Tuesday 31 January 2012

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

A proper British winter has descended. Grey, damp, and bone-chillingly cold.

If you do want to venture outside for a walk, as I did this Sunday, you'd better take a thermos and a snack. Nothing like a cup of tea to breathe some life into frosty fingers.

The first time I tried to photograph these cookies, they refused to play game. I was just on the edge of giving up and scrapping the post when I realised I should push myself forward instead.

So I baked up a new batch from the freezer, wrapped a few in a piece of cloth, make some tea and ventured out to the park for a picnic.

Living in a big city, I miss the silence. I grew up in the countryside, taking long walks most days through the fields and wild woods, by the rivers and over the bleak moors. The mountains we visited and lived in are quiet, majestic and full of crisp, clean air.

Even though there are green spaces here, they are hemmed by noisy roads and filled with families, cyclists, dog walkers, skate parks, shouting footballers, joggers. Sometimes I want to escape to a space that doesn't bear the touch of humanity.

Besides the silence, it would also be nice as then nobody would be there to look at me like I've gone totally batty because I'm standing on a park bench (/mossy boulder) taking pictures of a cup of tea and some cookies.

I'm on a dried cranberry kick at the moment so I adapted the recipe to include them. The cookies taste of nutty oats rounded off with brown butter, brown sugar, a touch of spice and salt - all offset by the fruity, slightly sharp cranberries. Rustic and satisfying.

The dough freezes beautifully - you can just take however many out want out of the freezer and bake them. Delicious, warm cookies in 15 minutes flat.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
(adapted from Erin C. Weber in Remedy Quarterly Issue 6, who adapted from Deb)

115g unsalted butter
85g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
120g light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla paste/extract
135g porridge/rolled oats
100g dried cranberries

Melt the butter in a wide pan. Keep heating as it foams up. When the foam starts to reside, rusty brown flecks appear and it starts smelling fantastic, scrape all the butter and flecks into a bowl to cool.

In another bowl, whisk the sugar, egg and vanilla together until smooth. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon together. Once the brown butter is down to body temperature, whisk into the egg mix. Gently stir in the flour mixture until everything is combined. Finally fold in the oats and cranberries. Cover the bowl and put into the fridge to chill. Leave to chill for 1 to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Scoop out tablespoonfuls of dough onto a sheet - if baking immediately, leave a few inches gap. If freezing, place closely together then freeze on the sheet before putting in a bag the next day. Place into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes from the fridge, 11-13 from the freezer - they should be golden and crisp on the outside. Cool on a rack.

Edited 07/10/15 - I've recently tried this with dried cherries, which worked well.

(Makes about 30)

Thursday 26 January 2012

Seville Orange Marmalade

On a quiet rainy morning last week, I pulled out my biggest pan and made marmalade. I'd found seville oranges a few days before at the market and knew it was finally time to try it out.

I went to four wise ladies for advice: Constance Spry, Jane Grigson, Delia Smith and Fiona Beckett. There are quite a few ratios of pulp-liquid-sugar you can use depending on how strong you want your marmalade - I went for a fairly weak one that used all of my liquid.

Before I discovered a much faster method of separating the pulp from the pith, I sifted through it by hand. My fingertips puckered as if I'd spent hours languishing in the pool.

By the time dusk fell, I had just about finished hand shredding the mountain of soft peel. It's not the quickest of processes.

It's all worth it when you line up the finished jars and then take the first bite.

Marmalade has a great affinity for melted butter. The best container for melted butter is, of course, a toasted crumpet.

(Is my nationality really that obvious?)

Crumpets are one of the only things I buy rather than make - I haven't worked out a recipe that is better than bought.

A slick of marmalade completes the picture - silky sweet, a touch of bitter, a little chew.

I found the idea for the labels on Tea & Cookies. I stuck them on the lids with a bit of double sided sellotape.

Nothing brightens a grey, rainy day like marmalade you've made by hand glowing brightly in its jar. I don't have a fireplace to kindle some bright flames this winter - but I do have my marmalade.

Seville Orange Marmalade
(adapted from Jane Grigson's English Food)

8 seville oranges (about 1.2kg)
2 litres water
2kg sugar

Prepare the jars (about 6-7 big jars or 11-12 small 250ml ones - it's roughly 2.75 litres total) by running them through the dishwasher. Put a few saucers in the freezer (for testing the set).

Wash the oranges in cold water to remove any dirt, remove the stalk buds and slice off any funny marks. Pour the 2 litres of water into a big pan and add the oranges. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Keep simmering for 1-1.5 hours until the oranges are soft and tender - a knife should easily slide in. Fish them out and leave to cool - make sure you keep the liquid.

Once they're cool, cut the oranges into quarters (they look like this). Use a spoon to scoop the insides out into a sieve placed over a bowl. Squish the insides through the sieve until the pulp has all come out into the bowl and only the pips* and white sectioning bits (for want of a better word!) are left. Put the pulp/juice to the side.

Take the soft peels and get ready to shred. Scrape/slice the peels slightly so there isn't too much pith and slice off any funny bits (including any bit that haven't cooked through and are still hard and white). I then sliced each quarter lengthwise into two and then very thinly sliced each one - I made them about 1mm thick. It does take a long time so music/company/film/tv is recommended... (you could also slice them a bit thicker but it will be chunky in the marmalade).

When you're done, put the pulp and shreds back into the reserved cooking liquid - quite a bit should have evaporated during the initial boiling - about 2/3 is left. Put the sugar into a big tin and warm it up a bit in a cool oven. Start warming up the pulp/peel, then add the warm sugar and stir over a low-medium heat until the sugar all dissolves. Turn the heat up and boil for 20-25 minutes, testing the set towards the end. It will foam up but should die away later - if not, skim it off.

To test the set, take out a frozen saucer and put a little spoonful of marmalade onto it and place it back in the freezer for a few minutes. Run a finger into the marmalade - if it thickly crinkles in ripples in front of your fingertip, it is set.

When you're happy with the set, take the pot off the heat and leave to cool for 10-15 minutes (this helps stop the peel sinking). While you wait warm the jars up in the oven on a tray. Either find a jam funnel or prepare a paper version**. When ready, either use a jug or ladle to pour the marmalade into the warm jars through the funnel.

If you don't have any waxed discs to place on top of the marmalade, I used a trick I found on Fiona's blog - I popped the lids on just after filling them then wrapped a towel around and quickly flipped it over so that the jam covered the sides and lid and then back again - this seals the jar. Leave to cool and the little buttons on the lids should click down after a few hours.

Once cool, add labels of your choice. Enjoy the glow!

(Makes 6-7 jars)

* I no longer bother to gather the pips up and dip them into the marmalade - I've found it sets up just as well without.

**As I didn't have a jam funnel I improvised one out of some thick paper - it stops the drips on the jar - see here for a diagram. Actual jam funnels are much easier to use and a worthwhile investment if you make jam/preserves with any regularity.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Baked Oatmeal

What inspires you?

My tastes have changed over time. I stumbled upon 101 Cookbooks when I first started blogging. I (insert collective gasp) wasn't too sure about it and clicked away - I guess I thought it was a bit lacking on the refined sugar/butter/cake front.

It's a bit like Harry Potter. I started reading the Philosopher's Stone in the summer of '99, got a chapter or two in and gave up (not something I often do). Fast forward a few years and I was a fully fledged Harry Potter fan (I may or may not have spent a sizeable proportion of my early teens on HP websites, hotly debating Harry's future love life).

Nowadays I find myself drawn to different blogs, to different books. I'm slowly changing the foods I choose to make - not out of recognition, but as my skills and knowledge develop and as I explore, I guess I'm unconsciously making slightly different choices. For instance, at the moment I'm particularly drawn to dishes with a history, tradition or story.

I find inspiration in lots of places - to me it's a general creative feeling that touches everything I do, not only what ends up in my oven. I obviously love food blogs (my absolute favourites are on my blogroll on the sidebar) but things like art, literature, light, scenery, photographs (see Brian Ferry) and flowers (see Amy Merrick) find their way in too. There are loads of amazing and slightly different magazines and journals out there - instead of my old Good Food and delicious, I now read Gastronomica, Remedy and Fire & Knives. Old cookbooks, my grandma's cookbooks, return wonderful recipes.

Of course, a new cookbook can revitalize your ideas too - I finally bought Heidi's Super Natural Every Day to give to my mum for Christmas (I got my copy through amazon from the US but it's officially released here in March). This was one the best things we tried - it's wonderfully filling and feels healthy yet sweet. Perfect for a special weekend breakfast where you want something a bit more substantial than waffles/pancakes etc.

I made this again yesterday with pears in the bottom instead of bananas which worked really well. The frozen fruit mix I used this time had strawberries which was a bit odd (my usual one is raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants & blackcurrants) so perhaps avoid them if you share my aversion to cooked strawberries. I'd like to try substituting coconut milk too.

I also browned the butter. I can't help myself. Time passes but I'm still hopelessly addicted - and inspired - by its nutty tones.

Baked Oatmeal
(adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day)

45g butter
200g porridge oats (rolled)
60g walnuts, toasted*
60g soft brown sugar (or maple syrup)
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
475ml milk
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
2 bananas in thick slices*
approx 150g mixed frozen summer berries*
maple syrup, to serve

Preheat the oven to 190C/370F. Butter a 20cm square baking dish. Melt the butter in a small pan then keep heating - it will foam up and then die down - take off the heat when it is filled with brown flecks and smelling gloriously nutty. Put aside to cool a little.

Mix the oats, 1/2 the nuts, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. In another bowl whisk the milk, egg, 1/2 the butter and vanilla together. Arrange the banana slices on the bottom of the dish and sprinkle about 2/3 of the berries over the bottom of the dish. Tip the oat mixture over the top and spread it out over the berries. Drizzle the milk mixture over the top, making sure all the oats are wet. Thwack on the counter to evenly distribute it. Scatter the rest of the nuts and berries over the top.

Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until it is set and golden. Drizzle the rest of the brown butter (you may have to warm it a little) over the top and serve with maple syrup (and possibly some cream).

* You could swap up the nuts and fruits as you like or according to season. I always have some frozen summer berries in the freezer - they worked perfectly and didn't need to be defrosted. I was skeptical about walnuts but they actually worked really well.

(Serves 6-8)

Thursday 12 January 2012

Brandy Snaps

I meant to post these in 2011 as I thought they'd be a good party dessert for the holiday season. I ran out of time. You're just going to have to have a dessert party now.

Mum and I made these a few times when I was little - preparing them was more of an event than the party we took them to. I loved waiting for them to cool until just the right point (somewhere between scorching and scalding) and then rushing to get them neatly curled up before they stiffened and shattered.

I decided to serve these drizzled with a sharp berry sauce. I always like contrast in desserts. The sweet spicy warmth from the ginger and brandy in the snaps plays off the cool, pure cream piped inside. The berry sauce adds an acidic edge while still pairing with the rich spicy flavours.

Brandy snaps are eaten with your fingers. The snap cracks and shatters and the cream oozes everywhere, stained pink from the sauce. It's messy. It's worth it.

Brandy Snaps
(adapted from Delia's Book of Cakes)

50g golden syrup
40g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
1 tsp brandy
approx 500ml double cream to fill
100g mixed berries (optional sauce)
icing sugar to taste (optional sauce)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a baking sheet with a little butter but don't line it. Melt the syrup with the sugar and butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat, stirring until the mixture is smooth (no crystals from the sugar). Take off the heat then beat in the flour, ginger and salt. Finally stir in the brandy.

Spoon the mixture onto the sheet in teaspoons, leaving quite a bit of space between each and only putting a maximum of 9 on a tray at once - start with a few as you have to work quickly to roll them. Put into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes - they should be lacy and a deep rusty gold (see the photo above). Prepare yourself while they bake with a wooden spoon (or another tool of a similar circumference), something to place the hot tray on and a wire cooling rack. Leave to firm up a little on the hot tray for 2 minutes. If any have spread into each other, quickly cut down the join with a sharp knife.

When you can lift them up and they don't break but are still pliable, lift one off and quickly wrap it around the handle of the spoon. Hold for a moment then slide off and leave to cool completely. You need to work quickly as the moment when they are perfectly pliable is short.

I really recommend making a sharp berry sauce to drizzle over the brandy snaps. To do so, heat the berries gently (I used frozen berries) until they're soft. Add icing sugar to taste. Finally pass through a sieve to get rid of any seeds and skin.

To fill the brandy snaps, whip up the cream until it holds firm peaks (but be careful to not overwhip - you just need it strong enough to stay in the snaps and not run out). Fill a piping bag and pipe into each brandy snap. Drizzle with the sauce if you're using it. Eat with your fingers.

(Makes 16-18)

Thursday 5 January 2012

Galette des Rois

I love foods that have a story and a tradition.

Galette des Rois or King Cake is made to celebrate Twelfth Night or Epiphany on January 6th. The cake changes according to region and country - this is the version from northern France. A bean, or fève, is always hidden in the galette - though now this is often a small collectible figurine.

Tradition goes that when you cut the cake, the youngest person present hides under the table. The cake is cut into the right number of pieces, then the youngest calls out who gets each piece. The person to find the hidden bean is the king for the day, hosts the next year and gets the crown. They get to pick a queen, who wears the other crown.

As I wasn't buying a galette, I needed crowns. I got out the paper, spray paint and glitter and had a wonderful time playing about.

I went a little bit crazy with the glitter. Most of the flat sparkles now if you catch it in the right light.

After I'd finished I made mum model them for me. Whenever I do this, she starts making funny faces and then we both end up crying with laughter. Good times.

I was going to buy some puff instead of making it. Sadly the only stuff I could find in the supermarkets was made with vegetable fats instead of butter. No good.

Instead I decided to try out Michel Roux's rough puff recipe from Pastry (you can find it online here). I was really pleased with the results - quicker and easier than classic puff and it turned out beautifully. Definitely a good recipe to have. I think I'm going to make some palmiers for mum with the spare chunk. I've tried to explain the technique for making the pretty edges to the galette in the recipe - we learnt how to do it last term.

Edit 2013: I have now written a step-by-step Foundations guide to making rough puff pastry (which is what I used here).

This recipe stood out for me as it didn't involve pastry cream. I've never been a big fan. Then last term we made it so many times and used it in so many ways - we were all totally sick of it by the end. I'm sure there'll be plenty more this term but I wanted to avoid it while I could.

I also followed Clotilde's suggestion of using some ground hazelnuts in the creme - I'm so glad I did. They add a lovely extra dimension.

I have to admit I wasn't convinced that this was going to be particularly tasty. I was very pleasantly surprised - it was totally delicious. Flaky and buttery with a complex nutty middle. Definitely worth trying.

Galette des Rois
(adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)

For the creme d'amande:
65g unsalted butter, soft
65g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
15g ground hazelnuts
1/2 tbsp cornflour
pinch of salt
1 tsp flavouring of choice*
1 eggs

To assemble:
500g quality puff pastry
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp hot water
2 beans or ceramic figures
2 crowns

Beat the butter in a stand mixer (or by hand) until very soft and creamy. Mix the sugar, almonds, hazelnuts cornflour and salt together in another bowl, then tip in. Mix until combined. Add the flavouring and beat again. Finally add the eggs one by one, making sure they're well distributed before you add the next. Transfer to a smaller bowl and put in the fridge to firm up for an hour.

When you're ready to make the galettes, take the puff pastry out of the fridge (make sure it's well chilled) and divide into four. Put two chunks back into the fridge. Roll out one of the pieces until it's roughly a 7"/18cm circle. Using a plate or the bottom of a cake tin, cut out a 6"/15cm circle with a sharp knife and place onto a piece of parchment paper. Roll out the other piece and cut a slightly bigger circle - 6.5"/16cm or so.

Combine the egg yolk and milk to make an egg wash. Brush the edge of the smaller circle with it, being careful to not go over the edge (can stop the layers separating). Spoon about two heaped tablespoons of creme d'amande into the centre (within the egg) and smooth out into a disc. Place the ceramic/bean on top and press in (it's best around the edge so it doesn't get caught in the knife when you cut it, like this). Drape the bigger piece of puff over the top and smooth out any air bubbles on the creme. Press it in and up so that the two edges align and the curve is tight to the creme underneath. Press to seal.

Use the blunt side of a knife to score a pattern in the top, running down from the centre to the edge in a curve. Turn the galette as you go, making until you have a full circle. Crimp the edges by placing your finger onto the pastry at an angle and curling the knife around it (see diagram and photo). Carefully brush the top with egg wash, avoiding the edge again. Use the point of your knife to make five holes in the top - in the middle and then four more (helps the puff to rise evenly). Place onto a baking sheet using the parchment. Put into the fridge to chill for an hour. Repeat with the other 2 pieces to make the second galette. At this point you can freeze them for later.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Bake the galettes straight from the fridge for 30-40 minutes until puffy and deep golden brown. Just before they come out, combine the icing sugar and hot water. Remove from the oven to a wire rack, then immediately brush with the glaze. Leave to cool (I placed a bit of kitchen towel underneath as they were a bit buttery on the bottom).

* You can use orange blossom water, the liquor of your choice (rum, brandy etc) or vanilla extract.

(Makes 2 small galettes - each serves 3-4)

Three more Christmas recipes:
Mince Pies
Bûche de Noël