Tag Archives: dessert

Blackcurrants in Brandy

If you’re a regular reader, you may have seen my summer pudding two years ago. This is a classic British dessert made from ripe summer fruit encased in white bread. You leave everything to sit in the fridge overnight, and in the meantime the fruit juices will spill out into the bread, leaving everything a deep purple-red colour. A fruity slice, covered in cream, is hard to beat.

Well, I claim that this was my summer pudding but in fact the honour really has to go to my mum. The fruit was all grown by her own fair hands in her garden in Scotland, and the recipe was hers too. Whereas she has a garden with Victoria plums, redcurrants, strawberries, blaeberries, brambles…I’m scraping in with some never-quite-ripe figs and one stubbornly green tomato. I guess I’ll just have to work on my green fingers!

I was up in Scotland a few weeks for the Commonwealth Games, and it turned out to be the two-year anniversary of the previous summer pudding triumph. However, my plans to have another go were trounced by the inconvenient reality that my mum’s fruit crop had not done quite so well this year. There were a few raspberries, some lone strawberries and a scrap of redcurrants. Not quite the bounty I was hoping for, but there was one star amount then – my mum’s two blackcurrant bushes were positively groaning with fruit! A combination of lots of warm and sunny weather and the fact they were near a south-facing wall meant that they were dark, juiced and perfectly ripe. My mum was happy for me to take some, so I seized my chance and picked a generous punnet. In fact, I waited until my last day in Scotland, and picked them in the morning with the hope that they would survive six hours in the train back to London. The good news – they did.

So back in London, with the glow of the Commonwealth Games a fading memory, I had to think what to do with these blackcurrants. Jam would have been quick and easy, but I had been on what can only be described as a preserving binge earlier in the summer. Strawberry, peach, kumquat and passion fruit, raspberry and grapefruit all line my shelves, so another jar of jam was about the last think I needed. No, the clear choice was to bottle them and preserve them in brandy. This had been my mum’s suggestion back in Scotland, so a lesson to always listen!

blackcurrantsinbrandy

There are various ways to preserve fruit. The most complex version I’ve seen involves making a sugar syrup, cooking the fruit gently, and finishing off by heating everything in a hot water bath. My approach is far simpler – just pick the berries from the stalks, rinse them, then cover in brandy and add a little sugar. No spices, no cooking, no making a simple sugar syrup. The booze does all the hard work of preserving the fruit, and all you have to do is wait until Christmas to enjoy them. This technique is very similar to making a German Rumtopf but rather than adding different fruits as they come into season, you just throw the berries into a jar and let nature take its course. As you can see from my pictures, after a few weeks, the brandy has taken on an intense black colour from the berries. It’s also worth noting that you can adjust the sugar to taste – if you want, add less than I’ve suggested, and if you need to add more later, you can add a few more spoonfuls to balance the flavour. If you’re planning to eat these berries on their own, more sugar is probably good, whereas you could get away with less if serving with meringue or sweetened cream or ice cream.

One little tip that I did see when I was still in Scotland was to add a few blackcurrant leaves to the jar. They apparently contain more of the fragrant oils that give blackcurrants their flavour, so adding a few to the jar should provide a little boost while everything is steeping. That, and they do look rather pretty in the jar. I think if you were to add a little of the syrup to a glass of fizz, one of the leaves curled around the inside of your champagne flute would look rather pretty.

blackcurrantsinbrandy2

Oh…and did I mention that in addition to boozy fruit, you’ll get a delicious home-made cassis liqueur? Perfect to add to champagne, cocktails or just have as a little post-dinner digestif.

To make blackcurrants in brandy:

• blackcurrants
• blackcurrant leaves (a handful)
• brandy
• white sugar

1. Clean a large jar with hot, soapy water and rinse well (we don’t want soapy berries!).

2. Remove the blackcurrants from the stalks. Rinse and add to the jar along with the blackcurrant leaves.

3. Now add the brandy and sugar until the fruit is covered. For every 100ml of brandy, add 30g of sugar (or less if you prefer).

4. Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for several months. Every couple of weeks, shake the jar to make sure the sugar dissolves.

Worth making? So far, so good. Check back at Christmas!

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Rødgrød med Fløde

Chances are you’re probably sitting there wondering what on Earth does that mean and how do I even begin to pronounce it?

Well, it is Danish, and a literal translation is “red groats with cream”. However, you can translate it more freely as the enticing-sounding Danish red berry pudding with cream. Something like this.

rodgrodmedflode3

I say something like this as this is one of those recipes that looks oh-so-simple, but in reality, many people have their own version, and everyone thinks not only that theirs is best, but that theirs is the only way to make it. So for any Danes out there that happen to read this, I’m fully aware that you’ll be rolling your eyes, and possibly tutting, but I think this version tastes pretty decent, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

My first experience with the words rødgrød med fløde was actually way back in the late 1990s, when I was an exchange student in Germany. There were a couple of Danes in our group, and the communal view at the time was that it was a “robust” language to outsiders with a “unique” sound. The Danes thought it was hilarious to ask us to pronounce rødgrød med fløde, which we all got spectacularly wrong. I just could not force myself to make those sounds! All to do with the fact that Danes swallow a lot of the contestants at the end of words, so what you might think is something like roo-d groo-d med floo-hd is closer to rhye-gry-meh-floo-e. If you’re keen to find out, you can hear people getting it right here. Then try to copy them – see how hard it is?

But anyway, for all the humour of those words, I’ve never actually had the pleasure of trying rødgrød med fløde. So how do we make it? The starting point for any batch is lots and lots of delicious summer berries, ideally red. This is the sort of dessert that really is best made when fruit is at its most ripe and the peak of deliciousness! We’re not looking for fruit that looks perfect, it’s all about taste.

red_fruits

As I mentioned, there are lots and lots of versions of rødgrød med fløde out there, but at its most basic, this is recipe that calls for fruit juice that is lightly sweetened, and then thickened slightly with starch (potato flour or cornflour), then cooled and served with lashings of cream. Lashings of cream. However, even within what seems like a pretty easy recipe, there is lots of scope for variety.

Many people seem to cook the berries, then purée the lot by pushing it through a sieve. I have to admit that I’m not too keen on this approach – I like my fruit either totally smooth or in recognisable pieces. I’m just not too keen on anything that seems like mush or has lots of stringy “bits” bobbing around in it. At the other end of the scale, some recipes suggest cooking the fruit, but then straining the liquid through muslin to get a clear red juice (a bit like making jelly). This would apparently result in a clear ruby-red colour and velvet-smooth texture, but I thought it was wasteful as you would throw away a lot of the fruit (and all the fibre from those seeds!). Then other recipes took a more pragmatic approach – just boil up all the fruit, then thicken the lot. Easy, albeit with more of a thickened fruity mush.

However, there were a few suggestions that combined the second and third approaches – making some fruit into a juice, then adding more whole fruit to the juice just before adding the starch. This looked like the best option by far. I love how berries look like little jewels, so it would be a shame to lose that completely. So I cooked up some of my fruit to turn into juice – in fact, this approach was useful as I was using some rhubarb in my version, and I wanted that lovely tart flavour without the stringy “bits”. Once my fruit had cooked down, I put the lot into a muslin bag, but rather than just letting it drip to get a clear juice, I happily gave it a good old squeeze. Maximum fruit, minimum “bits”, and who really cares about the pudding being slightly cloudy? I then put the juice back into a pan, added some berries, and cooked the lot lightly before adding some cornflour to get a thickened texture. Remember you’re aiming for something like a pouring custard, not glue! The result was the colour of garnet or red damask – luxurious, sumptuous, intense.

In terms of the fruit I used, I looked to tradition. In Denmark, redcurrants (ribs) are very popular, and apparently some Danes grow redcurrant bushes just to make this dish. Next were some raspberries (hindbær) – in my view, no summer fruit selection is complete without them. This probably comes from summers when I was very young, spent picking rasps, several plastic punnets attached to a plastic string around my waist (allows for faster two-handed picking, important when you’re keen to earn your first ever £100 as soon as possible!). They also have the requisite glorious red colour you want for this dessert, but they are a complex fruit – sweet, yes, but also aromatic and also a little tart too.

Strawberries (jordbær) are also favourites, and rhubarb (rabarber) seems to feature quite a lot. Personally I love rhubarb and I think small pieces of tender pink rhubarb in there would be delicious, and all a little gentle sharpness to balance the sweetness. However, I only had bigger stalks, so I used them for their juice rather than having big bits bobbing about. Blackcurrants (solbær) and blueberries (blåbær) will also work, but they will also have an effect on the colour, but then again, the flavour will still be delicious, so that is something you could easily live with. Another choice would be cherries (kirsebær), but I didn’t have any to hand. You could even go a bit crazy and omit anything red, going instead for a combination of whitecurrants and gooseberries, but then your dessert would not be red, and you miss your chance to ask people to pronounce the name!

Once I had made my spectacularly-coloured pudding, I mused on whether I should add another flavour. Cardamom is a classic Nordic flavour, but I was not really sure it was what I wanted with fresh summer berries. What about spices like cinnamon? Well, not really. Again, I think ripe fruit stands on its own here, but if you were making this with plums or brambles later in the year, then a little dash of cinnamon or clove would be really lovely. But in summer time – it just has to be pure, lovely fruit!

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Once you’ve made rødgrød med fløde you need to give some serious thought to how to present it. First off, leave it to cool, or if you prefer, chill it in the fridge. Now, go off and find some suitable serving dishes. A lot of people seem to like ice cream cups, but I think the most spectacular way to present it is by adding a few generous spoonfuls to a wide dish, then adding a tablespoon of cream in a dramatic swirl. This will leave a fantastic and fairly stable colour contrast that will impress guests and provide a neat little nod to the red-and-white of the Danish flag. And when it comes to cream, go for the real deal. Not some low-fat version or a cream substitute. You want rich, golden, full-fat double cream!

In terms of taste, this dessert is wonderful. Rich and fruity, but also a little but sharp from the rhubarb, all balanced with cool, luxurious double cream. This really is a perfect dessert for the final days of summer.

And just the day after I made this, the weather changed. Autumn has arrived.

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To make Rødgrød med Fløde (serves 6):

Note the specific quantities of each fruit don’t really matter, just as long as you use equivalent weights of whatever you have to hand.

Part 1 – the juice

• 300g rhubarb, chopped
• 150g redcurrants
• 50g blueberries
• 200g strawberries, quartered
• 100g raspberries
• 150g sugar
• 300ml water

Part 2 – for the rødgrød med fløde

• 150g redcurrants
• 50g blueberries
• 50g blackcurrants
• 150g strawberries, quartered
• 50g sugar
• 100ml water
• 3 tablespoons cornflour

To serve

• double cream

1. Put the “part 1” berries into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer very gently, covered, for 20 minutes. Break up the fruit with a wooden spoon, then strain through a muslin bag. When cool, give the bag a good squeeze to get as much juice as you can. Discard the seeds and skins.

2. Put the juice in a saucepan. Add the “part 2” fruit, sugar and water. Heat gently then simmer on a low heat, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. Mix the cornflour with a little water, and add to the fruit mixture. Stir well until it is smooth and thickened. If too thin, add a little more cornflour, it too thick, add a little water. Check the flavour – add more sugar if needed, or add a few drops of lemon juice if too sweet.

4. Pour the mixture into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to cool.

5. Serve in individual bowls topped with double cream.

Worth making? This is a wonderful, fresh-tasting and luxurious dessert, with the benefit that it can be easily prepared in advance. Highly recommended!

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Rava Kesari

I’ve always found Indian sweets rather daunting. I put this down to the fact that I really do not eat them that often. When you go for Indian food, by the time you’ve filled up on rice, bread and delicious curry, the last thing you are looking for is something sweet and heavy to finish the meal. Maybe, at a stretch, I could manage a little mango sorbet at most, but certainly not fried milk-rich sweets like gulab jamun or rasmalai.

However, I was keen to have a go at making some Indian sweets as I’ve had a hankering to try them for a while. I’ve done some digging recently, and it seems that a lot of them are actually incredibly easy to make. And so it is with rava kesari. There is a little work to be done in preparing some of the ingredients, but you’re not required to do much more than prepare a sweet, spiced syrup and then add it to a ghee/semolina mixture. You’re essentially making a white sauce, but one that is brightly coloured and sweet, which is then cooked until thick, then left to set and cut into fancy shapes. But doesn’t it look pretty?

ravakesari2

If you were trying to guess the ingredients here, you would probably not guess that this is mostly made from semolina. Forgot the nasty, grainy stuff you might have suffered at school. In this recipe, the result is firm but smooth. And you’re probably already guessed how these sweets get their brilliant yellow colour. They are flavoured with saffron, and I must confess that my pictures don’t really do it justice. The colour is amazingly vibrant. The saffron is balanced with ground cardamom (which seems to be to Indian sweet treats what vanilla is to British baking), and they are finished off with some toasted almonds and sultanas.

One of the other vital ingredients is ghee, and so I had to have a go at making it. I was able to buy it in a local shop, but I was going all-out on this one. Recipes often say you can switch ghee for clarified butter, but a quick peek in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook confirmed that it is slightly different, but not unfamiliar – in fact, it’s simple browned butter. Just throw butter in a pan, leave over a gentle heat, and then wait until the solids darken and the butter has a delicious toasted aroma and flavour. This is well worth doing, as it adds a subtle nuttiness to whatever you are making. It is also so ubiquitous in Indian cooking that it would be a shame not to use it here.

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Frankly, I could not have been happier with how this turned out. Sure, there is a little faffing about with skinning some almonds, making the ghee, leaving the saffron to infuse the milk and in grinding the cardamom seeds, but nothing is too taxing, and all of these steps could be easily done ahead of time. The actual process of making rava kesari is a doddle – just cook the semolina in the ghee, then add the liquid and sugar, cook until thick and spread in a tray.

My version was not too sweet (which was the first shock, I was expecting something tooth-aching) and the combination of cardamom and saffron was light, fresh and aromatic, a combination of resinous and slightly minty with the warm flavour of saffron. I remember at Christmas being pleasantly surprised by this spice combination in a festive loaf, so it was a welcome reappearance for this duo in these sweets. I also loved how the pieces looked when cut – you can see pieces of sultana and almond, flecks of black cardamom and flashes of orange from the saffron threads.

Before service this, I had kept the rava kesari in the fridge. This had an unexpected but welcome impact on the flavour, and it meant these sweets had a very cooling quality. Served like this, I can see how they would be welcome at the end of a meal. In the interests of culinary exploration, I also tried a piece when it had come to room temperature, and while it was still delicious, on balance, I think the chilled version is better. Now, all I have to hope is that I’ve done justice to this delicious sweet!

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To make Rava Kesari (makes 24 pieces):

• 80g unsalted butter
• 3 generous pinches saffron strands
• 360ml whole milk
• 360ml water
• 200g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom seeds
• 160g semolina
• 30g toasted slivered almond
• 35g golden sultanas
• 24 whole almonds, to decorate

1. Put the milk into a saucepan until warm. Add the saffron and leave to sit for at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the ghee: melt the butter on a low heat, and watch it. It will hiss and spit, then calm down. The solids will turn light brown and the butter will develop a nutty aroma. Strain and put to one side.

3. In a pan, combine the milk, water and sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is just starting to foam. Add the cardamom, stir and remove from the heat.

4. Prepare a large tray (20 x 30 cm) for the rava kesari. Brush with a little of the melted ghee and set aside. I used a glass tray with no other lining and had no problems with sticking.

5. In a large pan, add five tablespoons of the ghee. Heat until melted, then add the semolina. Cook on a low heat for two minutes, stirring all the time (it should not go brown).

6. Now start to add the liquid mixture to the semolina. This is a bit like making a white sauce, so start with a ladle of liquid, and stir well. Repeat two more times, then finally add all the liquid. At this point, whisk the mixture until smooth and there are no lumps. It should be bright yellow and smell glorious!

7. Cook the mixture on a medium heat until it is very thick and starts to come away from the sides of the pan. You can test whether it is done by dropping a small piece onto a cold plate – it should quickly become firm.

8. When ready, stir in the almond slivers and sultanas, then pour the whole mixture into the tray. Flatten the mixture (a rubber spatula is ideal). Use a knife to score diamond shapes, and place a whole almond in the middle of each piece.

9. Leave the rava kesari to cool, then chill in the fridge. Before serving, use a sharp knife to cut along the score marks to separate into individual pieces.

Worth making? This is a really different and delicious sweet. It’s fairly easy to make, and you get a really good result from ingredients you might have in the cupboard already. Recommended!

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Fried Dates

I have what could be modestly described as a large collection of cookbooks, and like most people I go through cycles of using them. At the moment, I’m working my way through The Essential Madhur Jaffrey, which contains some fantastic Indian recipes. I’ve actually had this tome for nearly seven years, so its about time it gets used properly. Each time I looked through it, there was a recipe that caught my eye. One to make at some point. That recipe was for fried dates, and finally, I’ve made this dessert. All I can say is – wow!

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While I love Indian food, I tend not to eat Indian desserts. This is not because they are not nice (they are!) but they seem just a little bit excessive once you’ve nibbled on curry, dahl, rice, chapatis, poppadoms, pickels and chutneys. What you do want, if anything, is something small.

Fried dates seem to tick this box – it’s a small dish, but boy does it pack a punch! Madhur Jaffrey’s original recipe is almost foolishly simple – shallow-fry dates in oil for around 30 seconds until hot, then serve with cream and chopped pistachios. The quantities suggested are very modest, and you initially thing that it will never be enough. However, when you try these dates, those doubts will melt away. It is very rich and very sweet, so you can reliably work on the assumption that each person will actually consume only two whole dates.

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When I got round to making this, I made some inevitable tweaks. The original recipe was silent as to the type of dates to use, other than they should be pitted and of “good quality”, so I plumped for juicy medjool dates. Given that these dates would be fried, I wanted to be sure they would not be too dry, and the delicious medjools seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Madhur also suggests using vegetable oil to fry the dates, but I wasn’t so sure. Instead, I opted for clarified butter. If in doubt, use butter…

The result is spectacular. This is a buttery, sticky, chewy dessert with a rich, caramel flavour (yes, this might just remind you of sticky toffee pudding). The richness of the dates is balanced well by thick double cream and has some colour and crunch from the pistachios. You won’t be able to eat too much of this, but it does mean you’ve got a very simple, very delicious way to finish off a meal.

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To make fried dates (served 4-6):

• 50g unsalted butter
• 12-16 medjool dates, pitted
• thick double cream
• unsalted pistachios, chopped

1. Clarify the butter – melt in a saucepan, skim off any foam, and allow to sit for a few minutes. Pour off the clear liquid, leaving any milky liquid or solids at the bottom of the pan.

2. Slice each date lengthways into quarters.

3. Heat the clarified butter in a frying pan until it starts to bubble. Add the dates, cooking for around thirty seconds (they should be hot, but should not start to brown!). Remove the dates from the butter using a slotted spoon, letting as much butter as possible drain off. Divide the dates between small plates.

4. Top the dates with a generous teaspoon of double cream, sprinkle with pistachios and serve immediately.

Worth making? Why, oh why, did I wait so long to make this? It’s just about the richest thing I have eaten for a while, but it makes a quick, elegant dessert for the end of an exotic meal. Delicious!

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Open Sesame!

I tried my hand at Moroccan gazelle horn cookies recently, and one reader left a comment suggesting that they can also be made rather more easily with sesame seeds instead of the fiddly pastry way. I was intrigued and wanted to give this a try. Here are the results, and very delicious they are!

These really are very, very simple to make. It’s a simple almond paste filling, left to chill, then shape them, dip in lightly-whipped egg white and roll in sesame seeds. The seeds crispen up in the oven, while the centre is soft and chewy. I changed the filling slightly this time – adding orange zest and a dash of cinnamon, while the egg white is flavoured with a little orange blossom water. All in all, I think these fellows look rather jaunty! They are delicious with mint or green tea. Makes you think of the sun when it’s a blizzard outside!

sesame_gazelle_horns

To make sesame gazelle horns (makes around 25):

• 200g ground almonds
• 100g white sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• zest of one orange
• almond extract, to taste
• ground cinnamon, to taste (around 1/2 teaspoon)
• egg white

• 2 tablespoon orange blossom water
• sesame seeds

Before making these, I recommend watching this excellent video which explains the technique.

1. Put the ground almonds, caster sugar, beaten egg, orange zest, almond extract and cinnamon into a bowl (with regard to these last two, be guided by your preference – a little of each, or a lot, depending on the flavour you like). Mix to a smooth, even paste. If the mixture is too dry, add a little cold water (a teaspoon at a time) but make sure the paste is fairly stiff – it should not be wet or liquid. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

3. Divide the almond paste mixture into 25-30 equal pieces (the easiest way to do this is roll it into a long sausage 25-30cm in length – then cut into pieces every 1cm to achieve equal pieces!). Roll each into a ball, then flatten into a sausage shape between your palms. They should be fatter in the middle, thinner in the middle, and around 7cm long).

4. Put the egg white into a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of orange-blossom water, and whisk until foamy. Dip each piece of almond paste in the egg white, shake off the excess, then roll in the sesame seeds until coated.

5. Place the sesame-coated almond paste onto the baking sheet. Roll each lightly between clean hands to press the seeds into the paste, then shape the pieces into crescents. Pinch the ends slightly to get points.

6. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes until just starting to turn golden at the edges, but they should not become dark. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire tray.

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Rhubarb & Custard Tarts

I was in the centre on the City last week, and there was a noticeable spring-like feeling in the air as I walked past St Paul’s Cathedral. Still rather fresh, but the smells of plants awakening from their winter slumber was certainly there. The flowers were not yet peeking out from the bushes and trees, but catkins and pussywillow have appeared. That was soon eliminated by the return of snow, but hey, for a brief few days, spring had sprung!

Our recent snowstorms have only been a little hiccup, and we are on the march towards warmer days. The impending bonanza of spring is also heralded by the arrival of something very special in your local fruit shop – lots and lots of neon pink Yorkshire rhubarb!

I’ve used this to make some very simple rhubarb tarts which bring together two classic flavours to make a British favourite. A sweet pastry shell, filled with pastry cream flavoured with a dash of vanilla, and then topped off with roasted rhubarb. Yes, it really is this lurid shade of pink!

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How to get the look? As I say, by roasting! The trick to getting the bright colour is by cooking the chopped rhubarb with sugar in the oven. This is, in my view, about the best way of preparing rhubarb for a tart. It keeps the shape of the stems of rhubarb, but also preserves their amazing colour. The result is almost luminous, and combines sweetness with the lip-smacking sharpness that is the hallmark of rhubarb. You also have result which is sweet, sticky and syrupy, rather than watery which can happen if you opt to poach the rhubarb.

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On little tip – when you come to use the rhubarb for the tarts, you only need the fruit, not the syrup. However, the syrup is also delicious – keep it and use it as a glaze, in yoghurt, or in your favourite cocktail (perhaps with Prosecco and gin to make a Yorkshire Pink Gin Fizz?).

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The recipe below makes four to six tarts, depending on the size of your moulds (you’ll probably have too much pastry left, but I’ll be posting a little trick to use it up shortly). I feel I should caution you that these tarts are not exactly light – the pastry, rhubarb and custard filling means that like all good British puds, they are rather substantial, but there is no reason you could not adapt this to make bite-sized morsels too.

To make rhubarb and custard tartlets (makes 4-6, depending on size):

For the rhubarb:

• 700g pink rhubarb
• 150g white sugar

For the pastry:

• 175g plain flour
• 65g caster sugar
• pinch of salt
• 65g unsalted butter
• 1 egg, beaten
• cold water

For the filling:

• 250ml whole milk
• 2 eggs
• 1 egg yolk
• 90g caster sugar
• 30g cornflour
• 75g butter

To roast the rhubarb:

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

2. Wash and trim the rhubarb. Cut into piece of 1-2cm. Mix with the  sugar and put into a glass or ceramic ovenproof dish. Loosely cover the dish with foil but make sure it does not touch the rhubarb (rhubarb + foil = trouble)! Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is pink and soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool (ideally, leave overnight in the fridge – the colour will intensify).

To make the pastry:

3. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Work the butter in with your hands, then add the egg yolk and sufficient cold water (a teaspoon at a time) to make a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.

4. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Roll out thinly and use to line some tartlet moulds. Fill with greaseproof paper and baking beads. Bake blind for around 20 minutes, then remove the greaseproof paper and baking beads. Bake for a further 10 minutes until golden. Leave to cool.

To make the pastry cream:

5. Put the milk into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then put to one side.

6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, cornflour and vanilla extract. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Pour through a sieve into a clean saucepan and place over a medium heat.

7. Stir the mixture constantly until thickened (about 4-5 minutes – and really do stir it, otherwise it gets lumpy!). When very thick, remove from the heat. Add the butter and fold it into the pastry cream mixture. It might look oily, but it will come together.

8. Pour the mixture into a large dish and cover with cling film. Press the film onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin forming. Leave until completely cold.

To assemble the tartlets

9. Fill each tartlet shell with pastry cream. Top each tart with rhubarb (try to avoid getting too much syrup onto the tarts, or the pastry will get soggy).

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Gazelle Horns

I’ve done an awful lot of British food recently, so today we’re going to look somewhere slightly more exotic to banish the winter blues. We had snow flurries last week, and the mornings are still frosty, so this is a bit of an antidote to that – traditional Moroccan pastries called gazelle horns (or kaab el ghzal, which actually means gazelle ankles).

It’s probably pretty evident from the shape of these sweet treats how they get their name!

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Gazelle horns are made with an almond paste filling wrapped in thin, crisp pastry. When I say thin, I mean thin. Look at my cross-section picture – can you see the pastry? Exactly! It needs to be wafer thin! Takes some time to make, but well worth it.

There are numerous versions of these things (I imagine that each Moroccan granny would have their own secret version, unless they just buy them in – they can be fiddly to make!), but I have flavoured the filling with lime zest and rose water, while the pastry has orange blossom water and olive oil. It is also possible to add flavours like orange zest, cinnamon or mastic gum, but I was keen to keep to almonds and some aromatic flavours. The orange blossom water in the pastry, in particular, is a nice touch and something that makes these pastries really very different from more usual baked goods.

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These pastries look rather spectacular, but they are easy to make. However, as I suspect you’ve already realised, they demand quite some time commitment to make properly, so it’s the sort of thing you should set a good few hours aside to undertake. But fear not! They also keep really rather well, so you can enjoy the fruits of your labours for a long time after spending all afternoon elbow-deep in pastry.

Once I had made these (and eaten quite a few) I served them are a dessert – the gazelle horns were rolled in icing sugar, piled high on a Moroccan vintage metal plate and served with lots of mint tea. A nice and refreshing alternative to a rich dessert! It’s interesting to see your guests proclaim that they can really only manage one, only to make short work of four or five of these fellows.

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To make gazelle horns (makes 40):

For the filling:

• 300g  ground almonds
• 175g caster sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• juice and zest of 1 lime
• 1 tablespoon rose water
• almond extract, to taste

For the pastry:

• 250g plain flour
• 1 egg, beaten
• 60ml olive oil
• 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
• cold water

1. Make the filling – put everything into a bowl and mix until you have a smooth and firm (but not wet) paste. If you are using almond extract, add it a drop at a time – it helps to provide a subtle almond flavour, but be careful as it is easy to go too far. (The filling can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight).

2. Make the pastry – throw the flour, egg, oil and orange blossom water in a bowl and knead to a soft, elastic dough. Don’t worry about over-working it, as you need to pastry to be stretchy and capable of being rolled out thinly. Add cold water if too dry, or some flour if too wet. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least half an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

4. Divide the filling into equal pieces (I find it easiest to roll it into a long sausage, then cut into equal slices). Roll each piece into a ball, then shape into a small cigar (fatter in the middle, thinner at the ends – about 4 centimetre/2 inches long).

5. Take portions of the dough (a quarter at a time) and roll it out as thin as you can (really – if you think it’s done, go thinner!). Cut into squares, and then place an almond paste “cigar” diagonally onto the square. Wrap the pastry around the filling, trim the excess then seal the edges. Smooth the seams and roll the ends into points. Bend the pastry shape into the “horn” shape so they look like small croissants. Place seam-side down

6. Bake the pastries for around 15 minutes until just starting to colour – golden at the points, but not dark (this is easier to do in batches). Remove from the oven. If any of the filling has leaked, use a knife to push it back into shape while they are warm. Leave to cool.

7. Roll the cold pastries in icing sugar before serving.

Worth making? I’ll be honest – these were a total faff to make, but it was quite fun to do on a rainy afternoon while listening to a radio play. The results are well worth it though, and last for a while, so overall – recommended!

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Oh Mon Amour! The Stolen Heart

Ah, ’tis once again Valentine’s Day! In previous years I have treated you to pink and romantic treats, but this year I felt that a little bit of a twist was in order. Everyone is all about hearts, so let’s take that idea and run with it.

I’ve drawn my inspiration from the cold and snowy weather we’ve had in olde London Town for the last few days (even if today has warmed up rather nicely). I was in the City earlier in the week, and was fascinated by those medieval buildings that are still clinging on in the face of advancing glass and steel monsters. In the icy mist, they give you brief glimpses of times long forgotten, but still not quite gone. I passed one church that looked like something from a fairy tale, but more like one of the darker true Grimm tales than anything more recent and sugar-coated. It was striking how the cool weather seems to be able to strip a scene of almost all colour, leaving it eerie and silent.

Against this atmospheric scene, this dish is a tribute to those old tales, where key characters encountered  unexpected things in the woods. There might be a happily-ever-after, but there could equally be a grisly end in the dark forest on the snowy ground at the teeth of the big, bad wolf. Yes, you guessed it, I’m going with the latter. And you can guess how that heart was stolen – basically, it’s a crime scene on a plate!

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In coming up with this, I had something rather like Snow White in mind. There had to be lots of red and white – which are, after all, the key elements that go into making the most romantic colour of all, pink – but they are presented in a way which I’ve called The Stolen Heart to suggest that some beast has just “stolen” someone’s heart in the most literal sense. Rather than lovely fluffy pink macarons or cupcakes with love hearts, this is intended to look shocking.

The idea is that this is a snowy scene, achieved with a mixture of yoghurt and mascarpone. Roasted figs are added (a fruit that is so often linked with romance and passion) to represent something that has been left behind by the miscreant. The scene is dusted with snow-like sugar, and then finally splattered with a red fruit sauce with a dash of pomegranate molasses, this latter ingredient bringing in the fertility associations of pomegranate as well as adding sharpness. The result is strange, in turns both pretty and unsettling, and perhaps the complete antithesis of all the chocolate hearts and sugared rose petals that seem to be everywhere else at the moment. That said, perhaps this is not the most suitable thing to serve your special someone on Valentine’s Day, but then, that wasn’t what I was going for.

So what do you think? Taste-wise, it’s actually delicious – rich roasted figs, heady with the perfume of spice and lemon in red wine, chilled mascarpone with just a light hint of sweetness – so it does make a lovely late winter pudding. But it might just freak you out too…

Finally, just one little tip – it’s wonderfully great fun to splatter the red sauce in a dramatic fashion, but either do it over a sink or in the garden – otherwise you will find your Jackson Pollock frenzy makes the kitchen look like a crime scene. And serve it straight away – the sauce will start to bleed (ha ha!) and dissolve the sugar snow. You want it to look like the crime has just been committed, and someone’s heart really has just been stolen. Perhaps too literal an interpretation of Valentine’s Day?

To make The Stolen Heart (serves 2):

For the figs:

• 4 large ripe fresh figs
• dash of lemon zest
• 3 tablespoons red wine
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• pinch of allspice

For the snow:

• 100g natural yoghurt
• 100g mascarpone cheese
• icing sugar

For the blood:

• 100g raspberries (frozen work best)
• sugar (to taste)

1. First, roast the figs. Cut the figs into quarters, then mix with the zest, wine, honey, brown sugar and allspice. Put into an over dish, cut side up, cover with tin foil, and cook at 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes (you might need to check from time to time and spoon the wine sauce onto the cut figs). Remove the tin foil, spoon the sauce into the figs again, and cook for another 10 minutes. Put the tin foil back, turn off the heat, and leave until cold.

2. Make the “blood”. Heat the frozen raspberries in a saucepan until quite liquid. Mash, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sweeten to taste with sugar. If you want, you can add any left-over wine syrup from the figs to add flavour and deepen the colour.

3. The prepare the dish, mix the yoghurt and mascapone cheese until smooth. Spread onto two large plates.

4. Chop the figs into large chunks. Drop onto the plate in a rough manner.

5. Dust everything liberally with icing sugar for a snow-like effect, and immediately “splatter” the plate with the red fruit sauce (you might not need all of it – just enough to create the dramatic effect). Serve straight away.

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Scottish food: Cranachan

You know that Scotland is famous for whisky (spelled without the “e”), tablet, shortbread and smoked salmon. What you might not know is that it is also a very prolific producer of soft fruit. And in my view, the jewel in the crown among them is the raspberry. Let’s just pause for a moment to admire one of the little fellows:

If you are from certain parts of Scotland and of a certain age, there is a pretty good chance that you spent many a summer “at the berries” (i.e. being given little choice in the matter of going to a farm to pick raspberries). There is perhaps a certain romanticism attached to spending long, warm summer days in fields of fruit….

That’s more or less how I remember it, but that’s probably the rose-tinted view. I suspect the reality was more like standing at the muddy farm gates at 7am, and then spending most of the day rummaging around in bushes that are covered in lots and lots of little spikes, encountering lots of creepy-crawlies. At the end of the day, your hands would be stained red and, thanks to those tiny barbs, could be really quite itchy. But when you’re young, it seems that you have hit on a way of earning more money than you could possibly ever imagine. And that’s how I earned my first £100! I can still remember the sense of achievement that I had earned a three-figure sum! To this day, it serves as a reference point for the value of money – it was hours of physical work to earn it, and it made me a little more selective about how I spent it.

Anyway, moving past the misty-eyed recollections of summers past, with this abundance of lovely raspberries in Scotland, there are two tasty things you could make. Most obviously, you could make raspberry jam, which is peerless when enjoyed on fresh scones. If you want to make it, just put equal weights of raspberries and white sugar in a pot with a squeeze of lemon juice – bring to the boil, then simmer until set.

The less obvious thing to make is….to make a classic Scottish dessert called cranachan (complete with that harsh “ch” sound in the middle). If you’re looking for a reference point, you could call this a Scottish trifle, made with cream, oats and raspberries. Yes, oats. Trust me on this.

I’ve actually been hoping to post a cranachan recipe for a while, but I felt I should wait until I actually got my hands on some Scottish rasps. Not that there is anything wrong with the berries that come from Kent or Hampshire, but I just prefer the Scottish ones! However, my timing is less than perfect. I missed the main season what with moving house and the 2012 Games, and we’ve now slipped out of raspberry season here in the UK. However, I realise that there are parts of the world where these little fellows are just coming into season, so I reasoned that there would always be a good time to do this recipe. That, and by pure chance, I finally managed to get my hands on what must be the last punnets of fruit that came out of Scotland this year. It was a sign, clearly, that I had to feature cranachan!

This dessert is very simple – a combination of crushed raspberries, toasted oats, lightly whipped cream, heather honey and a dash of whisky. If you’ve made sure that the cream comes from happy cows that have been enjoying the lush green pastures of Aberdeenshire (or similar) then you’ve got a 100% Scottish dessert. It combines the sweet tartness of raspberries, nutty toasted oats that have a little bit of crunch to them, and lightly whipped cream that is flavoured with whisky and honey. Even with the oats, it’s a very luxurious dessert.

There are many different ways to make cranachan, and as I am not really in a position to say which is the authentic version, I’ll give you a few options and you can pick which you prefer. Some people throw everything in a bowl and mix,  others like to have distinct layers of cream, fruit, honey and oats. I prefer the “layers” approach and like to put it together at the last minute – the different textures make this a more interesting dessert. Also think about how long you will let the dessert sit – the longer you leave it to sit, the softer the oats will get and the stiffer the cream gets. I would assemble the dessert just before serving, so you can still appreciate the different textures.

And finally, I will deal with the obvious question – can you use yoghurt in place of the cream? I think you could, and while it won’t be the same, it will still be tasty. Just don’t try to play too fast and loose with the recipe by getting rid of the oats. Now that would be sacrilege!

To make Cranachan (serves 4):

• 60g oats (pinhead or jumbo rolled)(*)
• 300g fresh raspberries, plus more to decorate

• 300ml double cream
• 6 tablespoons honey, melted and cooled
• 6 tablespoons whisky

1. Dry-toast the oats in a frying pan over a medium heat. They are ready when the flakes are just browned and smell toasted, but should not be dark. Leave to cool.

2. In a bowl, lightly crush half the raspberries. Fold in the remaining whole raspberries and crush lightly – there should still be large whole pieces.

3. In another bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of honey with 3 tablespoons of whisky.

4. In another bowl, mix the cream and the rest of the honey and whisky. Whip until the cream thickens but is still soft. It should still be floppy, not stiff.

5. To assemble the dessert(**), add some of the raspberry mixture, then a sprinkling of oats and then some of the cream mixture. Add two more layers in the same order (raspberries, oats, cream, raspberries, oats, cream). Top with a few whole raspberries, and drizzle with the honey-whisky mixture. Serve immediately.

(*) Use as little or as much of the toasted oats as you prefer – you might want to go easy on the oats unless you’re a hardcore porridge fan.

(**) If you’re making this for a dinner, I recommend toasting the oats, making the whisky/honey mixture and toasting the oats ahead of time, but assemble everything at the very last moment. It’s also best not to keep the raspberries in the fridge, as they have a better flavour at room temperature.

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Salted Chocolate Tart

I was invited to a dinner last night, where the hostess was promising curry. Then came the casual request…and you can bring dessert, yes?

So I was up at 6:30am yesterday, reading some cookbooks for inspiration. My inclination was to start with something Indian, but I quite quickly realised that most of the recipes involved making some sort of paneer cheese and then frying it (yup, deep-fried desserts). I’ve bookmarked them to try another time, but I was left scratching my head nevertheless.

I had initially resisted the idea of something with chocolate as I was not too sure that it would be a good follow on from hot, spicy food, but then I came upon a recipe from the Paul A Young cookbook for a salted chocolate tart, topped with caramelised pecans. It looked like a winner, especially when I remembered that I had a tiny pot of edible gold leaf in the cupboard. I could make that, then top it off with gold leaf! And that’s basically the thought process that was going on in my head as I was drinking a cup of tea and finishing off toast with marmalade.

I made one large tart that I took along, and had enough extra pastry to make two small tartlets for later. Sadly I don’t have a picture of the big one, so you’ll have to be content with these two. I have to say, small as they are, they are still just about the richest thing I’ve made for a long, long time.

I really liked the way that this recipe turned out. The pastry is pretty easy, and the filling is a complete doddle – equal weights of chocolate, cream and muscovado sugar, then round out the flavour with some sea salt. Think salted caramel meets dark chocolate. As a flavour experiment, it was quite interesting to taste a spoonful of the cream and sugar mixture on its own (very sweet!) and then appreciate how much it changes once you add the salt. The flavour becomes so much deeper and richer.

However, my eyes did pop open when I saw how much salt was supposed to go into the mixture – I had made one-and-a-half times the filling, but still thought the suggested 10 grams was too much. I measured it out, and just didn’t trust it, and I didn’t have enough other ingredients to make another batch if the worst were to happen. I went with my gut, and added about two-thirds of the amount suggested, and the taste was great. So if you’re going to have a go at this tart, I recommend mixing the cream and sugar in a bowl, and add just enough salt to the cold mixture to suit your taste. There is a fine line between tongue-tingling salted caramel and a salty, sugary mess, and this is a recipe where less is more and you may wish to err on the side of caution.

So how was this tart received? The recipe book said it would silence a table of dinner guests, and it seemed to have the desired effect. This is definitely a keeper for the dessert portfolio, and I’m already planning to use the filling as the base of a tart to be topped off with fruit. I’m seeing great things involving passion fruit, or a few punnets of juicy ripe raspberries.

To make a salted chocolate tart:

For the pastry:

• 175g butter
• 75g caster sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• 35ml water
• 20g cocoa powder
• 250g plain flour

For the filling:

• 300g dark chocolate
• 300g light muscovado sugar
• 300ml double cream
• 1 heaped teaspoon sea salt (or more or less, to taste)

For the topping

• 100g nuts (pecans or skinned hazelnuts)
• 100g caster sugar
• 1 level teaspoon sea salt, finely ground

To make the pastry:

1. Cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the egg yolks and water and combine. Add the cocoa and flour, a quarter at a time, and mix to a dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for an hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Roll out and use to line a 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin (no more than 5mm thickness). Place the pie crust in the freezer for 15 minutes.

3. Line the pie crust with greaseproof paper, and fill with baking beans. Bake the pie crust blind for 20 minutes, then remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans, and bake for another 8-10 minutes (the base should look dry and cooked, but the edges should not be dark). Leave to cool completely.

To make the filling:

4. Put the sugar and cream into a bowl. Stir well, then add salt to taste, then add the chocolate.

5. Place over a pan of very hot water, and allow everything to melt together. The mixture is ready when the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture looks thick and glossy.

6. Once ready, pour into the prepared tart shell, allow to cool slightly, then chill in the fridge for two hours.

To make the topping(*):

7. Lightly toast the nuts in the oven – they should be just toasted, not dark. Remove from the oven.

8. Put the sugar into a saucepan with a dash of water, and warm over a medium heat until you just have a light caramel. Don’t be tempted to stir it.

9. Once the caramel is done, add the salt, stir well, then add the nuts. Stir briefly, then turn out onto a sheet of non-stick baking parchment.

10. Leave the nuts to cool completely. Break or roughly chop the nuts into smaller pieces, and sprinkle generously on top of the tart.

(*) The topping can be made ahead of time – if you do this, be sure to store in an airtight container to stop the caramel from getting sticky.

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