Friday, 22 December 2017

Chocolate Rum Truffles

These are perfect for last-minute presents - after all, who could resist a hand-made fresh cream truffle???  This recipe is from a book that is over 30 years old, clearly loved and used many times, judging by the chocolate and sugar residue on almost every page!  Thank you Sainsbury's - your Chocolate Cooking book has brought me much pleasure, and lots of presents for grandparents, parents and friends.

Here, I have made double quantity: the rum ones are silver/icing sugar dusted, and the golden ones are Cointreau with orange.   You can just see a little of the orange zest.   I then wrapped the bottom part of the box in cellophane, before putting on the lid and sealing it with some pretty ribbon.   Make sure you include a note of what is in the chocolates.   

Chocolate Rum Truffles 
Chocolate Rum Truffles

6oz/175g dark or milk chocolate (dark gives a better taste)
2 tablespoons double cream (single will do)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon rum (or other alcohol, eg Cointreau)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Lime zest (optional)
Gold powder or icing sugar with a bit of silver powder

Slowly melt together the chocolate and cream, then add the egg yolk and rum.  Mix this thoroughly, then chill/leave to cool until it is relatively firm.  If you want to be a purist, measure the truffles into 10g amounts before rolling into small balls.  Otherwise do this by eye!

Put the cocoa into a plastic bag or a small bowl.  If using, add a little lime zest.   Shake each truffle until it is evenly coated with the cocoa.   Put it into a small confectioner’s case and give each a little dusting of gold or silver powder.    

This quantity will make about 20.  Try to keep cool or refrigerated before use.   I vary the recipe by using Cointreau with a couple of drops of orange essence.   In the cocoa mix I use tiny pieces of orange zest.    

You could use milk chocolate and chopped nuts, or vermicelli.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Fig and Mascarpone Ice Cream in Chocolate Shells

On holiday in Croatia, I discovered the delights of Trogir's ice cream shops.  There are many, and they are incredible!   My favourites were in what we dubbed "Ice Cream Square", and my ice-cream-loving husband and I set ourselves to the task of testing as many as possible, which was quite a challenge!   I don't know about you, but blue and bubblegum pink ice cream just doesn't appeal, but Fig and Mascarpone ice cream did.   This is my take on it, and my original one was made using figs brought back from Croatia.  I've made it easier by suggesting you get yours from Waitrose, or anywhere that sells the soft dried ones. 

Fig and Mascarpone Ice Cream in Chocolate Shells
Fig and Mascarpone Ice Cream in Chocolate Shells  

8oz/220g soft/dried figs
2oz/50g sugar

3 egg yolks
1 pint/600ml double or single cream and milk mixed (more cream = richer ice cream)
4oz/120g caster sugar
1 tub Mascarpone cheese

First, stew the figs in enough water to cover plus the sugar.   Obviously, the time taken will depend on how dried out they are, but you are aiming for a warm, brown, thickish paste when it is mashed or semi-puréed with a stick blender (it is better to have identifiable pieces rather than a slurry!).   Leave to cool. 

Warm the milk/cream in a pan until blood temperature.  Beat the eggs, sugar and mascarpone 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 and churn until thick. 

Just before serving/putting into the chocolate shells, add the fig paste and mix in roughly, so that you get a lovely swirl of colour and the figs don’t entirely disappear.   You might not use all the paste - own judgement needed here!  Makes approx. 1.5 litres. 

Chocolate Shells
I use silicone moulds, 5 large or 6 smaller ones (available online) per tray.   Brush the insides with vegetable oil and spray a little gold powder into each.  Melt 8oz/200g dark chocolate and paint it inside of the shells, not too thick, but thick enough to enable the shells to turn out without cracking.  Allow to cool before filling the shells with the ice cream and returning the mix to the freezer until needed.  

To serve:

Turn the moulds out and admire your handiwork!  The gold powder should shimmer on the glossy chocolate, and, accompanied by a hot chocolate sauce ( it all disappears very, very quickly…. 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Lemon and Ginger Crunch Pie

Oh wow, did this go down a treat!   An experimental variation of my famous Lime and Basil, this lemon and ginger creation just warms the cockles of the heart...  Ginger is so good for you, it should be considered medicinal, so don't stint on it.   To keep the crunch factor, I did 50-50 ginger biscuits to hobnobs (and it does work with gluten free biscuits too), and added generous amounts of lemon zest to the top as decoration.

Lemon and Ginger Crunch Pie
Lemon and Ginger Crunch Pie

9oz/260g total weight Gingernuts or Hobnobs, crushed (use gluten free biscuits if wished)
4oz/110 g butter, melted
Juice and zest of 2 lemons  
1 can condensed milk (full fat)
½ pint/300ml double cream
4 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped, but not too fine
1 lemon for decoration plus at least 1piece stem ginger

Grease a 9” springclip tin and put baking parchment in the base.   Mix the crushed biscuits with the melted butter and spread into the tin, levelling out.  Put in the fridge to allow the butter to harden.

Whisk the condensed milk, cream, lemon zest and juice together for about 5 minutes or so until it has thickened.   This is best done with a Kenwood/Kitchen Aid mixer, or at least a deep bowl so you don’t redecorate the kitchen!

Lastly, add the chopped stem ginger and stir in.  Pour the mixture onto the biscuit base, level the top and chill for at least half an hour so that it sets.    If possible, get long curls of zest from the remaining lemon and decorate the top, plus a sprinkling of ginger pieces.

When you remove this from the tin, remember that it has paper underneath… I forget every time!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Searching for last-minute chocolate recipes for my choir's "Tea and Cake" rehearsal (top tip - if you sing in a choir, ask for a tea and cake rehearsal!) I came across this wonderful recipe for triple chocolate cookies.  Sainsbury's, I salute you!   I adapted the recipe a little, by including some orange zest and essence, plus a pinch of salt as salt brings out the flavour of the chocolate.    They were a wild success!   And, yes, we all sang very well afterwards.... which is just as well as the concert is imminent.    The quantity below made 18 - perfect as we were four to a part, plus two for the conductor!

Triple Chocolate Cookies
Triple Chocolate Cookies

5oz/150g plain chocolate, chopped
5oz/150g softened butter (Sainsbury’s suggests unsalted)
4oz/100g light soft brown sugar
3oz/75g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cocoa powder
6oz/175g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
5oz/150g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks
5oz/150g white chocolate, chopped into chunks

Kate’s additions:
1tsp orange essence
Zest 1 orange
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line two or three baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.    

Melt the dark chocolate, either in a microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, and leave to cool slightly.    Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (a whisk is good for this), then beat in the melted chocolate, egg and essences.  Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder (add the orange zest and salt).  Lastly, mix in the chocolate chunks.   

Put the mixture in dessertspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, allowing space for them to spread – about 6 per tray.     Bake for about 12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.   They will still be soft when you take them out, but will harden up as they cool.    I made 18.  


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Quick Strawberry Mousse

This ultra-quick (and very easy) strawberry mousse recipe is ideal for those boxes of strawberries you bought on impulse and then find dying quietly in the fridge a day or so later...  It also works well with those softer English strawberries you get in the late summer which look pretty, but taste slightly watery.    Plus, if you are anything like me, you'll have some egg whites lurking in the fridge, so this is a perfect way to use them up too!  

Enjoy the cream in this recipe - I haven't tried to make it with yoghurt, but if you insist on it, make sure it is a thick yoghurt and don't expect it to set.   This quantity will serve about 4-6 depending on greed and bowl size.

Quick Strawberry Mousse 
Quick Strawberry Mousse  

10oz/300g strawberries, fresh or frozen plus a few for decoration (or if they are beyond it, purée everything and keep some of the purée aside)
3 egg whites
2oz/50g caster sugar
¼ pint/142ml double cream

Purée the strawberries in a food processor or blender and add a little extra sugar if they are sour (but only a little) or a couple of drops of lemon juice if they are tastless!  

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add the caster sugar and keep going until you have a thick, glossy result, like an uncooked meringue (which it is).   Half whip the cream so it has some air incorporated but is not stiff, and fold it into the strawberry purée.   Now fold the whisked egg mousse into the purée using a metal spoon.   I always put a tablespoonful in first to loosen the texture of the mousse before adding the rest.   Pour into a pretty glass bowl, or individual bowls, and chill until set.   

This can be made a day or two in advance, but is best eaten at just below room temperature.    Decorate with strawberries.  If you are using purée, either swirl it through the mousse or pour onto the top and swoosh it about with a fork.   

Monday, 21 August 2017

Chocolate Rum Cream

If you want to bring a grown man to his knees, or make a woman sigh with delight, this is the recipe to use! Beryl's Chocolate Rum Cream is GUARANTEED to work...  It's a lovely recipe to use and is a long established Stour Festival favourite (singers aren't supposed to eat chocolate, so we have to pretend it isn't chocolate).   Beryl suggests that you use Bournville, or another not too posh chocolate.  Having been caught out on this, I have to admit she's right.  Don't go over 40% cocoa solids.  Chocolate should be silky smooth and rich, like an Italian lover, not stiff and grainy like an old English husband...

As I adore lashings of chocolate mousse, I'm giving the full quantity for 8 greedy people, but you don't have to make so much for successful seduction!  Chocolate doesn't photograph well, so I had to add drizzles of white chocolate to the top.  Whipped cream blobs work just as well.

Chocolate Rum Cream
Chocolate Rum Cream

6 large eggs, separated
1lb/454g good black chocolate with medium cocoa content
4 tbsps rum
½ pt double cream, softly whipped

To decorate:  cream, melted white chocolate or grated dark chocolate  

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Add a tablespoon of water (or cream) to the chocolate to stop it from going stiff.  Make sure that the mixture doesn’t get too hot, and if you are using the bowl over water method, don’t allow any water to get in.    It is important that all the chocolate is melted, otherwise you get little lumps in the mousse.    Add the alcohol and stir it in slowly until smooth.

Add the egg yolks one by one, stirring in, then the whipped cream.  Whisk the egg whites until they are standing in stiff peaks.  Using a metal spoon, first fold about 1/3 of the whites in to break up the texture, and then add the remaining two thirds. 

Pour the creamy mousse into 8 small bowls or ramekins, or into a single bowl, and leave to set.    Decorate to taste. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Pear, Almond and Amaretto Tart

Another new recipe from the amazing Lorraine Pascale!  She's such an inventive baker, and her recipes work well.   This is a delicious pear tart, with a frangipane filling and a delicate overtone of amaretto (fortunately, I found some in my son's bottle stash.....   It really is an easy recipe, but looks, smells and tastes amazing.  Thanks Lorraine...   I tested this a couple of times, and have to say it disappeared very quickly, both hot and cold.   There's no pre-baking here, but no soggy bottom either!  

Pear, Almond and Amaretto Tart
Pear, Almond and Amaretto Tart 

Enriched Flan Pastry:
4oz/100g butter
8oz/225g plain flour
pinch salt
1 egg, beaten

4oz/100g softened butter
4oz/100g caster sugar 
4oz/100g ground almonds
3tbsp plain flour
1 egg
1tbsp amaretto liqueur (or 2tsp almond essence and 1dsp milk)
4 ripe pears

Mascarpone and Ginger Cream:
1 tub (8oz/250g) mascarpone cheese
1 ball stem ginger (comes in syrup), chopped finely
½ vanilla pod or few drops extract
2oz/50g icing sugar
Handful of fresh mint, chopped finely

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 egg and cold water as needed to make a smooth dough).    For best results, put the pastry in a ball into the fridge for 20 minutes, then roll out into a 9” loose bottomed flan tin (or oblong tin) and prick the base lightly.   You can refrigerate it again for another 20 minutes.   

Whisk the butter and sugar together until it is well creamed, then beat in the almonds and flour before adding the egg and essence.  Continue to whisk together until it is well combined.  Now spread the filling evenly in the tart case.   Peel the pears and take out the core.  Arrange them nose to tail, or in a circle (whatever fits, really!) on the filling. 

Bake for 35 minutes or so until the filling has all puffed up – watch carefully near the end! 

Mix the ingredients for the mascarpone cream.   Dust the tart with icing sugar and serve with a few chopped mint leaves and the cream.  

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Baklava Ice Cream

As I've said before, sometimes the most successful puddings arise from the worst disasters!  Take this year's Stour Puddings, and the customary baklava.  Baklava is the most delicious stuff, incredibly sticky and wonderful... so sticky, that my helper found it nearly impossible to remove from the baking tray, so there was a large amount of beautiful sticky, honey-glazed nuts and pastry left over.  I hate waste pudding!  The best option seemed to me to turn it into ice cream.... so... ta dah!!!!   Baklava Ice Cream.   And only last week I saw it offered as an amazing new flavour by a food writer, so there!   Here it is, glamorously served in an ice bowl.   The quantity of baklava below is approx a quarter of the standard recipe (also on the blog).   Obviously, as this was a left-over pudding, there wasn't a set quantity, so I simply used half the weight of the un-churned ice cream.

Baklava Ice Cream in an Ice Bowl

1/4 packet filo pastry – approx 4 leaves
2oz mixed nuts – salted peanuts/walnuts/pistachios
2oz Demerara sugar
melted butter (between quarter to half a pack)
1/4 jar runny honey (warmed in the microwave) 

Preheat the oven to 170 deg C and butter a small 9" square tin (one you don’t mind scoring with a knife).    Chop the nuts together (a blender is ideal for this) and add the sugar and a dusting of cinnamon. 

Lay out the filo pastry and cut it to size before covering it with a damp cloth while you are working (it helps to lay it out on something non-stick!).    Lay the first piece onto the baking tray and brush it with the melted butter.  Repeat with another two layers.   Then add an even layer of the nut/sugar mixture, about half of the mix.   Repeat with 2-3 layers of pastry, buttering each one.  Add the rest of the mixture, and finish with the final layers of pastry.  Butter the top piece. 

Cut two parallel lines in the baklava, and then the diagonal lines so you should end up with pretty diamondish shaped pieces (or simple oblongs if life is too short).   Bake in the oven until it is golden – about half an hour.   Remove from the oven, and immediately pour over the honey.  It should thoroughly drench the pastry. 

Lastly, leave it to soak for at least six hours, if you can.  The honey gradually works its way down into the bottom layers.   This keeps well, and shouldn’t be put into a fridge or it will go soggy. 

Baklava Ice Cream

3 egg yolks
1 pint/600ml double or single cream and milk mixed (more cream = richer ice cream)
4oz/120g caster sugar
Approx 8oz/220g chopped baklava (more if you are feeling generous)
1 dsp cinnamon

Warm the milk/cream in a pan until blood temperature.  Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl, add the cinnamon, 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 and churn until thick. 

Just before serving, add the chopped baklava and mix in roughly.   Makes approx. 1.5-2 litres.  

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is one of those all-time classic greats - the Italian pudding that is elegant in its simplicity, yet a perfect accompaniment to a fruit compote or sauce.   Strangely, on a table positively groaning with multifarious puddings, this one is extremely popular with the musicians and singers at Stour!  I made this four times over the two weekends of the Festival, and they disappeared every time.   I’ve used gelatine leaves in the recipe, as they give a quicker set and better texture than powder, plus fresh Kent cherries in a compote.   Not being great at turning things out of moulds, I did mine in little glass ramekin dishes instead. 

Vanilla Panna Cotta
Vanilla Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta:
4 leaves of gelatine
12 floz/350ml double cream
12 floz/350ml milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)
1 ½ oz/35g caster sugar
1 pod of vanilla

Cherry Compote:
½ lb/220g fresh cherries (preferably) with some extra to decorate
small amount of sugar and water
generous dash of some kind of fruit liqueur

6-8 ramekin dishes, depending on size

First, soak the gelatine in cold water until it goes soft.    In a large pan, mix together the cream, milk and sugar.  Break open the vanilla pod and scrape out all the little seeds with the point of a knife.   Add the seeds to the mixture, plus the pod.  Bring the temperature up to a gentle simmer, stirring to stop the milk sticking to the bottom of the pan.   Remove the pod.

Squeeze out the gelatine leaves and add them to the pan, then take the pan off the heat and stir until the gelatine has dissolved, as you don’t want stringy bits.   Pour into a jug, and then into the ramekins.  Leave a little room at the top for the cherries.   Chill until set – approx 2 hours.

Stone the cherries and put them into a pan with a little water, sugar to taste, and Framboise or cherry liqueur.  Simmer until the cherries release their delicious dark juice.   Allow the cherries to cool before serving. 

Serve with the cherry compote and the cracked black pepper tuiles (elsewhere on the blog).   If you make double the amount of cherries, you can put them into the Black Forest Trifle later!

Monday, 26 June 2017

Rose and Elderflower Jelly

One of the classic puddings served in the Artists' Tent at the annual Stour Music Festival is a delicate and beautiful Rose and Elderflower Jelly.  The previous Queen of Puddings guarded her recipe with her life (and rightly so!).  Since taking over as Queen of Puddings, I have continued Jo's tradition, using my own recipe, which, as I have my own home made pink elderflower cordial, is a pretty pink colour.  This year, over the 2 weekends of Stour, I made 4 of these jellies!  Happy to report that not a scrap remained... Apart from using gelatine (and the vegetarian variety doesn't work as well), it is a useful recipe as it contains neither dairy, eggs nor gluten, so is perfect for restricted diets.

The recipe below uses leaf gelatine, as it gives a clearer result than the powder.  The quantity given is a suggestion, do check your own packet for the strength, as rubbery jelly is horrible and an unset one is a waste of effort!

Rose and Elderflower Jelly 
Elderflower and Rose Jelly
6 gelatine leaves (enough to lightly set 1.5 pints liquid)
3.5floz/100 ml hot water
8floz/225ml undiluted elderflower cordial
½ tsp good quality rose extract (if that – be sparing!)
1 pint/450 ml cold water

Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water until they are flexible (about 5 minutes), then squeeze off the water before dropping the soggy leaves into the hot water and stirring to dissolve the leaves entirely.   

Mix the elderflower cordial, rosewater and water in a separate jug.  Pour into the gelatine and stir well to combine it all – you don’t want a layered effect with a thicker jelly at the bottom.   Pour the jelly into a pretty bowl and leave it to set in the fridge for at least four hours.  Decorate just before serving with a fresh rose or elderflowers. 

Did you know that, if a jelly melts because it gets too hot, you can re-set it?  

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Lemon, Lime and Peppermint Sorbet

Summer's here!!   So I thought I'd share this fabulously easy and utterly delicious Jamie Oliver recipe with you.   One of my sons came back from a trip enthusing about some Mojito sorbet he'd eaten in Chile, which seemed to be a combination of these flavours.   Jamie's recipe totally fitted the bill, and one of my other sons, quite unknowing, said that the sorbet tasted just like a Mojito.   There is no alcohol in the sorbet, but the flavour is quite incredible.  I made this one for a special celebration lunch, so made an ice bowl as well.   It's also easy to make, it just takes a lot of freezer space and flowers...

Lemon, lime and peppermint sorbet
Lemon, Lime and Peppermint Sorbet

7oz/200g sugar
8 fl oz/250ml water
5 large lemons, zest and juice
5 limes, zest and juice
1 bunch of fresh mint

First make the stock syrup by putting the water and sugar into a pan and heating until the sugar has dissolved.  Simmer for 5 minutes, remove the saucepan from the heat and leave it to cool entirely (you can put it in the freezer!).   This keeps for weeks, so you could make double quantity and put half in the fridge for another time.

Add the juice and zest to the mixture, stir well and churn the mixture in an ice cream maker.   I found it worked best to put the mint in later, as it got stuck on the blades of the churn.   Alternatively, freeze in a shallow container in the freezer, breaking it up with a fork every half hour or so to stop large crystals from forming.   

This makes enough to serve 4 people, roughly a pint or so.  It is best served slightly less than rock hard. 

To make it more like a sherbet, add 1 egg white to the ice cream maker, or whisk the whites and fold them into the mix if you are open freezing it.

Ice Bowl
2 bowls
parcel tape and a couple of heavy tins 
cooled boiled water/mineral water (this helps keep the ice clear)

Choose two bowls with a similar shape - do I have to tell you to have one smaller than the other?  Thought not!  Pick pretty flowers.  Pour some water into the larger bowl, add some of the flowers.  Place the smaller bowl on top.  Push the rest of the flowers in round the edges, adding more water.  The second bowl will rise, so put the tins into it before strapping the parcel tape across the top to keep the second bowl level with the first and in the centre.   Fill up with the water - you might need to check the tape - and add another food tin.    Freeze overnight until solid.

To use - allow the bowl to defrost just a little before unmoulding it and adding the sorbet.  It will be a wonderful centrepiece - some people commented on how pretty the flowers were as they appeared as the ice melted.   Just make sure that the ice bowl is in a container that can hold the inevitable meltwater!  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Pistachio, White Chocolate and Cardamom Cake

Do you remember the Blue Peter children's programme phrase: "here's one I made earlier", accompanied by the production of some incredibly complicated thing made out of a cereal packet?   I was scrolling through my photos of cakes, wondering how on earth I had made (and eaten) quite so many, when I came upon this one.   I think I made it a couple of years ago for Camp, and it didn't last long enough for me to remember it very well (and the clue is the paper plate for easy transportation).   Which is extraordinary, as it is a really delicious cake!

Chetna Makan got into the British Bake Off final, and she is clearly a highly talented cook, using a multitude of flavours.  I was attracted to this one because I simply adore pistachios...  Chetna, I have borrowed from your column in the Sunday Times shamelessly, but you are so worth it!

Pistachio, White Chocolate and Cardamom Cake

Pistachio, Cardamom and White Chocolate Cake

8oz/225g softened butter (Chetna used unsalted)
8oz/225g caster sugar
4 large fresh eggs
8.5oz/250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed to a fine powder
3.5 fl oz/100ml milk
2oz/50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
2oz/50g white chocolate chips

6oz/150g white chocolate
6oz/150g softened butter (again, Chetna used unsalted)
6oz/150g sieved icing sugar (absolutely necessary or you get lumps)
Few drops of vanilla extract
Handful of pistachios, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line two 8” loose bottom sandwich tins with parchment (or spray with a “cake release” agent), and grease the sides.

In a food processor or Kenwood, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (called “creaming”).  Add the eggs, beating after each one (and add a tablespoon of the flour as well to stop the eggs from curdling).  Add the rest of the flour, baking powder, cardamom and milk.  Beat for 1 minute until the mixture is light.   Use a spatula and fold in the nuts and choc chips.  Divide between the tins and cook for 25-30 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven) until risen and golden brown.  To test, the cake should have come away from the edges slightly, and if you put a (heated) knife or skewer into the middle, it will come out clean.   Leave the cakes to cool in the tin. 

Melt the chocolate, either in a microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Cool slightly, then beat the butter and icing sugar in a food processor, adding melted chocolate and vanilla extract.   Sandwich the middle section together using half of the icing.  Then, use a flat bladed knife to add the icing top (it helps to have a mug of boiling water handy to wash the knife).  Decorate with the chopped pistachios.  

Chetna says this cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Rhubarb Crème Brulée

Somebody told me about the wonderful combination of the smooth crème brulée with a hint of tart rhubarb at the end, and I just had to try it.   Reader, I married him.    Yes, it was truly amazing, and I'm not sure I'll find it easy to go back to the original version!    I wasn't sure if the rhubarb mixture would stay at the bottom of the little dishes, so I popped them into the freezer for a bit just to give it the best chance.   I left one out, as a control, but then it was impossible to tell, so it must work both ways.

One of my darling sons has given me a cook's blowtorch, so I can now do the professional top to the brulée.   It does make a difference - maybe that's one for the Christmas list?

On a recent trip to France, my husband and I tried several different crèmes brulées, and there was a lot of variation there, including a hot one with alcohol as a finisher.  Hmmm....

Rhubarb Crème Brulée

Rhubarb Crème Brulée

8oz/220g pink rhubarb
2tbsp jam sugar (or granulated)
2tbsp water

4 egg yolks
2oz (50g) caster sugar 
600ml (20 fl oz) double cream
half a vanilla pod

Caramel:   2oz caster sugar and a little water
6 little ramekin dishes (actually, about 7 because the rhubarb takes up some space)

Cut the rhubarb into 1/2"/1cm pieces and arrange in a single layer in a saucepan, sprinkling over the sugar and adding the water.  Simmer gently until soft.  Mash up so that it is not a paste, but still has some little chunks.  Divide it between the 6 dishes and allow to cool (or put in the freezer for 20 minutes).

Boil a kettle of water (I always forget this bit).... and heat the oven to about 140-150 deg C.   Heat the double cream in a saucepan over a low heat, scraping in the seeds from the vanilla pod, plus the pod itself.      Meanwhile, mix the yolks and sugar together.  When the cream is at blood temperature, pour it (minus pod) over the yolks/sugar and whisk gently until well mixed.   

Pour the crème into six ramekin dishes, over the back of a spoon so as not to disturb the rhubarb, and place the dishes in a roasting tin containing enough boiling water to come at least half way up the sides.   Bake for about an hour until the mixture is set but not coloured (better that than runny though!).    Remove from the water, and allow to cool.   

If you have a cook's blowtorch, sprinkle 1tsp caster sugar over each little dish and then torch it until it has caramelised. 

If not, over high heat, melt the caster sugar with a little water, stirring until it boils, and then watch it until it turns brown and caramelises.  Carefully (it is HOT), pour evenly over the ramekins and allow to cool.   

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Pistachio, Almond and Orange Macaroons

In the interests of my blog followers, I sometimes make experimental food and test it on my fellow Reservists.   We've just spent a fabulous long weekend in France, visiting the memorials to the SOE Agents in World War II, bringing a couple of veterans with us.   It was deeply moving, and makes me realise how lucky we are today, thanks to the sacrifices made by those who gave up their lives for freedom in the war.

There was the challenge of getting down to the Loire area, and the coach journey was long (actually, interminable, owing to the driver opting for a scenic tour of Paris!).  However, it proved the perfect test-bed for these macaroons, as they were created with the needs of our gluten and dairy free members in mind.   By the time we arrived, there were but crumbs in the bottom of the box, so they must have been edible!

Pistachio, Almond and Orange Macaroons
Pistachio, Almond and Orange Macaroons

1 egg white
3 ½ oz/100g caster sugar
1oz/25g pistachio nuts (shelled)
1oz/25g ground almonds
½ tsp orange essence
flaked almonds
small quantity egg white for glazing

Line 1-2 baking sheets with silicone paper/parchment (it has to be non-stick: I learned this the hard way!), and preheat the oven to 180 deg C.

Grind the pistachios in a blender until they are fine, adding the ground almonds at the last minute.  There’s no need to blitz them to a powder, as I think a slight crunch tastes better.

Whisk the egg white until stiff, and fold in the ground nuts, caster sugar and orange essence.   Put dessertspoonfuls of mixture onto the paper, allowing room to spread (about 6 per tray).   Drop a few flaked almonds on each, then use the pastry brush dipped in egg white to simultaneously glaze the macaroons, press them down and make the almonds stick.    

Bake for about 10-15 minutes until just beginning to colour.  When you take them out they will be squidgy, but leave them on the parchment and they will stiffen.    They keep quite well in a tin.  

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart

For those of us who give up chocolate for Lent – this is the ultimate chocolate Easter treat!    I adore salted caramel and chocolate, and the combination doesn’t fail to delight.  The salt offsets the sweetness of both flavours, and this tart is one I found several years ago in a magazine.  It is VERY rich and smooth, like the best sort of lover… First you have a decadent chocolate pastry, then caramel, then the chocolate top. Dive in!
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart 
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart

8oz/220g plain flour
4oz/110g butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water

9oz/250g granulated sugar
3.5floz/100ml water
3.5floz/100ml single cream
4oz/110g melted butter
½ tsp sea salt flakes

4oz/110g dark chocolate
3oz/75g butter
1 egg, 2 yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar

Make the pastry – blend dry ingredients, add water/egg.  Chill for 20 minutes.  Line a 9” loose bottom flan case.  Chill again.  Bake blind.  

Make the caramel by bringing the water and sugar to the boil and keeping going until it smells of caramel and turns brown.  Remove from the heat and add the cream, butter and salt, stirring.  Leave to cool. 

Pour the caramel into the baked, cooled case.   Put the oven to 180 deg C.  Melt the chocolate and butter together, stir.  Whisk the eggs and sugar until light, well risen and fluffy.  Stir in the chocolate mix, spoon it over the caramel.   Sprinkle with salt flakes and bake for 12 minutes.   Serve hot or cool.   

Friday, 7 April 2017

Orange Cake with Rhubarb Curd and Cream

Don't say I'm not nice to you!  First, I show you how to make a delicious rhubarb curd, and now I'm showing you how to use it in the most delectable cake.   I've just done my annual training camp, and took along the customary selection of home made cakes and biscuits for our traditional tea.  Oh, so civilised! The Army definitely marches on its stomach, and a bit of home made food makes all the difference when you've been surrounded by institutional catering for a few days... This disappeared without trace, I'm glad to say, with barely a crumb remaining.   It's so light and tangy with orange, it would make a good Easter cake - you could use orange or lemon curd in the filling if you couldn't make the rhubarb one.

Orange and Rhubarb Sponge Cake
Orange and Rhubarb Sponge Cake

4 large fresh eggs
8oz/225g caster sugar
8oz/225g buttery spread (or softened butter)
8oz/225g sieved self raising flour
The zest of a large orange
2tsps orange essence
1 heaped tsp baking powder

½ pint double cream, whipped, combined with:
approx 3 tbsps of rhubarb curd (preferably home made!)

icing sugar (approx. 4oz/110g) plus orange juice (about half an orange)

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line two 8” loose bottom sandwich tins with parchment (or spray with a “cake release” agent), and grease the sides.

In a food processor or Kenwood, first beat the sugar and butter/spread together to get air into the mix.  Next add the eggs, one by one, beating well (if the mixture starts to split, add a tablespoon of flour).  Lastly, add the rest of the flour, zest and essence and beat until pale and fluffy.   Divide between the tins and cook for 15-25 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven) until risen and golden brown.  To test, they should have come away from the edges slightly, and if you put a (heated) knife or skewer into the middle, it will come out clean.

Tip the cakes out of the tins onto a wire rack and leave to cool.  When cool, whip the cream and stir in the curd (so that it is still streaky).  Spread the whipped thickly over one of the cakes, then top it with the second one.   It’s a good idea to put the cake on the plate at this stage.   Now sieve approx. 4oz of icing sugar into a bowl and add enough orange juice to make a gloopy mass which, when poured onto the cake will come slightly over the edges but not make a dash for the plate.   If you want to be decorative, cut a few little segments from the remaining half orange and arrange them on the icing.  Having failed on this a few times, my top tip is to leave this bit until the icing has stopped moving!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Rosemary Shortbread Biscuits

Why do we only seem to use rosemary with savoury dishes like lamb?  It is a delicious herb, traditionally symbolising remembrance, with a wonderful scent.   I've just been tasting some rosemary ice cream, which one of my sons decided tasted like roast lamb (high treat from the Carnivorous One), and thought it could be delicious in sweet biscuits.  Given that lavender flowers are in short supply in March, necessity became the mother of invention...

Make sure that the sprigs aren't too ancient and/or battered, and also make sure that you snip the pieces small so that you neither end up with bits in your teeth nor chew through great stringy bits!

Rosemary Shortbread Biscuits
Rosemary Shortbread

5oz/150g plain flour
3 level tbsps rice flour – if no rice flour, use more plain flour
2oz/50g caster sugar
4oz/100g butter at just above room temperature but not melted
3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves snipped off into small pieces

Preheat oven to 170deg C/325 deg F and cover 2 large baking sheets with non-stick parchment.   Mix together the flours and the sugar.    Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients, plus the rosemary.   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 non-stick parchment, about 1/4" .5cm thick.   Cut circles, about 2-3”, 50-75mm, and transfer using a fish slice to the baking sheet.  When you gather up the leftovers and roll them out again, try not to over-knead it, as the final result isn’t as good (what Mary Berry would described as “overworked” – you know the feeling!). 

Bake until firm and golden – the butter in the mixture will brown while your back is turned, so check it frequently after 15 minutes or so.      When they are done, dredge them with caster sugar.  

This quantity of ingredients made about 16 or so biscuits.    

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Rhubarb Curd

The chickens are laying like crazy at the moment - they love this glorious spring weather -  so I have lots of spare eggs.   Deciding to experiment with different versions of lemon curd was therefore an easy one!  This is a rhubarb curd, made with the lovely scarlet spring rhubarb.   There are many ways of making this curd, but I found that cooking the rhubarb first, then pureeing the result and then making the curd worked best for colour.  I tested sieving it (the front one) and not sieving it (the back one).  Not sieving means little pieces of errant egg white and the odd stringy bit of rhubarb.  Sieving means a beautifully smooth curd, but less of it.  You takes your choice!

The curd is delicious on toast, in yoghurt or whipped cream, or simply spooned from the jar... It is naturally gluten free, though I suspect would be difficult to set if it were dairy free as well.

Rhubarb Curd

Rhubarb Curd

7oz/200g white sugar (3oz/75g of this goes in with the rhubarb)
1lb/400g (approx.) red forced rhubarb, cut into small chunks
2 fl oz/60ml water
2 eggs + 1 yolk, beaten
2 tbsp lemon juice
4oz/110g butter

The best way to make this is in a double saucepan (one with a separate chamber below for the boiling water), but a heatproof bowl (Pyrex) on a pan of simmering water works just as well, if a little more slowly. 

First put the rhubarb, water and 3oz/75g of sugar in a standard pan and simmer gently until the rhubarb has softened completely.   Puree this with a blender so that you lose all the stringy bits and the texture of the rhubarb becomes smooth.   

Now put everything into the bowl/double pan, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.   Carry on heating it, stirring from time to time, until the mixture has thickened – it coats the back of the spoon, and then becomes more difficult to stir.  This will take about 10-15 minutes. 

If you want to, strain the mixture through a sieve into small sterilised jars – you will only make about 2-3, less still if sieved.   Cover the jars as per jam – with waxed discs and cellophane tops.  Alternatively, as you will be using this up quickly because it is so delicious, cut circles of parchment to fit the jars, and then put the lids back on firmly.  

Monday, 27 February 2017

Buttermilk Pancakes with Caramelised Bananas and Salt Caramel Pecans

So many pancakes, so little time... This year I thought I'd try something different, so customised a recipe from Delicious Magazine - and it was delicious!  My pudding-loving husband's eyes lit up as I placed a stack of pancakes in front of him, dripping with caramel and with shiny caramelised pecans... yes, there was the healthy Greek yoghurt too!   Go on, even if you don't use this specific recipe, it's so easy to make pancakes.   The quantity of pancakes was pretty high, so if there are only two of you, halve everything and you won't be quite so gluttonous...

Buttermilk Pancakes with Caramelised Bananas and Salt Caramel Pecans 

Buttermilk Pancakes with Caramelised Bananas and Salt Caramel Pecans

5oz/150g plain flour (I used spelt flour)
1tsp baking powder
1dsp caster sugar
2 eggs
1 carton buttermilk (9 fl.oz/just under ½ pint/284ml) plus a little extra milk

Butter for frying

4oz/110g caster sugar (at least!)
3 or 4 just underripe bananas
Handful of pecans and sprinkle of salt
Greek yoghurt to serve
Maple syrup to serve

Put the pancake ingredients except the extra into a food processor/blender and whizz until thick and gloopy – if it is too thick and you prefer a lighter pancake, add a little extra milk (also if you are using a gluten free blend).  Leave to stand for at least half an hour.

Heat a large frying pan and put in a small knob of butter.  Melt it and get it sizzling but not burnt.   Drop in a tablespoonful of batter and smooth it to an even circle about 5”/12cm diameter.  Copy this for the next one and do as many as you can at once.  When they are brown underneath (and you are allowed to peep), turn them over and brown the other side.  Put onto a warm plate and then keep going until you’ve used up all the mixture.   I made about 24 or so pancakes. 

If you have two frying pans, the next bit can be done at the same time.    Put 3oz/75g of the caster sugar into the bottom of another frying pan and put it onto the heat.  When it has melted, put in the bananas and turn up the heat so that the sugar caramelises (goes brown).  Turn the bananas once, so they are caramelised on either side.  Take them out with a fish slice and keep them warm on a plate/baking tray with parchment.    Now add the rest of the sugar and the pecans, plus a small knob of butter.  Caramelise the pecans, then tip them onto the baking parchment.  Sprinkle a little salt over before the caramel sets. 

Scrape the remaining caramel in the pan and add a tablespoon of water (and some more sugar if it has all gone).  Just like making gravy, scrape the caramel off the edges and bubble it to make a sauce (there won’t be much, so you could always just use maple syrup instead).

Assemble a pile of pancakes on each plate, top with a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt, then add the bananas, pecans and a good pouring of the caramel sauce (or maple).   

Friday, 10 February 2017

White Chocolate Blondies

When I was young, Blondie was a singer.... but now she's been recreated as the white chocolate equivalent of brownies.  Maybe they're like her - soft, chewy, delicious, with a taste to make the heart sing!  Didn't she get to No 1?

I made these as a Welcome Home for my son from Antarctica, and at the same time did him a white iced cake.  Sadly, though, the blondies didn't stay blonde, as you can see, and not even a powdering of "snow" could help!  Hopefully you can do better than I - go on, take up the challenge!

This was a recipe I found on BBC Good Food, for which many thanks.  However, I've re-written parts of it so that you don't make the mistakes I did.   They tasted good anyway, so enjoy... They worked well with a flour blend.

White Chocolate Blondies 
White Chocolate Blondies

8oz/225g butter, in chunks
3.5oz/100g white chocolate, broken up
6 oz/175g plain flour (or rice flour) plus 1 pinch salt
½ tsp baking powder
7oz/200g light brown soft sugar
4oz/100g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
3.5oz/100 white chocolate, chopped into neat chunks

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line a baking tin 9 x 9”/21cm x 21cm with non-stick baking parchment.  The recipe suggested to grease the tin first, presumably to make the parchment stick. 

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave, stir the first amount of chocolate into the butter so it all mixes together (it is better to under-heat the chocolate and stir out the lumps using the residual heat in the butter).   Leave to cool a little.  

Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together.    In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs, adding the sugar and vanilla.   Fold the melted chocolate into the beaten egg mix, then add the flour and the second amount of chocolate chunks.  

Spread into the tin and cook for up to 35 minutes – the mixture will rise in the tin, but it is better that it is undercooked rather than solid.    Allow to cool in the tin.  Having my blondies go brown, I would suggest putting a little hat of parchment over the top to stop this.   

Cut into bars or squares when cool, if you can wait that long!