Category Archives: Guest chef

Scottish Food: Smiddy Dumpling

Today we are revisiting Scotland’s culinary heritage again. This is a recipe sent to me by my friend Sarah (who previously very kindly shared a family recipe for Belgian Loaf). It has come via her family located north of Inverness, so on at least one measure, it is probably about the most Scottish thing I’ve made for quite some time. So…presenting the “Smiddy Dumpling”.

The name Smiddy Dumpling is a bit of a misnomer though – it’s actually a simple fruit loaf. It’s similar to the famous Clootie Dumpling, which got its name from the fact that it was cooked (boiled) in a cloth – called a “cloot” in Scotland. Smiddy Dumpling is more like a traditional teacake, baked in the oven and served by the slice. It’s crammed with fruit (sultanas, raisins and whatever else you like) and has grated carrot in it to add moisture and some additional sweetness. It’s great with a cup of tea (what else would you drink in Scotland?) spread with a little butter and maybe honey or jam. It is equally good as a comforting pudding with a good glug of custard and/or a scoop of ice cream.

However, maybe we Scottish people approach these sort of recipes with the fond, fuzzy memories of childhood when eating it. We tried it on a German – he just point blank refused to eat what he called “another of those funny little Scottish recipes“.

The method is simplicity itself. It’s the same idea as Belgian Loaf – everything apart from the eggs and flour is put into a saucepan and brought to the boil. This ensures that the sugar and liquid are well-mixed and that the dried fruit has a chance to soften before baking. Once it has been left to cool, you mix in the flour and eggs and pop the cake into the oven. Cook slowly and wait for the final result. One things that I would caution – I am not sure that this will work so well if you try to make it using a muffin tray. It needs a long time in a slow oven for the raising agent (baking soda) to work its magic. Putting the batter into small muffin pans means less cooking time, which might leave a bit of a funny taste from the soda. If you are nevertheless a believer that small is beautiful, I would swap the baking soda for baking powder, and add it with the flour rather than when you boil the mixture. Just a thought.

The resulting cake is similar to Christmas cake. Well, actually, it is better than Christmas cake, as I actually cannot stand the traditional British festive cake. The Smiddy Dumpling has very moist fruit (given that it’s been boiled up with water and sugar) and the “cake bit” holding it all together is very light and soft. You can play around with any spices – keep it plain, add things like cinnamon, ground cloves or allspice, or be creative (for example, you could add festive German Lebkuchengewürz mixed spice like I did).

As a fruity teatime treat, this is easy and pretty hard to beat. Sarah’s sister made this for work and had several colleagues after the recipe – now, that sounds like a pretty good endorsement of this recipe to me!

And finally – you’ll see that the recipe is in cups and ounces – this is how it came to me, and that is how it is staying. If you need to convert, go by volume, not weight, at a rate of 1 cup = 240ml.

To make Smiddy Dumpling (makes a 2lb loaf):

Step 1:

• 1 cup water
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 1/2 cups fruit (sultanas, raisins…)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
• 4oz (100g) butter
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice

Put all ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes. Allow to cool.

In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Step 2:

• 1 cup plain flour
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 2 eggs well beaten

Add the flour and eggs to the cooled mixture and stir well. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours. The loaf should roughly double in size.

Worth making? If you like dried fruit, this really is an excellent fruit loaf, and probably one of the best that I have had in a while. It’s neither too sweet nor too heavy, but has enough good stuff in there so that you don’t feel you are being cheated in any way. Definitely a winner from my perspective!

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Guest Chef: Onion Tartlets

Very exciting, as today’s recipe is not one of mine, but is something my mum made last time I was visiting up in Scotland. Just a couple of weeks ago, but we still had snow outside, so spent most of the time indoors trying to keep warm. The poor cat didn’t know what was happening – it’s been at the mercy of the white stuff since mid-November.

I digress. This is the classic pairing of sweet, caramelised onions with cheese. The onions as basically shredded (so a bit of weeping is likely), and cooked with a glug of olive oil and a little butter and sugar until they are caramelised. Finish with a glass of white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice, allow the liquid to evaporate, then bake in the oven with cheese. the key here is to go for something with a decent flavour – Gruyère is the usual pairing, but a sharp, tangy cheddar will work just as well. Or if you feel greedy, a bit of both. But the result is great, and really for minimal effort.

Minimal effort? But surely you made the pastry, and that’s a faff! Well…time for a little confession. When we made these, we decided to take the “relaxed” option of using pre-made cases. Making pastry is pretty easy, and something I can do quite happily, but you can also buy some good all-butter pastry cases, and so we did that. Minimal fuss, so rather than all that sift-rub-chill-roll-chill again business, we just had to take care of the onions. As all the cooking is on a gentle heat to allow the flavour of the onions to develop properly, you probably don’t need to spend more than 10 minutes actually working in the kitchen. Spend it with the cat, watching it chase a silver thing on a stick instead!

The result is impressive, tastes great, and you can still bask in the “oh-I-made-them-myself” glory, while saving ourselves quite a lot of the hard work. Just don’t tell the guests! Or if you feel guilty, make your own pastry.

We also thought about some adaptations that I have on my “to do” list – using red onions, replacing the dash of lemon juice with a little balsamic vinegar, and crumbling goats cheese on top before baking. I expect great things!

To make 6 onion tartlets:

• 7 large onions
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 25g butter
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 glass white wine
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 6 pastry cases (8-10 cm diameter)

Peel the onions, cut in half, and slice very thinly. Place in a frying pan with the sugar, butter and olive oil, then cover and cook very gently for about an hour, stirring from time to time. The onions are ready once they are soft, translucent and starting to caramelise.

Set the oven to 180°C.

Add a glass of white wine and lemon juice to the onions, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir well, and cook off the liquid.

Divide the onions between the tartlet cases and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the top of the cheese has melted and is slightly brown.

Serve warm.

Worth making? These were great little tartlets, wich a rich and flavourful filling. The basic recipe can be easily customised depending on which onions and which cheeses you have to hand. If you’re ambitious, you could easily adapt them into amuse-bouche for those fancy parties we all host these days.

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Guest Chef: Brooklyn Berry Pancakes

For those that have missed the many, many hints at the end of 2010, I spent New Year in New York this time round and had an absolute blast.

On 30 December, we had a real Mad Men evening, and headed to Midtown for dinner at the super-swish Casa Lever. This place was, quite simply, stunning. A fantastic bar with well-made (i.e. strong) cocktails, and a funky 1950s-inspired retro interior. That selection of Warhol-style prints on the wall? Eh…no…they are Warhols. I loved, loved, loved this place. The menu is not vast, but even given this, I found the veggie selection to be pretty good, and – refreshingly – rather innovative. Mushroom risotto is all well and good, but ’twas not to be seen. Instead, it was a joy to eat  their fantastic baby beet salad, followed by pear ravioli with smoked butter. Sitting in the coveted corner table, all of us dressed up smartly, it was a superb meal. We rolled out of there, and straight into the nearby Monkey Bar for more, eh, cocktails. Just a quick Old Fashioned to finish off the evening. Then into a cab and whisked through the icy streets of Manhattan, over the bridge and into Brooklyn with the glittering skyscrapers of the city piercing the freezing night air…

…however, the next morning, it is fair to say that we were a little “delicate”. I put it down to the jet lag. Honest! But we were fortunate enough to wake up to the smell of the hostess’s pancakes. After a little persuasion, she agreed to let me take the pics and post the recipe. So here as her (almost) famous Brooklyn Berry Pancakes, which also makes her my first guest chef of 2011!

In this recipe, you are looking for large fruit, and then drop three or four sizeable berries (blackberries, raspberries – fresh or frozen) onto the top of the pancakes are they sizzle in the skillet (frying pan – this word confused me at first – we really are two nations separated by a common language).

All was peaceful until I asked for syrup. Maple syrup was promptly presented with a flourish (“the finest Vermont maple syrup from our trip up there in Autumn…”), and I made a throwaway comment about how great golden syrup is on pancakes. Don’t get me wrong, I love maple syrup, but I also love golden syrup and salty butter on pancakes. But this was the wrong crowd, and there was probably nothing I could do to bring them round. The American perspective about the wrongness of golden syrup was rammed home with a tale about glazing a holiday roast in England with golden syrup and the resulting “interesting” taste experience that followed. We left it agreeing I would never persuade them, and all was good when we later dropped by Dean & Deluca in the New Year, I picked up a full 16 fl oz of maple syrup to take home. With that, we were all friends once again, not that I think we were ever not.

To make American Berry Pancakes:

• 180g plain flour
• 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• pinch of salt
• 2 tablespoons melted butter (plus extra, for frying)
• 300ml milk
• 1 egg
• 2 handfuls berries (fresh or frozen)

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, and add the melted butter, milk and egg. Whisk until smooth, adding more milk if the batter is too thick – it should be fairly thin (aim for single cream consistency) or it will thicken up too much when cooking. Pour batter into a measuring cup or something with a spout.

Put some butter in a frying pan and heat gently until melted. On a medium heat, pour enough batter the same size as “silver dollar” pancakes (about the size of your palm). When they start to bubble on top, drop a few berries on top. Flip over and when done, place on a plate in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Serve with sliced banana or apple and…pour maple syrup all over them!

Worth making? Tasty and always welcome first thing in the morning to give you the energy to head into town for sightseeing! And with that little jolt of fruit…well, you might even be able to claim that it is healthy.

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Käsekuchen nach Oma Friedel

If you have a smattering of German, you’ll know that this is Grandma Freidel’s cheesecake. Much as I would love to be able to claim this is a secret family recipe, passed down through the generations, that would be a great big lie. It is a family recipe, but it comes from my friend Klaus in Brussels shared at the weekend.

As baked cheesecakes go, this is a nice, simple recipe (no worrying about making a base, getting it cooked, then doing the filling…). Instead, just make the batter and bake. Simple. It also has a light, fresh hint of citrus, and is excellent either on its own, or served with red fruits (think a simple compote of redcurrants and raspberries). Served in giant slabs, you’ll be transported to the Black Forest in no time.

To make Grandma Friedel’s cheesecake:

• 250g butter
• 350g sugar
• 1 sachet of vanilla sugar
• 6 eggs
• Pinch of salt
• Zest of 1/2 lemon
• 1 kg Magerquark (similar to drained low-fat fromage frais)
• 8 dessert spoons of fine semolina
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 2 dessert spoons single cream

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Grease a springform cake tin and line the base with a disc of greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter and allow to cool. Add the sugar, vanilla sugar and lemon zest, and mix well.

Separate the six eggs, placing the whites in a separate bowl and add five of the yolks to the butter/sugar mixture (keep one yolk separate for later). Mix the yolks into the butter/sugar mixture and stir well until combined.

Mix the quark, semolina and lemon juice together. Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff, and fold into the quark mixture. Finally, fold in the butter/sugar/egg yolk mixture. Be delicate, trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Beat the reserved egg yolk with the cream and drizzle carefully over the top of the batter.

Bake for 60 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the top of the cake, and cover with a round of greaseproof paper to prevent it from burning.

Once cooked, remove from the oven – at this stage, it might look a little bit wobbly, but it will set when cool.

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Belgian Loaf

I was in Brussels at the weekend, and spent a rather pleasant time thanks to not having planned very much at all. On past visits, I have tended to try to meet everyone there that I know, resulting in running from social event to social event, and concluding by the end of the afternoon that I have had far too many cups of coffee in various cafés. This time, quite a few friends were out of town, so it was a very sedate affair. Dinner with friends on Friday, a lazy Saturday finished off by meeting friends for a little baking and dinner, and a lazy Sunday walking in the sunshine (it seemed like 25 degrees! In Brussels! In October!). A great weekend, as it was nice to see people for a decent amount of time and hang out, discussing everything from major changes to the little things in life.

As part of the Saturday afternoon baking session, my friend Sarah was keen to do a guest spot on my blog and to share some of her family recipes. Rather than bombard you, I’ll spread these over the next few days so that they can be enjoyed, and to start with, it’s the amazingly retro Belgian Loaf.

Ah, you’re just back from Brussels. So this must be a Belgian recipe! A logical conclusion, but it has – as far as both Sarah and I am aware – nothing to do with Belgium. She explained to me that the recipe is originally from the Women’s Institute, and was passed to her mother when she got married back in the 1970s, together with a well-meaning suggestion that as a new wife, this was the sort of thing that she should be turning her hand to. It’s actually quite a simple recipe – just cook up sugar, butter and dried fruit, then allow to cool, and mix with flour and bake – and to both Sarah and myself, it brings back the memories of home baking in Scotland that we knew as children. The resulting cake is a sort of light fruit cake, both in colour and flavour. You will also see that you can make this with or without an egg. Sarah made this once without the egg and found that it didn’t seem to make a difference, and has since stopped adding it. If you go with this tweak, it also means you have a recipe that is safe to make with kids who keep putting fingers into the batter and eating it raw.

I do find the name both funny and interesting, and have tried to find out why it is called “Belgian Loaf”. The internet didn’t provide any clues – lots of very similar recipes, but very little commentary on it. Having actually lived in Belgium, and having also tried a fairly wide selection of their baked goods over the years, I never came across anything that seemed remotely like Belgian Loaf. Given that this seems so much more like a familiar British teabread, I can only conclude that the Belgian title has been added to suggest a slightly more exotic origin. Scottish teacakes were plain, so adding a little dried fruit would add that little element of Continental sophistication to merit the name. That’s my theory, but if anyone knows differently, we would love to know more!

For one Belgian loaf:

• 1 cup (200g) sugar
• 1 cup (240ml) milk
• 1 cup (160g) dried fruit (sultanas, glace cherries, cranberries – in any proportions you like)
• 4 oz (100g) butter
• 2 cups (250g) plain flour
• 1 egg, beaten (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and grease and line a loaf tin.

Put the sugar, butter, milk and fruit into a saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil, stirring from time to time. Once boiling, remove from the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking power and baking soda. Add the milk mixture and the egg (if using) and stir until well combined. The mixture will be very runny.

Pour into the loaf tin, and bake for 50-60 minutes until risen, golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top darkens too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil during baking.

Note: the proportions in Sarah’s recipe were in cups, so I have reproduced them here, with conversions into grammes for those that prefer them.

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Brixton Macaron Bake and a temperamental oven

I’ve just come back from a great staycation down in Brixton in South London. My friend K and her baby were on their own for the night, so I went down there, we made macarons, and saw some of the local food highlights. To top off the evening, some guests were coming to dinner, and we decided that they would be tasting the results and giving us their verdict.

K had been determined to at least have a go at making macarons during her maternity leave. In the interests of science, we tried two versions: simple (whisk egg whites, add to icing sugar and ground almonds) while the other was rather more laborious (involving preparing meringue with cooked sugar syrup). We also prepared a range of fillings.

Macarons are a combination of cooking, art and chemistry. You need to have an appreciation of the magic that is at work, everything needs to be measured exactly, and you need to have an oven that works. “Oh, did I mention that there is a problem with the oven?“. Eh, no, you didn’t. “Well, the dials are off, so it’s difficult to know the exact temperature of the oven, or even whether it is the oven or the grill that is on“. It looked like this was to be more of a sporting option than I had first anticipated…

We started with chocolate maracons using the easy method. This all went smoothly. I would have preferred to blitz the almonds in a coffee grinder to get them perfectly powdery as they were a little coarse, but this wasn’t a major issue. I piped out a trayfull, then my co-chef for the day had a go. It turned out it was her first time piping macarons, but after a couple of tries, she got the method down to a tee. The texture was good too – the tops smoothed out perfectly. We left them to dry for 20 minutes, baked them, and they came out of the oven looking perfect. Only one of them saw fit to erupt volcano-style. Nice chewy texture too. Result!

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Easter Lunch with an Indian theme

Lunch with friends at home on Easter Sunday – obviously time for, eh, curry. However, this time I am not the chef, nor is this (yet another) “on location” special.

Today is exciting as Fashpolitico is appearing as a guest chef. We were round at her house at the weekend, and she did a star turn with a colourful selection of spicy Asian goodies. Spicy Indian cream tomato soup with bhajis to start, then squash in tomato and coconut milk, dahl, coconut green beans with mint, saffron and spiced rice and cucumber raita, all followed by an orange and cardamom cake. And all absolutely delicious.

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