Monday, 19 December 2011

Glacier Tuiles

It all started with French sweeties.

Bêtises de Cambrai are one of the best-known French sweets and, let’s face it, they’re essentially boiled sweets. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when I was wandering around in the vicinity of Cambrai I was slightly surprised (and not in a particularly good way) to see them being used in various forms of patisserie and dessert. A while later, I read Jean-Christophe Novelli suggesting that British glacier mints were simply the equivalent of the famous bêtises and could be used in the same way. Well, for some unimaginable reason, I couldn’t resist. So with sincere thanks to M Novelli, here’s how to add an ice queen and possibly slightly silly effect to your desserts and ice creams at this festive time.
Glacier Tuile
Buy some glacier mints (the ones with the polar bear on them are ideal, but pretty much any boiled sweet will do). Unwrap some of them (it’s probably not worth trying to use less than 15 or so) and drop them into a sturdy blender. Pulverise them until they resemble quite a fine powder. Spread a thin layer of the powder onto an oven tray covered with silicone or non-stick baking paper. If you want to be clever you can form them into shapes with a template cut out of silicone but if you want a random, icy effect then don’t be too precise.

Put the tray into an oven at 170°C and leave it there until the powdery residue melts – this will only take 2 or 3 minutes. If you want it to be neat, then take the tray out as soon as the sweets melt, but let them bubble up a little bit for a more random, holey effect. Take them out of the oven and let the tuiles cool completely on the tray. Once cool, lift the tuiles off as carefully as you can and break into suitably sized shards. If you’re not using them straightaway, they’ll store quite happily in an airtight container for a while.
Glacier Tuiles
Actually the above “recipe” was largely an excuse for my annual bit of indulgent, self-regarding nonsense: The Best Music I’ve Listened To While Cooking This Year. I could have chosen the Decemberists, Ryan Adams, Steve Tilston or, to mark his passing, Bert Jansch. But, in  the last year, the most enjoyable music in my kitchen has been the pure, joyous pop of the Silver Seas.

Oh and a special mention for Michael Franks, not only for delivering the most laidback album of the year, but also for managing to rhyme “squirrel” with “intramural”.

And finally, two fine bands that I’d not been aware of before this year. From Reading, Pete and the Pirates.

And for the especially chilled (and maybe, melancholy) moments and desserts, from Newcastle, Lanterns On The Lake.

Now I really must get back to some cooking.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Nonnettes with White Chocolate Chips

You might think that this recipe is just another stop on my interminable journey around the cakes of France. Well, I suppose it is but, in this case, Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog is largely to blame. For the December We Should Cocoa challenge Choclette has specified the combination of chocolate and orange. That made me think immediately of nonnettes.
Nonnettes are deliciously moist, sticky cakes originally made by nuns and are often associated with this time of year, although you can buy them anytime. The ingredients and method are very similar to pain d'épices but they’re normally flavoured more strongly with orange. Marmalade is placed on top of the mixture before baking and sinks into the cakes as they cook. Nonnettes don’t normally contain chocolate, but I saw some with chocolate on sale the last time I was in France and I’ve been intending to make a batch ever since.

This version is pretty close to the traditional recipes that I’ve come across but I’ve simplified the spicing. There are many versions of spice mix for pain d'épices and nonnettes but they will often contain a mix of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, aniseed, cardamom and probably a few other spices as well. I’ve just used cardamom here because I wanted a delicate, scented effect that didn’t muddy the orange flavour. (To make the ground cardamom, remove the seeds from the pods, toast quickly in a dry frying pan and then crush.) I’ve used a small amount of rye flour in this recipe because I was told (in no uncertain terms by someone French and bigger than me) that all pain d'épices and nonnettes must contain rye flour for both texture and flavour. I stand by that advice but I’ve come across plenty of recipes which omit the rye, so feel free to use all plain flour if you don’t have rye to hand.

Although it’s not strictly traditional, it’s easiest to use a muffin tin for these cakes. I used silicone muffin moulds but if you don’t have silicone, then grease the tin carefully because the honey can make these cakes a little difficult to remove. You should get somewhere around 12 –14 nonnettes with this recipe.
Nonnettes with White Chocolate Chips
200 g runny honey
100 ml water
100 ml milk (semi-skimmed or full-fat)
100 g light brown soft sugar
80 g butter
½ tsp orange extract (or orange liqueur)
250 g plain flour
50 g rye flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cardamom seeds
Finely grated zest of ½ orange
70 g white chocolate chips
Marmalade (around 12 – 14 teaspoons of, preferably, thin-cut or peel-free marmalade)
6 tbsp icing sugar
A little orange juice

Put the honey, water, milk, brown sugar, butter and orange extract into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and pour into a mixing bowl.

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

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spoon the mixture into the muffin moulds until they’re somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters full. Place a teaspoon of marmalade on top of each nonnette. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. It can be a little tricky to judge when the cakes are ready – they should be golden brown and, although still soft, they should spring back when pressed gently. While the nonnettes are still warm and in their moulds, mix the icing sugar with enough orange juice to create a thin icing. Paint the icing over the nonnettes with a pastry brush. The idea is to create something resembling a thin sugar glaze rather than an iced cake. Allow the nonnettes to cool before attempting to remove them from the moulds.

Traditionally it’s said that the flavour of nonnettes should be allowed to develop and that you should adopt nun-like restraint and not eat them until the following day. In my view, that’s not a realistic expectation.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Microwave Chocolate Fudge – A Random Recipe

Recently, I cleared out some of my old cookery books and took them down to the charity shop. Then Dom of Belleau Kitchen set the Random Recipe challenge for December as follows: choose a book that you never use, cook something from it and then take it down to the charity shop. Since I’d just given away all my ignored and rarely used books, I had to make a desperate search. Eventually I found half a dozen books that aren’t exactly in the rarely used category, they’re actually in the category of “I really can’t believe that I still have these”. They’re the kinds of books that supermarkets used to sell in the 1980s for 99p and some other very odd books that I think must have arrived from a parallel universe.

It wasn’t a pleasant prospect but in the spirit of the challenge I chose one of these books at random - the “Microwave Cookbook”. This is a collection of Good Housekeeping recipes published in 1985 and I have a feeling that it came free with my first ever microwave. As I picked it up, the book came open at the last page and there before me was a recipe for Quick Chocolate Fudge.

So a short while afterwards I had a plate full of chocolate fudge. It’s not the greatest fudge I’ve ever had, but it’s most certainly not the worst either. Above all, it’s not a lot of effort and that counts for quite a bit sometimes. I’ve amended the original recipe slightly in the light of experience.
Microwave Chocolate Fudge
100 g plain chocolate, broken into pieces
100 g butter, cut into pieces
450 g icing sugar, sieved
3 tbsp milk

Put everything into a large, microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on High for around 3 minutes or until the chocolate has melted. (Since microwaves vary in power, you need to watch this stage carefully).

Beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. (In fact, it’s a bit tricky getting the mixture completely smooth and if I made it again I think I’d use an electric mixer with paddle attachments instead).

Pour into a buttered 20.5cm x 15cm (8 x 6 inch) rectangular tin. Place in the fridge for an hour or two until set. Cut into pieces – you’ll get up to 36 bits, assuming you’re not too greedy.

I’m off down the charity shop now, but I’m taking some other things as well to avoid the embarrassment of handing over my sad old cookery books on their own.