February 24, 2020

SPINACH AND RICOTTA STUFFED PANCAKES revisited

 
I first posted about these in 2013 which you can see here
This year I made them again, but with a change to the recipe.
 
 
 
This time I made my own pancakes but I confess - I used a packet of pancake mix. 
Totally unforgivable considering how easy pancakes are to make from scratch but there happened to be a packet of pancake mix in the cupboard so I used it.  As to why it was there.....I picked it up by mistake when I was in a hurry one time thinking it was crumble mix.  (Also unforgivable but hey ho.)
 
The other item you will notice is the little cartons of Béchamel sauce.  We get these in France because sometimes we need just a small quantity of it for something.  Making a small quantity from scratch is - well, more trouble - and they're very good for that.  We brought them back to the UK at the end of our stay in France last year and they needed using up.  We used two for this recipe.
 

 
The dish was the right size for six pancakes so I divided my filling mixture evenly using these little plastic bowls.  I even weighed each one and although it might seem like a bit of a faff it was quicker than guessing how much to put into each pancake then teeming and ladling to make them all equal.  Each portion was about 100g.  The little bowls are a set of six from the children's section in Ikea and I find them ideal for measuring out ingredients when baking. 
 

 
Having tipped half of the jar of sauce into the dish I arranged the pancakes snugly on top and covered with the rest of the jar of sauce.
 

 
On went the Béchamel sauce and a good sprinkling of grated Cheddar.  A totally yummy dinner made from scratch (but using cheat's ingredients) and yet again I wondered why I only make pancakes once a year!
 
Ingredients
 
250g bag spinach
250g tub ricotta cheese
1 pack of six unsweetened pancakes (or make six of your own!)
1 500g jar tomato sauce for pasta
about a pint of Béchamel or cheese sauce for topping (home made or shop bought)
cheddar cheese for grating on top
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.
 
Empty the bag of spinach into a large colander and stand it in the sink.  Pour boiling water over it straight from the kettle to wilt it then refresh under cold running water straight from the tap.  Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and put it in a medium bowl.  Add the ricotta and mix together.
 
Spread half of the jar of tomato sauce into the base of a lasagne dish and spread out evenly.
 
Take roughly a sixth of the spinach mixture and spread it over one pancake.  Roll up and place it, join underneath, on top of the tomato sauce.  Repeat with the remaining pancakes.
 
Pour the remaining sauce from the jar evenly over the pancakes.  Cover with the Béchamel or cheese sauce and sprinkle some grated cheese on top.
 
Bake for 40-50 minutes.  Serve with salad and crusty bread.
 
Serves 4. 

February 23, 2020

THE Be-Ro BAKEWELL TART

 
The Bakewell tart I made the other week went down so well that another one was requested.
 
 
This time I decided to make the recipe in my Be-Ro book.
 
This recipe uses ground rice and ground almonds for the topping but no flour (except in the pastry).  It's a long time since I had any ground rice in the house and it proved hard to find.  Sainsbury's, Tesco and the Co-op didn't have any but I finally tracked some down in Morrison's. 
How times change.  Ground rice pudding was a quick and easy pudding to make and a favourite of mine as a child.  Even as an adult, when I could choose for myself what I wanted to cook, it was a real treat.  Now I can't remember the last time I used any.  It's likely that the remains of a packet was thrown out in one of my house moves over the last five years and until now I hadn't missed it.  Now I have some again I can't imagine how I lived without it.  I love ground rice pudding, along with regular rice pudding and - flaked rice pudding!  Does anyone remember that?  I feel compelled to buy a packet of flaked rice as soon as I see one.  Sainsbury's used to have it but as it was next to the ground rice on the shelf...…I'm not too hopeful about ever getting any.
 
 
I'm pretty sure the recipe my mum used would have been the one in the Be-Ro book.  However, it has changed.  Comparing the two recent editions, the latest (41st) has more butter and sugar than the previous (40th) edition and also two eggs instead of one.  I decided to go with it and see how it turned out.
I have a very small collection of Be-Ro books and the recipe has varied quite a bit over the years.  In my battered copy of the 32nd edition (which cost 1/6d so is probably late 60's) there are only 2oz each of margarine, sugar and ground almonds, plus 1 egg and 1oz round rice, which would hardly have made enough filling to fill the tart.
 
 
This Bakewell tart was very different to the one I made last time.
 
The texture was much more dense and sticky and, as you might expect, less cakey and more grainy than before.  That would be the ground rice in place of the flour.  It occurred to me that in days of yore ground rice with a drop of two of almond essence might well have been a cheaper alternative to ground almonds, which only made an occasional appearance in my mum's baking, mainly at Christmas.
 
 
I would be hard pressed to choose which one I preferred.  I quite liked the denser stickiness of the Be-Ro recipe but felt it could have done with longer in the oven.  I used the heated baking tray trick but in the centre of the tart the pastry was definitely soggy.  Barely cooked in fact.  So much so that I'm tempted to remake it to the previous edition's recipe, with less butter, sugar and only one egg, to see if it makes a difference.  I wonder what made them decide to change the recipe again.
 
Ingredients
 
Shortcrust or sweet pastry made with about 175g flour, homemade or shop bought
 
For the topping
 
2-3 tblsp raspberry jam
 
4oz butter or margarine (I used Stork baking spread)
4oz caster sugar
4oz ground almonds
4oz ground rice
2 eggs, beaten
a few drops almond essence
 
2-3 tblsp icing sugar to decorate
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk5.  Roll out the pastry to fit a greased 20cm flan dish or tin.
 
Cream together the Stork and sugar.  Mix the ground rice and almonds together and beat into the mixture alternately with the eggs.  Beat in the almond essence.
 
Spread a generous layer of jam over the pastry and dollop on the almond mixture.  Spread out evenly and bake for 35-40 minutes.
 
To decorate, mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a creamy consistency and drizzle over the tart when completely cold.
 
Cuts into 8 slices.

February 15, 2020

BAKEWELL TART and the Bakewell pudding conundrum.

 
There is a good deal of confusion around the Bakewell tart.
 
Living within a few miles of Bakewell for most of my adult life, a Bakewell tart is something that I grew up with.  My mum used to make one for Sunday tea occasionally and another real treat was to have one from the baker's van when he came to the village two or three times a week when I was a little girl.
 
I remember the baker - or at least the van driver - standing at the back doorstep of the house, wearing a white coat covered in flour and carrying a large wicker basket laden with all kinds of goodies.  With me being only knee high the basket was at just the right height for me to peer round my mum's apron and reach in to pick something for tea.  The Bakewell tarts were delicious, filled with raspberry jam and almond sponge and with a thick blanket of white icing, topped with a glacé cherry.  Just like the Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewell tarts that we get today and totally delicious.
 
 
 
The confusion however, is between the Bakewell tart and the Bakewell pudding.  They are two entirely different things but a lot of people think they are the same.  They are often confused by food writers and bloggers and if you really want to know the difference, see this article by Bloomers, the baker's in Bakewell.
Essentially, the pudding is a flaky pastry case filled with something which is almost an almond custard.  It looks and tastes completely different from the Bakewell tart, which is a shortcrust pastry case filled with a layer of jam and topped with a kind of frangipane cake mixture.  The pudding is usually unadorned and can look relatively unappealing, whereas the tart is a thing of pure beauty, often topped with flaked almonds and/or iced in one way or another.
 
The legend goes that the pudding was invented by a cook at the Rutland Arms (although it was called the White Horse at the time), a Mrs Greaves, who got the recipe wrong when making a dessert.  Like all legends, historians doubt its validity as recipes can be found for a kind of Bakewell pudding dating to well before Mrs Greaves' time.
 
 
A previous Bakewell tart.
 
The confusion is understandable as it seems that both versions of the Bakewell delicacy have evolved from the same original recipe.  Food historian Ivan Day, who makes regular appearances on TV, has a good article about it here which is well worth reading.
 
Modern recipes for both desserts vary hugely.  I'm fairly sure my mum would have used the recipe for Bakewell tart that's in the BeRo book which contains ground almonds and ground rice in the topping.  Some, like Mary Berry's Easy Bakewell Tart here contain only ground almonds but I prefer it to be slightly cakey, with a little flour in it.  The one in the picture above that I made earlier (2013 apparently) is to a different Mary Berry recipe that makes a large tart to feed a crowd, with flour in the almond topping.  When looking at recipes the other day I also came across one that had breadcrumbs in the topping. 
 
To the best of my knowledge I never had the pleasure of sampling a Bakewell pudding until well into adulthood.  This is probably due to the availability - the tarts were on the baker's van and the puddings weren't, being only available in Bakewell itself and a few other shops locally.  I also wonder if it's something to do with the appearance.....
 
We have just had the pleasure of our American friends (who now live in France) staying with us for a week.  Derbyshire in February is challenging from a tourist point of view but they thoroughly enjoyed it and loved Bakewell, it being all they thought a quaint little English country town should be.  Peering into the window of the Pudding shop at the basket of puddings, they were not tempted to rush in and sample one.  I think Paul Hollywood sums it up perfectly in his excellent book "British Baking" where he says that the pudding is not as elegant as the tart and has even been unkindly compared to a cowpat.  That is, I think, what put me off it for years.
 
In any case, I thought it would be good to make a Bakewell tart for our American friends. I used a recipe which was easy and straightforward from "The Great British Book of Baking".  It was delicious and a hit with them. 
Paul Hollywood has a recipe for both Bakewell tart and Bakewell pudding in his book that look lovely so one day I shall make both of them to compare.  Watch this space!
 
Ingredients
 
Shortcrust or sweet pastry made with about 175g flour, homemade or shop bought
 
For the topping
 
2-3 tblsp raspberry jam
 
60g softened butter (I used Stork baking spread)
60g caster sugar
30g self raising flour
50g ground almonds
¼ tsp baking powder
1 medium egg
a few drops of vanilla essence

a handful of flaked almonds to decorate

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Put a baking tray in the oven to heat up.*

Roll out the pastry thinly and use to line a greased 20-22cm tart tin or flan dish.  Spoon enough jam into the pastry case to cover the bottom thinly and spread out evenly. 

Put all the other topping ingredients into a bowl and beat well with a wooden spoon or electric whisk until well combined.  Spoon the mixture over the jam.  It's best to put spoonfuls around the edge of the tart to make a seal between the mixture and the pastry case, then spoon the rest into the middle and spread out evenly.  Scatter the flaked almonds over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and firm to the touch.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool before turning out. 

Dust with icing sugar or drizzle with a water icing if you like before serving.

Serves 6.

*This method of placing the tart in the oven on a heated baking tray seemed to work really well and the base was nice and crisp.  Maybe this is the answer to the "soggy bottom" instead of baking blind.

February 3, 2020

CRANBERRY AND MARZIPAN CAKE and old Crich pottery.

 
About this time last year I made an apple, orange and cranberry cake using some forgotten cranberries from Christmas, and it was delicious.  You can read about it here.  Finding an unused box of fresh cranberries in the fridge again this year, along with a ball of marzipan leftover from icing the Christmas cake, a little bell was ringing in my head and I went in search of a recipe.  I found it in the book "Great British Bake Off Everyday".
 
 
 
The recipe was a bit odd.  I read it to myself a couple of times and decided that you are supposed to cream the butter and sugar and then crumble in the marzipan and beat it in until smooth, i.e. cream in the marzipan as well.  Try as I might, the marzipan would not blend in.  At this point I did wonder if I should transfer it all to my food processor to blend it but rejected the idea almost as quickly as I thought of it. 
 
You can see the recipe word for word where it makes an appearance on the internet here and see if you agree with me.  Anyway, instead I chopped the remainder of the marzipan and stirred it in with the flour, remembering how nice it was to find whole little chunks of it in other cakes and puddings.
 
Having made the mixture I then dropped another clanger by deciding to bake it in a Bundt tin.  I completely forgot one of my own house rules and that is not to have bits of sticky stuff, like marzipan, in a Bundt cake as they stick like glue to the tin.  The last time I made this mistake it was with a fudge and raspberry cake where the bits of fudge adhered completely to the tin and required a long soaking to get them off.  It wasn't until this cake had been in the oven for a good ten minutes that I remembered my mistake and it was too late by then.
 
And so, as you can see from the photos, the cake did stick a bit in places, but not so horribly that I had to use major surgery to rescue it.
 

It was delicious, had a nice, even crumb and the little bursts of sharpness from the cranberries contrasted well with the sweet chunks of marzipan.  Definitely a winning combination and a cake I will make again.  In an ordinary tin though!

 
 Now I come to the bit about Crich pottery.
When I spotted this cake stand for sale on Ebay it brought memories flooding back and I couldn't resist it. 
 
I lived near Crich in Derbyshire for most of my childhood.  It's a nice little olde worlde kind of village with a mixture of very old stone built houses and mid century brick ones.
 
The pottery was set up by a lady called Diana Worthy in the 70's and closed in the 90's when she moved abroad.  You can read more about it here.  I had only three pieces of it, a plate which I use as a cheese serving plate, a small jug and a small vase which you see in the picture which is just the right size for a few daffodils or tulips.  All of these have been in regular use since the 80's.  There's something about the rustic design which appeals to me.  The cake stand is a very nice addition to the collection of Crich pottery and I am enjoying using it.
 
Ingredients
 
100g unsalted butter, softened
65g caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
120g ground almonds
200g marzipan, chopped into small dice (or crumbled)
120g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
115g cranberries, fresh or thawed if frozen
25g flaked almonds (a handful/sprinkling)
 
Method (my way)
 
Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line a 20-21cm springform cake tin.  (Avoid using a Bundt tin!)
 
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar using a hand held electric whisk.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Stir in the ground almonds and marzipan.
 
Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold in gently, followed by the cranberries, stirring just until they are evenly distributed.  Scatter the flaked almonds over the top.
 
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until done.
 
Remove from the oven, run a knife round the edge of the cake and leave to cool in the tin.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.
 
Cuts into 8-10 slices.

January 27, 2020

POACHED EGGS

 
How do you poach your eggs?
 
I have struggled with poached eggs for years, along with the dreaded scones and meringues.  Having finally banished my scone nemesis and mastered meringues last year I am completely chuffed to say that - at last - I have worked out how to produce a decent poached egg.  My mum always said that things come in threes and it appears that it counts for successes as well as failures or disasters.  (Or buses.)  Another of her sayings was "if at first you don't succeed, try again".
 
In the past I have tried every method going.  Dropping the things into a saucepan full of swirling simmering water, which produced a kind of amoeboid blob with a detached yolk. 
Nigella Lawson's method of dropping them from a cup with a dash of lemon juice into almost still, barely simmering water.  That method was ok but not perfect as results were not reliable.
 
Years ago I bought a non stick poaching pan to which they stuck like glue, producing half a ragged poached egg for your toast.  That went into the bin along with the bits of egg stuck to it - I couldn't bring myself to take it to the charity shop where someone might fork out a quid for it to end up with only half an egg every time.
 


 
 
I own a set of very snazzy and brightly coloured poaching pods, along with the scoop that allows you to lift them in and out of the pan without scalding your finger tips.  They work but are a real faff, having to butter them first and still ending up with some of your egg refusing to come out. 
 
 
They also produce an egg that's absolutely fine but shaped like a flying saucer, not natural looking like you get in a good restaurant. 
 
One of my favourite starters at our local favourite restaurant is a poached egg served on black pudding on toast.  The egg is perfect every time, shaped like it's been quenelled - and we all know what that means according to James Martin.  The difference between a dollop and a quenelle is twenty quid.  I did once ask the waitress how the chef did it and she looked at me like I had just emerged from a flying saucer.  She said she would ask him but never returned to the table, sending someone else instead.
 
We have friends who have given us a full English breakfast a few times, skinny style, all grilled and poached instead of fried.  The husband cooks the eggs and they are perfect every time.   I have watched how he does it and it looks so easy.  When I have tried it his way we get the amoeboid blob again.
 
The key to success seems to be, for me, after all, vinegar. 
Nick has been averse to vinegar in the cooking of poached eggs after too many hotel breakfasts with vinegary eggs when he was working.  But I have discovered that if you use white wine vinegar, not malt vinegar, you can barely taste it.  In fact I defy anyone to know that vinegar has been used at all.
 
My tips for success are to get all your eggs shelled and ready in little cups or ramekins - this is probably not necessary if you only have two to poach but with more than two it allows them all to be dropped into the pan in quick succession so they are all cooked at the same time.
Boil the kettle and pour the water into a frying pan.  Depth is not important except that it should be deep enough to cover the eggs.  Slosh in a good splash of white wine vinegar, probably about a tablespoonful.  Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat so that the water is simmering gently then slide the eggs in carefully one at a time, from very close to the water, so that they stay where you have put them.  That way you know which one went in first and will be cooked first with just a few moments between each one. 
Then leave them alone, except maybe to spoon water gently over the top if they're not quite completely covered.  No pushing or stirring.  They are cooked when the whites are no longer translucent but white, which will be about five minutes for an average egg.  Turn off the heat.
 
 
 
Using a slotted spoon, slide it under the egg that went in first and gently lift it out onto your toast, plate (or a sheet of kitchen paper first if you want to drain it of water completely).  You might have to ease it gently off the bottom of the pan if it's stuck slightly but so far I have not burst a yolk doing this - gently does it.  Repeat with the other eggs in the right order - the water will still be hot so they will continue cooking until you lift them out.  Stand back and admire the beauty of your creation triumphantly. 
 
Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

January 22, 2020

STRAWBERRY AND LEMON CAKE and success plucked from the jaws of disaster.

 
During one of the blisteringly hot heatwaves we had in France last summer, I offered to take a cake to a garden party.  The party was to celebrate both a couple of birthdays and a wedding anniversary so I wanted it to be a bit special.
Bundt cakes are great for large gatherings as they can be cut neatly into lots of slim slices.  Most people don't want a big slice of cake at a party, just a taste of it.  For this particular party the host asked for a lemon cake so I picked a recipe that I had used several times before with huge success. 
 
 
This time, it went horribly wrong.
I have no idea why.
 
Despite using a good slathering of home made cake release the cake stuck firmly to the tin.  I had that sinking feeling as I inverted the tin.  Instead of the welcome sound of a cake plopping cleanly out onto the plate - nothing.  No amount of tapping, shaking or cursing would persuade it to come out.  Eventually it landed on the plate with a good third of it still stuck inside the tin.  Rats !!
 
I wondered if the high sugar content combined with the high ambient temperature had something to do with it.  I really have no sensible explanation why a recipe that has worked perfectly before should fail me now - and on such an important occasion, too!
 
 
This is how it looked the previous time I made it!
 
I put my thinking cap on and made a quick trip to the nearest supermarket.  Which was not that quick as it's a twenty minute drive away.  We have a choice of two supermarkets - twenty minutes away in one direction or ten minutes in the opposite - but that one closes for two hours at lunchtime.  (One of the rather quaint features of life in rural France.)  So it was Hobson's choice as I headed for Descartes in search of fresh strawberries. 
I was in luck and armed with two punnets of strawberries I was able to rescue the cake.
 
I sliced off the ragged top of the cake where it had stuck to the tin, spread it with a good coating of whipped cream, filled the middle and decorated the top with strawberries and added a final flourish of strips of lemon zest and a sprinkling of freeze dried strawberries.  It looked perfect for a summer garden party and tasted delicious!  Nobody asked any awkward questions so I had no need to confess that it was very nearly a huge disaster!
You can see the recipe for the cake here.

January 12, 2020

STICKY GINGER CAKE and a new cake stand!

 
For Nick's birthday last November he requested a ginger cake (again).
 
No surprise there but I was glad to have a reason to bake a recipe I had been hanging my nose over for some time.  It's on the Clandestine Cake website and is one of Lynn Hill's own recipes.  The Clandestine Cake Club as such folded some time ago but the concept is still alive and well in websites and social media.
 
 
It was easy to make and ticked all the birthday cake boxes.  Very gingery with a lovely crumb and a slight stickiness - there's a clue in the name.
 
 
I was also pleased to have a reason to use my new black cake stand.
 
As a person who has more cake stands than a sensible person should ever need I did hesitate briefly before buying it.  (Very briefly.)  I had been hankering after a black one for a few years but never found one that I liked.  Last year I made one for myself - from a black plate glued to an almost black (charcoal grey) candle stick.  It's fine but, just like buses, when you have finally given up hope and ordered a taxi, the bus you were waiting for turns up.  This one turned up in an antique/vintage shop at Cromford Mill and was very modestly priced, so I swooped.  It's made from black glass and is said to be vintage 1950's.
 
The cake was so good it will be my go-to ginger cake from now on.  You can see the recipe here.  I used a 23cm round springform tin instead of the square one in the recipe and it worked fine.