Saturday, 31 December 2016

A couple of Christmas crackers, a plug, a pig and a very happy new year

Our very last booking of 2016 turned out to be a corker... John's surprise 50th organised by his wife Christina (neighbours of ours). Luckily their celebration port - from his birth year - wasn't corked. It was fantastic. Probably the oldest bottle of anything anyone's opened in our kitchen. In fact, I had to open it. A half century cork -  no pressure!

The port demanded a cheese course and I thought I'd serve up a couple of Christmas crackers (wheat and rye) to accompany. Big, break and share jobs that I will always do from now on. Much more fun. One a cracker, one a crisp bread. More on this, and the recipe, in the new year. For now, I'm pulling off the apron and pouring myself some white Burgundy.

Many thanks, as ever, to Kate and Richard at Holtwhites for the cheese - they're not just the finest bakers in the world you know. The very best of British cheese. So glad I only have to travel to Enfield now, saving me the trip to Neal's Yard.



Holtwhite's cheese selection. 

A couple of Christmas crackers!



















We are closing our ovens for a few weeks now. It's also my 50th you see so we're going to Midsummer House in Cambridge for what, I hope, will be the best meal of my life.

We will hopefully see you all, friends old and new, for a nice bit of dinner and a chat in 2017. 

Best wishes from the New River Dining Christmas pig.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A good gravy


Many things comfort, especially in the kitchen: the embrace of a roast; the blanket hug of bread baked and calmly steaming on the side; the soothing seethe of the pressure cooker, to the little tug chug of the dishwasher and the smell of newly clean linen on the dryer. Even better if it's raining outside. The kitchen is the snug hub of our home. And that's where we make our gravy. 

I was chatting through a roasting recipe with a friend who was also after some gravy tips when I realised I'd never blogged it; never even taken a photograph it seems. This is a curious omission. My family will tell you that I often call them in for a taste, or just a look, with me stood proudly, like a child, with a roasting tin or saucepan of some glossy, well reduced wonder.

A good gravy is a triumph and can elevate a meal from mediocre to memorable. But it should enhance the food not dominate. A fillet steak with a rich gravy will taste of... gravy. It should be both the bass notes, underpinning the music, and the piccolo, adding interest and contrast. I know, I'll stop with the metaphors. All this pretension for what is essentially boiled bones and flour.



First. Let's shoot the elephant in the room - those big bones will make excellent stock, after all. I know some of you might use, might even think you enjoy... gravy powder (I can barely bring myself to write it.) If you do, I don't really want to know. I'll just get upset and it will forever blight our relationship; like walking with something grim and sticky underfoot while we chat. I've written about why fake gravy is a heinous crime. It's there if you want it. And hey, it's Christmas, let's make an effort.

Deep breath. Let it go. 

Much of my progress over these past few years has been into food simplicity. Increasingly I think that most things are better left alone. I am not an Ottolenghi (is it true there are 23 ingredients in his glass of water recipe?). Meat especially is often best served as a simple roast, same with vegetables. If you want complexity of flavour, do it by mixing elements  This gives control to the eater. Gravy is the big exception. Gravies are complex; they take time and effort - often more than the rest of the meal elements combined.

The simplest of gravies is roasting juices and pan scrapings, maybe deglazed with some alcohol. This works well with fatty, juicy meat, less so with the leaner, more expensive cuts. You won't get more than a few spoonfuls from a fillet of beef or a rack of lamb. Sometimes, often, you want a thicker sauce too, something to coat your roasties or Yorkshires with.

This is how I do it. You need a big pot: a stock pot. This will take a while so we might as well go large. First let me tell you a secret: shop stocks are awful... and expensive. I have no idea why they are all so uniformly awful but they are. Doesn't matter that they have a grinning Blumenthal on the packaging. Don't bother. Make your own.  A home made stock will also contain gelatine for a much better texture. 

Make a lot and then bag it up for the freezer. Mine is a mass of beige and amber ice. I use a roll of plastic bags from Nisbets, about a litre at a time. You could go smaller, as I tend to serve large groups. Do remember to label them though. Lamb stock tastes very different to chicken.

I'm going to divide gravy into five elements.
  • Meat stock
  • Aromatics
  • Alcohol
  • Thickeners
  • Finishing (final flavours, sweeteners and acidity)

Marrow bone and oxtail

Meat Stock

Clarified stock
Stocks are made by slowly simmering meat bones and trimmings, along with aromatic herbs and vegetables, in lots of water. If you have a pressure cooker, so much the better. The higher temperatures mean more flavour making Maillard reactions in the pot. Supermarkets are next to useless when making stock. They won't (can't) sell you the offcuts that make for bad eating but great gravies. You need to go and talk to a butcher. If you're local to Enfield try mine: F. Norman's in Oakwood. Tell them I sent you.

Generally I make stock by simmering (or pressure cooking) meat and aromatics in water, covered, for a couple of hours then allowed to cool. I sieve the liquid off into jugs, sealed with cling film, and leave overnight in the fridge. This means any fat present will collect in a layer at the top making it easy to skim off (and use if need be). The skimmed stock can then be fast boiled to reduce and concentrate flavours. Don't boil an unskimmed stock; you will end up with something cloudy and greasy.

You can take this concentrating stage to a higher level by clarifying the stock. I use a few egg whites and crushed shells whisked in. The stock should be brought to a simmer as slowly as possible and simmered for at least thirty minutes. The egg white captures all the unfiltered particles as it solidifies and, once sieved (ideally through muslin or a new kitchen cloth), you should have a fabulous, clear consommé.

You can always double stock, stock. That is: reboil with extra meats and aromatics. I often do this for improved flavour, or if the stock is lacking an element.

Never add salt at the stock stage, only ever in the final gravy. 

- Beef
For beef use chunks of marrow bone, any trimmings and maybe a kilo of chopped oxtail. You're looking to fill an oven tray. The weight will vary. Make sure your butcher gives you manageable chunks. The more surface area, the better.

Roast the bones and trimmings for about an hour at 220°C until brown and chewy. Being sure to scrape all the sticky bits off the bottom of your tin, place the roast in about five litres of cold water. 

- Lamb
Roast two kilos of scrag end, along with any trimmings from your joint, for about an hour at 180°C. You can give your partner the bones to nibble on afterwards. You can in my house anyway. She wasn't fed properly as a child or something.

- Chicken, Turkey, Poultry
Carcasses are an obvious choice to roast and boil... but who has several at once, unless you've recently feasted on fowl? Short of carcasses, try a couple of kilos of chicken wings. If you've been nice to your butcher, they may well bung them in for free. Turkeys often come with the neck and other giblets in a bag. All good. Dice them up to make the flavour release easier.

Again, brown your chicken bits in the oven for an hour. Unless you want a pale stock, in which case, don't. You used to be able to buy tough old birds called 'boiling fowl' and these are excellent for a pale but deeply flavoured broth. Ask your butcher. Again you can use the meat afterwards, but it won't taste of a great deal.

- Pork
Ah, yes, pork. For some reason, pork stock almost never features in (European) recipes. Maybe it's because it's not part of the classical French canon. But why isn't it part of the...? I don't know. I use pork stock for pea and ham soup and for pork and apple gravy.

Be careful when making pork stock. Many pork products contain prohibitive amounts of salt that would result in an unusable broth. I'd go for either trotters (yes, I can hear the squeamish screaming) or (more likely) a couple of cheap pig knuckles - just make sure they're unsmoked. You can even use the knuckle meat to make a terrine or soup afterwards.





Aromatics

Once your meat is ready and in the water, you need the aromatics: vegetables, spices and herbs. These elevate an otherwise flat base, adding nuance and highlights.

Most stocks will welcome the holy trinity: onion, carrot and celery. Perhaps two of onion, three of carrot and celery (stalks). Coarsely chopped and sweated slowly in butter to render sweet and remove any harsh notes of allium. Do this with some woody herbs: thyme, bay leaves, rosemary.

Fennel is great for pork and lamb stock but can be potent. Bash up half a bulb.

For dark stocks roast off a couple of chopped onions or shallots for forty five minutes at 160°C. You're looking for a golden brown not burnt. If in doubt, taste the darkest part. Do not use anything black and bitter. The smallest part can taint a stock. There is a subtly here though, and I'm reminded of the Father Ted gag about priests' socks. Some things are not black but very, very, very dark brown. Let your tongue tell you.

Mushrooms are excellent roasted or dry pan fried, especially with beef. Shiitake and ceps are hugely rich in those desirable, meaty, umami tones, if a rather expensive addition. Basic shaggy mushrooms, trimmed, washed and fine sliced will also do. Let them catch and brown a little.

Peppercorns. I usually throw in a handful with any red meat stock. The whole berry (peppercorns are dried berries) adds a more subtle touch than the freshly ground. More of a happy hum than a bright tune.

Leafy herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, coriander should probably be left until the final gravy. Their flavours are ephemeral. A bunch of parsley stalks can add a pleasing vegetativeness though.


Alcohol


Alcohol, in the form of grape based fermentations, brings acidity, sweetness and a fruity base. Many recipes tell you to put alcohol directly into stocks but I don't usually, preferring to greatly reduce it on its own, almost to a syrup, to be added to the gravy later. Easier to add in increments, especially when you don't know how flavoursome your stock will be. All wines and spirits should be reduced by boiling. This rids it of much of the eyebrow raising harshness and stops one getting drunk on the gravy. Plenty of time for that later.

Don't use anything you wouldn't drink and don't assume one wine will taste like the next. Sweetness makes the difference here, those subtle tannins and fruits tend to cook out to no difference. Serious Eats did a proper study of this.

Red wine is the most obvious participant. I keep half and quarter bottles next to the hob for when I need a quick splash. White wine works just as well though remember and can be better when you're looking for a fruity or mineral note.

All the fortified wines work well; I am guilty of pouring port into almost everything. It's great with beef and lamb. Madeira or Marsala with pork, or perhaps Calvados or another apple brandy. With chicken I tend to reach for the vermouth; its herbaceous-ness works well with poultry.


Thickeners

Ideally a gravy should be reduced until it reaches the desired consistency but this isn't always possible. You simply might not have enough liquid to do that for a start but also, if you have a deeply flavoured stock you might not want to further concentrate it.

While other sauces can be thickened with egg yolks or gums, gravies are normally made more substantial with starch, in the form of flour, usually just before serving. Never just add flour to your stock though. You won't get the lumps out and it won't do its job. If using pan juices stir the flour into those first and heat on the hob. Flour also helps to bind the fat in roasting juices. There's nothing I like less than a greasy gravy (apart from, you know...)

I tend to make a beurre manis, a mix of equal amounts of melted butter and flour. You only need about 15g of both. This can be cooked on the hob slightly to remove any floury flavour before whisking into the gravy. All flour thickened sauces should be gently boiled to remove the starchy flavour and to start the thickening process. 

Corn starch mixed with a little cold water and whisked in also works well. Not much is needed. A tablespoon of cornstarch will easily thicken a litre of stock. Remember to simmer the sauce for a few minutes though.

Butter, chilled from the fridge and cut into small chunks can be whisked into a warm sauce, adding richness and shine. Don't then boil the sauce though as the butter may split out leaving you with a greasy nonsense.


Finishing

So you have your meaty, glossy, aromatic gravy. You are about to pour it over your perfect roast but then you remember that thing you should do, that beat before the birth of any table wonder. YOU TASTE IT. Funny how many cooks send things untasted out of the kitchen. 

You TASTE IT and you look skywards. 'Something' is missing. This is the job of the finishers. It's probably salt. We haven't seasoned it yet remember. Salt or maybe soy sauce, good for colour too. A generous grind of black pepper too, especially in the beef gravy. But there are other seasonings: ground coriander with chicken or lamb?

Worcestershire sauce? Take it easy, it's very distinctive. Mushroom ketchup? All good in a dribble.

Sweetness is possibly needed. Don't be afraid of sugar. A pinch often makes all the difference. I often go for redcurrant jelly, it brings more gloss and mouthfeel too. Honey works with chicken (couple it with a scant teaspoon of mustard).

But the 'something' you're missing is probably acidity. Chefs love this word, especially the Oliver boy, and for good reason. Acidity animates. It brings life. Maybe not a whole lemon but a quick zizz. This, in part, explains why I have at least twenty five different vinegars and if the house was on fire I would be saving my L'Olivier fruities first (sorry family).

Fruit juices can also add acidity, I'm thinking mainly of apple with pork or chicken. It should be the not-from-concentrate variety or it will be too sweet and not nearly acidic enough.

But know when to stop too. You are making an accompaniment remember, not a soup. Although... give my sons some bread and they'll make it so.


























Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Layer bake of roasted vegetables




A layered bake. A tower of vegetables, all roasted until sweet and yielding, with a dressing of cheese, herbs and my sweet, sour and smokey sauce. Let's agree not to call it a 'mille feuille'; there's really no need, least of all because this is at least 994 leaves short. Also auto-correct hates the term and keeps wanting me to write about a 'mild refill', and this is definitely not that. 

Apologies for my prose on this one. I am in the middle of the most intense job of my career and, right now, I feel like I've run out of words. I spent at least ten minutes this afternoon searching for the term 'eccentric'. I think, for the first time in my life, I might be tired.

I often serve this as part of a split menu when the carnivores are having lamb or beef. It's a robust full flavoured dish and so works with traditional accompaniments to roast meats. More a technique or a theme than an actual recipe, you can use any veg that will roast well. It's infinitely variable* but I especially like the colour combination of red and yellow peppers, tomato and butternut squash but you can also use cauliflower, aubergine, carrots, courgette or even portobello mushrooms.

A large one serves as an entire course on its own. Smaller ones serve in place of meat as part of a meal. You can build a stack as in the pic above but I also like cutting circles out of the veg for a neater look. I also find that trying to stack very hot veg to be both tricky and burny for more than two people. No one wants their mille feuille, froid do they? So I assemble part baked veg and then finish in the oven once guests are assembled. If you are also serving roast meat these can sit in the already hot oven while the meat rests under foil.

Slice all your vegetables, apart from the peppers, to equal thickness, about a centimetre (third of an inch). Place on baking parchment or silicone, roll in a little oil and roast at 200°C for roughly:

Carrots: 30 minutes - why does carrot take so long to cook?
Squash: 20 minutes
Peppers: 20 minutes - top and tail, cut in half, deseed and press flat
Cauliflower: 25 minutes
Aubergine: 15 minutes - go easy on the oil there.
Courgette: 10 minutes
Mushroom: 5 minutes - Just oil the tops.

There's no need to roast the tomatoes just yet.

This is just a guide. Basically you should be able to make an indentation with your finger (careful). You might also like your veg harder or softer than me. Aubergine, especially, is a matter of personal taste. The easiest way to do this is add the longest roasting slices first, then the others in reverse order. The important thing is that all the layers are in the same state of 'cooked' so, ready for the final bake.


Roasted
The mushrooms, peppers, courgette and aubergine can alternatively be griddled. This gives you attractive and tasty char lines. If you don't have a griddle, try a skewer, held over a hob flame. Bit of a faff though.

Once roasted, either stack up the slices in bags and refrigerate until needed or assemble straight away. Roast veg slices make a handy side dish anyway. Great with meat or fish. 


Assembled
Before guests arrive make your stacks. Again line the roasting tray with oiled paper. Oven to 200°C. I like to season each layer with just a little salt, pepper and a pinch of freshly crushed coriander seed. Note: I don't mean use powdered coriander here. Just cracked seeds smell fantastic and add some texture.

Go as high as you dare, or you think appetites will manage. Top with some cheese - I like salty feta crumbled but soft goats works well too. Mozzarella will give you mouth feel but little flavour. Personally I think this is no place for cheddar but feel free to shout me down.
Finished in the oven and glazed

Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cheese is looking interesting.

Remove to plates using a spatula and a steady hand. Serve on a display of spinach leaves.

Pour over the dressing and garnish with lots of aromatic herbs. Often dill or very finely chopped rosemary.

The dressing makes the dish here but for an easy meal you could just slum it with oil and balsamic. If you substitute redcurrant jelly for the honey (and obviously omit the cheese) the dish is vegan.

You won't find the vinegar I use in the shops but please seek it out. I've linked to my on-line provider. I've said quite enough about L'Olivier vinegars in another place and won't bore you all here again.

New River Dining glaze for roasted veg.
Enough for two
In a glass, mix a tablespoon of oil with one of red pepper vinegar. Add a half tablespoon of honey. Add a big squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Fish out any pips if using lemon. Whisk with a fork. Taste and adjust. Add a knife tip of smoked paprika, less of cayenne, a good pinch of sea salt, black pepper and at least a half teaspoon of ground coriander. Taste again. Add more of everything probably, until something tingles. The flavour should be intense. Remember that this will be spread thin. Toss in some robust chopped herbs, maybe chives or lemon thyme. Pour over your roast veg.







*So not infinite. I think it would be the factorial of n, where n = (let's say) three cheeses and eight vegetables = factorial of 11 = 39,916,800. Eaten once a day that would take you over 1300 lifetimes to work through all the combinations, by which time you and the many generation of your family after you, burdened with your gastro-pedantry, would be utterly sick of it.

Would really appreciate it if a mathematician could correct my errors here.








Monday, 28 November 2016

Green tea, mint and bourbon ice



You might consider this a frozen mint julep, usually found between the pages of a Tennessee Williams play, being sipped by some  socially stifled young lady just before she verbally emasculates her bronzed and brow-wiping beau. It's as refreshing as a winter walk through the Scottish Highlands, but not nearly as alcoholic. Sorry. I do go on, I know.

It's a glass of chilly stuff for when one's sucked the greasy meat off a bone.

Between the main course and the dessert we like to serve a little glass of palate cleansing ice (granita if you must). Often this is pineapple and lime but I wanted to make a change. I realise now that this Green tea and mint ice was inspired by Heston Blumenthal but my recipe is miles from his, not least because I've added a bourbon syrup. Also you don't need any liquid nitrogen to make mine. I bet you've just run out haven't you?

It's meant to refresh your tastebuds so you can better appreciate the subtleties of the next course, usually it's citric and/or astringent. In France, where this notion originated, a traditional method is to serve cubes of pickled ginger. That would seem to necessitate a palate cleanser cleanser though. I've no idea why this also leaves you feeling less full but this does seem to be another effect. Though perhaps that just the always-room-for-pudding factor. Certainly true in this house.

It is a pleasing thing though: minty tea with sweet and smokey bourbon; the slightly drying tea tannins enlivened with the zest and zing of lime. Guests have often asked for the recipe, declaring this their favourite part of the meal.

I make this in bulk so there are sometimes weeks between batches. I also forget to write down what I actually used which means I start from scratch each time. This is a major pain,  not least because errors at this scale are expensive. I have thrown away litres of (you have to say it right) 'bit-taaaaaaah' green tea that I've left to steep* too long.

This recipe makes about three litres - for us, about sixty serving. You can easily scale it down though. Or use bigger servings.

The lime is no affectation or garnish. You need that burst of acid and citrus oils to balance the sugar. It's like the 'twist' of lemon in a martini; it should be done over the glass.

There are three components that are made separately and then combined. Trust your own judgement here. You might need more or less of one. It depends on how minty you mint and how green your tea. Leave the last 10% and taste, only adding if you think the final liquid needs more. Remember though, that freezing depletes flavour and sweetness. It should be slightly sweeter than you like. Which is an odd cooking direction to give.

I say ice, but the sugar and alcohol conspire to lower the freezing point so this never gets really block hard. I do burn off most of the alcohol in the bourbon but a little will remain, so your guests should be aware.


Green tea and mint ice with bourbon syrup.
Makes around three litres.

You'll need three large bowls or jugs and a saucepan that can take a flame for a few minutes so prob best to avoid non-stick and enamel. Stainless steel is ideal. You'll also need a lidded, freezable container. One that you can shake with confidence while full of sticky liquid that will take ages to clean properly, especially if it gets under the fridge. Do we understand each other?

In your large bowl add 100g of loose leaf green tea to half a litre of warm water. To this add one and a half litres of boiling water. Cover with cling film and leave to steep for two hours. Don't leave it longer than this or your brew will be too bitter.

Mint in the back, bourbon boiling up front.
Make a sugar syrup by bringing 500ml of water slowly to the boil with 500g of white sugar. Once it's clear put in a whole bunch of mint, chopped, stalks and all. Get one of those big loose bunches (100g), not the puny plastic packets. Even better, cut some from your garden. Cover and leave for two hours (or even overnight, the flavour will only improve). Don't be tempted to mash the leaves and stalks though. Some things just take time.

Lastly take half a bottle or bourbon (so 350ml) and bring slowly to the boil with 700g of sugar. Take care here, this is a combustible mix. Once clear, as the sugar dissolves, bring to a gentle boil. Turn any kitchen extractor down low. Now using a long taper or candle lighter, hold a flame over the surface of the syrup to light the alcohol. That's why I said turn the extractor down, you don't want a big plume of whoosh. Watch those eyebrows. Turn the heat right down and allow the syrup to burn for a few minutes. You need to reduce the alcohol content or the ice will not freeze and you'll have a slushy (albeit delicious) cocktail. 

You obviously shouldn't be using your good stuff for this. Supermarket own brand will do. After boiling, burning and sweetening I doubt many could tell the difference.
Maybe wear an oven glove?
Cover and allow the bourbon syrup to cool.

After the two hours are up. Taste each element. They should all be delicious. Sieve in the green tea into your large, lidded, freezer proof container. You don't want bits. Now sieve in most of the mint syrup. Finally add most of your bourbon syrup.

Taste. More mint? More Bourbon? You might think the whole thing needs sweetening. At this point I can add plain sugar syrup because I keep a stock in the fridge (2:1 sugar to water) but you can probably get away with stirring in some caster sugar. That plain syrup (often called simple syrup) has many uses though. Obviously for cocktails but It's great for adding sweetness and gloss to tomato sauces and gravies.

Once you're happy, seal the container and freeze for around twelve hours (less if you're making a smaller quantity). You're looking for a loose ice crystal structure. Then remove and shake vigorously, trying to break up the ice particles. Freeze again for twelve hours. Shake. Freeze again. Look, you might forget (I have) in which case just shave the ice with a fork. It's more work but it results in a very similar texture. if anyone does complain, take yourself away to reconsider if you really need this 'friend' in your life. It's probably someone who's known you from school and you suspect they think you've got a bit above yourself now anyway, serving bloody palate cleansers. Who does he think he is?

We serve these in shot glasses but you could go bigger, especially on a summer's day, when fearing your swarthy, drunken man is going to wake the neighbours by crying your name the streets again. Cool his ardour with this. 

"Stella!"

 


*Steep? One of those words that looks weird when you write it down. Had to look that up. Steep is related to stoup, the old Germanic name for a beaker or pail for liquid.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Pigeon... sorry, Kiwi. Apparently. Also, introducing the chocolate squidge cake.

Oh look, it's a Palmers Green Kiwi.
Apols to Stephen, obscured by beak.
"We're not doing Christmas Jumpers this year," Said Jan. "The theme is New Zealand." Because, she explained, two of the group were going on holiday there. 

"I've never served pigeon before." I joked, tediously, as Jan shuffled in. "It's a Kiwi!" She put me rightpushing her beak out of the way, the sweat beading on her brow. Clad in several layers of foam and nylon she downed a cooling glass of Prosecco. The hire shop didn't have any actual Antipodean fauna, so we were informed we'd just have to use our damned imaginations. Someone suggested Jan looked like a baby kiwi. Hmmm. More imagination needed maybe?


We kicked off the evening with some kiwi fruit cocktails. That helped our creative thinking.

Following the pigeon kiwi, came sheep, some rugby players, several Orcs (I think, they are hard to tell from Vulcans in a North London dinner party), a Maori tattooed lady and a dark bobbed wig (all black). This is a group that takes their themes seriously, and rightly so. No point being a dabbler. A bird in the hand, etc.

It was a splendid evening.


Starters of French gnocchi with pickled pear and goats cheese cream (pictured left or above, or wherever Blogger decides to place it. It usually goes its own way). A split mains of either lamb shank or my roast veg layer bake. The palate cleanser was an ice of green tea and mint with a little bourbon syrup and I'd like to celebrate a double achievement here. Not only did I log the recipe as I made it so I can finally blog it (link coming soon), I also managed to take a decent photo of the finished result. Normally I take a 'taste it and see' approach which means I start from ignorance when I need a new batch.


And then dessert of chocolate... ah yes... dessert. 

Serving honeycomb ice cream on top of chocolate cakes. I really wanted to push the limits of my little chocolate fudge cakes. I was concerned they weren't moist enough. I tweaked the recipe - additional egg yolks - and reduced the baking time - 12 minutes. They looked great, felt firm. I turned the first one out, with maybe a little too much force, to watch it collapse through my fingers, the middle still molten. It seemed I had pushed 'fudginess' right into fondant. But Etien, caught it, ate it and declared it 'delicious' so we let them sit for a while to firm up before turning out the rest with a tad more deftness. They just held. Our guests also loved them. You realise after much baking that's there's a continuum of cakes. It looks like this:
Mousse > fondant > brownie > fudge cake > cake > cookie > biscuit.
Ours is somewhere between fondant and brownie. At least it will be when I bake it for 13 minutes. Let's call it the Squidge Cake.

Not really the Platonic image of cake is it?
I didn't serve this one.
New River Chocolate Squidge Cake
Makes 14 x 7cm cakes (about the size of a muffin).

Cream 250g of soft unsalted butter with 250g caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in four large eggs and four more egg yolks. Mix in 200g self raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, a big pinch of salt and 70g of cocoa powder (I use Valrhona). 

Butter a 7cm hole cake tin. A large muffin tin will be fine. Half fill the moulds. Bake on the middle shelf at 180°C for 13 minutes. I say 13 but you'll have to determine your own. It will vary depending on your oven. You should be able to see some molten mix bubble up if you make a hole in the top of one. Leave to cool for at least ten minutes then gently (GENTLY) turn out.

Baked for thirteen minutes. What a difference sixty seconds makes.










Tuesday, 8 November 2016

No more beef Wellington!



A naked Wellington - a fiendishly expensive, centre cut, Scottish beef fillet
Wellingtons make no sense. There, I've said it. For what is essentially a posh pasty of beef and mushroom they have a curious cachet. "Oh, a Wellington!" People say, in a tone of breathy reverence normally reserved for cases of unexpected nudity. But it's just meat and mushrooms in pastry. Now, don't misunderstand me, if you make one and invite me round, I'll eat it. But throughout my mastication, this argument will preoccupy me:
The heart of a Wellington is a centre cut fillet of beef; the most expensive part of a cow. For ten people you'll spend the best part of £90. It is a very lean and tender joint, ideally with a little fat marbled through to lubricate the meat.  To enjoy you should simply pan fry it over a very high heat. Being so lean the fillet benefits from some basting. Now rest, pat on a little herbed butter and eat. With a Wellington, you take this very expensive, lean, prized cut and make it as difficult as possible to cook properly. You wrap the thing in mushrooms - ok, great. Some people use pate - not great. Fillet steak is a subtle thing. Eat fillet and paté and you taste... paté. Now you wrap the joint in puff pastry. This makes it impossible to know when and if your joint is cooked to your liking. Basting is out of the question. Your meat will sweat instead. It means, of course, that there is no oven roast. That beef is now inside its own super-carb sauna. All the colour on the meat (colour = flavour) comes from the initial sear. There's no delicious crust. Even with modern digital probes timing is still vague; you have to allow for resting. Even Michelin starred chefs get this wrong. The ends will cook more than the middle so let's hope some of your guests want well done and some rare. Worse, that paté or mushroom is working hard at keeping your pastry soggy. Is that what you want with prime beef - undercooked pastry? Maybe you went old school and used some herby crepes to protect pastry from mush? Well done: another layer of insulation, preventing proper roasting. Another mouthful of unnecessary carbohydrate. When did you last serve pancakes with your beef? Yeah, and for good reason. Oh, and have you ever tried to wrap a tube of meat in a crepe, in a pastry case? Try rolling up a cat (neatly) in two oily duvets; it's a similar level of frustration. (I imagine. Put down your phone.) There's no roasting juices by the way so you'll have to invest in some other meat to make a gravy. Perhaps a kilo of oxtail and the same of marrow bone. These will need to be roasted, a stock made, port added (perhaps half a bottle) and reduced before you have something approaching a decent sauce.
Enough. No one likes a whiner. Sorry. But it had to be said.

Oh and then. THEN! You have to carve it. You want that Sunday supplement shot of a perfect ring of pastry with precision duxelles and pink meat. You rarely get it. It's like picking up glass plates with two hammers. Hot hammers. With no handles.

I have a solution. If you want that combo of fillet, mushrooms and crispy pastry I can deliver but done in a way that maximises all the assets. Dark roasted beef, cooked to your liking. Crispy and well risen puff. A soft duxelles of mushrooms and truffle. This is my UnWellington.

OK, I still have to make a gravy.

This is it. Yeah? 



It takes far less time too and can largely be prepped in advance. I make simple little hats of herbed puff pastry and bake to crisp and golden. A quick fricassee of mushrooms, shallots, cream and some truffle paste. The fillet here (my proof of concept) was pan seared and then roasted for about ten minutes. Even better, in future I'll do a reverse sear - a few hours at 55°C and then ten mins at maximum blast. Maybe basted with treacle and a black pepper butter. A pain free and predictable process delivering something that looks like this.


Yes, I thought you'd like that. 

I'm flirting with the idea of making little mushroom pastries and sitting those on top of the beef and pouring gravy over the lot. This keeps the duxelles hot and moist.

So, as far as this supper club cook is concerned, the Beef Wellington is dead. All hail the UnWellington. I just hope you agree.