Posts Tagged ‘gastronomy’

Perfecting A Carrot Cake Recipe

Thursday, October 14th, 2010
A Slice Of Carrot Cake

A Slice Of Carrot Cake

Jay kept on calling my “gingerbread” “carrot cake” over the last few weeks, so I took the hint and started trying to perfect a carrot cake recipe. 

The first few attempts did not go down with the kids as firstly they contained walnuts (“I always have hated walnuts” was the response, but in our household it is more of a case that if I can see it then I cannot/must not like it) and then I found them a bit too dry.  So walnuts removed and buttermilk added, I have come up with a carrot cake recipe that passes muster – moist and tasty.  You can always add the walnuts back in again should you so wish; I would suggest 115g / 4oz / 1 cup of chopped walnuts.

The kids got to the icing and topped it with a vast amount of sprinkles which they loved eating as much as the cake itself.  Overall, it is not a bad way to claim you have eaten one of your 5 -a-day.

For the cake:

175g / 6oz / ¾ cup unsalted butter
175g / 6oz / ¾ cup light muscovado sugar
3 egg yolks at room temperature and gently whisked
3 egg whites at room temperature
30ml / 2 tbsp sunflower oil or buttermilk 
175g / 6oz / 1½ cups organic self-raising flour
5ml /1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt, finely ground
¾ tsp organic cinnamon powder
½ tsp organic ground nutmeg
50g / 2oz / ½ cup ground almonds
225g / 8 oz / 1½ cups freshly grated carrot

For the icing:

175g / 6oz / ¾ cup mascarpone cheese, or cream cheese
40g / 1½oz / 3tbsp icing sugar
1tbsp lemon juice
Walnuts or sprinkles to decorate

Set the oven to 160C / 325F.  Line a large loaf tin with baking parchment (dimensions: 12 x 19cm; 4½ x 7½ inches).

Sieve the self-raising flour, salt, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder and baking powder together into a large mixing bowl.  Separate the egg yolks and whites; mix the egg yolks together gently with a fork or a whisk and set the egg whites aside. 

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a mixing bowl, then add in the soft brown sugar.  Cream together the butter and soft brown sugar.  Add the egg yolks and the buttermilk or oil and whisk until thoroughly mixed in.

Put Butter And Sugar In Mixing Bowl

Put Butter And Sugar In Mixing Bowl

Cream The Butter And Sugar

Cream The Butter And Sugar

Add the self-raising flour together with the other dry ingredients and the ground almonds; mix it all up with a silicone spatula or hand whisk. 

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add this and the grated carrots to the cake batter and fold in fully.

Add The Whipped Egg Whites And Stir In

Add The Whipped Egg Whites And Stir In

Scoop the carrot cake batter into the prepared loaf tin. 

Scoop The Carrot Cake Batter Into The Loaf Tin

Scoop The Carrot Cake Batter Into The Loaf Tin

Put into the centre of the warmed oven and bake for about 70 minutes.  As the hour comes up, start checking the carrot cake by gently pressing the top in the centre to feel whether it feels springy and spongy rather than liquidy; when done a skewer should come out without any dampness on it.

Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then turn out of loaf tin, remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack. 

Baked Carrot Cake, Cooled And Ready For Icing

Baked Carrot Cake, Cooled And Ready For Icing

When cool, it is time to start preparing the mascarpone ice cream.  To make the cream cheese icing, put all the icing ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix together thoroughly.  Spread this over the top of the carrot cake and decorate with sprinkles or walnuts or other nuts for that matter.

Spread The Mascarpone Icing Over The Carrot Cake

Spread The Mascarpone Icing Over The Carrot Cake

Decorate Your Carrot Cake

Decorate Your Carrot Cake

Enjoy with tea or a coffee, or indulge yourself and enjoy as is and without the excuse of a beverage.

Blending Christmas Tea

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

It is that time of year when customers are after our Christmas tea which is made to my own special recipe. 

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

We use a high grown organic Fairtrade from the POABS biodynamic tea estates in Kerala in Southern India as the base.  This is a lovely clean drinking black tea, while at the same time being mild in flavour without any maltiness or meadowy flavours coming through; therefore it is a wonderful base tea.

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

I take organic Fairtrade cardamom, organic Fairtrade cinnamon quills and organic Fairtrade cloves from the Small Organic Farmers’ Association in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka.  I then get some organic Fairtrade vanilla pods from the warehouse and chop these to about 1 cm in size.  All of these are mixed together and then ground down to a 1 – 2mm chop.  By grinding the whole spices in small batches, I can ensure that the quality of flavours is fresh and strong and that I am happy with their quality.

These are added to the tea together with some organic orange peel granules.

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

I mix it all together by hand, transfer it into sacks and leave to infuse with these gorgeous spicy flavours for a couple of weeks before testing and releasing for packing.

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

No additional flavours are added, no chemicals; it’s just tea and spices, blended by hand in North Yorkshire by me.  The final tea is a gently spiced, homely and warming for these darker evenings.

Recipe For Fruit Teabread Revisited

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

For whatever reasons, I have not been quite happy with the original teabread recipe that I created and posted a few weeks back, so I have been playing around with the recipe now and baking away.  Now several teabreads and a family of very happy tasters later, I think I have cracked it.

The key is still in the tea – the better the tea, the more interesting the tea, the better and more interesting the end result.  I have now made it with breakfast tea, Assam tea, Christmas chai tea and Redbush Chai tea and they all come out with slightly different flavours, but they are all great.  The tea should always be made with loose leaf tea as you lose that fustiness from the tea bag, plus why use good ingredients then spoil their subtleties with the imperfection of the flavour from a bag.  The other addition that I have made is I have substituted buttermilk for the butter, which adds a different richness to the cake that was not completely right beforehand, however you can either substitute this for a full fat milk or omit this ingredient but then add extra tea to compensate, otherwise the teabread loses some of its moistness, which is part of the joy and vital to the texture.

The other part that I have played with is to work on variations of the steeping of the fruits.  Firstly, I think it is better to boil the fruit for 10 – 15 minutes, then to leave the fruit to cool and steep in the brewed tea ideally overnight, but certainly until the fruit has cooled to a warm to the touch temperature.  The alternative of steeping in freshly brewed tea did not seem as successful, although fine; perhaps the initial boiling softens up and gets the fruit more receptive to taking up the flavours of the tea.

Finally, I have upped the quantities, the better to fit my loaf tin.  The end result is moist, rich and moreish, tasting great with butter.

Revised Ingredients And Recipe For Axel’s Teabread

175g / 6 oz / 1 cup sultanas
125g / 4½ oz / ¾ cup raisins
50g / 2oz / ¼ cup currants
175g / 6 oz / ¾ cup light brown muscovado sugar
250ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup strong, freshly brewed tea
1 egg free-range, at room temperature and lightly beaten
50 ml / 3½ tbsp buttermilk
230g / 8 oz / 1 cups plain white flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Fairtrade cinnamon powder
½ tsp Fairtrade nutmeg powder

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Place the dried fruit and muscovado sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan, then add the strong tea, heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the fruit has plumped up.  Leave to cool in the pan, ideally overnight.

Sieve together the plain flour, baking powder, Fairtrade cinnamon and nutmeg powders.  Make a well in the centre of the flour, then add in the egg and stir thoroughly with a spatula.  Add the buttermilk and stir until you have a soft dough.  Add the fruits and throughly beat together with the silicone spatula.

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Pour the fruit teabread mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, remove from the oven then leave to stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out and leaving to cool on wire rack.  Start checking the consistency of the teabread towards the end – when it is springy to a light touch on the surface of the teabread, it is done.

Yorkshire Teabread

Yorkshire Teabread

You do not need to leave this to cool down completely as it is lovely eaten warm.

Recipe For Traditional Gingerbread

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010
A Slice Of Homemade Gingerbread

A Slice Of Homemade Gingerbread

I seem to be on a journey that includes loads of different traditional British cakes, which noone at home is complaining about at all.  Perhaps, it is the nostalgic air of early autumn creeping into the air.

What is great about these sorts of cakes are that they get better with a bit of ageing, so there is none of this lightness that morphs into dryness overnight.  There’s also an old fashioned solidity to them that makes them a meal in their own right rather than a light, frolicky piece of fancy that seems to be just a burst of sweetness without any substance.

They all make an interesting use of spice flavours and work well with different types of liquid.  In this gingerbread recipe that I have been playing with, I use buttermilk which imparts a richness to the gingerbread that milk does not quite match.  And while there is definitely some ginger taste in this cake, it is not overpowering and is balanced by the sweetness of the cinnamon powder (note: cinnamon not cassia or baker’s cinnamon), while the molasses flavours from the black treacle and muscovado are kept down through using relatively little treacle and a light muscovado rather than a dark one.  You can tweak these quantities and ingredients to suit your household’s tastes – these match our own as Jay really loves this cake.

I, also, recommend wrapping up the cake and leaving it for a day as the cake becomes moister, which is much tastier and the texture is more correct than eating it fresh from the oven.

How To Make Traditional Gingerbread

280g / 10 oz / 2½ cups organic plain flour (I am using Gilchester’s white flour at the moment)
2tsp organic ginger powder
1½tsp baking powder
¾tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾tsp organic cinnamon powder
125g / 4½ oz / generous ½ cup light muscovado sugar
115g / 4 oz / ½ cup butter (lightly salted is fine)
125g / 4½ oz / scant ½ cup golden syrup (corn syrup)
50g / 2 oz / 3tbsp black treacle
200ml / 7fl oz / 7/8 cup buttermilk (or full fat milk)
1 large sized egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten

Set the oven to 160C / 325F.  Line a large loaf tin with baking parchment (dimensions: 12 x 19cm; 4½ x 7½ inches).

Sieve the plain flour, ginger, cinnamon powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together into a large mixing bowl.

Sieve Together The Flour And Spices

Sieve Together The Flour And Spices

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a pan, then add the golden syrup, muscovado sugar and black treacle to this and warm over a gentle heat until the sugar has melted.

Butter, Sugars And Sweet Things

Butter, Sugars And Sweet Things

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the sugars.  Mix it all up with a silicone spatula or hand whisk.  Add the buttermilk and egg and mix up thoroughly. 

Mix Together The Wet And Dry Ingredients

Mix Together The Wet And Dry Ingredients

Stir In The Buttermilk

Stir In The Buttermilk

Pour Ginger Batter Into Loaf Tin

Pour Ginger Batter Into Loaf Tin

Pour the ginger batter into the prepared loaf tin.  Put into the centre of the warmed oven and bake for about an hour.  As the hour comes up, start checking the gingerbread by gently pressing the top in the centre to feel whether it feels springy and spongy rather than liquidy; when done a skewer should come out without any dampness on it.

Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then turn out of loaf tin, remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack.  When cool, wrap in clingfilm and leave for a day before eating; you can start eating it straight away but this is really a cake that tastes better the day afterwards. 

Homemade Gingerbread Cooling Down

Homemade Gingerbread Cooling Down

Enjoy on its own or spread with a generous coating of good butter.  Delicious and so, so easy.

Recipe For Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

One of the classics of British cuisine is to poach pears in red wine or syrup.  As a variation on this, I sometimes create a sweet spicy syrup to poach the pears in, then reduce these to a thick, sweet sauce.  Recently, however, I have been thinking about how to use teas and infusions in my cooking, as well as the impact of different liquids such as beer versus wine and even different beers, to add extra depth to the flavour of your food without bringing in too much extra complexity.

That’s a rather geeky way of saying the liquids you use in cooking can alter subtly the flavour of the meal and they are something we all tend to ignore when cooking, focusing on the big ingredients like the meat or the vegetables or the mix of spices, then just pouring in tap water or “red wine” when we should be screaming hard or soft water, bottled water, fizzy and which red wine, wine from where, as it makes a huge difference.

So as an experiment, I brewed up a large pot of Red Chai Tea, which I make with an organic rooibos tea from South Africa and my own flavour combination of spices.  I left this to steep for a bit then filtered out the sweet, orangey-red tea that is coloured like an amazing African sunset.  Next, you add a mix of ginger powder, saffron and Madagascan vanilla and a light muscovado sugar to the tea; in my usual recipe, I add lemon zest but not here as there is lemongrass in the chai spice mix.  This is the base flavour for the pears and the sweet sauce, which you then use to poach some pears.

At this time of the year, pears are deliciously ripe but you can use this recipe even on the most flavourless brick of a pear in mid winter and get some flavour into them and soften them up, so it is good for your five-a-day.  The result are perfectly soft and succulent sweet pears in a sweet sauce that has a richly luxuriant saffron-vanilla flavour.  Sometimes, I finish my normal versions of this recipe with a vanilla whipped cream, but that really is almost too decadent and I did not have any cream the other night.  Eating with a knife and fork, the knife just glides through the soft flesh of the pear and the taste is heavenly with the characteristic sweetness of the pears perfectly offset by the chocolately, creaminess of the vanilla.

It does take a bit of time to make, but not much effort.  And simple is often the best thing in life.

How To Make Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

4 pears (choose the nicest you can find, but they should still be hard)
500ml normally brewed rooibos tea or Red Chai tea
125g Fairtrade light muscovado sugar
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod
½ pinch organic saffron
¼ tsp organic Fairtrade ginger
125ml double or whipping cream (optional)
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod (optional)

Peel the pears leaving the stalk, then cut a small slice off the base of the pear to enable them to stand upright in the pan and on the plate.  Find a heavy bottomed pan that is tall enough to accomodate the full height of the pears with the pan lid over the top.  Leave the pears on a plate to the side for the moment.

In a family sized tea pot, brew the rooibos tea.  It is best to use loose leaf tea as the tea bag imparts a dusty, foisty flavour to the tea, but a teabag will do for convenience.  Brew as normal based on equivalent of 1 teaspoon per person so that is 4 heaped teaspoons into the pot, using freshly drawn water that has been brought to the boil, then steeped for 5 minutes; strain and pour into the pan.

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Add the light muscovado sugar, saffron and ginger.  For the vanilla, slice this lengthways and scrape out the vanilla seeds into the rooibos tea, then place the whole bean into the liquid for good measure.

Place the pears upright into the pan, put the lid carefully over the pears slightly off the rim.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and poach for 45 minutes until the pears are perfectly soft; you may need to adjust the cooking time depending on the ripeness of the pears.  Take the pears out of the sauce, put on a plate and leave to cool fully.

Strain the sugar syrup to remove the saffron and any bits.  Return the pan to the hob and heat to a vigorous boil and reduce the syrup to about 150ml.  Leave the syrup to cool.

To make the vanilla cream: pour 125ml of cream into a bowl; slice a vanilla bean lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream; using an electric or hand whisk, whisk to a thick, whipped cream.  Place in fridge while the pears and sauce are cooling to allow the vanilla flavours to infuse the cream.

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Place the pears onto individual plates and pour over some of the sauce.  Add a tablespoon of vanilla whipped cream on the side of each plate.

Recipe For Yorkshire Fruit Tea Bread

Friday, September 17th, 2010

We have always loved teabreads here at home like those made by Elizabeth Bothams of Whitby, but I reckoned that some of those homely, comforting cakes could not be too difficult to make.  So this weekend I set out to make a traditional Fruit Teabread, plus I wanted to have an experiment with cooking with tea.  Quite a lot of the English traditional cakes call for fruit to be laced with alcohol and soaked for a time, but couldn’t this be replaced with soaking in tea?

What I ended out with is a cross between a teabread and a Yorkshire brack, a lighter brack than maybe traditional but richer than a teabread.

Yorkshire Brack

Yorkshire Teabread

Firstly, the practical error, I used a loaf tin that was too small for the mixture, and will need to add an extra 30% to the quantities for the loaf tin, or use a smaller loaf tin; I think I have two little loaf tins hidden somewhere in the cellar.  Secondly, you could perhaps increase the amount of pepper used, but not by much as little of that flavour seemed to come through.  Thirdly, the tea used in this case was a Christmas Chai that we hand blend at our Ripon factory and was hanging over in our cupboard from last year, as I felt that its extra spiciness would add a mysterious hint of the exotic to the background flavour, but I am not sure that it was tastable (if that’s a genuine word).  Finally, I boiled the fruit in the tea, whereas most recipes suggest that you soak the fruit overnight, which is fine, however I never real know what I want to bake until the day has arrived, so I needed to speed up the process.

Otherwise the taste and texture were great, and it lasted for about 30 minutes without a complaint from anyone who tried it.  In fact, most came back for more, so it cannot have been half bad.

How to make Fruit Tea Bread

115g / 4oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
75g / 3oz / ½ cup raisins
40g / 1½ oz / 3tbsp currants
200ml / 7 fl oz / 7/8 cup strong black tea (2tbsp in 6 cup pot; try a chai for subtle differences)
1 pinch of ground black pepper, or lemon pepper
115g / 4oz / ½ cup soft brown sugar
180g / 7oz / 1½ cups plain flour (I used Gilchesters strong white flour)
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Fairtrade cinnamon powder
½ tsp Fairtrade nutmeg powder
1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
30g / 1oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled to touch warm

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Place the dried fruit into a small saucepan, then add the strong tea, heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the fruit has plumped up.  Leave to cool in the pan.  When cool strain away any excess liquid, add the pinch of ground pepper, stir the fruit around and try and coat most of the fruit.  Stir in the sugar and leave to the side.

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Sieve together the plain flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg powders.  Make a well in the centre of the flour, then add in the egg and stir thoroughly with a spatula.  Add the melted butter and stir until you have a soft dough.  Add the sugar coated fruits and throughly beat together with the silicone spatula.

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tip the fruit cake mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour, remove from the oven then leave to stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out and leaving to cool on wire rack.  You do not need to leave this to cool down completely as it is lovely eaten warm.

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Serve on its own or spread with butter.

The Hummingbird On Stroud Green Road

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

One of my favourite hidden restaurants in London has been for many years, The Humming Bird, at 84 Stroud Green Road, which serves traditional Caribbean cuisine.  Sophie and I visited there on Monday with my brother, getting drenched on the way back in torrential rain.  It is located on an interesting stretch of road that includes Cats for Thai food, Nandos for South African, Venezia for pizza and further down Dotori for Korea/ Japanese.

The Hummingbird is certainly not a place for the squeamish nor those who like their restaurants glamorous and glitzy, falling down on their decor, slow service, lack of ambience and they have had a credit card machine that has been broken for years (I suspect they have never had one).  As for ambience, it has been empty save for us every time I have eaten there, but with a fairly busy take-out traffic.  But I am one of those who likes that sort of decaying ambience, feeling uneasy, uncomfortable and generally becoming a clutz in smart and fancy places.

For me, it seems like traditional homely food like that your granny might make for you, rather than anything innovative.  It is known locally as the roti place, so do not go too clever, but like in many restaurants around the country stick to the middle of the road and you will be fine.

We ordered Jerk Chicken, Sprats and Cheese & Potato Bake for Starters (Sophie had that for her main course) and Barbecue Chicken and Goat Roti for main courses.  These were washed down with Carib beers, while I had a Seven Up.  I then dared to try a couple of the traditional sweets sitting in the take away cabinet at the front. 

The service was quick and we shared and enjoyed the decently spiced Jerk Chicken and Sprats that had the right amount of chilli heat.  However, the Sprats are not done fresh to table as you can see them waiting obediently and prefried in the takeaway counter, so they lack that freshly fried, crisy lightness that I like from sprats or whitebait.  The Cheese & Potato bake was fine, but I was not in the mood for it, as it was what it was – a cheese and potato bake.

The Goat Roti was just what I wanted – simple flatbread wrapped around a delicious goat curry*, which was well spiced in a traditional Trinidadian style curry.  This really was good, family-style cooking.  My brother ate Barbecue Chicken which was a good contrast to the spicy heat of the Jerk Chicken, with a good sweet barbecue sauce, although I would have liked some more smokiness and heat to come through than just straight sweetness.  Overall, I thought these were good, middle of the road dishes.

I then ventured to try to traditional sweets that I had noted in the window over the years, but had always shied away from.  Firstly, there was a garish looking coconut sweet with a bright red centre, and secondly, a 5cm diameter brown ball coated in sugar.  The coconut sweet was tough and sweet and not as nice as having traditional coconut ice, while the ball was an experience.  I was warned that “the tradition is that only pregnant women like these”; they are tamarind balls, where the tamarind is boiled with some sugar, moulded and then coated in sugar.  By ‘eck but it was sour, really bitterly sour and then it was full of the big tamarind seeds; let us put that one down to an experience, but one not to be repeated.

The cost of the whole meal (excluding tip) was £35 for three, which certainly wins on the value for money scale.

As I said at the outset, it still remains a great place for a simple meal.  However, if you want anything extraordinary or to cater for more than a few people, this is not the place.  But I still love it for its faults, because it does what it does well, really well, while it will remain a hidden gem because of its faults.

* Goat curry is often made with mutton in the UK, so do not be put off by the idea of goat.