Posts Tagged ‘Dan Lepard’

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Kitchen Crush

November 14, 2011

As may be apparent from the previous post my current, primary kitchen crush is with Dan Lepard. An extra helping of his recipes courtesy of last week’s Saturday Guardian provided these spicy Bonfire Night Biscuits.

A quick and easy recipe to knock up even if you’re not lucky enough to have a bonfire in your back garden to provide the autumnal smell of wood smoke, the aroma of these baking in your kitchen will make the dullest November day sparkle. The recipe asks for glace ginger but I used stem ginger and the comments section suggest that crystalised would do just as well if you wanted. I also cut out into rounds and adjusted the baking time down a bit to compensate. The base biscuit recipe I imagine is adaptable by swapping the spices and additions – I’m planning a Christmas version. Watch this space.

My other current crush is on Mr Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstal. My summer holiday this year was spent in Dorset taking part in the Four Day  Cookery Course at Park Farm, the headquarters of River Cottage. They run day courses that cover everything from bread and baking to curing meat, even seashore foraging.

I’ve long wanted to do the four day course; which dedicates a day each to meat, fish, veg and bread and baking; and I’m so glad that I did. It’s not cheap, but I turned it into my summer holiday – with a few days spent exploring and walking the surrounding area – and I can honestly say that having done the course it was the best value for money of any holiday I have ever taken.

I’ve tried to blog about it, but I can’t find the words to do the week justice. I could write a list of the dishes cooked, decipher my notes into recipes to share with you, but this would not convey what I learnt or the fun that I had. The team at Park Farm go out of their way to ensure you have good fun and the hours whip by as their share their passion and knowledge and you share, with the others on the course, the fruits of your labour.

I made and ate things that I would not normally try and it has given me more confidence in the kitchen and with my palate and skills. Should I try to more accurately describe all that I learned, made and ate I would run out of adjectives by the first lunchtime. There are photo’s on my Flickr page which chronicle the dishes cooked and eaten over the four days and I hope they give an indication of the fun that was had.

On the course I bought a copy of  ‘River Cottage Veg Everyday!’ book – the latest from Hugh. It accompanies his current TV Programme where he extolls the virtues of a veg based diet by giving up meat and fish for the summer. The book accompanies his current TV show on C4 which follows the usual River Cottage format of HFW taking something he’s passionate about and making an entertaining and informative programme to share his passion. Whilst Hugh isn’t going to be a life long vegetarian he wants us to eat more veg and realise that veg-centric meals needn’t be dull.

The book is broken down into sections on salads and soups, raw things and bready things and mezze and tapas to name a few.

First off for me was the veggie biryani made for 12 – want to feed a crowd? Who could ask for more than succulent spicy veg with curried rice garnished with crunchy almonds? A breeze to prepare and cook, and if you can lift the casserole dish containing enough for 12 people and carry it to the table to reveal and serve, all the better (I needed help just getting it out of the oven – damn you Le Cruset with your sturdy based pans, wrist splints should be sold alongside them IMO).

For dips and salads, please make the roasted carrot hummous – this has replaced Peamole (it is what it sounds like) as the dip-tastic choice of the season and the raw beetroot and walnut and cumin salad add a fab crunchy side – try it with a smoked fish platter.

Above is a warming Sunday night dinner for friends, a puy lentil and spinach soup (made with the veg stock recipe from the same book) filling and warming, perfect  after a long walk in the crisp autumnal sunshine. Should you want a little meat in there, I added some pancetta as there were some in the fridge that needed using. I don’t think Hugh would mind.

What I enjoy about veggie cooking, and all the things I’ve made from this book so far, is the ease with which each dish is adaptable in terms of using up what’s in the fridge or buying what’s currently in season. I feel more able to play around without the meat – perhaps because the total cost of the dish is cheaper so the risk is less. Perhaps also just because I’m more comfortable with cooking veg and less fearful of over or under cooking and more confident of how the dish will fare as leftovers. I’ve made more than I’ve covered here, and yet more are flagged. This book is one that I will return to over and over again.

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Short & Sweet

November 4, 2011

I have been baking almost exclusively from Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’ since it arrived a few weeks ago. A comprehensive compilation of recipes from choux to pita; muffins to meringues and tarts to tapenade dinner rolls. The ‘tips & techniques’ at the start of each  chapter – whilst present in any decent baking book – I’ve found more enlightening than usual. For example pointing out that ripe bananas are alkaline and may need the addition of more baking powder to stop the finished cakes turning out on the heavy side (noted Mr Lepard).

Dan writes a weekly column ‘How to Bake’ for the Saturday Guardian magazine. A regular cut-out-and-keep for me, my collection of his recipes are tucked between the pages of other baking books, and now they will have a place of their own. What I’m particularly pleased about is that the book isn’t just a collection of the recipes already available online and, as was recently pointed out in another review – the book stays open at the page required making life just a little easier.

 

 

 

I have now twice made the savoury choux pastry recipe and Black Olive Gourgeres (mini choux bites with thyme, garlic, parmesan and kalamata olives – divine). A chance to revisit the choux first attempted at River Cottage and to hone those skills. The gourgeres are a fantastic pre dinner party nibble as they can be made ahead and reheated easily before serving. They’re messy buggers to spoon onto a baking tray (line that tray with parchment) but they don’t need to be too uniform in shape as the their rough edges crisp up and add wonderful crunch.

 

 

 

The savoury choux paste with added parmesan and a hint of mace along with the cayenne (top spice tip from River Cottage – try it) was easier to work with although my quenelle-ing skills need a fair amount of work. I was able to try out my theory that a filling of horseradish creme fraiche would go well with the spicy buns. I can confirm it does make a lovely pairing; the light and crispy pastry, warm with gentle heat from the spices and parmesan compliments the smooth zingy and firey mixture of creme fraiche (I used low fat)  and horseradish (the English Provender Co makes a great substitute for the fresh stuff) lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Make your mixture and chill in the fridge before piping into the cooled buns. A great mixture that goes wonderfully well with beef or smoked fish too. Top tip of my own – remember to warn guests that the buns are filled. Chances are they will be eaten with glass in one hand and the eater’s focus on conversation – the spilling potential would seem to be moderately high.

 

 

 

From the sweeter end of the recipe selection I made the Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake for a neighbours birthday. A fine crumbed cake containing condensed milk it’s better for a day left well wrapped but pretty damn tasty straight away if it calls to you from the kitchen.

 

 

 

Another day found me looking at the collection of dried fruits in my baking cupboard. First off was a Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake which I baked in a tray, all the better for portioning to share out (a suggestion made by Dan that I can confirm works well). This too benefits from sitting for a day or two and I really would leave it if you can, a far moister cake awaits you if you can resist. I used a mixture of prunes, figs and apricots as well as adding 100g of whole blanched almonds, which in the tray form didn’t have the opportunity to sink – mind you the batter is thick enough with chopped fruit that they should stay suspended even in a deep tin. The discovery of a nut adds delightful texture and interest to the bites of cake.

 

 

 

For me though the star of the show so far has been the Marrakesh Express Loaf Cake. Containing coffee, lots of walnuts and sesame seeds, rich sticky dates and pomegranate I felt sure I would enjoy it, but the layers of taste are amazing. Like a complex perfume it has a deep earthiness from the coffee and walnuts surrounded by the sweet dates and then the syrupy top notes of the pomegranate syrup float around your mouth. Dan says that treacle could substitute for the pomegranate syrup but I can’t believe the flavours would then dance around your palate in quite the same way. The syrup is worth getting if you can, a little goes a long way and if you enjoy middle easter food or follow the Ottolenghi column adjacent to Dan’s in the Guardian then you will find plenty of uses for it.

 

 

 

The recipe states half wholemeal or spelt flour and half hemp flour – I just used all wholemeal and it turned out fine, although I might just have to get me some spelt and hemp and see if the flavours can be any better.

 

 

 

There is still so much to try in the book and I know from last year that the Caramel Christmas Cake is a winner and sure to make another outing, or four, this year.

 

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Uplanned

December 30, 2010

I started this post without a cake, cookie or muffin, lacking even a recipe or a workable kitchen in which to bake. I felt bereft.

A while ago I had the thought that it would be a good idea to get a loft conversion in my house. I’ve been in my little home for ten years and have accumulated a fair amount of ‘stuff’. My house is small and mostly perfectly formed; however the one thing that Edwardian architects of inner-city worker’s cottages did not plan for was storage space. How could they have possibly envisaged the boxes of Christmas decorations that need to be contained for 11 months of the year? Or have had any idea about the crate of camping equipment that has been packed away for, ooh about 36 months at last count; or the box of frog ornaments of my mother’s that I can’t bear to part with, nor have on display that needs a home out of the way somewhere. What about the roll of carpet remanet that must surely be useful for something, someday and the large DIY box filled with left over flat pack screws and allen keys, lightbulbs for fittings no longer installed? Not to mention the boxes and boxes of cables and leads from electrical items no longer owned? Well, you can’t just throw them away can you? I need a cable amnesty.

I imagine the families of the men who built the railways at the turn of the last century didn’t really need much of the above, so the-cupboard-under-the-stairs sufficed as the sum total of available storage. Of course having a loft to convert means I could have used that space – a cheaper and cleaner option no doubt. However I am not a fan of either ladders or dark spidery, wasp-nest-infested (as it turns out) places so anything consigned to that space would not be retrieved by me.

Plus I needed new carpets. Seriously, this was the deciding factor. Ridiculous. No point forking out for new carpeting if, at some point in even the mid-distant future there’s work planned in the house. So Project Loft was born. I won’t bore you with the details, nor inflict revisiting them on myself but it’s been a trial, one that’s not over yet, although the end is in sight. My poor home has been battered and bruised, my cat is seriously disturbed by the noise and new location and direction of the stairs (he’s not the brightest by a long shot, but watching him struggle, for over a week, with the new layout was priceless. There’s a door on the bottom of them now so he can’t see them, so they don’t exist. I wish I were a cat). I’ve been a little stressed.

The chaos in the house has led to chaos in my mind. The dust and dirt are necessary and despite what people who know me might think, I can cope with that. What I can’t cope with is that by extension I am unable to do any of the things that I find enjoyable and relaxing because of the dirt and the mess. I enjoy cleaning and pottering, I love to know there’s clean white linen on the beds and fresh towels in the bathroom. I relish the morning sun through clean windows and my naturally forgetful and chaotic nature is reassured by an ‘everything in it’s place…’ home. I know that none of these things are important in the grand scheme of things but they are points in my day and week that I enjoy.

But more than anything else I love to bake, and I haven’t been able to. In the past few weeks I have barely been able to get into my kitchen so full was it with the contents of the rest of the ground floor. Worst of all, Christmas was approaching and I couldn’t see a point at which I might be able to put up those decorations and fill my home with light and shiny things. My keys went missing on a daily basis and every evening I came home aghast at the rock-like crust on my kitchen work top caused by repeated spillages of sugar from the spoon on its way to the tea cups combined with a multitude of drips from t-bags en route to the bin.

However, there was a brief respite in the week before Christmas; flooring went down, walls were painted white, I cleaned like a daemon and with builders away for the festive period that which I dusted  and wiped remained smear free. The tree went up as did my lights old and new and sparkly things were dotted around. My Christmas cakes, were wrapped and given out and I even found time for a last-minute bake-fest for extra goodies to hand out.

So, the house was in as much order as was possible prior to all the work being completed (no date as yet, but the end is in sight), decorations were up, Christmas presents wrapped and ready to go and an early shift at work meant I had an an afternoon to myself – what else to do other than bake? I’d made another of the moorish Caramel Fruit Cakes from Dan Lepard to take into work but wanted to make something chocolatey and something a bit different. I’ve had the ‘Baked’ book for sometime and despite regularly reading rave reviews I’ve not managed to bake anything from it yet. There’s something about the recipes in the book that I find daunting, a lot of them seem time consuming with many steps, but their Brownie recipe is mentioned so much as the best out there that I had to give it a try. There was a tub of sour cream to be used also and the Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe seemed like a good one to bake to offer to colleagues not tempted by fruit or chocolate. As it turned out I took an extra day off work so neighbours, friends and family were the recipients of these treats rather than colleagues, however I will not only be making the brownies again soon (and this will have to become my go-to recipe, they really are divine) but I will sit down and choose further recipes to bake from this book.

Coffee Cake – not actually a cake containing or tasting of coffee but usually a cake to be taken with coffee often with a streusel or crumb topping, this is one of those.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate,  Cinnamon Swirl

Baked – New Frontiers in Baking

Crumb Topping

100g plain flour

130g dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt (use Maldon or similar)

75g toasted walnuts

84g cold unsalted butter cut into 1″ cubes

Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl

112g caster sugar

1tsp cocoa

1 tsp cinnamon

Sour Cream Cake

525g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp bicarb

1/2 tsp salt

225g unsalted butter, soft but cool cut into 1″ pieces

4 large eggs

500g caster sugar

160z / 545g sour cream (I only had 300g so made the rest up with buttermilk)

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C butter and line a 9×13″ pan (although the cake won’t stick, if you line the tin with parchment and ensure an overhang then you can ‘lift’ the finished cake from the pan rather than turning it out and you won’t disturb the crumb topping).

To make the crumb topping pulse the flour, sugar and salt for 5 seconds in a processor, add the toasted nuts and pulse again until finely chopped. finally add the butter cubes and pulse again until a sand like texture is achieved. cover and place in the fridge.

To make the swirl, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a large bowl.

Cream the butter until ‘smooth and ribbon like’ . Scrape the sides, add the sugar and beat again until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides as necessary

Add sour cream and vanilla beating until incorporated then add the sifted dry ingredients in three stages – do not over mix.

Spoon 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan and spread evening with an offset spatula. sprinkle half the swirl mixture over the batter, cover with half the remaining batter spreading evenly once again then repeat with the remaining swirl mixture and final lot of batter.

sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the top.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean. Rotate the pan three times during baking.

Cool for 30 mins in the pan before lifting out and allowing to cool completely before slicing.

The brownie recipe, below, really is one to try. It’s nothing short of stunning and so quick an easy. It’s not exactly light on the chocolate, or butter, or sugar, but then a brownie shouldn’t be. I made the mistake of cutting the brownies into portions before it was completely cooled. Unfortunately this meant that a fair few pieces crumbled, and those crumbles had to be mopped up by me. Bloody lovely. Make these. Eat them, share them, hide them wrap them and keep them, freeze them if you must but make them soon.

The Baked Brownie

188g plain flour

1 tsp salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

310g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (60 – 72%)

225g unsalted butter cut into 1″ pieces

1 1/2 tsp instant coffee (the original recipe states 1 tsp instant espresso powder, if you can get it)

338g granulated sugar

88g light brown sugar

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven 180C, butter and line 9×13″ tin

Whisk or sift together the flour, salt and cocoa

In a bain marie melt the chocolate, butter and coffee until completely smooth.

Turn off the heat but leave over the pan of water and add the sugars, whisk until combined and then remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add three eggs and whisk then the remaining two eggs and whisk. Add the vanilla and stir, do not over beat or the brownies will be cakey rather than fudgy.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the batter and fold in with a spatula until just traces of the flour remains visible.

Pour into the pan and smooth, bake for 25 – 30 mins (25 in my oven) turning the pan after 15 mins. When done a toothpick inserted into the centre should still be coated with a few crumbs – you don’t want these over cooked.

Leave to cool completely before cutting into 24 squares.

Apparently these will keep, well wrapped, for three days. Do let me know if you achieve this!

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Brand New Spatula at (pre) Dawn

December 10, 2010

Winter means that even a modestly early morning in the kitchen is spent facing darkened windows, although this last Saturday the freezing cold snap (might have to revise the use of the term snap as that implies brevity) meant that there was at least the sparkle of ice and snow in the pitch black of my garden at 5am. I was glad to wake early as I had a morning free from builders, a recipe and a brand new spatula (gifted to me on my birthday) to try out.

I really enjoy Dan Lepard’s ‘How to Bake’ series in the Saturday Guardian, it’s one of the first pages I turn to frequently one to cut out and add to the stack slipped into various notebooks and recipe books. I always hope for a cake rather than a bread or pudding recipe and the previous week I was rewarded with a festive fruit cake recipe that was immediately pinned up in the kitchen as ‘one to make soon’ rather than tucked away.

I made my Christmas cakes, in mini loaf form, some time ago to the same Mary Berry recipe as last year and have been tending to them ever since, feeding with Brandy and trying to resist picking at their fruit and nut studded tops,

So I really don’t need another fruit cake in my kitchen –  what a ridiculous statement!

I originally baked this as a gift to take to a family gathering that I’m going to this weekend, and once cooled I double wrapped it ready to be stored for the week. But I just couldn’t resist. The thought of the figs, prunes and walnuts contained in the caramel cake was just a little too much. Plus, I had to cut into it to get a photo so I could properly blog about it didn’t I? Then, of course, the tasting is all important to ensure the feedback I leave here is accurate. I’m not sure at what point photographing and tasting became munching, but my god, this is a tasty cake. So I had to bake two more on Sunday morning. Cake number one has been distributed and devoured by a couple of people, cakes two and three are wrapped and ready to be transported and cakes four and  five are in the planning! This will definitely be my stand by fruit cake from now on.

This has no booze in it (although you could feed afterwards) and no pre-soaking of the fruit so there’s not a huge amount of preparation. In fact with the figs being taken care of with kitchen shears rather than chopping (handy tip that) the prep was quick, especially as the cherries are left whole (although I did give them a rinse) and the walnuts remain in their halves. What you end up with is a cake rich with delicious fruit with wonderful texture from the nuts and whole cherries – I’d even go as far as to say that the addition of alcohol might detract from the soft, warm richness from the caramel.

Dan adds that the cake is ready to ice and decorate ‘as you please’ but I think the only things needed alongside a slice of this is a mug of tea, a slice of sharp cheddar and perhaps an open fire and to enjoy it by. Should you happen to have all, some, or none of the above to hand, the recipe on the Guardian’s site is definitely one to bookmark