Monday, 21 July 2014

Raspberry & Redcurrant Jam: A Guest Post

A few months ago I was asked by Borough Market to write a guest post for their site. They just managed to slip two recipes past before I wound up any bits of work outside the blog. I met my last deadlines a few days ago and it feels wonderful. Now I can focus on preparing Poires for the year to come, saying goodbye to Oxford and having a bit of a holiday.

I've been sitting on this recipe for a few years, partly because I made so much of it in 2012 that I've only just finished the last jar. It's my favourite jam. It's vibrant, slightly tangy and generally gorgeous, especially as part of a cream tea. I also wrote up my recipe for Victoria Sponge - the jam works brilliantly with whipped cream as the filling (for many of the same reasons that it's perfect for a cream tea). The sponge will be up next week - I'll edit this with a link and share it on twitter etc.

You can read the post and find the jam recipe here.

Other posts where I've used/mentioned this jam:
Raspberry Redcurrant Jam Swiss Roll
Almost-Linzer Torte
Cinnamon Cardamon Kringel Bread

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Some Thoughts on Starting a Blog

I was recently asked to work with the Stella team at The Telegraph to put together a piece on How to Start a Food Blog. It was my first phone interview and I was really nervous about it. In the end it was fun - Rachael, the lady who wrote the piece, is lovely. It's out today and you can read it online. I thought it'd be good to elaborate a bit here and share some of the general blogging statistics from my surveys.

First, it's worth noting again that I don't think there's only one way to blog about food. The best thing about blogging is the freedom. You have no editor - it's just you. I've set up patterns and guidelines for the way I like to run my blog, but they're not universal. For instance, I've found my momentum is easily sustained if I post once a week, but that might not work at all for someone else (and I'm going to need to create a new rhythm soon). I wrote a little bit about my patterns and finding your own in this post.

Though there are books and guides and posts out there on how to blog or take photos I'm not sure that I really recommend them, especially when you're first trying out new ideas. Experimenting is fun and leads to variety, and variety is wonderful. I really hope blogs don't become monotonous or start trying too hard to follow one way of doing things.

I've said before that I think stopping submitting my photos to sites like tastespotting and foodgawker in 2011 was the best thing I ever did for my blog. It freed me to find a style I liked, rather than trying to create the one I thought they liked. It made me stop valuing my work on whether it was accepted or not and let me be happy as long as I was content with what I'd done.

In the piece it mentions a bit about recipe attribution. It's worth learning about and involves the only exceptions to the 'no rules' idea - I always recommend this article by David Lebovitz. As I understand it, the way in which the method is worded is the copyright part of a recipe (under literary expression, like a novel). This means that you should always re-write recipes into your own words, which I think is a great thing - it's a little glimpse into how you do things. You should also give clear credit to any recipes that you have adapted or have inspired you. It's important to show respect for the work that other people have put into a recipe.

As an example, my working method if I'm beginning with an existing recipe rather than starting from scratch or working with ratios is to read the recipe throughly first to make sure I understand all the steps, then write the ingredients and method into my kitchen notebook in the shorthand I use (things like c b/s, sift fl/bp/se/cin and so on). Every time I test the recipe I add notes and details and record any changes. When I come to write it up, I only use my notes, expanding and clarifying as much as I can.

If you're just beginning to play with recipes, I think it's easiest to begin with a recipe from a book or another trusted source. Adapting is a great way to learn how things work. Even posting some notes and a picture of what your dish looked like when you've followed a recipe exactly adds a new record of how the recipe works. To me, that's what I want a post to do - to add something of value. It could be a recipe developed from scratch, some notes on a recipe that's already out there, a story that references the recipe or some thoughts on a technique. If you re-write and give full and clear credit to the original recipe, I don't think adapting is a lesser way of doing things. In many ways blogging about recipes is curating a collection, and as a reader, I'd like to know about all the recipes you adore, not just the ones that you've created yourself.

Two last things: First, I really recommend reaching out to other bloggers, joining social media and making friends in the community (it makes such a difference) and second, unless you want to be anonymous, put a bit about yourself on an about me page (a first name, photo and country is good) - it gives a reader someone to connect with and is certainly the first thing I click on when I visit a new-to-me blog.

Blogging is subjective, and that's what makes it interesting. It's a glimpse into other kitchens and other lives, created by the freedom to write what you want. It allows me to choose my recipes based on my cravings and only to post something if I really love it. I hope that's what comes through - I love doing this.

I thought this would be a good time to give you some of the survey data from the past two years. Obviously the survey is self-selecting and represents a relatively small selection of my readers (and therefore an infinitesimal selection of blog readers in general) but I think people are generally quite honest on a anonymous survey (I know I am).

The 2013 survey had 762 replies.

What part of a blog is most important to you?
24% selected recipes, 6% writing, 5% photography, 63% said a blog needs all three and 2% said other (specifying things like a sense of connection with the author or a combination of recipes + photography).

Do you read all of the writing in a blog post?
35% said yes, 47% said most of the time, 16% occasionally and 2% never.

When asked to select as many as they liked from a list of my post types, only 26% picked posts that were just about the recipe itself - the top four were personal stories (72%), the science behind the recipe (62%), more detail on the technique (61%) and the history of the recipe (59%).

Do you appreciate a regular posting schedule (i.e. every Thursday)?
35% liked it, 39% didn't mind, 25% hadn't noticed and 1% didn't like it.

Have you made a Poires au Chocolat recipe?
66% had made a recipe. If so, how many? 19% had made one, 24% two, 40% three to five, 13% six to ten and 4% more than ten.

The 2014 survey had 412 replies.

How many recipes have you tried from Poires au Chocolat?
81% had made a recipe: 13% one, 17% two, 16% three, 12% four, 10% five, 3% six, 2% seven, 1% eight, 0.2% nine and 8% more than ten.

Of those that had tried a recipe 98% found it easy to follow (comments for the 2% were mainly about the recipes being in metric not US cups).

Do you make recipes from other blogs?
40% regularly, 47% occasionally, 11% rarely and 2% never.

Do you comment on blog posts to say you've made a recipe?
2% always, 5% often, 17% sometimes, 30% rarely and 46% never.

I think the last two stats from the 2014 are particularly useful - I'd guessed that there was a big gulf between the number of people making recipes and the number of people telling bloggers they'd made them, but it was even more pronounced than I'd thought. I also found the position of recipes above writing and photography in the 'most important part' question in 2013 interesting (though, of course, the majority wanted all three). The most exciting thing in both years, though, was definitely to hear about so many of the respondents making recipes.

As I half-mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the rhythm is going to slow a little around here as I move to Cambridge and start medical school in September. I have every intention of keeping posting regularly - I can't imagine life without blogging after all this time. I'm planning to start with a post every fortnight and see how that goes. I'd love to up the frequency again but I also want to have plenty of time to focus on my degree and making new friends as well as seeing my friends and family. It's going to be a bit of an experiment and I hope you'll be ok with that.

To illustrate this post I've put pictures from some of the recipes from over the years that I particularly fancy today (though some aren't exactly seasonal) - links below. One of the only problems with blogging and always moving forward is often not having the time to go back to old recipes.

Top-bottom: whole vanilla bean biscuits, two ingredient chocolate mousse, apple and quince pie, chocolate cardamon cookies, seed cake, coffee and walnut cake, treacle flapjacks and apple and blackberry crumble.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Tarte aux Framboises

Though Simon's Tarte aux Pommes is the most beloved and evocative tart from my childhood, Tarte aux Framboises comes second. It's one of my favourite things to buy from the bakeries in town - a slice, with the sides protected by slips of clear plastic, tucked into a white box and carried carefully home.

This is a slightly simplified version. It's made up of a puff pastry base (I've been making my favourite rough puff), barely-sweetened vanilla whipped cream, the best raspberries I can find and a sweet, jammy glaze.

If you don't want to make your own pastry (though I think that this is a great recipe for it, as you really notice the quality in something simple) then do try to find some made with butter. I made one batch of rough puff, trimmed the sides and then divided it into three chunky rectangles of pastry of roughly 160g. I think it's best freshly made but if you wrap each piece tightly in a few layers of clingfilm it can be frozen for a few weeks (defrost it slowly in the fridge, still wrapped up).

I think the best thing about a tart like this is how both the textures (crisp pastry, billowing cream, seedy raspberries, jelly glaze) and the flavours (buttery, vanilla, cream, tart, fruity, sweet) contrast and combine to create a balance. It's a familiar and comforting combination and no lesser for being so.

Tarte aux Framboises

For the tart case:
160g puff pastry (I use homemade rough puff)
a splash of milk

To assemble:
2 tbsp raspberry jam
1 tbsp water
100ml double cream
1/2 tsp icing sugar*
1/4 tsp vanilla paste
24 raspberries (roughly 200g)

Roll the pastry out to a rectangle of roughly 25 x 15cm (10 x 6"). Trim the edges to create a clean rectangle. Cut a 1-1.5cm (0.4-0.6") strip from each of the sides. Score the main piece lightly in a criss-cross pattern. Brush the top of the main piece with milk (not making it soggy, but covering the whole piece lightly without going over the sides). Arrange the strips around the edges, trimming the ends so that they fit. Press the strips down lightly, then brush the tops with milk. Transfer onto baking parchment and onto a baking tray. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/390F (fan). Bake the tart case for 20-25 minutes until caramel brown on all sides and the base. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, press the centre down to make room for the filling (so it looks like this).

Put the raspberry jam and water into a small saucepan and stir over a medium heat until combined and liquid. Strain through a sieve into a bowl to catch the seeds. Put the cream, icing sugar and vanilla paste into a mixing bowl and whip until it thickens and just hold shape - the floppiest of peaks - it's important to not over whip it. Spoon into the middle of the case and spread out. Arrange the raspberries on the top. Brush the raspberries with the warm glaze. Best served immediately.

*If your raspberries are on the sour side, increase to 1 tsp.

(Makes one tart, slices into four)

Three other pie and tart posts:
Chez Panisse Almond Tart
Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie
Tarte aux Pommes