Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Darina Allen

Afternoon Tea: Lemon Squares, Half-blondie/Half-brownies, Crunchy Top Scones

“There are few hours in life more agreeable then the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

A dining experience that has come back into vogue in the last few years, the rebooted 21st Century Afternoon Tea can sometimes fall between being a stuffy, mock-aristocratic pastiche, or a doilies and egg sandwich “granny chic” event. This article lists a couple of the best options for Afternoon Tea around Ireland.

The key to hosting a successful Afternoon Tea at home is a diversity of sandwich fillings served on a selection of breads, a variety of tea (and coffee) options, and a selection of bite-sized cakes! Tray bakes are your best bet, as they can just be cut into slightly smaller portions then you would normally serve.

I’ve previously blogged about the Half-blondie, Half-brownies – the other treats in the photo are Lemon Squares from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and Crunchy-Topped Sweet Scones from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookbook.

LEMON SQUARES

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

For the base, put 290g plain flour, 70g icing sugar, a pinch of salt, 230g unsalted butter and 2 tsp grated lemon zest in a freestanding electric mixer and beat until the mixer resembles breadcrumbs. Press the dough together with your hands, then press it evenly into the base of a deep baking tray, lined with baking parchment. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until light golden. Leave to cool, with the oven left on, while you make the topping.

Put 210g caster sugar, 3 eggs, 100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3 tsps grated lemon juice in a bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk until well mixed. Pour carefully over the baked base and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the top has set. Leave to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

CRUNCHY TOP SWEET SCONES

Sieve 450g plain flour, a pinch of salt, 25g caster sugar, and 1 and a half heaped tsp of baking powder into a large bowl. Cut 85g butter into cubes, toss in the flour then rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk 3 eggs with 215ml milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board.

Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to 2.5cm and cut into scones with a ring cutter. Put on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with jam and a blob of whipped cream.

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Gratin of Mediterranean Vegetables

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then,
Poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
Poor thing.

And if he has any sense he’ll make himself up a big batch of this winter-warmer. As the weather starts to take a turn for the worse, this is a great dish to throw together when you’ve just arrived home, wet and cold, from work. You can experiment with the filling too, using whatever you might have in the fridge to save yourself going back out to the shops in the cold! The quantities below serve 2-3.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Cut an aubergine into 1cm slices, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for 15-20 minutes. Rinse to remove the excess salt and pat dry with kitchen paper. Peel a couple of tomatoes and cut into thick slices. Slice a courgette at an angle in 1cm slices.

Drizzle a baking dish with a few spoons of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle in some chopped spring onion and some chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme or marjoram are all lovely in this dish), arrange the aubergine slices alternately with the tomatoes and courgette. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little more oil and sprinkle over some more herbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the crumb topping: melt a knob of butter in a pan and stir in about 50g of soft white breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool. When the vegetables are cooked, mixed some grated parmesan in with the buttered crumbs, sprinkle over the top of the vegetables, and brown under the grill before serving.


Tuscan Plum Tart

Wow. I came across this recipe by chance – I had some plums left over and wanted to make something using ingredients I had in the house. This is one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made, and tastes absolutely scrumptious when it’s nice and warm out of the oven. This has the definite potential to be my new fallback, quick emergency cake. I came across the recipe in one of my bibles – Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course.

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

Put 275g sugar and 150ml water into a 25cm/10in cast-iron frying pan (or any pan that size that you can use on the hob and in the oven i.e. no plastic!). Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelises to a rich golden brown (it’s very important that once the sugar dissolves you leave the syrup alone – don’t be tempted to stir it! It will take time but the syrup will continue to bubble away and then start to turn golden-brown).

Meanwhile halve and stone 900g of plums. Arrange them cut side down in a single layer over the caramel (I only had four plums left so I quartered them and arranged them as per the photo).

Put 150g soft butter, 175g caster sugar and 200g self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds, add 3 eggs then mix again. Stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon over the plums, spreading gently in as even a layer as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour (mine only took 45-50 minutes). The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan. Allow to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out (put a plate on top of the pan and flip it over – be careful of any juices that might escape!).

Serve with creme fraiche or gently whipped cream.


APPLE WEEK! – Friday: Winter Apple Pie

Taken from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course, this pie uses a scone dough which cooks on top and is then inverted for serving.

Preheat the oven to 230degC. Peel and core 1.1kg of apples, cut into chunks. Put into a saute pan (or a pan suitable for cooking both on the hob and in the oven), and sprinkle with 225g granulated sugar and 1 tsp of ground cinnamon or mixed spice. Put the pan on a low heat while you make the scone dough.

Sieve 325g flour, 20g caster sugar, 1 heaped tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Cut 50g butter into cubes and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Whisk 1 egg with 180ml milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the liquid all at once and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board and roll to the size off your pan, about 2.5cm thick. Place this round on top of the apple and tuck in the edges neatly. Brush with a little egg wash.

Bake in the fully preheated oven for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 180degC for a further 30 minutes approx, or until the top is crusty and golden and the apples soft and juicy.

Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes. Put a warm plate over the top of the pan and turn upside down onto the plate – be careful of hot juices!

Serve warm with soft brown sugar and cream.


Home-made Brioche; Grilled Brioche Chocolate Sandwiches

A dish I am planning for the end of the week has brioche as one it’s main ingredients, so I experimented with a brioche recipe over the weekend to make sure I can get it right when I need to make it again.

Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course cookbook is my go-to book whenever I need a straight-forward recipe. Using her ingredients and instructions as a template, I dissolved 7g dried yeast with 25g caster sugar in 30ml of tepid water. I added 2 beaten eggs and poured everything into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. I sieved in 225g of strong white flour and a pinch of salt, and mixed it to a stiff dough with the dough hook on the mixer. When it was smooth I added 112g of soft unsalted butter, in small pieces bit by bit, until it was consistently mixed. It was quick sticky at this stage, and I placed it in an oiled bowl overnight in the fridge.

Traditionally brioche is baked in fluted tins, but I was making mine in a standard loaf tin. I preheated the oven to 180degC and lightly kneaded the dough. I formed it into a rough rectangle and put it into the well-buttered loaf tin, brushing it with a beaten egg. It needs to be left somewhere warm to prove until double in size. Once it has done this gently brush the loaf again with the egg wash and cook in the oven for about half an hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

While the brioche is at it’s tastiest served freshly warm with butter and jam, the following day I cut the leftovers into slices, and grated a 100g bar of chocolate between three of the slices. I put another slice on top of the chocolate to form a sandwich, and grilled them on a hot griddle pan on both sides until the chocolate had melted. You need to be careful turning the sandwich halfway as the unmelted chocolate will fall out the side!


Mexican Chicken Salad with Chili and Coriander Cream

Just finished my second day of leftovers of this dish, which is an adapated version of the one that appears in Darina Allen’s Easy Entertaining.

The quantities serve 12 people. It is important that if you don’t intend eating it all in one sitting, you are best to assemble just the amount of ingredients you need each time, as anything that’s left will just turn into a soggy mush. Once you have the chicken cooked in advance and the dressing made, it’ll only take five minutes to throw everything together each time.

Cook four chicken breasts on a chargrill pan. If the chicken breasts are very big, slice them in half longways horizontally, as this will ensure they get cooked all the way through without burning them on the outside. The great thing about a cast iron chargrill pan is that you can put it in the oven – what I sometimes do is grill the outsides to get the nice grilled look and taste, and then transfer the chicken on the grill pan into the oven to make sure it cooks through. Once cooked, leave to cool, and roughly chop/tear the chicken into approx 1cm cubes.

For the dressing, in a large bowl mix 175ml cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons English Mustard powder, 2 tablespoons honey, the juice of half a lemon, 4 crushed garlic cloves, 110g of tomato puree, 1 teaspoon of chili flakes, 175ml extra virgin olive oil, 225ml sunflower oil, and 1 tablespoon of ground cumin. Mix it all together, and if the taste is too intense add a little cold water.

In a very large bowl, add the leaves of a large Cos lettuce, torn into strips, the cooked chicken pieces, 400g tin black beans, 350g tin of sweetcorn kernels, 12 cherry tomatoes halved, 4 small avocados chopped, 350g grated cheddar cheese, and 225g of lightly broken (not crushed) tortilla chips. Add the spicy dressing and toss gently.

Serve on individual plates with a dollop of chili and coriander cream (225g creme fraiche mixed with 1 tablespoon red chili chopped very small and 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped coriander leaves).

The spicy dressing is amazing, so if you have any left over it would make a great dip with some nice tasty bread.


Mini Quiches and Apple Strudel

Filo pastry is one of the few pre-made products that makes no sense to try to attempt yourself. Each sheet is so thin that a little goes a long way, and one packet was enough to form the basis of a main course and dessert for four people.

Using the technique for individual cheese pies from the first Avoca Cafe Cookbook (layering filo into individual muffin tins, brushing each layer with melted butter, and letting the edges hang over the sides) combined with Darina Allen’s recipe for Quiche Lorraine from the Ballymaloe Cookery Course book (rashers and onions chopped, fried and cooled, added to 2 eggs and a yolk mixed with 300ml of half cream, half milk, chopped parsley and chives and 75g of freshly grated cheddar), I baked them in 180 deg C oven for about twenty minutes. I made eight, but those quantities will also be enough to make a traditional quiche in a flan dish with a shortcrust pastry base. I served two each with potato wedges, which had been tossed in a mixture of olive oil and Bush Tucker Rub (a mix of peppers, spices and seeds available from Tesco).

I laid out the remaining filo sheets on cling-film, overlapped to make a bigger “sheet”, using melted butter to seal the overlaps. Larousse Gastronomique has a traditional recipe for Apple Strudel, which involves browning breadcrumbs and chopped walnuts in melted butter in a pan, sprinkling this down the centre of the filo sheet, then layering some washed raisins, cooking apples, sugar and cinnamon over this. Overlap the sides of the pastry over the mixture, using the cling-film to help you roll the strudel. Brush it with milk and bake it in the oven for about 40 mins at 200 deg C.