Tuesday, 29 May 2012

An easy summer dessert

My summer dessert special. If you come to my house during berry season, this is likely what you'll get.

This is, actually, really, a dessert I invented myself. You can tell by just how imprecise everything is. It was probably borne out of that great motivator: greed.

This is what you need:

Some amaretti biscuits
Mascarpone, you need about 1-2 tablespoons per person depending on size of glass.
Some berries
Some icing sugar or agar nectar stuff
Some pretty glasses
Long spoons
Vanilla extract - not essential.

Crush the amaretti biscuits. Whip up the mascarpone with the vanilla extract. And when I say whip up, I mean just kinda loosen it with a fork. You can of course simply just spoon it from carton to glass, too.

Take some of the berries and whizz them up in a liquidiser with the icing sugar or agar nectar stuff. Just a teaspoon or so of icing sugar or a squirt of the agar nectar stuff (you can of course also use golden syrup or maple syrup if you like. Be brave!). This is for the syrupy part.

Then you just layer everything, a layer of crushed biscuits, a layer of fruit, layer of mascarpone, a bit of the syrup repeat, etc. The syrup makes things really tasty, so don't skimp on it. I like to end up with a  sprinkling of the amaretti.

You can make these in advance and bring them out at the end. With a flourish.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A white chocolate lolly 'cake'

I don't even like white chocolate, but let me tell you, these were so good I almost ate them all in 'quality control' before the actual day.

Yesterday was my eldest daughter's first holy communion. I made her a cake made entirely of white chocolate lollies. Since first experimenting with chocolate lollies last year, I've really moved on with them and by investing in a few things: proper moulds, sticks and a stand, you can really make something quite simple and easy to make (but ssssh, don't tell anyone) into something that looks spectacular.

I made these the day before, and just assembled them on the day (i.e. slotted them into the holes in the stand). Once I've had an alcoholic drink, my guests have to pretty much fend for themselves so anything that can be pre-made plays to my great organisational skills and my weakness for being a dreadful, drunk, host.

I usually make chocolate lollies in 70% cocoa chocolate. But a few months ago, my friend Lucy (who is the only person in the whole of East Anglia who possibly has more baking gadgets/biscuit cutters than I) mentioned that she had made some lollies in white chocolate using crystallized violets. I stored this bit of information away in my brain, thinking white lollies would be lovely for a holy communion, instead of a cake, say. We had some crystallized violets that my partner and the girls had made for mother's day (every aspect of that sentence sounds smug, but I don't mean it to), I used Green and  Black's white chocolate (which is, I have to say, absolutely superb). And this is what I did.

Melted the white chocolate.
Poured it into the moulds.
Put in lolly sticks.
Scattered on some crystallized violets or freeze dried strawberries (from Waitrose, they come in a tube, in the baking aisle).
Put in fridge to set.
Removed from moulds after a couple of hours.
Tasted one for quality control purposes.
Decided they were so amazingly good I had to have more.
Cycle to Waitrose to buy more white chocolate.
Repeat process.
And then, when time comes, slot the lollies into the holes in the stand and da-dar.

A note about the stand. I bought mine from Amazon. It doesn't appear to be sold anymore, but I'm looking out for other stockists as it's really lovely and minimalist and classy.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Cast iron pans 'n' skillets

Everyone seems to have a tale of the cast iron frying pan that never got washed and was passed down from mother to child. I certainly have. Whenever I did the drying up with my Ma, and that drying up involved the frying pan (not a cast iron one), she would tell me about her Ma's frying pan which never got washed, just wiped.

This queer little detail fascinated me for ages. How could you not wash a frying pan?

Fast forward many years later.  And all my well meaning friends, the one who breastfeed for years and have home births and make their own bread and are...generally just like me. Well they started going on and on about cast iron frying pans. How non stick made you die, how canaries in rooms with non stick frying pans just dropped down dead.

It was really boring, so I thought I'd buy a cast iron frying pan, if for no other reason than, when they came round, I could whack them round the head with it.

And now, here I am being just like them and going ON about cast iron. It's true, owning a cast iron frying pan is like having another member of the family, someone you love and trust and who never lets you down.

Only kidding. It's not. It's a frying pan for goodness sake. But yes, there is something really nice about the weight, the solidity of a cast iron fucking frying pan. And I was actually getting fed up of non stick stuff lasting just a few years before it started to fall apart (and I'm not talking cheap pans, either, all of my non-stick pans were Berndes).

I now have three cast iron frying pans (aka skillets). They're all from Lodge. They're not expensive (I got mine from Amazon) and I stripped them all down (they come pre-seasoned, but I wanted to season them myself, so I stripped them down using oven cleaner) using this incredibly complicated, scientific formula from this rather fabulous website.

Even once you've done the seasoning in the oven, with the organic linseed oil, the prescribed six times (you need to feel the pain), it still takes a few uses for them to become really non stick, but then, you're flying (frying...).

So, the first few times you cook with them, don't use them for something where the non stick properties are really important.

Oh and according to Sheryl Canter (writer of the blog post on how to season your pan, above) you can wash your cast iron pans. We do. I gently wipe them with a non-scratch pad, hot water, occasionally a bit of washing up liquid. As she points out, the seasoning got there via a long process, a bit of hot water and soap ain't gonna get it off. Then I dry them on the hob for a couple of minutes and apply a slick of olive oil to cover the whole pan. If any bits get stuck on, if you heat up the pan you can get them off with a wooden spoon or some other more gentle implement. Don't use the pans to heat up water or anything with tomatoes in - the acid can damage the pan. You need your stainless steel pans for stuff like that. I recommend Le Pentole, superb. Mine are still going strong some 25 years after I bought them. (They're not cheap.)

A few other advantages of cast iron:

It gets really hot and retains the heat, so great for fast cooking but also great for long, slow cooking where you can turn the heat right down.

You can cook something on the hob and then transfer it to the oven (like tarte tartin).

Works out your biceps and triceps every time you lift the damn things up (that's actually a pain but I'm trying to make it into a positive).

I'm sure my cast iron pans will last for many years, and I'm sure my children will be delighted that instead of passing down my diamonds,  I'll be passing down my non-canary killing skillets.

ps: Don't confuse the cast iron I'm talking about here with enameled cast iron (viz Le Creuset).

pps: to answer Claire (below, who has asked me a question on Facebook), yes I do use my cast iron frying pan to make pancakes in. This is the pan I use.