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.