So it’s been a while since my last post, but I do have my reasons! Naturally, work projects do tend to nuzzle in and get in the way but also I’ve been on holiday over the Easter period. And in between that and house hunting, choir commitments (I joined a fantastic choir at the start of the year called Lips) and trying to build a website for my work portfolio, the blog has fallen by the wayside.
No matter, because I’ve just returned from a glorious 10 days in Italy (more on that to follow) and suddenly Spring has sprung. The sun is shining and London seems decidedly less grumpy, more scantily clad and frequently to be found drinking in the middle of the day. Which is a pretty great state of affairs to come back to.
There’s also fantastic new produce everywhere I turn- lots of gorgeous green leafy vegetables and crisp beans and peas, all perky and bright. It’s enough to make you want to start a new health regime or at least blitz up a few green juices. Which is just as well as this is exactly what is required after my holiday, but then what is Italy, really, without the pasta, pizza and gelato? And red wine, of course. And Prosecco. And Aperol Spritz.
For me, the arrival of wild garlic (also known as ransoms) really heralds Spring properly. As a cousin to chives, they might not be the best ingredient to put through your juicer, but they are wonderful to cook with, something that I encourage you to do as soon as possible- the season is short lived.
I found mine for sale at my local deli, however, back home in Sweden (a nation of foragers!), I’m more likely to pick them in the wild. Do be careful when you go looking for wild garlic- it bears a striking resemblance to several poisonous plants. Whenever you are foraging, it is best to be completely sure that what you are picking is indeed edible- don’t eat anything you aren’t able to correctly identify. Wild Food UK offers courses in foraging for those keen to find out more. And remember to ask permission from the landowner before you collect your loot!
Add them to a creamy risotto with peas, asparagus and broad beans or stir chopped wild garlic through buttery new potatoes (perfect with Spring lamb). Alternatively, you could try this recipe for fluffy savoury scones- the wild garlic pairs really well with the goats cheese. They are very moreish straight out of the oven with plenty of butter but also great paired with a Spring soup- I like a creamy carrot or beetroot in particular.
Wild Garlic and Goats Cheese Scones
(makes 8 scones)
You will need:
225g self raising flour
black pepper (from a mill)
120g soft goat’s cheese
1 large egg
4 heaped tbsp roughly chopped wild garlic
2-3 tbsp whole milk, plus a little extra
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F/ Gas Mark 5. Sift he flour and salt into a large bowl along with a good few grinds of pepper. In a small bowl, mash together the cheese and egg then stir through the wild garlic.
2. Mix this into the flour along with a few tablespoonfulls of milk, enough to make a soft but not sticky dough. Tip out onto a lightly floured worksurface and knead briefly to come together. Roll into a rough circle, about 20cm in diameter and 1 cm thick. Cut into eight wedges and brush each with a little milk.
3. Place each wedge onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes until risen and golden. Serve warm, slathered in butter or allow to cool and serve as an accompaniment to soup.
There is so much gorgeous fruit around at the moment, our fruit bowl is spilling over with pineapple, citrus, pomegranate and pears. I was a on a shoot recently where I managed to nab a ripe papaya, some limes and a few passionfruit at the end of the day. The passionfruit in particular smells like a tropical holiday, all white beaches and lapping waves.
I made this for us to have as an after dinner treat with a rather garish popsicle mould set I picked up a lifetime ago but have never got around to using. These would be perfect for kids as they are fun and sweet without any added sugar or sweeteners. The coconut milk gives them that luscious, creamy mouth feel you want from ice cream which combined with the tropical flavours reminds me of those Solero ice cream lollies I used to love growing up. But much better for you!
Papaya, Coconut and Lime Tropsicles (tropical popsicles)
(makes 4 ice lollies)
You will need:
1/2 tin coconut milk (200ml)
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 passion fruits, flesh scooped out
1 Papaya, seeds removed.
1. In a small bowl, mix together the coconut milk, desiccated coconut, lime juice and zest. Pop in the fridge.
2. Divide the passion fruit flesh and seeds between the four moulds and freeze for about 30 min, until just about solid.
3. Add the coconut mixture to the moulds and freeze for about 20 minutes, until beginning to freeze. Meanwhile, juice the papaya. If you haven’t got a juicer, simply blitz and strain.
4. Divide the papaya juice amongst the moulds and pop the sticks in, pushing into the coconut mixture. Freeze until completely solid, 4 hours or overnight.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a soft spot for blood oranges. I love everything about them: their bitter-sweet taste, the element of surprise- how ruby red will they reveal themselves once stickily peeled? But mostly, I love their short-lived season. In my privileged little corner of East London, I can have whatever I want, whenever I want it. A bag of plum heirloom tomatoes? A bottle of artisan gin? A plate of snails and bone marrow? All a five minute walk away from where I’m sitting right now. So a fruit that is in season for only a few short weeks, that you actively have to hunt down? That’s a real rarity. I can have the plumpest blueberries, crunchiest green beans and juiciest apples all year round, but you try finding blood oranges in August. Go on.
They are also in season when we need them the most, because despite a few days there where Spring seemed like it might not be a complete impossibility, winter seems to still be clinging on for dear old life. So these bursts of sunshine are a real saviour in these desperate times. There aren’t many weeks left to make this marmalade, but I did just see the last of the Seville oranges at my greengrocer’s. Get out there quick!
This is based on Nigel Slater’s marmalade recipe in the Guardian a few years ago. I’ve added blood oranges for a bit of sweetness, Sevilles can be a bit too bitter for some. You can find the original recipe here.
Bloody Seville Orange Marmalade
Makes 6 jars
You will need:
10 Seville Oranges
8 blood oranges
1.5kg golden caster sugar
1. Remove the skin and pith from all of your oranges and lemons. There are lots of different schools of thought as to how to do this, Nigel suggests scoring with a small knife into quarters then peeling. Others halve the oranges, squeeze out the juice and then hollow them out before cutting each half into larger chunks. Your call.
2. This is the slightly tedious bit. You need to cut all your peel chunks or quarters into shreds- either thick or thin depending on your preference, or a bit of a mixture of you can’t quite be bothered. Do this in batches, sit down, put the radio on. It’s a sticky, messy, time consuming business, there’s no way around it.
3. Reserve all the pulp, seeds and any juice spillage. Squeeze all juice into a measuring jug and make up to 4.5 litres with cold water. Pour into a large bowl and add all of the sliced peel. Place the squeezed out pulp and seeds into a muslin bag or tie in a cloth and leave to soak in the juice overnight.
4. The next day, transfer the juice and bag into a large pan. Bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer until the peel is soft and almost translucent- about 1.5 hours. Lift out the bag and bring the pan back to a boil with the sugar. Once the bag is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any residual juice into the pan with rest. Put a saucer in the freezer.
5. Keep at a rolling boil until the marmalade reaches setting point. You can test for this by dolloping a teaspoon of the mixture onto your cold saucer. Once cool, it should crinkle when pushed with a finger. If it doesn’t, you aren’t there quite yet. My marmalade took just over an hour to get to this point, but do keep testing as yours might take less time.
6. Pour or spoon the marmalade into sterilised jars and leave for about 10 minutes before sealing. Leave to cool completely before storing, or cracking open and spreading on hot buttered toast.
So it’s Shrove Tuesday, which here in the UK is celebrated with pancakes, generally something which I have absolutely no objection to whatsoever. It was pancake day on one of our first dates, so my husband and I always mark it- usually with some crepes stuffed with spinach, ham and cheese, slathered with more cheese before baking. Sweet ones to follow, of course.
But in Sweden, the tradition is to eat semlor on ‘fettisdagen’ or Fat Tuesday. Originally, these buns were really quite simple and based very much on the classic ‘vetebröd’ (literally ‘wheat-bread’) recipe. Sweetened, leavened bread flavoured with cardamom- pretty much the same thing we’d use for cinnamon buns. Semlor were served floating in a bowl of milk, for dipping and dunking. But traditions, of course, evolve. The Sweden.se homepage describes the semla’s trajectory best:
‘At some point Swedes grew tired of the strict observance of Lent, added cream and almond paste to the mix and started eating semla every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter.
Today, no such reservations exist and semlor (the plural of semla) usually appear in bakery windows as near after Christmas as is deemed decent – and sometimes even before. This is followed by a collective, nationwide moan about how it gets earlier every year. Shortly thereafter people begin to eat the things like the world will end tomorrow.’
I know that my last post exalted the virtues of restraint and substitution in order to make a sweet treat a bit healthier. This post, by contrast, is really all about excess, which is as it should be on the last day before Lent. My take on the semla uses plain flour, which gives them a cakier texture and just a dash of cardamom- it’s more for the scent than anything else. Unfilled they freeze really well, so you can make them in advance and have a stash to hand.
Semlor (Swedish Lent Buns)
Makes 24 mini buns or 12 big ‘uns
You will need:
For the buns:
75g unsalted butter
150ml whole milk
5g fresh yeast
60g golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom (or 2 tbsp pods, shelled and ground)
400g plain flour
For the almond paste
100g blanched almonds
75g golden caster sugar
Double cream, whipped
1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Add the milk and bring to blood temperature. Crumble the yeast into a large bowl with the sugar. Pour over a little of the milk mixture and stir until the yeast and sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining liquid, 1 beaten egg, salt and cardamom.
2. Gradually add the flour, stirring until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly, until it comes together to form an elastic dough. Return to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the almond paste by blitzing the blanched almonds to a fine powder. Add the sugar and continue blitzing to a smooth paste- it may take a little while for the oils in the nuts to release, be patient. Cover and pop in the fridge until needed.
4. Tip the dough out of the bowl and onto your work surface. Knock back a little before dividing and rolling into buns. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, about 2 cm apart. Again, cover with the tea towel and leave for about 45 minutes, until almost doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
5. Beat the remaining egg and use to lightly glaze the buns. Bake for 7-8 minutes for small buns and up to 10 for larger, until golden. Cool on a wire rack completely.
6. To serve, cut off the tops of the buns and scoop out a little of the bread-y middles. Fill with a spoonful of almond paste and spritz or spoon in the cream. Crown with the reserved bun tops and dust with icing sugar.
Be my slightly less sweet Valentine this year. This decadent chocolate cake is exactly what you would want to make for a loved one or to finish a romantic meal. Except it isn’t quite as naughty as it seems. This cake is free from refined sugar, sweetened instead with dates and a little maple syrup. There’s no dairy just coconut oil instead of butter and coconut cream for the frosting. And there’s no flour or grains at all, so it’s completely gluten free. There is, however, a surprise ingredient- black beans. I recognise that this sounds a little incongruous, but trust me, it makes for a really moreish, fudgy texture. Anyway, everyone is doing it- it’s the new beetroot as far as chocolate cake baking goes and just as delicious. My apologies for the Roxette pun in the title, I couldn’t resist.
Chocolate Black Bean Cake with Hazelnut Mocha Mousse and Coconut Frosting
Makes 1 cake
You will need:
For the cake:
1 can black beans (400g), drained
2 tbsp very strong coffee
5 fat medjool dates, pitted
3 tbsp maple syrup.
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g raw cocoa powder
75g coconut oil, plus a little extra
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
5 eggs, separated
For the mousse:
150g hazelnuts, covered in cold water and soaked overnight
2 tbsp very strong coffee
1 tbsp raw cocoa
1 tbsp maple syrup
For the frosting:
150 ml coconut cream
1-2 tbsp maple syrup, to taste.
Red fruits like strawberries, raspberries, red currants, pomegranate seeds and figs, to serve
2 tbsp dessicated coconut, to serve.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease two 20cm sandwich tins with a little coconut oil. Line with parchment. In a magimix, combine the beans, dates, maple syrup, coffee, vanilla and cocoa. Blitz until completely smooth- it should take a few minutes before the dates have completely dispersed into the mixture.
2. Add the coconut oil and continue blitzing untill the coconut oil has completely dispersed- there should be no white flecks. Add the bicarb, salt and egg yolks and blitz until just combined and transfer to a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Beat a large spoonful of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten slightly. In three separate additions, fold in the egg whites until just combined. Divide equally between the two sandwich tins and bake for 20-22 minutes, until firm to the touch with a little spring and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins.
4. To make the mousse, drain the hazelnuts and place in the magimix with the cocoa powder, coffee and maple syrup. Blitz until broken up and grainy, stopping to clean down the sides from time to time. With the motor running, slowly add 150ml of cold water and continue to blitz until you have a light, fluffy mixture. Set aside.
5. For the coconut frosting, whisk the coconut cream in a small bowl sweetened with a little maple syrup. Refrigerate until needed. Spread the mousse on one of the chocolate cakes, then top with the second. Frost with the coconut cream and decorate with fruit. Finally, dust with a little dessicated coconut.