Thursday, 9 November 2017

Enough Is Un Oeuf (I Can't Go On, No More, No)

Do you remember a few years back there was a trend for creating mahoosive versions of smaller, much-loved things? Everyone seemed to be baking giant Bourbon Biscuits, or jumbo-sized doughnuts. You couldn't move for monstrous versions of Jammie Dodgers, or hulking great Snickers bars (they will always be Marathons to me) so huge that they had to be sliced with a chain-saw. Fanny wasn't one for extreme snacking, and thank-goodness she didn't wield a chain-saw, but it's no surprise that she too had a soft spot for gigantic foodstuffs.

Fanny Cradock Giant Egg

It's not enormous sweet treats that catch Fanny's eye, much as I'd love to see a colossal packet of Spangles or a larger than life sherbert-y Flying Saucer. No, it's the savoury side of life that Fanny thinks will impress more. Specifically Eggs. Giant Eggs. She's not completely bonkers. She's not gone shopping to the local Ostrich Farm. She's looking closer to home, for something economical and simple to create. With the ethos of humungous creativity in her mind, Fanny suggests creating a Giant Egg, from, erm, eggs.

Fanny Cradock Giant Egg

Fanny begins her colossal creation by separating eight eggs, very carefully. The yolks are beaten together lightly with a fork. To make eight perfectly fine but little egg yolks into one large yolk, Fanny pops them into a fairly large polythene bag. Seasoned first of course. The bag is then held delicately in a large pan of well-filled bubbling, boiling water until the yolks, or rather yolk, sets. Fanny warns not to let the bottom of the bag touch the base of the pan, or the shape will be lost. When creating Giant Eggs, appearance is everything.

Fanny Cradock Giant Egg

The remaining egg whites need to be whisked up together until they are very stiff. Fanny seasons them before gently folding through a small amount of finely grated hard cheese. Second to appearance, taste is important. Fanny places half of the whipped-up mixture onto a square of oiled foil, on an ordinarily sized baking sheet. Yes, for this is no ordinary Giant Egg, it's a Giant Baked Egg.

Fanny Cradock Giant Egg

The cooled Giant Egg Yolk is placed into the centre of the Giant Egg White, then completed enclosed in the remaining mixture. It needs to be smoothed out as best you can, so that it resembles, well, a Giant Egg. Once it bakes for 20 or 25 minutes, until golden, it is ready to be transferred to a serving dish. Salad trimmings or mayonnaise pipings can be added if required. Fanny assures us that the effect is dramatic when we serve a person a huge slice from the Giant Egg, either as a buffet luncheon or a first course. Presumably followed by the biggest Fish Finger you've ever seen, and one enormous pea.

Fanny Cradock Giant Egg

Monday, 30 October 2017

Horror D'Oeuvres

Fanny Cradock doesn't mention Halloween much. She gives plans, ideas and instructions for almost every other festivity. Nothing for 31st October. It's a surprise as you'd imagine that all the spookery and ghoulishness would be right up her street. Dressing up. Making your food look eerily scary. Over the top, spine-chilling colourings. Putting the fear of god into children. Perhaps it's simply that, in England at least, it's only a relatively 'new' thing. Not on her radar. Growing up in Scotland, it was a major part of my childhood. Perhaps it's just that all this scary stuff was just everyday living for Fanny.

Fanny Cradock Hors D'Oeuvres

We can only imagine, but my guess is that Fanny's house was one of those doors that the 'guisers' as we call them up here, or Trick or Treaters elsewhere, just walked on by. Not worth the actual total fright that chapping on her door would provoke. Don't make me knock on the scary lady's door. No amount of treats would be a suitable reward for accidentally hammering on her door. Poor Fanny was likely inside waiting expectantly for the bash that never came. Surrounded by her own blood-curdling bespoke blow-out buffet, ready to share them with the local children. Perhaps this was the real issue. What Fanny thought of as treats would have been at best terrifying to many young eyes.

Fanny Cradock Hors D'Oeuvres

As all the kids skip merrily by, or perhaps run at hair-raising speed, Fanny was inside preparing party snacks just in case. We know her beloved banquet bites were Hors D'Oeuvres that could be easily passed around by the horrifyingly hearty hostess. We know that her favourite party food can be made in advance. It gives you more time to get yourself ready for guests to appear like it's all been an effortless excursion, despite the fact you've been preparing for weeks. We know that Fanny simply loved eggs. So put all three together, add a sprinkle of spookiness and get the Halloween Party started.

Fanny Cradock Hors D'Oeuvres

Fanny has seven ideas of egg based Hors D'Oeuvres. Seven. All a variation on a theme. All start with boiled eggs - some hard, some soft - and end up usually with something or other being van dyked. Not as in Dick, but as in cut into zig zags. I'm only making three of the seven. You'll see why. For the first ones, Fanny stamps out rounds of puff pastry, bakes them and then hollows out a circle in the centre. The eggs sit in this as a base. The eggs themselves can be excavated, removing the cooked yolks, replacing them with lemon mayonnaise if you like. Then small rosettes of Orange Mayonnaise are piped round the base of the egg. Or it can be a row of peas. The final flourish is a leaf of parsley on top. Maybe a splash of Tabasco. It's like an exploded vol-au-vent, if they ever made vol-au-vents for the film Alien.

Fanny Cradock Hors D'Oeuvres

You never really see eggs paired with oranges do you? You do in Fanny's world. As if orange mayonnaise wasn't already a step too far, she van dykes a small orange, places an egg inside then pipes more mayonnaise into the gaps. Remember those egg yolks you hollowed out earlier to replace with lemon mayonnaise? Fanny uses them to stuff into hollowed out tomatoes. To disguise the tomato as, erm, an egg, she van dykes some egg white to cap it off. You get the idea. Marry eggs, van dyke skills and orange mayonnaise in any combination for a treat that will never be tricked. Children will give your horrifying home a wide berth at Halloween, which may also be a neat trick, depending on how you view them. You'll be left with the full horror of eating the hors d'oeuvres yourself though, so beware.

Fanny Cradock Hors D'Oeuvres

Monday, 23 October 2017

Beeton Eggs

Fanny Cradock wasn't really known for her love of other people, let's be honest. She was rarely portrayed as a supporter of other cooks, other broadcasters, other writers or for that matter other women. There are of course many exceptions, she did have some friends (honest) and some professionals that she raved about, but they were few and far between. She saved all her very special wrath for one particular female cookbook author however. She was a marketing genius, expert at self-promotion, and remains famous to this day. Sound familiar? Fanny 's blood boiled for a perfect four minutes at the very thought of Mrs Beeton.

Fanny Cradock Mrs Beeton Eggs

Fanny was proud of the amount of research that she did to dis-credit this 'no-cook cookery writer' who 'could not even fry an egg.' The recipes that she published were not her own, but rather other people's ancestors recipes, sent in as part of a competition and published by Beeton - who Fanny recognised was at least 'a clever journalist'. Mrs Beeton died aged 29, and Fanny calculated that if she had tested every recipe in the Book of Household Management, even if she had cooked for 32 hours a day, she wouldn't have been able to cook them all even once. Fanny, by comparison, never poached other people's recipes (ahem) and always tested them over and over and over again before publication. Or at least her petrified assistants did. Fanny was too busy doing the research.

Fanny Cradock Mrs Beeton Eggs

One area of severe criticism that is often scrambled Mrs Beeton's way was her recipes which began 'take 16 eggs...' People thought them excessive and out of reach for most household budgets. Fanny, rather surprisingly, defends her arch rival, stating that the criticism is simply NOT valid. Eggs are cheap and nutritious, and quite frankly, according to Fanny, Mrs Beeton certainly knew her eggs.

Fanny Cradock Mrs Beeton Eggs

To showcase these wonderful orbs, Fanny chooses a very filling dish which makes the humble egg go a very long way indeed. There are three main components. The first is an onion sauce, which Fanny makes very simply from simmering chopped onions in milk until they are soft, draining and straining them through a sieve. Meanwhile the saved milk is further heated until it reduces, before the sieved onions are returned to it. It smells amazing. The next essential part is of course perfectly soft-boiled eggs. Four minutes, remember? Run them under cold water immediately and shell them. No need for 16 by the way.

Fanny Cradock Mrs Beeton Eggs

Finally, Fanny takes an old cottage loaf, trims all the crusts off, cuts a large cavity in the top and deep fries it. This seems a step too far for me, and with premonitions of the fire brigade beating down my door (although...) I decide against this. I do cut a deep cavity though, which is filled with the onion sauce. Then the eggs. Fanny completes this treat by pouring a little of the onion sauce over the eggs, and decorating them with dill frongs. And of course a frill of dill around the edge of the cavity. Mrs Beeton would never have time for any of this marvellous detail.

Fanny Cradock Mrs Beeton Eggs

Monday, 9 October 2017

Just Can't Get An Oeuf

Eggs. Fanny Cradock loves them. She has a myriad of recipes that she can whip up with them. Actually she boasts that she has five hundred. She doesn't cover them all in this new partwork, instead, showing only a little of their versatility on a fairly modest level. Eggs, Fanny tells us, are a nutritious investment which 'open sesame' to a vast range of sweet and savoury delights. Fanny has 'knitted' as much of her recipe repertoire into the cookery programme as she can manage, but to cover them all would be like, well, trying to mop up the Niagara with a baby sponge!

Fanny Cradock Eggs Cocotte

Fanny urges us to think for a moment about how many culinary methods can be applied to a humble egg. They can be boiled, poached, fried, grilled, scrambled, baked, stuffed, pickled or, erm, roasted on a spit. This is not a technique I am familiar with, but Fanny assures me it is. She says she will not waste any time on it however, before starting to explain. For Oeufs à la Coq, the eggs are spitted onto a slender set bar and then something happens which is all a bit chi chi, which instead of elaborating on, Fanny suggests we learn some of the basic rules of eggs. We are left high and dry wondering how on earth to spit roast a chi chi Coq.

Fanny Cradock Eggs Cocotte

Fanny has something much more straightforward in mind. Full warning. It involves Aspic. She calls them Cocotte Eggs with Pâté and Aspic. It doesn't help. I'm imagining individual oven baked eggs, which is what Cocotte normally means. However, as always, Fanny has other ideas. Firstly, she soft-boils the eggs, by which she means for precisely four minutes. Precisely. She then makes up a batch of Aspic 'for masking'. Masking what, she is not so clear on. What she is clear on is that once made it should be mixed with some mayonnaise. I fear it is myself who needs the mask.

Fanny Cradock Eggs Cocotte

For the pâté, any simple shop bought or pâté familial (home made) will do. Fanny whips up an appropriate amount of double cream and blends most of it into the pâté along with a large spoonful of sherry. Well, at least there is booze. She pipes this mixture, once the seasoning is corrected, into individual cocottes, or miniature soufflé moulds. I'm using some plain old tea cups. Fanny plonks the perfectly soft-boiled egg in the middle. Then it is time for a horror of the aspic'n'mayonnaise.

Fanny Cradock Eggs Cocotte

Fanny spoons the still 'syrupy' aspic over the egg to set, being very careful not to let it run onto the pâté. It glides smoothly over the already smooth egg white, making a shiny white surface of the already shiny white surface. Another layer makes it even shinier. Fanny sets half a stoned Black Olive in it to garnish, but as I am absolutely terrified of them, and frankly this is all bad enough, I substitute for some slivers of tomato. It doesn't end there. Remember that cream we whipped up earlier, and saved a little behind? Fanny takes a small nozzle and pipes it around the egg as a thin 'thread' of border. It makes it look pretty, but there is no masking the fact that it is an egg, covered in mayonnaise-y aspic, plunged in pâté. Pass me the sherry instead. Just the one, as Mrs Wembley taught me. Hic.

Fanny Cradock Eggs Cocotte

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Trio, Trio, I Want A Trio, And I Want One Now

You know what it's like. I'm sure it's happened to us all. At least once. You wait for quite a while for a Fanny Cradock recipe with Greengages to come along. Years go by. Nothing. Not a plum. Then three appear all at the same time. Fanny calls them 'Reines-Claude'. What are the chances? They are all quite different. How do you choose which one to go with. Two are sweet. One is savoury. You've got lots of Greengages as they are bang in season. The supermarket has them on special offer. The timing is perfect. Could not have been better. Apart from the choices. Why choose when the choice is obvious? Make all three! Fanny would surely be delighted with a Reines-Claude Ménage à Trois...

Fanny Cradock Trio of Greengages

Fanny starts it all off with a jelly. She loves jelly. This one is a sweet version of her classic Aspic. She loves Aspic. Fanny makes it with plums. I make mine with Bramble Jelly, heating and setting it with Agar powder instead of gelatine, of course. It needs to be set in a shallow tin, so that the required circle of it can be 'stamped' out. While it's setting, Fanny halves and poaches some peaches, in a simple sugar syrup. When poached, they are fished out and dried on ordinary kitchen paper. The Greengages are also poached in the syrup, but left whole, otherwise they will lose their shape. When they are done they are not dried off, instead rolled in milled pistachio nuts, ready for assembly. The peach goes on top of the jelly, and the greengage goes on top of the peach. All that goes on top of all that is a little leaf of garnish - and you have Les Reines-Claude Savoyarde. Please warn your guests about the stone.

Fanny Cradock Trio of Greengages

All this greengaging is new to me, especially using them for a savoury salad. No poaching required. Fanny takes a silver knife and cuts a cross across the top of each greengage, opening each fruit into four petals, without pushing them so far back that they would split. Very carefully, the stone is removed. In it's place a mixture of cream cheese, cream, seasoning and more milled nuts is piped. Then dusted with paprika. Fanny recommends serving these well chilled on a lettuce leaf. Greengage and Chill. She presents for you Hors d'Oeuvre des Reines-Claude.

Fanny Cradock Trio of Greengages

Without a blink of an eye, it's back to the poaching. More greengages are submerged in extremely gently heated sugar syrup, whole again. This time they are bashed a bit to release the stone when they have collapsed, and the flesh is pulped in a blender. One of my very favourite phrases follows. Add custard. Whip them together and turn them into 'snow' by adding whipped egg whites. Fanny then piles the mixture into glasses and tops with 'spirals' of cream. That's piped by the way. Les Reines-Claude en Neige could not be otherwise.

Fanny Cradock Trio of Greengages

What if, unlike me, you don't happen to have a steady supply of greengages at exactly the right time when Fanny decides to feature them? She has purposely kept the recipes simple so that alternatives can be substituted. Fanny says to start thinking about Plums. Go on. Start. Maybe Apricots? How about Damsons? Have you considered Mirabelles, or Cherry Plums to you and I? Even white or black grapes would do, if you are really stuck. Fanny has one last suggestion though, which she's borrowed from X. Marcel Boulestin, who was the very first television celebrity chef on the BBC. Or as Fanny refers to him, 'that great amateur chef.' Green tomatoes were his idea. He loved them in jams, chutneys, pickles and, surprisingly, omelettes too. Fanny says they would be perfect in all these recipes des Reines-Claude. Yes, including the splendid flurry of Snow...

Fanny Cradock Trio of Greengages

Monday, 11 September 2017

Something Old, Something Choux, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

I absolutely love buying cookbooks. You won't be a bit surprised, I'm sure. I utterly love old cookbooks with their fascinating diagrams, captivating descriptions and gripping details. I'm never happier than rummaging in a second hand bookshop, finding an unusual, un-used gem or a well-loved family favourite. I also entirely love new cookbooks, so much so that my bookshelves are groaning. I tend to be restrained (or I try to be), even occasionally have I been known to donate no-longer used books to make room for new ones. Sometimes. OK, not often. I buy more shelves.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

Occasionally I buy a new book and inside I find something old. This happened recently when I trotted into my local Waterstones on the way to work (yes, it's a morning priority) hoping to spy the latest book from Justin Gellatly and the team at Bread Ahead - Bread School. There it was. On the shelf. Calling my name. I read it on the walk to work (apologies if I bumped into you). Sneaked a peek at my desk (sorry to my boss if you are reading this). Flicked through at lunchtime (which may have been extended). Lost myself in it on the train home (which for once seemed to fly past). So many wonderful, modern, classic, innovative recipes. Then, there it was. Page 166. 'French Baking', indeed. Swoon. Fanny's favourite, the Choux Swan.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

They are so retro. So adorable. So effective. I think I love Choux Swans almost as much as Fanny did. People often associate them with the 1970s, but they've been around longer and feature in Fanny's cookbooks stretching right back. It makes me smile so much to see them in a new, hip, must-have book, I just have to try the recipe and see how they compare to Fanny's. I made Choux Swans over the summer at my Fanny Cradock demo at Foodies Festival with the lovely Restoration Cake. Of course, with Fanny's signature blue cream filling. The crowd seemed to love them, and I loved seeing pictures of the sweet little swans I made for the audience appearing across social media. Who doesn't love a Blue Choux Swan?

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

People can get a little scared of choux pastry, but you needn't be. Fanny has her rules to follow, as ever, which are a little different to the mainstream. So I mostly follow the Bread Ahead methods and throw in some Fanny for good measure. All choux starts with melting butter in a liquid. Here, it's milk and water. Fanny uses all sorts, including orange juice, for hers, depending on the occasion. The Bread Ahead guys use bread flour, so I do too. A little sugar, some salt. All gently mingling. Then boiling. Then flour added in and mixed. Then eggs beaten in one at a time. Fanny then leaves it cool, until it is stone cold. Other recipes don't. Fanny says it's the only way to ensure there is no 'nasty goo' inside the baked buns. I don't want goo. Stone cold it is.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

Fanny loved piping. I love piping. The Bread Ahead Swan bodies are piped with a star nozzle. I rather like the idea. The Swan necks are piped through a small round nozzle. The necks bake for eight minutes, the bodies for twenty-two. Both emerge from the oven looking resplendently golden, but not so pretty. The tops are sliced off the bodies and cut in half to make wings. The cavity is filled with glorious piped custard or cream. Or both. Blue colouring is optional required. Wings are placed. Finally the necks and head are attached, and voilà, a splendid Swan appears from the ugly duckling. Fanny suggests insists that they are displayed on a mirrored surface to resemble a lake. Please You Must join me, Fanny and Bread Ahead, in #BringingRetroBack.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Real Wild Rothschild

Picture the scene. You're enjoying a fabulous dinner in a fabulous Château in a fabulous area of the fabulous Médoc in fabulous France. You're hosts are fabulous. Everything is fabulous. Of course it is, you are dining with the fabulous Rothschild wine family at their fabulous Château Rothschild. It's hard to get more blooming fabulous. Everyone is enjoying the fabulous meal. You suddenly have a fabulous idea. You'd love to recreate this fabulous dish at home. Surely you're fabulous hosts wouldn't mind sharing the fabulous recipe with you? Would they?

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

As you might imagine, Fanny was not shy in asking. Without any whiff of social embarrassment, she boldly asked for the recipe. I can still hear the *gasp* now. The dish she had enjoyed so much was called Gâteau Rothschild. The clue is in the name. A treasured family meal of layered late summer vegetables. Presumably goes perfectly with a large glass (or two) or red. Initially, the chef was extremely reluctant to share the recipe with Fanny. After all, it was a closely guarded family secret. And she was known for sharing them in print. For profit. The recipe is contained in their treasured private family 'receipt' book. So, probably, you'd just say 'I understand' and leave without the famous recipe. Not Fanny. She wanted that book.

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

Knowing the time would come when she too would want to impress a crowd, maybe of hungry vegetarians, she persisted to try and secure the secret. The chef, however, would not budge. Nothing stops Fanny as we know, so she went straight to her hosts to explain the reluctance. Not embarrassing at all. The fabulousness suddenly left the room. It worked however, and they asked the chef to prise open the old, valuable, sentimental, family cookbook and let Fanny get her hands on it. Except the chef insisted on simply verbally telling Fanny the recipe making her use all her powers of memory to retain it until she had a chance to jot it down.

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

She did though, and then shared it with us all. Naturally. How kind of her to lay bare the family showstopper. It is essentially a layered bake with seasonal vegetables. Courgettes. Onions. Tomatoes. Peppers. Mushrooms. Fanny says it is one of the most delicious and rather time demanding vegetable 'assembly' dishes that she knows of. Clearly not suitable for general family meals (unless you happen to be the Rothschilds) but entirely suitable for entertaining. I take some shortcuts though as time is tighter and it's the chefs night off...

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

I think Fanny, and perhaps even the Rothschilds themselves, would approve. Fanny laboriously cooks each vegetable separately in pans of foaming butter. Very French. It's important to keep them all separate for the presentation. I slice them thickly, pop them on a tray and roast them in the oven. Once baked, I layer them in a metal ring with alternate layers of a mix of cheese and breadcrumbs, before baking again. Fanny is very particular on the assembly. It must be onion first, then tomato, peppers and finally courgettes. In that order. My final rebellion is to include Aubergine, which I put first. Then, bake again and serve with a tomato sauce, which Fanny calls a fondue. This is how the Rothschild Family served it, and so must we. It was indeed fabulous. I don't imagine, however, that Fanny was ever invited to the Château for Gâteau again.

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild