Monday, 20 December 2010

Gâteau Breton with Dates and Chocolate

The December We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and she's chosen dates as the ingredient to combine with chocolate. I use dates in some cakes but not usually with chocolate and I wasn't sure what to do until my good lady wife suggested a Gâteau Breton. Although this gateau is very often plain, some people prefer it with a filling such as apples or prunes soaked in armagnac. So I put together a date and chocolate filling instead, which may look unpromising (or even faintly disgusting) but I assure you it tastes good. You don't even have to buy expensive whole dates for this – simple chopped dates will do fine, as long as they're nice ones. Actually, we did buy some whole dates, but then we ate them.

There are a lot of rules about how the authentic Gâteau Breton should be made and I don't seem to stick to all of them; but then neither do all the apparently authoritative recipes I've seen. Two rules I do stick to, though, are that there should always be the same weight of sugar as butter and that the butter has to be salted. I'm reliably informed that using unsalted butter in a Gâteau Breton would be one of the worst thing you could do in Brittany – roughly the equivalent of walking into a bar in Quimper and announcing that you don't like bagpipes.

Gateau Breton
You could make the filling the day before and keep it in the fridge until needed. Bring it back to room temperature before using, though.

For the filling:
     100 g chopped dates
     140 ml water
     1 tbsp dark rum
     1 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
     a knob of butter
     20 g plain chocolate, broken into small pieces
For the gateau:
     225 g salted butter, softened and cut into pieces
     225 g golden caster sugar
     300 g plain flour, sieved
     1 tbsp calvados (not essential but I add it for luck)
     5 egg yolks
     1 egg white

First, make the filling. Put the dates, water, rum and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently with plenty of stirring until the mixture starts to look like a paste (a spoon dragged through it should leave a clear trail on the bottom of the pan). Take off the heat and stir in the butter and chocolate. Keep stirring until both have dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Thoroughly grease a 20 cm cake tin (it needs to be about 5 cm deep). If you happen to have a mixer with a paddle attachment standing round doing nothing then it will make the following gateau-beating process a lot easier.

Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly. Lightly beat the egg yolks, remove a scant tablespoonful and set this aside for glazing the top of the gateau. Add half of the remaining egg yolks to the butter and sugar and beat in, then do the same with the other half of the yolks and the calvados. Finally add the flour and beat in until everything looks nice and smooth.

Put half of the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out as flat as reasonably possible – a combination of a palette knife and fingers works best for me. Spread the filling over the mixture evenly but avoid going right up to the edges. Cover with the other half of the mixture making the top as flat and smooth as possible. Lightly beat the egg white and paint over the top of the gateau – you probably won't need it all. Now paint with the reserved egg yolk – add a tiny amount of water if the yolk is too thick to spread. At this point, it's traditional to mark the top of the gateau with a pattern using the tines of a fork.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes – the top should be a deep golden brown. Allow to cool a fair bit before removing carefully from the tin. Quite small slices are probably the order of the day – this is pretty rich.

Gateau Breton

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lemon Ground Rice Pudding and Croquants de Corde

I remember with something close to horror eating strange puddings made with ground rice as a kid. But in my defence I should point out that cooking as we know it today hadn't been invented then and food was mostly hit with sticks until it gave up. There are ground rice puddings from many parts of the world flavoured with a vast range of lovely things such as rosewater, orange flower water or cardamom as well as good old vanilla, so I thought I should try making some myself. It turns out that everyone else was right and they're very comforting. This pudding will be even more silky and luxurious if you add some cream, of course, but I'm trying to be a little healthy.

Rice Pudding and Croquants
The croquants are the traditional biscuit from the beautiful town of Cordes-sur-Ciel in the Tarn. The recipe dates back to the 17th century so I've tried Cordes-sur-Cielto restrain myself from mucking about with it too much. La Fête du Croquant is held in Cordes-sur-Ciel every June, which sounds like an excellent opportunity to eat too many biscuits. (For some reason we never seem to want to have a Festival of the Digestive or the Rich Tea  in the UK.) The croquants aren't usually served with English rice pudding, of course, but I don't have any decent Gaillac wine to hand.

The quantities here should give you 2 generous portions of rice pudding (or maybe 4 refined portions) and around 16 croquants, but that will depend on how big you want to make them. The croquants will keep well in an airtight tin.

Lemon Ground Rice Pudding
Handful of raisins (the large, juicy kind ideally)
2 tsp limoncello
50 g ground rice
570 ml (OK, I mean a pint) full-fat milk
30 g caster sugar
½ tsp lemon extract

Soak the raisins in the limoncello for at least ½ hour before you start.

Mix the rice with around 100 ml of the milk and add this mixture to the rest of the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil with a lot of stirring. Once it reaches boiling point, simmer gently for around 7 minutes making sure that you continue to stir frequently. By this time the mixture should have thickened a fair bit, without becoming solid.

Stir in the sugar, lemon extract and the raisins with any remaining limoncello. Keep cooking gently (and stirring) for 2 -3 minutes. Spoon into serving dishes and chill until needed.

Croquants de Cordes
Croquants de Cordes
220 g granulated sugar
50 g plain flour
2 egg whites – just as they come from the shell, don't beat them
100 g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Mix the flour and sugar together. Mix in the egg whites – the best way is to just work these in with your fingers. (This is pleasingly messy). Once this mixture has come together add the almonds and work these in as well.

Line a couple of flat oven trays with either silicone sheets or non-stick baking parchment. Plop something like tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking trays. You don't need to flatten the piles of mixture, but make sure you leave a fair amount of room between them since they will spread out as they cook. Bake for 12 – 16 minutes or until the tops are light brown – be careful that they don't get too dark.

Remove from the oven but don't try to remove them from the trays until they're cold or nearly cold – they will stick to pretty much everything while they're hot.


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Venison Pasta Sauce

I've just about got time to enter the November In The Bag Challenge hosted this month by Scott at The Real Epicurean. This month's ingredient is game and I felt like making something with venison. I also felt like eating pasta and so this is the result. A simple enough recipe, but I've got to admit it takes a while to make, especially since you need to put the venison into the marinade the day before.

Venison Pasta Sauce
    150 ml red wine
    50 ml gin
    30 ml blackberry vinegar

300 g venison – the sort sold for casseroles – cut into cubes of roughly 2.5 cm
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
70 g small pancetta or bacon chunks
3 tbsp tomato purée
A generous pinch of sugar
2 sprigs of rosemary, tied up in muslin
A squeeze of lemon

Mix together the marinade ingredients and pour over the venison. Cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

When the time's up, drain the venison, reserving the marinade. Pat the venison dry with paper towel. Gently fry the onion and carrot in a little oil for 10 minutes without colouring. Add the pancetta to the pan and continue frying for a few minutes until the fat begins to run. Increase the heat, add the venison and fry for 5 minutes. Pour in the reserved marinade, bring to the boil and let it bubble for a minute or two. Stir in the tomato purée, season with salt and pepper and add the pinch of sugar. Bury the rosemary package among the venison, cover the pan and simmer very gently for 1½ hours, stirring regularly. If the sauce seems to be drying up, then add a little water.

Once the meat is very tender, remove it from the sauce and chop it very finely. Discard the rosemary and return the venison to the sauce, which should be nice and thick by now. Make sure the meat is heated through, adjust the seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon.

Serve with tagliatelle or some pasta of that sort.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Lime Pickle

As I understand it, the classic lime pickle involves salting limes for some time, preferably leaving them in the sun during the process. Alternative, quicker versions cook the limes. For some reason the version I've developed both salts and cooks the limes. I'm probably just being awkward again.

Lime Pickle
The first stage of salting the limes is broadly the same process that I use for preserved lemons and it may be worth adding a few more limes and some extra salt to the jar to give you some preserved limes for use in other dishes. Preserved limes can be used in a very similar way to preserved lemons but they add a distinctive edge which is all their own.

This recipe only makes 1 jar on the principle that a little really does go a long way, but it can easily be scaled up.

5 limes, with maybe one more on standby for extra juice
Sea salt – at least 10 tbsp and very possibly more
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Unsalted Limes½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dried chilli flakes – or more if you fancy it
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Wash and dry 4 of the limes and chop them into random smallish pieces. Assuming that the limes are a reasonable size this could be between 6 and 10 pieces per lime.

Pack quite tightly into a sterilised jar with the sea salt and add the juice of the fifth lime. Make sure that the lime pieces are covered in salt and juice – they will release more juice after a while in the salt. Seal and label the jar and put away in a cupboard at something like room temperature for at least 4 weeks. Try to remember to check after 24 hours to ensure that the limes really are covered with juice and salt. Add more juice if necessary.

After at least 4 weeks remove the limes from the jar and wipe off any excess salt. You're not going to get all the salt off but that's OK because this pickle is meant to be salty. The lime peel will have softened quite a bit by now. Chop the lime pieces into even smaller bits – it's a matter of taste just how small you want them.

Toast the black mustard and fennel seeds briefly in a dry frying pan, then bash them up a little in a pestle and mortar. Add the turmeric and chilli flakes to the seeds.

Put the limes and sugar into a non-reactive pan and add just enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and any salt left on the limes. Add the spicy seed mix and the vinegar and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened somewhat. You should be able to leave a trail through to the bottom of the pan that doesn't instantly close when you drag a wooden spoon through it.

Let the mix cool a little before placing into a sterilised jar.

Sel MarinI used sea salt from Mornac-sur-Seudre on this occasion. This has absolutely no significance at all – I just wanted to add another picture to this post and, although I could have added a picture of salted limes, I'm afraid they're very dull to look at.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Caramelised Pear and Chocolate Friands

Another month and another chocolate challenge. This is my entry in the November “We Should Cocoa” chocolate challenge hosted this month by Chele of Chocolate Teapot. This month the challenge is to combine caramel with chocolate. I had to think about that one for a bit, until I saw some nice looking pears in the supermarket. You need a ripe but quite firm pear for this recipe – if the pear’s too soft it will fall apart completely in the caramel.

Friands always feel like a bit of a faff as you melt butter and separate countless eggs but actually they’re really easy and quick once you’ve done the preparation.

This recipe will make around 10 – 12 friands, depending on the exact size of the holes in your tin. Of course, you don't have to have a friand tin - a muffin tin will do perfectly well. Friands are a nice shape, though.

The caramel in this recipe should end up quite thin, coating the pear without setting too hard. With that in mind, if in any doubt, err on the side of lighter caramel rather than risk burning the sugar.
Pear and Chocolate Friands
For the caramelised pear:
    1 ripe but firm pear
    125 g caster sugar
    1 tbsp lemon juice, plus a little extra for sprinkling on the pear
For the friands:
    225 g icing sugar
    80 g '00' flour (ordinary plain flour will work fine, I'm just being fussy)
    130 g ground almonds
    7 egg whites, at room temperature
    170 g butter, melted and cooled, plus a little extra for coating the tin
    50 g dark chocolate, very finely chopped

Peel, core and chop the pear into small chunks. Sprinkle these with a little lemon juice and set aside while you make the caramel. Add the caster sugar to a pan and heat it gently until it begins to melt. I follow Delia (we are not worthy) Smith’s advice and only stir after about ¼ of the sugar has melted. From that point on keep stirring and heating but do both gently. At the same time, warm the lemon juice a little. Once the caramel is smooth and a deep amber colour, take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice (be careful – there's likely to be some spitting and bubbling of seriously hot sugar). Keep stirring for a couple of minutes until the caramel has cooled a little, then add the pear and continue to stir for another minute or so. The pear will soften in the hot caramel and should end up thoroughly coated. Set the pear and caramel mix aside to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the friand (or muffin) tin by brushing carefully with melted butter – these cakes have an annoying tendency to stick if you're not thorough with the butter.

Sieve the icing sugar, flour and ground almonds and mix them together in a large bowl. Whisk the egg whites briefly just until they're frothy – you only want to loosen the egg whites, you don't want to whisk them until they're stiff. Gently stir the egg whites into the dry ingredients until they're thoroughly combined, but don't overwork the mixture. Now stir in the melted butter, again until thoroughly combined. Drain any excess caramel from the cooled pear chunks and carefully stir the pear and the chocolate pieces into the mixture. You could reserve some of the pear chunks for sprinkling on the top of the cakes just before putting in the oven if you prefer.

Spoon the batter into the tin – each hole needs to be about ¾ full. Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Allow the friands to cool in the tin for a short while before removing them and transferring to a rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar if the mood so takes you.
Pear and Chocolate Friand

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lemon and Fruit Polenta Cake

I enjoy the crumbly and buttery style of most polenta or cornmeal cakes but, just for a change, this one is more of a rich fruit loaf. It's a distant cousin of a Northern Italian cake but made the lazy way with a breadmaker. Like a lot of moist fruit cakes, I think this works best as a dessert with cream or something along those lines, but that doesn't stop me eating it with a cup of something warm in the afternoon.

The order of the dough ingredients given here is correct for Panasonic breadmakers which add liquids last; other breadmakers reverse this order so it's probably best to follow the manufacturer's advice.

Polenta Fruit Cake 5
For the dough:
   ¾ tsp easy bake dried yeast
   150 g white bread flour
   150 g  fine cornmeal (polenta)
   ¼ tsp salt
   80 g caster sugar
   25 g butter, softened
   1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
   zest of 1 small lemon, very finely chopped
   1 small eating apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
   120 ml water
   50 ml lemon juice
For the fruit:
   100 g raisins
   1 tbsp dark rum
   75 g or about 5 soft dried figs, chopped
For the top:
   1 beaten egg
   1 tsp caster sugar

Soak the raisins in the rum for at least 30 minutes.

Put all the ingredients for the dough into the breadmaker. Select the basic dough program. If your breadmaker adds fruit or nuts automatically, then simply add the soaked raisins and the figs to the hopper and choose the appropriate setting. If not, then you'll need to add them manually at the point the manufacturer recommends.

Once the program is complete, pour the dough into a greased 19 cm round cake tin. Ideally the tin should be around 3.5 cm deep, though it isn't critical if it's a little deeper. Cover the cake with lightly oiled clingfilm and leave it somewhere warm to rise for around an hour. At this point, if your tin is 3.5 cm deep then the mixture should pretty much fill it.

Carefully brush the top of the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle over the caster sugar. Bake at 180°C for 25 – 30 minutes until brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes or so and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Polenta Fruit Cake 1

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sloe Sloe Quince Quince Sloe Chutney

There seemed to be a lot of sloes left in the hedgerows this year and since I just couldn't drink any more sloe gin without becoming a nuisance I thought I'd take the opportunity to make a chutney. Sloes add a rich colour and a very sharp fruitiness to chutneys. Since quinces are also in season it seemed a good idea to combine the two things especially since I'd just got hold of some Berzycki quinces. (I had some spare quince which I added to pork braised in perry and that was rather tasty too).

I used 300 g of sloe pulp in this chutney but you need at least twice the weight of sloes to
Sloe Pulpproduce that amount of pulp – in fact I picked about 640 g of sloes. All you do is wash the sloes, put them in a pan and heat them very gently until they break down. If you do this gently enough, you shouldn't need to add any water, although a little will do no harm. You will need to stir frequently, though. Strain the sloes through a fine sieve and you will have a brightly-coloured, very sour pulp. (If you're not ready to use this at once, it will freeze well.)

As with all chutney recipes, the ingredients are pretty flexible and can be altered to taste. This recipe will make at least 5 standard jars – actually I got 5½.

Sloe and Quince Chutney
500 g quince - peeled, cored and chopped
300 g sloe pulp (see above)
500 g cooking apples – peeled, cored and chopped
500 g courgette or marrow – chopped (discard any large seeds in the marrow)
350 g onions – peeled and chopped
450 g light brown soft sugar
3 tsp dried chilli flakes – this makes it pretty hot and you may want to use less
500 ml white wine vinegar
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
3 cm fresh ginger, grated

Combine everything in a large, non-reactive pan. Bring to the boil with plenty of stirring. Simmer gently, stirring every so often until the mix looks like chutney – this should takes 2 – 3 hours and could take up to 4 hours if you're really being gentle.

I'm always a little unsure how thick a chutney is going to be while it's in the pan, but the rule I use is that when I drag a wooden spoon through the mix it should leave a gap through to the base of the pan and the gap should only close after a brief moment's thought. Although, if it's been cooked for a few hours and looks well mingled, then it's really a matter of taste how thick you make it.

The chutney will mature and the flavour will improve after at least a week or two in the jar (though that would never stop me opening one immediately).

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Europom and an Apple, Ginger and Lemon Cake

I recently wandered along to the exhibition held as part of this year's Europom event – well, it was just down the road at RHS Wisley. Europom might sound vaguely Australian but actually it's a group of very laudable European organisations promoting the conservation of the widest possible range of fruit. Or as the posh lady who elbowed me out of the way to get to the front of the exhibit shouted to her even-posher friend “It's just a load of apples and pears!” (I left out the swear word).

I think it's safe to say that the elbow lady was right - there were a load of apples and pears and after being suitably impressed and thankful that such collections exist I then started to feel guilty that I tend to use such a small variety of fruit in the kitchen.

Apples at Europom
Byford WonderSo for this recipe I got hold of some Byford Wonder apples from the fruit gardens at Wisley. I'm led to believe that Byford Wonder is a 19th century Herefordshire variety of cooking apple and compared to the more common Bramley seems less sharp and less prone to collapse. Of course, you can use more common varieties – I'm only showing off.

Years ago, I started to collect different apple cake recipes from Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Herefordshire. I then realised that in fact there was a vast number of different recipes and most were claimed to be authentically local. I've no wish to stir up the great apple cake riots of 1969 again so I must point out this recipe is not authentic. It started out as a Devon recipe, got confused with a Hereford recipe and is now officially all over the place.

Apple Ginger and Lemon Cake
Apple, Ginger and Lemon Cake

250 g apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
250 g self-raising flour, sieved
50 g sultanas
50 g dates, finely chopped
½ tsp ground ginger
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped stem ginger
2 eggs, beaten
150 g unsalted butter, softened
175 g caster sugar

For the icing:
50 g icing sugar
2½ tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon extract

Grease and line the base of a 20 cm cake tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Mix the dates, sultanas and stem ginger together and stir in the ground ginger.

Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Beat in the eggs a little at a time. Gently work in the flour and finally fold in the apples and the dried fruit mix. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. If the top of the cake seems to be browning too quickly after 20 minutes or so, then cover loosely with some foil. The usual test of a skewer coming out clean should tell you when the cake is done, but with that much apple in the cake this can be a little tricky.

Let the cake cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from the tin and leaving to get cold.

Make a thin icing by combining all the icing ingredients together and drizzle this over the cake. You could use extra lemon juice rather than lemon extract but the idea is to get an intensely lemon hit from a relatively small amount of icing.

This cake works just fine with a cup of tea or coffee but can also be served as a dessert with something creamy alongside.

Apple Ginger and Lemon Cake

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Mulligatawny Soup and the Bodhrán Teacher

Without Finishing Her Drink
I couldn't bring myself to eat mulligatawny for a long time. In the distant past, long before I became a happily married man, I was eating a bowl of mulligatawny in a London pub garden with my then girlfriend. Suddenly she  jumped up, shouted “I've got to see my bodhrán teacher while I've still got the chance” and, without finishing her drink, ran off – very fast.

I've never felt quite the same about mulligatawny since.

No two people seem to agree what should be in this soup. This recipe makes a mild soup of contrasting textures which is how I like to think that mulligatawny tasted all those years ago, although, to be honest, it probably didn't.

The easiest way to make this soup, I think, is by pre-cooking the lamb in a slow cooker, but you can cook it in a more conventional way if you prefer. This recipe should make 8 portions.

For reasons I've already discussed, I wouldn't personally recommend listening to traditional Irish music while eating mulligatawny soup.
2 onions
2 carrots
1 – 2 cm fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp chilli powder – add more if you like, but mulligatawny is usually very mild
400 g red lentils
3 tbsp mild mango chutney
a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
a squeeze or three of lemon juice

Preheat the slow cooker. Roughly chop one of the onions and one of the carrots and fry them briefly in a little oil. Add the lamb pieces and lightly brown them all over. Add 2 litres of water to the pan and bring it up to simmering point. Transfer to the slow cooker and leave it for as long as it takes for the lamb to become so tender that it's falling off the bone – overnight is ideal.

Fish out the lamb and shred the meat into small pieces. Put the meat in the fridge and discard the bones. Now pour the liquid through a sieve and set it aside somewhere cool. Discard the onion and carrot – they won't have a lot of flavour left.

Once the cooking liquid has cooled, skim the fat off the top and make it up to 2 litres again by adding stock or water. (A big advantage of the slow cooker is that very little liquid should have been lost.)

Finely chop the remaining onion and carrot, put them in a large pan and fry them gently in a little oil until softened – about 10 minutes or so. In the meantime, add the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds to a dry frying pan and lightly toast them over a low heat for a minute or so. Grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar together with the garlic. Add this mixture, together with the ginger, turmeric and chilli powder to the pan containing the onion and carrot . Now add the lentils and the reserved cooking liquid from the lamb. Cover the pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently until the lentils are thoroughly tender – lentils can vary, but this will normally take around 15 minutes. Stir in the mango chutney and Worcestershire sauce and set aside to cool a little.

Liquidise all the contents of the lentil pan until fairly smooth – a bit of texture is no bad thing – adding salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Add the shredded lamb and reheat before serving with a little blob of yoghurt in every dish.

Red Lentils

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Chocolate and Hazelnut Buns

There I was, minding my own business and quietly thinking about making some Chelsea buns when I succumbed to another chocolate challenge - I'm so easily led astray. These aren't really Chelsea buns anymore - the dough I ended up making is actually a variation on one I use for a simple brioche-style loaf, so this recipe is probably closer to a French chinois. Whatever they are, they’re suitably sticky and have now become my entry in the October “We Should Cocoa” chocolate challenge hosted by Chocolate Log Blog this month. The latest challenge is to use hazelnuts and, of course, chocolate.
This recipe uses a breadmaker to make life really easy. You could make life even easier still by replacing the filling with nutella or other such spread, but where's the fun in that?

Chocolate and Hazelnut Buns
This amount will make 8 buns.

For the dough:
¾ tsp easy bake dried yeast
240 g white bread flour
30 g ground almonds
30 g light soft brown sugar
½ tsp salt
60 g unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50 ml milk

For the filling:
50 g hazelnut butter (see below)
40 g unsalted butter, softened
50 g icing sugar
40 g dark chocolate, in chips or small chunks

For the glaze:
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp water
1 tsp maple syrup

You could just buy some hazelnut butter, but it's easy to make if you have a little patience. I've found that it's not really practical to try making this with less than 100 g of nuts even though you only need 50 g for this recipe. Lightly toast the hazelnuts (shelled and skinned as far as possible) in a medium oven for about ten minutes, rub off any remaining skins in a cloth and add the nuts to a processor or blender. Pulse them for a while and then scrape down the sides of the processor. Repeat this sequence a number of times (possibly a large number of times) until the nuts release their oil and the contents start to look like butter rather than powder.

Add the dough ingredients to the breadmaker bucket. The order of the dough ingredients given here is correct for Panasonic breadmakers which add liquids last; other breadmakers reverse this order so it's probably best to follow the manufacturer's advice. Set the machine going on the basic dough setting.

Once the machine's done its bit, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently push and roll it into a rectangle of around 28 x 20 cm. Make the filling by mixing the unsalted butter, hazelnut butter and icing sugar together to give a thick but pliable goo and spread it over the rectangle of dough. Sprinkle over the chocolate – IBun dough with filling prefer bashed up random bits to chocolate chips, but it doesn't make a big difference. Try to resist the temptation to add too much filling, or you might just end up with a sticky mess on the bottom of your buns after they're cooked.

Roll the dough up fairly tightly from the long side and cut the resulting dough sausage into 8 equal pieces. Thoroughly grease a 23 cm cake tin (or use silicone) and arrange the pieces of dough in it. Bun dough before rising
Place the tin somewhere reasonably warm and let the dough rise until the buns have pretty much doubled in size and are touching each other – this should only take 20 – 30 minutes. Bun dough after rising
Bake the buns at 180°C for 20 minutes or until nicely browned and cooked through. (If they seem to be browning too fast after 10 -12 minutes, then cover loosely with foil.)

While the buns are in the oven, make the glaze by adding the sugar and water to a small pan, heating gently and stirring until the sugar has dissolved and then boiling for 4 or 5 minutes to get a thickish syrup. Take off the heat and stir in the maple syrup. Brush this glaze as evenly as possible over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven.

Allow the buns to cool a little in the tin, then cool completely on a wire rack before pulling apart into the eight buns. Now try to eat one without getting sticky - I don't think it's possible.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Bun

Monday, 11 October 2010

Duck Herder's Pie

With a chill in the air and a sky full of grey clouds, I was thinking about autumnal dishes in response to the In The Bag challenge for September hosted this month by A Slice of Cherry Pie. The challenge calls for the creation of a dish using  mushrooms, nuts and herbs. Perfect for these grey days.
Restaurant du Centre Bassoues
Then the sun came out, the temperature shot up and I forgot about the English autumn and found myself thinking about south-west France instead (I tend to do that every so often, I have to admit). As a result, I came up with this French-inspired dish. Perhaps I should be calling it Hachis Parmentier au Canard or something like that, but given my endless struggles with the French language, maybe it’s best that I don’t.

This should serve 3 people unless any of them are as greedy as me, in which case it will comfortably serve 2.

Hachis Parmentier au Canard
1 small handful of dried porcini mushrooms (I suppose I should say cèpes)
2 duck legs
1 onion, chopped
leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
leaves from 2 small sprigs of savory, chopped (this isn't crucial if you don't have any)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp armagnac
200 ml red wine (southern French ideally, of course)
200 g lardons or pancetta pieces
150 g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
8 soft prunes, halved
500 g potatoes (a type suitable for mashing, such as King Edwards), peeled and cut into chunks
60 g walnuts, very finely chopped
50 g butter, plus a little extra for the top
2 – 3 tbsp walnut oil

Soak the dried mushrooms in 250 ml of boiling water for 20 minutes, then drain them, reserving the soaking water. Chop the soaked mushrooms and set aside.

Fry the duck legs in a little oil until golden all over – hopefully this will get a lot of the fat out of them. Add the onion and cook it gently until softened - about ten minutes should do it.

Pour off most of the fat from the pan and add the crushed garlic and balsamic vinegar. (If you really wanted to be southern French, you could use vinaigre de Banyuls instead – I'd be really impressed if you did). Turn the heat up a little and keep stirring until most of the vinegar has gone, then add the armagnac. Again, wait until the armagnac has almost disappeared, then add the wine and mushroom soaking water. Bring to the boil, add the herbs and some seasoning and reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, in another pan, fry the lardons in a trace of oil and, as they begin to release their fat, add the chestnut mushrooms and fry for 5 more minutes. Add the soaked, formerly dried, mushrooms and stir around for a minute or so before adding all of the mushroom mix to the pan with the duck. Continue cooking the duck uncovered until it is tender but hasn't dried out – about 30 – 40 minutes in total of gentle cooking should be about right. Add the prunes to the pan for the last five minutes or so of cooking.

Remove the cooked duck from the pan and set aside to cool a little. It shouldn't be necessary to thicken the liquid left in the pan at all, but if it's dried up and looks on the solid side, then add a little water.

Cook the potatoes by boiling or steaming them until very tender. Mash them thoroughly and stir in the walnuts, butter and plenty of seasoning. Finally, stir in the walnut oil a little at a time until the mash is smooth and cohesive but don't add so much that it becomes greasy.

Discard the duck skin, chop the flesh into small (or smallish) pieces and stir them back into the duck cooking liquor. Spread the duck mix over the base of a pie dish or individual large ramekins and spread the walnut mash over the top. Rough the top of the potato up a little with a fork. You can chill the dish at this point until you're ready to eat.

Reheat by dotting the top with a few morsels of butter and putting in an oven at 180°C until thoroughly hot – about half an hour should do for a single pie.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Sloe Gin

Sloe gin is a peculiarly British drink. The French normally gather anything suitable for human consumption from the wild but when I was in the Mayenne earlier this year and suggested that sloes were worth picking I got some very strange looks. So I suppose I’m peculiarly British since I've been making it for quite a few years now. Here's what I do.
Sloes 1
First collect your sloes. You want the sloes to be ripe – a nice deep colour with a distinctive bloom on them. You don't have to wait until the first frost, as some people say. (Some years the sloes don't seem to ripen well at all if the summer's not good. You can still make sloe gin with a decent taste in those years, but the colour will be less appealing).

Once you've gathered a goodly number of sloes, take them home and wash them. Drain them thoroughly, pick them over and throw away any that look nasty in the cold light of the kitchen. Get a large, clean jar with a lid that will seal tightly – I use large French-style Kilner jars. Weigh the jar empty and make a note of the weight.

You need to pierce the skins of the sloes before adding them to the jar. Traditionally this involved pricking them with a silver pin, but the tip of a stainless steel knife will do just fine. Alternatively, you could try freezing the sloes for 24 hours or so before using them – this should damage the skins sufficiently and remove the need for the boring pricking bit.

Half fill the jar with the sloes and weigh it once again. By subtracting the weight of the jar, you'll know the weight of the sloes. Divide the weight of the sloes by two and that's the traditional weight of sugar that you should now add. In fact, I use a little less – perhaps 90% of the traditional weight.

Now top the jar up with gin – a decent, neutral flavoured gin is best. Some of the more expensive designer gins will be Sloe Gin Jars 1a bit of a waste, since you won't really taste the designer flavours. You could use vodka if you want a cleaner taste, but personally I think the combination of the juniper in gin and sloes is a good one. Seal the jar and give it a thorough shake to dissolve the sugar. Put the jar away somewhere out of direct sunlight but not too cold and try to remember to give the jar a shake every day for the next two weeks. By this time the gin should have started to take on the characteristic colour.

Leave the gin in the jar until Christmas, shaking it occasionally when you remember. If you have the patience, it will be even better if you leave it until the following Christmas.

When you can stand it no more and just have to taste the gin, then simply filter it through muslin into clean bottles. Some people use the gin-soaked sloes in crumbles or chutneys while other people in the West Country add the sloes to still cider for a few days to produce an odd-tasting drink to keep the cold out. Actually, I'm not convinced by either approach and put the old sloes in the bin.

Purists drink it neat, the stylish drink it in cocktails and trashier people like me tend to add some tonic and plenty of ice.

Sloe Gin 4
P.S. You can use the same process with damsons if you come across those in the hedgerows, although perversely I think damsons work best in vodka for some reason.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Courgette Jam and the Sorry Tale of Asparagus Peas

I suppose that it's about time to gather in the summer harvest before finally having to admit that the autumn is here.  I feel like I’ve eaten every courgette dish imaginable and I’ve made plenty of chutney but the courgette plants are still producing. So I've used a few of the spare courgettes to make this simple but pleasing jam. Actually, calling it a jam is a bit misleading since it's based loosely on a French confiture de courgettes and is intended for serving with cheese, pâté or other savoury bits and bobs. Of course, there's nothing stopping you spreading it on your toast in the morning; after all breakfast in France is just a small lunch.

You can use up any overgrown marrow-like courgettes in this jam, but only use the fleshy outer parts and discard the seedy core for best results. You can vary the mix of dried fruit as the mood and market takes you, but a few figs are particularly nice. The amount given here should make 3 standard jars.
Courgette Jam 1
900 g coarsely grated unpeeled courgettes (this is the weight after grating)
750 g  jam sugar (the one with added pectin)
100 g sultanas
60 g dried apricots, chopped
60 g dried figs, chopped
the zest and juice of 4 lemons
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
A small amount of finely grated fresh ginger (a piece about 1 – 2 cm should be plenty)

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly in a large bowl, cover and leave overnight. This will blend the flavours, plump up the dried fruit and draw a lot of water out of the courgettes.

The next day, pour the whole lot into a jam or preserving pan. Bring to the boil, stirring to ensure that any errant sugar has dissolved. Boil gently until the jam reaches setting point. (Test using the old trick of saucers kept in the freezer. Put a drop of jam on a  cold saucer and push it with your finger after a minute – if it wrinkles, then the jam's ready.) How long the jam takes to reach this point will depend on how fiercely you boil and how much water was in the courgettes, but 20 – 30 minutes should be about right.

Let the jam cool a little then pour into warm sterilised jars.

Courgettes 3
The harvest of asparagus peas has proved a lot less useful. They turn up in a number of veg growing books as something a bit different that you might like to try. Well, I did try. They're reasonably easy to grow but despite the name they don't taste of asparagus or peas or anything else for that matter and they combine a lack of flavour with a rather unpleasant texture.

Not a plant I'd grow again but I have to admit that they're quite pretty.

Asparagus Peas

Friday, 10 September 2010

Courgette and Herb Soup

Courgette Soup 2
I'm willing to admit that this soup comes as an attempt to use at least some of the bumper crop of courgettes and herbs from the garden, but I think it tastes pretty good too.  Courgettes are good with other herbs like basil too if that's what you have to hand and if you don't have sorrel, then add a little more lemon juice instead.

This soup will work either hot or chilled, but if you're serving it chilled then you may want to increase the amount of lemon or sorrel forhillfarm oil that refreshing sharpness on a warm day.

Instead of reaching for the olive oil as I usually would, I used a little extra virgin rapeseed oil. These oils have a very pleasing nutty and slightly grassy flavour which works really well with courgettes. The one I used was Hillfarm extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil  but I've also been using Farrington's Mellow Yellow cold pressed rapeseed oil and that's an excellent product as well. Both these oils work very well in courgette cake too (told you that I had a lot of courgettes).

I was intending to make enough soup for 4 but actually ended up with around 5 servings but I don't think you need to be too precise about exact weights and amounts in this soup.

1 small onion, chopped
500 g courgettes, topped and tailed
400 g potato, peeled and cut into small dice
1 litre vegetable stock (a light chicken stock would be fine instead)
around 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
around 1½ tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
the stalks from the coriander, chopped finely
around 1 tbsp chopped fresh sorrel leaves
100 ml coconut milk
A little lemon juice

Start to soften the onion in a little of the rapeseed oil. After 5 minutes or so add the potato, stir it around and keep frying gently for a couple of minutes. Add the coriander stalks and pour over enough of the stock to just cover the potatoes. Cover the pan and simmer gently for 12 -15 minutes until the potatoes start to soften.

Slice courgettes into rounds – the thickness isn't really critical, but not too thin. Add the courgettes and the rest of the stock to the pan and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the courgettes have softened but not fallen apart. Add the coconut milk and all the herbs, give the pan a thorough stir and take it off the heat.

Leave the pan to one side to cool and infuse for at least 20 minutes before liquidising. Add salt and pepper after liquidising (it probably won't need a lot) together with a squeeze or two of lemon juice.

Courgettes 1

Monday, 6 September 2010

Blackberry Vinegar

It's the time of year to wander around the hedgerows, assuming that you can still find any, collecting blackberries – I suppose I should say brambles really. There’s nothing original about how I make blackberry vinegar but I find it's really useful throughout the year and especially during the winter to come. I use it in dressings, marinades and dishes like red cabbage.
Blackberries 1
The first time I made this I couldn't quite believe the amount of sugar that's traditionally added, but when you realise that this is more of a flavouring syrup than a vinegar then it makes sense. All you need is white wine or cider vinegar, sugar and blackberries and this is all you do……

Wash and pick over the berries, getting rid of any foreign bodies and other nasty bits and weigh them once they've drained thoroughly. Put the berries in a deep, non-reactive bowl. Traditionally you now need to add 1 pint of vinegar for every pound of berries – I'm a bit generous with the vinegar and add around 580 ml of white wine vinegar to every 450 g of berries. Stir the berries around in the vinegar briefly and give them a gentle crush. At this point you can add herbs, such as a few leaves of lemon verbena, but this certainly isn't essential. Cover the bowl and leave it for between 3 and 5 days – give it a quick stir every day if you remember.

When the time's up, strain the berry and vinegar mix through muslin. This may take a while but you are allowed to press the berries a little to force out the juice. Measure the resulting liquid. The traditional, and I think best, method at this point is to add 1 pound of sugar for every pint of vinegar – so 450 g of granulated sugar to every 570 ml of vinegar.

Pour the mixture into a non-reactive saucepan and bring it up to boiling point while stirring to ensure that the sugar dissolves fully. Simmer very gently for 15 minutes skimming off any nasty looking stuff that floats to the surface.
Blackberry Vinegar 1
Let the vinegar cool before pouring into bottles and admiring the colour. This should keep for many, many months, but I seem to use most of it up during the winter without really trying.

You can make raspberry vinegar in exactly the same way and very nice it is too, though personally I don’t find it as useful as blackberry.

Blackberries 4[3]

Friday, 27 August 2010

Raspberry and White Chocolate Tiramisu

This is my entry in the September “We Should Cocoa” chocolate challenge hosted by Chocolate Teapot and Chocolate Log Blog. The challenge this month is to combine raspberries and chocolate. That's particularly convenient since we planted some canes of a variety of raspberry called 'Polka' in the garden last year and we're currently harvesting plenty of beautifully flavoured raspberries.
Raspberry Liqueur 1
Adding chocolate to mascarpone will lose some of the silky smoothness of classic tiramisu but it does add a depth of flavour as compensation. What makes a real difference to tiramisu in my opinion is using freshly baked savoiardi, so I've included my recipe for these at the end of this post.

When making this I used an excellent English raspberry liqueur from Fonthill Glebe , which has the added advantage of sounding like a character from Dickens: 'Ah, Miss Crumhornly,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'allow me to introduce my very particular friend, Mr. Fonthill Glebe.' But I digress.

It's probably best to keep the portions on the small side, since this is fairly rich. The amount given should be too much for two people but they'll probably eat it all anyway.

Raspberry Tiramisu 5

4 savoiardi (although that depends on how big you make them, see below)
150 g raspberries plus an extra few for decoration
70 g white chocolate, melted and cooled
150 g mascarpone
40 g icing sugar plus 2 extra tablespoons
a squeeze or two of lemon juice
1 tbsp raspberry liqueur

Before you start, take the mascarpone out of the fridge – the colder it is, the harder it is to work.

Purée 100 g of the raspberries in a blender with 2 tablespoons of icing sugar and a squeeze or two of lemon. You may need to vary the amount of sugar or lemon depending on the sweetness or otherwise of the raspberries. Put the purée through a fine sieve and stir in the liqueur.

Tear the savoiardi in half, place them in the raspberry purée, quickly turn them over and transfer them to the bottom of your serving dishes or glasses. You should be left with some raspberry purée; lightly crush the other 50 g of raspberries into it and set aside.

Whisk the mascarpone with the icing sugar until it's nice and loose. Add the chocolate and whisk it in thoroughly at a high speed – this is essential if you want to avoid lumps. Whisk the egg whites until firm and fold them carefully into the chocolate and mascarpone mix.

Spoon a layer of the mix over the savoiardi followed by a layer of the reserved raspberry purée. Fill the dish with the rest of the mascarpone and chocolate and decorate with a raspberry or two.

Chill until needed but take them out of the fridge before serving – both the flavour and texture suffer if they’re too cold.


Savoiardi 1

The amount of ingredients given here will make a fair number of savoiardi, probably between 30 and 40 if you make them small. They keep pretty well in an airtight tin, though. If you want to serve some of them alongside the tiramisu or another dessert, then try varying the topping – a sprinkle of chopped nuts works well. Alternatively, the mixture is fairly similar to that of Gâteau de Savoie, so you could bake a few savoiardi and make a small Gâteau with the rest.

3 eggs, separated
60 g caster sugar
¼ tsp vanilla bean paste
40 g icing sugar, sifted
40 g '00' flour, sifted
30 g potato flour, sifted
extra caster sugar for the top

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line two good-sized baking trays with non-stick baking paper or silicone sheets.

In a large bowl beat the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and thick, adding the vanilla bean paste towards the end.

In another bowl whip the egg whites to the soft peak stage, then gradually add the icing sugar while continuing to whisk until the mixture is firm.

Now you need to fold the flours and egg whites into the yolk mixture. It's best to do this gradually: I suggest adding half the combined flours and about a third of the egg white to start off with. You need to do this folding gently and calmly – I found that listening to Cara Dillon singing helped.

When the mixture has come together nicely, put it into a piping bag with a fair-sized nozzle – 2 cm is about right. Pipe short lengths onto the prepared baking trays, leaving a little space for the savoiardi to spread. Of course, you don't have to pipe the mixture, you could just spoon it, but I'm being vaguely traditional for once. Sprinkle over a little caster sugar and bake for around 10 – 12 minutes until the tops are light brown. Definitely err on the side of  a lighter shade of brown if you're in doubt.

Let them cool a little on the trays before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Savoiardi 4