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.
Pepparkakor are to Swedish Christmas what mince pies are to English Christmas. One without the other would be a bit of a sin, really.
Although you can find them in shops all year round, these spicy gingerbread biscuits with their taste of cloves, cinnamon and ginger are undeniably Christmassy and ubiquitous come the first of advent.
Apart from being delicious accompanied by a mug of glögg (Swedish, much stronger mulled wine) or a cup of Earl Grey, they are also rather wonderful as canape bases for your Christmas party. You might think me mad, but topped with some blue cheese, they are an absolutely dreamy combo of salty and sweet and a perfect pairing with a glass of fizz. In my family, they were also always part of Christmas eve breakfast.
This is my recipe, which makes for quite crisp biscuits with a slight citrus tang from the lemon essence and dried bitter orange peel (pomeransskal). I realise these two ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but you could easily substitute for a teaspoon each of grated lemon and orange peel. Or try ordering them online. Cloves can be quite difficult to find ground in the UK and US, but are essential in this recipe. You can always try grinding whole cloves yourself in a pestle and mortar if you can’t source the ground stuff.
This recipe is best when the dough has been left to mature for a few days in the fridge. It also freezes very well. A word of caution for when you do come to bake them, though: Don’t step away from the kitchen. These beauties burn in a millisecond. Watch them like a hawk.
Pepparkakor (Swedish Gingerbread Biscuits)
You will need:
250g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
150ml golden syrup
1/2 tsp lemon extract (or 1 tsp lemon peel, grated)
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp bitter orange peel (or 1 tsp orange peel, grated)
1 tbsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
500 g plain flour
1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl before adding the syrup and lemon extract (or lemon and orange peel, if using).
2. Combine all the dry ingredients (spices, flour and bicarb) in a smaller bowl and beat into to the butter mixture.
3. Knead quickly to form a sticky dough. Separate into two balls, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but preferably a few days. You can also freeze the dough until you need it.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature for about an hour before using.
5. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment.
6. On a floured work surface and using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough as thinly as you dare. Use cookie-cutters to stencil out they shapes you would like. If the dough becomes to sticky and difficult to use, return to the fridge for a little while.
7. Carefully place onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, keeping an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn.
Having said that, one pumpkin can go a really long way in terms of feeding the masses, so it gets bonus points on that front. And there are ways to use it that work really well, either with other ingredients to lift and bring out its sweetness or as a way to add moisture and texture. And don’t forget that the seeds are edible too and make for a great snack.
Here are some ideas to make your pumpkin go further. These three dishes all came from one medium sized pumpkin.
To enhance the flavour:
Roast pumpkin, lemon and sage risotto.
You will need:
To serve 4
300 g pumpkin, cut into wedges, skin on
sea salt, pepper
2 cloves of garlic
2 lemons, zested and juiced
200g risotto rice- arborio or carnaroli
100 ml white wine or dry vermouth
1 L good quality chicken or vegetable stock
A bunch of sage leaves, torn
1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Lay the pumpkin wedges on an oven proof tray and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Scatter with salt an pepper and bake until just tender, about 40 mins.
2. Chop the onion and mince the garlic. In a large, heavy-based pan, sweat the onions in some olive oil over a medium heat. Add the minced garlic, the zest of one lemon, a few torn sage leaves and the rice and mix well. Fry these for a minute or so, allowing the rice to absorb some of the fragrant oils in the pan.
3. Add the white wine and vermouth and allow to bubble away. Once reduced, begin adding the stock, about a fourth at a time.
4. Cook until the rice is just tender with a bit of bite to it and the liquid has been absorbed and you have a creamy consistency.
5. Add the chopped pumpkin and lemon juice/zest to taste as well as a good grating of Parmesan. Allow to come together for a minute or two. Serve in hearty bowls with a grating of cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and some more sage.
To add umph to a cake- This recipe is adapted from this one I found on the BBC Good Food website. I had some leftover coconut milk kicking about, so I used this for sweetness instead and reduced the amounts of honey and sugar. To add more coconut flavour, add some essence or replace 50g of the flour with 50g of dessicated coconut.
Pumpkin, Ginger and Coconut loaf
You will need:
50g cooled melted butter
75 g honey
1 large egg
150 ml coconut milk
1 tsp coconut essence (optional)
250g grated pumpkin
100g light muscovado sugar
350g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp demerara or light muscovado sugar
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Butter and line a loaf tin.
2. Combine the flour, muscovado and ginger in a small bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the egg, honey, butter, coconut milk, essence and grated pumpkin.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix until well combined.
5. Pour into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
6. Bake for an hour until golden and cooked through when tested with a cake tester. Allow to cool before slicing and spreading liberally with butter.
Waste not want not:
Smoky Pumpkin Seeds
When carving your pumpkin, it is generally assumed that you scoop out the fleshy innards, including the seeds and chuck them in the bin. Don’t. Save the seeds- pop them in a bowl and into the fridge until you have a spare 15 minutes and you’ve got the oven on.
You want it to be set to 200 degrees C and have a large oven tray to hand. Spread your seeds onto this and remove any stringy bits of pumpkin flesh. Sprinkle with lots of sea salt, more than you think you’ll need, pepper and some paprika. Drizzle with a good slug of oil- olive if you have it, but plain will do too. Roast in the oven, giving the seeds the occasional shuffle about, until golden and toasted. They’ll keep for about a week and make for an irresistible nibble.
…and a way with celeriac, instalment number 1
Trashy TV need some trashy themed food. Ribs, wedges and coleslaw.
I marinaded some ribs for the day (overnight will do)
For about 500 g ribs you’ll need
8cm fresh ginger (grated)
30 ml vegetable oil
30 ml soy sauce
30 ml sweet chili
(if you are feeding more, 1.5 k ribs will want 100 ml each of the oil, chili and soy)
Mix all together in a bowl. Instead of sweet chili, I actually used aforementioned chili jam, which worked really well. Marinade for a good 4-5 hours, the longer the better though!
The slaw was actually a recipe from Ottolenghi, sweet and sour celeriac and swede grated with a tangy mustardy cider vinegar dressing, capers and dried sour cherries.
PEARS! Instalment no. 2
Pear and Ginger Muffins
Which are treacley and moist and went down very well with a cuppa at my desk (and my manager’s as you can see from the above pic!) They are originally a Nigella recipe, but I’ve done a bit of this and a bit of that to them.
Muffins (makes 18. Exactly)
3 tsp baking powder
225 g sugar
120 g dark brown sugar, plus a bit extra for decorating
2 tsp ground ginger
100ml sour cream
190ml vegetable oil
2 tbsp honey
1. Preheat oven to 200 C/Gas mark 6, prepare a couple of muffin tins with cases
3. In another bowl or a jug, whisk sour cream, oil, honey and eggs, one bit at a time so that it doesn’t curdle
4. Finally, add diced pears and pour into prepared cases.
5. Sprinkle with a pinch of brown sugar before popping in the oven for about half an hour, but do check after 20min as timings will vary depending on ovens. They will also continue to cook for a bit in their tins.