Thursday, 28 June 2012

An Eccles Cake For Mr Henri

This is a bit of rambling story, but I promise that there’ll be a recipe at the end.

Back in the latter part of the 1960s there was a particular book that came to be essential reading for anyone in the UK wanting to read poetry but who thought they might just be vaguely in tune with the times as well. “The Mersey Sound” was a Penguin paperback collection of poems by Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten and was just about affordable to anyone. My copy cost 4 shillings (20p).
The Mersey Sound
Over the years I’ve lost and given away a large number of books, but I’ve always kept this one – even if it is tattered and yellowing. The other day, I happened to hear a Liverpool Scene track (the band that included Adrian Henri as resident poet) and I decided to reread his poems from this ancient volume.  The last Henri poem in the collection ‘Mrs Albion You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter’ (click on the title to read the poem) is an ecstatic celebration of Liverpool (‘Albion’s most lovely daughter’) and the girls who live (or rather lived) there. 

But since I’m somewhat obsessed with food (this is a food blog after all) the image that stuck in my mind was of the daughters of Albion ‘eating hot ecclescakes at the Pierhead’.

I first went to Liverpool in 1984 at the time of the International Garden Festival. The city had changed since the sixties and it was the first time that I’d thought of it as more than the home of the Beatles and the poets. Although I’ve been back to Liverpool many, many times since, for some odd reason this poem always reminds me of that first visit and that slightly surreal festival.  Still, an Eccles cake isn’t a really a cake in the usual sense, so a little oddness seems quite appropriate.
Liverpool Garden Festival
Sadly, Adrian Henri died towards the end of the year 2000 but, of course, Liverpool continues to change. Recently, as I was walking through the vast expanses of retail opportunities available at the Liverpool One shopping centre, just a short distance from the Pier Head, I did wonder what Adrian Henri might have made of it. Not surprisingly, I saw far more pizzas and cappuccinos than Eccles cakes there.

I’m not pretending that this is an authentic Eccles cake recipe but it’s the way I like them to be. For instance, the filling normally contains candied peel but I prefer it without and I was always told that they should be made with a lard-based, flaky pastry and I use a buttery puff pastry. You could make your own pastry but, to be honest, I didn’t bother.
Eccles Cakes

This makes about 8 cakes, although it’s perfectly possible to make them smaller or larger if you’d prefer.

320 g puff pastry
25 g butterLiverpool Statue
75 g light soft brown sugar
50 g currants
50 g sultanas
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp ground allspice
A small sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg
A dash of dark rum
1 egg white for coating
Demerara sugar for sprinkling
Sugar pearls for scattering

First, make the filling. Melt the butter over a low heat and stir in the soft brown sugar. Take off the heat and stir in the currants, sultanas, lemon zest, allspice, nutmeg and rum. Once well mixed, set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of around 3mm. Cut out circles using an 11cm diameter cutter (although smaller or larger cakes will work fine if you prefer). Add around 2 heaped teaspoons of the filling to the centre of each pastry circle. Lightly dampen the perimeter of the circle, draw the edges of the pastry up and pinch together to seal and make a small parcel. Turn the cake over so that the seam is underneath and press down lightly with your hand or the rolling pin to flatten the cake. Ideally, the fruit filling should look as if it’s threatening to break through the pastry without actually doing so. Brush the tops of the cakes with egg white and sprinkle over some demerara sugar and a few sugar pearls, if you have them. (Simply scattering on some caster sugar would probably be closer to the traditional version). Cut three slashes into the top of each cake, through to the filling. I’m sure that I was told long ago that there should be three slits in each cake, but some people create two and some cut a V shape.

Put the cakes on baking sheets covered with non-stick baking paper or silicone sheets and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes until they’re nice and golden brown round the edges. If a little filling bubbles out, then it really doesn't matter. Cool on a wire rack.

Actually, I know that Mr Henri says hot but I prefer them cold or, even better, slightly warm. Fergus Henderson pointed out in his book “Nose To Tail Eating” that Eccles cakes are particularly pleasing with some Lancashire cheese. For some reason, I’d never thought of doing that before, but I can now report that he’s absolutely right.

I’m entering this in the latest Novel Food challenge (no. 16) hosted by Simona of the blog Briciole, despite the fact that it’s not a novel. One day I might think of a novel for this literary challenge but somehow food and poetry seem to go together for me.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Far aux Pruneaux

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge Dom at Belleau Kitchen has asked us to find a recipe from the middle of a randomly chosen book.  So I randomly selected the shelf of shorter books (in height, not length), closed my eyes and grabbed a paperback copy of ‘Jenny Baker’s Cuisine Grandmère’. This is a fine collection of recipes from Northern France published back in the nineties. Halfway through I found myself at a recipe for Far aux Pruneaux, the classic dish from Brittany. The far is a batter pudding containing prunes and not only is it really easy to make, it’s also delicious.

It’s possible to make this dish with fruits other than prunes – I know that there are many people who hate the reviled prune for some reason. Chunks of apple fried in butter are particularly nice as an alternative but you could also use poached pears or dried fruit such as big, juicy raisins.

I’ve come across many versions of this recipe and I confess that I’ve not stuck faithfully to Ms Baker’s ingredients and method. There’s no real reason for this other than I suppose I’m stuck in my ways. For instance, Ms Baker suggests using calvados in the recipe and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that suggestion but whenever I think of Breton cakes or puddings then I think about rum. Rum turns up a lot – I think rum used to be imported through Brittany. Or maybe I’m talking nonsense again and they just like the stuff. If you want to avoid the alcohol, you could use weak, black tea instead.

The far is very often eaten warm as a dessert, probably with a little crème fraîche alongside, but I have to confess that I rather like it as a snack at room temperature. (Eating it while wandering along a Brittany beach would be particularly pleasant.) It’s also very good as part of a lazy Sunday breakfast, in my opinion.
Far aux Pruneaux
You should get 10 decent sized pieces from this amount of ingredients.

225 g prunes (without stones)
3 tbsp rum or calvados
3 eggs
50 g vanilla sugar plus 30 g caster sugar (or use 80 g caster and add a little vanilla extract)
125 g plain flour, sieved
530 ml full-fat milk
Butter for the dish

Soak the prunes in your chosen alcohol for a few hours or overnight.

You need a bigger dish for this pudding than you might think due to significant expansion potential. A 2 litre shallow gratin dish is ideal. Butter the dish thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Traditionally, of course, the dish is made strictly manually but I use a stand mixer to make it even easier. Beat the eggs well, then beat in the sugar followed by the flour. Continue beating as you gradually pour in the milk. Finally, stir in the prunes and any remaining rum or calvados.

Pour the mixture into the buttered dish, distributing the prunes fairly evenly but randomly. Bake in the oven for 40 – 45 minutes until the far has puffed up and is golden brown on top. I find that the top of the far can look a little uneven and some people sprinkle on icing sugar to make it prettier. Personally I think a bit of variation in the top is a good thing. Cut into slices and eat whenever and however you please.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Strawberry and Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt with Sesame and Sumac Tuiles

I remember buying strawberry ice creams when I was knee high to something or other and they were always very pink, very sweet and, to be honest, tasted more of pinkness and sugar than strawberries. I loved them back then. But I had to grow up (a bit) and so this frozen yogurt has a balance of  sweet and sour flavours  that should make a refreshing end to a more adult meal. It also has the big advantage for many of us adults of being low in fat.

The tuiles are a variation on my usual, general-purpose tuile recipe but, again, have a bit of that sweet and sour thing going. You can leave them flat, but I take a childish delight in folding them into wavy shapes when they come out of the oven. Well, a man’s got to have a hobby.

The amount given here is about right for my ancient little ice cream maker but should serve 6 comfortably, on the understanding that we’re all restrained grown-ups.
Strawberry and Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt

For the frozen yogurt:

400 g strawberries (unprepared weight)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 - 3 tbsp icing sugar
300 ml low fat Greek style yogurt (I use one that’s around 3% fat)
100 g extra light cream cheese (such as extra light Philadelphia)

Clean and hull the strawberries. Place them in a blender or food processor and add the lemon juice. Whiz them up until you have a smooth purée. Work this purée through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. (This stage isn’t essential, but I think it improves the texture of the final dish). You should be left with something like 400 ml of strawberry loveliness.

Place the purée in a pan over a medium heat, bring to the boil and reduce until you have around 200 ml of concentrated purée left. Remove from the heat and whisk in the pomegranate molasses followed by 2 tablespoons of icing sugar. Taste and add another tablespoon of sugar if the mixture is too sharp. Chill thoroughly before moving on to the next stage (that's the mixture, not you).

Whisk the cream cheese into the yogurt, then whisk in the strawberry mixture. Taste the mixture and add a little more sugar if you think it needs it. (It will taste a little less sweet once frozen). Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze in the usual way.

If the frozen yogurt is stored in the freezer and becomes very thoroughly frozen, allow it to soften a little before serving.
Strawberry and Pomegranate Frozen Yogurt

For the tuiles:

90 g caster sugar
50 g plain flour
2 egg whites
60 g butter, melted and allowed to cool a little
3 tbsp sesame seeds
A little sumac and extra caster sugar for sprinkling

Line two oven trays with non-stick paper or silicone sheets and preheat the oven to 160°C. Whisk the sugar, flour and egg whites together very thoroughly. Keep whisking while gradually pouring in the melted butter. Add the sesame seeds and continue whisking for another minute or so until the mixture has thickened slightly.

Spread the mixture thinly onto the prepared oven trays – it should only be around 2 mm thick. You can use a template to shape the tuiles if you want to be fussy like me, but it’s really not essential. Sprinkle the top of the tuiles with a little sumac and caster sugar. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges.

If you want to bend the tuiles, do this very soon after they come out of the oven (while trying not to burn yourself). I tend to wrap silicone sheets around a rolling pin, glasses or whatever comes to hand and bend the tuiles around them. Once you get the shape you want, leave them in place to cool and set – it won’t take long.
Strawberry
The theme for this month’s Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream challenge over at Kavey Eats is fruit, so I think I can safely enter this effort.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lemon Remoulade

I love classic remoulade made simply with celeriac and a mustardy mayonnaise, but sometimes little variations can be very useful. This particular version is fine on its own but is also good alongside foods that would benefit from a bit of a citrus edge, such as smoked fish. I know that the easiest way to make remoulade is to buy ready-made mayonnaise but, if you have a food processor, then I promise that this mayo is really easy to make and I think it tastes better.

If you'd like to cut down on the amount of fat in this recipe, then you could, of course, buy a reduced fat mayonnaise. Another option, though, is to mix mustard and lemon juice with a natural pouring yogurt to replace the mayonnaise. It's not the same sort of taste but it makes a very pleasing, healthy and refreshing salad all the same.
Remoulade 4
This will give you around 4 portions.

1 small or ½ large celeriac
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp Dijon mustard
For the mayonnaise:
        2 egg yolks
        1 tsp Dijon mustard
        3 tsp lemon juice
        The peel of ¼ of a large preserved lemon, chopped finely
        100 ml sunflower or other neutral oil
        100 ml olive oil

Peel and grate the celeriac finely. Immediately mix the celeriac with the lemon juice and mustard. Season with a generous amount of pepper and set aside. (I prefer to use white pepper because I think it looks better, but it’s not that important.)

Add the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and preserved lemon to a food processor and whiz until smooth. Mix the two oils together and pour them in a slow, steady stream into the processor with the motor running until the mayonnaise has become thick, but not too stiff. You may need a little less or a little more oil each time you make mayonnaise. (The variation in the amount of oil is partly down to egg yolk size, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Maybe it’s Heisenberg’s uncertain mayo theory or just one of life’s little quirks.)

Mix the mayonnaise thoroughly into the celeriac. Again, you may not need it all – it’s a question of personal taste. Adjust the seasoning and chill until needed.

This month's No Croutons Required event, hosted by Jacqueline over at Tinned Tomatoes, is all about leafless salads and so I think this should fit in quite nicely.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Bigoudens

There are a lot of seriously good biscuits in Brittany making use of the excellent local butter. In fact, bigoudens use less butter than many of the other Breton biscuits and, as a result, are crisper and very good for dunking. If you’ve read some of the previous postings in this blog, then you’ll know not to expect true authenticity, but there are a lot of local variations of this recipe, so I don’t feel too bad about offering my version.

The butter in this recipe should really be salted – I’ve got into trouble before for using unsalted butter in Breton recipes and I don’t want any more disapproving looks from the people of Brittany, who are seriously proud of their salted butters. (I think that's enough buttering up now - perhaps I'll be allowed back into Brittany before too long).

You should get somewhere between 20 and 30 biscuits depending on how big you make them. If you can avoid eating them all at once, they do keep well in an airtight tin.
Bigoudens
300g plain flour
100 g salted butter, softened
150 g caster sugar
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten + 1 for glazing
2 tbsp thick crème fraîche or double cream
1 tbsp calvados
100 g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the butter, caster sugar, 2 beaten egg yolks, cream or crème fraîche and calvados and carefully mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon or something like it. Once they’re thoroughly combined, gently work in the ground almonds. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of around 5mm on a lightly floured surface. (This isn’t the easiest dough to handle but it will work if you persist.) Cut into rounds or any other shapes you fancy and place on baking trays lined with silicone sheets or non-stick paper.

Glaze the top of the biscuits by brushing over the remaining egg yolk – this will be easier if you beat the yolk with a few drops of milk. Decorate the tops of the biscuits by dragging a fork across them, if you feel like it. Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, until the tops of the biscuits are a deep golden colour.

Cool the biscuits on a wire rack and store in an airtight tin.