Tag Archives: lemons

Sunshine and Lemons

Spring, where are you? I went to a bar at the top of one of the tallest towers in the City last night, expecting to show a guest a marvellous sunset over London. Instead – rain. The views were still spectacular as London lit up before us, and it was rather fantastic to see the BT Tower flashing red in support of Comic Relief, but gosh, I really, really am just fed up of the grey days. We all want sunshine and for warmer weather to arrive!

With that, here is a little recipe that does just that. Some sunshine-yellow lemon tartlets!

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These tartlets were prompted by my promise after my rhubarb tarts post to show an idea for using up the scraps of pastry you tend to end up with after making a sweet pastry shell (it’s always best to get the tart shell nice and thin, rather than trying to use up all the pastry – no-one likes a thick bottom!).

You’ll see how they look rather fancy, this the shape is achieved using a couple of very simple tricks. First trick – try to get the pastry as thin as possible. Second trick – use a fluted pastry cutter to get the scalloped edge. Third trick – get the ridged effect on the outside by placing the circles of pastry into a muffin tray lined with fluted cake cases. If you pastry is nice and buttery, it won’t stick, and looks pretty to. Final trick – place another fluted cake case on top of the pastry, press down gently, and weigh down with baking beads. Hey presto – vaguely daisy-like pastry cases for minimal effort! One last thing though is to make sure they are chilled before baking – this ensures that they keep their shape when popped in the oven.

The star factor, of course, comes from the filling, and what a filling it is. It is super-easy and takes no more than ten minutes from start to finish, but they really provide a rich, lemony flavour. This means they are very easy to whip up in a hurry at short notice. The colour is all-natural too, and the sharp tang of citrus bringing just a little bit of sunshine with them. The recipe also works with limes, and can be jazzed up with a little meringue on top to make them extra-special.

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To make lemon tartlets:

Makes 10:

• 10 pastry cases (cooked!)
• 1 egg

• 1 egg yolk
• 50g white caster sugar
• zest of 1 lemon
• 50ml lemon juice
• 55g unsalted butter

1. In a bowl, combine everything except the butter. Mix until well combined.

2. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan. Place over a low heat and whisk constantly until thick (around 4 minutes). Remove from the heat, add the butter and whisk until it is combined and smooth.

3. Immediately pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the lemon zest.

4. Spoon the warm lemon cream into the pastry shells. Shake slightly to event the top of the filling and leave to cool.

Worth making? This is easy lemon curd which works wonderfully – super colour, fantastic flavour. Really recommended! If you don’t have the tart shells, it works as a simple lemon curd too for toast, crumpets or English muffins!

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Chickpea and Herb Salad

Summertime…and the living is easy….

…and standing next to the stove is not really appealing. Quick, light and fresh are the words of the moment, so here is a chickpea salad which hopefully ticks all these boxes, and is healthy to boot. So it’s a quick post for a quick dish.

The idea behind this is pretty much based on the ingredients in hummus, but rather than purée the lot, things are just mixed in a bowl, and each ingredient is allowed to shine through. Then just throw in a little spice and some fresh herbs, and you’re done. If you want to jazz things up, add some toasted pine nuts or almonds or a little Parmesan or feta cheese. The recipe can also be made vegan-friendly by skipping the yoghurt.

Easy!

To make chickpea and herb salad:

• 2 x 400g tins of chick peas
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon tahini
• 1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
• ½ teaspoon paprika(*)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• Handful of chopped herbs (chives, basil, mint, oregano…)
• 2 large lettuce leaves, finely shredded

Rinse the chickpeas, pick out any black ones, and leave to drain.

In a bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, yoghurt, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste the sauce and adjust according to your preferences.

Add the chickpeas, 2/3 of the chopped herbs and the shredded lettuce. Toss the salad until everything is coated.

Just before serving, scatter the rest of the chopped herbs over the salad.

Worth making? This is a very easy dish to make either as a main or a side, and can be endlessly adapted depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard.

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Hark, the Royal Wedding! Maids of Honour Tarts

You might remember in the dark days of last winter, the announcement came from the Palace that there would be a royal wedding in 2011. Reactions were…muted.

Fast forward to Spring, and actually, the country seems to be completely cock-a-hoop about the whole thing. And the excitement is not contained to these fair isles, it seems the American media are really only just about able to contain how thrilled they are. We’ve seen Kate launching a lifeboat in Wales, Kate flipping a pancake in Ireland…yes, we (more accurately, the media) just can’t get enough of it. Kate shops, Kate crosses the road, buy Kate’s ring, wear her dress, and from late 2011, see her wax figure at Madame Tussauds. If you’ve got questions, there is a very helpful FAQ website here.

We were all supposed to throw street parties. We all thought “nope, won’t be doing that”. And then the shops were full of bunting and Union Flags for a bit of waving by the masses on the big day, and actually, we’ll probably all be doing it after all. The British, it seems, really do quite like a royal wedding after all. And best of luck to them!

To keep in with the mood of the nation, there obviously needs to be a little culinary nod to HRH Prince William and his future wife, and what could be more fitting that Maids of Honour tarts?

These certainly have a royal pedigree, but as with a lot of cakes that have a story to tell, there are a few versions floating about. Here are some of my more interesting findings:

Theory one: the maids of honour attending one of Henry VIII‘s Queens (possibly Catherine of Aragon) would nibble on these custardy, lemony treats (and the lemon link does fit with Catherine’s Iberian origins). So far, so nice. However, there is a darker element. The King, upon seeing how much the ladies enjoyed them, tasted one for himself, found it to be very good indeed, and so had to ensure that no-one else could learn the secret. How was this to be achieved? The unfortunate cook was locked up when he or she was not preparing pastry or zesting lemons. It’s probably a good thing we have moved from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

Theory two: these cakes were enjoyed by the maids of honour of Queen Elizabeth I when they were at Richmond Palace. The richness of these cakes (and remember – back in the day, lemons, sugar and butter were luxuries) made them famous and they were small objects of desire for fashionable members of the royal court.

Theory three: Henry VIII called these cakes “Maids of Honour” when he offered one to a future Queen, Anne Boleyn.

So we have learned…that we’re not exactly sure where they came from, but the Richmond link is strong, even to this day, and it seems to be a safe bet that they were around in the times of the Tudors. At this point, I confess that I am a huge fan of the recent TV series. Historically accurate? Maybe not, but a jolly good watch every weekend.


Now, at this stage, I realise two things. The links to the Tudors is probably not the parallel the I want to make with Wills and Kate (to whom I wish the best of luck). I’ve also failed to tell you what these cakes are actually like.

The cases can be made of shortcrust butter pastry of puff pastry. I used shortcrust here, but for the Big Day I will try them again but with puff pastry. The filling is a mixture of eggs, cream cheese, almonds and lemon zest plus a few aromatic “extras”. The filling sets when they are baked, so they are a little bit like mini-lemon baked cheesecakes. Some versions also add a little dash of something else under the filling – either lemon curd (to make them extra-citrussy) or some jam. I liked this idea, so I made some with lemon curd and some with seedless raspberry jam (typically British), but you could also use marmalade, apricot jam, strawberry jam or whatever else takes your fancy.

Now, the practical but – how exactly to flavour the filling? Lemon is a constant in all recipes, but as we are looking to make Maids of Honour for a Royal Wedding, I looked back to what would only have been available only to a royal kitchen back in Tudor times, and I went for broke: a pinch of saffron, citrus zest, orange zest, ground almonds, almond extract, orange blossom water, a pinch of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. Clearly not the sort of things your average peasant would have been able to get hold of. For for a queen indeed.

If you’re looking to make these, they are well worth the effort and make a nice treat for a picnic or tea. However, use saffron only if you like the flavour. I know it can be an acquired taste, so if you prefer, just play it safe and stick with the lemon and spices, which will still give a wonderful flavour and delicate aroma.

To make Maids of Honour (makes 10):

For the pastry:

• 125g plain flour
• 80g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
• pinch of salt
• 2 teaspoons caster sugar
• iced water

Put the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a bowl. Use your fingers and work until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough iced water until the dough comes together (no more than 1-2 tablespoons). Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling:

• 50ml milk
• very tiny pinch of saffron strands (optional)
• 150g cream cheese
• 40g ground almonds
• 50g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/4 orange
• pinch of cinnamon
• pinch of nutmeg
• 50g butter, at room temperature

If using saffron: put the milk in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Turn off the heat, add the saffron strands and allow to sit for 10 minutes until the milk is infused with the saffron colour and aroma. Put the cooled milk and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and mix with a balloon which until smooth.

If not using saffron: put all the ingredients in a bowl, and mix with a balloon which until smooth.

To prepare the tarts:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a cupcake tray with butter.

Roll out the dough as thin as you can – you might find it easier to work the dough with your hands so that it is pliable and does not crumble. Cut our rounds of pastry, put into the to 2-3mm thin, and cut out rounds to line a cupcake tray. Use fingers to press the dough as thin as you can (we want a high filling-to-pastry ratio).

Add one scant teaspoon of jam or curd to the bottom of each case (not too much – or the jam will boil and leak out when baking). Fill each tart two-thirds with the filling mixture – it will puff up slightly during baking.

Bake the tarts for 20 minutes until the filling is puffed and the pastry is golden. You may need to turn the baking tray around half-way to ensure they colour evenly.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, and serve with a light dusting of icing sugar (which would also have been an extravagance in Tudor times).

Worth making? These are very simple but elegant little tarts, which are relatively straightforward to make, and taste great. The filling can be customised depending on exactly what you like in the way of flavours and spices. Will Kate eat them on the big day? We don’t know that yet, but might just be the perfect thing to impress guests are you’re gathered around the television on Friday.

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Easy Lemon Cheesecake

Today’s recipe has probably been in my cooking repertoire the longest, a very easy lemon cheesecake.

In the cheesecake world, there are two types, either the creamy variety like this one (which I call “American” on the basis that, eh, it’s easy), or the baked variety (which I refer to as “European” cheesecake, on the basis that I was first presented with this when on holiday in Germany aged fourteen and went into a bit of sulk as it was not what I expected from a “cheesecake”). If anyone is able to add a little more refinement to my classifications, I would welcome it!

This recipe is not a million miles away from some of the recipes for Key Lime Pie that I have seen, albeit that they usually involve eggs, but they rely on the reaction with the tart citrus juice to thicken the filling. This cheesecake is great as there is no messing about with eggs or baking it in the oven – the filling is a mixture of cream cheese and condensed milk, to which you add lemon juice. Like magic, it thickens up, and if you leave it to sit overnight in the fridge, it sets quite well. Using good, fresh lemons means that the cheesecake will be sharp and zingy, and the lack of eggs, butter etc. means that the finished result is also surprisingly light.

For the base, you can use the usual (boring) sweet digestive biscuits, which work well, but I like to use ginger nuts, which have a little more flavour and work well with the cream cheese and lemon. This also works well with speculaas biscuits, if you like that sort of thing.

For one cheesecake:

• 250g biscuits (digestive, ginger nuts etc).
• 50g butter
• 1 tin condensed milk (450g)
• 400g cream cheese (2 packets)
• 2 lemons, zest and juice only

For the base: Crush the biscuits finely. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the biscuit crumbs. Mix well, and pour into the bottom of a loose-bottomed flan case (mine was 20cm diameter). Spread the mixture out, and pat down firmly and smooth with the back of a spoon. Leave in the fridge to set.

For the filling: Put the condensed milk, cream cheese and lemon zest in a bowl and whisk until completely smooth. Add the lemon juice and whisk until combined and the mixture thickens (this happens quickly). Pour the filling mixture into the flan dish. Shake the pan lightly from side to side so that the surface evens off.

Place the cheesecake in the fridge and allow to rest overnight. The filling will continue to set, and will hold its shape when you cut it.

Worth making? I love this recipe, as it is really easy and ensures good results. I have also had quite a few requests from friends to give them the recipe, which I take to mean that people probably like it too. Just be sure to use the best, most tart lemons you can get hold of so that the flavour shines through.

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Lemon Sorbet

More frozen stuff? Can you tell that I am still excited about my new ice-cream machine? You’d be right.

Today, it’s lemon time. Everyone has that one flavour they love and almost always choose when given a choice (at least in the summer). You might flirt with other flavours from time to time, but you always come back to that favourite. For me, I adore lemon sorbet. I like it to be fresh and zingy, sour, tart and lip-smackingly lemony. I have tried lemon ice-cream, but I always find it a bit of a poor substitute for sorbet. Lemon juice lends itself to cleanness and freshness, which is dulled when you try to make it using cream or milk. I could see how you could make a frozen lemon yoghurt, but if you’re after something sharp, sorbet is so simple and ticks all the boxes. Any now I can make my own!

In this recipe, I wanted the flavour of the lemons to really come out. I got hold of some beautiful fresh lemons, and started off by zesting them into a saucepan – the idea was that this would get the zest as well as some of their essential oils. I infused the zest with the sugar syrup, allowed it to steep, then added the lemon juice at the end. I also tried to decrease the amount of sugar – this amount of liquid would usually take 500g sugar, but I managed to get it down successfully to 350g. Sweet, but not too sweet.

I think using the lemon zest made a real difference – the syrup took on a light yellow colour, and there was a definite additional sharpness rather than just the tartness of the lemon. In the end, the colour did not really impact on the final result – it was a snowy white colour, but the stong taste of lemon was clearly there. All in all, I was really happy with this.

I love this sorbet as it is, but if you are looking for ways to jazz it up, you can try adding a handful of another aromatic herb to the hot syrup – mint, verbena, rosemary…or take the boozy route and top off with a shot of ice-cold limoncello or vodka.

For 1 litre of lemon sorbet:

• 250ml lemon juice
• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon liquid glucose
• 750ml water

Grate the zest of each lemon into a saucepan. Extract the juice and keep it in a separate bowl. Keep going until you have 250ml of lemon juice.

Add the sugar, water and glucose to the saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the lemon juice, stir well, cover and allow to cool.

Strain the cooled mixture to remove the peel. Freeze the sorbet in an ice-cream machine.

Worth making? This sorbet is incredibly easy – if you are in a rush, or prefer a milder lemon flavour, you can omit the zest, and just combine sugar, water and lemon juice. I know this is getting repetitive, but I will also be making a lot more of this over the summer!

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Les saveurs de l’été – Cloudy Lemonade

Hot weather means cool drinks. Beer, white or rosé wine or the British favourite, Pimm’s.

Something I like a lot is traditional cloudy lemonade. When I was growing up, lemonade was the colourless, transparent fizzy drink that was sweet but didn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with lemons. Today’s recipe, however, really is a zesty, fresh, citrus drink, and given the simple ingredients, also doesn’t contain some of the nasties in commercial drinks.

What’s more, it’s quick and easy (much as I love being in the kitchen, you want to be outside when it’s sunny). You take a few fresh, unwaxed lemons, take the lemon zest and juice, and leave this to steep overnight with some hot water and sugar. Doing this with the zest means that you also get all the wonderful aromas from the lemon peel for a bit of extra zing. The next day, you just top up to taste with water (still or sparking) and allow to cool in the fridge. If you want to, you can add a sprig of mint or rosemary to the steeping infusion if you want to other aromas in there too. Enjoy in the sunshine!

For almost 2 litres:

• 5 unwaxed lemons
• 100g sugar
• water, plus more to dilute the concentrate

Wash the lemons. Using a zester, get all the yellow peel into a heatproof bowl. Zesting the peel directly into this bowl means you will get more of the lemon’s essential oils, boosting the flavour. Try to keep the amount of white pith in the zest to a minimum.

Juice the lemons, and add to the lemon zest. 5 lemons should yield 250ml of juice, but if you don’t have enough, feel free to use more lemons to top up.

Add the sugar and pour over the boiling water. Stir well, cover, and allow to sit overnight.

The next morning, strain the mixture (a kitchen sieve is fine). Dilute the mixture down according to taste – I used about 1.5 litres (almost 6 cups). Also taste the lemonade – if the lemon flavour seems too strong, you may prefer to add more sugar, or a natural sweetner such as agave syrup.

Worth making? Yes! This is a great summer drink, really easy to make, and tastes sensational compared to commercial lemonade. Be careful with the sugar, as it’s easy to add more but you can’t remove it if you go too far. Bottle it up, allow it to chill, and enjoy in the park or on your terrace.

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