Tag Archives: brussels

Maple-Glazed Pear Tart

Today’s post is a very simple but delicious dessert I whipped up recently while staying with friends in Brussels. And boy, do I mean simple.

For regular readers, this might look rather similar to something I posted last year using some luscious crimson Victoria plums. And you would be right! But this time, I replaced the plums with pears, and glazed it with maple syrup rather than honey. I went for maple syrup for no other reason than it was to hand, in a one-litre bottle. Yup, people really do buy it in those quantities, even in Europe.

So just how simple is this? Well, think about it element by element.

The pastry? Rich butter puff pastry…but we got that from a shop, and it was handily already rolled out into a thin disc. Result!

The filling? Ripe pears, just peeled, sliced and artfully arranged on the pastry.

And to finish? A mixture of butter, maple syrup and mixed spice(*), melted together and brushed over the tart. Then it was a light sprinkling with sugar, bake, and that’s it. All in all, this took about 15 minutes to make.

That would be, 15 minutes to make not including time for me to stab my hand with a sharp knife while chatting. I had just finished slicing the pears and arranging them on the tart, and then I genuinely have no idea how this happened. All I know is that it was quick, painful and dramatic. There was a shocked gasp from the next room. Are you alright? I was indeed alright, but the sympathy soon evaporated as the others realised that the tart was quite unaffected by all this, and I was dispatched to a kitchen stool with a glass of wine, instructing someone else to finish the tart. Lesson learned!

To serve, I would not produce this straight from the oven. Rather, either enjoy it while just warm, or at room temperature, with a generous dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Simple, but delicious and just a little bit classy.

(*) We used a Belgian spice mixture called speculaaskruiden (spek-oo-lass-krow-den) in Dutch or épices à spéculoos in French. It’s a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. However, mixed spice or even Christmas Lebkuchengewürz can be used instead.

To make maple-glazed pear tart:

• 1 packet ready-rolled puff pastry (all butter) (approx. 200g)
• 5-6 ripe pears
• 25g butter
• 3 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey)
• pinch of mixed spice
• 1 tablespoon caster sugar, to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Place the pastry on a baking sheet. Use your fingers to crimp the edges.

Peel the pears. Cut into quarters, remove the seeds and core, plus any stalk fibres, then cut into slices. Arrange the slices in an overlapping and artistic pattern on the pastry, pushing them slightly into the pastry.

To make the glaze, put the butter, maple syrup and mixed spice in a saucepan. Heat until just melted, then brush it over the pears. Sprinkle with a little caster sugar.

Bake the tart for around 20 minutes until the pastry is golden at the edges and the pears are just browning (you might need longer, depending on your oven).

Worth making? This is one of the quickest, simplest desserts you can make, and it’s easy to do with things in the cupboard, fridge and the fruit bowl. It’s also easy to change depending on what you’ve got to hand.

 

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A visit to Brussels

I’ve been rather quiet over the last few days, which is down to a visit to see friends in Brussels. I didn’t really go to any of the tourist attractions unless they just happened to be on my way somewhere, as the entire visit revolved around food, drinks and socialising. This weekend of simple objectives proved to be the right call, it the weather was exceptionally hot. Clear blue skies and scorching!

Rather than trying separate posts for each thing, I’ve just put it all together. It reads little like a wandering stream of consciousness, but I hope it makes some sense!

As you can see, the more “traditional” side of Brussels. The plaque honours the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn, although most visitors miss this as it is located on a side street, away from the main attractions. There is also the spire of the town hall, a traditional Brussels building and the royal palace. I promise, all these were seen on the way from a brunch to meeting for drinks in the centre of town!

To balance these tourist highlights, a few shots capturing beer, cartoons, art noveau and more beer. I would have included frites, but it was just waaaaay too hot to even think about eating them at the weekend.

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Chocolate and Tahini

I love chocolate. I don’t mean in the typically British “sit down and devour a pound of Dairy Milk” love of chocolate. I lived in Brussels for almost four years, and my love is for the treasures you find in a chocolatier – dark, delicious, decadent and a Very Serious Thing. Most of all, I love the innovation when it comes to flavours. Forget Roses and After Eights (*), Belgium is looking at cardamom, tea, bergamot, fresh pink peppercorns, fleur de sel caramel, mango, cloves, saffron, jasmine, tamarind and all manner of other exotic and unusual tastes. Their chocolate also follows fashion – one of my favourites, Pierre Marcolini, produces temporary selections, beautifully presented and available for a few months before they are gone forever. Perhaps their fleeting presence in the shop is part of the attraction – trying something wonderful that you just can’t have again.

Chocolate and Brussels are inextricably linked, but I need to focus on London, so what does our fair city offer? I am a fan of Paul A Young, and when he recently brought out a book, I ordered it forthwith. When it arrived at work, I snuck off to a café to enjoy the secret pleasure of reading his recipes without and distractions. A good recipe collection can be as thrilling as any art book or a good novel as you read the recipe, admire the photos and try to imagine just how the tastes and flavours would work together.

So bringing this all together, I wanted to make chocolates with an unusual flavour. Then I came across an enticing idea – honey and tahini truffles. This is a winning combination on its own (try on a hot bagel on a cold Sunday morning), so these truffles sound quite thrilling. As you can see below, they look great with their nifty little rugby-ball shape.

HOW TO MAKE IT:

Makes about 20 truffles and takes about 30 minutes (not including setting time).

• 100ml water
• 20g honey
• 35g tahini
• 170g dark chocolate, chopped into very small pieces.
• 50g sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Boil the water and the honey, add the tahini and simmer until well mixed. Stir well, and pour the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth to form a chocolate ganache. Put the chocolate mixture somewhere cool and leave to set for at least two hours.

Once the mixture is firm, use teaspoons to form dollops of ganache into the desired shape, and roll in the sesame seeds. Voila!

WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?

I liked these, but didn’t love them. I wanted something with more of a tahini kick to them, and I felt there was not quite enough there. This was probably to do with the mild tahini I used – a stronger paste with a more pronounced “nutty” flavour would probably work better.

I would also think about increasing the amount of honey. I used French rosemary honey I had in the cupboard – delicious, but the depth of flavour wasn’t there.

Messing around with a ganache recipe can be tricky, but I think it is worth trying here. They certainly look stunning, so I’ll make these again but with a few tweaks.

* Well, I do have a weak spot for Cadbury’s Roses from time to time.

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Chestnut jam with tonka bean

I recently became the proud owner of a couple of pounds of Kent chestnuts. It’s just too cold and dark to make something as predictable as a nut loaf so I was on the  lookout for something more exciting. Then I remembered a recipe that I’d quickly scribbled down when visiting my friend S in Brussels – chestnut jam with tonka bean.

The mystery element here was the tonka(*). By chance (meaning “on purpose, for for the day I make the chestnut-tonka thing”) I have a jar of tonka beans at the back of the cupboard. The beans are dry, black and hard with a strong vanilla/tobacco/almond aroma. I tend to put two or three times the amount of spices in recipes as I like things to be flavourful and aromatic, but tonka seems so strong that it would be prudent to use the suggested half-teaspoon (on balance, the right call – the finished jam had a subtle marzipan-like flavour but was not overpowering).

* Tonka is prohibited for food use in the United States!

HOW TO MAKE IT

Set aside an afternoon for this – you will be back and forth to the kitchen for a couple of hours.

• 2 kg chestnuts
• 1-1.5 kg sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground tonka bean
• water

Make a cross on each chestnut (removing any bad ones) and boil for around 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and peel off the tough outer skin.

Return the chestnuts to a pan and boil for a further 45 minutes, and then drain and peel the inner skin (again removing any bad nuts).

Weigh the chestnuts, nothing the weight, and return to a pan with cold water (for each kilo of chestnuts, add 750 ml of water).

Gently warm the mixture, bring to the boil, and then purée with a hand blender (careful, it’s hot!). At this stage, it will look a rather unappealing grey-brown translucent goo.

Now add the sugar – add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the chestnuts (or less if you prefer a less sweet jam) and the ground tonka bean. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes or until you have a thick paste which becomes firm when you put some in a saucer. Just remember that, unlike fruit jam, you won’t get a “set”. Once ready, put into sterile jars and seal.

Now enjoy the jam on crêpes, croissants or with yoghurt.

To sterilise jars: wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. Leave the jars in the warm (not hot!) oven until you need them, as the glass is less likely to crack from the hot jam if the glass is at a similar temperature. You should also sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling in a pot of hot water for five minutes.

WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?

All through the cooking process (a good few hours), I though “never again”. The chestnut purée was an unappealing grey sludge with little flavour. However, once the sugar and the tonka went in, the mixture transformed into the beautiful creamy confection I was hoping for and the whole house smelled of  marzipan. Today I finally had some on a croissant – and the result was spectacular. This is a keeper! And S will be getting a jar next time I am in Brussels.

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