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
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
1/2 tsp saffron strands
2 slices ginger
1 strip lemon peel
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scandi Rice Pudding
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
handful flaked almonds
2 cardamon pods
For the cherry compote:
juice of half a lemon
splash of brandy
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.