January 16, 2012
Happy New Year to you!!! And what better way to kick off 2012 than with a chocolate cake? Before you throw up your hands in detox horror, dear reader, I should point out that this isn’t just ANY old chocolate cake – this is Harry Eastwood’s Heartache Chocolate Cake (from her wonderful book “Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache”) and the main ingredient is not the flour or butter we all know and love so much but…wait for it…aubergine!! Yes, you read that right – the main ingredient in this cake is cooked aubergine. Not that you’d ever know it from the taste. Now, living in France, not a week goes by when we’re not treated to someone’s “new” version of the *almost* flourless choccie cake and, game old bear that I am, I’ve had a stab at making most of ‘em. Well let me say, hand on heart, that this is the best I have ever done, the first that has kept that slightly mousse-y texture with a bit of structure. To be fair, my version is probably a little more mousse-y than Harry intended, as I didn’t actually have the 50g of cocoa powder she calls for. But there you go. Sadly, she seems to have removed the recipe from her own website, but you can find it here in all its glory. And don’t worry, it really is a doddle to throw together. In fact, it was so quick that I decided to make some of Glynn Christian‘s easy ice cream to go along with it. You don’t need a machine or any paraphernalia – just whisk half a tin of condensed milk with a couple of spoons of lemon juice, add a similar quantity of cream and whizz until it’s just starting to hold its shape. I added a couple of mashed bananas, some choc chips and some dollops of homemade caramel (made in the microwave using the rest of the condensed milk and some golden syrup). Pop it in the freezer and…well, that’s it. Your very own chunky monkey. If that doesn’t get rid of the January blues, don’t worry, I’ve got some more tricks up my sleeve so watch this space
December 18, 2011
“Hellllp!! It’s all gone horribly wrong!” Poor Chéri Bear. I’d decided to whip up my first batch of “mincies” of the season but, as usual, I’d put off actually making them until the last possible moment – i.e. approximately one hour before we were due at a friend’s house with said pies. Taking a leaf out of Felicity Cloake’s book, I’d decided to add almonds to my shortcrust pastry but – and don’t ask me why – I decided to add a few more than usual, thereby creating a pastry that was virtually IMPOSSIBLE (my italics) to roll out. I tried once, twice, three times, covering myself and my tiny Paris kitchen with clouds of flour in the process, but I was getting nowhere fast and time was ticking by. That’s when I was forced to cry for help. Chéri Bear, thank goodness, rode to the rescue on his white charger, suggesting rolling the dough out between two pieces of clingfilm. Genius! The pastry was still a pretty fragile affair – next time, I’ll keep the almonds to about 10% of the mix, rather than 25% – but it baked to a deliciously crisp and crumbly finish and even survived a métro trip in pretty good shape. So I did it. I finally made a full batch of mince pies from scratch, mincemeat, pastry and all. Tomorrow, the world! (If you want to see the finished versions, they’re here.) Bring on the egg nog.
December 6, 2011
I’ve finally managed to get my hands on “Comfort & Spice” by Niamh Shields, the author of the brilliant “Eat Like a Girl” blog, and it’s everything I expected and more – I think I want to make every single dish in there. Thumbing my way through it, the first thing that caught my eye, though – remembering that I’m on a bit of a DIY, or from scratch, trip at the moment with my bread, mincemeat etc. – was her recipe for homemade ricotta. It just seemed too easy to be true. Milk – check – salt – check – lemon – check – muslin square, oh…sh*t. Where on earth was I going to find muslin in Paris? I sent out a straining cloth S.O.S. on Twitter and, luckily, one friend had the answer – A. Simon on rue Montmartre, an Aladdin’s cave of culinary equipment. You name it, they have it, everything from chocolate moulds to chef’s hats. A bear could quite happily spend the whole day in there, but unfortunately, I only had my lunch hour. Now fully equipped, Plan Ricotta was all systems go – and you can see the results in the pic. About 220g of fresh “cheese” from a litre of full-fat fresh milk, plus a little cream. The method’s simple. Heat the milk, cream and a pinch of salt to 80°C – remove from the heat and add the juice of a small lemon, stir until curds and whey begin to form, then pour into the muslin bag to drain. I left mine to drain for an hour, which gave a nice fluffy texture. I think I’ll use it to make Niamh’s lemon and ricotta pancakes for breakfast. Miam!
November 30, 2011
“Why on earth would you want to do that?” That was Ma Bear’s response when I told her I’d been up since 7:00 a.m. chopping sultanas and mixed peel. “Wouldn’t it have been quicker and cheaper just to buy a jar of mincemeat?” She’s right, of course. Once I’d spent a king’s ransom buying raisins, currants, dried figs, dried cherries, almonds and pecans from the organic shop though, there was no way I was going to back out. Unfortunately, it was also about 10:00 p.m., far too late to make a start that evening. Full of good resolutions for the morrow, I set my alarm and drifted off into my recurring “Fantasy Larder” dream. The one where I have a walk-in pantry the size of a Parisian studio, full of beautifully covered and labelled jars of my own preserves, home-dried herbs, flavored sugars, exotic cordials and exquisite chocolates. (N.B. Actually, my step-grandmother, who first sparked my interest in cooking by teaching me to make lemon curd, did have a HUGE walk-in larder. Though now I think about it, it was mostly full of tinned ham, peaches and Izal loo roll, not at all like the one in my dream. But I digress…) I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but I’m not really a “morning person” – and the thing about making mincemeat, at least if you’re a rookie, is that there’s an AWFUL LOT of weighing and chopping to get through. Oh, and stoning if, like me, you buy cherries that have been dried with stones in them. Grrrr. So it took me a long time, nearly two hours in fact, until I’d got it all looking as I wanted and was suitably late for the day job. And then I found out that we’d actually drunk the whisky I was planning to spike it with, so I used the end of a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bit of Bacardi instead – I’m sure it will be fine. Notice I say it *will be* because as I write the whole glorious mess is “maturing” in sterilized – forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Also a bit of a bummer first thing in the morning, sorry! – kilner jars on top of the fridge. The good news is that it LOOKS like mincemeat, which is very encouraging, and I have every faith in the brilliant Felicity Cloake, whose recipe I used (more or less) and whose book “Perfect” I highly recommend. But the proof of the pudding will be when I come to make mince pies with it about a week from now. So watch this space!