Thursday, 15 December 2011

Ginger brûlée tarts

Photo credit: The Quiltmaker

The head notes to this recipe in Bourke Street Bakery cookbook says these tarts, especially their fillings,  are one of the most challenging items in the book, so how could I resist? The challenges I faced were more to do with locating my tiny loose-bottomed tart tins (I found two, with several extra bases), remembering to replenish my stocks of cinnamon quills and achieving an evenly browned rather than spotted blackened crust with my blowtorch. 

Given the lack of tart tins (the recipe provided quantities for 20), and the warning about their difficulty, I decided to treat this as a practice attempt and made only four. I also used leftover sweet shortcrust pastry rather than making the recipe in the book, which I’ll do for the real thing.

They were fabulous, even with their charred edges and acrid sugar. I do love a good masala chai, and these were inspired by chai on the author’s travels through the Himalayas.

 Adapted from the larger quantity in Bourke Street Bakery, pp264–5

Note: don’t get up the morning of a dinner party expecting to whip these up for dessert! They need to be started two days ahead, or you might get away with one if you skimp on either or both the infusing and custard-chilling.

145mL pouring cream
2cm piece of ginger, finely sliced
1 cardamom pod, bruised
½ cinnamon stick
2 egg yolks
20g caster sugar, plus more for dredging and burning later
small chunk sweet shortcrust pastry, enough for lining 4 8cm tart tins
chopped pistachios for decorating

Heat the cream with the ginger, cardamom and cinnamon stick until it comes to the boil. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat to simmering point, then set aside.

Whisk egg yolks, then add sugar and keep whisking until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the spices out of the warmed cream, which is then whisked with the yolks and sugar to combine. Put the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (which mustn’t touch the base of the bowl), and keep whisking until your arm protests bitterly and the mixture is thick enough for tracks to be left in the wake of the whisk. 

This’ll be the most boring ten minutes of your life, so keep a companion handy to talk to and don’t be tempted to leave the whisking for even a few seconds. It’s okay to quickly change arms, but that’s all. Take the bowl off the heat and keep whisking for another minute or two to take some of the heat out of the mixture. Over the next hour, keep whisking every ten minutes until the mixture is totally cool. Press cling wrap to the surface to prevent a skin forming, and refrigerate overnight to set.

Line tart tins, freeze for 20 minutes, then blind bake at 200C for 20–25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool. Pipe the chilled custard into them, slightly overfilling, then scrape the custard flush with the top of the tart shell with a palette knife. Set in the fridge for 4 hours.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of caster sugar over the top of each tart and caramelise it with a blowtorch, somehow not blackening the tart crust edges as you do so. My caster sugar kept blowing itself into little balls that then became black blobs, but here and there were patches of perfect goldenness like an encouragement. Sprinkle a few pistachio fragments on top to serve, which I didn’t. Sprinkle pistachios, that is; I did serve, if marching into the Quiltmaker’s office and plonking it before her with a demand to sample and assess counts as serving. I think it does, and she didn’t seem to mind – she kindly took a photo in order to tweet about it, which I am now stealing as I neglected to take one of the finished item, as I am wont to do. Forget to take final pic, that is. And steal those of others to make up for my neglectfulness. But I consider the making of these tarts over several days penance enough.

So I shall make these again, probably in a quantity of ten, and serve with ice-cream. What ice-cream, I don’t know. Maybe a raspberry, as different enough to the custard and pretty besides, both advantages over a plain vanilla.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Fresh ginger cake

David Lebovitz seems to have been making this cake for decades – it’s online at Epicurious from 1999, and also in his Ready for Dessert (p42) – and for good reason.

This had a better reception than my made-up ginger brownies and Maida’s gingerful biscotti put together. It was rich and light, and pleasantly hot and bitey, and each crumb glowed golden. That may sound as if I’ve taken leave of my senses and am seeing miracles, but it’s true. I put it down to the workings-together of the oil and treacle and ginger. I’m sure it was also this combination that gave the cake its gloriously sticky shiny surface.

115g piece fresh ginger
250ml mild molasses (?? I used half-and-half Lyle’s golden syrup and black treacle)
200g sugar
250ml vegetable oil (I used peanut)
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
250ml water
2 teaspoons bicarb soda
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a not-shallow 20-cm square (or 22cm round springform) cake tin with baking paper.

Scrape the skin off the ginger with a teaspoon (that way you don’t waste any, as you do with a peeler or knife) and chop a bit. I blitzed my ginger in the small food-processor attachment that came with my stick blender and that I love and use daily, or you can be tough and do this by hand until very fine.

In a large bowl (the KitchenAid for me, but see issue with sifting over flour below), mix the molasses or substitute, sugar and oil – perhaps because I wilfully insist on using raw sugar, I ended up with an incredibly gluggy mixture where the sugar kept sinking to the bottom. Separately whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.

Bring the water to boil in a small saucepan (or I boiled the kettle), then stir in the bicarb soda. Beat the hot water into the golden syrup mixture, then add the chopped ginger.

Gradually sift the flour mixture over the golden syrup mixture, beating gently and in fits and starts to combine (since I haven’t been able to get around the problem of how to sift flour over while the thing’s running – perhaps a case for going the manually-mixing route for this one). Add the eggs and beat until thoroughly blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour, until a bamboo skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

David suggests serving it with a fruit compote, or a lemon curd whipped with cream, which would have been my choice if I’d had cream. I felt that it needed something.

Just one other good thing about this cake is that, as it’s so moist, it keeps well for up to 5 days at room temperature. This baby could go through the post for a Xmas present. And it can be frozen for up to a month.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gingerful biscotti

It’s nearly Xmas, which I am very bah-humbuggy about, but I admit that it allows great scope for the foodish aspect of life. I’m not sure why ginger-related things are very often also Xmas-related, but as I’ve had a bag of crystallised ginger taking up precious cupboard space for some months, I’m prepared to take this opportunity to use it up as a nod towards the season. After all, I like ginger, and I’m looking for recipes that take it beyond a spoonful of bland dry ground stuff and into the chewier, sharper crystallised realm.

I had the idea that chocolate and ginger would play well together, which led me on a search for ginger brownies. Dorie Greenspan has Ginger-Jazzed Brownies in Baking, but they only have ground and raw in them – appealing, but not of much relief to my cupboard-space issue, so I’ll do those another day. I was amazed that I found so few brownie recipes involving crystallised ginger – there were only a couple on obscure websites such as this one, and packet mix was involved. So I imposed ginger on a basic good brownie recipe as a replacement for walnuts. Since I’m not recommending it to anyone, I’m not even recounting the method here. And I didn’t take any photos – the bits of translucent golden ginger failed to stand up to the dark chocolate brownie in cross-section.

I can’t quite figure out why it wasn’t on the money. Was the chewy texture of the ginger not enough of a contrast to the fudginess of the brownie? Did the ginger and the chocolate remain two separate parts in terms of taste that didn’t form a pleasing whole? (The poor Saucemaker would concur with this – she was nibbling on her piece and getting along with it okay until she came to an unexpected bit of ginger and was deeply disconcerted.) I love bits of crystallised ginger enrobed in dark chocolate and sold in fancy shops, but clearly this doesn’t translate to a cakier context.

Anyway, so I moved on to Maida Heatter, whose Gingerful Biscotti (Maida Heatter's Brand-New Book of Great Cookies, p20) are the Xmas favourites of many on Egullet and Chowhound. These were more like it. Pleasantly bitey with the extra kick of white pepper; not overly sweet, not overly rich or luxurious, but that’s probably all for the best and allows for the less-guilty grabbing of handfuls.

120g crystallised ginger
200g raw almonds
375g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon bicarb soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
100g sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup honey

Cut up ginger into bits the size of peas; set aside. (Maida comments rather acidly and uncharacteristically that ‘Yes, cutting ginger is boring.’ This seemed curious, as I can think of many tasks I find much more boring and onerous than spending about 30 seconds chopping up soft ginger.)

Toast the almonds in the oven at about 180C oven for 15 minutes, until lightly coloured, shaking once during toasting. Don’t forget about them, as I almost always do in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind fashion until the reek of charring almonds breaks through my haze of preoccupation. Even slightly burnt almonds taste ghastly, second only to hazelnuts, which one often thinks one has escaped with as one rubs off their burnt skins and exposes the pale nut beneath – but alas, they burn to acridness deep in their hollow middles. Anyway, set your perfectly toasted almonds aside to cool.

Into the Kitchen Aid bowl sift the flour, bicarb soda, baking powder, salt, pepper, ground ginger, cinnamon, mustard, cloves and sugar, and beat together. Stir in the crystallised ginger, then the almonds. Separately beat the eggs with a fork and add the honey, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until the dry ingredients are completely moistened.

Place two 40cm lengths of cling wrap on a work surface and form two strips of dough down the middle of each. Spoon half of the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls in the middle – down the length – of each piece of plastic wrap, to form strips about 30cm long. Flatten the tops slightly by wetting a large spoon into water and pressing down on the dough with its back.

Wrap the dough, and press on the plastic wrap to smooth and shape it into an even strip about 35cm long, 5cm wide and 1.5cm thick. Place the wrapped strips strips of dough in the freezer for at least an hour or until firm enough to unwrap (or as much longer as you wish, like days and days until the craziness abates long enough to allow you to be home and available to the oven for a few hours while frantically tidying the worksite midden that was once your house because people are coming over. By the way, this is currently and seemingly eternally the outside of said house).

To bake, adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 160C. Line two large baking trays with silicon liners or baking paper, and place the unwrapped strips diagonally across them, or however they fit. If your trays are big enough you might be able to lay the two strips side by side on only the one, but remember they’ll spread a bit. Bake for 50 minutes, reversing the trays top to bottom and front to back once during the baking to ensure even baking. They’ll turn quite dark.

Reduce the temperature to 150C and remove the tray/s from the oven. Although hot, carefully and gently peel the paper away from the backs of the strips and place them on a large cutting board. Slice into 1cm strips with a serrated knife while they’re still hot, using a tea-towel to save your steadying hand if you like. Slice on an angle; the sharper the angle, the longer the cookies, and the more difficult it will be to slice them very thin without the ends breaking away – happy days. At least this makes a lot, though: 70-something.

Place the slices on a cut side down on the trays and bake for about 25 minutes until the cut side is golden. Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking. Bake just until dry. (You have to cool one to know if it’s crisp.)

When done, cool and then store in an airtight container. They’ll keep for weeks. Pretty please, either dunk them or prepare to face your dentist – they’re seriously as hard as rocks, and I can’t imagine why they never come with a warning in recipe books. As a long-time bruxist who must now wear a mouthguard (I know, hawt) to bed for the rest of my days or at least until I get dentures, I’ve got sensitive incisors with edges described by my dentist as ‘like glass’, but still.