halwa cake

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake

halwa cake

 

Slow Cooked finally hit the shelves this week and what could be a better way to celebrate than a cake? (Clue: it has a cork you can pop, but I digress.) And what could be better than a cake you weren’t expecting? Surprise cake is, of course, always the best.

After months of feeling like I couldn’t really talk slow cooker stuff on the blog or Twitter so you didn’t feel that all the best stuff in Slow Cooked had been given away before you got your copy, publication has released my inner slow cooker mojo again. I’ve felt hugely inspired to cook again in the slow cooker and I’ve been keen to try new techniques again.

I happened to see Imran from Elephant in Brixton Village during the week as we promote the Brixton Blog crowdfunder and since it was the first really cold day in there of the autumn/winter, he had made some fantastic warming semolina in the tradition of very sweet comfort dishes from Pakistan and India and it got me thinking how much I love those milky desserts from the subcontinent.

I have a particular love for gajar ka halwa or carrot pudding which is made from slow cooking carrots and milk into a soft sticky super charged version of condensed milk sprinkled with pistachios to serve. I’ve had a notion to make it in the slow cooker for ages and wouldn’t you know it, I had a whole bag of carrots needing used up.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any of my usual storecupboard standby of evaporated milk and had to use whole milk instead which has a tendency to become a little bit grainy and burnt tasting in the slow cooker. I then compounded this by stupidly setting it to high rather than low and leaving it in about three hours longer than needed, ending up with curdled looking milk and halwa that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing enough to eat on its own this time. It worked perfectly next time though with the right milks. Evap and condensed milks are slow cooker saviours.

Rather than throw it in the bin, it occured to me that it could be recycled into a amazing spiced carrot cake which is how I came to be celebrating my second book this year with a whole cake to myself. To be fitting, I baked it in the slow cooker itself which is basically a slightly more grown up version of those Easy-Bake ovens you get when you’re a kid. Thanks to The Crafty Larder, Farmersgirl Kitchen and BakingQueen74, I’ve discovered you can use cake tin liners in the slow cooker instead of the sheets of reusable baking liner I’ve been using and you can create easy slab style cakes without greasing tins and turning the oven on.

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

For the halwa:

  • 500g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 x 400ml can evaporated milk
  • 1 x 297ml can condensed milk
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed
  • pinch sea salt
  • 50g sliced pistachios to serve
  • 50g sliced almonds to serve

For the cake:

  • 200ml sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 350g halwa (or grated carrot)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger cordial (optional)
  • 300g cream cheese
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Start by making your halwa. It’s incredibly simple if you don’t oversleep like I did and overcook it. Peel and grate your carrots, either with a box grater or food processor. Place into a slow cooker crock you have greased slightly with oil or butter. Press the carrots down so they are half way between loose and tightly packed.

Pour the evaporated and condensed milks over them. Sprinkle with the sugar, salt and cardamom and then put the lid on. Traditionally a pinch of saffron would be used too, but I don’t have it in my kitchen. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. The carrots will soften and break down into the slow cooked milk which creates a toffeeish dish. Stir the nuts through it. You could serve it as it is, but it was fantastic in the cake.

The cake is adapted from page 153 of Recipes from Brixton Village and uses the technique of whipping oil and sugar together to a syrup to make the moistest cake possible. This carrot cake is so good it has stopped me pining for my lost recipe for Nigella’s Venetian carrot cake from Vogue.

Line your slow cooker with a sheet of reusable baking liner or set a 9 inch cake tin liner into the crock. I find it’s easiest to line it first then set the liner in as you only have to lift one sheet that way instead of fumble with oven gloves.

Pour the oil into a large bowl and using an electric hand whisk, beat the sugar into it for about 3-4 minutes until it is a glossy syrup. Add the egg yolks one at a time. The mixture will get glossier with each one.

Beat in the flour, spices, halwa and ginger cordial if using, stopping when combined. Wash the beaters of your electric whisk well and in a clean grease free bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks. Fold them into the mix to create a light pillowy looking batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared slow cooker. Cover the top of the crock with double folded kitchen towel or a clean tea towel. This stops the condensation in the slow cooker from dripping down into your cake and making it damp. I prefer the kitchen roll as I find the tea towel can lower the temperature of the slow cooker too much and add cooking time. Bake the cake for 2 hours 30 minutes. Check the centre with a toothpick. It should come out clean. Give it another 20 minutes even time if it doesn’t.

Lift the cake out and cool on a rack. If using the liner, don’t peel it away until the cake is completely cooled or the little edge bits will pull off and the cake will look picked at. Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice and zest together.

Use a bread knife to carefully cut across the cake from side to side to create two sandwich layers. Fill with the zesty cream cheese frosting and serve in slices. It will keep for 48 hours with the frosting and 5 days without. I have to say, it didn’t last that long in my house…

 

ginger beer

Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer

ginger beerI have been mildly obsessed by ginger beer ever since I grew up gorging myself on Enid Blyton novels with their constant mention of it. (I did always wonder how English people had so much ginger knocking around when it was as rare as hen’s teeth in 1980s Ireland in comparison.) My only taste of ginger beer as a nipper was the occasional can of Idris Fiery Ginger Beer and this also confused me as to how the Famous Five could make fizzy drinks at home. But then again, I never found any shipwrecks round my way either so I think I knew not to compare myself to them too closely.

Living in Brixton these days, I drink a lot of ginger beer made from fresh ginger and often given a hearty slug of dark rum at my friend Brian’s restaurant Fish Wings and Tings in Brixton Village. Fiery and refreshing, it was perfect in the hot weather earlier this summer.

However my tastes in drinks run to the sparkling. Anyone who has ever been to my flat knows that I order fizzy water in quantities so immense I should really have stop using bottles and just park a tanker outside instead. Could I make a fizzy ginger beer to tick all my beverage boxes at once?

Mister North recently got a copy of The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and has been making kefir and other fermented drinks at home while both he and our mum have the successful touch with their sourdough starters. Still slightly resentful of the time someone chose to break up with me so they could spend more time with their new sourdough starter, I have resisted the fermenting trend thus far. But I discovered you can make a ginger beer ‘plant’ with ginger and yeast and it will fermented to make both bubbles and booze you can drink. My time had come.

Recipes told me that I could use both dried ginger and fresh ginger for this plant, but believing the dried powder to be too good to be true, I decided I would experiment and try a batch of both. I also didn’t want to have to splash out on champagne yeast so having finally obtained some fresh yeast tried it instead. I did get bubbles this way but the flavour was so intensely damp and yeasty, it was undrinkable.

I tried again with some champagne yeast I bought off Ebay and the overpowering yeasty flavour was replaced with something more subtle and crisp due to the tight little bubbles it created. Unfortunately there was no flavour or fire from either the fresh or dried ginger and the whole thing was unpleasantly bland.

I went for third time lucky and decided to adapt Brian’s recipe in Recipes from Brixton Village to combine it with my fresh ginger plant and create a fizzy ginger beer with a kick. Instead of just relying on the plant for flavour, I steeped fresh ginger and sugar in water overnight as well and it was perfect.

Full of flavour and fizz and just alcoholic enough to warm the cockles further, it was well worth the experimenting. It’s not a quick recipe but it’s fun to do and works out much cheaper than bottled ginger beers from the supermarket if this is a favoured tipple. Read more

cherry float

Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream Float

cherry floatI haven’t been cooking very much this summer. Partly because I’m on a go slow in the kitchen after testing over 350 recipes for both Recipes from Brixton Village and Slow Cooked and partly because all I’ve wanted to eat for weeks are cherries.

Particularly abundant and well priced this season, I’ve been buying pounds and pounds of them from Brixton Market for £1.50 a lb and just gorging on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are one of my favourite fruit and it’s been utter luxury to indulge like I have been. In fact, I’ve even managed to have too many of them and needed to find ways to use them up.

Some of my lack of appetite has come from how warm it’s been and I’ve been alternating my cherry fest with ice lollies and sorbets, but hadn’t felt the urge for actual ice cream until I saw some leftover chocolate in the cupboard to go with those cherries and inspiration hit.

I have been a lip balm queen since Mister North bought me a pot of Morello Cherry lip balm from The Body Shop for my twelfth birthday. I cycled through their whole range, not dallying near the Kiwi Fruit one for long, and fell particularly in love with a limited edition version that was Chocolate Cherry. I rationed that little pot out for ages and each swipe of it reminded me how much I loved the combination. I moved on from it to a prized Dr Pepper Lip Smacker and from there to my current die hard obsession with Carmex.

I hadn’t really thought about my lip moisturising choices as a teen since those heady days, but standing there with a bag of cherries in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other and I just knew what I had to do. I had to combine all the best things of my early years and make a chocolate cherry Dr Pepper ice cream float immediately.

Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream (makes one litre)

  • 450g fresh cherries, pitted
  • 25g sugar
  • 200g milk chocolate
  • 600ml double cream
  • 397g tin condensed milk

This is the simplest ice cream possible made to a non churn recipe I love so much I even used it for my Observer Food Monthly piece last year. It freezes quickly and scoops straight from the freezer and can be adapted to any flavour you fancy.

Begin by pitting your cherries. I find this oddly relaxing and not particularly faffy to do. I end up with lots of halved cherries. Lay them out as flat as possible and sprinkle the sugar over them to macerate them. This makes them lovely and juicy. Leave for up to an hour.

Break the chocolate into a large bowl and set it over a pan of boiling water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base. Stir it well as it melts to keep it nice and glossy. Once melted, set it aside to cool down for about 10 minutes.

Take the macerated cherries along with any juices they have created and roughly puree them with a hand blender. A bit of texture is fine, but try not to have any bits of skin if you can help it. Set them aside.

Pour the double cream into a large bowl and beat until it starts to thicken. You don’t want it to be whipped cream, but to get to the point where it flops over lazily and thickly. At this point, beat in the condensed milk until combined and airy. An electric whisk is nice here but some old fashioned elbow grease does the trick too.

Stir in the melted chocolate and the cherry puree. Fold until completely combined. It will be a pale pinky brown in colour. Pour it all into a plastic container and put the lid on it. Freeze for at least 4 hours. It will be a lovely creamy soft serve style.

Chocolate Cherry Dr Pepper Ice Float (makes one)

  • 330ml can full fat Dr Pepper
  • 1 large scoop chocolate cherry ice cream
  • kitsch item to accessorise, either an umbrella or gaudy cocktail stirrer

To make your ice cream float, get a good sturdy glass and pour an ice cold can of Dr Pepper into it. I am that person who genuinely likes the taste of diet fizzy drinks usually, but it’s got to be the real deal here.

Then gently drop your scoop of ice cream into the glass. The soda will fizz and froth and create the finest carbonated beverage on earth. Stick a straw in the glass, swizzle with a stirrer (I favour a flamingo myself here) and set a long spoon on the side before getting stuck in.

You cannot eat or drink an ice cream float neatly so don’t try to. Simply savour the flavours and revel in it. When I say this float is the taste and excitement of my whole childhood served up in one glass, I don’t think I’m quite doing it justice. It’s my favourite thing of the whole summer, maybe even the year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

pineapple sorbet

Pineapple Sorbet

pineapple sorbet Aside from friends and family, I think the thing I miss the most about Northern Ireland is its selection of ice lollies. Considering its such a chilly corner of the world, we love our frozen treats. Ice cream has its merits, but there’s something about ice lollies that we especially enjoy.

These lollies held a massive lure when I was a kid popping to the local shop with my pocket money. Sometimes you went for quantity over quality and got handfuls of those Mr Freeze freezepops in the long plastic containers, making sure there was at least one Blue Raspberry flavour per batch. A freezepop fest didn’t count unless you dyed your tongue an unnatural shade.

But more often, it was all about branded lollies on wooden sticks. I’m old enough to remember when they embossed jokes onto the sticks and this was worth the potential to set your teeth on edge with the wood. Walls offered us Mini Milks and Funny Feet, but I didn’t like either much. Lyons had the iconic Fab and the Mivvi, but they were cinema lollies not hot day ones. I adored Irish company HB‘s Fat Frogs which were apple flavoured and had a soft spot for a shark shaped one that was sharp and citrus flavoured and a blackcurrant Dracula lolly too, but my love lay (and still does) with Norn Irish classics from Dale Farm.

Leaning over the freezer trying to choose between a Rocky Rasper (raspberry, but not blue), the sugar free but lovely lemon-lime Supa Cool, a smooth vanilla Mr Frostie (in lieu of the toy lolly maker of the same name) or the crocodile branded Choc Pop was tricky. I never wanted a Joker with its orange outer and ice cream middle and I hated orangey Quenchers too.

My first choice was always the Pear Picking Porky, the undisputed classic ice lolly of all time. Not, as my Slovakian surrogate sister once asked, pig flavoured, but made of that artificial pear flavouring that is nothing like the fruit, these lollies the spot every time. I’ve even eaten them walking up Botanic Avenue on Boxing Day. The only problem with them is that they are so popular they sell out easily, meaning one needs a back up plan.

For me this comes in the shape of a Polly Pineapple. So when I found myself far from Belfast in the middle of a heatwave and craving frozen salvation, I knew I could muster a pineapple lolly in London rather than a pear one. Surely it would be pretty simple?

And it was, coming in with a whopping three ingredients. The tricky bit came when I could not for the life of me get the lollies out of the cheapo moulds I bought in the pound shop in one piece. The sticks slid out, there was swearing and then in a fit of frustration, I scooped the slightly slushy sorbet out with a spoon and refroze it in a Tupperware. Success…

Pineapple Sorbet (makes about 500ml)

  • 1 whole fresh pineapple or 425g tin of pineapple chunks
  • 100g sugar
  • 75ml water

I like tinned pineapple (blame my Mallory Towers habit as a kid) so that’s what I used but if you can get a super sweet and ripe fresh pineapple, it’d be perfect. Sniff the base of it, discreetly if in store, and if it smells strongly of pineapple, it is perfect. Peel it, remove the core and chop it up making sure you keep any juice.

If using the tinned, tip it, juice and all into a large bowl. Using a hand blender, blitz the pineapple of either kind and its juice together until smooth and lump free. It should like those nectar style juices you get that contain pulp. Set aside and chill.

Make a simple sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a pan and heating together until it forms a thick syrupy texture without changing colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down. You will have slightly more here than you probably need for the recipe but it keeps well in the fridge and is perfect for sweetening iced tea in hot weather.

Add about 50ml of the cooled sugar syrup to the pineapple pulp and stir. Pour into a Tupperware container and put the lid on. Put in the freezer and chill for 4 hours. Either give it a stir once an hour with a fork to break up the ice crystals and keep it smooth or leave it alone for 3 hours and then blitz it again with the handblender and freeze for another hour.

Take it out of the freezer about 10 minutes before you want to eat it. It will be smooth in texture and almost like a really really good Slush Puppie. In fact, you could add a tiny bit of dark rum and drink it as a frozen cocktail through a wide straw if you liked. It tasted enough of a Polly Pineapple to quench my craving, but better enough to be worth the effort. Plus it gave me a chance to get the fake parrot and pineapple ice bucket out…

 

froise sliced

Cherry Brown Butter Froise

froise slicedA froise you say? I’m sure you make them all the time and the word just trips off your tongue into your menu repertoire. Or if you’re anything like me, you’d never heard of it until very recently.

I’ve been loving Rachel Kelly aka The Dinner Doctor‘s series at the Guardian on how to use up leftovers and under her recent column on milk was a froise. I clicked through to her blog and saw that it’s a traditional British dish using a souffle enriched batter to make a layered pancake. Rachel made her version with bacon and it sounded amazing.

In fact it sounded so amazing and easy that it went to the very top of my ‘to make soon’ list (an evergrowing Evernote folder actually). Except that when I came to acquaint myself finally with the froise I didn’t have any bacon, but I did have two pounds of cherries. It’s not often you can substitute cherries for bacon, but one of the very best things about pancakes is that they often work as well as a sweet dish as a savoury one so I decided to make it a dessert dish instead.

My first attempt was on the hob and I found my froise too thin for the chunkier cherry filling and the bottom burned while the top took so long to cook the whole thing was slightly rubbery in texture. It had plenty of potential and flavour so I decided on a wet Sunday afternoon to give it another go. This time I doubled the proportions of the batter, macerated the cherries for added sweetness, allowed the butter to brown gently for extra flavour and baked it all in the oven and it came together perfectly.

Cherry Brown Butter Froise (serves 4 with extra fruit or creme fraiche)

  • 250g fresh cherries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g salted butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 300ml milk
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 drops almond extract (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon pearl sugar (optional)

Start the dish with your cherries. I used fresh ones because one of my local stalls is selling them for £1.50 per pound weight but you could use defrosted frozen ones or if you can get your hands on them from a Polish shop or Lidl or Aldi, some jarred sour Morello ones.

Stone the fresh ones. I simply split mine in two and squeezed the stone out which was surprisingly quick. Put the halved cherries in a shallow dish and scatter with the sugar and vanilla extract. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours until the fruit softens and takes on the additional flavours.

Using a cast iron or oven proof frying pan, gently heat the butter on a medium heat, allowing it to foam up and keep cooking to the point where the milk solids start to caramelise gently. Mine took about 10 minutes and once it started to foam and bubble, I watched it like a hawk because brown butter or buerre noisette is glorious, but burnt butter is not.

While the butter browns, preheat the oven to 200℃ and  put the flour, egg yolks and milk into a large bowl and combine well with an electric whisk. Clean the beaters well and whisk the egg whites until stiff. You could add another tablespoon of sugar halfway through if you are using sour cherries. Add the beaten egg white into the batter and whisk together quickly. It will be pale, golden and puffed right up. Add the almond extract if liked.

As soon as the butter browns and smells nutty, pour in half the froise mixture. The residual heat of the pan and the butter will allow it to cook just slightly so the base sets gently without the dreaded burn. Pour any liquid off the macerated cherries into the remaing froise batter and layer the cherries over the froise in the pan. Try and keep them as a single layer so they don’t drop down and sink.

Pour the remaining batter over it all and then sprinkle with the pearl sugar. I forgot it the second time and it still tasted great but I missed the contrasting crunch. Bake the froise in the oven for 30 minutes. It will puff up and become a glorious toasted colour on top. Loosen the edges of it as soon as it leaves the oven and allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes.

You can serve it warm from the pan at this stage or allow it to cool in there completely before being lifted out and served cold in wedges. It keeps well for up to 2 days, wrapped in a tea towel and makes a great packed lunch or picnic dish. This made a welcome change from the frittatas I make when I want to make a filling breakfast ahead of time and is a great way to use up slightly drooping fruit or savoury leftovers such as potatoes or roast meat. It’s made a swift move into my ‘dishes I love’ folder in no time.

PS: my dad emailed to say he knew this dish from his Scottish childhood as an Ashet pancake, derived from the French word for dish ‘assiette’. It would have been savoury and served with a small limp 1950s salad. He preferred the brown butter.