Category Archives: Puddings & desserts

Canterbury apple tart

Canterbury tart

My copy of the Roux Brothers on Patisserie is inscribed as a gift from my parents for Christmas 1995. They posted it out to me in New Zealand, where I enjoyed an antipodean summer Christmas. As summer gave way to Autumn, we began the Old Man Mountain apple harvest. In was in that orchard that I got, aged 24, my first ever bee sting. It descended liked a Stuka and stung me just below the eye.

I made a lot of French apple tart that Autumn. Mostly successfully, until the one time when I was helping my host, mentor and friend Nadia with a catering job. I made three or four in large trays, but failed miserably to get the liquid for the glaze to setting point. I’m still ashamed of that cock-up. Nadia wasn’t happy with me. I still love the Roux French apple tart, too. Though these days I’m possibly more keen on Canterbury tart.

We’ve lost so much of our culinary tradition in this country. I’ve said it before, but the combination of urbanisation, two world wars, the industrialisation of farming practices and the rise of the supermarket homogenised much of our food. Furthermore, we have a long history of food fashions and fads, such as royals employing French chefs. More recently, thanks to the work of food writers and immigrants, we’ve embraced Indian subcontinent and Italian-inspired food to the point where most families eat pasta more than they eat traditional British stodge, for example. We probably do. I’m not sure what I’d do without pasta to fill up T-rex most lunchtimes.

It shouldn’t need saying, but British food can often rival anything from our continental neighbours. We had our Dutch friend Annely visiting this weekend, and as she loves cheese treated ourselves to some pricy local fare. One was Lord of the Hundreds, a sheep’s milk cheese as good as any Sardinian or central Italian pecorino. Another was Lord London, a soft cows’ milk cheese as good as any French brie.

So when you discover a recipe like Canterbury tart, it’s worth noting that it’s as good as if not better than a classic French apple tart, and more straight-forward to make too. Now, I’m loathe to say Canterbury tart is an old, traditional Kent recipe as I can’t find much information about it. Several websites cut and past the same blurb saying the first recorded recipe was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381 but I’m doubtful. Kent is certainly the heartland of apple growing, so let’s say it likely has some history. I got the recipe from my mum. Googling, it looks like one from Mary Berry. I wish Berry had told us where she got it from but her recipes are somewhat lacking in preamble.

Pastry
100g butter
225g plain flour
25g sifted icing sugar
1 egg, beaten

Filling
4 eggs
225g caster sugar
2 lemons, zest and juiced
100g melted butter
2 large cooking apples, peeled & cored, about 350g
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored & thinly sliced
25g Demerara sugar

A 25cm (or thereabouts) flan tin

1. First make the pastry. If making by hand, rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the beaten egg and bring together to form a dough.
2. If making the pastry in a processor, combine the flour, butter and icing sugar in the bowl then add the egg and mix until the dough starts to form.
3. Form the pastry into a smooth ball, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
4. Roll out the pastry and line the flan tin, leaving an overhang. Chill the tin for a further 30 minutes (or longer if you need to).
5. To make the filling, beat the eggs, caster sugar, lemon rind and juice together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the warm melted butter, then coarsely grate the cooking apples directly into the mixture. Mix well.
6. Have the dessert apples ready sliced.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C, putting t a heavy baking tray in to heat up. (You don’t bake the pastry case blind, so this will help cook the bottom.)
8. Remove the pastry case from the fridge and spread the runny mixture in the bottom. Level the surface and arrange the dessert apple slices on top, neatly overlapping.
9. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
10. Put in the oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes, until the centre feels firm and the apples slices are slightly browned.

Serve warm, with cream or ice cream obviously. Though I would say I prefer it when it’s cooled and firmed up more. Even after a night in the fridge. Yum. The citrus/apple combination works so well.

By the way, I’m aware my pastry looks a bit messy. Although I can be somewhat perfectionist in some areas, I’m long reconciled with my shortcomings as a pastry chef. The important thing here is that it tasted good.

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Exmoor in and out pudding

Exmoor in and out pudding

A few years ago, before kids, Fran and I rode our bikes across Devon, her home county, in southwest England. It was lovely as we embarked from Tiverton Parkway in the east of the county, but as soon as we reached Exmoor, having climbed steeply from the village of Dulverton, the wind and rain set in.

Although this pudding is named after the moor, it’s hard to imagine it’s a place where many apples are grown. Sure there are some orchards within the confines of Exmoor National Park, but by and large the moor itself is, along with other West Country moors Dartmoor and Bodmin moor, is about as close to wilderness as you can experience in southern Britain. We certainly didn’t pass any orchards as we fought a fierce headwind.

Another county
I made this pudding with apples from my parents’ tree, in Winchester, Hampshire. It would have been hard to find Exmoor apples. Indeed, for crying out loud, it’s hard enough to find English apples in the supermarkets at the moment, despite it being apple season. I live in the southeast of England, in East Sussex. The adjacent county, Kent, is the historical heartland of apple cultivation – and yet our local supermarkets are filled with apples from France, Chile, South Africa and even New Zealand. This madness makes me want to scream. I suspect I’ve ranted about it here before.

Talking of madness: Brexit*. Will it mean fewer food imports as costs increase? Will it encourage domestic food production? Who knows. No one seems to know what’s going to happen, apart from an abiding smugness from aging little Englanders as we metaphorically unmoor ourselves and drift away into deepening obscurity.

Fall from grace
Anyway, back to the apples. My folks have a magnificent Bramley tree. While picking, I managed to fall off the ladder, knocking over not just my toddler, T-rex, but also my seventy-something dad. Sorry guys! Still, it’s great fruit. We should be celebrating home-grown Bramleys more than ever now following the news this summer that the original Bramley tree in Nottinghamshire is dying of a fungal infection, having been sown in 1809.

This is a lovely variation on the theme of apple pudding involving a cake-like mixture. The mixture has the distinction of by being made with rich, caramelly demerara sugar. It also contains some ground almonds, one of my favourite ingredients. Some Exmoor in and out puddings also contain suet. This recipe, based on one found in the National Trust’s Complete Traditional Recipe Book by Sarah Edington, doesn’t.

500g Bramleys, or other cooking apples
50g demerara sugar
5g cinnamon
60g apple juice, or water

110g unsalted butter, softened
110g demerara sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp almond essence
110g self-raising flour (or 105g plain flour and 5g baking powder)
50g ground almonds
Flaked almonds

1. Heat the oven to 180C.
2. Peel and slice the apples.
3. Combine the apple slices, cinnamon, demerara and apple juice or water then put into an overproof dish. Cover with a damp cloth so the apple doesn’t brown while you prepare the topping.

Exmoor in and out pudding

4. Cream together the butter and other portion of demerara sugar.

Exmoor in and out pudding mixture
. Lightly beat the eggs, with the almond essence, and slowly beat into the mixture. If it starts to curdle, add some of the ground almonds.
6. Add the ground almonds and sieve in the flour. Fold to combine.

Exmoor in and out pudding, cover apples with mixture

7. Put the topping on the apple mix.

Exmoor in and out pudding, ready to bake

8. Sprinkle with ground almonds.

Exmoor in and out pudding, baked

9. Bake until the top is nicely browned and the cake is firm to the touch, about 40 minutes.
10. Serve warm with cream, ice cream or even custard.

 

 

* As well as the actual process of the UK leaving the EU upsetting me, I detest the ugly neologism “Brexit”. But I can’t come up with a better, succinct alternative, so we’re stuck with it.

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Date and maple syrup steamed pudding

Date and maple syrup steamed pudding

We had a pretty good summer in southern England this year, with very little rain and a reasonable amount of sunshine July to October. But now it’s definitely Autumn, with winter round the corner and that means one thing: steamed puddings!

OK, maybe not just one thing, but I do crave serious stodgy English puddings in the winter. Growing up, a favourite was treacle sponge – actually a steamed pud made with golden syrup. It’s a recipe I revisit regularly, and frequently use as the basis for variations on a theme, adding things like stem ginger, other fruits and spices.

Since the end of last winter, my kitchen whiteboard has featured an increasingly faint scribble saying “date and maple syrup steamed pudding”. This weekend we had a lovely visit from our friend Mary Margaret, who Fran worked with in Rome. She’s Canadian. So of course that’s a good excuse to reach for the maple syrup. MM said she hadn’t had a traditional Canadian Thanksgiving this year (10 October), so our Sunday roast stood in for it. She was very satisfied with my entirely non-traditional date and maple syrup pudding.

The dates were chopped and soaked in boiling water with half a teaspoon of baking soda. This is a technique used when making sticky toffee pudding, another classic stodgy English pudding. Which probably had its origins in a Canadian recipe.

I do include a bit of golden syrup here as it’s thicker than maple syrup and I felt it’d help with the texture but if you live somewhere that it’s not available (the US, I believe), just use all maple syrup. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe.

Date and maple syrup steamed pudding, sliced

100g dates, roughly chopped
2g baking soda
Boiling water
70g maple syrup
20g golden syrup
190g butter, softened
150g soft brown sugar, or light muscovado
3 eggs, lightly beaten that is about 170g
190g self-raising flour
4g baking powder
2g cinnamon
2g allspice
Pinch of salt

1. Put the dates in a bowl, add the baking soda and cover with boiling water. Leave to soften.
2. Grease a 1.2 litre pudding basin with butter.
3. Put the syrups in the bottom of the basin.
4. Beat together the softened butter and sugar until light and creamy.
5. Add the beaten egg a little at a time, continuing to beat. If it starts to curdle, add a little flour.
6. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and spices, then sieve this into the beaten mixture, along with a pinch of salt.
7. Strain the dates and add to the mixture.
8. Fold to combine. If it seems a bit firm, add some of the date liquid or a splash of milk.
9. Put the mixture in the pudding basin.
10. Cover the basin with a piece of foil, with a pleat in it. You can tie the foil on, but I’ve given up these days.
11. Put the basin in a large saucepan with some boiling water, or in a steamer over a saucepan, and steam for about 2 hours.
12. Remove from the saucepan and lift the foil. The top should be fairly firm and cakey.

Date and maple syrup steamed pudding, foil

13. Turn out onto a plate.
14. Drizzle with more maple syrup and serve warm with cream or ice cream for extra indulgence. Preferably on a cold, rainy day. If you feel the need, go for a good energetic walk – before or after – to justify it to yourself…

Date and maple syrup steamed pudding, with cream

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St Nicholas pudding

St Nicholas' pudding

Christmas is looming. Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, is waiting to do the impossible and deliver gifts to millions of kids on Christmas Eve. Santa is a slightly baffling modern evolution of St Nicholas, who was in fact born to a Greek family, in what is now part of Turkey but was then part of the Roman Empire, in the late 3rd century.

St Nicholas’ feast day is actually 6 December (in Western Christianity; 19 December in Eastern Christianity) and in many cultures that date is still a big deal, with celebrations and special baked products: speculoos biscuits in the Netherlands; ciastka miodowe, honey cakes, in Poland; and vanilkove rohlicky, vanilla crescent biscuits, in the Czech Republic, among others. Even here in England there was apparently1 a traditional pudding – though I can’t imagine many people still make it for 6 December. Which is a shame, as it’s rather good, and could even make a good alternative to the traditional British Christmas pudding – a heavy, alcohol-infused concoction I’ve never liked.

Traditional British Christmas pudding is often called “plum pudding” – though its main fruit component is raisins, not plums. It gets the name as in older English “plum” was used to mean raisin, or dried fruits in general. St Nicholas pudding, on the other hand, is a genuine plum pudding.

I’m slightly confused by this as the plums on our Victoria tree were all ripe in August, and while there are later varieties, any fresh plums in early December would surely have been imports – but importing fruit was a less commonplace activity in Olde England than it is now in our industrial, seasonality-quashing modern world. More likely, it used prunes – dried plums. This recipe uses both. Luckily I had 3kg of our plums stoned and frozen from August.

Prunes and plums

Like Christmas pudding, this is a steamed pudding2 so it’ll need a good 2 hours cooking time. Plan ahead!

125g butter
125g caster sugar
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
90g plain flour
8g ground cinnamon
4g ground cloves
4g baking powder
50g breadcrumbs
200g plums, stoned
60g prunes, stoned and chopped
80g golden syrup
About 6 more plums or prunes, stone and halved

Sauce
750g plums
240g caster sugar

1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Add the zest of the orange.
3. Add the egg a little at a time.
4. Sieve together flour, baking powder and spices, and add to the mixture, along with the breadcrumbs.
5. Fold to combine.
6. Add the orange juice, plums and prunes and mix gently until well-combined.
7. Grease a pudding basin, then put the 80g (two generous tablespoons) of golden syrup in the bottom.
8. Arrange the halved 6 plums or prunes in the syrup.
9. Spoon the batter onto the top.
10. Seal with foil and tie.

Seal the pudding basin with foil and string

11. Steam for approx 2 hours.
12. Make the sauce by slicing plums into saucepan, with a little water. Simmer until well softened then puree by putting through a mouli, or blending and putting through a strainer.

Caramelise the sugar
13. Dissolve the sugar with about 60-80g water. When it’s dissolved, turn up the heat and boil to caramelise slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in about 60-80g more water – carefully, as it’ll spit.
14. Add the plum puree to the syrup, and stir well to combine. You can add some booze if you like – port, Kirsch, a dash of brandy.
14. Check if the pudding is cooked by lifting the foil and sticking in a skewer; it’s basically a moist cake, so the skewer won’t come out clean – but nor should it come out with bits that still resemble batter. If it’s still battery, keep steaming.
15. When the pudding is cooked, turn it out onto a plate and serve with the sauce.

You could even serve with some cream or vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling really indulgent. It’s a lovely pud, with the orange, and possibly the caramelised sugar, tempering the sweetness of the sugar and syrup and adding some bitterness.

Portion of St Nicholas' pudding

1 I say apparently as although a recipe appears in my 1997 copy The Pudding Club Cookbook, and that one is essentially copied in Cooking With the Saints (Ignatius Press, 2001), I can’t find any mentions of the pudding in my books of older traditional British recipes.
2 OK, some Christmas puddings are boiled still. See this post for more discussion of just what is meant by “pudding” and its history.

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Fruit cobbler

Fruit cobbler top

Autumn has seized us now in the south of England with its cool, slightly soggy grip. We’re also going through a disheartening time in our adoption process, so it’s definitely time to embrace the comfort foods.

One such stodgy autumnal comfort food is cobbler. Cobbler is simply a variation on the theme of a pie – that is, a sweet or savoury filling covered with a flour-based topping or crust. But in this case, the crust consists of a scone-type mixture. A lot of cobbler recipes use a moist dough, put on top of the filling in the form of rough blobs. Somewhere along the way, however, I latched onto the idea that the mix should be a drier dough, rolled out, and cut like scones, then put on top of the filling in a form more like shingles or roof tiles. Maybe it came from an old Katie Stewart recipe.

Stewart is one of Britain’s more unsung food writers, but her recipes in The Times in the 1970s and early 1980s, which my mother collected in a yellow binder, were another key part of my cookery education. Stewart even has a book called Wild Blackberry Cobbler and Other Old-Fashioned Recipes, published 1984. I don’t have it, so can’t verify my hunch that the tiled-style cobbler comes from her, but I am using some wild blackberries here.

It’s been a good year for blackberries, and we’ve had a few productive foraging sessions. This weekend just gone Fran and my mum gathered some more blackberries, along with rosehips and sloes, which we used to make hedgerow jelly.

They got the blackberries on the last day you’re supposed to pick them, according to one strand of British folklore: 11 October. Others say 10 October. These dates used to be when St Michael’s Day, Michaelmas, was celebrated. The Catholic calendar was, however, revised in 1752, and Michaelmas became 29 September. So some say that’s the last day you should pick blackberries. Michaelmas is supposedly the day when St Michael kicked Lucifer out of Heaven. Some say he landed on a blackberry bush and, angered by the thorns, cursed it, spoiling the fruit.

Either way, I’m using some of my blackberry jam made in August in this one, so I think we’re safe from any demonic saliva.

Fruit mix
1. Vary the fruit according to season, what trees you’ve got, what trees your friends or family have got, or what you can forage. Right now, in the thick of the apple harvest, I used 800g Bramley apples from a tree in my folks’ garden.
Peel, core and cube the apples, then stew in a pan with a dash of water and sugar to taste (I used 40g).

Bramley apples to stew downBramley apples, stewed
2. Cook until softened but not completely broken down.

Fruit filling
3. I mixed the apple with a few tablespoons of blackberry and plum jam.
4. Spread the fruit mixture in a 20x25cm ovenproof dish.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cobbler topping
330g plain flour
7g baking soda
Pinch fine sea salt
40g caster sugar
60g butter, unsalted
150g milk
90g yogurt
Extra milk
Granulated sugar

1. Sieve together the plain flour and baking soda in a bowl.
2. Add the pinch of salt and caster sugar and stir to combine.
3. Cut the butter up into small pieces, then rub in until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Mix together the milk and yogurt (you could use 160g buttermilk instead) then add this to the mix.

Cobbler dough
5. Bring together to form a dough, kneading very briefly. If you handle it too much it’ll toughen up.
6. Roll out the dough to about 12mm thick.
7. Using a cookie cutter, cut discs. I used one 65mm wide, but use whatever you’ve got.
8. Cover the fruit mix with overlapping discs of cobbler dough.

Cover the fruit mix with tiles of cobbler mix
9. Brush the dough discs with milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
10. Bake until browned, about 20 minutes.

Fruit cobbler with cream

Serve with cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Pastiera Napoletana – Neopolitan grain and ricotta Easter tart

Blur

“On sale now – and only in this season – is a pagan springtime cake, pastiera Napolitana, made with soft grains of all kinds, removed from their husks months before ripe, and cooked with orange blossoms. There is a description of it by one of the Latin authors.”

Norman Lewis includes this description in his entry for 28 February in his book Naples ’44. Lewis was a sergeant in the British Army Intelligence Corps and kept a diary of life in the war-torn city. It’s hugely evocative – largely of the privations of impoverished Neapolitans, but it also includes rich records of Naples’s seasonal traditions, including its unique foods.

Pastiera slice

I first encountered pastiera when we visited the city in June 2013, and was drawn in by the cute olde style packaging of a bakery that specialised in this special pastry. Although that bakery seemed to sell it all year round, pastiera is more specifically associated with Easter. Though its origins – as Lewis says – are pagan, ancient Roman. It may have been eaten as part of celebrations of the goddess Ceres (Demeter to the Greeks) who oversaw agriculture, grain and fertility.

Or something like that. The modern pastiera is likely decidedly different to the ancient Romans’ concoction, though both probably featured eggs and grains, symbolic foodstuffs for pagans and Christians alike.

The other important ingredient is ricotta. In England the stuff you get is a dense, slightly characterless cow milk blob rammed into plastic tubs. In Roma – ah, the ricotta of Roma! Fresh stuff is sold every day in the city, curdy delicacies that sit, plump and proud, in little baskets in the displays of market stalls, cheese shops and alimentari. Some are made with sheep milk (the classic), some cow milk, some a mixture.

I do wish I’d made this back in Rome, so I could have at least tasted the difference. I suspect made with real, fresh ricotta it would have been a somewhat different proposition.

Anyway, it’s about time I tried making one!

Pastry

300g plain, all-purpose or low-protein 00 flour
140g unsalted butter, cold
100g icing sugar
2 eggs

1. Sieve the flour.
2. Cut the butter into cubes.
3. Lightly beat the eggs.
3. Put the flour in a food processor, add the butter and blitz quickly until it resembles crumbs. Then add the icing sugar and blitz quickly again to combine. Alternatively, rub the fat into the flour by hand until it resembles crumbs then sieve in the icing sugar and mix.
4. Add the egg a little at a time, until the dough comes together. Again, you can do this in the processor or by hand. You may not need to use all the egg; you don’t want the pastry too damp.
5. Briefly knead the dough until it’s smooth. Don’t do it too much.
6. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge.

Ricotta mix

Filling

The grain is the most distinctive ingredient here. You can usually get whole wheat grains from health food shops, and they will need simmering in water. Some may need soaking before cooking – follow the instructions on the packet. Make sure you could them enough as undercooked grain, like undercooked pulses, isn’t great for your digestion. You may be able to source pre-cooked grain in a can. Once cooked, drain, reserving the cooking water – it’s great for bread making.

Pastiera is also called pastiera di grano, with grano meaning grain in Italian, but it’s also used as a synonym for wheat. If you prefer, you could use another type of grain – such as one of the older varieties of wheat like spelt, einkorn or emmer. You could even use barley or oats. Or a mixture, as Lewis mentions.

300g wheat grains (cooked weight)
350g milk
30g unsalted butter
1 lemon, zest
1 orange, zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
500g ricotta
250g caster sugar
2 whole eggs (about 120g beaten weight)
1 egg yolk (about 20g)
100g candied peel [ideally orange and cedrocitron, but latter not common in UK]
2-3 tbsp orange blossom water – optional, to taste

Uncooked wheat grainCooked wheat grain

1. Firstly, cook the wheat grains. Or open the can…

Wheat with milkWheat with milk 2
2. Combine the cooked grain, the milk, the butter, the zest, the cinnamon, the vanilla in a saucepan, cook gently for another 30 minutes or so. Again, you don’t want to turn it into a porridge, so keep an eye on it, as you would a stove-top rice pudding.
3. Blend the ricotta with the eggs, egg yolk and sugar.

Add grain to ricotta mixAdd peel to ricotta mix
4. Add the grain mixture to the ricotta mixture, then stir in the peel and orange blossom water, to taste. This stuff can be quite pungent, so go easy.
5. Grease a 25cm pie or flan dish or even a spring-form cake tin then line it with the pastry.

Pastry casePastry case, pricked
6. Prick the bottom with a fork and trim the edge roughly. We’ll tidy it in a mo.
7. Pour the filling into the pastry case. (Mine was a bit full – but I only had a 24cm tin. Hence I suggest using a 25cm tin.)
Pastry strips

8. Gather up the pastry offcuts, roll out again, and cut strips about 15 wide. If you have a pastry wheel with a serrated edge, this looks cute, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.

Trim edges
9. Create a criss-cross pattern on top of the filling with the pastry strips, with the pieces of pastry set at an angle so you get diamonds, not squares. Tidy the edges.
10. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Baked
11. Bake the pastiera for about 1 hour and a quarter, keeping an eye on it. If it starts to brown too much, cover with foil and turn the heat down to 160C. It should be firm and set, if not, leave in the oven for another 15 or so minutes.
12. Allow to cool completely, then dust with icing sugar and serve at room temperature.

Happy Easter!

Pastiera cut

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Sticky toffee pudding, two recipes

Sticky toffee pudding, vanilla ice-cream

The past three weekends I’ve done sticky toffee pudding for Sunday lunch. This is in part because it’s a delicious pudding, but also because, well, January is a horrible time of year in Britain: Christmas festivities are behind you, it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s dank. If there’s a time of the year when you can justify indulging in sweet stodge, it’s now, you need that carb comfort. Save your de-toxes and dietary self-deprivation for a nice time of the year – May or June say, when there’s new life, new growth, longer days, more light.

Sticky toffee pudding is usually made by baking a batter, which gets its character from the inclusion of dates that have been soaked in boiling water, with a toffee sauce poured over the finished cake. The past few weeks I tried Felicity Cloake’s recipe, which is great, but not perfect (there’s not enough sauce for starters) then my own baked version (below). But it got me thinking, what about a steamed version?

I grew up eating treacle sponge pudding, a steamed pudding where you put golden syrup into a pudding basin, then cover it with a batter and steam it. The result is genuinely sticky, and lovely, and a must in winter. I wanted to try the same with sticky toffee, putting some of the sauce into the basin before cooking to give a similar result.

Steaming is an old-fashioned way of cooking puddings that’s not that common now. It takes longer than baking, so make sure you check the timing of your meal as it’s always nice to serve a steamed pudding straight away, turned out and freshly oozing and steaming. When I made this on Sunday, to accompany a bonanza of pork smoked by Fran and her brother Al, I failed miserably with this as we were playing in the park and I left it too late. This one is made in a 1.2 litre pudding basin, so it takes a while for the heat to cook the batter all the way through: mine took four hours.

This sort of cooking is especially good if you have a range cooker or woodburner, where a pan can just steam away quietly with no extra energy demand. We’ve got an induction hob now, which is very energy efficient, so steaming is a good choice. On more conventional cookers, too, it’s no so bad, as it only requires a low flame.

Sauce
300g cream
100g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
100g butter

Batter
240g stoned dates, chopped
250g boiling water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

175g butter, softened
80g caster sugar
80g dark muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour [or 170g of plain/all-purpose flour and 1 1/2 tsp baking powder*]
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grate of lemon zest

1. Grease a 1.2 litre pudding basin.
2. Put the dates and bicarb in a bowl, pour over the boiling water and leave to soak for at least 10 minutes.
3. Make the sauce by combining the cream, butter and sugars in a saucepan and heating slowly on the hob. When all melted, increase the heat to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Put about 4 tablespoonfuls of the sauce in the base of the basin and leave the rest in the pan for serving.

Cream butter and sugars
5. Make the batter  by creaming together the butter and sugars until light.
6. Add the beaten egg, along with the vanilla and lemon zest, a little at a time. Add a little of the flour if it starts to curdle.
7. Sieve in the rest of the flour and fold it through.

Add the dates
8. Pour all the date gloop into the batter and blend. It’s not the nicest looking batter, but don’t worry, it’ll taste great.
9. Put this batter into the basin.

Seal the basin
10. Cover the basin with a piece of foil or parchment, with a pleat in it, and tie a piece of string around the rim, to secure.
11. To steam the pudding, I just use a vegetable steamer set over a pan over simmering water, but you can also use a large pan, with a heatproof plate set in the bottom, and filled with water to half-way up the pudding basin.
12. Steam for about 3 1/2 hours. If it’s not cooked through it can collapse, ruining your ta-da! moment, so take the basin out of the steamer, remove the string and check the mixture. You should be able to see very clearly if the batter hasn’t quite turned into sponge pudding yet. If it hasn’t reseal the foil and continue to steam.
13. When the pudding is almost cooked, warm up the sauce again.
14. Turn the pudding out onto a warmed plate, and serve immediately. Either pour the sauce over the pudding before cutting it, or pour the sauce over individual wedges. For added decadence, add a blob of whipped cream, clotted cream or vanilla ice-cream.

Invert the basinRemove the basin

Sticky toffee pudding - drizzle with sauce 1Sticky toffee pudding - drizzle with sauce 2

Sticky toffee pudding - drizzle with sauce 3

The result is good. It’s considerably more sticky than a normal, baked sticky toffee pudding, which relies on the sauce for any stickiness. This is sticky all the way through, it’s denser, gooey, oozey. I’m not saying it’s better, it’s just suprisingly different considering how the flavours are the same: it’s just a question of texture.

Baked version

Make them both, compare, enjoy the sugary, stodgy winter foods!

Batter
240g stoned dates, chopped
250g boiling water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

120g butter, softened
80g caster sugar
80g dark muscovado sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla essence
Grate of lemon zest
240g SR flour

Sauce
300g cream
100g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
100g butter

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
3. Put the dates and bicarb in a bowl, pour over the boiling water and leave to soak for at least 10 minutes.
3. Cream the butter and sugars, then add the beaten egg, along with the vanilla and lemon zest, a little at a time. Add a little of the flour if it starts to curdle.
4. Sieve in the rest of the flour and fold to it through.
5. Pour all the date gloop into the batter and blend.
6. Put the sloppy batter in a 22cm-ish square tin lined with parchment and bake for about 50 minutes or until risen and firm and a skewer comes out clean.  If it’s starting to brown too much but not baked through, cover with foil and leave in the oven some more.
7. Meanwhile make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a saucepan, heating them to melt. When all melted together, bring to the boil and cook for about 5 minutes.
8. When the cake part is baked through, remove from the oven.
9. Serve the cake warm, cut into chunks, with the sauce poured over and a blob of thick cream, ideally clotted cream, or with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!

Oh, and for any North Americans struggling with my British English use of the word “pudding”, check out this post.

 

 

* Converting plain/all-purpose flour to self-raising involves replacing 5% of the flour with baking powder. I wrote a whole post on it here. As 5% of 175g is 8.75g, which is a bit awkward. So as a teaspoon is 5 ml, or effectively 5g of powder, let’s just call it 1 1/2 teaspoons (sure, that’s closer to 7.5g, but it’ll be fine when steamed. If you’re fussed, just heap up your teaspoon a bit).

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Strawberry tart

Strawberry tart

We’ve had some proper summer weather here in southern England the past few weeks. I’m quite shocked. It’s potentially looking like a good year for fruit too. All that rain in January-Febuary then a strangely hot and sunny spell in March might count for something in that department. Already our plum tree is sagging under the weight of ripening fruit, and out goseberry bush is starting to look ready to yield its sour green offerings.

I was planning to use the goosebrrries, a fruit I ate a fair amount as a child but haven’t touched for years, if not decades, for a tart yesterday, when we had friends visiting for lunch, but decided they weren’t quite ripe (the bush is in a very shady spot). Instead, the farmers market had a stall loaded with (ripe) gooseberries, cherries, strawberries and tayberries. I hadn’t encountered the latter before, but they’re a common blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)/raspberry (Rubus idaeus) cross. We bought a punnet, but mostly we bought strawberries as I’d seen a handsome looking recipe in Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’. Another version of his recipe is available here on the Guardian.

It involves a slightly unusual custard, or sort-of custard. I’m not sure it’s a strict definition but I always assumed custard referred to things made with a mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. This one, however, is made with egg white. Which is a typically nifty Lepard trick, as you use yolk in the pastry, and can then use up the leftover white. You make a mixture of milk, cornflour, sugar and the egg white, cook it till thick, then cool this, later on combining it with crème fraîche. Lepard uses a similar process for another of his custards, though that one does use yolks, then is mixed with double cream. It’s very handy.

So anyway.

Strawberries
About 500g strawberries
A little caster sugar

Pastry
125g plain flour (all-purpose or cake flour)
25g icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
Pinch salt
75g unsalted butter, cold, cut in small cubes
1 egg yolk
A little cold water

Custard
130g milk
20g cornflour (corn starch)
1 egg white
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g crème fraîche

1. Cut the stalky bits off the strawberries then slice into two or three or four, depending on the size of the individual fruit.
2. Put the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle with caster sugar, then leave in the fridge to macerate, stirring occasionally.
3. Make the pastry by sieving together the flour and icing sugar, adding the salt then the cubed butter. Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (you could do this in a food processor), then add the egg yolk and water and bring together a dough. Don’t be tempted to add too much water. A tablespoon or so should be enough. You want the pastry crumbling not sticky.
4. Form the pastry into a disc then wrap in plastic and rest in the fridge.
5. Combine the milk, cornflour, egg white sugar and vanilla in a saucepan.
6. Whisking well, put over a low heat. Continue whisking, increasing the heat slightly, until the mixture thickens. It can get pretty thick, so don’t get too carried away. And watch it doesn’t burn.
7. Put the thick mixture into a bowl, cover with a plate and allow to cool. Then leave in the fridge until you need it.
8. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 25cm-ish pie or flan tin.
9. Preheat the oven to 170C.
10. Bake the pastry case blind – that is, covering the pastry with a lining of parchment and filling it with baking beans. I used to use my childhood marbles, but I’ve lost them (ahem), so currently I’m just using kidney beans. Bake for about 15 minutes then remove the beans and parchment and keep baking until the case is golden.
11. Allow the pastry case to cool.
12. Put the thick custard mix in a large bowl and loosen it up with electric beaters.
13. Add the crème fraîche and keep beating until it’s all nicely blended.
14. Put the crème fraîche-custard in the cooled pastry case.
15. Arrange the macerated strawberries over the top.
16. Serve.

Strawberry tart 2

I was hoping we’d have a little of ours leftover but eight of us – five adults, three kids – demolished it in mere seconds. Well, a few minutes perhaps. All in all, it was a lovely end to a very satisfying lunch. For starters we did some fiore di zucca: battered, deep-fried zuccchine flowers, filled with mozzarella and a little anchovy. Then for the the main course we did honey-glazed roast chicken with lemon thyme and smoked paprika, a great Tom Kerridge recipe that can be found here; smashed new potatoes with mint; broad bean, pea and mint salad with Medita (our local version of feta, from High Weald Dairy); and a simple lettuce salad. The kids didn’t fuss about any of it – indeed, they demolished most of the mains in seconds too. Kids can really be the worst critics of food, so we were very chuffed with this result. Wish we’d taken a few photos.

All accompanied by local beer and incredible sunshine, and a post-prandial walk on Malling Down, part of the South Downs, an area that’s just received a special Biosphere status from Unesco alongside places like the Amazon and the Rockies, it was a wonderful day. Which compensated nicely for my disappointment about the 18th South Downs Beer & Cider Festival, which we’d attended the day before.

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Pine nut tart

Pine nut tart

Torta della nonna – you’ll often see this on menus in Rome and other parts of Italy. It just means “grandma’s tart” or “granny’s cake”. I’m not sure I believe every single restaurant I saw it in had a grandmother toiling away making them, but it’s a cute selling point. I’m also not sure there’s a specific type of dessert tart that qualifies as torta della nonna – though the basic theme seemed to be variations on custard and pine nut tarts, made with or without ricotta, and with or without pine nuts on top.

The other day, our friend Dom asked me to supply the pudding for a meal he was making for his wife’s Min’s birthday. Immediately, I thought “tart” – for the pudding that is, not insulting either of them. A quick browse of the contents of the fridge and store cupboard, and of a few books, notably ‘Sweet Pies and Tarts’ by Linda Collister, suggested a pine nut tart. Which brought about fond memories of torta della nonna, even if this recipe is made without ricotta and has a filling that’s more an almondy sponge than a custard. Who knows though, I’m sure there are nonne out there who do use a bit of farina di mandorle (ground almonds) in their tarts.

The politics of pine nuts
Since coming home from Italy I’ve been having a bit of an issue with pine nuts. In Italy, I bought Italian pine nuts, harvested from Italian pine trees. Here, even in the most nominally right-on of health-foody shops, all the pine nuts seem to be from China. And I really can’t bring myself to buy them. It just seems insane to lug such produce half-way round the world, especially from China, a country with a dubious regime, a country that’s achieved borderline world-domination in everything from clothes to electronics, and a country that’s not exactly a paragon of environmental standards, with its economic revolution’s high energy demands. I’m not sure I trust its organic certification either.

Infinity Foods in Brighton, for example, sells Chinese pine nuts; pretty much all their dried beans are from China too – it’s really unfortunate as pulses are a big part of my diet. Can’t we grow anything a little closer to home? Can’t we get beans and pine nuts in Britain with slightly better ethical credentials? I realise the economics are complex, but cheaper food – cheaper imported food – often has hidden costs in terms of the environmental repercussions.

Plus, I remember Dom talking a few years ago about how Chinese pine nuts were leaving a strange metallic taste in his mouth – something to do with pollution perhaps? Or because Chinese exporters were mixing nuts from Pinus koraiensis trees with cheaper nuts from Pinus armandii, which some reports suggest is the cause of this “pine nut syndrome”. The EU changed rules regarding imports of the latter, but is it really that well regulated? And is it really just down to the Pinus armandii? (I’ll stop before I start sounding any more conspiracy theorist.)

I did finally find some pine nuts at La Porte’s in Lewes that were from the EU. Phew. This is what I had in my store cupboard.

Despite the depressing popularity of a certain political party whose name sounds like an injunction to have a nap* in last week’s elections, I’m happy to with a cultural identity that’s English, British and European, and as someone who prefers to buy food from as close to home, EU-grown produce is preferable to Chinese.

For the pastry:
90g butter, cold
150g plain flour
20g caster sugar
1 egg
1-2 tablespoons water (cold)

For the filling:
55g butter, at room temp, or softened slightly in microwave or a warm location
70g caster sugar
2 tablespoons honey (say 30g)
2 eggs, beaten
70g ground almonds
25g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
120g pine nuts

1. Dice the butter then toss it in the flour. If you’re using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt.
2. If making by hand, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, if you’re using a food processor, pulse it quickly to achieve a similar result.
3. Add the egg and bring the dough together, again either by hand on by machine. Add some cold water to form a dough, but not too much! You don’t want it squishy, you want it dry-ish, and short and crumbly once baked.
4. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and to in the fridge to rest.
5. Make the filling by creaming together the butter and sugar, then beating in the honey and egg.
6. Add the ground almonds, then sieve in the flour and baking powder together. Combine the mixture.
7. Add about a third of the pine nuts to the mixture.
8. Get your dough out of the fridge, roll it out and use it to line a loose-bottom flan tin, about 22-25cm in diameter. If you do this ahead of time, you can rest it again in the fridge for a while.
9. Preheat the oven to 180C.
10. Put the filling in the pastry case, then bake for about 10 minutes.
11. Carefully remove the half-baked tart, and gently sprinkle the rest of the pine nuts on top.
12. Put it back in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until nicely browned.
13. Remove from the oven and cool on rack. Serve warm or cold, preferably with a huge dollop of thick or clotted cream.

 

* Ukip – geddit?

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Fine apples, rotten consumerism

Pie with cream

When we got back from our travels just before Christmas, we travelled back and forth across the south of England on the train visting family. I’ve got a vivid memory of looking out of the window into gardens backing onto the train line, and seeing numerous apple trees, leafless in the winter cold, and surrounded by a carpet of rotting fruit.

When we finally moved back into our own house in Sussex, a similar sight met us with a tree in our garden. Clearly our tenants hadn’t been into apples. Or maybe they had – but like so many people, were inclined to buy plastic bags of New Zealand or South African or French (!!!!*) apples from the supermarket and ignore the free fruit growing just outside their own door.

Britain has been going this way for decades now. And it’s a great tragedy. Britain, especially the south of England, has an ancient history of apple growing. Cider is synonymous with Devon and Somerset, for starters. Yet I’ve got another strong memory of driving through Devon and stopping for a picnic – beside an orchard of mature apple trees, one of them vast like an oak, all of them dropping their fruit into a rotting carpet in the grass.

Rotten to the core
It’s not just the fruit that’s rotten though, it’s the supermarket-dominated system that somehow believes it makes more business sense – which is different to actual sense, common sense, or future-of-the-human-race sense – to waste or neglect or our produce that is.

Or, as Paul Waddington says in Seasonal Food, “… if a kilo of apples has made the flight from New Zealand in March, are they really going to taste as good as the stored British variety?  … are the New Zealand apples really worth the kilo of CO2 they will produce compared to the 50g if the same kilo were sourced locally. Despite the fact that we grow perhaps the best apples in the world, Britain has lost 60 per cent of its apple orchards since 1970,  thanks in part of the bureaucratic madness that paid growers to dig them up.”

The past few years we’ve at least been discussing the waste that goes into supermarkets only selling standardised fruit and veg (apples and tomatoes of ruthlessly controlled sizes and colours, carrots without protrusions and nobbles, bananas with very specific curves,  etc). But is it already too late? Most of us have already forgotten what it’s like to eat seasonally, never mind the brainwashing that arrises from only ever encountering these cosmetically “perfect” supermarket products. We’re so out of touch with food production. I mean, when was the last time Britons en masse grew their own fruit and veg? Probably during the Second World War’s Dig for Victory, with perhaps some efforts in the 1970s inspired by The Good Life.

Apples, Lewes Friday market

World leaders in apples
As with most things in life, all it needs is a little more education, and if people are better informed that can have a bearing on market forces. After all, as Waddington says, “We should be world leaders in apples. With judicious use of varieties and good storage, we can east our own produce almost all year round, with perhaps a brief gap in July.”

Now, it’s January, and the apple harvest here in England, usually August to October, is fading into a distant memory on the far side of Christmas. And yet, my local farmers’ market has one stall, Greenway Fruit Farm, that has a wonderful selection of apples. All are priced at £1.50 a kilo – which isn’t bad, as a quick scoot round mysupermarket.co.uk indicates all the UK supermarkets are selling apples at around £1.75 -£1.99 a kilo.

Last year, Britain had a “bumper apple harvest” after a dry summer, so there really is no excuse to not be eating home-grown apples his year. Not all of these apples will necessarily be cosmetically so shiny shiny, but then real apples, grown through traditional means without gallons of toxic sprays and without a wax-job, will never look like those silly massive red things you see in American movies.

Sheer variety
We have 2,300 varieties here (listed in The National Fruit Collection in Kent; there 2,500 grown in the US, for comparison, and 7,500 worldwide) and they vary remarkably in appearance, flavour and use. Some great for eating, some for juicing, some for cider, some for cooking.

Last week, I bought a good selection of Braeburns for eating. This variety is synonymous with NZ, where is was emerged in the 1950s near Motueka (a great place for fruit and hops), a Granny Smith-Lady Hamilton cross. It’s been grown here since the 1990s though, really coming into its own in the 2000s. Its popularity is understandable as it’s a medium-large, green and russet colour fruit with a crisp bite and taste that somehow blends sweet and tart, and can be a dessert apple and a cooking apple.

For cooking, however, I also stocked up Bramleys. This variety was, perhaps surprisingly, developed from a seed planted only in 1809 by a girl in Nottinghamshire. They were first sold commercially in 1862, soon becoming established as a significant crop. The original tree is still bearing fruit.

These are the quintessential British cooking  variety, accounting for 95% of our cooking apples. Usually I get mine from my folks, who have a very handsome mid-sized tree in their garden that really cranks out bright green, occasionally pumpkin-sized fruit. The ones I bought on the market were a bit different though – the Greenway lady was excited about them as they had an unusual amount of red on their skins. They certainly worked wonderfully for an apple pie.

Pie with ice cream

As English as apple pie
The recipe I used this time was from Andy Bates and his Street Feasts TV shows, which we’ve been enjoying on Freesat since we got home, got settled and got a telly. It features a slightly unusual pastry that eschews the more typical necessity for cold, cubed butter. Instead, butter and sugar are creamed together, egg is added, then self-raising flour – as such it’s more like a cake batter, though drier. The final results are more cakey too, with a more spongy crumbliness than a traditional short crumbliness. It’s rather good.

His recipe also uses a filling that’s not too sweet. In the show, he explained that’s because he’s pairing it with an ice cream made with condensed milk and hokey pokey (aka honeycomb, you know, like the stuff inside a Crunchie bar). I did make the ice cream – it’s easy, with no custards, no churning, but it is insanely sweet, and his quantities are weird, there’s way too much honeycomb. You can find his original recipe here; if you do fancy making the ice cream, I’d recommend halving the quantities of honeycomb.

Here’s the pie recipe:

Pastry
200g butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg
1 yolk
325g self-raising flour

1. Cream together the sugar and butter. The latter can be at room temp, or even warmed a little to make it easier to cream. I tend to nuke cold butter for a  few seconds in the microwave, or if I’m using a metal mixing bowl, put in a low heat on the hob briefly.
2. Beat together the whole egg and egg yolk.
3. Cream the egg into the sugar-butter mixture.
4. Sieve the flour into the creamed mixture, combine and bring it together as a dough.
5. Wrap up the ball of dough in plastic and put it in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.
6. Make the filling.

Filling
1kg Bramley apples (about 5 or 6 medium-large ones)
50g butter
50g dark soft brown sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Peel, core and chop the apples into 2cm-ish cubes.
2. Warm the butter, sugar, cinnamon and juice together in a saucepan.
3. Add the apple pieces to the sugar mix and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly to soften the chunks equally.
4. Cool the apple mixture.

Assembly
Water
Milk
Caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Cut a third of the pastry off the ball.
3. Roll the two-thirds chunk and use it to line a tin – in the show he used a 23cm loose-bottom cake tin, but Fran’s colleague in Rome lost mine (grrrr. Still annoyed about that, can’t find a non-non-stick replacement), so I used a 25cm loose-bottomed flan tin. You could use any sort of tin, around the same size (9-10 inches for you olde fashioned types).
4. This doesn’t need blind baking, so just add the cooled apple mixture.
5. Roll out the remaining pastry and cover, sealing the edge with water. It’s not the easiest pastry to roll, but don’t worry too much, it’s so cakey, it bakes fine even if you bodge the pastry case together in pieces.
6. Crimp the edge.
7. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
8. Bake for about 45 minutes, until nice and golden.
9. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
10. Serve with his crazy sweet ice cream (seriously, I’ve got a sweet tooth, but that stuff was too much even for me), or some plain vanilla ice cream, or cream, or custard – whatever you fancy.

Most importantly, make it using local apples.

I urge you to track down local apples, support your local economy, support local producers, support your national economy, reduce the pollution of absurd food transportation.

If you don’t have an apple tree, family or friends may have one they don’t harvest. Or you could politely scrump some by asking a neighbour. Even if the fruit looks ugly, it could be very tasty – and great for cooking up. And it’s free.

Alternatively, stock up at a farmers’ market or farm shop. Failing that, ask for British apples in your supermarket. You should at least be able to find Bramleys as they store well and are available all year round.

China already produces 40% of the world’s apples. Britons, I ask you: in ten years, wouldn’t you rather the apples available to you in your local shop or market were actually from our own once great apple-growing nation than from the country whose incredible industrial drive and growth is rapidly taking over pretty much everything?**

* I’m using the !!!! to indicate a “For flipping flip’s sake” moment as this country is not only just across a thin stretch of water from us, it’s in the same hemisphere with the same flipping seasons.

** Don’t get me started on pine nuts – I can’t find any pine nuts in Britain that are grow in Europe. Or even the US. They’re all from China. It’s boggles me, yet most people don’t even seem to notice.

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