Sunday, 12 April 2020

Pears, plague and ginger... and bloody sourdough

This is a long one. You can guess why. Never mind. What else you doing?

It’s midwinter in my kitchen. At least, it looks like. Everywhere a fine frosting of flour. Occasionally a hanging doughdrop or dried gobbet of starter like a frozen tear; a baker’s lament. I HATE baking sourdough. It's one of those simple but deceptively difficult processes. But I must persist. On to the crisp crust and well aerated crumb.

A warning here: the cabin fever has compressed my sarcasm to a diamond point. I am such fun to live with at the moment. I know, and I'm such a blithe fellow normally.

Why have I returned to baking daily sourdough bread? Because we are in a time of Covid - a global lockdown. Also because the locust swarm of stockpilers has passed through all our shops and stripped the shelves of yeast. I had no choice really than to make a new starter. Faced with no new bread flour I also invested in a 16kg bag from our local corner shop that now more resembles a refugee supply depot. Best get kneading.

Although, of course you don't knead sourdough. You stretch it, usually on the hour, for 48 hours (it feels like) until the cherry blossom blooms blue. Or some nonsense. There's so much contradictory 'lore' in sourdough community: seam up, seam down, lots of leavening or none at all, autolyse or leave. Dutch over or open tray. Gah.

"Now divide your dough into two." Says the chippy, young Youtube baker, dragging his bench scraper neatly through a soft and silky pillow that responds to his touch like an expectant lover. Meanwhile there's me: an unsuccessful Moses facing the porridge sea. The bread god has forsaken me.

So yeah, results are... mixed. I'm yet to find a process that is reliable and that produces a consistent result. When I do, I'll doubtless brag about it all seeming obvious in hindsight. 20/20 eh?

This is my best one to date. Yesterday's. The day before's is now hanging from our plum tree awaiting the four tonne bird that has a big enough beak to break into it. Luckily little goes to waste as Etien, home from a closed Cambridge, will eat pretty much any wheat based, baked product so long as he can put enough (too much!) butter on it.


Anyway...

The supper club is obviously closed and has been for several weeks. We will doubtless return but sadly many great cafes and restaurants won't. Margins are thin enough anyway in this industry.This will be a catastrophe for so many local food businesses. My heart goes out to them; so hard to see your hard work killed off by something utterly beyond your control.

This recipe is for the last desert I served. It feels like an age ago, when Corona was something left at the end of the barbecue that you stuck a little wedge of lime into. It's a little wintery as a result but delicious nonetheless and will be great in the autumn when great pears appear again. Who doesn't love a great pear?

This is pears caramelised in a brandy caramel sauce and served with ginger ice cream and ultra crispy hazelnut and fennel olive oil crackers. It eats better than I photograph.

This dessert owes something, ahem, quite a lot, to and old Ottolenghi dish.

The crackers are well worth making on their own. They'll go well with most ice creams or soft fruit dessert or perhaps even with blue cheese.

Four components
Pears
Caramel sauce
Cracker
Ginger ice cream

The ice cream and crackers can be made well in advance. The pears and sauce will be done just prior to eating. The ice cream takes the longest so let's tackle that first.

Ginger ice cream.
Makes about a litre.

I wanted a big flavour here, in part as a foil to the inevitable sugar-cream-caramel fest. I was after a fresh flavour too rather than a cooked in taste so I added ginger in four ways: dried powder, syrup, crystallised and infused raw root.

The day before you start the recipe (Oh, now I tell you!) finely grate a large thumb size of root (no need to peel) into 300ml of double cream. Cover and leave to infuse in the fridge overnight. Before you add the cream, sieve out the root.

You'll also need a jar of crystallised ginger in syrup. Odd that they call it 'stem ginger' as it isn't; it's just peeled root.

In a saucepan mix 250ml full fat milk with100g caster sugar and 50g of the syrup from the ginger jar, over a medium heat until the temperature gets to about 75°C. Reduce the heat and whisk in six egg yolks to the milk and stir over a low heat until it starts to thicken. This happens at about 77°C. Well, apparently it does but I often find I'm in the low 80s. I check using my food thermometer, this has the advantage of allowing me to heat the mix quickly until it approaches the low 70s, then I can pull back and stir constantly. If you heat too quickly you will of course have, creamy scrambled yolks. Try as I might, I can't think of a use for that. Don't expect a heavy custard like shop bought Ambrosia, this is a crème anglaise; just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. To this, add a couple of teaspoons of ginger powder and some chopped up crystallised ginger (the stuff in the syrup we used earlier)

Once done, pour in the gingery cream you infused earlier and chill the mix in the fridge before churning in your ice cream maker.




Hazelnut and fennel seed olive oil crackers
Makes at least 10

I love a cracker and these are particularly good but simple enough to make with kids.

Set your oven to 200°C.

In a bowl mix 125g of plain flour, half a teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt and caster sugar, 25ml of olive oil and trickle in just enough cold water to bring the mix together into a dough. Don't beat the buggery out of it, we're making crackers not bread. No need to develop the gluten.

Pull off small balls of dough (about 15g each) and roll into cylinders. Now roll out the dough as thin as you can into silicon or baking paper into long thin shapes. Not quite papery but not far off. Brush these with more olive oil.

In a small bowl, crush a tablespoon of fennel seeds with two of blanched hazelnuts and two of caster sugar. Sprinkle liberally over the crackers.

Bake for 5-8 minutes on a baking tray, maybe turning the tray around once to ensure an even browning. Keep a close eye. Don't let them over-brown or they will be bitter.

Store, carefully... between leaves of baking paper in an airtight box.


Caramelised pears with brandy caramel sauce
Serves six (But allow one pear per person for larger groups)

Probably best to be fairly sober when you do this. Sorry.

Peel, core and cut into quarters as many ripe pears as you have people planned. In this case, six. Look out for Willams pears but Conference will do. Needs to be something aromatic. Mix the pear quarters in with 100g of caster sugar to coat. 

Put your thickest heaviest pan on a high heat. Cast iron would be great here. Have ready a bottle of brandy and 50g of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into chunks. We'll be flambéing the pears so take courage and turn off your extractor.

When the pan is really, really hot, place the sugared pear segments in and LEAVE BE for a minute or two. Don't push them around. You want to get a good colour on the edges. Now add a good glass of brandy and set alight. I turn off my extractor and light so I can see the flame. Once the blue flame has died down (this is why you need to see it) remove the pears and keep warm.

To the pan add the rest of the sugar, let it melt and heat to a caramel colour and then add in the lumps of butter. Stir to create a delicious sticky caramel sauce. Maybe add a pinch of ground cloves.


To serve. In a bowl add the warm pears and drizzle with the caramel sauce. Add a scoop of ice-cream and a cracker. Serve quickly. The ice cream will melt.























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