Wednesday 29 July 2015

Crystallised rose petals

Start with these...
'I must be secure in my masculinity.' I thought, standing in the kitchen: overweight, long haired and bearded, surrounded by rose petals; brushing each one delicately with lightly beaten egg white before placing it with tweezers on Silpat and dusting with caster sugar. I must have made an interesting spectacle. If the lads from the Valleys could see me now...

In truth I've been wanting to do this for ages. I love the perfume and taste of roses - blame it on Fry's Turkish Delight maybe? - I just haven't had the wherewithal to remember to ask after 'ripe' roses. Sadly, they won't grow in my garden. They have to be perfect too and be a variety grown still for perfume and not simply for appearance. Maybe that's what happened with my rearing - grown for aroma not looks?

I was discussing menus with Mahan, who's dining with us on Thursday and mentioned that I was pining after some petals. Turns out her mother grows the right type of rose and Mahan, very kindly, dropped some off. 

I'm planning on serving the crystallised petals with peaches roasted in a bain-marie of rose and orange scented syrup stuffed with a nut crumble and served with a little vanilla mascarpone.

Brushed with egg white and dredged with sugar
Rose petals are easy to crystallise. It's a faff yes, but a soothing faff... and as we approach the work desert that is August, I need some balm. I'm rubbish with holidays.

Whisk some egg white until it's light and frothy and paste onto perfect petals using a good, soft pastry brush or very, very clean (let's say 'new') paintbrush. lay the petals onto Silpat or baking parchment, etc and sprinkle with caster sugar. I actually took mine a few turns in the food processor for a finer grind.

Bake (fan oven if you have one) for at least four hours at 50°C or until crisp. Don't be tempted to go hotter and faster or the petals will brown. Be very careful with storage. The petals will wilt with a whiff of moisture and will fall apart with even slightly rough handling. Delicate things.

I'm off to wrestle a bear now.

The end result, after a mere five hours

Edit. Here's the finished dessert, incorporating the petals... and the group responsible for it.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Poaching peaches... for Helen.

Poached, cooling... ready to be denuded. What fantastic colours
Lamb chump with pea puree and pickled red cabbage
"I thought I'd leave it up to you." Said Helen. Some groups are very specific in their desires, some are not. Both come with benefits, and their challenges. A specific menu makes you work harder; a cluster of aversions or allergies can make you more creative. It's good to have to rethink. A return to a favourite is a chance to get it just right for once again.
Helen was very trusting for her birthday meal. "Thought I'd leave it up to you."She said. A little enquiry revealed a love of lamb and asparagus and that Peach Melba is her favourite dessert. We decided on asparagus and duck egg starter, my lamb chump main and a dessert of poached peaches.

Helen, in white, in the middle.
Peaches are just right at the moment. Ripe and cheap. I don't understand the winter selling of these fruit. In July they are luscious, juicy and rich with colour and flavour. In November they are like eating very expensive candle wax (£1.99 for two, Waitrose!). However, even the best fruit can be enhanced by a little poaching, introducing some additional flavour and sweetness and leaving the fruit gleaming.

I poach mine in sugar syrup, usually in a deep (and very clean) frying pan. There are many favours to try. Elderflower works well, or raspberry if you want that classic Melba take. Here I went for rose, partly because a friend donated a bottle of rose liqueur. You can obviously use rosewater though. A basic sugar syrup (sometimes called simple syrup) is made by bringing equal weights of sugar and water to a boil. Start with 500g of each.

Some of my syrups:
Spice, citrus and vanilla
I always add some spices and citrus to my syrups too. Here I chucked in loads of things: peppercorns, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel. Cardamom is wonderfully aromatic but I didn't on this occasion. I have no idea of the quantities  You can't make a mistake really though. The clear syrup will take on the colours of the peach skins: a gorgeous, glowing ruby/garnet. The timings depend, naturally, on the ripeness of the fruit. The ones above were four minutes but as we progress through to firmer fruit, maybe eight or nine. I cut mine before poaching. I cannot yet find a way of removing a stone from a whole poached peach without making a major mush.

Once poached, allow to cool and then peel. You will need to peel, as the poaching turns the once downy coating into a tough tongue torment. I feel there must be something interesting to be done with them though. Perhaps if I stretch them out and crisp them up in a slow oven? It's tricky though because the working window between burny hot but pliable and cold, sticky rag is very small. Might be a nice garnish though: a weirdly shaped but wonderfully coloured sail.

Post poaching, you'll be left with a fabulous, rich syrup. It will keep for ages in the fridge. Use it for further poaching or pour it over ice cream. Combine it with whipped cream for a fake syllabub or cocktail it with lemon juice and vodka (2 vodka, 1 lemon, half syrup) for an interesting end to dinner.

I served mine with almond biscuits, a nutty crumble mix and a passionfruit syllabub. 

Another way to go, something I used to do in my 20s, would be to press the crumble mix with a little added butter into the peach halves and flash them under a hot grill. Serve with a good drizzle of the rose scented syrup and some frosted petals. Try and find a good old English rose variety that still smells of something.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Duck eggs... and how to sous vide them

Eggs. Duck eggs.
That's an egg. Specifically it's a duck egg. I now know more about duck eggs that I ever thought possible. I know they are 30% larger than a hen's egg (always hen, not chicken, strange) so you should cook two duck for three hen. That little white, springy thing so detested by Belinda is called a chalaza (plural: chalzae) and is merely part of the albumen scaffolding, keeping the yolk centred in the egg. It has two contra-twisted threads. Quite clever (but still disgusting, according to my wife). Duck has much more fat and protein. There are three types of white albumen which is contains different proteins to hen's so cooks differently. If it's zinc or potassium you want, walk not further. Duck's are the eggs for you. I care about none of the above. What does matter is a duck egg has a much larger yolk, which, let's face it is what an egg is about, unless you're baking with it. What also became important is the little known fact that duck eggs have harder shells and much tougher inner shell membranes.

Waiting for an egg.
I wanted to sous vide duck eggs to serve with my new asparagus starter. Sous vide meaning cooked in a water bath of any temperature, not just boiling. On instructional videos, I watched many chefs place eggs in the water without protecting them. Sod that. I bagged mine first. What if they cracked in the bath? I'd have barely set albumen all over my impeller. That would not do.

The asparagus dish works well with hen but they are too small. There's not enough yolky goodness. I had the idea of serving the eggs on the table in egg boxes - kept pristine for the occasion. It would be a fun bit of table theatre for guests to crack the eggs into a nest of buttered asparagus and a toasted rosemary crumb. A kind of make your own hollandaise. And it was. It works. There's no horror story here sorry.

The 70 minute egg. Nope.
The issue was the temperature and the timing. All the sous vide recipes I found were for hen's eggs. If I wanted a 'poached' egg I'd always done them for 13 minutes at 75°C but if you do this with a duck you harden the inner membrane which then sticks to the white albumen making it almost impossible to:
a. break the egg and
b. nothing comes out when you do.
The egg sits in the shell, sniggering at your ineptitude. Stupid cook!

So I tried many variations. 70 minutes at 64°C. Yup! Nooo. Yuk. Yes, it was cooked but way too (I have to say it) snotty. Who like that texture? Apart from my mate Paul Mari, who I suspect would neck them raw. Also, having such a long cooking time is impractical in the kitchen. I can't have guests waiting an hour while I cook an egg! But I can't start cooking until they all arrive; people sometimes are delayed. So what temperature delivered a decent texture without the recalcitrant membrane? 

It's 69°C. Cook your duck egg, straight from the fridge, for 20 minutes. And that's not a rounding off. I tried 27, 25, 24 and 22. Fabian and I love a poached egg. But maybe less so this week. What with serving guests at the weekend, I went through 40 eggs in five days. 20 minutes at 69°C. Delicious - at least for the first ten times.

Egg in action - being eaten.

Monday 20 July 2015

Lemon cream crumble

It's not a lemon crumble in the traditional sense of apple or blackberry. Sorry. This is a bit cheffy-poncy. These days anything with a crunchy topping can be called a 'crumble' and I have fallen foul of this fashion. This is a non traditional topping anyway, using not just rubbed flour and butter, but oats, bran and nuts for lighter and crunchier doings.

Mentioning blackberry crumbles makes me remember picking the things with my mother off overhanging walls in Abertridwr and Senghenydd (yeah, pronounce those English people). We'd take the berries in our bramble blooded hands and soak them overnight to remove dust and detritus. In the morning, each bowl would have a little flotilla of drowned maggots floating in the water. The fruit would then be combined with not nearly enough sugar to produce a fruit compote of startling tartness that would end its days heaving under a heavy floury crumble. Happy days.

This cream crumble only happened because I wanted something to serve with my poached peaches and orange sorbet. Though both delicious and very summery, both are a little tart and soft and need a mollifying cream AND a contrasting crunch. It seemed sensible to combine both requirements into one dish. This could be eaten on its own of course. Call it a syllabub crunch or something, which technically it is. You could also pipe it into profiteroles and serve with a fruity sauce.

The cream can be lemon, vanilla, any kind of fruit. Make a puree and combine with stiffly whipped cream. In this case, I used lemon curd. The topping is actually very granola-like, using oats, nuts and bran. Almost sounds healthy doesn't it - if we close our eyes to the butter and sugar. Our eyes maybe, never our hearts.

Oaty, nutty crumble topping (doubles up as granola)

It's a versatile thing this. I imagine (not tried yet) you could pour this into a shallow tray of melted chocolate and make your own granola bars. I used almonds here as the topping was to marry with peaches and orange but obviously change the nut to work with your dish.

I've also an idea (doubtless not new) about omitting the sugar and making a savoury crumble to go on something cheesy or to add interest to a soft dish of aubergine - god knows they need it. I also used malted flour but feel free to use plain or wholemeal.

In a bowl, combine: 50g of rolled oats, 25g of bran (breakfast stuff is dandy) 40g of malted flour, 50g of crunched up almonds (or any nut), big pinch of salt and 50g of caster sugar. Mix well. You could add spices or zest at this stage. Perhaps ginger, cinnamon or cloves for a fruit topping. Pour over 60g of melted, unsalted butter and mix in.

Spread the mix in a shallow tray or baking sheet lined with baking paper or silicone and bake at 180°C for ten to fifteen minutes. The longer: the darker: the more flavour, but be careful not to burn it. If you are putting it on fruit to make a proper crumble you don't need to pre-cook it at all.

Lemon Curd.

The instructions for curd almost always tell you to mix the ingredients in a bowl over simmering water. Standing there, stirring for half an hour. Sod that! This is often tricky and always a tedious faff. I do it straight over heat in a thick pan. It works fine, with the caveat that I use a thermometer to monitor. Your eggs will take the heat without a problem up to about 70°C and you can heat them quickly up to this point. Once this critical, protein denaturing stage is reached though you must whisk continuously and quickly. This should take no longer than 15 minutes.  Have a bowl of very cold water ready to cool the mix when it thickens, else you could end up with sugary scrambled eggs. Your washing up bowl or sink is fine. Just don't leave the curd pan there and forget about it, ready to be ruined by the careless toss in of a used teacup - as someone may have once done in our household.

Zest and then juice four unwaxed lemons. You can used the cheaper waxed but there will be less zesty zing and that's what we're after. If your zest is not very fine, chop with a knife until it is. I use a micro-plane grater so don't need to. In a heavy pan, combine zest with juice and 200g caster sugar, 100g butter, three eggs and a additional yolk. Whisk together thoroughly over a low heat. Then raise the heat and whisk until thick. There will be a noticeable labouring when it's thick enough. Immediately take the pan off the heat and place in cold water, whisking still. If you get some lumps pass the whole lot through a sieve. Chill. It will set to a satisfying, gelatinous judder. Store in jam jars etc. Unopened, it will keep for weeks in the fridge. And if you open it, it won't keep at all.

Now all you need are some fantastic, fragrant, gently poached peaches. Recipe coming soon.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Cauliflower purée

Purée. Puree. Sheesh. Keyboard faff. My fingers seem to grow fatter and less nimble with every entry. At what point can I start dropping that damn accent off the 'e'? Not yet it seems.

One of those - but I don't like cauliflower - cauliflower dishes. I've never seen people fall on my cauliflower with such enthusiasm. Some have even been spotted smearing the last molecules from the serving dishes with scraps of Yorkshire pudding. It gladdens my heart. It comes from Tom Kitchin (was ever a chef better named?).

You could also try roasting the cauli in some butter until it goes a gentle golden colour, then  purée or just eat. Wow. Or imagine using one of those purple or orange varieties? Or both! I must do that.

Cauliflower pureé
Enough for dinner for several people.

In a saucepan, gently sauté (more bloody accents!) a finely chopped onion in butter until tender - no colour just translucency. Add the white parts of whole chopped cauliflower and cover with milk. Add four whole, peeled garlic cloves and boil for fifteen minutes then drain (reserve the milk). Purée until very smooth in a blender with some more butter (naturally) and a little of the reserved milk. Season with salt and white pepper to keep the purity of colour. It's a wonderfully textured thing. Velvety.


Sunday 5 July 2015

Crunchy/chewy almond biscuits

These started life as a chunky biscuit in Ferran Adrià's family cookbook. I wanted something more delicate to eat with the passionfruit soufflé I serve; a little extra crunch. Possibly I'll make these into biscuit spoons to eat the soufflé with, I've done something similar before. These must be the simplest biscuit ever, with the added bonus (unintentional so all the more pleasing) that they are gluten and dairy free. The only fat is in the almonds. The nuts will kill some people I suppose. Nature gives and nature takes away.

The Spanish way
They can be soft and chewy or brittle like biscotti, or a little of both, depending on how long you cook them. They are Spanish by design but the taste takes me straight back to a Brynmill bakery in my Swansea youth. As a seven year old, I would agonise between an iced slice or a crisp macaroon. Iced slices were devilish hard to eat with small hands though, the oleaginous custard filling would often lubricate an escape from between puff pastry confines and flubber onto the crumb, ash and dog hair floor. Macaroons were the safer bet. 

Almond biscuits
Makes that tinful below. I think I'd eaten a few by then.

Wisk one large egg white until stiff. With the whisk running, slowly add 135g of caster sugar. Whisk until it's stiff and glossy. Add a scant teaspoon of natural almond essence if you want that old fashioned British macaroon taste (I do). Pour in 135g ground almonds and gently fold these in. You could also add lemon or orange zest at this stage; one of each maybe? Try not to beat out all the air. Pour the paste onto baking paper, or even better, a baking silicone sheet and gently spread out with a palette knife until even in thickness. Scatter with flaked almonds. A sprinkle of caster sugar makes everything sparkle but can be omitted. Wow, just how camp did that sound?

Bake at 180°C for anything between ten and twenty minutes depending on how fluffy/crunchy you want. The ones pictured were baked for about 14 minutes. Turning the baking tray around after ten minutes is a good idea, unless you have a perfect oven. Cut into shapes while still warm. Allow to cool before attempting to lift or they will fall apart. 

These seem very susceptible to moisture so keep in an airtight container while you're pretending not to eat them.