16 September, 2008

Particularly handsome

I baked this Swiss carrot cake for my father-in-law’s birthday. It’s one of those almond-based cakes that improve tremendously in texture after hanging around for a few days. The recipe is adapted from the book Culinary Excursions Through Switerland by Peter Widmer, given to my family as a parting gift after our one year stay in Lucerne in 1992. Widmer discloses an olden-day Swiss-German proverb, “rüebli git schöni büebli”, meaning boys that eat many carrots grow up to be particularly handsome. I love the saying, which originated long before the health benefits of vitamins were common knowledge, especially if it encourages carrot-cake feasting.

The luminous sugarcraft carrots were bought at The Baking Tin in Claremont. Aren’t they cute?

Swiss carrot cake (Rüeblitorte)

6 eggs
1 ½ cups of sugar
grated rind of one lemon
1 tbspn lemon juice
300 g ground almonds
450 g grated raw carrots
4 tbspn flour
icing sugar and sugarcraft or marzipan carrots, to decorate

Separate egg yolks from egg white. Whip egg white until stiff. Beat egg-yolks with sugar and lemon rind until fluffy.

Mix almonds, flour, carrots and lemon juice. Alternately fold the whipped egg white and the almond mixture into the egg yolk mixture.

Pour into a lined and buttered, 22 cm springform tin. Bake at 180 ºC for around 1 hour until lightly browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and transfer to a wire rack. Wrap in foil and store in a dry place for one to two days.

Before serving, dust with icing sugar and decorate with the sugarcraft carrots.

31 August, 2008

August Daring Baker’s Challenge: Chocolate éclairs

(a recipe featured in Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé*)
All I can say is that these tasted good: turn around, touch the ground, jump up and down good. Although the choux pastry did not rise as much as I wished, the pastry cream was gorgeous; the death-by-chocolate kind. I’ll be making these again, albeit with a Pâte à choux recipe comprising simpler, less panic-inducing directions.

The challenge gave me a great excuse to acquire a pastry bag, which I used for piping both the choux pastry and the pastry cream. Thanks to the August hosts, Tony and Meeta, for a great recipe choice and the opportunity to bake creatively.

*Not having heard of Pierre Hermé before, of course I googled him. Wikipedia states that this French pastry chef has been called "the Picasso of Pastry" (Vogue) and "The King of Modern Pâtisserie" (The Guardian), and “The Kitchen Emperor" (New York Times). Even without these gushy credentials, Pierre’s chocolate pastry cream recipe is one to share. I think it would make a great chocolate tart filling and would be excellent with meringues.

Pierre Hermé’s chocolate pastry cream

2 cups full-cream milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbspn sugar
3 tbspn corn starch
200* g bittersweet chocolate, melted (70% cocoa solids)
40 g unsalted butter, at room temperature.

*Personally, I think 150 g is enough.

Bring the milk to the boil, in a small heavy based saucepan.

Whisk yolks, sugar and cornstarch together until creamy. Add a little of the hot milk to the yolk mixture to temper the mixture (the temperature is raised slowly so the mixture is not scrambled) and whisk vigorously. Continue whisking and slowly pour the remaining milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

Strain the mixture back into the saucepan. Place the pan over a medium heat and keep whisking. Bring the mixture to a boil for 1-2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Immediately stir in the melted chocolate.

Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place in an cold water bath to stop the cooking process. Continue stirring so the mixture remains smooth.

Once the cream has cooled to 60 ºC, remove from water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return to the water bath, stirring occasionally until cool.

The cream may be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days.

19 August, 2008

A long time coming

It’s finished; printed, bound and freshly submitted. I’ve handed in my thesis! It’s been a long time coming, and now we’re focusing on celebrating. I’m looking forward to more time spent in the kitchen, experimenting and learning. I’ve joined the Daring Bakers* and, at the end of August, I’ll post my first challenge.

I made this curry a few weekends ago. It’s a morale boosting dinner, pure comfort food for when you’re feeling low. It got me through some of the darkest days of proofreading, and it turned the bitter end into something sweet and spicy.

Chicken masala with sweet potato

2 red onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbspns vegetable oil
1-2 tspn curry powder
2 tspn ground coriander
2 tspn cumin
½ tspn ginger
½ tspn turmeric
500 g chicken breast fillets
300 ml natural yoghurt
125 ml chicken stock
2 tspn tamarind paste or 1 tspn sugar
2 large sweet potato or 1 butternut, cut into cubes and par-cooked.
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the onions and garlic into a food processor and process to form a smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion mixture and sauté over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the spices and continue cooking for 5 minutes.

Add the chicken to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

*The Daring Bakers is an online baking group. Each month a recipe is chosen by one of the members as the “Daring Bakers Challenge”. Every member follows the identical recipe. I'm sure it will be a fun way of learning new techniques and stretching my baking repertoire…

06 August, 2008

The most versatile

I confess that I adore cookbooks. From the big glossy tomes sporting celebrity names, to local, school-centenary editions, I covet them all. Somewhere in between these two extremes falls The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, authored by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. It’s a wonderful, comprehensive and encouraging guide to making and preserving jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and salsa. As much as I love to collect recipe books I fear that I may never need another on this topic!

This is not the first recipe that I’ve made from this book, but it’s certainly the most versatile. We ate this red onion relish on Sunday with rye crackers and cream cheese, yesterday for lunch on English muffins with apple and cheddar, and I’m confident we’ll eat it again with a vegetable curry tonight. The authors suggest it as a pizza topping and an accompaniment to braaied meat.

Although excellent as is, the recipe is the equivalent of basic blueprint. Next time I’ll be experimenting with spices: ground clove, ginger or cumin, and maybe a little orange zest. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Red onion relish

4 large red onions
100 ml light brown sugar
6 tbspn balsamic vinegar
2 tbspn port
400 ml water
freshly ground black pepper

Peel, halve and thinly slice the onions. Place onions and sugar into a wide, heavy-based saucepan. Cook over a low heat, stirring continuously, until the onions start releasing water. Turn up the heat and cook, still stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and caramelized, between 30-50 minutes.

Add vinegar, port and water. After bringing to the boil, reduce the heat. Simmer the onion mixture for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the relish into clean jars. It will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks, and longer in the freezer.

29 July, 2008

Restraint required

I’ve only recently been educated in the time-honored ratio of traditional shortbread: one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. This recipe deviates a little from those strict proportions, but the result is delicious, crisp, crumbly and rich. All I can say is that it was a very, very good thing that most of these were destined for Jorn’s Opa’s birthday present. And if I can restrain myself for long enough the next time I bake them, I’m convinced they’d make the perfect base for a chocolate cheesecake.

Essentially, this is Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Granny Boyd’s Biscuits, to which I’ve added orange zest and a touch of vanilla. If you’d like the chocolate flavour stronger, almost verging on bittersweet, remove a teaspoon or more of the flour and replace with an equal quantity of cocoa powder.

Chocolate orange shortbread biscuits

125 g castor sugar
250 g lightly salted butter
finely grated rind of two oranges
300 g self-raising flour
30 g cocoa powder
¼ tspn ground vanilla pod

Preheat the oven to 170ºC

Cream sugar, butter and orange zest together until pale and soft. Sieve the cocoa powder, flour and vanilla together, add to the butter mixture, and stir gently until combined. Roll heaped teaspoons of the dough into walnut-sized balls. Place, generously spaced, onto baking trays and press each with the back of a fork to flatten. There is enough dough to make at least 35.

Place the baking trays in the preheated oven. Bake for 5 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 150ºC, and continue baking for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the trays from the oven; the biscuits will appear slightly soft, but will harden as they cool. Transfer to wire racks.

22 July, 2008

Better with time

Some things just get better with time, and this red lentil soup is a prime example. Warm, spicy and sustaining, it’s my idea of a perfect winter lunch. And if you make a double batch for a double family supper (including both parents and in-laws), you’re bound to have leftovers for a few meals beyond.

We were given beautiful fresh ginger in our organic vegetable box last week, but of course you may use dried and powdered if it’s more convenient. This recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison’s yellow spilt pea soup, courtesy of The Greens Cookbook.

Spicy red lentil soup

25 g butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn black mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
300 g split red lentils
2 carrots
1 large red sweet potato
1¼ litres vegetable stock
400 ml can coconut milk
freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
30 g parsley

Soak lentils for 30 minutes, rinse well and drain.

Sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, mustard seeds and bay leaves in the butter. Keep the heat medium-low and stir for 5 minutes. Add peeled, chopped carrots and sweet potato, stir in the lentils, and cover with the stock and coconut milk. Simmer gently for 30 minutes or until lentils are soft and the vegetables tender.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper; add coarsely chopped parsley, grated lemon rind and lemon juice to taste. Cool briefly before puréeing with a stick blender until smooth. If necessary, add more water to thin the texture of the soup.

The soup is delicious served with spiced yoghurt: mix plain yoghurt with a little turmeric, paprika, cumin, sugar and salt.

15 July, 2008

Eggier & richer

I love it when people ask me to make food for a party, although perhaps it's a little silly to post my enthusiasm online! I feel entirely innocent making sweet treats that have a purpose. So, when asked to make milk tarts (quintessentially South African) for a farewell party for two friends who’re heading to Oxford, of course I leaped into action.

A traditional South African milk tart is a pale specimen; the milk to egg ratio is higher than in other nation’s custard tarts, and invariably finished with a dusting of cinnamon. I’m all for tradition, but I like an eggier, richer custard. This simple recipe uses Ina Paarman’s tip of infusing the milk with cinnamon and citrus in the initial step.

Farewell milk tartlets (makes approximately 12, depending on size)

1 cinnamon stick
grated rind of one orange
½ tspn vanilla essence
600 ml milk
4 tbspn corn flour
4 egg yolks
600g homemade or ready-made puff pastry
1 tspn ground cinnamon mixed with 1 tbspn castor sugar, to sprinkle
Standard muffin pan, buttered

Place 500ml of the milk into a saucepan; crumble in the cinnamon stick, add the orange zest and vanilla essence. Bring to the milk to the boil. Switch off the heat, and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Mix the remaining 100ml of milk with the corn flour, and whisk into the egg yolks. Still whisking, strain the milk infusion and add to the egg yolk mixture. Return to the saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously until thick. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 210°C.

Cut the pastry into rounds bigger than the hollows of a muffin pan and cover the base and sides of each hollow with pastry. Fill with cooled custard, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow tarts to rest for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.