Monday, 30 April 2007

Victoria Sponge

Victoria sponge traditionally relies on the air beaten into the eggs to rise the batter, rather than a raising agent such as baking powder. Some recipes call for beating the egg yolks with the sugar seperatly from the egg whites, but I followed Michel Roux's recipe for a genoise, which is the french equivalent. This recipe whips the eggs together with the sugar, then folds in the flour and a very small quanity of melted butter. Although it seems from the various recipes I can find that the butter is not traditional, this is the way I remember my father making sponge cakes.

For those without an electric beater this recipe constitutes excercise rather than baking. It took my little hand-held beater 10 mintues to get the eggs and sugar to the right white fluffy consistency. Usually I'm all for hand whisking, particularly with meriange, but this would require some kind of team effort, a kind of pass the whisk relay. Egg yolks, unlike egg whites, are very difficult to get air into, and require a great deal more beating in order for them to double in volume in the way they need too.

Although I often bake, I tend to make cakes with butter in them, and often using nuts instead of flour. The weather being what it is though, it seemed like a good time to make a foray into the world of baking without rising agents.

It can seem like an impossible task when first looking at your ingrediants. Eggs, sugar and flour: is this really going to make a cake? But as long asyou aerate the eggs enough, and take care not to knock the air out when folding in the flour, its all good.
The one last temptation and potential pitfall is opening the oven door. I was dancing around the door, attempting to take sneak peaks through the glass, which was entirely futile as I'd placed them too high up to get a look into the tin. Because these sponges have no raising agent they are a lot more delicate and tempermental than normal cake. Like a souffle, if you shock them with cold air before they are cooked, they will fall.

4 medium eggs
125g caster sugar
125g of sifted flour
30g of melted butter cooled to room temperature but still liquid.

Grease a cake tin well and flour the inside lightly. Heat the oven to 190oc

Beat the eggs with the sugar until light, white and creamy. Thye should at least double in volume.

You may be tempted to give up when they look like this:

But keep going, they aren't ready until they look like this:

Then gently fold the flour into the eggs , being careful not to crush the air out. Lastly fold in the melted butter.

Place in the tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and springs back when pushed, emitting a faint hiss.

I cut my sponge into layers, and spread them with lemon curd, whipped cream and passionfruit pulp.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Wet Garlic and Cultured Dill Pickles

Wet garlic is the new seasons garlic, a little premature, and with a sweeter, more rounded taste. Its leaves can also be eaten, gently sauted or raw for a more powerful kick. It came all prettily tied up in a bunch in our organic veg box this week.

My father had given me a pot of dill pickles to try. Instead of the normal added ingrediants these are cultured dill pickles, alive in the same way yeast is. Pickles are something I almost instinctively avoided as a child, perhaps because the first time I encountered them was bedecking an overdone hamburger, a sad and sorry little piece of pickle if ever I saw one. The pickle was ingrained in my food memory as soemthng distinctly unappealing until I was served a little homemade rillettes de canard with a side of pickled cornichons. Mainly because they were so miniture and cute, I tried one and realised what it was all about. Sharp pickle enlivens, cutting through the fat, bringing out the flavour of the meat.
Since then I hardly ever eat pate without pickles (pickled walnuts are also a favourite). The joy of pickle with potato was discovered at a friends house when she served a very rough mash, complete with chunks of pickle, onion and boiled egg. Comfort food at its best.

A little potato salad seemed an appropriate way to combine both. Potato salad , too, is something I only came round to when I realised that slathering it mayonaise was entirely optional, and that a healthy glug of olive oil did the job just as well. I'll eat most foods, but mayonaise is usually store bought and awful, something akin to eating flavourless and aerated oil. Homemade mayonaisse is almost an entirely differnt thing, great to dip a chip in, rich and tasty. Such mayonaisse though, is encountered even more infrequently that bearnaise or hollandaise, and its usually the stuff out of the jar, slathered on thick, that makes its way onto potato salad.

Wet garlic (or one clove of raw garlic and some spring onions)
Dill pickles
boiled potatoes
olive oil

Chop the wet garlic and parsley finely, and the dill pickles a bit more coarsely. Its best to add these and the olive oil to the potatoes while they are still warm, as they seem to absorb the flavours better. Season with salt and black pepper.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Almond dacquoise with rose cream and strawberries

Flowers add a delicate and subtle scent to all sorts of dishes. Here I have paired one of my favourite desserts with rosewater and a sprinkle of rose petals. Cooking is all about simple recipes that can be played with as the wont takes you. Daquoise is a perfect base for such desserts, being a meriangue flavoured with ground nuts. Both the type and quantity of the nuts used can be changed, giving a texture like crisp meriangue or delicate cake. Almond and hazelnuts are perhaps my favourite ways to flavour daquoise: hazelnuts go perfectly with raspberries while almonds are a more delicate foil for the first strawberries of the season.

The cream that sandwhichs the two together can be left plain, or embellished with fruit liquours, vanilla, spices, or in this case rose water.

The rule I subscribe to for meriangue and dacquoise is that each medium egg white requires at least 55g of sugar and ground nuts, of which 30g at least of this must be sugar. You can of course add more than 55g of dry ingrediants, and the more you add the drier, or more sandy, the dacquoise will be.

There are a couple of things which make meriangues and dacquoise much much easier. A good copper bowl for whipping your egg whites.

Mine came from Lakeland, but Mauviel also do one which also has a stand allowing one-handed whipping. Copper bowls aren't necessary, but they do help for anything which requires beaten egg whites, as the copper allows you to acheive fluffy clouds with the minimum effort. I also try and keep mine solely for egg whites, eliminating the possibility of pesking bits of grease getting through my sub-standard washing up and ruining my egg whites.

The other piece of equiptment is far more indispensible: silicone baking parchment. Again Lakeland, but increasingly more and more shops sell these. It allows you to forget about ricepaper, and that incredibly annoying job of teasing the meriangue off the baking sheet, all the while hoping it doesn't fragment into little shards in your hands.

3 egg whites
150g of caster sugar
50g of ground almonds
1/2 pint of cream
a drop of rose water

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until all the sugar has dissolved. The meriangue should have a firmer consistency and get increasingly hard to whisk as you add the sugar. Fold in the almonds. Pipe or dollop onto the silicone baking sheet, or rice paper, and bake for about an hour (depending on the shape and size of the meriangues) at 100oc. When done the outsides should be crisp and they should peel off the parchment easily, but the middle will still be marshmallow like in consistency.

Leave to cool.

Lightly whip the cream until it is just holding its shape, and then fold in a couple of drops of rose water. Hull the strawberries. Spead the cooled meriangues with cream and decorate with strawberries.

Unfortunatly, we ate this before I got a chance to take a picture of the final product.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Fig and Saffron bread

Yeast baking is something I struggle with. On the few occasions when I have tried it I tend to end up with something overblown and blowsy, with all of the integrity of those soft white floured baps bought in the supermarket. Whether my problem is the flour or the time I'm leaving it to rise for I don't know, but I've effectively given up. I don't have much patience for slaving over things which turn out substandard, when I can go and buy the lovely sourdough at my local deli. But for all that there is something to aspire to in bread baking, it seems the pinnacle of homely comfort and conjugal bliss. Not for nothing are those selling homes instructed to have their loves baking in the aga. Bread baking seems to me though to go rather against the grain: it seems designed to be baked in quantity, and with a frequency that the home cook cannot compete with. It baffles me why we don't have the sort of tradition that the french do, of having very good bakers, and going to them prior to every meal. Of course for a long time it was pretty much impossible to buy good bread in britain, and even now your average shop only sells the cotton wool variety, so perhaps this is what turned us into a nation of would-be bakers. Or perhaps it is the aga, and the long cold dark days which makes a loaf emerging out the oven such an integral part of the british home ideal. Whatever it is, its definatly there, this deep yeasty ideal.

While I simply can't be bothered to bake bread when I can buy better, I did discover in one of my fathers old books a lovely Polish recipe for an enriched fruit bread made from a yeast dough with butter, milk, egg yolks, saffron, brandy and dried fruits added. It is a kind of Baba, and is traditional at easter, a sort of carbohydrate and cholesterol blow-out after the trials of lent. Instead of currents and citrus peel I've complimented the saffron with dried baby figs and fresh orange zest. The quantities in the recipe would have fed all my extended family and friends, so I've scaled it down a bit, although I've also made it slightly richer than the origional version.

500g white bread flour
300ml of warm milk
1 packet of instant yeast (I cheated)
70g of butter
2 egg yolks
1 cup of dried figs
1 large pinch of saffron
1 pinch of salt
zest of and juice of an orange
1/2 cup of crysalised peel
1/2 cup of raisins

Sift the flour with the yeast and add the dried fruits. Leave the saffron to soak in the milk , then stir into the flour, add the orange juice and zest and kneed for 10 minutes. Kneed in the egg yolks one at a time. One you have a good pliable consistency to the dough, shape it into a rectangle. Melt the butter and brush onto the top of the dough, then fold the dough over itself into thirds. Repeat with the remaining butter. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size and then bake at 200 oc until done. It should sound hollow when tapped. Leave to cool slightly, then serve warm with butter.

This is my entry for this month's Waiter, there's something in my...bread

Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb is beginning to be in the shops where I live, but unfortunatly the weather precludes anything as delicate as tarts or fools. Rhubarb crumble seems to be what is called for: a sharp enlivening interior with an almond crumble to protect against the cold mornings. It is one of those classic british dishes which sits happily on the divide between winter and spring. The tartness of the rhubarb is as likely as anything to wake us from our winter sloth, but the crumble stops it feeling too delicate and leaves that comfortably full sensation. Little wonder then that is often a mainstay of school dinners, and hospitals, a sort of institutionalised food which seems to have made a reasonably recent comeback. Not that those that cook haven't been cooking it for all these years, but rather it is suddenly acceptable as a potential dinner party dessert.

Its a strange thing, the dinner party dessert phenomenon. Chocolate roulade, mousse or profiteroles did the cookbook rounds not all that long ago, and there was a spun sugar phase in which little twiddles of caramel accompanied almost anything on a plate , very often a mint leaf to add insult to injury. But now we're going back to comfort food, in an effort to be homely and nuturing. So its perfectly acceptable to serve proper puddings, sticky and debecked with sauce and cream. Indeed there are a ridiculous quantity of recepies for crumble doing the rounds, often photographed emerging from the aga. I imagine that summer will bring us a sudden deluge of fruit fools and eton mess. Now I love this food, but it is simply crazy the way it gets written about, not cooked. Its ironic that while we're all reading about homely aga induced hazes of baking and stewing and preserving, we're eating ready meals.

How much better it would be if we thought of cooking in terms of techniques, not recipes.

The basic componants of a crumble are fruit which must be cooked, and a rough pastry. A good one requires you to vary the time the crumble spends in the oven depending on the fruit used, and a liberal hand with the butter in the pastry. Butter, remember, not margerine or soya nonsense.

ground almonds
brown sugar

I like to use oats in my crumble, I think they give more texture and crunch. This may not be strictly accurate, but it is very good, and also avoids the problem of the crumble on top getting too soggy from the cooking fruit. The butter should be just rubbed into the oats, almonds and sugar, until it starts to form crumbs. depending on the kind of fruit you are using you may want to stew the fruit first with a little water. Rhubarb, however, has more than enough water, and if it isn't too woody it should be fine to just chop into cm think chunks and pop in the baking dish. Mine was more advanced in years than it really ought to have been, so I stewed it briefly beforehand. On top of this you want to sprinkle the crumb, then put to bake in a high oven. The time it takes will depend on the thickness of the crumble, and the fruit used. But a good indication is a golden brown exterior, and oozing fruit juices bubbling along the edge. If your crumble is particularly large, or deep, it is a good idea to poke the middle with something to check the fruit is cooked all the way through.

Lastly a few very gentle suggestions for pairings of fruit and topping.

In general, more gutsy, autumnul fruit such as plums go very well with hazlenuts. Lighter, more delicate fruit such as rhubarb or pears goes better with almonds. And of course there are some fruit which can stand up to anything, apricots, for instance. Similarly with choices of sugar and flour: more autumnal fruits can generally take a bit of muscavado sugar and lots of oats, but I wouldn't recommend it with peaches, where you want a very light, almost shortbread like topping so ground nuts and white flour should make up the bulk to the crumb, and I'd use a more refined sugar.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Baby fig compote

By chance I happened upon these little greek dried figs in the greek deli near me. They are perfect, about the size of the end of your thumb and not too dry. I love figs, but often I find the dried ones in the shops too tough. With these ones the delicate flavour of fresh figs is not wholly gone, despite their wrinkled exterior.

I very simply simmered them with a little cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, vanilla pod and a glass of white wine until they were slightly plumper and softer.

And then I ate them with a dollop of greek yoghurt out in the garden.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Banana Bread

The sun has become too much for my british constitution, I spent the morning with a migraine, and took shelter for the afternoon inside, indulging in some gentle baking.

This recipe was adapted from a Delia Smith one for a banana and walnut bread.

160g wholemeal flour
60g oat bran
4 tsp of baking powder
170g muscavado sugar
110g butter
2 eggs
3 bananas
1 pear
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup of milk
2tsp of cinnamon
tbsp of honey.
1/2 cup of walnuts

Heat the oven to 180 oc
Cut up the dates and soak in the milk. Combine the oat bran, flour, baking powder, and sugar. Fold in the melted butter, and eggs. Mash the banana and peel and chop the pear. Roughly chop the walnuts. Add half the walnuts, the dates and milk, the pear and banana to the mixture and fold in. Spoon into a greased loaf tin. Sprinkle with the rest of the walnuts and the honey.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in comes out clean.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil salad

This ihas become not so much a recipe, or even a salad, as a food cliche, and often a bad one at that.

But here is what it is all about.

Basil growing in the shade


And more tomatos

Its only because I'm in australia, with the hot sun burning me and the grass, that this is worth making. Supermarket tomatos and limp basil would be pretty pointless. This is a dish that is about lifestyle, and wishing doesn't make it so.
But looking at the hardy, peppery basil growing in the semi-shade, and red and yellow tomatoes literally falling from the scorched vine it seemed hard to resist such an iconic dish.

The secret of food like this is not for wish for what you can't have. Which is why its almost silly to write about such things in a food blog, much less a recipe book. There is no point in pretty pictures and recipes of simple salads, when next to no one can get hold of the fresh, often sun-kissed, ingrediants for them outside a couple of months of the year.

With that in mind I offer a few suggestions for an equally satisfying, but more appropriate british salad:

Watercress, roquefort, ripe pears, and toasted walnuts
Goats cheese and roasted beetroot
Sweetheart cabbage finely shredded with apple and a lemon dressing
or for winter a bowl of chicory and sliced oranges