Monday 25 March 2013

Chocolate Caramels

Start here:

I wanted to make some chocolate toffees. Not chocolate covered toffees but something more akin to the middle of a Reisen. Can't find a recipe, bizarrely. And Google search keeps returning toffees covered in chocolate. Now, any damn fool can dunk a toffee in chocolate. I was going to use some of my new silicon moulds.

First I tried making a basic caramel and then adding chocolate. Yeah, on that: it probably wasn't such a good idea to experiment with my best Valrhona... but I did. Stupid!

Of course, if you add chocolate to freshly made caramel. Read: caramel at 138°C, then the chocolate almost immediately splits into oil and solids. This is what it looks like.

It's a nasty, crumbly mess. Looks a bit like volcanic fudge. Which is probably why my family still ate it all.

The solution is to wait until your caramel has cooled but is still viscous and then add IT to melted chocolate (I added equal weights of chocolate caramel) and Whisk like fury as you add. Even then there was some splittage but it seemed to whisk itself better. The result was a fabulously (I overuse that word) dark, glossy, delicious, dental-work-worrying chocolate toffee. I then covered these in more dark Valrhona.

This is the toffee... in the nude.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Bacon toffee and corn bread!

Yup. We've been busy here in the NRR development kitchen. Spurred by an idea in an earlier blog I thought bacon in a maple toffee might not be a bad idea. Think of American pancakes with maple syrup and streaky. I'm thinking of an interesting, though none too light, amuse-bouche.

I found a recipe for corn bread in a Waitrose magazine which I thought would be an appropriate accompaniment. I bought some maple flavouring too for the bacon caramel. The corn bread was delicious. I made the corn bread in mini-muffin tins. Good size. I added tiny chunks of cheddar and jalapeño too. I need to work on the density though; these are too heavy for the restaurant.

Cornbread with added cheese and jalapeños

We're just at proof of concept stage here. It's all a bit ugly and ungainly. I have made a much finer version with very thin, very salty pancetta and glass like maple caramel... but I forgot to take a photo. Usual story. I think I'm going to have to invest in a decent camera.

Plastic? Do you take... bacon?

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Bloody, bloody, bloody cups! A rant.

Dear God it's infuriating. You're trawling for recipes on the web and at least half of them are on American sites. Nothing at all wrong with that. Well, yes there usually is. The US still uses a volumetric measuring system. Cups. I hate cups. I loathe volumetric measuring systems. What's wrong with weight? I have a scales and a container, why introduce another system of measurement?

Utterly ghastly

Cups brings to mind some 1950s American housewife in with apron and rolling pin, fixin' dinner. No money for new fangled scales, let's just do with a scoop of this and and half scoop of that, which is probably fine if you're making a stew but not if you're baking. We need precision in baking, more so in sugar work and confectionary. What if your flour has settled... or not? What if it's grade OO and much finer? And it gets worse: calls for a 'stick' of butter. You know why? Because measuring a cup of butter (or peanut butter or lard) is a right arse of a job. And then there's nuts and chocolate and sticky stuff like honey, maple syrup and molasses, which means you have to wash your bloody cups out and inevitably loose some substance. What next - pecks and bushels? A what!? Just tell me what it weighs. Oh, it sucks. At the very least, couldn't hokey US websites acknowledge the rest of the world and display metric too? At least with metric and imperial you only need one conversion table, with cups you need a different table for EVERY SINGLE ingredient. Apparently it was completely unregulated, with talk of walnut size pieces of this and that, before someone called Fanny Farmer came about and rocked their world with her devil-talk of level, regulated cups. Fanny Farmer! Jeez-a-loo.

And just for balance, I don't like teaspoons or tablespoons either... nor fluid oz or litres. It's too imprecise. Just tell me the weight. I don't want to have to be getting jugs out and squinting at the side. And I certainly don't want to be banging cups.

Fennel and Beets

This started as a main course for our first 'proper' vegetarian dinner. Now I've reworked it as a starter. I forgot to take a photo first time out so here it is, naked, before I dress it with a circle of puff pastry. This is simply four fennel bulbs quartered lengthways, roasted for 20 mins at 180°C with some olive oil and balsamic. After making a caramel I also add some seasoning: parmesan, coriander seed, thyme and bake for 30 mins until  the pastry's well risen.

You can use a frying pan or a proper tart tatin tin (so much fun to say that). I have both but I find the frying pan easier to manipulate.

I serve this with beetroot puree. Roast a bunch of beets for an hour at 180°C. Put the warm bulbs in a plastic bag and seal. This helps with the peeling. Peeling beetroot really sucks. You end up looking like a serial killer but it's worth it for the colour. Purée the peeled beets in a blender then pass it through a tamis (or any other sieve but a tamis makes the job much easier). Finally I add some butter (OK, lots), pepper, salt, lime juice and ground coriander.

This is after the blender but before the tamis.

For meat eaters, I garnish the dish with very crisp, very thin pancetta. For vegetarians I use deep fried basil leaves, something I should use more.