May 18, 2019

PRUNE AND BRANDY CLAFOUTIS


Talking about Agen prunes in my previous post reminded me of a dessert I made using prunes soaked in brandy a long time ago.  In a snatched half hour between the drying of coats of paint in our newly created bedroom upstairs I did a bit of research and found the photos - as far back as 2010.  Gosh, was it really that long ago that I made this clafoutis?  How time flies!


 
A clafoutis is a very popular dessert in France, most often made using fresh cherries during the cherry season and then apricots and plums a bit later on.  I have also made a caramelised apple clafoutis which was gorgeous (see here) and a banana clafoutis, using as it happens gluten free flour (see here) which was equally delicious for banana fans but by no means traditional. 
 
It's basically a fruit dessert consisting of seasonal fruit baked in a batter.  Sometimes it is served in spoonfuls from the dish, other times it is served sliced like a cake.  Either way, it's lovely and there are zillions of recipes for it out there.  My favourite recipe comes from my friend Susan which you can see here.  Soon after her recipe appeared in her blog I used it to make a cherry clafoutis and wrote about it as a holiday cooking post in another blog. 
 
 
A follower then left a comment that she makes a clafoutis using prunes soaked in brandy and I was intrigued.  It was one of those things that I felt compelled to make as soon as possible so I did - and I have to say that if you are a fan of prunes - it was delicious!  Consequently it is time I wrote about it here.
 
Stoning the prunes proved to be a fiddly, sticky and messy job. At first the stones I removed had most of the flesh of the prunes still attached to them and a lot of the rest of it was all over my hands and stuck to my sleeves. After a bit of practice I found a technique that succeeded in removing the stone and leaving most of the precious prunes intact. Agen prunes are quite expensive so not to be wasted if possible.
The technique is to hold the prune with its flatter sides between finger and thumb then cut into it with a sharp knife down to the stone, run the knife all around the edge of the stone then flip the prune open and if you’re very lucky the stone comes out clean (ish).  Because of this I have given the recipe faff factor ** as fiddling about stoning prunes is not my favourite pastime!
I then soaked them in about two tablespoons of brandy for a couple of hours.

The lady who left the comment about soaking them in brandy then came back with a second one saying that she doesn't bother stoning the prunes, just serves the clafoutis with a health warning and the address of the nearest dentist! 
 
Ingredients
100-150g Agen prunes, stones removed
2 tblsp brandy for soaking the prunes
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
250ml plain yoghurt or a mixture of yoghurt and whole milk
a handful of flaked almonds (optional)
 
Method
2 hours before making the clafoutis, prepare the prunes by stoning them and soaking in the brandy.
 
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan.  Butter a suitable baking dish or pie dish.  Lay the fruit in an even layer in the dish. 
 
Put all the other ingredients except for the flaked almonds into a bowl and whisk with an electric whisk or hand blender until you have a smooth batter.
 
Pour the batter over the fruit, scatter the flaked almonds on top if using them, and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and firm.
 
Serve warm by itself, or with cream or ice cream.
 
Serves 4-6 people. 

May 15, 2019

GINGER PRUNE CAKE

 
Nick made this cake for our most recent cake club meeting and it proved to be very popular.
 
 
 
The brief was one's own personal angle on Easter and as Nick is very much a fan of ginger cake he decided to make one in an angular tin, decorated with a few mini eggs.
 
 
The tin was a purchase from Ikea a few years back and I don't think they have it in stock any more.  It's an excellent tin, makes an ordinary cake look a bit more interesting and I have found that it works for any recipe that uses either a 2lb loaf tin or a 20cm round tin.  Because of the shape it's particularly good for cakes that you don't want to ice or decorate to make them look tempting. 
 
Not that this cake was by any means ordinary - not at all.  The recipe comes from the Whitworths website and uses their crystallised fiery ginger, of which we happened to have a packet in the cupboard.  The prunes are Agen prunes, gloriously sticky things from the south of France and nothing like the dried poor relations often masquerading as prunes elsewhere.  (Other really nice prunes are of course available.)  One of the items where you definitely get what you pay for is prunes.
 
 
 
There are plenty of people who have an aversion to prunes - or see them as a bit of a joke - their medicinal and constitutional properties being the foundation for many a jest about old folks' homes, school dinners and more.  However, I think you would be hard pressed to identify that the deliciously sticky fruitiness of this cake comes from the humble (or holy) prune, it just tastes strongly of ginger with a fruity texture and flavour.  A great hit and one I shall be making again. You can see the original recipe here.
 
I have baked other lovely things with prunes so if you're a fan you could look at Chocolate Prune Cake, Prune and Brandy Clafoutis and Prune and Apple Layer Cake.
 
Ingredients
25g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
70g good quality prunes
150g golden syrup
50g black treacle
110g dark brown soft sugar
150g unsalted butter
8g ground ginger
2g ground mixed spice
2 eggs
2 tlsp semi skimmed milk
120g self raising flour
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 160 C / 140 fan / gas mk 3.  Grease and line an 18cm round tin.  (Or grease with cake release paste if using a fancy tin.)
Purée the prunes in a food processor (or chop them very finely) then transfer to a large saucepan.
Add the golden syrup, treacle, sugar and butter to the pan and stir together on low heat until evenly combined.
Remove from the heat.
Stir in the ground ginger, mixed spice and chopped ginger.
Lightly beat the eggs and milk together and stir into the pan to form a smooth batter.
Sift over the flour and fold into the batter.  Transfer to the prepared tin.
Bake for about 1 hour until springy to the touch. 
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin.
Dust with icing sugar before serving.
 
Cuts into 10-12 slices.
 

May 5, 2019

APPLE AND LEMON CAKE and a rather good discovery.


This is one of Mary Berry's most recent recipes, appearing in her latest TV series, the book that goes with it and in several places on the internet, one of which you can see here.  I was dying to have a go at making it but was so busy with other stuff that I had to put it on the back burner, so to speak, until I had the opportunity.

 
That opportunity arose with last month's cake club meeting (which you can read all about here).  It was hosted by a club member who lives in what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful villages in the region, if not in all of France, a place called Angles-sur-l'Anglin.  The village is steeped in ancient history with an old ruined château, prehistoric cave paintings, a water mill by the river, zillions of gorgeous old houses and oodles of charm.  Yet it is not spoiled in a touristy way.  Certainly in summer at the weekend you can't move for tourists but it still remains a largely unspoilt village.
 
The host's theme revolved around the village, suggesting a château gateau, a cake for a princess and many other options including, for those of us who had no idea what to make of it, our own Angle on Easter.  Hence I chose to fill and top my cake with a lemon buttercream instead of Mary's way which was to fill with whipped cream with lemon curd swirled through it and a simple dusting of icing sugar on top.  Which would have been more classy but did not allow for any decoration as per the brief.  I needed a buttercream top to stick the decorations in!
 
 
I decorated my cake with triangles of a thin chocolate bar and mini Easter eggs that were not chocolate but fruity, thereby complying with the "Angles on Easter" theme.  The rather good discovery referred to in the title of this post was the chocolate.
 
 
As it turned out it tastes absolutely like Caramac.  A Caramac bar was a real treat when I was a little girl and its unique caramel flavour is to die for.  I haven't seen it in the shops for years although to be fair, I haven't been looking - the confectionary aisle of any supermarket is out of bounds, being far too dangerous.  Well now I have found a substitute which I can get my hands on any day I like (in France) so I'm dead chuffed with that.
 
 
I was not too chuffed when I took the cakes out of the oven as they didn't look very enticing.  A good slather with lemon buttercream improved matters (until I decorated the cake) but the cake was actually quite lovely. 
 
 
It had an excellent, even crumb and was nice and moist, as it was bound to be with the grated apple in it.  I shall certainly be making this one again very soon although I think next time just a filling of lemon curd and a dusting of icing sugar might be enough without the cream, just like an apple Victoria sponge, which is what it is really.

April 22, 2019

ASPARAGUS, CHEESE AND CARAMELISED ONION TARTS


 
These gorgeous little tarts came about as a result of reading a post on Dom’s blog, Bellau Kitchen, which you can see here.  He made them from scratch, making his own puff pastry, caramelising the onions and then adding the asparagus.  I cheated, using ready made, ready rolled pastry, a jar of caramelised onion chutney and some cheddar brought from the UK.  I got the asparagus on Loches market.


During the asparagus season in France you can find mountains of white asparagus everywhere.  Green asparagus is more our cup of tea but is less plentiful and more expensive.  Delicious though and well worth the money.
The tarts were of course dead easy to make and very tasty with a bit of salad as a starter or on their own with apéritifs.  You could also make much smaller versions for nibbles by cutting the pastry into more squares and using smaller bits of asparagus.

Ingredients

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry
a few sticks of asparagus, trimmed to remove the woody ends
a few tblsp caramelised onion chutney
a couple of handfuls of grated cheddar cheese, or other suitable hard cheese
1 egg, beaten

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C / 170 fan.  Place a sheet of baking paper on a baking sheet.  Remove the pastry from the fridge to bring up to room temperature (it will crack if you try to unroll it when it’s still cold).

Cook the asparagus in boiling water for about 5 minutes until tender and remove from the pan.
Unroll the pastry and cut into about 9 oblongs of roughly equal size.  With a sharp knife, score all around the edge of each oblong, about 1cm in from the edge, not cutting all the way through.

Spread a teaspoonful of chutney thinly over each oblong of pastry, within the scored margin.  Lay 3 pieces of asparagus, trimmed to the right length, over the chutney and sprinkle some grated cheese on top.

Brush the pastry with beaten egg and bake for 20-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown, the cheese melted and the chutney bubbling.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a starter (2 each) or 8 with apéritifs.  My maths tells me that that leaves one left over for the chef (or for a snack later).

April 6, 2019

BANANA AND COCONUT CAKE WITH MALIBU DRIZZLE

 
I wrote about this cake not long ago but, having made it again (and again), at last with the drizzle on it, I think it deserves a post of its own.
 
Neither bananas nor coconut are everybody's cup of tea in a cake, I know.  Some dislike cooked banana in any shape or form, others hate coconut.  Banana cakes can be a bit dense and rubbery.  Coconut cakes can be a bit dry.  I know this because I have used recipes that produce both of those things.  This recipe is different.  The cake is light, moist and evenly textured.  Maybe the banana makes the coconut less dry and the coconut makes the banana less soggy, but in any case, it's a winner.
 
Previously I had not got around to putting the icing on top before cutting the cake but it does make a difference.  I deviated from the original recipe by adding it as a drizzle when the cake was warm, not just as a topping and that worked really well.
 
Unfortunately the recipe has been removed from the website that I found it but you can see my original post here.
 
Ingredients
For the cake
170g softened butter or baking spread
170g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
170g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 medium very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
100g desiccated coconut

For the drizzle
100g icing sugar
1-2 tblsp Malibu  (or fresh lime juice)

Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.  Butter and line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, or use a paper liner.

In a large bowl use an electric whisk to beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in.  Add the bananas and coconut and mix well to combine.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown, firm and springy.  Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the drizzle sift the icing sugar into a small bowl.  Add enough of the Malibu to make a runny icing.

Remove the cake carefully to a wire rack and poke holes in the top using a skewer.  Drizzle about half of the drizzle topping over the cake.  When the cake is almost cool, pour the rest of the icing over the whole of the cake and allow to run down the sides.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

April 4, 2019

BANANA, GINGER AND GOLDEN SYRUP CAKE

 
We have returned to France for a while, and the other day I was looking lazily through some of the cook books that I keep here, each volume holding the promise of untried recipes and baking adventure.  One of them fell open at a recipe that had a lightly written note in pencil in the margin, in my own writing.  A light pencil note or carefully placed post-it is the limit of the vandalism I allow myself to do to my cook books and I recoil in horror at the way some people treat theirs, text crossed out or written over, page corners folded or stuck together with splatterings of cake mixture!
 
 
I looked at this recipe and it suddenly dawned on me that it was one of my "lost bakes".  In the past I would occasionally think to myself  "didn't I once make a golden syrup cake or did I dream it"?  Having found the proof that I probably did I then went hunting for the pictures and here they are, taken in March 2017.  I had made the cake and taken its picture but never got as far as writing about it, which is a shame because it was an excellent cake.  And with a few bananas ripening nicely in the fruit bowl I have a hankering to make it again, very soon.*
 
 
Apologies to all those who don't like cooked banana, but those who do should really make this cake.  The recipe was in one of my Rachel Allen books called "All things sweet" and sweet it certainly was.  Reminiscent of those Jamaican ginger and golden syrup cakes that you can buy in the shops, like a delicious combination of the two, but with banana as well.  What more could you want?!
 
Lately I have got into the habit of taking a photo of the recipe or the book at the same time as the cake, so that they can be paired up.  No more mystery photos and fewer forgotten posts from now on.  Well, probably!
 
 
*I made the cake again, one day after writing this post and it is truly yummy, very gingery, not overly bananary and a glorious golden colour.
 
Ingredients
 
110g softened butter
50g soft brown sugar
125g golden syrup
2 eggs
125g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tblsp ground ginger (6 tsp)
2 medium bananas, mashed
 
Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk4.  Butter and line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin, or use a paper liner.
 
Cream the butter and sugar until soft then beat in the golden syrup.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  It doesn't matter if the mixture looks curdled.  Sift in the flour, baking powder and ginger and fold in. 
 
Add the mashed bananas and mix well together.  Pour into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until done.  Cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
 
Cuts into 8-10 slices

March 18, 2019

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING (with ginger but no dates)

 
You may wonder why anyone should bother to post about something as everyday as sticky toffee pudding, especially when the only picture is of a solitary slice.  The reason is simple, that it was wonderful, the best I have ever made (I have only ever made it twice before) and it doesn't contain any dates.  For reasons that I don't understand, Nick hates dates in his STP.
 
I made this for a family gathering on a cold wintry day when comfort food of the non-exotic kind was in order.  In other words, Dad and his lady friend were amongst the guest and at their ages (90 and 83) fancy food that's hard to chew would not have gone down well!
 
The recipe comes from Mary Berry's "Family Sunday Lunches" and is definitely a winner.  It made a huge pudding and even with most people having seconds there was still one piece left for me to photograph later.  It was delicious.  You can find it in several places on the internet, one of which is here. 
Of course, another reason for posting is that I know exactly where to find the recipe when I next need it!  Although it is so unbelievably sweet and bad for you that it won't be very soon.  My other attempts at STP can be seen here but I have to say that this recipe is my favourite so far.
(I dare say that if you don't have stem ginger in syrup in stock, a couple of teaspoons of ground ginger would do the job instead.)
 
Ingredients
 
For the pudding
75g softened butter (I used Lurpak Spreadable)
150g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
175g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tblsp black treacle
1 tsp vanilla extract
125ml milk
5 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped
 
For the sauce
110g butter
250g light muscovado sugar
400ml double cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 180 C / 160 Fan / gas mk 4.  Butter a large 2 litre shallow baking dish.  A lasagne dish is perfect.
 
For the pudding whisk the butter and sugar with an electric whisk in a large bowl until light and creamy.  Add all the other pudding ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Pour into the dish and bake for 50-55 minutes until risen and springy.
 
While the pudding is in the oven, make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a saucepan.  Heat gently until the butter has melted then boil for 2 minutes, stirring all the time.
 
Pour half of the sauce over the cooked pudding and serve the rest in a jug, possibly with another jug of cream, so that people can help themselves. 
 
Serves 8.