Sunday, 31 July 2011

Kitty Travers' ices at School of Artisan Food

School of Artisan Food

When did you last taste a really good ice cream?  I mean a real ice-cream with a depth and length of flavour that stays with you long after the last spoonful.  For me it was last Sunday on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire.  We're not talking about faux ice cream which delivers nothing but a comforting slick of cool slipperyness on the tongue, and fills you with regret afterwards.  That will be the one made with palm oil, or worse.  These mass manufacturers' tricks are even more ubiquitous than you might think.

I'm lucky enough to have access to real ice-cream most weeks.  It is so good that I was intrigued to learn what made it so special.  Kitty Travers parks her La Grotta Ices Piaggio van on Maltby Street in the London Borough of Bermondsey most Saturdays.  She offers the best ice creams I've ever tasted - 4 or 5 flavours by the cone, tub or take-home carton.  It was Kitty's flavour combinations which caught my attention - consider marmalade with chocolate sauce; strawberry and orange blossom; peach leaf and opal plum; tarrragon and nectarine.  It's impossible to pass on by.  All are made with top-quality ingredients, and it really shows.

When I heard Kitty was running a course at The School of Artisan Food I seized my chance to learn how to make real ice cream with depth.  I was also hoping to learn how to combine flavours which, to most of us, would not seem obvious matches but which I knew, from my weekly indulgence, really worked.  From a one-day course I thought I was probably expecting too much but it was surprisingly detailed.  In a class of 14, by partnering up, we managed to produce more than 10 ice-creams, from Cornstarch through Milk and Vanillas to Fruit Ices and Sorbets, a Parfait and a non-dairy Granita.  

Given my interest in flavours I was thrilled to make a Blackcurrant and Leaf recipe with my partner for the day, Ian.  We learnt the techniques for infusing and the importance of "ageing" before churning to dramatically improve the result of a milk/cream based ice cream.  We even learnt how to make "Instant" ice cream by utiising the chemical reaction between ice and salt to give an (almost) instantaneous freeze.  The vibrant colour and taste of the "Sunshine Sorbet" had to be experienced to be believed.  Fellow students ranged from a dairy farmer looking to diversify, and a British/Italian baker planning to rediscover his family's ice cream-making roots, to enthusiastic home cooks and lucky recipients of courses as birthday gifts. 

Despite the pace, there was time to check out how the rest of of the class were progressing with the other recipes.  The atmosphere was focused yet fun and we certainly learned a lot in just a few hours.  Kitty's style is relaxed and engaging and she's full of stories of her peripatetic life.  Anyone interested in artisan food will enjoy this course, and if you share Kitty's passion for ice cream you'll get an awful lot out of it.

The base for The School of Artisan Food is the beautiful former fire stables on the extensive Welbeck Estate near Worksop in North Nottinghamshire.  The founding principles of this not-for-profit centre of excellence are based on a belief that communities are forged around food.  Learning where it comes from and how to make it well is vital to our culture.  Knowledge has been passed down from one generation to the next but the skills can be, and are being, lost.  That's why this school is so important.  This is the second course I've taken at The School of Artisan Food.  The administration, the facilities and the teaching have been excellent and the ethos inspirational.  

So, let's ditch the mediocre, and often downright mendacious, in favour of real food - let's get churning!  I'm including this link as it tells you much more about Kitty than I can.  Richard Johnson gives a good insight into her influences and motivations
If you crave salted caramel ice cream, and I sometimes do, try the Real France stall at Borough Market. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Yorkshire Curd Tart - Take 1

Yorkshire Curd Tart - Take 1

I'm on a quest to find the perfect Yorkshire Curd Tart recipe.  You know what it's like, you move away from your childhood home and you start to miss some things you used to take for granted.  At the moment, for me, that's Yorkshire Curd Tart.  Occasionally I manage to get to York.  When I do I always, but always, buy some from Betty's bakery (along with a Fat Rascal).  They're pretty good, though the one I crave was baked across the border in County Durham.  As with many English dishes, there was a certain amount of border-creep with the "Yorkshire" Curd Tart.  

Like many ill-documented recipes, its origins are disputed.  The story which resonates with me is that it started as a means of using up waste curd from the cheese-making process when most smallholders would keep a cow and produce a few small cheeses. 

First there's the pastry.  It should be a fine shortcrust - a plain edge, not crinkled (though my tin is crinkled-edged), and not too deep.  The fruit, I think, should be currants, but make sure they are good quality seed-free ones.  Rosewater is sometimes mentioned and in a recipe from 1741 even "butter washed in rosewater".  The 'curd' must be real curd cheese - definitely not cottage cheese.  I suppose people keep suggesting cottage cheese because it's easy to get hold of, but don't bother, it just doesn't work.  It used to be possible to get curds direct from your local dairy.  Being in London, I got my curd cheese from Bill Oglethorpe of Kappacasein down in Bermondsey (in exchange for a tub of my allotment raspberries).  The good news is that as more dairy farms are now diversifying, curds are becoming more available.  All that is needed is for people to start asking for them, either at the farm gate or from artisan cheese makers like Bill.

The quest for the definitive recipe continues but in the meantime, here's Take 1.  Influenced by Jane Grigson's recipe in her book English Food, it's not a bad attempt, but it's not the authentic Yorkshire Curd Tart I remember.  The texture of the filling seemed a bit spongey and the amount of currants too generous.  Clearly I have more work to do.  If you think you've got the recipe, I'd love to hear from you. 

Yorkshire Curd Tart (Take 1)
(22cm shallow tart tin with a removable base) 

Sweet Shortcrust pastry:
110g (4oz) soft butter
55g (2oz) icing sugar
2 tablespoons beaten egg
170g (6oz) soft plain flour
pinch  of salt

100g soft butter
50g caster sugar
200g curd cheese
100g currants
1 level tablespoon breadcrumbs
Pinch of salt
Grated nutmeg
Grated rind of half a lemon
2 well-beaten eggs, less 2 tablespoons used in the pastry.

For the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, then gradually add the flour and salt, mixing to a smooth paste.  (This makes a very fragile, buttery pastry which is best if handled as little as possible).  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour. 

Butter the tart tin lightly and press pieces of the pastry into the tin to form a thin layer (you will need only half the amount of pastry you've made, so wrap the remainder and freeze it for your next tart).  Push a rolling pin over the top of the tart tin to leave a clean edge.  Prick the base repeatedly with a fork and place in the fridge for another 15-30 minutes (this helps to reduce shrinkage in baking).   

Heat the oven to 190C.  Bake the pastry case blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and return the tin to the oven for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 170C. 

Cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.  Mix in the curds, currants, breadcrumbs, salt and nutmeg, then the eggs.  Pour mixture into the tart caseand bake for 30 minutes.  Cool to room temperature before serving.

UPDATE: Go here for Take 2 on the Yorkshire curd tart

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Towpath Cafe time

Towpath Café
You may think I've been a hermit of late, so few have been my reviews of places to eat.  Maybe I'm too picky, but I'm not a professional restaurant reviewer these days.  I don't want to waste my time, or yours, so I only write about places I rate highly.  I appreciate an exquisite sauce and a starched napkin as much as anyone but what I want most of the time is carefully-sourced ingredients, cooked with passion and served-up with a genuine wish to give pleasure.  I expect a decent, but not pricey, glass of wine.  A relaxing, friendly atmosphere and knowledgeable staff need to be in the mix too.  The opportunity to eat outside on a sunny day is a nice extra, and sitting by a stretch of water is almost over-egging the perfection pudding.  So, after several weeks of some disappointments which have sent me scurrying back to old favourites, I offer you "Towpath Café" by the Regent's Canal. 

London's Regent's Canal runs from the junction with the Grand Union Canal at Paddington in the west to the river Thames in the east at Limehouse.  It passes right through London Zoo in Regent's Park and snakes onwards through Camden, Islington, Bethnal Green and Mile End.  Towpath Café is between Whitmore Bridge and Kingsland Road Bridge (N1 5SB) and its steel shutters are thrown open from breakfast till dusk.  Opened in April 2010 by Italian/American author and food writer Lori de Mori, it's definitely now on my favourites list.  The food, prepared in a tiny lock-up kitchen, is seasonal and very simple.  Yesterday Dave was cooking up morcilla, red peppers and broad beans on toasted sourdough; a steak sandwich with caramelised onions; a creamy, olive oil slicked brandade and soft boiled egg served with sourdough toast; runner beans and Berkswell cheese salad.  Each was carefully prepared and packed with flavour.  Laura's treacle tart was as light and chewy as it ought to be (yet so often isn't).  Her olive oil cakes are a must, and there's home-made ice-cream too. 

A generous main course and dessert, a glass of chianti and a good espresso came in at around £15 and it's great value.  This is the food I want for a relaxed weekday lunch.  Most of the seating is outside, so a sunny day helps, but there is a small under cover area too.  Outside, chilled-out diners co-exist amicably with locals, walkers, dogs, cyclists and joggers, and with boats and wildfowl coming and going too you have a constantly changing scene.  Towpath takes its responsibilities seriously in this residential area of Dalston/Hackney.  There is no take-away, so no litter, and staff help cultivate the small local communal garden alongside. 

If you're having trouble finding the Cafe, look out for their recent acquisition, "Juiliette" a lovingly restored "little ship".  Now all we need is for summer to return to a, presently, soggy London to unwind down on the Towpath.

Towpath Café
42 De Beauvoir Crescent, London N1 5SB
(Regent's Canal, between Whitmore Bridge and Kingsland Road Bridge)
Tues-Fri 08.00 to dusk
Sat 09.00 to dusk
Sun 10.00 to dusk
No bookings and no loos. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Fat lemons and flat nectarines - Food Find

This time of year it's difficult to know which fruits to buy, such is the choice and abundance.  We are reaching that time with UK grown fruits when the berries are past their peak, the cherry crop is slowing, and the plums are merely showing promise.  However, Continental-grown peaches and nectarines are filling the gap nicely.  I bought fantastic juicy small, flat nectarines at Tony Booth's arch today, along with grapefruit-sized Italian lemons.  The skins of these lemons (with pith attached) make the best candied peel.

Maltby Street

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cherry Frangipane Tart

Cherry Frangipane Tart

The Kent-grown cherries are tasting fantastic this year, despite the fact weather conditions have been challenging, and damaging to the crop - basically not enough rain followed by far too much.  The delicious yellow and red Rainier variety available at the moment are slightly firmer and less fleshy than the black ones and are perfect for eating just as they are.  Having bought a kilo of Rainier's and one of black cherries from the Dallaway's stall on Borough Market on Saturday, I wandered up to Bermondsey to do the rest of my shopping.

I was full of thoughts of turning some of the black cherries into the perfect cherry frangipane tart as I paused for a reviving espresso at Monmouth's roastery before stocking up on my staples of bread, cheeses and prosciutto.  The Bermondsey Trail certainly seems a lot busier of late but it's a far more relaxing way to shop than fighting your way around Borough Market.  Finishing up at Gergovie Wines bar on Maltby Street, I enoyed a glass of Gamay from the Auvergne and shared a plate of perfect baked ham and a dish of silky caponata.  And then I spotted Kit's cherry tart.  I was determined to resist.  Then my neighour ordered a slice, eating it in that quiet way that tells you something is good, waiting until the last bite to declare it so.  I was undone.  I had to have it.  The pastry was a wafer-thin layer of finest shortcrust.  The almond frangipane was soft and yielding and another ounce of sugar would have tipped it over into too-sweet.  It could have been a bit more generous on the cherries, but it was amazingly good.   

I left feeling not quite so confident about my own plans, but here's my recipe.  It's not as good as Kit's but if you can't get over to Maltby Street, you might enjoy this.  You'll see from the photograph that I used a slightly smaller and deeper tart tin, but a 22cm shallow one is best for this.

Cherry Frangipane Tart
(22cm shallow tart tin)

Sweet Shortcrust pastry:
110g (4oz) soft butter
55g (2oz) icing sugar
2 tablespoons beaten egg
170g (6oz) soft plain flour
pinch  of salt

125g softened butter
125g ground almonds
125g caster sugar
2 eggs plus egg leftover from the pastry making

250g stoned cherries

For the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, then gradually add the flour and salt, mixing to a smooth paste.  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.  (This makes a very fragile, buttery pastry which is best if handled as little as possible).

Lightly butter a 22cm shallow loose-bottomed tart tin.  Press pieces of the pastry into the tin to form a thin layer - you will probably have more pastry than you need, the important thing is to apply it thinly.  Push a rolling pin over the top of the tart tin to leave a clean edge.  Prick the base with a fork and place in the fridge for another 30 minutes (this helps to reduce shrinkage in baking).  Heat the oven to 190C and bake the pastry blind for 15 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and if the base is not cooked, return the tin to the oven for 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven.

Beat the very soft butter and mix in the ground almonds and caser sugar.  Gradually mix in the eggs well.  Add the stoned cherries to the tart and spread the frangipane cream over them.  Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  Cool, remove from the tin and serve the tart at room temperature, perhaps with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Violet Cakes back on the Bermondsey Trail - Food Find

After an absence due to lack of staff, Claire Ptak has returned to the Bermondsey Trail with her delicious 'Violet Cakes' on the first Saturday of each month.  She can now be found at Arch 55 Stanworth Street, sharing with The Borough Cheese Company, Fern Verrow, Aubert & Mascoli wines and Coleman Coffee.  I recommend the seasonal fruit polenta cakes.
Update Dec 2011 - Changes to locations - check with Violet Cakes as to where and when
Violet Cakes
Shop: 47 Wilton Way, London E8 3ED
@ Broadway Market, London E8 (every Saturday) & 55 Stanworth Steet, London SE1 (first Saturday in the month)

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Kaffeine - Food Find

Kaffeine is one of my best independent coffee shop finds in London.  Skilled baristas deliver excellent shots of Square Mile coffee with a Synesso Syncra machine.  Whilst I favour their Piccolos, Kaffeine doesn't confine itself to producing espressos and filters, but offers alternatives of Teapigs teas, cascara (a 'tea' brewed from the normally wasted dried outer layer of the coffee cherry), hot chocolate, and Chegworth juices.  They serve salads, sandwiches and cakes that are more than the 'OK' offerings of many coffee shops.  Antipodean owned, it's a welcome find in 'Fitzrovia', and now open on Sundays.

66 Great Titchfield Street
London W1