Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Last Sunday, quite a few of you stirred up your Christmas pudding along with me. I wondered if you might also like to make a Christmas cake this weekend? I’ve left it a little late this year, but I plan to overcome that terrible oversight by soaking the fruit in booze for a few days and then being very diligent about feeding the cake with yet more booze between now and Christmas.
The cake I’m making is based on one in The Constance Spry Cookery Book. I often turn to it when something very trad is required, and nothing’s quite so trad as Christmas. In my house, at least.
To start, assemble your fruit:
If you’ve already made a Christmas pudding, you’ve probably got quite a few of these ingredients kicking about already.
170g glace cherries, washed, patted dry and halved
170g crystallised, chopped, mixed peel
Finely grated zests of 2 oranges and 1 lemon
Mix the fruit together in a bowl with 200ml sherry (I used Solera Jerezana Rich Cream, Lustau) and 50ml brandy. If you prefer, you could use all brandy, or stout or port. Add the finely grated zest of two oranges and a lemon and stir again. Cover tightly with cling film and leave in a cool, dark place for three days, giving it a good stir every day to make sure the fruit is evenly soaked.
The rest of the shopping list for the cake:
225g unsalted butter
225g light muscovado sugar
Cinnamon, ground cloves, mixed spice, ground nutmeg
Small tin black treacle
250ml apple juice, cider or milk
Bicarbonate of soda
125ml rum or brandy
Got it? Great. See you at the weekend.
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
‘The East End is a state of mind.
If you think you’re in it, you’re in it.’
The Gentle Author
Every morning, my hair still wet from the shower and a cup of coffee in my hand, I check my favourite blog, Spitalfields Life. I begin with that day’s piece but invariably wander around through other links, from stories of mudlarks, gangsters, cooks and artists, to Playboy bunnies, gardeners, murderers, pub landladies, taxidermists, and Mr Pussy, the author’s cat. By the time I’ve finished, my coffee’s cold and my hair’s nearly dry and the dog is making that air-slowly-escaping-from a balloon whine which means he’s ready to meet his public in the park.
In the introduction to his talk, The Gentle Author (he maintains his anonymity so that his subjects are the stars) explained, ‘People who are not famous are so much more interesting than celebrities’. When he published his story about 92-year-old wood turner Maurice Franklin, it received 250,000 hits from all over the world, making it one of the most popular stories on Google that day. The GA told Maurice ‘You’re bigger than Keanu Reeves.’ ‘Who’s Keanu Reaves?’ asked Maurice.
I wanted to take The GA a little present to say thank you for all of the delightful distraction on those coffee-fuelled, damp-haired mornings, so I decided to make him some biscuits. As many of his blog posts are about Georgian London, I thought I’d take him something from that period. I have some facsimile cookbooks, such as those by Hannah Glasse and Eliza Acton, but I didn’t really have time to ‘rasp on some lumps of well-refined sugar’ so a quick run around the internet, stopping here and there, and I came up with rout cakes.
Rout cakes were popular during the Regency period, when they fuelled the fashionable through dancing, gossiping and flirting at large parties. They’re rich, buttery, slightly shortbread-y, delicately flavoured with rose- and orange waters, splashes of Madeira and brandy, and dotted with currants.
‘Being an invalid, Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and 24 little rout-cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.’
Vanity Fair, William Thackeray, 1847
Some black tea or chamomile tea
2 tbsp brandy
2 tbsp Madeira
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp orange flower water
300g plain flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
125g caster sugar or vanilla sugar, plus a little more caster or granulated sugar for dredging (optional)
A few gratings of nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
Makes about 20 biscuits
Make a weakish brew of tea and soak the currants in it for a couple of hours. Drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Combine the flower waters and alcohols in a small jug or cup.
Whisk together the salt and flour in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your finger tips (or whizz it together in a food processor) until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk in the sugar and nutmeg with a fork, then stir in the currants.
Stir in the egg, then the flower waters and alcohol, and add just enough milk to bring the mixture together into a soft-ish but not sticky dough. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.
Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture, roll them into balls and place them on a piece of baking parchment or a lightly-floured surface. Flatten them slightly with the bottom of a lightly-floured glass and place them on a non-stick baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until just golden around the edges. If you like, dredge them with caster- or granulated sugar as soon as they come out of the oven. Cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes then place them on a wire rack to cool completely. Once cold, they will keep for about a week in an airtight tin.
Saturday, 24 November 2012
I know it’s Saturday but I’ve been tinkering with the Christmas pudding recipe and I’ve made a few spicy, fruity additions to the ingredients I posted earlier this week. You may need to add them to your shopping list. Also, you need to leave the batter for a few hours or overnight before you boil it for six hours so some of you may want to start today.
This recipe makes about 2.4kg of batter, enough for three 825g puddings, though you can divide it up as you like. I made one small pudding to give to my best friend and an enormous 2kg one for us on Christmas Day. I’ve always loved a fat, cannonball-shaped pudding so this year I treated myself to a round mould from Silverwood Bakeware. You can use it for ice cream puddings too, so it’s a cake mould for all seasons.
This recipe is based on the traditional plum pudding recipe in Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food. This book has been a great favourite of mine for many years and Penguin have just released a beautiful new edition, complete with gorgeous spotted end papers (end papers are an obsession of mine, I’ve bought many books on this basis alone).
I suppose I should write something here about the origins of Stir-Up Sunday, so you can gloss over this bit if you already know the story. This Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, when the traditional collect from the Book of Common Prayer read out in Anglican churches is:
Though historically many in the congregation would also be familiar with this version too:
After church, families went home to make the pudding, each member of the household giving the batter a stir, from East to West, to represent the journey of the Three Wise Men. And they would make a secret wish for the coming year.
Now is the perfect time to make your pudding as it gives it several weeks to mature before Christmas Day, though in the most traditional homes, two puddings would be made: one for this year, one for next. You may not wish to do this. As Arabella Boxer writes: ‘The old houses had cool airy larders in which to store them, however, and anyone who tries to keep a plum pudding for long in a centrally heated flat is in for a nasty surprise, as it is sure to grow a coating of mould.’
And when the pudding making’s over, anyone fancy making a Christmas cake next weekend? I’ve left it a little late this year but I plan to get around that by adding a sailor-on-shore-leave quantity of booze.
Arabella Boxer’s pudding contains no flour and is simply bound together with breadcrumbs and eggs, which makes it lighter than some traditional puddings.
If you’re making your pudding over the weekend and you have any questions, either leave me a message here or tweet me @lickedspoon.
500g dried vine fruits (raisins, currants and sultanas, or you can use just raisins if you prefer)
200g pitted prunes, halved
340g soft white breadcrumbs
340g shredded suet
120g light muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
225g cut mixed peel
200g glacé cherries, halved
120g coarsely chopped blanched almonds
8 eggs, lightly beaten
Some softened butter, for greasing the pudding basins
A little more brandy for flaming the puddings on Christmas Day
Put the dried vine fruits in a large, Parfait-type jar and sprinkle over 200ml of the brandy. Give it a shake and let it sit for a few days, turning the jar over from time to time to ensure the fruit is evenly soaked. You can ditch this phase if you don’t have time, but even a couple of hours sitting in the brandy will increase the succulence of the fruit.
In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the suet, sugar, zests, spices and salt until well combined. Add the vine fruits, prunes, mixed peel, cherries and almonds and mix again. Stir in the eggs, Guinness and remaining brandy. Leave for a few hours or even overnight for the flavours to develop.
When you’re ready to cook the puddings, grease three 825ml pudding basins (or whichever bowls or moulds you are using) with softened butter. Cut small circles of baking parchment and place them in the bottom of each basin. If you’re adding charms or sixpences (or five pence pieces –let’s be modern about it) to the puddings, wrap them in baking parchment and add them to the batter now. Don’t fill the bowls too full – you want about 2.5cm free at the top of the bowls to allow the puddings to expand as they cook.
Cut large circles of greaseproof paper, big enough to cover each basin generously. Butter one side of the paper and fold a pleat in the middle. Cut circles of tin foil the same size as the paper circles and pleat them too. Cover each pudding with paper then foil. Secure with string and trim off excess paper and foil with scissors. Tie loops of string to the string securing the paper and foil lids to make a handle – this will make it easier to lift the puddings out of the pan later.
To simmer the puddings, you will need a large, lidded saucepan or several saucepans. Place an upturned saucer or small cake tin under each pudding basin to act as a trivet which will keep the base of the bowls off the bottom of the pan/s. Fill the pan/s with boiling water from the kettle until it comes halfway up the sides of the basins. Simmer steadily for 6 hours, topping up with boiling water from time to time to ensure it comes halfway up the sides of the bowl/s.
When the puddings are cooked, carefully lift them out by placing a long wooden spoon through the loops of string. Leave to cool then remove the paper and foil coverings. Pierce the tops all over with a fine skewer and feed the puddings with a little brandy. Cover with clean, unbuttered paper and foil and tie securely with string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.
On Christmas Day, the puddings should be boiled again in the same way for 4-6 hours. To serve, turn out onto a flat dish and stick a sprig of holly in the centre. Gently warm some brandy in a small saucepan, set it alight with a long match and pour it over the pudding just as you’re about to bring it to the table. Each of these puddings will serve 6-8 people; but 2 larger ones – or one giant – can be made if preferred.
Monday, 19 November 2012
Say the bells of St. Clement's.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
As we’re peeling and slicing and simmering anyway, I thought I’d make more than I need for the pudding to transform into orangettes – little slices of candied peel dipped in melted dark chocolate. They make a great little treat to go with coffee after dinner. They’re also a good Christmas present if you can bear to give them away.
Crystallised citrus and orangettes
About 450g of peel, this will give you enough for the pudding and some left over to dip in chocolate, I used:
1 pink grapefruit
900g caster sugar
Granulated sugar for dredging
About 200g dark chocolate, 70% works well with the orange
Trim the top and bottom off the fruits with a sharp paring knife then go around the fruit cutting six incisions through the peel without piercing the flesh. Remove the segments of peel with your fingers. Cut away some of the pith – you still want a little cushion of the bitter white stuff so don’t cut all the way to the zest. Trim into strips about 5mm wide.
Put the strips into a non-reactive pan and cover generously with cold water. Bring to the boil, boil for a minute, then drain in a colander. Repeat twice - this will help to remove some of the bitterness and will make it easier for the strips to absorb the sugar later.
Rinse out the pan, add the caster sugar and 1.2l water. Warm gently, stirring, until the syrup is clear and the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil then add the citrus strips. Lower the heat a bit and simmer until they’re very soft and the pith is translucent - this will take about an hour or so. Remove from the heat and cool the strips in the pan. If you want a break at this point, cover and refrigerate before going onto the next stage. You can keep them in the fridge for several days until you’re ready to proceed.
With a slotted spoon, scoop out the strips and put them on a wire rack on a tray and let the excess syrup drip off. Pat with kitchen paper to make sure they’re not too sticky. At this point, reserve the 225g crystallised peel for the Christmas pudding – chop it quite coarsely. It will keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container.
Heap a layer of granulated sugar on a plate and use two forks to toss the remaining slices a few at a time in the sugar. Make sure they’re coated all over. Arrange on a clean wire rack and leave to dry out for three or four hours.
Friday, 16 November 2012
This is a public service announcement. Next Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent. You know what that means.
If you don’t, it’s the day with the most cheering of titles: Stir-up Sunday, the day we traditionally make Christmas puddings to give them plenty of time to mature before the big day. I’ll be stirring up next weekend but I want to soak my dried fruit in booze first to make the pudding especially delicious.
If you want to make your pudding along with me, here’s how to get started.
Mix together 200g pitted, halved prunes with 500g dried vine fruits (a combination of raisins, currants and sultanas. You could just use raisins if you prefer. You could also use 700g of raisins and ditch the prunes).
Tip them into a Parfait-type glass jar which will hold them with some space to spare. Pour over 200ml brandy and seal. Store in a cool, dark place, shaking the jar from time to time so that all of the fruit gets evenly soaked.
Here’s the rest of the shopping list for next week:
225g chopped mixed peel (I’ll give you a recipe this week if you want to make your own)
225g glace cherries
120g blanched almonds
340g shredded suet
340g soft white breadcrumbs
These quantities make enough for three 825ml puddings; each one serves 6-8 people. You can divide the pudding into two larger puddings or a single, enormous one if you prefer.
Monday, 12 November 2012
You know I’m very easily led. I went into Stoke Newington Green on my way back from the park to pick up some lemons and within five minutes had a basket full. ‘I only came in for lemons,’ I said to the young Turkish man behind the counter. He smiled.
“Everybody does that, comes in for one thing, ends up with a lot more.”
Right by the counter (again, my downfall at the counter) was a box of round aubergines, labelled Rosa Bianca though to me they looked more like Prosperosa. With glossy, deep violet skins, these fat beauties are the most gorgeous aubergines of all. Their flesh is creamy and rich, with none of that mashed-tea bitterness that some aubergines have. Use them just as you would a normal aubergine in baba ganoush, ratatouille, or in thick slices on the grill. Or try this pretty salad. It really is enough for two but I’m afraid I ate it all myself.
Roasted aubergine and garlic salad
1 large prosperosa or rosa bianca aubergine, or 2 ordinary aubergines
8-10 cloves of garlic
3-4 tbsp olive oil
¼ - ½ tsp chilli flakes
A few bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme
70g pine nuts
Some pomegranate seeds, optional
A small bunch of coriander, tough stalks removed and roughly chopped
1 small red chilli, halved, seeds and membrane removed and diced
1 tsp pomegranate molasses, optional (if not using, a few wedges of lemon instead)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp greek yoghurt
1 tbsp tahini
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 6.
Cut the aubergine/s into large wedges. Peel a few cloves of garlic. If they’re large, cut lengthways into quarters; if small, halve them. Use a small, sharp knife to cut into the fleshiest part of each aubergine wedge and push a piece of garlic into each little pocket. Bash the rest of the cloves to break the skin but don’t peel them.
Toss the aubergines in a large roasting tin with the olive oil until they’re well coated. Add the whole garlic cloves, chilli flakes, bay leaves and thyme, season well with salt and pepper and toss again. Roast in the oven until the aubergines are soft, golden and starting to char a bit around the edges, rattling the pan from time to time. This should take about 35-40 minutes.
While the aubergines are roasting, warm a dry frying pan over a medium heat and toast the pine nuts, rattling the pan to make sure they don’t burn.
Make the yoghurt sauce by whisking together the tahini, yoghurt and salt and thinning it to the consistency of single cream with a splash of hot water from the kettle.
When the aubergines are ready, remove the bay leaves and thyme. Toss the aubergines and whole garlic cloves in a large bowl with the pine nuts, pomegranate seeds if using, coriander, mint and fresh chilli. Season with a little more salt and pepper if you like. Spoon onto a platter and trickle over the pomegranate molasses or lemon juice and the yoghurt sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Sunday, 11 November 2012
Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same--and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz--
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench--
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack--
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads--those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.
Thursday, 8 November 2012
For months now, a certain woman has followed me all over London. I don’t mean literally. There is no stalker skulking at the end of the path, unless you count that rather severe-looking woman with a bun and sensible shoes I see every morning by the bus stop, but then she’s probably just on her way to work.
No, I mean Anna Colquhoun. When I took his garden design course earlier in the year, Andrew said to me ‘Do you know Anna, she has a pizza oven in her garden?’ As we walked our dogs around Clissold Park, my friend Karen would describe to me a series of amazing preserving courses she took every quarter in a pretty house right by the Arsenal stadium. At parties, with remarkable frequency, people would ask me if I knew her.
So when Riverford invited me to a cooking class to promote their pickling kits, I was delighted to discover it was just a short distance from my house, at the home of the fabled Anna who is also Riverford’s preserving expert.
Half a dozen of us gathered in Anna’s kitchen to throw ourselves into the fine art of preserving, fuelled by wine and good ham. A self-confessed ‘food nerd’, Anna imparts her wisdom with great charm and enthusiasm. We chopped and stirred, measured and sniffed, and watched carefully for the sage and garlic jelly to reach its setting point. We made a fine green tomato chutney and, most excitingly for me, the best piccalilli I’ve ever tasted.
Piccalilli has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the few things I can remember my grandmother making. Every autumn, she would patiently chop up the produce from my Uncle Jos’s allotment and steam up the kitchen with the spicy aroma of vinegar, ginger and mustard. As a child, I marvelled at its eye-shocking yellowness. Barbara’s piccalilli perked up many a northern Sunday tea, sitting alongside wedges of pork pie or slabs of ham.
I hope the late and indomitable Barbara will forgive me, but Anna’s piccalilli is even better than hers. It’s hot, which I like, but also she chops the vegetables much smaller than usual. I would be perfectly happy to eat it greedily with a spoon, which is exactly what I plan to do when this batch is ready in a week or so. Patience, Debora, patience.
Book one of Anna’s fantastic, hands-on, cooking classes.
Check out Riverford’s excellent, extensive range of produce.
Anna Colquhoun’s Amazing Piccalilli
This is a hot piccalilli. You can use more or less spice, simply adjust it to your taste.
Makes 7-8 450g jars
2kg prepared vegetables: choose a colourful mix of cucumbers, carrots, onions/shallots, courgettes/marrows, bell peppers, cauliflowers, green beans, green tomatoes, sweetcorn kernels
About 8 tbsp fine pure salt
1050ml cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or malt vinegar
400g white granulated sugar
1tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tbsp celery seeds
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
40g cornflour, or 60g plain flour
2tbsp mustard powder
1tbsp powdered ginger
Cut all of the vegetables into matching 1cm dice, or larger if you prefer. You should have 2kg prepared weight. Layer them in a big bowl with the salt and leave for several hours or, preferably, overnight. Don’t skip this step – salting is important for drawing out excess water which would otherwise dilute the pickle. It also ensures the vegetables retain their crunch.
Place your clean jars in the oven and turn it on to 140˚C/275˚F/Gas mark 1 to sterilise them. Leave the jars in there until needed.
Rinse the vegetables in several changes of cold water and drain very well.
Reserve a little cup of vinegar and place the rest in a large pan with the sugar, coriander, cumin, celery seeds and mustard seeds. Heat to dissolve the sugar and simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir the cornflour, mustard powder, turmeric and ginger into the reserved vinegar to make a paste. Add some hot vinegar to this to loosen it, then pour the paste into the pan, stirring briskly as you go to avoid creating lumps. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring.
Now add the drained vegetables and simmer everything together for 5 minutes, stirring often. Anna likes the vegetables half-cooked, so they retain a little crunch and I do too.
Pack the hot pickles into hot jars, making sure there are no large air pockets, and seal immediately. Wait one month before opening and use within a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.
Sunday, 4 November 2012
I’ve been a bad food writer. I was passing through my favourite greengrocer and second home, Stoke Newington Green, the other morning, picking up a basket of mushrooms and pumpkins, clementines and walnuts. So far, so orange and brown and seasonally correct. I almost made it out. There, by the counter, was my temptress and seducer. A box of definitely-out-of-season Dutch rhubarb so spectacularly scarlet it was in my basket quicker than you can say crimson. Reader, I was weak.
I love red. I can’t resist it. The late, legendary American decorator Albert Hadley believed you should have a touch of red in every room. (His powerful client list reads like a roster of libraries, museums and hospital wings with all its Astors, Paleys, Rockefellers, Gettys and Whitneys.) A cushion, a rug, a vase of roses or berries, a pot of amaryllis, an enamel colander or a lacquer tray. Just a shot. It shakes up a room like a slick of red lipstick against a pale face. It’s also my emergency prescription for anything that looks too wearyingly tasteful.
So anyway, this is my long-way-around attempt to explain my food writer apostasy. Rhubarb in November. So shoot me. It will leave a lovely stain.
Stoke Newington Green, 39 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0NX
Open every day, 7am – 10ish pm
Rhubarb and vanilla jam
If there is a prettier way of starting the day than a spoonful of this jam swirled through some Greek yoghurt, I don’t know what it is.
Makes 4-5 340g jars
1kg rhubarb, trimmed weight, cut into 2.5cm chunks
1kg jam sugar with added pectin
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Juice of a small orange
Juice and pips of a small lemon
Pour a layer of sugar in the bottom of a preserving pan or large saucepan and then add a layer of rhubarb. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod with a small, sharp knife and place the seeds on top of the rhubarb with the pod. Continue layering the sugar and rhubarb, finishing with a layer of sugar. Cover and leave overnight to macerate.
The next day, place a couple of saucers in the freezer. Pour the juices over the rhubarb and tie the pips from the lemon in a small circle of muslin with kitchen string. Place the bundle in the pan too.
Warm the jam gently, stirring it slowly from time to time to dissolve the sugar without breaking up the chunks. Once the sugar is dissolved, bring to a rolling boil and boil rapidly until the setting point is reached. This should take about 8-10 minutes. This is a soft-set jam so don’t wait for it to get too solid. A droplet of the jam on one of the chilled saucers should just wrinkle when you push it with your finger.
Remove from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes and remove the muslin bag. Seal the jam in warm, sterilised jars. Either discard the vanilla pod or snip a little bit into each jar. Unopened and kept in a cool, dark place the jam should keep for a year.