Tag Archives: cooking

Broad Bean Salad

I recently started getting a vegetable box delivered. I know, does seem terribly lazy, but I was spurred on by the realisation that there were really not enough greens (and of course other colours of veg) in my fridge. Pasta was becoming all too often the easy dinner of choice. The more veg I have in the house, the greater the chance that I’ll actually eat more of the stuff. That was the thinking at least.

Of course, it’s actually seductively easy to start getting your delivery at this time of the year. There are all manner of tasty seasonal goodies in the box every week. Beets, lettuce, vine tomatoes, carrots (complete with tops), potatoes, fennel…and of course, broad beans!

The funny thing about broad beans is that I never buy them when I see them in a shop. Of course they look appealing and I like the idea of them, but I know that I’ll need to carry home lots of beans to get anywhere near a decent amount to eat. Given I don’t have a car and I would like to maximise the amount of veg that I can carry home, the beans tend to get left on the shelf.

Of course, all of that is not a problem when a box magically appears outside your front door, and I’ve been enjoying shelling pods and skinning the beans over the last few weeks.

broadbeans1

I think one of the nicest ways to eat broad beans is just to lightly cook them, skin them (decadent, but delicious!) and make a simple salad with a few other veggies and some cheese with a light dressing. Nothing fancy, just some clean, fresh flavours and bright colours. I find broad beans, beets, tomatoes and goat’s cheese go together particularly well, and that’s what I’ve done in this very, very simple salad. Just arrange things in an artful-yet-casual way on the plate just before serving, then drizzle with some oil and vinegar, and scatter with some fresh herbs. That’s it – light, healthy and full of the joys of summer!

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To make broad bean salad

OK, there are no set measures here…I find a handful of each will make two generous salads

For the salad:

• broad beans, boiled and skinned
• waxy potatoes, peeled, boiled and sliced
• beets, boiled, peeled and sliced
• cherry tomatoes, quartered
• soft goat’s cheese
• fresh thyme leaves or other herbs

For the dressing:

• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• freshly ground black pepper

1. Arrange the vegetables.

2. Put the ingredients for the dressing into a jam jar. Share vigorously to mix, then drizzle over the salad. Finish with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

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{12} Mince Pies

Christmas Eve and everyone is busy with their last-minute preparations! Just to build a little suspense, I’ve held off with my twelfth and final post of the Christmas season until late on Christmas Eve. And what did you think it would be? I’ve love to know what the candidates were, but there was always a certain inevitability about mince pies. I mean, if I’ve made things from Japan, Norway and Italy, it just wouldn’t be right to ignore the perennial British favourite. And when it comes to mince pies, the home-made look is what it’s all about, so I’m happy that mine look charmingly rustic.

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Mince pies have a long history. They started out as meat pies flavoured with fruits and spices (more likely than not done in the days before refrigeration to mask the taste of meat that was, let us say, less than fresh, rather than for flavour itself). They were banned under Puritanism in the 17th century, and have today morphed into the sweet treats we all know. Many visitors from abroad look at you most curiously when you offer them a mince pie, expecting something savoury, but most tend to like what they find – small pastry tarts filled with a mixture of dried vine fruits, citrus and spices, plus a little brandy to keep everything.

Mincemeat is also not particularly hard to make at home. You just need to gather the ingredients, cook gently in the oven to preserve the fruit (you use applies, and if you don’t cook them, they tend to ferment, with a propensity to make the jars of mincemeat explode in a rather messy way). There is a great recipe from Delia here.

However, this year I’ve been a little bit sneaky. Today is a little bit of a cheat’s recipe as the real hard work – actually making the mincemeat – is skipped ever so artfully by buying it and then just adding a few bits and pieces to customise it and make it a bit fancier. In fact, for this reason I was going to go with the title “Pimp my Mince Pie”. I just went with whatever met my eyes in the kitchen, and as it happened, that involved the zest of a clementine plus the juice, some chopped crystallised ginger and finely diced candied papaya and a spoon of vanilla sugar.

Inspired by the Heston Blumenthal mince pies currently in stores, I also wanted to have a flavoured sugar to dust on top of the finished pies. I toyed with a couple of ideas. Rosemary would be aromatic and sophisticated, but I was not sure it was quite right. Mastic gum would be equally aromatic, but I didn’t go with this one as when you grind it to a powder, it tends to stick to things and get messy. But the third idea was just right – clementine sugar.

I was very make-do-and-mend in my approach to the flavoured sugar. I saved the used peel from the clementine I added to the mincemeat. I trimmed off the pith, shredded the peel and left it overnight in a jar of caster sugar. The next morning – clementine sugar to sprinkle on the mince pies! While this tasted lovely, it had to be dried before use. I sieved the sugar to remove the peel (pop the peel into some mulled wine) then spread it on a plate. Leave to sit in a warm place until dry, then grind to a powder (go as fine as you like). This adds a lovely extra citrus note to the pies, warm or cooled.

For the pastry, I thought I would look to the recipes of master baker Paul Hollywood. His recipe uses lots of butter and some ground almonds, but needs to be chilled for three hours. So long? Yes, as it turns out, so long. The pastry was very soft. Think the texture of peanut butter, more like a paste. It needed to be completely chilled in order to be able to roll it out and cut it. I was dubious that this was going to work, concerned that the pastry would be too fragile to contain the filling during baking or to hold its shape afterwards. However, my fears were baseless. The fragile texture before baking meant that they pastry was wonderfully crumbly and worked perfectly with the filling. So good that it made up for the total pain of working with a pastry that preferred to hang out on the kitchen worktop in a semi-liquid state. Expect frequent trips for this little dough back to the fridge before you’re done!

As for the taste…these were sensational! The mincemeat bursts with citrus and the papaya adds flashes of jewel-bright red. The ginger adds a little warmth, and the brandy and sloe gin are, of course, always welcome.

So there we have it – another series of the Twelve Bakes of Christmas! I hope that you have enjoyed them this year. I’ve probably played fast and loose with the time in the festive season that these things appear on this site (as some people do not feel shy about pointing out!) and made tweaks to recipes that take them away from being truly authentic. However, I’ve tried to make things that are delicious and appealing, and things that I would want to eat and be happy to serve to people who come to my place over the Christmas period. I hope you’re also able to relax and enjoy time with friends and family. wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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To pimp your mincemeat pies:

Makes 12 pies

The filling

• 1 jar mincemeat (400g)
• 1 small clementine, zest and juice
• 2 pieces candied ginger
• 1 small handful candied papaya
• 1 small handful flaked almonds
• 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
• 1 tablespoon brandy
• 1 tablespoon sloe gin

The pastry

• 165g plain flour
• 25g ground almonds
• 120g unsalted butter, cold
• 55g caster sugar
• 1 egg, beaten

1. Pimp the mincemeat – throw everything in a bowl. Mix well, cover and leave to sit overnight.

2. Make the clementine sugar – remove the remaining orange peel from the used clementine. Cut into thing strips and put into a jam jar with some caster sugar. Seal, shake well and leave to sit overnight as well.

3. Make the pastry – put all the ingredients apart from the egg into a bowl. Work with your fingers until you have a mixture that looks like large breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix to a soft dough. Cover in cling film and chill for two hours minimum.

4. To make the tarts, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a muffin tray with butter. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry and cut out large circles with a cutter. Use to line the muffin tray. Add around two generous teaspoons of the mincemeat mixture. Use the rest of the dough to cut out lids for the pies. Star shapes are easiest and look great!

5. Brush the tops of the pies with milk, then bake for 20 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

6. In the meantime, prepare the clementine sugar. Put the sugar into a sieve and shake – you’ll be left with the peel in the sieve. Spread the sugar onto a plate and leave in a warm place to dry. Once dry, grind until fine and use to dust the mince pies.

Worth making? I love these pies! It’s a great way to add more of what you like to the filling – I adore the extra shot of citrus, and there’s nothing quite the same as home-made mince pies.

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Fiery Lentil Soup

So what are you up to for Bonfire Night? Baked spuds around the fire, sweets or messy toffee apples?

Personally, I’m a big fan of a flask of soup with some bread to keep the cold out, and I’ve got a recipe that is a guaranteed winter warmer. It’s good old-fashioned lentil soup, which is probably one of the easiest soups to make and I think by far and away one of the most satisfying.

I’ve recently been adding a lot more spices to my food, and that includes a lot more chilli. I’ve actually started to get quite experimental, and I can only apologise to everyone who has been surprised to find allspice cropping up in a range of dishes (albeit – no disasters so far!).

However, today is not an exercise in culinary risk-taking. Rather, it’s my “normal” lentil soup which has been fortified by a sharp twist of lemon juice at the end, and a swirl of chilli paste (in the form of sambal olek). The result is something that is robust, satisfying and packs rather a punch in the flavour department. However, if you’ve got folks around who perhaps prefer things a little milder, adding the chilli at the end avoids them running around looking for glasses of water to kill the heat.

So if you’re off to some Bonfire Night festivities, wrap up warm, keep your pets safe, and have a great evening!

For spicy lentil soup (serves 4, easy to double/triple):

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated

• 3 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
• 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
• 250g red lentils
• 1 stock cube
• 1 litre hot water
• salt and pepper, to taste
• lemon juice and chilli paste, to serve

1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent (five minutes).

2. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for two minutes (don’t let them burn). If they get too brown or start to stick, add a dash of water.

3. Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds. If it seems too dry, add some water – this will form a thick paste, and as the water evaporates, it will become oily and cook the spices. Don’t be tempted to add more oil.

4. Add the lentils and carrots and cook briefly, then add the water.

5. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the stock cube, and keep simmering until the lentils are tender. Add more water if the soup is too thick, then add some salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, add a dash of chilli paste and a squeeze of lemon juice, erring on the side of caution!

Worth making? I think the addition of the chilli takes this from a good soup to a great soup. An excellent choice to keep the chill at bay this week!

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La vie en rose

Bring something for a tea party. We’re going for a romantic theme…

That was the brief, so what, oh what could I bring? Well, something that struck me as rather suitable would have been the rose creams that I recently sampled at Charbonnel et Walker in Mayfair just before the Jubilee. However, I didn’t have the time for a visit to central London, so it was going to have to be something home-made. So I thought: what the heck, I’ll just make rose creams. And…if they don’t work, it’s going to be a Victoria sponge…

My very unscientific research tells me that a lot of folk think of rose-flavoured sweets as rather old-fashioned. I think this is perhaps due, in part, to floral flavours usually being very strong, more like perfume, and often rather artificial. If you had Parma Violets as a child, you’ll understand. A rose has a fragile perfume, so if you are going to use it to flavour something, you want the retain its delicate character. While rose is undeniably very traditional, the flavour can also seem quite contemporary, at least to Western tastes. Rose water features in a lot of Middle Eastern desserts like baklava or lokum, so when used with a light touch, it can be quite heady and aromatic. It’s all about getting the right balance between the light, fresh notes of rose oil, but avoiding a flavouring that is too floral. Oh, and apparently rose creams are a favourite of HM The Queen.

We say we eat with our eyes too, and I think the colour of anything that contains rose has a lot to do with how it is received. A piece of Turkish delight that is bright pink suggests that it’s going to be rather strong in the flavour department, but if colourless, you’re not expecting the flavour to be too strong. So that was something that I took on board – my little creations were not going to be lurid neon pink!

However, when it came to making these sweets, I was faced with a bit of a quandary. What should the filling actually be made of? It is rather obvious that my rose creams were going to be very sweet. Lots of sugar would be unavoidable. However, there are still some variations.

An easy option is to combine icing sugar and egg whites. Personally, I try not to use uncooked egg white when possible, so that was a bit of a non-starter for me. Other recipes use double cream instead. This was more palatable for a picky chef, but I was also keen to have centres that were silky-smooth. I tested the icing sugar and cream mixture, but there was a perceptible graininess.

This process of elimination brought me face to face with one of my cooking demons. Fear of fondant. I was going to have to work with hot sugar syrup. Eek! I accept that some foods require a bit of science to understand them, but fondant is, for me, a huge step up. The thing with fondant is that you work the sugar syrup so that it forms very tiny crystals, so the resulting paste is very smooth when you bite into it, with no hint of graininess and thus a perfect melting texture. My fear comes from past attempts that ended up with a nasty, gritty mess, but this time I was determined to make sure that it worked.

First off, I tried adapting this recipe from Saveur for peppermint patties. I would just swap the peppermint oil for a little rose extract. However, I found the addition of cream and butter made the filling too rich, and the use of dairy meant that the base was not sufficiently “clean” for the rose flavour to work. Peppermint oil would probably have worked better here after all.

So I went back to the basic fondant recipe – sugar, water, glucose and a dash of cream of tartar. This time, it worked like a dream. The fondant turned out brilliantly white and once the rose was added, the flavour was just right. It could be subtle as there were no other flavours in there to compete with. For a moment, I wondered if I should add any pink colour at all – in the end, I added only the tiniest amount, but I think you could actually skip this quite happily, and keep them white for a more modern look.

With the fondant successfully made, I did what so many people do when they overcome a fear and made it again, just to be sure that the recipe did indeed work. I’m happy to report that it did. It’s amazing what happens when you finally learn that when glucose appears on an ingredients list, it is essential and not just an optional extra. That, and a candy thermometer makes life so much easier!

Finally, to dip or not to dip? I decided to dip these fondants in chocolate (2/3 dark, 1/3 milk). I felt the dark chocolate would work better with the rose flavour, but that pure milk would be a little to much – that sweetness needed something bitter to balance it.

Once the chocolates were made, I headed to the tea party. I turned up, presented my chocolates, and I think they were all gone in about five minutes. Nice to see hours of work in the kitchen appreciated like that.

And if you’re humming the tune, here is what I think is the best version of “La Vie en Rose” by Grace Jones (minus the hula-hoop).

To make rose creams (makes 20):

For the filling:

• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon liquid glucose
• 2 pinches cream of tartar
• 75ml water
• 1/4 teaspoon rose extract
• 2-3 drops pink food colouring

To coat the chocolates:

• 200g chocolate (I used a 2:1 mixture of dark and milk)

1. Put the sugar, glucose, cream of tartar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil without stirring, and cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (112°C / 235°F).

2. Pour the syrup sugar liquid onto a cold marble slab, and start to work with a spatula until the mixture becomes opaque. Be careful – this stuff starts of very, very hot! Eventually it will become firm and crumbly. When this happens, use your hands to work the fondant into a smooth paste. If it gets too dry, add a couple of drops of water.

4. Once the fondant is smooth, add the rose extract and food colouring (if using), and work until combined. Wrap tightly in cling film, and leave in a cool place (not the fridge) to cool completely.

5. To finish the chocolates, shape the fondant into pieces. Make them a little smaller than you expect, as they are larger once coated in chocolate. Let the fondant sit on a sheet of greaseproof paper while you melt the chocolate. To see how to temper chocolate (to get a shiny finish) see here or here.

6. To dip the fondant in the chocolate, balance a piece on a fork. Dip into the chocolate, then lift out. Tap on the side of the bowl, run the bottom of the fork over the rim of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, then place back on the sheet of greaseproof paper to set.

Worth making? Certainly! Very few ingredients, but a great result! Once you manage to make the fondant, the process is actually quite easy, so worth having a go at, and of course, you can change them with all manner of flavours.

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What to do with windfall pears?

Last Saturday, I peeked out the window, and the lady downstairs said I could have a bag of windfall pears – if I wanted them.

There were about five on the garden table, with an open offer to get as many off the tree as I wanted and could reach. A few minutes later, we’re up a ladder, whacking the fruit off the tree using a grass edger with great comedic effect, and I managed to walk away with two kilos of fruit.

So…I had a pile of pears, but it turned out they were…rock hard. Given these were windfalls, I wasn’t sure that these would be great in a pie or make great jam. Then it struck me – I would adapt my recipe for quince jelly but using these pears.

I shredded the lot and boiled them up with some water. The result was a pale green-yellow mush. Strained overnight, I ended up with a few litres of murky pear water. But then I boiled it up with sugar, and something strange happened. Like with the quince, the colour changed and became a deep amber colour. I have no idea where this colour came from, but it looks pretty. The picture was taken with the sun shining through the glass, and as you can see, the colour is pretty amazing.

All in all, I felt rather pleased with myself. It really does not get much more local than fruit from a tree outside your back window.

This is a jelly with quite a loose set, but it tastes lovely. There is a pear flavour (of course) and is quite aromatic, so perfect to have on toast, scones, crumpets, muffins or to glaze tarts. If you are after a firm jelly, just add some pectin when you add the sugar (follow instructions on the bottle/packet!).

To make pear jelly:

• hard pears (I used 2kg)
• water (I used 2 litres)
• lemons

• granulated white sugar

Wash the pears. Remove the stalks but leave on the skin. Grate coarsely.

Put the pears into a large saucepan and add the water (1 litre for every kilo of fruit). Bring to the boil, and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the pears are tender. Mash the fruit to extract maximum flavour. If it seems a little too solid, add more water – we want the texture of soft applesauce.

Pour the mixture into a sterile tea towel or muslin cloth(*). Tie the edges together, and – being careful – use a string to attach the cloth to an upturned chair. Place a large bowl under the cloth, and leave overnight for the juice to drip through. Don’t squeeze the cloth, otherwise you end up with cloudy jelly (tastes the same, but looks less pretty), and in this recipe, you won’t be going short of juice.

Next day, measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice, add 500g of sugar, and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Add everything to a large heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the setting point(**) is reached.

Finally, pour the hot jelly into sterile jam jars(***), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilse the cloth, put into a sieve, and pour over boiling water.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on a very cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jelly wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

(***) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? I would not make this recipe with perfect ripe, juicy pears. But with windfalls…there is not a lot you can do, and this is a great option. OK, it happens over two days, but it actually needs very little attention and the results are worth it.

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Churn, Baby, Churn! Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt

I look outside. The sky is leaden and overbearing, then it starts to lash with rain. Yup, the Great British Summer is well and truly underway, which means we’ve been enjoying the downpour for about a week now. In fact, we enjoyed Midsummer yesterday, with a flash of sun in London, which swiftly turned to cats and dogs.

But ’twas not ever thus…we were all lulled into a false sense of hope with a few weeks of sun earlier in the summer, then – wham! – the rains came, and kept coming. I often find myself wandering around humming that classic Eurythmics track Here Comes the Rain Again. Seems really rather fitting.

However…let us not forget those spectacular sunny days in late spring and early summer that we did enjoy. Why so relevant to us now? Well, it’s more than a mere memory, as it gave all those fields of soft fruit here in Britain a bit of a kick start, so we are now enjoying a bumper crop of sweet, delicious berries. I’ve been ignoring the imports, and heading straight for the fruit from Kent and Sussex.

Last summer, I made a superb strawberry sorbet (and it was superb – not being big headed), so I thought this time I would do a variation on a theme, and make strawberry frozen yoghurt. I love frozen yoghurt, as it is light and refreshing, with a welcome icy tang – perfect for a hot day. Pair this with delicious fruit and it’s a winning combination.

This recipe is one from David Leibovitz, but I pared down the method to make a bit more “mash up the fruit, then whizz in the blender, then freeze”.

So apart from macerating the fruit (the benefits of maceration explained here), it doesn’t need any cooking or messing around with hot sugar syrup. Thus, it’s perfect to make when you’re busy with other things. Plus, the colour is hot pink, so guaranteed to brighten up those rainy days.

To make strawberry frozen yoghurt (adapted from David Leibovitz):

• 450g strawberries(*)
• 130g white sugar
• 2 teaspoons vodka or limoncello
• 240g natural yogurt
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Put the strawberries, sugar and vodka/limoncello in a bowl, and mash roughly. Leave to stand, covered, at room temperature until the sugar has dissolved (at least 30 minutes, but as long as you can manage).

Throw the strawberry mixture, lemon juice and yoghurt in a blender. Blitz until smooth. If you don’t like seeds, pass through a strainer. If you don’t care, just leave them in.

Chill the mixture in the fridge, then freeze according to your ice cream machine.

(*) Weight after removing stalks and any bad bits.

Worth making? Love it. Love it. Love it. Quick, fresh and delicious, cream and tangy – the essence of summer. Love it!

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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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Milk Gelato

What with all the plants bursting into life, the hot weather and the switch over to British Summer Time (light until eight in the evening!), time to dig out the ice cream machine. I recently saw what looked like an exciting recipe for milk gelato on Saver Magazine’s website (here). OK, so it’s not quite summer yet, but we need to get into practice. Any excuse!

This recipe reminded me of one of my favourite flavours when I was a child, which was made by Scottish ice cream producer Mackies. I always thought it was vanilla, until I actually looked at the list of ingredients and saw that there was no trace of it. This flavour was called “traditional” and was a simple milk ice cream –  just cream, milk and sugar – so it seems I was a fan of milk gelato for all those years, even if I didn’t know it.



If you are sitting there thinking hmmm, I prefer there to be a bit of flavour in there, then don’t worry. The mixture is sufficiently rich to provide a smooth, creamy gelato, so the trick is just to be sure to use fresh milk and the richest, most luxurious cream that you can lay your hands on. Just imagine serving it with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries or the rest of summer’s bounty. Exactly! Not so in need of just a little dash of vanilla now, eh?

While the resulting gelato can be frozen (eh…how else would you store it?), I think it is also served as fresh as possible, so my tip would be to prepare the base the day before serving and freeze the day you are intending to eat it. This way, the gelato will be at its best, and you will benefit from nods of approval of those devouring your creation.

To make milk gelato (just over 1 litre):

• 240ml double cream
• 720ml whole milk
• 200g white sugar
• 7 teaspoons cornflour(*)
• 1 tablespoon apricot jam, sieved(**)

Put the cream and 2/3 of the milk (480ml) into a saucepan. Heat gently until just simmering, then remove from the heat.

In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the milk, the sugar and the cornflour until combined. Pour this into the hot cream/milk mixture. Stir well with a whisk, then return to the heat and cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes (stirring all the time) until the mixture is slightly thicker. At the end, stir in the apricot jam. Be careful with the heat, as the mixture can easily boil over, and burned sugary milk is a pain to clean up…

Cover the thickened mixture with cling film (to stop a skin forming) and leave to cool. When cold, pour into the ice cream bucket, chill in the fridge for a couple of hours, and leave the ice cream machine to work its magic.

(*)  By this, I mean the stuff you use to thicken sauce, so it may be called “cornstarch” elsewhere.

(**) To sieve the jam: heat a couple of spoonfuls in a saucepan until runny. Pass through a very fine sieve (using a spoon to push it through), and use a spoonful of the sieved jam in the recipe. Don’t know what adding the jam does, but I did it, and the result was great.

Worth making? In a word – superb. Will surely be making this again as I think it would go wonderfully with summer fruits later in the year.

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Festive Chocolate Clusters

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love made for me… festive chocolate clusters! Try singing it – it sort of works. Just.

This is just about as simple as baking can get, Pop Tarts excluded. I was attending a friend’s Christmas drinks at the weekend, and had promised to take something. As I have my own drinks event next week, I was a little but protective of my cookies, so I thought about making a little chocolate treat which is packed with all sorts of festive goodies in it. Think a grown-up version of the rice crispie cake.

This was the same crowd that had been wowed by my chocolate tiffin several weeks previously, so it was not a major leap to change from a tray (non-)bake to mini-clusters of seasonal cheer. But I needed a recipe, as I had to get the combination of dry stuff-nuts-fruit-chocolate right. I could wing it, but I did a little research, and saw Chocolate & Zucchini recommended two cups of other ingredients to 250g of melted chocolate. Armed with this rule of thumb, I went forth and immediately started to play around with it. Live dangerously…

Now…drum roll…while I usually work by weight, this time I went with cups. One cup of “dry” stuff, one-and-a-half cups of dried fruit and nuts (I couldn’t resist adding a but more), and then 250g of chocolate. Simple!

For the “dry” stuff, I used spelt flakes. These have a nice nutty flavour and stay super-crisp even when you’ve added them to something, so that adds a welcome bit of texture. I bulked this out with speculoos biscuits I had in the cupboard. If you don’t know these, they are crisp biscuits that you find all over Belgium and the Netherlands. They have a spicy, gingerbread flavour and because they are made with dark sugar, have a caramel-like flavour and sharp snap. Be on the lookout next time you’re in Rotterdam or Antwerp! So I took my treasured speculoos, smashed up a few and threw them in. This would add some festive spiciness, but provide a bit of variety from the usual cinnamon.

For the “fruit and nuts”, I raided the cupboard and went for broke. Whatever I could find. Toasted flaked almonds, chopped glacé cherries, chopped apricots and juicy sultanas. This provided a few different textures, flavours and colours to brighten up my clusters.

All of these tasty good things were going to be lovingly enrobed in melted dark chocolate, and then lovingly spooned into little mini-cupcake cases. The chocolate was also lovingly mixed with a large pinch of finely ground sea salt to enhance the flavour, and a tablespoon of good old British golden syrup, to provide a little rich sweetness, and the make the chocolate a little softer in the finished clusters. I wanted them to set, but not to be rock hard.

Once I had prepared the mixture, I had grand plans to be über-efficient, and put the mixture into a piping bag to fill my cases, but the mixture was clearly setting too quickly on what was one of the coldest nights of the year. So back to basics, just me and a couple of teaspoons. And as you can see, the results are actually pleasingly irregular. Sometimes a sultana perched on top, sometimes flaked almonds peeking out side.

These clusters are delicious. Rich, crisp, juicy and nutty by turns, and – dare I say it – a complete success. They are also endlessly customisable, so just throw in whatever you want, although I am rather taken with flaked almonds and apricots.

For 30 chocolate clusters:

• 1 cup dry ingredients (*)
• 1 1/2 cups nuts and dried fruit, pressed down (**)
• 250g dark chocolate
• Large pinch sea salt, finely ground
• Tablespoon golden syrup (optional)

Place the chocolate, salt and syrup (if using) in a double boiler and allow the chocolate to melt. Stir well.

In the meantime, combine the dry ingredients and the nuts/fruit in a bowl. Combine well, ideally using your hands to break up sticky bits of fruit.

Pour over the melted chocolate, and mix until combined. Use teaspoons to transfer the mixture into mini-muffin cases. Sprinkle with any toppings (tiny flakes of salt, gold leaf, chopped pistachio…or leave au natural) and allow to cool.

Best served at room temperature so that the chocolate is softer and the flavours more intense.

(*) I used 1/3 cup (20g) spelt flakes and 2/3 cup (60g) crushed speculoos biscuits.

(**) I used 35g sultanas, 45g glacé cherries, 45g toasted flaked almonds and 80g dried apricots. And I mean pressed down in the measuring cup, to get the most fruit you can fit into these little treats!

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things