Lemon Curd

 

Where I grew up in Los Angeles, we had lots of citrus trees. Most mornings my mother would take me to school. As we’d walk through the garden to the driveway, I’d see pieces of orange peel everywhere. The squirrels loved our oranges and frequently left their spongy remains scattered across the lawn. Our lemons were so large and yellow and knobbly, they looked like they belonged in an Arcimboldo painting. Every summer we’d use them to make the most refreshing lemonade.

Friends of ours had a meyer lemon tree and their neighbour, an old Scottish woman, would make delicious lemon curd out of them. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted it–cold, tart, sweet, custardy, creamy, and refreshing. I had been swimming with friends on a sweltering day when we emerged from the pool and were offered lemon curd with blackberries for a snack. It was bliss in a single bite.

Not until I moved to London did I try making my own. Rather silly, I know, as it’s really quite simple. Recently, it’s become a family favourite. My daughter has it in yoghurt for breakfast. We eat it with buttermilk biscuits or scones for elevenses or afternoon tea. It’s also divine in tarts or used as a filling for cakes. This weekend, it will top an Easter pavlova.

Below is my recipe and I hope you like it. Be sure to use the best lemons and eggs you can get. I like Burford Brown eggs because of their golden yolks which lend their colour to the curd.

I know lemon curd is British, but for me its flavour will always be California.

 

Ingredients:

the zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons

280 g caster sugar (more or less depending on how much sweetness you like)

100 g unsalted butter

4 eggs lightly mixed

 

Method: 

Whisk together the juice, zest, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.

Once it begins to boil, remove it from the heat.

Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs. If you don’t, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in your lemon curd which is disgusting. You’ll also have to start the recipe again. I usually wait until the mixture is just hot enough to touch.

Then slowly whisk in a bit of the egg. Then a bit more. Whisk, whisk, whisk to incorporate.

Heat the mixture once again over low heat. Keep whisking. Once it bubbles and thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon, it’s ready.

Push the mixture through a sieve to remove any lumps or eggy bits.

Finally, pour the lemon curd into sterilised jars and seal. This recipe makes about 2 jars.

Lemon curd will last about two weeks in the refrigerator.

 

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Hot Cross Buns

Until a few years ago, I had never eaten a hot cross bun. They weren’t an Easter tradition where I come from and to be honest, I generally loathe dried fruit in baked goods. If you ask me, sultanas are the ruin of a quality scone. Which is why I was surprised the first time I tried a hot cross bun and immediately wanted another.

The exact history of the hot cross bun is not known. Some people say a monk in the 12th century baked the buns and incised them with a cross in honor of Good Friday. Others say it was a monk in the 14th century in St. Albans. During the the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a law was passed that restricted the sale of sweet buns to funerals, Christmas, and Good Friday. Thank heavens that isn’t the law now.

For my recipe, I chop the dried fruit before putting it into the dough. I feel that this helps people like me who have a fear of fruited baked goods. I also add a tart apple to balance the sweetness and stem ginger for a bit of warmth.

Per my friend Rachel’s request, here is my recipe. The quantity of dried fruit I’ve given suits my tastes but you should absolutely tailor it to suit yours. I hope you enjoy them like I do. For breakfast, for elevenses, for tea. . .

 

Ingredients:

For the buns

300 ml + 2 tbsp full fat milk

50 g unsalted butter

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice

a few dustings of nutmeg

500 g strong white bread flour (plus up to 250 g extra for kneading)

1 tsp salt

75 g caster sugar

7 g fast-action yeast

1 egg, beaten

the zest of 1 orange

25 g mixed peel, chopped

30 g dried cherries, chopped

15 g dried cranberries, chopped

10 g raisins, chopped

1 large piece of stem ginger in syrup, minced

1 small tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped (I use a Cox or a Granny Smith)

 

For the crosses

80 g plain white flour

95 ml water

 

For the glaze

1 tbsp apricot jam

1 tsp golden syrup

1/2 tsp water

 

Method:

Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat it on a low flame until bubbles form. Once this happens, turn off the heat and stir in the butter until it’s melted. Allow the mixture to cool a bit. If you can touch it and it doesn’t feel too hot, that’s perfect. Mix in the cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.

Make a well in  flour mixture. Pour the spiced milk mixture and crack the egg into it. Stir this with a wooden spoon just until the ingredients come together forming a shaggy sticky dough.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface. Add extra flour if it’s too sticky to handle, but keep in mind that too much flour will make dense dough. Knead the dough until is smooth. This takes me about 8 minutes. It might take more or less time for you.  Once the dough is properly elastic, put it in a large lightly greased bowl and cover it with cling film. Allow it to rise someplace warm and draught free until it doubles in bulk. This can take 1-2 hours.

When the dough has doubled, add the zest, peel, cherries, cranberries, raisins, apple, and ginger to the bowl. Knead them into the dough until they are well incorporated. Then once again cover it with cling film and allow the dough to rise a second time. Roughly another hour.

After it has raised a second time, tip the dough out of the bowl and divide it dough into 12 pieces. You can be precise and weigh it all like you’re in the Bake Off or you can eyeball it. I do the latter. Roll the pieces into smooth balls on a lightly floured surface.

Line a rectangular glass or earthenware dish with baking paper. Place the buns in it. They should be touching, but make sure there is also enough room for them to expand. Cover them with plastic wrap and allow them to rise one last time.

Preheat the oven to Gas 7/220°C/425°F.

While the oven heats, mix the flour and water to form a thick paste for the crosses. If it’s too thick, add a teaspoon of water. If it’s too runny, add a teaspoon of flour. Once the desired consistency has been achieved, spoon the mixture into a piping bag. Be careful that the paste doesn’t run everywhere. Gently pipe a straight line across a row of buns. I like to start going from left to right. Then do the next row and so on. To finish the crosses, rotate your dish and pipe lines in the other direction so they are perpendicular.

Bake the buns on the middle shelf of your oven for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. While they bake, make the glaze by putting the jam, syrup, and water in a small pot and bringing them to a boil. Allow it to thicken a moment before turning off the heat.

After you have removed the buns from the oven, immediately brush them with the glaze then transfer them to a cooling rack.

 

 

 

The Rising: A Sourdough Recipe

I like laundry. Things spin around; there is a sense of renewal at the end. I feel gratified breathing in the scent of clean clothes and having restored softness in my socks. It’s a simple short term reward.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is making sourdough, a process I never endeavored until late last year. A single loaf can take a day to make, even longer depending on the recipe. The starter alone requires several weeks to become active. It can really test one’s patience, a virtue I do not have in abundance. Still, I became and remain a faithful follower to this lactic acid way of life.

My husband jokes that I pay more attention to my starter than I do to him. Of course that’s not true but I do love how quickly my starter responds to the attention I give it. It’s immediate and reliable. I know that if I feed it with rye flour and fresh water and stir it every morning, it will bubble and grow and be ready to bake by a certain time. Sourdough is a constant in my life that I control. A delicious beautiful constant. I take comfort in the fact that if I tend to it regularly, it will live in perpetuity. I can’t say the same about my body or even my house plants.

There is a poster in The Library of Congress inspired by one of Judy Grahn‘s Common Woman poems. The quote comes from “Vera, From My Childhood” and it reads:

I swear to you

on my common woman’s head

The common woman is as common as the best of bread

and will rise

For years I have been baking. When I was younger, I’d help my grandmother who is American but of Danish and Norwegian heritage. She comes from folks who love a sweet roll. Lots of people who cook, bakers even, are terrified of working with yeast. Not Grandma. She wills it to her command.Though as far as I know, she’s never worked with sourdough. If commercial yeast scares you, then wild yeast is probably the stuff of nightmares. So let me tell you what I’ve learned about sourdough. It is forgiving and surprisingly resilient. Even after a vicious bashing and having the wind knocked out of it, it will still rise.

Across Christmas I forgot my sourdough at home and for a week, it starved. I was convinced I’d never be able to revive my beloved starter I’d affectionately nicknamed The Queen Mother. Lo, after several feedings she lived! I changed her name to Lazarus. Not only did she endure, she thrives just like the common woman in Grahn’s poem. I wonder how many loads of laundry she washed.

Someone recently told me sourdough is a hipster hobby. Perhaps but not for me. Sourdough is life-affirming. Making it fills me with hope. The way it grows and gives and feels between my fingers as I knead and shape it. That wonderfully, warm, bready, slightly sour smell that permeates the flat when I bake it, I love it and am grateful for it as simple and common as it may be.

TO MAKE A SOURDOUGH STARTER:

The first ingredient is patience. Something with which I struggle.

Equal parts organic flour and filtered water. (I use rye flour)

I started by stirring 50 g of each into a smooth paste. Within 24 hours, small bubbles were visible.

FEEDING YOUR STARTER:

On day 2, I disposed half of my mixture before adding 50 g of flour and 50 g of fresh water.

I repeated this step daily. Not until day 9 did I see bubbles all throughout my starter as opposed to just on the top. This is when I knew my starter was close to ready.

TESTING YOUR STARTER: Put a teaspoonful of starter in a cup of water. If it floats, it’s ready. If it sinks, it’s not. Continue feeding it for a few more days then test it again. Once it is ready for use, you can keep it alive with daily feedings. Or if you’re not going to use it that much, place it in the refrigerator and top it up with occasional feedings. This can go on forever. You can read more about this on The Perfect Loaf.

 

Ingredients for a sourdough sponge:

250 g strong white bread flour

275 g warm water

150 g sourdough starter

 

Method: Mix all ingredients in a bowl the night before you want to bake. Cover with plastic wrap. In the morning, the mixture should be good and bubbly. You want it to look this frothy.

Ingredients for a Sourdough Boule:

the sponge you just made

280 g strong bread flour (White is easiest and yields lighter loaves but feel free to mix in a bit of whole wheat. Play with the ratios to discover the taste and texture you like best.)

10 g sea salt

olive oil

Method: Combine the sponge, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Use your hands to bring everything together. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Personally, I am fond of The French Method as demonstrated in the video below, but there are lots of ways to knead your dough. Do whatever pleases you.

A good test to tell whether or not you’ve built up the gluten enough with your kneading is the window pane test. Stretch a bit of dough between your fingers. If you can do this and it stretches thin enough that you can see the light through it without tearing, the dough is ready. If not, continue kneading. This isn’t to insinuate the dough won’t rip at all, but if it does, it should do so in small circles as opposed to long tears. If the dough sticks whilst kneading, use a bit of olive oil on your hands and counter top. This will help and won’t make the dough heavier like using flour.

Once it’s ready, place your dough in a large bowl that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, knock it back and shape it into a boule. Below is a very good video from Hobbs House Bakery that gives you several options on how to do this. Use whichever method you like best.

Once you have your dough in the banneton, cover the top and leave it for a second rise. Again, allow it to double in bulk.

Preheat the oven to Gas 10/500°F/260°CPlace the lid of a Dutch oven in the center rack to heat and a bowl of water on the very bottom rack for added moisture.

When your oven is hot enough, turn your dough out of the banneton onto a piece of baking paper. Score the bread with a design of your choice.

Remove the Dutch oven lid.

Carefully move the baking paper with the dough on it onto the Dutch oven lid. Sprinkle the boule or spray it with a a bit of water. Put the bottom part of the Dutch oven over the bread. Doing this will trap moisture which will make a good crust.

Place the upside down Dutch oven into the oven and bake for roughly 35 minutes.

After this time, remove the top of Dutch oven and continue baking the loaf for another 10 to 15 minutes depending on how dark you like your crust.

When it is finished baking, remove it from the oven. Remove it from the baking paper and allow it to cool on a wire rack. This will prevent the bottom crust from going soggy. Don’t cut into it before it’s cooled or the texture might be a bit gummy inside.

 

Galette Des Rois

Tomorrow is the sixth of January which means it’s Epiphany which means you should be eating Kings’ Cake or galette des rois as it is called en français. The significance of this day is that it commemorates the magi who journeyed to see the infant Jesus. Upon their arrival these three kings, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which they had carried from afar. To express their gratitude, Mary and Joseph offered the wise men slices of a puff pastry dessert filled with frangipane and also a hidden trinket. The first wise man to find the charm got to wear a paper crown. Not really, but that’s what galette des rois is and it’s delicious. Traditionally, it is a puff pastry cake filled with almond cream but of course there are always variations on a theme. Raymond Blanc adds poached pears to his. Some people add chocolate. Others, apricot jam. I am partial to rum and orange zest. But I’ve been thinking. . . I bet it’d be really good with cherries. I guess I’ll have to make another to see. Until then, here is my recipe as it stands.

NB: You can use store bought puff pastry if you like (just make sure it’s all butter!) or you can make your own. I have a cheat’s way inspired by Nigella then made even lazier by me. But it works! So who cares? A little helpful heresy never hurt anyone.

Ingredients for the puff pastry:

250 g of strong white flour + a little extra for rolling

250 g of cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes (I chill mine in the freezer for 15 minutes)

a pinch of salt

6 tablespoons of ice water (or vodka that’s been kept in the freezer)

a squeeze of lemon juice

 

Method: Put the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor. Pulse only a couple of times. Pour in the water and lemon juice. Pulse again until just combined. Dump the dough onto a counter and bring it together with your hands. You should still be able to see small chunks of butter. The dough should look marbled with it. Form the dough into a disk. Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

At this point, remove it from the fridge. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Roll the dough into a long rectangle. Now roll it up like a chocolate log or a jelly roll. Cover it with plastic once more and put it back in the fridge for another half hour.

Then repeat this again. Believe me. If you do it correctly, you will get layers. You’ll see the lamination.

 

Ingredients for the frangipane:

80 g unsalted room temperature butter

80 g ground almonds

80 g icing sugar (this is powdered sugar in America)

1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk

1 tsp rum

1/2 tsp almond extract

the zest or 1 orange or 2 clementines

 

Method: You can whisk this by hand or use a mixer to combine the ingredients. The consistency you need is that of a thick paste. Cover it and put it in the fridge until it is needed.

 

Ingredients for the glaze:

1 egg + 1 yolk + 1 tsp of heavy cream. Mix thoroughly with a fork in a small bowl.

 

To construct the galette:

Take your puff pastry out of the refrigerator. Cut in in half. Roll out a large circle. Take a dinner plate and turn it upside on the pastry. Cut around it with a knife. Set this aside. Roll out a second circle and repeat. Set these two pastry rounds back in the refrigerator to chill for another hour.

Then take a large piece of baking paper. Place one of the pastry rounds on it. Spread your frangipane in the middle of it. Leave about a half inch to 3/4 of an inch of space at the edges. If you want to place a small metal or ceramic charm in the galette, now is the time to do so.

 

Paint a bit of your egg glaze around the edge.

Place the second pastry round on top of the galette. Press a finger around the circumference of the pastry to seal it.

Lightly paint the top of the galette with some more egg glaze. There is no need to use it all. This will just make it soggy.

Now, take the dull side of a knife and use it to pull the indentations you just made into scallop shapes. Lightly score the top of the pastry with a design of your choice. There are many. Google one. Personally, I’m keen on flowers but you can also make stars or chevrons. Once this is finished, place it back in the refrigerator for another hour. I know this is a lot of refrigerator time, but trust me. You do not want the butter to melt in your pastry dough. Those layers of cold butter create desired flakiness.

Preheat the oven to Gas4/180°C/350°F and put a pizza stone or the lid of a large Dutch oven on the middle shelf.

Once the oven is ready, remove the stone. Carefully place the baking paper with the galette on it onto the stone. Put this in the oven and bake it for approximately 45 minutes or until golden.

Don’t worry if you discover that your galette leaked butter. Mine often do. If this is the case, don’t fret. Turn off the oven. Then carefully transfer the galette to a wire rack and place it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. It will crisp.

Allow your galette to cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with tea or strong coffee (or cognac) and enjoy.

 

 

Meringues

I’ve only recently started making my own meringues. It came about after a weekend at the Serpentine Lido. The swans were out and my five year old commented on how much more graceful they were than the ducks at our local pond. This, I told her, was why there weren’t any ballets about them.

And thus began a conversation about Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina who danced the role of The Dying Swan more than 4,000 times and had a dessert created in her honour. That was it for Helena. She insisted we had to make a pavlova for Sunday lunch.

Since then, we’ve been on a meringue making kick. Below is our recipe. It’s very easy and yields lovely marshmallowy meringues as light and fluffy as Anna Pavlova’s tutu.

 

Ingredients:

egg whites

caster sugar

cream of tartar

*Weigh you egg whites. Double this weight and that’s how much caster sugar to use. For each egg white, add 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar.

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas 2/150°C/300°F.

Line a metal baking tray with wax paper.

Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites then beat them with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar a dessertspoonful at a time and continue beating until well incorporated and there is no sugary grit at the bottom of the mixture. When the mixture is smooth and glossy, it’s ready to be baked. Do be careful not to over beat the mixture or the meringues won’t rise properly.

Pipe or spoon the meringues on to the wax paper. If you’re making a pavlova, spread the mixture into a large circle.

Put them in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to Gas 1/140°C/275°F. Allow them to bake for an hour and a half. Rotate your tray halfway in between. After this time, turn the oven off but leave the meringues in there to cool.

Enjoy them on their own, with ice cream, or berries and whipped cream.

 

 

Almond Cherry Crumble Tart

 

Though the French cherry season begins in May, British cherry season doesn’t really hit until July. Something for which I am most grateful. Because who doesn’t love an extended window of gluttonous opportunity?

The Brogdale Cherry Fair near Faversham, Kent is on the 16th of July and should you be in the area, I highly recommend it. I went a couple years ago and all I can say is that I left with the best stomachache ever. All those heritage cherries were so delicious. I couldn’t stop myself. Had I been a monarch of yore, a surfeit of cherries is definitely what would have done me in. But what a way to go!

Below is my recipe for an almond cherry crumble tart. I hope you like it. It never lasts more than a day in my house.

 

Ingredients:

150 g plain flour

10 g ground almonds

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 tbsp caster sugar

120 g unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp cider vinegar

1 tbsp flaked almonds

 

400 g pitted cherries

 

50 g marzipan/almond paste

30 g caster sugar

1/4 tsp almond essence

2 tbsp flour

1/4 tsp salt

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas6/200°C/400°F.

For the pastry, pulse the first six ingredients together until just combined. Press all but 1/4 c of this mixture into a greased tin. Mix whatever remains with the flaked almonds.

tart base

Now, blitz the last 5 ingredients in a food processor. Then stir the cherries into the mix. Pour them into the tart base.

Sprinkle the reserved almond topping over the cherries.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling.

Allow to cool before serving.

 

Peanut Butter Brownies

I used to think I didn’t like brownies. I was wrong. I just didn’t like lots of the brownies I’d tasted. They were too sweet or too chocolatey or so gooey that they always left me feeling a bit sick.

Over the years, I’ve come to realise my ideal brownie. She’s on the cakey side and not too sweet. If I’m honest, she’s a bit salty (rather like myself). That’s why the recipe I’m about to share with you is one of my favourites.

The peanut butter balances the chocolate beautifully and lends a savouriness that make this brownie particularly moreish. It really is a winning combination rather like peanut butter and jelly. At least à mon avis.  

Part of what I didn’t understand for years about brownies is that they serve a specific purpose. They are neither cake nor cookies. In a sense, they’re perfect for the person who wants a smackerel of something sweet but can’t be bothered to bake and frost a cake. They’re for the impatient and greedy who still want nice things to eat.

I hope you enjoy them.

prebake

Ingredients:

115 g unsalted butter

100 g light brown sugar

100 g caster or granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

65 g flour

35 g cocoa powder

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

4 tbsp + 2 tsp natural peanut butter (I use crunchy, but use smooth if you like)

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas4/350F/180C.

Melt 115 g unsalted butter.

Mix it with 1/2 c light brown sugar and 1/2 c caster sugar.

Add the 2 eggs and the vanilla.

Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

Stir in 4 tbsp of crunchy peanut butter.

Pour the batter into a greased lined square pan.

Drop the remaining 2 tsp of peanut butter randomly on top of the batter.

Use a butter knife to swirl the peanut butter through the batter. It will have a nice marbled look.

Sprinkle with a bit of extra salt if you desire, then bake for approximately 25 minutes.

Allow the brownies to cool in the pan before lifting them out, cutting, and serving.