Caramelized Apple Dessert

Sunday dinner is done and thoughts are turning to dessert. The weather is still cold outside and the snow is losing its charm now, becoming slush on the roads that will no doubt turn Monday’s dreary January commute into something a little more treacherous. So with our stomachs conjugating over the roast we’ve just had, I wanted something for dessert that would bridge that melancholy gap between the weekend and the week days that follow. Something to put a smile on peoples’ faces like a pudding that’s warm and friendly. A apple tart should do the trick. A little sweet. A little sharp. Served with hot custard and or cold cream accompaniments for those that  want to really and truly punch through their weekend calorie limits.

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Ingredients:

For the pastry:
Butter 50g (cubed)
Flour 125g
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs

For the filling:
3 sweet apples
Lime juice (2-3 tbsp)
2 cups ice cold water
2-2 tbsp Muscavado sugar

Custard or heavy cream for serving.

Method:
Rub the butter,  flour and sugar together then when the mixture resembles crumbs, add the eggs and milk slowly to combine the pastry together, working it into a dough. Knead until the dough is smooth, wrap and then chill for half an hour. Roll out to a thickness of half a centimetre (between two sheets of baking parchment if it helps). Lay the pastry across a fluted flan tin, pressing it into the corners gently and cutting off any excess. Chill for another half an hour or until you are ready to bake. In the mean time, peel, core and slice very thinly the apples before soaking them in the lime juice and water. This keeps them fresh, adds a little sharpness, and slows the browning process down.

When you are ready to bake, line the pastry with concentric circles of apple slices tightly. Dust the top with the Muscovado sugar and bake on 180º for 30 minutes.

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Toffee Crisps

I remember when sticky toffee rice puff bars first appeared in the shops, complete with cereal branding to grab your attention. At least half the kids in my class had them in their lunch boxes at school. I was about nine years old and no doubt one of many kids who nagged their mothers for this sugary block on the supermarket shelf.

I don’t know why I was so amazed to find this recipe on the desert postcard my Grandmother had kept. It was as if I had assumed that crispy puffed rice cereal did not exist pre-1990’s, let alone without the slogan – snap, crackle and pop. But it did – and instead of referring to them by brand, they were just rice puffs or rice crisps. It is with these that this ridiculously high-sugar, but kids’ delight, snack is made.

My grandmother starts this recipe with ‘a shilling slab of toffee’, which is not the most helpful of measurements in 2012, I have to say. After some reckoning and experimenting, these are the modern measurements I now use.

Ingredients:
175g toffee (a slab broken up, or just a bag of toffee pieces)
100g butter (unsalted)
100g caster sugar
150g rice puffs

Method:
Melt the toffee with butter and sugar gently in a pan over a low heat. Keep stirring to avoid any sugar burning or catching at the bottom of the pan. Once you have a smooth thick syrupy mixture, pour over the rice puffs in a large bowl and stir, carefully folding the liquid through the rice until everything is coated evenly. Pack it down flat into tin lined with greaseproof paper and chill.

Once set, cut the square into blocks small enough for small hands not to make too much of a mess when eating.

Chocolate Ice Cream

Making ice cream is surprisingly straightforward. There are many ways for the freezing process – but I found this was pretty easy, as it requires no repeat stirring every hour. This is another great recipe from my Grandmother’s archives.  In her cookbooks, there are telltale signs that the pages that contain this recipe have been well over used. Small explosions of powdered chocolate seem to dot the margins and map their way across the pages that also include her marvelous Bombe Au Chocolat and Iced Soufflé. But there is no sign as to which of these recipes might have been the household favourite, so I’ll be trying them all out over the summer holiday.

Ingredients:
4 egg yolks
120g of sugar
1 pinch salt
3/4 pt. single cream
170g melted dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 pt. double cream (whipped)
A cup of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (milk, dark or white)

Methods:
In a heat proof bowl beat the egg yolks, sugar and salt until the colour pales. Heat the single cream to just steaming (not boiling) temperature and stir in the cocoa powder. Very slowly add this to the beaten yolk, whisking all the while until mixture has blended together.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of hot water (bain-marie) and cook, stirring continuously, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Melt the chocolate in a separate bowl over the bain-marie.

Strain the custard to get rid of lumps you might have and stir in melted chocolate. Set aside to chill and once cooled completely. Whip the double cream until it is stiff and mix this along with the chocolate chips into chocolate custard mixture then freeze for at least 3 hrs.

Serve with what ever you like with your ice cream! Crushed hazelnuts and extra chocolate sauce is my favourite.

Tip: For an added (grown up twist) twist add a shot of fresh espresso to the hot single cream stage, for a coffee kick. Even swap out the chocolate chips for the zest of an orange.

Sherried Figs and Cream

Every now and then I come across one of my Grandmother’s recipes and it contains more than a healthy splash of sherry. Sometimes the alcohol seems a justifiable addition to the cooking process. Other times I have to wonder whether she stood at her Aga in the afternoons concocting these wonderful dishes with a glass of sherry in hand and then some how half that glass would happen upon finding a way into the cooking. In this way, I remember her being like a Scottish, female version of Keith Floyd.

Needless to say, there have been times where I’ve decided to omit the sherry or perhaps replaced her proffer of Madeira with a more measured glass of white wine or something like that.

In this particular recipe, however, sherry is a defining flavour. This is her dessert of sweet figs and cream and it was no doubt one of her favourites in early summer – a boozy alternative to strawberries and cream.

Ingredients:
A punnet of fresh figs (2-3 figs per person)
4 tbsp. honey
Sherry to cover
Fresh double cream or mascarpone

Method:
Make sure the figs you have are ripe and plump – not green; they do not ripen very well after picking. Place figs in a small sauce pan and cover with sherry, bring to a simmering point and dissolve the honey into the liquid.  Remove from the heat and chill.

When you are ready to serve, whip up some double cream to a thick consistency (you can leave it runny if you prefer). Mascarpone goes nicely too, so you can have this instead of cream if you fancy. Remove the chilled figs from the sweet syrup and simply serve with a helping of the cream or mascarpone.   ~

Chocolate Mousse, apparently.

Here begins the first of many experiments that pertains to my Grandmother’s cookery books and to kick off, I thought I’d break in with the simplest looking thing I could find: a chocolate mousse.

Before I even begin there are already complications. She has in fact written a couple of recipes, well.. one and a half to be exact. First, a ‘Miner Creme Chocolate’, leafed between the Crème Renversée Caramel  and the Petit Pots de Crème à l’Anglaise of French Cooking for the Home by Louis Diat, margined with a yellowing strip of sixty year old sellotape. Secondly, a ‘Chocolate Sweet’ into the back pages of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cookbook with a few splatterings of ancient chocolate escapades.

Now perhaps because it is the middle of the week and my I’m not feeling my most adventurous tonight, I went for the simpler American choice.  I will save the richer looking version for a weekend evening with dinner and test it out on friends.

So, the ingredients:

Miner Chocolate (1oz, per person)
Eggs (1 per person).
1 Tbsp water.
This is all.

Well, firstly what is this Miner chocolate? As the more complex recipe was named ‘Miner Creme Chocoalate’, I thought perhaps it was named after the friend from whom the recipe was received. But no, after a little research it was more likely to be Menier chocolate, a now non-existent make of French chocolate. Chocolat Menier was a french chocolate manufacturers that merged with Cacao Barry,  later bought by Group Ufico-Perrier, which in turn was sold to Rowntree Mackintosh who then were acquired by Nestlé. Such is the fate of chocolatiers in this day and age. Therefore for I suppose ultimately, I should have used a bar of Nestlé chocolate – but when the only plain Nestlé branded chocolate that immediately comes to mind is Yorkie or Aero, the recipe feels suddenly lacking. These are not the sorts of chocolate you make deserts with.

So it was decided that Green and Blacks was the chocolate of choice for the first test. Exactly 1oz is half a bar.

The recipe instructions seemed simple.
Melt chocolate in pan with one tbsp water – add beaten egg yolks –  Fold in whites.
Unfortunately, after melting the chocolate, adding the yolks and folding the whites (hand whisked, I’ll have you know) – I have to say I wondered what exactly I was to do next. Bake it? Chill it? After a quick cross reference with a few other modern recipes I figured that chilling it was the way to go.

90 minutes later and the experiment was complete, but for the tasting. In short: A surprisingly perfect texture for my first mousse.  However, the lack of sugar was evident and the 70% cocoa solids choice of chocolate also.  I think next time around, a bar of Galaxy perhaps – but I think the higher oil content would affect final consistency.  Maybe instead: a dash of caster sugar and an extra tbsp of water in the melting.