Category Archives: Kitchen

Ham and Pea Soup

This soup has been haunting me. It has been the benchmark against which all other soups have had to prove their mettle.  The first time I had it was at Heston Blumenthal’s other Bray establishment, The Hind’s Head, which does the sort of food I imagine the pubs in Heaven to serve. I’m certain that there are pubs in Heaven. Since that day, this soup has never been far from my mind, but having been a student at the time, I could think of other things to do than make stock out of pig ankles.

This recipe will require you to make stock out of pig ankles.

It’s not as scary as it sounds and completely worth it. I love anything that is both sweet and salty, so this soup is a winner anyway, but the homemade stock gives it a lovely, earthy depth of flavour that you can’t buy at the supermarket. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a big ham hock, around 1.2 kg, so had to adapt the original recipe accordingly. The one downside of making this soup from scratch is that it does take a while, so I turned it into a two-day affair, with the ham hock cooked on the first day, and the soup put together the next.

I used to be fairly squeamish/lazy about using the ‘cheaper’ cuts of meat, but it’s actually a win:win situation. I get to feel virtuous and thrifty, while still being able to stuff my face with something delicious. Also, fun fact: In German, ham hock is called Eisbein, ‘ice-leg’, a valuable lesson is how to give foodstuff the least appealing name possible. Actually, it is possible to sound less appealing. The German name for black pudding is BlutwurstI’ll leave it to you to decide whether you want to google what that means…

This makes enough soup for around 6 portions. I’m guessing. I haven’t finished all of mine yet.

Ingredients:

for the stock

1 ham hock (mine was 1.2 kg)

3 litres of water

3 shallots, peeled

3 carrots, roughly chopped

1/2 celeriac, roughly chopped (you can use one or two sticks of celery instead, if you like)

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 leek, roughly chopped

small bunch of fresh parsley

small bunch of fresh thyme

3 bay leaves

6 black peppercorns

2 tsp salt

for the soup

50g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

200g shallots, diced

150g smoked bacon, cut into 1cm cubes

1 garlic clove, crushed

ham hock stock

750g frozen peas

salt and pepper to taste

ham hock meat

Method:

Place the ham hock in a large pan and cover with water, do not cover with a lid. Bring to the boil over medium heat. Skim the protein (read: scum) that rises to the surface off, boil for another five minutes and skim the remaining foam away. Then add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the meat is done. As my ham hock was quite large this took between 2 1/2 and 3 hours. Remove from heat, and leave to cool. Reserve the meat, and strain the stock. Discard remaining stock ingredients.

For the soup, heat the butter and oil in a large pan, then add bacon and fry for a couple of minutes. Remove half of the bacon and reserve on one side, then add shallots and garlic and fry until shallots are tender and glassy. Add stock and bring to the boil and skim off the foam, then add 550g peas and return to the boil. Remove from heat and purée. (I tried valiantly to save on washing up by doing this with a stick blender, but eventually gave up and used a proper blender) At this point you can pass the soup through a sieve, but I liked the texture, so poured it straight back into the pan. Bring back to the boil and season.

Flake the meat off the ham hock. You can quickly boil the remaining 200g of peas, but I just put them in a dish with the meat, and put an knob of butter on them and wizzed it all in the microwave. I’m not even slightly sorry. I also did the same with the remaining bacon, but you can fry it in the pan if you wish. The only important thing is to get the bacon crispy.

When everything is nice and hot, serve by placing some of the peas and ham in a bowl and ladling the soup on top. Finish with a spoonful of crispy bacon and a drizzle of the bacon fat.

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Mini Lemon Eclairs or Lovebones

Sometimes, there are those nights. The late ones. The ones that you spend in the company of good friends. The ones where you accidentally-on-purpose forget to take your make up off upon returning home. And sometimes, after a particularly late night, my brain tries to mess with me by waking me up after only a few short hours of blissful sleep. That’s the only way I can explain why I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my kitchen at 9.30 on Sunday morning, getting ready to beat some choux pastry into submission. Because my brain is a spiteful sod like that.

The German name for eclairs is Liebesknochen or ‘Lovebones’. However, considering that one batch of these will set you well on your way to a pretty severe case of Nadal-arm, it would be more accurate to say that they are a product of sweat and willpower rather than love. Still, it’s a nice word for a delicious treat.

If I’d planned ahead or had more time, I would have made some crème pâtissière and lemon curd, but as it was I quickly raided my pantry and out came a third of a jar of shop-bought lemon curd and a packet of organic pudding mix. In effect, what I’m admitting to is cutting corners (don’t judge; you’ve done it, too.) But that’s what I like about choux pastry; even though it seems like a bit more faff than a sponge cake, all of the ingredients are things that you will have at home and the fillings can be as simple or as complicated as your kitchen cupboards allow.

Ingredients:

for the pastry

125ml water

125ml milk

pinch of salt

1 tbsp sugar

75g butter

150g plain flour

4 eggs

for the filling and glaze

40g organic vanilla pudding mix (one packet) If you can’t find pudding mix, custard powder could be an alternative, although I haven’t tried this.

500ml milk

50g caster sugar

180g butter, cubed

1 tbsp Advocaat (optional)

zest of 1 lemon

120g lemon curd

120g icing sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon, approx.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Combine the water, milk, salt, sugar, and butter in a pan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour in one go while beating. Return to heat and continue to beat until the dough sticks together and comes away from the pan. From this point continue to ‘cook out’ the dough, to get rid of the floury taste, by beating until a white film develops on the bottom of your pan.

Remove the pan from the heat. You could transfer the dough to a bowl to help it cool down a little, but I didn’t as it would have meant more washing-up, so instead I just worked the dough a little more. Once the dough is no longer the temperature of Venus, start adding the eggs one at a time, beating the dough until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. (Note: At this point you will probably want to save your poor left and/or right arm and just abandon the whole thing, but do persevere – it’ll be worth it.) The dough should fall off a wooden spoon in long ribbons.

Transfer dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star shaped nozzle, and pipe onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. This recipe would yield a dozen large eclairs or 24 small ones. I went with mini eclairs, as I could then justify eating a large quantity of them. Pop the eclairs into the oven and bake for around 25 minutes or until golden brown.

While the eclairs are baking, make the filling. Combine the pudding mix and sugar with around 70ml milk, and work into a smooth paste. Combine the remaining milk with the paste in a pan and whisk until there are no lumps. Bring to the boil over medium heat while whisking constantly, then remove from heat and leave to cool.

Once the mixture has cooled down a little, add the butter and whisk until the mixture thickens and there are no more lumps of butter. If the mixture seems a little runny, you may either chill it or add a little more butter. Then add the Advocaat and lemon zest. Fill mixture into a piping bag.

Once the eclairs are baked, take them out of the oven and leave to cool. Slice the eclairs in half and pipe a strip of the cream filling onto the bottom half of each eclair. On the inside of the top half, spoon or pipe a strip of lemon curd, then fold together again.

For the glaze, combine the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to produce a pourable, but not runny, consistency and drizzle over the eclairs. Then immediately nab a cheeky mini eclair for yourself before offering them to other people. Yes – that is a vital step of the recipe!

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Berry Cakey Pastry Tart Pie

After four failed hot cross bun attempts (four!) last weekend, I was feeling rather demoralised about baking (And truth be told, life in general – what kind of person are you when you can’t even raise a colony of yeast in a warm, sugary, spice infused solution?).

Upon the fourth batch emerging smoking and blackened from the oven, my own mother uttered the immortal lines:

What do we do when we want hot cruss buns in future? We go to Tescos, don’t we Rachel.

I spent a week avoiding the kitchen and surviving on nachos and chunky chicken skewers courtesy of the local poorly lit cocktail bar. Shared with other people, of course. I wasn’t that desperate.

I was ready to toss in the tart tin and focus on the craft side of this blog (I had made a pretty impressive origami turtle during a slow afternoon at work) until I stumbled across a recipe in this month’s Olive magazine for a Mixed Berry Plaited Pie. Aside from the unseasonably dull name, this construction (which I have rejigged slightly and renamed) saved me from baking exile.

It combines pastry, sponge, raspberries, blackberries, other berries and more pastry. What more could you want? Ice cream, probably.

Without further ado, I present to you the recipe…

Ingredients

for the base

100g unsalted butter

2tbsp golden caster sugar, plus extra for dusting

200g plain flour

1 egg

for the ‘lid’

220g plain flour

100g butter

ice cold water

for the filling

150g butter

150g golden caster sugar

50g ground almonds

3 eggs

150g self raising flour

250g mixed berries – I used frozen.

Method

for the lid

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks and, using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like fine bread crumbs. Alternatively, use a food processor, blitz the lot and save yourself approximately seven years and certain carpal tunnel.

Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time and use a table knife to cut through the mixture and combine it all together. I used around four tablespoons of water. Once you can press it together in a ball and it leaves the bowl clean, pop it in a sandwich bag and put it in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.

for the base

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Line a brownie/roasting tin (approx 20 x 30cm) with greaseproof paper or tin foil.

As above, sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks and, using your fingertips, rub it into the flour until it looks like fine bread crumbs. Food processor option as mentioned. Then mix in the sugar.

Beat the egg and then stir it in until the mixture looks like chunkier breadcrumbs. Tip the whole lot into the brownie/roasting in so it’s evenly spread and then press down with the back of a spoon. Make sure it is all fairly level and reaches the corners and the edges. Pop this in the frigde to chill whilst you make the filling.

for the filling

Cream the butter and sugar together, then add in the beaten eggs, the flour and the ground almonds. Mix it all together until it’s smooth.

Grab the base from the fridge and spread your filling across the top of it using a spatula. Once it’s all evenly on there, scatter on your mixed berries.

back to the lid

After ensuring that your lid mixture has been in the fridge for at least half an hour, take it out and place it on a well floured surface. Flour your rolling pin and set to work rolling it out so it is about 2-3mm thick.

Using a sharp knife and dragging it down the pastry, cut it into long ribbons, about 1cm wide. Gently drape these diagonally across the surface of the berries, first one way and then the other, making a criss cross pattern. Trim any excess from the sides.

Sprinkle 2 extra tablespoons of sugar on top.

Place in the oven for around 40mins until it is light golden.

to serve

On taking it out of the oven, allow it to cool slightly on a wire cooling rack.

Serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla icecream or clotted cream.

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Apple Cinnamon Swirls

My Easter plans fell through due to an unseasonable bout of hail storms and minor blizzards here in Berlin. Holing up in my house, and baking things that will ultimately lead my BMI to exceed my age, seemed far more appealing than digging out a pair of salopettes. These pastries turned out to be the perfect project for a bad-weather-weekend as they are time-consuming and messy to make and completely delicious to eat, especially warm from the oven.

The original recipe for these featured an awful lot of butter and sugar, particularly in the glaze. Personally, I don’t think these need to be iced, as the star of any cinnamon bun is always going to be the filling.

The dough plays its secondary part quite well, but it was the product of one of the most counterintuitive recipes I have ever worked from. Firstly, the butter was added after all the other ingredients had already been kneaded together, which isn’t ideal when you’re working by hand. Secondly, kneading more flour into the mixture is actively encouraged in the recipe. This is something I have always been taught to avoid and in hindsight I think I would make the, admittedly, sticky dough more manageable by french folding it for a while, rather than using additional flour. Thirdly, cream cheese is folded into the dough, but unfortunately rather a lot of it ended up being squirted back onto my worktop when I rolled it out. Next time, I might reduce the faff, by using a brioche-y dough. Having said that, it is a nice idea and made for a lovely texture, so definitely worth a try.

This recipe was adapted from http://joythebaker.com/2009/06/cream-cheese-cinnamon-rolls/

Ingredients:

for the dough

1 sachet of active dry yeast (7g)

1/2 tsp sugar and 40g caster sugar (try substituting vanilla sugar for some of the caster sugar)

60ml milk, room temperature

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1 egg and 1 egg yolk

360g plain flour, plus more for kneading

3/4 tsp salt

120g butter, softened

for the filling

100g sugar

50g brown sugar (dark or light depending on your preference)

100g nuts, finely chopped (I used a mixture of hazelnuts and walnuts)

50g apple, chopped into small cubes (I don’t like raisins, but if you do then raisins or an apple/raisin mix would be lovely)

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp honey or maple syrup

100g full-fat cream cheese

50g butter, melted

Method:

Mix the yeast, 1/2 tsp of sugar, and warm water (about 45°C) in a jug, and leave to froth up for ca. 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars, milk, and eggs, then add the yeast mixture. Sift in the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Knead for a couple of minutes, then add the butter and knead again. (Note: this seems like quite a strange step and if you’re kneading by hand, like I was, I’d recommend putting in the butter at the same time as all the other ingredients) The mixture will be fairly sticky and the original recipe states to add some more flour if necessary. Knead until the dough is elastic and shiny, then place in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, around 2 hours.

To make the filling, combine the fruit with the dry ingredients, then thoroughly mix in the honey or maple syrup.

Once the dough has risen sufficiently, turn out on the worktop and knock back. Then roll out to a square(-ish) shape, about 25x25cm. Stir the cream cheese, to soften it, and spread evenly onto the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, first vertically, then horizontally. Turn over so the seam is facing downwards.

Roll out the dough again, this time to a rectangle about 25x50cm in size. (Note: You know that bit in Jurassic Park, when Richard Attenborough’s character utters the immortal phrase ‘Life will find a way’? Well, the same rule applies to cream cheese – it will burst out on the short sides of the dough, while you’re rolling it. Deep breaths; it will be ok.)

Brush the melted butter over the dough, then spread the filling evenly over the top and press into the dough, leaving a gap of an inch at one of the short ends. This is where the roll will be sealed. Then roll up the dough tightly. With the seam facing downwards, trim the edges, then cut the roll into 10 pieces with a serrated knife. Place in a well greased baking tin, cover with a tea towel, and leave to rise for another 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5. Bake the swirls for 30 minutes, until they are golden brown.

Best eaten warm from the oven, with your hot beverage of choice.

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We All Have to Start Somewhere…

…and we started with this tart.

A broccoli, mushroom, courgette and gouda tart to be precise.

It’s not the prettiest thing, nor perhaps the most structurally sound (we had some severe issues with a leaky bottom), but with cheese, nutmeg and pastry, you can’t go far wrong.

Here is how we made it, what we learned and what we’d change…

Ingredients:

for the pastry

350g plain flour

generous pinch of salt and pepper

220g unsalted butter, frozen and grated

2 medium free-range egg yolks

for the filling

medium-sized stalk of broccoli, cut into florets

half a courgette, chopped

10 chestnut mushrooms, chopped

4 medium free-range eggs

300ml milk

quarter of one nutmeg, grated

thyme and rosemary to taste

salt and pepper to taste

200g Gouda, grated

You will also need a 28 cm flan tin.

Method:

Sift the flour, salt and pepper into a mixing bowl. Rub in the grated butter until the mixture starts to resemble bread crumbs. Stir in the egg yolks, preferably with cold fingers or a round-bladed knife, until the dough comes together. If the mixture is too dry, stir in a little ice water. Press the dough together, wrap in clingfilm, and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°/gas mark 5. Once chilled, roll out the dough, and line your flan tin with it. Prick the base with a fork, then fill with parchment paper and baking beans. Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment paper and beans and bake again for around 7 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

To prepare the filling, parboil the broccoli. Beat the eggs and milk in a jug and season with nutmeg, herbs and salt and pepper. Drain the broccoli and add to the pastry case, along with the courgette and mushrooms. Add the egg mixture and top with the grated cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Mistakes we made so you don’t have to:

1. Loose-bottomed flan tins are the enemy. Leaks can be avoided by using solid, one-piece dishes.

2. To make this a non-vegetarian meal, we would replace the mushrooms with some chicken.

3. Ricotta, or a strongly flavoured cheese of your preference, would make for a handsome addition to this tart.

4. This tart benefits from a short rest after being removed from the oven. We were a little too eager to reap our spoils and were rewarded with sagging pastry walls. Oh dear…

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