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.

Twin Peaks Dark Chocolate Cherry Pie

 

The cult classic Twin Peaks is returning to television this week. Which means coffee “black as midnight on a moonless night” and cherry pie will also be making a comeback.

Since few things are darker than Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation of Laura Palmer’s death, I decided my cherry pie had to reflect that. So I painted the base of my shell with melted 85% dark chocolate before filling it with the darkest sweetest cherries I could find.

Below is the recipe. I hope you like it.

 

Ingredients for the pie shell and top crust:

170 g cold unsalted butter

400 g cold flour

1 tsp cold Crisco (or another vegetable shortening like Trex)

1/4 c ice water

1 tbsp cider vinegar

1 egg yolk (save the white for later)

1 tsp caster sugar

a pinch of sea salt

10 g dark chocolate

 

Method: Cut the fat into the dry ingredients (excluding the chocolate). You can do it with a fork or pastry cutter or blitz them in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined. Shape the dough into two disks. Cover them with plastic wrap and chill them in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Place a rack in the lower middle position of the oven and preheat it to 425°F/220°C/Gas7.

Roll out one round and place it in a 9″ pie dish. Line the dough with baking paper and fill with weights.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the parchment and weights.

Poke some shallow holes in the crust with a fork then return it to the oven. Bake it for another 5 minutes or until the crust looks dry.

Turn off the oven and remove the pie shell. Allow it to cool completely.

While it’s cooling, melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler. Once the chocolate has melted, use a kitchen brush to paint it on the bottom of the pie shell. Allow the chocolate to cool.

Now it’s time to make the pie filling.

 

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas 6.

 

Ingredients for the filling:

750 g pitted cherries (I mix sour cherries with sweet cherries)

1/4 c corn starch

1/2 cup to 2/3 cup caster sugar (add enough to suit your taste)

the juice of 1 lemon

a pinch of salt

a drop of vanilla extract

 

Method: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. If your cherries are very juicy, you can cook down the liquid sans cherries until it thickens up a bit. Pour the filling into the chocolate lined pie shell. Roll out your top crust and place it over the filling.

 

Brush the top of the pie with a bit of egg white. Sprinkle it with Demerara sugar if you have any to hand.

Bake the pie for 25 minutes on the middle rack.

Then reduce the heat to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4 and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is brown.

Allow the pie to cool before serving. This will give the filling time to set. If you cut into it while it’s still hot, the filling will run allover the place.

 

Pea and Mushroom Risotto

I love garden peas and presently it’s their moment. I love the way they squeak between my fingers after I’ve washed them. Each time I split open a waxy shiny pod, I feel like I’m discovering treasure. Theirs is also, in my opinion, the most soothing shade of pale green.

While I love to eat them in a salad, I really enjoy them in a rich mushroomy risotto. Spring peas have such a sweet, clean, bright taste, they lift the flavour of what can be an otherwise heavy earthy dish. It’s the perfect counterbalance that brings sunshine to the forest floor.

Below is my recipe. Feel free to swap the rice for farro which is actually what I intended to use, but didn’t have enough of for last night’s supper. The nuttiness is delicious, but either way it’s a tasty dish. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do listening to The Three Tenors. 

Ingredients:

150 g garden peas, shelled

150 g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

50 g dried porcini mushrooms

750 ml chicken stock

250 ml boiling water

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 c Carnaroli rice or farro

1/2 c dry Oloroso sherry (or a light dry white wine if you don’t want such a rich taste)

a bunch of thyme, chopped

flat leaf parsley, chopped

2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

olive oil

unsalted butter

 

Method: 

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in the boiling water. I place mine in a large mug and cover them with a plate. Leave them for at least 30 minutes to fully rehydrate.

Blanche the peas in salted water for 3 minutes. Rinse them under cold water to stop their cooking and to keep their color. Drain them and set them aside.

Heat some olive oil and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Saute the sliced chestnut mushrooms. When they are almost done, add a tablespoon of chopped thyme. Set them aside.

Drain the porcini mushrooms, but save the liquid. Put this mushroom liquor into a small saucepan with the chicken stock. Simmer on low.

Add a bit more olive oil and butter to the saucepan to saute the onion. When the onion becomes translucent, add the minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of chopped thyme.

Add the 1 1/2 cups of rice or farro to the onion. Allow it to toast for a few minutes, before pouring over the sherry. Stir to avoid sticking. When the liquid has evaporated, add a ladleful of stock. Stir and cook until the liquid disappears. Repeat this until the stock has been used up and the risotto is ready. If you need more liquid, use dry white wine.

When the risotto is finished, take it off the heat. Season to taste. Then stir in the mushrooms, peas, cheese and a tablespoon of parsley. Pour yourself a glass of your favourite wine and you’re all set for supper.

Sicilian Inspired Easter Bread

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt. . . Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. . . Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

-The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams-

This is Farfel. He was given to me as an Easter present when I was seven. He became Real a long time ago and as the result of being loved so hard for decades, his face is now misshapen. His left left eye sits lower than the right.

Like the Skin Horse said, sometimes becoming Real does hurt a bit. Luckily it’s nothing a needle and thread can’t fix. Farfel’s had multiple surgeries. Mostly his tail and his neck, though I suspect he’ll soon need some stitches at the top of his legs.

When I left home for college I left my childish things behind. That is, until the first time I got sick and asked my mother to FedEx Farfel to me.

I think he is the luckiest stuffed rabbit in the world. Not only did I make him Real and love him until his stuffing went flat, but years later he has become Real to another little girl–my daughter, Helena. This has to be the life toys dream about.

So when The Unicorn Theatre brought back their production of The Velveteen Rabbit, I knew we had to get tickets. It was amazing. The actors, the choreography, the accompanying music, it was all outstanding. Ashley Byam who played the Boy was perfect and the fact that Christian Roe who played the Velveteen Rabbit wasn’t in a silly animal costume, but rather just was the rabbit, made his Realness all the more convincing.

Upon coming home, Helena and I made Sicilian inspired Easter bread. I say inspired because that’s what the flavours are, though no one’s Italian grandmother taught me how to do it. The bread is sweet with blood oranges and almond extract. And because we love rabbits so much in this house, we made them into the shape of rabbits. Below is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

6 raw pre-dyed eggs (make sure they are coloured raw as they cook while baking)

1 1/2 cups + another 3-4 cups of all purpose flour

 1/2 cup warm milk

4 teaspoons yeast

the zest of 2 blood oranges and 1/4 cup of their juice

2 teaspoons almond extract

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup warm water

170 g softened unsalted butter

100 g caster sugar

2 large eggs

Method:

Dissolve 4 teaspoons of yeast in 1/2 cup of warm milk. Make sure it’s not too hot because that will kill the yeast.

Aerate 1 1/2 c all purpose flour with a balloon whisk.

Add 1/2 c warm water to the flour. Also add the yeast mixture. Stir with a rubber spatula until combined. Don’t worry if the mixture is really sticky. That’s exactly how it should be.

Cover the bowl with cling film and let it stand for at least 1 hour. After this point, it should be double in size and really bubbly.

In the meantime. . .

Cream together 170 g of softened unsalted butter with 100 g sugar.

Add the zest of 2 blood oranges and 1/4 cup of  juice, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and 2 tsp sweet almond extract.

Beat in 2 eggs one at a time.

Beat this mixture into the risen yeast with an electric mixer. It should be smooth but sticky.

Sieve 3 cups of flour. Add them to the dough by hand, one cup at a time.

Once this comes together, take it out of the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It should feel smooth and elastic.

Place it in a lightly buttered bowl and cover it with cling film. Allow it to stand for at least 2 hours.

Remove the cling film and punch down the dough. Divide it into 6 even pieces. Recover it and let stand another 10 minutes.

Take your first piece of dough and roll it out into a 10 inch rope. Cut it into three pieces–a 7 inch piece you will shape into a circle (this is the body), a 2 1/2 inch piece that you will shape into a head and ears, and finally a 1/2 inch piece that you will roll into a ball for a tail.

When you stick the pieces together, I find it helps to adhere them with a bit of milk or eggy milk mixture.

Once they have been shaped and placed on baking paper on a tray, place the dried off colored eggs into the centre of the rabbits.

Brush the rabbits lightly with milk and cover them again for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Bake the rabbits for 20 to 25 minutes. When they come out of the oven, brush them with a little milk to keep them soft.

 

HAPPY EASTER!

 

A Taste of Two Islands: Blackberry Jam and Lilikoi Custard

I was born in the land where palm trees sway, where the ocean feels like bath water, and the Goddess Laka set the thermostat to 27°C.  Anything hotter or colder would make the flowers unhappy.

Hawaii is the ultimate melting pot. Perhaps this is why its cuisine is so delicious or what the locals call ono. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, people from all over the world sailed to Hawaii’s sandy shores, each of them bringing the flavours of home.

Labourers were needed to work the sugarcane fields and pineapple plantations. Many came from Portugal, Puerto Rico, China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.  My paternal great-grandparents were among them.  My maternal family from Iowa came for different reasons.  Like the Blues brothers, they were on a mission from God.  Quite literally as my grandparents were Southern Baptist missionaries.

When my aunt and uncle lived in Hawaii Kai, they always had two things in their backyard–a stray ginger cat called Gus and an abundance of lilikoi. Lilikoi is what Hawaiians call passion fruit. They are red or yellow; the latter tend to be sharper and more acidic. You can add them to cream based desserts for a distinctly tropical note like I’ve done in this recipe here. 

Though I have long known that I enjoy eating lilikoi custard, it wasn’t until I moved to London that I realised how much I like it on buttermilk biscuits with blackberry jam. Bramble season in the UK is August through September. This is why I like to stock my freezer full of berries, so I can use them the whole year through.

Below are my recipes for lilikoi custard and a quick blackberry jam. Though the distance between Honolulu and London is 7,223 miles, I can bring their flavours closer together on a plate.

Ingredients for lilikoi custard:

300ml milk

100ml double cream

½ tsp vanilla bean paste

4 egg yolks

75 to 100g of caster sugar (depending on how sweet you like it and how tart your fruit is)

1 tbsp corn flour

3 to 4 lilikoi (3 fl oz. of juice and 2 tsp of processed seeds/pulp)

 

Method for the lilikoi custard:

First, put the lilkoi in a food processor and pulse. Strain the juice from the seeds. I like to do this with cheesecloth, but of course a fine mesh sieve will work.

In a saucepan, combine the cream and milk over a low heat. When small bubbles appear on the sides, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until it looks like a fluffy paste.  Then incorporate the corn flour.  Whisk this mixture into the cream.  Add the passion fruit juice and 2 tsp of the seeds/pulp.

Place the saucepan back on a medium-low heat and continue whisking. When the custard thickens, remove it from the heat and set it aside. Once it has cooled a bit, cover it with plastic wrap. Make sure to press the clingfilm right against the custard, otherwise a skin will form. Put it in the refrigerator to chill completely. 

Lilikoi custard

Ingredients for quick blackberry jam:

300 g frozen blackberries

the juice of half a lemon and one small orange

120 g granulated sugar

 

Method for quick blackberry jam:

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Warm them on low and stir until the sugar is all dissolved. When you can no longer feel any grains of sugar, turn up the heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Allow it to simmer until reduced by half. You don’t want it too thick, just set enough that it won’t slide off your biscuit. When it is ready, pot the jam in a jar and allow it to cool to room temperature. Keep it in the refrigerator and use it within two weeks.

Quick blackberry jam