• Creme brulee tartlets

    It was my husband’s birthday last Saturday.  As a treat, we decided to stay at Cowley Manor – ‘the perfect place for a luxury getaway in the Cotswolds’.

    Our aim was to have a relaxing couple of days away from home and the sadness which had pervaded our house since we lost Montague, our much loved dog.  In the main, we achieved our objective.

    We were treated to a lovely dinner at the restaurant on Friday night, courtesy of my mother.  On Saturday, after a relaxing breakfast of bircher muesli and fruit, followed by scrambled eggs and salmon/chilli avocado on toast, we went for a 6 mile run.   After a quick dip in the pool and hungry again after our exercise we sat down to a delicious lunch of artichoke, sweetcorn, mushroom, sun blushed tomato and mozzarella pizza, served in the bar area.   If that wasn’t enough indulgence, we then both had a half an hour neck, shoulder and back massage.  Note to self, never ask for a firm massage as my encounter with the masseuse was not a relaxing one.  I was pummelled with an elbow for almost half an hour, but my pride (or stupidity) would not allow me to admit that I should have requested a medium massage.  Whereas Jo emerged quite relaxed from his experience, I emerged grateful that my back was still in one piece.  As they say, you live and learn.

    Stopping en route at Waitrose to pick up a few bits and pieces, it was back to reality again when we got home.  One part of my reality was that it was still Jo’s birthday.  The other part of my reality was that I had to complete week 4 of my challenge.  As a dutiful wife, I thought that if I was going to do my challenge I should do it on Jo’s birthday so that he had a good dessert to finish off the day.  After some discussion with Jo, we settled on a creme brulee tartlet from BBC Good Food (surprise, surprise).

    My bake was going to plan.  The first step was to make the pastry.  A straightforward pastry (flour, cold butter, a sprinkling of sugar and egg yolk) with a hint of orange from the zest of half an orange, chilled and blind-baked in tartlet cases prior to adding the filling.  As with the pastry, the filling was also straightforward to make.  Heated cream infused with vanilla (I used a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead of a vanilla pod as stated in the recipe) was added to eggs and sugar to make a custard.  After straining the custard through a sieve to remove any lumps, the mixture was poured into the blind-baked pastry tarts and cooked for 18/22 minutes until almost set.  The tarts were then required to be cooled for 30 minutes before adding the caramel topping.  The next step was to make the caramel topping – a mixture of water and sugar cooked out on the hob until a deep caramel colour and then cooled on a lightly oiled baking tray until hard.   Once hard, the caramel was blended to a fine powder, which was later to be sprinkled on the cooled tarts before placing them under the grill to create the required caramel topping for the creme brulee tartlets.

    It was at this point that things started to unravel a bit.   You see, having made all the component parts (pastry, filling and topping), I relaxed with a glass of wine on the sofa and dozed off.   I was woken up by my husband when the timer went off to advise me that the tartlets were cool enough to top with the caramel.  Rudely awoken from my slumber, I set about finishing off my tartlets.  I went to sprinkle the blended caramel on top of my cooled tartlets, and realise I had made my first mistake.  Having made and blended the caramel earlier, I had left it in the blender rather than an airtight container and as such my beautiful caramel powder had started to clump together (as you know sugar is hygroscopic so will absorb water in the atmosphere).  This made sprinkling an even layer of fine caramel powder on each of the tartlets a little difficult.  Protecting the pastry of the tartlets from the heat of the grill (I had to cover the edges of the tartlets with foil) was also a little tricky.  To cut an already long story short, rather than having an even, glossy layer of caramel on top of my tartlets, the caramel topping was uneven (both in appearance and cooking).  Even an attempt at dusting the tartlets with a sprinkling of icing sugar (to disguise the flaws) only made it look like the dusting of caramel had not melted in places.

    Despite the end product being less than perfect, I have to say that the pastry and the custard filling were absolutely delicious.  The caramel topping even had the required crack, even though it didn’t look as delectable as it should have.  The morale of this story is three-fold: (1) it is best to leave drinking alcohol until after the challenge is finished; (2) it is best not to fall asleep (because you have been drinking alcohol) during a challenge and (3) when attempting caramel items, ensure that they are stored correctly in an airtight container to prevent them from absorbing moisture.

  • At Nigella’s table

    For quite some time now we have not had access to terrestrial TV.   In the absence of terrestrial TV, I got a little hooked on Netflix.  Initially, it was ‘research’ where I watched almost every cookery programme on Netflix:

    • Chef’s Table
    • Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip
    • Cook your Ass Off
    • Martha Bakes
    • Rebel Without a Kitchen
    • Sugar Rush
    • Ugly Delicious
    • Zumbo’s Just Desserts

    After almost exhausting what Netflix had to offer cookery-wise, I have to admit that I got a little hooked on ‘box sets’, watching back to back episodes over a short period of time.  Not a good use of my time when I should have been concentrating my efforts on setting up a business.

    Anyway after being devoid of terrestrial television for a while, I was delighted to be able to watch a range of cookery programmes when our aerial was finally fixed; programmes like The Great British Menu; Great British Bake Off and At Nigella’s Table.

    Not long after I started watching At Nigella’s Table, Nigella made a ginger and walnut carrot cake.  As a huge fan of ginger, I loved the fact that the cake contained three types: ground ginger, crystalised ginger and fresh ginger.   I first made the cake a month back and it was met with great enthusiasm when I took it into the Coln Community Stores for my colleagues to try.   The second incarnation of Nigella’s ginger and walnut carrot cake was a celebration cake for my mother’s 78th Birthday today (5th November).   My plan was to use the ginger and walnut carrot cake as a base for a bonfire style cake.  The colours of the cake lent themselves to being a bonfire cake, as did the crystallised ginger and walnut pieces  which decorated the cream cheese icing.  Despite having an excellent base, I wanted to elevate the cake by topping it with honeycomb and caramel shards; so yesterday morning my mission began.  I started by making the cake and the icing.  While the cake was baking and the icing was cooling in the fridge I turned my attention to making the honeycomb and caramel shards.  Working with sugar is always a potentially difficult task, as not heating it enough will give you an insipid and poorly set end result.  Heating it too much will make the end result too dark with a burnt taste.  It was my lucky day and both the honeycomb and caramel came out as I had hoped.  The only thing I would have changed was to use a non-textured baking paper and tray as my honeycomb had a bit of an unwanted texture to it.

    With all my component parts made, I assembled my cake.  I iced my ginger and walnut carrot cake with a generous layer of cream cheese icing, flavoured with fresh ginger and topped it with a scattering of crystallised ginger and walnut pieces.  I then added my shards of honeycomb and caramel.  I left adding my shards to the last moment as I knew that the moisture in the icing would start to dissolve the sugar in the honeycomb and caramel.  I then crossed my fingers hoping that all would be well at the big reveal at my Mum’s Birthday lunch.  The aim was to add sparklers at the last moment for a grand bonfire cake.  Unfortunately it was not to be.  The pub was so warm that the heat contributed to the melting of the shards (not completely, but the shards became a little wilted in the heat).  To add insult to injury, I was not allowed to bring out the cake at dessert time (the pub required us to eat their desserts), so I didn’t add the ‘crowning’ glory, the sparklers , to my bonfire extravaganza.  With my family dissipating in different directions after lunch, the best I could do is send them off with pieces of carrot cake without its crowning glory.  Thank goodness I took a photo of the cake with its honeycomb and caramel shards before we headed off for lunch.  However, despite this my vision for my bonfire cake was never fully realised.

    Irrespective of my slight disappointment, nothing can take away from the fact that Nigella’s cake, without any added decoration, is a triumph in itself.  So much so that I am sharing it with you below.

    Ginger and walnut carrot cake

     Ingredients

     Cake

    •  200g plain flour
    • 1tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 2 tsp ground ginger
    • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
    • 175g soft light brown sugar
    • 2 large free-range eggs at room temperature
    • 200ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
    • 200g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
    • 100g walnut pieces, roughly chopped, plus extra for decorating
    • 75g crystallised ginger, finely chopped, plus extra for decorating

    Icing

    • 100g butter, softened
    • 100g icing sugar, sieved if lumpy
    • 1 tsp cornflour
    • 100g cream cheese
    • 1 tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger

    Method

    • Preheat the oven to 150C Fan and grease the sides and line the base of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper.
    • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and salt together in a bowl.
    • Beat the sugar, eggs and oil in another large bowl until they are completely mixed together, then gradually add the flour mixture. At this stage the mixture may seem alarmingly stiff, but the carrots will loosen it up. Beat in the carrots and then fold in the walnuts and crystallised ginger, until everything is evenly combined.
    • Spoon into the prepared tin. Don’t worry if it looks as if you haven’t got enough batter, as the cake will rise well as it bakes. Smooth the top and bake for 55 minutes (as much as an hour). When it’s ready, the cake will be set and golden-brown on top, beginning to shrink away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out with just a few crumbs stuck to it. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool in its tin.
    • Meanwhile, to make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar together and when combined, beat in the cornflour, followed by half the cream cheese. Once that’s incorporated, beat in the remaining half. Be careful not to over-beat or the icing will get too runny. Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the bowl and mix in, discard the ginger flesh. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
    • When the cake is completely cold, take the icing out of the fridge for about 20 minutes. Beat briefly to make sure it’s smooth. Remove the cake from its tin and place on a plate or cake stand. Spread the icing on top, swirling it a little, then sprinkle some chopped walnuts and crystallised ginger on top.

    Source: www.bbc.com (Nigella Lawson)