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Hugs in the post

4 Apr
Mini frangipane cakes

It’s been hard hasn’t it? This last year, being locked down, missing being with the people we love.

At the beginning of January this year, I went to stay with Mum, to mind her as she gets increasingly frail and somewhat confused. I knew I might be there for a while, and with the latest version of lockdown I didn’t know when I’d be allowed to see anyone else, nor how long I was likely to be there. It would be lonely, isolated. So I put a lot of thought into my own well-being and self-care, and tried to really think about what I could plan that would give me pleasure, that would nurture me, keep me on an even keel, when I knew I would feel cast adrift from the world I usually inhabit.

Most people who know me would assume that baking and cooking would be high on that list, and I thought so too initially. But it didn’t take me long to realise that the joy I gain from baking is mostly from sharing what I make. I got so little joy from baking for myself (partly because I have successfully lost over 2 stone and don’t intend to pile it all back on for the sake of some baking self-care). For a while I hardly baked at all.

Then I started making biscuits again, and posting them to people – biscuits, I discovered, are very post-able. And there was a surfeit of post-able boxes available after all that online shopping that had been going on!

But then the first pink forced rhubarb arrived in our fruit and veg box, And I knew exactly what I wanted to make – a sort of rhubarb frangipane tart. Well, the pastry was going to take too long (I only seemed to have short slivers of time available) so I made a cake without the pastry. It was amazing. But oh so ugly.

I made another. Just as tasty, just as ugly. It was christened the Ugly Duckling Cake.

Ugly Duckling Cake, in all its glorious ugliness

Then I discovered the muffin tins in the cupboard … at around the same time as I used up all the rhubarb. How could I replicate that sharp shock of rhubarb in a wee frangipane cake? My first thought was cranberries in balsamic vinegar (this may seem like a very random thought, but I had spied a bag of cranberries in the freezer, left over from the Christmas That Never Happened, and a couple of years ago I had made a delicious sharp and sweet cranberry and balsamic chutney, which was just the taste I was looking for). I’ve also used marmalade, and lemon curd. I reckon almost any kind of compote, made with whatever fruit is seasonal would work.

Oh, and the best thing about these wee cakes? If you pop them in a ziplock bag and put them in a suitable box, they post really well. You can send them in lieu of a hug to anyone and everyone you love. And you’ll feel so much happier having done it.

Well-fired frangipane cakes in rainbow muffin cases

Frangipane cakes

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125 caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 1 TBsp plain flour
  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5, or 170C.
  2. Prepare your muffin tins. You know that this just means pop a paper muffin case into each of the muffin holes don’t you? I usually make 9 wee cakes out of one batch, but it depends on the size of your muffins, obviously.
  3. Weigh out your almonds and add spoonful of flour. Set aside for a minute.
  4. Using and electric beater, beat the butter and sugar together till really light and creamy. Then beat it some more. Seriously, the better you beat it at this stage, the lovelier and light your cakes will be.
  5. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each one. Add a wee bit of the flour/almonds if it is curdling to try to bring it back together. If your eggs are really fresh I think it is less likely to curdle or split, but perhaps I’m just imagining that?
  6. Now, using a big metal spoon, fold the almonds and flour in to the mixture. Try to keep it light, don’t bash all the air out of it.
  7. Spoon dollops of the mixture into muffin trays, using about 2/3 of the mixture.
  8. Now put a spoonful of whatever fruitiness you are adding on top of the mixture in the muffin tins. And then cover with a final wee spoon of cake mixture. You really don’t need to be precise about all this, and in fact it works fine if you spoon all the cake mixture into the tins, and add the fruitiness on top at the end. You find this out by forgetting to leave some back one time.
  9. Pop them in the oven. Check them after about 30 minutes to see how they are – I’ve had some ready at about 35 minutes, others needing another ten minutes. I guess it depends on your oven doesn’t it? I test by pressing lightly on a cake with two fingers, and seeing if it springs back nicely. If not, cook it a bit more.
Ready for baking
In the oven
Mini frangipane cakes, ready to be packed up and posted off as a proxy hug

You can pimp this basic frangipane mixture by adding other flavours, such as vanilla essence, almond essence or orange oil (I was gifted some of this elixir by a super-kind friend and it is amazing) – I mix it in with the butter and sugar.

If you want to make the lemon version, you can find my lemon curd recipe here. The balsamic cranberries can be found here. Or use a bought jam, or fresh berries, or slices of poached pear on top, or apples cooked in butter and sugar to caramelise them. Really, whatever you have to hand, just try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?

If you are interested in more recipes that I’ve scribbled down over the years, take a look at my Index of Recipes. And if you find any broken links, please let me know – over the years I have moved this site and some of the links I think are historic (and not in a good way).

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.

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.

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.

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.

20191215_115358

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

 

 

Wild Garlic Pesto

3 Apr
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Wild Garlic Pesto is one of life’s absolute joys. You go out to the woods, pick a handful or two of wild garlic leaves (you’ll know them by their scent) and then come home and whizz them up with some cheese, nuts and oil. And you have just transformed your dull pasta dish.

If you’ve not made it before, you might not believe the pungency of the pesto comes from just those leaves, and that no real garlic has been added.

Anyway, if you’ve just come in from a walk down the woods, armed with your bag of leaves, here is your recipe. If you’re looking for precise quantities and directions, go elsewhere, and probably don’t forage.

Ingredients

  • several handfuls of wild garlic leaves, rinsed well (you know that wild garlic grows below dog-pee level don’t you?)
  • about 100g unsalted nuts (I’ve used walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pinenuts, and a bag of mixed nuts… all are good)
  • about 100g cheese. Parmesan would be traditional, but you can mix it up with another hard cheese, or try a soft goats cheese to mix it up a bit
  • a great big glug of oil – I use a mix of light olive oil and sunflower oil, but feel free to use your favourite oil (but probably not expensive extra virgin olive oil as the flavour will just get slapped by the wild garlic)
  • a wee squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Get your food processor out from whatever cupboard you keep it in. You can try making this with a liquidiser, or a nutri-bullet or one of those hand held soup zizzers. Or even one of those mini choppers. But you’ll probably kill the motor in anything other than a proper food processor with a big blade.

Roughly chop the cheese, and the wild garlic leaves. Feel free to roughly chop the nuts too, but you don’t really need to.

Throw everything in the bowl of the processor and press the button.

Keep adding more oil till you get the consistency you like. And taste it to see if you like the balance of flavours. Add more of what you fancy.

Pop in a jar and feel smug.

If you are making industrial quantities of the stuff, get yourself one of those silicone big ice cube trays, and freeze big cubes of the pesto. Once the cubes are frozen you can pop them out into a freezer bag and keep them all year. Then just nuke one in the microwave and throw into a bowl of pasta to feel smug all over again.

Miss Morgan’s Butterscotch Sauce

4 Mar

I asked Mum about Miss Morgan a wee while ago, as I only have vague (but good) memories of her. She lived along the road from our house and occasionally babysat for us. I’m not sure why she looked after us, as our usual babysitter was Rachel, who was tall and manly and lived with the wee feminine Emily. Rachel and Emily were sisters; they had loved and lost during The War, and hence lived with one another, or that was what we were told.

Miss Winifred Morgan to my childhood self seemed sweet and kind, but with something more about her, perhaps she was secretly a Miss Marple? The other day Mum said that she had been a nurse and that she had worked in Egypt, possibly training or setting up nursing there…

My most concrete memory of Miss Morgan is her butterscotch sauce recipe. I think she was looking after us over a weekend, and to go with ice cream she taught me how to make butterscotch sauce. This was a revelation – until then I think we only had stewed fruit, or jelly with ice cream. Or on special occasions we would have a tin of fruit salad – but I sense that Mum avoided this at all costs as it would only cause arguments about who got they sole pink cherry from the tin. Butterscotch sauce seemed utterly exotic. And there was unexpected DANGER in making it.

Butterscotch sauce

  • 4oz sugar (just granulated is fine)
  • a scant 1/2 pint of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 dessert spoon golden syrup
  • 1 TBsp cornflour
  • 2 TBsp cold water
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • a few sultanas
  1. Measure the sugar into a dry heavy based saucepan
  2. Stir over a moderate heat until it melts and turns golden
  3. Now here is the fun DANGER part: take your pan off the heat and pour in the 1/2 pint of water. It will all sizzle and bubble and steam, and then the sugar will seize and solidify on the base of the pan. That’s ok
  4. Put it back on a low heat and stir gently, until the sugar is all dissolved
  5. Add the salt, vanilla, syrup and stir
  6. Mix the cornflour and cold water together in a wee cup or mug, and then pour into the pan, stirring as you pour
  7. Bring back to the boil, stirring all the time, so the sauce thickens nicely
  8. Take off the heat, and add the butter. Stir till it is all melted in
  9. Add the sultanas if you want them. You could also add some rum, brandy or whisky at this stage to turn it into grown up butterscotch sauce.

Pour warm over vanilla ice cream. I’d say ‘the best vanilla ice cream you can afford’ but actually this would be pretty good over any vanilla ice cream, even the cheap stuff. That’s definitely what we had back in the 1970s, if only because that was all there was available at Brydens, our local shop.

Nowadays I guess I would probably sprinkle some salt flakes over the top too, to make it salted butterscotch, making that exquisite sweet-salty combo. I might use a bit more butter too. Just because.

It would also be delicious on warm gingerbread, a bit like a sticky toffee pudding. But I’m just saying that because I have a gingerbread in the oven.

There’s another butterscotch sauce recipe here, a more modern one, probably not created by a wee lady who was probably born over 100 years ago now. And if sweet treats aren’t your thing, why not look through the other delights I’ve been rustling up in my kitchen, here.

A post-Christmas soup

4 Jan

We were given a lot of cheese just before Christmas. When I say a lot, I mean really an awful lot. Almost more than was possible for just the two of us to eat.

It included Grana Padana, Brie, Feta and Gorgonzola.

So I have discovered many things to make with cheese, Continue reading

Quick butterscotch sauce

9 Oct

It’s Autumn. I’ve spent the day in the kitchen, mostly making things with this year’s harvest of pears, apples, tomatoes and chillies. It’s been pure pleasure. And having jars of hot tomato chutney, apple ginger (the amazing toffee apple flavoured syrup), pears, mustard fruit and apple chutney over the winter will mean tasty meals are guaranteed.

For supper tonight I made a pimped up corned beef hash – chillies go in almost everything these days, so I added some chopped chilli in with the onions, and then took a notion to add some fresh tomatoes and some chorizo too. The Captain’s verdict was that it was good, but he prefers it plain. I think I’d have got away with the chilli, but the chorizo was a pimping too far.

Anyway, afterwards I fancied ice cream and butterscotch sauce. I used to make a butterscotch sauce when I was wee – I couldn’t find my old recipe book, and can’t remember it exactly, so had a quick online search to see how I could make it. Most recipes add double cream, and I have none in the fridge, so I kept looking. And once I’d read a few, I headed for the kitchen, and improvised.

Butterscotch Sauce

  • 1/3 cup soft light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • some vanilla essence
  1. Put the sugar and butter in a small pan over a medium heat
  2. Stirring constantly, melt the butter and sugar
  3. Keep stirring and boil it up for a while
  4. Take off the heat and add the milk, keep stirring
  5. Stir in the vanilla essence
  6. Cool slightly and serve with ice cream

You can add sultanas and brandy or rum if you want to zizz it up a bit.

No pictures, because we ate it all.

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