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!

Tahini date banana smoothie

29 December 2020

It is the end of year parenthesis. The time, finally, when it is ok to not cook.

The feeling usually nags on Christmas morning. Usually, so much has happened since the 31st of October — Halloween, Thanksgiving, three birthdays in the mix with one on the 23rd of December (!), each, usually, a celebration here with friends, children, family, dinner, parties, … By the 25th, Christmas lunch is the one meal I never really want to cook. (Of course, we always do.) The moment I look forward to is the parenthesis, the in-between time, when the imperatives have receded and all that is left is a nondescript sluggish present of films, puzzles, games, a walk, or forgetting to go out altogether. Having a smoothie for lunch.

This year the listlessness is different. Every period since March has been a parenthesis. The first ‘lockdown,’ hunkered down patiently until everything, it was said, would get back to normal; Summer, a breath, a change of place, but restricted still, different — another parenthesis. Back to London, back to school, this time we are expecting it, we know things will soon change again. This endless succession of unusual times, slipping from one parenthesis to the next, is what we have become accustomed to. We know not to settle, however uncomfortably, into any status quo. Nonetheless the recent sudden shutdown a few days before Christmas, at the outset of winter, feels particularly disheartening. — I know this, too, will be just another parenthesis.

Or at what point does this become the main text? There is a potent urge to resist it. For now, in the gap, I’ve made myself a smoothie for lunch.

Banana date tahini smoothie
Inspired by a smoothie from The Good Egg in Soho during the minute-and-a-half in December when it was possible to go to an exhibition and have lunch in a restaurant.

Makes two large or three medium smoothies

3 small or 2 large ripe bananas
4 dates
4 Tbsps (100ml or 1/4 cup) light tahini
Juice from 1/2 lemon (more according to taste)
3 Tbsps yogurt
4 ice cubes (optional)
150ml (1/2 cup) milk (oat, almond, or cow)
Drizzle of date syrup (optional)

Cut the bananas and dates roughly into chunks and place in a blender or food processor. Add the tahini, lemon juice, yogurt, and ice cubes (omit the ice if you prefer a very thick smoothie). Start blending and add the milk in gradually. Blend until completely smooth. Taste and add lemon juice as needed.

Serve in a large glass with a drizzle of date syrup if you happen to have some.

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.


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