Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of 2011

Happy New Year!

Here are six picks from this year's posts - chosen, like last year (see Best of 2010), for being fairly low-key but incredibly delicious. These are recipes I can't stop thinking about and that I'm sure I'll make in 2012 and the years to come.

Which would you choose to eat? If you go over to facebook, you can vote!

First, possibly my favourite dessert, served here with macerated summer fruits but incredible on its own = Tiramisu

Toasted Coconut, Brown Butter & Dark Chocolate Blondies

Apple & Quince Pie

Buttered Pecan & Butterscotch Ice Cream

Coconut Milk Chocolate Cake

Strawberry Cream Layer Cake

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Pomegranate & Berry Pavlova

When I was a girl, we always had pavlova for pudding at Christmas. Though it wasn't shrouded in flickering blue flames like its traditional rival, I thought it was the most exciting part of the whole lunch.

Granny would top her pavlovas with defrosted raspberries saved from the summer bounty. In memory of her I used some frozen mixed berries on our Christmas pavlova.

I also scattered over some fresh pomegranate. When I came to photograph the fruit I found myself trying to create the same (lovely) pomegranate shot I've seen so many times. Instead I decided to try and make it mine. So in the middle of our sitting room I started splashing the pomegranate quarters into the waiting bowl of water, holding my camera in the other hand.

I must have looked pretty sheepish when mum found me drenching the white sofas and rug in the midst of torn up wrapping paper from earlier in the day. She moved me outside onto the balcony (thankfully not as cold as last time) and dropped the quarters into the bowl for me. Arthur tried to 'help' and got in the way.

Not only did I get a photo I like but I also got a Christmas memory I'll always remember with a smile.

I've had some troubles with our old recipe over the past few years so I decided to try a new one from this gobsmackingly beautiful post by Katie. It's a great recipe - it feels stable as you heap it on the sheet and bakes into a soft pillow of marshmallow-esque filling with a nice crisp shell. I like some contrast so I barely sweetened the berries and kept the cream simple.

It's a classic for a reason.

Pomegranate & Berry Pavlova
(Adapted from What Katie Ate)

For the pavlovas:
1/4 lemon
4 egg whites
220g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 and a 1/2 tsps cornflour

To assemble both:
250ml double cream
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 pomegranate
100g frozen mixed summer fruit
1 tsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 150C (or 130C for a fan oven). Line two trays with baking parchment. Rub the clean bowl of a stand mixer (or a mixing bowl if you're using a hand whisk) with the slice of lemon. Add the whites and whisk until you have a thick froth that forms a soft peak then start slowly adding the sugar. Keep whisking until glossy and holds a fairly stiff peak. Add the vanilla and sift over the cornflour, then whisk briefly to combine. Divide the mix between the two trays, heaping it up in the middle. Use a spatula to spread out into a large nest shape (I then brought the spatula in around the sides to create a pattern.

Bake for 30 minutes then swap the trays and turn them around to help them cook evenly. Bake for another 30 minutes then turn the oven off and leave them to cool for one hour. Afterwards, take them out and leave to cool totally on a wire rack. They'll store for at least a week if needed.

When you're ready to serve, defrost the fruit. Sprinkle the icing sugar over the top to lightly sweeten them without breaking them down. Cut the pomegranate into quarters and de-seed in a bowl of water. Whip the cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Knock the centre of the pavlova gently in then spread the cream over. Top with the summer fruits and pomegranate seeds and serve.

(Makes 2 medium pavlovas, each serves 4-6)

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

We're having waffles with maple syrup and swiss bacon for breakfast as we open presents and then preparing the big lunch - turkey and all the trimmings - and generally having a quiet family day. I'll post about our dessert in the next few days...

I hope you all have a wonderful festive season filled with delicious food, smiles and laughter.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Bûche de Noël

Three things I learnt yesterday about the highly specialized field of sub-zero food photography:

1/ Icing sugar to simulate snow-on-a-log is pretty pointless when you also have actual snow on your yule log.

2/ Forget tables - plant pots with a drift of snow perched on top or sun loungers (oh the irony) make excellent surfaces.

3/ 'Shoot and run'. It's -6 C. No fancy moves, just a bit of exposure tweaking. Or your hands will fall off (gloves get in the way). Wrap up as if you're going skiing or taking the dogs for a walk. Yes, that means thermals (sexy, I know). Food photography is just another activity that has to be adapted to snow (and therefore darkened houses) when it just keeps on falling for days and days on end.

I decided to keep this simple: light chocolate sponge (the one I used to make the chocolate & peanut butter mousse swiss roll), a chestnut-marscarpone filling and whipped dark chocolate ganache swirled over the top. It's a delicious combination. The chestnut gives a smoky depth and graininess to the filling.

Also - I passed basic patisserie! Despite a very stressful and frustrating practical exam my other marks pulled me up to a credit - I was so happy when I opened the envelope at graduation.

Edit: The lovely Felicity Cloake tried out this recipe in her Perfect column in The Guardian! You can still see it online: 'How to cook the perfect yule log'.

Bûche de Noël
(sponge recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert)

For the sponge:
60g plain flour
30g cornflour
20g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
35ml cold water
120g caster sugar

For the chestnut cream:
200g mascarpone
125g sweetened chestnut puree*
1 tsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the whipped ganache:**
150g dark (70%) chocolate, very finely chopped
150g double cream
2 tsp light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line an oven tray with parchment paper. Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together three times - the mixture should be a uniform pale brown. Place the 3 egg yolks and the water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on high for 1 minute then sprinkle the caster sugar over the frothy mixture. Put back onto high and whisk for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches ribbon stage (i.e. if you lift the whisk, the ribbon coming off it stays on the surface for a few seconds) and is very pale.

In another clean bowl whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Steady the bowl of whipped yolks on a damp cloth and sieve over a 1/5 of the flour mixture. Fold in with a rubber spatula, swirling around the edge of the bowl and flicking into the middle. Repeat with the next 1/5 and so on until you have incorporated all the flour mixture. Fold in 1/3 of the whites to loosen, then fold in the remaining 2/3. Scrape out of the bowl onto the tray then with bold strokes use a palette knife to spread out into a rectangle roughly 20x30cm (this post about another swiss roll has videos on spreading and a slightly different filling/rolling method).

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the sponge springs back when touched in the middle. While it bakes lightly grease two sheets of parchment bigger than the cake. Lay one on a table and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it rest for 1 minute then flip it out onto the parchment. Slowly peel the baking parchment off the top. Trim a small amount off each side with a serrated knife. Lightly score a line about 1cm from the end of one of the shorter sides with the back of a knife. Top with the clean parchment sheet then start rolling up from the scored end, tightly tucking in as you go. Once you get to the end, wrap the whole roll in a tea towel and leave to cool a little.

While it cools, beat the mascarpone until smooth in a bowl. Add the chestnut puree and sugar and beat again, then finally add the vanilla and combine until uniform.

When the wrapped roll is no longer hot to touch but is still warm, carefully unwrap it. Spread the inside with the chestnut mascarpone mix and then roll up again, using the outer parchment but discarding the inner. Place in the fridge to firm up.

Put the chopped chocolate into the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the cream and sugar into a small saucepan and heat until steaming, then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a minute then stir until smooth. Place into the fridge to firm up - you want it to be thick but not solid. When it's ready, fit the bowl into the mixer and whip until fluffy and a bit lighter. Dollop some of the icing onto the chilled roll and spread over the entire roll with a palette knife. Style the icing to your liking - I used an icing comb to create a bark-esque effect on the top, then a serrated knife to create the rings on each end. The roll keeps really well in the fridge - in fact we preferred it after it had chilled for a few hours.

(Makes about 10-12 slices)

*In Switzerland they sell tubes of prepared sweetened chestnut puree - it's 68% chestnuts, which is I think a little more than most pastes (like the Crème de Marrons from Clément Faugier that seems to be most common in the UK) and some of them have vanilla, so I think if I was using a paste like that I'd exclude the extra icing sugar and the vanilla. (updated 15/12/15)

Update 21/12/16 - This year I tried it with unsweetened chestnut paste as that's what was in the supermarket - I added 2 tsp of icing sugar. I think I prefer it with the sweetened paste I normally use, but it's an option.

**I also used less ganache and didn't whip it - didn't cover the ends and used a fork to make waves along the log. I used 50g/50g/1 tsp for the ganache amounts.

Three more Christmas recipes:
Mince Pies
Moulded Gingerbread Cookies
Galette des Rois

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Maple and Nutmeg Biscuits

I'm going home for Christmas on Sunday. I can't wait to see and ski all the snow that has been falling, to properly start the Christmas baking and to decorate our tree.

We've got mincemeat and mince pies to make, a christmas cake to decorate and stollen to create. This year I'm also thinking of trying out a yule log/bûche de noël - does anybody have a good recipe or tips?

I made up the dough on Monday but waited to bake these until today. In the gap I managed to eat a fair chunk of the chilling packet - the dough is absolutely delicious. I hadn't tried this combination of maple syrup and nutmeg before but it's fantastic - I'm definitely going to try and think of other ways to use it.

I'm not going to write out the recipe as I wasn't happy with the way they baked (they're not the prettiest but they are good to eat - though not as good as the dough!). It may well be because I removed the egg yolk when I halved the original recipe, so you can give it a go from there if you like. I tried to jazz them up with a touch of icing sugar - doesn't it look like glitter in b&w?

Do try the maple-nutmeg-salt combination though, it's absolutely wonderful.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

When I popped out to Switzerland for five days a week or so ago, my mum made me some chocolate banana bread. It was an unusual choice as I don't like banana bread.

Or perhaps I should say I didn't like banana bread. As she knew, this recipe is a game changer.

My mum and I differ in our attitude to recipes. Take this one, for instance. One day she decided to double the banana as well as adapt the chocolate. Things are weighed, but in a much more dash & splash & heaped spoon manner. I adapt recipes all the time too, but I'm very methodical and always measure and record my changes carefully.

But you know what? This banana bread is fantastic. So here's to mum and her courage to just go out there and double ingredients without a thought to ratios and percentages.

Before I left, I carefully wrote down the changed recipe into my notebook so that I could make it when I got home.

Imagine my horror when I opened the cupboard to make the cake today and discovered that I'd left my home scales in my knife kit at school - I'd taken them in as a spare set for my exam. Bake without scales?! Not be able to measure everything exactly to the gram? Dear me.

But my hunger for warm, comforting banana bread won out. So I eyed 100g out of my 250g pack of butter, I used my tablespoon to measure out the flour and sugar. I went with the flow.

Heck, if mum can double an ingredient and it tastes better, I can be a few grams out today. A little break from precision.

As the cake went into the oven, it started to get dark. I'd forgotten how quickly the light drains out of the sky at the moment and soon it was far beyond the point of photography. So I sat on the floor and wistfully watched my cake bake through the glass door. I love watching things slowly rise, bubble and change - it's very calming.

I decided to try and take a photo, not expecting anything. And yet I really like the photos I took. (Here's a slightly more traditional snap of the one my mum made too). I love the suspense during the lingering wait as something bakes, the intoxicating smell. That's one of the best bits about baking and that's what I have tried to capture.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Cake
(adapted from Ultimate by Green & Blacks)

225g plain flour
1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
4 small very ripe bananas (or 2 large, 3 medium etc)
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp milk
100g dark chocolate - 70% to 85%, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line a loaf tin with baking parchment. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Mash the bananas up into a puree with a fork. Add the eggs, bananas and milk to the butter/sugar mixture and beat until uniform. It will curdle and look horrid but don't worry. Fold the flour into the batter. Fold in half the chocolate then transfer to the tin.

Sprinkle the rest of the chocolate over the top then press in lightly. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until a skewer comes out without any cake mix (will probably have a bit of melted chocolate!).

(Makes one loaf)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Passionfruit Fromage Blanc Bavarian

I'd say I'm roughly 50% calm and 50% nervous.

My hands are calm as they carefully tuck yet another batch of pastry into a tart tin or as they guide a piping bag around now-familiar lines. My brain is calm as I write and re-write quantities and methods, stashing them in my memory.

My eye is nervous, flickering from lack of sleep. My stomach is nervous, intermittently releasing a butterfly.

This week marks my first set of exams at Le Cordon Bleu.

On Tuesday I have my practical exam. There are three exam dishes - I will have to pick an unseen token when I enter the room, which will tell me which dish I make. The possibilities are: the tarte aux citron, the coffee eclairs, the raspberry genoise. Now I tend to think about them in terms of my fears: the shrinking tart case, the fondant topping, underfolding my genoise and finding flour pockets.

On Friday I have my technical exam. I haven't really started learning for it as it's only 10% of my overall mark (compared to 45% on the practical exam - the other 45% has been the continual assessment in my practicals). By Wednesday morning I'll be squirreling away sugar temperatures, fat contents and more recipes.

Whatever happens in my exams, I've learnt a lot this term. I hadn't realised how much I've changed until I went home last weekend and made a few things for mum. I've picked up a lot of good habits, tips and techniques. I've also got far too used to having a kitchen porter to do my washing up...

In the past few weeks we've made a few bavarian creams to fill charlottes and so on. I thought I would try out a slightly modernized version I found in Tartine. My presentation wouldn't work at school but I fancied a casual look.

It's a subtle, light dessert and would be perfect for after a heavy meal. It's creamy but not rich. There's only a touch of sweetness so it feels almost refreshing - the best word I can think of to describe it is pure.

Passionfruit Fromage Blanc Bavarian
(adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson)

50g pistachios, finely chopped
60ml cold water
50g granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
2 1/2 tsp powdered gelatine
30ml hot water
300g fromage blanc
375ml double cream
10ml lemon juice*
3 passionfruit
1 tbsp icing sugar (approx)

Line the sides of a 6" loose-bottomed tin with cling film (you could also use a wider tin, such as 7 or 8", and I would have used acetate to line if I had any so that it was totally smooth). Spread the pistachios in the bottom of the tin in an even layer.

Place 60ml of the water and the sugar into a small pan and heat until the sugar dissolves and you have a syrup. Pour into a round-bottomed bowl and leave to cool. Set a pan on the heat with a few inches of water that the bowl with the syrup will fit into without touching the water. Sprinkle the gelatine over 30ml of hot (not boiling) water to soften.

Add the egg yolks to the syrup and combine. Place over the pan and whisk until thick and foamy (the ribbon stage - if you take the whisk out, the drips should stay on the surface before merging again) - this takes about 5-10 minutes. Once ready, whisk in the dissolved gelatine. Set the bowl into an ice bath (or sink of cold water) to cool, whisking every now and again (you need to be fairly quick with the next two tasks and keep an eye on it).

In another bowl, combine the fromage blanc and 75ml of the cream, whisking until smooth. Whisk the remaining 300ml of cream up to soft peaks.

Once the yolk mixture is starting to set, combine 1/3 of the yolks into the smooth fromage blanc mixture to lighten it. Fold the rest of the yolks in carefully. Fold in the lemon. Finally gently fold the cream into the mixture in two goes. Transfer to the prepared tin. Smooth the top and cover with cling film. Place into the fridge. Chill for at least 4 hours - overnight is best.

When you're ready to serve, scoop the passionfruit seeds out into a small saucepan. Add the icing sugar and warm slightly to dissolve the sugar. Test to see if you need more sugar.

Take the bavarian out of the fridge and unwrap the cling film. Ease it out of the tin (or snap open the springform) and peel away the plastic. Slide off the bottom onto a serving plate. Top with the passionfruit glaze.

*If you would like a stronger citrus flavour, add the zest of half a lemon or 1/4 of an orange - I wanted mine simple.

(Serves 10-12)