Archives for category: Sunshine

I went to visit my parents last week – well, actually, I went to visit the cutest new puppy in the world, Teazel – and came back with a huge carrier bag of blackcurrants (and some over-enthusiastic dog inflicted chew marks, but I forgive her). I remember being struck by a blackcurrant leaf sorbet I came across at Ballymaloe, which made me realise that the leaf itself is almost an echo of the scent of the fruit;  it smells of crouching to collect the berries with a plastic container and the sun on your back, verdant and winey. If the leaf sorbet tastes of the promise of future harvest, with a bag of ripe currants I wanted a sorbet that would capture the taste of late summer bounty. I wanted to distil pure blackcurrant essence into a sorbet. And, not to blow my own trumpet, but I succeeded. This thing is so heady with flavour it’s difficult to eat very much of it – a bit like drinking neat Ribena, but less sweet and with a more beautiful colour. Blackcurrants rival beetroot for the most lovely of food hues, I think (and the most messy stains left in the kitchen).

So most of the credit for this actually belongs to Roger Verge, whose recipe for raspberry sorbet I used as my guideline. The fruit isn’t cooked, so it tastes fresher, as if it’s just been picked. Enough sugar is added to enhance the taste without messing about with it – I increased the amount only slightly from the raspberry recipe, so it’s not too sweet (but neither is it sour enough to make your mouth pucker). The perfect sophisticated finish to a summery meal.

Blackcurrant sorbet

Serves 10-12

1kg blackcurrants
juice of 2 lemons
300g caster sugar, or to taste

First, I highly recommend putting on an apron. There will be purple juice everywhere. Next, puree the blackcurrants in a blender – don’t worry about topping and tailing them as the next stage will remove any debris. Press the puree through a sieve, getting as much as possible out. This will involve some quite hard work with a wooden spoon.

Add the sugar and lemon juice and whisk to dissolve. Taste to check the sugar levels – remember it will taste less sweet when frozen, so you want it to be a tiny bit sweeter than you’d ideally like.

Churn the sorbet in an ice-cream machine until fairly firm – I found it didn’t freeze as much as ice-cream, but the final texture was still good. Decant into a tub and freeze until solid. It doesn’t seem to need long out of the freezer before becoming scoopable, which is a bonus – as is the fact that, because of the robustness of the flavour, it should last longer than a normal sorbet without the taste dulling.

Adapted from Roger Verge’s ‘Cuisine of the Sun’ via Ballymaloe

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DAMN this is good. I know I wrote about chocolate ice cream not so long ago, and that was good too, but this is a different creature altogether. Stomach-groaningly rich, like the purest, creamiest frozen chocolate truffle. It has luxury written all over it in metaphorical gold plated lettering. You may struggle to eat even a moderate sized bowlful (but you will probably succeed). Well, Fergus Henderson does rather throw down the gauntlet by claiming that this is ‘the perfect chocolate ice cream’. Luckily, you will agree, because you will be far too full for picking up anything, gauntlets or otherwise.

And now the bad news: it takes a week to make. Wait! Doesn’t delayed gratification make things taste even better? Perhaps this depends on whether you’re the sort of person who likes to give themself kitchen projects. I first read about this incredible sounding, calendar-requiring ice cream on Seven Spoons and was committed to the idea straight away (from which you can infer that I am). Shortly afterwards, fate delivered ‘Beyond Nose To Tail’ into my hands via my local Oxfam. It’s a great book, full of wise instructions such as ‘be firm, but fair with salads’. I skipped through the pig’s head and trotter sections, because I’m a faint-hearted girl, and straight to puddings (including the sub-division ‘steadying puddings’) and baking and ice cream. Oh joy! There it was. It’s not actually time consuming to make, but you must mobilise will power and leave it in your freezer for a few days before eating it. It makes a difference: on the fourth day, to rescue a disappointing dinner of pizza overly charred on the barbecue, it tasted even better, the caramel notes issuing forth more confidently. We finished it there and then. Time to buy some more chocolate and hope the weather holds out for next week.

St John’s chocolate ice cream

Makes about 1 litre

200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids. I used the relatively cheap yet nice Isis Luxury Belgian brand, available at Waitrose (course)
6 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
500ml full-fat milk
50ml double cream
40g cocoa powder

for the caramel:
70g caster sugar
75ml water

Break the chocolate into squares and melt in a bowl over a pan of hot water (or in a microwave, if you have one).

Beat the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and thick, enough to trace a figure of 8 on the surface. This will take around 5 minutes with an electric beater/whisk.

Bring the milk, cream and cocoa powder to the boil slowly in a large pan, whisking to disperse lumps and prevent the cocoa powder sticking on the bottom of the pan. Pour this over the egg yolk mixture, whisking to mix evenly, then put it all back in the saucepan and scrape in the melted chocolate. The recipe now says to cook over a low heat for a further 8 minutes, but mine was already very thick so I left it on the heat for much less time, a couple of minutes perhaps. It should coat the spoon thickly, but obviously you want to avoid the eggs scrambling. When you’re happy with the custard, remove it from the heat.

Make the caramel by bringing the sugar and water to the boil. Keep the heat low at first, stirring the sugar to dissolve it, then raise the heat and don’t stir until the mixture is thick and chestnust brown. Quickly pour the caramel into the ice-cream base, whisking vigorously.

Pour everything through a sieve into a plastic container and cool it down in an ice-bath. When cool, leave in the fridge for 2 days before churning in an ice-cream machine. After churning and freezing, leave for 3-4 days before eating.

From ‘Beyond Nose to Tail’ by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly

This is taken from the book ‘Street Food Revolution’, which I highly recommend – lots of interesting stories about people passionate about their own little corner of the food universe, facing adversity and coming out the other side with some truly tested recipes. And then being so good as to pass them on. The chapter which most captivated me was the story of Kitty Travers and La Grotta Ices; because how could you not fall in love with the idea of raspberry and fig leaf granita, or lemon granita for breakfast with biscotti? What I actually got the ice-cream machine out for, though, was this chocolate pudding ice-cream, intrigued by the concept of an egg-free ice-cream thickened with cornflour. She says it’s ‘cheaper, lighter for the digestion…and it doesn’t inhibit the flavours of the other ingredients like egg can’. And, I might add, you’re not stuck with a load of egg whites to use up.

I’m not sure I can wholly agree with the claim that it’s ‘ridiculously simple’ – there are definitely easier ice-creams out there – but it’s not difficult, and it’s worth following the instructions properly because the end result is the silkiest, smoothest ice-cream you’ve ever tasted. It’s surprisingly rich for something that’s actually pretty low in fat, but in a delicate, non-sickly way. In other words, go and make this. You won’t regret it.

Chocolate pudding ice-cream

Serves 4-5

450ml whole milk
15g cornflour
50g good quality cocoa powder
75g golden granulated or caster sugar
pinch of salt

Mix 100ml of the milk with the cornflour to a smooth paste.

Heat the remaining milk in a saucepan over a medium heat. Mix the cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a bowl large enough to hold all of the milk. When the milk reaches a simmering point, pour it over the cocoa mixture, whisking as you do so to take care of any lumps.

Return the mixture to the pan on the hob and cook over a low heat, barely at a simmer, for 6 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent it catching.

Add the cornflour mixture and whisk again. Simmer for a further 2 minutes until quite a bit thicker.

Strain the mixture into a clean container and cool in an ice-water bath, stirring regularly to prevent a skin from forming. When cool, refrigerate for at least 4 hours (this gives the ice-cream better body and texture).

Churn in an ice-cream machine and freeze.

Kitty suggests serving this with ‘cashew nuts and a pinch of lightly toasted Ancho chilli seeds ground up with sea salt, or with sweetened whipped cream and grated dark chocolate’, both of which sound delightful, if you get past eating it on its own, which we didn’t.

From ‘Street Food Revolution’, by Richard Johnson

So, apparently the other day I had a barbecue with some ghosts.

Whenever we break out the barbecue, I tend to turn to middle eastern foods – not really surprising, given that it’s pretty much the go-to region for grilled meats and grilled meat accompaniments. We’ll usually have merguez sausages, delicious, skinny wands of lamb, either the spicy or less spicy version from the brusque guy behind the meat counter at the Maroc deli. Then houmous, of course, some kind of aubergine salad, maybe even more lamb in the form of koftas or a marinated shoulder. I’m usually lukewarm about lamb, but barbecued I love it.

So on this Sunday we had all the usual barbecue components, plus a box of crushed up meringue I’d rescued from work and planned to turn into Eton Mess. And then I wondered what would happen if I continued the Arabesque theme into dessert, adding a little bit of orange blossom water, some honey, and mixing the cream half and half with yoghurt. Meringue isn’t very middle eastern, whichever way you look at it, but I figured that in lots of countries they put gum mastic in their ice-creams, which gives a sort of chewy texture perhaps not a million miles away from the inside of a homemade meringue. I might be stretching it a bit now. Anyway, I think it worked – one of the guests had brought along the M&S orange and passionfruit meringue pie, which is Very Good, and we had some of that left. But the Marrakech mess (I think Nigella, who I think of as the queen of naff food names, would be proud) was all gone.

Marrakech mess

Serves 6, with seconds

1 big punnet strawberries
2 tbsp honey, or to taste
2 tsp orange flower water
250ml double cream
500g pot thick, full-fat yoghurt, e.g. Total Greek
6-8 big meringues, preferably homemade
rosewater, to taste

Hull and quarter the strawberries and mix them with the honey and orange flower water. You may need more or less honey, depending on how sweet your strawberries are (I had the disappointing kind that look big and juicy and ripe but make your mouth pucker when you bite into them.)

Whip the cream to soft peaks. It should more or less double in size. By the time you’ve done this, the strawberries should have started to exude some juices. Stir the softly whipped cream and yoghurt into the strawberries.

Crush up the meringues roughly if they’re not already broken, and fold them into the strawberry mix. I like quite a meringue-heavy mess, so adjust if you don’t.

Stir in a tsp or so of rosewater. This will give it a more pronounced sort of exotic flavour, but you can always leave it out if you don’t like the flowery stuff.

These ones are good. And I know that 99.9% of chocolate chip cookies are good, but these are different – grown-up and interesting, like the chic mother of the ones you buy in paper bags from supermarket bakery sections. Not that they look exactly chic, in fact, they look exactly like any other big, lumpy round chocolatey cookie (i.e., I had to practice some serious distraction tactics not to eat them all as soon as they came out of the oven). But within the cakey interior lies deep, dark chocolate and a subtle, intriguing bittersweetness from the combination of treacly sugar and wholemeal flour.

The recipe comes from Kim Boyce’s ‘Good to the Grain’, which I’ve mentioned before, and may well again. In the introduction to this recipe, she says “It’s surprising just how delicious this whole-wheat version of an old classic is. Unlike many of the recipes in this book, this cookie is made with 100 percent whole-wheat flour, which gives it a distinctive, nutty taste.” In any other book, I’d read that sentence and think, ‘so – they’re going to taste weird, then’ but I knew I could trust Kim to deliver, plus, I’d read good things about this cookie on Orangette (reading this post again, her description of it as a cross between a chocolate chip cookie and a digestive is spot on). We took them on our first picnic of the year, where we ate them in the waning sunlight with homemade lemonade, fending off a group of large greyhounds. Ah, April, you have been good to us.

Chocolate chip cookies

Makes 20

I’ve rejigged the recipe slightly so it’s suitable for those of us unfortunate enough not to own a mixer. I also converted the measurements from American cup measures to grams – hey, you’re welcome – and I’m pretty sure I reduced the sugar somewhat in doing so; they were still sweet enough even for Tom, though you could always add a bit more regular sugar if you prefer.  

400g wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp sea salt

225g room temperature unsalted butter
200g dark brown sugar (I used Billington’s molasses sugar)
200g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

200g dark chocolate (I used 71%)

Preheat the oven to 180c and place the racks in the upper and lower thirds. Either line two (or more, depending on size) baking trays with greaseproof paper, or just butter them – I didn’t find that they stuck without paper.

Cream the butter and sugars together – you don’t need to be too thorough, they just need to amalgamate. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Mix in the vanilla. Sieve in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt (leave out the salt if you only had salted butter), but tip back into the bowl afterwards any bits of bran etc. left in the sieve.

Roughly chop the chocolate into chunks and stir in. Tip the batter out onto a work surface and use your hands to make sure all of the ingredients are fully incorporated (was this strictly necessary? It meant that instead of scraping out the bowl, I was scraping bits of dough off the worktop to eat, which is a bit less dignified, but I’ll leave that up to you).

Scoop mounds of dough of about 3 tbsp onto the baking trays (I used an ice-cream scoop). Flatten them slightly or not, depending on how thick you want the end result to be. You want no more than 6 cookies to an average sized tray, as they spread a bit.

Bake the cookies for 16-20 minutes (Kim is precise! Mine took 16) until firmish and darkened at the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Adapted from ‘Good to the Grain’ by Kim Boyce