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Archive for the ‘desserts’ Category

Nectarine & blackberry cobbler

In desserts, late summer, summer, vegetarian on 16 March, 2013 at 12:55 pm

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(I first wrote this recipe for Urban Harvest – if you live in Wellington I recommend you check them out!)

Summer’s fast drawing to a close, but I wanted to share this recipe with you anyway in the off-chance you have the opportunity to get to the last of this season’s stonefruit. What a summer for stonefruit it’s been, too – I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like I’ve been eating my way through a mountain of perfectly ripe, incredibly juicy, sweet, dreamlike fruit. Peaches, nectarines, plums, yellow, purple and white, I’ve eaten them all. And with hardly any duds, either – you know how you sometimes get those peaches or nectarines that you bite into and immediately throw out because they’re just mushy, or mealy, or kind of dry and not-sweet? Yeah, hardly any of those. It’s been a really good summer.

It’s been a really good summer in other ways, too – lots of hot sunny days, more sea swimming (in frigid Cook Strait, no less!) than I’ve done in all 8 previous Wellington summers combined, learning to surf*, lots of general lazing about. I can’t even remember the last time it rained.** And I know, it’s officially autumn now, but the sun’s still shining and I’m still going for swims after work; I’m trapped in this glorious time-bubble thinking it’s still late January.

So it’s surprising to go to the supermarket and see that the berries have mostly disappeared, stonefruit is dwindling (or, at least, going up in price – a sign of diminishing supply), new season apples and pears have taken over the fruit section. So: before it’s too late, before I have to wait a whole 10 months to post this recipe again, here is this cobbler recipe I put together for the good folks at Urban Harvest.

Cobbler is great because it’s easy, it’s pretty (just look at those bright-coloured juices bubbling their way through the gaps in the scone-like topping), and it’s just different enough from the usual (in New Zealand) fruit crumble that it feels kind of special. And if you wait too long to make this and you’ve missed the stonefruit season, fear not: you can make this with pretty much any fruit, just as you would a crumble.

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NECTARINE & BLACKBERRY COBBLER
For the filling:
8 nectarines (approximately 800g whole)
250g blackberries
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
For the topping:
150g flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
75g butter, cut into small chunks
2/3 cup unsweetened yoghurt
demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 190C.
First prepare the filling: peel the nectarines (to peel easily, blanch in boiling water for about 45 seconds then plunge in cold water before peeling) and slice into wedges. Combine nectarine wedges with blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and set aside.
For the topping, sift together all dry ingredients, then rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers, until you reach a crumbly, sand-like consistency. Mix in the yoghurt until you get a soft dough.
Put the fruit into an ovenproof baking dish. Tear off bite-sized chunks of dough and place on top of the filling. Sprinkle demerara sugar over the top.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling up at the sides. Serve with ice cream, cream or yoghurt.
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*really poorly, but still!
**and, yes, now we’re in the middle of a pretty rough drought, and I know I shouldn’t be boasting about so much consecutive sun, but it’s so rare for Wellington that it still feels novel and exciting to me. Not so great for farms and vegetable gardens though.

spiced peach pie

In baking, desserts, eating in, fruit, late summer, summer on 21 March, 2012 at 11:08 am

As a person who lives in an upstairs flat where the only outdoor space is a balcony just big enough for a couple pots of herbs (and maybe a tomato plant or two), I often find myself getting uncontrollably envious of people who have fruit trees in their gardens. 

It’s a heartbreaking feeling. Like the kid who really wants a puppy but whose brother is allergic: it just ain’t gonna happen. And while feeling this way might be a little irrational – there’s nothing really stopping me from moving to a place with, you know, maybe a lemon tree or feijoas or even nectarines or figs (I can dream!) – there is just no way, in the foreseeable future, that I’ll be able to stroll outside and pick a bagful of plums, or apples or whatever.*

A couple weeks ago, I visited my friend Harriet’s flat in Auckland, and though I didn’t get a chance to stroll around her garden – a combination of terrible weather and an incredibly full stomach after stuffing my face at Barilla Dumpling on Dominion Rd meant that all I wanted to do was stay inside and sit very, very still – I did get a chance to stroll into her kitchen and get smacked in the face by the sweet, heady aroma of vanilla and peach coming from a big pan of vanilla-flecked stewed peaches on the stove. Not just any peaches, mind you: peaches from the peach tree. In the garden. Just outside the window.

 

I couldn’t turn down the chance to sample some, despite the protestations of my full-to-bursting stomach (too many dumplings!). Jealousy sometimes makes you do funny things… or perhaps it was just a fear of missing out: how many of my friends have peach trees in their gardens, after all? In any case, I’m glad I gave in: they were meltingly tender, with that soft, mellow, vanilla-y sweetness that was faintly reminiscent (though a hundred times better) than the canned peach memories of my childhood.

 

And when I returned to Wellington, I couldn’t get those peaches off my mind. What also came to mind was the addition of some spices – Harriet and her flatmate had been talking about adding cloves to the mix, though they didn’t in the end – and in the end, I dreamed up this somewhat-rustic pie, with a sugar-studded golden crust and filled with sweet, cardamom- and clove-spiced stewed peaches.

It’s a little bit more complex than standing over the kitchen sink eating a summer peach (juices dripping down your chin, arm, elbow, of course), a bit more grounded and earthier than, say, this or this. This is a peach pie for autumn.

So, before the peach window closes for the season I’d recommend you go and pick up some of the last of the early-autumn harvest and make this pie. And if you’re getting your peaches off a tree in your garden, please, don’t tell me about it. I’ll be too jealous!

 —

*Though thanks to my happy little herb garden I have lots and lots of sage, and mint, and thyme, and I have a couple pots of vegetables here and there which means I never have to buy spring onions, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty pleased about that.

 

SPICED PEACH PIE

First, prepare the pastry*:

280g flour
2 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
225g butter, very cold and cut into little pieces
4 – 8 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingers until the mixture is a grainy, pebbly consistency.

Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture, a couple tablespoons at a time, until the dough comes together but is not too sticky (you probably won’t need to use all 8 tablespoons). If you’ve added too much water, just add more flour. Divide the dough in half, roll into balls and cover with plastic wrap.

Chill for about 30 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling:

Cut up 8 peaches and put in a biggish pan with about 3/4 cup sugar (more or less to taste), a few cloves and cardamom pods (if you’re fussy about removing these you could to tie them up in a muslin cloth or something so you can take them out before filling the pie) and about a teaspoon of vanilla paste (a vanilla pod would also work well here, or even real vanilla extract, but if you only have the artificial stuff please leave it out – it’ll still be fine, I promise). Add a little bit of water – 1/2 cup or so should do – and bring to a simmer. Cook over a gentle heat until the fruit is soft and tender and your kitchen smells amazing.

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Roll out the two balls of pastry on a floured surface so that they’re big enough to fit into a pie dish. Line the pie dish with one of the pastry rounds and prick some holes in it with a fork. Bake for 10-15 minutes or so until it’s set a little and turns a pale golden colour.

Fill the pie with the stewed peaches (I added a couple teaspoons of cornflour/cornstarch to hold the fruit mixture together, as it was quite juicy) and top with the other rolled-out bit of pastry. Cut some holes in the top so the steam can escape. If you like, you can glaze the top with a bit of beaten egg and sprinkle some demerara sugar on top.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown. Let cool before serving.

*this is the same recipe I’ve used for the pear & feijoa crostata I made last year, and pretty much my go-to pie crust recipe – it’s adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book via this Serious Eats post.

cucumber & mint sorbet

In desserts, gluten free, sorbet, summer, sweets, vegan, vegetarian on 22 December, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m only repeating what everyone around me has been saying, but whoa. Where did this year go? I can’t believe we’re only three days out from Christmas. And finally, it seems, after a week of torrential rain and cloudy skies that weirdly got me really down and unmotivated to do anything Christmas-like, the sun’s out. And it looks like it’ll stay. Summer is here!

I’ll keep this post relatively short because I’m sitting barefoot in the grass on my lunch break, squintily typing away while not knowing exactly what’s going on the screen. But I really wanted to share this sorbet before Christmas, you know, just in case you need a couple more things to add to your to-make list (mine is, luckily, pretty light since I’m going to Christmas dinner at my relatives’ place). Yes, you can enjoy a sorbet anytime during the summer (and all year round, if you ask me) but I just had this fleeting thought that this cool green sorbet would be more somewhat Christms-appropriate served alongside a bowl of strawberries, or you know, something bright red and festive.

I’ve been wanting to make cucumber sorbet for a while (Laura of Hungry and Frozen made a luscious-looking cucumber-lychee one earlier this year) but it hasn’t really been a priority: I have a growing list of about 16 different frozen dessert flavour combinations I want to make, and cucumber-mint was just one of them.

But on Sunday I found myself at the market clutching my last 50-cent piece, wondering if I could get one more thing. And then I realised I was standing directly in front of a box of 50-cent cucumbers. And I remembered cucumber-mint on my sorbet list, and my mint plant was getting pretty bushy… done.

Sunday turned out to be the first sunny day in what felt like an eternity but really was about a week straight of rain. Even though it was still a bit chilly I thought it’d be appropriate to celebrate the return of the sun by making sorbet that very day.

I can totally recommend making this too. It’s super easy to put together, and all you need to plan for if you’re making this for a special occasion is the time it takes to freeze (several hours, at least). And the flavour is divine: it’s without a doubt cucumbery, but not in a salady* way. It’s cool and sweet, almost watermelon-like in flavour, with the mint giving it a beguiling herbaceousness that doesn’t jump out at you but coolly sidles in alongside the cucumber. And then, long after the freezing-cold ice thaws in your mouth there’s a hauntingly minty chill. Yes, so refreshing.

Okay! So now that I’ve told you all that I’ve got to get out of the sun and back to work (just in time, too; I don’t think my eyes can squint any more than they already are,** and I’m starting to sweat from the heat of the sun).

Just a quick note – the recipe below makes about (very roughly measured by me, after I’d already eaten some, whoops!) 400ml so if you’re feeding more than 3-4 people I’d make a double batch. Enjoy!

*my goodness, can you tell it’s the silly season, my brain has turned to mush and my adjectives have turned… adjective-y.

**apologies for any typos. I’m really having a hard time seeing the screen!

CUCUMBER AND MINT SORBET
(makes about 400ml)

150g sugar
¾ cup water
handful of mint
300g cucmber, diced*

First, make some mint syrup: place sugar, water and mint in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring a bit to dissolve the sugar, until it reaches boiling point and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool.

While the syrup is cooling, cut up the cucumber and puree it (it’s probably best to use a food processor for this – I used a blender and it didn’t really work because it wasn’t liquidy enough. If you only have a blender, don’t fret – you can get it to a nicer consistency once you add the syrup in the next step).

Add the cooled syrup to the cucumber puree and blend until it’s a nice, smooth consistency. Strain out the pulpy bits using a sieve. Optionally, you could add an egg white here to prevent the sorbet from going all icy in texture, especially if you’re not using a food processor, but I didn’t have any handy so I used a tablespoonful of Hendrick’s gin** for the same purpose.

Freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, great – follow the instructions. I’ve never owned an ice cream maker so instead I just try to give the sorbet regular stirs as it freezes in order to break up the ice crystals that form. Giving it a couple of whizzes in the food processor during the freezing process made this fairly painless, too.

Before serving, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften up and become ultra-scoopable. Delicious!

*you can peel it if you like, but I didn’t bother – I liked the extra-deep green the skin added to the colour, and you strain out the pulpy bits anyway so you don’t need to worry about texture. Plus… more nutrients? Maybe?

*Cause really, does Hendrick’s and cucumber not just scream summer?

Edited to add: I’m submitting this post to the Sweet New Zealand blogging event, started by Alessandra and hosted this month by Bron – you can see all this month’s entries here.

strawberry-rhubarb crumble pie

In baking, desserts, spring on 2 November, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Things have been pretty quiet around here, I know. Somehow I’ve gone from welcoming the gentle glow of vernal sun (and the accompanying bare-legs excitement) to being swept up in the full madwoman whirlwind of spring, that violent spring gale that wrecks all the plants in the garden yet still manages to toss me home at the end of the day*.

And now it’s November, and strawberries have come down in price, the days are long and the air is warm. But. I swam in the sea on Saturday (okay, so it was in sunny Gisborne, and the water was still cold, but still), got a sunburn and some deep-crimson cherry tomatoes to match. Despite the frequent moody-teenager squalls that seem to spring upon us without warning, it’s starting to feel like we can almost touch summer.

I love pies at any time of year but it’s really late spring and summertime that I love them the best: buttery crusts bursting with the ripe colours and bright juices of berries and stonefruit. And what better way to usher in the pies of summer than with the first fresh fruits of spring?

The first time I tasted this strawberry-rhubarb combination was as a kid at some suburban street party or maybe a potluck dinner somewhere in my neighbourhood, in the fading late-evening light at the end of May or early June. Grass was green and high, fireflies were just about starting to blink, someone was passing around a baking dish full of strawberry-rhubarb crumble. I remember first trying to pick out the rhubarb – unfamiliar to me then, even though it grew in our garden – then eventually realising it all tasted too good to leave behind, scraping the last pink blush of fruit off the paper plate, and seeking out seconds. Too good.

This pie, I guess, is a sort of homage to those long nights of late spring, full of anticipation for the summer ahead. Also I just really like strawberries and rhubarb together, and I really like pies, and my heart goes a little bit fluttery at the mention of crumble topping.

*literally – got tossed off my bike today and then nearly swept off my feet. Serious business, this wind.

STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB CRUMBLE PIE

For the crust:
(I’ve adapted this recipe to include wholemeal flour, just because that’s what I had at the time. Feel free to play around with flour ratios/combinations or just make the original – it’s become my go-to pie crust.)

1 1/8c flour (I used half white, half wholemeal)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 c butter
(roughly 110g), chilled and chopped into little pieces
3-4 tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter between finger and thumb until it’s mixed into the flour and forms coarse crumbly pea-sized clumps. Sprinkle some of the ice water over the mixture and combine, adding more water or flour as needed until the dough comes together nicely when you try to form it into a ball. Flatten, wrap in plastic wrap, chill for a bit. 30 minutes or so should be good.

Meanwhile, get the filling ready:

Chop up 1 bunch (roughly 300g) rhubarb and halve about 300g strawberries. Place in a medium to large bowl and toss with a couple tablespoonsful of sugar and a teaspoon or so of cornflour. Let it macerate while you prepare the crust:

Blind bake the crust:

Heat the oven to 200C.

Roll out the chilled pie-crust dough so that it’s big enough to drape into a pie dish and have little edge pieces flopping over the side. Roll over and pinch together the excess bits of pastry to make a nice crust. If it’s a bit uneven just press it all down with the tines of a fork and call it rustic.

Prick some holes in the dough with a fork. Line with baking paper and some dried beans and blind bake for about 10-12 minutes or until it’s just starting to turn golden. Remove and let cool for a few minutes.

Prepare the crumble topping:

Using your fingertips or a food processor, mix together 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 60g butter (chopped up into little pieces makes this easier) until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

And finally:

Pour the fruit mixture into the pie shell and top with the crumble topping. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the fruit mixture is bubbling up beneath the bits of crumble. You may want to check that the crust isn’t burning – if it’s starting to get rather brown, cover with bits of foil.

Serve lovingly, with yoghurt, cream or – my favourite – a good-quality vanilla ice cream.

mandarin custard tarts with poached rhubarb

In baking, desserts, early spring, winter on 21 September, 2011 at 11:10 pm

There’s no doubt that spring is here, with asparagus and strawberries having made their (pricey but triumphant) debut, sudden downpours and that crazy spring wind kicking up again and sprouting rocket and lettuces taking over the pots on my balcony. And I can’t quite get my head around the fact that daylight savings time is starting again this weekend.

But strawberries are still madly expensive and it’s not quite time yet for other, more exciting fruits. Luckily there’s still plenty of citrus to fall back on, and I’ve been furiously eating all the oranges, grapefruits and mandarins I can get my hands on.

These are the fruits that see me through winter. When I lived in Japan, mandarins (known there as mikan) were my constant companion all winter long; I saw countless evenings turn into nights just sitting in the living room, legs tucked into kotatsu*, drinking hot green tea and peeling mikan after mikan, watching TV or writing letters to friends back home.**

On Sunday, at the market, after breakfasting on cheesecake and so many oysters, I ventured out looking for something fresh and exciting and ended up with the same things I’ve been eating for the last couple months: citrus and rhubarb. But what glorious Gisborne mandarins they were: bright and orange and bursting with cheer. And the rhubarb –  those stalks so robust and fresh-looking with their almost-fluorescent-pink ends – couldn’t pass it up either.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them for ages after I got home until I got to thinking about spring, and summer, and that got me thinking about the custard tarts my friend Rob used to make for summertime picnics and flat dinners and so on.***

His were filled with a thick, creamy vanilla-seed-studded custard, and topped with berries or cherries or whatever summer fruit was available. They were beautiful: cool, creamy, bursting with fruit juices, perfect for an evening dinner outdoors. But I wanted something a little bit more grounded, a little less fleeting than the bursting berries and cold-creamy custard of summer.

So in a tribute to winter fruits, and with a nod towards the chilled fruit-and-custard desserts of the warmer months, I settled on making these baked mandarin custard tarts, topped with poached rhubarb and bits of mandarin.

I couldn’t quite find the recipe I was imagining in my head, so the custard recipe is sort of cobbled together from a couple recipes in past issues of Cuisine (one of them, for scented custard tarts, is here, and the other, for a grapefruit tart, is here) and from tinkering around in the kitchen until I got the custard filling right.

The recipe might seem complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward. There are just several steps involved, and some assembly. The way I go about it is as follows:

1. Making the pastry.
2. Making the custard filling.
3. Putting (1) and (2) together and baking.
4. Poaching rhubarb with which to top the cooled, finished product of (3).
5. Eating.

See? So much simpler when you look at it that way. And it’s beautiful: sunny-yellow custard filling all mellow and sweet from the addition of mandarin juice, just a tad aromatic and grown-up from cardamom and orange blossom water. The rhubarb and mandarin on top, though not as intensely dramatic as bright-red, burstingly juicy cherries or berries, are sweet and demure and just juicy enough to provide a lovely contrast to the creamy custard.

*Kotatsu. So traditionally, in Japanese homes, you sit on the floor on a low table when you eat. And in the winter, people sandwich a futon (not the fold-out sofa known to English-speakers as a futon, but a proper Japanese one, basically a thick, heavy duvet) in between the table top and the frame. And underneath? A heater. Yes. So amazing. Kotatsu are, in my opinion, quite possibly one of the best inventions mankind has ever come up with, and I’m perplexed as to why this hasn’t caught on in Western countries, especially New Zealand, what with our general lack of central heating or insulation and all.

**Almost as hard to believe as the fact that daylight savings time is nearly here: the fact that in 2002 I was still writing letters. Yes, I was also using email at the time, but it was still a time when letter-writing was, I dunno, somewhat common?!  It was pre-Facebook, that’s for sure. Now? I write letters to my grandma…

***Apparently I think about those tarts a lot… this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned them in a blog post.

MANDARIN CUSTARD TARTS WITH POACHED RHUBARB

First, make the shortcrust pastry. You’ll need about 400 grams. You can use your own favourite sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, or the following, which I’ve slightly from A Cook’s Bible:

200g flour sifted with 1/4 tsp salt
125 g butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg
zest of 1 or 2 mandarins 

Sift the flour and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into little pieces and rub into the flour using your fingers. Beat the egg, sugar and zest together and add to the flour mixture: it should be nice and firm like cookie dough.* If it’s too wet or soft, add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add a little milk. Form into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

*A nice, firm cookie dough, like for sugar cookies or other cookies you roll out, not the kind you glop onto baking sheets.

While the pastry is resting in the fridge, prepare the mandarin custard filling:

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cream*
a few (5 or so) cardamom pods
a decent-sized piece of mandarin peel
1 cup mandarin juice
(from about 5-6 mandarins)
zest of about 2-3 mandarins
2 eggs, plus an egg yolk
(white reserved for brushing the inside of the pastry)
100g sugar

orange blossom water 
(optional)

Heat the milk and cream along with the cardamom pods and mandarin peel just until boiling. Cover and let steep for at least 10 minutes, maybe more, while you get everything else ready.

Squeeze about a cupful of mandarin juice and pour into a little saucepan. Boil vigorously until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. Let cool.

In a smallish bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk along with the sugar and mandarin zest until the sugar dissolves a bit and it’s well-combined. Add the reduced juice (ha! that’s fun to say) and whisk some more, then, using a sieve, strain out the cardamom pods and mandarin peel from the cream/milk mixture and pour that in. Give everything a good whisk to combine. If you have orange blossom water, add a couple drops of that – not to overpower it, but enough to give it that alluring hint of something seductively floral.

*I used a milk-cream mixture because I was almost out of cream. You could also just go ahead and use all cream.

Next, assembly! (The fun part, of course.)

Heat the oven to 170C. 

Roll out the pastry so it’s reasonably thin and use it to line a 12-cup muffin tin.* Line with baking paper, weigh the paper down with dry beans (or ceramic blind-baking beans or whatever you have), and blind bake at 170C for about 10-15 minutes until they’re just starting to get a golden hue and hold their shape.

Take them out of the oven, remove the baking paper liners and beans, and brush the inside with the reserved egg white. Pop back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 150C.

Let them cool down a bit before you put the custard filling in. You don’t have to go crazy and wait ages, I lasted about 5 minutes.

Using a small ladle, carefully pour the custard filling into each tart shell so that it comes almost all the way up to the top. Carefully (I tend to slosh these things around and make a huge mess, so be steady) place these in the oven.  Bake at 150C for about 20 minutes or until just set (no longer liquidy, though they may still have a teensy bit of wobble). Remove from the oven and cool completely.

* Or, 2 6-cup muffin tins, or individual tart tins, or whatever takes your fancy really – .

Next, poach the rhubarb for the topping:

2 stalks rhubarb, cut into little pieces that’ll fit in each tart
bits of mandarin peel
a couple tablespoons sugar

Heat the sugar and mandarin peel in about 1/2 cup water until the sugar is all dissolved and the mixture comes to a nice simmer. Add the rhubarb pieces and simmer gently for 2 or so minutes, so that they’re just cooked and tender but not totally falling apart. Remove from the liquid and let cool.

When everything is completely cool, top each tart with a bit of rhubarb and a mandarin segment (pith removed). Chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Wow! And congratulations and thank you for making it to the end of this extremely long post! Thank you also to all the people who have visited the Facebook page for this blog already, and hit ‘like’ – if you haven’t yet, it’s at www.facebook.com/milliemirepoix and I have unashamedly talked it up here. Feel free to check it out.

Coconut rice pudding with palm sugar & cinnamon-poached pear

In desserts, gluten free, puddings, winter on 31 August, 2011 at 7:59 am

Like I said before, winter’s fast drawing to a close whether we like it or not. I know this because I’m sitting in bed typing out a blog post and I’m not wearing multiple layers of wool tights, fluffy socks, pajama pants, merino thermals, thick wool jumpers (the answer to “but didn’t you get uncomfortably hot in the night?” is yes).

And like I said last time, I’m not so reluctant to let go of winter anymore. It’s the sunshine, the flowering trees heavy with anticipatory buds, that wonderful feeling we take for granted the rest of the year of leaving the house and coming home from work while it’s still light out. And I’m getting so excited for asparagus.

But the nights are still chilly (ish) and there are still plenty of pears on supermarket shelves and I’m sure we’ll be hit with one last polar blast before we can truly say spring is here. So, okay, we’re cautiously watching the ebb of the bleak, cold signs of winter. But we can still enjoy comforting puddings like this one.

Rice pudding is one of those polarising desserts that people seem to love or hate: maybe it’s the texture, or having had too many stodgy, mealy rice puddings as a child. I remember my parents eating it when I was growing up, though I was never interested: to me, rice was something you eat along with Asian food, a savoury thing, a staple food, not something that would be good in a dessert. But I came around eventually, which is good, because rice pudding can be So Good – creamy, silky, sweet and comforting – and can take on so many different flavour variations.

So I was excited to see a slew of different rice pudding recipes while browsing through the June/July issue of Donna Hay, enough that I was convinced to buy the magazine and try out some of the variations. This was probably my favourite: the rice is cooked in coconut milk rather than cow’s milk, and drizzled with a syrup made from poaching pears in palm sugar syrup. YES.

In the end I made some changes to the recipe, mostly based on what I had in my cupboards, but found it turned out beautifully: I used a combination of half-milk, half-coconut milk (because I only had about 2 cups of coconut milk) and 2 pears instead of 4 (I only had 2 pears in the fruit bowl). It was still nice and coconutty even with less coconut milk, and I found that half a pear for each serving was just fine. Feel free to use all coconut milk if you like (as the original recipe had it) – this would be especially good for people who are trying to avoid dairy. I imagine it would work well with half-coconut milk, half-almond milk as well.

I have a feeling the coconut rice pudding would work really well with fresh strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, peach – so there’s definitely potential to keep this recipe around beyond the end of winter (today!).

COCONUT RICE PUDDING WITH PALM SUGAR & CINNAMON-POACHED PEARS
(adapted from Donna Hay #57, Jun/Jul 2011)

Peel 2 rather firm pears, slice in half and remove the cores. In a saucepan big enough to fit 4 pear halves, place 2 cinnamon sticks1 cup (270g) grated palm sugar and 4 cups water. Heat, stirring, over high heat until all the sugar is dissolved, then bring the heat down to low. Place the pear halves into the simmering liquid, cover and poach until tender.  This should take about 10-15 minutes. Once the pears are done, remove from the liquid and bring the heat back up to high; reduce the liquid until it starts to get all syrupy and amazing-looking. Also, your kitchen should smell beautiful right about now.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup arborio rice, 1 litre coconut milk (or 2 cups coconut milk + 2 cups milk) and 1/2 cup caster sugar to the boil in a saucepan placed over high heat. Give it a good stir and reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once it’s ready the rice will be tender and the liquid will have thickened somewhat so that it’s silky in texture.

Serve hot, topped with a poached pear half and plenty of syrup. Amazing.

Serves 4.

pear, feijoa & ginger crostata

In autumn, baking, desserts, winter on 18 August, 2011 at 8:10 am

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. Feijoa? In August? You’re right, this post has been sitting here for a wee while. 

But I’ve been wanting to post it anyway. I’ve been in a little bit of a seasonal rebellion. Feels like it was only yesterday that I was lamenting the end of summer and relishing the settling-down feeling of autumn. Feels like it went by in too quick a flash and suddenly all at once winter had set in, the shortest day had come and gone, and we were hurtling recklessly down a fast track into spring. The days were (still are!) getting longer, there were snowdrops and daffodils and lambs on the side of the road coming back from the mountain, the birds seemed to be chirping a bit more, I  smelled something akin to that distinct smell of thaw* in the air in the still, clear mornings.

It came to a head last weekend when I was in Auckland visiting friends and it was warm (warm enough for bare legs and no woolly coat! for a little while at least), springlike, magnolias flowering everywhere. And it was nice. But I thought, hang on. It’s still August. I’m not ready for spring yet. Spring is  full of new beginnings and everything young and tender and bursting with potential. And yes, it’s exciting, with changes afoot and everything moving forward and so on. But not just yet. Not for me, anyway.

So when it snowed on Monday (I was still in Auckland during the first snow on Sunday) and I couldn’t contain my excitement, maybe there was a bit more to it than just the novelty of seeing snowflakes outside my window. In Wellington. On The Terrace. (!!!) Maybe there was a little bit of relief in there too, a little bit of: slow down now, relax, it’s not spring yet.

And as much as I’ve been scrunching up my face at the hail, at the sleet, at having to take taxis home when the buses have stopped, this ridiculously wintry weather has been kind of a reprieve from the dizzying trajectory into spring. Spring is full of opportunity: I’m not there yet. Almost, but not just yet. I’m still holding on to winter, to stews and roasts and snow, to weekends spent with friends and homemade steak pies and mulled wine and hot chocolates, woolly blankets and daydreams. I’m a huge fan of spring and summer but I’m still grasping backwards, to a simpler time, cosy and pleasant and quiet: early winter, maybe even late autumn, when the whole hunkering-down business was still ahead of us and things wouldn’t be picking up speed for a while.

So that’s why I’m sharing this late-autumn pie. The time will soon come when I have to let go and embrace the new, the young, the fresh, to fill my pies with the very first strawberries, to scan supermarket shelves wildly for asparagus. But not just yet.

Until that time comes I’ll be happily making soups and stews and eating the last of the pears, hanging onto the gritty-sweet memories of last season’s fruit. Like feijoas. (Though the other night I did make a pear and tamarillo crumble which is a far more appropriate fruit combination for right now: I reckon it would work beautifully in this pie.)

*If you’ve ever lived in a place where everything (the ground, rivers, lakes, etc) freezes over in the winter you’ll know what I mean… that sort of raw, earthy, fresh dirt smell after months of smelling practically nothing outside. It’s invigorating.

PEAR, FEIJOA & GINGER CROSTATA (makes 2 smallish or 1 large pie)

For the crust:
(recipe adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book via this Serious Eats post)

140g flour*
1 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
110g butter, very cold & cut into little pieces
3-4 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the butter pieces and toss so that they’re coated in the flour mixture. Rub the butter into the flour (or use a pastry cutter or food processor) until the mixture reaches a pebbly consistency.

Sprinkle 3 tbsp of the cold water over the mixture, and using your hands, work the mixture into a dough. If it’s not sticking together enough, add a little more water (only a bit at a time); if it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour. Form into a ball. If you’re making 2 smaller pies, as I did here, divide the dough into 2 and roll into balls. Flatten them a bit, wrap in plastic wrap, stick in the fridge to cool for at least half an hour.

For the filling:

Chop up roughly 350g pears (about 1-2 smallish pears) and scoop out the flesh of 1-2 feijoas (you could easily use tamarillo, or rhubarb, or any pie-appropriate fruit, really). Place in a bowl, grate some fresh ginger over the top, sprinkle over a handful of sugar (I used brown sugar), mix it up and let it sit for a bit.

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Take the chilled pie dough out of the fridge and roll out onto a floured surface until it’s about 1/8 inch thick** and of a more or less circular shape. Trim any weird scraggly edges, but you don’t have to be too meticulous – this is a free-form pie, so a  little inconsistency is okay. (It adds character!)

Pile the fruit in the middle and fold over the outside edge, pinching a bit as you go. Dot the fruit with little torn-off bits of butter, brush the pastry with an egg wash of a beaten egg & a splash of milk, sprinkle demerara sugar over everything and stick in the oven for 25-30 minutes (if you are making one larger pie, you may need to have it in the oven for longer) until the fruit is cooked and the pastry’s nice and golden.

Let cool a little bit and serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche or a bit of plain yoghurt. 

*I’ve made this with both wholemeal flour and various combinations of white and wholemeal. It works however you do it, though you may need to tweak the amount of butter and/or water a little bit.

**You don’t want it to be too thin – this pie doesn’t have the benefit of a pie dish to hold it all together, so you’ll want it to be sturdy enough to hold in the juices.

ps. this is my first contribution to the Sweet New Zealand monthly blogging event organised by Alessandra. Got it in just in the nick of time :)

basil ice cream

In desserts, gluten free, summer, year-round on 28 June, 2011 at 11:18 pm

It’s been so cold lately. I don’t know if it’s because I just got back from a holiday in the Northern Hemisphere* and I’ve gotten acclimatised to shorts-and-sandals weather, and too-hot-to-breathe humidity (thankfully only for a couple days), but I’ve really been feeling the cold these last few days. Maybe all that holidaying has turned me weak.

But maybe it isn’t just me. According to Metservice yesterday’s low got down to 3.6 degrees, and I believe it. I can’t remember the last time my fingers and toes went numb on my walk to work. It might have been some years ago when I spent a winter in Chicago (now that was cold!), but certainly not in Wellington.

3.6 degrees (that’s Celsius for you Americans reading this). That got me thinking: that’s not too far from freezing. And then all that thinking about freezing got me thinking about ice cream. Specifically, this basil ice cream I made before going away.

Okay, so maybe ice cream isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking of comforting winter desserts. Maybe you want to curl up with a hot steamy pudding, sticky date perhaps, gooey sauce melting all over the place, or a cinnamony crumble perhaps, with thick, creamy custard poured over the top. (I totally do, now that I’ve typed that sentence!!)

But hear me out.

There’s a place for ice cream in winter. Sure, the easiest way to incorporate it into your winter dessert routine is scooped onto one of those aforementioned hot, comforting desserts, where it will melt and mingle with the aforementioned gooey sauce and make everything taste that much creamier and more amazing. But there’s a place for ice cream on its own, too.

Like when you’re so full of the richest, darkest, meatiest beef stew, or roast chicken and vegetables**, when you’ve eaten so much bread slathered with butter and dipped into gravy, when you’ve taken a second (third!) helping when you know there’s no room left but you’ve gone and done it anyway because good lord it’s cold and dark outside and the wind’s threatening to blow your house down. And then you get a craving for something sweet, but you’ll burst if you eat a big heavy pudding: that’s when you need that scoop of ice cream.

The other times I can think of when ice cream’s okay in the dead of winter include: if you’ve just come out of oral surgery or a long-term relationship, or if you’re at the movies (specifically at the Paramount and you’re sitting in one of the smaller theatres with the plush comfy chairs and you’re still rugged up from the cold outside, and you’ve got a chocolate-dipped cone of Kapiti apple crumble ice cream). Also if it’s a particularly warm, sunny winter day*** and you’re feeling really optimistic about the days getting longer and summer eventually coming back around again.

Anyway, if it’s sunny this weekend and you want to forget about the season, this ice cream is about as summery as you can get: the hint of fresh basil, a bit of zing from the lemon zest, cool and creamy on your tongue. If you’re thinking basil ice cream sounds weird, yes, it’s a bit different, but not that far off mint. And the heady herbaceousness of the basil kind of fades into a mellower aromatic hint as it freezes, so it’s really like eating a creamy, custardy ice cream with a touch of something a little bit different. It’s perfect on its own (after a rich, heavy winter meal) or would be perfect with a slice of lemon cake.

*it was a crazy, totally illogical whirlwind trip through four countries (and four times as many flights) in 18 days and despite all the transit time I loved every minute of it. More soon.

**not so much if you’ve just eaten a big comforting bowl of soup. Then you’re probably fine sticking with pudding.

***I know, I know, I live in Wellington. But look at the forecast for the weekend! A girl can dream.

BASIL ICE CREAM:
(adapted from this David Lebovitz recipe for lemon verbena ice cream, which, by the way, sounds incredible)

Put 2 cups milk* in a saucepan with 1 cup basil leaves**, warm over medium-low heat until steaming hot. Cover, remove from heat and let it steep for a while – the original recipe says 1 hour but I wasn’t that patient and may have only left it for 20-30 minutes or so. Strain out the basil leaves using a fine-meshed sieve, smushing the leaves down at the bottom of the sieve to get as much moisture out as you can. Reheat the mixture (now a pleasant mint-green colour) so that it’s nice and warm again.

In a bowl, whisk together 4 egg yolks, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup sugar. Pour in the reheated greenish milk mixture, but do it slowly, whisking as you go, so the mixture stays nice and silky smooth.

Pour this all back into the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. If you have issues with the custard separating, do as Laura says in this Hungry and Frozen post and have a sink full of cold (ice?) water on the ready to plunge the pan into. And stir like crazy.

At this point you can optionally add another handful of basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, into the custard. (I wasn’t sure how much extra flavour this added, but there was something I loved about those little flecks of green in each scoop.)

Let cool, then refrigerate until completely cold, then freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, great! If you don’t (like me), make sure you stir it every so often to keep the texture nice and creamy.

*Feel free to use cream in place of (some or more) of the milk – I just used what I had at the time.

**I used most of the leaves off one of those basil plants you can buy at the supermarket.

P.S. That spoon? Part Two of my series of old, cast-off airline cutlery. For Part One, see this post.

P.P.S. I actually was meaning to write about my recent adventures in Sydney, the States, Mexico and Tokyo but instead I’ve just talked heaps about ice cream in winter. Which is fine. But maybe in a future post: what I’ve been up to for the past month!

persimmon & cinnamon syrup

In autumn, desserts, drinks, gluten free on 19 May, 2011 at 5:39 pm


When I was younger I travelled a lot but ate very little (in terms of variety, not volume). I was one of those awfully picky eaters as a kid, and consequentially I have hardly any food memories of places I visited growing up. Imagine a France with no cheese, Japan with no sushi*, Germany where the only thing I remember eating is peanut butter sandwiches, a trip through the Welsh countryside without… I don’t even know what food there is to eat in Wales, because as far as I was concerned all that mattered was tinned spaghetti.

Clearly times have changed, judging by my trip to Singapore the other weekend, which I mainly spent wiping sweat off my brow in steamy hawker centres eating The Best chicken rice, trekking far from the nearest air-conditioning (this is bravery in 34 degrees and 100% humidity) to find my old favourite nasi lemak stall, taking a 2am stroll to eat some mighty fine bak chor mee before heading to the Arab Quarter to watch election results roll in over coconut shakes and shawarmas.

I started thinking about how much my food/travel relationship has changed because I’ve got this trip coming up where I have a daytime stopover in Honolulu. Besides the exciting possibility of a midday swim, my thoughts turned to what I should eat**… and… came up with nothing besides shaved ice and spam musubi. I’ve been to Hawaii before; surely this shouldn’t be so hard, I thought. Until I realised I was thirteen when I was last in Hawaii and I probably just ate pineapples and peanut butter sandwiches (always the peanut butter sandwich) the whole time. I don’t know, I can’t actually remember.

And basically this has been a very long-winded way of me getting back to the point of this blog post: persimmons. Back to Japan again for a moment: when I was sixteen I spent a year in Japan eating foods I would never have touched before, half out of politeness and half out of stubborn I’ll-show-you-ness (“bet you can’t eat natto/sashimi/basashi!” “I’ll show you!”). Somehow it turned out I actually liked most*** of what I was eating, and the most vivid memories from that year all relate to food.

Japanese culture, at least as I know it, places a big emphasis on the seasons.**** And in autumn, you celebrate the harvest moon by eating tsukimi udon and, among other fruits, you eat a lot of persimmons. One of my (many) favourite memories of autumn in Japan was coming home from school to a plate of exquisitely honey-sweet persimmons, cut up, stuck with toothpicks. So every time autumn rolls around and persimmons show up on supermarket shelves I get really excited and a little bit wistful for that time in my life when I couldn’t shake that wide-eyed feeling of just having discovered The Most Delicious Food In The World.

Usually I just eat persimmons plain. But I’ve been dabbling in making syrups and sauces lately, and for months now (yup, I was excited) I’ve had this post-it note stuck to my computer at work with two words scrawled across it: Persimmons. Cinnamon. I think the combination sprung to mind because I liked the way the words sounded together. (Clearly the best method of combining foods. Oh, and they’re also on that same brown-orange colour continuum.) But actually, they’re both autumn-y flavours, and sort of soft and warming, so the combination works.

You could make the syrup the long way (making juice from the fruit and then combining it with water and sugar to make a syrup and then straining it a couple of times through a cheesecloth so that it’s nice and clear) but if you’re short on time/energy this shortcut method (just simmering the fruit until it starts to break down a bit and the flavours permeate the syrup) works too. It’s so good in cold drinks and on ice cream and desserts and if you save the leftover stewed persimmon, it’s positively swoonworthy.

 

*Actually, Japan without sushi would be fine. There’s so much other good food there, too, but still. I can’t believe how much I missed out on during those early trips.

**If anyone knows of any must-eat foods or must-visit lunch spots in Honolulu, please share!!!

***Not so much the raw horse, it tasted fine (rather meaty) but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again.

****Come to think of it, this might be the root of my near-obsession with seasonal fruits and vegetables. And seasons in general.



PERSIMMON & CINNAMON SYRUP: (the cheat’s version, anyway)

Cut about 300g persimmons (2-3, depending on size) into cubes and place in a saucepan with 130g sugar and a couple of broken-up cinnamon sticks.* Add 2/3 cup water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until it reaches, well, a syrupy consistency. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl or jug and pour into a sterilised bottle. Done!

Now, what to do with this syrup? For starters, you can mix it with sparkling water for a refreshing drink. I can imagine it’d be good mixed into a rum-based cocktail too, something about those warming cinnamony undertones. Or you can pour it on ice cream, mix it into yoghurt, just about anything really.

Oh, and keep the strained, stewed fruit: it’s incredibly soft, sweet and infused with a cinnamony tingle. Perfect on porridge, or with yoghurt or custard. Definitely don’t throw it out (you’ll have to pick out the bits of cinnamon stick, though).

*It’s well worth using cinnamon sticks for this rather than powdered cinnamon. The flavour is more intense and you’ll retain that sunset-orange persimmon hue: they won’t turn the liquid brown like the powdered stuff might.

PERSIMMON & CINNAMON COULIS:

Here is a bonus recipe, because the first time I tried making this I accidentally pushed the fruit through the sieve and ended up with something that was more of a coulis than a syrup.

It’s hardly a recipe: basically, do as for the syrup, but use a bit less water (or simmer longer), remove the cinnamon sticks at the end of cooking, then purée (a stick blender works great here) and strain through a sieve. It’ll be a bit thicker than the syrup. And it’s awesome on French toast.

cranberry bread pudding

In autumn, baking, desserts, puddings on 28 March, 2011 at 12:43 pm

If you’re anything at all like me you’ll have in your pantry, at any given time, an assortment of five or seven half-eaten loaves of bread, at varying degrees of stale to rock-hard, floating around in crumpled paper bags, wreaking havoc on the rest of the cupboard contents (because really, half-eaten loaves of bread aren’t made to slot neatly into jam-packed shelves).

And if you’re anything at all like me you’ll start to panic every time you open your pantry, because there’s Too Much Stale Bread floating around on top of the rest of the stuff and when you try to grab the sugar, or eggs, or heaven forbid something like rye flour or barley that lives at the back, the crumply paper bags will come tumbling down. And you’ll decide it’s time to take action.

If your bread’s on the soft end of stale you might make French toast, or panzanella, and if you’re making a salad or soup for dinner you might make croutons, but if you’re on a sugar kick and you’re not responsible for anyone else’s wellbeing you’ll get out a serrated knife and hack your bread into cubes, ready to soak in a sweet, milky-eggy custard base: Dessert for Dinner.*

Last time I wrote about suffering the consequences of having eaten too much dessert. This was one of the culprits that left me in a sugar-coma and ultimately led me to declare a sugar-free week last week (a partial success – I made it through 1.5 days**). But anyhow. There’s still something about dessert for dinner that means I do it anyway, though I’m fully aware of the consequences.

And when I don’t have a lot of energy (or ingredients) to make something elaborate***, this pudding is something I turn to. It’s quick to put together, uses the most basic of ingredients, smells glorious in the oven. Plus I must be doing some good by clearing some of that stale bread out of the cupboard, right?

Bread and butter pudding (or technically, in this case, bread pudding since there’s – gasp – no butter in this pudding) isn’t something I grew up with. Probably a good thing, because I love it so much I probably would have easily fallen into a personal childhood obesity crisis. In fact, it wasn’t until I was about nineteen and waitressing over the university holidays that I first tried it. In the restaurant kitchen there was always a warm tray of grey, gloopy bread pudding that would inevitably be left over at the end of the night. I didn’t blame the customers; there were far more attractively presented desserts on the menu, and for a long time I turned my nose up in disgust.**** But at the end of one night, feet aching from what seemed like a marathon dinner service, I was offered a bit of pudding. It was past midnight, I hadn’t eaten since about 3pm, all I wanted was to collapse into bed but there was still work left to do, and that soft, raisin-studded cinnamony slop suddenly became my new best friend.

Since then I’ve taken to making this when I’m cold, when I’m tired, when I need to feed dessert to a crowd, when I need to clear out my cupboards, when I’m overwhelmed with sorrow or joy or stinging indignation. I know the whole emotional-eating-is-bad-for-you deal has some truth to it but there’s really nothing more comforting.

Now that I usually make my own I prefer bread pudding to have a bit of structure rather than that first soggy, wobbly mess I had at the restaurant (still tasted amazing, but you know, personal preferences). If you like yours to be totally soft and supple, just adjust the quantities of bread or liquid to saturate the bread. A longer soaking time, especially if your bread is extra-stale, wouldn’t hurt either.

Because this is such a straightforward dessert it’s easy to experiment with variations. I often use the old standard of raisins or apples, though pear and ginger is a good combination as well as banana and nutmeg. This time around I dumped in some cranberries I found in the back of the freezer. It was a good call: their almost-sour tartness cut through the sweet, custardy bread, making this more of a grown-up dessert.

 

*or, of course, you could do as normal people do and make this as, well, Dessert for Dessert. If you’re really trying to use up a lot of stale bread you could always have salad (with croutons), soup (with croutons or little crispy toasts), aaaaand then this pudding. And maybe whizz up whatever’s left to freeze as breadcrumbs. Now there’s an idea.

**I was doing really well up to the point where it was afternoon tea time and not one, but two cakes appeared at work, along with a platter of fruit. Should’ve just stuck with the fruit, but hey… they were good cakes.

***which is usually part of the reason I’m having dessert for dinner in the first place.

****At age nineteen I was far from open-minded about food, though my attitudes were starting to change!

CRANBERRY BREAD PUDDING (serves 4-6, or more depending on how stingy you are in dishing it out):

Preheat oven to 170C.

Cut stale bread into cubes or chunks, about 3cm will do. Fill a baking dish with these (or, if you want to be precise, measure out 4-5 cups). Add 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries and mix so that they’re evenly distributed.

Beat 4 eggs with 2 cups milk, 1 tsp vanilla and 3/4 cup sugar* until well combined. Don’t be tempted to dip your spoon in this mixture for a taste. You might end up drinking the whole mixture. And just wait, there’s an even more delicious cook’s treat ahead…

Pour the liquid mixture over the bread, give it a stir, let it soak for a bit until the bread has absorbed most of the liquid. STOP EATING THE SOAKING BREAD CUBES or you’ll have no dessert left. (Or, if you’re like me, you can just top up by cutting up some more bread cubes and adding a bit more sugar/milk mixture)**

Before you can pop any more custard-soaked bread cubes into your mouth, sprinkle some demerara sugar on top and pop the baking dish in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until pudding is set and golden brown on top.

Serve warm, topped with cream whipped with a little vanilla paste and caster sugar. Or vanilla ice cream. If you have any left over, eat it for breakfast in the morning. I mean, it’s pretty much French toast!

*you can adjust sugar quantities to taste – anything more than 3/4 cup I find to be sickly sweet, but to each their own – and less is fine, too.

**no wonder I had a stomachache after this.

baked vanilla custard with peaches

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, puddings on 15 March, 2011 at 1:49 am

I keep coming back to write this blog post I started on Friday afternoon, then finding myself immobilised in front of the computer screen by the incomprehensibly-scaled disaster unfolding in Japan.

Although I’m fortunate not to know anyone living in the worst-affected areas in northern Japan, this past weekend was another one of jitters, of waiting to hear news of friends and family (luckily I haven’t had any bad news), of watching NHK* and flicking through news sites until my eyes were so sore they were about to pop out of my head. Sleeping poorly. Checking Twitter constantly on my phone (so rude! sorry everyone) for updates.**

I keep thinking of the destruction in Christchurch, and how I can’t even comprehend that, let alone what has happened to the Tohoku region. I keep remembering a family holiday in Iwate Prefecture, in particular a side trip we took to Miyako***, a sleepy little coastal town west of Morioka. The 2-hour winding train ride on this clackety 2-car train that took us through steep hills, high above a winding gorge that widened into a majestic, flat river flowing to sea. The hills blanketed in green, and then, later, the stunning limestone cliffs and rock formations rising out of the clear blue.

It’s funny because I can’t remember much about the town itself, and now it’s too late to go back and remember what it was. And other place-names that keep coming up in the news carry with them faint hues of sitting on trains with my brothers, and I can’t remember much else. I find myself mourning the irretrievability of faded memories. Insignificant, selfish really, in the face of everything else.

The good things have come in waves this weekend, too. First in the form of confirmation from friends and family in Japan (mostly in the Kanto/Tokyo region), that they were safe, even if they did have to walk several hours to reach their homes. Then in the form of a very delicious brunch**** I had at Monterey in Newtown. Later, in a couple hours spent following a pod of orcas around the Miramar Peninsula, one of the most joyous experiences of my life. And throughout the weekend, in this bowl of blackboy peaches (the name! but hey) that ripened one by one.

The first time I heard of these peaches was actually not until last year, when I stayed at a little backpacker’s hostel in Picton on the way to a couple days out in the Marlborough Sounds. Part of the appeal of this place was its gorgeous old-house feel, the other part the freshly baked bread and assorted homemade jams that were set out for breakfast each morning. I ended up buying a jar of blackboy peach jam to take home, enthralled by the somewhat-un-PC name and because, well, I was so excited to discover this as-yet-unheard of (by me) variety of fruit. I had no clue what they actually looked like, though, until Vanille blogged about them the other week, and I was dying to find some.

Then, on Wednesday, success. Spotted a couple of boxes at Moore Wilson’s (there were some at New World as well). Picked up a bagful. And on Thursday, this custard.

I wanted to keep things relatively simple to keep the spotlight (rightly) on the peach. What sprung to mind were the to-die-for cherry custard tarts my friend Rob made for a picnic earlier this summer: a sturdy pastry crust, a vanilla-bean-flecked custard filling, macerated cherries on top. But then I ate a big lunch and was a bit too full for pastry (or maybe just not in the mood), and I started thinking about this baked vanilla custard I’d had at Logan Brown some time ago. And then I saw the perfect recipe in one of my old Cuisine magazines.

The peaches need no explanation; they’re exquisite in themselves. Adding a bit of sugar and leaving them to macerate gives them a bit more sweetness and juice if yours are still pretty tart, as mine were at that stage, and the peachy syrup that forms is wonderful spooned over the custard.

This is one of those custards that makes you want to gasp with joy when you put a spoonful in your mouth, except you’d probably choke. It has the most beautiful wobbly texture, at once delicate and luxurious. When baked custard, whether it’s unadorned or served as crème brulee or flan, reaches that just-set stage (and no more) it’s one of my favourite things in the world.

Now that I think of it, this love of custard probably stems from that trip to Japan, when we spent hours on northward trains and we’d go to convenience stores beforehand to stock up with onigiri and other snacks for lunch, and the thing I ate probably more than anything else on that trip? Prepackaged purin (Japanese crème caramel). Highly processed? Probably. But so good, with that wobbly-creamy texture I adore. And because I was a kid and had the metabolism of a horse, I devoured them, train ride after train ride. There. My memories aren’t lost, after all. Though there’s so much else that is, I’m hopeful that Japan can recover some slices of normal life in the coming days.

*Japan’s public broadcast station, which people have been streaming live through various Ustream channels.

**Maki of the fantastic blog Just Hungry (Japanese food and recipes) has been tirelessly translating and tweeting Japanese news broadcasts for days now. Her Twitter username is @makiwi.

***I’m not posting the video of the tsunami hitting Miyako, but it’s out there, and as heart-crushing as the rest of it all.

****and a to-die-for peach iced tea!

BAKED VANILLA CUSTARD WITH PEACHES (serves 6):
(just barely adapted from Cuisine 127, July 2008. Recipe here)

You will need:
2-3 peaches
caster sugar
vanilla bean
600ml cream
6 egg yolks

Thinly slice 2-3 peaches and set aside in a bowl. If your peaches are still quite firm and tart, you may want to macerate them by spooning over a couple tablespoons of sugar and giving it a stir before letting the bowl sit while you prepare the custard.

Meanwhile, split and scrape out seeds of 1 vanilla bean (alternatively you could use a teaspoon or 2 of vanilla paste but there’s something special about this dessert that deserves a vanilla bean, if you have one). Add the scraped-out bean and the seeds to a smallish saucepan with 600ml cream*, bring this to the boil, remove from heat and let it sit for about 20 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the vanilla to infuse the cream with the most vanilla-y vanilla-ness (oh boy, it’s late, I’m tired), preheat the oven to 160C and separate 6 eggs. Keep only the yolks** and whisk them gently with 2 tablespoons caster sugar. Slowly pour in the vanilla-infused cream while continuing to whisk gently. Pour into a jug through a sieve to catch any eggy bits that may have curdled/cooked (and the vanilla bean if you haven’t already plucked it out). Try not to drink too much of this mixture directly as you’ll need it if you plan on serving the finished product. Then pour into 6 individual 125-ml ramekins.***

Place the ramekins in a baking dish lined with a tea towel and fill halfway up the sides of the ramekins with boiling water. Carefully (do not spill boiling water on yourself!) transfer to oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; you’ll want them slightly jiggly. Remove the dish from the oven and then the ramekins from the dish; cool a little and top with peach slices. Add some of the syrup/juices from the bottom of the peach bowl if you like. It’s extra good!

*I used a combination of 450ml cream and made up the rest with milk because I failed to check how much cream I had before starting to make this. It still tasted fine.

**Don’t throw out the whites – you can use them for meringues, or angel food cake, or macarons, to fold into waffle batter, etc. They will keep in the freezer.

***As you can see, I used a variety of receptacles because most of my ramekins are greater in volume than 125ml.

passionfruit, lemon + saffron sorbet

In desserts, gluten free, late summer on 8 March, 2011 at 7:31 pm

On Saturday afternoon it was still rather warm and muggy so I mixed up a sorbet. Things got a little busy and I didn’t get a chance to try it till Sunday afternoon. By which time, it was painfully, bitterly cold.* After being lashed by icy southerlies and sideways rain at the Newtown Festival, I had no desire whatsoever to eat this, craving instead a blanket, a book and a hot cup of tea. But, refusing to accept that summer was over, and out of sheer determination to eat what I’d created (or stubbornness or perhaps stupidity), I kept on my hat and scarf and four layers of wool and scooped out a cupful of ice. It was good, there’s no denying that, but by the time I reached the bottom of the cup I had a mad case of the shivers, and crept into bed (still cocooned in four layers of wool), slept for a good couple hours, and woke up to a sniffly nose and dull headache. Great…

And now I’m writing this in bed, propped up by a million pillows and making pathetic whimpering noises and generally wallowing in self-pity (it’s not just men who get the man flu!): I have all this spare time but no desire to cook, no appetite even (!!) and the slightest bit of activity leaves me exhausted. No fun! Plus the “w” key on my keyboard has decided it’s no longer going to work, which makes things rather annoying (though I’m getting faster at CTRL+V-ing a “w” after my original plan of avoiding all words containing “w” failed). But enough moaning.

I won’t go so far as to say this sorbet made me sick. I mean, that’s not fair at all, because it’s delicious and refreshing and perfect for a hot sunny day (or if you haven’t spent most of the day in a spitting southerly) and I’m sure I would have gotten sick anyway. This cold has been threatening to flatten me for the greater part of a month. But maybe, just maybe, it was the final straw, and while writing this post I’ve been eyeing these photos up warily.

It feels a bit strange to be posting a recipe for sorbet after that wintry blast we had over the weekend, but the sun’s back now and (fingers crossed, please, PLEASE) here to stay hopefully at least for the next few days or however long it takes for me to recover and eat the rest. Plus there’s not much sunnier and cheerful than this combination of yellow, yellow, and more yellow.*

I’d wanted to use up the passionfruit I’d bought in a fit of excitement that were going wrinkly a bit too fast for me to eat (though generally wrinkliness is a sign of goodness). And then I remembered the saffron that the lovely Mel of treehousekitchen had given me, a souvenir from her travels in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.** And, well, after two yellow ingredients came to mind I spotted a lemon and couldn’t not include it.

PASSIONFRUIT, LEMON + SAFFRON SORBET:
(method + quantities loosely adapted from Cuisine, Issue 126)

First you will need to prepare some simple syrup. Heat equal quantities of sugar and water (I made a bit more than necessary and used 200g sugar and 200ml water, which made roughly 300ml of syrup) just until the boiling point, and remove from heat – the sugar should dissolve nicely into the water.

Take 75ml simple syrup and, while it’s still hot, add a decent pinch of saffron threads. Let steep for about 20 minutes until the syrup is golden in colour. Optionally, stick your nose down by the cup containing the syrup and inhale the heady, earthy saffron aroma… that stuff’s more precious than gold.

Then mix together 250g passionfruit pulp (about 12-14 passionfruit depending on size), the juice of 1 lemon and gradually add 75ml of the saffron-infused syrup, tasting as you go for sweetness/acidity – you may not need the full amount.  Pour into a resealable container (preferably wide and shallow) and chuck it in the freezer. Every 20-30 minutes, give it a good stir/mash with a fork to break up the crystals.* Keep doing this until it’s sufficiently frozen and of a good consistency, and serve.**

*I didn’t do this as often as I should have so the consistency, as you can see, turned out more like a granita than a sorbet, but who’s counting?

**If you’re more onto it than me you could serve these with some tuiles or shortbreads or something awesome like that.

*Hello winter! Not ready to see you yet!

**Lately for some reason I’ve been describing the foods I eat by colour rather than name. No idea where this came from, but for example, the other night I was eating scrambled eggs, avocado and hot sauce on toast (my favourite lazy snack/meal) and had sprinkled some sweetcorn on top, and when asked later what I had for dinner my reply was “yellow, yellow, green and red on brown”. Miraculously this wasn’t met with confusion and the answer was “oh… eggs, avocado, toast, …tomato or hot sauce, and what’s the other yellow?”. Weird. I know.

**I am determined to get to all of these places and will probably make it happen in the next year or so even if I absolutely can’t afford it, out of sheer stubbornness. It’s going to be my downfall…

grilled peaches with lemongrass & ginger syrup

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, syrups and cordials on 5 March, 2011 at 12:48 am

Feels like summer came and went in the blink of an eye. A weird, wet, muggy blink of an eye. I was going to say it still feels like summer (it’s plenty warm enough), but there’s no denying the gradual arrival of crisp mornings and cool nights, new season apples and pears slowly creeping their way onto supermarket shelves.

And in this last gasp of (technically not-) summer it feels like a race to do everything you won’t be able to do for another year. Like wearing shorts, even if you have to wear a jumper on top. Going for that last, end-of-summer swim before the water gets too cold (though in Wellington it’s pretty much too cold even in summer!). Shooting hoops at Waitangi Park. Drinking Pimm’s in the afternoon sun, taking walks after dinner, eating as many berries as possible and gorging yourself on stonefruit. Each day is tinged with this subtle sense of urgency: get in while you can.

And while yes, it’s true, the juicy and succulent fruits of summer are slowly making way for the crisp and autumnal, there’s still plenty of peaches left to devour. For the next couple weeks, at least.

I think peaches (and, I suppose, nectarines) are by far my favourite fruit, though of course this thinking is clouded by the fact that I get really excited about whatever fruit’s in season and I’m sure this will change as soon as I take my first bite of a sweet, meltingly ripe pear, or a crisp apple (I’ve resisted thus far in a sort of denial that summer’s over).

But I think that claim of favourite fruit has a little more basis than just the ohmygod-it’s-in-season-and-there’s-nothing-more-delicious mania I’m sometimes prone to. One of my favourite childhood memories is of a trip to Michigan in late August when I was maybe seven or eight, and I don’t remember much except the showers at the place we stayed smelled like rust, the beach was full of flies and – and – we visited peach orchards, eating perfect peach after perfect peach and taking more home in brown paper bags (to help them ripen). Our kitchen for the week or so afterwards had the faint, alluring aroma of ripening peaches.

I always have such good intentions when I buy peaches, planning to make this or that recipe, but usually I can only get so far as rinsing them off before I find myself eating them, standing over the kitchen sink, juices running down my chin, hand, dripping off my elbow. Messy, but there’s really nothing that tastes more magnificent.

Maybe the reason I never make it past the sink is because I sometimes find when peaches are cooked they lose some of that shockingly juicy-sweet quality I can’t get enough of.

Recently, though,  I’ve made an exception for grilled peaches. Somehow they manage to keep that juicy, sweet, meltingly soft quality, with the added bonus of getting all caramelised and intensely good. I served them with the lemongrass & ginger syrup I’ve been making, which I highly recommend – it adds a bit of freshness and tang to cut through the sticky sweetness.

This is probably too obvious to even be a recipe (seems to be a theme in some of my recent posts, but I guess that’s what you want when it’s summer and you’d rather be outside than in the kitchen) but I wanted to post it before summer slips out of reach until the end of the year. I encourage you to try it with the lemongrass & ginger syrup if you can.

GRILLED PEACHES WITH LEMONGRASS + GINGER SYRUP (serves 2):

Halve 2 peaches*; remove the stones.** Place on a hot BBQ, grill pan or place under the grill in the oven**, cut side facing the heat source. Grill for 5-10 minutes (depending on your grilling implement) until the surface is caramelised and the peach halves are tender and warmed all the way through. Top with vanilla ice cream and a liberal pour of lemongrass + ginger syrup (recipe here).**** If you garnish it with a mint sprig it’ll be extra pretty (and it goes well with the other flavours). Watch as the ice cream melts into the grooves of the hot peach and drips down the sides and forms molten pools of amazing with the syrup. Or just eat.

*For this I used both white-fleshed peaches and Golden Taturas. Both were delicious. Use any peaches you like. Nectarines will also do.

**If your peaches are super ripe, you shouldn’t need to do this, but if they’re a bit firm or you’re keen for more caramelisation (OK, who isn’t) you could sprinkle the cut side with a bit of demerara sugar before grilling. I didn’t do this, and found it sweet and caramelly enough.

***I used a panini grill flipped upside down and kept open, because at that stage I couldn’t be bothered going downstairs to turn on the BBQ or look for the grill pan… lazy, or innovative? Your call…

****I suppose you could also make some other sort of glaze, or use another syrup, or even scoop a fresh passionfruit over the top. Which reminds me, passionfruit…!