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Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies

conkies hero shot

Years ago I used to go out with a guy whose dad was from Barbados and he used to regale me with tales of warm Caribbean beaches and amazing food while we were sitting in my freezing cold kitchen in London. He often talked about conkies and I thought he was winding me up. What kind of name was that? My only access to the internet then was sneaking into the uni computer room without being noticed on while on my year out so it was hard to check.

I forgot all about these strangely named items until I went to the fantastic In a Pikkle last year for one of their legendary bottomless rum punch brunches and Barbadian hospitality. They came up in conversation somewhere around the second slice of rum cake and this time I did go home and Google them to see if they were real.

And not only were they, but they sounded delicious to boot. Made with grated pumpkin, coconut, cornmeal and spices before being wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, they are traditionally eaten in Barbados to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As I’ve never celebrated Bonfire Night or been to Barbados in my life, I thought I’d give them a go in the slow cooker and see what all the fuss is about.

A little bit time consuming with the grating and steaming, they can be made a couple of days in advance and reheated or frozen til needed, they were so delicious the effort was well worth it. Ironically for a Caribbean treat, they’d be excellent served warm at a bonfire party in a cold British garden.

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies (makes 20)

  • 500g of a mix of pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 75g plain flour
  • 150g cornmeal or polenta
  • 150g sugar
  • 150g raisins
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 nutmeg, freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 120g melted butter
  • 900ml milk

These are easy to adapt so everyone can eat them. Just use pumpkin and carrot if fodmapping. You could sub in spelt or gluten free flour if required and use non dairy versions of the milk and butter. I find desserts the hardest thing to make for people with dietary requirements so these could be very handy if dealing with a multitude of needs.

Start by grating your peeled vegetables. If you have a food processor, then note the distinct gleam of green in my eyes. You need to make a fine batter for the conkies so you’re going to grate those veg on the finest gauge of dimples and that is hard work. I found singing tunelessly helped distract me from my aching arm.

Put the grated vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The pumpkin smells amazing at this point like a sweeter version of cucumber that was a nice farewell to summer as the clocks went back. Add the desiccated coconut. If you have a random Halloween coconut in the house, by all means crack it open and grate the flesh of it too. Clearly you have better arm muscles than me.

Add all the dry ingredients including the fruit and stir them through well. I prefer things less sweet, but you could use up 200g of sugar if you like. Melt the butter and stir that in along with the vanilla and almond essences. Start adding the milk a cup at a time. You want a consistency to your conkies that is just turning into a batter but not liquid, so you might need more or less milk depending how moist your vegetables are.

conkie batter

When the batter is mixed, set aside and cut 20 squares of greaseproof paper about 20cm by 20cm. Measure out 20 lengths of string about 15cm long. You could do this first, but I actually found the way the paper rolls up took up more space when I was trying to mix stuff. If you have banana leaves handy, then you’re in luck. Tell me where you got them because even in Brixton, they are hard to find outside Christmas time for pastelles.

I used a 6.5 litre slow cooker for these and put seven small ramekins in the base. Six went in upside down and the seventh on its side to make a base on which to rest the conkies so they steam without touching the water which should come as far up up the ramekins as possible to allow this.

Lay out a piece of string, setting a square of greaseproof paper on top and put two spoonfuls of batter in the centre, neatening it up a bit with the back of the spoon if needed. Fold the paper like a parcel so the batter is completely enclosed and the ends are tucked in. Tie the string in a parcel bow too and snip any really long ends.

Set your conkie on top of the ramekins in the slow cooker crock as you wrap and tie each one. I got 16 into mine in about three layers, but all 20 will fit. I just wanted to steam some traditionally to test them for people who don’t have a slow cooker so kept some aside. (They took 50 minutes in my electric steamer FYI.)

conkies in crock

Put the lid on the slow cooker and steam the conkies on high for 8-9 hours. The conkies should be firm to the touch when cooked. They are best served cooled for about 15 minutes before unwrapping if straight from the slow cooker. You can make in advance and give them about a minute or so in the microwave from frozen or 30-40 seconds from chilled.

They are excellent just as they are, eaten from the paper with your fingers or served with some ice cream as a dessert. They will be firm and glossy when cooked with a sweet, spiced buttery flavour that will convert anyone to pumpkin desserts even if they fear the traditional pie. They also made an excellent breakfast even if they did make me yearn for Bridgetown.

Coconut Spelt Tart

 

coconut tart

I have to say, I don’t really get the current coconut craze where it seems to be the new food Messiah du jour. I’m a fructose malabsorber so coconut milk doesn’t agree with me, mainly use coconut oil in the shower rather than cooking with it due to its strong coconut flavour and tend to only drink coconut water when hungover when I don’t mind the mustiness it has.

The one way I really like coconut is desiccated which I think is a throwback to my Northern Irish Proddy background where it crept into all kinds of traybakes and sweet treats promising ‘a taste of paradise‘ in a small grey skied country with small minded views. I love a bit of it on a Fifteen or a raspberry ruffle bar and occasionally inhale a dark chocolate Bounty with indecent speed.

I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth so it takes a lot for a dessert to knock my socks off but the treacle tart I had at the Rochelle Canteen a few months ago was so good I’m still thinking about it. The lightest pastry and butteriest filling, it was dessert perfection in my eyes and I’ve been itching to play around with it since.

I volunteered to bring dessert for book group the other week and needed something that was non wheat, low fodmap, low fructose and without chocolate or caffeine to fit all our dietary requirements and the idea of reworking that treacle tart into a coconut version popped into my head. I’ll leave to the utter brilliant Low Fodmap for Life to pick apart the coconut question for hardcore Fodmappers here and get on with baking.

This recipe is one of the few times you see me pick coconut oil over butter for cooking (even I draw the line at using butter as body moisturiser or hair conditioner though!) I wanted that extra heft of coconut flavour but if you don’t have any, just sub in butter. Please don’t ask me if you can use other liquid sweetners such as honey or agave syrup instead of golden syrup as they are incredibly problematic on the Fodmap diet and I never use them.

Coconut Spelt Tart (makes one 9 inch tart)

For the pastry: (adapted from Dan Lepard’s sweet shortcrust pastry)

  • 250g white spelt flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 125g cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • scant tablespoon ice cold water
  • pinch salt

For the tart:

  • 200g desiccated coconut, toasted
  • 125g brown sugar
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 120ml water
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

I am not a good pastry maker despite having deathly cold hands. It can sense my fear I think and shrinks away from me. I think I often add too much liquid to it but this Dan Lepard version for sweet shortcrust is the best version I’ve used. (I know it looks like it shrank in the photos, but I actually cut the block I rolled slightly too small.)

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the icing sugar and salt. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it disappears. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the cold water and beat it into the mix. I use a fork to just combine it and then switch to my hands to bring the pastry together.

It’s quite a soft almost sticky pastry and it needs a serious chill to be able to roll it. I usually put it in the freezer for 10 minutes and then fridge for 30 minutes if I need it then and there, but find it works best chilled overnight. Cut the block of pastry in two and roll one out to fit a 9 inch tart tin and then freeze the lined tin for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180℃ and spread the desiccated coconut out on two lined baking trays and toast it for about 7 minutes. Hover awkwardly by the oven keeping an eye on it as it browns as it goes from slightly tanned to smouldering almost instantly. Take out and allow to cool.

Line your tart tin with foil or baking paper and fill with baking beans or rice and blind bake for 25 minutes. I don’t prick spelt pastry usually as it’s lower gluten and doesn’t seem to like it. I have no idea if there’s science behind this or me just being superstitious, but I’m sticking to it.

Put the brown sugar, coconut oil, golden syrup and water in a saucepan and heat to melt it all together. (If you do it in that order the golden syrup behaves itself nicely on an oiled spoon and cuts down sticky drips in the kitchen.) Add the toasted coconut and allow it to absorb some of the liquid for 2-3 minutes before turning the mix out into a big mixing bowl to cool.

Once it’s not hot to the touch, separate your eggs and add in the yolks along with the vanilla extract and salt and allow to sit for a few minutes. Take the baking beans out of the tart tin and bake it for another 5 minutes to crisp up slightly.

Beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until they are peaked and pillowy and then fold them into the coconut mixture. Pour the coconut filling straight into the tart tin and bake for 15 minutes until set in the middle. You might have a tiny bit of coconut mix that doesn’t fit the tin but it can be baked pastry free in a ramekin if you can want to serve a gluten free version of the dessert.

Take the tart out before it looks dry and don’t worry if there is a hint of moisture to the very middle when you test it with a skewer. It’ll be grand when you come to eat it. Cool on a rack completely. I baked mine the night before and it kept fine wrapped in a tea towel.

Serve in slices with some thick cream or creme fraiche on the side. It’s surprisingly buttery despite using coconut oil and not too sweet compared to some desserts so I liked something slightly lactic on the side as contrast. I was really pleased with how this tart worked out and would definitely make it again. The only time the book group was silent was when they were eating this which I’ll take as a good sign!

 

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!

Homemade Mikado Biscuits

mikado 1

I have been on a bit of a biscuit roll recently (if you’ll pardon the pun) and rediscovering all kinds of childhood tastes. I blame that re-run of Nigel Slater’s biscuit programme because it’s certainly not just a desire to cram biscuits into my mouth. Oh no.

I loved making the fig rolls and I loved revisiting the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle of childhood in my research for it, but honestly didn’t think anymore of it, especially since I was never quite sure which biscuit was which and preferred to say it as it’s all one word. I half thought of looking out for a packet of them if I was in an Asda soon with their weird ‘ethnic Irish’ grocery section.

My attention was actually all about the homemade teacake. I had heard about the rose infused version at Restaurant Story in Bermondsey recently and it got me thinking about playing around with having a go at something similar when some friends came for midsummer afternoon tea.

I’ve had this fantastic sounding recipe for teacakes from the ever wonderful The Little Loaf in my ‘to make’ folder for ages and thought I’d adapt it to make rose marshmallows again and spread the biscuit with rose petal jam. They sounded like they’d go well with a little Pimms on the patio in fact.

I started by baking the biscuits. Except I didn’t have any wholemeal flour, just some leftover buckwheat flour from the galette in Recipes from Brixton Village. Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set. It was time to use the random bottle of Polish raspberry syrup I’d impulse purchased a few weeks ago to see if I could add flavour and colour that way.

Raspberry and rose go beautifully so I still needed that rose petal jam: the rose petal jam that I forgot I’d eaten earlier this year and of course couldn’t be found without some time travel. Luckily I had some emergency raspberry jam on the shelf and it would look like it was intentional.

Massive amounts of improvisation later, I was ready to start assembling the teacakes. I spread the jam on the biscuits, splodged on the marshmallow and realised that on a very warm day the jam made it all so slippy I would never be able to coat them with chocolate without disaster. I was just about to give up on the whole endeavour when I realised that with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut I had accidentally created a homemade Mikado and saved the day…

Homemade Mini Mikado Biscuits (adapted from the Little Loaf)

Makes approx 60 bite sized biccies

  • 100g buckwheat or spelt flour
  • 50g rice or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g cold butter
  • 30ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry syrup or 75ml raspberry juice and 75g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry jam (seedless is best)
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Start by making the biscuits. Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Stir it all well together. Rub the cold butter into it all until it forms what looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk a teaspoon at a time. The dough will come together without being sticky.

Using the palms of your hands, form it into a loose ball and squash it flat into some clingfilm. Wrap tightly and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 170℃ and roll the biscuit dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Cut out little bite sized biscuits out with the top of a small jar or champagne flute. Lay on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12 minutes. I don’t like my biscuits too crisp for this kind of thing myself.

Allow the biscuits to cool while you make the marshmallow. This is the kind of marshmallow you get in big pots called Marshmallow Fluff and for me it never sets to make the solid kind you toast, but is perfect for this kind of thing.

Set a large bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt the sugar and golden syrup together. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white into it all and keep beating it all over the heat for 6 minutes. Add in the raspberry syrup. I used bottle stuff but make a quick version with the raspberry juice from squashed berries and sugar boiled together to make a thick syrup if you don’t have a crazy Polish drinks aisle near you. Beat it all together for another 2 minutes and remove from the heat to cool.

Put the cooled marshmallow into a piping bag. Do check to see if you have actually have a piping bag first unlike me who had to do the freezer bag trick instead. Spread a tiny blob of raspberry jam on each biscuit and pipe a puff of marshmallow on top. Yours will look prettier than mine I promise. Sprinkle the marshmallow with a scant amount of coconut and if you’re trying to hide the badly piped nipple-like marshmallow you’ve just done, add some edible glitter too.

Leave the biscuits to set for at least two hours before eating and then line them up on a plate to make what looks like one enormous Mikado and inhale them one after the other. Wearing a headscarf and housecoat is of course optional for most people but basically how I always dress when I’m cooking since you can only take the girl out of Belfast….

PS: I’m now on Instagram. Come and say hello!

 

Raspberry Ruffle Macaroons

coconut macaroons

You will have probably realised from the photographs that these are macaroons, not macaron. Big hulking coconut numbers rather than their Gallic cousins with their egg white shells. These are the thing to eat with a big cup of tea poring over the Sunday papers and putting your feet up. Sticky, chewy and very easy to make, I’m Team Macaroon all the way.

I think it’s because I grew up eating Raspberry Ruffles. Seemingly a Scottish and Northern Irish treat, these small nuggets of vivid pink coconut and dark chocolate were very grown up to me and I loved them. I hadn’t seen them for years but when I reasserted my love of the macaroon recently, I had a massive blast of nostalgia for them. And since raspberries are in season right now, it seemed a shame not to try making my own version, especially since they are incredibly easy…

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