Monday 29 August 2011

Dusky Caramel and Raspberry Crêpe Cake

This cake hurt me.

I've been working as a one-to-one tutor for the past week, teaching comprehension and creative writing for English school entrance exams for nearly six hours a day. I find it very tiring.

Caramel probably wasn't the best choice of things to make when I could hardly keep my eyes open. I couldn't help it. I had hazy memories of the utter pleasure of the sour cream fleur de sel caramel sauce from this layer cake that couldn't be resisted any longer.

Everything was fine until the sugar turned at an unusual speed, causing the caramel-covered spatula to be flung out of the pan as I grabbed the whisk to beat in the hot cream. Without looking, I reached out for the bowl of sour cream. My middle finger found the caramel-covered spatula instead.

Once the sour cream had been whisked in (the priority!), I spent about an hour attached to the cold tap. I then taught with my finger in a glass of iced water. I took a ziplock bag full of iced water on our dog walk to keep it cool before settling down on the sofa with another water glass. Every now and then I would decide to see how long I could go without a cooling device. I never lasted long - it's amazing how much those blisters can sting. Late that night I tried again and to my surprise they didn't start hurting and haven't since.

I decided to use my old favourite crêpe recipe, swapping out the wholemeal flour but keeping the brown butter. I doubled the recipe and made crêpes for a long time. It felt like I was standing over the hob for hours. I don't normally get annoyed with repetitive tasks. This time I did.

Finally I had stacks of lacy crêpes (I like them with loopy edges, not neat ones), a jar of nearly-burnt-but-not-quite caramel sour cream sauce,a bowl of whipped cream and a tub of raspberries. Turns out I didn't have enough whipped cream. It still tasted great, but it would have been better with thicker layers of filling (I've added more to the ingredients below). I'm glad the caramel cooked further than usual as it really worked in this context.

The flavours mean that the cake isn't too sweet - it's smoky, creamy and slightly sour. The burns were worth it.


Also, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who popped over from my last post to like my new facebook page - you're all awesome.

Dusky Caramel and Raspberry Crêpe Cake
(inspired by Amanda Hesser via Smitten Kitchen, caramel recipe adapted from Baked NYC)

For the dusky caramel:
112g granulated sugar
1 tbsp glucose/golden syrup
70 ml water
140ml double cream
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
70ml sour cream

For the crêpes:
50g unsalted butter
220g plain flour
pinch of salt
4 eggs
400ml milk
100ml water

To assemble:
300ml double cream
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
raspberries, to top

To start the caramel, put the sugar, glucose/golden syrup and water together in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar as you bring it to the boil over a high heat. Meanwhile, heat the cream and salt in a small saucepan until the salt is dissolved and the cream has reached a boil, then remove and set aside. Keep going with the sugar until it reaches a deep golden brown.

At this point, remove from the heat and let sit for a minute before whisking in the hot cream. Let the foam subside, then whisk in the sour cream. Leave to cool then store in a jar in the fridge until using - it firms up after a few hours.

When you're ready to start making the crepes, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Keep heating as it foams up - take off the heat when it smells delicious, the foam has subsided and there are brown flecks floating in the golden liquid. Put aside to cool.

Sift the flour and salt into a big mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack an egg into it. Whisk in, slowly incorporating the flour around the well. Repeat for the other three eggs. Start adding the milk slowly, whisking well between each addition. Finally whisk in 50ml of the water, followed by the brown butter.

Heat up a medium sized frying pan with a solid bottom over a high heat. When it gets really hot, turn it down to medium-high and grease with a small knob of butter. Use a ladle to pour a small amount of mixture into the pan and swirl it so you have a thin layer. Wait until it starts to brown around the edges and flip. Check the consistency of the mixture from this test crepe and add more water if needed.

Repeat with the rest of the mixture, placing each done crepe onto a wire rack to cool before stacking them. You should get around 20-24 crepes.

To make the creamy filling, whip the cream and sour cream together until soft peaks. Briefly whip in the icing sugar and vanilla. Reserve a pretty crepe for the top. Place one crepe on your serving plate then smear with a teaspoon of caramel, followed by a heaped tablespoon of the cream. Place another crepe on top and repeat the process until you have used all your crepes and cream. Spread the last pretty crepe with the last of the caramel. Top with the raspberries, dust with icing sugar and serve.

(Serves 12-14)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Fluffy Vanilla Marshmallows

This weekend I set up a facebook page for this blog. It was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.

I have a habit of assuming that people don't like me or find me boring. Unless I explicitly know otherwise, I tend towards pessimism on this front. It's something I want to change.

As a result, sending out something like this blog to a big group of people from school, university and elsewhere made me pretty nervous. Surely they wouldn't like it. Surely they would get annoyed at the disturbance and mock me.

Yet people have come up to me in person and mentioned how much they like my blog or that they've heard a lot about my cooking. So I decided to man up and click invite. 

The response has really touched me - more than a hundred people in three days, almost all non-foodie friends. There it is, in black and white: people 'like' me and my work.

Marshmallows are messy.

I thought I had escaped the chaos that other bloggers have described when I managed to get the mixture into the pan without covering myself. Two minutes later I realised I had a huge smear over my cheek, dabs of vanilla paste on my arm and a frosty chunk of hair. I looked up and saw my mum had managed to get a big blob on the end of her nose while wildly diving into the bowl to scrape any spare bits out with a spatula (and this is the woman who doesn't like marshmallows).

Then I covered the entire living room in icing sugar and cornflour. I literally cooked up a storm, creating a dust cloud that rose up and surrounded the table, myself and one dog.

Homemade marshmallows are pretty special. Take the best bought marshmallow you've had and multiply the joy by a hundred. They're fluffy and light. Candy clouds.

I had a wonderful time taking these photos. Trying different things, playing with shadows, settings. Afterwards I wanted to jump in the air and dance. Creating something I'm proud of makes me feel vividly alive.

I've only just started to get that feeling with photography. I think today was the first time I felt I had tamed my camera and taken control. Created what I saw in my mind.

I used David Lebovitz's recipe here to make the marshmallows. I used sheet gelatine and instead of corn syrup I used liquid glucose, which I found at my local pharmacy. I used corn flour, which is corn starch. 

Friday 19 August 2011

Cheesecake Mousse with Summer Fruits and Almond Crumble

Last weekend I was in London. More specifically, I was at The Hempel with a big group of food bloggers for Food Blogger Connect 2011. I had a lovely weekend filled with interesting talks and classes, meeting new people and eating gorgeous food.

My favourite element of said gorgeous food was the dessert we had on Friday night. We had little white bowls of summer berries topped with an incredible cheesecake mousse flecked with vanilla and a sprinkling of sweet crumble. I loved the balance of textures and flavours.

So, in the spirit of commemoration, I decided to try and recreate it.

(Photo credit to Šárka Babická of Cook Your Dream - can you spot me?)

After a few tries, I think I've just about managed to do it justice. Though there are three components, it's a simple dessert to make and doesn't take much time - just a bit of chilling.

Have a look at the #FBC11 hashtag on twitter for sneak peaks of some of the talks and other round up posts. I don't have a list of all the great bloggers who attended and their blogs, but you can find most of them there.

Cheesecake Mousse with Summer Fruits and Almond Crumble
(crumble adapted from John Murray's recipe)

For the cheesecake mousse:
85g cream cheese
30g icing sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
seeds of 1/3 of a vanilla bean
100ml thick double cream

For the crumble:
20g whole almonds (or ground)
20g plain flour
20g cold unsalted butter, cubed
20g caster sugar

For the summer fruits:
200g assorted fruits - I used raspberries and blackberries
25g caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl until smooth. Add the icing sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla seeds and whisk in. In another bowl, whip the double cream until it holds firm peaks. Whisk 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Add the remaining 2/3 of the cream and fold in with a big spoon until uniform. Place into the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 170C. Place the whole almonds and flour into a food processor and pulse until you have a fine powder. Add the sugar and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Tip out onto a greased baking sheet and spread out with a fork, fluffing it up as you go. Bake for 5 minutes then remove and break any lumps up with a fork. Place back into the oven and bake for another 3-5 minutes until the crumbs are pale golden colour.

Wash and prepare the summer fruits as needed. Sprinkle over the sugar and lemon juice and leave to macerate for ten minutes.

To assemble divide the fruits between six ramekins or small bowls. Take the mousse out of the fridge and form into 6 or 12 balls or quenelles with spoon/two spoons/an ice cream scoop. Divide out between the portions, placing each ball carefully on top of the fruit. Sprinkle with some of the almond crumble.

(Makes six)

Friday 12 August 2011

Rose and Pistachio Layer Cake

Roses are my favourite flowers. I love all sorts of flowers (peonies, sunflowers, lilac, wisteria, lilies, freesias etc etc) but I always come back to roses.

Oddly, though, I don't like red roses. They've always meant bad luck to me. My favourite colour is pinky-orange, though I'm also a big fan of all the pinks, oranges, yellows and whites.

My great-grandmother loved roses. She planted a beautiful rose garden when she lived in the house I grew up in as a little girl. I think that was when I started loving roses.

I've made sugared rose petals to decorate a cake before - an Espresso, White Chocolate and Rose Cake. They're so simple but striking. As it involves raw egg white you need to be quite careful. I want to try some tests of using other things to sugar them so they're safe for everyone.

I felt the need to make a layer cake the other day. No reason or occasion.

Pistachios are so amazing. I love the complexity, the colour.

Swiss meringue buttercream just felt right with this breezy, romantic cake.  It's so light.  I didn't add much rose water to it - just a hint, a quiet note.

After all the chaos in the world and particularly the UK this week, this cake felt innocent and peaceful. Just like the days I spent as a toddler sitting in my great-grandmother's rose garden.

Rose and Pistachio Layer Cake
(buttercream adapted from Annie's Eats)

For the pistachio layers:
90g unsalted butter
110g caster sugar
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
20g ground pistachios

For the rose buttercream:
75g egg white (2-3 eggs worth)
110g granulated sugar
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp rose water

To assemble & decorate :
1 unsprayed rose
1 egg white
50g caster sugar
20g ground pistachios

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease two 5" round tins. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and add the eggs and pistachios. Beat to combine. Divide between the two tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer can be removed cleanly from the centre. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack until cool.

To make the sugared petals, carefully pull the petals off the rose. Discard any bruised or brown petals. Separate an egg and put in a small pot. Put the sugar in a small bowl/pot. Using a paintbrush or pastry brush, lightly cover a rose petal in the egg white. Either carefully press the petal into the sugar or sprinkle it on. Put to dry on a sheet. Repeat for all your petals. Leave to dry for about 30 minutes or until fairly hard before using. 

If you're nervous about making the buttercream, look at Whisk Kid's tutorial first. When you're ready and have all your ingredients set out, combine the whites and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until the temperature hits 70C/160F and the mixture is smooth (check by rubbing a little between your fingers).

Transfer to a stand mixer (or just use a hand whisk with the same bowl) and start whipping on medium-high. Whip for about 8 minutes - it should be really thick and glossy and gorgeous. Check that it is room temperature - if not leave it for another minute or two slowly whisking. Turn the speed back up to medium/high and add a piece of butter (should be about tbsp sized pieces). Whisk until totally incorporated, then add another. Repeat until all the butter is used.

At this point if it looks soupy and thin, pop it in the fridge. If not, keep whipping until it is thick and luxurious again - this can take quite a while. When ready, whip in the rose water teaspoon by teaspoon, checking after each addition for taste.

Split each of the cakes into two. Place four strips of greaseproof paper on your cake plate and then place one of the layers on top. Remove 1/3 of the butter cream to another bowl and fold in the pistachios. Spread a 1/3 of this pistachio buttercream over a layer. Repeat with the rest of the layers.

Use some of the remaining plain rose buttercream to smooth a thin layer of icing over the cake - a crumb coat. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes. Finally use the remaining butter cream to put a final coat of icing on top of the crumb coat. Arrange the rose petals on top of the cake and sprinkle with a few remaining pistachio crumbs if desired.

(Serves 5-6)

Monday 8 August 2011

Plain Scones

I was born and bred in Devon, England. I am obsessed with the world of pastry and desserts. These two facts combine, as you can probably imagine, into a girl with quite a few opinions and stories about scones and cream teas.

To start at the most obvious point of contention: cream before jam or jam before cream. If you are versed in the ways of cream teas, you might have already guessed my affiliation from my birthplace. I believe in scone-cream-jam.

Though, I have to admit, I don't entirely know why. It's a bit like Cambridge as an Oxford student - you can't quite figure out why you're not supposed to like them, but you find yourself part of the rivalry anyway. And so I prefer the Devon cream tea. I just do.

I have to point out that I do still enjoy a cream tea that doesn't fit everything I say below. I'm also not so opposed to jam-cream to judge people for their preferences. Except my mum, who goes scone-butter-jam-cream, which is just weird.

Given all this love for scones and cream teas, you might think I have been crafting this recipe since I was a toddler, or that it's a family recipe. We have been making scones all my life, but this is the first time I've had the obsession to get a good recipe with them. I made scones five days in a row for tea (yes, we do have afternoon tea every single day at our house. It's a meal just like lunch. When else do you think we eat all these baked goods?!), had a little breather for a day, then finally made them again yesterday.

A timetable:
Day One: Nigella's Lily's Scones, straight up.
Day Two: Lily's Scones plus creme fraiche.
Day Three: raspberri cupcakes' CWA Scones, straight up.
Day Four: Day Three plus creme fraiche and formed into a taller block.
Day Five: Day Four plus a different method of combining ingredients.
Day Six: a glass of water and a carrot stick. 
Day Seven: Day Five plus a higher temperature.

A good scone should be lightly browned with a crispy crust and a light, fluffy interior. I like using the creme fraiche because it gives the scones a little tang. Not having butter in the recipe makes it faster and easier too. You can either wash these with milk or egg depending on how brown you'd like them. You can see this on the batch above, where the ones on the left are egg washed and the others are milk washed.

In Oxford, I ate a lot of cream teas. I never found the perfect one. The Vault off Radcliffe Square came closest. The Old Parsonage came next. The main problem with most cream teas is that they focus on the scone or even the tea and forget the rest (though you do get awful scones too).

The quality of the cream and jam is paramount, as is the quantity. A thimble of mediocre clotted cream  for two scones does not make a good cream tea. You need plenty of good quality clotted cream (not too much crust, and it shouldn't be grainy at all) with some good jam, preferably raspberry or strawberry. Don't be shy with the cream - it's what gives the scone its moisture and luxuriance. I like homemade raspberry jam.

A cream tea isn't particularly sweet: the scones don't have any sugar, the cream should be unadulterated and hopefully the jam won't be too sugary either.

I know a lot of people can't get good quality clotted cream outside of Devon and Cornwall and particularly outside the UK. Mum can't get it here in Switzerland. Recently we tried making it using a method she had used as a child with the unpasturised milk we get from the local laiterie. We tried a couple of times with different methods but it never really worked.

Then about a week ago I was working on a catering job and discovered the cream they were serving with the meringues and summer fruits. It's Gruyere double cream, which we had been buying in the supermarkets for years, but from the Chaumerie in the centre of town. This version is seriously thick. And guess what - it tastes exactly like clotted cream without the crust! BINGO. It's great for scones, though the latest pot we bought wasn't quite as thick as the last, so it looks a tiny bit runny in these photos.

I realise this still doesn't help most of you. I reckon that the best substitute might be marscarpone beaten with a little bit of double cream if you can't find clotted or a super super thick cream.

Finally: tea. A cream tea, as the name suggests, needs a cup of tea. Or a pot. Though any English breakfast type tea will do, I am an Earl Grey girl. So I would always pick that. If I have the choice, I will drink my ultimate favourite tea that I love so much I bring boxes and boxes out to Switzerland and jumped for joy when they extended it from a limited edition to a regular feature: Twinings Blossom Earl Grey, with orange blossoms and citrus bergamont. (I'm in no way sponsored to say that, I just love tea.)

Also, fun fact: I believe the very first photograph I took of food when I was 13 was of a scone loaded with cream and jam. I tried to find it for you but sadly I think it's in England.

To me, a good cream tea is one of life's ultimate pleasures. It's all about the slight crisp from the crust, the fluffy scone with a sour note, the cool, thickly luxurious cream and the contrasting bright tones of the raspberry jam. Perfection.

Plain Scones
(adapted from raspberri cupcakes' version of CWA scones)

230g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
135ml double cream
1 tbsp (15ml) creme fraiche
100ml whole milk
an egg yolk, or a little extra milk, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 230C. Lightly grease a small baking tray. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Place the double cream and creme fraiche into a small bowl and whisk together.

Pour the cream mixture into the flour bowl and fold in very gently with a metal spoon, being careful not to overwork. When it is incorporated, add the milk in three portions, carefully folding between each. You don't need the dough to be uniform - just a sticky mess.

Dust your work surface with flour then tip the dough out onto it. Dust your hands with flour then quickly and lightly form the dough into a square about 3-4cm tall. Press down on a floured 6cm fluted biscuit cutter to stamp a scone out of the dough. Place onto the greased tray. You should get four scones out of the original square - place them close to each other on the tray, almost touching. Roll the remaining scraps of dough into two circles gently and with floured hands press lightly into the cutter (I find this causes less overworking than re-rolling). Place onto the tray.

Brush the tops of the scones with a pastry brush with either a little extra milk or an egg yolk. Place into the oven and bake for 13-15 minutes until risen and golden. Serve while still warm.

(Makes 6)

Saturday 6 August 2011

Spiced Churros

One of my new favourite food sites on the internet is food52. It's a brilliant combination of recipes, news, interesting articles and much more, all masterminded by the fantastic Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. It's a great resource - when I was having problems with waffles the kind people of foodpickle helped me sort it out. I've also had great fun reading about The Bib, a knockout tournament for New York restaurants.

They also hold contests each week for recipes on a theme. The winning recipe is then featured in their cookbook. I've been lying in wait for a theme I could work with (flank steak, chili or corn on the cob are not really my area of expertise) and finally this theme came along: Your Best Fair Food.

As a result I spent most of today in the kitchen making batches of churros. When I think of fairground food, they're the first thing I think of.  I first made churros last summer by adapting Louise Mellor's recipe (from when she sold churros at Orange County Fair) and became addicted. Today I decided to try out an idea I had a while back of incorporating the cinnamon (and other spices such as nutmeg and cloves) into the paste. After a few trials, I created something I'm proud of.

So, if you'd like to check out my new recipe for spiced churros, head over here.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Buttered Pecan & Butterscotch Ice Cream

Last week I made sixty five meringues for a client. My fridge was teeming with egg yolks.

So, like any sensible person, I took the Ice Cream Bible off the shelf and started reading. One of my favourite things about this book is that every time I flick through I discover a new gem I'd never really seen or considered before. It's a neverending source of inspiration.

This is an ice cream for a dairy lover. A butter worshipper. A butterscotch fiend. A nut addict.

I'd never made or tasted buttered pecans before.I found that they needed to cool properly to taste their best. Pecans are definitely one of my favourite nuts, along with pistachios, almonds and peanuts. The smell that started wafting out of the oven when I toasted them was incredible. Truly mouth-watering.

I took the scotch whiskey out as Mum doesn't drink and I'm not a huge whiskey fan. If you would like to add it back in, it's a tablespoon added at the end with the vanilla.

At the moment I'm completely obsessed with my instant camera (a Fujifilm Instax 210, if you're interested). My friends bought it for my birthday this year and it's utterly awesome.  I still can't get over the childlike feeling of magic as it develops in your hands.

Yesterday I took my instant camera with me on our lunchtime dog walk. I took a series of four photos, carefully stashing the prints in my pocket. The sunshine truly returned to us yesterday, just in time for Swiss National Day. We chose a little walk that winds its way through the forest before breaking out onto a meadow so we didn't overheat in the midday sun. Despite our precautions, we retuned home boiling hot.

Ice cream was the only answer.

Buttered Pecan & Butterscotch Ice Cream
(barely adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

For the butterscotch base:
70g unsalted butter
170g dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
300ml extra thick double cream*
380ml whole milk*
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the buttered pecans:
25g unsalted butter
150g pecan halves
1/4 tsp sea salt or similar (I used fleur de sel)

Pour 250ml of the double cream into a big bowl and set a sieve over the top. Prepare a ice bath in a bowl (or at least a sink in which you can pour very cold water). Melt the butter in a big saucepan. Add the dark brown sugar and the salt and whisk till smooth. Whisk in remaining 50ml double cream and the milk. Warm over medium heat. Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks together in a small bowl.

When the milk and sugar mixture is hot pour a small amount into the egg yolks while whisking the yolks constantly. Scrape the egg mixture back into the pan and whisk together. Heat until the mixture thickens to custard (it should coat the back of a wooden spoon).

Pour through the sieve into the bowl with the remaining cream. Add the vanilla and whisk together. Cool by placing the bowl into the ice bath or cold water, being careful not to let any water get into the mixture. When at room temperature cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 175C. Melt the butter in a medium frying pan. When melted remove from the heat and toss in the pecans, stirring so they are totally covered. Sprinkle the salt over the top and stir again. Spread the pecans out on a baking tray. Place into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring once in the middle. Take out and cool before chopping into small pieces.

Churn the ice cream base according to the instructions that came with your machine. In the last minute add 2/3 of the buttered pecans. When it is ready, spoon into a tub, layering the rest of the pecans in. Freeze for a few hours before serving.

* As I only had extra thick double cream I changed the amount of milk - if you have normal double cream then use 500ml double cream and 180ml whole milk. Add 250ml of the cream with the milk at the beginning instead of 50ml.

(Makes 1.25 ltrs)