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.
I hope that you were able to spend some of it with loved ones, some of it relaxing, some of it cooking and some of it eating!
I rather overdid it, partly because as a Swede celebrating Christmas in the UK, I have twice the festive fun. First there’s a traditional Swedish ‘jul’ on the 24th with a heaving smörgåsbord of ham, meatballs, spiced bread, red cabbage and Janssons temptation (a creamy potato gratin with sweet conserved sprats- odd but delicious). All washed down with plenty of beer and snaps, of course.
In Sweden this gluttony is traditionally followed by an hour of conking out in front of Donald Duck’s Christmas, broadcast every year at the same time to the delight of every Swedish child and every exhausted Swedish parent. Presents are opened when it gets dark (so about 3pm, then) and then just to add some pagan flair, everyone dances around the Christmas tree. And then if all that wasn’t enough I also got to have a proper English Christmas on the 25th with Toby’s family- a full turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, mince pies, the whole schebang. So I’m still pretty much still full. Roll on healthy eating this month!
In the meantime, here’s a recipe for a Swedish festive classic- Lucia buns. Saffron was, of course, a very expensive spice (and it still doesn’t come particularly cheap) and therefore used to flavour sweet bread in the run up to this celebratory season. But I think these buns are delicious all year round and, seeing as I have a freezer full of them, I may well be enjoying them well into Spring!
The pictures in this post are curtsy of the fantastically talented photographer, Faith Mason. You can see more of her work here. More to come from the photo shoot we did together recently, including paprika spiced chicken with apricots and a pheasant casserole!
Saffron Buns (also called Lucia Buns)
Makes about 30-35 buns
You will need:
200g unsalted butter
500ml full fat milk
3g saffron strands
1 sugar cube
50g fresh yeast
pinch of salt
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten + 1 egg, beaten
1 kg plain flour + extra for kneading
handful of raisins or sultanas
1. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the milk and heat to body temperature (you can test this by sticking your finger into the pan- it should not feel hot or cold, just wet!).
2. Bash the saffron in a pestle and mortar with the sugar cube. The cube will act as an abrasive and break up the strands into a rough powder. Add this to the butter and milk.
3. Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the salt, sugar and about 3 tbsp lukewarm water. Mix to dissolve the yeast. Pour the saffron, milk and butter mixture into the bowl and whisk together before adding the 2 beaten eggs.
4. Add enough of the flour, about 900g-1kg to form a dough, mixing with a substantial wooden spoon initially, then using your hands to bring the dough together. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until you have an elastic dough. Clean out your bowl and return the dough to it, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warmish place for 1- 1.5 hours, until doubled in size.
5. Heat the oven to 220C. Line to baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease with a flavourless oil. Tip the dough out onto your floured work surface. Knead briefly to knock out some air, then divide the dough into 2 parts. Divide each of these into 4 and then into 4 again- so you end up with 32 pieces of dough, although you may find that you want to divide some bigger pieces into two buns, depending on how accurate you are with your dough-dividing!
6. Roll each piece into a long, thin sausage. Place the sausage in front of you, vertically. Roll the top end down to the right. Roll the bottom end upwards to the left. You should end up with an ‘S’ shape. Stick a raisin into the middle of each end and place on your baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough. Leave each baking sheet to prove for about 30 minutes before brushing lightly with the remaining beaten egg.
7. Bake in the hot oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden and baked through. Leave to cool under a tea towel- this will stop them from drying out. Enjoy with a mug of mulled wine or freeze for later.