Crème brûlée

A timeless classic that works so fluently at dinner parties. I’ve been making these for many years, but this is the first time that my little boy Felix has got involved. At his special request, we made Crème brûlée together and adapted the recipe that has been scribbled in my notebook since 2009.

Ingredients:

(makes about 8)

  • 500ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod (or 1tsp good vanilla paste)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 140°C (non-fan).
  2. Pour the cream into a pan, add the split, scraped and chopped vanilla, and then gently bring to the boil and simmer to infuse.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy.
  4. Slowly whisk in the hot vanilla infused cream.
  5. Sieve the mixture into ramekins, removing the pieces of vanilla pod, if using.
  6. Place the ramekins into a tray and fill halfway with hot water (Bain marie).
  7. Carefully slide the tray into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
  8. Allow the brûlée to cool to room temperature. They can now be stored in the fridge until your ready to serve.
  9. Sprinkle a little demerara sugar on top and caramelise with a blow torch or under a hot grill to form a thin, crisp shell.

Alternative flavourings such as pistachio are delicious, and I’ve also tried adding fresh raspberries before baking.

creme brulee or more accurately Crème brûlée

Canelés Bordelais

Summary:

‘Cah-nuh-lay’: Crispy and deeply caramelised on the outside, custardy and gorgeously soft in the middle, canelés are a French pastry from Bordeaux. They’re made from a simple vanilla and rum flavoured batter which is rested overnight and baked in beeswax-lined moulds at two temperatures.

Detail:

The perfect recipe for those looking to put their skills to test in the kitchen. These gorgeous little cakes from Bordeaux formed the basis of my latest culinary adventure.

They’re rarely seen in the UK, and having never actually sampled one before embarking on this personal challenge, I found it particularly fascinating and rather exciting. Given how insanely addictive they are, you’d expect them to be a staple treat, but alas I’ve learnt that they are less than straightforward, and can be a little temperamental. They take a relatively long time to make, don’t keep for long, and require a couple of specialist items in order to transform a simple batter into a glorious delicacy.

NOTE: The quantities in the recipe below will make just 6 canelé – this is intentional, as they need to be eaten on the day of making, you can scale up the recipe as required, and the individual moulds will literally cost you a small fortune. You can however prepare the desired volume of batter and bake them in batches.

Equipment:

For this recipe, you’ll need a couple of extra things which may not feature in the average kitchen:

  • Canelé moulds
  • Beeswax (100% natural)

Ingredients:

(makes 6)
  • 250ml milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • splash of vanilla extract or paste
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 50g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp dark rum

Method:

  1. Start by placing the milk, butter and vanilla in a pan over a low heat until combined, before setting aside to cool slightly and infuse.
  2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and creamy. (I use a stand mixer with a balloon whisk).
  3. Sift in the flour with a tiny pinch of salt.
  4. Slowly whisk in the cooled milk mixture, followed by the rum.
  5. Seal the batter in an airtight container and refrigerate for 24-48 hours to let it rest and relax.
  6. To prepare the moulds, melt 40g beeswax and 60g butter together in a microwave (or pan).
  7. Carefully fill the first canelé mould to the top with the liquid beeswax and butter mix, and then quickly pour it out into the next mould, before placing it upside down on a drying rack. Continue until all of your moulds are lined with a thin layer of wax.
  8. Place a tray into the oven and preheat it to 230°C (non-fan).
  9. Remove the batter from the fridge and give it a quick mix or shake to recombine.
  10. Fill the moulds, leaving a 10mm gap at the top. You can weigh them to ensure consistency – My filled moulds weigh 110g.
  11. Bake at 230°C for 10 minutes.
  12. Without opening the oven door, turn it down to 160°C (non-fan) and cook for a further 60 minutes.
  13. Place the canelés on a rack to cool down for at least 15 minutes before turning out.

Canelés Bordelais

Notes:

You may find that you need to adjust the temperatures and timing slightly to suit your oven – they are perhaps one of the most temperamental things I’ve made to date. You’re looking for a clearly defined and deeply caramelised shell.

Note that the beeswax and butter mix is enough to line a lot of moulds, but it can be stored in a fridge until needed again. If you’re using a modern silicone canelé moulds, you may not need to line them at all, however the final result will be different and less amazing.

Guyanese Black Cake

All of a sudden we’re in November and it’s time to start letting ourselves dream about Christmas, even though the global pandemic has everyone rather worried about just how the festive season is going to pan out. At least this is one thing you can control and look forward to enjoying.

The Black Cake is a traditional Christmas treat in Guyana. To ensure this Caribbean fruit cake is rich, moist and delicious, it needs plenty of time to develop and mature. The best time to start making yours is in the first week of November.

Ingredients

  • 700g mixed fruit
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 100g Brazil nuts 
  • 300ml dark rum (plus extra for feeding/drinking)
  • 225g Demerara sugar
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 tbsp black treacle
  • 225g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice (blend of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg) 

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 150°C.

2. Briefly blitz the mixed fruit, peel and nuts in a food processor.

3. Transfer the mix to a bowl and pour over 150ml of rum, cover and leave overnight to soak.

4. Line a 20cm square cake tin.

5. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale, and then add in the eggs one at a time. 

6. Stir in the treacle and the soaked fruit mix. 

7. Sift in the flour, spice and baking powder, folding through until you have an even consistency.  

8. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 2 hours. 

9. Before the cake cools completely, poke holes into the top with a skewer and pour over 150ml of rum. 

10. Once cool, store the cake in an airtight container. 

11. Feed your cake occasionally (weekly) by pouring over more rum.

12. Before Christmas, finish the cake in the traditional way by adding a thick layer of marzipan, dried tropical fruits and nuts, and an apricot glaze. Alternatively, you can brush the cake with an apricot glaze and then layer with marzipan and royal icing as shown below.

Guyanese black cake - a rich, dense fruit cake as a Christmas cake

Tomatillo Time

August has brought the first crop of Tomatillos to the UK. Rarely grown here, I eagerly await their arrival and celebrate the short season with the ultimate green salsa that elevates barbecue to ridiculously insane heights of deliciousness.

Repeat after me: [toh-muhtee-oh].

Physalis philadelphica

Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa are part of the nightshade family – similar to the more common Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) found in most supermarkets here, but larger, and green. Think green tomato with a papery husk.

Fresh, zingy and packed with complexity, this classic salsa is like nothing else. If you make your own from scratch, it blows any shop-bought version out of the water. The magic happens when you char the ingredients over fire before blending it all together. If you see tomatillos, buy them. Buy them all.

Ingredients:

  • 400g fresh tomatillos
  • 2 green jalapeños
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander
  • pinch of salt

Method:

  1. Remove the husks from the tomatillos – give them a little wash as you’ll find that the flesh is a little sticky underneath. Pop the fruits on the bbq along with the onion and Jalapeños to blister the skins. (You could or grill them in the oven or colour them in a pan if you don’t have access to a bbq).
  2. Chuck everything in a food processor and blitz it up into a rough salsa. How easy is that!

blistering tomatillo and jalapeno fruits

 

tomatillo salsa

 

Best. Salsa. Ever.

Sourdough Is For Life, Not Just For Lockdown

Like puppies at Christmas, sourdough starter deserves enduring love and care – the starter you made, bought or were gifted during the coronavirus lockdown will actually live on, in perpetuum. I fear that a significant number of those who developed a newfound love of home baking during the unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions will all too quickly revert to mass-produced pappy, low-nutrition loaves from supermarket shelves as people start returning to their hectic working lives. After all, good sourdough is all about the devotion of time and attention to detail.

There’s hope though. If you baked enough sourdough loaves during the lockdown, developed your process and timing, and savoured the unique flavour that’s only achievable to the artisan baker, you’ll be hooked. Once you’ve tasted the good stuff and appreciated the undeniable magic that is transforming flour, water and salt into open, tangy crumb, you’ll no doubt want to persist with your endeavours.

But, alas, my bet is that most of the sourdough cultures that thrived during the height of lockdown, will have now sadly perished; neglected, and simply starved to death.

So how might we be able to save these vulnerable lives? Read on, my flour dusted friends.

  1. Refrigerate – covered over to protect it from the cold, dehydrating air of the fridge, your sourdough starter will easily survive for a couple of weeks without feeding. The cold will slow down the activity of the culture, so if it’s been fed just before going into the fridge then it’ll have enough food to keep it going. It may develop a layer of hooch on the top, but you can just mix it all up and feed it over a couple of days at room temperature to get it back to peak performance. Refrigerated sourdough starter
  2. Freeze – the extreme cryogenic option. Pop some of your starter in a ziplock bag, seal it up, label it and chuck it in the freezer. I’ll admit that I’ve not yet tried to revive any of my own backup starter from the freezer yet, but in theory it’ll just need to be defrosted and then given a good feed, air and warmth (I’ll update this post in due course) Frozen Dave 
  3. Dehydrate – take a little starter and spread it out very thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper or a silicone mat. Leave it on a wire rack in a warm, airy environment until it has dried out completely. Once it’s brittle you can pop it into a labelled glass jar and store it for ages. This is an ideal option for transporting a starter.

     

  4. Share – keep sharing cuts of your starter with friends and colleagues with instructions on how to look after it (just like the traditional Amish Herman the German friendship cake https://hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/). This is the ultimate in offsite backup options – especially if your friends and family keep some in their freezer. dave
  5. Perfect – I’m convinced that once you’ve mastered a routine and timing which you can literally ‘work around’, it makes it so much easier to just keep baking! It’s of course sage to retain a backup starter using one or more of the above methods. 

In an ideal world, we’ll return to a place where the deep knowledge and experience of baking at home is commonplace once again. 

As always, do get in touch if you have any questions.