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

Falafel

When most people think of falafel, they think of chickpeas. Now, they aren’t technically wrong as the main constituent of modern falafel is chickpeas however they were traditionally made with fava beans. Falafel is still made with fava beans in many places – notably Egypt which is believed to be where falafel (ta’amiya) originated from. It is not uncommon to find a mixture of chickpeas and fava beans in falafel either but for most people, especially those in the western world, chickpeas are the favourite.

As with hummus there is much debate over the specific origin of falafel. It is generally accepted that the food which evolved into the falafel we know today was Egyptian, however many countries in the Middle East claim falafel as their own, even going as far as calling it their national dish at various points in history. In a surprising turn of events, there are also those who claim that India owns the rights, as it were, to the falafel’s creation – although I cannot find any evidence to support this so if you know of any I would love to hear about it! The movement of nomadic groups around the middle east would have meant that falafel was transported all over the area. This could very easily give rise to the arguments that exist today.

There are hundreds of different varieties of falafel, the main differences between them arising from the addition of different flavouring elements. Fresh herbs, dried spices, alliums, even the length of the time the dried beans are left soaking can all have an effect on the final product. Fava bean falafels often contain leeks whereas a chickpea-based mixture will usually include onions or spring onions (scallions). Both varieties have a hefty amount of garlic (as they should) and regularly contain fresh parsley and coriander which gives rise to a lurid green centre when you bite into the falafel. I have seen recipes for both falafel and hummus where you are instructed to leave the chickpeas in their soak for days until they sprout as this apparently gives a sweetness to the final product. Again, I have never tried this but let me know if you have and if it works. I doubt I would be successful if I tried this as the salt in the soak I leave the chickpeas in is probably high enough in concentration to kill any part of the chickpea which is still alive.

When making falafel, it is imperative that you start with dried chickpeas. This is because canned chickpeas come pre-cooked and, while this is just about acceptable when making hummus, for good falafel the chickpeas must be raw. When chickpeas are cooked, the starch inside them bursts and comes out into the liquid they are cooked and cooled in giving rise to aquafaba. Unfortunately, this starch is essential to making good falafel as without it they will fall apart during cooking. You can avoid this by adding some flour to bind the mixture together but it won’t have the fluffy inside and crispy outside that you want for the best falafel. This can only be achieved by making them from scratch (which is brilliant if you are cooking on a budget as a bag of dried chickpeas can make twelve generous portions of falafel and only costs about £1.20).

The final combination of herbs and spices is of course completely up to you. The ones given in the recipe below are my favourite but everyone has their own preferences. By adding salt to the original soak, the chickpeas are already a little bit seasoned so you may have to play around with the amount you add depending on whether you are a salt fiend like me or not. The bicarbonate of soda and flour are there to help soften the skin of the chickpeas so they can absorb more water but will not impact the flavour in any way as they are completely washed off.

I would serve these with fresh hummus and pitta bread – perhaps a laffa or taboon bread if you are feeling like a bigger portion. You can stuff the pitta with hummus and spicy sauces, pickled veg and fresh salad (tomato and cucumber are popular) before topping it with these glorious crunch balls. Enjoy the recipe and let me know how it goes for you.

 

Falafel

Soak time: 12-36 hours

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per serving: around 50p

 

 

250g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 medium onion

4 large cloves garlic

3 tbsp chopped parsley

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Place the chickpeas into a bowl and fill it with water.

Mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with four tablespoons of water to make a slurry.

Stir the slurry into the chickpeas and water.

Leave overnight or for up to 36 hours for the chickpeas to rehydrate.

 

Drain the chickpeas and rinse them to remove all of the flour mixture.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic and put into the bowl of a large food processor.

Add the parsley, chickpeas, cumin and a little salt and pepper.

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Blend to make a rough mixture. It will begin to clump with the liquid from the chickpeas – this is good! As the chickpeas are raw, you will not get a smooth paste.

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Shape into patties just under an inch thick  – a rounded tablespoon of mixture per patty should give you 35 falafel from this recipe.

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Add a centimetre of oil to the base of a large frying pan and heat. Use a little of the falafel mixture to tell when the oil is ready, it should bubble around any falafel added – please note that the oil will not bubble unless something is in it and is very hot. Do not let children near hot oil.

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Place the falafel in the pan and leave for two minutes until the base is golden. Flip and repeat with the other side. Continue to flip the falafel until they are a dark brown all around the outside.

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If you are cooking the falafel in batches, keep them warm in the oven (on its lowest setting) until all the falafel are cooked. Place them onto a piece of kitchen roll when you take them out of the pan to remove any excess oil.

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Serve with hummus, pitta, schug and fresh salads for a delicious, middle eastern feast.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you want to make your own hummus to go with these falafel, check out my recipe. It’s ultra-smooth and pairs beautifully with the crispiness of the falafel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a miniature cake recipe.

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

Beef Dumplings

I was introduced to dumplings a few years ago by one of my best friends and housemate, Yan. I would recommend checking out her blog as she is a phenomenal cook. One time after visiting home for the weekend, she returned with a huge bag of homemade, frozen dumplings. Being the naïve person I am I assumed they were just like a Chinese version of ravioli – most cultures have some sort of meat wrapped in dough in their cuisines. My gosh was I wrong. Her mum’s dumplings were an experience that I have never forgotten.

It didn’t take long for Yan to suggest that we had a dumpling dinner day when we came together as a house and she taught us how to fold dumplings. I feel like I did very well out of this as the standard filling (and the one which Yan made) is pork based. As a result, I ended up making my own filling which was turkey based and there was a lot. Since then, I have experimented with different meat fillings and one tofu one – I primarily use beef and turkey. Coming up with an actual recipe for this post presented something of a problem as I usually eyeball the ingredients depending on how much ginger, garlic or chilli I am feeling like at the time.

The history of Chinese dumplings doesn’t specify the year when they first appeared but they seem to crop up sometime around 2000 years ago. They are traditionally boiled or steamed, however pan-fried ones have become very popular recently. These fried potstickers are crispy on the base and tender at the top. My favourite story of their origin is about a chef who was boiling his dumplings and took his eye off the pot. It boiled dry. Instead of starting again, he served up the dumplings and pretended that they were meant to be crispy on the base. The charade was so good that the eaters believed him and they enjoyed the contrasting textures so much that they requested the meal again. Since then potstickers have spread and nowadays are enjoyed all over the world.

Dumplings are great fun to make and are fantastic to do with friends – it not only speeds up the crimping process but gives you a chance to relax and have a nice chat or a catch up. I do not make them very often as I normally fold all the dumplings alone and I rarely have time for that, however when I can I love to make a batch and freeze them for a later date. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I first tried these dumplings.

 

 

Dumplings

Makes around 40 dumplings

Serves 3

Cost per portion: about £2.00

Time: 1.5 hours (wrapping 40 dumplings alone takes time but can be fun with a friend or even if you just put a film on in the background)

 

2-inch piece of ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 medium heat chilli (optional)

500g minced beef

One bunch spring onions/salad onions

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Salt and pepper to taste

One pack dumpling skins

 

Optional

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp chilli oil

 

Peel the ginger and garlic. Finely chop both and place them into a large bowl.

Finely chop the spring onions, including the green part, and add them to the ginger and garlic.

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If you want to add some spice, chop the chilli and add it to the bowl.

For curry dumplings or extra spicy dumplings, add the curry powder/chilli oil at this point.

Add the beef, soy, sesame oil, salt and pepper before mixing everything until it is fully combined. I tend to do this using my hands as I can feel when everything is mixed together.

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To make the dumplings, place a circle of pastry on a board.

Add a heaped teaspoon of filling to the centre.

Wet the edge of the wrapper and pinch to seal – this will make a very basic, uncrimped dumpling.

 

To crimp – I would recommend finding video tutorials as words and pictures will probably not do this justice but here goes (there are pictures of the steps below:

If you are right handed:

Make the filling paste into an oval

Pinch the wrapper at the edge of the oval using your left hand

Use your right thumb inside the dumpling to stabilise it and use your right and left index fingers to pinch together a second fold next to the first.

Fold this down and pinch it onto the uncrimped edge of the skin.

Repeat the crimping steps along the edge of the wrapper until you get all the way along.

As you crimp, the dumpling will start to curve around giving a crescent or half moon shape at the end.

Once you have finished crimping, go back over the edge and pinch together again to fully seal.

If you are left handed, just reverse the instructions above.

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After you have mastered the basic crimping technique, you can start to play around with it and make different shapes for different flavours.

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To cook, you can either steam, boil or pan fry the dumplings for around five minutes. I would not recommend trying to make these into potstickers as ultra-thin, shop bought skins do not stand up well to the different cooking techniques required to make good potstickers.

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These are best served with a dipping sauce made from soy, sesame oil and rice vinegar. I also like to add sriracha for some extra heat. I would give a recipe for the dipping sauce but it is very personal so I would recommend experimenting until you reach a satisfactory taste. Another thing I would recommend is making lots of dumplings. You can eat far more than you think!

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Steamed crystal dumplings with tofu

If you love dumplings, why not try my turkey filling? Any leftovers can be made into burgers for a separate meal. If you love Asian flavours but would prefer something a little less labour intensive, why not try my sticky salmon or my ginger tofu?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a layered biscuit recipe.

H

 

 

Fruitcake

Fruitcake is a bit of a ’marmite-y’ food. You either love it or hate it. Clearly it’s the dried fruit that causes the issue as the recipe for a basic fruitcake is a standard sponge cake but uses brown sugar instead of white and often has no raising agent. The thing about fruitcake that really sets it apart is that it can last for years. Properly stored, you can keep a fruitcake for up to 25 years and still eat it without having to worry about food poisoning. This is probably because of the copious amounts of brandy in which this cake is soaked. A good fruitcake will be regularly ‘fed’ brandy for a month or so before it is stored and left to mature until it is needed.

Christmas cake is distinguished from normal fruitcake by the time of year at which it is eaten. The recipe is the same…. it’s just eaten in late December rather than at any other time. Whilst the darkness of the cake can come from using light and dark brown sugar, a properly deep brown colour is achieved by adding black treacle. Treacle is the bitumen (tar) of the sugar world. It is what is left over at the end of the refining process when the corn syrup, standard sugar and other lightly coloured products have been removed. It is full of ‘impurities’ which would ruin normal sugar syrup but are really only the minerals in the sugar beet or sugarcane, things like iron, magnesium, calcium etc. These minerals are so concentrated in black treacle that some brands have even been used as a health supplement.

The alcohol added to the fruitcake gives it a very moist crumb and an intense flavour without making it too boozy. This is because while the cake is maturing, all the liquid diffuses evenly throughout it whilst the alcohol evaporates leaving only its flavour behind. The hardiness of fruitcakes is what makes them so perfect for weddings. Cakes can be cut and pieces posted out to friends and family without the worry that all that will arrive will be a mushy mess.

The cake is very rich so you will get a lot of servings out of it – you cannot eat much at any one time. I hope you enjoy the recipe (and the cake in about two months time).

 

Fruitcake

450g currants

300g sultanas

275g raisins

200g glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped

100g mixed peel

250ml brandy

10oz flour

10oz brown sugar

10oz butter

5 eggs

1 tbsp black treacle

¾ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¾ tsp mixed spice

Zest of 1 orange

 

Tip the sultanas, currants, raisins, peel and cherries into a large bowl.

Pour over the brandy, stir, cover tightly and leave to stand for 24 hours.

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Turn the oven to gas mark 1.

Line an eight-inch square tin or a nine inch round tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Do not skimp on this stage. It should take at least five minutes.

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Beat in the treacle.

Beat the eggs lightly to combine.

Add the egg a tablespoon at a time beating after each addition to prevent curdling. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.

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Once the egg has all been incorporated, add the flour and spices and lightly beat until just combined.

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Drain the dried fruit and reserve the brandy for later (it will be used to feed the fruitcake).

Add the fruit to the cake mix and use a wooden spoon to combine by hand. This prevents the fruit from being pulverised.

Tip into the tin and spread out evenly.

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If you are using metal tins, tie a strip of baking parchment around the outside of the cake so that it comes up to at least double the height of the tin. Also cut out a circle/square of parchment which will fit over the top of the cake – this will stop it from browning.

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Bake for four hours.

Remove the parchment covering the top and bake for another 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (it may be a little wet but not mushy). If the cake begins to brown too much, place the parchment back over the top.

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Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool.

Once it is cold, prick it all over and spoon two tablespoons of the brandy over the cake. Leave for an hour to absorb and then wrap the cake tightly in baking parchment and then foil.

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Leave the cake to mature for at least two weeks (although preferably a month) feeding the cake brandy twice each week.

After the cake has matured, you can serve it as it is or decorate it with marzipan and royal icing to make a proper Christmas/wedding/decorative cake.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake, be sure to check out the recipe for my beautiful chocolate raspberry layer cake.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a winter warmer to keep you going strong into the new year.

H

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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

Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Crumble

One of the best things about cooking is how easily most mistakes can be rectified. A good sauce can cover up a multitude of sins and, in many cases, is the reason a dish tastes so good. They provide a way to add flavour to food without having to do too much extra cooking; they can save a piece of meat that has been a little overcooked by reintroducing moisture; and of course they can make or break the balance of a dish.

This recipe is based on one of the five “mother” sauces of French cooking – the béchamel. White sauces like this are cooked by making a roux from flour and butter and then adding milk to thin it down to the desired consistency. Personally, I like the cheat’s version where you whisk the flour into the milk so it is no longer clumpy, add the butter and then heat the sauce until it thickens. The cheat’s method is incredibly useful for a basic béchamel with no added frills as it avoids any problems of the roux burning. A true béchamel presents an extra chance for flavour – you can infuse the milk with herbs, spices and other tastes before you add it, giving another dimension to the dish.

The béchamel sauce did not actually originate in France. It was bought over in the early 1500s from Tuscany, Italy. Known as the Salsa Colla (or “glue sauce”) because of its gummy consistency, the sauce was altered from its base components of flour, butter and milk by adding stock and cream. This action not only added a lot of flavour, but changed the sauce from a béchamel to a velouté – one of the other five base sauces. The three other sauces that I haven’t mentioned yet are the espagnole – a brown roux based sauce with dark veal stock instead of milk, the hollandaise – made by emulsifying butter and egg yolks with a little vinegar and the sauce tomate – a basic tomato sauce. The velouté is like a cross between the béchamel and the espagnole, a light roux is made and then stock is added to thin it down. The sauce is then thickened again using cream and egg yolks to give a velvety mouth feel.

In the recipe below, I use a Mornay sauce – a term I only learnt when researching for this post. This sauce is almost identical to the béchamel except it includes grated cheese, traditionally gruyère, which is melted into the base white sauce. The Mornay is used in most recipes for macaroni and cheese – although in my recipe, I am pretty sure that there is more cheese than anything else – and in the same vein, I am using it here inside the crumble to add moisture and flavour instead of pouring it over the top of the finished product.

This recipe is a great dinner to prep ahead of time and also keeps well in the fridge which is ideal as leftovers mean less cooking the next day! You can tailor the vegetables in the base to your favourites or even just change them every now and then to keep the food interesting. I love this and I hope you do too.

 

 

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Crumble

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 45-60 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per portion: around 75p

 

 

 

200g butternut squash – cut into small cubes (around one or two centimetres)

200g sweet potato – cut into small cubes (a lot of supermarkets sell prebagged mixes of butternut squash and sweet potato; if you prefer, you can just use one of these instead of cutting your own veg. It saves a lot of time)

1 medium onion

50g butter

25g flour

100-150g grated cheddar cheese

250ml milk

Salt and pepper

 

For the crumble

100g flour

100g butter

35g porridge oats

60g grated fresh parmesan

3 grinds of pepper

 

Melt 25g of butter in a pan.

Finely dice the onion and fry it in the butter for a few minutes until it turns translucent.

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Add the sweet potato and butternut squash and pan roast for around ten minutes. Stir it every few minutes to ensure the vegetables are evenly heated and the ones at the base don’t burn.

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Pour the vegetables into an oven proof dish.

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Put the milk and flour in a pan (you can use the one which the veg was cooked in to avoid extra washing up).

Use a whisk to mix them together to avoid any lumps of flour.

Add the remaining 25g of butter to the sauce mix and gently heat whilst whisking continuously.

After a few minutes, the sauce will begin to thicken as the flour cooks.

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Once the sauce has thickened up and is beginning to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir through the grated cheese, pepper and a little salt (to taste). You want to let the latent heat of the sauce melt the cheese as melting it over the stove will cause the cheese to go stringy.

When you can no longer see anymore cheese in the pan, pour the sauce over the vegetables and stir them together in the oven dish.

 

For the crumble, rub the butter into the flour.

Stir through the rest of the ingredients and then pour the crumble over the vegetable mix.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Bake the crumble for 45 minutes or up to an hour for an extra crispy crumble. If the crumble starts to turn too dark, cover the top with foil and continue to cook.

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This crumble is stunningly good and can be prepared ahead of time. Just pop it in the oven an hour before you wish to eat and relax!

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If you liked this, you should definitely check out my recipe for macaroni and cheese or if you are looking for something a bit more on the sweet side, why not treat yourself to a delicious honey cake?

Have a good one and I will be back next week for a delicious bread recipe.

H