Sometimes I feel I should rename this blog ‘An ode to lemons’. The last three cakes I’ve done on my blog have been variations of lemon cake. Mini Rhubarb Lemon Buttermilk Bundts, Blueberry and Lemon Drizzle Bundt, and now this Saffron and Lemon Syrup cake. Hopefully you won’t mind though, because this summery, sunshiney cake was too good not to share.This cake was a winner for me because it was the first time I have enjoyed a semolina cake. Normally, I find cakes with semolina or polenta in have a strange gritty or claggy texture, but this one had just the right amount of substance whilst remaining lovely and soft. The sliced lemons on top retain a hint of bitterness which contrasts nicely with the sweet cake perfectly – it definitely wasn’t hanging around in the cake tin for long! I seem to be having a real thing for upside down cakes at the moment, constantly adding them to my To Bake lists so you can definitely expect some more soon – I love how they look impressive with so little effort. You can find the recipe from Honey & Co. here – the only change I made was to make a quick lemon syrup to soak the cake in as I wasn’t actually such a fan of the leftover saffron version. Enjoy!
Sunday, 7 September 2014
Sunday, 17 August 2014
Marks & Spencer picnics used to be a staple of the summer holidays for my friends and I. An indecisive bunch, we’d spend ages at each section: the sandwiches, the fruit and drinks, the crisps, the baked goods. Only once everyone had finally chosen would we move to the next aisle and begin the deliberations all over again there. A staple of the picnics would be a packet of M&S cookies. We took this decision in particular overly seriously (bad biscuit selection can ruin a picnic): games of heads or tails and ip dip doo being employed to gradually narrow down the choice. When I was in a Marks and Spencer recently, I noticed the selection of flavours in this range has more than tripled since we last went – I’m not sure we would have had any time for the actual picnic if this had existed when I was younger. But one flavour in particular caught my eye: the cherry bakewell cookie. I’ve made mini cherry bakewell tarts before but I really liked the idea of changing this classic dessert into cookie form. I was also feeling inspired after watching the first episode of Great British Bake Off (side note – I’m fully obsessed with Norman) where they made a cherry and almond sponge. These biscuits have exactly the same flavours but none of the ‘will the cherries sink’ stress – it’s a win win! The M&S version I saw didn’t have icing but I couldn’t resist. I was really happy with the result considering I’d pretty much made up the recipe – buttery shortbread, decent level of almondy flavour and sweet glace cherries are a dangerously addictive combination. I’ll admit that the cookies did spread a little in the oven so I trimmed off the edges to make them all the same… an unnecessary OCD step probably but then cookie trimmings = chefs perks! You can find the recipe below, I’m off to dream up other cookie versions of classic desserts. Tiramisu cookies anyone?
Cherry Bakewell Cookies
Makes 8 large cookies
- 125g unsalted butter
- 60g caster sugar
- 120g plain flour
- 60g ground almonds
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 50g glace cherries, quartered
- 100g icing sugar, sieved
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
1. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the almond extract and mix to combine.
2. Add the flour and ground almonds to the mixture and stir to incorporate. As the dough begins to come together, add the glace cherries and continue to mix until they are evenly distributed throughout the smooth dough.
3. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to just under 1cm thick. Stamp out with an 8cm cookie cutter and place on the baking sheets. Chill for 20minutes. Preheat the oven to 180’C.
4. Meanwhile, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to a smooth paste.
5. Bake the biscuits for 10-15minutes, until lightly golden. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack, then drizzle over the icing. Enjoy!
Sunday, 10 August 2014
I can tell you from repeated experience that watching a class of 16 make (the women teaching the men how to plait, some experienced Dads revealing secret skills), bake and take away plaited loaves is not fun. That smell of freshly baked bread, multiplied by 16, fills the kitchen all morning and then vanishes as they all proudly take away their bread to show their friends and family. Us washer-uppers secretly always hoped that someone would decide not to take it home, or absent-mindedly forget it, so that we could try some but of course no one was this foolish. I always vowed to give it a go myself at home so I could finally try this bread that always looked so delicious and today I finally got round to it!In keeping with my indecisive ways, I upped the ante slightly with a five strand loaf and made it wholemeal so I could feel less guilty about probably eating far too much . I really want to try Paul Hollywood’s eight strand plaited loaf but get baffled every time I read the braiding instructions so I stuck with the five for now, which turned out to be surprisingly really easy. I used this recipe and my only alterations were to include all the bran in the loaf, replace half the white flour with white spelt flour and only bake it for 30 minutes. The results were delicious! I broke all Leiths rules and enjoyed it still warm out of the oven… Enjoy!
Sunday, 3 August 2014
In London, blackberry season is in full swing. Every week, we save the big tubs we buy litres of Greek yoghurt in for blackberry picking at the weekend. With their handle and lid they make the perfect vessel to bring home plenty of berries. I was never a very good blackberry picker (it was a case of two for me, one for the tub) so now my parents go and I wait for them to return, tubs overflowing with juicy fruit. It feels a treat to be able to go berry picking in the middle of London – they grow wild along the Thames. Once we have had our fill of the berries fresh or blitzed into a compote and served with nectarines and sour cream– it’s time to get baking.I didn’t want anything too heavy – I love a classic pie but at the moment it is just too hot to deal with melting pastry – so I searched through my bookmarks until I found this. I’ve made a few variations of crumble bars in the past because they are such an easy (but still, most importantly, tasty) way to use up fruit or jam but I liked the twist of the macaroon topping on this recipe. And with spelt flour in the base, and a generous layer of fruit sandwiched in the middle – this is basically health food! Somehow even the small slices that I cut are filling enough and the different textures of the crunchy shortbread, juicy fruit and chewy coconut are delicious together. Now, just to think of uses for the two remaining tubs of berries waiting in the fridge… Blackberry Coconut Macaroon Tart, adapted from this recipe
Crust: 1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
90g unsalted butter, melted
Blackberry Coconut Macaroon Tart, adapted from this recipe
Filling: 1 cup shredded coconut
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 large egg whites
250g fresh blackberries, halved if large
1. Preheat oven to 180’C and lightly grease a 13x36 long tart tin, or 9inch round cake tin – a removable base is important.
2. Combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted butter until evenly distributed. Press the mixture firmly in the bottom of the pan to form a even layer. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden and firm. Remove and set aside to cool for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.
3. Stir together the coconut, sugar and egg whites. Evenly distribute the blackberries across the tart base. Spoon over the macaroon mixture and spread out lightly – it’s nice to still be able to see some berries.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the peaks of the macaroon filling are golden. Remove from the tart tin and cut into slices. Enjoy!
Sunday, 13 July 2014
I feel like as it is mid-July I should be blogging about ice cream, barbecues and gluts of summer fruit. But it appears the English weather is yet to get the ‘summer sunshine and warmth’ memo so I made a cake instead. My first bundt cake!I’ve wanted to make a bundt cake for so long so when I finally got my hands on a tin last week I knew it wouldn’t be long until one graced my table. I’m now desperate to make another one at the same time as another batch of these and have a bundt cake party…but that’s a whole other day. I used this lemon drizzle cake recipe from olive magazine and just added a few handfuls of blueberries to the mixture and used some more for decoration. Berries tend to sink to the bottom in cakes, but the beauty of the bundt is that you turn it upside down to serve so it looks like all the fruit stayed perfectly at the top. The heavy pan means it did darken slightly alarmingly on the outside, but it actually cooked really well and the ground almonds and berries keep the cake moist for days… if it lasts that long! Enjoy!
Friday, 4 July 2014
I started the year long Professional Diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine back in October 2013. On my first day the teachers told us that there would be tears on our last day. Sitting there, feeling intimidated and nervous, this was hard to imagine. Was choosing to spend a year learning to cook the right decision? Would I be good enough? But sure enough, 9 months later, the thought of leaving the Leiths bubble is pretty emotional. Mountains of culinary knowledge aside, here are just a few of the lessons I learnt and the advice I'd give to anyone embarking on their own Leiths adventure... My first ever dish at Leiths, day 1: hummus and crudites
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Feels very weird to be writing this. Advanced Term, Week, 9. Aka my last week at Leiths! Ok, technically I still have two more weeks of exams, graduation and one last fun group cooking task to go but I have had my last curriculum, written my last timeplan and had my last normal dish marked. It feels very surreal to be writing this and know that I won’t be writing ‘Bring on week 10!’ at the end. The last nine months have been a whirlwind, a rollercoaster, a journey and all the other X Factor style clichés out there. In fact, the ‘lasts’ all seemed to come in a hurry without warning and I don’t think it has really sunk in that my year of cooking is all but over and I only have two more sessions in the Leiths kitchen – one to cook a 3 course dinner party (that last group task) for 8 and one the dreaded practical exam. I don’t want to get too mushy and I have one more Leiths post planned, looking back at the last year, so here is what week 9, the last week, held for us…Making my own pasta was one of the things I was most excited about doing when I started Leiths so it seemed quite fitting that it was there again in my final week. This was a chicken and wild mushroom ravioli with broad beans, morels (we got a bag of morels each, each costing £22!) and Madeira cream sauce. The chicken filling meant a return to the dreaded mousseline making but after learning from previous goes (don’t skimp on the egg white, blitz heavily before sieving) it was much easier than fish quenelles, and much tastier too. I’m really going to miss the chances Leiths gives me to cook dishes like this – I don’t know how often I’ll just casually make my own ravioli at home. Hopefully remembering how much I liked this dish will be the push I need to make it a more frequent event. Our last week at Leiths ended with a bang – our craziest all day cooking session yet where we entered the kitchen at 9:45 and didn’t stop or leave until 4:30 that afternoon. We kept meaning to leave for lunch, but suddenly it was 2pm with a service time of 3pm and we all realised a break just wasn’t going to happen. After a morning of foie gras parfait (delicious until you eat too much and feel sick…), baking brioche and clearing a Sauternes jelly, the focus switched to our creative rabbit dish. This was essentially the savoury version of the plated dessert challenge as we were each given a whole rabbit, a list of ingredients, a service time and told to get cracking! After much deliberation (I really wanted to try a black pudding and rabbit Scotch egg) I made: a braised rabbit, pancetta and thyme pie, parma ham wrapped rabbit loin, potato puree, baby carrots and red wine jus. Aside from one forgotten pan disaster (when my teacher was thankfully out the kitchen) I was really pleased with how this dish turned out. It was busy but I served on time, my seasoning was the best I’ve done in a while and I finally got a chance to have a proper go at a potato puree so it was a lovely way to end. We got to tour the kitchens again once everyone had served and there were a huge range of ideas – one other pie, pastas, a variety of Scotch eggs, croquettes, mousselines and more. As someone said, we have come a long way from the hummus and crudites on Day 1 back at the start of October. Bring on…the summer?!
Sunday, 22 June 2014
My Mum sent me the link to this recipe with just the subject title ‘Oh My Word’. Which is slightly alarming in the few seconds before the link loads, but once I had seen exactly what she was talking about, I replied instantly: ‘OMG’. The conversation continued in a similarly monosyllabic style: ‘Blog?’ ‘Definitely.’ With a recipe title like this one, what more can you say?!Fast forward three days later and these cookies were cooling in my kitchen. I was nervous they would not live up to our high expectations but I needn’t have worried. You can’t really go wrong with this much chocolate and caramel! The cookies are exactly like the edge pieces of my favourite Nigella brownie recipe – chewy on top but still slightly fudgy in the centre. I think the trick with the filling is to be brave with the salt because a hefty pinch sprinkled on top of the caramel really brings out the flavours and stops it being too sickly. The cookie mixture is quite runny – 300g of chocolate to 50g of flour – which makes it tricky to get perfectly even circles, but somehow every biscuit still ended up with a suitable partner. I adapted the recipe a bit to suit the ingredients I had, but it seems versatile enough to continue playing about with – you could use dulce de leche instead of making the frosting or add white chocolate chips to the cookies, for example. Before I tucked in, I sent a photo to my Mum to show her the results waiting for her at home. The reply? ‘Ooohhhh.’ Which sums them up really – enjoy!
Salted Caramel Brownie Sandwich Cookies adapted from this recipe
Ingredients: 100g dark chocolate, chopped
250g milk chocolate, chopped
40g unsalted butter
150g soft light brown sugar sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g plain flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon baking powder, sifted
Caramel filling: 165g caster sugar
125ml double cream
150g unsalted butter, chopped
sea salt flakes, for sprinkling
1. Start with the caramel filling. Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon handle until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar crystals clinging to the edge of the pan. Boil – without stirring – for 5-8 minutes until deep golden.
3. Remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and butter. Return the saucepan to the heat and stir until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until completely cool and firmed up.
4. For the cookies, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Place 200g of the milk chocolate, all the dark chocolate and the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and stir frequently, until melted and smooth. Set aside.
5. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer and whisk for 10 minutes until paler and creamy. Gently stir through the flour, baking powder, chocolate mixture and remaining 50g of milk chocolate and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
4. Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper, allowing them room to spread. Bake for 8–10 minutes or until puffed and cracked. Allow to cool completely on trays.
5. Whisk the firmed up caramel mixture. Spread half the cookies with the icing, sprinkle generously with the salt and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Makes 12 sandwiches.
Sunday, 15 June 2014
It would be impossible to count the amount of skills I’ve learnt over my past year studying cooking at Leiths. From the basics of chopping an onion properly, to the complex rules of croissant dough to filleting fish and gutting pheasants – there’s been a fair few! This week was my penultimate week of normal cooking curriculum at Leiths and it definitely felt like we were ticking off the last few major skills…On Monday we were transported back to a 1950s kitchen with some good old fashioned jam making. My mum loves making jam – hence our kitchen's jam cupboard – and actually made her own batch the day before me, so there is definitely a competitive blind tasting in the future. As my Mum is such a jam making fan herself, I’ve never had a go on my own so I turned up on Monday morning, jars at the ready, excited to give it a try. Whilst raspberry is my absolute favourite jam, the strawberry definitely smelt delicious whilst cooking – super sweet and summery. I didn’t realise you could make jam so easily on a small scale (I filled two jars perfectly with my amount) but now I know this I’d love to experiment with other flavours this summer.It was like Great British Menu met Masterchef in the kitchen on Tuesday when creative cooking returned once again. This was probably our most ambitious creative challenge yet: designing a plated dessert that included a sabayon, parfait and puff pastry element. The long list of fruit, nuts, chocolate and alcohols available made choosing tricky. In the end I made a peach & blackberry parfait, peach mille feuille with amaretto sabayon, blackberry coulis and crushed honeycomb. I had to restart my sabayon (being too cautious with the alcohol prevented the structure forming properly) which added time pressure and left me not totally happy with the presentation. Normally this would be like a dream dish for me, eaten in minutes, but after two mornings working on it and with a heck of a lot of washing up to do, I didn’t even get to try it! This week also brought two tasks vegetarians might not be comfortable doing – killing and prepping our own crab and lobster. I didn’t know how I’d feel about doing this but as a meat and fish eater I think it would be hypocritical for me to not have tried. I was certainly nervous on seeing them but Leiths teaches us the fastest, most humane way to do it so it was all over quickly. Picking the cooked crab for the tian above turned out to be a much worse job in my opinion – I am not the most patient person and inserting a cocktail stick into every nook and cranny of the crab to get each flake of meat out definitely tested me! Thursday was an unexpectedly really fun day – definitely up there in my favourites. Who knew sausage making would be so fun?! I never expected making sausages from scratch to be part of the Leiths course but it was great to have a try and I haven’t felt so proud of a plate of food in ages! Also those caramel apples… heavenly. I doubt this will become a regular occasion in my kitchen (for starters I wouldn’t know where to find pork intestine for the casing…) but it was a great skill to add to the list. Bring on week 9! A spot of baking to end the week – Friday’s Fougasse, made with a starter dough
Sunday, 8 June 2014
Despite only being a 3 day week, Week 7 at Leiths still managed to cram plenty in. There were new skills, new ingredients, lots of delicious food and most importantly a new discovery about one male teachers’ jewellery tastes…The trouble with making your own Danish pastry dough is that you have to tend to it every 20 minutes, giving you very small amounts of time in which to get other things done. Or the perfect amount of time to make a prawn laksa! This was a surprise favourite for me – without the prawns it made a delicious fragrant noodle soup for dinner. The only thing that could have made it better was apparently a touch more fish paste to bring out all the flavours more. The trouble is, the jar of fish paste on its own smells like something that should be nowhere near any food. Even though this scent and flavour disappears when combined with all the other spices, it is difficult to be anything other than very sparing with it. More curry bravery needed!Terrines. Something I order at restaurants but have never thought to make at home. Until now! Our terrines demonstration showed that actually they can be fairly simple, really pretty and a great make ahead dish for a crowd. On Monday we were making a very traditional terrine de campagne – chicken liver, bacon, pork mince and pistachios all wrapped in bacon. For me, the star of the show was the sweet and sticky onion confit which made up for the fact that my terrine was a little soggy due to too damp onions…you live and learn!I don’t know why, but I really associate cooking scallops with Masterchef. Is it just me or is there nearly always a scallop starter in the final – normally a rectangular plate of 3 little scallops each sitting on a puree of some kind and topped with a dainty decoration? Bearing this in mind, I was excited to finally have a go at preparing my own. Having been sternly warned by our teacher that the scallops were expensive and therefore under no circumstances were we to muck this up – the pressure was on! Happily, the process of getting the scallops out of their shells turned out to be much simpler than I anticipated and actually really satisfying! Phew. After the depressing burnt croissant experience of week 4, I was determined that Danish pastries would not go the same way. They use exactly the same method, the only difference being the shaping and the introduction of fillings. I made the majority of mine frangipane filled and only one was cinnamon and pecan butter – a decision I regretted on trying it and discovering it was delicious! They made pretty monster sized Danishes but I don’t think anyone was complaining. It was fun to learn all the different shapes from the classic pinwheel to the plait, princess and one described by one male teacher as ‘looking like Egyptian jewellery’…naturally. Bring on week 8!
Sunday, 1 June 2014
There is no longer any escaping the fact that we are over halfway through this last ten week term. I found this to be a savoury and presentation based week with challenges ranging from snails to sweetbreads (such a misleading name) and as usual I am sad that I am one week closer to the end!The week started with a a creative cooking session – a sea bream, a list of extra ingredients and two hours to get cooking. Creative cooking pressure is different from day to day following the curriculum with new worries about being judged on imagination and creating something of ‘an appropriate advanced term standard’ but it’s also really fun to try something on your own. I made a courgette and lemon risotto, slow roast tomatoes and courgette chips to accompany my pan fried sea bream and it was fascinating to walk between the kitchens and see the huge range of dishes all created from the same ingredients. A tomato and mozzarella salad might not sound very advanced term, but sometimes simplicity is underrated. This probably ended up being my favourite thing we made all week! I think the main purpose of making this dish was to take advantage of the short asparagus season and also practice making two identical plates for a change. It was also a chance to practice preparing frisee lettuce – the weirdest ingredient where you only use the pale inner, slightly anaemic looking leaves and discard all the vibrantly green but also intensely bitter leaves. Also – slow roast tomatoes are my unexpected new addiction. So good!This week’s all day cooking focused on rehearsing skills – particularly for the above seared tuna, fennel, asparagus and radish salad and vegetable vinaigrette. We spent 45 minutes chopping vegetables into petit brunoise (miniscule dice) for the vegetable vinaigrette. This was faintly ridiculous (and depressing when the whole dish is eaten in about 5) but when you have teachers combing through your diced onion picking out diamonds and rectangles you become very determined to produce those perfect squares! I think speedy knife skills really show a professional chef so it was good to practice – but also a relief to get to use a mandolin for the salad.Try as I might, on Friday I could not get my sablee aux fraises to stand straight (such problems). My teacher comes over (sadly post photo), gives it one adjustment and it was perfect ! Magic. There was more double trouble as again we served two identical portions, and this time there was more of a challenge to get two identical swirls of raspberry coulis. This tasted great at school (I still find raspberry coulis drinkably gorgeous) but a little less so by the time it had experienced a journey home (via the pub) in a plastic bag… Bring on week 7!
Friday, 30 May 2014
I have wanted a bundt tin for so long so I was very excited when I found a yellow silicone mini bundt tin in Lidl for just £2! I’m normally quite good at resisting tins and kitchenware that I know aren’t exactly vital to my collection, but this was too much of a bargain to resist. And I’m happy I didn’t because it gave me the excuse to make these tasty little rhubarb cakes. They turned out so cute that I want to make all my muffins and cupcakes in this tray in the future! I slightly overfilled the tin, hence the pirouetting look to my cakes, but no one was complaining about having a bigger portion. Rhubarb and orange is a classic combination but lemon and rhubarb work really well together too, giving a fresh and zesty result. I didn’t want to hide the pretty bundt shapes, but if you were just using a muffin tin I think a lemon glace icing would be perfect on these to add a little extra sweetness. Because I adapted this from a muffin recipe, they are not super sweet on their own and technically count as breakfast food. What is not to like? You can find the recipe below – enjoy!Mini Rhubarb Lemon Buttermilk Bundts adapted from this recipe
Ingredients: 175g caster sugar
200g rhubarb, halved lengthways then diced into 1cm pieces
1 lemon, zested
2 tbsp sunflower oil
125ml buttermilk, or 125ml milk and 1tsp of lemon juice left to stand for 5mins
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Method: 1. Heat oven to 180’C. Spray a mini bundt tin with cake release spray, or line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Stir the sugar, lemon zest and rhubarb together and set aside.
3. Beat the oil, egg and buttermilk together. Pour onto the sugary rhubarb and stir until combined.
4. Now, add the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and stir until just evenly incorporated.
5. Quickly spoon into the cases, filling ¾ full. Bake for 15-18 mins until golden and springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
A week filled with days to look forward to – a trip to a vineyard, first time making filled pasta, petit four day. I think this week contained highlights from my whole time at Leiths and made a welcome change from the struggle Week 4 had been. More days like this please!Spinach and ricotta tortellini is one of my favourite instant lazy dinners – boil for 2 minutes and boom dinner is ready. Therefore it was quite different to spend the best part of 3 hours making the above crab and prawn tortellini with a crab bisque. I’ve really been looking forward to making my own filled pasta and although fiddly, it was undoubtedly more satisfying than the supermarket option. Shaping is going to take a bit of practice but with results like this I’m more than happy to do so.Tuesday brought our first Leiths school trip! We all piled on the coach down to Plumpton College, an agricultural college with a vineyard and winery used by the students as they learn about wine, and then Ridgeview Wine Estate which makes English sparkling wine that has been served to the Queen. Before this trip I didn’t realise how much wine and sparkling wine England makes, and more importantly, how good it is! It definitely made a change (for the better!) from the museums and conferences that school trips used to involve. Even when our coach got stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home I didn’t feel we could really complain, and I’m pretty sure the 6 wines we’d tried that day helped that…Petit four day. A day I have literally been looking forward to since I first heard about it way before I even started at Leiths. And it didn’t disappoint! A day devoted to sugar and pastels in which we made (deep breath) rose marshmallows, almond & pistachio nougat, passion fruit pate de fruit, pistachio and raspberry macarons, amaretto chocolate truffles and iced fondant fancies. Cue the sugar high! The atmosphere in the kitchen all day was really relaxed and fun as our table worked together to bring the above plate together. I’ve tried making macarons before and they’ve never worked so it was super satisfying to open the oven and see ‘they look like actual macarons!’ much to our teachers amusement. As our teacher pointed out, at the start of Leiths we were scared of making a single sugar syrup and now we’d made a plate involving at least six – showing just how far we’ve come in the last eight months. Dividing it all up at the end of the day felt like dealing out a sweet shop and we all went home tired but happy….craving salt and nursing a sugar induced headache. Podding broad beans, shelling peas…Thursday morning felt like it should have been spent in a sunny field in the countryside instead of a hot London kitchen. The veg was for our gnocchi and combined with asparagus made a perfect Spring dish. I’ve made gnocchi once before and they turned out gloopy and grey so it was so satisfying to learn the secrets and get light and tender results this time. This dish, followed by a raspberry macaron saved from the day before, made the perfect lunch. Bring on week 6!
Week four highlighted the rollercoaster that Leiths can be. I don’t even have a photo of the seafood feuilletee I made on Friday because I was so annoyed with the plate I’d served, although in the end it wasn’t actually that bad. Sometimes everyone has a bad week and I hope that this was mine – still enjoyable but just frustrating at the end!So far at Leiths we have only dealt with duck breasts, so our first challenge this week was carving up a whole duck. In fact we had to carve it once semi-cooked, adding an extra challenge in the form of a double layer of gloves so you could actually handle the meat. I didn’t expect carving a duck to be so different to carving a chicken (is that weird?) so it was really good to give it ago. Essentially this dish was the retro classic duck a l’orange served with pommes anna – a potato dish with the highest ratio of butter to potato I have ever seen – and it proved a very tasty way to start the week. New week, new nemesis. Jus. Sauces have been a struggle throughout Leiths for me – that final element that needs perfecting to bring a dish together. Perfect seasoning, reducing, skill right from the beginning. I made a jus last week that pretty much worked but this week felt like I was going backwards as it went from watery thin to toffee stringy in a matter of moments. Also, it appears eight months of burns and cuts in the kitchen have hardened us somewhat and the previously discussed skewer test (insert skewer into cooked meat, place skewer on wrist, if searingly hot then the dish is done) no longer works for us as despite repeated attempts we couldn’t feel anything, resulting in slightly overcooked chicken. Annoying when you have spent two days ballotining and cooking the whole chicken. Not my most successful dish but the wodge of garlic butter potatoes on the plate cheered up the situation. Croissants. Took 3 days to make, 2 minutes to burn. 6 months at cookery school and it appears I still haven’t lost my talent for forgetting when things went in the oven! In fairness, it was only the outside which had ‘taken on a bit of excess colour’ and the inside was still buttery and delicious but nevertheless it was a lesson learnt – when a recipe says 10 minutes, it means 10 minutes not 12. Despite this I had to remind myself that I never thought I would be making croissants from scratch – especially ones that actually looked and tasted like real, shop bought croissants – so I’m still a little bit proud and look forward to making them again so I can actually get them right! Bring on week 5!
Thursday, 22 May 2014
When I find a food I like, I tend to temporarily lose all willpower over it. The most recent case, as previously discussed, was mini eggs – an addiction only stopped because they stopped being sold at the end of the Easter season. Previous fads have been varied – bourbons, greek salads for lunch, toasted pittas. I’ll eat it every day for a week, my Mum will stock up on supplies, and then suddenly I’ll be over it and on to the next thing. I’m always impressed by people who can hold back over something they clearly love – my Granny is one of these people. We always have great afternoon teas with several cakes (the most recent felt like a fun wedding cake tasting as we worked our way through 3 different cakes) but whilst I’ll happily accept seconds, she always has more restraint. Therefore, it was a sign of just how good this cake was when she not only asked for the recipe, but had a second piece!To be honest, it was a slight miracle that this cake worked. That most simple piece of advice given to anyone starting cooking – read the recipe carefully before you start – continues to occasionally evade me. Hence why this cake had double the amount of caramel inside that it was meant to. Whoops! Turns out I was supposed to put half my caramel sauce in the cake and save half for the top, whereas I just merrily stirred it all straight into the cake. I was really surprised that the extra 100ml of sauce didn’t disrupt the cakes texture but the result was soft and delicious, with a texture similar to gingerbread. If I made this cake again I would repeat my mistake! The spicy ginger pieces ensure it isn’t too sweet I hadn’t used crystallised ginger before (only ever the candied ginger in jars) and I loved it and had to stop myself snacking on it out straight out of the tub. You can find the recipe here so you can try it both caramel ways – enjoy!
Sunday, 11 May 2014
After spending nearly six months at Leiths, my class and I are well aware of the weird world we enter into every day. Cookery school is a bubble with food consistently on the brain – if you’re not making it, you’re watching someone else, if you’re not eating, you’re just waiting for the plate to reach you. You find yourself talking and obsessing about food in a way that most people would find crazy. And it’s not just us students – this was the week that our range of teachers uttered some memorable lines too..Another week, another new pastry. This week was the turn of filo – something I’ve bought countless times, marvelled at as they made it on Great British Bake Off and never given a go myself. Until now! A crucial part of making filo is beating the dough against the table with a specific flick of the wrist in order to develop the gluten. Trying to explain this process led to the classic line by my teacher ‘imagine you are a monkey and your pastry is your tail’ accompanied by a mime which sounds crazy but was surprisingly helpful. The next step is the elaborate stretching process to get the dough so thin you can see through it. We did this in pairs, draping the pastry over our knuckles and gently stretching it apart. As a different teacher said, this was potentially ‘the Bride Wars (what a film) of pastry’ as we desperately attempted not to create holes and sabotage our partners delicate filo. All in all, an interesting experience resulting in a tasty apple strudel!Wednesday was a day I don’t think many people were looking forward to: poached fish mousseline. Involving blending raw fish with egg white, then painstakingly passing it through a very fine sieve and poaching it in fish stock. Mmm. The day was about practicing classic skills – mousseline, beurre blanc, quenelling. In fact week 3 became known as the week of the quenelle and having been informed that our teacher that day was ‘the quenelle king’ the pressure was certainly on. Like piping or jointing I think it’s a skill that benefits hugely from practice so whilst this was perhaps not the most delicious dish I’ll make at Leiths, it was definitely helpful. Few demonstration titles are more enticing than ‘Chocolate’. It was the perfect reward after a morning of sieving fish – encompassing a chocolate tasting, watching tempering and sampling truffles. The ones on the above left were passion fruit or raspberry ganache filled and the right were coconut&white chocolate – essentially a gourmet Bounty bar. According to our teacher ‘chocolate makes everybody go weird’, referring to the new level of greed and struggle with self control people have when presented with a plate of chocolate, so hopefully we managed to restrain ourselves suitably. Turning out set desserts has become an unexpected nemesis at Leiths – jellies, bavarois’ and now pannacottas all seem desperate to stay resolutely in their moulds. Each time I learn a new trick – tip the mould at an angle rather than directly inverting it, shake it from side to side, jolt the whole plate downwards. Although the above vanilla pannacotta actually came out like a dream, it slid and stuck to the side of the plate, leading to a presentation dilemma that saw me plate up two versions of the dish and ask anyone who happened to walk past my table which they preferred. In the end the consensus was for the first one anyway, but hopefully next time I will be able to confidently get it right first time. Bring on week 4!
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
I never make pies. In total I’ve only made 6 pies on here in nearly 6 years of blogging – terrible odds considering I normally love anything involving pastry. The last full size pie I made on here was way back in 2011 – the classic apple pie. I’m not sure why I’ve been avoiding them but it was clearly time to change. This may be cheating a little, as it is only a single crust, but it was so delicious I don’t think anyone was complaining. Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits, and rhubarb and ginger are a classic combination so I knew this would be good. Opinions were divided in my house over the stem ginger in the pastry. I liked the spice it added to the pie, but the texture was maybe a bit strange, so to compromise you could easily just stick with ground ginger to provide a bit of heat. With a splash of crème anglaise (always practicing for school) I was sold and the pie did not last very long in my house. It was also easily adaptable – I had slightly less rhubarb and so made a smaller pie and used the spare pastry to make little ginger biscuits to keep us going while the pie baked. You can find the recipe here – enjoy!