Spiced Madeleines

If you have made the Burnt Orange Ice Cream I put up here last week, you may be wondering what to do with all the egg whites that were left over. By a stroke of serendipity these gorgeously crispy and chewy spiced Madeleines not only go perfectly with the ice cream, they will also provide a use for your egg whites.

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RECIPE makes 24

225g ground almonds

125g plain flour

200g golden caster sugar

350g unsalted butter, softened

150g runny honey

300g egg whites

1/4 tsp Chinese 5-Spice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground star anise

the finely grated zest of a large orange

the finely grated zest of a large lemon


METHOD

Mix the ground almonds, flour, sugar and spices in a large bowl, mix together thoroughly, then add the honey, butter and citrus zest and beat together well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until fully aerated and at least doubled in size.

Take a large spoonful of the whisked egg white and fold through the batter, to loosen it. Now add the remainder of the egg white and carefully fold it through the loosened batter, taking care not to lose all the air in the egg. Put in the fridge for 20 minutes while you heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4 (if you can avoid it, don’t use a fan oven as it cooks too quickly).

If you have them, lightly grease some Madeleine moulds, then scatter a light dusting of plain flour over them. If you don’t have Madeleine moulds then just use small bun trays.

Carefully pour the mixture into your moulds, not too much in each as they will spread out and rise.

Bake for around 15 minutes, when the tops will be golden and a skewer inserted will come out clean. Leave to cool in the tray for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

These freeze particularly well, so if 24 seems a few too many then save some for a picnic.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Brownies

I look after one of my grandsons before school, and one of the things that he loves to do is baking. I therefore have a stock of easy recipes that he can follow, without too much risk of disaster! It keeps him occupied, gives him a huge sense of achievement, and is also a valuable learning experience as he learns the role and function of the various ingredients.

These brownies are particularly delicious; we made them the first time yesterday morning, and they were so good we decided that it would be a nice gesture to make another batch for his class and teachers. We did that this morning, and they are cooling on a rack as I write this.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however baked using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.

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RECIPE makes 18

175g spreadable Lurpak (unsalted)

350g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

125g plain flour

1 level tsp baking powder

50g cocoa powder

a couple of good handfuls of cacao nibs


METHOD

You will need a small ovenproof dish – I use one that is 10 inches by 8 inches.

Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas 4 – don’t use the fan if you can avoid it, it cooks too quickly.

Cut a sheet of baking parchment to fit the bottom of the dish. Grease the bottom and sides of the tin with a little of the Lurpak, lay the parchment in the bottom of the tin and grease the parchment as well.

Melt the Lurpak over a low heat, put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. When melted, pour the Lurpak over the sugar, add the vanilla extract and stir well until completely incorporated.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the mixture and stir well until completely incorporated. Add the cacao nibs and stir again.

Break the eggs into another mixing bowl and whisk (preferably with an electric whisk) until the eggs are foamy and their volume has tripled. Pour a little of the whisked egg into the mixture, stir well to loosen the consistency, then carefully add the rest of the egg and gently fold through the mixture. The idea is to keep as much air as possible, so this is a job that I normally do. Children tend to have two speeds: dead stop and sprint!

When the eggs are completely incorporated, pour the mixture into the baking dish, gently pushing into the edges and corners.

Bake for around 25 minutes, until a thin crust has formed but the mixture is still slightly sticky inside, you want a fudgy interior so use a skewer to give you an idea when it has reached the correct consistency.

Leave to cool in the dish for ten minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before cutting into the desired number of brownies.

Yorkshire Puddings

They are big, they are ugly, and they are light and delicious!

Yorkshire puddings are one of those things that people tend to struggle with. They either don’t rise, or they collapse, or they’re greasy and chewy, or all three. It doesn’t need to be that way, you just need three things: a good batter recipe; well-developed gluten, and heat.

The key is time. If you are going to be cooking a roast dinner at, say, 5pm, then make your Yorkshire pudding batter at lunchtime. If you give your batter a good long beating and then plenty of time to sit, then the gluten in the flour will develop, giving the puddings lots of strength. You also need plenty of heat; heat when you add the batter to the tin, and lots of heat in the oven. The batter will spring up, and as the heat hardens the mixture the strong gluten will enable them to hold up and they won’t collapse. There is no need to use self-raising flour, or any raising agent at all. If you get plenty of air into the batter then that will do the trick.

The result will be great big puddings that literally leap out of the tin. They will have lots of air in them so they will be light, and not at all stodgy. Try it, you’ll never look back!

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RECIPE makes 12

115g plain flour, sifted

a pinch of fine sea salt

2 large eggs

140ml whole milk


METHOD

Several hours before cooking (or the night before, just leave the batter in the fridge) sift the flour into a mixing bowl with a pinch of fine sea salt. Lightly beat the eggs together, and start to whisk the flour and salt gently before you add anything else.

While whisking, gradually add the eggs, with a little of the milk, to make a smooth paste. When all the eggs have been incorporated, gradually add the rest of the milk, increasing the whisking speed. Obviously this is much easier if you are using a stand mixer. When everything has been added then whisk the mixture at high speed for three minutes or so, this will get air into the mixture and also work the gluten in the flour. Now just leave the batter to stand, and go and do something else with the rest of your day.

When the time comes to cook, get your oven up to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7. This might not be possible, or advisable if you are cooking something else in there at the same time, but get it as hot as you dare. In a 12 hole metal muffin tray, pour a little vegetable oil into each hole and put it into the oven for a few minutes to get hot.

Go back to your batter and give it a final whisk for a minute or so, to wake it up and ensure that everything is evenly distributed.

Take the muffin tray out of the oven and put it on the stovetop, with a burner underneath it on a high heat. This will keep the oil very hot while you work.

Now, quickly – but carefully – ladle the batter into the muffin holes, filling each approximately half-full.

Quickly again, put the muffin tin back in the oven, close the door and DO NOT OPEN IT FOR 20 MINUTES.

After twenty minutes, you will be greeted with the best Yorkshire puddings you have ever eaten. I promise.

Potato Pastry

This idea is pure genius.

I saw it in a Hairy Bikers’ diet book, but a quick internet search told me that it’s not a new idea at all. I must have been walking around with my eyes shut…

It is simply a development of potato gnocchi, kneading some flour into dry mashed potato to make a dough. It is amazing though, I made a chicken pie last week and didn’t tell anybody that the dough wasn’t regular shortcrust – nobody knew. The edges catch and crisp just like shortcrust, and the ‘mouth feel’ is almost exactly the same, it’s just lower in calories. You can use it pretty much anywhere you would normally use a savoury shortcrust pastry.

The only thing it has against it is that it doesn’t reheat very well, it tends to go soggy, so if you make a pie with it be sure to eat the whole thing! The recipe quantity below easily makes enough to cover a standard pie-dish.

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RECIPE

275g floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, Roosters)

40g fridge-cold butter, diced

80g plain flour

1 or 2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

a pinch of salt


METHOD

Peel and cut the potatoes into large pieces, so they don’t absorb too much water, then put into cold water and bring to the boil. Just as the water comes to the boil, turn the heat right down and let the potatoes slowly poach. This will ensure that they cook through and is another way to ensure they don’t absorb water. When tender, drain the potatoes and space them out on a wire rack to dry thoroughly.

When completely dry, mash them without adding any butter or moisture.

Put the diced butter and flour in a food processor and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the flour and butter to the mash with a tablespoon of the milk and a pinch of salt and gently bring it all together into a dough, if it is a little dry and not holding together then add a little more milk – a tiny bit at a time. Handle it as lightly as possible, and when it holds together, shape it into a ball, wrap it in cling film and chill it for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out, as you would for shortcrust pastry.

When rolling, be sure to turn it around on a floured surface regularly to ensure that it doesn’t stick. Don’t try to roll it too thinly, it needs to be slightly thicker than normal pastry in order to hold together when you pick it up to drape over your pie.

Glaze with a beaten egg and cook it as usual. You can use this in any situation that normally requires shortcrust – it makes a great pie lid, can be used to make pasties and hand-pies, even sausage rolls.

Baked Bramley Apples and Custard

A curious thing happened at our dining table yesterday evening…

We had eaten and we were all feeling pretty full by the time I pulled these baked apples out of the oven. We very rarely have any kind of dessert, none of us has a particularly sweet tooth; I only cooked this because it looked interesting and, for a dessert, it’s low-calorie (around 270 kCal per serving).

I didn’t much fancy it, thinking I would have a couple of bites to test it. Another at the table was extremely dubious about the entire concept, and the third flat-out refused to eat it as he hates mushy things.

Anyway, there we were, chatting away, politely nibbling away from our bowls. Some little time later I realised that my bowl was empty. It wasn’t only mine, so were the other two. That tells you all you need to know about this incredibly simple, incredibly moreish winter dessert.

The original recipe is by Tom Kerridge. Sir, I salute you.

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RECIPE serves 4 

75g sachet of low-fat instant custard

400ml skimmed milk

4 medium Bramley apples

40g amaretti biscuits, crushed

the zest of an orange

30g raisins

1 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

1tbsp soft light brown sugar

a scattering of flaked almonds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Pour the custard powder into a large heatproof jug. Heat the milk on the stove-top until it reaches scalding point (just below the boil) then pour it , while whisking continuously, onto the custard powder. When it is smooth and free of any lumps, set it aside for now.

Remove the cores from the apples, leaving a good-sized hole so you can fit the filling into it.

In a small bowl, mix together the crushed amaretti biscuits, orange zest, raisins and spices.

Pour the custard into a small roasting tin, then place the apples on top of the custard. Spoon the filling into the core-holes. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with the brown sugar and scatter over the flaked almonds. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes until the apples are soft all the way through.

Serve each baked apple with a portion of the hot custard.

Treacle Tart

I have eaten a lot of bad treacle tarts over the years, and more than a few of them I made myself. It took a while, but I finally figured out the perfect ratio of lemon, crumbs and syrup so that the result is light and airy rather than heavy and stodgy.

A traditional treacle tart uses breadcrumbs, but I have discovered that cake crumbs from a plain or vanilla sponge cake give a softer more velvety texture. If you haven’t got any leftover cake then make this tart using breadcrumbs as usual, but keep it in mind as an experiment next time you make a Victoria sponge.

The pastry here is a little tricky to work with because it is very short and crumbly, but it is well worth the effort. I’m sure you will agree when you feel it melt in your mouth.

This recipe requires a 23cm round tart tin, 2.5 cm deep.

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RECIPE serves 12 easily

For the pastry case:

175g plain flour

50g fridge-cold butter, cubed

50g fridge-cold vegetable shortening, crumbled

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 egg yolk

For the filling:

400g golden syrup

150ml double cream

1 large egg

100g breadcrumbs (or 100g cake crumbs if you have them)

60g ground almonds

the zest of a lemon, finely grated

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


METHOD

First, make the pastry case:

Put the plain flour, butter, shortening and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the egg yolk and pulse again, then add around a tablespoon of cold water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently bring it together into a smooth ball.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for another 30 minutes.

There is no need to butter or otherwise oil the sides of the tin, this pastry will come away easily once cooked.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 200C for 15 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Now turn the oven down to 170C/ gas 3.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, gently warm the syrup. Don’t heat it until it is hot, you just want to soften it so it flows well and will accept the rest of the ingredients.

Take off the heat and whisk in the double cream, then add the crumbs and ground almonds. Break the egg into a cup and gently break it all together with a fork, then add to the filling together with the lemon zest and juice. Stir thoroughly so that everything is completely combined, then pour it into the pre-baked pastry case.

Bake at 170C/ gas 3 for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the filling is set. You can tell when it is set by setting the tin on a flat, heatproof surface and pulling it gently but sharply backward and forward. If set, the filling will be bubbling like a volcano but will not wobble.

Allow the tart to cool until it is just warm before removing from the tin. Serve with custard, creme fraiche or thick cream. Yumptious!

Llama Farmer Cottage Pie

Another Hairy Bikers’ triumph, this vegetarian cottage pie (which can easily be made vegan-friendly by substituting the cheese for a vegan product) is low in calories, easy to make and so absolutely delicious that it positively encourages over-eating. The trick here is using a gorgeous baked crust of sweetcorn and polenta, rather than mashed potato.

The good news is that if you DO over-eat (and in my experience that is quite likely) you still won’t have eaten too many calories. Dividing this between four people gives exceedingly generous portions, each serving coming in at only 400 calories.

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RECIPE serves 4 – 6 

1 tsp olive oil

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

1 large carrot, small dice

1 red and 1 green pepper, each small dice

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 dried chipotle chillies, finely chopped

1x 400g can of kidney beans

1x 400g can of butter beans

1x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

300ml vegetable stock

small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander

Topping:

500g sweetcorn kernels

3 tbsp fine cornmeal (polenta)

1 tsp baking powder

15g unsalted butter (vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

50g mature cheddar (or vegetarian/vegan equivalent)


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onion, celery, carrot and peppers, with a pinch of salt and a splash of water and sweat, covered, gently for around fifteen minutes until softened.

Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring, for a further minute, then add the beans, tomatoes and stock. Stir thoroughly and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce to a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.

Make the topping: in a food processor, blitz half the sweetcorn with the polenta, baking powder, butter and a generous pinch of salt. At this stage you want a smooth paste. Now add the remaining sweetcorn and pulse the food processor until the texture is rough but all the sweetcorn has broken down. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Check and adjust the seasoning of the filling then pour it into an ovenproof dish and carefully spoon the topping thinly and evenly over it. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is a deep golden brown and the filling is piping hot.

Microwave-Steamed Sponge Pudding

For every ten times that I fancy a steamed pudding, I probably act on it once. It’s just such a colossal faff, all that wrapping, and string, and steam, and forgetting to top up the water…

The results are always worth it, but sometimes life is just too busy. Imagine my delight then when I spotted Rose Elliot’s foolproof method for cooking a steamed pudding in a microwave. I have made this successfully with golden syrup and maple syrup, but the method lends itself to experimenting with all kinds of steamed puddings – including Christmas pudding. We have missed the boat on that one, but this year I’ll be testing it in the run-up to Christmas.

In general, it is a truth that in life every shortcut has a cost. Not this time; this shortcut saves hours of time and a load of energy, and the results are exactly the same as if you had done it the long, traditional way.

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RECIPE 

175g unsalted butter, room temperature

175g golden caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

100ml whole milk

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 medium hens eggs, or 2 duck eggs

5 tbsp (approx) syrup


METHOD

Put the butter, sugar, flour, milk, baking powder, eggs and 1 tbsp of the syrup into a mixing bowl and beat together until light, fluffy and creamy. If you don’t have a mixer you can achieve great results with a wooden spoon and elbow-grease.

Pour the remaining syrup into the bottom of a lightly-greased plastic or Pyrex microwaveable pudding bowl, then spoon the sponge batter carefully on top.

Put the bowl in to the microwave, uncovered, and cook on full power until the sponge has risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The time it takes will vary, depending on the power of your microwave. Anything between 10 minutes for a 600W machine, down to around 5 minutes for an 850W machine. There’s no need to worry, you can cook it for a few minutes, have a look, cook it a bit longer and have another look and continue until it is ready. It won’t ruin it.

Allow the pudding to stand for a few minutes then turn it out onto a warmed serving plate so that the syrupy top is uppermost. You can add a little more syrup if you want to be really indulgent.

Lime Cream Cheese Cake

Don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t a cheesecake, rather it is a cake made with cream cheese. Now, that might strike you as a strange thing to use to make a cake, but actually it is no stranger than using butter, they are both dairy products after all.

The cream cheese adds a delicate, moist lift to the sponge itself, while the lime is sharp and exciting. Every time I make this sponge I wonder why I don’t make it more often, in fact I think I will make it again this evening…

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RECIPE

For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

the finely-grated zest of 2 limes

250g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (my own vodka vanilla extract works brilliantly)

225g self-raising flour

For the syrup:

4 tbsp lime juice

50g caster sugar

For the glaze:

150g icing sugar

the grated zest of a lime

approximately 20ml lime juice


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter, cream cheese and lime zest in a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly until soft, fluffy and creamy. This is easiest done if you have a stand mixer with a beater attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl down then gradually add the sugar, beating as you go. If using a stand mixer get it to maximum speed and beat, and beat, and beat… and when you think you’ve beaten it enough, beat it some more.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl with the vanilla extract and whisk them together. Gradually add the eggs to the beaten butter mixture, beating well after each addition. If the mixture curdles just add a tablespoon of the flour and beat it in – the best way to avoid curdling is to ensure that all of your ingredients are at the same temperature.

Once all the eggs have been incorporated, gently fold the flour into the batter using a metal spoon until it is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, shortly before the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the lime syrup: put the lime juice and sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. keep it warm.

Keeping the cake in the loaf tin, place it onto a wire cooling rack. Prick the surface all over and spoon the hot syrup all over it, it will absorb into the cake as it cools. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, loosen the sides with a broad knife and carefully lift out using the parchment as a support. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and grate the zest of a lime into it. Now gradually add sufficient lime juice to make a thick but runny icing. Spoon over the top and allow it to set.

Curried Fish Pie

If you’re not a fan of curry, fear not. The spices fade into the overall mix of heady flavours and aromas and there is no heat to speak of. This just leaves you with a fish pie taken not just to the next level, but the level beyond that.

I love fish pie; whether topped with mashed potato or puff pastry it is one of my ultimate comfort foods. I thought my existing recipe couldn’t be bettered, but when I spotted this while browsing through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Every Day’ there was no question that I would make it, and no question that we would love it.

Hugh is one of that all too rare breed of cookery writers whose recipes work, every single time, and they are always delicious. I have cooked probably close to a hundred of his recipes now, and without exception they have been loved by us all. The trouble with that is: how do you get time to cook new stuff?

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RECIPE – Serves 6

For the fish:

600g of firm white fish fillets, I use a mix of hake, haddock and sea bass
200g kippers
750ml whole milk
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns

For the pie:

75g unsalted butter
75g plain flour
1 tablespoon sunflower or groundnut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoon curry powder or curry paste (I use Mauritian curry powder)
2 handfuls of raw peeled prawns (optional)
a small bunch of chopped coriander
250g puff pastry
A little beaten egg for glazing


METHOD

Put all the fish in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Place over a low heat. As soon as the milk comes to a simmer, switch off the heat and cover the pan. The fish will carry on cooking in the hot milk. After about 5 minutes, it should be just cooked through; if not, leave it in the hot milk for a little longer, then drain in a sieve placed over a bowl, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Now make a béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well to make a roux. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, then gently whisk in a third of the fishy milk until the sauce is smooth. Add another third of the milk, whisking all the time until the sauce is again smooth, and then the final third, so that you end up with a smooth, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down low and cook very gently for 2 minutes.

Peel the skin off the fish, check for any bones and gently break the flesh into chunks. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and soft. Stir in the curry powder or paste and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the curry-flavoured onion to the béchamel, then stir in the flaked fish, the prawns, if using, and the coriander. Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper or curry powder/paste if you think it needs it.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and cut it to fit the top of the dish. Put the filling into the dish. Dampen the rim of the dish, lift the pastry over the filling and press down the pastry edges to seal. Brush with a little beaten egg and place in an oven preheated to 200C/ Fan 180C/ Gas 6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed and the fishy sauce is bubbling underneath.

Serve with peas and broccoli, with smooth buttery mash. Yum!