Sunday, April 12th, 2015
There’s just something about crumble. Perhaps it’s because I live abroad now, and home comforts are few and far between (I found Heinz beans last week and bought four tins!) but I find myself hankering after the most comforting foods from childhood.
I was cleaning out the files on my laptop the other day and came across the photos of this rhubarb crumble that I made last summer, when I was still living in the rural UK. Struck by a sudden wave of nostalgia I was suddenly racing through memories of being six years old and taking a little tupperware of leftover crumble and custard to school on Monday.
Unable to resist until lunchtime, during morning break I would grab the little pot from my coat pocket and, while the other children were racing around playing kiss chase and stuck in the mud, I would dig in with sticky fingers. Even now, sat typing at my desk, I can taste the tartness of the cold compote of fruit mingling with the sweetness and oats of the crumble topping. Unlike pizza, crumble is always twice as good cold, isn’t it?
Crumble isn’t just an easy, fast, filling and nutritious pudding. It’s the taste of childhood. Nothing will send me into a fit of nostalgia more than the heady smell of horses; the perfume of a leather shop; a whiff of boot polish; or crumble. It is the taste of family and friends coming together. The very thought of a crumble conjures feelings of warmth and love.
It doesn’t matter what the season is, if there are apples on the trees or raspberries on bushes, you can make a crumble. Passion fruit in spring; berries in summer; plums in autumn; and pear in winter. There is always something around you can use in a crumble, that’s their beauty. Comforting pudding is always in season.
Once you have your fruit all you need add is the comforting, wholesome, slightly stodgy (isn’t that what makes it all the more comforting?) topping. This is where, I’ll admit, I depart from what my mum made on Sundays. I add a handful of oats, something I originally did just so that I could call this an ‘original recipe’ in my GCSE Food Technology class and save myself potentially minutes of homework. It turned out to be such a success that I’ve added a handful of oats to every crumble I’ve made since.
Another seconds saving adjustment made for class purposes was substituting caster sugar for soft dark brown sugar to fulfil the requirement that we made the pudding ‘healthier.’ In my, humble, opinion this was a waste of time. ‘Pudding is pudding, leave it be!’ cried 15 year old me. Alas, the OCR exam board and the Department of Health probably disagreed. Though I still vehemently disagree with the idea of messing with puddings to make them a ‘healthy option’* (a rant which could, and probably will, make up another whole post) unless you have a serious health problem which a doctor has told you needs a modified diet, I now always use soft, dark brown sugar because it tastes about a million times more grown up.
There are at least another 5000 words I could write about the manna from heaven that is crumble, but I feel like almost 600 words is probably enough.
So, here is my family’s, ever so slightly adapted, recipe for Sunday afternoon joy.
Crumble is all about ratios, it’s not a lie when I say that this is how I revised fractions when I still had to study maths at school! I made enough for four people here, using the little glass pots that Gu puddings come in, so sizing the recipe up or down (ha) should be relatively easy. If you don’t have a mild addiction to Gu chocolate puddings then a mediumish sized pie tin (without a loose bottom) will do just as well.
To make your fruit base you can either make a compote, which is ideal for rhubarb and other fruits which are unlikely to soften when the crumble is in the oven, or you can just chop them and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. Go with about a handful of fruit per person.
If you aren’t making a compote preheat your oven to 200c. If you are making a compote, take your fruit and cut it into chunks. Then pop it in a sauce pan over a low heat with sprinkling of water and a pinch of sugar. You’ll need to keep half an eye on it, but let is simmer for about 10-20 minutes, giving the occasional stir. Once done, pop into your pot(s) and put to one side and preheat your oven (200c.)
To make enough topping for 4 people, you need:
150g plain flour
50-75g soft, dark brown sugar
A handful of oats
Now, all you have to do is rub the butter and flour together until it looks like bread crumbs. A food processor can do this in about 30 seconds flat, but it isn’t nearly as relaxing as the soothing, repetitive motions that come with 5 minutes spent rubbing fat into flour.
Next, stir in your oats and sugar. Here you could add some chopped up almonds, or any nuts really though almonds are the only ones which won’t send me into an allergic reaction.
Sprinkle a little sugar or cinnamon onto your compote and spoon on your topping.
Pop your crumble(s) in the oven for 20-40minutes, this depends on how big they are. Once the topping in golden brown serve with pouring cream (grown ups) or custard (grown ups who are pretending not to be.)
*The term ‘healthy option’ sets my teeth on edge and raises my hackles. To me it reeks of condescension and smug, self righteous saintliness, and the exclusion of wonderful, nutritious, and, most importantly, tasty foods which can and should form a part of a balanced diet where everything is in moderation.
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Last Friday I bought a bag of apricots from the village greengrocer’s for 50p. (Yes, my village still has a greengrocer’s, it’s occasionally like living in Victorian England only there are fewer corsets, though tweed and flat caps remain in earnest.) When I got home and opened the bag, it quickly transpired that the apricots were very close to being over ripe and something had to be done with them sharpish. After a little brainstorming this ‘rustic’ tarte aux abricots was born.
My apricots were so ripe that the poaching stage would have been utterly superfluous, they would have fallen apart. If you don’t make my mistake and buy apricots which are actually ripe, poach them to soften them for about fifteen minutes. You can find a recipe on BBC Good Food here, just follow the first two sentences.
The pastry is a sweet crust recipe my mum has been using for as long as I can remember. It’s the first pastry she taught me to make. If I was very lucky, I’d be allowed to help her make it for her baked chocolate tart, which she made for years whenever my parents hosted dinner parties, which meant I could snaffle pieces (half the roll) and eat them when we were lining the tin. While chocolate tart as been ousted in favour of other puddings, this pastry remains my all time favourite for sweet foods. I use it for every possible pastry based pudding and treat. The recipe makes enough for two tarts, you can line another tin and keep it in the freezer, unbaked, for up to a month.
The crème pâtissière is very loosely based on a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was leafing through How to Bake but I found that the original wouldn’t set no matter what I did so I’ve adjusted it significantly.
For one tart, you’ll need:
500g plain flour
100g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter (cut into cubes and put back in the fridge to completely chill again)
100g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
500ml milk (most recipes state full fat milk but I’ve never really found a difference whichever milk I use)
The contents of 2 vanilla pods (good vanilla pods are pretty hard to track down and fairly expensive, I got mine at a market in the Midi-Pyrenees. If you don’t have any use half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and add more to taste.)
You need about 14 apricots cut in half. If you can’t get your hands on any fresh apricots (i.e. if you have a real hankering in the depths of winter) a couple of tins of preserved ones will do just fine.
Start by making your crème pâtissière. Put your sugar, cornflour and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk them together. Pop to one side and bring your milk and vanilla pods to the boil in a heavy bottomed pan. As soon as the milk is boiling remove from the heat and stir about 1/4 into your egg mix. Return this straight to the pan and the heat. Stir until it’s thick and smooth. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Give it a quick stir, if you’re using vanilla extract now’s the time to add it, and leave to one side to cool completely. When pushed for time, I’ve been known to stick the bowl in the fridge, or even the freezer, to speed up the chilling process.
To make your pastry beat together your butter, eggs and sugar and then add in your flour. I tend to use a food processor for this as it’s a bit sticky. Add a splash of milk and form a ball of pastry. Roll into a chunky sausage and leave in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
Preheat your oven to 180 celsius and grease a loose bottom flan tin. Take your pastry sausage and slice off disks. Press them into the tin, making sure you go about 5mm over the top. Prick the bottom with a fork and blind bake for 15mins, or until the edges start to brown. Take out of the oven and brush with a beaten egg. Put back in the oven until golden brown. Take out and cool completely.
Once cooled, spread your crème pâtissière fairly evenly across the pastry and add the apricot halves in concentric circles, et voilà!
Sunday, December 29th, 2013
Technically this is a brandy and prune bûche de Noël, I made it before Christmas but then I got so caught up in all the festivities that it completely slipped my mind to post it. Never mind, it’s also fabulous for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
To make one loaf (you’ll get about 12 servings), you need:
1 tin of prunes (get ones without stones in them)
175g plain chocolate
6 large eggs (separated)
175g golden caster sugar
4tbsp cocoa powder
25g icing sugar
Lustredust (Edible glitter! I know! How cool!)
Start off by rinsing all the juice/syrup off your prunes and dry them off with a bit of kitchen roll. Then pop them in a bowl or jam jar with a few slugs of brandy and cover to soak overnight.
Next morning grease and line a Swiss roll tin, melt your chocolate, and separate your eggs. When the chocolate is melted pop it to one side to cool down, you don’t want to mix it with your egg yolks yet as you’ll get a sort of chocolaty scrambled eggs…
Mix your egg yolks and sugar together and beat them until they’re smooth and pale.
When your chocolate is cool mix the two together.
In another bowl, beat your egg whites until they form soft peaks, and then ever so gently mix in your chocolate and egg mix.
Pour the mixture into your tin and bake for about 25 minutes. When it’s done it should be springy if you poke it.
Once it’s cooled down, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for at least two hours.
To make your filling and topping pop your mascarpone, icing sugar, and cocoa powder in a bowl and add a good few slugs of brandy.
Beat it really well, until you have an even colour. Spread half of your filling on what is going to be the inside of your roll and arrange the prunes evenly over it.
Next up is the tricky bit. Very carefully start rolling from one end to the other. This has never been my strength, but logs aren’t exactly perfect so don’t worry too much if yours cracks or goes a bit skewif…
Take the rest of your filling and spread it over your log. Use a fork to make some grooves in the icing.
Use some gold leaf and lustredust to decorate the top. If gold doesn’t take your fancy try something else. Go wild.
Personally, I like mine with a little cream or crème fraîche but it’s quite rich so you can have it with out anything.
Friday, December 13th, 2013
I’ve been writing an essay on the first part of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu for the last week. If you’ve never heard of it, watch this little clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it sums it up about as well as I could (Warning: it’s a little bit rude, 70s humour) Unfortunately, every time I go to type À la recherche du temps perdu I end up typing À la recherche du pain perdu. Clearly, my subconscious is trying to tell me something.
Now, I am very well aware that pain perdu actually translates as toast but for some reason I always think it means bread and butter pudding, which can be very confusing in French restaurants!
I’d been craving some all day so when I left the library this evening I headed down to Waitrose to get some mincemeat for my mince pies and the bits I needed to make bread and butter pudding. Lets face it, bread and custard is the ultimate comfort food. I got back, put on my comfiest pyjamas and some super cozy socks that’d warmed up nicely on the radiator and got cracking.
To serve 6 – 8 people (or just you, I won’t tell), you need:
3/4 of a brioche loaf (normally I’d use a loaf that I’d made but deadlines and the need for comforting food fast meant that this idea went right out the window)
75g dark brown sugar
250g dried mixed fruit
400ml semi skimmed milk
200ml double cream
You’ll also need a medium sized tin, any will do – roasting tin, pasta bake tray, cake tin – or ramekins. I once had it served in a mug which really took the comfort to the next level, just be careful that you use oven safe mugs, not your parents wedding china or any heirlooms!
Preheat your oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees and melt your butter.
Then, coat the bottom of each slice of brioche with melted butter and, buttered side down, line the bottom of your tin.
Mix your fruit and sugar together and pour half over the layer of brioche.
Repeat the buttering of the brioche and laying it in the tin for a second time and then add the remaining sugar and fruit. Add a final layer of buttered brioche on top.
Now, beat your eggs and mix them with the milk and cream before pouring it over the brioche and fruit.
Pop it in the oven for around 40 minutes, when it’s done it’ll be golden brown on top and puffed up. Serve it straight away, with lashings of cream.
Monday, August 26th, 2013
I’ll admit that this dessert isn’t the prettiest when you serve it, but before you start to dish it up, you could picture it in the window of any Parisian pâtisserie. It doesn’t half taste good, either! Meringues are a bit scary to start with, I’ve only recently become confident enough to attempt them without my mum holding my hand. Just take it slow, follow the recipe to the letter and relax. The worst that can happen is that you have to start again.
For the chocolate pavlovas, I follow Delia’s recipe and add the cocoa at the end.
For each tier (I did two) you’ll need:
3 large egg whites
175g caster sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Start off by preheating your oven to 150 degrees and drawing a circle on a piece of baking paper on a baking tray. Separate your eggs into yolks and whites, if you’re not sure how to do this, watch this video from Sorted Food. Make sure the egg whites go into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk them until they form ‘stiff peaks’, or you can hold the bowl over your head without getting an impromptu, rather sticky hair mask.
Next, slowly whisk in the sugar. Be very careful to not burst the air bubbles in your eggs, this is what will make the pavlova rise and stay fluffy on the inside. You might not need all of the sugar, when the mixture is glossy, a bit like fresh snow on a ski slope you’re ready to add the cocoa powder, whisking really, really slowly.
Once the chocolate is all mixed in, spread the mixture in the circle on your baking tray and put it in the oven. Once the pavlova is in the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 140 degrees and cook for an hour.
After an hour, turn off the oven and leave it well alone to cool completely. If you can’t wait, very carefully remove the meringues from the oven and pop them on cooling racks somewhere cool. They’ll be just the same, if a little less crispy.
Meanwhile, you can start on the filling. I went for fresh cream and raspberries, some from the garden and some from the farm shop.
You’ll need about 500g raspberries, 300ml double cream and a couple of chunks of really good dark chocolate, Green & Blacks is my favourite.
Begin by putting all the raspberries bar about a handful into a bowl and mashing them, either with a fork or a potato masher, and stir in a spoonful or so of cream and leave to one side whilst you whip the rest of the cream.
When the meringues are cool, pour the cream onto the bottom layer and sandwich the top layer on. Pour the raspberries into the middle of the pavlova and add the handful you saved earlier. Grate over your chocolate et voila!
Monday, July 15th, 2013
It was my mum’s birthday last week. All birthdays, especially your mum’s, merit a special cake. This one is seriously special. Fresh strawberries and double cream sandwiched between two soft, buttery layers of Victoria sandwich cake, covered in icing sugar, dark chocolate and popping candy.
Once the cakes are completely cool, this will take a good couple of hours, wash your strawberries and slice them in half. Put them to one side and whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks, but be careful not to over whip it or it becomes really difficult to spread.
Here’s the complicated bit: Take one of your cakes and turn it upside down on a chopping board, so the top is now on the bottom. Spread about half the cream on the side of the cake that’s facing up and then very carefully arrange the strawberries so that they go in circles with the flat side facing outwards, gradually getting smaller.
Add a few candles and present it to the birthday girl/boy, hopefully accompanied by gasps of amazement and admiration. And of course, lashings of Champagne.
Monday, June 24th, 2013
There’s no way of putting this modestly, these are the best brownies you will ever taste. Ever. Rich, gooey and decidedly naughty, you won’t find a more delicious brownie anywhere. In fact, just writing this is enough to make me want to whip up another batch. They trump any dry, bland, tasteless, overpriced imposter you’ll find in a chain coffee shop.They’re probably better for you too. Well, they’re still choc full of calories, fat and sugar but there aren’t any additives or other nasties. Plus, it only costs about £2 to make a whole batch.
To make on tray’s worth, you need:
100g unsalted butter
50g cocoa powder
225g caster sugar
50g self raising flour
Firstly, grease and line a medium sized tray and turn your oven to 180 Celsius or Gas Mark 4.
Then, put your butter into a microwave proof bowl and microwave it until it’s all melted, this usually takes about a minute, depending on your microwave.
Meanwhile, beat your eggs and mix in the sugar.
Once the butter has melted, mix it with the cocoa powder before adding it to the egg and sugar mix along with the flour and vanilla extract.
At this point you can add things like popping candy, for childhood nostalgia moments; salted caramel, for feeling like a grown up; or if you’re feeling really luxurious, brandy soaked cherries or prunes.
Make sure that everything is really well mixed and then pour the lot into your tray and put it in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
I like my brownies to be really gooey, in my family we call them squodge, so I tend to take them out after about 20 minutes. If you prefer brownies to be a little firmer, more like cake, leave them in for longer.
When you take the tray out of the oven , you should have something like this:
Leave it to cool for a few minutes before carefully removing it from the tray and leaving it on a wire rack to cool completely. Once it’s completely cool slice it into portions, one tray usually makes anything between 6 and 12 brownies, depending on how big you want them to be.
Serve with a giant mug of tea or coffee.
The recipe isn’t just for brownies either. I’ve used it to make birthday cakes, loaf cakes and even served it as a hot chocolate pudding. Experiment with it and let me know what you come up with!