Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ooh-Aah Just A Little Bit of Mite-y Vege Tim-Tam-A-Bang

Fanny Cradock took part in Eurovision in its first year, 1956. Yes, Eurovision! Before you start to imagine dear old Fanny and Johnnie bopping-and-a-twirling around a stage crooning and-a-cooing to a panel of international judges for votes for their song, I should point out it was a Eurovision Cooking Contest. The European Broadcasting Union encouraged all sorts of competitions between European Nations, and Fanny wasn't one to ignore a challenge. Particularly when the gauntlet was thrown down by a celebrated French chef, Monsieur Raymond Olivier, who goaded her by saying that 'Women, particularly English women, do not know how to cook. They are incapable of inventing a dish.' Fanny stood up to fight for our National Honour against the Frenchman in a head-to-head culinary battle, filmed by the BBC and beamed around Europe. Terry Wogan was not involved.

Fear not Eurovision fans, Fanny did take the glitzy performance aspect of the competition extremely seriously. Well, you wouldn't expect anything less. She made sure her entourage arrived with a paparazzi flourish, and her gown was suitably dazzling. She claimed to fashion the elaborate apricot coloured satin number herself, studded with diamenté and embossed with ostrich feathers. She whipped around the stage swishing her 3ft train in her wake, much to the 'delight' of the cameramen I am sure. Monsieur Olivier wore grey.

In celebration of the 'other' Eurovision's 60th transmission, the EBU have invited long term supporters Australia to participate, highlighting the theme of 'Building Bridges'. Fair Dinkum. (Please read every sentence from herein with a 'high rising terminal' or upward inflection at the end). I think it sounds like fantastic fun. You probably heard Jason from Don't Boil the Sauce squeal at the announcement. For the past few years he has been tucking into tucker from around Europe for his fabulous Chow Down to Eurovision. I love Eurovision, but he's obsessed. This year he's asking other bloggers to create a dish to represent Australia... Just like Fanny I can't resist a challenge, particularly an internationally-camp and flamboyantly-controversial one involving Eurovision and Australia. So, time to slip on that apricot ballgown, polish my diamanté and flick my train into the kitchen.

Fanny showcased perfectly fine English ingredients in perfectly posh French dishes for the contest. Fanny insisted they both create a Soufflé, and the Oyster version she whipped up for Eurovision was apparently a roof-raiser. So, naturally, I'm adapting the recipe with a suitably Aussie twist as my entry. Luckily Fanny included her recipe in her very final book, The Ambitious Cook - A Lifetime in the Kitchen in 1985 and detailed the story in her autobiography, Something's Burning in 1960. I need to incorporate iconically Aussie ingredients, so what better than Vegemite and Tim Tams? Stone the crows, if this isn't what most Australians would hope to be known for, I apologise. I may have Buckley's chance in this contest already.

To recreate Fannys soufflé I follow her guidelines and make a roux from butter and flour. I plonk in a half a tablespoon or so of Vegemite too. While it's still warm in the pan, like Fanny, I add cream and white wine - obviously Australia-tastic Jacobs Creek! I beat in egg yolks and beat again until smooth. My Tim Tams are whizzed up to a powder and mixed in to sweeten before the very stiffly whipped egg whites are folded in. I've already buttered and coated my soufflé moulds with more powdered Tim Tams (you can never have too much) so fill them up with the mixture. I nervously wait for them to bake in a hot oven for around 10 minutes, while an interlude video montage of Fanny in Australia scrolls through my mind, but I needn't have worried. Like Fannys version they rise to the occasion and will hopefully bring me 'douze points' when the voting lines open. Follow Don't Boil the Sauce on Twitter for all the fun. He's a top bloke.

They taste unusually good. I'm hoping the slightly alcoholic, sweet and salty mix will appeal to Eurovision fans Down Under as well as Up Over. Move over salted caramel. I'd be stoked if you'd vote for me if I get through to the next round! The result of Fannys Eurovision was officially diplomatically decided to be a draw. Fanny felt she was the real winner. Is it a sign that we can expect a tie this year too? Apparently the Monsieur tried to get it written into his contract that he would 'win' but he hadn't bargained on the fierce and formidable Fanny. What a drongo. What controversy awaits for 2015? Hopefully you'll be saying 'good onya' to a Scottish blogger for representing Australia with a twist on an old Fanny recipe... Strewth, whatever next?

Monday, 23 February 2015

Fannys Fancy Face

Fanny prides herself that everything featured in the weekly partwork has been tested, tested and tested again in the Cradock kitchen. Presumably by the ever energetic and eager assistants. Fanny herself was quick to criticise Mrs Beeton for being a 'shameless charlatan', claiming that had she cooked everything in her Book of Household Management she'd have been locked in the kitchen all her life. Going one step further Fanny lets us know that everything we see has been made by Fanny herself, garnished by Fanny and photographed by Michael in the Cradock home. Unlike Mrs Beeton, Fanny has a lifetime of experience. With one solitary exception. Fanny shares a very special photo with us all which breaks her golden rule. A very fancy bread indeed, the traditional Harvest-time Loaf.

The version Fanny shows us is a rectangular centrepiece depicting a windmill, with plaited borders. It was made for her by a wonderful Master Baker credited only as Mr Hall. He is a wonder with shapes, plaits and rings seemingly. He also has a large oven, much larger than any ordinary domestic oven we are likely to find in our own homes. Fanny reckons these are required to make such a masterpiece, which is the reason she has decided not to share the technique with us, which seems rather a tease.

Fanny lets us know that she herself has a huge caterers' cake baking oven, but there would be little point in her making this in hers as it is so unlikely that any of us would have the same in our modest homes. So essentially Fanny could make this herself, could garnish it herself and Michael could photograph it, but still she gets the enigmatic Mr Hall on the case. Clearly it never entered her wonderful head that all she had to do was make it SMALLER and then we could all enjoy it too?

In tribute to the fantastic, fabulous Fanny, I set about recreating her own familiar, fearful face in my harvest-time showpiece. My very favourite image which I use for my Twitter profile seems appropriate. Fanny says that these sensational show-off specimens can be fashioned in white bread dough, brown bread dough or in brown scone meal dough. The scone meal dough has no yeast or raising agent in it, so would seem most suitable for Fannys Face, I don't want to end up with Fanny portrayed in a puffed up portrait, bloated as if she'd forgotten to take her slimming tablets. Television piles on the pounds. The scone meal bread seems more like a pastry. Butter is rubbed into the flour with only salt added. Once at the breadcrumb stage, a mix of water and milk is blended in to make a dough, which is kneaded until smooth.

As Fanny refuses to give any instructions as to what to do next I improvise, or should I say use the Cradock knowledge that I have accumulated to date. So, half the dough is rolled into a rectangle shape around the same size as my baking sheet, to ensure it fits in my domestic oven. I trim it very neatly, and with the trimmings I roll out very thing strands of dough. I use these to create an 'image' of Fanny for which I hope she'd approve. Don't judge my artistic endeavours too harshly, I am no Master Baker. The other half of the dough is divided into thirds and rolled out into long strands to plait for the border. Once my harvest highlight is hatched, I brush it with an Anglaise glaze - which Fanny does give the recipe for - which is simply beaten egg and salt. Thankfully once baked for around half an hour, Fanny is still visible and almost recognisable. Almost. Can you see her? Maybe I should've started with a windmill? Or Maybe, like Fanny herself, just skipped this and got someone else to make it?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Plait du Jour

Fanny includes several variations for bread in the partwork to help raise our skills from the basic white loaf. There's Brown Bread, Cracked Wheat Bread, Milk Bread, Sweet Rye Bread and also Spiced Sweet Rye Bread. So many to choose from. The ingredients don't vary too much - a spot of 'lard' here and there, and from time to time some treacle or syrup instead of, and as well as, sugar. The technique doesn't vary at all, it's clearly a tried and trusted method which Fanny loves for her loaves, all made 'without a steam proving oven' in a futuristic nod of disapproval to the Bake Off. Fanny is much more excited about the shape of bread rather than the flavour or style, which can be made with 'unorthodox containers for bread shapes' or ordinary baking sheets. How versatile.. Above all garnish and presentation. As ever.

Fanny pays particular attention to plaits. To illustrate her fondness for them she dedicates several pages and many pic-strips to showing us how to plait successfully. Or rather Johnnie does. He seems to do most of the pic-strip demonstrations. Presumably Fanny is off practising her most feminine facial expressions. She's keen however that we learn two types of plaits, a three-strand and a five-strand version. Fanny says to use any of her breads for plaits, and if you are feeling particularly adventurous why not 'knit' strands of each together? Maybe it's because it's midweek, but I'm not really feeling THAT adventurous, so I plump for Brown.

To 'score' brown bread flour, and indeed Rye flour and Cracked Wheat, luckily there isn't any localised baker flirting involved - it's a simple trip to the 'nearest' health food store. For me, that's a welcome skip along to Real Foods. They've got loads of different flours and also sell flour 'loose' which is great if you only want to try a small amount for a recipe. I snap up a packet of Marriage's Strong Wholemeal Flour though as I know I'll use it a lot. Fanny looks disdainfully at the 'flimsy paper packets' that flour comes in though. She insists that we all sift them immediately, and store them 'correctly' in flour bins or even plastic 'burper' boxes at home. Presumably that's Tupperware to you and I. I think I'll be calling them Burper Boxes from now on though.

So, same technique as before, but most of the white flour is replaced with brown. Other additions are some lard rubbed in. Time for trusty Trex for me. The lovely fresh yeast is liquified in brown sugar this time, and Fanny adds Treacle to the milk and water mix. My store cupboard is out of treacle, but luckily my Aunt gave me some Jersey Black Butter when she was over recently, which is a great substitute. Well, I hope so anyway!

Once the dough has been mixed in two stages and kneaded for 10 minutes, until it's 'as lively as a bag of fleas', it's time to plait! I've made plaited loaves before, but Fanny does it differently. She rolls out her dough into a flat rectangle, cuts it into either three or five strands leaving an uncut end holding it all together. Johnnie uses a professional pastry cooks scraper for his, but Fanny says an ordinary sharp knife does very well. I have a professional scraper. Get me. She numbers the three plait stands as left to right '1, 3 and 2' for some reason. The sequence to plait is 1 over 3, 2 over 3 and repeat. Fanny clarifies incase the numbering is confusing. It's left over centre, right over centre. The flatness of the strands looks strange, but my finished plaits look like Fannys. Or like the ones in the pic-strip. For the five plait strand the numbering goes left to right '1, 2, 3, 4 and 5' (nothing is straightforward with Fanny) and the sequence is 2 over 3, 5 over 2, 1 over 3 and repeat. It looks just like the three strand version, only a little tighter, with the ends tucked in neatly. Once baked (and egg washed after 10 minutes as before) they look even more similar. I'm struggling to tell them apart really. They remain flatter than I expected, but the brown loaf is tasty and light. Can you tell which is which?

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Monday, 16 February 2015

Yeast is Yeast

Fanny is angry. She's fizzing. It's the state of the nations bread that's got to her this time. Raging. She is 'heartily sick' of the National Loaf which spends weeks hidden in a mystery deep freeze before it makes its way to the bakers shelves. These loaves are depressing Fanny, not only in how they look (which is of prime importance to Mrs Cradock) but also in how they taste. According to Fanny, they taste like inner soles or damp flannels. Neither sound too pleasant, not that I've tried them you understand. Fanny blames the commercial production of bread which is pumped full of water to bloat its weight and fool the housewife. But Fanny is not fooled, and is on a mission to urge us all, housewife or not, to refuse to eat the stuff by encouraging already busy women to find some time somewhere to make their own crusty loaves which are a delight to eat and better for us. Phew.

It all sounds so 'today' doesn't it? A campaign for now. To get us all started Fanny suggests a simple White Loaf, but she has a few golden rules to remember first. Always use the correct flour - Strong White. Fanny reckons we would be 'twitching with frustration' and cross with her (as if) if we tried to use her beloved 'ordinary domestic self raising flour' for bread. These days bread flour is fairly easy to find - just pop into any ordinary domestic supermarket. Back in the early 70's though Fanny had to be more wily. She would put on her 'most helpless' female expression and trot into her local bakers to wistfully persuade him to sell her some. It seemed to work for Fanny. I'm sure the local baker made some equally strange expressions when Fanny rocked up.

While Fanny is in the bakers, she works her charms to get him to also sell her some natural Bakers Yeast, which she prefers. I do too. I love baking bread. I have used dried yeast in the past, and still do when I can't get the fresh stuff, but I've become quite adept at tracking down the local 'dealers'. I'm fortunate that my local deli Valvona and Crolla sell the freshest, yummiest yeast ever, so no need for me to practice my helpless expressions just yet.

Fannys best advice for bread making is to keep everything warm. Warm up the kitchen. Warm up your bowls. Warm your tea towels. If in doubt, warm it. For the basic white bread, Fanny uses a technique I've never used before, which I'm finding is not unusual. She mixes her yeast with a fair amount of sugar until it liquifies and adds it to half the flour. She then adds (warm) milk and water (half and half), stirring it to a thick paste before adding salt. A lot of salt. It's like wallpaper paste at this stage. Fanny leaves it in a warm spot, covered of course to keep it warm, for 20 minutes or so.

It's looking quite bubbly by this stage, Fanny adds the other half of the flour and mixes it well. Then the kneading can commence! Fanny says to be firm on yourself and never scrimp on kneading time - 10 minutes is a minimum. However, worry not, as this very energetic job is simply 'marvellous for the figure'. Which no doubt helps when flirting with the local baker to 'score' some flour. Not requiring this, I use Sarah, my trustee assistant to knead it until smooth. It wouldn't be Fanny if it wasn't baked in an unusual tin though - Fanny uses a Savarin Mould, I reach for my faux-Bundt. Fanny pops it in the mould and leaves it to prove for an hour or so until it's doubled in size. Then, bake! After 10 minutes in a hot oven Fanny brushes it with an egg wash and pops it back in. The finished loaf has a lovely dark, shiny crust as a result. Fannys' loaf is great actually, light and tasty, and easy enough to rustle up. The only effort seems to be in making eyes at the local baker. Don't make Fanny angry though, switch from your flannel-tastic supermarket loaf while you can! If you don't she'll make one of her less feminine expressions in your direction. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Butterscorched - My Golden Diploma

Fanny Cradock was a self taught cook, she never claimed to be anything else, and was very proud of it. So proud that her aim in the partwork was to help us all 'teach ourselves' in the kitchen, but obviously in the Cradock way. Despite never having a lesson in her life, she was bestowed upon with a great many diplomas and decorations for both gastronomic and culinary merit, which she reckoned made her 'level pegging' with the greatest French Masters. You wouldn't argue would you? She modestly claimed to be 'nothing special' (just don't say it back it her), just a hard worker, and her students could achieve the same if they too worked hard. The partwork was evidence in itself of how to create dishes from the simplest to the 'greatest of parallel excellence' to those French Masters. Fanny created her own merit and reward system for her partwork students - The Golden Diploma. Fanny believed that everyone should have a permanent symbol of skill and appreciation to hang proudly in their kitchen. There were three levels of recognition that could be awarded, and I've reached the end of Part 16 which should secure me the 'Commencement Diploma'.

Fanny Cradock Butterscotch Pie

The final dish to complete this first rung on the Cradock culinary ladder is a ButterScotch Meringue Pie, or 'Pie Caramel au Beurre Meringué' in Fannys faux translation. It all seems rather fortunate too - it was my birthday at the weekend and I was thrilled, although I have to admit a little scared, to receive a blowtorch as a gift. Flames. I have been known to like flames a little too much. However a precise flare would be perfect to add some much needed flair for the meringue topping, and surely as a soon-to-be diploma holder I could be trusted to operate naked flame in a handy kitchen torch? Maybe I just won't tell Fanny.

Fanny Cradock Butterscotch Pie

Fanny certainly trusts me to create my own pastry cases using the skills and expertise learnt on my journey so far. No reminders required for diploma-level students. For the butterscotch filling I heat milk and maple syrup gently in a small pan until it reaches boiling point. In a bowl, I whip up egg yolks with flour and brown sugar, and which in the syrupy milk mixture. Over a pan of simmering water I continue to stir the mixture until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, before pouring it into my pre-prepared tart shells to cool and set. If Fanny were watching me she'd be delighted with my skill and expertise. And my crack of Cradock confidence.

Fanny Cradock Butterscotch Pie

For the meringue topping, the egg whites are whisked up by my trustee assistant Sarah (aka my KitchenAid) until they are very stiff. Fanny urges me to add only a third of the required caster sugar and whisk again for exactly three and a half minutes. Thankfully Sarah doesn't complain and whisks away happily while I have a sit down. When the remaining sugar is folded in the meringue is ready to pipe on top of the caramel coloured butterscotch pies. Fanny blisters hers carefully under a grill, but I have my new toy to fire up...

Fanny Cradock Butterscotch Pie

Confidently, but carefully, I torch and scorch the meringue topping until it's lightly browned. It puffs up a bit. So do I, quite proud of my achievement, and quite relieved I haven't burnt the house down. It tastes great, even if it's not butterscotch as anyone would know it. In order to obtain my diploma, I need to write off to Fanny with evidence from family and friends that not only have I cooked a dish from each of the initial 16 parts but that they have ENJOYED it. I doubt if I send of for it today anyone will reply, so I'm reliant on you all to vouch for me (I do hope you HAVE enjoyed it all?) and get me ready as I work towards the Advanced Diploma and hopefully the full Golden Diploma in the years to come. Maybe one day I'll track down one that Fanny sent out and be able to proudly display it in my kitchen - if you have one let me know! 

Fanny Cradock Butterscotch Pie

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Ricotta Roll - the Big Cheese Freeze

I've never been to Italy. It's quite a shock to think it out loud, and to write it down. Never been. Fanny would be horrified. I love to travel, as she did, and love to hoover up food wherever I go, as she did too. I love Italian food, just like Fanny. So, it just seems odd to have never even considered heading to the home of pasta, pizza, risotto and gelato. Perhaps it's because Italian food is everywhere, there's no need to search it out? Perhaps it's because it's relatively simple to recreate at home? Perhaps it's because Fanny made it so commonplace? Perhaps I need to remedy it in the near future at any rate - watch out Italy I'm coming your way (maybe).

Not only do I love cooking and eating Italian fare (or at least my version, and Fanny's take!) but I love trying new things. Last year I headed to the Eat Drink Discover Scotland event in Edinburgh in search of more new things. My house is full of new things. And old things really, just full. I'd been following the adventures of the Big Cheese Making Kit folk, so was delighted to snap up one of their kits to make my own vegetarian (all their kits use veggie rennet) cheese at home. Who would've thought it? I plumped for Mozzarella and Ricotta. I made the Mozzarella straight away and was impressed with the result. The geek in me was impressed with the process too. The science-y bit.

Fanny uses Ricotta in her final recipe to follow all that pasta - Italian Cream Cheese Iced Pudding, or Gelato de Ricotta, and I'm sure she'd be delighted if her student were to make their own cheese, wouldn't she? It's fairly easy, everything you need is in the kit, except the milk. I've gone 'best' here and am using Grahams Dairy Gold. Use the best you can find. The Ricotta is easiest of all, just add citric acid and salt to the milk and heat until the curds separate from the whey, strain (I hung mine over the kitchen tap) and it's ready. Really fresh, really creamy. Really perfect for an Italian dessert.

Fanny makes a kind of ice cream with hers - blending it with sugar, chocolate chips and chopped glacé cherries. I'm tempted to say Tutti Frutti or Neapolitan, it's neither but maybe a bit of both. Fanny also adds vanilla and a little Crème de Cacao from a miniature bottle. I use some vanilla paste and Pure Chocolate Extract from Little Pod as a substitute. No alcohol, but it does come in a little bottle. What's wrong with me - no alcohol? Once combined it's popped in the ordinary domestic deep freeze. No churning or fancy machines again for Fanny.

To serve, Fanny chooses an old favourite, the Swiss Roll. Oh, not very Italian then. I wondered if I might be able to encase the Ricotta Ice Cream in the roll like that old 1970's favourite Arctic Roll, but even after a full day in the deep freeze, the Ricotta Ice Cream wasn't quite firm enough. Fanny makes a kind of cake with hers, but I simply slice and plop the ice cream on top. It's a bit wonky, maybe inspired by the leaning Tower of Pisa? Tasty though, with a great texture. The added chocolate and cherries go well. It's not the most attractive looking dessert, but looks aren't everything. Fanny smothers hers in sifted icing sugar as with all things, so it's hard to see what it looked like for her. She serves a slice on scented geranium leaves, which I don't have, but I'm learning to adapt. I'm not sure if I ever do make it over to Italy that this is what they will be eating, which has never really concerned Fanny, but until then I'm in ignorant, cheesy bliss. Perhaps it's brain freeze...

Monday, 2 February 2015

Wine Without Fears

Fanny tends to leave the wine choices to Johnnie, he's the vino expert. Well, they are both experts of course, but Fanny concedes that Johnnie is more expert than her. Well, what she actually says is that he's more 'decorated' that her with wine qualifications. She is by contrast more 'decorated' with culinary awards, so it balances out, right? So, Fanny always defers to Johnnie for wine choices, handing him the meal plan when entertaining and letting him work his magic. Besides, he needs to have a leading role - they work so closely together in every other aspect of life and always divide their tasks. When travelling, Johnnie does the planning. When filming, he's the cameraman. Fanny is always the centrepiece, naturellement.

Fanny and Johnnie have written about wine almost as much as they have about food. In the beginnings of their Bon Viveur days the wines they drank were of as much interest as the meals they ate and the places the visited. They published a book in 1954, 'An ABC of Wine Drinking' to share their knowledge. Subtitled 'Wine Without Fears', their aim was not to inform the informed, but for those who knew nothing but desired to know more, protecting readers from exploitation, and protecting wines from misuse. Quite. Some of the illustrations suggest otherwise though. I'd say by the time the 1970's came along most readers were still novices where wine was concerned, or was that just my house? Blue Nun? Black Tower? Lambrusco? Not a mention by these two. They do however start with a word about the Italian Asti Spumanti. Don't.

In 1975, when Fanny was busy writing again herself, Johnnie updated their wine bible with a much expanded edition, Wine for Today. Fanny wrote the foreword, and indeed admits that she had little to do with the original book, it was all Johnnies own work she proudly tells us. For Fanny, wine is one of the only 'pleasures of the table' which a man (or woman) may indulge in three times a day every day of their lives. I've got a lot of catching up to do. Three times a day! No mention of units, or calories, or taking it easy, the Cradock way is to go for it full tilt. Fanny says that wine 'irons out the creases in our daily lives' and I have to say I agree. I love ironing.

In the partworks, different wines are considered each week, neatly matched to the foods Fanny is preparing and urging us to prepare. Johnnie has been handed the plan, and has the best selection to hand. Best not to get too excited about Italian wines though as Johnnie is quick to point out that they hang on to the best stuff, rarely exporting their best reds. How inconvenient. Johnnie says best not to 'ask too much' of any Italian Red really, but does have a few recommendations for the brave.

If you do travel regularly to Italy, like the Cradocks themselves, you'll already know to resist the local delicacy of Barolo served with Quinine, I can only imagine, but instead to look up a Sparkly Red called Lombardo which does not travel well. Even with cheese. Chianti is a safe Italian choice, although Johnnie feels it's a rough, claret-like quaff in comparison to other continents. And there is so much Government interference. French is best. If you do buy it, purchase only from a reputable seller and remember basic Chianti comes in whicker bottles, while Reserva is best.

Barolo should be the top Italian choice, with its floral bouquet lacking in nearly all the others, unless you can source the super Sicilian Corvo Rossi. So, it sounds like Fanny has done the right thing leaving the wine advice to Johnnie - his choices still stack up today among the over-crowded supermarket shelves. We all love wine now, although we may not be 'decorated' with qualifications on it, and don't all indulge in it three times a day. I'm working on it, plenty of 'ironing' to do. Can the Cradocks take the credit? Fanny certainly would, but Johnnie is slightly more modest. He reckons that you should take or leave his thoughts... After all, what he likes, or does not like, is of 'no importance' when what 'pleases you is the right choice, for you.' So, if you enjoy it, drink it, even if you are wrong. Maybe they are not so different old Johnnie and Fanny?