Archives for the month of: June, 2011

It’s not usually Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes that I’m drawn to in The Guardian Weekend – I’m far more likely to tear out the Ottolenghi page, or the Dan Lepard section. I don’t know why, since we seem to share pretty similar values, food-wise. And often the subject of the column gets me interested, but then the recipes never quite inspire me as I hope. I think maybe some chefs, some food writers connect and some don’t, and me and Hugh have a bit of a disconnect. Or we did.

He found my weak spot in the 4th June issue with a whole feature on brownies, the peak for me being a peanut butter and chocolate brownie recipe – a combination which I have both made and written about before, but these sounded, and crucially looked in the accompanying photo, soooo much better. There’s a peanut butter layer. With cream cheese. I swiped the magazine from work and, well, it’s 26 days later and it’s still languishing on the TV table. However, when my mum asked me to provide some cake for a charity garden do my parents were hosting, I remembered that there was another recipe in the feature, one which had almost passed me by, for cocoa brownies, the kind of thing that could be whipped up fairly quickly from store cupboard ingredients.

Well, to cut to the chase, I made them, I gave them to my mum and they were apparently quite unpopular with the garden-going public; luckily as it turned out, because she saved me a piece and now I can confirm that these are some good brownies indeed. Worth the slightly tedious step of beating sugar and eggs to the required thickness. Like all good brownies, they’re thick and squidgy inside with a crackly top, but the flavour provided by the cocoa is surprisingly deep and rich and the combination of muscovado sugar and browned butter rounds out the sweetness nicely. I included the optional step of adding chocolate chunks to the batter, so I don’t know how they’d be without any chocolate at all, but I’m willing to bet still delicious. Ladies of the Cotswolds, your loss is my gain.

Update! By coincidence, I mentioned this to someone at work who had just made the blondies from the very same feature. She brought some in and they were all kinds of awesome: coconut, cardamom, white chocolate chunks, and straight from the fridge with a texture like fudge. Hugh, I salute you.

Cocoa brownies

Makes 16

170g butter
200g caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g cocoa powder
50g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
100g dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Heat the oven to 170c. Grease and line a 22cm square tin, or proportions thereabouts.

Melt the butter over a medium heat until it browns lightly and smells nutty. Set aside to cool while you beat together the sugars and eggs until thick and glossy. You’ll need a food mixer or electric hand mixer for this – it takes a long time, so don’t give up until the mixture is discernibly thickened. You should reach the figure of 8 stage (when you can draw a figure of 8 with a ribbon of batter before it disappears).

Beat the vanilla extract and browned butter into the egg/sugar mixture. Stir together the cocoa, flour and salt and gently fold in. Fold in the chocolate chunks, if using, and scrape the brownie into the tin. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is no longer wobbly but still moist in the middle. 

From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Brownie Pointers’, The Guardian Weekend, 4 June 2011

I realise this might seem a bit two-weeks-ago, now the elderflowers are shedding their bloom and fading from the hedgerows, but I couldn’t write up the recipe until I was sure it had worked, and now it has I’m all over-excited about it. Plus, there’s always next year, right?

When the elderflowers were in full throttle, back when it wasn’t raining like every single day, I picked so many that I needed to find ways to use up the ones that hadn’t gone into cordial. I turned to my trusty copy of Darina’s ‘Forgotten Skills’ and found recipes for elderflower vinegar, elderflower tempura and elderflower ‘fizz’. The elderflower vinegar I dutifully made, bottled, and have not used. The elderflower tempura fell by the wayside because I can never be bothered to deep-fry things. The elderflower fizz was more intriguing and seemed almost too simple (‘this magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink’), but I weighed the ingredients into a bowl, left it overnight and bottled it as directed, leaving it on its side in the wine rack until…a week or so later I realised I hadn’t put the seal in properly and half of it had leaked all over the worktop. What was left looked pretty flat and I assumed it needed pressure to work and I was looking at a big fat fail.

But then! Tonight we decided to open it anyway. The top came off with such an almighty pop I shrieked like a very girly girl. I poured it into a glass. It fizzed! It was delicious. And so I can only urge you to make this as soon as possible, which I’m sorry may well be May 2012, because it does seem to be completely foolproof. Magical, even.

*It’s not actually alcoholic. Well, maybe a very little bit.

Elderflower champagne

2 heads of elderflower
zest and juice of 1 organic lemon
600g sugar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar

Shake the elderflower carefully to remove any insects (it helps to do it onto a pale surface so you can see them, they tend to be tiny). Remove the zest from the lemon with a swivel-top peeler. Put all the ingredients into a bowl with 4.6 litres of cold water and leave for 24 hours.

Strain the liquid and pour into strong screw-top or flip-top type bottles. The bottles need to be well sealed (ahem!). Lay them on their sides in a cool place for 2 weeks, after which they should be sparkling and will be ready to drink.

From ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’, Darina Allen

Penguin have just published a set of  ‘Great Food’ books, selections of food writing from influential or slightly more obscure writers, in tiny, beautifully designed and extremely covetable format. They’re 3 for 2 at Blackwell’s at the moment; obviously I wanted the whole lot, but managed to restrict myself to Alice B.  Toklas, Brillat-Savarin and Alice Waters. (See the whole list here).

When I got home I started to read Alice Waters’ ‘Recipes & Lessons from a Delicious Cooking Revolution’ (taken from ‘The Art of Simple Food’) and was completely absorbed. An almost terrifying attention to detail accompanies every process (four pages on making stock!) and yet it’s somehow extremely compelling; she makes preparing a vinaigrette seem like a meditation. If you notice, on the price sticker on the back are printed the words ‘Eat Simply, Live Happily’. On the other two, the sticker just features the name of the book. It’s like a secret call to arms! Her ethos comes across so clearly and calmly, it’s one of those books that makes you question the way you cook. Also, it really made me want a pizza.

I tied Alice’s instructions on pizza making in with a rye pizza dough I’d been wanting to try for a while. Several pizza dough recipes include a small amount of rye flour (Alice included), but this one makes rye the dominant flavour. I got it from someone Scandinavian, but I’m not sure who as I rudely omitted their name from the recipe when I cut it out. The topping was really borne out of what was in the house, but I also wanted ingredients that would be assertive enough for a stronger flavoured base – I’m not sure you’d want to use this for a margherita or something really classic. It’s a little heavier than a regular pizza dough, as you’d expect, but turns a lovely dark burnished brown and makes a satisfying mouthful.

Caramelised onion and blue cheese rye pizza

Makes 2 large pizzas, each serving 2 (or 4 smaller serving 4, if you don’t like sharing)

For the dough:
7g sachet fast-action yeast
300g rye flour
150g Italian ‘o0’ flour or strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt

For the topping (per large pizza):
2 onions
50-100g blue cheese (I used Cropwell Bishop stilton)
splash of balsamic vinegar
olive oil

To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in 50ml lukewarm water. Mix 2 tbsp of the rye flour and 1 tbsp of the white flour in a bowl, pour in the yeast and water and stir together to a paste. Cover with a teatowel and set aside for 3o minutes.

Stir in another 250ml of lukewarm water and the salt. Add the remaining flour and mix to a dough, then knead for about 10 minutes on a floured surface until smooth and pliable. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and leave to rise for 2 hours.

Divide the dough in two and form each into a ball. Cover loosely and leave for an hour.

The onions will take around half an hour to caramelise, so start those around about now. Thinly slice the onions (you’ll need to double the quantities if you’re making both pizzas). Heat a generous amount of butter in a frying pan until foaming, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over a medium heat until they start to soften and brown. Turn the heat down if they start to stick or burn. They should eventually turn rich and sweet and almost meltingly soft. Add this point stir in a few drops of balsamic vinegar, if you like.

Flatten each dough ball into a disc about 15cm in diameter and let rest for a further 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to its highest setting. If you have a pizza stone, put it on the lowest rack of the oven. Flour the back of a baking tray.

(At this point, I wrapped one of the balls up and put it in the freezer, where it should keep for about a month.)

Roll or stretch the ball/s into a rustic round shape as thin as possible without tearing. Put it on the floured baking tray and spread the onions over the top. Dot pieces of cheese over the onions.

Slide the pizza off the tray onto the pizza stone and cook for 6-8 minutes, until the base is dark brown and the cheese has melted.

With thanks to mystery Scandinavian and Alice Waters.