Friday, 25 July 2014

Classic Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie must be one of the nicest American imports!  A sweet, nutty pie with a hint of muscovado and golden syrup.  In the States it is made with corn syrup, but in the UK golden syrup makes a delicious substitute.   I made this one for my young Kenyan cousins, who were all but licking the plates – either they liked it very much, or we should have given them spoons and forks!   A lot of the recipes call for the tart base to be baked first.  I didn’t have time to do that, so just put the tart into the oven on a pre-heated baking sheet.  This avoids a soggy bottom, and the pastry is then not over-cooked.

Classic Pecan Pie
Pecan Pie

Pastry made with 8oz/220g flour, 4oz/110g butter, 1 egg, small amount of water
4oz/110g pale muscovado sugar
6floz/175g maple syrup
6floz/175g golden syrup
3oz/75g butter
3 eggs, beaten
1tbsp whisky or bourbon
5oz/150g pecans

Make the pastry in a food processor or by hand (mix the flour with a pinch of salt, add the butter in small pieces, rubbing it in until it looks like breadcrumbs, then add the egg and water to mix).   Chill the pastry for 15 minutes, then roll it out and fill a 9”/23cm loose base flan tin, prick the base with a fork and put the tin in the fridge while you assemble the other ingredients (it is best if you leave it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, but sometimes life’s too short!).

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C, and put a baking sheet in to heat.
In a medium size pan, put the sugar, syrups and butter and stir over a gentle heat until everything melts.   Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then gradually add some of the sugar/syrup mixture, whisking as you go.   Continue adding the sugar/syrup mix, then finally add the whisky/bourbon. 

Tip most of the nuts into the pastry case, keeping a good handful of the more perfect ones.  Put the case onto the pre-heated baking sheet and pour the mixture in before arranging the last pecans on the top. 

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes until the mixture is still a bit wobbly in the middle, but has browned nicely.    It will puff up when it is cooking, and sink down later.  Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream and heaps of whipped cream.   

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Nigella's Lemon Polenta Cake

I love Nigella's recipes, and this Lemon Polenta Cake is not only fabulously moreish and delicious, but gluten free.  It tastes of sunshine, and was just perfect for a day spent singing Telemann cantatas with two friends - gluten-free Helen on the violin/recorder and Matthew playing the spinet.  Bringing really old music to life without hearing it first is an art, just like bringing a recipe to life!  The photo doesn't really do it justice, and I am surprised that it looks a little brown, too, as it wasn't when it left the oven.  Maybe it had a dose of fake bake....  As soon as the the cake comes out of the oven it has an astonishing amount of syrup poured over it, which soaks it in lusciousness.   I'm sure you could also make it dairy-free by using a spread instead of butter, but no guarantees as I haven't tried it!

Nigella's Lemon Polenta Cake

Nigella’s Lemon Polenta Cake

7oz/200g soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
7oz/200g caster sugar
7oz/200g ground almonds
3.5oz/100g fine polenta (I used medium)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder 
3 large eggs
zest of 2 lemons (save juice for syrup)

juice of 2 lemons
4.5oz/125 grams icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line the base of a 23cm/9inch spring clip cake tin with baking parchment.  Grease its sides lightly with butter.

Beat the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy, either with a hand held whisk or
a Kenwood/Kitchen Aid mixer.  Mix together the almonds, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.  This stops the eggs from curdling the sugar/butter mix.

Lastly, add the lemon zest and tip the mixture into your prepared tin.  Nigella suggests you bake it for about 40 minutes, but I found it was ready far sooner – check after 30 (if it looks brown on top but isn’t cooked, protect the top with some foil).    The cake is ready when a skewer or hot knife comes out clean and the edge of the cake begins to shrink away from the tin.    Take the cake out of the oven, leaving in the tin.

Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small saucepan until the icing sugar has dissolved.  Pierce the top of the cake with a cake tester (Nigella’s suggestion, she says a skewer is too wide, but that’s all I had!).  Pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its tin.

I served it with an orange mascarpone cream – mix the juice of half an orange with a tablespoon of icing sugar and an 8oz/220g tub of mascarpone.  

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Little Coffee Éclairs

Stour Puddings isn't complete without some mini éclairs, both coffee and chocolate - just the length of a finger, they are eaten in two delicious bites!   Choux pastry is really not difficult to make - frankly, if I can make it, so can you.  The most important thing when making it is not to use too much liquid - the roux (uncooked mixture) should be stiff, not floppy.  Please note that the recipe quantities below are precise, and need to be followed.   Don’t allow the water to boil much, but, equally, it does need to boil as the heat causes the starch in the flour to expand. 

Coffee Éclairs
Coffee Éclairs

3 ¾ oz/105g plain flour sieved twice with a pinch of salt
3oz/85g butter, cut into cubes
7 ½ fl oz/210ml water
3 small eggs

½ pint/10fl oz double cream
2oz/55g (approx., possibly more) icing sugar
Coffee essence

Put the sieved flour into a small bowl and have ready.  In a medium saucepan put the water and butter.  When the butter has melted, bring the water to the boil, take the pan off the heat and immediately pour in all the flour.  Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it leaves the sides of the pan and is smooth.   This is the roux. 

Let the roux cool slightly, then tip it into a Kenwood or Kitchen-Aid mixer.  Beat up the eggs and add in small quantities, beating on a low speed.  (No mixer? use a strong arm!).   The roux should be smooth and shiny, and hold its shape.  It isn’t necessary to use all the eggs if you think that the last drop will make the roux too soft. 

Heat the oven to 180 deg C and cover two baking sheets with parchment.  Using a ½” pipe, pipe mini éclairs, about the length of your little finger, not putting them too close together on the baking sheet.  With a damp finger, push in the ends (or you get little tails). 

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they are well risen and starting to go brown.  Slit each one at the side, and then put back into a cooler oven for another 5 minutes so that they can dry out.  Cool on a baking rack.   This makes about 30, depending on size.

Cream and Coffee Icing 

Whip approx ½ pint cream and pipe it into each éclair through the opening at the side.   Put the icing sugar into a small bowl, add a tsp of water, and then enough coffee essence (or a dessertspoon of very strong coffee) and mix until the icing is stiff enough to be plastered on each little éclair.   This is a bit imprecise, sorry!  To get a shiny finish, use a round bladed knife or small palette knife, and dip it in a mug of very hot water every now and again.  

Friday, 4 July 2014

Lavender Crème Caramel

No apologies for continuing with the lavender theme - lavender is at its best in July!  This lavender-infused crème caramel was eaten so quickly at Stour Festival that I had trouble taking a photo.... as you can see...

The lavender is steeped in the milk, and then squeezed out, so that the lovely essence infuses the milk before it is baked into a caramel.  An interesting top tip emerged from this - I made a very unsuccessful crème caramel that flopped completely (diagnosis: oven too cold, insufficient cooking).   Seeking not to waste the delicious baked custard, I sieved it to remove the thicker top part, and then poured it into an ice cream maker.  Lo and behold...  Crème Caramel Ice Cream!  In the book of Pudding Rescues (one of my next features, perhaps?) this one was a winner.   As I have said before, failure tastes as good as success - it just has to be presented differently.

Lavender-infused Crème Caramel
Lavender-infused Crème Caramel

4 oz/110g sugar
¼ pint/5floz/145ml water

1 small bunch lavender in flower
1 pint/600ml full fat or semi-skimmed milk
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 150 deg C and boil a kettle of water.   Get a 14cm or larger soufflé dish ready.

In a small strong pan, boil the sugar and water until it forms a caramel – it goes bubbly and brown.  Take off the heat and gently pour it into the soufflé dish, using a heat-proof spatula to get the last delicious scrapings off the pan.   Swirl the dish around slowly while the caramel is setting to get an even coat, with some caramel up the sides.  Leave to get cold and hard.

Pour the milk into a non-stick pan.  Tie the lavender bunch so that it doesn’t fall apart, and add it to the milk.  Warm the milk to roughly blood heat, then pour onto the beaten eggs (and sugar).    Squeeze out the lavender into the mixture – it will go a little blue at this point!   Stir the mixture thoroughly, and then strain it into the soufflé dish.  Put the dish into a baking tin and pour in enough boiling water to go half way up the side.   Bake for approx 1hr, until the caramel is set. 

Remove from the water, then put cling film on the top and refrigerate.  This is best left for at least 24hrs before unmoulding, as the caramel top gently merges into the cooked crème.  

To get it out of the dish successfully (!), run a palette knife round the edge, then put the receiving dish (one with at least 1” sides) on top of the soufflé dish.  Lift both dishes together and then turn them over in one movement.  There should be a gentle flop when the (hopefully undamaged) crème caramel slides onto the serving dish.    Microwave the original dish to loosen up some of the caramel and pour it over the crème.   Add a sprinkling of lavender flowers.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Lavender Shortbread

Have you ever tried using lavender in cooking?   Whilst lavender is more commonly used in beauty products, or for scenting drawers, it is absolutely delicious when used in biscuits, or as an an infusion.   I've been experimenting with various recipes, and this shortbread is not only easy, but really delicious.   Inhaling the scent of the lavender when you open the oven door must be like standing a field in Provence on a hot sunny day....  For best results, make the biscuits very thin, so they snap crisply when eaten.

Lavender Shortbread Biscuits

Lavender Shortbread

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
handful of lavender - pick the flowers off individually

Preheat oven to 170deg C/325 deg F.    Line a large baking sheet with parchment.   Mix together all the ingredients, including the lavender to make 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 .5cm thick, or thinner if possible.   Cut out the shapes 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 10-15 minutes.   When they are done, lift them carefully onto a rack and then dredge them with caster sugar.  

This quantity of ingredients made a whole tray of rounds.