24 Sept 2012

Double lime and lemon cheesecake

One thing that makes a language singular is idioms. These little phrases / metaphors that most of the time wouldn't mean anything  or sound really funny if you tried to translate them word by word into a different language.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, “in a nutshell”, “on the wrong side of the tracks”, “come hell or high water”, ”a double rainbow”…I love idioms. They tell you a story, they speak for a culture.
I don’t actually know if “double rainbow” is an idiom or if I just heard it from a movie, but I love it and I use it all the time.
A double rainbow is anything that combines two layers of pleasure, i.e. a romcom that is a musical at the same time, a movie starring Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds (still to come, but fingers crossed someone will hear my prayers), a supplier who is both efficient and nice.
You get the point?
Double rainbows are really common in British baking, because British are never afraid of going a step too far. They put cream on top of chocolate tarts, they create cakes in which a brownie goes on top of a cookie (I swear it’s true, I made it for my Bday, and it’s absolutely evil)
I’ve told you before, the whole Pauline à la crème anglaise adventure is about embracing British baking. So I am getting around to creating my own double rainbows. Actually, the last one was a triple rainbow….

Double lemon and lime cheesecake
- the base could be eaten on its own. It’s an absolutely delicious biscuit –very crunchy, very tasty, very crumbly too
- the cheesecake is light and smooth. Well set, it’s like a lime mousse - devine
- the layer of lemon curd on the top is just the step higher in the direction of the sky (a step too far? Naaaa)
Ingredients for the base:

1 ¼ cup flour
½ cup butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup caster sugar
¼ tsp salt

Make the base:

1/ Preheat the oven 200°C.

2/ In a big bowl, mix flour, salt and sugar together. Rub in the butter and crumble it between your fingers until it resembles moist crumbs, and make a ball with the dough.

3/ Press firmly the dough on the bottom and the sides of a cheesecake pan (a removable bottom cake tin), lined with baking parchment.

4/ Freeze crust for 10-15 min until firm

5/ Prick the crust all over with a fork and bake for 20-25 min until golden. If the pastry puffs up while baking, press it gently with a spoon. Let it cool completely while you make the filling.

Ingredients for the filling:

500g cream cheese (philadelphia or equivalent)
350g whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
120g caster sugar
50 ml of lime juice (approx. 6 tbsp + 2 tsp)
Zest of 2 limes
1 ½  tsp of gelatine (powdered gelatine, or agar agar powder) dissolved in 2tbsp of water (or lime juice)
1-2 tsp of vanilla extract

Make the filling:

1/ In a big bowl, cream the cream cheese, sugar, lime juice and lime zest together.  Add the gelatine and vanilla extract and mix well.

2/ With a spatula, gently fold in the whipped cream (don’t over beat or it will become runny)

3/ Pour the mixture on to the cold biscuit base. Cover the cake with cling film and refrigerate for 5 hours at the very least (the cheesecake needs long to set and be really moussy. It’s first the wait) Ideally, make it the night before.

4/ 30min before serving, cover the cheesecake with a thin layer of lemon curd (recipe here)

lemon cheesecake

Recipe adapted from http://chicgorgeous.blogspot.co.uk/

17 Sept 2012

The Cobbler, not your average Crumble

Usual Friday night in London.
I’m on my way to meet friends in town. The girl sitting opposite me in the bus is wearing the traditional Friday Night Out Outfit: mini dress, high heels. Same old, same old.
On my side, it's mini dress (what? I told you, I embrace British Culture!), opaque tights, boots and scarf.
Suddenly, my attention is drawn to something I’ve seen so many times before: her toes are…blue. Despite the fact that it’s November and 5°C outside, this girl is wearing open sandals with no tights like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
It looks like Londoners tend to dress according to their mood of the day rather than according to the actual season. 
"Yeah, I feel like wearing my UGG boots today. It's 25 degrees, and so what? I'll just sweat my feet off"
I love seasons! Not only is it usually cheaper and more environmentally friendly to eat seasonal and local produces, but it’s also exciting!
I love eating different foods at different times of the year.
I love the anticipation of a season coming up: waiting eagerly for the fig season to start like a child waiting for Christmas to come.
I love looking for a million ways to cook a product when it is in season until I am sick of it: butternut squash soup, squash purée, pumpkin pie, roasted butternut squash, butternut squash gratin, …squah indigestion!
Fruits and vegetables are like clothes, we love them all the more when we change them with the seasons!
I had been waiting for it for few weeks and it’s finally here : the British plums season!

Plum Cobbler
A clobber is a kind of crumble, but different. It’s such an old traditional British cake that when I recently brought a cobbler to a party full of British people of all ages, almost nobody knew what it was!
A cobbler is made of a layer of fruits, roasted in sugar, covered by a layer of almond sponge, dropped in dollops over the fruits. The crunchy top of the sponge reveals a delicious soft inside, on top of melt-in-the-mouth caramelised fruits. Everybody absolutely loved it!
Please, do me a favour next time you are invited at a dinner party : wear season-appropriate shoes and ditch your usual crumble for a cobbler!
900g plums, washed and stalked removes, the biggest ones halved
150g caster sugar – put aside 3tbsp of this sugar for the topping

For the cobbler topping:
125g plain flour
100g ground almonds
Pinch of salt
3 level tsp baking powder
110g butter cut into pieces
170ml buttermilk (or whole milk with 1tsp of lemon juice added)
1tsp almond essence
1tbsp flaked almonds
1tbsp demerara sugar

Make the cobbler:

1/ Preheat the oven 200°C

2/ Place the washed plums into a ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the sugar and leave aside.

3/ Place flour, ground almonds, salt, baking powder and the 3 tbsp of caster sugar put aside in a big bowl and mix together. Rub in the butter and crumble the mixture in your hands until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

4/ Add the buttermilk, almond essence and mix with a wooden spoon until it turns to a thick dough.

5/ Drop tablespoon-size dollops of the mixture over the fruits, around the edges and middle - about 8 to 10 in total. You should cover more or less the whole dish, but it should still look messy and bumpy.

6/ Sprinkle with the flaked almonds (you won’t see any on my cake because I forgot them!) and the demerara sugar.

7/ Bake for 25-20 min until the crust is golden. Serve warm with ice-cream or cream. If you made it early, just warm it up gently (120°C) in the oven while you eat the main course.

Recipe adapted from British Chef Rachel Green: http://www.rachel-green.co.uk/

PS: I suffer from the Burnt Cake Great Malediction. I do have a timer and an oven thermometer, but I still manage to forget most of my cakes in the oven until they burn! Hopefully you don’t suffer from my “condition” and your cobbler should be just a little …lighter in colour ;-)

11 Sept 2012

The taste buds seasons (Lentils salad)

Different seasons call for different foods. 

In the Autumn, we like them soft.  While watching the mushrooms growing in the rain, we pour double cream over our pasta, and sauce on the meat that was grilled until few weeks ago. We now spread butter on our toasts before jamming them.

In Winter, we like them smooth. Our gums are as soft as raclette cheese, bacon rashes sliding down our throat directly to our stomach. Our teeth are now permanently protected by a permanent layer of cassoulet's duck fat.

In Spring, we like them crispy. We wake our taste buds up adding dashes of lemon juice to our salads. We sharpen our teeth on crunchy bread just coming out of the oven and onto juicy apples. 

In Summer, we like them crunchy. We now enjoy raw the vegetables that were once cooked and mashed. Compotes are over, time has come for fruit salads. We make faces biting in fresh rhubarb and we pinch our nose biting in ice-cream.

Puy lentils salad

What I like the most in rice or pulses salads is pack them with lots of fresh vegetables, all very finely chopped so that all the ingredients are more or less of the same size and the flavours get mixed up. This salad is all about what I love in summer : crunchy and very fresh.  
A for the British twist to this French-looking salad, I made a thaï-style dressing. Logical, isn't it?

250g of dried puy lentils
2 tomatoes
1 small handfull of radishes
2 celery branches
1/2 chilli (of any color)
1 pepper ( of any color)
1/2 red onion
2 ou 3 spring onions
A big bunch of parsley

Ingredients for the dressing
Soy sauce
Lemon or lime juice
Olive oil

1/ Cook the lentils according to pack instructions. Rince them under running cold water when draingin them (to cool them down)

2/ Very finely chop all the vegetables and the parley

3/ In a big bowl, mix the lentills and all vegetables

4/ For the dressing, only one instruction : freestyle!
The soy sauce will brings salt, the lemon/lime juice will enhance all ingredients flavours, the oil will soften the tangyness of the dressing (you don't want to soften it too much though. So oil is actually not compulsory and if you use some, go easy on it)

Of course, you can swap lentils by pearl barley, quinoa, rice, etc

3 Sept 2012

God bless Anna and her guilty pleasures (Scones)

I used to picture Great Britain as a nation of ladies and gentlemen, drinking tea all day with their little fingers in the air, making jokes that I wouldn’t understand. Afternoon tea was a mystery to me. I just knew it involved tea and cakes, so it had to be wonderful. 
I did a bit of reseach...

We owe afternoon tea to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who was tired of starving every afternoon, waiting for dinner time to come (at that time, British aristocrats only had 2 meals a day: breakfast and dinner). Enjoying a snack of tea, sandwiches and cakes made by her cook, poor Anna felt lonely. So she decided she would invite friends to join her the next day. 
Before she knew it and summer was over, Anna had set a new trend and all the fashionable society was now hosting afternoon teas in London.  

From the old fashioned tea set to the scones and homemade jam, I love afternoon tea. It's like playing doll, but better because you get to eat real cakes! If you make the cakes yourself, it's even better!

I recently treated myself to an afternoon tea baking class with Caroline Hope (http://www.teaandscones.org.uk) .
Caroline took our little group on a three hour hands-on baking session. We baked 4 delicious kinds of traditional cakes, such as Victoria Sandwich and Lemon Drizzle Cake, as well as plain and savoury scones.  
Not just scones actually, the best scones I have had in my life. (I obviously did eat a few of them to make sure I had not given this distinction too lightly). 

Mini Victoria Sandwich
Frosting our mini coffee cakes (See gentlemen, baking classes are also for boys!)

Scones (plain and variations)

200g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
50g cold butter, diced
½ teaspoon salt
150ml full fat milk at room temperature
1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar

Make the scones
1. Preheat the oven to 220 deg C.
2. Place the teaspoon of lemon juice/vinegar into the milk.
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl.
4. Drop the butter cubes into the flour. With your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until there are no lumps of butter.
5. Make a well into the ‘crumb’ mixture and pour in the milk. It should have a few lumps, a bit like yoghurt.
6. Cut and fold the mixture with a large palette knife until combined and make a soft loose ball. If you find the mixture is very sticky just sprinkle in some more flour.
7. Scoop up the soft dough ball and place on a floured surface.
8. Pat down the ball until it is about 2 to 3 cm thick
9. Cut out the scone shapes with a glass and place the shapes onto a floured baking tray.
10. Once you have finished cutting out the shapes, roll up the remaining dough into a ball and repeat the process until all used up.
11. If desired, paint the top of the raw scones with milk or beaten egg to create a glazed top.
12. Place in the hot oven for about 9 – 10 minutes until risen and golden brown. Check that the base of the scone is also a nice brown.
13. Cool and the serve with some good quality jam and either clotted cream, whipped cream or butter.

Savoury variations:

Stilton and Walnut – 75g stilton and 50g chopped walnuts
Cheddar cheese and parsley – 100g mature cheddar cheese and two tablespoons parsley

Sweet variations: 
100g of dried fruits (sultanas) and candied fruits (glacé cherries, chopped)
80g of chocolate chips

Chive and cheddar savoury scones

A scone as light as a cloud

Orange cake, coffee cake, victoria sandwich, lemon drizzle cake, scones...all made in only few hours
Orange cake

If you want to treat yourself to a delicious afternoon tea in stunning surroundings, go to The Wolseley ( http://www.thewolseley.com) in London. Supposedly the perfect place to spot stars. I did not spot anybody famous the few times I went there, but it might be because their scones are so good that I could not help myself but eating them with my eyes shut?

Today, I know that it is actually a French thing to drink tea with your little finger in the air, I am as sarcastic as my British friends... I think I am "on the other side"!