Quinces poached with honey and bay

20 October 2016

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For someone who has named their blog after the fruit, I have far too few quince recipes on this site! So if you have made too much quince jelly, if you have no time for quince paste, if you are still waiting for the lamb and quince tagine promised some six years ago (blame this, like so much else, on Thomas), here, finally, is a recipe for poached quinces.

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Poached quinces
Recipe inspired by Alice Waters’ poached quinces in Chez Panisse Fruit and Skye Gyngell’s baked quinces from A year in my kitchen

2 cups golden/caster sugar

4 medium quinces (about 2 lbs)

3 Tbsps flavorful honey

1/2 vanilla bean

One bay leaf (I used a fresh one)

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 untreated lemon

Make a syrup with the sugar and 6 cups (1.5 liters) of water. Bring to a boil and simmer briefly until the sugar has dissolved.

Meanwhile, wash, peel, core, and slice the quinces lengthwise into quarters then eighths (this must be done at the last minute as quinces tend to turn brown very quickly).

Slice one half of the lemon very thinly, and juice the other half.

Add to the simmering syrup the honey, the vanilla bean after scraping out the seeds into the syrup, the bay leaf, the cinnamon stick, the lemon slices, the lemon juice, and finally, the quince slices. Cover the liquid with a round of parchment paper and place a weight on top if possible to ensure that the pieces of quince are submerged in the liquid as they cook. Let the quince simmer for approximately 45 minutes until they are tender.

Once cooked, carefully strain out the pieces of quince and place them in a bowl or canning jars. Return the syrup without the quinces to the heat and simmer down for a good 20 to 30 minutes to concentrate the liquid (there must be enough left to cover the fruit!).

If preserving, sterilize the canning jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes and close the jars immediately after pouring the reduced hot liquid on top of the fruit.

If using immediately, pour the hot liquid over the fruit and let cool to room temperature.

In both cases serve with thick Greek-style yogurt.

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French apple cake with rum

12 October 2016

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When fall sidles in with armloads of plums and bright warm days, it is easy to overlook that October has arrived and apples are at their crispest.

Of course, apples will stay with us for a while, resignedly softening in cool cellars, faithfully, to accompany us through the bleakest winter months. We’ll be grateful — if perhaps a little weary — for those last wrinkly fruits as we await spring.

A small part of me always wonders whether it wouldn’t be best to hold out just a little while longer before biting in, to prolong the novelty a few weeks more. But the truth is that I long for apples already in the summer, I miss them in August; something about the comfort of a familiar companion amid attention-grabbing summer harvests.

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Apples are remarkable fruit, and I love all the gnarly varieties (though I can never remember which is which). Smaller varieties, tart and sweet, barely bigger than a large apricot are ideal to bite into — the perfect, well-packaged snack on the go. Bigger apples are less fussy when baking, and so versatile! Is any other fruit equally ideal in cakes, tartes, crumbles, and pies, but also stands deliciously independently, simply baked in the oven stuffed with raisins, nuts, and cream, or stewed into spicy compotes?

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This weekend I jumped into apple season with this perfectly lovely, easy cake that I discovered a few years ago and make regularly. The recipe, which I found on David Lebovitz’s blog, is originally by Dorie Greenspan. I love this cake because it feels very ‘French,’ in that it is un-fussy. Whil

e exported French cuisine is elaborate, French home cooking is usually quite straightforward, and, as Dorie Greenspan writes in her introduction to the cake, skilled French home cooks often don’t use recipes, even when baking. Also, the generous addition of rum is completely essential for this cake — We French do like a good dash of booze in our desserts.

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Apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Lebovitz
Here is the recipe, doubled, because I always seem to be feeding a crowd! I’ve reduced the sugar ever so slightly, and added a squeeze of lemon so the apple pieces don’t turn brown.

1 cup (225g) butter plus a little extra for the mold

1 1/2 cups (220g) flour (I usually use white spelt flour, which seems perfectly interchangeable with all-purpose white flour)

1 1/2 tsps baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

7-8 large apples (mix of varieties — once the apples are incorporated in the batter, there should be practically more apple than batter)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

4 large organic eggs

1 1/4 cup (250g) soft brown sugar

5 or 6 Tbsps dark rum (but no less, this is what makes the cake!)

1 tsp real vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

I’ve made this cake in round springform pans, as the recipe suggests, but also in long rectangular loaf tins, and, here, in a fancy bundt mold that I found this summer while scrounging through my grandmother’s old kitchenwares.

So … choose the desired mold (or two) line it (them) with parchment paper and butter the paper generously. [Parchment paper was impossible with my crinkled mold so I buttered it excessively and added a dusting of flour.] If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet, as it may ooze while baking.

Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Peel and core the apples, then cut each wedge into roughly 1/2 inch (1cm) chunks. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pieces of apple so they don’t turn brown.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, add the sugar gradually, still whisking, then the rum and the vanilla.

Whisk in half of the flour, then half of the melted butter. Add the other half of the flour and finally the rest of the butter.

Use a spatula to stir in the apples, mixing until they are well coated. There will seem to be more apple than batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan. Tap the pan gently on the table to even out the batter, and smooth the surface with the spatula. Slide into the oven for a good 50 minutes to an hour. Test (as usual) with the tip of a knife or skewer that should come out clean. [The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcooked, first check with a knife!]

Let cool to room temperature before turning onto a serving plate.

I prefer to serve fruity cakes with crème fraîche or clotted cream, but by all means ice cream would be fine too.

Bon appétit!

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After-school lemonade

26 June 2015

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One day I will write extensively about London weather, or rather the interesting relationship the English have to English weather. Today I am just enjoying another one of those glorious summer days we’ve had this year, hot afternoons that simply scream of cooling lemonades. I usually just wing it, here I paid attention as the proportions seemed just right.

4 lemons

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Large sprig of fresh mint

Ice cubes

Sparkling water

Juice the lemons. Pour the juice into a large jug over a few handfuls of ice cubes. Add the sugar and stir until it’s completely dissolved. Add the mint and give it a swirl.

Pour the juice into each individual glass to about a third full and top up with sparkling water.

Gooseberry elderflower jam

25 June 2015

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For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.

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Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries were thought better than those of the Continent). Wild bushes were apparently the only native fruit-bearing plants of the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Notwithstanding my enduring passion for the prickly little things, they are not the most beloved of berries. Perhaps because they tend to be impossibly tart. Or because they sport the most peculiar names. Gooseberries in England and groseilles à maquereau (mackerel redcurrants) in France. Those epithets probably linked to the rich dishes they initially accompanied. (There is another theory for the English name, which could be derived either from Scottish or Dutch origin.) In German they are guardedly called ‘Stachelbeeren’ — ‘prickleberries’ — an apt description, and not the most inviting one.

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I can well imagine that gooseberry compote tastes great with a savory dish, a little like cranberry sauce, but when one compulsively buys over a kilo of berries as soon as they appear in spring, the best solution is jam. They pair remarkably well with elderflowers, which are in season coincidentally. And so I’ve adapted Christine Ferber’s simple gooseberry jam. The result is very delicate. And deliciously tart.

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Gooseberry and elderflower jam
Adapted from Christine Ferber’s two-step technique

1.1 kg gooseberries

800g white or caster sugar

2 small lemons, juiced

One small lemon, finely sliced, each slice cut into quarters

2 heads elderflowers, just-picked

Rinse the gooseberries in cold water, strain, then dry in a clean tea towel (dish cloth). Rub the berries with the cloth very gently to remove the fuzz. Trim the stems and what is left of the flower. In a heavy, cast-iron or marmalade pot, mix the gooseberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Inspect the elderflowers and carefully remove any bugs. Submerge the elderflower heads into the fruit/sugar mixture. Give a gentle stir to mix the aroma, then cover the fruit (and flowers) with a sheet of parchment paper and  place in the refrigerator overnight (up to 24h hours).

The next day, remove the elderflowers. Transfer the fruit back to the cooking pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam sets*. Stir frequently and don’t leave the room, this jam burns very quickly! Skim off the excess scum as it boils.

*To test whether the jam has set, place a spoonful of jam in a small dish in the refrigerator, it will cool quickly and reveal its consistency.

Boil about 12 small or 8 large jam pots in water for 5 minutes to sterilize.

Once the jam has reached the jelling point, remove from the heat, spoon into jam pots, and close immediately. Try to keep the jam for a few weeks before opening, it gets better with time!

Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015

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The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made a few times doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measures such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I hardly make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, original French recipe
The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.
1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above

1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot of oil or melted butter

2 pots sugar

3 pots flour

2 eggs

Baking powder

Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

*

Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe
I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt

1 pot (100ml) melted butter

1 pot (100ml) olive oil

3 pots brown sugar

3 pots flour

3 pots almond flour

4 eggs

2 tsps baking powder

Zest from 2 lemons

Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

Additional variation (pictured above)

For a festive cake without nuts, use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour).

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top. NOTE: I don’t do the jam filling with the almond flour version as it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy.


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