Friday, 18 April 2014

Hot Cross Buns

I made these using the same recipe last easter, and left it too late to post a recipe- hot cross buns in June just aren't right. I didn't want to make my own hot cross buns before Easter, but I hope posting the recipe on Good Friday gives any potential HCB bakers the chance to make them over the long weekend.

Again, I turn to Felicity Cloake's 'How to Cook the Perfect...' series. It does make me so much lazier at experimenting with cooking, on the other hand it allows me to bypass mistakes and go straight to perfect recipes- I am torn between whether I love it, or whether I resent having the exploration already done for me. I do know I really enjoy the articles, and I am hugely envious of her job.

I was glad Felicity has written a HCB recipe- before I relied on Felicity, I relied on Nigella; and I wasn't too impressed with her hot cross buns recipe- they were not sweet enough, and were too much like plain bread rolls. Felicity's feel more of a treat, richer and sweeter.

I did still make some adjustments to the recipe:
  • I soaked the currants in Lady Grey tea. Dan Lepard soaks the fruit in his recipe in tea- a touch which creates, in Felicity's words an 'unnervingly juicy result'. I took this as a good thing, although Felicity doesn't do this in her final recipe. Perfection is, of course, subjective. I chose Lady Grey for it's citrussy flavours, which I really like in my Easter bun.
  • I left out the 50g mixed peel, and made up the weight with extra currants. (I hate mixed peel).
  • I added a strip of lemon peel and a strip of orange peel to the milk when I was infusing it with the spices.
  • A controversial choice- I used strips of marzipan to make the crosses. I didn't like the alternatives for making the crosses that Felicity came across- icing, and cream cheese frosting. They both seem an very unwelcome addition. But marzipan doesn't seem unfitting here- and it makes the cross part actually interesting to eat. Also, you can make cut out strips of marzipan that make very neat crosses, whereas piping out a flour and water paste can be a very messy affair.
Soaking raisins in tea and infusing milk with citrus zest and spices.

Dough after the first prove

Shaped and unbaked buns

Unbaked buns with marzipan crosses

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Lamb Noisettes with Feta, Chilli, Thyme and Lemon Zest (plus some sides)

This is a fancier dish than my usual style; for a start I tend to hand my guests a plate and get them to serve themselves rather than me prettily plating it up for them. Sometimes the meal suits this kind of treatment, and I am happy to do it on occasion. In this instance I had bought some very nice lamb noisettes, and I wanted to make more of an event of the meal. The pan juices on the plate does look quite messy, but never mind- I have never pretended that presentation is one of my strong points.

The photo above shows all the components- the lamb noisettes topped with a mix of feta, chilli, lemon zest and thyme, sweet potato mash and roast cherry tomatoes with whole garlic cloves and coriander seeds. I was really pleased with the combination of flavours, everything complimented each other wonderfully.

For the whole meal I used 10 noisettes  for 3 people (3 each, plus one left to fight over). I went about it as follows:

Mixing together some roughly chopped/crumbled feta (about 100g), a finely chopped and deseeded medium heat red chilli, the zest of one lemon, and about a tablespoon of finely chopped thyme leaves. I then added a scant teaspoon of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil, just to lubricate it all. I added some freshly ground black pepper (no salt, as the cheese is salty enough). I set this aside while I got on with the sides.

Sweet Potato Mash
I peeled some sweet potatoes- I can't remember the exact quantity, 'enough for three' is the best description I can think of- and cut them into equal sizes. Put in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer until tender. When they are tender, mash with a good amount of butter, some sea salt and black pepper. Once the mash is done, it'll sit happily, covered with the saucepan lid, while you get on with the lamb.

While the potatoes are boiling,put the oven onto 200°C. Put some (again, enough for three, or however many of you are eating) cherry/baby plum tomatoes in an oven proof dish. Lightly crush about a teaspoon of coriander seeds, add to the dish, along with some whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic. I like a lot of garlic, I used a whole,small head of garlic in this. Add black pepper and sea salt and drizzle over enough olive oil to lightly coat everything. Briefly mix it all together with your hands.  Roast for about 20 minutes, until the garlic is tender and the tomatoes are slightly blistered.

Heat some olive oil over a medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Pat the lamb gently with some kitchen paper to remove any excess moisture. When the oil is hot, add the lamb noisettes, and cook for about 2 minutes a side- of course, how long you cook them for depends on to what degree of rareness/well-doneness you like lamb. Remove the lamb to the plates, and spoon over the feta mix (I actually get someone else to do this while I do the next step). Put the frying pan back on a low heat, and deglaze with some white wine- about half a glass. I found the juices tasted rather sour, so I recommend adding a little honey or sugar to the pan with the wine. When the harsh alcohol smell has disappeared,pour over the pain juices. Ideally, a helpful friend will have already put the sweet potato mash and the tomatoes on the plates. If not, sigh a martyed sigh, and do it yourself, and then serve.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Dan Lepard's Chestnut Chocolate Cream Biscuits

I love cooking with chestnuts, there is something about their sweet, mealy texture that really appeals to me. I tend to use them in savoury dishes- paired with a ripe gorgonzola in a oozy risotto, or with pasta, caramelised onions, sauagemeat and wholegrain mustard for a bolstering winter dinner. Almost all of the time I go down the lazy route, and buy them ready cooked and vacuum packed; usually by the good people at Merchant Gourmet. Tesco were getting rid of their Christmas stock of the aforemented lazy cook's chestnuts for £1 a box, so I now have a good stock of them in my cupboard.

 I came across this recipe by Dan Lepard from searching for something sweeter to do with chestnuts. These biscuits are so rich and indulgent, I think you could serve them as a pudding, and it wouldn't be a disappointment to anybody. On the other hand, they make an afternoon cup of tea very special indeed.

Before baking

Just out of the oven

Freshly filled

A few notes about cooking these:

I forgot to dust the biscuits with cocoa before baking. Nothing disastrous happened. I decided to sieve over the cocoa powder after they were baked and assembled instead.

I was eager to try a biscuit straight after assembling them but found the chocolate filling oozed out everywhere. It was messy and delicious, but you can have a far neater experience if you let the biscuits sit for an hour after filling them. The chocolate cream firms up substantially to a far more manageable texture.

This recipe has inspired further ideas for me- possibly making the chestnut biscuits without the cream, and serving with some baked or poached fruit. Plums, pears or quinces, perhaps, to end an autumnal dinner. I also link the idea of using the dough as a the pastry for a tart- perhaps with the fruit suggested before, or a rich chocolatey filling.