Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

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).

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.

Christmas cookies | Basler Brünsli

13 December 2020

Happy third Sunday of advent! I am, as usual, far behind in Christmas preparations, not least because I intend (yes, still in the present tense, ahem) to make my own advent’s wreath, and because I’ve been baking batches upon batches of these little brown cookies in search of an ideal recipe.

Thankfully, the quest for the prefect Brünsli has been much more successful than the house decorating, and I’ve arrived at a version which in a blind tasting was unanimously voted the best by the family.

It is a collation of three different recipes, one from Saveur, one from the bible Classic German Baking, and, poignantly, my friend’s alsatian family recipe handed down through generations, peppered with comments and advice. There they are called ‘Bruns (de Bâle).’

Brünsli or Bruns mean ‘brownie,’ which refers to the colour of the cookies, imparted by the chocolate, and has no connection whatsoever to brownies.

According to the website Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, historical references to ‘Brünsli’ date back to at least 1725, where they are mentioned in the account of dishes served at a banquet in Winterthur, and while Brünsli are now ubiquitous throughout Switzerland, a significant number of sources throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century link them expressly to the city of Basel.

The basic components of Brünsli are egg whites, sugar, chocolate, and nuts — nowadays essentially almonds, but historically also hazelnuts or walnuts. They are naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Some just have cinnamon and I like them with a hefty note of cloves too.

Basler Brünsli
Incidentally gluten- and dairy-free

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

250g (9 oz.) whole blanched almonds
250g (1 1/3 cup) sugar, plus more for rolling
125g (4.4 oz.) 70% chocolate, chopped
tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsps Kirsch
2 egg whites

Grind the almonds together with the sugar in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground. Add the (pre-chopped) chocolate and pulse until it is finely ground too. Transfer this almond/sugar/chocolate to a large bowl and stir in the cinnamon, cloves, and Kirsch, mixing well with a wooden spoon.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, then incorporate gently but thoroughly so that the entire dough becomes wet and comes together as one mass. Roughly shape the dough into a flat oval, cover with parchment paper, and transfer to the fridge for at least two hours (and up to one day).

To roll out the dough, sprinkle the workspace generously with sugar, transfer the dough onto the sugar, sprinkle it with a little more sugar and lay a piece of parchment paper over the dough. Roll out the dough through the parchment to about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thickness. Cut out the cookies with shaped cutters; transfer them to parchment-paper—lined baking sheets, spacing the cookies 1 cm (1/2 inch) apart (the cookies don’t expand much when baking). Re-roll the scraps and repeat.

Let the cookies dry for 3 hours.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Bake until the cookies are slightly puffed, just 12 to 14 minutes (the cookies will feel soft; the outside hardens when they cool and the inside should stay chewy). Let cool completely and store in tin boxes lined with parchment paper. The cookies get better after a couple of days and keep well for a few weeks.

Pear and almond cake with honey and cardamom

4 October 2020

October 4th. It’s been raining for days. Not a downpour, a steady mizzle. The occasional interruption a pause — a tease, to lure us outside — but never long enough to be safe from the next drizzle. Everything is steeped, the grass is shimmering.

Looking out, droplets dribbling down the window like sea spray, it feels like the earth may drown. We need a buoy. A book, a game, a film? A cake.

This recipe is a variation on one I found on the blog My Darling Lemon Thyme a few weeks ago while looking for a dairy-free pear cake (it happens to also be gluten-free). It’s an excellent recipe and I’ve used it a couple of times since for riffs and improvisations. This latest incarnation is worth writing down.

Almond and pear cake with honey and cardamom based on the Spiced Pear and Almond Cake from My Darling Lemon Thyme

4 eggs
120g (2/3 cup) soft brown sugar
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean or a teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one lemon
80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
200g ground almonds
120g white spelt flour (or use 300g almonds and 45g rice flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ground cardamom seeds
2 tsps ground ginger
Two generous pinches of salt
300g peeled and finely chopped pears (I had little pears and used 6 or 7 in total)
2 Tbsps runny honey
A handful of flaked (sliced) almonds
Icing sugar (optional) for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C. Oil a cake tin and line it with parchment paper. [The quantity works for a 30 x 10cm loaf or 23cm round tin.]

Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla vigorously for 5 minutes.

Add the lemon zest and the olive oil gradually, beating to incorporate completely.

Add the ground almonds, sifted flour, baking powder, cardamom, one teaspoon of ginger, and the salt. Mix until just uniformly combined.

Peel, core, and cut the pears. Toss in a bowl with the honey and the other teaspoon of ginger.

Gently mix the pears into the batter, scrape the mix into the cake tin, and cover with the flaked almonds. Slide the cake into the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Let cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before de-moulding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake keeps for a few days (at room temperature for about 24 hours and then preferably in the fridge).

Edible gifts | Christine Ferber’s Christmas jam

29 November 2018

In her book Mes Confitures, Christine Ferber writes that her Christmas jam pays tribute to the tradition of berawecka, a fruit bread traditional in Alsace and neighboring German speaking countries during the holidays. It gives pride of place to the dried pears of the region and includes a plethora of other dried and candied fruits, nuts, and spices.

Indeed, this jam has no fewer than 21 ingredients! A fact that would ordinarily have me fleeing it like the plague. But in some instances, particularly around Christmas, my disposition mellows and I might find myself uncharacteristically drawn to somewhat tedious, day-long cooking challenges.

The reward, of course, is an unusual gift that unfurls in every bite, layer after layer, one fragrance after another, and which will hopefully, in an explosion of taste, convey all the affection (and time!) folded lovingly into each little jar.

Christine Ferber’s Christmas jam
Warning: this jam not only has 21 ingredients, it also takes 2 days to make!

1.7 kg quinces
1.7 kg (170 cl) water
1 kg caster sugar
200 g dried pears, very finely sliced
200 g dried figs
100 g dates
100 g prunes
200 g dried apricots
100 g raisins
50 g candied lemon peel
50 g candied orange peel
Juice from 1 untreated orange
3-4 pinches finely grated zest from an untreated orange
Juice from 2 untreated lemons
3-4 pinches finely grated zest from an untreated lemon
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cardamon
5 g aniseed
150 g shelled walnuts
150 g blanched almonds

Wipe the quinces to remove all fuzz. Rince the fruit with water, remove the stalk and flower, and cut into quarters (do not peel or core the quince).

Place the quince quarters into a large (jam) pan and cover with 1.7 kg (170 cl) water.

Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour, stirring the quince around occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to gather 1.3 kg of juice.

Slice the dried pears very thinly and let them soak in the quince juice overnight.

The next day, pit and cut all the dried fruit as thinly as possible: figs, dates, prunes, and apricots. Finely dice the candied lemon and orange peel. Finely cut the angelica if using. Chop the walnuts and almonds.

Pour the quince juice and marinated pears back into the jam pan (or large heavy-bottomed saucepan). Add the sugar, and all the dried fruits (figs, dates, prunes, apricots, raisins), candied fruits (lemon and orange and angelica), citrus juices and zests, and spices.

Bring the jam to a boil, stirring continuously. Skim any foam that comes to the surface. Leave at a lively boil for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring continuously and skimming if necessary. **Do not overcook! 5 to 10 minutes is sufficient. My batch was a bit too thick, I will be wary next time.** Add the walnuts and almonds and cook for another 5 minutes. Check that the jam is setting (place a spoonful of juice in the fridge and, once cold, check that the juice has ‘gelled’).

Sterilize the jars for 5 minutes in a pan of boiling water. Fill the jars immediately and seal tightly.


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