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Banoffee Pie with a Twist

 

There’s a knock at the door. As it opens a pretty young lady is stood there with a peace offering and slight protrusion of the mandible,

“Banoffee Pie?”

I’ll leave you to name the film and actress and I’ll embellish you with the edible part of this famous scene – the pie not the actress. And when I say famous, it is in our house anyway as my young daughter does a cracking impression of the actress delivering the pie and the line.

Banoffee pie has to be one of the food pairings where everything just works; it’s as if nature had decided that at some point in the existence of the human race the combination of banana and toffee with cream and crumbly shortcrust pastry  or biscuit base would be discovered, and cherished by many. If you look in to the origins of where this delight comes from you’ll find, and it was to my surprise, that it was invented by a chap named Nigel Mackenzie and his chef Ian Dowding at a restaurant called the Hungry Monk Restaurant located in the village of Jevington, East Sussex – that’s about 60 miles or 100 km south of that little city, London. As the legend goes they were looking at a dessert originating from America called Blum’s coffee toffee pie, and in finding it was lacking a certain something played around with a few fruity ingredients until they hit on banana (and ditched the coffee).

Unfortunately Nigel, who passed away in May this year, and the restaurant are no more, but what lives on are the almost infinite iterations of what can now be classed as a truly global dessert – a true legacy since 1971. (Sounds like an ad agency line – maybe I’m in the wrong business).

So this iteration? Well it’s got toffee, it’s got banana, it’s got cream and it’s got chocolate biscuits. I read that one of the pet peeves of the chef were the versions created with a biscuit base so I thought I’d try it, and that’s where the chocolate biscuits come in; and not bad at all, if I may say so – sorry Ian.

In this one there are a couple little of twists. Firstly the addition of lime to the banana and cream, and secondly a few sea salt flakes to the caramel. Sea salt in caramel is a homage to the wonderful caramels that come from Brittany (salted caramel – that surely is a future post, don’t you think?).

 

Serves: A few hungry souls
Preparation: 20-30 minutes + 90 minutes chilling (longer if you’re chilling out)
Cooking: 15-20 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1 packet (300g)  Crumbly chocolate biscuits | I use dark chocolate Digestives (British). Play around with what’s available where you are.
70g  Unsalted butter |

For the Caramel Toffee:
150g  Light soft brown sugar | light muscovado is excellent.
150g  Unsalted butter |
395g Can  Sweetened condensed milk | About 14oz.
Pinch sea salt |

For the Cream and Bananas:
1 tbsp. lime juice |
500ml Single cream | Minimum 35% milk solids.
½  lime  | The grated zest of
4-5 medium  medium-ripe bananas | You want to catch the bananas whilst they are still firm; riper than the fresh green but not yet reached that soft, cough-inducing stage.

Optional – but looks great – chocolate splinters and curls or grated chocolate.

 

Method:

For the pie I use a 23 cm (9 inch) diameter fluted flan tin with removable base.

The base is as easy as you like: melt the 70g of butter in a pan and then crush the biscuits to crumbs in a plastic bag with something like the end of a rolling pin. Add the crushed biscuits to the butter and mix till it looks like all the crumbs are coated. Spread the biscuit mix over the base of the fluted tin and then compress it ensuring that the biscuit base is even and that there is a small wedge of biscuit base around the edge i.e. going up the flute sides. Put the base in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set.

To make the caramel toffee add the light brown sugar and 150g of butter to a medium heavy based pan and over a medium heat keep stirring until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Now add the sweetened condensed milk and a pinch of sea salt and stir. Bring the mix to the boil and then remove from the heat. Pour the runny caramel into the set biscuit base and return it to the fridge for the caramel to set – for about an hour.

When the caramel has set prepare the bananas and cream. Firstly, slice the bananas in to diagonal discs, put in a bowl and pour over the lime juice. Mix gently. The lime will add a little zing to the bananas whilst also delaying any browning. Next, whip the cream to lovely airy peaks and then very gently fold in the lime zest. Lay the banana slices over the set caramel and then gently spread over the whipped cream.

If you want to create chocolate curls or splinters melt about 150g of 70% cocoa solid chocolate to about 50 deg C (120 deg F) and spread over a cold surface – marble is perfect if available. Once the chocolate has lost its sheen but not completely set you can scrape it with a large knife to form those curls and splinters. Alternatively, grate some dark chocolate directly over the pie to decorate it. Bon Appetit.

France – Tarte Tatin with Chantilly Cream

Football:

Like French cuisine where do I start with French football? I have so many memories, starting back with the amazing Michel Plaitini in 1982 (Oh, and that Schumacher incident on Battiston), right through to the fantastic team that won the World Cup in 1998, in Paris. But I am going to talk about a bad boy, an enfant terrible that within a year took me from unbounded elation to the point of despair; his name, Eric Cantona. Having been banned in his native France and with a reputation for the unpredictable and sometimes downright dangerous he arrived at my home club Leeds United in November 1991. Immediately he made a positive impact, primarily through intelligent play and deft little flicks, to help Leeds win the old Division One title (which became the Premier League the year after), 17 years after their previous glory. The next season he bedazzled opposition, initially with a hat-trick in the Charity Shield against Liverpool and then in league games. I remember travelling up to Leeds from London, as a poor student at the time, and walking to Leeds’ home ground Elland road (listening to the Spin Doctors) looking forward to seeing Eric in the flesh. He was absolutely sublime, scoring a hat trick and making a mockery of Tottenham, the opposition. We won 5-0 and I couldn’t have been happier. And then, one wintery November evening I returned home from University, put on the radio to catch the sports news (what, no internet?) and heard that Eric had been transferred to our most bitter rivals, Manchester United. To this day I remember being sat there for half an hour, numb and unable to move. That evening my footballing world collapsed. Eric went on to incredible success and by the laws of averages he should be seen as a villain in my eyes. But alas, I still have a soft spot for Eric (now the actor) because the bottom line was he was an entertainer and that is why I watch this beautiful game.

In this World Cup, France has started very strongly with wins against Switzerland and Honduras. There are only a few teams that have the potential to go far, and for me France is one of them. Can a European team win a World Cup in the Americas for the first ever time?

 

Dish:

I have to really hold back for France as it’s my area of love. And to try and choose a dish from seemingly infinite possibilities is a good tester of discipline and focus. What is it about French cooking that appeals to me so much? I have a belief that if you can master the techniques of French cooking and the harmony of flavours of Asian cuisine then you have in your armoury the ability to cook anything in the world. And for me it is the magnitude of techniques and the great produce that has enamoured me to this style of cooking.

The classic I have cooked is tarte tatin – one that never fails to illuminate the senses and delight those that participate in its wicked taste of apples in a buttery and caramel finish, topped (or bottomed) with golden pastry. The tarte established the reputation of the Tatin sisters who ran a hotel-restaurant in the Lamotte-Beuvron (about 100km south of Paris) at the beginning of the 20th century. The origination, however, is believed to be an ancient speciality of Sologne where an upside-down tart with apples or pears was eaten. It was first introduced to Paris at Maxim’s – the legendary restaurant on the la rue Royale – where it is still a speciality today.

Short crust pastry or puff pastry? I have heard that puff pastry should be used for a classic tarte tatin, although I cannot find any definitive history that suggests one or the other. However, my preference without a shadow of a doubt is to use a sweet short crust pastry. I find the that melt-away buttery texture goes really well with the caramelised apples. I have added a dash of Calvados to the tarte, and served with a chantilly cream. Bon appetit.

 

Serves: 6 |   Preparation: 20 minutes + 1 hour resting |   Cooking Time: 1-1¼ hours

 

Ingredients:

For the sweet tart pastry:
350g Plain flour |
Pinch Sea salt |
150g Unsalted butter | Cubed.
100g Icing sugar |
2 large Eggs | Beaten.

For the filling:
1kg Cooking apples | Cored, peeled and quartered. I use Granny Smith apples.
75g Unsalted butter | Cubed.
190g Caster sugar |
A glug Calvados |

For the crème chantilly:
200ml Whipping cream | Minimum of 35% milk fat solids.
1 tsp. Icing sugar |
½ tsp. Vanilla extract |

 

How to:

For the pastry: Sift the flour on to a clean surface and make a well in the middle. Put the cubed butter in the centre and using a pecking action with your thumbs and fingers work it until it is very soft. Add the sugar and mix in, then add the beaten eggs and mix. Now gradually flick the flour into the middle chopping at it until it is all incorporated, by which time your should have a rough dough. Bring the dough together with your hands and then knead gently for a minute trying not to overwork the dough. Wrap it in cling film and let it rest in a fridge for an hour before using.

For the filling: In a deep 25cm frying pan add the butter and sugar, and over a low to medium heat allow them to melt together. Don’t worry if the butter looks grainy with sugar. Add the apple quarters by tightly packing them around the edge of the inside of the pan, overlapping them. Continue in to the middle and pack them as tight as possible. If you can’t fit any more in you should be able to squeeze in another couple. Cook the apple on a low heat, regularly basting with the caramel in the pan using a pastry brush. After about 20 minutes pour over the Calvados. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes until the apple is soft, the caramel is deep brown and any excess liquid created during cooking has evaporated. Remove from the heat.

Preheat an oven to 190°C (375°F).

Take the pastry out of the fridge and on a floured surface roll it in to a circle a few centimetres wider than the base of your frying pan. Gently place the pastry over the apple and press around the edges to completely enclose the apple. Roughly trim the overlapping pastry and then turn the edge over itself to give a tidy finish. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Now the moment of truth. Turn out the tarte over a wooden board or serving plate. Any apple that sticks to the frying pan can be pushed back in to the tart (what goes on in the kitchen stays in the kitchen).

For the chantilly cream: In a chilled bowl whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence until soft peaks form. Serve with the hot tarte tatin. France at its ultimate best.

Ecuador – Chucula de Vainilla

Football:

Ecuador is a relative new comer to World Cup competition, having first qualified in 2002 for the World Cup in Japan/ South Korea. Their best performance was in 2006 when they managed to make it to the last 16. Such a feat can be a real showcase for players and consequently there have been a number of Ecuadorians that have made it big overseas. Amongst the most well-known is Antonio Valencia, the Manchester United winger and ever present in the current Ecuadorian squad.

Unfortunately for Ecuador they were beaten by Switzerland last night with a last gasp winner. I can imagine the coach’s frustration as it looked odds-on that Ecuador would score with late pressure, but having nearly got a shot away Switzerland broke and finished it at the other end. With France to come it is vital they at least beat Honduras, who was swept away 3-0 by Les Bleus last night. I said in a post yesterday that Honduras would have a good chance against Ecuador, but with one of their key players being sent off and ineligible for the next game (Wilson Palacios who I must have put the mockers on by saying he was one to watch out for) I think Ecuador will be in the driving seat.

Their key players are the wingers Renato Ibarra and Jefferson Monterro and striker Felipe Caicedo. I am sure they will go for all-out attack against Honduras and then hope to stun France with a counter-attacking game.

 

The Dish: 

It’s dessert time again, and I can’t think of any better reason to make dessert with the vanilla bean being native to Central America. It’s one of the most incredible flavours in nature and was known to both the Mayas and Aztecs, who used it as a flavouring for drinking chocolate. Although the main Latin American vanilla-producing countries are Mexico, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Guadalupe and Dominca, it is widely used in Ecuadorian cuisine. Examples include Punta, a drink brewed with canelazo (naranjilla juice and sugar cane liquor), cinnamon, clove and vanilla; quimbolito, a spongy pocket made with corn flour, orange juice and vanilla essence; and rompope, a popular holiday drink made from milk, sugar, orange peel, egg yolks, condensed milk, cream, sugar cane alcohol and vanilla.

For the World Cup food project I have gone with this fantastic creamy Ecuadorian dessert that is perfumed with vanilla seeds. It is light and airy and deliciously fragrant against the gentle background of guava and banana.

A note on the guava: the guavas found in Ecuador are pod-like fruits with a cotton-like pulp that is eaten and dark seeds which are not. The other known guava is the round yellow one with the pinkish yellow flesh. Due to unavailability of an Ecuadorian guava or yellow round one here in Melbourne I used a feijoa (or pineapple guava), which is also native to parts of Latin America.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 10 minutes + 4 hours in the fridge

 

Ingredients:
2 Ripe bananas | Peeled and cut in to thick slices.
2-3 Ripe guavas | Yellow round ones – skinned, quartered and cored or 6 ripe feijoas skinned and quartered.
1 Vanilla pod |
150ml Water |
60g Caster sugar |
300ml Single cream | Minimum of 35% milk fat solids.

 

How To:

Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways, scrape out the vanilla seeds and reserve. To a small pan add the water, banana and vanilla pod (without seeds), cover and over a low heat simmer for 5 minutes. Now add the guava and simmer covered for a further 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod and put the contents of the pan in to a food processor along with the caster sugar and reserved vanilla seeds. Blend until really smooth and allow the purée to cool slightly.

Whip the single cream to firm peaks and fold it gently in to the cooled fruit purée. Pour the dessert in to serving glasses or similar and put in the fridge for 4 hours to chill and set.

Serve with slices of ripe banana. I was amazed at how well this dessert works.

Australia – Mini Pavlova with Caramel Banana, Rum and Lime Puree

Football:

Australia is ranked lowest in the World Cup according to FIFA’s official rankings. Couple this with the fact they are in a group with Spain, the current World Cup holders, the Netherlands and Chile and you would be forgiven for not giving the Socceroos any chance whatsoever. In fact, my mate who runs a local café only but today said that he would give a couple of us free coffees all day if Australia even scored a goal. He may live to regret that offer because the steel and gritty determination of this sporting nation is second to none, and with the star Tim Cahill always seeming to pop up in the right place at the right time I am confident that I will be having more than one free coffee day.

 

The Dish: 

So, to the first day of this World Cup project 🙂

Actually, this is a dish that I had to start yesterday as you’ll gather when you read the recipe. In stark contrast to the image of Australia and the steel and grit of their sporting team the dish I have cooked is light, airy and sweet. It is an Australian classic; the Pavlova. And straight away this project runs in to a controversy. Like Russel Crowe and Crowded House the Pavlova has crossed the Kiwi-Aussie line. However, with Pavlova there still lies a shroud of mystery? Was it developed in New Zealand or Perth? Nothing is conclusive; however I have included it as an Aussie classic because regardless of where the first one was made, in the 14 years I have been in Australia it is quite obvious that this dessert is in every Australian’s make-up, from Avoca Beach to Zanthus.

The Pavlova here has been miniaturised and served with a caramelised Cavendish banana, Bundaberg rum (Australian) and lime puree, freshly whipped cream and sliced banana.

 

Serves: 5   |   Preparation: 45 minutes   |   Cooking: 1 hour 20 minutes + drying overnight

 

Ingredients:

For the meringue
140g Egg Whites | About 4 Whites from a medium Egg.
225g White caster Sugar |
13g Corn flour |
½ tsp. White vinegar |

 

For the banana puree:
125g White caster sugar |
2 Ripe bananas | Not over ripe, just the perfect eating ripeness.
20ml Dark rum | I used Bundaberg to keep with the Australian theme.
1 Lime Lime juice |

 

For the final dessert:
125g Single cream | Minimum of 35% milk fat solids.
2-3 Ripe bananas | Thinly sliced. Eating ripeness.
Grated lime zest for garnish

 

How To:

Preheat an oven to 130 deg. C (270 deg. F).

 

For the meringue: whisk the egg whites so that they form stiff peaks. Add half of the caster sugar and continue to whisk for about 30 seconds. Add the other half of sugar and continue to whisk until you have really stiff peaks. Add the corn flour and vinegar and gently fold until completely mixed through.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment (use a little butter to hold it in place). Place a 75mm diameter stacking ring on the baking sheet and using a piping bag with an 8ml nozzle pipe the meringue mix in to it in a spiral motion. Pipe 3 layers and then gently remove the stacking ring. Repeat for the other meringues. Alternatively you can carefully spoon the meringue on to the baking sheet in nest shapes. Bake the meringue for 10 minutes at 130 deg. C and then reduce the oven to 100 deg. C (210 deg. F) and bake for a further 50 minutes. Now, turn off the oven and let the meringues cool and dry overnight in the oven.

For the banana puree: add the 125g of caster sugar to a large heavy based frying pan. Put the pan over a medium heat and allow the sugar to caramelise to a deep golden brown colour. Jiggle the pan around so that the sugar caramelises evenly. Add the two whole bananas to the caramel and toss them around until softened and coated. Deglaze the pan with the rum and put the lot into a food processor taking care as it will be hot. Add the lime juice to the processor and then blitz until smooth. After this I then use a hand blender to ensure all the caramelised sugar is blended. Put the puree in the fridge for an hour to cool.

For the dessert: Pipe or spread the banana puree over the top of each meringue. Whip the single cream to firm peaks and carefully spread it over the banana puree. Place the banana slices on the cream – be creative – and finally grate some lime zest over the banana for garnish. Enjoy the crunchy and sticky meringue with that amazing puree.

Tempura Banana with Palm Sugar and Coconut Caramel Sauce

Introduction:

My affection for banana starts with a 1945 establishment nestled behind the harbour at a typically English sea-side town and extends to the roadside running perpendicular to the Red River in Hanoi, and the many nuances in between.

As a child, and my ever receding memory still serves me well in to remembering when I was 5 years old, I yearned for two things in my life. The first was a summer holiday stay with my grandparents and a very close second was the Harbour Bar in a quaint little seaside town called Scarborough on the east coast of Yorkshire. The Harbour bar was an Aladdin’s cave of sweet and holiday-spirit delights. Walking in the door was like being dropped in to a place so wonderful, so magical that even Charlie Bucket would not have believed it. The smell of every flavour of ice-cream and then chocolate, cherries, peaches, marshmallows, sweet syrups, lemonade and the sea breeze that wafted through has never left me. As I write this now I close my eyes and I am back there. I can here jovial chatter, the clinking of glass, the crunching of wafer, the fizz of vanilla ice-cream being dropped in to soda, and ice-cream churners churning. And within all that two amazing treats stood out, the two that would cause me to umm and ahh each visit; which one should I pick? The first was their iconic Knickerbocker Glory; a glass as high as the ceiling filled with strawberries, peaches in sweet syrup, ice-cream, cherries, whipped cream, chocolate bits and a big wafer triangle adorning the top. I would choose this first and then remember the second one, the banana split. A banana sliced lengthways filled with three scoops of the house-made vanilla ice-cream, fresh whipped cream, unctuous chocolate sauce, chopped peanuts and the famous wafer. Of all the choices I have had to make through my life this was the most difficult, but by far the most enjoyable.

Roll on many years later; wandering through the backstreets of Hanoi with my young daughter, we passed some ladies at the roadside cooking banana fritters. At first we walked past, although I could see in my daughter’s eyes disappointment. I was taken back to the seaside town and thought about how I would have felt walking past the Harbour Bar and not being allowed to go in. We turned back and sat down with the ladies, communicating in mimes. We were given a banana fritter each with a little sweet sauce, and as I bit in I resumed my affection for banana. As I turned to my daughter I could see a glint that I am sure my mother saw in mine when I first tasted that banana split (and the Knickerbocker Glory).

This recipe is something I have created to celebrate banana, taking my influence from childhood and travels.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking: 25-30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the Caramel Sauce:
125g Palm sugar | Grated. A brilliant caramel flavoured sugar with deep treacle notes.
85g Butter | Softened and cubed.
1/2 tsp. Sea salt | A little salt in sweet sauces can enhance the flavour.
250ml Single cream | 35% milk fat solids.
100ml Coconut Milk | Full fat.

For the Tempura Batter:
200ml Ice cold water | The colder it is the lighter the batter will be.
1 Large Egg yolk |
½ tsp. Sea salt |
100g Plain flour |
10g Desiccated coconut |

4 Bananas
1 litre Grapeseed oil | Or any other non-flavoured cooking oil.
Garnish Icing Sugar |
Garnish Desiccated coconut |

 

 

How To:

To a medium sized heavy based pan add the grated palm sugar, butter and sea salt. Put the pan on a low heat and stir until the caramel is bubbling and has darkened slightly. Caramelising palm sugar is difficult as it is already a caramel colour so you don’t have a clear visual reference. Try for about 10 minutes; the mixture should be thick, sticky and a shade darker than when you started (but be careful not to burn it though).

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cream and coconut milk to the caramel – it will spit and bubble. Put the pan on a medium heat and bring back to the boil. Continue to gently boil until the caramel has reduced by about one third, making sure you stir frequently. To check, take the pan off the heat so the bubbles subside. If the sauce is not ready put it back on the heat and continue to reduce. It is ready when it has thickened to a glossy caramel. Set aside.

In a pan, or wok, heat the oil until it reaches 180 deg. C (356 deg. F) – check with a thermometer.

For the tempura batter, add the cold water and egg yolk to a bowl and lightly whisk until just mixed. Cooking chopsticks are ideal to make this batter. Add the salt and flour and gently stir taking care not to overwork the batter. The batter should still have a few lumps in it. Add the coconut and mix.

To cook, dip a banana in the batter so that it is completely covered. Allow any excess batter to drip off and place the banana in the hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes and then turn it over and cook for about a further two minutes. The batter should be a nice light golden brown in colour, and the banana slightly softened. You can cook the bananas in batches of two (more than this will reduce the temperature of the oil too much and the batter will not be light and crispy).

Warm the caramel sauce. Serve a banana covered in the sauce garnished with a sprinkle of icing sugar and desiccated coconut.

 

Notes:

– This is most excellent served with a quenelle of vanilla ice-cream or a splattering of fresh cream.

 

Breathtaking Banana Cake

Introduction:

It starts of so raw, so wet behind the ears, a little green even. It’s even a bit of an outcast; unpleasant, avoided and neglected. But it will right itself, that’s for sure and it will even affect the ‘rightness’ of those around it. In a couple of days it starts to grow up; it comes of age as it were. Now it is popular. One of the go-tos for the energy seeking, it begins to show its true potential, its character. Within no time at all it is king of the pile, but it doesn’t last long because as it starts to age blemishes begin to appear on its once perfect skin. It’s now starting to deteriorate at a startling rate, once strong and steadfast it begins to haunch a little, to soften and emanate a fragrance as a warning that it’s not going to be around for much longer. And to its final days, it’s a mere shadow of its former self; its colouration undetectable from its previously brilliant yellow past. Again, it becomes an outcast and mustn’t be allowed to mingle with the others. It is criticised for its appearance, its stench, and its age and is on the verge of being assigned to a place of no retrieval.

But then, a stranger comes along and rescues it. The stranger sees much hope for this aged wonder; it has wisdom, character, and an ability and potential that its younger form could only dream of. And it is now time to unleash it. The baker is going to get funky with this banana.

It’s in the title – breathtaking. I can’t recall the number of banana cakes and breads that I have made, but they have ranged from ok to good. This one is the best, and I have to thank Momofuku Milk Bar for the basis of the recipe which I have slightly modified to bring out the best in the banana. And when I say a ripe banana I am talking about the ones that are dark, dark brown, intensely pungent and almost bordering on a paste.

 

Serves: A few   |   Preparation: 20 minutes   |   Cooking: 30-40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

85g Caster sugar |
200g Butter | Cubed and at room temperature.
1 Large Egg |
120g Buttermilk |
20g Grapeseed oil | Important to use a neutral tasting oil. Groundnut oil is another good one.
3 Ripe bananas | If you think they are overripe, they are perfect.
240g Plain Flour |
3g Baking powder | A smidgen under ¾ of a teaspoon.
3g Bicarbonate of soda | A smidgen under ½ of a teaspoon.
2g Sea salt | If flaked, crush before adding.

 

How To:

Heat the oven to 170 deg. C (340 deg. F).

Take a 28cm*18cm baking tin (about 4cm deep) and lightly grease the bottom and sides with butter. Cut a piece of baking parchment to the size of the tin base and then line the base with it – the butter will ensure it stays in place.

To a kitchen mixer bowl add the sugar and butter and then on medium speed beat it using the paddle attachment until light and fluffy – the colour should be a very pale yellow. Stop the beating, scrape the sides of the bowl, put on a low to medium speed and add the egg. After about 30 seconds add the buttermilk in a thin stream so as not to redecorate your kitchen. Mix for a further minute and then in a thin stream add the oil. Now put the mixer on medium to high speed and beat until the mixture is homogenous (posh was for saying mixed properly). Try for 5 minutes and if not looking right keep mixing until it is. We are forcing the oil in to a mixture that already contains fat (butter) and thus the need for some heavy handed work.

Next, turn the mixer speed to low and add the whole ripe bananas (if they are paste-like then just scrape them in). Mix for about 30 seconds, or until all of the banana has broken down.

Now, mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt in a separate bowl and then gradually add to the mixing bowl. As soon as all the ingredients have come together the batter is ready.

Put the batter into your lined baking tin, spread evenly and give the tin a couple of taps on the bench top just to make sure. Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes to start with, after which test it; the outsides should be springy and the inside just cooked (so it doesn’t wobble). If not, then bake further until it is ready.

When ready remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes at which point turn out onto a wire cooling rack, carefully peel the baking parchment away and leave until completely cool…or if you are a sucker for warm cake cut out a piece and devour.

Coconut and Pandan Ice Cream

Introduction:

It was a sticky, hot and humid day as we disembarked from the small boat and clambered on to terra firma. Having just visited the most amazing floating market on the Mekong, we were now in a little Vietnamese village. When I say village it was a few shacks with a local shop. Although we were one of many visitors to this village, the children still came running out, giggling, to meet us. We refilled our bottles of water and took respite from the midday sun. In the shade of the shop a few children were playing keepy-uppy with a large white feather that had been weighted at the quill with a few beer and soft drink bottle tops. It was quite ingenious, and these kids were pretty skilful at keeping this object airborne. Being the Englishman I am and with the footballing aficionado rivalling the best and with a somewhat misguided notion that the practical skills match the knowledge I entered the game with the kids. Initially it started off great, some sharp little skills and some showboating; I was also fervently perspiring. But then I had to do the typical dad thing – at that time I was years off being a father but the instinct was there nonetheless. I attempted to do a head height roundhouse kick to knock the feathered object back into the circle and I as I did so – well nearly anyway – the sound of an almighty rip penetrated the air. I was wearing some light long combat pants that I had bought in Saigon, and as I looked around the kids were on the floor rolling around in hysterics. I looked down and saw a rip along the whole inside seam from one ankle to the other. I retreated sheepishly. It was funny though.

The significance of this story and its relevance to the dish is more about the visit to the sweet factory immediately after this jocular pit stop. When I say factory it was another shack that housed a roaring fire with an enormous wok over it – where they made the sweets, an area for the sweets to set and a packing area. The sweets were then loaded on to a boat for delivery. It is here, however, that I discovered one of my all-time favourite Vietnamese flavour combinations; coconut and pandan. The flavour of these sweets has never left me and so years later I have recreated the flavour in the form of this super little ice-cream.

 

Serves: A few   |   Preparation:  1½ hours   |   Cooking: Resting overnight plus 2 hours

 

Ingredients:

430ml Full-fat milk |
450ml Single cream | Approximately 35% milk fat solids.
270ml Coconut cream |
5 large Egg yolks | Large eggs are roughly 58g each with a yolk yield of about 18g.
250g White sugar |
10 Dried pandan leaves | Pandan can be bought at Asian grocers. Fresh can be used also – maybe half the amount as fresh leaves have more oomph than dried.

 

How To:

To a heavy based pan add the milk, cream, coconut cream and pandan leaves; bend the leaves so that they fit into the pan and become submerged. Gently bring the milk and creams to just below the boil then remove from the heat, cover with a lid and let the pandan leaves infuse for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile add the egg yolks and sugar to a bowl and with a sturdy whisk beat until you have an airy and smooth mix. The consistency should be ribbon-like when you pick some up with the whisk and let it gracefully flow back in to the bowl.

Through a sieve, slowly pour the milk and cream mix into the egg yolks and sugar (therefore removing the pandan leaves), whisking continuously to ensure that the heat of the milk does not curdle the egg. Put the resulting custard mix (it is now officially a custard) in to a clean pan over a low heat. Using a wooden spoon continually mix the custard until it thickens – do not let it boil or else you will scramble your custard. A good test is to run a finger down the back of the wooden spoon and if the mark remains the custard is ready. Remove from the heat.

Put an ice-cream container (one that has air-tight lid) over a bowl of ice, and through a sieve pour in the custard mix. Stir for 5 minutes or so until the custard cools. Put the lid on the container and put the custard in the fridge overnight.

Churn the ice-cream in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are using a compressor based churner, turn it on about 10 minutes prior to churning the ice-cream so that it is chilled. The reason being is that it is really important to freeze ice-cream as quickly as possible to ensure a smooth result.

Once churned freeze for a further two hours before serving.

 

Notes:

  • To serve the ice-cream it is good to remove it from the freezer about 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Not will it be at perfect temperature to eat, it will also be easy to quenelle  if you are at all feeling ‘cheffy’.

Black Forest Roulade

Introduction:

I was inspired a few months ago by the great French chef Michel Roux and his wonderful dessert ‘Marquis Roulade’; essentially a light cake-like biscuit filled with Chantilly cream, raspberries and raspberry coulis. Here in this antipodean land, known to most as Australia, cherries are in season and fruit and vegetable purveyors a stone’s throw from my humble abode have been displaying them in regal splendour. Unfortunately, inclement weather has led to a shortage this year and thus the price is marginally less than a Branson intergalactic flight, but nonetheless my resistance was low and I bought ½ a kilo of some slightly under ripe glistening beauties. After leaving them for a few days to darken and sweeten the idea of a black forest type roulade came to mind and I began work.

Delving through some cooking archives I discovered that Black Forest gâteau, or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, is made during the summer months in Bavaria. It became famous in the mid-late 20th century as a rich cake dessert that has graced many a table table and wowed a plethora of guests, especially in Europe. In its original form it consists of a dark chocolate sponge layered with sweetened cream and cherries lightly cooked and macerated in kirsch (cherry liqueur). In recent years the dessert has somewhat been debased by ready-made frozen versions.

My version of this classic does not involve macerating the cherries in Kirsch but instead covering the biscuit sponge with a cherry coulis.

After finishing my dish I discovered that Delia Smith already has a version of a cherry roulade, so, so much for an original idea. However, I must hasten to add that this version is a very classy affair – great ingredients, delightfully airy and a great balance of sweet/ tart cherry, bitter cocoa and sweet fresh cream ( as I am sure Delia’s must be).

 

Serves: 4-6   |   Preparation:  30 Minutes   |   Cooking: 10 Minutes + 3hrs in fridge

 

Ingredients:

500g in total Cherries | When stoned this yields about 400g.

For the Coulis:
250g Cherries – stoned | From the amount above.
20g Icing sugar | Also known as confectioners’ sugar.

For the cream:    
250ml Single cream | At least 38% milk solids.
50g Icing sugar |

For the roulade (biscuit):    
4 (from large eggs) Egg whites |
3 (from large eggs) Egg Yolks |
125g Icing sugar |
50g Unsweetened cocoa | Essential that an unsweetened one is used. Sieve to ensure that no bitter lumps of cocoa persist in the final biscuit.
15g Arrowroot | Also known as tapioca flour. Potato flour can be used.
150g Cherries – stoned | From the amount above.
For decoration Icing sugar |

 

 

How To:

Preheat your oven to 200 deg C (390 deg F.)

First off make the coulis and cream so that they can be cooling in the fridge while the biscuit (cake) is being made.

For the coulis take the 250g of stoned cherries and add to a blender with 20g of icing sugar. Blend until very smooth and then filter the coulis through a fine sieve to remove the skins and unwanted pulp. Set aside in the fridge.

For the cream, whip the single cream until just before peaky. Add 50g of icing sugar and continue to whisk until firm peaks show. Do not over whisk or you will end up with butter! Set aside in the fridge.

Line a baking sheet (I use a 35cm*25cm sheet) with baking parchment that has been greased with butter and lightly sprinkled with flour – to ensure the biscuit does not stick.

Sieve the cocoa and arrowroot into a clean bowl. In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and 80g of icing sugar until the mixture has a ribbon like consistency.

In another bowl whisk the egg whites to just before peaky. Add the remaining 45g of icing sugar and continue whisking until firm peaks form.

Add ⅓ of the beaten egg whites to the egg yolk mixture and whisk; this will loosen the egg yolks. Using a large metal spoon, incorporate the rest of the egg whites into the yolk mixture by using a folding action – the key is to keep the air within the mixture. Now, gradually add the cocoa and arrowroot whilst continually folding the mixture, ensuring to keep it light and airy. When the mixture is consistent pour it on to the baking sheet and using a palette knife spread it until it has an even thickness.

Put it in the over for 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on it. When the centre is soft and slightly springy it is done. I usually need to give it the full 10 minutes. Remove the biscuit from the oven and leave it to cool for a minute.

Now for the fun part: place a piece of baking parchment and then another baking sheet on top of the biscuit. Carefully flip the biscuit so that the baking sheet it was cooked in is on top. Remove the baking sheet. Now carefully peel away the baking parchment.

Now leave the biscuit to cool for a couple of minutes. Carefully remove the edges of the biscuit (which will be slightly overcooked) using a serrated knife so that you have a neat rectangle. Using a pastry brush lightly brush the biscuit with the cherry coulis. Now spread the sweet whipped cream over the biscuit leaving room around the edges for when the cream spreads during rolling. Take the 150g of stoned cherries and halve them. Scatter over the whipped cream. Position the roulade length-side closest to you. Now gently roll it using the baking parchment as a guide. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours to allow the roulade to set.

To serve cut on an angle into slices. Serve with a little cherry coulis, a sprinkling of icing sugar and your desired red fruit – raspberries and blueberries are great.

168 Year Old Christmas Pudding – The Eating

Introduction:

A wonderful Christmas is over, one in which I had plenty of time to be let loose in the kitchen, to fervently eat all day and to participate in a tipple of the old jumping grape for breakfast without the worry of having to drive somewhere. It was just me, wifey and the two ankle biters. But of course I could wax lyrical for an eternity without answering the most poignant question you are just dying to spit out: how was the 168 year old Christmas pudding? Well, I am most glad you asked. In short, it was cracking (in English vernacular that means great).

Although one tends to over-consume during Christmas lunch, there is always room left for a slice of rich, boozy pudding and accoutrement, and of course Christmas 2013 was no different to past years. Before I get to the pudding though I am going to run through the menu – if not for your pleasure, which I am sure it will be your pleasure, then for mine, if only to reminisce.

Starter: A resolute request from my wife, a classic prawn cocktail, but with Queensland tiger prawns instead of the usual shrimp sized prawns, homemade cocktail sauce (with a little help from Heinz and Lea & Perrins), cubed Hass avocado and iceberg lettuce chiffonade.

Main: The plan was goose, but bad news was broken to me by my butcher two days prior to Christmas day – one could not be procured. In a state of frenzy, in an even more frenzied butchers shop, I had to make a plan B. With help from my great butcher I bought a 4.5 kilogram organic turkey and a 5 kilo leg of ham. The final dish was:

Slow cooked (and pre-brined) turkey; ham cooked in Coca-Cola and glazed with Dijon mustard, clove and treacle; homemade sausage meat and chestnut stuffing; vegetable timbale (layered set purees) consisting of fennel puree, roasted red pepper puree and carrot puree;  roast potatoes; and a sauce of ham and Coca-Cola reduction with cranberry jelly and aged red wine vinegar.

Pudding: Of course, 168 year old Christmas pudding with simplicity itself, single cream.

So the pudding: in the end I deviated only slightly from Eliza Acton’s recipe primarily to add a couple of ‘secret ingredients’ and to increase the richness by reducing the flour and breadcrumb content. The secret ingredients were homemade thick-cut marmalade and Calvados. The final pudding was beautifully rich, and created a nuance of haziness in one’s head due to the booziness of the Calvados. It was moist and although sturdy broke away at the deftest of prods from the dessert spoon. In essence it was spot on, and I can only conclude by thanking the 168 year old recipe from one of the most influential cooks of the 19th century; Eliza Acton I bow to thee.

 

Serves: Makes a 1.5 litre pudding  |   Preparation:  20-30 minutes  |   Cooking: 6 hours + 2 hours to reheat

 

Ingredients:

90g Breadcrumbs | Blitz old bread in a food processor.
100g Self-raising flour |
300g Suet | I use my own grated rendered suet but it can be bought shredded. I guess vegetable suet or butter can be used but the unique melting point of beef suet gives the pudding its delectable texture.
300g Currants |
300g Raisins |
150g Candied peel | Ideally making your own would be great but packeted works fine, and that’s what I use.
100g White caster sugar |
50g Dark Muscovado sugar |
⅔ of a lemon Lemon rind | Finely grated.
⅓ of a pod Nutmeg | Finely grated.
20g Mixed spice |
1 tsp. Sea salt | Finely ground if the salt is flaked.
2 tbsp. Orange marmalade | I use my own homemade which is packed full of orange rind – a good quality bought one would be good if time and inclination is of the essence.
6 large Eggs | Beaten.
150ml + drizzle Calvados | The drizzle is for serving.

 

 

How To:

To a large bowl add the breadcrumbs, flour, grated/ shredded suet, currants, raisins, candied peel, both sugars, lemon rind, nutmeg, mixed spice, sea salt and marmalade. Give it a hefty old stir to mix all the ingredients. Now add the eggs and stir again. Finally add the calvados and ensure that the mixture is completely homogenous (well mixed in layman’s terms). The final mixture is quite sloppy in texture.

Pour the mixture into a 1.5 litre pudding bowl until about 1 cm from the top. Cover with a square piece of baking parchment that overlaps the sides of the bowl. Now add a square of muslin cloth over the baking parchment. Tie the parchment and muslin cloth securely with string around the rim of the bowl – if you can muster a string handle also this will help you to remove it from the boiling water later.

Put the pudding in a large pan and pour boiling water between the pudding and pan wall until the level is about two thirds the way up the pudding bowl. Put the pan on a low-medium heat so that the water comes to a simmer. Now cover the pan with a lid and boil the pudding for 6 hours. Check regularly that the water level does not drop – if it does top up with boiling water.

After 6 hours carefully remove the pudding from the pan of water and allow it to cool for an hour. Remove the muslin cloth and baking parchment. Place some fresh baking parchment and a clean tea-towel (or pudding cloth) over the pudding and secure with string once again. The pudding can be kept for a few weeks.

To reheat, repeat the boiling process above, but only for 2 hours this time. After 2 hours remove the pudding from the pan of water, leave to sit for 10 minutes and then remove the tea-towel and baking parchment. Using a thin knife, loosen the pudding from the sides of the pudding basin and then turn it out onto a serving plate and drizzle with Calvados. Serve hot with cream or whatever tickles your fancy.

 

Notes:

  • To make an impressive entrance you can warm the Calvados in a ladle over direct heat and when hot light it. In front of your gasping guests pour the flaming Calvados over the pudding!

Chocolate Mousse

Introduction:

Creative writing is all about connecting dots. Creative cooking is all about connecting dots. The dots are the experiences and the things we learn. And the dots may be light years apart in relevance to each other, initially at least. But as one thinks outside of the proverbial box and starts to see rare but valid commonalities the dots suddenly start connecting with each other. Very much like flavour pairings; take white chocolate and caviar, salmon and liquorice, banana and parsley, and oyster and passion fruit to name a few . On the surface very different and unlikely pairings, but as one delves deeper we see commonalities in chemical components with each that gives reason, both in theory and practice, as to why some very unlikely food pairings work together. This is an area I will explore more, but for today I am desperately trying to connect those dots to create a story about chocolate mousse.

OK, I don’t have any epiphany in my life where chocolate has been life-changing. Chocolate to me has always been a commodity that has been available when required; it has never been a friend to go to when in need. Maybe because I’m a bloke I don’t have this affinity with chocolate, and that could be down to the chemicals contained within, but regardless I enjoy eating it from time to time.

I have a travel memory with chocolate, a pretty hairy one too. It was in the depths of the steamy backwaters of Kerala in South India; the year was 1999, British colonialism was well past its sell by date on this wonderful land, but evidence of its existence was still abound in the buildings, and in particular the old style English journalistic reporting that could be read in the Hindustan Times.

We had embarked on an eight hour cruise, and as the boat ambled along the inland veins of rivers I sat with legs dangling over the side, mulling on a glass of sweet Indian rum and dragging on a Gold Flake, whilst watching the endless passing of palm trees, fishing rigs, and children splashing and screeching playfully under the midday sun.

At noon we disembarked for lunch, which presented itself as fried fish, sambals, lentil curries and coconut rice presented on a green and luscious banana leaf.

After a refreshing and cleansing tea after lunch, I then ambled around the local village, twenty minutes before being due to re-embark to finish the boat cruise. I stumbled across a purveyor of fine chocolate bars and procured one as a tasty snack. Yes, chocolate would finish off the lunch majestically. Like Charlie and his Wonka bar I opened the packaging in expectation. All seemed in fine shape and I proceeded thus to take a bite. Next I remember running twenty metres to a side grass verge and removing, with cacophany, the aforementioned chocolate. On inspecting the inside of that fine chocolate bar I found a colony of ants. Being rather disgruntled I revisited that fine purveyor and requested another bar – amazingly I was still in the mood for chocolate. This is when the trouble started. It was apparent that the ants had nothing to do with him, which was the antithesis of my view point. After verbally toing and froing that purveyor started to become quite aggressive, which was a little like a red rag to a bull, and therefore I reciprocated. Before we knew it a full blazing altercation was in swing, and unbeknownst to me the total population of 300 villagers had surrounded us and were getting real value for money. The local police arrived and decided to stop this cavalcade of entertainment before it descended into something a little more serious. I threw the chocolate covered ants down in disgust as I was gently escorted to the awaiting boat. The look on the faces of those fellow travellers as I arrived was priceless. The cruise continued, where the rum continued to flow and the story was told, retold and then embellished; my story of chocolate.

Back to present day and the chocolate dots have been linked, maybe not in the most appetising of manners, but such is the power of chocolate that it has never detracted me from eating it since. So why chocolate mousse? It was my wife’s birthday yesterday and I said that anything she wanted me to make I would. Her request was chocolate mousse, because to her it had memories; good memories of childhood. The dots again being connected (and not an ant in sight).

 

Serves: 4-6   |   Preparation:  20-30 minutes   |   Cooking: 4 hours setting time

 

Ingredients:

150g Dark couverture chocolate | My preference here is 70% cocoa solids. Great chocolate is a must.
15g Butter | I use French Lescure butter, but any good quality butter will be fine.
1 large Egg | Beaten. Free range.
1 tbsp. Calvados | Adds a great subtle apple brandy note which for me just lifts this mousse to a more decadent level.
From 2 large eggs Egg whites | Free range.
45g Castor sugar |
250g Single cream (whipping) | Single cream contains about 35% milk fat.

 

 

How To:

Over a pan of simmering water place a metallic or glass bowl ensuring that the bowl does not touch the water. Break up the chocolate in to small pieces and add to the bowl. Let the chocolate soften before stirring.

When completely melted add the butter and stir into the chocolate until melted. Remove the bowl from the pan of water and allow to cool for a few minutes. Now add the beaten egg and Calvados and whisk until smooth.

Now whisk the egg whites, whilst gradually adding the sugar. The whites need to be whisked until they become ‘peaky’ i.e. nice and firm. We want to get them nicely aerated as this is what will give the mousse its lovely light texture.

Once the egg whites are done add about one third of them to the chocolate mixture and whisk. This is a classic technique that loosens the mixture so it’s then easy to do the next bit. Now add the rest of the egg whites to the chocolate and gently fold until the ‘mousse’ is a consistent colour. Try and treat this with kid gloves as it’s really important to maintain the airy nature of the egg whites.

Whip the cream until ‘peaky’. Now add it to the chocolate mixture, again gently folding until the ‘mousse’ is consistent in appearance and texture. Spoon the mix into your desired containers – I use glasses – and cover with cling film. Put the mousse in the fridge for 4 hours or more to set. Bon appetite!