Sunday 22 January 2023

A Wassail Trifle


First layer: Polish gingerbread hearts
I do make things that aren't trifles, although based on my recent blogging output, I can understand if you don't believe me at all. But I saw these lovely Polish iced gingerbread hearts (the brand name is Kopernik) in the Christmas clearance sales and they spoke to me very clearly and said they wanted to be trifle. They are very nice with a cup of tea, too, if you don't want the rest of this hassle. The flavour reminds me a bit of Swiss Basler L├Ąckerli, but not as chewy a texture and no candied fruit.

Once I had settled on trifle, I thought about other flavours. I really liked the layers of citrus in the Jubilee trifle last year, and the citrus is so lovely at this time of year, but I really wasn't feeling that with gingerbread. The answer was obvious. Pears. And then I changed my mind because I had 5 very nice Egremont Russet apples in the fridge. 

Second layer: Brown sugar roasted apples

I roasted the apples with brown sugar and cinnamon according to a Diana Henry recipe - although hers is for unpeeled, uncored, halved apples and I did mine in chunks for ease of eating.

Then a layer of jelly - also based on a Diana Henry recipe - flavoured with a traditionally-made hard cider and Somerset cider brandy.

Once the jelly was set, I added a maple & cinnamon creme diplomat, and when that was set (not, I confess, quite as firmly as I wanted) I topped it with whipped cream, sprinkles, toasted almond flakes and some mini apples preserved in Calvados syrup. Very pretty, very delicious, not too sweet.

As I was putting all the layers together, it occurred to me that it was more-or-less seasonal too. Not because apples are in season now, but because a couple of weeks ago we were supposed to go to a local Iron Age Hillfort for a Wassail. The Wassail hasn't run for a few years because of Covid, but this year it was back on. But the week it was supposed to happen the ground was too soggy and it wasn't safe, so they postponed, then this week it was too cold and the group we were going with were dropping like flies with various illnesses and work commitments. But the combination here of cider, apples and spices is very much in keeping with a Wassail. So hopefully this trifle will be taken as an offering by any deities listening, and help produce a good harvest of apples this year.


Friday 29 July 2022

Malted Caramel Blondies

This recipe is not photogenic. We're not doing it for the 'Gram. There are no vibrant colours, no chocolate, no oozing, luscious toffee, no artful dribbles of icing. It looks like a plain, brown, utilitarian cake. Maybe a little dry. The last one to go at the bake sale. The piece you take, politely but unenthusiastically, when offered by someone you don't know well enough to be honest to. But behind that unprepossessing, unfrosted facade, it tastes fantastic.

I've been on a pottery summer school - 4 days last week building, back today to glaze the bisque-fired pieces. And on the last day of last week the teacher mentioned it was her birthday so I said I would bake something for today. Now, usually I would do something citrussy, both because I like it and because it's a crowd pleaser. But another person at the arts & crafts centre is very proud of his lemon drizzle cake and I felt that bringing something similar would be needlessly antagonistic.

These have layers of stuff making them taste good - there's browned butter, and wholemeal flour for nuttiness, soft brown sugar and chunks of caramel (which mostly melt) for rich caramellyness, and vanilla and malted milk powder to round things out. These are quite a chewy, rather than gooey blondie. If you really want goo I guess you could reduce the cooking time a bit, but I like them like this. They probably keep well but I didn't get a chance to find out.

Folding in the caramel pieces

Malted Caramel Blondies (makes 18 generous pieces, could be cut bigger or smaller)

250g butter

300g light muscovado sugar

2 eggs

1tbs malted milk powder (I used Ovaltine) dissolved in 2 tsp vanilla extract

250g wholemeal plain flour

1/2 tsp salt (I use Diamond Kosher, adjust quantity for the salt you use)

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

125g soft caramels (I used Werthers with a soft centre, but I think original Werthers might hold their shape more) chopped roughly into pieces

First make the browned butter. Put your butter into a saucepan that's quite a lot bigger than you think you need, because it will foam up. Melt it over a medium heat, swirling gently, and continue to swirl until it is a rich brown colour and smells beautifully nutty. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof mixing bowl big enough to hold the rest of your ingredients. Make sure you get all the little toasty bits from the bottom of the pan - we're not clarifying the butter, we want those bits.

Allow the butter to cool.

Preheat the oven to 160C (fan). Line a 7" x 11" baking tin with baking parchment.

Beat the sugar into the butter, then add the eggs, one at a time, then the malt & vanilla mixture. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder, and then mix the dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture. Fold in the caramels.

Scrape the batter into the lined baking tin. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until set but just slightly soft in the the middle. Cool completely in the tin before cutting into pieces. Although it probably wouldn't hurt to serve them warm with ice cream as a dessert.

Saturday 4 June 2022

Jubilee Trifle

Trifle - with my trifle spoon - on the buffet. Picture by the party host, my friend Sharon.

This weekend the UK is celebrating the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. 70 years on the throne. I was trying to remember the last royal occasion where there was an extra Bank Holiday (making a 4 day weekend) and garden parties and so forth, and while I could remember that it rained a lot and I wore a very good t-shirt and made a dessert with lots of berries in a Union Jack pattern, I couldn't remember what it was actually for.

Turns out it was the Diamond Jubilee, 10 years ago. And to be honest, what I said then - that I am conflicted, that a hereditary head of state is obnoxious, that the country is in a very bad way and this feels like a very expensive distraction technique - all still stands.

This time around, Fortnum and Mason ran a competition to find a Platinum Pudding - a dessert to commemorate the occasion, with a recipe that could be made all around the country. The winner was a lemon and amaretto trifle, inspired by the lemon posset the Queen had at her wedding. 

I love a St Clements Trifle - I mean, I love a citrus dessert anyway, and I not only love the way lemon provides sprightliness and orange rounds out the flavour, but I love that in the UK the combination of lemon and orange is named for a nursery rhyme - but I didn't particularly care for the winning recipe. So for the garden party we attended, I took the inspiration and ran with it.

Slices of lemon Swiss roll (bought) around the base and sides of my trifle bowl, left open in the fridge for a couple of hours to dry out a little. 

Then a very small sprinkle of Cointreau. 

Then a lemon and orange jelly (same method as the winning trifle recipe, but less sugar syrup and more fruit juices) with orange supreme suspended in it. I let the jelly start to set before I poured it into the trifle bowl, so that it wouldn't make the cake completely soggy and so the orange supreme wouldn't all sink to the bottom. 

I let that layer set completely while I made the next layer, a lemon and orange creme diplomat, made by cludging together this recipe for lemon pastry cream and this recipe for vanilla creme diplomat.

This is not a dessert to make when you get home late from work. This needs time and many bowls.

After I spread the creme diplomat layer over the set jelly layer, I let the whole thing chill over night.

This morning I scattered shreds of candied calamondin zest over the creme diplomat, and whipped cream, stabilised with cornflour a la Rose Levy Berenbaum's method and flavoured with a little of the syrup from the calamondins.

FINALLY I garnished it with a lot of sprinkles and shards of citrus meringue, made with 2 of the egg whites left over from making the creme diplomat. 

And fortunately it was absolutely delicious and well worth the effort. The layers had just the right balance of stability and tenderness and the layers of citrus flavours were really fresh and bright.

If it isn't vulgarly over-dressed, is it even a trifle?

Friday 12 March 2021

Florentine Slice


What a year. WHAT a year. Honestly, words fail me. As far as these things go, Paul and I have been very fortunate - our housing has been secure, none of our dearest loves has been ill, our time-tested internet shopping habits have served us well. Urchin has found having both of us at home all the time absolutely ideal. 

It's just the confinement. The narrowing of life and experience. The loss of fleeting, casual contact with other people. I am an introvert by nature and had no idea just how much I value those tiny instances of connection until they didn't happen any more. Looking at exhibitions online just can't compare with wandering through a gallery. Having a long chat on the phone isn't the same as attending a reading and then sharing a meal. Somehow spending time with actual people is more nourishing than just messaging or speaking, regardless of how freely you speak.

You wouldn't know from this blog, but I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the last year. With restaurants mostly closed and local delivery services unreliable, I have cooked most of what we've eaten, three meals a day and snacks. I am profoundly tired of cooking. But at the same time I'd mostly rather bake a cookie than buy a cookie because doing one fills in a couple of hours as I decide what to bake and then do it, instead of just the gratification of eating it.

I wasn't sure how these were going to go. We'd run out of the previous batch of biscuits (chocolate hobnobs) and had no eggs. I initially thought of a round of shortbread, cut into wedges, with half a glace cherry pressed into each piece, but as I searched for eggless cookies with glace cherries I kept coming up against Florentine recipes. But I really wanted shortbread.

And lo! Unto us a Florentine slice was born. The caramel layer is quite soft, like a Millionaire's Shortbread, instead of being snappy and chewy like a proper Florentine. For something I cludged together and crossed my fingers over, these are very good. Something about this year that is actually worthy of being remembered.

Florentine Slice (Makes about 18 pieces, depending on how you cut it)


175g butter, softened

85g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

200g plain flour

25g rice flour

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla bean paste with electric hand beaters until light and fluffy. Mix in the flours and ginger and fold & smear together with a spatula to a dough. Press into a baking paper-lined 8x11" pan and pat to an even layer. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.


50g butter

50g double cream

100g soft light brown sugar

50g golden syrup

50g plain flour

50g mixed peel

50g glace cherries, chopped

75g pistachio nuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan)

In a small bowl, combine the flour, mixed peel, glace cherries and nuts. In a small saucepan combine the butter, cream, sugar and golden syrup. Over a low heat bring just to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in the combined flour, fruit and nuts.

Pour the fruity caramel mixture over the chilled base and gently rotate the pan to encourage it into the corners. Bake for 15-18 minutes until evenly browned and bubbling.


100g dark chocolate

While the slice is baking, finely chop the chocolate. As soon as it comes out, sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the slice. In a few moments it will all have melted, so nudge it to cover the slice completely.

Allow to cool in the tin (which takes much longer than you'd think for the chocolate to set) before cutting into small pieces.


Saturday 21 March 2020

Passionfruit Pie

"May you live in interesting times" the apocryphal saying goes. With this coronavirus pandemic business, the times certainly are "interesting". And unsettling and worrying. And weirdly mundane, as laundry still has to get done, kitty litter needs to be scooped and meals still have to be cooked. In fact, even more meals than usual because Paul is working from home so all of a sudden lunch is required.

We were supposed to have Paul's mother staying with us for a month, but the South African government closed the borders a day before she was due to travel. Disappointing, since it was the first time she'd planned to come to the UK in several years, but being effectively in lockdown in a home that is not your own wouldn't be entirely cosy.

I had planned several very good meals for her stay. We wanted to cook some of the things we really enjoy which she may not have been familiar with, and also just take advantage of having an extra body in the house to justify a bit of extra indulgence. There were going to be curries and barbecues and cakes. Lots of vegetables prepared in interesting ways. Many, many cups of tea.

Having expected her to arrive on Wednesday morning, my grocery order for this week still contained a lot of the things I had on the menu for this weekend. We'd invited Paul's niece and her husband and Paul's sister in law to join us to celebrate Mothering Sunday and were going to pull all the stops out on the meal. Despite all the news about panic buying, denuded supermarket shelves and grocery deliveries arriving half empty, almost everything I ordered arrived - fortunately I'd had a chance to edit the order before the site crashed and had removed the very large standing rib roast that was an extravagance for six people and completely absurd for two.

The ingredients for the dessert arrived. Paul has revealed, 20 years into knowing him, that he really, really, really likes passionfruit. He also is quite partial to key lime pie. I concluded that passionfruit would probably be acidic enough to thicken the condensed milk and eggs in the way limes do and lo! Passionfruit pie was born. The crust is crunchy, the filling is fragrant and smooth and it's very, very easy. Although if this rush on eggs continues, it may be a historical artifact.
No filter or food colour, just lovely egg yolks

Passionfruit Pie (makes 8-10 slices. You can decide how many people that feeds)

140g digestive biscuits
70g roasted, salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped in half
80g butter
9 passionfruit
2 limes (you need the juice and the finely grated zest)
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks (I used particularly nice eggs with lovely glowing orange yolks, which gave my pie a gorgeous colour)
150ml double cream (optional) to garnish

Preheat the oven to 160C, fan

Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan. In a food processor, combine the digestives and nuts and process until the biscuits are fine crumbs and the nuts still have some chunky bits (if you don't want to wash up the food processor, crush the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin and chop the nuts by hand) and mix the crumbs into the melted butter. That's why you melted the butter in a larger saucepan than you needed.

Press the buttery crumb mixture very firmly into the base and sides of a pie plate. I think your hands are the best tool for this, but you can use the back of a spoon if you insist.

Bake the crumb case for 8 minutes.

While the crust is baking, scoop 8 1/2 of the passionfruit out into a mini processor and reserve the last half passionfruit for garnishing later. If your passionfruit don't come in multiples of 3 you can go nuts and use 9 whole passionfruit for the filling and an extra one for the garnish. It's the end of the world! Let your hair down. Whizz in the mini processor until the pulp on the seeds has broken down and the seeds are starting to break up a bit. This maximises the amount of juice you get out of them. Strain the passionfruit into a 1l measuring jug and add the grated lime zest and juice. This should give you about 200ml juice. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks and stir until smooth. You will feel it thickening almost immediately.

Pour the filling into the baked crumb crust and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes or until set but still with a bit of a jiggle. Allow to cool completely and then chill for a couple of hours before serving.

Whip the double cream to peaks, pipe it on if you can be bothered or just splodge it as I did, then garnish with the pulp from the reserved half passionfruit.

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Cookbooks 2019

This hasn't been a great year for blogging, from my point of view. Not a lot I have cooked has been worthy of a whole post, so I've mostly been sticking photos on Instagram as reminders to myself of what I have been eating, and making notes on Eat Your Books and hoping it's enough to replicate my results if I want to. But here we are, staring down the barrel of December, when people are thinking about what to get their food-inclined loved ones for Christmas. So here are the four cookbooks, released this year, that I have cooked the most from.

And just as a by the way, I don't have affiliate links or make any money from this, any links I have inserted are purely to help you find things. Also, I bought all of these myself and would do it again.

They all have really good recipes, but the main thing I love about them is the writing. Dishoom, Mandalay and Baan all tell stories which give context to the dishes in a way that I really love.  Diana Henry's writing is always delightful: evocative and inviting, but the other three give a sense of place to the cultures and cuisines they are writing about which I think is important when you are cooking from outside a culture.

Dishoom is a British chain of restaurants, modelled on the "Irani" cafes in Bombay. The food is a lot better than the majority of neighbourhood curry houses we've been to (there are excellent exceptions, but most of the Indian restaurants we've been to in this country haven't been very good), the atmosphere is relaxed and they are reliable. Even though you nearly always have to queue. It took me years to get Paul into one, and now he is a confirmed fan. When I saw that they had a book coming out, with the famous House Black Daal recipe in it, I had to have it.
Dishoom's garam masala is not like bought, ground garam masala
The Irani cafes apparently had their heyday in the 1960s, but Dishoom tries hard to capture the essence of them, and set a scene for when and how you eat the dishes in the book. I don't think my Kejriwal quite captured the grandeur of the Willingdon Club, but they tasted lovely.
Kejriwal - fried eggs on chilli cheese toast

It appears that I took no pictures of the daal - so imagine, if you will, a bowl of dark brown sludge that tastes deeply of hours spent perfecting it. It is rich, creamy, subtly spiced and utterly entrancing. If you think of a bowl of lentils as being penance in food form, this will show you how very wrong you are.
Spicy lamb chops
Everything I have made has been delicious, and well worth the extra effort of making my own masalas and making batches of fresh ginger and garlic purees. A technique I hadn't come across before, which is used in grilled meat dishes, is to do a short, first marinade in green papaya puree, before adding an aromatic second marinade. It's very successful - it seems to open the meat fibres so that the aromatics really penetrate, and it makes the meat incredibly tender. To the point that even with flat metal barbecue skewers, it's hard to turn kebabs because the meat just falls apart. So delicious!
Okra fries
MiMi Aye has become a friend through the magic of social media. She's a brilliant human - passionate and articulate whether she's pointing out racism and discrimination or being geekily enthusiastic about pop culture. Her first book, Noodle! is great and I thoroughly recommend it, but you can easily see that Mandalay is the book she wanted to write. It's deeply personal - which is not something you often say about a cookbook.
Duck egg curry - a long-standing favourite
Burmese food, apparently, tends not to be pretty food. Mostly muted shades, it makes up for the appearance with incredibly punchy, savoury flavours. I have shared some of my more photogenic pictures, but there have also been several intensely flavoured, aromatic bowls of brown and beige.

Tofu fritters like you have never experienced tofu before, ginger salad, chicken goujons and two dipping sauces

Goat and split pea curry, and Burmese coleslaw
Lahpet thoke - pickled tea leaf salad
Lemon salad

Baan is also a clear labour of love. Having read Kay Plunkett-Hogge's Adventures of a Terribly Greedy Girl, I was familiar with her Thai childhood, and adult love for Thailand and its food. It's interesting to juxtapose MiMi and Kay's experiences - one brown woman born in the UK and for years not being quite Burmese enough and one white woman born in Thailand but not quite Thai enough. I feel extremely fortunate to have their books in my hands.
Classic gai yarn - incredibly juicy chicken
 As delicious as the recipes I have tried have been, my favourite thing, I think, is the method of brining the chicken for the Classic gai yarn - I have used it many times since I first bought the book, and used the same brine for my most successful ever roast pork.
Northeastern-style [duck] laarp

This meal danced all over South East Asia, but the rings are Kay's Squid deepfried with garlic and white pepper
Diana Henry's last book, How To Eat A Peach, was glorious. From the tactile flocked cover to the stories to the carefully considered menus, the whole thing is a treasure: a fantasy of long lunches and expansive hospitality. From the Oven to the Table is a very different kettle of fish. You may not have noticed, but the UK is in a very tense and uncertain period at the moment, which I think has created a need to cocoon and seek comfort - this book certainly seems to be an expression of that.
Croque monsieur bread pudding
Of course, having previously heard that Diana plans several books ahead, she was probably considering this book well before the 2016 referendum. So it may not have been a response to the current climate, but it certainly seems to articulate the zeitgeist. These are dishes to give heart. To nourish the people you hold dear before you let them go back into the world.

Lamb chops with sweet potatoes, peppers and mojo verde
Not all the dishes are bung-it-in-the-oven-and-wait: some have a few stages, some are made by the final addition of a relish or sauce, but they all feel quite achievable. The recipes also aren't trying to be too clever - it's not about "I bet you didn't know you could cook THIS in the oven", it's about dishes that the oven is the right thing for.
Baked lime, passionfruit and coconut pudding
Baked sausages, apples and blackberries with mustard and maple syrup
Roast peppers with burrata and 'nduja
Tomato, goats cheese and olive clafoutis with basil
I honestly couldn't pick a favourite from these books, so don't ask me. I think I will go back to all of them again and again, whether it's to re-read a passage or to take inspiration or actually follow a recipe. And I can't imagine anyone being disappointed to receive any of these as a gift.

Saturday 7 September 2019

Barbecued chicken wings - a summer's work

Work in progress - April. Excellent colour but not much crunch
For inexplicable reasons, Paul's never been much of a fan of chicken wings. He'd always opt for a drumstick or a piece of breast or something first. I, on the other hand, love them. Deep-fried and crisp or richly sticky with a sweet marinade, I think they are delicious little morsels and well worth nibbling around the bones.

Just as inexplicable as Paul's traditional lack of interest in chicken wings has been his sudden enthusiasm for them this year. Chances are it was kicked off by something he saw on youtube, but I really don't remember what it was. But he wanted chicken wings and he wanted them barbecued. However it started, we've had a summer-long pursuit of the perfect barbecued chicken wing.

Chicken is supposed to be quite tricky to barbecue. Certainly anyone who has ever been faced with bloody-at-the-bone drumsticks with a charred outer layer would tell you that it's not that easy. But you certainly don't have to par-cook it and finish it on the barbecue, the way a lot of recipes suggest.
August: method perfected, experimenting with flavours
It took some trial and error, but we've hit on a really, really good method for barbecued wings. Paul thinks the theory is sound for bone-in chicken thighs, but we haven't tested that yet. The key is a long, off-set cook, so that the meat is cooked through, gently enough that the connective tissues are starting to melt as well.

Sometimes with barbecued chicken, the smoke, while giving the meat a delicious flavour, makes the skin leathery. We've discovered that a spoonful of cornflour in the marinade counteracts that leatheriness, leaving a lovely crisp skin and also helping the seasonings to adhere.
So good. Succulent all the way through, crisp outside.
The basic principle is a spoonful of cornflour, a spoonful of vegetable oil and your choice of seasonings. From that framework, it's really adaptable. We've done fish sauce and garlic, inspired by the famous Pok Pok wings. We've done kim chi juice, which has a delicious fermented funk. We've gone Greek-ish, using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and seasoning with lemon juice, garlic and oregano. We've done soy sauce, ginger and garlic. We haven't yet tried saucing them afterwards, a la buffalo wings, but I am sure that would work too.
The calamondin almost died over winter 2017/18, but it's back on track
This version, with fruit from our bonsai calamondin tree, is particularly successful. The main flavour is the bittersweet not-quite-orange flavour of the calamondin, with a subtle warmth from the chilli and the (for me) essential garlic.

Calamondin and Garlic Chicken Wings

1kg chicken wings (we get the ones with the wing tips removed - 1kg is 12-14 wings)
1tbs cornflour
1tbs vegetable oil
1tbs light soy sauce
3 calamondins, cut into rough chunks, seeds removed (if you don't have access to fresh calamondins - and I can see why you wouldn't - use 1 medium tangerine)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1tsp chilli flakes
Pinch of salt

In a small processor, combine everything except the chicken wings. Pulse to a thick puree - it doesn't have to be completely smooth. Pour the puree over the chicken wings and turn to give a good coating. I used to do this in a ziplock bag, which is just the right thing for smooshing sauces into all the nooks, but I am trying to cut down on single use plastics so now I do it in a pyrex dish with a lid and just give them a good stir.

Refrigerate until ready to cook. An hour in the marinade is better than no time at all, but 6-8 hours is better. I try to do it just after breakfast for eating in the evening.

A kilo of wings takes up quite a bit of space, so you'll need to build a fire set off as far to the side of the barbecue as you can. We start with a bag of easy-light charcoal and then add a thick layer of lumpwood - the fire needs to last a while and burn pretty hot.

Arrange the wings. Barbecue, lid down, with the vent over the wings and open a little bit to encourage the heat to flow over them, for 45 minutes to an hour.
Calamondin & Garlic wings. Slightly caught on the outside, absolutely delicious.


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