Wednesday, 13 June 2018

RB’s Lemon Cake

Many people have bucket lists consisting of adventurous or highly dangerous activities like skydiving or eating at a restaurant on its opening day. But I have a bucket list of cakes. I'm much happier that way. Here's one I've just ticked off on that list.

Many of the recipes that I publish on this blog are not particularly well known or are hard to find elsewhere. (My theory being that at least I'll know where to find them when I want them next time). This cake is an exception. It's really well known (at least, it is in the UK). You might have seen it on TV, on a recipe site, in blogs, in a book, in a magazine or you may have been lucky enough to try it yourself. I've made a lot of lemon cakes over the years but, despite my best intentions, I hadn't made this one until now.
RB's Lemon Cake
Many years ago Raymond Blanc began making and serving this cake to guests at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire and it's still made and served there today. It's actually a pretty easy cake to put together. The only tricky bit is getting the glaze just right. That's a bit of a faff, but it does give the cake a lovely finish and I'm convinced it's worth the effort.

You can find the recipe here or here (and probably quite a few other places too).
RB's Lemon Cake
I've heard this cake described as the ultimate lemon cake by some but also as a madeira style of cake with extra lemon and not really that special by others. So, is it the best lemon cake you can make? Well, sat here paying bills on a cloudy afternoon in Surrey it's unquestionably an extremely pleasant cake to lift the gloom and, yes, it's a little like a light madeira cake in texture.

On the other hand, if you happen to be whiling away a sunny afternoon on the lawns outside the Manoir after playing an incompetent and farcical game of croquet, would this be the best lemon cake you could imagine? Oh yes, very probably.
Le Manoir

Thursday, 17 May 2018


Fallue isn't an obscure Shakespearean character, it's actually one of the types of brioche that you might come across in Normandy. It's less sweet than some and uses crème fraîche instead of some of the usual butter. I promised to get around to posting this recipe when I said it was the chosen partner for teurgoule, although you really don't have to make a teurgoule to enjoy this bread.

I know that all good food bloggers should spend many happy hours mixing and kneading their bread by hand and that would be nice but I honestly don't have the time. I use a bread machine to prepare this dough and I don't care who knows it. Of course, you can make the dough in a much more traditional way if you wish. Unlike some brioche recipes, this is very simple to put together and even simpler if you use a machine.
I'm not claiming that this is an authentic fallue but it is based on some genuine Normandy recipes that I've had ferreted away for some time and that I've adapted a little for machine preparation. Fallue is usually embellished by snipping around the top of the risen loaf with scissors just before baking. This creates a sort of crown on top of the loaf. I must admit that I only make a token effort at doing this because I usually slice brioche or fallue as soon as they're cool which means that nobody's going to notice.

This will make 1 large (and I do mean large) loaf but it's a size that suits my bread machine and keeps my freezer stocked up. I use a Panasonic bread machine and add the ingredients in the order given below. Other bread machines recommend that liquids should be added first, so check the instructions for yours.

At the risk of being even duller than usual, I think a couple of notes on the ingredients might be useful.

The flour - I used a French T65 bread flour for this recipe although I know that some bakers prefer T55 for this kind of loaf. You can buy T65 flour in the UK but any strong bread flour will do the job, although you might need to add a little milk if the flour you use is very absorbent. If you do use a French flour then you may find the bread won't keep fresh for as long, so freeze any slices that you can't eat reasonably quickly.

The crème fraîche - This needs to be thick but pourable and a full fat version would be best. Where I live in the south of England there's quite a wide choice of types of crème fraîche but I know that's not the case everywhere. Very fresh crème fraîche is often used for baking in Normandy and that really isn't particularly sour so it's probably best to avoid using sour cream as a substitute. It would be better to use a pourable, double (or heavy) cream in this recipe if you can't find suitable crème fraîche.
Lait Special
16 g fresh yeast, crumbled (or substitute 7 or 8 g of dried, fast-acting yeast).
500 g bread (T65) flour (see above)
50 g golden caster sugar
Pinch of salt
100 g unsalted butter, thoroughly softened
100 g thick (but not solid) crème fraîche (or double cream, see above)
5 eggs, lightly beaten + 1 for a glaze

Add all the ingredients (except the extra egg used for the glaze) to your bread machine in the order given unless your instructions tell you to add liquids first, in which case reverse the order (see above). Set the machine to work on a standard dough program, which will probably take somewhere around 2 or 2½ hours.

Once the program has finished, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knock back to deflate it. (The dough will be quite sticky, but don't worry, that's normal). Gently form the dough into a sausage-shaped loaf of around 30 - 33 cm in length and place onto a lined baking sheet.  Put the dough somewhere warm and let it rise again for between one and two hours until it's roughly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. If you want to create the “crown” then snip around the top of the fallue with kitchen scissors to make a ring of spikes. (This is much the same process as creating the spikes on hedgehog bread, if you've ever tried that). Make an egg wash by mixing the remaining egg with a little water and use it to brush the top of the fallue. Bake for around 25 minutes until the fallue is golden on top and sounds nicely hollow when tapped. (Be gentle when testing because the crust is not very robust while hot). Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Slice and serve with teurgoule if you're feeling authentic or just enjoy some slices as part of a lazy breakfast with butter (from Normandy, if possible) and plenty of jam.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018


In Normandy every Sunday morning in accordance with ancient tradition the fearless men of the Calvados region gather with their forks and hope to hunt the wild and menacing teurgoule.

OK, I'm lying. Teurgoule is indeed a speciality of the Calvados area but, let's not beat around the Normandy bush, it's a type of rice pudding.

There are a number of stories about the origin of this simple speciality but I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable or gullible to say if they're true or not. So let's just say that this is a very slowly cooked rice pudding that's usually flavoured with cinnamon. That may seem a bit of an incongruous flavour for northern France but once upon a time spices, including cinnamon, would come ashore at Honfleur and the other ports along the Normandy coast. As for the strange name, there are plenty of explanations and it's often translated as “twisted mouth” but, since it has more of a patois or slang origin, I think that “mangled mug” might be better. The implication seems to be that you'll be gobsmacked at how nice it tastes once you try it.

Traditionally this dish should be made in an earthenware bowl but a good, old-fashioned British pudding basin will work just fine. It needs to have a capacity of a little over 1 litre but, ideally, not much more than 1 litre.
As with so many traditional and regional French dishes, I’m pleased to say that the teurgoule has a confrerie to preserve and promote it and this is pretty close to the approved and official recipe. To be honest, I'm not that fond of cinnamon and I replace it with vanilla powder (my apologies to the members of the confrerie).

I'd expect this to serve 4 people but I know that there are some blighters who can't stop eating this pudding once they start so it's best to have plenty.

75 g short grain (pudding) rice
90 g golden caster sugar (actually, pure white is more usual but I prefer golden)
1 tsp ground cinnamon or vanilla powder
Pinch of salt
1 litre whole milk

Preheat the oven to 150⁰C. Mix the rice, sugar, salt and cinnamon or vanilla together and place in the bottom of your chosen dish or basin. Pour the milk gently over the rice mixture, being careful to avoid disturbing it too much. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes.

Turn the oven temperature down to 110⁰C and continue cooking for 4 - 4½ hours. (Yes, it  really does take that long). When the teurgoule is ready the top will have become dark brown and look slightly alien but the mixture underneath will still have a bit of a wobble if you tip the bowl. The teurgoule will thicken a little as it cools.

Allow the teurgoule to cool and, if you're not eating it immediately, store in the fridge. Either way, I thinks it's best served at or close to room temperature but serve it hot or very cold if that's what you fancy - it will taste good at all temperatures. There always seems to be disagreement in Britain between lovers and haters of rice pudding skin. Teurgoule is cooked for so long that the skin resembles leather in my opinion. I may well serve up the skin but that's largely to prove that it's been cooked authentically. I expect everyone to push it aside and refuse to eat it.
The confrerie will tell you that teurgoule should be eaten alongside fallue and I'm certainly not going to argue with that. Fallue is hard to find outside of Calvados and a decent brioche will do in its place (I'm in so much trouble with the confrerie for saying that). If I don't get too distracted, I may get around to a post about fallue shortly.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018


To end my very short series of "the Italian recipes that I really had to write down sooner or later" I'm offering something to finish the meal. This chestnut cake is based on a truly venerable recipe dating back as far as the 16th century but many variations have been turning up recently in glossy cookbooks. Unfortunately, the authors frequently disagree on just how the castagnaccio should look and taste. So when I got hold of some chestnut flour (it was French not Italian, but that's life) I just had to try playing around with it for myself and I've decided that this relatively dense version works best for me.

This is a remarkably easy dish to put together. In fact, the most difficult thing seems to be choosing which flavourings and additions you might fancy. I'd suggest that raisins are essential. I soaked mine in sloe gin, which isn't remotely Italian but works really well. Another alcohol, Earl Grey tea or even water will do the job if you prefer. Pine nuts are important too, but you could add other chopped nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts as well. Orange zest is good but in this case I used an olive oil flavoured with orange instead. A little rosemary is often sprinkled over the top of the cake, but I know that Gennaro Contaldo adds some dark chocolate to his castagnaccio and a little of that grated on top is an interesting alternative. (Actually, I used chocolate on some parts of the cake in the picture and rosemary on others). Finally, you may want to vary the amount of sugar given here, partly because you may prefer a sweeter cake (or even a less sweet, earthier taste) but also because chestnut flours seem to vary quite a lot in sweetness.

Before I get on to the recipe, though, I must in all honesty admit that in my opinion you really have to be a fan of chestnuts to eat a lot of it. It has a very distinctive flavour. After eating a number of castagnaccio variations in a short period, I don't think I could look at another chestnut for some time. But if you are a chestnut fan, this will definitely satisfy all your chestnut cravings.
Most people make this in a round cake tin (or a pizza pan) but I used a 32 x 18 cm brownie tray, which makes it easy to divide up into small dessert portions. I find this is quite filling and so it should serve 12 or 14 people.

45 g raisins
Sloe gin (or whatever takes your fancy) for soaking the raisins
340 g chestnut flour (as fresh as possible – chestnut flours don't keep very well)
60 g golden caster sugar (or more if you prefer a sweeter cake; see the text above)
750 ml water at room temperature
50 ml extra-virgin olive oil (or a mixture of orange and plain olive oil)
40 g pine nuts
A few fresh rosemary leaves and/or a little coarsely grated dark chocolate
Zest of ½ orange (optional if you use orange olive oil)

Soak the raisins in sloe gin or your chosen liquid for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the baking tray by greasing it thoroughly with butter or olive oil.

Mix together the chestnut flour and sugar in a large bowl.  Combine the water and olive oil in a jug. Gradually pour the water and oil onto the flour and sugar mixture while stirring. As the mixture begins to thin, switch to a whisk and whisk enthusiastically while continuing to add the liquid. You need to make sure there are no lumps. The mixture might seem to be too liquid for sensible cake making, but think of it as a batter rather than a standard cake mix. Stir in the orange zest, if you're using it. Pour into the baking tray. Don't worry if the tray seems a little shallow since this won't rise like a more conventional cake.

Drain the raisins. Scatter the pine nuts and raisins over the mixture in a reasonably even but random way. Finally, sprinkle the rosemary or chocolate over the top. Bake the castagnaccio for 45 minutes but cover it with foil after 15 or 20 minutes if it's browning quickly. It's difficult to know when the castagnaccio is cooked to perfection – the conventional cake test with a knife point or tester can be misleading. It needs to feel springy rather than sloppy to the touch and should look cracked on the top.

The finished cake can be served slightly warm or at room temperature with a little ricotta or fromage frais but it also works well with a harder cheese – ideally one with a sharp rather than an earthy flavour. It may not be traditional but I think it's also very good alongside a little ice cream. A small glass of dessert wine wouldn't be out of place either. Castagnaccio will keep well for a few days in an airtight container.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Two Vegetable Purées or How I Got It Wrong In The 1980s

I stopped making vegetable purées for many years because back in the 1980s it was common practice to purée anything you could lay your hands on, especially if it was brightly coloured. It just got a bit too much like baby food. But I shouldn't have been so hasty. Vegetable purées are easy to make, they can be prepared in advance and reheated when required and, if you choose the right type of vegetable, the colour definitely can't be ignored on the plate. That's probably why purées not unlike these two seem to turn up quite regularly in slightly too expensive restaurants.

You could rub these purées through a fine sieve if you want a guaranteed smooth result, although I usually prefer a little texture. Both of these purées will serve 2 or 4 people - 2 if it's for a midweek meal and you're hungry or 4 if you're planning delicate dollops arranged artistically on plates at a dinner party. (Do people still have dinner parties? I'm not entirely sure.)

Red Cabbage Purée

This purée is a variation on the usual braised red cabbage and will sit very happily alongside ham, game, lamb or just about anything else you might fancy. The more crème fraîche that you add at the end of the recipe then the pinker the result will be. Many years ago I met a man in Brittany who told me that he'd cooked his wife a Valentine's day meal in which all three courses consisted entirely of pink food. To this day I'm still not sure what I think of that.

I've admitted to a bit of an obsession with pomegranate molasses in the past but my source of all things that are good in Turkish cooking Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table pointed out some years ago that it complements red cabbage really well. She's absolutely right, of course, and I've added it ever since.
Red Cabbage Purée
If you're feeling really cheffy then you can prepare a green cabbage purée as well to contrast with the red and deeply impress your guests.

1 small onion, finely chopped
½ a red cabbage (ideally this will be roughly 450 - 475 g prepared weight)
1 small to medium cooking or sharp eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
300 ml light chicken stock (use a veg stock if you prefer, but the chicken does add flavour)
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses (use a mix of lemon and apple juice or some balsamic vinegar as an alternative)
crème fraîche (a low fat version will work if you'd prefer)

In a large frying pan, gently soften the onion in a little butter or oil. While that's happening, remove and discard the core of the red cabbage and chop or slice the remainder quite finely. Once the onion has started to soften, add the red cabbage to the pan and fry gently for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring to ensure that the cabbage doesn’t stick together. Add the apple and season with salt and pepper.

Pour over the stock and pomegranate molasses, cover the pan leaving a bit of a gap for some of the steam to escape and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the cabbage is tender (or, at least, reasonably tender) - this could take anything from 30 to 60 minutes. Stir now and then and add a little extra water if it threatens to dry out. At the end of this time the cabbage should still be nicely moist but most of the liquid should have disappeared. If you still have some liquid left, then drain the cabbage before the next stage.

Purée the cabbage mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Season with more salt and pepper if it needs it and add a little honey if it's not sweet enough. You could also add more pomegranate molasses at this stage if you feel like it. To serve, stir in as much crème fraîche as you fancy and reheat gently.

Parsnip Purée

Parsnip purées often use cream to produce quite a rich result but this is a bit lighter in style. There's not much point in trying to compete with the powerful flavour of parsnips but I’ve used some Aperol liqueur and a few other bits and pieces to add a bit of contrast and complexity to the end result. The idea for this recipe came from watching a chef braise some parsnips in Pineau de Charentes and that's not a bad alternative if Aperol isn't to your taste. Alternatively, you could use some Campari for a more astringent flavour if that's what appeals to you.
Parsnip Purée
I think this purée works well alongside pork or beef but it's possibly even better with game.

350 g parsnips, prepared weight
1 apple, preferably a firm eating apple
300 ml vegetable stock
4 tbsp Aperol
Zest of ½ a large orange
A sprig or 2 of thyme
1 or 2 tsp lemon juice

Top, tail, peel and quarter the parsnips. If the parsnips aren't young and tender, then cut out any woody centres. Peel and core the apple and cut into 6 or 8 pieces. Add the parsnips and apple to a pan that's wide enough to accommodate them in one layer. Add the orange zest and pour over the stock and Aperol. Tuck in the thyme sprigs.

Put the pan on a medium heat and bring to simmering point. Lower the heat and simmer until the parsnips are very tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup that's coating the parsnips and apple. (If the dish threatens to dry out before the parsnips are ready, than add a little more stock or water).

Take the pan off the heat, discard the thyme and reduce the contents to a purée in a food processor or  blender. Season with salt and pepper and reheat to serve. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice (the amount of lemon juice you add will vary according to taste and the sweetness of the parsnips).

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Navette Albigeoise

Years ago I posted a recipe for Navettes from Marseille on this blog and, although they're an interesting and unusual local delicacy, I have to admit that they're a bit of an acquired taste for many people.  I thought about that original recipe recently and I felt that it was only right that I should finally get around to admitting that the Marseille navette is not the only navette in the south of France. Here's an alternative that might be a little less alarming.
Navette Albigeoise

This recipe is based on a navette from the region around the town of Albi in the Tarn. There's no raising agent in the recipe so don't expect a delicate sponge cake but it's lighter and less challenging than the drier Marseille version. Think of it as a little treat to sit alongside or even dip into a coffee or tea. Better still, imagine it with a local Gaillac Doux wine as you sit bathed in the light of the setting sun outside a café in Cordes-sur-Ciel. (Sorry, I got a bit carried away there). Sweet Gaillac can be hard to find unless you're in the area but other sweet wines will do the job. I'm a bit of a fan of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh from a little to the west of Gaillac and that might be a bit easier to find.

Strictly speaking this cake should really be made in a diamond-shaped tin with sloping sides. This is said to echo the shape of the shuttle (navette) used in traditional weaving, which is a symbol associated locally with the Cathars. I'm not going to pretend that I know that this recipe dates back to the Albigensian Crusade but you never know. Since I don't have the real thing, I used a simple 20 cm square tin but, whatever tin you use, make sure that you butter it thoroughly. 

Recipes for the Navette Albigeoise vary a lot and don't expect this to be an entirely authentic version. If you come across the real thing, you'll possibly find whole almonds on the top of the cake (I prefer smaller pieces), dried or confit orange inside it and maybe less butter in the mix. You might also find a flavouring of orange flower water or rum but I've used some Cointreau instead. 

120 g caster sugar (preferably golden)
1 additional tbsp caster sugar for the tin and (optionally) ½ tbsp for the top of the cake
2 eggs
180 g plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tbsp cointreau (or triple sec, or rum, or orange juice)
110 g butter, thoroughly softened, plus a little extra for the tin
30 - 40 g almonds - I used blanched, whole almonds but use unblanched if you prefer

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Butter the baking tin generously and sprinkle with 1 tbsp caster sugar. I used a 20 cm square tin but use a genuine navette tin if you can find one.

Whisk together the eggs and the sugar for a couple of minutes until the mixture has increased in volume and looks very pale. Stir in the softened butter, the flour, lemon and orange zests and your chosen alcohol or juice. Mix together thoroughly, but don't overwork the dough.

Add to the prepared tin and even out the top - the dough should be roughly between 3 and 4 cm deep. Place the almonds on the top of the dough. I break them up and add them randomly but arrange whole almonds in a regular pattern if you prefer. Optionally sprinkle the additional ½ tbsp caster sugar over the top of the dough. Adding the sugar gives the cake an all-round light sweet crust but makes the top a little more flaky and liable to leave residue in your drink if you're intending to dip.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the top is golden and a knife point comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a rack. Cut into small squares or diamonds (I cut mine into 12 pieces) and serve with your chosen beverage.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Fegatini Di Pollo in Swinging London

This is part two of my very short series of the Italian recipes that I felt I finally needed to write down. Like the caponata recipe I'm afraid it's probably a little elegiac in tone. I suppose that's what happens when you're as ancient as me. Never mind, it's the food that matters.

Alvaro Maccioni was one of the food celebrities in Britain through the 1960s and 70s. It's generally accepted wisdom that food in England was rubbish during that period but I'm not completely convinced. I admit there were certainly some highly questionable and eccentric restaurants around at the time but Maccioni's La Famiglia just off the King's Road definitely wasn't one of them. It tended to attract a celebrity crowd and hard up, scruffy people like me didn't necessarily eat there often - well, OK I did once or twice. Maccioni was a great advocate of authentic, delicious and often quite simple Tuscan food. Ahead of his time in many ways and hugely influential, he sadly left us in 2013, although La Famiglia is still there and carrying on the tradition if you'd care to visit.

This dish reminds me of Maccioni because I first came across a version of it in one of his books. Admittedly, this is my interpretation and not his recipe and probably not similar to the food served back then. Oddly, I've just realised that I have a signed copy of one of his books on my shelf but how I ended up with it is one of life's mysteries. My memory's not what it was and my excuse is that I was around in the 60s. At least I think I was.

This is easy to make, very delicious and is often claimed to be the inspiration for all French pâté. Well, maybe. This should serve 4 - 6 as a starter or as part of a simple lunch.
Fegatini Di Pollo

1 medium leek, finely chopped (don't use the tougher green bits)
1 or 2 sticks of celery, very finely chopped
½ medium carrot, very finely chopped
250 g chicken livers, prepared (in other words cleaned and with any nasty-tasting bits removed)
3 tbsp olive oil (this doesn't need to be your best extra virgin)
150 ml white wine
2 tbsp capers, washed, drained and chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp finely chopped chives
1 or 2 generous squeezes of lemon juice
Baguette or other suitable bread to serve

Fry the leek, celery and carrot in the 3 tbsp of olive oil until softened. It's best to do this on a low to medium heat and take your time over it. You want to soften the veg and not colour it. If the livers are on the large size, then chop them into 2 or 3 pieces and add to the pan. Continue to fry, stirring a lot, until the livers have taken on an even colour all over. Add the wine, increase the heat a little and keep cooking and stirring until the wine has reduced by about half. Add the capers and season with a generous amount of black pepper. (Don't add salt at this stage since the capers are likely to be quite salty). Continue cooking and stirring until the wine has almost gone.

At this point anyone with a deep respect for tradition will tell you to take the livers out of the pan and chop them thoroughly by hand. To be honest, I use an electric hand blender and whizz until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Either way, return the liver mixture to the pan and stir in the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. (You could also add a little butter at this stage if you fancy a richer result). 

Reheat the mixture gently. If it seems very firm then stir in a little water - it should be thick and creamy but not solid. Immediately before serving stir in the parsley, chives and lemon juice. Check the seasoning.

Serve while still hot (or at least warm) by spreading a generous dollop onto toasted slices of baguette, or whatever bread you fancy. You could rub the bread with a peeled and halved clove of garlic before adding the liver mixture if the mood takes you.

Just over a year ago we lost Peter Sarstedt who had a song that always makes me think of those very old days. If anyone wants me I'll be in Roger's old Jag driving round swinging London.