Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much.

Gâche Melée (serves 6-8)

  • 450g apples
  • 500g self raising flour
  • 400g sugar, divided
  • 200g suet (veggie is fine)
  • 250g milk
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before I go any further, I should say that every single recipe for Guernsey gâche melée varies from cook to cook and there are arguments about which is authentic so I’ll declare now that mine probably wouldn’t impress a Guern granny who has made millions of them, but my friend did congratulate it and we wolfed it down. I’ve copied the recipe from a postcard sent from Guernsey but added the eggs because I didn’t have enough milk or the inclination to go out and buy any.

Start by peeling and coring your apples. I used Bramleys for mine but I actually think something that cooks quicker would be better as mine were still a bit firm for my liking. I might use a Braeburn in future. There is debate in Guernsey as to whether one should slice or cube the apples. I sliced mine because it’s quicker and I hadn’t realised the controversy until afterwards. Scatter 50g of the sugar over the sliced or cubed apples.

Grease a deep, preferably square, dish or baking tin well with butter. Some Guerns say that ceramic or Pyrex dishes make the bottom of the gâche melée soggy and it must be metal to get the best finish, but I was already using my only square tin so I ignored that gâche melée rule as well.

Put the flour, 300g sugar, suet and salt in a large bowl. Crack the eggs in and add the milk and vanilla, stirring it all together. It will make a firm but sticky dough. Press half of it in your dish, making sure it is fairly evenly into the corners and then lay the apple on it. Cover them with the remaining dough to make a apple and dough sandwich. Sprinkle the remaining 50g sugar over the top. Handle the dough very lightly to stop it becoming heavy during cooking.

Bake immediately at 180°C for 1 hour 30 minutes. The dough will rise so don’t do what I did and shove it onto the top shelf while cooking a lasagne below so the top burns slightly. Allow it room to rise and don’t cover it while it cooks. Check it after 90 minutes with a skewer and give it an extra 15 minutes at 200°C if it looks pale or the apples don’t give nicely in the centre.

Let it cool for about 15 minutes and serve it in hefty slices with a dollop of good rich Guernsey cream. It should have a nice crisp top and soft fluffy texture from the suet. It is also very good eaten completely cold for breakfast the next day if you have any leftovers. In fact, speaking of cold, it’s excellent for fortifying you in this chilly snap too…

malt caramels

Hot Buttered Rum Caramels

malt caramels

A few years into living in Brixton, I started drinking rum as my go to drink. Previously that had been gin which was my loyal weekend tipple throughout my late teens and twenties. My friend Jo and I used to sit in the park watching the world go by on sunny days when we first moved to London with matching plastic glasses, a bottle of Gordon’s, some slimline tonic and a sliced lime in a plastic bag. But somewhere along the line, my tastes moved on and gin and tonic is an occasion drink for me these days.

Living in a heavily Caribbean area, it’s not really that strange that my allegiances have switched to rum. I prefer dark rum, preferably something spiced and have learned that it’s an excellent spirit for drinking either neat or mixed. Hot Brixton days often involve rum drunk long with soda water so that they are very thirst quenching and not particularly likely to get you drunk.

In the winter though I’ve become a huge fan of hot buttered rum. A big favourite in Brixton Village because it warms you up more than you’d think possibly when the wind sweeps through those avenues, I was introduced to it at Snugg (the name starts to make more sense now!) and have made several versions at home including this one with spiced quince rum. This year though I’m taking it easy on the seasonal booze and have turned my attention to making sweet treats instead.

Inspired by this recipe for homemade caramels by Diana Henry, I got my sugar thermometer out. I tweaked it to use condensed milk instead of cream (cheaper when like me you are prone to burning sugar based dishes) and added some spices along with a big glug of dark rum and got my buttered rum fix in a chewy caramel way instead. It’s very easy if unlike me you prepare well first and pay attention while you are making them.

Buttered Rum Caramels (makes about 65)

  • 175ml condensed milk
  • 60g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75ml dark rum (I use Bacardi Oakheart which is excellent and easy to get)
  • 250g white sugar
  • 160g golden syrup

Start by lining a 8 inch square dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Oil it lightly with a flavourless vegetable oil and set it aside.

Pour the condensed milk in a saucepan, add 30g of the butter, the salt and all the spices. Warm it through to infuse the spices and melt the butter but don’t let it boil. If you are doing this on an electric cooker do it on the ring behind the one where you’ll melt the sugar so you have a cold area on the hob so you can take the sugar off the heat for ease. Take the pan off the heat and add the rum. Set aside.

In a large deep pan (I used my Le Cresuet) heat the the sugar and the golden syrup together on a medium heat, stirring occasionally to help melt the sugar and prevent it burning. Once it is molten, turn the heat up and without moving the sugar around too much, heat to 155℃. I used a thermometer to make life easier here.

Take the pan off the heat the second it hits 155℃ and pour in the still warm spiced condensed milk. It may spit and bubble slightly so be careful. Stir it well to make sure it is smooth and return it to the heat until it reaches 127℃. Take it off the heat again and pour it into your lined tray.

Leave the caramel to cool for about 5 hours. Then lift the greaseproof paper out and cut the caramel into bite sized squares and wrap in 10cm squares of waxed or greaseproof paper. I got my rather festive looking stuff from Ebay but also used plain white. The caramel is soft enough to be able to roll up nicely. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. These make a lovely gift and are basically a very grown up version of Highland Toffee bars from my childhood.

 

coconut jam

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam

coconut jam 

Theoretically I have the most fantastic simple slow cooker idea for a Christmas gift for you today. However when you taste it, you’ll fall so in love with it that you might want to hoard all the jars to yourself and sit in eating it off the spoon while you wrap something from the pound shop instead.

I hadn’t heard of coconut jam until very recently. My local branch of Marks and Spencer has gone a bit upmarket with lots of the posh gourmet food products you buy for people at Christmas and while I was circling the aisles going green with envy at all the stuff I could never justify buying, I saw a jar of coconut jam. Interest piqued, I lifted it and saw that it was coconut cream cooked down til soft and jammy and highly popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. I took a snap of the jar and went home to research it.

I have a pretty unerring knack of being able to adapt things to the slow cooker these days and the more I read about coconut jam or its Singaporean name of kaya, the more I suspected I could make something really good here. As is my wont with anything from Singapore, I checked out Shu Han’s fab blog Mummy I Can Cook to see what she had to say on the subject. Two paragraphs in and I knew I had to make this.

Practically the national obsession out there, it’s usually served as kaya toast on white toast with butter and some hard boiled eggs with it. I eat eggs for breakfast every morning, but some reason, the idea of eggs and coconut together doesn’t appeal to me. (I’m very fussy about eggs for breakfast. I don’t like the whites and yolks mixed together, fried eggs must not be crispy and chilli can only accompany them when I feel like it. French toast cannot be the savoury eggy bread. This is the law in my house.)

Instead my eye was drawn to the variations on kaya. I couldn’t really be authentic as kaya relies on pandan or screwpine leaf for a distinctive flavour to cut through the richness of the coconut and I have no idea where you’d find it in the UK. I read on. The Hainanese variety caramelises the sugar first for a darker stickier version and I decided to tweak this into a very multicultural cross between kaya and dulce de leche as few things I’ve done have pleased people more from the slow cooker (see page 199 of Slow Cooked) . The result was even better than that sounds and is spectacular on toast, even if might technically be better described as a curd than a jam.

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam (makes 5 x 250ml jars)

  • 250g sugar
  • 2 x 200g block creamed coconut
  • 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

As with any dish involving the heating of sugar, get everything ready first. Speed is imperative to prevent things burning. Grate your blocks of creamed coconut using a box grater onto a plate and set aside. Open the coconut milk as well.

Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and allow it to melt over a medium heat. Don’t stir too much. When it starts to colour very slightly, put the creamed coconut in and stir well. The sugar will continue to colour as will the creamed coconut. Keep stirring like crazy. Don’t let the coconut catch on the bottom of the pan. Once it starts to melt, add the coconut milk and stir it all well with a balloon whisk. It will continue to darken in colour, so keep stirring until everything is melted together and a lovely golden caramel colour.

Take off the heat immediately and stir the vanilla in. Leave to cool slightly for about 15 minutes in the pan. Then beat the eggs in and pour into a lidded plastic pudding basin. Put the lid on and place the basin in the slow cooker. Pour boiling water half way up the basin. Cook on low for 3 hours without disturbing it.

At the end of three hours, the coconut cream and milk will have reduced to a caramel and the eggs will have caused it to set like a custard. You could in future halve the amounts and pour it into ramekins before cooking for 2 hours and serving as a gorgeous dessert. Just allow it to cool for about 20 minutes first to enhance the flavour. However to turn it into a gorgeous jam, simply beat it with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and creamy.

Put the jam into glass jars you’ve sterilised in the oven at 160℃ for 15 minutes and seal immediately. Allow to cool and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. If you’d like Christmas to come early, make some French toast and spread this on it to serve. You’ll hear angels sing as you eat.

Don’t forget that if you’re enjoying Slow Cooked, you can leave your 5 star review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy it there. It’s a great way to introduce people to the book as they browse before Christmas and since I’m on this bland low fat diet again, the only thing I can have fed at the moment is my ego so I’d really appreciate it!

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…

 

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…