Sunday, 12 February 2012

FASHION: Pavlova and Come Dine With Me

Recipes go in and out of fashion in much the same way as clothes.  Done to death till passé, ignored for a while, then suddenly revived as retro and quirky.  Pork belly got cool.   Heston’s started pushing the steak  and kidney pudding.  I even came across a chicken Kiev recipe in a food magazine the other day.    

Come Dine With Me is repeated on pretty much every single channel showing hapless yet arrogant home cooks cock-up three-course dinner parties and employ clumsy Machiavellian tactics to win the thousand pounds for highest scoring dinner.  Pavlova seems to be the dessert of choice: they all make it.  As far as I can gather its ‘the’ dessert of the eighties and nineties; all our grannies, mums and aunties pulled this one out of the bag.

Being a bit of a fashion snob, it was one those recipes I just ignored.  Common as muck, Pavlova hadn’t yet gone so far into un-cool that it had passed full circle to cool again.  The very fact that so many CDWM contestants butchered it made me dismiss like those mid-length gipsy skirts with the drawstring waist everyone wears with a vest-top in summer. Bland.  

However, I’d bought a cheap mechanical whisk on Ebay in a fit of bidding addiction.  As meringues involve the furious whisking of egg whites with sugar till they change their structure and become way bigger than you ever thought they could be, I thought it would be a great test for my latest gadget. I also realised I’d never actually made a meringue before, despite laughing at the wretched Come Dine With Me attempts.

Fuck me I’m glad I did it. There’s a reason it’s a popular dessert  - its simple, cheap, tasty and looks spectacular with minimum effort.  I followed Delia’s meringue technique from her website but made the rest up as I went along.  It feels light with the fresh berries and fruit sauce, but the cream and hint of caramel in the baked meringue stops it from feeling too goody goody.  I was really proud of this one.  


 Ps. My whisk broke halfway through the egg whites….

Pavlova – Serves 6

NB: make the meringue the night before you need it as it needs to cool in the oven for ages.


3 large egg whites separated

175 g golden caster sugar


175 g blueberries

200 g raspberries

Juice of half a lemon

3 tablespoons of icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden caster sugar


300 ml double cream

100 ml sour cream


1)   Preheat oven to 150 degrees celcius.

2)   To make sure your mixing bowl is completely greaseless by rubbing lemon juice on it then rinsing in very hot water.  Cool it down again with cold water and dry thoroughly before putting the egg whites in.

3)   Whisk thoroughly until soft peaks form when you lift the whisk. 

4)   Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking in between until all incorporated and it is stiff and glossy.

5)   Put a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray.  Using a metal spoon smooth a disc of a meringue mixture about 2 inches high and 20 cm in diameter.  Then dollop blogs on the edge of this circle till they join up and you get a semi ‘bowl’ or ‘nest’ of meringue.

6)   Bake in the oven for 1 hour then turn off and leave in the oven overnight so it cools and dries slowly.

Cream: whip it til its fairly stiff and fold in the sour cream. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar if you fancy.

Fruit sauce and fruit:

1)   blend a handful of blueberries and raspberries, a squeeze of lemon juice and a tablespoon of caster sugar using an electric hand blender. Using the back of a metal spoon push through a fine sieve to get a seedless/skinless sauce. Taste and add more sugar/lemon juice depending.

2)   Fruit: in a large bowl gently toss the remaining whole berries with a squeeze of lemon and three tablespoons of icing sugar till their shiny.


1)   Carefully peel the greaseproof paper from the meringue and put on a serving plate/stand.

2)   Spoon the cream into the hollow bit.

3)   Using a teaspoon drizzle the fruit sauce all over. Its pretty.

4)   Place the whole berries on top of the cream.

5)   Dust a light sprinkle icing sugar through a fine sieve over the whole lot.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

AMERICANA: Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies

Ganneting has been a bit quiet of late.  I succumbed to the January trend of crash dieting and consumed only low-fat, no-carb, no-booze for a month. Painfully boring. Now the Christmas belly is normal sized its back to being fairly sensible most of the time and a voracious gannet the rest.  Thank God.

A curious side effect of a low-carb diet was to create a sugar craving unlike anything I’ve never felt before. This was a surprising development and it’s seriously good getting my gnashers in the sweet stuff. 

I have a bit of a fetish for American food.  Slightly removed from traditional English food, yet still familiar. British food on steroids: more meat, more cream, more cheese and yes, more sugar.

There is a kitsch element I like in American food packaging.  Mrs Butterworth’s syrupy curves are camp as hell and Libby’s canned pumpkin puree is ace with its slice of plasticky perfect pumpkin pie hinting the possibilities within for an aspiring chef.  Often I’m restricted by what ingredients I can get hold of easily, but having discovered Waitrose stocked Libby’s I got all excited and bought three cans.
The US really like their pumpkin desserts with Halloween, and of course Thanksgiving being the squash’s official sponsors.  There’s loads of weird and wonderful recipes out there but I decided on pumpkin sandwich cookies rather than the obvious pumpkin cream-pie.  

 They were more cakey than cookie-like and the orange hue from the puree gave them an autumnal feel.  I liked the fact they looked like mini burgers with a frosting patty in the middle.  A double whammy of Americana.  The taste was sweet and moist with a comforting undercurrent of mellow spices.  The cream cheese frosting was as lovely as vanilla, sugar, butter and Philadelphia is bound to be, though I wonder if I accidently used a wet bowl to mix it as the resulting mixture was runnier than I expected.  Still addictive though and I kept going back to the surplus.

The recipe called for ground cardamom and ground nutmeg but I couldn’t find any so dry roasted and ground whole green pods before grinding in a pestle a mortar, and just grated some whole nutmeg straight into the mixture.  You don’t have to use canned pumpkin puree – you can actually roast and puree an actual pumpkin and use the same amount, but then you wouldn’t get the tin. 

Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies – From

NB:          I now have a cup measurement but if you don’t: 1 cup = 13 tablespoons.
It’s a bit of a faff but as cups are volume, rather than weight, it’s a bit safer doing that than trying to use equivalent weights, which can change from ingredient to ingredient and fuck up your recipe.

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (roast 4 – 5 green cardamoms in a dry pan till fragrant, then grind in a pestle and mortar)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cups granulated white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup of pure pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/4 cups butter, softened
4 ounces, cream cheese, softened
1 cups sifted icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1)    Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius and prepare two flat trays by lining with baking paper.
2)    In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix and set aside.
3)    In another medium bowl, beat the granulated sugar, brown sugar and softened butter until combined and blended. Add the egg, vanilla extract, pumpkin and beat until smooth.
4)    Grab a spatula or wooden spoon, and in two batches, gradually mix in flour mixture, until thoroughly combined.
5)    Drop the cookie dough onto the baking paper using two teaspoons, being sure to leave room for the dough to spread.
6)    Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden brown. They should still be soft to the touch. Carefully transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the icing:

1) In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until completely smooth.


Flip half of the cookies upside down. Dollop one teaspoon of the icing in the centre of each upside down cookie. Smooth it around with the back of a teapsoon until the icing just reaches the edges. Top with another cookie and gently press the two cookies together.