Jun 01 2007

Tarte au Pomme

I love making these traditional French apple tarts. There’s a comforting symmetry in the arrangement of the apples slices and a sticky deliciousness to the shiny glaze.

First I make the Pate Sucre. I used to make it by hand on a marble slab gradually drawing all the ingredients together but now we have food processors!

I whizz 200g plain flour, 100g soft butter, 75g caster sugar and three egg yolks in the processor, wrap the paste in cling film and chill for at least an hour before I use it. Even well chilled it is hard to roll, out so I find it easier to dip my knuckles in icing sugar and press it carefully into a loose bottomed flan ring. I chill it again.

I often make a double quantity of pastry, line two fluted flan tins, freeze one and bake one blind. While it cools I make the crème patisserie with 50 grams of butter, icing sugar and, ground almonds and an egg. I spread it over the base of the cool flan case sprinkling it with a teaspoonful of dry semolina.

Next, working fast, I cut red desert apples into thin slices and arranged them in circles on top of the crème patisserie. Every few minutes I squeeze lemon juice on the slices to stop them browning. Then another sprinkling, this time of caster sugar, and back into a hot oven just long enough to soften the apple. Finally I warm some home made redcurrant jelly and carefully “paint” the flan to give a dark red, sticky glaze. I serve the flans warm with double cream or Devonshire clotted cream.

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Jun 01 2007

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake was originally baked for Mothering Sunday but has now become associated with Easter.

Grease and line a 7 inch cake tin. Preheat the oven to 325F, gas 3 or 165c.

Cream together ½ lb/230gms of unsalted butter with the grated rind of two lemons and ½ lb/230gms of caster sugar, until light and fluffy.

Add four eggs slowly, beating as you go.

Now stir in 6 oz/200gms of mixed candied peel, 6oz/200gms sultanas, 1¼ lb/500gms currants. Sift 14 oz/400gms plain flour with a pinch of salt and a small teaspoon of baking powder and the same of mixed spice. Gently fold in. If it seems very stiff loosen with a dash of milk.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for about 3 hours. Test with a skewer and cook a little longer if it comes out of the cake sticky.

Turn onto a wrack to cool and make the Almond topping.

Mix together 4oz/120gms ground almonds with4oz/120gms icing sugar. Add half a lightly beaten egg and a few drops of lemon juice. Knead the paste till smooth. Then, using two thirds of the paste, roll out a 7 inch circle to fit the top of the cake. Form little balls with the remaining paste to represent the 11 Apostles, excluding Judas, and place them on the cake with crystallised flowers or pre Christian Easter Eggs to celebrate Spring.


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Jun 01 2007

Roasted Apple Ice Cream

2 Bramley apples
25g unsalted butter
35g unrefined or raw sugar
300ml double cream
2tsp vanilla essence
4 lg egg yolks
60g unrefined or raw sugar
4tbsp crème fraiche

Peel, core and cut apples into 1cm cubes. Melt butter in oven proof, non-stick pan. Add sugar; let it begin to caramelise. Add apples, cook at high heat for a few minutes then put into oven to “roast” (180 c) for 10-15 mins,( nicely sticky and brown). Cool and be careful not to break up as you turn.

**Place milk, cream & vanilla essence into heavy bottomed pan, bring to boil. Combine egg yolks & sugar, pour onto milk mixture, mix well. Rinse pan in cold water, return mixture to pan & thicken stiring all the time, over low heat. It must NOT boil!. Cool. Whisk in crème fraiche.

Transfer to Ice Cream Maker and churn, or pour chilled custard into plastic box, place in freezer and, after one hour, take out & whisk with hand whisk. Repeat 4 times at 30 minute intervals adding apples after final whisking……….

Or, do this……………….
**Cook the APPLES as above

Then make the CUSTARD… just cream with a vanilla pod infused in it; most vanilla essence is disgusting!
(You can wash the pod afterwards and put it back in the caster sugar jar!).

Add two tea spoons of cornflour to the egg yolks and sugar to stabilise the mixture, less chance of scrambled egg i.e. easier and safer!

Then…….. make a MERINGUE CUITE

4 egg whites
9 oz icing sugar

Whisk together over a pan of hot water. It will be stiffer and better tempered than ordinary meringue!


Whip 1/2 pint double cream until it’s the same consistency as the meringue

Combine custard, meringue, cream and apples gently with a metal spoon.
Put the whole lot in the freezer and take out one hour before eating.
None of that whisking or rushing out to buy an ice cream churn………
You can give it one whisk if you like to make sure there are no ice crystals about but it will reduce the volume.
Any flavour will work but remember water means ice crystals so it’s safer to stick to thick fruit purees, praline, pure melted chocolate etc…

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Jun 01 2007

Polenta Almond and Lemon Cake

The strawberries in the garden are in flower but no fruit yet so I must cheat and buy a small punit to go with the Polenta Almond and Lemon Cake I am making for a friends’ birthday in a couple of days. The crunchiness of the cake goes so well with the delicious luxuriousness of strawberries and cream.

First prepare the cake tin by lining with baking parchment. Preheat the oven.

For the cake take 25gms unsalted butter and 225 gms * vanilla flavoured caster sugar and beat hard with a wooden spoon till pale and light, or whiz in the food processor. Stir in 225gms ground almonds. Now beat in 3 eggs one at a time. Fold in the zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1 lemon, 80gms of polenta and 75gm of plain flour, 1 tsp of baking powder and a good pinch of salt. If the mixture seems very runny add a little more flour and polenta. It depends on the size of your eggs. It should be the consistency of stiff batter.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at 160C/325F/ gas 3for 45-50 minutes. My range has a hot oven which is too hot and a cool oven that is too cool so I bake in the bottom oven slowly till the cake is set! Test with a skewer. If it comes out of the cake clean, the cake is cooked. Turn the cake out onto a wire tray to cool.

Place the cake on a large dish, surround with strawberries drizzled with thick cream, and sprinkle with icing sugar.

* Vanilla sugar: Keep caster sugar and a vanilla pod in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and the sugar will absorb the glorious flavour of the pod.

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Mar 01 2007

Victoria Sponge

Victoria Sponge, cucumber sandwiches – no crusts – and chocolate biscuits and those ones that look as if they were filled with dead flies, what were they called? It’s tea time on a winter’s afternoon. Granny has had the fire lit and the table laid, Nanny has cleaned me up and sent me down from the nursery…
“ And it is the nicest meal of the day. whether it is taken in the nursery with a two year old host making milk and honey flow with a lavishness that rouses wonder … or in a North country inn with eleven or twelve different sorts of cakes on the table; out of doors or merely in the drawing room. Philosophers might say the charm of the meal lay in the informal conversation: pedants may contend that all hangs on the country of origin of the tea itself; but all children, and all sensible people know that the fascination of tea really depends entirely upon the cakes.” Mrs C. F Level: The Gentle Art of Cookery 1925.
From the Constance Spry Cookery Book 1964:
“Take 3 eggs and their weight in butter, caster sugar, self raising flour, some good jam and icing or caster sugar. Cream the butter until it looks like whipped cream. Add the sugar and beat until white. Add the eggs one at a time with a good spoonful of sifted flour. Beat thoroughly. Sift the baking powder with the remaining flour, stir quickly into mixture. Turn into two sandwich tins 7 inches across, well buttered and floured; bake in a moderate oven 20-30 minutes. Turn out when cool, sandwich well with a good jam. Powder with icing or caster sugar.” Or, then again, you could just do what the Calendar Girls did…

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Mar 01 2007

Sponge Cake with a Crust

A Comforting Tea Time Cake

I turn to my beloved Constance Spry Cookery Book first published in 1956. ….”in those days the disposition of a woman’s time made tea time possible, and the taste for, shall I say, the cosier figure gave no cause for apprehension…..” She goes on to discuss the merits and, indeed, politeness of tea time entertaining going into the tricky business of whether one puts ones milk into the tea before or after pouring. There follows a delightfully trivial debate of what was and was not de rigueur at Afternoon tea! Suddenly I was a child again having tea with my scary Granny!

An absolute must, she tells us, is an Old fashioned Sponge Cake with a Crust: I quote: “take five eggs and their weight in castor sugar, and the weight of three of the eggs in flour, plus 1 tablespoon of orange flower water…. ( if you can get it! I will substitute a little orange zest in mine; not the same I know but something rather than nothing)

Separate yolks from whites. Take 1 tablespoon of sugar away from the total quantity for every egg white. Put the remaining sugar into a bowl with the egg yolks. Whisk over gentle heat until white and mousse-like. Add orange flower water. Whip the whites stiffly, incorporate the remaining sugar, and fold into the mixture with sifted flour. Turn at once into a greased and sugared cake tin, bake in a slow to moderate oven forty minutes to one hour………..

She gives no more instructions, you’re on your own! I guess you just turn it onto a wire rack cool and eat! Bon appetite,sit down, relax, enjoy your afternoon tea!

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Mar 01 2007


Rhubarb Salad is delicious with loads of fresh mint. Marinade the young chopped stems in brown sugar for an hour then toss in a vinaigrette dressing with plenty of fresh mint and a scattering of Rosemary flowers.

A light simple Rhubarb Fool is hard to beat on a mild Spring evening. Just poach young stems in a little orange juice and sugar. Allow to cool and fold in whipped cream. Serve chilled in individual glass pots.

Rhubarb Flan. Make a sweet pastry base with a Pate Sucre*, fill it with pouched rhubarb and cover with a lemon cream filling. Take 2 egg yolks, 2oz/50g caster sugar, 3 fl oz/70ml double cream and the zest of ½ a lemon. Place the sugar and eggs in a bowl over a pan of gently boiling water and whisk till thick and double in volume. Allow to cool. Mix in the cream and lemon zest and cover the rhubarb in the pastry case with the mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 190c , 375F or Gas 5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold.

*Pate Sucre used to be made by hand on a marble slab gradually drawing the ingredients together. Now we have food processors!

Whizz 200g plain flour, 100g soft butter, 75g caster sugar and three egg yolks in the processor, wrap in cling film and chill for at least and hour before using. It is hard to roll out so it may be easier to dip you knuckles in icing sugar and press it carefully into a loose bottomed flan ring. Chill again.

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Mar 01 2007


Quinces on the tree

My Quince Ratafia will be wonderful by Christmas. It will add a glow as we drink it, to the Christmas Pud and the Mince Pies. It will cheer up vanilla ice cream and add a sparkle to the winter fruit salad. Added to the pork gravy or stirred into a pheasant and apple casserole, it will enrich and bring a sweet wintry depth to the sauce.

Grate a really ripe quince into a litre jar. Add a little sugar depending on your taste. Fill the jar with vodka being sure to completely cover the fruit. Cover with a tight fitting lid and store for at least two months in a dark place. Occasionally give the bottle a shake to help the sugar dissolve. The longer you keep it the better it gets!

Quince, Apple and Tangerine Compote.

Peel the quince with a potato peeler, core and chop into even size chunks. Even ripe quince are very hard, so watch your fingers! Peel, core and chop the apples and slice the tangerines, skin and all, just take out the pips. Put everything in a heavy based pan, tip in 500grams of sugar and heat through, gently at first, till the sugar melts. Then simmer for about an hour till you have a thick, rich puree.

It freezes brilliantly so over the winter months you can eat it with yoghurt or ice cream, or make it into a winter fruit fool.

I will use it as the base of a Tarte au Pommes. Having lined a flan tin with pate sucree and baked it blind, I will cover it with the fruit puree. Next I will arrange the sliced apple in neat circles on the top. I will put it back in the oven until the apples is soft. Then, when it is cool, I will glaze the tarte with rosehip syrup or redcurrant jelly. I will serve it with Devonshire Clotted Cream or home made ice cream.

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Mar 01 2007

Pears in Red Wine


Peel four pears, slice a small piece off the bottom of each one so that they stand up.

In a pan heat half a pint of water (300ml), 4 ounces (125gms) of caster sugar and a quarter of a pint (150ml) of red wine. Bring to the boil. Add the pears and cook gently till soft. They will turn pink and shiny.

Remove pears and stand each one on a serving plate. Boil the syrup quickly for a few minutes to reduce a little….don’t make toffee!!….and spoon the syrup over the pears.

They can be prepared in advance but not the day before because the juice will run out of the pears and spoil the syrup….

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Mar 01 2007

Lemon Soufflé

An old fashioned favourite, feather light but fresh and tangy too.

Separate the yolks and whites of three eggs. Beat 175grams of caster sugar into the yolks in a small bowl, add the juice and rind of a lemon. Place the bowl over a pan of gently boiling water and whisk till thick. Make sure the bowl is suspended above the water….if it gets too hot it will cook into a rather awful lemon scrambled egg! If in doubt use a double boiler.

When the mixture is thick and mousse like remove from the heat and whisk a little longer. While it cools cover 12 grams of powdered gelatine in a tablespoon of water in a small pan. Let it “sponge” then dissolve it over gentle heat. Add to egg yolks together. Very gently fold in 400ml of whipped cream and the stiffly whisked egg whites.

Divide the mixture between six small glasses and chill in the ‘fridge till set. Serve with extra cream.

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