Tag Archives: apples

Nordic Inspiration

Today is a bit of a special offer, as I’m going to share not just one but two recipes on an autumnal theme. This all seems very fitting, as my morning walk to the local underground station had definitely changed from being warm or even just cool, and is now decidedly crisp with a little prickle of cold in the air.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen making cinnamon buns. I actually make them quite often, and took a batch to work last week for my birthday. I think they lasted less than three minutes, and I got five requests for the recipe. The lesson? If you’re keen to be a much-loved co-worker, fresh and buttery baked goods will always go down well. However, this time I’ve add a twist to my standard recipe. In addition to the buttery cinnamon filling, I’ve added a rich seam of apple jam running though them, with the seasonal flavours of apple and spice joining forces.

My inspiration came from an event at the Nordic Bakery in London a few days ago. In celebration of Cinnamon Bun Day on 4 October, they are offering five daily specials over the course of this week. I think it’s a great idea to put a twist on the classic, and I find it rather amusing that the Swedish idea of celebrating them for one day has been taken by people from Finland, extended to a week, and thereby made better. Below you can get a bit of an idea of their tasty Finnish wares from a visit to their branch near Piccadilly Circus during summer.

Nordic Bakery 1

The five flavours on offer are lemon and raisin, blueberry, almond and custard, apple jam and finally chocolate buttons. As we’re just heading into day five of five, I’m afraid you’ve missed most of them, but you can still nab the apple jam version on Friday.

I also had a chat with Miisa Mink, the lady behind the Nordic Bakery, and she shared her ideas about selecting flavours. The apple jam ones were a traditional Finnish ingredient and a favourite of her father. My verdict on the five flavours was that the blueberry and chocolate versions were good, but the apple jam was a bit of a star for me (maybe something to do with a strategic selection of the piece that had the largest pieces of jammy fruit peeking out from between the layers of pastry?). You can see some of them below – yes, they’re cut into pieces, but really, who could eat five whole buns and remain standing at the end of it all? I mean, I tried my best, but I did have to admit defeat eventually!

NordicComposite

So, if you’re a cinnamon bun fan and want to try these specialities, head to the Nordic Bakery. Otherwise, do as I did, and draw on them for a bit of inspiration.

Yes, after I had tried those apple jam buns, I decided that I would try to make something similar. My first task was to make the most of a few organic apples that were languishing in my kitchen and starting to look just a little bit forlorn. OK, that is perhaps a bit harsh – they actually looked more like real apples should look, with varying colours, sizes and a few little bumps and bruises.

autumnapples

Unlike some of the other jams that can involve a fair bit of work to prepare the fruit, this one was easy. Peel, core, chop, add sugar and boil. Very easy, and the apples were transformed into something sweet, sticky and delicious with a rather pretty soft pink colour. If you’re only looking for a way to use up apples, then you can just make the jam, and look to flavour it with whatever spices you like – cinnamon and apple is classic, but you could get good results with cardamom, star anise or cloves (just be sure that you get the amount of spice right – with cloves in particular, a little goes a long way!). And there you go…first recipe of the day!

However, the real fun comes when you add the apple jam as a filling into cinnamon buns. I tweaked my standard recipe by omitting the cardamom that usually goes into the dough, and replacing it with nutmeg. I also swapped out the white sugar for soft brown sugar, and instead of the usual sprinkling of white pearl sugar, I gave them a shiny coating of brown sugar glaze. The result? Pinwheels of warm, delicious, apple-infused goodness.

applejamcinnamonbuns1

As you can see, not a bad result! And thanks have to go do Nordic Bakery for giving me the idea to have a go at them at home. I urge you to try them, but if you’re feeling a bit lazy/desperate but still want to get into the celebratory spirit of Cinnamon Bun Day, you can still hot foot it down there and nab the apple jam buns today!

applejamcinnamonbuns2

Full disclosure: I didn’t get paid for writing this post. I just positioned myself next to the table when the five types of bun were revealed and ate A LOT of them during my visit!

To make Apple Jam Cinnamon Buns (makes 12):

For the apple jam:

• 450g peeled apples, finely chopped
• 250g jam sugar (with pectin)
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. Put the apples into a saucepan with some water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until soft.

2. Add the sugar, and simmer gently until it is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil, then cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, then test from time to time for a set. You want a slightly soft set – the fruit should be “jammy” but it should not be thick or stiff.

3. Once the jam is ready, put to one side and leave to cool.

For the filling:

• 70g butter, soft
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• all the cooled apple jam

1. Mix the butter and cinnamon until smooth, then fold in the apple jam.

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g brown sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour

1. First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

2a. If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

4. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

6. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot glaze.

For the glaze:

• 50g soft brown sugar
• 50ml water

1. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil for about a minute.

Worth making? Utterly delicious! These are like compact apple pies and add a whole new dimension to making cinnamon buns. I’m a convert!

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Sweet Beets

I think beetroot is one the most under-appreciated vegetables. It’s got a lot going for it – a sweet, earthy flavour and a colour that is literally shocking. But it has done rather badly thanks to the favoured British way of serving it. I mean, why would you want to use it in its lovely fresh state when you can pickle the thing in vinegar and turn it into something astringent and rather naff? I mean, why?

Well, time to change that. I love cooking with beetroot, and find that it is really versatile. It makes a great sauce for pasta or gnocchi (cooked up with cumin seeds, cream and fresh dill), sensational hot and cold soups and beetroot juice gives you vibrant, natural colours in savour and sweet dishes. When icing a cake, beetroot will give you one of the hottest pinks you could wish for. It can also be used in baking, making wonderful beetroot and chocolate cakes that are moist, chocolatey and nutritious. Convinced yet?

One of the easiest things to make is a Swedish-style beet and apple salad. Worth making for the stunning colour alone. My timing is also spot on – tomorrow is Sweden’s national day, so the country will be awash with flags, smörgåsbord and (probably) beetroot salad.

beet_salad_1

This salad is just apple and beetroot, finished off with a little onion, sour cream and seasoning. It is by turns fruity, savoury, creamy and fresh. It is also incredibly easy to make – just chop-chop, mix-mix, and you have a colourful and delicious summery salad, which is great with a light lunch or as part of a brunch spread. This is my take on the version served at London’s Scandinavian Kitchen – I was too shy to ask them for their recipe (which I would imagine is secret anyway) so I’ve tried to re-create this so I can get my fix in the meantime.

beet_salad_2

This makes a good lunch served alongside other Scandinavian delights like dill potato salad, crispbread and goodies like meat and fish.

To make Swedish beetroot and apple salad:

• 4 medium beetroot
• 4 crisp apples, peeled and cored
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste
• 1/2 small white onion, very finely chopped
• sour cream (use a 300ml pot)
• dill, to finish

1. Cook the beetroot – drop them whole into boiling water, cover and simmer until the beets are tender (around an hour). Drain and leave to cool (this is a good thing to do the day before).

2. Peel the cold beets – trim off and discard the top and bottom, and use the back of a knife to rub off the skin – it should just come off without the need to cut the beets. Once peeled, cut the beets into small chunks and put into a large bowl.

3. Peel and core the apples, cutting into small cubes. Add to the beets.

4. Add the onion, salt and pepper to the beets, plus as much sour cream as you like. You want the beets and apple to be well-coated, but not swimming in cream. Stir well until everything is shocking pink. Enjoy cold, and watch your tongue change colour!

Worth making? This is a straightforward summer recipe – easy, fresh and delicious. Recommended!

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Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November…

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Yay! Tonight is Guy Fawkes Night, so we will all wrap up warm, stand round a large bonfire, and look up at the fireworks over Alexandra Palace, while partaking in a collective ooooh and aaaaah as the sky lights up. Alexandra Palace is not a royal residence, but was purpose built in the 1870s as an entertainment venue, and as it is perched in a hill, if is the perfect place for a fireworks show. I’ve been in previous years, and it’s great, but this year, I’m lucky enough to be heading off to the house of some friends who live nearby, so I get all the benefits of an amazing show, but all the comfort of being in someone’s garden, with food and drinks within easy reach.

For the party, I produced two contributions. One batch of spicy roasted tomato soup (see here) which I had jazzed up with a bit of Piment d’Espelette, so I won’t repeat that one today. And to offset this healthy, hearty and savoury soup, I also whipped up a batch of toffee apples.

As you can see, they are the classic sort – small, on a stick, and bright, bright red!

This was the first time I’ve made them, so there were, of course, a couple of things to think about.

First, what sort of apples? While I have a source at work who comes in each Monday morning weighed down with cooking apples, they were too large and a bit too tart for this. Perfect for a pie or a Waldorf Salad, but not here. No, the apples need to be smaller, but sweet, juicy and crisp. So at the greengrocer, they were selling small russet apples. Perfect!

Now, the obvious next question – what to coat them with?

Should it be the pure sugar caramel coating, coloured shocking red, or a more muted butter-and-brown-sugar toffee? Well, I went for a combination of both. The dipping toffee is a combination of white and brown sugar, butter, cream, vinegar (!), golden syrup and a dash of salt, then a good dash of food colouring to get the classic red colour. I know, I know that I could have stuck with the natural colour, but this is a night for bright colour. Plus, it’s only once a year.

So…if you fancy making them, then there is still time today! Just get apples, wash and dry them. Then make the toffee, dip the apples, and you could be enjoying them by the bonfire in less than an hour.

And if you want to make them ahead of time – be warned! The sugar coating will absorb moisture from the air, so make them as late as possible, or store them wrapped in lightly greased or buttered cling film in a sealed container. You’ve been warned. Don’t blame me if then turn into a sweet, sticky, red mess!

Enjoy the fireworks – and enjoy them safely!

To make toffee apples (makes 8-10):

• 8-10 small, crisp apples
• 300g white sugar
• 100g brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon white vinegar
• 25g butter
• 4 tablespoons (80g) golden syrup
• 1 pinch of salt
• 50ml cream
• 50ml water
• 1 teaspoon red food colouring (optional)

First, wash the apples. Put into a sieve and then pour lots of boiling water over them (this will help to remove any wax – you’ll see that the wax turns white and can be wiped off). Dry well with a clean cloth. Put a twig or wooden skewer into each apple. I used wooden chopsticks. Prepare a baking tray by lining with greaseproof paper, and grease lightly with butter.

Next, make the toffee. Put all the rest of the ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then cook on a medium heat without stirring (for around 20 minutes), until the mixture reaches 140°C (280°F). Either use a sugar thermometer, or check by dropping a spoonful of the mixture into cold water – if you get very hard drops, it’s ready. If it is still quite soft when you squeeze between your fingers, keep cooking.

Remove from the heat, and as soon as the toffee stops bubbling, dip each apple in the caramel. Rotate the apple quickly to ensure an even finish, then place on the greaseproof paper to cool.

Worth making?  These apples are sticky and basically everything will end up reg (hands, tongue, face) but they do have a lovely caramel flavour which is super with the apples. And hey, it’s only once a year…surely not that bad for you?

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Eve’s Pudding

I know, I know, I promise all this festive stuff, and then it’s all apples, apples, apples as far as you can see. But apples are in season, and it’s all good, so that’s not bad thing in the greater scheme of things, surely?

Eve’s Pudding is one of the first desserts I ever learned to make. I love it, but I don’t know if that is just nostalgia? Probably it isn’t, because people seem to like it when I serve it up. The name, predictably enough, comes from Eve as in Garden-of-Eden, linking back to her pinching forbidden fruit (which were not, as people often say, apples, but close enough). It dates back to the early 1800s, and is a simple dish of stewed apples, topped with a Victoria sponge mixture, so you end up with fluffy, soft apples with pillowly soft cake on top. Yummy!

This can be made either as one large dessert, or as individual puddings. I had been bemoaning the lack of ramekin dishes in my kitchen, so making this pudding was the perfect chance to go out and buy some. On the first attempt, I found some rather fetching ones in the sale section of Habitat on Regent’s Street in central London. You don’t see it here, but they have pixellated images of aubergines, beetroot and carrots at the bottom. I like that when you’ve scoffed dessert, there is a little picture to greet you, and these would say: eat more veg, you pudding monster!

Eve’s Pudding is, in my view, a really nice way to finish a meal. Because it is mostly apple (i.e. fruit), it is relatively light. If you keep any additional sugar to a minimum, you have a lovely combination of sharp fruit with soft, golden sponge. Aim to serve them warm, rather than piping hot, with a little cream or ice-cream. Or, if the urge takes you, drown it in cream or custard. I don’t judge.

It’s also great if you have people round for dinner – the apples can be partly stewed and the sponge mixture prepared ahead of time. As your guests are about to eat the main, you can slip out, put the apples into individual ramekins, top with the cake mix and bake. Your domestic god/goddess organisational credentials will be sure to impress.

To make Eve’s Pudding (serves 6):

• 8 apples, peeled and cored.
• 4-5 tablespoons sugar
• Squeeze lemon juice
• pinch of ground cinnamon
• 125g butter
• 100g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 100g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Chop the apples into chunks. Put into a saucepan with a few spoons of sugar, the lemon juice and the 25g of the butter. Cook gently until the apples are starting to soften (they should not be mushy). Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon. Place in a deep oven dish or divide between six individual ramekins. Place to one side.

To make the topping, put the remaining 100g of butter plus the sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla and eggs into a bowl, and mix until well-combined and creamy. Add as much milk as necessary to make the mixture light, smooth and soft – it should drop gently off the back of a spoon, but should not be runny.

Pour the batter over the apples, and spread it out until roughly even. Don’t obsess about this, as part of the charm (particularly with the ramekins) is that you get gaps where the apple peeks out. Put in the oven and bake until the topping is just golden and the sponge topping is springy (10-15 minutes for ramekins, 25-30 minutes for a single dish).

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with cream, creme fraiche, yoghurt or ice-cream.

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Apple Pancakes

Ah, weekend. I love a lazy Saturday morning with a big breakfast and a chance to slowly flick through the papers, annoying fellow breakfast eaters by pointing out stories of interest at regular intervals. My breakfast of choice often involved piling the dining room table high with jams, spreads, cheeses, butter, vegetables, bread and gallons of coffee, and of course a generous stack of pancakes.

I normally make little pancakes, so that you can have lots of them with different toppings, but from time to time, I also like to mix things up and make them with fruit, either blueberry, apple or ripe banana. This apple version is nice as the apple becomes warm, but says firm, and still has some texture in the finished dish. I also add a decent pinch of cinnamon, so there is a little spiciness in there, but not too much. And of course, they are utterly delicious covered in salty butter and a lot of golden syrup. Perfect to set you up for the day when you have lots of activities planned.

I’ve made this recipe several times, and while it is of course delicious if you make the batter and cook it right away, it seems to be even better if you can let the batter sit for 20-30 minutes. The science behind this is to do with the wheat flour apparently absorbing the liquid and becoming softer, resulting in a better pancake, and while I don’t know if this is really what happens, the resting time just seems to work. So get up, make the mixture, lay the table, wake the rest of the house, buy a paper, then cook them. Perfect Saturday morning.

What’s your favourite breakfast pancake? Are you for plain or fruit, and what do you like to put on them?

To make 8 apple pancakes:

• 115g self-raising flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 25g butter
• 1 egg
• 150ml milk
• generous pinch of cinnamon
• 1 apple, peeled and diced

Mix the flour, baking powder and cream of tartar in a bowl, and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Next, beat in the egg, cinnamon and enough milk until the mixture resembles double cream (i.e. it should flow a little bit, but it should not be runny). Fold in the pieces of apple.

Heat a non-stick pan on a high heat, and once hot, turn down to a medium heat and leave for a minute. Once the pan is ready, put spoonfuls of the mix in the pan (I put two in a large frying pan). Bubbles will form on the top. Once the burst (but the top of the pancake is still “wet”) turn the pancakes over and cook for a moment until they are also golden.

Serve with butter and a good drizzle of maple or golden syrup.

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Autumn in Scotland

Much as we love living in London, we all love to escape from time to time. So no cooking today – I am visiting family in Scotland for the weekend (Perthshire to be exact), so here are a few pictures of the local apples (which, as predicted, have done really well and taste great), some blaeberries, a looks-like-a-wildcat-but-isn’t housecat (albeit still quite a fluffy specimen) and the nature along the River Tay. Enjoy!

After taking in the last of the harvest in the garden, we headed to Dunkeld on the River Tay for a brisk walk in the moody early autumnal forest.

Amazing what you can do with an iPhone and a little bit of patience, eh? Happily, this little nature walk took advantage of the best weather of the day, and we got home just as the heavens opened and rain poured down. We also picked up a tub of excellent local vanilla ice cream from Stewart Tower in Murthly, which was great enjoyed with raspberry sauce made from the fruit for which Perthshire is rightly famous.

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Dutch Apple Tart

I waxed lyrically a few days ago about the stunning sunsets which have marked the start of autumn in London. Something like this:

This also means that it is time for apple pie! I promised a while back that I would try my hand at making a Dutch version, so here it is! I’ve come across two types of apple pie in the Netherlands – either the deep apple-and-pastry mixture called appelgebak, or the more familiar appeltaart. This is the latter, so we’ll do appelgebak another day.

A lot of people are put off by making fruit pies due to a phobia of pastry. If you prefer to buy it, then by all means do so, but it’s actually very easy to make. Just be sure to use cold butter and very cold water, handle the pastry as little as possible, and let it chill fully before using. Apparently, this prevents gluten developing, resulting in a better pie crust. For the filling, I used green apples. The ones I had were quite sharp, which is what I like for a pie, as they give you a better tasting pie with more apple flavour.

In fact, the only tricky bit is making the lattice on top of the pie. As you can see from the picture, even I didn’t quite get this right, but all I can say is that I gave this a good try. If you are minded to give this a try and are a little bit obsessive about getting it right, then see detailed instructions here. Otherwise, rather than the lattice, just roll the reserved pastry out into a circle and use this on top of the pie instead.

To make Dutch apple tart:

For the pastry:

• 250g butter, cold
• 50g caster sugar
• 400g flour
• cold water

In a bowl, rub together the butter, sugar and flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough cold water until the pastry comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

• 2kg apples
• 50g salted butter
• 100g light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 3 tablespoons apricot jam, mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Butter a loose-bottomed flan dish (25-30cm diameter).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into slices of 1/2-1 cm thickness. In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the apples, cinnamon and sugar and stir well. Cook on a gently heat for 15 minutes until the apples are soft, but have not become mushy. Drain the apples, reserving the juice.

Roll out two-thirds of the pastry out into a circle, and use to line the bottom and sides of the flan dish. Leave around 1cm overhang at the edges. Prick the bottom with a fork, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, put the reserved apple juice in a saucepan, and cook gently until it reduces and becomes thicker. Turn off the heat, add the apples and stir well. Fill the pie shell with the apples.

Roll out the rest of the pastry into a long rectangle (at least as long as the size of the pie dish), and cut into eight strips. Use the pastry strips to make a lattice on top of the pie (see how to do this here).Use any remaining pastry to form one long strip to put around the edge of the pie shell (or cut out lots of little pastry leaves, and put these round the edge – warning, this takes a lot of time!).

Brush the pastry with a little milk, and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Once cooked, remove from the oven. Warm the apricot jam, and use to brush the top of the pie.

If you like an easier life, then forget the lattice and just roll out the remaining pastry into a circle and use to cover the pie. Make a few slashes in the top of the pie to let out any steam during cooking.

Worth making? Everyone likes apple pie. I think this is a good recipe, using lots of apple and not too much sugar. It’s great warm or cold, and is well worth the effort. Enjoy autumn.

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