Monday, 21 October 2013

Apple tart - French rustic meets British bite

Tart made with Wilma's Bramley apples
This is apple time, the apples falling late this year, helped by the recent deluge of rain and ferocious gusts of wind. Since they are so late, the birds and bugs have had first dibs, and a lot of the apples bear scars and scabs that mean they won't keep. Time for some serious baking - apple recipes follow.

The Bramley apple is queen in the British autumn kitchen. With a thick waxy skin, and a characteristic shape, the crisp super sharp flesh gives a flavour that is unbeatable. This apple lends to all kinds of cooking, with the addition of judicious sweetening and spice. It is worth letting it take the lead, by pairing it with a butter laden pastry.

The pastry of this tart is buttery, crunchy, like shortbread and flavoured by an unexpected addition – alcohol. The alcohol cooks off, so eating it won’t get you drunk, other than on pleasure. I usually use tightly packed plums or apricots as the filling - but here I've used Bramley apples.

Betty’s original recipe used Calvados, which underscored the apple flavour, but any strong alcohol will do. I’ve tried using rum, brandy and vodka, although I prefer something with flavour. 

Since I've run out of Calvados I used rum in this tart
This rich pastry seems to resist getting a really soggy base from the abundant fruit juices. Cook it shortly before eating if you like the base of the tart crisp, or prepare it ahead and enjoy the slightly soaked-in flavour. Of course, it’s delicious either way.

for two 8"/20cm tarts

For the pastry:
500g plain flour
300g unsalted butter
100g castor sugar
2 egg yolks
1 coffee cup of strong alcohol

For the filling - per tart
two tins of apricots
1kg/2lb+ of fresh fruit, stoned or peeled and cored 
You can use tightly packed plums or apricots as the filling - but here I have used Bramley apples.


  • cream butter and sugar together
  • add egg yolk, beat in until combined
  • slowly add alcohol, beating all the time - if it happens to start to separate add a spoonful of flour
  • add in sifted flour a little at a time
  • if the mixture becomes slightly dry add water to combine into a ball
  • allow mixture to sit for at least an hour - best in a plastic bag in the fridge
  • roll out half the pastry and line well buttered tart tin - if it cracks patch with scraps
  • crimp the edge with your fingers and trim of surplus - I like a nice fat edge
  • pack fruit in tightly - fresh fruit is great, but you can also use tinned apricots
  • sprinkle liberally with demerera sugar or failing that granulated sugar 
  • cook for 45m at gas mark 4/350 F/180 C
  • eat hot or cold 
  • great with slightly sweetened creme fraiche, cream or ice cream

Don't stress too much about how the fruit is arranged, just make sure there is plenty of it, packed tight.

Try using the pastry recipe to make wonderful shortbread.

Roll it into a fat sausage, wrap and chill for an hour, then cut slices with a very sharp knife.
lay out on lined baking sheet and prick with fork
cook for 15-20m gas mark 4/350 F/180 C
Just bundle it up, wrap it and chill, pinching off pieces of the mixture and flatten into discs with a fork.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Leek and mushroom tart

wholemeal pastry with leeek and mushroom filling. Wholegrain mustard spread over the base, then a bit of cheese sprinkled over that. A mixture of milk and egg with seasoning was poured over the lot and a little cheese sprinkled on for good measure. All cooked together. I need to hone the recipe, but the flavours were terrific. You could use a white sauce instead of the egg mixture.

Mocha iced choc marble fairy cakes

Seemed to vanish

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

pad thai style veg... with rice! Veg Month hits the jackpot.

vegan pleasure in a bowl
Stir fried pad thai style veg:

I have committed to a month of being a vegetarian, inspired by Wendy, who is keeping a blog recording her meals day to day. As I love eating lots of herbs, I have parsley, coriander, mint and dill in the house. Purchase of a sweetheart cabbage, the pointy kind, and the idea of an ersatz pad thai came to mind, but the rice noodles have all been eaten, so I moved swiftly on to stir fried veg with coconut rice.
The most tricky part of this meal is the slicing and chopping. It is a refreshing and filling dish bursting with flavour. I like to have a kick of chilli in with the veg, but it isn’t for everyone. 

If you can’t be bothered toasting peanuts, you can substitute roast salted peanuts, but if you do, leave out the soya sauce, or you will have salt overload.

The flavours are fresh and zesty, and the combination is very satisfying.

This is enough for one very hungry person, or two not so hungry. Increase the cabbage, egg and peanuts to make it serve more. 

·         ½ pointed cabbage sliced very fine, including stem
·         ½ Onion finely sliced
·         1 large carrot, sliced finely
·         2 cloves Garlic chopped finely
·         ½ “ Ginger chopped finely
·         1 tbsp soya sauce
·         1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
·         1 lime, ½ as juice, ½ to serve
·         1 egg
·         Large handful raw peanuts, toasted and crushed or chopped
·         Small bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped fine, including the stems (wash it first)
·         Sprig of mint leaves, chopped fine
·         oil

Dessicated coconut

  • Cook the rice according to preference, together with the coconut.
  • Mix the lime juice, soya sauce and chilli sauce in a bowl and set aside.
  • Heat a wok or large frying pan on a medium heat, and once hot add a slug of oil
  • Put garlic, ginger, onions, cabbage, carrot, onion, chopped herbs and half the crushed peanuts into the wok and cook for a minute, stirring all the time.
  • Add some water, a couple of tablespoons and cook for another minute, stirring
  • Push the vegetable mixture to one side and crack the egg into the free area of the pan, stirring the egg, letting it cook through, then mix the egg through the veg
  • Add the soya sauce, chilli sauce and juice from ½ lime, stir through and turn off the heat.
  • Sprinkle over the remaining crushed peanuts and serve with a lime wedge and the cooked coconut rice

Sourdough mojo w mixed flours

this used a mix country malt, wholemeal and white bread flours


Based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe - see how to make your sourdough starter there, or look for sourdough starter recipes online.

For the sponge
About 150ml active starter 
250g strong flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)

For the loaf

300g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a combination)
10g fine sea salt

At least 8h before you want to bake your loaf, mix up a 'sponge'. This is a combination of some active starter, water and flour: 150ml of starter, 250g flour and 275ml warm water. Stir well, cover and leave overnight or the equivalent. In the morning it will look thick and bubbly. (don't forget to replenish your starter)

Once the sponge has had time to get to work, mix it with 300g of flour, along with the salt. Tip the dough on to an oiled surface and knead until it feels smooth, probably about 10 minutes. Enjoy yourself, that is about three songs worth of kneading. If it stays sticky, add a little flour, but if you keep your hands and the surface oiled, it usually transforms as the gluten starts to bind everything together. Once it is kneaded put your dough into an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise. You can’t rush it, let it do its stuff for a few hours in a warm spot, overnight (or equivalent) in a cool spot. You should see when it’s ready, it will be about twice the size of when it started.

Knock it back by kneading, or do the stretch and fold (see below). Oil the surface you are working on, and oil your hands, to stop the dough from sticking. Let it sit for a while – ie ‘prove’ – until it has risen again, the knock back by knead or stretch method and make a round loaf by tucking in the raggy edges together, leaving a smooth top.

You may have a proving basket, lined with cloth, or you might like to improvise one. I use a drying up cloth to line the inside of my salad spinner. Whatever you use, it should be around twice as tall as the dough. Sprinkle the cloth and the loaf generously with flour – if you mix in a litte cornmeal it makes the crust crisper. Put the smooth side of your loaf down into the basket (or equivalent). Make sure the edges of the loaf are good and floury, because it is very annoying if the dough sticks.

The top of the loaf needs to be covered while it rises. You can use oiled plastic – bag or cling fim – or flour the upside end of the dough liberally and fold over the dish cloth. It will take around1 ½ - 3h for it to double in size.

The oven needs to heat up to as hot as it will go before you put in your loaf. Once it’s hot enough, put a bowlful of boiling water in, on the shelf below, to make it nice and steamy.

Turn out your loaf onto a lined/greased baking tray. Don’t worry if it’s covered in flour. Use a very sharp knife to make slashes in it – I dip mine in water to keep the slashes open. Put the loaf in the oven and cook at the highest temperature for 20m, then turn it down to 200 C and cook for another 20m. It is cooked when the base sounds hollow when it's tapped, if it doesn’t sound hollow, give it another 10m.

Leave to cool before cutting.
I thought I'd lost the talent for making bread, but it turned out I was just rushing it. Phew.

Stretch and fold or fold and stretch
Fold and Stretch – from here on the dough should be handled as gently as possible to retain all of the rise and bubbles that it are building.

Dust flour around and under the dough while it’s in the bowl and scoop it out onto a smooth and floured countertop or large floured cutting board.

Place a dough scraper under one edge, then grab as much dough as you can, and lift up without tearing it, and pull back toward the middle of the dough ball. Think of this round ball as a clock. Pull and stretch the four sides at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock.

Stretching and folding takes the place of kneading and you will get a feel for how many times you want to do this before your final proof and bake. Two or three times is a rule of thumb. Don’t do it so often that it’s too stiff to bake. Each time of stretching and folding, the dough should become a little stiffer. Make sure you space these 30 to 40 minutes apart to allow the dough to relax between the stretch and folds.

Olivia made carrot cake - it must be love

I started this blog so that daughter Olivia could have recipes from home to cook when she was at uni, a little while ago. She's been and gone, got a 1st and returned to the fold. It soon became clear that I was more interested in writing the blog than she was in making the recipes, but yesterday she wanted to make her friend a birthday cake, and turned to cookable. So this is her choice - carrot cake.

I was impressed at the result, but then remembered what a teenage friend said recently 'cooking isn't that hard, really' and of course she is right. Teenagers know everything. Cooking is mostly a matter of paying attention.

This Australian Women's Weekly recipe for carrot cake is easy to make and not as sweet as some, just sweet enough. I boost the spice with extra tsp of cinnamon, to boost the flavour. I like to ice the cake inside and out, and prefer this citrus fudge icing to the more often used cream cheese icing.

'icing just right this time mum' (photo from April)
Carrot cake

Preparation and cooking time – 1hour 35 minutes

1 cup / 250 ml vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups / 250 g firmly packed brown sugar
3 cups / 220 g firmly packed, coarsely grated carrot (about 6 medium carrots)
1 cup / 120 g coarsely chopped walnuts
3 eggs
2 ½ / 375 g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp mixed spice
1tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 160 C

I use two 23cm tins and bake for 40 mins

  • Grease deep 23 cm round cake tin, lining base with baking parchment
  • Put carrot and nuts in large bowl,  and sift flour, bicarb and spices together in a separate bowl, keep both to one side
  • Beat oil, sugar and eggs in small bowl with electric mixer until thick and creamy. Transfer mixture to large bowl with carrot and nuts, stirring, adding flour mixing well
  • Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake cake for about 1 ¼ hours, covering loosely with foil or parchment halfway through cooking, to prevent it browning too much on top
  • Stand cake for five minutes before turning it onto a rack to cool
If you can stand it, this cake is better if left for a day to mature.