Perfecting my choux buns

24 Nov

Taking a holiday on lockdown is a strange old thing isn’t it?

I’m off all week this week, but staying at home (obviously). I feel as though I really need the ‘break’, I’m limping towards the end of the year. But what would a lockdown break look like? What would recharge me?

A series of personal challenges, that’s what. And no, not physical challenges – while that might be good for me, that is very much not my style. And not something I would look forward to.

I reveal my other challenges in a previous post, but this weekend’s was to make choux buns. I’ve made choux pastry once years ago, and all I recall is thinking that this was not something worth repeating – why have flabby, flat, soft pastry when you could have shortcrust instead?

Also, most of my memories of choux pastry aren’t that brilliant to be honest – back in the 70s they seemed like they’d be a terribly exotic dessert, but without fail they always disappointed: a bowl of slightly soggy, soft pastry shells, with questionable creamy stuff inside and a far too sweet chocolate sauce on top. No, I was a knickerbockerglory girl in the 70s.

In my quest to bake a decent choux bun I checked various recipes from my cookbook collection and they all seemed easy, and very similar, so I picked one and got going yesterday.

And it was all going so well, water and butter heated up, flour chucked in and beaten into the hot water to make a paste. Then eggs in, pre-beaten, so I could add just the right quantity of egg to get the right consistency.

But this is where it all went so badly wrong. I quickly ended up with a really liquid batter, and there was no way I could put dollops of batter on a baking tray to cook. I didn’t give up though, and dribbled some onto baking trays, on dampened baking parchment and put them in a very hot oven.

As expected, they came out as choux pancakes.

So I did what I do, and set to working out what had gone wrong and what I had to do differently to get something resembling more of a choux BUN.

(As an aside, the hens absolutely LOVED the choux pancakes, so if ever you have what appears to be a kitchen disaster, just remember that it may be the perfect snack, just not for you).

Anyway, today I made my second batch of choux pastry – and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really take much care over it, getting it half made and then stopping to enjoy a cup of coffee over the Sunday Papers before finishing it. And it appears that this is the best way to approach choux pastry, be off-hand with it, pretend you don’t really care. Ignore it for a while. It’ll come good.

Given that I’m not wild about a regular profiterole I filled my fluffy, light pastry shells with two different fillings: dark chocolate mousse for one lot and cinnamon apple cream for the second lot. I’m pretty happy with these choices, one being rich and decadent, the other tangy and fruity, but still with billowy creaminess.

My top tips for anyone attempting choux pastry for the first time:

  1. Do it!
  2. Use the 2:1:1:2 ratio, but add a wee bit extra flour (this will make sense soon)
  3. Don’t use an enormous pan
  4. Beat the flour, water, butter paste over the heat for a minute or so, till it’s glossy
  5. Let this paste cool for a while before even thinking about beating in the eggs
  6. Make them on the day you want to eat them, they become soggy and flabby if you keep them in an airtight container overnight
  7. Just do it!

Choux Pastry

  • 100ml water
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 100g eggs (2 eggs)

Before you start doing anything, look at the ratios of the different ingredients. This is the 2:1:1:2 ratio. Twice as much (by weight) of each of water and eggs as there is of butter and flour.

Now we’ve got that sorted, here’s how to make your perfect choux buns.

  1. Put the water in a wee heavy based saucepan, and cut the chunks of butter into it, and place on a medium heat
  2. Weigh the flour out, and then add just a wee bit more (I think the choux pastry works better with the 2112 ratio just slightly out of kilter, with a smidgin extra flour)
  3. When the butter has melted and the water is just simmering, skoosh all the flour into the pan on top of the hot water-butter and BEAT with a wooden spoon (some people suggest you should place the flour on a folded piece of paper, to make a chute so the flour skooshes nice and fast into the water-butter, but I don’t think this is really necessary)
  4. Now, keep beating for about a minute, still over the heat though turned down a wee bit, till the dough seems glossy and is all coming together in the pan.
  5. Leave the pan to one side and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee now
  6. Pootle about on social media, or pick up a project you’re half way through (for me it’s that amazing mustard coloured cardigan with ALL the cables), or just read a book, or the paper. Whatever distract yourself for 20 minutes or so. You probably want to turn your oven on sometime during this wee break, so it’s hot enough when you come to cook your buns.
  7. Now go back to the kitchen and beat 2 eggs. Don’t bother weighing them, because you are going to do the rest of this by using your senses…
  8. Pour a wee bit of the beaten egg into the dough, and BEAT with your wooden spoon till it’s nicely incorporated; then add another dollop of egg and BEAT again. You’re going to keep doing this till you’ve got the right consistency. You might need all the egg, or you might have a wee bit left over at the end.
  9. You know you’ve got the right consistency when you pick your wooden spoon up, straight, out of the batter, and a sort of V-shaped bit of batter sticks to the bottom of the spoon, without dropping off. If it all drops off, ooopsie, you’ve added too much egg. Another way to check is to poke and stroke the batter – you want to see a wee trough where your finger made a trench in the batter. Basically it needs to hold its own, but kinda only just.
  10. Prepare your baking sheet: line it with a piece of baking parchment, then put it under the tap to get all wet. Pour of the actual water, just leaving a few droplets and a sort of sense of wetness. This helps provide the steamy heat the choux pastry loves in the oven.
  11. Now you can either spoon dollops of batter onto the baking sheet, or you can go all fancy and put it in a piping bag. Whichever you do, if you see wee sticky out pointy bits press them down with a wet finger (otherwise they will burn before the rest is cooked).
  12. Pop them in the oven, for about 15-20 minutes. Some suggest you should take them out a couple of minutes before they are ready (but once they are firm) and use a skewer or a sharp knife to make a wee hole in each bun, to allow the steam out, and to ensure they cook nicely inside. I’d say this is optional, so don’t stress if you forget to do it.
  13. Once they are out, move them to a wire rack to cool. If you haven’t poked a wee hole in them already, do it now so the steam can escape.

Fillings

You can fill these with anything soft and moussy really. The traditional (and possibly slightly old-fashioned) filling is plain whipped cream. And nice as that is, I think we can do better, don’t you. Some suggestions are:

  • Just before serving, pop a spoonful of your favourite ice cream inside each bun and sprinkle with something scrunchy, like chopped toasted nuts or sesame seeds
  • Lightly whip some cream with mascarpone and then fold through some stewed berries, or a fruit coulis
  • Make a quick chocolate mousse. OK, unlikely to be quick because you’ll have to melt the chocolate and then cool in the fridge (but you have time to make this while you’re taking that ‘break’ from the choux pastry-making). For an easy mousse: melt 6oz dark chocolate, cool slightly and then beat in 3 eggs yolks. Whip the 3 egg whites to soft peaks, and stir a big dollop of them into the choc mix. Now carefully fold the rest of the egg white in and leave to set in the fridge. Eat it by the spoonful, or spoon great big dollops of it into each bun. And if you want to go BIG, drizzle melted chocolate over the tops
  • Spread a wee bit of apple cinnamon jelly inside each bun, then fill with cream/mascarpone
  • Fold salted caramel sauce through whipped cream. I don’t have a recipe for salted caramel sauce to hand, but I’m sure you can find one.
  • Fold lemon curd through whipped cream, or a cream/mascarpone mix. That zingy zestiness will be so good. And I happen to have a recipe for lemon curd.
  • Or if you want to go decidedly grown up, check out what liqueurs you’ve got stashed at the back of your drinks cabinet… fold some through your whipped cream. And then think what would go with it… some fresh raspberries with chambord; with frangelico cream dip the tops in chocolate and sprinkle over chopped toasted hazelnuts… but over to you. Now you can make choux buns, you can fill them whatever takes your fancy.

Not in the mood for choux buns? That’s ok, there’s lots of other things you could try your had at here.

Challenges

24 Nov

I have a week off work and have set myself some challenges to complete before I go back to work next Monday, in the hope that this will make my lockdown holiday a bit more inspiring and I will go back to work feeling refreshed and invigorated and as though I’ve achieved something.

Some are quite mundane and because they need to be done, others are because I want to learn a new technique, some are because I think I’ll enjoy them.

  1. Make choux buns DONE!
  2. Make suet crust pastry
  3. Make puff pastry (not rough puff, REAL puff). I’m half way through this… using my Aunt Joyce’s recipe. Will share if it works ok
  4. Make hot water crust pastry (and the raised pie!)
  5. Make a more interesting bread than my usual
  6. Make creme patissiere
  7. Make some biscuits to post to people I’ve made another batch of ginger nuts, which might be my current favourite biscuit. Will pack some up this afternoon.
  8. Finish knitting the baby jumper for Liz’s wee man
  9. Make the knitting swatches for my Knitting Retreat on Sunday
  10. Finish the latest bonnet
  11. Get sorted to be able to start my Advent Knitting Project
  12. Organise my knitting / sewing / crochet patterns (real life and online) Online ones DONE. Still need to do the paper ones, but I now have a plan
  13. Organise my room (ie give it a big tidy/declutter!)
  14. Organise my WARDROBE (ditto)
  15. Give Puck a BATH
  16. Plant hyacinths, garlic, broad beans
  17. Make a plan for Christmas (and start making gifts)
  18. Post a blog post or two

I’ll update this list as I make progress.

When life gives you eggs….

8 May

… you make Genoise sponge cake

  • Five fresh laid eggs, all slightly different muted colours, in a bowl, sitting atop a stripey crocheted blanket

I keep hens, more hens than is entirely sensible, and some weeks they lay an average of 7 or 8 eggs a day. This means that I never need worry about not having something to eat for supper – poached egg on toast is a popular midweek standby, as is a frittata, tortilla or omelette of sorts. I now regularly throw an egg into a cheese sauce as I make it, to give it extra richness, or quickly make mayonnaise just because I have some spare eggs kicking about.

In the pre-Covid Era I took eggs in to work for colleagues to enjoy, but that’s not possible now we are all in lockdown. Last week we offered a delivery driver a half a dozen eggs and at first he looked quite affronted, and said no he was doing alright just now, just managing thank you very much, and they’d managed to do a shop that week. I had to tell him they were laid that morning, from our free range hens, and he would be doing us a favour. He took them, I hope he enjoyed them.

But there are lots of other things you can do with eggs, including the miraculous Genoise sponge cake. It really is a magical creation – just eggs, sugar, plain flour and a wee bit of butter, but combined in such a way that it creates a properly light as a feather sponge cake. And of course you can pimp it however you want, you could swap out some of the flour for cocoa, or add citrus zest to the batter, or brush over a flavoured sugar syrup once the cake is cool. But I’m jumping ahead of myself, let’s just make the basic perfect light Genoise sponge today, and fill it with clouds of whipped cream and some fresh strawberry jam.

Genoise Sponge Cake

Ingredients

I’ve kept the ingredients weights in Imperial because they are so deliciously simple to remember, and it’s how I make it. Sorry if you prefer cups or grams, but on this occasion I’m not doing equivalents.

  • 4 eggs (obviously I would suggest using free range really fresh ones, but honestly use whatever suits you, probably medium/large in size)
  • 4 oz caster sugar (use vanilla sugar if you have any)
  • 4 oz plain flour
  • 2 oz butter

Method

Prepare your tin or tins. Ideally you would lightly grease the tin and line it with baking paper, but you could probably get away with lightly greasing and then sprinkling with flour (then give it a shake to evenly spread the flour around the tin, creating a non-stick layer). You can use two sandwich tins, or a springform 8″/20cm tin. You know what, you can use whatever tin you’ve got, obviously! It makes life easier when you’re getting the cake in and out of the oven if you place your tin/s on top of a baking sheet.

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 / 350F / 180C

  1. Melt your butter and then leave it to one side as you do everything else so it cools a bit.
  2. Crack the whole eggs into a big bowl, and add the caster sugar.
  3. Using electric beaters, whisk this until it becomes thick and luscious, you’re looking for what is technically called the thick ribbon stage. This means that when you lift the beaters out, and leave a trail of mixture in the bowl, the trail holds its shape. I use handheld electric beaters at their full power, and it usually takes about 8 minutes to reach this stage. Remember, if the trail doesn’t hold, then there’s no chance your cake will hold its sponge in the oven, and you’ll end up with a pancake.
  4. Now find yourself a large balloon whisk. Don’t have one? Use a large metal spoon instead.
  5. Sift the flour into the eggs in three batches. After each addition, fold it in really gently, you’re looking to incorporate it into the light egg mix without bashing out any of the airiness you’ve worked so hard to create.
  6. Once you’ve added all the flour, take your melted butter and very gently pour the yellow liquid round the edge of the bowl. Stop pouring before you pour in the white liquid milk protein – it doesn’t matter if some goes in, so don’t fret too much about it.
  7. Now gently fold the melted butter into the mixture before gently pouring the cake batter into the prepared tin or tins.
  8. Gently slide the tin/s into your oven and bake for 35 – 40 mins (because all ovens are not equal). The cake’s ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean as a whistle. Also note how it’s beginning to come away from the edges of the tin. And while you’re at it, turn off the radio or podcast or music, or loud children, when you take it out of the oven. Listen to it. I love that noise.
  9. Turn the cake/s out onto a wire rack to cool.
  10. Fill with your choice of tasty fillings – my favourite is the traditional combination of creaminess and fruitiness, but if you’re a fan of buttercream, go for it.

Want to make more cakey things? What about a Springtime Apple cake (no idea why it’s particularly suitable for springtime, but who is to question Past Shewolffe?) or if it’s biscuits you’re after, these Langues De Chat are amazing, and use up a spare egg white. Or just browse for yourself here.

When Nature can’t help itself

15 Mar

No discussion, the beginning of this week was slightly stressful. I spent most of Monday in various NHS waiting rooms (the GP’s surgery, the eye clinic’s outpatient’s in the old hospital, the emergency dept in the new hospital, the CT scan ‘preparation’ area in the new hospital and then finally Sub Wait G1 in the new hospital). But to cut to the chase, everyone is fine, and my Mum’s assertion that “I’m good at falling” remains true.

It may have been stressful, and frustrating and mostly boring (waiting, waiting, forever waiting) but our NHS is remarkable. I hope it can cope with the oncoming onslaught of Covid-19; I fear it has not been well funded for far too many years and the staff are already over-worked and under-resourced. And the staff we met were all kind, caring and competent (apart from one, who was brusque.. but she was efficient and gave us what seemed to be useful information, so I’m not complaining).

The chorus of birdsong was almost deafening the following morning as I walked across to Mum’s house, under low grey clouds, with a slight smirr of rain in the air. Two male blackbirds were singing competitively from the rowan tree. I guess it’s that time of year. Spring is springing, despite the wettest February in memory. Everything still looked grey, or that end-of-winter depressing brown. But if you looked close, there were the tiniest splashes of colour everywhere.

And then that afternoon our pond seemed to be boiling, the water bubbling up as the frogs got on with their Springtime froggie thing. And of course we now have great globules of frog spawn which will mostly end up as additional protein for the hens I guess.

Our Springtime frog spawn

So, there’s Nature doing its thing, and as sure as night follows day, here am I doing mine, back in the kitchen making treats to cheer our days. And what is more cheering than a wee slice of the most lemoniest of lemony cakes? I adore that zing of sharpness from lemons, and the soft moistness of this sponge complements it perfectly. I guess it would probably keep well, in an airtight tin, but how will I ever know? It’s lovely with a cup of tea or strong espresso, but would work equally well with a scoop of vanilla or dark chocolate icecream, or a big spoonful of creme fraiche on the side for an easy dessert.

The recipe is from my favourite of favourite cookbooks, Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

The most delicious lemony polenta cake

Lemon polenta cake (gluten free)

  • 225g / 8oz butter, softened
  • 225g / 8oz caster sugar
  • 225g / 8oz ground almonds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 110g / 4oz polenta
  • 1 tsp baking powder (make sure it’s gluten free if you want your cake to be GF)
  • a pinch of salt

Grease a 23cm / 9″ spring form tin, and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  1. Cream the butter till pale and soft, using electric beaters.
  2. Add the caster sugar and beat again until light and creamy.
  3. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly after each egg.
  5. Fold in the remaining ingredients: lemon zest and juice, polenta, baking powder and salt.
  6. Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes (but check after 45 to see if it’s ready).
  7. It’s ready when it’s a deep golden colour on top and your skewer comes out clean as a whistle.
  8. Cool on a wire rack
  9. When cool, dredge with sifted icing sugar, to cover any slightly well-fired bits.

My other Spring makes include Wild Garlic Pesto (obviously) and I’m really in the mood for making some chicken liver pate, so I’m delighted that Past-Shewolffe has provided me with a recipe. Or go browse here and see if anything takes your fancy.

Do let me know if there’s anything you want me to make. I’m thinking I might share a few recipes using some of the stockpile in your store cupboard.

Love is….

14 Feb

Well last year love was a heart shaped sausage.

The Captain requested 12 inches of the finest pork sausage from our local butcher, and presented it to me as a Valentines supper.

He’s a keeper.

Burns Night

25 Jan
Procure a sheep’s pluck

January. It’s nearly the end of January already, but before the end we have one last celebration.

Most of January is a time for hunkering down and hibernating. Whoever thought that January was the time to start dieting, to start telling yourself that you should forego some of the things you love to eat didn’t live in rural Scotland. I’m all in favour of taking stock and putting in place whatever you need to be the best you can be this coming year, but please don’t make your new year be all about giving things up. We need nourishment in January. And we need to feed our heads and our hearts, as well as our bellies.

In Scotland we have two main celebrations in January: New Year’s Day (which is often marked by a severe hangover from Hogmanay the night before) and Burns Night. The traditional fare for a Burns Night is of course haggis, neeps and tatties. Many of you might think that it doesn’t sound like much of a celebration to eat turnips, potatoes and a savoury pudding made from the cheapest (and possibly most disgusting) bits of a sheep, but I love this meal, and it is absolutely perfect January food. It is food that nourishes us in these dark wintery weeks, and it makes use of about the only vegetable which is locally and seasonally available in Scotland right now – the turnip (some of you may call it a swede). Traditionally I guess we’d drink whisky with it, but if you’re not a purist, then red wine works a treat with haggis.

Ball haggis in natural casing, from our local butchers, J&H Cairns

Mum gave me her copy of The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill (first published 1929) this Christmas. I didn’t even know we had it on our shelves (or I might have ‘borrrowed’ it sooner). In it, FMN includes “Meg Dods’s suggested bill of fare for St Andrew’s Day, Burns clubs, or other Scottish national dinners” and I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly was not the elaborate menu shared below, with its Brown Fricassee of Duck, Crimped Skate and Rich Eating Posset in a China Punch Bowl. And that’s all before you’ve tackled ‘A Black Cock, or three Ptarmigan’. Anyway, I’m not suggesting you go full Burns Night banquet a la Meg Dods, but please do treat yourself to haggis, neeps and tatties at least once each year.

Meg Dods’s suggested Bill of Fare

In future posts there will be more on FMN and her Scots Kitchen, and probably more on Meg Dods (and her relationship to Walter Scott) if you’re interested.

In my mother’s handwritten recipe book, my favourite of all recipes was her Great Aunt Janey’s recipe for haggis, which starts ‘First procure a sheep’s pluck….’. A few years ago I was given the original recipe book in Great Aunt Janey’s hand, written for my Gran for her 40th birthday (in 1944). There are other, perhaps more useful, recipes in this wee black book, but for me none can surpass the haggis recipe.

No actual recipe this week, as I figure if you want to cook haggis, neeps and tatties you probably already know how. But if you want to look through my various tried and tested recipes for everything from Apple Chutney to Winter Salad, have a look here.

Pizza

12 Jan

The Captain and I love the al fresco life. We have a terrace outside our bedroom, overlooking the Valley, and over the years we have gradually pimped the space. For the last few years we’ve had a chimenea fire and a barbecue, and we’ve had some wonderful evenings up there, with good food and a glass of wine as the sun goes down. But for a while I’ve been hankering after a wood fired oven, to extend my al fresco repertoire beyond barbecuing and smoking. And salads of course. I make pretty good barbecues and salads, but my dream was to have fresh pizza straight out of a wood fired oven on our terrace.

The good news is that dreams do come true. The Captain bought us a pizza oven for Christmas – after researching what was available and what would suit our space best, he’d chosen one from Ooni, and it is perfect for our needs.

Midwinter in Scotland might seem sub optimal when it comes to al fresco dining, but there is something just magical about wrapping up warm, putting out the awning (to protect from the inevitable rain) and huddling next to the fire, watching the moon rise and cooking and eating fresh pizza.

Parma ham, mushroom and onion pizza

And the other thing about going for it with pizzas at this time of year is all those leftovers! Don’t be boxed in by what you think of as sensible pizza toppings – see what you’ve got in the fridge, decide if you’d like them together and go for it. This is how I discovered the joy of a black pudding and brussel sprout pizza!

I’m not a purist when it comes to pizza dough – sometimes I make my own entirely by hand, on those days when 10 minutes kneading dough will help de-stress. Other days I pop the ingredients in the bread machine and let it do the work.

What I’ve discovered makes the most difference is making a really good pizza sauce – in the past I’ve zizzed up a tin of tomatoes, or used a passata… and while both of these are fine, they are a bit too watery and can make the pizza base go soggy. So my top tip is to take the time to cook some good pizza sauce while your dough is resting or rising or proving or whatever.

Everything prepped to make our first pizzas

If you don’t ‘have a wood fired pizza oven, don’t despair – home made pizza is pretty good made in any really hot oven.

Pizza dough

Ingredients

  • 250ml water (or use slightly less water, and slug in some sourdough starter)
  • 1-2 TBsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBsp sugar
  • about 425g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp yeast

Directions

Put the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine in the order they are listed above and hit the button for pizza dough.

When it’s ready, take the dough out and separate it into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and place it in a bowl (which you’ve drizzled a wee bit of oil in the bottom). Cover each bowl with a damp tea towel, or a lid, or a plate, or cling film, or beeswax wraps, or whatever suits your environmental aesthetic, and leave for about half an hour. Don’t worry about timings too much. At the end of the time you’re going to turn each doughy ball into pizza.

Brilliant Pizza Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more) garlic cloves, slightly chopped
  • 2 TBsp oil
  • 2 large tins of chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • your choice of herbs or spices – I like to add a wee bit of chilli, but mediterranean herbs would also be good

Directions

  • Put the oil in heavy based pan over a medium heat
  • Add the garlic and sweat for a wee minute. Don’t let it burn, just soften it in the oil
  • Add the other ingredients
  • Simmer for 20 minutes or so until it looks thick and bright dark red
  • Leave to cool

I make loads of this pizza sauce and keep it in a tub in the fridge – as well as pizza it’s found it’s way into the most amazing quiche (pizza sauce, caramelised onions, cheddar cheese and an egg/philadelphia cheese custard poured into a short pastry case), and also mixed in with pasta and some tuna as a midweek pasta bake.

You know how to make pizza, don’t you? I thought I did, but what I didn’t know well enough was that when you’re using a peel, to put the pizza into the oven, you need to make sure that peel has PLENTY of polenta on it, or you will never slide the pizza off the peel and onto the stone in the oven. The other thing I’ve discovered is that less can be so much more on a pizza – just a couple of good ingredients can be so much more satisfying than piling too much on.

Some toppings we like:

  • Black pudding and shredded brussel sprouts
  • Parma ham and mushrooms (and then add rocket once it;s out of the oven)
  • Goats cheese and beetroot
  • Blue cheese (preferably gorgonzola) and pear, maybe some ham too
Black pudding and brussel sprout pizza

Want more recipes? Perhaps a quick midweek dinner? Or easy peasy biscuits? Just head here and have a browse.

Monday makes…

6 Jan

The last project off my needles in 2019 was a Selbu hat in shades of grey. I’d ended up making more than a dozen of them through the Autumn, mostly knitted on my commute to and from work. They were super-quick to knit, and made brilliantly easy Christmas gifts for my nearest and dearest. If you want a go at making one, find the pattern here on Ravelry.

Tiny Bites Winter Festival

5 Jan

Sometime in the Autumn my nephew came to visit, and we had one of those blissful evenings on the terrace, with a log fire and a barbecue and more than our fair share of wine. There was probably amaretto too. And cheese, there’s nearly always cheese.

Anyway, on this occasion the conversation roamed around politics (inevitably still talking about Brexit) and work and food. Somehow, the next morning we had decided that the most fun thing to do at Christmas this year would be to shun the massive turkey, and instead go for Tiny Bites.

Let me explain – I’m a Big Fan of the Tiny Bites, or canapes as some of you might call them. I love the perfect morsel in miniature – flavours that zing, textures that excite and looks that delight. And if they are all uniformly set out on a serving platter (possibly even a slate, which I will allow for Tiny Bites, but NEVER for a proper meal) and brought to me by a wonderfully smiling human even better.

We shared our idea with the rest of the family, and The Inaugural Winter Festival of Tiny Bites was born, though not without some concern… Would there be enough to eat? Were we just creating the same meal as usual but cutting it up into tiny portions? What is Christmas without a plate piled high with roast turkey and ALL the trimmings? With hindsight, perhaps it’s bizarre that not once did any of us question if this was even possible, or if we were creating far too much extra work, for little extra fun.

Early in December we had pretty much rebranded it as a crowdsourced tasting menu, with family being the ‘crowd’, and we managed to have a planning session when we were all at home at Mum’s one weekend. It turns out that planning a crowdsourced tasting menu is a great use of all those planning techniques we’ve learned at work, and it’s far more fun applying the techniques to a Family Christmas than to most of the projects I’ve worked on! More on the planning another time, but needless to say, there were a lot of post-it notes and a killer excel spreadsheet.

And it turned out our plan was to produce an 18 course meal on Christmas Day, starting with The Partridge and the Pear and finishing with Cheese (subsequently renamed as The Baby Cheeses in a Manger).

The Partridge and the Pear

As I write this in the early days of the new year, I can confirm that we had the most fun on Christmas Day, that the fear of ‘not enough’ was totally unfounded. And that Tiny Bites nearly broke us, though not in a bad way. We managed only 12 (only!) of the 18 courses before we were beaten by the Bites and had to take some time out. The time out lasted right through the evening, and the Bites were never resumed, though my nephew did provide Tiny Bites Style Breakfast the next morning.

I’ll come back to this extravaganza in coming weeks, with some of the recipes. In the meantime, here is the full menu:

  • The Partridge and The Pear
  • His Bark is Worse Than His Bite
  • Gold Langoustine
  • Peruvian Prawns
  • Herring Smorgasbordling
  • Tiny Soup and Tiny Croutons
  • Tiny Soup (reprise)
  • Tiny Cheese Toastie with Apple Compote
  • Tiananmen Squares
  • Bambi Bullseye
  • A tart encounter (intermezzo)
  • The sausage meets the potato
  • The Bird
  • Bollywood
  • Pear without the Partridge
  • Storm in a Golden Teacup
  • Cranachan
  • Festive Jellies (redacted)
  • The baby cheeses in the manger with the good King Wensleydale, and Christmas cake
  • Cocktails (work in progress)
The Tiny Bites Menu

Let me know if there’s anything you really want to read more about.

The easiest ice cream (with a hit of sweet, salt and smokiness)

1 Jan

I love a new recipe. I particularly love something that is ridiculously simple, and also easily adapted. Or pimped.

This is one such recipe. If you’re looking for sweet and salty, creamy and sophisticated, while also being so simple that a small child could make it with hardly any instructions, and little supervision, then this is your recipe.

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Tubs of grown up ice cream

I first saw Nigella make a version of it on one of her eponymous Christmas cookery shows, so all credit goes to her for this deliciousness. Feel free to channel her energy and lick the spoon like you were 5 years old all over again.

Apologies that I’m posting this on 1 January, which for most people is probably a week too late, as it would make a nice easy Christmas dessert (though by that time of the meal, I’m usually craving a simple fruit salad instead of rich creamy ice cream). And of course it would be an ace thing to have tucked away in your freezer for Hogmanay – make it days in advance, when you’ve got oodles of cream left over from Christmas. And impress your guests with your back to basics cookery skills. No sous vide or expensive ice cream maker required.

Ingredients

  • A large tin (397g) of condensed milk CARAMEL (it’s the equivalent of Dulce de Leche)
  • 300ml double cream
  • Sea salt (the kind that comes in crystals, try Maldon, but other brands are available). I used some smoked salt, which seems readily available at my local supermarkets in rural Scotland
  • Whisky (or your other favourite spirit). I used a smoky, peaty malt which we had in the back of the drinks cupboard, and which complemented the smokiness of the sweet saltiness

Directions

  1. Dollop the caramel into a big bowl
  2. Pour in all of the cream and give it all a good stir
  3. Now start whipping it. I use a hand held electric beater, but if you’ve got a free standing electric mixer obviously use that. Or build up your muscles with a bit of elbow grease and use a balloon whisk. Anyway, however you do it, whisk it till you get luscious soft peaks. You’ll want to stick your finger in now and taste a dollop. Go on, you’re allowed.
  4. Stir in a couple of teaspoons of sea salt, and pour in a good glug of whisky. You NEED to taste it at this stage, as you want to make sure you can taste some of the salt coming through.
  5. Pour in more whisky. Why not?
  6. Stir it all up – give it another whisk if it needs it, but you don’t want to whisk it beyond the soft pillowy peaks or you’ll end up with some disgusting butter-like substance.
  7. Spoon it into a freezer proof dish, and pop it in the freezer.
  8. Feel smug as you lick the bowl.

This would be lovely served with a simple shortbread biscuit, or even a caraway biscuit, which it so happens I have a recipe for!

Feel free to experiment and make it with various other spirits which are lurking in the back of our drinks cupboard. And if you don’t want the caramelly flavour, just use ordinary condensed milk.

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Whisking up some smoky, salty, sweet ice cream

 

 

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