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Elegant simplicity

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Rhubarb is rarely elegant. When growing it is generally rampant, with solid, ribbed stems and aggressively bushy heads. When cooked it disintegrates quickly into soft, stringy strands, of an unappealing green. Poached though, lightly cooked in a boiling syrup for a minute or two, it retains its shape, with just the tiniest bite to it. The colours are more nuanced too, with the pinker pieces standing out against the murkier green ones, adding a flash of colour. The result is almost dainty. Served with yoghurt or a tiny shortbread biscuit this makes an elegant dessert for those of you with rhubarb stashed in your freezer.

Poached rhubarb
From Chocolate and Zucchini

5 tablespoons sugar
250ml water
1 head lemon verbena
4 sticks rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch chunks

1. In a small saucepan dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to a boil. Add the lemon verbena and carefully spoon the rhubarb pieces into the syrup, about 6 at a time, and poach for 2-3 minutes (4 if frozen) or until they give under a spoon but are still in tact. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with the remaining rhubarb.

Serves 2. Serve with yoghurt or shortbread. The poaching syrup can be used in cocktails.


Written by guffblog

22nd August 2011 at 16:14

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Like every other gluten-free blog around I couldn’t let the final day of Wimbledon pass without mention of Djokovic’s win (hooray) and inevitable uptick in badly written, sloppily researched and generally misinformed articles about gluten and gluten-free food it will no doubt generate (boo). I’ll keep my rage in check until I read any of the aforementioned articles. For now though I shall talk about strawberries. And cream. A food so closely entwined with the Wimbledon fortnight that M&S this year made it into a sandwich. That’s right, strawberries and cream between two slices of thick white bread. Whilst this sounds a little odd, it’s not so far off that southern American dish, the strawberry shortcake, which is, as far as I can tell anyway, a cross between shortbread and a scone, halved, and stuffed with strawberries, whipped cream, and perhaps a little fruit syrup. It therefore seems fitting at the close of Wimbledon, with a gluten-free winner no less, and it being Independence Day as well, that gluten-free strawberry shortcakes are made. I’m not quite sure what my excuse is going to be next time I want to make these (and I will be looking to do so quite soon) but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Strawberry shortcake
Shortcake recipe adapted slightly from Baking: From My Home to Yours, via Orangette

These shortcakes are not to be confused with shortbread. In fact the name shortcake is, for once in the world of food, rather apt. They are a biscuity cake, very light and flaky and fragile due to the awesome fat content, from bringing the dough together with double cream, rather than milk or water. Due to the baking powder though they do rise and spread a touch, as evidenced by the beautiful cracking on the surface, meaning the overall product just hints at sconiness. Needless to say, although you may be able to carefully balance the lid of the shortcake on the fruit and whipped cream for decorative purposes, on no account should you attempt to eat this like a sandwich; this is a dish for a fork and spoon only.

150g (1 cup) gluten-free flour blend
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons butter
100ml double cream

To serve
100g strawberries, hulled and halved
100ml double cream, softly whipped
I also added a tablespoon of redcurrant sauce over the strawberries, but Molly suggests macerating them for 15 minutes in sugar before serving, or you could have them dry.

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 220 C. In a large bowl whisk together the gluten-free flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into chunks and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2. With a fork stir in most of the 100ml of double cream. When the mixture starts to come together, knead it with your hands. Add enough cream so that the dough is cohesive and a little sticky.

3. Using your fingers break the dough into 4 even pieces. Shape each of these into rough rounds, about the size and shape of an ice hockey puck, 1 inch high, and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 17 minutes, or until a light sandy colour.

4. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking sheet. When ready to serve very carefully cut them in half with a big knife. Arrange the strawberries on the bottom half of the shortcake, drizzle with fruit sauce, or strawberry syrup, top with a tablespoon of the whipped cream and balance the lid on top. Then dive in with a fork and make a big mess.

Serves 4. The shortcakes last for (at least) a day at room temperature but taste best the day they’re made.

Written by guffblog

4th July 2011 at 18:45

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Wibble wobble

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When I think of milk I generally don’t think of jelly. Milk is meant to be liquid, and the only time it’s not is when it’s congealed in the bottom of the bottle after too long in the fridge. Obviously a winning introduction to a dessert. But the idea of milk jelly intrigued me – we have fruit jellies and they’re so commonplace you can even get ready-made (or at least, almost ready-made) cubes of the stuff to mix up at home, as if stirring gelatine into fruit juice was too complicated for the average person. And yet milk jellies have been consigned to the history books, along with junket and syllabub. I’m not really sure why, they’re ridiculously easy to make and for those of us in need of extra calcium, something different to do with milk. I think this method would work very well with cocoa and a bit of sugar added, to make a sort of chocolate milk jelly, but I’ve yet to try that variation.

Lemon verbena milk jellies with rhubarb compôte
Adapted from Food for Friends and Family

I forwent the honey and sugar in the jellies; it didn’t seem necessary since milk is hardly bitter. The result is a jelly that tastes more of the delicate lemon verbena and dairy than of sugar, which is how I like it. Make sure you use the freshest milk you have though; any hint of sourness will be noticeable.

400ml milk (I used semi-skimmed, it’s just what I had)
5-6 heads lemon verbena
1 sachet gelatine

100g rhubarb
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest

1. In a small saucepan bring the milk to a simmer. Turn off the heat and add the lemon verbena to the milk. Leave to sit and steep for an hour or until the milk is cool.

2. When the milk is cool remove the lemon verbena. Put the milk back on a medium heat and whisk in the gelatine until completely dissolved. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Once the gelatine has dissolved pour the milk into 2 large ramekins and leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight, to set.

3. To make the compôte place the rhubarb, sugar and lemon zest in a saucepan. Cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft and yielding. To serve upend the ramekins on a plate and serve with a couple of spoonfuls of compôte.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

29th May 2011 at 20:05

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Sweet as pie

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Rhubarb season is in full swing and to make the most of this very British vegetable I make sure I buy some each week at the moment. Of course, this does rather leave me scratching my head over what to do with it all. While I have seen some interesting savoury recipes for rhubarb (being a tart beast it makes a really good accompaniment for fatty meats such as duck as a sauce) I am still plodding along the dessert route, and decided to make a pie.

The combination of rhubarb and strawberry is classic, and for good reason; the sweet strawberries contrast beautifully with the tart rhubarb. I deliberately used minimal sugar to highlight the contrast between the bitter and the sweet and it worked well. To make it a little different I also used aromatic lemon and rosemary sugar in the filling. The rosemary worked surprisingly well with the rhubarb, enhancing its vegetable side and giving the pie an almost savoury edge. Whilst this is definitely a dessert, it’s a subtle one, and won’t leave you on a sugar high.

Rhubarb and strawberry pie

This pie is a great way to use strawberries which are a little past their best; sweet squishy strawberries balance out the tartness of the rhubarb perfectly.

40g butter, cubed
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 egg (yes, really, crack it, mix it and use the rest to glaze; alternatively use 1 tablespoon milk)
Pinch of salt
60g gluten-free flour blend
1 teaspoon cold water

200g rhubarb stems, trimmed and chopped into chunks
100g strawberries, hulled and halved
2 tablespoons sugar
Zest of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, then stir in the salt and flour blend. Bring the dough together; if it is a little dry and crumbly add the water until it is a smooth, cohesive ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 180 C. To make the filling put the rhubarb and strawberries in the base of a 7-inch pie dish. With your fingertips rub the lemon zest and rosemary into the sugar until well mixed in. Sprinkle the aromatic sugar evenly over the fruit.

3. Roll out the pastry to an 8-inch circle. Lay this over the fruit, cutting a hole in the centre for steam to escape. Brush the top of the pastry with a little egg wash or milk for glaze, then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp.

4. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes, and serve with a little single cream.

Serves 4-6 for dessert. The flavours, if possible, improve after a day in the fridge.

Written by guffblog

16th May 2011 at 20:45

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We hear so much about how raw food is supposed to be good for you – it’s got more nutrients, the enzymes in it aren’t denatured by cooking, it has more taste – and none of it has me convinced. Raw vegetables are great, sashimi, yum, fresh fruit, fab, but at the end of the day I like most of my food to be cooked, especially if it’s a tart. However, this recipe had me intrigued; not only does it involve no cooking (given the desiccated coconut and dates were probably dried in an industrial drier at about 400 degrees it’s probably a stretch to say it’s truly, completely raw) but the chocolate filling is made with avocado. I’m delighted to report that it actually tasted really nice (no hint of avocado-ness in there) and definitely hit the dessert spot, without being too sweet. Of course, if you need something unhealthy in there you could always add some whipped cream, or a bit more honey, without feeling too guilty.

Raw strawberry chocolate tart
From Clean Green Simple

Whilst this tart is not rich in the sense of lots of fat, it is very high in protein and full of fruit and for that reason will fill you up much more quickly than the same-sized portion of a sugary, carbohydratey chocolate tart. So keep the servings on the small side.

1 cup walnuts
6 dates
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

1 ripe avocado, chopped
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt
200g strawberries, cleaned and sliced

1. In a food processor blend the walnuts, desiccated coconut and dates until they form a crumbly, sticky paste. You might like to leave a few walnuts in bigger chunks, to add interest, though the base will be more crumbly if you do this. Press this into a 7-inch tart tin with a removable base and leave to set in the fridge for 20 minutes.

2. Make the filling by mashing the avocado with the cocoa powder, honey and salt. Pour in the milk, a little at a time; add more if you want the filling to be a little creamier, and mash until the mixture is completely smooth, with no lumps. Spread the filling over the base.

3. Arrange the sliced strawberries decoratively on top of the filling and return tart to the fridge until ready to serve.

Serves at least 6. This keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days without the strawberries; the strawberries will dry out if they sit on top for more than a day though.

Written by guffblog

2nd May 2011 at 20:19

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Chocolate limes

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I had a bag of limes. I only wanted one, to make a salad dressing. But limes get lonely on their own. Or so the supermarkets would have you believe. And so I ended up with six. And even storing them in the fridge they were starting to look a little saggy. There’s only so many G&Ts you can drink before you have to get creative. So I Googled. Lime. Lime pie. Lime and chocolate? And lo and behold, my inquisitiveness was rewarded with the perfect dish I had been sort of considering, I just hadn’t realised it. A chocolate and lime tart, inspired by those chocolate lime sweets, like inside-out chocolate éclairs, with lime, not toffee. I’m not sure why it didn’t come to me before, it’s such a brilliant combination (I maintain the best choice to go for by the Trevi fountain, even with all those wonderful 50+ flavours in the ice cream shops there, is a simple duo of rich chocolate and lemon. Simple is always best).

It’s important to really ramp up the lime in this with zest and a hint of green food colouring. Just so your brain agrees with your mouth that it is indeed lime and not lemon or any other flavour (honestly, it’s amazing how much of an influence your eyes have on what you taste). And some ultra dark chocolate to get a really rich and bitter topping. I used half 70% and half 85% chocolate (does that make it 77.5% or does chocolate not work like that?). Use the best quality chocolate you can afford, it will make a big difference.

I was a little concerned about the amount of cornflour in the lime curd and when I cleaned out the saucepan at the end it felt a little powdery on the tongue. However, once set in the tart the texture was fine, a cross between a curd and a jelly, firm enough to cut but with a definite wibble to it. This should definitely be stored in the fridge, but won’t collapse if it’s left out of the fridge for an hour or two.

Lime and chocolate tart
Adapted slightly from The Pink Whisk; tart shell recipe from Dorie Greenspan via Smitten Kitchen

For the tart shell I used Dorie’s great unshrinkable tart shell recipe that bakes the shell from frozen. It works well, though requires a little more forward planning than you might have. Given that the shell is gluten free and therefore is impossible to overwork (yipee), it’s easier to just press the dough into the pan and distribute with your fingertips than rolling it out.

Unshrinkable tart shell

1 cup gluten-free flour blend
1/2 cup rice flour
Very scant 1/2 cup icing sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter (125g)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
Lime curd
Zest of two limes
Juice of 4 limes
Juice of 1 orange
Enough water to bring the liquid up to 360ml in total
50g cornflour
200g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
3 drops green food colouring

Chocolate ganache
100g 70% cocoa chocolate
50g 85% cocoa chocolate
150ml single cream

1. In a large bowl mix the gluten-free flour blend, icing sugar and salt together. Cut in the butter in small cubes and then rub into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and stir in the vanilla extract and the egg. Stir with a fork until it starts to come together in a cohesive mass, then bring together with your hands.

2. When the dough is almost all in one mass, tip it out into a 9-inch tart tin and using your fingertips and the heel of your hand press the dough into the tart pan and up the sides. Make sure it is evenly spread over the whole tin. Transfer the tart tin to the freezer for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

3. When frozen press a piece of buttered foil, shiny side down, into the tart shell, wrapping tightly around the edges. Bake the tart shell in a preheated 180 C oven for 20-25 minutes, then remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes, until golden brown in the centre and medium brown round the edges. Set aside to cool completely.

4. To make the lime curd juice 4 limes into a measuring jug. Add the juice of one orange and enough water to bring the total volume of liquid up to 360ml. Pour this into a medium saucepan along with the lime zest, cornflour, sugar and egg yolks. Stir thoroughly until the sugar and cornflour have dissolved into a paste and then bring to a simmer on a medium heat, stirring all the time. When the mixture starts to thicken up, leave it to simmer for another minute (stirring all the time), then add the butter and the food colouring. Simmer for another minute or two, still stirring constantly, until thick and gloopy, the texture of thick custard, then remove from the heat and spread into the cooled tart tin. Smooth the top over with the back of a spoon and move to the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.

5. In another saucepan melt the chocolate with the cream over a low heat, stirring well. When the mixture has melted and completely combined remove from the heat and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes. When cooler, but not completely cold, spread over the top of the by-now set lime curd. Smooth with a knife and top with a couple more shavings of lime zest for decoration if desired.

6. Chill again in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until the ganache is completely firm.

Serves many. Keeps in the fridge for 4 days, and that’s as far as it got.

Written by guffblog

23rd April 2011 at 19:35

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A few quibbles

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I had a few quibbles with this recipe, from my so-far perfectly written new favourite cookbook. Firstly, I found it very sweet, unnecessarily so. I know that Middle Eastern desserts are stuffed full of sugar but I felt the amount could have been reduced a little here without too much difference in the end result. In fact, and I’m just going to throw this out there, fully expecting it to be laughed down, but perhaps there wouldn’t be so much unrest in the Middle East if everyone wasn’t grumpy from toothache all the time. Just a thought. Anyhoo…

Secondly, the instruction for making the caramel sauce was very vague. “Dissolve the sugar and then turn up the heat until the sugar caramelises.” Working with sugar is a very exact science, requiring specific temperatures to get specific outcomes. I boiled the sugar quite hard and as a result my caramel sauce set pretty firm. Actually, a rather strange alchemy occurred in the oven. When I poured the caramel into the ramekins it set solid almost immediately; hit it with a spoon, crack your teeth on it kind of solid. Once I put the finished crème caramel in the oven though the top layer of the caramel sauce melted, and didn’t resolidify; this was nicely liquid underneath the creme caramel, when it came to eating time. The layer below that though remained solid golden sugar, sharp, with the texture of a boiled sweet and impossible to remove from the ramekin with a spoon. Not ideal, unless you like serving guests impossible party games to pass their time with.

Despite these minor shortcomings I would class the recipe as a success, as I would make it again, though I’d have to play around with the caramel sauce to get it just right.

Orange and vanilla crème caramel
From Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume

One final point to note, and this was definitely my fault, not the recipe’s, is to use orange flower water and not orange essence. I didn’t have any orange flower water, but unfortunately the orange essence I replaced it with was oil-based and thus floated around on top of my caramel and made the whole thing rather greasy and messy, without incorporating properly.

125g caster sugar
75ml water
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons orange flower water

550ml double cream
Zest of 2 oranges
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

1. Put the 125g sugar, water, salt and orange flower water into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved; this should take about 5 minutes.

2. Turn the heat up to high and bring the mixture to a gentle boil; not knowing a huge amount about sugar I can only describe from my experience, but there should be about 2 inches of frothy, boiling sugar on the surface of the mixture. Keep this amount of froth nice and steady for 8-10 minutes, or until the sugar starts to darken. Once the sugar does darken, and it will take a little while, keep an eagle eye on it. Burnt sugar tastes nasty and makes a bloody mess of your saucepans. You want the mixture to be the colour of a varnished chestnut table. Pour it straight into 6 ramekins and leave to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 150 C. In a small bowl, or even the pot containing the double cream, mix the cream, orange zest and vanilla extract. Stir well. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and 150g caster sugar until pale, thick and creamy. Slowly whisk in the cream and zest mixture until all mixed in and carefully pour the whole lot into the ramekins, on top of the caramel.

4. Place the ramekins into a small tray, just big enough to hold them all, and fill the tray with hot water, so that it comes about 2/3 of the way up the side of the ramekins. Put the tray with the ramekins in the oven and cook for an hour, to an hour and 10 minutes, or until the crème caramels are almost set in the middle. Check halfway through cooking in case the water needs topping up. The ramekins will probably develop a sugary crust on top (which is delicious) so you’ll have to break one to test for doneness. Once done, remove from the oven and leave to cool slowly in their water bath. Once fully cool, remove from the water and put the ramekins in the fridge overnight to fully firm up.

Makes 6. Serve in the ramekins (you’ll see the futility of trying to upend the ramekins onto a plate once they’re cooked, but that’s fine, they’re perfect served the right way up).

Written by guffblog

14th April 2011 at 19:04

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