Tour de France

Since realising that I’ve finally left institutionalised education and actually have no fixed path anymore I’ve decided to branch out with my cooking. I seem to have had writers block during all the post exam furore ( hence the lack of posts recently) so I’ve decided to try and set myself challenges. In order to master these recipes I’ve always struggled with I’m going to read lots of different versions of the recipe to try and pinpoint the problems and come up with the best result. First up is Patisserie. I’ve never really mastered some of the classic French recipes so with a week of nothing to do but put off unpacking my university stuff, I decided to do a mini tour of the highlights of French patisserie. First up is choux pastry. In homage to the upcoming final leg of the Tour de France in Paris, I’ve decided to make  Paris Brest. This pastry was first made to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race in 1910, ironically it was popular with the riders as it gave them a lot of energy but I can’t image that it would fit in with the intense nutritional programs of today’s competitors. It’s meant to look like a bicycle wheel, as exhibit A shows.

Paris Brest 4

 

I’ve had problems with choux pastry before. My profiteroles looked incredibly promising in the oven but sank the moment they came out leaving a soggy flat circle…. So this time I studied a number of different recipes to try and get it right this time. As far as I can tell the 3 things to be careful are

1. Don’t slack beating the flour and water mix before adding the eggs as the pastry needs a good support for the outer shell.

2. Don’t try to add all the eggs at once, the eggs need to be properly beaten so that the pastry rises enough.

3. Don’t take the pastries out of the oven too soon, even if it is a little brown, the pastries will sink if brought out too early.

The Recipe

1. Start by melting 150ml water and 50g butter and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and beat in a pinch of salt and 75g flour into the mix so the dough is shiny and comes away from the pan. Return to the heat and beat for 2mins.

IMG_2059

2. Set aside to cool a little. When the mix is cool, add 2 eggs and a drop of vanilla essence, beating in 1 at a time. Beat well for 2-5mins until the mix is shiny and drops off the spoon.

3. Heat the oven to 200oC. Fill a piping bag with the mix and pipe circles onto a lined baking tray. (This is actually the hardest bit, try to make the thickness as equal as possible all the way round for a the prettiest finish) Brush the tops with egg yolk and then scatter over 50g flaked almonds. Bake in the oven for 10mins, then turn the heat down to 180oC and bake for a further 20mins until brown on top. As soon as they come out of the oven split the pastries in half lengthways. Leave to cool.

IMG_2061

4. For the filling, beat together 2 egg yolks and 40g sugar together until light and fluffy, then add 25g plain flour. Meanwhile heat 160ml whole milk in a pan with 1 tsp expresso powder and 1tsp vanilla extract. Pour the heated milk (not boiling) over the egg mix and whisk together. Return to the pan and cook over a low heat whisking constantly. When the mixture is thickened remove from the heat. Leave to cool (This is again where I went wrong – try to refrigerate this if possible as if you add the mixture too warm to the cream, the mix won’t be as thick in the pastries as it should be)

5. Beat 200ml cream to soft peaks. Fold in the patisserie cream and decant into a piping bag. Pipe between the pastry halves. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

IMG_2063 IMG_2062

As a side note I also had a go at making Kale chips (healthy crisps so I’m told). Simply remove the thick stalks of the kale leaves and tear into small pieces. Lay on a foil lined baking tray, sprinkle with salt and bake in the oven for 6-8mins at 200oC. It’s not quite the same as Walkers but they are pretty addictive.

IMG_2060

Advertisements

Playing House

Playing House
There is a reason I cook less in Cambridge. Mostly because my kitchen this year consists of two ‘warming plates’ and a microwave and my fridge (as I’ve said before) resembles the toy fridge that came with the ‘my first kitchen’ I got at the age of three. I have minimal access to an oven and any attempt to use it involves running four floors down my staircase and two floors up on another one, which is always fun when you’re carrying a hot tray…. Plus I have limited (three armchairs) seating and only a desk to eat off. All this makes it less than ideal to throw a dinner party, but I took up the challenge when my friend the Girtonion persuaded me to throw one with her.

We optimistically set a date in a month and a half’s time, although being me, I planned the menu about a week later. Limitations included budget ( if we had a fish starter, we went with a veggie main), gluten intolerance and logistics, oven space (I went with no-cook starter and dessert). 
On the day itself, about an hour and a half before the start of the party, we had an offer of a better venue, with a proper table and enough chairs and and oven in the next door room. While fantastic, this proved an entertaining challenge as we carried 3 large lasagnes through college and across the road, I was surprised we managed to pull this off but with 3 minutes to go we were semi-organised. 
While enjoying a fine selection of wines (my friends have good taste) we sat down.
Gin and Juniper cured Salmon, pickled cucumber and creme fraiche 
( see christmas blog for the recipe)
This was possibly the easiest course to do within our limitations and relatively cheap with Sainsburys basics salmon fillets, who knew. Although I panicked and left the cure on too long so they were a little too salty but luckily managed to balance out with the mellowing flavours of the creme fraiche and cucumber.

Goats Cheese and Butternut Squash no pasta lasagne, with sage and garlic chips and broccoli.
Why I decided to cook a lasagne for a gluten-free meal I am not entirely sure, but I love the Nigella goats cheese and pumpkin lasagne 
So in order to tweak it to suit my limitations, we used squash instead of pumpkin, cut down on expensive goats cheese and upped the mozzarella, increased the garlic (always makes things better), replaced the pine nuts with walnuts and replaced the pasta with slices of courgette and aubergine. my original idea as an interesting side was fried garlic polenta, but alas a lack of interesting ingredients in the supermarkets of Cambridge scuppered this plan. Instead we went with chips. We parboiled the potatoes with salt, sage and garlic, tossed the drained contents in oil and roasted for about an hour – they appeared to go down well, my neighbours at the table started grazing on extra chips of the tray before we had even served all the food. 
Lemon Posset, popping candy and gluten free shortbread.
Lemon posset is a delightfully easy dessert, in this case quirkily served in plastic cups (Ok maybe that is all I had…) Simply bring 600ml cream and 150g sugar and the zest of 3 lemons to the boil, boil for 3 mins before whisking in the juice of 3 lemons, pour into glasses and leave to set. Note to self, next time don’t put the popping candy on till the last minute otherwise you simply create a sort of strawberry flavour creme brûlée topping to your posset…. 
For the shortbread I got to use my new bright red Kitchen aid for the first time. Again devilishly simple. Cream 150g butter, 75g sugar, 1tsp salt, add 250g gluten free self raising flour, roll into flattened balls and bake at 180oC for 12-15mins till golden brown.
There were moments I thought a three course meal for nine would be impossible in college, it wasn’t, but boy it made me appreciate my kitchen at home.