Monday, 28 January 2013

Soft, fruity, spicy, squashy, salty and brittle. My Favourite New Dessert

I've developed a 'new' dessert. I’m sure it’ll be very similar to some other (probably French or Italian peasant) dish but for the moment I’m going to bask. I’m very proud of this dish. I know there's nothing actually new in cooking, outside of the molecular gig.

This is it: pan fried brioche with winter fruit poached in a spiced syrup. Served with vanilla crème fraiche and salted hazelnut brittle.

Not enough apricots in this picture. Damn it!

Make a brioche in a loaf tin (I use M. Roux’s recipe), Yes, you can buy a brioche loaf but that’s not how I roll. I mean, you can buy sex but I’d rather make love!

The actual loaf wasn't this fuzzy.

Make the brittle.
This isn’t complicated but it can be fiddly (and burny – watch those forearms). Heat 200g of castor sugar in a wide pan. Go for maximum surface area; a frying pan is fine as long as it’s VERY clean. Bacon has no place here (although, if it was a maple flavoured brittle… OK, that’s one in the development book). Over a very low heat, melt the sugar and allow it to caramelise. You’re looking for a deep gold colour. The trick with making caramel is to LEAVE IT ALONE. If you stir it too soon, it will seize, the dreaded crystallisation. When it has caramelised, quickly pour this out onto a sheet of Silpat (or some silicon baking sheets. It's much trickier with baking parchment) and place another over the top. Working smoothly and quickly, roll the toffee between the sheets. You might have to pop the sheets into a warm over more than once to properly finish the job. You want a very thin sheet of toffee. No more than 2mm thick or it’ll be a jaw-breaker. Scatter about 100g of roasted hazelnuts over this and press in with the roller. Crumble some Maldon over this. You just want a hint of salt. Don’t use table salt. The crunchy sea crystals are important here. Again, while the toffee is warm (maybe another trip to the oven) score the surface with a long knife into thin shards.
Once cool, you can snap the shards off. The longer the better the more dramatic. If some break (they will) you can weld them together with a brief visit to a hot flame. This will make at least 20 shards.

Careful. You could take someone's eye out!

Make the syrup.
Add 300ml of water to 300g of sugar and heat gently to dissolve. To the mix add the peel of one orange, three cloves, a few peppercorns, two supermarket lengths of cinnamon and a cardamom. Bring to the boil, then back off. This is enough syrup for 6-8 people.

Prepare the fruit.
You want one plum, one apricot and six cherries per person. Stone the cherries and halve. Segment the plums and apricots into six pieces.

Fab colours that are preserved by the syrup

Make the crème fraiche.
You need a big tablespoon per person. Whip this with some vanilla seeds until firm. No one will complain if you add a dab of mascarpone or double cream, but not too much. You want to preserve the sour, zing of the crème fraiche.

To assemble.
Cut thick slices of brioche and pan fry in butter until golden. About three mins. Keep the slices in a warm over to crisp up.
Bring the syrup to the boil then back off a little (the syrup heat, not you; you need to stay close to the hob). Add the apricots and simmer for about three minutes, maybe less, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. It should yield easily with a spoon. Then add the plums and cherries. Cook for no more than two minutes.
Spoon fruit and syrup onto the brioche toasts, pipe or spoon the crème fraiche and add a shard of brittle at a jaunty, restaurant angle.

Hello 2013

I thought January was going to be a dud but we’ve had bookings every weekend. Some great parties. Some very late evenings. The braised lamb shank dish I do is proving popular, with guests and with me. It’s good to have an oven dish you can leave, happy in the knowledge that it will only improve if guests are late. It does need a good lamb stock. I make two litres and reduce the whole lot down for one boat of gravy. I served this with potato rostï, spinach, roast shallot and roast carrot and orange purée.

Fennel Fritters

These came out of the snow. Not literally… but because of the 3mm, er... blizzard, we experienced in early January, deliveries of essential foodstuff were kyboshed. I was after some samphire; something with texture to serve with fish. But I’m so glad I made these instead. A revelation. Maybe it’s because you don’t normally find that aniseedy tang inside anything deep fried but, whatever the reason, these are delicious.
Make a thin batter with 60g flour, an egg, dash of veg oil, 75ml of milk. Add to this some smashed fennel seeds. Let this stand for a bit. It helps the batter develop (apparently).
Thin slice some fennel. This is one occasion where a mandolin is all but essential. Dip the fennel in the batter and deep fry at 180°C for only a minute or two.

They look a bit weird here. Taste good though.