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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…

Barmbrack

As if autumn wasn’t good enough with its abundance of harvest items, sunny days that don’t actually require SPF and mellow fruitfulness, it also has Halloween. This is the perfect excuse to get dressed up and indulge in some seasonal treats that taste of my Irish childhood. One of those is the gorgeous spiced yeasted fruit bread known as barmbrack.

We loved it so much in our house, we ate it all year round, usually with lashings of butter and often a smidgeon of cheese, but it is traditionally associated with Halloween in Ireland according to those who know. It was studded with items such as coins and a ring to foretell your future luck. So as the days grow shorter, it seemed like the perfect time to try my hand at making it.

It was surprisingly hard to find a recipe. Barmbrack isn’t as well known over here as bara brith and a lot of the ones I across were really just fruit soda, lacking the yeast. I used a combination of these two recipes, adapting to create the closest memory of childhood tastes I could.

Start the night before and soak 350g of mixed dried fruit in tea. I wanted something to remind me of bonfires and being able to see my breath on dark nights and used lapsang souchong with a splash of rum, but you could use regular tea or even just water. Don’t skip the soaking stage. It really helps give the bread moistness.

Next day you’ll need:

350g plain flour
60g butter (chilled)
50g caster sugar
1 tsp ground mixed spice or I used a mix of nutmeg, ginger, mace and cinnamon
7g fast-action Dried Yeast or 15g if using fresh
½ tsp salt
150ml milk, lukewarm
1 large egg, beaten

Sift the flour and rub the butter into as you would for scones to create fine breadcrumbs. Then stir in the sugar, yeast and spices. Beat the milk and egg together and add to the dry ingredients, bringing together to form a dough. Add a bit more flour if it seems too sticky to knead.

Flour your surface well and begin the knead the dough on it. Keep this up for 8-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Start adding the soaked fruit to the dough. This is slightly fiddly as about half the fruit you add each time will fly off the counter if you don’t go slowly and carefully. Fold the dough over itself each time to minimise that. I also added some leftover chopped cobnuts or you could use hazelnuts. Stop kneading as soon as the fruit is combined, you don’t want to make it mushy.

Pop the dough back in the bowl, cover with a teatowel or clingfilm and allow the dough to rise for an hour or so in a warm place. It should double in size in this time. Flour a baking tray and place on it. Barmbrack should be cooked without a tin for a freehand feel. Cook in a preheated oven at 200C or Gas Mark 6 for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden on top. Don’t let the fruit burn or it’ll be bitter.

When the barmbrack comes out of the oven, anoint it liberally with a wash of butter and cinnamon to give it a most appealing glossy top. Barmbrack is a joy in its own right, but it’s also a vehicle for butter. Don’t skip this simple but effective stage. Serve slices of still warm bread with a good slathering of butter, slices of seriously good cheddar (try Greens of Glastonbury at Brixton Farmers’ Market) and a good strong mug of tea.

Despite my loaf not rising as much I had hoped and an uncooked seam at the bottom of my loaf (I think my milk wasn’t warm enough to get the yeast going*) the barmbrack tasted brilliant. Properly warm with spices, it was very moist with tonnes of lovely smoky sticky fruit and a teeny bit of crunch from the cobnuts. I wanted more than one piece, but it’s surprisingly filling. Perfect for taking on a long walk in the remaining sun or just being lazy and toasting it in front of a fire. Apparently it also makes excellent bread and butter pudding when it goes stale. As long as you butter it with gusto, I don’t need tell you any more!

*if you have similar problems, it’s probably my recipe and I apologise.