Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

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Honey plus a workhorse of a tart

Life is picking up pace after the leisurely months of lock-down.   This week has included the monthly Open Sight cooking session https://youtu.be/jRIznF2wFAY plus our first substantial harvest of honey.

The dribbles extracted late last summer and earlier this Spring were simply the overtures to the symphony of delectable stickiness that pervaded every surface.   The whole process had been pre-scripted and thought-through: honeycomb frames from the hives; removing the wax cell cappings; extracting honey in a sort of handraulic spin-dryer; filtering out odd bee legs, pollen and dust.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that went awry, and every surface was sticky.   Thank goodness for the vinegar advice following a recent icing sugar disaster: a couple of capfuls into the bucket for the fourth attempt to wash the floor worked.

Now we have a tank of glorious golden honey that has been settling for a couple of days.   It is good enough to eat now but conditioning for 30 minutes at 62C will help maintain the runny consistency.   The fabulous sous-vide water-bath is in action again.   It is proving invaluable for basic cooking, making yoghurt and, now, getting the honey ready for jars.   More of this saga next time.

Meanwhile, this is the savoury tart we blind cooks made together on-line recently.   It has endless uses and combinations.   I’ve slightly adapted the pastry from versions I learned in San Francisco and from the blessed Delia.   It has my special methods for baking that suit a blind cook or anyone else.

 

110g butter, frozen, grated and re-frozen.

220g plain flour, chilled in the fridge overnight.

1 teaspoon salt.

1 egg.

a little cold water.

 

4 leeks, finely sliced and washed.

4 eggs, beaten.

2 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche.

Salt and pepper.

 

(To prepare the butter: freeze the block then coarsely grate before placing in a bag or box and re-freezing.)

Mix the frozen butter into the chilled flour and salt, breaking down the butter to about the size of a grain of rice.

Beat the egg in about the same volume of water and gradually mix into the flour mix, adding a little more water, until the pastry comes together.

Chill the pastry for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and line a large loose-bottomed tart tin.   Press the pastry into the corners and prick all over with a fork.

Line the pastry-filled tin with kitchen foil, pressing down in the corners and covering the edges.

Chill for 30 minutes.

Bake at 180C, Gas 4 for 12 minutes – this is “baking blind”.

Break the eggs for the filling into a bowl and beat.

Remove the foil, brush the base and internal sides of the pastry with some of the beaten egg and return to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Remove the pastry case and brush again with beaten egg.   Ideally, allow to cool and rest for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the leeks in the microwave until soft and allow to cool.

Beat the crème fraîche and seasoning into the eggs.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the leeks and place in tart

Place the whole tart tin on a large piece of kitchen foil.

Fill the tart with the egg mixture.

Fold the foil over the tart to make a loose tent and bake for at least 40 minutes until the centre is just setting.   The foil catches any spills and protects the pastry from getting overcooked.

Allow to cool a little before serving warm.

 

This seems a long recipe but keeping some frozen and/or grated butter ready in the freezer makes it simple.   I also make the pastry and freeze it for using later and even freeze the pre-cooked tart cases too.   A little time on this preparation makes the final stages quick and easy.

There is no end to the fillings with the savoury custard but most need to be at least part-cooked e.g.   mushrooms with the leeks; smoked salmon or trout with chopped dill and a spoonful of horseradish sauce; asparagus and chopped ham; courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, black olives.

The pastry case has other potential: fill with cooked apple puree, top with slices of eating apple plus a dusting of sugar and butter knobs before returning to the oven for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer perfection: a good read and ice-cream

Crime fiction, thrillers and spy stories have tended to feature in my book reviews for RNIB.   Not the most literary or spiritually uplifting but great for relaxing in the sun (when it shows its face again).

My latest selection goes live on RNIB Connect radio from 1300 on Friday 9 July – just click  https://audioboom.com/posts/7898711-alex-michaelides-kate-london-penny-melville-brown

I’ve also been telling the international audience of the British Forces Broadcasting Service https://fb.watch/v/9uSZ3flrF/

about next Monday’s 1030 (London time) live on-line bake-in: the 9-minute microwave ginger cake.

https://www.facebook.com/events/806006046955175

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-session-for-visually-impaired-people-ginger-cake-tickets-160566860803

This honey and ginger ice-cream is the perfect accompaniment for both the good book and the cake.   It grew from a Heston Blumenthal recipe: substituting honey for sugar to give more flavour and slightly changing the consistency.   Ideal for those who can’t eat eggs and very easy.   Keeping the pieces of ginger as a topping avoids overwhelming the subtle honey flavour.

My venerable and elderly ice-cream maker has an integral refrigeration unit.  But you could part-freeze the mix for an hour or so before whisking the semi-frozen mix to break up the ice crystals and returning to the freezer.

 

840g double or whipping cream.

360g whole milk.

200g honey (we use our own).

35g semi-skimmed milk powder.

3 teaspoons vanilla paste.

Pinch of salt.

2 handfuls crystallised ginger, chopped.

 

Simply place all the ingredients except the ginger in a pan and gently heat until all is dissolved and mixed.   Briefly bring to boiling point.

Chill for at least two hours (or overnight).

Churn and top with the chopped ginger before serving or placing in the freezer.

How’s that for simple?

 

Not Cheese Straws

 

I keep forgetting that being over-confident often ends up in tears.

Starting to feel miles better as the fatigue and physio therapies progress, I was moving much more quickly.  Consequence: misjudged where the wall was, smacked my hand on it and heard two awful cracking noises.  I can still move my fingers and hand but have probably torn something or similar.  Lots of ice packs and painkillers later, it is just about useable again.  And, you guessed, my right hand with all the complications that follow when it is out of action.

Being blind, small injuries are part of life: the bruises, the sore spots, the cuts and burns, the lumps on your head.  Usually, I don’t even remember how I got the injury but this one had rather more impact:  using a keyboard with dud fingers isn’t very comfortable.

I’ve been feeling rather guilty too: there was a request after one of the on-line baking sessions for me to do cheese straws.  The problem is that I utterly loathe cheese: the smell, taste and texture and, if I eat it, I get migraines.

Instead, I’ve adapted a recipe to make Not Cheese Straws – replacing the offending articles with walnuts and herbs.  The added bonus is the end product has far less fat – as if you care about calories when being tempted by warm, savoury slivers of deliciousness!  For those who prefer the authentic version, I’ve given the cheese proportions.

 

185g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt.

¼  teaspoon English mustard powder.

Tip of teaspoon paprika or chilli powder.

110g butter, cubed.

100g walnuts, chopped and a generous tablespoon rosemary and thyme leaves, chopped (or 75g Cheddar cheese and 25g Parmesan cheeses)

1 egg (or 1 egg yolk and about 2 tablespoons water).

Place the flour, salt, mustard and chilli in a bowl and rub in the butter.

Mix in the nuts and herbs (or cheeses).

Bring together using the egg (or egg yolk and water).  The result will be a soft sticky dough.

Chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll or press out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm.

Cut into 1 cm wide strips and place on a baking tray lined with parchment.

Chill thoroughly (I left the tray in the fridge overnight).

Pre-heat oven to Gas 4, 180C, 350F then cook for for 15-20 minutes.  I could hear them sizzling on the tray.

(If you are using cheese, the recipe suggested rolling the dough to the thickness of a £2 coin – whatever that is – and cooking at Gas 5, 190C, 374F for 10-15 minutes)

Leave to cool on the tray as they are quite fragile.

 

I’m very pleased with the end result which will be good with a glass of wine or similar – don’t be mean with the salt, mustard or chilli.  Next, I’m thinking of a sweet version to serve with desserts.

Don’t forget: there’s another live baking session on 12 April: lemon Victoria sponges.