Lemon Meringue Pie

There is no need to cry over lemon meringue pie… that is assuming none of the myriad of things which could go wrong do.

There are a lot of techniques involved in a lemon meringue pie; however none of them are actually too difficult – and almost anyone who has baked before will have tried most of them. The trick is to time the final stages – the filling and the meringue topping – so that the meringue is put onto a steaming hot filling (more on this later).

The main problem that I had making this pie was not me bursting into tears but rather the meringue weeping profusely until it was sitting in a puddle of its own juices. Weeping can happen for a number of reasons and is a classic issue that can arise when making meringue. The first cause of weeping – a universal one – is that the sugar is not properly dissolved into the egg whites. This can be prevented by adding the sugar slowly to the egg whites and giving it a bit of time (twenty seconds or so) between each addition to dissolve. You can test if the meringue is ready after all of the sugar has been added by rubbing a little bit of meringue mix between two fingers and checking that it does not feel gritty. If the mix is smooth, the meringue is ready.

When putting the meringue on to the pie, you want to put it on a hot filling. I have seen recipes where people will make the meringue before the pie filling (because once made, it is very stable)! By adding the meringue on top of hot filling and sealing the meringue around the edge, the steam coming up from the filling will travel through the meringue and cook it from beneath. The heat of the oven will crisp up the outside; the result is a nicely cooked pie without the meringue floating on a lake of lemony syrup – ready to slide off any slice you try to remove from the pie. If the filling is cold when you add the meringue and bake in the oven, the filling is reheated slightly and begins to steam – however the top of the meringue has already crisped up and seals the steam inside. This steam then condenses on the meringue/lemon filling boundary and then slowly begins to dissolve the meringue from beneath.

Finally, meringue pie is best eaten on the day it is make. Ideally you want to make the pie, bake the pie, let it cool out of the fridge and then serve. Chilling the pie in the fridge will also cause the condensation of any steam resulting the sugary lemon soup. The addition of the cornflour should help prevent watery pie but again, this is probably one of those things you need to bake a few times (oh the hardship…) to really get to know your oven and get your head around the recipe.

 

Lemon Meringue Pie

Serves 12

Time: 3-4 hours

 

Pasty:

250g flour

125g unsalted butter

2 tbsp caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

Pinch salt

60ml ice cold water (take this from the fridge or even a glass of water with ice in if you have some available)

 

Filling:

Zest 5 lemons

300ml lemon juice

400ml water

65g cornflour

6 egg yolks

250g sugar

 

Meringue:

6 egg whites

12 oz caster sugar

2 tbsp corn flour

Pinch salt

 

To make the pastry:

Food processor method:

Combine all ingredients other than the water in the bowl of the processor and blend until the mixture resembles sand.

Pour in the water while the processor is on and continue to blend for about five seconds until the mixture starts to clump a little.

Pour out onto a bean surface and press the pastry into a ball. Make sure it is smoothly combined.

Wrap and chill for an hour

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To blind bake the pastry:

Roll the pastry out to 3mm thickness and line a tart tin with it.

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Prick the base all over with a fork.

Freeze for 10 minutes

 

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Place a layer of foil or baking parchment over the pastry and weigh it down with baking beads or dried beans/rice (I recommend investing in baking beads as any food stuff you use will not be edible after being baked)

Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the baking beads and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the pastry is golden all over.

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Leave in the tin to cool.

 

To make the filling:

Whisk together the yolks, sugar and zest. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the lemon juice and 300ml of the water.

Whisk the final 100ml water together with the cornflour to create a slurry and then whisk this into the lemon water.

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Heat the lemon cornflour mix, whisking constantly, until it thickens dramatically. It will go sort of paste like. Continue to whisk and heat until it starts to boil to ensure the cornflour is fully cooked.

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Slowly stream the thickened mixture into the egg yolk mix while whisking until it is all combined.

Return the lemon filling to saucepan and heat gently whilst stirring until it thickens even more – make sure to keep stirring to avoid scrambling the eggs as this is where you cook them. If the mixture starts to bubble, remove from the heat immediately as it is most certainly cooked!

Pour into the tart case until it comes about 3mm from the top. This lip is important as the meringue will sit inside the pastry which should contain any weeping which could occur.

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Heat your oven to gas mark 3 (170°C).

 

In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. You could do this with an electric beater or even by hand but this will take significantly longer (and doing it by hand is far too much effort for me.

Add the salt and slowly incorporate the sugar a spoon at a time whisking after each addition. If you do this too fast, you will deflate the meringue!

Whisk through the cornflour.

Spoon/pipe the meringue into a tall dome on top of the hot pie (don’t feel like you need to use it all). Make sure to seal the meringue around the edges of the pie by ensuring that it is touching the pastry case all the way round.

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If you have just spooned the meringue on, use the back of a spoon to shape the meringue into little peaks.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes, turning halfway, until the outside is golden all over.

You can also use a mini blowtorch after baking to bring out any detail which isn’t too visible.

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Leave to cool to room temperature and eat within 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the higher chance of weepy meringue!

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy perfecting your meringue technique before you try something a bit more complicated like this, I have recipes for both swiss and French meringue on this site. I also have a selection of simpler tarts too!

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious beef and rice dish.

H

Vegan Salted Caramel Tart

This tart has been in the making for three years now. I created it for one of my closest friends who couldn’t eat dairy products at the time. The recipe has sat on my computer ever since then and has only been shared twice. The first time was an e-copy that was sent to a vegan friend who tried some of the original dish and wanted to know how to make it for herself; the second sharing event was a printed copy included in a short cookbook I wrote using all of my vegan recipes and given as part of a wedding present.

As you may suspect, the most complicated part of this recipe to develop was the caramel. Standard caramel is based around sugar, cream and butter – as you can imagine removing the dairy from this is not ideal. My first attempt involved replacing the cream with coconut milk and the butter with a dairy free alternative. It was almost good. The problem: you need to cook the caramel for a decent length of time and I broke, I just gave in too early and took the caramel off the heat. It did not set. You really need to boil caramel to get it to set properly. Since then I have realised that vegan caramel also works far better with brown sugar and not melted white sugar, as I would use for a classic, cream-based caramel.

Coconut milk is extracted from the grated flesh of the coconut. It is relatively high in fat (above 20% for non-skimmed/non-low fat varieties) and this is why it works as a cream replacement in the dish. Coconut cream has at least 20% fat and is incredibly thick. While you could use it for this recipe instead of coconut milk, it really isn’t necessary as the aggressive boiling will drive off the water from the coconut milk. Moreover, I would discourage using coconut cream because the extra water in the milk will help dissolve the sugar before the cooking begins. If the sugar isn’t all dissolved, you will end up with a gritty caramel – or even worse, it might crystallise and if that happens there is nothing you can do to revive the situation.

I class this recipe under my list of things that show that vegan food is just as good as the non-vegan stuff. Just because this is dairy-free does not mean it is flavour-free too! Let me know what you think.

 

 

Vegan Caramel Chocolate Tart

Work time: 2 hours

Cook time: 30 minutes

Cool time: 4 hours

 

For the pastry:

250g plain flour

125g cold margarine

50g sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

2 tbsp water

 

For the vegan caramel:

300g dark brown sugar

400ml coconut milk

100g margarine

 

For the chocolate layer:

300g dark chocolate

175g margarine

125g water

50g brown sugar

 

 

Tip the flour and margarine into the bowl of a food processor and blend until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Add the sugar and blend again.

Pour in the water and vanilla and blend until the pastry starts to clump together.

Pour the pastry onto a clean surface and squeeze it into a ball. Very lightly knead this to ensure the pastry is homogenous.

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Wrap and leave in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6

Unwrap the pastry and roll it out to a few millimetres thick (about ¼ inch). Use the pastry to line a tart case.

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Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.

Line the pastry with foil weighed down with baking beads and bake for fifteen minutes.

Remove the beads and bake for another ten to fifteen minutes until the pastry is golden.

 

To make the caramel:

Start this when the baking beads have been removed from the pastry case.

Tip the sugar and coconut milk into a pan and whisk to combine (you do not need to fully dissolve the sugar).

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Bring to a boil and add the butter in four chunks.

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Boil, stirring regularly, for about ten minutes until the bubbles become larger and slow down. The mixture should be thick on the back of a spoon. To test if it is done, take a small amount of caramel and place it in a bowl in the fridge. After about 30 seconds, it should be thick and not flow too much when you draw your finger through it.

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Pour the caramel directly into the pastry case.

Lightly sprinkle with flakes of sea salt.

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Allow to cool for an hour to room temperature and then in the fridge for another hour until the caramel is cold to the touch.

 

For the chocolate layer:

Pour the water into a pan. Add the sugar and the margarine. Bring to the boil

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Break the chocolate into pieces and place them into a large measuring jug.

Pour the boiling liquid over the chocolate, leave for two to three minutes for the chocolate to melt and then lightly whisk until a smooth, glossy, chocolatey sauce is accomplished.

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Pour the chocolate sauce over the top of the caramel. Pour it in the centre of the tart and allow it to flow out! This will get you the smoothest result. Gently tip and shake the tart to smooth out the chocolate layer.

Allow to set in the fridge for at least an hour.

Decorate with cocoa powder, lustre dust, chocolate pieces or whatever else you fancy!

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Once the chocolate has set, do not try to smooth it! I used a hot offset spatula to try and even the chocolate layer but actually it just took the shine away which was a real shame.

This can be served with cream or ice cream (or dairy-free alternatives) but I don’t think they are necessary as it is perfectly amazing by itself!

If you fancy trying the non-vegan variety, why not check out my quadruple chocolate and salted caramel tart or if you are looking for other plant-based desserts, look no further than my apple and cinnamon tart.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious Indian dish.

H

Pastéis de Natas

I thought that I didn’t like custard tarts. It turns out that I was just unfortunate enough to have never tried these absolutely divine creations. A rich, cinnamon and vanilla egg custard encased in shatteringly crisp, flaky pastry turns out to be just thing to make you feel better after a stressful day… or anytime to be honest.

Pastéis de nata were born of convenience. Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery used egg whites to starch clothes and, as you may imagine, they got through a lot of them. To avoid wasting the yolks, the monks baked them into cakes and pastries. In an attempt to earn some money to prevent their monastery being closed the monks joined with the local sugar refinery to sell small custard tarts. The monastery still closed (in 1843) and the recipe was sold to the owner of the sugar refinery who opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. Their descendants still own the patisserie to this day which is where the Pastéis de Belém, an alternative name for the pastries (but only when sold from this specific shop), can be bought.

There are two things which stand out to me about the Pastéis de nata separating it from the level of mediocraty that most custard tarts inhabit and both of them are to do with the pastry. Firstly, the pastry is a soft lamination. That is to say, the butter is not kept super cold like in classic puff pastry but is instead so soft that you can easily spread it on a very fragile dough. Secondly the lamination in the final product is vertical.

By using soft butter in the pastry, the lamination is far less pronounced than it would be for a classic puff pastry. The definition between the layers isn’t as strong because some of the softer butter is absorbed into the pastry while it is being rolled. This creates a texture which is somewhere between standard puff pastry and Danish pastry dough. The ultra-high oven temperature causes the pastry to cook very quickly resulting in a super crisp exterior and ensuring that the pastry is fully cooked despite no blind baking and only a short baking time. This also prevents the butter melting into the pastry in the oven as the flour begins to cook before it can absorb any more of the fat.

The direction of the lamination has a distinct effect on the final product. Where normal puff pastry has horizontal layers, the Pastéis de nata dough has vertical ones. This means that it expands horizontally in the oven, outwards and not upwards, which prevents it forcing the filling out and spilling. It also gives a far more beautiful final result as the lamination in the pastry walls of the tart is far more prominent than if a standard puff pastry had been used.

I know they are a bit of a faff to make but I guarantee that these pastries are 100% worth it. Let me know how they go for you!

Pastéis de Natas

Makes 24

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Prep time: 45 minutes

Rest time: at least 4 hours

Ingredients:

270g flour

200ml water

Pinch salt

250g very soft butter

6 egg yolks

250ml + 60ml milk (the creamier the better, but don’t use actual cream!)

3 tbsp flour

265g sugar

150ml water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp vanilla extract

To make the pastry:

In a stand mixer:

Put the flour, water and salt into the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attachment.

Mix and knead with the stand mixer until the dough forms a very soft bowl and starts to come away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Heavily flour a surface, tip the dough onto it and coat in flour.

Wrap in cling film and leave for at least fifteen minutes.

By hand:

Stir the salt into the flour and pour in the water.

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Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until they are combined and form a very soft dough.

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Tip onto a surface and use a pastry scraper to help stretch and knead the dough. DO NOT ADD MORE FLOUR.

Once the dough begins to get more elastic and less sticky (around ten minutes), coat it in flour, wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least a quarter of an hour.

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If your butter is not super soft, heat it gently in the microwave, for ten seconds at a time until it begins to soften. Make sure to stir between each heating to ensure that it doesn’t fully melt anywhere. Make sure the butter is very soft before setting aside.

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This butter has been heated too much. If your butter also melts, allow it to cool in the fridge and stir it vigorously every five minutes to ensure it doesn’t set at the edges whilst remaining liquid in the centre. Continue this until the butter is a thick pastey consistency.

Generously flour a surface and turn out the dough.

Roll it into a rectangle about 18”x12”.

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Take one-third of the softened butter and spread it down two-thirds of the length of the dough. Do not spread it all the way to the edges.

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Fold the unbuttered third of the dough across and then fold the opposite side on top to create three layers. Gently press the edges to seal.

Rotate the pastry through a quarter turn and reflour the surface if necessary. The pastry is super soft and sticky so don’t be afraid to use a lot of flour at this stage.

Roll it out again into a rectangle and repeat the folding instructions with another third of the butter (half of what is left).

Rotate, roll and old again using the remaining butter.

Roll out the dough into an 20”x18” rectangle.

Roll it up into a tight log starting at the closer side to create a spiral of lamination.

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Wrap the dough up and refrigerate for at least four hours and preferably overnight.

To make the filling, whisk the 60ml portion of milk into the flour in a large bowl.

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In a heavy based pan, add the sugar, water and cinnamon stick. Heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil without stirring. Leave for one minute.

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While the sugar is dissolving, scald the remaining milk. This is done by bringing it to the boil in a separate pan.

The moment the milk boils, take it off the heat and pour it into the flour and milk mix whisking constantly.

Once the sugar syrup has boiled for a minute, take it off the heat. Remove the cinnamon stick and like the milk, pour it in a thin stream into the flour mixture, whisking constantly.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up.

While continuing to mix, pour in the milk and sugar syrup mix in a thin stream. This is very hot and you want to avoid cooking the eggs and causing them to scramble.

Once the eggs are incorporated, stir in the vanilla extract.

Strain the filling mixture into a jug, cover and leave to cool.

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To assemble the tarts:
Preheat your oven to 260°C (500°F) or the highest setting (this tends to be around gas mark nine which is 230/240°C).

Lightly butter a 12 pan cupcake tin.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, cut in half lengthwise and place half of it back into the fridge.

If the ends aren’t straight, you may have to trim them.

Cut the log into twelve rounds and place them into the tins with the spiral of lamination facing upwards.

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Leave for fifteen minutes to soften.

Fill a small ramekin with water as you will need wet fingers for the next bit.

Using wet thumbs, gently flatten the centre of each piece of dough – do not flatten the edge, you want a sort of well shape.

Moving outwards, gently squash the dough into the shape of the tin coming about three quarters of the way up the side (there are plenty of videos online which will show you how to do this properly).

Use half of the filling mixture to fill the cases about 75-80% full.

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Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes, turning at ten minutes, until the top of the tarts has blistered to dark brown is several places. You don’t want them to be fully dark brown all over but you also want a bit of colour.

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The tarts will come out of the oven puffed up. The filling will collapse as they cool.

Take the tarts from the oven and let cool for five minutes before removing from the tin.

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These are best served still warm from the oven (but not boiling hot) and sprinkled with a little bit of icing sugar and cinnamon. The filling is delicious and the pastry is stunningly crisp. The pastry will stay crisp for about 48 hours but soften over time.

Store in the fridge where possible!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of flaky and puff pastry, be sure to check out my recipe for it – I promise that it isn’t as hard as it seems. You could even use your puff pastry to make salmon en croute or Beef Wellington.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious roast dinner with an obscene amount of garlic. It’s wonderful.

H

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake is probably the most complicated of the classic sponge cakes. It is like a combination of a genoise and a Victoria sponge. Like the genoise it is a whisked sponge but, unlike the genoise, there is a lot of fat in the recipe, much more similar to a Victoria sponge. The finished product is a flavourful, light cake with a texture far more spongey than any other cake I have had the pleasure to try.

A classic chiffon cake is baked in a tube pan. These are like bundt tins but have flat sides and a flat base – something I will discuss later. The pan provides several elements which are essential for a successful chiffon cake. The most important thing is to not line the tin, either with butter or parchment paper. This is because the cake will cling to the sides of the tin allowing it to rise magnificently in the oven. If the sides are greased, the cake cannot stick to them so will collapse around the edges dragging the rest down with it. The addition of the tube in the centre of the tin provides another wall for the batter to rise up, giving a more even shape and bake. Because the cake must adhere to the tin to rise properly, it must be cut off the tin when it is fully cooked otherwise you won’t be able to remove it. This is why the tin must have flat sides and a flat base. You need to be able to run a knife around the edge to release the cake which is not possible if you use a standard bundt cake tin.

One of the trademarks of the chiffon cake is its texture. It is absolutely jam packed with air. This gives it a light, fluffy feel in the mouth but like everything else to do with the chiffon cake, it introduces another requirement to prevent cake disaster – in this case, collapse under its own weight. We all know how aggravating it is when a cake you have spent time on collapses after baking leaving a huge dent in the top and a dense texture beneath but at least, with most cakes, there is an easy way to avoid this: cook the cake fully and do not open the oven during baking. With a chiffon cake, there is an extra step: you must cool the cake upside down (a technique also used when making angel food cakes). Cakes firm up as they cool but when they come out of the oven, they are still very soft and delicate. For a chiffon sponge, the structure inside is so fragile that its own weight can crush the cake. It will not spark joy. To avoid this, many chiffon pans have legs which will hold the tin upside down while the cake cools. Because the cake adheres to the tin, this will not crush it –  in fact, the cake must now fight gravity if it wishes to sink!

There are four main flavours used for chiffon cakes: vanilla, lemon, coconut and pandan. This is because a light sponge requires a light flavouring. All of these can be paired very well with some sort of flavoured or unflavoured cream or even a curd. Cream and fresh fruit are the optimal items for decorating a chiffon because buttercreams are too dense so their texture would not match that of the cake. Pandan is a Chinese leaf which is normally blended with milk or water before the liquid extracted from the pulp is used to flavour the cake. If you want to try one of these, the pandan extract is used to replace the coconut milk in this recipe. You could even swap the coconut milk for normal milk for a vanilla or lemon sponge, or any flavoured milk if you want to experiment with flavours.

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Pandan turns the cake a remarkable shade of green

The cake in this recipe is a lightly coconut flavoured sponge which is split and filled with cream, fresh mango and passionfruit. I would definitely describe it as ‘tropical’ flavoured. Like most chiffon sponges, it is huge – despite having fewer ingredients than a normal cake – so you can feed a lot of people with it. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

 

 

Chiffon Cake

5 eggs

80ml vegetable oil

80ml coconut milk

150g caster sugar

150g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

¼ tsp cream of tartar (or unflavoured vinegar)

½ tsp salt

Flavourings of your choice (eg. Vanilla extract, coconut essence, lemon rind, pandan)

 

To fill:

300ml double cream

Fresh fruit of your choice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3

Separate the eggs.

Add 75g of sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. This is easiest using a hand-held electric whisk.

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Beat in the oil and then the coconut milk. If you have extra flavouring add it now.

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Sift the baking powder and flour together.

Beat this into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.

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In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the cream of tartar/vinegar.

Beat in the remaining caster sugar a little at a time until it is all added.

Continue to beat until the meringue reaches stiff peaks. It should be bright white, glossy and smooth.

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Take one third of the egg white mixture and gently stir it into the egg yolks and flour. This is to loosen the texture of the yolk mixture so you can mix everything evenly later. If you try to fold the egg whites without doing this, you will end up with unmixed batter. I find a balloon whisk is best for this step.

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Fold the rest of the meringue mixture through the batter in two additions and fold until you are certain that there is no unmixed batter or meringue left. The batter should be thick and smooth.

Slowly pour the batter into an unlined, ungreased tube pan from at least a foot above the pan. The slow pour stretches out large air bubbles and causes them to pop giving a nicer final structure to the cake.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly around the pan. Insert a skewer and swirl it through the batter to help release any air pockets that survived the trip into the cake tin.

Bang the base of the tin onto the counter a few times to pop the larger bubbles which have risen to the surface.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the top crust is a deep golden colour (but not burnt).

52293379_321461278555344_1511697165271957504_nRemove the cake from the oven, invert the pan and leave to cool completely

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To release the cake, run a knife around the outside edge and remove the cake and base of the tin.

Run the knife around the inside edge and also the base of the cake.

Invert onto a plate and remove the rest of the tin.

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The cake can be served straight up or spit down the middle and filled with cream and even fresh fruit.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This cake is super light and airy with an amazing texture – it’s just so spongy! If you are a fan of cakes with less icing, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for…

H

Crème Caramel

Crème caramel looks classy. A perfectly baked custard with a smooth velvety texture and a dark layer on top where it has absorbed the caramel, covered in a shiny, golden brown sauce gives a level of elegance to this dessert that many others lack. It helps that crème caramel is often served in individual portions which makes it seem more personal rather than getting a slice of a huge multi-serving dessert. Crème caramel should not be confused with crème brulee which is also a baked custard; but as the latter is served in its ramekin, the custard is usually less set as it does not need to hold its shape (and of course, crème caramel has a liquid sauce whereas crème brulee has a hard layer of caramel on top).

What makes the custard for crème caramel unique is that is uses whole eggs. Most classic custards used in baking (crème anglaise and crème patisserie) use only egg yolks. This is because a crème caramel needs to be sturdy enough to stand up with no walls to hold it in but also should have a melt-in-the-mouth, velvety texture. Crème patisserie would make a good candidate for this as it is a strong custard which is thick enough to be piped however this comes from a starchy thickening agent (either cornflour or normal flour). This starch gives the custard a far claggier consistency which is very nice in eclairs or holding together a fraisier cake but does not lend itself well to a light dessert – it is far to rich. To get a softer texture, the egg whites are added to the crème caramel as these set when they cook. Egg white coagulates at a slightly lower temperature to the yolks (that’s how you get a runny yolk on your poached eggs) and as such, once the yolks are cooked, you can guarantee that the whites are too and that the dessert is ready to be taken from the oven.

Like most desserts which involve baking some sort of custard, crème caramel is taken out of the oven slightly before the middle is set. This is because milk and eggs have a moderately high specific heat capacity – it takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature by a small amount. As a result, the desserts can lose a lot of energy without cooling too much so they take a long time to cool and the residual heat in the custard will finish cooking the centre without overcooking it (as the overall temperature of the dessert will not rise once it removed from the oven). In the cases of some desserts (like pumpkin pie), the sugars in the custard will compound this effect – white sugar takes 50 times more energy to heat up and cool down than an equivalent quantity of water – and the pie can still be warm up to four hours after removal from the oven.

Crème caramel is best made the day before you wish to eat it. This is so the water in the custard has time to dissolve the caramel. Even if it doesn’t look like there is water available, caramel is hydroscopic and deliquescent. You can guarantee that it will pull moisture out of the custard and then proceed to dissolve in it to make the golden sauce you find covering all crème caramels. If you try to serve the crème caramel too soon, you will see a layer of undissolved caramel in the base of the ramekin after plating up. This is flavour which has been lost! I am not patient when it comes to eating things I have made. I want to eat them as soon as possible but, as I have learnt, sometimes it really is better to wait.

Like anything involving melted sugar, please be careful as caramel will badly burn you if it gets on your skin. Make sure that you don’t mess around with it and that you have access to a very cold tap should you manage to splash yourself. Do not let children near the caramel until it has cooled.

As you will realise, these are incredibly easy to make and taste fantastic. You should definitely try them out. They also make a brilliant dinner party food as they are prepared in advance, low effort and high impact.

 

 

Crème Caramel

 

For the caramel:

200g sugar

80ml water

Butter (for lining the ramekins)

 

For the custard:

1 pint whole milk

4 eggs

25g sugar

1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

You will need 6 ramekins and a large tall sided baking dish which the ramekins will fit into.

 

Place the ramekins in the oven and heat to gas mark 2. This will prevent the ramekins from shattering when you pour the boiling caramel into them.

In a heavy-based steel pan (don’t use non-stick as it will cause the caramel to crystalize) mix the sugar and water.

Gently heat on the hob and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar has all dissolved, turn the heat to maximum and boil the sugar and water mix until reaches a deep caramel colour. If you are unsure about how far to go, it is better to err on the side of caution and have slightly pale crème caramels the first time. You don’t want to burn the sugar.

While the sugar is boiling, run a basin about an inch full of cold water. The moment the caramel reaches the desired colour, plunge the base of the pan into the water to cool it. If you don’t do this, the latent heat in the saucepan can continue to cook the caramel causing it to burn.

The moment you have cooled the pan, pour the caramel into the ramekins and tilt them to make sure it runs right to the edges. Try not to let the caramel set too much as you may have to spread it with a spoon and it is very, very sticky (and hot).

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Allow the caramel to cool to room temperature. Do not place it in the fridge as the environment in it will cause the caramel to go soggy. This usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.  Don’t be worried if you hear cracking noises. That is the caramel contracting as it cools and it can crack a little but this will not affect the dessert. Just rest assured that it is not the ramekin that is breaking!

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If you are using a vanilla pod, split it down the middle and scrape out the seeds. If you are using extract, skip this and the next step.

Place it in a saucepan with the milk and gently heat until the milk is body temperature or feels slightly warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain this before the next step so there are no little bits of vanilla pod in the final desert.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the milk (and vanilla) to get a homogeneous mixture.

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Use butter to lightly grease the ramekins (but don’t grease the caramel). This will help later when you want to remove the crème caramels for serving.

Pour the milk mix into the ramekins splitting it evenly between them.

Place the ramekins in a large baking dish and fill it with boiling water until it comes half way up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 30-45 minutes at gas mark 2. You will know when they are done as the crème caramels will have a slight wobble in the centre when jiggled and will clearly not be liquid anymore. It should appear a little bit rubbery when you wobble them (but I promise the texture is incredibly soft.)

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Remove the desserts from the oven and the tray and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover them and leave in the fridge until serving. They can be eaten the day they are made but I would advise leaving them for 24 hours as in this time, the caramel will absorb into the dessert giving you the classic, golden sauce that pours out all over the crème caramel when you serve them.

To plate up, run a blunt knife around the outside of the crème caramel, invert onto a dish and jiggle until the dessert comes free. I often find that it can help to detach one area from the side of the ramekin to release the seal.

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If you enjoy baked custard desserts, you should check out my recipes for both pumpkin pie and a delicious chocolate tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a simple weeknight meal which packs a punch of flavour.

H

Pumpkin Pie

For such a bland ingredient, I find it fascinating that pumpkin has a whole dessert dedicated to it. That being said, the predominant flavour of a pumpkin pie is a sweet, spiced custard. This is not a bad thing in my eyes. The pumpkin is mainly there as a medium to keep the sugar and flavours in one place after the pie is cut open – a job that it does magnificently.

A classic problem most people face with a pumpkin pie is the dreaded crack. This is no Madeira cake, where you want the filling to bubble up from within like lava leaking from a volcano, this is a beautiful glossy pie with a smooth flat top. The reason that pies crack is overcooking – specifically overcooked egg. This is, of course, a problem as the egg is what causes the filling to set and gives the melt in your mouth, custardy texture. As an egg cooks, the proteins inside it tighten and cause it to shrink. Anyone who has fried an egg will have seen how the edges pull in ever so slightly as they cook, giving a slightly smaller, thicker end result than one would otherwise get. This phenomenon, when spread over the entire width of a pie, can do irreparable damage which can be hidden by whipped cream but will always be there.

“So how”, I hear you shout, “can I stop my pie from cracking?” There are two easy solutions. One: do not overcook the pie, the eggs should be just set and the centre of the pie should be slightly wobbly when it is taken out of the oven. Two: replace some of the egg white with egg yolks. In the recipe below, you will see that there is only one egg white whilst there are four egg yolks. The yolk cooks at a slightly higher temperature than the white of the egg and also shrinks far less if overdone. That is not to say that this solution will ensure perfection every time – everyone messes stuff up occasionally. What this does do however is give you a larger margin of error on your pie. With such a high specific heat capacity due to the fat content, the pumpkin pie will take a good few hours to cool. Leave at least four if you are serving it that day. In this time, the latent heat inside the pie will finish cooking the centre. I should note that we aren’t talking about a small central area here, you should be envisioning a solid four-inch-wide circle in the middle of the pie which appears sunken when the pie comes out of the oven. The puffed-up edges will deflate as the pie cools and the centre will firm up. If your pie is fully cooked through when you remove it from the oven, it is almost guaranteed to crack as it cools if it has not done so already.

All that doom and gloom aside, these pies are celebratory. They are a celebration of the harvest and one of the foods which Americans can proudly call their own. The first recipes for sweet pumpkin pies appeared during the 1800s and their popularity has grown ever since. After the civil war, pumpkin pies were rejected by many southern areas as a way of renouncing what they saw as a Unionist tradition being forced upon them. In retaliation, many people ate sweet potato pies or included pecan nuts and bourbon in their pumpkin pie recipes to separate their pies from the classic “yankee” pie. Nowadays, it is traditional to serve a pumpkin pie as dessert after the Thanksgiving meal but they can, of course, be eaten at any time of the year.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did – I will certainly be making this again.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:

4oz cold butter

8oz flour

3 tbsp caster sugar

60ml cold water (ideally from the fridge)

Pinch of salt

Pumpkin Filling:

1 tin pumpkin puree (15oz/425g)

1 tin condensed milk (14oz/400g)

1 egg

3 egg yolks

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp Chinese five spice (or a pinch of ground cloves, ground star anise and ground pepper)

½ tsp salt

To make the pastry, cube the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir through the salt and sugar.

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Add half of the water and stir with a knife until the mixture begins to come together. If it is still dry, add more of the water.

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Once the dough has started forming into pieces, tip it out onto a workbench and knead it together into one ball. Try to work the dough as little as possible.

Flatten the dough into a thick disk (about 2cm high) and wrap it in cling film before placing it in the fridge to chill.

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In a large bowl whisk the egg and extra yolks into the pumpkin puree.

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Whisk in the spices, salt and then the condensed milk.

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If you don’t have Chinese five spice, you can substitute it with cloves, star anise and ground pepper, I don’t have these in ground form at home so had to grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t take that long but you have to remember that a pepper grinder like the ones you would use at dinner will not grind the pepper enough for this recipe. You do not want lumps of pepper in your pie!

Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (210°C)

Butter a 10 inch pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it.

Trim the edges leaving a 2cm overhang.

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Fold this overhang back side the pie and press it into the top edge, this will give you a thick rim which you can crimp.

To crimp the rim of the pie dish, one finger of your left thumb and your right thumb and forefinger to press the edge of the pie into a little divot. Repeat this around the whole pie to get a beautiful edge.

OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Using foil and baking beads, blind bake the case for around ten minutes. This will help avoid a soggy bottom late on, you don’t need to bake it for long as it will have another 45 minutes or so in the oven to crisp up but I have found that if you do not blind bake this, although fully cooked, the pastry can be a little bit soft.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and place back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (170°C) and bake for another 30-40 minutes. When fully cooked, the pie should be just set in the middle and a skewer inserted an inch away from the pastry case should come out clean.

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Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

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As usual, the first slice may be a little problematic to get out but after that, all slices of pie will come out beautifully and taste amazing – just remember to loosen them underneath with a knife or offset spatula before you try to lift them off the plate.

Serve with lightly whipped double cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. You do not need to add any sugar or flavouring to the cream as the pie is sweet enough already.

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The flavour of this pie is gorgeous and its custardy texture is ultra smooth and creamy. It is simply divine. Of course, not everyone likes pumpkin pie and if you are one of those people, why not try making my raspberry and white chocolate pie – or maybe ever a quadruple chocolate and salted caramel one? If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not try making a flavourful hot water crust chicken pie? It’s sturdy enough to survive in a lunchbox and just a good cold as it is hot.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another meal idea.

H

Carrot Cake

Although carrot cake came to popularity in England during the second world war, its origins stretch back several hundred years to the carrot puddings eaten in the middle ages. Carrot cake is a bit of a marmite food with people either loving or hating it; I have never met anyone who was ambivalent about it.

The emergence of carrot cake in the second world war came about because of sugar rationing. This led to people looking for an easy alternative and carrots were perfect as people could grow them in their back gardens. Luckily, you can’t taste the carrot in carrot cake but it gives a lovely colour and along with the use of oil instead of butter, helps the cake remain moist for a long time. I actually made the mistake of leaving the cakes on top of an Aga for about two hours as I took them out of the oven in a hurry and when I got back the cakes had not dried out at all!

Of course, you can’t have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. Here in England the only readily available cream cheese is the spreadable version in tubs not the block cream cheese that you really need to make a good frosting. Spreadable cream cheese has a far higher water content and this water can cause the icing to turn into a runny soup. The best way to avoid this is to use butter as a base for the icing. This gives a rich flavour and also causes the icing to firm up in the fridge leaving it nice and smooth. The frankly obscene amount of icing sugar also helps prevent the collapse of the frosting.

I hope you enjoy the recipe.

For the cake:

450ml vegetable oil

550g sugar

5 eggs

450g plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

530g grated carrot

150g chopped walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting:

150g unsalted butter

240g cream cheese

840g sifted icing sugar

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C).

Oil and line four eight inch baking tins and place a circle of parchment on the base of each one.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time and whisk together after each addition.

Mix in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon in three batches.

Gently whisk in the carrot – you don’t want it to get shredded in the mixer so use the lowest speed setting.

Divide the cake mix between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

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Leave to cool for ten minutes and then remove the cakes from the tins and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy.

Add the cream cheese and beat again.

Mix in the icing sugar in three batches and start your mixer on slow each time to avoid the icing sugar going everywhere!

The moment the icing has come together, stop mixing it.

Place the base of the cake onto a serving plate and spread a layer of cream cheese frosting over this.

Add another layer of cake and frosting and continue until all the layers have been used up.

Spread a thick layer of frosting on the top of the cake. You can decorate this with little sugar carrots (normally available in the supermarket baking aisle) or sprinkles. Just bear in mind that cream cheese frosting is very soft and won’t hold its shape well.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe and your cream cheese frosting doesn’t turn to liquid. If you fancy a Mexican treat, check out how to make some spicy Enchiladas or if you are looking a different dessert, why not treat yourself to the best apple crumble you will eat.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious risotto recipe.

H