Wednesday 30 July 2008

Short, sweet and simple with Filbert

I will keep this post brief as I am still encountering processing issues with my laptop.

It is that time of the month again where Daring Bakers unite and test our baking skills and patience in the kitchen. This month's host is Chris from Mele Cotte (thank you Chris!) where you will find the entire recipe for the gateaux. Also, check out the various renditions of Filbert on my fellow DB sites.

I did not venture far from the original recipe, I simply scaled everything down by half to yield a smaller cake -- sufficiently satisfying the sweet tooth of six persons. The only problem I encountered was with my genoise, which shrank and sank upon removing from the oven. The texture, however, was moist, slightly dense and nibby with hazelnuts. As I was a little rushed for time, I used praline paste (50g to a total weight of 400g Swiss buttercream) instead of making my own for the buttercream which I know was cheeky and lazy on my behalf but hey, I go to work because somebody has to pay the bills (NB I assembled this cake in 5 minutes before leaving for work this morning - I did leave this challenge until the last minute and I do feel some sense of guilt I have to admit).

For the ganache, I used 100g of 85% cocoa Lindt dark chocolate melted in 180 mls pouring cream, 1 tablespoon glucose and 30g unsalted butter. The result is a super-glossy and thicker than normal ganache made with minimum 55% cocoa dark chocolate.

Although I enjoyed eating every bit of the slice of cake (pictured below), I thought it would be best if I shared it with my new workmates. I hope they enjoy eating it every last bit of it too.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Sunshine salad

Okay, the reason for this continuous evacuation of blog entries is because my laptop is playing up and there has been a backlog of posts I need to clear before a friend of mine looks at it (my laptop that is) and God only knows what will happen to all my image and text files when that happens! It is a race against time and I hope to get most of what I would like to share published before the unthinkable happens, which hopefully doesn't happen. Fingers crossed!

Here is a simple salad I made taking advantage of the season's citrus bounty. Did I mention I love citrus? Well, in case I haven't, I do. In fact, I can't wait til the arrival of blood oranges in my local market because I am just itching to try out a recipe I came across. And of course, Seville oranges to make some bitter-tart marmalade which I will use in a bread and butter pudding, hopefully before the days begin to warm up.

Anyway, I am rambling.

The salad is a toss of sliced radishes, navel orange segments, a variety of lettuce leaves and frisee. The star is of course the salad dressing, a departure from the standard lemon juice or vinegar base. Here, I used the juice of the oranges I segmented with a splash of white wine vinegar, a smattering of good dijon mustard, grapeseed oil and finely chopped mint. After photographing the salad, whilst in the process of tucking into it, I stumbled serendipitously upon some leftover roasted walnuts and golden raisins, too few to include in a baking project but enough to garnish my salad so I scattered them atop. The walnuts' oily-bitterness was just the perfect foil for the tart citrus dressing and the sweet raisins complimented the pepperi-ness of the radish.

If not for the delightful play of flavours on your palate, wouldn't you just make this colourful and optimistic looking salad to brighten a grey winter's day?

sunshine salad
1/2 head of frisee, white bits only
1/2 head butter lettuce
1/2 head coral lettuce
4-5 radish, finely sliced
2 medium sized navel oranges, segmented
handful of toasted walnuts (or pinenuts, pecans - your nut of choice really)
handful of golden raisins
*optional: small fennel, finely sliced and roasted baby beetroot, quartered

citrus dressing
juice squeezed from the remnants of orange after segmenting
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp good quality dijon mustard
grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
salt and pepper to taste
finelychopped mint leaves

wash lettuce and drain completely to dry
toss leaves in a large bowl and scatter the remaining ingredients over the top.
**I have made suggestions for other optional ingredients you may wish to include in your salad. Fennel and beetroot has a true affinity for oranges and will go superbly well with the citrus dressing**
make dressing by placing juice, zest, vinegar, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper into a little jam jar with half the amount of oil.
shake vigourously to form an emulsion
add remaining oil and shake again
finally add the chopped mint leaves
pour over salad and enjoy!
I have in the past used this citrus dressing enriched with a couple of tablespoons of good mayonnaise for an apple, carrot and cabbage slaw. It makes a refreshing change from the classic version of coleslaw.

Crepes and such

I discovered a pile of leftover buckwheat crepes that were slightly stale at the back of my fridge and eventhough they were a few days old (I made them on Bastille Day, not deliberately to celebrate the occasion though), I could not bring myself to toss them into the bin. Apart from the age-old saying, "think of all the starving children" as a constant reminder not to waste food, I do think most things can be salvaged and freshened up somehow to make a decent meal for one with the aid of some inventiveness. The only one exception is of course leftover cooked pasta for I believe no amount of salad cream or condiments can make a salad of cold pasta as appetising as its freshly-cooked counterpart but having said that, I have been known to (begrudgingly) eat day-old pasta.

Crepes are an incredibly versatile food. the type you can have anytime of the day, as a snack, meal or treat, as a sweet or savory item. The other great thing about crepes is that it is incredibly portable and can be eaten on the move, or you can dress it up to eaten in civilised fashion at a table with a pint of cider. Although buckwheat crepes are usually eaten with savoury fillings, I had some after dinner with a liberal spread of Nutella, slices of banana and toasted flaked almonds - yum. Many of my friends who love crepes hesitate at the thought of making the pancakes themselves because they find crepe-making a little difficult and often frustrating. The truth is, it does take some practice and confidence but once you have adjusted the heat of the pan and overcome the awkward twisting of your wrist to spread the batter evenly and thinly, you will be like a fish in water. (For further reading, check out Heidi Swanson's comprehensive entry on how to make sweet crepes and David Lebovitz's on how to make buckwheat crepes). Heck! you may even enjoy it.

Anyway, returning to what I did with my leftover crepes. I simply lined 2 holes of a Texas muffin tin with 2 crepes each (my crepes were very thin and delicate and I didn't want to risk seepage during baking), filled them with sauteed mushrooms and spinach, cracked a free-range egg over the top of each and baked them in a moderately hot oven for 4-5 minutes until the eggs were set but the yolks still runny.

It then struck me as I had my fork in one of my breakfast cupcrepes (I am rather pleased with this word I've coined) what a fabulous way to use up leftover crepes this is. The warm and wholesome savoury filling cradled by a pancake tender and moist with edges crisp, it was like eating a freshly cooked crepe at a creperie - well, almost!

Sunday 13 July 2008

In the mood for soup: Curried red lentil and mango soup

The cold weather makes me want to hoover everything edible in my path, in particular temperature raising foods like slow-cooked meat casseroles so rich and savoury they leave your lips sticky, hearty soups, golden-roasted root vegetables seasoned with crunchy flakes of salt and espelette, spicy Indian curry with roti, pomme puree, thick slices of warm toast with soft and creamy scrambled eggs, cups of hot chocolate that leave you a Marx-ian moustache everytime you take a sip, freshly steamed sticky date pudding and the list continues.

This time last year, all I wanted to eat for every meal was macaroni and cheese! I made several variations of the dish, each time, using a different type of pasta and cheese. My favourite version was one I made with a smoked aged cheddar and casareccia which I ate with a piquant tomato chutney and a bitter salad on the side. Sometimes the marvellously simple dishes are the ones that deliver absolute pleasure in the eating, wouldn't you agree?

Before I share the recipe I made today, I would like to dispel any implication that my obsession for including a little bit of "summer" in my dishes is a reflection of any detestation for this cold weather. I love winter as much as I do summer and autum, but maybe less than spring, but I am sure that this is understandable. Winter has its charm, its character and its own moments -- like how the air smells "forest fresh" after an overnight shower, and how the grass looks greener and brighter with the early morning sun breaking through the blanket of mist. When else would you draw more pleasure and comfort from watching steam rise out of your coffee cup than on those crisp cold winter mornings?

So here it is, today's soup incited by traditional Indian dahl served with bread or rice, it is prepared in a short time and is absolutely loaded with taste. I included curry powder, fresh grated ginger and garlic which add a gentle spiciness to the soup and a few kaffir lime leaves for citrus tones without the sharp acidity. I simply adore citrus in soups! I then finished the soup with some light coconut cream and roughly chopped mango flesh. Served with some pappadums, this soup is so satisfyingly flavourful it left me wanting nothing more but a second helping!

Curried red lentil and mango soup
2 medium onions, finely diced
3 small-medium sized waxy potatoes, diced
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
piece of ginger, grated (i used one the size of my thumb)
3-4 kaffir lime leaves
1 1/2 cups red lentils
2 tsp curry powder (i used a mild one)
3-4 small ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (or use a tin of chopped tomatoes)
1 tin of mango in natural juice, roughly chopped
1 small tin of light/regular coconut cream
(generously serves 6 hungry adults)
sweat onions with a couple of tablespoons of vege oil in a medium sized heavy based pot until soft but not brown. This will take about 4 minutes over medium low heat
add curry powder, chilli, garlic and ginger to the onions and cook until your kitchen is filled with spicy fragrance
stir in the diced potatoes and lentils to coat with the
cook for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time so the mixture doesn't catch on the bottom of the pot and add a teaspoon of salt
add 500ml (about 2 cups) water and bring to a boil
add the kaffir lime leaves, chopped tomatoes and the juices from the tinned mangoes
gently simmer until the lentils and potatoes are tender (you may have to add another cup of water to adjust the consistency at this point)
**you may at this point remove the kaffir lime leaves and blend the soup to achieve a smooth consistency**
finish with coconut cream and chopped mango
season with salt and pepper to taste

Wednesday 9 July 2008

And a dessert in between...

I have just started at my new job -- one that is less demanding than the last, thus leaving me more time to the setting up of my little project. The 2-month hiatus I took has obviously done me some good as I finally have clarity of thought and the might of a nourished spirit to actuate what I have been pussy-footing about the past couple of years. Yes, it's about bloody time!

I thought I would leave loyal followers of this space a little something I made whilst awaiting my post-interview news earlier this week. Admittedly pleased, I was a little astonished by the girl-y pallette of the final product as most of you may already have realised, I struggle a little with the concepts of pretty and cute. I consider my style: rustic.

The inspiration for this dessert came from my longing for the warm weather I have grown accustomed to during my time away. I wanted to create something bright and summery but not incredulously so, like a summer berry pudding in the middle of winter, so I settled for the flavours of rhubarb and tangelo - both currently in season, in a Charlotte.

My initial attempts at incorporating the puree of poached rhubarb into a mousse base resulted in a curdled mess and my suspicion lies in the puree being too acidic (but I could be wrong) so I altered my game plan and made bavarois flavoured with fruit instead.


130ml whole milk
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
130g rhubarb puree/tangelo juice
1/2tsp vanilla paste/grated zest of 1 tangelo
11g sheet gelatine, allow to bloom in cold water
250ml cream, lightly whipped

pre-chill a medium sized stainless steel bowl heat milk with vanilla paste or tangelo zest until the surface is just quivering whisk yolks and eggs in a medium bowl gradually add heated milk to egg mix and whisk to mix return milk and egg mixture to saucepan and cook gently until custard coats the back of a spoon add gelatine and stir until melted and dissolved add rhubarb puree or juice at this point and mix well strain custard into a pre-chilled bowl and set over a ice/cold water bath stir custard until gelatin just begins to set and mixture is visibly thicker remove from water bath and whisk in 1/3 softly whipped cream then fold remainder of the cream into the mixture pour into cake ring lined with a thin layer of genoise.

Although lengthy in procedure, one can definately derive a lot of satisfaction in delicately folding the flour into the genoise batter and then painstakingly piping regular lengths of batter for the ladyfingers that "fence" the perimeter of the cake. Again, if you lack the patience or would rather challenge your technical skills another day, you are most welcome to use store bought sponge cake and ladyfingers, also known as savoiardi - but they wouldn't be pink! I do urge you however, to give the recipes below a go because you will be rewarded with a product with less sugar and superior in both quality and taste.

preheat oven to 190C line the base of a 20x30cm baking tray with baking paper melt 110g unsalted butter and set aside to cool sift 150g flour 3 times and set aside whisk 360g eggs with 180g sugar until triple in volume (NB it helps if the eggs are at room temperature) add flour into egg mixture at once and gently fold without compromising too much volume remove a third of this mixture and place into a medium sized mixing bowl stir melted butter into this mixture until well combined fold butter-ed mixture into the remaining batter pour into prepared pan tap the pan on the counter top to ensure no large bubbles are trapped bake for 15 minutes or until the cake springs back when press gently.

lady fingers
preheat oven to 180C line the base of a baking tray with baking paper and draw lines measuring the height of the cake ring you decide to use for your Charlotte (NB this helps with piping equal length lady fingers) whisk 3 large egg yolks with 75g sugar until thick and pale (it should form a ribbon) **optional add colour of your choice** whisk 3 egg whites in a separate bowl until frothy and gradually add 50g sugar, whisking the entire time until sugar has dissolved and a shiny stiff meringue is obtained fold meringue into the yolk mixture then sift 75g flour into the egg mix and fold to combine well pipe ladyfingers onto the prepared baking tray sift icing sugar over the piped ladyfingers allow to stand for 10 minutes then bake for 10-12 minutes allow to cool before removing from baking paper

to assemble Charlotte
line the outside of the mold you decide to use with the ladyfingers place a disc of genoise on the bottom to fit snugly brush with tangelo juice or the liquid used to poach the rhubard in top with the rhubarb bavarois allow to set in the fridge for 15 minutes place another genoise disc and top with the tangelo-flavoured bavarois allow to set for 3 hours or overnight finish with a berry jelly (heat 150g strained raspberry puree and 10g sugar add 5g gelatin sheet (bloomed) allow to cool).