Thursday, 29 December 2011

Necessary Reading - Festive triple header!

Macarons are sweet, jewel like mini meringues sandwiched together with various delicious fillings and are a source of constant discussion (not to mention frustration) for both amateur and professional pastry aficionados. However the end result marries the aesthetic with the delicious in a way I've yet to see paralleled, so I was pleased as punch to receive the brilliant 'Macarons' by Pierre Herme this Christmas. To call this book comprehensive would be quite the understatement. I can confidently say this is only book you'll ever need on the art of the Macaron. The vast array of recipes range from the classic (Chocolate) to the unusual (Osetra Caviar and Walnut Brandy), are clear and easy to follow and are supported by detailed explanations of the appropriate techniques required. The illustrations are both beautiful and practical and do a great job conveying the sense of opulence and wonder associated with these colourful delights. All in all this really is a top book and one I'd highly recommend.

Speaking of Macarons, probably the most well known purveyor of these little treats is Laduree of Paris. Anyone lucky enough to visit one of their shops will testify to their extravagance, reminiscent of the classic luxurious french patisserie and it's good to see that this has been carried forward to their book 'Laduree: Sucre', by Phillipe Andrieu and Sophie Tramier. Housed in a crepe paper lined box, the book itself is beautifully made, padded and velvety with the pages edged in gold. There is a nice balance of recipes which are generally well described and illustrated and contain all the classics (Including the Macaron) as well as a few twists. All I will say is that the recipes themselves are definitely aimed at the more experienced amateur cook and beginners may need some patience getting to grips with some of the techniques. However I like this book a lot and think it would make a great gift.

'Wild Raspberries' by the artist Andy Warhol and Suzie Frankfurt is a 1959 'cookbook' like no other you'll find. The recipes themselves are humorous to the point of parody and include instructions such as ordering your chauffeur to pick up a suckling pig from the Plaza hotel's restaurant. The book is hand-lettered, mistakes and all (By Andy's mother) and contains 19 distinctive Warhol illustrations. Of course, this isn't really a serious cookbook, but it is funny, fanciful and a fantastic addition to any food lovers collection. It's not an easy one to find, but is definitely worth the effort!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Last minute fruit cake

Happy Christmas everyone! If you've left it until the last minute to make your fruit cake, don't fret! This fruit cake is quick and easy to make, not to mention moist, flavoursome and perfect any time of the year. It's actually one of the first recipes I ever tried out, but one I still use again and again.

Prep time: 10 Mins
Baking time 70-75 Mins

225g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
225g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
4 Large Eggs
A good splash of Sherry or Brandy
1Tbsp Mixed Spice
1 Heaped Tsp Baking Powder
275g Plain Flour
500g Mixed Dried Fruit (The best you can find!)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease/line the base of a 23cm springform tin. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Splash in the alcohol, then sift in the mixed spice, baking powder and plain flour. Mix it all together until you are left with a thick but smooth batter. Fold through the dried fruit (Which will admittedly take a bit of elbow grease!) then spoon evenly into the prepared tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 70-75 minutes, until a metal skewer can be removed cleanly from the middle. You may need to cover it with foil for the last 15 minutes if it starts to colour too much on top. Let it cool for half an hour in the tin then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack. How easy is that!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Flourless/Dairyless Carrot and Almond Cake

I've been looking at flourless cake recipes recently and a trusted cake yoda recommended I give carrots a go. After a bit of tweaking I have to say what I've ended up with has far exceeded my expectations! The sponge is soft and almost syrupy, the flavours are delicate and fragrant and the added textures of the nuts and sultanas compliment the end result beautifully. Despite starting as an experiment I'll definitely be making this one again and again!

Prep time: 15 Mins
Baking time: 60 Mins
200g Caster Sugar
4 Large Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla
1 Tsp Mixed Spice
The zest of 1 Orange
250g Carrot (Grated)
100g Walnuts (Roughly Chopped)
150g Sultanas
1 Tsp Baking Powder
300g Ground Almonds

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease/line the base of a 20cm deep loose bottomed tin (You can use oil or butter for the greasing, depending on how dairy free you want to make it!). In a large bowl whisk together the sugar and the eggs for about a minute, until they are a nice pale yellow and bubbling a little on top. Add in the vanilla, mixed spice and orange zest, then give it one more quick whisk, until they are incorporated. Tip in the carrot, walnuts and sultanas, then fold them in gently with a spatula. In a separate bowl mix together the baking powder and ground almonds, then fold that through as well. Make sure you get to the bottom of the bowl as well as the sides so it's all properly combined. Spoon into the tin, then bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour until a metal skewer comes out clean from the middle. When you're satisfied it's done remove it from the oven, let it cool completely in the tin then carefully turn it out. You're all done!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Jamie's mince pie cookies

I found this brilliant recipe on Jamie Oliver's Christmas site. It's a nice alternative to the good old mince pie and a really easy one to do with the kids. I made mine with my little niece and we can both confirm it's a winner! Sweet and buttery, with a nice balance of fruit and spice, they would be great to eat all your round, so if you fancy giving them a crack you can find the recipe here

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bread Pudding

Christmas is a time of nostalgia and tradition, so I thought it'd be nice to try an old school recipe like bread pudding. I asked my mother for her recipe, but unfortunately she doesn't bother with things like 'measurements' or 'timings' so I adapted one I found on the BBC website instead. Having never made it before I'm sure this is far from the textbook bread pudding recipe. However, I really like the result. Stodgy and satisfying, it has a nice background fragrance without being too sweet or spicy.

Prep Time: 10 Mins (Plus soaking time)
Baking Time: 75 Mins
500g White Bread
150g Soft Brown Sugar
500g Mixed Fruit
500ml Milk
Zest of 1 orange and 1 Lemon
1 Cinnamon Stick
2 Large Eggs
100g Unsalted Butter (Melted)
A handful of Demerara Sugar

So to start, in a large bowl tear the bread up into small pieces and sprinkle over the soft brown sugar and mixed fruit. In a saucepan pour in the milk, add the cinnamon stick and the zest then bring up to the boil. Turn the heat off and let it sit for 10 minutes to infuse. Once it's cooled for a bit pour the milk over the bread, give it all a mix round and let it sit for a further 15 minutes, until it's all soaked in.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease/line base of a 20cm square cake tin (without a loose base if you can). Remove the cinnamon stick, then crack in both the eggs and mix it all around. Pour in the melted butter and give it a final mix until everything is incorporated. Spoon into the tin and sprinkle over the demerara sugar, which will give the final pudding a sticky, crunchy topping. Place in the centre of the oven for about 75 minutes, covering with foil if it starts to colour too much on top. When it's done remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin. You should be able to turn it out relatively easily and it's really nice served warm, especially on a wet and windy December evening!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gift Ideas: Chefs Essentials

Continuing the Christmas gift trend, the Guardian recently published a great list of gadgets the professionals just couldn't live without. So if you're looking for a gift for a foodie friend or family member scoot over there and have a look!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Best cookbooks 2011

I am sitting here today, smug in the knowledge that all my Christmas presents are bought and wrapped. However if you still have a few bits to buy, or haven't even started yet you can't beat a good cookbook. The Huffington Post recently listed their favourite cookbooks of 2011, so if you need some inspiration you can check it out here.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pistachio cookies

I had some pistachios left over from another recipe so I thought I'd give these a go. Macaroony in texture, they are soft and chewy with a lovely pale green colour. I've flavoured mine with some Sicilian lemon extract, but you can freestyle if you want. I'd have thought that vanilla, orange zest or even rose/orange flower water would work nicely too!

Prep Time: 10 Mins
Baking Time: 20 Mins
150g Shelled Pistachios
100g Ground Almonds
200g Caster Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1Tsp Lemon Extract

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a large tray with baking paper. Put the nuts into a food processor and blitz as finely as you can. If you don't have a food processor you can grind these by hand, but you'll probably end up with a slightly coarser mix. Add in the sugar and whiz round one final time until it is all combined. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they have just turned white and become foamy, then add in the lemon extract. Fold through the dry ingredients until you are left with a slightly sticky dough. With damp hands roll the dough into small-ish balls and place, spaced apart on the tray (They will spread slightly during cooking). Place in the centre of the oven for about 20 Minutes, until the tops have just started to brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the tray. Very easy and delicious!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Tosca Cake

I recently found this recipe in the Nordic Bakery Cookbook and loved it. The book itself is a real winner, unpretentious, easy to follow and full of both sweet and savoury recipes. The bakery itself can be found in London, so next time I'm there I'll definitely pay it a visit!

Tosca Cake is a delicate buttery sponge adorned with a crunchy praline-like almond topping. It's a lovely one to have when you just fancy something sweet with a cup of tea or coffee!

Prep Time: 20 Mins
Baking Time: 45 Mins (ish!)
4 Medium Eggs
170g Caster Sugar
200ml Double Cream
100g Unsalted Butter (Melted and Cooled)
2tsp Vanilla Extract
260g Plain Flour

For the topping...
75g Unsalted Butter
75g Caster Sugar
50ml Double Cream
25g Plain Flour
75g Flaked Almonds

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6 and grease/line a 29cm springform tin. In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk for about ten minutes, until the mixture is a thick foam and very pale in colour. Fold in the cream, butter and vanilla very gently. Sift in the flour and baking powder and again fold in gently. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes.

While the cake is baking you can get on with the 'Tosca' topping, which is surprisingly easy! Just put all the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until it all comes gently up to the boil. Remove the baked cake from the oven, then spread the topping evenly over and return for a further 10-15 minutes. When it's golden and slightly caramalised on top you're good to go!