Hot on the heels of the easy tuna melt pizza baguettes, this is based on another offering from BBC Good Food magazine, only this one was chosen by the Other Half. The choice was a bit of a curveball really, since he doesn’t like couscous, but I do, and since he was willing to give it a go, I kept schtum and got on with it. I assumed it was something about the taste, or perhaps lack thereof, that wasn’t appreciated, as couscous can be quite bland. Not that this is a bad thing per se, since a comfortingly plain pile of starch is often the ideal side to something that could be described as hearty, or spicy, or both, like this stew. And by all means, you could serve this with mashed potato, or plain rice, for me brown basmati, but whatever works for you.
So if the plain-ness was the issue, this recipe might solve it, since the couscous is not steamed or soaked separately and then the stew ladled on, but is just added directly to the pot with the spiced chicken, vegetables and sauce and allowed to swell and get tender, absorbing the flavours of the dish. This was a real revelation to me – I had never thought about cooking the couscous like this before. Don’t know why, since really it’s like making a jambalaya with rice, which I have done countless times. Anyway, it was good, (although a little too lemon-y first time round, hence below suggesting you just add half of the lemon juice and taste before adding more) and we agreed the flavours were good. But he doesn’t want it again. Turns out it was the texture of the couscous that he doesn’t like. At least I tried, and I’d definitely make this again, either for myself to take to work for lunch over a few days, or for us both, minus the couscous and with alternative carbs.
Adapted from BBC Good Food August 2011
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 red onions, halved and then sliced
2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm dice
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
zest and juice of a lemon
two good handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
small handful of freshly chopped coriander
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole or pan with a lid over a lowish heat. Add the chilli, garlic, spices and onions, give everything a good stir, and cook gently for around 10 minutes until the onions are soft and everything smells good, stirring every now and again. Add the chicken and brown it for a few minutes, and then add the cubed squash, giving everything another stir, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes, fill each tin half full with water, swill it around and add to the pan as well. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat, put on the lid and let it simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the squash is just tender. Add the lemon zest, and half of the juice, stir in and check to see if it needs it before adding the other half. Season, stir through the cherry tomatoes and couscous, put the lid back on and turn off the heat. Leave the pan on the hob for 10 minutes. Once the couscous is done, stir through the coriander and serve.
I knew I wanted to make these when I saw them whilst flicking through my monthly food mags. Perhaps it was nostalgia that sucked me in, a memory of frozen ‘French bread pizza’ for dinner growing up. More likely, it was knowing that this was a really simple idea for an easy weeknight dinner, the sort of dinner you can put together quickly on one of those days when time seems to have gotten away from you, or a long and frantic day at the office leaves you bereft of energy for a full-on kitchen session when you get home.
The original recipe comes from BBC Good Food Magazine, one of the food mags I subscribe to and cook from quite a bit. I’ve tweaked a bit, adding onion – canned tuna and cheese need onion (and usually mayo too) – and although the intention here is never to be prescriptive – you, after all, know what you like on a pizza – the flavours here are good, and they work well together. Generally, I wouldn’t use tomato puree as the sauce part of a pizza, its flavour is too strong, but here it works. Maybe because there’s not much, and the bold flavours of the other toppings help out. A smearing of red pesto, from a jar, might be nice in its stead. The use of partially cooked baguettes as the base is what really makes these quick and easy, and it also means you get a thick, crunchy crust which complements the soft melting topping perfectly.
Adapted from BBC Good Food, August 2011
2 part-baked baguettes
1 red pepper
1 smallish red onion
200g tin sweetcorn, drained
200g tin tuna, drained
100g mature cheddar, grated
4 tbsp tomato puree
Heat the oven to 190C / 170C fan. Slice the baguettes, as yet unbaked, in half lengthways. Once the oven is hot, cook them directly on the oven shelf for 8 minutes. While they’re baking, dice the red pepper and onion, and mix them in a bowl with the sweetcorn, tuna and about three quarters of the grated cheese.
At the end of their cooking time, carefully place the baguettes onto a baking tray. Spread each half with a tablespoon of tomato puree, and then divide the tuna mix over them. Sprinkle the baguettes with the remaining cheddar, and place back in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes until the cheese has melted, the bread is golden and the onions are starting to caramelise just a little. If you want something alongside, a simple salad would be good.
This delicious, savoury take on tarte tatin came about for two reasons. Firstly, I was pleased with my recent trad-tatin in all its caramel and apple glory, and had seen a couple of different tomato versions around the web I wanted to try next. Secondly, as is often the reason for trying out a new recipe, I had something languishing in the freezer in need of being used, namely a sheet of frozen puff pastry.
Oven roasting tomatoes seems to do something magical to them. Their flavour gets better, sweeter and more intense, and in fact cooking them like this can make a difference to even the most pallid and apparently flavourless supermarket tomato. Here, the sticky sweetness and balsamic tang of the caramelised onions is a near perfect pairing. The tomatoes will give up a lot of liquid as they cook, so the resulting tarte has a flaky, crispy outside edge, whereas the pastry in the middle is melting and delicious with the sweet juices. This likely means it won’t turn out perfectly from the pan after you take it from the oven, as you might be able to tell from my pictures, but all you need to do is rearrange any dislodged tomatoes. It tastes good, which matters far more. This would make a good starter, if you’re so inclined, but, along with a salad and expectations of pudding, will serve 4 as a main perfectly well.
1 sheet ready made puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
2 red onions, cut in half, sliced into half moons and then separated out into strands
2 teaspoons sugar
a knob of butter
1 clove of garlic
4 large tomatoes and a handful a smaller ones (I used some small, but not baby, plum tomatoes, fat and perhaps an inch long)
handful chopped fresh basil, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan. In a 25cm-ish pan that you can use on the hob and in the oven (a shallow, flamesafe casserole or a frying pan with an ovenproof handle), add about a tablespoon of oil and gently cook the onions over a medium heat, stirring regularly, until soft and golden. This will take about ten minutes. Add a teaspoon of the sugar and stir to dissolve, and cook for another couple of minutes. Finally, add a good splash of balsamic vinegar, stir once more and cook for another minute. Empty the onions and any juices into a bowl and put to one side. Carefully wipe out the pan with a piece of kitchen towel.
While the onions are cooking, halve the large tomatoes. If your smaller tomatoes are very small – baby plums or cherries – leave them whole, otherwise halve these too. Once the onions are out of the pan and you have wiped it out, put it back over the heat, add the butter and another tablespoon of oil, and let the butter melt. Mince the garlic into the butter and oil, and add the other teaspoon of sugar, giving everything a good stir, and let it sizzle for just a minute. Place the large tomato halves into the butter, cut side down, and leave for thirty seconds. Then, fill in the gaps between the tomatoes with the smaller ones, again cut side down if halved. Leave for another thirty seconds and then remove from the heat. Tip the onions, including any juices, over the top of the tomatoes, spreading them out as you do.
From the puff pastry sheet, cut out a circle slightly larger than the pan. You may need to roll out the sheet a little more so it is big enough to cut out the circle in a single piece. Place the pastry over the top of the tomatoes and onions, tucking the excess down the sides. Place the dish onto a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
When you take the tarte out of the oven, carefully and using oven gloves, put a plate, large than the pan, over the top of the dish, and invert the whole thing leaving your tarte right-way-up on the plate. Scatter with the basil.
Home made pitta breads are a real treat, easy to make, and can be the base for a variety of snacks and meals. You don’t need any particular expertise or equipment, and in fact I make mine with my usual white bread recipe, which is always more tasty, more yeasty, for its overnight rise in the fridge. They puff up in the oven, so you can easily split them to make a pocket to fill with all manner of delicious things. I like them just with salad, or eaten with a meal, torn into pieces and used to mop up sauce. You can just dip them into houmous, or if you feel like something a little more energetic or exotic, some spicy lamb burgers or falafel would be good. In taste and texture, these are far better than some commercial offerings, flat dessicated rounds that are almost impossible to split neatly, although in appearance they may be a little rustic. I suspect this is rather down to my own impatience and consequent lack of dexterity, so your own breads may well be perfect rounds or ovals. Whether neat shapes or lumpy-bumpy almost-rounds like mine, you’ll be glad you made the effort.
500g strong white bread flour, preferably organic, plus more for kneading
1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon sugar (optional – I have just always added this)
2 teaspoons salt
1 glug good olive oil
300ml warm water
Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using, into a bowl. Add the oil then tip in the water and mix everything together with a butter knife or a wooden spoon. Try and get as much of the flour incorporated as you can. Flour your worktop, tip the contents of the bowl onto it, including any flour not worked into the dough, and knead for at least 10 minutes. As you’re kneading, you’ll feel the dough changing from a sticky, wet mixture into something smooth, far less sticky, and quite elastic – when you push the dough away from yourself, it will start to spring back.
Form the dough into a ball, and smear the inside of a large bowl with a little oil, spreading it up the sides. Drop in the ball of dough, turn it over so both top and bottom are lightly oiled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and whack in the fridge overnight, and for up to 24 hours. If you’re not going for the overnight route, leave your bowl in a warmish place, not in a draft, for an hour, maybe a little more. In both cases, it’s ready when it’s twice the size, or therabouts, it was before.
If you’ve left the dough in the fridge, get it out and let it warm a little, then remove the cling film and press the dough with your fingers until it deflates. Preheat the oven to 220C, and stick a large baking tray (or a baking stone) into the oven to get nice and hot. Knead the dough for just a minute, and then divide it into 12 pieces. I can never seem to get 12 even pieces, but think that adds to the rustic charm. The easiest way is to halve it, halve it again and then split each piece into three. If you want to be a little more precise, you can shape your dough into a sausage and cut 12 equal portions. Leave them to sit for 5 -10 minutes.
Depending on the size of your baking sheet, take three or four portions of the dough and roll them into ovals about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Place them onto the hot baking sheet, and bake for 5-10 minutes, until puffed and beginning to turn brown. How long they take really depends on your oven, as some, particularly fans, are more ferocious than others, even at the same temperature. Start checking at 5 minutes. While they’re cooking, roll out the next batch ready. When you take them out of the oven, immediately wrap them in a clean tea towel – this will trap the steam as the cool slightly, keeping them soft rather than crunchy, which you really don’t want.
Now, it wouldn’t be strictly correct to say that these were the result of a happy accident, but they were neither what I intended to make, nor did they turn out exactly how I expected them to. But that’s good, as were these – really good. The other half of the Danish pastry recipe I had made for my tarte tatin was calling to me from the depths of the freezer. I knew I wanted to use it up, and soon, and I had a vague idea that I wanted to make cinnamon rolls, of sorts, those spirals of pastry with a buttery cinnamon filling that go so well with an afternoon latte. So with this in mind, I first flicked through the ‘yeast’ section of Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess, from whence the original Danish pastry came, and these are heavily influenced by the Schnecken therein, combined with a few ideas from a quick Google of Cinnamon Roll. Finally, I had an idea in my head of what I wanted to end up with, including some pecan nuts for crunch.
You’ll notice there’s no cinnamon in either the name of these, or the recipe below. I absent mindedly forgot to include it when I first made these, intending to include it in the sugar and nut filling, and now I don’t want to change these, to take anything away from their, to my mind, sticky, buttery perfection. I was expecting a runnier caramel topping, but the result here was a rather pleasing hard caramel. Not teeth-shatteringly so, but crunchy nonetheless, and sticky too, which works really well with the soft, almost melting pastry beneath.
1/2 portion of this Danish pastry, thawed if previously frozen
For the caramel
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
7 tablespoons golden syrup
For the filling
50g caster sugar
50g demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan. First make what is going to become the sticky caramel topping. Beat the butter, preferably with the aid of machinery, until soft, light and airy. Beat in the sugar and golden syrup. Roughly chop the pecans into large pieces. Divide the butter mixture between the cups of a 12 hole muffin tin, and drop a couple of pecan pieces onto the top of the mixture in each.
Next, make the filling for the pastries. Melt the 25g butter and leave to one side. Blitz the pecans into a sandy rubble, and mix together with the two types of sugar.
On a well floured surface (and see the introduction to the Danish pastry post), roll out the dough into a rectangle around 50cm by 30cm, with the long edge facing you. Brush the surface of the pastry with the melted butter, and then sprinkle over the nutty-sugar filling, going right up to the edges. Now you want to roll up the pastry, rolling up the long edge, away from you, pressing down firmly enough so you end up with a not squashed but tightly rolled sausage. Slice this into 12 pieces, and pop a piece, cut side up, into each cup of the muffin tin, pushing it down a little into the butter and nuts. Put to one side for around 20 minutes or so, to let the rolls rise a little. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Meanwhile, line a baking tray, larger than the muffin tin, with foil or baking parchment.
Once the pastries are out of the oven, place the upside-down, parchment or foil lined tray over the muffin tin. Using oven gloves and a balance of caution and bravery, turn the whole thing upside-down, so that the muffin tin is now at the top of the pile, bottom up. Carefully lift off the muffin tin, leaving the rolls, now with their caramel-nut tops, on the lined tray. Spoon any nuts or caramel left in the muffin tin back over the rolls. Let them cool slightly, if you can manage it.
I’ve already touched a little on this tarte tatin in my post on Danish pastry, which is used as the base of this otherwise traditional French apple and caramel tarte. If you don’t know, the story goes that this tarte was invented by accident, starting off as apples cooking for an apple pie being overdone, and rescued by putting the pastry base on top of the apples in the pan, baking in the oven and being turned out onto a plate. You want to use firm eating apples here, rather than cooking apples which will disintegrate into a puree as you cook them. I used Granny Smith, which I think work well here as its slightly acidic taste counters the sweet, buttery caramel somewhat.
This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess, and the adapting, really, was just making this a little easier, for me, resulting in a slightly more ramshackle, homespun looking tarte. That is to say, the recipe calls for halved and cored apples, arranged fairly neatly, hump side down in the pan, and thus gleaming, hump side up in the plated tarte. I like to use my all in one apple-corer-and-wedger (and I’m not one, really, for single-application kitchen gadgets, but this is one labour-saver I’ll make an exception for) which divides each fruit into eight perfect segments and removes the core at the same time, so I ended up with apple slices, rather than halves. A quick internet search will show you that the popular way of presenting a tarte tatin made with sliced apples involves arranged the apple slices neatly in a spiral or concentric circles. This seems like far too much effort for the same end result, taste wise, and also, despite slightly enjoying the element of danger inherent in upturning the hot tatin, scalding caramel and all, onto a serving plate, arranging the slices individually in bubbling sugar is where I draw the line.
You will need a suitable dish in which to cook the tatin, one that you can use to make caramel and cook the apples on the hob, and then, once enrobed with pastry, use in the oven, of somewhere between 22 and 28 cm in diameter. I use a flame-safe shallow casserole, which is approximately 25cm across, or you could use a similarly proportioned frying pan with a handle that can go in the oven. You could, naturally, use a tarte tatin dish if you possess one.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess
100g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
Enough apples to cover the base of your pan in a single layer once sliced how you want them – as a guide, I used 6 medium-sized Granny Smiths
a half portion of this Danish pastry recipe, thawed if previously frozen
Preheat the oven to 200C and put a baking sheet in to heat up with the oven. On the hob, melt the butter in whatever dish you are using, and then add the sugar. When it starts foaming, carefully add the apples, pushing them around with a spatula to try and get them in a more or less single layer. Cook on a high heat until the butter-sugar sauce is a golden caramel colour, and the apples have softened. Take the pan off of the heat and leave the stand for 10 minutes.
While the apples are standing, roll out the pastry on a floured surface (and see the introduction of the Danish pastry post), quite thinly, into a circle large enough to fit the top of the dish with an overhang of a couple of centimetres. Transfer it to the dish, laying it on top of the apples and carefully tucking the edges down the sides of the apples. Place the dish onto the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, definitely checking at 20, until the pastry is golden brown and the caramel is bubbling.
Take the dish out of the oven, and do this next bit with care and definitely oven gloves: place a large plate on top of the dish, and turn the whole thing the other way up. Carefully put it down, and then remove the dish, leaving your tarte right way up on the plate. Place any apple pieces stuck to the dish back into the tarte, and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Welcome to the first of at least three rambling posts on the joy of Danish pastry. This first is the introduction, providing you with the instructions for making the pastry itself, which you can subsequently turn into all manner of delicious things. You might not need me to tell you that Danish pastries are good, although admittedly they are one of my weaknesses and so I’m somewhat biased (case in point – long weekends in Paris ignoring the no doubt wonderful restaurants on offer and gorging myself on only bread, pastries and patisserie), but I had never intended to make them. So this is the story of how I made my first batch of Danish pastry, followed soon by the story of how I made my first delicious but probably not a bona-fide Danish Danish.
So, I had friends coming over for dinner. Friends For Dinner is where many of my more extravagant adventures in Rupert’s kitchen begin, by which I do not mean fantastic, multiple-course fancy meals (dinner is always relaxed and informal) but that cooking for a larger number than two simply means I can make something with a whole pack of butter in and not reckon on eating half of it myself. Anyhow, I digress. I got it into my head that I wanted to make a tarte tatin. I started with my usual go-to for baking something new, Nigella’s ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess’ and found the recipe. Unusually (or perhaps not, it’s my first) this tarte used Danish pastry as its base, and an easy, processor-made pastry at that. The best part – the recipe makes twice as much as you need for the tarte, and the other half can be frozen for a later date. So this is how I ended up making my first batch of Danish pastry. Perhaps I thought Danish would be challenging, I’d never considered trying it before, but this method is easy, and, perhaps to reassure purists (in the sense that I suppose Danish has been around longer than processors), not only does this come via Nigella, but she cites her own sources as Beatrice Ojakangas via Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Julia. How’s that for provenance?
It’s easy to make, but be warned, when I refer in the recipe to the resulting gooey mess, gooey mess it is – it’s really sticky, perhaps not the easiest to work with (please don’t let that put you off, it’s so worth it), and you’ll need a lot of flour to roll it out with, whilst at the same time trying not to incorporate the extra flour into the dough. For proof, and to stop you thinking it’s not working, see the photographic evidence (and apologies for the quality of this particular picture) – if you have a sticky, lumpy mess and it looks like it’s all gone wrong, it’s perfect. Well done. Below is the recipe for the pastry, and coming shortly will be the tarte tatin, followed by the most amazing sticky-caramel-pecan Danish pastries. Yum.
From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess
60ml warm water
125ml milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
350g strong white bread flour
1 sachet (7g) easy-blend dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
25g caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2cm slices
Beat together the water, milk and egg in a jug. Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the processor and briefly pulse just to mix it up. Drop in the butter, and process briefly to chop up the butter. Don’t overdo it, you’re aiming for visible, 1cm chunks of butter rather than completely cutting the butter into the flour as with normal pastry. Tip the lot into a large bowl and pour over the milky egg mixture. Fold the ingredients together, but not too much – just until the flour is incorporated well. At this point, you should have the gooey mess, with accompanying lumps of butter, discussed and pictured above. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, your gooey mess is ready to become pastry. Let it get to roo temperature, generously flour a surface (and see introduction) and roll it out to a 50cm square. Fold it into thirds. Nigella says like folding a business letter, and I can’t think of a better example, so let’s go with that. Lift the right hand edge and fold the first third, followed by the left hand edge, so you have a three layer rectangle, still 50cm long but now only a third the width. Roll back out to a 50cm square, and repeat the whole process three times. After this, cut it in half, wrap both pieces in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, and up to 4 days if you like. If you aren’t using both pieces right away, wrap the second in two layers of clingfilm, place it in a freezer bag, and freeze for a later date. You’ll need to defrost it thoroughly before using.
Bolognese is probably one of the first meals I cooked. I don’t knwo that it would be right to say that I learned to cook bolognese, as I don’t recall finding and following a particular recipe from way back when, but do remember early experiments with mince, chopped tomatoes and onions trying to recreate what I knew, in my head, the end result should be. The way I make it has constantly evolved, up until the current version, below, with tweaking after something I’ve read, a new recipe in a magazine perhaps, or more likely because of something in the fridge that needed using up. Like all good recipes, it’s not set in stone, and don’t feel you should follow the instructions to the letter. Add mushrooms if you like, or use a glass of red wine in place of the marsala. I was about to type ‘I’m not convinced this is an authentic version, not exactly like something you might get served up in Bologna’, but actually, so many people cook this in so many different ways, I don’t think it really matters. Do what works for you, telling yourself that delicious beats authentic every time if it makes you feel better. A final note, on a personal choice, I much prefer linguine to spaghetti (despite this usually, and strangely unattractively, still being referred to as Spag-Bol in Rupert’s kitchen). Don’t know why, just the way it is. Perhaps because it’s meatier, or seems to hold the sauce better, and on that note, a good quality, bronze-dyed pasta has a much better texture than the bog-standard stuff, and will cling to your sauce well. Whatever you choose, allow 75 – 100g pasta per person, plunged into well-salted, boiling water and cooked for the time given on the packet. But do start testing it a minute or two before the end of that time, as often the instructions over-estimate how long it will take to get perfect pasta with a little bite.
2 sticks celery
2 cloves garlic
70g diced pancetta
1 red pepper
500g good quality, preferably organic, beef mince
a splash of marsala
2 tablespoons organic tomato puree
2 400g tins organic chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
a couple of bay leaves
a splash of balsamic vinegar
pasta, 75 – 100g uncooked weight per person (and see introduction), Parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves, if desired, to serve
Peel the carrots and chop both them and the celery sticks into a couple of large pieces. Process them, along with the two garlic cloves, peeled, until you have a finely chopped, almost-mush. (Alternatively, chop them as small as you can be bothered.) This adds both sweetness and flavour to the final sauce, and helps it to be nice and thick. (If you like, you can include the onions in this mush, but I prefer them chunkier, adding, along with the red pepper, texture to the sauce.) Heat a little oil in a large pan, add the carrot-celery-garlic mixture and gently soften, stirring occassionally, over a low heat. Meanwhile, peel and dice the onions, de-seed and dice the pepper, and add them to the pan along with the pancetta, increasing the heat a little. Keeping everything moving, you’re aiming to soften the onion and at the same time fry the pancetta, which will render its fat and make everything delicious. Once you’re happy and things are smelling good, add the mince to the pan and brown it, breaking up any lumps with your chosen implement.
Add a good splash of marsala, letting it bubble for a minute, before adding the tomato puree. Give everything another good stir. You want the tomato puree to almost dissolve into the rest of the ingredients, rather than settling in lumps, and at the same time let it cook for a minute or two. Add the chopped tomatoes, swilling each tin out with a little water and adding this too. Stir in the dried herbs, push in the bay leaves, let it come to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, stick a lid on it and let it quietly and slowly bubble away. Leave it to do its thing for at least half an hour, but, with the occassional stir, it will be happy for longer, a couple of hours even.
When you’re ready to eat, stir in the balsamic and let it simmer for a minute more. Spoon over hot pasta, adorning with the cheese, fresh basil leaves, both or neither. Enjoy!
Serves 4 – 6
I’m sure that as I add more recipes for puddings to this blog, I’ll describe many of them as my favourite, but truly, The Pav is right up there. The killer combination of meringue, lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit screams summer, although, this would equally brighten a table on the coldest of winter days. Of course, to be The Perfect Pav, each element has to be right (but don’t worry, it’s not difficult – mainly whisking followed by a bit of an assembly job). The meringue should have a crisp shell, with a squidgy, marshmallow-like interior, topped with silky, softly whipped cream and crowned with glorious fruit.
Here, the traditional combination is meddled with slightly. I’ve added some vanilla and sugar to my cream, and the strawberries are macerated (that is to say, left to sit) with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar (stay with me), which not only brings out their flavour (and by all means skip this step if you have really good, ripe strawberries, but consider it mandatory for flavourless supermarket imports) but makes their red redder. Finally, I’ve added some toasted almonds for a bit of crunch.
Making the meringue is the most time consuming bit, simply because you need to cook it, or rather dry it out, in a relatively low and then cooling, switched off oven to achieve the desired texture. I don’t worry too much about its appearance, simply because without fail, my meringue always sinks a little and cracks, sometimes quite drastically. When it comes to the assembly stage, I use the cream as a sort of delicious mortar to stick it back together again, and then pile more cream over the top to cover everything up. By the time you’ve added fruit, it will look magnificent, and even if it’s a little wonky, it still beats a solid, dusty, albeit perfectly swirled, shop-bought meringue shell. I’ve specified, with characteristic lack of restraint, 600ml double cream. You probably don’t need this much, but will need more than 300ml, the next commonly available sized container down, so if you’re opening a tub…
4 egg whites, at room temperature
250g caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
600ml double cream, and see above
2 tablespoons icing sugar
400g punnet strawberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
50g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan, and cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the baking tray you’re going to use to cook the meringue on. With an electric whisk, or a freestanding mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until you just have firm peaks. Still whisking, add the 250g caster sugar, a (large) spoonful at a time, making sure it’s fully incorporated before adding the next. As you add the sugar, the whites will become stiff and glossy. Once all of the sugar is incorporated, add the cornflour, white wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and give the mixture a final quick whisk to incorporate these final ingredients.
With a teaspoon, dab a little meringue in each corner of your baking tray and use it to glue the baking parchment into place. Pile the meringue onto the baking tray in an approximate circle, perhaps around 25cm across if you were to measure (and if it helps, you could draw a circle onto the underside of the baking parchment), and smooth the top and sides with a spatula. Place it into the oven and straight away reduce the temperature to 150C / 130C fan and cook for an hour. After an hour, switch off the oven (don’t open the door) and leave the meringue inside to get completely cold.
About an hour before you want to serve, hull and chop the strawberries – the smallest in half, the bigger ones smaller – and place in a bowl. Spoon over the tablespoon of caster and balsamic, give it a quick stir, and leave in the fridge to get juicy, red and delicious. Next, toast the almonds. Heat a frying pan over a medium flame, and without adding any oil, tip the almonds into the pan. Keep the almonds moving until they start to turn golden and smell toasted and delicious (and don’t leave them alone, they’ll turn from toasted to burnt in mere seconds), and tip onto a waiting plate to stop them toasting any further.
You can whip the cream and top the meringue with it now, or when you’re just about ready to serve. In either case, whisk until firm, but still creamy rather than dry, adding the icing sugar and final teaspoon of vanilla as you do so. Once you’re ready to assemble, place the meringue onto a plate and pile on the cream. Spoon over the strawberries, and their delicious juices, and finally sprinkle with the toasted almonds. You could easily serve 8 with this, and generously so.
I love home made bread, and unashamedly so. When you tell people this (for it naturally comes up often in conversation!), some people do look at you as though you are a little off your rocker, and let you know that it must be difficult, or time consuming, or both. And anyway, why would you bother when you can now buy such good bread? Well, it isn’t really too difficult, and actually not time consuming either. Sure, you don’t get instant results, but for much of the time it takes to make your own bread, it is doing its own thing and you can be doing yours. The benefits too are twofold. Firstly, much of the pleasure is in the making, the process of producing your loaf, mostly in the quiet, almost therapeutic kneading, but also of course in the aroma of a loaf baking in the oven filling the house. Secondly, in my opinion, there is little that beats thickly smeared salty butter melting onto a hunk of bread straight from the oven.
Most recipes for a basic white loaf are much of a muchness. A similar list of ingredients in similar quantities, and the method doesn’t vary much either. I generally go for the overnight rise, mixing and kneading the dough the night before I intend to bake the loaf, simply because it seems to me that this makes the process easier, less rushed. The result is generally also a more strongly flavoured, more ‘yeasty’ bread. Good flour makes a difference too, and if you can, it’s worth getting organic, although if this is the deal-breaker, then don’t let it put you off. And finally, for the kneading, I doubt my technique is anything like that of a professional baker! I generally stretch the dough by holding it down with the heel of one hand and pushing it away from me with the heel of the other, then fold or bring it back together, and repeat! Works for me. Get stuck in and have a go.
500g strong white bread flour, preferably organic, plus more for kneading
1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon sugar (optional – I have just always added this)
2 teaspoons salt
1 glug good olive oil
300ml warm water
Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using, into a bowl. Add the oil then tip in the water and mix everything together with a butter knife or a wooden spoon. Try and get as much of the flour incorporated as you can. At this stage, you’ll have a stringy, sticky dough in your bowl. Flour your worktop, tip the contents of the bowl onto it, including any flour not worked into the dough, and knead away, for at least 10 minutes. If you’ve got a freestanding mixer with a dough hook attachment, then you can let it knead for you, and it will probably only take about 5 minutes, but where’s the fun in that? As you’re kneading, you’ll feel the dough changing from a sticky, wet mixture into something smooth, far less sticky, and quite elastic – when you push the dough away from yourself, it will start to spring back.
Form the dough into a ball, and smear the inside of a large bowl with a little oil, spreading it up the sides. Drop in the ball of dough, turn it over so both top and bottom are lightly oiled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and whack in the fridge overnight. I’ve left dough for up to 24 hours, and never had a problem with it. If you’re not going for the overnight route, leave your bowl in a warmish place, not in a draft, for an hour, maybe a little more. In both cases, it’s ready when it’s twice the size, or therabouts, it was before.
If you’ve left the dough in the fridge, get it out and let it warm a little, then remove the cling film and press the dough with your fingers (or punch it with your fists!) until it deflates. Switch the oven on – 220C/200C fan -then knead the dough for just a minute. Form it into a ball (and don’t worry too much about this, however round my loaf goes into the oven, it always comes out looking slightly misshapen, or as I would have it, rustic and home made). Place the ball into a baking sheet, and generally I use one that is lightly floured, again more out of habit than reason, although I suppose it is notionally non-stick, cover loosely with clingfilm, and leave it for another half an hour to double in size again. Remove the clingfilm, and bake in the preheated oven for around 40 minutes. To see if it’s done, carefully lift up the load and wrap the bottom with your knuckles – if it sounds hollow, it’s done, if not, give it a few more minutes.
Once it’s out of the oven, you can do one of two things. For a crusty loaf, let it cool on a wire rack, and for a slightly softer crust, let it cool on it’s baking tray covered by a clean tea towel. The steam it gives off will keep it a little softer. Once cool, keep it in an airtight tin, and eat it as soon as possible. It won’t last as long as a shop-bought loaf. That’s a good thing, though.