Vanilla Pannacotta & Rhubarb Compote
Fresh rhubarb from the allotment, springing up and just asking to be used in all sorts of desserts. never without a bowl of poached ruhubarb in the fridge at this time of year.
A lovely easy dessert which can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for at least two days. You can play around with the flavours of the pannacotta and I will give a few different ideas at seasonal times; you can of course pair the vanilla version with just about any tart fruit compote. Gooseberries, damsons, plums would all work well.
This is not vegetarian, due to the use of gelatin which is an animal product. I have tried with the vegetarian alternatives and have not yet come up with the right recipe, so far they have all given a much harder set than the perfect wobble. I will keep on trying and post it on the blog when I find the right mix. A vegan version with non-dairy cream/milk/yoghurt is also under investigation. Anyone got any hints or foolproof recipes, please share with me.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes and 3 hours to set
Make the rhubarb compote: Peel the rhubarb, cut the sticks into 3cm lengths and put them in a pan with the granulated sugar and a splash of orange juice. Bring to a simmer, simmer for 3 minutes until tender (might be longer depending on how fresh the rhubarb is) and put off the heat. If you don’t stir, the pieces will keep their shapes better, which doesn’t affect the taste but allows you to dress the plate. Leave to cool and keep in a sealed container in the fridge. The compote is great with cream, with custard or yoghurt and will keep for 3-4 days.
Make the pannacotta: Place the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes to soften. In a small pan heat the cream, sugar, vanilla and milk to simmering, but don’t boil. Take the gelatine out of the water and slide them into the hot cream, they will dissolve as they go in. Leave the mixture to cool and then add the yoghurt, stirring well, even using a small whisk so it ends up smooth. Strain the mixture into a jug and pour into whatever moulds you are using. Metal moulds are easiest to un-mould but you can also use ramekins or whatever you have.
To serve: if you want to unmould, dip your mould in hot water and then upturn over the plate. The pannacotta should plop satisfyingly out. Dress it up with a spoonful of rhubarb and some parts that have held their shape.
Coupe Danemark - Ice cream dessert with hot chocolate sauce
This recipe is from one of my Summer of Six menus - the cold weather option. I give three hot dishes to warm up your guests if you're having a Garden Party for Six and snow is forecast. Have a look at From Cologne to Copenhagen for the full menu.
The Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen are a pleasure at any time of the year, but perhaps most at Christmas. The scent of spices and chocolate warms and entices you. I can’t call Coupe Danemark actually a street food, you can’t eat it with bare hands. But even in cold weather, this ice-and-hot sauce dessert is served to eat at streetside tables. It's called Coupe Danemark in Germany and Switzerland (hence the spelling) and Dame Blanche - or White Queen - in Belgium and Holland, but I'm not sure it's got it's own name in Denmark, so I'm using the German name here.
I have cheated and used shop bought vanilla ice-cream but I will have some recipes for home made ice-cream on my blog when the weather is more suitable for thinking about making your own frozen desserts.
Serves 6. Timings: 10 minutes
Roast the hazelnuts in a small frying pan for a few minutes and bash them with a potato masher or solid block to get crumbled pieces. Leave on kitchen paper to cool.
Put all the sauce ingredients into a microwave bowl and blast for 30 seconds. Stir, blast again for 30 seconds. Check the consistency, if you need more butter, add a little more to keep the sauce glossy and pourable.
Spoon a generous helping of ice-cream into each sundae dish. Pipe cream round the outside and spoon hot sauce down the middle, so it hits the ice cream. Pipe a little cream on top and sprinkle over some roast chopped hazelnuts.
Serve straightaway with a few chocolate sprinkles or curls on top.
A retro dessert from my Scottish heritage. I discovered this pudding in letters sent from my Mum to my Granny in the 1940s when my Mum was on national service in the WRENS. She was stationed in the south of England and was delighted to be invited for an evening meal by some relatives and offered a familiar dish. She mentioned it in her letter home and I did some research. It’s basically an economical wartime take on the traditional Trifle. It uses up the ends of old sponge cakes, some fruit preserved in liqueur, custard and cream. Anyone with a garden in wartime would have tried to preserve fruit in some way, and they might also have kept hens, so ensuring a plentiful supply of eggs to be made into custard.
I have re-created it using my own damson vodka (recipe to come at the appropriate time of year) to marinate the fruit and a bought custard rather than home made. I find making a thin spooning-texture crème anglaise style custard, which is what goes best here, rather difficult. I probably don’t have the patience. So I used a bought chilled custard instead, which worked very well.
We didn’t have a Seniors Lunch Club round on Thursday as we are “on holiday”, so I didn’t bake a cake. We did meet on audio conference though, and we talked about what we did at Easter. Members saw their families and grandchildren, went to Church, went out for a drive or a walk and enjoyed the bright but cold weather.
I made this dessert for a party of six people in my garden this week. We huddled under rugs and cuddled hot water bottles and feasted and drank with great joy.
See my new page, The Summer of Six for suggested menus for outdoor parties for six guests.
Serves 6. Timings: 1 hour the day before you serve, 20 minutes on the day you eat.
For the Genoese Sponge: (you can use bought sponge, for instance a swiss roll, but I find the bought ones are too sweet and often a bit stodgy. Your own will be light as a feather.)
The day before you eat, make the cake.
Preheat your oven to 180°C and grease and line a small cake tin. Melt the butter but don’t let it bubble. Whisk the sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy. Sieve the flour and mix it in one spoonful at a time. Stir in the butter carefully and spoon the mixture into the cake tin.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and keep in an airtight tin. You can also bake this well ahead and freeze.
While that’s baking, stone and clean the fruit you are using and mix it with the liqueur and sugar in a bowl. Stir, cover, and leave in the fridge.
On the day of serving, whip the cream – this can be done ahead and kept covered in the fridge for 2 hours.
When you are about to eat, place some slices of cake in the bottoms of individual bowls. Spoon over the fruit, being generous with the liqueur. Dollop a large spoon of custard over each bowl and then top with whipped cream.
Hawai’ian Banana Bread with Lilikoi Cream
Yes, it’s exotic. We holidayed in Hawai’i when my son graduated from Vancouver. Beautiful isolated islands, tropical climate, incredible scenery, great people. The cuisine is very much centred around fish, fruit and vegetables, local and fresh.
We did a dive-day – snorkelling round the island of Lainai’i; food included. We had banana bread for breakfast, accompanied by passionfruit (Lilikoi) cream frosting. It was delicious and gave us so much energy, it set us up perfectly for a demanding day snorkelling in progressively more challenging environments. Our last snorkel was over a very deep ridge, pierced by a huge upswelling rock, which made the current flow up and over, bringing nutrients and fish from deep in the Pacific to our wondering eyes. It was like flying through the roof of a cathedral of light, shoals of fish flickering below. The taste of the moist sugary banana bread, with the icing cut through by the tang of passionfruit, brings back Hawai’i to me. I hope it brings you closer to that tropical paradise, too.
Our Seniors’ Lunch Group discussion this week was about Lent – and specifically about what we give up, why, and what we really couldn’t give up. Our chocolate-fiend (98 years old) gives up her daily chocolate, and really looks forward to Easter Saturday when she’s allowed to start again – she lines them up two days in advance to anticipate the taste. Chocolate, sherry, and crisps were the most popular self- denials, but we also had the daily news-fix to be renounced, and “biting my fingernails”. What we couldn’t give up included the telephone, the internet, the Saturday crossword and writing a daily diary – one of our members has written her own diary since the mid-1960s, which would be a fascinating social history if we were ever allowed to read it.
Makes 10 slices. 30 minutes preparation, 1 hour cooking, 30 minutes for the Lilikoi Cream
For the lilikoi cream: 90g softened butter, 120g cream cheese, juice of 4 passionfruits, 150g icing sugar
Pre heat your oven to 180°C. Grease and line a loaf tin.
Beat up the oil, sugar, vanilla essence and eggs in a large bowl until fairly fluffy.
In another bowl, mash the bananas with the yoghurt, then add them to the oil/sugar/eggs mixture.
Sieve in the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt, mix well and then mix in the hazelnuts. You will have a gloopy delicious mixture. Do taste it thoroughly at this stage; it’s a cook’s prerogative to enjoy the cake mix. Scoop it into the loaf tin and bake for about 50-55 minutes until brown on top and beautifully spongy.
Take out and leave to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out of the tin and leave to cool fully. You don't have to ice this to enjoy it, it's wonderful as it is.
To make the icing: soften the butter well – without melting it, but good and soft. Beat the butter well adding a spoonful of icing sugar at a time. I find a hand-held whisk is better at this than a mixer. When you’ve added half the sugar, start adding the juice and the cheese while whisking all the time and adding the sugar in spoonfuls. You will end up with a soft creamy mixture which tastes of fruit with a sharp edge from the cheese. If you can avoid eating the whole lot out of the bowl, just dollop the icing on top of the loaf. Keep somewhere cool until time to serve.
Are you on a beach? Listening to the surf?
Pastel de Nata – Portuguese Custard Tarts
As explained to me on a lively on-line cooking course, these little items of rich sweet deliciousness are more than Portuguese, they are fully international. Chef João Batalha from the Lisbon Pastelaria Batalha taught us that the Portuguese sailors and explorers took the recipe with them and versions are now found throughout China, South America and Europe. The difference to the custard tarts of English heritage is the flavouring – these use lemon and cinnamon instead of vanilla.
Chef João Batalha, being a proper cook, made his puff pastry from scratch. Me, being an imperfect cook, used the bought rolled puff pastry, and they turned out great nevertheless. I have João’s permission to use his recipe – many thanks for sharing, João! I’m sure everyone will appreciate how easy these are and how super tasty. They are eaten for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee, as a snack or for dessert. They do use a LOT of eggs, but you can always use up the whites in meringue, add to a quiche filling or fluff up an omelet with them.
I took these round my Senior’s Lunch Club group, along with mince pies for the Christmas treat, as we do have some dried-fruit dislikers in the group. We had a lovely Christmas Party audio conference call, discussing what we were looking forward to at Christmas – mainly it was seeing what relatives we’re allowed to meet. Anticipating the crispy fluffy roast potatoes and the boozy trifle was also a popular theme. It seems you don’t lose your zest for festive meals in your 90s! We wore home-made paper hats, shouted “BANG!” in chorus, groaned at some truly dreadful cracker-jokes and played a few rounds of Christmas-character Who Am I? Frosty the Snowman was quite easy, but Rudolph defeated our guessing capability.
Makes 15 tarts. Timings - 30 minutes preparation, 15 minutes cooking, then cooling time.
Take the pastry out of the fridge, remove it from its cardboard wrapper and the plastic wrapper and leave it on the worktop, still in its greaseproof paper wrap, to warm a little bit while you start the custard.
Put the milk in a pan. Add the cinnamon stick/cassia bark and the piece of fresh lemon peel. Heat the pan strongly to bring the milk to the boil.
Sieve the flour and sugar into a bowl.
When the milk is heated, just before boiling, take it off the heat and add in the flour/sugar, a little bit at a time and whisking to avoid lumps. Put the pan back on the heat and cook until the mixture is getting thick, stirring all the time. It doesn’t take long to reach a texture like cream. Take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool. It needs to be about body heat before you mix in the eggs.
Now deal with the pastry. A key feature of Pastel de Nata is the puff pastry laminations can be seen on the bottom of the tart like the rings in a tree trunk – they run in concentric circles. This is partly why the tarts are so crispy, so it’s important to get right.
Unroll the pastry to a flat rectangle – keeping it on its own greaseproof paper square. Taking the long side, start to roll it very tightly into a long sausage shape. You might need to really pinch the first roll or two to make sure there are no air spaces trapped inside the roll. Roll up the whole thing quite tightly, wrap it back up in the greaseproof paper it comes in and put it back in the fridge to chill.
Heat the oven to quite high – you need a good hot air circulation to encourage the pastry to rise up and crisp and the custard to puff up, so if you have both fan and top/bottom heating, use both, and take it to 240°C. Get the oven good and warm, let it reach temperature fully and give it another few minutes.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and cut the sausage shape as equally as you can into 15 little roll-shaped sections.
Take a section of pastry and put it cut side down in the tart tin. You can use special individual Pastel de Nata tins, which are non-stick, and have a slightly flared shape. If you use a 12-cup bun tin, you will need to be quite agile with the forming of the pastry, but it can be done.
Have a bowl of cold water to hand. Dip your thumb into the water and then press it into the middle of the pastry section, squashing down the pastry to the bottom of the little tin. Using your thumb, and turning the tin as you go, squish the pastry up the sides of the tin, until it comes up over the edge. You need it higher than the edge, to hold in the filling. And you are fine if it’s quite thin on the base, as that will make it crispier. Keep on doing this until all your tins are filled with pastry.
Now add the egg yolks to the cooled milk/flour mixture and remove the lemon peel and the cinnamon/cassia. You will notice that the flavouring has entered the custard and is very delicate. (well, you will if you’re like me and can’t resist licking the custard off the cassia piece.)
Fill each pastry case with the custard mixture to about 1/2cm below the rim. Put into the oven for about 6 minutes, then turn the tray round to cook the tarts evenly and cook for another 5-6 minutes, keeping an eye on them. You want the custard to cook on the top and form those lovely caramelised light burn marks but you don’t want it to catch and go darker brown.
Take out of the oven when the custard has only the slightest wobble.
Leave in the tins to cool down, then put on a wire rack to cool fully. They are utterly delicious eaten luke-warm – but you’ll burn your mouth on the hot sugary custard if you don’t leave them a while – they hold the heat a long time!
You can sprinkle them with a very light dusting of cinnamon sugar if you like but they really need nothing more than a good cup of coffee.
Chocolate Custard – the easy version
You know, like all kids, I didn’t give my Mum much credit for being a good cook. The food appeared; I ate it (being a greedy skinny active child) and ran off to play without thinking about the effort that had gone into the meal. Actually, not much, she liked to keep it simple, especially lunches. This was a dish that we had very often on school holiday lunchtimes – quick to make, easy to eat, non-challenging to the fussy, and made from cheap store-cupboard ingredients. No chemicals, no e-numbers or stabilisers, just cornflour, sugar, milk, eggs and cocoa. Yes, it has sugar, so maybe not the dessert for absolutely every day. Pour it over bananas or poached pears, or grated apple or eat it by itself – we did and called it Chocolate Pudding.
It takes 10 minutes to make from scratch and is nice and filling, so feed the little darlings or terrors (whichever mood they are in today) a lunch of baked beans on toast and chocolate custard with bananas and send them out to play in the cold knowing they won’t need a snack before the evening meal – another healthy habit to cultivate while they’re small. It's also comfort food for grown-ups if you need something warm and easy and you can't face another bowl of cornflakes for dinner.
Of course, there is a sophisticated version of Chocolate Custard, more suited to the adults and taking more time – I’ll do a recipe for that another day.
Serves 4, timing – 10 minutes.
Pour 430ml milk into a pan (use a non-stick if you don’t like washing up) and get it on the heat, reserving the little bit of milk, about 2 tablespoons.
Sieve the cornflour and cocoa into a bowl (there are often little gritty bits in the cocoa if it’s a good brand), stir in the sugar, then stir in the egg yolks and the reserved milk. Mix to give a nice thick liquid paste.
The milk in the pan should be near to boiling by now. Take it off the heat, pour into the bowl of chocolate paste. Stir well and pour the whole lot back into the pan, scraping out any bits at the bottom of the bowl.
Put the pan back on the heat and stir the sauce with a wooden spoon as it thickens – it only takes a couple of minutes.
Eat straightaway, poured over whatever fresh or tinned fruit you like or just as it is. Lucky kids!
(You can use the egg whites to make meringues or maybe toppings for Little Lemon Meringue Tartlets - see my post from 28th November.)
Lemon Meringue Tartlets
Crisp almondy pastry, oozing lemony filling, soft sweet meringue – these little tarts are really delicious and a superb treat. Easy to make too. Their one disadvantage is that they’re a bit squishy to transport, so less suited to a lunch box than some of the more robust cakes. I made them for my seniors lunch group and had to wrap each one very carefully in silver foil for delivery. They can be eaten cold or warmed up for a real winter evening luxurious pud.
This week’s theme with the lunch club group was Advent, but it seems that most families in Britain didn’t really celebrate Advent very much before the 1980s, so there were few reminiscences from their own childhoods. They mainly remember buying advent calendars for their own children and grandchildren. We wondered at what age do you stop buying advent calendars for your adult offspring? One of our volunteers was wrapping up a big advent set, complete with chocolate in small fabric pockets for her 22-year-old daughter living in London. Her mother felt that at this season, any small gesture of family love and unity would be welcome, and I’m sure she’s right. We were united however, in thinking that the advent calendars with wine or beer & scratchings didn’t really reflect the spirit of the season!
These little lemon meringue tarts were very popular with the group. Made this way, as individual tartlets rather than one big pie, would be a good way of contributing to a Covid-secure celebration.
Makes 24 little tartlets. Timings - 1 hour.
Pre heat the oven to 180°C. In your mixer using the pastry paddle, mix the flour, butter and ground almonds to a breadcrumb texture – or do this in a bowl rubbing in the fat with your fingertips. Mix in the icing sugar and then mix in the whole egg. This should bring the pastry together into a soft ball. If it needs a little water, then use just a teaspoon at a time until you get the right consistency. Roll it into a ball, knead very quickly just to even out the texture, and wrap it in cling film. At this stage you can leave it in the fridge for an hour or so, but you don’t need to chill this pastry before cooking.
Grease two 12-cup pie tins, roll out the pastry and cut rounds to fit the pie cups. Place a few baking beans or dried beans in each little pastry round to keep the bottoms flat and bake blind for 15 minutes to give you a very crisp pastry case.
While they are baking, make the meringue. In your clean and washed mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and then tip in the sugar and keep whisking – you want it forming “stiff peaks.” Scoop it into an icing bag with a wide star nozzle.
When the pastry cases are baked, bring them out and carefully remove all the baking beans. (And I do mean carefully, using a teaspoon and checking that you have got them all, they have a tendency to embed slightly in the pastry and it would be a disaster to leave one.)
Fill each pastry case with a dessert spoon of lemon curd. Top each one with a swirl of meringue piped generously. I found it used up nearly exactly the amount of meringue but if you have any left over you can always make tiny little meringues just for decoration or treats.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes but check to see how brown they are getting. If you have both trays in the same oven you might want to change their positions after 10 minutes to get an even brown.
Take out of the oven and get the tarts out of their tart tins as quickly as you can, as if you leave them the curd will set like glue and they’ll stick in. Eat within a couple of days, although the pastry does stay nice and crisp.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.