Monday, 30 November 2015

Ecclefechan Tart

Go on, say it - it's Ecclefechan good!  I've just had a great time doing a radio broadcast on Share Radio UK (a digital radio station) talking about Christmas preparation.  On the basis that talking about cooking meant I couldn't turn up empty handed, I brought several different brandy butters to try, plus meringues, toffee, chocolate and lemon sauces, mini mince pies and this tart, by special request of the wonderful Jules Serkin, the Share Food Show's presenter.  There was quite a feast in the green room....   and pictures to prove it!

This Ecclefechan Tart is from a fabulous recipe by one of my all-time heroines, Claire Macdonald.  It is named after a village in Dumfries and Galloway, and is lip-smackingly delicious.   The tart I made would have been amazing, had it not had a train journey....  Also, a top tip for you would be to make sure that the butter/sugar/cream mixture is the same consistency all the way through - mine had a few lumps where the beaters had missed bits, and they formed bubbles, as you can CLEARLY see below. Oops!   It did, however, taste Ecclefechan amazing...

Ecclefechan Tart

4 ½ oz/125g butter
8 ½ oz/250g plain flour
pinch salt
2 fl oz/50ml whisky

5oz/150g butter (preferably unsalted) at room temperature
5oz/150g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
5 floz/150ml double cream
Good tablespoon of black treacle
10 ½ oz/300g mixed dried fruit – raisins, cranberries etc
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
Zest 1 lemon and 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180deg C.     Make the pastry (in a food processor, add the butter to the flour and salt, process  until it looks like crumbs, add the whisky, but don’t over-process it).   For best results, put the pastry in a ball into the fridge for 20 minutes, then roll out into a 10” (25cm) loose bottomed flan tin and prick the base lightly.   You can refrigerate it again for another 20 minutes.   

Bake blind – put a sheet of greaseproof paper into the case, and fill it with dried pasta/beans/lentils.   Try to make sure they come up the sides of the case as well.   Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the paper and bake the case for a further 5 minutes to dry it out.    

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs slowly until smooth.  Lastly, beat in the cream.   Tip the black treacle into the base and spread it all over (I heated the tin in a bowl of boiling water so it was slightly more malleable).  Put the dried fruit and stem ginger in next, adding the orange and lemon zest before finally pouring on the tart mixture.    Tap the tart a couple of times so that everything levels out and you don’t have any protruding raisins (as I did!).

Bake at 180 deg C for 30-35 minutes until the filling is just set, or golden brown.  Protect with baking paper if it is getting too brown too quickly.

Cool the tart for about 30 minutes.  Serve with whipped cream spiked with ginger syrup and a bit of treacle.  

Friday, 20 November 2015

Easy Christmas Cake

There are two types of Christmas cake - unhealthy and very unhealthy...  This is an easy version for the time-pressed, marzipan-hating cook, and it is very simple to make.  If you are inspired, and have time, just omit the top fruit and glaze, and go for the full unhealthy option with marzipan and Royal Icing - I'll blog that next year when I have time!

Christmas cake is best cooked low and slow.  I also like to soak my fruit in tea for a day beforehand, so the little dried offerings regain their plumpness (especially useful if the fruit looks less appealing than it should do!).   It is Stir Up Sunday this weekend, the traditional (Victorian, anyway) time for cooks to make their Christmas cake and puddings.   It's a reference to the Collect for the last Sunday before Advent, which starts "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people".

The timings for this kind of cake vary.  My original recipe (very old Good Housekeeping) said 150 deg for 3 3/4 hrs, but I've found 2- 2 1/2 hrs is enough, even at a lower temperature.  You know your oven.  Just watch it carefully, and make sure you put foil or paper over the top to stop it from going too brown.

Easy Christmas Cake
Easy Christmas Cake

1 ½ lb/675g equal quantities raisins, sultanas and currants
4oz/110g mixed peel OR 1 ¾ lb/800g mixed dried fruit
4oz/110g glacé cherries, halved
2oz/50g blanched almonds
8oz/225g butter at room temperature
8oz/225g soft brown sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange
8oz/225g plain flour
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp ground mace, 1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsps brandy

Topping - approximate:
2-3oz/50-75g glacé cherries, halved
2oz/50g pecans
2oz/50g blanched almonds
Or you can use dried apricots, dried pineapples, walnuts, brazil nuts etc
¼ jar of warmed sieved apricot jam or commercial baking glaze
(marmalade, in extremis)
More brandy

First, line an 8” cake tin (or 9”, but the cake will be flatter).  You will have to use doubled parchment, both at the base and around the sides.  Then tie a ring of doubled newspaper around the outside of the tin.  Preheat the oven to 130-150 deg C. 

If you have soaked your fruit, dry it off as much as possible before mixing in the cherries and almonds.  Next, in a large bowl, cream together the butter with the sugar and the citrus rind, until pale and fluffy.  Slowly add the eggs, about ¼ a time and continue beating, adding a couple of tablespoons of the flour so that the mixture doesn’t separate.    Using a metal spoon, fold in about half of the flour, then the rest, plus the brandy.   Then fold in the fruit. 

Tip the mixture into the tin, smooth the top and decorate it with fruit.   Put another piece of folded newspaper into the oven, standing the cake on top, and add a little hat of paper as well.  Bake for about 2-2 ½ hours (it can take up to 3) and then check it.  The cake should be singing when it is ready!   Also, a hot knife or skewer will come out clean.

When the cake is taken out of the oven, immediately stab it with a knife and pour more brandy into it.  Inhale deeply….  Then heat up the apricot jam or glaze until it is melting, sieve out any bits and paste the cake top evenly.   Allow it to cool in the tin before turning it onto a wire rack. 

This cake likes to be fed every week with a little more brandy.   Store, wrapped in paper or foil in a tin.    

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Quick Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Salt Toffee Sauce

Why quick?  Because you use a tin of caramel, that's why!  I keep a couple of those Carnation Caramel tins in the cupboard, just in case.  So far, they've gone into Salted Caramel Brownies (elsewhere on this blog), Banoffee Pie (of course) or just been melted and poured over ice cream..... no calories, darling...

My ice-cream loving husband was so happy with this creation, he was later found tenderly cleaning the ice cream bowl, the paddles and the spatula.  Don't you just love it when something works?

Quick Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Salt Toffee Sauce
Quick Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Salt Toffee Sauce

3 egg yolks
1 pint/600ml double or single cream and milk mixed (more cream = richer ice cream)
1oz/25g caster sugar
1 tin Carnation caramel (standard 397g size)
Up to 1tsp salt

Warm the milk/cream in a pan until blood temperature.  Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl, add the milk and cream and then pour it all back into the pan.  Stir it gently until it thickens slightly, then allow it to cool.  Pour into an ice cream maker, adding the salt to taste, and caramel and churn until thick.   Taste it again and see if it needs more salt.   There’s so much sugar in the caramel that the ice cream will probably not be particularly solid, so it should be put into a freezer and left for 24 hours to harden.

This makes approx. 1.5litres.  Serve with a hot salt toffee sauce and toasted, chopped hazelnuts scattered over it.  

Salt Toffee Sauce   

3oz/85g soft brown sugar
2oz/50g butter
3floz (85ml) double cream
Up to ½ tsp salt - test before adding it all! 
1oz/25g chopped toasted (skins off) hazelnuts

Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients apart from the hazelnuts in a pan.  Heat, while stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture smooth.  

Monday, 9 November 2015

Date and Walnut Cake - Queen Mother's Recipe

This cake featured in my first cookbook "Kate's Puddings, the Cookbook of the Blog" (still available - £ 14.50 plus postage  and is an enduring favourite.  It  was passed on with the proviso that, when you got the recipe, you made a donation to charity, so please be generous!   It is unusual in that it contains no eggs, so is perfect not only if you’ve run out of eggs, but also for an egg-allergic friend of my son’s.   It got Mat’s seal of approval, especially the fudge top!   I’ve also made this as individual cupcakes.   The fudge top is the perfect foil for the date and walnut below.   To be honest, I've not tried it with gluten-free flour, or dairy-free as the fudge top wouldn't be the same....

Date and Walnut Cake with Fudge Icing
Queen Mother’s Date and Walnut Cake with Fudge Icing

4oz/110g chopped dates
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
6floz/170ml boiling water
6oz/160g plain flour
2oz/50g butter at room temperature
6oz/160g dark brown sugar
2oz/50g chopped walnuts (you can omit these)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C and line an 8” cake tin with parchment.  Pour the boiling water over the dates and bicarbonate of soda and leave them to bubble while you mix the rest of the cake.  Beat the butter into the flour, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Finally add the dates, mix everything together and pour it into the tin.  Cook for about 25 minutes until a (warmed) knife stuck into the cake comes out clean.  Cool completely before making the icing. 

5 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream

In a pan, melt the butter, sugar and cream together, stirring, then boil for 3 minutes.  Allow it to cool slightly, then beat it until it has thickened and pour over the cake.  This is the interesting part – too soon and it doesn’t set, too late and you get fudge!   Decorate with walnuts. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Cheese and Onion Sour Milk Scones

Don't you just love it when you can use up lots of different ingredients in one fabulous recipe?   Inspired by my mother's "triage" shelf in her fridge, I had assembled some ingredients in need of an idea, including sour milk and small chunks of cheese.  Enter the Choir Tea!  Choir tea is really important, as it boosts voice, morale and sugar levels in between rehearsal and concert.  It is a vital part of the event, and must not be missed (basses are especially partial to Choir Tea).

Breaking with my usual tradition, I opted for savoury cheese and onion scones, with sour milk, thus using up two kinds of cheese at the same time.  They went down a treat, and I might have to make them again.....   Actually, I didn't use a spring onion, but snipped the top off a larger onion still growing in the veg patch!  No food miles involved....  This recipe is slightly different from the usual scone one, as I was told that you should ideally leave the scones to sit for 20 minutes before baking, to improve the rise.  That is indeed true (but if you can't wait, don't worry).

Cheese and Chive Sour Milk Scones

Cheese and Onion Sour Milk Scones

8oz/225g plain flour  
2 ½ level tsps baking powder
½ level tsp salt (the Parmesan is quite strong, so you can use a little less)
2oz/50g butter or margarine at room temperature
4oz/110g mixed strong Cheddar cheese and Parmesan, grated
Small handful of chopped green bits from a spring onion  (or chives)
¼ pint/5floz sour milk, with extra milk for the tops

Heat the oven to 200 deg C. 

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.  The best way to do this is to use only your fingertips, as lightly as possible, lifting the mixture as you rub it in to keep it airy.   Add 3oz/85g of the cheese and mix it in lightly, plus the chopped spring onion/chives.   Add the milk and mix the dough together quickly until it makes a single lump.  

Turn it out onto a floured board and knead it very lightly before patting it (or rolling it) to about ½”/1.5cm thick.   Cut small scones using a plain cutter.   If you dip the cutter in flour, the scones won’t get stuck when you release them.   Try not to pull the cutter, or the scones will be oval.   

Put the scones on a baking tray, brush with milk and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.   Leave them for 15-20 minutes before cooking.  Makes approx 12-15 small ones.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes until well risen and golden.  Eat several hot with butter immediately (quality control), then leave the rest until cold and serve with more butter….