Thursday, 30 June 2011

Heston Blumenthal’s treacle tart with vanilla ice-cream

 First, a bit of fandom.

A couple of weeks ago, Heston Blumenthal was rumoured to be appearing on Masterchef, and I located the relevant remote with difficulty and tuned in to Channel 10. The emotional displays and cliffhangers and competitive wranglings and repeats of imminent crisis around those commercial breaks are usually enough to keep me away, but there was Heston.

I’m almost as much of a Heston fan as The Guitar Teacher, who is a frustrated scientist. TGT has every TV series and book he’s ever put out, as well as the Harold McGee On Food and Cooking tome from which Heston says he draws inspiration. All fascinating reads of incredible depth and curiosity and experimentation and scientific enquiry, including the McGee chapters on eggs and ice-cream, which are as far as I’ve got with him. I do intend to read the whole thing one day.
Heston’s recipes and their equipment requirements are almost invariably beyond our humble reach, although we’ve managed the pizza and tomato sauce from one of the In Search of Perfection books.

I love his later books, but not for the practical aspect of their recipes – here must be a brief photographic digression into their beauty. The Fat Duck Cookbook (and this is not even the slipcase version with its multiple ribbons) and Fantastical Feasts go way beyond food porn and into a weird art.
All the equipment you need for lickable wallpaper.
And Heston’s equally fascinating and bizarre TV shows present him as a pleasantly obsessive and refreshingly non-ego-driven chef, after the Gordon Ramsey-style histrionics found so widely elsewhere.

I can’t believe I even attempted to book a table at The Fat Duck when we visited the UK last year. Got a phone card and sat there pressing redial to call first thing in their morning, exactly two months before the first possible date. But it was no go. I knew it was popular, but not that 30,000 people try and fail to get in each week or month or something.

Anyway, so it was my birthday last weekend, and The Guitar Teacher asked a week beforehand what I wanted to do, which is a question that can generally be taken to centre around food and eating for the day. I told him I just wanted him to make me dinner without me having to plan anything.

TGT smote his brow and promised to take me out anywhere I wanted, anywhere. I didn’t want. I would sit back and leave everything up to him. It could be as simple as he liked. Did he listen, and decide upon a simple but delightful entrée of cannellini beans dressed in olive oil, followed by a slow-cooked beef cheek on celeriac puree, perhaps with a tiramisu to follow; all things he has made before without drama and with great success? Nooo, he went straight to blow the dust from the Heston Blumenthal books.

Ultimately, TGT settled on the treacle tart with vanilla ice-cream, and I was called three times at work the day before my birthday with urgent questions about where to get dry ice for the ice-cream (I counselled him to abandon it and make a more-doable David Lebovitz version), where to get Lyle’s Golden Syrup, where to get pastry flour, was it wrong to have thrown out six eggs when the last one's yolk broke (so wrong I can barely think of it).

I ended up getting involved with the tart; it was no job for one person. And one extra in the kitchen would have been welcome just to read aloud the endless stages of the recipe. I'm sure treacle tarts are never the soul of restraint, but this one was a monument to excess. Every component had the contents of a vanilla bean in it, one even allocated to the few pinches of sea salt for sprinkling on at the finish.

The pastry was an almost-even match of flour and butter, with four eggs besides, and as rich and sticky as that implies; it was rolled out under great duress but looked good enough in the tin chilling before its bake; 

then it shrunk and oozed litres of butter everywhere as it cooked, not browning until it had been in the oven for twice as long as the recipe suggested, and its sides collapsed over the blind-baking beads and swelled and thickened.

 Because the capacity of the tart case looked drastically reduced, we halved the filling to use up only one tin of hard-to-come-by Lyle’s Golden Syrup instead of two (King & Godfree’s delivered the goods, as it turned out), which in the fullness of time proved the perfect amount.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Sticky pecan-cinnamon buns

 Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking (p51), and Thus Bakes Zarathustra’s The awkward girl who bakes  (I was initially drawn to her blogpost title, why could that be?)

 Put 2 sachets yeast and 1/3 cup each of bathwater-temperature milk and water (I put both together in a Pyrex jug and zapped it in the microwave for 30 seconds) in the mixer bowl and stir by hand to dissolve the yeast. Add 600g plain flour and 2 teaspoons salt, and give it the dough hook on medium-low for a minute or so, just until it’s a dry, shaggy mass. 
 Scrape down the bowl, add 3 eggs and ¼ cup sugar and mix on medium until the dough forms a ball, about 3 minutes. Add 340g room-temperature butter in chunks, waiting until each looks to be incorporated into the yellow sticky mass before adding the next. By now it’s a soft oozy dough. 
 Set the mixer on medium-high and leave it for about ten minutes, by which time the dough should be pulling away from the sides of the bowl, and, in my case, creeping above the hook to take over the motor.
 Cover with Gladwrap and leave somewhere warm to double in size, which could take 40 minutes but was more like two hours in my freezing house. That’s okay – plenty of time to feel the warm brioche dough, which is up there with kitten-belly fur in tactile delight.

Punch the dough down in the bowl, recover with Gladwrap and refrigerate, punching it down again every half hour or so until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave in the fridge overnight.

Separate the dough into two equal halves, and only use one half – the other can be frozen, or there’s nothing like a little brioche to whip out, for which Dorie originally wrote this recipe. I put the full recipe here as it’s tricky to halve 3 eggs, but you can try to make just the half-quantity if brioche dough in the freezer doesn’t float your boat.
 For the filling, mix 1/4 cup raw sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon and ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg in a bowl. Mash 40g room-temperature butter with a fork to spreadableness.

Find a 9"x13" baking dish and butter it generously. I could only find a smaller one, which meant the scrolls were a bit crowded and the central ones weren’t completely cooked through.

In a heavy saucepan, bring 200g brown sugar, 120g butter and ¼ cup golden syrup to the boil over a medium heat, stirring frequently. When the sugar has dissolved, stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle 1 ½ cups pecans all over the sticky, oozy glaze.
Flour your dedicated Italian marble work surface, or if by some oversight you lack one, clear a modicum of space on your cramped benchtop. Roll the dough into a 40cm square, spread with a good chunk of just-softened butter, and sprinkle over the sugar mix. 
Roll the dough up tightly and slice into about 15* 3cm lengths. Fit the scrolls cut-side-down into the baking dish atop the pecans, leaving a little more space between them than I did here.
 Cover with baking paper and leave in a warm place until the buns have doubled to puffy softness.**
 Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190C. Remove the baking paper and bake the buns for about 30 minutes, until they’re puffed and golden and bubbling with glaze. 
 Allow about five minutes for them to set a bit before clasping a serving platter over the baking dish and inverting – do it fast to minimise run-off. The glaze will still be verging on molten, so be careful. Eat while warm, obvs. Terribly rich and terrifyingly good.

 * Since I failed to find a dish large enough, and because I hoped to feed only three people, common sense might have whispered to me that perhaps I should bake a half-quantity. I clearly lack common sense, because we had way too many. Two buns are all that can be effortfully eaten and even those left me feeling beyond replete and verging on ill. The leftover portion, Dorie says, can be tightly gladwrapped and frozen, then thawed overnight and taken from there.

**At this point, I gladwrapped the dish and refrigerated it for the next morning, reasoning I could get up and leave it to rise on the heater and then bake it. But it needed at least two hours and a move to a just-turned-off oven to even think about rising again, much as The Guitar Teacher and Alida Irwin visiting from the country and I glowered at it hungrily. I do not think these are the best choice for breakfast unless you’re willing to get up at an ungodly hour, which was not the case this morning – Dorie recommends almost two hours for them to rise from rolling-out stage as it is. But I failed to read that last bit after Alida Irwin and I staggered home from a Friday night on the tiles. As it was, TGT and I didn’t eat these until midday, long after Alida Irwin had given up on my hostessing and left.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Florida Lemon Squares

I don’t know about this Florida place after which Maida names so many of her recipes. I’ve seen Dexter, and there were no lemon squares or brownies or biscuits in evidence there, unless his emotionally manipulative wife made them before that scene with the bath, you know that scene. She was more of a pancake-in-a-bottle type though, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But these ugly wonders from Maida’s Book of Great Cookies are pretty good, wholesome and lemony and full of texture – all about character rather than looks. And most forgiving of my numerous workarounds.

220g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can condensed milk
Finely grated zest 1 large lemon
1/2 cup lemon juice
150g butter
200g dark brown sugar, firmly packed (I used half light-brown and half dark muscovado)
100g oatmeal (I used rolled oats)

Preheat oven to 180C.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Pour the condensed milk into a bowl, zest over the lemon and gradually add the lemon juice, whisking to keep the mixture smooth. Set aside.

Cream the butter, add sugar and beat well. On low speed gradually add the dry ingredients, beating only until combined. Mix in the oats. The mixture will be as dry and loose as that for apple crumble, which it basically is.

Sprinkle about 2 cups of the oatmeal mixture evenly over the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan lined with baking paper (I used a 7" x 9"). Pat the crumbs firmly (or get the coffee tamper onto it) to make a smooth, compact layer.

Pour the lemon mixture evenly over the crumb layer and spread with a spatula to evenness. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the lemon layer. It’s okay if a bit of the lemon layer shows through in spots (though it won’t if you’ve used a much smaller pan than recommended).

Bake for 35 minutes until lightly coloured (mine took 55 to achieve any colour). Cool completely in pan, then refrigerate for at least an hour (or overnight) before removing from pan and baking paper to cut into small squares. Some icing sugar sifted over can help with their appearance. Serve fridge-cold. Or, I infer, they’d be as tooth-curlingly sweet as Rita Morgan and oozing condensed milk besides.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sesame biscuits

I don’t get Okashi by Keiko Ishida out enough, but like its simple, familiar recipes with often-unusual ingredients such as soy flour and brown-rice syrup. I’ve made the green tea sables, which were great, and the tofu cheesecake, which was the weirder end of great, which probably makes it just okay.

I’ve been looking at the photo of these black-and-white sesame cookies for ages, taken by their handsomeness-rather-than-prettiness, and the way the miniscule black seeds are sliced into a cross-section; it took me a while to find an opportunity where I happened to have both white and black seeds in the fridge.

And they’ve turned out to be delicious – just sweet enough, with a buttery, nutty flavour. I do love a sesame seed. These are like a Sesame Snack in a biscuit.

220g plain flour
50g white sesame seeds
50g black sesame seeds
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
1/8 tsp salt
40g egg yolks, from about 2 eggs

Put flour into some sort of container and chill in the freezer (not sure why, perhaps it’s a texture thing, but why not). Toast sesame seeds at 160C for about 15 minutes, or until the white ones develop a slight tan. Set aside to cool.

Beat butter, icing sugar and salt until pale and creamy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add flour and sesame seeds and fold in with a spatula. At this point the dough will seem very dry and crumbly, but it can be scrunched together.

The recipe says to divide the dough in half, transfer each half to a piece of baking paper, and shape into an oblong 12x7x2.5cm. That looked a bit difficult to achieve, so I lined a small oblong container that had once held quince paste with gladwrap and compacted the dough into it with a coffee tamper. 

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 160C. Slice the chilled dough 5–7mm thick. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and the toasty, sesame-y fragrance fills the kitchen.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

East 62nd Street Lemon Cake

When I sent this recipe to my friend Craig Claiborne, he printed it in the New York Times. It became amazingly popular. I heard of many well-known people who started serving it. I heard that Nancy Reagan and Bill Blass love it.
 Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, pp126–7

250g unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
450g plain flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a bundt tin.*

Cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat for 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs individually, scraping down the bowl as necessary with a spatula. On lowest speed alternately add the dry ingredients in three additions and the milk in two additions, beating only until smooth after each addition. Stir in lemon rind. Turn the batter into prepared pan.

Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes until a skewer comes out dry. Let cake stand in pan for about 3 minutes, then cover with a rack and invert. Remove pan, leaving the cake upside down. Place over a large piece of foil or waxed paper while preparing glaze.

Stir the lemon juice and sugar together and brush all over the hot cake.

Let cake cool completely. Transfer it to a cake plate, and let it rest several hours before cutting. I sifted over some icing sugar as well, because it looked so damn boring.
* There’s quite a lot of batter – it could be good in a small loaf tin and a few muffins made with the remainder, which was the plan until my loaf tin was discovered to have rust in its corners from the tears of neglect it had shed. My silicon bundt tin isn’t my favourite piece of artillery, for some reason, but I turned to it with that feeling of guilt I get when I don’t use things much. 

I had a slight issue with the way one side of the cake rose dramatically while the other remained flat. One side was cooked after the specified time; the other really wasn’t. Maybe it was too high in the oven. Maybe it should have been rotated halfway. Maybe there was a hidden seam of baking powder not mixed in. Maybe me and my oven are heading for a confrontation.

Okay, I’ll stop prevaricating. The famous cake favoured by many a society hostess?

This was a perfectly nice inoffensive cake. It couldn’t have been easier to throw together, and it was a pleasant accompaniment to my morning cup of Earl Grey. But after the claims to fame it had, it just didn’t seem terribly special or interesting.

Were I an Upper East Side hostess, I probably wouldn’t be ordering the help to make this so I could serve it up at a significant morning tea in my luxurious Mad Men-esque apartment. I wouldn’t be foregrounding it in the New York Times. I wouldn’t be choosing this if my husband were the president and I could eat whatever cake I felt like.

Maybe dense cakes of pronounced lemonness were a novelty in WASPy circles in the seventies, although I find it difficult to believe that people had fewer cakes to attempt and revel in back then.

I do remember that the various kitchens of relatives and family friends contained at most three cookbooks, one of them invariably the massive Women’s Weekly tome and the rest also leaning towards comprehensiveness and utility; beyond them there’d be the card file of handwritten recipes for ‘Daisy’s fruitcake’ and ‘Gran’s potted meat’ with a few ill-fitting clippings of rock cake recipes from Women’s Day slotted in.

I do get that there was a time when housewives had not much else to do with their time but cook, and that it was more drudgery than tantamount to a leisure activity affording relaxation and a vague sense of wholesome virtue and reclaimed domesticity-for-fun. (Okay, I’m going out on a slight limb with that – obviously most people are hardly in a position to just eat out every night, a solution dismissively put to me by a stupid, patronising git of an estate agent when I demurred that in an otherwise doable Parkville apartment there was no room for anything beyond a bar fridge that would have taken up most of the bench space as it was. Digressing. Sorry. But my point is – or was – that baking has become more an optional pleasure than a regular duty, and given rise to ever-more complex cakes and exotic ingredients.)

I know there wasn’t always TV glamourising baking at the nicely worn tables of Julia Child and Two Fat Ladies and Nigella and Masterchef – but surely Fanny Cradock and the Galloping Gourmet made some sort of cake back then. (Can’t imagine Keith Floyd as much of a cake man; not so conducive to sloshing Bordeaux around.) And then there were Europeans settling in with all their dense lemony cakes and poppyseed cakes and countless other fascinating cakes.

So it remains a mystery to me why this plain lemon cake was such a big deal. Any ideas?

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Dedicated to Misslice

It goes like this.

Try to identify which unlabelled jar holds ancho chillis, out of the numerous varieties from Casa Iberica and Victoria Street that have accumulated in the cupboard.

Find the right chilli with the help of Google Images.

Place in grinder, grind, sniff curiously at its strangely figgy aroma, sneeze and weep copious tears for a long time.

Preheat oven to 180C and spend a scant ten minutes preparing hunks of pork shoulder (oh yeah, salt it the day before) for a four-hour braise according to David Lebovitz’s excellent recipe.

 Straight up, or the next day, prepare or otherwise gather together refried beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream and tortillas. Eat with carnitas.

That’s all.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Lemon meringue pie

Pâte sablée: difficult, crumbly and messy, and a sore trial for one who may be described as all of the above – and who therefore favours completeness, coherence, truth and resolution in all things, apart from the occasional novel and film and blogpost. But enough about one, and back to the pastry.

It crumbled when slices were cut out, and kept on crumbling as it was eaten. But all that crumbliness made sense in a feisty texture that made all other pastries seem orderly variations on damp cardboard. It was buttery-biscuity-crisp, yet soft and light at the same time.

This was a Dorie Greenspan recipe from Baking (and can be found on her website); she advised against rolling due to the pastry’s fragility, and as one deprived of a marble worktop, I could get behind the suggestion to press it into the tart tin instead. But I was at a loss at the instruction ‘Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard the crust loses its crumbly texture’ (p444). In trying for a middle ground between firm, even coverage and heavy-handed crushing of the pastry’s crumble, mine was thick where the bottom of the tin met the fluted sides, and tapered to patchy thinness around the edge, and was anyone’s guess in the middle.  

I made a mistake in tin choice – the lemon tart I was following called for a fluted tart tin, but I was adding a meringue layer just because I was intrigued by the idea of using the back of a soup spoon to form little spikes, and so I should have used a pie dish with gently graduating sides and made life a lot easier.

One positive discovery was about sifting icing sugar, an activity I don’t love. I was trying to push rocks of the stuff through with the back of a spoon and not having fun when I had the fairly obvious idea of treating the sifter as a mortar and introducing a pestle to it. It turned out to be a brilliant idea, and I offer it up gratis to the portion of the world that hasn’t thought of it already.

The lemon cream was from a recipe Dorie named ‘The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart’ and that wasn’t hyperbole. The lemon filling differs from the usual lemon curd in that the butter (all 300g) is held back from the lengthy and arm-destroying whisking over the water bath, then added once the mixture has cooled for ten minutes and gone into a blender – hence becoming something more like an emulsion, and lighter and silkier in texture. 

Mine might have been silkier again if I’d strained the lemon zest out, but I left it in, thanks to Dorie’s re-thunk post and the new Microplane superfine zester that is the light of my life and the threat to my knuckles.
 I made a quick meringue that Dorie included with a key lime tart recipe, but was perhaps a little too quick with both the eggwhite beating and the baking in the oven – it was edging towards work time. A pity to rush the last stage of a process that had taken three days – crust sans baking one night and into the freezer, lemon cream the next, and finally baking and putting it all together before work. But the spike-creation was fun.

 Dorie says to serve or refrigerate; I did both, and refrigeration’s the better way to go. The first slice I cut out looked like this. Later ones were more upstanding.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Lemon sablés

Sablés are plain and buttery, like a lighter shortbread, and are just the thing sometimes when baking must be done for the sake of one’s sanity, yet there’s not a lot of time or desire to spend on anything involved and complicated. I’d made chocolate and green-tea versions before, but never these sablés au citron from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets.

I don’t pull out that book often enough for my own good. It presents well-tried recipes from various Parisian cafes, Pâtisserie Lerch in this case, and everything I’ve ever done from it – burnt-butter financiers, sablés Korova (reborn as the famous World Peace Cookies in Baking) – has been simple and pleasing.

I might have gone on about this before, but Dorie’s recipes are so meticulously detailed and clearly explained in terms of expected outcome that they’re a pleasure to follow and hard to stuff up. She’s one of those writers whose recipe books can be read like novels, especially this one with all its Parisian backstory and diminutive size.

This recipe’s a classic slice-and-bake, dough mixed together in moments, formed into logs and refrigerated until needed – the zesting took the longest to do of any one stage, but that clean, sharp lemon-oil aroma that floats up is worth a few minutes. Before baking, the logs are painted with an egg-yolk wash and rolled in sugar, which gives them a crystally, crunchy edge. And that’s it – simplicity in a biscuit.

Of course, it should be that simple, but my oven let me down as usual – the biscuits around the edges of the tray gained the slight goldenness I wanted for all of them, but most were pale and their texture not as good. And my logs never form perfect circles, as noted before, and this time I really wanted them to be like buttery coins. I'm sure it’s because I am deprived of a marble benchtop. 

But they were good with tea anyway, all fifty of them, and in terms of baking-lite as relaxation, sablés are it and a bit. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Beginnings of a week rich in lemon-based things, if at all possible. 

 Beginnings of kimchi courtesy of David Lebovitz, which I hope will ferment enough in my wintry kitchen to use in Orangette's kimchi fried rice before much longer. I know appallingly little about Korean food, and this took my fancy over the weekend. 

After soaking chopped-up wombok in salted water overnight it was very easily thrown together, and it was only afterwards when I began to read through the 65 comments on David's post that I noticed how many foodie-oriented people were saying they’d never have the balls to attempt fermented cabbage. I make no claim to possessing an undue number/amount of balls, so I found this a bit unnerving after my slapdash preparation – what’s expected to happen? A home-brew-type explosion, or a poisoning à la the first episode of The Borgias where it’s curtains for Derek Jacobi? 

Two days later, I see no bubbling in that giant swing-top jar, and it still just pongs of garlic and chillies, but maybe I’m doing it wrong.

 Beginnings of a new era for The Guitar Teacher and his love affair with XO sauce. After yet another Victoria Street source petered out, he was forced to face facts and get self-sustainable and make his own. I can only try the stuff at a ratio of a thousand-to-one in congee, but it seemed XOey enough for me. Though not very red.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wienerstübe cookies

These are Austrian. They are coal-black, chocolate, black-pepper cookies – buttery, crunchy and spicy.

Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies pp128­–9

These are every adjective Maida came up with above, and a damn easy slice-and-bake besides. The mixture can be thrown together while you’re waiting for a pasta to cook, rolled up, and put in the fridge for later. Or in the freezer, for that matter. Then whenever you feel like an elegant chocolate biscuit with your afternoon espresso or mug of Moccona, whichever the case may be, slice a good few off and bung them in the oven. They have a mouth-warming array of spices that set off the cocoa, and they’re about a million times better than a Chocolate Ripple.

1 ½ cups plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
¾ cup dutch-process cocoa
180g unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 egg

Sift together the dry ingredients.

Cream the butter, add the vanilla, sugar and egg and beat well. On a low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to blend.

Tear off a couple of pieces of baking paper about 40cm long. Distribute half the dough on each, shaping into a long, even sausage by rolling in the paper. There is no way I know of to be able to get this perfectly tubular, so I go for a squarish result instead by flattening each side on the bench. Refrigerate the snakes in their paper for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 190C. Unwrap one of the snakes and cut into 6mm discs. 

Place on a tray lined with more baking paper – a centimetre or two apart is enough.

 Bake for 10–12 minutes.