Sunday, 31 January 2010

Treacle tart a la hairy

Yup the hairy bikers do treacle tart to. Its as lot less forbidding than Heston's recipe, taking up  a mere half page of text. The pastry is a lot less rich too. As you can see.
I'm only going to use half that butter, so its a much more standard pastry making procedure, cold hands cubed butter, 15 mins rubbing in. We also get to skip the fridge hokey-cokey that the tart bases required in the perfection recipe. In fact its even suggested you make the filling first to give it time to soak into the breadcrumbs properly.
The pastry came together ok, but didn't fill the house with the wonderful scents from the perfection pastry, but then it didn't cramp my hands & lurk in the fridge either. Also when the hairies say enough for a treacle tart to serve 6, they are much closer than Heston's mass catering effort. My friends & neighbours won't be pleased though. I was planning on leaving the golden syrup unaged, till I found the tin on the back of the shelf which had aged quite nicely on its own, in fact it had aged enough to separate. That's an easy thing to take care of, just heat the syrup & stir. Heating the syrup is usually wise anyway coaxing a full tin of cold syrup out into a bowl is a real chore. Remember to loosen the lid though or you'll have to duck.
The internet solved the breadcrumb problem quite neatly. Behold the mini-chop. Whilst my kitchen is in need of the TLC only a partial rebuild can supply this is very useful, taking up very little space and being on hand for choppy jobs at a moments notice. I expect as we head toward the warmer time of the year it'll be pressed in to making curry  pastes and the like.
The filling was really simple, using a bit of lemon zest, rather than buerre nuisette from last time. The whole lot went into one blind baked case and into a slow oven for half an hour.
Onward to the bit you've been waiting for.
As you can see the filling is denser & deeper than the perfection tart. The pastry is probably a little better made than the perfection pastry, but that might just be the fact its a more standard short crust. What you can't tell is that it's no where near as fragrant as the perfection tart. It tastes like treacle tart, good treacle tart. Unfortunately it can't really measure up to the gold standard that Heston sets. That said this is pretty easy to make, and not much more than 2-3 pounds worth of ingredients. The perfection tart costs more to make and requires a much larger time investment, but the results are worth while. Keep this one for quick entertaining (or cynically guests you are less fond of) and break out the perfection tart when you have prep time and really want to impress

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Smoked out

Following on from my MxMo experiments I found this post, being fond of Islays it gave me an idea. Hanging round in the globe o' booze there was the remnants of a half bottle of Caol ila. Infusing Lapsang into the whisky required a bit of tasting and tweaking. The result somehow flatten the iodine note from the ila & the astringency from the lapsang's pine smoke.

I took a sample to my favourite bar and we tried out a few ideas.

We used the whisky as a base, and then used some port to balance out the tannins, a bit of cherry syrup to balance the acidity and a splash of sweet vermouth to round out the body.

Up front was a smooth sweetness, the body was warm & round, but the entire drink was all about the finish, which was a massive blast of smoke. Smooth, sweet, fragrant smoke. Possibly this a one trick pony of a drink, but a whole bunch of ideas got discussed, and since there is more left, I think I'll try and put some of the ideas into practice.

Friday, 29 January 2010

MXMO round up

Its here, and makes some interesting reading. Some groan worthy punning names, some unusual ideas and some very good looking drinks.

If we are going on looks alone old town alchemy's iridescent has it. I might be trying my hand at one of those quite soon. They also went with a tea rinse, that's an idea I can get along with. I've given it a kind of try already. Not wanting to go to the length of making a cup of tea and then letting it cool enough to use I grabbed my earl grey gin and stirred up a very dry Martini, Garnished with just a lemon twist, the bergamot comes through right at the end in a ghost of citrus way.

Best/worst pun has to go to Kick my Assam, and I'm intrigued by the daiquiri stylings of  tea with Hemmingway.

If I've not mentioned you sorry but thanks go to everyone involved.

Tomorrow there should be something more foodie, but I'll be back on the cocktails over the weekend too as I've been inspired.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Crumpets v Pikelets take two

The last lot of Crumpets using the Hairy Biker recipe where good, they just weren't good enough. The purpose of crumpets (and pikelets) is to form a toasty matrix for holding molten butter. It turns out that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a recipe (well more a sermon on tea-time treats). I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Thats the batter there, after the yeast has done it's work. The batter is a lot thinner this time round, more the texture of thin cream than the doughier batter of the Hairy recipe. Time to heat the skillet and find out what goes on. Hugh Suggests a test crumpet, which by tradition wil be sacrificed to Chef's privilege so I'm all in favour.

I was a touch sloppy getting all the batter into the crumpet ring, but the 2 important points are on display, 1 bubbles, and bubbles make holes, which is why we are making crumpets in the first place. 2 the batter is staying in the ring, its not oozing out of the bottom, so we've got the correct proportions. What follows is about an hour with the skillet & crumpet rings, but Hugh insists that pikelets are just flat crumpets (a position I've opposed for a long time, but since I've failed to find any evidence to back up my stance, I'm reluctantly agreeing with Hugh & others). This does though mean that I can get a nice system running where I alternate between crumpets & pikelets & get to clean the crumpet rings without wasting gas.

Well here they are pikelets, the store bought ones of my youth were actually a bit more circular & a little less rustic than these. Even so there is a good deal of promise being shown. At this point, if you've never enjoyed crumpets or pikelets you are probably asking yourself "Why is he so worked up about this ?". Well, pikelets have a different mouth feel to crumpets (in my opinion a superior one) that these experiments lead me to believe is due to their thickness. In both its possible for a hole to extend through the entire depth, of course with crumpets being several centimetres high, its unlikely, pikelets however are more in the order of millimetres thick, so it becomes highly likely, and when done right the majority of holes reaches the thin batter base. This provides for a much stickier eating experience, with pikelets trapping more molten butter. Here as inspiration is the bounteous harvest of teatime goodness

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The humble potato

I love potatoes, roast are the very best, but baked are pretty high up on the list.
I have 2 top tips from cooks I trust. Heston recommends you oil the skin, this prevents the potato drying out. Nigel Slater recommends you give the potato a good karate chop on removing it from the oven, this allow the steam to escape in a rush fluffing your potato up. Anyone with any sense then works a good quality of butter in to the flesh. You can remove it all, mash it with butter and put it back into the skins, or you can just mash it in place. After that you can add the fillings of your choice.

They need to be cooked in an oven or a fire, either will do, it'll take about an hour, you can do what you like in that time (Today I took part in a readathon) after all the potato isn't going anywhere. Some argue this takes to long and use a microwave, I'd disagree, it tastes better the slow way.

A life of its own

The mixology monday tea theme has taken on a life of its own, in two seperate directions.
The obvious one is with tea infusions, I've been twiddling with the Lapsang & the smokier whiskies (mainly the islays (Its not heresy, its science)) and seem to have come up with a winning combo in the Caol ila and an hours infusion of the lapsang. It changes the colour of the malt from very pale to a deep amber, and at the same time smooths it out, you get big smoke up front and then a smooth finish with the sea notes that islays are famous for.

The less obvious one is boosting sections of the flavour profile, I'm restricting myself to florals at the moment, mainly because I really like them. This isn't going so well, here is the story of a failure.

The manhatten is a traditional whisky cocktail, and seemed right for what I was planning, a quick search of my bottles and a couple of questions to the web suggested that Glenfiddich might be a place to start. There are a few things I make at home as ingredients. Lavender syrup because I need some way of keeping it in check in the garden. Flavoured vodkas (I use boru, its 5x filtered and gives a nice clean base) usually fruits but also vanilla.Glenfiddich has vanilla & lavender notes, so this all seemed ideal.

Its not. The result whilst not undrinkable is an overpowering burn of alcohol, which when finished really doesn't leave anything you'd call flavour behind. I'll keep going though and hopefully some thing will drop out.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tea for two

Ok this is my first stab at mixology monday. This time round the host is cocktail virgin with a theme of tea. Whilst I do enjoy the Capt Picard (A martini of Earl Grey infused gin, with a touch of lemon juice) I wanted to do something different. I have a bit of an odd relationship with tea, possibly due to an unfortunate encounter with Bewley's Breakfast blend brewed terrifyingly strong at an early age. I do however like that most maligned of teas Lapsang Souchong. I also like whiskey (& whisky) I tend to go for the big smokey blends, in fact the more it tastes as if it was wrung out of a peat sod the more likely I am to give it shelf space.

Oban is a place I visited a few times and they make a fine malt, that sometimes gets called an island due to the saltiness of having you distillery on the sea front. The tasting notes for the Oban are smoke,honey,salt,orange in no particular order. This and a recent reading of Embury gave me an idea, could I boost the flavours & smooth out the alcohol ?

Ingredients, The Oban 14yr old, its quite easy to find as its one of "the six classic malts". I find it a gentle whisky that won't really offend or scare anyone. A medium lapsang (this is actually from a Dutch tea merchant :- Simon Levelt ,who als supplied the smoked Earl Grey for the Picard). Some local honey. Hoppe's orange bitters.Finally some good sea salt (I think this is Kosher salt for US readers).

Since  I drink a fair amount of loose tea I have tea filters (DIY tea bags) around, that makes the infusion a bit easier. The colour of the Oban doesn't really change dramatically during the infusion, so keep an eye (and a taste on it, we don't want it to get bitter). The lapsang and the Oban go well together the earthy lapsang is up at the front, the whisky filling in the body behind, but still on the fierce side. How though would it be best to bring it together. My first thought was a Manhattan variation, since it's a versatile classic, but I was worried the vermouth would overpower the notes I wanted. Then it dawned on me, bitters, sugar & whisky, that is an old-fashioned.

Tea for two a modern twist on an old fashioned.
A couple of flakes of sea salt go in the bottom of your glass (I couldn't resist the glass tea cups, sorry). (as an aside, I'm quite sensitive to salt, you might want to up to maybe a half pinch) Put a half bar spoon of honey in & then add a couple of spoons of orange bitters, stir/muddle the salt & honey into the bitters, splash in some of the tea infused whisky & a couple-3 ice cubes. Stir/muddle till everything is dissolved. Add more whisky to the depth you or your drinkers enjoy, stir a bit more and then remove the ice cubes. Put a fresh ice cube into each glass, pare off a bit of orange zest and then squeeze (flame if you like or are trying to impress) to get the oils onto the surface of the drink, and drop into the glass as decoration.

What you should get is a boosted Oban that is smoothed out and notched back from its usual fierceness.

Monday, 18 January 2010


Left over egg whites & lemon juice tend to focus the mind of the cocktail afficionado on the drink cabinet. A quick scan of the literature gave Harry Craddock's rattlesnake, the Savoy book gives the quantities for 6. In my glasses it came to 4.


4 parts whiskey
2 parts sweetened lemon juice
2 egg whites
1 barspoon absinthe

Ends up as a smooth dry cocktail that went suprisingly well with the treacle tart

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Treacle tart a la Blumenthal

Probably the first thing you heard about Heston Blumenthal was "snail porridge" or "bacon & egg ice cream". They are both great dishes, but to the man in the street it seems more shock & awe than cooking. So a couple of years back when the BBC commissioned "In search of perfection" I tuned in. The first thing I saw was his treacle tart program. Him & his research chefs made a vast array of syrups, from scratch and then tasted them and came to the conclusion that "The one in the familiar green tin"1 was the best. That pretty much sealed my fate, after all how many 3 star chefs after experiment say buy the ingredient from the local co-op !

So when I got the book of the series I enjoyed reading it and started to look for a recipe I could give a reasonable go to, after the burgers the tart looked like a good bet, I was aware that some step would be given in an offhand manner, which to the home cook would take hair-pulling, teeth gnashing fury. I didn't expect it quite so early though. Here are the pastry ingredients.
 Yes that is a lot of butter & its about to cause me some grief & the most work of the entire recipe. The pastry is 400g of plain flour & 400g of unsalted butter (yup co-op's finest there). The recipe gliby says "you may have to add the butter in batches" The reality is you absolutely have to add the butter in batches, rubbing it in is going to take an hour or so, keep ice water to hand so you don't overwork the pastry. Once you got it down to bread crumbs you make it even richer with icing sugar, 2 yolks, 1 egg, the zest of a lemon and the seeds of a vanilla pod.

It seemed quite sticky at this stage, but prior to letting it rest in the fridge (for at least 3 hours, making my fingers thankful) I weighed it. 1.1 kg of pastry, and a vanilla & lemon scented kitchen. Good stuff. Only 2/3rds of this monstrous ball of pastry are going to be used according to the book, but that's not how it happened in my kitchen. The next issue was breadcrumbs, they are horrifically difficult to make by hand, in fact so difficult I had to go and cadge some food processor time off my neighbour. Back to the now rested pastry time to roll it out. The recipe tells you to do this between floured sheets of greaseproof paper which does make life a little easier, I'm sure I seen another TV chef credit Heston with this, but it seems a bit unlikely. Rolled out dropped into a buttered flan dish /tart plate (or in my kitchen 2 medium ones) and back to the fridge, this is some well rested laid back pastry. Half an hour later its back out the fridge, prick over the base, load up with greaseproof and baking beans (or whatever you use (HB suggests coins)) and take it back to the fridge for another rest. Time to pre-heat the oven. Once that's happened & the pastry has rested (30mins later) in go the tart cases to bake blind.

Lets have a look at the filling. Ok eggs & cream, then salt & vanilla. Quickly whip up a buerre noisette.strain & filter it and put it in a pan with your 2 tins of golden syrup (that's just under a kilo of refined sugar goodness ( A quick aside, treacle tart is even in its meanest incarnations a rich dish, if you are counting calories, don't make this)).
The heated syrup is a lot easier to work with than cold syrup.

This gets combined with the bread crumbs, some lemon zest & juice and the  egg & cream mixture. This then gets transferred to a jug to fill the tart case(s). There is a puzzling instruction at this point. "Fill the case with 2/3rds of the mixture transfer to the oven & then pour in the remaining mixture" The quicker witted amongst you will know why, I found out. Its so you don't slosh treacle mix everywhere. Time to relax while a nice slow oven works its magic on the treacle mix. An hour later and viola a treacle tart, or maybe 2. Having had little luck getting dry ice, I skipped the ice-cream, made a cocktail out of the egg whites & lemon juice and sat down with the neighbours (only fair since they lent me the food processor) and dug into still warm tart.

Oops, didn't quite get the pastry flat, but its vanilla/lemon scented goodness lifts the tart beyond the mundane, before you get anywhere near the filing. As you can see there is a crust over sticky goo, this is exactly how treacle tart should be. The top is on the edge of crunchy, and not dry in the slightest. Is it perfect ? Well with the burgers its very difficult to find a good burger in these parts, treacle tart however is easier, and I've eaten my fair share. From WI tart to corner bakery varieties, from cheap no frills to taste the difference. This is the best, everything about it is right, when I make it again, I'll be using slightly more chopped lemon zest, but that's about it. Oh yes the quantities, Heston does overshoot, and I can see several reasons why. The book says 8-10 portions. I'd say its more like 12 & then you can use the spare pastry & treacle mix to make individual tarts for deserving co workers.

To see more photos go here
The cocktail recipe will appear shortly
1 For those of you unfamiliar with the BBC they have to be quite careful about brand names, the tin in question is the familiar (to most of the UK)  green Tate & Lyle golden syrup tin. Yes that is a dead lion, and no those are bees not flies.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The great pikelet conumdrum

Having successfully made crumpets I turned my thoughts to that great childhood favourite the pikelet.

My memory seemed to think that in amongst the family cookbooks was a recipe that suggested there was a fundamental difference between the two. Time to consult the internet (it's reasonably well indexed, so you can work back to accurate).

Disaster ! 

It seems the word pikelet covers a whole host of delicious toastery snacks. The Welsh seem to thing its a kind of drop scone, some people think its another word for crumpet and the Australians seem to think something else again. So I'm talking about a thing that's been  griddled has holes in the top (like a crumpet) but is under about 5mm thick. General opinion is that they are just crumpets made without crumpet rings. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is in this camp, but interestingly he adds more flour to the pikelet batter,I think that will do for me.

So once this snow/freeze lets up and my kitchen is more amenable to yeast I'll have another stab, maybe tweaking the crumpet recipe a little and trying to pikelet some of them.

Sunday, 10 January 2010


One thing the UK's food does that nobody else does is toasting. From plain bread to teacakes & the like we have a lovely range of toaster snacks. Crumpets must come up near the top, normaly I buy them but I saw a recipe on the TV and decided to give it a go. Crumpets are a leavened batter which is given a further bit of lift, poppiness by the addition of baking soda. You need a chef's ring or crumpet rings to put on your griddle or frying pan you get something like this :-

As you heat them they rise, and more importantly the bubbles burst up through the surface and you get the lovely butter holding matrix that makes crumpets great. Unfortunately I think mine may have suffered from the cold snap we are having which may have rendered the yeast a bit sluggish. They came out a bit less holey than expected.

The other side effect of the cold snap is I've needed to have a good fire blazing. I'm lucky enough to own 2 toasting forks and the farmshop had some quality butter. It was pretty sucessful but I think next time I'll find somewhere warmer for the dough to rise.

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Thursday, 7 January 2010


I was watching the hairy bikers new show the other night. It's all about family recipes, one of the problems they've had in collecting the recipes is that if they are handed down through the family there isn't much of an actual recipe. This got me thinking, I have a stack of recipe books, plus the internet, plus a couple of apps for smart devices but how do I actually use them ?

Nigel Slater & Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall tend to be goto books for meat cooking times . Jamie Oliver & Nigella Lawson (happy birthday for yesterday) for cakes & pastry. The Hairys, Heston and the Two fat ladies mainly provide inspiration. (Though I am making Heston's treacle tart, his recipes are very exact). McGee whilst not exactly a recipe book gets consulted when I'm trying new stuff as it provides information about the presence of ingredients. Then I know if I can leave them out, substitute them or have to stick with them, rather than trial & error.

Looking at several things I've posted, I don't give recipes, I'll occasionally link to one but in general, I'm all about some, or a pinch. Pastries, doughs, and batters I weigh out, Indian dishes I do use a recipe quite heavily to get the right proportions of the right spices.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

steak & kidney pudding

An English classic. One of those things is the way the word pudding is used in the English language, often it means dessert. However it has a host of savoury uses from Yorkshire puddings through to "The great chieftain o' the pudding race".
Steak & kidney pudding (known in some places as a "baby's head" (due to the soft spot on top)) is a steamed suet crust version of steak & kidney pie.

The suet crust recipe I used was based on delia Smith's
350g Self -raising flour
175g shredded beef suet  (you can  use  veggie suet, but it seems kinda pointless)
Cold water to mix.

Sift the flour & cut in the suet with a knife, when its well mixed  stir enough  water to make a sticky dough.  As usual its best to let the pastry rest. Butter a pudding basin & line it with the dough. You have a choice here, if you have 4-5 hours you can put you steak & kidney mix in raw, or if you only have a couple of hours quickly cooking as you would for steak & kidney pie works just as well. Once the pudding is full of steak & kidney put the lid on and press it well to the lining.

The big issue is that steak & kidney pudding is steamed so it needs to be carefully wrapped, a pudding cloth is traditional, but these days foil is usually used. It needs double wrapping and since its going to be steamed for at least a couple of hours taking the opportunity to create a lifting handle out of string. If you don't have a trivet a cheap ramekin will work. Stand the wrapped pudding on what ever it is you are using to keep the pudding off the bottom of the pan. Then pour boiling water in upto about 3/4 the way up your basin, put a lid on the pan and go find something to occupy yourself with whilst the pudding slowly fills your house with a delicious scent. Don't forget to make sure you don't boil dry.
 You did make the lifting string didn't you ? Only its really rather important at this point as you'll trying to wrestle out a slippy foil wrapped hemisphere that has been sat in steam for the past few hours. If you've done everything right you should have a steaming hot fluffy suet pudding. The next nerve wracking moment is getting it out of the basin, it was well buttered right ?

Using a butter knife to ease it out is kind of helpful. Opening the pudding should reward you with a blast of steam and a wondrous smell. As you can see I could have done with making a bit more gravy. Other than that though it was the proper taste of steak & kidney pudding.

The traditional accompaniment is chips (fries for our overseas readers) and peas (usually mushy). I went for the slightly healthier option of mash and a couple of types of veg.

All I can say is try it yourself, it is admittedly a bit more fiddly than a steak & kidney pie.  Mrs Beaton suggests the addition of a couple of oysters, thats a job for next time as the fishmonger was closed over Christmas & New Year

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The view from serendip

There was going to be a little break from cocktails, but then a recipe appeared on twitter, a recipe that looked fairly tasty.

So this is it, the Charlie Chaplin, or more correctly A Charlie Chaplin as I've found several variations on the net. This one is 4pts gin
2pts apricot brandy
1pt lemon juice

which blends well, giving a smooth strong drink, the lemon & apricot  mixing to balance each other, whilst the gin provides a strong base and underlying aromatic notes. Anyway thanks goes to forgotten bookmarks for bringing it to my attention, and who ever it was who wrote the recipe on an index card & left it in a book. Tonight's toast goes out to you, where ever you may be.

Hopefully there will be a bit more about food following this as I have at least a couple of things to talk about.


This under a couple of different names (there  have been several iterations) is one of the house cocktails at my favourite bar. It looks a bit like this.

This is one I made at home. The atomic-D is probably my 2nd favourite cocktail, so once I'd got to know the guys at the bar I asked about the recipe. I'm not putting it here as that wouldn't really be fair, here though are the ingredients, one of them is hiding. As you can see there is a fair amount that goes into it, not only that but some of the ingredients are a little tricky to source.

By a little tricky I mean you are going to need the internets, a credit card and a pile of patience. It's taken me about 3 months to assemble everything, but I wasn't trying extra hard (apart from one thing), with sufficient dedication you could probably go from scratch to everything in a month.
Actually making the cocktail isn't that hard, but the proportions need to be correct, I was slightly out with one thing and  you  easily tasted the error.
I'll be making it occasionally at home (it's a serious indulgence with high proof ingredients) and tweaking the recipe until its to my taste which will be more like the one at the bar

Friday, 1 January 2010

Haggis Fusion

I've been kicking around the idea of haggis stuffed ravioli for some time, especially with a whisky cream sauce.

Suddenly New Year's eve turned into a party, of a pot luck bring food & booze type. Was this it ? Had "Haggioli's" time come ? Unfortunately not, it was more a buffet affair than a seated job. However somebody had given me the Wagamama cook book for Christmas, what about Haggis gyoza ? The cook book suggested buying  gyoza  skins, but the internet provided a simple dough recipe. All systems were go.

A fine McSween's haggis was obtained and steamed as usual. The dough (just flour & water in a slightly sticky mix) was more elastic than I was used to but it got rolled & cut out. A teaspoon of haggis went into the centre, the discs were folded & sealed, time to cook.

Cooking gyoza provides an unexpected amount of excitement (a moment or two of carelessness could result in first degree excitement). First the pan is heated to smoking, then a splash of oil goes in. Quickly followed by 5-6 gyoza (they need a bit of  space) which get a couple of minutes browning. Then water is added (!) and a lid thrown over and they are taken off the heat to steam. I stacked them onto greaseproof paper (after testing one, it wouldn't do to poison one's guests) till the whole lot were done then put them in a very low oven in a foil covered dish to keep warm. Gyoza really need a dipping sauce, a quick think came up with this
1 measure scotch
1 dash Benedictine (any herbal liquer will do, Drambuie maybe better)
1/2 measure soy
1-2 dashes olive oil
mix it all up and pour into a small dish.

The gyoza are at their best hot, but perfectly nice cold. The sauce brings out the haggis nicely with the whisky & soy balancing each other whilst the pepperiness of the haggis comes through.

Haggis, its time for some fusion.