Monthly Archives: July 2010

Easy Lemon Cheesecake

Today’s recipe has probably been in my cooking repertoire the longest, a very easy lemon cheesecake.

In the cheesecake world, there are two types, either the creamy variety like this one (which I call “American” on the basis that, eh, it’s easy), or the baked variety (which I refer to as “European” cheesecake, on the basis that I was first presented with this when on holiday in Germany aged fourteen and went into a bit of sulk as it was not what I expected from a “cheesecake”). If anyone is able to add a little more refinement to my classifications, I would welcome it!

This recipe is not a million miles away from some of the recipes for Key Lime Pie that I have seen, albeit that they usually involve eggs, but they rely on the reaction with the tart citrus juice to thicken the filling. This cheesecake is great as there is no messing about with eggs or baking it in the oven – the filling is a mixture of cream cheese and condensed milk, to which you add lemon juice. Like magic, it thickens up, and if you leave it to sit overnight in the fridge, it sets quite well. Using good, fresh lemons means that the cheesecake will be sharp and zingy, and the lack of eggs, butter etc. means that the finished result is also surprisingly light.

For the base, you can use the usual (boring) sweet digestive biscuits, which work well, but I like to use ginger nuts, which have a little more flavour and work well with the cream cheese and lemon. This also works well with speculaas biscuits, if you like that sort of thing.

For one cheesecake:

• 250g biscuits (digestive, ginger nuts etc).
• 50g butter
• 1 tin condensed milk (450g)
• 400g cream cheese (2 packets)
• 2 lemons, zest and juice only

For the base: Crush the biscuits finely. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the biscuit crumbs. Mix well, and pour into the bottom of a loose-bottomed flan case (mine was 20cm diameter). Spread the mixture out, and pat down firmly and smooth with the back of a spoon. Leave in the fridge to set.

For the filling: Put the condensed milk, cream cheese and lemon zest in a bowl and whisk until completely smooth. Add the lemon juice and whisk until combined and the mixture thickens (this happens quickly). Pour the filling mixture into the flan dish. Shake the pan lightly from side to side so that the surface evens off.

Place the cheesecake in the fridge and allow to rest overnight. The filling will continue to set, and will hold its shape when you cut it.

Worth making? I love this recipe, as it is really easy and ensures good results. I have also had quite a few requests from friends to give them the recipe, which I take to mean that people probably like it too. Just be sure to use the best, most tart lemons you can get hold of so that the flavour shines through.

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Magdalenas

Update: see my January 2018 updated version here

While LondonEats backed the Netherlands to win the World Cup, Spain emerged triumphant, and so in honour of that, today’s post features magdalenas.

These are traditional Spanish cakes, said to originate from Aragon, which are eaten at breakfast with cafe con leche or as an afternoon treat. At first glance these cakes seem reminiscent of French madeleines but there are a number of key differences.

Firstly, they use lemon rather than orange zest in the batter. Next, they are baked in round paper cups (like mini-cupcakes) rather than the fancier shell-shape of madeleines. This means there is less hassle involved, which by now you may or may not have come to realise that I think is a good thing in the kitchen. Less hassle, not more! Finally, and most crucially, as a result of my checking some of my cookbooks, it seems that while magdalenas are now often made using butter, they were originally made with olive oil, which makes perfect sense given the role that this stuff plays in Spanish cuisine. So olive oil it is.

With this knowledge, I hit the kitchen and followed a recipe which based on equal weights of eggs, sugar, flour and olive oil. This might sound a little bit familiar to regular readers (the basic quantities of the Victoria Sponge anyone?).

I find it interesting that essentially the same ingredients combined in a different way can yield such different results. Just shows that what you make can depend as much on what you make as what you have to hand. The recipe I have used also closely follows the method I use for making madeleines, so again, interesting to compare how the use of different ingredients affects the final result.

How were they? Fantastic. I don’t know how authentic they are compared to what you can get hold of in Spain, but they had a delicate lemon flavour and aroma, and the oil means that they are very moist. The crumb is not as fine as for madeleines or a sponge cake, which again is probably due to the oil, but they are waaaay more aromatic. I used extra-virgin olive oil, so the flavour was subtle rather than overwhelming. I also sprinkled granulated sugar on the cakes before cooking, so they formed a crisp, sugary crust on top.

All in all, delicious and different.

To make 12 magdalenas:

• 2 eggs (*)
• zest of one large lemon
• 115g caster sugar (*)
pinch of salt
• 115g self-raising flour
(*)
• 115g olive oil (or melted butter, cooled) (*)
• granulated sugar, to sprinkle the tops of the cakes

(*) Weigh the eggs in their shells, and use the same weight of sugar, flour and oil.

Put the eggs, caster sugar, lemon zest and salt in a bowl. Whip for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and thick.

Sift the flour. Add to the eggs and stir lightly with a spatula until combined.

Add the olive oil (or cooled liquid butter) and incorporate using a spatula. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tray. Place spoonfuls of the batter into the paper cups, lightly shake the tray to smooth the batter and sprinkle over some granulated sugar (be generous). Bake for around 20 minutes until the cakes are risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Worth making? I LOVE these! They take no longer than 10 minutes to make, but they are utterly delicious. Fragrant, moist and delicious. ¡Viva España!

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Pan-Fried Feta

During a visit to Athens a few years ago, I had a tip about a great vegetarian restaurant. Not that Greek food is particularly anti-veggie, but I liked the idea of somewhere that I really had a full range of choice on the menu. Once we found it, they were incredible friendly, but when we asked for the menu, someone shuffled over to apologise that they didn’t have a menu in English. Well, I had the foresight to learn (some of) the Greek alphabet on the way to Athens, so we decided that we should just wing it and hope we could make out what we were getting. This is probably the worst example of living dangerously I could come up with. We stood a chance of getting peppers instead of olives. The risk of a piece of raw meat being delivered to our table with a flourish were exactly nil.

One of the best dishes was something I had figured out involved feta. This turned out to be a delicious block of cheese which had been coated in flour and black sesame seeds, deep-fried and then drizzled with honey. It was utterly delicious – the cheese was soft, salty and kept its sharpness, and this went well with the crisp coating and the sweetness of the honey. Certainly made a change from the ubiquitous feta/tomato/olive salads! But seriously, deep-fried cheese? Healthy? No. Tasty? You bet!

This is my recipe which seeks to re-create that dish, and I am pretty happy with the result. When I make this, I usually aim for long, thin batons of feta, but each block usually decides that it has had enough and promptly splits in half. I attribute to a “fault” running through every block of feta I have ever tried this with and not sub-standard knife skills on my part.

Apart from the shock separation, everything went as planned. The coating puffs us slightly and turns crisp. The sesame seeds toast slightly and take on a lovely nutty flavour, but if you are a bit of a fanatic when it comes to appearance, try to find black sesame seeds, as they look a little more dramatic in the final dish.

These little blocks of fried loveliness were perfect in the late evening sunshine with some white wine and a light salad.

For the pan-fried feta:

• 200g feta
• 1 egg
• 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
• 1/2 teaspoons ground paprika
• 6 tablespoon olive oil
• plain flour (enough to coat the feta)
• 50g sesame seeds

• 3 tablespoons honey (according to preference, but preferable something light)

Cut the feta into 1cm x 2cm chunks, and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Combine the egg, pepper and paprika in a bowl and beat well. Roll each piece of chilled feta in the egg mixture, then roll in the flour. Once you have done all of them, roll each piece in the egg for a second time, then roll in the sesame seeds.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, and cook the feta on each side until golden. In the meantime, warm the honey in a saucepan until it is very liquid.

Remove the feta pieces from the frying pan, drizzle with a little honey, and serve warm.

Worth making? When I first made this, I was surprised by how well it turned out. The cheese, sesame and honey was a lovely combination. Maybe a little calorific, but then you don’t need to eat so many of them. And a pleasantly different way to serve feta as an appetiser.

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Easy Poffertjes

Hup Holland Hup! Love it or loathe it, it is the final of the World Cup 2010 tonight in Joburg. Whether you are following Paul the psychic octopus (backing Spain) or Mystic Mani, the parrot who can see the future (backing the Netherlands) (seriously – see here), there is no getting away from it. Here at LondonEats, we are pinning our colours to the mast, and backing the Netherlands, hence today’s rather attractive header featuring all things Dutch. Clogs, bikes, tulips, windmills, cheese and Queen Beatrix. If you missed it, click here.

In honour of this occasion, I have revisited my recipe for poffertjes, but I have tweaked it to make it yeast-free. This is also a lot quicker, as you just add baking powder and go for it.

The result? While these poffertjes obviously don’t have the yeasty taste of the traditional version, I still think they are pretty good. They still puff up, and they still develop the characteristic holes on top while they are cooking. They also taste pretty good. I would just make sure to use buckwheat flour in this recipe, so that you are not moving too far from the original and you keep the “real Dutch taste”. Smothered in melted salty butter and icing sugar, these things are utterly delicious. Next on my list to try will be to develop a gluten-free version. Watch this space.

One more time – Hup Holland Hup!

To make poffertjes:

• 125g plain flour
• 125g buckwheat flour
• 1 egg, beaten
• 250ml milk
• 250ml water
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 50g melted butter, cooled
• pinch of salt

In a large bowl, mix the plain and buckwheat flours. Add the milk and the water to make a thick batter. You want something that looks like pancake batter – basically, the mixture should flow from the back of a wooden spoon, but should not flow too quickly. You may find that you don’t need all the water, so don’t add it all at once.

Now add the salt, baking powder, melted butter and the egg, and mix well.

To cook the poffertjes, lightly grease the pan with a little butter (if the pan is no-stick, you won’t need to do this). Heat the pan on a medium heat. Fill a sauce bottle (one with a small nozzle), and then squirt the mix into the pan (saves fiddling with spoons or a piping bag). The mixture will swell slightly as the baking powder kicks into action, so don’t over-fill. When the top of the poffertje is almost dry, flip over and cook briefly on the other side.

Once all the poffertjes are cooked, serve with melted butter and icing sugar.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! As with their yeasty cousins, they are fun to serve and are utterly delicious. Swapping the yeast for baking powder makes it even quicker to whip up a batch of these tasty little treats.

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Edamame and Sprout Salad

After a glut of ice-cream and sorbet, today is a frost-free zone! This is because last night I took a big step and…signed up with a personal trainer! The first session was great, although I am currently knowing levels of pain that I had never even known could exist.

Aching with every step, and hoping that all this pain would hopefully lead to some sort of gain, I decided to make a healthy lunch. Something Asian and light. I am happy to admit that I did not put too much thought into this recipe, but rather I just checked out – as usual – what I had in the cupboard, and selected out anything that looked exotic and had suggestions of Asia about it. Edamame beans, sprouts, sesame oil. You get the picture. I also happened to have some alfalfa and China rose radish sprouts (which were a little peppery and added an additional interesting flavour to the salad). The great thing about these sorts of dishes is that you can customise them to suit what you want to eat and what you have to hand – I can also see this working well with a few pieces of tofu, a little quinoa and/or some glass noodles. For me, the successful part of this dish was getting the dressing right –  sesame oil, lime juice and soy sauce, so that it is by turns sharp, citrus, salty and nutty, but it does not overwhelm the main ingredients.

I’m not sure how authentic all of this is, but as someone who one day wants to Japan and experience its food and culture, it kept me happy this lunchtime. Perhaps the time has come for me to get hold a vegetarian Japanese cookbook?

For the salad (main for one, side salad for two):

• 150g edemame beans, boiled, drained and cooled
• 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, toasted
• 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
• 1 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds, toasted
• 1 generous handful of alfalfa
• 1 generous handful of China rose radish sprouts
• 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips

Place all the ingredients in a bowl, add the dressing and toss lightly before serving.

If you need to toast the pumpkin seeds, this is easiest done in the oven at 200°C for around 10 minutes until they smell of toasted nuts. To toast the nigella seeds and sesame, put into a saucepan without any oil and dry-fry until the are aromatic and the sesame is lightly golden. Be careful with all of them – they burn easily!

For the dressing:

• 3 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil (e.g. grapeseed)
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon lime juice
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
• pinch of sugar
• 1 teaspoon chilli sauce

Put all the ingredients in a jam jar, and share vigorously. Like a mini-workout.

Worth making? This is a really nice dressing which has more pronounced and interesting flavours than normal the normal oil-vinegar mixture. Using the edamame beans as the main ingredient makes this quite a different lunch or side salad, and keeps it filling without being heavy. Really worth trying, and so easy to adapt to your personal tastes.

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Lemon Sorbet

More frozen stuff? Can you tell that I am still excited about my new ice-cream machine? You’d be right.

Today, it’s lemon time. Everyone has that one flavour they love and almost always choose when given a choice (at least in the summer). You might flirt with other flavours from time to time, but you always come back to that favourite. For me, I adore lemon sorbet. I like it to be fresh and zingy, sour, tart and lip-smackingly lemony. I have tried lemon ice-cream, but I always find it a bit of a poor substitute for sorbet. Lemon juice lends itself to cleanness and freshness, which is dulled when you try to make it using cream or milk. I could see how you could make a frozen lemon yoghurt, but if you’re after something sharp, sorbet is so simple and ticks all the boxes. Any now I can make my own!

In this recipe, I wanted the flavour of the lemons to really come out. I got hold of some beautiful fresh lemons, and started off by zesting them into a saucepan – the idea was that this would get the zest as well as some of their essential oils. I infused the zest with the sugar syrup, allowed it to steep, then added the lemon juice at the end. I also tried to decrease the amount of sugar – this amount of liquid would usually take 500g sugar, but I managed to get it down successfully to 350g. Sweet, but not too sweet.

I think using the lemon zest made a real difference – the syrup took on a light yellow colour, and there was a definite additional sharpness rather than just the tartness of the lemon. In the end, the colour did not really impact on the final result – it was a snowy white colour, but the stong taste of lemon was clearly there. All in all, I was really happy with this.

I love this sorbet as it is, but if you are looking for ways to jazz it up, you can try adding a handful of another aromatic herb to the hot syrup – mint, verbena, rosemary…or take the boozy route and top off with a shot of ice-cold limoncello or vodka.

For 1 litre of lemon sorbet:

• 250ml lemon juice
• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon liquid glucose
• 750ml water

Grate the zest of each lemon into a saucepan. Extract the juice and keep it in a separate bowl. Keep going until you have 250ml of lemon juice.

Add the sugar, water and glucose to the saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the lemon juice, stir well, cover and allow to cool.

Strain the cooled mixture to remove the peel. Freeze the sorbet in an ice-cream machine.

Worth making? This sorbet is incredibly easy – if you are in a rush, or prefer a milder lemon flavour, you can omit the zest, and just combine sugar, water and lemon juice. I know this is getting repetitive, but I will also be making a lot more of this over the summer!

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Chocolate Sherbet (aka Ice-Cream)

With a new ice-cream machine sitting in the corner, it was just a matter of time before I got round to making something with chocolate.

The thing is, that I don’t really like thick, creamy frozen desserts. When it is warm, I prefer something light, bright and clean-tasting. So how to do this with chocolate? Surely this ingredient is the essence of all things heavy and rich?

Well, I have recently tried a few different recipes recently which have taught me quite  lot – a champagne sorbet worked well, and the strawberry sorbet was stunning. I also turned my hand to pistachio. The first attempt (a Nigel Slater recipe, which is usually a good sign)  used an egg-based custard made with double cream. The result was, to my palate, not very nice. It was thick, like eating frozen over-whipped cream, with nay a hint of pistachio. To heavy, too rich, too much egg. Just too much of everything.

My second attempt was much simpler, a gelato recipe from David Leibowitz via Chocolate & Zucchini (see the C&Z variation, see here). Rather than all those rich ingredients, this used milk thickened with just a little cornflour. The result was great – might lighter, a more fluid custard, and once it was frozen, it had just a hint of  “creaminess” from the milk but without all that weight. I also like that when it melts, it becomes a liquid, rather than staying like a thick, soft cream. Just my preference!

All this practicing has taught me that I prefer and should therefore stick to these “lighter” recipes – either sorbets, or what the Americans call “sherbets”. I like that the Americans have an extra category between sorbet and ice-cream. What makes a sherbet a sherbet and not a sorbet is the addition of a small amount of dairy (some light milk or a shot of cream). Thus, all along, I had chocolate sherbet in my mind, so I was quite happy when I managed to track down this recipe from David. Now I just need to convert my friends in London over to using this term, which is likely to be a source of further confusion as sherbet here means a fizzy powder sweet.

To make this sherbet, I decided I did not want to leave the house, so I went with the chocolate I happened to have in the cupboard, a bar of fleur de cocoa dark chocolate from Pierre Marcolini, plus a jar of pure dark chocolate shavings he sells for use in drinking chocolate. If this recipe was going to showcase the flavour of the chocolate, it made perfect sense for me to use the very best I had. I also used good Dutch cocoa powder to complement the chocolate.

As always, the need to make tweaks to the recipe overtook me, so rather than just using white sugar, I added muscovado – this lends the finished produce a more interesting flavour, with caramel notes coming through rather than just pure sweetness, just helping to round out the taste.

The base itself look and smelled wonderful. Rich aromas, and a glossy deep brown chestnut colour. Some might be tempted to drink the lot with a straw or pour directly down their throat, but as it was pushing 28°C here, that temptation was not really an issue for me. I chilled it, froze it, and tried it.

First time round, I let the mixture cool on the stove, then moved it to the fridge to chill it before freezing. This worked, but during the chilling process, the mixture “separated” a little, so tiny particles of chocolate formed. Tiny, but you could feel them on your tongue. I sensed this was not right, so I put the lot back on a saucepan, heated it again, but this time put it straight into the ice-cream machine. Result? A perfectly smooth scoop which gave me a little tingle of excitement.

In my view, this is one of the best chocolate ice-creams that I have ever had. I think too often chocolate seems like vanilla flavoured with cocoa powder, or it is too creamy, or the flavour is too weak. Not an issue here. Beautiful colour and intense taste, and just perfect for the hot weather. Result? Result!

For 3/4 litre of chocolate ice-cream:

• 500ml semi-skimmed milk
• 100g muscovado sugar
• pinch of salt
• 50g cocoa powder
• 115g dark chocolate, very finely chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon white rum

Place 250ml of milk, the sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a saucepan. Heat slowly, whisking all the time, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 seconds.

Turn off the heat. Add the chocolate, mix well until the chocolate has melted, then add the rest of the milk, the vanilla and the rum and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the ice-cream machine and freeze.

Worth making? This ice-cream recipe is both very easy and very delicious. Perfect for those that want their chocolate fix even in hot weather, as well as for those that like to enjoy cool things on hot days. I will make this again, and again and again this summer. Wonderful!

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Madeleines

With all things Continental still in my mind and a new baking tray, my thoughts turned to making madeleines. These are small French teacakes, with a shell pattern on one side and a “bump” on the other. The apparently originate from the Lorraine area in north-east of France, which makes the use of the shell shape all the more curious (it’s, eh, rather far from the sea).

Madeleines are perhaps most famous for their appearance in a short story by Proust in The Remembrance of Things Past. It is entitled “The Cookie”, although it actually relates to madeleines, in which the author describes the effect that tasting a piece of the cake has on his memories. It is not the look or smell of the cake (rather annoying for the person who went to all the effort to shape them), but the taste of the cake when dipped in a little warm tea and then eaten. Read it here.

Madeleines are small and delicate, usually flavoured with orange. The method might seem a little daunting at first – whip eggs and sugar, then add flour, then add cooled melted butter, allow to chill, then put into special moulds and watch like a hawk as they cook – but once you have tried them, they are quite simple. If you are keen to start making little French teatime treats, then the madeleine will also prove to be easier to master and generally a lot less fickle than the macaron. They also provide some scope to play with the recipe – lemon in place of orange, or use ground nuts in place of one-third of the flour (look closely – you can see the ground pistachio in the ones I made).

For me, the tricky thing has always been using a madeleine pan and getting successful results. I have – until this week – used a teflon-coated tray, and usually find that about half of the madeleines split in two, with half of each cake clinging to the not-so-non-stick surface, and all this in spite of generous use of butter, non-stick spray, each tried with and without dustings of flour. Well, this time, I used my new silicone tray, and each madeline came out with no effort. Each had a perfect, smooth finish. If you want to make madelines, buy a silicone mould – I can’t be enthusiastic enough about it!

Now, time to sit down with a madeleine, a cup of tea, and dip a piece of the former into the latter. Believe me, it tastes good!

To make 18 madeleines:

• 85 grams butter
• 2 eggs
• 80g grams caster sugar
• Zest of 1 orange
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 110g grams plain flour (you can substitute 1/3 of the flour with ground nuts)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• Large pinch salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Put to one side and allow to cool.

Put the eggs, caster sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract in a bowl. Whip for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and thick.

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and sift. Add the flour mixture to the eggs and stir lightly with a spatula until combined.

Add the cooled liquid butter and incorporate using a spatula. Let the batter rest in the fridge for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place spoonfuls of the batter into madeleine moulds and bake for around 8-10 minutes (or as long as it takes for “bumps” to appear in the middle of the cakes). Reduce the heat to 190°C and bake until the cakes are lightly browned (another 5 minutes).

Once cooked, remove from the oven. When the silicone tray is cool enough to work with, press each madeleine out the the tray. Move to a cooling rack, and dust the shell side of each with icing sugar.

If you are feeling more ambitious, I have seen some recipes that use brown butter. This is normal butter that has been melted then cooked briefly so that the fat and solids separate and any water evaporates (with a rather spectacular fit of hissing and spitting), and the butter solids turn brown and there is am aroma of toasted nuts. You then strain the butter, and are left with butter that has a rich, nutty flavour. Just another way to add an extra flavour dimension to your baking.

Worth making? The only fussy bit here is actually getting hold of the proper tray. The rest is quite easy and uses items from the store cupboard. The result, however, is really excellent. The cakes are quite firm, and as Proust did, can be easily dunked into warm tea. Try it, experience the wonderful flavour, and you will be happy you tried making these yourself. I think I will be making these regularly as a companion to post-dinner coffee.

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