Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Cottage Cooking Club & April`s final Recipes

The month of April marks the twenty-fourth and thereby last month of our international online cooking group, The Cottage Cooking Club. As a group, recipe by recipe, we cooked our way through a wonderful vegetable cookbook written in 2011 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, entitled „River Cottage Everyday Veg".

One of the declared aims of our cooking group was to make a decided effort to use as much regional, organic and seasonal produce as is sensible.

This month I prepared six of the ten designated recipes. I will write about each dish in the order in which I prepared them.

My first recipe for this April post is the Dry-roasted ratatouille (page 362) from the chapter "Roast, Grill & Barbecue“. Who would have thought it possible that after cooking my way through the majority of Hugh´s recipes, I could still find another favorite.  I loved, loved the way the Dry-roasted ratatouille tasted. The first day on pasta. The second day on tosted country bread.

This is a great recipe, especially when the veggies that this recipe calls for are a bit out of season. For this take on the classic ratatouille, a wonderful  mix of tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and aubergines that seems to capture the essential simplicity of Provençal flavor, you will oven-roast cherry tomatoes in one tray and onions, red and yellow peppers, courgettes and aubergines in another.

The oven-roasting intensifies the veggie flavors in the most delicious of ways. Once all are roasted, you carefully bring them all togeher in a bowl, then enjoy with your favorite pasta, as part of a mezze spread or simply with some bread.

My second recipe this month is the New potato gnocchi (page 284) from the chapter „Pasta & Rice“. Gnocchi are a sort of pasta for potato lovers. They are small Italian dumplings usually made from potatoes, flour (traditionally buckwheat flour) and eggs and shaped into small ovals with a ridged pattern on one side. They can also be made from semolina flour, as they are in Rome. Hugh´s recipe call for new potatoes as well as soft crumbled goat cheese.

It is not the first time I have made gnocchi and I still think that a few of these lovelies go a long way. And they take a long time to prepare when you are feeding a crowd. So remember to serve small portions of these with either Hugh´s Roasted tomato sauce (page 366), with olive or butter or even Cacio E Pepe style (literally "cheese and pepper“). I chose to serve the gnocchi with wild garlic pesto as well as some oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, to sweeten the deal. Very nice indeed.

The third recipe in April is the Spiced spinach and potatoes (page 321) from the chapter „Mezze & Tapas“.

This recipe is a wonderful way to serve new potatoes with a little kick.  Hugh call this his take on Sag Aloo, a traditional, healthy Indian side dish, which combines spinach with potato and spices. And this dish is all about those lovely new potatoes, fresh spinach, garlic, chili, ginger, garam masala, and coconut cream. Delightful!

The fourth recipe in April is the Linguine with mint and almond pesto (page 266) from the chapter „Pasta & Rice“. The one recipe I knew I would change before I even got started. Mint is the one herb that we enjoy in our teas but not in our food. So, I used rocket instead and added some chili but other than those two additions, I did not change the pesto recipe. With almonds, garlic, lemon, Dijon mustard and olive oil, this was a nice pesto with a lot of zing. And I did use wholemeal linguine – the robust, nutty taste of those pairs very well with the pesto.

The fifth recipe in April is the Chickpea ketchup curry (page 245) from the chapter „Store-Cupboard Suppers“.

A fun and easy weeknight shortcut recipe that will make a lot of young taste testers happy. With simple ingredients such as onion, ginger, chili, garlic, a mild curry powder, chickpeas and a high quality tomato ketchup, plus some lemon juice – this is a easily jazzed up with some lovely limes, sour cream, warm flatbread and a bit of greenery. Fun. And a good one to remember for those very busy days.

The sixth and final recipe for April is the Roasted spiced aubergines with chickpeas (page 351) from the chapter „Roast, Grill & Barbecue“. I cannot believe this is my last recipe…

The sweetness of the deep burgundy aubergines, all wrapped up in lovely spices (cumin, ground coriander, and chili) and served together with chickpeas on a lovely bed of peppery rocket, is just the best. No qualms with this recipe. A keeper.

In summary, we loved each and every dish this month - the kids were pleased as punch with the Chickpea ketchup curry but also enjoyed the other recipes quite a bit. We enjoyed all six recipes but loved the Roasted spiced aubergines and the Dry-roasted ratatouille the most. Happy all around again.

Please note, that for copyright reasons, we did NOT publish the recipes. If you enjoyed the recipes in our series, hopefully, the wonderfully talented and enthusiastic members of The Cottage Cooking Club and their wonderful posts convinced you to get a copy of this lovely book. Better yet, do make sure to join us when we continue our cooking adventure - we will be moving on to more of Hugh´s cookbook(s) in May!

And a big and heartfelt Thank you! To all my fellow members of The Cottage Cooking Club! Could not have done it without you! There will be news on our up-coming cooking adventures in the next few days – so do make sure to check back here soon!

To see how wonderful all the dishes from my fellow Cottage Cooking Club members turned out this month, please make sure to take a look at their personal links and to do so, just visit here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Happy Birthday, dear Queenie!

Today is the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. This makes her the world’s oldest reigning monarch and the longest reigning monarch in English history. Queen Victoria was the previous record holder with her 63 years and seven months.

I was looking for a recipe in honor of this special day and happened to come across the curiously-named Queen Elizabeth Cake. This is a  sheet or tray cake made with finely chopped dates and walnuts and finished off with a caramel glaze and topped with coconut

This is a cake with quite an interesting story. The tale goes that Her Majesty used to enjoy dabbling in home baking from time to time, and would make this recipe herself, in the Buckingham Palace kitchens, to be sold for charitable purposes. In fact, this was the only cake she would make. With this sort of regal endorsement, I just had to try this recipe. 

Queen Elizabeth Cake

Ingredients for the Cake
  • 175 grams soft dates, finely chopped (I like to use soft, pitted dates from Seebergerhere
  • 240 ml English breakfast tea (I like to use loose leaf tea, such as the one from my local tea merchant TeeGschwendner (here)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200 grams soft light brown sugar (such as light Muscovado sugar, available online, at Asian shops or your favorite British shops)
  • 120 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (or use 1 tsp. organic vanilla bean paste, I like Taylor and Colledge)
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
  • 140 grams plain (AP) flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 60 grams walnuts, freshly cracked and chopped (at this time of year, I like to use French walnuts)

Ingredients for the Glaze

• 75 grams soft dark brown sugar (such as dark brown Muscovado sugar)
• 75 grams double cream (I like to use 35%)
• 25 grams unsalted butter
• a good pinch of fine sea salt
• 30 grams desiccated coconut (I like to use organic coconut from dennree)

Preparation of the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 175° C (300° F). 
  2. Line a 23 x 31cm (9 x 12 inch) rectangular baking pan with greaseproof paper.
  3. In a heatproof bowl, mix the chopped dates, bicarbonate of soda and hot tea and set aside.
  4. In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla or vanilla bean paste until light and fluffy. 
  5. Add the egg and mix well, then carefully fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.
  6. Then fold in the walnuts and the cooled date mixture (the dates will have absorbed most of the tea, but the mixture will still be rather wet).
  7. Stir briefly with a light hand until smooth.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until the top is dark golden brown and an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean. 
  9. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Preparation of the Glaze
  1. While the cake is baking, make the glaze – put the sugar, cream, butter and salt into a small saucepan, and keep stirring until the mixture comes to the boil. 
  2. Remove from the heat and put aside until cold.
  3. To finish the cake, cut in two equal slabs. 
  4. Spread half the cooled glaze onto one piece, then place the other on top of it. 
  5. Spread the remaining glaze on the cake and sprinkle with the coconut. 
  6. Trim the edges for a neat finish and cut into pieces - if you find this too difficult and the cake layers too soft, place them in the freezer for about 15 minutes before procceding with the icing and decoration.

The cake has a lot of dates in it, but rather than just throwing them in, I decided to brew a strong English breakfast tea and let them soak in the tea in the tea together with the bicarbonate of soda while proceeding with the remainder of the recipe. The soda, in addition to helping the cake to rise, gives the batter a bit of pleasant saltiness which combines with the sweet dates to enhance their flavor. The overall result is light, airy and delicious. With the caramel glaze, it probably makes you think of sticky toffee pudding.

This is a straightforward recipe that results in a rich, moist cake which cuts easily. Perfect for afternoon tea and birthday parties.When it comes to the coconut, I would go for the white stuff rather than the golden toasted coconut. Nothing to do with flavor really, but the white untoasted coconut looks quite elegant against the dark brown caramel.

If Her Majesty were to be coming round for afternoon tea, I don’t think she would refuse a slice. 

Congratulations Ma’am!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bakewell Tart Fingers by London´s Hippest Baker

A Bakewell tart is a true British classic baked dessert tart. It consists of a buttery shortcrust pastry shell beneath layers of red jam, frangipane, which is a sponge cake-like filling enriched with ground almonds, and a topping of flaked almonds, all baked until golden brown. A Bakewell tart is a version of a Bakewell pudding and although closely associated with the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire, there seems to be no evidence it actually originated there.

The Bakewell tart is a delicious, humble tart and one whose very name excites controversy. Although the terms Bakewell tart and Bakewell pudding have been used interchangeably, each name refers to a specific dessert recipe. In Bakewell itself, it is definitely a pudding, made with a puff pastry base. Actually, the first recorded recipe dates from 1836.

For the jam go for the traditional raspberry one or as here, a combination of raspberry and strawberry - whichever jam you choose, use the best you possibly can. Homemade is great. But if that is not an option, buy a high quality jam or jams with a high fruit to sugar ration, as that will provide a beautifully sharp contrast to the sweet, fluffy frangipane above.

The frangipane in this recipe is made much the same way as one might make a sponge cake, creaming together butter and sugar, beating in eggs, then folding in dry ingredients. Using this method to make the fragipane will ensure a light and fluffy rather than a denser, moister frangipane. You will also be adding a little baking powder to the mixture too, for extra lift. And the traditional flaked almond finish provides a pleasing final crunch to every mouthful of your tart.

The recipe I chose for today hails from the very talented Claire Ptak, a California native, who has been called "London's Hippest Baker" by bon appétit magazine. She used to work as a pastry chef for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse before moving to London in 2005. She is an author and food stylist and since 2010 runs the Violet Bakery in London. She is also the author of the Violet Bakery Cookbook (can be ordered here). She recently had the pleasure of being included in the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks in New York, created by the widely popular American blog Food52.

She also writes a Saturday recipe column for the Guardian, always guided by her motto that "The seasons dictate what happens in the kitchen, and taste trumps appearance every time.“ (the Guardian)

Claire Ptak aptly calls her take on a classic British dessert tart an "updated Bakewell tart“. While her recipe is a bit different, it is still like a classic tart with a hidden layer of raspberry and strawberry jam and topped with fragipane. This is an amazing afternoon tea treat, but at the same time, it is also lovely as a dessert with some lightly whipped cream.

Bakewell Tart Fingers
(inspired by a recipe from Claire Ptak)

Ingredients for the Shortbread Base
  • 250 grams (AP) plain flour (white spelt flour also works well)
  • 100 grams icing sugar
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 200 grams cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 6 tbsp raspberry jam (use the best you can)
  • 6 tbsp strawberry jam (again, use the best you can)

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 200 grams unsalted butter, soft
  • 200 grams golden caster (superfine baking) sugar
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract (I used a bit of vanilla paste instead)
  • 3 eggs (M), organic or free range
  • 100 grams ground almonds (or use almond meal)
  • 100 grams plain (AP) flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 50 grams flaked almonds

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200° C (400°  F).
  2. Butter and line a 18cm x 30cm x 5cm (7 inches x 12 inches x 2 inches) baking pan with baking parchment.
  3. For the shortbread base: combine all the ingredients, except the jams, in a food processor and blitz until the mixture has just come together into a ball.
  4. Press the pastry evenly into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven.
  6. Turn the temperature down to 180° C (350° F).
  7. Let the base cool for 10 minutes.
  8. Gently spread both jams over the pastry.
  9. For the fragipane topping: beat the butter and sugar well.
  10. Once creamy, add the extracts and eggs, then beat well.
  11. Carefully fold in the ground almonds, flour and baking powder just to combine. 
  12. Spread this over the jam evenly and sprinkle with flaked almonds. 
  13. Return to the oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden and set. 
  14. Cool for 20 minutes before slicing into fingers. At this point you can dust the tart fingers with icing sugar. NOTE: These will keep well in an airtight container for up to five days.

You can call these teatime treats Bakewell Tart FingersBakewell Tart Slices, Bakewell Tart Tray Bake or an Up-dated Bakewell Tart - call them whatever you want, they will always be delicious.

Baking with the seasons, like cooking with the seasons, means nothing more than procuring the best possible produce of the moment, wherever you are, and coaxing out the best of its flavour through proper seasoning and preparation. Baking should not only look great, but taste great. This is so much easier to achieve when you stick to the seasons and – much like you do with savoury cooking – taste as you go.“ (Claire Ptak)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teatime with Ottolenghi with Walnut & Halva Cake

Ever since I laid my eyes on this cake recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi´s „Plenty More“, I knew that I should be baking it. It is a delicious looking moist yellow sponge cake, with a layer of freshly cracked walnuts, coated in beurre noisette (brown butter) and cinnamon, then covered with chunks of vanilla halva, then another layer of sponge, and finally a topping of more walnuts, beurre noisette, dark muscovada sugar and cinnamon.

Unlike other Ottolenghi recipes, this recipe has a rather short list of ingredients and is not complicated at all. The only real "prep work" involves the browning of the butter which the nuts and cinnamon are stirred into. The flavor that this adds to the cake, is very definitely worth that little bit of extra effort. Beurre noisette (also called brown butter), adds a nutty, toasted flavor to sweet and savory dishes and makes this cake recipe even more irrestible.

For those of you unfamiliar with halva, it is a Middle Eastern confection typically made from tahini paste, nut butters and sugar. You may have to go to a specific shop to get this particular ingredient but generally, it is available at larger grocery stores and at Middle Eastern markets. While there are many different varieties of halva available, such as the chocolate-marbled one, you should try to use plain or vanilla Arab-style sesame halva for this rich cake. Arab-style halva is said to be the best tasting.

Lately, being inspired by many different and talented bakers and cooks, I have taken to baking different sweet treats with halva and have come to the conclusion that it truly is a baker’s best friend. Its salty, melt-in-the-mouth quality lends itself beautifully to this paticular cake and many other baked goods. Feel free to experiment with this lovely ingredient and make sure to stock up one one or more tubs if you enjoy its distinct nutty, sesame-infused taste.

Walnut and Halva Cake
(inspired by a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi)

Ingredients for the Cake Batter
  • 85 grams unsalted butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 100 grams caster (superfine baking) sugar
  • 2 eggs, (M), organic or free range, lightly whisked
  • 200 grams plain (AP) flour (I used white spelt flour instead which I truly enjoy in my cakes)
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 130 grams sour cream (I used natural 3.8 % yogurt instead)

Ingredients for the Topping
  • 60 grams unsalted butter
  • 120 grams walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 25 grams dark muscovado sugar
  • 170 grams plain sesame halva, broken into large, 3 cm pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 160° C (320° F).
  2. Grease a 12 cm x 25 cm loaf pan with some butter, and line the base and sides with parchment paper.
  3. For the topping: put the butter in a small saucepan on a low to medium heat. Leave to melt, then let it sizzle for a few minutes until it is light brown and smells slightly nutty. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
  4. Once cool, mix the butter, walnuts and cinnamon, divide the mixture in two and stir the sugar into one of the portions.
  5. For the cake batter: in an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy, then add the eggs a little at a time.
  6. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt, and bit by bit add this and the cream alternately, making sure not to over-mix.
  7. Spread half the batter on the base of the cake pan and evenly scatter over the sugarless nut mix. Dot the halva on top, and spread the remaining batter over this.
  8. Finally, sprinkle the sugary nuts on top.
  9. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a wooden skewer comes out clean (mine took about 45 minutes).
  10. Leave to cool for 20 minutes, then gently remove from the pan by lifting the greaseproof paper. Take off the paper and leave the cake to cool on a wire rack. NOTE: If you attempt to cut into this cake before it has had a chance to cool completely, it will crumble and you will not get neat slices.

And while we wait for spring produce to arrive at our farmers´ markets and in stores around us. And while we wait to finally bake all those fruit pies and berry tarts and crumbles and so much more, is it worth taking the time to bake this lovely Walnut and Halva Cake. You will be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, but if you want to dive right in, you will need to hold off as this cake needs to be left to cool, in order to cut easily and nicely.

This cake is truly a sensation. The sugary walnut pieces add great texture with the sweet smell and warmth of the cinnamon coming through and the vanilla halva, which melts in the oven and creates caramelized pockets of nutty, sweet-salty goodness running through the center of the cake. Truly, it is the kind of cake you want to reach for in the afternoon when you need a pick-me-up. So very tempting and moreish.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Monkey Bread & Cuddly Toys

Sometimes inspiration for baking comes along in surprising ways. The other day I was sorting through some long forgotten cuddly toys and came across my hubby´s much hugged, stuffed, weary-looking stuffed toy monkey. Cleary, this toy monkey has been through thick and thin with his lovely owner. It did not take me long to decide that this particular little monkey desperately needed a special place in our living room. It is way too cute to be hidden away in a toy chest, and so it has finally found a new place, sitting high on one of our bookshelves, overlooking all that is going on around here. No longer hidden from the eyes of grown-ups and children anymore. I could not have asked for a better inspiration on a Monday morning, on the first day of school after the Easter break. Monkey Bread just seemed to be the perfect choice for dessert that day.

Monkey Bread, also known as pull-apart bread, is a well-known, much-loved American sweet treat that is sticky and spiced mostly with cinnamon and vanilla. At times it is even stuffed with pecans. I have versions with added maple syrup as well. It is a rather indulgent breakfast, brunch or dessert to share with the ones you love. And it is addicitve and comforting, the way just baked, warm cinnamon buns are. Monkey bread is a classic treat that is very easy to make. Usually you see it served in a Bundt (Gugelhupf) or round shape. But you could use just about any suitable baking vessel you please. The resulting bread is easy to pull apart into individual serving sizes.

Monkey Bread in a Vintage Gugelhupf Mold

Ingredients for the dough
  • 200 ml milk (I like to use 3.5%)
  • 85 grams (2.9 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs (L), free range or organic
  • 550 grams (19.4 ounces) strong white bread flour, plus extra for kneading if doing it by hand
  • 2½ tsp dried yeast
  • 50 grams golden baking (caster) sugar
  • sunflower oil, for greasing the bowl

Ingredients for assembly
  • 125 grams (4.4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the baking pan
  • 1 tbsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 225 grams (7.9 ounces) light muscovado sugar

Ingredients for the glaze
  • 100 g (3.5 ounces) icing sugar, sifted
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk (I like to use 3.5%)
  • pinch of ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 2 tbsps unsalted butter, melted

  1. Start with the dough. Put the milk and butter into a medium pan and heat gently until the butter melts and the milk is at warm to the touch.
  2. Cool for a few minutes, then beat in the eggs with a fork.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl with 1 1/2 tsp fine salt, then add the liquid and stir to a sticky dough.
  4. Leave for 5 minutes, then transfer onto a floured worktop and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth and springy.
  5. Use a little oil to grease a large bowl, add the dough, turn it in the oil to coat, then cover the bowl with food wrap.
  6. Leave in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.
  7. To assemble, grease a 25 cm Gugelhupf or Bundt pan with butter (you can also use a different baking pan).
  8. Melt the rest of the butter in a small saucepan.
  9. In a medium bowl mix together the spices and sugar plus a pinch of salt.
  10. Spoon 2 tbsps melted butter, 3 tbsps spiced sugar into the bottom of the baking pan.
  11. Pull the dough into about 65 small pieces and roll into balls. Taking 4 or 5 at a time, dunk the dough balls into the melted butter, let the excess drain off, then tip them into the spiced sugar. Roll to coat, then put haphazardly into the tin. Repeat until there is a full layer of dough in the baking pan, then carry on filling the pan with the coated dough balls. Tip any leftover sugar and butter over the dough.
  12. Cover the pan with oiled food wrap then leave to rise in a warm place for one hour, or until risen and the dough no longer springs back when you touch it.
  13. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (375° F).
  14. Bake the monkey bread for about 35 minutes, or until it is well risen and golden.
  15. Let the pan cool for 5 minutes, then give it a sharp rap on the counter. Leave in the pan until just warm.
  16. Whisk all of the ingredients together to make the glaze. It will thicken as the melted butter cools.
  17. Turn the monkey bread onto a serving plate, then drizzle with the glaze. Let it set, if you can bear the wait.

Usually, Monkey Bread is best served warm. Because this version of mine has less sugar (and a bit more warm spices) than the traditional version, it will not keep as well and is best eaten the same day. You can rewarm it the next day in a low oven on a baking sheet wrapped in foil. It can also be frozen, if well-wrapped, for up to two months. But of course, it is preferable to eat it fresh and warm from the oven.

If you are planning on serving this in the morning, maybe a Sunday brunch, you can let the dough prove in the baking pan in the fridge overnight. Remember to let it acclimatize at room temperature for 45 minutes to one hour in the morning, to complete the proving, then bake as described above.

This Monkey Bread recipe is really lovely. The individual bites taste like mini sticky buns without the overwhelming sweetness that most have. We liked that we could have one small bite at a time, plucking off a bit of yeasty dough with just the right amount of sticky caramel goodness attached.

This simple Monkey Bread is a recipe that takes you back to simpler, gentler times. Which is a good thing every once in a while. And while you are baking up a Monkey Bread for the ones you hold dear, it might feel like the perfect time to re-kindle an old friendship.