has wilted and the squash is heated through.

Add the lemon juice if you think it needs it – that will probably depend on the sweetness and ripeness of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the coriander just before serving.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Quatre Quarts

I was stuck in a post office queue recently and I started to daydream about Brittany. (The place, not a person). By the time I got to the counter, I felt I really had to come home and make a quatre quarts. Although versions of this cake can be found in pretty much any French supermarket, Brittany is its spiritual home. The cake is essentially a pound cake, but it’s all about good butter and in Brittany that means very good, salted butter. Incidentally, the name simply refers to the four quarters, the four ingredients of identical weight that make up the cake - eggs, flour, sugar and butter.

I add a little vanilla to the cake, which I don’t think is strictly authentic but I like it. Depending on whom you ask, baking powder may not be acceptable either, but I don’t care, I use it anyway. If you fancy a variation, chocolate and apple versions are very popular in Brittany too.
Quatre Quarts
This will make enough mixture for a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin and that’s the more common shape for the cake but you could use a round tin instead (21 cm diameter should be about right). It will also work well in small, individual loaf tins.

This cake reminds me of Carnac. Surely, I can’t be so shallow that I gaze upon one of Europe’s most majestic prehistoric landscapes and think of cake, can I? Well, nobody’s perfect.
Carnac
3 eggs, weighed in their shells (If they're anything like the eggs from the local farm here that will amount to close to 200 g)
The same weight in
     plain flour
     caster sugar
     lightly salted butter (plus a little bit extra for rubbing on the tin)
1½ tsp of baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract (optional)

Mix the baking powder into the flour. Butter your chosen tin or tins thoroughly and line the base with baking paper just to be sure. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Soften the butter over a very low heat or in a microwave (it should be very soft but not quite melted). Set the butter aside to cool. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until the mixture is very pale. Whisk in the vanilla paste (or extract) if you’re using it. Sieve in a third of the flour and baking powder mix and add a third of the softened, cooled butter. Mix these in well, but try not to beat the mixture too much. Repeat this process twice with the remaining thirds of flour and butter.

Whisk the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the mixture gently but thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a knife or cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to darken too much for your taste, then cover the cake loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking. (I've noticed that a lot of bakers in Brittany actually like quite a dark top on this type of cake and bake at a higher temperature to produce it).

Allow to cool a little in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack.
Quatre Quarts

Monday, 31 March 2014

Veg Patch Confessions Part 43b - New Zealand Spinach

There's no recipe today; instead it’s this year’s first dubious tale from the neglected veg patch.

Spinach is a very useful vegetable to have growing in your garden in my opinion. Even if you don’t have much space to grow a lot of plants, a couple of handfuls of the leaves can be really useful to add to curries, pasta, fish or whatever you fancy. The problem is that if you’re away from home or if you’re just too busy to get out to your plants, then things start to go wrong. Like most vegetables, spinach doesn't take kindly to near complete neglect, especially a lack of watering.

On the other hand, there is a useful little plant that has survived a serious amount of neglect in my veg patch: New Zealand Spinach (tetragonia tetragonioides). It might not be as prolific or as large as conventional spinach, but any vegetable that can survive both drought and my incompetent gardening has got to be a good thing.
New Zealand Spinach
You may know this plant by a different name. For instance, in Australia and New Zealand I'm told that it’s known as Warrigal greens. In France it’s called tétragone and elsewhere it’s sometimes called sea spinach for reasons that I don’t really understand. Whatever you call it, though, it really does taste and behave like spinach once cooked.

If you're not familiar with this plant and you might be tempted to try growing it, here are a few things I've discovered about New Zealand spinach that the seed packet might not tell you.
  • Snails and slugs don’t seem to like it much and will only nibble it if desperate.

  • As far as I know, there are no named varieties and so there’s no reason to go shopping around for a particular variety of seed – they should all be the same.

  • It’s best if you pick the leaves little and often. Once blanched they do freeze well in the same way as normal spinach. If you don’t pick regularly, the plants can become quite large and ungainly. This might not be a major problem unless they outgrow their space and swamp nearby smaller plants.

  • Don’t plant it directly in the ground if the soil is still cold – it will sulk and fail to germinate. On the other hand, it germinates really well in pots on a windowsill, although it’s best to soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.

  • In their raw form the leaves do contain quite a high concentration of oxalic acid (as does sorrel) and this would be unhealthy in large doses. Although eating raw leaves is not recommended, the acid is largely removed by cooking or blanching. Spinach, chard, kale and rhubarb (amongst other foods) also contain oxalic acid, so I don’t think that there’s any reason to worry about this plant in particular.

  • The flowers are small and yellow and it’s almost impossible to stop the plants flowering, especially if you don’t pick the leaves regularly. It doesn’t really matter if they do flower, though, and they will self-seed, so you may never need to buy another packet of seeds.

  • The plants will usually be killed instantly by the first frost.
March in the Garden
While I've got my battered gardening hat on, I feel the urge to mention chervil again. It’s not that easy to find on sale in supermarkets but it’s a useful, decorative and easily grown herb. Some of last summer’s plants set seed in my garden and, as a result, some young plants survived the mild winter and are producing an excellent spring crop.
Chervil
Now I really must get around to cooking something.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cardamom and Lemon Apple Jelly

I've wittered on about making savoury apple jellies before, but I don't care, I'm going to do it again. They've become one of my essential store cupboard items and, following the superb crop of apples in England last year, I was given plenty of cooking apples with which to experiment over the autumn and winter. This jelly won the award for best newcomer.

It's more fragrant and a little less punchy than some of the others that I make but it’s certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to flavour. The cardamom is the main taste but it does need the lemon to provide a lift. It’s excellent served with cured or smoked salmon or used as a glaze when roasting salmon fillets. It also works very well with lamb and cold meats and adds an extra depth to vegetable dishes. Mixed with white wine, lemon juice and olive oil it will create a fine marinade or glaze for chicken or pork and it's useful for adding extra flavour to quick, weekday curries. You can even use it to flavour sweet dishes but, if you want a truly sweet jelly, then swap the vinegar in the recipe for more water.

Although this may sound like quite a few apples, it will only produce roughly three small jars. It might seem like a lot of effort for not much reward but a little does go a long way and will provide a big flavour boost whenever you fancy it.
Cardamom and Lemon Apple Jelly
For the first stage:
     1 kg cooking apples (Bramleys are the obvious choice, but other varieties will be fine too)
     500 ml white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
     500 ml water
     2 unwaxed lemons
     40 (or so) lightly crushed cardamom pods

For the second stage:
     450 g granulated sugar for every 550 ml of liquid that dripped through the jelly bag
     Seeds of around 30 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

It’s probably easiest to make the jelly over two days so that it can left overnight, but, failing that, allow at least 3 – 5 hours between stages one and two.

For stage 1, wash the apples and make sure that there are no damaged bits on them. Chop the apples roughly without peeling or removing the pips. Place the apple pieces in a preserving pan together with the vinegar and water. Cut the lemons in half and add them to the pan. Stir in the cardamom and place the pan on the heat. Bring to the boil, squeezing the lemon halves with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure that juice escapes. Put a lid on the pan and simmer the mixture until the apples have collapsed and become mushy. This probably won’t take more than 15 minutes, although it will vary a little depending on the variety of apple you’re using.

Put the contents of the pan into a jelly bag (or you could use fine muslin) and leave it to drip through into a clean container.

When you awake refreshed the next morning or when you just can’t wait any longer, measure the liquid that’s dripped through the bag, pour it back into the cleaned preserving pan and add the appropriate amount of sugar for the second stage. (Don’t use sugar with added pectin – there’ll be plenty of pectin in the mixture from the apples and lemons already).

Put the pan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat, bring to the boil and skim any unpleasant looking foam or scum from the top. Boil until the jelly reaches setting point. These days I've learnt to trust a jam thermometer and the way the jelly looks to tell me when that point has been reached. There’s always the old wrinkle test as an alternative, though: chill a saucer in the freezer, put a small dollop of the jelly on the saucer, wait a moment or two and if the jelly wrinkles when you push it with your finger, then it’s ready.

As the jelly starts to cool, it will begin to thicken. At this point, stir in the cardamom seeds, which should remain suspended in the jelly. If they sink to the bottom, let the jelly cool a little more and stir again. Pour the jelly into sterilised jars and seal. I tend to get through the jars of jelly quite quickly but they should keep for about a year unopened if stored in a cool, dark cupboard. Once opened, store in the fridge, where they should last for at least six weeks.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Wet Nelly Goes South

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that today is Global Scouse Day. In celebration, here's an alternative dish from Liverpool - sort of. A while ago I read this post about the Wet Nelly of Liverpool on the very fine blog Lola and Finn’s Mum. Shamefully, despite a shedload of visits to Liverpool, I'd never heard of Wet Nelly. While I was back there last year and cruising along Speke Boulevard at the regulation 40 mph with the wind from Widnes blowing through what remains of my hair, I suddenly remembered Wet Nelly and thought I must have a go at making one.

It turns out that Wet Nelly is essentially bread pudding from Liverpool. It might have pastry on the top and bottom and, then again, it might not. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that it’s one of those puddings designed to use up whatever you have left in the cupboard when there’s not much money to go around. I can remember eating bread puddings made from various leftovers as a kid (in London not Liverpool) but I have to admit that they were moderately terrible. So I was keen to see what would happen if I made one now.

I'm a fully qualified southern softie and I just don’t have the same sort of leftovers these days that we had when I was young. Looking round the kitchen, I had leftover brioche, some speculoos biscuits (or Biscoff, as they seem to be called in the UK these days) and butter rather than suet. (When did I become so ridiculously middle class? I think I'm becoming unduly influenced by Damien Trench.) Anyway, this is my attempt at a Southern Wet Nelly or slightly eccentric (and probably woollyback) bread pudding. As it turns out, there’s nothing at all wrong with that idea and the result is so much better than anything I ate as a kid. In fact, it’s decidedly moreish.

One more thing, in Liverpool I was told that Wet Nelly should always be cut into squares before serving. No other shape would be right. I advise against asking why that should be, you might well get the answer, ‘Act soft and I’ll buy you a coalyard’.

Southern Wet Nelly
You don’t have to use rum to soak the sultanas - orange juice, black tea or even water will do. On the other hand, if this dish is a tribute to Nelson as historians suggest, then I'm sure that he would have chosen rum and so would I. If you use stale bread to make this dish, it will probably need some additional soaking time. Brioche is normally softer and needs only 10 minutes or so.

300 g brioche, torn into chunks (it can be less than perfectly fresh)
200 ml milk
150 g sultanas
3 tbsp dark rum
4 speculoos (biscoff) biscuits (or whatever spicy or gingery biscuits you have)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
50 g butter, softened plus a bit extra for the tin
70 g light brown soft sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp marmalade
2 tsp demerara sugar, to sprinkle on top

Put the brioche chunks into a large bowl and pour over the milk. Squidge the brioche and milk together a little and set aside. Place the sultanas in a bowl and pour over the rum. Set aside while you get the rest of the ingredients together.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter an oven tray or cake tin – I used an 18 cm square tray with a depth of 5 cm. Break the speculoos (or other biscuits) into random chunks. (I put mine into a plastic bag and bashed them on the worktop a few times.) Add the sultanas and any residual rum to the soggy brioche, then add all the other ingredients, except the demerara sugar. Stir the whole lot together thoroughly. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the demerara sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 – 45 minutes until the top is browned but not burnt and the pudding feels springy but reasonably firm. You can either cut the pudding into squares and serve immediately with some custard or allow it to cool and reheat later (a microwave will do the job fine, although Mr Trench might disagree). Or, if you're like me, just eat it cold whenever the urge takes you.