Pear and apple butter

19 February 2021

Or food like therapy.

I like to think I’m an optimist, try to see the upside, focus on the good bits. I hate to wallow or complain, I have little reason to. This year has tested that.

And, the other day, I sank as far to that bottom as I ever will. I felt very sorry for myself. The UK seemed to be drifting away from the world even farther, with travel restrictions tougher, multiple mandatory tests imposed, hotel quarantines looming, all of which put the possibility of just crossing the water to go ‘home’ — always a basic reassuring given — more and more in question.

When, serendipitously, a friend left a bag with three kilos or pears on our doorstep.

It took me a couple of days to decide what to make of it, until the option presented itself as self-evident: pear and apple butter (I always have lots of apples on hand). I had never made it. I’m not sure I had ever had it. In fact, I sort of thought I was making something else: Apelstroop — or thick apple syrup, which I now realise is something different, made just with apple juice rather than purée.

Making apple butter is at once very easy and very time consuming. It is exactly the type of project to undertake at that moment when there is absolutely nothing to do, and no place to go. It is mindless. Meditative. And smells extremely good.

It was a bit of a springboard. Thanks, Claire!

Pear and apple butter barely adapted from Do Preserve by Anja Dunk, Jen Goss, and Mimi Beaven

2kg pears (it is also possible to use only apples, if that’s what you have)
1.6 kg apples
18 cloves
250ml (1 cup) water
60g sugar
120ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
Juice from 1 lemon

Wash the fruit and chop it all up into medium chunks, peel, core, and all.

Place the chunks of fruit in a large saucepan with 250ml of water and the cloves. Cook until completely soft, about half an hour, stirring occasionally all the way to the bottom of the pan.

Pass through a food mill to obtain a soft purée.

Return the purée to wide pot, add the sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice, and cook over low heat, stirring nearly continuously, especially as the purée thickens, For.A.Good.Long.While. A few hours probably, for that quantity, until the purée has become a dark brick spreadable ‘butter’.

Store in sterilised jars and keep in the fridge (Or process the jars for long conservation).

Coddled eggs

31 January 2021

As a rule I’m against single-purpose kitchen accessories; this is an exception. Coddled eggs are the best thing to have tumbled into my weekends this winter.

These coddled egg cups were my grandmother’s, and I’ve known them all my life. Last summer I brought them home to London from the dusty cardboard boxes in which they’ve slumbered at my sister’s (serendipitous repository of our life and family history) for the past 15-odd years. Forgotten, not forsaken.

A couple of weeks ago, as we pondered brunch for lunch, largely as an excuse to finish the Christmas Stollen, my meandering thoughts jumped to these egg cups.

So, I unwrapped them, carefully scrubbed away 30-odd years of neglect gathered in their grooves, and easily found this recipe. It can be adapted in a myriad ways, as I suggest below.

In the absence of coddlers, a similar result can be achieved by preparing the eggs in ramekins and baking them in a bain marie in the oven. But I think it’s worth getting coddlers, for the sheer indulgence. They are pretty superfluous and already indispensable.

They have changed my weekends.

Happy Sunday!

Coddled eggs method (adapted from this one in Bon Appétit)

In the absence of coddlers, eggs can be baked in ramekins in the oven: preheat the oven to 170C (325F), prepare the eggs with the ingredients as below in individual ramekins, and bake in a bain marie in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Crème fraîche or heavy cream
Ham or smoked fish (salmon or trout), cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces, or diced (fried) bacon
Chives, cut to your liking: I prefer 1cm strands but they can also be thinly minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg per person

Place the coddlers in a medium saucepan and fill with enough water to come to about 3/4 of the way up the side of the coddlers. Remove the coddlers and bring the water to boil.

Meanwhile prepare the eggs.

Butter each coddler generously. Add a small teaspoon of cream, a teaspoon of ham (or smoked fish or bacon), and a sprinkling of chives. Carefully crack the eggs into the coddlers. Cover with the same amount again of cream, ham/fish/bacon, and chives. Salt and pepper generously, and close the coddler.

Place the coddlers in the gently boiling water and cook for about 9 minutes, until the egg whites are just set and the yolks still runny.

Dried fruit rum pot

14 January 2021

14 January. There never was a more forlorn morning. The clouds are so heavy, the mood is dim, we want to be drinking away the endless evenings with friends…

With or without a pandemic, I don’t understand dry January, there never was a more misappropriate pairing. I could forego alcohol at any time of the year; January is when I definitely want a drink. And today especially.

Better than a stiff drink, one drowned lusciously in soft spicy fruit, with a large spoonful of cream.

Like the glimmer of a candlelit café beckoning through an icy Berlin winter, I discovered this a few weeks ago. I’ve made summer rum pots or Rumtopf (jars of summer berries and fruit layered with sugar and rum and left to marinate until Christmas) in the past but not this year, and I was already missing it. Seeing a friend mention a ‘dried fruit’ rum pot recently on Instagram, I immediately asked for the recipe. This is an adapted version, with some changes to quantities and measurements and probably a few more spices. Many thanks Alison!

Dried fruit rum pot

Recipe adapted from one a friend sent me a few weeks ago. After some cursory research online into ‘dried fruit rum pots’ (there are hardly any) I think the recipe may originally have come from Epicurious.

170g (1 cup) sugar
2 oranges
1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
3 allspice
20 peppercorns (1/4 tsp)
600g (20 oz.) of a selection of dried fruit: apricots, pears, peaches, prunes, apples, dates, sultanas, …
300ml (1 1/4 cup) dark rum

Put the sugar with 600ml (scant 2 1/2 cups) of water in a saucepan, add the rind and juice of the oranges and lemon, the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Strain the syrup and return to the pan. Add the dried fruit. —> If some of your fruit is very dry (as was the case for my figs and pears) add them first and gently for 5 minutes before adding the rest. Once the softer fruit is added, simmer gently for another 10 to 12 minutes.

Let cool completely in the pan.

Meanwhile, sterilise a jar or two (the total capacity will be about 1.5 litres / 6 cups).

When the fruit is completely cool, pour the fruit with the cooking syrup into the clean jar(s), add the rum, and mix well (but gently in order not to squash the fruit).

Ideally, let the fruit marinate in the rum for a while. While this could be eaten immediately, it will get much better in a week or two, and should keep for a couple of months (if it lasts). I like to eat it with a small scoop of sheep’s yogurt and thick cream.

Cabbage slaw and a miso ginger mayonnaise dressing staple

7 January 2021

More often than not, in winter, this will be lunch.

I could buy January King cabbage for its looks alone — and yes, in food looks do matter, particularly in the dead of winter! — but it is also the mildest and crunchiest and most delicious of cabbages. I discovered January King since moving to London and it now constantly lives in our fridge in winter (except when it disappears too quickly), and has rescued and will save a thousand meals.

Many of which in this house are compiled from bread and cheese and ham or saucisson, pickled herring and smoked trout. Usually some form of raw vegetable (in summer cucumber and tomatoes, later fennel, carrot, kohlrabi!), soup, or salad — in winter sometimes this endive salad or, more often, cabbage slaw, particularly when January King is in season.

But red or white cabbage will also do, and a jar of the miso mayonnaise dressing lives in the fridge on standby so this can come together in a few minutes, the time it takes to slice the cabbage.

Cabbage slaw with a staple miso ginger dressing

January King is my favourite winter cabbage when it is available, otherwise white or red cabbage, or a combination of both.

I try to always have a jar of this dressing on hand in the fridge; it makes a large jar and can be kept for weeks.

2 Tbsps miso
2 Tbsps mayonnaise
1 tsp mustard
A small piece of ginger, peeled and grated
Juice from half a lemon
50ml (scant 1/4 cup) cider vinegar
100ml (scant 1/2 cup) olive oil
Large pinch of salt

In a large jam jar (with a lid), mix together the miso, mayonnaise, mustard, and grated ginger until well combined.

Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil, and salt, close the lid tightly and shake vigorously until the dressing is emulsified and looks homogenous.

Halve the cabbage, remove any wilted outer leaves, cut the half into wedges, then slice each wedge into thin strips.

Toss the cabbage with a few tablespoons of dressing and keep the rest of the in the fridge for future instant lunches.

Galette des rois with poached pears and frangipane

6 January 2021

January 6.

An upgrade on the simple frangipane Galette des rois, which I wrote about a few years ago, this year I added poached pears. Actually I made two galettes, one with apple sauce and frangipane and blackcurrant jam, which sounds great but ended up too sweet — everyone agreed it would have been best just with applesauce, basically a giant ‘chausson aux pommes’ (a puff pastry pocket filled with apple sauce, a staple of every French patisserie), but that is straying too far from the spirit of galette, which in my mind needs almonds, non-negotiably. The winner is the galette with poached pears.

This year I also discovered a new home-made puff pastry recipe. I usually buy puff pastry if I can find the pure butter kind, but, unlike in France where it is a staple in every supermarket, or Switzerland where puff pastry can be bought at night in a snowstorm on a motorway stop (!), puff pastry can’t always be found on every street (or Autobahn) corner. And so I had to make my own. Cue the discovery of David Lebovitz’ Quick Puff Pastry, hidden under cover of his French Apple Tart. The recipe really is easy and works beautifully, even when quadrupled for 2 galettes, each with a top and bottom.

And so too a reminder that while Galettes des rois mark the celebration of Epiphany on the 6th of January, galettes and crowns and small children squatting under the table (read about the ritual here) aren’t confined to just one day, they should last, gleefully, all month.

Galette des Rois with poached pears and frangipane
Recipe for one galette about 30 cm (12″) in diameter

Puff pastry (store-bought pure butter puff or this easy recipe, in which case double the quantity)

Poached pears
3 pears
100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
150 ml water
1 slice of lemon

Frangipane (almond cream)
90 g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
70 g (1/3 cup) sugar
100 g (1 cup) ground almonds
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
Zest from half a small lemon
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp rum
fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)

1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp milk for the eggwash

The pears — Peel, core, and cut the pears into quarters. In a small-ish saucepan, heat the sugar and water until boiling. Add the pear quarters and the slice of lemon and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile make the frangipane — In a medium bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, almonds, and salt. Add this to the butter and mix well before beating in the egg until thoroughly combined. Stir in the lemon zest, almond extract, and rum. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assembly — On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a pie dish or plate to trim the circles into neat edges.

Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the frangipane on the dough, leaving an edge of a good 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly on the frangipane. Now cut each pear quarter lengthwise into two or three (depending on their size), and fan out in one layer onto the frangipane to cover it completely.

Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the pastry kept free of frangipane and pear. Carefully place the second round of pastry on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal. Using a sharp knife, make a design on the galette (carefully, without cutting through, except for a small whole in the middle to let the steam out while baking). Gently brush the whole galette with the remaining egg wash.

Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).

Baking — When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C (375°F) and remove the galette from the refrigerator.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.

Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary) according to the following ritual —

The youngest child (person) hides under the table. The pieces of cake are distributed as the name of each person present is called out ‘blindly.’ Beware of the fève when eating the cake! The person who gets is queen (or king) for the day!

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