Chocolate Pear Tart with Saffron and Ginger

 
 

New Years seems a long time ago now, but given that I haven’t posted anything since the holidays, I thought it worth mentioning. I had a fantastic start to 2014 up in the Lake District, battling downpours but nonetheless finding a break or two between the clouds for brisk walks amongst the valleys and dales.  It is a brilliant place for a party, great for hunkering down, games, the aforementioned walks and, above all, eating.  There were about 25 of us and I was put in charge of pud on the big night itself (no pressure).  I went for a classic pear and frangipane tart, with plenty of boozy cream to go with, of course. 

So I’ve been thinking a lot about pears and tarts recently as well as sweet spices, like cardamom, ginger and saffron.  The tart recipe in this post was a bit of an experiment, but one that payed dividends.  A decadent dinner party pudding with ginger pastry, saffron poached pears and rich, bitter chocolate ganache.  I implore you to give it a go.

In other news, I was recently given a selection of syrups from Iceland.  These include birch-tree syrup, rhubarb syrup and a berry syrup.  It is very difficult to find anything out about these syrups online, mostly because all my search efforts seem to lead to the budget frozen supermarket chain, Iceland, and its online listing for Lyle’s golden syrup.  I’ll keep researching, but what I can tell you is that these little pots are a total joy.  I was particularly excited to try the birch syrup as I recently went to Scandinavian food event where I had birch sap sparkling wine by Sav, which was, incidentally, absolutely delicious.

With my birch sap syrup pot, I made a pear and birch spread for toast and cakes.  Fruit butters are really no more than purees and sound much fancier than they are.  But I do love the idea of making these as preserves and having a jar around just for when you fancy it.  This would make a great cake filling as well.  Of course, if you can’t get hold of birch sap you can simply use a high quality maple syrup.  I also grilled some pears, brushed them with birch tree syrup and then simply served alongside a simple cardamom yoghurt.  This actually makes a delicious, slightly unusual breakfast and is just the thing to ward against these wet days.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Spiced Pear, Coconut and Birch Butter

You will need:
5 medium pears, peeled
2 tbsp birch syrup (or good quality maple syrup)
pinch sea salt
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 200C.  Roughly chop pears and place on a baking tray. In a small bowl, mix together the syrup, salt, coconut oil and ground cinnamon.

2. Toss through the pears and  bake for about 30 min until golden and beginning to caramelise.  Cool thoroughly then blitz in a mixer or using a hand blender.  Spread over toast, muffins or stirred into your muesli for breakfast.  Will keep for 1 week in the fridge.  

 

 

This is a rich, decadent dessert.  Perfect to impress as it combines pastry making skills, pear-poaching and chocolate work (ganache).  However, it really is easy as pie to make and looks beautiful once you cut into it.  Definitely one for the grown ups, though, as the chocolate is bitter and the saffron aromatic.

Chocolate Pear Tart with Saffron and Ginger

You will need:
For the pears:
6 pears, peeled
100g caster sugar
100ml pear liqueur
200ml water
1/2 tsp saffron strands
2 slices ginger
1 strip lemon peel

For the pastry:
250g plain flour
pinch salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks

For the ganache:
250ml double cream
200g dark chocolate, chopped
2 eggs

Method:

1. To poach the pears,  heat the pear liqueur and water in a large saucepan.  Add the sugar, saffron, ginger and lemon peel and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the pears and bring to a gentle simmer.  Top with the round of greaseproof paper and weight down with a saucer.  Cover and allow the pears to poach until just tender, about 30 minutes.  Lift out and allow to cool before halving and scooping out the core with a teaspoon. 

2. Meanwhile, make the pastry.  Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and ginger. Work in the cubes of butter until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency.  You can either do this by hand or in a mixer.  Combine the egg yolks with 2 tbsp of water and add about half of it to the flour mixture.  Work to a dough, adding more liquid if necessary.  Wrap into cling and flatten into a disc then chill for 30 min.  Roll out, line and blind bake the pastry case for about 20 min in a 200C oven. 

3. Place the chocolate in a small bowl.  Bring the cream to a boil and then pour over the chocolate.  Leave to stand for a few minutes, then stir to combine.  Add a few tsp of the saffron syrup to taste along with some additional pear liqueur, if desired.  Finally, stir in the eggs.

4. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Arrange the pears in pastry case then pour over chocolate ganache.  Bake 25-30 mins, until just set with a tiny bit of wobble. 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

As I’ve mentioned before, I do love a pumpkin.  Few vegetables signify a season quite as well.  And, yes, I know this may in part be to our ever-expanding americanization, but I don’t mind so much in this instance.  I know that the Yankee abduction of our seasons and traditions over here in Europe is often no more than a marketing ploy, but I’ll happily buy into a pumpkin fad.  And anyway, they are the ultimate frugal veg because you can get so much out of them- a bargain rather than a frivolous, unnecessary splurge.  So take that, Hollywood.  

Although I have to admit that for me, Autumn would remind me of the States, even if the shops weren’t trying to sell me Halloween (and, at some delis in Notting Hill, even Thanksgiving).  I think partly this is because when I lived in New York I was so struck by the way the city unfolded in shades of terracotta, yellow and umber.   But, mostly, having gone to American schools when I was young, the autumn holidays made quite an impression.  I loved it.  The dressing up, the crafting, the cooking, the excitement and, if I was very, very lucky, an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner from an American friend.  I was so impressed by the ritual of it all and loved the strange, exotic foods- cranberries, sweet potatoes (occasionally studded with mini marshmallows!), the enormous-seeming turkey and, of course, pumpkin pie.  

So every year, I buy a pumpkin and I cook with it.  This year, I managed to get three decent recipes and meals from 1 medium sized pumpkin.  Here are two with the final one to follow.   



Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4
You will need:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, half diced finely and half sliced
1 lemongrass, central part only, finely chopped
1 large handful coriander, leaves and stems separated and roughly chopped.  
1 thumb of ginger, grated1/2 pumpkin, peeled and cut into rough chunks
2 onions, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
200ml coconut cream
Method:
1.  Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan.  Fry off the garlic, the finely diced chilli, lemongrass, coriander stems and ginger until fragrant and aromatic.  Add the onions and fry until softened, then add the pumpkin and stir to coat in the onion and spice mixture. Add the chicken stock bring to the boil.  Simmer until the pumpkin has completely softened, about 15 minutes.  
2.  Blend the soup with a stick blender until completely smooth.  Add all but 2 tbsp of the coconut cream and heat through, simmering for a little longer if not quite thick enough.  To serve, pour into bowls and stir through a little bit of the coconut cream.  Top with the sliced chilli and coriander leaves.  


This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty.   It would make a delicious side dish to accompany some spicy grilled chicken, or as a meal of its own with some quinoa and leaves.  
Pumpkin roasted with cardamom and tahini dressing
Serves 2
 
You will need:
3 cardamom pods
1/4 pumpkin, cut into wedges
2tbsp olive oil
For the tahini dressing:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped.  
Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200C.  Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar until you have something you have a coarse powder.  Place the pumpkin wedges on a baking sheet and add the oil, cardamom and season generously.  Toss to completely coat, then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and golden.  
2. To make the dressing, stir together the olive oil, tahini, lime zest, about 1 tbsp of lime juice and some salt and pepper.  Taste to adjust the seasoning and lime juice.  It should be about he same consistency as plain yoghurt so it seems very thick, lighten with a little water.  Serve the pumpkin wedges arranged on a large plate, drizzled with the dressing and scattered with the coriander and sliced chilli.  Serve with some additional lime, if desired.  

More Mocha Madness

This is thee first in what will probably be a long series of Leiths recipes.  We begin (as in on this blog, I have no idea what we are starting with on the course!) with basic ice cream making techniques.  This, as you may already know from my other posts, is something I’ve been keen to tackle anyway, especially since being given an ice cream maker for my birthday. 

Under the guidance of Leiths Cookery Bible, I feel this batch was my most successful yet.  Here’s what I have learnt:

1. Freezing dulls flavour.  So you actually want your ice cream base to be sweeter, zestier, stronger than you may normally prefer.  For coffee ice cream, I used some really strong instant espresso powder.

2. Chill, chill, chill everything.  This was something that had already been emphasised to me by the lovely people at St George’s Gelato and echoed by the recipe instructions.  Once you’ve made your custard or ice cream base, cool it right down in the fridge. 

3.  The bowl of your ice cream maker is really cold.  Maybe even colder than your freezer- is that possible?  So make sure it is clean before you put it in to freeze.  Trying to wipe it out once it is frozen will only result in kitchen towel/jay cloth frozen stuck to your ice cream maker bowl.  Not a good look or particularly tasty.

So here is that recipe:

Coffee Ice Cream
 from Leiths Cookery Bible

You will need:

 4 egg yolks
85g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
425ml single cream
5 tsp instant coffee powder (I used espresso powder for a slightly stronger coffee taste)

Method:
1.  Combine the cream and coffee in a saucepan and heat gently until the coffee dissolves.

2.  Into a medium sized bowl, mix together the egg yolks with the sugar and salt.  Pour the coffee-cream mixture into the bowl, stirring throughout.

3. Put the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.  Stir continuously until the mixture is thick and custard-like.

4.  Strain and allow to cool before chilling completely in the fridge, whisking occasionally.

5.  Pour into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Or pour into an ice tray and freeze, whisking when the ice cream is half-frozen. 

The recipe produced a delicious, creamy ice cream, but quite a  lot of it.  I really feared it would end up languishing in our freezer forever if I didn’t actively do something with it.  I came up with two tasty combos.  A kind of Eton mess with blackcurrant (did you know that coffee and blackcurrant are bosom buddies? I didn’t.  Thanks, flavour thesaurus) and cardamom, coconut and coffee ice cream sandwiches.

Coffee and Blackcurrant Meringue Sundae

You will need:

 Serves 4

1 L coffee ice cream (home made as above or shop bought)
3 egg whites (leftover from the ice cream recipe)
150g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
Blackcurrant jam or compote

Method:

1.  Start with the meringues.  Preheat the oven to 150 degrees.  Gently heat approx 100ml of the jam or compote with a little water until you have a runny sauce.  Allow to cool. 

2.  Using a perfectly clean and dry bowl, whisk the egg whites and vinegar/lemon juice into frothy submission.

3.  Add about 50g of the sugar and continue whisking until the egg whites are firm- you should be able to tip the bowl upside down.  Add the remaining 100g of sugar and whisk to incorporate.

4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.  Spoon out 6 large, round meringues.   Using a teaspoon, carefully lace the blackcurrant sauce through the meringues, creating swirly shapes as you go.

5.  Place in the hot oven, turning the heat down to 100 degrees.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the meringues feel dry and easily lift off the tray.

6.  Break into pieces and scatter on top of scoops of the ice cream.  Pour over the remaining blackcurrant sauce.

Coffee, Coconut and Cardamom Ice Cream Sandwiches

You will need:

175g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
pinch of salt
120g butter, softened
90 g caster sugar
90 g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
crushed seeds from 8 cardamom pods
1 large egg
150g dessicated coconut+ a bit more for decoration (if desired)
Coffee ice cream (home made or shop bought)

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

2.   Combine the flour, bicarb and salt in a small bowl.

3.  Beat together the butter, sugars, vanilla, cardamom and 150g of coconut in a larger bowl, until light and fluffy.  Mix in the egg.

4.  Slowly add the flour mixture, mixing until smooth.

5.  Drop the batter by generous, rounded tablespoonfuls onto a lined baking tray.  Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon.

6.  Bake until golden- about 8-9 minutes.  Cool completely and resist the temptation to eat them all. 

7.  Fill two cookies with a scoop of ice cream, squashing and shaping with a kitchen knife to form smooth sandwiches.   Roll the ice cream part of the sandwich in the remaining coconut.  Serve immediately or return to the freezer.  The sandwiches will keep quite happily for a few days in the freezer, but may need a little thawing time before serving. 

Sugar, Spice… Rice

Rice pudding wouldn’t be my last meal, put it that way.  So I was surprised to find myself craving it particularly as I don’t really have any previous experience of making it.  And although my Dad likes to make a traditional rice-based porridge for Christmas Eve, I can only ever manage a mouthful of the rich, sticky-sweet goop. 



I think my craving can probably be traced to all the reading up I’ve been doing on Indian cooking recently- I keep coming across the famous rice pudding, Kheer.   I find that there’s an unexpected crossover between many Swedish and Indian puddings,  as they both rely heavily on spices like cardamon, saffron and, of course, cinnamon.   For example, Swedish ‘vetebröd’ ( literally ‘wheat-bread’) is the cardamon-packed basis for the cinnamon buns and other varieties of sweet, bready cakes that we couldn’t do without.

So this rice pudding is really an homage to those spices and that unlikely cultural meeting of flavours.   I felt it needed something else, though, so made some cherry compote to accompany it.  Leftovers of which work particularly well with Greek yoghurt or bircher muesli for breakfast.  Or slathered on croissants, of course.  



Scandi Rice Pudding
(serves 2)


You will need:

For the rice pudding: 
300ml whole milk
40 g shortgrain or pudding rice
pinch of salt
1 small egg
25g dark brown sugar (muscovado)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
20g raisins
handful flaked almonds
2 cardamon pods





For the cherry compote:
250g cherries
juice of half a lemon
sugar
splash of brandy


Method:

1.  First off, get started on the cherry compote.  You need to get rid of all the cherry pips- a tedious and messy business.  Turn on the radio and get started. Remember, cherry juice stains like a mother, so don’t forget an apron. 

2.  Put the pitted cherries into a saucepan and turn on a low heat.  Add the lemon juice and leave to quietly bubble away for about 20 minutes.



3.  Meanwhile, get started with the rice pudding.  Use a wide pan to maximise the surface area.  Add the milk, rice, pinch of salt and slightly crushed cardamon pods and bring to a simmer slowly.  Turn down the heat and leave for about 20 minutes, until the rice is tender, stirring frequently.

4.  Your cherries should be cooked through by now, so it’s time to add the sugar.  Pour the contents of the pan into a measuring jug to get an idea of how much cooked fruit you have.  You want to add 3/4 of the same amount of sugar (so the ratio of cherries to sugar is 4:3).  So if you have about a cup of cooked cherries, add 3/4 of a cup of sugar. 

5.  Return to the heat and let simmer for a further 20 minutes or so, until you have a thick, jammy consistency.  The best way to test if it is ready is to put a spoonful on a plate, leave for a minute and then see if it ‘wrinkles’ when pushed with a finger.   Add a splash of brandy, if desired (and when isn’t it?) and stir before transferring to a bowl if eating straight away, or a sterilised jar.  Store in the fridge for up to a week.

6.  While you are waiting for the jam to come together, return to the rice pudding.  In a separate bowl, stir together the egg, sugar and vanilla.  Take the pan of milky rice off the heat and add a large spoonful of this to the egg mixture and stir vigorously.  Add all of the contents of the bowl to the pan and stir to incorporate.

7.  Put back onto a very low heat and add a pinch of the cinnamon, the raisins and finally the flaked almonds.  It should be properly thick and oozing by now.

8.  Serve in a bowl with a scoopful of the cherry compote, then sit back and enjoy.