Rhurbarb and rosewater cardamom crumble

It is the end of the traditional rhubarb forcing season and to mark this season’s end, I have a recipe with a twist on the traditional rhubarb crumble. The flavours North Africa and the Mediterranean have been added, with the curveball of rosewater to surprise the palate.

I must admit that my forced rhubarb is not Hebridean in origin, but at least in justification, I am supporting an important and seasonal piece of British food history and our food industry by buying it. It hails from the famous Rhubarb Triangle, an area of West Yorkshire between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell famous for producing early forced rhubarb in the darkness of forcing sheds. So historically important is this area for growing forced rhubarb, it was awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the EU in 2010. The stems of forced rhubarb are crimson, delicate and sweet, quite a different animal the equally delightful outdoor thug that will be gracing the gardens and fields of the UK from now (well, if it warms up).

Of course, had the builders not dug out the foundation for the workshop while we were away on holiday, I would have had time to rescue our rhubarb. Alas, I have to start again by growing new crowns.

Crumble is so simple and delicious and of course, rhubarb crumble is hard to beat. Yes, it is patently a fairly rustic affair, but for something that tastes divine and takes no more than 20 minutes to prepare and 20 to cook, who could possibly resent the time spent to produce such cuddlesome comfort food. My time is very stretched just now, so crumble recipes are ideal for such busy phases.

To further bolster my argument, what better excuse to indulge in a comprehensive choice of delightful accompaniments of the dairy variety: ice cream, cream, custard, crème patisserie, crème fraiche or yoghurt. it really would not be the same without one of them, would it?

Rhubarb and rosewater cardamom crumble

I prefer to retain the sharpness of the rhubarb, so I don’t add much sugar at all, especially since the pomegranate molasses add sweetness.  This also applies to rosewater – don’t add too much or it becomes unpleasantly overpowering.

Preheat the oven to 180C

rhubarb crumble 3

Ingredients

Rhubarb:

250g rhubarb (it need not be forced)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

2 tbsp water

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1/2 tsp rosewater

For crumble:

150g plain flour

50g caster sugar

100g unsalted butter, cubed

75g pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

1 tsp ground cardamom

rhubarb crumble 1

Method

  • Gently poach the rhubarb in a pan over a medium heat with the sugar, water, molasses and rosewater until it softens but still retains its shape and some texture.  This should take about 10 minutes for thin forced rhubarb.
  • Transfer the rhubarb to a gratin dish and sit aside for an hour to infuse the flavours together before topping with the crumble.
  • For the crumble, simply pulse then blitz the ingredients in a food processor, except the pistachios, but only enough to make them into a breadcrumb texture and no more.
  • Roughly chop the nuts and mix through the crumble before topping the rhubarb with the mixture. Bake for 20 minutes at 180C. Serve with your accompaniment of choice, I favoured single cream on this occasion.  The Man Named Sous went for home made Turron Ice cream, which worked too, apparently.

rhubarb crumble 2

Passionfruit and orange tart with homemade vanilla ice cream

Hidden gems

I have spent a couple of nights this week rummaging about in the fridge and the cupboards to make sure any of the festive residue that may be lurking in nooks and crannies is used.  I abhor food waste.  Although I keep a stealthy eye on perishables sometimes fridge contents get beyond ‘use by’ dates. I basically ignore these anyway and let my palate tell me if something is beyond the point of usefulness.

I managed to squeeze a good-sized pot of jam out of some leftover cranberries and made an array of dishes with some kilos of beetroot given to me by my parents (great stuff, versatile, delicious, can’t get enough of it). I poured all the remnants of the various cream cartons into a wonderful cream of celeriac soup. It is amazing how creative you can (try to) be with sprouts.

So, what did I do with the cream from which the remnants were derived?  Well, there had to be ice cream, of course, and a passion fruit and orange tart with a lovely crisp crust.

Passion without guilt

I really do try to make all my food predominantly from local, seasonal produce but as stated in Ethos, I maintain food integrity as much as I realistically can, but there comes a point where I cannot castigate myself to the stage where I end up restricting my diet to the detriment of my health, mental, not least.  Self flagellation for breaking ones strictly defined rules is a matter for others more committed than me.

Passion fruit and orange tart

This passion fruit tart is a ray of sunshine for the palate, and to behold on the greyest of dark winter days, not least served with homemade vanilla ice cream. The contents of the tart are courtesy of Gordon Ramsay (yes, I know – but he can cook), with a tweak – I processed the passion fruit pulp to maximise the flavour from the seeds.  Pastry is a classic Michel Roux pâte sucrée.  Ice cream is from the lovely Leibovitz bible ‘The Perfect Scoop’.

Pastry – Pâte sucrée

Pâte sucrée is a classic for fruit tarts. It is a forgiving sweet pastry, less delicate than pâte sablée and thus is perfectly capable of containing the wet tart mixture – with a bit of help (well, belt and braces) from some chocolate. It is easy to roll super-thin and remains very crisp in the tart base. I make the pastry the Roux way, all ingredients on the work surface, but you could easily combine the ingredients to form the pastry in a bowl.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

100g butter, cubed and slightly softened

100g icing sugar, sifted

Pinch of salt

2 eggs at room temperature

Preheat oven to 180C

Method

  • Put the flour on a work surface, make a well in the middle and add the butter, icing sugar and salt to the well and mix with your fingertips.
  • Gradually draw the flour into the centre and mix with your fingertips until the dough is slightly grainy.
  • Form a new well and add the eggs and work them into the mix until it begins to hold together.
  • Once amalgamated, knead a few times with the palm of your hand until it is smooth.
  • Roll it into a ball and rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  • Roll out to the desired thickness of  2 – 3 mm on a lightly floured surface.

I used a 24 cm flan tin (with a removable base) to make sure the tart is thin because I think this gives more elegant presentation than a deep slab (it will also cook more evenly).

  • Lightly butter the tin to help the pastry adhere to the sides.
  • Carefully transfer the pastry on a rolling pin and form the pastry to the shape of the tin.  Use a ball of extra pastry to push the lining pastry into the corners of the tin if it is not compliant.
  • Do not trim off the excess pastry because the edge of the case will shrink a bit in the oven – trim after the pastry is baked.
  • Prick the base gently with a fork, line with greaseproof paper and baking beans. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • Blind bake for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes. Trim the overhanging pastry and leave to cool.

Chocolate pastry case lining

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

The inside of the case was lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate, which acts as the perfect foil to the sharpness of the fruit and gives an extra dimension of flavour. This also provides a nice surprise for your guests. You will need:

40g quality dark chocolate

Place in a bain marie and melt.  Let it cool slightly and brush onto the slightly warm case, filling in any holes and pores with the chocolate. Allow to cool and set.

Passion fruit and orange tart filling

Ingredients

6 ripe passion fruit, blitzed in a food processor and then sieved

350ml fresh orange juice

250g caster sugar

200ml double cream

6 medium eggs

Reduce the oven to 150C

Method

  • Put the pulped passion fruit and orange juice in a pan, bring to the boil, reduce by half and then sieve, allow to cool.  There should be about 250 ml.
  • Beat the fruit mixture, sugar, cream and eggs together until smooth, pass through a sieve into a jug.
  • Pour the filling into the case until it reaches the top.  I would sit the tin in the oven and pull the shelf out to do this – it is tricky to lift the full case and not spill the mixture otherwise.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes at 150C until the top forms a light crust and is set (it can be a bit soft in the centre), allow to cool and chill until ready to serve.

Additional option:  Dust with some sieved icing sugar and use a blowtorch to caramelise the top.

Vanilla ice cream – the real icing on the cake

The grand finale is an easy vanilla ice cream, so-called Philadelphia style, made without a traditional egg custard.  It is lighter tasting, cheaper and easier to make than the full-blown custard version, but doesn’t taste any less delicious.

Ingredients

500ml double cream

250ml whole milk

150g sugar (granulated is good)

Pinch of salt

1 vanilla pod, slit in half lengthways

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Pour 250 ml of the cream into a pan with the sugar and salt.
  • Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both pod and contents to the pan.
  • Warm over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining cream and milk and the vanilla extract.
  • Chill thoroughly, remove the vanilla pod and churn using your ice cream maker or do so by hand.

tart

 

Festively nutty

Of all the meals I prepare over the festive period, Christmas day dinner is often the simplest, most relaxing and least taxing.  The objective of the day is to be as sedentary as possible (almost sessile if I could manage it), chill out, dogs snoring at our feet in front of the stove while we read and listen to music or the radio (glass of fizz in hand, of course).  It is quite an unusual event for us to sit down for any length of time and relax and to be honest, I never find it easy to sit still for very long.

Hence, a roast bird, in this case a free range bronze turkey was the very traditional choice.  For one thing, nothing could be easer to cook, get your prep and timing right, and there is very little to attend to until gravy is required while the bird is resting.  Ideal.  Turkey is also still something of a novelty for us since we have only been post-vegetarian for the last few years, so it still retains its annual appeal. We prepared minced meat stuffing from the venison we butchered earlier in the year, as well as chipolatas, so there was little prep required, except a few roasters and veg – what we had available in the storage and the garden.  Sadly, this is the end of our stored carrot supplies, but a fitting one.

Carving the bronze turkey - showing the contrast with the rich, dark venison stuffing.

Carving the bronze turkey – showing the contrast with the rich, dark venison stuffing.

I am not about to recount how one should go about roasting turkey and trimmings for the traditional meal on Christmas day – that has been done to death with a plethora of never-ending tips and suggestions being available about this subject everywhere you look online.

The real challenge on Christmas Day for us is not that of cooking the meal but an exercise in moderation.  We almost achieved this, although a sensible but difficult decision was taken to omit cheeseboard. What a couple of lightweights we have become!

The dogs also got the opportunity to appreciate Christmas dinner – the one day in the year when they get to eat something else other than their own food. It was very difficult to get them to sit for this photo as Darwin (at the front) kept enthusiastically swinging his paw up in a powerful left hook to indicate he was ready to receive!

Hector and Darwin's christmas meal. Please Sir, can I have some more?

Hector and Darwin’s Christmas meal. Please Sir, can we have some more?

Hazelnut Heaven

The favoured nut featured in a somewhat makeshift dessert of bits and pieces, which turned into an unintentioned Hazelnut-Fest.  The highlight was our favourite ice cream, one for which I am eternally grateful for discovering in David Leibovitz’s book ‘The Perfect Scoop’, the quintessentially Italian Gianduja – hazelnut and milk chocolate. This is the only ice cream I find difficult to stop eating.  It is super-smooth, rich, creamy sumptuous and decadent.

Gianduja Gelato

Traditional gianduja chocolates, with the same basic mix of hazelnuts and good quality milk chocolate contained in this ice cream, are made in the Piedmont region of Italy where some of the world’s most flavoursome hazelnuts are grown. Even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, if there is any ice cream worth the effort of hand churning, it is this one to re-create the lush flavours of this Italian classic. Make sure you source good quality milk chocolate with at least 30% cocoa solids.  The Co-op’s own Fairtrade milk chocolate works well and is 30%. The original recipe suggests discarding the nuts after infusing, but this is wasteful and keep them to include in a cake.

Ingredients

185g hazelnuts

250ml whole milk

500ml double cream

150g sugar

1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

115g milk chocolate, chopped

5 large egg yolks

1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Toast the hazelnuts in the oven at 170C for 10-12 minutes, let them cool and rub off most of the papery skins with a tea towel.
  • Blitz them in a food processor until quite finely ground.
  • Warm the milk with 250 ml of the cream, sugar and salt in a pan.  Once warm, remove from the heat and add the hazelnuts.
  • Cover and let the nuts infuse in the mixture for at least an hour (I sometimes leave this for several hours to intensify the flavours).
  • Chop the milk chocolate and put in a bowl.  Heat the remaining 250ml of cream until almost boiling and pour over the chocolate, stir until it melts into the cream. Set a sieve over the top of the bowl.
  • Pour the hazelnut-infused milk through a sieve into a pan, squeezing the nuts to extract all the flavour. Re-warm this mixture.
  • Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and slowly pour the warm hazelnut mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mix back into the pan.
  • Stir constantly over a medium heat with a spatula until the mix thickens to coat the spatula.
  • Pour the thickened mix through the sieve and onto the cream and milk chocolate mix, add the vanilla.

Cool over ice and refrigerate before churning either by hand or using an ice cream maker.

For the ultimate hazelnut overdose, I served the gianduja ice cream with my home-made muscovado and hazelnut meringues and Frangelico, hazelnut and cranberry biscotti (recipes will be subject of future post).  I added a Lindors hazelnut praline chocolate on the side and accompanied the whole indulgence with Frangelico hazelnut liqueur.  OTT hazelnut heaven.

Hazelnut paradise

Hazelnut paradise – gianduja ice cream and assorted hazelnut accompaniments.

Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake – no bake, of course!

When it comes to cheesecake, the question of whether to bake or not to bake, and which is better, will always divide.  I come down firmly in the no bake, no gelatine camp, although I do admit to enjoying a baked key lime pie.

Perhaps my decision is particularly pertinent this week when I have had a couple of baking disasters in quick succession.  Firstly, a gingerbread misadventure. I didn’t think this was possible, but have now proved myself wrong.  Need to lay off the treacle a bit next time. The second was much more calamitous.  Croissants.  A twelve hour commitment to Michel Roux for nil return.  I know where I went wrong and I will re-visit the subject when I get them right (and when I have the time to try again!).

At the behest of The Man Named Sous, due to the occasion of his birthday, I gave him carte blanche for a menu.  Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake was chosen as dessert, to our unanimous delight.  His favourite cheesecake, and one of the easiest desserts to make – no baking!

Cheesecake has the unfortunate reputation as being something quite ordinary and often synthetic – or maybe that is more from my memory of the shop bought frozen gelatine-set purple topped things that were around in the 1980’s.  Also, despite their long history (reputedly a form of cheesecake was popular in ancient Greece) and varied styles from a diverse array of countries, they still predominate on dessert menus of pubs and chain restaurants much more so than in fine dining establishments.  There is some indication however, that this is changing of late. I noticed vanilla cheesecake has been on the menu at Le Champignon Sauvage in Chelmsford, albeit served with less ordinary salted chicory-root mousse.

The Man Named Sous has been quite literally tied to his workshop bench for the last month, with long days immersed in the world of cello – both making a new cello and restoring an old cello in tandem.  No small undertaking, especially to tight deadlines.

So, it seemed appropriate that the soundtrack for cheesecake-making should be centred around this most divine of all instruments of the violin family (I know, violinists and violists will argue otherwise).  I was reminded of a fantastic concert we attended a few years ago in Selkirk, a friend (and cellist) having invited us to watch Steven Isserlis play with the community orchestra.  We had front row seats, only a few metres from Isserlis who gave a mesmerising performance of the famous Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1. Isserlis has unfortunately not recorded this concerto, however, we are fortunate to have a recording of the great Rostropovich playing the piece, written for him by Shostakovich and which he premiered for his friend in 1959.  So accomplished and engaging is Slava’s playing of this wonderful concerto, I am listening to it again now.

Of course, that was my memory of what Isserlis played, and I wanted to confirm this with The Man Named Sous.  On asking him what Isserlis played that night he replied “A Strad”.  Typical cello maker!  I suppose it could have been his other cello, a beautiful Montagnana (1740). The Man Named Sous was at that time (as with his current cello) basing his design on this great Italian instrument, so he was very slightly disappointed not to hear the Montagnana played that night.

Ah, there’s few such wonderful memories as music can produce, I digress, so back to the cheesecake.

Baileys and Malteser Cheesecake

I vary the base for cheesecakes. I quite like oaty biscuits instead of digestives and often include a smattering of Grape Nuts for crunch. The ratio of cheese to sugar means this cake isn’t too sweet, so add 20g more icing sugar, if more sweetness is desired.

Ingredients

120g butter, melted

300g digestive biscuits, crushed

600g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

300ml double cream, whipped

A small box of Maltesers – about 3/4 of the contents, crushed lightly

25ml Baileys Irish Cream

Cocoa powder, to dust

Method

  • Melt the butter in a pan together with the crushed digestives, mixing well until the biscuits have absorbed the butter.
  • Press the biscuit mixture into a springform tin.  I used a 23cm diameter tin, which gives a relatively thin biscuit base, which I was looking for. Allow this to chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
  • Beat the cream cheese lightly, add the icing sugar and Baileys.  Whip the cream, although not too stiffly and fold into the cheese with the crushed Maltesers.  Spread across the biscuit base and allow a few hours to set.
  • Dust with cocoa powder and serve. Eat any leftover Maltesers. Simple as that.

Bailey's and Malteser cheesecake