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hot cross buns

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns

hot cross bunsI used to be very strict about only eating hot cross buns on Good Friday as tradition dictated and then Marks and Spencer brought out their limited edition chocolate and caramel ones and I had to start cramming as many in as possible in a short space of time to make the most.

This year, they don’t seem to be doing this variety at all and I am highly disgruntled. I had a little sulk and then I tried the stem ginger ones to see if they hit the spot. They didn’t, so I decided I would revisit one of the very first things I blogged and make my own hot cross buns instead of waiting for someone else to fulfil my baked goods needs.

They were going to be dark chocolate and ginger and then I realised that I didn’t have any crystallised ginger, but I did have a big bag of prunes and what goes together better than chocolate and prunes? The recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s Spiced Stout Buns which are actually very easy to make despite what I thought a few years ago as a novice baker.

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns (makes 18)

  • 325ml warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 875g plain flour
  • 50ml dark rum or brandy
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 250g prunes, stoned and chopped
  • 250g mixed dried fruit
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 200ml cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

You need to start the buns the night before. Measure out 325g of the flour into a large bowl along with the yeast, spices and warm water and mix it all well together. Cover with a clean teatowel and leave to prove overnight.

In another bowl , put the chopped prunes (I cut mine into pieces just bigger than the raisins) and your dried fruit. I used a hotchpotch of raisins, golden sultanas, currants and candied peel. Add the booze and the golden syrup and allow the fruit to soak up their flavours overnight

Next morning, melt your butter and add it and the egg to the fruit mixture and then add the chopped chocolate. Add it all to the bowl of yeast batter and stir in the remaining 550g flour, the salt and sugar and about 150ml of the cold water. Mix until it forms a dough. It should be soft and slightly ragged but not sticky. Allow it to sit and breathe for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes (or however much longer it takes you to tidy your work surface…) tip the dough out onto an oiled work surface and lightly knead for 10 repetitions. Leave it where it is and repeat this action twice at 10 minute intervals, then return the dough to a clean bowl and leave it covered for 1 hour.

Line a baking tray or two with greaseproof paper and then measure the dough out into 100g balls per bun. I just pulled lumps off the dough and roughly shaped them between my hands so they were a bit more rustic looking than they could have been if I was the kind of person who is a neat baker. Put the buns on the baking tray touching each other and leave to rise again by half their volume. Mine took about another 30-40 minutes in a warm kitchen while the oven heated to 200℃.

Mix 3 tablespoons of plain flour with about 5 tablespoons of cold water until it is a smooth but not sloppy paste and put it in a piping bag. Pipe a long line of the paste across the buns from top to bottom and then from side to side so each bun has a cross. Doing this individually gets really faffy in comparison. Bake the buns for 25 minutes and remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To glaze the buns, mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar and hot water together and brush over the buns while they are still hot. Repeat twice to build up a nice glossy top and then allow the buns to cool on a rack. Serve slathered with butter and with a good strong cup of tea to hand. They will keep for several days in an airtight container or freeze well. I’m going to enjoy the heap I made since it’s not like I can go completely untraditional and make these again before next year. That’s just too much…

half hot cross

 

duck bacon

Duck Ham or Prosciutto

duck bacon

A few years ago, I discovered how easy it was to make your own bacon and Mister North and our mum followed suit, making their own guanciale and bacon on several occasions. It’s certainly given carbonara and an Ulster Fry a new lease of life in our family.

I’d wondered for a while if you could cure pig’s jowls or belly, what else could get the sugar-salt-saltpetre treatment and decided to try making duck bacon for Christmas. I got massively distracted and the duck breasts I bought for the purpose got left in the freezer until a few weeks ago. I wanted something simple but effective to make while working on other stuff and this seemed just the ticket.

On a semantic note, I found it hard to tell what the difference between duck ham and duck bacon was when researching the idea. Tim Hayward in Food DIY uses a cure close to my bacon recipe but calls it ham and most recipes from American food bloggers seemed to call it bacon when it had been smoked rather than simply cured and air dried. Lots of other people described it as duck prosciutto. I’m still not sure what to call it apart from very easy and incredibly delicious.

Duck Ham/Prosciutto/Bacon

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 200g sea salt
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or treacle
  • 1 tablespoon lapsang souchoung tea leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon saltpetre (optional)

This is ridiculously easy and works just as well without the saltpetre as with, but had a slightly richer more ruby colour to the meat when I used it. The lapsang souchoung tea leaves add a smoky note that works beautifully without having to start rigging up a smoker or adding the heat of any kind of chilli.

Lay the duck breasts skin side up in a non reactive container. I used one of my many many tupperware boxes after having had ziplock bag disasters before.

Mix the salt, sugar, herbs, pepper and tea leaves (and saltpetre) together and add the maple syrup or treacle to it all to make a thick barely spreadable paste. Smear some onto the skin of the duck breasts and then turn over and cover the meat well.

Put the lid on the box and leave it all to cure in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. The cure will create a brine and it’s best to turn the breasts everyday in this to cure it evenly. I forgot about mine after 3 days and left it for another 2, ignoring it somewhat.

When you remember about it again, take the breasts out of the cure and wrap in a clean muslin cloth. Hang this little muslin parcel up somewhere not too warm and away from pets to air dry. I use the clothes airer in my bedroom but it would be fine in a garage or cold hallway as well.

After 5 days, unwrap your duck breasts and slice as thinly as possible to serve. It will have a subtle smoky and herby flavour that goes very well with a kale salad and roasted tomatoes for lunch or topped with sauerkraut, pickles and cheese in a Reuben inspired sandwich along with a quick Thousand Island style dressing with mayonnaise, ketchup, onion, gherkin and a little green chilli all blitzed up together. This was so delicious I forgot to take any kind of photograph of it. I think I barely used a plate I was so keen to eat it.

This is a great way to make a duck breast go a long way and serve several people making it both economical and incredibly impressive looking as a dish. Your use of it is only limited by your imagination!

pig cheek ragu

Slow Cooker Pig Cheek Ragu

pig cheek raguThere is always room in my life for pig on a plate. From bacon, just crisping round the edges to slabs of Christmas ham in Coke or a grilled glistening chop or chorizo jam, I love pork in all its forms. It was of course, the one thing that tempted me from vegetarianism in all those five years and I still feel no qualms about the bacon sandwich eaten late at night up one of the Mourne Mountains after a long day’s walking on my Duke of Edinburgh Silver expedition. I went back to instant couscous the next day and avoided porcine temptations for years more.

But when a rare steak lured me back to omnivorousness once again, it was pig that kept me there. Just around the time Babe hit cinema screens, I was incapable of cooking anything with pork in it without gleefully exclaiming that ‘pork is a nice sweet meat‘ like a demented CGI mouse. More than anything else I eat, I am most able to separate the cuteness of piglets from their taste and texture and the only thing I feel guilty about is my inability to feel guilt about it all.

At first the attraction was that pork is pretty easy to cook. Compare grilling a pork chop to getting a steak just right and you’ll see what I mean. I wasn’t a confident cook at all (if you’d told the 19 year old me that I end up writing two cookbooks, I’d have laughed myself inside out) and meals that were easy to make really appealed. Pork is also often lower in fat which as someone who had just had their gallbladder removed was crucial and combining all these factors with the fact pork is the most affordable meat for free range or higher welfare standards, I’ve cooked it a lot over the years.

We all know that you can eat everything on a pig except the oink and I find it a good way to keep expanding my horizons. Black pudding is a borderline North/South Food obsession and I’ve certainly been won over to the taste if not the texture of trotters, so it was inevitable that pig’s cheeks would call to me. Technically classed as offal as they come from the head, they are in fact pure muscle and perfect for low slow cooking to help the meat fall apart in a tender tangle. Very inexpensive at around £2 for 4, they’ll easily feed 4 people cooked well.

I get mine in Morrisons or Waitrose (and yes, that £2 price is correct for Waitrose as part of their Forgotten Cuts range) and tend to make a massive batch of this ragu in the slow cooker before portioning it up and freezing it until needed. It makes a lasagne of such beauty it’s hard not lick your lips as you describe it. It also goes well with either baked potatoes or as a porky version of cottage pie with cauliflower and potato mash on top. I served it simply here on top of some rigatoni with a hearty sprinkle of parmesan for the first properly autumnal day here in London.

It’s a slow cooker dream and makes a nice change from the ubiquitous pulled pork. I’ve made it without onions as I don’t eat them and I suggest you leave them out too. They bully the soft sweetness of the meat into something less soothing. Read more

rbbit

Slow Cooker Rabbit Stew

rbbitFor ages, it was tradition for me to go and visit Mister North in the countryside over August Bank Holiday weekend. My dancing all day at Carnival days are over so it was very relaxing to head to West Yorkshire to breathe in the fresh air, frequent country pubs and eat well.

Unfortunately I also cooked one of the worst meals I’ve ever made on one Bank Holiday visit. It was a rabbit stew of such dryness that it was almost completely inedible and every single time Mister North or I so much as think about eating or cooking rabbit, we mention it in hushed (and horrified) tones.

Rabbit is a very lean meat with almost no fat and thus it’s easy to cook all the moisture out of it. It’s also a meat that most people in the UK don’t regularly eat or cook because of a combination of it being seen as poor wartime food, the myxamatosis scare of the 70s and the Watership Down/Beatrix Potter effect. This means we don’t grow up learning how it should be cooked or eaten and have anything to compare our efforts too.

Even I took a while to get into the swing of cooking things I used to keep as a childhood pet, so getting the hang of rabbit took me time. The terrible rabbit stew came from a frozen wild rabbit and was then soaked in vinegar water to tenderise it. I won’t be repeating either of these things again. It might work better if I’d brined it though.

I also irrationally despise the tactic of cooking drier meats with bacon to bard them. I’m not entirely sure why this practice enrages me so much, but it’s also fairly pointless with the kind of lean back bacon in vogue these days. I seemed destined to never exorcise the ghost of the terrible rabbit stew.

Then as my slow cooker chronicles progressed and I was making seriously succulent stews, I decided to risk doing bunny in it. And it was fantastic. It was one of the dishes I enjoyed the most while recipe testing and I was really disappointed when it didn’t fit into my chapter structures and had to be set aside (hopefully for next time.) When I saw a wild rabbit at Herne Hill Market this August Bank Holiday weekend, I knew the time had come to revisit the technique, adding a beautiful big Bramley apple, some fresh tarragon and white wine this time. 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…