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Posted in Recipes and Cookery Tips

Sea Salt and Pepper ‘Oysters’

These madeleines, masquerading as Oysters from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’, were the star of my Alice in Wonderland Afternoon tea. Not only were they cake, which is a big win in any book, but the addition of the salt and pepper gave it a sweet and savoury flavour that only the best creations can do (salted caramel, sweet and salty popcorn, all delicious creations of mad geniuses).

100g Plain Flour

100g Caster Sugar

100g Melted Butter

2 Egg Whites, 1 Egg Yolk

1 tbsp salted caramel (I used Bonne Maman)

2 tsp cracked mixed pepper (black, pink etc.)

A drop of vanilla extract

Pinch sea salt

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Butter a 12-hole madeleine mould (use a tiny amount of the melted butter) and dust lightly with flour.
  2. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl. Put the butter, egg yolk, vanilla, a crack of pepper and salted caramel into a separate bowl and whisk with a fork to mix.
  3. Whisk the two egg whites until stiff. If it starts to release liquid add a pinch of caster sugar to stabilize.
  4. Fold the butter mixture into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed, then fold in the egg whites in two batches using a fork or wooden spoon. Be very careful at this stage that all the egg white is mixed in but that the air isn’t knocked out.
  5. Divide between the prepared moulds.
  6. Place a spoonful of salted caramel spread into the centre of each madeleine and cover with more batter.
  7. Bake for 10-12 mins until golden brown and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the moulds for a few mins, then turn out and cool on a wire rack.
  8. Drizzle with more salted caramel before serving. Crack some pepper over and sprinkle with sea salt for a delicious sweet and savoury finish.

Posted in Recipes and Cookery Tips

Why making custard is one of the most important skills to master!

One of many custard creations.

Growing up, when I first started to cook, there was no hesitation to say that I was terrible. On my first attempt to cook a meal for my parents my friend and I managed to not only horribly burn the starter (to this day I still have no idea what it was supposed to be) but also to mis-read the main recipe which stated the lamb had to be marinated three days before. As I continued to cook I made plenty more mistakes, mistakes that helped me to learn everything I needed to in the kitchen, but the majority of mistakes I’ve made, and still continue to make are in that terrifying area called ‘the pastry section’.

            Now, the pastry section isn’t about making chicken pies, as the name may suggest. I can’t even begin to understand why it’s actually under this title (though I assume it’s something to do with the French translation, or what the French choose/chose to eat for this course), but it can be commonly called the place in the kitchen where you make the puddings. For any of you that read this paragraph and have watched a lot of cooking programs, like me, you probably already knew that and I apologise.

            When I started training to be a chef I was rarely put on puddings during an active service. Very early on, my first Christmas in the training kitchen/restaurant in fact, I was put on main courses and so I had to use my brief lessons during the week on puddings to teach me the little I now know. Of those lessons and my hours practicing at home I can only say this: you want to make a truly great pudding? Learn how to make custard.

            Why, do you ask, am I so adamant about this? Because custard is the foundation of so many great puddings. You want a Crème Brule? Make a custard. You want Crème Patisserie in your tart? Make a thicker custard. You want ice-cream, like my Pineapple and Cinnamon ice-cream on my ‘Hard Times’ pudding? All you have to do is learn to make a custard.

            In truth, I no longer have a recipe for ice-cream (or, I should say, I do but I no longer use it). I could try and come up with a recipe for you to follow, but why do that when you can create new flavours for yourself with some simple foundational knowledge? So here we go, this is how I made the custard for my ice-cream:

Step 1: Put milk (whole or semi-skimmed) in a pan with flavourings (e.g. vanilla, cinnamon etc.). Smell the pan (or taste it, if that’s easier) to see whether you have enough. Bring the milk to the boil and then remove from the heat.

Step 2: Separate egg yolks from egg whites. It tends to be a 1 egg yolk to 100ml milk ratio, depending on the size of your eggs.

Step 3: Beat egg yolks with plenty of sugar (depending on the size of your yolk it may be anything from 70g to 120g for 4 eggs) until mixture looks creamy and pale. If it doesn’t look right, beat in more sugar or add more egg yolk.

Step 4: Slowly add warm milk and beat in with whisk (this won’t take long). You can tell when you’ve added enough milk when the consistency reaches a slightly watery custard stage. Don’t under or over do it.

Step 5: Return to a pan and put on a medium heat. Keep stirring and wait for the custard to reach the correct consistency. DO NOT BOIL.

Step 6: Now, this is when I added the puree of a pineapple I roasted with cinnamon. You can also add strawberry puree, chocolate etc. Go wild with the flavour choices if you want but be wary with some ingredients as they can cause the custard to split. If you want a softer ice-cream try adding beaten (meringue style) egg white or cream to the mix half-way through the next step.

Step 7: Pass through a sieve and put into an ice-cream maker. After that, just let the ice-cream maker do its thing. You’ll have Grade A ice-cream in no time. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, you can put the custard in a container and into the freezer (preferably allow the custard to cool before doing this). You then stir it every half-an-hour or so until you have a tasty and creamy treat to eat.

If you need a recipe to help make it first time, that’s fine. If you need accurate quantities to feel comfortable, that’s okay, but trust me: learn how to make custard and you can be a master of puddings in no time.


The Literary Onion

Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

‘Alice in Wonderland’ Afternoon Tea

A tea fit for the Mad Hatter!

If anyone ever asks me what is my favourite genre of book, or asks me as a writer which genre I prefer to write, I will never hesitate to say ‘children’s’. I could go onto lengthy descriptions of exactly why the genre (which is more of an age range than a genre, since it contains many other genres within it) is so special to me. I could fill a book with ideas and thoughts on how the most secretive, mad and special genre manages to make me entertain and question everything.

But what can I say that can’t be understood by reading a masterpiece like Lewis Carroll’s famously mad-adventure ‘Alice in Wonderland’? And that is how you do a sly, but unsuccessful segue into the dish of the day: welcome my ‘Alice and Wonderland’ inspired Afternoon Tea.

When I decided to do an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dish I knew straight away that it had to be tea-related. I mean, is there any scene that epitomises ‘Wonderland’ more than the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party?

‘We’re all mad here’ — Cheshire Cat

Well, yes, there’s actually plenty of famous scenes from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and from ‘Alice through the Looking Glass too’ and with the Afternoon Tea I’ve managed to capture just a small few of the magical things inside the book.

The favourite of the day was an award won by the ‘Time/Thyme’ Scones and ‘White Rabbit’s’ carrot spread, made with very few ingredients but extraordinarily tasty. My only advice to myself when making them again would be to choose the softer parts of the thyme stem for clock handles, as the hard ones are a smidgen too difficult to chew.

Who knew a pun could be so tasty?
The tasty surprise of the hour!

The Mushroom Caterpillars were especially fun to make, and with a seat of buttery cooked chestnut mushrooms they were the perfect filling edition to the savoury platform. Although, as tasty as they were they were easily beaten by the Duchess’ tasty ‘baby’ in a blanket. The scene when the baby turned into a pig in a blanket (already a good dish in its own right) will forever be a memorable one and I hope to have elevated a great joke (and a great accompaniment) to an Afternoon tea delight, with the addition of a wholemeal ‘mattress’, a blue cheese ‘sheet’ and a little ‘baby’ lettuce cover. It was all a tasty treat and, by far one of the easiest things to make and enjoy.

‘Who are you?’– Caterpillar
It doesn’t take much to make something good, even better!

That brings us on to the puddings, a much harder fete as I had to think of any scene where there was a crazy enough idea to represent the sheer creativity of Wonderland. Jam and rose sandwiches were a must to celebrate the Queen of Hearts and her deck of Playing Cards. Keep painting those roses, guys!

Not quite as well decorated as I’d hoped? ‘Off with their heads’– Queen of Hearts

The Cheshire Cat’s smile is iconic and referenced all throughout many art works post ‘Wonderland’. With a crispy cinnamon base, a chantilly cream cover and large floral-milk jelly teeth I think this Cat will need to see a dentist pretty soon (especially if those biscuits don’t stop being as delicious as they are).

Use rose, lavender, thyme, verbena, whatever mad thing you can think of. Even use mint, then you’ll have teeth that tastes like toothpaste.

And last but certainly no less delicious, my salt and pepper madeleines, inspired by the poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’. It may be a slightly dark tale (although no darker than other fairy tales and poetry for children at the time) but salted caramel and peppercorns go really well with the sweet vanilla and caramel sponge. If these things walked out of the sea and I was feeling as hungry as the Carpenter I’d be tempted to trick the young ones into following me too (wait, was this poem meant to be about the farming/fishing industry? Hmmm… That’s worth considering).

I can say nothing but, yum.

Overall I hope that this Afternoon Tea was a good tribute to one of my favourite books, and one of the favourite books of many other people. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is as timeless as a vanilla sponge, as fun as a scone with clock hands and as crazy as a mushroom mousse stuffed choux caterpillar.

Thank you for reading and the recipes will be posted soon for the Sea Salt and Pepper ‘Oysters’ and the ‘White Rabbit’s’ carrot spread .


The Literary Onion
Posted in Book/TV/Film Themed Dishes

‘Hard Times’: The Pudding

A Pudding Fit for Bounderby’s Pretentiousness!

I first read ‘Hard Times’, by Mr. Charles Dickens himself, when I was in my second year of University. It remains one of the only books I can remember and fast became one of my favourite books of all time. But why?

Okay, so the first thing I should say is that ‘Hard Times’, from my experience, seems to be a very marmite-type of a book. Out of the hundreds of students in my University who were forced to read it, my friend and I were seemingly the only two who loved it. That wasn’t uncommon, as we often preferred books others hated and hated books others loved (which may honestly say something about our taste, more than anything), but the truth is that ‘Hard Times’, for us, was the best Dickens book we had ever read.

And back to that initial question, why? Why did we love it so much? Well, it’s for the same reason that C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite authors, the entire focus of the story is on the characters. At the core of the novel the message is fairly simple, ‘creativity is ultimately better than seeing everything in numbers’, and the plot is almost non-existent as, if you have read it you will know, nothing much happens… and what does happen takes its time.

But the characters? All caricatures, not dissimilar to Dickens other famous creations (I’m looking at you Scrooge), but used in such a way that you see depth, growth and a very real humanity behind their actions. Tom Senior is, as he says himself, interested in ‘Facts, Facts and Nothing but Facts’ but he is also a kind and generous man who takes in a child from a circus when her father leaves her behind. Bounderby is a pretentious, egotistic narcissist but he feels vulnerable about his past poorness and tries everything to overcompensate for this fact (although many of his actions do make you want to root against him).

So, when it came to creating a dish that represented the entirety of this great novel I knew that I had to focus on these complex sides, these human characteristics that Dickens imbued them with. I decided on a pudding, rather than a main course, mostly because it was easier to represent it in a pudding but also because I knew there was far more scope for creativity with a ‘Hard Times’ pudding.

The main body of the dish is a piece of patisserie inspired by desserts I have eaten previously in France. The flavours are very simple, basic, tried-and-tested; they’re flavours that traditionally go together and don’t take much creativity in the way of visualising. Vanilla, blackberry, orange– they all support each other and the flavours are balanced. They taste beautiful but they will never excite the taste-buds, just as facts will always be important but they will never change the world.

The ice-cream represents Sissy Jupe and the creative thinkers. Pineapple and cinnamon, a perfect match and made all the more exciting by the edition of cold custard and cream. They’re flavours that take their bare bones– eggs, sugar and milk– and elevate them to new heights. The ethos of ‘Hard Times’ and Dickens strongest message is exactly that: facts should be the foundation and creativity should be allowed to build on them. The coulis and the strawberry add much needed colour to an otherwise bland and grey dish/world.

The theory completed (including a grey and colourful contrasting colour scheme), the finished result:

‘Give them Facts, Facts and Nothing but Facts!’

For the discerning eyes, I added a reblochon of a failed (but very tasty) grey white chocolate glaze to the top. Was it perfect? In taste, yes. In look, no. But what better way is there to show the true meaning of ‘Hard Times’ than to have failures mixed with wins? There couldn’t be anything more human than that.

Thank you for reading.


The Literary Onion