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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.

 

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.

 

fried porridge

Fried Porridge

fried porridgeI am probably constructed half and half from oats and potatoes if you consider my Scottish and Irish heritage. Childhood days started with oats in the form of porridge and ended with spuds for dinner very often. Both are still mainstays of my table even now.

Porridge is surprisingly controversial. People have strong feeling about the type of oat used, the ratio of water and milk and whether salt or sweet and they stick to their guns. I make mine with Flahavans oats if I can get them, using half milk and half water and I add a pinch of salt as the oats cook. This makes it all the right smooth consistency for me without being too creamy and the salt makes it taste much more intense. I then tend to eat mine plain or with some fruit on top if I’m feeling virtuous. Occasionally I have a little drizzle of golden syrup, but I have fairly simple tastes with my porridge.

Others however have magical porridge powers involving spurtles and things like steel cut or pinhead oats and take it all very seriously. They also mention something about a porridge drawer which I was reminded of recently when talking to Caitríona at Wholesome Ireland. This would have been a small section in a dresser where the leftover breakfast porridge was poured and allowed to cool and set before being cut into slices. Children ate when they came home from school or men took it as their ‘piece’ for lunch. A forerunner of the flapjack or the cereal bar basically.

Apparently the porridge drawer was common in both Ireland and Scotland, but I’ve never seen one or eaten from one. Curiosity piqued I asked my dad who grew up on the west coast of Scotland and he remembers the sliced ‘purritch’ being fried up in bacon fat or butter and served for dinner. I love the idea of being able to go savoury or sweet here but I’ve tempted go sweet as I had some leftover spiced butter from making hot buttered rum at Christmas. Read more

Hot Buttered Rum

December is here in all it’s crisp, cold glory, Christmas is just around the corner and a little bit of luxury never goes amiss. It’s also traditionally a time of dairy and booze, quite often combined and I’m here to enable you whether you’re toasting the season or trying to steel yourself for wrapping your gifts. This recipe uses the quince rum I made back in autumn, but in the interests of making this a treat for everyone I tested it on regular rum and on a non alcoholic version using hot apple juice and enjoyed them all.

It’s deliciously decadent, very warming and incredibly easy to do. Make a batch of the butter and keep it in the fridge for when people drop by. It’ll go nicely with a mince pie and it’ll impress people much more!

Originally published on Brixton Blog…

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In praise of fat…

Our ancestors were afraid of many things they didn’t understand, conducting many a witch hunt and seeking out scapegoats. We like to think we’re different with our knowledge and scientific skills, but we do the same today. But instead of women with cats, we’ve gone after fat with a flaming pitchfork for the last forty years, pushing it off our plates and yet seeing it on our bodies more and more.

We’ve all heard the theories from Ancel Keys to the French Paradox to Paleo eating or Atkins around whether we should eating fat or not and its enough to make your head spin. We’ve certainly been sold the idea that low fat is better and products modified to fit that category are now abundant on our shelves to the point where it’s almost impossible to buy yoghurt that doesn’t say 0% on the label.

Some of that demonisation of fat has rubbed off on me, compounded by developing gallstones at the age of 18. Fatty food became my nemesis and a slice of cheese or side portion of chips could leave me in so much pain I ended up in A&E. Things didn’t improve much after I had my gallbladder removed and I was put on a low fat diet by my doctors to try to ease the discomfort. Fat was forbidden and I was encouraged to learn the fat content of all the things I ate. I dreamed of butter and triple cooked chips and I’d have sold my soul for whipped cream.

My gallbladder issues resolved slowly and I was allowed to re-introduce fat back into my diet gradually, but I remained suspicious of it as if it might strike back at any time. Learning to cook allowed me to experiment and see that fat wouldn’t attack me over the plate and I began to shake over that guilt from the food industry a bit. But the turning point came when my food budget shrank and I had to re-embrace the thrift that my grandmothers might have employed in their kitchens.

The cuts of meat I was eating were fattier and as well as being flavoursome, they left a legacy of bones and grease that could be used to add interest to soups and stews without adding actual meat. I discovered that preciously hoarded bacon fat could lift simple lentils into a feast or that lard rendered pastry perfect with little effort and that beef dripping makes Yorkshire Puddings the star of the show.

Soon my fridge became a shrine to solid animal fats. Along with blocks of butter, salted, unsalted and homemade to infuse with anchovies and herbs, there was creamy white lard, a jar of duck fat pinched from a friend, a kilner of goose fat treasured from the Christmas roast, schmaltz rendered down from each chicken I’ve cooked, bacon fat from the homemade rashers from Porcus and my own cure, beef and pork dripping bought from Morrisons, pork fat from those belly slices over the months and the cupboard always contains proper suet for dumplings. (I’m also envious of Mister North having used caul fat earlier this year.) Because these fats have to be melted down to use them and are packed with the taste of the place they came from, I find I use less than I did of vegetable oils and yet enjoy them more.

I also find they sate me and my hunger is less rampant. I’ve started buying full fat versions of dressings, mayonnaise and yoghurts where I can (don’t even start me on the slimification of the humble yoghurt) and without commiting to anything as rigid or faddy as Atkins, my appetite has stablised and by desire of to snack has eased. My body has changed shape for the better and I feel contented with my food. I’ve also saved money and waste, making my small shopping budget stretch much further and having to empty the bin less.

Fat has become my friend and few things thrill me more than seeing all those jars and blocks in my fridge and deciding what to use today (although the day I finally get to render my own lard according to Shu Han’s amazing instructions will knock it into a cocked hat). I feel that everytime I use a proper solid fat, a margarine fairy loses its wings…