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.

Caramel Pots De Crème With Whipped Crème Fraîche by David Hawksworth

Caramel Pots De Creme

This was one of the original desserts on the Nightingale menu and it’s still going strong. So simple, but so good.

NOTE  If vanilla bean is unavailable, use good-quality paste or essence.

Serves 6

Crème Fraîche
300mL (1¼ cups) heavy cream
100mL (7 Tbsp) buttermilk

Pots de Crème
415mL (1⅔ cups) cream
160mL (⅔ cup) milk
5g (1½ tsp) salt
¼ vanilla bean, split and scraped
100g (½ cup) sugar
6 egg yolks

Vanilla Breton
60g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) pecans
200g (1½ cups) pastry flour
12g (scant Tbsp) baking powder
3g (1 tsp) salt
¼ vanilla bean, split and scraped
130g (⅔ cup) sugar
130g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) butter
3 egg yolks

Butterscotch Sauce
45g (3 Tbsp) butter
145g (¾ cup) brown sugar
120mL (½ cup) cream

Whipped Crème Fraîche
200mL (¾ cup) cream
15g (2 Tbsp) icing sugar

CRÈME FRAÎCHE
Combine the cream and buttermilk in a stainless-steel bowl. Cover with cheesecloth and leave to culture and thicken in a warm spot in your kitchen for 24 hours, then refriger- ate overnight.

POTS DE CRÈME
Bring the cream, milk, salt, and vanilla to a simmer in a pot over low heat. Place a thick-bottomed pan with tall sides over medium heat. Add the sugar in 3 additions, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, allowing it to melt between addi- tions. Cook until dark amber in colour, then add the cream. Be careful as the mixture will bubble violently. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to 40ºC (105ºF). Place the egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly pour the hot caramel and cream into the egg yolks while constantly whisking to create a custard. Refrigerate overnight.

VANILLA BRETON
Grind the pecans to a fine powder in a food processor. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the pecan powder. Rub the vanilla into the sugar to free the seeds, then sift together. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar with the butter on medium speed, then add the egg yolks in 3 additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients and blend to form a soft dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.

BAKING  
Preheat the oven to 135ºC (275ºF).  Strain the refrigerated custard through a fine-mesh sieve. Fill six 240mL (8 oz) jars with the custard to the halfway point. Place the jars in a shallow baking dish and fill the dish ⅓ full with simmering water. Transfer to the oven and cook until the custards are just set and jiggle when gently shaken, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven, then the jars from the dish, and allow to cool.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Increase the heat of the oven to 175ºC (350ºF). On a lightly floured work surface, roll the chilled pastry into a rectangle that is 0.5cm (¼ in) thick. Transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE
Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the sugar and about 50mL (3 Tbsp) of the cream. Stir to dissolve, then bring to a simmer and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the remaining cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring occasionally.

WHIPPED CRÈME FRAÎCHE
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream, 90mL (about ⅓ cup) of the crème fraîche, and the icing sugar. Whip until the cream holds medium peaks. Refrigerate the remaining crème fraîche for up to 1 week.

SERVE 
Spoon the whipped crème fraîche into the custard pots. Top with shards of Breton pastry. Drizzle with butterscotch sauce.

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Hawksworth: The Cookbook
£33.99, Appetite By Random House

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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

Cook more from this book
Lamb navarin
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Buy this book
Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs
£39.95, Phaidon

Read the review
Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

 

Vanilla crème brûlée by Tom Kerridge

creme brulee6363

Vanilla crème brûlée is one of those classic desserts that everyone knows about and loves. And it’s been on the menu at The Hand & Flowers right from the very start. As far as I’m concerned, the key to a properly perfect brûlée is to have three distinct flavours that you taste – vanilla, eggs and caramel – so that it’s not just a sweet, creamy dessert. And I’ve got Alex Bentley to thank for teaching me that. This is 100% the brûlée recipe I was cooking as a young chef at Monsieur Max, where he was head chef. I think Alex was given or inherited the recipe from Max Renzland, the restaurant’s chef-patron. Apparently, it was an old Elizabeth David recipe; she must have learnt it during her travels in France, so goodness knows how old it really is.

Until Alex taught this recipe to me, most crème brûlée recipes I’d come across were sweet and made only with egg yolks. This one uses whole eggs and just a small amount of sugar. It was a game changer for me. I suddenly knew how to make a magical crème brûlée. The technique that really brings the dessert to life is its caramelisation on top. Instead of just melting the sugar, Alex taught me to caramelise it really heavily. At Monsieur Max, customers sometimes complained that the sugar was burnt, but that’s the whole point. It’s supposed to be; the caramelisation makes it taste toasty and nutty. You end up with a smooth, vanilla dessert that’s creamy with a bittersweet crunchy topping.

We match it at The Hand & Flowers with an Innis & Gunn craft beer rather than a dessert wine. The beer’s aged in old whiskey barrels so it has this really rich toffee, creamy flavour, which harmonises beautifully with the
crème brûlée.

serves 6

750ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
4 medium free-range eggs
30g caster sugar

Put the cream and vanilla pod into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl until smoothly blended. Bring the vanilla-infused cream back to the boil, then slowly pour onto the beaten egg mixture, whisking as you do so to combine.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, over a medium-low heat until the custard thickens and reaches 88°C (check the temperature with a digital probe). Immediately remove from the heat and pass through a fine chinois into a clean bowl.

Press a layer of cling film onto the surface to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool for 20 minutes or until the custard is at room temperature. Pour the custard into a high-powered jug blender (Vitamix) and blitz for 30 seconds; this will lighten it slightly.

Now pour the custard into crème brûlée dishes or ramekins, dividing it equally (about 125ml per dish). Cover each dish with cling film, leaving a small gap on one side, to allow any moisture to evaporate. Stand the dishes on a tray and place in the fridge to set; this will take about 3 hours.

Caramel glaze
200g demerara sugar

When ready to serve, sprinkle a generous, even layer of demerara sugar over the surface of each set custard. Wipe the edge of the dish with a clean cloth.
Using a cook’s blowtorch, caramelise the sugar, starting from the edges and working towards the centre. Take the caramel to a dark brown – this dish is all about  balancing the rich creamy egg custard with the slightly bitter caramel flavour.
Leave to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

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£40, Bloomsbury Absolute

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Coming soon

Pecan pie by Ben Crittenden

B27A8496

SWEET PASTRY
450g plain flour
150g icing sugar
Pinch salt
225g butter
1 egg
50g cream

Add everything except the egg and cream to a food processor and pulse to bring the ingredients together, Then add the egg and cream and pulse to create a stiff paste, being careful not to over work. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour then roll out to about 3mm thick and line 2.5” tart cases. Trim excess and line the inside of the cases with cling film. Fill with rice or baking beans and place in freezer for an hour. Set oven to 190c and bake the cases for 8 minutes. Turn the oven down to 160c and bake until the pastry is cooked through. Remove the baking beans and make sure the bottoms are cooked, which should take about 20 minutes in total.

PECAN PIE
250g golden syrup
50g treacle
85g fresh bread crumbs
80g ground pecans
1 egg
150g cream
1 lemon zest
100g toasted pecans

In a blender, blitz everything except the toasted pecans until smooth. Decant into a container and refrigerate overnight. Crumble the toasted pecans into the base of the cooked tart cases. Set oven to 170c. Give the batter mix a good stir and then spoon into the cases on top of the crumbled pecans. Bake for 10 minutes at 170c then turn the oven down and bake for a further 10 minutes at 150c. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

BANANA SORBET
5 ripe bananas
50g glucose
1/2 lemon juice
Blitz everything together and freeze in Pacojet canisters. You don’t need to heat anything just blitz and freeze.

CHOCOLATE PURÉE
150g 70% Valrhona chocolate
50g cocoa powder
150g sugar
400g water
Ultratex to thicken

Bring the sugar and water to a simmer and pour over the chocolate and cocoa powder. Mix well and chill in the fridge overnight. Beat with a whisk to loosen and then add Ultratex a teaspoon at time. Mix well and leave 10 minutes between adding to allow time to absorb the moisture. When thickened pass through a fine sieve and decant into bottles.

CANDIED PECANS
100g pecans
225g sugar
125g water
Pinch salt
Bring 125g sugar, water, nuts and salt to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 100g of sugar and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Drain off the syrup and bake the nuts on parchment paper for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 150c.

TO SERVE
Lemon balm

Cook more from this book
Duck liver parfait
Poussin, korma, grape

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Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden
£30, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon Stark

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Lemon meringue pie with English blackberries – star anise by Glynn Purnell

Lemon meringue pie
For the blackberry parfait
500ml blackberry purée
1 star anise
160g caster sugar
40ml cold water
75g egg whites
1.5g citric acid
375ml double cream
Packet of popping candy

Slowly bring the blackberry purée and star anise to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Remove the star anise and pass through a fine sieve.
Prepare some 3-4cm rubber dome moulds.

In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water. Stir gently and place on to a medium heat with a sugar thermometer in the pan.

Put the egg whites into an electric mixer bowl with the whisk attachment fitted.
When the sugar syrup reaches 100°c, begin whisking the egg whites slowly. As the syrup reaches 110°c, increase the whisking speed of the egg whites. When the syrup reaches 116°c, the egg whites should have formed soft peaks.

Remove the syrup from the heat and slowly add the syrup to the egg whites, whisking constantly. Once all the syrup has been added to the egg whites, turn the electric mixer speed up and continue whisking until the meringue is thick, glossy and cool.

In a large round bowl, semi-whip the double cream. Fold 350ml infused Blackberry purée and citric acid into the cooled Italian meringue, then fold into the semi-whipped cream in two stages. Add the popping candy to taste, then pipe into dome moulds, smoothing the tops with a palette knife. Freeze the parfait in the moulds for 24 hours.

For the sweet pastry
270g salted butter
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
540g plain flour

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment fitted, cream the butter and sugar together, do not over-mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time, until the mixture is smooth.
Sift the flour and fold into the mix gently until it just starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and finish by hand to ensure the dough is not over worked.

Divide into two, flatten to 2 cm in thickness and cling film. Reserve in the fridge for up to ten days or freeze for up to four weeks.

Preheat oven to 160°c.

Roll the pastry to 2mm in thickness and line some 8cm tart cases with the pastry. Cover the pastry with cling film or silicon paper and fill with baking beans.
Blind bake for 12 minutes, then remove the baking beans. Return to the oven for a further five minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once completely cool, remove from the tart rings and store in an airtight container lined with food safe silica gel. Keep in a cool, dry place.

For the lemon curd
12 large lemons
450g caster sugar
300g salted butter, diced
540g eggs
600g egg yolks

Zest the lemons and reserve the zest. Juice the lemons. You need 600ml of lemon juice. In a medium sized saucepan bring the juice up to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the lemon juice to approximately 150ml. It should resemble a glaze and be a slightly deeper colour. Empty the reduced lemon into a clean saucepan and add the sugar and butter. Bring this to a boil, stirring often.

Once boiling and all the butter has melted, whisk in the eggs and egg yolks and cook out over a medium heat, until the curd is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Cover in a clean bowl with cling filmed pressed down to touch the lemon curd. This prevents condensation and water dripping onto the curd. Leave to cool in the fridge. Once cool, place the curd in a jug blender and blend until smooth. Reserve in vacuum pac bags in the fridge until needed.

For the Italian meringue
250g caster sugar
250g water
15g SOSA Albumina powder (dried egg whites)

In a suitable sized saucepan, bring 200g of the sugar and 120g of the water up to 118°c over a medium heat. While the sugar syrup is coming up to temperature, place the Albumina powder, 50g caster sugar and 130g water into an electric mixer bowl. Using a hand whisk, gently mix the ingredients together, then place the bowl onto the electric mixer.

When the sugar syrup reaches 100°c, begin whisking the egg whites slowly. As the syrup reaches 110°c, increase the whisking speed of the egg whites. When the syrup reaches 118°c, the egg whites should have formed stiff peaks.

Remove the syrup from the heat and slowly add the syrup to the egg whites, whisking constantly. Once all the syrup has been added to the egg whites, turn the electric mixer speed up and continue whisking until the meringue is cool.
Decant the meringue into piping bags and store in the fridge or freezer for up to two days.

For the blackberry and star anise gel
1 litre blackberry purée
4 star anise
0.5g vanilla powder
10g agar-agar

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the blackberry purée, star anise and vanilla powder to a boil, whisking occasionally. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Place the pan back onto the heat and bring back to a boil. Once boiling, remove the star anise and put to one side. Add the agar-agar and continuously whisk and cook for two minutes to activate the agar-agar. Pour the mix into a lightly greased, high sided tray and leave to set for two hours in the fridge.

Remove the set gel from the tray and roughly chop. Place into a Thermomix blender and blend on a medium-high speed for two minutes. Turn the blender off, scrape the sides of the jug down and blend again for two minutes on a medium-high speed, until you have a smooth and glossy gel.

Store in vacuum pac bags for freshness. Place into a squeezy bottle for service.
Wash the star anise to remove any purée, then dehydrate to completely dry out.
Once dry, blend the star anise in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Seal in a vacuum pac bag to reserve.

For the frozen blackberries
2 punnets of fresh blackberries
Liquid nitrogen

Wash the blackberries and dry them on kitchen towel. Put the blackberries into an insulated nitrogen container. Completely submerge the blackberries in liquid nitrogen and leave for three minutes. Once the blackberries have completely frozen, lift them out of the nitrogen with a slotted spoon and place into a large sous vide bag. Fold the ends of the bag over and lay the bag on a flat surface with one hand covering the folded end. Bash and roll the frozen blackberries with a rolling pin so the filaments separate. Empty the bag into a small metal Gastronorm container and half cover with liquid nitrogen. Reserve in the freezer until needed.

To serve
Lemon balm
Star anise powder

Pipe the lemon curd into a cooked pastry case and smooth the top with a palette knife. Place a dome of parfait in the centre of the tart on top of the lemon curd. Place the tart case onto a pastry turntable and start turning on a low speed. Fit the desired piping nozzle onto a piping bag with the Italian meringue and pipe your desired pattern onto of the tart, starting in the centre of the top of the parfait and working down as the tart spins on the turntable. Once the meringue is piped, lightly colour the meringue with a blowtorch. On a large flat white plate, sporadically pipe dots of differing sizes of the blackberry gel. Place the tart on top of one of the dots or around the centre of the plate. Refresh the frozen blackberries in liquid nitrogen and spoon liberally around the plate. Garnish with lemon balm and a pinch of star anise powder.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish masala with red lentil
Haddock and Eggs – Cornflakes – curry oil by Glynn Purnell

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A Purnell’s Journey
£85, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon: There And Back Again: A Purnell’s Journey

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Twice Baked Cheese Soufflé by Maura O’Connell Foley

Maura_Souffle_018

This recipe includes a soft and hard goat’s cheese. Instead of goat’s cheese, for the hard cheese a mature cheddar, pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano can be used and for the soft cheese a soft blue cheese would work well. These can be prepared several hours in advance with a first initial bake and then a second bake just before serving. Lovely served with a small organic green salad and a hazelnut dressing.

Ingredients
Makes 4
Ramekin Lining:
• 30g hazelnuts (about 20 hazelnuts)
• 60g soft white breadcrumbs
• 30g softened butter

Soufflé:
• 15g butter
• 15g plain white flour
• 100ml milk
• 60g hard goat’s cheese, grated
• 2 egg yolks, beaten
• 6 egg whites
• 60g soft goat’s cheese for centre filling, chopped
• ½ tsp lemon juice
• Sea salt

Hazelnut Dressing:
• 1. tbsp apple cider vinegar
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tbsp hazelnut oil
• 1 tsp local honey (warmed to help it combine), plus extra to taste
• Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Method

To toast and skin the nuts, preheat the oven to fan 160°C / fan 325°F / gas mark 4. Arrange the nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the skins crack and the nuts are light golden. Once roasted, rub the nuts in a dry cloth to remove the skins. Pulse in a processor for a few seconds to bring the nuts to a coarse crumb consistency. Combine the hazelnut crumbs and breadcrumbs.

To prepare the ramekins, generously brush the butter over the sides and bottoms of the ramekins. Coat with a generous layer of hazelnut breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to fan 170°C / fan 340°F / gas mark 5.

Make the base of the soufflé by melting the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, to a pale golden colour. Gradually add the milk,  continuing to stir, to a smooth consistency. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the hard goat’s cheese, egg yolks and season with sea salt.

In a large dry bowl (essential for whipping egg whites), beat the egg whites with the sea salt until slightly thickened. Add the lemon juice and whisk to stiff peaks. Take a quarter of the egg white mixture and mix this into the cooled soufflé base until well combined. Gently fold in the remaining egg white mixture until well combined.

Half fill the ramekins with the soufflé mixture, place the soft goat’s cheese in the centre then cover with the remaining soufflé mixture, filling the ramekin to the top.

Run your thumb around the ramekins to clean the top edge – this helps the soufflé to rise. Place each of the ramekins in a roasting tin and pour in enough hot water to a depth of two thirds around the ramekins.

Bake for 15 minutes for the first bake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. At this point, the soufflés can be set aside if preparing in advance and chilled in the fridge for up to 6 hours only.

For the second bake, heat the oven to fan 200°C / fan 400°F / gas mark 7. Loosen the soufflés in the ramekin with a palette knife or small knife. Return the soufflés to the oven, this time with no water in the roasting tray, and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly risen.

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients into a jar, tightly seal and shake vigorously. Add local honey and seasoning to taste, then shake again. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Serve the soufflés immediately with a green salad and hazelnut dressing.

Cook more from this book
Rum and Walnut Tart with Rum Butterscotch Sauce by Maura O’Connell Foley
Smoked Cod Cakes

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My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections
£35, Maura O’Connell Foley)

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