>> Sunday, May 16, 2010

So: I ended up making coconut macaroons. And they were wonderful.

I feel a bit traitorous saying this because they were so lovely (and if I could, I'd eat about three in a row!) but to tell the truth, I was hoping for something slightly different to what emerged from my oven. I had visions of those beautiful golden brown coconut rochers (rochers à la noix de coco or congolais) that they sell in french pâtisseries: dense and heavy with soft and chewy centres. Do you know the ones? Somehow I ended up with a different kind. Mine were cream coloured, flushed with a pinky golden hue, softer and more like meringue. Beautiful. But not quite what I was expecting.

I think I was a bit reckless with my recipe choice. I consulted a couple of the books on my shelf and Nigella's website, found photographs of delicate looking pale macaroons and thought to myself, ok, well, maybe they'll look different when I bake them; you must just have to cook them for longer to achieve that caramelly golden shell. I'd give it a go. Not so. After a little more research I discovered there are several ways to make macaroons...

The biggest difference is in the preparation of the egg. You either make a meringue mixture with sugar and egg whites into which you stir the coconut and other ingredients, or; you add the egg whites (or whole eggs) to the rest of the ingredients with little or no whisking. Some people only use egg whites, others add the yolks. Some use condensed milk and others use flour. The variations are apparently endless... So little wonder I didn't find the exact ones I was looking for on my first shot. Who knew there were so many different ways to make a simple macaroon?!

Anyway, while I didn't find my perfect coconut macaroon, I did find a perfectly lovely alternative. These macaroons are light and delicate but have a soft and moist interior with a wonderful coconut flavour. Chris declared them incredible and suggested they might be even better if dipped in some melted dark chocolate (something to try next time!).

So I guess that proves that sometimes it's good to make mistakes - you might just find something delicious which you would never have otherwise tried.

(adapted from Nigella Lawson's website)

2 large egg whites (1/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
100g caster sugar (1/2 cup)
30g ground almonds (1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence (or coconut essence if available)
250g shredded or desiccated coconut (3 cups)
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 170ºC/gas mark 3.

Beat the egg whites until frothy – no more – then add the cream of tartar and carry on beating until soft peaks are formed.

Add the sugar a teaspoon at a time and whisk until the mixture is very thick and glossy.

Fold in the almonds, salt, vanilla and coconut. The mixture will be sticky but should hold its shape when spooned together.

On a lined baking tray, form into 4cm diameter sized domes. Make sure to pile the mixture up as high as you can to maintain a nicely rounded cookie - they tend to flatten out as they cook.

Cook for 20 minutes or until they've just turned an even golden brown.



>> Saturday, May 8, 2010

For some reason I have always associated rhubarb with winter.

Even the name sounds barren and hardy; a vegetable to brave the cold. That’s right, vegetable. Even though it’s pink and us westerners always eat it sweetened or as a compliment to meat, it’s a vegetable which starts to appear in early spring and most certainly is not a fruit. It’ll boost your Vitamin C levels and up your dietary fibre, but if you need more than just one excuse to add it to your shopping basket; it sure is pretty.

Up until he moved into a rest home a few years ago, my pépé has always grown his own rhubarb in his back garden. Huge, enthusiastic plants which exploded from the ground and took over their corner of the vegetable patch. I can always remember him grabbing his French Opinel knife and stretching down without bending his knees to cut a healthy bunch of thick rhubarb into a plastic bag for us to take home. No one else we knew grew rhubarb (or really ate it) and as a result I tend to associate it with my family more than any other vegetable or fruit. All the rhubarb my grandfather grew was either melted down into a delicious, caramely compote by my grandmother, stewed to go on top of cereal or added to a fruit crumble.

To me, rhubarb will always be a particularly French vegetable.

But I’m in London, and last weekend was cold and windy and didn’t quite know what to do with itself. So I made something typically English.

Rhubarb and custard.

Oh deliciousness. The rhubarb is tart and syrupy sweet, and leaves your mouth slightly dry. The custard is velvety, luxurious and tastes just how home should make you feel; warm and contented.

I felt a bit naughty using almost a litre of full fat cream to make this, so for next time I’m going to find a recipe that uses milk instead of cream. But oh, the cream is so good. And if you only eat it once in a while, then who’s to know?

Homemade custard is surprisingly easy to make. It tastes richer and so much more real that anything you can buy in supermarkets. Once you try it for yourself, I don't think you'll ever go back to the plasticy, slightly fluorescent kind from a carton.

Chris and I had this for dessert on Sunday night while watching a movie we rented from the library. We had seconds and afterwards I didn’t feel full or overwhelmed by the sugar and creaminess at all. It's a relatively light dessert - the rhubarb and traces of cinnamon and star anise keeping the richness of the custard in check.

It's a bit chilly in London again this weekend. I feel like making another pot of custard and warming myself up. But, I'll resist. There are six egg whites waiting for me in the fridge, so I'll be good and bake something else equally delicious if not quite as satisfying as a bowl of shiny custard. Coconut macaroons? To be continued....

Vanilla Custard
(adapted from Modern Classics Book 2 by Donna Hay)

3 cups (24 fl oz) single or pouring cream
1 spilt and scraped vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla essence)
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
1/3 cup milk

Heat cream and split vanilla bean and seeds (or vanilla essence) in a saucepan over a low to medium heat until hot but not boiling. Stir regularly to keep from scorching the bottom of the pot.

Whisk together egg yolks and caster sugar until doubled in volume.

In a separate bowl, mix cornflour and milk until well combined.

Slowly pour the hot vanilla cream over the egg mixture, one ladleful at a time, whisking well during and after each addition to ensure the egg does not separate. Whisk in the cornflour mixture until combined. Return to the saucepan and stir slowly over low heat for 4-8 minutes until the desired consistency is achieved. The longer you leave the custard to cook, the thicker it will become.

Serve warm. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Baked Spiced Rhubarb
(adapted from Nigel Slater in The Observer Magazine)

400g young rhubarb
3 heaped tablespoons liquid honey
a small orange
a cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise

Set the oven at 160°C. Trim the rhubarb and cut it into short lengths. Put the pieces into a baking dish, then trickle over the honey. Zest the orange then cut in half and squeeze the juice over the rhubarb. Add the orange shells to the dish along with the cinnamon stick, star anise and orange zest. Cover with a piece of foil or a lid, then bake for 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft but has kept it's shape.

Serve a few pieces spooned on top of some of the warm vanilla custard.



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