Pudim Flan

DSC_1279.JPGOne of the household favourites, over many, many, years. This delicious pudding is known in Portugal as a pudim flan, in Spain as a caramello, in France as creme caramel. We call it pudim flan, or flan for short.

It’s very easy to make, and totally delicious:
Scrape the seeds from one vanilla pod, and mix well with 125g of castor sugar. Add 4 whole eggs and one extra egg yolk.
Melt 125g castor sugar with two tablespoons of water in a saucepan, then heat the solution on fairly high heat. Try not to do anything, no shaking, stirring, nothing.

The books often suggest that you should heat 1pt milk together with the vanilla pod in a saucepan, remove from the heat just before reaching the boiling point and set aside and let cool down for 10 minutes. I say don’t. Your pudding may not keep as well if you skip this step, but it’ll be so delicious that shelf-life won’t be an issue. Take milk from the fridge. Allow it to warm up a little in the room, especially if you are running your fridge on a cold setting, but use it at still a few degrees less than room temperature. Starting with cold milk leads to an airy flan, light as a feather and milkier in taste. According to our extensive self-experimentation, this makes the pinnacle of flans. A flan fit for a queen!

Prepare a Baine-Marie. Use a tall baking dish such as a 2inch high Pyrex baking dish. Add a kettle of boiling water and six ramekins. We’ve made flan in coffee cups on one occasion, almost anything will do because the heat isn’t all that great, but a fairly heavy porcellain ramekin is preferred over thin anodised aluminum affairs. The thicker wall distributes the heat evenly and allows the temperature to rise slower in the mix.

Preheat the oven to 150C (290F).

Once the sugar turned into a caramel with the colour of dark honey (possibly throwing milk-chocolate coloured bubbles), distribute the caramel among the ramekins. Take care not to engage your bare fingers or tongue, the caramel is at a very high temperature right now. It hurts a lot to lick that spoon!

Finally, pour the milk through a sieve into the egg mix, whisk briefly, then distribute the mix among the ramekins. Cook the whole thing in the oven at 150C for 40 minutes (until the top begins to darken in spots), then remove the ramekins immediately from the water bath and let them cool down.

Chill in the fridge for 2 hours or more. Keeps a few days.

To serve, turn over and resist the urge to add anything.

 

Mini Cheesecakes

20140627_181135American cheesecakes require no baking, and make for a perfect desert. Never fails to please the crowds, this one.

Just before the American Cheesecake Police gets to my throat, yes, I have seen baked cheesecake in America, too. Anyway, this one is American in style, and does not require baking.

This makes several single-portion cheesecakes, with lots of room for being creative, how’s that?

For a first step, you’d need to find a suitable form to make the cheesecakes in. Cook’s rings are ideal. I have two sets of rings, a 10cm diameter, 4cm tall one, and a narrower, taller one (approximately 65mm diameter, 70mm tall).

The plan is to provide a thin and crumbly biscuit base, topped with an American cheesecake mix, topped with something fruity. The photo shows a nectarine compote. We have also used Strawberries, Raspberries, or a delicious prickly pear compote. The sky is the limit!

For the base, per portion:

One hob-nob biscuit. Ginger biscuits are also very good and provide a slight ginger kick. For a cherry-topped version I used dark chocolate hob-nobs in reminiscence of a black forest gateaux. Just be creative at the biscuit shelf in your local superstore.

A teaspoon of dry bread crumbs and

a nob of soft unsalted butter.

Blitz the biscuits and bread crumbs ingredients in the blender, then swiftly include the butter. I find it both easy and quickly to add the butter with a fork. This makes about one heaped tablespoon of base.

Find a chopping board big enough for all your portions, and small enough to fit into your fridge. Cover it with greaseproof paper, then arrange the cooking rings. Fill each cooking ring with one tablespoon of base, distribute the base mix evenly. Wrap your masher or some other flat headed cylindrical shape with clingfilm, then use this to firm up the bases. Set aside in a cool place.

For the cheesecake mix, per 6 portions:

300g of cream cheese such as Kraft’s Philadelphia,

300g of some nice soft fresh cheese or German Quark, strained.

100g sugar,

Seeds from one pod of fresh vanilla,

Three leaves of gelatine.

Soak the gelatine in a bit of water. Meanwhile, whisk the other ingredients together, then gently melt the gelatine in the Microwave oven and add to the mix. Distribute the mix among the portion cakes, leaving space for the topping.

For the topping, use your imagination.

Strawberries are easiest, just wash and clean them, put the pretty ones upside down onto the cheesecakes and use the not-so-pretty ones to make a thick jam to coat and seal the tops.

Similar procedures apply to other fruit: a fruit topping from soft fruit or from a thick fruit jam. Cover fresh fruit with jam so that it keeps better.

Dark sweet cherries, covered with a cherry glaze (made from cherry juice, sugar and gelatine) worked out pretty well.

A skinned half Apricot, covered with a glaze made from fig jam, lime juice and gelatine, also was a hit.

Cover with cling film and allow to set in the fridge for 2 or more hours.

Easy-peasy!

 

Lamb on Green Pasture

DSC_1555.JPGA nice little amuse bouche, a culinary greeting. I call this a welcome in English.

The little lamb consists of a small white ball of spiced feta cheese spread. It rests on the green pasture, which is made from a walnut pesto, which in turn rests on a small piece of toasted bread – almost like a crouton, just not quite as crunchy.

For the feta cheese spread:

Crush 200g of feta cheese with 75g of butter and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Add crushed or grated fresh garlic (at least one fresh clove), very finely diced spring onions, red peppers, and finely chopped dill. Salt, black pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Mix thoroughly, let cool in the fridge, then form the little balls and return to the fridge.

Note that the 200g base makes a lot more than what you need for this little teaser. It’s delicious for breakfast, lunch or support on the next day, provided you have fresh bread to go along with it, and you don’t need to meet with customers or other important folk in close proximity.

For the Walnut Pesto:

Chop a small bunch of Italian basil roughly. Toast a handful of walnuts briefly, then put everything into the blender. Add several tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan, two crushed cloves of garlic, a pinch of nutmeg, then add a very generous amount of extra virgin olive oil.

Blizz for a few minutes, and add oil if necessary. It wants to be firm-ish yet runny.

For the bread:

Half-stale white sourdough bread is ideal. Rub the slices with garlic, then with a ripe tomato, then drizzle with some olive oil and toast on the griddle. Cut into thumb-sized portions, ready for two-bite action.

Assemble everything and voila! A little lamb on a green pasture. Welcome to our house. Make yourself comfortable. Glass of Bubbly with that?

 

Italian-esque Bread Soup

DSCF7282.JPGSoup with attitude, Jamie Oliver called it. I’d say it’s soup with passion, because it’s a bit of a palaver to make, so you’d better really want it. But once you sampled it, you will love it.

This goes back to a dish Jamie Oliver once made on TV, so I shall claim only part ownership to this recipe – part ownership because I never saw or followed Jamie’s, but at any rate, it’s lovely, and the name Bread Soup is one of those lovely kitchen understatements…

Jamie called it Bread Soup With Attitude. It’s also a bit of a palaver to make, thus truly Italian, and lovely. Here goes:

Per person, find 250ml good stock. I cook a chicken with vegetables in just the right amount of liquid, set the chicken meat aside for something else some other day, skim and clarify the soup.

Then, per person, take two thick slices stale white bread. Stale, but not rock-hard. Remove some of the crust, pre-cut the remaining crust to make it easier to eat without a mess in the end. Gently fry the slices with garlic and olive oil, then rub a ripe tomato into each side.

Cut Savoy cabbage leaves and Cavolo Nero leaves into pieces roughly the size of the bread slice, and fry with olive oil for a two minutes or so. Crisp some bacon or panchetta, grind a good amount of Gruyere cheese. Stack bread, cabbage, bacon, cheese, bread, cabbage, bacon, cheese into s soup dish, and grill until the cheese begins to brown.

Shallow-fry whole sage leaves in clarified butter until they are crisp. Drain the fat and try not to break the leaves, which are now very brittle.

Now pour the stock over each portion, return to the grill for another minute or two.

Decorate with crisp sage leaves, maybe a remaining slice of crisp bacon, and a drizzle of the sage-infused clarified butter, and serve immediately.

 

French Onion Soup

french-onion-soup.jpgA delicious and warming French onion soup in 60 minutes.

This takes about 60 minutes. I know, because I timed it, because I disagreed with someone’s time-consuming method of onion soup preparation (http://blog.gauweiler.net/2011/10/14/french-onion-soup/).

Peel one large yellow onion a person, then cut into semi-circle or quarter-circle rings, 3mm thin. For every two portions, add a small red onion, peeled and cut in the same manner. Peel and crush one small clove of garlic each portion. (10 minutes)

Get a deep pan with a good amount of olive oil on high heat. Sweat the onions, then add crushed black pepper (1/2 teaspoon each portion), crushed allspice (1/4 teaspoon a person) and one crushed juniper berry each portion. Add two rashers of streaky bacon or smoked belly of pork (unless restricted by vegetarianism), add one bay leave for every two portions. Turn the heat down to moderate.

Close the lid for 10 minutes. This produces steam to cook the onions, so try to keep the lid closed. Then, open the lid, and caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally.

(You may now add a pinch of sugar if your onions are too sharp or just not the golden, sweet variety.)

Grate some Gruyere cheese, and make some chunky white bread croutons while the onions are working for you. I prefer using croutons over fresh bread. Fresh bread turns into a slimy mess, and I can spice the croutons with garlic and chili.

The onions should caramelize within 20 minutes. Set the croutons aside.

Dust the onions with a spoonful of white wheat flour, stir, then add liquid. Cold water is a good way to start, about 350ml per portion, but you could also use stock. Once you’ve got it back boiling, season to taste with salt, black pepper, allspice, a hint of nutmeg. Stir and let simmer for 15 minutes, tasting and seasoning as you go along.

Turn the grill on, discard the bay leaves, juniper berries, chilies and bacon rashers, if any, and dish the soup out into portion-sized, heat-proof soup bowls.

Sprinkle croutons on top of each bowl and top with cheese. Go easy on the cheese; you’re making soup, not pizza. Moderate application of cheese also enables your diners to eat the soup with a spoon but without making a mess.

Put under the grill for 5min (cheese bubbling and turning golden, occasional brown spots), and serve with a crisp white wine.

Done in 60 minutes, less for a small amount, and thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Fish On Toast

DSC_1212Quick and simple, and delicious: Smoked salmon and poached egg on toast.

Really simple: Get some crumpets, thick toast or rustic sourdough bread slices. Toast until crunchy. Add a generous slice of good smoked salmon on top of each toast, and top that with one tablespoon of Sauce Hollandaise. Prepare one poached egg per toast, stick it on top of the sauce, and decorate with cress, dill, or crispy fried bacon.

Serve with salad and a dry white wine.

For the sauce hollandaise, simply make a sauce Bearnaise without the tarragon business. Or, to put it another way, prepare a thick custard from 50g butter, 150ml tick cream and 4 free range egg yolks. Season with a generous amount of black pepper, a pinch of salt, one teaspoon of mustard and and two or three teaspoons of white wine or rice vinegar – just be careful with the vinegar so that it doesn’t split the sauce.

Almost too pretty to eat, don’t you think?

Looking at the images years after filing the recipe, I realise that the depicted version shows a Portobello Mushroom instead of a crunchy crumpet. Also good!

Bretzeln

DSC_1006.JPGThese are the real Bretzeln, not the crisp, bone-dry Pretzels you are given on an aeroplane.

You need pure caustic soda for this. You can buy crystals of pure sodium hydroxide and make your own lye. Pure chemicals fit for use in food can be bought under the name Bretzellauge from a number of German online suppliers.

Don’t mess about with substitutes, such as dissolved bicarbonate of soda. It’s a very, very poor substitute.

Make a 4% lye from 40 g pure sodium hydroxide crystals on one litre of water, following procedures and safety advise on the packaging. You can store this in a glass bottle, as it can be reused many times. The lye shouldn’t be in contact with textiles, your eyes or any mucous membrane, but it is not very aggressive. A cheap pair of plastic gloves protect your hands, your reading glasses take care of your eyes. My worktop and my silicone baking sheets tolerate this lye with ease.

For one full-sized baking tray (6 to 8 Bretzeln):

300 g white wheat flour, 5 g salt, 1 nob of soft butter (about the size of a walnut), 20 g fresh yeast (or dry yeast if you must), 90 ml lukewarm water, 90 ml lukewarm milk.

Dissolve salt, butter, yeast in the milky water, then add the resulting liquor to the flour.

Knead thoroughly, let rest for 20 minutes, then knead briefly once more. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts for chunkier Bretzeln, or 8 parts for smaller and thinner ones. (Make the chunkier ones first until you have got the hang of it.)

Now roll each chunk into a thin sausage, approximately as thin as my index finger or perhaps your thumb, ~ 15 mm, then swiftly shape into a Bretzel: stretch the roll into a straight line and mentally mark the point one third away from each end. Now take both ends into a smooth loop towards you, twist them around each other just once, and attach the end from the right to the point one third from the right end, the end from the left to the point one third from the left.

This is a lot harder to explain than to do, but you may need a little practise.

Line your baking tray with a silicone baking sheet (alternatively use baking parchment).

Gently pour the lye into a flat dish, such as a Pyrex baking dish. Put on the rubber gloves and dip each Bretzel into the lye. A simple in-and-out will do, the Bretzeln don’t need to rest in the lye. Take care as the lye makes them slippery and makes them fall apart.

Place the Bretzeln on the tray with a little space in between, and give them another 30 minutes to rise further. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse salt (rock salt, sea salt flakes, etc).

Return the remaining lye to the bottle, clean up, preheat the oven to 200 C (390 F).

Bake for approximately 15 minutes, place them on a cooling rack and enjoy as soon as you possibly can. They are best straight from the oven.

We like them just so, or with a little butter, or with steak tartare, or with cheese – almost anything really.

 

Bread

P20160710121543.JPGBread making is surprisingly simple and astonishingly rewarding. Have a go!

This is our daily bread, which we love for its taste, texture, and the fact that it keeps pretty well even though it is made from the most basic ingredients only, and free of any emulgators, stabilisers, colouring, preservatives and what-nots.

The basic dough is simple:

500 g white wheat flour
25 g fresh yeast
10 g salt
60 to 70 ml of lukewarm water per 100 g of flour
your ferment (“mother dough”), see notes below

Use 60 ml if you want to shape the bread by hand, roll it or otherwise sculpt it.

Use 70 ml for proving overnight and subsequent baking in a backing dish. This makes for the richest flavour but is too fluid for shaping.

Another household favourite uses a flour mix from 250 g of white white flour and 50 g each of white spelt flour, whole spelt flour and whole rye flour.

The process is always the same: dissolve all ingredients except for the flour in the liquid, then knead into the flour. Knead very thoroughly to obtain gluten, which gives a strong and chewy bread, knead just enough to make a homogeneous mix for a fluffier, lighter bread. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then knead again. Knead thoroughly or very briefly depending on whether you want the result to be strong or fluffy.

For “immediate” baking, let prove for at least on hour, two is better. Some ovens have a dough proving program (40 C, no fan), that helps to accelerate the process. British traditionalists would place the bowl in the airing cupboard next to the hot water cylinder.

For baking in the next morning, spray with a little water to moisten the surface, then cover with cling film in a tall bowl. It will rise tremendously, and proving times up to 18 hours are no problem at all.

Before you get ready to bake your bread, take away a small fistful of dough. Moisten it with a spray can, let it set uncovered for a few hours, then cover with cling film. This is your ferment, which you’ll add to the next batch. The longer you’ll keep this running the more aromatic and unique your bread will be. This process is similar to making sourdough, but is much easier, less messy. The ferment will sour over time, too, so I do sometimes call our bread soured bread.

A 500 g loaf bakes at 220 C in 40 minutes.
Baguettes, Fougasse or smaller rolls are happy with 200 C for 12 to 18 minutes, just watch the colour.

Apple Pork Roast

DSC_0423.JPGA delicious juicy pork roast with sage and apples. Perfect for autumn.

The basic idea is to cook a pork roast in its own steam, supported by some steaming apples.

Get Braeburn apples. Don’t fool around with another variety; Braeburn have the perfect mix of sweetness and acid, have a lovely flavour, are crisp when raw, and can hold a nice consistency even over 90 minutes in the oven. Take my word for it: get Braeburn. One per person, and an extra one or two in total. More if the apples are small.

Peel, remove the core, and cut into chunky pieces. Quarters or eighths work for me. Set aside.

In a saucepan, mix and melt one tablespoon of honey with juice from 1/4 lime per person. Add one star anise and 1/3 clove (per person). Bring close to the boil, keep it there for a few minutes, then pour over the apples. Let the apples marinade for a while. Toss them over a few times.

Prepare the pork meat. I use a leg or shoulder roast, but remove much of the fat and skin. Now rub the meat with a generous amount of sea salt flakes, crushed black pepper and dried sage.

Put the apples with all their spices and juices into a 2 inch deep roasting dish. Place your spiced meat on top of the apples, then seal the whole thing as good as you can with tin foil. You might want to punch a small (small!) steam hole into the top for venting.

Preheat your oven at 170 C (340 F). Allow for 30 minutes per pound of meat cooking time, plus 20 minutes extra. When removing it from the oven, allow to stand for ten minutes before you open the tin foil. When you do open the tin foil, take care not to scold yourself at the escaping steam.

Serve with good quality egg Fettuccine, which you toss about with lots of melted butter and plenty of quickly fried-up fresh sage.

Cut the pork, serve pasta and the apples alongside. Enjoy with a crisp white wine and a couple of friends.

Apple Tarte Tatin

DSC_0448.JPGA delicious Apple Tarte Tatin, free from the frequently-seen puff pastry nonsense, lightly caramelised for stunning golden looks.

Tarte Tatin is an upside-down cake, with a topping of caramelized apples on a shortcrust base (but made upside down, crust on top). You need a fire-proof frying pan for it, one with a metal handle (or take off the plastic handle), as it needs to go into the oven.

Shortcrust base:

Mix 150g white flour with 70g soft butter. Add a pinch of salt, and mix thoroughly until you have fine crumbles. You can do this in the blender or using a hand mixer and a tall bowl. Now add one whole medium-sized free range egg, and a tablespoon of cold water. Mix until it forms a homogeneous glue.

Place a layer of cling film on your worktop, big enough to cover the frying pan. If necessary, have two strips of cling film overlap. Place the dough in the middle and flatten it out by hand as much as you can, then cover with the same sized cling film arrangement.

With the dough between the cling film sheets, roll it to an even 3mm.

Put flat into the fridge to rest. I never have space in my fridge for this, so I simply put it flat down onto a cool stone or tiled floor.

Topping:

Peel five firm and aromatic apples. Braeburn, Kidds Orange Red, Ped Pippin or Jazz are my favourites. Cut into quarters, remove cores. Sprinkle juice form half a lime all over, then set aside.

Preheat your oven to 190 Celsius.

Preheat your frying pan on fairly high heat on your gas or electric cooker. Mix 80g white cane sugar (= 4 tablespoons) with the seeds from one vanilla pod (keep the remaining pod for later). Heat this vanilla sugar mix, just to the point where the first sugar crystals start dissolving. Add a generous knob of soft butter, then add the leftover vanilla pod, and then distribute the apples into the mix. Remember your looking at the underside, so make the apply core cut-outs face you.

Add 100ml of Armagnac, Calvados or Brandy and give it a little shake to dissolve the sugar. Take care nothing catches fire (I’m serious! There’ll be a cloud of combustible alcohol vapor, so do take care).

This should now be bubbling away merrily. Allow to bubble for a couple of minutes, depending on the amount of liquid produced. You’re done when the caramel begins to get a golden colour and some of the excess liquid is evaporated, maybe after 3 minutes or so.

Remove pan from heat.

Baking:

Take dough out of cling film, and cover the apples with it. Tuck it in around the edges so that it makes an upside-down cake.

Put into the oven at 190 Celsius for approximately 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately turn upside down onto a suitable cake serving plate. Don’t wait for the pan to cool – turn over immediately!

Service with or without vanilla ice cream (with optional plum and Calvados mix-ins).