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.