Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.


Blueberry and Lemon Millefeuille

Using shop-bought puff-pastry for this recipe makes it a reasonably hassle-free but exceptionally elegant dessert. Being a baking masochist I spent the morning making my own puff pastry, though. The recipe here is as it appears in Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy book, and she recommends shop-bought puff pastry. As an aside, I can’t recommend that book enough. You can pick it up in some of the bargain bookshops like Book Value for less then a tenner now – everything I’ve made from it has worked out perfectly.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Dust the work surface with lots of icing sugar and roll out 250g puff pastry to a rectangle just larger that 27x30cm, trimming the edges straight. It should be as thin as you can get it. Cut out 18 rectangles 9cm long by 5cm wide and place them on the prepared baking tray. Sprinkle with lots of icing sugar and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Remove the tray from the fridge and bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the pastry with more icing sugar. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the pastry turns a golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the cream, put 165ml whipping cream, 25g icing sugar, and a few drops of vanilla extract into a large bowl and whip until medium soft peaks form. Fold in the freshly grated zest of one lemon, the scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle (I poured it into a freezer bag and cut off the bottom corner, that technique for piping is fine if you have soft mixture like cream to pipe – something stiff like buttercream will split the bag).

Place one pastry thin on a serving plate. Pipe blobs of cream over the pastry, alternating the blobs with a fresh blueberry. Put another pastry thin on top and repeat. Add the top pastry, sprinkle with icing sugar, and repeat to make six millefeuille.

In her recipe, Lorraine Pascale includes a chocolate sauce to pour over them. I didn’t make the sauce, but the recipe is as follows: Heat 165ml double cream in a pan until just boiling. Remove the pan from the heat, add 100g finely chopped dark chocolate and 25g butter. Don’t stir the ingredients, just leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir until everything is smooth. Add 1tbsp golden syrup and stir again.


APPLE WEEK! – Saturday: Apple and Blackberry Crumble

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “If you’re tired of apple crumble, you’re tired of life.”

Stew around 700g of cooking apples gently with 50g sugar and 1 tbsp water in a covered saucepan until about half cooked (adjust the sugar as required, depending on the tartness of the apples). Add a handful of blackberries for the last minute. Turn into a pie dish, and allow to cool slightly while you make the crumble topping. Preheat the oven to 180degC.

Rub 50g cold, cubed butter into 110g plain flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs, then mix in 50g caster sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple, and bake for 35-45 minutes until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.

APPLE WEEK! – Tuesday: Blueberry and Apple Kuchen

Today’s paean to the garden apple is the predictably amazing Blueberry and Apple Kuchen from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook.

Preheat the oven to 175degC. Butter a 9-inch round cake tin. In a bowl cream 6 tablespoons (3oz) unsalted butter (at room temperature) with 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy (I’m giving the measurements in the American cup sizes as they appear in the book). Beat in a large egg.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 and 1/2 cups of plain flour, 2tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients and 1/2 cup milk alternately to the butter mixture. Do not overbeat: mix just until the ingredients are combined.

Peel and core about 6 small-medium apples. Slice them into 1/4 inch wedges. (I parboiled them very briefly with a sprinkle of sugar and a tbsp water just to take the tart edge off them).

Spoon the batter into the tin. Press the apple slices into the batter, working in a circular motion. Arrange the blueberries in a ring inside the apples, and sprinkle the remainder around the edges. Sprinkle the kuchen with cinnamon sugar (1 tbsp sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon).

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set on a wire rack to cool briefly. I served it warm with whipped cream, although the recipe suggests making hot cream sauce to accompany the cake. As an alternative to blueberries, the recipe recommends using cranberries.

APPLE WEEK! – Monday: Apple Strudel

A bumper harvest in the family garden saw me yield a shopping bag full of apples, so I’ve set myself the task of making a different dish with apples every day this week. First up is quick apple strudel.

Rather then make my own pastry, I cheated and bought a packet of frozen filo pastry. Once it had defrosted, I floured my work surface, and lay a sheet out flat. I brushed melted butter along one of the long edges, and lay the next sheet beside, overlapping the first sheet by about two inches. I did the same with the third sheet, overlapping the second by two inches too (so the pastry on the table was 2 foot wide). I then brushed some butter over the whole thing, and lay a fourth sheet running in the opposite direction, centred on the bottom half of the pastry.

To make the filling, I peeled, cored and sliced 450g of apples, and mixed that with 50g sultanas, 50g caster sugar, half tsp ground cinnamon, the grated rinds of half an orange and half a lemon, 25g chopped walnuts and 25g ground almonds.

I spread the filling along the doubled up section of pastry, leaving it a few inches short at each end. I rolled the whole thing up, cut off the excess pastry at the ends, and tucked the ends in under. I brushed the strudel with more melted butter, and cooked it for about 10 minutes at 230degC, and reduced the temperature down to 200degC and cooked it for another 20 minutes. I brushed the strudel with melted butter a few more times during cooking, and when it was cooked I dusted it with icing sugar and served it with whipped cream.

Private Dining Event – menu, photos and wine notes

All the courses served at this meal for ten people were inspired by recipes from both Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and The French Laundry in California. The wines were matched with each course by The Corkscrew Wine Merchants on Chatham Street. As always their research and attention to detail ensured that each wine was the perfect compliment to the food being served (where possible I have linked the wine to their online store).

Upon arrival guests were poured a glass of Dominio de la Vega Cava while they waited to be seated.   The sparkling wine accompanied the first course: A Puree of Garden Pea Soup with Truffle Oil, topped with a Parmesan Crisp “lid”, and served with Guinness and Walnut Bread (photos to right show the soup with and without the “lid”).

The next course was a Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes on a Tomato Coulis, and a Brioche Crouton topped with Vine-ripened Tomato Sorbet and a Garlic Tuile, with Basil Oil Garnish. Made entirely from fruit grown in the Pieropan family vineyard (situated in the Soave Classic Zone in Italy), the 2009 Pieropan Soave had a great depth of fruit on the palate and a long length that was a perfect match for the three different types of tomato served in this course (the photos to the left show it with and without the Garlic Tuile).

The main course consisted of Crisp Belly of Pork with Cauliflower Puree, Tenderheart Brocolli, Morels and Pork Sauce. I needed a wine with a strong depth of flavours and a fine acidity, so I served a 2007 Quinta do Perdigao from Portugal, which balances Tempranillo’s red berry fruits with slight with slight balsamic notes, and the black fruits delivered by the Touriga Nacional.

For dessert I served a Chocolate and Coriander Tart with Lexia Raisin Ice-Cream. Lexia Raisins are very difficult to track down at this time of year (I think I bought the last packet in Dublin!) but they are so much more juicy and succulent then normal raisins, especially when soaked first in a rum syrup to let them swell up before adding to the churned ice-cream. Made from low-yielding Grenache grapes, the 2008 Pietru Geraud Banyuls Rimage I served with this course has a powerful and intense nose of wild strawberry and raspberry, with a rich, velvety palate.

To finish the meal, the cheese course consisted of slices of Mature Comte, served over a Spiced Carrot Salad on a Golden Raisin Puree, alongside a Carrot Powder. The Comte was 16-24 months matured, and the Spiced Carrot Salad included an intense Carrot Reduction. The wine to accompany this dish is a 1997 Castelhinho LBV Port, a traditional LBV who’s palate is dense, pleasingly sweet and extremely long.

Orange Sorbet; Yoghurt Sorbet

Two sorbets from Nigel Slaters Kitchen Diaries, both made with one of my most-used pieces of kitchen equipment, my ice-cream maker. Home-made ice-creams and sorbets are a cinch, and affordable, to make with this bit of kit. A frozen treat like this is a really cost-effective way to add a dessert or palate cleanser to a meal. If you have any left over it you can obviously keep it in the freezer to eat again later.

For the orange sorbet, put 250g caster sugar and 250ml water in a pan over a moderate heat until the sugar has melted. Add the zest of two oranges, and then leave to cool completely. Once cool, strain the syrup to remove the orange zest. Pour 750ml freshly squeezed orange juice (about 6-8 oranges) into the syrup, and stir in the juice of a lemon. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and churn until almost frozen. Remove from the bowl and freeze for twenty minutes or so before serving.

The yoghurt sorbet was a product of having most of a tub of natural yoghurt left over from the cucumber salad I served with the halibut last week. I just added 4 tablespoons of sieved icing sugar to about 400g of natural yoghurt, and poured it straight into the ice-cream maker to churn. Again, it requires a few minutes in the freezer to finish off before serving.

Rhubarb crumble

The definition of Comfort Food describes it as “food that is simply prepared and associated with a sense of home or contentment”. To me, there are few dishes more consoling then a fruit crumble, and rhubarb in particular holds fond memories for me.

Preheat the oven to 190degC. Sieve 120g of plain flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt, and add 90g of cold butter, cut up into cubes. Use the tips of your fingers to rub the butter and flour together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in 3 tablespoons of light muscovado sugar and 3 tablespoons of caster sugar, and put the mixture in the fridge for about half an hour or so.

Cut the tops and ends of 1kg of rhubarb, and give the stalks a good wash. Chop them up into pieces about and an inch long, and put them in a large saucepan. Add a splash of orange juice and a few spoons of sugar, and cook on a low heat until it begins to soften. You don’t want the fruit to stew, just lose some of its hardness.

Pour the rhubarb into a pie dish, sprinkle the crumble topping over it, and bake in the oven for around half an hour. Enjoy with either custard or whipped cream.