Archive for March, 2012

Sophie Grigson Cookery Demonstration At The Oak Tree In Helperby

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
On Monday 26th, we had arranged a cookery demonstration by Sophie Grigson of some recipes from her new cookery book, Spices, followed by some fizz and a book signing session, before lunch. The event was hosted for Steenbergs at The Oak Tree in Helperby, which in a twist of fate celebrates it one year birthday after having been completely refurbished and reopened on 28 March 2011. The Oak Tree is part of Provenance Inns, a small and newish local chain of foodie pubs, run in a partnership between Chris Blundell and Michael Ibbotson (who owns the acclaimed The Durham Ox); they have, also, recently taken over The Punch Bowl in Marton cum Grafton and breathed life back into it and are developing a reputation for turning around pubs that have gone awry. Sophie Grigson’s demonstration was fantastically well supported with all available places being snapped up immediately they went on sale and the sun even came out, bathing us all in unexpected Yorkshire sun, so proving that North Yorkshire not only has excellent local provenance, fantastic food pubs in lovely villages, but also beautiful, sunny weather some of the time.
Axel Steenberg, Sophie Grigson And *

Axel Steenberg, Sophie Grigson And Kate Robey

Sophie Grigson was full of joie de vivre and enthusiasm for spices and as always was very approachable both in the way she explained how to make the recipes and afterwards in chatting with everyone.  She showed some unusual ways to use them, as well as some less well known spices. So we had sumac used to marinade an onion salad, red peppercorns for a prawn, mango & avocado salad, but I was really taken with vanilla chicken with peppers & white wine.   I loved the way vanilla was used for a savoury dish rather than its usual use in baking or sweet puddings, like creme brulee or panna cotta. And it tasted truly fabulous. It was so good that I cobbled something together for our evening meal, knowing that we had some chicken thighs out for defrosting.  It came out really well, especially as I had left her book at work so had to second guess the details, but then this is a really versatile dish and seems to be quite forgiving – now that’s a key factor for great home cooking , so thank you Sophie for this recipe. All in all I felt very excited and enthusiastic afterwards as I am sure everyone else did.
Sophie Grigson Sprinkling Spices Over Vanilla Chicken With Peppers

Sophie Grigson Sprinkling Spices Over Vanilla Chicken With Peppers

Vanilla Chicken With Peppers As Prepared By Sophie Grigson

Vanilla Chicken With Peppers As Prepared By Sophie Grigson

Here’s the recipe for vanilla chicken (but now please buy her book):

Ingredients

1½kg /3¼lb of free-range or organic chicken, jointed
3 red or yellow peppers
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100ml /3½ fl oz / 0.4 cup dry white wine
A few thyme sprigs

Spice rub

½tsp vanilla paste
½tsp coarse sea salt
½tsp thyme leaves
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼tsp freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the spice rub, just mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and turn them in the mixture, massaging them all over. Cover and leave for at least 1 hour, but far better a full 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7/428F. Halve, core and deseed the peppers, then cut into broad strips. Put the peppers and olive oil in a roasting tin or shallow ovenproof dish with a little salt (not too much as some will leach out of the chicken), and turn to coat the peppers lightly in oil.

Add the chicken to the tin, distributing the pieces amongst the peppers. Pour over the wine and scatter the thyme sprigs. Roast for 45 minutes or so, turning over the pieces and stirring around twice, until the chichen is cooked through. Check the seasoning.

Serve with rice.


When I made this in the evening after Sophie Grigson’s demo at The Oak Tree, and as I did not have the correct ingredients, I mixed together 1tbsp vanilla paste, 1tbsp honey, a good pinch of freshly ground pepper (I am using a new Epices Roellinger grinder from Peugeot in cherry red), a smidgeon of my Italian herbs blend, some olive oil and some sea salt. I used chicken thighs and cooked them at 180C in a fan assisted oven for 30 minutes. It seemed to do the trick.

A Better Version Of Simnel Cake Than My Last Attempt

Monday, March 19th, 2012
A year or so ago I made a simnel cake, but it came out rather squat and a tad heavy. The squatness was easily remedied with a smaller baking tin, while the texture was improved through using a lighter recipe with more eggs. I have, also, used an idea that was given to me, and the marzipan is incorporated into the cake itself rather than as a layer between two halves.

I made this cake on Saturday and we tried a few pieces today for Mothering Sunday. The fourth Sunday in Lent in England is Mothering Sunday. This celebration is based on the day’s appointed old testament reading (Isaiah 66) for the Church of England, which includes the lines “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be ye glad with her“, combined with the day’s new testament lesson (Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians) which speaks of Jerusalem as “the mother of us all“.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake

Combined with this, Mothering Sunday was the day when, prior to the First World War, servants were the given the day off to visit their mothers. In the Victorian period, some 50% of all employment was in domestic service, of which a goodly chunk was unmarried girls. These young women were given free rein in the kitchen to make a cake to show off their skills to their mothers, and so they devised a rich, fruit cake that they then carried home and it was stored until Easter, some three Sundays thereafter. This gave the cake ample time to mature nicely ready to be decorated with marzipan. It is worth remembering in these profligate times (if pretty austere economically) that fruits, nuts and sugar were relative expensive items back in the nineteenth century unlike today where they are comparatively cheap.

As for the marzipanning, the cake is topped with rich marzipan that is then baked to a golden brown, and around the top there are either 12 or 11 balls. I must admit to always decorating with 11 balls for the eleven disciples, although Elisabeth Luard says it should be 12 to signify the 11 disciples and Jesus, which may be more correct as it reflects the British superstition for the number 13 and is a lot easier to balance out on the top of the cake. The missing ball is for Judas Iscariot who is no longer a disciple by Easter.

The Steenbergs’ Simnel Cake Recipe

The marzipan:

250g / 9oz caster sugar
250g / 9oz ground almonds
2 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
1tsp of almond extract
1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten (keep in mug or cup for the glaze later on)

The Cake:

110g / 3¾oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten
110g / 3¾oz soft brown sugar
150g / 5¼oz plain flour
Pinch of sea salt
150g / 5¼oz raisins
50g /1¾oz currants
150g /5¼ oz sultanas
55g / 2oz candied mixed peel
2tsp orange extract
2tbsp apricot jam
1tsp mixed spice
½tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground cinnamon

What to do?

Pre heat the oven to 140C/285F. Prepare an 18cm/ 7 inch and quite tall cake tin, by lightly oiling it all over, then lining it with baking parchment.

To make the marzipan: place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl, then add the 2 lightly beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the almond essence and knead for a minute or two until it becomes smooth and soft. Divide the marzipan into 3 roughly equal portions.

Next, I start by preparing the flour and dried fruit:
  • Sieve the plain flour, baking spices together into a mixing bowl.
  • Mix the dried fruit together in a big mixing bowl either with a spoon or your hands. I prefer hands as cooking should be a tactile experience, but also it enables you to break up the fruit which is usually quite stuck together. Next add the mixed peel and spread that through the mix, using your fingers. Finally, I mix through 1tbsp of the flour mix, which will stop the fruit dropping to the bottom of the cake in the oven.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a decent sized mixing bowl using a hand-held electric whisk. Add the lightly beaten eggs and orange extract until well mixed together. Then add the flour-spices mix and mix together thoroughly.

Now take one of the pieces of marzipan and break into small chunks. Add these to the cake mix and gently fold into the cake batter, trying to keep them as intact as possible.

Spoon the simnel cake mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place into the centre of the pre heated oven and cook for one hour and thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. After 15 minutes turn out and place on wire rack to cool down.

Baked Simnel Fruit Cake

Baked Simnel Fruit Cake

When cooled down, brush the top of the cake with the apricot jam. Next, dust a rolling surface with icing sugar and a rolling pin also with icing sugar (otherwise it sticks to everything), then roll out one of the remaining pieces of marzipan. Place this rolled marzipan over the top of the cake, cutting off the edges (they taste nice so enjoy these as a cook’s perk). With the final third of marzipan, split it into 11 (or 12) equal pieces and roll into balls and place these around the edge of the cake. Finally, glaze the marzipan with the beaten egg.

Put the cake under a hot grill and brown the top of the cake lightly, then leave to cool.

Simnel Cake With Baked Marzipan

Simnel Cake With Baked Marzipan

Having A Crack At Making Pan Pepato

Monday, March 5th, 2012

One of my favourite Christmassy things is panforte and I, also, love Nurnberger lebkuchen.  It hails from Siena which is probably my favourite city in Italy.  There really is something special about sitting out in the Piazza del Campo, looking across the amphitheatre shape of the cobbled open across to the Palazzo Publico.  Perhaps it is all a bit too idyllic and I am lucky never to have seem the Palio with its crowds and thundering horses which would distract from this view.  Anyway Siena is the capital of panforte.

While I went on the hunt for a panforte recipe and came across a recipe for pan pepato, a peppered biscuit-cake.  In fact, it appears that the history of both panforte and pan pepato are intertwined, with both coming from the region – there are various stories as to whether pan pepato came first then was rejigged in 1879 to make a cake, panforte, in honour of a visit by Queen Margharita of Savoy, while others say panforte came first and Sister Berta fiddled with the recipe to make a more wholesome breadcake, pan pepato, when Siena was besieged in 1554.

Pan pepato is a chocolatey and spicy biscuit cake that is more similar in flavour and texture to lebkuchen than anyone seems to indicate.  This suggests to me that this style of sweet baked goods was pretty ubiquitous across Europe in the Middle Ages, as there is no raising agent in it as would be found in most modern biscuits.  Then in a similar vein to British Christmas items, it is heavy on those grocery items that were really expensive in the past – dried nuts, dried fruits and spices.  They also contain chocolate or cocoa, so probably could not have included these flavours before 1585 when the first commercial shipments of chocolate were recorded nor perhaps until the mid 17th century when cocoa became more freely available.

It is pretty easy to make and is a good use of lots of unusual spices, giving the cake a decently warming aftertaste from the black pepper and cubeb pepper while it has the festive flavours of cassia, nutmeg and cloves coming through.  I like it but it is definitely an adult treat – our kids were decidedly unimpressed and gave that classic “What is that, Dad?” look after the one mouse-like, little bite.

Panpetato Layered In Black And White

Panpepato Layered In Black And White

Note that some recipes suggest that you boil the sugar mix to the soft ball stage, but I did not need that at all, and question whether that is just a modern adjustment to the recipe, e.g Waitrose, but these exclude chocolate and use cocoa instead.

Ingredients

75g / 2½oz sultanas
25g / ¾oz dried figs, chopped into sultana sized pieces
125g / 3½oz hazelnuts
125g / 3½oz almonds
50g / ¾oz pine nuts, chopped
100g / 3½oz chopped mixed peel
100g / 3½oz plain dark chocolate, chopped into medium sized chunks
200g / 7oz runny honey
2tbsp unsalted butter
80g / 2¾oz plain flour, sifted
1tsp ground black pepper
1tsp ground cassia (or ground cinnamon)
½tsp ground nutmeg
¼tsp ground cloves
¼tsp ground cubeb pepper
1tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1tsp pink peppercorns, crushed (optional)

The method

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Boil the kettle and pour hot water over the sultanas and chopped figs to soak them.  Leave to infuse for 15 minutes, then drain.  I made a pot of strong black chai tea (you could use any strong black tea), and infuse them in this; it is not traditionally correct, but it worked well, or perhaps you could soak it overnight in a port or sweet white wine, ideally a vin santo.

Put the whole nuts on an ungreased baking tray at 180C/350F and toast for about 5 minutes, which will dry the skins.  Roll these in a clean tea towel for a couple of minutes to remove the skins.   Place the pine nuts on the baking tray and toast for about 3 minutes until they start to colour.  Leave all the nuts to cool down, then chop them roughly.

Turn the oven down to 170C/325F.  Lightly grease two baking trays; use the ones that you used earlier but make sure they have cooled down.

Tip the toasted chopped nuts, soaked fruit, mixed peel and ground spices into a mixing bowl.  Give them all a good stir to thoroughly mix it all together.

Weigh the runny honey in the saucepan, then add the unsalted butter.  Over a medium heat, heat these until the butter has melted.  Take off the heat, add the dark chocolate pieces and stir until all the chocolate has melted.

Pour the chocolate sauce into the nut-fruit mixing bowl and stir thoroughly.  Add the plain flour and mix everything together until it starts to clump.

Pan Pepato Arranged In A Tower

Pan Pepato Arranged In A Tower

Spoon the mix into 8 or 10 scoops, roll into balls then place each onto the greased baking tray.   Flatten the top of each of the balls until each is about 2½ cm thick (1 inch).

Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm.  Take from the oven and allow them to cool completely before removing them.

Dust the tops very generously with icing sugar.  Sprinkle with the crushed pink peppercorns if using them.

They will keep for many weeks and make good Christmas gifts.