Sunday, December 19, 2010

#267 Nut Cake

I needed to test out my oven’s baking capabilities so I thought I would go for a tried-and-tested pound cake. There are five pound cake recipes in English Food and this nut cake is the final one. They all have the same basic recipe, but this one being a nut cake, required two ounces of chopped nuts (I went for walnuts) as well as two tablespoons of strong coffee or rum (I went for coffee) extra. A pound cake needs icing and Griggers suggests making the one that is given for the walnut cake recipe from many moons ago. However, there is such an exciting selection of frostings available in American supermarkets that I had to try one. I bought a vanilla. Talking of vanilla, I got to test out the concentrated vanilla sugar from the last post and used half vanilla and half normal sugar.

#267 Nut Cake. This was a good cake – the vanilla sugar was very successful I thought. Although never the most exciting, pound cakes don’t disappoint either, so all was good. It was a bit dry, but I think I over-did mine a little, so it isn’t Griggers’ fault. 6.5/10.

Friday, December 17, 2010

#266 Concentrated Vanilla Sugar

Several recipes for cakes and other desserts require vanilla sugar. I have already made one of the two vanilla sugars in the book and this is the second. The best thing about this one is that not only is it concentrated, but it is also instant.

Whenever you are baking do try to use real vanilla pods, or at the very least the Madagascan vanilla extract. Don’t ever use the essence. If you do, I’ll come over to your house and smack your arse. Although Madagascar is the main producer of vanilla these days, it is actually a Mexican plant; an orchid in fact. Mexico had the monopoly on vanilla production because, although it is easy to grow the plants, fertilization of the flowers was only possible in Mexico itself. This is due to the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla plant and its pollinator; the Melipona bees of the area. It wasn’t until a 12 year-old slave discovered a way of artificially pollinating the flowers with a bamboo stick could vanilla farming leave Mexico. I wonder if the lad got a handsome reward. I doubt it….

Anyway, I have prattled on enough….

To make this vanilla sugar, cut two vanilla pods into one centimetre bits and put them into a blender along with four ounces of caster sugar. Whiz the mixture so that you get a grey-looking powder. Cut your vanilla sugar with eight ounces of caster sugar and keep it in an air-tight container. You’ll probably need to cut it further when you come to use it for recipes – this all depends on how much vanilla flavour you like. FYI it was thought of as an aphrodisiac, so don’t go crazy, unless you want your dinner party to turn into a scene from Eyes Wide Shut.

#266 Concentrated Vanilla Sugar. It’s hard to give this a mark really as it’s an ingredient rather than an actual food. We shall see when I come to use it in future recipes...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#265 To Cook Salt Pork and Hams, Part II: to Eat Cold

Living in Texas means that there a lot of Mexican people (seeing as Texas was once part of Mexico, until the USA nicked it). Many Mexicans mean much pork is eaten. In England we eat loads of ham and bacon and sausage, but we’re not very exciting when it comes to other ways of eating it. Indeed this is reflected in English Food: there are just 8 pork recipes in the Meat chapter, yet there are loads of pork in the cured meat section. This is one of them of course – there is a whole variety of pork cuts that are familiar and unfamiliar to me. I saw a small leg and though it would be great to make my own salt pork seeing as I have the brine tub on the go at the moment. I have already done similar things from the book, like the Bradenham ham and the hot salt pork.
Noone seems to cure anything in England anymore – I can understand it of course, but brining meats is much more common here in the US – the Thanksgiving turkey got a good brining the night before from Joan last month. However if there is a cheap leg or loin going spare at the supermarket or butcher, it would be put to good use by being added to the brine tub rather than the freezer until it’s is needed.
You can use leg or loin for this. I have already gone through how to prepare and boil the salt pork or ham in a previous post. When it is cooked remove from the stock and allow it to drain and cool down enough for you to remove the skin without scolding yourself. If the meat has been deboned, then it needs to be wrapped in cling-film and pressed overnight (as I did). Toast some breadcrumbs and press them into the meat. This will be easier if the meat is still warm, though if you had to press it, there is no open than to do it when it is cold. Keep the whole thing wrapped up in clingfilm or greaseproof paper in the fridge and slice it up thinly for salads and sandwiches.
It’s important to remember that when you make these hams, you get a delicious ham stock. Use it to make some pea and ham soup (recipe here).

#265 To Cook Salt Pork and Hams, Part II: to Eat Cold. I think I must be getting better at these things because the salt pork was very moist and nicely salted. The trick seems to be to have the merest simmer when cooking it – in fact I turned the heat off completely for the final half hour; the cooking liquor was hot enough to continue to cooking process. I have been shaving bits of and eating it with mustard, pickles and sourdough bread. Very good! 7.5/10

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

#264 A Coronation Doucet

He was as ful of love and paramour
As is the hyve ful of hony sweete:
Wel was the wenche with hym myghte meete.
                             The Cook’s Tale, The Canterbury Tales

There are recipes in English Food that get me very excited indeed and this is one of the most exciting. This doucet – which means something sweet – is a custard tart that was served up at Henry IV’s coronation, alongside fritters, and candied quince (which I made quite a while ago, see here). Also on the banquet table were ‘curlews and partridges and quails and rabbits and small birds of many kinds’. Posh folk around this time would put pretty much anything into a sweet tart. It didn’t matter as long as there was sugar in it so they could show off how rich they were. A particular favorite was fish. Vile.
The Coronation of Henry IV

A custard tart may seem rather a plain dish, but remember this was October 1399 and this tart was laced with saffron and honey which were very prized ingredients. Indeed, it may have been sweetened with sugar too – which then would have cost a small fortune.
Henry IV spent most of his reign trying to prevent various plots against his own life – this was because the previous ruler, Richard II (some guy called Shakespeare wrote a play about him) went on a crusade and while he was away Henry began a military campaign to take Richard’s land and effectively earned the right to the crown. Richard wasn’t best pleased when he got back, but before he got the chance, he was thrown in the tower and starved to death. No curlews or partridges for old Dicky-boy. Henry IV also legalized the burning of heretics.  Read more on the lovely Henry here.
Canterbury Tales Woodcut, 1484

Not all was bad though. It was during this time that modern English was born. It was quite a strange thing – prior to these years all the texts were written in Latin and then, seemingly out of nowhere, English appeared all fully-formed. One of the key texts that shows this off is ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer, who was present at the coronation. Also, Henry’s address was the first to be given in English. So this really was a key part of English history. This is why cooking food from this book can be so exciting – a chance to have a real glimpse into history. You can read books, go look at paintings, or walk around a magnificent cathedral, but EATING something that people once ate has some other connection; a personal connection that can only be achieved with food.
Anyways, I have wittered on enough. Time for the recipe…
Blind bake some shortcrust pastry in a 9 inch tart tin – about 20 minutes at 180°C (350°F) should do it. Cover with baking parchment. Use baking beans to keep the pastry supported otherwise it will collapse and be a disaster. Remove the beans and paper for a final five minutes so that it can crisp up a little (at this point I lost track of time and slightly overdid mine, oopsey. Whilst it is baking, make the filling: In a saucepan bring 12 ounces of double cream and 3 ounces of Channel Island milk alongside a decent pinch of saffron and a tablespoon of either honey or sugar to a boil. It’s important to note that the creams are measured by weight, not fluid ounces. Whilst they are coming to a boil, beat together 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks in a bowl. When the creams boil, pour them over the eggs whisking as you go. Add more sugar/honey if you want – I added about three tablespoons of honey in all. Pour through a sieve into the blind-baked pastry case and bake at 180°C (350°F) until set – around 15-20 minutes.

The slightly over-done Coronation Doucet

#264 A Coronation Doucet. O! I loved cooking this. And I loved eating it too. It wasn’t even that nice; but the experience was so exciting. The custard was not very sweet, unlike what we are used to these days, but then in ye olden times there were no proper courses so sweet and savoury were not kept separate like nowadays. The saffron came across quite strongly too. I think if the sugar or honey was piled in, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. This was the third recipe I did from the book for Thanksgiving, so I am not sure how my American chums found it (hopefully I will find out in the comments...). Scores? Hmmm, well probably a 4/10 for actual flavour, 10/10 for geeky excitement