The apple overload begins
Our fig and plum trees have had a bad year this year, but the alternating wet / hot weather has really suited apples and blackberries in the garden. Our Granny Smith tree is yet to be picked, but I've brought in the first crop of a strange Pippin hybrid. We don't actually know what variety of apple it is - not super sweet, but not sour like a Cider apple. In any case, we have loads - far too many to eat out of hand.
One of the best things to do with too many apples (my parents' are currently picking about 100 a day in their garden) is to make Apple Butter. This is a slight misnomer, as it doesn't contain any butter or dairy ingredients - it's named after its smooth texture.
Apple Butter's origin lies in the Netherlands, and transferred to America where it's still popular - but is rarely found here in the UK. It's a great way to get 3 to 4 weeks life out of apples that would otherwise be wasted.
Uses are far reaching - have it on toast, with or without cheese. As part of your cheese course instead of quince paste. Add it to cocktails or ice cream ... or use it as an ingredient to make something else; in this case, Toffee Apple Macarons.
The recipes for both are below - you can make the apple butter with (as is traditional) or without spices; here I've opted for without so that it's more flexible as a cooking ingredient.
- 1kg apples
- 100ml water
- 140g to 160g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
If adding a spice mix
- 1 star anise
- 2 tsp ground cassia bark or cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Slow cooker
- Hand blender or food processor
- 700ml sterilised jar (Kilner style if possible - to sterilise your jar, upturn it in an empty dishwasher and perform a hot cycle without soap or tablet)
Wash the apples, then core but leave the skin on. Quarter them, and place in the bowl of your slow cooker with about 100ml of water. My slow cooker only has one setting (its primary use is for cooking rice) so just set it as high as it goes and close the lid. Cook the apples for 4 hours in total, stirring every 30 minutes to make sure nothing's catching and to help them break down.
By the end of the cooking time, the apples and their peel should be pretty much disintegrated into pulp. Transfer to a bowl, and use a hand blender to purée the apples as finely as you can. This may take 5 to 10 minutes. When happy, place your empty slow cooker bowl onto a weighing scale and zero it. Put a relatively fine sieve on top and pass your purée through the sieve into the slow cooker bowl (a bendable silicone bread scraper is useful here).
Weigh the purée - it should register somewhere between 700g and 800g. Now add the sugar - this is down to your taste preference, and also depends on how sweet your apples were to begin with. If they are a sweet variety, or you want a more tart butter, add 10g per 100g. Due to the slight sourness of our apples, I've gone for 20g for every 100g - so if you have 700g of puree, add 140g of sugar. It's personal preference; but the 20:100 ratio will give your butter a longer shelf life. Add the lemon juice (which also helps preserve the finished product) and, if using, stir in the spices.
Put the slow cooker bowl back in the slow cooker, set as high as it goes again, close the lid and leave for a further hour - this time stirring every 15 minutes to prevent catching.
After the hour is over, transfer to a bowl to cool. If you've used star anise, don't forget to remove it now. Pour into your sterilised jar - from the 1kg of apples you're likely to fill a jar with a capacity of 700ml.
Store in the fridge - it should last 3 to 4 weeks.
Toffee Apple Macarons
Ingredients (makes 12)
For the macaron shells
- 150g Ground almonds
- 150g Icing sugar
- 110g Egg whites
- 150g Caster sugar
- 37ml Water
- 3g Green powdered food colouring (Americolor)
For the filling
- 100g Caster sugar
- 125g Unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp Apple butter
- Pinch of salt
- Food processor
- Stand mixer
- 2 baking mats
- 2 heavy trays
- 2 disposable piping bags and 1cm nozzles
I use the Italian meringue technique by Pierre Hermé to make the shells - but everyone has their own tweaks to get consistent results at home.
Start by preparing everything - have your baking mats on some heavy trays, get out the piping bag and place the nozzle inside. Measure out the 150g of caster sugar and 37ml of water into a small pot and place on your stove top with a thermometer inside. Measure out 55g of your egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer, and connect the whisk attachment
Now put the 150g of icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor, followed by the 150g of ground almonds (putting the sugar in first helps to stop it leaving the processor in a cloud of dust). Blend for a few minutes to make sure everything is as fine as possible. At this point, tip the mix into a new bowl (one big enough to fix this mix and the meringue later) and re-weigh to make sure you have exactly 300g of dry ingredients. Top up if necessary. Take the remaining 55g of egg white and place in a small bowl, then add the green food colouring and mix. If you can't find the powder colour, paste is the next best thing. Avoid liquid food colouring if you can, as they tend to dilute the mix too much. Pour this mix on top of your dry ingredients and set aside.
Start to heat your sugar / water mix in the pot over a high heat. Keep going until you hit around 112 deg C. Turn on your stand mixer to a medium high speed to get the whites whipping - remember not to go too mad with the speed at this point; you don't want stiff peaks nor soft ... somewhere in between is perfect. As the temperature of the sugar / water mix hits 118 deg C exactly, quickly remove from the heat, push up the mixer to high and slowly trickle the hot syrup onto the whipping egg whites in one smooth motion. Now leave the whites whipping until much cooler. If you raise the whisk and the meringue drips off quickly, don't despair - you've probably not left it mixing long enough, so just keep going until it comes away on the whisk and pretty much stays there.
Take a spatula and transfer all of the Italian meringue you've just made into the bowl with the dry ingredients you prepared earlier. Fold with the spatula until you get the desired consistency - to me, this is the crucial point where things can go wrong, and it's really hard to actually explain or even take a photo of the correct consistency. All I can say is that if you drop the mix from a spatula, and it doesn't re-absorb into the mix without trace in about 15-20 seconds, it needs more mixing. If it's more liquid than that, and just flies off the spatula, it's game over for you. Pierre describes it as "slightly runny cake dough". Make sure you get right to the bottom of the bowl though, or you may leave unmixed colour or ground almond at the bottom.
When ready, hold the piping bag and fold the top of it over your hand. Use the spatula to transfer the mix inside, then twist the top (put a kitchen clip on it if you like - I've lost mix many times by wandering aimlessly around the kitchen, not realising batter is dripping out behind me) cut off the end and get ready to pipe. I always have a bit if kitchen roll ready to clean the nozzle if too much mix clogs around it. This helps you pipe more perfect circles.
On the baking mats (and I would advise the Silpat-style ones over silicone, and both of those over just using greaseproof/baking paper - much easier to get them off later) pipe a row of 3.5cm rounds, keeping your nozzle as straight as possible. Keep about an inch between each round; you don't want to overcrowd the shells. Move to the next row, and pipe under the spaces you've left between the rounds on row 1. Carry on until you've filled the mat, then rap the baking tray on your work surface with relative force a couple of times. This helps to settle the batter, and is important not to forget. The French pros always do a little "whip" at the end of each pipe to stop the nipple effect (when a bit of the batter sticks up in the air), but in general I find these subside when you rap the trays. If not, you can use a wet finger to gently smoothen out any stray batter.
Repeat with the other mat so you have two full sheets. Turn your oven on to 140 deg c, set the sheets aside in the kitchen for 30 minutes to form a skin while you make the filling.
Weigh 25g of your unsalted butter onto a plate, put 3 tbsp of Apple Butter on a separate plate, and put both next to your stove top. Place the 100g of sugar into a heavy-bottomed pot. Never use a non-stick or black-coloured pot to make caramel! Use a medium heat to melt the sugar, and keep going until it becomes an amber colour with a hint of smoke emanating from the pot. As soon as it hits this point, immediately slide in the butter and use a spatula to constantly stir the caramel - it will bubble up, so be careful; sugar will burn you badly at this temperature. When the butter has been incorporated, drop in the Apple Butter and mix again. Pour the mix into a separate bowl and allow to cool.
Take the remaining 100g of butter, and put the beater attachment on your stand mixer. Beat the butter until it's completely smooth, which can take only 30 seconds on a high speed. Make sure you don't over-churn the butter though. When the caramel mix is cool, put the mixer on a medium low speed, and start to mix it into the butter a tablespoon at a time. You may not need all of the mix, or you may need the lot - as it blends in the mixer, look for a "whipped" consistency and taste it as you go to make sure you're happy with the flavour. When ready, transfer to another piping bag, twist or clip and place in the fridge to slightly firm up.
By now your oven should be hot, and the 30 minutes up. To test the shells, gently touch your finger on one; you should find that the skin has formed and won't leave batter on your finger. Place the trays in the oven, and set two timers going - one for 15 minutes, the other for 5. When 5 minutes are up, quickly open and close the oven door to release any steam build up. You'll be able to have a sneaky look at your macs at this point - you'll probably see the foot has already started to form. Don't leave it open long though, and re-set the timer for another 5 minutes. Repeat at the 10 minute mark then, after 15 minutes are over, test one of the macaron by seeing if it will come away from the baking mat. It won't just fall off, you need to slightly twist it. If there's any bend do it, leave it; they aren't ready. Carry on cooking for another 2 minutes and try again. You don't want to overcook your macaron, or you'll get a burnt colour and solid insides - so just repeat in 2 minute intervals until you can pull off one of the shells. When happy, remove from the oven. If you've got it slightly wrong, the shells will start to darken after about a minute out of the oven; this is caused by an undercooked inside - all is not lost; turn off the oven, and place the trays back inside with the door slightly open. This will gently cook the insides. Check them every minute - if all looks well, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on the mats.
What you're going for is a nice smooth base, raised foot and a soft slightly chewy inside. Obviously you can't check that last bit without eating one - though if you've piped an odd number of shells, you can always bite into one to test.
Peel each shell off and place on a cooling tray; if any get stuck, use a small spatula to slowly work around the foot, then under the shell to release it. If you're really good at piping, then all of the shells will be the same size. I never get it perfectly, so at this point will match up pairs of shells that are actually the exact same size. We're now ready to pipe - so take the filling out of the fridge and cut off the top of the bag. If the mix is too solid, leave until it's pipe-able. Squeeze a generous amount into the upturned centre of one of the shells, then place the other half your the pair on top, and press down gently until the filling starts to reach the sides. Repeat with all remaining shells and filling.
Now the really hard part - not eating them. Put the finished macaron into a box with a lid, and place into your fridge. After a few hours, they'll taste much better than when you first made them. Leave for at least 24 hours, and you'll get the best flavour and texture.
A vodka-based cocktail flavoured with Asian pears, ginger & cassia
My parents' garden had a massive crop of fruit this year. I guess it's all that amazing weather which promises us amazing wine & beer next year! Their Asian Pear tree produced two huge buckets of fruit, and we were given one of them. The flavour is very subtle straight from the tree - but boost it up with some sugar and it really comes into its own.
This cocktail does exactly that, and pushes the flavour further by adding ginger to spice it up. The ginger won't kill the pear, but do watch you don't add too much. You can also pass the puree if you don't like the consistency, but you'll lose some of the flavour. It's then blended with frozen vodka to make a really tasty drink.
Ingredients (makes 2)
For the puree
- 4 Asian pears
- 2cm piece of ginger
- 200ml water
- 30g or 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
For the mix
- 52g to 78g (4-6 shots) frozen vodka depending on pear size and puree yield
- 30g or 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
- 15g or 1 tablespoon of ground cassia bark
- Two reserved slices of the pears above
Cut one of the pears in half, then cut two thin slices and reserve for later. Peel the remaining pear you've already split, and all the others. Chop out the seeds, then dice the remaining flesh (even the slightly harder parts near the core). Peel the ginger and slice thinly. Place the pears in a heavy bottomed pot with the ginger, water, sugar and salt. Cook on a high heat for about 5 minutes, until nearly all of the water has boiled off. Remove from the pan and place into a blender; puree until completely smooth.
This should produce between 2 and 3 double shots of puree depending on the size of your pears, and how much moisture you've boiled out - measure it out in an alcohol measure, pour into a cocktail shaker and add some ice cubes. Pour in exactly the same amount of vodka (prefreably from the freezer), and shake well - if using frozen vodka, you've shaken enough when the shaker gets too cold to hold any longer.
Leave the cocktail shaker to one the side, take a piece of kitchen paper and dab it into the blender where you made the puree. Carefully wipe this around the top of a martini glass to moisten it, then repeat with another glass. Place the remaining caster sugar and cassia bark on a wide plate and mix. Upturn each martini glass onto the plate, and rotate to pick up the sugar. Keep going several times until you get a good coating.
Carefully your the mix from the shaker into the glasses, then cut a thin line in the reserved pear slices and attach to the rim of the glass.
... and Cannelés de Bordeaux
Most good things have to come to an end eventually, and the final part of our honeymoon took us from Lyon to the beautiful area of Saint-Émilion near Bordeaux. It's one of the oldest wine regions in France, dating back to when the Romans planted vines there in the 2nd century.
We stayed at an amazing guest house right in the middle of a vineyard, walked our way through the cellars of Château Guadet, and ate some fantastic food.
For the last part of this recipe mini-series, I thought I'd go with an appropriate favourite of mine - Cannelés de Bordeaux. I've been making these for a few years now, and there are two ways to go; one method will produce something delicious, the other something delicious and give you that traditional dark crust.
I must admit that I'd never eaten a real Cannelé from Bordeaux until we visited the area this year and, just like with Baba au Rhum, the French favour a younger, fruitier rum in their recipes. Still delicious, but I find the taste of a more spiced / sugar led rum such as Captain Morgan gives better results.
Ingredients (makes 32 large size Cannelés in 4 batches of 8)
For the mix
- 1L of whole fat milk
- 500g Icing Sugar
- 20ml Rum (Captain Morgan, Kraken or OVD are best)
- 200g Plain flour
- 100g Unsalted butter
- 3 Whole large eggs
- 5 Large egg yolks
- 2 Vanilla pods or 2 teaspoons of vanilla paste
For the baking
- 4 x 30g blocks of food-grade beeswax and 4 x 30g portions of unsalted butter or
- 120g unsalted butter
- 8 Copper mould, or a silicone equivalent
- An auto-funnel if you can get hold of one
Step 1: Make the mix
Put the milk into a large heavy-based saucepan with your vanilla, and bring to the boil over a medium heat. As soon as it hits boiling point, remove from the heat and slide in your butter to let it melt as the mixture cools.
In one bowl, lightly beat the eggs and egg yolks together. In a second bowl (one large enough to take the entire mix) gently sift your flour and icing sugar together, then put a tea towel underneath to help stop it from spinning around during mixing. Pour the eggs and rum into the sugar/flour mix and use a spatula to gently combine.
When your milk has cooled to the point where it feels just warm, start pouring this into the large bowl with the other ingredients, stirring with the spatula to combine as you pour. Try not to whisk the mix, but beat it enough so that there are no lumps.
Cover the bowl with cling film, and place in your fridge for at least 24 hours.
Step 2: Prepare the moulds
This recipe is for 4 batches of 8 - but if you have 16 moulds and two ovens, then you can scale it up. I'd not recommend baking more than 8 per oven though, as the initial cold of the moulds from the freezer and cooled mix will reduce the temperature too much.
As I say, there are two ways to go here. If you just want a delicious Cannelé with a decent crust, then you can get away with a silicone mould coated in butter. You might get a "white bottom" doing this, but the taste will still be great. If you'd prefer to travel down the traditional route, you'll have to get some beeswax and a set of copper moulds. I bought mine from a French website some years ago - the price has gone up since then, but they do drop under 8 Euros when on offer.
The first thing to do depends on your mould type. For silicone, you want the butter to coat more thickly - so place the moulds in the freezer. For copper, you want the opposite; so place them in an oven at 200° C on a pair of stacked baking trays.
In either case, the next thing is to clarify your butter. Take 120g of unsalted butter and gently melt it down completely in a small saucepan, then let it cool very slightly. Skim off the fat floating on the surface with a spoon, then either gently pour the liquid butter from the pan into a jug, stopping as soon as you see the solids in the base of the pan come to the edge - or, if you have a muslin cloth to hand, pour it through that into the jug instead. You want to clarify the butter so that it doesn't burn in the high heat of the oven later.
Now you have the butter done ...
Remove your moulds from the freezer and, working quickly, pour the (still slightly warm) clarified butter into the moulds, turn to coat then invert onto a clean tray to let the butter drip out. When they look coated, place them back in the freezer again for at least 20 minutes.
Get a pan of water on the boil, and place a metal bowl on top (bain-marie). Weigh one stick of your beeswax (these are normally 30g to 34g) and then measure out an equal amount of clarified butter. Pour the measured butter and beeswax stick into the bowl on the heat, stirring occasionally to mix the wax and butter.
While this is happening, place a piece of greaseproof paper on your worktop to protect it (beeswax is very annoying to remove) then place a cooling rack on top of that. Place another cooling rack to the side and, when ready, put the bowl of beeswax mix on that, and take the moulds out of the oven.
Working as quickly as you can, hold one mould with an oven mitt and pour the beeswax mix almost to the top. Immediately pour this back out into the beeswax bowl, rotating as you do to ensure it coats. Quickly invert this over the cooling sheet to allow any excess to drip out. Repeat this with the other 7 moulds as quickly as you can - you may need to re-heat the beeswax.
When dry, the thickness of beeswax coating should be almost invisible, as shown in the image below - you'll only really notice it if you rub your finger on the inside of the mould. Too thick and you'll get a mouth-full of claggy beeswax. Too little and the crust will burn rather than become caramelised.
Once you're happy with the coating, place the moulds in the freezer for at least 20 minutes, and place the stacked baking sheets back in the oven.
Step 3: Baking
Pre-heat your oven to 200° C. If you've followed the copper instructions above, you should already have a pair of stacked baking trays in the oven - if not, do that while your oven heats up.
When you are ready to bake, take the mix from your fridge and gently stir with a spatula to combine any skin that may have developed on top. If you have an auto-funnel (and this really does make your life easier!) fill it up, or pour your mix into a jug and the moulds out of your freezer.
Fill each mould 2/3 of the way up, then take your stacked trays of the oven and put the moulds on top.
Bake for 40 approximately minutes in total - BUT the whole process requires that you keep an eye on the Cannelés.
For the first 20 minutes, open the oven door at 5 minute intervals; turn the tray to ensure even cooking and, most importantly, if they are puffing up past the top of the moulds you must remove the tray to the top of your oven for a minute to let them drop back. Stop the timer while doing this, and re-start when you put them back.
At the 20 minute mark, the shells should have stopped expanding and the crust started to form. Again, keep watch to ensure they don't burn (it's a fine line between dark crust and cremation).
When you think they're done, you should see they've come away from the sides of the mould, and there is likely to be a little smoke in the oven.
Immediately invert the moulds onto a cooling rack (if you find "white bottoms" you can put them back in the mould, then back in the oven for another 5 minutes) and leave to cool for at least 30 minutes.
These really are one of my favourite pastries to eat, a kind of baked custard with a soft centre. Give it a try; every single person in your street will be knocking at your door asking what you're making.
... and a Tarte aux Pralines
Lyon is a beautiful place - I actually enjoyed my visit there even more than Paris. I guess it was the relaxed atmosphere; it was supposed to be a holiday after all!
When we stepped off the train from a rainy (but warm) Paris, a wall of 33°C heat hit us. I was still wearing a leather jacket, and didn't take it off until we reached our apartment; I guess you can take the boy out of London ...
Our first outing was to a place that I'll remember for the rest of my life - to eat at, and meet with, the legendary Paul Bocuse. A lot of people complain that PB's flagship restaurant is stuck in the past - well yes, it's the epitome of classic French cuisine; but so what? That's exactly what we'd come for, and it was brilliant on every level. I can normally roll with the best of them in the gluttony stakes; but Paul Bocuse truly managed to finish me off. The words "here are the dessert trolleys - have whatever you want" should never be said to me.
The next day, we visited Bernachon to try their signature President cake and Palet d’Or chocolates (likely the best chocolates I've ever eaten), then walked to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse for even further treats (and a spot with the famous Mrs. Sibilia).
That night, sadly our last in Lyon, we visited Le Café des Fédérations. On one hand it was the polar opposite of Bocuse; classic Bouchon food ... but in terms of enjoyment (and richness), it was almost as good.
While my sweet memories of Lyon will be the Palet d'Or and multiple Baba au Rhum, the recipe I've chosen for this part of the blog is probably the most classic Lyonnaise dessert of all; Tarte aux Pralines.
It's made of special red-sugar-coated almonds that you can pretty much only find in Lyon, melted and mixed with cream in a sweet pastry case. The recipe is simple so, if you can find them, grab a bag and give it a try.
Ingredients (makes 1 shallow 28cm tarte or a deeper 20cm one)
Sweet pastry case
- 250g Plain flour
- 75g Icing sugar
- 120g Unsalted butter
- 2 Large egg yolks
- 2 Tablespoons of cold water
- Pinch of salt
- 200g Lyon pink pralines
- 300g Double cream
Step 1: Make the case
Weigh out your butter and let it sit to come up to room temperature. Take the plain flour and gently mix with the icing sugar and salt on your work surface.
Make a well in the centre, and drop in the butter. Start to rub the butter into the flour/sugar mix with the tips of your fingers, gradually drawing in all the mix until you get a crumble-like texture.
When the butter is evenly distributed, make a well in the centre again and this time add the egg yolks and water. Mix with your fingertips again, drawing the mix in, and lightly pressing the ingredients together.
Try not to knead or heavily mix the ingredients, as you'll end up with pastry that shrinks when cooked. The point you should reach is when the mix looks yellow, but may not "come together" like a normal dough (in other words, it will be quite short).
Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
When ready to prepare the case, take a sheet of cling film and lay it on your work surface. Take the pastry out of the fridge, unwrap and place in the centre of the cling. Use a rolling pin and roll out to a circular shape by rolling and quarter-turning the cling as you go. If you have a normal cling film, it will be about 30cm in width, so your pastry should come a touch over the edge. What we want is enough pastry to go up the sides of the flan ring, then very slightly over the top.
Line a baking tray (at least 30cm x 30cm) with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Take a 28 cm flan ring (don't use a tin; a flan ring produces much better results, especially on the base) and place this on the paper.
The next part is a bit tricky. Sometimes, if the pastry is still cold enough, you can just invert it with your hands or rolling pin and drop this onto the flan ring. Otherwise, you can take the flan ring, place it on the pastry and then invert the whole lot at once, placing it over the greaseproof paper.
Either way, you should now hopefully be able to gently push the pastry into the base of the ring easily, as it's still coated in cling film. Push the pastry up the sides, and roll the little extra over the top so that it's outside the ring. Some people will trim the pastry with a rolling pin at this point; but I like to trim it after baking - just in case it has been slightly overworked and tries to shrink during cooking.
At this point, turn your oven to 170°C and put your baking stone in place (a pair of flat, stacked trays would also be fine if you don't have a stone). Remove the cling, prick the base of the case with a fork, and place this into the fridge for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Bake the case and make the filling
After 30 minutes have passed, take the case out of your fridge and carefully slide this onto your baking stone or trays in the oven (a baking peel makes this much easier). Remember to leave the greaseproof paper on the bottom!
This will take 25 minutes to bake; while you're waiting, make the filling.
Your pralines will come in a bag, and we need to crush them slightly - so batter them with your rolling pin. It's likely your bag will burst, so be careful.
When every praline has been smashed at least once, transfer to a heavy-bottomed pan and pour in the 300ml of double cream. Place this on a medium heat and place your thermometer in there too.
Gently stir the mix from time to time. When the temperature reaches 100°C, stir more constantly to get the red colour to come out of the sugar and blend with the cream. When the temperature reaches 104°C, remove from the heat and poor into a clean bowl.
This won't set too quickly, so leave it there until needed.
When your pastry case is cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. After it has cooled, use a small sharp paring knife to carefully make a straight edge on the pastry case. At this point, you should be able to gently spin the flan ring and carefully lift it off. There will probably be some pastry trimmings inside the case, and you'll want to get rid of these - so just use a pastry brush to get them to one side and flick out of the case (remember that the pastry is short, and therefore fragile - don't be too aggressive with it or the walls will collapse).
At this point you can pour your filling, which should still be relatively liquid, into the case. Spread evenly with the back of a spoon, then transfer to the fridge for 30 minutes.
Cut a slice, pour a coffee and get yourself ready for the sugar rush!
... and the Paris Brest
Laura and I got married back in April, and as June rolled around it was finally time to take our honeymoon.
The journey started on the 14th, and took us from London to Paris, where we spent 3 days before moving to Lyon. After 2 nights in Lyon we flew to St. Emilion for the final part of our journey.
It was an unforgettable experience, and I thought I'd take a memory from each leg of the trip and try to re-create it at home.
While in Paris, we set out to visit as many pâtisseries as we could. One of the places I really wanted to see was La Pâtisserie des Rêves. It's an amazing place, and it was pretty hard not to try and buy everything in sight.
One of PdR's most popular pastries is their version of a Paris Brest. This light choux bun, filled with praline cream, is unbelievably good. The Paris Brest was invented in 1891 to commemorate a cycle race of the same name (which is why it's the shape of a wheel), and was said to find favour with the competitors due to its high calorie content. It stuck out from the rest as it's not something we often see in England.
We bought a lot of food that day, but chose to sit in the Tuileries Garden and share the Paris Brest in 30 degree heat with an espresso. True the hype, it was delicious - and inspired me to be the Parisian pastry I'd write about in the first of 3 France-related blogs.
The recipe below does take a bit of effort, but the end result is worth it for a pastry you're unlikely to find outside France.
Ingredients (makes 5 to 6 individual pastries depending on how large you pipe them)
- 55g Strong white flour
- 55g Golden caster sugar
- 45g Unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
- 80g Strong white flour
- 20g Plain flour
- 65ml Water
- 65ml Whole milk
- 55g Unsalted butter
- 5g Caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 3 Large eggs
- 80g Shelled hazelnuts
- 45g Blanched almonds
- 100g Caster sugar
- 350ml whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 75g Caster sugar
- 15g Plain flour
- 15g Cornflour
- 3 Large egg yolks
- 100g Unsalted butter at room temperature
Step 1: Crumble
The first thing to make is the crumble topping, which is going to sit on top of our choux. It's a really important step that traps the steam inside the choux, allowing for a much better "puff". It also adds texture to the top of our end pastry.
To make, simply blend all the ingredients in a food processor until you see a fine crumb texture. You really should use a processor for this stage, as you want to ensure a totally even distribution of ingredients throughout the mix. Lay a sheet of cling film out on your work surface, then pour the crumble on top and lay another sheet of cling on top of that. Take a rolling pin and gently roll the mix until it's 1 to 2 mm thick. Take this flattened mix, place on a tray and put it in your freezer for at least 45 minutes.
Step 2: Choux
This next step takes about 20 minutes, so make sure your crumble is nearly frozen before starting.
Set your oven to 180 degrees C, and place a shallow baking tray in the bottom. Fill your kettle and boil, then sift the two flours together and set aside.
Put the water, milk, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan and heat until it reaches boiling point. Quickly take it off the heat, drop in your sifted flour, and quickly mix together with a wooden spoon until combined. Put this back on the heat, and cook - always stirring with the spoon - for about another 60 seconds. Tip this out into a bowl and leave for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.
When you're ready, take your 3 large eggs and crack them into a bowl. Beat together with a fork. This next step can be done by hand with the spoon, or you can put your choux base into the bowl of a stand mixer with the beater attachment. Pour in 1/3 of the beaten egg, and mix with the choux base. It's going to look like the mix splits almost immediately, but keep on going and that egg will eventually force its way into the flour mix! Repeat twice more so that all three eggs are combined.
A note about egg sizing at this point - this recipe calls for "3 large eggs" and often you'll see "4 medium eggs" in choux recipes. It's hard to judge, but I often find that there's some egg left over with 4 medium eggs. In any case, the key here is that the end choux should be of a dropping consistency - that is to say the mix will slowly drop from a spoon when picked up. You need to do this by eye - but 3 UK Large-size eggs does the trick for me.
Now you've made the paste, put a 1 cm piping nozzle into a disposable bag, and fill it with the choux. Take your frozen crumble out of the freezer, and find a cutter that's about 2cm diameter (bottle tops from drinks are quite a good size if you don't have anything else to hand). Cut 6 circles of crumble per Paris Brest - remember to peel off any cling film you might have cut out.
Take a baking tray, and either cover it with greaseproof paper or use a silicone mat if you have one. Pipe your first choux - it should be about 2.5cm wide and about the same height at the peak. What we're going for here is a hexagonal type shape, so the easiest thing to do in order to guide you is pipe another identical round, in a straight line, about 3 cm across from the first. That's the guide done, so now pipe the two upper parts of the hexagon to connect them, then the two lower parts. Now that you've piped the shape, take your crumble cut-outs and place one on the top of each choux round. Press them down very gently so that they all sit at approximately the same height. Repeat this process with your remaining choux paste and crumble pieces.
When ready to bake, put about a wine glass full of boiling water in the tray at the bottom of your oven, put the tray of choux in as well, and bake for 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, open the door of the oven briefly; the steam should mostly be dispersed at this point, and your choux risen. Close the door and bake for a further 10 minutes.
After the full 20 minutes has passed, take out the tray - the choux should easily come away from the silicone mat / greaseproof paper. Leave on a wire rack to completely cool. Leave the oven switched on for the next stage.
Step 3: Praline paste
Here in the UK, it's quite hard / costly to find praline paste. In any case, it's quicker to make your own out of things you might even have in your cupboard already. Take the hazelnuts and almonds, spreading them out on a tray. Place in a preheated oven at 180, and roast off for about 5 minutes. The amount of time you leave the nuts in your oven depends on how deep you want the flavour to be - less long for a less nutty praline, longer for stronger ... though obviously if you leave them in too long they'll burn, so keep an eye on them.
Once you've roasted the nuts, remove from the oven and spread out onto a silicone mat (or, again, greaseproof paper). Place the matt or paper onto a cooling rack so that it's not directly on your work surface.
Add the sugar to a heavy bottomed pan, and heat. We want a pretty deep amber colour caramel - so at the point you see the caramel start to smoke, it should be there. Pour the caramel over the nuts and leave to completely set.
Once cool, use a rolling pin to gently break up the caramel into smaller chunks. Take the whole lot and carefully put it into your food processor. When you blend it initially, it will just look like dust - but carry on blitzing, and eventually the oils will be released from the nuts, and the consistency will turn to something resembling butter. This is your praline paste; you'll probably need about half for this recipe. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so.
Step 4: Crème pâtissière
Crack the egg yolks into a bowl, and add the sugar. Whisk until the yolks turn a pale colour, then sift in the flour and whisk again. Heat the milk and vanilla paste in a heavy bottomed saucepan until it boils. Remove from the heat, then pour a little of the hot milk on the yolk mixture to temper it, whisking constantly. Continue to add more of the milk mixture, whisking all the time. Eventually you should have mixed all of the hot milk with the yolk mixture - now transfer the whole lot back into the pan and place over a medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to continually stir, making sure you get right to the bottom of the pan. Your custard should thicken very quickly - but keep cooking until it's totally smooth and thick (it should take about 60 seconds). When ready, pour the custard into a clean bowl and put some cling film over the surface to stop a skin forming. I find cling is better than the icing sugar / cornflour dusting method, but normally pull one corner away from the custard to let heat escape.
Step 5: Praline cream and assembly
Place the 100g of butter in a stand mixer with the beater attachment fitted, and whip on a high speed until soft. Reduce the speed, and add half of your praline paste, making sure it blends completely (you'll want to scrape down the bowl). Keep the mixer running, and mix in the crème pâtissière. When the whole thing is amalgamated, taste the cream to see if it needs more praline paste or more sugar and adjust accordingly. Once happy, place a 1cm piping nozzle into a disposable piping bag and add the praline cream to it. Place this in the fridge to firm up. While you wait for this, go back to your cooled choux shells and carefully cut them in half horizontally. You may find that some of the individual shells come away from eachother during this process - but don't worry; they will all stick back together when you pipe the praline cream into the hollow shells. When the cream is firm, pipe enough into each of the 6 shells to fill it and come out half as high again.
Carefully place the shells back on top of the cream and push down slightly to settle. If you're not serving straight away, place them back in the fridge.
When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar and enjoy.
This July will see the first in a series of Undertone EPs released on the legendary Ice Cream Records (if you're old school think RIP Productions "Move To Jersey", a bit younger think Double 99 "RIP Groove", or too young to be reading this True Steppers & Dane Bowers "Buggin'"). The first 6-tracker comes in two parts, and is called "Cycles".
To mark the release I've actually stepped up to the decks for the first time in several years, and put together this one-on one-off mix of Undertone Vs. Ice Cream back catalogue. It's up on a few places, but you can grab it from my SoundCloud below.
Panna cotta, lemon curd and dark chocolate spheres
It was my fiancée's hen do on Saturday night, so I was home alone and had big plans: ox cheek, slow cooked in red wine with barley, followed by sous vide hanger steak, bone marrow and chips. Unfortunately, I was stuck with a work-related problem, and decided to order take away instead. 40 minutes later, Domino's turn up with a particularly poor effort.
My evening was rescued by this dessert - which is pretty lengthy in process, but simple to make if you have some time to invest. The combination of lemon and dark chocolate is something that excites my palette a lot. I think the softer than usual panna cotta used here (partially down to the addition of vodka) surrounded by a crisp chocolate layer provides an interesting texture.
If you want to make things simpler you could fill ramekins with the panna cotta, layer over some curd, and pour over a thin layer of melted chocolate to get the same flavour. Here though I've formed the mix into a sphere, with the centre core being replaced by lemon curd. To do this you'll need a few special pieces of equipment - a silicone semi-sphere mould, a melon baller and a paint sprayer.
This recipe is for 4 complete desserts.
Makes enough to freeze for the sphere's cores, some extra for plate dressing and left-overs for your toast
- 3 Large Eggs
- 100g Unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 215g Caster sugar
- 3 Unwaxed Lemons (zest and juice)
Take two heatproof bowls, one slightly larger than the other, and put some ice & water in the larger of the two. Let the smaller bowl sit on this, and put a sieve on top. Combine the butter, sugar, lemon juice and zest in another bowl. Place this bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the butter and sugar have melted together.
Crack three eggs and whisk until fully combined. Add this to the heated lemon mixture while still on the heat, and stir very gently. Make sure the pot of water doesn't get too hot, or your eggs will scramble.
Continue to stir gently for about 10 minutes - at which point the curd will have thickened. Don't worry if it doesn't look thick enough - it won't be until it has cooled. The best way to describe it is as a thick pourable consistency. When it reaches this stage, take the curd off the heat and pour it through the sieve into the ice bath. It's not necessary to use an ice bath if you have the time to wait, but it allows us to move to the next stage more quickly.
Put some of your curd into a squeezy plastic bottle, the rest in a sealable sterilised container, and move them to the fridge.
Makes enough to fill 8 semi-spheres
- 2 leaves of Gelatine
- 300ml Double Cream
- 75ml Whole Milk
- 110g Caster Sugar
- 1 Unwaxed Lemon (zest and juice)
- 70ml Vodka
- Special equipment: 7cm diameter half-sphere silicone mould (annoyingly these normally come in the 6 hole variety, so you'll need two)
Add the gelatine to a bowl of cold water and set aside, place your silicone moulds onto a baking tray of about the same size (to make it easier to carry when it's full of the mixture). Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a pot. Bring this to the boil and add the lemon and lemon zest. Whisk this in; when combined, remove from the heat and leave to cool enough so that you can just bear the heat if you put your finger into to the mixture.
Don't mis-judge this temperature; too hot and you'll stop the gelatine from setting, to cold and you'll end up with lumps of gelatine in the mix. When you think it's about right, take your gelatine, squeeze out the water, and combine with the hot lemon cream.
Once at room temperature, pour this into a jug (or auto funnel if you have one) and then fill the silicone molds. Try to fill to the top and burst any bubbles that appear with a fork. Slowly move these to a clear shelf in your freezer.
Construction and chocolate coating
- 250g 70% dark chocolate
- 75ml Groundnut oil
- Electric Paint Sprayer (I use a Wagner W180P; don't use it for spraying your fence before making this recipe though)
When the panna cotta is set enough that it barely moves (though isn't completely frozen), take a melon-baller and carefully scoop out a place for your lemon curd. Pipe or squeeze some of your curd into the hole, then use a palette knife to make sure it sits perfectly flat. Put this back in the freezer to harden compeltely - this may take another hour or two. When you're happy that they're frozen solid, place a sheet of greaseproof paper onto a circular plate (this becomes important later) and carefully unmould each panna cotta.
Work quickly, as the soft mixture begins to melt straight away - build 4 complete spheres by adding each half together and pressing very gently. Make sure there's at least 5cm distance between each one. Put them back in the freezer on the plate while you make the spray paint.
Take a pot of simmering water and place a bowl, containing the dark chocolate, over the top. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally. When ready, take off the heat, pour in the oil and stir to combine completely. Let this cool slightly (or you'll kill your spheres) then fill your sprayer with the mix.
Get a box big and tall enough to take the plate you've put your panna cottas on (a box where each side is the same size as a 12" vinyl record is perfect) and get ready for the fun part. Take the plate of panna cottas out of your freezer and put this in the box. Start the spray gun, and make sure it's at least 15cm away from the nearest sphere. Spray until you can't see any unpainted surface, then turn the plate and cover the next area. Continue until the spheres are covered in chocolate. Remember to try and go right to the bottom of each one, which can be a bit tricky. Try not to rotate the spray gun too much - if the inner pipe isn't fully submerged in the mix it will splatter the surface with random blobs of chocolate. Once you're happy, quickly put back in the freezer for at least 5 minutes to harden the chocolate.
Take the spheres out about 40 minutes from when you want to serve. After they've sat at room temperature for 40 minutes, the outer shell won't look frozen at all. I've served these above with dots of curd and chocolate spray, a few crumbled pieces of chocolate, some cocoa powder and a couple of lemon marshmallows.
Crack into those chocolate shells and enjoy the very soft centre with an espresso, cognac or dessert wine. It's just what every man needs when his wife-to-be is out getting hammered on Jägerbombs in Soho.
The ultimate white toastie
Bread; when in the oven, there's no other smell that beats it. Even a hardened coffee addict like me has to admit that.
There are an almost infinite amount of types, textures, techniques and flavours - but I thought this one, my regular and reliable white loaf, would be the most appropriate to open my blog with. It's a replacement for your standard white, is really simple to make, and actually has a pretty good shelf life for fresh bread.
This recipe has been refined over the last few years, and you can flip some of the ingredients if you want a partially brown or wholemeal bread ... but for me the quantities and technique outlined here make the ultimate white toastie.
Ingredients (makes one 800 - 900g loaf tin sized loaf)
- 500g Strong White flour
- 5g Diax Malt flour (I buy this from BakeryBits)
- 7g Instant Dried Yeast (or 17g Fresh Yeast)
- 65g of starter at 100% hydration (i.e. the amount of water in the starter is the same as of the amount of flour)
- 12g Fine Salt
- 1 tbsp Corn Oil
- 150ml tap-hot water
- 150ml fridge-cold milk
You're faced with two options; knead by hand or by machine. Of course it's true that hand kneaded bread gives more satisfaction, but if you're like me you'll hardly be able to see straight when you first get up in the morning. There are some breads that really need to be made by hand, but this loaf works perfectly in a stand mixer.
So; put the flours and salt in a mixer bowl and attach your bread hook. Mix the hot water and cold milk together to create a warm mix of liquid (which you should be able to touch with your finger - remember, yeast dies at around 60°C) and add your yeast to it. Leave for 5 - 10 of minutes, then pour this onto the flours. Drop in the starter and put the machine on a low speed. As soon as it starts to come together (about 20 seconds), pour in the corn oil and set a timer for 10 minutes. Rub your eyes and make an espresso.
After the kneading, pull the dough out of the bowl and shape into a round by curling your hands underneath the dough to create a smooth bubble. Add a little more corn oil to a clean bowl, cover with some cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for 1 hour.
At this point you'll already see a good increase in volume - so deflate the dough by pressing your fingertips all over. Re-shape into a round and put back in the covered bowl for another hour - then repeat once or twice more if you have time. After each rise you'll see your dough getting more and more active, probably with some small bubbles on the surface. The photos below show the end increase after each 60 minute deflate and rise.
When your rise-deflation cycles are complete, add some flour to a loaf tin, deflate the dough one last time and press it out slightly. Flip the dough over, so the previously smooth part is on the bottom. Fold each side over into the middle to form a baton shape. Flip once more, tuck in the ends and place in your loaf tin. Lightly flour the surface and, with a plastic bag and leave for one final hour.
When there's 30 minutes left of the final prove, put your oven onto its highest setting and boil a kettle. If you have a baking stone, put this in the oven - along with a tray deep enough to hold about 500ml of water.
As the final hour of proving completes and your oven has fully pre-heated, slash the top of the loaf with diagonal cuts, and dust with some more flour. Make sure the water in your kettle is still near to boiling. Moving quickly, open the oven door and put your bread tin onto the shelf or stone, pour a good amount of boiling water from your kettle into the roasting tray and shut the door as soon as you can.
Set a timer for 10 minutes.
It's really important not re-open the oven for this period - the steam from the boiling water you've added is helping your loaf's moment of oven spring by slightly cooling the forming crust, making it supple for a little longer. This improves the flavour and texture of your crust by keeping the reactions going for as long as possible (read more about the Maillard reaction). The escaping Carbon Dioxide already in the dough, yeasts (giving off more CO² along with ethanol as they eat through sugar) and water (evaporating) inside the bread expand your dough push the bread's size to its full potential. Once the temperature of the dough gets high enough, the reactions stop and your initial crust is formed.
At this point, open the door and decide whether your bread is browning quickly or not. If it's pale, turn the oven to 190°C. If it's brown already, switch to 175°C. I generally find that 190°C does the trick in our oven.
Set a timer for 35 minutes.
When you hear the beep, check to see if the bread needs any more browning - 35 minutes is perfect for me, but you might need slightly more or less time. Remove from the oven then immediately remove from the loaf tin onto a cooling rack.
Give it a good 15 minutes, cut in and enjoy your hard work. Just make sure you leave enough for the rest of the week!