Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Raspberry Clafoutis

Raspberry 'Clafoutis'

It's the way the word rolls off the tongue - c l a f o u t i s - that does it.  It's like a loving endearment or reassuring pat on the back.  So many times I've been seduced into taking a little slice of 'cherry clafoutis', hoping against hope that this will be the one to live up to all my expectations.  So many times my optimism has been rewarded with a stodgy or desiccated disappointment, made palatable only by pouring on copious amounts of cream.  Yet still, I search for the holy grail of the perfect 'clafoutis'.

The clue, I think, is in the usual description of 'clafoutis' as a "thick" batter pudding.  Personally I prefer my pudding to be thick, or dense, with fruit rather than flour so each year when the cherry season comes round I try again to find the recipe that's right for me.  The norm is to use cherries, unpitted so as to impart a little bitter almond-like flavour.  I've had a mirabelle plum version that was excellent, though some would say if it's not made with cherries then it's a 'flaugnarde'.  I'm perfectly happy to accept it as clafoutis.  I just wish I'd asked for the recipe.

With at least another couple of weeks of cherry picking to go, I haven't given up on this summer's quest for the cherry clafoutis of my dreams.  Meanwhile, here's a lighter batter pudding I came across last summer.  It offers not only a different treatment for the batter, but uses raspberries.  As I'm currently frantically harvesting berries from my allotment, I'm grateful to revisit it.  Nothing beats eating the fruit straight from the canes, warmed by the summer sun, but they're peaking now and so are destined for the kitchen.  If they are truly ripe, they travel badly.  This is when you need a recipe where looks matter less than taste and there's only so much jam, cordial and puree I can make - and take.

Summer Raspberries

CLAFOUTIS: from the verb CLAFIR 
meaning: 'TO FILL"

The delicacy of raspberries calls for light cooking.  This recipe is adapted from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken by Simon Hopkinson.  It's somewhere between a custard and a batter pudding.  He calls it a "clafoutis" and that's fine by me.

Raspberry Clafoutis
(Serves 4)

250ml whipping cream
a pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod
about 25g of softened butter
about 250g raspberries
1 whole egg + 2 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon potato flour
a little icing sugar
a little raspberry eau de vie (optional)

Pour the cream into a pan.  Split the vanilla pod and run the back of a knife down the cut surfaces to extract the seeds.  Add pods and seeds to the pan along with the salt and stir.  Bring almost to the boil.  Take off the heat, cover and leave for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/Gas 4.
Butter 4 shallow oven-proof dishes (or 1 large one).  Divide the raspberries evenly between the dishes and place them in a roasting tin.
Beat together the egg, egg yolks, sugar and potato flour.  Remove the vanilla pod from the cream and pour into the egg mixture, whisking gently.  Carefully pour the batter over the raspberries.  Sift the icing sugar over the surfaces.
Add hot water to the roasting tin to reach at least halfway up the sides of the dishes.  Place carefully in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes (about 35 minutes for a large one) until slightly puffed-up but still a little wobbly.  Turn off the oven and allow the puddings to settle for a few minutes.  Remove and serve when just warm sprinkled with a little eau de vie (if using) and some whipped cream.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Honey & Co The Baking Book

Page from Honey & Co The Baking Book
Baked Apricots with marzipan filling and almond crumble
Photograph by Patricia Niven ©

"Our days are governed by the rhythm of the pastry .... ".  For Honey & Co, this tiny restaurant in a London backstreet, it's the pastry section that provides the essential underpinning to their busy days, from breakfast to end of dinner treats.  Here is the book that has been so anticipated since last year's publication of Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich's much loved debut Honey & Co Food from the Middle East.  I wrote about the 2014 book here.  Where the first book concentrated mostly on savoury Middle-Eastern food, The Baking Book offers recipes for sweet and savoury bakes, with the emphasis on the sweet ones.

Baked apricots with marzipan filling and almond crumble
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

Cakes are a big part of the book, even though the original plan for Honey & Co the restaurant didn't include a single cake.  Finding premises with a big picture window changed all that.  Cakes were the lure to attract customers in - the swivel of the eyes as they pass by.  I've done it myself and can confirm how effective a hook that window display is.  Colour to draw the eye, spices, orange blossom and rose waters to make the nose twitch.  All heavenly stratagems are employed.  But there are no deceptions here.  The bakes live up to expectations.

Chocolate & pistachio cookies
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

If this was simply a book of recipes, it would be very good - how could it not be, when it covers all of the Honey & Co customer favourites.  But it's the look behind the scenes from 'Dead of night' and 'First light', through the long daily flow of staff and customers, to the snuffing out of the candles, that makes it very good indeed.  In this book Sarit takes centre stage, the driving force for the baking with Giorgia the pastry chef who "lights up when she talks about cakes".  The purple folder of recipes from Sarit's baking life is the starting point.  Then the creative and collaborative work begins - helped along by tastings by staff and regulars and the need to fulfil Itamar's pastry dreams.  The results find their way to table and counter and, now, into this book which "has our favourite recipes .... and the best of all of us".

Raspberry & lime jam
cooked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

Sarit's tips on 'How to be good at baking' are a fine start to the book, with guidance on the use of sugar, eggs, cream, butter/fats, nuts and seeds, as well as excellent advice on ingredients like chocolate, "if I don't want to steal a piece, I shouldn't be baking with it".  The 'Store cupboard' yields up the likes of Strawberry & rose and Black fig, cardamom & orange jams, Amalfi lemon & rosemary marmalade, Candied quince, sweet and savour spice mixes and sugars.  You can breakfast on sticky Fitzrovia Buns  with sour cherries and pistachios (a personal weakness); a dish of Shakshuka (eggs cooked in spicy tomato sauce); Burnt Aubergine burekas (pastry parcels); or buttery Kubaneh, one of the intriguing "three strange Yemeni breads".  Mid-morning could have you feasting on Feta and courgette muffins or Fig, orange & walnut cake.  But then again there is Tahini & white chocolate plait and Pear, ginger and olive oil cake to consider.  Lunch could be a Balkan cheese bread; a spicy Pigeon pastilla; or Leek & goats' cheese pie with an out of the ordinary cheese pastry.  And suddenly it's teatime and we're at page 179 which doesn't even bear a recipe.  What it has is one of my favourite pages of writing in the book as it gives a flavour of the restaurant routine at that particular time of day.  But turn the page for Blood orange & pistachio cakesOrange blossom & marmalade cakesBlueberry, hazelnut & ricotta cake; and Chocolate sandwich cookies filled with tahini cream.  'After Dark' we have sweet, salty, crispy Knafe fragrant with cardamom and orange blossom water; Poached peaches with rose jelly & crystallised rose petals; and, maybe, some pistachio and rose petal Halva.

Peach, vanilla & fennel seed loaf
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

I can never write a review without first trying out some of the recipes.  What did I make?  A ruby-red Raspberry & lime jam with citrus and spice notes from the use of fresh and dried limes; soft, yielding Chocolate & pistachio cookies; fragrant Peach, vanilla & fennel seed cake; and a luscious dish of floral, lightly-spiced Baked apricots with marzipan filling & almond crumble.  I made Honey & Co's recipe for Marzipan with orange blossom water for the filling and I swear I will never buy ready-made again.

Slice of Peach, vanilla & fennel seed loaf
baked from Honey & Co The Baking Book

This is a book for those who like a good read along with their cake.  A true taste of Honey & Co the restaurant, a place I know well.  The photography, by Patricia Niven, is every bit as beautiful as her photos in the first book.  This is a Baking Book well worth the wait.

Honey & Co The Baking Book

Book courtesy of Salt Yard Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Spring into Summer with peas, beans and garlic

Broad beans, garlic and Florence Red onions

Every potato has sprouted into a canopy providing much needed shade to the tubers you just know are growing abundantly.  Bright spots of luscious red mark the strawberry bed where healthy plants poke through weed-suppressing cover and are guarded by a mesh-covered frame.  Evenly-spaced raspberry canes are already fruiting nearby and rows of broad beans stand to attention,  straight-backed  and regimented.  Sadly, not my plot but my east-side allotment neighbour.  Ex-army? There's something about Ray's disciplined plot that makes me think so.  Every area seems to be organised and considered, from the raised nursery bed to the onions, which, needless to say, are enormous.  Ex-Royal Engineers?  Whatever, clearly I need to make friends.

How different from my own plot.  I am a stranger to straight lines, instinctive in my practices, a firefighter rather than a planner.  Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't.  One year the courgette crop will be fantastic, the next a disaster.  Onions will sulk their way through one spring and grow to the size of cricket balls the next.  I am a philosophical gardener and I try not to let size matter.  Yet I keep straying over to check on Ray's plot.  There must, I reasoned, be something that's not quite working out.  Then I spotted the blackfly, thickly massed around the growing tips of those uniform broad beans.  At last, a chink in Ray's armour.

I couldn't get back to my own broad beans quickly enough to check them.  Sure enough, there the blackfly squatted, farmer-ants keeping them in their place and milking them for their sweet honeydew secretions.  Normally, pinching out the growing tip is sufficient to stop the colony in its tracks.  But not this year.  Onward they have marched, shepherded by their guardians, down the length of the stem and onto the bean pods.  And it hasn't stopped their, barely germinated runner beans are being ambushed, even spinach and chard have been blitzed.  Each visit, battle is joined here on plot 45.  My weapon of choice the soap-spray, has been enhanced with a garlic brew and success, I'm convinced, will be mine.

Ray, on the other hand, is not a firefighter.  Those stately broad bean plants now stand stunted, their crop overwhelmed.  The strawberry plants he gave me are doing well in their ramshackle housing on plot 45.  I think I need to offer him some broad beans in exchange.  I'll try not to be triumphalist, honestly I will.

Peas in the pod

Lifting my first garlic in early summer coincides with the pea and broad bean harvest.  Here's a dish I always make at this time of year to celebrate the real start to harvesting.  If the peas and beans are cropping earlier, I'll also add a few asparagus tips from the market.

Pappardelle with peas, broad beans & new season garlic
(serves 4)

200g (8oz) 'OO' flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
A little extra flour or polenta to help prevent sticking to the worktop 
60g (2oz) unsalted butter
About 1kg mix of broad beans and peas in their pods
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, thinly sliced
150ml (5 fl oz) vegetable stock
A small handful of mint, roughly torn or chopped

Put the flour and salt in a bowl.  Maker a well and add the eggs.  Mix to bring the ingredients together. Either knead in a mixer with a dough hook for 2 minutes or on a work surface, by hand, for 10 minutes.  If you use a machine, knead the dough by hand on the worktop for a further half minute (the warmth of your hands finishes it off perfectly). You will now have a smooth firm dough. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Pod the beans and peas and cook in boiling, salted water for 30 seconds.  Plunge them into cold water, drain and pop the broad beans out of their skins.  Keep the peas and beans to one side.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and salt the water (correctly it should be 1 litre of water to 10g of salt and for this quantity of pasta you should use at least 2 litres/20g).  As the water comes to the boil, feed the pasta dough through the pasta machine on its lowest setting. Fold the dough and repeat 3 more times. Increasing the setting by one mark each time, feed the dough through the machine once until you reach the penultimate setting (if you are as short of kitchen space as I am you'll want to cut your rolled pasta in half, or into thirds, part way through the rolling to make it more manageable, so you end up with 2 or 3 sheets of pasta).   Lay the sheets on the floured work surface and cut into wide pappardelle strips (1.5-2cm).  

Heat 30g of the butter gently in a large pan and add the garlic.  Cook until just softened.  Add the stock and boil to reduce a little.  Turn down the heat to a simmer and add the broad beans and peas to heat through for a couple of minutes while you cook the pasta in the salted water for 2 minutes.  

Season the vegetables and add the rest of the butter, cut into dice, shaking the pan to emulsify. Take off the heat.  Add the drained pasta and 2-3 tablespoon of cooking water to loosen if necessary.  Add the mint and serve with lots of parmesan.

NB.  The excellent book, Five Quarters by Rachel Roddy has a section on pasta which has changed my own pasta-making habits.  I highly recommend it.