Friday, 30 May 2014

Butterscotch Tart

School dinners.... is there any other expression that arouses such a feeling of distaste?   I went to 9 schools over my life, and the food I remember was pretty universally awful.   Puddings, though, were different.   Butterscotch Tart was the highlight of one particular school's menu, and probably the only thing I missed when I had to move on after two terms.  There would be a serried rank of slightly warm, greyish plates, each with a little square of tart.  Some would fight for the ones with pastry edges, some would fight for the ones that were all tart.  I don't remember having custard with it, but if it was the kind of custard that cracked when it was left, maybe that's why!  When making this, don't add any sugar or egg to the pastry - there are so many calories in the tart itself, a few more would be overkill...

Butterscotch Tart

Butterscotch Tart

4oz/110g butter
8oz/225g plain flour
pinch salt
cold water to mix

10oz/300g butter
10oz/300g Demerara sugar (I used soft brown)
6floz/175ml milk
3oz/75g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 200deg C.     Make the pastry in a 9” flan tin, prick the base and bake blind (this is when you put parchment or foil into the pastry case, then old lentils or rice on top to keep the parchment in place.  Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and cook for a further 5 minutes until the pastry is just browning - all this to avoid a soggy bottom!). 

In a large pan, melt the butter over a low heat, and then add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved.  Then add the milk, slowly, and whisk in the flour.  To avoid lumps, it is best to add the flour gradually, and not at the same time as the milk.   Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and the butterscotch coats the back of a spoon.   Pour this delectable mixture into into the pastry case.   Allow to set, then chill until firm.   Try a piece.  Resist the temptation to have a second piece!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Classic French Macaroons (Macarons) - Delicious Magazine recipe

Fabulously famous French macaroons, or macarons, those elegant little pastel-coloured naughtinesses are the  fancy of the moment.   So I thought I'd have a go, and see what all the fuss is about!  This was my first attempt.  Good points:  The macarons have a good "foot" - that little bubbly section at the base.  They are also more or less even, and the colour and flavour - rose - worked well.  Bad point - the little tails on the top. Classic French macarons have flat shells.   Having looked at many pages on the internet, with conflicting instructions, I think that the answer is to fold the mixture more thoroughly, so that it is more slippery.  However, not too far or they won't rise.  Oh, for heaven's sake!  Back to my original mantra:  the mistakes taste just as good.    Anyway, I took these to a TA evening and they were hoovered up, which says it all.   The recipe below is from Delicious Magazine and, like all their recipes, works well.  One of their cook's tips is to try not to eat them for a day or two, as they crisp up outside but are soft inside - not always possible!  

Rose Flavour Classic French Macaroons

French Macaroons

3 egg whites (preferably ones that have been separated for 3-4 days)
6oz/175g icing sugar
4½ oz/125g ground almonds
2½ oz/75g caster sugar

Food colouring (I used Dr Oetker’s tubes of colour – much the best)
Flavouring essence (I used rose, but you could use anything!)

5oz/150g softened butter
2½ oz/75g icing sugar
(colour and flavour as above)

Preheat the oven to 160 degC.  Line 2 baking sheets with silicone paper/parchment.

In a food processor, blitz the almonds and the icing sugar to a fine mix, then sieve out any remaining lumps.   Whisk the egg white until the soft peaks stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar until it is thick (so if you put some on your finger, the meringue sticks out like a bird’s beak or “bec d’oiseau – these are French, after all!).   The meringue should be glossy.   Add the colouring and flavouring – both to taste – and fold in.   Then fold in half the almond/icing sugar and mix well.  Then the final half.   This bit is counter-intuitive, but you have to fold and cut the mixture with a spatula until it is shiny, and drops like a ribbon if you lift it up on the spatula.  Put into a piping bag with a ½”/1cm nozzle – I usually fold the bag over a jug which keeps it open while you are scooping the mixture into it.    

Pipe small dollops of mixture, about 1 ½”/3cm in diameter, trying not to leave huge tails of mixture (I know, easier said than done!).    Give the baking sheet a sharp tap on the work top to help the macaroons to settle and give them a good foot.  Now leave them to stand for about 30 minutes, as this stops them from cracking in the oven.   Bake for 15 minutes.   Allow to cool on the parchment. 

Beat the filling ingredients together until smooth, adding flavouring and colour.   Sandwich the macaroons together.   Now the most difficult bit of all – if you can, wait for a day or two before eating them, as they will then achieve the classic texture – soft inside and crisp outside.    Makes about 20 or so (completed).

Friday, 23 May 2014

Polpo's Saffron Pears with Meringue

One of my sons gave me the most fabulous cookbook at Christmas, which has been an inspiration.  Polpo is a visual feast of Venetian and Italian recipes, and its puddings are simple and delicious.  This is one of them - a lovely confection of poached pears and meringue with a delicately flavoured syrup.  For some reason, the saffron I was brought back from Africa (also thanks Alexander!) gives everything a beautiful rose-pink colour instead of the traditional yellow.  The original meringue quantity in the recipe was enormous, so I have halved it below.  You do need to use firm pears - mine were too soft, which is why they look a little rustic!

Saffron Pears with Meringue

Saffron Pears with Meringue

4 egg whites
8oz/225g caster sugar

8 floz/250ml white wine
7oz/200g caster sugar
6 firm pears
Pinch of saffron

6floz/200ml whipping cream (I prefer to use double!)

Preheat the oven to 130 deg C and line two baking sheets with parchment.  Whisk the eggs until they form stiff peaks, then add the sugar slowly (as the meringue weeps otherwise!).  The mixture should be stiff and glossy when you have finished. 

Their great tip is to stick the edges of the paper down with a little mixture, which stops the parchment from lifting.   Make six nests of meringue with a spoon/pipe six nests using a ½” pipe (no, I couldn't be bothered either).   Bake for about 1.5 hours until the meringues sound hollow when tapped at the base.  Leave to cool.

Put the sugar, wine and 3 pints/1.5 litres of water into a pan wide enough to take the pears side by side.   Stir until the sugar dissolves, then leave the liquid bubbling while you peel the pears, leaving the stalks on.  As you prepare each pear, drop it straight into the simmering syrup.  Add the pinch of saffron and simmer on a low heat until the pears are soft (the recipe said 1 hour, I reckon 20-30 mins!).  Remove from the heat and allow the pears to cool.  Fast boil the liquid to reduce it to a syrup.    When the pears are cool, remove the cores and quarter them, keeping the tops attached to the stalk (be warned: this is nearly impossible!).

Whip the cream, put the cream onto each meringue nest and drape the pears over in an elegant fashion.  Pour some syrup over each and decorate with a few strands of saffron.  

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Gingernut Biscuits

Oh, sometimes it is fabulous to recreate much-loved biscuits and discover that they taste even better than from the packet!  Boasting aside, these gingernuts are incredibly easy and quick to make, and use only storecupboard ingredients.  In fact, I worked out it is quicker to make them than drive to the shops to buy them.  How's that for convenience?   The recipe below (borrowed from Delia Smith) makes 16 beautiful biscuits, which probably isn't as many as a packet, and they are very light and crisp - ideal partners for ginger ice cream (which I will be blogging shortly) or rhubarb compote.  Haven't tested them gluten free, sorry.

Gingernut Biscuits

Gingernut Biscuits

4oz/110g self raising flour
1 rounded tsp ground ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ oz/40g granulated sugar
2oz/50g softened butter (Delia uses margarine)
2 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 190 deg C, and grease (or parchment) 2 baking sheets.

Sift the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl, add the sugar, and then lightly rub in the butter/margarine until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs.   Add the syrup and mix up until you have a stiff paste. 

Divide the mixture into 16 pieces of similar size, rolling each one into a ball.  When you put them onto the baking sheet, leave room for expansion – so about 8 per sheet, max.   Flatten each one with the back of a spoon or a dry hand.     Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown, spread and slightly cracked (Delia suggests putting them just above the centre of the oven, so I did them in two batches).   

Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.   You are supposed to store them in an airtight tin so they don’t go soft.   Did you know that the difference between biscuits and cakes is that biscuits go soft when stale and cakes go hard? 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding

One of my favourite food writers, Xanthe Clay, wrote a wonderful article in April's Delicious Magazine about using perfect ingredients.  You may be surprised to hear that she champions older ingredients and left-overs, arguing that over-ripe fruit has better flavour than fresh, and a good cook can make something good out of anything.   I so agree!  My boys tease me for using up leftovers (that old joke: "My mum fed us on leftovers for 20 years;  the original meal was never traced" is brought out regularly at home), but they are surely the best source of culinary ingenuity, stopping short of food poisoning...   With this view in mind, when I discovered some home made hot cross buns lurking in an overlooked tin, I decided to test the boundaries and turn them into a bread and butter pudding.  Reader, they were delicious!    You need to make more custard than you would for fresher bread or brioche, as the buns really needed to hoover up lots of juice - as you can see below -  but they tasted fantastic.

Hot Cross Bun  Bread and Butter Pudding

Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding  

4 hot cross buns
2 eggs
1oz/25g sugar
½ pint milk
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp caster sugar

Oven 180 deg C

Cut the buns in half and butter them.   Reassemble and then cut again, to allow the custard to soak up into each bun.   Arrange in a buttered oven proof dish.  In a jug, beat up the eggs, sugar and milk, and pour it over the buns.  Allow to soak for about 10 minutes or more – if the buns are very stale, they will take up a lot of the mixture.   If it has all vanished and you like a good proportion of custard to bun, make up a half quantity and repeat the exercise.

Dust with the cinnamon and caster sugar and bung into the oven.   It takes about 15- 20 minutes to cook. 

Serve with cream or yoghurt.    

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Chocolate and Pistachio Biscuits

The only problem with making biscuits is that they are just too tempting....   you know they won't last!   These chocolate and pistachio biscuits were recently featured in the Times Magazine, and were, I felt, a fitting choice for a TA weekend as the colours looked perfect with our uniforms!   Actually, they are delicious, and very, very easy to make.   I made these ones gluten free, but ordinary flour works too. The recipe calls for blanched pistachios - that sounded like too much hard work, so I used them straight from the packet.  Salted ones might be a bit strange, though....

Chocolate and Pistachio Biscuits

Chocolate and Pistachio Biscuits

8oz/220g butter, softened
2.5oz/80g icing sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
10oz/280g flour (rice flour works beautifully)
1oz/30g cocoa powder
2.5oz/80g whole blanched pistachios

Blend together the butter, sugar and salt, adding the egg, flour and cocoa powder.  Lastly, add the nuts (if you are using a mixer, put them in at the last moment, or the mixer’s blade cuts them up too much).  Chill the dough for an hour. 

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a long sausage about 1.5”/3cm diameter – I found this worked best being rolled in a piece of baking parchment, so your hands didn’t get sticky and the dough didn’t get caught on the work surface.   Put back in the fridge for 10 minutes and preheat the oven to 190 deg C.  

Cut the dough into ¼”/5mm slices (I used a serrated knife to get through the nuts).    Put the rounds onto a baking tray (more parchment here really helps!), and cook for about 10-12 minutes.  The recipe says it makes 50.    I reckon about 45 is more accurate.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Lemon Cream and Shortbread Biscuits

The current series of Masterchef is having a terrible influence on me - I keep coming over all "cheffy" by trying to make my puddings look professional instead of just home made.  The current vogue is for a swoosh of some kind on the plate - a purée or a coulis (and why can't they just say sauce???) artfully highlighting the beautiful food - you know what I mean.  This is harder to achieve than you think!  Most of mine ended up looking as though you've swiped a spoon over the plate by accident and didn't have time to wipe it off.... here is the best. 

Lemon, basil and strawberry work very well together, and the crisp shortbread biscuits are a lovely contrast to the unctuous cream.   Assembled in seconds - just in time for the next Masterchef programme!

Lemon Cream and Shortbread with a strawberry coulis


5oz/150g plain flour
3 level tbsps rice flour – if no rice flour, substitute plain flour
2oz/50g caster sugar
4oz/100g butter at just above room temperature

Preheat oven to 170deg C/325 deg F.    Grease a large baking sheet.   Mix together the flours and the sugar.    Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients.   It will form a dryish dough, which you knead a little before rolling (this stretches the gluten and makes the biscuit stick together better).  

Roll out the dough between two pieces of greaseproof parchment, about 5mm thick.   Cut out the circles and transfer using a fish slice to the baking sheet.   Bake until golden – the butter in the mixture will brown while your back is turned, so check it frequently after 15 minutes or so.   They firm up when they are cool.   When they are done, dredge them with caster sugar.  

This quantity made 18 biscuits - they store well in an airtight tin.   

Lemon Cream

1 pint/540ml double cream
2 small jars home made lemon curd/1 larger jar commercial curd

Pour the cream into a large bowl and stir in the curd.  This should thicken immediately.  If not, whip the mixture lightly.    

Strawberry Coulis
Blend some overripe strawberries (approx 6oz/180g) with a tablespoon of icing sugar.  "Swoosh" artistically around the plate.  Job done! 

The final Pudding 
Assemble the pudding by dolloping layers of cream in between the shortbread rounds - 3 is probably enough.  Decorate with basil and icing sugar before adding the strawberry coulis as artistically as you know how. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Elderflower and Almond Cake

This cake by Lucas Hollweg (courtesy of the Sunday Times Magazine), has become an instant hit with my TA friends on its first outing!  Although I detest the word "moist", there is no other way properly to describe this fabulous cake.  I made it with a gluten-free flour blend, which worked brilliantly, plus my own elderflower cordial and home-laid eggs (how boastful is that!).   The concept of stopping armed conflict at 4pm for tea and cake is one we all felt should be encouraged, as it boosts morale and sugar levels, enabling that final surge of energy before the evening.   It is also quintessentially English, in fact, as English as afternoon tea...  

Elderflower and Almond Cake - Lucas Hollweg's recipe

Elderflower and Almond Cake

8oz/225g softened butter
2oz/50g self-raising flour (or a blend)
1 level tsp baking powder
7oz/200g ground almonds
8oz/225g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs, beaten
finely grated zest of a lemon

Syrup and Icing:
160ml undiluted elderflower cordial
juice of the lemon
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
5 ½ fl oz/150ml mascarpone
5 fl oz/150ml double cream
handful of chopped pistachios

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C, and line a 23cm springform cake tin with parchment, and grease with butter (I now use Dr Oetker’s cake release spray, it’s magic!) .   Mix together the flour, baking powder and ground almonds.  Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy.  Add the eggs slowly, beating well after each one (you can add 1 tbsp of the flour at the same time to stop the mix curdling).  Add the remaining flour, and beat it in quickly.

Pour the batter into the tin, and bake for approx 40-45 minutes until it is well risen and golden, or until a warm skewer comes out clean.  Slow is best, so don't be afraid to cook it longer.  If it starts to brown on the top, cover loosely with a sheet of foil.

While the cake is cooking, mix 3 ½ oz/100ml cordial with the lemon juice and 1tbsp sugar.   Remove the cake from the oven, leave it in the tin, then spike it all over and pour the syrup onto it, making sure it is evenly drenched.  You won’t believe how much liquid one cake can absorb!  Leave it to cool in the tin, then gently remove – it will be very moist.

To make the icing, whisk the mascarpone with the remaining cordial until smooth, before adding the cream and whisking it again to make a softly thick but spreadable icing.  Cover the top of the cake and scatter with chopped pistachios. 

If you like this recipe, why not let me know how you got on?  I'm also on Facebook "Kate's Puddings" and Twitter @katespuddings.  My cookbook is on sale via my website 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Pears Poached In Red Wine

I do so love poached pears!  This recipe takes me straight back to lazy summer holidays in the Dordogne, where I was allowed to cook for my grandparents.  There were pluses - great food in the markets, a Cordon Bleu cookbook and an appreciative audience.  There were minuses - no weighing scales, hardly any equipment and the kind of phrase book that asked the chambermaid to bring more candles.....  But, for me, the food has never tasted better -  I used to slave away in the kitchen and carry it outside where we would eat under the walnut trees, with the sounds of cicadas and the gentle hum of mosquitoes.

Poires au Vin Rouge

Poires au Vin Rouge

5-6 small ripe pears
¼ pint/100ml water
¼ pint/100ml claret or burgundy (anything red will do)
5oz/150g sugar
1 strip of lemon rind
1 stick of cinnamon (“cannelle” in French!)
1 tsp arrowroot or cornflour
1oz/30g flaked almonds, toasted

Put the sugar, water, wine, cinnamon and lemon peel into a pan wide enough to take the pears side by side.   Stir until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil for a minute.  Peel and halve the pears, removing the cores (the original recipe said to leave them whole).  As you prepare each pear, drop it straight into the simmering syrup.

Cover the pan with a circle of greaseproof paper and put the lid on top.  Simmer away gently until the pears are tender, approximately 20-30min, spooning the syrup over them every now and then.

Once the pears are cooked, lift them out of the pan using a slotted spoon and arrange them in a single layer, cut side down, in a serving dish.   If the syrup is quite thick, pour over the top.   Alternatively, you can reduce the syrup by boiling it for longer – you should aim for about ½ pint/210ml.   Mix the arrowroot/cornflour with a little water, then add it to the syrup and bring it to the boil, stirring.  Cook until it is clear (it doesn’t tend to clear with cornflour).  Pour the sauce over the pears and scatter the almonds on top - I added some orange zest. Serve chilled with lashings of fresh cream (and the French soured cream was a horrible surprise!).