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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Miss Havishams Valentines Cookies...

Rich dark chocolate biscuits with sweet fondant icing

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, but not everyone is looking forward to its arrival. I personally am not a huge fan of all the pink, red, glitter and giant stuffed animal clutching fluffy hearts with embroidered messages of undying love.

Indulge your own bitter heart with these gothic valentines cookies to mark the day, Miss Havisham style. Put on your old wedding dress and eat these in your decaying mansion. They will be a lot tastier than your dusty old wedding cake, all the time being careful to stay away from naked flames.

50g unsalted butter (3 1/2 tbsp)
50g soft light brown sugar (4 tbsp packed)
1 TBS golden syrup
110g plain flour (1 cup plus 1 3/4 tbsp)
20g cocoa powder (not the drink mix, scant 3 tbsp)
(I used Cadbury's Bournville cocoa powder)
pinch salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 to 2 tsp milk
Rollable fondant icing to decorate.
A little icing sugar and water mixed together to make a paste.

Preheat the oven to 150*C/300*F/ gas mark 3. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the golden syrup until smooth. Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, salt and soda together in a beaker. Sift this into the creamed mixture. Add the milk a bit at a time, until you get a soft even dough. It should be a bit crumbly, but be just coming together. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface or onto a large piece of cling film and press until it comes completely together.

Roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin about 1/4 inch thick. (I rolled mine out between two sheets of cling film so that I did not have to use a lot of flour.) Cut out into shapes, heart or others. Carefully lift onto the prepared baking sheet with a metal spatula, leaving some space in between the biscuits.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Carefully lift onto a wire rack to cool completely. Roll out the fondant icing very thinly and cut into similar, slightly smaller piece of fondant icing. Stick the fondant to the biscuit with the icing sugar paste and leave to dry. Paint, stencil or stamp cold, black hearts onto each cookie or decorate as desired. Fester in your own unhappiness or plot your revenge, while enjoying the biscuits with a nice cup of tea.

Monday, 11 February 2013

savory crispy pancakes...

Shrove Tuesday takes place 47 days before Easter Sunday. Because the date of Easter Sunday is dictated by the cycles of the moon, Pancake Day can occur anytime between February 3 and March 9. In 2013 it takes place on February 12 and I shall be making these crispy pancakes, an homage to the industrial foods that filled many an Irish childhood.

I was burdened for most of my young life by a mother who insisted on making every thing from scratch. As much as we kids wanted the shop-bought cakes, pizzas and convenience foods, we were forced to endure home made birthday cakes, bread and even yoghurt. Nowadays, my children are faced with the same problem, a cruel mother who denies them all the delicacies of the freezer section of the supermarket or the Disney-endorsed Petit Filous. As it turns out, the only thing that myself and the children missed out on was vast amounts of suspicious meats - horse, donkey, possum, bat or whatever they have been passing off as beef all this time.

So this Mardi Gras will be marked by a homemade version of the positively revolting Findus classic - the savory crispy pancake. These I remember used to come in a minced beef and onion or chicken and sweetcorn flavor. I think there is a cheese variety and there was a curry one also, now defunct. There was some talk a few years ago of a lobster thermidor flavor which, if it ever happened, would be a terrible waste of lobster. We made it with a chicken and sweetcorn filling and it was a big hit. I won't lie to you, although it's incredibly easy to make, it's not particularly time consuming and you will probably dirty every plate and pan in the kitchen. But as special treat, it's hard to beat. A spoon of leftover bolognaise sauce would also be delicious but I think I will try a ham and cheese version tomorrow. (Ham from a pig!)

For the pancakes
165g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 small egg
About 300ml whole milk
Sunflower oil for frying

For the chicken and sweetcorn filling
25g butter
25g plain flour
250ml hot chicken stock
Kernels sliced from 1 cob of corn
2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced
6 rashers streaky bacon, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the final assembly
6 tbsp plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
200g fine white breadcrumbs
A little paprika (optional)
A little turmeric (optional)
Sunflower oil, for frying

For the pancakes, put the flour and salt in a bowl. Break the egg into the centre, then start whisking it into the flour, gradually incorporating the milk. Keep adding milk and whisking until you have a smooth batter the consistency of single cream. Rest the batter in the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the chicken and sweetcorn filling, first melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. Stir in the flour to make a roux, then cook this gently for two minutes. Remove from the heat, add a good splash of the hot stock and beat until you have a smooth paste. Repeat with a little more stock, then a little more. Add the remaining stock in two or three lots, beating well with each addition to get rid of any lumps. Return the pan to the heat. Bring slowly to a simmer, and cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring often, until thickened. Add the chicken, bacon, corn kernels, garlic and herbs and simmer for another five minutes or so, until the chicken is completely cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Leave to cool.

To cook the pancakes, heat a little sunflower oil in a small frying pan (about 15cm in diameter) over a high heat. Pour in a small ladleful of the pancake batter, immediately swirling the batter around to form a pancake (don't make it too thin - these need to be a little more robust than your standard crepe). Cook for a minute or two, until the pancake is golden-brown underneath. Flip it and cook the other side for another 30 seconds or so. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter. (The first pancake will be a disaster - this is the law.)

To assemble, take one pancake and spoon some of your chosen filling on to one half of it. You only need a tablespoonful or so - don't overfill the pancakes. Brush some beaten egg around the edge of the pancake and sprinkle on a little flour to form a natural glue. Fold the pancake over to make a half-moon shape, and press the edges to seal.

For final assembly and frying, put the flour in a deep dish and season well with salt and pepper. Put the beaten eggs in a second dish, then the breadcrumbs in a third. Season the breadcrumbs, if you like, with paprika and turmeric - not essential but it gives the pancakes their fake tan orange colour, which is large part of their charm.

Heat a 1mm layer of sunflower oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the breadcrumbed pancakes a few at a time, for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and piping hot in the middle. Drain briefly on kitchen paper. Serve straight away.

Recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage 2009

Friday, 8 February 2013

say it with flowers...

Creamy Butterscotch Flowerpots

Valentine's is a day for lovehearts and flowers... and sweet treats to eat. My days of exchanging cards are well behind me, but the two small budding romantics in the house like to mark the occasion. I made these sweet little pudding pots for one of the girls birthday party last year and have been requested to provide them again for a flowery Valentines dessert. They are delicious and easy enough for even small children to do much of the work. A layer of chocolatey cake covered in creamy butterscotch mousse and topped off in more crumbled chocolate cake, my kind of gardening.

I prefer to use Avonmore  Double Cream. This is the equivalent of what you lovely American visitors call 'heavy' cream. In general when you are whipping the cream, it will whip better if you add a pinch of salt and when sweetening whipped cream, adding the sugar when the cream is mostly whipped will trap more air in and get you a higher volume. Adding the sugar at the beginning results in lower volume.

This is the chocolate cake recipe I used but any chocolate cake will do - even shop bought. You can also use crushed Oreos, just throw them in a food processor and pulse until they look like sand.

You will need some very small flowerpots (ceramic or plastic) straws, and fresh cut flowers. Also some jelly worms to aerate the soil, very important. Snip the straws so that they are about 1/2 to 1 inch shorter than the top of the pots

Ingredients for the pudding
75 gram(s) butter
100 gram(s) brown sugar
300 ml Avonmore Double Cream
2 egg white(s)
2 teaspoon(s) caster sugar

Combine butter, brown sugar and 100ml of the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves; set aside to cool. Whisk remaining cream to soft peaks and fold into cooled butterscotch mixture. Whisk egg whites and caster sugar to soft peaks. Fold meringue into cream and butterscotch mixture, then divide between 6 flower pots (or serving glasses, dishes). Refrigerate until needed.

Then simply fill the ends of your pots with chocolate cake put a layer of pudding next with a straw in the centre to hold the flower, I made mine when I had lots of sweet peas so those are I used, but anything from the garden is fine. I do recommend a quick google search to make sure your choice of flower is not highly toxic and remember to tell the children not to eat the flowers. Put plenty of worms, boys especially like them, mine were from the Natural Jelly Company. Top off the pots with your crumbled chocolate cake. Refrigerate until needed, popping the flowers into their straw holders just before serving. Happy Valentines day :)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

pecan pie muffins...

Pecan pie is one of our favorite desserts. But it uses a heck of a lot of maple syrup and pecans and is a bit of a faff to make unless it's for a special occasion. So here is the next best thing, Pecan Pie muffins. 18 - 20 mini muffins or 10 - 12 regular sized. I prefer them warm from the oven with a little scoop of vanilla ice-cream and without the frosting, but the kids like them with the frosting. Grease and flour the muffin tins well if you are not using lining paper as these can stick quite badly. 

Ingredients for the Pecan Muffins
110g/1 cup chopped pecans
120g/1/2 cup all-purpose flour
240g brown sugar or 1 cup packed brown sugar
160g/2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter a muffin or mini-muffin tin or use paper muffin liners. In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour and pecans. In a separate bowl beat the butter and eggs together until smooth, stir into the dry ingredients until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Fill each 3/4 full and bake in the preheated oven for approx 15 - 20 minutes depending on size. Cool on wire racks when done.

Ingredients for the Maple Buttercream
250g of butter, 
500g icing sugar
2 tsp maple syrup
Make sure your butter is soft, pop into a bowl. Add your icing sugar & start to mix on a low speed. Once your icing starts to come together increase the speed to medium. Leave for about 10 mins on med-high speed or until it looks like whipped cream, then fold in the maple syrup.

When the muffins are cold, spoon or pipe the frosting on, drizzle with a little maple syrup and scatter a few toasted pecans on top for prettiness.