Friday, 21 February 2014

The Bombe?

Last weekend I had a conversation about an alternative to trifle, which lead to the invention of the Swiss-roll, jelly, Angel Delight (or S-JAD) bombe.

Given that I had some time on my hands today and access to all the required elements I just had to give it a go.

Firstly, I covered a large glass bowl in cling film and packed two raspberry Swiss roll-worth of slices tightly in.

Next, I made up a strawberry jelly using just half the recommended amount of water. The jelly was to be the mortar of my cakey igloo, so I needed it to have the requisite structural integrity. This was poured over the Swiss-roll slices.

I swathed a desert bowl in cling film and weighted it down on the jelly, forcing the liquid up the sides of the bowl. I left this in place whilst he jelly set in the refrigerator.

Once the jelly had set, I removed the dessert bowl and poured in a strawberry Angel Delight. Again it was left to set.

I managed to turn the whole thing out onto a serving dish. I was a little disappointed that it didn't quite hold it's shape as well as I has hoped. The first thing that comes to mind is The Blob, obviously.

I'm not sure the end result was quite worth the effort. Quite simply it tasted like jellified Swiss-roll with Angel Delight. Not quite the off-the-shelf gastronomic delight I had dreamed of. Still as they say, "nothing ventured, nothing gained".

Friday, 7 February 2014

Baked Alaska

The old work gang of Hammers came over tonight, for what turned out to be, a very civilised Friday evening. 

It was styled as the first part of a Come Dine With Me quadrilogy. I'd planned a pretty good seasonal three courses:

Jerusalem artichoke soup
Roast chicken with all the trimmings
Baked Alaska

It all went rather well. The soup bought a hush to the dining room for the first time since everyone arrived. A good sign.

The roast chicken was also well received. Quite an accomplishment for a Friday night post-work affair, I thought given that not only was a chicken roasted it was accompanied by roast potatoes (obviously), lemon carrots, purple-sprouting broccoli and celeriac purée. I even managed to make a decent gravy from the roasting juices, which is a first for me.

However, clearly the most interesting part of the evening (well for me anyway) was the dessert of baked Alaska. Given the fact that the whole gang seemed to have given up the ghost and decanted to the sofa to adjust their waist bands and digest, I wasn't entirely sure I was going to get the chance to make it. It would have been a tad frustrating having been up the night before making the sponge base, roasting the rhubarb and defrosting egg whites. Thankfully sense, or was it just plain greed, prevailed.

This is a pud of contrasts. The light ginger sponge as the base, which had a delicate warmth, worked well with the fruity rhubarb. The sweet meringue was offset by the tartness of rhubarb. The combination of temperatures and textures worked remarkably well.

I was going to make a separate orange sauce to accompany it but held-off as it seemed that that might just push everyone over the edge.

I'm not sure there's much of a recipe to give for the Baked Alaska, it's more of an assembly job, unless you're making all the individual components. What I did was make an 8" Victoria sponge (using the usual 2444 mix) with a teaspoon of ground ginger. I used my usual recipe to roast about a pound of forced rhubarb.

Just before assembly I made the meringue. Four egg white were whisked until stiff then 7oz of caster sugar gradually added until the meringue was glossy and stiff. To assemble, the cake base was first put on a roasting tray. The juices from the rhubarb were brushed over the cake then the rhubarb spread all over in a single layer. Next softened vanilla ice-cream was piled on. (You should really put it back in the freezer for 10 minutes or so before doing anything else.). The the meringue was slathered over everything making sure that there were no gaps. The pud was then baked for 10mins at 200°C until brown. (I used a blow torch to add some extra depth of colour).

You have to serve this pretty quickly. It also needs easting all in one go, so make sure you've got plenty of people around who are still hungry! (Mind you I did toy with making individual ones, which may have been more elegant and slightly less extravagant.)

PS. This is what my dinner the following night, made with the left-overs, looked like. It was just as tasty especially with the potatoes and chicken  fried in goose fat...

Sunday, 2 February 2014

My first fruit cake

Today I delivered my first ever fruit cake. I know. I was as surprised as you when I realised I hadn't ever made a fruit cake before.

I didn't really know where to begin for a recipe. There seems to be some quite a lot of dull recipes that basically just mix fruit and a load of flour - no wonder they are "heavy". Remarkably the recipes are incredibly similar. There also seemed to be some variation between a fruit cake and a Christmas cake, with the latter having a much more interesting set of ingredients. (Why can't you have a "Christmas" fruit cake any time of the year?) I stumbled upon a recipe for ale cake and since I wanted a cake that had more than a hint of booze (it was for my friend's dad as a thank-you for some no longer used bake-ware) this is what I went with.

It turned out very well. The fruit was incredibly juicy, (as well they should be having absorbed half a pint of ale!) leading to a very moist cake. It had a complexity and deepness to it that was remarkable. The topping was a sweet hit that served to break up the homogeneity of the cake very well. Ultimately it could be described as very satisfying!

Recipe for Ale Cake (adapted from Women's hour)

For the cake:
225g raisins
225g sultanas
350g currants
75g citrus peel
250ml strong English ale
225g butter
225g dark brown muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
4 eggs
225g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
Zest of one lemon
For the icing:
75ml evaporated milk
3oz caster sugar
Egg yolk
1.5oz butter
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1oz dessicated coconut
2oz mixed fruit and nuts, chopped

1. In a large bowl, steep the fruits and the citrus peel in the ale, leaving it for at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, beat in the treacle and then slowly add the eggs
3. Fold in the flour and spice, until thoroughly mixed together.
4. Stir in the steeped fruits
5. Pile the mixture into a greased and lined 8" round cake tin.
6. Bake in the centre of the oven for one hour at 160°C (the original recipe states 180°C but this is too high and leads to the cake getting far too brown too quickly). Reduce the temperature to 120°C for a further 2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly. Leave to cool.
7. For the icing mix the milk, egg yolk, sugar, butter and vanilla extract in a small pan over a low heat. Stir continuously until the mixture thickens, approx. 12 mins.
8. Remove from the heat.
9. Beat in the fruit and nuts and coconut. Continue until the mixture has cooled and thickened to a spreading consistency.
10. Slather all over the cool cake and allow to cool completely.

NB. The cake can be stored before being iced. To store wrap first in baking paper then in foil and place in an air-tight container.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Thing you buy, not make.

What do these items on the right have in common?

Well, they are things you buy rather than make. Apparently.

This came up during a pre-Christmas Sunday pub lunch, where the topic of conversation turned to crumpets. I'm not sure why (maybe because I'd made some that morning). This lead to a conversation about things that you buy not make and consequently a culinary challenge.

Tonight saw me prove that you really can make everything. Putting a menu together really was quite difficult. Just how do you feature the teatime treat of crumpets into a dinner menu? My only option was a multi-course tasting menu, so (as you may have guessed from the picture) we ended up having:

Vegetable crisps and red pepper houmous
Baked beans on toast
Fish fingers
Scotch Eggs
Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

Vegetable crisps and red pepper houmous
I've wanted to make vegetable crisps for ages and was very pleased that these turned out really well. I made a variety of root vegetables and seasonings: carrot and cinnamon (depth of flavour), parsnip and cumin (spicy and sweet), sweet potato and smoked paprika (smoky and sweet). Using both a mandolin and a peeler to make different crisps gave an interesting mix of textures. Unfortunately the strength of the red pepper houmous was too much for the crisps (especially the more delicate "peeler" crisps; it over-powered rather than supported.

Baked beans on toast

I got the recipe for these beans from Tom Kerridge and his recent "Proper Pub Food" programme/book. They are quite acidic which tends to over-power the other flavours. I think if I made them again I would reduce the amount of red wine vinegar. I also made the bread (obviously!), which, given it was the first loaf I'd made for quite some time, turned out very well.

Fish fingers

I dissected a cod loin to make the fish fingers. I was going to carefully craft "proper" finger shapes but we came to an agreed position that that would actually be a waste of fish, so we had fish "snowmen". Obviously I made the tartare sauce as well.

Scotch eggs

The main event. I had a practice run a few days before and was quietly confident that these would be a success. They were. The lightly spiced pork, enveloped in a crispy breadcrumb layer with a still runny yolk hiding beneath it all. It was a deeply savoury treat but at the same time delicate. Having it hot really does make a difference in turning it into something of a gastronomic treat far beyond a cold snack. Paul's Plum Sauce (a Christmas present) was a very well-balanced fruity and tangy accompaniment.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
I'd originally been set a challenge of making Revels, but time was against me and I didn't really know how to make revels into a proper dessert. Given the A and K's delight in peanut butter, I went for a super-sized Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. It was a chocolate pastry case with a peanut butter cream filling topped with ganache. The level of conversation declined quite considerably when I put this on the table, so I think it went down well. 

My version was more "grown-up" than the American confection. It wasn't quite so sweet, with the the bitter topping a good foil to the silky rich filling (opposed to the chalky Reese's interior). There combination of textures was also rather moreish.

The whole evening, although slightly stressful, went very well with all the food well received (despite "bean suspicions"). Although we did realise that it was a very "orange" feast, as most processed foods seem to be. Anyway, another challenge successfully taken on. Definitely the hardest yet. On to the recipes:

Vegetable crisps and red pepper houmous

No recipe here. Just make houmous as usual (chickpeas, tahini, lemon, olive oil, garlic, seasoning) adding as few or as many pepperdew peppers to suit your taste.

Baked beans on toast (taken from Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food) - serves 4

1 tin haricot or flageolet beans, drained and rinsed
100g smoked streaky bacon, diced
100g onions, finely chopped
Garlic clove, minced
1 can chopped tomatoes
1tbsp tomato puree
75g soft dark brown sugar
100ml red wine vinegar
250ml water

1. Heat some oil in a large casserole and fry the bacon until crisp.
2. Add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.
3. Add the vinegar and de-glaze the pan.
4. Add all the remaining ingredients (apart from the beans) and bring to the boil.
5. Add the beans and simmer over a low heat for 1.5-2h until the sauce is thick and the beans soft.
6. Serve on slices of buttered toast.

Fish fingers and tartare sauce
I'm not sure there's much of a recipe for the fish fingers. Simply cut some fish into suitable pieces, dust in seasoned flour, douse in beaten egg and then cover liberally with breadcrumbs. Fry gently until the coating is crisp.

There's slightly more to tartar sauce though.

Egg yolk
1tsp Dijon mustard
Flavourless oil
Gherkins, chopped finely (I used cornichons)
Lemon juice

1. Mix the egg yolk and mustard together in a bowl.
2. Gradually whisk oil into the egg mix until the desired quantity and consistency is reached.
3. Add the capers, gherkins and parsley to taste.
4. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Scotch Eggs (taken from Heston's recipe)

10 medium egg
450g good-quality sausages, skins removed
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cornflour
45g Dijon mustard
Plain flour, seasoned
125g breadcrumbs

1. Put 8 eggs into a pan in which they fit in a single layer. Add enough cold water to cover the eggs by 3cm and cover with a lid then place the pan over a high heat.
2. Once the water comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and allow to stand for 3 minutes. In the meantime, fill a bowl with ice and cold water and after the 3 minutes, transfer the eggs to the iced water.
3. Leave to cool for 10–15 minutes.
4. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, carefully peel off the shells using a teaspoon.
5. Place the sausagemeat in a food processor with the smoked paprika, cornflour, mustard, and a splash of cold water. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and blitz together. Divide into eight balls, approximately 55g per portion.
6. Flatten each portion of sausagemeat between two sheets of clingfilm into a circle, then remove the top layer of clingfilm. Place an egg in the centre of each sausage meat circle. Wrap the sausage meat around the egg, by bringing all of the edges together and twist the top of the clingfilm. Press the edges to seal but don’t press too hard. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes.
7. Roll each coated egg in the seasoned flour, then dip it the remaining beaten eggs. Finally, roll it in the breadcrumbs, making sure that all sides are coated. Place the eggs in the fridge for 15 minutes.
8. Fry the Scotch eggs until golden brown in a deep fat fryer at 190º.
9. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a baking tray.
10. When all the eggs have been fried, place in the oven for 10 minutes at 190ºC

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (This came from A Cozy Kitchen, sorry about the American cups...)

For the crust:
4oz butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
For the filling:
3oz butter, room temperature
3/4 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsp double cream
For the topping:
75ml double cream
75g dark chocolate, broken in to pieces
0.5oz butter
Maldon sea salt

1. To make the pastry cream the butter and sugar until combined. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Sift in flour and cocoa powder, and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and form it into a disk; wrap well in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
2. Preheat oven to 160°C. Between two sheets of lightly floured parchment paper, roll the tart dough into a 14-inch circle. Gently transfer dough to a 9 1/2-inch tart pan. Press the dough into the tart pan, trimming away any excess dough. Chill the tart shell in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
3. Line the tart shell with a piece of parchment paper, and fill with pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and its contents, and bake until the pastry looks dry and set, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.
4. To make the filling, beat together the ingredients until smooth.
5. Fill the cooled tart crust with the peanut butter mixture and smooth top. Chill for 30 minutes to set.
6. Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chocolate, cream and butter in a bain marie and heat until the chocolate melts. Pour some the glaze over the tart while still (just) warm.
Top with a few sprinkles of sea salt and serve.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Banana loaf

What better way to herald a (hopefully regular) return to blogging than with a cake recipe? Clearly there are more articles on here relating to cake than anything else.

I've many things to update since my last post (to be detailed in a forthcoming post) not least that I have returned to the place of operation of the ICCHFC and with that a cake request. My cake "prowess" was much vaunted by a former colleague who couldn't believe that I hadn't supplied cake yet. Consequently she practically demanded a banana cake.

Who am I to disappoint? After a week for banana-ripening this was my riposte:

Clearly I couldn't just turn up with a bog-standard banana loaf. Mine was enhanced with a banana cream filling and topped with a rich ganache and some chewy banana coins.

I'm pleased to say it went down rather well. So much so that the requester actually took a break from a meeting for cake sampling.

This was a tried and tested recipe but it wasn't hit-you-in-the-face banana-y, as it has been before. I suspect banana ripeness is the crucial factor. Previously I've used bananas that are so mottled with brown spots they've practically walked out of the fruit dish. This time I didn't use such ripened fruit having read somewhere that the ripeness wasn't actually a string determining factor in imparting banana flavour. I disagree.

Anyhoo, despite me also thinking that it was a tad over-baked, it was still a good experiment. The banana cream adds a burst of freshness and a hit of banana. The chocolate topping is good but one could suggest that ganache may be too rich and over-powering in the quantity I used. I think it needs a light covering instead of a generous slathering. The banana coins were a good addition giving a textural element to the cake.

Anyway on to the recipe that I would use next time (including the reduced ganache quantities).

Banana loaf recipe

3 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 tbsp honey
8oz plain flour
4oz butter, softened
4oz Muscavado sugar
1.5tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2oz banana coins, roughly chopped to decorate
For the banana cream filling:
75ml double cream
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2tbsp icing sugar, sifted
Squeeze lemon juice
For the chocolate ganache topping:
50ml double cream
50g dark chocolate
1/2oz butter

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time (add a little flour to prevent curdling), and the honey.
3. Mash the bananas but be sure to leave some large-ish lumps.
4. Gently stir in the bananas and chocolate.
5. Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarb and fold in until combined.
6. Pour the the mix into a buttered and lined 2lb loaf tin (add a little milk to loosen the batter, if necessary)
7. Bake at 175°C for 30mins then cover with foil. Continue to bake and check every 15mins until done (a skewer comes out clean)
8. Meanwhile to make the banana cream gently whip the cream to the soft peak stage. Add all the other ingredients and gently combine. (NB. Add the sugar, vanilla to taste).
9. Once the loaf has baked and cooled. Split horizontally and sandwich together with the banana cream.
10. To make the chocolate ganache, heat the chocolate, cream and butter in a bain marie until the chocolate has melted. Stir to ensure all the ingredients are fully combined the refridgerate until the mix has thickened to a spreadable conssitency.
11. Slather the chocolate icing all over the top of the cake and douse liberally with banana pieces to finish.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pied a Terre

I went for lunch today at Pied à Terre which " reportedly one of London's best value lunch menus for Michelin star dining.". Unfortunately, it was so good it didn't actually end up being as bargainous as I thought. Now, I don't mean that in a derogatory way. Far from it. It exceeded my expectations for a lunch by so much we were there for over two hours savouring every bite.

We should have realised this was going to be no ordinary lunch as soon as the fresh truffle croquette (a delightful crispy, earthy mouthful) and scallop ball appeared. Canapés at a lunch? With truffle? My my.

Now gnocchi are one of my (many) weaknesses, so there was simply no chance of me not having the chestnut gnocchi. They were billowy pillows lightly fried anointed with Parmesan. The mushroom vinaigrette and the slivers of spring truffle accompanied them perfectly. It made for quite an autumnal dish but so delicate it was perfect for a mild June afternoon.

I'd had a quick perusal of the menu on-line before going and had decided on the rabbit for the main course. Unfortunately it had been replaced by pork belly, the ubiquity of which is making less of an automatic choice. Instead I had to "make-do" with the perfectly roasted fillet of sea-bream. This came with salt baked celeriac and a silky smooth asparagus and Parmesan cream. Delicious.

Oh and the bread! At least five freshly-baked (as in still-warm-from-the-oven) types continuously offered during the first two courses. Are you sure this is the set lunch?

By now dessert was a foregone conclusion. But first, of course, the pre-dessert, a pair of sublime quenelles: coconut ice cream and mango sorbet. The white chocolate tart with poached rhubarb and a rhubarb sorbet that followed wasn't bad either. The tart was actually a white chocolate custard tart with a brûléed top, not what I was expecting but perfectly executed: thin crisp pastry, a layer of rhubarb purée and a ridiculously smooth and just barely set centre.

Coffee was accompanied by a seemingly never ending selection of petits fours: a mango jelly, lemon tart, white chocolate fudge, fresh cinnamon doughnuts and a coconut truffle. And don't forget this was just lunch. Seriously.

The service throughout was impeccable and friendly. A simply faultless meal exceeding all expectations. What a lunch. I need to find an "excuse to go again". You simply must go if you have any appreciation for good food. But just don't go expecting to have "just" the set lunch...

Pied à Terre on Urbanspoon

Tasty Art

Tasty Art specialise in food-based art. That is art featuring, not made of, food.

They specialise in London-based artists and feature photographers and artists. It looks like I finally have a reason to do some interior design...
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