Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
It’s rare to find a dessert that is both simple and extraordinarily delicious. Pear Almondine is one of my favourites. You can find some excellent preserved Williams pears in jars or tins, ideal for this recipe. This dessert is a template to accommodate many other fruits and flavours. For baking like this, I like to use a baking stone. However, if you don’t have this, it will still be a winner.

SERVES 6
6 pear halves, tinned or jarred
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for brushing the tin
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium egg (preferably organic or free-range)

To serve
a handful of flaked
almonds (for extra flavour, first toast them in a dry pan)
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3. Butter (or oil) a tart ring, about 18cm x 2cm. Cut a long strip of greaseproof paper to stick to the inside. Place the lined tart ring on a lined baking tray or baking stone. Drain the pears and slice them in half again if they are large. In a large bowl, mix the softened butter and sugar. Then add ground almonds, cornflour, vanilla and egg, and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, spreading it evenly.

Arrange the pear halves evenly around the outside of the tart, resting them on top of the almond sponge mixture, and with the tip of each half meeting in the middle. According to size of the pears, you may require the base of half a pear to fill a space in the centre. Scatter with almonds. Bake the tart on the middle shelf of the oven, on the preheated baking stone or baking tray, for 16–20 minutes, or until golden. Leave the cake to cool for a few minutes before removing it from the ring. Before serving, dust with icing sugar.

VARIATION
In a saucepan, reduce the syrup from the jar, let it cool and add a dash of Poire William, the pear liqueur. After baking, puncture the pears with a fork and pour over the syrup. It adds colour and flavour.

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Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
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Book extract: A Vegetarian Monster: Revenge, Betrayal & Berries in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino

Frankenstein main image
Food humanises Dr Frankenstein’s cobbled-together creation and raises the question: who is the real monster here?

An existential crisis doesn’t sound all that appetising. Nor does a jumble of long-expired body parts, cobbled together to create something resembling a human. And nor do gaping, stomach-churning chasms of icy loneliness. Yet this enduringly classic tale of the created and the creator, nature and nurture, and the pursuer and the pursued is an endless source of discussion worthy of the most salubrious of dinner parties.

The kind that Mary Shelley might have hosted or attended with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, holding court over a table groaning with glazed meats and platters laden with jewel-hued fruits. (Though Shelley may have abstained from the meat; the poet spent long periods as a vegetarian.) Guests glugging ruby wine and contributing bon mots might have included Lord Byron, who was present when the seeds of Frankenstein were sown.

In fact, one of the world’s most famous Gothic novels might not exist at all if it weren’t for Byron. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (she was yet to marry), Shelley, and his fellow Romantic poet Bryon were among the luminaries holidaying in Lake Geneva in 1816, which “proved a wet, ungenial summer”, according to Mary’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. Conversation ducked and scurried down dark, Gothic avenues and, after long discussions dissecting ghost stories and musing on the horror genre, Byron had a proposal: they each pen their own terrifying tale.

After days struggling against writer’s block, Mary – then aged just 18 – created her monster after a particularly terrifying) “waking dream”. It wasn’t (and isn’t) a ghost story in any traditional sense, but it seems safe to say that her story cast a creepy shadow over the others. The novel was published in 1818 and has since been published in more than 300 editions and turned into several movies (perhaps most famously James Whale’s 1931 version, starring Boris Karloff as the droopy-lidded, bolt-necked monster).

Its themes of exile, misery, loneliness and guilt elevate it above a simple horror story and place it firmly in the complex Gothic genre, with a sprinkling of pioneering science fiction. Much discussed, too, are the novel’s parallels with the creation story and the Fall of Man, spelled out when Victor Frankenstein’s creation quotes Satan in John Milton’s epic biblical poem Paradise Lost:

‘all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good.’

The creature didn’t ask to be created; abandoned, rejected and betrayed by Victor, he morphs into the dangerous monster others already believe him to be. But is he really a monster? Or is Victor the monster for playing God in the most godless of ways: digging up bodies and using science to bring forth life? Their relationship is at the heart of the novel’s moral muddiness (a point on which it was criticised when it was released – The Quarterly Review described its “unmeaning hollowness”).

Common confusion over the eponymous character – with the creature often misidentified as Frankenstein – reflects this ambiguity. Literary critics have pointed out the sympathetic nature, eloquence and even innocence of the so-called monster. There’s a thin, blurred and sometimes invisible line between perpetrator and victim.

Yet there is one aspect in which this line is drawn quite clearly, if you grab a knife and fork and really dig in – and that’s food.

If there’s any uncertainty and moral fogginess when it comes to the creature’s innocence – and perhaps whether he should be considered “human” – then his diet should quash those doubts. He eats, for a start – and familiar foods, at that. He’s a sentient, living, breathing being, and that poses serious questions as to the ethics of Victor’s experiment. He brought the creature into a world that would inevitably reject him.

Mary Shelley doesn’t underplay her character’s vegetarianism; it isn’t incidental to the story’s central themes. On the contrary, she makes much of his choice to eschew the flesh-eating habits of humans. It becomes a device to emphasise his empathy and how connected he is to nature, perhaps more so than his fellow man. She throws in a conundrum for readers to wrestle with: how do you categorise a vegetarian monster?

The creature’s diet becomes even more significant in light of Percy Shelley’s vegetarianism, and indeed that of his friend Lord Byron. In the 1860 edition of his Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron, Thomas Moore recalls the poet asking him, over dinner: ‘Moore, don’t you find eating beef-steak makes you ferocious?’ While Shelley’s 1813 poem, Queen Mab, he blames humans devouring the “mangled flesh” of lambs for “nature’s broken law”.

In Frankenstein, vegetarianism simultaneously highlights the creature’s separation from human society (unlike them, he doesn’t “glut” his appetite with meat) and becomes a symbol of his inherent goodness. Of course, goodness is corruptible.

Banished to the wilderness by Victor, who’s horrified by his own experiment, the creature observes a family living in a cabin in the woods. He gently observes their rituals, mainly revolving around food: preparing breakfast, gathering around the table, building and lighting fires for cooking, foraging for roots and plants. Their diet, he notices, is “coarse but wholesome”. It’s simple; uncomplicated by modern society and technology. Pre-Fall, if you like. The creature mimics their routine and attunes to the changing weather and seasons.

Moved by observing their interactions and sensitive to their poverty, he makes a conscious decision to only eat fruit and nuts. He will not steal from them, he vows to himself, because that would leave them hungry. The softness he shows in these moments endears us to him. And it makes his murderous rampage later in the novel – driven by repeated rejections and injustices – all the more shocking. He metamorphosises from a philosophical, gentle grazer, hungry for friendship, to a furious being consumed by fury and bent on revenge.

His reaction is both human and monstrous. The first kill he makes for food is an act to taunt Victor, gifting him with a dead hare as he leads him to “the everlasting ices of the north”.

In a desperate, final attempt to be accepted and forgiven, the creature uses his diet as a bargaining tool with his creator. If Victor would only “build” him a female companion, and allow him to be free, he could be happy subsisting on foraged acorns and berries. He describes a kind of utopian ideal that once again evokes Eden and the Fall of Man:

‘If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again; I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man and will ripen our food. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty.’

Sadly, there isn’t such a happy ending for the creature (nor for Victor, nor for anyone for that matter). The creature becomes the monster after all – one who murders from a very human impulse for revenge, out of anger that he has been judged and rejected by a world he skipped into, innocently and happily as a child, or perhaps a lamb.

The creature entered his dysfunctional life drawn to the earth, feeling a deep connection to the soil, flowers and nature. His final, heart-wrenching monologue describes the “cheering warmth of summer” and his wonder at the “warbling birds”. He tells how he was “nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion”. He longed for companionship, for “love and fellowship”. Spurned, he retaliated against a world that had turned its back on him. There is again a reference to Paradise Lost: “The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.”

Frankenstein’s creature, hollowed out by hunger and his unsated appetite for human kindness, is utterly, hellishly alone.

Acorn Bread

Frankenstein acorn bread image

Frankenstein’s creature ate them raw, freshly plucked from the oak tree (or foraged from the woodland floor). It seems his stomach was a little stronger than ours, as unprocessed and uncooked acorns contain tannins that can be toxic to humans. They also have a rather unpleasant, bitter taste, so you probably wouldn’t want to nibble on them, anyway. Leave them on the tree for the squirrels (and any wandering, cobbled-together creatures) and instead get hold of some acorn flour to make this dense, crumbly, delicately sweetened bread. It has a similar texture to cornbread, and is perfect for sharing. Omit the spices if you prefer something more savoury – a pinch of chilli flakes will give it a kick, and pair wonderfully with a hunk of cheese.

Makes 1 medium loaf
Ingredients
250g acorn flour
100g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
A little freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
25g unsalted butter, melted
1 medium egg, beaten
250ml milk

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 6) and grease a medium (2 lb/900g capacity) loaf tin.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients, including the cinnamon and nutmeg (if using), in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.
3. Whisk together the milk, egg and melted butter and pour into the well, mixing gradually with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Bake for around 20 minutes, until a skewer or sharp knife inserted into the middle comes away clean.
5. Remove from the oven and leave for around 10 minutes in the tin, then tip on to a wire rack to cool. (You might want to tear some off and slather it with butter before it loses all its oven-warm loveliness, though.)

Shepherd’s Breakfast

Shepherd's Breakfast from Frankenstein

While crunching on acorns and foraging berries and roots might not be hugely appealing, the “shepherd’s breakfast” – which the creature “greedily” devours, having unwittingly frightened away its preparer – sounds pretty delicious. It’s a simple platter of bread, cheese, milk and wine. This dish takes those humble plate-fellows and turns them into a warm, oozily baked savoury bread pudding. A warning, though: it can serve six people as a side but, should you be tempted to dig in a spoon just to try a little, don’t be surprised if you get carried away and end up with an empty dish, a full belly and hungry guests.

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 medium loaf of day-old or slightly stale bread, sliced
50g unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful of fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, tarragon, rosemary etc), chopped
100g hard cheese (you can use cheddar or a mix), grated
200ml whole milk
2 eggs
200ml double cream
1tsp English or Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the caramelised onions:
2 red onions, finely sliced
1tbsp olive oil
50ml or balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Glug of red wine
Salt and pepper

Method
1. For the onions, heat the olive oil over a medium heat, add onions and and sauté for a few minutes or until soft. Add vinegar, sugar and wine, increase heat and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are sticky. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Beat together the softened butter and garlic, stir in herbs and add a pinch of salt. Spread this mix over each slice of bread, then quarter each one into triangles.
3. Preheat oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and grease a large baking dish. Arrange a layer of bread on the bottom, top with a layer of onions and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat the layers until the ingredients are used up, ending with cheese.
4. Whisk together the milk, eggs, cream, mustard and a little salt and pepper. Pour over the bread, pushing down so it soaks up the liquid.
5. Rest for 5 minutes then bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffy and lightly golden.

Berry Bite Squares

Berry bites

Our creature spends his first few days of existence subsisting on berries and the occasional acorn. He was happy (or, at least, willing) to do so, but we wonder if he would have enjoyed these crumbly, moreish fruit crumble squares a little better? Most probably. You can make these with pretty much any in-season fruit, from apples to rhubarbs. Eat for breakfast, afternoon tea, a snack, on a picnic…

Makes around 12 squares

Ingredients

For the crumble:
175g unsalted butter, melted
180g plain flour
125g soft brown sugar
150g rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt

For the filling:
1 large egg at room temp
150g caster sugar
30g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
400g berries (blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants etc)

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 6). Grease and line a 20cm (8in) square tin (or similar).
2. Combine the dry ingredients for the crumble in a bowl, pour in the butter and mix.
3. Tip around two-thirds of it into the tin and press down firmly to make a base.
4. For the filling, whisk together the egg and sugar, then slowly add the flour, lemon zest and vanilla. Stir in the berries so each is coated.
5. Pour this over the base, then loosely sprinkle over the remaining crumble mix.
6. Bake for around 40-45 minutes until golden. Allow to cool completely in the tin before cutting into squares.

working cover

Extracted from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino, with illustrations by Lee Henry. Find out more here.

Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall

20200312_TheoRandall_W1_Souffle_033
Known in Italy as sformato di zucca, this dish was one of the first I mastered, more than 30 years ago, when I was an apprentice at Chez Max in Surbiton, just outside London, where the chef-owner Max Magarian became a huge influence on my approach to cooking. I must have made thousands of these delicious soufflés (the only difference in this one is the cheese choice) and I can still remember how excited I was when Max told me I had made them perfectly.  If you’re lucky to get hold of a black winter truffle, it will bring out the best in the soufflé. You will need ten moulds and ten gratin dishes to make this (just reduce the quantities if making fewer).

Makes 10
500g (1lb 2oz) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2cm (¾in) cubes
olive oil, for roasting
300g (10½oz) fresh spinach
90g (3¼oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
90g (3¼oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for flouring
1 litre (35fl oz) whole milk, hot
300g (10½oz) fontina, grated
10 organic egg yolks
12 organic egg whites
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
200g (7oz) fontina, grated
100g (3½oz) Parmesan, finely grated
500ml (17fl oz) double (heavy) cream
shavings of black truffle (optional), to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Butter and flour ten 180ml (6½fl oz) metal or ceramic moulds. Place the squash in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the tin with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove the foil and continue baking for a further 15 minutes, so the squash dries out. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, then put through a mouli (or use a potato masher) until you have a fine purée. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Boil the spinach for 2 minutes, until the stalks are tender. Drain in a colander and push out any residual liquid with the back of a spoon. When the spinach has cooled, squeeze it with your hands until just damp. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, then add the hot milk. Stir with a whisk until there are no lumps and you have a smooth white sauce. Add the squash purée, along with the fontina and season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven again to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Transfer the mixture to a clean, large bowl. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold them into the butternut squash mixture. Pour the mixture equally into the prepared moulds, filling all the way to the tops. Place the moulds into a roasting tin, then pour boiling water into the tin so that it comes half way up the sides of the moulds. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the soufflé rises and goes a light golden colour. Remove the tin from the oven (but leave the oven on), then remove the moulds from the tin and leave to cool.

To finish, grease 10 small gratin dishes. Divide the cooked spinach between each dish in an even layer. Remove the soufflés from the moulds and place one in each dish on top of the spinach. Sprinkle over the grated fontina and Parmesan then gently pour some cream over each soufflé. Season each dish with salt and pepper and bake them all for 10 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown. Finish with shavings of fresh black truffle.

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Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

2020602_TheoW2_ChocolatePots_075

I first tasted vin santo many years ago at Paolo di Marchi’s estate Isole e Olena, in Chianti, Tuscany. After the vineyard tour, we came to a brick outhouse that had no windows, and was breezy but dry. There were bamboo mats full of the most beautifully coloured grapes that were starting to shrivel up like raisins, soon to be pressed for their juice to make vin santo. That evening, after a huge meal and lots of Paolo’s other wines, we had a glass of vin santo and a plate of homemade cantuccini biscuits. I use vin santo in lots of sweet dishes, especially ice cream, but I love chocolate, too, so I came up with this recipe. What could be better?

Serves 6

For the cantuccini

2 organic eggs
2 tbsp honey (chestnut honey is best, if possible)
1 tbsp Amaretto or brandy
zest of 1 unwaxed orange
250g (9oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
150g (5½oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
150g (5½oz) whole almonds50g (1¾oz) shelled pistachios

For the chocolate pots
100ml (3½fl oz) whole milk
25ml (1fl oz) vin santo
300ml (10½fl oz) double (heavy) cream
200g (7oz) 80% dark (bittersweet) chocolate (use 70% if you can’t find 80%), chopped
50g (1¾oz) caster (superfine) sugar
4 organic egg yolks

First, make the cantuccini biscuits. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, honey, Amaretto or brandy, and orange zest. Add the flour, sugar and baking powder. Using your hands, mix everything together to a dough, then add the almonds and pistachios. Mix well to distribute the nuts evenly through the dough.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Wet your hands and then roll out each piece of dough into a log about 3cm (1¼in) wide and 20cm (8in) long. Place the logs on a baking sheet, cover with a sheet of baking parchment and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the chilled cantuccini logs for 30 minutes, or until they are a golden brown. Remove from the oven (but leave the oven on) and transfer (off the baking sheet) to a wire rack to cool. When they are cool, using a bread knife, cut the cantuccini at a 45 degree angle into pieces 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick.

Place the cantuccini, spaced well apart, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Return tot he oven for 10 minutes until crisp and golden brown.  Remove from the oven and transfer (off the baking sheet)  to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, place in a sealed container or serve straight away with the chocolate pots. (If you’re storing the biscuits, it’s very important that the cantuccini are fully cooked before you place them in the sealed container, otherwise the residual heat will make them go soggy.) 

To make the chocolate pots, pour the milk, vin santo and cream into saucepan and place on a medium heat. Bring to the simmer, then turn off the heart and add the chocolate. Leave for 1-2 minutes for the chocolate to soften. Using a spoon or a whisk, stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. 

Whisk the sugar and egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale and creamy. (Alternatively whisk by hand in a bowl for about 5 minutes.)

If using a machine, reduce the speed to its lowest setting. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate mixture and mix until an even colour. (Or do this in a bowl by hand.)

Pour the mixture into individual serving dishes (ramekings, glasses or cups will work). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then serve with cantuccini biscuits and really good, hot espresso. 

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Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Read the review

Curd Cake with Caramelised Apples by Olia Hercules

Curd Cake

Curd cake with caramelised apples

SERVES 8–10

200g unsalted butter, softened
200g apples, cored and sliced 1 tbsp brown sugar
200g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, separated 1 tsp vanilla extract
500g ricotta or good-quality cottage cheese
120g fine semolina or polenta Pinch of salt

My friend Jan once drunkenly asked me to cook for his dad Anton’s seventieth birthday, which I enthusiastically agreed to (also tipsy). Anton, aka Papa Florek or P Flo, grew up in Derby – his Polish father, Alfredo, had settled there after the war, when he was demobbed from the Carpathian Lancers.

Sernyk, a traditional cheesecake eaten across Poland and Ukraine, was one of Anton’s childhood favourites, something that connected him to his Polish heritage, so I decided that’s what I would make. Struggling to find good-quality cottage cheese the day before, I panicked and bought ricotta, adapting my mum’s original recipe to suit the moister texture of ricotta. Happily, it was a huge success, and this cake is now also one of my son’s favourites. I hope someone will make it for him when he is seventy.

Melt 25g of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the apples and cook for 2–3 minutes on each side until they start to turn golden. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and cook the apples for another minute on each side, then transfer the caramelised apples to a bowl and let them cool slightly.

Preheat your oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas Mark 6 and grease a 20cm square or round cake tin with butter. Lay the apples in the base of the cake tin.

If, like me, you left your butter out in the kitchen overnight, but
it was so blooming cold it didn’t soften properly, cut the rest of it into small pieces. Whatever state the butter is in, put it into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, along with 150g of the caster sugar, and whisk until it’s looking fairly fluffy. Break the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, whisking well, then whisk in the vanilla extract and cheese. Transfer the mixture to another bowl, then fold in the semolina or polenta (the latter will result in a cake with more texture).

Wash and dry your mixer bowl and whisk attachment thoroughly, then put in the egg whites and whisk until they start frothing up. Add the remaining 50g of caster sugar and the salt and keep whisking until you have soft peaks. Now take a large spoonful of the egg white mixture and fold it quite vigorously into the butter and cheese mixture to loosen it up. Add the rest of the egg white mixture and fold in gently. Pour the mixture over the apples in the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until it is a little wobbly, but not liquid. Remember it will set more firmly as it cools.

Leave the cake in its tin to rest and cool down, then slice and serve. Some unsweetened tea with lemon goes perfectly with this.

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Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

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Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
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Seedy Almond Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Seedy almond cake

To create this recipe, I started with a basic Victoria sponge and swapped out the white flour for a blend of wholemeal and ground almonds, reduced the sugar substantially and added extra nuts and seeds. The result is delicious – and you really do not miss  all that sugar. I love to eat the cake still just warm from the oven, but it keeps well too. It’s great with a cup of tea or, for a high-fibre, probiotic pud, enjoy it with a spoonful of kefir or natural yoghurt, and a little heap of fresh berries or roasted fruit compote. The poppy seeds aren’t essential, but I love them for their look and their texture and, like any seed, they are rich in minerals.

Makes 8 slices
125g unsalted butter, softened
70g soft light brown sugar or light muscovado
Finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon (optional)
100g wholemeal cake flour/fine plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
25g sunflower seeds
25g poppy seeds (optional) 3 medium eggs
3 tbsp milk or water
About 20g flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds (or a mix)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar, and the orange or lemon zest if using, into a large bowl or a free-standing electric mixer. Use an electric hand whisk or the mixer to beat for a couple of minutes, until light and fluffy.

In a second bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds, if using.

Add an egg and a spoonful of the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mix and beat until evenly blended. Repeat to incorporate the remaining eggs. Tip in the remaining dry ingredients and fold together gently but thoroughly, finishing by folding in the milk or water to loosen the batter a little.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it gently and evenly. Scatter with the flaked almonds and/or pumpkin seeds. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool, at least a little, on a wire rack.

Remove the cake from the tin and cut into slices to serve. It will keep in an airtight tin for up to 5 days, but you’ll most likely finish it well before then.

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Cheesecake and wood roasted peaches by Tomos Parry of Brat, London

275 Parry

Serves 6

360 g cream cheese
160 g superfine (caster) sugar
Grated zest of 1⁄4 orange
4 organic eggs
225 ml double cream
20 g all-purpose (plain) flour
Grilled fruit (such as rhubarb or peaches), for serving
Crème fraîche, for serving

Preheat the convection oven to 350°F (180°C) or a regular oven to 390°F (200°C). In a bowl, whisk the cream cheese, sugar, and orange zest until light and glossy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Gently whisk in the cream, then slowly sift in the flour and mix thoroughly.

Line a 10-inch (25 cm) cast-iron skillet with parchment paper. Pour in the mixture and bake for 30 minutes, then rotate front to back and cook for 15 minutes longer. The aim is for the cheesecake to rise like a soufflé and caramelize, almost burning on the top.

Once the cheesecake is out of the oven, leave it to cool for 1 hour (it will sink a bit). Slice and serve it with grilled fruit and a dollop of crème fraîche on the side.

Photograph by Benjamin McMahon

Extracted from Today’s Special, 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs, published by Phaidon

9781838661359-3d-1500

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Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs
£39.95, Phaidon

Read the review Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

Concha by Elena Reygadas of Rosetta, Mexico City

307 Reygadas

Makes 4 conchas
For the vanilla crust:
10 g all-purpose (plain) flour
10 g vegetable shortening
5 g sugar glass
5 g sugar
0.5 g baking powder
Pinch of salt
Seeds from 1⁄2 vanilla bean

For the conchas:
4 g fresh yeast
15 g whole milk
180 g wheat flour
25 g sugar
1 g fine sea salt
45 g eggs
40 g butter
Egg wash

Make the vanilla crust:

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and beat with an electric mixer at a low speed until well blended. Don’t overmix. Once the mixture is uniform, let stand at room temperature while you make the conchas.

Make the conchas:

Dissolve the yeast in the milk. In a large bowl, combine the flour, dissolved yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and butter and mix with your hands, making small circles. Once everything has blended together, knead the dough, lightly striking it against the surface until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a covered container and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape each into a ball.

Divide the vanilla crust into 4 portions; they should be about 20 g. Form each portion into a ball and then use your palm to flatten it into a disk large enough to cover one of the dough balls.

Glaze each ball of dough with egg and cover with a disk of vanilla crust. Press a shell-pattern mold into the crust or make the traditional pattern with a knife. Dip each concha in sugar and place on a baking sheet. Cover the conchas with a lightly floured cloth and let sit at room temperature for 11⁄2–2 hours, preferably in a humid environment between 70–75°F (20–25°C). Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Bake the conchas for 18 minutes.

Photograph courtesy Ana Lorenzana

Extracted from Today’s Special, 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs, published by Phaidon

9781838661359-3d-1500

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Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs
£39.95, Phaidon

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Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

 

First Catch Your Gingerbread by Sam Bilton

First Catch Your Gingerbread

What’s the USP? Everything you always wanted to know about gingerbread, but were afraid to ask, including the history of gingerbread from ancient times to present day, plus gingerbread and ginger cake recipes. It is part of Prospect Books’ series ‘The English Kitchen’ that looks at dishes and their place in history and which has previously included books on quince, soup and trifle.

Who’s the author? Sam Bilton is a food historian and writer and is probably best known for her historically-themed supper club Repast. She’s also worked on projects with English Hertiage and the National Trust. This is her debut book.

Is it good bedtime reading? The first 80 pages are given over to the scholarly ‘The Story of Gingerbread’ that begins with its pre-history in the ‘reverence given by ancient civilisations to the medicinal properties of spices’ and continues with it’s medieval incarnation (including an appearance in The Canterbury Tales as ‘gyngebreed’) and includes the importance of treacle in the history of gingerbread, how the recipe migrated from England to America and the difference between the two varieties, historical gingerbread moulds and other related creations, and it’s more modern incarnations and enduring appeal.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will find virtually everything you need in the supermarket. However, you will probably need an online supplier for grains of paradise (a West African spice that looks like black peppercorns but is in fact a member of the ginger family) if you want to make Små Pepparkakor, the ‘intensly crisp, aramatic small gingerbreads’ from Sweden, and for long pepper to make Dulcia Piperata (Roman Peppered Honey Cake). There are savoury recipes in the book too so you’ll want to visit your fishmonger for the langoustine and crayfish for an unusual stew that includes gingerbread crumbs.

What’s the faff factor? Some recipes will take a little bit of planning, for example a game terrine or chocolate stuffed lebkuchen (a spiced shocolate cake), both of which are two-day processes, although neither are particularly complicated. But generally speaking, the recipes are very approachable, especially for home bakers with some experience.

How often will I cook from the book? If you have a sweet tooth and are a keen baker, the book is a treasure trove of interesting, unusual and, most importantly, delicious recipes that you’ll want to work your way through. The inclusion of savoury recipes makes it useful for when you want something just a little bit different for a dinner party or even just a family meal.

Killer recipes? Ormskirk gingerbread; Elisenlebkuchen (chocolate-glazed spice and nut biscuits from Germany); Indian gingerbread; Ginger scotch rabbit; baked Camembert with gingerbread; carrot and ginger roulade with honeyed ricotta;

What will I love? This is quite obviously a labour of love. Bilton has unearthed a fascinating history behind an everyday cake shop favourite and curated a selection of appealing recipes that you’d struggle to find anywhere else.

Should I buy it? For keen bakers and lovers of food history, it’s a no-brainer.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Bakers/beginners/confident cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
First Catch Your Gingerbread By Sam Bilton
£15, Prospect Books

Also available at Amazon
First Catch Your Gingerbread (English Kitchen)

Peaches ‘N’ Cream by Thomas Keller

p.302 Peaches and Cream_THE FRENCH LAUNDRY, PER SE

Peaches ’n’ Cream
Whipped Ricotta and Pecan Sandies

Makes 10 servings

Canned Peaches
1,000 grams water
200 grams granulated sugar
20 grams ascorbic acid
5 freestone yellow peaches

Pecan Sandies
240 grams whole butter, at room temperature
63 grams confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
5 grams kosher salt
284 grams all-­purpose flour
100 grams raw pecans, chopped

Whipped Ricotta
15 grams granulated sugar
15 grams water
300 grams whole-­milk ricotta
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 lemon
200 grams mascarpone cheese
100 grams crème fraîche

Peach-­Scented Jelly
3 sheets silver leaf gelatin
50 grams lemon juice
To Complete
Fresh basil buds
Maldon salt

Special Equipment
Combi oven (optional)

The Napa Valley has some of the most amazing peaches you will ever taste, and at The French Laundry we are lucky enough to get the best of the bunch, all picked at perfect ripeness. But when they’re in the full flow of the summer season, they drop off the trees in such abundance that we can’t possibly serve them all. So we do what farms and households have been doing for hundreds of years: we put them up—preserve them. The process actually intensifies the flavor of the peaches and gives us the syrup they’re preserved in as a fabulous by-­product to include with their preparation. We usually can about 15 quarts of peaches in the summer; then we serve them around Christmastime, a special summer treat near the winter holidays. (Use perfectly ripe peaches with no bruises for canning. Firmer varieties work best; if they’re too soft, they can lose their shape.)

The syrup is seasoned with lemon and sugar, thickened with gelatin, and brought just to the setting point to create a thick, shiny glaze over the cold peaches. We finish the peach with basil buds from the garden (Genovese basil produces a white flower, Thai basil and lime basil produce a beautiful pink flower, and opal basil has a purple flower). We serve it with something creamy, here our housemade ricotta with mascarpone and crème fraîche, seasoned with vanilla and citrus. And for crunch, pecan sandies seem to be everyone’s favorite.

For the Canned Peaches
Stir together the water and sugar in a 2-­quart (2-­liter) saucepot (this is a 20% sugar solution). Heat just enough to dissolve the sugar without reducing the liquid and keep warm while you blanch the peaches.

Prepare an ice-­water bath and have it close to the cooktop. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Dissolve the ascorbic acid in 4,000 grams (4 quarts/4 liters) water in a 6-­quart (6-­liter) container and set aside.

Score the skin (not the flesh) of the bottom of the peach with a small 1-­inch (2.5-­centimeter) X. Drop 2 of the peaches into the boiling water and blanch for 30 to 40 seconds (see Note). Using a long-­handled slotted spoon, immediately transfer the peaches to the ice-­water bath to prevent further cooking. Using a paring knife, gently peel the peaches and set them on a tray. Repeat to blanch and peel the remaining peaches.

Cut the peaches vertically in half; separate the halves and remove the pits. Check the inside of the peaches to ensure they are good quality, with no mold or bugs. Drop the peaches into the ascorbic acid solution to prevent oxidation while you sterilize the jar.

If you have a combi oven, sterilize a clean 1-­quart (1-­liter) mason jar at 100°C (212°F) for 10 minutes. Otherwise, place a wire rack at the bottom of a large pot, fill the pot with enough water to submerge the jar, and bring the water to a boil. Place the jar on the rack in the pot, making sure it is submerged, and boil for 10 minutes. During the last minute, add a slotted spoon to sterilize it as well.

Meanwhile, bring the sugar solution to a gentle simmer. Remove the peaches from the ascorbic acid solution and place them in the sugar solution. Gently simmer for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Using clean tongs, transfer the jar to a clean kitchen towel.

Keeping the jar free from any foreign contamination at this point is crucial; you want to keep a clean, sterile environment within the jar. Tilt the jar and, using the sanitized slotted spoon, gently scoop one peach half at a time from the sugar solution and lower it into the jar, rounded-­side down, until all the peach halves are in the jar. Return the sugar solution to a boil, then pour it into the jar, covering the peaches and leaving 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of headspace at the top of the jar. Gently tap the jar on the counter to remove any air bubbles trapped by the peaches.

Place the lid on the jar and tighten it to fingertip-­tight (just until you feel resistance) to allow air to escape during the canning process. If you have a combi oven, process the jar at 100°C (212°F) for 20 minutes. Otherwise, check the pot you used to sterilize the jar; if there is not enough water to keep the jar submerged, add additional water. Bring the water to a boil. Stand the canning jar on the rack in the pot, making sure it is submerged, and boil for 20 minutes.

Remove the jar, tighten the lid all the way, and stand the jar upside down on the counter. Let cool to room temperature. Turn the jar right-­side up, clean the outside of the jar, check the lid for a proper seal, and label it with the date. Press the center of the lid; if it pops, the jar is not properly sealed. Remove the cap, reseal it, then steam or process in boiling water as before.

Properly sealed, the peaches will keep without refrigeration in an area not exposed to light for up to 6 months. The ideal temperature for long-­term storage is 40° to 70°F (4.5° to 21°C). After the jar has been opened, the peaches will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Always use a clean utensil, never your fingers, to remove peaches from the jar.

For the Pecan Sandies
Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line a sheet pan with a nonstick silicone baking mat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Beginning on low speed and gradually increasing to medium, cream the mixture until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and pecans and mix on low speed until just combined, being careful not to crush the pecans. Transfer the dough to a work surface and press it with the heel of your hand as necessary to bring it together.

Place the pecan dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll it out to ¼ inch (6 millimeters) thick, doing your best to keep a rectangular shape. From time to time, lift the top sheet of parchment and, using a dough cutter, push the edges to straighten them. (Keeping the dough a uniform rectangle will give a higher yield when cutting the cookies.) Slide the parchment onto a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours, or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost before baking.)

Cut the cookie dough into 2 by ½-­inch (5 by 1.25-­centimeter) batons. Using a small offset spatula, transfer them to the lined sheet pan, leaving 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) between them. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, until golden.

Meanwhile, put some confectioners’ sugar in a small fine-­mesh sieve. Remove the cookies from the oven and, while they are still hot, immediately dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar. Let cool.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

For the Whipped Ricotta
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepot just enough to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let the simple syrup cool completely.

In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk, whisk together the ricotta, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest until well combined. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth. Add the crème fraîche and whisk until smooth. Finally, whisk in the simple syrup. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

For the Peach-­Scented Jelly
Submerge the gelatin in a bowl of ice water to bloom (soften) for about 5 minutes.

Set a cooling rack over a half sheet pan. Open the jar of peaches and pour 250 grams of the syrup into a small saucepot. Arrange the peach halves cut-­side up on the rack and refrigerate while you make the jelly.

Add the lemon juice to the syrup in the saucepot and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Remove the softened gelatin from the ice water and squeeze out any excess water. Add the gelatin to the hot syrup and whisk to dissolve. Strain the syrup through a chinois or fine-­mesh strainer into a bowl and nestle the bowl in an ice-­water bath to cool, stirring from time to time. Watch closely; as the syrup cools, it will begin to set, and you need to catch it right at the setting point, when it has thickened and begun to gel but still has fluidity. When the syrup reaches this point, remove the peaches from the fridge and spoon the syrup over them in a thick layer. Refrigerate to set the jelly completely, at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

To Complete
Remove the peaches from the refrigerator. Crush the basil buds lightly between your fingers to release their scent and flavor and sprinkle them over the peaches. Finish each peach with a little Maldon salt.

Place a large spoonful of the whipped ricotta in each serving bowl or on serving plates. Gently rest a peach half on top, cut-­side up. Serve with a stack of pecan sandies on a plate alongside.

Note
Blanching peaches loosens their skins, making them easier to peel. The heat helps to separate the skin from the peach so the peels slip off.

Excerpted from The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photography by Deborah Jones.

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French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan