It’s a pity

I find it a pity that British eaters don’t give custard tarts the regard they deserve.

A good custard tart is a pure delight. Crisp casing, silky filling, just sweet enough…

And yet, yesterday, my colleagues took it for granted. It is so school lunch-y or pud-after-Sunday-roast-y that they ate the whole 12″ tart quickly, but without outward comment or enthusiasm?

Custard tart with nutmeg

For me, the predominant taste of nutmeg in a dessert is still very alien and surprising. I loved this tart, but the aftertaste of nutmeg put me squarely in mash and gratin dauphinois territory. Strange, I tell you. Delicious, but strange.

I used Marcus Wareing’s recipe, the one he cooked for the Queen on her 90th birthday, albeit in a much flatter format. Having now bought tart rings, I’m going to attempt the higher shape that seems to be appreciated here.

Gougères

The batch of gougères I baked this past Friday to give out as samples at a wine tasting at Luc’s was not quite an unmitigated success.

The success part was in the eaters’ comments: all were apparently delighted, took business cards and all.

Less successful was the actuall bake. Maybe it was the muggy weather, maybe it was the recipe, from the usually irreproachable Simon Hopkinson, or maybe I should take the blame, since I used cheddar instead of gruyère or comté, but they went flat. Biscuit flat. Golden and tasty, but flat.

I didn’t take any pictures, as they weren’t really a good advertisement for my skills… But that means I’ll have to bake more to get the recipe right. I’m not letting a few dollops of choux pastry get the best of me!

Simple pleasures

You know a recipe is simple when you can describe it in a single tweet, as I just did. In French, which is generally longer than English.

“Langues de chat” are simple French butter biscuits, like tuiles, but without almonds. Their name mean “cat’s tongues”, and their shape is appropriate:

Langues de chat

They’re a staple in French homes – my parents often have a couple to go with their after-lunch coffee, for instance. They are as ubiquitous in French shops as rich tea biscuits are here.

For bakers, they’re known as a simple way to use up egg whites – in this case, to make a dent in the processed egg whites I bought for the “croquants aux noix”.

So, to my recipe: Preheat your oven to 180°C (160° fan), and line at least one baking tin with non-stick parchment.

Weigh your egg whites. Weigh out equal weights of caster sugar, lightly salted butter (soft) and plain flour. In a large bowl, whisk together butter and sugar until they turn pale and fluffy. Whisk in the egg whites, then the flour. Add the flavour of your choice (here, for nearly a kilo of batter, 1 tsp of vanilla paste).

Put in a piping bag, pipe short lines (about 5 cm) on the lined baking tin, making sure you leave enough space for the batter to melt and spread.

Bake until the edges are brown, but the centre remains pale. Slide the baking paper off the tin onto your counter top, leave to cool off a couple of minutes, then place the biscuits on a cooling rack. Once cold, either eat quickly or place in an airtight box.

“Cruffins”

That’s a very ugly name, supposed to describe a hybrid of croissant and muffin.

It started when I came across this recipe on a French blog: Petits pains au thym et au citron. The idea of a dough laminated with butter, but also carrying the pungent aroma of preserved lemon, sounded very interesting.

I’m partial to savoury bakes, I think they don’t get enough recognition: sweet is the easy way to most people’s heart, savoury needs to be smarter, more interesting.

But I also know my coworkers, who would be eating my bakes, would mostly want something sweet. So I made both.

For the savoury version, I used the recipe above.

For the sweet version, I started with Richard Bertinet’s croissant recipe, as found in Delicious. Magazine. I had tried it earlier this year and found it gave excellent results. In the last turn of lamination, I sprinkled in some golden caster sugar and finely grated lemon zest.

Once the dough rolled out and cut into strips, I sprinkled it with more sugar and dotted it with mixed peel. I then rolled each strip and put it into a muffin tin. Another sprinkle of sugar and mixed peel on top.

And into the oven they went (180° fan) for… er, until they looked done.

Sweet lemon cruffins, baked

What do you think? And yes, they tasted just as good. And they’re all gone.

 

Compliance, the chicken and egg problem

Food hygiene certification

During his visit to inspect my food hygiene compliance, the inspector from Test Valley Borough Council explained to me the limitations attached to my “home baker” status.

What I sell directly to the consumers – mostly my colleagues for the time being – can contain “unprocessed animal products”, and that’s mostly eggs and meat. On the other hand, whatever I sell to a retailer for resale (and for the time being, that’s Luc), can’t. That means: no quiches, no cakes, a very limited range of biscuits.

That’s why my contributions to Luc’s range have been mostly bread-based: breadsticks and focaccie.

So, I see you asking, how is it you announce that biscuits containing egg whites are available at Luc’s?

Croquants aux noix (walnut biscuits)

Easy: I used “processed egg whites”, available in a carton at the local supermarket. These have been treated to destroy any latent germs, and no longer count as “unprocessed animal products”.

Now, for a bake like the croquants aux noix, the processing doesn’t cause any problem: the recipe really contains just a dash of egg whites to bind the dough.

I have no idea how they would work for macarons, for instance, or meringue. I might have to do some testing before the carton of egg whites expires. Oh, and I forgot to mention, they contain an additive, guar gum, which may change things as well.

It’s also possible to obtain 2-litre bottles of whole eggs, but I’m told they’re not really good for baking sponges, for instance. And the quantity is another problem. 2 litres equal 40 medium eggs. That’s far too much for me at the moment, I hate wasting food. Unless I get an order for a large number of quiches, I don’t see me using that for the time being…

Recipe hunt

This Saturday, when I arrived to buy a few goodies from Luc on Latimer Street, he was talking to a gentleman who was looking for a specific type of walnut biscuits he’d found in Sarlat, in the Dordogne. As he described it, they had the consistency of normal biscuits, but the ingredients were walnuts, sugar and egg whites.

These didn’t ring a bell for Luc or Myself, but neither of us are from the Périgord. I handed the gentleman one of my cards and told him to call me this week.

So I went searching in my books, recipe archives and, most of all, on the Internet. First, I discovered that this specific type of biscuits was named “Croquants aux noix” – walnut crunch. But most recipes I found also contained flour.

Finally, I found the recipe I was looking for in this blog: La Cuisine de Justine. Being multilingual is useful.

In short, it’s 2/3 finely ground walnuts and 1/3 sugar, plus a dash of egg whites to bind the mass together. I rolled the dough out between layers of cling film, cut it out with a cookie cutter, and stamped “Ker Goz” on them, just because I got that cookie stamp kit recently…

Croquants aux noix, before baking

50 minutes in a low oven (about 120°C fan), and I indeed got crunchy biscuits that tasted of walnut and nothing else.

Croquants aux noix (walnut biscuits)

I packaged that first batch and they are now up for sale at Luc’s. Just 3 packets – I’ll make more, but hurry if you want the first taste!

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping up with the veg box #1

I have a subscription with a fruit-and-veg box company, in an effort to keep a well-balanced diet. But sometimes, I buy other things because the contents of the box are not what I want to eat at that time. So sometimes, my fruit bowl runneth over.

I also hate to waste food. When I decanted my rhubarb gin this morning, I found myself with a good pound of gin-soaked rhubarb chunks. Why throw them away? I added some apples, cored, peeled and sliced, to the rhubarb in a buttered casserole dish, put them in the oven, then went away for a while.

By the time I came back, the apples were baked golden, the rhubarb cooked through and most of its booziness gone. I made a crumble: in weight, one part butter, one sugar, one flour, one rolled oats.

I sliced some very ripe bananas on top of the fruit, added a generous, but not excessive, amount of crumble, and put the dish back into the oven at 180° for about 30 minutes.

Rhubarb, apple and banana crumble

It doesn’t look like much – no brightly coloured fruit to light it up for the camera. But it’s definitely a success where it counts: on my tastebuds. The various spices of the gin are still there, a light hum under the tartness  of the rhubarb and the mellowness of the bananas. The apples give a bit of substance, and the crumble some crunch. Having only caster sugar on hand, I was afraid it was going to be a bit soft, lacking texture, so I replaced a quarted of that sugar by demerara, with its big cristals. That definitely did the trick.