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Thursday 28 October 2010

Pie of the Month - October

Caramel drips. MY GOD!

Orange and vanilla are like good friends who don't make enough effort. They get lazy and don't make time to call each other, and sometimes you'll find one of them out by themselves and wonder why they didn't invite the other.

It's best not to get involved at times like that. If orange asks you if you saw vanilla at dessert the other day, my advice is to lie and say you were at home making a fruit salad. They'd only be mad at each other for a minute, and then somehow the flavour tables would turn and it would be you in the dog house. They really do care about each other underneath it all, you see.

Whenever they do make the effort to get together, though, it is easy to see why. Orange and vanilla, when paired, is the most perfect, heavenly (I've been reading Rose) combination in the whole wide world. This is a fact.

Should you be someone who has never actually witnessed their union: you have missed out. I suggest you mix a drop or two of real vanilla extract into your next glass of orange juice. And have it over ice; may as well make it a party. You'll feel like you're in Tahiti. Promise.

You could also make these tarts, which I have lovingly adapted from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals. I spoke of my new found fondness for Mr. O last time, so I don't need to enter into all that again here. But I do need to defend myself for not making my own pastry yet again.

Who are you calling a tart?

Pie of the Month is supposed to be about me getting to grips with pastry art. I don't really seem to be doing it. In fact, I actually am starting to think that it's not really worth making your own pastry at all, since what you can buy is so good. Don't tell anybody I said that though, for I have an image to maintain.

Jamie says it's fine to use bought puff for these Portuguese tarts though, so that's what I am doing. No point making your own if you're only going to bastardize it with a cinnamon swirl anyway!

Until Jamie, I didn't know that Portugal was famous for it's tarts. I am now feeling a trip to Lisbon may be on the cards. Maybe after I've paid for the new bathroom...

Portuguese Custard Tarts
adapted from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals

You will need:

1 packet ready rolled puff pastry
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 egg
125ml crème fraïche
125g sugar
1 orange
1 tsp real vanilla extract

  1. Sprinkle the puff pastry with the cinnamon, and quickly roll up, starting at the long end. I hope that makes sense - think Swiss roll.
  2. Cut the roll of cinnamoned pastry into six equal portions, and flatten then squash each portion into the holes of a 12-bun muffin tray. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 190°C.
  3. While the pastry is in the oven, mix the crème fraïche, egg, 25g sugar, vanilla and zest of an orange together. This will be the filling for your custard tarts.
  4. Take the pastry out of the oven. It will have puffed up; press it back down with the back of a spoon so as to make space for the custard. Fill the pastry cases with custard, and bake for 15 minutes more.
  5. When set, remove the tarts from the oven, and immediately transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.
  6. Make the caramel: put 100g sugar and the juice from the orange in a saucepan and heat until they turn to a bubbling caramel. Spoon caramel over each tart and allow to cool. Delicious!

Monday 25 October 2010

Chocolate Fondants

I dislike seeing my hands in these pictures.

The other day we had friends over to watch La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf bi-opic. It was devastating.

I didn't really know much about her before watching the film, and to be honest, I still feel like I don't. None of us could bear how horrendous her life seemed, or how ill she always looked (on screen at least), and I think it's also fair to say we all made silent promises to ourselves to make more effort with posture. I have been known to bark harshly at others before wedding photos are taken that 'You only get one shot!', and ' Posture above all else!', but this film really made me straighten my back.

He looks a little plain on the top, but dig a little deeper and you'll find gold.

And yet... as I type this, I am remembering the film quite fondly: the music was fabulous; the ending very poignant; and for all the dark bleakness of the main film, it made for good viewing. Especially with my chocolate, cinnamon and peanut butter cookies which are coming up next.

But today we have melting chocolate fondants, as promised in my post on illegal ice-cream. They are adapted from the recipe given for chocolate pots in Nigella Lawson's seminal How to Eat, but I think melting chocolate fondants better describes what they are, so I have renamed them so.

I don't mean to insult by the comparison, but I think these fondants are rather Piaf-esque. They look a little awkward, and seem a little uncomfortable when thrust into the spotlight, but give them a chance and they'll blow you away.

They are lusciously chocolatey, rich and sweet. I don't think I'd bother with the ice-cream next time though. Some cold pouring cream would be just as good, and I even snaffled down the one you see here without any accompaniment whatsoever. Et non, je regrette rien.

Annoyingly, you need ramekins. But if you feel like taking risks, you could use teacups in a water bath.

Melting Chocolate Fondants
adapted from How to Eat
You will need:

125g dark chocolate
125g butter
3 eggs
150g sugar
3 tbsp flour

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together, then beat in everything else.
  2. Pour into ramekins - I got 8 in all, but if you have bigger dishes, you might only make 6. Chill until needed - they will sit happily in the fridge for a few days,
  3. Heat the oven to 200°C, and bake the fondants on a baking tray for 10 minutes only. Give them just 8 if you like really gooey chocolate puddings.
  4. Serve immediately, with cream, ice-cream or nothing at all.

Monday 18 October 2010

Pie of the Month - September

Ugly tarts need love too.

I know, I know. There was no pie in September. I'm not going to patronise you and say that I feel bad about it, because frankly, I had a fabulous September on holiday in Italy and was too busy having a good time to worry about pastry.

It is now the latter half of October and I still don't feel bad about having not made a pie last month, because all this cooler weather we seem to be having makes me feel fine about making two this month. Hurrah for cold, dry days - the sort of weather that makes you feel good about turning out a dozen frangipane tarts and eating them all in one go.

You have read correctly: eating them all in one go. Whilst I do not advise snaffling them down if it's just you, for three or four of you, it's fine.

Enough pie, time for a little provenance: I have a bit of an anti-Jamie Oliver thing. It's complicated, long-standing and deep rooted (all the best things in life are, dear), and I am not going to go into it here because I do have admiration for the chap (School Dinner Champion! Where was he when I was in school?), and am not into public mud slinging. Come over for an ale sometime, I'll tell you all about it.

Anyway, his new series and book has made me look at him in a new way. The man makes whole 4 course meals in 30 minutes! It is amazing; I am in awe.

I figured he might me able to help me out with my pie difficulties, and wasn't disappointed - there is plenty of pastry in this book. I made my own tart cases but he suggests buying them in. Whatever; these are 30 minute frangipane tarts: don't get het up.

I should tell you though, just so you do not think we are returning to the days of bin tarts... I made two piles of the tartlets when I had cooled them. One was the beauteous four or five that would grace the pages of Delicious Delicious Delicious, the other were the uglies that could be scoffed immediately. You can see that I scoffed the wrong pile. But I'm not sorry.

Frangipane Tarts
adapted from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals

You will need:

250g plain flour
125g butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg

100g ground almonds
100g butter, room temperature
100g caster sugar
1 egg

jam - enough to fill your tarts

  1. First make your pastry: rub the cold butter into the flour. Work quickly, because you don't want the butter to melt. But don't worry about it - I managed, so it isn't hard. When you have a crumby looking mixture, add the egg. Work it through with your hand, and gather the pastry together to form a ball. Wrap this in cling film, flatten slightly and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface; you want it thin. Cut rounds and use to line a muffin tray. You should have more than enough for 12, so keep the rest in the freezer. Unless you want to make more than 12.
  3. Line the pastry filled muffin indentations with foil, fill with beans, and bake at 200°C for about 15 minutes.
  4. Add a generous teaspoon of jam - I used raspberry and lemon and vanilla - to each tart case, then cover with a mound of frangipane. This is easy to make - using a spoon, beat together the egg, butter, almonds and sugar. That's it.
  5. Bake for around 20 minutes at 180­°C. Done.

Monday 11 October 2010

Tonka Bean Ice-Cream

Something about the fact that tonka beans are banned by the USFDA makes this ice-cream seem dirty, sexy and illicit. Which makes me love it even more.

I have been re-appraising my feelings about Paris since this post. I was there again recently, the weather was perfect, and strolling round with Erasure playing on my iPod, I fell quite in love with the city. I may have been helped along by the amazing fig tart that I had at Jocteur, a place I found tucked away in a place I rarely venture, but will be revisiting, but even so. Consider my opinions momentarily changed!

(Stop laughing at my Erasure confession. They are highly underrated.)

One of the things I do really like to do whilst in Paris is to hit up (I have become an American) G. Detou for vanilla beans. In Cardiff, if I try really hard I can just about find a bottle of Madagascan vanilla extract, though it may cost half of my salary; at G. Detou, I can get little glass tubes of vanilla beans and choose if I want them to be from Madagascar or Tahiti. What can I say? I like to have a choice.

Anyway, just recently, I noticed that in addition to selling vanilla, the shop also stocks 'fèves tonka', and that I had no idea what they were.

Now, reader, if we were ever to go speed dating (which is unlikely in the extreme, but go with me on this), and we each had to reveal what our weaknesses were, my confession would be that I am unable to walk away from 'new' foods, especially herbs and spices. Sometimes this works to my advantage and I end up with something I like (say it with me now: 'harissa'); other times, I am left, months later, with a bag of unused rubbish (one word: 'matcha' - it doesn't work in cupcakes, and are we really all about to start practicing tea ceremony at home? Exactly).

There is no getting away from it: they resemble dead beetles.

The tonka beans may fall into the first category, though there is the potential for them to end up in the second as well. It depends if I am able to get over my current distaste for crème brulée or not, since I think tonka is definitely a flavour to be used in creamy desserts.

In case you too are like me, and have no idea what a tonka bean is, our good friend Mr. Wiki will talk you through it. All I would add is that while I agree with the likening of their aroma to vanilla and almond, I can't detect any cinnamon flavour at all. In fact, the fragrance reminds me of the preserved cherry blossom leaves used to wrap sakura mochi more than anything else.

I made this ice-cream to serve with some melting chocolate fondants, for which you will get the recipe shortly, but in all honesty, you could serve it alone. I mean that in both contexts. Some things are too good to share.

Tonka Bean Ice-Cream

You will need:

5 egg yolks
600ml single cream
125g caster sugar
1 tonka bean, grated

  1. Heat the cream and grated tonka bean together over a medium heat. Stir every now and again, and do not let the cream boil. When it's nice and steamy, turn the heat off and clamp a lid on. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. You don't need to incorporate air, just make sure that the two are well mixed.
  3. Pour the hot cream onto the yolks, stirring constantly to prevent any scrambling. You could strain the cream first, but I like the tonka bean flecks.
  4. Rinse and dry the pan used to heat the cream, then pour the custard back into it and heat gently, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy. Aim for the texture of thick cream, and never allow it to boil.
  5. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool. Then freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.
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