Chocolate Bread and Barbeque

It’s been a really great weekend, the weather was lovely and I managed to get quite a bit done in the vegetable patch. We also had the first barbeque of the year in the garden (including giant sirloin steaks from butchers extraordinaire …  Orr’s of Holywood).

Unfortunately its Monday now and I’m back at work … the rest of the country it seems has today off as well but not me. The upside is as soon as I get home it will be barbeque time again.

So to the chocolate bread … not much to say about this really … apart from the fact that David Leibovitz is a genius! When I mentioned reading about this confection to Mrs W. she appeared somewhat keen to sample it.  Not wanting to disappoint, I made this as the last act of a near perfect weekend.  I didn’t deviate much from the recipe except to substitute the chopped nuts for home made praline.

I made the praline by scorching blanched hazelnuts and brown sugar in a non stick pan until caramelized (but not burned). The sticky nuts were left to cool on greaseproof paper and chopped roughly in the food processor.  The resulting loaf has a deep chocolate flavour and firm texture … would be perfect with morning coffee.

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

Daring Bakers: Suet Pudding

This is my first Daring Kitchen ‘challenge’ after reading about them in countless other blogs. The idea is that each month a member posts a recipe challenge (there are ‘cooking’ and ‘baking’ challenges) and everybody has a go and shares their successes and failures. It appealed to me as a way to try new ideas and have some fun cooking! I would recommend anybody to get stuck in and have a go. Full details and FAQ are in this link.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: Suet. Being an Englishman this was not as alien a concept as it may have been to some of the other cooks taking on this challenge as I make 2 or 3 Christmas puddings every year and have done several other sweet suet puddings.  Suet has a comforting quality that reminds me of school dinner puddings and my mums stew and dumplings on a cold winters night.

However I have never made a vegetarian savoury suet pudding so this became my challenge. The weather has begun to warm up here (spring has finally arrived!) so I wanted to make a lighter dish than a traditional winter meat pudding (the classic filling is steak and kidney).  I browsed through my cookbooks and found a vegetarian suet pudding dish by Gary Rhodes. It would make an ideal vegetarian main course or a great rich side dish to roast beef.

Suet (shredded rendered beef fat) is not the most appealing ingredient (it polarised opinions with those bakers who had not used it before) but it is essential in the pastry of traditional English steamed puddings (savoury and sweet).  These misgivings are misplaced if you are using the boxed stuff, its has the appearance of coarsely grated dessicated coconut (fresh suet is another matter and is for the more adventurous!).

Suet pastry is softer and rich in contrast to the crispness of shortcrust.  A pudding bowl (any heat proof bowl will do mine was a small Pyrex mixing bowl… the ones you get supermarket Christmas puddings in are ideal …keep them!) is lined with the suet crust pastry, the meat added and a lid of suet crust tightly seals the meat. The pudding is then steamed before serving in the bowl on the table.

Layered Mushroom and Onion Suet Pudding with “Truffle” Sauce

150 gm vegetarian suet

300 gm self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

200 ml cold water

4-6 medium onions

12 large flat mushrooms

butter

1 large shallot or 2 smaller ones

few sprigs of lemon thyme

300 ml aromatic white wine (Gewürztraminer is ideal)

300 ml Noilly Prat vermouth

Creme fraiche to taste

Making a suet crust pastry was absurdly easy.  Mix the flour with an extra teaspoon of baking powder and sieve into bowl. Mix in the shredded suet and season with salt and pepper (its the same process for a sweet suet crust just leave out the seasoning).  Add water to form a stiff dough and once all the material is combined into a ball wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest (I left mine overnight at this stage).

Whilst the pastry is resting prepare the mushroom and onion filling.  Slice the onions thinly (I used a mandolin…essential timesaving tool) and fry in butter over a medium heat until well caramelised (its better to do this is a couple of batches, seasoning as you go).  Trim the stalks from the mushrooms (reserve them for later).  Sear the mushrooms in a hot pan with a drop of olive oil in batches of 2 or 3 (you want to get a rich brown colour on them).  Set the onions and mushrooms aside to cool.

Generously butter a 2 pint pudding bowl (tip: if you are making a sweet pudding you can get a lovely caramelised finish if you sprinkle soft brown sugar over the buttered surface).  Roll the pastry out to a 0.5-1cm thickness and cut a 1/3 segment out, this will be your lid so cut a circle out of this segment using the rim of your pudding bowl.  Form a rough cone using the remaining 2/3 of your pastry by bringing the cut edges together with a slight overlap and use this ‘cone’ to line the pudding bowl. Ensure there are no gaps in the lining and trim the excess pastry leaving about 1 cm overlapping the rim.

Drain and reserve any liquid from the mushrooms. Place a layer of the caramelised onions in the bottom of the pudding bowl followed by a few lemon thyme leaves and then a mushroom (gills facing up). Season with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers of onions, thyme and mushrooms until all the filling is used up (as you get towards the top of the bowl you may have to use 2 or 3 mushrooms to form the layer) seasoning each layer lightly. Once all the filling is added top with the suet pastry lid.  Overlap and pinch the lining edges over the lid to seal the pudding.

Butter, flour and season a piece of kitchen foil large enough to cover the bowl. Make a pleat in the centre of the foil sheet.  Cover the pudding bowl with the foil and place the pudding into a steamer with the bowl resting on a trivet or rack.

If you have a pressure cooker this works even better.  I bought a pressure cooker a couple of  years ago and find it a brilliantly useful piece of equipment. Not only is it ideal for steaming puddings but it can make the most glorious stocks with only half an hour of cooking !  Steam the pudding for about 2 hours (or 1 hour in a pressure cooker).

Whilst the pudding is steaming prepare the sauce by finely chopping the shallot and remaining mushrooms (including the reserved stalk trimmings). Sweat the shallots in a knob of butter until soft but not coloured and add mushrooms, a few sprigs of lemon thyme and the juice of half a lemon and cook until the mushrooms have softened. Add the white wine, vermouth and reserved mushroom juices. Turn up the heat and reduce by half. Once reduced, turn down the heat to a low simmer add the cream, taste and season.  Cook the sauce for a few minutes more then strain through a fine sieve making sure to squeeze out all the juices. Return the sauce to the pan and keep warm.

Once the pudding has steamed leave the pudding to rest for about 10 minutes before removing the foil top and turning out onto a plate.

Cut the pudding into portions sized wedge and serve with the sauce. Some lightly cooked greens would be a good accompaniment but we just had seconds …and then thirds.

I have to admit the final dish tasted much better than it looked (apologies for the rubbish photo but we had friend for dinner and had no time for faffing with the camera). The filling was rich and surprisingly ‘meaty’ and the mushrooms packed a deep, savoury umami punch.  The pastry was like a big warm hug: soft and comforting in a way that only suet crust is and had a pleasing slight crispness that I wasn’t expecting.

One last tip… there will be melted suet in the cooking water. Once it cools it will form a rather unpleasant hard, fatty scum so if you are not putting the pan in the dishwasher it it worth giving your pan (and the pudding bowl) a good rinse with hot soapy water before it cools… a job for the ‘sous chef’ in your life?

A Lemon Trilogy Part 2: Flourless Whole Lemon and Almond Cannelles

This a a great cake, adapted from a Gary Rhodes recipe. Mrs W. first made them when she was dieting as they have no butter or flour.  They are  sublime served warm with custard. Using whole lemons sounds mad but gives a real depth of flavour. I split the mix between mini cannelle moulds (pictured) and mini loaves. the cannelles were a lovely treat to have after lunch (linguine pomodoro with chorizo). I baked these and lemon macarons as Easter gifts for our neighbours before jetting off to Portugal (to stuff myself with custard tarts and seafood!).

Flourless Whole Lemon and Almond Cannelles (or Cakes)

175 g ground almonds

4 large eggs

1/4 tsp baking powder

3 whole unwaxed lemons

175 g unrefined caster sugar (for those who are on a diet 14 g of Splenda can be used in place of the sugar… I won’t claim it made as good a cake but Mrs W. quite liked it)

  • Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
  • Put the whole lemons in a saucepan, and cover with water (they will float a bit, but cover them as much as you can) and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for at least an hour. Take the lemons out, and keep 100 ml of the cooking water. Cut the lemons in quarters, they’ll be really mushy by now – pick out the pips/seeds. Blitz the whole lemons (skin and everything) and the reserved cooking water into a puree. Pass the puree though a sieve and leave to cool.
  • Add the baking powder to the ground almonds and pass through a sieve.
  • Beat the eggs with the sugar to make a sabayon. It needs to look like lightly whipped cream… it starts off quite yellow but eventually go creamy and white (being lazy, I used the Kenwood with a whisk attachment).
  • Add the puree and the ground almonds to the sabayon  and whisk lightly at low speed for 1 minute.
  • Pour the batter into greased loaf tins or moulds and bake… small cannelles will take about 20 minutes, mini-loaves 30-35 minutes and if you use two big loaf tins maybe ten minutes longer. Check the cakes are cooked with a skewer.
  • Leave them to cool in the tin or mould then pop them out and enjoy!

A Lemon Trilogy Part 1: Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

Mrs W. and I are expecting our second child in early August. She is about 22 weeks into the pregnancy right now and has taken a notion for lemons and all things lemony tasting. Fortunately I had somewhat of a glut of said citrus in the fridge right now so before we head off to Portugal on our hols I thought I would make best use of them.

I have been in a bit of a cooking funk of late, but with a change to the clocks (which means I can at least start cooking in daylight) and some signs of slightly better weather my enthusiasm for spending time in the kitchen is slowly returning.  Cooking with lemons  filled the house with a lovely fresh fragrance so it seems like spring may finally get here!

It is also high time for me to get some veg into the garden (somewhat late I know but the growing season starts somewhat later in Northern Ireland… we had snow this week!). I have hardly touched the plot since last autumn (apart from putting in garlic and early season broad beans and peas before winter set in) but I hope to get stuff sown before we head away and see some signs of growth when we get back.

Back to the lemon theme… I made a great supper based on a Nigel Slater recipe  of linguine with a lemon, olive oil and pecorino dressing. This really is just the easiest peasiest thing to make… so simple but so tasty.

Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

About 250 g linguine (I use De Cecco brand)

Juice from 1 large lemon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

75 ml extra virgin olive oil

75 g grated pecorino  (and a little extra to serve)

  • Put a large pan of water on to boil. When it is bubbling furiously, salt it generously then add the linguine. Let it cook at an excited boil for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Put the half the lemon juice and olive oil a bowl and beat briefly until emulsified like a vinaigrette. Beat in the grated pecorino with a grinding of black pepper. Taste and add additional lemon juice as required.
  • Drain the pasta (leaving a trace of the cooking water) and add the lemon and pecorino ‘sauce’. Toss the linguine until well coated and serve immediately with extra grated pecorino.

Raspberry Macarons

I have been wanting to bake macarons for a while and inspired by the wonderful creations by Edward Kimber, Aran Goyoaga and Helene Dujardin I decided to have a crack at making my own. Pierre Herme is the undisputed master of this elegant confection and the recipe for the rose shells are from his book “Macaron” (soon to be released in English) and can be found here.

They were not as hard to make as I thought they would be (even though I have never used a piping bag before) but I did pick up a few hints that seemed to help.

  • I “aged” my egg whites before use by leaving them covered with a clean tea towel at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Don’t over boil the syrup before adding to the egg whites (use a cooking thermometer…this is mine).
  • Leave the piped macarons to dry for 30 minutes before baking (the surfaces should be dry to the touch).
  • Once the macarons are baked remove the  parchment from the baking sheets so the macarons do not overcook.
  • Do not remove the macarons from the parchment until they are fully cooled.

I made a raspberry buttercream to fill the rose macaron shells. A handful of fresh raspberries were blitzed using a stick blender and the puree passed through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Butter (160g) and  icing sugar (320g) were beaten in the Kenwood until pale and creamy and the raspberry puree added. However I added too much raspberry and my buttercream split and became sloppy! I managed to rescue the filling by beating in additional icing sugar.

I was pleased with the final result and they tasted as good as they looked. We ate several whilst watching the rugby yesterday and they made a great gift for the birthday dinner Mrs W. and I went to afterwards. Unfortunately I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t manage to post this in time for the mactweets blogroll for macaron bakers.  Oh well… maybe next time.