Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Slice of Cheer for New Year

Fanny fills the fifth installment of the partwork with all sorts of fruity citrus recipes. She is so keen on them, that she claims she could fill an entire book, but is careful here to introduce just the basics for every course and every kind of meal. After all, citrus fruits are almost as versatile as eggs and as easily obtainable throughout the year! They are also 'gay to look at', Fanny tells us, and as such are immensely decorative for garnish and presentation, her most favourite of mantras. Citrus fruits delight the eye and titilate the taste buds before any of Fanny's masterpieces have even been sampled. Fanny loves the fact that her citrus recipes can be virtuous and bursting with vitamin C without all the dreary associations of cookery books who list the vitamin and calorie content of everything. Fanny finds this depressing. So, it seems apt to adapt one of her culinary marvels using the humble orange just in time for Hogmanay. 

Fanny's idea is to serve redcurrant jelly in a surprising way with venison, lamb or hare - which is clearly not something I'd be doing. As it's party season I am switching it up and making an alcoholic version with some of the homemade Cranberry Vodka I've had maturing for a few weeks. It's really just some fresh berries pricked all over and plonked in a bottle with the booze, but seems like it would make a much more sophisticated vodka jelly shot. First up I need to hollow out an orange - Fanny has Peter show us how in a pic-strip - which involves slicing off a very small lid and carefully scooping out the flesh.

It's quite tricky not to break the skin, but using a teaspoon I soon have a hollow skin ready and waiting. Time for the jelly. In place of Fanny's suggested redcurrant jelly, water and gelatine, I use a bottle of Sprite Zero I have in the fridge (which seems appropriately citrus packed), my cranberry vodka and some vegetarian Agar flakes, which are made from seaweed. The flakes need to be dissolved in theSprite and heated until just boiled, before simmering for a few minutes and adding the vodka. Maths and science were never my strong point at school, so I am hoping my calculations are good enough to get it to set. 

Once mixed, it needs to be poured into the hollowed out orange and left to set. Agar flakes can set at room temperature, so just a case of waiting... Thankfully after about an hour it has cooled and set really firm, just as Fannys redcurrant version had. The orange can now be cut into segments ready to serve.

I think these make really fun jelly shots for a party, or even just a night in by yourself, as Fanny says they look so gay (in the way Fanny meant it) and decorative but unlike Fanny's version, they also have an adult kick. Perfect to start off the New Year celebrations, with a cocktail or two and good enough to leave you feeling somewhat virtuous and vitamin conscious still, right? Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

It's All In The Booklet #4 - Christmas Pudding

Fanny has rescued this festive recipe from the vaults of the esteemed French Chef Escoffier, but of course is keen to add in her own twist too. She wants us to revive the perfectly round Christmas Pudding which was the centrepiece of dinner tables everywhere in bygone days. Only one problem, they used to always be made in the old 'coppers' which families boiled up their laundry in, on Mondays. Fanny however doesn't recommend flinging your pudding into the modern day washing machine, so instead turns to modifiying a standard kitchen sieve. I am less concerned with a perfectly round pudding, so I just use a pudding bowl, in truth I decide to make individual puddings in small moulds, please don't tell Fanny. I've never in my life made or tasted a Christmas Pudding, but the ingredients seem lovely - fruits, breadcrumbs, ginger, suet (I use some lovely vegetarian suet from Suma) nuts, alcohol... As ever, Fanny gives detailed instructions in the booklet. 

All the dried ingredients are mixed together, the chopped apples added, followed by the eggs, citrus juices, beer and Brandy. It's really quite boozy. Why have I never had this before? Once combined the loose, floppy mixture is left overnight to rest and become a firmer, thicker mixture as the breadcrumbs expand.

Next day the mixture is pressed into the buttered moulds (or large bowl, or indeed sieve), covered with greased butter papers (please don't do as Fanny does on TV and shamefully show the label) or ordinary squares of oiled greaseproof paper, cover again with foil, secure with string, tie a handle and steam. As mine as individual I am using my electric steamer, which is very rarely used but is perfect here as I can get three layers. Fanny of course uses a steriliser which is very large and deep but any large pot would do.

Fanny steams her pudding for 10 whole hours at first, my smaller ones take just 3, and then they are left to cool, stored away for a few weeks somewhere to mature until the Christmas feast. When they are required, on Christmas Day, they need to be steamed again - the large one for 3 hours, my individual ones just for an hour. Fanny wants us all to have the drama of wow-ing our guests with a flaming pudding, something to upset the neighbours and put their nose out of joint. Her trick is to use a mixture of Brandy and Vodka for the flame to give a longer burn time. This is something she often used when doing her demonstrations at the Royal Albert a Hall and such like, so if it's good enough for that it's grand for me. I have been making some fresh Cranberry Vodka this year, so this seems like the perfect time to crack it open. More booze!

The alcohol needs to be warmed gently, over a mere thread of heat. Fanny suggests until you can just feel the heat with your (spotlessly clean, before anyone thinks of writing in to complain) fingers, ouch. Fanny recommends training a friend to carry the flaming pudding to the table wiggling it all the time, which gives a boost of oxygen and keeps the flames going. I presume Fanny makes poor darling Sarah do this, as she points out on TV she gets VERY nervous in front of the camera and her hands tremble so badly - this sounds perfect. My first ever Christmas Pudding is lovely, very, very boozy and surprisingly light to taste as always with Fanny. Fanny serves hers with green coloured Brandy butter and tiny scraps of angelica and glacé cherry. Of course. Merry Christmas one and all, hic...

I've linked this post up other Fresh Cranberry recipes over at Blue Kitchen Bakes hosted by Jen - pop over for a look http://bluekitchenbakes.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/fresh-cranberry-recipe-link-up.html

Saturday, 21 December 2013

It's All In The Booklet #3 - Your Christmas Cake

With only a hint of disgust, Fanny agrees to give two recipes for Christmas Cake - her Grandmothers Rich Fruit Cake, that so many people love (although not Fanny it would seem), and a 'spit new' one that Fanny has never shared before, her White Christmas Cake, which is beige of course. Fanny insists in the tough economic times that she is writing the booklet - which really has so much in it that it's a small book - that we all enjoy at least ONE decent cake in the year. I decide to make and enjoy both of course. The ingredients are similar, but instead of all dark fruits, the White Christmas cake has glacé pineapple, oranges, coloured cherries and her very favourite and long forgotten angelica. It's also made with a mixture of self raising flour and cornflour.

On TV Fanny assures viewers that she has scrubbed and scrubbed 'downstairs', but innuendo fans can relax as she means her hands in the make up room, presumably the studio is upstairs. For both cakes, hands are used to mix and squelch the ingredients together before they are plopped into the prepared cake tins ready for baking. I may have also used a spatula, luckily poor darling Sarah didn't attempt to tidy mine away, so no need to bark at her this time.

Once baked they really do look quite different, the old fashioned one is gloriously dark, shiny and heavy while the spit new version is light, and sparkly - but Fanny pleas that we please do not mistake it for a Madeira cake, Fanny will go right off you if you do. I know they are ready as they come out the oven NOT singing. This is Fannys top tip for cake testing, although if you are deaf, she says, use a skewer. I've made both cakes several weeks ago of course, Fanny says they are best if made a year in advance but I'm not convinced, or that prepared. I've been steadily feeding them with a Brandy ever since. Fanny recommends using the very cheapest of cooking Brandy from a miniature bottle, but feeling flush I go for something much more high end, it's just who I am. Sorry Fanny.

Fanny covers her cakes in real, classic, Almond Paste, which shouldn't be confused with nasty, cheap, shop bought Marzipan. It's made with ground almonds, icing sugar, raw egg whites, orange flower water and rose flower water. Please do not irritate Fanny, as one person did after at a demonstration at the Royal Albert Hall who wrote afterwards to tell Fanny her recipe was disgusting, and use flowery Face Cream instead of flavoured waters for culinary use. Okay? The waters used to be only available from the chemist, hence the mistake, but are now widely available in supermarkets thankfully. Fanny will NOT tolerate criticism from viewers and readers if they do not follow her recipes CORRECTLY. I do and it was a joy to make the almond paste actually, and easy to roll and cover the cakes.

For the icing, Fanny gets upset that we might revert to the usual Royal Icing which will create a fearful mess, break our teeth and fly across the room as we cut into it, but she grudgingly gives a recipe for it anyway. However her favoured recipe is for triumphant and easy to handle Fondant Icing and she encourages us to make this instead. Oh, I've never made my own, just bought some and rolled it out. It was surprisingly easy to make too though - just icing sugar, egg whites and gently warmed liquid glucose.

Fanny has another top tip for rolling out the icing, which I am dubious about but it really works well, and that's to use cornflour. It never sticks, and won't spoil the icing. Fabulous. Fanny shows us how to slip our arms under the rolled out fondant, of course making sure our nails are well manicured and clean, and lift it carefully over the cakes before smoothing down. For old fashioned cake I keep it traditional, but for the White Christmas version I add a swirl of blue food colouring for a marbled effect. Fanny thinks blue colouring is best for cakes and green for potatoes. I have transformed the 'rather dull assembly of cakes' into sparkly festive crackers. I'm almost as relieved as Fanny when she rather surprisingly proclaims 'we've done it' to poor Sarah. Unfortunately, I don't have a Johnnie, who is terribly good at these things, on hand with ordinary florist paper and a tube of UHU glue to make my trims, but I manage. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It's All In The Booklet #2 - Petits Fours

It may seem bizarre for Fanny to dedicate an entire episode of her Cradock Cooks for Christmas series, and so a whole chapter in the booklet, to Petits Fours but what seems even stranger is that she only gives one recipe - for choux paste. I think if she was on TV today she'd have an array of Macarons and cake pops, but as her legacy is preserved in her very favourite aspic, it's choux paste all the way. Fanny reminds us however that she is helping us to dazzle our guests with a treat which is not available outside of France, which is simple to create (if you know how) and above all is so very economical to produce. All we need is some flour, butter, two standard eggs and some ordinary tap water, which by any reasonable person could not be considered extravagant, apparently.

With some help from poor darling Sarah, Fanny demonstrates the technique for melting the butter in the water, and when it reaches boiling point 'shooting' in the flour and beating before adding carefully the eggs. It should be very thick and absolutely smooth, past the globule stage, as Fanny points out 'such nasty little lumps'. Fanny reveals her own special trick to ensure that the finished baked buns don't contain any 'shameful goo' and that is to allow it to cool at room temperature and NEVER in a refrigerator. Fanny is particularly cross on screen about an un-named and shamed women's magazine who gave a perfectly correct recipe, except the stage where goo had to be scraped out. Made properly, there should be no goo. Fanny pushes her finger into her baked buns to prove it.

I am sure Fanny would be most pleased with my piped and baked eclairs, buns and little miniature buns - not a hint of goo anywhere. Baked high in the oven and on a high heat, they are light and crisp when cooled, although I couldn't bear to bake mine as long as Fanny recommends. Fanny reveals hers from the oven proudly, and claims they should be very dark brown, and not prone to the perils of humidity as they are baked solid. Mine are golden. Oh dear, sorry Fanny, I fear I will be in for some of the same treatment as poor Sarah. Once cooled however I push on, fill them with the required mix of confectioners custard and whipped cream, and top with flavoured and coloured glacé icing. Fanny recommends a gentle pink perhaps, chocolate or coffee coloured, but my modern day choux buns are slightly more vibrant than even Fanny herself would make.

The same process is used for eclairs and the larger buns. Fanny, in a moment of faux modesty, reveals that her reputation for producing these wonderful Petits Fours is quite unjustifiable, after all it is so easy.  Her piping technique, which includes cutting the choux paste from the piping bag with a wet knife, does indeed produce wonderfully shaped eclairs. I do need to improve my technique, as from time to time I did forget, pulling up the piping bag and ending up with 'dreadful tails', but as Fanny demonstrates these are easily snipped off and re-shaped without much fuss.

Fanny says you can make these six months ahead of when you want them and they are perfectly fine, if stored correctly in the freezer of course, but they are so very simple and quick it seems unlikely that you'd bother. Fanny stresses throughout the show, and of course in the booklet, how very simple it is, and fun. However she does appear to be a little fuddled on screen, forgetting which buns she's filled and so on, perhaps it's because poor darling Sarah has disappeared? She seems worried about the year ahead, perhaps she knew this might be her last time in the spotlight? Soldiering on, Fanny displays a full table of completed eclairs and buns, even a Croquembouche which she does not explain how to make, at the end. She warns any friends who are watching that she does not appreciate their nerve in asking for a doggy bag to take any home that may be left over from the party, how very dare they. I am guessing the guests were too dazzled by the sight of all those garish buns to eat them on the night.

I've entered these Petits Fours into this months #TreatPetite hosted by @Cakeyboi and @bakingexplorer

Thursday, 12 December 2013

It's All In The Booklet #1 - Our Royal Mincemeat

I think I love Christmas time almost as much as Fanny does, and she gets VERY excited about the whole thing. For me it's a time to think about food, drink, friends and family... and Fanny! No matter how many times I have seen them, I still get so excited when her series Cradock Cooks for Christmas is shown on TV. This year it's being shown on the Food Network in the UK, so this special series of posts is in celebration of the shows, and of course the famous booklet which Fanny constantly refers to. So, grab your booklet, pop on your very best ballgown, pretend to decorate your tree, switch on the TV and cook-along for the perfect Cradock Christmas.

Fanny thinks it's such a pity that people only make mincemeat for one day in the year, and then forgot about it again until Christmas comes around next year. So, to reverse this trend she recommends making BUCKETLOADS of this 'Cinderalla of Christmas Cooking' and sharing with us a variety of special dishes to use it in... Aren't we lucky? Fannys favoured technique is to mix up the mincemeat ingredients, store them to mature and then cooking as required. When I've made it before I have cooked it then stored in jars, so chopping and swirling things 'pell mell' into a bowl, packing it into jars and storing it away well in advance is all new to me. Fanny insists this is done three months before required, and even better if it's left for a whole year. Lucky I was prepared!

Fanny gets very cross with folk who make those nitty little individual mince pies, which she claims are really just a waste of time. Millions agree with her, she says, men hate them, they are a dead bore to make and always end up like British Rail Sausage Rolls with the first bite up to the filling and the second bite over it. Whatever that means, Fannys solution is to make one big one!

No Cradock collection would be complete without reference to French cookery, and here Fanny tells us that her French twist on the classic mince pie is 'almost more popular'. She doesn't really sound convinced, however her Mincemeat Galette using discs of crisp and flaky puff pastry slapped onto trays, baked and served with cooked mincemeat in the middle, are lovely! I think the puff pastry twist must've caught on going by the offerings available in my local supermarket this year.

Continuing the French theme, Fanny would now have us combining mincemeat and home made pancakes, or crêpes, in a baked dessert. The pancakes can of course be made in advance and stored in between greased sheets of paper in an ordinary domestic freezer and rescued to be used when required. Roll up some mincemeat in the pancakes, dust with icing sugar and bake - or pass them to poor darling Sarah to do so - until piping hot! They are actually great, I had forgotten how satisfying pancakes were.

Fanny is so particularly proud of her next invention - a mincemeat filled Swiss Roll, using her never crack recipe to wow your guests over the festive period. It was the first recipe I tackled in this blog, and again worked a treat for this. Simply replace jam or cream with cooked mincemeat and voilá... Fanny says she uses one that is a fortnight old, but I made one fresh. Mine didn't crack, but don't look too closely at Fannys on TV, just saying...

Fanny saves the dish she is most pleased with in her mincemeat story until last, and despite her pride I doubt it went down well in the 1970's and still today seems quite stomach churning - the Mincemeat Omelette. It is essentially an omelette richly filled with mincemeat and dusted liberally with icing sugar quicker than you could snap your fingers and chastise poor darling Sarah for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, taking away the wrong equipment. It tastes as you'd imagine, no matter how much icing sugar is sifted on top. Perhaps this was made as a punishment for poor Sarah to keep her in line? Fanny shares all these recipes selfishly but gets great pleasure in doing so, as a salute to housewives everywhere who will try to feed their families well over Christmas. Although remember, there is no need to merely try, it's all in the booklet...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Seven Swans a-Swimming

Televisions across the globe are already full of Christmas cooking shows old and new, but sadly it seems that the brilliant Cradock Cooks for Christmas don't feature in the UK schedules this year. To console myself I am armed with my trustee booklet and will be sharing a series of special posts showcasing their creations. To get us all in the Christmassy mood, as if we need any motivation, Fanny shares another fun idea to get the young ones involved - Edible Swans. Presumably creations based on the other 11 Days of Christmas would push us all over the edge.

The small fry are still not trusted to do any actual cooking of course, it is all about garnish and presentation naturally. Ingredients are eggs and potatoes, all cooked by the parents perhaps? Fanny does urge the young ones to 'go to work on a hard boiled egg' though - by which she isn't echoing the famous advertising slogan but instead wants them to SAFELY do a spot of slicing. Just a sliver from the base lengthwise so that it stands 'steadily' is all that is required at first, followed by two small slices from each side, also lengthwise. Then it's the potatoes. As it's Fanny, she wants them mashed and coloured with harmless food colouring - green of course.

Once they are a lovely, ahem, shade of green they need to go into a piping bag ready for the assembly.

Fanny reassures the young folk if they aren't keen on piping that they can 'fork up' the seasoned mashed potatoes instead, but either way they need to cover the 'saddle' of the swan and start to come down over the cut sides before sticking in the cut bits to make the wings. Another smaller piece of egg slice makes the tail and these little swans are almost ready to swim off. Fanny gives a template for the head and neck, but it's really just a bit of a pipe cleaner shaped like a '2' and pushed into the end of the egg. And there we have it, swans ready to swim and present to your parents while you sing along - and they actually look quite cute. Let's hope no-one asks why on earth they have green feathers...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Mush, Mush Sweet Charlotte

Fannys take on the French Classic Apple Charlotte is intended, she tells us 'dear readers', to introduce some simple techniques to make it quick and easy to produce. I've never made a Charlotte, but reading between the lines here I assume it's hard to do, and so I try my best to knuckle down and pay close attention to every word of wisdom Fanny is sharing. I've had to buy another loaf for this one, eek. 

Fannys simple instructions seem quite complicated to me, and involve drawing round a soufflé dish, cutting out a circle, cutting it into quarters and then using these templates to cut bread the same shape. I also need to cut smaller squares of bread all the same size, no template given. I'm doing it because Fanny tells me to, but all the while I'm wondering if there is an easier way...

Fanny tells me then to beat an egg in some milk 'very quickly' before slipping the bread in and deep frying it until golden brown. Mmm, did someone mention deep fried bread? 

I also need to 'collapse' the quartered apples in a very little water, sieve them when soft to make a purée and reheat them with a little sugar 'to taste' until they 'blow and bubble' all the excess moisture out. The purée seems so silky and smooth and soon thickens up to a paste as Fanny suggests.

Once the fried bread is golden it's time to build the structure inside the soufflé dish. Fanny says everything should fit snuggly if I have used my templates correctly, but maybe I've done something wrong? The bread seems to have puffed up a wee bit during frying and is a little mis-shapen. Fanny hasn't warned me about this, but a bit of trimming and all seems well. Then the apple mixture goes in.

Now all Fanny suggests is to chill it until firm before turning out. After a few hours it's still a bit wobbly, but when I turn it out it keeps it's shape well. Maybe it's been successful? However when I cut into it, it sadly collapses a little, but still tastes great. Not too sweet, the texture of the apples is lovely and the bread still quite crunchy. I wouldn't say the techniques made it any easier, but a dollop of cream cheers most things up I suppose.