Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mrs Judy Bell and a multi part tart of very fine cheeses

Mrs Bell's Blue

"Hello, can I speak to Katie please?"
And I am singed with excitement. This is Kate Bell; sister of Caroline; daughter to Judy Bell, maker of one of the UK's finest cheeses: Mrs Bell's Blue. Sounds like a jazz ballad, tastes like... minimum ten week matured, ewe's milk. Katie said the quality of the milk they get is very high and they work with their farmer to ensure consistency. Milk obviously varies with the seasons.

Katie and Caroline of Shepherds Purse Cheeses 
This is an exquisite cheese; nothing like a shouty Stilton, this whispers in your ear: cream... nuts... a gentle zing of piquant blue. Follow me, follow me... it sings. Ahhh. Closer to a top quality Roquefort but... even better (and less salty).

I first tried it in Holtwhites Bakery last Christmas (thanks Kate). It was the start of a long relationship. Mrs Bell's Blue with some fruit bread and a dab of plum relish was my festive highlight (all available at Holtwhites).

I rang Katie to check if I could use a picture off their website. She said yes. So this is her and her sister. They make the cheese to their mother's recipe as part of Shepherds Purse Cheeses up in Thirsk, Yorkshire, the company they now run. Mrs Bell's is one of seven. Six of which I've not tried. However... Joy! They also do a complete mail order service so we can soon all be unwrapping our septuple of truckles.

Blue cheese tart
I wanted to make a tart to celebrate the cheese. Why a tart? Cooking a blue convinces many a reluctant guest to try its dairy goodness. I especially wanted to serve it with pickled pears and a hazelnut salad. I've now fed this to over 50 friends and guests and NONE have disliked it. This includes at least ten of the 'not keen on blue' brigade. All loved it.

Trouble is, if you churn blue cheese into a tart mix, you tend too get grey tart. Not cool. Especially this particular 'you really should throw those pants out now Steve' shade of grey. So I decided to make a cream cheese tart and then layer the blue on the top in thin slices. This also preserves the cheese's distinctive appearance. Of course, top loading like this means you can use different cheeses easily. Hell, you can even use two or three in the same tart. I've tried this with small cubes of Ticklemore goats cheese. Works well too.

Mrs Bell's Blue Tart
Serves 10 (so long as some don't mind t'ends)

First the pastry. This is most of the faff. I make a cheese and thyme, egg enriched shortcrust, using a food processor. This is robust, easy to handle and crisps up well. You can of course do this by hand and let's be honest, if you do, you'll probably know more about pastry than me.

Cheese and thyme pastry.

In a food processor add: 125g cold unsalted butter to 250g of plain flour. Blitz to breadcrumbs. Add a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, picked off the stalks, 30g of finely grated parmesan and a good grind of black pepper. Blitz until incorporated. Add one beaten egg. Pulse until incorporated. Now dribble in 40ml of cold water as you pulseuntil the mix starts to ball up. You may not need all the water. You may need slightly more. It should be a stiff dough. Don't add salt by the way. The parmesan does that job.

Remove the dough and knead a little to make it elastic and smooth. Not long. Flatten in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour or more. You can also freeze it.

T'tin for t'tart
I use a loose bottomed 23cm oblong tart tin with sides of about 3cm. Obviously you can use a round one.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry until thinner than a pound coin/Euro. No idea what that is in the USA. Sorry. Drape into the tin and gently push the pastry into the corners. overlap the pastry on top. Don't cut it yet as the tart will shrink down the sides and you'll have something more akin to a big cracker than a tart. Prick all over the bottom with a fork (of the pastry you fool!). Line with greaseproof paper (easier if you scrunch it up first) and fill beans/rice/coins to bake blind. Bake for 18 minutes at 180°C. Then remove the blind filling and bake open for another seven minutes. The inside base should be crisp and browning. I can't bear pallid pastry. Now brush the insides with egg wash and bake for another three minutes. The case should now be light and crisp. The egg wash helps waterproof the pastry preventing any unwanted sogginess.

While the pastry is still warm, trim the edges with a knife.

I need a much better picture than this.

Cheese filling.

The filling is a doddle.

Beat four egg yolks with 200ml double cream and 250g of cream cheese and a good pinch of salt. Note: If you're making a goats cheese tart, you may want a huge handful of finely chopped chives. 

Pour this into the tart case. 

Finely slice up 200g of Mrs Bells Blue cheese (or some other cracking British blue) and lay over the top of the mix. You should be able to completely mosaic the surface.

In the middle of the oven, bake at 180°C for at least eighteen and up to maybe twenty five minutes. I don't know why it varies so much. You want a little wobble; a sexy judder, when you excite the tart. DON'T bake it firm. The filling will set. It's all cream cheese and egg yolk remember.

Remove and allow to cool. Serve it warm or at room temperature. It won't cut well when hot. 

This demands some acidity and crunch which is why I went for a pickled pear and a roasted hazelnut salad, with a dressing made from the pear pickling liquor and some good quality, nutty rapeseed oil.

This is the Ticklemore goats cheese. See the little chunks?

Monday, 11 December 2017

The New River Dining Brownie

Terrible name: brownie. The Americans christened it. They aren't noted for their imagination in naming desserts. It's cooked so what shall we call it? A cookie. It's a pie with Key limes. Key lime pie! Ice cream in a split banana. Banana split. See. But surely they could have done better than this. It's brown. What shall we call it? Sheesh. It was Fannie Farmer apparently. Yes, a real name. She has form. It was her who popularised cups, the insane volumetric measuring system that reigns still today in the US. 

This delicious, fudgy dessert started as chocolate cookie but then Fannie made them as a tray bake and the brownie was born. I am very proud of my version but I use the same recipe as everyone else... with some tiny twists. I'm not being modest; they are tiny. Across all the books and the web, there isn't much variation. So if the recipe is the same the world over what makes a good brownie. Two things:

1. Quality of ingredient, but especially the chocolate. See those pale brown commercial things? Not enough cocoa. That's the chief brownie sin. They should be dark in colour; interestingly dark, like the back corner of a Jazz club. I use Valrhona, the world's best in my opinion. Also one of the most expensive. If not, use Lindt or Green and Blacks. Brownies are not good cheap. The chocolate should be dark - 70%. Milk chocolate is just too sweet and lacking in cocoa. 

2. Baking time. The other brownie sin is dryness. They should be gooey. If in doubt, under bake. They'll still be edible and delicious. You just might need a bowl. Commercial brownies are often light and dry from too much lost moisture. Don't let yours be. Their weight should sink a cardiologist's heart.

I use dried cherries and pecans but any nut will do. Pecans have a pleasing and easy crunch though. I've baked with soaked sultanas when I couldn't find cherries. They work but lack the tartness.

Makes 20 dessert size or 40 kid friendly bites.

Wonderful shiny mix. Don't eat it yet.
Soak 75g of dried cherries in hot water.

Melt  250g unsalted butter. Remove from the heat. To the warm pan add 250g of the best dark chocolate you are willing to afford. Stir in to melt the chocolate. This is my way; much quicker than the bowl perched over boiling water and mine's never split.

Mix together in a large bowl: a pinch of salt, 80g of best quality cocoa powder, 80g plain flour, a teaspoon of baking powder and 320g caster sugar. Into this, mix the still liquid buttery chocolate. Add four large beaten eggs and then the drained cherries along with 75g of chopped pecans (or any nut). Finally add two teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in a little boiling water to make a paste.

Line a shallow 25cm baking tray (needs a decent side) with baking paper. Actually I use two oblong baking trays but that's only to ease cutting and improve presentation. The mix will rise about 20% when baked so don't brim the tin.

Bake for no more than 25 minutes at 180°C. The mix should be risen with a very thin crust but still sexually soft. Be brave. Being made of massive amounts of butter and chocolate, they will harden a lot on cooling. Just like your arteries! Allow to cool before trying to extract from the tin.

These demand to be eaten with vanilla ice cream or at the very least a gloop of double cream/blob of creme fraiche. This is not the time to be worrying about calories. In the supper club it's usually with some crystallised pecans and a salted caramel sauce; a proper, bitter caramel.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Cucumber gel. What?

Cucumber gel with glazed salmon on marinated courgette ribbons and garnished with red amaranth

Let's get the confession done early doors shall we?

I don't like cucumber in its natural firm form. I've always winced at the green tubes of vegetable slime, sliced or diced, especially with tuna. insipid and slippery stuff; like licking a sea cave wall.

However, juice the thing, season it, add a little apple for piquancy and acidity and you have a light, flavoursome sauce that's just perfect with fish, especially oily fish (as not pictured above. That's glazed salmon).

Saucing fish is a tricky business. Something as fragile a flavour as cod or sole needs respect and a tentative touch. I'm not a fan of piling on heavy cream or herby butter based concoctions And Tomato? Olives? Nooooo.

And I realise that it's winter and cucumber is the quintessential summer veg (technically it's a fruit of course. Of course), normally seen in delicate, decrusted bread triangles; nibbled with pinkie poised. But as I explained in an earlier blog, I'm rubbish at timing.

So much for the bantz. Shall we get on with the recipe?

Oh. No. One thing. A warning. The recipe uses a couple of unusual ingredients: agar agar and xanthan gum; normally found in the 'home baking' aisle where only the freaks and vegans huddle. Be careful with the xanthan gum. It's a very useful emulsifier and thickener often used in gluten free baking to add structure. BUT It is the very WORST thing to drop on your floor. Guess who did? All over. You will find any moisture turns your tiles into a slime rink. I had to scrub my floor eight times. Oh, it was hilarious.

Cucumber Gel.
Makes enough for 8 people as a main meal.
This is based on Stephen Smith's recipe.
You'll need a juicer. You could try blending the cucumbers and then fine sieving through muslin though.

In a small pan reduce 200ml of (not from concentrate) apple juice to a sticky syrup with a pinch of salt and two of sugar. Keep an eye on it. Don't let it burn.

Juice one and a half cucumbers. Add a quarter of the juice to the apple syrup in the pan along with 4g, just over half a packet, of agar agar - often sold as 'vege gel' or 'vegetarian gelatine'. Whisk in and bring to the boil. Simmer for no more than a minute. Set aside to cool and set. It may look very strange when cool. My first one did. Don't worry.
In the remaining juice, add a quarter teaspoon of xantham gum and whisk in. Add this to the agar agar/apple/cuc mix and blend until smooth. Put in the fridge to firm up. Remember this is a gel not a jelly. It should be pourable but not runny. If it blobs, whisk in a little water or (better) some more cucumber juice.

Not to worry
The reason it's done in two stages is because the cucumber juice discolours when heated with the agar agar. Adding the unboiled juice maintains a rich, fresh, grassy green. Boil the whole lot and although it'll taste the same, it looks murky and unattractive. Trust me. That was my second attempt after thinking, this is quite a palaver, why don't I just...

This works well as a sauce with all kinds of fish but also as a side salad with cheese. Mix it with more diced cucumber, diced apple, a little finely cut mint and some rape seed oil. The colour is fantastic.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Ham hock terrine (and pea and ham soup)

I'm really not very good at blogging. The actual writing bit I can manage, and the photography is improving, but, but, but, the social interfacing, the digital glad handing, the brand building... I'm woeful at. Other food bloggers match their writing to major events; so you'll get a build up to Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's, Easter, summer... Others, remembering that blogs are international and their readers aren't confined to Palmers Green, will include events from other populous parts of the world so they'll feature festivals such as Thanksgiving, the World Cup or Diwali. Not me.

But no more! Here's my dish to celebrate National Finland Day. December 6th. 100 years a country. Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää, Suomi!

No not really.

It is just by chance that I have recently made a dish that is perfect for Boxing day so I could pretend this is part of some advent recipe scheme. It's not. I wish. In fact, the next blog will be about a cucumber gel. About as Christmassy as flip flops.

Ham hock is a very popular, very cheap and very flavoursome joint of pork; even more so if it's smoked. Given the choice I prefer most things smoked. Apart from my house. Although Etien may disagree there. Very often when I'm enthusing with a skillet, he'll come in coughing conspicuously, turn the extractor to full and leave with a sanctimonious look skywards and a door slam. He's 17 now so obviously he is beyond reproach.

Making a terrine of the ham hock gives you a delicious, handy food item that can be left in the fridge and sliced as needed. Just dandy for that hungover December 26th dinner. Two hocks will cost about a tenner and serve 10-12 people.

It is a time consuming process but most of that time the pork is doing the work, not you. You will need a tin of some form but there is no reason why a terrine need be a long oblong. Go mad and make it circular.

There is a side benefit too. As part of the hock prep, you'll end up with a couple of litres of hock stock (ha). Boil this up with some frozen peas and you have a brilliant, next-to-no-cost pea and ham soup of a colour that will amaze your eyes.

A warning though: you will need some pig feet and these are only available from a butcher. My family seem to have an inexplicable revulsion to pig's toes. I know not why. But they will run out of the kitchen if I come at them brandishing a trotter. It's bizarre really because the hock is just the back of the foot really; the ankle.

Ham Hock Terrine.
Serves 10-12

From yoour butcher buy two ham hocks (smoked or not) and two trotters. Get the butcher to split the trotters. Small children will love inspecting the insides of the feet. Teenagers and adults will run away crying 'ew, ew, ew'.

In a large pot with plenty of water, bring the hocks of the feet to the boil. Skim scum. Boil for about ten minutes and then pour away the water. No, they're not cooked. That was merely the wash boil. Now replace the porky doings in the pot and add: a bottle of white wine, four tablespoons of cider or white wine vinegar, a handful of peppercorns, a couple of sticks of chopped celery, two bay leaves and a bunch of thymeparsley and rosemary. Top up the pot with cold water to cover the hocks and feet.

Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours, scum skimming occasionally. You'll know when the hams are done because the bones will be mobile. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the liquor. 

You're scum you are!
Now remove the hocks from the liquor. Keep the stock but throw away the trotters, or give to a delighted dog. Unwrap the hock skin and fat and pull out the bones. Pick the meat apart into nuggets, cleaning off any white fat.

Taste the cool ham stock. Hopefully not too salty. It should be flavoursome. This will be your terrine jelly. Take a litre, strain though a sieve, and add about 6g (a packet) of veggie-gelatine. It's actually agar agar. It's in the home baking section of the supermarket. I've found the ham stock by itself doesn't have enough gelatine to set properly. You could reduce the stock of course but that risks rendering it sea water salty. Whisk in the agar agar and bring to the boil for a few minutes. Allow to cool.

This makes quite a gentle jelly. I wanted a slippery mouth feel. I don't want rubbery. If you do. Add twice the amount of agar agar.

In a bowl, mix your ham pieces with a big handful of chopped parsley and a tablespoon of capers. You could also add small pieces of apple and/or cornichon. I didn't as I was serving mine with a pickled apple salad. Taste. Add some pepper maybe but no salt. Remember your stock is fairly salty.

This was my first terrine. The one that was tricky to cut. Lay your pieces across not along.

Line your terrine tin (bowl, tray, whatever) with two layers of cling film allowing a serious amount of overlap to cover the top of the terrine. Fill it full of the ham mix. I recommend lying the pieces sideways (parallel to the ends) rather than lengthways  This makes it much easier to cut, especially if, like me, you're after neat slices. Press the meat down firmly. Now pour in the agar agar stock to just cover the meat. Bang the terrine on the work surface to ensure the liquid fills every crevice. Cover with the cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Now it's ready to serve. Carefully turn out onto a board, remove the film and slice.

I served mine with some warm pease pudding (blog coming soon) and a pickled apple salad, which is one of the finest things I've ever come up with. It works brilliantly with pork.

And finally. You'll have a couple of litres probably of the ham stock. To make a startlingly tasty soup, strain the stock, add a kilo of frozen peas and bring to the boil. Simmer for no more than two minutes. Liquidise. Season. You know pea and ham soup is so often this dreary cardboard colour. Nuh huh. Not this. This is the colour of bright peas.

If you have some small pieces of the meat, so much the better. You could always add some bits of cooked bacon or pancetta, some chopped mint or a blob of creme fraiche. Free soup! For the day after boxing day.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Rose tea ice

The palate cleanser is a ritual of ours. We always serve something slushy between mains and dessert. In truth I have no idea why. I'm sure someone (probably a Frenchman) has concocted a justification but it's evades me now. Something dainty and chilled consumed with a teeny-tiny spoon does seem to help the stomach contract - probably just a placebo, but a pleasant one.

It began with Pineapple and lime ice. Then came the much more complex Green Tea Ice with hints of citrus and bourbon. Occasionally it's a tangy orange sorbet. This one was a result of our 2017 Indian trip. It's also the easiest. If you can make a cup of sweet tea, you can make this... if you can get hold of the brew. 'Everyday ingredients made differently' is our mantra, well this is rose tea. It ain't everyday unless you live in the mist-fall* Mountains of Kerala. It's doubtless available via Amazon but that rather spoils my attempt at mystique.

This was purchased in bulk (six tins) at the Munnar Tea Museum. It has working machinery (and not enough safety guards for my liking) walking you through tea from bush to dryers to rollers to bag.

Rose tea is a traditional digestif so it seemed like a good choice for a palate cleanser. It also contains antioxidants like quercetin and ellagic acid. Anyone? It has a good blend of aroma and mouth drying tannins. However, I wanted more rose flavour so I also added some dried petals. These are available from Indian supermarkets or online. The colour you see is entirely natural too.

The Munnar Tea Museum
Floral-ity in cooking must be approached with considerable caution. It's a short walk through the nose garden of delicate lavender, rose or violet to Nan's knicker drawer, or worse, a tumble into the under sink area of detergents and air freshners. For that reason, I avoided rose-water. I wanted neither Turkish Delight nor medicinal pastilles. The rose here is all natural, in petal form.

Full disclosure, this does not appeal to some. Even in this frozen form I've had guests tell me it's too perfumed. But that's the exact reason others like it.

One surprising thing I learned about tea bushes is they are in fact very old and very small trees; bonsai, if you like. They only want the new tips so it's easier to keep the plants dwarf. Every one of the millions of trees are carefully hand trimmed. On the landscape this looks magnificent. Mile after mile of deep green, corduroy hills; tea thickets interspersed with tall, lean, silver grey Eucalyptus for shade.

*Mist-fall? Before my copy checker chides me (hello Ming), here's the evidence. I walked out of our plantation hotel early one morning to see this, cascading down the Western Ghats.

Rose Tea Ice
Makes 2 litres

In a large jug or bowl, add 40g of rose tea to two litres of just boiled water. Don't add more than this. Your tea will be bitter. Stir in 500g of caster sugar. Keep stirring to dissolve. Taste. you might want more sugar. Remember freezing reduces our perception of sweetness. Add a big handful (such precision) of dried rose petals and stir. Cover with clingfilm and leave for an hour. No more, don't want stewed tea.

Strain the tea through a sieve into a clip-lock plastic box. Chill in the fridge and then freeze overnight. Shake vigorously every few hours to encourage those crystals. The sugar will prevent it freezing block solid.

To serve, scrape with a fork into small glasses.

Tea picking in Kerala. I believe this is destined for Tetley.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Dulce de leche ice cream (with raspberries)

Dulce de leche ice cream on a bed of chocolate crumb, shortbread biscuit, freeze dried raspberries,
fresh raspberries and raspberry gel.

I need to apply my raspberry gel more evenly. In fact, I need a thicker gel.

"This is the best dessert I've eaten."
"What? Today?"

I'm not good with compliments, which is handy as I'm rarely over-burdened by them. I usually swat them away with fairly bad grace and an explication of either pathological politeness or simple drunkenness on the part of my guest. But... I've experienced versions of the above exchange three times in one week now. I have a hit on my hands.

Before I'm accused of the humblebrag ("Looks like they're giving awards to anyone these days." Tweeted a BAFTA winning writer friend of mine once.) I readily and unashamedly acknowledge this ice cream is very good. But the combination with raspberries seems to hit many people right in their limbic system. I didn't expect that.

It's September. Scottish raspberries are at their best now. That helps a lot. To my mind, raspberries pick up where summer strawberries leave off. Try and find the freshest, least mushed pack that you can. Buy them the day you plan to eat them and leave them out of the fridge. Raspberries have the essential tartness that foils the sweetness of the dulce de leche ice cream so well.

Which brings us onto... dulce de leche? It's a Spanish phrase which means milk sweet. It's made by boiling condensed milk, sealed, still in its tin.  Forget water into wine; this is milk into toffee. It feels like some rich magic, milk transformed into caramel. I've not yet tired of pulling back the lid to reveal the transformation.

I know I keep claiming to be a British cook but hey it's only a name. Condensed milk is hardly exotic.

Some important tips:
Remove the labels or the paper and glue may gum up your cookware.
Lie the tins on their sides or bubbles will form under the lips and will clatter for the duration. 
Make several in one go. The contents will keep for years.
Most importantly: use plenty of water and ensure the tins are never in danger of being exposed to the air. Yes, they could pop.
Let the cans cool to room temperature before you open them, as a face spray of boiling toffee may spoil your day.

Simmer for three hours and the thin, white, sweet milk becomes a thick, toffee like substance tasting of caramel and vanilla. It's wonderful stuff. You may even wonder, while you sit with a just opened tin and a finger, why anyone would bother taking things any further? And in Spain and South America it's often used for dunking churros (deep fried batter sticks) or mixed with banana to make banana cream pie. Well, stay your hand and pull on your apron. Home made DdL ice cream is a revelation.

Yes you do. You know you do. You know you will.

Dulce de Leche ice cream
DdL cream
Makes about one litre

Stand one 397g tin of DdL in a jug of warm water. This makes it easier to deal with. Whisk 200ml of double cream to soft peaks. Now whisk in the DdL. This produces, unsurprisingly, a creamy soft dulce de leche that could be chilled and eaten as a mousse. It is intensely sweet though. Put this to one side.

Make some plain ice cream base using my usual quick custard technique but with the following ingredients: 250ml milk, 100g caster sugar, four egg yolks. You'll need to read the link.

Instead of adding cream in the final stages, add the DdL mix. Chill, then churn in your ice cream maker.

To assemble the dessert...
I made little moulds of ice cream using some silicone muffin bakeware. Easier to pour in just churned soft ice cream and freeze the mould on a metal baking tray. To release the ice cream pour a little boiling water into the tray and around the mould to allow the ice cream to just soften. Then pour off the water and invert the mould onto the tray. Your ice cream blobs should pop out like cakes. You could, of course, just scoop it out of a tub.

On top of the ice cream I placed a thin shortbread biscuit covered in freeze-dried raspberry bits.  Around the plate I placed fresh raspberries doused with raspberry gel.

The gel is made by adding equal weights of frozen raspberries with sugar in a glass bowl bain marie. Gently steam the two together for half an hour over simmering water. I use frozen raspberries, not only because they are much cheaper but you get a better flavour from the already slightly dehydrated fruit. Now sieve the sauce and bring to the boil with a tea spoon of agar agar ((vegetarian gelatine - available in all supermarkets. No idea why is it is twice named?). Allow to cool to a gel.

Each ice cream pat sits of a bed of mixed biscuit crumb and finely blitzed dark chocolate. This was to add bitterness  crunch and contrast. It also stops the ice cream from sliding across the plate in transit from kitchen to guest. The crumb is made of all the shortbread dough that doesn't make it into the final biscuit.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Pesto crackers

I haven't blogged much recently. Sorry. Does it need an apology? If you have to ask...

I think one of the reasons is I'm less and less engaged with recipes. It's now a case of making stuff up and then constantly modifying. This means I'm less inclined to save the details. After five years of cooking, if not commercially, then fairly seriously, I'm at the point where I have enough experience to bring together ingredients to achieve my desired result. Well... sometimes.

I'm also sure now that what people need to learn is not recipes but techniques. You know the stuff about not giving some bloke a fish, but teaching him to (presumably, if you're an agri-multinational you then charge him for river access, rod licence and a bait permit)? Yeah, that. Know how to cook and you don't really need a recipe. Much better than following instructions without instinct.

So is this a recipe? Yes. Of course it is. I'll just get on with it while you chant 'hypocrite'.

As it was summer (kinda) I was serving lots of salad based starters: marinated courgettes, heritage tomatoes, crab and shaved fennel. All good but all lacking some textural contrast; some crunch. This cracker was the outcome of that lack. I often serve it in shards, stuck into cheese mousse (as below) but increasingly it was fun just to put a whole, uncut cracker in the middle of the table and let guests snap off what they wanted. Goes well with a smooth, light cheese such as a mild goat or especially ricotta; as a more cultured crouton. Obviously it's great with tomatoes. It works as a snack with drinks too; baked thicker and cut into small pieces.

I'm trying to find some British dairy based product to serve with it as so far it's all French or Italian. Phillip and Keith, the Tottenham whey wizards of Wildes Cheese (our local producers) have promised me a taste of something they call Young Brian. I'll let you know. (Loved the Roux film, chaps. "Don't you light those fires with me!")

Big Pesto Cracker/Biscuit.
Makes a big thin one about 45x25cm or a smaller fatter one

Mix in a bowl, 200g plain flour with a big grind of black pepper, pinch of cayenne, 40g finely grated parmesan, a big bunch of basil, very finely cut (at least one supermarket packet). Perhaps some parsley too. Better if you can find the pots of Greek Basil which seems more punchy and less wet when cut.

To this mix add 50ml of olive oil and slowly, slowly, just enough cold water to bring the mix together to make a dough. The amount will vary, depending on how much basil you used. You don't need to knead anything. Just ball it up to resemble something that will tolerate rolling later.

Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Roll between two sheets of kitchen silicone or baking paper. Flour the top of the dough first to make it easier to remove the top sheet. Roll out to around 45x25cm, about big enough to fill a full size oven baking tray. It should be less than the thickness of a pound coin. Or not. Look, thicker works too but will take longer, slower baking.

Before you bake, prick holes all over with a fork or, better still, a pastry pricker (looks like something you buy in a BDSM shop). This stops random bubbles forming. Finally, add a high handed but sparse sprinkle of sea salt, not table salt. This looks attractive and adds another punch and crunch.
Sub or dom?

If you want to make shaped crackers I tend to bake the dough halfway then remove and cut shapes or just slice into squares with a long knife. Doing it this way avoids any drag with knives or cutters than can shame the shape. Place back into the oven to finish.

For thin crackers you need about 15 minutes at 200°C. For thick maybe 25 at 180°C. The important thing is to take them out when they SMELL cooked. They should be golden brown with darkening edges. You might want to turn the tray at the mid point to even out the bake. All ovens have weird air flows, with some sides hotter than others. The higher the bake, the more crunch and flavour but leave them too long and you'll have bitter biscuits.