I can’t lie, living in France does sometimes have its advantages and one of them is that I get to have TWO (count ‘em) pancake days IN THE SAME MONTH (ok, ok, calm down). See, the French make crêpes at the start of February for la Chandeleur, a festival supposedly marking the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple, but which is really a throwback to a pagan rite to celebrate the bear (I know, right?) coming out of his cave after hibernating all winter etc. etc. Whether said bear was holding a wooden spoon, history does not tell us, but he seems to have been clutching a frying pan because French people have been eating pancakes on that day ever since. Oooh la la. One pancake day down, one to go, then. And who wouldn’t want to mark Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent? If I were Brazilian, I’d be whipping off my clothes and dancing behind a slow-moving lorry for most of the day. Luckily for us all, I’m a Brit and so I reach instead for the frying pan and start tossing MORE pancakes. But whereas at the beginning of the month, I allow myself to be swayed by Gallic custom, loading up my crêpe with chocolate spread, chestnut purée (yum!) and bananas, Round 2 is a more sober affair with only one topping allowed: freshly squeezed orange juice and sugar. Alright, lemon juice at a pinch. And they have to be as thin as you can possibly make them. That’s how Ma Bear does it (I texted her tonight to make sure she’s not gone rogue and started adding whipped cream and kiwi fruit). Simple and delicious, just like yours truly 😄
Heartache Chocolate Cake with homemade banana, caramel and choc-chip ice cream, a photo by bearwithaspoon on Flickr.
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
“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.
Remember I said I’d used that homemade ricotta to make pancakes? Well, that wasn’t quite the whole story. Every day, I’ve been looking longingly at my kilner jars of mincemeat “maturing” on the kitchen counter and, finally, I cracked. After all, it is almost two weeks, right? How mature does it need to be?The result: Christmas pancakes!! Yes, yes, I don’t expect anyone else will be rushing to try this combo – the (exquisitely boozy, though I say so myself) mincemeat rather overwhelms the delicate lemon flavour of the pancakes, though you’ve still got the fluffy texture – but I loved ‘em, particularly with a dollop of cream (I love most things with a dollop of cream.) It was all I could do to stop myself donning a Christmas sweater and settling back with THAT Phil Spector album. I couldn’t find the “Comfort & Spice” ricotta pancake recipe online, but this one’s more or less the same, and it’s not too late to whip up a batch of mincemeat – you know you want to!!
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!
“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!
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m not a fancy baker – if you’re looking for marzipan mice and lattice piping, you’ve come to the wrong place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m full of admiration/envy for anyone who can do that stuff, it’s just that Mother Nature chose to “bless” me with big, fat sausagey fingers and the patience of a… well, let’s not go there, shall we? So the cakes I make most often tend to be on the plain side looks-wise, though there’s usually some fruit and spices in there to liven things up. When I saw this recipe on Donal Skehan’s website, I knew it was going to be right up my street. It has all those wonderful autumn flavours – apple, ginger, maple – wrapped up in a pillow-soft, sticky crumb. Next time, I might even throw in a handful of slightly tipsy sultanas too. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you if this cake keeps well because CB and I literally hoovered it up (I recommend it for breakfast too, with a cup of black coffee, but that might just be me). But I do recommend you give it a go – and then invite me over!!
Spelt pasta bake with squash, mushrooms, broccoli and sage, a photo by bearwithaspoon on Flickr.
Butternut squash – it’s everywhere, isn’t it? Even in France and – more extraordinarily – in the Monoprix near the office on a Thursday evening. I’ve been itching to have a stab at cooking with it for a while, but where to start? So when I saw this recipe (you’ll have to scroll down a bit, I’m afraid) from Signe Johansen, the Scandilicious lady, and knowing that CB would be in need of some hearty autumn fare when he arrived Friday night, I decided to take the plunge. Peeling and chopping a butternut squash is more of an undertaking than I’d imagined, I must say. By the time I’d finished, I was already halfway down the (wonderful) bottle of Argentinian Syrah CB had bought, and I hadn’t even got the thing in the oven. Mercifully, the rest of the recipe was a doddle. Kale being an unknown quantity in France (I know, right?), I substituted some broccoli, which I steamed just a smidgin before throwing it in with the mushrooms. Oh and I also used chilli flakes because the real chilli I thought I had in the vegetable rack had gone AWOL. You don’t even have to use spelt pasta, though I did because I felt guilty about the kale. Now, I feel I should warn you that there’s an awful lot of this mutha, particularly when you add the pasta, so be generous with your seasoning, be it cheese, nutmeg, sage, salt or pepper. The upside is that it’s absolutely DEELISH, which is just as well as we’ll be eating it all weekend. Get peelin’!!
My first attempt at these was a disaster. As a scandophile, cinnamon rolls, princess cake and ABBA are never far from my thoughts and the prospect of a spelt version had me turning cartwheels (in my mind, at least). Using the recipe from the excellent Scandilicious by Signe Johansen, I duly purchased a lorryload of spelt flour and set to work as soon as I got in from the day job. I still don’t know what went wrong. I *thought* I followed the recipe to the letter. But the dough seemed far too sticky, even after two provings, and, sure enough, I ended up with cinnamon blobs, not rolls. There was nothing wrong with the taste – you can’t really go wrong with dough, butter, sugar and cinnamon after all – but – and call me superficial – I was ASHAMED of the way they looked. They were my dirty Dorian Gray-esque secret, hidden under a tin on my kitchen worktop, the buns that must not be seen. Until I thought of Donal Skehan. See, I know from his blog and his books that Donal is a bit of a scandophile too and his Good Mood Food has a recipe for cinnamon buns. What if, and stop me if I’m getting too scientific here, I combined Donal’s method with Scandilicious’s spelt recipe? I know, right – EUREKA or what? And it worked. They still need some fine-tuning, but I’m pretty pleased with the way they’ve turned out. No need to ask what’s for breakfast.
Et voilà !! Chéri Bear’s first EVER Victoria Sandwich, thanks to The Great British Bake Off cook book. “At times, it seemed almost as if I could feel Mary Berry’s hand guiding my spoon,” he said – it doesn’t get much better than that!