Saturday, 30 July 2011

Iced Carrot Cake and Almost Mr Grace

I promise that this post will be about food very shortly, but first I need to make my brief annual cricketing digression. So here goes - I met W.G. Grace at a bus stop in the early 1970s. (In case you’re unaware of the Great Man, W.G. Grace was the finest cricketer that ever lived – he certainly seemed to think so.)

It wasn’t really W.G. Grace that I met - after all he died in 1915 - but this man definitely Almost Mr Gracelooked a lot like him. It would have been the cricket season at the time because I’m sure it was summer. In fact nobody really bothered with winter back then – it just didn't seem necessary.

We got talking. I probably said something witty like “Do you know that you look like W.G. Grace?” In return, he told me two things about food that I’ve sort of remembered ever since (I told you I’d get to the food bit eventually). First, he told me that there was a fish that nobody wanted to eat and so it cost next to nothing but was really tasty. One of these days it was going to be popular and expensive. I’d never heard of it – it was called monkfish.

The second thing he told me was how he made carrot cake. I should have paid more attention or written the recipe down but I wasn’t into food as much back then. (I’m not entirely sure what I was into, but it probably had long guitar solos).

The other day I was watching a field full of cricketers running to get out of the rain when I suddenly remembered this encounter and decided to try to recreate that cake. I’m sure it wasn't an American style cake with cream cheese topping but I think he said he put icing on it. I also remember him saying that he used orange and lemon. That does sound most like a Swiss-style carrot cake and so here is my attempt to capture the spirit of that cake even though it’s nearly forty years late. I don’t know if it’s close to the original but it tastes very good and I greatly enjoyed a slice or two as the rain dripped gently off the pavilion roof onto a copy of Mr R. “Richie” Benaud’s autobiography.
Mr Grace's Carrot Cake
For the cake:
     Butter for the tin
     260 g finely grated carrots (grated weight)
     4 eggs , separated
     250 g caster sugar
     250 g ground almonds
     60 g plain flour, sifted
     Zest of 1 lemon
     2 tbsp lemon juice
     1 tbsp baking powder
     ½ tsp orange extract
For the icing :
     200 g icing sugar
     2 tsp Cointreau (or a similar liqueur or orange juice)
     1 tsp orange extract
     1 tbsp lemon juice

Butter a 22cm cake tin (springform, preferably). Preheat the oven to 180°C. If you use a processor to grate the carrots, then they may be a little liquid. If so, wrap them up in a clean tea towel and squeeze out some of the excess juice before weighing them.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until they look very pale. Beat in the flour and baking powder. Stir in the grated carrot (the mixture will be quite stiff at first, but keep at it), followed by the ground almonds and finally the lemon juice and zest and the orange extract. Make sure that all the ingredients are evenly mixed in.

Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage and fold them carefully but thoroughly into the mixture. (This will be easier if you do the usual trick of stirring in a large spoonful of the egg white before starting to fold in the rest).

Pour the mixture into the tin, even it out and bake for 35 to 50 minutes. The cooking time is likely to vary a fair bit depending on the juiciness of your carrots. Test in the usual way by inserting the point of a knife into the cake – it should come out clean. Allow the cake to cool a little in the tin before removing it and leaving it to cool completely on a rack.

For the icing, simply mix the icing sugar with the Cointreau and orange extract, then add as much lemon juice as needed to make a pliable, smooth icing (you may need a little more than 1 tablespoon of lemon juice). Spread evenly over the cold cake.
Thank you WG and PT

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Tomato and Chilli Jam - A Random Recipe

For this month’s Random Recipe Challenge Dom of Belleau Kitchen has asked us to select  a recipe (randomly, of course) from our favourite cookbook. Well, I’ve got a fair number of favourites, mostly made up of books that remind me of good times. It’s difficult to choose just one among those, so instead I’ve gone for my favourite practical cookbook. This is the one I reach for whenever I need to remind myself how to do something or when I need a reliable recipe in a hurry. That used to be Delia, but recently it’s been Darina Allen’s ‘Ballymaloe Cookery Course’.  (Not that I’ve got anything against Delia, I hasten to add).
Chillies for Jam
On opening this weighty tome I was faced with a page of chutney and relish recipes and, since I’m currently blessed with a generous harvest of chillies from the plants on my windowsills, I seized on a Tomato and Chilli Jam recipe. Once I started to make the jam, though, I felt a bit of a fraud since it’s very similar to the recipe that I usually use for chilli jam. So, a little less random than I intended but still a really good tomato and chilli jam that’s extremely useful in marinades, on bruschettas or burgers, alongside cold meats etc etc.

Ms Allen reckons that this should make 3 pots, but she must be talking about pretty small pots. I reckon it’s about 1½ standard jam jars.
Tomato and Chilli Jam
500 g very ripe tomatoes
4 red chillies
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2.5 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
30 ml fish sauce (nam pla)
275 g golden caster sugar (actually I used soft brown sugar, just because I usually do)
100 ml red wine vinegar

Peel the tomatoes and cut them into 1 cm dice. Put them into a blender along with the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce and whizz. Put the purée, sugar and vinegar into a stainless steel saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally. Cook gently for 30 - 40 minutes stirring every now and then to prevent sticking.

Pour into warmed, sterilised glass jars and seal. Allow to cool and store in the fridge.

From past experience it can be a little difficult to know when this jam is thick enough. If you’re unsure, you can do a standard wrinkle test, even though it has a different consistency to a fruit jam. Chill a saucer in the freezer, put a small dollop of the jam on the saucer, wait a moment or two and if the jam wrinkles when you push it, then it’s ready.

Just between us, if you’re pressed for time you can make this with drained, tinned tomatoes, but lengthen the cooking time a little since you’re likely to be adding more liquid. Don’t tell Ms Allen I said that, though; she might not approve.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Lime and Basil Frozen Yogurt

I recently promised that I’d post a low-fat frozen yogurt recipe, so here goes. On a warm summer’s day when the need for cooling refreshment comes upon me like a thing that comes upon you, then that’s the time that I want something made with limes. I’ve recently seen a number of ices that combine lime with basil and I’m happy to confirm that it’s a combination that works. If you have an ice-cream maker, then this recipe is really simple but very refreshing.

But first, a short digression on basil. There’s a temptation when writing down recipes to say something like “add two or three leaves of basil”. Well this year I've been growing Neapolitan basil and the leaves are huge as the following picture of an average-sized leaf reveals.
Neapolitan Basil
I’ll never specify the number of basil leaves in a recipe again (probably).

And now, finally, the recipe....
Lime and Basil Frozen Yogurt
Zest of 1 lime
Zest of ½ lemon
500 ml low-fat Greek yogurt (around 2%-3% fat, ideally)
110 ml agave nectar
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp very finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Whisk all the ingredients together thoroughly. Chill the mixture in the fridge for half and hour or so before pouring into the ice-cream maker and allowing it to churn for the recommended time.
Lime and Basil
I was hoping to enjoy this frozen yogurt quietly in the garden. Sadly there were a large group of  parakeets re-enacting the major battles of the English civil war in the surrounding gardens (thanks a lot, Jimi *) and then it started to rain. So I came inside and listened to this instead – to me it just sounds exactly like summer ought to be.

* – There is an urban myth (at least, I assume it’s a myth) that Jimi Hendrix released the first parakeets from an aviary back in the sixties. They are now one of the commonest and certainly the noisiest birds in Surrey.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Apricotines with Yogurt and White Chocolate Filled Apricots

July’s We Should Cocoa challenge has been set by Chele at Chocolate Teapot and this month we’ve been challenged to combine apricots with chocolate.
Well, I’ve got a special offer this month – two for the price of one. I intended these two little sweet treats to be served with coffee at the end of a meal but they could actually be used as a dessert in themselves – a sort of small café gourmand. (In case you haven’t come across it, the café gourmand consists of a few mini desserts served alongside a cup of coffee – it literally means a greedy coffee.)
Apricotines and Filled Apricots


Since I used it for last month’s Belleau Kitchen Random Recipe challenge I’ve become slightly obsessed with the Constance Spry Cookery book which was published back in the 1950s. One of the biscuit recipes in this venerable tome is for Orangines, which are made with candied orange peel. I’ve adapted this to dried apricots and to the food processor which makes the recipe a lot easier to make by removing all that 1950s-style chopping.

The biscuits manage to be chewy and crispy at the same time and, as well as being good for nibbling with coffee or tea, they would work well alongside creamy desserts or ice cream. Although I’ve decorated them with chocolate here, they’re pretty good without it too.

This amount should make between 50 and 60 small biscuits.

60 g blanched almonds
60 g dried apricots
60 g unsalted butter
60 g caster sugar
45 g plain flour
1 or 2 teaspoons of milk, if necessary
50 g dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line a couple of oven trays with non-stick baking parchment or silicone sheets.

Put the almonds and dried apricots into the food processor and whiz them until very finely chopped. Add all the other ingredients except the milk and chocolate and whiz briefly until the mixture forms into a dough. If the mixture seems reluctant to come together then add the milk one teaspoon at a time and whiz briefly.

Place half-teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared oven trays and flatten and shape the dough into rounds with a slightly wet fork. (They’re best if they’re pretty thin, but personally I’m not too fussy about them being perfectly round.)

Bake in the oven for 9 –12 minutes – the biscuits should be browned around the edges but not too dark. Leave the biscuits to cool on the trays for a few minutes before removing and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate and drizzle randomly over the cold biscuits or dip the biscuits in the chocolate if you prefer. Leave to cool once again.

Yogurt and White Chocolate Filled Apricots

This is an adaptation of a Turkish sweet recipe from one of the books by the excellent Claudia Roden. The original certainly doesn’t contain chocolate and uses a thick cream filling but I decided to try using a yogurt base instead. My wife has been making labneh recently by straining low-fat Greek yogurt overnight and we decided to try this in sweet dishes as well as savoury. Happily it worked really well with the apricots and it has a lot less fat than mascarpone or cream.

125 g dried apricots (not too small)
125 g caster sugar
140 ml water
A squeeze or three of lemon
125 g (strained weight) Greek yogurt (2 – 3% fat works well), strained through muslin for about 6 hours or overnight
75 g white chocolate

Soak the dried apricots in water for at least 4 hours – do this even if the packet or the apricot seller tells you that they don’t need soaking. Add the sugar, water and lemon to a saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring. Drain the apricots, add them to the syrup and continue simmering for around 20 minutes until the apricots are very tender (but not falling apart) and the syrup has reduced enough to coat the apricots. Let them cool down.

Melt the white chocolate and allow to cool a little. Beat the chocolate into the strained yogurt. Take each apricot (carefully – they’ll be fragile) and tease open the slit where the stone was removed. Fill each apricot with a little of the chocolate and yogurt mix. (You might find it neater to pipe the filling into the apricots but a couple of teaspoons will do the job as well.) Chill the apricots until needed on non-stick paper.
Yogurt and White Chocolate Filled Apricots
Serve as many filled apricots with as many apricotines as the mood takes you along with a strong coffee – or just don’t bother with the coffee.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Gâteau de Savoie

In my random and seemingly unending tour de French cakes and biscuits we find ourselves this week wandering the mountains of the Savoie in search of this wonderfully light sponge. There are many versions of this ancient recipe, which is said to date back as far as the 14th century. Some recipes add less lemon, some add more and some versions are  flavoured with orange or lime. (I have to admit that vanilla isn't really traditional, but I add a little anyway).

Gateau de Savoie
The big difference between versions of this cake is in the flour. Add more flour and the cake will be  more stable and less prone to collapse but will also be less light. You can also choose to use only plain flour, a mix of plain flour and cornflour or a mix of plain and potato flour as here. Anyway, this is the version I’ve evolved which is less stable but lighter.

You could eat a small piece with a cup of tea though some prefer it with a glass of champagne. I've also seen people split and fill it with cream or jam like a Victoria sponge. Personally, though, I think it’s best served as a dessert with fresh fruit or fruit compote and crème anglaise.

6 eggs, separated
200 g caster sugar, divided into two lots of 100 g
80 g plain flour (I used an extra fine sponge flour)
60 g potato flour
Zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
2 tsp icing sugar, plus more for decoration

Butter a 22cm cake tin. This needs to be fairly deep since the cake rises alarmingly during baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Beat the egg yolks together with 100 g of the caster sugar until they’re very pale. Briefly beat in the lemon zest and vanilla paste.

Beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage, then gradually beat in the remaining 100 g of caster sugar until the mixture forms stiff peaks and starts to look glossy.

Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Sieve the two flours together and fold them in as well. Don’t overdo the folding or you’ll lose some of the lightness.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin (ideally it should only be about half full) and lightly level the top. Sprinkle over the 2 teaspoons of icing sugar.

Place in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes. (A skewer or knife point should come out clean when it’s done). Take the cake out of the tin while it’s still warm and cool fully on a rack. The cake will sink back while cooling – don't worry about this, it's normal. Decorate the top with a little more icing sugar.

Gateau de Savoie