Wednesday, 28 August 2013

By Special Request - First Cookery Books

This blog started because I am passionate about cooking and treasure my collection of old and new books which inspire me and guide me along. As I've been cooking my way through the very early stages of the Cradock Cookery Programme, I've often been surprised by some of the techniques and ingredients used, and I've really enjoyed discussing them on Twitter with other food-obsessives! When Foodie Quine sent out a request asking folk what their First Cookery Book was I was thrilled to reach for my well-loved Be-Ro book, which I still use today. I used to pester my Mum to let me cook things from it all the time. It's where I learnt to cook, and gained a passion for baking especially.

I felt almost guilty leafing through it again, surely Fanny would not be amused? After all, her aim was to teach me to cook with her knowledge, skills and experience as the only reference I would ever need. However, I just couldn't resist looking at the recipes I loved making the most as a child and remembering the people I baked for as well as the occasions. These were some of my favourites, although I am certain they never ended up looking quite like these!

Then my eyes were drawn to the pastry section - I've been blogging about the flours and techniques Fanny uses being so different from the ones I have grown up using and being familiar with. Fanny is currently teaching me all about Flans, and I've been surprised to see her using Self Raising Flour for pastry. Imagine my surprise when I re-read my beloved Be-Ro recipe and discover it is the same! Self Raising Flour! Have I just changed the recipe myself over the years?

Is the Be-Ro book warm and friendly just because of my memories, or was it designed to be accessible and well used? Its full of essential knowledge on 'oven management', 'weights and measures', ingredients (always Be-Ro of course - it cuts out oven doubt!) but most of all just really a wealth of homely recipes.

It's written, apparently, by Joyce Bostock from the Be-Ro Home Cookery Service, and she even urges us to contact her for any free advice on recipes and 'all home baking matters'. I wonder if I ever did?

Fanny, by contrast, feels that she needs to impart her incredible knowledge to me in weekly instalments, no need for queries or feedback. However I did also go back to have a look at Fanny's first ever cookbook, from 1958, written before she was even Fanny (Phyllis Cradock doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it?) and under the Bon Viveur pseudonym with Johnnie. This is her rationale for writing the  book. By request of course.

The recipes themselves are very similar to later ones, and bien sur, the inimitable Fanny style was there even then, requested or not! 

Thanks to Foodie Quine for inspiring this post - don't forget to check out her blog about First Cookery Books too!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Could a soggy bottom upset the Apple Tarte?

Fanny doesn't like questions, after all she has the knowledge and is simply passing it on, why would you have any queries? "Do as I say and you will have good results". If she were around today I would have a few questions, but only to help me understand her recipes and techniques better. If she was on Twitter I'd be logging on to her live #AskFanny chat and Question 1 would be - why do you sometimes blind bake pastry and sometime bake it 'raw'? This recipe for a Classic French Apple Flan - Tarte aux Pommes - uses 'raw'. Maybe I've been overly influenced by the return of the Great British Bake Off, but I am concerned about a soggy bottom here...

Fanny gives me some instructions on how to slice my apples for this recipe. I should peel them, but not core them. Then, slice in very thin rounds until I hit the core on one side before turning the apple round and repeating on the opposite side. Fanny says I will be left with two very narrow round edges wedges when cut off the core, which I should stand on the base of the cut and slice very thinly too. I am left with either half rounds or rounds, just as Fanny says. Oh and some oblong ones, I went wrong somewhere! My mistake, not Fanny's! 

The recipe itself is fairly simple again - line out my flan case with sweet paste, top with a thick layer of confectioners custard (I had some left over from Madame Fleurette's Flan, which was handy) and top with the sliced apples, copying the pattern in her own picture of course. 

A quick sprinkling of caster sugar and in the oven it goes. Fanny doesn't say how long for, testing me again, but guiding me that it will be ready when the pastry edges are lightly brown and the apples 'strongly' brown. Meanwhile I am to make a redcurrant jelly glaze, with some shop bought jelly and water, simply heated and reduced a little.

Fanny recommends if I am a 'flan addict' (and who wouldn't be with almost every recipe in Part Two devoted to flans) that I invest in a fluted or plain edge flan ring, as these will slide off easily after cooking. I have a loose bottomed one instead, which seems fair enough to me - again I'd #AskFanny though if I should invest in a proper ring?

After half an hour my pastry edges look lightly brown, but the apples are only just starting to turn brown. Oh dear, decisions decisions - do I remove it now? What if the pastry edges were to go 'strongly' brown too? I take the plunge anyway, and take it out. Fanny says I am to immediately brush the entire surface, including my edges, liberally with the redcurrant glaze. Perhaps my glaze isn't reduced enough, but it just seems to run off. If I'm honest the entire flan looks a little 'liquidy' so I am sure that my feared soggy bottom will be there. However I am pleasantly surprised once it is cooled and sliced (transferred as Fanny recommends with two metal slices underneath at right angles), no soggy bottom at all. I can hear Fanny reminding me not to question her, just do as she says... 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Madame Fleurette's Flan - Filched by Fanny from France

Fanny rather proudly tells us that she has stolen the recipe for this flan (remember do not call it a 'tart' - unless you add an 'e' and then it's French of course which is perfectly acceptable - Tarte) from a little restaurant in Northern France. I wonder if Madame Fleurette was aware of the theft, and did she mind?  Fanny makes it her Star Dish of the week, perhaps to appease Madame...

The recipe itself is really just a combination of preparation, assembly and technique. Oh and guess work. Perhaps if Fanny had asked to borrow the recipe rather than 'filching' it it would be a little more detailed. My first task is to make a sweet pastry flan case using the same method as for the savoury, again with self raising flour, but this time all butter, with egg yolks, sugar and a small flat teaspoon of powdered cinnamon. Chopping the 'paste' with knives is hard work, I may just blitz it in the food processor next time, sssssh!

Fanny instructs me to make and bake it according to one of her very helpful pic-strips as shown by Peter. I'm aware by now that if its simple, Peter is allowed to demonstrate. The 'paste' (as Fanny always calls it) is again soft and pliable, almost pillowy, and works extremely well. I of course, follow each move that Peter makes. Unfortunately Fanny, or perhaps naughty Peter, leaves out any instruction on how long to bake it for, or any temperature guide. I guess. It smells so good as it comes out the oven, that'll be the cinnamon, and looking golden and crisp. Maybe Fanny left out the instructions to test me, I think I've passed! 

Next up I need to take some of my 'very best home-made plum jam, preferly with lots of skins in'. Oh dear, I don't have any home-made plum jam, skins or not. I've never made plum jam. Fanny hasn't given me a recipe for it. Is this another test? Luckily I've spotted a simple recipe on the fabulous Blue Kitchen Bakes blog via twitter, so I get to work and create my jam, complete with all their skins, hoping that is enough. Fanny would be so proud of me pinching recipes! Thanks Madame Jen

Now I need to make some confectioners custard, which Fanny thankfully does give a recipe for, and whip up some double cream. Fanny tells me the custard is an invaluable basic for pastry cooks that we will use in many more ways in recipes to come. Lovely, I've never been able to make good custard, always too thin. I follow every step very carefully, although I don't have a double boiler pan. I improvise. This one does become very thick and looks perfect for a flan filling - Fanny tells me I can thin it down to become 'everyday' custard (but doesn't say with what) or I can flavour it with coffee or chocolate if I like, for other recipes. That's for another day, for now I need to start assembling... Custard in my cooked flan case, topped with the full-of-skins jam, then whipped cream, piped, bien sûr.

Fanny suggests I finish it off with some shavings of chocolate. I decide to use some good old-fashioned cooking chocolate for that authentic 1970's feel. The final filched flan is fetching and fabulous, well worth stealing! Merci beaucoup Madame Fleurette! 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Pissaladiere - Private: Provence Pastry for Professionals

"The English word 'tart' has such dreary connotations for both sex and cooking!

Fanny may not want to call a 'Flan' a 'Tart' but she is keen for us to take a peek behind closed doors normally marked 'Private', she wants us to peer through windows where we are 'not meant to be' and even encourages us to pop on our 'cloaks of invisibility' (will JK Rowling be joining us?) to enter Part Two of her weekly Cookery Programme - the key to Sweet and Savoury Flans and Tartlets. Oh, so tartlets is ok, just don't call a tart a tart.

Lesson one - professionals never make flans with doorsteps around them, they never fold pastry paste into parcels and they never use crusts to hold pastry paste down during baking. Got it. They do however use rolling pins (phew) and dried beans, lentils or rice with greaseproof paper to hold the paste down. This is fine, this is how I have been making pastry for years, this is how my mum taught me. Hang on though, I think Fanny and I may be about to fall out - the recipe for shortcrust pastry for this Onion Flan (and all Fanny's flan recipes to come it seems) uses self raising flour...

Even as I am following this I am sure this time that it really is a typo, it can't be self raising flour in shortcrust pastry, it just can't be. After sifting the flour into a bowl, Fanny tells me to 'gather my fingers up like a posy' (I am not at all sure why or how), add into the centre the very cold butter, very cold 'lard' (substituted with Trex by this very cool vegetarian), grated Parmesan, salt and pepper and start cutting away at the mixture with two knives (one in each hand). I add a little very cold water now and again and keep chopping and cutting and drawing in flour from the sides until the mixture forms a thick, light pastry paste. Fanny tells me to roll it together and pop it into the fridge for at least an our and maybe as long as a week... I think she means it will happily stay there for a week.

After an hour, it certainly feels really soft and fluffy, very different to the shortcrust pastry I normally make, which is buttery and crumbly. It is stretchy and pliable and rolls out really well. Is it the self raising flour, the chopping or the mix of fats? None the wiser, I continue to roll and line my 'flan' tin, and prick the base with a fork.

I'm expecting this to be where I reach for my greaseproof paper, and baking beans, but no, Fanny insists I bake this one 'raw'... The filling for this Onion Flan is basically Onions and Garlic, no secrets here. I gently fry the sliced onion and crushed garlic until tender but not brown and add it to the raw 'paste'.

I am meant to add a trellis of anchovies and olives on the top here, but both are off the menu for me so it's straight into my oven for 30 minutes. I wonder if the pastry will puff up, but actually it emerges looking (and smelling, that'll be the Parmesan) great, cuts well, isn't puffed up, didn't shrink at all (is this the reason for the self raising flour?) and above all tastes delicious. It's a simple tart, I mean flan, eaten without dreary connotations or indeed thoughts of sex but I can't help but still wonder if that flour was a mistake.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Chilled out - Una fiesta española con gazpacho, por favor?

"One of the very greatest mistakes we all make when talking in England about fine continental cookery is to confuse specific titles with generics and use generics as specifics"

Fanny's final foray (for Part One, fear not there are 79 more parts to come!) takes me to Spain, for another Dinner Party Menu, or Bill of Fare, and she's starting off with one of my favourites - Gazpacho. As before however, she also starts off in a very unfamiliar way - cooking the ingredients. Surely Gazpacho is a cold soup made from lovely raw vegetables? Or is this just my assumption? Fanny scorns me for thinking so, as everyone does in 'this' country (does she know I am in Scotland, not England though?) apparently, and points out that each region of Spain has it's own version of Gazpacho, as well as a delicious iced vegetable drink which carries 'precisely the same name'. She refers to two main Gazpachos - one of high quality served in private homes, and an enormously crude one enjoyed by peasants. Guess which one we are making? Fanny imagines that I'd LOATHE the peasant version at any rate as it contains dozens of chopped garlic cloves and pints of rather old and smelly oil. It doesn't sound great right enough, so high quality here we come!

The first ingredients are simple - tomatoes, onions and garlic. Fanny tells me to slice, chop and cover them with water and simmer 'with great gentleness' for two hours with some bacon rind. I, of course, omit the rind, and instead add a pinch of smoked paprika - surely its the smoky aroma I am aiming for here? After the two hours I strain the cooked mixture (using my ordinary sieve as ever), add a generous amount of Sherry, some wine vinegar, salt, pepper and celery salt before chilling. That's the soup base, not me. I have to chop a cucumber, some brightly coloured peppers, skin, de-seed and chop some more tomatoes and fry some bread croutons in very hot oil. Fanny gives instructions on how to eat the Gazpacho next - you definitely don't drink this fine soup. Each person takes a spoonful of the accompaniments, stirs them into the soup and enjoys. I have to say, it was rather tasty and of course very high quality.

In best Vegetarian manner, I skip over the Pork Chops cooked in Foil Parcels for main course, and head straight to the Creole Pears with Rice. Actually, being a very good student I read ahead, thankfully, and started the pears last night. Fanny asked me to - she even said please. I peeled my pears - Fanny said they should be ones of a good shape which stubbornly refuse to ripen. I popped them in an oven proof dish, poured over some melted Red Currant Jelly, a small bottle of Sweet White Wine and a little water, and left them 'on the floor' of a very low oven as I went to bed. Fanny assured me that when I came down in the morning they'd be as tender as silk, and bright pink. I daren't admit to Fanny I don't have any stairs in my flat, but nonetheless she was right! 

Next task was to reduce the lovely liquor to a sticky sauce and to cook up some pudding rice - Fanny prefers steaming so that's what I did too. Once steamed I add the zest and juice of an orange, a little sugar and heat it in a saucepan until it is very thick. Now I have to press it into a mould to set - the only one I have is a rabbit, but this seems very appropriate somehow. Fanny recommends brushing the pears with the syrup, arranging them around the moulded rice and serving this well chilled too. Thankfully it's a warm Sunday in Edinburgh, so chilled soup and chilled pudding is very welcome. And, relax.