Monday, 20 August 2012
However much I enjoy blogging and the regular routine it involves, there are days when life demands to be put first.
Last Monday I was finishing this post, struggling to get it out before my friends arrived the next day. I've been working hard on the proposal (it's out with publishers now!) and the teas (only one spot still available!) and many other things for months and I felt totally drained - especially of creativity. There are several things I've been worried about and when I burst into tears in front of my screen, I realised that I had to just let it go.
I switched off my laptop, put my camera in its bag, gathered my notes and packed it all away. Then I went down to the lake in the valley and swam in the blue-green water that's so clear you can see your toes as you tread water. I watched the silver fish darting around my body and the hot wind move the trees on the nearby mountainside. The water absorbed my stress and I left with a clear mind, ready to be filled with carefree holiday thoughts.
My three friends from university arrived in Verbier the next day. I had stuffed mum's freezer with four flavours of ice cream, a big batch of cookies and a set of chocolate fondants in the days before. There was freshly made blackberry-lemon syrup to go with sparkling water cooling in the fridge, alongside heaps of savoury food.
Over the six days we feasted on waffles dowsed with maple syrup and crispy thin Swiss bacon, french toast with berries, warm blackberry and apple pie (with pastry roses on top) and lots of cold cream, fresh croissants from the local bakery and much more. We ate picnics in shaded forest glades and at 3300m on rocks at the top of Mt Fort. One night I took them for the mandatory cheese marathon, complete with a big pot of fondue and many servings of raclette.
They were truly glorious days, filled with sunshine, laughter, beautiful scenery seen through new eyes and the sort of conversations with old friends that you miss desperately when they are thin on the ground.
I thought it would be difficult to swear off my laptop and phone, to only check my email once or twice a day. It was easy. Every moment of that little holiday was so enchanting that nothing online could tempt me away.
A few days before the holiday, I decided to practise making ice cream cones. It was a good reminder that baking and wrapping homemade cones is too time-consuming and fiddly to do while my friends were in the next room, having fun without me. So I started playing with the rest of the mix.
There are lots of options. You can spread it evenly into a circle, bake, then press it into a cup or bowl to make a simple basket. You can spread it over the whole tray, then quickly slice it with a sharp knife into diamonds or another shape when it comes out of the oven (I tried cookie cutters, they didn't work). You could add other flavours, like a bit of cocoa powder for chocolate (though I love this mix, it's addictive - I now go heavy on the vanilla paste). Or you can go a bit mental, put it into a piping bag and draw elaborate little cups.
The recipe is here: Ice Cream Cone Mix.
For my four ice cream flavours, I wanted a mix of old and new. I looked back to the archives for three favourites:
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Buttered Pecan Butterscotch Ice Cream
Vanilla Ice Cream
Then I made a new recipe that I've been eyeing up ever since it was posted by BraveTart: Caffe Latte Ice Cream. I'm not a huge coffee drinker but if I do have some, I prefer it frozen, or at least chilled. This ice cream is super-smooth and creamy with the perfect coffee flavour - mellow and rich, not acidic or burnt. I want to try it with some more dark chocolate fondants (my inner temptress wants salted caramel sauce too, but my rational side says it's too much).
P.S. Apologies for the slightly off photo quality, I've been having issues - hopefully now I'm home in Oxford I'll have time to sort them out.
Caffe Latte Ice Cream
(adapted from BraveTart, here)
420ml double cream
240ml whole milk
100g whole coffee beans (I used espresso ones)
1 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
Pour the double cream, milk and coffee beans into a medium saucepan. Split and scrape the vanilla bean and add the seeds and pod to the pan. Heat until the mixture reaches a simmer, then take off the heat. Leave to cool, then steep overnight in the fridge (or for a slightly shorter time, but I'd highly recommend overnight).
The next day, sieve the coffee mixture, stirring the beans to make sure all the cream comes out. Discard/wash the beans and vanilla pod as desired. Prepare the yolks, then whisk in the sugar and salt until well combined. Return the cream mixture to a pan, then heat it until it starts to steam. Pour about 1/3 of the hot cream into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return all of the yolk mixture to the pan, whisking it in. Turn the heat on again and stir with a wooden spoon until it thickens to a custard consistency and you can drag a finger across the back of the spoon and leave a clear mark. (For help with making egg yolk custard and the spoon test, see this Foundations post). Sieve the custard into a bowl and chill in an ice bath. Chill in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours (or overnight again) then freeze as per your ice cream maker's instructions.
(Makes around a litre)
Wednesday, 8 August 2012
If I keep eating baked apples at this pace, I think I might turn into one.
It all started when mum came back from the little market with a big bag of apples: two types of cookers and a tiny little eater. Mum fancied a baked apple, the type she makes with dates, but - alas - we had no dates. So I stepped in and threw a few things together and went back to watching the Olympics.
After an unspecified amount of time (in my enthusiasm to get back to the sports, I hadn't put a timer on), the smell wafting out of the kitchen reminded me that I did, in fact, have pudding in the oven.
Lashed with plenty of my favourite super-thick gruyere double cream, the apples were fantastic. They'd split their skins so little streams of apple flowed out. The pecans had caramelised and roasted amongst the sugar and butter, giving a wonderful crunchy contrast to the soft, almost foamy apple.
The next day, at lunchtime, I set out to recreate it for the camera. I don't know where the weird black flecks that made everything a bit grey came from - I reckon either the ancient apple corer or the old tin I was using - but it wasn't exactly appetising.
So I tried again in the evening, with a different type of cooking apple. The apple was huge, so I split it in half and scooped out the core with a melon baller. This version was much better, but the apple was too sour. Every other bite made your face pucker.
The next evening, I tried with the little eating apples. These were great - not too sour, but still enough to contrast with the other ingredients. I opened them out, like the big apple - the little bowls create a crunchier topping than filling a core. The temperature and timing was finally accurate. But it was dark, so there were no photos. So today I made them again.
This is a wonderfully quick and easy recipe - the only thing you need to really keep an eye on is the apple you choose. I reckon a fairly sour eater is just right - one that tastes delicious fresh will make the best baked apple. You can adjust the sugar to suit, but keep in mind that if you have a very sour apple, you're not going to be able to combine the sugar with the flesh like you can with a sauce or even in a pie - as the apple is baked in large chunks. It's up to your taste preferences, really.
It would also be easy to scale these up for a party or dinner - I think a big dish would be perfect after a family roast. You could serve them with vanilla ice cream or custard if you'd prefer.
Finally, there are still a few places left for both of my TEAS in September! They're your chance to come to my home in Oxford for an afternoon tea and taste five courses of my baking - see here for details and the way to book...
Brown Sugar & Pecan Baked Apples
1 large or two small sourish apples
25g pecan halves
1 tbsp light brown sugar
Several little knobs of butter (about 5g overall)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Split the apples in half, stem to bottom. Use a melon baller (if you don't have one, perhaps a spoon or even a knife?) to scoop out the core in the middle and take out the stem and bottom. Place cut side up in a little baking dish.
Roughly chop the pecans up. Place into a bowl and mix in the brown sugar. Use a teaspoon to heap the sugar and pecans into the middle of each apple half. Don't worry if a few fall off, they'll be fine. Finally top with a chunk of butter. Place into the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes (depends on size) until a knife goes easily into the centre of the apples, the pecans look toasted and the syrup underneath the apples has caramelised a bit. Serve with plenty of chilled double cream.
Saturday, 4 August 2012
A few months ago, I had an idea. As with most things, once googled, I realised it wasn't exactly original. Still, it kept on niggling at me, popping into my mind when I was meant to be concentrating on my proposal or decorating.
The idea was to set up some secret teas. Like a supper club, but with cake and scones and biscuits and tea and chocolates. I've been working on making it a reality... and so here it is! If you want to try my baking first hand, this is your chance. I'm not sure if I'll continue or how quickly these few spaces will go, so don't wait to book.
The teas will be held in my new home in Oxford, all around my big dining table (it has a lovely family story behind it). Oxford is such a charming place to visit - I truly believe it's one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I can provide travel details including other places to visit if you come for the day or weekend.
Places are limited to 10 for each tea - partly because of space, but also because I'd like to be able to chat to each person and make sure that everyone can be included (feel free to come on your own, I'll do my best to make sure everyone gets along and makes friends). A lovely friend has volunteered to help me out so hopefully I won't be glued to the kitchen counter.
There are two dates:
- Saturday 15th September 2012 **sold out**
- Saturday 22nd September 2012 **sold out**
The teas will start at 3pm - I guess they'll finish around 5:30.
To start, I'm working with an autumn theme.
The draft menu for both dates is:
* Crème Fraîche Scones (fresh from the oven) with Raspberry-Redcurrant Jam and Clotted Cream
* Crisp Stem Ginger Biscuits
* Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel Layer Cake decorated with Chocolate Leaves
* Wild Blackberry and Honey Tartlets
* Roasted Almond Chocolate Truffles
* A selection of leaf teas and freshly ground coffee
I decided that five courses would give plenty of variety without making you feel totally stuffed. Any transportable leftovers will be safely packaged so you can take them home.
(note: the photos in this post aren't of these recipes)
The 'suggested donation' is £20 - pay below through paypal (with a paypal account or a credit or debit card) to book your place on one of the dates. I'll then email out the address to everyone a week before the event.
EDIT: Both dates have now sold out!
EDIT 03/09/12: Sadly, I have had to cancel the teas. I've explained why here.
In the case of cancellations, please give me at least 48 hours notice or I'm afraid I won't be able to refund your place.
I'm also setting up an email mailing list for the teas - if you want to sign up, click here. I promise I won't send loads of emails - just if and when any new dates are announced, and perhaps a few snapshots of the first teas. We'll see how it goes!