Saturday, 23 February 2013

This Is Not A Gâteau Creusois

Today we make another stop on my annoyingly long tour de cakes de France and find ourselves in the Creuse. The Creuse is a lovely region, although the last time I was there it was around this time of the year and it was really cold. Anyway, it’s there that you’re likely to find examples of a gâteau called ‘Le Creusois’ on sale.

It’s also possible that you’ll find several similar cakes under slightly different names in French supermarkets, as well as a number of versions of gâteau Creusois recipes which people will tell you are the real, authentic recipe that their grand-mère made. They may well be authentic and ancient recipes – I have nothing but the greatest respect for grand-mères – but the particular cake sold as ‘Le Creusois’ was actually born shortly after the Beatles gave their last performance on the Apple roof in 1969. It appears that the gâteau was inspired by a 15th century parchment found in a monastery around that time, although the actual recipe itself is a closely guarded secret.

I have no wish to upset the pâtissiers or any of the other residents of the Creuse with my efforts so let me make it absolutely clear that this is not a Gâteau Creusois, it just happens to be rather like one. Let’s think of it instead as my tribute to that fine region and as a delicious hazelnut cake.
Gateau Creusois or Maybe Not
In the Creuse the gâteau (whatever it’s called) is most often eaten cold as a dessert with crème anglaise or crème fraîche and it’s truly delicious that way. On the other hand, if you want to break with tradition, try making a syrup of equal parts water and sugar, boiled together for a minute or two. Take the syrup off the heat and add a very generous glug of Frangelico liqueur. Once cool, make a few small holes in the top of the cake with a knifepoint and soak it with the syrup. That's what I did and it made the cake sink a little in the middle (a bit like the Creuse) but, in my opinion, it makes an even nicer dessert.

210 g caster sugar
110 g plain flour
110 g ground hazelnuts
120 g butter, softened
1 whole egg
2 egg whites

Grease and line a 23 cm cake tin – a springform tin is probably best, if you have one. (You could use a smaller tin if you want a thicker, more British-looking cake, but I think the thinner gâteau is nicer as a dessert). Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Mix together the sugar, flour and hazelnuts. Thoroughly beat in the softened butter followed by the whole egg.

Whisk the 2 egg whites to the firm peak stage and stir about a third of them into the mixture to loosen it. Gently, but thoroughly, fold in the remaining egg white. Put into the prepared cake tin and level the top. Bake for around 30 minutes (but check after 25 minutes). When the point of a knife or skewer comes out clean, the cake is ready.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Soak with a Frangelico-laced syrup, if you’re so inclined (and I'd certainly recommend it).
Gateau Creusois or Maybe Not

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Country Captain – An Almost Lost Random Recipe

This month Dom of Belleau Kitchen is celebrating the start of the third year of his Random Recipe challenge and has graciously allowed us to select a recipe from our books in any way we choose. As an old hand at this particular challenge I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try some of the books that don’t make the usual selection list.

I decided that the biggest challenge would be to select from the ‘lost’ books. ‘Lost’ in the sense that I did own these books once upon a time but now I have only a few recipes left. A couple of books suffered regrettable kitchen accidents while others haven’t survived house moves or have been loaned out and never returned. I missed these books enough to get photocopies or make notes of some of my favourite recipes from borrowed copies. So with a quick random grab from the pile of scraps I came up with a recipe for Country Captain.

I copied this recipe from a book of British cookery that I had around 1980. (It was last seen somewhere in Tooting at about the time Ultravox released ‘Vienna’). I think it's a fairly accurate transcript of the recipe, although I suspect that I may have lowered the fat content and I have used a convenient can of coconut milk rather than the coconut cream block specified in the original. It's a deeply old-fashioned dish that I think is pretty typical of the sort of recipe that turned up frequently in the 1970s.

I seem to remember the book saying that this dish had its origins during the Raj when British army captains stationed in the Indian countryside would have their cooks prepare mildly curried dishes suitable for Western tastes. This is almost certainly nonsense. Country Captain in one form or another turns up much more frequently in the US than the UK and was probably bought back from India to the US by the captains of trading vessels known as ‘country ships’. Whatever the truth of it, I haven’t made this simple dish for years and I must admit that I enjoyed cooking and eating it a lot. This will serve 4 people, although it’s remarkably easy to eat more  than your fair share.

At this point, I should tell you what the book was called. Sadly, I don’t seem to have written that down anywhere and with the passing of more than 30 years and the consumption of a fair amount of red wine I really can’t remember. If anyone has any idea, I'd love to know.
Country Captain
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
500 g chicken thighs, boned and skinned
400 ml tin coconut milk (reduced fat will work, if you’re being careful)
3 or 4 carrots
2 tbsp smooth mango chutney
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp lime juice

For the spice mix:
     1 tsp ground coriander
     1 tsp ground cumin
     1 tsp ground turmeric
     ½ tsp chilli flakes
     ¼ tsp black pepper
     A generous pinch of ground ginger

Start the onion frying gently in a little oil. After about five minutes add the garlic and the spice mix. Fry briefly then add 300 ml of water. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and let the mixture bubble away gently until most, but not quite all, of the water has evaporated.

Cut each of the chicken thighs in two. Add the chicken pieces to the onion and spice mix and stir them around for a minute or two. Pour in the coconut milk, bring to a simmer, stirring, and allow the mixture to blip away gently for 20 – 30 minutes until the chicken is tender. If the mixture starts to dry out, then cover the pan.

Meanwhile, peel the carrots and cut into smallish chunks. Steam or boil the carrots until just tender. Stir in the cooked carrots, the mango chutney, the sultanas and the lime juice. Season with a little salt. (Although, it’s not in the original recipe, I added a few sliced and cooked mushrooms as well, just because I happened to have some). Return the mixture to a simmer briefly, sprinkle on some fresh coriander if you have any and serve with rice and a selection of chutneys.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Palestine Soup

Palestine soup has nothing whatever to do with Palestine. It seems to have been given that name because it’s made with Jerusalem artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes have nothing whatever to do with Jerusalem and aren't artichokes. Anything that odd just has to be good. In fact, it’s one of my favourite vegetable soups and it so happens that it’s also very easy to make and, thankfully, low in fat.

I first came across Palestine soup in cookery books dating back to the early 1900s, but I think the dish is a fair bit older than that. Most recipes combine the Jerusalem artichokes with turnips or potatoes, which maintain the creamy white colour of the finished soup. I like to add carrot, which provides a nice touch of sweetness but does change the colour. (Unless you can find a heritage variety of white carrot).

A few years ago, Mark Hix published a Palestine soup recipe with some hazelnuts added, inspired by Auguste Escoffier’s ‘Purée de Topinambour’. The hazelnuts enhance the flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes beautifully, so I've borrowed that idea. Clearly Escoffier knew what he was talking about – as does Mark Hix, of course.
Palestine Soup
This will make 3 hearty lunch portions or will serve 4 to 6 as a starter.

½ onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, medium-sized
1 heaped tbsp uncooked basmati or long grain rice
300 ml vegetable stock
150 ml milk (semi-skimmed is fine)
300 g Jerusalem artichokes, prepared weight
Small handful of shelled hazelnuts
A little lemon juice

Add a small amount of oil to a pan and cook the onion gently for at least five minutes until it starts to soften without colouring. Meanwhile, peel and slice the carrots finely. Add the carrot and rice to the pan and pour over the stock and milk. Cover the pan, bring to a simmer and let it gently bubble away for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and slice the Jerusalem artichokes quite finely. Place the slices into water with a little lemon juice added to prevent discolouration. At the end of 20 minutes simmering, add the Jerusalem artichokes to the pan, season with a little salt and pepper (white pepper is best to maintain the colour), cover the pan again and bring back to a simmer. Keep the pot simmering for another 10 – 15 minutes or until the carrots and artichokes are tender.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the hazelnuts. You can do this in a dry pan over a low heat or simply place them in a medium oven for 4 or 5 minutes. Be careful to avoid burning them.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. Add the toasted hazelnuts and liquidise. If you're being very fussy, you can pass the soup through a fine sieve, but I don't usually get that fussy.

Adjust the seasoning and add a dash of lemon juice if it needs it. Croutons are good with this soup, if you fancy them, and a sprinkling of parsley does no harm either. Many recipes finish this soup by adding cream. That does give it a touch of luxury, but I really don't think the soup needs it and I prefer to keep it low in fat.
Jerusalem Artichoke Plants
By the way, Jerusalem artichoke plants are rather like spindly, slightly unsuccessful sunflowers. They’re easy to grow but, since the plants can be very large (10 – 15 feet tall is not unusual), you’ll need a fair bit of space.