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.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Raspberry sorbet

Do you know how hard it is to photograph sorbet? It melts for a start. You want a nice outdoor shot in the sun. But the summer sun is hot it turns out. Sorbet is also sticky so I line up a shot and then I notice the red thumbprint marring the glass. And it melts. I still can't make a quenelle so I'm using an ice cream scoop to make perfect spheres, that then adhere to the scoop despite me dipping it in hot water, so the perfect sphere deforms on its way into the bowl. And then it melts. It's melty.

The colour's fantastic though, isn't it? There's an intensity of flavour too that is simply absent from commercial tubs.

Photographing sorbet is much harder than making it. We seem to have a glut of well flavoured fruit this summer (2017): peaches, nectarines, strawberries, raspberries, plums; all gorgeous. So juicy I have to eat them with a tea towel in my lap.  British cherries of course still taste of almost nothing sadly. If anyone knows otherwise, please leave a comment below.

Sorbet, aside from being the perfect end to a summer dinner, is also a great way of using up bruised or over-ripe fruit. I buy up piles of 'sell by' punnets that slosh around the shelves this time of year.

Sorbet is fruit pulp and sugar, churned while freezing. Simple. The only issue is the amount of sugar. Too little and it's tart; too much and aside from the diabetes, it won't freeze. Commercial mixes are measured with a sugar refractometer but I use an egg instead. Yup, an egg. It's a density floaty test thing. Details here. (If you click on the link, notice how poor their sorbet photo is too. It melts you see. Ha. Culinary schadenfreude.)

This recipe makes a lot. No point faffing about with trivial amounts when dealing with something that's frozen for a living.

Raspberry Sorbet
Makes about two litres.

Put 1.5kg of ripe British raspberries in a thick pot. Thick so you don't get hotspots that catch and burn. Add 400g of caster sugar, two tablespoons of water, one 140g tube of glucose syrup (helps the texture) and the zest of a lemon. Keep the lemon, you'll probably want the juice later. Put a lid on or cover with foil. Let it sit like this for an hour or so until the sugar starts to make the raspberries weep their juices.

Slowly heat this mix. You don't need to boil it. You want to soften the fruit to destruction while dissolving the sugars. Taste when done. Don't take my word for it. Recipes are just blueprints. You still have to monitor the constriction and make your own decisions (Belinda!). Your ingredients will not be the same as mine when I wrote this. I may have had very sweet raspberries. Who knows. You may need some more sweetness. Add sugar and dissolve. Taste. You may think it needs some acidity (probably). A zing of lemon juice. 

The mix needs to be strained through a sieve. There are lots of seeds. You don't want the seeds. Push the mix through with the back of a ladle or the 'big spoon' that all kitchens seem to have acquired (never bought). Avoid using wooden spoons - unless you enjoy sawdust sorbet. Do this in batches, emptying out your seed pile occasionally. I haven't yet found a use for raspberry seeds and I hate throwing food away. If you know one, leave a comment.

The mix should be slightly too sweet. Now that's a rubbish direction I know, akin to the 'don't over work the mix' instructions. Freezing food makes it taste less sweet so get it as you like it then add a little more sugar.

Chill this mix for a few hours, typically overnight, and then churn in your machine. You might think about throwing in some whole fruit too. Once churned this needs another overnight freeze before serving.

Next, I'm making some strawberry ice cream. I'll link this up once written.

Another poor shot. This is halfway through plating up a dessert of glazed peaches with raspberries, rose meringues and (missing) polenta biscuits and raspberry syrup.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

A tale of two Lemon Meringue Pies

"I do like a bit of goo," said John. "Gooey meringue."
"Lemon meringue tart?" I asked. I was keen to improve my own.

This is a tale of two tarts. Or should that be 'pies'? I think any difference there was, semantic or actual, has long since receded past the point of meaning and is now only useful to start an argument in the pub.

For John's birthday, I wanted to really 'goo' it up so went for the chef's favourite: Italian meringue. I did another for my mate Mahan; old skool, with French meringue, gently baked for a golden crust.

Which is best? Will you fall for the age old clickbait of asking a question at the start?

A successful LMP is all about contrast, of flavour and texture. Sweet, crisp pastry filled with a semi set lemon custard filling, almost puckingerly sharp and crowned with light, fluffy, so sweet meringue with a crisp, toasted top. For both I used a sweet shortcrust pastry; my usual Roux recipe. For the filling I knew I didn't want to use cornflour, wanting to avoid that gelatinous thing. 
That'll be a lemon

I'd made Serious Eats lemon bars last year and really liked the texture and tang. This would be the starting point for my custard. That recipe also makes a point of sieving the lemon zest. Some recipes don't do this and I have no idea why. I'm not partial to picking what may as well be bits of inert yellow plastic out of my teeth. Mind, worse than that is not using zest at all. That really confounds me. You might as well use battery acid (not really) for all the lemon flavour the juice bestows. Bizarre.

Although thought of as a British classic, pretty much every Western nation claims a pudding of lemon custard with pastry as its own; the French, Swiss and Americans especially.

I want to share this recipe with you I found on the fascinating Foodtimeline website. It's from England, possibly East Sussex, 1769.

A Lemon PuddingBlanch and beat eight ounces of Jordan almonds with orange flower water. Add to them half a pound of cold butter, the yolks of ten eggs, the juice of a large lemon, half the rind grated fine, work them in a marble mortar or wooden basin till they look white and light. Lay a good puff paste pretty thin in the bottom of a china dish and pour in your pudding. It will take half an hour baking.
- The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald

Isn't that fantastic? What I love about old recipes is that time and place fall away and you are just talking to someone who cares about their food. I understand this recipe exactly. It makes perfect sense and sounds delicious; perhaps even modern! Food is eternal, as is a cook's pride. I'm recently returned from Kerala in South India where I had many fabulous, stimulating conversations with chefs. Language and culture matter little when you're discussing recipes. The world is one kitchen.

[Takes off Kaftan and Lennon glasses.]

I'll take the recipe up to the meringue mark and then split off, Italy one way, France the other. Puts us somewhere in the Alps I think.

Lemon Meringue Tart
Serves 10

Pastry base

Made in a 23cm tart tin with sides of about 3cm. A removable base is very useful.

For the base make a sweet shortcrust pastry. I use a food processor to pulse everything together. Blend 250g plain flour, 100g icing sugar, sifted and pinch of salt with 100g unsalted butter cubes,  until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually pulse in 2 eggs, beaten. When the mix begins to come together, gather into a ball, remove from the machine and knead a few times until it is smooth. Flatten into a round, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour. if you don't relax the dough your pastry will shrink. You don't want this. It's also much easier to roll a cold dough.

Once relaxed, roll out the pastry until it's a few inches bigger than your tin. Drape the pastry over the tin and gently ease it up to allow it to drop to the bottom of the tin. Don't squidge it in, it will thin and tear. Carefully push the pastry into the corners (to ensure a nice sharp shape) and leave an overhang of around 1cm. Cutting with a scissors if necessary. Repair any holes with additional pastry. Prick all over with a fork, including the sides, to prevent the pastry bubble rising. Place the tin in the fridge for another half hour. 

Place the tin on a baking tray. This makes it much easier to handle and you don't risk knocking chunks off the delicate crust. Blind bake (I use ceramic beans in scrunched up baking paper) for 20 mins at 180°C.

The finished case with eggwashed interior.
Carefully remove the baking beans. And now while the pastry is still warm and pliable, using a rolling pin, roll across the hung over pastry edge, pressing down to cut a perfect edge. You will need to rotate the tin and roll a few times to get a clean cut.

I much prefer this technique to sawing away with a blade as invariably crispy bits fly off.

Eggwash the insides of the pastry (one egg with a little milk) and return to the oven for around another 20 minutes. You want a deep gold colour. The eggwash makes the pastry a little more water resistant and so helps keep the case crispy when you add the custard. 

Let the tart cool before you add the custard. I tend to keep mine in the tin until just before serving.

Lemon custard filling
Use a good, heavy pan. You don't want hot spots scrambling your eggs.

Pastry case filled with thick lemon custard
In the pan mix: 70g of cubed unsalted butter, 3 large eggs, 135g egg yolks (about 8 large eggs) 400g caster sugar
Pinch of salt, 
310g lemon juice, from about 8 large unwaxed lemons. Into this zest 10g of zest (probably four lemons).

You can do this traditionally which takes FOREVER, or you can use my custard technique. Use a food thermometer. Over a medium heat bring the mix to around 65°C - you will start to see boil bubbles forming at the sides of the pan - and then stir constantly until it starts to thicken at around 78°C. Immediately chill the pan in cold water - the sink is fine. 

Sieve the mix into a jug. You'll need to push it through with the back of a spoon or ladle. This removes any zest and bits of solidified egg that would otherwise marr the mouth feel.

Pour the custard into the pastry case, cover with foil or paper and chill until needed but not more than a few hours.

Which Meringue? The Mont Dolent of decisions.

French or Italian. Up to you.

French is 'traditional' and as it's baked gives you the crunchy topping. It won't keep long though so has to be made just before serving.

Italian, made by whisking whites with a hot sugar syrup keeps for days in the fridge but can't be baked. No crispy crown but a much creamier texture. Italian is safe for pregnant people too as it is completely cooked.

You might want to refer to my egg white whisking guide.

Oh, I weigh my egg whites now. Not only because I usually have a container full in the fridge but also because eggs vary so much in size.

Whisk 240g of eggwhite (*about* 6 large eggs) to firm peak stage in a very clean bowl. Incrementally add 300g of caster sugar and continue to whisk fast until the mix is super white shiny and firm. It should not feel grainy between your fingers. If it does, the sugar can leach out during cooking which means soggy things underneath.

The general rule with French btw, is 50g of sugar per large egg white.

Pipe directly onto the chilled lemon pie custard or just pile on and freeform with a fork. Bake immediately for 40 mins at 150°C until the meringue is crusting. The egg white insulates the custard underneath so don't worry too much about that melting.

Finished with French

Good layering and the meringue still very light and fluffy

This is different to French that you may be more familiar with. Italian meringue has a creamier texture than French, needs no further cooking and is stable for hours. French will dissolve back to egg and sugar after ten minutes or so. Italian meringue is made by adding a 120°C sugar syrup to whisked egg whites and continuing to whisk.

Here I took 240g of egg white (about six large egg) and added a syrup made from: 6 tablespoons of water, 360g caster sugar and three teaspoons of glucose syrup which helps prevent sugar crystallisation. 

Bring the egg white mix to soft peaks and then dribble in the hot syrup. And yes, this means knowing how long the whites will take and the syrup to heat. Experience is all here. You then continue to whisk until the meringue cools to room temperature. Without an electric mixer you'll need biceps of Thor (or perhaps Ganesh - ha). I used a tip from the always brilliant website and rubbed a slice of lemon around the bowl first. The acidity helps stabilise the egg whites while you whisk.

You can now store the meringue until needed. I tend to keep mine in these disposable blue piping bags, clipped at either end.

Pipe the meringue and for extra flavour and showmanship, toast lightly with a blow torch, holding the flame at right angles to colour the edges.

Finished with Italian

Of the two. the Italian looks better but I might prefer the French for it crunch. Sadly I have no pictures of the Italian tart's interior. I gave the slicing job to John (of the goo, if you remember) and... well, I shouldn't have. My fault. It had been a long, merry night and the servings were a little deconstructed. Deconstructed like it had been dropped from a passing plane. No one seemed to mind.